The word homecoming always makes me think of American TV shows set in high schools or the song by Green Day.
I actually looked up the lyrics to that song just now to see if they were relevant to how I felt about returning to fair Birmingham, UK after sixth months of exploring the world. They mostly weren’t.
I did mean to write this blog within a week or two of returning home, but because I still had a month’s worth of Canada blogs and two week’s worth of USA blogs to write and a life to live, I have only gotten around to it now, three months later.
It’s been great being back. I have caught up with most of my beautiful friends. My bestie who I have known for more than half my life, Laura, even met me at the airport on the day I got back to Brum. I missed them so much when I was away, but they kept cheering me on throughout the whole process of me being away, which I really needed at times, given that the lone world tour wasn’t entirely planned, funded or expected.
I have loved being back in my own bed again. Bed is the best place in the world. Trust me, I know.
It sounds cliche to say that the time away was life-changing. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. How can seeing so much and experiencing so much not be?
Mainly, it has given me more confidence.
This probably sounds crazy to those who know me well, given that I don’t have a reputation for being humble. But travelling the world on my own has made me feel like there is nothing I can’t attempt, even if it seems crazy. It has taught me that living outside my comfort zone is worth doing and has made me want to do it more.
Before I left New Zealand, one of my friends there told me that within a couple of weeks of being home I would want to leave again.
I love travelling and I definitely want to go again. I want to see parts of Asia, tour Australia, do a South American tour, go on safari in South Africa and visit more of Europe. But for me, life isn’t about travelling. Life is about building something in one place that I can be proud of and call home, so that when I go out to see the world, I have somewhere I can come home to bed at the end of the day.
That’s what I am attempting to do now, build my situation. I hope it works!
It was such a privilege to see so much of the planet, to fly so high. Now I am back at ground level, I am excited to see where life takes me next, even if I don’t go far physically. My adventures haven’t ended because I have returned from the world tour.
The world is still ahead. There are still many paths to tread…
On our third day in Yellowstone, we did a longer trip around the park. We started by visiting Gibbon Falls, which is fairly close to the park entrance.
After Gibbon Falls, we drove on in the direction of the Artist Paint Pots, famed for their bright colours and boiling mud. On the way to the paint pots, we noticed a group of bison, not far from the road in one of the meadows. We pulled over and got out to take photos, taking care to keep our distance. It was a herd of maybe ten to twelve adults and two, very cute, ginger babies.
After a suitable amount of photos were taken, we carried on to the artist paint pots where we saw some very cool boiling mud. This is one of my favourite geothermal features, because it is just so satisfying to watch.
Our next stop was the spectacular Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This is the place where Yellowstone gets its name. The canyon is an incredible place to visit, with several viewpoints along it, including one at the top of the magnificent lower falls.
We viewed the falls and then drove further along the road to get the the viewpoint above the falls. You can see right down as they cascade over the edge, tonnes and tonnes of water crashing down every day. The power of nature never fails to impress and delight me.
We eventually left Yellowstone Canyon to drive through the Hayden Valley, which is where many of Yellowstone’s herd animals hang out. If you want to see bison, this is the place. We drove through the vast meadows, counting bison. We saw one crossing the road at one point. They are such incredible animals, and it was a privilege to see so many.
Eventually we came to an area called mud volcano, which has even more boiling mud than the paint pots!
This wasn’t the highlight of our visit to mud volcano, however. The main event was the very close bison that was chilling out near the walkway. The bison that then decided to have a bit of a roll.
It was so playful and a really cool thing to watch and be so especially close to. Who knew such a big hunk of beef could be so cute?
We drove on, round the road that led us back to the main geyser basin. We saw the absolutely gigantic Lake Yellowstone, which was ringed by lovely mountains.
After more driving, mainly through trees, we reached the main geyser basin again in just the perfect time to see Old Faithful go off again – it doesn’t get old!
We had dinner in a strange canteen next to Old Faithful – it wasn’t the best food.
On the way back, even though the light was dwindling, we decided to pull over at Grand Prismatic Spring to see what we could see. The sun was setting, so it was very atmospheric, but you couldn’t really see the famously stunning bright colours of the spring – we would have to return on the following day.
We drove back towards the motel, the sky gradually darkening, the odd deer or elk seen through the trees or across a river.
Suddenly, we hit a small line of traffic, so we slowed, wondering what we would see. Small traffic jams in a place like this usually meant bears or some other kind of exciting wildlife. This was not an exception.
As the car in front of us pulled around, it revealed the herd of bison from earlier walking in the middle of the road.
We sat still and quiet as they slowly and gently ambled past the car in pretty-much single file. A big adult at each end of the line and the beautiful ginger babies in the middle. We were in the car, but they were all going past less than 1m from us, calming walking to wherever it was they were going.
I was too in awe to take any photos, which is a shame, but the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life, especially the way the lead male gazed steadily at us as he made his way past.
Our final full day in Yellowstone began as they all did, in Greens and Grounds having breakfast. We had quite a few places we wanted to get to, starting with fountain paint pots.
They were similar to artist paint pots and the mud volcano, with more boiling mud and lots of sulphur smells.
After the paint pots, we went back to Grand Prismatic to see it in full light. The colours were spectacular in the light!
We went back to the main basin to grab some lunch at the geyser grill – it was the same food as in the cafeteria in Mammoth.
We basically ran from there to Daisy Geyser to see it go off – it goes at an angle, it’s pretty cool.
We started to walk back the long way, to see some of the other geysers one more time. Grotto Geyser was bubbling up a bit, but Eva and I walked on, unconvinced anything else would happen. After no more than a minute, Dad shouted us to come back because it was erupting. Mum said she had wanted it to and then it did.
We went round geyser hill again and back to view Old Faithful one last time before we left.
After a quick visit to the gift shop, we went to Black Sand Basin which had a cool, constantly bubbling geyser called Cliff Geyser.
Our last stop in Yellowstone was Firehole Lake Drive, where we saw a pretty spring, some lovely lakes, by which was a random pelvis of an unknown animal and also a final geyser.
This geyser was called White Dome Geyser. We took some pictures and then, as Dad, Eva and I walked away, it erupted. We concluded that Mum must have some sort of geyser-whisperer powers and can set off geysers at will.
Back in West Yellowstone, we finally made a visit to the Wolf and Grizzly Centre, just down the road from our motel.
