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Marvellous Maui

This past August I traveled to the beautiful island of Maui with my Dad and sister to stay in a lovely condo right on the beach in Maalaea. This trip was special because the last time we visited Hawaii I was eight years old and we were now returning and staying in this exact same unit and the exact same location as we did in the 1990’s.

The trip was a great refresh and gave me time to recollect myself and take a pause from my worries. I had so many wonderful adventures during my week in Maui that it is hard to compile them all into one post so here are my top 5.

 

Eat at Beach Bums

 

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Maalaea lies on the North West side of the island of Maui and is conveniently located between the hopping Kihei and Kaanapali tourist areas.

The region is home to one of the windiest harbours in the world, from which you can charter boats and take group tours to neighbouring craters and local hot spots such as Turtle Bay. The harbour is also home to a yummy and funky breakfast spot called Beach Bums. The restaurant/bar serves great American breakfasts and is known for its happy hours and island famous bbq.

Many restaurants in Maui are decorated with the license plates of visitors and Beach Bums is no exception. As you sit at your table all around you you can see fun and funky signs from places near and far. We were lucky enough to spot more than a handful of Canadian plates from provinces ranging from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

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Support the Pacific Whale Foundation

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Do your part for the planet and our oceans while also having a ton of fun. The Pacific Whale Foundation protects the worlds oceans through science and advocacy, and one of their great services is the Eco Adventures.

We chose the Molokini and Turtle Arches snorkelling trip. This day long tour takes you out to Molokini Crater to swim with over 250 species of friendly tropical fish. If you are calm and stay perfectly still, just floating away your cares, the braver fish will swim right up to your face and look you right in the eyes!

After the crater the boat takes you off to Turtle Arches, known for being a home to Hawaii’s Green Sea Turtles. At the arches, if you are lucky, you will spot some of these beautiful giant amniotes and get a chance to swim with them amongst the coral. You might even get a picture or to, as the foundation rents out GoPros!

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Visit the Garden of Eden

IMG_4892A must do while on the island of Maui is to drive at least part of the road to Hana. If you don’t have time to drive the full length of the curvy island highway then block off a half a day and make your way out to The Garden of Eden, Maui’s arboretum and botanical garden.  There are many great stops along the way, such as raging mini waterfalls at Twin Falls, but the highlight of this drive is the garden.

The lush garden escape has many things it could boast about but a key attraction is its views of the ocean. One most notable view is the Keopuka rock overlook, the view from this overlook may be recognizable to many as it is featured in the opening scene of the original Jurassic Park movie.

IMG_4891Catch a wave with Maui Surfer Girls

 

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I love a good female run business and Maui Surfer Girls did not let me down! The female lead surf lessons were informative and so fun.

My Dad and sister were great sports and decided to join me on there waves for their very first surf lessons. We met our instructor down on Launlupoko Beach Park. Maui has many small beach pullover type parks along its waterfront. You can pull over off the highway and set up a tent or hop out and surf in any of these parks no problem. The design reminded me of our provincial parks here in British Columbia.

The beach park our surf instructor had picked was great for beginners because the surf was quite calm, the waves were predictable and the beach had coral bottoms. I learned that unlike in Tofino, where the beach is sand bottomed, the coral creates channels which, for me anyway, made it much easier to surf. Instead of being hit by a wave every 10 secs I had the time to pick my wave in peace and was up on my board on my first wave! Throughout our two hours on the water I only fell once, a marked improvement from my Tofino surfing where it was more common to find me under my board than on top of it. Dad and Alice did awesome too! We learned a new pop up technique that utilized your back knee and we all managed to catch a few waves and even take in a view or too while we rode our waves. I can totally see why people get really into this sport and the peace that it can bring them. I can’t wait to surf again soon.

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Visit Haleakala National Park

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Possibly one of the most unique national parks I have ever visited in North America, Haleakala National Park is famous for its sunrise views, but be warned due popularity you now need to visit the parks website and make a reservation in order to drive up for the sunrise views.

The major attraction at the park is the Haleakala crater. At an elevation of approximately 3,000 meters above sea level the crater will literally take your breathe away through a combination of high elevation and above the clouds views.

Many native species live on the volcanic mass but the most impressive is the Ahinahina or Haleakala Silversword. This beautiful silver plant, that looks much like a spiked alien is only found at this one location and lives about 50 years, blooms once and then dies. When in bloom the Silversword turns a beautiful purple, red or yellow colour and is a must see when exploring the crater.

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Visiting Maui again was a real treat and to be able to share the experience with my Dad and sister made it even more fun. I can’t wait to hopefully go back next summer and have my Mom join us on our adventures.

 

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California Dreaming: Day 3

Father’s Day marked my last day in California. To start off the sunny Sunday we woke up early and booked a private Uber to take us to Haight-Ashbury. I was very excited to visit the district because of the study I had done about the Summer of Love and the influence of the Haight in my undergrad History of Rock and Roll class. The course had been one of my favourite during my four years as an Undergraduate and had a lasting impact on me.

