Nous Sommes Allés À Montréal!

We were about ten minutes out of Toronto when I first noticed CN Tower in the distance. It was not quite sunset, but the orange of the sun was starting to wane into an inky haze which melted into the night sky. I had seen the tower before but not like this. Pointing to the heavens, its needle cut through the thick balls of cloud as they floated above the city while night lights beaming at me through the coach window. It almost made the journey bearable – almost. I must admit, I do not know if I can ever again spend two hours wedged in the back row of a coach next to a bathroom that had evidently not been cleaned for decades. I have never appreciated polluted city air more than when I stepped off that coach – anything but the smell of that coach… anything!

Anyway, so we were on our way to Montréal, a journey that I think we all assumed would be easier than it was! Canada is big – and I mean, BIG. It took us two hours to get to Toronto by coach followed several hours later by an overnight coach to our destination which took just over six hours. All I can say is I am so grateful to Toronto for putting their Nando’s close to the coach terminal – I do not know if I would have made it had I not found the bottomless frozen yoghurt machine.

As I said, the coach was six hours long and it felt like that. The further north we went, the foggier the air became until our only view from the window was the orange smudge of the road lights over thick white mist. Eventually, the fog was flushed out by the rain and at about five o’clock in the morning, we finally saw Québec – not that there was much of it. In fact, the whole journey consisted of highway until we eventually entered the city of Montréal. Tired, cramped and sleepy, we tumbled out of the Megabus and onto the pavement in French Canada. You do not know relief until you have stretched your legs after six solid hours of sitting upright.

* * *

And so, travelling done for the day (even though it took about twenty hours), we sat in a Tim Horton’s for a while before we could check into our Airbnb. This was my first experience with Canadian French which is actually not massively different from European French despite what everybody has said to me. I am not amazing at French but I like to think I can speak the basics and have a conversation with somebody. I had no trouble whatsoever ordering my café noir grand, s’il vous plait and I found it fairly easy to read the French newspaper. So, either I have learned European French wrong or the language is not that different on this side of the planet. Either way, I am not complaining – I love speaking French! I just wish the people would not respond to me in English, having clearly understood my question in French.

ME: Nous devons trouver le Métro pour acheter des billets.

“FRENCH” PERSON: Sure I can help you out with that…

SPEAK TO ME IN FRENCH, S’IL VOUS PLAIT!!!

So when the time finally arrived, we hopped on the Métro towards our Airbnb where we could finally ditch our luggage and recline on something more comfortable than a coach seat. I had never really appreciated the freedom of stretching out on something flat until then. Who knew sitting down could be so hard, right?

After a few hours of lounging and napping, we hopped back on the Métro to Places Des Arts, the stop next to McGill University – that place I was not clever enough to get into (I am not bitter at all, I swear it). And wow, what a beautifully vibrant place downtown Montréal is! I could tell within about five minutes how brilliantly diverse the people were – some speaking French, some speaking English, others speaking French in a Canadian accent or speaking English in a French accent! I wonder where the Mancunian accent fits in, though…

In all seriousness – my god, what a place this must be to live! IMG_3471I do not think anything I say can really do it justice but I will try my best. You would have thought it would be unattractive to see a huge glass skyscraper next to an grand old cathedral or museum – you would be wrong. The city is a wonderful balance of cultural heritage and modern efficiency. Nothing is to too far away and if it is, you can hop on the Métro which is remarkably good considering how cheap it is to use. The city did everything that English cities try to do without being unreasonably busy and expensive. We should be more like Montréal. London, take note and sort out the smell of warm ham in those tube stations, please?

So, the first day was essentially a bit of a mooch – we were still tired from the lack of sleep and none of us were in the mood for sight-seeing. We just ended up shopping and I found myself being dragged through H&M, LUSH and almost Sephora (thank god it was almost)! Thankfully, we discovered a shop called Tour Des Jeux which is frankly one of the coolest shops I have ever set foot in. It was basically a shop dedicated to selling board games and funky puzzles. Me being me, I opened my empty wallet and managed to produce $40 that I did not really have to spend so I could get some cool metal and wooden puzzles. I will just not eat for the next few weeks, it is cool guys! I will have my puzzles to take my mind off the hunger!

* * *

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Parque Olympique de Montréal #nofilter

Having slept in an actual bed, we all felt a little more rejuvenated when we woke up on the second day of our trip. We decided to visit the Olympic Park… well, no. We decided to go to the Natural Science Museum, which just happened to be in the Olympic Park so we took a few photos of the Olympic rings, naturally. It was at this moment that my camera decided to inexplicably put sepia tone over every photo so enjoy this slightly darker version of what the rings actually looked like!

 

We ended up in the Biodôme which was basically the Eden Project on steroids – sort of. You had these neat little biomes to walk through, each displaying the different kind of animals that live within them.

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Zigzagoon, the Raccoon (I named him myself).