The bears come out on a rota, either alone or in groups of up to five. We saw two bears called Spirit and 101 at first, then they returned to their enclosures and a bear called Nakina came out. The bears are all rescued – they became a problem in the wild by being habituated and so were brought to the centre to avoid being destroyed. Now they help educate people about bears and hopefully stop more bears becoming habituated.
The wolves were very cool too. They have three pairs: McKinley and Leopold, Kootenai and Akela and Adara and Summit. They are all spare puppies in litters of movie wolves, so were not born in the wild. They too help educate people.
The centre also has an area for ground squirrels, who likely enjoy being in a safe enclosure.
Finally, the centre has an area dedicated to rescued birds of prey who can’t be released back into the wild for one reason or another.
After spending some time at the centre, we went back to Bullwinkles for dinner where we had some tasty cocktails and I had a lovely taco bowl. We decided to have some cheesecake for afters too!
Eva’s chunky tofu curry
We stopped at a little souvenir shop on the way back to the motel and then headed back to pack up.
The next morning, we returned to the bears and wolves for one last look – we saw Sam and then Roosevelt, Grant and Coram the bears. It was especially cool to see the three bears together as they started swimming in their pool and play fighting with each other. The bears aren’t really far away either, so it’s very cool to be so close.
The wolves were mainly dozing, but we still watched them for a while. Dad headed out to get some food for our journey, while Mum, Eva and I kept watching the mesmerising creatures.
Eva and I found a section with all sorts of bins and boxes that the bears had “tested” to show which things are bear-proof and which things aren’t. There were also bear traps you could go into.
Inside, there was a big exhibition on bears, which included a big stuffed polar bear. This made us think of our big white car, which we had named Iorek, after the polar bear in Northern Lights.
We went back to the motel, packed the car and drove away from Yellowstone, sad to leave, but happy to have experienced such a special place.
Our stop for the night was Boise, in Idaho. The drive went smoothly until we stopped for lunch and petrol. For some reason we couldn’t get the petrol pump to work and ended up having to get a man to help us. There wasn’t really anywhere to sit at the rest area we were at, so we had to sit in the hot car to eat.
We drove on and eventually stopped again to go into subway to get ice-cream as it was really really hot. I had a lovely ice-cream milkshake.
While we were there, I used the toilet, which happened to have a urinal in the same little room. Because I am a feminist icon, I used it!
It didn’t seem like long before we got to our Best Western in Boise and checked in. We had to drive out to a place called Meridian, just up the highway from our motel to get dinner at a place called Blaze pizza, which does proper vegan pizza and cooks the customised pizzas really really quickly. SO tasty!
We had a bit of hoo-ha trying to get back to the highway because of annoying one way systems, thank God for my map app, but made it back to the motel in time for a good night’s sleep.
The next day we drove to Yakima, back in Washington. The drive was nice, through lots of yellowy hills.
We stopped for lunch at a supermarket, where we struggled to find food for me and Eva – seriously, the take-home message is not to be a vegan or vegetarian outside of the cities in the US. And even then in probably depends on the city.
Yakima is a big hops growing area, so as we drew near to our destination, fields of hops began becoming more and more frequent.
In Yakima, we found our motel and were surprised to find that one of our rooms was ready and the other was still having its carpet fitted.
Turns out they were gradually refitting the carpets in this seedy motel and they hadn’t finished in time for check-in. Two hill-billy looking men were working on the room, the furniture just hanging round outside.
We went out for dinner at a nice Indian place and by the time we came back, the carpet was in and we could go to bed.
The next morning, we had a stereotypical American breakfast in a diner down the road from the motel, called Mel’s Diner. We managed to order something we all could eat, but there was so much food we couldn’t eat it all! The pancake stack that came with the breakfasts was FOUR large, thick pancakes. They were very tasty, but you’d need a big big appetite to finish them.
The drive from there to Sea-Tac airport was easy. It was finally time to board the plane that would take us back to England.
Both Eva and I had been out of the country for over six months and it was an odd feeling to be returning home, but more on this in my next post about returning to my UK life. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my adventures on my world tour, it was an excellent time that I will never forget!
We drove across Washington, towards Pullman, the town where Eva had worked for WSU, near the border with Idaho. We were going to meet Eva’s friend Maddie, then head over the state line to Moscow to stay the night.
The drive was pretty good, although I got very hungry after not having my muffin. We arrived and did a little tour of where Eva worked while we waited for Maddie to finish working for the day. We headed to a lovely “brew pub” where we had tasty dinner. Eva and Maddie mostly chatted.
After dinner, we dropped Maddie home and went to see where Eva had lived, then headed out to Moscow. The Super 8 motel that we were staying in was easy to find and the room had three double beds! Luxury! Eva and I were beginning to enjoy having beds and showers readily available.
We got up in the morning for the free breakfast and I attempted and failed to properly use the waffle machine. There wasn’t much food for Eva the vegan, which would become a running theme, so we went into Moscow and bought provisions in the Coop.
Then we drove towards Butte, Montana. I loved the name! Along the way we stopped at a few rest stops, where there were people selling coffee and many many ground squirrels. The toilets at the one stop were a bit knarly and the water tasted odd, so we were happy when we found the next one which was much nicer and had a pretty view.
It was on this journey that we found the Beatles radio station, which became our favourite for the remainder of the trip. Who doesn’t love the Beatles?
We got to Butte and checked in to the Best Western. We were given a room on the ground floor with a window that looked out into the corridor. There was also a loud barky dog next door. Mum was not happy. We went and asked to change.
We were given a first floor room. This one also had a window that did not have an outside view. Mum was beginning to gently emit smoke.
Finally, on attempt three, we got a room that had a proper window.
We headed out to pizza hut for tea. Dad and I were hungry but Mum and Eva didn’t feel much like eating, so Eva didn’t eat and Mum had a few slices.
We headed back to the Best Western in a bit of an odd mood, on the way spying a glowing white point on the mountain behind the motel. This is apparently the statue of the Lady of the Rockies.
Mum and Dad went for a walk as mum was getting a bit of cabin fever and Eva and I continued our Netflixing.
The next day, we went down to breakfast, where I was told to get some shoes. Apparently one has to wear shoes to breakfast… who knew? There was lots to choose from, cooked stuff, cereal, pastries, juices. It was lovely.
