Monthly Archives

April 2017

Life, Scotland, University

We’re moving to Edinburgh!

April 27, 2017

View over Edinburgh from Edinburgh castle

Last week, we got the news we’d be waiting on since the start of February; the University of Edinburgh made me an offer on the best masters course I’d found.

I cannot tell you how many times I have refreshed my emails over the past two months, or how many times I’ve logged into their applicant hub hoping to see an update. The stress and hassle of my current university who don’t seem to understand what an interim transcript is and my tutor and I having to make one because they’re so useless. The anxiety Daz and I have had, stressing about how close it was getting and all the things we need to do and we still don’t have a decision. It was all lifted. I could have cried; but I didn’t because I am not human.

Well, I say the stress was lifted. It was and it was quickly replaced with a load more stress and things that need sorting.

Daz and I spent a few days in Edinburgh towards the end of last year when they had a postgraduate open day and we both fell in love with the place. I love Scotland, I love Edinburgh and the university was everything I thought it would be and more. Some of the buildings look like they’re straight out of Hogwarts; which I guess they kinda are since J. K. Rowling was living in Edinburgh when she started writing the books.

View of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle

The course is my dream course. Friends and family kept asking me if I’d applied anywhere else and I kept saying “no, because no where else does a course that is anywhere like this one. I have to get in because everything else seems pointless in comparison.” It was, of course, the most expensive course I could have applied for but the way I see it is that it would have been a waste of money doing a cheaper course because it wouldn’t get me where I want to be. The optional modules are all so exciting and I CAN DO A MODULE ON FORESTS! I cannot tell you how excited I am for that. I love forests.

Having lived in my hometown all my life, I’ve visited places and yearned to experience what it would be like to live somewhere else. Especially somewhere so fancy-looking, I mean Edinburgh has a huge castle on a hill (Ed Sheeran?) that is always in the corner of your eyes. What I also like about Edinburgh is that it isn’t so busy that it overwhelms me and stresses me out; though I’m told it will be completely different when the Fringe Festival is on.

I’m looking forward to living somewhere new but I am very comfortable where I am, as is Daz. The thing I am most nervous about is leaving my current job and finding a new one. I love the people I work with, it’s like a family. I am worried that wherever I end up working in Scotland (Hard Rock Cafe, I’m coming for you…goals) won’t feel quite the same.

Of course I will also miss my family and friends. There are plenty of ways for us to keep in touch though, and none of them appear remotely unhappy about the prospect of visiting us in Edinburgh.

It’s a really exciting next chapter that seems full of a lot of unknowns at the moment but I’m sure things will become clearer over the next few months. We’re also both seriously excited about getting to explore Scotland on our days off because it is all kinds of beautiful.

It sure is a weight off.

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Canada, Photography, Travel

7 days in Banff & Jasper, Alberta

April 25, 2017

7 days in Banff and Jasper, an intinerary
7 days is no where near enough time to discover all that Banff and Jasper have to offer but we found that we got a surprising amount done in a week.

When we arrived at Canadian border control, the chap behind the desk did seem a bit befuzzled about us visiting Canada for just seven days but hey, you do what you can with your holidays.

In reflection, the way we planned our time in Banff and Jasper could have been a little better as we spent a couple of nights in Canmore, before driving up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper for a few days and then coming back down to spend some time in Banff. I'm not suggesting this is the perfect itinerary but I think it gives you a good idea of what things to try and see on the same days.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Day one: Emerald Lake & Takakkaw Falls

Emerald Lake is about an hour and a half drive from Canmore (and a bit less if you're staying in Banff) and boy is it worth the drive. You will no doubt have seen photos like this (to the right) on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest because it is just so beautiful and shareworthy.

Take a couple of hours to stroll around the lake, gawking in absolutely awe of the crazy blue colour of the water which makes it look like photoshop in real life. You can also hire kayaks to go out on the lake as well; we didn't do this but it would certainly be worth it. The price for kayak hire is pretty much the same at all the lakes we went to. We didn't really consider it to be cheap but it is worth it for the memories and experience of getting to kayak on a lake that looks like someone dropped some huge blue bath bombs into.

Pick up a snack from the little hut next to Emerald Lake Lodge and then head down the road to visit Takkakkaw Falls. The road up to the falls is well paved but can be quite windy and tight at times but do not let that deter you because it is stunning. The falls are about a 10-15 minute walk from the car.

If you want to find out more about Emerald Lake, I did a whole blog post about it.

We stayed at: Windtower Lodge & Suites in Canmore

Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park

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The Icefields Parkway

Day two: explore the Icefields Parkway

We were camping for the rest of our trip so we picked up our camping equipment from Rent-a-Tent in Canmore. If you are thinking about camping go for it because these guys were amazing and we're hiring from them again this summer.

