Thank You for Everything, Canada.

Unlike the last time I flew in an aeroplane, I made it home with no real issues, except perhaps, the lack of leg-room in my seat. This means that I am back in England, where dollars are pounds, and cents are pence…

I do not like it.

I decided to squeeze one last blog post onto my page, hoping that clinging onto Canada for a little while longer might make me feel better. I really cannot believe that I am home already…

* * *

My last few days in Canada were fairly low-key. On Saturday, I packed up all of my belongings, realising with each passing minute that I had collected so much trash during my time in Canada. I had to let go of a fair number of t-shirts, as well as a bunch of knick knacks I thought I wanted at the time of purchase. Olivia brought her suitcase out, and I took up half of the space for her England trip with the things I could not fit into my own. It was a bit of a clutch, but I just about managed to squeeze in the essentials of my return trip. The violin I had purchased was destined to hang out of my backpack and brave the hand-luggage compartment with me. I figured this was safer than the odds of popping it into my hold-luggage. I quite like Sir Strings-a-lot, and I did not want him to die in transportation.

* * *

On my last full day in Canada, Olivia and I got up early, and we went antiquing with her mother. This might sound largely unglamorous, but it was actually a lot of fun wandering around between rows of old things that once meant something to somebody. We only visited a coupe of stores – most of the ones we planned to visit had closed down since Olivia and her mother last went.

We made up for this by hitting the Avondale Dairy Bar. Olivia could not eat there, but she shared a couple of memories about it having the most delicious ice-cream! She also told us a story about a school trip she once took there, only to drop her ice-cream on the floor and sit crying on the swings outside.

Anyway, tragedies aside, I got myself a Brownies & Fudge ice-cream on a waffle cone and gorged on it in the sunshine outside with the shop-cat, Stan. He was super cute, though he had a bit of a cold and was sneezing all over the place. Someone had left him some cat food in a little ice-cream pot, and we sat together on a bench until my cone had been consumed – it did not take long to scoff it down!

* * *

The next day – leaving day – Olivia and I got up early and ran some errands. We printed off some photos of me with each of the cats, grabbed some snacks for the plane, and finished with a trip to the French-fry truck near Shoppers Drug Mart. We sat in the car and I chowed down on my last meal in Canada, before heading home and awaiting the turn of three o’clock.

Once Filomena returned form work, we loaded up her car with my belongings, and we were on our way to Pearson International Airport in Mississauga within twenty minutes. I hopped into the car – but wait! I was wearing my Crocs! I ran back inside to exchange them for my Birkenstocks, and then the journey began!

The journey was fairly smooth to begin with, and the GPS seemed convinced that we would arrive by five o’clock, but we hit bad traffic outside Toronto. It only added half-an-hour to our journey, though, and we arrived at terminal three by five-thirty. I was not allowed to check-in before quarter-past-six, so we waited around in the airport. Thankfully, we killed time by getting lost on our way to the Air Transat desk, and before we knew it, the queue to baggage drop started to make its way forwards.

I cannot remember exactly how much my allowance was, but the 23.9kgs that I lifted onto the conveyor was definitely over my limit. The woman at the desk seemed not to notice, though, or she simply did not care, and I watched my case disappear from view. I guess that was it – there was no going back now.

We wandered over to security, and I had to say my final goodbyes to Olivia and her mother. I knew Olivia would follow behind me in a week or so, but our emotional farewell was a bit of a killer. I tried really hard not to cry, but Olivia welled up and her face started leaking onto my shoulder. I gave Fil a hug, and then Olivia went in for one more, laughing at herself for crying so much. It took everything I had not to burst into tears myself. I really did not want to leave…

I slipped through the gate towards security, turning back for one final glance, and then they were gone. I was on my own again, just as I had been the moment I stepped foot in London Gatwick airport back on September 2nd, 2017. I unpacked my laptop, iPad, phone, and violin, storing it in the plastic trays and watching them shuffle through the observation machine.

All clear.

So, I was through security within about five minutes, which left me with three hours before boarding started, and four hours before we were scheduled to take-off. I went to the airport Tim Horton’s and got myself on final Steeped-Tea with One Milk. I sat on a high-table and started to binge on YouTube videos to kill time. Surprisingly, the three hours passed by fairly quickly and before I knew it, I was queuing up at gate B37 and stretching in preparation for the seven hours of cramped seating that was coming.

* * *

It was dark outside when we boarded, and the sky was turning from deep-blue to black. I shuffled down the isles to the back of the plane and took my seat next to John, a delightfully cheery man from Sheffield – he had come to Canada to visit his daughter who lived just across the border. We talked a little, while the other passengers settled in their seats and the cabin-crew bustled around doing their thing.

Eventually, we hit the runway and lifted off into the Ontarian sky. I watched as Toronto’s lights lit up the land beneath us, with CN Tower blinking patriotic red and white lights. I felt myself starting to well-up, and hot tears dripped from my eyes, smearing the city lights in the window. I hid my face from John, hoping he would not notice.

* * *

Canada was my home for almost ten months, and as I sat and watched it slip from beneath me, I could not help but feel immensely sad about the fact I was leaving it all behind. I started to think about last September, and the person I had become since then. I made friends for life, most of whom I will not see for a long time, if ever again. While I will undoubtedly stay in contact with them, sadly Facebook will be our only means of communicating for a while.

* * *

I would like to take a bit of time – since writing about the six hours of empty plane-journeying will not be very interesting – to say thank you to some of the people who have made my life in Canada that extra bit special.

Firstly, to my British friends, who I met way back in September. While things might not have worked out for us, we shared a load of amazing memories, and I am grateful that I had some friends to experience my first few weeks in Canada with. Fiddler’s Pour House was our weekend home, and CJ’s in DeCew saw many a terrible ping-pong game, and failed attempts to play board games. We experienced Montréal together, and I will never forget exactly how long six-hours can feel when sat in a non-reclining Megabus seat. Thanks for some really fun times, and I am sorry they had to come to an end so quickly.

To my Canadian mother, Julie! Thank you for everything you did for me over the past year. Your countless food parcels have kept me alive (and away from McDonalds). Thanks for every car-ride you have given me, and for taking Meera, Eisha, and I out to dinner so many times. I will miss having somebody to vent my academic concerns to when the going gets tough next year! You have become one of my closest friends, and I owe many of my favourite experiences to you – including that time when we went bowling, and both of us were terrible at it!

To one of my best Canadian friends, Emma! You really understood what it feels like to love Classical Greek, but hate it in equal measure at the same time. We suffered through Adam’s Greek Tragedy class, and it brought us – and everyone else in that course – together. I will never forget the look on your face when we had to walk around the room in a circle for literally no reason. We went on a couple of drives together, drank tea like true Brits, and talked about our mutual love for writing. I hope that one day, we can both become successful authors, and joint-win the writing competitions we have entered. It will likely never happen but I can 100% hope, eh? Sorry, I 100% could not resist, eh?

To the other Greek Tragedy veterans, Sydney and Alex. I am so glad we met, and had loads of fun once we got over the tragedy that was Adam’s Tragedy. I owe a lot to you guys, one of those things being my introduction to Olivia when we went to the Queen Charlotte Tea Room before Christmas. I also met Tom, and since then, the five of us have done so much together – getting drunk in the States, wandering around Niagara Falls, and sitting through one too many conferences that none of us had an interest in. It has been a blast, and I hope all of you guys have an amazing time whatever you end up doing, and wherever you are.

To my favourite group of Canadians, the Holcombe family. Thank you so much for taking me in and letting me live under your roof for over a month. You always treated me like family, and you made sure I had everything I needed. I will never forget the time I spent at Portage Road, with Mark, Filomena, and Victoria, and all of the fantastic trips we went on. Make sure you give Melvin, Max, and Mallie lots of love from me until I return!

P.S. Fil, do not forget Tortellini for my next visit!

Finally, to my girlfriend, and my favourite human-being in the world, Olivia. You have made my life in Canada so much more exciting, and I cannot imagine what it would have been like if I had not met you. Thank you for looking after me, and sharing in my time across the pond. You have driven me to so many places, and introduced me a whole host of unhealthy Canadian delicacies that I would not have otherwise tried. I am so lucky to have you, and I cannot wait to show you as much of England as I can over the coming weeks – and, of course, wherever life takes us from there. I am so excited to find out where we will end up together!

* * *

At some point during the flight, I woke up from a cramped sleep, and spent ten minutes trying to lift my neck from its position. My Birkenstocks had slipped off my socked feet, and I rooted around on the floor for them. Checking the screen in front of me, I realised that we had passed over Nova Scotia, and there was less than half of my journey to go. I pulled out my book and stuck some Coldplay on – only their old material, I should add.

