“Seven weeks have flown faster than Smaug and I have already immersed myself in the life of a new university which is vastly different to Durham.”
This blog for me is a diary – a chance to document my adventures from the year in as much detail and embellished grandeur as they deserve. I would draw comparison to myself and Bilbo Baggins, though my feet are not hairy enough to be those of a hobbit, it certainly isn’t my 111th birthday, and I don’t possess a ring of immense power.
However, so far Canada has involved a miscellany of unexpected journeys, trips to the mountains, and dragon (well, dinosaur) lairs. I can picture myself looking back and retelling these stories to my younger relatives, as Bilbo did for Frodo. The seven weeks since term started here at the University of Calgary have flown faster than Smaug, and already I have been places that I didn’t even imagine could exist and have immersed myself in the life of a new university which is so vastly different to Durham.
“Canmore set the precedent for unexpected journeys to almost mythical lands though, unfortunately, I’m yet to find its secret entrance lurking within my wardrobe.”
It was a dark and stormy night (it was actually a balmy and delightful evening) and my friends and I had sought refuge in watching the Great British Bake Off all squished into one apartment. This had, after just one week, become somewhat of a ritual (the night of my 21st had also been spent introducing some of my new Australian friends to the delights of the Bake Off tent and Paul Hollywoods devilishly great hair) and we were enjoying valuable bonding time over freshly baked cookies and mutual love of Nadia and Tamal. As the programme ended and we had been lulled into a sense of content and security that few other baking programmes can provide, we begun to scheme.
“Let’s go on an adventure!”, I offered to the group.
Within the evening, hostel rooms had been secured, and plans to attend the Scottish highland games in Canmore had been set. Where was Canmore? Most of us hadn’t the faintest idea. Bleary eyed on Saturday morning we awoke and seriously contemplated whether it was worth going to a place that no one had actually heard of to watch a traditional Scottish event whilst in Canada. It sounded like something from Disney’s ‘Brave’.
After a brief but essential discussion with my Aussie friend about what was and what wasn’t a hash brown, we boarded the Greyhound bus – the luxurious method of transport that those saving their pennies can use to get all the way across Canada. Kudos to those people that can endure such a long journey. I couldn’t tell you where Canmore is even now, as I slept for the hour long journey, but it’s somewhere bordering the plaines of the Prairies and the mountains of the Rockies. Perhaps in Narnia. I opened my eyes to icing dusted mountains glinting at me through the window.
At the games, we witnessed Caber tossing, competitive highland dancing, sampled below par haggis, and were overpowered by a team of 10 year olds on the tug of war. The town proved to be gorgeous and less touristy than Banff, and was encased in the valley by its mountain guardians. We made sure to leave our mark in Canmore that evening the best way we knew how, by dancing rather over-enthusiastically as a local band showcased their new album (Canadians don’t have the greatest sense of irony). Canmore set the precedent for unexpected journeys to almost mythical lands though, unfortunately, I’m yet to find its secret entrance lurking within my wardrobe.
“Early morning rowing on the beautiful Glenmore reservoir, provided incredible views of the sunrise which bathed the sky and water in an orange glow and cast a sublime glittering yellow haze over the mountains.”
Sport has featured heavily during my time here, though not so much me participating in it. I’ve attended two American football games to support the university team were playing (go Dinos!), the first of which involved a ‘tailgate’ – essentially us waiting outside the stadium huddling like penguins in the freak cold weather and eating questionable looking hot dogs smothered in all-American mustard in an attempt to warm us up. The games were fun to watch, but I’m still none the wiser as to the rules.
An absolute highlight was attending a Flames ice hockey game – Calgary’s home team – in the huge Saddledome stadium located in the Stampede grounds. It was the first game of the season, the atmosphere was magnetic, and the seats were drenched in the bright red colour of the jerseys. The game was fast, exciting, and full of spontaneous fist fights which are surprisingly allowed in ice hockey. Sadly, the Flames lost by an embarrassing four goals to the Vancouver Canucks starting the season disappointingly, yet tensions between both sets of fans were low (mostly) and the atmosphere remained jovial on the train back.
