Coming Home

The end of a journey is always bittersweet.  Travellers often feel a mix of excitement to see old friends and family, and reluctance to return to daily life.

For the first time ever, when I boarded my plane last week, I was ready to come home.

21260_10200982367978185_353267590_nAfter a combined 8 months abroad exploring the UK, I have had countless adventures, met incredible people, and seen some beautiful places.  I fell in love with Edinburgh, worked way up in Wick, and stayed on a sheep farm in West Sussex.  I wrote for two British newspapers (and dated two British boys 😉 ).  My home video gives a hilarious overview of my month and a half abroad:

My personal health is another reason for my return.  Backpacking is demanding—without a broken back.  The freedom of my vehicle grants me the independence I cannot claim while travelling.

When I was forced to return home last January, it was the LAST thing I wanted.  Even after surgery and two weeks in the horrific French hospital, I wanted to go back to work on Alp d’Huez.  I loved it there.

I think I needed to leave Canada, if only to come home again.

Because this time, it was my choice.

P1090468

I feel as though I have adequately experienced the UK.  Although this journey is ending, a new one is just beginning.  I’m moving to Kelowna to study Writing and Publishing.

Before you stop reading and complain that this is no longer a travel blog, let me explain the difference between settling down and settling in.

I’m moving to Kelowna next month.  I won’t be settling down—buying a house, starting my career, halting my traveling days—but I will be settling in: going to uni, staying in a hostel, and maybe even trying to snowboard again at the neighbourhood ski hill, Big White.

I’ve gotten so used to running away; it’ll be a challenge for me to settle in.  I’ll spend my weekends and time off exploring British Columbia and deepening my love for Western Canada.

I’ll still be blogging, tweeting, posting as I explore.  So keep following me, and enjoy the ride 🙂

Two Incredibly Different British Cities: My Insight on Newcastle and Manchester

Instead of rocketing our way back down from Scotland to London, Mikaela and I decided to take a few days to explore a couple of England’s popular cities.  To be perfectly honest, MTV’s horrible program Geordie Shore was the main reason for our Newcastle trip.  A boy from Manchester once told me he loves his hometown, but he’ll never go back.  That intriguing negativity alone drew me into the city.

Surprisingly, the two cities blew me away—for completely different reasons.

Clean, classy Newcastle has a smart pedestrian area that leads to a gigantic statue of Charles Earl Grey.  A daily market offers fresh food and local crafts.  Heading south from the monument, an expensive shopping street lined with modern glass benches takes you to the riverfront.

1069201_557089194348479_981856031_n

Newcastle upon Tyne receives its identity from the numerous bridges stretched across the Tyne.  From the Millennium Bridge staring west, I counted six.  The river is a ritzy area, full of business men in expensive suits and film crews casting documentaries.  It’s a stunning, shinny area of town, especially when the golden sun is high in the sky, reflecting across the black water and music hall’s large windows.

P1090425

Despite feeling extremely under the weather, Mikaela and I had to go out.  We squished our way into Bijoux and Perdu—two of the Geordie’s infamous hangouts—amongst orange, self-tanned woman in ridiculously high heels and tight skirts.  Everything about them, from their thick eyelashes and long extensions to their manicured gel toenails, was fake.

P1090429

Still, we had a good time fist-pumping to party music.  We narrowly missed our bus to Manchester the next morning.

As the bus weaved its way through England’s narrow lanes, I stared out the bus window, wondering how someone could love a place, but never want to return.

Approaching the city, I understood immediately.

The district of Manchester is run-down and barren.  Basketball courts are gated off, public parks are graffitied.  In an odd way, it’s beautifully terrifying.

1079928_10201019052131704_1654554173_n

The city center is buzzing.  Thomas Street is rambunctious, random, and wild.  The entire area is a stark contrast to Newcastle’s pristine gleam.  Manchester is honest in a way that most of England’s cities aren’t—it won’t dress up in a frilly sundress and drink tea to impress tourists.  It will, however, scream with street art and bizarre side shops and buskers that keep singing the same one line to Wonderwall over, and over, and over.P1090443

At night, the various pub, bars, and cafes illuminate the dark cobblestone streets in a warm red glow.  Mikaela and I scammed free wifi from a quiet pub to escape the incessant heat inside our hostel.  People wore, did, and said exactly what they wanted.  I loved it.

1012389_10200990935348802_530732665_n

Feeling clammy and uncomfortable the next afternoon, we explored the local art gallery and wandered downtown.  The ambience created by the thick concrete and dry parks of the city was enough to make me long for wide open fields and country air.

1081410_10201019052171705_413461091_n

Manchester is punk and alternative while Newcastle is posh and upclass.  I enjoy feeling safe wandering Newcastle at any moment of the day or night, but I was pulled in by Manchester’s urban pulse.

I love the incredible differences to be enjoyed in various English cities that are only hours apart.

Have you been to Newcastle or Manchester?  What was your experience?  Please feel free to comment and share your opinion!

Working at One of the World’s Biggest Music Festivals

There are plenty of ways to experience new places when traveling.  Personally, I prefer to be as skint as possible.  I partake in free walking tours, cheap bus rides, and deep discounts whenever I can.

