Tag Archives: Canada

Toronto

January 5th

I got up early, showered, had breakfast, packed my last few items and headed to central station. I arrived on time, grabbed a coffee and boarded my train for Toronto. Hopeful that the forecast snow storms wouldn’t actually affect my ability to get to my friend Nanette.

On the train I managed to get a window seat so I could watch the world go by. Unfortunately the world was not very exciting, snow-covered flat field after snow-covered flat field. Every now and then a little township poked up out of one of these flat snow-covered fields. It really makes you wonder why people live out there…it’s freezing cold and there’s nothing for miles around.

imageThankfully the five hour train trip was over quite quickly and a family friend, Nanette, picked me up from the station. Nanette has been a family friend since she and my parents were all in their teens. She has been out to visit us in Australia, and we have all caught up in The Netherlands but this is the first time I have visited her in Canada, so it’s very exciting to get the chance to catch up.

Once we got to Nanette’s place we had a good chatterbox and enjoyed some wine and cheese, while investigating the things to see and do in Toronto, before enjoying a delicious healthy dinner.

January 6th

After a fabulous sleep I had a bit of a sleep in, and then got up and put on my fluffy robe. Nanette and I spent the morning drinking coffee and eating fresh muffins, before eventually getting dressed, de-icing the car and heading out to the Ontario Science Center.

imageAt the Science Center we enjoyed and IMAX movie on the great white shark as well as learning loads about the human body and playing with few hands-on science experiments. It was so much fun, so interesting and such a well designed center with so many helpful staff! It was a great way to spend the day, with the added bonus of not freezing our butts off outdoors.

In the afternoon we headed back to the train station to pick up my friend Liv, who despite having lived in Canada for 18 months, hadn’t made it to Toronto yet. So she thought that it would be a great reason to visit and spend more time hanging out with a friend from home.

So Nanette, Liv and I spent the evening nibbling on tasty foods and chatting.

imageJanuary 7th

With my sightseeing buddy by my side, we got up early, rugged up super well against the weather described as ‘brutally cold’ (the forecast literally included the warning that it would be ‘brutally cold’, it also warned that frostbite could occur in as little as 10 minutes) and headed downtown Toronto. The short walk from the subway station to the CN Tower was torturous, I think that the pain in my face from the icy winds was the worst I had experienced so far, but I was determined to see Toronto, and forged ahead.

imageThe CN Tower is known for having queues of people with 2 hours wait time, but we strolled up to the ticket counter, and walked straight in. We zoofed up the outside of the tower in the glass elevator and were the only people on the observation deck. Though it was a freezing cold day, it was actually a very clear day with blue skies. The view across Toronto were fab! Particularly stunning was the view across Lake Ontario towards the Toronto Islands. The lake was almost entirely frozen and it looked brilliant to see the winds blowing the snow across the surface of the ice.

After visiting the CN Tower, we asked about underground walkways linking parts of the city and thankfully these existed, so once we had directions Liv and I parted ways. I headed along the skywalk (covered walkway) back to the subway station, where I caught the subway up to Museum. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) had numerous good reviews, so even though I am not really into museums, this one was on my list.

imageThe ROM is an interesting building, it is a stunning old building, perhaps sandstone, which has a very modern diamond shape building essentially plopped into it. From the outside white, angular edges jut out of the old building; it is like this inside as well. It probably sounds horrible but it is really an amazing combination of old and new and works really well. In the scheme of things, I walked through the museum fairly quickly. The main attraction for me was the architecture of the new part, the old part and the intersection of the two. The other exhibits were all well designed and interesting, but weren’t the highlight for me.

imageAfter the ROM, I visited another place that would not normally be on my list, The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Again, the exhibits and art left me yawning, but the architectural features in the building were just stunning. The staircase was beautifully curved timber, a beautiful honey colour set against white walls, exposed steel and a glass ceiling. The shape  is basically nearly impossible to describe, so check out the pictures. The espresso bar on the second floor also made effective use of timber, steel and was a great spot to sit down and enjoy a tasty coffee.

By this stage it was early afternoon and things would be closing soon, so I messaged Liv to see if she was keen to head to Steam Whistler Brewing Company to go on a brewery tour. Freakishly, she was also in the AGO at the time, so she popped up to the espresso bar and joined me for that coffee.

imageThe two of us hopped on the subway and headed towards the waterfront. We made it just in the nick of time to get on the 4:30 tour. Our guide started off by cracking open a beer for each of us, before starting the tour of the brewery. The brewery was started by three guys who had worked for other brewing companies, which had been bought out and then they had been made redundant or fired. So these three friends some time later decided that they still wanted to be in the brewing industry, and one night over a few beers (of course), they decided to start their own company and would call it ‘three fired guys’. The wife of one of the men said they shouldn’t have a negative name, they ended up calling it Steam Whistle Brewing Company instead, but still secretly label every bottle with ‘3FG’. So these guys started up their own brewery and decided to do just one beer very well, so they learned the recipes used in the Czech republic and Bavaria, tweaked it a little bit and came up with a super tasty Pilsener. The tour guide was great and the beer awesome, so it was a great way to finish up the day.

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January 8th

Our original plan for the day had been to go to Niagara Falls, but at the last minute the forecast for that area took a turn for the worst, with snow storms and closed roads, so we took the smart option and stuck around Toronto to enjoy a beautiful mild day!

imageNanette had the day off, and knowing Liv and I both love architecture, she took us on a driving tour of the city. We drove around The Beach (the beach is a popular, and expensive, area to live in because it is on the beach. The beach looked amazing covered in snow, with mini icebergs lapping against the shore!), Leslieville, Cabbage Town, Riverdale, Yorkville, Downtown Toronto and Chinatown. We say so many lovely houses!!!

