Travel TopOfBlogs Past and future wanderings of a travel bug . . .: 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Darkest Days - Seeking Sun on the Shortest Day of the Year!

Rhodes, Greece looking sunny and even ... tropical.
Today is the Winter Solstice--officially the shortest day of the year.  Today the sun didn't rise until nearly 9 in the morning and set just after 4 in the afternoon.  I don't know about you but the shorter days leave me desperately wanting to see more of the sun.  Although I live (and grew up in) a part of the world that experiences a very harsh winter I really can't say that I enjoy it.  The good news is that tomorrow the days will start to get longer again.

In less than four days I will have some much needed time off and if I have my way I'll be spending at least a little of it in another time zone.  And if I am even luckier it may even be somewhere that has daily highs above 0 C!  As I write this it's minus 19 C--anything warmer will do.

The hard part is that its got to be cheap.  My budget is small so a cheap flight and accommodation is a must.  Fortunately I have no qualms about going at the last minute but at this time of year that doesn't always translate into savings.  I am looking for a deal.

So for the past while I have been  scouring budget sites looking for the perfect winter getaway.  I am easy to please, a cheap flight and a hostel bed would suit me just fine.  Sadly this time of year, travel can be at a premium with people all over heading home and abroad to see family and friends.  So as a result, thus far no dice.  Still I am hoping that if I keep looking maybe I'll find exactly what I am looking for--at the very last minute.  I've been checking out Expedia, Travelocity and to name a few.  Any suggestions would definitely be welcome--please post them.  My traveling companion and I will be eternally grateful!

And if nothing else Hawaii in January is looking promising--too bad I don't have any time off then!

Until next time, happy traveling!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Feeling Under the Weather When You're on the Road

For most of the last week or so I've been sick.  Sore throat, chills, fever and feeling achy all over.  Bottom line, it sucks.  I've been dosing myself with Vitamin C, echinacea, chicken soup and the occasional Neocitran.  There's not much worse than when you are are ill.

Except when you are away from home.

Even if you love to travel and were to make up a list of the pros and cons of globetrotting, being sick or getting injured while on the road definitely makes the top of the cons list.  Think about it--you plan an amazing trip, pay for it and then hit the road.  Part way thorough you suddenly aren't feeling so well.  It doesn't matter what it is, but the last thing you want to happen is to be so miserable that all you want to do is go home to your own bed.  And what if you can't?  If you are living and working overseas like I did for a while going home may not be the easiest option or not one at all.  Nearly every traveler I have met has some sort of story relating to being sick on the road--it's more common than not but the most important thing is to keep your story from becoming a horror story.

So what's a savvy traveler to do?

Well there are many things that you can do to stay healthy during your trip.  First things first--start before your trip.

Before your trip:

  • Eat well, drink lots of water, and get plenty of sleep.  
  • Do some research.  Certain ailments are more common in some parts of the world.  Is the water safe to drink?  It may not be wise to eat uncooked food in some cases as well.  Keep in mind that the locals may have no problem with the water where you are traveling but bottled water may hold the key to keeping your insides happy.
  • See a travel health professional well in advance of leaving.  They can provide you with emergency or preventative medicines that you can take with you.
  • Get vaccinated.  Depending on where you are headed this may be especially important.  Some countries require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry,  Yellow fever vaccination is an example of this.  Your travel health professional can help you with this too.
  • Get travel medical insurance!  If you don't need it this trip count yourself lucky--but if you do need you could likely save yourself a lot in costly foreign medical bills.
  • Prepare for the possibility of motion sickness (if you have never traveled by water you could get seasick and just not be aware of it--I was once on a cruise with a woman who didn't realize she suffered from seasickness until she was on her trip--the only time she seemed comfortable over the course of that four days was when we were on land.
  • The same goes for altitude sickness---give yourself some time to acclimatize before taking on serious changes in altitude.  You will have a better chance of reaching the top! 
During your trip:

  • Drink lots of water.   If it has been recommended to drink bottled water do so.  Be wary of ice added to drinks and any beverages that may be made with local water.
  • Know your limits when enjoying the local bevys.  (And that goes for any other substances you may be enjoying as well.)
  • It will probably be hard but try to get enough sleep.
  • Wash your hands, same as you do at home.  Carry hand sanitizer to use when soap and water aren't available.
  • Enjoy the local food but try to eat a variety of foods.
  • Pack some protection!  Sure you are on vacation but an STI (or an unwanted pregnancy) is a souvenir to avoid bringing home
  •  If you do have an injury or find yourself ill seek medical attention.
  • If you have the opportunity to rest when you are feeling under the weather--do so.
Although I've done my best over the years to stay well as I have traveled I certainly have not been immune to the various traveler's maladies.  Minimizing the impact if you do fall ill is key to making sure that the memories from your trip are fantastic.  Hopefully these tips will help to keep you well on the road.

Until next time happy traveling!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Road Trip: The Sequel!

Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park
West.  Go west.  I love the west.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Road Trip! my summer was bookended by two road trips.  The first, to Saskatoon with an old friend happened on the May long weekend and was all about about good food and relaxation.  The road trip at the opposite end of the summer was over the Labour Day long weekend at the beginning of September.  I went to one of my favorite places in my home province of Alberta--Jasper National Park!

I have lived in Alberta most of my life and a a result have had many opportunities to venture into the Rocky Mountains.  My earliest road trip memory involves a family RV trip to British Columbia and I still remember driving westward.  I was awestruck by the scenery.  There have been many trips west since then and each time I am struck by the sheer majesty of the mountains rising up to greet me as I drive toward then.  Sheer rock faces, evergreen trees, rushing mountain streams, fascinating wildlife and pristine aquamarine lakes are found not long after entering the park.

If you are just driving through the National Park, you can do so free of charge.  If you are staying overnight however you should be in possession of a park pass.  Park passes are available at the gates to the park where you will be stopped and asked where you are headed.  Current park rates (2010) for an adult is $9.80 per day or $19.60 for a family or group.  If you will be spending a lot of time in the parks in a given year you can also purchase an annual pass which is good for 27 National Parks and 77 National Historic Sites in Canada.  Travelling from Edmonton you will reach the park gates in about 3.5 hours and the town of Jasper after about 4 hours.

This trip had an added bonus for me as I was meeting up with a friend I met while in Ireland in 2009.  Hailing from Ottawa, Sarah had been exploring the west coast and the rockies in the previous week.  It was fantastic seeing and chatting with a fellow travel enthusiast, blogger and photographer.  Like me she has spent a considerable amount of time in Europe having traveled to many of the same places and a number of different ones as well.  You can read about her adventures on her blog In Which Sarah Sees The World.

I really enjoyed our visit although it was very brief.  After driving into the Jasper town site we met up by the information centre and took a wander through the town.  Most of the shops and restaurants are clustered within the town centre and walking is by far the easiest way to get around.  After a cup of coffee and a bite to eat we ventured out of town so that I could check in at our hostel--one of the many YHA hostels in the area.  If you prefer more luxurious accommodations you can certainly find them in and around town.   There are also a number of campgrounds in the area for those who enjoy roughing it.

