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.

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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?

 

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?

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! 

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?

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

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

Gastown, Vancouver

Gastown, Vancouver

Mission Hill Winery, Lake Okanagan, West Kelowna

Mission Hill Winery, Lake Okanagan, West Kelowna

Sunset over English Bay, Vancouver

Sunset over English Bay, Vancouver

Lost Lake, Whistler

Lost Lake, Whistler

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

Vancouver Skyline

Vancouver Skyline

Farewell summer! Until next year…

Maquinna Provincial Park and Hot Springs Cove!

Maquinna Provincial Park and Hot Springs Cove!

Some like it hot… and those people should definitely be at Hot Springs Cove!

On my recent trip to Tofino, my family and I decided to embark on a little adventure to Maquinna Provincial Park. Our main purpose: to check out the all-natural, geothermal hot pools located just 32 km up the coast.

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To get to the very secluded provincial park, we took a 90 minute boat ride, courtesy of the Whale Centre, in which we enjoyed beautiful scenery and even spotted a couple of bears along the way.

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Once we arrived at Hot Springs Cove, we hiked a 2 km boardwalk through an old growth rainforest. The trail was so lovely and tranquil with interesting carvings in the planks and lookouts to capture the views.

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When we finally reached the hot springs, we were able to soak in small pools of water at a toasty 107°F. We even found a pool at the opening of the rocky penninsula where the cold ocean water was seeping in. We thought we had found the perfect lukewarm pool until we began getting blasted with icy waves. The entertainment for the afternoon quickly became watching my brother squirm as the temperature switched from hot to freezing cold at less than a moments notice.

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It was so great to see that the springs hadn’t been altered or expanded to make us tourists more comfortable. The rocks were slippery. The pools were small. And the location was remote.

The spot is definitely popular with more people than pools at times, but it’s still worth the effort and the crowds to experience such a unique natural phenomenon.

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Seriously Big Beaches in Tofino

Seriously Big Beaches in Tofino

With summer coming to a close, the Labour Day long weekend is often the last chance for sun worshippers to get their fill before the chilly autumn weather kicks in. To escape the inevitable city crowds, my family retreated to Vancouver Island for some R&R – destination Tofino!

I’ve been trying to plan a trip to Tofino for over three years now and I am so glad that I finally made it happen. Although it seems close by, the trip from Vancouver was deceptively long. I had to take a sky train, bus, 2 hour ferry to Nanaimo, and 3 hour car ride to get to my hideaway in Jensen Bay… but it was well worth the effort.

I could get used to waking up to a view like this

I could get used to waking up to a view like this

Our house rental was conveniently located right across the Pacific Rim Highway from Chesterman Beach and I couldn’t wait to soak up 3 kilometres of white sand.

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Can someone explain to me where all the people are on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August? I mean you won’t hear any complaints from me… but seriously, where is everyone?

Next on the agenda (because one gigantic beach was certainly not enough) is one of Canada’s top 10 beaches as rated by Reader’s Digest – Long Beach.

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At first I was slightly turned off by the park fee required to even check out the beach here in Pacific Rim National Park, but I guess 16.6 km of pristine sand comes at a price. Long Beach earns its name by holding the title of longest sandy beach on Vancouver Island. It’s also a surfing mecca for us Northerners, although I certainly wasn’t brave enough to tackle the waves and cold waters this time around… I’ll save that adventure for my next trip to Hawaii instead ;)

Earning it's name - hello Long Beach!

Earning it’s name – hello Long Beach!

Combine all of this epic beach time with some reading on the back deck, soaking in the hot tub, and a delicious family dinner at Sobo in Tofino Village and you’ve got a recipe for a happy travelista! And that was just the first day!

Next up: Excursion to Maquinna Provincial Park and Hot Springs Cove!

Vancouver: The Best Place on Earth

Vancouver: The Best Place on Earth

Another Vancouver-centered blog post? That’s right people… just because I love to travel doesn’t mean I don’t love the place I call home.

Today is my 2nd anniversary of living in Vancouver and to celebrate I thought I would share a few of my favourite things about my favourite place on earth!

1. The Skyline

Vancouver was recently ranked 9th in the world for most number of ‘highrises’ – defined as a multi-storey building with at least 12 floors or a height of 35 metres (115 feet). But, it’s not simply the numbers that impress me… it’s the combination of the mountains, ocean, green space, and glass buildings. Just look at that view!

