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 Tips for Cycling as a Tourist

Many major cities now have easy access to bikes. Self-serve rental schemes such as London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ can be found in countless metropolitan areas. The idea originally began in 2003 in Vienna, Austria and has been exported around the world.  These bikes are great for locals and tourists alike as they are easily accessible and can be rented on and off throughout the day, week or longer.

Cycling can be a fantastic way of exploring a city without breaking the bank. It can save on blisters and you can cover a lot more ground than if you were walking.  In addition to self-serve bikes many places have rental stores where you may even be able to rent a tandem … if you’re feeling brave! And wherever you are you’ll be sure to have amazing views such as these:

However, there are a few problems with cycling as a tourist. For one, you’re in an unfamiliar area, making it much harder to navigate. Secondly, you want to stop and take in the view all the time and can get in the way of busy commuters. Nobody wants to end up in a heap on the floor, so I’ve compiled a list of top tips for a smooth ride on your next holiday bike ride!

  • Wear a helmet

Safety tip number one is always were your helmet. In some places it is a legal requirement to wear one. So, don’t worry about your hair, you’re on holiday, no one cares! The rental places have a special spray to keep them clean, so you don’t need to worry about that either.

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  • Use the cycle lanes… correctly

The bike lanes have been put there for a reason, for you to use. It can be tempting to ride on the pavement/sidewalk in areas with a lot of vehicle traffic but it can be just as dangerous.

Hamilton Bike Lanes

  • Be aware

I’ve seen a few accidents where people have ended in a pile on the floor simply because they weren’t paying attention.  It is easy to get distracted but being switched on could prevent a trip to the emergency room!

  • Don’t play music

If you are wearing headphones while on your bike you might not be able to hear certain things such as sirens, people shouting or car horns. Miss hearing one of these and you could end up causing an accident. Also playing music from a speaker on your bike is just annoying! Not everyone is going to like your music choice… but this one is more a bug bear of mine!

  • Obey the signs

Pure and simple they are there for a reason and they are there for your safety and the safety of others. For example, when cycling around Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada, there are certain sections which require you to stop and dismount. It is clearly sign posted but hardly anyone does it even though it goes through a kids play area. No one wants to run a kid over… so obey the signs!

  • Lock up your bike

Being able to lock up your bike gives you freedom. If you find a cute bar or café and fancy stopping for a bite to eat, just lock your bike up. Most rental places will provide a lock so make sure you ask before setting off on your adventure. Plus, having a lock saves any hassle should your bike get stolen.

  • Move to the side for photos

Don’t stop in the middle of the cycle path just to take a photo. Same as when you are driving a car, if you stop suddenly in the road you’re going to cause a pile up. So, check around and pull to the side before taking that perfect snapshot.

  • Check your bike before leaving the rental store

My friend and I rented a tandem and happily rode off.  She was convinced I wasn’t pedalling the whole time… turns out we had a flat tire! We headed back to the rental store and switched out for individual bikes which were way more comfortable and had super bouncy tires!

  • Stay hydrated

You’re going to get hot so stay hydrated whilst out and about. Pop some frozen drinks in your backpack and they will soon defrost giving you a nice cool drink just as you need it.

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  • Take breaks

If you are not used to cycling on a regular basis, make sure to pace yourself. Take breaks every now and then, you are on holiday after all! Enjoy the views, spend some time people watching or grab a quick bite to eat.

Happy cycling!!!

I hope these tips will help you have a smooth journey. Other than walking, cycling is such a fun way to see a place without getting on transit. It’s a greener way to travel and you get fit at the same time… what more could you ask for? So, get out there and have fun!

Have you ever cycled while on holiday? What’s the best place you’ve cycled as a tourist?