The Town of Jasper from the top of the tramway. 
Once I'd gotten my bed for the night our next stop was to head up to the gondola that travels up Whistlers Mountain.  First opened in 1964 the Jasper Tramway will take you up the mountain in just a few minutes, giving you views of the surrounding mountains and the town far below.  Before heading down you can enjoy a meal or a drink while enjoying spectacular mountain views surrounding you.  Keep your ticket for the return trip down the mountain--you will pay $29.00 for a round trip adult ticket on the tram.  Although I had been to Jasper many times before this was the first time I had taken the tram.  I found a bit expensive but as a one time thing I think it was worth the view (and the snow we experienced on a rather chilly September day).

Heading into town for dinner that evening Sarah and I were considering enjoying a pint at Jasper's very own Brew Pub.  After checking out the menu we concluded that while it looked good the price was not within our backpacker budget.  After wandering down the street we found ourselves in another pub--The De'd Dog.  The De'd Dog is a local pub that seemed to be populated with both locals and visitors alike, the price was right and the food very good--both in taste and portion size.

Boat Cruise on Maligne Lake
After a quiet remainder of the night over drinks we set out the next morning to see Maligne Lake.  After a 44km drive south from Jasper which winds slowly uphill passing Medicine Lake you will reach Maligne Lake which is a popular place for boating, fishing and other pursuits.  There are hiking trails along the lake.  The trails were quite muddy the day of our visit so we took a stroll right along the water.  If you decide to take to the water by canoe or perhaps on the commercial boat cruise you may find yourself in sight of tiny Spirit Island which is one of the most photographed landmarks in the world.  In any case the views are stunning--don't forget your camera!

We only had a short time in Jasper but if you have more time another site you may want to visit is the Columbia Icefield, I stopped here on a previous trip to the area.  To get here take the Icefields Parkway out of Jasper (you must have purchased a park pass to travel this road) and you will reach the site of the Athabasca Glacier--the most visited glacier in North America.  Over the last 125 years the glacier has been shrinking and you can see how much it has receded--a distance of over 1.5 km.  There is a marked path that you can take to set foot upon the glacier however be careful--it still can be very dangerous and visitors have lost their lives here.

Unfortunately for my friend Sarah, not all of her trip went as planned and she decided to cut the remainder or her trip short and accompany me back to Edmonton from where she returned safely to Ottawa.  It was a fun visit, albeit short and I hope to have the privilege of traveling with her once again.

So bottom line I still love road trips!  I hope that you too will take the opportunity to visit Jasper and the rest of the Canadian Rockies.  They have a great deal to offer any traveler.  And in another time in another post I will share more about another of my favorite rocky mountain destinations--Radium.

Until then happy travelling!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest we forget...

Lest We Forget...
I know I am fortunate to live in a country that has not known modern warfare, at least within our own borders.  Despite this, we have not been untouched by war as brave Canadian soldiers, both men and women have served our country preserving the freedoms that we enjoy as Canadians.  Other places in the world have not been as lucky.

Today in Canada we recognize Remembrance Day.  It's a sombre day of reflection and thanks as well.  I have many memories of past Remembrance Days that I hold close.  One of these was doing a reading at a school assembly when I was in first or second grade.  I read (In Flander's Fields I think) to the entire school and guests.  Even though I couldn't fully comprehend the meaning of the day then I still knew it was important.  In high school I was involved in another school assembly for Remembrance Day as my drama class presented several scenes with themes of wartime.  By this time I already knew the fear of potential of war from when the Golf War erupted back when I was in junior high.  I was afraid that war might touch my home.  And to some degree it did.  In my lifetime Canadian forces have been engaged in several conflicts both as peacekeepers and in an active combat role such as in the current conflict in Afghanistan.  Today we remember all those involved in these missions as well as in the First and Second World Wars and Korea.

One of the many freedoms that we enjoy is that of being able to travel.  As Canadians we are welcome to visit many countries around the world.  Visiting places touched by some conflicts has moved me more than I would have ever expected.  Here are five places I have visited that have touched by war in some way or another in the 20th century.  I think that all of these are worth a visit if you are visiting the area.

1.  The Memorials and War Cemeteries surrounding the site of the Battle of Gallipoli
The Battle of Gallipoli was fought in 1915 between Allied and Turkish forces.  The casualties were heavy on both sides.  The conditions were horrible and a strange camaraderie developed between enemy soldiers.  This is demonstrated in many of the stories told and in the Respect for Mehmetçik Memorial which depicts a Turkish soldier carrying an Australian soldier back to his trench.
There are more than 80 cemeteries and memorials dedicated to both Turkish and allied dead which included soldiers from Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, India and even Newfoundland (which at  that time was not yet a part of Canada).  I visited several sites including ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Cove and Lone Pine Cemetery.  Though I know of no personal connections to any of the dead here the visit stuck a chord with me as I wandered between the graves, watched the waves crash against the rocks and saw the trenches that still exist.  To learn more about these sites and others on the Gallipoli peninsula check out the Turkey Guide.  ANZAC day is observed on April 25th each year and services are held at the site. 

2. Orkney Islands, Scotland
During WWI and WWII, the site of Scapa Flow was used as a Royal Navy Base.  After WWI the German fleet was brought here until a decision was to made on its future.  A number of these ships were shipwrecked and this remains a place that divers come to explore.
After the start of WWII the HMS Royal Oak was sunk by a German U-boat at Scapa Flow.  The Italian POWs held here were put to work building barriers (also known as the Churchill Barriers) to stop access to some of the channels.  These barriers had the added result of becoming a way to travel from island to island by road.  Today once you take the ferry to Orkney from the mainland you can see the rest of the islands by car.  These prisoners also built the Italian Chapel which is situated on the island of Lamb Holm.  The small but ornate church is a main attraction on the island.

3. Placa Sant Felip Neri, Barcelona
Wandering through the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona I was struck by the sheer amount of history.  The beginnings of this area were as a Roman village. Today there is a mix of old and new buildings standing side by side.  The streets are winding and you never know quite what you are going to find as you turn the next corner.  The Placa Sant Felip Neri is a tiny square tucked away in the quarter that is filled with history.  During the Spanish civil war it was here that people were rounded up and put to death by firing squad against the facade of the church.  The wall is riddled with marks left behind from the bullets and also damage from the air raid of January 30, 1938.  Today the square is tranquil and shady but it remains a symbol of the suffering of the Spanish during the Civil War.

4. Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
Not far from Munich lies the site of Dachau, the first concentration camp that first held both political and Jewish prisoners during the Second World War.  When you enter the gates you see the sign Arbeit macht frei which means "work will make you free".  Sadly for many of those that entered those gates this was not true.  Over 25 000 people died in the camp.  Today it is a memorial site and museum.  When I visited in November 2007 the day was cold and it was just beginning to snow.  I imagined those imprisoned who were without adequate food, shelter and clothing living in this site in the cold.  Imagine being forced to work outside for long hours without so much as a jacket or a pair of shoes.   The air was crisp and silent as I walked between the barracks and along the path to the gas chambers and the crematorium.    The experience was sobering and one I expect never to forget.

5. The Vimy War Memorial, France
The Battle of Vimy Ridge represents a defining moment for Canada as a nation. It was the first time that Canadians fought as a national force rather than as a part of the British Army.  This event remains a symbol of of both achievement and sacrifice.  In honour of this sacrifice France has given use of a part of the former battleground to Canada to build a memorial site.  Part of the site is also considered Canadian soil. Unveiled in 1936 the Vimy Memorial is located on the highest point and can be seen from a distance.  It took 11 years to build.  You can see a few of the trenches up close but most of the area is closed off for safety reasons as there are still dangers such as exploded munitions.  The structure is awe inspiring and sobering at the same time.  The memorial is one of two National Historic Sites of Canada located outside of Canada. 