We packed up and ventured out again, this time driving all the way to Yellowstone! It was a nice drive and got nicer as we drew closer to our destination. One of the cooler things we saw on the way was Earthquake Lake, a large lake with the skeletons of drowned trees sticking up out of it.
We were too early to check into our motel in West Yellowstone, so after having a bite to eat (mainly our leftover pizza), we drove into the Park to see some geothermal action!
We decided to start at the main geyser basin, home of Old Faithful Geyser. Mum and Dad had come to the park in 1991, so were very excited to see everything again.
In the visitor centre, there are boards telling you what time the frequent geysers are going off. We noticed that Castle Geyser, apparently Mum’s favourite, would be going off soon. We raced to get there, storming down the gravelly path. On the way we saw a box containing maps. We walked swiftly past, but I went back to get one, sure that we would like to have one. I grabbed the guide and speedily made my way back to my family, looking at the map as I went.
Very quickly, my foot fell down a small hole in the path and I fell over.
I popped back up, embarassed, and returned to my family. We kept going to get to Castle Geyser, so we wouldn’t miss it and then I sat down and sorted my grazed leg out.
We waited for a very long time for Castle to go off, seeing Old Faithful, Beehive and Lion geysers all go off in the distance.
After a long wait in the sun, Castle finally decided to stop teasing us with small jets of water and erupted in a spectacular fashion.
We then walked on down the geyser basin to Morning Glory Pool. We went past lots of dormant geysers and beautful pools, realising we had missed the very rare Giant Geyser by three days. Morning glory is a stunning pool with bacteria causing a rainbow effect.
Eva was getting hungry and we were all very thirsty, but we made the long hot walk back over geyser hill, where we saw the interesting anemone geyser go off – it has two sides and does one side, then another and then repeats.
We went into the visitor centre and attacked the water fountain before browsing the gift shop.
We went back out to join the hoards of people waiting to see Old Faithful go off. We had decided to eat at the Old Faithful Inn, a very special old hotel where Mum and Dad had stayed on their last visit, so Dad disappeared to book us a table and returned with a device that would bleep when our table was ready.
We waited and saw Old Faithful go off in its magnificent and timely fashion. It’s no wonder people had decided to build the main tourist hub around it. Nature is incredible.
We went in to the Old Faithful Inn and had a little look around the main foyer. Wow. The engineering that had gone into building such a massive place out of huge logs was a wonder to behold.
There was just about enough food for Eva, despite the fact that her soup came late and they didn’t know what a vegan was. I had a starter of pitta bread and hummus, which should have been for sharing as I got about four pitta breads.
It was going pretty well until Eva was angered by the waiter, who said there were a few vegan dessert options. Turns out there was just sorbet. Eva made an effigy of the waiter out of her leftover spaghetti squash main and stabbed it with a fork. Note to any eateries in touristy areas – don’t anger the hungry vegans…
We headed back and checked into our motel, which was pretty decent and very close to the National Park border.
The next morning, we headed out to find breakfast. West Yellowstone is very small, but has a few eateries. We found a lovely little place called “Greens and Grounds” which had vegan porridge and tasty cheese and egg crossiants as well as good coffee.
After breakfast we drove up to Mammoth Hot Springs. The drive was lovely, passing through some large meadows where we saw a sleepy Bison and some deer. Near the end of the drive, there were some very cool rocks and a gorgeous view down into a valley.
We had a quick visit to the visitor centre, then went to have lunch at a big cafeteria in Mammoth town. There were nice bean burgers for Eva and I as well as tasty chips. In the line we met another vegan, who I persuaded Eva to give her number to. She did so in the time-honored fashion of slipping him a napkin on her way out of the cafeteria!
We walked out together, with me in front, but as she went to drop the napkin, it fell onto the floor, so she had to pick it up and thrust it at him. We ran around the corner, cackling.
He did text her though.
We walked up to the main event of Mammoth – the stunning terraces. They are just sensational, and I couldn’t stop taking photos.
After the walk on the lower terraces, we headed back to the car and saw some elk hanging out on the grass. We watched then for a while, before retreating swiftly back to the visitor centre as a sudden shower hit.
The rain cleared and then we drove up to the upper terraces to look at those too – it as certainly worth it – my favourite was called Canary Spring.
We then drove on to Norris Basin, which smelt, but had some very steamy geysers, including one called Steamboat. While we were there, we were pounded by a short hail shower – another reminder of the altitude we were at!
We walked back to the car after a brief viewing as it was starting to get dark and Mum was concerned that a bear might come and eat us. Near the path, we spied some beautiful snow-shoe hares, who seemed unconcerned about bears or us, for that matter.
We had dinner in West Yellowstone, at a place called Bullwinkles, which had one or two options for the plants based family members and some very tasty wine. I had a lovely mushroom burger.
We had two more days in Yellowstone, with so much more to see. Too much, in fact, for just one blog – so catch up on that next time!
After dropping our wonderful little car back at the airport, Eva and I made our way into the airport to wait for our parents to arrive.
We were very excited. Eva had left the UK on the 1st January to go to California to work in a lab and I had left on the 10th January to go to New Zealand to start my world tour. So it had been a while since we had seen our parents in person.
We went into the terminal and got some paper to make a sign, then sat around for a while, waiting. After a bit, we noticed that their flight wasn’t on the arrival board, so we checked their flight number online.
Turns out they had a change in Edmonton, so they would be coming into the domestic terminal, not the international one.
We walked over to the other terminal and waited once again. After a while, we saw them at the baggage claim and decided to sneak up on them.
They got their bags and we took a taxi back to our accommodation. Mum and Dad were very tired from their flight, so they wanted to sleep.
We ordered some pizza and shared one of our Canada 150 beers, then Mum and Dad went to bed and Eva and I stayed up sorting out stuff and watching TV.
Despite giving mum and dad strict instructions not to wake us before 8, they woke us at 7, because apparently their phones/ watches hadn’t been adjusted correctly.
We had a little kerfuffle over breakfast, as it was supposed to be included in the rice of the room, but the lady working at the house didn’t get the memo.
Eventually we got something that passed for breakfast and sincere apologies, then we got ready to go and see Vancouver.
We walked from ours to the Bloedel Conservatory, catching up as we walked.
We arrived and went in to see the birds once again. It was strange to be back after a month of being away, but great to show the place to mum and dad.
