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

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Byron Bay & Currumbin Animal Sanctuary

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Currumbin Beach, this was the view from the Surf Club

After a weekend of recovering from partying luckily i woke up on Monday back to normal, which was a relief since we had a massive day of touristing planned. Karen, Caitlin, Clint, Mark and i drove down the coast to Currumbin Animal Sanctuary to feed koalas, hold echidnas and watch crocs get fed amongst other things. The place was quiet until busloads of japanese tourists arrived, it was quite off putting. Fortunately we had seen enough and headed to Currumbin Surf Club for lunch. This was a restaurant perched on a big rock literally on the beach, with panoramic views of the sea. I had calamari for lunch, it was incredible eating fresh seafood looking out over to surfers paradise. Very memorable and delicious lunch!

We bid goodbye to Mark and headed to Byron Bay, which was an hours drive south. It was like going into another world. There were VW campervans and backpackers everywhere. Ive never seen a town that seemed to purely consist of young, chilled out hippies. There was even a guy sitting on his verandah smoking a bong waving at passers by. Clint had booked us into a shit hot holiday house for the night. This place was an incredible three bedroom house with a front porch, back patio, large lounge and kitchen and a big communal pool and BBQ area. Caitlin, Karen and I had a glorious early evening swim to cool down before cracking open the caronas and making a local pesto and chicken pasta for dinner. We spent the night playing frustration which is my new favourite card game, and drinking amarula. Everyone was so worn out by the sea air and days activity at the wildlife sanctuary that we were all in bed by 21:30.

The following day was just as hot and sunny and we made eggs benedict for breakfast and headed for the beach. Caitlin and i were reminiscing that when we were growing up we would take family holidays down the south coast of South Africa and stay in holiday cottages by the sea and have lots of family time, and here we were doing exactly the same thing on our own steam. The weather at the beach was sunny with dark clouds looming, and sadly because it rained overnight the sea was grey but it was still incredible to see all the drifters and vagrants on the beach. The beach sand in this country is so smooth and fine, i cant get over it. The current in the sea was mad strong, and as tempting as it was to get rescued by the hottie lifeguards i didnt stay in the sea for long. The girls spent a good few hours on the beach while Clint body surfed beyond the waves. At lunch time we took a stroll through the town and had a $12 cider and got fish tacos for lunch.

10 minutes north of Byron Bay sits Tyagarah nature reserve which is home to some natural tea tree lakes. In the car park there was a sign stating that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and what the number for the police hotline was. I thought this was weird but the reason became clear as soon as we stumbled upon the lake – it was nudist friendly! Bar the random naked old men this lake reminded me of the one described in The Life of Pi, a tangle of mangrove roots that opened out onto dark, deep water that had been warmed to bath water temperature by the sun. After overcoming my fear of snakes or creepy crawlies hiding in the depths i gingerly slipped into the water. These lakes are special because the water is infused by the fallen tea tree leaves so it is known to have medicinal properties – apparently aboriginal women would come down to the lakes to give birth. Creepy men lying on deckchairs touching themselves aside, it was a wonderful afternoon of lazing in the water and soaking in the tea tree goodness, I even got to read a few pages of my book! After a sleepy drive back to Brisbane we went to Leigh and Richie’s house for dinner. Leigh made delicious risotto and I brought along an amarula tiramasu for dessert.

Next post will be about my trip to the city centre, until then au revoir x

Kermit chilling with a roo with guns

Kermit chilling with a roo with guns

Clint, Mark & I on a croc

Clint, Mark & I on a croc at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

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Feeding eels… Shudder

Kerm facing up to an anaconda

Kerm facing up to an anaconda

Gorgeous beach at Currumbin

Gorgeous beach at Currumbin

An "eskie" for our stay at Byron

An “eskie” for our stay at Byron

 

Byron Bay, grey skies and dark water since it rained all night. Was still hot though!

Byron Bay, grey skies and dark water since it rained all night. Was still hot though!

Gearing up for a day at the beach

Gearing up for a day at the beach

Tea Tree Lake, magical

Tea Tree Lake, magical

Stopped off for a cheeky strawberry sundae on the way home, this was the gift that kept on giving - vanilla ice cream, strawberries, strawberry ice cream in a cone and then topped with cream.... yum!

Stopped off for a cheeky strawberry sundae on the way home, this was the gift that kept on giving – vanilla ice cream, strawberries, strawberry ice cream in a cone and then topped with cream…. yum!