In China town we stopped for lunch as a cute cafe and I tried a traditional pie, tourtière, which had ground pork, mashed potato, raisins and cinnamon. It didn’t sounds amazing, but it tasted pretty good.

imageAfter lunch Nanette dropped Liv and I off at the harbourfront area, as it is an arty district with loads of cute galleries, but since its January and the middle of winter, everything was closed. So, Liv headed off to find other art galleries and I headed off for a wander.

imageI had a look in the CBC Museum which was tiny but quite interesting, then I wandered around Queen Street West, the downtown shopping strip, over to St Lawrence Market, through the adorable old part of town over to the Distillery District.

imageThe Distillery District had lots of cute little shops and is such a beautiful old district. It was great just to wander around. As I concluded my wanderings, I headed to Tappo Wine Var to meet Nanette and Liv for dinner.

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It was a beautiful old building, lots of exposed brickwork, polished concrete floors, timber columns and exposed steel. Very industrial but made to feel warm and welcoming. We had an AMAZING dinner together and enjoyed a glass of wine. For anyone in the area, I would definitely recommend having dinner there. We shared a seafood entrée of Octopus, Calamari and Squid, followed by a first course of wild boar pappardelle, and then we had a main. I had a delicious, tender, beef strip-loin dish served on roasted potatoes, Liv had a lamb dish and Nanette had Mahi-Mahi. We were all very impressed with the quality and the food and the amazing flavours! In addition to that, our waiter Eric provided brilliant service and it was just a fabulous evening out!

January 9th

imageWith the weather forecast looking mild and clear, the three of us rugged up, grabbed our recently charged camera’s and hopped in the car. Traffic was pretty good and it took around 1.5 hours to reach Niagara-on-the-lake. An adorable little town with lots of cute little boutiques stores. We had a bit of a look around and stopped for a coffee at a cute English pub called the Prince of Wales. We sat in big leather arm chairs by the fire, it was so cosy! (Although considering the mild weather it wasn’t as necessary as on other days)

imageWe jumped back in the car and drove along the Niagara Parkway admiring the stunning view of the frozen river along the way. At Niagara Falls itself, it was just STUNNING! A lot of the falls were frozen, as was the river below, but there was still a large quantity of water falling, producing a huge plume of mist and highlighting a beautiful full rainbow arcing across the river. It was breathtaking!

imageWhile most of the standard Niagara attractions were closed, we were able to do the ‘journey behind the falls’ where you take an elevator down to near the base of the falls and look out portals at the falls from the side and down to the frozen river below.

The beauty of Niagara Falls in winter is hard to describe, but it really was simply breathtaking!

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Once we had taken hundreds of photos of this amazing sight, we jumped back in the car and headed for the US! Niagara is partly in Canada and partly in the US. So since we re so close to the border we had planned to head over so that Liv and I could do a little bit of shopping while Nanette visited a good friend of hers.

imageHeading across the border, our documents were taken from us and we had to head in to immigration. We had to wait half an hour or more before we were able to speak to the immigration officer (which was frustrating because the officers were sitting around doing nothing, while the people queued up), but the immigration officer we had was really pleasant and waved us through in no time. (Yay I have another stamp in my passport!)

So off we went, into New York State, headed for Buffalo. I tried to take a photo of the sign but an immigration officer got super cranky with me for getting out of the car, so I took a picture as we drove past the sign.

The shopping mall we visited was huge and there were so many great sales on! We were like kids in a candy store! But while it was loads of fun and we tried on lots of funky clothes, we both had our baggage restrictions for the flight home in mind and walked away with only a few funky items.

Soon enough it was time to head home. The man at the border was really condescending and treated us like rubbish, so that was a bit frustrating, but at least he let us back into Canada. So we got home around 9:30pm and soon after, headed to bed. It had been a very long, but amazing day!

January 10th

imageMy last day in Toronto. While you may expect I would be cramming my last day full of sightseeing, as I had almost every other day. I was exhausted, and instead opted to spend the day catching up on some sleep, packing my bag, blogging and reading. I also completed a standard daily Canadian chore…shovel snow and ice off the sidewalk!

In the afternoon Nanette and I ran a few errands and did some groceries. At home we chopped loads of veggies and Nanette made a big wok of Bami Goreng.

We had a little dinner party with a friend Tonny, Nanette, Liv and I – it was a fantastic evening with loads of delicious food and fantastic conversation. After dinner was some last minute packing and an alarm set for 4am.

So ended the amazing Canadian adventure!
Thanks to all the friends and family who shared in my adventures over the last month!

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Montreal

December 30th

I grabbed a 9am flight out of Vancouver to cross the country and visit my friend Olivia in Montreal. The flight arrived early evening and by the time I met Liv at the bus station it was close to 7pm. We chatter boxed, made some dinner and then headed out to a nearby pub called Randalphs, where we met up with Liv’s housemate Spencer and some other people. Randalphs is an interesting place, you go there to play board games. The walls are lined with shelves covered in all manner of board games, we played something kind of like Chinese whispers, but you had to draw a picture to describe what someone wrote, the next person guesses what the picture is and writes it down, then the next person draws it and so on. In a group of nine people it was pretty funny to see what people started with and how those things ended up being interpreted.

imageAfter a few round the whole group headed back to Liv’s place to play a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. That was pretty hilarious! A black cad would have a sentence or phrase on it, but be missing a piece. Each player then has to look at the white cards in their hands and select one to complete the black card’s phrase. The person who turned over the black card then had to select which one of the cards was the best fit.

