Erta Ale, Ethiopia – the most dangerous (and amazing!) trip of my life

More than just a volcano: The trip to Erta Alea and the Danakil Depression is a constant mind-blowing adventure and a once in a lifetime experience.

«You should go to the volcano Erta Alea – it’s on a list of top 10 things to see before you die», my friend told me. Erta Ale means «smoking mountain» in Amharic and is locally known as the gateway to hell. Since my friend sounded deeply fascinated by this place he had googled, and I happened to stay in Ethiopia for a whole month, I booked a tour without hesitation.

In order to be able to go to Erta Ale and the Danakil Depression, it is mandatory to book a tour with a guided group – you even need to be accompanied by military security guards. The Afar region in the north of Ethiopia near the Eritrean border is sometimes turbulent, the inhabitants known to be rather violent and hostile to outsiders coming into their territory.
Little did I know that this would not be the only thing that’s dangerous on this trip.

Trip to volcano Erta Ale in Ethiopia with ETT

Trip to Erta Ale with ETT – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Weiterlesen

Trip to Montreal

Heading from Toronto to the East coast, a stop in the beautiful city of Montreal is necessary – and the best introduction to the French Canadian culture.

By arriving in Montreal, we also arrived in the province of Quebec: the French-speaking part of Canada. But be aware: If you studied French in Europe or even if you were born in France, you’ll need to get used to the dialect spoken here.

Frenchiness

Even if in the whole of Canada, French is a small minority (20%), the francophones are concentrated in this area (and also in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province of Canada).

French Canada

Festival de la francofolie – Photo: Eva Hirschi

The French culture is very important, and you can feel it. I got the impression that they try to avoid including English words in their language even more than in France. Québecois won’t say «weekend» but «fin de la semaine» for example.

Stop sign in bilingual Canada

Even stop signs are bilingual – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also, I was told that there was protest when the coffee chain «Second cup» refused to change its brand’s name to «Deuxième tasse» – apparently the protesters even put a bomb inside one of the cafés – which ended up in being free publicity for the company, without them changing their name…

Student city

Even though Montreal is smaller than Toronto, it definitely has its own charm. In Canada, Montreal is known for its university: McGill University. A walk on the campus is definitely worth it, the old buildings are beautiful and there is even a small natural historic museum in one of them – with free entry. There you’ll find – among other things – very impressive dinosaur bones.

Very animated city

A walk along the harbour and the streets next to it is really nice too. Even if the streets parallel to the harbour are somewhat touristic, it’s still very charming with many people sitting on the patios of the restaurants and bars and enjoying life.

Harbour in Montreal

Harbour in Montreal

What surprised me most about Montreal are the numerous events that happen here. I first thought we just arrived on a special weekend : The formula 1 race on Notre-Dame Island (one of the few urban races), the beer festival, the science festival, and the festival de la francofolie with free concerts in the city centre took place at the same time…

But people from Montreal confirmed that this is a normal weekend, there are events going on all the time in summer. Since the summer is not that long in this part of the world, the inhabitants try to enjoy their time the most possible apparently.

The small mountain (or big hill)

To get a nice view over the city, you should get on top of Mont Royal. People from here say you should hike on this mountain, but since I’m Swiss I’d rather say you should walk on this hill, but anyhow: the view is beautiful and the park slash forest is very pretty.

It was actually designed by the same landscape architects as the Central Park in New York. You’ll find many runners and people walking their dogs and kids. On top, there is a very artificial looking small lake, which is a pity.

Mont Royal in Montreal, Canada

Mont Royal

Bagels you shouldn’t miss

When you walk down the mountain (Swiss: read hill) you should make sure to end up on the east side of the hill, in the area called Mile End. It’s a beautiful area with pretty buildings (pay attention to buildings with stairs at the outside, a really nice architecture you won’t find in Europe) and many green spots with trees and flowers.

Also, make sure to get a bagel at Fairmount Bagels Bakery – the best place for bagels in Montreal (for me even in the world, as far as my bagel experience goes…). From the counter, you can actually see how they bake the bagels, including the old stone oven. Just get the classic: a regular sesame bagel with cream cheese and cold smoked salmon – delicious! Unsurprisingly, sometimes the waiting line even starts on the street.

