Category Archives: Holidays

Postcard from the Wilderness

Dear All

Having a lovely time. Weather has been fantastic, mostly. The odd shower but when has that stopped a Brit?

Seen and done the most amazing things here in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, Ontario.

Maiden voyage of the canoe went well, even if it was in the rain!

 

The river rapids were so much fun even if hubbie and I bumped our bums on the bottom a few times. 😀

We got even more adventurous when we decided to tackle a 14km canoe route with two portages!

I’ve got so much more to tell you when we get home.

Wish you were here!

Lou xx

Hidden Gems – Cascade Ponds, Banff, Alberta.

The great folks over at Tuscany Now are running a competition called Hidden Gems.  Why not pop over and take a look or consider sharing a hidden gem you have found on your travels?  As soon as I heard about the competition through Jaime at The Oliver’s Madhouse I immediately knew the place I would write about, I’ve written about it before as it is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful place in the world.

This is Cascade Ponds, located in the shadow of Cascade Mountain, just outside the town of Banff in Banff National Park, Alberta.  The most beautiful hidden gem I have found,  in fact I love this place so much I have a copy of this picture hanging on the wall in my dining room.

There are a so many reasons why I love this place, obviously the outstanding beauty of it is the most evident thing but also we first discovered Cascade Ponds at a very difficult time in our lives.  It was Christmas Day 2006 and just two short months since my mother-in-law had lost her battle with cancer at just 56.  We had booked ourselves into almost every activity available while on holiday including dog-sledding, hiking, snowmobiling, helicopter tour, ice skating and skiing in an attempt to escape the Christmas festivities as it was all too raw and too soon after our loss.  So we found a local map, instead of a guide book, and decided to find somewhere quite close to the hotel for a walk before a full on Christmas dinner and saw the name cascade ponds and decided to go and grab some hot chocolate and head off to take a look.  Little did we know the gem that awaited us.

 

Christmas 2006

I was awe struck by the natural beauty of it and as we had the place to ourselves, as it’s not on the tourists beaten track, we could be silly, throw snow, make snow angels and let go of the trauma of the past twelve months and reconnect as a family,

snowballs

snow angels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This place helped us on the way to heal and inspired us to reevaluate our life style and make some life changing decisions about where we wanted to be in the future, within a few short months of that holiday we had made the decision to emigrate to Canada.

Christmas 2007

We visited Banff for the next two years and every Christmas day we returned to Cascade Ponds with the camera and the hot chocolate.

 

Hot chocolate

Walking in the snow Christmas 2008

If you are ever in the area, take a look and enjoy the peace and tranquility, feel dwarfed by the surrounding mountains

and keep an eye out for the incredible ice climbers.

The Gallery – Relax

This is my idea of total relaxation.

Back to nature and away from the distractions of 21st century life with nothing to worry about except the basics of human survival – shelter and food.  Once the tent is up and the fire is spitting and crackling away I feel all my cares and thoughts melt away.

My busy mind that is usually darting in a hundred different directions quiets allowing a single thought at a time.  I can let go of things that bother me, forget negativity and solutions to niggling problems appear as if from nowhere. Everything is put into perspective.

I haven’t always been a camper, if fact our first camping trip was a bit of a disaster but through experience we have learned how to do it properly so we are prepared for all eventualities and have some luxuries so we are always very comfortable resulting in blissful relaxation.

 

Camping in France

 

Camping in the Sahara Desert

 

Camping in England

 

Camping in Fairbank Provincial Park

Last week we decided to take advantage of the long weekend, pack the tent in the truck and head ‘up North’ to a campground in Fairbank Provincial Park, Ontario.

The journey itself took about 6 hours, which was pretty good considering we went on the Friday of a long weekend.  The drive up to the campground itself was full of potholes and didn’t look too picturesque and we started to wonder if we’d picked the right place.

Our sense of foreboding didn’t abate as we went to check in.  The sign on the counter announced there were bears in the area.  Trying to sound casual (and probably failing) I asked the staff about the bears.  “We have a yearling around here” she said “but it’s up here near our garbage, it hasn’t been seen down in the campground, yet”  Hmmmm …yet!

Our site was pretty small and we messed around for quite a while trying to fit everything on, they were also close together which was not what we were expecting.

Despite this the site actually grew on us over the weekend.  The neighbours were actually pretty friendly and all stopped by for a chat and we got some great info from them on other places to visit.  We discovered a while ago that people love to give their opinions so the best way to find out things as a new immigrant is to ask everyone and anyone.  Our small site happened to be ideally placed close to the (clean) showers and the beach, not so bad after all.

