Embracing and escaping winter

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What a hectic couple of months! I’ve been non-stop travelling and sight-seeing since I returned to Canada after the Christmas break. First came a ski weekend north of Quebec, one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done in my life, but then again I was never one of the 5 year old skiing pros you see cruising down black runs! Next came a weekend away at ‘winter wonderland’ with the Queen’s University Outdoors Club. We took over a resort in rural Ontario, staying in sweet little cottages with open fires. We cross-country skied (less terrifying than downhill skiing, but probably because I spent less time flying down mountains at worrying speeds and more time on my bum), snow-shoed and skated on a frozen lake, made ‘s’mores’ by a campfire in the snow and just generally had great fun tobogganing and reliving our childhood winters.

Skiing at Mont St. Anne

Skiing at Mont St. Anne

The weekend after, in true ‘exchangie’ fashion, I booked a last minute trip to Montreal for their ‘Igloofest’ winter music festival. One of the main pre-requisites to have a true exchange experience is a desire to fill all available spare time seeing and doing new things. This weekend in Montreal was the epitome of that motto. I grabbed the last space in a car with some friends from the university and got a last minute bed in a great youth hostel in the old town part of Montreal. Then, in minus 36 degree weather braved the electro-music outdoor festival wrapped up in something like 8 layers. I only knew about thirty percent of the group I went with, but one of the best bits about exchange is that every single person is there to make friends.

Snowshoeing on a frozen lake

Snowshoeing on a frozen lake

After this three weekend run of spontaneous adventures I spent three weeks recuperating myself (and doing some school work) ready for reading week. With friends jetting off to Cuba, Mexico and Puerto Rico for the week, myself and three of my best Scottish friends (I think I’m more likely to come back to Durham with a Scottish accent than a Canadian one!) decided glamorous Miami was our destination of choice. While it dropped to -42 in Kingston over the week we experienced temperatures of 28 degrees, a difference of SEVENTY degrees to anyone who’s counting. Safe to say we got severely sunburnt on the very first day, but that didn’t deter us from lying on the beach, cycling up and down South Beach and visiting the amazing Art Deco strip Miami is famed for. The best bit of the trip, though, was the amazing drive from Miami to Key West (the southernmost point of the continental US) over the 47 Ocean Highway that connects the Florida Keys to the Mainland via 47 bridges (the longest being seven miles long!). You drive along with ocean and blue sky either side of the road for 3 hours, it’s spectacular! And so is Key West! It’s incredibly laid back but also packed with amazing architecture and a mix of American and Cuban lifestyles. Reading week was a really exciting experience, with sights and tastes that you can’t appreciate until you pack an overnight bag and visit these places for yourself.

Key West and the Ocean Highway

Key West and the Ocean Highway

Finally, my most recent trip was to visit my older brother who was in Washington DC for work. Having felt twangs of homesickness ever since the end of the Christmas break it was really satisfying to spend some time with my brother, in a city that absolutely lives up to expectations. Washington is as grand and spectacular and smart as you hope it would be. The Lincoln Memorial quite literally took my breath away, and I spent three hours just wandering around the National Museum of American History. With my brother picking up the cheque we ate fantastic pancakes and other American fare, and just really enjoyed being reunited in a really special city.

Cycling along South Beach, Miami

Cycling along South Beach, Miami

The crux of the matter is that exchange fuels within you an insatiable desire to visit places and experience everything you possibly can with the time you have. With just seven weeks to go until the end of term, it’s always in my mind that this chance won’t last forever and the general feeling among the exchange community is that you simply can’t fail to do everything you possibly can with the time you have in this foreign world. There is no use staying at home over the weekend while there’s mountains to ski down, music festivals to dance at and endless cities to be enjoyed.

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