After seeing the inside of the conservatory, we wandered around the gardens surrounding it – something Eva and I had missed on our trip.
They were very beautiful, with gorgeous planting.
Afterwards, we went into Vancouver centre. We strolled along through gas town and saw the steam clock, which we knew mum would love.
We decided to have lunch at MeeT in Gastown, where Eva and I had our welcome meal.
We found the Marine building again and took more photos, even heading upstairs to see the foyer from above!
We ambled along to the waterfront where we admired the views and were once again transfixed by the seaplanes taking off and landing.
Eventually we stopped at a bar to have a drink and some chips and chatted lots more. Mum and Dad were still a bit jet-lagged, so we didn’t want to do anything too strenuous.
It was a lovely relaxing place to sit and there was a lovely fountain next to us, that it seemed was specifically designed to run through in hot weather. Two ladies had a go at this while everyone watched them in amusement.
We went to look for food and got accosted by a man who talked to us for absolutely ages about various options that he would recommend.
We ended up going to none of them when we found “Smak” which sold delicious pots of hearty food.
Our first day in Vancouver drawing to a close, we made our way back to our accommodation and played some pool (there was a lovely pool table there) before bed.
The next day we were rudely awakened once again by the parents, because they couldn’t work the shower.
Once that was sorted, we had a better breakfast than the day before and caught the bus up to Stanley Park, where Eva and I had seen the goth squirrels.
We got off the bus by the pavilion which had a beautiful garden next to it, and then went for a wander.
It is a lovely park with big gorgeous trees and the sun was shining. We found the totem poles, which Eva and I had only seen in passing previously.
We got some food and then walked around to the little lighthouse on the corner of the park. We sat on the grass and watched the world go by. A ship went past that said Eva on it.
Eventually we got up and walked along by the sea, we saw some cormorants and a seagull fishing and watched them for a while.
We went to find some goth squirrels as they weren’t in such abundance as last time and eventually found one near the beautiful rose garden – it was quite friendly, coming very close to me, likely some tourists have been feeding them to get photos.
We strolled back towards Vancouver centre, Eva somehow acquiring a vegan ice lolly enroute.
We were loosely making our way to gas town, only stopping to grab a cold drink at Starbucks on the way. We saw the steam clock do its thing again.
We had been trying to find somewhere to dispose of our bear spray all day, but with no luck, so after one last attempt, we made our way to a Lebanese restaurant in gas town.
We had to walk up a semi-closed road to get there. The road was filled with vintage cars and filming equipment and had been done up to look a bit 50’s but also like a bomb had just gone off.
It turns out it was a set for “The Man in the High Castle”.
After curiously taking in the scene for a while, we went in to the restaurant and sat down to eat.
They did a lovely Sangria and a very tasty Mezze selection which we all enjoyed.
After dinner, we found that the set was completely closed now so after another brief look, we found our bus back to the accommodation.
We decided to open the lovely bottle of Grand Reserve wine that Eva and I had been saving from our visit to Privato’s Vineyard and drank it while playing a few rounds of pool.
The next day we took a bright orange taxi from the accommodation out to the greyhound bus station. The rather eccentric, long-haired driver told us a few stories and shared facts about Vancouver.
At the bus station, we had a very short amount of time to grab some food to take on the bus. The bus driver made us worry briefly by suggesting we did need an ESTA (we didn’t) and getting funny about the fact that we had some fresh fruit. He seemed to think that the four of us would only be able to eat one apple before we got to the USA.
The bus journey was fairly comfortable and went fairly quickly. The border crossing went without a problem, even with Eva re-entering the US after her previous visa had expired. The border was not as stereotypically USA as I had imagined – not a bald eagle or a massive flag in sight.
We completed our border crossing and then got back on the bus for the drive into Seattle!
We arrived and headed out of the bus station, apparently it doesn’t just have a taxi rank outside, so we had to call a taxi. I called maybe fove or six companies before remembering that I had Uber.
We took the taxi to our accommodation with another friendly taxi driver who showed us a video of a motorbike event at his home city in Mexico.
We arrived at our pretty flat and settled in. Mum and Dad went out to buy food and Eva and I lazed around and watched TV.
Mum and Dad returned and we made dinner than had a few beers on the terrace. We decided to go on a short walk down to the park by the water.
It was only down the hill from us, past lots of beautiful houses. The park itself was mainly just grass, but the view out over the water was stunning and the sky was lit up in the gorgeous pastel colours of the sunset. There was a wonderful hazy view of Mt Rainier standing alone in the distance.
We had one full day in Seattle, and it began with a lovely breakfast in our cute little basement apartment. After breakfast, we took the bus into Seattle and went straight to Pike Place Market.
We saw Rachel the piggy bank, a full sized brass pig who is the mascot of Pike Place. We saw fishmongers tossing fish and lots of busy little stalls.
We made a beeline for the Cinnamon Works, a cafe that sells, among other things, tasty vegan cakes and pastries. On the way, we passed the first Starbucks store, which had a massive queue outside it. Apparently the coffee tastes the same.
We bought a cinnamon bun, a banana chocolate muffin and an oatmeal and raisin cookie. We took these to a spot by the sea and shared them between us. Lovely.
We wandered around the market, interested in the various wares on offer. We ate some free cherries that were especially tasty.
Eventually, we found the famous gum wall. The wall began as a wall that often had gum stuck to it and they got fed up of removing the gum, so they decided to make it into an art piece. So now everyone sticks gum onto the wall to add to it.
It is disgusting.
We took a few photos, then walked on towards the Smith Tower. We went past a cool free outdoor music event with an epic metalaphone player, who was rocking it.
After watching for a bit, we went on to a place called Sprout for lunch where we had tasty wraps and were impressed by the way they had all compostable plates and cutlery etc.
Then we went up the Smith Tower. The obvious tower to go up in Seattle is the Space Needle, but we tend to stay away from the mainstream (because we are hipsters).
The Smith Tower was once the tallest building west of the Rockies. We learned about its history as we explored some of the lower floors, which were set up on the style of the time, with interactive things you could touch and listen to.
After exploring a bit, we took the lift to the top where there is a lovely bar and an outdoor viewing area. The views are lovely.
We sat down to have cocktails, which is when Eva realised that she didn’t have her passport, just her driving licence, which they would not accept. She was annoyed as she hadn’t been 21 last time she had visited.