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Arriving in the Haight on this super hot  Sunday I was struck by all the colours of the place. I love colour and the more vibrant the better, so this area immediately made me smile. Before leaving Victoria I had been warned that the Haight was no longer the independent space it once was had had been gentrified. At the end of our stroll there was a rather nice Whole Foods and the area reminded me a lot of trendy villages back home but it was still pretty wonderful.

img_3322Along Haight Street there were shops where you could buy all the tie dye your heart desired, as well as marijuana paraphernalia and stores where you could stock up on Summer of Love memorabilia. A full throwback to the sixties. There were hints of the counter culture, free speech, free love hub the area once was. My favourite were the multi coloured rainbow walls and murals you could find along the sides of buildings and down alleyways. The fact that June is also Pride month in San Francisco helped to add even more rainbow to the sights.

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San Francisco seems to have quite a few shops that just sell socks and one store in the Haight stuck out for this reason. As we headed to see the famous Painted Ladies we popped into a retailer who exclusively sold unique socks and proudly displayed an array of PRIDE socks. They also had some very impressive diorama hanging from the ceiling with notable gay, lesbian and trans gender icons like Harvey Milk and Janet Mock.

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Almo Square Park is a beautiful small and slightly hilly green space located across from the Painted Ladies. The beautiful Victorian houses are a sight to behold. I grew up living in heritage houses and have a deep appreciation for Victorian architecture so viewing these houses, which are so clearly loved, cared for and well maintained was a treat.

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Most tourists will view the houses from across the street on top of the little hills in the park but I couldn’t help myself. I had to be closer to these wonderful structures and left the park to take photos up close. The result was a different perspective than you usually get on the Painted Ladies and I was quite happy with how my photos came out.

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After the beautiful Painted Ladies it was off to Union Square, one  of the largest shopping districts in America and a historic Californian landmark. The square was built in 1850 and was the gathering place for pro-Union demonstrations right before the American Civil War. You can get everything and anything in and around Union Square from high quality designer brands to department store finds. The technology giant Apple also hosts their flagship store there. The wonderful multimillionaire dollar open air two story structure that hosts interesting activities, such as workshops to learn how to use the photo settings on your iPhone by being a part of a photo walk around San Francisco’s most iconic areas and structures.

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My favourite part of Union Square was the heart art installations, you could pose with the hearts and these art structures were a nice play on leaving your heart in San Francisco. The installations in Union Square are beautiful and each one is a bit different. One of my favourite hearts had the Golden Gate bridge skyline juxtaposed on its belly.

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The department stores that line Union Square have unique qualities to them. My favourite was Neiman Marcus, the retail giant has a restaurant on its top floor with the most beautiful stained glass ceiling, designed by Louis Vuitton. The glass is beautiful shades of golds and yellow and standing in the entrance surrounded by makeup displays you can look up and take in the sun streaming in the glass through the ceiling.

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A true highlight of my trip was the discovery that The Cheesecake factory is not just a figment of the creative imaginations of The Big Bang Theory writing team but an actual established American chain of restaurants. This discovery gave me the chance to experience eating true American food.

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Eating at The Cheesecake Factory is an experience in itself. The menu is almost like a mini binder, compromising about 22 pages and including any type of food you could imagine. The thing that really struck me was the amount of calories in the meals! Even in the skinny menu you would be hard-pressed to find anything under 560 calories, with the average meal running you about 1000 calories!

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Our waitress was wonderful and very friendly, she walked me through the menu and helped me figure out how to navigate all the options. In the end I opted for the chicken and biscuits, both Nell and her roommate had informed me the day before that if I wanted to experience true American food I had to try biscuits. The plate my meal came on was about a metre long, which explained the 1950 calorie count, but it was very very yummy. I would definitely indulge in a biscuit again as they were so soft, warm, buttery and fluffy. For dessert I had to try The Cheesecake Factory’s original New York style cheesecake. Although I could only eat half of it, I still enjoyed it. I hadn’t had cheesecake in forever and this super sized slice really hit the spot.

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After the large but yummy lunch and with very fully bellies we headed back down to Union Square to catch a classic San Franciscan cable car. The cable cars are now very much a tourist attraction, there are no transfers and a one way ride will cost you $7, but they are so worth it! These old wooden cars weave around the steep San Francisco streets with a few lurches and bumps that test your core stability and balance. If you are truly brave you can hang off the side of one of the cable cars, holding the hand rails like a seasoned commuters. I opted to stand inside the car and hold on to one of the leather straps. Being positioned in the middle of the car was ideal because from this vantage point you have a clear view of the conductor and the assistant at the front and back of the car.

