10 Top Things To Do In Calgary: Any Season

1.Visit Stephen Avenue

Downtown Calgary can be quite quiet; however Stephen Avenue has lots to offer.  Its easily accessible via bus and the C-Train and hosts an abundance of restaurants, shops, museums and bars. Plus, it’s got some beautiful old buildings in this part of the city.

Calgary Tower (2)

  1. Calgary Tower

Also, downtown is the Calgary Tower which gives great views of the city. Make sure you go on a clear day, so you can see all the way to the Rockies from 525ft high.  It even has one of those glass floors to stand on if you are brave enough. When we visited it was around $18 per adult.

  1. Fort Calgary

If you fancy a little history head to Fort Calgary. The wooden fort built along the Bow river in 1875 was the birthplace of modern Calgary. The museum hosts exhibits on Calgary’s first 100 years looking at the people and places that built the city. At time of visiting entry was around $12 for adults and there is free parking on site.

  1. Walk along the river

After you’ve visited the Fort, take a stroll along the Bow river. When we visited it was winter, so the river was frozen but no less beautiful. Make sure you go as far as the Peace Bridge, whilst it’s only a pedestrian bridge it’s a great place to get a cool photo.

 

  1. See an ice hockey game

The Calgary Flames play regularly at the Scotia Saddledome. We managed to get to two games and tickets started from around $30 but can be more expensive depending on the opposition and where you sit. The game is fast-paced and fun to watch whilst drinking a beer and chanting with the locals.

 

  1. Visit the Rockies

One of the wonderful things about Calgary is its proximity to the beautiful Rockies. Within forty minutes you can be at the foot of snow-capped mountains and ready to hit the slopes. So, if you get fed up of the city, hop in the car and head to the hills. Plus, the drive itself is a sightseeing tour as the views are stunning!

  1. Go skiing or snowboarding

If you can’t quite make it to the mountains don’t worry you can still get some skiing done.  At Winsport you can ski, snowboard and tube during the winter months or go mountain biking during the summer. They offer lessons so it’s also a great place to learn the basics before heading to the big resorts.

  1. Explore the parks

For such a big city there are lots of green spaces in Calgary for you to explore. Depending on what time of year you visit will determine how accessible parks are, so check in advance.  One thing I was really impressed with was how well sign posted all the trails were, an easy to navigate path makes all the difference when in a new area.

My favourites were:

  • Edworthy Park: it had an easy to follow path with relaxing views of the Bow river. During the summer there are communal firepits and BBQ’s for you to enjoy.
  • Nose Hill: as this one was quite near to our home we went quite a few times. It is a fantastic way of seeing the Calgary Skyline all the way to the Rockies. Once again it was relatively well signposted and easy to navigate, but be aware this isn’t a flat walk! Also, be careful when walking your dogs as coyotes are known to frequent the area.
  • Glenmore Reservoir: a bit of a long walk if you do the whole thing, but great to do on a nice day.
  1. Go shopping

There’s always room for a little bit of retail therapy. In Calgary I recommend hopping on the C-train and heading to the Chinook Centre where you’ll find all sorts of stores. It’s all indoors so a good one to do on a rainy day as there is also a cinema and a large food court to keep you busy.  The images aren’t great but they are the only pictures I have of the centre!

  1. Grab a retro burger

Last but not least, head down to Peters’ Drive In for a world-famous burger and milkshake. I wouldn’t usually order a milkshake as they are so filling but this one is certainly worth it. Peters’ has been flipping burgers since 1964 and it shows. Definitely not one to miss.

Peters' Drive In Calgary

Have you been to any of these?? Are there any things I’ve missed??

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6 ways to research your next holiday…that are NOT Google

Whether you are deciding where to go next or what to do on your next holiday research is the key. I’m the ultimate planner, whereas Matt likes to travel by the seat of his pants and see what comes around the corner. My levels of anxiety do not allow for too much free-wheeling, so I like to do a little investigating before I even board the plane.

Planning in advance means you can utilise your time wisely and get the most out of your break.  I have missed out on visiting Alcatraz Island twice because I didn’t book in advance, there is no way I will be making this mistake again! It also means you can search discounts and free entry days, so you can stick within you budget.

Below are my top tips for researching your next adventure.

  1. Go old school and read a book

I love reading travel books as they provide a wealth of information in one place without having to scour the depths of the internet. There can be a lot to choose from so I tend to take a trip to my local library and check them out. They tend to be up-to-date and I can save more money for my trip. When I do purchase I usually opt for smaller editions that can easily be packed in my hand luggage. Even better are the ones that come with maps.

