Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Train

I hadn't originally planned on taking the train for any particularly long journeys...I wasn't entirely sure that I would go overly far between stops, wasn't sure where I was planning after Ottawa. I sound disorganised, and in some aspects of my life that's me through and through, but usually as far as things like this trip are concerned I like to be planned as far as is sensible. Clearly I don't plan each and every day, but it settles me to know where I'm headed, where I'll stay when I'm there, how I'll get there, and probably the place after that. 


I was in Montréal and decided that I was going to skip over a big chunk of Canada and go straight to Edmonton. I started my usual research into the cheapest way to get there, and it was going to be a flight. I had almost decided on getting a flight when Elizabeth talked me into looking at the trains again. The train was more expensive, but only by the cost of three nights in a hostel, the amount of time I'd be on the train. I felt like I should go for it...I'll get to see the bits of Canada I'm not visiting directly. 

So, yesterday, I got my first train down to Toronto. I arrived at 9, checked my bag, and immediately joined the queue for my second train of the day. The seats are unassigned so I wanted to get in quickly to increase my chance of finding a window seat, and one that suited my tastes at that. I succeeded. I'm in a window seat, seated at the back end of the pillar in the way to spoil my view. At the moment I have two seats to myself. Let's hope it stays that we for awhile. 

The train left on Tuesday at 10pm, and will arrive at 6:30am on Friday, taking into account a two hour time difference - I'll be 7 hours behind in Edmonton. 

Now the train isn't exactly uncomfortable...but it's uncomfortable. I'm in Economy (obviously, not going to pay for a cabin) and the seats are nice and spacious, they have a little kick out leg rest thing...and go fairly far back. I don't like to put my chair back much at all, but last night I noticed the girl behind me had curled up across her two seats, so I didn't feel bad in pushing it further than I might usually have done. I didn't sleep well. While there is a lot of legroom, the chairs themselves aren't that well cushioned. They're a bit old. Years ago I slipped over on the ice, clearing some snow so Jen could drive away (I promised never to let it go, and I'm a woman of my word) and since then my coccyx complains on any journey where I'm sitting for too long. Lucky I'm on my own in my seat, it makes me a fidget monster and I know it annoyed the girl sat next to me on the coach from Toronto to Montréal.

It was also REALLY cold. I had my jumper and a coat on, and another over my legs, and I was still pretty chilly. This morning I went and got myself a coffee and decided the blanket was worth it. I was right, I'm well snug. 

Aside from the train itself, it has been pretty amazing so far. We aren't just going along next to roads, we're speeding through some beautiful forests and lakes. It's been snowing and the trees look especially wonderful with the icing sugar dusting they've got, and I now have a weird fascination in seeing how much of a lake or pond or stream or puddle has frozen over. It's the most exciting when it's frozen enough for snow to settle on it. 

We've been stopped for a little while at a tiny town called Hornepayne, with 1000 residents. I jumped off with most other people to stretch legs and get a cold drink that isn't hugely overpriced. It is, unsurprisingly, really very cold. But it's fine, I was out and aboot (had to) in my first Canadian snow! 

Still in Ontario, amazingly. Makes you realise the scale of a place when you can be in a train for 16 hours and still be in the same province. 

It's now Thursday. I woke up this morning stopped in Winnipeg. As you may or may not have seen, last week there was a derailment near Edmonton which has disrupted a lot of things. Our train had fewer cars and supplies on board as it had to be put together in Toronto out of cars already stripped for the season as the usual ones were stuck out in Edmonton. So when we stopped in Winnipeg there were loads of things going on board and whatnot. It was a four hour stopover, which mean everyone had the chance to really get out and stretch their legs, there were bookings being taken on board to go on a tour...I decided to give this a miss. I had thought I'd get out, find some coffee and wifi, and have a bit of a walk. First problem, no coffee places in the station. I've noticed this in a few stations here, maybe because the distances travelled are further and people tend to bring their own things, but there are hardly any coffee shops or suchlike compared to home. 

Second problem was that outside it was FREEZING. Now I have plenty of cold weather clothes, but they are all packed in my bag, which has been checked. I have my two coats but not an incredibly warm top underneath so not ideal in the weather. In my search for coffee I found a pancake restaurant and decided some warm breakfast would do very nicely. I got myself some delicious pancakes and bacon and a nice cup of coffee. Mmm. 

Back on board the train, we've been travelling for a couple of hours or so. We're now in Manitoba and I can inform you that if the view from the train is anything to go by, it's flat. There are fields, then some more fields, one or two fields, and then if you squint and look very far in the distance you might just be able to make out a field, if you can believe such a thing. Not the most exciting view I've ever seen. Yesterday I was able to amuse myself for quite awhile by just listening to music and watching the world go by as it was just so damn pretty. Now...I'm not so sure. 

