Toronto and Ottawa

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Saturday 1 June was filled with a day of driving and not much else. Calum, mom, Dan and I left our hotel in Quebec city at half 10am, and had a slow 3 hour drive to Montreal to drop mom and Dan off at a hotel downtown, and Calum and I continued south east to Toronto, eventually arriving at 11pm that night, since we had a couple of stop offs along the way. It was a scorching 32 degrees and sunny, and it was heart breaking driving past houses which looked like they had BBQs going on in the garden. On Saturday night we stayed at a Quality Inn hotel near Toronto airport, I had arranged to stay with a couch surfer but after I realised how late we’d get in I cancelled as I thought it wouldn’t be fair to arrive, go to bed, then leave in the morning. Calum and I have gotten into watching the series “Archer”, and it was good to just veg out with a couple of episodes of that on the laptop. On Sunday morning we raced to the airport to collect Dad and Cecily, and it was so exciting seeing them again since it had been 6 months since we last met. Cecily had found us a cracking apartment (or condo as they say here) to stay in through AirB&B, which was in the Old Town area of Toronto. The streets in the area were a mix of old Victorian style factory buildings and modern skyscrapers, which felt like hipster central. The flat itself was a gorgeous two bedroom modern condo that was kitted out head to toe in Ikea furniture and had an incredible view of the skyline from the balcony.

Dad enjoying the view from our balcony

Dad enjoying the view from our balcony

Just along from the accommodation was a placed called George Street Diner, which was run by mainly Irish staff and had a very cool, homely vibe to it. We had brunch there, and I enjoyed a ‘Canadian Breakfast’ with fresh orange juice. It was great to catch up with Dad and Cecily again, family is so important to me. Recently I have been trying to cram as much family time into my life as possible, since I will be alone for 3+ months soon and will need happily memories to fall back on.

After a couple of hours of strolling around Downtown to get a feel for Toronto we headed back to the apartment for a scotch and scrabble match. Dad beat me by 7 points only, which isn’t bad since he is known as the scrabble wizard.

On Monday we woke up early to hit the road to spend the day at Niagara Falls. After introducing dad and Cecily to the Tim Horton’s experience (lattes and a box of tim bit donuts this time), we drove 2.5 hours to Niagara and suddenly were faced with the sight of the falls. Niagara has to be seen to be believed, on the Canadian side you are literally RIGHT next to Horseshoe Falls, with an incredible view of the whole area. At Niagara we met up with Beth, Cecily’s friend from uni who she hadn’t seen in 30 years, so it was great to see them reconnecting and reminiscing throughout the day. If you get tired of the breathtaking view you can walk up Clifton Hill, which is a street which can only be described as a 90s Disneyland in one place. There were attractions such as Ripley’s believe it or not, haunted houses, Guinness world records and a Coca Cola shop. It was truly bizarre walking through it; it seemed very weird to have all these flashy, slightly dilapidated attractions next to such a natural beauty such as the falls. After a rather bemusing walk through Clifton Hill we all had lunch at The Keg, which is known for its steaks. On Kristen’s advice I tried a ‘baseball’ cut of sirloin steak, which is so big and round it can only be cooked medium rare.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

After lunch and some interesting conversation we spent a few more hours in Niagara, having a famous Beaver Tail pastry, and some Hershey’s milkshakes in the process. Good thing we walked 14km according to the pedometer, since I have consumed so much sugar and fat on this holiday. I dread to think how I am going to handle living in Italy where I’ll face the temptation of pizza and pasta daily.

That evening was spent relaxing after a long day out, and everyone had an early night.

In the morning we left Toronto early, as we had a 5 hour drive to Ottawa. It’s crazy, when you look at a map you’d think it would be a short drive, but this country is so vast. There was some difficulty extending the hire car for another week and we wasted an hour and a half of a beautiful warm sunny afternoon in the Hertz offices in Ottawa before we could drive to the B&B, and we only arrived at about 6pm. This place was chosen and booked by my father, and as soon as we neared the corner of the street and noticed the long unkempt grass outside I knew something was up. The place makes fawlty tours look like the Ritz, my god I didn’t even take any photos it was so bad. The owner was always hovering and I took exception to being told as soon as I arrived to remove my shoes, since the floors were bare and filthy (and felt like they would cave in any way!). To make matters worse after asking us to remove our shoes he pointed to an old bucket full of dirty looking slippers and told us we were welcome to wear any of those. Shudder. The stairs were so narrow my fat ass nearly didn’t squeeze through at the landing, and the shared miniscule bathroom looked like it hadn’t been updated since the 1960’s. The ridiculous thing was that it cost more for one night than the fabulous modern condo we had left in Toronto for two nights. We left our bags upstairs in a hurry and went out to explore Ottawa whilst having a good chuckle about what dad had picked. “I wouldn’t even let a homeless person sleep in it”, Calum commented.

