Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Two Weeks In Alberta

Hello darlings!

(A quick note from Holly who just finished the end of this post: fair warning, this is an unashamedly long post, but its worth it!)

Well it's really nearly the end of 2016, and while it has been one of the best years of my life with some of the most incredible experiences and ever so cherished people, it has also been my most tiring, stressful and trying year. So much has happened that I struggle to believe it all happened in only twelve months; in January I was still at university, in June I was at Graduate Fashion Week, in July I graduated, in September I had my heart broken and I went to Canada! And now in December, I'm back at home with a casual job trying to save up so I can go back to Canada next September to work a winter season in Banff!

Which is exactly why I am writing this post today, it has been an exceptionally busy and turbulent year for me and regrettably I haven't been on top blogging form, so I decided before the end of 2016 I had better write about one of the most exciting things to happen to me this year, which as you've probably guessed was Canada.

I went with one of my best friends in the entire world, Sophie, flying out there in September, returning in October wanting more than anything to jump straight on a plane and go back again. The trip has shaped the direction of our lives for the next year as we had the most phenomenal time and two weeks was no where near enough for either of us.

I've been to Canada once before with my family back in 2011 (which feels like 80 years ago), when we visited our family friends, Graham and Debs,  in Toronto (Mississauga). From there we drove south to Niagara and then north to French River, Lake Huron and back down to Toronto. It was an incredible trip which involved cities, mist, glamping, skunk hats, motels, lakes, boats, scrabble, a lot of driving and some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. I fell in love with the country and knew I had to come back, this time in pursuit of bigger lakes and mountains.

Sophie is one of my best friends; we've known each other since secondary school and have a scary number of things in common, which included a need to see Alberta for ourselves. We'd been planning this trip for about two years, promising to go together the September after I graduated from university. Well I graduated in July...and so the flights were booked!

The two weeks we spent in Alberta were without a doubt the best two weeks of my life, it sounds regrettably cliche but its ridiculously true. I wasn't in the best of moods before we went and having just graduated I was still getting over the lingering stress of university, as well as being bewildered by which direction I wanted to go with the next stage of my life, as well as some other big changes...I was just completely overwhelmed in a vast array of confusion that even the reality that we were going to Canada had hardly sunk in the day before we flew! But when we got there I instantly forgot each of my stresses without even a conscious thought of letting them go.

We flew to Calgary, Alberta, which we immediately felt at home in. We arrived in the evening so checked into our hostel and then headed out for some food and drink before returning to the hostel to be in bed by nine Calgary time as we'd been awake for something ridiculous like 20 hours.

The next two days however, we packed a lot into, and I don't think I've ever walked so much in my entire life.

Downtown Calgary.

Calgary is a beautiful city, admittedly not a vastly exciting one, but it has a lot of culture and history, as well as respect for the beautiful province in which it is situated. We walked 40km on our first day here exploring Downton, Stampede Park,  Fort Calgary, Inglewood and St Patrick's Island which included the zoo. The weather was beautiful that day and it gave us such a hope of what the rest of the trip was going to be like; and it just got better.

Stampede Park.

As it we were a few months late for the stampede, the park was understandably empty. We did however buy tickets to the ice hockey from the Saddledome for our final night in Canada in two weeks time which was definitely one of the best nights of the holiday.

This was our favourite spot in Calgary; on the bank of the Bow River just ahead of Fort Calgary. The river water was so clear and the golden colours of the trees on the river bank were just sublime. The spot here by the maple leaf seats was perfectly quiet despite being so close to the city and the autumn sun shone beautifully that day. Throughout our time in Calgary on days when we were to travel and didn't have a lot of time we would walk into town to buy coffee then return to this spot simply to admire the modest view and enjoy the sun.

Fort Calgary, home of the North West Mounted Police.

Calgary Zoo was fantastic, and I could have added a lot more pictures of all sorts of animals but I've gone with the ones we could have encountered whilst in Canada, including: mountain goats, grizzly bears, black bears, cougars and elk.

After a wonderful two days in Calgary we travelled to Banff, which was without a doubt the most beautiful place I've ever been in my life. I honestly cannot express how blown away I was by the scenery that we beheld there, the colour of the landscape changed with the mood of the weather each day which is why its been so hard for me to work out what I want to do with these images because there is next to no continuity between the days on which I took these photographs. 

Bow Falls Viewpoint trail and Hoodoos trail.

We spent ten days in Banff, longer than we had thought we would stay but upon arriving and falling in love with it, meeting some wonderful friends and discovering how expensive it would be to go to Jasper and how little we would see of the area we thought it best to simply stay. Which was undoubtedly the best decision we could have made. We went on some amazing hikes, ate a ridiculous array of glorious food and had some hilarious adventures with the best of people.

Mount Norquay.

