Rainy Day Things to do in Shrewsbury

Spring is here! While the daffodils and snowdrops are in full bloom here in the UK there is always the chance that your next adventure day is going to be a rainy one.  When those grey clouds descend and rain starts falling its very easy to be tempted by your sofa and Netflix. The lure of a cosy spot binge watching your favourite show can be strong.  But, be strong, resist the urge and you never know what adventure you may have… who knows there may even be a rainbow when the sun shows its face!

In my home town of Shrewsbury there are plenty of rainy day activities to keep you busy. So whether you have never been to Shrewsbury before or a local in need of some new ideas check out my favourite things to do in the birthplace of Darwin on a gloomy day.

The Market Hall

My absolute favourite things to do in Shrewsbury is to visit the Market Hall. I have been a fan for many years, however, during my time in Canada the Market Hall has blossomed into an active part of Shrewsbury life. Inside the cornucopia you’ll find a wide range of stalls boasting everything including groceries, antiques, board games, books, wool, records… the list goes on. It’s a great way to support local independent retailers and get some unique swag to boot.

There is also a range of fantastic food options in the market. I frequent Cafe AleOli for their fantastic tapas ( I would recommend the chorizo and the steak and onion flatbread). But there is so much to choose from such as dumplings, Thai curry, seafood and Indian street food to name a few. On a rainy day why not work your way around them all!

Craft Workshop

Feeling a little crafty then book a workshop and get creative. If it’s raining so much you can’t venture out and stretch your legs then stretch your brain instead and learn a new skill. Another gem that has opened during my time away is the fantastic Workshop.  This independent store not only stocks a beautiful array of goodies for your home but also runs several workshops for embracing your inner creative.  I’ve enjoyed the brush lettering class with Alice Draws the Line and the Macrame plant pot hanger workshop with Romy Designs. Check out upcoming workshops here.

Climb the Walls

The third on my list is another new discovery. Climbing the Walls is an indoor climbing centre which includes 12 metre high tall walls, bouldering and action walls. Completely undercover you can hone your climbing skills on even the greyest day. If you are a beginner then I recommend booking a taster session with an instructor.

Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery

A classic rainy day activity is a trip to a museum or art gallery. If you get a little pensive on a rainy day then why not head to Shrewsbury’s museum and art gallery? Its collections include the Roman Gallery, Medieval, Tudor and Stuart Gallery and a Costume Gallery. Plus with an entrance fee of only £4.50 per adult, so it’s also  kind to the purse!

Theatre Severn

Fancy a bit of culture, then head to Theatre Severn. As the name suggests the the theatre sits on the banks of the river Severn. Boasting two stages- the larger main theatre and the smaller Walker theatre, shows range from musicals and dramas to comedians and guest talks. Check out upcoming shows here.

Old Market Hall Cinema

Right outside the museum is the Old Market Hall cinema. The building itself was built in 1596 and reflects the towns medieval history. Who wouldn’t want to see a film is such a historic setting. What’s better is that the OMH also has a licensed bar which means you can enjoy a glass of wine whilst you enjoy your movie. I recommend booking the sofas seats for extra comfort. Imagine seeing a film in this gorgeous builging??

OMH

Jailhouse Tour

HMP Shrewsbury tour is still on my to-do list but seems quite interesting.  Built in 1793, it ceased to be a functioning prison in 2013 when all inmates were transferred. Now you can have guided tours around the grounds and learn a bit of Shrewsbury history.  There are a variety of tours including night tours, ghost tours and tunnel tours. I’ll report back once I’ve visited.

Puddle Jumping

If you do still fancy getting out and about the pop on those wellington boots and get stomping through those puddles. Admittedly this activity looks less odd when you have a small child with you. If you don’t have one to hand then you could always go puddle hunting instead and look for great reflectionsin the water around the town. My favourite places to go puddle hunting/jumping are the Quarry Park and Attingham Park. 

59693911_601638403649425_1823490449269063680_n

I hope you enjoyed my ideas for rainy day spring activities in my hometown. If you have any other suggestions or try any out please let me know in the comments belowe. As always if you enjoyed reading this post please share and/or give it a little like!

Things I’d forgotten about the UK

It’s funny how quickly you adapt to your surroundings. I never realised just how quickly until I returned home from two years living in Canada. There are the obvious differences  between the two countries such as the accent, or driving on the other side of the road and there were more subtle differences such as the overall happiness and politeness of the people.

However, you find yourself becoming more and more accustomed to the differences without even noticing. In fact you after a while you start forgetting your everyday routine from home and adapting to your new life.  For example, I got into the habit of saying ‘for sure!’ at the end of every sentence or not looking in both directions while crossing the road as I knew that the cars would stop for me!

But over the few months I have been back in Shropshire there have been a few things that make me go.. ‘Oh! I’d completely forgotten about that!’ For example:

Switches on Sockets

black socket on white switch besides white socket converter

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

The amount of times I have put my phone or tablet on charge, walked away for an hour or two and returned to find my tech with even less battery than before is outstanding. All because I keep forgetting to flick the switch on. With North American sockets you simply pop the plug and you are good to go whereas here in the UK you have to turn it on too.

Pennies

cash coins money pattern

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The penny was eliminated in Canada in 2013 and what a good idea it was, the smallest coin is for 5 cents. I went two years without having largely unused coins in my wallet and it was a delight. I’m trying not to amass them now I’m back in the UK but there are already a few jingling away. I would definitely sign a petition to get rid of the 1p and 2p pieces.

Having to pay for carrier bags

The UK introduced the 5p bag charge for plastic bags in 2015. There was about a year of this before I left for Canada where for the most part there is no charge for them. In fact they were quite liberal with giving plastic bags away at the grocery store. In Canadian supermarkets they tend to pack your bags for you (something I never got used to, but did enjoy) and when packing they would often double bag items or only put a few in each bag. I do keep forgetting my bags on the way to the store but am enjoying using less plastic.

