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Calgary to Halifax

>A few months have passed since my last update so let me start filling you in on what I was doing way back in September.

Calgary, Alberta

Hostel was decent apart from being located next to a dodgy park with syringe bins. Free breakfast, pancakes, was provided which is always exciting. Unfortunately you must make the pancakes yourself. They provide the flour and other ingredients, whatever they may be, and you whip up the storm yourself. If you know me well or even vaguely you know this seemed pretty daunting to me. So I went down to the kitchen at breakfast time and watched a few people measuring flour and one girl stirring, but apart from that it all seemed a bit difficult so instead of having a free breakfast, I skulked off into town and paid someone else to make it for me … then later in the day I found a convenience store and bought a box of breakfast bars.

Later that morning I went to the Calgary Zoo which is just out of town and very easy to get to on a train. I was also told it’s a nice walk along the river to get there but I had already wasted enough time wandering off to find breakfast. They have some fantastic exhibits at the zoo, really modern and enjoyable for the animals (I hope) and us. Unfortunately there are also a few exhibits that are way too small so I hope they have funding to improve those.

Another day I headed to Canada Olympic Park. Along the way I was excited by the train and bus ride watching several supermarkets go by as for the past two days I had been unable to find one. The Olympic Park was the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics where you can take a guided tour, which was my preference, or wander around by yourself, which is what I ended up doing rather than waiting two hours for the next tour. I started off in the hall of fame where there was a bunch of memorabilia including Olympic torches, mascots, equipment, uniforms etc. Then, at the request of the lonely guy working there, I watched an eight minute introductory video which had not a moment of dialogue save for the heavy breathing of a guy on the luge. It was interesting nonetheless. Next stop was wandering off in search of the ice room or something of the sort. Basically it’s a freezing indoor training area where luge, skeleton and bobsled athletes can practice year round. Judging by the size of the place I think they only practice their starts which would become quite repetitive and boring but at least they would be experts. The ‘skeleton’ in case you’re wondering, is not really skinny athletes doing stuff. It’s kind of like going down a slope on a luge but face first … strangely enough, this is not a big sport in Australia. Anyway, it is said that the public can have a go for $10 but with no-one there to offer anything it didn’t eventuate. I had kind of thought that you get to go on the big outdoor run, possibly not travelling 120 km/h as they do in elite events, but at least having a bit of fun.

My final stop at the park was the 90m ski jump tower. I took a chairlift up to the top of the hill, then an elevator to the top of the tower and looked out the observation deck to see what kind of perspective you get … really high would be my take on it! Anyway, back down the elevator and I decided to walk down the hill rather than take the chairlift again as I had made a bit of a fool of myself getting on and off the thing. Best to stay away to avoid further embarrassment.

Today I realised that even though I pack my backpack pretty sensibly, meaning I don’t take very many clothes etc, I seem to have an issue with other things like pens and books. I counted eight pens, all of which I could not possibly need and six books, much more of a problem than eight pens as they’re heavier. Anyway, that was it for the entertaining stuff I did in Calgary. From there I flew all the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland to catch the better weather. Kind of skipping a lot of the country but I would come back later in the year.

St. John’s, Newfoundland

St. John’s is a gorgeous city. The streets are lined with colourful old buildings, there is a nice harbour and the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean setting just beyond. It’s hilly in St. John’s or at least it is in comparison to Melbourne. They say all the locals have strong legs from walking around and I did some good walking of my own to Queens Battery and Barracks where confused tourists in rented cars looked at me strangely. Seems not many people hiked the goat tracks like I did but as I had spent so much money on accommodation at the Captain’s Quarters, I thought it better to save the bus fare. Undeterred by the strange looks, I continued on up to Cabot Tower and was rewarded with spectacular views of St. John’s harbour and The Narrows. Eventually I continued on to Quidi Vidi, a picturesque fishing port which lays claim to having the oldest cottage in North America. It started raining and didn’t stop so my walk back to town was a wet one.

My main reason for being in Newfoundland was to visit Gros Morne National Park but to get there I had to find a bus. Not really that hard usually, but in complete honesty three times I tried to find out where it was and every time I could not understand a word the ‘newfies’ said. Canadians will definitely understand this. In the end I hooked up with another traveller (from Smoky Lake, Alberta!!! Only three people will understand the coincidence of this) who drove me to Gros Morne and around for three or four days! Our first stop on route was Cape Spear which is the most easterly point of North America and it offered beautiful views of St. John’s and Signal Hill. The only other stop we made along the way was at a town called Dildo. Nothing else said about that!

Gros Morne National Park

Day one in the park and we hiked the short Western Brook Pond trail and jumped into a boat for two hours to view the spectacular scenery. It’s everything you expect it to be and a must for anyone going to Gros Morne. Unfortunately none of my pictures did it justice, which I’ll try and attribute to bad light but it’s more inclined to be poor photography by myself and shaky hands from the freezing cold.

Day two, Ted, my driver, and I hiked the Tablelands trail which probably would take about twenty minutes but we opted for the interpretative walk with a Canadian National Parks Ranger. In so doing, we learnt about the provincial flower, the pitcher plant, the sundew and butter wart. We also learnt about the geological formation of the area including glaciers and tectonic plate movement. The walk took about two hours and was much more interesting this way. Sometimes it’s right there in front of you but you have no idea what it is! Same day we hiked the 5km return trip to the “Lookout”. I’m not sure of the elevation, but I know that I was struggling, which also says something about my fitness. It was well worth the hard work as we were rewarded with breathtaking views of Gros Morne mountain, the Tablelands and the harbours … and there was not a sign of anyone else.

