New York City: November 19th-December 26th

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Miles walked this trip: 245.9

We were originally booked onto a Greyhound bus for our journey from Vancouver to NYC. It was set to take a full 5 days, which we didn’t think anything of when we booked it. Despite the daunting length of the drive, it meant it’d be 5 days worth of accommodation we wouldn’t have to pay for, as we’d be sleeping on board.

However, after our nightmare Greyhound trip from Montreal to Banff (which took 3 days), we realised it’d be suicide to do it again, especially as this trip was 2 days longer! I sent a huge complaint to Greyhound about our last journey (mentioning the state of the bus, the fact there were no plugs/wifi/legroom, the fact that Jake had bruises on his back from the seats, and about how we were told they’d lost our luggage and did absolutely nothing to help us), and surprisingly, they happily cancelled and refunded our Vancouver>NYC trip, which paid for a flight instead (only 8 hours)!

We checked out of our Airbnb at 11am, and got to the airport by 12. Unfortunately, we had another 11 hours until our plane took off! Having a day in Vancouver was out of the question because we’d have had to carry all our heavy luggage around all day with us- not happening! We made ourselves comfy at the airport, got food, read our books, I entered well over 100 online competitions, and killed time by searching out all of the totem poles they had on display.

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The mountains got their first snow the day we left Vancouver

Typically, our flight ended up being pretty delayed (just our luck). The plane we were meant to get on had technical difficulties, and so did the replacement! The one we ended up boarding at about 12am was tiny- so small that they couldn’t fit all of the passengers on; they paid $800 compensation to those people.. crazy. I was so ready to sleep by the time we took off, but there was pretty mad turbulence literally as soon as the plane left the ground, which made me feel sick. They had Descendents on the inflight entertainment system though, which made me feel better!!

By the time we landed in Montreal for our connection, we had to run to make it on to the tiny plane heading to Laguardia in New York. US customs was a bit of a faff, despite them knowing we were close to missing our flight. It was a super close call and I was in such a bad mood by the end of it, despite making it just in time!

After sleeping practically the whole way, we got into New York at 10am the next morning, signalling the start of my seventh time to the city (and without a doubt my favourite)! I’d never flown to Laguardia before, and it was awesome to soar past Manhattan and see the Empire State and the Chrysler Buildings, etc. You don’t get those kinds of views descending into JFK which is further out.

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Awful quality.. urgh

We crashed at a friend’s place for a few days before moving into our final Airbnb on the Lower East Side, where we stayed for exactly a month. We were booked into a hotel for our final 4 days at the end of December.

Autumn was in full swing upon our arrival, and the colours didn’t disappoint. Central Park looks pretty at all times of the year, but it was especially breathtaking during the fall, with golden colours everywhere you turned and a crispness in the air. We had a couple of weeks left of the season before Winter started to take over.

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Visiting at Christmas time has been on my bucket list forever. We were praying it’d snow at some point during our stay, and our wish came true after four weeks… it was very sludgy and wet though!

img_7299Unfortunately it didn’t snow on Christmas day, but there were still puddles of snow and ice dotted around, and as we were staying right in the heart of Manhattan on 31st Street, we didn’t need snow to feel festive as we were surrounded by decorated trees, lights everywhere, over the top window displays, carol singing, holiday markets and of course Rockefeller Plaza (etc.) and it’s famous tree. New York is electric, overwhelming, exciting and loud during the festive season, and did put us in the Christmas spirit, although it was a bit strange as we were away from home and our families- a first for both of us.

I am so glad we have ticked it off the list, but I wouldn’t need to do it again. It’s incredibly hectic and at times it’s hard to move through the streets (of course, if you’re on 5th Ave on Christmas Eve it’s inevitably going to be difficult, but it’s still a little much when a 10 minute walk takes an hour and streets are closed off for crowd control)! If you are visiting NYC for the first time, you might not want to go at this time of year (especially 20th-26th December, ish) as it’s so busy that it might put you off the city and not give the best first impressions. I overheard a family at the airport saying they’d never go back because it was too busy and nothing like they imagined, which is a shame, but understandable I suppose. I thought it was great, but can see how people might not agree.

We’ve been to 4 of the 5 boroughs, went to museums and galleries, a gig, a Broadway show, lost count of how many miles we walked, ate double our weight in pizza (probably more, actually), did pretty much all of Central Park, had the odd day where we did nothing because our feet were so sore, saw all the Christmas window displays, walked over Manhattan, Brooklyn, Williamsburg & Queensboro Bridge, got put off Times Square for life, had a picnic in Central Park, saw the amazing light displays at Dyker Heights, watched lots of Christmas movies, went to various tree lighting events, got up at 5am for the Thanksgiving Parade, and so much more.. too much to write about here, so I’ll just include pictures, and some highlights.

We were away from the U.K for almost 7 months, and we had an amazing time. We really feel like we made the most of the time we spent abroad, and have so many great memories and funny stories, and now I feel like I’ve got the travel bug out of my system for a while. Our only slight regret is that we started on the East Coast instead of in Banff- we reckon we might have stayed there for the length of our visas if that’d been the first place we visited; we fell in love with it! We will definitely be visiting again in future, even if only for a week or two. We are so ready to get back to work (and get back to having money!!!!), and feel so lucky to have been able to take this amount of time off and visit so many places…. even if we have returned home with about £100 between us! It was worth it.