People don’t stop for pedestrians

busy downtownThis one has nearly got me run over a few times. I always look both ways before crossing the road but here in the UK I find myself being extra cautious as cars are far less likely to stop and let you cross… even when they legally should. Whereas Canada, for the most part, was extremely pedestrian friendly, stopping even in places they didn’t have to!

There are People everywhere

Birmingham Grand Central

Canada is huge with an area of 9,985 million km²  and a population of 36.71 million  (2017), whereas the UK has an area of 242,495 km² but has 66.02 million people crammed into it. Before moving I never noticed that there were people everywhere and it’s been quite unusual to walk through town now thinking ‘where have all these people come from?’ At first I just thought it was because it was Christmas and everyone was out doing their festive shopping. But it seems to be busy and bustling no matter where I go. 

You can’t buy huge jars of salsa

I just assumed that on my return I could continue to consume salsa in the same volume that I had been in Canada. With fajitas, crisps, tacos, in wraps… it was putting it on everything. In fact I bought a container the same size as a 4 pint milk carton full of the stuff and indulged. If any Brits know where I can bulk buy salsa please let me know!!!

It’s great to be back and rediscovering all the things that have changed and all the things that have remained the same.  I’m hoping that eventually my brain will reconnect that to drive I need to go to the the right hand side of the car. And you never know I many even find a jar of salsa the size of my head!
Have you ever lived away from home and things have changed on your return? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by my blog… if you like it give it a little share, like or comment!

Top Ten Pics of 2018

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last year exploring some more amazing places. From new year to the start of spring Matt and I enjoyed the winter wonderland of Halifax, Nova Scotia, taking in the lighthouses, lobster pots and crashing waves. Moving on to a road trip to Calgary where we spent the summer months exploring the Rocky Mountains some more. Before embarking on a two week holiday with my parents from Toronto round to Boston, Massachusetts.

As we’ve visited some of theses beautiful places we’ve been able to capture some of them on camera to share with you. Throughout the year my favourite snaps have made it onto the Instagram account. If you are not following already you should! Follow this link! There are many more Canadian favourites to share and I’ll be hoping to share more from upcoming trips.

But for now enjoy the top ten from 2018!

10. Autumn Leaves at Mont Royal Park, Montreal

Autumn was a beautiful time of year to visit one of the biggest urban parks in Canada, Mont Royal. With quite a lot of steps to tackle it was wonderful to stop ever now and then and take in all the wonderful colours the park had to offer in October.

9. Ski Fence, Calgary

I came across this fence in a local neighbourhood while pet sitting in Calgary during the summer. It has to be THE most Canadian fence in the whole country! The sweet little neighbourhood also boasted a very welcome retro ice cream store.

8. Lake Louise Shoreline, Banff

One of the many photos from our early rise to tackle the tea rooms and beehive hikes from Lake Louise. By the time we returned to the lake the sun was shining just perfectly along the shore.

7. Stampede, Calgary

At Calgary’s famous Stampede festival I had the opportunity to go inside this gorgeous home. It was a fascinating insight into a part of Canadian culture that is often brushed over. The Indian Village also boasted some very tasty bannock and Saskatoon berry jam!

6. We Can Do It! Mural, Sydney, Nova Scotia

Sydney was a bit of a dull stop on the cruise ship as our excursion got cancelled and we were unable to sign up to another one that interested us. So we opted to have a stroll around the town. It started off on the boring side but ended with a cluster of street murals which really brightened up a grey day. This one was one of my favourites… and one of yours too!

5. Puddle Hunting at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Catching reflections is always fun and Peggy’s Cove is full of little crevices that get filled up as the waves and tides change. There was a gorgeous blue sky on the day which just made the lighthouse stand out even more in this shot.

4. Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

The longest hike we did throughout the entire two years in Canada was at Waterton Lakes. Voted one of the most thrilling hikes in the world by National Geographic, the Crypt Lake trail did not disappoint. Check out the stories section on my account to see what its all about.

3. Lake Louise Trails, Banff

Another time where the sun shone at just the right time. As we climbed this trail the sun was rising behind so I’m very glad I turned around to capture this moment.

2. Petit Champlain, Quebec City

Like a scene straight out of Beauty and the Beast Petit Champlain had such charm. In fact it was one of my Mum’s favourite places. But I did expect someone to start singing about provincial life at any point!

1. Stiperstones Nature Reserve, Shropshire

I was so surprised that this was my most liked photo of 2018. It’s not that it’s not a beautiful place it really is very stunning but I did expect a Canadian view to top the list. I hope to explore a lot more of Shropshire and the UK over the next year so I hope you enjoy them as much as this one.

Thank you all for your support over 2018, every like and comment is appreciated!!

If you are not following me on Instagram already you can here. There will be plenty of flashbacks to Canada as well as new adventures in 2019.

What is your favourite?? Do you have any recommendations for adventures in 2019? Please let me know in the comments. Happy New Year Everyone!

Is Toronto’s Harry Potter Inspired Bar Worth a Visit?

I’d been dreaming of having cocktails in Toronto’s Harry Potter inspired bar, The Lockhart, ever since I knew it existed.  As a lover of cocktails and being an avid Harry Potter fan it combined one of my favourite childhood book series with one of my favourite adult activities! So with a evening to spare before my parents landed the next day Matt (who is an even bigger Potter fan than me!) headed on down to the magical drinking hole.

The Lockhart Toronto

Potter fan and heading to London?? Check out 48 hours in Harry Potter London

Now Toronto is by far one of my least favourite Canadian cities. I’m not 100% sure why, maybe because it’s super busy or just completely concrete, maybe because I saw a bare ass as I walked down the street… who knows.  The Lockhart is on one the streets that looks like all the others, filled with a mass of stores selling everything you can think of. In fact if you didn’t know it was there you might miss it.

The Lockhart- Toronto

However, upon entering you are greeted with a beautiful array of Harry Potter themed displays. Potion bottles covered in cobwebs and famous lines from the books are all around as you sit at tables made out of old vintage suitcases.

