Ottawa Parliament buildings

Left: The main Parliament building.

Last week, as part of a training programme for a new volunteer position, I was whisked up to Ottawa aboard a surprisingly European-feeling train and introduced to the upper echelons of the circles in which I now move. I had hoped to take my evenings to wander around and explore the place, but the climate did not cooperate. Coming from the relatively temperate surrounds of Toronto, I was quite unprepared for Ottawa’s horizontal snow and inch-thick layer of ice on the pavements (this is not an exaggeration – I saw quite a few people with crampons, two car accidents and could easily have skated everywhere I needed to go). With the hideous weather effectively limiting me to indoor activities, I wrangled a temporary public library pass (having already approached the National Library and discovered that it isn’t actually a library) and caught up on some work that VIA Rail’s flimsy fold-out tables had prevented me from doing earlier on.

On my second night at my rather plush hotel, there was a break in the rain (that the snow had turned to) and I rushed out (very carefully now that the ice on the pavements was covered with a sheet of water) to take a look at the home of Stephen’s Regime. This is how I am unofficially referring to Canada’s government since the prime minister’s office dictated that all communications use the term “Harper Government” instead of “Government of Canada”. Most of the government buildings seemed pretty Londonesque to my untrained eyes, and sited with plenty of space to loom over pedestrians (land presumably being at less of a premium). I suppose that this means there’s more space for people to come and demonstrate too, should there be a suitable break in the weather.

Ottawa west blockOttawa east block

Above left: The west block Parliament building. Above right: The east block Parliament building. Below left: A lamp outside Parliament. Below centre: A tower on the east block Parliament building. Below right: The National War Memorial.

Ottawa lampOttawa east block towerNational War Memorial


Zion (2)

Above: The canyon floor in Zion National Park.

Sometime during the summer of 2001, I got it into my head to go hiking in the backwoods of Utah – most likely due to coming across photographs of Bryce Canyon in National Geographic or some similar publication. It was quite ambitious for my first trip outside of Europe, especially since my research had highlighted the appalling lack of public transport and the worrying presence of bears and scorpions. Nonetheless, I worked out a short itinerary from Salt Lake City and, this being the era before the criminalisation of air travel, headed off with few misgivings.

Kolob Canyons

Above: Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park. Below left: The Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City.

Mighty Mormon Organ

Back then, I wasn’t paranoid about getting shot and walked the sixteen blocks from the airport bus station to my hostel without a second thought (the hostel owner found this incomprehensible – one of the first things he said to me was, “Only an Englishman would walk sixteen blocks”). An intercity bus took me down to St. George the following day (dropping me off at a fast food restaurant, where I sampled my first – and hopefully last – root beer), and I walked (again to general surprise) to the local campsite. Once settled in, I went looking for supplies and was directed towards the local Wal-Mart, a few miles away. There were no pavements, and so I had to plough through the furze on the roadside while about one out of every four cars beeped at me (when I asked the campsite proprietor why this happened, he shrugged: “Just sayin’ hi”).

Snow Canyon (3)

Above: Snow Canyon State Park. Below left: Zion National Park.

Zion (3)

Over the following week or two, I hit up this corner of the state’s main attractions: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Kodachrome Basin State Park and Snow Canyon State Park (unfortunately, there wasn’t time to do Arches National Park as well). Looking back almost ten years later, much of this is now a montage of immense sandstone cliffs, roadrunners (Geococcyx californianus; actually a member of the cuckoo family), pine trees growing in sand, preposterously huge camper vans (practically mobile houses) and eerie hoodoos (small sandstone pillars formed through erosion and weathering).

I had a day to spare in Salt Lake City on my way back to Europe, and made myself rather unpopular at the Church History Museum by asking why the church leaders (whose portraits were prominently displayed) were all old white guys. The attendant replied that the church was a family, that men were the natural leaders of families and that age was equivalent to wisdom.

Kodachrome Basin (1)Kodachrome Basin (2)

Above: Kodachrome Basin State Park. Below left: Snow Canyon State Park. Below right: Lava tunnels in Snow Canyon State Park.

Snow Canyon (2)Lava tunnel

Zion (1)Snow Canyon (1)

Above left: Zion National Park. Above right: Snow Canyon State Park. Below left: Dixie National Forest. Below right: Forest from Zion National Park.

Dixie (1)Dixie (2)

Queen VictoriaCedar Breaks

Above left: A hoodoo shaped like Queen Victoria. Above right: Cedar Breaks National Monument. Below: The Under-the-Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park.

Under-the-Rim (1)Under-the-Rim (2)

Bryce Canyon (2)Bryce Canyon (1)

Above: Bryce Canyon National Park.

Window snowflakesFor our first Christmas together since leaving Korea, Amy and I headed back to Winnipeg for a mini-reunion with the Canadian side of the family. I opted to take the bus again (the cost of the train approaching that of a taxi), and managed to have a relatively restful couple of nights chugging over the top of Lake Superior with only a few books and a copy of Plants vs. Zombies on Amy’s iPod. I had hoped to see some wildlife, but had to be content with a fleeting glimpse of a fox and the bus driver’s account of the time he hit a moose and caused $20,000 worth of damage to his vehicle.