 

Highlights of this trip:

  • Martin Scorsese Exhibition at the Museum of Moving Image (absolutely the best exhibition I’ve ever been to)
  • Bouncing Souls at Irving Plaza
  • A Bronx Tale on Broadway, on Christmas Day
  • Central Park in Autumn, and seeing all the colours change and the trees lose their leaves in Winter
  • The Mariah Carey Empire State Building light show – watch the video, it’s lush
  • Our pizza crawl (scouting out the best dollar pizza places for a whole month)
  • Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Amazing $1.25 vanilla custard donuts from GI Delicatessen
  • Being in the audience for the taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert
  • Lychee Rose ice cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
  • Our hotel room and the comfiest bed i’ve ever slept in
  • Dyker Heights, Brooklyn (the neighbourhood where all the houses are lit up)
  • Seeing the tree at Rockefeller Plaza

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Bergdorf Goodman’s Christmas window displays

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Up at 5am for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

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Our Lord and Saviour

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Pooper Scoopers

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Santa! This signifies the start of Christmas in NYC

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Joey Ramone

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Our Airbnb- 6 floors up!

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We walked to Ghostbusters HQ but they’re renovating it so we could only see scaffolding. Boo!

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Aunt Jake’s :’)

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Economy Candy!

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Mint choc chip & Lychee Rose with strawberry jelly hearts. Soo good

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Military aircraft working out Trump’s evacuation route should he need to get out of NYC

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Best exhibition I’ve ever been to!

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So misty you can’t see the top of the Empire State Building

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Macy’s old wooden escalators

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Shake Shack.. ❤

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NYC on a budget: How we survived for five weeks

We arrived in New York with $425 between us… which would be fine if we were in the city for one week, but this had to last us 5! At the point of closing our Canadian bank accounts, and transferring the remaining balance to US currency a couple of days before we left Vancouver, this is all we were left with. We did have some money left in our English accounts to fall back on if we needed to, but our plan was to be as thrifty as possible whilst in NYC, and eat as cheaply as we could. It was quite a scary thought- $425 over 5 weeks works out as $12 a day. That seems pretty nuts, right? It was actually relatively easy.

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Our daily budget

We don’t use public transport. I don’t mean we use taxis instead; we literally walk everywhere. We tend to hit 10 miles a day on average, but there’s been days when we’ve walked 4 miles, and others where we’ve exceeded 15. Even if we know we’re going to end up on our feet for 6 hours, we don’t think anything of it and just get on with it, knowing we’ll be saving at least $12 subway fare per day doing so. We really do love going everywhere by foot, so it’s not an issue for us- unless it’s tipping down with rain!

If you must use public transport or just don’t like walking, you can buy a 7-day ‘unlimited ride’ Metrocard (to use on the Subway and buses) for $31, or a 30-day Metrocard  for $116.50. A single ride ticket is $3. If we’d each bought a month-long Metrocard, we’d have been paying over $230 in one hit! In 0ver three weeks, we’ve only spent $9 each on the Subway, and that was only because we wanted to get to the Thanksgiving Parade as quickly and as early as possible (just before 6am), and get to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn to see the Christmas lights (a 7 hour walk there and back.. nope).

Another thing I realised was that I was soon going to run out of makeup. When we arrived in Vancouver (October 15th), I went to a department store and got a few samples of the foundation I normally use, and then went to Lush to get some skincare samples. I actually did this for the entirety of our travels from then on, through until we left New York!

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About half of my collection of samples that I accrued in the space of 2 months

Cheapest lunches we could find:

Note: these really aren’t all that healthy unfortunately! It’s more tricky to eat a meal for under $3 with any kind of nutritional value… 😦

If you’ve got access to a kitchen, it’s a no brainer that things like pasta and sauce are a cheap and easy. I’ve always (wrongly) seen it as an expensive Whole Foods-esque supermarket, but was surprised to find Trader Joe’s the best value for mostly everything (bag of pasta: 99 cents- did 4 meals, pasta sauce: $2- I managed to spread it over 7 meals);  Fruit and veg are affordable (bananas are 19c each!), and their ready meals aren’t bad either (awesome big mac and cheese for $2.99 which I added broccoli to to bulk it out even more). The milk below was $1.29 (v $1.99+ in most grocery stores). I did look in cheap Chinatown supermarkets I was recommended when I asked for advice on Reddit, but it was actually more expensive there!

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All of this cost $7.44 (£5.90) from Trader Joe’s and did about 8 meals

Chinatown/Lower East Side/East Village/Midtown:

Pork buns: 3 for $1.50 – Vanessa’s Dumpling House, Tasty Dumpling, Golden Steamer etc

Dumplings: 4 for $1/$1.50 (comes with soy sauce etc)- Vanessa’s Dumpling House, Tasty Dumpling, Golden Steamer etc

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$3 for this

Bag of 50 frozen dumplings/wontons (if you’ve got access to a freezer… obviously): $8-$10 – Vanessa’s Dumpling House, Tasty Dumpling, Golden Steamer etc

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Roast pork/chicken on rice and vegetables: $3.95 – Wah Fung No1 Fast Food

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The pork was good, but I wouldn’t recommend the chicken

Noodles with Peanut Butter sauce: $2 – Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine Restaurant