The Icefields Parkway is a 232 mile (144 km) road connecting Banff and Jasper that features in a lot of "best roads to drive" lists, and for good reasons too. The views from the road are absolutely stunning and there are no shortages of places to stop off; whether it's a lake that is just at the edge of the road or the start of a hiking trail.

We made a few stop offs on the way up, including Peyto Lake and the Athabasca Glacier. It is possible to drive the entire length of the Icefields Parkway but as we stopped off a few times it took us about six hours.

In the evening, take a stroll around Jasper and find somewhere to eat. We found that some of the restaurants stopped serving food about 20:00 - 20:30, I'm not sure if that's normal in Canada but do keep it in mind.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground, a few minutes drive outside Jasper. You can find out more about it and reserve a pitch through Parks Canada.

Maligne Lake boat house and kayak rental

Medicine Lake, just outside Jasper

Day three: Medicine Lake & Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake can be very busy during the high season, so it's worth getting up early if you want to avoid the crowds. Also, if you get up early you are more likely to see wildlife; we saw a huge elk stood on the bank at the side of the road, looking out across his kingdom. We also saw a bear just outside Jasper early in the morning too.

On the way to Maligne Lake, it's worth stopping off at Medicine Lake and to see some of the eerie looking prescribed burn sites. Interestingly, Medicine Lake isn't really a lake and is actually a part of the Maligne River and it fills up to become a lake when the melt water can't drain away fast enough.

Once you're at Maligne Lake, there are a few trails you can follow, or you can take a boat tour around the lake, or go kayaking. We followed the shortest trail around the edge of the lake and into the forest before deciding to hire a kayak. Let me tell you that I do not recommend you do that if it's a windy day because it was pretty tough and was not entirely relaxing. You can read more about our windy kayaking experience on Maligne Lake here.

On the way back to Jasper, we stopped off at Maligne Canyon and had a walk around for about 45 minutes. Heights don't usually bother me, but looking down into the canyon was a little mind-bending.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground again.

Athabasca Falls, just outside Jasper on the Icefields Parkway

A canyon at Athabasca Falls, Jasper

Day four: Around Jasper & Icefields Parkway

In the morning, we explored some of the stops on the Icefields Parkway closest to Jasper. The first one we went to was Athabasca Falls, which is about half an hour out of Jasper, as we decided we'd drive to the furthest point and then start coming back on ourselves. It was basically like a grander and fancier version of the canyon we visited the day before. It had longer trails, a roaring waterfall and the drops seemed even deeper.

The next stop was just a few minutes up the road; Horseshoe Lake and it was a real hidden gem. To get to the other side of the lake you have to follow this trail, which feels quite overgrown in comparison to pretty much all the other trails we saw. It was the only time in Canada where I felt like I might get snook up on by bears. The water looked so inviting and I had to stop myself from jumping in.

After that, we headed back through Jasper and stopped off a Pyramid Lake. When you see Pyramid Mountain from Jasper and the sun hits it at the right angle, it seems to glow a little and reminded us of a dragon's egg, so we took to calling it Dragon Mountain.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Edith and Annette Lake. The two lakes are really close together and you can easily walk between the two in a couple of minutes. In between the lakes are loads of picnic areas and you can just imagine how packed it must be come a nice summer day.

 

Snow on the icefields parkway

Lake Minnewanka, Banff

Vermillion Lakes, Banff

Day five: around Banff

We left Jasper just before 11am and only stopped off a couple of times on the way back down the Icefields Parkway to make the most of our time in Banff. It took us about three hours to drive from Jasper to Banff and we headed straight to Two Jack Lakeside campsite to set up our tent.

After being in the car for so long we took a walk around Banff, explored Vermillion Lakes, and Lake Minnewanka. Vermillion Lakes is on the edge of Banff and is a nice little route that takes you past the lakes, that have a distinctive sulphur smell.

There is a loop road around Lake Minnewanka called Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, and there are a couple of trails which start off the loop as well.

Where we stayed: Two Jack Lakeside campsite. Again, this can be reserved through the Parks Canada website.

 

Kayaking on Lake Louise

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Day six: Lake Louise & Moraine Lake

Our sixth day was a seriously jam-packed one. We drove up to Lake Louise to see what all the hype was about; yes, it's very touristy but it is for a good reason because it is beautiful. We followed the Lake Agnes teahouse trail up the mountain to the teahouse, where we enjoyed a spot of well-deserved lunch. It probably took us about 40 - 50 minutes to reach the teahouse and it is possible to go onto do another tea house, called the Big Beehive, but we were not feeling fit enough at all.

When we returned to Lake Louise we decided to hire a kayak for an hour (read more about that here), which was more than enough time because it doesn't take that long to explore the lake.

