Is Toronto’s Harry Potter Inspired Bar Worth a Visit?

I’d been dreaming of having cocktails in Toronto’s Harry Potter inspired bar, The Lockhart, ever since I knew it existed.  As a lover of cocktails and being an avid Harry Potter fan it combined one of my favourite childhood book series with one of my favourite adult activities! So with a evening to spare before my parents landed the next day Matt (who is an even bigger Potter fan than me!) headed on down to the magical drinking hole.

The Lockhart Toronto

Potter fan and heading to London?? Check out 48 hours in Harry Potter London

Now Toronto is by far one of my least favourite Canadian cities. I’m not 100% sure why, maybe because it’s super busy or just completely concrete, maybe because I saw a bare ass as I walked down the street… who knows.  The Lockhart is on one the streets that looks like all the others, filled with a mass of stores selling everything you can think of. In fact if you didn’t know it was there you might miss it.

The Lockhart- Toronto

However, upon entering you are greeted with a beautiful array of Harry Potter themed displays. Potion bottles covered in cobwebs and famous lines from the books are all around as you sit at tables made out of old vintage suitcases.

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We settled down into the somewhat chilly bar to peruse the cocktail menu. However, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Not all the cocktails were named in line with the books as I had expected. The owners are keen to stress that this is a Potter inspired bar and this is reflected in the cocktail selection.

Therefore, there were nods to other Sci-Fi franchises such as  Star Trek. However, this does mean that the bar doesn’t have a super cheesy feel to it. You still feel sophisticated sipping cocktails as you enjoy the more subtle nods to the wizarding world, such as hints of Harry’s patronus throughout the decor.

The menu was divided by spirits- vodka, tequila, rum, bourbon, whiskey and gin. For each spirit there were three to four drinks with one or two named after Potter. I hadn’t waited all this time and come all this way to have a non-potter-inspired drink so I opted for a ‘Gin Weasley’.

Now this would be all well and good if I actually liked gin. I know it’s all the rage at the moment, but a sip of it still makes my eyebrows crumple together as I try to gulp it down. I have a feeling all the gin lovers out there would LOVE this drink- it was pretty strong. However, Matt’s choice of a vodka based ‘Royal Tea’ was much better as he didn’t shudder after every sip! He was kind enough to let me finish his drink and it went down a treat!

Royal Tea- Raspberry Rooibos Infused Absolut Peach, Lemon Juice, Tonic. 1.5oz for $10.75 (CAD)

Gin Weasley- Bombay Sapphire, Triple Sec, Orange Bitters. 2oz for $10.50 (CAD)

However, the saving grace was all in the presentation. Your instagram will not be disappointed after a visit to The Lockhart. Every drink is beautiful in it’s own way. Ours were adorned with floral delights. Whereas some were topped with toasted marshmallows and others were set on fire!

Overall, I have a feeling my expectations may have been too high for this place. I’d had a bad day and was hoping that the bar would turn it around. I would say if you are a Potter fan and in the area then do pop in. You’ll enjoy the modern take on the wizard world and get a snap or two for the instagram.

However, if you are going for the cocktails alone, then check out the menu first to make sure there is a tipple that tickles your fancy. The website is http://www.thelockhart.ca/menu/ 

Are you a Potter fan?? Where is you favourite Potter inspired place to travel to?

 

 

 

 

Best Beginner Hikes in the Rockies

Hiking is one of my favourite activities as you may or may not have guessed from my previous posts. This past year or so has given me some of the best hiking opportunities ever. Popping on my boots before heading out into the stunning Rocky Mountains is the best feeling as you know its going to provide some fantastic views. However, for me having the confidence to hike in an environment where wildlife is King and a bear, moose or wolf can rear its head at any point, has been something that I’ve had to build on over time.

In order to become more confident walking through the mountains I started off on some of the easier hikes in the Rockies. These hikes tend to be a bit shorter and well-travelled, giving even the most anxious hiker a bit of comfort. However, that does not mean that these hikes are any less beautiful. So, whether you are just getting into hiking or just fancy a shorter hike here are my favourite beginner hikes in the Rocky Mountains, Canada.

Johnston Canyon

Distance: 2.7km to Upper Falls 5.8km to Ink Pots  Elevation Gain: 215m

Johnston Canyon is a brilliant all-year round hike. In the winter months, put on your ice cleats and witness the frozen waterfalls on the well-travelled path. Along the way you’ll find several hand rails and viewing platforms, where you can often see ice climbers scaling the ice-covered canyon walls.

During the summer months head out early as this is a super popular trail and can get very busy. However, when there is less ice on the ground you can extend the hike up to the fascinating ink pots where the crowds tend to thin out.

Ink Pots

Grotto Canyon

Distance: 4km  Elevation Gain: 225m

Grotto Canyon is a great alternative to climbing a mountain. Instead of aiming for a viewpoint this Canyon trail winds along a creek bed and has several surprises along the way.  We hiked this one in June, so the creek bed was dry in some places making it a simpler walk.

Grotto Canyon

As you do meander along you’ll come across some faint ancient pictographs but pay attention as these are incredibly easy to miss. I only spotted them on our return. There is also a waterfall, hoodoos and a cave to keep you interested along the way. Depending on the season you may also see some wild flowers!

 

Tunnel Mountain

Distance: 4.3km  Elevation Gain: 300m

This one by far gives the best views for the least effort! It’s easy to see why Tunnel Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Banff.  The start is a little steep as the trail switches back and forth up the mountain however it does even out towards the top.

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Furthermore, there are excellent views even before you reach the summit.  Once you reach the peak you’ll have the town of Banff below you and views of the Rockies as far as the eyes can see.

Troll Falls

Distance: 3.4km  Elevation Gain: 150m

This was one of my favourite winter trails as its so peaceful and does truly look like a winter wonderland.  It’s a slow and steady pathway which gives you stunning views across Kananaskis Valley before you come to Troll Fall itself.Troll Falls (69).JPG

Due to the slight incline the trail is often used by cross country skiers, snow-shoers and fat tire cyclists in the snow. The whole walk will make you feel like Elsa from Frozen!