Planning with maps and books

  1. Talk to other people

Talking to people has provided me with great inspiration. Often at work people give me tips on local places to go. Without these recommendations I never would have hiked Deep Cove in North Vancouver and had the best doughnut of my life. I also never would have been to Tofino on Vancouver Island, as I thought it was just for surfers, but it was where I had some of best camping memories. It helps if the people you are talking to are like-minded to yourself and have similar interests. For instance, you’d never find me recommending a beach holiday as I just don’t do them!

 

 

 

  1. Avoid websites that are review orientated

I know I’ve just said talk to people, but online is different.  It’s hard to differentiate what means 3 stars to one person from another. I know that my travel needs are different from my parents for example. Something I might rate 4 out of 5 might only get 3 off someone with a bigger budget. More often than not they are unreliable full of people who have had a bad day. So, save your time and avoid them.

tripadvisor

  1. Go to your local travel agent

You don’t need to be booking through a travel agent to be able to utilise them. I frequently pop into my local branch at home to pick up a few brochures. I’m like a kid in a candy store going home with at least five at a time. One of my favourite things about brochures is that they often have detailed maps in them, that can be great for road trip planning. And whilst I usually can’t afford the hotels in them it does provide some major inspiration.  Also, this one is a wonderful way of achieving number 2 as travel agents will always want to talk to you!

Love flicking through Travel brochures

  1. Pinterest

This one is my favourite if I’m in a hurry. If you haven’t used Pinterest before its basically mood boarding online, you can find and ‘pin’ (save) things of interest into different ‘boards’ (folders). It’s a very visual way of finding new places to visit and will inspire major wanderlust. You have been warned!

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  1. Read travel blogs

Now you’ve already done this one as you’re on my site, thanks guys! But seriously, they can be a terrific way of getting a genuine opinion off people who love to travel. They are more personal and often very detailed. Plus, there is a blog post for practically everything, so you will never be lost for help and advice on your next trip.

Where are you planning on visiting next? Have your researched or are you going to wait and see what you will find?

 

 

 

48 hours in Harry Potter London

In case you were getting bored of my Canada posts I’d thought I’d indulge in a little throwback Thursday blogging. For those of you that don’t know me not only do I love to travel, I’m also a huge Harry Potter nerd. I was late to the game, first reading the books when I was twenty, but from then on, I’ve fully embraced my inner Ravenclaw. (officially sorted through the Pottermore Sorting Hat)

Naturally, I have travelled to London to see many of the Potter wonders that are in the British capital. Whilst I did not do them in one 48-hour trip I have compiled them into a nice little timeline for anyone with only a couple of days to spare in the big city.  Now this is not an exclusive list of everything Harry Potter related in London. I have tried to choose the most accessible ones rather than visiting every single inspiration and filming location across the city as that would need a lot longer than two days. In addition, I have left time for travel and for food as well as general delays. If you are super organised, you could fit even more Potter fun into this time period.

However, I would start by spending the day at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. Whilst for me it’s not technically in London, but it is near enough that you can travel from the city centre to it via train. Matt and I stayed with family and drove to the studios for the day. Matt surprised me with tickets for my birthday (along with tickets to see Les Misérables, he got lots of House points for this!) although I know for a fact that he wanted to go as much as I did, if not more.

We happily spent an entire afternoon here admiring all the Potter related goodies. You can see many of the costumes, sets and props that they used throughout the films. My favourite was taking a ride in Hagrid’s motorcycle. Which provided us with one of the best photos of us together, even though I Had to fight off some school children to get it! You can see Privet Drive, the Knight Bus and wander down Diagon Alley all in one location, it’s a fab day out.

 

Next, make your way back into London and if you are lucky see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part One. Tickets are extremely hard to come by but not impossible so do persevere. The show is at The Palace Theatre in the West End, near many restaurants and cafes so you can grab a bite to eat. Matt and I chose Ed’s Easy Diner as we love a burger and retro inspired diners, even though this one is a chain they do an amazing relish that keeps me going back!

I’m not going to go into where to stay in London as there are so many options and so many budgets, so do your research and find what fits you best.

After you are fully rested, make your way to Kings Cross Station.  Its easily accessible via the underground and bus. Or depending on the weather take a stroll through the streets of London. The station is famous for being the home of Platform 9 ¾ and has become quite the pilgrimage for Harry Potter fanatics.

