A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 3: Canada (Part 1)

My jacket is here somewhere

sunny 27 °C
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I spent my three nights in Toronto living in a Chinese family's basement. That was weird. Other than that, nothing particularly noteworthy happened there. Given my living situation wasn't what you'd call social, and if you dare speak to strangers in the big city they give you a look of pure malevolence, there wasn't much in the way of interaction with other people. It was a pretty forgettable few days. Onwards to Ottawa.

In my dorm in Iceland a girl from Montréal warned me that Ottawa was "rubbish and boring." She also said she wasn't keen on Edinburgh and preferred Glasgow, so I dismissed her opinion as one of a raving lunatic. And I was right, because Ottawa is awesome. For three nights I stayed with a really cool Brazilian couple and their three cats, in an 18th floor flat with a cracking view of the city. I left my jacket there.

Ottawa is a pretty small place considering it's the capital, but has a really friendly and chilled out atmosphere. Unlike Toronto, you can chat to people in bars and coffee shops and they don't react like you've just sneezed in their drink, which is nice. It's also beautiful. The Rideau River and canal that runs parallel lead you serenely into the city, where Parliament Hill sits imposingly. The canal and locks, a sign assured me, are engineering masterpieces, for reasons I neither remember nor understand. There are plenty of walking tours and museums if you want to put your cultural hat on, and a few of great bars if you don't. I sat in a corner by myself in one, watching the Champions League final on the smallest TV, while everyone else watched some rounders on the other 200 screens. While the pretty server engaged me in a conversation about soccer, her eyes glazed over when I asked her opinion on television money distribution in Spain compared to England, so I suspect she may have been humouring me in the hope of a decent tip. I gave her a decent tip.

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Centennial Flame at Parliament Hill

I retrieved my jacket and spent a further two nights with the greatest Couchsurfing host ever (she fed me bbq and lent me a bike) and her two lodgers, and found out that gin is remarkably cheap in Canada. I also discovered that I'm awful at pool after drinking cheap gin. I left my jacket there.

Candi, the aforementioned host, had regaled me with a tale of a guy who brutally murdered and decapitated a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus. The next day I got a Greyhound bus to Montréal, the most populous city in French Canada. While Iceland dorm girl was off the mark in her assessment of Ottawa, she was bang on with her insightful and succinct observation that Montréal is "wicked." I took a break from staying in strangers' homes and returned to my familiar hostel habitat. The fact I'm travelling lighter than most females do for a night out meant I got embarrassingly excited about the free laundry facilities. I washed some clean clothes just for the hell of it.

In between washing clothes I did some stuff and met some people. The hostel proved to be a really cool social environment, especially if you're fond of Germans and Aussies, so I found a bunch of people to go exploring with. Cycling is very much encouraged and is the best way to see the city, and means you stumble across quirky little places between the main sights. I was particularly taken by the characterful Old Port and Mont Royal, the latter of which rewarded a bit of a climb with a beautiful view over the city, especially in the evening. There is a public piano up there, and a few talented and not-so-talented pianists serenade the crowd. Elsewhere, the botanical gardens are rather pretty, and the oddly fascinating Insectarium made the $20 entry fee just about decent value, while the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is great if walking on F1 tracks is your thing.

Like Ottawa people in Montréal are, on the whole, a mightily friendly bunch. Apart from one guy in a bar who hangs around the foosball table every night and gets his kicks from beating people in as arrogant a manner as possible. I didn't like him. Especially as gin has the same influence on my foosball skills as it does my pool. A few nights later a bunch of us found another place with a pool table. Because I didn't drink gin I was the best player in the bar, and proceeded to beat everyone in as arrogant a manner as possible. I got quite the kick out of it, especially when the I was awarded the nickname Pool Jesus.

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With that my time in Montréal came to an end. As a city, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Likewise the Alexandria Hostel, where I met so many awesome and like minded people, some of whom I hope to meet again in Québec City and beyond. As I leave for QC the weather has taken a turn for the wet and dreary, with ominous storm clouds overhead.

I could really do with a jacket.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 12:48 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Chapter 2: Iceland.

The birthplace of Kenrickism.

semi-overcast 10 °C
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One thing I've always found crazy about life in general, and travelling in particular, is how we come across the people we meet. Go back just a few weeks and myself, Klara, Emma and Arnold were all in completely different parts of the world. Since then we've made countless decisions between us, yet if we had made just a few differently we would never have met. And had we not met, I can't imagine meeting a different group of people who would have made my all-too-short time in Iceland so insanely brilliant.