Afterwards, we drove to Moraine Lake as we'd seen it on the cover of our Lonely Planet guidebook and wanted to see it for ourselves. It was early afternoon by the time we got there and there were buses, camper vans, and cars parked everywhere. Despite that, it wasn't that crowded and it certainly wasn't anywhere near as crowded as Lake Louise.

I think we both wished we had kayaked on Moraine Lake instead, hindsight is a wonderful thing. For both of us, Moraine Lake was an absolute highlight of the trip so if there is one thing I recommend you do, out of everything listed here or anything you see in guidebooks, it's Moraine Lake. Photos do not do it justice at all.

Kayaks at Moraine Lake, Alberta

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Morning reflection in Two Jack Lake

Day seven: Banff

If you are staying at Two Jack Lakeside, or even in the Banff area, I recommend getting up early and visiting Two Jack Lake as the sun rises. I am not a morning person at all but Daz managed to drag me out of the tent at 7am and I was rewarded with this stunning view. If you're hunting for all the red chairs, there are two on the banks of the lake.

After packing up our tent we went into Banff to get a couple of souvenirs, headed back to Canmore to return the camping equipment, and then went to the airport.

If your flight is later on in the day there are loads more things you could do around Banff, like visit the Cave & Basin museum, take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, visit Banff Hot Springs, go to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary on the way to the airport, and so much more.

Life

Hard times, gonna make you wonder why you even try

April 20, 2017

Waves at Llangrannog

I’m pretty sure most bloggers can relate to feeling like they’ve got nothing to say and the frustration you feel because you  enjoy blogging and you want to say something, but have no idea what. 

A few weeks ago, I was feeling really positive and had a load of ideas but this week I find myself wondering what I have to say at the moment. I know it’s a temporary feeling that will pass with time; I’m just frustrated by a situation I’m seeing a close family member go through and a load of anxiety and nerves brought on by masters applications and waiting and waiting and waiting. It feels a little bit like living in limbo; if we are moving away, we need to know so we can prepare because August is not that far away really, and if not I need to figure out what to do next.

I feel like this is all a load of pointless rambling but it helps to get it down or to talk about it sometimes. What has been helping a lot though is Paramore’s new single Hard Times. I am hooked on it; it makes me want to dance badly in my car, which I promise I will not actually do.

For me, the lyrics have come at the right time; it’s kind of a variation on “this too shall pass”.

How is life with you right now?

Life

I am a chronic phone checker

April 13, 2017

Lake Minnewanka, Banff

This is not a post where I’m going to denounce technology and social media, or say that it’s everything that’s wrong with the world, because it’s not. I find it very useful in moderation; my problem is I’m not very good at the moderation part.

I’ve noticed recently that I really struggle with doing nothing. If I’m waiting for someone, I have to get my phone out; for no real reason. I just aimlessly scroll through Facebook and think “well, this is all a load of rubbish.” I can’t just be.

Since the start of the year, I’ve regularly being going to yoga (yeah, this is the bit where I get all “hippy dippy”) and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about just being present; one of the main things being that I’m not actually very good at it.

I’m not giving up social media at all, but I am making a conscious effort to stop checking my phone every two minutes. I mean, phones are pretty good at notifications so if someone has sent me a message I could just wait for that rather than checking Whatsapp or Messenger “just in case”. Ironically, my social media checking has recently turned into constant email checking as I want for universities to get back to me about my masters course applications.

How do you feel about your relationship with your phone & social media?

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Life, Photography, UK

Going up the Wrekin / aka how unfit I am

April 11, 2017

View from the top of the Wrekin

In the Midlands, we have this saying "going around the Wrekin" which we use when someone is doing something a really long way, or if someone is rambling and taking forever to get to the point. It's based on a hill in Shropshire, called the wrekin, which provides amazing 360 views across the area.

Last Wednesday, the weather was looking pretty good and we decided it seemed almost criminal to stay indoors, especially now that my dissertation is done and I don't need to spend all day staring at a screen. We've recently been joking that we need to practice climbing hills and mountains because of all the hikes we want to do in Canada, so the Wrekin seemed like a good place to start.

This way or that way sign post
The summit of The Wrekin
View from the top of the wrekin
Don't get me wrong, at 407 metres high it is hardly Snowdon but I felt so incredibly unfit. My state of fitness (or rather absolute unfitness) is not a joke now; if I want to tackle some Canadian mountains I need to do some exercise because Daz says he won't be giving me a piggyback.

The climb up is fairly steep and took my breath away pretty quickly indeed. In about five minutes I was wishing I could transport into the bodies of all the happy excited looking dogs that were running up the hill.