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Once safely parked at Fisherman’s Wharf we disembarked the street car and headed off to The Musée Mécanique, the antique games arcade where most games cost you a very reasonable 25 cents. If you are a huge Princess Diaries fan, the way I am, you will remember this arcade from Mia and Queen Clarisse’s day exploring San Francisco. Nell was a great sport and helped me recreate some of favourite scene at the arcade, even though she hadn’t seen the movie. We posed for photos in the Black and White photobooth and challenged the surprisingly strong strong man to arm wrestling matches. We also got sorted by the Harry Potter sorting hat and received pretty accurate fortunes. It was lots of cheap fun and I would recommend the arcade to any traveller to San Francisco’s Pier.

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Another must do when down at The Pier is to go view the Cable car turnaround. Here the conductors have to get out and manually turn the antique cars to get them positioned to take travellers back up the hill away from the wharf. A travel tip here is to never wait at the turn around for your cable car, as you could wait for up to two hours on a busy day at this spot. Instead walk up one block and jump on the car there, there won’t be nearly as big of a line and you will be able to get on your way much quicker.

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Nell’s lovely roommate wanted to take me for some southern food and so after the the cable car turnaround it was off by private Uber back to Downtown Berkeley to dine at Angeline’s Southern Kitchen. At Angeline’s I got to have some authentic Louisianan style gumbo and finally try beignets. The square puff pastries dusted with icing sugar were light and fluffy sweet pieces of joy and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to eat these little donut like puffs again. I may even look up the recipe and try making them myself one day.

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After dinner I got to have another first time American experience, visiting Trader Joe’s. I had always heard about the retailer and have many friends who bring back shampoos and goods from the shop when they go on weekend shopping trips to the States. In this particular shop I had the experience of buying the cheapest bottle of wine I had ever purchased in my life. Now I have a bit of a reputation for drinking wines in a range of prices and types from cheap to moderately expensive, bu mostly cheap. I have been known to drink wine out of a box, out of a can, in a prepackaged cup and now I have purchased a blend of California grapes from the Napa Valley and Sonoma for the fantastic price of $3.27! Nell and her roommate Connor were skeptical that I would a) drink this cheap concoction and b) not get sick from it, but you best believe I drank it! Not the whole bottle, mind you, but a few glasses and it wasn’t bad, dry with a smooth finish.

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Day three marked my last night in San Francisco and we celebrated by showing Nell my favourite movie, The Princess Diaries. It was really cool to watch this movie, that I have seen a million times, while in San Francisco and to be able to say I had seen and been to many of the landmarks I can now recognize in the shots. Although it was a short trip, I really enjoyed my time in California and can’t wait to go back one day.

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California Dreaming: Day 2

When I was getting ready to travel to San Francisco I couldn’t stop singing the theme song from the early 2000’s teen sitcom The OC, California by Phantom Planet.

As a teenager one of my favourite shows was The OC. I was in love with Adam Brody and wanted nothing more than to move to America and experience the California lifestyle. In a way travelling to San Francisco brought back all that excitement for me. In the days leading up to my trip I danced in and out of various departments at work singing California and dancing.

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Once in California the soundtrack of my trip was very Summer of Love, which was fitting as this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. As my plane landed at the San Francisco International Airport I had Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin playing in my earphones and I was humming along while I looked out my window at the California hills.

On this second day in California it should come as no surprise that I woke up and the soundtrack to my day was California Dreaming by the Mamas and the Papas. As I explored San Francisco with Nell I was humming the tune in my head.

Travelling by BART again we headed down to San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum to pick up the Hop on Hop off bus, one of my favourite ways to get introduced to a new city. The Hop on Hop off bus took us through San Francisco’s downtown core, showing us the major sites like Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach (Columbus at Lombard), the Transamerica Pyramid and Fisherman’s Wharf.

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In the morning the big red double decker bus dropped us off at Fisherman’s Wharf where we visited the famous Boudin Bakery, home of the Original San Francisco sourdough. Boudin is a must visit when travelling to The City by the Bay. The bakery is proud to be the city’s oldest continuously operating business and has been baking its famous sourdough since 1849.

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I am a huge sourdough bread fan and so Boudin was high on my must do list. I happily ate a big serving of clam chowder served in a bowl made of sourdough bread, with a half sourdough bread turkey and havarti sandwich on the side just to get as much bread in as possible! The soup was some of the best I had ever tasted and the bread was baked just right. Both Nell and I were very impressed by all the shapes you could buy the sourdough in: crabs, peace signs and teddy bears were some of the highlights.

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With full bellies we wandered The Pier. Built between August 1977 and October 1978 Pier 39 features authentic 1910 wood re-purposed from Piers 34 and 3. The Pier is a hub of tourist activity and walking it is a bit like walking in Disneyland. You can eat on The Pier, shop and visit many, many attractions. It is easy to lose hours here due to sensory overload.

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A highlight a visit to The Pier is the California Sea Lions. These huge creatures like to swim and sun on the K-Dock and are VERY LOUD. They bark and bark as they flop one on top of the other to sun themselves. You can’t help but feel bad for the smaller sea lions who find themselves on the bottom of a pile of four or five much larger sea mammals. Overall California’s sea lions reminded me a bit of dogs overheating in the sun, shaking their pelts to dry off and scratching their ears with their flippers.