All of these sites left their mark on me.  Visiting them and many others helped make the history more real.  And this Remembrance Day I remember those that fought and still fight to make sure that we remain free.  I hope you will remember them too. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Job Opportunity of a Lifetime

Find a job you enjoy and you'll never work a day in your life.


The Job Opportunity of a Lifetime!
I love this quote and I'm sure there is a lot of truth in this however as things stand I love the job I have now most days but it certainly is still work.  On the best days not as much, but on the bad days...well you get the picture.  I've definitely been lucky to have some jobs I have enjoyed but I have also had my share of not so enjoyable ones like most people.  I mentioned in my previous post Travel Contests Galore!  Who wants a free trip?  that I was planning on applying for Transat Holidays Vacationer Wanted.  I can't resist even though I love the job I have now.  Why?  Well, travel is seductive, alluring, compelling.  It makes me do things I would not normally do.  It's like a drug and it is my drug of choice.  I like nothing better than hopping on a plane to fly into the wild blue yonder--if my destination is unknown to me so much the better.  The sights, the sounds and the smells of a new destination are intoxicating every single time.  In fact it gets better every time.  I'll rough it to see just about anywhere but I also have a taste for a little luxury, great food and fantastic company!  The reality is this job will be work some days too but I am sure the fantastic days will far outweigh the rough ones.  Twelve trips in twelve months to some fabulous locales sure sounds good to me!  Like I said before I couldn't help myself and I submitted my video today just before the deadline.  Wish me luck!

If you have read my previous post, My (travel) story...and why I want to keep traveling!, you will know that I took a huge chance on a job that would have given me a chance to travel before.  It didn't work out the way I hoped but despite that it led me to spend a year working abroad anyway which was still an amazing opportunity.  I would do it all again for another opportunity to see a little more of the world.  This competition is already fierce and only a select few will be the final contenders for this opportunity of a lifetime.  I'm hoping to hear opportunity knock but I am sure whoever is chosen will be amazing.  And in the meantime I will keep on taking a crack at whatever opportunities may come my way.  

If you want to have a peek at my application video here it is!  If you have ever wanted to visit the West Edmonton Mall--you can get a little bit of a sneak peek here!

Hope you enjoy it-- and if you do you can share your support on the Vacationer Wanted Facebook page.  Just click Like and leave your comments!  And if you have a travel dream too don't stop dreaming and don't stop trying to make it happen.  When it comes true you will be glad that you did!

Next time as promised we will have Road Trip:  The Sequel!
And until then, happy travelling!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Road Trip!

I love a good road trip.  On a really good one you will laugh, cry, love and maybe even fight.  I've done my share over the years.  I grew up in Canada in smaller city that only recently started public transit and having a car meant freedom.  Summer camping trips, an impromptu trip somewhere 3 hours away to have a meal or just a drive for no reason--I'm guilty of all of these.  Of course that was many years ago when fuel was half the price it is now, I had summers off (except for the part-time summer job - had to pay for the fuel somehow) and I didn't have so many bills to pay.

One of my favorite trips was many years ago back during my very last year of university.  A good friend of mine and I drove from Edmonton, Alberta to Kingston, ON (and actually as far as Ottawa).  We packed up and drove it over the course of several days with stops in Regina, Saskatchewan (to visit my Dad), Bloomington, Minnesota (to check out the Mall of America), and Niagara Falls, ON (I'd never been there before despite having lived in Ontario for about 3 years at this point) just to name a few.  We camped, we ate cheap and listened to great music and sung along too.  We chatted.  About everything and anything.  Even though our lives have gone in different directions I often think fondly about that friend and that trip.  At the end of the year she even flew back to Ontario to meet me and come along on the return trip.

More recently I've done shorter trips.  One at the beginning of this summer and one at the end.  In opposite directions even.  Over the May long weekend I had the pleasure of accompanying one of my oldest friends on a road trip to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to visit her sister and just relax.  A weekend of food, movies, reading and even a little Scrabble ensued.  After work on Friday we hit the road stopping in Lloydminster a town that has the distinction of being partially in the province of Alberta and part in Saskatchewan.  After a bite to eat it was time to go again.  We rolled into Saskatoon sometime around midnight.  I was glad I wasn't driving--I generally have a pretty good sense of direction but for some reason I always seem to get lost there.

There were three notable restaurants we dined in over the course of the weekend.  Traeger's Restaurant and Bakery, which had an excellent french toast also had desserts in the case looked amazingly decadent--it's almost too bad we came for breakfast!  The next time I'm in town I'm going for dessert.  Another local breakfast favorite is The Berry Barn which is just south of Saskatoon. This place is very popular and reservations are definitely needed.  The food is tasty and the star attraction is the topping bar which you can have over waffles or cheesecake or whatever sounds good to you.  When I was there the toppings included strawberries, peaches and of course saskatoon berries.  When you've finished eating you can linger in the gift shop or if you have come at the right time of year you can pick yourself some berries to take away with you.  Last but not least we had dinner at The Cave.  This one is worth visiting strictly for the decor.  Once you step inside it looks--like a cave, complete with stalagtites.  The menu is varied and the portions were large.  I was suprised by the fact that there were tablecloths.  I was not expecting that.  You also get a map--keep it since you might need it to find your way to the bathroom!

My summer was bookended with one last road trip.  West this time.  Stay tuned for my next post when I head off to the Canadian Rockies.

Until then happy travelling!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Travel Contests Galore! Who wants a free trip?

Lately it seems everywhere I look I see a new travel (or travel inspired) contest out there.  I'm sure a lot of this is to do with the proliferation of the internet and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and others.  And another thing I'm sure of is that every company that sponsors one of these contests is getting an awful lot of bang for their marketing buck by running them.  For the travel obsessed like myself, these contests represent an opportunity to potentially see a little more of the world on someone else's dime!  Sure they may be a longshot but they sure are fun--and some of the prizes to be had are pretty fabulous.

Best Travel Job Ever - Earlier this year my friend Alesha and I participated in the Best Travel Job Ever which was a contest sponsored by Flight Centre, Air Canada, Intrepid Travel, Roots and Henry's.  The entry required contestants to enter a video that was posted on Youtube and the entries that received the most votes were put before a panel of judges to choose finalists and eventually a winner.  This one was a lot of fun and I can only hope they might do it again.  The site is still up and if you are looking for some inspiration you should check it out.

Paradise Hunter  - 52 Weeks of Paid Vacation - This job offer is open until November 5, 2010 but I think it qualifies for this post.  In a one minute video you need to show why you should be the next host for Paradise Hunter.  There are some great videos and host job winner will also get a $60 000 salary and their very own piece of paradise at the end of the year.  Open to applicants around the world over 18.

Transat Holidays - This one is positioned more as a job offer than as a contest but I still think it also fits this post.  The successful applicant will have the opportunity to travel on Transat Holiday trips throughout the next year and then write and video their experiences.  In addition to the travel there's a $40 000 salary too.  You need to be over 21, have a valid Canadian passport and submit a maximum 2 minute video and your resume.  I couldn't help myself so I've applied for this one--I love my job and don't want to leave it but the opportunity is so good I had to give it a shot!