Lake Louise

Distance: 3.6km (Teahouse) 14.6km (to include Beehives) Elevation: 400m

There are loads of trails you can take from Lake Louise. You can walk along the shoreline of the gorgeous turquoise lake or you can head you to the famous Teahouse. Both are a great walk but you do get better views heading on to the Teahouse. Along the way you’ll see waterfalls and Mirror Lake before being able to stop for a cuppa at Lake Agnes. If you are feeling energetic head on up to the Big Beehive or Little Beehive too.

IMG_1756.JPGLake Louise is frozen for most of the year, which is just as stunning as when it is all blue. When we went during the winter we walked along the shoreline trail and then back across the lake itself. Ice skating is often available on the lake during the winter months. But do check it is safe to go on the ice before attempting to cross the lake.

Grassi Lakes

Distance: 3.8km Elevation Gain: 200m

Grassi Lakes is a great trail for all the family. You can choose between two routes; an easy route up a gravel path that rises gently or a more difficult route through the forest with a small scramble at the top. Naturally Matt chose the more difficult route, but it definitely had the better views. As it started raining we chose to take the easier route back down.

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You pass a beautiful waterfall and views of Canmore before reaching two gorgeous lakes. The colours are truly spectacular. The top of Grassi Lakes is popular with rock climbers but if you look carefully you may also see the owls that nest there. You do have to look hard though as they are extremely well camouflaged! I’d never seen a wild owl before, so I was super excited to spot them.

 

What is your favourite hike in the mountains? Do you prefer a short hike or an all-day trek?

I’m Travelling… Not Running Away!!

Any of you who have read my blog before will know that over eighteen months ago I left the UK to come to Canada on a working holiday visa. What you might also have noticed from my posts is that I’ve been having a fantastic time exploring the Great White North.  However, all good things must come to an end and with my visa concluding in November my partner Matt and I have been forced into thinking about what to do next.  In fact, I’ve had many a stranger at work ask me what I am going to do when my visa ends.  What I want to say is this…

When we arrived in Canada we knew we wanted to explore the entire country which has made applying for permanent residency an unlikely option. One of the easiest ways to gain residency on the back of a working holiday visa is to gain one year’s work experience (in a designated job role) while in Canada. However, Matt and I wanted to make the most of our adventure. We could stay in one place and work full time at home, this was our chance to explore and see a much of Canada as possible. So, pretty early on we decided residency was not an option for us, much to my Mum’s relief!

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Moving around has meant I’ve been able to see all sorts of views

Our next option would be to continue with our travels while we are still eligible for working holiday visas. Australia and New Zealand have similar visas available for British citizens between the ages of 18-30 (Australia) and 35 (New Zealand). The lure of continuing our adventure is super strong, and why wouldn’t it be, we’ve had a fantastic two years. Furthermore, if I could put of being a real adult for another year or two why wouldn’t I???

Well, reality hits. Canada can be one of the most expensive countries to live in. Whilst gas prices are cheaper than the UK many other daily items are not. Even though we have avoided incurring any major accommodation costs by house sitting (check out the pros and cons of house sitting here), we have also been travelling on the philosophy of ‘Well, I’m never going to get the chance to do this again!’ which can soon add up in cost! A little bit of saving before we head of to the other side of the world is needed.

House sitting has given us amazing freedom and been kind to the purse

Saving the pennies is not the only reason we will be returning home in November. Not only do I need to stock up on proper chocolate, jaffa cakes and quality curry but it’s about time I had a good catch up with friends and family. I have yet to hold my niece who was born in December and my nephew has grown into a little man over the past year, it will be great to be more than just a face on the phone to them.

So excited to see friends and family!

Overall, that is little bit too much information to say to a stranger over a cash desk when there is a huge line up. I usually respond with ‘My Mum would kill me if I stayed!’, making it a little light-hearted however true it is! But so many are curious as to why I wouldn’t want to stay. Many more are surprised to hear that I don’t intend to stay beyond the two years.  This got me wondering, why is it so strange to want to go home? A couple of reasons have come to my attention.

More often than not people move to a new country for a better life. Whether due to your home country being an unsafe environment, lacking in opportunity or you’re trying to recover from a bad break-up, the reasons for moving are never ending. But for me I was not travelling to run away from a life I no longer wanted. I am lucky to come from a country which is safe, has free health care and education readily available (if not a little expensive these days!) I’m also in a loving relationship and I am close with my family.  While it may be hard for some people to understand, for me it was just pure adventure that pulled me to Canada.

Read more about the reasons I travel and my wanderlust here.

The other reason is that Canada is a great country. I completely understand why you would want to live in the beautiful Great White North. From coast to coast it is stunning, gorgeous coastal views to enormous mountain ranges and all brimming with wildlife.

However, as the saying goes ‘There is no place like home’. This is something travelling has taught me if nothing else. Even when you go to a destination that speaks the same language there are still so many differences.

In fact, I am super excited to return home and explore the UK as a tourist. People will often ask about my hometown and what life is like in the UK.  I find myself getting super enthusiastic when giving people advice and suggestions for future trips. My top tip has been to not skip Wales! Many Canadians, or at least the ones I have spoken to, tell me that they are going to London, Scotland and Ireland. But in my opinion, they have missed the best one out and I can’t wait to go hiking in the Valleys and Mountains of Wales next summer.

The UK has so much to offer I can’t wait to be a tourist at home!

But mostly, I am travelling to experience different things. I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled as much as I have. And in a rather cliche-d manner it has changed my perspective and outlook on life. You soon realise after living out of a suitcase that possessions are less important. Taking the time to enjoy your surroundings and the people you share it with become paramount as work takes a back seat in the name of adventure.

Have you ever lived in another country? Did you return home or move permanently? Let me know in the comments section I’d love to hear your experiences!

 

How to be a GOOD Tourist

You’re on holiday, you want to have a fantastic time, see everything and do everything possible. But this urge sometimes leads tourists to push the boundaries. Ignoring a sign, jumping a fence or carving your name in a tree may seem like a small moment that provides you with the perfect holiday snap or story, however, these actions are having massive consequences.

