Friday, July 15, 2016

Canada: Stanley Park, Vancouver.

My Canada recap ends at Stanley Park. Here, I'm going to let the photos do the rest of my talking. I leave you with an excerpt taken from my January Head/Heart, on one of my simplest, fondest memories that took place right here:

On our very last day in Vancouver, Martin and I walked around Stanley Park, Vancouver's giant, beautiful park sitting right at the edge of a bay, in the heart of the city. As the sun set, we decided to stop by a park bench and sit there awhile, underneath a great big tree that had long lost its leaves to winter. There we sat in a comfortable silence, perhaps the most comfortable silence I've ever known; even my heart and my mind were still, something that, for me, is rare. So relaxed I was, nestled in the arm of this man who takes care of me in more ways than he knows, that I fell asleep right there, to the sound of the gently lapping waves; the cyclists, the runners, and the conversations of passersby; the many birds, the light breeze through the many trees around us, and the low hum of city life. All the world fell away and became quiet, and I was safe, even from myself. That half hour, a seemingly ordinary and mundane way to spend the last few moments in a foreign city, is a half hour I will cherish forever. It's these little things that make life.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Canada: Whistler, British Columbia.

Our last week in Canada was spent back on the west coast. We took a bus straight to Whistler after landing in Vancouver. I had every intention of taking photos in the bus while we were on the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway, but I fell asleep for most of the ride, and upon waking, opted to enjoy the view with my own eyes instead of trying to capture it through highly reflective glass.

We arrived late in the afternoon, and by the time we put our bags in our room, had a small rest and made rough plans for the evening it was close to sunset. We headed straight for the tube park, spending a couple of hours sliding with incredible velocity down a bumpy, snowy hill then climbing all the way back up to do it all over again. I was giddy from the entire experience, an amazing way to start our next two days at Whistler. The next day we would zip-line in the mountains shortly after sunrise, flying airborne through the trees, breathing in the fresh alpine air (sadly couldn't bring my DSLR, although I did take a couple of iPhone shots here and here); in the afternoon we snowmobiled in the backcountry, stopping at a cabin for hot apple cider and freshly baked cookies.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Canada: Montréal, Quebec.

This is a selection of photos taken during our last day and last morning in Montréal. Martin and I spent most of our last day walking around the city. My brother had his uni orientation so wouldn't be spending the day with us. We ate breakfast with him at Café Martin (chosen for both the name and the good reviews), then left him at the campus. It was grey and rainy and it already felt like goodbye, which led to a deep pit of sadness lingering in me all day. I barely took any photos.

Although I knew we'd be seeing each other for dinner and a bit of TV back at our apartment before he walked back to his dorm later that night, my insides felt heavy knowing we'd have to part ways—for 6 months—in the morning. That had been our routine for the last three days: we'd all have dinner together, watch Netflix at our Airbnb, and I'd make sure my brother left our apartment no later than 9:45pm to walk back to his dorm, which, thankfully, was only 10 minutes away. We avoided telling our mother that he walked back to his place in the dark, on his own, in the snow until he had already done it several times and it could be proven that nothing terrible would happen to him.

Canada: Vieux Montréal, Montréal.

We spent our second day in Montréal exploring Vieux Montréal (Vieux meaning Old) and Parc Jean-Drapeau. We visited the ice skating rink, walked by the river and ate lunch at a great restaurant called Le Cartet where we found a boutique French maple syrup to bring home. We didn't bother going ice skating as I had already performed a rather extraordinary fall at an outdoor skating rink in Calgary, leaving one of my knees crazy bruised for weeks and leaving me unwilling to repeat the experience quite so soon.

As the name suggests, Vieux Montréal is full of historic buildings, one of the most renowned of which is the Basilique Notre-Dame. The basilica is spectacular, with beautiful, ornate detail in every corner. The artist in me was in awe of the sheer dedication in every stained glass window, every wooden sculpture, every painted pattern, and how well preserved everything was. Even if you're not religious or have little interest in old buildings, the basilica is impressive and a nice, peaceful way to spend a couple of hours, so I'd recommend seeing it for yourself.

If you're visiting Montréal, leave a whole day to explore Vieux Montréal. The basilica chewed up a lot more of our time than I was expecting because we really lingered there, but there's plenty enough to explore that it would be best to set aside a whole day for it.

Canada: Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montréal.

After spending most of the day in Vieux Montréal we dashed over to Parc Jean-Drapeau to spend a couple of hours there before the sun set at 4:00pm. One thing about being a tourist in winter is that the limited daylight doesn't give you a lot of room to do lots of things at a leisurely pace—but no matter, you make the most of what you've got.

We basically had Parc Jean-Drapeau to ourselves. The whole place was covered in mostly untouched snow, and the buildings and activities were closed for the season (again, something that somehow slipped our minds about the winter). The only other people in the park with us were a couple forklift operators and tradespeople, moving big chunks of snow around and preparing the park for the upcoming winter festival, which we were sadly going to miss.

Much like Parc du Mont-Royal, Parc Jean-Drapeau was massive, and even had an old wooden rollercoaster on it (also closed for the season). Unlike Parc du Mont-Royal, however, Parc Jean-Drapeau sits on a little island all to itself (called Île Notre-Dame), so you have to leave the Montréal city centre and cross a bridge to get there. It's definitely well worth the visit, but make sure you leave a whole day to explore the place as we missed out on so much by only being there a couple hours!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Canada: Parc du Mont-Royal, Montréal.