My personal favourite was the Laurentian Maple Forest purely because the raccoons I saw were beyond what I would describe as cute. They were gorgeous and fluffy and hilarious and when they starting digging with their little claws I nearly died – they were so cute! Just look into those beautiful little eyes! In fact, I took so many photos of my little animal friends – one of which I am convinced was Neil Patrick Harris disguised as a duck (but nobody else could see the resemblance). Anyway, I digress. We should move on from the duck-humans now…

So, following the Biodome, we had some more time to explore the city. We did so not by looking at the beautiful buildings nor engaging with the variety of cultured people – no. We actually just went bowling which, in all honesty, was some of the best fun I have had in a while – even if I was terrible at it! It killed some time before it was acceptable to whip out the $8 wine and settle down for a night of playing the board games that Cath had purchased at Tour Des Jeux – it turns out I am not the only one with a spending problem! Once the Foodora man had come and given us our delicious burritos, we were set…

I would like, however, to just take a moment to complain abut something – Starbucks. What on earth do you guys think we British drink? I stepped into a big Starbucks on Rue Sainte-Catherine to find this odd English beverage called a London Fog. I was intrigued, okay, so I figured I would try it out. You can imagine my dismay, therefore, when I spent $5 on a cup of Earl Grey with some slightly frothy milk in it… FIVE DOLLARS FOR A FROTHY EARL GREY? And why on earth is it called a London Fog? Nobody in England does this! You have got us all wrong! To the people of Canada, do not think bad of us – we do not drink this crap!

Okay, rant over.

* * *

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Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal, QC.

So, we were out of the Airbnb by half past ten on our last day and we had a good five hours to kill before the bus back to Toronto. Our initial plan had been to find a storage area to leave our luggage before some last minute exploring. The only issue was that there was literally nowhere to leave our stuff. I was okay because I had only brought one backpack but almost half the group were incapacitated with cases that would not have been pleasant carrying. In the end, we split up and left the over-burdened in a shopping centre while the rest of us went to the Musée Des Beaux Arts. The museum (or art gallery, I have not quite decided yet) lies a little outside of downtown but the area is beautiful. The road is embellished with different flags flapping in the wind and there are sculptures dotted on the pavements (or should I say sidewalks?). I feel as though Rue Sherbrooke Ouest really epitomised the freedom of identity within the city – anybody can be anything or anyone they want to be regardless of who they are or where they are from. Montréal felt like a real community in that sense – I think that is what I am trying to say.

 

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I know not what it means, but that it looks cool.

As for the museum-art-gallery-thing, it was awesome! We managed to get in for free and had a good look at the stuff being exhibited. I must admit that I often find it difficult to understand modern art but there were a few pieces that really stood out to me. The bottom floor was mainly contemporary sculpture and the sorts of things that artists do on one afternoon and then sell for a million dollars or whatever. One piece, I kid you not, was a canvas that had been painted yellow and then slashed twice by a knife because… yeah? But think about the emotion, the rage, the passion – the artist’s very core, stretched on a wooden frame for the world to see. Yeah, no – I do not buy it, sorry.

 

There were some very impressive pieces of note but I will not bore you to death by naming them and explaining why I liked them. Just believe me when I say, the Musée Des Beaux Arts is certainly worth a visit if you are in Montréal.

* * *

And so 3pm reluctantly arrived and we had to shuffle our way back across town to the bus terminal where our Megabus would be ready to take us back down to Toronto. The trip was short but sweet and I felt so lucky to have captured a little snapshot of the city I might have lived in (had my first year grades been better). I am not bitter though, I am a Badger now, not a… whatever McGill’s mascot is – yuck!

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I thought that this guy looked a bit like Jeremy Corbyn so I threw him in this post for no reason. Have a nice day!

I fear that this blog post has gone on for too long and I promise that it is almost over. I could go into detail about missing our connecting bus and breaking down in the Toronto bus terminal because the next bus was in eight hours time and we were a hundred kilometres from home. I will not, though. Just know that we made it home safely in an Über that surprisingly did not cost an arm and a leg – it was $150 instead.

Looking back at Montréal now, my god it was beautiful and I would love to live there but I cannot help but feel in my heart that St Catharines is exactly where I am supposed to be right now. We may not be as big and as diverse in St. Kitts but we have it pretty great and I love Brock with all my heart. McGill can suck my hairy badger nu-

and there you have it, Montréal. I was as brief and concise as possible but if you did make it all the way down here, congratulations! I hope you enjoyed reading all about my travels! I cannot promise that next week will be as exciting but I will be back on Saturday for another post!

Have a good one, folks.

 

 

 

A Little Taste of Britain!

So, I have been living in St. Catharines for over four weeks now and it took me as long to actually haul my ass out of my room to go and take a look around. Previously, my weekends were spent loitering around the McDonalds across the road on a Saturday afternoon deciding whether I really needed that McDouble or not… it turns out when you spend eight or so hours pretending to study, you do.

But, Downtown St. Catharines – what a place! Having heard from the second and third year students that the Garden City was actually just a long road of boring shops, I had low expectations. Thankfully, they were shattered fairly early on! Well, I say that – I spent the first half an hour being dragged around some vintage sto- oops, I meant thrift store. The highlight of those shops for me were the phallic bongs they had on display behind the counter. It is the little things in life…

Anyway, we were wandering around St. Paul’s Street – this is the road which leads through the heart of downtown. I would go as far as to say that the road is downtown. There is little else going on besides it – that is okay, though.