Being a thoughtful tourist is becoming more and more important. Recently, a beautiful Sunflower Farm in Ontario closed down forever due to inconsiderate visitors. The sheer volume of traffic to the quiet town in Millgrove caused huge problems for residents with the local police having to control cars through the site. Furthermore, visitors would simply trespass from every corner onto the farm to get the perfect picture, not only is this illegal, it often damaged the flowers.

This story highlights perfectly why we should all try to be good tourists. By thinking before doing, we can preserve beautiful locations for everyone to enjoy and enjoy safely. Here are a few ways to be a considerate traveller on your next vacation!

Obey Safety Signs

Safety police here! I may seem like a party pooper, but obeying safety signs is a simple step to be a good tourist. Every year there are stories of thrill seekers who have gotten themselves into danger and either severely injured themselves or died when disobeying multiple signs.

Those slippery rocks are not going to save you!

Whilst I hate seeing a natural beauty spot littered with bright yellow warning signs, I understand the importance. However, several times I have seen people inch themselves out onto slippery rock edges to get the perfect selfie.  It seems crazy to have to say it but obey the signs and stay safe!

Leave No Trace

Now this is primarily a hiking principal (check out leavenotrace.ca) However, it can be applied to all aspects of travelling. The idea is that you pack back into your bag exactly what you pack out, leaving no evidence you’ve ever even visited a spot. This is important when hiking so that the natural environment is protected, and animals are not attracted to human foods. However, I feel this principal can be applied to other situations. If you’re in the city and can’t find a bin, put it back in your bag too!

Don’t Approach or Feed Wildlife

As mentioned above leave no trace is key in protecting wildlife, once animals become accustomed to human food they actively seek it out. Not only does this endanger humans but the animals are less likely to survive on our crappy snacks. Plus, here in Canada there is a fine of up to $25,000 for feeding wildlife! Now that is an expensive holiday experience.

Both this bird and otter were waiting for food but don’t give in to the cuteness!

Matt and I have also witnessed tourists actively following a bear cub. Crazy behaviour like this can not only get yourself hurt but can often lead to the animal being putdown. All because someone wanted the perfect picture.  Recently in Alaska a gentleman jumped a fence from a viewing platform into a zone where several brown bears were feeding on salmon… all to get a selfie.  Given that there was a safe place to view these wonderful creatures from there is no excuse.  So, don’t become a bear snack… stay at least 100m away.

Keep off the Grass!

Another way to be a respectful tourist while on the trails is similar to the first one, stay on the trails! It maybe tempting to venture down to a river, waterfall or lookout when there isn’t a designated trail, however, you may be damaging valuable or endangered parts of the wilderness.  Surface vegetation, animal habitats and fragile soils can all be disrupted when we go off track.

Inukshuks left by tourists on the left and one left to mark a trail on the right… huge difference!

Even something as simple a picking up a rock can have an impact of the surrounding environment for many years. For example,  Park officials in Jasper have requested that hikers stop building inukshuks (balancing rocks on top of one another) on trails as it was causing major soil erosion.  However, if we all stick to the trails we can preserve these beautiful, natural resources for generations to come.

Try and Speak the Language

As a Brit I know we have a bit of a reputation for being rubbish with languages. It’s only partially our fault, we do get taught languages at school (shout out to my French teacher Miss Mariner) but we don’t start learning until we are eleven in most cases. Other countries learn from a much younger age and are therefore a bit better at us in terms of communication. But learning a few phrases show some willing when on your holiday. Nine times out of ten they will switch to English, but I do feel happy when I’m understood in a foreign language. Knowing a little about the language is also key when reading signs, using transit or in an emergency.

Use Public Transit

Using public transit may not seem like an obvious way of being a better tourist. However, by hopping on the bus, train or tram can ease congestion is busy areas, making it easier for residents to get on with their everyday lives. It can also be more environmentally friendly and cheaper than driving.

Go even further by travelling off peak and avoiding rush hours. Furthermore, many transit systems around the world are famous within their own right. The London Tube and red double decker buses, San Francisco’s trams or the subway in New York are well worth exploring.

Enjoy and Respect the Culture

A great part of travelling is seeing and experiencing new things. Witnessing different cultures is a beautiful thing but it is important to respect all aspects of a nations way of life. A simple example from my travels would be in America.  Their love for their flag and anthem is astounding, it is sung before pretty much every single sporting occasion unlike the UK where it is usually only done in the finals of a competition. However, whilst it is not my country’s national anthem (and I’m pretty impartial to that too!) I would always stand and remove my hat whilst it’s being sung. It’s a small gesture to show that you understand and respect the nuances of that particular country.

Consider Those Around You

This final one ties all these tips together, by considering those around you everyone can enjoy their vacation. Everyone is there to enjoy whatever sight it is you have gone to see so share the space. Maybe don’t take 20 minutes hogging the best photo spot, for example. Offer to take a group picture for someone struggling with a selfie and maybe don’t shove your selfie stick in other people’s views.

People in every shot at Peyto Lake and going off trail to get the ‘best’ shot!

By being aware and considerate of those around you can turn a good experience into an excellent one. Who knows that person who you take a quick picture for may know an excellent pub, doughnut shop or burger place!!

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Got There Eventually!!

Being a thoughtful tourist can make more of an impact than you think, so take the time to stop and think while on your next vacation. Not only will you enjoy your sightseeing even more, but you will help others enjoy them too! It’s a win-win!

How do you try to be a good tourist?? Let me know in the comments 😊

 

 

 

Top Tips for Bear Safety and Hiking

Being from England, I’ve never had to think about my safety in terms of wildlife when hiking. There is pretty much nothing that is going to want to attack or eat you. Although, one of my close friends will make a strong case for cows (they can run faster than expected), it’s safe to go rambling around the countryside without a care.  Because of this there was, for me at least, a slightly anxious feeling whenever we hit the trails here in Canada. The country is home to both black and grizzly bears, which gives hiking a bit more adrenaline.

We saw our first bear on our road trip to British Columbia. As we crossed the Alberta/B.C. boarder we were instantly met with luscious green, which was a beautiful thing to see after the grey winter of Calgary. I always sit with my camera ready when we’re driving, just in case, and this time it paid off. In a large parking lot on the side of the highway was a beautiful black bear. The area was big enough that we could sit safely in our vehicle and view the bear relaxing.