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2. The Beaches

It is no secret that I love beaches (see some of my favourites here). And lucky for me, Vancouver has SO MANY!!!

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3. The Mountains

Living minutes from multiple ski hills (Grouse, Seymour, Cypress) and world-class hiking is a huge draw for many Vancouverites that move here to play in our mountains year round. They aren’t so bad to look at either.

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4. Seawall

When I say that I’m going for a walk or a bike ride, you should just assume that I’m talking about the Seawall. This scenic 22 km path that lines Vancouver’s waterfront could not be more perfect for a walk, cycle, or jog and is by far the most popular recreational spot in the city. Just make sure that you stay in your designated lane (walking/jogging vs. cycling/skating) or you might just get knocked into the sea.

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5. Nightlife

Vancouver sometimes gets a bad rap for being a ‘no fun city.’ Say what?! You will quickly see from this list, that that is definitely not the case. In fact, it could easily be called a ‘more fun city!’ Now I can see how some of the legislation may seem uptight but lucky for us locals it is loosening quite a bit (hello happy hour!). But, the best part of the Vancity nightlife has to be the cool bars in historic Gastown. Several of my favourite spots remind me of the unspeakably cool Speak Easy culture of the 1920s, such as Pourhouse, Guilt & Co, and Revel Room. Cheers!

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6. Food

From Street Food Trucks to Top-chef restaurants and award-winning gelato to sushi on every corner… Vancouver cuisine is diverse, local, probably organic, and always delicious.

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7. Events

Long before I lived in Vancouver, I had been coming here each summer to enjoy many of the spectacular events. If you like theatre then we have Bard on the Beach and Theatre Under the Stars. If you like movies then we have the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Summer Cinema Series featuring outdoor movies in Stanley Park. We have one of the largest Pride Parades in North America and the always popular Pacific National Exhibition(aka really big summer fair). But of all these events, my favourite has to be the Celebration of Light. Not only is it Vancouver’s biggest event, but it’s also the largest offshore fireworks competition in the world and attracts up to 400,000 spectators along English Bay. I’ve been coming for years and now I can even enjoy the show from the comfort of my couch.

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8. Culture

Vancouver is still a relatively young city by the world’s standards having just celebrated it’s 128th birthday. But even still the city is rich in history and culture. Whether it be the legend and deep-rooted history of the First Nations people or the kaleidoscope of diversity brought through immigration, Vancouver is a place where you can experience the new and different. Sometimes I catch myself on the bus and no one around me is even speaking English. I love that! I hope my city always remains a place where people from all over the world feel welcome. Our differences are what make us stronger.

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9. Parks

Not only does Vancouver have the largest and top rated city park in the entire world (Stanley Park), it also has 750 hectares devoted to forest research at Pacific Spirit Regional Park. From small neighbourhood community gardens to large destination parks and feature gardens, the Vancouver Park Board maintains more than 220 parks that make up 11% of Vancouver’s land mass. We are well on our way to becoming the greenest city in the world in more ways than one.

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10. Architecture

It is so hard to choose a favourite building in the city when you have options like Science World and the Vancouver Convention Centre in the running. But, the one that never ceases to amaze and impress is the Vancouver Central Library, which was recently ranked as the 6th most beautiful library in the world. Inspired by the Colosseum, this architectural gem combines the old and new with such perfection. The words certainly don’t fit the picture.

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Dîner en Blanc Vancouver

Since this is primarily a travel blog, I rarely write about my life at home. However, I just attended an event in my city that was too extraordinary not to include.

What do you get when you combine 3,500 classy Vancouverites dressed all in white with a French-themed picnic in a waterfront city park? The answer of course is le Dîner en Blanc (Dinner in White).

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I was so incredibly fortunate to get invited to attend the third annual installation of this “chic picnic” which occurs in a new secret location every summer. It’s always last minute. Always in a public space. And always glamourous.

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Over the course of one dream-like evening in David Lam Park, we diners arrived en mass, set up our all-white dinner party, and enjoyed music, dancing, and good company.

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This event was started in Paris 25 years ago and has now spread to over 40 countries worldwide.