I've a feeling this is going to be a long day. We're currently sat on the sidings waiting for a freight train to pass. These are so much longer than home, I timed one recently and it took two minutes to pass us. That's long. We've been informed that, since the derailment, there's been a big hold up for these freight trains and we are always going to have to stop for them, so we should expect to be late arriving at any of the stops. This doesn't bother me so much. Yeah, the train isn't that comfy, and the views aren't as spectacular now, but we're due to arrive in Edmonton at 6:30am tomorrow, and I can't check into my hostel until 11. If we're a bit later then I stand a better chance of being able to check in early and get my bed sorted. I can leave my luggage locked up and go for a wander around town, but I don't want to have to come back and make my bed before sleep. There is nothing more hateful in the world. 

I was distracted for awhile by movies and a beautiful sunset. Possibly one of my favourite views of the journey. Could not stop taking photos.

I never slept particularly well, but last night was the worst. We were due to get into Edmonton at 6:20am, so I was a little bit restless and worried about oversleeping and having to leap up and grab everything and forget stuff. I was awake from 5am as a result. I needn't have worried. We were so delayed by freight trains throughout our journey (including sat for an hour waiting for them this morning) that we ended up arriving at about 11:05. Plus point, I get 50% off my next train journey! 

Train adventure over. Worth it...I'd say so. Long and uncomfortable, but beautiful. I would have been happier if I were shorter and had a real pillow as many other passengers did. One guy brought an air bed. Seriously. If you get the chance, do it. But put films on your ipad and bring snacks. 



Wednesday, 23 October 2013




Welcome to Ottawa! I spent a little longer here, had both fun times and infuriating times, boiling times and freezing times, and a couple of beaver tails.

Not long after I arrived a girl in my dorm, Vivica, invited me to join her at a Thanksgiving meetup meal. I knew Nich had done plenty of meet ups in Paris, so I thought this would be a fantastic way to spend my first Canadian (or American) Thanksgiving. It was a bring a dish from where you're from kinda thing, so I head out the next morning, bought some potatoes, turnips, cabbage and chorizo to make a sort of bubble and squeak effort. Clearly I had no leftovers, so I just made a sort of mash. It was delicious, not gonna lie.

We were pretty lucky, as it happens. The place this event was held at was the oldest standing house in Ottawa and held a fair bit of Canadian history in its walls, particularly in the room we ate in. There were people from all over the world, it was a great evening and extremely interesting. I got to taste my first pumpkin pie! I didn't like it. Tasted weird. Not sweet and not savoury. Apologies for the poor photo, I kinda got a 'not keen on photos' vibe, so I was pretty swift about it.

The next day I took myself off wandering around Ottawa, exploring the Rideau Canal (top photo) and then went on a tour of Parliament. Turns out a lot was closed because there was something going on the next day, so I didn't see a lot. I can tell you that the library is beautiful, but I couldn't take photos, and that it seems like it works much like it does at home, except it's the Senate instead of the House of Lords.



I took myself up to a hill to get a view over Ottawa, and over the bridge back to Québec. I had intended to go a museum the other side of the bridge but held back for two reasons.

1) It was getting on a bit, and I didn't want to rush

2) Have you seen this bridge?!

I can't remember if I've mentioned on here about how I don't like bridges. Particularly ones with wooden slats, or any way of me seeing what's happening beneath me (most piers are out too), things like this set my legs all wibbly and I don't like them at all. I had resolved to get a bus the next day, until I realised the metal grille closest in the photo is what the cars drove over one way. It sounded horrendous. Almost crossed it off entirely.

Then Vivica found her friend Hannah and talked me into going with them. I reasoned I might feel calmer with other people there, so I went. I hated it. I tried to half focus ahead so I couldn't really tell we were on the bridge but it had rained, so my eyes interpreted the puddles as gaps to the Ottawa river below acne it was horrible. I just marched on as quickly as I could.

The museum (Museum of Civilisation) is great. We saw an IMAX movie about Kenya and then set off around the floors. It took 6 hours. There's so much, some really interesting exhibits, so worth the money...but when we left my legs were happy to walk at a proper pace rather than museum amble.

Byward Market is apparently designed to make you want to eat all the fruit. I saw these 'ground cherries' (below) everywhere, thought they might be physalis but decided they were too small. Eventually I investigated further and concluded they must be just tiny physalis. WIN. I am mad about them, and having lots of tiny ones set my heart a flutter.

Sadly, I opened them up, saw they were yellow...and then tasted that they didn't taste like physalis. They were very sweet, and I wasn't a big fan. So sad.


The next day, I went along with Vivica, Hannah and another new person we picked up in our dorm, Anu to see this tent. You could see it from the river pathway, so we wandered over to go and view it properly...and it was closed. But that was fine because there was a great view of Parliament...

...and we were able to sit in the sun for a little while and chat about Life, the Universe, and Everything. Yes, I have been reading Hitchhiker's lately.


We carried on further up the river to find these balance sculptures Hannah had come across a ew days earlier. They're pretty cool, we spent awhile picking out our favourites.

Isn't he cute?

