Kings of Leon in Calgary

Last weekend a very excited Layla and I headed up to the city to see Kings of Leon at the Scotiabank SaddledomeI had seen them many years before at the O2 in London but was really keen to see them again as I love their latest albums Mechanical Bull and Walls. It was Layla’s first time seeing them and she was super excited as they were on her bucket list of bands to see!

We left in Fergus’s car around 4pm and picked up Selena from Germany, a rideshare, from up on Tunnel Mountain. Chatted and listened to KOL on the 1.5 hour drive through the mountains and plains and into the city to the HI Calgary City Centre Hostal where we all had stayed a few times before. HI Calgary is a great hostal in the East Village. It’s only a few blocks from the City Centre, the River and the Saddledome so makes a perfect place to stay when attending concerts or hockey. We paid $45 for a female 6 bed dorm with free wi-if and breakfast. 

After a quick drink at Cowboy’s Casino we headed off down to the stadium. Got our tickets at the box office before saying bye to Selena. She was in seating and we were in the pit, we befriended her on Facebook and promised to meet up in Banff. 

Got some ciders and headed down to the front of the stage. At first it wasn’t all that busy as most people were milling around in the back getting food and drinks. The support band, The Dawes, an LA based Folk Rock band were late to start so by then we had made some friends in the crowd, Ashley & Ian from Calgary, Ashley was from Calgary and had 2 children and Ian was originally from the UK.  We had also made a few bar and toilet runs before Kings of Leon appeared. Caleb told us the reason for them being late was due to their flight from Edmonton being cancelled so they had to drive down to Calgary. Fair play.They started off at a slower pace with Conversation Piece from Walls, Taper Jean Girl and The Bucket from Aha Shake Heartbreak, a song about them returning from a tour in the UK where they were huge to the US where there were still relatively unknown.  They then hit us with Eyes on You from Walls, a bouncy, upbeat tune that got the crowd moving. Next up came 2 songs off my favourite album of theirs, Only By The Night, released in 2009. Revelry and Notion. Caleb’s voice is stunning, it’s so raw and sounds exactly as it does on the recordings. Next came Fans from Because Of the Times and the huge anthem Use Somebody, a song Caleb wrote while recovering from a shoulder injury and realising he was dependant on those around him.The mood went a bit quieter after the rousing excitement of Use Somebody, the lights went down and Caleb appeared on the stage on his own for some slower songs, Milk, Talihina Sky and Walls. This band is just as talented writing slower songs as they are writing big rock anthems. Closer is one of mine and Layla’s all time favourite songs but unfortunately it wasn’t included on the nights set list. Find Me, another song from Walls I like was up next and got the stadium on it’s feet again for Crawl and Radioactive, The Immortals from Come Around Sundown and On Call, all fantastic songs I knew almost to the point I could remember all the lyrics. Around The World, a song I can relate to, was up next and by then we had met a bunch of others in the crowd from Golden and Edmonton and were all dancing and singing 3 rows back from the stage. It was unbelievable how close we were. Following Around the World they finally played a song from Mechanical Bull, an album that reminds me of travelling on the Tube when I first moved to London. Family Tree was followed by Reverend, a gritty song from Walls that was released as a promotional single for the album. Back Down South then followed Pyro, a song written about the Ruby Ridge shoot out.Next was Knocked Up, an upbeat tune about an illicit relationship ending in pregnancy, followed by No Money and finally the big ones we had all been waiting for.  Supersoaker, the lead single from Mechanical Bull is a punchy fun tune that sounds similar to the bands older stuff. It’s a great song to dance to and by then I had pealed some layers of and was loving the sweaty unruliness of the pit. My feet were stuck to the floor, cups, paper and god knows what else was being trampled on and the crowd was pumped, hands were in the air, hair was being thrown about and we were all moving as one. Next up was Sex On Fire, the bands most well know, if not overplayed song from Only By The Night. Everyone went wild and jumped up and down to the mesmerising guitar rifts and the chorus we all knew. They finished the night off with Waste A Minute from Walls, a feel good upbeat song with a message.