43823280_293859657888761_2896048232389935104_n

We settled down into the somewhat chilly bar to peruse the cocktail menu. However, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Not all the cocktails were named in line with the books as I had expected. The owners are keen to stress that this is a Potter inspired bar and this is reflected in the cocktail selection.

Therefore, there were nods to other Sci-Fi franchises such as  Star Trek. However, this does mean that the bar doesn’t have a super cheesy feel to it. You still feel sophisticated sipping cocktails as you enjoy the more subtle nods to the wizarding world, such as hints of Harry’s patronus throughout the decor.

The menu was divided by spirits- vodka, tequila, rum, bourbon, whiskey and gin. For each spirit there were three to four drinks with one or two named after Potter. I hadn’t waited all this time and come all this way to have a non-potter-inspired drink so I opted for a ‘Gin Weasley’.

Now this would be all well and good if I actually liked gin. I know it’s all the rage at the moment, but a sip of it still makes my eyebrows crumple together as I try to gulp it down. I have a feeling all the gin lovers out there would LOVE this drink- it was pretty strong. However, Matt’s choice of a vodka based ‘Royal Tea’ was much better as he didn’t shudder after every sip! He was kind enough to let me finish his drink and it went down a treat!

Royal Tea- Raspberry Rooibos Infused Absolut Peach, Lemon Juice, Tonic. 1.5oz for $10.75 (CAD)

Gin Weasley- Bombay Sapphire, Triple Sec, Orange Bitters. 2oz for $10.50 (CAD)

However, the saving grace was all in the presentation. Your instagram will not be disappointed after a visit to The Lockhart. Every drink is beautiful in it’s own way. Ours were adorned with floral delights. Whereas some were topped with toasted marshmallows and others were set on fire!

Overall, I have a feeling my expectations may have been too high for this place. I’d had a bad day and was hoping that the bar would turn it around. I would say if you are a Potter fan and in the area then do pop in. You’ll enjoy the modern take on the wizard world and get a snap or two for the instagram.

However, if you are going for the cocktails alone, then check out the menu first to make sure there is a tipple that tickles your fancy. The website is http://www.thelockhart.ca/menu/ 

Are you a Potter fan?? Where is you favourite Potter inspired place to travel to?

 

 

 

 

Best Beginner Hikes in the Rockies

Hiking is one of my favourite activities as you may or may not have guessed from my previous posts. This past year or so has given me some of the best hiking opportunities ever. Popping on my boots before heading out into the stunning Rocky Mountains is the best feeling as you know its going to provide some fantastic views. However, for me having the confidence to hike in an environment where wildlife is King and a bear, moose or wolf can rear its head at any point, has been something that I’ve had to build on over time.

In order to become more confident walking through the mountains I started off on some of the easier hikes in the Rockies. These hikes tend to be a bit shorter and well-travelled, giving even the most anxious hiker a bit of comfort. However, that does not mean that these hikes are any less beautiful. So, whether you are just getting into hiking or just fancy a shorter hike here are my favourite beginner hikes in the Rocky Mountains, Canada.

Johnston Canyon

Distance: 2.7km to Upper Falls 5.8km to Ink Pots  Elevation Gain: 215m

Johnston Canyon is a brilliant all-year round hike. In the winter months, put on your ice cleats and witness the frozen waterfalls on the well-travelled path. Along the way you’ll find several hand rails and viewing platforms, where you can often see ice climbers scaling the ice-covered canyon walls.

During the summer months head out early as this is a super popular trail and can get very busy. However, when there is less ice on the ground you can extend the hike up to the fascinating ink pots where the crowds tend to thin out.

Ink Pots

Grotto Canyon

Distance: 4km  Elevation Gain: 225m

Grotto Canyon is a great alternative to climbing a mountain. Instead of aiming for a viewpoint this Canyon trail winds along a creek bed and has several surprises along the way.  We hiked this one in June, so the creek bed was dry in some places making it a simpler walk.

Grotto Canyon

As you do meander along you’ll come across some faint ancient pictographs but pay attention as these are incredibly easy to miss. I only spotted them on our return. There is also a waterfall, hoodoos and a cave to keep you interested along the way. Depending on the season you may also see some wild flowers!

 

Tunnel Mountain

Distance: 4.3km  Elevation Gain: 300m

This one by far gives the best views for the least effort! It’s easy to see why Tunnel Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Banff.  The start is a little steep as the trail switches back and forth up the mountain however it does even out towards the top.

IMG_1671

Furthermore, there are excellent views even before you reach the summit.  Once you reach the peak you’ll have the town of Banff below you and views of the Rockies as far as the eyes can see.

Troll Falls

Distance: 3.4km  Elevation Gain: 150m

This was one of my favourite winter trails as its so peaceful and does truly look like a winter wonderland.  It’s a slow and steady pathway which gives you stunning views across Kananaskis Valley before you come to Troll Fall itself.Troll Falls (69).JPG

Due to the slight incline the trail is often used by cross country skiers, snow-shoers and fat tire cyclists in the snow. The whole walk will make you feel like Elsa from Frozen!

Lake Louise

Distance: 3.6km (Teahouse) 14.6km (to include Beehives) Elevation: 400m

There are loads of trails you can take from Lake Louise. You can walk along the shoreline of the gorgeous turquoise lake or you can head you to the famous Teahouse. Both are a great walk but you do get better views heading on to the Teahouse. Along the way you’ll see waterfalls and Mirror Lake before being able to stop for a cuppa at Lake Agnes. If you are feeling energetic head on up to the Big Beehive or Little Beehive too.

IMG_1756.JPGLake Louise is frozen for most of the year, which is just as stunning as when it is all blue. When we went during the winter we walked along the shoreline trail and then back across the lake itself. Ice skating is often available on the lake during the winter months. But do check it is safe to go on the ice before attempting to cross the lake.