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Ramen (supernoodles): 5 packets for $2/similar deal – Hong Kong Supermarket

Bialys: $1- Kossars

Donuts: $1.25 (vs $4 at posh donut shops like Donut Plant) – G.I Delicatessen, 1st Ave

Dollar pizza slices – everywhere! (our favourite was at 99c Fresh Pizza, 4th St & 2nd Ave)

Large pizzas – most of the dollar pizza places do huge cheese pizzas for $8. Chains like Dominos and Papa Johns also do a large pizza for $10 and these tend to come with 3-5 toppings, which fill you up a  bit better because they’re deeper

Gotta have our dollar slices #hjusaca16 #travel #newyork #usa #nyc #newyorkcity

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This was at a pizza place on Hester and Allen- avoid avoid avoid! It was barely cooked and so unsatisfying

Garlic knots: $1 for 4 – most dollar pizza places

6″ Subway sandwich: $3 for the breakfast deal, $3.50 for a regular sub, and some Subways do footlongs for $5.75 – Subway

Dollar fries – Papaya Dog, 2nd Ave

Dollar hotdogs lots of food carts

Fried Chicken & Chips: $3- Checkers, 1st Ave

Large pizza: $5 – 7 Eleven

Hotdog and big gulp soda: $2 – 7 Eleven

I won’t lie- eating pizza every day for weeks takes its toll, and has stripped us of our energy. I went to Trader Joes yesterday and used my English bank card to buy $40 worth of decent food (mostly fruit and veg, some lean meat etc). Still, it was a hell of a lot cheaper there than it would have been elsewhere.

Things to do (free/cheap):

Visit The Skint! It shows everything going on that week that’s either free, or cheap. Includes markets and fairs, galleries, musical events, comedy nights, movie screenings, food tastings, etc.

Free/donation only museum/gallery/attraction days (not extensive):

Museum of Moving Image, Queens (free on Friday, 4pm-7pm) – my favourite museum ever. Dedicated to film, TV, music, etc. They had an amazing Martin Scorsese exhibit on during our stay (it’s on until April 2017- completely worth the $15 admission if you don’t go on a Friday)!

Socrates Sculpture Park (always free; could be coincided with a trip to the MOMI, as it’s nearby)

The Museum of Modern Art (pay what you wish, Friday 4pm-8pm)

The Guggenheim (pay what you wish, Saturday 5.45pm-7.45pm)

American Museum of Natural History (free in the last hour of business, or pay what you wish any other time)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (pay what you wish)

International Centre for Photography (Thursday 6pm-9pm, pay what you wish)

Whitney Museum of American Art (free on Fridays, 7pm-9.30pm)

Botanical Gardens 

Queens- free

Brooklyn- free Tuesdays, and Saturdays 10am-12pm

Bronx- free Wednesdays, and Saturdays 10am-12pm

Roosevelt Island Tramway – You can use your Metrocard, or just pay the regular subway fare to ride the cable car. Roosevelt Island itself is quiet and there’s not a lot to do there other than check out the views of the East River, but you get amazing views of the city as you go over the Queensboro Bridge- it’s worth the $3

Governor’s Island (open May-November)- Round trip ferry fare is $2, or free on the weekend until 11.30am

Grand Central Terminal – the busiest train terminal in the USA, but great for photos! The constellation system is painted on the ceiling in real gold leaf. There’s also the famous ‘Whisper Gallery’ to mess about in.

Free outdoor movies (summer only) – Bring your own blanket/food/drinks!

Central Park – it’s so huge, it’d take many many hours to see everything. There are sculptures, parks, ponds, skating rinks, even a zoo… I’ve found that there’s not so much to see above 97th street, so maybe concentrate on the streets below

NY Public Library – they often have exhibitions on, but it’s worth going just to see the beautiful interior of the Rose Main Reading Room

Free Holiday Markets at Christmas time (Bryant Park, Union Square, Columbus Circle, etc)

Chelsea Highline- built on an old disused railway track, this is now an extensive public garden kitted out with deckchairs, some public art, and a nice view of the Hudson. Right next to the Whitney Museum, too

Battery Park if you want to feel like you’re in Desperately Seeking Susan! You’ve got views of the Statue of Liberty and you’re only a few minutes walk from the Financial District (Wall Street, the Bull, Ground Zero etc)

Staten Island Ferry (free; a lot of people use this for a free viewing of the Statue of Liberty- it sails right past. They then tend to get straight back on the ferry and come back to Manhattan). Staten Island Zoo is also free on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons

Walk Brooklyn Bridge- It gets pretty crowded, so prepare to get a bit stressed out, and watch out for bikes! The views of the bridge itself are great, and coming back across to Manhattan is even better. If you want a more calm walk with less people, walk across the Williamsburg Bridge. The Manhattan Bridge isn’t as cool as the views are a little obstructed.

DUMBO AKA Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass – Once you’re off the Brooklyn Bridge and are actually in Brooklyn, walk down to the waterfront. There’s a carousel, benches, cafes and restaurants, and the park to relax in, and gives one of the best views of the city, especially when the sun is setting. Brooklyn Heights Promenade is a very short walk from here, and gives awesome views of Manhattan too.