Mum, Dad and I had some cocktails and Eva had a virgin Tom Collins. They were all very tasty.
When we were done, we went to catch the monorail to the Space Needle, just to see it from below.
I was very excited about the monorail, and rightly so. It was so fun! We arrived by the Space Needle and had a wander.
We saw a massive fountain called the international fountain which sprayed jets of water to music. There were loads of kids playing in it as it was HOT.
One girl tried to take her very reluctant dog under the jets, but it protested until she gave up.
Eventually we stopped watching the mesmerising sight and made our way back to get the bus to the Thai restaurant we were going to eat at that evening.
On the way, Eva and I spotted a playground. We attempted as a group to play with a cool musical mechanism, but it was hard to play anything that sounded good.
Eva and I were determined to climb the lain playground apparatus and go down the slide. We climbed the massive web structure, but found that the bit at the top was not built for big humans and we would likely lose our balance and fall.
We climbed down and found another way up, a sort of rope-tunnel-ladder. This was much more successful, and we were able to go down the slide!
We got the bus out to the Thai place – it took ages as there was so much traffic! Eventually we arrived and went inside. The food was excellent, very tasty and cheap.
We took the bus back to the flat and ended up walking up a very steep hill to get there, apparently Seattle is quite hilly in places!
The next morning, we packed up and left the beautiful flat to go to Sea-Tac Airport, where we would pick up a car for the remainder of our trip.
The journey to the airport was quite annoying given how many bags we had with us, but after dragging them to a station and wrestling them all on and off a train, we finally arrived at the airport.
We went to Starbucks to get lunch. Mum wouldn’t let me have a muffin as well as a sandwich, despite the fact I knew I’d be hungry if I didn’t have it (spoilers: I was very hungry later that day – mums don’t always know best).
Annoyingly, we had to take an absolutely packed shuttle bus to the car rental building. We certainly had too many bags for public transport and had to uncomfortably lean/ stand/ support the bags/ try not to fall over.
Once at the rental facility, Mum and Dad sorted out the car, while Eva and I waited, lounging on the floor tired-ly. We got to choose which car we had out of ones of a similar spec. We chose a white Nissan Rogue that seemed to have ample boot space, loaded it up and drove towards Yellowstone National Park!
Next time – hopefully soon – I will be writing about Yellowstone and its phenomenal beauty.
On leaving the national parks, we went to find somewhere where we could make dinner. We found a regional park on the map called James Chabot, so we made a beeline for it.
The park was actually very beautiful, next to a lovely big lake. We parked in the car park and brought our things out to a picnic bench by the shore to make our dinner.
A big raven strutted by as we cooked and ate. It seemed like a really pretty park, with loads of dogs running around enjoying the evening sun.
After dinner, we headed for a campsite in a small place called Yahk. When we arrived, the campsite was completely full, and the day area looked spooky in the dark, so we drove around for ages hoping to find a space.
We gave up and parked in the day area and settled in for the night. Yahk is a tiny place, but we realised that the full campsite was due to it being Canada Day weekend on Canada’s 150th anniversary.
We got ready for bed and turfed out/ killed several absolutely massive mosquitos. Essentially, they were almost as big as my face.
It was then that we realised we needed the loo and we were too scared to walk there in the dark.
If you’ve ever driven a car with the seats completely tipped back, luggage piled on the back seats blocking the view out of the back, in the dark, on a campsite in Canada, with your sister giggling in a sleeping bag next to you, then you’ll know that it felt a bit odd.
We reached the safety of the toilet and then returned to our spot in the day area to sleep.
The drive the next day began early. As we had stayed in the day area again, we hadn’t paid, so left at maybe 7:30 to avoid the campsite staff.
Coming in late and leaving early without paying was a process we called “Swan Laking” as we first did it at a campsite called “Swan Lake” early on in our car life portion of the trip. And before you say it’s immoral, if the campsite is full anyway, they get all their money and we get a safer place to sleep than a random lay-by.
It was Canada Day and we were heading for the small city of Kelowna. The drive was long, but like any drive we had done in British Columbia, it was beautiful.
We had not slept much and I was the only driver, so after several hours, I began to get very sleepy.
We stopped in a place called Christina Lake and found a lovely cafe called Lisa’s Lakeside Bistro, where we get tasty wraps and I fuelled up with cherry coke.
We drove on and on and on until we reached Kelowna. We drove around for a while until we found somewhere to park, then wandered through the big park, admiring everyone’s patriotic Canada Day costumes.
We wanted a drink but you aren’t allowed to drink alcohol in the park, so we found a bar that had a happy hour going on.
After drinks, we headed back to the car, stopping on the way to pick up some more rum for the evening.
We went to Safeway first, and couldn’t find the alcohol aisle, so I asked someone:
“Which alcohol is the alcohol in?”
Shockingly, they didn’t sell alcohol, but they directed us to an off-licence.
We then drove on to find a place to stay for the night. We had three possible campsites to choose from nearby to each other. But it was Canada Day, so the chance of there being space at short notice was slim.
The driving had been a very tiring, so by the time we arrived at the third campsite and found it was full too, we just gave up and parked just outside of it and cooked our dinner. A pair of pretty California Quail wandered around nearby.
We sorted ourselves out for the night and set up the car, we were just about to begin Canada Day rum drinks, when a regional park van pulled up and a man got out.
He came up to the car, so I opened the window.
“Are you planning on staying here tonight?” he said.
“Yes, is that a problem?” I replied.
At this point he could have said “we’d rather you didn’t” and then I would have explained that we’d been driving all day and we’d be gone early and it was Canada Day.
Instead he plumped for: “It’s a campsite, so normally you go in and find a space and pay for it.”
Wow. I was totally unaware about how campsites worked, thank you for explaining to poor little me in nice short words.
He seemed genuinely surprised that the campsite with SEVEN PITCHES was full on CANADA DAY.
Eventually we persuaded him to let us stay and he said we had to pay, despite not being in the campsite. We said we would (spoiler alert: we didn’t).
We settled down to rum drinks and slept, waking very early to begin our drive to Chilliwack, where we had decided to stay because it was near to Vancouver and had a cool name.
We spent the day driving down more lovely roads and eating in various rest areas. The route we took brought us very close to the USA border, and we kept seeing signs for it. I imaged the border would have a massive sign with an American flag and a bald eagle on it, with a big crowd of rowdy Americans with guns and foam fingers shouting “USA! USA!” while cheerleaders danced. I would find out in a few days.
