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

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 Mehmet├žik 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!
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