The remaining hours went by fairly quickly – far faster for John, though, who was sleeping soundly next to me. I envied him, having only slept for about an hour or so. The Tylenol PM that Filomena had given me seemed to have only worked in getting me to fall asleep – now I was wide awake.

Anyway, at about quarter-to-ten British time, the plane started its descent, and I felt myself starting to well-up again, realising that I was no longer in Canada, and I was instead landing on a small island, ten-percent the size of Ontario. I cannot accurately describe how gutted I am that the next year of my life will be limited to an unexciting existence in Stretford or Selly Oak. I feel like I am coming down from the best high in my life, and nothing I can take will ever match the exceptional time I have had in Canada.

* * *

I know that a lot of people (myself included) did not think I would actually go ahead with my year abroad. People doubted me, and I doubted myself – but I did it. I travelled half-way across the world to a place I had never been before. I studied at a University I had never visited, and I graduated with a 92% average for the year. I worked hard, and I played hard. I hated revising and working hard, but made up for it with exciting expeditions around Ontario and into Québec. My ten months in Canada were my making, and the person who stepped off the plane in Manchester, UK at 10 o’clock last Tuesday has changed in more ways that I can count – most notable, perhaps, is the fourteen pounds I seem to have gained since I was away. Oh well, I had to make the most of all the poutine, Beaver Tails, and funnel cakes – not to mention Filomena’s Italian cuisine – I could go on!

All that is left to say is Thank You, Canada, for everything. I have had a ball, and I cannot wait to return to you one day – hopefully, for good!

 

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The Last of the Last Times…

Of course, my final fortnight in Canada has flown by and here I am, days away from the end of my year abroad. I knew this year would go by quickly – that is what everybody told me – but I guess I never realised how quick that quickly really was.

Thankfully, I have been making the most of my time and I have another post to share, bursting at the seams with those awesome little experiences I have been indulging myself in. Shall we get started with – what might just be – the last blog post of this incredible journey?

* * *

IMG_0891.JPGSince I returned to Canada after Christmas, Olivia and I have always wanted to go axe-throwing. This finally happened when we decided to visit the Backyard Axe-Throwing League in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This cool little place on Queen Street features a bar up front (for some reason), and rows of wooden targets laid out behind. We decided to stay away from the alcohol, and we got right down to throwing!

IMG_0898Having signed our injury waiver – removing the establishment’s responsibility in case of an injury – our instructor, Christa took us through the best method for throwing. Within a few minutes, we were wedging our blades in the wood with no issues at all! As it happens, my second throw turned out to be a bull’s-eye. I would call it beginner’s luck, but by the time our hour was up, I had twenty-six bull’s-eyes under my belt. Olivia was left in the dust with a – still respectable – thirteen. Christa told us that we both had a knack for axe-throwing and invited us to join the league – essentially an excuse to get drunk and throw axes at targets for a night. I wish we had gone axe-throwing sooner – perhaps then I could have cultivated my newfound talent. It was so much fun!

* * *

The next day, we drove up to Guelph to visit The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada! Victoria and her friends had been planning to visit for a long time, and there was extra space for Olivia and I in the car, so we decided to tag along. The car journey was perhaps the most disgusting experience of the year – picture three hot humans squished together in the back seat of an even hotter car for almost two hours. My back was stuck to the seat and my legs developed a thin layer of sweat behind my knees – it was gross!

That being said, once we arrived at the sanctuary and stretched our legs, our spirits lifted at the sight of donkeys in the surrounding fields. We left our things in the car, walked through the little gift shop, and made our way into the beautiful sanctuary. The location was gorgeous, and green grass spread for as far as the eye could see in all directions, with luscious trees and a huge pond just beyond the entrance. It was lovely, though, still a little too warm for my taste.

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Chadburn and I!

Olivia and I split up from the rest of the group and we explored each different section of the sanctuary. Naturally, I selected a favourite and gave him a name of his own – in this case, Chadburn. He had the biggest, rounded belly of all the donkeys there and I had a great time petting his long face and that solid tummy of his.

The sanctuary also had miniature donkeys, which were essentially… miniature donkeys. They had tiny little legs and short bodies, but their bellies could probably match those of the regular sized donkeys! I did not realise that they were such chubby little animals!

After we had fulfilled our desires to touch all of the animals, Olivia and I had lunch by the large pond outside the sanctuary. It was a beautiful day and we camped out in the shade of some trees. After we had eaten, we sat beneath a big tree near the water and gazed out at the pond, eating chips and reading together. It was a really awesome day!

Unfortunately, that day came to an end when we had to cram ourselves back in the car, now more toasty than ever. As we drove away from the sanctuary, my heart ached for the Chadburn I had left behind, baking like a sausage-roll in that scorching car…

* * *

We were hit by the first heat-wave of the summer over the next few days. This meant that the temperature outside exceeded thirty degrees celsius – at least, it felt that way – so Olivia and I hid indoors with the air conditioning keeping us alive. It is crazy to think that, just a month or so ago, the snow was still falling from the sky and the temperatures were dipping below zero.

The spell was broken by Friday, when Olivia and I headed to Brock. Olivia made plans to go out to lunch with one of her friends, so she dropped me off at school, and I kept myself busy for a couple of hours. Apart from the fact that campus was almost entirely empty, Brock was the same as ever, and I wandered briefly through its corridors before purchasing my last cup of tea from Tim’s and settling down in Guernsey market. I may have spent seven months living minutes away from Brock, but it was still sad to say goodbye for the last time. I learned so many things about the ancient world – and about myself – within those walls. It is hard to believe that I will not see that ugly brown tower for a while…

On my way to the Campus Store, I was hit by the overdue rainfall – thick, warm droplets of water, falling from the humid sky. I met with a soggy Olivia and we hurried to the car before we got too soaked. It was a relief to finally see some clouds – the past week had been nothing but searing blue sky – but the heavy rain stuck to us like glue. I waved farewell to Brock as sheets of rain bounced off the windscreen and trickled down the bonnet.

* * *

Once it cooled down after the rain, Olivia, her mother, and I headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake for its annual Springlicious festival. Having spent the best part of our week in the house, we decided we should check it out. After all, Niagara-on-the-Lake has quickly become one of my favourite places, and I will always be happy to go!

The Springlicious festival, as it happens, was pretty tragic. About one-hundred metres of Queen Street had been closed off and dedicated to the event, which consisted of makeshift vending stalls, a couple of food-trucks, and some dodgy carny attractions. It took us about ten minutes to wander up and down the street before we found ourselves back where we started. That being said, there was one stall, set up by the Niagara Falls Rotary Club, that I enjoyed. I am not entirely sure what they had to do with the club, but the tables were littered with metal puzzles – the kind you need to separate and put back together. I made a donation and walked away with a cool horseshoe puzzle – I am a bit of a sucker for puzzles.

IMG_0974I also managed to finally try a funnel cake! I have been aching to sink my teeth into one since last September, but the occasion never really arose. I was drawn in by a food-truck on our way back down the street, selling just about everything you did not know you wanted – deep-fried pickles, for example. Anyway, I ordered a funnel cake with ice-cream and strawberries. I was surprised to find that it cost fourteen dollars, though the monstrosity I received seemed to justify every dollar spent. I swear, the funnel cake must have been at least a pound of fried dough, ice-cream, and desert strawberries. Because of her allergy, Olivia could not help me, and Filomena abstained from giving me a hand. I managed to stomach about two thirds of the thing before my stomach packed in and refused to accept any more. The funnel cake was delicious, but holy toast, it was dense.

* * *

A couple of days later, Olivia and I took the car and went on a day trip to the town of Jordan. Neither of us had been before and we had been told that it was a beautiful place to go.

Now, Jordan was beautiful – do not get me wrong – but it lasted for about fifty metres, and then it was over. The town consisted of the high-street, with artisan shops lined alongside it, and nothing else. Olivia and I wandered through two art galleries, a lavender store, and a hat shop – then our trip was complete. It must have taken about ten minutes in total.

Thankfully, we had other plans, and we continued our journey to Balls Falls. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there is a reason for its name! From what I can tell, the conservation park was owned by the Ball family, hence the name – Balls Falls.

Once we arrived, we parked up the car and paid the admission fee, and then we were free to go! We grabbed a map and set off through the wilderness towards our first destination, the Higher Falls.

IMG_4338The park itself was absolutely gorgeous, and I had an amazing time exploring the trails and getting excited about the different sticks I found on the floor. The sun was shining, but we stuck to the cool shade and made our way along our path to the falls. Upon our arrival at the end of the trail, we saw the first of the waterfalls. Now, it was no Niagara Falls, but it was still far more beautiful than anything I have seen in England. We sat by the edge of the water and ate lunch together, feeding the ants with pieces of cherry and capturing as many photographs as possible.

