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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

 

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.

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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 😊

5 UNIQUE Places To Eat & Drink In Ottawa

There are so many food and drink options in Canada’s capital city Ottawa. I absolutely love my food so was in my element on my recent (and first ever) trip to the big city. The weather was sunny with just a few white fluffy clouds in the sky as we pounded the pavements, walking miles each day. Given that we’d burned so many calories we felt we were entitled to a few treats.

Luckily for us Ottawa has much to offer. In addition to your usual Canadian restaurants there are many unique local eateries and watering holes that will make your trip to Ottawa a fantastic one. When it comes to food you should never settle for second best so here are my top five unique food and drink options for Ottawa.

Suzy Q Doughnuts

Where: 969 Wellington St W  (https://suzyq.ca/)
What: Doughnuts based on a traditional Finnish recipe known as ‘Sugar Munkki’
Highlight: Raspberry Cassis and Maple Bacon

You cannot miss the bright yellow store front as you approach Suzy Q’s on Wellington Street. Inside is a host of treasures which change each month. These doughnuts use a traditional Finnish recipe and you can sure tell the difference. They are super soft with toppings to die for.  It was hard to choose my highlight as they were all amazing, the filling inside the Boston Cream was real custard, the Dulce & Banana had a fantastic flavour and the carrot cake one was unreal. But the raspberry cassis was just so sweet and tasted of real fruit. The maple bacon was the first time I’d tried a bacon doughnut and I was not disappointed. A definite pitstop for any ‘nut lover.

Elgin Street Project

Where: 399 Elgin Street (http://elginbeerproject.com/)
What: locally sourced craft beers and ciders
Highlight: County Cider Waupoos Blackberry Peach Cider

After spending the day exploring Parliament Hill just a short walk away is Elgin Street Project. It has an outdoor decking area which you can sit an enjoy the local craft beers and ciders while watching the world pass by.  The highlight was easy to choose here, as I don’t like beer I opted for a nice refreshing cider. It was hands down the best cider I’ve ever had. It was perfectly sweet and not overly fizzy, so it went down a treat.

Elgin Street Diner

Where: 374 Elgin Street (http://www.elginstreetdiner.com/)
What: informal diner serving North American food from pancakes to burgers
Highlight: poutine and milkshakes

This place is opposite Elgin Beer Project and is open 24 hours, so you can go before or after your beers. It has many accolades to its name including best Ottawa diner, best poutine, best milkshake and best service.   After being open for over 22 years it has become an Ottawa Institution. But be warned you are going to want to go with an empty stomach as they serve up huge portions! The poutine had a wonderfully thick gravy which made it delicious and the milkshake was also super thick. A beautiful food coma inducing combo!

Tooth and Nail Brewing Company

Where: 3 Irving Avenue  (https://toothandnailbeer.com/)
What: beer and snacks
Highlight: Bravado (American Pale Ale)

This little brewery is just down the road from Suzy Q’s and serves craft beers. We had a quick stop here on our exploration of the Hintonburg area and were not disappointed. You can get little tasters of each beer before choosing your favourite. I once again opted for a cider but cannot for the life of me remember what it was called! It was a fruity cider but a more cloudy variety than I usually go for. Matt on the other hand could quite happily have settled in for an afternoon session as he sampled a few different tipples. His favourite was the American pale ale, Bravado.

We were also surprised to see Shropshire Blue cheese on the snack menu, which is from our home county!

ByWard Market

Where: Downtown (https://byward-market.com/en/home/)
What: a bit of everything
Highlight: Beaver Tails

ByWard Market is the place to be if you are an indecisive diner. It has a little bit of everything from all over the world in this great little neighbourhood. A few blocks wide this area is packed full of restaurants, diners, cafes and markets stalls all boasting amazing food.  It is also known for its colourful street art and unique boutiques. It was here that had my first Beaver Tail smothered in Nutella and banana’s. A wonderful fried pastry in the shape of… you guessed it, a beaver tail must be one of the most Canadian snacks I’ve ever had and is a must for any tourist.

I hope you enjoy these places as much as I did as food can be one of the most memorable things about a trip. I’ll continue to eat my way around Canada and will report back soon.

