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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Sara Ali: Travel tour of North America and Canada

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    30 Sep

    My Gateway funding allowed me to travel with four friends to New York, Toronto and through the Canadian Rockies for a total of 16 days. We flew into Toronto thinking that we would have a couple of hours to rest before catching a 10 hour bus to New York later that night. However, due to our flight being delayed, we only had 45 minutes between landing in Toronto and boarding the bus. We arrived in New York the next afternoon, 17 hours later due to more delays, and had some much needed freshening up time before going up to the top of the Rockefeller centre. The view from the Top of the Rock was absolutely incredible, it was made even better by the sun setting whilst we were on the viewing gallery meaning that we got to see skyline gradually light up. We spent the next 4 days in New York doing lots of different things: boating on the Central Park Lake; shopping in Soho; visiting landmarks and museums; strolling across Brooklyn Bridge; having breakfast at “singing” diners on Broadway; and testing out the best pizza places. One of the more unconventional things we did was attending the Good Morning America live show as audience members, we had to be at the studio in Times Square by 6:15AM where we were seated and a comedian took us through how to react to what was going on onscreen. It was definitely a memorable experience and unlike anything I’d ever done before, I don’t think I have ever applauded more enthusiastically than I was told to do there.

    We took a 10 hour bus back to Toronto, as we were quite tired from the journey we spent the day relaxing and just strolling around the city. The friend whose apartment we were staying in showed us around and gave us a tour of the University of Toronto campus, which is where she is studying. Then, at 3AM that night, we were on the move again. We took a taxi to the airport where we flew to Calgary to see the Canadian Rockies, a four hour flight from Toronto. Upon landing the next morning, we hired a car and drove for an hour to our hostel in the little ski-town of Banff. We spent the rest of the day going from place to place in our car. We completed a scenic drive from Banff to Lake Minnewanka, driving along a winding road around the perimeter of the lake’s blue waters and also visited the Banff upper hot springs. We decided to drive slightly further out to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, across the provincial border. It was a relatively long journey but well worth it to see the lake framed by mountains, we spent time sitting on the shore with ice cream and then had a lot of fun canoeing. We left the hostel early the next morning, driving to Bow Summit which is where you can do a small hike to a viewpoint over Peyto Lake which is a breathtaking light turquoise colour because of the rock flour from glaciers. We continued driving through the mountains on the Icefields Parkway, this road had incredible views and was lined with pine trees, stopping to see the Athabasca falls and the Columbia Icefield where you can do a small hike to the Athabasca glacier, the air here was more crisp and fresh than I ever thought it could be. We had dinner in Jasper, a small town outside the national park, before driving over to Hinton where we were staying the night. The next morning we awoke in confusion to see that the weather was not at all sunny like the forecast was suggesting, but grey and misty. On our drive down to Lake Louise that afternoon we saw a bear! This was such a highlight for me as I had been so excited to see wildlife, and while caribou and elk where satisfying my enthusiasm, nothing really compared to seeing a black bear cub on the side of the road! Later on, the fact that the sky was still dark and grey prompted us to ask the park rangers what was going on with the weather. We were told that it wasn’t heavy mist like we thought, but smoke from a wildfire in a nearby national park. It was quite upsetting to hear about how much of a problem wildfires are in the area, despite fire bans. We visited Lake Louise, which is the most commercialised and featured on a lot of postcards, and Lake Moraine, which was my favourite that lake we went to. We climbed up a pile of rocks to a lookout point over the lake, where we sat and watched the sun set over the blue water. It rained all day on our last day in Western Canada, which was really good for the wildfires, we spent our time looking around Banff town and in souvenir shops.

    On our return to Toronto, we went on a day trip to Niagara to see the Falls, which was something I have always wanted to see. We took a boat through the falls and luckily we were provided with waterproof ponchos, as we would have got drenched otherwise.  We also hiked through an up and coming “urban national park” and had lunch in the revolving restaurant at the top of the CN tower. That evening, we visited the Toronto Islands by ferry to see the city skyline and then went to the Canada National Exhibition, an annual event that takes place in Canada leading up to Labour Day. It was a big fun fair with rides and games and lots of food trucks, I finally got to try some poutine which I was really glad about.

    The landscapes and views that I saw in the Rockies were like nothing I had ever seen before and reminded me how appreciative I was for my Gateway funding. It was the part of the trip that I was most highly anticipating, as I have grown up in big cities and in a desert climate with limited exposure to the beauty of nature, and something that I have always wanted to experience. The trip as a whole was one of the most independent things I have ever done. I think it has definitely helped me become more responsible, improved my budgeting ability, and taught me how to cope when things don’t go according to plan – for example with all of our travel delays at the start of the trip. The places I visited and experiences that I was lucky enough to have are ones that I would highly recommend, and I am extremely grateful to Gateway for allowing me to satisfy my wanderlust.