By the time everyone left and Liv and I stopped chatting it was 1am!!

December 31st

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI got up in the morning and layered up appropriately – thermal under layer, thermal mid layer, polar fleece, down jacket, stockings, ski socks, jeans, neck warmer, scarf, beanie and mittens – then headed outdoors to start exploring. Liv lives in the village and from her place we walked a few blocks before heading below street level to the underground city. The underground city is a network of shopping malls below street level. Because Montreal is such a cold place, there are underground malls designed for keeping people out of the cold. This is exactly why we went down there, not to shop, but to thaw out a bit.

Once we had warmed up a bit, we headed back outdoors, where we stopped at Victoria square, here they have a metro station which has signage that looks identical to the metro signage in paris. The signage was actually a gift from Paris to the city of Montreal. From Victoria Square we wandered into the Old Port, which used to be the original town centre. There are loads of beautiful old buildings in that area, it has a very European feel. From there we walked along the frozen river before making another stop to warm up, in Bonsecoures Market, where there were many boutique stores, many of which contained the work of local artisans.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon enough we were getting a bit peckish, so we stopped for lunch at Montreal Poutine to have some local beers and share a serve of smoked meat Poutine. Poutine is québécois dish, junk food – fries, cheese curds and gravy. We ordered one with smoked meat added to it. It looks really disgusting and as though its guaranteed to cause clogged arteries, but it certainly is tasty!!
With full bellies and warm toes, we continued on to Place d’Armes to have a look at Notre Dames cathedral. It is absolutely stunning, both inside and out. Inside was much more colourful than I expected and it really was beautiful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time we finished up at Notre Dames the sun had well and truly set, everything was lit up with gorgeous twinkle lights and it was snowing. It was such a perfect evening. We pranced around in the snow and took loads of photos. Eventually our toes were once again rather chilly, so we headed in to a Chinese Tea House for some tea. It was a really adorable place and had the most amazing assortment of tea sets!

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As it got later we headed back towards home. We had planned to cook dinner but every store we tried to go to had shut 5 minutes before we got there! So we gave up on the idea of cooking and went to Pub St-André where we had a beer degustation (I had four blonde beers, Liv had 4 brown beers), BBQ chicken wings and some pizza. It was great!!

Walking the last few blocks home we managed to find a corner store that was open, so we grabbed some beers, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, pop corn and a selection of candy bars (we grabbed each candy bar that we hadn’t tried before eg. Mr Big, Oh Henry, Eat More, Turtles…) Back home we settled in on the couch with beer and junk food to watch some movies, and we cheers’d at midnight. It was a fantastic, low-key way to see in the new year!

January 1st

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter having a late night, we started the day with a bit of a sleep in. Once we were up and about, we rugged up and headed out. We walked up to the plateau, past some super cute houses, painted all sorts of lovely colours and through St Louis Square, down Prince Arthur before ducking in to a Starbucks on Parc to thaw out. We warmed up with a gingerbread latte and a pumpkin spice latte. It’s interesting to see all the ‘Christmas’ flavoured coffees on offer, some are delicious and others less so. I was surprised at how tasty the pumpkin spice latte was!

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Once we could feel our fingers and toes, we continued walking up the hill to Parc Mont Royal. Which is a small mountain with a view over the whole city. It was stunning to wander around the snow covered park, but also nice to pop in to the chalet up the top and warm up by the heater with a hot chocolate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the day wore on, we headed back down the mountain past beaver lake, down Ramezay Avenue and St-Sulpice to admire the beautiful houses, many of which looked like old English manor houses. By this stage my feet had gone beyond numb to the point of pain, so we hightailed it to the nearest indoor mall. Once my feet were functioning again, we jumped on the metro and headed home to chill out for the afternoon with hot chocolate and blankets to warm up.

Although we were warm and relaxed at home, we rugged up once more and braved the outdoors, to go ice skating down at the old port. There is a large outdoor rink, and also around that the frozen river which you can also skate on. Spencer, Liv’s housemate came with us and aside from the occasional frozen toes or fingers requiring a brief break indoors, we all carved up the ice skating rink and had an absolute blast! There were beautiful twinkle lights everywhere, funky tunes being pumped out and people enjoying the outdoors together.

January 2nd

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo perhaps some explanation of just how cold it is may assist in understanding why so many clothing layers and indoor ‘thaw-out’ stops are required. The forecast for the day is -22 degrees celsius, but once you factor in windchill it becomes -39 degrees (a few days later we read in the paper that it was the coldest January 2nd Montreal has had since 1968). So when you step outside you cough as you lungs protest against the icy air, within 30 seconds your nostril hairs freeze (you can feel them move in and out as you breathe) and your eyelashes freeze. So while the layers of clothing are helpful against the cold, it doesn’t protect you completely, so after 30minutes or so outside the cold has seeped through to numb your fingers and toes, and not long after that it goes beyond numb to just pain. So I have to say that I am loving Montreal, I adore the snow and the city is just gorgeous. But sightseeing really does have to happen in short bursts.

So we spent the morning at Liv’s art studio, partly because it is nice and toasty warm and partly because she has to pack up all her stuff in preparation for her move back to Tasmania (she has been living in Montreal for the last 18 months).

Just after midday we braved the cold weather and headed up to the plateau to meet a friend, Mira, for lunch at a retro looking diner that made great burgers. We had a fantastic chatter-box.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter lunch Liv and I wandered the area and checked out a few little boutiques, but soon enough we decided it was just simply too cold, and we headed home for a couple of hours. We went via the supermarket, to get some groceries as we needed to prepare a dish to take to a potluck dinner.