Grassi Lakes

Distance: 3.8km Elevation Gain: 200m

Grassi Lakes is a great trail for all the family. You can choose between two routes; an easy route up a gravel path that rises gently or a more difficult route through the forest with a small scramble at the top. Naturally Matt chose the more difficult route, but it definitely had the better views. As it started raining we chose to take the easier route back down.

IMG_E1192.JPG

You pass a beautiful waterfall and views of Canmore before reaching two gorgeous lakes. The colours are truly spectacular. The top of Grassi Lakes is popular with rock climbers but if you look carefully you may also see the owls that nest there. You do have to look hard though as they are extremely well camouflaged! I’d never seen a wild owl before, so I was super excited to spot them.

 

What is your favourite hike in the mountains? Do you prefer a short hike or an all-day trek?

I’m Travelling… Not Running Away!!

Any of you who have read my blog before will know that over eighteen months ago I left the UK to come to Canada on a working holiday visa. What you might also have noticed from my posts is that I’ve been having a fantastic time exploring the Great White North.  However, all good things must come to an end and with my visa concluding in November my partner Matt and I have been forced into thinking about what to do next.  In fact, I’ve had many a stranger at work ask me what I am going to do when my visa ends.  What I want to say is this…

When we arrived in Canada we knew we wanted to explore the entire country which has made applying for permanent residency an unlikely option. One of the easiest ways to gain residency on the back of a working holiday visa is to gain one year’s work experience (in a designated job role) while in Canada. However, Matt and I wanted to make the most of our adventure. We could stay in one place and work full time at home, this was our chance to explore and see a much of Canada as possible. So, pretty early on we decided residency was not an option for us, much to my Mum’s relief!

IMG_2547.JPG

Moving around has meant I’ve been able to see all sorts of views

Our next option would be to continue with our travels while we are still eligible for working holiday visas. Australia and New Zealand have similar visas available for British citizens between the ages of 18-30 (Australia) and 35 (New Zealand). The lure of continuing our adventure is super strong, and why wouldn’t it be, we’ve had a fantastic two years. Furthermore, if I could put of being a real adult for another year or two why wouldn’t I???

Well, reality hits. Canada can be one of the most expensive countries to live in. Whilst gas prices are cheaper than the UK many other daily items are not. Even though we have avoided incurring any major accommodation costs by house sitting (check out the pros and cons of house sitting here), we have also been travelling on the philosophy of ‘Well, I’m never going to get the chance to do this again!’ which can soon add up in cost! A little bit of saving before we head of to the other side of the world is needed.

House sitting has given us amazing freedom and been kind to the purse

Saving the pennies is not the only reason we will be returning home in November. Not only do I need to stock up on proper chocolate, jaffa cakes and quality curry but it’s about time I had a good catch up with friends and family. I have yet to hold my niece who was born in December and my nephew has grown into a little man over the past year, it will be great to be more than just a face on the phone to them.

So excited to see friends and family!

Overall, that is little bit too much information to say to a stranger over a cash desk when there is a huge line up. I usually respond with ‘My Mum would kill me if I stayed!’, making it a little light-hearted however true it is! But so many are curious as to why I wouldn’t want to stay. Many more are surprised to hear that I don’t intend to stay beyond the two years.  This got me wondering, why is it so strange to want to go home? A couple of reasons have come to my attention.

More often than not people move to a new country for a better life. Whether due to your home country being an unsafe environment, lacking in opportunity or you’re trying to recover from a bad break-up, the reasons for moving are never ending. But for me I was not travelling to run away from a life I no longer wanted. I am lucky to come from a country which is safe, has free health care and education readily available (if not a little expensive these days!) I’m also in a loving relationship and I am close with my family.  While it may be hard for some people to understand, for me it was just pure adventure that pulled me to Canada.

Read more about the reasons I travel and my wanderlust here.

The other reason is that Canada is a great country. I completely understand why you would want to live in the beautiful Great White North. From coast to coast it is stunning, gorgeous coastal views to enormous mountain ranges and all brimming with wildlife.

However, as the saying goes ‘There is no place like home’. This is something travelling has taught me if nothing else. Even when you go to a destination that speaks the same language there are still so many differences.

In fact, I am super excited to return home and explore the UK as a tourist. People will often ask about my hometown and what life is like in the UK.  I find myself getting super enthusiastic when giving people advice and suggestions for future trips. My top tip has been to not skip Wales! Many Canadians, or at least the ones I have spoken to, tell me that they are going to London, Scotland and Ireland. But in my opinion, they have missed the best one out and I can’t wait to go hiking in the Valleys and Mountains of Wales next summer.

The UK has so much to offer I can’t wait to be a tourist at home!

But mostly, I am travelling to experience different things. I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled as much as I have. And in a rather cliche-d manner it has changed my perspective and outlook on life. You soon realise after living out of a suitcase that possessions are less important. Taking the time to enjoy your surroundings and the people you share it with become paramount as work takes a back seat in the name of adventure.

Have you ever lived in another country? Did you return home or move permanently? Let me know in the comments section I’d love to hear your experiences!

 

How to be a GOOD Tourist

You’re on holiday, you want to have a fantastic time, see everything and do everything possible. But this urge sometimes leads tourists to push the boundaries. Ignoring a sign, jumping a fence or carving your name in a tree may seem like a small moment that provides you with the perfect holiday snap or story, however, these actions are having massive consequences.

Being a thoughtful tourist is becoming more and more important. Recently, a beautiful Sunflower Farm in Ontario closed down forever due to inconsiderate visitors. The sheer volume of traffic to the quiet town in Millgrove caused huge problems for residents with the local police having to control cars through the site. Furthermore, visitors would simply trespass from every corner onto the farm to get the perfect picture, not only is this illegal, it often damaged the flowers.

This story highlights perfectly why we should all try to be good tourists. By thinking before doing, we can preserve beautiful locations for everyone to enjoy and enjoy safely. Here are a few ways to be a considerate traveller on your next vacation!