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After a few hours exploring the Pier it was back on the Hop on Hop off bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. Our guide on the bus told us that the walk across the bridge takes 30 mins each way, so we thought no problem one hour and we will be done. Well we couldn’t have been more wrong!

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The bridge is an experience in itself and you will want to budget plenty of time to take in the views, especially if there isn’t any fog in sight. A rare but beautiful event, a fog free Golden Gate Bridge boasts views of the entire bay as well as the sail boats and wind surfers below. If you are as lucky as Nell and I were there will even be pods of whales frolicking under the bridge. With all the sights there are to see this windy walk can take you 2 hours or more!

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After walking the bridge we caught an Uber from a lovely retiree named Rosie. She had moved to California from a cold and rainy part of the US based on the urging of her son she moved to California to live out her retirement in heat and warmth. Rosie was great! She told us the best place to get gelato sundaes, Ghirardelli’s at The Pier, and chatted with us about the soul boosting benefits of sunshine. Needless to say it was a fun ride and Rosie got a five start Uber rating.

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Rosie dropped us off at the main gates of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Before I left for San Francisco I had heard about the area being the oldest Chinatown in North America but it is also the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia!

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Walking into Chinatown is a bit like being transported to Asia. Yummy barbecued ducks hang on hooks in restaurant windows and you can stop by a bakery to pick up a yummy BBQ pork bun to fuel your journey. We missed the prime time for Dim Sum but I have heard only good things.

Towards the end of Chinatown if you are lucky you will encounter Jack Kerouac alleyway, leading you into the Italian district known as North Beach, the alleyway features wonderful street art from wall to wall.

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Once you leave the alley and find yourself in North Beach look to your left and walk into City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. The independent bookshop was the first all-paperback bookstore in America and boasts an extensive socially conscious, political collection of books. There is so much choice in this shop from poetry to books on America’s current political climate, a small but interesting place to check out when in San Francisco.

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From the bookshop it was time to eat! We headed to one of North Beaches many Italian restaurants for a quick bite and some drinks. With full tummies we headed off to the Beach Blanket Babylon, the musical review known for its big, big hats.

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The show is a spoof on the story of Snow White and her search for love. During this musical comedy Snow White travels all around the world meeting colourful and notable figures in her search for love. During the play she meets such controversial characters as Putin, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. She also meets notable icons of pop culture like Madonna and Oprah. The show is full of laughs and clever word play. Known as the longest running musical review in live theatre history the Beach Blanket Babylon is a must see. The hats and wigs are bigger than anything you have ever seen before and the adult orientated theatre offers table service, so you can have some great treats and enjoy a good glass of wine while you watch.

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After the show we walked up to Coit Tower, which I had read gives you wonderful views of the city of San Francisco. The tower was illuminated in glowing blue tones and looked lovely in contrast to the dark night skies.

From the foot of the tower you could stand and look out on the city taking in views of the Bay Lights, the nighttime light show by artist Leo Villareal, and look out at the steep streets of San Francisco below. Then it was off back into the city and to the BART to head home and rest to prepare for day three.

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A great piece of San Francisco’s street art that I stumbled upon on my way home.

 

Travel · Travel America

California Dreaming: Day 1

UC Berkeley, Downtown Berkeley and hiking the Berkeley Hills

My trip to California was lovely. I was greeted by a heat wave and lots and lots of sun. Temperatures reached 33 degrees celsius and there wasn’t a hint of fog, even when I crossed the famous Golden Gate Bridge which is know for it’s foggy weather.

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I arrived in San Francisco around 10 am and immediately changed into a tank top. It was 21C and sunny! I was almost euphoric, having left rainy Victoria weather behind. Smiling and warm I headed off to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system to head to Downtown Berkeley, where my friend Nell was kindly hosting me.

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Nell met me at the subway station in Downtown Berkeley and it was wonderful to see her. I hadn’t seen her since I was studying in London, England about three years ago. From the BART station we walked down to Nell’s apartment, a lovely walk up with a real California feel. The home featured elements created using reclaimed Volkswagen Van parts and had a sky light and lots of natural lighting, you couldn’t help but smile and feel like you were really California dreaming.

 

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After a quick tour it was off up the road to a local Japanese restaurant where I had some of the best gyoza I had ever tasted, presented as an entree this meal hit the spot for the great price of $7 USD.

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Next was a trip to the famous UC Berkeley. On the way to campus we passed a Ben and Jerry’s where I had to stop and get a scoop of non-diary Caramel swirl vanilla pecan ice cream. You can’t get Ben and Jerry’s by the scoop in Victoria and it’s super hard to find non-diary ice cream outside the super market, so I was in heaven.

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Berkeley, home of the golden bears, is large and very aesthetically pleasing with lots of green space. Nell showed me some of the most famous elements of campus and some of the student haunts. My favourite was the great green space in front of the library called Memorial Glade where students set up hammocks in the afternoon, to study and relax.