Have I missed anywhere off my list? Where is your favourite place to eat in the city? Drop me a comment. If you like this article, please give it a little like or share to show you care 😊

Top Tips for Spring Travel in Canada

Spring is one of my favourite seasons. The weather is getting better, fresh flowers are blooming, and everything becomes more colourful as each day passes. In Canada, the seasons are far more pronounced than in the UK, winter is much harsher, and spring therefore arrives just a little bit later than at home. As the snow melts, more trails become open and furry friends that have spent the last few months hibernating are beginning to wake and sniff around for berries.

 

 

It’s a brilliant time to explore the Great White North. The weather is still unpredictable. It’s not unknown to get snow storms in April but the temperatures are warmer so it doesn’t last too long. Another bonus is that it is a quieter time to visit. You are not scrambling to get a glimpse of the sights, you can take your time (and your photos) without a single other person nearby… its bliss.

Last spring Matt and I ventured through the Rocky Mountains stopping in Banff, Japer and Lake Louise on our way to Edmonton. This year we explored Cape Breton and the Maritimes. After travelling during two Canadian springs, here are my top tips for a great trip:

Keep an eye on the weather

This is my number one tip for spring in Canada. Like I said above it is super changeable. On our Nova Scotia road trip, we had 70mph winds, snow and 20-degree sunshine all in one week! If you are planning on hiking make sure you check in advance so you don’t get caught out. Also make sure you pack for this weather too. A waterproof coat is essential, while it won’t need to be super warm you’ll want it to stay dry!

Average temperatures in April

Vancouver: 5 to 13 degrees Celsius                          Toronto: 1 to 11 degrees Celsius

Edmonton: -3 to 9 degrees Celsius                            Montreal: 1 to 11 degrees Celsius

Ottawa: 3 to 15 degrees Celsius                                 Halifax: 1 to 9 degrees Celsius

Check season opening times

Many attractions close for winter and won’t open until mid-May at the earliest. This can be anything from restaurants to boutiques, hotels and hiking trails. We often found it hard to find an independent coffee shop for elevenses, but Tim Hortons (Canadian Starbucks) was always open! Hiking trails will sometimes be closed too. If a trail says it is closed then obey it. It may be that it is an avalanche risk, a bear is in the area or that it is just unsafe… no one wants to test out their travel insurance that badly! Many times, spring clean-up hasn’t started and fallen trees are still around and the trail is impassable.

Signs at Peyto Lake were still buried in snow… proceed with caution!

This is the same for roads, we wanted to drive the Icefields parkway from Banff to Jasper but, when we visited it wasn’t open in that direction due to snowfall. Luckily, we still managed to drive a section of it on our journey to BC.

Take advantage of nature

As the snow starts to melt, waterfalls in particular are amazing during spring. We stopped off at Grand Rapids in New Brunswick and Montmorency Falls in Quebec and both were literally overflowing. In fact, Grand Rapids during the spring can throw down 9/10ths of the water that Niagara Falls does but it’s a fraction of the size… that’s A LOT of water!

Another example would be going to see the blossom trees in Vancouver, whilst not Japan they are still pretty cool.

Enjoy the quiet time

The main attractions will always have people there, but the lines ups will be less, the trails less trodden and restaurants less crowded. We enjoyed a beautiful brunch at the Sou’wester restaurant next to Peggy’s Cove lighthouse, without a single cruise-shipper insight. Once cruise ship season starts that place is packed.

We also got to enjoy the Skyline Trail and saw around nine other people… and a couple of moose! Enjoy these moments, breathe in the fresh air and appreciate your surroundings, you are on holiday after all!

Be animal aware

I had a fantastic time tracking animals in Nova Scotia this spring, it’s fun but its also necessary. Matt thinks I’m a little over the top but when you are in natures backyard you better know who you’re sharing it with. Not only are animals coming out of hibernation, but they are being born too. Angry Mama’s are not something to contend with so make sure you are equipped to deal with these situations.

Moose may look cute and docile, but they are huge and can kick. Check in at your local tourist office before hiking, obey trail signs, learn what to do with different animals and don’t try to take a selfie with them!

Canadian animals you don’t want to mess with include bears, moose, coyotes, wolves and cougars.

Quick tips for spring travel

  • Take bear spray
  • Waterproof everything, especially your boots
  • Regularly check the weather
  • Check seasonal closure before booking
  • Stay clear of rocks near waterfalls, they are much more powerful at this time of year
  • Be ready with your camera for nature spotting
  • Obey trail closures
  • Wear layers
  • Still pack your hat and gloves

Have you ever visited Canada during the spring time, where did you go? Drop me a comment below, if you enjoyed this post give it a little like or share and thanks for stopping by.

