I don’t know how to break this to you but I’ve practically taken over Canada, or at least the west coast and a proportion of the Rockies and the Prairies. The grizzly bear fetches me English breakfast tea with a click of my fingers, orca give me pedicures and breach on command, the golden eagle is my personal hair stylist, and elk perform interpretive dance upon my will.
In an attempt to comprehensively break down our journey across from Vancouver to Calgary this blog will form three segments – The West Coast, The Rockies, Calgary. I begin writing this blog with regret that I have not updated you sooner and trepidation that anecdotes which seemed so urgent at the time have been lost amongst the chaotic soup of stories swirling around my mind from the past month.
The West Coast
Taking a movie-style flashback to when I touched down in Vancouver, two images spring to mind – that of a waterfall and totem poles within the airport terminal and a queue longer than time itself for my student permit which I twitchingly waited in for nearly two hours to collect a mere sheet of paper and a stamp whilst my family escaped into the Vancouver air.
Vancouver was a place magnificently hyped by friends and acquaintances who had previously visited and it had a lot to live up to in my mind. The airport wasn’t quite doing it for me. A days cycle around Stanley Park – a mountainous and forested region of the city which was unparalleled in its views of the downtown skyline and the sea – provided the confirmation I needed of Vancouver’s beauty.
I whispered my personal mantra “Calgary is better; Vancouver is wetter”, under my breath in order to reinstate my university city loyalty. However Vancouver, known for its persistent rain, did not show proof of this and provided glorious sunshine throughout our stay. No one likes a show off.
Granville Island treated us to Instagram worthy food experiences and shopping opportunities, and free public yoga with an old school friend (who studies at UBC) on Kitsilano Beach enlightened me to the Canadian ‘yogi’ culture which seems impossible to not embrace.
We paid a visit to Capilano Suspension bridge, featuring a vertigo inducing view down to the valley below as some people shuffled along, suffocating the hand rail beneath their grips. Here, we sampled edible, elderflower-tasting pine needles, and learned the history of the forest around us. I also met my first Canadian friend – a fluffy moose toy that my sister named ‘Meese’ (in honour of the confusion surrounding the moose’s plural form) – which I was instructed to carry with me on all of my travels, somewhat like how a three year old carries their teddy bear. I personally like to think of Meese as a mascot – a very mature mascot appropriate for a very mature 21 year old.
Hopping over to Vancouver Island is a breeze for Vancouverites, and the process was much like heading from Dover to Calais – except replace the not so gorgeous white cliffs of Dover with a spectacular mountain backdrop and the English Channel with the glittering Salish Sea. Victoria, though somewhat a tourist hotspot, bustled with a very European like vibe – the harbour area in town reminded me of trips to Padstow, Cornwall as a child. A whale watching tour brought us close to wild Orca living in the waters between Vancouver and Vancouver Island which, without wishing to sound like a geriatric tourist, was actually truly magical.
Equally magical was the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. I bounded around from room to room like a ADD child with a sugar rush – everything was interactive and meticulously designed to provide a film-setesque visual representation of BC’s history.
Saying goodbye to the resident otters living in the hotel pond, we hit the road to Tofino – a small surfing town at the opposite end of the Island a good 3 to 4 hours away. We spent two blissful days here soaking up the sea air and slightly reluctant Canadian sun, paddle boarding on the calm sea. One morning we spent breakfast time observing some black bears enjoying theirs, from the safe distance of a boat, around a nearby coastline.
Bowen Island was like the Chelsea of Vancouver, only with breathtaking views of the sea and a welcome lack of rahs prancing around comparing their latest Prada purchases and gossiping over last night’s masquerade ball. It was upmarket – clearly an idyllic island home for those wealthy enough to commute over to Vancouver each day. We were lucky enough to stay in the beautiful home of retired country musician Shari Ulrich with unrivalled views of the sea and mountains.