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The campus has a HUGE Amazon shop, where you can pick up packages and have things shipped from Amazon. It was cool to see how popular the online retailer was in the US, as it hasn’t had the same kind of success in Canada but you hear it is major. The shop was located in the student union building, which is named after Martin Luther King Jr. MLK stickers and signage can be seen all over the City of Berkeley and the UC Berkeley campus, there is even a main street named after the famous civil rights leader.

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After checking out the campus and the cool Californian shops near by it was off to grab some of the famous sourdough bread at Berkeley’s noted bakery and cafe The Cheeseboard. The shop has a huge array of cheeses and breads to choose from. I was impressed with the price and size of the loaves. $3.10 could get you a massive loaf of bread, a great treat when travelling a new city by foot.

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A highlight of Berkeley for me was how it lived up to its hippy, liberal west coast reputation. There were public chalk boards outside religious centres where people wrote notes of positivity and encouragement to help you along your day. The Toyota Prius was everywhere and no worries at all if you were into alternative energy sources for your vehicle, as there were gas stations that supplied biofuel made from recycled vegetable oil.

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To get home and get ready for our evening hike we took an UBER, the first I had ever taken as we don’t have them out in B.C. yet. Something I had never heard of before was UBER Pool. Much like carpooling you pick up an UBER and then pick up other riders along the way to your destination. It is very cost effective and you meet some really interesting people. Throughout my whole trip we took UBER’s and I was impressed with the service and liked how you got to meet locals and learn about their experience living in the city, the way they saw the city change and what brought them there etc.

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In the evening we hiked the Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve. The hills on our hike were like no others I had ever experienced, so steep and the views were amazing! You could see the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, the Bay Area (Downtown Berkeley, Downtown Oakland and UC Berkeley) and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The trial was lined with Californian succulents and beautiful plants that could only thrive in drought. We saw bunnies and red squirrels and once again I was filled with that overwhelming feeling of joy and gratitude that I was getting to experience this wonderful place with an old friend.

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Mini Trip · Travel · Travel Canada · Travel Planning

The Packing Challenge

I did it!

I finally packed light for a trip and I will do it again.

I had planned to test my compact packing skills on my upcoming trip to San Francisco but decided to give it a shot on my mini trip to Vancouver instead.

Typically on a short trip I would pack a small suitcase and a purse, but on this trip I managed to leave my house with the backpack I usually carry on my commute to work and a purse. Everything I needed fit comfortably in these two bags and I was surprised to find myself happy and not wanting for anything during my trip.

It was a great relief not to have to struggle to balance my bags on public transit or wonder how I would go to the bathroom on the ferry and keep track of all of my things. I discovered that travelling with a small bag or carry on only really does simplify life and you don’t have to be a minimalist to pull it off.

A few tips for those attempting to pack light:

  1. Downsize your toiletries: We really don’t use as much of our toiletries as we think we do. For a few days away I found that my 3 oz travel tubes were about 3 times too big. Even when using a generous amount of product I still came home with about 2.5 oz of unused product. For my next trip I will look for even smaller containers I can travel with to save space.
  2. Limit your shoes and accessories: Do you really need 2-3 sets of earrings for a few days away? How about your shoes? I found I only needed two pair of shoes for a weekend away, one set of comfortable and versatile business casual leather sneakers and a pair of flip flops for the hotel room and pool.
  3. Don’t be afraid to repeat outfits: You are on vacation, you probably won’t see the same people each day and even if you do no one is going to judge you for having the same t shirt on for two days or only wearing one pair of shoes. Take advantage of this time to focus on things outside of your appearance and just have fun creating new memories.
  4. Have a transit outfit: Having an outfit you wear on the plane/train/ferry ride to your destination and home not only saves you space but frees up time before you go. I used to spend so much energy thinking about what I wanted to wear when I arrived and left. How would I feel that day? What would the weather be like? Now I realize it doesn’t much matter. You are probably going to change when you arrive and you will shower pretty soon after you come home. Having one outfit for transit saves you time and space.
  5. Take away the pressure: The biggest secret to remember when packing light is to cut yourself some slack. Yes you might forget something or you might feel exasperated trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind but in the end none of it really matters. You can survive on very little and as long as you have remembered key items such as your credit card and passport you are good to go. You can always pick up essentials items you forgot along the way and any outfits you forgot you will probably realize you can live without in the end.
Mini Trip · Travel · Travel Canada

The Trip of Firsts: Vancouver, Canada

Sometimes a quick trip away is just what you need to hit the refresh button. The older I get the more I enjoy a mini vacation.

Last week I travelled to Vancouver with my younger sister Alice to see John Legend perform on his Darkness and Light Tour. A short 1.5 hour ferry ride away Vancouver is the perfect city for a mini vacation.

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The trip was Alice’s first time taking public transit to Vancouver and her first time attending a concert, so we approached the trip as a sisters trip of first experiences. We would do a combination of things we loved from previous Vancouver trips and things we had always wanted to do.

