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Victoria -> Vancouver -> Cobourg

Back again for my fifth and final update on my Canadian travels! As of now, I’m back in Cobourg and have wrapped up my trip, but I wanted to write my final instalment and debrief.

When I left off, I was just heading to Victoria to stay with Teresa for a few days. I took the ferry over from Vancouver (which was quite nice!) and arrived on the evening of the 19th. I got settled at Teresa’s and we headed out for a night on the town. Teresa took me to two bars – one fancy, one more casual. I have completely blanked on the names of them, which is unfortunate because the fancy one was probably the nicest bar I’ve ever been in. It had been converted to a bar from a bank and was supposedly ~haunted~ I eventually found this to be a bit of a Victorian theme, it seems there are more haunted places than not, definitely something to investigate if you’re into the supernatural. We had a great time catching up over drinks and it was spectacular to see Victoria by night. The downtown seems very old and historical, and at night the legislature building is completely lit up, making for a very lovely and scenic stroll.

The following day we dedicated to more tourist-y pursuits. Teresa took me to the Royal BC Museum, a definite must-see in Victoria. The museum had two special exhibitions – one on families and one on Terry Fox. I’d actually seen most of the Terry Fox exhibits at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, but it was interesting to see it again. The families exhibit contained old family portraits and items that had been handed down or were representative of certain generations. I felt very old upon seeing my childhood Fisher-Price dollhouse in a glass case. On permanent display at the museum are exhibits on Canadian wildlife (including a life-size wooly mammoth!), native Canadian culture, and a recreation of Victoria in the early 1900’s, which you can walk through. I particularly enjoyed this portion of the museum and enjoyed walking through the little street and peering into the little shops. In keeping with Victoria’s ghostly reputation, the museum is of course also haunted!

We took a driving tour of Victoria where Teresa pointed out many of the interesting points in the city. Victoria has a sense of old-world charm that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it is beautiful and perhaps more laid-back than Vancouver. You’re surrounded by sea and the smell of the ocean wafts through the air. Victoria is an all-around lovely place with beautiful architecture and gardens, definitely worth a re-visit (and also because I promised Teresa I’d be back!).

On the 21st, Teresa and I headed back to Vancouver with the company of her father. Teresa’s family has seasons tickets to the BC Lions, so that night I took in my second game of football. We had literal front row seats behind the goal posts so I got to see everything up close and personal. I made a poor decision of purchasing unidentified stadium sushi but otherwise had an unexpectedly good time. I’m not much of a sports fan, but attending live events has so much energy, it’s difficult to not have fun.

The 22nd was considerably more low-key, which was not altogether a bad thing. If you’re travelling for extended periods of time, give yourself permission to have slower days, it’s so crucial for avoiding burn out. Teresa, Beka and I went out for sushi after I had gotten my nose pierced (sorry mom and dad). I’d been wanting to have it done for a while and thought it would be extra fun to do it on my trip (and Teresa is excellent at distracting). So, we headed down and I toughed it out! Interestingly, the piercer who did my nose had done Justin Bieber’s the year before, a fact which I have shamelessly been pulling out whenever I can.

On the 23rd, we ventured down to Granville Island, which is home to a large indoor market, a brewery, theatres, an art school, and countless seaside restaurants and shops. It’s a happening place for sure and there’s lots to see and do. It seems most of the whale tours take off from Granville Island and there were tons of people in kayaks and paddle-boarding. This is definitely a great place to check out, but perhaps not on a Sunday afternoon which is presumably peak market times.

My final full day in Vancouver was the 24th. Teresa had returned to Victoria and I decided to spend the day checking out the downtown scene. I spent the first few hours in the Vancouver Art Gallery. They currently have a special Monet exhibit which I was keen to see! I don’t often go to galleries, but I really do find them to be wonderful places. Going to one solo is probably preferred, you can take everything in silently and enjoy at your own pace. The Monet exhibit was gorgeous and I was so glad that I got to see it. I also visited the Emily Carr exhibit, which is something I hadn’t been greatly exposed to but is such an important part of Canadian art. I’m making it my goal to frequent art galleries much more.

