When last we left our hero he was on a train heading towards Jülich.
The train ride to Jülich was more or less without incident, until I got off the train, anyway. It amazes me that I hadn’t had any real issues carrying my pack throughout Europe up until this point, but as I was getting off the train and making my way towards the street to meet Micha I stepped into a rail embedded in the ground (you know how when a train track goes through a street and the rail is flush with the pavement but there’s that little gap?) and rolled my ankle in the gap and went straight, and hard, down onto my knees before falling to my side. I was like a 6 foot turtle and couldn’t get up. It didn’t really hurt my body so much as my pride. Thankfully there was a very helpful and concerned man behind me to helped me up. It wasn’t until Micha appeared and we went to is apartment to offload my packs that I started to realize I may have actually hurt my knee. After resting for about 15 minutes and getting up again I couldn’t bend it especially far. Thankfully it loosened up over the few days I was there, and nothing permanent seems to have happened.
Jülich was more or less a wind down from the rest of the trip. Micha is doing his PHD in physics at one of the nuclear facilities near Düren (I think) and was working during the day, so I spent my time just relaxing, reading, playing some games, and listing to music while trying to plan my trip back to London and book a place to stay. The Bennetts were hosting some other travellers so I was trying to track down hostels in London. For a weekend. In the largest city in Europe. It did not prove to be easy, but I was able to at least book a hostel for the Friday night, so at least I had that. Once Micha got back from the facility we went and got a big bucket of beers (I love German beer stores) and some groceries and more or less spent the evening drinking, eating, and watching YouTube. It’s not glorious, but damn if it wasn’t a good time, and just the perfect sort of wind down I was looking for. The rest of my time in Jülich was more or less the same. We took a walk through the town one evening to the Irish pub (because everyone loves Irish pubs!) to meet up with a few of Micha’s friends, drink, and play fooseball. I’ve never seen guys so good at fooseball.
Jülich, like many towns and cities in Europe it seems, also has a citadel in it! I love all these old fortresses they seem to have. I particularly found Jülich’s to be awesome because the interior building has been converted into a high school. I mean, how cool is that! I think most of us would describe high school as being a fortress, but this was LITERALLY A FORTRESS. But I digress.
I left Jülich on Friday morning after spending three nights there and having a great and relaxed time. I made my way to Cologne, and was surprised to see Micha get on the same train as me only a few stops after I got on to get there. We had a good laugh. He was heading to Sweden (I think) for a music festival. I spent a few hours in Cologne after saying a second final goodbye to Micha, awed at their giant cathedral (here I thought the one I saw in Ireland was big) and caught the train to Brussels. And then the fun starts. If you remember the story of my trying to enter the UK when I came from Canada, this next part might sound familiar.
Taking the train from Brussels to London goes through the tunnel under the channel. To get on the train you need to go through a UK border checkpoint in the Brussels main station, fill out an immigration card with how long you’re staying, where you’re staying, who you’re staying with and all of that. Just like going through customs in the UK. And you’re questioned. But it was much more pleasant this time compared to getting off the plane in London the first time around. Your passport is checked and stamped. Then you go though another customs checkpoint, less than 10m away. Your passport is checked again, and stamped again, and you can go through to the waiting area to board. I wasn’t planning on going to the terminal as early as I did but I’m glad for it because as soon as I was through the checkpoints we were ready to board. There was also a security check with x-ray machines and metal detectors. I got pretty good at going through those. So after a few hours, during which I actually started reading Matt’s book (up to chapter three!) we got into London. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s another border check! But it was at least quick, just making sure that you had your stamps from the last two checks. You know, just in case someone snuck onto the train while it was travelling through an underwater tunnel. But I digress.
I made my way to my hostel, I was smart enough to keep a few pounds on my oyster card so it wouldn’t be a hassle to get around when I got back to London, checked in and inquired about staying the rest of the weekend as well, but they were booked solid. Shoot. I went to my room, got settled, chatted with the girls I would be sharing with (they were from Germany, how topical!) and basically just went to bed without being able to sort out where I’d be staying the next night. I got up that morning, had some breakfast, chatted with an Australian guy about the differences between Canadian and Australian politics and the issues surrounding our glorious homelands, before checking out around 10am to make my way to Broadway Market to meet the Bennetts for some real, honest to goodness, poutine. Carrying my nearly 30kg pack on my back, and my smaller backpack on my chest, I navigated the Tube system I had come to love so very much, and emerged in the blistering, humid, 27 degree sun. I met up with the Bennetts after wondering around for about 30 minutes by myself, we got some of the best poutine I’d had since leaving Canada, and proceeded to try and track down a hostel. Luckily I was able to find a bed at a hostel not a block away from where I had stayed the previous night! But I wouldn’t be able to check in until at least 4:30 that afternoon, so I carried around my hulking bag and spent a day outdoors with some rad ladies and their fun friend, drinking and laughing and generally being awesome. That night we would be going to a comedy show!