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In the early evening we once again, donned all the warm layers and braved the cold to make the dash to Emily’s place. Emily and her husband Nic hosted a potluck dinner at their place. We met up with a nice assortment of people and had some random conversations. Emily made a traditional Acadian (Acadian’s were the french speaking people originally inhabited the maritimes ie. Nova Scotia area) dish called Rapeau, which was a grey mush containing chicken, mashed potato and bacon. While it looked pretty horrid, and was described by someone as grey snot, it was delicious!

Walking back at night, through the snow, was lovely, even if freezing! Some houses still sparkled with christmas twinkle lights, and the snow made very entertaining squeaking noises under our feet.

January 3rd

imageAs Liv had to work in the morning, I bundled myself up and headed out for a morning of solo adventuring. I started by catching the metro to a little island in the river called Ile St Helene, which is connected by bridge another little island called Ile Jean Drapeau. This is where world expo was held a number of year ago. I went out there to look at the biosphere when was originally one of the pavilions, but is now an environmental museum. The museum was shut, but I had just wanted to look at the sphere itself, so that wasn’t a problem. the steel framed dome, looked stunning against all the crisp white snow and clear blue skies.

imageAs I wandered around I noticed steam rising from near the bridge connecting the two islands, so I went to investigate. Flowing rapidly down the river were large chunks of ice, banging against each other and the river bank as they went. With the ridiculously cold weather the entire river has been frozen, so I am not sure if it was all broken up because it the weather had warmed up a few degrees, or if it happens simply due to the force of the water flow. Similarly I am unsure as to what caused so much steam. No matter what the cause, the cracking and clunking noises paired with the steam and fast flowing river were very interesting to watch and listen to.

Having just out my camera away, I turned to walk back to the metro and trotting along the bridge was a fox. It stopped about a metre from me, we briefly looked at each other, before the fox turned it’s head and continued on its way. It was a very bizarre moment.

imageAs I had been wandering in the snow for some time, I jumped on the metro an d headed downtown to grab a coffee. I stopped in Myriad for a super tasty latte, before wandering the streets of downtown, checking out some of the sales. I also checked out a gorgeous cathedral, Marie Reine du Monde. It was quite different to the Notre Dame, but quite beautiful in its own way.

Once again my toes were really cold, so I popped into the Starbucks inside Chapters (Chapters is a big book store). I got myself a Creme brûlée latte and found a spot by the window, where I took my shoes off and warmed my feet on the heater.

imageBy this time I got a message from Liv asking if I wanted to meet her for a lunch of crepes and hot chocolate…what a silly question! So of course I jumped  on the next metro and the two of us headed to Juliette & Chocolat for some super tasty treats. We shared a savoury buckwheat crepe with cheese, ham and mushrooms, before tucking in to a sweet ‘dessert’ crepe with salted caramel. They were both amazing!! We paired our crepes with grandma style hot chocolate, which is a super thick hot chocolate, that is so thick you almost have to spoon it into your mouth. Nom nom nom!

From our late lunch we wandered into Old Montreal and checked out a few more of the cute boutiques (Old Montreal was a lot busier than new years eve when almost everything was closed), before enjoying some Spanish wine in a tapas bar.

imageLiv’s friend Catherine met up with us and the three of us headed to the theatre to see a fringe festival production called Little Orange Man. It was a single actor, who acted out the most hilarious and random story about her grandfather. She did a fantastic job and had the audience involved in several events in the play, as well as in stitches of laughter throughout the duration of the play.

We concluded our evening with a delicious meal at a polish restaurant called Stash, where we shared a few dishes like pierogies and bigos.

January 4th

imageAfter yet another late night (with me having struggled to keep my eyes open during the play the previous night) a sleep-in was in order. So we dozed until after 10am. Then we got up and slowly but surely made our way out the door on the hunt for some brunch. We grabbed a takeaway coffee from some cute espresso bar along the way, got sidetracked by various adorable boutiques before eventually getting to a cafe called Sparrow, in an area called Mile End.

imageSparrow is a super cute cafe, which was clearly popular as we had to wait half an hour for a table. The decor was adorable, as was the crockery and we had really good service to go with it. With so many awesome sounding dishes on the menu we once again decided to share a savoury and a sweet dish. We started with a lumberjack breakfast: pancakes, poached eggs, beans, Italian sausage and maple syrup and chased it with red velvet waffles served with poached pears and chocolate mousse. Oh my goodness it was AMAZING! We both waddled out of that cafe!

We spent some more time wandering around Mile End, St Viateur and the Plateau area, appreciating the architecture, street art and adorable boutiques. But as the sun sank in the sky we headed back to Liv’s place to fluff around and for me to sort out my luggage for the next leg of the journey.

Once it was dinner time we headed out to meet Spencer at a restaurant called Poutineville for some poutine and beer. The last hours of the day involved the three of us and some board games.

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Vancouver & Victoria

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December 23rd

After all the busy-ness of Whistler I spent the day taking it fairly slow. I caught up on my washing, I went to a cafe with WiFi and caught up on my blog whilst enjoying a tasty cinnamon scroll and a cup of coffee.

I headed into town and wandered around downtown and gastown. There were so many great sales on…but with limited bag space and weight allowances, I managed to restrain myself.

imageI also went back to Coal Harbour, because I remembered that the Lonely planet indicated that the Olympic Cauldron was there and I could not remember seeing it. When I got there and realized that it was the crazy tripod sculpture I had walked past a bunch of times, I felt kind of silly for not having realized what it was earlier!