There was only one hike route on the site, which was a little short and over in about 20 minutes but did give some great views down onto the lake.  Without a doubt the main draw of this area was the lake, spring fed and beautifully clear it was lovely for swimming, canoeing or fishing.

On Sunday we wanted to do some hiking so on the advice of the neighbours we headed 40 minutes north to Chutes Provincial Park where there were many hiking routes to choose from along the beautiful river, rapids and waterfalls.

 

The whole area was stunning.

We had a fantastic weekend, the boys survived without internet access and we discovered some amazing places that we can’t wait to investigate further.

 

Magic Moments – Our Trip to the Pyramids of Giza

I have been very fortunate that I have been able to cross a few destinations off of my bucket list and one of them was The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

 

After spending three Christmas Holidays in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in sub zero temperature we decided a warm holiday would be a pleasant change, so in December 2009 we headed off to Sharm El Sheik in Egypt.  The holiday itself did not turn out to be all that I had hoped and I have very mixed emotions when I look back on it.

 

Negative memories aside we did get to visit the Pyramids which was something I wanted to do since I studied Ancient Egypt in school.  The journey itself from Sharm El Sheik to Cairo was long, difficult and quite frankly pretty dangerous but as we approached Giza and got our first glimpse of the pyramids over the buildings it made it all worth it.

The top of the Pyramids over the buildings

By the way the Pyramids are not in the middle of the desert like you imagine.  The busy, bustling city of Giza extends almost to the foot of the Pyramids and to the paws of the sphinx.

The boys in front of the Sphinx

It was quite an experience walking around theses vast, ancient structures and I fell totally awestruck being so close to something so huge and so old with so much history and mystery around them. Amazingly we were allowed inside the Pyramid of Khafre to climb right up inside to the burial chamber.  Now I’m not entirely sure we should have been allowed to do that but what you quickly learn in Egypt is that there is always someone there with their hand out trying to take your tourist cash and you can get pretty much anything you want as long as you are willing to pay for it!

 

Hubbie climbing up to the burial chamber in Kafre’s Pyramid

 

The inside was cramped, hot and a little claustrophobic  but it was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ moments that you have to grab with both hands and do it.

 

 

 

My Favourite Things to do in Niagara

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Niagara region over the last few years and after a recent comment on my blog I realised many visitors don’t know how much there is to do in this little corner of Ontario. Here are some of the things my family and I have thoroughly enjoyed doing.

Niagara Falls

The waterfalls themselves are spectacular.  One fifth of the world’s supply of fresh water comes over Niagara Falls, how mind blowing is that statistic?  Stand by it for a few minutes and you understand it completely as over 2 million litres per second charges passed you.  To view the falls themselves is free of charge and it’s amazing to see in almost any weather, clear blue days often give brilliant rainbows in the spray and during the winter the river and area around the falls freezes, giving a breath-taking wintery scene.

Jet Boat

Strictly a fair weather activity the Whirlpool Jet Boat tour leaves from Niagara-On-The-Lake and travels up the Niagara River to the point where the river makes a 90 degree turn resulting in the whirlpools.  It is a truly thrilling ride.  You will get wet and most likely you will scream! I know I did! 😀

The Jet boat on a gentle ride up the river

The Jet boat in the rapids, Me, hubbie and sons getting soaked on the back row

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helicopter

Unrivaled views of the area are gained by a Helicopter tour over the falls.  This is quite an expensive attraction but the experience is truly memorable.

Taking Off!

The Horseshoe Falls from above

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vineyard Tour

There are approximately 180 vineyards in and around the Niagara Region, many of them make award winning wines.  Chateaux des Charmes was my favourite and probably because it is a family run business like my business was.  Situated in a beautiful part of the Niagara peninsula they produce on average 900,000 bottles of delicious wine per year.  Their tours take visitors through the vineyards all the way to the bottling room with a few tastings afterwards.  Inexpensive and includes a money off coupon to spend in the store.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fort George

A destination for the history buff where you can learn all about he 1812 war, the involvement of the British, Americans and Canadians and it’s effects on the Canada we know and love today.  An interesting, educational and inexpensive attraction

Musket Demonstration

British Canon pointing at the Americans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Town of Niagara On the Lake

Originally burnt down at the end of the 1812 war and rebuilt in the regency style Niagara-On-The Lake is one of the few old towns in Canada.  Formerly the Nations Capital, the town it is now one of the main tourist attractions of the country. Free of charge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maid of the Mist

North America’s oldest tourist attraction first opened in 1846, The Maid of the Mist takes its passengers right into the basin of the Horseshoe Falls as thousands of litres of water drop from over 50 metres above you.  A mid price attraction but worth the cost, bare in mind you will need the ponchos they provide because you will get wet.  The Maid of the Mist runs in the summer months when the river is free of ice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whirlpool Aero Car

Originally opened in 1916 the whirlpool aero car travels across the Niagara Gorge and back.  It gives an aerial view of the whirlpools that you experience in the Jet Boat Tour. Inexpensive but only lasts about 20 minutes.