Above left: Snowflakes on a car window, Winnipeg. Below left: The frozen Red River at King’s Park, Winnipeg.

Frozen riverWe only had a few days to spend in Winnipeg, but managed to get out to the farm to see how the slightly-larger kids were doing. We were greeted outside by an enormous and winter-coated Kiska, who had been given the freedom to roam around the yard and seek attention from anyone who ventured outdoors, and inside by kids #3 and #4, who wanted little more than to run laps around the house.

Upon our return to Ontario (my journey made a little less bearable by an entirely-avoidable three-hour delay on the bus), we had a mini-second Christmas with a pile of packages from my family in the UK and rewarded a year of hard work (90 % Amy’s) with a long-promised Xbox (which randomly freezes when playing Assassin’s Creed, but there are plenty of other games). Expect an upturn in gaming-related posts in 2011.

Eden ProjectSadly, very little film from my third year at Birmingham survived the scanning process (one reason not to use Max Spielmann again) and the only photographs I have are from other places. On the left is the slightly-under-construction Eden Project, a series of gigantic geodesic domes near St Austell that house plants from various biomes around the world. Below is Leeds 2001, possibly the first music festival I attended and also the first riot I was caught up in. The stage shot gives you an idea of how difficult it is to get anywhere near a performer (in this case, Iggy Pop) and the night shot shows the aftermath of the riot, when festival-goers decided to burn down the portable toilets.

Leeds crowdBurning toilets


Above: Braunschweig from my building.

Grignard coolingDuring the 1999-2000 academic year, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the ERASMUS programme (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) and got to spend a summer helping out with research at the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany. The project allowed me a degree of autonomy in the lab that I hadn’t enjoyed before, and I caused quite a stir (ha!) by astutely mounting a magnetic stirrer sideways to agitate a mixture in a dropping funnel. On the left, you can see the results of adding liquid nitrogen (something else we were excited to be allowed to use) to a cooling bath in order to make a Grignard reagent.

Expo 2000 (2)The major international events happening while we were in Germany were Euro 2000 (eventually won by France after both Germany and England were booted out in the group stages) and Expo 2000 (though I prefer the more fanciful titles of World’s Fair or Great Exhibition). We paid scant attention to the football once our home and adopted nations had been eliminated (though did hear the local French expatriates leaning on their car horns long into the night), but made it a point to visit the mighty structures put up by the world’s leading nations (it costs tens of millions of Euros – then Deutschmarks – to construct and staff a pavillion) in nearby Hannover. My overall impression was that it was quite tourism-heavy and World Wonders (behold!)-light, but generally fun.

Above: A pavillion at Expo 2000. Below, left to right: An installation at Expo 2000 made from decommissioned guns, the Brocken Railway and view over Niedersachsen.

Expo 2000 (1)Brocken Railway (2)

Brocken Railway (1)Towards the end of our sojourn, we took a weekend trip down to Braunlage and the mighty Harz Mountains, home of old silver mines, the Brocken spectre and the witch-filled Walpurgisnacht (featured in Goethe’s Faust). A steam train runs up and down the highest peak, but we opted to walk and enjoy the dense forests and – luckily – spectacular vistas (Brocken has a very Alpine microclimate, and is shrouded in fog for around 300 days of the year). We were also privy to a fist-fight in a local kebab shop, and saw (to our amazement) on our way out that the proprietor kept a baseball bat behind the counter.

Above: The Brocken Railway.

Kent estuary

Above: The Kent Estuary from Arnside Knott.

Arnside sunsetDuring the 1999-2000 winter break, with general panic about the impending Y2K bug, I decided to ride out the coming apocalypse in the scenic surrounds of YHA Arnside, nestled near Silverdale in the Lakeland Fells. We ended up catering a New Year party for a large group of tandem cyclists, and enjoying the (limited) snow and hoar frost the rest of the time.

Near Cadair Idris

Above: A valley near Cadair Idris, Wales.

My second year at Birmingham, the portion of it captured on film at least, was characterised by more trekking around the wet and windy uplands that happened to be a convenient drive away. By this time, I had been upgraded to supervisor status (having completed the hiking section of my own D of E the previous summer) and was largely occupied with making sure that nobody got hypothermia. One particularly resourceful group had everything they were carrying drenched during a surprisingly violent squall except their cannabis supply, which had received top priority in the waterproofing hierarchy.

The ValeUniversity of Bimingham

Above, left to right: The Vale (student residences at Birmingham), The University of Birmingham’s central campus. Below, left to right: Edgbaston cricket ground, Coverack Bay (Cornwall).

EdgbastonCoverack Bay

British uplands (1)British uplands (2)

Above: British uplands, location unknown. Below:Walking near Cadair Idris, Wales.

Cadair hillsCadair valley

Cadair IdrisDark Peak

Above, left to right: The cwm at Cadair Idris, walking in the Dark Peak.