Most participants bring their own meals and table spread… and let me tell you… these people do not hold back. I was blown away by the elaborate displays around me. The entire evening dripped of elegance and beauty. After everyone was done eating and enjoying opera music from the upcoming production of Carmen… we all lit sparklers to kick off the beginning of the dance.

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It was such an incredibly cool experience and something you definitely don’t see every day. Apparently over 30,000 people were on the wait list for this event… making it the toughest ticket in town.

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I have such love for my city and this was the perfect way to celebrate another fantastic summer!

Photo Essay: Summertime in Whistler

Summertime in the Pacific Northwest is absolutely glorious! I love nothing more than spending my time hiking in the beautiful Coast Mountains, playing in the Pacific Ocean, and relaxing lakeside.

One of my favourite (not-so-secret) local spots is Whistler Village, which I’ve documented here in the past. I always have a great time in Whistler, but for the last several years, the weather just hasn’t cooperated… until now!

I just came back from a picture perfect weekend of sunshine in Sea-to-Sky country and I had to share a few photos… enjoy!

Upper Village

Upper Village

Lost Lake

Lost Lake

Whistler Olympic Plaza

Whistler Olympic Plaza

Back in Time: The Kettle Valley Steam Railway

Train travel has to be one of my favourite forms of transportation. I love the way it gently rocks side to side. I love the amazing scenery you can enjoy along the way. And I love how it feels like I’m taking a little step back in time.

We don’t have many opportunities to travel by train in Canada so when I discovered that Summerland, BC had a heritage railway – I was ready to sign on the dotted line.

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The Kettle Valley Steam Railway showcases a unique part of the Okanagan where visitors can take in 10 miles of beautiful vistas along the preserved section of track. I must have taken approximately 500 photographs of the same spectacular view, which included lush orchards, vineyards, and of course Lake Okanagan.

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The round trip journey’s mid-point is the Trout Creek Bridge 238 feet above the canyon floor. Some of my other highlights were listening to the adorable little banjo player serenading us along the way, as well as waving at all the locals that came out to watch us pass. I only felt a little bad about peeking into everyone’s backyards – some of them had quite the set up!

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Basically, I loved this rail trip! The open air car was the perfect escape from the summer heat, and the restored steam locomotive took me straight back to 1912, fueling my obsession with the era of Downton Abbey (as if I needed any help in that regard).

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I highly recommend this little day trip from Kelowna for your next Okanagan adventure. I hope to come back and try The Great Train Robbery next time!

Weekend Getaway: Soaking up the Best of Kelowna

Driving over four hours to Kelowna for merely two nights may seem like a long way to travel for such a short trip. What could you possibly accomplish in such a short amount of time?

Well, let me tell you, I made my time count.

Here is a blog style itinerary of my weekend getaway to Kelowna, BC.

Friday afternoon:

I departed Vancouver around 1:45pm to attempt to beat the rush hour traffic. On the way I picked up my sister in law, Faith, in Langley before arriving at my parent’s house in Abbotsford. We loaded into my mom’s new Subaru and were ready to go!

Friday evening:

We arrived in West Kelowna around 6:30pm – just in time for dinner. We were all feeling adventurous and found a hole in the wall, mom-and-pop, Lebanese restaurant online that had solid reviews. We were not disappointed. It was clearly the kind of place that you had to know about because the owner seemed confused about why we were even there. Have you been here before? How did you find us? Someone needs to teach Gaby about the power of the Internet. Anyways, we thoroughly enjoyed our platter of deliciously spiced rice, chicken skewers, humus and pita even if we had to wait a while to get our food. After all, Gaby’s Grill is only staffed by two people. We gave it a 5 star review and will definitely be back.

So good that I dug in right away...

So good that I dug in right away…

Saturday morning:

We woke up bright and early Saturday morning at our lovely host’s house (my Aunt & Uncle) ready to start our epic day of relaxation.

A solid brunch is the best way to kick off any weekend and so we headed to the Bohemian Café in downtown Kelowna. We were really original and all three of us ordered the same thing – Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes with real maple syrup! Our meal success continues!

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Now, no trip to the Okanagan Valley would be complete without a little wine tour and so our second stop of the day was Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna. Check out the full post here.