Niagara Parkway

The Niagara Parkway is a pretty drive along the Niagara River, I like to take it from the Falls to Niagara-On-The-Lake.  It follows the course of the river and passes the Whirlpool Rapids and the Brock Monument (another must see for history buffs). Free of charge.

Marine Land

The Marine Land theme park has a couple of rides but the main attractions, as the name suggests, are the Dolphins, Killer Whales and Beluga Whales. The admission cost is inline with other theme parks.

 

Clifton Hill

Clifton Hill is the part of the town of Niagara Falls that is often deemed as tacky.  Amusement arcades and flashing lights give it a mini Las Vegas feel, having said that I spent a great night in the Boston Pizza which also houses an arcade and bowling alley that kept the kids amused while the ‘grown ups’ enjoyed the food and sampled the local beverages ;-).  Next to the Boston Pizza is the Niagara sky wheel that is an inexpensive ride that gives fabulous aerial views of both the Canadian Horseshoe and American Falls.

View from the Sky Wheel in April

  

The Expat to Expat Q & A – Travel

For the second time I am joining in with The Expat to Expat Q & A hosted by Belinda at Found Love Now What and Bailie at the Hembourg Wife.

This months questions are all about Travel.

1. Which airport would you like to never see again?

Sharm El Sheik International Airport in Egypt, the staff were rude, unhelpful and disorgnised. We had to queue for literally hours to check in and barely made the plane. To top it off the man that checked our passports at the gate refused to hand them back to me and literally leaned across me to hand our passports to my husband. Grrrrrr!

2. What is your travel nightmare?

Being stuck somewhere because of adverse weather.  I’m pretty organised so I would never miss a flight by being late or forgetting something but Mother Nature is something you can’t control.

3. Would your rather stay in a fancy hotel and do less activities or stay in a hostel and do more activities?

I love fancy hotels but sitting about drives me stir crazy, especially on holiday so it would be somewhere in the middle.  I think it’s a complete waste of money and energy to go to a new part of the world and not get out and explore it.

4. Do you have any pre-travel rituals?

We have a leather wallet that holds our passports, tickets, money & travel documents. I always hand that over to my husband the night before we leave for him to pack in his hand luggage.  He is never in charge of the money apart from the night before we travel!

5. What is your favorite airline to fly with?

Air Canada. Never had a problem with them, fabulous service, great staff, decent entertainment and food and the seats are usually quite roomy which is really important for my tall Husband and eldest Son.

6. If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?

That’s a hard one because we have a tonne of places on our bucket list including many here in Canada and in the States but as we’ve haven’t seen our family and friends since we left the UK two years ago I’d have to say back to England for a couple of weeks to spend some time with them.

7.  How do you survive long haul flights?

A good book, my Ipod and noise cancelling headphones.  I have a couple of albums of new age/meditation type music which keeps me calm and doesn’t distract me from what I’m reading.  I drink lots of water always have a Burts Bees lip balm and I wear layers because I hate being cold.

8. What is your favorite stamp in your passport and why?

The one from our official landing in Canada in April 2010. It represents the start of our adventure and the end of years of stress trying to get there.

Questions from Lisa at Meanderings, Adventures & Crafty Inspirations

1. What are your top 3 necessary items for travel?

My Camera, to snap away at all the sights

A Travel Guide. I like to research and get the inside scoop before I go anywhere. I like the  Lonely Planet ones best.

My Straighteners. I know it’s sad and a bit vain but I can’t be without them. 😀

 

2. What is your off the beaten track trip in your current home?

One of the big advantages of living in such a huge country is that you don’t have to go very far to be ‘off the beaten track’ about 90% of this country is unpopulated.  One of the  places I really want to go which is off the beaten track is Churchill in Manitoba to see the Northern Lights and the Polar Bears.

Feel free to comment with any of your own travel related experiences.

The Gallery – Drink

Tara at Sticky Fingers has given us ‘Drink’ for this weeks Gallery Theme.  Anyone who knows me would expect me to post a picture of an icy cold glass of Pinot Grigio but I decided not to be predictable!