If you’ve enjoyed my blog, then please leave me a little like or share. Happy Travels 😊

A-Z Travels: O is for Ottawa: Ten FREE Things To Do

Canada’s Capital city is Ottawa. Formed out of the small town of Bytown in 1855 it is now home to over 1 million Canadians in the city limits alone. Unlike Vancouver, which can be expensive to visit as a tourist, Ottawa is extremely budget friendly.  There is something for everyone, from outdoor activities to museums to great food, Ottawa has it! With the Rideau Canal at its centre surrounded by the beautiful Parliament Buildings Ottawa is most certainly worth a visit.

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Here are my top ten FREE things to do in the city:

  • Tour the Parliament Buildings

    Views of Parliament Hill

I was super excited to learn you can go on a free tour of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Parliament Hill is home to the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament so there is a lot going on. Depending on what parliamentary activity is being conducted for the day will determine how long your tour will be.

 

The website claims they are between 20- 50 mins in length. When Matt and I attended we had a shorter tour as Parliament in session so could not view the Senate or House of Commons. However, the tour was still interesting. The library gave me flash backs to Belle in Beauty and the Beast, it was such a gorgeous room.

Parliament Hill (31)

 

You have to rise early for this one as tickets are only available on the day. From 9am tickets are distributed on a first-come-first-served basis. Matt and I scooped the last two spots on an English tour for the day and we arrived at 10.30ish, so be out of bed early!

You can also get tickets to the Peace Tower (Big Ben inspired clock) and go up and have views of the city. However, the elevator was closed on the day we went so no visit for us. Within the Peace Tower however you can see the Book of Remembrance which lists the names of Canadians for have fought and died in service.

Its worth a visit if you have time after your tour.  Each day they turn the pages to show different names, I was lucky enough that on that day, it was open on my last name.

  • Tour the Supreme Court

Just down the road from Parliament Hill is the Supreme Court. Here you can learn about the Canadian judicial system from informative law students.  In addition, tours give you an insight into the beautiful art deco architecture. If you are lucky and court is in session you can sit in on a hearing.

Tours for this place are easier to come by as well. English tours start on the hour and French on the half-hour with each lasting around 30 minutes. Don’t be afraid to take photos, photography is allowed!

Both the Supreme Court and Parliament Hill require you to go through security, lockers are provided for tours of Parliament Hill at the ticket office.

  • Walk the Rideau Canal

The Canal runs through the heart of Ottawa and was built in the 1800’s in case of war with the US. Stretching 202km the canal connects rivers and lakes along its way. Operated by Parks Canada and is opened from mid May to Mid-October each year. During the winter it becomes the worlds largest and second longest skating rink where you can pick up a Beaver Tail pastry as you glide down the canal.

 

  • Chow down at ByWard Market

You can also get a Beaver Tail at Byward Market. The eclectic neighbourhood boasts quirky boutiques, bustling streets and trendy restaurants. In the centre is a beautiful outdoor market selling fresh vegetables, flower and maples syrup by local artisans.

Matt and I not only enjoyed a Beaver Tail but a great curry, rice and naan inside the colourful market.

  • Learn about the formation of Ottawa at the Bytown Museum

Inside Ottawa’s oldest stone building you can learn all about the formation of Ottawa and the building of the Rideau Canal.  The Museums collections take you from the early days of the city’s life when it was known as Bytown and residents were mostly canal construction workers.

Check out their free admission days here.

  • Window shop at the Rideau Centre

If its raining and your want to spend a bit of time inside without having to pay entrance fees, then this is your place. Browse over 180 stores including fashion, home, books, toys and much more. You just have to make sure you don’t get tempted to keep it budget friendly!Window shopping at Rideau Center

Top tip: the centre has free WIFI

  • Get views for miles at Nepean Point

Take a walk to the top of this hill to get stunning panoramic views of Parliament, the Ottawa River, downtown Ottawa and much more. At the top you’ll be greeted by the statue of Samuel de Champlain, who explored the Ottawa River in 1613.  Located just behind the National Gallery of Canada its also super accessible.