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Saturday afternoon:

After such a lovely morning enjoying stunning views of Lake Okanagan, we were ready to get a much closer appreciation of the lake life. Fortunately for us, my Uncle has a boat and managed to free up some time to drive us to my other Aunt & Uncle’s waterfront property. We jumped aboard the boat for a 45 minute boat ride where we could soak up the sun while using the breeze to beat the heat – perfection!

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We spent the afternoon visiting with family and sipping ciders lakeside. Not too shabby.

Saturday evening:

After a quiet dinner back in downtown Kelowna, we set off to explore the waterfront boardwalk at my most favourite time of day – twilight – or what I affectionately coined “magic hour.” We also wandered through the grounds of the Delta Grand Hotel and enjoyed the colours of the setting sun before heading back to our place for another glass of wine.

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Sunday morning:

Once again we were up early, but honestly it still felt like sleeping in compared to my work schedule. We were leaving Kelowna behind now and made our way to Peachland for our sweet fix at Bliss Bakery. Sitting lakeside (is there even another side?) while eating pastries and drinking coffee is definitely my idea of a blissful Sunday morning. I didn’t even question the sign that stated We Bake Naked because maybe that’s just what people do when they are this happy.

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We soon left Peachland behind for yet another foreign land – Summerland! Now that name sure sounds heavenly. In reality, Summerland is such a sleepy little town that I would probably go stir crazy in one day but we had very good reason to be there – The Kettle Valley Steam Train. It was such a lovely way to enjoy the valley and canyon views and definitely felt like we had travelled back in time. Check out the full post here.

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After an ice cream cone lunch in town we were back on the road – destination: home! All in all, it was a pretty great weekend. We packed in a lot of activity but all of it was relaxing enough that I didn’t feel tired. The toughest part is deciding where to go next year…

 

Wine Tasting in the Okanagan Valley

This past weekend I spent my second annual “Girl’s Weekend” in the Okanagan Valley with my mom and sister-in-law. Basically, this weekend is an excuse for me to have a mini vacation (with my mom picking up the tab) and to show my new American sis all the glorious spots BC has to offer. And of course to bond and spend quality time together too.

Last year we took her to one of our favourite summer stomping grounds – Whistler Village. Although the weather didn’t quite cooperate, we still managed to kick off this tradition with a bang and checked bungee jumping off the bucket list!

Just jumped off a bridge... no big deal

Just jumped off a bridge… no big deal

This year we had to make sure our trip was equally entertaining and decided to return to the Okanagan where my family used to frequent back when I was a kid. However, this time we had more grown up pursuits in mind… cue the wine!

No trip to the Okanagan Valley would be complete without making time for a little wine tour. With over 150 wineries in the region it’s no wonder that USA today named it as the world’s second best wine region to visit. Described as “Drop. Dead. Gorgeous” by expert Kerry Woolard, this wine country has made a name for itself with award winning white wines like the Mission Hill Chardonnay and incredible lake views from nearly every angle.

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We decided to visit the famous Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna for a one hour heritage tour. It was a delightful experience, perfectly crafted to please by our host Elizabeth. We watched a short documentary, toured the bordeaux cellars, and of course sampled some wine (three to be exact). But, it’s really the grounds that make this such a lovely place to visit. The winery is built in a Roman classic style similar to what you would see in Tuscany and boasts a 140 ft bell tower, a 1000 seat outdoor amphitheatre, and truly beautiful lake views. I could have stayed here all day!

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Next up: Soaking up the lake life in Kelowna!

Explore BC: Sea to Sky Gondola

When I first heard about the plans to build a gondola near the famous Stawamus Chief Mountain near Squamish, my initial reaction was disappointment. I had first climbed “The Chief”, which is the second largest granite monolith in the world, back in 2007 and wasn’t thrilled about increasing tourism in the region.

But, since then I’ve heard some great things and opened up to the idea of expanding this incredible place to a wider audience. So this BC Day, I took the plunge and tried out the brand new Sea to Sky Gondola, 1.6km Panorama Trail, and Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge.

The summit is incredibly well planned with a great lodge (Yeah healthy food options!) and clearly marked trails.

As you can tell… the views did not suck. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves since no words can really do this place justice. I’m so thankful to live in (the aptly named) Beautiful British Columbia!