A 1iota TV show taping – Free! We got tickets to see the Late Show with Stephen Colbert being filmed- I did try 9 times to get tickets for Jimmy Fallon but wasn’t successful

Visit Ghostbusters HQ at the Fire Station (note: undergoing refurbishment until 2017)

Look out for Films/TV shows being filmed! You’ll always see brightly coloured signs stuck up all over the city informing the public of which project is filming and when. I sometimes check On Location Vacations  (they have twitter too) to see what’s happening in NYC. A few years ago a friend and I got to be extras in a scene in Girls just by being there at the right time (the footage was never used though of course); Aziz Ansari was filming over the road last week, and I missed Bryan Cranston filming downtown yesterday! There’s always something going on though, so you’re bound to catch something.

Rooftop bars- if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock (around $30 each), just go to a rooftop bar, buy a drink, and admire the view that way instead (as long as you’re only sticking around for one drink)!

Will add more ideas as I think of them!

North Vancouver: October 18th-November 18th

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Miles walked this trip: 121

On the morning of the 18th, we caught a cab from the East side of Vancouver to the North Shore, to spend a month in our next Airbnb; ‘The Mountain Hideaway’, a sweet studio/one-bed apartment in a quiet neighbourhood. It was a twenty minute drive (alternatively a two-hour walk, via the Lions Gate Bridge, or a bit less than an hour if you’re taking public transport; this includes a ride on the ferry, AKA The Sea Bus).

As we had all our belongings with us on our move-in date, a taxi was really our only option, but on the occasion we did want to go downtown during our stay, we chose to walk (as usual). The walk across the bridge gives such a pretty view of the city and Stanley Park (shown in the first picture in this blog post), as well as West Vancouver. Each time we took this trip, it resulted in us getting totally drenched before we’d even got off the Bridge- the rain here is absolutely relentless. We’ve only had about three full days where it hasn’t rained, in the space of a month! I will never complain about the rain back at home again… it’s awesome here but the only downside is the weather. I bet it’s lovely in Summer, but when it’s constantly chucking it down, it does make it difficult to plan days, knowing your outing will probably get cut short because your shoes are full of water and squelching half an hour after stepping out the front door.

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However, that’s our only complaint, if you even want to call it that. It’s nice to be near enough to Vancouver to be able to walk there, but be out of the hustle and bustle of a big metropolis. We’ve got mountains to our left, and the water to our right, and there are plenty of places to go here in North Vancouver- shopping centres and restaurants, the Quay, parks and woodland, various popular attractions (including Capilano Suspension Bridge, which we chose not to do because it was very overpriced and apparently not worth the money!), and a ton of different hiking trails. Unfortunately most of these trails are difficult to access if you don’t drive, and a lot of them are known for being extremely hard and very steep. We were keen to do the Grouse Grind, but it’s known for being very difficult. We hiked the Tunnel Mountain trail back in Banff (which I did love, but it killed my knees and I swear my chest hurt so much I could taste blood), and that’s tame in comparison, so I really do think I’d end up having to give up halfway up Grouse Mountain. I can walk for hours on a flat surface but as soon as you bring an incline into it, I get short of breath and feel like collapsing!

We’ve really enjoyed taking advantage of the fact we’re in our own private space, for the first time since we left England. It’s been great to be able to relax and go at our own pace, and not feel like we’re in anyone’s way. We’ve been able to cook our own meals every day, have a lie-in, chill out in front of (rubbish) Canadian TV snuggled under a blanket, read a book when it’s hammering it down outside, play our music without fear of annoying anyone, spend quality time together, and prat about without getting on anyone’s nerves! Honestly, we’ve not done a huge amount since being here, but I think that’s deserved, seeing as we’ve generally been on the go since we started travelling.

We’ve made quite a few trips down to Lonsdale Quay (only a 15 minute walk) where there’s a lovely market, restaurants and a brewery, and a great view of the Vancouver skyline- awesome on a clear day, or as the sun sets! Another short walk from the Quay is Mosquito Creek Marina (where we spent a rare sunny Sunday), which then turns onto a Native American Squamish community.

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As we decided not to visit Capilano Suspension Bridge ($45 each for admission.. before tax!), we walked to Lynn Canyon instead. This was free, and also has its own suspension bridge, which going by photos, looks just as impressive as Capilano. It took us an hour to get there. It was an easy walk, but of course, after about 20 minutes, we were soaking wet. My coat isn’t waterproof (doh), and my blue jeans, despite being put through the wash at least five times now, still leave my skin stained blue when I get around to peeling them off!

Water was streaming down our faces and dripping from our eyelashes, but we still managed to enjoy our walk. My ankle’s still a little painful from my fall in Yoho (I’m convinced I must have a hairline fracture or something…), so Jake helped me across the rocks and made sure I didn’t slip. After crossing the bridge (fun, but a bit freaky- bouncing up and down and swaying slightly as we went), we saw Twin Falls and the 30-foot pool, while trekking through the woods for an hour or so. We sat on a log to eat our gourmet packed lunch (a squashed Nutrigrain and chunk of cucumber), and then made the squelchy walk home.

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A few days ago, I won tickets online to see the new Jim Jarmusch documentary about the Stooges; Gimme Danger. 

We walked downtown to the movie theatre, on the clearest day we’ve had yet in North Vancouver. On the way, we stopped off at Prospect Point lookout (just on the edge of Stanley Park, overlooking Lions Gate Bridge), which we’d barely even noticed before due to the constant fog and drizzle. We also spotted bright white mountain peaks in the distance as we were crossing the bridge, which we’d also never realised were even there!