For me it was the ideal way to see a bear; he was safe, and we were safe. Everyone respected the bears personal space, recognised that he was a wild animal and we were in his home. However, this is not always the case. I have seen tourists actively following a bear cub to get a photo. If it’s a cub, there is a Mama bear not too far away! This a Bear safety lesson number one… do not follow the bear!

However, it is not just Canada that requires you to be bear aware. Other countries that are home to these fuzzy creatures are:

USA Russia Estonia
Bulgaria China Sweden
Finland Croatia Serbia

(not a full list… so check before you hike!)

There are also times when you need to be more aware. For example, you are more likely to see a bear during the summer months as they are no longer hibernating. Later in summer and into fall are when bears are most active as they are sourcing food ready for their winter slumber.

Due to my bear anxiety I have done quite a bit on research on how to prevent bear encounters and what to do if you do meet a bear in the woods. Here are my top tips:

Before You Hike

  • Check relevant websites for bear sightings

For Canada I check the Parks Canada site as they do a weekly bear report which is shared on their social media outlets. Another great place to check is the provincial park sites. Both are a mine of information before a hike, letting you know what trails are open/closed and where bears have been recently spotted.

National Parks in Canada https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/mtn/ours-bears/miseajour-update 

Alberta Parks – https://www.albertaparks.ca/knowb4ugo/

  • Pack the correct kit- and know how to use it!

When I speak to some Canadians about carrying bear spray they say there is no point. However, our fat tire bike instructor, who does a plethora of activities in the mountains said he always carries it which is good enough for me, so it goes in the pack. Make sure it is kept in an accessible place- you don’t want to be fumbling in a time of need.

Bear spray at the ready!

Be sure you know how to use it, practice taking off the clip before you go and check the expiration date. Be aware of how far your bear spray will fire and always read the instructions.

Bear bells are also frequently debated. Personally, I don’t have one, I’m pretty noisy when I’m huffing and puffing up a mountainside chatting away to Matt. But if I was hiking alone, I’d pretty much be wanting to sound like a one-man-band in the style of Dick Van Dyke.

  • Know your bears

You need to react differently with different bears. Black bears on average don’t want to know you, they just want to munch on the berries. Grizzlies on the other hand are called grizzly for a reason, whilst they aren’t actively seeking you out, they do react differently.

Black Bear Grizzly Bear
Claws are shorter about  1 ½ inches Longer claws 2-4 inches
Straight face profile Dished face profile
Taller ears Shorter ears
No humped shoulder Humped shoulder
Tracks are more rounded Tracks are more square

Also remember that both black bears and grizzlies come in a variety of colours ranging from blonde all the way through to dark black.

  • Have an action plan

Talk about what you would do if you came across a bear. For example, if you are on a one-way trail- are you going to carry on or head back? Who is carrying the bear spray? The person you are hiking with may have different ideas so make sure you are the same page.

During Your Hike

  • Hike in a group

Preventing a bear encounter is the smartest way to hike. Safest for you and for wildlife. Hiking in a group is a great way to do this.  Bears don’t want to approach groups of people so travel in a ‘pack’.

Middle Head Trail (39)

No Bears for us in Cape Breton!! 

Always keep your dog on a lead when hiking – they do not mix well with bears!

  • Be aware of your surroundings

Being alert is key. Every now and then I like to stop and check around me, including behind/above, as bears are known to track. However, the biggest note on this point would be to listen. Bears are big, so they are going to be making a noise- if you have your headphones in you are not going to be able hear them. So, ditch the music and listen to the sweet sounds of nature.

  • Make noise

Making noise along the trails is the easiest way to make your presence known. It gives the bear a chance to clear out before you even have the chance to meet.  If you are running out of things to chat about, try reciting things such as the 50 US states, European Countries or Premier League Football clubs. (Yes, Matt and I have genuinely done all of these!)

  • Check for signs of activity

There are a few signs you can check for along the way. The most obvious one is poop (scat), usually full of berries.  They also scent mark so look out for large amounts of urine (yes, fun!) A little less obvious are scratches on trees, you’ll more likely see the other signs before this one, and it can be harder to identify clearly as bear activity.

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Yes, someone had driven through it but that is bear poop and urine… full of berries!

  • Know your route

You may need to change your route so knowing where you are is a great advantage. Furthermore, should you encounter a bear you’ll want to leave it a clear escape route. Knowing your surroundings will help with this. For example, its useful to know if there is 5km of switchbacks ahead or a clear opening.

If You See a Bear

  • Quickly asses your situation

Hopefully, you’ve followed the above steps and know where in the trail you are, what lies ahead of you and what lies behind you. Asses what type of bear you have come across, so you know how to react. Communicate calmly with you hiking buddies.  Locate your bear spray (but don’t get trigger happy!)

  • Don’t panic

As with any animal remaining calm is and advantage. Whilst it is a shocking experience, panicking will surely make it worse.  Try to remember you are more likely to be struck by lightening than be attacked by a bear!

  • Make your presence known

If you come across a bear, make them aware that you are there. They don’t like to be surprised, so softly talking and standing your ground allows the bear to see you and acknowledge you as non-threatening. One caveat to this is if you’re 100% sure that the bear hasn’t seen you then back away slowly and don’t disturb him.

  • Do not run

Even if you are Usain Bolt, do not run! It may encourage the bear to chase you and you probably won’t win. Instead, make yourself big by waving your arms slowly and back away. Aim to get at least 100 metres away.

  • If it’s a Black Bear

Black bears are naturally inclined to flee, so chances are you won’t need to actually use your bear spray. As they are naturally inquisitive, behaviours such as standing on their hind legs are not signs of aggression. Mamma bears will sometimes do ‘bluff’ charges but again these are warnings rather than attacks so try to stand your ground. If it does escalate to an attack, with a black bear you should fight back.

  • If it’s a Grizzly Bear

You follow the same rules for a grizzly bear until it come to an attack. In this case you should play dead. Lie on you stomach, preferably with a backpack still on you back. Place your hands across your neck for extra protection. Spreading your legs will make it harder for the bear to flip you over.