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The British Boutique!

There is plenty of stuff to do, one of these things being the British Boutique! Now, when looking at this store from the outside, you get the impression that this shop is a heap of sh*te. Coming from Manchester, I often feel a little disheartened when the only symbols of British culture appear to be London buses or Big Ben. Naturally, I was preparing myself for a tacky shop full of plastic key-rings and Union Jacks. I was pleasantly mistaken.

 

The first thing I noticed when I stepped in was the smell of something. Something earthy and beautiful. A delicate sweetness that I could not decipher – it tickled the insides of my…

It was Yorkshire Tea. Yeah, it was just Yorkshire Tea.

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The Winestop of Canada!

In all honesty, I felt as though I had walked into the Winestop at the top of Raddlebarn Road in Birmingham. The British Boutique is basically a little convenience store dedicated to selling specifically British goods. I sure as heck am not going to complain! Seeing long rows of Cadbury’s branded chocolate staring me in the face while my friends hurried around in pursuit of the Prawn Cocktail crisps was so surreal. Having lived less than two kilometres from Bournville last year, it was weird staring at the bulk boxes of chocolate, wondering if they had started off in the same place as me in England. I have never been more excited about Dairy Milk in my whole life! My only qualm, however, is those goddamn Freddos! I am sure many of you remember the golden age when Freddos were 15p in every store ever – not anymore. They were 95¢! Converting that into GBP, one Freddo was 60p – the thieving bastards! What an actual shambles!

 

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Getting my Monster Munch fix!

To be honest, though, once I had my bar of Bournville and a packet of Monster Munch, the disgraceful price of the Freddos was largely forgotten. Seeing as pickled onion chips do not appear to exist here, stuffing my face with some crunchy monster claws was one of the most liberating feelings in the world. Call me dramatic but try living in a country where Lays are nothing more than a bag of flavoured air and you will understand!

I think it is quite obvious where the rest of my student loan is going to be going – I saw Wispas in there and I fully intend to go back and salvage them all!

Aside from the rather exaggerated excitement of feeling a bit more British than usual, downtown still had plenty of cool places to go! For example, I had my first taste of dead crickets stuffed on top of a taco because… Mexican food? I wanted to feel cultured and I assumed the appearance of insects on the menu indicated that they were a Mexican delicacy. Maybe they are, maybe they are not – I do not actually know! It seemed like a good idea at the time but crickets are a lot crunchier than I expected and they have a bit of a cardboardy taste to them – not that I have eaten much cardboard in my lifetime! I would probably not recommend them, all things considered.

On the plus side, the Merchant Ale House sells a beautiful blonde, blueberry beer! Now, I do not think any of us really know whether the beer was blueberry flavoured or if I had been charged $8 for a lager with some blueberries in it – either way, the beer was delicious! And then, as is customary for our group, we sauntered tipsily into Fiddler’s Pour House – I suppose you might call this our local. We spend most weekends in there, blowing our dollars in the duke box playing songs that I am convinced only we like. I swear the pub was more full before we played All Star by Smash Mouth. And then, as always, our nights out conclude with a drunken tumble into PizzaPizza where we – well, I – end up buying more pizza than any human being feasibly needs. I am starting to see a pattern here…

* * *

So that is what I was doing at the weekend instead of revising for my Greek mid-term. I put it in italics because what the heck are mid-terms about? I am used to sitting in lectures for eleven weeks before being forced to pop an essay out at the end of term. And we should not forget the Age of Cicero module which consisted of me not understanding anything for the duration of second semester and then being expected to talk about Mark Antony’s filthy house during a three hour exam. Not here, though. Each of my four classes requires some sort of half-term assessment (on top of all the other tests we have had going on). I should not really complain, however. As far as I am aware, I do not have any real essays to submit before the end of term and I believe I have the whole of Christmas to do whatever I want – no assignments, no nothing – so this is something I can get behind!

So, as you can probably tell, eating Monster Munch was the highlight of my week and I take great pride in spending so much time writing about it! But worry not, next week is reading week (holy sh*t I have just realised how fast time is going) and we have some incredibly exciting stuff planned! By the time this blog post is published, I will have just returned from Toronto to see one of my best friends, Ellie (she is on a year abroad too)! Then, the majority of next week consists of me not revising for my remaining exams but wandering around French-Canada instead. Yeah, we are going to Montréal! Here is to hoping my crappy European-French can be understood by the people there – I have a feeling it probably will not, though.

But hey, it will be an adventure!

A Dead Skunk Saved My Life… Sorta.

According to the faculty here at Brock University, the final word of Sir Isaac Brock as he lay wounded on the ground was Surgite! – a nice little bit of Latin to encourage his pals to Push On! I do not know who could possibly possess such infallibly high class that their final thoughts come to them in Latin but hey ho, it seems to be quite a big deal over here! As far as I can tell, the idea is something along the lines of, No matter how hard things get, you can push through it and come out on the other end! Sounds like every single student support effort ever made, in my opinion. But, I must admit that it is true, to some extent.