The day and a half we spent there was a little taste of paradise and it was hard not to picture ourselves happily and blissfully moving into that house tucked away on the hill, with deer visibly weaving in and out of the trees below. I was starting to feel like a west-coast Canadian – my loyalty to Calgary was comprised.
I knew that life in Canada was not always going to run this smoothly. Indeed the path would often be rocky…
The Rocky Mountains
Excuse my childlike fantasies, but arriving at the train platform of The Canadian in
Vancouver was the closest I’d felt and will probably ever feel to Harry arriving at Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross for his first ever journey to Hogwarts. Sadly, atop my suitcase did not sit a white snowy owl and running at the barrier gave me concussion rather than access to a secret magical platform.
Nevertheless, The Canadian was like no train I’d seen before. We had access to a magical raised cabin walled and roofed in glass. Feeling much like Charlie in the great glass elevator, I sat astounded at magnificent views of the mountains, lakes, and waterfalls along the way to Jasper. However, sleeping on a cosy looking bunkbed as a train chugs and jolts away below you is not quite as soothing as enjoying the pitter patter of rain on a cold winters night.
We hatched onto the train platform in Jasper, gulping the fresh mountain air like newly born chicks and unfolded our cramped limbs, tentitavely testing our tread on the stationary ground.
Our cabin between the trees epitomised idyllic forest living, with all-wood furnishings and a fireplace to warm our boots. The view of the valley was enough to inspire any Grimm’s fairytale. An evening roasting smores over a firepit overlooking the valley, and learning tales of Jasper’s non-human inhabitants from a knowledgeable local guide.
The next day we hired bikes which allowed us to explore several lakes and wooded areas, partly in search for wildlife, but also terrified that we would ride head first into a grizzly; We sung at the top of our lungs to scare off the bears (though anyone would have run a mile at the atrocious harmonies we were producing). We saw plenty of elk, goats, and mountain sheep during our short stay, though I vowed to return one day to walk more of the trails and see more of the wildlife. I could imagine wiling away the winter hours in front of a log fire with good friends and good food, the falling snow soothing the slumber of Jasper’s resident bears.
On the subject of snow.
Snow is something that I very much associate with Christmas time, with snow-days calling school to a halt in early January and with ski-trips in February half term. Snow is something confined to the winter months, and by the time it arrives in England we usually exclaim ‘FINALLY!’ and gleefully don every piece of cold-weather apparel our mothers have ever imposed upon us to frolic around and slide down some hills on questionable pieces of plastic, and after a couple of hours retire to the fireplaces in our warm houses and long for summer.
Imagine – you are in a car traversing the mountain roads from Jasper to Lake Louise, having a well deserved nap after a hard day of avoiding bears and BAM, a white flake appears. Before you know it, white flakes are having a party on your window and outside appears to be a wilderness of white. You pinch yourself – you must be dreaming. To quote Nanny McPhee, “Snow, in August??!!”. You fall asleep again. Fifteen minutes later you jolt awake, peer outside, and the landscape is as green as can be. This is a true story. As shocking as it may be – a freak August snow storm came and went in the blink of an eye. I’m slightly terrified for what the actual winter months might bring.
Upon arrival in Lake Louise, a wild brother appeared. He had been road-tripping from Vancouver through to California during our travels and had somehow apparated to join us for the last leg of our journey. Lake Louise is one of the most famous lakes in Canada – renowned for its symmetrical perfection in the frame of the mountains behind it, and its icy blue colour. We did as any tourist would and took to the water in canoes. It really was beautiful.
The next day, we journeyed back to the place where we were caught in a snowstorm and discovered that the snow had miraculously melted overnight – perhaps it was all a dream. This was home to the Columbia Icefields and the Athabasca glacier. We trundled up to the glacier on a ridiculously slow moving ‘ice-explorer’ which I found to be a truly underwhelming experience to be honest – we genuinely could have walked up wearing snow shoes far quicker.