I love the first cup of tea in the morning when the house is quiet, I like to take ten minutes with a cuppa to wake up properly and think through my day before the mad rush to get out of the door starts.

But the best cup of tea is first thing in the morning while we’re camping when  the sun is still low in the sky and the birds are singing while the rest of the campground is still and quiet.  The crackle of the campfire from under the kettle is the only other sound as I sit in my deck chair and enjoy the fresh air and the peace and quiet around me…perfection

 

The Gallery – Happy

Happy – What a great theme for this weeks Gallery post and once again it’s very apt for me.

 

It’s been a very happy week in our house due to the visit of my sister and family from England, we’ve all had a wonderful time showing them around and introducing them to our life here in Canada. I love the buzz of a full house and have missed it since we emigrated, mealtimes have been manic, the place is a noisy mess and quite frankly I couldn’t care less!

We’ve enjoyed day trips taking them to downtown Toronto, Niagara Falls, crossed over into the States, attended a Lacrosse game, visited with an old family friend and managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the zoo so my niece and nephew could see the Polar and Grizzly bears.

 

My boys have enjoyed spending time with their cousins

 

The week has been crazy busy and we have some wonderful memories of a very happy time together, so although today will be a sad day as they return home to England I’m concentrating on how fortunate I am to have been able to spend this time together and look forward to them returning in the future.

 

 

The Holidays-Canadian Style Part 2

We set off heading south from North Carolina bright and early on day 2 of our road trip.  There was a beautiful blue sky, the sun was shining and you could already feel the temperature rising.  Thankfully the second day was much better weather-wise so although the roads were busy (mainly with cars with Ontario and Quebec plates on them!) the journey was pretty smooth.  We all started to get really excited as we watched the temperature climb through the teens and palm trees appearing on the side of the road in Georgia.   It was about 20o C when we arrived in Florida, quite a change from the -10 wind-chill we left behind.  I chose a house to rent on vrbo.com in Clermont and was lucky enough to get a really great place.  4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a pool and a hot tub not to mention a little over 10 minutes from Disney what more could you want?!

 

I was a little curious to find out what the boys made of Disney, being 18 and almost 12 they are, in my opinion, a little over the age of Walt Disney World’s target audience.  I really shouldn’t have worried however because each different park had a wide variety of things to do to suit everyone.  We visited all four main Disney Parks; Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Magic kingdom and Hollywood Studios with days off in between to relax by the pool because all this having fun lark is completely exhausting!

  

Epcot was a little sciencey with a feel more like a really fun school field trip.  Animal Kingdom was, of course, based around animals.  The Kilimanjaro Safari Ride is great as it drives right through the animal enclosures.

     

We only spent a half day at Magic Kingdom mainly because most of the attractions are way too young for the boys but also it was New Years’ Eve and completely rammed with people.

Hollywood Studios was my favourite park, we had a great time there. Now, I’m not a particularly noisy person, I prefer to listen to people rather than speak, I absolutely loathe being the centre of attention and would die of embarrassment if put in front of anything other than the tiniest group of people but put me on a roller coaster and you suddenly find out what my lungs can really do! much to the chagrin of some friends and family who have had the unfortunate experience to be sitting near me in just such a situation! So it will be no surprise to some of you reading this when I admit that all over the Disney parks were photos of me eyes closed mouth open and a look of absolute terror on my face as I hurtle through some ride screaming like I’m being murdered!

 

One of the biggest attractions in the Hollywood Studios is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and all I can say is the clue is in the title.  Despite feeling nauseous with nerves while queuing for these rides I really wanted to experience all of it with the boys I couldn’t stand the thought of them talking about these things at a later date and not being part of it, no way was I going to be the one who was too scared to go on so on I went.  This ride takes you in an elevator (lift) you are basically sitting on a bench with a lap belt across you so really, how bad can it be? It’s not like you are going to be flung about right??? WRONG! This thing literally free falls 13 floors and you become momentarily weightless it was the most awful stomach churning feeling I have ever experienced and when you reach the bottom it shoots you up some more to drop you again, and again, and again. Completely hideous!  This ride did not have the aforementioned screaming photo but one with me leaning against the back wall eyes closed, white knuckled and praying for my life while everyone around me screamed with joy, sickos!

You can totally see why Disney call their employees ‘cast members’ it really is a complete performance from start to finish and they do it so well.  I can appreciate the lengths they go to to uphold the complete fantasy experience from the time you get out of your car to the time you return to it.

We had a blast is Walt Disney World and I’m so glad we have this memory to share with our boys.