If you read my last blog post, you will know that things were getting a little bit sketchy and I was having a hard time settling into my new home. I am pleased to announce that I am doing much better than I was this time last week. And, as strange as this may sound to some, I owe it all to the dead skunk outside Quarry View.

I should probably elaborate…

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The sad remains of Samwise – may he rest in peace.

In the first week of term, a poor little skunk decided to cross John Macdonell Street at the exact moment a car was driving past – SPLAT. I woke up the next morning to a little black, furry mess outside my flat. That was four weeks ago. Samwise is still there (I called him Samwise the Skunk, by the way). And, now that countless other cars have also driven over the poor guy, the corpse is nothing more than a little black blob plastered onto the tarmac of the road – nice. I must admit, it makes me a little sad every time I walk across the road and see the rubbery remains of Samwise. He had so much potential to bring to the world – I am absolutely convinced that he was crossing the road to come and visit me for a good ol’ stroke. Was Samwise a happy skunk when he went? Who knows? I hope he was. The point is, I spent the last week sitting around feeling sorry for myself and, had I suffered the same fate as my little skunk-buddy, it would have been a pretty crappy way to go. I was wasting my time being sad – which is why I decided, F*ck it, I’m going to make the most of this whether I want to or not.

The first thing I did was I booked my flights home for Christmas. This set me back about £700 and I am fairly sure that Santander will have a pretty nasty bank statement for me when I get home. Nevertheless, I am going home and I will be able to celebrate Christmas with my cats (and my family too, I guess)! No, I am kidding. I cannot wait to see the whole fam-a-lam again. Booking my flights has given me something amazing to look forward to.

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CFBU headquarters! Nothing like a bit of eye candy to go with your music!

I have also decided to just get myself out there a little more. I started volunteering at the Brock University radio station (CFBU). Now, this is a lot of fun! A few evenings a week, I get to sit in a little room filled with un-opened CDs, plug in my head-phones and listen to music for as long as I want. Granted, I have to decide whether the material is radio-worthy or not… and there is some pretty bad stuff in there. Once you find a gem of a CD, though, you cannot help but have a little wiggle in your seat! To be honest, Canadian music is just like any other music but it is still really fun listening to a CD by an artist you have never heard of. I just wonder if I could sneak some of my own music in there… it would probably get rejected though!

I also played beer pong for the first time! Well… we did not have any beer so it was more, wine, gin and some unidentifiable alcohol pong. Despite being absolutely hopeless at the actual game, it was super fun and I just wish it was not illegal in our residence. Apparently, any form of drinking game is not permitted inside of your flat. Seems dumb to me but the alcohol laws are rather strict in this country and I am living with a bunch of underage 18-year-olds. Regardless, none of us were complaining when we ended up dancing around the streets and dabbing uncontrollably while collapsed on the floor (it is probably best not to ask about that one).

Now, aside from having mid-terms coming up sooner rather than later, I am having a great time in classes, too! The schooling system over here is remarkably different to English universities. Rather than sitting an exam at the end of a module or writing an essay, each different class required you submit weekly assignments. Then, in Greek we have an additional two weekly quizzes to make sure we are on the ball. Add on the mid-term and final exams and there you go – that’s a class folks!

I feel like I am in high-school more than anywhere else. Aside from two of my lectures, every class takes place in a classroom with those weird chairs that have half a table built into them. They are cool enough but since when was 30cm x 30cm enough space for a big notebook? Then, you always get that one day when the only free chair has a left-handed desk and you have to contort yourself just to write. It is all fun and games really, though! This is what life is like over here and I am finally starting to learn how to be a part of it. I would like to take a moment to shout-out my housemate, C.P for explaining all of the Canadian memes to me. They are not as good as Manc Memes for Northern Teens but they will suffice, I guess! In fact, I am starting to feel a lot more comfortable living here. The initial phase of ‘culture shock’ is starting to wear away and I can finally see this beautiful country and its people for what they are – Canadian!

One thing that I adore about this country is how little people care about you. I have worn bummy shorts with odd socks every day for the past week and literally nobody has batted an eyelid. If I was in Birmingham, I would have been subject to a tirade of abuse about how I look. Not here, though. People wear Adidas sliders with socks that go up to their shins and I love it. I mean it – nobody cares!

Heck, I have even started belting out High School Musical around Walmart because nobody is going to stop me! And yes, I am sober when I do it. Then there is all the Canadian slang I have started to pick up. I would be lying if I said I was not a little smug when I accidentally called ‘crisps’ by the name of ‘chips’ yesterday. Crisps are chips and chips are fries – I am a chips-boy now and there is nothing you can do!

I guess that is not so bad, though,

eh?

 

A Dip in the Sine Wave…

I have travelled 3,428 miles from Manchester to experience the most incredible eight months of my life in a new continent, studying the best subject in the world! I am part of that tiny percentage of people who has taken a year out to live somewhere new and to expand their horizons through exposure to a brand new culture. To any normal person, this sounds like the greatest opportunity in the world – and it is!