After we finished eating, we returned down the trail and headed to the opposite side of the park where the Lower Falls were located. It did not take long to get there, though Olivia and I stopped for a quick photoshoot after I got excited about finding a walking-staff. We also played pooh sticks over the water – my stick won, after Olivia’s got stuck on a rock. It is probably still there now, poor stick.

Anyway, the Lower Falls were actually far more beautiful than the Higher Falls, and I climbed over the safety wall to get some shots of the water as it spilled over the edge of the river and into the pond below. Again, it was no Niagara Falls, but still a lovely spectacle.

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The Lower Falls, Balls Falls, ON.

* * *

The day after our excursion to Balls Falls, Mark drove us up to Crawford Lake, a little ways beyond Hamilton. The lake, named after the Crawford family, was once inhabited by the Iroquoian people who built a settlement beside the water.

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Crawford Lake

We started by walking around the lake, which was absolutely gorgeous. The sun was high in the sky, but the temperature had dropped down. It was nice to wear a sweater for once! A wooden boardwalk had been built around the lake, and we wandered our way around the water. Aside from the multitudes of school children, the lake was totally serene, and the trees swayed quietly in the wind. It was stunning!

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An Iroquoian Long-House.

It did not take long to walk the circumference of the lake, and we sat and waited for Mark who, like me, was wandering around and taking as many photos as he could. Once he was finished, we walked back up to the car-park, and explored the Iroquoian settlement that was built there. The longhouses had been reconstructed, and the insides were decorated as they would have been when they were occupied. Small fire rings lay on the floor, and wooden bunks hugged the walls, burdened with animal skins. I have to admit, I know fairly little about modern Canadian history – let alone indigenous history – so it was nice to finally experience a slice of Canada’s native heritage.

 

* * *

That night, having recuperated after our small hike, Olivia and I went to the drive-in cinema in St. Catharines. From what I can tell, there are no drive-ins in England, so I was super excited to recline the car-seats and sit back for a few hours.

We went to a showing of Solo and Infinity War, films that we had both already seen, but neither of us cared. We arrived at eight o’clock and found that the showings would not begin until at least half-past-nine. We ended up buying popcorn and munching away at it in the car as we waited for the films to begin.

IMG_1043Both films were in excess of two hours, so we spent a long time in that car. We wound down the windows slightly to avoid creating a steam-room, and snuggled under a blanket to stay warm. Once the movies started, we munched on Mars Bars and Jelly Beans – and the remains of the popcorn, though we had eaten most of it already. The movie quality was actually very impressive, and we tuned in the car radio for our audio. It was a pretty perfect combination! The only downside was the fact that Infinity War ended at two o’clock in the morning, and both of us were falling asleep by the end. We raced the other cars out of the parking lot and headed home with droopy eyes before collapsing in bed.

If it did not rain so much, I think drive-ins would be a huge hit in England…

* * *

A couple of days later, Olivia and I visited her grandparents’ house for my last meal there. Olivia’s Papa picked us up at lunchtime, and he drove us to their home in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Now, as you might recall, I have only had good things to say about Nonna’s cooking, and her Fettuccine Alfredo was no exception. Olivia and I gorged ourselves on the delicious, creamy spaghetti with a hint of smoked ham hiding beneath the Alfredo sauce. After the first course, she brought out a salad with a large plate of breaded chicken-fingers, and I similarly stuffed my face with those too. I have to hand it to Nonna, that was one of the best meals I have had here in Canada! Although, do not get me started on the amazing food I have eaten since moving in with Olivia! Allow me to take a moment to commemorate Filomena’s incredible breaded chicken thighs. Oh my god – these are the most incredible, succulent pieces of chicken, and I never fail to eat two or three at a time. My current record, though, is seven (over a two day period), and I am not even ashamed…

Anyway… I am getting carried away. After dinner, we all played Scopa together, an awesome game of Italian cards that I have just about got the hang of. I teamed up with Nonna and Olivia paired up with her Papa, and we battled it out. Unsurprisingly (as Papa plays Scopa on a professional level), Nonna and I got slaughtered, and I left with my tail between my legs. Hopefully, the next time I see Olivia’s grandparents, I will be much better at the game! I have my own set of cards to practice with now!

* * *

In the evening, we visited Olivia’s Zia, Fran, and her family. This was the last time that I would see Filomena’s side of the family, and despite my full stomach, I filled myself with Fran’s amazing spicy wings and pizza. I should probably add that I went for my last Dairy Queen Blizzard a couple of hours before, so I was really putting a bit of a strain on my tummy at this point. Nevertheless, I powered through, and I left with no regrets about leaving food on the table.

After dinner, I hung out with Olivia’s youngest cousin, Josh. We played Fortnite on his big-screen in the basement. He was pretty good at the game, but all of my attempts were fairly short-lived. I did far better at the game of pool we played afterwards – though I still lost.

Of course, it would be rude not to mention Jojo, the little puppy who I have grown to love since I first met him all those months ago! Jojo was as cute as ever with his little pot-belly and fluffy face, and I picked him up and squished him in my arms every time he walked by. I really do love that little guy, and I will miss him a lot when I leave.

Anyway, at the end of the night, I said my final goodbyes to everybody: Zia, Uncle Danny, Josh, Bella, NonnaPapa, and, of course, little Jojo. Every single one of them has welcomed me like I am one of the family, and I will miss all of them an immeasurable amount – and all of the amazing food they have fed me over the past few months!

* * *

This blog post ends with the final excursion beyond the Falls before my flight on Monday! A couple of months ago, Mark bought Olivia and I tickets to see The Front Bottoms at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. The day finally arrived, and we left Niagara Falls at three o’clock in the afternoon, arriving just before five. The traffic was pretty rubbish, but we made it in good time – the doors did not open until seven o’clock, and The Front Bottoms would probably not make an appearance until nine. To kill time, Olivia and I wandered up and down Danforth Avenue, meandering in and out of stores. We eventually met up with Mark again and went for shawarma – a fancy name for a Great-British kebab. It was good, but the real stars of the show were the milkshakes we got from McDonald’s afterwards. Shawarma is always amazing in the moment, but for some reason, I am always more hungry afterwards…

IMG_4469Just before nine o’clock, we made it into the venue and watched as the stage-crew bustled around doing sound-checks. Just after the hour, The Front Bottoms burst onto the stage and started belting out songs from their Rose EP. Having not listened to much of their older material, I ended up bopping my head slightly while Olivia sung her heart out beside me. Once they launched into the Ann EP, I had a much better time singing along and getting my groove on. The band finished by playing through their most recent album, Going Grey, and I resorted to chanting some choppy, broken lyrics that I only half-knew. That being said, I still had a really fantastic time, and I left with an ache to go home and learn all of The Front Bottoms music. We wandered back to the car with sore throats and ringing ears, and Mark drove me away from Toronto for the last time, back towards Niagara Falls.

Two days left, and counting…

 * * *

So, that is everything! On Monday night, I head back to Toronto, and by ten o’clock I will (hopefully) be sat on flight TS206, preparing for the overnight trip to Manchester.

I could write a whole other blog post about the amazing things that living in Canada has done for me, but those who have been reading along already know what I mean. All you need to know is that this has been the best year of my life, and I am mortified that it has already come to an end. My journey is over – for now – but I am surer than ever that I will be back once I have finished my final year at Birmingham.

Until then, sit tight, enjoy your life, and if you ever get the chance to travel, grab that opportunity without a second thought – it will be the best thing you ever do for yourself.

Trust me, I know…

 

Checking Off My Canadian Bucket List!

As always, the past fortnight has flown by and I once again find myself getting anxious about the fact that I leave Canada in less than a month… actually, in sixteen days.

Holy tostitos, that is soon!

Thankfully, I have been making the most of my time here and the past couple of weeks have been filled with new and exciting experiences that I cannot wait to share!

* * *

My last post ended just before Canadian Mother’s Day (it is different here than in England). So, on May 13th, we all piled into the car to drove to the house of Olivia’s nonna in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I have met just about all of Olivia’s immediate family (these being aunts, uncles and cousins), but never all in one sitting! For Mother’s Day, though, the whole family gathered around the kitchen table and, in true Italian fashion, gorged themselves on the amazing food presented to us – at least, I did. Olivia’s mother, Filomena, made the most amazing chicken thighs and I am not ashamed to admit that I ate seven of them (as well as a large Polish sausage, and mashed potatoes, and a generous serving from the vegetable bowl). Olivia’s zia also made the most incredible, cloudy cheesecake that melted in my mouth with every spoonful – it was too good! I kind of wish I could bake like that, but my limit is slightly overcooked shortbread cookies.