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My Top 10 Favourite Cities

According to my Trip Advisor travel map, I’ve been to 265 cities and counting! I believe that this stat gives me a bit of credibility in listing some of my favourites thus far. I wholeheartedly recommend all of these cities and have visited half of them more than once. As always, I reserve the right to update this list whenever I like because I’m constantly visiting fabulous new destinations. But, for now at least, here are my top 10 favourite cities.

My Top 10 Favourite Cities

San Diego, California

La Jolla

I first visited San Diego on a family vacation when I was 10 years old. We did the typical touristy activities like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. I loved them both and even got called up on stage during two of the shows (my 15 minutes of fame). Flash forward a decade and my views have certainly changed. I may no longer support animal captivity but fortunately SD still has a plethora of amazing (cruelty free) things to do – try whale watching or surfing instead. When one of my best friends moved to the city in 2012 I was beyond excited about frequently visiting (and I have!). With blissful temperatures year-round, stunning cliffs and beaches, and amazing restaurants, San Diego is my favourite winter getaway. I could even see myself living here someday – Hello Vitamin D!

Paris, France

Paris

A wise woman once said, “Paris is always a good idea” and I couldn’t agree more. If you were to visit my apartment, one thing would quickly become apparent, and that is that J’adore Paris! I can’t possibly think of a city with more class and culture. Just imagine perusing the markets in Montmartre, strolling the grounds of les Jardins du Luxembourg, or savouring a crepe on the Champs-Élysées. An exemplary model of urban planning, this world-class city has so many unique neighbourhoods to explore. Not to mention being home to some of the world’s most famous sights; L’arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, and La Tour Eifel, to name a few. Now if only I could remember my 8 years of French lessons…

Rome, Italy

Rome

Ah Roma… a textbook example of why you sometimes need to revisit a city to truly appreciate it. Ten years after my first visit, I went back to the eternal city to discover what I had missed back in my teenage years. Yes, I remembered that the monuments were impressive and that the gelato was tasty but I couldn’t seem to understand what the fuss was all about. Well, let me tell you – Rome is simply magical. The entire city is like an open air museum with rich history spanning more than 2,500 years and amazing architecture around every corner. You could easily spend years in Rome and still not discover it all. I’ve thrown my coin in the Trevi Fountain twice and I’m sure I’ll be back again!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

My inaugural trip to the pearl of the Adriatic was almost ruined by a missed train and a spiral of lost connections. Fortunately, I pushed passed the roadblocks with the lovely premonition that I was about to fall in love. Most of the cities on this list are places that I’ve courted over several trips but Dubrovnik is my only one night stand. So, you can imagine how intoxicating a city it must be to have such power over me so quickly. Well let me tell you that one walk around the old city walls is all it took to have me spouting off grand declarations and adding Croatia to every list in my book. Dubrovnik is quite simply the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen and even though our time together was brief, it left a lasting impression on me. I hope I won’t have to call her The One that Got Away for long.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh

Edinburgh was one of the very last stops on my 8 month European backpacking adventure in 2005/2006. I arrived there feeling a bit of travel burnout and was definitely looking forward to heading home. Fortunately I arrived to perfect spring weather and a gorgeous city dripping with classic European charm. Edinburgh has a distinctly medieval feel with cobblestone streets, Gothic architecture, and a castle resting on an extinct volcano. But, it’s also a great city for young people and maybe even a place to find love… I mean if it worked for Will & Kate! I have yet to hear a negative review of this Scottish gem so if it isn’t on your bucket list yet… you know what to do.

Bogota, Colombia

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This is one that may raise some eyebrows. Bogota is a very unconventional choice and probably won’t make many top ten lists (unless you’re looking at the negative side). But, I don’t care what the critics say – I have my own opinions and my own experiences and Bogota won me over big time. It likely had a lot to do with my personal tour guide / travel agent friend who hosted and entertained me the entire 5 days, but that also proves that there is plenty to love about Colombia’s capital. The historic district La Candelaria (pictured above) has lovely Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture with a wealth of churches and squares to fill your camera. The city has great shopping and dining options plus Monserrate, one of the most beautiful mountain top attractions I’ve ever seen – the funicular ride to the top is a must-do for all tourists. Transportation may not be super easy (although I was kind of taxi fairy) and English still isn’t widely spoken (if at all) but the effort was definitely worth it to discover the inner beauty of this very misunderstood city.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg

Visiting Salzburg was the realization of a childhood dream – to step into the world of Fräulein Maria and the Von Trapp children. After growing up with an obsessive passion for the Sound of Music I knew I had to do the official SOM tour when I finally made it to the famous city – and it did not disappoint. Even in the fall, the Mirabell Gardens (pictured above) with views of Hohensalzburg Castle were enchanting. The nearby palaces, abbey, and Lake District easily appeased the fan girl in me and proved that my adoration of Austria was well deserved. But, the city has even more to offer. As the birth place of Mozart, culture in the way of museums and music is at a premium and the lovely riverside hosts one of my favourite little Christmas markets in the winter. Although it is much smaller than Vienna and harder to avoid tourist groups (sorry – that was me), it is worth your time and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Florence, Italy

Florence

Tuscany. That’s probably the only descriptive word that I need to use to explain why I love Florence so much, but this is a blog, so I will elaborate. Firenze is another city with a medieval feel. Often considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, it is so easy to get swept away with the impressive art (Michelangelo’s statue of David), gorgeous churches (Duomo and Santa Croce), and unique bridges (Ponte Vecchio). I loved exploring the winding streets and discovering epic views (see above) from the Piazzale Michelangelo. And to top it all off, Florence is where I first discovered gelato (Tiramisu flavoured nonetheless)! There’s something dreamlike about this part of the world and it’s orange roof tops – it easily makes my list.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Welcome to Nawlins y’all! There is just something special about the South that makes me want to slow my speech and eat something fried… but maybe that’s just the Bourban talking. Joking aside, New Orleans is a truly amazing city that in many ways doesn’t even feel like part of America. With buildings dating back to the 1700s and a unique French influence, Louisiana is easily one of the most interesting of the 50 states. Known for its delicious Cajun food, amazing jazz music, beautiful colonial architecture, and the wild and crazy Mardi Gras – NOLA has something for everyone. You can party in the street all night long or step back in time on a beautiful antebellum or creole plantation. The city has faced a lot of adversity with its history of slavery and recent tragedies like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But, what I saw here was beautiful resilience, hope, and a whole lot of fun! Do your part to help and make New Orleans your next vacation stop.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Vancouver

My city. My home. My happy place! The past two years of living in Vancouver have been some of the very best of my life. I still pinch myself every time I cross the Burrard Street Bridge (which is usually twice per day) because I can’t believe that this is my real life. Vancouver is by far my favourite place on earth. Wherever you look you see water or mountains or both! You can ski, golf, bike, sail and kayak– all on the same day. Not only is this city breathtakingly beautiful but it is bursting with activity, diversity, and general awesomeness (that’s a technical term)! In Vancity we know all about living well – we are clean and green. We love yoga and craft beer and playing outside all year long. If you’re not planning a visit to the magnificent Pacific Northwest – then you should be!

Honourable Mention:

My Top 5 Favourite Beaches

I decided to finally take the time to reflect on my travel past and document some of my absolute favourite finds over the past twenty-something years.

This is the first post in a new series on my travel Favourites (yes – I am Canadian, and this is how we spell favourite!)

Since it is summer, I thought it would be apropos to begin with the best beaches I’ve been blessed to sink my toes into.

 

Top 5 Favourite Beaches

 

Bai Dai Beach, Nha Trang, Vietnam

This gorgeous beach on the South China Sea had everything: White Sand, Warm Waters, and No one around. Touted as the best beach in a country with over 3000 km of coastline… it is easy to see why people love Southeast Asia.

Bai Dai Beach

Muchavista Beach, El Campello, Spain

I was incredibly lucky to spend 3 months living just a mere 5 minutes from this expansive beach north of Alicante. The entire length of the beach is lined with a boardwalk and a tram so that even getting groceries became an exciting event.

El Campello

Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Oahu

On my second trip to Oahu, I decided to do my research and find a beach, ANY BEACH, other than Waikiki. My search landed me on lovely Lanikai in the sleepy town of Kailua where public access is restricted to pedestrians only, making it the perfect island escape. It’s also made quite a few top 10 lists so this one is a no-brainer.

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Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

Whenever I go to San Diego (which is fortunately quite often) I always look forward to spending time on the island of Coronado. I can’t believe that people actually live there all the time because it is almost too lovely to be real.

