Category Archives: Travel

The Train Journey To End All Train Journeys

*Backdated to early August, 2012*

This is the story of 90 hours on a train. That’s 5,400 minutes, or 324,000 seconds. On a train.

After three months travelling east to west across Canada, I thought it would be a novel idea to take the four day train trip from Vancouver back home to Toronto as I’d flown from Montreal to Calgary on the way across. (If that string of cities made no geographical sense to you, see map below.)


I was also short on coin and VIA Rail was offering 70% off selected trips (these Express Deals run year-round, a good option if you’re flexible with travel dates). I booked economy (no bed, no meals) from Vancouver to Winnipeg, and a sleeper car from Winnipeg to Toronto (four nights sleeping in a seat is too much!). This normally would have cost an exorbitant $1000, but I managed to get it for around $300. Steal!

I was really looking forward to the trip – taking in all the scenery, reflecting on a summer travelling, and catching up on a whole heap of emailing, blogging and Weeds (I’d just started watching it and had six seasons to get through).

But half an hour after boarding, disaster struck.

Me: “Excuse me, I can’t seem to connect to the internet.”

Staff member: “That’s because there is none.”

Me (slightly panicked): “For the whole trip?”

Staff member: “For the whole trip. The only WIFI we offer is between Toronto and Montreal.” (Which I’d known about and hence assumed all services had it. If you’re reading this VIA Rail, whyyyyyyyy??!!!!!)

Things went downhill over the next 24 hours:

1) Boarded at 8pm, ate all food supplies by 10pm

2) 11pm, finished the only book I’d brought (Angela’s Ashes, already 3/4 read)

3) Had worst night’s sleep trying to get comfortable lying across four seats, and trying to drown out the constant snoring and farting of other passengers


4) Woke at 6am convinced that we were in Alberta already as all I could see out the window was farmland. Turns out, we were only in Kamloops, BC. In 10 hours  we had travelled the equivalent of a 3.5 hour drive! It was then I realised this was going to be a looooooooooong trip.

But later that day, a shining beacon of light arrived in the form of the Rockies. This stunning scenery kept me entertained for hours as I alternated between my seat and the glass-roofed dome cart.




After two days and nights in economy, even nice scenery isn’t enough to make you feel human. I had turned into a grotesque version of myself: smelly, covered in mozzie bites that I’d scratched the crap out of through boredom, left eye all puffy and closing up (to this day, I still can’t explain that), leggings falling apart (I’d refused to throw them out until I got home)…my only consolation was that I only had another 12 hours until I was out of economy.

In the meantime, there was Saskatchewan and Manitoba. That is, flat plain after flat plain.


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When I finally changed to a sleeper car in Winnipeg, I felt like a whole new world had opened up to me – bed, shower, three meals a day! I still didn’t have anything to do (I’d already resorted to plucking my eyebrows and editing all my photos) but at least I could sleep.


Things got exciting as we headed into Ontario. Not only was the scenery interesting again but we were in my home province – surely that meant we were on the home stretch?!


But alas, it was still a whole 24 hours before we would reach Toronto. (I hadn’t actually realised until that moment how big Ontario actually is – check back to the map and see for yourself!)

Ninety hours later, I made it back to Toronto – albeit a little weary, a little stir-crazy, and severely internet-deprived.

…But recovery time was brief, the next day I headed to Montreal for Osheaga 2012.

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The Portland Travel Challenge: 4 Days, $200

*Backdated to late July, 2012*

I started my trip on the most easterly point of Canada. Two and a half months, and some 8,000km later, I was across the other side of the country in Vancouver BC, back to the place I had arrived in Canada almost four years earlier.

I had reached my destination, but I wasn’t ready to stop travelling. I was so close to Portland, Oregon, a city I’d wanted to check out for years. Cue spontaneous road trip.

The trouble was, after almost three months of travel and no income coming in, I was running pretty low on funds. If I was going to do this trip, I was going to have to do it cheap! I set myself a challenge: four days in Portland for less than $200 (including transport from Vancouver) without sacrificing things I want to do. (There was no point going all the way there if I wasn’t going to do the things Portland is renowned for – eating, drinking, and art.)



Free through CouchSurfing. I stayed with Jake Sauvageau (look him up if you find yourself in Portland) and his flatmate Jeannette. These two were awesome hosts, and are largely responsible for keeping my trip so thrifty (they knew all the best places to eat and drink for cheap).

Transport:                                                                                                                                                            Round-trip bus ticket from Vancouver – $60 through BoltBus

City bus tickets – $12.60 (you can get anywhere for $2.10 one-way)

Food:                                                                                                                                                                                      When I first arrived in Portland, my first meal was the Santa Fe “chicken” burger at Veggie Grill. This was a tofu burger (that tasted amazingly like fried chicken) with avocado, chipotle mayo, tomato, lettuce and a side of cabbage slaw. It was the best thing I’d eaten in ages! It came with bottomless organic iced tea for $11. Coming from Vancouver, I thought this was a steal. Turns out, it wasn’t. Rookie mistake, but no regrets!