GAP Adventures - Earlier this year GAP had the Create Your Adventure Contest. This one was kind of cool and the grande prize winning entry by a young man named Ryan will be on offer in the 2011 GAP Adventures brochure.

Intrepid Travel - This one is current.  Real Life Experiences or Win 30 Trips in 30 Days.  Choose one of the trips from the map and explain in 25 words or less why you want the trip and you might be selected to win that trip.  If you are planning on booking with Intrepid soon enter!  Just for entering you will be emailed a voucher that is good for 20% off an Intrepid trip.

Facebook Contests: Facebook also has tons of contests (travel and otherwise) if you know where to look.  Find the pages of your favorite products and services and they may just have something for you!
Here's a few current ones to check out:

Travelocity and the Mexico Tourism Board - Like these two on Facebook and figure out where  the Travelcity Gnome is in Mexico.  Winners get a Mexican vacation and contest is open to US and Canadian residents 21 or older.

Cathay Pacific - Want a pair of business class tickets to Hong Kong?  Like Cathay Pacific on Facebook and enter your Asian inspired dessert to win.  It could even be served on their flights.  Open until January 2011.

Baileys Brings You Home - Who doesn't love this Irish tipple?  Baileys wants to reunite you with your family and friends for the holidays and is giving away round trip tickets to anywhere in the US.  Entrants submit a video or essay--and like Baileys and Facebook too.  To enter you have to be a US resident and over 21.  Enter before December 10th.

So take a chance and enter one or all  of  these (of the ones still open anyways).  It might just be your lucky day.  And if you hear of any cool travel contests drop me a line!  In the meantime get your cameras rolling, your keyboard tapping and your creative juices flowing.

Until next time happy travelling!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Working Abroad--Why you should do it and why I wish I had done it sooner!

In the streets of London.
I spent much of 2008 and 2009 living and working overseas.  Since I was young I had dreamed of experiencing life somewhere else in the world.  In retrospect it was an opportunity that I would not trade for anything.  I only have one regret and it's that I didn't do it sooner.

I recently received a message from an old friend of mine (who has been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in the UK herself) who was trying to help another friend of hers out in getting the type of visa I got to work in the UK.  I was more than happy to pass along any help that I could because I know how much that opportunity has enriched my life.  I  hope that the information I provided was of some help.  But that request also got me thinking--I wish I had known about these opportunities sooner.

Living and working in another country isn't just about earning pounds or euros when you are used to making dollars.  It's about learning about another culture, enjoying new food, friends and adventures.  If you are just getting started after finishing school a year abroad doing a job that may not be a career builder will not be a blight on your CV (or resume for those of us in North America).  Your time overseas can tell a possible employer that you are independent, adaptable, and willing to take on new challenges.  You just left everything that was familiar behind and journeyed out into the great unknown for heaven sakes!  Take a bit of credit where credit is due.

There are some great resources out there if like me you wish to spend some time abroad.  If you are a Canadian you should check out The Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada site - Canadians Travel and Work Abroad page.  This site lists destinations that young Canadians are eligible to participate in work exchange programs.  There are plenty of options, especially for Canadians, including the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Italy and Japan just to name a few. There is also a link on this page for young nationals of other countries who want information on coming to Canada to work for up to a year.  This page is a great place to start if you are still investigating the possibilities that are out there. Most work permits or visas available under these programs are require you to be between the ages of 18 - 30, however there are a few that participants can be eligible up to age 35.

If however,  you have already decided that you are ready to jump on the next plane there are a few things you need to consider first.

1.  For many of these programs you need to apply BEFORE you arrive in your destination country.  You have to prove a few things before you are accepted such as your age, your citizenship, and proof of sufficient funds to help support yourself when you arrive (or to purchase passage home.)  There can be other restrictions as well--research the program for the country you hope to visit.

2. In most cases once you have applied, paid the fee and ticked all of the other requirements off the list you will have to send your passport to the embassy or high commission of your destination country.  If all goes well it will be returned to you with a brand spanking new visa in it.

3. Some destinations will require you to have a valid return ticket when you arrive--if so don't purchase a one way ticket until you have checked this out.

4. Some programs restrict the type of work or the duration, ie you can only work for the same employer for 6 months on your permit.  Keep this in mind when looking for work.  However also keep in mind due to the magic of the internet you can begin your search for work even before leaving home.  A couple of sites I found helpful for my work search in the UK were WorkAbout and AnyWork AnyWhere and   If you looking for work in a specific field there are many other sites out there as well.

5.  You will probably need a tax number before starting work in your host country.  In Canada this is referred to as a Social Insurance Number, in the UK where I was working its called a National Insurance or NI number.  Apply for one as soon as you are able--usually once you have arrived.  Check into labour standards and minimum wages.  Know your rights as a worker!  Unfortunately some employers will try to take advantage of temporary foreign workers as they are more likely to get away with infractions.  I have my own story about this.

6.  A local bank account is helpful, especially when you are going to be in the same country for a significant amount of time.  It can be difficult to open as a foreigner walking into a bank in strange country so there are organizations that can help you get this done.  I used First Contact in London and setting up my account with HSBC was nice and easy (for a small fee of course).  First Contact or similar companies will help you out with other things as well.  If you are headed to another country inquire about similiar agencies that can help you get set up.  Once set up you will have a place to deposit and save your hard earned wages in the local currency.  The bank will likely also provide you with local cheques and a local debit card.

7.  Health Insurance!  This one I can't stress enough.  Foreigners are not often covered if they require medical attention outside of their home country and this can lead to big medical bills even for something as simple as a broken bone.  In some cases if you have a visa that is valid for work you may be covered as was the case with me while I was in the UK.  I learned after I was in A&E (Accident and Emergency)  that Canada has a reciprocal health agreement with the UK.  I had separate insurance as well but was lucky enough not to have to pay for anything and therefore I didn't need to make a claim.

So do your research and then have some fun--the experiences you have and the people you meet will teach you things that you can't learn in any book or by watching TV, or even surfing the web.  You will probably have the time of your life.  Life is to short not to take a chance once in a while.

So why do I regret not doing this sooner?  I got my visa after I turned 30, which is the cutoff age of many of the programs available.  If I had gone away sooner I probably would have taken advantage of the opportunity to have worked abroad in other countries as well.  But its a lesson learned and I still had the time of my life.  If you are thinking of working abroad and have any questions I might be able to help you with I invite you to drop me a line and I will try to cover any questions in a future post.

Until next time, happy travelling!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My (Travel) Bucket List

Most of us have goals that we may only ever dream about.  For me, many of those goals have focused on travel.   I have been fortunate to have been able to cross a few things off my own bucket list.  So I thought I would take the opportunity to share it here with you.  Since I have already managed to cross a few things off my list I have had to come up with new things to add to it as well.


My Original (Travel) Bucket List

I've checked the following off the list!

-Visit the acropolis in Athens, Greece.
-See the pyramids at Giza in Egypt.
-See Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe
-Travel through the streets of London on the top deck of a double decker bus.
-See the Canadian flag that stands at Vimy in France.
-Listen to Galway Girl in a real Irish pub.
-Ride in a hot air balloon. (this was in Luxor, Egypt)
-Take a cruise on Loch Ness.
-Visit the Alcazar in Segovia, Spain.
-Whitewater rafted the Kicking Horse River in Beautiful British Columbia.

