The Best Things I Ate in NYC

The Best Things I Ate in NYC

When thinking about travel, food is often a major influencer in where I go. This year has been filled with foodie trips to cities like Montreal and Chicago, but surprisingly my stomach was not a major player in my NYC planning. That was until a few days before departure, when I booked a food tour of Chinatown and Little Italy (more on that to come). That set the tone for the rest of the trip which was all about sampling the local cuisine.

Bagel & Cream Cheese: Absolute Bagels

My favourite bite of the trip was a complete surprise to me. Although, cream cheese icing is one of my guilty pleasures, I have ranked plain cream cheese at the top of my ultimate dislike list. Totally bizarre, I know. But, I was adamant that I would try the top rated Absolute bagels with cream cheese in true New York fashion regardless of my taste buds. My bagel of choice was sesame with a garlic and chive cream cheese and it was BEYOND! I am fully converted now and I can happily enjoy both the sweet and savoury varieties.

Pizza: Lombardi’s

We knew that pizza was a must-eat in NYC, and when we learned that Little Italy was home to the oldest pizzeria in America, we set our sights on Lombardi’s. I can’t say that it was the best pizza of my life but it was certainly tasty and a cool experience too.

Milkshakes: Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

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I saw a blog post about Black Tap’s crazy shakes a few months ago and I really hoped we’d be able to squeeze in a visit. We almost didn’t make it due to the hour long wait (at 2pm on a Wednesday) but we were sure glad we did. This monstrous cookie shake was the perfect send off to fuel us for the flight home. Or at least that’s what I told myself to ignore the sugar coma.

Pork Dumpling: Tasty Dumpling

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 I’m not a huge Chinese food fan. It’s not that I dislike the food, I just like pretty much everything else more. But, I’m always game to try new things and I surprised myself with how much I ended up enjoying these pork dumplings in Chinatown. They are also super cheap so if anyone ever challenges you to eat for under $5 in NYC, this is your spot.

Cannoli: Ferrara Cafe

The way to my heart is surely through the bakery. That’s probably why I’m so fond of Peeta from the Hunger Games. Or something. Well, my happiness metre was off the charts with the cannoli from family-run Ferrara Cafe. The century old pasticceria was so delicious that we came back again a couple days later. Just doing my part to eat local.

Cheesecake: Junior’s

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One of my all-time favourite desserts is cheesecake so you know I had to make a trip to the NYC restaurant claiming to serve the The World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake. Upon review, it was definitely an excellent cheesecake but I could have done without the strawberry “goop” on top. Due to the popularity, the cheesecake did have a manufactured feel that I could have done without. I prefer a cake that looks and tastes like it was made by my grandmother.

I know that I missed so many amazing New York restaurants.
What should I add to my list for the next trip?
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The Best Free Things to do in New York

The Best Free Things to do in New York

It’s no secret that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But, on my recent trip to the Empire State, I was pleasantly surprised by all the fantastic and FREE activities to enjoy in the Big Apple.

Central Park

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Central Park is undoubtedly the most famous park in the entire world, and an important check on every NYC bucket list. Countless movies and TV shows have been filmed in this iconic spot which makes it all the more exhilarating to explore. It was surreal to see the Bow Bridge (pictured above) in real life. It felt oddly familiar from all the times I’d seen it before on the screen. New York is like that, familiar and foreign all at once.

Staten Island Ferry

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The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of hope and freedom to many immigrants who moved to America throughout the centuries. Tourists can pay to tour both Liberty Island and Ellis Island but the ferry to Staten Island is 100% free. The quick 25 minute ride through the harbour offers a perfect viewing point to get that coveted photograph of Lady Liberty in all her splendour as well as scenic shots of downtown Manhattan from the water.

The High Line

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The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. It is also one of the newer additions to NYC and wasn’t around on my inaugural trip back in 2007, which put it at the top of my list this time around. It’s the perfect place for a Sunday stroll with gardens, city views, and little restaurants along the way.

Grand Central Station

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Grand Central is the largest railway station in the world and the 6th most visited tourist attraction in the world according to Travel + Leisure magazine. After experiencing the size and grandeur of this historic building for myself, it’s no wonder so many choose to spend their precious New York minutes here.

The Brooklyn Bridge

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This NYC trip was dedicated to Manhattan but I’ve decided that my next trip will be based in Brooklyn. So as a teaser of coming attractions, we walked from Battery Park along the East River to the famed Brooklyn bridge. I love that the architects planned for an elevated pedestrian walkway to truly enjoy the experience.

New York Public Library

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I’ve always loved libraries. It completely blows my mind that there can be so many books in the world and I will read such a small fraction. When I heard that the Rose Reading Room in the NYPL was finally re-opening to the public after over two years of restorations, I was thrilled with my trip timing. This particular room is the length of two city blocks and holds about 52,000 books. Words really can’t describe it.

9/11 Memorial

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September 11, 2001 is a day that I and the majority of people around the world will never forget. It was my 14th birthday. I was wearing a blue skirt and a yellow shirt and I heard the news from my carpool on the way to school. I remember sitting in shock during Social Studies as footage of the planes crashing played on repeat. It was horrifying and surreal and a life changing day in history. I am not American but I too felt violated that day. I have many American friends and family members so this tragedy felt personal to me too. If it could happen in New York, it could happen anywhere.

I was finally able to visit the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero and the emotional 9/11 Museum last week. I was on the brink of tears for the better part of two hours while I re-watched the footage and listened to the testimonies of survivors. I was most affected by the voice mail recordings of the plane passengers in the moments before they lost their lives. The words of love for their family members were so beautiful and heart-wrenching. I cannot fathom the depth of that pain. But rather than living in fear or anger, I want to commemorate the lives lost by choosing peace, and hope, and love.

Take the time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and pay the extra to visit the museum. It’s worth it.

Riverside Park

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I am a self-delcared city girl and not one to shy away from crowds. But, after a few chaotic days in New York City, I was ready to retreat. Enter – Riverside Park. This lovely oasis on the Upper West Side was a convenient spot to savour our breakfast bagels and to enjoy some peace and quiet. You can tell that this is a local haunt and not somewhere frequented by tourists. I could have happily wandered for hours.

Charging Bull

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The Charging Bull, more commonly known as the Wall Street bull is the photographed art piece in the city and a symbol of the Financial District. Good luck getting a shot without strangers photo-bombing in the background.

Now what did I miss? What is your favourite free activity in New York?

 

A Weekenders Guide to Chicago

A Weekenders Guide to Chicago

“My first day in Chicago, September 4, 1983. I set foot in this city, and just walking down the street, it was like roots, like the motherland. I knew I belonged here.” — Oprah Winfrey

I’ve had the Windy City in my sights for several years now. When I announced that I had finally booked a trip to the architectural mecca, friends, colleagues, and casual acquaintances couldn’t stop singing its praises. As my wish list of food, sights and shows continued to grow with every passing conversation my only concern was how to fit it all in.

With merely a long weekend to spare, my trusty travel partner, Mindy, and I wasted no time in hitting as many of the cultural and foodie hot spots as possible. Good thing I’m basically an expert at the weekend getaway by now.

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We landed at O’Hare International on Saturday morning after a red-eye flight and made a bee-line for the famed Millennium Park with a brief detour past Navy Pier. On our way we passed by Giordano’s and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to finally try the much anticipated Chicago-style deep dish pizza.

We ordered a small cheese and pepperoni stuffed deep dish, which was intended to serve 1-2 people. We were hungry and barely finished half. This stuff is no joke. It was delicious but also not something I’m prepared to eat again anytime soon. Sorry Chicago, but I still prefer New York style.

Next on our agenda was the world-famous Chicago Bean. I’ve been to my fair share of monuments and tourist sites over the years and I was dumb-struck by the sheer magnitude of the crowd. In retrospect, visiting on a sunny, Saturday afternoon on a long weekend in summer probably wasn’t the best strategy for people-free photos. The public sculpture is actually titled Cloud Gate and certainly earns its popularity with its very cool reflective and distorting abilities.

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After visiting the bean, we decided to continue exploring Millenium park. We ended up stumbling across Buckingham fountain which I had never heard of before but turned out to be one of the most impressive fountains I’ve seen. And unlike the bean, it was nearly devoid of crowds while offering both stunning lake views and skyline vistas. My favourite surprise of the trip!

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From there the only place to top what we’d already seen was to shoot for the sky. So that’s exactly what we did at the Observation deck on the 94th Floor of 360 Chicago. The adrenaline junkie in me couldn’t resist trying out the TILT which essentially involves standing in a window that tilts outwards over the skyline. It wasn’t nearly as scary as the squealing girls riding beside would have you believe. But, if heights aren’t your thing then consider yourself warned.

We also made sure to time our visit so that we would be able to take in golden hour and sunset and even splurged for cocktails – now that’s what I call Happy Hour!

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Believe it or not, we managed to fit all of those activities into Day 1 after a red-eye flight. Needless to say, we were ready to call it a night by 9:00pm. We woke up well-rested and ready to take on another jam-packed day.

We kicked off round two with the much touted Architecture Boat Tour. Nearly every single person I spoke with about my upcoming trip to Chicago recommended this tour specifically so we knew that it needed to happen. The people were not wrong. After boarding our open air vessel and toasting with a morning mimosa, we spent the next 90 minutes in the very good hands of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The tour expertly guided us down all three branches of the Chicago river showcasing more than 50 skyscrapers, bascule bridges, and historic sites along the way. Informative and stunning – this was a trip highlight.

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Our next foodie goal was sampling an authentic Chicago-style hot dog. Our vendor of choice was Portillo’s which is known for the local delicacy. This “restaurant” could not be more American if it was located in the White House itself. The americana memorabilia and frenzy of calorie consumption was almost too much to handle but we soldiered on. I wasn’t sure if I could truly enjoy a hot dog without ketchup but the Chicago-original delivered.

In case you’re curious, the ingredients of this particular style dog include yellow mustard, chopped white onions, relish, dill pickle spear, sliced tomato, pickled peppers, a dash of celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

We had just enough time to Uber from downtown to Old Town to see a show by the legendary improv company – Second City. This is the same place where famed comedians Bill Murray, Tina Fey, and Steve Carrell got their starts. The performers we saw had some very big shoes to fill and they delivered a fantastic show of sketch and improv that lived up to its title Fast, Loud, and Funny. 

We took the scenic way home along the beach to dip our toes in Lake Michigan. I still can’t believe that it’s a lake and not the ocean. This is a seriously photogenic city and so much more than just the home of Oprah and Obama.

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As the weekend drew to a close we knew we hadn’t seen it all. With more time I would have loved to check out a jazz club and taken in a Cubs game at Wrigley field. But, I always like to leave a few activities still on the table because then I know I’ll have to come back again. I’m not finished with the Windy City yet.

 

Bowen Island: The Perfect VanCity Escape

Bowen Island: The Perfect VanCity Escape

I’ve made it a personal mission to visit as many of the lovely islands off the coast of Vancouver as humanly possible. So far that list includes Galiano, Keats, Salt Spring, Thetis, Vancouver Island and most recently Bowen. Each island offers something similar and at the same time unique.

And of all the islands I’ve visited so far, the one that is the obvious choice for best day trip from Vancouver is… Bowen Island.

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A couple of months back, I organized my third annual spring getaway with my university girlfriends. Now that we are all settled with careers and busy lives, I know that we all look forward to our quiet weekends away to relax and refresh.

What makes Bowen Island the perfect retreat from city life?

Proximity

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Bowen is conveniently located in the Howe Sound just a short 30-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. Many people even make a daily commute to the mainland for work or school. We were all able to put in a full-day of work before heading to the ferry terminal, knowing that departures left nearly every hour. Exactly the type of stress-free travel that I’m looking for after a busy week.