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We left home at 12pm, and arrived downtown at 2.30. In total, we walked 15.5 miles that day- my feet felt broken as soon as we stepped through the door that night!

We’d done another long walk a couple of days previous (14 miles); finally making the hike to Capilano Park to see the Cleveland Dam. It was pretty impressive and rather lovely, despite the sky clouding over as soon as we arrived (in true Vancouver fashion)!

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We’ve spent our month here not doing a whole lot (and enjoying it), and we’ve still ticked off most “must-see” places of interest in North Vancouver. I would have loved to have gone to High Point Lookout, but it’s a five hour walk, I’m sure the incline is pretty steep, AND it’s usually such grim weather that we wouldn’t be able to see the view anyway! We now have 2 days left here, and as of a few days ago, the grand total of $0CAD left- literally not even a nickel in my wallet (minus our exact taxi fare to the airport), so we are ready to move on to New York (again). We are going to be on a very tight budget, as always, so will have to be careful with our day to day spending, but we are so excited to spend Christmas there- it’s been on my bucket list for years!

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No, not Jake’s handiwork!

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This was the clearest day we had all month! If you look closely, you can just about see a big white mountain way over in the distance. We’d never been able to spot this before because it had been too foggy, or pouring with rain

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November 14’s ‘Supermoon’ wasn’t all that super at all

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Vancouver: October 13th-18th

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Miles walked this trip: 42.4

After our stint in the mountains, we could have easily gone another few weeks (or months) without seeing another city! It was amazing to be immersed in nature, surrounded by both greenery and ice and snow, bitter breeze, and occasional wildlife.

However, staying in Vancouver turned out to be really great, despite the insane rain (no wonder the city is also known as Raincouver)!

We got dropped downtown after our second tour ended, and took a cab straight to our Airbnb with all our luggage. It was on the East side of Vancouver, and was a very cosy, somewhat dated but homely place owned by a sweet lady called Dianne who made us feel very welcome. The East Vancouver area is known for being a little rough around the edges, and seemed to be quite industrial (we were staying on Vernon Drive).

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The city seems to have a big homeless problem, especially on the East Side. We were told about this before, but you don’t realise quite how bad it is until you see it for yourself. The moment you hit East Hastings Street, you’re faced with makeshift camps and tents on the streets and in empty parking lots, people shuffling along with carts asking for spare change, people sleeping on the pavements with their friends, and others queuing to get into the Salvation Army or various rehab clinics. There were police around at all times of the day, often just chatting with these people, passing the time. While it feels a little sketchy, as most areas like this sometimes do, I can’t say I felt scared or unsafe; it’s just very sad to see so many people having to make a home on the streets, while there are such an insane number of empty unused buildings surrounding them.

Heading downtown from East Hastings, you’ll end up going through colourful Chinatown with it’s many (pungent) food markets, and the Dr Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden (free to visit), and on to Gastown; a smart and endearing neighbourhood with cobbled streets and its famous Clock, which has tourists flocking on the hour to hear it chime, while letting out heavy plumes of steam. Further on, and you’ll hit the popular Granville Street, with tons of restaurants, bars, burger joints, venues and clubs, hostels, and every variety of clothing/general store you’d want. My favourite thing about Granville Street was the array of old style pop out hotel/club signage attached to many of the buildings. It was a lively street, with quite a bit of character, which I can imagine comes alive at night.

We spent our first full day in Vancouver searching for winter coats/anoraks, while getting drenched. It rains a lot here; I’d read comments online advising not to ‘cheap out’ on a good raincoat in Vancouver! However, with our budget, it looked like that’s exactly what we’d have to do. A few hours later and we were kitted out with thermal socks, a coat each, and a cheap Thermos knock off from Canada’s equivalent to TK Maxx, in the hopes that we wouldn’t end up breaking the bank even further by succumbing to takeaway coffee when we are out and about in the cold weather.

Granville Island and market was on our list, which we conquered the next day with some friends we’d made. We had to walk across the Burrard Street Bridge, which connected downtown Vancouver and Granville/the Kitsilano Neighbourhood. The bridge gave great views despite the slight obstruction of roadworks! Granville Island Market was brilliant- lots of amazing food (if slightly on the pricey side) and vibrant fruit and veg, full of character, and with a huge variety of market stalls and shops. They even had a smaller ‘Kids Market’ opposite the main building, which was even more lively- full of toyshops, costume stores, a ball pool, slides, rope swings, and even entertainers (including clowns). In the main market building, we treated ourselves to a small portion of homemade rice pudding complete with raisins (how I’ve missed that), and an awesome slice of sticky apple crumble from Laurelle’s Fine Foods, to go with our flask of tea. There were a hundred other things I could have easily taken away with me, including rustic looking rhubarb pies, pumpkin pies, Cornish pasties, peanut butter cookies… the lot. It was a weekend, so the place was packed out in spite of the heavy rain outside. If I’d had more money, I could probably have spent most of the day there, followed by a walk along the Marina.

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We headed over to Kitsilano, via Kits Beach, to check out the neighbourhood, which I’d heard has a very chilled out feel to it- lots of yoga studios, coffee shops, and cute boutiques. We didn’t make it as far as the centre because we were all pretty tired from walking all day, so we walked back across the bridge and went our separate ways.