After Your Hike

  • Report any bear sightings

After you’ve calmed down and got to safety, report your bear sighting/encounter to local authorities. This helps keep other hikers safe and enables wildlife to live happily.  If you see other hikers on the way back to safety let them know there is a bear on the trail and roughly how far away.

Our Bear Encounter

Matt and I put all of these into action when we came across a young grizzly one day! Yes, it happened, and we survived!! Just after England got knocked out of the World Cup semi-finals, we had intended to go for a 2-3 hour hike. However, slightly depressed from not making it to the finals and realising football was not coming home we decided to take a much shorter hike nearer to the town of Banff. Classed as a scenic drive, Vermillion Lakes provides beautiful views of mountains and blue waters on a flat trail of a few kilometres.

We ambled along the trail taking in the views, which looked much different from when we were there in Spring last year. The trail is actually on the road and several cars and bikes passed us on the way. On the road we noticed some scat, but it was pretty dried up and didn’t look fresh so we carried on. At this point a Parks Canada employee drove past so we figured if there was a bear that they’d tell us.

We chatted about the wildlife we’d seen here previously (deer, elk and moose) and joked that after the way the match had gone it would be just our luck to see a bear. On the return down the in-and-out track, we’d gotten a bit quiet and tired. But as we turn a bend, Matt grabs my arm and says, ‘There’s a bear!’ OMG, it’s happened! A grizzly bear! Humped shoulders and a dished faced. My research had paid off in identification.

Not the best picture, but we were not going to be fumbling around for a photo!

While I froze to the spot Matt reminded me to breathe and not panic. Luckily Matt is super calm in these situations and tells me to start walking backwards and slowly wave my arms. I’d always wondered what I’d say to a bear in this situation. Turns out it’s “I am not food!” At this point the bear is about 80 meters away so at a safe-ish distance.  We are not sure if he’s noticed us, but we continue through our bear safety steps as he walks in our direction and get the bear spray ready. My hands are sweating so much (its also super hot!) so I pass it over to Matt.

Fortunately for us it’s a busy road and a car comes up behind. Before the owner can even ask if we need to get in we are pulling on the back-door handle. We clamber in, practically sitting on the laps of the people on the back seat. Explaining we’d seen a bear they are more than happy to drive us to safety, before heading back to try and find him from the safety of their car. So, thank you to the wonderful Australian family for helping us out!

After my hands had stopped shaking, my heart rate had returned to normal and I was able to breathe again we headed back in to town to report our sighting at the Parks Canada office. The bear showed us no signs of aggression, but I was so glad to have done my research and learnt what to do. Even more fortunate for me to have the most relaxed hiking partner in Matt!

 

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post and that these tips are useful! Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever had a bear encounter!!

 

It’s Been Too Long!!- A Travel Update

As you may have noticed, I have been far from active in terms of blogging recently. This was not a conscious decision, but a mere fact of life.  Writing dried up over the past few months as Matt and I moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Calgary, Alberta. Not only did writers block set in despite the many wonderful places we have visited, but, many things have been happening that just seemed more important than writing about my jolly holiday.

Upon moving to Calgary Matt and I have once again had to restart. Whilst this is by choice (I’m not complaining) it never gets any easier. We are house sitting again, but instead of one long term sit we are hopping from place to place. I have to use my GPS everyday to get to work, find the bus stop or grocery store, but I am getting better! I attempted to write a few times during this transition period and many times it came out a little negative, which is never interesting to read.  However, feeling more settled and after much planning I have some great posts coming your way. But first I’d thought I’d do a little catch up. So, grab a cuppa and settle in!

Where I last left you

I have written a few pieces on our adventures since leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia(Halifax City Guide,  Maritimes Guide and Best Burger in Halifax). But I last left you as Matt’s parents departed and we made our second cross- Canada road trip. Leaving Halifax was not the easiest. I have made some incredible friends during my time there (my home is open to you all at any time!), I enjoyed my job and was happy going in everyday, furthermore I felt at home living by the sea. However, the adventure had to continue!

This time instead of driving thousands of kilometres in just nine days, we were able to leisurely coast across taking in more of the stunning Canadian landscape than before.  We explored suggestions from friends and homeowners we had sat for as we headed out to our next sit in Hamilton, Ontario. Visiting Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island), Fredericton (New Brunswick), Quebec (Quebec) and Ottawa (Ontario). Our bid to visit as many provinces and territories as possible was going well.

Check out my guide to Quebec here and Ottawa here

Next, we had a great three week stay in Hamilton, just outside Toronto, looking after a beautiful golden retriever and spunky kitten, Kessel and Snickers.

From here we were able to explore the vast amounts of waterfalls Ontario has to offer, including Niagara Falls, and take in a baseball and soccer game.

As we left Hamilton on our last stretch towards Calgary, it was time to get camping. With the car set up we drove through the night to Pancake Bay. While I loved driving through the night Matt did not, a major nap upon arrival was needed. When we woke up we discovered the beautiful beach just 10 meters away from our site. Perfection!

Next, we continued driving, taking in Kakabeka Falls, Winnipeg and Regina. There were many stops along the way at interesting places such as Thunderbay, Portage la Prairie and Medicine Hat. It was a fantastic journey to say the least.

Where I am now?

Arriving in Calgary at the start of June we have several housesits lined up to take us through the summer until we depart for good. It’s a challenge living quite literally out of your suitcase, however, I now know the city better than ever and have met some wonderful people and pets already. I even got to experience my first Stampede!

That’s a fried onion people!!!! It was to die for… and I got to do some line dancing too!

So many people have asked us why we would want to return to Calgary. The city has recently been voted fourth best city to live in, in the WORLD. So, my answer is why wouldn’t I want to return? Both Matt and I had fallen in love with the mountains during our first stay here (November 2016- April 2017) we wanted to come back and see what the lakes looked like unfrozen and flowers in full bloom.

As expected, we have not been disappointed. Furthermore, Matt was keen to come back and play football with his first Canadian team Code Red, as well as joining a men’s summer league (the boy is obsessed!)

Where to next?

As I write this we have one more house sit left and I cannot believe how quickly time has gone by. However, we still have so many things left to see and do. We are hoping to visit Waterton Lakes National Park, which is said to rival Banff for its beauty, as well as hiking many of the lakes we explored during winter.