After a day of wandering the streets of downtown Vancouver I headed home fairly early and enjoyed some quiet time.

imageDecember 24th

Christmas Eve, or for people back home Christmas Day. I had another fairly chilled day. I started off with a trip to the University if British Columbia to visit the Museum of Anthropology. Firstly I have to say that UBC is ENORMOUS! It’s like an entire suburb, it has it’s own streets, malls and I think, if I interpreted it correctly, it’s own bus system. I wandered about 2km to get to the museum. It’s a fabulously designed building that reflects the building designs of the First Nations people. It houses many interesting and intricately carved wooden house posts, totem poles, memorial posts, kayaks and so on, as well as a variety of other interesting artifacts. I mostly found the carved items interesting, things like the ceramics collection didn’t really grab my attention. I can’t really describe the things I saw, but there were many interesting things to see and learn about. While it’s not new information I do think that westerners back in the day were total ignorant assholes lacking in tolerance. Westerners forced native people (in every country they took over) to forget their heritage and adopt western ways. It makes me sad to think how much tradition and rich culture has been lost over the centuries, but I am appreciative that people these days are more culturally aware.

imageAfter my trip to UBC I headed downtown, grabbed a coffee at a funky cafe in Gastown called Revolver! as grabbed a late lunch at The Hastings Warehouse…good pub food for $5! In fact the beer I had with my lunch was more expensive than my food, how crazy is that?! The warehouse also had free wifi which allowed me to skype call my family for a quick “Merry Christmas” chat! So even though it was quite a brief chat, it was nice to speak to them.

After that I wandered around the city a little longer, but all the shops were closing early… It took me a moment to remember it was Christmas Eve. So I headed back to Levi’s to pack up my gear.

Gerrit collected me late in the evening to visit some cousins for drinks and nibbles which was really lovely. We chatted and enjoyed good company until around 11pm.

December 25th

Christmas Day! I started the day with a long lazy lie-in. Once I was up and about Gerrit made us a super tasty waffle and blueberry breakfast and good coffee. Then we exchanged some gifts before enjoying a stroll around the area. It was so lovely to look in one direction and see the glassy surface of the river and in the other direction snow capped mountains. While it was not a white Christmas, it was a beautiful calm, crisp and clear day.

Around lunchtime the family started to turn up (this is my sister-in-law’s family, if I haven’t already made that clear), we sat down to enjoy some nibbles and wine while the turkey legs were roasting in the oven. We enjoyed some great conversation and shared travel stories, most of the family has been struck with the travel bug!

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A group of nine of us sat down to enjoy a turkey and vegetable Christmas lunch/dinner which was fantastic. We shared tacky Christmas jokes and cooking secrets (Ryan did a great job with the turkey, Gerrit’s cauliflower was a bit hit and Alison’s salad was also pretty awesome). With bellies full we enjoyed a stroll by the river and watched the sun set.

imageWe finished off our fabulous Christmas with Gerrit’s Creme Brûlée (which was amazing!!) and a secret Santa gift exchange. As people dwindled, I played a few games of pool with Ryan and Sally, shared more travel stories and ate lots of sweet treats. It was a super fun day!

December 26th

I had another little sleep in, before packing up a small bag to take to Vancouver Island. Tina and Jim picked me up around 11am and we headed to Tsawassen to catch the ferry. Leaving Tsawassen the water through the Georgia Strait was flat, which made for a smooth crossing. The sky was reasonably clear which allowed a good view down the coast; we even had a good view of snow covered Mt Baker over the border in the US!. We passed between lots of small islands which were all super cute and after drinking some coffee and playing a few rounds of a card game, we arrived at Swartz Bay to enjoy a sunny afternoon drive down to Saanich.

We spent a short while relaxing and unwinding after the busy-ness of Christmas before heading to Felicity and Marc’s place for Boxing Day dinner (Felicity is another cousin). Joining us were cousin Levi and a couple of Felicity and Marc’s friends. They made an amazing meal and we all enjoyed great conversation. It was a fabulous evening!

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December 27th

Jim made a fabulous breakfast for us all to start the day (conveniently for him, Levi stopped by to collect some stuff, so he also got to appreciate the tasty breakfast). After breakfast Jim gave me a driven tour of Victoria explaining some of the history and pointing out things of interest, before dropping me off downtown to explore.

imageI wandered around along the harbour, I checked out Bastion Square and Chinatown, the festival of trees at the Empress Hotel, the Parliament building and also the Royal BC Museum. The museum had an exhibition of the worlds best wildlife photography and it was just amazing!! So many phenomenal photographs.

Victoria is actually quite a small place, so while it is totally adorable and pretty, there isn’t heaps to see and do in the winter time. Jim and Tina picked me up in the late afternoon, and we had an easy dinner and spent the evening watching a movie on TV. It was so nice to relax on the couch after all the busy-ness of Christmas.

December 28th

imageI headed to the harbour to get all kitted up in my super gung-ho flotation suit for some whale watching. There are a few pods of resident Orcas around Victoria, as well as transient Orcas that pass by. I was really hopeful that we would get the chance to see some of these beautiful creatures. The day was perfect for whale spotting, no wind, the water was glassy and flat, but unfortunately travelling up and down the coast, even going almost as far as Seattle in the U.S, was no help to us. We saw some Seals and some Bald Eagles, but not a single whale. So we basically enjoyed a nice half day on the water (well freezing cold, but otherwise pleasant)

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On return to land, Tina, Jim and I went for a walk around the bay, stopping for a late lunch at a cute little seafood shack. The walk was great to get my frozen body functioning again! It also gave us a gorgeous sunset over the city.

imageOnce it got dark Tina and I headed out to the Butchart Gardens to see an amazing light display depicting the Twelve days of Christmas. It was brilliantly done, and walking through the gardens amongst the twinkly lights was just such a magical way to spend the evening! At the end of the loop around the gardens we popped into the cafe to have a Coffee with baileys, a hot drink to wrap our hands around and warm up our fingers, as well as to drink and warm up our insides. Yum!