Hersheys Milkshakes

Hersheys Milkshakes

After a wander along the canal in the warm early evening sunshine we walked up to Main Street where we stumbled upon a hippyish book store. Inside it, I fell in love with a sock puppet turtle. So much so, that Cecily bought it for me to use as a tool to read to the kids when I am au pairing. He is so cute! A perfect companion for Kermit, I still need to name him though.

After days of rich, fatty foods everyone was craving a healthy option, and the answer to that was The Green Door vegetarian and vegan restaurant. It had a real Findhorn Foundation feel to it, with a self serve area where you could pile veggie lasagne, curries, daal, salads, vegetables and many other options onto your plate and you pay by weight. I had a fantastic meal with some organic red wine, followed by some yummy clean desserts such as chocolate cake made with spelt flour and sweetened with maple syrup, it was SUCH a relief to be eating normal, healthy food again! As we walked back we caught the sun setting on the canal, which cast an ochre glow across the whole city it was a real treat to walk home chatting with dad and Cecily and admiring the gorgeous houses along the way. After a hairy night in the B&B from hell we had a surprisingly good berry salad, yoghurt and fresh homemade scones for breakfast made by the owner’s wife. Too bad the owner was hovering and hinting that we had to leave ASAP since some workmen were coming into finish the garage. It has been a while since I’ve taken such an instant dislike to someone, and out of curiosity I found the place on Tripadvisor and the reviews are NOT good haha.

The next stage of the journey is the sole reason why I am in Canada, Kyle and Kristen’s wedding! There will be a few days of preparation where I will try to muck in as much as possible, and I am already doing a few bits for the desserts and wedding cakes. The weather seems to have dialled right down and we are back to averages of 16 degrees, which is too bad as now would be the perfect time to enjoy hot summery weather since I can bum around in farm clothes and really enjoy the heat. Until next time!

Ottawa Sunset

Ottawa Sunset

Bonjour du Québec

The view from my couchsurfing hosts house

The view from my couchsurfing hosts house

Hello! I am in beautiful, summery Canada and it is FABULOUS! Calum and i had a fairly arduous journey over driving from Inverness to Aberdeen, then getting an Air France flight to Montreal via Paris CGD. This was my first time flying Air France and i’d be hard pressed finding another airline that serves better food than it. We even got a mini wedge of brie with dinner, how cute! We spent the first two nights in Saint-Anne-Des-Lacs with a couchsurfer named Jonathan, who lived on a beautiful house on a lake with his parents. Over the next three days we had a BBQ, visited a wildlife park called Park Omega which was home to black bears, moose, elks, beavers and other Canadian critters, went to a fromagerie, saw a log Chateau that was built in the 1930s, jumped in the ice cold lake after a soak in the hot tub, cooked lobster and visited Montreal. It was an excellent first few days and Jonathan gave us the perfect welcome into Canada. Apart from one day so far the weather has been HOT, so i have been religiously  applying sunblock to avoid getting burnt. I dont want to be the grooms creepy red sister at Kyle and Kristen’s wedding next week!

Feeding elk

Feeding elk

Wolves

Wolves

On the third day of the trip we met up with my mum and stepdad Dan who arrived in Montreal from Toronto, and after a nice rooftop meal at a steakhouse on the outskirts of Montreal with Jonathan we drove west to Quebec city, which ended up taking about 3 hours since we had to stop for Tim Hortons coffee along the way. Timmys is a chain of coffee shops all across Canada and is like a tastier, better, cheaper version of Starbucks. I have never had such succulent donuts and pastries in my life before, i shudder to think what they put in it to make it taste so good but i have already put on heaps of weight 😦

Eating lunch in Montreal

Eating lunch in Montreal

Quebec City reminds me of Fort George and Edinburgh rolled into one. It is super european looking and very french. Since i am trying to learn italian it has taken a few days to adjust to French, luckily people here can pick up from your stuttering bonjours and mercis that you arent local and they switch to speaking english pretty fast. We spent the day walking along the promenade and through the old town, the weather was a scorching, humid 32 degrees so everyone got a tan. After such a hot muggy day the clouds rolled in and i got to experience one of the longest, most intense thunderstorms i have ever witnessed – even after living in Durban!

I have been trying to read The Alchemist and so far i am about a quarter of a way in, as far as holiday reads go its pretty philosophical but i will keep at it. I like to think that i have learnt a thing or two about packing, and so far the most valuable things that i have packed on the trip are my camping water bottle – its freeing never having to buy plastic bottles of water and its a good way to stay hydrated during the day; my dylon travel wash which was only £1 and since ive brought such little clothes its great being able to do a load of washing in the sink at night; and my straw hat. I dont care about looking like a dork, as long as it keeps my precious skin out of the sun i am happy.

Quebec

Quebec

The next leg of the trip involves driving from Quebec City to Toronto where Calum and i will drop off Mom and Dan in Montreal along the way, and meet up with Dad and Cecily at Toronto Airport who are flying in from Durban. We are 4 days into the trip already, i cannot believe how fast time is flying! Until next time, au revoir!

