2018: A Year in Review

2018: A Year in Review

We didn’t realize we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun. – Winnie the Pooh

Even numbered years have historically been good to me and 2018 was no exception. I travelled to seven countries on four continents, visited friends and family all over the world, got a promotion at work, and spent another year living in my favourite place on earth. In my typical fashion, I’ve recounted the big travel highlights below in chronological order.

1. Nashville, Tennessee (January)

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I kick started 2018 with my bestie Joy in sub zero Nashville. We bar hopped and ate really good food and danced our way into the new year at a Y2K themed party.

2. Dubai, United Arab Emirates (March)

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I’ve been fascinated with the Vegas of the Middle East for over a decade, since I saw a TV special on the building of the famed “7-star” Burj al Arab hotel (pictured above). Over the years, the city only gets more impressive as it seemingly breaks every record in the book.

3. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (March)

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Abu Dhabi wasn’t really on my radar until I learned of the stunningly beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The city takes luxury to the next level and felt even wealthier than Dubai, which was hard to imagine.

4. Cape Town, South Africa (March)

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South Africa has topped my bucket list for years and with dear friends recently moved back to Cape Town, the time was finally right for a visit. I spent about a week in total in Cape Town exploring everything from Cable Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, Boulder’s Bay to the V&A Waterfront. I could easily have spent a month in the Mother City, flitting between beaches and wine farms.

5. Stellenbosch, South Africa (March)

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My dream day trip from Cape Town to the famed Stellenbosch wine region where my hosts Debbie and Theran took me to multiple wineries for tastings of cheese, chocolate, and yes, all the wine! I couldn’t get over the cheap prices and wished I could’ve brought home an entire case.

6. Hoedspruit, South Africa (March)

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During my trip to South Africa, I finally lived out my biggest bucket list activity to date – an African safari! Since, I was travelling solo for most of this trip, the price was more expensive than it needed to be, but still worth every penny. It is the best thing I’ve ever done while travelling and something that every single person should do before they die! I plan to write a more detailed post about this trip at a later date. But, in short is was four days of all-inclusive luxury, sunshine, and the Big 5!

7. Napa, California (May)

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For our 10 year friendaversary, my group of university girlfriends and I upgraded our annual girls weekend and flew down to Napa for ALL the wine. We couldn’t have picked a more picturesque place to celebrate our amazing friendships that have seen us through marriages, pregnancies, career changes, and all the ups and downs of life. I’m forever grateful to be doing life with this crew!

8. Cannon Beach, Oregon (June)

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In June, I made my 7th trip to Oregon with a new travel buddy in tow. My boyfriend, Markus, and I made our inaugural trip together one for the books by visiting the beautiful coastal towns of Astoria, Seaside and Cannon Beach on our way to spend a few awesome days with my cousins in Portland. We fit in some of the usual tourist trappings like Powell’s Books and Washington Park, but added in the Edgefield Brewfest to really get us into the spirit. Every time I go to Portland is better than the last… What can I say? I’m a PNW girl through and through.

9. Kelowna, BC (September)

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For the second year in a row, my cousin, Teri-Lynn, flew out from Winnipeg for the long weekend and we drove straight to wine country! (are you sensing a theme here?) I love the Okanagan Valley and was thrilled to finally be checking out the Naramata Bench. We managed to squeeze in stops at Legend Distilling, Lake Breeze, Van Westen, Ruby Blues, Sumac Ridge, Mission Hill, and Quail’s Gate. Some we visited for the wine, and others for the view. Either way, this is one of my favourite places to go every summer!

10. Helsinki, Finland (September)

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A trip to Europe wasn’t originally in the plans for 2018, but when my Finnish boyfriend decided to visit the mother land for his first visit, I couldn’t resist the urge to tag along and visit friends Kathrin and Kristof. We had an incredibly five days soaking up the food (munkki and karjalan piirakka were faves!), sauna culture, and beautiful natural surroundings. I know that this will be a place we come back to again and again!

11. Tallinn, Estonia (September)

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We were stoked to learn that the gorgeous historic city of Tallinn is just a 3 hour ferry ride from Helsinki. We decided to spend a day wandering the old town, which I cannot recommend enough. It was straight out of a fairy tale and far less touristy than other old towns I’ve seen throughout Europe. The Baltic countries are quickly climbing up my destination list as I seek to combat overtourism with less popular destinations.

12. Copenhagen, Denmark (September)

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Now, Copenhagen certainly is a popular city, and one I’ve had my sights on for years now. However, travelling in late September helped us to avoid the summertime crowds and really enjoy the city at our own pace. We LOVED Copenhagen and can’t think of a reason why any person wouldn’t want to go there. Again, a more detailed post is yet to come, but our favourite spots were Nyhavn (pictured above), the hipster bars in Norrebro, Reffen, Freetown Christiania, and Kastellet.

13. Winnipeg, Manitoba (October)

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I often spend Thanksgiving away from my friends and family but this year, we all made the trek to Winnipeg to celebrate my grandpa’s 80th birthday. It was so nice to be all together, which is becoming less and less common. And it also gave me the opportunity to enjoy the fall colours at Fort Whyte Alive even if it meant digging out my winter coat far earlier than I would have preferred.

14. Whistler, BC (October)

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Whistler is one of my favourite places on Earth and since it is both an incredibly popular winter and summer tourist destination, I like to visit in the off-season. This year I went with a group of friends in late October, one of the most beautiful times to go in my opinion. The weather couldn’t have been better, still allowing us to go for a classic walk around Lost Lake as well as sit on a patio outside, but without all the crowds.

15. Mexico City, Mexico (November)

My last big trip of the year, was my annual girls trip with go-to travel buddy Megan. This was our 7th trip together since we met in Vietnam back in 2014 and our 6th country. We had the BEST time exploring the impressive Teotihuacan pyramids, the beautiful parks in Condesa and the fascinating Casa Azul. I could easily see myself returning to Mexico City for the cheap and delicious food, year-round perfect weather, and picturesque neighbourhoods. I didn’t sign up for beginner Spanish next year for nothing.

2018: By the Numbers

Countries Visited: 7 (5 new ones) –  USA / United Arab Emirates / South Africa / Finland / Estonia / Denmark / Mexico

States Visited: 4 – Tennessee / Washington / California / Oregon

Provinces Visited: 3 – British Columbia / Manitoba / Alberta

Plane Rides Taken: 15 one way flights (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has).

Airports Visited: 15 (BNA, SEA, DXB, CPT, HDS, YVR, SFO, PDX, LHR, HEL, CPH, YYC, YWG, YYZ, MEX)

Kilometres Flown in 2018: 82,957

Beds Slept In: 16. Of those, 5 were hotels, 5 were crashing with family or friends, 4 were Airbnb rentals, 1 was a safari lodge, and one was my own bed!

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.

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.

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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No Tax on the Oregon Trail

On July 14, 2012 my baby brother married the love of his life, my new sister, Faith. And… lucky for me, they chose to get married in Faith’s hometown of Salem, Oregon. This historic capital city is full of culture and beauty, the perfect setting for this multi-cultural couple to exchange vows. During my time in Oregon I got to wander the city and enjoy the rolling vineyards waiting just outside the downtown core. Oh yeah, and the tax-free shopping didn’t hurt either :)

Faith's family farm - Salem, Oregon

Faith’s family farm – Salem, Oregon

Colin & Faith

Colin & Faith

Siblings

Siblings