December 29th

After a quick brekky, Jim and Tina dropped me off at the ferry to head back across to Vancouver, where Gerrit collected me from the ferry terminal. He and I headed downtown to sort out some final bits and pieces with my new ski boots. We had a quick bite to eat out at Granville Island Market and by the time we were done, it was early evening and I needed to figure out how to get all my stuff into my suitcase ready for my morning flight to Montreal.

My time in Vancouver and Victoria has been fabulous. All the extended family has been so friendly and helpful, it has been great to get to know them and I appreciate all the hospitality I have been shown over the last few weeks. It’s a little sad to leave them behind and move on to the next destination, but it is also exciting to go see something new with an old friend.

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Whistler

imageDecember 17th

Determined to hit the slopes as soon as the lifts opened, I was up before dawn. I went straight down to the hostel reception to get my lift ticket issue resolved, which took longer than it needed to and resulted in me being told to collect the ticket at the Whistler Blackcomb ticket office. I whizzed up to the kitchen to scoff some brekky, by this stage I well and truly missed the first bus. Then I zipped up to my room, grabbed my stuff, raced downstairs and was about to make a mad dash for the second bus when I realised I forgot my gloves. Doh! So then as I headed back to get my gloves I mentioned what happened to a lady in the hostel, and she kindly offered me a lift.

imageSo I got into Whistler, collected my ski gear from the rental location (I had sorted out the gear the day before and just had to collect it), I hiked all the way across whistler village with all my gear, grabbed my lift pass and jumped on the first available gondola up to Whistler…by which time I was knackered! (I think I walked a kilometre or more, in brand new ski boots – and if you have ever walked in ski boots you will have a bit of an idea how that felt)

Visibility on the mountain was fairly low, and the snow cover and quality was not amazing, especially for Whistler, but I still had a blast. I tried out several different runs, covering a variety some green and blue runs (easy and intermediate) and even an accidental black run, which resulted in a head plant into the snow. My poor little legs struggled hard with the muscle burn of such long runs and my feet were struggling to adjust to the new boots and foreign rental skis, so by 2pm I was completely exhausted and made my way back down the mountain.

It was a very tiring but good day on the snow!

December 18th

imageAfter having had a great deal of trouble sleeping since arriving in Canada, I had a fairly solid nights sleep – it was amazing! But of course, to make the most of the snow I was up at crazy o’clock again (before the sun came up…though that’s not hard, I think the sun doesn’t come up till around 9am and it sets a bit before 4), I had my brekky, grabbed my gear and jumped on the bus into town. I decided that I had had some problems with the skis of the previous day, so when I went to collect my skis I asked to switch for a different pair..unfortunately this wasted a good half an hour or more of my morning!

Soon enough I was riding up the gondola to Blackcomb. Blackcomb and Whistler are two neighbouring mountains separated by a valley – there is a peak to peak gondola to allow people to move from mountain to mountain, but with the low visibility, I had not yet done this.

Up Blackcomb I tightened my boots and took off down the mountain, the skis were performing much better than the previous day and I had fresh legs, so I was carving up the slopes! I’m not sure if it was the weather, the amount of sleep I had had, the skis, or genuinely the mountain itself, but I had loads more on Blackcomb than on Whistler. I was really tearing up the mountain and having a blast! At one point, as I was riding a chairlift up the mountain, I saw a squirrel quickly check for ‘traffic’ before making a mad dash across the slope, it was pretty funny to see.

When I stopped for morning tea, it started snowing, big fluffy white flakes, which was just gorgeous! A short while later the sun peeks out from behind the cloud, and some blue sky was visible, then while I had my lunch I was able to see across the valley to Whistler, I could see Whistler village and other neighbouring snow capped peaks. It was an amazing view!

Soon enough though, I began to ski quite sloppy and this was the big indicator at it was time to stop for the day, so I headed down the mountain. I skied all the way down, including skiing over a bridge that went over the highway (I found this most amusing!). Enjoying the run down the mountain I mistakenly took a wrong turn and went to Blackcomb village instead of Whistler village. The strange thing with the two mountains is that their main access lifts go from the same spot in Whistler village, so I had assumed, going down the mountain that it didn’t matter if I followed the route to Whistler or to Blackcomb, because they were basically the same thing. As it turns out, it’s not. So then I had to ride a lift part way back up the mountain and ski down again..oops!

imageFinally down the mountain, I returned my skis for the night then stopped for a bite to eat. I ordered a beavertail and oh my was it TASTY! Please don’t be horrified, a beavertail is actually not a part of a beaver. It’s a deep fried pastry in the shape (and possibly the size) of a beaver tail and the topping is a healthy dose of cinnamon and sugar. Yummo!

I spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening chatting to some people in the hostel…guess what nationality they were??? You guessed it, Aussies! At this point I genuinely do believe there are more Aussies than Canadians here!

December 19th

I took the day off to give my legs a breaks, and see some other things that Whistler has to offer. I started off with a lazy coffee, before catching the bus into the village for my Zipline tour. We had a group of about 7 people, plus two lovely guides, Nick and Rob. We started by catching the gondola up Whistler, then we strapped on our snowshoes to hike into the valley between Whistler and Blackcomb. We then let ourselves get hooked into zip lines that allowed us to whizz back and forth between the two mountains. Some of the zip lines were really long, others really fast, and some perfect for behaving like a looney, dangling upside down while whizzing through the trees at up to 80km/h (unfortunately I don’t weight enough to get such high speeds). It was an absolute blast!