Following the gallery, I walked down to Chinatown where the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is located. There’s two parts to this garden, one is free to walk through and more like a Vancouver public park, and the second is paid admission and is, for lack of a better word, a more authentic experience. The paid gardens feature architecture and stonework which is reflective of Chinese gardens and is actually built of materials that were sourced from China. As well, all of the plants in the garden are plants that would be found in China, including a large assortment of penjing trees (more widely recognized by their Japanese name ‘bonsai’). Both sections are beautiful, but if visiting I would strongly recommend going for the paid experience. There are a lot less people (and those in the paid gardens were a lot quieter!) and the garden has much more included. They offer guided tours which were excellent (and if you can’t tell, I learned a lot) and a lovely way to learn more about Chinese culture, which admittedly I am not very familiar with. Learning about the garden and the importance of certain objects or the intention behind different structures gave me an appreciation and curiosity for the Chinese culture. The gardens were also crazy gorgeous and so I took way too many pictures, but alas. They also had a koi pond with a 50 year-old koi, so that’s pretty snazzy too.

My last day in Vancouver drew to an end as I roped Beka into watching The Bachelorette with me (I need to stay current on my shows of course) and the following day I flew back to Toronto. Yes, I cheated on my train journey and skipped out on what would no doubt have been the best four days of my life aboard the VIA. I thought about it long and hard, but decided I could not endure another attempt at sleeping on the train, so I caved. It’s also been nice to get home extra early.

For now, I’m working on settling back into my routine in Ontario and re-familiarizing myself with my thesis (truly, bittersweet). Now that I’m home, I’ve had some time to reflect on my trip and this past month, and I can honestly say I learned a lot about not only Canada but myself. Yes, I know that sounds incredibly cliché but it’s true.

First of all, I think that no matter where you go, if you travel for an extended period, you’re going to have to face situations and experiences that you never have before and will inevitably learn something about yourself. I wasn’t really sure how much I’d enjoy travelling for three weeks straight, but it really did fly by. I was pretty nervous about going alone as well and worried that I would get bored or lonely, but I found that in many cases I preferred it that way. I was extremely glad that I got to see friends along the way and share experiences with them, but I was also thankful for the moments where I had to figure things out for myself or be content with my own company. It gave me a newfound sense of independence and confidence, and also an appreciation for solitude. I honestly would probably do another solo trip, which I never thought I would go for previously.

It was amazing to travel across Western Canada and experience Alberta and British Columbia, two amazing provinces. There really is a lot of diversity amongst the provinces and it’s so cool to see that for yourself. It’s sparked an interest for me in Canadian travel and I can’t wait to see the rest of the provinces. I think it’s super important for any Canadian to travel our own country and gain an appreciation for Canadian culture.

Seeing it by train is actually pretty great too, as much as I knock it. I think if I did it again, I’d definitely take a sleeper cabin. The train is a relaxing way to travel through the country and you get to really see the landscape in a way you just won’t on a plane.

So, in the end I can say it’s been one hell of a time. I’m super happy that I got this opportunity for this once in a lifetime trip and I’m grateful for all of the experiences it’s brought. My trip really pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a good way and I feel like I’ve gained some clarity on myself or my own life. I’d 100% recommend travelling alone to anyone and also to travel Canada. I didn’t have the time to make the venture out to the East Coast just yet, but I’m feeling much more inspired to do so, so hopefully that’s in the cards for the future.

Thanks so much for reading and following along on my adventures. It’s been really fun to write about them and talk to people about it and their own travel experiences. Please enjoy this multitude of pictures from the last leg of the trip!

Love, Emma

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Alberta · British Columbia

Alberta —> British Columbia

Oops, it’s been a whole week since I’ve updated! It’s been a bit crazy, but I’m currently in Vancouver and have slowed down for a minute to write.

Last week on the 11th, I took the bus from Brooks back to Calgary, where I was staying with my family friend Patti. I’d really enjoyed my time in Calgary a few days before, so I was looking forward to getting back!

After an evening of relaxation, I hit up the Calgary Zoo on the 12th. Until this point, I hadn’t really done any actual solo excursions, so I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy it or not, but I was pleasantly surprised! It was really nice to cruise through at my own pace and stop whenever and where ever I liked. I didn’t feel as weird and out of place as I’d expected to surrounded by people in groups. The Calgary Zoo isn’t as big as the Toronto Zoo, but it was fun! They had a butterfly exhibit that allowed you to walk into the butterfly garden and be surrounded by hundreds of tropical butterflies, my personal favourite aspect of the zoo. I spent the evening shamelessly watching six episodes of Game of Thrones and I have 0 regrets.

Thursday the 13th was Stampede Round 2! Patti got us tickets for the chuckwagon races and evening show, which was perfect as I hadn’t seen these events when I’d been with Laura and Braedon. We arrived early and walked the grounds and checked out the art exhibits, trade show, and wine garden. I could have spent hours walking through that trade show, it was outrageous. The wine garden was a relaxing little oasis of alcohol which was thankfully indoors and out of the sun where I enjoyed two glasses of wine and felt very adult and sophisticated.