Unfortunately, watching sport isn’t the best calorie burner so I’ve had to compensate by attempting some of my own. I uncovered a flyer directing me to rowing tryouts, and after a night at The Den (comparable to Klute), I was reunited with the ergo and realised that a year away from my beloved college boat club in Durham may not be so unbearable after all. So ensued a couple of weeks of early morning rowing on the beautiful Glenmore reservoir, providing incredible views of the sunrise which bathed the sky and water in an orange glow and cast a sublime glittering yellow haze over the mountains.
As reassuring as it was to return to a sport which provided familiarity and infectious team spirit, I decided with sadness to discontinue with it in order to preserve money and time which could be used for snowboarding trips and other travel instead. Here’s hoping that from now on I don’t fall into the diabetes-inducing depths of the North American diet. Poutine, I’m looking at you.
“There was something ethereal about the lake in the rain and mist as if something more than trout lurked below those waters.”
more. Being a driver, I was dying to try out driving on the opposite side of the road and hitting the Trans-canadian Highway. Early on Saturday morning, proud renters of two Dodge minivans, we piled our large family into the vehicles and hit the highway to Banff (let’s ignore my very brief foray on the right side of the road, staring into the cavernous headlights of a truck). Thoroughly embracing our renewed sense of freedom, we blared music and (responsibly) leapfrogged each other all the way to the mountains.
The weather was not in as good spirits as we were but we refused to let it get in the way of a good time, so we set our sights on the 2 hour hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain which I’d previously lazily ventured up in the gondola. Apart from making me realise my the extent of my lack of fitness, the climb was relatively easy. We patted ourselves on the back for being part of the ‘summit squad’ and went in search of well deserved cups of tea, to find with dismay that they had closed the cafe at the top for renovation.We rode the gondola back down and made do with Starbucks. British problems, ‘eh.
On the Sunday, feeling (not so) well rested after a night on the town and at the hostel, we made our way to Lake Louise which managed to look spectacular in torrential rain. The same could not be said for our soggy, sorry selves.
There was something ethereal about the lake in the rain and mist as if something more than trout lurked below those waters. Attempting to discover what this was, a couple of my friends thought it was a great idea to take a dip in the almost freezing lake. All they really discovered was what near-hypothermia feels like. Dripping wet and shattered from an eventful weekend, we drove back to good old Calgary where, typically, the sun was shining and the air was warm.
We also made use of the cars by going to Nose Hill Park – a vast expanse of green park land within Calgary which offered atmospheric views of the entire city and was especially magical by night, where we reflected upon how lucky we were to have made such a close group of friends so quickly and so far from home.
The rattlesnakes and black widow spiders that allegedly resided in the canyon let us be, and I left feeling awestruck at this alien landscape.
I wasn’t lying when I mentioned that I have visited a dinosaur lair whilst in Canada. Ok, it may well have been millions of years since dinosaurs actually lived there but it’s still no word of a lie. Dinosaur Provincial Park was probably the most unusual natural landscape I have ever seen.
The Canadian prairies span across three provinces – they make up 1 3/4 million kilometres square of the country and most of this is relatively barren, flat grassland. Rehiring our beloved Dodge minivans, we drove for 2 1/2 hours across this emptyness due east from Calgary, indulging in a pretty uninspiring game of eye-spy but an epic roadtrip soundtrack. The sat-nav lady politely announced that we had reached our destination. Reached what destination? I cast my eyes around the unpromising landscape. That cow? That patch of grass? The electricity pylon?