I am aware that image is much like imagining that one is welcomed into the UK by the cast of Downton Abbey, a complimentary cream tea and never-ending drizzle, and you’d only be partially right.
When we arrived in Chilliwack, we had the same issue with campsites as we drove along Chilliwack lake road and it became clear that they were all full.
Eventually we noticed that lots of people had set up camp in the various lay-bys along the road, so we decided to join them.
The lay-by we chose was actually a user maintained area which people often stayed in as they walked a particular trail.
We parked up and began to use our leftover tinfoil to block some of the sunlight coming into the car. As we were taping it to the windows, a man in a campervan ahead of us came over to gift is a foil blanket, which we thanked him for and attached.
We chilled out in the car, chatting until it was time for dinner. We made another adequate meal and then began to set up for the night.
The kind man came over again and brought us some grapes. Friendliest lay-by ever!
We had some more rum, because drinking in the car was the main point of this holiday and then settled in to sleep.
Eva needed a wee, so we had to climb out of our foil encrusted nest so she could attempt to go, but she couldn’t because there were too many cars driving past.
The next morning, we were awakened by a dazzling light, striving around the car. The foil blanket was wafting in the morning breeze and attempting to blind us when the sun hit it.
We got up and rearranged the car for one last time. Just before we drove away, we spotted a little snake in the grass next to the car, another wonderful piece of Canadian wildlife.
We drove back along the Chilliwack Lake Road, down towards Vancouver. The drive was short and smooth.
We drive in and found the accommodation we would be sharing with our parents for the next few days. It was lovely! A far far cry from sleeping in a car for three weeks.
We ate a snack, unpacked, showered and put some washing on, then headed out to the airport to return the car. Our journey had taken us 4100kms or just over 2500 miles.
It had been an incredible adventure. Driving in Canada had proved to be so much fun, despite some irritating motorists who refused to do the speed limit and overtook me on the inside (pickup drivers, I’m looking at you).
I love driving and the roads were an absolute pleasure to drive on – keeping your eyes on the road is the only problem!
The National Parks were just phenomenal and I will never forget the things we saw and did on our journey through them.
I can’t recommend this part of the world enough and I would urge anyone who can go, to go!
We had not originally planned to leave Banff so early, but it was such a busy place to stay and we had seen most of the main sites, so we headed into neighbouring Yoho national park for the night.
The campsite we had chosen to stay at was completely full, so we parked in the day area and made some food.
It was a lovely little spot, nestled between dramatic mountains with the occasional long train trundling by.
As we had been parked in the day area, we left very early to avoid another incident like the one in Castle Mountain and went and found a lay-by to have breakfast in. It was meant to be a viewpoint, but the trees had grown up in the way.
We were very used to living in the car by now, so cooking breakfast, changing and washing our hair in a bowl of cold water in a lay-by as people drove up to see if there was a view was becoming really normal. I have never been particularly shy about such things, but even less so since the trip.
We carried on up the windy little road we were on, admiring the mountain views in the little valley.
After a while we came to a section of road that had had an avalanche fall across it. The road had been cleared but the snow still remained on either side, higher than a car. The snow was full of rocks, trees and other debris from its destructive journey down the mountain. This really hit home how powerful and terrifying nature can be.
At the end of the road was a car park for Takkakaw falls. The altitude was higher again here, so it was very cold, but the falls were stunning and the views were lovely too. There were lots of longer walks in the area, but we still had a lot to see and not much time to see it all in.
We drove back along the road and back in the direction on Banff, where we stopped at a viewpoint for the spiral tunnel.
Basically, the trains that came through the mountains here originally had to go up and down a very steep slope, which caused accidents and derailments.
In Switzerland they had a similar problem, but, being the Swiss, they found a way to solve it. They cut into the mountains and put in a sweeping curve so the train could go up (or down) a far shallower gradient.
The spiral tunnel viewpoint overlooks one of these systems. The spiral tunnel has two spirals – the one we could see was the lower tunnel.
The trains through this area are erratic and have no set timetable, so we thought we would wait a little while, not expecting to see anything much.
We had lunch and read all the signs about the tunnel and its history.
After about 20mins, we heard a train approaching. We then watched as the train climbed its shallow track and disappeared into the tunnel. After a minute or two, the front of the train appeared out of the tunnel, with the back of the train still heading into the other end of it. Wow.
We watched the whole train go past, which took quite a while as trains in this area are hundreds of carriages long.
After viewing the incredible train, we drove into the main town of Yoho: Field.
Field’s visitor centre houses some of the famous Burgess Shale fossils, which were found in Yoho national park. These are fossils of complete soft-bodied organisms, which is very exciting. Eva, the biologist, was especially excited.
After viewing the fossils, we headed into Field itself.
Field, unlike Jasper town or Banff town, is TINY. It has lots of lovely historic buildings which we saw as we wandered around. There were also so very beautiful flowers.
After Field, we drove out to the Emerald lake, which is another beautiful turquoise lake. On the way we stopped at the pretty incredible natural bridge, that was formed due to the different densities of rock that blocked the river.
There were lots of people visiting the Emerald lake, so we had to park quite far away. It was very beautiful and would have been lovely to swim in if we had had the time.
I got an ice cream, but there were no vegan options, which upset Eva, who was getting fed up of not being able to have things. We were meant to write a poem at the Emerald Lake, so we wrote a Vegan saga, explaining her struggles with there being no ice cream for her.
Yoho national park is very small, so we only had one more site to see before we left and headed into Kootenay national park, another small one just south of Banff.
The final site was Wapta Falls, which is quite near the exit to the park.
We drove out towards the falls, not a particularly long drive. Somehow, we missed it and apparently there was no place to turn around for MILES AND MILES.
Eventually we got all the way to a town called Golden which is nearly 23 miles, 23 MILES, from the falls. Eva was very hungry at this point and I was too, so we went into a IGA supermarket and found very little vegetarian food and no vegan food except gum. Yay.
There was a giant red chair there though, which was a bit of a silver lining.
We drove back to Yoho and ended up back in the day area of same campsite as the previous night.
And we were out of rum.
Why is the rum always gone?
The next morning the universe rebalanced itself by giving us a gift, in the from of a lovely lady at the Field visitor centre, who gave us our tags for completing our Yoho Xplorers booklet, but not after reading everything first and making us swear a full oath to protect Canada and the world.