We made our way to our seats for the chuckwagon races. My mother had told me this was the highlight of the Stampede so I had high expectations, which were not let down! The races are very quick, about a minute and thirteen seconds on average, so if you’re not paying attention you can easily miss them. They’re very high energy and you can really feel how powerful the horses are as you hear them thundering across the downs.

After the races, the Stampede puts on an evening show with dancing, music, and fireworks. It was hosted by Jann Arden and I was so pumped to see her in person. The nostalgia was heavy as she sang ‘Insensitive’ and ‘Good Mother’ and I flashed back to playing my mom’s Jann Arden cd’s and dancing around my living room. Jann Arden was amazing live and very funny! Besides Jann, the show was a collection of dance routines and musical numbers by the Young Canadians, which was pretty cute! It was topped off by an incredible fireworks display, which were possibly the best I’ve seen (though I’ve only seen Cobourg’s Canada Day fireworks, so I’m not sure the bar is set very high). After the show, Patti and I wandered the midway, which is beautiful at night.

After a brief few days in Calgary, I was on the road again! I took the bus back to Edmonton where I was staying for two nights. I hadn’t left the train station in Edmonton previously, so I was looking forward to seeing what the city had to offer, though truthfully I didn’t think there was very much. I knew I definitely needed to see the West Edmonton Mall but apart from that, I expected to be catching up on my shows in my hotel (I just started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and I am OBSESSED).

Luckily for me, I gained a personal tour guide! When I’d been at the Stampede with L & B, we’d struck up a conversation in line for ribs with Eric. Eric lives in Edmonton and promised to show me around the city. I was mostly just proud that I’d finally made a travel friend (yay for introverted me!). So, on the 14th, after a couple of hours settling in my hotel room, Eric picked me up and we headed to Edmonton’s Street Performer Festival. It was pretty interesting to walk around and check out the various acts and stands. We made our way to a cute little bar and I drank potentially the fanciest drink. It had egg whites, which I was very unsure of. Fortunately, it just tasted like meringue which is my absolute jam, so all was well. We made our way to an old-timey movie theatre and watched an indie film, which was unexpectedly depressing but didn’t put a damper on the evening! Afterwards, we commenced a very thorough driving tour of the city. Eric showed me all of the points of interest of the city and I realized that Edmonton is a lot more than the mall. If you ever get the chance for a tour by a local, take it, it’s by far and away the best tour you could receive. Travelling alone is awesome as well, but sometimes it’s fun to have a bud along for the ride.

My time in Edmonton was off to a great start! Saturday was my mall day. The West Edmonton Mall is the biggest mall in North America and definitely puts Cobourg’s mall to absolute shame. It’s massive. I think I noticed that some stores had multiple locations in just this one mall. It has a waterpark, theme park, movie theatre, sea lion exhibit, and two dedicated hotels. It was fun to just walk around and take it all in. I saw the sea lion exhibit first, which also has a pirate ship nearby. I didn’t go in the waterpark, but creeped it from a viewing area, and it’s decently big. I did go in the theme park and rode the roller coaster, mostly just to challenge myself and say that I did it.

I had a veryyy early morning train the next day, so I cozied up in my hotel for the evening with McDonald’s and RuPaul’s Drag Race, an excellent combination.

Sunday the 16th was train day. I was anxious to get to Vancouver, but not to be on the train again! Edmonton to Vancouver is a little over 24 hours, so I faced another sleep on the train. The sleeping part was just as bad as I remembered, perhaps worse because when I woke up there was a different person sleeping in my seat mates chair, which was unsettling to say the least. However, the scenery makes up for it. It was so much better to travel through the mountains. If you ever consider taking the train to see Canada, this is the stretch to do it.

We had a brief stop in Jasper so I had an hour to wander the tiny little town. The main street area is super cute, all of the buildings are made of wood and it really does look like an old European town. I wish I’d had more time in Jasper, but I can tell it would be a wonderful place to spend a weekend for skiing or hiking. It was a little hazy due to the forest fires, which I actually did see from the train that night (terrifying).

Finally free of the train, I arrived in Vancouver. I’m staying with an old high-school friend, Beka. I’ve now been in Vancouver for two days and am really enjoying it! It’s amazing to see mountains in the backdrop and it feels like everywhere you turn, there’s hiking trails. We’ve already been on two little hikes and I’ve really loved being in the woods and feeling so close to nature!