I’ve always loved festivals and live music, and I was keen to attend a festival in the UK this summer.  The line-up at T in the Park was incredible, but unfortunately, the tickets were far too expensive for my backpacking budget.  With a little help from google I found Festaff, an event staffing agency.  After a quick application, I secured a spot volunteering at T in exchange for a weekend pass and staff camping.

All of the staff arrived Wednesday, one day before the campsite opened.  The grounds were eerily silent: the fresh green grass awaited the trampling of thousands of partiers.  We set up our tents and had a quick staff meeting.  The next morning we were trained and given our shifts.  Mikaela and I started working immediately.

970099_626845594001563_366090558_n

The work was hectic.  After only 12 hours—instead of the 16 we were required to work—Mikaela and I finished our two days of shifts before the music even began.  I was glad to get it over with – if I ever have to put wristbands on festival-goers again, I’ll probably just wrap one around my neck instead.

The music kicked off and everyone was going wild, but I was dog tired.  All I wanted was a hot bath and a long lie in, but all I had were dirty showers and a thin sleeping bag.

Still, TITP’s opening night did not disappoint.  Imagine Dragons rocked the King Tut tent, Jake Bugg drew out faithful Scots, Sons & Lovers sang to me standing in the front row, and Of Monsters and Men and Mumford and Sons can’t even be described.  I LOVED the music, but I secretly wanted to be clean and curled up in a coffee shop – which is, I suppose, is what led me to Costa.

1006000_626850744001048_1003797478_n

I spent a good chunk of time at Costa down the road.  It was open 24 hours during the festival.  Even just leaving the festival grounds for a breath of fresh air was invigorating.  The surrounding hills of Kinross are naturally stunning.  I used free wifi to register for college and comforted myself with delicious coffee.

With grass in my hair, boots trekked in vomit, and mud beneath my nails, I really shouldn’t have been in public at all.  I have honestly never felt so disgusting.  If I had to describe the festival in three words it would be dirty, dusty, and drunken.

The entire festival grounds were covered in rubbish.  I couldn’t believe it—people would sit amongst the garbage while the wind blew dust into their face.  On the plus side, we all looked really tan.

1060232_10200971064652047_718578872_n

I was so, so glad to be in staff camping.  Although it was not exactly pristine, it was Heaven compared to the wasteland of General Camping.  GC was gated off in sections and literally looked like a snapshot of District 9.  It was what I imagine the slums to look like.

Saturday brought more good music: the Fratellis, Lucy Spraggan, the Lumineers, Noah & the Whale, Frightened Rabbit, the Script, Twin Atlantic, and finally Alt-J.  Mikaela and I stayed out afterwards listening to a horrible DJ rap about fire and lasers and making out with some hot Brazilian guys (come on, it’s a festival) before turning in to our cozy—okay, suffocating—tiny tent.

By Sunday, I was exhausted.  I was sick and tired of being dirty, smelly, and surrounded by intoxicated idiots.  I wanted a shower.  I wanted a proper bed.  I was done.  But there was still another night of amazing music and I was yet to see my favorite band, so I lay in the sunshine and listened.

P1090321

Watching Bastille perform on Bastille Day  was the highlight of my weekend. Next, Two Door Cinema Club overtook the main stage.  Mikaela and I found “Healthy T”, an area reserved for healthy food vendors.  It was expensive, as all the food stalls were, but worth it for an escape from greasy burgers and beer.

We climbed into the BBC Introducing tent to indulge in our curry and listened to The Propellers before catching the rest of Frank Ocean.  We skipped between David Guetta, the Killers, and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, ending our night in a desperate, unsuccessful search for our passports.

The next morning, we missed our bus back to Edinburgh to wait for our bonds and passports to be returned from Festaff.  Once we arrived at the Caledonian, I spent the entire evening in the shower, letting the hard hot water wash away my festival tan.

T in the Park was an insane experience.  If I choose to go to a festival overseas again, I don’t know if I will bother volunteering—although free tickets were awesome, it wasn’t worth the extra 2 days and effort that kept me from completely enjoying my weekend.  However, if I was forced to stay in general camping, amongst all the rubbish, excrement, and mass amounts of people, I don’t think I would have lasted a single day.

If Home is Where the Heart Is…

I am home.

I knew it as soon as our eerily empty Megabus rolled to an unscheduled stop on Queensferry Street.  I nearly cried when I saw the dark stone entrance to 1062342_10200919845651604_1719176546_nCaledonian Backpackers.  Was it really only a month that I lived here?  Has it really been 8 months since I left?

I had prepared myself for changes, but nearly everything is the same as I left it.

There’s a sign on the reception desk boasting a nomination for The Best Large Hostel in the World, and I think to myself, it deserves to win.  The walls in the hostel are still covered in graffiti murals and the floorboards still sag.  The bunk beds, the bar, the atmosphere—the stairs that I fell down in a shopping cart.  The cinema room where we fell asleep.  The blackboard that explains the conditions of the ten second rule.