Serenity

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Within seconds of disembarking at Snug Cove, I could feel the calmness settling in. The Sunshine Coast is quiet and tranquil and full of natural beauty. It’s almost hard to believe that a place like this exists merely an hour away (door to door) from my big city life.

Our itinerary for the weekend was pretty simple: Spend time outdoors, enjoy good food, and be together. We chose an adorable cottage in the woods off of Airbnb and opted to make all of our meals at home. Even though the island is quite populated and definitely no hidden gem, it still felt at times like we were on our own. Stillness can be hard to come by in our tech-filled world, so I seek nature to ground me as often as possible.

Activity

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Although I keep touting relaxation and the “lack” of activity, there actually are quite a few things to do on the island. Our group enjoyed visiting the shops in the small town of Snug Cove (so adorable!) and wandering along the seaside boardwalk. The stunning views of Howe Sound always remind me of the fjords in Norway (or at least what I imagine they would like… that one is still on the bucket list for now).

We also did a short hike right from the main ferry dock to Dorman Point where we admired the arbutus-strewn plateau and tried to sneak a peak of the mainland. We wrapped up the day with a leisurely stroll around Killarney Lake, which is another popular area within reasonable walking distance from the main pier.

 

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We ended up spending two nights on Bowen Island but we all agreed that it would be just as easy to do a day trip if you want to save on accommodation expenses. I’m glad we took our time to savour the delicious spring weather and island vibes, but sometimes a day away is all you need to recharge your batteries.

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

For someone who has visited over 300 cities across 6 continents, I’ve sadly seen very little of my own country by comparison. When the Canadian dollar started to tank towards the end of last year, I decided that 2016 would be the year of Canada. I called up my friend Katie in Toronto and organized a long weekend in Montreal, a city I’ve wanted to visit for years. It would be the first time in Quebec for us both. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but as it turns out, I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.

I took a red-eye flight, arriving in Montreal early Saturday morning. After waking Katie up in our adorable Airbnb apartment and enjoying a wake-up coffee on our lovely terrace, we set off to to explore.

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Feeling fresh on no sleep – Take that jet lag!

Lachine Canal

We didn’t intentionally go looking for the canal but somehow I’m always drawn to the water. When we stumbled across the Lachine Canal we decided to take advantage of the warm weather and stroll along the path to the Old Port. Along the way we discovered that the park is also a National Historic Site and the third most beautiful urban circuit in the world as ranked by Time magazine in 2009.

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Vieux Port

After walking the canal we ended up in the Old Port which is by far the most touristy part of Montreal. We strolled the cobblestone streets, visited the stunning Notre Dame cathedral, and spontaneously bought tickets to the latest Cirque du Soleil show, Luzia. We simply couldn’t pass the opportunity to see Cirque in the place where it originated. It was a fantastic Mexican inspired production that wowed me even as a long-time fan. We even had the privilege of running into several of the star performers later the next day when they were casually doing back flips in the street. When in Montreal…

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I’ve already written about all the delicious food that we ate in Montreal but my favourite location was certainly Chez Suzette. We had a lovely spot in the window where we could enjoy our crepes and some epic people watching. Basically the perfect setting for our 10 year friendaversary celebration!

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Mont Royal

On Day 2 my main objective was to visit the Mont Royal park, which I didn’t realize is actually a large volcanic hill/small mountain. I heard that there was a great viewpoint, which should have tipped me off that we would have a climb ahead of us to reach the Chalet. It was well worth the effort for the views and subsequent relaxing in the park.

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Parc Jean Drapeau

The rest of our day was a bit haphazard. We had a plan to check out the first day of the Piknic Électronik, an EDM festival that happens every Sunday throughout the summer at Parc Jean Drapeau. However, by the time we got there, the line to buy tickets was so long that we figured we wouldn’t make it inside by closing. So, instead we opted to try out the much touted bike share and get ourselves some Bixis. We rode around the park and then ultimately decided to find our way back to the Old Port. A lot easier said than done considering the lack of bike lanes and the steep incline to the bridge. We made it across though and were rewarded again with some lovely views of the city.

Along the way we made friends with Samantha from LA and the three of us spent the rest of the evening riding through the city, searching for night life, and making friends with locals. It was one of those spontaneous nights that made me feel fully alive, like this is what it means to be young and adventurous and free.

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We ended our trip on Monday with a relaxing walk through our neighbourhood to a local Polish bakery.

Montreal is completely unique to any city I’ve ever been before. The history and language made it feel slightly European, while still maintaining a distinctly Canadian feel. The people were so friendly and the city was notably vibrant and energetic.

At the end of any trip, I’m always wishing for at least one more day. But, even though I didn’t scratch every item off my wish-list, I had a truly memorable starter weekend in Montreal. I have a feeling that I’ll be back. Until next time… À bientôt Montréal! 

 

The Best Food I ate in Montreal

The Best Food I ate in Montreal

One weekend in Montreal was in no way enough time to experience all of the culinary delicacies and amazing restaurants in this city. But… I did the best that I could and these are some of the dishes that topped my list.

Caution: Photos below may induce hunger.

Poutine: La Banquise and Les Folies

When I mentioned to friends in conversation that I was planning a trip to Montreal, the first thing they recommended was poutine. And La Banquise came up again and again as the go-to spot. This place has been creating legendary poutine creations since the 1980’s and offers no less than 30 different types. We struggled to decide but eventually opted to share two: (1) La Reggae: ground beef, guacamole, diced tomatoes & hot peppers and (2) L’Astérix: smoked meat, mushrooms, sour cream & pepper sauce (both pictured above left).

 

And no weekend getaway would be complete without brunch so in true Montreal form, I ordered La Voisine de Poutine at Les Folies, basically breakfast poutine. Mais oui!

 

Crêpes: Chez Suzette

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Since Montreal is in the French speaking part of Canada, it is also a great place to try French-inspired cuisine. I indulged my sweet tooth with La Rougemont, which is a sweet crêpe with apples, cinnamon, ice cream, and almonds served with 100% pure Quebec maple sirop. This may have been my dinner and I’m not mad about it.

Avo Yo Toast: Buck 15 Espresso Bar

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 I’m pretty sure that the Avocado Toast craze is not a “Montreal thing” but I was plenty delighted to see it on the menu at Buck 15. This unassuming coffee shop had a beautifully curated breakfast menu that made me want to return every day just so I could try them all.

Bagels: Fairmount 

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I didn’t know this before I visited Montreal, but apparently the city has its own critically acclaimed style. In contrast to the New York-style bagel, the Montreal bagel is smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser, with a larger hole, and is always baked in a wood-fired oven. I was under strict orders to head to Fairmount, which claims to have the best bagels in the world. I don’t know that I’ve sampled enough bagels in my life to have a firm opinion but I definitely liked what I tasted. I recommend the Chocolate Chip and the Sesame Seed.

 

On this trip we also enjoyed Sangria, Smoked Meat sandwiches, and delicious French pastries. I can’t wait to return so that I can add to my list – what do you recommend?

 

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Contrary to popular belief… I am not moving to San Diego, as much as I may wish otherwise. After my annual pilgrimage to America’s Finest City last month, I reflected once again on why I fall more in love with California living each time I visit.

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There are some very obvious advantages: Near constant sunshine, + 25 ºC weather in February, an abundance of delicious Mexican food (mmm… fish tacos!), palm trees and beaches as far as the eye can see… I could go on and on.

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I love the laid back lifestyle and I love that after six visits, I am still discovering (and re-discovering) favourite places, eateries, and activities.

Balboa Park

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I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to finally explore Balboa Park. If you want to get technical, I did visit the famous San Diego Zoo back in 2009 which is located in the area of Balboa Park. But, I have never spent time touring the park itself, which is gigantic and lovely. I could have easily spent the entire day marveling at the Spanish architecture, watching street performers, and admiring the manicured gardens. I’m already itching to return.

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

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There is something so lovely about returning to the same familiar spot year after year. My best friend Jennie just so happens to live in Pacific Beach, and the first thing we do every time I visit is take a walk down to the PB Boardwalk. This area is quintessential California. You’ve got surfers, roller skaters, cyclists, and everyone from retirees to families on vacation. I love the endless beach, the waves crashing on the outstretched pier, the palm tree lined sidewalks… This never gets old.

La Jolla

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No trip to San Diego would be complete without brunch and a stroll along the cliffs in La Jolla. There’s always a new place to sample or an angle that I haven’t photographed yet (although that seems impossible!). There’s just something soothing and revitalizing about this seaside community that instantly relaxes me. These are the moments that I store up and savour to keep me going long after I’ve returned home.

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 Do you have a favourite state?

Do you ever return to the same place again and again?

 

 

Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

Happy New Year! I couldn’t be more thrilled to be writing these words in 2016. It just sounds good to say, doesn’t it? 2015 was a wild year but it ended on a beautiful high that has carried me blissfully into yet another January.

For the third year in a row, I have continued my favourite travel tradition of celebrating the start of the year in a new city. In 2014, I set the bar high with a fun-filled night on the streets of New Orleans. In 2015, I partied Catalan style at the Plaza de España in Barcelona. And this year, I welcomed 2016 in Seattle, a city that is near and dear to my heart.

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My partner in crime for this edition of NYE is a regular on the blog – my good friend Mindy. Neither of us had ever gone to a fancy New Years party so we decided to go all out this year. We got tickets to the largest bash in the city at the Experience Music Project (EMP) museum and a room at an adorable boutique hotel downtown.

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The event was fantastic! Not only did we get to tour the exhibits of the museum (which included set pieces from LOTR, Star Wars, Princess Bride, and beyond) but it also included amazing cover bands, a live comedy theatre, and prime viewing of the Space Needle’s fireworks show. It was so much fun that I almost want to break my rule and celebrate there again next year… almost.

 

But the good times didn’t stop after the clock struck midnight.

Outside of the lower mainland where I was born and raised, Seattle is the city that I’ve visited the most frequently. But, I rarely get to be a tourist as I’m usually in town for something specific: cheering on my Seahawks, attending a concert, shopping, or heading to the airport. So, this time I made a conscious effort to soak up a different side of Seattle.

 

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EMP Museum

Underground City Tour

Several friends had recently raved about the Seattle Underground City Tour and I have to echo their praise. The comical beginnings of the “Emerald City” lend itself perfectly for a joke-filled tour of the subterranean passages that once made up the main streets of pioneer square. We learned a lot more than we ever wanted to know about early sewage systems and how The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 was maybe the best thing to ever happen to the city. I won’t spoil it all here, but I definitely recommend you take the tour yourself.

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Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum

I’ve never thought too much about how glass was made. Well, except for that scene in Sweet Home Alabama with the lightning. But, honestly, I had no idea what to expect when we decided to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum located in the Seattle Center. I was completely blown away by the truly incredible works of art created by glass blowing (see what I did there?). Inspired by the Venetians and created by Dave Chihuly, the exhibits were whimsical, vibrant, stunning, and awe-inspiring. We even got to watch a live demo from a couple of professional glass blowers and I was seriously impressed by their skill and patience. Usually I am intimidated by this sort of thing, but glass blowing is so cool that it makes me want to pick up a new hobby. Good thing I don’t make New Year’s resolutions…

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Boeing Factory Tour – The Future of Flight

I love everything to do with aviation. I love airports. I love airplanes. I love flying (even when I hate it, I love it). I’ve not-so-secretly always wanted to be a flight attendant. So when I found out that you could actually tour the factory where these dream machines come to life – I was sold. And while it was definitely cool to see the largest building in the world by volume, the tour left me a bit underwhelmed.

