Tag Archives: Europe

Save the drama for your Mama! (except when in Stratford)

There are few places that I have seen in my life that I feel can compare with Canada’s west coast for beauty.  Normally I try not to compare because they are either entirely different or it just isn’t a fair comparison because I am so biased. However, Killarney Provincial Park makes the list (David Lake, to be specific) and now, thanks to Oban and sunshine, so does Scotland.

My day in Oban was one of my top days of the trip so far. The (surprisingly long) train ride there was awesome. It took me through the highlands and past fields of sheep and flowers and also along the coast. Once I arrived in Oban I walked the 15 minutes along the ocean to the hostel, where upon arriving and checking in, I was informed that I was just in time for the big Football match. (I can’t remember who was playing). I thanked the man a the check in and proceeded on my way, when he caught my attention again and informed that if I did choose to go out, though his tone implied that I would be nuts to do so, I could also listen to the match on the radio.  Of course, I’m not a sports fan in any situation, and certainly not when I happen to be lucky enough to have stumbled upon a sunny day on Scotland’s west coast. So I headed out and walked along the water. As I walked, I heard play by plays of the match blaring from passing cars. I found some cool beaches and I did go on an impromptu hike in my flip flops. Of course, when I left the hostel I just wanted to give my feet a break from the hiking boots. I had no idea that I would spot a moss and ivy covered castle ruin on a hilltop.  Anyhow, my ankles and toes made it through the ordeal and, despite some hippies wearing shirts on their heads, the old castle was great.

After working up my hunger on my castle walk, I headed back into town and bought some scallops that were prepared fro me in the back of a truck. All sea food should be sold out of the back of trucks. It was the best meal I’ve had in the last 6 weeks. (and to my family: yes, this officially means that I like scallops, not just when wrapped in bacon). After the scallops, I hiked up to the strange Victorian colloseum-like wall that encircles a garden an overlooks the city.  There I watched the sun set and learned an important life lesson: the best sunsets happen after your camera battery has died.

From Oban I hopped on a few trains and ended up in Stratford. Stratford-Upon-Avon annoyed me, much in the same way that Stratford, Ontario annoys me.  It feels overly manicured and it is impossible to escape the cutesyness that has overtaken the town.  However, I took a bus to Warwick for the day and had a fantastic time.  It wasn’t that I loved Warwick Castle — I didn’t.  It was like the Disneyland version of the castles I saw earlier in my trip, complete with staff dressed as medieval characters and wax figurines acting out the castle life. (Although if I was 8, this would have been the coolest thing EVER.)  The trip to Warwick was lovely though. Imagine all of the cliche images of the English countryside that you can think of :  rolling hills and fields with flowers and cows grazing (the cows grazing, not the flowers), all enclosed in cute wooden fences.  Anyhow, it looked just like the movies. And it was sunny, so life was good. I also visited a brass rubbing center in the big church in Warwick, so I my day even had some craft time. I do love a good craft time.

After I got back into Stratford I wandered a bit around the city, where I confirmed my suspicion that there is nothing in the city that isn’t either Shakespear or tourism themed. However, with all of that said, I did see As You Like It, and loved it.  Every time that I see live theater I always kick myself for not making it a more significant part of my life, and this time was no different. 

After Stratford I headed up to Liverpool. I’ve been using Liverpool as a base for a few days. I checked out York  yesterday and today I’m in Manchester. Tomorrow I’ll be heading down to Bristol for a few more days before I move on to London town.  Life is good.

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Take a little wander with me

The other day I started to think that all of my wandering around probably seems pretty random and possibly boring to some of you.   So on Tuesday, after I finished checking my email etc I decided to go out for a walk to continue my search for a grocery store so that I could avoid eating only apricots and almonds for dinner and I did a little photo-journaling to show you all what a little wandering can achieve.  I left my hostel and wandered up towards Stirling Castle, as I had been pretty much everywhere in the city on the other side of the hostel. I wandered up to the castle to see what it looked like and also see if I could see any grocery stores from the top of the hill.