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Here you will find Harry Potter shop full of merchandise that I’ve been banned from buying. But you can also line up and have your photo taken going through the wall as if heading of to Hogwarts. The staff are incredibly friendly and provide you with a house scarf (you get to choose) to have your photo taken in whatever way you like. It’s entertaining just to watch people jump and run at a brick wall to be honest!  In addition, the station itself has pretty cool architecture that is really interesting to see.

Next get back on the tube, take the Piccadilly Line to Tottenham Court Road. Here is where Harry, Hermione and Ron disapperate to in the Deathly Hallows Part One.

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Afterwards take a five-minute walk to the colourful House of MinaLima on Greek Street. Here you will find four floors of the most beautiful Potter-related items in the world. Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima created the entire graphic universe for the Potter films as well as the Fantastic Beast franchise. All the newspapers, letters, howlers, posters, packaging and much more was developed by these amazing artists. The exhibition is completely free to visit and there is a wonderful gift shop where you buy your piece of graphic beauty.

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End your trip with the second part of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The show is fantastic and well worth seeing for the production alone.  We even saw a few celebrities in the audience. When we went to see the show, we travelled by megabus (from Birmingham) and were able to catch the night bus back after the show, saving money rather than paying for another nights accommodation. To block out the noisy Scottish football fans on the coach we listened to Stephen Fry reading us the audio books on the journey home.

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Are you a Potter fan? Have you managed to visit any of these sites yet?

3 Titanic things to do in Halifax

Before we moved here I did not know that the Titanic sank off the coast of Halifax. A friend back home, who is a self-confessed Titanic enthusiast (the history, not the film!) shared this piece of knowledge with me as I arrived in Nova Scotia, so I put it on our to-do list. There have been many shipwrecks along the shores of east coast, but the Titanic has to be the most famous and one of the deadliest. More than 1500 people perished in the icy waters on 15th April 1912 and ever since it has been a part of Halifax history.

Whether you enjoyed the film or are a history buff here are the top Titanic things to see in Halifax.

Maritime Museum

Halifax is great at preserving its rich history. The Titanic disaster is no different. They have been able to collect and preserve many artefacts related to the incident at the Maritime Museum. Located downtown on Lower Water Street the museum is easily accessible, although parking can be tricky. The collection itself is smaller than I expected as many items have been loaned or gifted to other museums. This however doesn’t detract from the items they do hold.

One of the main feature of the exhibit is a wooden deck chair. Not that exciting I hear you say? Well, I think it’s pretty impressive to have survived such a disaster. My favourite was a piece of the grand staircase. Which, if you are a fan of the film, you’ll remember from the scene where Jack waits for Rose.

 

Do check out the other exhibits within the museum as they detail much of Halifax’s history. When we were there, there was a special exhibition on the Halifax explosion, which was the largest man-made explosion prior to the detonation of the first nuclear bomb. Also check out the cool street art nearby.

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Pier 21

This is a particularly interesting place to visit as it details many stories of immigration to Canada from past to present. There is no formal Titanic collection here but many of the stories told are like that of the people who were aboard the ship. In addition, there is information on the shipping company White Star Line, which operated the Titanic.

Pier 21, Halifax

Apparently, they even filmed a few scenes here and off the nearby coast!

Titanic Graves

It may seem a bit grim to go visit a graveyard and I must admit it was not on the top of my to-do list. But Matt’s Mum had mentioned that someone she knew had a relative at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, so we thought we’d go and visit. It was only a quick stop as the area its self is small, and it was bitterly cold.

 

When bodies were recovered their possessions were put into a cloth bag and numbered, this number is on each headstone of over one hundred victims buried in Halifax. It was unique experience and we were able to find the grave of Sidney Holloway for Matt’s Mum.

Are you a Titanic fan? Would you travel to Halifax to visit some of these sites?

 

A Tale of Two NYE House sits

Last week I shared my experiences of house sitting at Christmas, you can check it out here (A Tale of Two Christmas Housesits). So, naturally the second part of A Tale of Two House sits leads to how I spent New Years Eve. I’m not a massive fan of the evening, it often disappoints as you spend most of the night trailing around bars and pubs trying to find a place to comfortably stand. Therefore, the past few years have been spent in the company of family either playing games, messing around with glow sticks or dancing in our onesies.