Obey Safety Signs

Safety police here! I may seem like a party pooper, but obeying safety signs is a simple step to be a good tourist. Every year there are stories of thrill seekers who have gotten themselves into danger and either severely injured themselves or died when disobeying multiple signs.

Those slippery rocks are not going to save you!

Whilst I hate seeing a natural beauty spot littered with bright yellow warning signs, I understand the importance. However, several times I have seen people inch themselves out onto slippery rock edges to get the perfect selfie.  It seems crazy to have to say it but obey the signs and stay safe!

Leave No Trace

Now this is primarily a hiking principal (check out leavenotrace.ca) However, it can be applied to all aspects of travelling. The idea is that you pack back into your bag exactly what you pack out, leaving no evidence you’ve ever even visited a spot. This is important when hiking so that the natural environment is protected, and animals are not attracted to human foods. However, I feel this principal can be applied to other situations. If you’re in the city and can’t find a bin, put it back in your bag too!

Don’t Approach or Feed Wildlife

As mentioned above leave no trace is key in protecting wildlife, once animals become accustomed to human food they actively seek it out. Not only does this endanger humans but the animals are less likely to survive on our crappy snacks. Plus, here in Canada there is a fine of up to $25,000 for feeding wildlife! Now that is an expensive holiday experience.

Both this bird and otter were waiting for food but don’t give in to the cuteness!

Matt and I have also witnessed tourists actively following a bear cub. Crazy behaviour like this can not only get yourself hurt but can often lead to the animal being putdown. All because someone wanted the perfect picture.  Recently in Alaska a gentleman jumped a fence from a viewing platform into a zone where several brown bears were feeding on salmon… all to get a selfie.  Given that there was a safe place to view these wonderful creatures from there is no excuse.  So, don’t become a bear snack… stay at least 100m away.

Keep off the Grass!

Another way to be a respectful tourist while on the trails is similar to the first one, stay on the trails! It maybe tempting to venture down to a river, waterfall or lookout when there isn’t a designated trail, however, you may be damaging valuable or endangered parts of the wilderness.  Surface vegetation, animal habitats and fragile soils can all be disrupted when we go off track.

Inukshuks left by tourists on the left and one left to mark a trail on the right… huge difference!

Even something as simple a picking up a rock can have an impact of the surrounding environment for many years. For example,  Park officials in Jasper have requested that hikers stop building inukshuks (balancing rocks on top of one another) on trails as it was causing major soil erosion.  However, if we all stick to the trails we can preserve these beautiful, natural resources for generations to come.

Try and Speak the Language

As a Brit I know we have a bit of a reputation for being rubbish with languages. It’s only partially our fault, we do get taught languages at school (shout out to my French teacher Miss Mariner) but we don’t start learning until we are eleven in most cases. Other countries learn from a much younger age and are therefore a bit better at us in terms of communication. But learning a few phrases show some willing when on your holiday. Nine times out of ten they will switch to English, but I do feel happy when I’m understood in a foreign language. Knowing a little about the language is also key when reading signs, using transit or in an emergency.

Use Public Transit

Using public transit may not seem like an obvious way of being a better tourist. However, by hopping on the bus, train or tram can ease congestion is busy areas, making it easier for residents to get on with their everyday lives. It can also be more environmentally friendly and cheaper than driving.

Go even further by travelling off peak and avoiding rush hours. Furthermore, many transit systems around the world are famous within their own right. The London Tube and red double decker buses, San Francisco’s trams or the subway in New York are well worth exploring.

Enjoy and Respect the Culture

A great part of travelling is seeing and experiencing new things. Witnessing different cultures is a beautiful thing but it is important to respect all aspects of a nations way of life. A simple example from my travels would be in America.  Their love for their flag and anthem is astounding, it is sung before pretty much every single sporting occasion unlike the UK where it is usually only done in the finals of a competition. However, whilst it is not my country’s national anthem (and I’m pretty impartial to that too!) I would always stand and remove my hat whilst it’s being sung. It’s a small gesture to show that you understand and respect the nuances of that particular country.

Consider Those Around You

This final one ties all these tips together, by considering those around you everyone can enjoy their vacation. Everyone is there to enjoy whatever sight it is you have gone to see so share the space. Maybe don’t take 20 minutes hogging the best photo spot, for example. Offer to take a group picture for someone struggling with a selfie and maybe don’t shove your selfie stick in other people’s views.

People in every shot at Peyto Lake and going off trail to get the ‘best’ shot!

By being aware and considerate of those around you can turn a good experience into an excellent one. Who knows that person who you take a quick picture for may know an excellent pub, doughnut shop or burger place!!

Peyto Lake (24).JPG

Got There Eventually!!

Being a thoughtful tourist can make more of an impact than you think, so take the time to stop and think while on your next vacation. Not only will you enjoy your sightseeing even more, but you will help others enjoy them too! It’s a win-win!

How do you try to be a good tourist?? Let me know in the comments 😊

 

 

 

Top Tips for Bear Safety and Hiking

Being from England, I’ve never had to think about my safety in terms of wildlife when hiking. There is pretty much nothing that is going to want to attack or eat you. Although, one of my close friends will make a strong case for cows (they can run faster than expected), it’s safe to go rambling around the countryside without a care.  Because of this there was, for me at least, a slightly anxious feeling whenever we hit the trails here in Canada. The country is home to both black and grizzly bears, which gives hiking a bit more adrenaline.

We saw our first bear on our road trip to British Columbia. As we crossed the Alberta/B.C. boarder we were instantly met with luscious green, which was a beautiful thing to see after the grey winter of Calgary. I always sit with my camera ready when we’re driving, just in case, and this time it paid off. In a large parking lot on the side of the highway was a beautiful black bear. The area was big enough that we could sit safely in our vehicle and view the bear relaxing.