IMG_0680After our dinner, Olivia and I took Jojo, her zia‘s chubby little doggie on a walk down Line 9. This was the third time I had seen Jojo but we are already best buddies. Since I saw him at Christmas, he has had his fur cut short and now he is a little pot bellied puppy! He made it about ten minutes before giving up and resigning to Olivia and I carrying him the rest of the way home. Upon our return, we sat out in the front yard and absorbed some of the summer’s beautiful sunshine while the adults inside did whatever it was that they did. The chicken thighs sat heavy in my stomach when the time came to finally leave and head back up to Niagara Falls. I do hope I will get to see Jojo again!

* * *

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The White Water Rapids

The next day, Olivia and I went to the Falls and made the White Water Walk – the river rapids a few kilometres downstream of the Canadian falls. While the walk was fairly short, it was really awesome to see so much water tumbling along faster than we could comprehend. Huge waves crashed over rocks and splashed at our feet as we edged out way along the side of the river that would eventually run into Lake Ontario.

 

After walking the rapids, we visited the Butterfly Conservatory and Botanical Gardens a little way along the parkway. To save money on parking, we left the car about two kilometres from our destination, oblivious to the physical strain that walking can prove to be under the hot sun. By the time we actually made it to the butterflies, we were both tired and sweaty – but totally ready to see some pretty animals!

The conservatory was a huge greenhouse, with walls made entirely of glass and, upon our approach, we could see little wings fluttering around inside. Then, just like a greenhouse, once we got inside we were hit with a wall of hot and sticky humidity – perfect conditions for butterflies, I am assuming.

IMG_4065The place was so beautiful though, with tropical-looking plants and butterflies of all colours circling our heads and hopping from flower to flower in front of us. Olivia wanted, more than anybody in there, for a butterfly to land on her, so she got understandably jealous when a beautiful blue one landed on my shoulder. He stayed for ages, too! In total, only three butterflies landed on us, but Olivia’s dream finally came true when a little black and white one landed on her shoulder.

IMG_4077After we got unbearably sweaty, the two of us exited the conservatory and headed out to walk around the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. Now, it was still early in the season so many of the plants had not blossomed yet, but they were still gorgeous. If it was not for the searing heat of the sun, I would have stayed there for longer, walking around the different flower beds and snapping up photos of every different colour I saw. As it happens, Olivia and I ended up camping by the fountain and I dipped my hands in the tantalisingly cold water, dreading the treacherous walk back to the car.

* * *

As it happens, we made it back to the car without dying of heatstroke and drove home with the windows down and the warm air brushing past our faces. Once we returned, though, Mark convinced me to once more bear the hot sun and drive down to Fireman’s Park to find some trilliums. I did not know before this, but the trillium is the flower of Ontario, its three-petalled shape being the symbol of the eastern province. Not that I was going to, but it turns out it is illegal to dig and harvest the trilliums, in the same way that it is illegal to kill one of the Queen’s royal swans.

We found the trilliums a little ways down the Bruce trail, a huge hiking path that stretches nearly 900km in length. Thankfully, we did not need to walk too far before we found the gorgeous flowers. According to Mark, trilliums can only survive if they are sheltered from direct sunlight, and even then, they blossom for a few weeks before they die, hibernating for eleven months until the next year. Luckily, we caught them in full bloom and we wandered off the trail with our cameras to capture some shots of the fauna. We returned a week or so later, and the flowers had already started to droop and wither – I am super glad that I got to see them before they disappeared.

* * *

A few days later, Olivia and I returned to Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake to watch a stage performance of The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis at the Shaw Festival. Having never actually read the book – my knowledge of the Narnia series is actually quite small – I did not know what to expect. The play itself was amazing, though! The whole set was made up of cardboard and the experience encouraged the audience to use their imaginations, while painting a really vivid picture of the tale being told. I seem to have forgotten how much I love going to the theatre. Being at university has killed all of my aspirations to go and use my spare time on things I enjoy. Perhaps I will make more of an effort to do that in my final year!

After the play, Olivia and I drove back to the falls and went for dinner at an Irish pub called Doc McGilligan’s. It was here that I ate meatloaf for the first time, and promptly fell in love with meatloaf. Having been in Canada for so long, I have started to forget what it tastes like to eat something – like the meatloaf – smothered in so much gravy that you can barely tell what it is anymore. I guess this gives me something to look forward to upon my return to England. A portion of thick cut chips smothered in gravy from China Town (our local takeaway) is calling my name…

* * *

Last weekend saw Victoria Day, which meant there was a long weekend. To celebrate, Olivia’s family and I headed down to the falls to see the holiday fireworks. We parked up near Skylon Tower and walked down to the river. With the sun having disappeared, it got really cold and we waited by a bus shelter for the clocks to turn 10pm and the spectacle to begin.

All in all, the fireworks were somewhat of an anti-climax. Do not get me wrong, they were absolutely beautiful, but they only lasted for about five minutes and, considering the fact that we waited five-times that in the cold, it was slightly disappointing when they came to a close so soon. We were swept away with the crowd as all the other spectators headed back to their cars and the warmth of their homes. While the fireworks might not have exceeded my expectations, it was still lovely to finally witness the falls at night and the bright lights that illuminated the tumbling water from the darkness below.

* * *

A few days after the fireworks, having gone, in vain, to revisit the now dying trilliums, I went to Dairy Queen for the first time! Like the Dunkin’ Donuts of my last post, I do not know exactly what I got so excited about – I suppose it was just nice to experience something that I am not able to in England!

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My First Dairy Queen!

Anyway, I got myself a Cookie Dough Blizzard, which is a bit like a McFlurry, only ten times better and with so much cookie dough! I watched as the Dairy Queen employee poured out a lavish scoop of ice-cream into my cup before stuffing it with pieces of cookie dough – before adding more ice-cream! Then, she carried it over to the mixing station and whirled my blizzard around until the cream was perfectly fluffy and ready to go! She spun the cup around and held it upside down, the contents failing to move, before she handed it over the counter with a smile. It probably sounds a little pathetic but it was so cool! It tasted perfect, too! I do not want to dwell on how many calories might have been in there, but I could totally have eaten another one straight after!

* * *

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Lake Ontario from Port Dalhousie

Finally, when Olivia and I had access to the car, we drove down to Port Dalhousie for a day at the beach! Port Dalhousie is a quaint little place on the edge of Lake Ontario. Once we parked the car, we walked around the high-street and wandered across Martindale Pond before returning to the beach for lunch. Despite being attacked by swarms of flies wherever we went, we found a bench on the sand and snacked on sunflower butter and honey sandwiches, tomato salad and ketchup flavoured Doritos (our final bag, I must add). The sun was high in the sky and it was a beautiful day as we sat and watched the different people go by, watching and coming up with silly theories about their lives.

IMG_4248After our lunch, we walked along the pier as far as we could go and then returned to the sand to sunbathe for a little while. We managed to befriend a dog who we named, Mr. Henry Casper (I wanted to call him Casper, but Olivia wanted to call him Henry). He was such a playful, yet majestic, little guy and we scratched his belly while he rolled over in the sand and covered his damp body in a layer of grainy brown. We had a lot of fun playing with him, but I was sure glad it was not me giving him a bath later!

* * *

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Brock’s Monument, Queenston Heights

On our way home, we stopped at Queenston Heights, finding that Sir Isaac Brock’s monument was open and we could walk up to the top! Naturally, I thought it fitting to give it a go since I would likely not get a chance to do it otherwise! Besides, I figured that the view from the top would be amazing! I was not disappointed.

Olivia and I both underestimated how difficult it would be to climb to the top of the long column. To access the top, we had to climb up the length of the monument using a spiral of steep stone steps with a deceasing amount of space between the bottom and the top. We found out later that the column is made up of 235 internal steps, but it genuinely felt like a thousand and we had to stop a couple of times on the way up. You may find this pathetic, but the people behind up were crawling on their hands and knees by the time they reached the top!

The reward at the top made all of those steps worth it. We gazed through the small windows and saw the whole land as far as our eyes could see, laid out before us. I found it particularly beautiful to look out towards America and the great river that divides the Americans and Canadians. There was barely enough space for Olivia and I though, so when another duo reached the top after us, I reluctantly tore my gaze away and steadily made my way back down all of those stairs. What an amazing view, though! I will never forget it…

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* * *

So, that is it for the past few weeks! I realise now that I have written far more than I intended to and it is likely that I have lost the interest of a few readers by this point. Living with Olivia and her family has given me a window in Canadian life and I am slowly checking off the little experiences that I would have missed otherwise. I mean, look at that view above – how beautiful is this country? I feel as though there are still things to do and see, and while I am dreading the coming on June, I will do my best to enjoy every last second of my diminishing time here!

Life in the Holcombe Household!

Where to begin with the past fortnight?