As Matt and I have spent our winters in Canada pet and house sitting this has presented fresh challenges for our new years celebrations. We no longer only have ourselves to think of, we had a variety of furry friends too.  I thought I’d share our stories of how we rang in the new year during our winter assignments.

There are a few things to consider when looking after pets and house sitting at new years, for example, are there going to the fireworks locally? Is the pet happy being left alone at night? Are you going to be able to get back in time, battling traffic after the celebrations? These considerations have led to two very different evenings.

I was worried about fireworks when looking after a fourteen-year dog last year in Calgary. What if the shock of the noise tipped her over the edge? Even though I was pretty sure she was at least partially deaf it was something I was worried about. However, after discussing Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night with colleagues it became apparent that fireworks are illegal within the city limits of Calgary.  Excellent I thought, one worry out-of-the-way.

The next thing was leaving her at night. Again, we struck lucky, as she didn’t mind being alone for a few hours. She slept for ninety percent of day, she is 98 in human years after all! Even more of a bonus was the fact that the property was equipped with a doggy door, therefore she could freely go out for bathroom breaks without having to wait for us humans to open the door.

With these two worries out-of-the-way we got planning. Neither of us being big party-people we planned to go for food and to an ice hockey game. The Calgary Flames were playing the Arizona Coyotes at the Scotiabank Saddledome downtown so my next task was finding parking in the city. Once again luck was on our side and I found a restaurant that was not only a five-minute walk away from the Saddledome but that also provided free parking for patrons going to the game. And this is for every single game not just for New Years Eve.

The restaurant, Naina’s Kitchen,  came onto my radar after finding it on a ‘You gotta eat here’ list.  Guy Fieri’s suggestions are usually great Mom and Pop places filled with good hearty food smothered in cheese. Naina’s did not disappoint in the slightest.  Their specialty is stuffed burgers that you could put anything inside. I went for a cheese burger stuffed with bacon, grilled onion, BBQ sauce and cheese with a side of fries. It was so good we went back again when I had a poutine stuffed burger!

The game finished before midnight so we headed back home, through the snow, to bring the new year in with the dog. It was a great way to celebrate our first few months in Canada.

Fast forward to this year and our situation is slightly different. We are located forty-minutes from downtown with no access to transit. Furthermore, we are looking after an energetic dog who requires a lot more attention.  Therefore, we decided to split the day, Matt and I would spend the morning hiking and I would head downtown with a work friend to catch a local band on the evening.

What was unexpected was the cold. It was -12 degrees with a real feel of -20 degrees. So, we ventured twenty-minutes down the road to Polly’s Cove, a nice short trail with excellent coastal views. I’ll be doing another post on the trail at some point so make sure you keep an eye out for it. Needing to warm up we went to Upper Tantallon (a small community on the Lighthouse Route) to have hot chocolate at an old converted train station café, Bike and Bean. If you like to cycle this place is not only a café but also bike shop and the start of a great trail.

The hot chocolate was eagerly enjoyed and we headed back, stopping along the way to look at the ice covered sea.

Now I know it may seem unusual for a couple not to spend new year’s together, but Matt was not bothered by going out and therefore willingly agreed to stay in with the dog while I went downtown.  A friend and I had a drink in a pub on Argyle Street, The Loose Cannon, as we were trying to time it just right to be able to see A Tribe Called Red (a Canadian electronic group who mix several genres with First Nations music). Unfortunately, the cold struck and we chickened out thirty minutes before midnight and headed home. Just as we were driving past the square, the band came on so we rolled down the windows and were able to catch thirty seconds of the headliners.  Not a bad night at all, despite being beaten by the Canadian weather twice in one day!

Leaving early did mean when midnight struck I was driving home. However, many of the communities along the road home were setting off fireworks which I was able to enjoy from the warmth of my trusty Dodge.

Hope you all had lovely evenings. Where and how did you bring in the new year??

A Year of Firsts: 2017

Living in a new country brings a multitude of new experiences.  Simple things such as going grocery shopping, navigating unusual streets or discovering a different fast-food chain, can all become terribly exciting when they are brand new to you. In fact, some of my Calgary co-workers laughed at my obsession with burger restaurant A&W (the best fast food chain ever!)

So, I thought I’d do a little round-up of my initial year in Canada by sharing some of the things I’ve done or seen for the first time whilst exploring over here.