For me it was the ideal way to see a bear; he was safe, and we were safe. Everyone respected the bears personal space, recognised that he was a wild animal and we were in his home. However, this is not always the case. I have seen tourists actively following a bear cub to get a photo. If it’s a cub, there is a Mama bear not too far away! This a Bear safety lesson number one… do not follow the bear!

However, it is not just Canada that requires you to be bear aware. Other countries that are home to these fuzzy creatures are:

USA Russia Estonia
Bulgaria China Sweden
Finland Croatia Serbia

(not a full list… so check before you hike!)

There are also times when you need to be more aware. For example, you are more likely to see a bear during the summer months as they are no longer hibernating. Later in summer and into fall are when bears are most active as they are sourcing food ready for their winter slumber.

Due to my bear anxiety I have done quite a bit on research on how to prevent bear encounters and what to do if you do meet a bear in the woods. Here are my top tips:

Before You Hike

  • Check relevant websites for bear sightings

For Canada I check the Parks Canada site as they do a weekly bear report which is shared on their social media outlets. Another great place to check is the provincial park sites. Both are a mine of information before a hike, letting you know what trails are open/closed and where bears have been recently spotted.

National Parks in Canada https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/mtn/ours-bears/miseajour-update 

Alberta Parks – https://www.albertaparks.ca/knowb4ugo/

  • Pack the correct kit- and know how to use it!

When I speak to some Canadians about carrying bear spray they say there is no point. However, our fat tire bike instructor, who does a plethora of activities in the mountains said he always carries it which is good enough for me, so it goes in the pack. Make sure it is kept in an accessible place- you don’t want to be fumbling in a time of need.

Bear spray at the ready!

Be sure you know how to use it, practice taking off the clip before you go and check the expiration date. Be aware of how far your bear spray will fire and always read the instructions.

Bear bells are also frequently debated. Personally, I don’t have one, I’m pretty noisy when I’m huffing and puffing up a mountainside chatting away to Matt. But if I was hiking alone, I’d pretty much be wanting to sound like a one-man-band in the style of Dick Van Dyke.

  • Know your bears

You need to react differently with different bears. Black bears on average don’t want to know you, they just want to munch on the berries. Grizzlies on the other hand are called grizzly for a reason, whilst they aren’t actively seeking you out, they do react differently.

Black Bear Grizzly Bear
Claws are shorter about  1 ½ inches Longer claws 2-4 inches
Straight face profile Dished face profile
Taller ears Shorter ears
No humped shoulder Humped shoulder
Tracks are more rounded Tracks are more square

Also remember that both black bears and grizzlies come in a variety of colours ranging from blonde all the way through to dark black.

  • Have an action plan

Talk about what you would do if you came across a bear. For example, if you are on a one-way trail- are you going to carry on or head back? Who is carrying the bear spray? The person you are hiking with may have different ideas so make sure you are the same page.

During Your Hike

  • Hike in a group

Preventing a bear encounter is the smartest way to hike. Safest for you and for wildlife. Hiking in a group is a great way to do this.  Bears don’t want to approach groups of people so travel in a ‘pack’.

Middle Head Trail (39)

No Bears for us in Cape Breton!! 

Always keep your dog on a lead when hiking – they do not mix well with bears!

  • Be aware of your surroundings

Being alert is key. Every now and then I like to stop and check around me, including behind/above, as bears are known to track. However, the biggest note on this point would be to listen. Bears are big, so they are going to be making a noise- if you have your headphones in you are not going to be able hear them. So, ditch the music and listen to the sweet sounds of nature.

  • Make noise

Making noise along the trails is the easiest way to make your presence known. It gives the bear a chance to clear out before you even have the chance to meet.  If you are running out of things to chat about, try reciting things such as the 50 US states, European Countries or Premier League Football clubs. (Yes, Matt and I have genuinely done all of these!)

  • Check for signs of activity

There are a few signs you can check for along the way. The most obvious one is poop (scat), usually full of berries.  They also scent mark so look out for large amounts of urine (yes, fun!) A little less obvious are scratches on trees, you’ll more likely see the other signs before this one, and it can be harder to identify clearly as bear activity.

IMG_7937.JPG

Yes, someone had driven through it but that is bear poop and urine… full of berries!

  • Know your route

You may need to change your route so knowing where you are is a great advantage. Furthermore, should you encounter a bear you’ll want to leave it a clear escape route. Knowing your surroundings will help with this. For example, its useful to know if there is 5km of switchbacks ahead or a clear opening.

If You See a Bear

  • Quickly asses your situation

Hopefully, you’ve followed the above steps and know where in the trail you are, what lies ahead of you and what lies behind you. Asses what type of bear you have come across, so you know how to react. Communicate calmly with you hiking buddies.  Locate your bear spray (but don’t get trigger happy!)

  • Don’t panic

As with any animal remaining calm is and advantage. Whilst it is a shocking experience, panicking will surely make it worse.  Try to remember you are more likely to be struck by lightening than be attacked by a bear!

  • Make your presence known

If you come across a bear, make them aware that you are there. They don’t like to be surprised, so softly talking and standing your ground allows the bear to see you and acknowledge you as non-threatening. One caveat to this is if you’re 100% sure that the bear hasn’t seen you then back away slowly and don’t disturb him.

  • Do not run

Even if you are Usain Bolt, do not run! It may encourage the bear to chase you and you probably won’t win. Instead, make yourself big by waving your arms slowly and back away. Aim to get at least 100 metres away.

  • If it’s a Black Bear

Black bears are naturally inclined to flee, so chances are you won’t need to actually use your bear spray. As they are naturally inquisitive, behaviours such as standing on their hind legs are not signs of aggression. Mamma bears will sometimes do ‘bluff’ charges but again these are warnings rather than attacks so try to stand your ground. If it does escalate to an attack, with a black bear you should fight back.

  • If it’s a Grizzly Bear

You follow the same rules for a grizzly bear until it come to an attack. In this case you should play dead. Lie on you stomach, preferably with a backpack still on you back. Place your hands across your neck for extra protection. Spreading your legs will make it harder for the bear to flip you over.