HFX Burger Week: Who’s Burger Royalty?

If you follow me on any of my social media outlets (and you should, they are pretty fun!) you will know that I fully embraced my first ever HFX Burger Week. A week which celebrated burger-goodness in the name of charity. In its sixth year, Burger Week raises thousands of dollars each year for Feed Nova Scotia, which helps combat hunger across the province of Nova Scotia. I leave Halifax in two weeks to continue my Canadian adventure until my visa runs out in November, so I was super excited (and relieved) to know that I wouldn’t be missing out on this superb event.

And what an event it was! The community spirit displayed by Haligonians during the past week has been inspiring, to the point that I want to create a similar event back in my home town of Shrewsbury, UK.  Everywhere we went was absolutely brimming with eager burger-lovers trying out new and interesting eats. Even when line-ups were over an hour long wait people remained cheerful and optimistic that they were about to taste the best patty ever.

It was a great drive for independent businesses throughout the city. More importantly it raised money and awareness for a very worthy cause. Some restaurants had posters informing customers on how their donation would benefit those in need, others were collecting tinned goods for the local food banks. It was nice to see the real reason for the event had not been forgotten.

I managed to visit 4 burger week locations so thought I would do a little round up of each one.

2 Doors Down (1533 Barrington St, Halifax)

Old School Cheeseburger

This was a classic cheese burger, PEI beef, mustard, ketchup, onion, tomato, lettuce, pickles on a sesame bun. It was an all round good burger, nothing ground-breaking but pure comfort food. One thing I will say is that this was by far the best bun of the week, it didn’t disintegrate in the slightest! Top notch!

2DD Old School Cheeseburger

Patty 🍔🍔🍔🍔  Bun 🍔🍔🍔🍔🍔 Toppings 🍔🍔🍔 Overall 🍔🍔🍔🍔

Bengal Burger

This was a more interesting offering from 2DD. It was a PEI beef patty, masala glaze, ‘kachumber’ slaw, mango raita with a spiced poppadum all on a sesame seed bun. WOW! I was blown away by the taste of this burger. It fused two of my favourite things, Indian flavours and burgers without either being over powering. Again, the bun on this burger was perfect, particularly with so many toppings, it held together perfectly.

2DD Bengal Burger

Patty 🍔🍔🍔🍔 Bun🍔🍔🍔🍔🍔 Toppings🍔🍔🍔🍔.5 Overall 🍔🍔🍔🍔.5

Black Sheep (1569 Dresden Row, Halifax)

This burger was by far the most complex of the week. It involved a beef patty, braised lamb shoulder, fried goat cheese, duck confit, double-smoked bacon jam, over-easy egg, honey mustard, spicy mayo and sprouts, served on a house-made sesame bun. Now I haven’t eaten an egg since I was a toddler, but I thought now would be a good time to try them again. I wasn’t disappointed. You could taste every individual item on this burger, the bacon jam was to die for! The only thing that let this burger down was the bun, towards the end it did crumble a little, but only ever so slightly.

Patty 🍔🍔🍔🍔🍔 Bun 🍔🍔🍔🍔 Toppings 🍔🍔🍔🍔🍔 Overall 🍔🍔🍔🍔🍔

Now these next two weren’t official burger week burgers but both locations did participate in the event. One sold out of their burger and the other I visited a day early by accident! (I need a diary!) But they still deserve a shout out!

Krave Burger (5680 Spring Garden Road, Halifax)

Here I had a classic bacon cheese burger, a beef patty topped with bacon, grilled onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles, smoky shoulder bacon and cheddar cheese on a butte-toasted bun. The only difference between this and the official burger that was available the next day was a sweet-and-sour bacon jam. This was by far my favourite patty of the week. It looked hand formed, which I loved, and tasted of beef. Nice and simple!

krave

Patty 🍔🍔🍔🍔🍔 Bun 🍔🍔🍔🍔 Toppings 🍔🍔🍔🍔 Overall 🍔🍔🍔🍔.5

Cheese Curds (277 Lacewood Drive, Halifax)

I was super excited to try their Gouda Father Burger but as I reached the door I saw this sign! As I’d spent quite a bit of time trailing around after burgers this week I decided to try the nearest burger to it, the Monster Mozzarella Crunch Burger, instead of a fried Gouda mac and cheese bite on the top it had mozzarella instead, so pretty close. The burger consisted of a beef patty , breaded mozzarella wedge, bacon and chipotle mayo. The sauce had a great kick to it but I’m sad to say the mozzarella got a little lost.

