Kelowna, BC

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I’ve been living in Kelowna for two months now.  Everyday, I wake up, go outside, and am stunned anew by this small city’s natural beauty.  My house is planted on the lips of Okanagan Lake, the residence of the infamous sea monster, the Ogopogo.  Beyond the lake linger several hills I’ve had the joy of exploring these past few months.

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P1090723Knox Mountain is an easy two hour hike that takes visitors to a viewing platform overlooking the city from the south.  Past the peak, I hiked down to Paul’s Tomb and tested my toes in the cool, sheltered pool of a small, deserted pebble beach.

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IMG_1656The Suspension Bridges that overhang Kelowna Mountain are glorious contraptions.  Strung over canyons, the swinging bridges lead between immaculate event buildings.  The location is still under construction, but in good weather visitors can trek across to large Greek pillars for a fantastic view from the South.  Easy access, an incredible waterfall, and stunning views make this day trip less of a hike and more of an adventure.  You can see more of my hiking photos here.

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By the time I got to Bear Creek in late October, black bear sightings 00000000000000000001bearswere becoming regular—even frequent.  I made a bear banger (or should I say a beer banger) out of an empty can and some pebbles—but once an encounter with a female and her cub became imminent, it was obvious my homemade contraption wouldn’t suffice.  Rather than risking our lives and walking straight into the bears’ vicinity, my friend and I chose to turn around and venture onto the ridge for a little exploring of our own.  Unfortunately, a splinter in my ankle forced me to hike half-bare foot.  Still, the awe-inspiring fauna was worth the trek!

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Okanagan College is currently basking in a radiant glow of red and orange leaves.  Soon, the stunning array of fall shades will be erased and blanketed in a soft colour of snow.  With the changing of the seasons, more opportunity for adventure unfolds.  Who knows where I’ll end up next…

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An Adventure Up North

After months spent pining over expensive flights and collecting warm jackets, my dream of travelling north was realized.  My mother and I flew up to Yellowknife, North West Territories for Thanksgiving weekend.  My mother’s friend from high school works in the Government Division of Aboriginal Affairs and was able to give us a thorough four-day tour across the frost-bitten, fall-coloured, barren land.

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The North West is in my blood.  I’ve always known I was a northern girl, but I was unsure what to expect from Canada’s Great White North.  To my surprise, I fell in love with the territories even more than I thought I would.  This was my first time up north, and it won’t be my last.

As with everywhere, Yellowknife has its struggles.  But as you can see through my Facebook album (click here!), the city itself is quaint, historic, and awfully photogenic.

I watched neon green milk splash and drip across the black night sky at the skilled hand of a painter’s stroke in the form of the Aurora Borealis.  I stood on the banks of Great Slave Lake as floater planes took off of the ice blue waves and streaked across the empty sky.  I folded into the crowd at a community arts project praising Yellowknife’s Art of Giving.  I met new people, tried new things, and feasted my senses upon the splendour of the north.

Travelling with locals has its perks.  From sunrise to sundown, I discovered the best spots in Yellowknife.  My four-day tour opened my eyes to the versatility of the north.

For the best cup of coffee in town, look no further than the Gourmet Cup.  Located in the lower level of Yellowknife’s YK Centre Mall, the Gourmet Cup doesn’t look like much.  Home-baked goods, skillfully steamed milk, flavoured espresso beans, and a variety of loose leaf tea make up for the bland, aesthetically unpleasing environment.

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Make sure to sign the guestbook at the Visitors Centre to receive your free Yellowknife pin.  My mom and I did it twice, because we are horrible people, and love free souvenirs.  For more free goodies, head to the legislature for weekday tours at 10:30am.  The tour guide is extremely informative and ridiculously attractive (but you didn’t hear it from me).  If you’re visiting on the weekend, pop by and take a peak into the Chambers—the frosty white walls and polar bear rug give the awe-inspiring impression of an ice palace.  The nearby museum offers a stunning view across the lake, as well as a few exhibits I had far too much fun exploring.

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Yellowknife surprised me with a mass of readily available art and music.  I purchased a pair of Manitobah Mukluks at the Gallery of the Midnight Sun.  I haven’t taken them off since.  Next door, the Down to Earth Gallery displays and sells local art and jewelry.  Across the street, a dark grey cliff face covered in purple and white prints carries a IMG_1922wooden teepee balancing atop a carved image of an immaculate eagle.  All of these fantastic photo-ops were found in Old Town, which also contains peeling log cabins, staggering cliffs, narrow boat launches, colourful houseboats, and the picturesque Pilot’s Monument.