It was a brilliant night, when the acoustics in a venue are on par with the musisions and they sound like they do on their recordings you can’t be dissappointed. I knew 90% of the songs and the atmosphere was great. The crowd was friendly and we met a load of cool people. The setlist was really great too, old and new, fast and slow, all in a good order. 

I’ll definitely go and see them again someday, somewhere Around The World.

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Moose Jaw – Banff

The very last day of our 2 month long trip wasn’t the most interesting. 90% of the journey was long, straight, flat roads along the prairies. Silos, hay bales, farmers tending to their crops on huge machines, oil drilling sites, small isolated towns, electricity pylons, and the train track were the only sights to see. I think the land has its own beauty though, the colour of the grass and wheat, the patterns and stripes and the contrast of the blue sky is beautiful. There is so much of it. The sky is amazing our here, it reminds me of the song ‘Little Fluffy Clouds‘ by Orb. Have a listen or download it if you are crossing soon. The huge expanse of blue makes you feel really small, it was a cloudless day when we drove through but I can imaging watching a storm brewing out here would be epic.When we finally approached Calgary we felt relieved, the outline of the city skyscrapers in the distance with the Rockies towering up behind it was a welcome sight, not only did it mean the long flats were ending but I meant were were nearly home. We were both tired.we stopped at Walmart do do some grocery shopping and headed West. The weather had taken a turn upon entering Calgary and the Rockies and a bit of rain fell but it was mostly just overcast. We wondered if we would see or smell any of the smoke from the nearby forest fires that had been burning since just after we left. Arrived in a very busy Banff and it immediately felt like we had never left, it was hustle and bustle and full of tourists (it’s a bank holiday weekend so this was to be expected) and it must have taken us close to an hour to get some beers, get our rent from the bank and drop it off at our landlord, Mercy’s place in Otter street and get over the bridge to Lougheed Circle. On arrival we were greeted by our wonderful flatmates who we had missed dearly. They had been preparing a lovely dinner of Meatballs, Pasta sauce, pasta, salad and bread for us as a welcome home dinner, it was just delicious, and great to all sit around the dinner table and catch up.Unpacked the car into our new room which is huge! We have a walk through wardrobe which is twice the size of our old wardrobe and a big ensuite bathroom. We love it! 

Had some drinks, chatted, laughed and watched Wonder Woman. It’s great to be back. 

Agawa Bay – Dryden – Moose Jaw

Left Agawa Bay and headed around the North shore of Lake Superior to Thunder Bay. Stopped briefly but decided to carry on as we were making good time. Took motorway 17, the Northern Route through Upsala, Ignase and Dryden, an area best know for its remote fishing and hunting. There wasn’t much about but the landsacape was beautiful. Mostly flat with rolling hills in places, large lakes and rivers, and lots of thick forest. The last hour to Dryden was driven in the dark and with lots of Moose warning signs and heavy rain it was a tad scary, luckily there was a lot of traffic so we stuck behind 2 other cars. 

Stopped in Dryden and it was raining heavily, had a very basic dinner at Husky, a diner attached to a garage. Parked in Walmart and had to organise the car in a thunderstorm which ensures us and some of our gear got wet. It was a shitty night.

The West of Ontario was hilly, there were lots of lakes, big and small and rocky outcrops that had been carved out to make way for the road. The first inklings of Autumn were starting to show with some of the trees bright red, yellow and orange, It must look amazing in full blown Autumn. We listened to the last part of the audiobook ‘Crack House’ by Harry Keeble, a very interesting book about an ex policeman’s time in the Harringay drug squad. I had no idea crack was such a problem in London, I am glad I don’t live anywhere near the scummy areas of North London featured in the book. It is hell. We then went on to listen to the autobiography of Kevin Bridges. Another very funny tale. I love his Scottish accent. Audiobooks really do seem to make the time go faster. 