She also gave us Canada 150 badges and temporary tattoos!
We drove back to Lake Louise town to buy food and get coffee.
Eva brought her own mug and was very annoyed to find she had been charged for a medium coffee instead of a small, just because she had her own mug.
I stole lots of sugars and creamers in avengement.
The drive from Lake Louise into Kootenay National Park was lovely and we were excited to explore yet another park.
Our first stop was Marble Canyon, but not before I had borrowed another campground sink to wash my greasy greasy hair.
The red chairs at Marble Canyon
The canyon was really lovely and very hot. The trees surrounding it weren’t particularly tall as there had been a forest fire in 2003. Trees take a long time to grow back.
The next stop was the paint pots. A short walk from the car park are some large yellow ochre beds.
The ochre is a natural clay pigment formed of iron oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. The local tribes used to clean the ochre, knead it into balls, flatten them and bake them. They could then grind the cakes and mix the powder with fish oil or animal grease to use as a paint for art on their bodies, tipis or clothing.
Eva put some of the raw ochre on her face. It looked good.
We had another lovely walk on part of the Floe Lake trail, which goes through forest destroyed by a fire in 2001. The regrowth is stunning. The new trees are beginning to get tall and the under growth of beautiful flowers is just gorgeous, proving that while forest fires can be devastating in the short term, they increase diversity and forest health in the long term.
As we drove round to Radium Hot Springs to complete our last Xplorers booklet, we drove past a wonderful herd of big horn sheep – a load of mums and babies – so cute, but no way of stopping for photos.
We finished our booklet tasks and got our prize at the Radium visitor centre, then headed back to visit the Radium Hot Springs. They were only around $6 and it meant we could both have a proper warm shower!
We soaked in the lovely springs in the sun and discussed our national park adventures. The national parks are just incredible and they are still amazingly wild places. We absolutely adored exploring them, especially with the help of our age-appropriate booklets!
We got way more tags than most of the kids, so who’s really winning?
We got up early to head to Calgary as the drive was longer than we had thought. We grabbed some very strong (and free) coffee from the hostel before we left.
The drive was over the same flat roads as before, with long straight sections at the unreasonably low speed limit of 100km per hour. I don’t condone speeding, but when the road is basically empty and just one long straight stretch for miles and miles, it is easy to let your foot get heavy…
We stopped at a lovely place called extreme pitta for lunch – they do pittas filled subway-style with lots and lots of fillings. We also had tasty pitta chips.
We drove on to a brewery called Big Rock, just outside of Calgary. We had booked the brewery tour only a few days previously. We went in and were greeted with a bar set up for tasting. We sampled one beer each before heading out on the tour. Eva had one called Citrodelic and I tried a maple lager.
The tour was really interesting and went fully though the whole brewing process, from choosing the malts and hops – the room they were in smelt like a pet shop – to cooking everything up, to the fermentation and then the bottling.
After the tour we had a full tasting, then got free glasses and visited the gift shop. We bought a case of special beers brewed for Canada’s 150th anniversary and some cute tasting glasses.
Although I hadn’t had much to drink, we waited around in the car park for a while before driving to our hostel, with Eva tipsily navigating.
We got there and found that there were some beautiful hares hanging out in the car park – it seemed odd, but why not?
We tried to go to this cool market over the road, but it was shut. So we headed out to a lovely park on St Patrick’s Island.
We passed some lovely murals with mosaics on our walk there. The park was gorgeous, with loads of cute dogs running around. We watched the clouds for a while, then headed off on a walk.
We found a hill where there were lots of cute birds swooping around. Eva and I both had a go at rolling down the hill, but it was easier when we were little!
As we were in a messing about kind of mood, Eva decided to walk through a temporary ford that went across part of the island. This of course resulted in her having very wet jeans!
We slept well in Calgary and enjoyed the free breakfast they provided including maple syrup porridge for Eva and maple syrup waffles for me.
We went back to the market that had been closed the previous day and bought some cute but quite expensive nut/ seed butters from a hipster stall in one of the shipping container shops, complete with geometric/ landscape photo artwork!
We drove back to the rockies, watching them grow as we sped nearer – the view of the mountains from the flat plain we were on was absolutely incredible!
We were so happy to be venturing back into the stunning area again – this time heading for Banff – the most visited national park in the area. This was evident by how busy the town was when we arrived.
Eventually we found a free car park and wandered around in search of lunch. We found a tasty veggie cafe called Nourish, which was mostly great, but had some odd flavour combinations. The puddings were wonderful though.
We went to the information centre and then picked up the Banff Xplorers booklet, which had a lot of activities in it that didn’t require us to visit anywhere – this seemed like a shame.
We drove along a scenic road called the Bow Valley Parkway to find a campsite by Castle Mountain. Castle Mountain is another spectacular natural sight and honestly, I am running out of new words to describe them all!
We found a spot to camp (the last available one) and made dinner. We needed more ice for our cooler, so I went on a short solo drive down the road to see if I could get some from a nearby shop, but it was closed.
The next morning, after being given a friendly reminder to pay for our night at the campsite, we drove up to Lake Louise town. Here we discovered the reason why the Banff Xplorers booklet was not so exciting – there were several sub-booklets for Banff: Lake Louise, Cave and Basin and Banff Park Museum, three of the main sites of Banff.
We decided to visit lake Louise first, but it was so unbelievably busy that the parking was completely full. We had lunch nearby, then tried again, but still no sucess. We then noticed that the road to Moraine Lake was open – so we followed its windy way to the lake.
Moraine Lake had a surprisingly small car park, but we drove around it a few times and eventually found a space.
Moraine Lake is something special. The fist thing we did was walk up a hill to a viewing area at the one end of the lake. The views were incredible and we also met some very friendly (highly habituated) chipmunks who were begging for food.
The clouds were wafting in and out as we stood there and took a few hundred photos each. We made our way back down the hill and walked along the side of the lake. It was cold, and you could tell we were at high altitude because there was snow on the opposite bank!
After a few minutes, it decided to rain. Heavily. We took shelter under an information board and pondered about our lack of hiking. We had only done short hikes and the main reason was a lack of suitable equipment. Next time we would bring things so we could hike properly.