Patty 🍔🍔🍔🍔 Bun🍔🍔🍔🍔 Toppings 🍔🍔🍔🍔 Overall 🍔🍔🍔🍔

As you can see from the scores was a great week and a great way of getting out and seeing Halifax as a community. But for me Black Sheep’s Burger has to be crowned burger royalty! From the line ups I’ve seen over the past 7 days I’m sure they have raised a fantastic amount for Feed Nova Scotia.  Thank you to everyone who came out with me for HFX Burger Week and helped me indulge in delicious treats all week. Now time to hit the gym!

Burger Royalty Black Sheep

As previously stated I’m not associated with Burger Week in any way… I just LOVE burgers.

Where did you go during burger week? What was your favourite?

Halifax Burger Week 2018: The (unofficial) when, what, why and who guide

Any one who knows me even in the slightest will know I am a burger lover. Wherever we have been on our travels I am always keen to try new burgers. All over the States and throughout Europe we have explored different chain restaurants and independent eateries in our quest to find the ultimate patty. From the famous In-N-Out in California to Bacoa Burger in Barcelona, its been a fun journey. Although it is all in moderation with a good deal of exercise thrown in to keep us fit and healthy.

So, when I found out that Halifax has a whole week dedicated to the wonderfulness that is burger, I was excited to say the least! A festival for beautiful patties, toasted buns, extra ketchup and fries on the side… yes please!

When and where?

22nd March to 28th March 2018 all across Halifax, Nova Scotia

What is burger week?

Halifax burger week is a celebration and fundraiser for Feed Nova Scotia, a charity which helps feed hungry people across the province. This year 125 restaurants are creating specials for either a set price of $6 or a higher price with a donation going towards the charity with every burger sold. Started in 2013 by the publishers of The Coast, HFX Burger Week is going strongly into its 6th year. A celebration of burgers and charity… the perfect combo.

Halifax Burger Week logo

Why?

Feed Nova Scotia has a mission to ‘feed Nova Scotians in need and reduce that need.’ They distribute almost 2 million Kilograms of food via 146 food banks across the province. However, they are always in need on donations. Burger Week has raised over $175,000 in the last five years to help this amazing charity.

Who?

There are so many restaurants participating in the event you could have a burger for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you so desired. Head over to http://burgerweek.co/halifax-burger-week-list/ for the full line up. There is a handy map and mouth-watering pictures to tempt you. Head into any participating establishment and pick up your official Burger Week passport to learn more about the various locations, Feed Nova Scotia and how to win a year supply of beer.

Having visited Relish and Darrell’s already and eaten these superb burgers…

I will be visiting Krave Burger, 2 Doors Down and Vandal Doughnuts to try their offerings this week… I am beyond excited!

Ready for HFXBurger Week

I would just like to note that I am not associated with Burger Week itself or Feed Nova Scotia in any way. I have used http://burgerweek.co/ and https://www.feednovascotia.ca/about to gain and facts and figures. Any views expressed within this article or through my social media outlets are my own opinions.

Are you heading out this week for a juicy burger? Does your hometown have a burger week?

How to Explore Vancouver on a Budget

Vancouver is a great city and one which tourists flock to each year to get their dose of Canada.  Who can blame them? It has all the vibrancy of a big city whilst being in close proximity to beautiful mountains. However, it is no secret that Vancouver is incredibly expensive. Whether visiting for the day or living in this great city the cost can soon add up, however, you shouldn’t let this prevent you from exploring what Vancouver has to offer.

As I am travelling for an extended period, budgeting is a great concern. You want to be able to experience everything in a new place but don’t necessarily always have the resources to do so. Therefore, I have complied a list of ways to save in Van City without compromising on fun!

  • Visit Granville Island

Completely free to wander around, Granville Island is a superb place to visit. Take a stroll through the beautiful food market and enjoy the wonderful colours and smells it has to offer.

There are also lots of cute, unique, independent retailers for window shopping. My favourite was a fantastic stationary store… I had to greatly restrain myself!

This place will always be one of my favourites in Vancouver. Stanley Park is a 405 -hectare park with just under 17 miles of trails throughout and is almost completely surrounded by ocean.