By about 6:30 I had made my way to my hostel and thankfully dropped my bags for the first time since that morning. Legs of iron. A quick change out of my sweaty clothes and it was off to Camden! The comedy show was hilarious and the drinks were cheap, the best possible combination there could be. Extra thanks to the Bennetts for a great night. After the show, while standing out on the street planning our next move, a bachelor party of 40-something men came out and complimented me endlessly on being a pipe smoker (I had naturally pulled it out while we were in the street) and berated the girls an equal amount for not being with such an outstanding fellow such as myself. Hear that, ladies? 40 year old English men think I’m a catch, better pounce me while the pouncing is good. The rest of the night isn’t very noteworthy, we chatted a bit, then parted ways for the evening. We were all pretty beat. I made my way home, where I realized I hadn’t eaten since early that afternoon and it was nearing 1am. Luckily I my hostel is above a pub that serves pizza and beer all night long. So I did the logical thing: drank guinness and ate some of the best pizza I’ve had in ages. It was a good way to end the night before turning in.
The next day was spent mostly preparing to leave for Toronto the next day. Repacking all of my bags for maximum efficiency, planning my route to the airport so I would have plenty of time to check in and not be stranded, and booking a hostel for the few days I would be there. Not especially excited, but I wasn’t looking for excitement that day. I did need to venture out for some shorts and maybe a cooler shirt, though. All the heat was finally getting to me and I’d been wearing jeans the entire time. I stopped at a Game shop on the way to Primark to find a case for my Vita, to no avail, and then finally got to Primark. What a nightmare. Primark on a Sunday, downtown? What was I thinking. I got a couple good shirts to wear and keep cool, but no shorts. It was like being caught in a stampede, even in the mens departments. But you’ve got to have a few running like that, right? Right. I made my way back to the hostel for more beer and food, and ended up spending the evening talking to a gentleman named John who’s an entrepreneur from Scotland and was very interested in my opinions on technology, and may get in contact with me in the future to consult on future endeavours. That’s neat. He also bought me a few beers and a whisky. Great guy. I was careful not to drink too much, though, I had to get up at 5am the next morning.
And then 5am came. My escape was perfectly planned. My bags were pre-packed and ready to go, my route was laid out. I made caught the bus and got to I can’t remember which station to catch the Gatwick Express. Oyster cards don’t work for the Gatwick Express, though. I bought a ticket from the closest machine but when I got to the gate I was told I had the wrong ticket. The train left in 5 minutes. I ran to the nearest ticket office, changed my ticket, and ran back to the train, boarding with seconds to spare before the doors closed and the train started moving. Phew. The airport was thankfully uneventful, I checked in, had to pay an extra 50 pounds because my backpack weighed too much, and bought a few things for a few people at the duty free store before boarding the plane. A very smooth flight, hot lunch and a snack were served, watched a couple of the in-flight movies and Primer on my iPad (I have no idea what happened in that movie but I loved it) before we got to Toronto.
Now, the entire time I was gone I really didn’t miss Canada or anyone in Canada. I was too busy being overwhelmed by Europe, doing things, meeting people, and just not having time to really think about home. Being able to check in on facebook and skype a few times also helped, but I just generally wasn’t thinking about home at all while I was gone. As soon as I landed in Toronto, though, I felt like I was home. When I got my Canadian SIM card back in my phone and got a text from Katie that she’d sent the week before, that’s when I started feeling homesick. That was the pull from home I hadn’t had while I was away. No amount of twitter or facebook or tumblr can replace getting off an airplane in your home country and reading a text message from someone you care about saying they miss you. That got me right in the feels. It’s a feeling I really can’t describe, but I think one that everyone has experienced before. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt missed before, and honestly it felt really good to really be wanted. And that sounds really shitty, but it’s not. But there will be more time to get into that later.
I made my way to what is probably the best hostel I stayed in during my entire trip. Right on Collage Street in the heart of Toronto. The staff are unreasonably friendly (what’s in the water?) and it’s basically brand new and purpose built, and designed to be the greenest hostel in Canada. And I’d believe it. Geothermal heating and cooling, water recycling, solar power. Not to mention it looks great and is super comfortable. I got into Toronto at about 12:30pm, and was checked into my hostel around 1:30 or 2. After getting settled I went back to the front desk to ask the super awesome girl who checked me in (who’s name I can’t remember and I’m SO SORRY) where the nearest places I can get beer and poutine are. Armed with the location of the closest Beer Store and Smoke’s Poutinerie (I seriously <3 Smoke’s) I set out on my journey, ignoring the blackening sky.