This is just the tip of the iceberg...
My new and improved list is too long to include everything but here are some of the highlights:

-See the maritime provinces of my own country--I have only been to Newfoundland so far, but never to Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.
-Climb a bigger mountain--I can say this because I've actually climbed two, one called Marble Mountain here in Canada and Mt Sinai in Egypt--I hope one day to tackle Mt. Kilimanjaro.
-See Macchu Picchu after having hiked the Inca Trail.
-See Bath and Stonehenge--I spent a long time in the UK and missed out on these!
-Sample sushi in Tokyo and see some traditional kabuki theatre in Japan as well.
-Walk along the Great Wall in China.
-Wander through the streets of Moscow.
-Visit the many amazing people I have met from Down Under.
-Go on Safari in Africa....

And too many more to list here.  I hope that I have only seen the start of my adventures and that they will continue for many more years to come.

Next time The Working Holiday and why I wish I would have known about this sooner!

Happy traveling!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Great Debate...

I've been getting itchy feet lately.  It's almost been a year since I've been back home and I am feeling like its time for a new adventure.  So the great debate begins.  Where do I go next?

The possibilities are endless and I found myself at a travel show last month checking out some options.  My problem is at least for the meantime I have already been to many of the places I had hoped to see but there are still too many more.

So at present the top contenders are:

1. Peru--I have always wanted to see Macchu Picchu so it's still on my list.
2. Australia and NZ--I have met many awesome people from this part of the world and I would love to visit and explore where these people have come from.
3. Japan--The culture, food and history fascinate me--what better reason to visit somewhere is that?
4. Mexico--I've never been on a "beach vacation".  Maybe its time I start.  Plus there are great ruins and its warm there when its cold at home.

And now I ask you, dear readers to give me your two cents.  Where do you think I should go next and why?  Please vote and share your opinion!

Next post:  my Old and New and Improved Travel Bucket Lists!

Until then, happy traveling!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'm baaaaack!

Reality has come crashing down around me these last few months.  New home, still learning the new job, summer...well you know how it goes.   I have kind of withdrawn from a lot of things as a result.  Unintentionally of course.  But there are new things to come.  First off this site is slowly going to get a new look.  How do you like my header?  It will be a work in progress but I am looking at bringing you more of my adventures and misadventures as well as sharing my favorite travel related information that you can find here on the world wide web.  I look forward to your feedback as I expand this site.

Until then happy traveling!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guest Post By Krista D. Ball

Not everyone has the desire to travel the world. Not everyone has the means, either. Yet, I think a little exploration can do our minds good. If we spend too much time in the same place, we become entrenched and our world view becomes stilted.

As a speculative fiction writer, the imagination needs constant stimulation in order to keep up with creating new worlds, cultures, and even races. Visiting new places, even as simple as a new ethnic restaurant or a small town gift shop, expands my world just a tiny bit more.

I confess that I’ve never had a burning desire to see the world. I trust the internet when it says that there are pyramids in Egypt and that there are leaning towers in Pisa. However, I have travelled in small ways and have seen many things crop up in my writing.

I’ve been along the coast of Labrador and saw firsthand what cultural genocide, corruption, and alcoholism can do to a proud people. I’ve been to outport Newfoundland where I saw people cling to their culture in the midst of economic upheaval. And I’ve seen the Rocky Mountains and myself an early explorer.

As humans, we need to continue expanding our minds or else we risk mental atrophy. Regardless if it is grand or small, travel is one of the important ways that we continue to explore the world around us. And, in doing so, we explore our own lives.

Krista D. Ball is a speculative fiction writer in Edmonton, Alberta. Her upcoming novelette, Harvest Moon, travels back in time to visit a fictional First Nations tribe in northern Alberta.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I've been remiss...readjusting to life at home after a year abroad

Apologies for taking so long to post this. It seems as if the rest of my life has gotten in the way lately of sharing my travel stories. I am hoping this will soon improve. I've now been back for nearly seven months and I am slowly going about reclaiming the accouterments of the average person's life. The new job was found sooner than anticipated and while it started out as temporary and uncertain it has since become more permanent. For this I am grateful. I got my phone number back too--I've only had it for 10 years now and I don't know if I could ever give it up. I've been saving as much as I can to pay off the bills from the last trip too. This still hasn't stopped me from dreaming about the next one though. I am slowly trying to tie up all the loose ends, bank accounts, taxes, you name it. I made mistakes in not considering a lot of things before I went away. Lessons learned I guess. For right now I am looking forward to reclaiming my own space. The last few years have been characterized by short stays in shared accommodation. While this way of life has many merits and I have had wonderful experiences the time has come to start over. I am however very grateful for all those who have put me up over the last couple of years. So needless to say I am looking forward to my new digs.

So for now my travel plans aren't big ones but that doesn't mean they still can't be fun ones. A long weekend road trip is first up and then I am hoping for at least a couple of short camping trips over the summer. Who knows what the summer will bring?

For those of you who followed the Flight Centre's Best Travel Job Ever and the entry made by Alesha and I--I wanted to thank you all for your support. However I just found out there is going to be a little bonus round! Vote for us one last time on May 20th, 2010 to get our names in to win a trip to video blog in sunny California! To go to the page to vote click this link!

And you won't have to wait too long for the next post--tomorrow brings a guest post from a fabulous new Canadian writing talent, Krista D. Ball. Her novelette Harvest Moon will be published in the fall. Her post will discuss how travel has influenced her writing. I hope that you will enjoy it. To learn more about Krista's work please visit her website

Monday, April 5, 2010

My (travel) story...and why I want to keep traveling!

I have spent countless hours in my life examining maps, reading travel books (and phrase books) and daydreaming about the places I would one day go. Travel has changed me. I am not the same person I was before I embarked upon the trips of the last two and half years.

I was fortunate in my early years to have traveled throughout a lot of Canada and the United States but I had never gone overseas until I finally traveled to Europe in 2007. I had wanted to go sooner but put it off because I was paying off loans from school and had no one to go with. I had entertained planning trips with friends in the past but it never seemed to work out. So finally I decided to just do it--I went on my own and planned a trip lasting nearly a month. Needless to say I loved every second of it--I had certainly been bitten by the bug. And there was no turning back.

Not long after returning home I decided I wanted to find a way to keep "living the dream" if you will. So applied for a job with a European tour operator. I figured I had nothing to lose--the worst that would happen is nothing. To my great surprise only a couple of days later I received an email asking me to call to arrange an interview. So I thought about it again, other than the cost of the trip I really had nothing to lose. I made the most of it and had a little reunion with a couple of my university friends when I arrived in London--if this was the end of the road, the trip was not wasted as we had a great time! Two interviews in two days and I was back on a flight home. Exhausting but exhilarating at the same time. After being home for about about a week I got a letter--in a big envelope. Anyone who has ever applied to university learned this rule--a small envelope meant bad news and a big envelope means . . .you got in! This rule rang true in this case as well. I had been offered a coveted place on one of the tour companies training trips! I could hardly believe it! This was a chance to travel, meet new people and earn enough of a living to keep the bills paid--a true chance of a lifetime!

In the weeks that followed I quit my job, gave up the apartment I had lived in for nearly five years, said goodbye to my roommate and my friends and parked my car. At my going away party I sprained my ankle, or so I thought... I had my eyes on the prize and pushed through the pain to get my apartment cleaned and get on my way. Not much later I had arrived in London, late, sans luggage and with a very bruised ankle.