  • Take a Picture with the huge spider Maman

While you are in that area you can also grab a selfie with Maman the huge spider outside the National Gallery of Canada. The bronze sculpture was made by artist Louise Bourgeois in 1999 as is one of six in the world. Standing at 30ft tall it’s a pretty interesting sight.

Ottawa (35)

If you are there on a Thursday, you can also visit the gallery for free between 5-8pm

  • Visit the Canadian War Museum

Another museum that is free on a Thursday evening is the Canadian War Museum.  Even if you can’t make it on a free evening, its well worth paying the admission fee. We spent over three hours here exploring the collections that cover all aspects of Canadian military history.  They also have an impressive collection of military vehicles such as tanks on the lower levels.

Before you head home walk across the road and see the National Holocaust Memorial. The monument titled Landscape of Loss, Memory and Survival presents images and facts about the Holocaust inside walls of varying heights that form the points of a Star if David.

  • Hike in Gatineau Park

If you want a day outside the downtown core to stretch the legs head over to Gatineau Park just fifteen minutes away. Covering 361 km² the park has a rich ecosystem that can be explored via its well-groomed trails.  If you head to the visitor centre in Chelsea, you can also visit a wonderful ice-cream shop called La Cigale for a sweet treat after your hike.

Thanks for joining me again for A-Z Travels, if you’ve liked this weeks installment please give it a like, comment or share it! Next week will be P for Poutine. Happy Travels 🙂

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.

A-Z Travels: D is for Driving Coast to Coast in 8 days

8 days, 8 provinces, 6300 km and $650 in gas.

Why on earth were we driving across the width of Canada? It was a question many people asked us before we hit the road. The enormity of our challenge didn’t hit us however, until we were on our way. Whilst we understood it was a massive journey, we were most probably a little naïve about it. Yet, we had good reason to be making the trip, we had secured a six-month house and pet sit in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia, however, was on the opposite side of Canada as we had spent the summer in British Columbia and had just finished two weeks in Vancouver with my parents.

So, we waved goodbye to my sleepy parents early on rainy Vancouver morning and headed on the 6300 km journey across the second largest country in the world. If you plan your route on google maps from Vancouver to Halifax it takes your down through the United States but we wanted to spend as much time as possible in Canada so changed our route accordingly.

Therefore, our journey ended up looking more like this:

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Vancouver to Calgary

This was supposed to be a ten-hour journey however it turned out to be nearer to thirteen. We intended to power through the first day in order to be able to spend a couple of days in the city visiting family and friends. There were some major roadworks along the way which held us up. However, it was the ultimate Canadian road trip as we drove through beautiful scenery seeing a bear and even a moose!

Calgary to Regina

After we’d recovered from our hangovers Matt and I set off to Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan. People had joked with us that once you get through the Rockies you could see your dog run away from you for at least five days. It is the truest statement ever, it is incredibly flat. So, for the next eight hours we saw field after field until we reached Regina.

Regina to Winnipeg

Whilst the flatness has a beauty of its own, it does get a little boring after a while. It was a good job we had a load of tunes to keep us occupied (although I’m pretty sure Matt would’ve preferred it if I didn’t sing the entire way!) We arrived in Winnipeg in the evening and headed straight to bed.

Winnipeg to Thunder Bay

Not heard of Thunder Bay? Us neither. But it was one of the only places to stay in the vast space between Winnipeg and our next stop Timmins. From our brief time there it would appear that Thunder Bay is a lot of people’s stopover town as it is mostly motels. But we did get to stand in two time zones at once along the way!

Thunder Bay to Timmins

Again, Timmins was another stop we’d never heard of. It was a mammoth nine hour driving day so once again we arrived just in time for dinner and bed. It was a gorgeous drive as we were surrounded by beautiful fall colours. Honestly, the pictures don’t show how truly vibrant it was.