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The factory is actually located just 30 minutes north of Seattle in Everett, Washington, which made it a logical pit stop on our journey home. Perhaps it had something to do with visiting the site on a holiday weekend when less action was happening (a whopping 35,000 work at this location) or maybe we just got a below-average tour guide but the whole thing was kind of whomp whomp. I was hoping to hear some stories or get more up close and personal with the planes when really all I heard was a lot of statistics which flew in one ear and out the other. The one thing I do remember is that you could fit all of Disneyland and a 12 acre parking lot inside the factory. So there’s that.

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All in all, I had an amazing three days in Seattle. After dozens of visits, I still have more to explore, which is a tried and true sign of a world-class city in my opinion. 2016 is off to a fantastic start!

How did you celebrate the new year? Have you ever found a city that continues to excite after multiple visits?

Pin it!

Seattle

 

Hello Autumn: Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway

Hello Autumn: Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway

Living on the West Coast is the best. I love our mild winters, idyllic summers, and laid back style. But, one thing the Pacific Northwest is lacking in a big way is fall colours. I’ve never really understood the autumn obsession and that is likely because it’s not really a thing in my part of the world. I started to understand it better when I travelled to New England last November and got to enjoy the tale end of the beautiful red, orange, and gold.

So, this year I decided to make a return trip to the East Coast but this time to North Carolina. The main purpose of my visit was to visit my travel bestie Megan who recently relocated to Greensboro. But, the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway was a close second. We spent two days exploring the area and I was blown away by the incredible pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. Who knew North Carolina was such a stunner!

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We lucked out with picture perfect blue skies, warm but not too hot weather, and PEAK FOLIAGE! The hiking couldn’t have been better, well, except for the crowded trails. It seems like everybody else at the same idea for their Sunday afternoons. But can you blame them?

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We spent about 6 hours driving, stopping, and hiking on the parkway. The highlight was definitely our scramble up the muddy trail on Rough Ridge where we saw the best colours of the day and found many rocky summits to perch on.

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We also pulled off to enjoy the overlook of the Linn Cove Viaduct, which was built to protect the fragile slopes of Grandfather Mountain.

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And we ended our day at the Linville Falls. We hiked to several vantage points in the Gorge where we were able to get some very impressive views of the two cascading falls descending nearly 2,000 feet.

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After such a wildly successful day, we definitely weren’t done exploring. So on a much quieter Monday, we ventured out to a different, but equally majestic spot, Pilot Mountain State Park. The foliage wasn’t quite as vibrant but the views were just as epic and it often felt like we were the only two people on the trails. We viewed the big pinnacle and even got to circle under the cliffs.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I committed myself to a weekend in North Carolina but I was very impressed by the natural beauty. Nature lovers take note. This state is not to be overlooked.

Keats Island: The most beautiful place you’ve never heard of

Keats Island: The most beautiful place you’ve never heard of

This past weekend I took a much needed break from the rat race and retreated to the deliciously isolated and epically beautiful Keats Island. Where you ask? Well don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of it before. Keats is a teeny tiny island sandwiched between Gibsons and Bowen Island in the Howe Sound off Vancouver’s coast. In fact, you can’t even access it by ferry. My group chartered a small water taxi to get there. Now that may sound like a lot of work but like hiking, most things that take effort have a pay off.

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See what I mean?

I could not have asked for better weather for this first weekend of fall. And the panoramic views from our hideaway at Barnabus Landing had me swooning.

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Now if you’re looking for loads of activities or shopping or restaurants then you’ve come to the wrong island. Keats is a residential community and aside from a few cleared fields, it’s mostly forest. But, if you’re looking for solitude and relaxation (like me) then it couldn’t be more perfect. I went for a lovely hike in the woods and even found a sandy beach piled with driftwood but other than that… it was a reading and journaling and lounging in the sun kind of Saturday.

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Whenever I find a place this beautiful, I wonder, could I live here? Part of me never wants to leave. But then I think of the long, wet winters with nothing to do and I remember that I’m a city girl at heart. The few locals who live on the island year round will most definitely own their own boat, and fortunately the town of Gibsons on the mainland is very close, but that’s still quite a stretch for me.

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Fortunately, I can have the best of both worlds. Travel is a way to visit these places and try on a different way of life, even if only for a weekend. I get to explore a new destination and then return home, to a place that always fits me like a glove.

Could you live on a remote island or go off the grid?

Into the Wild: Bear Spotting at the Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary

Into the Wild: Bear Spotting at the Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary

For the better part of a week in the notoriously wet coast of Alaska, we had enjoyed cloudy but dry skies. All of our guides told us that we had really lucked out with the weather, which can throw a wrench in even the best laid plans. So, when we arrived in our final port of call, Ketchikan, I had a moment of dread when I saw that our luck had finally run out. It wasn’t really unexpected though as Ketchikan is one of the wettest places on earth with 150-200 inches of annual rainfall.

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And in truth, wouldn’t you be a bit disappointed to visit one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world and NOT experience some rain. That’s what I told myself anyway. So, we disembarked from our ship and eagerly explored the bustling town with so many claims to fame. Ketchikan is Alaska’s first city, the totem pole capital of the world, and the salmon capital of the world. That last one is very important because where there are salmon, you will find BEARS. And bears is what we were looking for.

Ketchikan is located on Revillagigedo Island which boasts a population of nearly 15,000 black bears. That’s a ratio of 2 bears for every one human inhabitant. With stats like that, I was really liking our odds of getting up close and personal with our furry friends. To give us the best possible chance, we drove about 20 minutes outside the city to the 40 acre Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary where our bear guide Zoe led us into the picturesque Herring Cove. They don’t guarantee you will see bears but we timed our visit at the end of the annual salmon run so our chances were pretty good. We certainly didn’t expect to spot our first bears within MINUTES of starting down the one-mile trail.

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There was almost no point in our two hour visit that we were not watching female black bears and their cubs fishing for salmon or climbing through the Tongass forest. It was unbelievable! I’m not certain of how many bears we saw but it was in the double digits for sure!

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It’s important to note that these bears are completely wild and living in their natural habitat. We were able to observe these creatures safely from elevated viewing platforms and suspension bridges that leave a minimal impact on the environment. What a thrill to see these bears outside of the confines of a cage! It may be more expensive and difficult but viewing animals in the wild is worth every penny. I have made a personal choice to prioritize animal welfare by supporting sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres, while avoiding institutions that exploit animals for entertainment. I just don’t believe in captivity unless it’s absolutely necessary.

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In addition to viewing the bears (which was more than enough!), we also got to visit the Alaska Raptor Center’s aviary exhibits which included a hawk, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon. Each of the birds at the centre is unable to survive in the wild or being rehabilitated so that they can be released.

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We ended our day with a walkthrough an historic sawmill where a Native master totem-pole carver was putting the final touches on his latest creation. Nature, History, and Culture of Alaska all in one afternoon!

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Oh and remember that rain I was complaining about… well the rain stopped right about the time we arrived at the Herring Cove. And it turns out black bears tend to hide when the sun comes out so the misty skies were actually a blessing in disguise.

What’s the coolest animal experience you’ve ever had? Leave a comment below.

A Tale of Two Rides: Touring Skagway by Train and Bike

A Tale of Two Rides: Touring Skagway by Train and Bike

I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to the coastal towns of the Alaskan Panhandle. In fact, I barely did any research before I set sail for the great white North (so unlike me). It did, however, make for a very exciting week of adventures as I discovered each town first with my eyes instead of through a screen.

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Port of Skagway – so pretty!

Our second port was historic Skagway. This gold rush town looks straight out of a Western movie complete with a restored boardwalk, saloons, and brothels. We were soon to find out that for a town with a permanent population of less than 1000 people, it sure has a lot going on.

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Back in time to the Gold Rush era!

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The one thing that I did know about Skagway before I got there was that it had a railroad. And if there’s one thing that I love… it’s sightseeing by train. So of course it was a complete no-brainer in my books to join Sockeye Cycle for the White Pass Train and Bike Tour.

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We met our guides straight off the cruise ship and had a quick spin around the town before boarding the White Pass Rail. I was instantly in my happy place, thoroughly enjoying the beautiful scenery and fascinating gold rush trivia from the comfort of our vintage passenger car, complete with wood burning stove.

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All Aboard!

Our 20 mile journey took us from sea-level to nearly 3000 ft and across the Canadian border to Fraser, BC. On our way we passed through tunnels, over sky-high trestles and beside cascading waterfalls.

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One of two tunnels we passed through. I even rode through this one on the outside balcony!

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Old Wooden Trestle Bridge

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But, this trip was not about the destination – it was time for the return journey – this time by bike! Another guide met us at the summit with our bicycles and after a safety orientation we bundled up for the windy ride down. We glided 15 scenic miles downhill, stopping multiple times along the Klondike Highway to enjoy Alaska with all of our senses fully engaged. We coasted down the mountain at speeds of 15-25 mph – definitely the fastest I’ve ever gone on a bicycle and far more exhilarating then the way up. We even got to ride our bikes back across the US border – how many people have done that?!

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A small portion of the Bridal Veil Falls

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Possibly not the proper way to wear a helmet – but I kept my ears warm!

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Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Thought it’s only used for tourism now, it played a very important piece in the life of the early settlers. My whole family had a great time on both the train and bike ride despite the initially chilly temperatures. It’s a great way to check out the scenery, get some fresh air, and learn a bit more about the fascinating history of this wild land. No wonder it’s the most popular shore excursion for cruisers!

What’s the best train route you’ve been on?

Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier

Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier

Alaska is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit but was sort of saving for when I’m older. It’s certainly not your typical backpacker destination as most visitors arrive by cruise ship. For this reason, it tends to draw a more senior crowd and I was perfectly content to wait for my golden years. But, when my parents suggested Alaska for a family vacation I was more than happy to oblige. After all, who knows how many of its glaciers will still be there in thirty or forty years? The sad truth is that the time to see Alaska could be right now.

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Our first stop of the cruise was the capital city of Juneau. The town is on the small side and while it has its charm, I was more intrigued by the more extreme sights. So we promptly ditched the shopping scene for glacier boots and loaded into a helicopter. That’s right you heard me. My first ever helicopter ride took me 3000 ft above sea level to land on the expansive Mendenhall Glacier.

Downtown Juneau

Downtown Juneau

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The helicopter ride could have easily been enough excitement in itself but it was actually just a means to an end. We landed at the only remaining dog camp in Alaska where 250-300 sled dogs are trained for racing. We were divided into small groups where we were allowed to take turns mushing our own sled as we raced across the snowy trails. How cool is that?

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All of the dogs are Alaskian huskies and purposely bred for racing. Our dogs were very energetic and friendly but the cutest moment of all came at the end when we got to meet the camp’s current litter of puppies all named after metal bands. I got in some snuggles with the adorable Motorhead and promptly started negotiating how I could take him home with me. Apparently they are not for sale.

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The dog trainers spend four months from May to September living up on the glacier in several not-so-insulated tents with no running water. They return to Juneau once a week to shower and do laundry. They do have a gourmet chef at camp, which definitely enhances the experience but even still, I don’t think I could spend more than one night up there. It may be beautiful but even in summer, it’s too cold for this sun worshipper.

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After returning to Juneau once again by helicopter we all agreed that our first Alaskan adventure had been one for the books. It’s going to be hard to top but I’m always up for the challenge.

My Top 5 Favourite Islands

My Top 5 Favourite Islands

Last summer I wrote a series on some of my Favourite destinations. But one of these lists needed some serious updating after my travel adventures over the past 12 months. So without any further ado, here is my updated list of favourite island escapes.