I grocery shop at the Co-op around the corner for my dinner, staying loyal rather than crossing over to the new Sainsbury’s.  The utensils are all in the same spots in the kitchen, right where I left them nearly a year ago.  I make a new friend over dinner.  Just like always.

They’ve gotten a little farther on the tram construction, but there are still barbed wire fences directing pedestrian traffic by the Lothian Street intersection.

If you cross the road and head down Lothian, all the same bars, stores, and restaurants are still there—the Spanish restaurant where I tried Tapas for the first time with my girls, the coffee shop where my friends worked and the rest of us visited. 

Central Church was the lack of students and addition of suntans, but I sang familiar words, saw familiar faces, and experienced the same welcoming vibe that first attracted me to its open doors.

Edinburgh Castle was hadn’t changed, of course, but to me it looked more majestic in the golden afternoon sunshine, welcoming summer sunbathers onto the neon grass in Princes Park below its royal perch.

1012305_548702918520440_848006614_n

There’s something comforting in knowing my way around.  Tomorrow I’ll walk the Royal Mile and investigate the Nation Galleries for new additions.  I’ll have free breakfast at noon and sit on one of the far too comfy couches drinking tea and reading much longer than I should, because I love this place and I’m ecstatic to be back and I never wanted to leave in the first place.

I am swarmed by memories and I feel incredibly lucky to be stuck in this time warp.  I feel as if I have dived into a picture from my past and I’m soaking it up, drinking in the details, happy to be home.

There’s Something about Sussex

England’s regions are a little bit different than Canada’s.  Britain has crushed nearly triple Canada’s population into an island 40 times smaller than my great home.  In under an hour, you can cross through several regions.  I’ve settled into West Sussex, but in the past three weeks I’ve already explored Kent, London, Brighton, and East Sussex.

I’ve already seen a lot, done a lot, and experienced a lot.  This is the most important information—the best of the best—the secrets of Sussex.

P1070591

Eccentric Brighton:  The gay capital of the UK boasts beautiful buildings and cobblestone streets that are best explored as a local.  Brighton is a place to live, not to visit as a tourist.  The Lanes sell absolutely anything you could ask for and the nightlife is always vibrant.
My friend and I attended a bizarre fashion show.  The guests dressed as curiously as the models.  Brighton is not limited by ideas of current fashion.  Everyone fits in because no one does.  It’s true what they say—in Brighton, anything goes.

601699_621474214538701_275959314_n

Homey Hove: Just a hop, skip, and jump away from Brighton is Hove.  The two are often intertwined, much to the loathing of the residents of Hove.
In my eyes, Hove is more of a home than Brighton.  Hove is full of rich retirees who enjoy the white-washed beach and quiet main streets—far away from Brighton’s raging parties.
My friend and I dawned sparkly masks and party dresses for a Masquerade Ball at Ralli Hall in Denmark Villas.  The event was extremely well coordinated.  It was a fun, new, exciting experience full of Sussex locals that welcomed us warmly.

P1080364

Artsy Oxfordshire: The surrounding area of the university city of Oxford is full of lush, rolling hills and quaint adorable towns.  Campuses are spread throughout the town, ranging from the Park and Ride to the canal and all the way up to the old castle.
My friends and I explored an exhibition of Master Drawings in the Art Gallery.  Afterwards, I fell through five floors of incredible artifacts.  Sometimes, I forget how deep and wide Europe’s history goes.  I would definitely return to the free exhibits and explore the gorgeous campuses more thoroughly.

1063407_10200890202870553_1384968243_n

Cute Kent: Golden fields and winding roads led my friends and I to a family friendly BBQ on the outskirts of a small town in Kent.  Right near the airport, a large group of friends gathered to drink Pimms and Lemonade and watch an air show.
The Balkan Bomber shot up into the sky, an impending image of doom.  I imagined how the war must have effected the lovely land I was lucky to stand on.  Although plenty of beautiful buildings have been destroyed, Kent still houses many adorable villages to enjoy.

P1080101

Crazy Knockhill: Summer means camping in Canada, and luckily, I made some British friends who agree.  We drove out to a Mountain Boarding Course past Brighton where the boys flipped around on boards with big wheels while Mikaela and I played basketball.
We weren’t allowed to burn entire pallets, but we did have a small fire, cooked some beer sausages, and even introduced the Sussex boys to Canada’s most refined dessert: s’mores.

P1080657

Lively London: After spending far too much time in England’s favourite city, London has lost its charm for me.  On July 1, Trafalgar recaptured some of that charm as it was transformed into Canada.
To celebrate International Canada Day, the square hosted a hockey tournament, sold Molson and maple syrup, and even managed to find four major Canadian bands to entertain.
My friend and I ended up in the front row watching The Arkells, Jan Ardenn, The Sheepdogs, and The Tragically Hip.  It was an incredible event that made me love London and miss home more than ever.

P1080522

I still have a lot more exploring to do, but I’m trying to travel slow, take my time, and explore deep, rather than wide.  I feel as if I am getting to know each place on a more intimate basis—and that is worth all the time in the world.