Home to the Vancouver Aquarium, pitch and putt and a gorgeous Boat House it has lots to offer for any budget. You can explore the beaches, gardens and Totem Poles free of charge. There are plenty of lookouts and superb views dotted around the park, just be wary during the summer months when it tends to be filled with tourists on bikes… like me!

  • Go celebrity spotting

Many films and television shows are shot in Vancouver each year. For example, Twilight, Elf, Riverdale, Bates Motel, Pretty Little Liars, Fifty Shades of Grey… I could go on and on. All this filming makes it easy to spot a celebrity or two, just keep your eyes peeled. When I was there last they were filming Deadpool 2. Many roads were shut down for filming and I hoped to catch a glimpse of Ryan Reynolds, but it was not to be!

Whilst many people head straight to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Lynn Canyon is a great alternative. There is no charge to explore the park unlike Capilano which costs $42.95 per adult.

The park is smaller than its counterpart and has less ‘attractions’ but it does have some great trails and waterfalls. There is an educational centre which provides fun facts on local wildlife and nature as well as a café and gift shop. Parking is also free. More importantly, there are often far less tourists to battle through!

  • Visit museums on free days

Visiting Vancouver museums on free days didn’t fit into our plans this year but it can be done. For example, on Tuesdays Vancouver Art Gallery is by-donation and the Burnaby Village Museum is complimentary all-year round.  If like us and these days don’t match up with your trip there are other ways in which you can save.

Van with Emma (11).JPG

World of Science

We used our student cards to get cheaper entrance into the World of Science and my parents used their Automobile Association card to get 10% their entrance to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Also, check out the local tourist office and Groupon as they often have coupons for various attractions. We gained $5 off the Sea-to-Sky Gondola with tourism office coupons.

Where to Stay

Accommodation can be where most of the budget gets spent. After a long day exploring, somewhere clean and comfortable to rest those feet is needed.  Here are a few alternatives to high-priced hotels.

  • Hostels

There are many hostels in downtown Vancouver which are a cost-effective way to catch some shut-eye. However, they do get booked up quickly so make sure you plan in advance. If you are travelling alone it can be a fantastic way to meet fellow explorers and feel a little less alone.  You pay extra for a non-dormitory room and an en-suite but still a great way to save the pennies.

  • Go camping

There is only one campsite that is near to Vancouver. The Capilano River RV Park in North Vancouver caters to both RV’s and tents. The site boasts laundry facilities, television room, hot showers and a swimming pool, all just 10-minute drive or bus ride from downtown. However, due to its close proximity to the city it is not the most peaceful site.

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Camping in the rain

Plots are not private whatsoever as they are very close to each other, particularly as the site is aimed more at RV’s than tents. In addition, the tent zone has the road leading to the Lions Gate Bridge running across the back, again taking away privacy and causing a little noise. That said, it was a superb cheap alternative. It was within walking distance to a large shopping complex and bus stops were close by to visit further afield.

  • Choose Air BnB

How long this one is going to stay a cheap alternative I don’t know, but it has worked for us so far. Staying a bit further outside the city centre in an apartment can help save. We stayed in Kerrisdale and bussed into the city each day. Furthermore, having a kitchen alowed us to save on meals. Even if just eating breakfast at home it saves $$$.

  • House sit

House sits do become available in Vancouver, but they can be particularly competitive so be prepared to apply quickly. Alternatively opt for a sit outside the city. Matt and I explored Langley for two weeks looking after two purrfect kitties.

Langley is just under an hour away from Vancouver which enabled us to visit the city for a few days during our stay. Langley itself also had much to offer such as Fort Langley, a beautiful historic site and town. Check out my post on the pros and cons of house sitting here.

Transport

  • Walk

By far the cheapest form of transportation. Vancouver is an easy city to walk around as its relatively flat and has amazing views. Provided the weather co-operates join a walking tour and see the sights. Just make sure you have some comfortable shoes on!

  • Compass Card

Vancouver is also known as a very rainy city, if you happen to be there during bad weather then you may want to consider public transport. With the little blue card, you can travel by bus, train or seabus to continue exploring. You can purchase a compass card for a $6 refundable deposit and it can be reloaded throughout your trip. You don’t have to fumble for change as you simply tap the card as you get on. Check out fees, timetables and travels zones at www.translink.ca/

Have you ever visited Vancouver? What was your favourite thing to do ? Comment below and let me know 🙂