Day One: Victoria to Vancouver, FlyOver Canada & John Legend concert

Leaving Victoria bright and early on the first ferry we headed to Vancouver, excited to pack in as much on our two day trip as possible.

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Our mode of transport on this trip was our feet! I love, love love to walk and am an avid Fitbit wearer averaging approximately 20,000 steps a day most weeks, so any trip will include lots of walking to collect more steps while I explore. Alice was a great sport, rising to the challenge of walking all over Vancouver with me.

Because we chose walking as our mode of transport we got to stumble upon some really great and unexpected finds, like a Salvadore Dahli melting clock! The clock surrounded by spectators caused great confusion for the homeless man on a walk near by, who Alice noted exclaimed rather incredulously “People never seen a clock before”, shooting us all a look.

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A great new Vancouver experience was the Canada FlyOver. If you haven’t had the pleasure of doing a FlyOver yourself I would recommend it. The ride is a combination of gentle flight simulation and Imax show. A highlight for me was the way the ride integrates in special effects, like scents and mist. You are fully immersed in the experience throughout your whole flight.

Our front row seats made the experience even more lifelike. The flight ended with a view of the Northern Lights that took my breathe away. I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights in person and the FlyOver made me feel like I was experiencing the real thing.

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At night we headed to Rogers Arena, home of the Vancouver Canucks, to take in the sounds and sights of John Legend on his Darkness and Light Tour. The show lived up to all the wonderful reviews and Legend’s vocals were everything you would expect. The set design was intriguing and versatile with play on light and dark, fitting for a tour called The Darkness and Light Tour.

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With a reputation for activism Legend expertly and sincerely integrated social movements into his show, such as Black Lives Matter. Even ending his concert with his hit song Glory from the movie Selma. Singing from his piano on centre stage Legend was surrounded with photos of the March on Washington, Dr Martin Luther King Jr., The Women’s March and other key civil rights moments from America’s history. The resounding message of his show being we have to love one another and continue to fight for what we believe in. Alice and I loved the show and took many a photo and video.

Day Two: Swimming, Biking Stanley Park and Shopping at Nordstroms

Our hotel included a continental breakfast with the price of our room, which helped us to get up early for breakfast and a swim, preparing us nicely for a jam packed day of exploring.

After our swim we checked out, left our backpacks with the hotel concierge and headed to our top priority activity, biking the Stanley Park seawall.  Alice was quite keen on trying out a tandem bike, but as we quickly found out tandem bikes can be tricky to balance. After a quick exchange we set off on some stylish and very comfy granny bikes.

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The ride around the perimeter of Stanley Park offers stunning views of downtown, North and South Vancouver. The ride is an easy 9 km round trip, due to the flat even nature of the paths and offers lots of convenient look out spots to grab a quick shot or take in the view. If you are really lucky, like we were, you might even see a seal or a few great blue herons.

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After biking we walked along the water in Coal Harbour up to Canada Place and headed to the Bella Gelateria, a old-world handcrafted Gelato shop next to the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. The Bella was a must do on Alice’s list and to my surprise and joy featured some lovely vegan gelato for the lactose intolerant like me.

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Next to the Bella Gelateria we found a shop simply titled G or Giovane, a cafe, eatery and market, which we discovered had lots of cute finds to window shop and admire. A highlight for me was the Push-Pop Confetti, a device that looks much like a push pop candy but instead of something sweet it contains sparkles and confetti! I was quite tempted to pick one up but decided to save a Push-Pop purchase for the next birthday or special event I attend.

Next, with our bellies full and the sweat taste of gelato on our lips we headed off to one of our favourite shops in Vancouver, Nordstroms. Just beyond the entrance doors you will find a candy lovers dream in the form of Sugarfina, a luxury candy boutique.

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A must visit whenever I go to Vancouver, Sugarfina boasts the most decadent sweets. My personal favourite, the Champagne Bears, are imported from Germany and made with Dom Pérignon Champagne with Brut and Rosé flavours. These gummy bears are exclusively found at Sugarfina and worth every penny of the $11 or so dollars you pay for a small cube. I was given my first taste a few years ago by a friend for my birthday and I have been hooked ever since!

After buying some bears to share on the ferry ride home and a yummy gift for our Dad it was off to explore the rest of the first floor, where all the best goods live (shoes, makeup, jewelry, hats, bags, candles and makeup).

Just past Sugarfina and only steps into Nordstrom’s we stumbled upon the Goop Pop-In shop. This little shop contained more than a few products that made us giggle, mostly at the price tags but also at the content.

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For the small fee of $56 dollars you could buy a Digital Detox Bath or for the seemingly more reasonable price of $28.35 you could have your own supply of Sex Dust to add to your nut milk, coffee or tea. After it was decided that neither of the above would make an appropriate gift for the Gwyneth fan in our family, our mother, we settled on the wonderfully fragrant French Girl Sea Soak. Scented with menthe and romarin, these pink and white bath salts smelt a bit like a Mediterranean heaven and were so pretty to look at.

