Monday, 29 August 2016

What to do in Banff National Park, Alberta.

Banff national park is b-e-a-u-tiful. Winding through the endless peaks of the Rocky Mountains was a phenomenal experience and one I highly recommend! Banff is just over an hours drive from Calgary, or you can use a few different bus companies - Greyhound is the cheapest at around $30 CAD return, else it's a $121 adult return from airport with Banff Airporter. The only problem with this however, is that it's super hard to get anywhere once inside the park! So it's best to rent a car/ motorbike/ even bicycle if you're feeling super brave. 

For entry fees (and camping fees) to the National Park itself check out this website here. For us, as 2 adults, it cost $19.60 CAD and latest till 4pm the next day. 

Lake Louise
We didn't leave Calgary till about midday, and picked up some snacks for our road trip along the way along with an amazing Tim Hortons - boy have I missed that place! Our first stop was Lake Louise, the most stunning emerald glacial lake you’ve ever seen. It’s named after the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria/ Prince Albert - Princess Louise Carolina Alberta – an able artist, sculpture and supporter of the feminist movement. Right next to it is Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise, a stunning hotel that will set you back $254 CAD if you book far in advance for the cheapest room but up to $539 CAD per night for the gold experience. There are several restaurants in the proximity of the hotel too, sure to set you back a few bob!

We chose to go canoeing on the lake, though I can't say that was particularly cheap either! It's $85 CAD per hour, or $75 CAD per half-hour. While you could get to the back of the lake and back in half-an-hour just about, for the extra $10 its worth keeping it the whole hour and taking it easy. Unfortunately for us, the weather was abysmal, it was raining quite a bit and was rather cold, but it was still enjoyable and a great experience. Each canoe holds either 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 small children, read more about it here. There are several other cheaper/ free options though, many hiking trails such as climbing Fairview Mountain, or Devils Thumb for example, or mountain biking trials too. Of course in the winter there's snowboarding, skiing, ice skating, ice fishing etc. 






Driving Loop
After Lake Louise, with crappy weather and little improvement in Adam's back (which somehow was causing him total agony out-of-the-blue), we decided to go for a drive to see more of the Rockies/ check out the scenery. Adam told me the drive would take about 3-4 hours, but somehow tragically miscalculated the route and it actually took closer to 9 hours. This was a huge shame as it meant it got so dark we couldn't actually see the scenery... Oops! Adam drew the route we took below, included the 'you slept from here to here' sign hahah. I didn't feel very well myself either, and we had drank too much wine the previous night and so I was knackered. As I said, I didn't miss too much though as it was so dark by this point! But what I did see towards the start of the route was gorgeous. Some photos attached below, including Kootney National Park. 



Road-tripping.






Johnston Creek
On Sunday at 3pm we headed back to Banff to visit Johnston Creek - it flows through a canyon and joins into the Bow River. There are several waterfalls and there is a constructed path along the side of the waterfalls that connects the lower and upper falls and is well sign-posted. It took about 45 minutes to get to the Upper Falls with a 215m-elevation gain. After that you can keep going onto Creek meadows or the ink pots, but Adam told me they weren’t really worth it. Apparently you can even ice climb in the winter! In the lower falls you can also go right next to the waterfall, but it requires queuing for a little bit, I recommend it if you have the time though.


You can see the queue in the background for the waterfall entrance
Inside lower falls

Upper Falls
Crawled into a cave...
Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka translates to Water of the Spirits in Nakoda, again it is a glacial lake, and one of the longest in the Rockies. Had we known in advance, we would have looked into scuba diving in the lake, apparently it's quite a popular activity! Of course Adam and I got our Open Water Certificate earlier this year in Thailand, and I'm desperate to use it somewhere else. It's 1450m above sea level, maximum depth of 100m, all dives are altitude cold water dives with varying levels of visibility. I found a website that had other dives in the area too, it's just such a shame that you need your own equipment, though I imagine you could hire it somewhere nearby. 



It also has tons of wildlife nearby it, and I was lucky enough to FINALLY see a bear! And not just one bear, but three bears... A mama bear and her two cubs. All the cars were pulled over on one side of the road and it turns out it's because they were all taking photos of these bears. I've been to so many places this trip where I was supposed to be able to see bears, but hadn't been lucky enough to see one yet, but of course just as we had decided to give up locating one, and drive out of the park, we saw them! Super adorable. It's a shame I couldn't get a good photo of them though :(.


Anyway, it was a wonderful weekend with wonderful company, and I really hope to come back one winter and check out the ski season and also to actually do some hiking! Unfortunately this time I had a bad pain in my side Saturday, and Adam had terrible back pain all weekend so we couldn't do much on that front, hence the drive around instead. 

So long Banff, you were stellar. xoxo

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Los Angeles Metropolis!

My mum and sister had told me not to expect much from LA, they visited a few years a go and hated it. I can’t say I’ve had the same experience! The first night I stayed with a Thai, Mexican and Peruvian host in Pasadena, I didn’t see much of that area really as I was just crashing there late at night and moving on early the next day.