We’ve been looking after some great pets and exploring all Alberta has to offer

The trip I am most excited about however, is when my parents fly over in October. We have a fantastic road trip lined up for them, showing them some of our favourite places. Heading out of Toronto, we are going to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec where we will be joining an NCL cruise ship. (how lucky are we?!?! I can never quite believe it!) The ship will stop at Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia then head round the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick before sailing down to Bar Harbour and Boston in the US. I am beyond excited not only for these fantastic locations that I’ll get to share with my parents, but for the mojito bar on board too!

Showing them around Vancouver and sharing some once-in-a-lifetime experiences was amazing can’t wait to do it all again in some of my favourite Canadian places!

After this it will be time to return home to the UK. It often feels like it was only yesterday I waved goodbye to friends and family. But two years have passed. With flights booked from Boston to London at the end of October many emotions have been swirling around. We’ve had fantastic time over the past twenty-four months experiencing so many different things and meeting wonderful people along the way, it will be sad to say goodbye to the country we’ve adopted as our second home. However, if I don’t leave then I can’t return.

Plus, if I don’t see my sister soon I might explode!!

Over the next few weeks there will be more content on the blog which I hope you will enjoy. A-Z Travels will continue through to the end and will conclude with the letters I missed out due to not knowing my alphabet! I hope you enjoy and if there is anything you would like me to write about please let me know 😊

A-Z Travels: R is for Rocky Mountains: Winter V Summer

When you think of Canada you think of the Rocky Mountains, the outstanding mountain range is the crowning jewel of Canada. Even before arriving in the country I knew that I wanted to explore the snowy capped mountains and crystal clear turquoise lakes. Therefore, we started our two-year adventure in Calgary. The city has all the advantages of the city, but you can still get to the mountains within an hour.

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Rocky Mountain Facts

The Rocky Mountains stretch through the Canadian Provinces of British Columbia and Alberta and the US states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.

Most of the mountain range has been protected by National Park status which make them popular for hiking, biking, skiing and snowboarding.

The Rockies are home to an abundance of wildlife such as bears, moose, elk, deer and bison.

The range stretches over 3000 miles.

Matt and I have been fortunate enough to experience the Rockies through a variety of seasons. We arrived in winter and were able to make several day trips to Kananaskis Country before completing a road-trip through Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper during spring. It was during this time that we fell in love with the area. The sound of nothing but snow crunching beneath your feet as you walk through a forest of snow covered trees to a frozen lake or waterfall is truly one the best feelings.

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Even after venturing through British Columbia and over to the Maritimes the  Albertan Rockies have always been calling. Luckily, Matt and I, have been able to return to Calgary for the summer where we will be able to explore the mountain range through to autumn/fall.

We are trying to get back to the places we visited before to be able to see the difference between now and then. Between frozen and snowy and hot and green! The palette of Calgary during our first stay was white, grey and brown but now it is so green it hardly looks like the same place.

So, this week I’d thought I’d share a few now and then pictures for some of the locations we’ve managed to revisit already.

Johnston Canyon

This was one of my favourite hikes during Spring as the waterfalls were spectacular when frozen. However, it was super icy and if you do head there during winter/spring I would recommend ice cleats and poles.

During summer the trail is incredibly busy. Matt and I hit the trail mid-week before 10am and we only just managed to get a parking space in the overflow parking lot. It was crazy. Due to this the trail was slightly less enjoyable. In parts it can be quite narrow and with lots of people fighting to get through it can take a bit of time. There were even line ups to view the waterfalls!

However, it was still a great trail. This time around I didn’t slip on ice which I was grateful for as there would have been far more witnesses this time around. We were also able to extend our hike up to the Ink Pots to make it an 11km roundtrip.

Morants Curve

Not a hiking trail but a great roadside spot for a beautiful picture. If you pull over just once on the Bow Valley Parkway, then this is the spot to do it. You’ll get a snap of a quintessential rocky mountain scene of mountains, railways and blue waters. Just look at how GREEN it is!!!

Canmore

The town of Canmore is one of the first places you’ll get to on your way out of the city and it is beautiful. We passed through on our first trip but managed to hike the stunning Grassi Lakes and hope to attempt one of the Three Sisters peaks before we leave.

Drumheller

Whilst Drumheller is not in the Rocky Mountains I thought I’d include it in the now and then section as when we first visited we were in near white out conditions and when we returned last week it was outrageously hot!

 

When is best to visit?

Maybe controversially Matt and I both commented that we were glad to have visited during the winter and spring. Unsurprisingly, the Rockies are busy during the peak summer months. But for both of us this did take away from the experience a little bit. Not only was it more crowded but we found ourselves becoming infuriated by the naivety of fellow visitors. For instance, we saw at least five people actively following a bear cub. If it’s a cub there is going to to be Momma bear not too far away and I am not up for that fight! Another time we saw people climbing over the wet rocks at the top of a waterfall. This just days after three hikers died doing the same thing in British Columbia. Whilst we are going to continue to explore the area we will be rising early to avoid the crowds!

However, no matter how many people are there, the mountains are still the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. You have to weigh up your options and see what is best for you. If you don’t like crowds but don’t like minus temperatures I’d recommend Spring. If you love winter sports than head there when the snow is plentiful.

For more tips of travelling the Rockies check out:

Top tips for Spring travel

Banff: When should I visit?

Thank you again for joining me for A-Z Travels. The next instalment will be in two weeks’ time and will be S for Sports. Happy Travels 🙂

A-Z Travels: Q is for Quebec City: City Guide

Like New York, New York, the capital of province Quebec is Quebec City. However, the city is very different from New York. Quebec has a charming European feel as you stroll around cobblestone streets inside the fortified city walls. It’s almost as if you’ve hopped on a plane and landed in France. The buildings, language and food all have a heavy French influence and its super fun to explore.

In a nutshell the French influence is nestled in its history. French explorers landed in the area in the 1500’s but were unable to survive the winter. (Canadian winters can be tough!) The city was later founded by another French explorer in 1608, Samuel de Champlain. Champlain set up a trading post alongside the St. Lawrence river and the city has been growing ever since.