  1. Driven on the right side of the road

I learnt to drive in the UK so have always driven on the left side of the road. When going on holiday I’ve always travelled by plane, bus or train, utilising public transport as much as possible. However, Matt and I knew we’d need a car to be able to see the wonders of Canada. I was anxious to drive on the ‘wrong’ side to start off with, plus the roads are HUGE and the cars are HUGE. But with a bit of practice it has become second nature. Recently whilst watching a British TV show I even thought ‘O dear, he’s on the wrong side of the road’ when I saw a car trundle down a country lane!

 

 

Armed in a Dodge Grand Caravan with Stow-and-go seats we have been able to stay at some of Canada’s most beautiful camp grounds. It’s a first that has enabled us to drive the entire width of Canada, from Vancouver to Halifax as well as go through drive through ATM’s.

  1. Keeping active in new ways

I like to keep active. At home I ride my bike around the local park and walk my parent’s whippet (Billy Bones the Pirate dog) for miles. However, Canada has given me with the chance to try new sports, for example fat tire biking, which I wrote about last week.  In the summer we were able to borrow a sea kayak and paddle with sea lions in beautiful Cowichan Bay. It took a while to master, but once we got going it was a wonderful experience.  In 2018 I hope to go curling and snowshoeing in true Canadian style.

 

 

However, my number one activity of 2017 was hiking. During the summer months bears, cougars and wolves frequent much of the Canadian wilderness. It is their home and we must respect that, so I was overly cautious to say the least. But with bear spray in hand I grew in confidence and eventually was able to hike an entire mountain. Whilst not the highest peak in the world, it was an achievement for me.  It’s such a reward being able to see stunning views from a mountain peak.  Mount Benson, near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island did not disappoint. Standing at 1023 metres tall we were able to see all the way to America from the summit.

 

 

  1. Walked on a glacier

This was one I never thought I’d achieve. In fact, I achieved two things on this particular experience I never thought I would get to do, walking on a glacier AND flying in a helicopter!  My parents came to visit in September and spoiled us rotten with a trip to Alaska. A true bucket-list destination for me.  When we arrived in Juneau on one of the warmest days of the year we glided above the Mendenhall Glacier with thanks to Jenny our pilot. The views were beyond belief and photographs do not do it justice. Safely landing on the huge ice mass we were greeted by friendly guides who told us all about the formation of the glacier and showed us all the crevice’s.  We were even allowed to drink some of the ice cold, crystal-clear water. Spectacular!  Thanks mum and Dad (please don’t cry at my blog again Mum!)

 

 

  1. Seen a bear

While I was cautious about seeing a bear when hiking I was beyond happy when we saw one from the car as we entered British Columbia. At first, I thought it was gigantic dog, but the quickest double take confirmed it was a black bear. Finding a suitable place to turn around, we went back to the car park in which Mr. Bear had decided to take a little rest. Respectful of his area and knowing he is a wild animal we stayed far away and zoomed in to capture a picture.  With tears in my eyes we left him enjoying his break and continued onward.

 

 

He was not the last bear we saw, from an even further distance we saw a bear from our cruise ship in Alaska and then again from the roadside on returning through Alberta. In one year my bear-sightings have gone from 0 to 3!

  1. Discovered A&W and Tim Hortons

Sorry UK folks, unless you’ve had an A&W burger you won’t be able to understand how much better than McDonald’s and Burger King this fast food chain is. All named after family members, my favourite is a teen burger, whereas Matt enjoys a Papa burger. The highlight however is the onion rings… indescribable! You might however be able to enjoy my other favourite, Tim Hortons. A far better version of Starbucks at much better prices. Their speciality are Tim Bits (doughnut balls in many different flavours) As they have just opened their first UK store in Glasgow as well as Manchester and Cardiff I’m hoping it’s as good as the original. Find your local here http://www.timhortons.co.uk/find-a-tims.php

Timbits

This year we’ll be finding something new to do to bring in the new year and continue to do new things, big and small throughout 2018. I wish you all happy travels where ever you may be in the new year.

A Tale of Two Christmas Housesits

Hopefully you all had a lovely Christmas day, filled with family, food and festivities. I for one am suitably full of turkey, pigs in blankets and chocolate. For Matt and I it was our second Christmas away from home and all its comforts. All family and friends know how much I love Christmas, from the food to the decorations to buying the perfect gifts, so being away from home has its challenges.

