The train and the Rockies

I’ve been MIA again. But wow. Canada.

My mum came to meet me in Toronto and we got the train for three days to the Rockies. We have had some amazing moments here and will head onwards to Vancouver the day after tomorrow.

I don’t usually do travel #thisishowwedoit style blogs but this has been a pretty good experience and I’d like to remember exactly how we did it for … next time. We have booked everything ourselves which, I would say, keeps the price down.

Between seasons

First thing, after we had booked most of our trip, we realised that nothing really opens until mid-May. There are two major seasons: winter and summer. Coming between the two means that there are fewer options from a skiing, touring and accommodation perspective. The lake boating trips are definitely not on.

That said, we’ve been incredibly lucky to enjoy whole days of sunshine and catch the landscape in all its excellence, knowing that it will never look exactly this way again.

On the train

We got on the VIA Rail train at 1am one Sunday morning. It was due to leave at 10:30 the previous evening but didn’t due to severe freezing rain in Toronto. Apparently the train frequently runs late and so, if travelling, be sure not to book any connecting flights or rail journeys without some time in between.We were then on the train for 3 days to Jasper. We had a sleeper cabin with 2 bunk beds, a sink (with fun mirrors – see below) and a private toilet. The shower was shared but beautifully clean.We sat with strangers at tables of 4 for 3 meals each day. The food was exquisite and we learned new stories from people all over the world. We got off at stops to stretch our legs. Had a bit of a wander (and a sit down on the bench) when we got to Winnipeg. It was truly beautiful.Best of all, we were able to view the beautiful nature outside from the dome carts which had elevated seating. The rooves were glass “bubbles” revealing panoramic views. The view for the majority of the 3 days was a mixtures of flat and less flat snow-covered land and lakes, decorated with streams.The relatively repetitive patterns of snow and Douglas Firs lulled us into a sense of security so when the Rockies shot out of Jasper, they were truly striking.

The Rockies

We got off the train in Jasper for our week in the Rockies. At this time of year, there are two trains each week across the country. We decided that one week would give us enough time to travel around the Rockies without being rushed. We don’t ski.

We stayed for two nights in each of Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise and will return to Jasper for a final night before getting back on the trian. There is a load of accommodation in all these places ranging from hostels to Chateaux hotels.

We haven’t hired a car so got on the Sundog shuttle. Every day this goes from Jasper to Lake Louise to Banff and back again. This is a shuttle service only so there is no chat about the breathtaking geology of the Columbia Icefields and no time to stop at the sites for photographs. One toilet break only. But it’s a good service and cheaper than a taxi!

Some of the things we have done:

  • took the Jasper Skytram (the highest and longest aerial tramway in Canada) for incredible views and an epic hot chocolate
  • watched a lot of ice hockey … oooph this Stanley Cup
  • had the most delicious and hearty salad I’ve ever eaten at the Raven Bistro, Jasper (other choices are available)
  • walked along the walkways along the Bow river in Banff
  • visited the hot spring caves at Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff (photo above)
  • had a great guided bus tour to see some of the top spots with Discover Banff Tours (photo of Lake Minnewanka below)

I write from the Fairmont Hotel at Lake Louise where I’ve just finished a delicious creme brûlée. We had lunch and overlooked the frozen lake. What dreams are made of.

There’s a restaurant and deli here and it’s an absolute delight.

I am equally excited about being here and getting back on the train. If you have any questions about this stuff I’d love to answer them so I can talk more about this trip!

Thanks for reading!

Em x


Artists’ Way

If we’ve ever spoken for more than 7 minutes, I’m likely to have brought up the Artists’ Way by Julia Cameron.

I thought it was worth trying to explain what and why it is. If nothing else, this should make me more able to articulate its importance in the future.

So what is it all about:

  • It’s 12 weeks
  • It’s about artistic discovery and recovery
  • There’s a themed essay every week focusing on an element of recovery (e.g. recovering a sense of safety, identity, power etc)
  • There are excercise around each weekly theme
  • You write three pages of nonsense or not nonsense every morning (known as the morning pages)
  • You take yourself out for an Artist’s Date, alone, once each week

What you get out of it:

It somehow develops a sense of clarity of who you are and what you want. It gives an abundance of ideas of things to make and it helps you get out of your own way to make these things happen.

Don’t just take my word for it. In a Facebook post in 2012, bestselling author, Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“Three times in the last decade I’ve committed to doing The Artist’s Way’s program, and each time I’ve learned something important and surprising about myself and my work.”

She is humble enough to admit:

“Without The Artist’s Way, there would have been no Eat, Pray, Love.”