The rain cleared up, so we carried on walking around the bank. I decided to paddle in and stand on a partially submerged log – turns out that the water was incredibly cold! I balanced on the log, but after the wind tried to push me off several times, I returned to shore.
We enjoyed our time at Lake Moraine and didn’t really want to leave. In all my travels this year, this was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.
Out next stop was the Lake Louise gondola, which we had picked up a voucher for earlier in the day and was apparently a great place to view bears from. We arrived in the late afternoon, which also gave us a further discount – we ended up getting tickets for less than half price!
The gondola had two options: enclosed and open. Despite the cold, we went for the open gondola, for best bear viewing potential.
The gondola was a very relaxed ride, with grassy slopes below us and the mountains towering above. We wondered how high we would end up. After a while, people on the other side, coming down the mountain, told us to look out for the bears.
As we glided slowly along, we reached a clearing to our right and inside it were three bears! A mummy bear and two baby bears! They were quite far below us and seemingly unaware of our presence as we made lots of excited noises.
All too soon, we had drifted past them. We carried on, getting closer to the top of the gondola. As we got close, we spotted a second family of bears chilling out directly below us. This was very close to our destination!
We got to the top, got off and admired the view. You could see all the way back to Lake Louise and the lake was visible as a sparkling turquoise puddle in the distance.
We headed back down pretty quickly as we wanted to see the bears again. The bears near the top had moved further down and were only just visible through the trees, with both cubs climbing up and the mummy watching from below.
The lower set of bears were still there and after we went past them, we made it out duty to alert others to their presence.
We reached the bottom and bought a couple of coffees to drink with some Oreo’s in the car before making our way back to Lake Louise, praying that the car park would finally have space.
The one disadvantage of travelling in a car.
We arrived and, likely due to the time, found there was space. We wandered over to the lake, which is also stunning and has an incredible glacial mountain backdrop – which at this point in the day, looked like it was painted onto the sky.
We both agreed that we preferred Lake Moraine though, in part due to the massive, quite ugly hotel that stands on Lake Louise’s shore. A prettier building used to stand in its place, until it burnt down in 1924.
There was a lovely boathouse with quaint little canoes, which turned out to be extortionately expensive.
We dipped our feet in the cold water instead, then had a little walk around the lake shore.
We drove back down the road a bit and made dinner in the rest area we had had lunch in earlier. It was a decent place to cook and eat, but there was a lot of wind, at one point nearly ruining dinner by threatening to knock the pan off our tiny stove. We saved the dinner, but the piece of foil we were using as a lid blew across the road and out of reach.
Cute ground squirrels entertained us as we ate.
We drove on to our campsite for the night, the well-named mosquito creek, where we parked up next to the creek in the last available space and battled off the mosquitoes every time we ventured out to the toilet. Once again, we pacified ourselves with some Kracken rum and slept.
The next morning revealed beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. We drive out and stopped at a wonderful lookout by bow lake. We wanted to make coffee but there were lots of Asian tourists and it was incredibly windy and cold! After a few minutes of admiring the view, we drove round to a car park at the end of the lake, where we managed to make coffee and get dressed.
We had a little walk by the freezing lake shore and touched the lake (this was one of our Xplorers challenges). The lake was cold.
We did a nice walk, with random patches of snow alongside it, up to a wonderful viewpoint for Peyto lake, which is shaped a bit like a coyote.
We headed on to touch another lake, waterfowl lake, which was only accessible through a campsite. We decided to make full use of their flushing toilets and wash our hair in the sinks. Sadly there was no hot water.
We carried on driving up to Saskatchewan crossing, which has amazing mountain views. We ate lunch, then headed into a pub for a drink. The ‘pub’ was a sorry excuse, only having a meagre selection of drinks, hardly any food, no snacks and bad country music. The views were stunning though.
After we finished our drinks, we walked down the hill to a cafeteria that we hadn’t seen before and got chips. Nom.
On the way back to Lake Louise town we stopped at Mistaya canyon which was absolutely stunning and you could get right up close to the water which was pretty awesome.
We went back to Lake Louise town and handed in the Xplorer booklet to get our prize and picked up some more booklets for the nearby Kootenay and Yoho national parks.
We around trying to find a campsite that was suitable and encountered yet another bear family, a black bear mum and two cubs, with the two cubs climbing a tree. The bears are so beautiful, but you see too many of them near the roads. We also spotted three white tailed deer.
We ended up back at Castle Mountain, which was very full and so we parked up in the day area and made camp. After some food and more rum, we settled in to sleep.
It was about 11:30 and we were just falling asleep when there was a knock on the window of the car.
Maybe I watch too many crime dramas but my immediate reaction in my half-asleep state was fear.
“Eva! Eva! There’s someone there!” I whispered urgently, before coming to my senses.
The friendly Parcs Canada man waited until I wound down my window to speak to him.
He told us that we were in the day area and we should move to another campsite down the road.
It was 11:30pm.
The car was rearranged for sleeping, which included fully tilting the seats back, rearranging our luggage and getting into our sleeping bags.
I was very tired.
So I said “What, now?”
For some reason, he decided that it would be better if we put up our tent, but I couldn’t be arsed, as I began to explain to the man, but then Eva sleepily piped up that we didn’t want to sleep in tent because of bears.
Eventually he said we could stay there if we paid, so we did.
Anyway, the next day we headed to Cave and Basin, which is a site near Banff town with a famous cave and sulphur hot spring.
Cave and Basin has its own Xplorers booklet and by this point, we were getting quite addicted.
The site was very interesting and had a lovely cave and some tiny rare snails. There were also fluffy beanbags and cute stuffed animals.
There were also some boardwalks through the marshland where you could see fish and birds and supposedly moose. We saw no moose. They are so elusive. The elusive mooses.
We then tried to go to tunnel mountain but we couldn’t find the car park and then walked around until we found some sort of power sub-station, at which point we gave up and went to see the Vermilion lakes, just outside of Banff town, where we had to find some brass plaques for out Xplorers booklet. We then went back to went to the Banff visitor centre to hand it in.
We had a bit of time left, so we explored Banff Park Museum, which is quite small and full of stuffed animals as well as some interactive elements. We had a lot of fun completing the booklet that went with that venue – and it was the hardest yet!
The woose moose
Offended stuffed falcon
So concludes our Banff adventures!
I will write the next chapter soon, so get ready to hear about the small, but perfectly formed Yoho and Kootenay national parks.