The training trip was strenuous, right from the get go. We were tested at every turn. In nine weeks we would hit the major European destinations the company traveled to and learn as much as we possibly could about each place--we had to be able to speak about each country's history, culture and other special topics about places, events and people of note. And that was only the beginning. This was work and I expected no less. People dropped like flies and I hung on like my life depended on it. It really felt like it did. But after nearly seven weeks on the road, a really nasty stomach bug I picked up somewhere in Eastern Europe, and a still sore ankle I couldn't keep up and was not allowed to continue. I was devastated when I was given the news. I cried all the way to to the airport the next morning as I made my way back to London. And in my fog I managed to drop my very heavy suitcase on my foot--the same foot that had the bad ankle! It was only two days later when the pain in my foot got so bad I went to A&E (that's Accident & Emergency for those who are not familiar). After looking at the X-ray the doctor looked at me quizzically as he pointed to my ankle and asked me if I was sure that it didn't hurt there--I told him "not anymore". I had broken my ankle all those weeks ago and my stubbornness had led me to not see a doctor lest my dream be shattered--my own stubbornness had very likely cost me my chance.

Despite everything, two years down the road I don't regret the experience. I saw places I never thought I would see in my life, met incredible people, and learned all about Europe--and I would never pass up the opportunity to go back. I've only been inspired to see more of the world. So until then, I will live vicariously through others, share my experiences through my blog and continue to daydream again about the places I'll go until the next trip! And of course enter a few travel contests as well. Like The Best Travel Job Ever! This could be my second chance to see more, do more and share it with anyone willing to listen! Namely YOU! So please give us your votes! And where will I go next? Only time will tell! How far will I go to live my dreams? As far as I have to!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Day in Athens

Ok, so I promised to tell you how I spent the day in Athens. So here it is.

Anyone who has traveled to Greece will understand when I use the term "Greek Time". For those of you that are unfamiliar with this, the concept of "Greek Time" is this: things kind of run at their own pace in Greece . . .time tables are often rough guides for when transportation arrives and leaves. The pace is very relaxed. Meals are often much later than most North Americans are used to--and as a result if you are the type to want to start your day with a hearty breakfast you may have difficulty in finding much more than coffee or tea and bread. Sometimes you may find some cheese and olives and even some Greek style yogurt with honey on offer. For me, not being a big eater in the morning worked out well and I started my first day in Athens with a coffee and bread with jam and cheese overlooking the Acropolis from my hotel's rooftop garden. The Hotel Adonis has a great location in the Plaka (Athen's old town) at the foot of the Acropolis. The hotel is simple but excellently located and fairly priced. I found it listed in Lonely Planet. I also stayed in the Hotel Hermes, which is just blocks away and much more upscale.

After breakfast I wandered through the Plaka, map safely tucked away in a small bag. In time I found myself at the very foot of the path leading up to the ruins of the Acropolis--it was a Sunday morning in November and my lucky day--free admission. It was cool outside but still warm enough to make the trek up without a jacket. Though there were many other things I wanted to see that day I was in no hurry. I had waited years to see this place and would savor the trip up. I was not disappointed. The path was relatively empty on the way up but there were others enjoying the view from the top. The ruins are formidable, and it is difficult to comprehend the skill it would have taken to build this place. Seeing the Theatre of Dionysus was a highlight for me as well. In university I studied both classics and drama. I directed a production of Aristophanes' Lysistrata in my 4th year and it was amazing to see a place where this same play might have once been performed. This was an amazing start to an amazing trip--I did make a couple of mistakes however. I forgot to bring two things--water and spare batteries for my camera! There is a small stand near the visitors facilities that had water available but it seemed overpriced and I did not find batteries until I returned to the plaka! As a result I did miss out on some great photo ops.

I spent the remainder of my day doing a number of things, visiting the Archaeological Museuem (also free entry that day!), wandering through the ancient agora, taking the Metro, watching the changing of the guard at Syntagma Square, enjoying the flora and fauna of the nearby gardens, checking out the wares of the shops in the plaka and enjoying a freshly made spanakopita for a light lunch. Other things to do if you find yourself in Athens--well, there are loads of museums, including the new Acropolis museum which has opened since my last visit, there is some great shopping including the flea market in the Monastiraki area, and just enjoying the food on offer. There is so much more I could tell you but I will save it for another post on another day! If you are inspired and want to visit but have questions please feel free to post or email me! Happy traveling!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shameless Self Promotion . . .

So I have fallen off the blogging bandwagon this last month as I have been working on some other projects--an article and a video. The video has just been posted for your perusal!


My friend Alesha and I have been friends since we were in junior high school and have always wanted to plan a trip together. It has yet to work out but we decided to take a crack at winning one! Check out our video here

Help send us on our way with your votes! And for voting you can win a $500 travel voucher from Air Canada! You can vote for up to 3 videos a day. Check it out and enjoy! Thanks to all of you who cast your vote! This contest is sponsored by several companies including Air Canada, Intrepid Travel and Flight Centre.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Distractions, distractions . . .

So this week I was planning on telling you all a bit more about what I enjoyed in Athens but I am afraid it will have to wait just a bit longer. I ran across a call for submissions yesterday for travel stories involving food. I think I might just have a story for it. So I am going to take a crack at it. May as well have fun with it anyways. I will let you know how it goes and if nothing happens with it, I'll share it with you all here.

I have also recently run across a couple of contests I am considering entering--they are travel related as well if you had not guessed. My aim is to both write my article and plan my entries for one (if not both) of the contests this week. So we will see what comes--my horoscope suggests good things! Seriously though no one else can do this for me so why not take a chance. I've got nothing to lose! Updates soon!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

It's All Greek to me . . .

So far of all the places I have traveled my absolute favorite place is Greece. My love affair with all things (or at least many things) Greek began way back in Grade 5 when my teacher told our class the story of the Odyssey. It continued over the years as I discovered the mythology and the food. By the time I was university I was hooked. I very nearly took a minor in Classics and one of my first year courses was an Introduction to Archaeology. It was a large class in a huge lecture hall and was taught with lectures and slides. The first month of the course or so, one of the professors showed us slides of her trip to Greece. Some of these were at the dig site she was at but not all of them were. I fell hard. The photographs were stunning and only intensified my wanting to visit.

It wasn't until 2007 though that I first managed to visit. I traveled on my own and spent a couple of days solo in Athens before joining a group to take a four day cruise through the islands. If you ever visit Athens you will likely discover one of two things. You will either love it or you will hate it. I loved it. The streets are chaotic, red lights don't necessarily mean stop and there is no pedestrian right of way. For an English speaker the language is strange--but don't fret, street signs in heavily touristed areas are transliterated from Greek into English. Learning a few words of the language will earn you smiles from the locals. And thanks to the Metro, built before the Athens Olympics, most of the city is very easy to navigate. The Metro is a work of art in itself and is clean and easy to use. Many places in the city you can walk to, especially in the streets of the Plaka which are narrow, winding and not really built for cars--you will see many a moped zipping down these streets though so keep your eyes open. A map, may be helpful for you to help navigate in this older part of town.