We have travelled a long way in the last 2 days, we are ready to be home now. The fun, exciting and interesting journey has ended and we are on the prairies. They are still beautiful in their own way but they get boring very quickly.  Passed the town’s of Winnipeg, Brandon Moosomin, Indian Head and Regina, all places we had passed on our outward journey 2 months ago, much of the roadworks we had sat in on the way over were now finished and are shiny, black, flat roads, good job fellas. Decided to stay our last night in Moose Jaw ant Capones Hideaway Motel. A basic motel in the centre of town. The room wasn’t bad, the air conditioner made a slight noise and the bath was slippery but overall it was good. It was a lovely balmy night and after a well needed shower I enjoyed a couple of Palm Bays and spoke to Dad. It was Father’s Day in Australia and we chatted for a while before he had to leave to take Jena to see her Dad. Fergus and I headed to a Scottish pub called Bobby’s Place and had a couple of drinks and shared some nibbles, sausage rolls and breaded mushrooms before heading off to the Casino. I stupidly blew some money on the pokies but Fergus won $250 on the Roulette table so we came out on top. Yippee! Had an Aperol Spritz at another very empty bar then went back to the motel to bed. 

One day to go.

Return journey – Day 1 – London to St John’s

The month in London flew by. At times it didn’t but when we arrived back at Gatwick  Airport after saying goodbye to Fergus’s Mum Alison at Croyden train station it seemed as if it were only yesterday we arrived. I guess any trip home seems short when you have been away so long. 

After the obligatory breakfast of Eggs Benedict at the Wetherspoons and a bit of shopping in the North Terminal we boarded our Westjet flight an hour and a half late.The flight was fine except for a 10 minute bout of what the stewardess described as ‘moderate turbulence’. During this time I was on the verge of tears/heart attack and gripping the seat as if my life depended on it, I even yelped aloud at one point, everyone around me wasn’t bothered in the slightest.  Pussy….

We landed in St John’s just after 1pm, luckily we had no trouble at immigration and got a cab straight to Ben & Philippa’s. A key was left in the letterbox for us but Ockre (their dog) barked and growled every time we tried to openthe door, afraid of getting eaten alive on our very first day back in Canada we dumped our bags at the back door and headed into town for some lunch. Double pussy….Found a street full of bars in town and went to a pub called Green Sleeves, had a couple of pints and a burger each. They were lovely burgers but the bill came to $80! For a pub lunch! We had forgotten how expensive Canada was so were a little shocked, in London you could get the same for £15 in Wetherspoons. 

Wandered down to Eastern Edge Gallery where Philippa is the Director and got a ride home with her. Freshened up and repacked our bags and enjoyed an afternoon beer on their patio.  

Walked up and down the steep roads into town and went to The Gypsy Tea Room and had a bite to eat. Set in a large, open courtyard, this restaurant is just so cute, with its white buildings, trees, outdoor bar and lights I felt like I was back in South Africa enjoying wine in a Franschhoek Winery. Fergus and I shared Chicken Wings and fries and had a glass of Chardonnay. Chatted about Weddings, babies, house prices, life in Canada compared to London, our trip and lots of other stuff. They are such a lovely couple and it was great to spend more time with them. If we  do manage to get PR and stay in Canada I’d love to come and visit again. St John’s is a beautiful place. Went for a drink at The Black Sheep where it was Jazz jam night, saw some really talented musicians, especially Philippa’s friend who played the Banjo and sang. St John’s has a healthy music scene and a lot of people follow local bands which is really great. The music scene is so important in any town and I’ve always been a big supporter of local bands as my father was a misition for over 40 years. Big thanks to Ben and Philippa. Even though they are so far away it’s comforting knowing you have good friends from the UK living in the same country. They have been so good to us and we thoroughly enjoyed our 2 very short trips to St John’s. I hope we can return someday. 

Food, Food, Food!

One of the great things about London is it’s vast array of cuisine. 

Being one of the most cultured cities in the world, people flock here to live from all corners of the globe.  You name it, it’s here. Traditional British pubs, Authentic Indian Curry houses, Michelin star French restaurants, Firey Mexican fare, Irish boozers, Proper Turkish Kebab shops, Chinatown, Cat cafes, box park grub and hoards of restaurants and bars specialising in something or other. 

Pop Brixton These pop ups are in a few places around the city and are full of ever changing bars, restaurants and shops, check out their blog here!