So, I have been living in Niagara Falls for just over a fortnight and I am loving it! Now that summer has come around and my academic responsibilities have evaporated like the clouds, the blue sky has shone through and left me with a huge, blank canvas to fill with… well, living. Olivia’s father, Mark, made me his second beer-can chicken and I have been living it large with the seemingly endless stores of candy in the cupboard under the microwave. I am starting to wonder if I should take the £250 hit and accidentally miss my flight so I can stay here forever!

* * *

Mark drove Olivia and I across the US border last week for a trip into Buffalo. I know I am milking the whole kerfuffle that happened back in January, but I felt just about ready to return when we sped up the highway to the bridge across the river.

“Hold up, British boy… there is something wrong with your ESTA!”

So, it appears the events that took place in Buffalo are still haunting me as, when we tried to cross the border, my temporary VISA waiver was still stapled to my passport (the border was supposed to take that off me when I left America last January). So, according to the customs officer, I was a British guy with an expired VISA who had not left America, trying to get back into America. Yeah, it does not make sense to me either!

Anyway, I headed into the customs office and had a second round finger prints taken, as well as another portrait of my face. $6 later, my totally valid ESTA was re-validated and another piece of paper was stapled into my passport and I am still not sure what it means.

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The American Falls, from the American Side.

Once we actually made it into the USA, Mark drove us to the American falls – remember, that crappy little dribble pouring over the edge of the border? Well, from the American side, the falls are actually quite impressive and, while nothing compared to the grandeur of the Canadian side, the tumbling water is still awe-inspiring and beautiful. The wind was high and the mist was cold and it was a lot of fun trying to not tumble over while snapping a photo of the water!

After the falls, we went to a couple of stores and got some groceries. Despite the currency exchange rendering US dollars a little more valuable than Canadian dollars, shopping over the river is apparently a lot cheaper so Mark scooped up some supplies and gas on our way to Buffalo. I also finally made it to a Dunkin’ Donuts! I have no idea why I wanted to go so badly, but this chain is essentially the Tim Horton’s of America. I got myself an iced tea and sipped away as we hit the highway and skirted Lake Ontario on our way to the next destination, Dino BBQ!

So, Dino is one of Mark’s favourite places to eat. The whole restaurant smelled sweet and smoky and huge platters of wings hovered between the tables in the arms of the waitresses. Within minutes of sitting down, Mark had thirteen wings, marinated just right, in front of him. Olivia and I got bacon burgers with some mashed potatoes and gravy (and some other sides I cannot remember). I must admit, the burger was really good, although I could feel my arteries screaming at me with every second bite I took.

After dinner, we hit the road back to Canada as the sun set over the horizon and, thankfully, I made it back in without any issues. I had my study permit clutched between my legs, ready to thrust into the arms of the customs officer. I think I knew that I would make it back, but with all of the confusion on the way out, I was not so sure about the return journey. As it happens, the Canadians are far more welcoming than the Americans and I got in without any issues at all – phew!

That piece of paper is still in my passport, though…

* * *

The next event of note also includes stuffing myself with copious amounts of meat. I am starting to sense a theme appearing here.

Olivia and I went for dinner with my good friend Julie (you may remember her as the one who made so much amazing food and gave it to me over the past few months) and her husband. We went to a place called Copa Cobana, an all you can eat meat-fest where chunky men came along and cut chunky pieces of meat from lavish skewers directly onto your plate. Ahh, I am getting ahead of myself – how could I forget the buffet!

So, before you even get to the meat, you fill your plate at the salad-bar-cum-carb-bar on the main floor. I was hesitant to fill up on carbs, knowing that I had to make the most of the meat, but it was hard to stay away from the calamari and prawn salad, oh and the amazing cheesy lasagne! There was so much good food and I wanted it all!

Then, the meat came along – and my, there was meat! I cannot even tell you all of the types we tried, but some notable cuts included the cheese-stuffed beef and beer-cooked chicken legs. Oh, and I forgot about the sirloin wrapped in bacon and… the pineapple! Imagine a thick slice of pineapple, coated with a thin layer of caramelising cinnamon and brown sugar. It was incredible. Argh, and do not get me started on the deep-fried banana either. Oh my god! Same story – warm banana in a thin layer of batter, coated in sugar and cinnamon! Everything was amazing and I wish my stomach had been bigger than night. I would give anything to retry that beautiful cheesy beef.

* * *

The next day, Olivia and I went for tattoos! I have wanted to get one for the longest time – pretty much since I started at university two years ago, actually!

I was excited to permanently ink my body, however, Olivia and her sister Victoria spent the best part of last week before scaring me into oblivion. I have a low pain tolerance as it is and hearing things such as, “I always forget just how much it hurts,” really freaked me out. I was also told that the flesh above the knee and above the elbow (where I was getting mine) were the most sensitive places… urgh!

So, we shuffled into Artistic Impressions on Monday and checked in with Phil – the tattoo guy. Phil appears to me to be a child trapped in a man’s body (in a kind of cool way). Let us just say that it really calmed my nerves to hear him rambling on about why The Last Jedi was a terrible film for the first fifteen minutes of my session. Then, it turned into an in-depth debate about whether or not the large enemies in the Hobbit should actually move slow or not…

Anyway, I got sidetracked! Actually getting the tattoos hurt far less than I thought (and had been told) they would. Getting the first four words of the Odyssey above my knee hurt far more than the star on my arm, but both were totally manageable, and I love them both! I think they turned out great and they both mean something special to me so I am glad I got them!

After I lifted my sweaty body from the table, Olivia lay herself down and got her tattoo – a pretty little rose on the back of her arm. At first, I thought she was taking the pain like a champ, but then I noticed that her legs were twitching and her ankles kept spinning in little circles. Despite this, her upper body remained still and the finished piece was beautiful! Both of us are really happy with how our tattoos went – myself, mostly that the pain is over. I know that I said it did not hurt that much… but it did! It was rough, I will not lie.

 

* * *

Olivia and I celebrated me actually making it through the tattoo appointment by making a fire in her back garden. We dragged Mark’s fire-pit out onto the grass and got some sticks crack-a-lackin’ in no time. While the smaller branches caught fire really easily, the log we hoped to burn failed to catch and the whole endeavour turned out to be quite a sad and sorry experience. That being said, we toasted marshmallows by the dying embers and made s’mores with some graham crackers and aero chocolate. I would say that it turned out to be quite a positive experience after chocolate got involved! We sat in the garden with Victoria and toasted away while the fire quietly died and the un-cooked log slowly simmered on the edge of the pit.

* * *

The next day, Olivia and I went on a mini-road trip to a place called Chippewa, a beautiful river-side town next to Niagara Falls along the parkway. We drove past the falls and I feasted my eyes once again upon the beautiful water, coursing over the edge of the world and into the depths beneath… gah I love them so much!

IMG_0535We stopped at the Dufferin Islands nature reserve and walked around the water, gazing excitedly at the fresh baby geese who were running after their mothers and flapping their tiny wings. They were so cute!

After that, we drove along the coastline of Canada to Chippewa itself, a tiny village surrounded by acres of beautiful grassland and trees. We got out of the car at a little parking spot and sat under the shade of a tree for a little while, throwing pinecones into the river that would eventually cascade over the falls a kilometre or so downstream.

IMG_0576I collected about twenty pinecones in my bag in preparation for another fire that evening. I thought they might make the fire smell nice, but by the time our second attempt at burning a log came around, they seemed to serve only aesthetic purposes. Well, that is a lie. The pinecones burned rather ferociously, but they looked more beautiful than anything else. The small leaf-things… wood-leaves? What do you call the leaves of a pine cone? Anyway, those things turned a magnificent orange and they glowed and flickered around the fire while our log sizzled away and actually caught! That evening, we had made brownies, so our s’mores consisted of graham cracker, marshmallow and brownie on top! I felt so unhealthy by the end, but I had a lot of fun gorging myself on warm, gooey brownie-s’mores! I could really get used to making a fire every few nights for the rest of my time here!

* * *

And so, I have been living in the Holcombe household for almost a month already – jeez, that went fast! I am still having a great time and loving life over here across the pond. I feel so lucky to be able to live here for a month or so longer before my study permit expires and I am booted out for good. I plan to cherish my remaining time here with copious bonfires, beer can chickens and those all important Canadian experiences that I am yet to enjoy!

So, I Live in Niagara Falls Now…

With my last exam and one final Greek assignment out of the way, I am officially finished at Brock. My keys have been handed back to North Service Desk and my empty chasm of a bedroom is patiently awaiting next-year’s occupant. Though I still have well over a month left in Canada, my emotional reserves have started to prematurely erupt and I cannot help but feel sad that this year really did pass me. I still do not know if jay-walking is actually against the law or not. All accounts I have received differ and I still feel a slight tinge of fear whenever I cross a road without using a crosswalk. I do not feel like I made the most of the Candy Corn in the Fall and at Christmas time – and, why did I have to discover Jolly Ranchers with only two months left in Canada?