Thankfully, we did meet, sat around a kitchen table in a hostel on the outskirts of Reykjavik last Tuesday evening. I was functioning on practically zero sleep from the previous night, having been dragged to the pub by Fraser before leaving for the airport, and was planning on getting an early night. Yet at 10pm, I found myself in the back of Arnold's car alongside Emma, from Colorado, while Bohemian girl Klara rode shotgun. It's the time of year the sun in Iceland doesn't really set, it merely takes a short nap, and local lad Arnold decided to take us to a few of his favourite spots just outside the city to catch some nearly-midnight sun. It was stunningly beautiful, and the company was perfect. We finished it off with a couple of beers and a few games of pool, before heading back in the early hours as the sun began to reappear.

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11pm sunset

I spent the days of Wednesday and Thursday on tours of the South Shore and Golden Circle. Iceland is glorious, and everywhere on these tours is worth visiting, but in hindsight I wish I had done them my own way. Emma, for example, took the hitchhiking approach, which resulted in some ridiculous stories. Nonetheless, if you're into mountains, lakes, hot springs, geysers, glaciers, ocean views and waterfalls, Iceland has you covered. Gullfoss, flanked on all sides by imposing mountains and glaciers, beats Niagara as the most spectacular waterfall I have ever seen. Seljalandsfoss is one you can walk behind. Strokkur is a geyser that, unlike the one I saw in New Zealand, erupts naturally. Solheimajokull is a stunning glacier. The list goes on, it's just a beautiful country.

Back in Reykjavik, the two evenings after the tours were epic once again. On Wednesday Emma and I went out with a group of Americans she has met the previous day, before we reunited with Klara and Arnold for a night of nonstop dancing on Thursday. Reykjavik is a crazy expensive place to drink, but makes up for it with a brilliant atmosphere and pretty crazy people - an Icelandic rapper who gave us an impromptu street performance being one of my favourites.

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Then came Friday. Days like Friday don't lend themselves well to storytelling, because when you tell people you spent it creating a new religion with a pool ball named Kendrick as a deity and a tree stump as a holy site, they look at you with a bemused expression that says: "you're an idiot." Which, arguably, is true, but that's what Klara, Emma and I did. We were in that sweet spot between not quite sober, and not yet hungover, and it was the funniest day I've had in ages. And, let's be honest, a pool ball is no more ridiculous a deity than those in other religions...

Anyway... that afternoon we met back up with Arnold and headed to his place. For someone who doesn't drink, he has an uncanny ability to get others wasted. After two nights of partying, and considering I had to catch a bus to the airport at 8am the next morning, Friday was supposed to be chilled. However, "just one beer" swiftly turned into a great many beers and a copious amount of Brennivín, a local spirit Arnold assured us was tradition for visitors to drink by the bucket load.

We had said our goodbyes to Emma, who was off to Italy that evening, then continued the party. Long story short, I didn't go to bed that night, don't really remember getting to the airport, and woke up in Toronto completely disorientated and confused. My faith in Canadian border control dropped when they let me in. I stumbled to the baggage carousel more in hope than expectation, and to my utter amazement saw my backpack sat there waiting. Even more astonishing, all my belongings appeared to be inside.

I make that the first miracle of Kenrickism.

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Posted by Daniel.J.B 15:11 Archived in Iceland Tagged waterfalls mountains sea beer ocean mountain scenery glacier waterfall party glaciers geyser geysers iceland reykjavik Comments (3)

Chapter 1: Europe.

London and back via Paris, Bratislava, Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin

all seasons in one day
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I love running marathons. It's the only sport I can think of where a regular chap, such as myself, can share the same stage with the elite, with the same support. I mean, I'll never play football on the same pitch as Lionel Messi, Ronaldo or Toby Alderweireld, or play in front of tens of thousands of passionate spectators. But running a marathon, people you've never met cheer you on, and shout your name. It's awesome, and addictive.

Marathons are so addictive, in fact, that the idea of running four of them in consecutive weekends doesn't strike me as completely and utterly bonkers, so that's what I decided to do. And because they were each in different countries, I was able to combine my love of running with my love of travelling. Perfect.

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The first port of call on my 168.78km challenge was Paris, a marathon I also ran last year. I arrived on the Friday before Sunday's race and was eminently sensible. No alcohol, relatively healthy food, and early nights. It was boring as hell. Worst of all, I seriously struggled with the marathon, for reasons I'm not entirely sure of. I dragged myself over the line in a smidgen over 5 hours. This was roughly my target, but I'd hoped to save some fuel in the tank for the following weeks, rather than feel completely exhausted. It was pretty demoralising, and I started to think my faith in my body to recover so quickly for the next one was, at best, a little naive. My spirits were raised by visiting the lovely Clementine, an Erasmus friend of mine, and Antoine, her other half. Good company and a few beers certainly didn't do the recovery process any harm.