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Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, BC

No top 5 list would be complete without the place that makes me happier than any other. I live about 1 minute from the Pacific Ocean and it is a frequent stomping ground for me all year long. Vancouver has a lot of great beaches that I could include on this list (English Bay, Jericho Beach, Spanish Banks, Wreck Beach) but Kits beach is home. With breathtaking views of the North Shore mountains, Stanley Park, and the Vancouver skyline, it’s my favourite walk in the city! Our version of Venice Beach is also great for people watching, dog walking, bike riding, or playing some beach volleyball all year long.

Kits

 

What is your favourite beach?

City Girl goes Camping: Lac Le Jeune

One short week after returning from my first trip to Asia, I decided to take on another first – camping!

I know what you’re thinking… FIRST TIME CAMPING? How is that possible? Well, I’m a city girl. That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to rough it (especially where travel is concerned) but it does mean that I prefer sleeping on a real bed and having access to a shower.

When I was a kid my family would go to Lake Kalamalka every summer and I loved it! I thought we were camping but my friends have since informed me that I was actually “glamping.” Essentially we stayed in a trailer park resort beside the lake with all the creature comforts of home.

In an act of defence I also proclaimed that I had tented for 4 days in Peru… but I admitted that the amazing G Adventures crew carried all my gear (sherpas and llamas for the win!), set up the campsite each night, and cooked all my meals. So, I guess this really was my first real camping trip!

My amazing friends showed me the ropes and the six of us had a fantastic two nights at Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park. My time in Vietnam trained me for the heat so the 38°C didn’t bother me and we even lucked out with very few bugs. It was so nice to leave my phone in my bag and spend some quality time playing games, floating on the lake, and roasting marshmallows over a camp fire. I’m still a city girl at heart but I think I’ll try to spend some more time in the great outdoors!

 

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Frozen in Victoria

This past weekend I got the chance to take a quick trip to the island to visit my friend in Victoria.

I have visited BC’s provincial capital several times but never in such cold temperatures. As much as I prefer the beautiful cherry blossoms that line the streets in springtime, the frozen fountain in front of the parliament buildings was quite the sight to behold.

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Bucket List: Whistler Bungee!

This past weekend I was able to get away to one of my favourite B.C. spots: Whistler Village. It isn’t exactly a well-kept secret that Whistler is one of the premiere ski/snowboard resorts in the world, especially with the recent 2010 Winter Olympics beaming its beautiful slopes into TV sets around the globe. However, the majority of my visits (too many to count!) have been in the off-season to enjoy the beautiful hiking and quieter village haunts. Well… it used to be off-season. Now summertime in Whistler has also become a mountain biking mecca with festivals like Crankworx taking over the lifts for a variety of extreme competitions.

So, in order to avoid the frenzy, my sister-in-law and I decided to try something extreme of our own: Bungee Jumping! Being a total adrenaline junkie, bungee jumping had been on my bucket list for quite some time and was one of the last extreme activities that I had not tried. We opted to jump tandem to give us something to hold onto and also someone with whom to share the experience. We leapt (got pushed) off a bridge 160ft over the glacial fed Cheakamus River. It was scary but not as scary as we thought it would be. Assured by Whistler Bungee’s perfect safety record and comforted by the instructors’ joking demeanors, we only sort of questioned our mental health. After it all was said and done… I would do it again in a heartbeat.

We also enjoyed some tamer activities such as riding the famous Peak 2 Peak gondola, which holds the world record for the longest free span between ropeway towers at 3km, and walking the popular Lost Lake loop. But, nothing can really compare to the exhilarating rush of bungee jumping. It’s nice to know that after nearly 20 years of visiting Whistler, it still has new adventures to offer. Next time… I hope to try out the Whistler Aerial Adventure Course. You only live once right?

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Getaway in the Gulf

This summer I got to spend some precious time recharging my batteries on Galiano Island. If you’re looking for a true getaway, look no further. This gem of the Gulf islands is the closest to Vancouver, a mere 60 minute ferry ride from Tsawwassen, but it might as well be 40 years in the past. The pace is slower, the people will warm your heart, and the scenery will take your breath away.

If you happen to take my advice then make sure to go kayaking at Montague Harbour, hiking up Mt Galiano, and sightseeing at The Bluffs, or Bellhouse Park.

Top of Mt Galiano - View of Active Pass

Top of Mt Galiano – View of Active Pass