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On the tour I met a nice couple, and the three of us capped off the tour by heading out to a Mexican restaurant for lunch which was lovely. After lunch I caught up with a girl, Ellysha, from the hostel and we headed to the Scandinavian Spa to bliss out for a couple of hours. The spa is set back in the forest on the mountainside. It has several tiers of outdoor hot pools, outdoor cold pools, solariums, saunas, steam rooms and an outdoor fireplace. The idea is to spend 20 minutes roasting in one of the hot things (the eucalyptus steam room was my favourite), then take a 10 second plunge in a cold thing, before ‘relaxing’ and bringing the body back to normal temperature, this is where you would doze in the solarium. By this time the sun had set, so the paths between each of the elements of the space were lit up with fairly lights and the pools glowed blue. It was absolutely amazing! What made it even more magical, was to sit in the 40 degree hot pool outside and watch the snow flakes fall around you.

imageEventually we left the spa, in a very chilled out mood, and headed into the village to catch up with another girl from the hostel, Ayesha. The three of us went to Fat Tony’s for pizza (I suggested we grab two large pizzas to share, until if saw the size if a large…16inches of pizza! Crazy! So we shared one large and couldn’t finish it between the three of us!) and beer before going ice skating. With the snow falling all evening, the village was covered in a fine layer of white fluff and it was just such a fantastic atmosphere. Everyone is in a great mood when snow is falling. We had so much fun skating around in the snow and prancing around like snow fairies. It was a fabulous evening of frivolity!

December 20th

imageBy the morning there was 8cm of fresh powder on the mountain and it was still snowing! As you can imagine, the early buses were packed as everyone wanted to make first tracks down the mountain. I wasn’t quite early enough for first tracks, but I was on the mountain pretty early. I headed to Whistler for the day. The snow was still falling and visibility was pretty low, but the snow was all soft and fluffy, it just meant working a bit harder on technique rather than just barreling down the mountain.

With all the snow and lower temperatures it wasn’t long before my fingers, toes and nose were numb to the point of pain. So I headed indoors for a hot chocolate and a snack. Once I had defrosted, I caught up with a guy from the hostel, Michael, and we skied a few runs together. At my request he took me down some harder runs (black diamond runs), we hit up the Whistler Bowl, Doom and Gloom and the Glacier Bowl. We even went off piste, we tackled some pretty challenging slopes, it certainly pushed a bit beyond my skill level and I was ell out of my comfort zone for some of it, but it was a great challenge and I had a blast. By going a bit further out I was even able to ski some fresh tracks in the powder!

After two hours of solid, super gung-ho hardcore skiing, I did a couple of easy runs and called it a day.

December 21st

I hit the slopes of Blackcomb for yet another fabulous snow day. The lower runs were in the cloud cover, but the higher runs were above the clouds, with clear skies and the most stunning views! I spent most of my day enjoying some runs on the side of Blackcomb glacier, my favourite run was Glacier Drive through to Blue Line. It was nice and steep but without too many bumps, the snow was quite soft and you had a great view the whole way down. The only problem was that I had to remember to pay attention to the slope and not the view or I could have accidentally skied off a cliff!!

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Around 1pm I was getting pretty sore, so I took the opportunity to have a short break and catch the peak to peak gondola across from the top of Blackcomb to the top of Whistler. There were about 15 people in the gondola, so I didn’t get as good a view out the window as I would have liked, but what I could see was just amazing! On such a clear day the views are just stunning. While I may not have been able to see down to the village, looking down on a cloud bank and seeing snow capped peaks twinkling in the sunlight on the other side of the valley is pretty spectacular!

imageBy 2:30 I was struggling to stand up, since I worked my legs so hard on so many ripper ski runs, so I did a run all the way down the mountain, did a teeny bit of shopping then headed back to the hostel to pack up all my gear ready to check out in the morning and relax a little before having an early night.

December 22nd

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My last day at Whistler I decided to ski Blackcomb mountain again. I was on the slopes within 10 minutes of the tows opening. I started off taking it pretty easy, before hitting it a bit harder. But as always, by 11am I was numb to the point of pain in my fingers and toes, so I spent an hour defrosting in one of the cafe’s while enjoying Belgian waffles and hot chocolate.

With the residual muscle exhaustion and general tiredness of so many days if skiing, I didn’t ski super hard, but I enjoyed myself immensely. Before I knew it though, it was time to pack up and head back to Vancouver. So with a quick late lunch I headed back to the hostel to pack my bags and was ready for my evening ‘Snowbus’ ride back to the big smoke.

Whistler was loads of fun, and I made a few friends along the way. I’m going to miss hanging out with Adele, Ellysha and Ayesha, but hopefully our paths will cross again in future travels.

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Canada

Canada has kind of always been on my “To Visit” list, but wasn’t really a super high priority. But then a few things kind of pushed it up the priority list: my sister-in-law’s cousin Levi visited from Vancouver and he was loads of fun to hang out with (however brief my meeting him was) and said I was welcome to come and crash at his place; my friend Liv has been living on Montreal for almost two years now and is preparing to move back home; and a fantastic family friend in Toronto, Nanette, who has always had an open invitation for me to come visit.
So with a few emails tee-ing up accommodation and peoples availability, a trip to the travel agent and a trip to the bookstore to grab myself the latest “Discover Canada” Lonely Planet – I decided to head off to Canada for 4.5 weeks of fun!