Timmins to Ottawa

Whilst Ottawa is the Capital of Canada we weren’t able to explore it thoroughly due to our tight schedule. It was another day of full driving with no significant stops. Hopefully we will get to visit the city at another point along our journey back as I’m sure it has much more to offer than a Bacon-ator at Wendy’s.

Ottawa to Quebec City

We battled through the outskirts of Montreal on our way to Quebec City. Boy are they intense drivers! We found it was best if Matt did the driving and I did the shouting/gesturing to other drivers! Once we arrived, thankfully in one piece, we spent the evening watching the sunset while walking around the beautiful city walls.

Quebec City to Fredericton

After resting up in Quebec and filling ourselves with smoked meat sandwiches and croissants we had another day of driving ahead. We added in the stop at Fredericton so that we didn’t have to travel as far on our final day. This is another place we are hoping to visit again and explore properly beyond a bed to sleep in.

New Brunswick (5)

Fredericton to Halifax

Just a four and a half hour journey on our last day so that we were nice and refreshed meeting out new pet family. It was a beautiful day when we arrived and we were so excited to be the Maritimes.

Whilst it’s great to be able to say we’ve driven across the width of Canada, having to do it in such a small amount of time was challenging work. We couldn’t actually see anything in the places we stopped other than Quebec City. It was difficult sitting still for such long stretches of time in such a confined space. However, the result was well worth it. The east coast is beautiful and our housesit is great. And we were able to stop long enough to get a picture with almost every Province sign!

We are hopefully heading back to Alberta for the summer and will be taking much more time driving back to the stunning mountains we first called home in Canada.

Thanks for reading A-Z Travels, next Monday is E for Edmonton and how to spend a rainy weekend in Alberta’s Capital. Happy Travels 🙂

How to Keep Warm on Winter Hikes

If you follow my blog you know I enjoy hiking, whether sun or snow its great to get outdoors and breathe in fresh air.  It is one of my top five winter activities and one that is easy to achieve and cost-free! However, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to go exploring when the temperatures go below zero.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up in the last year that make hiking in winter fun and enjoyable.

  1. Choose an uphill hike

Simple science with this one! If the temperatures are a little chilly then get that heart rate going by heading up the hills. I often find that I start out in many layers and peel  them off as I go along.  Even more reason is with uphill hikes the views are often extremely rewarding, so head to the mountains.

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2. Take a warm drink in a thermos

I don’t drink tea (I know, such a bad British person!) or coffee so for me its always steaming hot chocolate in my thermos. It’s so satisfying sitting at the peak of a mountain, enjoying the view with a nice warm drink.  A Thermos is a terrific addition to any hikers’ kit and come in assorted sizes depending on how thirsty you get or how long your hike is. I’m looking forward to putting warm Vimto in mine once I return to the UK.

  1. Layers, Layers, Layers

Getting a good base layer has made my winter hiking much more enjoyable and is vital to keeping warm.  From head to toe I like to wear:

Head: A thick wool hat (or toque if you’re Canadian!)

Top: Base layer top, long sleeved t shirt with thinner sweater or shirt on top.  A scarf you can wrap tightly around your neck is great for keeping the wind at bay. A good tip if you like to take lots of photos whilst hiking it to wear two pairs of gloves, I wear a thinner pair underneath my thicker mittens. This way I can whip off my mittens and snap the shot without losing any fingers to frost bite. Finally, don’t forget a good waterproof coat.

Bottom: Base layer pants, then in dry weather wear loose jeans, in wetter weather I wear sweatpants as denim gets heavy. If it’s particularly snowy and cold, I pop my ski pants on top.

Toe: Good hiking boots that come above the ankle with socks that you can ever so stylishly tuck your trousers into as you don’t want snow getting in your boots and getting soggy toes. Trust me I’ve done it and it’s not fun!

  1. Avoid cotton

Once cotton gets wet, it freezes so if you sweat you’re going to get cold. Wearing a base layer made of a synthetic fabric (like mine above) or merino wool can help avoid this. Many fabrics have been developed to help wick away moisture, they help pull water away from your skin and hence keep you dry and warm. I initially bought a cotton snood to keep my neck warm but found that my breath against the fabric made it incredibly cold in cooler temperatures.