You can explore the interesting city in many ways so here is my city guide to the beautiful Quebec City.

Fact File:

Currency: Canadian Dollar            Population: 538,200 (2014)

Language: French.

Everyone will speak to you in French first, all signs etc are in French but people are more than happy (or seemed to be!) to switch to English.

Typical weather:

Month High °C Low °C
January -7 -16
February -1 -14
March 1 -8
April 9 0
May 18 6
June 22 11
July 25 14
August 24 13
September 19 9
October 11 3
November 4 -3
December -3 -11

How to get there:

Quebec City has an international airport which makes is accessible from all over the world. The Jean Lesage International airport is about a 25-minute drive away from the city centre. A taxi is going to cost around $35 CAD from the airport to downtown. Alternatively, you can get the number 78 bus for $3.50 CAD (a day pass is $8.50)

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How to get around:

This is not a city I would recommend driving around. Like any big city it is going to be busy on the roads. However, combine that with tiny one-way streets and it can be difficult. We had to squeeze our big Dodge van into the tiniest parking space and it was not easy… I ended up having to climb out of the opposite side of the car!

Fortunately, it’s a great walking city. The streets are so pretty that walking is one of the best ways to see the beautiful architecture, you can take in the city walls, river and much more easily by foot so pack some comfy shoes.

If you get tired of walking, you can use the local transit, Reseau de transporte la capitale (RTC). A single fare is $3.50, day pass is $8.50. If you are staying for the weekend you can get an unlimited weekend pass (starting at 5.30 on Friday) for $15.50. For a longer stay in the city you can obtain a five-day pass for $29 (all prices in CAD)

What to do:

Visit Chateau du Frontenac

Hotel Chateau du Frontenac is the ultimate example of chateau-style hotel built by the Canadian railway companies across Canada. It provides a great starting point as it is next to the river, citadel and funicular down to Petit Champlain. For most people a night in the hotel is out of budget but you can admire the architecture by walking around the perimeter.

Top tip: visit at sunset for great views

Explore Old Quebec

Old Quebec is a historic neighbourhood in the city comprised of Upper Town and Lower Town. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage site where you feel like you’ve been transported to Belle’s provincial life in France. You can spend hours strolling around the cobble stoned streets.

Ride the Funicular to Petit Champlain

To get to the Petit Champlain district you can either walk the steps or ride the Funicular. I would recommend walking down and riding the funicular back up, Matt and I did it the other way around and were a little out of breath by the time we made it to the top!

It’s well worth visiting as you can explore its unique boutiques and cafes. The neighbourhood is also home to the city’s first port and some of the first houses built in Quebec.

Visit the Parliament Buildings

As you know I’m a fan of visiting legislative buildings (read why you should too here.) The top tip here is to get there early as tours book up quickly and are done on a first com first served basis. Because of this we missed out on touring the building. However, the grounds themselves are nice to walk around and there are some great statues with informative boards to peruse.

Walk the city walls

The Ramparts in Quebec are the only remaining fortified walls in North America north of Mexico. Surrounding most of Old Quebec it is an integral part of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right. There are four remaining gates to explore and spans over 4.6 kilometres. Plus it’s a totally free activity.

Where to eat:

Le Chic Shack

A top-notch burger option here! I was amazed at the reasonable price of the meal considering the restaurants location, burgers on average were $12 CAD. Matt and I sat out on the patio with views of the Chateau Frontenac whilst eating juicy patties on a sunny afternoon.

In addition to yummy burgers the Chic Shack also has great drink options. Matt enjoyed beer from local microbrewery, Archibald, while I enjoyed their home-made sodas, made with real fruit purees.

Café Boulangerie Palliard

I cannot resist pastries… particularly French pastries.  With four locations across the city there is no excuse not to indulge in a buttery croissant. The bakery combines the talents of French artisans with the ‘American’ experience of it owner, Yves Simmard.

Restaurant Le Comptoir

This place was super sweet and informal. It reminded me of European restaurants in its layout and relaxed vibe. After a long journey we were able to enjoy a great smoked meat sandwich and local beer. The waiter was really kind and let me take a copy of the menu, so I could practice my French.

Day Trip from Quebec City:

If you have the opportunity then head out to Montmorency Falls. The falls are just outside the city and are a sight to be seen. Standing at 83m tall they are 30m higher than Niagara Falls. We visited in spring and there was a large amount of water flowing making it even more interesting to see.  However, this did mean the stairs all the way to the bottom were not open.  You still got a great view by following the steps about 3/4 of the way down. But you will get wet with spray!

You can either drive and park at the site (around$10 CAD but includes entrance fee)  or get the bus from downtown.

Have you ever been to this wonderful city? What was your favourite thing to do ?

Thanks for joining me again for A-Z Travels, if you enjoyed my guide please give it a little like or share. Next week will be R for the Rocky Mountains. Happy Travels 🙂

 

Top Tips for Cycling as a Tourist

Many major cities now have easy access to bikes. Self-serve rental schemes such as London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ can be found in countless metropolitan areas. The idea originally began in 2003 in Vienna, Austria and has been exported around the world.  These bikes are great for locals and tourists alike as they are easily accessible and can be rented on and off throughout the day, week or longer.

Cycling can be a fantastic way of exploring a city without breaking the bank. It can save on blisters and you can cover a lot more ground than if you were walking.  In addition to self-serve bikes many places have rental stores where you may even be able to rent a tandem … if you’re feeling brave! And wherever you are you’ll be sure to have amazing views such as these:

However, there are a few problems with cycling as a tourist. For one, you’re in an unfamiliar area, making it much harder to navigate. Secondly, you want to stop and take in the view all the time and can get in the way of busy commuters. Nobody wants to end up in a heap on the floor, so I’ve compiled a list of top tips for a smooth ride on your next holiday bike ride!

  • Wear a helmet

Safety tip number one is always were your helmet. In some places it is a legal requirement to wear one. So, don’t worry about your hair, you’re on holiday, no one cares! The rental places have a special spray to keep them clean, so you don’t need to worry about that either.