Weekends in Yellowknife offer an abundance of activity.   After a full, gluttonous meal of pub food at the brand-new establishment The Cellar, I met new friends at Javaroma on Main Street for hot chocolate and amateur music at their Saturday Open Mike Night.  We continued on to the Black Knight, a quaint, lively, crowded Irish pub boasting live East Coast country music.  My friends and I—even my mother—drank pints at the bar and danced a jig.  I was transported back to Scotland when a drunken Irish boy started speaking to me in slurs.  I couldn’t understand a word he said.

As the evening progressed, we moved on to the Gold Range, commonly known as “The Strange Range” and the local Aboriginal hangout.  A live band catered to the crowd, switching from country to Top 40 and calling the crowd out onto the dance floor.  The same band (Welder’s Daughter) plays every night.

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On the holiday Monday, my friends and I drove out to Prelude Lake.  We were warmly welcomed into my friend’s wooden cabin, heated by a log burning stove and the intrusion of our tightly snuggled bodies.  Layers of polyester kept our skin safe from the howling wind—the first, and only, spell of bad weather we experienced in the NWT.  We bore the drizzling rain and hiked up to Cameron Falls.  My friends had informed me “there are boardwalks, stairs, and a bridge” but had failed to mention the miles of slippery, slopping rocks we would have to skillfully trespass.  Luckily, my Mukluks did me proud.

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At the summit, the five of us enjoyed a picnic of hot apple cider, lemon poppy seed loaf, and Lindor chocolates.  We shared our treats with nature in a display of appreciation, letting the Whiskey Jacks steal our food as we gazed over the rushing white water of Cameron falls.  The snowy stream was sharply contrasted by the protruding black rock it ran over.  We escaped the nippy weather in the berth of the log cabin, surrounded by food, friends, and family.  Community and nature at peace.

I expected to spend my four days in Yellowknife locked indoors doing homework.  To my surprise and delight, the call of the wild north forced me to put down my laptop, get outside, and explore.

Have you ever travelled to Yellowknife?  What was your experience?  Leave your comments below, and as always, happy travels!

How to Deal with Travel Nostalgia

World explorers, casual backpackers, and typical tourists alike often find themselves reminiscing over places past.  Miniscule moments can spark déjà vu that quickly turns into fond memory at best, or, in my case, extreme nostalgia.

As of late, I have caught myself dreaming of cobblestone streets, yearning for full breakfasts with proper bacon, and craving the cold black cliffs that border the North Sea.  When I think back to where I was last year, images of Wick and Edinburgh fill my mind and overcome my horizon.  Even though I wasn’t always warm, or busy, or happy; I was content in Scotland.  I was satisfied.
(And honestly, life was a lot simpler back then.)

It’s easy for travellers to muse over past adventures, but it’s incredibly difficult to fight the longing to go back.  I took this longing one step further and committed the traveller’s faux pasI went back.

As I discovered this summer, it’s impossible to go back.
Things will never be the same.

The hostel I stayed at again in Edinburgh hadn’t undergone any major changes in the 6 months since I had initially left.  Even some of the backpackers I had met previously were still staying in the same rooms.
Nearly everything was identical.  But my experiences weren’t.

If anything marks and colours a backpackers’ personal impression of a place, it is experience—the people, weather, activities, and appearance of the places you go.  The sun shone on Edinburgh Castle in July, making it glow gold.  It looked nothing like the dim, damp stone building I had experienced in the fall.

If anything, returning to Scotland only made me miss it more.  The memories were fresh and suffocating, surrounding me—pouring salt on my wounds.  I missed the people I had been with before.  I saw the adventures I had undertaken everywhere around me.  And it was so, so difficult, because even though everything was the same, I wasn’t.

I cannot express the importance of moving on.  I longed for Australia uncontrollably for two years until I went back to Europe.  Now I long for the UK, but regard my past experiences in Oz with a glossy smile.  I still tell stories from my adventures in Australia, but reliving the past doesn’t fill me with regret.  It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling: closure.