Spanning five unique countries, all of the islands on my list have one important thing in common: stunning natural beauty.

Top 5 Favourite Islands

Galiano Island, BC

This lovely little gem in the Gulf Islands is the nearest to Vancouver making it a perfect weekend getaway or even day-trip from the mainland. Very few people live here year round, but those that do love it’s laid back vibe and tight knit community. Galiano is the only place where I’ve ever felt safe enough to hitch hike or leave my bike unattended. They even have a free store and a free book store where you are welcome to take whatever you like – no donations required. With stunning views from the top of Mt Galiano, lovely trails near Montague harbour, and the friendliest locals around – It’s no wonder I have come to consider Galiano my second home.

Mt Galiano Viewpoint

Hvar, Croatia

If you are looking for an intoxicating blend of old world charm, exhilarating night life, and ruggedly beautiful coastline, then look no further than Hvar. Touted as the sunniest spot in Europe, this beautiful island on the Dalmatian Coast convinced me that it would make a perfect Honeymoon destination. A consistent contender on many top 10 lists – it’s no surprise that Hvar easily holds its own among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

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Capri, Italy

I just can’t get enough of the Amalfi Coast and especially my favourite little piece of la dolce vita – Capri! Twice I’ve visited this lovely island off the coast of Naples and twice is not nearly enough time to soak it all up. Famous for its dazzling Blue Grotto and beloved for its majestic Cliffside vistas, Capri is the perfect place to soak up luxurious Italian living.

Capri, Italy

Maui, Hawaii

Oh Maui… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Before I first visited Maui, I had previously been to Oahu twice. And I thought it was great. Then, I went to Maui and now I wonder why anyone even bothers going to Honolulu because Maui is E V E R Y T H I N G ! Less crowded than bustling Waikiki, Maui offers a more laid back vibe but still delivers a ton of activity if you want it. In my four day escape I lay on gorgeous beaches, snorkeled with sea turtles, drove the winding and scenic road to Hana, summited a volcano, and ate my heart out. I still look forward to visiting the other islands in the future but for now I am content with my version of paradise!

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Santorini, Greece

Located in the Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of mainland Greece is Santorini, one of the most popular islands in the world – and for good reason! I fell head over flip flops for the spectacular caldera views, beautiful beaches, cliff-side villages, amazing restaurants, and friendly local hospitality. Santorini was a dream destination for me and it absolutely lived up to all the hype. I had one of my favourite travel days of all time while riding an ATV around the island and touring the nearby wineries. It was so unbelievably gorgeous that it almost pained me to leave. I will definitely be back someday!

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What’s your favourite island escape?

Three Vibrant Years in Vancity

Three Vibrant Years in Vancity

“The past is like an anchor holding us back; You have to let go of who you are to become who you will be.”

(Carrie Bradshaw, Sex in the City)

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Three years ago, I moved to Vancouver: new apartment, new job, new life. After 24 years stuck in suburbia, living at my parent’s house to save money and finishing up my baccalaureate in business, I was ready to make a change.

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In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined that my life could look like this. I often take for granted all of the amazing experiences I’ve had in this city that I love: Volunteering at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, watching fireworks over English Bay from a rooftop apartment, sending paper lanterns into the night sky at Diner en Blanc, and most recently meeting Colin Mochorie at a VIP gala with Vancouver Theatre Sports. My routine is unpredictable at best. I have a pub trivia crew and a well-worn transit pass and an apartment right beside the beach, incredible friends with whom to enjoy happy hour and Saturday brunch and enough savings to travel the world. I get to attend amazing events, concerts, festivals, shows and spend Friday nights doing self-guided brewery tours. I’ve fallen hard for a city that often gets a bad rap.

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There are certainly mornings when the bus is sufficatingly crowded or when the rain seems to last for weeks. There are days when I feel disconnected and alone in a city full of strangers. Sometimes the cost of living makes me question if the price is worth it. But, then I take a look at the majestic mountains and the glass skyline and I pinch myself because I GET to live in one of the most beautiful cities on earth. For every day that I am frustrated, I have a dozen more that make up for it with excitement and energy and joy.

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I am a different person here than I was before. I feel like I’m thriving and alive and the best possible version of myself. Vancouver fits me like a favourite pair of jeans that you just want to wear every day. This city life is a dream come true and I don’t expect that I’ll get tired of it any time soon. I can’t wait for another year (or ten) of living in Vancouver. It’s home to me.

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Happy 3 Year Anniversary Vancity! 

Gone Coastal: Relaxing Reunion in Oregon

Gone Coastal: Relaxing Reunion in Oregon

For someone who had never even been to Oregon a mere 3 years ago, I sure am making up for lost time! And a lot of that has to do with the relocation of my awesome cousin Jordan and his wife Emily. They moved from Kansas to Portland a year ago and I’ve already been down twice. But, something I’ve been dying to do for years is spend some time on the famed Oregon Coast.

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So, I hatched up a reunion scheme involving an adorable cottage rental in Gearhart and a crew of Canadian cousins ready to road trip. In the end we were seven 20-somethings and a dog enjoying lazy days at the beach and cozy night of Cards Against Humanity. We ate A LOT of good food, played games, flew kites, drank beer, and enjoyed the laid back life that we love in the Pacific Northwest.

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We even had an unexpected surprise on our morning walk to the beach one day. As we approached the path between the town and the beach, we noticed some large creatures in the tall grass. It turns out that a herd of approximately 50-60 elk had decided to hang out beside our beach. Initially terrified but soon excited as locals assured us that it was safe to continue. We proceeded to pass by these majestic creatures, completely awe-struck. It was one of those magical encounters with nature that I will always remember.

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Move over #selfie because we prefer the #elkie

Move over #selfie because we prefer the #elkie

Since we could walk to the local beach in Gearhart – we didn’t stray too far from our little home away from home. But, we did make one excursion to nearby Ecola State Park in Canon Beach. The view point gave us a stunning back drop for some long overdue family photos. And the beach, mostly deserted, and stretching on like glass, made for a very chill afternoon.

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Cousins – me and the boys!

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Typically on a short trip like this, I would try to pack in a lot of activities. Especially when I’ve had my eye on the coast for such a long time. But, for this long weekend I left things unscheduled and gave myself permission to just relax. Maybe it’s part of getting older. Or maybe it is the craziness of my home life right now (flooded apartments are no joke…eek!). But a weekend away with good people and no plans was exactly what the doctor ordered. And let’s get real… we all know I’ll be back.

Salt Spring Vineyards: A Taste of Island Living

Salt Spring Vineyards: A Taste of Island Living

During the past three years, I have fallen head over flip flops for the Southern Gulf Islands. Most of that time has been spent frequenting my beloved Galiano but last weekend I visited a new island that is sure to become a favourite. This was my first of two scheduled trips to Salt Spring Island this summer and I’m already itching to get back. There is a surprising number of activities to do and places to see on an island with only 10,000 inhabitants.

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Fortunately many of these activities lean towards the delicious. It’s no secret to my friends and family that I’ve become a bit of a wino (yet still totally classy) in recent years, so when I learned that we were heading straight from the ferry to a brewery and then on to a winery I was instantly excited.

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The highlight of the day was our visit to Salt Spring Vineyards. The idyllic location could have been straight out of a movie and the wine was tailor-made for summer nights by the lake. The free tasting featured four local wines: Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir Rose, Petite Milo (my personal fave!), and the Blackberry Port. I loved all of them and we walked away with two bottles to share with friends.

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After deliberating long and hard we also purchased a couple of glasses to enjoy immediately with bread and cheese from the Salt Spring Cheese Company. We sat outside under the warm spring sun, sandwiched between a pond and the vineyards. I could think of worse places to spend a Saturday afternoon.

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I didn’t get to visit any of the other wineries this time around but I’m already scheming for my return trip this August. Salt Spring you sure know the way to my heart!

To Hell and Back: Flying over the Fraser Canyon

To Hell and Back: Flying over the Fraser Canyon

I’m continually blown away by where I get to live. Beautiful British Columbia earns its name in spades with all of the natural wonders mere minutes from my door. This really is the perfect home base for an avid traveller with a desk job. I get to take stay-cations and getaways to world-class sites on my weekends without even dipping into my precious stash of vacation days.

After 20 something years of exploring my own backyard it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find new places to explore. That’s why it seemed absolutely crazy that I had not visited Hells Gate yet. I was certainly aware of its existence as basically all of my friends and family had been there on a school field trip or family outing. But, somehow my grade had mysteriously skipped the Hells Gate excursion, leaving me in the dark as to what it was all about.

Well I’m pleased to announce that this past weekend I finally made the day trip to the stunning Fraser Canyon to see what I’d been missing.
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In short, Hells Gate is a narrowing of the Fraser River where the towering canyon walls force thundering rapids through a small 33 metre passage. Just imagine 200 million gallons of water per minute thundering beneath you. Having trouble picturing it? Here’s a visual.

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But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s backtrack shall we?

If you’re like me, perhaps you have some questions about a place that calls itself Hell. I know I did. Well if I’m being honest, I didn’t see anything hellish about Hells Gate at all. The day began with an incredibly scenic drive through the Fraser Canyon. We took the Trans Canada Highway east past Hope and through 7 mountain tunnels before reaching our destination. In all my years I don’t think I had ever been on that stretch of highway before as I usually divert down the Coquihalla when heading further east.

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But this road trip was like stepping back in time to the Gold Rush era as we passed through tiny historic towns like Yale and blink-or-you’ll-miss-it Spuzzum. It’s hard to believe that people actually live in such remote communities. And even though I could never give up my life in the big city, I can see the appeal. The air was fresh. The mountains majestic. And the only sounds I heard were the rushing river and the occasional train.

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After a 3 hour drive from Vancouver we reached the Hells Gate Airtram, one of the only descending gondolas in North America. The first thing I had to know was how it got its name. And fortunately the answer was waiting for me on a sign at the entrance. The name Hells Gate came from the journal of famed explorer Simon Fraser way back in 1808. He described it has a place “where no human being should venture for surely we have encountered the gates of hell.”

Honestly the place was more impressive than intimidating. I love both heights and white water rafting so part of me was eager to get in a boat and check it out from water level. But, I can imagine that before all the infrastructure was built (and to someone less brave than I) this place would have been a fearsome sight.

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We barely had to wait for our small 25 person gondola to carry us down to the lower terminal on the opposite side of the river. The birds’ eye view was a great vantage point to snap pictures of the landmark including the pedestrian suspension bridge, observation deck, restaurant, gift shop, and museum.

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My favourite spot was the bridge over the river which got me a bit closer to concerned about the force of the rapids. What really freaked me out were the historical facts about the 1948 flood. Back then a cool spring delayed the snow melt and when several days of hot weather and warm rain hit in May, the river quickly swelled to disastrous proportions. The footbridge I was standing on was actually a reconstruction as the original had been completely destroyed by the flood. It took a month for the water to recede and by that time 16,000 people had been evacuated and damages totaled $20 million. To put the flood volume into perspective, it is estimated that a continuous flow of 537,000 cubic feet per second would fill the dome-covered BC Place Stadium in less than two minutes! The disaster junkie in me would not have been able to tear my eyes away from that sight!

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I also finally got to see what makes this such a popular elementary field trip spot. Not only is it a beautiful location but you can learn about the salmon run and the Gold Rush all in one go. The fisheries exhibit features an award winning video titled Run Sockeye Run and you can even pan for gold for just $5.

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It might be a little (okay, a lot) off the beaten track but there’s a reason that Hells Gate Airtram has been around for over 40 years… there really is no place like Hell.

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*Note: Hells Gate Airtram very kindly offered me complimentary passes, but all opinions are my own.  