* * *

I unofficially moved out of Quarry View on Monday morning with the hot sun beating down on my bedroom window. My room was an oven and Olivia and I were toasting away as we struggled to shift all of my belongings into her car. I came to Canada with a 21kg suitcase and a backpack, and I appear to be leaving with far more than that. I did not really think things through when I impulse purchased two musical instruments and more clothes than I really need.

The sun was shining as we pulled away from the parking lot outside my flat and I waved goodbye to my Canadian home without looking back. I liked Quarry View for all of two weeks before I realised that my neighbours were not going to settle down and my housemates were, in fact, going to steal as much of my food as they could. I could go on a long spiel about how this is just student living, but I would much rather talk about the amazing Slurpees that Olivia and I bought on the way home.

We drove down the highway with the windows open, blasting Paramore at a high volume and enjoying the freedom of finishing exams, final papers and any excess marking that needed to be done. It was the hottest day of the year so far, so we stopped at 7/11 and I finally got to try one of their famous slushies. I do not wish to specify (or even think about) the amount of sugar I consumed in my large Slurpee, but it was amazing! By the time we got home, the sun was high in the sky and, having moved my things inside, we sat out on the patio and sipped away while baking under the golden rays. I definitely got burned and my arms still look a little bit like chorizo, but it was totally worth it. The sadness I had felt about leaving Brock promptly disappeared as I soaked up the first of the summer yet to come!

* * *

On Tuesday, Olivia and I finally decided to reclaim our health and went to the gym. I purchased a monthly membership and got overly sweaty on the treadmill. I suppose that all the McDonald’s and Tim’s dinners at the end of term finally caught up with me. I am really grateful that Olivia lives far enough away from any kind of fast food so I cannot walk there in the middle of the night for some ice cream or a burger.

IMG_0202To contest that (and all of our hard work at the gym), Olivia’s dad made a Beer-Can-Chicken on Tuesday night. For those who do not know, a Beer-Can-Chicken is a whole, cooked chicken – only, a can of beer is shoved into it before being placed on the barbecue…

Yep! 

I helped as Mark opened up the bird and slid it over the top of the can, leaving the poor thing propped up on the aluminium. As weird as it sounds (I know, it is weird), it was fun to try something new that had been freaking me out since I first discovered it last December. As much as I hate the word, yes, the chicken was moist, succulent and any other juicy words you can think of. Thus, to conclude: while I do not think I will ever feel my own desire to birth a red-hot can from a roasted chicken again, I am grateful that I was able to try it before I left.

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King Croc (or Maxwell)

I also did something unspeakable last Tuesday… I purchased some Crocs. Well, not exactly. Unlike my family, everybody in the Holcombe household wears slippers when indoors to prevent treading mud or sweaty feet around, so I went to the dollar store and got my hands on some Croc-Offs (do you get it?). So, now I have a pair of super-fashionable slippers to traipse around the house in. I do not know why I am even writing about this – I think I am just shocked that I actually have Crocs in my possession. After my last Banana-Yellow pair, I swore to never wear them again.

Now, I wear them with socks…

* * *

On Wednesday, after a one-day hiatus, I returned to Brock University once more (the first of the three times I would return this week). As Olivia had a meeting with her MRP (Major Research Project) supervisor, I decided to tag along and submit my completed Greek assignment and the last of my academic obligations to this year abroad. I know I keep dragging out my final times at Brock but I do not really want to let it go. When I slipped my final piece of work into Dr. Jansen’s mailbox, I felt a little stab of sadness in my chest.

Jeez… I am being way too dramatic.

* * *

On Thursday, Olivia and I returned to Brock once again – this time to hand in the keys to my flat. I had kept onto them for as long as possible, just in case my housemates had decided to leave it in a state. I can neither confirm nor deny whether Brock will charge my account for cleaning services. The destiny of my bank account is resting in the hands of Simar, the final occupant of QV48. Please do a good job!

After we had handed in our keys, Olivia went to the archives where she volunteered and said her final farewells to David and Edie before we headed downtown for a cute little date at Sushi AI. I say it was cute, but the fact that it was all-you-can-eat dictated that I gorged myself on sushi, fried brie and Rock n’ Rolls (these incredible, deep fried, grilled eel rolls). It was definitely not cute, at least, not from Olivia’s perspective.

While we waited for the bus, we took one last wander around the Write Bookstore, a huge bookshop filled from floor to ceiling with stacks of books, new and old from everywhere and anywhere. We walked off the sushi for an hour or so before we hopped on the bus and proceeded to fade in and out of consciousness as our food babies lulled us to sleep…

In the evening, we went to see the Canadian premier of Avengers: Infinity War – it turns out most of my British friends had all already seen it five hours prior because of the time difference, but I managed to avoid any spoilers. Olivia and I were repping the best two heroes – her with a Captain America shirt, and me with a Spiderman one. It felt kind of okay to nerd-out with somebody who was equally (if not more) nerdy than people tell me I am.

The film was amazing, and without wanting to spoil anything, really freaking sad. Olivia was bawling her eyes out within the first five minutes and I would be lying if I said I was not doing the same by the end. I really want to watch it again but my emotions have already been ripped to shreds and they are still recuperating. It is definitely worth a watch for any Marvel fan, though!

* * *

On Friday, that beautiful summer weather I just mentioned disappeared in place of the cold and the rain. To lift out spirits, we went back to Brock again! This time, Olivia had to invigilate a make-up exam and we ended up sitting in her office for a few hours pretending to do work, but just goofing around (at least, that is what was doing). Having not eaten since the sushi, both of us got really hungry before noon so we headed to the Pen Centre for one last little trip (though, I know I will probably go back again). We had time to kill before we got the bus back to Niagara Falls so we ate and then I was dragged into bathing suit shopping. I waited outside the dressing rooms while Olivia tried on whatever she was trying on and I got a few weird looks from passersby.

Unfortunately, the excitement ends there as, once we returned home, Olivia ended up working on her MRP and I started learning Latin. I really really want to return to Brock (or, at the very least, Canada) to do a Masters in Classics, but most institutions require that I have both Greek and Latin under my belt (thanks a lot, Birmingham). For this reason, I am going to try and cram two-years worth of Latin language into my next academic year in the hopes that I can get to a decent level before I graduate. So far so good and I can decline, puellaamicus and filius with only slight difficulty. I suppose we will have to see where Latin takes me over the next few months. It would also be beautiful if I could use Greek and Latin in my dissertation next year!

* * *

So, that brings us to today! I have been living in Niagara Falls for almost a week now and I am loving it so far! There have been occasions in which I have felt really out of place – I mean, technically I do not actually have a home until I get back to England. That being said, Olivia’s family are some of the warmest people I have ever met and I so grateful that they have let me cling on to Canada for a little while longer. Olivia’s cats, Maxwell, Mallie and Melvin have made the whole moving process much easier, too! I miss my three little kitties in Manchester all the time so it is nice to have a few little furry friends to grab and cuddle every once in a while – and they are so cute!

I am not sure when my next post will be – who knows! Perhaps I will return to Brock again next week! I will continue to have fun, though, and whenever I feel like I have adequate material, I will come here and waffle it all down. Until then, to everyone still writing exams in Birmingham, have fun with those! I’ll be here, drinking Slurpees and burning my skin in the hot Canadian sunshine – hopefully!

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The Falls, Niagara Falls, ON (for the thumbnail, again).

The First of the Last Times…

Two Tuesdays ago, I had my last class at Brock University, and the final few hours of my exchange here in Canada.

F*ck. It is already over…

I walked into my Greek classroom at 9:20am and found the usual crowd of early birds pulling their copies of Medea from their bags for the last time before their final assignments were due in. A small table had been pulled before the whiteboard with two boxes of Tim Horton’s coffee and tea upon it. A box of assorted donuts lay to the side, opened just a smidge, so I could see its glorious contents inside. I should have been happy. Drinking tea has become one of my favourite past times – doing so while reading Greek is infallible. Instead, I felt something really heavy in my gut as I plonked myself down behind Julie and next to Stephen (my usual spot). I was really freaking sad. By 12pm that day, I would be finished with school for the year (excluding the three exams looming on the horizon – I forgot about those). I know I am not leaving Canada for good until June, but my classes, class mates and professors have played a huge role in the way I have come to fall in love with the past eight months of my life. I am not ready to say goodbye to them all yet!

* * *

So, once I was done with Greek, I had about two weeks or so to complete my three finals before moving out of Quarry View forever. Okay, I am actually rather happy to be finally moving out of residences. I seemed to have forgotten how noisy, obnoxious and generally inconsiderate students can be – this year saw all of my first-year memories about res-life flooding back into my mind. Seriously, do not do it to yourself. Quarry View has been nice – to some extent – but, god I am ready to move out of there!