Now I know not to bother trying to refuse the past its place.  I’m trying to fix my eyes forward, keep dreaming, keep travelling, and move on.

Vancouver Bound: The Worst Road Trip of My Life

I am actually shocked I made it to Vancouver alive.

When I left my temporary home in Kelowna, BC, I carelessly searched directions to Vancouver on my iPhone through Google maps.  I streaked along the bridge to West Kelowna with the rest of the traffic, admiring the yellow leaves and burgundy tinges that popped up in little spurts across Kelowna’s hills.  I nestled into the driver’s seat and prepared myself for an easy 4 hour drive.

Or so I thought.

The fog crept across the road when I was halfway to Merrit.  It became incredibly dense unbelievably quickly, swallowing the surrounding hills and cloaking the road in front of me in white.  I flicked on my fog lights and slowed down, squinting through the mist to search for approaching rearcar lights.

Something told me the worst was far from over.

The coquihalla is hailed as one of the most dangerous highways in Canada. The high mountain road is subject to drastically changing conditions and a high traffic flow. As I cruised alone, the sky split open and dumped down on the highway, transforming it into a river.  Snow, I can handle, but I’ve never had to drive in restless rain before. The water streaked across the road in diagonal lines, causing my small, old, unreliable car to hydroplane and lose control at every puddle it encountered. I slowed down to 80KM. Big black trucks spat rainwater at me from their rims as they ripped past going 120.

I passed an overturned car, smashed on its windshield in the lane next to me. Shards of glass were scattered across the pavement, the ripped rubber from the wheels lay lifeless in the ditch. First-aider responders were only just arriving to the scene as I passed. I placed my Bible on my lap and started praying. No one could have survived that.

Finally, I arrived in Vancouver and parallel parked on Main street. I turned off my vehicle, hands shaking. I was overcome with fatigue and relief.

Until I realized, two days later, I would have to do the exact same drive.  Reversed.

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But first, I had a few days in Van. There’s something intoxicating about being surrounded by the sights and smells of a mass amount of individual citizens cohabitating a large concrete quarter somewhat peacefully. The onset of boutiques, smattering graffiti, and hidden independent coffee houses is slightly staggering.  I wandered through the rain, snapping countless photos, the best of which I uploaded on my Facebook page (click here).

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My weekend in Vancouver was busy and full.  The change of scenery was sublimely satisfying.  I attended a Black & White party, where I danced with my sister and a mass of crazy Christians.  I walked 20 blocks in the pouring rain, snapping countless cool photographs.  I mingled with homeless people at church and indulged in free meals.  Early Monday morning I met with my cousin for coffee.  As the rain began to pour, I filled my car with gas and started to mentally prepare myself for the worst road trip ever.

Or so I thought.

The rain was steady for about an hour; nothing compared to the storm I had endured previously.  Although flashing yellow signs warned me of SLIPPERY, SLUSHY CONDITIONS on Highway 97, the pavement was clean and clear, permitting smooth sailing.

The contrast to my previous trip was startling.  For a solid 40 minutes I thought I was going the wrong way.  Nothing looked familiar.  It wasn’t until I passed the tunnel where I had witnessed the first overturned car last Saturday that I recognized my surroundings.

Pale green trees the colour of peppermint dental floss trickled across the landscape in front of me.  Hills rolled over each other like the folds of yellow curtain drapes.  Golden bush battered in the wind.  Amber blood stains spilt down the grey cliffs that lined the highway, rusting the rocks and shimmering in the afternoon sun.

Merrit appeared, an oasis in the valley.  Small houses and crumbled shacks were sprinkled across the underbrush.  Black horses contrasted the crisp fall hues.  Although it’s no tourist destination, there’s something magnetic in the town’s ambience.  I stopped for more gas.

I pressed my foot down on the pedal, expecting to be confronted with horrific conditions around every corner.  I hoped to speed over the sunbaked pavement to make up for the time I would lose when the weather got rough.

The weather never got rough.  Black cliffs stood at my side, soft snow powder collected on its haunches like dandruff in black hair.  According to the BC driving guide, this was considering warning weather.  But where was my heads up on the way down in the rain?

I made in back to Kelowna in a solid 3 hours with enough time to shower before class.  Although I had a wonderful experience in Van, the horrible trek there is not one I’m likely to partake in again anytime soon.  Next time, I’ll save myself the stress and book a bus.