Secret Cove: A Blissful Retreat on the Sunshine Coast

Secret Cove: A Blissful Retreat on the Sunshine Coast

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” – Amy Poehler

Let me start by taking a quick moment to rave about my friends. I just spent an over-the-top wonderful weekend away with three of my college girlfriends and I am feeling a tad sentimental. These women are strong, funny, confident, competent, and I am a better person for knowing them. And best of all, they are always up for one of my travel adventures!

This year for our second annual Girls Getaway we snuck away to Secret Cove near Halfmoon Bay on the Sunshine Coast. With a name like that you’d think we’d be guaranteed good weather but that is not always the case in the unpredictable Pacific Northwest. Lucky for us, the odds were ever in our favour as we enjoyed flawless spring weather all weekend long. I’m sure I started to sound like a broken record because I could NOT STOP talking about how perfect the temperature is right now and how this is the best and how I’m just so happy right now! I mean… look at this view. What’s not to love?

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The first element that made this weekend so awesome was our accommodation. We stayed in yet another Airbnb rental and this time it was a 3-bedroom, 1.5 bath, Treehouse Log Cabin complete with hot tub and a wrap around deck. From the moment we walked through the French doors we felt at home. The cabin was the perfect mix of rustic yet modern décor complete with cozy touches like robes and slippers to truly put us in a state of much needed relaxation.

IMG_3680 IMG_0751 IMG_0754 IMG_3636 IMG_0756We were perched on top of a cliff with a staircase leading down to a private dock on Secret Cove. I’m embarrassed to say that we only made the trip down once during the weekend. That epic stair master climb back to the top really did me in. But as you can see from the photos, we had a ton of privacy. We did not see or hear any of our neighbours even once. Similarly in the nearby town of Sechelt we barely saw other people on the boardwalk or beach. I didn’t think the Sunshine Coast was a hidden gem but maybe it is after all?

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This might be obvious by now, but our mission for this weekend was relaxation. Plain and simple. We packed a ton of games and a cooler full of food with very little actual plans. But, I always like to factor in a little exploration into my travel so on Saturday morning we went for a walk/hike to nearby Smugglers Cove. We set off after a leisurely brunch and walked about 30 minutes down the road. The gentle trail took us to several gorgeous lookouts where we lay on the rocks lightly baking in the sun. We climbed over drift wood on solitary beaches and admired the purple star fish clinging to the cliffs.

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Later that day we emerged from our hideaway and drove to Sechelt, which is the Sunshine Coast’s version of a city. We ate gelato on the pier and enjoyed dinner at The Lighthouse Pub where we strolled up at 6:30pm and instantly grabbed a table with an amazing view of Porpoise Bay. Seriously, where are all the people?

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Our Sunday was mostly a leisurely trip home by car, then ferry, and car once again (with another mandatory gelato stop of course). This trip was precious quality time with friends that get me at my core and appreciate my quirks as much as my strengths. Of all the elements that made this trip fantastic (weather, location, accommodation) it is Crystal, Mindy, and Rachel that made it truly special. What a gift!

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Have you been to the Sunshine Coast? Where is the most relaxing place you’ve visited?

From Sea to Summit: The Haleakala Volcano

From Sea to Summit: The Haleakala Volcano

With only four full days in Maui – it was extra important to prioritize the activities that we most wanted to see. And one place that I didn’t feel right about skipping was the massive Haleakala volcano. Maui’s highest peak makes up approximately 75% of the island’s landmass, so in many ways Haleakala IS Maui.

After checking out of our Airbnb condo rental and loading up our trusty rental car, we set off for our last major Maui adventure. The drive from our base in Kihei to the summit took approximately two hours. It’s a 37 mile drive from sea level to the 10023 foot summit – the world’s highest elevation gain in the shortest distance. With that kind of elevation gain happening, altitude sickness was a mild concern. However we didn’t plan to do any major hiking so we ended up just fine.

At one point we were completely engulfed in dense clouds and wondered if we would even be able to see anything from the summit. Fortunately, we soon emerged from the clouds and were delighted by the view from the lookouts on the way up. The scenery was dramatically different from everything we had previously seen on Maui.

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Can you believe that on the drive to the summit, we passed through just as many ecosystems as you would if you drove from Mexico to Canada! At times the landscape was so foreign that it appeared as if we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on the moon!

We decided to head up mid-day to avoid the crazy crowds at sunrise and sunset. Although I’m sure the views are stunning at those times of day, we weren’t disappointed with our view at all. We lucked out and had a beautiful, sunny, clear day. From the summit we could even see neighbouring Moana Loa over on the Big Island.

IMG_3523 IMG_0717The summit of Haleakala is above one third of the Earth’s atmosphere and has excellent astronomical seeing conditions. The limited light pollution combines to make one of the most sought-after locations in the world for ground-based telescopes.

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There are so many ways to explore the Haleakala National Park. This trip was really just a teaser of what’s to come. Next time that I visit Maui, I want to try (1) a cycle tour from the summit, (2) paragliding!!, (3) hiking down into the crater, and (4) checking out the famous sunrise!

It’s easy to see what people love about Maui and why it truly is paradise. I’m clearly smitten and I know I’ll be back!

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Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

When I was initially looking into this trip to Maui, there was only one thing that I HAD to do. Ok – maybe I had to go to a beach, and eat pancakes with coconut syrup, and eat fish tacos, and drink Mai Tai’s, and photograph palm trees but really the most important activity on my radar was the famous (and sometimes infamous) Road to Hana.

The Road to Hana is really just the Hana Highway, which is a 64.4-mile long stretch connecting Kahului with the town of Hana in east Maui. But don’t be mistaken, this is not your average highway. Although, Hana is less than 100km from Kahului, it takes about 2.5 hours to drive when no stops are made as the “highway” is very winding and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. You heard me – ONE lane! This means that every few minutes you may be required to pull off to the side to let a vehicle, that is coming straight towards you, pass.

This winding road is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many people experience extreme car sickness or anxiety due to the 620 curves along Route 360. Fortunately, I did not experience any of the negative side effects on my own trip to Hana. I was deliriously happy to be driving through lush, tropical, rain forest, snaking along the coast, and passing by beautiful waterfalls. Simply put, Maui is paradise!

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With so many potential stops and view points along the way, I enlisted my friend Natasha (a Maui expert) to help me nail down a kick-ass itinerary. With only one day, we needed to make it count.

These are the 5 main stops we recommend on a one day return trip to Hana:

Stop #1: Twin Falls Farm Stand

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The Road to Hana starts near the town of Paia. After following highway 36 for about 20 minutes you should come across this easy to spot Farmstand with a small parking lot. We got there bright and early (8:30am) so we easily found a spot to park. We spent an hour strolling along the path and enjoying the jungle-like atmosphere. This is also a great spot to buy fresh local fruit (although you will pass tons of vendors along the way) and sample some coconut candy on your way out.

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Stop #2: Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread in Ke’anae / Halfway to Hana

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We were eagerly anticipating our second stop because BANADA BREAD! Maui is famous for the stuff and I was told that Aunty Sandy makes the best. After another 45 minutes of driving we pulled off in Ke’anae and our jaws hit the floor. The view was so spectacular that we were barely phased by the unfortunate closed sign on the store front (it was Easter Sunday). We had a mini photo shoot and then continued on our way before quickly running into a giant Halfway to Hana sign. We pulled over and discovered that we could still purchase banana bread at this snack shack instead. And it even turned out to be home of “the original” banana bread. Our lucky day!

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Stop #3: Waianapanapa State Park

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Yet another 40 minutes down the road was Wai’anapanapa State Park where we were excited to see our very first black sand beach! While the hot sun beat down on us, we enjoyed photographing the blowholes and climbing over the volcanic rock. I especially loved the colour contrast of the black rock and the vibrant green plant life against the blue sea and sky.

The park is a great rest stop; It’s set up for camping, picnic lunches, or just a relaxing day at the beach. We could easily have spent the entire day here but we soldiered on.

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Stop #4: Hana & Red Sand Beach

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Following our leisurely stop at Wai’anapanapa, it was only another 10 minutes to our excursion’s namesake. We reached Hana Bay and found the town a bit small and underwhelming. Many people decide to stay in Hana overnight or camp nearby but we needed to get back to the other side of the island by nightfall. We originally planned to visit the Red Sand Beach here, but opted to skip it in order to spend more time at our final major stop of the day. We’d been warned that the best stops were past Hana.

Stop #5: Kipahulu Area of Haleakala National Park

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You can’t miss Kipahulu – It’s a very obvious stop and has something for everyone. Upon arrival, I quickly darted into the visitor’s center to seek shelter from the sudden rainstorm. The weather on the eastern side of the island is milder and wetter, prone to sudden heavy rains and winds. Unfortunately, the Seven Sacred Pools at the Oheo Gulch were not open for swimming during our visit. So instead I opted to hike the Pipiwai Trail in search of Waimoku Falls (pictured above), the great Banyan Tree (below) and the Bamboo Forest.

I began the hike knowing full well that I was going to be completely drenched by the end and that flip flops (the only footwear I had with me) would not be ideal. I was mildly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way when I saw everyone coming down decked out in proper hiking gear. But I surprised myself and managed the 2 mile trail and 800 ft elevation gain with relative ease, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Check out Go Visit Hawaii for detailed tips on hiking the Pipiwai Trail.

Even though I was soaking wet and covered in mud by the end of it, I felt elated. This is what it means to be alive! I loved how it felt to be alone in nature with the elements and nothing to think about but where to put my feet next. I returned to the car rejuvenated and thankful for a body that can move and for the opportunity to travel to places like Maui.

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The Way Back

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Most people return from Hana by going back the same way they came.

If you continue on past Kipahulu around the backside of Haleakala and around, the road gets really rough. Not only is it one lane for a major section but it is unpaved and rocky with blind turns and drop offs. We had been warned about the road conditions but were promised that the road does get better and that the view is worth it. And it was!

My photos do not do justice to the awe-inspiring landscape we drove through in near isolation for the 2 hour return trip. The road did get better and the landscape was completely different from the tropical rain forest we had passed through on the other side. We drove through rolling fields of long grass, seemingly untouched by civilization. We presume that tourists are told not to travel this way so that the locals can hoard this place to themselves.

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So in conclusion I leave you with a few words of advice if you plan to do the Road to Hana for yourself.

Top 8 Hana Survival Tips:

1. Pull over for faster vehicles

This one is more about etiquette and the aloha spirit. On one lane roads, it is just better for everyone if you let the speeders pass you by.

2. Plan for a full day and leave early

We left our condo just after 7am and returned just after 7pm (post-sunset). I’m not a fan of driving those roads in the dark and it really is a full day. Beat the crowds and start early.

3. Leave with a Full tank of Gas

There are no gas stations between Paia and Hana so do not make the mistake of expecting to find gas on the road.

4. Find good music

My favourite part about road trips is singing loudly and car dancing with friends. Katie and I fell madly in love with the station 99.9 Kiss FM – Maui’s Best Mix of Yesterday & Today. One minute you’re belting it out to Sam Smith and the next minute you’re dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! What could be better than that?

5. Prepare for Rain

Hana is lush and tropical for good reason. It is one of the most rained on places on Earth, so be prepared with something to dry off with and some protection if you plan on walking around a lot.

6. Eat the Banana Bread

I don’t care if you don’t like bananas – eat the bread! Yes, I am bossy. You’ll thank me later.

7. Don’t Stop Everywhere, but do stop where you want

As I mentioned, the best stops are past Hana so if you stop at every bridge and shoulder with a view you are never going to make it in one day. We definitely made some unplanned stops because the view was just too good not to but we definitely passed on a lot of spots. Trust me, you will see amazing things no matter what!

