So the title is a bit of a lie because I’ve been in Canada almost 7 weeks
now, but 1.5 months in didn’t sound as good… but there are still situations that take my breath away. A couple of weeks ago we woke up to a covering of snow, and walking to my 9am was actually enjoyable, wrapped up in loads of layers with fresh white snow on the ground but the trees were still autumnal, bright orange with some green.
The International Centre have put on a couple of trips and events, and the Greyhound Buses are pretty good for exploring by yourself. We’ve visited Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains, which as an area is just amazing. The scenery, lakes surrounded by huge mountains with the tops covered in snow with forests all around is incredible – and having the opportunity to explore this place is awesome.
We planned this trip ourselves to go out and explore the Rockies a bit – it involved waking up stupidly early to get a taxi to the Greyhound bus station, where we were all pretty blurry eyed (understandably). The bus journey was about 2.5 hours, stopping in a couple of places along the way. This was my first look at an area of Canada outside a city and it was pretty cool! We basically drove in a straight line for an hour or so, and once we got out of the city we were in the ‘plains’, where it’s almost
completely flat and on either side it just goes on until the horizon. Once we got a bit further out of town you could start to see snow capped mountains in the distance, which was an amazing view.
Lake Louise itself is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and forests and other smaller lakes. We took the regular tourist photos at Lake Louise before hiking up to Lake Agnes. This was our first experience of going up and we’re at altitude here so it was pretty tough going, but eating our lunch by the side of a lake looking out over the valley with chipmunks (potentially) was running around next to us made it worth it!
This was a trip put on by the International Student Service. Banff is about two hours outside Calgary in the Rockies, most buildings are wood and the aesthetics are cool. We walked down to some pretty cool rapids before taking the (extremely wobbly) Cable Car (confusingly called a Gondola) up Sulphur Mountain. The views from the top were absolutely incredible and the Aussies got very excited by the snow at the top which was fun to watch, especially when
you encourage them to hold the snow with no gloves for a photo. We decided it would be good to walk down instead of taking the cable car, which led to an extremely precarious though hilarious couple of hours – we’d seen the snow on the paths on the way up but didn’t register that by 2pm a lot of people would have walked on it, meaning it was very packed down and practically ice, on a very steep and tall mountain, and only one of us was wearing appropriate shoes. Overall it was on one of my highlights so far!
This was another outing that a couple of us arranged ourselves (ie we booked a Greyhound bus). Another ridiculously early morning was rewarded again with the views over the Plains and the rockies – we drove past the 1988 Olympic Park and seeing the ski jump (think Eddie the Eagle) was pretty cool!
When we arrived we spent a while trying to work out where to go (Canmore is like Banff but ‘less touristy’ – meaning the tourist office is a 40 minute walk outside the centre of town, which we weren’t that keen on… we eventually found
our bearing and got a bus to the start of a hike up to Grassi Lakes, which was my favourite walk I’ve done so far. We walked through the forest (amid bear warnings) and every so often got a view through the trees over the valley and Canmore town, and as we got higher the view got better each time. We were following a waterfall the whole way up and the lakes at the top were incredible – the colour was pretty unbelieavable, and sitting on a rock with mates looking over the best view I’ve had so far was a definite highlight of my 6 weeks here. What made it great as well was almost constant snow flurries throughout the day – it’s like drizzle back home, just constantly there but not bothering your day – but snow drizzle is much more fun than rain drizzle, and again it got the Aussies excited!
This was another ISS planned trip, and it was pretty cool, but not really what we expected. First stop was the dinosaur museum, which had certain fun bits (e.g. the interactive children’s activities) but wasn’t really what we’d signed up for and it was a really sunny day outside so it felt a bit annoying to be stuck inside. We walked a little bit through the hoodoos outside the museum before we all got take back into town to climb the World’s Largest Dinosaur which was again cool but a little weird. Walking round town was strange as well – apparently it was a typical Albertan town, and it was pretty small and quiet – though there were 22+ dinosaur statues dotted around the town (including a batman one). We then got
taken to a suspension bridge above an old mine before going to the main Hoodoo area, which were my favourite bit. These are some kind of tall rock, and basically we were let loose on them and climbed/ scrambled up to the top which showed Hoodoos stretching on for pretty long way! Coming down was pretty exciting… it was basically lose dirt, meaning we pretty much just slid down the entire thing. The bus journey back was basically the Brits trying to wind up the Aussies as much as possible and arguing about whether British or Australian things were better (e.g. vegetate vs marmite, weetabix vs weetbix etc.) which I think made every single other person on the bus hate us.
Obviously I’ve been working as well – I’ve been able to do subjects that I wouldn’t be able to do at Durham, so I’m studying some history modules as well some Kinesiology subjects that can link in to my degree which is a real benefit to being on a year abroad, since you can explore things you can’t necessarily learn at Durham to expand your degree programme, but you can also do some electives (though it obviously depends on your faculty)! I’ve also done a couple of little things, like ice skating, incredibly tense bingo games and watched Canadian Football, Ice Hockey and Field Hockey matches. I’ve seen the weather turn from 25 degrees and sunny to -6 in 3 days, and I’ve eaten way too much pizza. It definitely hasn’t been plain sailing for the last 7 months, but it has been pretty awesome.