So why do I feel like sh*t?

* * *

During my first week in Canada, Dan (a.k.a. International Services Guy) explained to us the sine wave of your time at Brock. He even had a little powerpoint slide depicting a curve starting at the top of the screen, dipping down to the bottom before returning to the top at the end of the line. The top of the curve represents arriving at Brock, feeling super excited and ready to go. Then things start to dip down as you realise how far 3,428 miles turns out to be and that you are probably not going to see your family (or your cats) again until April. Then you start to notice how different society is on this side of the world – the people are extroverted and friendly while you are still that rude British guy who keeps his headphones in on the bus. Then the workload starts to rise like a wave over your head and one day of classes concludes with three different assignments and a Greek translation due in for the following day. International Services Guy called it ‘culture shock’, the realisation that you are living in a place that you do not really belong with no escape. Remembering that your entire life (beyond the suitcase you brought with you) is still in England without you is not too great a feeling. I miss almost everything about England and it bothers me. I do not want to miss it yet!

I did not think I would be saying this so soon!

Now, I am absolutely positive that I am not the first person to get a little homesick during a year abroad – heck, I got homesick when I was living in Birmingham. This is not something you should worry about – it is totally natural for something like this to happen. I suppose you can never gauge what a place is going to be like until you actually get there and St. Kitts is certainly not what I thought it would be! Do not get me wrong, it is absolutely beautiful and unique, but it is different. I wrongly assumed that the fact everyone speaks English would mean that they act English – they do not. I think I need to get out more and force myself into some Canadian culture!

Speaking of…

Ice hockey is a thing over here! I had actually completely forgotten that this was such a huge deal until I saw the advertisements for the first game of the season – Brock Badgers vs Guelph Gryphons. Of course, having been a Badger for only two weeks, I did not even know what colours I should wear to show my support. As it happens, the green shirt I wore could not have been further from the blood-red colours of Brock University. It did not seem to matter, though. At least I was not dressed in white, Guelph’s colour!

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Game on – Brock Badgers vs Guelph Gryphons (we lost… by the way)!

I also have no idea what the rules of ice hockey are other than smacking a little plastic puck into the opponents net without falling over. It did not seem to matter, though. I found it easy enough to shout Let’s Go Badgers at the top of my lungs whenever the crowd did. Hell, I even joined in the chants of F*ck You Guelph and Guelph Sucks D*ck whenever the opposition scored! Once again, I should remind you that I had no idea what was going on for most of the game. It was fun pretending that I did, though!

Despite the Badgers scoring within thirty seconds of play and holding onto their lead for the first period, Guelph promptly shat on them, gaining four points in the second period. I left the arena after that but apparently the Badgers put up a good fight and clawed back two more points. Unfortunately though, Guelph nailed the coffin with another point towards the end of the last period to widen the gap. I wonder if the Badgers fans were still chanting obscenities until the bitter end…

Now, aside from a couple of messy nights out in downtown that typically concluded with me lying on the floor of a Pizza Pizza restaurant while I wait for my Pepperoni Feast to come out of the oven, there is nothing massively new to report! I have started to realise that, even when converting dollars into pounds, most of the stuff here is still a rip-off and I will therefore be consuming rice and vegetables for the next eight months. Nutrition comes at a price over here – a pretty big price at that! Can you believe that a bottle of shampoo is $7? I am used to buying Aldi’s family-size bottles which last me a year for £1.99. Then again, some things are really cheap. Eggs, for example are much cheaper than they are in Britain, even if they are whiter than my sister when she used to go to Starbucks every day at college. Funnily enough, unhealthy snacks are also super cheap so there is a dangerous game being played between my stomach and my brain. Then… But of course! How could I forget?

Coffee!

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My first Tim Hortons of the year! Black, no milk, no sugar.

I have to admit that I am a huge coffee drinker and I have been since my dad first got me into the stuff when I was about sixteen. Now, as you may or may not know, there is a coffee chain over here called Tim Hortons and you can find them at about the same frequency as you might a Costa in England. They are basically everywhere! So, having two 8am classes and a 9am every week, I find myself in there almost every morning asking for my medium coffee, no milk, no sugar. I get a strange look every time I do, though. Black coffee is not really a thing people drink over here. It is all about the double-double – two milks, two sugars. The best part about the coffee, though, is how cheap it is! I think a black coffee in England ranges between £1.80 and £3 – extortionate! Here, it is simply $1.75 including tax which turns out to be something ridiculous like £1. So, you are essentially paying less money for more good coffee! It is perfect!

And now, since I have been talking about the coffee for almost 200 words, I suppose I should try to reach some sort of conclusion! I know I have done a little bit of complaining and I will not deny that it has been a really difficult week for me. Processing all of the changes that have come with this year has been messing with me and I cannot really say I have dealt with them in the best way. I will get there, though. Besides, I have my cheap coffee and snacks to keep me going!

To those of my friends in England reading this, I hope you all moved safely back to Birmingham or your respective universities. Have a fantastic second or third year (depending on who you are) – I miss you all so much! Just make sure you do not enjoy yourself too much – you have dissertations to write!