No luck, but I did find a cool cemetry, so I started walking towards it. As I was wandering towards the cemetry, so I decided to check it out. Then I was faced with a difficult challenge because I found a cool looking alley way. I had to decide whether I should continue towards the cemetery or follow the cool alleyway. In the end I figured that the alley proabably lead towards the old city, where I had already been and knew that there were no grocery stores. So I continued straight. Then I stumbled upon a map, where I saw that I could see a beheading stone.

Obviously not finding the beheading stone was not an option so I decided that after the cemetry I would go find that. Besides, I figured that if I didn’t find a grocery store  then it was the universe’s way of telling me to eat at the delicious smelling Thai restaurant down the street. 

When I was in the cemetry I wandered for a bit before I found a nataure path that I decided to follow. As I was wandering on this path I saw two cannons in the distance on a hill so I thought “hark! random wilderness canons! I must find out what they are!” and I veered in the direction of the canons.

Along the pathways that I imagined lead towards the canons I found bunny country. There were so many bunnies that I would have sworn I had stumbled into the UVic campus.

Sadly, I saw no baby bunnies.  Anyhow, I wandered around for a little while before stumbling upon the cannons again, this time up close. Low and behold, beside the cannons was some sort of iron dome. Upon closer inspection I found that it was the ….

Beheading Stone! Hurray! (Insert killing two birds with one stone pun here.) I checked out the beheading stone for about 15 seconds (there wasn’t much to see) and then I heard an ice cream truck. Now, I had been hearing this ice cream truck all day without ever being able to find it. You can only imagine my frustration because I really wanted to see if they have the lemon-happy-face Popsicles that Kate told me about.  As I happened to be perched on a hilltop I looked around the land below me to find the ice cream truck. It must be painted in camouflage because it is impossible to find. Anyhow, I did find a grocery store! Hurray! 

So I wandered back down the hill and bought my groceries. And that was the end of my wanderings. So now you can understand why I am unlikely to use maps. If I’d consulted a map, I never would have found the cool cemetery, the bunny country, or the beheading stone!

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The Trolls Didn’t Get Me!

Greetings from Scotland! I’m currently in Stirling, which will be my home for the next four nights. I’m gonig to check out St. Andrews, Glasgow and one more destination that is TBA while I use Stirling as a base. A lot has happened since I last posted.I had to convince the UK customs officials that I wasn’t going to camp out in their country for ever (despite having no home or job in Canada… I can understand why they had concerns) but once that was done they let me into their lovely land and I was free to have more adventures.  For reasons relating to paid internet time, I’m skipping over Edinburgh. Please note that this in no way reflects how I feel about the city. I could go on for pages about how much I loved it.

After Edinburgh I headed up to Aberdeen for 2 nights. Here’s a fun fact for any travellers in Scotland: when hostels have green signs that say “drinking water,” it’s a good idea to double check that it didn’t say “not drinking water” before someone scratched off the rest of the sign. Ugh. Anyhow, much tummy aching aside, I’m fine now and have been reduced to paying for water.  I did like Aberdeen though, it’s a neat little city. Yesterday I took a day trip to Stonehaven where I visited the ruins of Dunnottar Castle. It was absolutely a highlight of my entire trip so far. To get there you walk for about 4 km along a path that follows farmer’s fields and a cliff with waves crashing below.  Well, I must admit that I’m only assuming that the waves were crashing below. I couldn’t see them because of the fog, but I think that the chances that someone has strategically placed microphones with the sounds of crashing waves beside the path are slim.  Because of the fog, I also couldn’t see the castle in front of me so I missed the turn to get to the castle.  I’m glad though because my wrong turn led me to a glorious billy-goat bridge and an enchanted waterfall. I’m sorry that I don’t have any pictures though because all you would have seen was fog.  Anyhow, once I crossed over the billy-goat bridge I decided that it didn’t feel like the right direction any more and I turned back around so that I didn’t have to deal with the wrath of any trolls.  After a little bit of exploring I finally found the path to the castle. 

The castle itself is in ruins but the owners have restored the drawing room, so you can get an idea of what the inside would have felt like in its glory days. I must say that yesterday in Scotland made me appreciate why explorers went out looking for other lands back in the days of yore. It was rainy and cold and despite my general excitment surrounding the day I certainly felt that I had earned my cup of hot chocolate at the end of the day . . . using water that I boiled myself.