After a fun shopping experience it was back to the SkyTrain to make our way to the ferry. A sunny ferry ride led us back through some of the iconic Pacific North West scenery that I used to take for granted but now fully appreciate.

 

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The most beautiful sites can be seen when sailing through Active Pass. An absolute favourite of mine, I found myself rushing my dinner so I could run outside with my iPhone and catch a few last shots of ocean and islands on my way back to Victoria.

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Travel Canada

The Trip of No Regrets

Dubbed the Trip of No Regrets or #SingleGirlsTraveltoBanff my May Long Weekend in Alberta was a chance for me to rediscover my love for travel and exploration with my good friend Elizabeth.

Day 1: Victoria to Calgary, Calgary to CanmoretempImageForSave 2A trip that begins with a beautiful orange sunrise, spontaneous laughter at baggage claim and the consumption of a sour cream glazed donut that may or may not have had a taken a bite taken out of it before purchase cannot be anything but fun!

After landing in Calgary in the early morning hours we grabbed our bags and headed directly to Mountain Equipment Co-op, my favourite outdoors store. We had to stock up on a few last minute outdoor essentials, like a packable puff coat and long underwear.

Once properly stocked up we hit the Trans Canada Highway to Canmore, Alberta. The views along the ride were spectacular, there was an almost unobstructed view of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and we wished we had invested in a dash cam or Go Pro to document the ride.

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Arriving in Canmore tired and more than a little hungry after a surprisingly fast car ride (only an hour and a half drive from downtown Calgary) we set about grabbing a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant. I had some of the best Alberta beef I have ever tasted that day and would quickly go back to Alberta just to eat more beef.

After our late lunch it was time to head off to explore this beautiful former mining town that had been so highly recommended. We walked the Policeman’s Creek trail, taking photos of the Three Sisters Mountains and the beautiful glacial waters and then headed back to the hostel to get ready for the next day hiking in Banff National Park.

Day Two: Banff National Park and Banff Gondola

Banff, May 2017

Banff National Park is only a 15 minute drive from the town of Canmore, but it is like entering another world, one built for tourists.

The drive into the town of Banff is much like driving a tunnel of strip malls but instead of shops you are surrounded mostly by wall to wall accommodation. Once you clear this , however, you will find yourself in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Everywhere you turn there is a new mountain range to admire. Throughout our hikes we found ourselves exclaiming “Oh my God!”, “Turn Around!” and “Wait until you see this view”. No picture could really do the Canadian Rockies justice, but we took shot after shot on our cellphones and DSLR’s in an effort to capture all the beauty that surrounded us.

Banff, May 2017

Our first day hiking did not turn out exactly as planned but we embraced the madness with enthusiasm. We started out determined to do the moderate Hoodoos trail to Surprise Corner (4.8 km one way) and then if we had the time and energy we would tackle the also moderate Tunnel Mountain Trail (2.4 km one way) before deciding what was next.

The Hoodoos Trail wasn’t marked as well as we hoped. A possible result of someone or something knocking the trail signs down half way through the route, we ended up doing the Hoodoos hike and cutting into another route before ending up at Surprise Corner.

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At the end of the trail we were greeted with wonderful views of the town of Banff and came to the realization that our car was parked on the other side of the mountain and the only way to reach it was to walk a few kilometres uphill, following the main road.

During our walk to find the car we stumbled upon the second hike on our list, Tunnel Mountain Trail. The hike is about 2 km return and the summit has an amazing viewpoint where you can see the town of Banff, Bow Valley and Mount Rundle from Parks Canada red adirondack chairs that have been placed all over the national parks in honour of Canada 150.

Banff, May 2017

In the evening we rode the Banff gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. The Sulphur Mountain Trail hike, a top priority on our list, was still closed for the season but at 5.5 kms one way, it probably would have been too much for us after a full day of hiking. The views up to the summit were spectacular, with The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, the town, as well as our hiking routes all below us.

The weather in Banff over the May long weekend was hot, hot, hot but as you traveled up the mountain there was lots of ice and snow, a wonderful contrast to the parched trails we walked earlier in the day. Again lots of photos were taken and we discovered another set of red chairs with a breathtaking view.

Day Three: Lake Louise, Castle Junction and the Banff Hot Springs

Lake Louise, May 2017

With the trip coming to a close it was time to head to the famous Lake Louise. Elizabeth wanted to see the glacial waters and I was excited to check out the Fairmont hotel, neither proved to be a disappointment.

The old Canadian Pacific Railway hotel boasted a lovely cafe, great views of the lake and wonderful archways and balconies. When we arrived in the early morning it was quite cold and long underwear was needed, however,b y 9 am temperatures had risen to 24 C!

By arriving so early we had beat the tour buses and families, giving us an opportunity to grab great shots of the lake and take our time walking the easy Lake Louise Lakeshore trail (2 km one way). The end of the trail provided a view of a frozen waterfall and allowed for shots of the frozen lake with the mountains in the background.