Catch you all in a week for a – hopefully – more jolly account of the super fun and cultural things I have been doing!

Au revoir!

 

Falling for the Falls…

If Wikipedia taught me correctly when I was furiously scrambling to find out where St. Catharines was, this city is called the Garden City. Now, I know that Wikipedia has a certain reputation for being wrong but, on this occasion I must say that it has been fairly reliable. It has taken me about two weeks of exploration but I can confidently say that the Niagara Region is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to – and that is not an exaggeration.

I went for my first run during the last week and it took me about five minutes of running before I was already swallowed up between the thickness of the trees. One of the most exciting things about where I live now is the sheer number of trees there are in the region. It will take no genius to tell you that Manchester and Birmingham are two of the worst cities in England with regard to green spaces – let us just say, it is pretty refreshing to have a bit of vegetation around here! So there I am, running my little feet off down a thin forest trail, dodging roots and hopping over fallen trunks. I come out of the forest and onto a little path and there it is… I will let the picture speak for itself.

Large Clay Borrow Pit Pond… right on my doorstep.

So this is Large Clay Borrow Pit Pond! I have decided to simple refer to it as the pond because LCBPP is a little too tedious for me. So, this pond is literally just sitting there between campus and downtown and it goes on for so long! I was running around for a good half an hour and I barely even covered a quarter of the trails. It is so refreshing, though, to have this little pocket of land in the middle of highways and towns where everything is green and brown. It is the perfect place to go and get some fresh air. And then I almost stood on this snake!

I think it may have been a corn snake but he too was enjoying the trails, slithering his way down the path before I interrupted him by hopping over his head at the last minute so as not to squash him! I have been told, quite literally, “it wont kill you… but don’t touch it”. This was super reassuring after I had bend down and held my phone about five centimetres from the poor guy’s face. Granted, I am still alive and, as far as I can tell my new friend Shuckle (that is what I called him) did not sink his teeth into me! I must admit, the thought of catching something nasty here and having to fly back to England for that sweet NHS treatment (if it still exists) is not appealing.

So, moving on from the huge pond with a huge name, I suppose we should address the elephant in the room. I am living in the Niagara Region. I wonder what that could mean… Our neighbouring city is Niagara on the Lake and Niagara Falls just beyond that. Oh, hang on! Niagara Falls! So, that is a thing over here – and oh, what a beautiful thing it is!

The American Falls, Buffalo NY, USA.

Niagara Falls is that kind of place where, despite all the pictures you might have seen, until you see it with your own eyes you will not really appreciate what it is – two big waterfalls that just keep on pouring. Now, to call them simply waterfalls is to do them a massive injustice. As I looked down at the falls from the bottom of Clifton Hill, I found myself mesmerised by the constant pouring and gushing of water over the edge of America. I gazed at the land of freedom – Buffalo, New York, to be precise – from where I was stood…

I keep on getting these random moments during the day when I remember where I am – Canada. It has certainly been a difficult few weeks adapting to this new lifestyle, but I am surprised with how quickly I have processed the fact that I am in a different country – no, continent – now. I suppose it feels a little like how I felt when I first left my family home to go to university – only this time everything is on steroids. In any case, watching the water pour over America and into the divide between us refilled my excitement and enthusiasm for Canada. And I have not even talked about Beavertails yet!

Trying out my first Beavertail with the gals…

So, before I worked myself into an existential impasse about my place in the world, I managed to finally get my hands on a Beavertail. These delectable treats consist of deep-fried batter, smothered with Nutella or whatever disgustingly sweet (but delicious) candies you can think of! Naturally, I went for the Reese’s Peanut Butter Beavertail and… holy toasted tacos, it was incredible! Granted, I have never eaten anything so dense and dripping with so much peanut butter – but it was delicious!

Now, Niagara Falls surprised me in the sense that it was never this big grassy city with endless parks full of trees and gardens. No, the falls is actually quite a busy area with an awful lot of things to do (if you have hundreds of dollars)! Naturally, the falls would bring lots of tourists to the area and the residents have obviously attempted to take advantage of this. Walking down Clifton Hill towards the falls, I found that both sides of the road were crammed with huge arcades and horror houses in abundance (not to mention the Canadian souvenir shops)! The whole place felt like a massive carnival – it was magical! The only downside to the day was walking back up the hill after the falls!

Aside from the crazy-beautiful walks I have been on and the gorgeous Niagara falls, though, nothing much has changed since last week. I still do not like the water but I have finally realised that I need to drink it or I will die. I could always drink bottled water but then my bank account would die so… My palette is being exposed to many more forms of candy and, while it pains me to say it, the world ‘candy’ has overtaken ‘sweets’ in my general vocabulary. Likewise, I picked up a ‘cart’ when I was at Walmart rather than a ‘trolley’. My housemates have slowly been exposing me to their own forms of language and slang and there is nothing I can do to stop me from picking it up. Did I just catch myself calling ‘football’, ‘soccer’? I only said it so my housemate would know which sport I was talking about but… I said ‘soccer’… Maybe I am looking too far into this!

