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Monday, 29 September 2014

ALGONQUIN


100% my favourite weekend in Canada so far. Algonquin Provincial Park is about a 4 hour drive from Hamilton and covers over 7000 sqkm. It's located in Central Ontario between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River and is the oldest Provincial Park in Canada. We drove up on a sleepy Friday night to stay for a night in traditional cabins before heading out on the lakes for some canoeing. After a brisk 7am wake up call, we packed up our gear, got into our groups and headed out onto the water. In groups of 9, we had four canoes between us. Mostly in pairs, I was put in the three man and acted as 'princess/team flightless bears professional photographer'. Algonquin is truly spectacular, the autumn colours shone through in reds, gold’s and oranges. This combined with a shiny, still lake meant that the reflections were almost identical to the trees themselves. We spent the first half of the day paddling through a narrow creek. Not used to canoeing this was a bit of a struggle and a few of us beached ourselves in the grass a couple of times. After coming out into a wide, open lake, we spotted a flat-looking island and headed out for lunch and to soak up the sun. After lunch it was back on the open water. At one point we even lost a paddle (even less for me to do). In between getting to all the lakes we had a number of 'portages' or as I liked to call it 'French-canoe-walking'. This is where you need to hoist the canoe up and carry it on your shoulders to the next available body of water. Luckily for most of the guys carrying the canoes, the longest one was just over 500m! Canoes, dear readers, are a bit heavy. However these portages gave us the opportunity to walk through some of Algonquin's woodland, see some chipmunks and get out of the sun for a bit. The last hour of our day was arguably the best. In this hour, I saw a swimming moose and my Canadian dream was fulfilled. At first we thought it was a really big bird...I know. Stupid. Then we saw it's antlers and it's one heck of a snout puffing away. My pictures weren't great but so happy that I got to see a Canadian wildlife icon. After that we drifted in the lake for a bit soaking up the last of the sun’s rays and enjoying the peace and quiet. Arriving at camp, we parked the canoes and jumped straight into the water at sunset for a swim! The water was pretty icy but refreshing and laying out in the sun after was arguably the best way to end the day. The evening was spent stargazing. The stars were breathtaking, you could see the Milky Way and we even spotted a bunch of shooting stars! Despite a restless night, the next morning we got up and continued our canoeing. This was an easier day and a shorter one. The lake remained calm and a big pike nearly jumped in our boat! We encountered one fast moving waterway which apparently took out a few canoes in its rapids- we decided to avoid it altogether! Overall Algonquin was amazing, I'm not sure how many times I muttered 'this is the life' to myself but it's truly a beautiful place. 


Friday, 26 September 2014

Exploring Canada


Canada is a pretty big place and I've only really been exploring a tiny portion of it. But I want to share with you some of the beautiful places I've been to and show you how even in your backyard, Canada is a beautiful place. The majority of these photos are surprisngly from Hamilton (my current home). Hamilton is a University town and industrial steel city but for many it's gone a bit into decline. I would argue that Hamilton has some of the best hidden gems including over 1000 waterfalls and an emerging art scene. Dundas Peak gives you a great view of Hamilton and the surrounding area (you can even see Toronto) and hiking along the Bruce Trail takes you to some gorgeous waterfalls which you can paddle in. If you continue to hike along the Bruce Trail you will eventually end up at Niagara Falls which as you will know straddles the US/Canada border (the Canada side has better views mkay?).


Horseshoe falls is probably the most famous of the two and is spectacular when lit up at night. I've also managed a sneaky trip to Toronto, as I mentioned in a previous post. It's a really amazing city- what I would call a 'liveable city'. The waterfront is for many the best view of the city, illuminating the famous CN tower and offering great views of the Rogers Centre Sports Stadium. The best views can be seen from the island, which I haven't been to yet, but I do have a good 7 months left! This weekend I'm travelling to Algonquin National Park. There I'll be canoeing and swimming in the lakes and enjoying the autumnal golds and reds of the surrounding trees- honestly the photos look amazing! The park itself is huge and offers plenty of oppurtunities to see local Canadian wildlife; moose, bears and wolves all live here! Although if I do see a bear I'm not sure if that's good news. The weather is set to be beautiful- 26 degrees and sunny! So I'm pretty excited.