Fairmount bagels bakery

Fairmount bagels bakery

Another very nice place is the café of Pâtisserie au kouign amann. It’s very small, there are only three tables with a couple of chairs in it, but if you’re able to get one of these, you feel like in a cozy old living room, with the permanent smell of fresh croissants! Even some French people say their croissants are the best in the world…

If you’re not so much into croissants, you should try their maple tarte – a small cake with maple syrup in it, really tasty! And from my whole Canada trip it was here that I had the best coffee. Enough reasons not to skip this city, right?

Pâtisserie au kouign amann

Pâtisserie au kouign amann – Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

 

Trip to Toronto

Toronto is probably the most laid back city I’ve ever been to – not in the sense of boredom, banality, and passiveness – on the contrary – but in a sense of tolerance, multiculturalism, and peacefulness.

Toronto looks a little bit like New York – but clean and organized. My Canadian friend confirmed that people say Toronto is how New York would look like if it was run by the Swiss. So you can imagine that I liked the biggest city in Canada right away.

Toronto skyline

Skyline of Toronto – Photo: Eva Hirschi

On (not so) thin ice

The most known attraction in Toronto is – even if it wasn’t built for this purpose – the CN Tower. Now a symbol of the city and open for tourists to go up, the CN Tower was first constructed as a communications tower for the transport company CN Rail. For 35 Canadian Dollars, a lift with windows takes you up to the main floor. For a few extra dollars, you can go even higher, but apparently, it’s not a huge gain in view.

CN Tower

Anyhow, the main attraction is not even the view of the city – even though it’s really nice, too! – but the window floor. And take it literally : There is one part of the floor which is covered by glass. You’re even allowed to step on it. It can hold four killer whales, they say.

Still, you will see adults walking carefully and fearfully over the glass, while children are jumping on it and laughing. If it doesn’t scare you too much to walk on this floor, try to sit down – it’s a totally different feeling.

Statue with its own hashtag

Another typical photogenic place is Nathan Philipps Square in front of the City Hall. TORONTO is spelt with two-meter-high capital letters – and it even has it’s own hashtag (#xoTO). At night, those letters are illuminated with different colours.

Toronto

Photogenic Toronto 😉 – Photo: Eva Hirschi

This place isn’t just nice for photos, there is also a small water fountain with some benches and a nice view of the new and the old City Hall. The new one is a deception from behind, looking like nothing. But in return, from the front side it’s incredibly beautiful!

Hipster place to be

One area that is quite in right now is the Distillery District – a former industrial area focused on alcohol production that turned into a hip urban place to be. It’s a few kilometres outside the main centre of the city, but still worth the trip. Small (really nice but expensive!) boutiques, cafés, and bars are situated in the old brick buildings.

Mill Street Brewery

Tasting craft beer at Mill Street Brewery – Photo: Eva Hirschi

You should definitely go to the Mill Street Brew Pub, one of the largest craft beer producers in Canada. On the lovely patio you can enjoy a beer sampler with eight different craft beers. There is some hype about the Original Organic Lager but I would instead recommend their IPAs…

A small different world

A place you should definitely not miss while in Toronto is Kensington Market. Actually, it’s not a market at all but an alternative area with some colourful houses, which host small shops, bars, cafés, and restaurants. Do you know the «independent» town of Christiana in Copenhagen? Well, it’s like Christiana, just cooler and nicer!

Kensington Market

Colourful Kensington Market – Photo: Eva Hirschi

So here too it’s not unusual to smell some weed in the streets, but it is part of the special atmosphere of Kensington Market. You’ll also find an organic coffee shop or a guy selling sugar cane juice. Interesting anecdote: I was told that Starbucks had planned to open one of their cafés in Kensington Market, but their inhabitants fought against it – with success. The alternative spirit is still alive!

Inuit art

For a more traditional cultural experience, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is one of the most well-known museums in Eastern Canada. The building itself is already worth a visit, and next door there is also the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) which is worth a trip to photograph the pencils and paintbrushes which form the structural pillars of the building.

College of Art

The College of Art – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Inside the AGO, you will find art from all over the world. The most fascinating works though are the Inuit art – sculptures and paintings from the aboriginal population of Northern Canada. We enjoyed it as a nice introduction to our Canada trip!

Art Gallery of Ontario

Inuit art in the Art Gallery of Ontario – Photo: Eva Hirschi