8. Bring snacks and water

There are not a lot of restaurants between Paia and Hana (and basically nothing on the backside) so we packed a full day of snacks and water so that we would have enough energy to tackle all of the awesome sights on the way. Plus we never had to wait in lines to buy food. Efficiency is sexy people!

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Our little engine that could – 2014 Ford Focus

If you can stomach up the courage to rent a car and drive the Road to Hana, I highly recommend it. In this case it really is (as cliché as it sounds) all about the journey, not the destination.

What about you? Have you ever consider driving the Road to Hana?

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater & Turtle Town

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater & Turtle Town

I like to consider myself a fairly adventurous person. I love heights (and jumping from heights). I will eat pretty much anything. I enjoy road trips, climbing, hiking, and camping. I grew up exploring a wide variety of water sports from tubing to knee boarding to wake boarding. But for some reason I’ve always been a little bit frightened of the ocean.

Even though I live on the beach and could spend all day every day looking at the blue waves crashing on the seashore, I’m still a bit hesitant to merge my land loving life with what lies under the sea. I think it has to do with all of the deadly sea creatures just waiting to sting, bite, and dismember me. But, fortunately, I know that this fear is mostly irrational (but not entirely – shark attacks happen people!) and I have taken the plunge in many beautiful spots around the world… most notably snorkeling in the Red Sea and the South China Sea. And if truth be told, I’ve always enjoyed snorkeling.

So on my recent trip to Maui I decided to join my aquaphile bestie on yet another snorkel trip. I knew it would be fun but I certainly didn’t expect it to be the highlight of my trip!

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Molokini Crater

We started off the day at Maalaea harbor where we boarded the Pride of Maui and took our seats for a one hour sail to the first stop. We knew we were in for an excellent day when the crew was already serving my favourite Kona coffee at registration. We filled up on delicious Maui pineapple at the breakfast buffet and braced ourselves for what was shaping up to be a fabulous day!

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Our first stop was the beautiful Molokini crater, which offers exceptionally clear water with visibility reliably in excess of 150 feet. The healthy coral reef is sheltered in the arms of the crater creating an amazing underwater sanctuary. And to Katie’s delight… a bird sanctuary above. Her major dilemma of the day was how to manage her face time… in the water vs. looking up at the sky. Molokini snorkeling is truly a unique experience, as there are only 3 volcanic calderas including Molokini in the entire world!

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We swam for about an hour enjoying the calm currents and thousands of fish. My fears were completely forgotten as I eagerly asked Katie to identify all of the brightly coloured fish I was seeing. It turns out that it is pretty handy having a science/marine/animal expert for a travel buddy.

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Back on board we set sail again for our second stop of the day – Turtle Town. While we enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch we spotted North Pacific Humpback whales in the distance. This was a thrilling surprise as whale season was just wrapping up and we weren’t expecting to see any on our trip. We eventually settled just off the Southern coast of Maui near Nahuna point where we hoped to be able to swim with the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.

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This area is home for the protected sea turtles who were soon bombarded with snorkelers ignoring the rules to stay 10 feet away and not swim overtop of the surface breathing reptiles. I got a bit frustrated by the crowds so I swam off on my own and quickly found my own personal turtle to observe for over 20 minutes. I swam alongside as my new little friend surfaced and dove down to the volcanic coral. I feel so privileged to have experienced that moment.

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I was beyond elated when I climbed back aboard the Pride of Maui for an early happy hour at the open bar. Katie and I raised our Mai Tai’s in the air to celebrate a truly wonderful morning that we won’t soon forget.

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The Best Food I ate in Maui

The Best Food I ate in Maui

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” ― Anthony Bourdain

I am not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination but I do love to eat. And to me, experiencing the local cuisine is one of the best parts about travel.

When I casually mentioned to friends and family that I was going to Maui for a quick long weekend getaway I was flooded with enough restaurant recommendations to easily feed me for 3 weeks. I had to prioritize all of the delicious local delicacies due to my limited time and these were the meals that topped my list.

Macadamia Nut Pancakes with Coconut Syrup: 5 Palms Restaurant in Wailea IMG_3517 If you have not had coconut syrup on pancakes then you haven’t truly lived. It is without-a-doubt the best topping and is best experienced in Hawaii where everything tastes more tropical and delicious.

Fish Tacos: Paia Fish Market in Paia IMG_3396 If I could eat fish tacos every day, I think I probably would. There is an abundance of amazing fish tacos to be found on Maui and these ones made of the tropical Ono fish (meaning “sweet, very good to eat”) definitely hit the spot.

Ali’i Plate: Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina IMG_3408 We didn’t have time to attend a luau during our short 4-day stay in Maui, so instead we opted for a luau on a plate. This authentic Hawaiian dish included many famous delicacies such as Kalua Pig, Lau Lau, Lomi Lomi Salmon, Hoaloha Farm’s Poi and Haupia.

Breaded Mahi Sandwich & Taro Chips: Da Kitchen in Kahului IMG_3539 I first tried Mahi Mahi on my first trip to Hawaii back in 2005 on the island of Oahu. It has been one of my absolute favourite fish ever since and I certainly couldn’t leave Maui without enjoying some once again. The taro chips were an excellent addition – I love a good root vegetable!

The Original Banana Bread: Halfway to Hana Snack Shop in Haiku IMG_3459 We attempted to sample the banana bread at Auntie Sandy’s in Ke’eane on our Road to Hana adventure but alas it was closed for the Easter holiday. Fortunately, the snack shack at “Halfway to Hana” delivered in a big way as this was some of the best banana bread I’ve ever tasted. Apparently it’s “the original” banana bread so with a claim like that it should be pretty delicious.

On this trip we also enjoyed Shave Ice (not shaved ice as I incorrectly called it many times), Fresh Maui Pineapple, delicious Kona Coffee, all the Mai Tai’s, and my new favourite gelato flavour – Sandy Beach (think peanut butter, graham crackers, coconut, and salted caramel…mmm).

Stay tuned for more Maui updates. We packed a lot of activity into a four day trip so let the highlight reel continue!

In My Bag: Hawaii Packing List

In My Bag: Hawaii Packing List

Packing is one of those topics that people surprisingly seem to love. After my last packing-related post was a gigantic hit I vowed to start sharing more of them (since you know I’m making these list anyways).

This is my packing list for a four day girlfriend getaway to Maui in April.

This will be my third time visiting the Hawaiian isles so I already have an idea about what to pack. The real challenge here is fitting everything into my trusty carry-on suitcase and an over-sized purse. The only reason that I am able to travel as much as I do is by cutting extra costs wherever I can… and the last place I want to spend my money is baggage fees. So here’s how I packed for a carry-on only vacation.

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I like grey and black… apparently even in tropical destinations.

CLOTHING AND SHOES

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  • 1 pairs of jeans (for the plane and volcano summit)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 beach cover-up
  • 4 tops (1 t-shirt, 3 sleeveless)
  • 2 cardigans (for the plane, chilling evenings, air-conditioned restaurants)
  • 1 fleece jacket (for the top of the volcano)
  • 2 bikinis (following the wash one, wear one rule)
  • 1 set of sleepwear
  • 4 pairs of underwear + 2 bras
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of bandelettes
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 long scarf (for the plane or to use as a shawl)

Note: I used three packing cubes for my clothing: 1 for dresses/bottoms, 1 for tops/cardigans, 1 for underwear/swim suits IMG_3351 TOILETRIES & ACCESSORIES

  • Stella & Dot Hang On Travel Case (toiletries/make-up/jewelry) – mine is sold out, but click the link for a similar version.
  • Norwex Cloth
  • Small Medicine Bag (kleenex, band-aids, meds)
  • Travel Flat Iron
  • 1 Pair of Sunglasses

ELECTRONICS

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  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Travel Documents & Insurance
  • Tote Bag (for beach use)
  • Small Purse (for day use)
  • Ear Plugs
  • Travel Journal / Pen
A Sweet Summer Preview in Portlandia

A Sweet Summer Preview in Portlandia

I almost feel bad sharing this next post because while the Northeast is still drowning in wave after wave of snow, the Pacific Northwest is enjoying a super early spring (even for us). It honestly feels like summer is just around the corner and this past weekend I got a sneak peak of what that looks like on my second ever trip to Portland, Oregon.

When I dream about summer (which is fairly constant), I picture leisurely strolls through Farmer’s Markets, blissful naps in sunny parks, and eating as much ice cream as physically possible! I realize that summer isn’t a requirement for any of these activities, but a blue sky backdrop and the smell of flowering trees really enhances the experience in my opinion. And we know that my opinion of Portland was due for some enhancing.

Last time I visited the City of Roses, I left feeling a bit underwhelmed. Portland had fallen victim to a classic case of over-hype. My expectations were sky high after the onslaught of 5 star reviews I’d heard from every friend, neighbour, and stranger in my vicinity. They made Portland sound more like Shangri-La than a cool hipster hangout. So even though I had a perfectly nice visit, I wasn’t hiring a marching band to proclaim any rose-coloured declarations.

But, I knew that Portland had something going on that I hadn’t quite fully tapped into yet… so I did what I do and I came back! Apparently the city had caught wind of my last blog post and decided to pull out all the stops for my second trip complete with clear blue skies, 18-degree temperatures (in March!!) and a visit from my travel bestie Megan. I was in for a guaranteed good time!

Washington Park & the Japanese Garden

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Megan and I are a tad obsessed with parks and so I knew that our first stop had to be Washington Park. Even though the famous Rose Garden wasn’t blooming, the Japanese Garden was a lovely placeholder. Beautifully manicured grounds, a miniature pagoda, weeping cherry trees,  a tea house, and even a koi pond! I felt like I had been transported to Japan… and immediately started scheming my next Asian excursion.

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Salt & Straw

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Portlandia takes absolutely everything to the next level. So I’m not sure why I was surprised to find a line wrapped around the corner at 3:00pm on a Friday in March… for ice cream. True, it was a beautiful day, but don’t these people have jobs?! Anyways, back to what has to be the most mind-blowing ice cream experience that I’ve ever had. Salt & Straw is to ice cream what Ritz-Carlton is to hotels. Not only does it deliver unique handmade flavours that taste delicious, but the customer experience is like being at a fancy wine tasting. We had our own private server who took the time to get to know us and let us taste as many of the flavours as we wanted. He told us about each flavour and what we could expect. We were even served with REAL metal spoons. The most interesting flavour I tried was undoubtedly the Lumberjack Stacka seasonal flavour that combines maple syrup from a small farm in Vermont with real chunks of sweet, fluffy, blueberry pancakes! “You HAVE to try this!” I pleaded to Megan who was busy sampling Cinnamon Snickerdoodle. In the end I settled on Coconut with Petunia’s Salted Caramel Bars – a coconut based, non-dairy ice cream with hand-burned caramel and housemade chocolate ganache and salted caramel bars mixed in. And yes, I do realize that I just wrote an entire paragraph in a travel blog about ice cream.

My wrist is my best feature ;)

My wrist is my best feature ;)

Portland Farmers Market

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Saturday mornings were made for Farmers Markets and we were lucky enough to be in town for the first Saturday of the expanded two-block Farmers Market at PSU with easily over 100 vendors in attendance. We spent the better part of two hours sampling everything from cheese and vegan nut butters to hard cider and gourmet cookies. I practically ate a full breakfast before my breakfast.