So a quick overview of the backpacking trip I did last weekend. We woke up bright and early for a breakfast at Pancake House and to pack all of our goods away. This included stuffing a sleeping bag, mat, part of a tent and a few pots and pans into my already over-filled backpack. Heaving the thing on made me feel like a turtle to say the least. After a big pancake and bacon breakfast (with a bucket of strength inducing coffee) we jumped on the bus to Dundas and started the hike. The first part of the hike got some getting used to. Carrying an 80l backpack in 20+ degree heat aint so easy my friends. We walked along an old railway track which eventually led up to our campsite. However after walking for 20 mins or so, we took the high ground which led up to Dundas Peak and some great views. We even spotted a train that had at least 50 + carriages! It was great so see some of the autumnal colours coming through and also see a bit of the surrounding area. After this our walk took us past a golf course and along to see some of the waterfalls.


Most of the falls were pretty shallow but some you could paddle in. Which leads me onto the second day! After an evening of s'mores, campfire stories and 'interesting' pasta, we woke up in a puddle. It had been raining all morning and we had to pack everything up in torrential rain. It wasn't a great start to the morning and trying to cook bacon has never been so tiresome! The rains cleared up eventually however and this took us on a great path through the woodlands. It was a very peaceful start to the day, sun shining through the trees and a couple of wildlife sightings; snakes yo. Then when we reached some of the bigger waterfalls, paddling and climbing happened. A few of us drenched ourselves in the falls to cool down, others (like me) enjoyed the spray and snapped a few shots.  We carried on walking back towards Hamilton and even passed McMaster, seeing it from an almost birds-eye view! Finally we ended up near downtown and caught the bus back to campus. A great trip and a new side to Hamilton I'd never seen!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

LIFE IN CANADA (SO FAR)

So this is a more of a 'what have I been doing since I left the country' post. In many ways, I'm still settling in, I've been here for a month now and I guess I can call it home but despite starting classes last week, it still sort of feels like an extended holiday! I've done so much so I won't be able to pack it all in one post. But I've got lots of plans to do some travelling, backpacking, camping and general sightseeing, so you'll here about that soon. Plus I've had a lot of meals out, some good, some average. Once I find somewhere worth blogging about, you will see it up here! I'm also hoping to do some recipe posts, however; SHOCK AND HORROR, I don't have a real oven here! The house is only stocked with mini convection ovens and microwave ovens, luckily I have a friend across the road who's oven I can work out once I need to start baking when winter comes...which is scarily soon. So here are 10 happy things that have happened in the last month!

1. Visiting Niagara Falls! The falls themselves are awe-inspiring and seeing them up close was especially crazy. I got soaked whilst trying to wrap my poncho around me on the boat so it was a good thing it was such a hot day. 


2. Toronto! It's such a cool city and one of those 'liveable' cities where you could see yourself going about your everyday activities. We stayed in Kensington which was an especially cool area with loads of street art, vegan bakeries and trendy looking students milling around. Dinner was at a great little Jewish bistro which served the best blonde beer from Quebec. 

3. TIFF or Toronto Film Fest! We saw Adult Beginners on a rainy Saturday morning. Very funny and very sweet, highly recommend. 




4. Going to Supercrawl, a free festival in Downtown Hamilton. I saw Charles Bradley play; if you don't know him, he's a James Brown-esque Jazz singer with a killer voice. I also ate beavertail (deep fried chocolate and banana covered doughnut dough mmm) and got a pretty handmade pink and purple patterned purse from an independent craft stall.

5. Eating Canadian Foods! I've been so fat and I don't care. Poutine has been a revelation; it's a classic Canadian dish of chips smothered in gravy and cheese. I got some in Niagara at Smokes Poutinerie which were topped with pulled pork and crispy bacon. 

   

























6.The Chinese Supermarket in Jackson Square. I found this place literally on my first day in the city. It has EVERYTHING. Fresh dim sum and cheap sushi, raw sugar cane, a wall of exotic teas... I could spend hours roaming the aisles I swear. 

7. Treating myself to a NARS blusher in Sephora. Oh Britain, why oh why do we not have a Sephora? It's glorious.




8. School Pride at MAC! McMaster has crazy enthusiastic school pride. I went to a football game on my second week here and the stadium was buzzing with cheers and chants. It's such a happy atmosphere and really infectious- I even bought a McMaster t-shirt myself. 