Before heading to Vienna for marathon #2, I thought I'd stop off in Bratislava for a couple of nights. The evidence from Paris suggested being healthy was not conducive to running marathons, so helped myself to the dangerously cheap (€2.50!) 1.5l bottle of beer and signed up for the pub crawl that evening. I remember losing everyone and being forced to get a taxi back, and I'm fairly sure I successfully converted the driver into a Spurs fan. Bratislava is a cracking little city to explore on foot, with a ton of history and lovely people. After a couple of days, it was on to Vienna.

Ah Vienna. There is endless material online that can help you have fun in Vienna. And I'm sure much of it is very useful. I would argue, however, that my one piece of advice is better than all of it combined: find and befriend another of my Erasmus cohorts, Steffi. She's awesome, her family is awesome, and her friends are awesome. That, combined with being in a city as wonderful as Vienna, pretty much makes it impossible not to have a good time when in her company. Especially when impromptu house parties break out.

Now, kids, going on a 14-hour binge is not big and clever. Going to bed at 11am as a result of said binge is not big and clever. Waking up at 6pm and being momentarily confused about whose clothes you're wearing - and whose house you're in - is not big and clever.
However, doing all of the above and running a marathon a matter of hours later? You're damn right that's big and clever. And I pulled it off like an absolute boss. Not only did I run it a few minutes faster than Paris, I felt absolutely great. I sprinted down the home straight, cheered on by Steffi and Co., feeling a hell of a lot better - physically and mentally - than I had the week before. Because I had proven beyond any reasonable doubt that a healthy lifestyle has a negative impact on marathon running, we then went for a burger and beers.

I decided to stop off in Berlin before heading to Hamburg for marathon #3. I nearly missed my flight due to a bus breaking down, and wound up sharing a taxi with a guy heading to London to make a documentary on the effects of LSD. Another entry in my ever-growing list of random people I end up in cars with. Anyway, I just about made it in time and was on my way. Nothing too exciting happened in Berlin, apart from a guy sprinting past me with another guy behind shouting "stop him, thief." I've subsequently replayed this moment in my head many times, and each time I do I apprehend the thief in a more dramatic and heroic fashion, receiving ever more applause and adulation from those around me. What actually happened is I stood perfectly still, and the thief got away.

Pickpockets aside, Berlin is pretty epic and definitely somewhere I'd like to return. Finally, I made it to Hamburg. I stayed in a Generator Hostel as they're always pretty great socially, and met a hilarious group of Kiwis who were in the midst of a genuinely heated argument, which was occasionally broken up for shots and a song. A particular highlight was winding up the Arsenal-supporting bartender as Spurs tore Stoke apart. Given subsequent events on that front, I'm quite glad I'll never see him again.

Anyhow, I ran the marathon. That's kind of it. There was no real drama. I knocked a further five minutes off the Vienna time, and again felt in good nick. Hamburg is a cool place to run a marathon, and well worth a visit. After that, it was back to England for the finale: the London Marathon.

I've unsuccessfully applied for a place in London for years. Having failed again, I decided to enter through a charity, Get Kids Going, who help make sport accessible to disabled children. The link to my Virgin Money Giving page is at the bottom, should any of you wish to add a few pennies to the pot.

Anyway, London was incredible. I loved every minute of it. In every other race I've done, the support winds down in parts, particularly out of the centre. Not so in London, where the support is fervorous pretty much the entire time. At certain points, it just goes nuts. Crossing Tower Bridge is something I'll never forget, and without doubt my single favourite part of any race. I ran the final bend before The Mall, cheered on by my dad and the charity support team, and absolutely flew to the finish line. I finished in 4:40, 13 minutes faster than Hamburg and 21 faster than the first race in Paris. IMG_20160424_184018.jpg

And that was that. It was an amazing trip around some of my favourite places in Europe, reuniting with a few old friends and making one or two new ones. It was, however, merely the warm-up act for the main event. Three weeks later I would set off for New Zealand via Iceland, Canada, the US and South America. Stay tuned...

Oh, and click here for my fundraising page.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 06:39 Archived in Austria Tagged bratislava london vienna paris france austria germany berlin slovakia hamburg marathon running Comments (0)

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