Dinner fit for a king at Mio Sushi – $15


Lunch at a Thai food cart – $5




These food carts are all around town and sell almost any dish you could want for $4–$7. Many cluster along 10th Avenue.

Maple bacon doughnut from Voodoo Doughnut – $2.50


Lunch special at Stickers – $7 (including tip). Creamy coconut shrimp, rice and a diet coke.

Late-night burger at an unspecified diner – $8

Groceries to make two-course dinner for Jake and Jeanette – $23


Round of drinks at “Bear Paw” bar (divey but fun) – $13. This covered two pints, a super-strong vodka and tip. Excellent value!

Bottle of wine at Trader Joes – $2.50 (Outstanding value!)


Bottle of Jacobs Creek wine at Rite-Way (supermarket/pharmacy) – $5. (This was before I knew about the wonder of Trader Joes!)

Random drinks/coffees – $10


Strolling around Portland State University – free.

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Walking down 10th Avenue and browsing through Powell’s Books (takes up a whole city block) and Crafty Wonderland (really cool stuff made from local artists) – free.

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Portland Art Museum – $15. This is sooooo worth the money! Housed over two buildings, it contains everything from classical to contemporary works of art. Paintings, sculpture, photography, artifacts, home decor, installations: this place has it all!

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Living Room Theatre – $9. Cinema/bar/restaurant in one. Love the concept of drinking and dining while you watch a movie (even though I had to skip that part!).

GRAND TOTAL: $198.60

Challenge complete.

Footnote: More Portland Awesome for your viewing pleasure. 


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Ohm: 10 Day Yoga Camp, Val Morin, Quebec


I wasn’t sure I could do it (and at times I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it) but for 10 days I got up at 5.30am, did four hours of yoga a day and consumed no meat, no eggs, no garlic, no onion, no alcohol and no caffeine.

I had enrolled in the Sivananda Yoga Camp, held at an ashram in the Laurentian mountains an hour north of Montreal.

The very scenic and serene Val Morin

The ashram had a strict routine, each day the same.

5.30am – Wake-up call (loud, tolling bells)

6.00am – Satsang (Sanskrit chanting, half-hour silent meditation, spiritual readings)

8.00am – Yoga class

10.00am – Brunch (mostly vegan dishes)

11.00am – “Karma yoga” (helping out around the ashram)

12.00pm – Free time (I normally napped!)

4.00pm – Yoga class

6.00pm – Dinner

8.00pm – Satsang

9.30pm – Bed

If you’re wondering why anyone would voluntarily participate in this, let me explain.

I’m not one of those die-hard yogis (or even a little bit yogi) but I do the odd yoga class and had been dabbling in meditation for a couple of years. I figured this yoga camp was a good way to learn a bit more about both disciplines in a place where I would be forced to practice. (They actually kick you out if you consistently miss classes and satsang.)

After seeing the daily schedule, my first thought was “how am I going to make it to 10am without eating?!” This was quickly followed by “how can I last from 10am to 6pm without lunch?!”

On the first day, my body seemed to be ok with the morning fasting but I was starving by 4pm, and still had to get through a two-hour yoga class. But within three days, my body had adjusted to the routine. They give you so much food and it’s all vegetarian, local and organic. I guess if your body is fed in a nourishing way then you don’t crave junk food or feel hungry.

I had the same concerns about going without caffeine, especially with the 5.30am starts. But again, my body adapted and it wasn’t as hard as I thought to get up so early. (It helped that satsang was compulsory so I couldn’t make excuses and stay in bed.)

The third psychological hurdle for me was the thought of doing four hours yoga a day. I normally do one-hour classes at the gym and they cram so much in that it’s a pretty intense 60 minutes. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to do double that amount of time, and then a repeat class.

But the great thing about the Sivananda practice is the emphasis on rest! The first 20 minutes of the class is just relaxation and breathing. This is followed by Sun Salutations and then 12 asanas (poses). There is a generous Savasena (lying on back, relaxing – otherwise known as corpse pose) between each asana and at the end of the class. This was definitely my style of yoga!

In saying that, the repetition did get to me at times as it’s always the same class. But I definitely got a lot stronger and improved my yoga technique by sticking with it.

The outdoor yoga space. Much better than practicing indoors!

The thing I struggled most with was the meditation. Not only is it really hard to concentrate for half an hour at a time, the floor is also hard! Without fail, I would start squirming and fidgeting by the 15 minute mark and was amazed that no one else felt the need to move. (Although there was definitely a collective sigh of relief once the half hour was done!). Obviously I still have a long way to go.

We did a silent walk on Wednesdays and Sundays instead of seated meditation. Much easier!

We were down at the lake, sitting in silence by 6.30am

By the end of the 10 days, I was feeling waaaaaay more relaxed and calm. But I did boomerang a bit with my diet when I got back to “civilisation.” While I didn’t need it physically, I must admit I did feel a bit of a psychological void without caffeine, alcohol, meat, eggs, garlic and onion. But after the initial backfire subsided, I did feel like I was left with a much healthier respect for my mind and body.


Footnote: Some pics from around the beautiful grounds of the ashram


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