On the way home, I took my time marvelling over the pretty coloured houses, occasional street art, and rust coloured leaves on the East Side and made sure to take lots of photos. I’ve lost count of the times I must have said “ahhhhhhdreamhouse” to Jake, who was definitely sick of it within a few minutes. There were so many cute little apartments (and some massive ones… $$$) in the area. Our Airbnb was also next door to a really cool old convenience store, which we made the mistake of going in- the man working there was very eccentric and tried to sell absolutely everything in there to us; I thought we’d never get out of there.

“With its lush, coastal rainforests and aboriginal heritage, Vancouver is a place of lore, legend and deep- rooted history. First Nations culture is prevalent throughout the city, keeping ancient traditions and stories alive with vibrantly coloured totem poles, cultural centres, museums and contemporary art galleries.” (taken from tourismvancouver.com)

The following day was spent with new friends, walking all the way from the East Side to Stanley Park, Vancouver’s large 405 hectare woodland, surrounded by the harbour and English Bay. We had our flask and peanut butter and banana sandwiches packed, and were in search of these famous Totem Poles, which are apparently the most visited tourist attraction in the city. Whilst walking along the Sea Wall (the walkway skirting the park), we saw two bald eagles! It was a pleasant but chilly walk through the woods, reminiscent of the Forest of Dean, with gigantic mossy tree trunks, huge ferns, and with only a faint buzz of noise from the city. After finding the Totem Poles, we headed to Coal Harbour to find the ‘Digital Orca’ sculpture, before walking home, totalling another 12 miles on foot that day!

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We had a bit of a lazy morning the following day, strolling up and down Commercial Drive (a diverse neighbourhood, hip but hippy; formerly Little Italy), which we really liked, and found a cheap Shawarma cafe to eat at, as we had no food left at home (and I was sick of having porridge or 95cent noodles for tea anyway)! Our Airbnb host was kind enough to make a big pasta dinner that night, which was much appreciated before we took ourselves to bed, ready to make the move to North Van the next day and FINALLY get an apartment to ourselves for a month!

No doubt we will end up heading downtown at some point in the next few weeks (either by the $4 Sea Bus, or by foot on the Lions Gate bridge; only a two hour walk each way…)- there are still a few things on my list that we haven’t yet ticked off. However, going by what we experienced in the five days we were here, we really liked Vancouver. There’s a lot going on, and it’s so refreshing to be in a buzzing city yet still be surrounded by water and mountains, giving you the option of hiking and sports, and shopping, food and nights out (not that we can afford those three things) all at the same time. Wish we’d come here instead of blimmin’ Toronto. NEVER MIND!

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“Vancouver is famous for its rain. It can rain here for weeks on end, but it does not usually bother me. However, several years ago I found myself coming close to being thoroughly disgusted by the rain. I walked home from work one evening in the pouring rain, mumbling under my breath the whole way that this weather was only suited to ducks. The building I lived in was large and square, and it surrounded a brick courtyard. I came around the corner into the courtyard and there, to my amazement was a beautiful Peking duck in a huge puddle in the middle of the courtyard, quacking and splashing with obvious delight. I had to smile, glad that such joy could be found in the gray wetness of such a day. I have often thought that we do not have nearly enough words for rain, especially as this was once a rainforest. There is booming rain, whispery rain, rain that lulls you to sleep, and rain on the leaves which sings you awake; there is soft rain, hard rain, sideways rain, rain that makes you instantly wet, and rain that leaves soft kisses on your cheek, like the wings of a butterfly. Rain brings us all the shades of gray, but it also brings us the wonderful greenery that surrounds us and blesses us all.”

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Banff, Lake Louise, Yoho & Kelowna: October 7th-13th

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Miles walked this trip: 42.3

Well… it was a real mission to get here, no understatement.

Our Greyhound bus departed Montreal at 6.45am on the 5th October, and arrived into Banff on the 7th October at 8.45pm. SIXTY NINE HOURS.

It was probably the worst journey I’ve ever taken. From the first few minutes on the first leg of the journey from Montreal, there was some strange older man harassing a passenger at the back of the bus, being creepy and ill mannered, the entire way to Ottawa, where we transferred. We drove through most of the Canadian Provinces; Quebec, Ontario (which lasted for an eternity, I never want to be there again, ever), Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and finally Alberta. Snow seemed to appear out of nowhere just before we got into Regina (SK), which was pretty, but the prairies seemed to go on forever, and honestly after about an hour of seeing the exact same scenery with nothing changing, it got quite tedious. If the journey was a couple of hours, I may have slightly enjoyed it, but when your bus journey is 69 hours long, things don’t seem all that wonderful.

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We made ‘friends’ with a fellow passenger- a stoner snowboarder from Vancouver, who looked like a mix of Dave England (of Jackass fame), and Shaggy (Scooby Doo) who would sneak off at literally EVERY stop along the way to smoke weed. We are talking every half hour for the entire three days. I suppose you’ve got to get through it somehow. He was a pleasant guy, and pretty hilarious, telling us his theories of Deer with claws who were working for the Russian Mafia (…yup, we didn’t get it either, but it was entertaining for a while) and chatting away with us while offering to share his crisps and “other” snacks he had on board.

