A Travellerspoint blog

Edmonton, Canada (26th - 28th May)

In Edmonton we couchsurfed. For those unfamiliar, couchsurfing is when you stay with someone (generally on their couch, though sometimes in a spare room) for free. There's a general understanding that if you partake of the service and stay with people for free, you'll also return the favour by hosting others on your couch. This was our first time staying with someone, however we'd hosted a couchsurfer during our time in Toronto. We had a lovely French girl stay with us for a weekend and we showed her round the city and had a really good time, so it was fun to also get to do it from the other side of the arrangement. Colin was a great host and even came and picked us up from the train station at half 6 in the morning. Not only that but he offered a lift to one of the people we'd befriended on the train as well. Really nice guy.

We were only in Edmonton for a couple of days, but I enjoyed our time there. On the first day, after getting to Colin's place and settling in, we went for a walk with him and a friend, taking in a bit of the city and getting a drink. We didn't get to see a huge amount of the city, but it seemed like a nice place - lots of green areas. Then in the evening we went along to a band rehearsal (a band that Colin's in, not just some random one), which was good fun.

Our main activity on the second day was to go to Edmonton Mall. That mightn't sound very exciting, but it's no ordinary mall. I doubt I can even remember all of the unusual things you'll find in there. As well as a water park (with wave machine) and a fairground, there are 2 mini golf courses, a rope climbing area, water massage machines, plus, strangest of all, a pirate ship that hosts animal displays (there was a penguin on it when we were there) and some performing sea lions. Yes, you can be going about your shopping and just pause to watch a sea lion doing tricks. It's surreal!

large_P1040442-small.jpg

After our trip to the mall, Colin drove us to this great liquor store that had a huge selection of beers from around the world. We decided to buy 2 each, but then somehow ended up with 3 each and a shared bottle of local beer (called Jade Dragon). We then spent a fun evening of drinking beer and taking it in turns to pick music videos to play on YouTube. All in all a very successful couchsurfing experience. Loads of thanks to Colin (and his dog Steve, who was very sweet).

Posted by chantalpatton 21:24 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

In Transit - Montreal to Edmonton, Canada (23rd - 26th May)

On the morning of May 23rd, we got the Megabus from Montreal to Toronto. It seemed like we were always ending up back in Toronto, but this was our final visit (at least on this trip!). We then walked from the bus station to the train station and killed a bit of time before we could check in for our train. This wasn't going to be an ordinary train journey though; this was going to be a two and a half day train journey! Canada's a tad bigger than the UK. We'd paid for berths, which are seats during the day and then transform into bunk beds over night. We briefly considered going for the cheapest seats, which are literally just seats, but for 3 nights onboard that seemed like madness. The berths aren't cheap, but we bought them during a sale, plus you get all your meals included too, so it was definitely worth it. You can also pay more than that and get an actual room, but they looked pretty cramped and not really better than the births, so I was happy with our choice.

After checking in, we got to go and wait in the special lounge where there were free soft drinks, plus coffee and tea and some cheese cubes. Then we boarded the train and got told there was a free champagne reception in the activities car. Ace. Glasses of champagne (that got topped up a couple of times), plus hors d'oeuvres, was a good start to a long journey.

The journey in general was pretty good fun really. There were various activities they'd put on, including beer and wine tastings, which of course we partook in. Then there were the 3 meals a day, where you'd get sat with other people on a table of 4. Generally we'd be sat with another couple, so it was like an odd blind double-date, but it was nice to get to chat to a variety of people and find out where they were travelling to and why. There was quite a large proportion of more elderly travellers - not that that's a bad thing - though a few of us younger ones sort of naturally grouped together and ended up hanging out quite a bit and staying up late, mostly talking nonsense. There were also dome cars where you could sit up higher and get a more panoramic view of the scenery. Oh and the food was good too - particularly the lamb I had on the last night, that was really nice. So yeah, those were all the good aspects. The only real negative aspects were the lack of electrical sockets and the lack of wi-fi. I'm assuming it's a deliberate thing as they want to promote a relaxed atmosphere and for people to enjoy the scenery and each others' company and to maybe just read a book or something, which is totally admirable and it was quite nice in a way, but it was also a bit frustrating at times. It was particularly frustrating as we'd not been aware of that in advance, so most of the entertainment we had with us was electronic and based around having wi-fi. I'd actually put off writing my blog for Montreal as figured I'd have loads of time to do it on the train! I suppose I could have typed it and just not posted it, but the lack of plug sockets made that difficult. So there were times we did get quite bored, unsurprisingly. We didn't have books with us to read, so we played cards quite a bit.