  1. Walk with the sun

Unlike the summer where you want to head out during the cooler parts of the day winter hiking is the opposite.  It might seem obvious but hiking it the middle of the day is going to be warmer than early in the morning.  This is where the layers come in super handy as you can peel them off as the day gets warmer and put them back on as it cools down on the way back.

What are your top tips for keeping toasty out on the trails? Where are your favourite places to trek in the winter?

 

10 Top Things To Do In Calgary: Any Season

1.Visit Stephen Avenue

Downtown Calgary can be quite quiet; however Stephen Avenue has lots to offer.  Its easily accessible via bus and the C-Train and hosts an abundance of restaurants, shops, museums and bars. Plus, it’s got some beautiful old buildings in this part of the city.

 

  1. Calgary Tower

Also, downtown is the Calgary Tower which gives great views of the city. Make sure you go on a clear day, so you can see all the way to the Rockies from 525ft high.  It even has one of those glass floors to stand on if you are brave enough. When we visited it was around $18 per adult.

 

  1. Fort Calgary

If you fancy a little history head to Fort Calgary. The wooden fort built along the Bow river in 1875 was the birthplace of modern Calgary. The museum hosts exhibits on Calgary’s first 100 years looking at the people and places that built the city. At time of visiting entry was around $12 for adults and there is free parking on site.

 

  1. Walk along the river

After you’ve visited the Fort, take a stroll along the Bow river. When we visited it was winter, so the river was frozen but no less beautiful. Make sure you go as far as the Peace Bridge, whilst it’s only a pedestrian bridge it’s a great place to get a cool photo.

 

 

  1. See an ice hockey game

The Calgary Flames play regularly at the Scotia Saddledome. We managed to get to two games and tickets started from around $30 but can be more expensive depending on the opposition and where you sit. The game is fast-paced and fun to watch whilst drinking a beer and chanting with the locals.

 

 

  1. Visit the Rockies

One of the wonderful things about Calgary is its proximity to the beautiful Rockies. Within forty minutes you can be at the foot of snow-capped mountains and ready to hit the slopes. So, if you get fed up of the city, hop in the car and head to the hills. Plus, the drive itself is a sightseeing tour as the views are stunning!

 

  1. Go skiing or snowboarding

If you can’t quite make it to the mountains don’t worry you can still get some skiing done.  At Winsport you can ski, snowboard and tube during the winter months or go mountain biking during the summer. They offer lessons so it’s also a great place to learn the basics before heading to the big resorts.

 

  1. Explore the parks

For such a big city there are lots of green spaces in Calgary for you to explore. Depending on what time of year you visit will determine how accessible parks are, so check in advance.  One thing I was really impressed with was how well sign posted all the trails were, an easy to navigate path makes all the difference when in a new area.

My favourites were:

  • Edworthy Park: it had an easy to follow path with relaxing views of the Bow river. During the summer there are communal firepits and BBQ’s for you to enjoy.

 

  • Nose Hill: as this one was quite near to our home we went quite a few times. It is a fantastic way of seeing the Calgary Skyline all the way to the Rockies. Once again it was relatively well signposted and easy to navigate, but be aware this isn’t a flat walk! Also, be careful when walking your dogs as coyotes are known to frequent the area.

 

  • Glenmore Reservoir: a bit of a long walk if you do the whole thing, but great to do on a nice day.

 

  1. Go shopping

There’s always room for a little bit of retail therapy. In Calgary I recommend hopping on the C-train and heading to the Chinook Centre where you’ll find all sorts of stores. It’s all indoors so a good one to do on a rainy day as there is also a cinema and a large food court to keep you busy.  The images aren’t great but they are the only pictures I have of the centre!