Vocabulary, food and water aside, I am doing good! I have survived to live another week in this gorgeous land! I have not been bitten by any snakes and my freshers flu has largely disappeared! I feel as though that period of homesickness and adjustment is finally evaporating and I can sink my teeth into things and start to have what I am thinking might just be the best year of my life!

Dis-Orientation Week?

So, a brief recap for those of you who missed or forgot my last post. I am living in Canada now – St. Catharines, ON to be precise! I am pleased to announce that it has been a whole week and I have not died, nor have I had a heart attack after all the candy corn I have been eating – so that is good, right?

Allow me to explain.

I moved into my new home last Sunday. I am living in a place called Quarry View – a beautiful little block of flats which overlooks a huge quarry that is riddled with trails and walking routes. Today is the day, I thought, The sun is shining (the tank is clean). I trundled across campus with my suitcase trailing behind me and my Walmart-branded teapot under the other arm. I felt rather nostalgic despite the fact that I had never been to Canada and, prior to last November, I had no idea that Brock University existed. I felt like a fresher again. I was going to live in a completely new environment with people I had never met before. It was just like the Maple Bank of my first year at Birmingham.

Within about five minutes of moving in and drinking the tap water here, I realised I had made a mistake. The water in St. Kitts has more chlorine atoms than I have had hot dinners – I felt like I was drinking out of a swimming pool! It is totally safe, I have been told, but let me tell you… it does not taste safe. If any of you want to send me something, a bottle of Mancunian tap water would be great right now! This water comes out slightly lukewarm and it has an earthy quality to it. The closest taste I can compare it to is a piece of bread that has cruised past the use-by date – gross, right?

Another thing that has been difficult to get my head around is the tea. You can imagine my dismay when I hit the stores and find that English Breakfast does not exist where I live. Get this, though – the closest equivalent is this stuff called Orange Pekoe. Like, what? Granted, the tea is actually decent but it is just a rip-off of PG Tips. Not cool, Canada. Okay, so tea bags secured (even if they are weird), next up is milk! Wait… is that milk in a plastic bag? Why yes – yes it is. So get this, you buy a big sack of milk and drop it into a jug and decant it from there. The worst part of it is, this actually makes a lot of sense. Despite the fact that you are paying 5p for the bag (oh wait, 5 cents), far less is being wasted than the bottles we use in England. I just cannot get my head around pouring milk out of a shopping bag. I decided to stick to a carton first time around.

Anyway, aside from spending over $150 in two days on food, appliances and tea (and the tax that came with that) I have taken it easy on the spending – oh wait, never mind! I just remembered the textbooks here. So, unlike in England where libraries are a thing, buying textbooks is compulsory. This would not be an issue if the textbooks did not cost between $50 to $100 each. Factor in the fact that I take five modules per semester and each module requires at least two books… it is a little bit of a pickle if you ask me. We have all been through the obligatory scramble to find those selling the relevant books on Facebook before resigning to spending full price for those you could not find. Thank god I received my student loan already! Note to self – write a textbook.

Speaking of modules and classes, though, it is fantastic here! I am taking a number of second and third year modules so I get to skip the annoying first-years who have not quite grasped that they are not in high-school anymore. That being said, I would hardly call this place a university (at least not by British standards). Lectures are more like lessons and the professor talks with us rather than at us – I really like that, though. With a subject like Classics, it is important to express your opinions and to hear alternative perspectives to your own. Having classes rather than lectures is far better than Birmingham’s approach of this is the lecturer’s opinion and you must agree with him or her.

Did I mention that Brock has one of the largest Classics departments in Canada? No? Well, there you go!

Classical Greek is still old and still dead but it feels a little more alive over here. By sight, my professor is fairly tall and slim (in other words, she looks a little fragile). My first impression was that she was going to whisper the whole class to us but, my god, just wait until she opens her mouth. A person more enthusiastic about spreading her knowledge of the Greek language I never did see! The skills I had gained at Birmingham and then forgotten over summer came flooding back to me as she drew charts and diagrams to pull those verb drills out of us – I got 16/15 on my first test (I got the bonus question too)!

The only issue with classes so far is that, being on an exchange, all of the students know each other already and I do not. It is not a huge deal. I feel adequately equipped to speak to and meet new people. Hell, I even got a lift to Bulk Barn by somebody I met for about five minutes at a flat party! What this does mean, though, is that I really appreciate the people that came with me from England. One week ago today, I had no idea who my favourite trio were – they were just profile pictures and a few lines of awkward hey, how are you? on Facebook. That being said, one week on they are my best friends! Despite the jet lag, the hangry episodes and the general crashes we all experience during the day, we have stuck together and it has made my ‘O-Week’ absolutely fantastic! Granted, if any of you are reading this, please stop sending me photos of your beautiful meals in the canteen – I am still eating noodles and frozen vegetables over here!