Day three was rain, plenty of it and as I didn’t think myself fit enough to do the only other walk on my list, up Gros Morne Mountain itself, so we left. Ted was great and drove me all the way to Corner Brook where we parted ways and I haven’t heard from him since. I loitered in town for many hours before catching the bus to Port aux Basque for a seven hour ferry ride to Nova Scotia. On board I was extremely lucky to get a dorm bed for $16 and several hours later I fell asleep without getting seasick!!! Although I didn’t venture outside to see the seas, I knew it was rough out there as the ship creaked and lurched from side to side, understandably as there was a hurricane nearby. Seven hours later, with little sleep but hard ground beneath me, I jumped on a bus to Halifax and was quite surprised to learn it would take seven hours to get there. This was one of those horrible travelling days you come across where you don’t really get anywhere for two days, you don’t sleep or eat properly and you generally end up at your destination wondering what your name is!

Halifax, Nova Scotia

I started in Halifax slowly as I was planning to stay there a while. Over the course of the first week, I watched a few movies at the Atlantic Film Festival, tried not to touch anything at the grubby hostel and thoroughly enjoyed myself at the library where I have my own library card and could access the internet for free and read magazines in my spare time.

Halifax is such a great place. It’s just the feeling there. There’s nothing so exciting, it’s just all nice and I felt happy and at home. There’s a nice citadel surrounded by beautiful lawns where I read my book. I walked along the harbour, took a day trip out to Lunenberg and Peggy’s Cove. Lunenberg is a fishing village renowned for its picturesque setting and colourful buildings. The tour gave us the option of going for a walking tour or to visit the Fishery Museum. Although I heard the museum was interesting, I’m sure it would surprise none of you that I took the walking tour and discovered it wasn’t my thing either … our guide spent an hour talking about fishing, UGH!

Peggy’s Cove is a tourist Mecca for which reason I’m unsure. There’s a lighthouse, it’s pretty, perhaps that’s enough reason. I ended up ditching the bus tour and taking a boat back to Halifax instead, hoping to see some whales along the way. Alas there were none but I was quite pleased that I did not get seasick. To be honest, the sea was very calm but leaving the cove offered waves big enough to have me wondering was I was doing out there in such a small boat!

Salty Bear

I took the easy option to see some of the sights in Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick … the saltybear tour (www.saltybear.com). It started off by taking us driving around Cape Breton Island and whale watching in Pleasant Bay where we saw loads of Pilot whales and just as exciting, it’s the second time in recent days that I have been on the water and haven’t been seasick! We had a huge bonfire that first evening on the beach where Dave, and occasionally Miles, played the guitar and sang. I bought Dave’s cd to listen to when I get home (no cd player with me) but Miles didn’t have one.

On the second day along the coast of Cape Breton we hiked in pouring rain (from Hurricane Isabel) along a ridgeline but couldn’t see anything due to the fog/mist. It was incredibly beautiful all the same if that makes sense and I took a great photo of a beautiful little bunny sitting amongst the wildflowers. We were also supposed to go sea kayaking but this idea was abandoned after being thoroughly soaked from the hike. Of course the weather cleared up so we stopped at the beach and everyone swam except for me. The water was colder than the water in Melbourne and that’s too cold for me!

Day three, and we caught the ferry from Pictou to Charlottetown and later stopped for a gorgeous bike ride along the north shore in Cavendish. This is well worth it. Beautiful views and colours throughout and all the time in the world to enjoy it without anyone really nearby. We also popped into “Anne of Green Gables” which was more interesting than I thought it would be. I’m not familiar with any of the stories but I had promised to go there (Veena, that was for you! Check out the photo online and there’s more in my personal stash if you’re after more) and I was quite happy I did. It’s a hugely popular place!

When I say the Salty Bear tour takes you to New Brunswick, that is perhaps a little fib, or more to the point, you really just drive through there and stop at the end of the Confederation Bridge. The bridge by the way is the longest in the world. It’s 13km long. I’m not sure if its rumour or truth, but I was told that New Brunswick has a water shortage and the law prohibits flushing toilets. Certainly the only loo I used there was a chemical one which I hope was not bad for the environment. If anyone knows more about this I would be thrilled to know as the toilets of the world are one of my secret interests!

The last stop on tour was to watch the tidal bore at the Bay of Fundy. We waited for what seemed like hours but we definitely didn’t see the rapids of the bore, however we did have a great game of ultimate which the Aussies won!

Back in Halifax I was more social than usual one night and went to the pub with a small gang from the grubby hostel (which was actually a great hostel for atmosphere and general friendliness). My plan was to have one drink and leave as it just isn’t my scene … I’m more of a library/movie girl. Little did I know that the band we saw that night was so great. We all stayed the whole night until the band finished, I bought their cd and had them all sign it. Dale Letcher and the boys have great talent.

Sadly, I eventually had to leave Halifax and my beloved ‘Satisfaction Feast’ vegetarian restaurant – definitely recommended if anyone goes to Halifax, although the chocolate tofu cake was even difficult for me to handle. Anyway, I took the train to Montreal which is just about 22 hours if I can remember correctly. Not much to do except jump in the comfy bed, stare out the window, eat and read.

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