After Your Hike

  • Report any bear sightings

After you’ve calmed down and got to safety, report your bear sighting/encounter to local authorities. This helps keep other hikers safe and enables wildlife to live happily.  If you see other hikers on the way back to safety let them know there is a bear on the trail and roughly how far away.

Our Bear Encounter

Matt and I put all of these into action when we came across a young grizzly one day! Yes, it happened, and we survived!! Just after England got knocked out of the World Cup semi-finals, we had intended to go for a 2-3 hour hike. However, slightly depressed from not making it to the finals and realising football was not coming home we decided to take a much shorter hike nearer to the town of Banff. Classed as a scenic drive, Vermillion Lakes provides beautiful views of mountains and blue waters on a flat trail of a few kilometres.

We ambled along the trail taking in the views, which looked much different from when we were there in Spring last year. The trail is actually on the road and several cars and bikes passed us on the way. On the road we noticed some scat, but it was pretty dried up and didn’t look fresh so we carried on. At this point a Parks Canada employee drove past so we figured if there was a bear that they’d tell us.

We chatted about the wildlife we’d seen here previously (deer, elk and moose) and joked that after the way the match had gone it would be just our luck to see a bear. On the return down the in-and-out track, we’d gotten a bit quiet and tired. But as we turn a bend, Matt grabs my arm and says, ‘There’s a bear!’ OMG, it’s happened! A grizzly bear! Humped shoulders and a dished faced. My research had paid off in identification.

Not the best picture, but we were not going to be fumbling around for a photo!

While I froze to the spot Matt reminded me to breathe and not panic. Luckily Matt is super calm in these situations and tells me to start walking backwards and slowly wave my arms. I’d always wondered what I’d say to a bear in this situation. Turns out it’s “I am not food!” At this point the bear is about 80 meters away so at a safe-ish distance.  We are not sure if he’s noticed us, but we continue through our bear safety steps as he walks in our direction and get the bear spray ready. My hands are sweating so much (its also super hot!) so I pass it over to Matt.

Fortunately for us it’s a busy road and a car comes up behind. Before the owner can even ask if we need to get in we are pulling on the back-door handle. We clamber in, practically sitting on the laps of the people on the back seat. Explaining we’d seen a bear they are more than happy to drive us to safety, before heading back to try and find him from the safety of their car. So, thank you to the wonderful Australian family for helping us out!

After my hands had stopped shaking, my heart rate had returned to normal and I was able to breathe again we headed back in to town to report our sighting at the Parks Canada office. The bear showed us no signs of aggression, but I was so glad to have done my research and learnt what to do. Even more fortunate for me to have the most relaxed hiking partner in Matt!

 

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post and that these tips are useful! Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever had a bear encounter!!

 

It’s Been Too Long!!- A Travel Update

As you may have noticed, I have been far from active in terms of blogging recently. This was not a conscious decision, but a mere fact of life.  Writing dried up over the past few months as Matt and I moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Calgary, Alberta. Not only did writers block set in despite the many wonderful places we have visited, but, many things have been happening that just seemed more important than writing about my jolly holiday.

Upon moving to Calgary Matt and I have once again had to restart. Whilst this is by choice (I’m not complaining) it never gets any easier. We are house sitting again, but instead of one long term sit we are hopping from place to place. I have to use my GPS everyday to get to work, find the bus stop or grocery store, but I am getting better! I attempted to write a few times during this transition period and many times it came out a little negative, which is never interesting to read.  However, feeling more settled and after much planning I have some great posts coming your way. But first I’d thought I’d do a little catch up. So, grab a cuppa and settle in!

Where I last left you

I have written a few pieces on our adventures since leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia(Halifax City Guide,  Maritimes Guide and Best Burger in Halifax). But I last left you as Matt’s parents departed and we made our second cross- Canada road trip. Leaving Halifax was not the easiest. I have made some incredible friends during my time there (my home is open to you all at any time!), I enjoyed my job and was happy going in everyday, furthermore I felt at home living by the sea. However, the adventure had to continue!

This time instead of driving thousands of kilometres in just nine days, we were able to leisurely coast across taking in more of the stunning Canadian landscape than before.  We explored suggestions from friends and homeowners we had sat for as we headed out to our next sit in Hamilton, Ontario. Visiting Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island), Fredericton (New Brunswick), Quebec (Quebec) and Ottawa (Ontario). Our bid to visit as many provinces and territories as possible was going well.

Check out my guide to Quebec here and Ottawa here

Next, we had a great three week stay in Hamilton, just outside Toronto, looking after a beautiful golden retriever and spunky kitten, Kessel and Snickers.

From here we were able to explore the vast amounts of waterfalls Ontario has to offer, including Niagara Falls, and take in a baseball and soccer game.

As we left Hamilton on our last stretch towards Calgary, it was time to get camping. With the car set up we drove through the night to Pancake Bay. While I loved driving through the night Matt did not, a major nap upon arrival was needed. When we woke up we discovered the beautiful beach just 10 meters away from our site. Perfection!

Next, we continued driving, taking in Kakabeka Falls, Winnipeg and Regina. There were many stops along the way at interesting places such as Thunderbay, Portage la Prairie and Medicine Hat. It was a fantastic journey to say the least.

Where I am now?

Arriving in Calgary at the start of June we have several housesits lined up to take us through the summer until we depart for good. It’s a challenge living quite literally out of your suitcase, however, I now know the city better than ever and have met some wonderful people and pets already. I even got to experience my first Stampede!

That’s a fried onion people!!!! It was to die for… and I got to do some line dancing too!

So many people have asked us why we would want to return to Calgary. The city has recently been voted fourth best city to live in, in the WORLD. So, my answer is why wouldn’t I want to return? Both Matt and I had fallen in love with the mountains during our first stay here (November 2016- April 2017) we wanted to come back and see what the lakes looked like unfrozen and flowers in full bloom.