The Bickley Pub & SteakhouseThe Bickley is a lovely pub set amongst tall trees and shops in a valley in Chistlehurst. It has a huge outside area and kids playground and big dining room. 50% off the whole menu for the month of August too. We had a lovely Steak lunch, see above.

Agra IndianI’m not a huge fan of Spicy food but Agra was fantastic! £10.95 for a 5 course meal is great value and the food was just lovely. 

Senzala Creperie Senzala is a great wee Creperie in the heard of Brixton Village. The starter was so good (The Churrasco) and the crepes were huge!

Miso Noodle BarAnyone that knows me knows I love Asian cuisine and noodles especially! Miso is similar to Wagamumas but there are only 2 restaurants. Yummy!

Wetherspoons PubWetherspoons pubs are all over the UK, they are super cheap and the food is a pretty nice. £3.50 Eggs Benedict? Winning! 

Lorenzo is a family run Italian restaurant that has 3 branches across the city, the one at Crystal Palace is the one we frequent. It’s old style, Italian cooking at its best, pizzas, pastas, meat, Chicken and seafood at great prices. 

 Peggy Porschen CakesThis is a place I found on Instagram. The outside is stunning. There are so many cute cafes around the city. 

Where is your favourite London restaurant and why?

The Dreadnoughts – Chaos, Cider & Pumping tunes!

We only recently discovered this band during our roadtrip around Nova Scotia. I downloaded a random playlist of sea shanties on Spotify and it was filled with a selection of Dreadnoughts tunes. 

I assumed they were Irish and was very surprised that they are in fact from Canada.  

The band formed in 2006 in Vancouver and play fiddle, accordion, mandolin, tin whistle, guitars and drums. The music is powerful, chaotic and ruthless Punk strewn with polkas, gypsy dances and sea shanties. In 2010 they announced an indefinite hiatus but luckily for us they are back and played a gig at the Underworld in London while we were bank. Great timing! I have seen loads of bands at Underworld, Gnarwolves, Argy Bargy, Agnostic Front, Old Firm Casuals, my mates band Lost Gravity and plenty more. The venue isn’t huge but it’s over 2 levels and has 2 bars so on busy nights you don’t have to wait too long to get drinks and you can usually find a place where you can see the band or get in the mosh pit, whatever takes your fancy.The Dreadnoughts put on an amazing performance and probably one of the best I’ve seen at Underworld. The energy was insane, from the very first smash of the drums my feet were invested in a frienzied kind of jig and the whole crowd followed. 

Polka’s Not Dead from the album of the same name started the night off with smash in the face burst of oomp-pa-pa celtic punk and the crowd energetically joined in chanting the chorus and fistpumpimg the air with gusto.My favourite song on the album, Turbo Island, is about the area of Stokes Croft in Bristol where homeless people hang out to drink, funilly enough I actually walked past the area earlier in the week. I wish I had popped in now, if the song is anything to go by, it must be one hell of a party down there!

The pumping track Poutine went off with a bang despite most of the audience probably not knowing what Poutine actually is. As the evening continued on the frenzy of the crowd reflected off the band and they had us singing, chanting, jigging cumulating in everyone dancing in one giant circle pit. There was pushing, there was shoving, drinks were being spilled and the crowd was like a bunch of drunken Irish sailors. 

It was a fantastic night, the sound was great and both the band and crowd feeding off each other was crazy and chaotic. I really hope the new album about to come out is as good as their last offering and they have lots more success. I’m going to keep my eye on these guys. Lucky for us they have a Canadian tour in November so we will be off to Calgary to see them again and I can’t wait. 

Polka, is definately not dead.

Bristol, a short trip to see my oldest English pal.