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Back to the familiar

I’m back in the Netherlands again and the return has made me realise just how much I loved this country.  It might just be because I was in Belgium, which I didn’t love, or it might be the familiarity- as I spent a week here prior to going to Belgium, or I might just genuinely love Holland. No matter what the reason, I’m glad to be back.  When the train passed ove r the boarder and I saw a Dutch train station sign again I heaved a  silent squeal of excitement. 

Belgium wasn’t bad either, but there wasn’t aything about it that made me excited to get out o bed in the morning. I did meet a new friend in Brussels, Lizzie.  Together with a German boy we went on an adventure around the town to find “Cafe Centrale,” which had been recommended to us by the hostel.  After every person we met gave us different directions to get to the cafe I started to think that Cafe Centrale was just a phantom bar that people told tourists to go to.  This feeling was reinforced when I asked one man “Est-ce que vous savez ou est Cafe Centrale?” and he answered “well, all of the cafes are central around here.” Thanks.  Anyhow, imagine my surprise when we did find this cafe finally, only to decide that it didn’t realy appeal to us so we went elsewhere.

So while Belgium had it’s fun moments, I was glad to be back in Amsterdam. Tomorrow I hop on a boat and head over to Great Britain. I’ll arrive in NewCastle  on the 10th and catch the train to Ediburgh, where I’ll spend Easter weekend. I then plan on heading up to Aberdeen. I likely won’t have access to the internet for a few days so if you don’t hear from me, please remember that chances are good that I have not yet been abducted .  Happy Easter!

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The Sudbury of Europe

Disclaimer: I am using a french keyboard, which is just different enough to be VERY annoying. Please excuse strangely puncutated sentences or typos:

When I was in the Netherlands I was trying to plan out where I would go in Belgium and was given some solid advice: Do NOT miss Bruges and do not bother with Liège; it is the ugliest city in Europe. Of course when I heard this I thought to myself I MUST see this city. I was convinced that I could find the redeeming qualities of the city. I searched high (I climbed the 373 stairs of Montagne de Bueren) and I searched low (the rest of the city) but have yet to find something spectacular. However; the inhabitants of the city seem to be content, leaving me to wonder what I have missed.  In search of answers, I headed towards the Cathedral. It really is quite stunning and it backs onto a courtyard where I found a bench and consulted my Bible. According to the Book; Liège “always makes an impression… [it is] a gritty place that takes time to know.”  Well, that kind of accuracy is why I read my Lonley Planet before I go to sleep at night.  So if it takes time to know, I can only assume that Liège is Europe`s version of Sudbury: visitors will leave uninspired but once you live there a while you gain an appreciation for the city and its surroundings.  I am not commited enough to this hypothesis to stay longer than one night, but if anyone does stick it out in Liège for a while please let me know how it goes!

That said; Bruges was stunning. I am too frustrated with the french keyboard to go into much detail but I am glad that I was convinced not to skip it. Tomorrow I head to Brussels for two nights before heading to Amsterdam.  I hope all is well with everyone qt home.

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Getting caught up

When I last left off I was writing in an internetcafe just outside the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris. Since then I have been to St. Malo, Nimes, Echternach, Luxembourg Cityand I am now sitting and writing to you from Delft, in the Netherlands.  So let’s pick up where we left off . . .

St. Malo in the summertime is not something that I would wish upon my worst enemy. However, some places are tourist traps for a reason. The town is gorgeous, with a beach that goes on forever. I tried to walk the wholebeach and I walked for at least two hours and the end was not yet in sight. It was really quite impressive. It’s a little bit like Tofino, exeptthat instead of the beach running into rain forest, it runs into a chateaux and a walled city.  While I was trying to find my way to the hostel from the train station I befriended an Argentinina named Barbara, who was also trying to find the hostel.  Barbara and I spent most the first day in St-Malo wandering the city before we split off and I continued exploring the beach. The second day we went to Mont-St-Michel.  We visited the Monestary (where I could NOT get “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” to stop playing in my head) and wandered around the island at low tide. It was pretty, but not enough to make up for the hoards of people.  I cannot even imagine what it must be like in the summer.

