A Travellerspoint blog

September 2014

Finland - Helsinki

sunny 16 °C

Helsinki is the capital of Finland with 1.4 million people. My first impressions? Modern, stylish, clean, efficient and beautiful. I wanted to make sure I Couchsurfed where I could throughout this Eastern Europe trip and after a couple of nights bunking at the hostel housed inside the 1952 Olympic stadium, I stayed with Elin - a budding film maker. Couchsufing allows you to meet like-minded people, get immersed in the local culture and find out what it's like to really live in each city.


Despite getting nearer to winter, the weather was still warm and allowed me to check out some of the great parts of the city. Suomenlinna Island is home to an important historic fort and a great place to explore. Other sights such as Senate Square, the National Museum of Finland and Seurasaaren, a fantastic open air museum. I also sampled some tasty vendace fish at the food and market area down by city hall.


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Italy - Rome

overcast 19 °C

The cheapest way to fly from Toronto to Europe, was via Rome. Would you believe it?? Once our gear was sold, I booked the flight and off I went with Air Transat. Two days in Rome and then a flight to Helsinki.

It has been 10 years since I explored Rome, and as this was my first view of Europe after such an extensive time in North and South America, let's just say I was yet again blown away. It's like an enormous museum with unmatched history and character. With less than 48 hours, and like a kid in a lolly shop I wandered in and around a good portion of the city centre. It's not just the main sights, but the people and their way of life. Properly enthralling. Gone are the modern glass building, 6 lane highways and gigantic SUV trucks. Hello colourful ancient building, winding lane ways and smart cars.


The Funny Palace hostel was ideally located next to the main train station and after delicious pizza, coffee and ice-cream - I found myself boarding a plan to the next destination: Helsinki, Finland.


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Canada - Toronto, Ontario

semi-overcast 20 °C

After 24,000 kms of driving for the past 4 months we're nearing the end of our North American adventure. Our final stop, Toronto! There have been so many great experiences and awesome people that made our trip! Our good pal Raky lives in Toronto now and generously let us stay with him in Etobicoke. We got to enjoy some beautiful sunsets from his 30th floor apartment ('condo'). Toronto is by far the biggest city in Canada, a sprawling metropolis full of a huge variety of cultures and people from all corners of the globe. Modern and fast paced, it doesn't have the beauty of Vancouver but makes up for it with it's buzzing culture.

The 'hipster' Kensington market was great and we also enjoyed High Park and the distillery district. We had a good time exploring Toronto, there's a great music scene, and we got to also catch up with Aaron and Nikki - pals we met in South America.


We drove down and saw the 'must see' sight: Niagra Falls. The amount of water pouring over is astonishing. It's hard to comprehend just how big the lakes and waterways there are in this part of the world. It's a far cry from Australia which has 200 lakes. Canada has 3,000,000! The only downside was how commercialised the area of Niagra Falls is. Hotels, restaurants, casinos and other tourist establishments crowd this world wonder which takes the shine of it. It's also no match for the mighty Iguazu Falls in terms of sheer size.


We had to get ourselves organised so we could once again fit into our backpacks. It meant we had to try and sell Franklin, our bikes and all of our camping gear...Paul ended up staying an extra week to make it happen. It was a sad day when the van drove away but it went to a good home - an Australian girl who was about to embark on a trip to Alaska! The next leg of our trip? A comparatively short stay in Europe. I decided to return to England to spend time with friends and family, followed by Spanish studies in Valencia, Spain. Paul on the other hand decided to venture to parts of Eastern Europe that he has not been to before!

North America, you exceeded our expectations. Geographically and culturally diverse, incredible wildlife and jam packed with endless adventures. It's unlike anywhere else on earth and wonderful place to explore.


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Canada - Prince Edward County, Ontario

storm 20 °C

On our way to through Ontario we drove along the St Lawrence River and we could see New York State over the water! We were also able to check out the Thousand Islands National Park. A stunning place where the islands are actually the worn-down tops of ancient mountains. Our final camping spot was at Qunite's Isle Campground in Prince Edward county - part of Ontario's lake district. The district is where many of the locals go 'cottaging' on the weekends from Toronto. It's a beautiful and peaceful place to get away from it all right by Lake Ontario which is known for it's wineries, scenery and beaches.

We had a picnic dinner on the edge of Lake Ontario. We were camping for the last time on our trip, but as a storm approached we could see a lightening show threatening in the distance, so we reluctantly opted to sleep in the Van... we made it through the night without being blown into Lake Ontario. The area is an up and coming wine region which we checked out on the way out and learned that they have to bury the vineyards completely in winter because of the cold! We then set of for our final destination...Toronto!


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Canada - Ottawa, Ontario

overcast 25 °C

Arriving back into 'Canadian' Canada we arrived in Ottawa, the Capital of Canada. The Government is housed in a beautiful ' Gothic revival' building, which was a visual contrast to the capital of America. Parliament Hill is perched on the bank of the Ottawa River along with some other buildings of the same era, including the Chateau Laurier, built by the Grand Trunk Railway. The Rideau Canal runs through the centre of Ottawa and travels all the way from Ottawa to Lake Ontario 200kms away.


We took a tour of the Parliament building, followed by catching the rickety lift up to Peace Tower which is a tall clock tower in the Capital commemorating the end of WWI- with nice views across the city. Around the corner is ByWard Market, where we grabbed a snack at a popular bakery, and enjoyed sunset overlooking the river from Nepean Point. We also crossed over the Ottawa River arriving back in Montreal, and spent an afternoon in the Canadian Museum of History learning about the indigenous history of Canada.

We were just in time to see one of the last showings of the summer an evening sound and light show Mosaika tells Canada's story through impressive projections onto the Parliament building itself. It was very impressive!

We feel so lucky we've got on so well with all of our hosts through Airbnb, and we really recommend it as a great way to travel and meet locals. We had some great conversations with our Ottawa host Marina over a meal we shared together on our last night.


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Canada - Montréal, Québec

semi-overcast 27 °C

It was a nice drive to Montréal, stopping for a picnic in one of the small towns on the way, along the banks of the wide Saint-Laurent River.


We stayed with some friends who are true 'Quebecers'. We met Chloé during our time in the wine region of Argentina and her and her boyfriend André kindly put us up in his home, which we were pretty impressed to hear has been in his family for 100 years. We felt like we had such an authentic Montréal experience and they and showed us around so well, including some great places to eat and drink! We had some beautiful weather and warm weather, and meandered down markets streets which were closed to traffic on the weekend, along the waterfront and through the old part of the city.


We spent the mornings enjoying some tasty brunches, including some delicious homemade crepes, and then worked some of it off walking to the top of Mount Royal for a panoramic view across Montréal. We took the opportunity to walk wherever possible, and took in the World Press Photo Exhibition, showcasing the top photojournalism shots of the year, some of which were quite confronting, opening a window into what is going on in the big wide world out there. Paul also couldn't resist checking out the Montreal Grand Prix track (on his bike!), which is build on an island in the middle of the Saint-Laurent River. We loved our time in the Province of Québec, and it was a little sad when it came time to leave!

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