We have been fortunate enough to secure two fantastic long-term winter housesits for our Canadian adventure, one in snowy Calgary, Alberta looking after a beautiful 14 year old sheltie and this year in coastal Halifax, Nova Scotia, looking after an energetic dog and two cats. They have provided us with unique experiences and ones we will treasure forever.

 

As ever, the time between Christmas day and New Years Eve often leads to one reflecting on the year that has just passed. Today I’d thought I’d reflect on our two Canadian Christmas’ and how they’re different from home.

Housesitting at Christmas can be unusual, you are not in your natural environment and doing your traditional Christmas routine, whether it be going to your local pub or putting up the same decorations each year. This was most apparent last year when we sat for a gentleman who escaped to Mexico each winter and as a result didn’t have a Christmas tree. This was a struggle for me as I love to make my own decorations to add to my home each year. Knowing we were travelling around in the summer meant that we were reluctant to invest in anything too large. So, a trip to the dollar store resulted in a 20cm plastic tree and some snowflakes to make me feel a bit better.

christmas tree ns

This year, however, has felt more festive. The homeowners don’t go away every year and were kind enough to let us put up their gorgeous tree and fill it with their traditional baubles and tinsel.  Far more festive!

Not being in your normal surroundings leads me onto food. Canada may not seem that different from the UK, but many things we love at Christmas are not over here.

 

For us Brits the prospect of Christmas dinner without pigs in blankets (bacon wrapped sausages, NOT pastry) is an outrage. I attempted to make my own in lieu of classic Marks and Spencers ones.  Last years effort was awful as the bacon didn’t stay on my sausages, mostly due to the fact they were constructed after bucks fizz and half a bottle of wine. This year I prepared in advance and they were top notch. My other favourite is honey-roasted parsnips. Calgary seemed to be in a parsnip drought and I had to go to four stores before I found my favourite veggie. This year two stores in and I found a pack of four for $4 (£2.40!!) I didn’t care that they were much cheaper at home as tradition is tradition and I was having my parsnips!

 

 

As for Matt instead of going to the local pub he filled the fridge with local craft beers and was quite happy.

One of the major differences is the weather we have had during our winter housesitting. Last year we were walking in fresh, fluffy snow, whereas yesterday we ventured out in the freezing sleet (which was, believe it or not, the nicest part of the day!). It was fantastic to have a proper white Christmas, which never happens in the UK. It meant we could make snow angels and attempt a snowman.

 

However, the winter weather can also bring along some unexpected moments. Yesterday, just as I was about the press play on Chicken Run, the power went out! For over five hours we sat without power as Halifax endured 110km/hr winds resulting in falling trees and power lines. Luckily, the turkey was all cooked and everyone at home had been video called. Furthermore, we had an abundance of torches from our summer camping and a few tealights to keep us going.  As a housesitter its always a worry when things like this happen, but there has been no damage to the house and all animals are safe and warm. It has given us truly unique experience we will never forget!

 

 

The most important thing at Christmas is friends and family. For me this is the hardest part of being away. As Calgary was eight hours behind we scheduled video time in advance so no one missed out. This year being only four hours behind meant we got even more time with our loved ones. My family has been growing thanks to my beautiful sister and this year was the first for my brand-new niece (born just days before Christmas) and last year was the first for my gorgeous nephew. Technology has meant I didn’t have to miss these special moments, as I was propped up the Christmas dinner table on the iPad. Later in the day we called Matt’s family to complete the family tradition of the Radio Times quiz. This year was tough as we haven’t been able to watch good British TV for over a year, so we had to guess quite a few.

Whilst I have thoroughly loved our Canadian winter experiences, I am looking forward to a good British Christmas next year! I hope you all had a fantastic day yesterday and wish you all a happy new year.

 

Top 5 winter activities that are NOT skiing

Now I’m not against skiing or snowboarding, in fact I am still determined to become a snowboarder. But its an expensive hobby and can be difficult to learn. When I arrived in Canada last November I took every opportunity I could to get out the winter wonderland I had found myself in. But with only a few snowboarding lessons under my belt from over a decade ago, I didn’t feel confident hitting the slopes. This got me wondering what other winter activities were out there?

It didn’t take long for me to discover that there was plenty for me to do.  Below are my 5 favourite winter activities to do that are not skiing. And my wish list of things to try!