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  • Use the cycle lanes… correctly

The bike lanes have been put there for a reason, for you to use. It can be tempting to ride on the pavement/sidewalk in areas with a lot of vehicle traffic but it can be just as dangerous.

Hamilton Bike Lanes

  • Be aware

I’ve seen a few accidents where people have ended in a pile on the floor simply because they weren’t paying attention.  It is easy to get distracted but being switched on could prevent a trip to the emergency room!

  • Don’t play music

If you are wearing headphones while on your bike you might not be able to hear certain things such as sirens, people shouting or car horns. Miss hearing one of these and you could end up causing an accident. Also playing music from a speaker on your bike is just annoying! Not everyone is going to like your music choice… but this one is more a bug bear of mine!

  • Obey the signs

Pure and simple they are there for a reason and they are there for your safety and the safety of others. For example, when cycling around Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada, there are certain sections which require you to stop and dismount. It is clearly sign posted but hardly anyone does it even though it goes through a kids play area. No one wants to run a kid over… so obey the signs!

  • Lock up your bike

Being able to lock up your bike gives you freedom. If you find a cute bar or café and fancy stopping for a bite to eat, just lock your bike up. Most rental places will provide a lock so make sure you ask before setting off on your adventure. Plus, having a lock saves any hassle should your bike get stolen.

  • Move to the side for photos

Don’t stop in the middle of the cycle path just to take a photo. Same as when you are driving a car, if you stop suddenly in the road you’re going to cause a pile up. So, check around and pull to the side before taking that perfect snapshot.

  • Check your bike before leaving the rental store

My friend and I rented a tandem and happily rode off.  She was convinced I wasn’t pedalling the whole time… turns out we had a flat tire! We headed back to the rental store and switched out for individual bikes which were way more comfortable and had super bouncy tires!

  • Stay hydrated

You’re going to get hot so stay hydrated whilst out and about. Pop some frozen drinks in your backpack and they will soon defrost giving you a nice cool drink just as you need it.

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  • Take breaks

If you are not used to cycling on a regular basis, make sure to pace yourself. Take breaks every now and then, you are on holiday after all! Enjoy the views, spend some time people watching or grab a quick bite to eat.

Happy cycling!!!

I hope these tips will help you have a smooth journey. Other than walking, cycling is such a fun way to see a place without getting on transit. It’s a greener way to travel and you get fit at the same time… what more could you ask for? So, get out there and have fun!

Have you ever cycled while on holiday? What’s the best place you’ve cycled as a tourist?

If you’ve enjoyed my blog, then please leave me a little like or share. Happy Travels 😊

A-Z Travels: P is for Provinces: How Well Do You Know The Canadian Provinces? QUIZ!

It is a common mistake to call the provinces of Canada, states. Unlike its American neighbour which is comprised of fifty states, Canada is made up of provinces and territories. I’ve learnt so much about the geography of this massive country on my travels so thought I’d share so of it with you. I’m not going to lie I didn’t even know how many provinces there were before my plane touched down 18 months ago!

I’m won’t give too much away in terms of facts as this week I’m presenting you with my first ever quiz. I’m quite proud as its my first attempt at coding, whilst its a simple quiz for me its a huge achievement. So , test out your geography and take my Canadian Province and Territories quiz! Don’t forget to let me know your score in the comments!


How many Provinces and Territories are there in Canada?
13
Correct!! Canada has ten provinces, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador and three territories, Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavut.
50
Wrong.. but the USA does have 50 states
10
Wrong… you forgot the territories
Which three Provinces make up the Maritimes?
Nova Scotia, British Columbia and New Brunswick
Wrong.. British Columbia is on the west coast and not part of the Maritimes
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island
Correct!! These three Provinces are all on the East Coast and are affectionately known as the Maritimes
Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba
Wrong… these Provinces are known as the Prairies
Which Province has the largest population?
British Columbia
Wrong.. British Columbia has a population of 4,849,442 where as Ontario has a population of 14,318,750 (estimated populations for 2018)
Ontario
Correct!! This province has an estimated population of 14,318,750 making it the most populated
Prince Edward Island
Wrong… the smallest province has the smallest population of around 152,768
When did Newfoundland and Labrador join Canada?
1867
Wrong… this is when Canada was founded
1949
Correct!! Newfoundland became a part of Canada in 1919 although its name only became Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001
2001
Wrong… but close this is when it’s name was officially changed to Newfoundland and Labrador
What are the 3 Canadian Territories?
Yukon, Yellowknife and Nunavut
Wrong… Yellowknife is the capital of Yukon
Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavut
Correct!! These three are all territories
Alaska, Nunavut and Yukon
Wrong… Alaska is next to Yukon but it is an American state
Which province/territory is also known as ‘Wild Rose Country’?
Nova Scotia
Wrong… Nova Scotia is known as Canada’s ocean playground
Alberta
Correct!! Alberta is known for it’s wild roses
Saskatchewan
Wrong… this province is known as the land of the living skies
Which province/territory shares a border with the US state of Washington?
Yukon
Wrong… the Yukon shares a border with Alaska
British Columbia
Correct!! British Columbia shares a border with Washington State… the home of Nirvana and Starbucks
Prince Edward Island
Wrong… this province has no American neighbours

This is not Mount Logan… but it is from the same part of Canada!
In which province/territory will you find Canada’s largest peak, Mount Logan?
Alberta
Wrong… home of the Rockies but not Mount Logan
Yukon
Correct!! Mount Logan is 19,511 ft tall and is in the Yukon territory
British Columbia
Wrong… but it is home to the highest peak in Canada outside of the Yukon, Mount Fairweather

Which province/territory is home to the Winnipeg Jets hockey team?
Ontario
Wrong… this is the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Manitoba
Correct!! The Jets play at the Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg
Alberta
Wrong… home of the Calgary Flames not the Jets
In which province/territory is the Capital city, Ottawa?
Alberta
Wrong… home of Calgary and Edmonton
Ontario
Correct!! Ottawa is in Ontario
British Columbia
Wrong… but you will find the popoular Vancouver in B.C.

How did you get on? Drop me a comment below to let me know how you did in my first ever quiz and attempt at coding! If you enjoyed it please share it … after all sharing is caring 🙂