Meanwhile, in Australia

As i sat around the table on the hot patio of a holiday cottage surrounded by family and friends, tucking into bbq’d chicken and drinking, it hit me – you couldn’t get any more Australian than this. My first weekend in oz has been perfect. The journey across was arduous, my flight from Inverness to Manchester was delayed by half an hour, which resulted in my luggage not being loaded onto the Abu Dhabi flight in time. It is hard to describe the emotion one feels upon discovering that after 4 flights spanning 3 continents and time zones, your backpack isn’t on the baggage carousel. The worst part was that due to space issues I decided to put Kermit into my main luggage so i was sans frog.

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Hen weekend girls, spot the pale scot

Hen weekend girls, spot the pale scot

Anyways, fast forward two days of traveling and sleep deprivation to me getting greeted at the airport by Sue(cousin in law) who kindly took me shopping for an outfit before whisking me down to the Gold Coast to meet the rest of the ladies for Caitlin’s hen weekend. Despite only getting 4 hours sleep for the previous two nights I managed to stay awake until 10pm that night, after a day of relaxing on the verandah listening to tunes and catching up with everyone. The following day I was wide awake at 6am and eager to see the town we were staying in, Hastings Point. The novelty of waking up and stepping outside into bright, warm air will never wear off. I spent the morning walking along the beach with my fellow jetlag buddy Aunt Karen who flew across from South Africa.

My first sighting of the beach!

My first sighting of the beach!

Creepy jellyfish. When we asked a local if they would sting us he replied "Nah, they wont kill ya."

Creepy jellyfish. When we asked a local if they would sting us he replied “Nah, they wont kill ya.”

The beach was littered with these creepy big jellyfish, identical to the ones in Finding Nemo. The sea was beautifully warm, however i was too freaked out by the jellyfish(scardeycat Scot alert) to swim but we did swim in the lagoon later. There was this sweet little cafe called Ripples where Karen and I had Byron Bay coffee and breakfast – while an iguana casually watched over us. There is something so fundamentally good for the soul about dining al fresco, it is a pity it is near impossible to do in the UK – unless you are a fan of hypothermia.

Byron Bay Coffee, perfection

Byron Bay Coffee, perfection

Caitlin and I by the lagoon, i am trying really hard not to get sunburnt, hence the tourist hat

Caitlin and I by the lagoon, i am trying really hard not to get sunburnt, hence the tourist hat

After a day of frolicking by the lagoon Caitlin, Leigh (another bridesmaid), Karen and I headed back to Brisbane and i saw where i would be staying for the next 3 weeks. Caitlin and Clint have a beautiful 3 bedroom bungalow in the suburb of Wishart, with a large garden and veggie patch. My bedroom has been converted by Clints man cave, so it is fun to wake up to car posters in the morning. Sunday night was spent visiting Clint’s parents who live close by and afterwards we got food from a Malaysian restuarant which was divine – best tempura of my life! I managed to fit making a carrot cake with lemon cream cheese icing into the afternoon too, its interesting after a few days my hands itch to bake. Clint’s friend makes his own vodka and sambucca which we have been tucking into over the weekend, plus i got some cheap Smirnoff at Singapore duty free (£8 for 1litre!!!) so we are having lots of party times ja.

The lagoon which leads onto the beach. The sand was so white and clean that it squeaked - i thought that was a myth!

The lagoon which leads onto the beach. The sand was so white and clean that it squeaked – i thought that was a myth!

So far my first impressions of Australia are positive, it reminds me of the best parts of South Africa mixed with friendly, easy going locals. Caitlin and I have a “Meanwhile, in Australia” running joke, so i will endeavour to find the most Aussie pic. This week is filled with lots of wedding planning, so until next time my friends! xo

A Gallery of Kermit

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In 2006 in South Africa I came across Kermit in an arcade, and since then he has been my travel buddy and has traveled with me to five continents. Here are some of my favourite photos of him:

Enjoying a pint in Edinburgh

Enjoying a pint in Edinburgh

Eating the Astronomical Clock in Prague

Eating the Astronomical Clock in Prague

Testing out clogs in Amsterdam

Testing out clogs in Amsterdam

About to embark on a trip to a game reserve in South Africa

About to embark on a trip to a game reserve to see the Big 5

Relaxing in Barcelona

Relaxing in Barcelona

Waiting patiently at Heathrow Airport

Waiting patiently at Heathrow Airport

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)