We also went and saw a Vancouver Canadian’s baseball game which was a good time. I’ve noticed two things about Vancouver: there’s a lot of pet stores and there’s a lot of sushi places. At the baseball stadium alongside regular fare such as hotdogs and popcorn, they had a dedicated sushi bar, which was surprising to see. I love sushi, so this I’m looking forward to getting my hands on some ASAP.

Tonight, I’m making the trek to Victoria to visit my long-lost love, Teresa. I only see Teresa sporadically when she makes her way down to Ontario so I can’t wait to see her soon! I’ll be in B.C. until the 25th, so I have lots of adventures coming up, and this time I’ll update more frequently! Please enjoy some of the photos from the past week (although I was neglectful and didn’t take as many as I should have).

Alberta · Uncategorized

Adventures into the Wild Wild West

Once again, I’m writing this blog entry in a Tim Hortons, sipping a tea (I’m beginning to think this may become a running theme). As of today, I’m about half-way through my Alberta leg of the trip, and it’s been amazing!

On the 7th, I finally finished my train + bus tripping and arrived in Calgary! I’ve never been happier to get to my destination, the need to shower was real. I was picked up by my hometown bestie, Laura, and her boyfriend Braedon. Seeing some familiar faces after days on a train surrounded by strangers was a breath of fresh air.

Laura and Braedon were gracious enough to allow me Friday night to recover my spirits, so we spent the night watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Let me just say, on the cusp of 25, I am fully embracing being a boring adult and spending Friday nights watching game shows. That night, after three horrific nights on the train, I got the best sleep of my life on a futon.

Saturday was Stampede day! We made our way over on the C-Train (flashbacks of many happy years on the O-train came flooding in) and arrived at the world’s greatest outdoor show. I was expecting a lot, but it was A LOT. There were probably more food stands than restaurants in all of Cobourg. We checked out some agricultural stands and I got to see some cows up close and personal, far more thrilling than it sounds I promise.

We had tickets to the afternoon rodeo, so we headed in to the stadium after perusing the grounds. Our first order of business was getting our hands on some drinks. Palm Bay in hand, I settled in for three hours of rodeo. There was bucking horses and bulls, calf tying, and barrel racing, with some occasional fireworks thrown in for good measure. I hadn’t known what to expect, but it was genuinely entertaining. Maybe it was the drinks, but three hours flew by.

Laura and I had made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting sunscreen, so by the end of it we were crisp. A good time was had nonetheless, and the day was topped off with some ribs, a wonderful ending to any day. I had an absolutely splendid day at the Stampede, and am glad I checked that one off of my Canadian bucket list!

On Sunday, we drove out to Banff and took in some of the breath-taking natural views that Alberta has to offer. Our first stop was Lake Louise, which I had seen when I was 15 in March, but it was awesome to see it in the summer and be able to walk around. It was packed with tourists, naturally, but that was fine.

Laura and Braedon lead us in a hike up the mountain to Mirror Lake. Now, I am not a person who enjoys physical activity maybe as much as I should, but I felt confident I could take a 5 km hike. I had not considered that half of this hike was a direct incline (it is a mountain though Emma, duh), so my lack of shape was quickly exposed. I was feeling very much like Ling in Mulan, “Why was I a fool in school for cutting gym?”. After only four (maybe five) breaks, we reached Mirror Lake and I did not collapse! The hike was worth it, Mirror Lake was stunning. It’s a small little lake tucked into the mountain. The water is a beautiful shade of blue and perfectly clear and still. I was so glad to have reached it and that the hike back was downhill.

Following Lake Louise and Mirror Lake, we hit up Moraine Lake to round out our lake tour. Moraine Lake is comprised of glacial water like Lake Louise, so has that unique turquoise colouring, but seemed much less tourist-y, so definitely a good one to stop in at. There were plenty of little trails leading along the water, which were much more leisurely, so we spent some time trekking through. I love nature and the outdoors, so it was really rejuvenating to spend a day in such an amazing natural location. Being beside the mountains is an awe-inspiring experience, if you haven’t been to the Rockies yet, you need to go! This is one place that I will definitely be returning to.

Sunday evening, Laura and I returned to Brooks, Alberta after seeing Braedon off at the airport for a trip of his own. I was pumped to see the little Albertan town that Laura lives in. Brooks is quite small, with a population of around 15,000, but is surprisingly multi-cultural. Nicknamed “The City of 100 Hello’s”, Brooks is home to people from all over the world. It’s in a much flatter region of Alberta, but very close to the Dinosaur Provincial Park. Laura drove us out to the park yesterday, where I was able to see Alberta’s desert landscape.