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Blue Star Donuts

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I’m not usually someone who makes a big deal about donuts but when in Portland… Voodoo Donuts tends to get the majority of the fanfare resulting in lineups that make Disneyland queues look insignificant. So for the second time I opted to hit up Blue Star Donuts instead. From what I’ve heard, Blue Star actually beats Voodoo in taste, although I still think Cartems in Vancouver, BC has the best tasting donuts around. I’ll do the official comparison someday but for now my mouth was satisfied by the much adored Maple Bacon Donut.

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Sunday Brunch at Broder

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Brunch is practically a religious activity in Portland and if you’ve seen the Portlandia episode “Brunch Village” then you’ll know what I’m talking about. We decided to get up early to beat the crowds and try out the Swedish restaurant Broder. I can’t say that I’ve ever tried Swedish food before so this was a completely unique dining experience with dishes like Aebelskivers and Smørrebrød. The ambience was really cool (we ate inside a wooden pod) and our server looked like Jared Leto so I was sold even before my delicious baked eggs and smashed potatoes arrived!

Waterfront Park

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And no sunny Sunday would be complete without a leisurely stroll in some beautiful outdoor space. Personally I will always prefer the ocean but a nice lake front or river walk can certainly fill the void in a pinch. Portland’s Waterfront Park along the Willamette River did just that providing beautiful views of the downtown skyline and the city’s many bridges. We even found a bustling open air market to wander through while sipping our Stumptown coffee.

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As it turns out, I am quite the fair-weather traveller. All it took was a sun-filled summery weekend for Portland to start winning me over in a big way. A huge thank you to my cousins Jordan & Emily (and their friends) for hosting me once again and showing me a fantastic time. We know I’ll be back again soon.

Vitamin D Days in San Diego

Vitamin D Days in San Diego

I am quite fond of Southern California and have made it an annual winter retreat since my best friend Jennie took up residence back in 2012. The older I get, the more I enjoy returning to places that I love. San Diego is one of these places. I love the laid-back atmosphere, the abundance of delicious Mexican food, and of course the gorgeous beaches. It’s so fun returning to familiar neighbourhoods and at the same time knowing that there is still so much to explore.

My latest long weekend getaway was filled with rejuvenating beach walks in the sun, delicious meals at local hot spots, and a ferry ride to one of my favourite islands. My time in San Diego is never quite long enough but I know that I’ll be back again soon.

Palm Tree lined streets on the way to Jennie's apartment

Palm Tree lined streets on the way to Jennie’s apartment

Beautiful walk along Pacific Beach

Beautiful walk along Pacific Beach

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Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

The view of the San Diego skyline from Coronado Island

The view of the San Diego skyline from Coronado Island

Cute shops and restaurants at the Ferry Landing on Coronado

Cute shops and restaurants at the Ferry Landing on Coronado

The Truth about Portland: Is it really that cool?

The Truth about Portland: Is it really that cool?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve likely heard of a little city in the great state of Oregon called Portland. Not to be confused with the other Portland (Maine)… this Portland has grown to fame over the last decade thanks in part to the satirical sketch comedy show, Portlandia, that pokes fun at life in the coolest city in America. I’ve been curious about this place for many years now, especially after countless Where Should you live quizzes proclaimed PORTLAND as the perfect place for me. With it’s coffee and craft beer obsession, and nary a negative comment to be heard from my friends, I was falling for the hype.

When my cousin and his wife recently decided to move there… I knew it was finally time for a visit. So this past weekend I road tripped 5 hours down the I-5 to discover the city for myself. I needed to know if the TV depiction of a crunchy, fussy, foodie mecca where “young people go to retire” was real.

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What I found was mostly what I expected. Great Dining options. Abundant locally produced coffee. A religious bike culture. Breweries on every corner. And Powell’s – a four story book store every bit as heavenly as I’d hoped.

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So why did I leave this city feeling a little bit meh? I love coffee. I love beer. I love books. I love tax free shopping. And I definitely love a walkable city. On paper it is perfect for me. But in person, it was missing that je ne sais quoi. Maybe I’m not cool enough for Portland? Scratch that… I KNOW I’m not cool enough for Portland. I like to try on the alternative lifestyle every once in a while  but in many ways I’ve graduated from the “young, carefree” attitude that seems compulsory to fit in here. And I’m way too cheap to look the part.

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Don’t get me wrong. I had a super fun weekend and I will definitely be back. My hosts couldn’t have been more lovely and I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the city has to offer.

But I think the main issue here is that living in Vancouver has spoiled me. I can’t quite imagine trading in the Vancouver skyline with its mountain backdrop and ocean views for the industrial edge of Portland. Where Vancouver is cosmopolitan and culturally diverse, Portland feels distinctly less urban. Vancouver is undeniably impressive and demands attention. It has an obvious beauty that has locals acting like tourists in their own city on a regular basis.

In contrast, Portland is a subtle charmer. That must be why residents love it so much. It’s an insider’s city where the pleasure is in the everyday. It’s about knowing the best bar in the neighbourhood and the right time to get Sunday brunch before the quiche runs out.

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I am curious to see how Portland changes and evolves over the years. Will it drown in stereotypes or will it thrive under the influence of its free thinking locals? I sure hope it is the latter because Portland has definitely got something going on… I just haven’t figured it all out yet.

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Festive Fun in Freezing Victoria

Festive Fun in Freezing Victoria

I love this time of year. Not as much as I love summer (obviously)… but the lead up to Christmas is a close second. I love the lights, the decorations, the music, the food… pretty much everything except for the weather. I’m one of the very few snow haters in the world. That’s right you heard me… I hate snow. I give it a pass on Christmas day (because that is sort of magical) and when I’m skiing (because it’s kind of essential) but when I’m at home or travelling, snow just makes life more difficult. Sure, it’s pretty but it comes with a price that I have unwillingly paid time and time again. Here are just a few recent examples:

(1) Family vehicle stuck in snow bank and gets hit by a car √

(2) Sprained finger while falling down steep and icy driveway √

(3) Week of school cancelled with increased workload and reduced time to do it √

(4) Flight delays / cancellations √

(5) Falling in extremely wet snow and forced to go to work with soaking wet pants √

Running late? Good luck with that.

Running late? Good luck with that.

I could go on and on but you get the idea. Snow and I just don’t get along very well. So when I woke up on my recent trip to Victoria to hear that the city had just received a blanket of fresh snow… I was less than thrilled.

Fortunately, the snow mostly melted right away (I love the West Coast!) and my friend Katie and I could resume our plans to get our holiday spirit on… worry free!

We started the day by finding me the perfect Ugly Christmas Sweater at The Patch Clothing store downtown. I am so stoked to wear it every chance I get this season. It’s perfectly oversized with a gigantic scene of a bear riding a sleigh and other ridiculous stuff. Shopping Win!

Our next stop was the Fairmont Empress Hotel’s Festival of Trees. IMG_2556 The Edwardian, château-style hotel is one of the most famous sights in the city and quite pricey as well. But, you don’t need to be a paying guest to enjoy the Victorian decor, or in our case, the fantastic display of Christmas trees benefiting the BC Children’s Hospital. There were so many great themes and interesting choices that it was quite the challenge to narrow it down to our favourites. There was even an interactive Operation themed tree that would buzz and light up.

Can you guess which one is my favourite?

Can you guess which one is my favourite?

Just before the sun went down, we briefly braved the cold temperatures to enjoy the blissful golden hour sun, squeezing in a few pictures of the inner harbour before running for hot beverages. IMG_2552 IMG_2547 My inability to stay outside for longer than 20 minute increments during the day should have warned me that I was going to struggle with the Island Farms Parade of Lights that evening… but we foolishly decided to go anyway. I’m sure you can see where this is going. In the pursuit of festive fun I nearly gave myself frostbite just to see some vehicles covered in lights. Okay, I’m exaggerating but I definitely begged to just stand in the 7-eleven at one point. I’m a baby.

Alas, we ended up skipping out on some winter activities in favour of warmth but still managed to enjoy a beautiful weekend in the city. I’m sure I’ll be back soon… preferably in spring ;)IMG_2553

Football Fever: The Seahawks Experience

Football Fever: The Seahawks Experience

If you’ve never been to a National Football League game, you are missing a truly incredible experience.

My first NFL game was back in January 2011 watching the Oakland Raiders at the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a memorable event even though I didn’t know the rules and had never watched a full football game in my life. It must have been the tailgating at 9am that did it.

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Tailgating at the Chiefs game in Jan 2011

Flash forward 3 years and I’m throwing a super bowl party and cheering as my “home” team the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl. I may be a bit late to the party but I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

This past weekend I got to attend my second ever Seahawks game at Century Link Field. Similar to Vancouver in many ways, Seattle feels like a second home to me (must be all the airport visits). And since Vancouver doesn’t have an NFL team, my family has adopted the Seahawks.

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My dad is a season ticket holder and somehow I weasel my way into a game every season. Last year I had the unfortunate luck to be at the only home game they lost all season… so you can imagine my distress when this year’s game was against the very same team, the Arizona Cardinals, who also happen to have the best record in the league. Uh oh…

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Fearing that another loss would banish me from the stadium as bad luck, I was really crossing my fingers for a win. We arrived at the stadium in good time to enjoy some delicious (but not so nutritious) munchies (a must at any pro-sporting event) and the pre-game atmosphere. I have come to love all the rituals, like the raising of the 12th man flag, watching the hawk fly out before the team, and yelling FIRST DOWN in unison with the crowd. I even tolerate the SeaGals despite my feelings about cheerleaders. It all goes with the territory.

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It wasn’t the most beautiful win but it was a defensive masterpiece with the final score 19-3 for Seattle. To say this was a huge win is a bit of an understatement. The Seahawks have been having a rough year defending their championship and they need every win they can get to clinch a playoff spot. Needless to say, I was relieved to know that I wasn’t bad luck after all.

But, win or lose, I always have fun at Century Link Field. The fans are the loudest in the NFL and the people watching doesn’t get much better. With the steady flow of alcohol, and the mixture of testosterone and competition in the air, people tend to get a little crazy. If I wasn’t pulling my hair out with nerves, yelling at the refs, or laughing at the fans, then I was cheering my heart out.

As I said, it’s quite the experience.

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Campus Tour of Harvard University

Campus Tour of Harvard University

Boston is America’s college town. There are more than 100 colleges and universities in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, earning the title of most students per capita with ease. In fact, one in every five people is either a student or affiliated with higher education. From my brief visit I quickly saw that this incredibly walkable “big city” has a small town feel that is the perfect setting for a large student population. Too bad I’ve already got my degree…

I was able to visit several different campus’ during my stay, including Northeastern, MIT, and a little old place you may have heard of called Harvard. I’m not going to lie, Harvard was the number one place on my to do list. Not only is it consistently ranked as the Top University in the WORLD, it’s also America’s oldest college founded nearly 400 years ago in 1636. Back in the day it used to be referred to as simply “the college” because it was the only one.

How do I know this you may ask? Well, I could have googled it but I decided to get my info the old fashioned way by taking a free campus tour provided by a an actual Harvard student. It was fantastic! My sophomore Kiwi guide gave us the traditional historical information but also gave us an insider’s perspective on student life and some of the fascinating traditions that have been passed on through the generations. Walking the grounds of this colonial campus was like stepping back in time… no wonder they call it New England.

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I won’t tell you everything I learned on my hour long tour because I’m too lazy (and I didn’t take notes) but I will share a few key pieces that stood out to me.

John Harvard & The Statue of Three Lies

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Harvard gets its name from deceased clergyman John Harvard, who left the school £779 and approximately 400 books. I’m sure that was a huge donation back in 1638 but today that doesn’t even buy a semester’s worth of textbooks let alone get an entire college named after you.