I managed to kill some time before my final exams started by procrastinating and avoiding revision until the last minute. This manifested in an afternoon playing Laser Tag with the graduate students (Olivia’s friends, in other words). This was essentially their leaving celebration and, seeing as ‘significant others’ were invited, I was able to make an appearance. It was only mildly terrifying shooting the crap out of the two teaching assistants who were yet to mark my final essays. If you happened to be reading this, please give me a good mark.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I did not suck at Laser Tag as much as I thought I would! In fact, by the third and final game, Esther and I (along with a bunch of strangers who tagged along) managed to kick some butt and secure a victory for the blue team – and I came out on top! I totally think it was a fluke but I took great pleasure in the fact that I finally managed to beat Olivia at something!

After our three games, the sweaty graduates and their partners headed for one last meal together. Olivia and I shared an appetiser that was literally called The Artery Clogger. Fries, fried onions, fried pickles and cheesy garlic bread (multiply each of those things by four and that is about the scope of it)… The so called ‘diet’ that has been ongoing since September (hahaha, just kidding), took a bit of a dip that day – my arteries are still recovering!

* * *

And then my three finals arrived – oh jeez. Now, I might have already mentioned (though I cannot remember) that this year is only worth 6% of my overall undergraduate degree. This means that each class I have taken this year counted for less that 1% of my whole course.

Yep…

Despite this, I still found myself stressing out over the tiniest details from each class. The end result was copious late nights spent bingeing on candy or Cheetos while cramming terminology and monuments into my head. First up was History of Classical Greece, a three-hour stint from 7pm until 10pm on a Saturday night – yum! Despite a growing resentment for Thucydides – which cultivated itself throughout term – I did enjoy the class, and the exam went well from what I can tell!

My second exam was Cleopatra, another three-hour monstrosity but one which I actually thoroughly enjoyed. I know that I do not share this opinion with most students, but the feeling of being fully prepared for an exam and then unleashing everything you have got into the test booklets is so great. I have developed a real love for Cleopatra VII over the past semester (so much so I made it my dissertation topic)! Thanks, Dr Jansen! 

* * *

Between my first two and my last exam, I had a couple of days to recuperate and de-stress a little bit. Most of my British friends laugh at me, exclaiming that it must have been a really easy year because I have been studying in Canada. Not correct, let me assure you. This year has been one of the most academically intense of my life and, while I have revelled and cherished everything I have learned, my god, I have not been spared the university stress.

That being said, last Wednesday I met up with my friend Ashley for the last time in a long time. Ashley has been my friend since I first met her in Birmingham (where she did her exchange) about a year ago. She picked me up from Niagara Falls when I first arrived in Canada and took me to Walmart for some tea and countless other snacks that I was overexcited about. Man, that all seems so long ago now…

Anyway, we went for Sushi at a place called East – it is ‘All-You-Can-Eat’. Naturally then, I ate more than my stomach could accommodate and continued to eat when the deep-fried Mars Bars presented themselves before me at the end. I will never understand my capacity for cramming food into my mouth when the prospect of getting your money’s worth is floating around in my mind. It was awesome, although rather uncomfortable towards the end…

The next day, I said goodbye to my friends from the Symposium, way back in November, Sydney, Alex, and Tom. We headed to the Tea Room in the falls for one last taste of classy British cuisine. I will likely be back before my flight in June, but it was a really nice way to hang out with some of my closer friends before they went off to their respective summer excavations. I first met Sydney and Alex when we shared a mutual confusion and subsequent frustration for our Greek Tragedy class last semester. After the Symposium, I got pretty close to them, and hanging out with them while wandering around the Classics department has been one of my favourite things to do since Christmas. Heck, Alex and I ever started running together – although, it only lasted for two sessions. It was still about as much fun as running can be, though!

On Thursday evening, I also said goodbye to another great friend of mine. Emma shared the great Greek Tragedy Depression of late 2017 and we also studied Greek together during both semesters. We said our last farewells on a long drive through the dark streets of St. Catharines, Thorold and a bunch of other places that I could not identify. Despite being here for eight months, I still get confused whenever I find myself somewhere other than downtown or the Pen Centre. Anyway, we drove around while sipping our Tim Horton’s and talking about everything and anything – summer plans, creative writing, the Tragedy class last semester (yes, we are not over it yet). I had a lot of fun and I will miss those late night drives when I am stuck in Selly Oak next year and I cannot safely leave my house past sundown… I shiver at the mere thought.

* * *

My final exam came on Saturday – not quite at 7pm this time, though. I shuffled into Academic South 203 for the last time to take the Cities and Sanctuaries of the Ancient World exam. Unlike the previous two, this exam was a bit of a disaster and I left feeling a mixture of gentle relief that I was finished and sadness at the fact that it did not go quite as planned. As it happens, it is surprisingly difficult to create a city off the top of your head in the midst of stressful exam conditions. I sh*t you not, the last exam of my third year of university was an exercise in creating make-believe cities. Though I really wanted to, I figured that building myself a castle that was guarded by a moat of lava and huge dragons would not warrant a pass mark…

I know I am being a bit hard on myself regarding that last exam, but I cannot help feeling bummed out that my exchange sort of fizzled and died towards the end. As of today, I am no longer a student here at Brock. I have one final assignment and the keys to my flat to hand back and then I am out of here. No more Brock University – no more Quarry View (so, no more late night Mcdonald’s trips). It is really coming to an end…

I know that I still have over a month to spend in this incredulously beautiful country, surrounded by the loveliest people in the world. That being said, I cannot help but feel increasingly aware of the fact that, in the blink of an eye, I will be back in England and preparing for my final year at university. Everything went by so quickly, and while I did as much as I could here, I feel as though I could have and should have done more!

I guess I will have to come back, sooner rather than later.

* * *

So, that is it. This is the end of my exchange year abroad. Tomorrow, I will cram all of my belongings into Olivia’s car and head off to my next destination. I will leave Brock University – my home for the past eight months – in lieu of my new (and temporary) home in Niagara Falls, ON…

brock-statue-ceremony-fab-99-1800x1100
I literally put this here so I would have a thumbnail…

The Harrisons on Tour!

Another month has slipped under my radar and I have come to realise that time is passing by far too quickly for my liking – HOW IS IT APRIL ALREADY? My exchange officially ends in ten days and my final three exams at Brock University are all that I have left to do here. You have no idea how intolerably sad that makes me. This year has been the greatest year of my life and to think it is going to come crashing to a halt in just a few weeks is really upsetting. I suppose I had better waste some more time documenting everything that has happened since I last sat down and complained about how fast time is going here! Strap yourselves in for a whistle stop tour of March and April!

* * *

Since reading week, sh*t has gotten real with exams and assignments and I have found myself slowly sinking a little further into the quicksand with every new essay that has dropped onto my Sakai page. The (evidently naïve) version of me who once claimed that Canadian education was easy was wrong. Studying here is intense – it is really hard to keep up! The post-reading week crush has really kept me on my feet this semester and I have been pumping out something resembling English in the form of essays non-stop since I last wrote a blog post.

I suppose, it turns out that Athenian Democracy was not, in fact, capable of its empire after all…

* * *

Anyway! Over the Easter weekend, my parents finally came over to visit me in sunny (not) St Catharines. They flew into Toronto on Good Friday and caught the Megabus to Brock in the early evening. I was busy gorging myself on battered cod, calamari and shrimp at Olivia’s family gathering, however, I finally got to see them when I went home later in the evening. This was the first time I had seen my parents in almost three months and seeing them here on Canadian soil was…

weird!

It is not that I did not want them to be here – it was the opposite of that. I love my parents and seeing them here was amazing! That being said, I have spend almost eight months in Canada by myself and I have become somebody completely different to the kid who left Manchester way back in September 2017. My vocabulary has adapted to say candy instead of sweets and I had just about managed to stop the Mancunian slang that nobody understands. That being said, within about twenty minutes of being with my parents, I had relapsed into saying things like sickmental, and peng instead of good. That was definitely a step in the wrong direction…

0fb2de2d-7307-4afa-9c67-51a80ceb2e2aSo, my parents were here in St Catharines over the Easter weekend! Naturally, this meant that absolutely nothing was going on for the entirety of Friday, Sunday and Monday – we made the best of it, though. On Saturday, we caught to bus down to Niagara Falls and Olivia picked us up and drove us down to the falls for the sixt-, fift-, hang on… it might actually be the seventh time! This was my mother and father’s first time in Canada so they went through the obligatory stand there for a while and take it all in. I have to admit, I still find the falls absolutely gorgeous and I could stand there and watch the water tumble continuously for hours and hours.

After the falls, we walked up Clifton Hill and my parents repeatedly remarked about how it was better than Blackpool… or, at least, it was less tacky than Blackpool. They really liked all of the run-down attractions and sounds and lights. I personally cannot see it but I distracted myself by purchasing a lovely blue whale paperweight so I was content (his name is Wailord).