 

  1. Grab a retro burger

Last but not least, head down to Peters’ Drive In for a world-famous burger and milkshake. I wouldn’t usually order a milkshake as they are so filling but this one is certainly worth it. Peters’ has been flipping burgers since 1964 and it shows. Definitely not one to miss.

Peters' Drive In Calgary

Have you been to any of these?? Are there any things I’ve missed??

6 ways to research your next holiday…that are NOT Google

Whether you are deciding where to go next or what to do on your next holiday research is the key. I’m the ultimate planner, whereas Matt likes to travel by the seat of his pants and see what comes around the corner. My levels of anxiety do not allow for too much free-wheeling, so I like to do a little investigating before I even board the plane.

Planning in advance means you can utilise your time wisely and get the most out of your break.  I have missed out on visiting Alcatraz Island twice because I didn’t book in advance, there is no way I will be making this mistake again! It also means you can search discounts and free entry days, so you can stick within you budget.

Below are my top tips for researching your next adventure.

  1. Go old school and read a book

I love reading travel books as they provide a wealth of information in one place without having to scour the depths of the internet. There can be a lot to choose from so I tend to take a trip to my local library and check them out. They tend to be up-to-date and I can save more money for my trip. When I do purchase I usually opt for smaller editions that can easily be packed in my hand luggage. Even better are the ones that come with maps.

Planning with maps and books

  1. Talk to other people

Talking to people has provided me with great inspiration. Often at work people give me tips on local places to go. Without these recommendations I never would have hiked Deep Cove in North Vancouver and had the best doughnut of my life. I also never would have been to Tofino on Vancouver Island, as I thought it was just for surfers, but it was where I had some of best camping memories. It helps if the people you are talking to are like-minded to yourself and have similar interests. For instance, you’d never find me recommending a beach holiday as I just don’t do them!

 

 

 

  1. Avoid websites that are review orientated

I know I’ve just said talk to people, but online is different.  It’s hard to differentiate what means 3 stars to one person from another. I know that my travel needs are different from my parents for example. Something I might rate 4 out of 5 might only get 3 off someone with a bigger budget. More often than not they are unreliable full of people who have had a bad day. So, save your time and avoid them.

tripadvisor

  1. Go to your local travel agent

You don’t need to be booking through a travel agent to be able to utilise them. I frequently pop into my local branch at home to pick up a few brochures. I’m like a kid in a candy store going home with at least five at a time. One of my favourite things about brochures is that they often have detailed maps in them, that can be great for road trip planning. And whilst I usually can’t afford the hotels in them it does provide some major inspiration.  Also, this one is a wonderful way of achieving number 2 as travel agents will always want to talk to you!

Love flicking through Travel brochures

  1. Pinterest

This one is my favourite if I’m in a hurry. If you haven’t used Pinterest before its basically mood boarding online, you can find and ‘pin’ (save) things of interest into different ‘boards’ (folders). It’s a very visual way of finding new places to visit and will inspire major wanderlust. You have been warned!

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  1. Read travel blogs

Now you’ve already done this one as you’re on my site, thanks guys! But seriously, they can be a terrific way of getting a genuine opinion off people who love to travel. They are more personal and often very detailed. Plus, there is a blog post for practically everything, so you will never be lost for help and advice on your next trip.

Where are you planning on visiting next? Have your researched or are you going to wait and see what you will find?

 

 

 

A Tale of Two NYE House sits

Last week I shared my experiences of house sitting at Christmas, you can check it out here (A Tale of Two Christmas Housesits). So, naturally the second part of A Tale of Two House sits leads to how I spent New Years Eve. I’m not a massive fan of the evening, it often disappoints as you spend most of the night trailing around bars and pubs trying to find a place to comfortably stand. Therefore, the past few years have been spent in the company of family either playing games, messing around with glow sticks or dancing in our onesies.

As Matt and I have spent our winters in Canada pet and house sitting this has presented fresh challenges for our new years celebrations. We no longer only have ourselves to think of, we had a variety of furry friends too.  I thought I’d share our stories of how we rang in the new year during our winter assignments.