After leaving St. Malo I headed Southward to Nimes. That day was almost entirely dedicated to travel, as I wasn’t able to use my Eurail pass to get any of the more direct routes, I went from St.Malo to Rennes to Nantes to Valence to Nimes. Nimes was pretty fantastic. I was lucky to have great weather (in St. Malo too) so that I could explore the city and see the ruines. It was the first time that I’ve ever been walking through a city park and stumbled upon Roman ruins. They aren’t even all that protected. There are signs that advise visitors that it is “forbidden to escalade” the monuments, but aside from that they’re pretty open to wander around.

I was fortunate though to have seen most of the city and the ruines in the morning and the early afternoon because after that it seems as though the city lost its mind. While I was walking back towards the hostel I saw two clowns hurry past me. To be honest, I didn’t really think much of it. I had certainly seen odder things in Paris (and in Victoria, for that matter).  A few minutes later, when I started to hear drums beating nearby I assumed they were coming from the market I had walked past earlier in the day where there had been street performers.  I didn’t have much time to reflect upon the situation though because the next thing I knew I had been swallowed by a huge group of drum beating, confetti throwing marchers.  There were clowns in the group, but there were also tin foil-clad knights and men and women wearing togas, among other brightly coloured creatures.  There were even a few Geants, giant marionette-type puppets opperated by people underneat and inside of them.  I seems I had somehow been absorbed into a pedestrian parade. I slowly made my way outskirts of the parade and eventually was able to escape it alltogether to view it from oustide. It had gathered quite the group of spectators, young and old. I searched the parade and surroundings for clues to help me find out what was going on. The only thing could see was that there was a smoke-billowing cone that said “Nimes contre le racisme” (Nimes agains racisme). However, judging by the stunned looks on the faces of spectators, I can only assume that this was not an official event, but rather an event that took even locals by surprise.

After Nimes I had inteneded on going to Strasbourg but was unable to book a train ticket there so I skipped up to Luxembourg instead. My first night I headed up to Echternach so that I could see a bit more of the tiny country and not only the main city.  After getting off the train in Luxembourg city I got bus ticket to Echternach. I’ll skip the epic journey that took me from the train station to the hostel but in the end I had a room to myself in the hostel (due to an error in the reservation on their end), a couple of soggy Lonley Planet pages, and a very good night’s sleep.  The next morning I explored the town a little bit and enjoyed the country side as I walked back to the bus station and headed back to Luxembourg City.

The city itself is pretty remarkable. I hadn’t occured to me that most peoples kip over Luxembourg in their travels until I was speaking with other hostellers in France, but if you have the opportunity to visit don’t pass it up! The city is a fascinating combination of ruines, ancient buildings, and modern architecture mixed in with both natural and landscaped greenery. The people are fantastic. They are fiercely proud of their heritage but still very friendly and unlike in France, they will actually let you speak to them in french. My last night in Luxembourg I met a girl name Evi, an American who is living in Delft.  Instead of my previous plans to head to Belgium I’m now in Delf doing a bit of couch surfing for a few days. I’m going to hang out in the Netehrlands for a little and then head back to Belgium before I head over to Great Britain on the 9th.

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And now for something completely different . . .

In my never-ending quest to become a complete cliché, I have decided to take off for Europe. I leave for Paris on March 9th. The tentative plan is to spend about one week in Paris and a few weeks exploring the rest of France before I take off to the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Afterwards I’ll be heading to the North of Scotland and taking a few weeks to travel down to Englandwhere I’ll fly home from Heathrow on May 4th.

If step 1 in becoming a cliché is going away to university to study English (check!) and step 2 is following that with a European backpacking adventure, then step 3 must be creating a blog about such activities.  Thus begins my blog, a place where I can share my unremarkable adventures with and audience who is only reading because they feel some sort of obligation. So here is my disclaimer: if you are not interested then read no further. I promise not to hold it against you. If you do continue reading, please note that I make no promise to regale you with any enlightening stories. In fact, I intend to embody the “stuff white people like” experience whenever possible.

So follow along if you need to check that I’m alive, want to know what I’m up to, or just have an insatiable urge to read yet another obnoxious travel blog.

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