Both Olivia’s stomach and my own betrayed us, so we drove to our next destination, Niagara-on-the-Lake for lunch at the Angel Inn. The city was just as picturesque as I remembered it being (without the snow this time) and we wandered around the stores and my mum got over-excited about every shirt that looked remotely Canadian. We also managed to squeeze a free cup of tea out of Sydney who works on Queen Street and got super excited about Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea because it was nut-free. It was a really weird tasting tea – a cross between Earl Grey and something else – but I liked it nonetheless.

After a couple of hours on the high-street, Olivia drove us down to a place where my parents could taste ice-wine for the first time. It was really delicious! We started with a small ice-wine slushy that I could have drunk by the bucket-load. Next, we tried three different wines and then finished with a small cocktail of ice-wine and white wine. I am no connoisseur, but all of them tasted like ice-wine and all of them were delicious! My parents convinced themselves to buy a bottle to take back to England and that was that!

* * *

The evening concluded with the main event – dinner with Olivia’s parents…

I was unreasonably nervous for my parents to meet those of my girlfriend, but everything went perfectly. Filomena made the most delicious spread of food from cheese cubes to breaded chicken to polish sausage. She finished up with the creamiest cheesecake I have ever eaten and I do not think I will ever consume anything as divine for the rest of my life. I was still full from our lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake, so I do not know how I did not explode – but, I will always have room for that cheesecake, should it ever make a reappearance in my life.

Both sets of parents got on well and my mother became infatuated with Mallie, the cat (of course). The little sausage (the cat, that is), sat with us for the duration of the dinner and rested her little white paws on my mother’s shoulders when she picked her up. Neither my mother nor my father have been able to function without daily updates as to the whereabouts and wellbeing of our cats at home – provided by my sisters. They were bound to go crazy when they met Olivia’s beautiful little trio, Melvin, Max and Mallie.

Anyway, after Olivia had dropped us off that evening, I am fairly sure that my parents walked their full bellies up to their hotel room and collapsed in bed after a long day of Canadian tourism – I know that I sure did!

* * *

Easter Sunday was far less eventful seeing as literally nothing was open. Olivia and I managed to scout out the Outlet-Mall in Niagara-on-the-Lake as one of the only places we could go during the day. As if we did not do enough shopping already! To be fair, I spent far more money than I think I even own (god save my credit card bill) and my mother discovered Roots for the first time. Shall we just say that the Canadian economy spiked a little after my mother left the mall that day. We also took a look in the Bass Pro Shop – the single most Canadian place I have ever been. For those who do not know, this store is filled with outdoor materials such as hunting guns, hunting knives, hunting buggies, hunting clothes – basically just a hunting store really… there were some fishing materials but I suppose that is a form of hunting too!

* * *

IMG_0972After the mall, we drove by Brock University to check out the campus and we ended up exploring some of the trails around the back of the Thistle Complex. Since the snow, I had forgotten about the hidden pockets of wildlife surrounding the university and it was nice to rediscover the little paths I would often wander around back in September and October.

After our excursion, we dropped my parents off at their hotel and did some work in my flat at home. Nothing else was really open and the jet lag had started to set in anyway. I think my mother and father needed to downtime and I was totally okay with that – I had an assignment to finish! ARGH, I still do!!!

Later on in the evening, I returned to my parents’ hotel and we ordered PizzaPizza and gorged ourselves while watching The Force Awakens in their room. This reminds me! I am finally caught up on all the Star Wars films! I got unreasonably into The Last Jedi and now I need Episode IX to hurry up and come out! Although, I have to admit, Jar Jar Binks literally makes me wonder if any of it is worth it… he single handedly tarnishes the whole franchise with his dumb voice and questionable feet. Seriously, how does he balance on those stump things?

I digress…

* * *

My parents’ final day here was short but sweet (at least for me). Because Brock University is actually a cruel place, Easter Monday was classed as a full school day and I had Greek in the morning…

Once falling asleep over the Medea was over, however, I found my parents again and showed them around Quarry View before heading downtown with Olivia. We introduced them (and myself) to Smoke’s Poutine and we shared two poutines between us. After lunch, we headed to the Merchant Alehouse and got ourselves a pitcher of Blueberry Beer… and then another pitcher of Blueberry Beer…

Olivia and I left half-way through the second pitcher – who knows how much alcohol my parents actually got through on that afternoon. All I know is that they made it safely to Toronto and were all set to fly out to New York the next day.

* * *

So that was St Catharines from the perspective of two tourists who totally overestimated the amount of do-able things in the Garden City. As my parents swanned off the the City That Never Sleeps, I knuckled down for my final week of classes at Brock University and, therefore, my exchange year in Canada. Jeez…

It is moments like these, writing about all these final moments that make me realise it is really coming to an end. The stress of writing essays and cramming for exams has distracted me so far, but my time is Canada is quickly depleting. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it. I kissed goodbye to Cities and SanctuariesClassical Greek History and my personal favourite class, Cleopatra, this week. I have had so much fun this year, learning simply for the fun of it. All of the grades I have earned here count for literally 6% of my degree and they mean nothing on paper – but the experiences I have had and the things I have learned here have been worth every single second of stress during the past few weeks.

* * *

img_9989.jpgLast weekend, Brock University hosted its first ever WCA cubing competition. For those that do now know, I like to solve Rubik’s Cubes and other twisty puzzles for fun and occasionally there are competitions at which you can compete to solve these puzzles as fast as possible. The newly-founded Brock Cubing Club actually hosted an event with my good friend Alex, who owns the online store, CANcube. It was really great to see so many people turn out for the competition – and so many kids who are getting into solving cubing. I signed a couple of cubes for excited viewers on YouTube and I marked a little CCS 🙂 on their cubes for them. I have never really understood why people would watch my videos – I have just been making them for fun for as long as I can remember (although the ad-revenue is certainly nothing to complain about). Nevertheless, it makes me happy hearing that I can inspire other people to solve puzzles with my videos! Olivia (my camerawoman) and I sported the CanChrisSolve? merchandise all day and it was a pretty great time!

* * *

On Satuday evening, Olivia and I headed to Toronto to meet my parents for the last time before their return to England. They had purposely left their largest suitcase with me to spare the effort of carrying it to New York. Therefore, we embarked on our delivery mission on the Greyhound bus and trekked the payload to the apartment where my parents were staying. Upon our arrival my father had a lovely chilli prepared and ready to eat and both Olivia and I realised how hungry we both were – I ate so much chilli oh my god!

Anyway, nothing else really happened that evening. We were all rather exhausted and we went to bed pretty early in preparation for the next day!

* * *

My last day with my parents actually fell on my father’s birthday so, after making him breakfast in the morning, we exchanged gifts and pleasantries and we managed to speak to both of my sister before heading out.

 

We walked to the James Layton Ferry Terminal and caught a boat over to Ward’s Island. My mother was only really interested in the picturesque view of Toronto behind us (which was gorgeous, I might add). Ward’s Island was pretty awesome too! I had no idea that the place even existed but it was essentially a large and run-down summer island that was waiting for the turn of the season before replenishing itself. We found a beach looking out onto Lake Ontario and walked up and down the sand before catching the ferry back to Toronto. I would love to return there in summer when the sun brings all of the leaves back to the trees, however, I feel like I might be too late for that. I guess I will just have to come back again sometime in the future!

After we disembarked, my mother foresaw that my father might want to spend the rest of his special day in the Eaton Center, that big mall in downtown Toronto. She was wrong, of course, but that did not stop her from scouting out the Roots stores and deciding which tracksuit she wanted to buy before they flew back to England. Olivia and I, naturally, went for food before wandering around the Eaton Center to kill time before I bus ride back to St Catharines. We literally just bought snacks for the bus which latest about half-an-hour into the journey – the maple cookies are just too good!

* * *

And so I said farewell to my parents in the dingy bus terminal in downtown Toronto – I will not see them until mid-June as I am planning on swanning around in Niagara Falls once Brock kicks me out of my residence. For, probably the last time, I found myself heading towards the city I have come to call my home over the past eight months. Despite the incredibly sketchy parts of St Catharines, and a newfound appreciation for how boring it actually is, I have loved it here and it makes me really melancholic to think that, the next time I leave, I will probably not be back…

Until I graduate, at least!

* * *

So that was the past month! I appreciate that this post was literally one paragraph of me complaining about assignments and then a dense description of what I did with my parents. As the French would say, c’est la vie! People forget how much time university sucks up and, aside from sleeping, watching The Office, and procrastinating, I do not really do much with myself these days. I have ten days and three exams (and a little Greek assignment) left to complete and that will be the end of my time at Brock University.

Just, please go slowly…