Dinosaur Provincial Park seems so out of place, suddenly the prairie breaks way to this desert-like cavernous area. It’s full of hoodoo’s, which are also called fairy chimneys, a name I’m particularly fond of. Hoodoo’s are a geological rock formation in the form of a spire that forms in badlands, like Dinosaur Provincial Park. I took tons of pictures, but they really don’t do justice to how vast and hoodoo-filled Dinosaur Park really is.

It was super fun to roam about and climb the hoodoos and walk the trails. A sign warning of scorpions, rattle snakes, and black widow spiders had Laura and I nervously hurrying past any suspicious looking nook or cranny, but fortunately we did not encounter any wildlife on our walk. I did see some tiny, little cacti, which was enjoyable to me for reasons unknown. I was taken aback at how many different species of plants were living there that I had never seen before. It was an incredibly windy day, so I felt I might be blown off of a hoodoo at any moment, but thankfully I survived mostly intact (my hair did not fare as well).

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park was a truly unique area and well-worth the visit. In only 24 hours, I’d visited both mountains and a desert, Alberta is truly something!

Today, I’m venturing back to Calgary and later Edmonton before heading to B.C. I’m excited for more Albertan adventures to come! Please enjoy some of the many pictures taken at these lovely sites.

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I Don’t Like Sleeping On The Train

Hello all! It’s day 3 of my travels and my second full day on the train! I’ve been mostly out of cell service since we passed Toronto, so haven’t been able to update. However, we have taken a fortuitous stop in Winnipeg, so I’m currently sitting in Tim Hortons (and not on a train, yay!).

I’ve been on the train since about 2:15 am on Tuesday. Our train was supposed to leave at 10 pm, but you know how these things go. I arrived in Toronto at about 8:30, and thankfully, instead of wandering the city and blowing through hours of my torrented tv and movies, my wonderful friend Chloe invited me over. I happily agreed, and so I hung out with Chloe and her roommate Becky until 11 pm. When I arrived back at Union, the line for the train was so long, it extended all the way into the main hall! I think there were about 200 (?) youths travelling with the pass. We got on board and promptly passed out.

Having slept for two ungodly nights on the train now, let me say it is not fun. I’m not good at sleeping on moving vehicles and especially not so at sleeping upright. The seats recline, but the angles of the seat do not jive with me. I spend the night slowly slipping out and tossing and turning so my body doesn’t cramp. I’m not enjoying this aspect of the train. Pro-tip: if sleeping while travelling, don’t forget a sleeping mask. I did, and have been using a Lululemon headband (which is my saviour at this point). I also forgot my book and water bottle, highly recommend not doing that.

Our train has a special viewing car which has some nice big windows and sitting areas. People tend to flock there for a change of scenery. There’s a little dining car where I ate my first train meal. The staff are pleasant, the other travellers are nice. All aspects besides sleeping are good.

Yesterday, in between turns of playing Pokemon and watching Rick and Morty, we stopped for about half an hour in the small town of Hornepayne. I’d never heard of this town, but it is SMALL. I think there was one grocery store and that’s about it. We were allowed off and everyone jumped at the chance, eager to get off the train even for a bit. It was a bit comical to see about 200 or so young people descend upon this small town and wander aimlessly. It felt like a scene out of The Walking Dead. That’s pretty much what we are this point anyways.

I’ve included a few snaps of the trip so far.

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Hello!

Thanks for stopping by! If you’re reading this, then presumably we’ve met before, but if not, I’d like to take some time to introduce myself and this blog. My name’s Emma and I’m a 24 year old Canadian working on a Master of Arts in music. I’m currently writing a (super cool) thesis on my favourite fandom – The Lord of the Rings. I’m from a small town and have been recently living in Ottawa. I’m the youngest tea granny I know, I love pizza, sushi, and my cat.

For Canada’s 150th birthday, VIA Rail released a small amount of special tickets for youth. For $150, ticket holders are allowed unlimited travel during the month of July. After about 3.5 of the most frustrating hours I’ve spent on the internet, I got a ticket! So, I’m taking July to see the western provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. I’ll be visiting with friends but also travelling alone, and checking out as much as I can.

I thought I’d make this l’il blog to keep my friends and family in the loop on my trip. Please follow along and on my Instagram if you’re interested in my adventures. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the blog, so please keep in touch!