9. Coffee Breaks at Tim Hortons. Cheap, good coffee and yummy baked snacks. No wonder Canadians love Tim Hortons. 

10. The (first three weeks of) weather. Ok so it's cooled a bit down now, but until last weekend it was 30 degree heat, sunshine and smiles. There were a couple of thunderstorms but they brought much needed coolness when it was a bit too much. Plus the lightning was incredible! 

                   

Friday, 22 August 2014

GOODBYE BRITAIN

Just a quick update! Tomorrow I leave for Canada to start my year abroad at McMaster University. I'm pretty excited/nervous and generally just looking forward to it all starting! The first few weeks will be a bit mad I imagine; a lot of bank account setting up, mingling with other International students and trying to find out where I can find a pack of digestive biscuits. Anyway during this time I doubt I will be able to post as much but I'll try to keep up with anything that needs posting. I'm going to try and take the 'yes' approach to life abroad. Want to go to a toga party? Ok yeh...I guess so. Want to try out this pancake house? YES. Want to go dog sledging with cute husky puppies? OMG YES. Hopefully this will work out for the best and give me plenty of material on stuff to try out, eat and visit in Canada and maybe even across the border...USA West Coast trip anyone? I'll be catching my flight tomorrow morning and flying straight to Toronto- somewhere I will definitely be frequenting! Then straight onto Hamilton to settle in and see what's about. If anyone has any tips for life in Canada please let me know! Will be posting soon, watch this space.

SEE YA ENGLAND XXX

Monday, 11 August 2014

PLACE TO GO > CAMBODIA

             

I have a mild fascination regarding East Asia, countries such as Palau, Japan and Vietnam have been on my bucket list for years and apart from a 2 hour stopover in Singapore, I've never really travelled around that part of the world. I've mentioned before how much I'd love to see Angkor Wat, but there is so much more in Cambodia than just that. Cambodia has everything from ancient temples to rich countryside and iconic city life. Phnom Penh is a chaotic city of bustling markets, full of exotic street-food and pretty colonial architecture. The city is still away from the tourist mainstream yet offers days of sightseeing and activity. Immerse yourself in local culture by taking part in sunrise aerobics at the Olympic Stadium or alternatively visit the Royal Palace from the back of a famous rickshaw. A friend of mine who visited Cambodia also recommends Tuol Sleng, known as the 'Genocide Museum', an interesting but grim visit into Cambodia's history. The Killing Fields are also an important reminder of Cambodia's notoriously dark history and are a few km outside of the city centre. On a lighter side, try a wide range of street food creepy crawlies; fried spider with a spicy lime sauce? Dried snake with green mango salad? Mmm crunchy. Or if you're not into that; try a traditional staple of noodle broth topped with fish paste. Phnom Penh is the cultural heart of Cambodia but there is still plenty to see in this small country. The Cardamom Mountains are perfect for exploring jungle life. Coconut Palms and Wild Plum trees welcome all sorts of wildlife in this protected jungle landscape. The area is preserved through it's dense canopies which shelter a scattering of villages and eco-lodges, which are ideal for trekking in-between. There is plenty more to see across Cambodia which just wouldn't fit in one post; Takeo Province, Tonle Sap and Siem Reap are also must-see's on my personalised map. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

REVIEW > THE DINER

The Diner is an all-occasion restaurant. Equally perfect for Sunday brunch or a gut-busting dinner. A couple of girlfriends and I made our way to the Covent Garden branch last week. I'll be honest, we were spoilt for choice! Even after a good half an hour we were still pulling our hair our trying to choose between the sweet potato pancakes versus the cobb salad. We finally decided on the American classic; a round of burgers, fries and milkshakes. I chose a BBQ chicken burger, served with skinny diner fries, coated in Cajun seasoning. This was all washed down with a think banana and peanut butter milkshake. The other girls both picked the 'Juicy Lucy' of Man V Food fame; a moist burger stuffed with a cheese sauce centre. When the food came out, we were slightly lost for words; the burgers were stacked high and the chips took up an entire basket themselves! The meal between the three of us could easily have been enough to feed six or seven! Despite the sheer size of it, The Diner's food is a perfect slice of America in the UK, my burger was especially delicious! Next time I return I've got my eye on the banana and butterscotch pancakes- and I'd love to try a 'Hard Shake' an alcoholic milkshake which has combos ranging from cherry and amaretto to alcoholic Oreo flavour! I have some minor complaints; the Cajun seasoning was arguably too much and one less sprinkle would have done them a favour. Also, when I order banana and peanut butter I'm expecting big flavours; this milkshake was lacking in that punch-you-in-the-face flavour I was expecting. The Diner can be found all across London and has branches in Camden and Soho as well, so next time you're there, check out the menu- there's enough on it to cater to every taste! 