Before you go, do your research! There are loads of great resources out there that can be of great help to plan your trip, online and otherwise. My favorite is is Matt Barrett's travel guide to Athens which you can find at He's got tips on everything including how to get there, and get around, what to do, what to see and what eat (and how to pronounce it too!). Lonely Planet's guides were helpful as well. If you are traveling on a budget check out hostel reviews for cheap sleeps and other money saving tips.

Are you inspired or intrigued yet? I hope so! Next week, more on Athens. My favorite places to see, things to eat and a couple of neat places to sleep! Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dreams of my Nation

One goal in a hockey game made the dreams of my nation come true.

One medal made Olympic history for us. And we as a nation are changed forever.

When these games began over two weeks ago the focus was on the Own the Podium program, and the medal count. When they ended tonight however the focus had changed. The program was a success but not in the way we had planned. While Canada did not lead the medal count in the end they triumphed in other ways. The performance of our athletes and Vancouver as the host city for these games did our country proud. I cannot express what these games have made me feel but in many ways it was not an experience I was prepared for. I did however read a blog today that said what I would like to be able to say entitled, "The Games That Changed A Nation." I couldn't say it any better. Dreams are not realized without some loss and some heartache and our athletes won a hard fought contest. They have proven both to us and the rest of the world that they can stand among giants on the world stage and not only compete, but win.

Some of you may be wondering why I am writing about the Olympics since this is in fact meant to be a travel blog. This is why. Every two years the world comes together in a new place in the world to experience the games. Competitors from all over come for the games as well as the party. But friends and family and other supporters who might never travel to some of the places the games are being held travel for that reason. And I am sure many of them are inspired. They visit one city in a country they never planned to travel to and catch that travel bug. And left behind after the games is each city's Olympic legacy. Just another reason to visit. So wherever you are, whoever you are, I hope you are inspired to share a little piece of your nation with the world. I am proud of my nation--I hope that you are too. So catch that travel bug and get out and explore the world!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I'm not much of a sports fan but . . .

I'll be the first to admit I am not much of a sports fan. And I'd be willing to bet that there are many more Canadians just like me that are finding themselves caught up in the Olympic Machine. As a young country and a premiere travel destination for those who love winter sports Canada has a lot to prove. The host country for this Olympic games wants to "Own the Podium" by winning more medals than any other country at their own games. In the first ten days of competition we have yet to do so but can now boast winning Olympic gold on home soil and a total of eight medals that are mostly silver and gold. The program to support our athletes has been called un-Canadian by detractors but it's aim to allow our athletes to be able to do their very best by supporting their efforts. While as a nation we are apologetic and self-effacing (and often known best for what we are not, that is to say American) we are also a country of pioneers whose initial race was for the ultimate prize--survival. The stakes may no longer be as high but to win is an integral part of the indomitable Canadian spirit.

Our athletes, like everyone else want to win. And when our hopes are pinned on them they carry the heavy burden gracefully. And perhaps we are becoming more like our cousins to the south--when they win there is certainly more flag waving than most of us have ever seen (and even a little exuberant jumping up and down) but when they lose, many are doing so tearfully and giving apologies to a country they feel they have let down. To all our athletes, if you have represented Canada fairly and with good sportsmanship and given it your all, guess what? We love you! Whether you come in first or last it does not matter because you are still our best and brightest when it comes to your sport. No apology is required. I am only one person and I was not born an athlete but I believe in YOU.

Like I said before I am not much of a sports fan. Most of the time my attention would diverted to books, art, or anything else. But the Olympics make everything different. They allow us to become caught up in sports we barely understand and dreams we never before shared. And I know I am not alone in this. Canadians around the country and around the world are being unified through these games. And we are pulling together to stand behind our athletes. I know the national pride in Vancouver is electric right now. I hear tell though the news of people breaking into spontaneous renditions of O Canada, and playing hockey in the streets and see everyone wearing our national colours on TV. The streets are full of my proud countrymen (and women). I wish I were there but since I can't be I will cheer on our athletes from afar and keep myself and those around me posted through the Olympic coverage on TV and the internet. Tonight our team plays Canada's game. And tonight I will be watching! And hoping, and wishing and dreaming that we might just own the podium! Go Canada!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

We are more. Canada welcomes the world!

I unexpectedly found myself watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics Games in Vancouver last night. What an amazing spectacle! We sure put on a show. It certainly made my heart swell with a bit of national pride. While I can't say I loved all of the artistic elements overall I thought this was very well done and the VANOC did a very good job of representing Canada and Canadians. The participants in the ceremony read like a laundry list of who's who in Canadian athletes and artists. We were treated to appearances and performances by Bryan Adams, Donald Sutherland, K.D. Lang, Rick Hansen and Wayne Gretzky just to name a few. It is easy to forget that we have so much homegrown talent in this country when like the rest of the world we are so overwhelmed by the American media. But talent we have in spades.

As Canadians we are often asked what defines Canada. The poet Shane Coyczan couldn't have said it better than in his poem "We are More." He shared his poem by performing it at the ceremony last night. For me, this expression of Canada was the highlight of the ceremony. If you want to read the poem you can do so here. The event concluded with our own "Great One", Wayne Gretzky, lighting the Olympic Cauldron. Sadly the festivities were overshadowed by the death of a young luger from Georgia earlier in the day. Tribute was paid to him during the ceremony was done with grace in several ways including a minute of silence in his memory. His team stays on carrying his Olympic dream with them. I salute them for this.

It's been several years since I have had the pleasure to visit Vancouver. It's a vibrant city with much to see and do. But for the next twelve days or so it is the Olympic city that welcomes the world! So welcome, enjoy and if you have never visited I hope that seeing these games will inspire you to visit!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Feeding the bug without leaving home

I've only been back in Canada for a few months and I am ready to go again. There is just so much of the world still to see! Right now though, I am not in any position to do any globe trotting. I need to stay in one place for a while. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't rather be traveling--given the option I wouldn't stop. Once I find a way to travel more than I am at home and still have a steady income I will be doing just that. In the meantime however I have to find other ways to feed my travel bug. This is what I am doing to keep it happy:

1. talk to everyone and anyone about travel, where they have been, where you have been, what they loved and hated about being away, sometimes living vicariously through others is the best way to deal
2. research and plan for the next trip (or trips)-this means there is still light at the end of the tunnel, it is a goal you are working towards
3. be an armchair traveler by reading books-those about travel and even fiction set in the exotic or even familiar locales that you would like to be in
4. watch a movie or three set somewhere you see yourself visiting in the future
5. visit your favorite ethnic restaurant and explore the food of somewhere you have visited or hope to, Greek food anyone?
6. go exploring in your own backyard--you would visit museums and markets and other new places when you visit a new city, so why do not do the same at home
7. writing about your experiences, both the ones you've had and the one's you hope to have, hopefully you will inspire someone else to do the same!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I hope it's still there when I get the chance to visit . . .

One of the places I have been hoping to get to (but likely won't for a couple of more years) is the site of Machu Picchu in Peru. Sadly, this destination has been in the news recently due to heavy rainfall and flooding which has been the cause of mudslides in the area. The disaster had stranded many tourists in the area after affecting both the famous Inca Trail and the railway used by visitors that choose not to brave the 4 day hike. As well lives were lost in the mudslides as well. Just recently those stranded were evacuated by helicopter and are beginning to make their way home.

So far reports are promising that the ancient site has survived Mother Nature's worst and still stands intact. The Peruvian government has said that the railway will be restored as well in due time. So my dream to visit this ancient wonder is not dead yet.