There is even an incredibly famous (and inaccurate) statue situated in Harvard Yard to commemorate his contribution. The Statue of Three Lies is the third most photographed statue in the United States, behind only the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial. Not bad company eh? Apparently students (and visitors) rub his toe for good luck but another rumor has it that freshmen also pee on that very same toe… so I’ll let you decide the value of a little luck.

But the statue is not all that it seems. It’s actually nicknamed the “statue of three lies” because of all the inaccuracies inscribed on it:

(Lie #1) John Harvard did not actually found Harvard. Even though the statue says “founder” John was simply a benefactor.

(Lie #2) Harvard wasn’t founded in 1638. As I mentioned above Harvard was actually founded in 1636.

(Lie #3) The statue isn’t even of John Harvard. It may say his name but the image is actually Sherman Hoar as there was no surviving image of John Harvard.

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Widener Library

Harry Elkins Widener’s mother constructed the Memorial Library in her son’s name after his tragic death in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Widener was a Harvard alumnus and a great lover of books which made the library a fitting tribute and is now the world’s largest university library system. With over 3.5 million books the library’s shelves run four miles underground over ten levels. The place is completely dark until you begin walking and then the lights flicker on in front and go off behind you as you walk. I don’t know about you, but that sounds terrifying. I’d need to bring a survival kit and a whistle to go down there alone.

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Another fun fact: Widener Library has a copy of the Gutenberg Bible! Only twenty one complete copies survive, and they are considered to be among the most valuable books in the world. Apparently a staff member of the library flips one page of the bible each day. At 1,286 pages long that would take just about as long as a Harvard degree to read each page. Of course you’d also have to read Latin, but I suspect if you’re smart enough to get into Harvard, you’d also be smart enough to learn Latin…

It also turns out that the freshman dining hall (Annenburg Hall – not open to the public) is also the prototype that JK Rowling used for Hogwarts. Can you imagine eating breakfast in Hogwarts every day?

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And walking the grounds during these autumn months was simply gorgeous.

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I highly recommend an afternoon at Harvard on your next visit to Boston/Cambridge. You actually get smarter by just being close to so much brilliance. Okay, maybe that’s not true but I did learn a lot on my campus tour that I didn’t already know and it almost made me want to become a student again. Almost. I think I’m pretty content with being a student of life for the time being.

The Best of Boston: Autumn in New England

The Best of Boston: Autumn in New England

It’s no secret that summer is 100% my favourite season. I live in the Pacific Northwest and from July to September I am deliriously happy. Beaches. Mountains. Festivals. Islands. Lakes. Vineyards. Just take a look at these pictures and try to argue the greatness. I dare you.

Unfortunately, the aftermath of this obsession with summer is the inevitable fall hangover. While many of my friends are excited to pull on cozy sweaters and tall boots, all I’m thinking about is shorter days, excessive amounts of rain, and how it will be a long 9 months before my beloved summer returns from hibernation. #firstworldproblems

Well… I’m happy to announce that I’ve found the cure for my autumn blues and the answer lies approximately 5000 km east in New England where October and November are magical months of glorious foliage – all golden, orange, and red.

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Earlier this month I was able to visit my friend Megan in her adopted home of Boston, Massachusetts and finally figured out what all the fuss is about. Since downtown Boston is actually quite small, we were able to explore most of the sights on foot. With perfect weather and minimal crowds, we soaked up the breathtaking colors, expansive public spaces, and historical sights with ease.

Boston Marathon Finish Line

As an avid runner someone mildly interested in athletics… I was very curious to see the now infamous street where the Boston marathon takes place each year. After the tragic bombing two years ago, the site has even more meaning than ever before.

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Boston Public Library

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I have a sweet spot for libraries (VPL is one of my favourite buildings) and my visit to the BPL’s central branch was no exception. Established in 1848, it is the second-largest public library in the United States with approximately 23 million items. That’s a lot of books! We arrived just as the library was opening which afforded me the chance to scurry up to Bates Hall for a rare photo op sans people. Thought by many to be architecturally one of the most important rooms in the world… I just thought “how pretty!”

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I also decided to be super classy and straddle the lion statue… sorry mom.

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Boston Public Gardens

The Public Garden was the first public botanical garden in America. With a gorgeous lake, commemorative statues, picturesque bridges, and lovely walkways, I could have happily wandered the grounds all day.

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Boston Common

Located just beside the Public Garden is the Boston Common, America’s first public park, created in 1634.

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Massachusetts State House

The Massachusetts State House is the state capitol and house of government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. My first question for my tour guide, Megan, was “is the dome made of real gold?” Apparently, there is a long history with the dome; it changed from wood to copper due to leaks. And the color has transitioned from gray to yellow to black to prevent attacks (something to do with being reflective?). But to answer my question… Yes. In 1997, at a cost of more than $300,000, the dome was re-gilded, in 23k gold. Wowza!

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Obviously I'm super mature.

Obviously I’m super mature.

Granary Burying Ground

Founded in 1660, the Old Granary Burial Ground is the third-oldest cemetery in Boston. It also happens to be the final resting place for many notable Revolutionary War-era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere, and the five victims of the Boston Massacre.

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Faneuil Hall (Quincy Market)

Faneuil Hall has been a marketplace and a meeting hall since 1742. Now it is a popular stop on the Freedom Trail and part of a larger festival marketplace, which includes three long granite buildings called North Market, Quincy Market, and South Market. Essentially it’s  an indoor/outdoor mall and food eatery extraordinaire! This is where I was able to sample devour a gigantic bread bowl of the famous New England clam chowder.

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This was way more delicious than it looks.

This was way more delicious than it looks.

North End

This historic neighbourhood has the distinction of being the city’s oldest residential community where people have continuously inhabited since it was settled in the 1630s. Predominantly Italian American, I made it a priority to savour a life-changing, espresso-flavoured cannoli from Mike’s Pastry.

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Fenway Park

If there’s one thing that Boston could be known for, it would be sports. Fenway Park is home to arguably the most famous sports team in the world, the legendary Boston Red Sox baseball team. For over 100 years, fans of America’s pastime have been flocking to Fenway to watch players from Babe Ruth to David Ortiz in the hopes of bringing home the World Series championship.

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Harvard Bridge

I was able to take a beautiful walk across the Harvard Bridge (also known locally as the MIT Bridge, the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, and the “Mass. Ave.” Bridge) at sunset, enjoying stunning views of the Charles River. What’s more interesting than the view though is the strange measurements I noticed along the sidewalk. It is locally known for being measured, inaccurately, in the idiosyncratic unit of length called the smoot. The smoot is a nonstandard unit of length created as part of an MIT fraternity prank. It is named after Oliver R. Smoot, a fraternity pledge, who in October 1958 lay on the Harvard Bridge and was used by his fraternity brothers to measure the length of the bridge. I will seriously never understand this whole Greek system.

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I could in no way become an expert on Boston in one long weekend visit, but I certainly know that this is a part of the world that I want to explore more in depth.

Next up: Harvard University

Northern Enlightenment: Exploring the Ancient Forest

Northern Enlightenment: Exploring the Ancient Forest

If I’m being honest, I’ve never had much of a desire to visit Northern BC. To say that I’m not a fan of cold weather is putting it mildly and the north has winters that would even make the characters on Game of Thrones a bit nervous. Not to mention that I am a city girl through and through – small towns just don’t really do it for me. Sorry.

But, I can also admit to being a bit ignorant when it comes to all of the advantages and opportunity that a Northern lifestyle can provide. It clearly has appeal to some and I am always willing to try new things. So, when work called me to Prince George (thankfully in September not January) I was excited to see it for myself.

Luckily for me, my friend Melanie also lives in PG and gave me a royal welcome. We had one day to see the sights, which included a delicious breakfast at Nancy O’s and a tour of the very impressive UNBC campus.

But the highlight of the day was definitely our trip outside the city limits to visit The Ancient Forest. We had to drive over an hour to reach the trail head but it was well worth the effort to see this old growth forest on such a beautiful, sunny, autumn day.

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We had our choice of three well-marked, well-groomed trails. We chose to do the Waterfall loop and end off with the wheel chair friendly boardwalk. I really enjoyed the muddy, uneven trails because it required careful footwork but was still an easy hike. From what I understand, it is quite remarkable to find such large trees this far North and this close to the Rockies. Since I have essentially grown up in a rainforest, I’m used to seeing big trees and felt right at home on the trails. Maybe the North isn’t quite as desolate as I imagined?

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I still don’t think I’m hardy enough to live up North but it definitely has more to offer than I would have guessed.

What about you? Have you ever lived in a remote location or tough climate?

Nature’s Treadmill: Skookumchuck Narrows

Nature’s Treadmill: Skookumchuck Narrows

On the last weekend of summer I continued my amazing streak of perfect weather weekend getaways with a visit (my first ever!) to the Sunshine Coast.

I’ve become rather fond of ferry travel over the past couple of years and this time was no exception. The short 40 minute trip from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale was not nearly long enough for me to savour the scenery during my favourite time of day – Golden Hour.

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So what finally got me to the Sunshine Coast after all these years? Well, my friend Kendra recently moved into an adorable cabin in Gibsons and I just couldn’t resist checking it out for myself. We didn’t spend too much time in the sleepy fishing town because we had another mission in mind – The Skookumchuck!

Gibsons, BC

Gibsons, BC

The shook-em-what you ask? Well, if you haven’t heard of this impressive natural spectacle yet, then let me endeavour to educate. At the entrance of the Sechelt Inlet is a narrowing of the waters before it connects again with the Jervis Inlet. Twice daily, as the tide changes, the flow of saltwater must pass through the rapids creating fantastic white caps sometimes exceeding 9 ft in height.

To see this phenomenon with our own eyes, we drove for 1.5 hours along the windiest road of all time (beware of motion sickness) until we reached the trail entrance. The 4km loop was a very lovely hike featuring beautiful coastal forests, lakes, and cliffside overlooks. Our entire day was planned around arriving at Roland Point at just the right time (which differs depending on the time of year) to catch the Flood Tide.

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At high tide we gathered with other spectators to watch in wonder as extreme kayakers tested out nature’s treadmill. These thrill seekers pushed off from the banks, got sucked into the rapids, and then warred against the waves until they were too tired to continue.

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I’m continually amazed by the beauty and wonder in my own backyard… I can’t wait to see what I discover next!

Photo Essay: Summer in the Pacific Northwest

Photo Essay: Summer in the Pacific Northwest

It’s the last week of summer, and instead of getting sad about the shorter days and the inevitable rain, I am choosing to celebrate my favourite season!

If it wasn’t already obvious from my posts over the past couple of months… I love summer and I especially love summer in the Pacific Northwest! This region, which is loosely a combination of BC, Washington, and Oregon, enjoys warm, long, dry summers that stretch into the late days of September. The temperature typically sits in the mid 20s Celsius near the water and peaks around 30 degrees inland (sometimes a bit hotter). For the most part, the temperature is so deliciously perfect that you can get a tan without dissolving into a puddle of sweat and with the sun setting late into the evening you can really make the most of all the great activities that only happen at this time of year.

I may be known to use a bit of hyperbole from time to time (okay a lot of the time), but I can honestly, without a doubt proclaim that we have the best summers of any region in the world.

Don’t believe me? Well maybe these photos will help change your mind…

Active Pass, Southern Gulf Islands

Active Pass, Southern Gulf Islands

Coal Harbour, Vancouver (this is where I work!)

Coal Harbour, Vancouver (this is where I work!)

Chesterman Beach, Tofino

Chesterman Beach, Tofino

Kettle Valley, Summerland

Kettle Valley, Summerland (see… it even has summer in the name!)

Howe Sound, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park

Howe Sound, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park

Bridal Falls, Chilliwack

Bridal Falls, Chilliwack