We ventured forward blindly, suddenly dipping downwards, entering into a landscape that I could only compare to the surface of the moon (based on my vast astronautical experience). We had gone from flat grassland to a rocky and bumpy sandstone canyon in a split second. Mounds of stone protruded from the ground in gnarly shapes and sizes, some with bumpy growths coming from the top of them like ugly pimples that looked as if they could burst at a moments notice, leaving only sediment to tumble down the rock face as evidence. In patches, it looked as if dinosaurs had dug their giant claws into the side of the rock and dragged downwards, leaving giant crevices that could swallow a human whole.
The park seemed almost abandoned when we arrived, the only evidence of other people being in the tiny ‘field station’ museum, campsite, and accompanying cafe. This weird and fantastical place was perfect for a day of scrambling and looking for dinosaur fossils. Being several degrees warmer than Calgary with a strong wind assaulting us from all angles, it was both a pleasure and a challenge to summit some of the larger rocks and gaze across the entire canyon like a Tyrannosaurus rex surveying it’s territory.
Despite our strange surroundings, the place projected an unusual sense of serenity as if the creatures that had once roamed there had left a glaze of protection over the land. I learned that the park had been given the name ‘dead mans canyon’ by the First Nations people that had once lived there in reference to those who had died of a bout of smallpox and left in their tepees as tombs. Rings of scarring where the tepees had once been lingered on the dusty ground – a constant reminder of the suffering that the group had experienced. The rattlesnakes and black widow spiders (not to mention the dinosaurs) that allegedly resided in the canyon let us be, and I left feeling awestruck at this alien landscape.
“I’ve already found my place, my people, and a happy base to call home each time I return from an unexpected (or indeed expected) adventure.”
Amongst all this, I’ve been attempting to juggle my lectures and work as well as getting involved in the clubs offered by the university. The system here involves much more frequent testing, with small surprise quizzes during lectures and short reports which all contribute towards your final grade. Though because of this, it is more forgiving than the summatives that are piled upon us all at once in Durham.
A class on aboriginal issues in Canada is giving me fantastic context for my travels and another on Canadian literature is introducing me to some authors present during the colonisation of the country – both classes have brought to my attention the relative youth of North America compared to Europe but also highlighted the frictions and prejudices that the aboriginal First Nations people of the country have long experienced and still do, which is something that I admit to ignorantly knowing nothing of before now. A definite perk of my academic life has been going to Calgary Zoo every week for a class to observe the primate species there, my personal favourite being Dossi – a curious, motherly gorilla who will analyse you far more intently than you ever could her.
I have of course joined the ski club which runs four infamously fun trips a year – bring on the snow! The university is home to a gigantic ice skating rink used in the 1988 Winter Olympics which is literally on my doorstep, and has the most dreamy, glossy smooth surface I have ever skated on and I’ve invested in a pair of second hand skates to make the most out of it this year. Speaking of the Winter Olympics, I’ve taken a couple of trips to the sky-luge at the Olympic Park in order hurl myself down a track on a small cart which proved to be just as fun as it sounds, especially in the glorious sunshine but not so much in the bitter cold when my fingertips refused to acknowledge sensation.
Truly the most Canadian experience we’ve had was holding a traditional Thanksgiving meal in our apartment where we cooked a ridiculous quantity of food and dressed up the table with fairy lights and a turkey-themed table runner (an essential item), meaning that I now associate the holiday with food comas and hours of washing up but most of all a shared and wonderful first thanksgiving experience. Visiting Heritage Park in the company of friends this same weekend made me more thankful than ever.
Its amazing that such a vast institution of learning, with such extensive facilities, and so many more people than I’m used to in Durham is just one of so many like it in North America. They really do do things on a bigger scale – the Bill Bryson library pales in comparison to U of C’s TFDL, and Durham city is about as big as the university campus here. Best of all, the mountain view that I get from the library is surely unbeatable. Over a month into term, I feel as if I’ve already found my place, my people, and a happy base to call home each time I return from an unexpected (or indeed expected) adventure.
Calgary – you’re my Shire.
See you next time, marvellous readers.