Megabus is great, it cost me all of £12.50 for a return ticket from London to Bristol, a journey of approximately 2 hours 45 minutes. Pretty good value in my opinion. The coach, which was full due to it being school holidays, followed the Thames down to the luxury riverside flats of Chelsea before heading through Hammersmith and over the flyover to the M4, a motorway I used to regularly travel on when I lived in Newbury, just West of Reading. Once out of London it’s a pretty boring drive. Windsor Castle can be seen from the M4, today there was no flag flying meaning the Queen was not in residence.I have so say, England’s roads, well the M4 at least is so nice and smooth compared to most of the 9000 kilometres we travelled in Canada. The lack of substantial snowfall and extreme weather in England means the  motorways last a lot longer than the poor Canadian motorways that get months and months of snow and ice covering them each year.  This meant it was a very smooth journey and I had plenty of naps.I did however have my trashy magazine for the journey, I used to buy them all the time, who’s wearing what, who had broken up and who has put on weight, who really cares to be honest but there was no wifi so why not? 

It was slow going getting into Bristol, why I chose to arrive in rush hour traffic I don’t know but we were only 10 minutes late and Jasmine was already there to collect me.

Went to her lovely ground floor flat on Ashley Down road and had a tour before walking up to The Wellington on Cheltenham Road for a couple of lager tops (they don’t do these in Canada and I’d forgotten how good they are!) and a catch up. It’s strange, when someone isn’t overly active on Facebook, (unlike me) it can be just like the old days when you meet up with them. You find out how much their lives have changed and vice versa. It was so nice to hear she is happy and has lots going on, it was also lovely to have someone so interested in our Banff life, partly because she hadn’t seen the thousands of photos I’ve posted online. Afterwards we enjoyed a lovely meal of Sausage and Mash prepared by Jasmine’s boyfriend Andy. Had a few beers,  looked though a few of my photos and played with their 2 very cute cats.

The following morning after a lovely breakfast of fried eggs, we said our goodbyes and I headed off for a wander around town. I walked down a very pleasant Cheltenham Road which was filled with quirky shops, bars, galleries and cafes.  It’s nice to see an area of independent shops, minus the odd chain store, thriving. It’s such a lovely area and I could have spent hours there browsing through record stores and charity shops and having coffee and cake at one of the many shabby-sheek cafes.  I headed into the town centre via The Bearpit, an area in the centre of a huge roundabout where there was lots of funky grafitti and pop up cafes to Cabot Circus, for a look around. It’s your typical inner city huge mall so headed for Castle ParkThe park is suituated next to part of the harbour and has the ruins of St Peter’s Church in the centre. The church is surrounded by pretty gardens and a fountain and has views over the harbour and park.I had time for a quick manicure (it’s been so long since I’ve had my nails done so I thought I’d treat myself) before jumping back on the megabus to London.It was really great to see Jasmine. I met her on 24/02/2006, I remember that date as it was when I first moved to England, I met her the night I arrived and despite living in different parts of England and the world at times, we have remained good friends. 

Paying to use the washroom? Err no way!

One of my biggest gripes about London and some other cities in Europe is pay to use washrooms. 

Using these facilities is a human right, we all have to use them every day of our lives so why should we pay for the privledge?

At Victoria Coach station and the mall opposite the public must pay 30p to use the washroom. What a bloody joke! I understand they need to pay an attendant but what I experienced was a dirty toilet, no hot water, broken driers and an attendant that only appeared to be there to make sure people paid. Why pay to go to disgusting washrooms when I could just walk into the nearest 5 star hotel and do my business in luxury for nothing? 

Canada knows how to do toilets, in Banff the public washrooms in town are clean and free. They have solar panels on the roof so are environmentally friendly and also save on electricity. And most, if not all of the tourist stops and rest areas have toilets, they are usually longdrops but I have always found them to be clean and tidy. 

So a warning when in the UK, especially if you are a card user and rarely have cash on you, check to see if the train/bus has washrooms on it before your journey and also go at home before you leave, this means you won’t have to pay at the stations. 

London…it’s good to be back but it’s raised a few questions.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about being back in the city.  I am often asked “how is it being back” but I’m not sure how to answer.  Yes, it’s great to see all our friends and family, sometimes it feels like we saw them only yesterday which is a good thing I think….There have been many changes here, new boyfriends, jobs, houses and babies, lots of babies.  

I’ve realised it’s probably about time we decide what we want out of life after travel. 

  • Do we want a house and mortgage? Do we want to stay in London? 
  • Do we want a child? 
  • Do we want a houseboat? 
  • Do we want to keep travelling? 