I have never been so uncomfortable- the bus that did the main stretch had no working plugs or wifi, and we had next to no legroom. Jake’s knees were rammed against the back of the chair in front with his feet dangling, and the bruises on his back from the chairs are just fading, four days later.

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I’ve caught a lot of Greyhounds in the past- usually for journeys between 4 and 8 hours, so I know that with Greyhound, comes crazies, druggies, rude people, passengers eating the worst smelling food, screaming babies, and often busses that don’t seem to have been serviced for a long time. You’ve only got to check this story out to be put off using Greyhound. Real horror movie material. That guy is allowed out in public now!!!

Anyway, after we FINALLY got to Calgary at 6.20pm on the 7th October, we got off the bus, and waited for our luggage to be unloaded. Of course, it never showed. We started panicking and asked the staff unloading the undercarriage of the coach where our bags were, and were told to go and talk to the manager inside. We only had about 20 minutes to wait until our transfer to Banff, so were seriously stressing out. The guy we spoke to unsympathetically told us our luggage “probably got transferred to an Edmonton bus instead” (he told us he didn’t know why…. brilliant…) “and if it comes back here tonight, I’ll know in about 4 hours and I’ll call you then… it’ll then take around 2 hours to get to you in Banff”… GREAT! So if we get our luggage back at all, it’ll mean we have to trudge down to retrieve it at about 2am, with an alarm set at 7am for our tour next morning! We had to file a missing luggage report, and he took our details and told me he’d call me when the next bus going to Banff gets into Calgary at 10.30pm. Absolutely raging, we just had to suck it up, get on our bus, and hope that we got a phone call from him a couple of hours after we got to our hostel in Banff. After spending the 2 hour journey quietly crying under my blanket, and worrying about what the hell we were going to do without any of our belongings for another two months of travelling, we practically ran off the bus, only to find the bus driver unloading our luggage. $*!%$**£*@****$!

He never even called me, and it’s four days later. No surprise. Excellent service, Greyhound.. we are never using you again! If you’re taking a short trip, you’ll be ok, but for anything longer than 12 hours.. IT’S NOT WORTH IT. Spend a bit extra and fly. Seriously.

Time to be more positive now. We are in Banff national park (in Alberta, but right on the border of British Columbia), and it’s amazing! The centre of Banff is basically a resort town, which I thought I wouldn’t be hugely keen on, but it’s so great here. It’s very pretty, with all sorts of restaurants and (very overpriced) shops, lots of different log cabin hotels and hostels, the majority of the roads named after different wild animals (Grizzly/Otter/Caribou/Moose Street, etc!) and amazing views everywhere you turn. Our hostel (the HI Alpine Centre) was at the top of the hill, rather than in the centre of town (only a 20 minute walk, though), so in a quieter area. We arrived at night, so we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains etc, but the next morning, we opened our curtains to this: frosted fir trees and snowcapped mountains right there in front of us!

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We were booked onto a tour with Moose Travel Network. We were on the 3-day Athabasca Tour, going from Banff to Lake Louise, to Jasper, and returning to Banff.

On our first day, we visited Bow Falls where we saw Elk from a distance, Minnewanka Lake (heh), and Lake Louise. It was snowing quite heavily at Lake Louise (apparently the snow started in September, crazy!), and while it was amazing to experience, it did hinder our views of practically the entire lake. The Fairmont Hotel which lies at the front of the water costs $700 a night- wouldn’t you be slightly disappointed if you spent that amount of money only to not be able to see anything! We did a three hour hike from the bottom to the top (so tiring) through tons of snow and ice (Jake fell, I managed to stay on my feet somehow), we drank the crystal clear water from the falls, and saw Lake Agnes and Mirror Lake. It was freezing cold but totally worth it.

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Tonight we were staying at the HI Lake Louise. These hostels were great- good food, wifi, TV rooms, washer/dryers, comfy beds, good facilities, and even kitchens where you can make your own food if you wish. And of course, surrounded by beautiful scenery.

The following day, we packed a lot in- our tour guide Cody took us to Moraine Lake, and back to Lake Louise, as it was a clear day- blue skies and sun! This meant we could see the whole stretch of lake, and the lovely blue water. The sediment at the bottom reflects against the sun, which gives each lake their signature bright blue or green colours, which definitely showed that day. Afterwards, we set off for Jasper, along the Icefield Parkway- probably the prettiest stretch of road I’ve ever driven down! We even saw a wolf- it was so awesome. I think we all got neck ache from turning our heads so often at the amazing views (and I was looking our for bears the whole way, to no avail). Cody was playing old country music and classic rock, which felt pretty fitting to the landscape and which we loved, but I don’t think the rest of the group were keen- they only seemed to want to listen to Coldplay. Go away! I made a Spotify playlist  inspired by the drive, full of the good stuff Cody played, with a few added extras of my own.

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Unfortunately when we made a rest stop just before hitting Jasper, we were told that the road was closed due to an accident, and would be for a good few hours- maybe the whole day. Cody did his best to figure something out, but in the end we had to turn back and go back towards Banff (we were meant to stay at the HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Lodge that night, but had to go back to the HI Lake Louise). He took us on a short hike to a place called Mistaya Canyon (where I finally slipped over on the ice, I knew it had to happen at some point), which had lovely Jade coloured rapids flowing through it. We then drove on to Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, and finished at Peyto Lake; probably my favourite of all the lakes we visited, although they’re obviously all incredible. The water is so ridiculously clear everywhere. It was insane to see the huge expanse of bright blue slowly come into view at the base of the mountains as you come through the trees at the top of the lookout point. It all looks fake! I could have stood there for hours.