Sleeping on the train was a mixed bag as well. The beds were a lot bigger and more comfortable than we'd been expecting, so that was nice, but the train went remarkably fast during the night and it was pretty shaky as well, which made sleeping quite difficult. I really struggled to sleep on the first night, plus when I did I kept having dreams that I was on a train, so it was like I was still awake! Stupid subconscious. On the second night I slept a lot better, though I did keep getting the sensation that I was on a plane with really bad turbulance, just because it was so shaky, so that freaked me out a little. However, on that second night, we arrived in Winnipeg at breakfast time and stayed there for 4 hours. So after having breakfast we went back to bed and made the most of the train being still and got a few more hours sleep. The third night was back to being bad again though - mostly because we arrived in to Edmonton at about 6:30am, so needed to get up and ready before that - ugh.

Still, overall an enjoyable experience I'd say. Here's the train itself:

large_P1040432-small.jpg

Posted by chantalpatton 21:08 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Montreal, Canada (19th - 23rd May)

Our train to Montreal arrived quite late (late at night, not later than scheduled), so we got a taxi to the hostel, to save lugging our suitcases around in the dark. The hostel (La Maison Du Patriote) was on a really nice cobbled street in the old port area. It was a bit of a strange set-up to check in though, as the staff there only work during the day, so if you arrive in the evening, you let yourself in with a keypad code and then find the room with your name on (and the key in the door). That all worked fine though and it was quite nice having a welcoming note on the door. Our room was also really nice - not especially big, but decorated nicely and with a big bay window opening out onto the cobbled street.

The hostel had a nice vibe about it in general, I'd definitely recommend it. I found it strange that there were only 2 showers and 2 toilets for the whole hostel (which isn't particularly big, but has a decent amount of beds), although I never actually needed to queue for a shower and rarely had to wait for a toilet, so it's not much of a complaint. You also didn't get breakfast, which meant that we ended up going to cafes for coffee and baked goods every morning, which I'm not complaining about either!

It wasn't really that long ago that we were in Montreal, but as we're constantly travelling and seeing new things, it's really easy to start forgetting about things we did in previous places. So here's a run down of some of the things we did, though I know it'll be far from comprehensive!

- As in all places we visit, we walked around quite a lot. Montreal's a really nice city. It reminded me quite a bit of Toronto at times, though much quieter and slightly more European-feeling.

- We went to the Museum of Fine Arts, which is free and really big - it's spread out over 3 buildings that are all connected under ground. That kept us happily occupied for a good few hours.

- We walked up "The Mountain", also known as Mount Royal. You get a good view over the city:

large_P1040422-small.jpg

- We found a pub called 'Les 3 Brasseurs' that we went to a couple of times. On the first visit we got some beer samplers, which was good fun. Oh and we did get food as well, though that's less memorable for some reason. Then on the second visit we had this dessert deal thing they did, which was coffee, cheesecake and chocolate mousse. Three of my favourite things!! Here's Jamie with the beer samplers:

large_P1040415-small.jpg

- We found out that it's free to cycle round the Formula 1 circuit over on Isle Notre-Dame. Cycling's not something I personally enjoy, so I took the subway there instead and had a walk around while Jamie rented a bike and cycled round the circuit.

- Long in advance of our trip to Quebec, our friends Mark and Kathryn had told us that we had to try Beaver Tails when we were there. Don't worry, they're not literally the tails of beavers, they're a sweet, artery-clogging treat, that are shaped like beaver tails. We'd forgotten all about this advice until we happened to come across a Beaver Tails vendor on our last day in Montreal. They're basically like a flat doughnut and you can choose the topping you have. I went for a white icing and oreo cookie topping. Oh my, it was nice, but a struggle to finish - particularly as we'd just been for noodles. Messy too - not to be eaten in public! Here it is:

large_P1040429-small.jpg

Posted by chantalpatton 20:37 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Quebec City, Canada (17th - 19th May)

Our flight from Rio got us back to Toronto at about half past midnight. As we then had a flight to Quebec City at about 9am, we just spent the night in the airport. We used the website Sleeping In Airports to find advice on where best to go. They suggested the lounge at the far end of the departures level, which was indeed perfect. I think it's technically just intended to be used by people flying to the US on a particular airline, but overnight no-one's going to care. We didn't get a huge amount of sleep of course, but we got some, which was all we were after. Our flight to Quebec was then all fine and we got a taxi to our hostel: Maeva. It was an ok hostel - the location was good and people were nice, but the wi-fi reception in our room was practically non-existent and the breakfast was just toast and spreads. Granted, the breakfast thing isn't a big deal and they say how it's complimentary and you therefore shouldn't expect much, but considering some hostels do provide really good free breakfasts, it means they don't compare so well.