The view from the top was well worth it though. I have always felt there is something really calming about being up a hill, a mountain, or even a building, and enjoying the view around you. Everything seems literally and figuratively small. Interestingly, there are also a lot of Pokemon up the wrekin so, y'know...Pokenerds, go! (Yes I am still playing it.)

The view over Shropshire from the top of the Wrekin

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The view from the Wrekin

The top of the Wrekin

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I'm trying out a different style for the format of blog posts, doing away with the sidebar and trying out different styles with the images. I've seen it on a couple of blogs recently and it's a style I really like in posts which have a lot of photos; what do you think though? You're my readers, do you like it? Is it a pain to find the copy amongst all the images?

Life, University

I did it; my dissertation has been handed in!

April 6, 2017

Dissertation

Any third year / former university student will know how good it feels to say “I handed my dissertation in.” To paraphrase about 80% of young adult books released a few years back, “when I handed it in, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding in.” (Why did anyone thing that was a good phrase, seriously?!)

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the challenge; I reveled in it. I actually looked forward to writing my dissertation because if there is one thing I enjoy doing, it’s research and then writing 10,000 words about it. And also analysing where I messed up because I am always analysing where I messed up. Heck, I have had 24 years practice at consistently analysing everything I do, so I figured writing a dissertation would be pretty fun. And it was. I truly enjoyed it. I’m hoping all my hard work paid off because I honestly did my best. If there was something else I should have done I do not know what it was, so here’s hoping.

Also, if anyone wants to know anything about nitrogen and pH of gravesoil, I am a walking-talking bank of knowledge about that stuff. I want to see it come up as a question on Pointless.

Writing my dissertation has taken up the majority of my time since the end of January really so it is nice to relieve the pressure a little and not feel guilty about having a day off and doing nothing. Hopefully, I will get that duvet day I was longing for a few weeks ago, but I doubt it will happen before May.

It’s not like I have nothing to do; I’ve got a couple of presentations to do, an exam to revise for, emails to check 300 times a day hoping a university has made a decision about my masters, and just be.

This week has been pretty relaxed so far. I have done a bit of university work but there’s not rush so I’m not putting pressure on myself and that’s pretty much how I want to rest of the semester to go. I’ve done a bit of reading too (hallelujah!); I’m currently reading Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide and the Secret to Saving the World by Kevin Bales; it is pretty horrifying and eye-opening, and I will definitely be doing a review or roundup of horrible facts I have learned as a result of reading it.

How has life been for you recently?

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Travel

Why I fall in love with places; what about you?

April 4, 2017

Walking through Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Photo taken in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Sure, some places are awe-inspiring but I fall for the feeling, the possibilities and all the little things about a place.

My Mum would tell any one of you right now that I fall hard for places. Everywhere I go, I seem to fall for it and I’m plotting ways to get back there before I’ve even got on the flight home. It’s what I do.

I have lived in the same town all my life so when I visit somewhere new I can’t help but wonder what it might be like to live there. How it might feel to have mundane stuff to do, like visiting the post office or going food shopping, in places like Reykjavik, San Francisco, Banff, Stockholm. How it might feel to be going out for pizza and looking a little to your left and seeing mountains tower over you (that happened in Banff and it felt goooood). What it might be like to immerse yourself in a new language. How awesome it would feel to wake up and see a few feet of snow outside and know you’re probably stuck at home today. What it would be like to take the dog for a walk and see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance (I did that too, it was seriously cool).

I suspect this is one of the reasons that I’m beginning to shy away from hotels and prefer things like camping or Air BnB because I think it gives you a slightly less touristy outlook on your trip. If you’re staying in an Air BnB you can stay in a residential area and find out what it’s like to get into the city, and maybe pretend for a minute that you’re a local. Or if you’re camping you need to find a grocery store to stock up. It’s not that I think there is anything bad about being a tourist at all but I definitely like to try and get a feel for what a place is like if you are a local.

When I went to San Francisco last year I stayed with a friend and it was easily the best experience I have ever had in terms of seeing somewhere as a local. We went into Oakland on a Friday night when they had an art festival on and went to this amazing little cinema with sofas and food delivered to your seat, and it was incredible. We stopped by one of her favourite Mexican food places and coffee spots, and I walked to hers from the BART station feeling the warm evening air. Yes, we did the touristy things too but those little things allowed me to pretend to be a local for a few days. 

While I do like to go sightseeing and exploring, the things I remember first are always the feelings:

  • The feeling of calm or that nothing else matters in Canada; it was long a really nice exhale that instantly relaxes you.
  • The chilled out, welcoming “everyone is equal” feel of Reykjavik.
  • The diversity and acceptance in California.
  • The friendliness of the locals in Ireland.
  • The unsurprising go-go-go atmosphere in New York.

Why do you fall in love with places?

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