We left Calgary for Montréal, where my brother would be living for 6 months as part of a study abroad semester. It was a 6 hour flight, but with the 3 hour time difference between Calgary and Montréal, we didn't arrive until about 9:00pm—and it was snowing. We had yet to see fresh falling snow and I'd been watching it fall since the plane ride, but our hunger and eagerness to get to our Airbnb meant our excitement would have to wait.

If you're unfamiliar with Canada, you should know: Montréal is in Quebec, and unlike the other provinces in Canada, Quebec's primary language is French, not English. So all the signs are in French first; people greet you in French first. Arriving there meant I was launched into the deep end of trying to remember all the basic French I learnt in high school (not going to lie—was a little bit excited about this). We got into the cab, I fumbled my way through a few sentences and we made it to our Airbnb. After dragging our suitcases up the tiniest staircase in the world, we made it through the door, putting our bags down and looking around the apartment ever-so-briefly before finally heading out to find dinner at 10:00pm. It was -29ºC, the coldest it had been since we'd arrived in Canada.

Canada: Calgary, Alberta.

Just a 1.5 hour flight away from Vancouver, Calgary is situated right near the Canadian Rockies and Banff National Park. It gets far more snow—and sun—than Vancouver, which I feel makes it quite unique. Despite being near the Rockies, it's quite a flat city. We spent a week here, our longest stay in any of the provinces while we were in Canada. The main reason for this was to spend time with my aunt, uncle and my younger cousin Julien (who is also a photographer and designer), and being with family made this new city feel all the more like home.

I loved walking through the neighbourhood and seeing all the cars and houses covered in thick layers of snow. Everything that is normal to Canadians was a total novelty to me, because the snow and the cold changes everything about daily life. Houses are constructed completely differently to keep out the cold, rather than keep out the heat; when you leave your home you're careful to wear many layers; when you turn on your car you have to warm it up; when you're walking you're watching out for clear ice on the pavement.

On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day we made plenty of time to play in the snow. Bonding with others in the snow is something special in itself. Julien took us to his favourite spot in the neighbourhood for snow-tobogganing (tobogganing, in its most basic form, is lying down on a piece of plastic and sliding down a large hill). Every childhood dream became reality as we made misshapen snow angels, threw snow at each other, walked carefully on a frozen lake, and attempted making snowmen with little success (the snow was far too fresh to stick together and hold shape). The 1st of January 2016 was one-of-a-kind indeed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Canada: Lake Louise, Banff National Park.

After spending a couple of days in Vancouver, we flew to Calgary, Alberta. My aunt, uncle and cousin live there and it was so good to see them again. We're quite close to most of our large extended family, but with a lot of us physically far apart and spread out across the globe, catching up with each other is sporadic, often years apart, and usually only in The Philippines. Our time in Calgary and Banff was made all the more special because we got to reconnect, spending a week living with them and celebrating the New Year together as 2015 became 2016. It was hard to say goodbye at the end of that week.

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of our entire trip to Canada was our visit to Lake Louise and Banff National Park. We left at around 7am, but the sun wouldn't rise for a couple more hours (meanwhile in Brisbane, the sun still rises before 8:30am even during the winter months). It would have been lovely to see Lake Louise just as the sun rose, but that would have involved waking up at 5am and leaving for The Rockies at 6am, and let's face it—sleep during a Canadian winter is valuable.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Canada: Vancouver, December 2015.

You know that feeling when you get home from a trip, and months later you're looking at the photos and you feel as if you could have only just been there yesterday, but at the same time the memory feels distant or surreal? That's what this next series of Canada posts is going to feel like to me. We left for Canada in 2015 and came home in 2016, and now three—threesix months have passed.

We arrived on the same date we left—another magical thing about travelling halfway across the world—to a rainy, cold and Christmassy Vancouver. Trying to get into your Airbnb when it's less than 10ºC and raining and you're jet-lagged after being stuck in a plane for 19 hours wasn't the most enchanting way to start the trip, but it was merely a minor setback for what was to come.

I didn't actually take too many photos in Vancouver and Toronto, as the last thing I wanted during our very short time there was to be caught up taking photos instead of actually experiencing the city for myself. Many times I left my camera at home, and I'm glad that I did. It's nice to practice restraint.

Below are a few photos from our favourite café: Le Marché St. George, who made great coffees the size of my face and excellent crêpes, as well as some shots from our time at Vancouver Lookout. If you're curious and you plan on visiting Vancouver, we also visited Science World, Gastown and Stanley Park.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Minyon Falls, New South Wales.

As we drove back to Brisbane, I took Jason and I on a little detour through the Byron hinterland to Minyon Falls. The countryside was incredible at golden hour; it was almost painful to be in the driver's seat instead of window shooting from the passenger's seat, but to be honest, we'd been shooting so much that we were happy to simply enjoy the view. We bopped along to an eclectic mix of songs from The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Maroon 5, Angus & Julia Stone, and at one point I'm pretty sure even the Spice Girls made their way onto the speakers.

I'd never been to Minyon Falls before, so I was also seeing all this with new eyes. I loved looking out across the hinterland and seeing the way the mid-afternoon light fell over the trees. As we craned our bodies over the fencing we could see tiny people at the foot of the falls below us, having picnics and what I'm sure was an all 'round great time. My heart did a little flutter as I imagined accidentally tripping and falling to the rocks below. The 100m drop to the ground was unbelievable (and impossible to do justice through the camera), and I can only imagine the volume of water that would rush over the cliff during the stormy season.