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Due to not being able to go to Jasper and spending that day back in Banff, Cody took us to Yoho National Park (BC). We visited the second highest waterfall in Canada, called Takakkaw Falls. Apparently you can actually just about crawl through a small tunnel behind the main rush of water! We stood for ages just staring up at it- here in Alberta and British Columbia you’ll be craning your neck all day, there’s just so much to see. It was in Yoho that I was climbing over some rocks and twisted my ankle so badly it cracked and the pain had me crying hysterically, thinking I’d broken it and would have to go home because we wouldn’t be able to afford the crazy medical bills.  Thankfully only one person saw! It’s now twice the size it should be, but I’m able to walk on it without too much discomfort, so whatever, I’m fine.

I wasn’t sure I’d manage the hike, but when we drove on to Emerald Lake, I felt like I had to do it otherwise I’d regret just sitting around for two hours waiting for everyone else. They don’t call it Emerald Lake for nothing- it was a beautiful shade of green the whole way round, accentuated by the bright yellow foliage dotting the shore. We walked through the forest (much like the Forest of Dean, actually, but slightly cooler!), and round to the marshy area, where we saw some idiot with a hunting rifle striding past us. Cody had a go at the guy, because it’s apparently illegal to carry a gun through the national parks in Canada, as they (and the wildlife) are so highly protected. He cockily insisted it was for “protection” (against bears/wolves etc) rather than for hunting. Cody wanted to report the guy but we ended up just driving off. He told us that even if a Grizzly Bear was trying to rip you apart, you probably wouldn’t even be allowed to defend yourself with a gun! Fair enough…!

The final night of our tour was spent at a different hostel downtown, for a group meal. While walking home from town that night, I stood and watched a deer grazing 6 feet away from me, near our hostel. Of course I’ve seen deer many times in the countryside, but never that close!

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We had a free day in Banff before the second leg of our tour started on the 12th (Banff>Kelowna>Vancouver). We had a much needed lie in, then set off into town for (again) a much needed MACCER’S! Hey, it might be complete junk and I might be putting on the weight I lost at Slimming World, but it’s the cheapest option here, by a mile, and we’re walking most of it off! We made our way up to the Tunnel Mountain trail, which was pretty tough on my ankle, but had amazing views of Banff the whole way up. We reached the summit after about an hour, and it didn’t disappoint. We saw chipmunks and squirrels (they’re so much smaller and cuter in Canada than at home!) and admired the mountains and town in front of us, then tried to find a different way back down the mountain, but it seemed pretty dangerous, so we gave up and turned back. We headed back to the hostel to spend our last evening resting and getting ready for the next leg of our tour.

We were up early the next day to head to Kelowna; the sun hitting the top of the mountains with beautiful orange light just as we stepped out into the morning air. It was a pretty long drive- it took about 9 hours in total, including rest stops and lunch. Our first stop was in Revelstoke. We’d heard on the news the night before that there was a suspected murderer on the loose in the area who the police were looking for. He’d also shot an officer who came across him, and then fled the scene. He just happened to have abandoned his vehicle and disappeared, on the very road we were travelling down- this meant meant there was crazy traffic being held up coming the opposite way with the police checking all the oncoming cars for the suspect, lots of cops, and even the guy’s car still right in the middle of the road (the red car in the article, we drove right past it and thought it must have been his), with tire puncturing security devices surrounding it. It was pretty sketchy.

Later on, we stopped at a dairy farm (and Ice Creamery) and hung out with some donkeys and baby cows while the rest of the group got ice cream. The Guinea Fowl looked like parrots with their crazy bright colours! Very different to the brown birds we are used to seeing at home. That was our last stop before arriving in Kelowna. It was a pretty little town, lined with fairylight-laden trees, cool bars and coffee shops, and various hemp-themed stores, with a pretty park, beach and a marina, which I walked around for an hour that evening on my own. Jake was too tired to come, so I explored by myself, which was actually quite nice. It seemed to be a really relaxed place, even though I only got to experience it for an evening. We were so tired we went to bed early, ready for the trip to Vancouver the next morning! We are going to be in Vancouver/North Vancouver for over a month, renting our own one bedroom apartment, which we are so ready for. It will be great to relax, spend time hiking on our own, and hopefully get back into some kind of routine in regards to cooking proper meals!

Spending time in Banff was amazing. We really want to go back in summer- apparently temperatures only go to about 20c max. Perfect (we hate the heat)! It was a beautiful place with lots to see and do (even better if you have a car), and it just clicked for us. Hopefully next time we go, we’ll finally see a bear! This has been the highlight of our travels so far- it was an incredible few days.

Highlights:

  • Peyto Lake
  • Driving the Icefields Parkway and seeing a wolf
  • The Tunnel Mountain Trail
  • Lake Louise
  • Banff itself

Main costs:

  • ‘Athabasca’ Moose Tour: $392.50 each (second and third night accommodation included)
  • Hostel accommodation (first and last night not included in tour): $95 private double room, $35 each for a dorm room

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