For those who aren't familiar with the ruins, the site of Machu Picchu was built by the Inca in around 1450 AD which was at the height of the Inca Empire. The name means "old peak" By the time the Spanish arrived in the area just over 100 years later the site was already abandoned. Machu Picchu is often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas" and was rediscovered by the outside world in 1911 when Hiram Bingham, an American historian, found the site with the help of the local people. Since then, the "old peak" has become a major tourist destination. If you want to learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site click here.

So in the meantime, I am trying to shape up for the 4 day hike I will have ahead of me when I do make it to Peru--if the Inca Trail is open then I intend to walk in the footsteps of the ancients to make my way to the city in the clouds.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Year ago today I was in . . .Madrid!

This time last year I was in Madrid, the capital of Spain. Previously having only been to Barcelona I was in for a treat between the food, the sights and the art! It was a very short trip but it made an impression on me nonetheless.

I really liked this city, although I must admit being in the middle of Spain it is still quite cold in January. The picture you see of me here was taken by yours truly at the top of the Alcazar in Segovia, Spain which is just a short train trip outside of the capital. As elsewhere in Europe if you want to take a day trip and don't have access to a private car, taking the train is the way to go. Madrid is served by two train stations. Once you figure out where you would like to go, visit the tourist information office and they will happily point you in the right direction. The train is also very cost effective. If you decide to go to Segovia and want to go to the Alcazar there are public buses which I suggest. It would be a rather long walk.

Other things to see in Segovia include the stunning Cathedral and the Roman Aqueduct which can been as you come into the town. It's amazing now and hard to believe that it was constructed during the Roman Empire. Today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site. What I really went to Segovia to see was the Alcazar. The Alcazar (which is an Arabic word for a castle or fortress) in Segovia has been a royal residence, a prison, and even a military academy. Today it is more of a museum and a beautiful one at that. There are suits of armor, stained glass, paintings and even a tower you can climb for a few extra Euros. If you don't mind a cramped staircase (it's the same way up and down) and a bit of a climb the view is superb.

Another good day trip from Madrid is out to El Escorial. El Escorial is located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Take the train here as well. From the station the monastery is good walk away, however it is uphill. The site, like the Aqueduct in Segovia is an UNESCO world heritage site. It has been a royal palace, a monastery and a museum as well. It is also the resting place of Spanish monarchy and their families. If you decide to visit the only way to see the crypts is either by talking a guided tour or by paying for the audio guide. Do it if you are even slightly interested. If you are ready for lunch when you are done, and it is midday try one of the local restaurants menu del dia (or menu of the day). You'll get a 3 course meal with some sort of a beverage for a set reasonable price.

When you get back to the city, Madrid has amazing art museums on offer, great food and much more. The big three museums are the Thyssen, the Prado and the Reina Sofia. I made it to two of the 3. The Prado museum houses a great variety of works including the Spanish masters. If you are a Goya fan and only have time to see one museum go here. If you are a Picasso fan on the other hand and want to see Guernica go to the Reina Sofia. After, wander the city in the evening, go dancing if your up for it and try out some local tapas and Spanish wine. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Excuse me, but WHERE did you say we are?!?!

As I may have mentioned previously I spent the last year living and working in the United Kingdom. While there I noticed there were a number of amusing place names. Some were good for a little giggle and some could be considered to be downright rude to an English speaker. However almost all of these strange names had a history of some sort most of which were not necessarily rude at all. Given Britain's long history the meanings of many word surely have changed since these places were christened with the names they still bear today. This got me to thinking however that North America (including Alberta, Canada where I am from) and the rest of the world has it's fair share of funny place names. North America may not have the long history that Europe does but there are definitely a few doozies. So that being said I thought that I would share some of the more interesting place names I have run across. Maybe you will be inspired to go visit yourself someday.

Some of the UK's notable names include: Pratt's Bottom, which is part of the London Borough of Bromley which likely meant a valley of a family called Pratt, North Piddle in Worcestershire, Piddle is believed to have come from the word pidele an Old English word meaning marsh, and even a place I visited briefly in Scotland named Tongue. Tongue, a small village located on the Kyle of Tongue in the North of Scotland was named by the Vikings from the Old Norse Tunga, which is a geographical for a piece of land shaped like a spit or tongue, the Kyle is pictured to the left. For more examples of some of the more interesting place names in Britain check out the article No Snickering: That Road Sign Means Something Else from the New York Times website. I ran across this article last year and it gave me a good giggle.

As I stated earlier Canada has a variety of funny place names as well, Alberta being no exception. We have Balzac, named for the French author Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). We also have Hairy Hill, just outside of Edmonton, and a Round Hill, Two Hills, even Three Hills, do you notice a theme here? Then there is Seven Persons, whose actual population is closer to 700 persons. Tomahawk, Red Deer, Cereal, Carrot Creek and Milk River could be considered unusual as well. And of course I cannot forget Vulcan which may make you first think of Star Trek, however the town is believed to have been named by a railway surveyor after the mythological Roman God. Vulcan was the highest point of elevation of the railway in the prairies. I may have to make a visit to one these places this year.

Other Canadian notables (many of which are far worse than the Alberta mentions) include: Conception Bay and Dildo, Newfoundland; Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia; Ball's Falls and Sucker Creek in Ontario; Nonsuch and Flin Flon in Manitoba; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; and even Spuzzum, British Columbia. Spuzzum, is near to the community of Hope, BC. As such, Spuzzum has been referred to being "beyond Hope".

I could go on forever as there are funny names found all over the world but I will end with a few more notables from elsewhere in the world. So here they are. The United States boasts, Oregon, Intercourse, Penn., French Lick, Indiana and Slaughter, Texas to name a few. Australia boasts, Tittybong and Mount Buggery in Victoria, Devil's Marbles in the Northern Territory and even Manly and Bong Bong in New South Wales.

But the one to take the cake is this, Fucking, Austria. Yes, you read that correctly. In German the pronunciation would be "fooking". The village is believed to have been founded in the 6th century by a nobleman called Focko, hence the name means the place of Focko's people. Unfortunately due to the English connotation of the name the community until recently had a bit of a sign stealing problem. Check out the fix they have come up with to prevent the problem here.

Hope you got a bit of a giggle out of this and that maybe you are inspired to find out what is behind your town's name and maybe even to visit one of these!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vacation is over . . .but a new year brings new adventures

Well adventures may not be the correct word for it but our Christmas vacation is over and that means back to work, school or whatever! The time off is never long enough. All the challenges of the new year loom--the resolutions you made and have already broken, the Christmas bills arriving in your mailbox in January and for me the prospect of a new job (or maybe even career). We will see how it goes, but I think things are starting off well. For the next while I may only be an armchair traveler.

As for our first ever poll entitled "Where would you spend your Christmas vacation given the choice?" the results were fairly evenly split. Here they are:

33% of you would choose to stay at home with friends and family
22% would join me on that beach in Mexico
0% want to spend Christmas with faraway friends and relations and
44% would love to be exploring somewhere new

As for me, the Mexican beach option is great affordable choice for those in North America and it would also fulfill option number 4 as being somewhere new, but it wouldn't be my choice every year--it would be fun to do it once though. I would definitely vote for exploring somewhere new! Thanks to all nine of you who voted ;)

The possibilities are endless and I hope you all find yourself somewhere exciting in the year to come! Happy travels!
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