As expected, we have not been disappointed. Furthermore, Matt was keen to come back and play football with his first Canadian team Code Red, as well as joining a men’s summer league (the boy is obsessed!)

Where to next?

As I write this we have one more house sit left and I cannot believe how quickly time has gone by. However, we still have so many things left to see and do. We are hoping to visit Waterton Lakes National Park, which is said to rival Banff for its beauty, as well as hiking many of the lakes we explored during winter.

We’ve been looking after some great pets and exploring all Alberta has to offer

The trip I am most excited about however, is when my parents fly over in October. We have a fantastic road trip lined up for them, showing them some of our favourite places. Heading out of Toronto, we are going to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec where we will be joining an NCL cruise ship. (how lucky are we?!?! I can never quite believe it!) The ship will stop at Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia then head round the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick before sailing down to Bar Harbour and Boston in the US. I am beyond excited not only for these fantastic locations that I’ll get to share with my parents, but for the mojito bar on board too!

Showing them around Vancouver and sharing some once-in-a-lifetime experiences was amazing can’t wait to do it all again in some of my favourite Canadian places!

After this it will be time to return home to the UK. It often feels like it was only yesterday I waved goodbye to friends and family. But two years have passed. With flights booked from Boston to London at the end of October many emotions have been swirling around. We’ve had fantastic time over the past twenty-four months experiencing so many different things and meeting wonderful people along the way, it will be sad to say goodbye to the country we’ve adopted as our second home. However, if I don’t leave then I can’t return.

Plus, if I don’t see my sister soon I might explode!!

Over the next few weeks there will be more content on the blog which I hope you will enjoy. A-Z Travels will continue through to the end and will conclude with the letters I missed out due to not knowing my alphabet! I hope you enjoy and if there is anything you would like me to write about please let me know 😊

A-Z Travels: R is for Rocky Mountains: Winter V Summer

When you think of Canada you think of the Rocky Mountains, the outstanding mountain range is the crowning jewel of Canada. Even before arriving in the country I knew that I wanted to explore the snowy capped mountains and crystal clear turquoise lakes. Therefore, we started our two-year adventure in Calgary. The city has all the advantages of the city, but you can still get to the mountains within an hour.

img_1292-e1531114370491.jpg

Rocky Mountain Facts

The Rocky Mountains stretch through the Canadian Provinces of British Columbia and Alberta and the US states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.

Most of the mountain range has been protected by National Park status which make them popular for hiking, biking, skiing and snowboarding.

The Rockies are home to an abundance of wildlife such as bears, moose, elk, deer and bison.

The range stretches over 3000 miles.

Matt and I have been fortunate enough to experience the Rockies through a variety of seasons. We arrived in winter and were able to make several day trips to Kananaskis Country before completing a road-trip through Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper during spring. It was during this time that we fell in love with the area. The sound of nothing but snow crunching beneath your feet as you walk through a forest of snow covered trees to a frozen lake or waterfall is truly one the best feelings.

Barrier Lake (17).jpg

Even after venturing through British Columbia and over to the Maritimes the  Albertan Rockies have always been calling. Luckily, Matt and I, have been able to return to Calgary for the summer where we will be able to explore the mountain range through to autumn/fall.

We are trying to get back to the places we visited before to be able to see the difference between now and then. Between frozen and snowy and hot and green! The palette of Calgary during our first stay was white, grey and brown but now it is so green it hardly looks like the same place.

So, this week I’d thought I’d share a few now and then pictures for some of the locations we’ve managed to revisit already.

Johnston Canyon

This was one of my favourite hikes during Spring as the waterfalls were spectacular when frozen. However, it was super icy and if you do head there during winter/spring I would recommend ice cleats and poles.

During summer the trail is incredibly busy. Matt and I hit the trail mid-week before 10am and we only just managed to get a parking space in the overflow parking lot. It was crazy. Due to this the trail was slightly less enjoyable. In parts it can be quite narrow and with lots of people fighting to get through it can take a bit of time. There were even line ups to view the waterfalls!

However, it was still a great trail. This time around I didn’t slip on ice which I was grateful for as there would have been far more witnesses this time around. We were also able to extend our hike up to the Ink Pots to make it an 11km roundtrip.

Morants Curve

Not a hiking trail but a great roadside spot for a beautiful picture. If you pull over just once on the Bow Valley Parkway, then this is the spot to do it. You’ll get a snap of a quintessential rocky mountain scene of mountains, railways and blue waters. Just look at how GREEN it is!!!

Canmore

The town of Canmore is one of the first places you’ll get to on your way out of the city and it is beautiful. We passed through on our first trip but managed to hike the stunning Grassi Lakes and hope to attempt one of the Three Sisters peaks before we leave.

Drumheller

Whilst Drumheller is not in the Rocky Mountains I thought I’d include it in the now and then section as when we first visited we were in near white out conditions and when we returned last week it was outrageously hot!

 

When is best to visit?

Maybe controversially Matt and I both commented that we were glad to have visited during the winter and spring. Unsurprisingly, the Rockies are busy during the peak summer months. But for both of us this did take away from the experience a little bit. Not only was it more crowded but we found ourselves becoming infuriated by the naivety of fellow visitors. For instance, we saw at least five people actively following a bear cub. If it’s a cub there is going to to be Momma bear not too far away and I am not up for that fight! Another time we saw people climbing over the wet rocks at the top of a waterfall. This just days after three hikers died doing the same thing in British Columbia. Whilst we are going to continue to explore the area we will be rising early to avoid the crowds!

However, no matter how many people are there, the mountains are still the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. You have to weigh up your options and see what is best for you. If you don’t like crowds but don’t like minus temperatures I’d recommend Spring. If you love winter sports than head there when the snow is plentiful.

For more tips of travelling the Rockies check out:

Top tips for Spring travel

Banff: When should I visit?

Thank you again for joining me for A-Z Travels. The next instalment will be in two weeks’ time and will be S for Sports. Happy Travels 🙂