Lake Louise, May 2017

Much of Lake Louise was still frozen at this time of year, so some of my top picks for hiking were unsafe due to the risk of avalanches as the weather warms and the snow melts. Even though I did not get to hike the Upper Lake Louise area, especially Plain of Six Glaciers trail, I was glad to have visited Lake Louise and the closures only made me want to come back again one day later in the season.

Lake Louise, May 2017

After visiting the Lake it was off to drive Highway 1A through Bow Valley Parkway to catch some wildlife and find a hike that might be a bit quieter during the busy long weekend.

A very helpful Parks Canada staffer had told me about the Castle Junction Area and  the moderate Castle Lookout trail (3.7 km one way), which was supposed to be much quieter than our first choice the easy Johnson Canyon Upper and Lower Falls (3.6 km combined).  At 7 km return this was the longest hike I had done yet and proved just how far I had come in my fitness journey. I lost 75 lbs over the last year and a half and Elizabeth could tell. I had no problem conquering the uphill trek to the summit, a task that a year and a half ago would have proved very challenging.

Castle Junction Area (Banff National Park), May 2017

The views along this trail were beyond amazing and we found ourselves stopping regularly at the natural viewpoints created by breaks in the trees to whip out our DSLR’s and snap a few photos. The summit was once the sight of fire tower, erected to spot flames from afar, and although there is no tower today the space where the tower once stood creates a chance for expansive views of the middle of Bow Valley.

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After Castle Mountain it was time to head back to Banff, in hopes of checking out the famous hot springs. Following the 1A again we spotted more wildlife than we could have ever imagined. A baby black bear that stood eating it’s lunch while our car was mere meters, a Momma Grizzly bear and her two cubs running and playing in the fields, big Horned sheep hanging out at the top of a cliff that backed onto the highway, as well as red squirrels, elk and gophers. The wildlife just wouldn’t quit in this area that had been closed off to foot traffic as the bears woke up from hibernation.

Castle Junction Area, May 2017

Once back in Banff our experience at the hot springs helped us to embody the spirit of the trip, no regrets. The small pool held 205 people and reminded me much of a human soup. Not as clean as I would have liked, this bath did ease my aching muscles slightly and gave me the ability to say I have tired the world famous Banff hot springs.

My final thoughts:



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The Trip of No Regrets was a success. The biggest thing I took out of this trip was how blessed I am to have wonderful friends and the ability to travel on a whim. I left Banff wanting to do more exploring and a lot more hiking, and possibly even another climb to the edge of a waterfall for a picture like the above.

I can’t wait to go back to Alberta and travel to Jasper to hike, drive the Icefields Parkway and walk out on the glass bottomed Glacier Skywalk discovering more of what the wonderful province has to offer me.

Travel Planning

Packing: the art of throwing it all in

I have never been much of a packer.

I am fantastic at unpacking and I live for organizing, but packing has never been an art I have much speciality in.

Before every trip I find myself browsing Pinterest for hours in awe of the women who can pack one carry-on for a month away. What is their secret and how do they pull it off so stylishly?

As I packed for Banff last week, I had resolved that I would cut myself some slack. Who cares if I wasn’t a great packer? Did it really change anything? Does possessing a talent for minimalism really change your life? These were all questions I asked myself as I packed up for my weekend away.

But then I got to the airport…

Although I could lift my suitcase easily with one hand, my test for whether my luggage was going to tip the scales, it weighed a whopping 31 kg!

And then it hit me. I had forgotten the anxiety I felt waiting to see if the airline staff would notice how heavy my case was.

Although I travelled to Calgary and back with no heavy baggage fees my mind was not calmed on the trip home. My suitcase weighed in at 33 kg with the souvenirs and supplies I had bought while away. This seemed both excessive and embarrassing, even if I did have hiking boots and a sleeping bag in the case.

So now I vow to bring the bare minimum on my June trip to San Francisco and see how that goes. My first trip to America in over a decade will now also serve as my test run for lighter travel.

I will continue to browse Pinterest in the hopes of becoming a minimalist traveller but only time will tell as to whether I can truly travel light.

Introduction

Hello, Hello

They say you should never write in cliches but I am going to break that rule right now:

THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER!

This is a saying that I hope will become my mantra. I love mantras. I think they possess the power to transform your world, your thoughts and how you relate to those around you. My favourite mantra most days is “I am enough for me”. This saying is powerful to me because it reminds me that I don’t need to worry about pleasing someone else or being enough for another person, what is the most important is how I treat myself.

When I visualize where I want to be in the next few years and how I want to experience life an overarching theme is discovery. I want to discover all the joys the world has to offer. I want to revisit places I have loved and discover new locals I haven’t even thought to enjoy yet and having a mantra, like the world is your oyster, will remind me that not only am I enough, I am unlimited and I deserve to seek out all the wonderful opportunities this world has to offer.