That evening Vivica and I head over to the Museum of Nature as it was free between 5-8. We enjoyed some dinosaurs...mammals...sea quickly. It was a slight stretch...Vivica likes to read everything (hence 6 hours the day before) so we compromised. She could read everything in the dinosaurs, but everything else would be fleeting. 

The day after, everyone had gone, so it was back to me to entertain myself. Pah. Which meant the War Museum. It was quite intense...I learnt a lot, but this last hall creeped me out a little...all the stuff we've made to kill each other.

The hostel I was staying in was previously the city jail. This was my room...I was not one staying in an old cell, which I'm totally fine with, cause they looked cold and loud and not great.

Ottawa was fun, I really enjoyed myself and you should absolutely go if you have the chance. But have a lot of change with you. The nightmares I had getting exact change for the to the train station today no in the best mood I've ever been in. To top it all, I was standing in a queue where everyone else had decided it was sufficient to put their bags down in the queue and go and sit back down. I stood my ground with pure English fury pouring out of wherever it is fury pours out from. That's not how you queue...don't join if you can't hack the rules.

I'm now on the train to Toronto, whee I change to a train to Edmonton. It's Tuesday evening now, I will arrive at my destination on Friday morning. There is no wifi. Keep me in your thoughts.




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Sunday, 13 October 2013


The first day in Québec was difficult. I was tired and it was a little muggy. I got off the train knowing that my hostel was uphill, I had been warned beforehand by Elizabeth, and was not relishing the idea. I turned one corner and felt like giving up there and then. It was only about a 15 minute walk, but this hill was enough to break my spirit. Without all my belongings on my back it would have been an unpleasant walk. Finally powering up through I came to a flat street and felt immense relief, thinking my ordeal was over. No no. 

This is the hill my hostel was on. Why would they do that to a person? I arrived, sweating and exhausted, and flopped down on my bed awhile. It being still fairly early, I managed to convince myself to get up and go out for a walk. 

The citadelle overlooks the Saint Lawrence River, and it was a pretty spectacular view. I wandered on for awhile, enjoying the fact that it was cooling down, and even that it was getting a little dark. You know sometimes you're ready for autumn and all it entails? I reached the point where I took the photo of the cruise shop at the top of the post. I had decided there that I would turn around and head back as there were further stairs going down, and it was keenly aware that anywhere I climbed down would have to be climbed back up again. Seconds after I took the photo rain started spattering down, not heavy, but big drops. I turned and returned home, not being able to open my umbrella due to the wind and resigning myself to getting a bit damp. By the time I was back at the citadelle the rain had truly set in and I was drenched. 

The days afterwards were nicer. I took myself round Old Québec, enjoying the Halloween decorations, even though the idea of the town hall decorating itself so massively was a little strange to me. I really liked the old town, it reminded me more of home, more winding streets and less of the predictable grid I'd met everywhere else. 

I'd spotted a Christmas shop in Montréal but hadn't had a chance to go in, so as soon as I saw this I was there. I wanted to find an ornament for Christmas in Canada, Samantha and I's apartment and tour having been all booked and settled a little while ago. It's terrible, I'm so impatient for it to be December and for her to be here! I digress. This place was awesome. There were some lovely little things, and there was Christmas music playing (some French versions of English songs which is always amusing to listen to), but it was extremely expensive. It makes sense, it's not the season, it's not what people are buying. Still not going to pay $30 for an ornament I'm sure I'll find plenty of when festivities roll around for real. Glad I held out, as a day or two later I found a much cheaper little ornament that I quite enjoy. So there.  

Here is my requisite photo of a tree turning. 




The last and next two photos are from the Plains of Abraham, which was easily my favourite place. An enormous park with wonderful views over the river. I could (and did) spend hours here, especially in the unseasonable warmth. 

I saw a woodpecker! I was ambling along listening to some podcasts (Adam&Joe at that particular time) and heard an odd noise. When it repeated it occurred to me that it might just be a woodpecker, and I was absolutely delighted when it was. I also saw a chipmunk though the photo is a bit rubbish. But hey chipmunk! Not as exciting as the raccoons in Montréal.  

One day I felt the need to go out on the water. Do you ever get that? Where you're just like...I want to be in a boat, right now. So I found myself a little tour, with a guide dressed up as...Louis Jolliet I think? An explorer. The guide couldn't seem to decide if he was acting as Louis or just dressed up as him! every other sentence would jump from past to present from I to he. 

These falls are taller that the Horseshoe Falls. Apparently. 

 View back to Quebec. 

I spent my second to last day having a small wander up an unknown road before heading back to the Plains for an amble in a different direction and a max....relax. I sat by this hill for awhile, and recalled how shortly before I left for Canada I had rolled down a hill in Greenwich with Bex. Worst idea we had for awhile. 

Now I'm sat on the train en route to Ottawa, where the hostel is a jail and apparently one of the most haunted places in Canada. Except it's not, because ghosts aren't real. But you know, spooky n that. 



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