Quebec City itself was really really lovely - very European and 'quaint' (for want of a better word). It's wonderful to just walk around as it's so picturesque and photogenic, particularly the old town, it made me happy just to be there.

large_P1040376-small.jpg

During our time there, we did a lot of walking around the town, plus we travelled slightly out of town to go to Montmorency Falls. It was just a $3 (each way) bus journey. We spent quite a while there, walking all around the falls and taking photos from different angles. Here's one of them:

large_P1040388-small.jpg

On our last day in Quebec City we went on a free tour of the Residence of the Governor General (which is something you can do at weekends). That was really enjoyable - we just had a small group for our English tour and the tour guide was excellent. It was fun and informative! Nice way to end our time in the city before we caught our train to Montreal. Although we did also have time to sneak in some poutine before boarding the train. If you've not had the pleasure of poutine; it's chips covered in gravy and cheese curds. Mmmm artery clogging:

large_P1040407-small.jpg

Posted by chantalpatton 21:24 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (13th - 16th May)

This weirdly feels like a long time ago now - maybe because we're back on a different continent - so apologies if it's lacking in some details, it's just my memory failing me.

We flew into Rio and then got a bus from the airport to Ipenema, where we were staying. We stayed at Hostel Harmonia, which was a nice little place. The staff were really friendly and it had a good vibe. As Brazil's a bit expensive compared to other places we stayed in South America, we'd booked into a dorm room rather than a private room, but that was all good - not too cramped and everyone was friendly. Breakfast was some fruit, bread, cheese, ham etc. and juice, tea and coffee. Pretty good. Plus there were eggs you could cook for yourself if you wanted to.

As our flight from Santiago was pretty early, we were able to check in to the hostel and still have a bit of time for doing stuff that afternoon/evening. We therefore decided to go up Sugarloaf Mountain. You take a cable car up and get great views over Rio. We went up just before sunset, so got to see that and then Rio in the dark.

If you're thinking of travelling to Rio, you're likely to see/hear that it's quite a dangerous city, with muggings and such like being especially rife. I'd read the Wikitravel entry and it had made me particularly wary. I didn't wear my watch while I was there and on that first night I didn't take my camera out with me either. I did then regret that though as all the other tourists were quite happily carrying cameras around. I carried mine around on the other 2 days, but it's a shame I didn't get to take any photos from Sugarloaf. Jamie got some though, so I'll just steal his at some point!

On our first full day we went up to the Christ the Redeemer statue. This took quite a long time in total as we first needed to take a bus, then there's the train that takes you up to the statue, then we looked around for a while, then we had the same in reverse. Worth it though to see something so iconic. It's always weird seeing things like that in real life when you're so used to seeing them on TV.

Christ the Redeemer:
large_P1040352-small.jpg

We only had the 2 full days in Rio so there's a lot we didn't get to see. However, we wanted our last day to be quite chilled out, so we walked over to Copacabana beach and spent a while there before returning to Ipanema and spending a while at the beach there.

The following day was then spent on planes. We got one plane from Rio to Panama and then another from Panama to Toronto. People on aeroplanes can be quite annoying in general, but these flights seemed to have a higher percentage of annoying people than usual. Here's the Chantal guide to aeroplane etiquette:

1. Try to avoid tilting your seat back, unless you really need to. This doesn't just go for aeroplanes - this rule should be obeyed on all forms of transport. Just because your chair can be tilted back, doesn't mean you have to do it. Consider that there's a person sitting behind you and they're unlikely to want your chair in their face. Why do you think that you deserve an extra inch of space and they deserve an inch less? Yes they could also tilt their chair back, as could the person behind them, then the person behind them, and so on and so on, right down the entire plane, just to redress the imbalance in personal space caused by your unnecessarily selfish action. Or you could just not do it. If it's an overnight flight and you're trying to sleep, that's fair enough, but otherwise no.

2. Obey the seat belt sign. Don't decide for yourself that it's fine to just get up and walk around. Granted, on these particular 2 flights, the seatbelt sign was on for almost the entire duration, so you have to do a bit of ignoring it then, just for your bladder's sake. However, when the plane's still clearly ascending, don't start getting your bag out of the overhead compartment. I'm sure you can do without it for a few more minutes.

3. When you're told to turn off your phone, TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! Is an extra minute of phone time really that important? Do you really really need to be using it up until the last possible second? Also, do you really need to turn it back on as soon as the wheels have touched down? You're really that obsessed with your phone? Your life makes me sad.

I'm sure there are other things that I'm forgetting, but those are the major flight crimes. However, the most ridiculous incident of flight selfishness I've ever encountered, occurred on the flight from Rio. On the row of seats in front of us there was a couple and a spare seat. The spare seat was in front of me (they were sitting either side of it). "Great," I thought, "I'll avoid having a seat back in my face." But no - after pushing their own seats back, they also pushed back the spare seat! I found myself sitting behind no-one and still having a chair right in my face!! Madness.

Posted by chantalpatton 20:49 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

(Entries 51 - 55 of 63) « Page .. 6 7 8 9 10 [11] 12 13 »