The drive back from the Icefields to Louise was far more exciting, as a majestic and elderly grizzly bear crossed the road right in front of our car, and we visited Bow Lake – possibly even more beautiful than Lake Louise.
Our lodge hotel near the lake featured a rooftop hot tub which we happily wallowed in – soaking in the mountain air, gazing at the glaciers nestled in the sugar dusted (I imagine by Mary Berry herself) mountains above us, and blissfully recounting the adventures of the past few weeks. I was reassured by the fact that this mountain paradise was a mere hour and a half drive from Calgary, and hopefully scenes such as this would feature heavily in my life over the next year.
We packed up the car for the last time and set off for the motherland of the cowboy tradition – Calgary was within sight. A short pit stop in Banff involved glorious views from the top of the gondola, unbelievably cute rock squirrels (basically chipmunks), a picnic by the bow river, and a tour by boat of Lake Minnewanka (which has a former town hidden below the waters – like some kind of Great Lake merpeople colony vibe) which supplies hydro-electric power to the town via dams.
We then hit the Trans-Canada Highway full steam ahead, and cruised carefree through the vast plains of the prairies for all of 10 minutes before hitting a traffic jam which would make the M4 jealous.
So much for wild and free, Calgary.
Dozy eyed, I blinked myself awake to try and pay attention to my new home. Passing mainly the high buildings and grey roads of downtown, I decided it best not to judge on first impression. We headed out to dinner located in a lovely green park perched by the Bow river which served beautiful locally grown vegetables, as well as a perfect setting for my early 21st birthday celebrations Before the plane came to whisk my family away, we toured around Heritage Park – a reconstructed old Canadian town which awoke the excited child within me once again.
Outside the traditional pale-blue house that my mum and I would stay in for the next week, we said our goodbyes to the rest of the family. It felt as though a chapter had been closed, but as with an especially good book I knew that the next part would be just as exciting.
We were truly at home in that blue house. Barb, our host, and her tabby cat Sam made it
difficult to leave. A ceiling of smoke hung over Calgary for the week due to out of control wild-fires in British Columbia and Washington, causing warnings all over the city to not spend too long outside or do anything that may compromise breathing. Determined to not let the smoke ruin our last week, we took little heed of the warnings and carried on as normal.
I became extremely fond of the eclectic and stylish neighborhood of Sunnyside, signing up to a yoga studio there in order to give myself an excuse to come back during term time. We stumbled across a live music evening, set up on a makeshift stage amongst painted storage containers, which attracted everyone from the hipsters to the elderly to the homeless – all of whom boogied along together until sunset. We tried the fabled poutine for the first time, which proved itself a strong contender against the Stantons curry and chips which I am more than partial to after a Durham night out. We even took a day trip to Banff to lounge in the hot springs (whilst simultaneously watching Bake Off, obviously).
My mum was my Hagrid (though without the excess hairiness, height, and magical disposition) and took me to collect all of my school supplies, as arriving on campus without adequate homeware and stationary would have been a disaster. We spent a last day together on rented bikes, cycling beside the beautiful Bow river and visiting a market collective where local creatives, designers, musicians, and DJs came together to showcase their work.
Armed with a new cactus and a spiky sense of excitement, I was ready for university life. Moving into my new room took little time considering that my life was packed into two suitcases, and my roommate Ellie (another Brit) arrived soon after. A trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond was the bonding experience that we needed, and I was ready to say a final farewell to my Mum – Christmas time seemed a long way away (though after that freak snow storm, maybe not so much). Charged with the Fresher (or Frosh, as Canadians call it) feeling, Ellie and I marched on and sought out others in our halls who turned out to be mainly exchange students – the Canadians came later – and quickly relaxed into our new lives.
My hope is that these updates will become more frequent and more concise. Most of you have more productive things to do than read the extensively long ramblings of a Brit who uses far too many tenuous Harry Potter references in an attempt to make her blog interesting, but in the words of Albus Dumbledore – “Don’t count your owls before they are delivered.”
See you next time, marvellous readers.