But, Santa Monica? That’s a different story. I loved it so much. Maybe it was just because I haven’t been to the beach properly all this holiday, but it just put me in such a good mood. My host and I initially had so much in common – he loved burgers, hates vegetables, collects alcohol, loves vodka, has a corporate job etc. As the time progressed I realized I had far less in common with him than I initially thought but regardless, his house was in a perfect location! It was literally two blocks from the beach, and about 6 blocks from the pier.

The weather in Santa Monica is perfect too. The sun is strong enough to tan well, but they have a really nice breeze that makes it perfect to walk around in. It also doesn’t stay hot at night so it’s nice to go out in jeans and be comfortable in them. There’s a beautiful sunset and its entertaining to watch everyone on muscle beach slack-lining or showing off doing gymnastics for example. There’s a very chilled out vibe all over the area. There are great shops, so many young people, and a bike/ roller-skating path that goes all on the coast of LA that is shared with those folks that have their life together enough to run.

One day I ended up venturing out to the outlet malls, it took three hours to get there. I’d say that is by FAR the thing I hate the most about LA, public transport! I mean, it’s great that you can get to every location you want, but the fact it takes so long is a huge turn off. Also, it was only recently that a line to Santa Monica had opened – it takes 40 minutes from union station and it’s the only way in and out of the area so it takes ages to get to any other part of LA. The best app I’d recommend for getting around is CityMapper, it’s pretty dang accurate and can be used offline once you’ve already loaded the route.

The outlet mall wasn’t great, I only ended up getting some hiking trainers – they were supposed to be $120 but I got them for $50. I was really upset the Nike store had no decent trainers in as I destroyed mine in Yosemite! Afterwards I went to Hollywood (again, that was a difficult thing to navigate to…. Thank god for Lyft credit). It was just as expected really, filled with touristy things and shops. It was entertaining to look around though – outside the Trump walk of fame star a guy was holding a sign that said ‘fuck trump’ that he offered you to pose with.  I also went to see the Hollywood sign from the Observatory, but it was a crap view and you actually couldn’t really see it all that well! I didn’t bother doing the hike as I didn’t have time.

I went out in the evening and it wasn’t really that entertaining in Santa Monica – no real story to tell there. The Bungalow is a cool spot to hang out in but it’s very pricey so you need to have a lot of cash… or perfect those flirting skills. I just wandered back via the pier eventually and headed to bed. I turned down the offer of ‘skiing’ in all the ‘fallen snow’ in Hollywood… That took me a while to work out what the hell they were talking about!!

Sunday I went out to Malibu – again, so far out, the only way to access it is a bus from Santa Monica, there’s no trains there. I just went and watched everyone surfing for a while, got envious over how cool and effortless they made it look, and eventually headed back so I could take the 4 hour journey to Riverside.

Everyone had told me Riverside was, pardon my French, a shithole, but honestly I thought downtown was really pretty! It had a really Spanish feel, the mountains in the surrounding areas were gorgeous too. My host took me to a mediation class on Monday evening – I hate meditating and find it really hard, but it was interesting to go along and experience it anyway. I learnt about the diamond sutra and karma in general. The weather in Riverside has apparently been over 40 degrees lately, it is the desert after all, but thankfully while I was there it was in the low thirties.

My research in the archives was proving futile, so I decided to try one last place before I gave up, so today I ventured Anaheim (where Disney is), to go to the Nixon Presidential Library. I didn’t see any of the town really; I just headed straight to the archives. Again, though they were highly interesting, they were of no real use to my research.

It does make me laugh; literally anything the president is sent is kept. There was a letter from a person telling the President their washing machine was broken, and asking if he could tell the company they had to come and fix it! Others had requested to sleep on his property in Sacramento as they figured he wouldn’t be using it and so asked if they’d mind if they pitched their tent there… The archivist and I were then laughing about the things I could write to Obama. I’m going to write him a letter to explain the concept of Couchsurfing and recommend he becomes a host when he finishes his presidency. Then, in the future, other students and archivists can laugh over my request and wonder what the hell I’m talking about! I can make history ;).

Anyway, I’m now headed back to Santa Monica for my final day before I fly out to Calgary on Thursday. I’m definitely ready to come back home, but my god this had been a great adventure. I’ll write a summary post soon!

I’m nearly at the bus stop to board the train so, over and out amigos,
I’m going to enjoy the beach and weather one final time!
Scarlett xxxx

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Yosemite

Arriving in Yosemite around 11am, we were baffled as to where to camp, but pulling up to the NP we found a beautiful spot overlooking a lake. However, as we neared and got ready to take a space of someone leaving, they told us they had reservations for Tuolumne Meadows campground that was within the park and that we could buy off them. I jumped on the idea because I was set on hiking a mountain but was too scared to do it with others, so wanted a campsite that I could bus to and from, and TM provided just that. Check this website out though for a list of other potential sites along with their prices. The only thing I will say about TM though is that the bus wasn't exactly suitable for getting to Yosemite Valley, and I certainly wouldn't rely on it for majorly getting around, just to basic locations - the shuttle bus for example ($3 each way - no longer free as is often advertised) just about reached the start of the trail I did.

After setting up camp we decided to explore the area by vehicle first and set off on a small trip to Mirror Lake. Honestly that was a huge waste of time as it had entirely dried up!

[Post to be continued shortly].