  1. Ice Skating

Skating is a complete classic when it comes to winter activities. It was one of the first things we did in Calgary as many Canadian cities have free public skating rinks during the winter months, making it a great activity that doesn’t break the bank.  Myself and Matt skated at Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary. It’s a small rink surrounded by pretty Christmas lights and is usually open from November to mid-March. There was a small fee for boot rental but nothing too expensive. A tip if you are new to skating or a novice like me, opt for hockey skates rather than figure skating boots. They are more supportive around the ankles and feel much sturdier. Just make sure those laces are tied tight!!

 

More recently, I went skating as part of works Christmas party.  Initially this worried me. I was going skating with real Canadians who must have more experience on the ice than me. However, after about five mins it was clear that not all Canadians can skate, and I felt much better. This time it was in downtown Halifax at the Emera Oval skating rink. In addition, not only was it free to skate, but boot rental was also free!

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The Emera Oval in downtown Halifax

Both times were successes with no falling over or broken bones. Yay!

  1. Fat Tire Biking

This was on my list of things to do in Canada before I had even left the UK. It just looks so cool! I love riding my bike all over the place at home, so I felt that this was a winter activity I could easily achieve. Having done some research, I found a great company called Kananaskis Outfitters ( https://kananaskisoutfitters.com/) who do Fat Tire Tours and rentals at reasonable prices.

 

I struggled at first when biking as the altitude was so much higher than at home (Shrewsbury has an elevation of 71 meters whereas Kananaskis is 3185 meters above sea level) and going uphill was challenging work. But it was so worth it to be able to come downhill and feel the wind blow through your hair. We had a great guide who was extremely understanding and patient with me as I struggled through the deeper snow and up the hills. He even provided tea and cookies midway as encouragement. A wonderful day all round!

  1. Hiking

Walking around various places is one of my top things to do. It easy, cheap and can lead you anywhere.  Now depending on where you are hiking in winter can still be extremely enjoyable. In Alberta we frequently hiked to see frozen waterfalls and lakes. It often felt safer than hiking in the summer as animal tracks were easy to spot and all the bears were tucked away hibernating.

Don’t forget to check the weather reports before leaving, no one wants to get caught in a storm. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. I slipped a lot during a trip to Johnston Canyon in April (although I wasn’t the only one, there was a local gentleman who was sliding around more than me!). Being properly equipped always make winter hiking far more enjoyable.

  1. Tubing

This is an activity I loved to do back home when I was younger.  For those of who don’t know, you sit in a big rubber ring a slide down a slope. Essentially, the winter version of a water slide. There is no skill involved all you need to do is let gravity do its work, easy-peasy! It’s a great one to do with a group of friends as you can race each other to the bottom.  In the UK I used to go to the Snowdome, Tamworth which was indoors so you didn’t even really feel this chill too much.

  1. Snowshoeing

This activity is technically still on my to-do list but is one of the fastest growing winter sports, even though I’d never even heard of it before leaving for Canada. Since being here it has been recommended to me by many people. It’s an easy sport to learn and relatively safe as it’s basically walking in big shoes. Furthermore, it can be quite inexpensive. Many places rent during the winter months at low prices. I have found that my local community centre provides FREE snowshoe rental which I will be taking full advantage of this winter. I will upload images of my experience in the new year along with how I got on with my newest winter activity.

What’s your favourite winter activity? Or do you prefer to stay indoors with a warm hot chocolate? Let me know in the comments 😊

I’ll be doing my favourites again this winter along with attempting to snowboard again!

My GIANT suitcase: 4 Packing Mistakes to avoid

 

After choosing the perfect destination, going through the stress of booking a flight and counting down the days until you go, there comes the dreaded task of packing. I come from a family of overly organised packers. My Mum starts at least two weeks before going away and takes up the entire spare bedroom. My Nan, I would say starts even earlier for her trips and places tissue paper between each item. Fortunately for me I have fought the urge to follow in their footsteps. However, this has led me to some packing mistakes along the way.  Below are a few tips that I hope will help you through the worst part of travelling.

Packing for 87 days in the US
Whilst it was easier to pack for one season… I was still guilty of over-packing. There are 6 pairs of sunglasses!
  1. Choosing the wrong bag

This is one mistake I have made more than once. You need to get your bag right and the rest will follow, but it’s not an easy decision to make.  My first solo trip was for one month to California. I was young and excited so chose to take a backpack. Not an awful choice you might think. However, I also took along a large sports bag with no wheels and that was the worst mistake. Whenever, I moved from one place to another I had to lug both around which proved to be difficult. I also found that, for me, backpacks were difficult to find things in without making a complete mess.

