2014: A Year in Review

2014: A Year in Review

W h a t.  A.  Y e a r !  I can’t believe that it’s actually time to say goodbye to 2014 and what has been my best travel year since 2006. I somehow managed to squeeze 18 trips into the past 12 months and I did it all while holding down a full-time office job. That’s right people… you CAN travel the world without quitting your day job. To celebrate the end of an absolutely incredible year, here’s a review of my 2014 travel adventures.

1. New Orleans (January)

I began 2014 with a bang and a kiss (teehee) while watching fireworks over the Mississippi River in New Orleans! This is definitely one for the record books and redeemed a holiday that I had pretty much given up on. Now it’s my new mission to celebrate NYE in a new city every year! photo-3 2. Victoria (February)

One of many weekend trips to Vancouver Island to visit my best friend (guest blogger Katie Smith) – it was cold. So cold that the fountains in front of parliament froze over. You don’t see that everyday.

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A less cold weekend back in Victoria to visit same friend… yeah, I’m awesome that way ;)

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4. Lake Whatcom (April)

Only the single best girls weekend ever! Okay, that might have been the wine talking but seriously, we had a great time checking out the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and relaxing by a very lovely lake.  IMG_0652 5. Winnipeg (May)

At long last, I made my first trip back to Winnipeg in nearly four years. I used to go all the time (to visit family) but with domestic flight prices soaring, it’s a rare occurrence these days. Lucky for me I have connections and when my WestJetter friend hooked me up with 40% off – I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to catch my dear cousin (the actress!) on closing night of her musical. IMG_0932 6. Las Vegas (May)

VEGAS BABY!! Okay, so maybe my long weekend in Sin City wasn’t exactly what movies are made about… but it was fun! I hadn’t been since I was a teenager so the adult version was a whole new experience. IMG_0829 7. Vietnam (June)

My first trip to Asia and I chose Vietnam (by way of China) and decided to go all by myself too. Well, I didn’t end up being alone for long as I made a lot of great friends on the road. Two weeks went by all too fast as I sweat (holy hot batman!) my way up the coast enjoying beautiful beaches, amazing food, and fascinating cities. IMG_1144 8. Lac Le Jeune (July)

My first (real) camping trip was a roaring success! My expert camper friends planned a perfect two days in the Central Interior where we basically just lazed around the lake and ate. Summer in BC = Bliss! Lac Le Jeune 9. Kelowna (August)

Last year’s annual mother/daughter(s) weekend took us to Whistler Village where my sister-in-law and I took the plunge by bungee jumping for our first times. This year we headed to wine country for a perfect weekend of boating, drinking, touring… basically living the good life! IMG_1616 10. Whistler (August)

When my friend Katie casually mentioned that she’d never been to Whistler before, I hung up on her and called a hotel immediately. Whistler is an annual summer retreat for me and I’ve been at least 15 times. So, I was thrilled to show off this little resort town and all of the off-season activities it has to offer. IMG_1801 11. Tofino (August)

This trip! The trip that I never thought was actually going to happen. First we were going to Alaska. Then we were going to Hawaii. Then we ditched the idea completely. Then we were back to Alaska. But, by the end of it all, we settled on Tofino/Ucluelet for our first family vacation since 2007.

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12. Sunshine Coast (September)

When my friend Kendra got a job in the seaside town of Gibsons, I knew that it was finally  time to take a trip to the beautiful Sunshine Coast. We spent a perfect final weekend of summer driving up the coast and feasting our eyes on the impressive Skookumchuck Narrows!

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

13. Prince George (September)

Not the most glamourous destination on the list but it was travel and a new city. This work trip took me the furthest north that I’ve ever been in Canada and I got to squeeze in a quick visit with my friend Mel. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find impressive old growth forests nearby and a lot more activity than I would have initially guessed in such a remote community. This really is Beautiful British Columbia from top to bottom.IMG_2156 14. Boston (November)

One of my favourite benefits of traveling is the great people you meet along the way. Megan and I became fast friends while visiting Vietnam earlier this year and we were already googling flight prices between Vancouver and Boston before we even went our separate ways. I knew right away that I wanted to see New England in the autumn and I lucked out with an absolutely glorious weekend of blue skies and radiant fall colours. The Northeast is definitely a region I am eager to explore in more depth.IMG_2484 15. Seattle (November)

A frequent stomping ground for concerts, shopping trips, cruise departures, and cheap flights over the years, Seattle has become a second home in many ways. And now, with my family’s recent obsession with the Seattle Seahawks, we have more excuses to go and more love than ever for our sister city on the West Coast.  IMG_2506 16. Victoria again (November)

Back to Vancouver Island again… this time for some pre-Christmas festivities in sub-zero temperatures. Note to self… start visiting in summer from now on. Brr…

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17. Portland (December)

When I found out that my cousin Jordan and his wife Emily were moving from the mid-West to the weirdest coolest city in America… I couldn’t start scheming fast enough. One weekend was barely enough time to get a taste of what the city has to offer so expect many more adventures in Oregon in the months and years to come!

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18. Lisbon (December)

When the office shuts down over the holidays, why not celebrate in… P O R T U G A L ! This quick Euro trip reunites me (once again!!) with my Boston Bestie, Megan. We are spending the final four days of 2014 in beautiful Lisbon… and the travels don’t stop there! Follow my adventures into 2015 and see how (and where!) I ring in the new year!

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2014 By the Numbers:

Countries Visited: 3 (2 new ones): USA / VietnamPortugal

States Visited: 5 (2 new ones): Louisiana / Washington / Nevada / Massachusetts / Oregon

Plane Rides Taken: 12 (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has). Of those flights, four were heavily discounted by family/friend discounts, two were paid for by work, two were almost covered entirely by points, and the remaining four inspire me to keep looking for great deals.

Other Modes of Transportation: 10 ferries, 3 overnight trains, 3 buses (long-haul), 1 motorcycle, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 16 (YVR, MSY, SEA, YWG, YXS, LAX, BOS, AMS, LIS, BCN, BLI, LAS, CAN, SGN, HAN, MCI)

Beds Slept In: 26. Of those, 10 were hotels, 7 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were sleeper trains,  2 were house rentals, one was an Airbnb apartment rental, one was a bed & breakfast, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

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Campus Tour of Harvard University

Campus Tour of Harvard University

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

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

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

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

John Harvard & The Statue of Three Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Widener Library

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of Boston: Autumn in New England

The Best of Boston: Autumn in New England

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

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

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

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

Boston Marathon Finish Line

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

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Boston Public Library

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

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

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Boston Public Gardens

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

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Boston Common

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

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Massachusetts State House

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

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Obviously I'm super mature.

Obviously I’m super mature.

Granary Burying Ground

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

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Faneuil Hall (Quincy Market)

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

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This was way more delicious than it looks.

This was way more delicious than it looks.

North End

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

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Fenway Park

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

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Harvard Bridge

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

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

Next up: Harvard University