Who knows?  What I do know is I’m going to make the most of our last year in Banff just in case this time next year I’m pregnant, living in a tiny rented flat in an area of the city I hate and have no money to even get a coffee with a friend!

Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration but that’s what I’m terrified of, having no freedom and being ‘stuck’. I’ve always valued my freedom. I think Fergus and I are alike in that sense, he is always keen to get out and enjoy life, I think the houseboat idea is a good one as property in London is insanely expensive. Do I want to pay a mortgage on a tiny, dingy flat with no yard or sunlight for the next 60 years? Nope.Having a baby is another expense, how some people manage it I have no idea. Little ones seem like a lot of work but everyone says they are worth it in the end. I don’t doubt that one bit and I don’t want to miss out on all that. 

Lots of people have said they think I’ll be a great Mum, I don’t really see why, I have never changed a nappy and am afraid of holding a baby in case I am thrown up on!It’s so hard being an adult, that’s why I’ve been putting it off so long, it seems a bit stressful to be honest but it’s something we need to think about, we can’t put it off forever.

We have another year of playing backpacker so I plan to cram in as much fun and travel as I can, you only live once and from where I’m sitting, life will probably be a lot different on our return to the UK, wherever we choose to live.

Roll on 40……

Day 28 – St John’s to London

Walked with Philippa in the morning to The Roomswhich is a Museam and archives facility overlooking the city.

Fergus wanted to ask about some family who had ties to the shipping trade in Newfoundland and Poole. Found out his family once owned a very large shipping company who had their headquarters on an island called Fogo, we plan to visit the island on our way back to Banff. There is more information about the company Here. Took some photos of the view and carried on into town.Wandered the streets of St John’s looking at souvineer and craft shops and viewing the massive ships moored in the docks. It’s a very busy and lively city, smaller that I’d expected it to be but very pretty, just like a small fishing village just on a larger scale. Met up with Ben for lunch and he took us to a funky little cafe called Rocket Bakery where we had a chicken burrito each. It was a nice place, quite hipster and lots of  city types and young families enjoying speciality coffee and slightly overpriced food. Fergus and I headed through town to walk up Signal Hill which is  St. John’s most popular landmark. It offers coastal hikes and sweeping views overlooking the Atlantic and is the site of St. John’s harbour defences.We did the North Head Trail which is the oldest and most popular of the trails on Signal Hill. It follows a trail along the narrows to the North Head. 

The trail started off relatively easy, walked around the hills on steps and boardwalks, lots of runners passed us and we passed others going at a more leisurely pace. Stopped to look at Whales a couple of times and watch a ship entering the harbour. The trail winded around the cliffs and at one point the path was so narrow a chain was attached to the rock face for safety, the stairs climbed up to the point where the track dissappared and you could wander around the rocks.We walked around the point and as we did the wind died down and the heat really increased. Watched more whales off the point before climbing a huge staircase to the top of the hill. It was tough going!I went up Cabot Tower, the fortification on the top of the hill where the  final battle of the Seven Years’ War in North America was fought in 1762 in which the French surrendered St. John’s to a British force. Walked back down the trail on the opposite side of the hill towards Quidi Vidi, a small cove with a brewery. That path was not as steep but still had great views of the ocean before descending into forest where Bald Eagles nest and then onto the cute little cove.There wasn’t a bar at the brewery and I didn’t really want to do a tour so went to a very quirky pub called Inn of Olde. It is a funny place, stuff is all over the walks and roof, number plates, hockey sticks, newspaper clippings, Christmas decorations, you name it. I’ll definately return there when we come back to St John’s as I hear it’s quite a lovely place. Just had one beer before the long walk back to the house.once back at the house we packed up the stuff we wanted to take and the stuff we wanted to leave in Canada and cleaned and organised the car. 

We then had a lovely dinner with Ben and Philippa of Salmon, sausages, salad, chips and pasta salad. It was such a nice meal and had a good chat while enjoying an Old Fashioned. Caught a cab to the airport at 9:45 and flew out around midnight. 

Bye bye Canada!