My next mistake when choosing a bag was more recent and one my family are still laughing at me for. Packing for a two-year trip was the most stressful of the trips I have done so far. It’s hard to bundle your entire life, from spring to winter, into one bag. So off I went to buy the biggest suitcase I could find. Not only did I pack more than I needed but I had to put up with comments from complete strangers noting ‘Gosh, that’s a big suitcase!’.

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Kitty was very interested in the giant that blocked her heat from the fire

So, take time to consider the type of travelling you will be doing, are you unpacking frequently or staying in one place for a length or time? Will you need to pack for more than one season? And are you able to carry all your items at once without looking like Buck-a-roo?

  1. Overpacking

This leads me to my next mistake and one that you will all have been guilty of at some point. Matt will openly admit that this is one of my worst packing problems. I pack too many pairs of pants (you never know, right??), socks tend to overflow and why do I need twenty t-shirts when I only ever wear the same three?

Over-packing socks
Guilty of too many socks… this isn’t even all of them!

However, a few simple considerations can help you cut down on unnecessary items. I found it much easier to pack for a three-month summer trip than my two-year working holiday. If going on a longer trip, pick up some detergent and go to a local laundry. You won’t need to pack as much if you can clean regularly.

Pack pieces that can be worn over several seasons. I have a denim dress that looks great with tights and boots in the winter, great with leggings in spring and fall and is cool enough to wear with sandals during summer. Just add different accessories and voila!

  1. Don’t pack awkward to wash items

Before leaving the UK I worked for a company that specialised in organic cotton. My wardrobe was full of it. It washes at 30 degrees, not a problem. BUT it cannot be put in the dryer. This has been a problem when road-tripping as sometimes items would not dry in time. But, this was also an issue when we have been in one place for winter and clothes couldn’t be put on the washing line without turning into one big icicle.

Before you depart on your tip take the time to read the care labels on your clothes, you’d be surprised at how many require ‘special’ treatment. Why waste time doing chores when you could be out exploring?

  1. Attempting to use vacuum packs

Now, both me and Matt had a great time using the vacuum packs for the first time, they can squeeze bulky items, such as coats into more manageable sizes in an instant. I would recommend them if you are moving to a new country and are using one place as a base for your exploring.

However, if you are moving from one place to another, don’t be tempted. The main problem is once they are open without a vacuum to re-seal they are far less efficient, it’s not going to be easy to find a vacuum whilst camping in the mountains. Secondly, they tend to squish into awkward shapes making it difficult to fit into a suitcase. Thirdly, they are cheap and therefore don’t tend to last too long.

My advice would be to invest in packing cubes. Having been recommended to me by several people they are on my Christmas list this year for sure! Hint, hint!

 

Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and make packing for both short and long trips a little easier. Comment below with your packing horror stories and any tips you may have for fellow explorers.

 

 

Why is it hard to understand wanderlust?

When embarking upon my trip I was frequently asked why I was uprooting my life in such a way? I had a comfortable home, job I enjoyed and was surrounded by family and friends. So why would I want to leave all of it behind?  My answer to most people was why not? I’m young with no responsibilities, it was perfect timing. However, the truth was far more personal. The reason was my Grandfather who I’d never met.

My Mum had only told me a few stories about him but one in particular stuck with me. She told me how he had worked hard all of his life and saved where he could for the time he retired. Unfortunately, he never made it to retirement and never got to do the many things he had planned.

I shared this with my Mum teary eyed over a curry before leaving, making the waiter feel slightly uncomfortable and not knowing when to bring me my wine.  However, it was a step towards her understanding my wanderlust and that I wasn’t abandoning her without reason.

I was also lucky enough to have found someone who also shared this need to explore, or at least agreed to tag along and embrace my silly ideas. Having spent his entire life in Shrewsbury, my partner-in-crime, Matt, did not need much persuading.

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Me and Matt at our first baseball game in Boston

We had caught the travel bug after an eighty-seven-day trip around the US and Canada. A few years later and we have taken the plunge to move abroad. We were lucky enough to secure the elusive working holiday visas for Canada and over the past year have trundled around in our car held together by duct tape. Starting in Calgary and exploring the west coast led us to driving cross-country and settling for winter in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We have covered a lot of ground in a year and with a year left on our visas we hope to explore a lot more of this beautiful country.

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This blog will detail our adventures past and present, providing tips along the way in the hope of helping others explore, whether travelling for a few days, weeks or years.