There are a few things to consider when looking after pets and house sitting at new years, for example, are there going to the fireworks locally? Is the pet happy being left alone at night? Are you going to be able to get back in time, battling traffic after the celebrations? These considerations have led to two very different evenings.

I was worried about fireworks when looking after a fourteen-year dog last year in Calgary. What if the shock of the noise tipped her over the edge? Even though I was pretty sure she was at least partially deaf it was something I was worried about. However, after discussing Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night with colleagues it became apparent that fireworks are illegal within the city limits of Calgary.  Excellent I thought, one worry out-of-the-way.

The next thing was leaving her at night. Again, we struck lucky, as she didn’t mind being alone for a few hours. She slept for ninety percent of day, she is 98 in human years after all! Even more of a bonus was the fact that the property was equipped with a doggy door, therefore she could freely go out for bathroom breaks without having to wait for us humans to open the door.

With these two worries out-of-the-way we got planning. Neither of us being big party-people we planned to go for food and to an ice hockey game. The Calgary Flames were playing the Arizona Coyotes at the Scotiabank Saddledome downtown so my next task was finding parking in the city. Once again luck was on our side and I found a restaurant that was not only a five-minute walk away from the Saddledome but that also provided free parking for patrons going to the game. And this is for every single game not just for New Years Eve.

The restaurant, Naina’s Kitchen,  came onto my radar after finding it on a ‘You gotta eat here’ list.  Guy Fieri’s suggestions are usually great Mom and Pop places filled with good hearty food smothered in cheese. Naina’s did not disappoint in the slightest.  Their specialty is stuffed burgers that you could put anything inside. I went for a cheese burger stuffed with bacon, grilled onion, BBQ sauce and cheese with a side of fries. It was so good we went back again when I had a poutine stuffed burger!

The game finished before midnight so we headed back home, through the snow, to bring the new year in with the dog. It was a great way to celebrate our first few months in Canada.

Fast forward to this year and our situation is slightly different. We are located forty-minutes from downtown with no access to transit. Furthermore, we are looking after an energetic dog who requires a lot more attention.  Therefore, we decided to split the day, Matt and I would spend the morning hiking and I would head downtown with a work friend to catch a local band on the evening.

What was unexpected was the cold. It was -12 degrees with a real feel of -20 degrees. So, we ventured twenty-minutes down the road to Polly’s Cove, a nice short trail with excellent coastal views. I’ll be doing another post on the trail at some point so make sure you keep an eye out for it. Needing to warm up we went to Upper Tantallon (a small community on the Lighthouse Route) to have hot chocolate at an old converted train station café, Bike and Bean. If you like to cycle this place is not only a café but also bike shop and the start of a great trail.

The hot chocolate was eagerly enjoyed and we headed back, stopping along the way to look at the ice covered sea.

Now I know it may seem unusual for a couple not to spend new year’s together, but Matt was not bothered by going out and therefore willingly agreed to stay in with the dog while I went downtown.  A friend and I had a drink in a pub on Argyle Street, The Loose Cannon, as we were trying to time it just right to be able to see A Tribe Called Red (a Canadian electronic group who mix several genres with First Nations music). Unfortunately, the cold struck and we chickened out thirty minutes before midnight and headed home. Just as we were driving past the square, the band came on so we rolled down the windows and were able to catch thirty seconds of the headliners.  Not a bad night at all, despite being beaten by the Canadian weather twice in one day!

Leaving early did mean when midnight struck I was driving home. However, many of the communities along the road home were setting off fireworks which I was able to enjoy from the warmth of my trusty Dodge.

Hope you all had lovely evenings. Where and how did you bring in the new year??