I have previously been through the Artist’s Way process as part of a group and found it extremely inspirational to share the journeys of others. It also provided accountability so that I did the excercises.

If you’d be interested in going through the process in the summer, I’m likely to start a group in Manchester. Please drop me an email ( if you’d like to join me.


Em x

Chicago and all that jazz

I love it here. I feel content. It’s hard to write when you’re content.

There is a warm familiarity here through these cold streets. It has the red bricks, the sounds of passing trains and a good level of cement that I’m used to.

Chicago has oodles or personality without being tied to a genre.  I have seen Jazz, Blues and Pop here. And I was lucky enough to be front and centre for a Second City Theatre show. It pays to travel alone.

In a headache filled moment I even got the chance to watch the film Chicago on my laptop.

The familiarity makes me think of home.  I am happy that I have around six weeks left of this trip but being here makes me excited about the new ways I will be spending my time and the possibilities that lie ahead.

I have been further editing my book about Ammerella Twigg, and making music with the safety of my headphones.

I have three more days to delightfully spend with Chicago.

Thanks for reading.

Em x

New Orleans: The day that Preservation Hall saved

As I marched restlessly around the French Quarter on my final day in New Orleans, a combination of: (a) unmanaged expectations; and (b) PMS, left me disgruntled.

Where was the Jazz?!

Of all the places I’d been, New Orleans was probably the one that I had any preconceptions about (probably unfairly). I blame Ryan Gosling for this… or at least my misconception of what he described in La La Land.  I was yet to find the high stakes jazz performances that he described.

I’d seen some great musicians doing some covers of classics, but felt that tourism had maybe hurt the authenticity of musicians’ choices.

Before that day I’d had many wonderful moments.  I’d met some excellent humans, experienced the second line for Tom Benson’s jazz funeral and been moved by the march for gun control (where the high pitched chanting of unbroken voices rang clear).

Something didn’t feel complete.

My mood meant that I almost sacked off a place that had been on my list: Preservation Hall.  Preservation Hall is a space, record label and organisation which was established in 1961 to protect the very thing that had been missing from my trip: traditional New Orleans Jazz.

I lined up (queued) from just after 4pm for the 5pm show. There are shows at 5, 6, 7 and 8pm daily.  It’s $20 for standing room at the show, and it’s totally worth it.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band played a wonderfully entertaining 45 minute set complete with all the improvisation and risk taking that I’d wanted.  This included an advanced trombone solo in Basin Street Blues, a solo I’d played a watered down version of in my trombone-wielding days. Those days when I had no concept of Basin Street’s geographical location (New Orleans).

After the show I was content and flying. I bloody loved it and it washed my grumpy ways away.

If you go to New Orleans, please go and support this important organisation.

Thanks for reading.

Em x

Lake Taupo

Taupo:  the land of black swans where people give you beaming smiles as you go running.  A rare event indeed.  (And yes, I went running).

I’m told that the lake is the size of Singapore and was created 25 million years ago via an earthquake/volcanic activity.  I arrived here yesterday and was greeted with glorious weather.  This place has my favourite combination:  rugged hills, open water and green trees.

Last night was a wonderful boat tour of the lake where we caught the sunset.  The boat batteries ran out on the way back so the trip was a little longer than planned, as we had to sail back.  Nice though.

I am travelling with the Kiwi Experience which is a bus tour where you can hop on and off at various destinations.  They also take you to see some good geological spots along the way: waterfalls and bubbling geysers.

The experience has been as expected in lots of ways.  I am definitely a relative oldie.  The key revelations have been:

(a) I feel like David Attenborough watching the mating rituals of the 20 somethings; and

(b) my sense of humour is based on cultural references that are not relevant to anyone born after 1989 (e.g. nobody knew who Des Lynam was).

It’s been great to see lots, but I’m happy to be staying here at Taupo for two nights.  The weather’s been pretty torrential in the days before yesterday.  Quite unexpected.  This did not affect my enjoyment in Waitomo, where I took a boat tour of a glowworm cave.  No photos were allowed, sadly, but it was truly mesmerising to look up as the boat was gently pulled through the cave.  This mode of seeing the glowworms was described by the bus driver as the “geriatric option”.  Most went on a zip-line infused active rush through the caves.  Give me the geriatric option any day, thanks.

I have been recording music but am stuck with vocals.  This morning I have made several attempts to do some recording quietly in the hostel dorm but I have been interrupted both by housekeeping and hostel roomies with comic timing.  The songs will have to brew in my head for a bit longer, but happy to have kicked off with some songwriting.

Thanks for reading!

Em x