                            

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

HOW TO PACK FOR A YEAR ABROAD



How to pack for a year abroad? You're spending another year at University, however, said University is in a different country, most likely thousands of miles away from home. Not only this, but the climate and culture are completely different. Many of my friends from University are doing years abroad, ranging from Australia to Singapore and Spain. I am, as I have mentioned enthusiastically before, doing my year abroad in Canada. Packing is one of the main things I will be doing for the next couple of weeks, eliminating this t-shirt here and there, packing that one extra pair of socks and panicking about whether it's worth bringing my favourite mug. Now although I can't guarantee that everything I've initially decided on will be needed, I've come up with a couple of easy to follow guidelines for those spending a year abroad.

KNOW YOUR LIMIT

I realise this sounds like an alcohol awareness campaign but the point I'm making is about baggage size and weight. You need to work out not only what the airline restrictions are but what your personal carrying capacity is. I know I couldn't lug more than 2 suitcases around, especially if I have to change flights/make my way on public transport. An easy way to do this is to pack as lightly as possible or stick to a strict easy to follow list, for example; 2 pairs of jeans, 10 t-shirts, 1 evening bag etc etc. I know it's tempting to think; 'oh but I love that pair of shoes!' or 'that might come in handy for fancy dress' but in most cases it's not worth it and 9/10 of the times you can find something similar or more suitable out there. For me, that will be a new pair of snow boots. 

LESS COSMETICS/MORE DRUGS

Tehe. No but really, most countries issue toothpaste. You don't need to go out and buy 5 reserve bottles of your favourite shampoo. Is that really what you're going to regret halfway through the year? Who has ever said 'yeah my year abroad was great, but I couldn't find one bottle of Herbal Essences in Copenhagen so that just ruined the whole experience'. However, in comparison to many countries (especially the USA and Canada) the UK has pretty cheap pharmaceuticals. It's worth taking a couple extra packets of painkillers and any other over the counter medicines you think you might need. 

   
RESEARCH THE CLIMATE

Ok so we all know that all the cats down in Brisbane might as well pack a few extra bikinis and flip flops (thongs in native tongue). But it's important to be prepared for the climate. Some countries and cities experience much higher humidity’s and therefore you need to pack appropriately in order to keep cool. Alternatively in snowier climates such as Canada and Sweden, you're going to need to take account of thermals, layers and possibly invest in a thick winter coat. Anyone travelling to the UK? Pack a waterproof jacket. 

ROLL IT

This is simple. Roll your clothes to make extra space in your bag. You could vacuum pack but I literally have no clue how to do that. 

GADGET BASICS

There are a few electronic devices you might want to consider packing before you fly off as well. Firstly; adaptors. Pretty obvious, you can't use anything without an adaptor and again this can be country-specific. Next; a portable hardrive. Nowadays you can get pretty compact hardrives for not too expensive prices. It's worth taking one of these in order to back up both all your important data and memorable photos (awh). 


SOMETHING SENTIMENTAL

During the year leading up to Canada we had a number of lectures about acclimatising to our new homes. We were even given handy little graphs about how our emotions will play out. FYI you will experience initial euphoria followed by a decline into sadness as you become homesick. I did have a little giggle at this. But for those moments when you are missing home and all you want is a proper British biscuit and cup of tea with friends, take something sentimental. Photos, trinkets, cards, gifts...all of these things have sentimental value and it's worth having them around you to remind you of a little bit of home.

AND NOT FORGETING THE DOCUMENTS


Saving the boring stuff till last! But arguably the most important stuff. Remember to pack all your important documents (and photocopies) in a waterproof folder. This means, passport copies, visa letters, bank details, emergency contacts etc all in a folder which can be kept safe. I would actually recommend taking this in your hand luggage more than anything; it's something which needs to be accessible and kept on you whilst travelling. I was once on a bus going through Bosnia and a guy from Vancouver nearly got kicked off because he left his passport in his hold luggage!