And so, it has been a whole week (it feels like a month, at least)! I am absolutely shattered and I can feel the annual freshers flu sneaking up on me again. I want nothing more than a tray of roasted vegetables and a good night’s sleep. Now, before you decide I am having a terrible time, I should point out that this is everything I wanted to get out of a year abroad. I am in freaking Canada! I am still waiting for it to sink in that this place is more than just five hours of time difference and McDonalds on every corner. I need to sleep but my excitement is forcing me out of the flat to this place or that – rest can come later! I am hungry but I can always eat when I get back! I will not be in Canada forever, after all.

I MUST SEE EVERYTHING!

Being tired and hungry are just the side effects of the crazy buzz I get every time I open my blinds and see Brock University across the road from me. This is my life for the next eight months and while it can never be home, it feels pretty damn close.

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We made it to Canada, eh!

So, I live in Canada now?

I do not really know why I was so nervous as I observed the customs officer, scrutinising the fine print of my study permit, looking for something to catch his eye. I had done everything perfectly – or so I thought. I was given the go ahead by the University of Birmingham in early February and now it is September. I had not spent the best part of seven months flapping about with visas, flights, accommodation (you name it) to get turned away right at the finish line…

“Welcome to Canada! Enjoy your stay” he said with a smile. “Sorry about the wait.”

So I was in?

And then it sort of hit me. I was no longer in England. I was on Canadian soil and I was allowed to be. I was actually doing this! All of my fears regarding the Dairy Milk I had smuggled into the country evaporated as I absorbed the atmosphere within the airport.

“I am a Canadian now!” I thought.

Well, not quite. I am still British but you get the picture! I check my watch and realise that I only have an hour to make an hour-long journey to grab the bus! Damn you customs man, doing your job properly and checking my information extra carefully!!! I grab my bag, going through the obligatory heart-attack when I cannot see it straight away, head down to the taxi pick-up and hurriedly chant something unintelligible in Mancunian to the Canadian driver.

“You want to go where?” he asks.

I make it in good time despite the unnecessary stress and I hop out of the taxi in downtown Toronto and… woah. What a cool looking city! Granted, for the Canadian locals it is no different to what strolling around Manchester would be like for me but… is that a Tim Horton’s coffee shop? I heard that they are super great! Ooh, is that a Wendy’s? The thing that struck me was the diversity of the city – not just the people, I might add. I am used to walking around town and seeing three Greggs restaurants within one-hundred metres of one another. Not here though. I see pictures in restaurant windows boasting food from all over the world – Japanese, Mexican, Italian, American and, of course, Canadian! I cannot wait to sink my teeth into some Poutine, I think to myself!

Next up, the coach from downtown Toronto to Niagara. I think, Just two more hours and I will be at my new hometown! What a rush! Boarding the plane at half past ten that morning seems like weeks ago! And it is only half past five in the afternoon! I still have the whole evening to go! As the coach pulls away, though, I feel the drag of sleep pulling at me as I try to look out of the window and soak up Lake Ontario as it stretches all the way to the horizon. My eyes start to close and the memories of the past twelve hours flit across my mind…

“Niagara!” I hear. Wow, that was fast! We are there already? I look out of the window and see Niagara Bus Station and my friend, Ashley stood at the door of her car, beaming at the coach pulling in! I cannot help but smile, knowing that my first Canadian friend is waiting for me just outside of the coach doors! Oh my god, this is actually happening, I remind myself – as if I needed reminding. I haul my case off the coach and half-run over to Ashley’s car as she squeals, Welcome to Canada! at the top of her voice. We meet in an embrace and then off we go – but not before I try to get into the driver’s side of the car. Stupid backwards cars!

And that is when it got good. And by good, I mean… WALMART! Now, I have nothing against the Great British supermarket but, seriously – Walmart is incredible! What could be better than 100,000 square-feet of… stuff! I’m rambling here but come on! I see those cool cheesy Goldfish that you can only get in the west and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups but without the extortionate import charge that you get in England. I would be lying if I said the Canadian cuisine did not play a small part in my decision to do a year abroad. There is just so much stuff that I have always wanted to try and there it was in front of me – it was heaven.

I tell you what was not heaven, though – tax. Oh god, tax. So, if you did not know (like me), in Canada and America, the prices listed on products do not include tax. So, when you buy some toilet roll for $2, it will actually cost you $2.25. That was a nice surprise when my $45 shopping suddenly became $50 instead! But hey ho – at least I got my Cinnamon Toast Crunch!

And finally, after the wonderful trip to Walmart, I finally crashed at Ashley’s apartment. I could not move in until the next day and I really needed a place to sleep. Luckily, I met Ashley in Birmingham a few months earlier – thank god! I would probably be sleeping in the airport or forking out more dollars than I had for a hotel room if I did not have her! We had a quick Burrito downtown around 9pm – by this time, I had been awake for nearly 24 hours. I had a shower, organised my case of precious belongings and eventually managed to wrap myself up in a spare duvet on the couch. My head barely touched the pillow when I was asleep, dreaming of beautiful Ontario and the cloudy England I had left behind.

Until the timezone caught up with me…

For god’s sake, I thought, wide awake at 5am (10am British time). This might take a while to get used to…

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Flight to Toronto (before we realised eight hours is a long time)