I picked up a sixer of Rickards, two of each of their three styles, and started walking towards Queen Street and Smoke’s. It was about 5 or 6 blocks my my estimation. It started raining, though very lightly. I wasn’t too concerned. I’d left my jacket at home but I had an umbrella. Then the thunder struck. Then the lightning. Then the sky broke apart and let loose a monsoon worth of water. I ran for shelter. Under the safety of a corner canopy I opened my bag to fetch my umbrella. It wasn’t there. I’d taken it out when I emptied my pack back at the hostel. I was stranded. Halfway between home and poutine, I did the only sensible thing and made a mad dash for poutine. I made it as far as Queen Street before I had to duck into the Starbucks on the corner, not being able to see Smoke’s, and sought refuge from the deluge. Soaked doesn’t begin to describe my state of wetness. And there was no sign of the rain letting up. I got a coffee, and sat down to ride out the storm. After about an hour the power went out. After about another hour the rain had let up enough for me to run home without saturating my backpack anymore than it already was. A 10 minute run later, I dried myself off, put on my water resist gear, and ventured back out for poutine once I’d heard the power was back on. A quick saunter there and back, and I finally had my beer and poutine. At 9:30pm. And it was more than worth it. I spent the evening eating poutine, drinking beer, and visiting with everyone at the hostel. And it attracted a fantastic group of travellers from all over Europe and a few parts of Canada. My the time midnight rolled around and they were closing up the kitchen I had realized I’d been up for almost 26 hours given the time change. I made my way to bed and quickly collapsed for a good nights rest.
The next morning I got up somewhat early and made my way down to the common area for breakfast and started drying out the contents of my backpack that I’d forgotten about the night before. I also started writing most of the postcards I’d picked up during my travels but neglected to actually write. Better late than never! I shared the table with a lovely girl named Emily from Cologne and was chatting to her about my travels in Germany and Europe and what we’d both be doing in Toronto while we were there. She went off to explore the city on her own and about 30 minutes later I realized she was trying to subtly invite me to join her. Captain Oblivious may be full of new found confidence, but he’s still oblivious. I finished my writing and made my way to the post office down the street, mailed my postcards, and headed off to explore Toronto a little bit. I made it to the Much Music headquarters, a building I’ve wanted to visit since I was maybe 12 or 13. I wondered around mostly aimless before I started making my way back home. I stopped off at a shop Steph had asked me to take a look into for a skirt for her, to no avail, and then got myself a burrito from Big Fat Burritos before finally heading back home. Up on the roof I found a few people getting ready to play giant Jenga. Everyone loves giant Jenga. I joined in and we were all instant friends. I made plans with a couple girls to go to Canada’s Wonderland the next morning, befriended some Ausies and a strange german fellow, and had a jolly time on the roof. Then I found out they’d yet to try poutine. I would not let it stand.
Our mission: acquire alcohol and poutine. I instructed my poutineless compadres to assemble in the common area in 5 minutes. We would go to the LCBO, and then to Smoke’s Poutinerie where they would taste the most heavenly thing ever created. Having dismissed them I headed down to the common area myself where I ran into Emily, just returning from her day of exploration. I sparked a conversation asking what she got up to and what she saw, and then asked if she’d had any poutine yet. She had not. I told her she was coming with us and I was getting her poutine and I would not accept any answer but no. She was game. My new party formed, we departed towards the LCBO to get some beer and various other drinks. Having successfully secured our first quest item, we drew our focus to our primary goal: poutine. After a few minutes of walking we had arrived in the cradle of poutine. The one, the only, Smoke’s Poutinerie. Well there’s a few of them, actually. I’m pretty excited because one will soon be coming to Saskatoon :D. “Four classic poutines and one bacon poutine, please! I’ve deprived Europeans in my party!” I said to the young lad at the counter while Master of Puppets played through the speakers above. The moment my new friends tasted the goodness that is proper Canadian poutine it was apparent that I had become a true hero to them. I like to think the scenario played out like this: The Aussies hoisted me above their heads to celebrate my existence, and once they let my feet touch the ground again Emily fell passionately into my arms. All the while the strange german fellow danced around with a giant grin on his face singing in my honour. You and I know none of this happened, but you can suck it because it’s my fantasy.
We returned home after consuming our poutine to chill out on the rooftop patio at the hostel. Emily regrettably retired early because the friends of hers that she came to Toronto to meet would be her in the morning and she had to wake for them, but the Aussies and I stuck it out until they closed up the roof at midnight. It was a jolly evening full of fun and camaraderie.
