Category Archives: Travel

What’s The Story? – Preparing for Morocco

 

This is my beloved Land rover Defender on the day we finally finished our preparations for our three week driving tour of Morocco in September 2004.

 

We bought the car in April 2004 and Hubbie immediately started modifying it to take all the off-roading supplies money could buy because 5 months later we were embarking on a road trip that took us through France and Spain and across Morocco to the Atlas Mountains and Sahara dessert.

 

Most of our Family and friends thought we were nuts as were prepared our car and ourselves for the trip.  The boys were just 3 and 10 at the time and we were going to spend 3 weeks driving hundreds of miles in what can only be described as harsh terrain.  Preparation was key to making this trip a success.

 

With less than 20 miles on the clock Hubbie took a drill to the body work to fit a roof rack and ladder (something that made my Dad shudder and exclaim that we were mental!), we fitted an auxiliary battery system and inverter to give us enough power to run a DVD player for the kids and a fridge to keep our food in.  The next thing was the roof tent for us to sleep in and a water tank to give us an emergency supply of water, just in case we had a breakdown.  After all we were going to spend about 3 days in the Sahara Desert itself and taking a chances was not an option.  A CB radio was next, followed by the roof storage boxes to keep a few spare parts.  The road tyres were changed for all terrain tyres and a snorkel was fitted on the side so the air intake was lifted high enough to  keep the air filter free of sand.  We fitted guards to protect sensitive parts of the car and lifted the suspension to give us a greater ground clearance, an awning on the side gave us protection from the harsh sun when we were camping.  Finally a bracket to fit some jerry cans for extra fuel and eventually we were ready to go.  Morocco here we come!

More next week 😀

 

My Favourite Travel Photo

There is a prompt for today’s Travel Tuesday, it is “Show us your most favourite photo from all your travels and tell us why it means so much to you”. 

I have shared this photo before, a couple of times in fact, so apologies for repeating myself but it is my most favourite holiday photo and I couldn’t honestly share any other picture.

It was taken in Banff, Alberta on our first holiday there in 2006.  This is the picture that hangs in my dining room, that I look at every mealtime.  It reminds me of the holiday that literally changed our lives.  Our crazy, full on, two week whirlwind holiday where we rushed around from morning to night trying to fit in and soak up as much of the experiences as physically possible while marveling at the stunning scenery all around us.  The holiday that made us reassess our lives, contemplate our place on the world and the lives we wanted to live.

This was where our emigration journey began.

 

What’s the Story? – Photobomb

This is one of those photos that always makes me smile, it’s one of the best photobombs I’ve seen eventhough it was taken well before the word even existed!

Mid-air photobomb

This was Boxing Day 2006 and we were on holiday in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, the holiday that literally changed our lives.

 We were travelling between Banff and Jasper along the Icefields Parkway, often referred to as the most beautiful drive in the world and having done it I believe it to be true.  One of the places to see on the route is the Athabasca Falls which, being December, were mainly frozen except for the bright blue glacial water crashing under the ice, it was spectacular.  On the way back to the car hubbie had walked ahead of me and the boys and stopped to photograph us stumbling through the snow.  Eldest son and I stopped and posed for the shot before hearing a splat beside us as youngest son looked up at us from the snow, giggling. We had no idea what we had captured until we downloaded the photos later that evening…the ultimate mid-air photobomb.

Athabasca Falls

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Camping in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park

We have camped in various countries in Europe and Africa but this is our first summer camping in Canada, so far we have been to Canisbay Lake in Algonquin and Fairbank Provincial Park. As we had a whole week off this time we decided to pack up the tent and canoe and head to Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.

This park is located on the historic Mattawa River near the Ontario/Quebec border.  The Mattawa River was used by the first European explorers to Canada and native peoples for centuries so it seemed like the ideal location to try out our new canoe.

The view from the back of our pitch

Our site, which was very private, backed onto the river and you could hear it tumbling over the rocks.  After hearing a few whooping sounds coming from the river we searched round to find where it was coming from and realized people were riding down the river, which runs the length of the camp ground, on inflatables.  The next day we drove 30 minutes to North Bay to buy some dinghy’s to join in the fun.  Now at almost 40 you may think that I am a little old to enjoy this but let me tell you I was a spring chicken compared to some of the campers joining in with this.

 

Our first canoe trip was on Long Lake which was sheltered, calm and perfect for novice canoeists.

What quickly became evident was that our canoe was not big enough for the four of us so we hired an additional canoe direct from the campground the following day so we could go a little further afield.

This time we went across Moore lake and turned west.  We spotted some beautiful painted turtles basking in the sun.

 

On our final day we decided to get adventurous and venture onto the Mattawa River, into The Gut and back through Long Lake to experience our first portage.

 

Long Lake

The canoe routes from this campground are just beautiful.

Mattawa River

The campground in general has been my favourite so far, the pitch was huge , the toilets and showers were clean and the surrounding area was beautiful and ripe for exploring 😀

 

The sunsets over the lake were pretty stunning too.

A Compass Rose

 

Our First Portage, Samuel De Champlain Provincial Park

Portage:

noun

the carrying of a boat or its cargo between two navigable waters

 

We bought a canoe a fortnight ago and hubbie was itching to get out and explore during our camping trip ‘up north’ last week.  Our first two trips out with the boys were quite sedate, we travelled about 10km viewed the local wildlife and marveled at the scenery but the day before we were due to return home hubbie got it in his head to try something more adventurous.  The boys decided they had had enough of the fresh air, exercise and leeches (!) so opted to stay put in the campground while hubbie and I attempted a 14km route with 2 portages.

The first stretch was along the Mattawa River, an historic canoe route for the native peoples and the first European explorers to Canada.  There’s something very therapeutic about the total silence broken only by the plop-swoosh, plop-swoosh sound of your paddle as it enters the water and we completed this leg quite easily despite the heat.

Phase two involved navigating a river littered with fallen trees and a 30 meter portage to the connecting river.  We surprised ourselves that we managed this section well and as we completed our first portage we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.   A 210 meter portage was our final obstacle to the last leg of our trip.  So with achy arms and sore backs we yet gain found ourselves struggling to get through fallen trees at the end of the river.

After struggling to get out of the water, with the canoe, paddles, buoyancy aids and kit bag we started the hike to the last lake. After about 10 minutes of hiking uphill, sweating buckets, with my pretty pink pedicure covered in black swamp goop, carrying all our kit and hubbie lugging the canoe I couldn’t help but screech in a rather unladylike manner ‘210 meters my a*rse!”

Eventually I glimpsed the lake shimmering through the trees.

We launched the canoe and after another 20 minutes of paddling and we’d made it to the end of our journey.  It was hot, sticky and exhausting but the sense of achievement was awesome.

This was the view as I looked back across the final lake that we had just travelled using nothing but grit, determination and the power of our arms.

 

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

 

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.