Some of the most amazing things happened to us in Banff; from by chance being rescued from the rain by a generous school bus driver who drove us to the natural springs, to having to walk for two kilometres along the Trans Canada Highway because we took a detour on a hike, to walking through the woods in the middle of the night onto the Fairmount's golf course in the hope of spotting the northern lights. Each day was so humbling because we just could not believe the scenery we were surrounded by or the company, there was not a single day when I wished we had done something different and I'm so grateful for that.

Sundance Canyon. 

The Bow River continued to be one of my favourite aspects of the landscape as we followed it from Calgary to Banff. These pictures below were taken from the Marsh Trail, one of the local hiking routes, which helped fuel my love for the river. The colours were again stunning and a few days later when we went canoeing on the Bow, the gorgeous weather of that day just made it even more beautiful. Canoeing was definitely one of the highlights of the trip simply because of how content Sophie and I felt when were doing it. I have to say, canoeing down a crystal blue river, surrounded by autumn trees in the brightest sunshine, whilst listening to 'Vibe' by Miller Blue with your best friend is an unparalleled feeling.

The Marsh Trail.

As we were going to be missing out on the sights in Jasper and had a bit of money spare, we splashed out one day and booked a one day tour with Brewster to see Lake Louise, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and the Athabasca glacier. I know its cheesy and undeniably touristy to go on a bus tour rather than making your own way to the lakes but it was the only way we could see them and honestly, I thought it was great! We were really lucky to have a small group and our tour guide, Tim, was hilarious, granted we didn't have long at each of the lakes but the drives between each of our stops was just as amazing as the landscape got even more breathtaking the further north we went. We went up and down mountain passes, followed winding rivers through their valleys and gazed in awe at the wilderness we drove through.

Lake Louise was unbelievably stunning, as was Bow Lake. They're both fed by glaciers and the processes that take place during the movement of the glacier have lasting effects on the water giving them their crystal clear, blue colour. Peyto Lake we viewed from a farther vantage point but was again incomprehensibly blue and magnificent. Last was the glacier experience, which was again hard to believe. I'll admit I was a little underwhelmed by the view of the glacier from the Discovery Centre but when you consider how much its retreated due to climate change and you think about how far down the valley it used to stretch, you take back that thought. Stepping onto the glacier however, was exhilarating; the wind speeds that day were up to 100kmph which made it much colder than we were assured it usually was!

 Lake Louise.

 Bow Lake.

 Peyto Lake.

The Athabasca glacier and Skywalk.

Waterfoul Lake.

Since returning home I've been in a perpetual state of holiday blues, so much so that its turning into a case of holiday mean reds (brownie points for those of you who understood the Breakfast At Tiffany's reference there)! I don't think I'll ever be able to get over the abundance of such pristine scenery; the staggering magnitude of the mountains that surrounded Banff were homely rather than imposing and the gentle flow of the river inspired adventure. I couldn't bear to leave at the time as back home I had no job to go back to, no house of my own and many of my friends were either back at university or settling into new jobs far from me. Two weeks was no where near enough.

Views from the summit of Tunnel Mountain.

Our last night in Banff was one of my favourite from the holiday; as it was the last night in Banff for a few of us that had met that week so we decided to get our little squad together for a takeaway, film and trip to the pub. It was the perfect evening to round off our time together and it was so lovely to think of how much fun we'd all had hanging out that week when we'd only met seven days prior. Charli, Emile, Alex, Kurt, Jacob and Marc I am so grateful to you all for your company that week, it truly made the trip.

Upon arriving back in Calgary with Charli for our final two days in Canada we returned to some of favourite spots and discovered some new ones. On our last full day we went up Calgary Tower to marvel at how insanely flat Calgary really is and gaze longingly in the direction of the mountains and Banff. There was not a single cloud in the sky and we were blessed with gorgeous weather yet again for our final day. We also went to an ice hockey game that night to see the Calgary Flames play the Winnipeg Jets which was unbelievably good fun. I played hockey for years in school so I really enjoyed the match and was blown away by what a spectacle of a show the game was with flame throwers, half time shows and bizarre competitions literally every five minutes.

This post actually falls inline with the most wonderful news, I found out today that my application to go back to Canada on a working holiday visa has progressed to the next stage and so this time next year I might be writing to you from Canada! I am desperate to get back, I just did not get enough. And while I am very happy with my pictures, they feel like holiday snaps to me rather than considered photographs which I would publish as obviously I didn't have time to sit around each day waiting for the perfect shot. If I go back next year I'll have more than enough time to get my arse in gear and chase the best photographs, I want to capture the scenery at it's very finest.

So there you go that was our trip! I have of course shortened it considerably as so many wonderful things happened and so many photographs were taken I couldn't possibly put them all in one post but you get a good flavour. It truly was the trip of a lifetime and I feel so blessed to have been able to see the things I did. I should also say a huge thank you to Sophie for not getting sick of me while we were there and for making the trip the two best weeks of my life, I owe you big time darling.

This may be my last post for 2016 so if I don't speak to you before hand, I wish you all the most delightfully festive of Christmas' and a happy and peaceful New Year.