The last few weeks at work were frantic, trying to get myself organised and planned for the next teaching year, as well as preparing and packing for a big holiday (since I ALWAYS go to tropical destinations I found it incredibly difficult to pack for a cold destination – my well rehearsed packing style did not apply!), securing a house-sitter and making sure I spent lots of time with my puppy dog before leaving her behind. Soon enough though I was packed and the alarm was buzzing me awake at some stupid hour of the day.

December 11th

After a flight delay, I finally arrived in Shanghai where I was met by a girl holding a sign with my name on it. She delivered me to my airport hotel shuttle bus. In the blink of an eye we took off, swerving across all lanes, tearing along the streets at close to double the speed limit, whizzing through red lights before coming to a rapid stop at my ‘airport hotel’. Shanghai airport is enormous, and it was crazy to think that even after tearing through the streets for 20 minutes we were still in the airport precinct!

Coming back to Shanghai has reminded me of just how polluted China is, but also just how little English people speak. Even the staff at the international airport hotel struggled to answer basic questions!

My original plan had been to get to the hotel, ditch my bags and whizz into the city to look at the pretty lights. After all the delays, the lack of English and learning that it was an hour travel into the city, I decided this was a bit too challenging and that bed was a much better option.

After a sleep in, then more delays with the airport shuttle and checking in, I opted to spend my half day in Shanghai napping on a sunny bench at the airport waiting for my flight, instead of attempting to get Into the city (also I guess I chickened out a bit and just put it into the ‘too hard’ basket)

20131217-191925.jpgDecember 12th

I slept most of the flight to Vancouver and after “twenty questions” from the immigration official I was allowed into the country. Levi was waiting for me with a smile. I climbed into his truck and we zipped over to uncle Gerrit’s place to start the day with coffee, before running a few errands. I got myself sorted with a Canadian SIM card, some new ski boots and did a few other bits and pieces. I was quite dopey from the flight, so we certainly didn’t launch head first into sightseeing, but Levi and I wandered the Kitsilano area and spent some time chatting.

December 13th

20131217-191959.jpgMy second day in Vancouver involved a hunt for an Edmonton Oilers t-shirt to wear to the evenings hockey game. It took a while but we were successful. We also made a trip into downtown, to Canada Place where some Christmas festivities were on…we took a mini train ride around fake snow and Christmas trees and ice skated on some artificial ice. It was LOADS of fun!!! (Artificial ice feels nothing like skating one real ice and was it was rather challenging to stay upright). Before game time we quickly checked out the giant Lego whale sculpture at coal harbour. It was so cool!

Game time! Vancouver Canucks vs. Edmonton Oilers (my sister-in-law’s family, obviously including Levi, are all from Edmonton…which is why we support the oilers). Unfortunately we lost 3-0 and there were no fights, but it was loads of fun. It’s such a crazy fast sport!

20131217-192016.jpgDecember 14th

I slept in by mistake, and started off the day by getting the final tweaks to my custom fit ski boots done. Happy with my new boots, I headed into city.

I started off by heading up the Vancouver Lookout (a skinny building with an big round observation deck at the top) to get a birds eye view of the sprawling city. After a lap of the observation deck I descended to the street of gastown for a bit of a look. I checked out the steam powered clock and the ‘Gassy Jack’ statue, had a quite bite to eat and then headed back to Canada Place to coach the free shuttle bus out to Capilano Canyon.

20131217-192049.jpgCapilano Canyon has the worlds highest (70m) and longest (140m) suspension bridge, which was swaying a great deal with the huge number of people walking across it. I loved it! On one side of the canyon was also a cool cliff walk, with the boardwalk suspended from the side of the cliff with steel cables. On the opposite side of the canyon were some short walks in and around the trees and ponds. One of the highlights was a treetop walk, with short suspension bridges hanging between trees with small platforms. As daylight faded, the twinkle lights were turned on. I got myself a cup of hot cocoa from the cabin in the woods, wrapped my cold hands around the hot mug and sat down to absorb the magical forest of twinkle-lights. The twinkle-light forest was also home to worlds tallest Christmas tree! It was just gorgeous!

After my magical evening, I headed back into the city, where I once again went to the observation deck of the Vancouver tower to see the city at night, which was really pretty. I took myself out to dinner in gastown, to the Steamhouse Brewery, where I enjoyed a super tasty pizza and a glass of the local brew.

I finished up my busy day with “Fly over Canada” an attraction that has you sitting in chairs kind of like a roller coaster, and the chairs move around a little as though you are in a helicopter or something flying over Canada. Lots of stunning scenery!, it was pretty fun! (Very hard to explain what it actually was though)

20131217-192139.jpgDecember 15th

Slept in again (totally not adjusted to Vancouver time) and headed to Granville Island market to have a look around and have some breakfast, before heading downtown to go for a wander and check out the Christmas market. It was an attempt to replicate a German Christmas market…very cute, very festive, I had some gluhwein and kettle corn.

20131217-192155.jpgAfter the Christmas festivities I took a bus out to Stanley park where I enjoyed a walk in the sun (the sun came out for the first time..it was AMAZING!) and a visit to the aquarium – the jellyfish tanks were really cool. It was also pretty cool to see a pair of beluga whales but it was actually quite sad, the tank was much too small for them and they were just swimming the exact same loop over and over and over.

I finished off another awesome day in the city, where I met Levi and a friend of his, Julia, to go ice skating (on actual ice this time) – we skated circles for a couple of hours which was really fun!

December 16th

I spent the morning getting myself organised for my Whistler trip. After lunch I enjoyed a very scenic bus trip along the sea to sky highway, before arriving in Whistler just after sunset. I checked in, then caught the bus to Whistler Village to run a few errands which would enable me to hit the slopes first thing in the morning. I’m looking forward to my week of snowy fun!!

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