Top 5 winter activities that are NOT skiing

Now I’m not against skiing or snowboarding, in fact I am still determined to become a snowboarder. But its an expensive hobby and can be difficult to learn. When I arrived in Canada last November I took every opportunity I could to get out the winter wonderland I had found myself in. But with only a few snowboarding lessons under my belt from over a decade ago, I didn’t feel confident hitting the slopes. This got me wondering what other winter activities were out there?

It didn’t take long for me to discover that there was plenty for me to do.  Below are my 5 favourite winter activities to do that are not skiing. And my wish list of things to try!

  1. Ice Skating

Skating is a complete classic when it comes to winter activities. It was one of the first things we did in Calgary as many Canadian cities have free public skating rinks during the winter months, making it a great activity that doesn’t break the bank.  Myself and Matt skated at Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary. It’s a small rink surrounded by pretty Christmas lights and is usually open from November to mid-March. There was a small fee for boot rental but nothing too expensive. A tip if you are new to skating or a novice like me, opt for hockey skates rather than figure skating boots. They are more supportive around the ankles and feel much sturdier. Just make sure those laces are tied tight!!

 

More recently, I went skating as part of works Christmas party.  Initially this worried me. I was going skating with real Canadians who must have more experience on the ice than me. However, after about five mins it was clear that not all Canadians can skate, and I felt much better. This time it was in downtown Halifax at the Emera Oval skating rink. In addition, not only was it free to skate, but boot rental was also free!

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The Emera Oval in downtown Halifax

Both times were successes with no falling over or broken bones. Yay!

  1. Fat Tire Biking

This was on my list of things to do in Canada before I had even left the UK. It just looks so cool! I love riding my bike all over the place at home, so I felt that this was a winter activity I could easily achieve. Having done some research, I found a great company called Kananaskis Outfitters ( https://kananaskisoutfitters.com/) who do Fat Tire Tours and rentals at reasonable prices.

 

I struggled at first when biking as the altitude was so much higher than at home (Shrewsbury has an elevation of 71 meters whereas Kananaskis is 3185 meters above sea level) and going uphill was challenging work. But it was so worth it to be able to come downhill and feel the wind blow through your hair. We had a great guide who was extremely understanding and patient with me as I struggled through the deeper snow and up the hills. He even provided tea and cookies midway as encouragement. A wonderful day all round!

  1. Hiking

Walking around various places is one of my top things to do. It easy, cheap and can lead you anywhere.  Now depending on where you are hiking in winter can still be extremely enjoyable. In Alberta we frequently hiked to see frozen waterfalls and lakes. It often felt safer than hiking in the summer as animal tracks were easy to spot and all the bears were tucked away hibernating.

Don’t forget to check the weather reports before leaving, no one wants to get caught in a storm. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. I slipped a lot during a trip to Johnston Canyon in April (although I wasn’t the only one, there was a local gentleman who was sliding around more than me!). Being properly equipped always make winter hiking far more enjoyable.

  1. Tubing

This is an activity I loved to do back home when I was younger.  For those of who don’t know, you sit in a big rubber ring a slide down a slope. Essentially, the winter version of a water slide. There is no skill involved all you need to do is let gravity do its work, easy-peasy! It’s a great one to do with a group of friends as you can race each other to the bottom.  In the UK I used to go to the Snowdome, Tamworth which was indoors so you didn’t even really feel this chill too much.

  1. Snowshoeing

This activity is technically still on my to-do list but is one of the fastest growing winter sports, even though I’d never even heard of it before leaving for Canada. Since being here it has been recommended to me by many people. It’s an easy sport to learn and relatively safe as it’s basically walking in big shoes. Furthermore, it can be quite inexpensive. Many places rent during the winter months at low prices. I have found that my local community centre provides FREE snowshoe rental which I will be taking full advantage of this winter. I will upload images of my experience in the new year along with how I got on with my newest winter activity.

What’s your favourite winter activity? Or do you prefer to stay indoors with a warm hot chocolate? Let me know in the comments 😊

I’ll be doing my favourites again this winter along with attempting to snowboard again!