The next morning was a bit of a shuffle. Due to booking errors everyone in my room was getting shifted around, and I was getting bumped to a private room (at no extra charge!) for my last night. I packed up my things and got ready for the shuffle, and then went down for breakfast to await the formation of my new party that would be going to Canada’s Wonderland. Awesome Desk Lass (because I still can’t remember her name for the life of me and I’M SO SORRY) got me set up with my new room, and we hastily left for our adventure. Regrettable I could not thank Awesome Desk Lass in my hurry, and didn’t see her again for the rest of my stay in Toronto. Sad face. But we pressed on. After acquiring some snacks we made our way to the bus station to catch a bus to the joyous place that is Canada’s Wonderland. And let me tell you something: it is one hell of an impressive place. I’ve never been to an amusement park before, and I’ve never been on a rollercoaster. So I did the only natural thing: go on every rollercoaster. Holy CRAP is that a riot. I think there’s 15 or 16 rollercoasters? And because we went on an off day at the beginning of the season there were next to no lines. I had a right blast. But boy was it hot, approaching 30 degrees that day. One of the girls I was with is from Scotland, so after we were done at Wonderland we took her to Mac’s to experience the joy that is the Froster Swirl. Minds were blown. We returned to the hostel to get ready for the pub crawl that night. I metback up with the Aussies to share our stories of the day and we soon met up with the other brave souls looking for a midweek pub crawl. I had hoped Emily would be joining us, but she was getting up to catch a 7am but to Niagra the next day. Captain Oblivious once again did not think so stick around with her.
The pub crawl was honestly underwhelming. I also can’t drink Canadian beer anymore, it tastes like banana pudding. Damn you, Germany, you’ve set my standards too high! Though, I did have a caesar at one of the bars we went to and actually enjoyed it for the first time ever. So that was a surprise. The Aussies and I abandoned the pub crawl around 11:30, though, and headed back to the hostel to drink the beers that I’d picked up earlier in the day, and spent the evening hanging out on the deck and then my room drinking and sharing travel stories and just generally hanging out and having a good time. Once my beer and their whisky was gone, they bid me goodnight and stumbled home. I retired for the evening knowing I would finally be going home the next day.
I let myself sleep in as much as possible that morning. I wasn’t at all hungover, but I welcomed the rest more than anything. I took my time repacking my things and preparing to fly home, before making my way downstairs for some breakfast. I took one last wander around Toronto, this time heading towards the University of Toronto and spending a lazy afternoon amongst their beautiful campus, enjoying the moderate temperature and the plentiful shade. I returned to my hostel, checked out, read a little, and then made my way to the airport when the mid afternoon started to approach. I checked-in without issue, when the nice young lady at the check-in told me to have a good flight I pulled a classic Steve and said, “You too!”. We both had a chuckle. I dropped my heavy backpack off and proceeded to the secure zone. I’d gone through quite a few on my trip and thought I was getting pretty good at it. I filled my basket and went through the metal detector without issue, but when my backpack went through it was pulled out; I had forgotten to empty my water bottle. They gave me back all of my things and apologized for the inconvenience (I missed Canadians) and directed my out of the secure area to empty the bottle. Returning back to the security check I went through another x ray machine, after which my bag was again pulled aside. This time I didn’t know why. They pulled my things aside and asked if I had any sharp objects. I naturally said “No, not that I know of”, it being the truth, and they proceeded to search my bag as I gathered my change and put my belt back on. They didn’t find any sharp objects, but they did confiscate my matches. Oh well.
I got my first cup of Tim Horton’s coffee since returning to Canada and boarded the aircraft. I sat next to a gentleman from just outside of Saskatoon and we chatted about international travel, the extreme weather that has been going on, and the quaintness that is Saskatchewan and how strange it would be getting back after being in such different places. I read more of Matt’s book, played a little Metal Gear, and enjoyed the relaxing flight home.
I was greeted by my parents and my brother. Many hugs were had, and as I expected mom couldn’t hold her tears back. We collected my heavy backpack, which Collin carried to the car (his legs were sore for three days after carrying it for only two minutes) and got home to be greeted by an overly energetic dachshund. I was home.
But, to be honest, it doesn’t feel like home anymore. I return to my weekly schedule of making YouTube videos for my SoulPancake challenge tomorrow, and this is something I’m going to be talking about, so I’m going to save it for now.
That’s the cap on my adventure. I’m more than glad I did it, and incredibly appreciative of everyone I met along the way. I don’t really think I feel like a new person, but I know I learned a lot, grew, and am more comfortable with myself than I’ve ever been. I’ve got a renewed confidence in myself and am ready for my next phase of life.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I hope you enjoyed all of the pictures I took, and look forward to my video tomorrow where I’ll go into more depth about how it feels to have gone on this grand solo adventure.