Montreal Cathedral, where Celine Dion got married apparently.

Montreal Cathedral, where Celine Dion got married apparently.

Gooooood angus burger

Gooooood angus burger

Tulips in Quebec

Tulips in Quebec

Calum and Jonathan

Calum and Jonathan

Whats planned for 2013?

Thank you google.

Thank you google.

So after months of vigorous saving and squirreling away £500 each payday I have taken the plunge and quit my job to travel the world for at least 3 years. As you can see this is stage one, the attack phase, where my trusty backpack and i embark from May 2013 until at least March 2014. Gulp. The reason I want to travel is because I have always grown up with a wanderlust. Since my first trip abroad when i was 10 i have longed to see how other people in the world spend their lives, Now feels like the perfect time – I am at that age where i am still classed as young, but have enough life experience under my belt to get me through dealing with harassing hawkers/hostel creeps/scamming cab drivers/killer vermin etc, and I am currently debt free.

The list seems to be changing daily but so far this is what is on the cards:

Leg 1 – The Down Under Experience (Drop Bears Optional)
4 week trip that uses up the last of my annual leave.This is not technically classed as a solo backpacking trip since the reason I am going to Australia is because my darling cousin Caitlin is getting married, and I have the privilege of being a bridesmaid. Caitlin and I grew up together in South Africa before i moved to Scotland in 2000, and we are two peas. To get there I will be flying with Etihad Airlines for a gruelling 31 hours in total – i leave on a Thursday and arrive on a Saturday, but thanks to those helpful folk at reddit I have some great tips on how to deal with such an epic long haul flight. If they work i will make a post about it!
Australia has been on my list-of-places-to-visit (i REFUSE to use the phrase Bucket List, ugh) and I am lucky enough to be visiting one of the most tourist friendly parts – Queensland! I will be staying in Brisbane and I’ve been promised plenty of koala and kanagroo experiences.

On the way back since i am going via the United Arab Emirates, I will be spending some time in Dubai with Ricky, a friend from Inverness who works there, and his girlfriend Myla. I have only been to Dubai once before, and it was during Ramadan which was… an experience. Think smuggling bottles of water in my bag to drink in the bathroom since its frowned upon to consume anything during the day – even though the heat is in the high 40s, and walking around at night with what can only be described as a giant hairdryer blowing hot wind on the whole city.

Leg 2 – Canada (bitches!)
After two more months of work i will be flying from Glasgow to Toronto to have a 20 day tour from Toronto>Montreal>Quebec>Ottowa and South Mountain. Public transport in Canada seems extortionate compared to Europe, I can see why so little North Americans explore even domestically. Luckily there is the Megabus who can do one part of the journey for $10, and i may even try to hitch for the rest of the way (dont tell my mother.) Two years ago I visited Toronto and Ottowa, however they were flying visits and I didnt get to do anything touristy, so this time i am going ALL OUT.

This guy knows whats going on

This guy knows whats going on

Leg 3 – EUROPE!!
After months of awkward skype interviews and grafting with online profiles (i will write a post about it) I have secured a job in VENICE!!! working for 3 months as an au pair for a lawyer mum and her twins, 4 year old Marc and Anna. Since doing the school exchange trip to Tuscany when I was 14 I have had an affinity with Italia so you can imagine how thrilled I am at the thought of spending a summer there. I’ve been frantically trying to re-learn Italian but my host mom will be paying for me to do a course there so it isnt urgent. The hours are pretty sweet, during the week I will be looking after the kids while their mom goes to work, with all evenings and weekends off. This will be a challenge since the family arent completely fluent in English, but it should strengthen my Italian and any negative experiences I may encounter will be shelved as “character building”.
Before I start this journey I have planned a couple of weeks backpacking through Eastern Europe: Krakow, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. The plan is to do a mix of couch surfing and staying in hostels, with a possible Help Exchange job in a hippy aromatherapy retreat place in Austria. It would be a good wind down after all the inevitable partying in Krakow – where the shot girls at.

Leg 4 – Croatia and back to Italy
After my stint in Venice I have two weeks before starting my next au pair job in Turin, in the north of Italy, so i plan to tour Croatia with Sail Croatia. This will be towards the end of the season and *hopefully* a little cooler so i wont suffocate of heat in their cabins. Since Turin is a ski resort town I will most likely have to nip back to Scotland to swap my summer clothes for warm winter clothes. The family I will be staying with are comprised of two doctors and two kids, we have skyped a few times and they seem pleasant enough. By then my Italian should be passable, which will put me in good steed for any future plans.

During summer I plan to complete a TEFL course online, which could help me in 2014 when I move onto phase 2, ASIA! (maybe, or South America… Or fuck it i’ll most likely buy one of those RTW tickets)