Monday, August 23, 2010

Airplane Oasis

After an absolutely insane week I managed to get home and get ready for my trip in about 45 minutes. Thank god I have four months of backpack packing experience. I also had about an hour to spend with Gerry before I left. Hard to say goodbye even for three weeks when we've never been apart longer than three days.

But off I go tomorrow morning. It's a very early flight. I'm hoping to catch up on the sleep I've been lacking the last week or so. And just finally have two seconds to relax.

I really hope the current seating situation remains. Nobody putting their bloody seat back. Nobody behind me. Nobody beside me. The flight isn't super jammed, so I'm hoping I'll at least have nobody beside me!


First stop is Seattle. Bring on the coffee!
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ride the Moose

Despite saying I'd never do a tour type thing again... I've found myself signed up for a tour of sorts. Main reason being I'm not comfortable with the idea of driving myself around the Rockies. I probably should have just figured it out myself on the Greyhound and VIA Rail... but prep time is limited for this trip, and the service is a hop-on, hop-off one, not a full-blown tour. The benefit with doing a tourist bus service is that it makes the stops at beautiful spots along the way that Greyhound just blows by.

I still have my reservations, especially after seeing the photos on their Facebook page. But I'm going with the mindset that I don't have to participate in any of their tour group gimmicks, and I can easily go off and do my own thing in each place.

Anyways, all that being said... I'm going with the Moose Travel Network. This is the only company I've really found that specializes in Canada. I'm hoping I like this hop-on more than Busabout. But if not, I'm only really with them for about week. I'm meeting traveling friend Michelle in Jasper for a few days, and then using Moose to get to Banff and then I'm doing my own thing again.

So where exactly am I going?

Ottawa to Vancouver
Vancouver to Seattle
Seattle to Vancouver
Vancouver to Whistler
Whistler to Vancouver
Vancouver to Shuswap Lake
Shuwap Lake to Banff
Banff to Rampart Creek
Rampart Creek to Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell to Jasper
Jasper to Banff
Banff to Lake Louise
Lake Louise to Calgary
Calgary to Ottawa

It should be a beautiful trip. It's not as well organized as it could be, but I left things late and some legs are full already. It also works out best for Michelle if I'm in Jasper at a certain time. Flights are booked, tour is booked, hostels are booked, just have to deal with some bus trips I'm doing on my own.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to it. Shopping in Seattle, big city in Vancouver, then two weeks in the beautiful BC and Alberta mountains.
Sunday, August 08, 2010

My Own Canadian Adventure

After debating back and forth and back again, about whether to go and where to go... I finally made up my mind last week.

I'm taking a mini-trip at the end of August! I've had a very crazy summer at the end of a kind of crazy year. I need a holiday. But not in the sense of most people's holidays... I want a traveler's holiday.

At first I was thinking about going to California, Oregon, and Washington State. I'd still really like to go here some day, but it just wasn't sparking my imagination right now. I also threw around the idea of going to New York City and Washington DC. But I don't want to go to either of those places in the summer, even if it's late summer.

The spot that kept leaping to the forefront was my very own Canada. I met so many people in Europe who said how much they wanted to see Canada. How it was on the top of their "list". They always wanted to know where they should go. Almost any Canadian, including me, will immediately point west and say "Vancouver, the Rockies... go West!"

I did get to visit Western Canada when I was young, on a family trip. But it mainly covered Vancouver Island. While it's a stunning place in it's own right, I didn't get to see the jaw dropping Rocky Mountain vistas and turquoise lakes that abound in Western Alberta. Yet last summer I was telling everyone to go there.

So, I'm going to take my own advice and see more of my own country before I go off and see Australia, New Zealand, or even more of the US.

I'm going to Seattle for a couple of days, mostly to shop if I'm being completely honest with you (way cheaper than Canada!). Then my own Canadian adventure begins. Vancouver, Whistler, BC interior, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, and a few spots in between. My goal is not to party, be cultural, or try new foods. I'm going to relax and get away from my chaotic life for awhile. Sitting on the beach doesn't do it for me, so this is the most relaxing and beautiful vacation I can think of.

This time I'm leaving behind a long-term boyfriend which will be a bit tough, but he's the one that made me realize how much I needed this. And it's only a few weeks, not months!

I leave in just over two weeks. I have to figure details out and get ready to go, work, and study for my final exams. I'll be getting on that plane before I remember to blink.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Tourists and Locals

I came across a really interesting link on Twitter. As well as being a traveler, I'm also a photographer. I read a lot of photography blogs and follow some photographers on Twitter.

This link sent me to Flickr, where I already store and host all of my photos. Flickr is an incredible resource for sharing your photos and discovering new photographers. One individual, Eric Fischer, has created a really interesting project. He has essentially tracked who (tourists, locals, either) is taking photos and where. There are dozens of city maps available. Maybe this is really nerdy and I'm only so interested because it's the combination of my two loves, but I think it's crazy cool.

His explanation:

Some people interpreted the Geotaggers' World Atlas maps to be maps of tourism. This set is an attempt to figure out if that is really true. Some cities (for example Las Vegas and Venice) do seem to be photographed almost entirely by tourists. Others seem to have many pictures taken in piaces that tourists don't visit.

Blue points on the map are pictures taken by locals (people who have taken pictures in this city dated over a range of a month or more).

Red points are pictures taken by tourists (people who seem to be a local of a different city and who took pictures in this city for less than a month).

Yellow points are pictures where it can't be determined whether or not the photographer was a tourist (because they haven't taken pictures anywhere for over a month). They are probably tourists but might just not post many pictures at all.

If this interests you at all, head over to his set Locals and Tourists on Flickr.

Some samples... see if you can figure out which cities are shown before you scroll down to my caption!

Las Vegas! Amazing how easily you can see the Strip.

Venice. Notice the "S" shaped Grand Canal? And the general lack of local photos?

Berlin. Anyone who has been there can pinpoint the intense red areas.

And finally, my own Ottawa. Not a ton of tourist photo taking going on here!

Go check it out! It's really neat.
Monday, June 07, 2010

Doors Open Ottawa

This past weekend was another opportunity for me to be a tourist in my own hometown. Every spring, the City of Ottawa presents Doors Open Ottawa. Over the weekend, more than 100 buildings opened their doors to the public. It’s an opportunity to see parts of the city that are normally inaccessible to residents and tourists alike.

I had originally intended to take in several venues each day, but, just as when I was backpacking… there’s never enough time in the day for everything you want to visit. However, I’m not disappointed with what we saw. It was an interesting mix of old and new, industrial and ultra-modern.

On Saturday, our first stop was the Lemieux Island Water Purification Plant, located just off the Ottawa River Parkway. Sounds like a pretty boring stop, but it couldn’t have been more interesting. The plant was built in the 1930s with a marble and brass interior- not your typical municipal building. Esthetically, it’s quite unexpectedly beautiful.

Inside Lemieux Water Plant
The main foyer inside. The water treatment happens on the other side of the windows.

Our tour guide was amazing. He was soft-spoken, but clearly someone who had a Science degree and years of experience. Our tour lasted so long that the one behind us caught up. It was actually incredibly interesting. I had flashbacks to that Magic School Bus episode where they go through the water purification system. He explained everything from the Ottawa River watershed, to how the plant uses gravity instead of pumps, to floc. Ottawa actually has some of the best drinking water in North America (which I knew before the tour propaganda), so it was interesting to see the process in person. They even had a station where you could taste test three different waters and guess which was tap, spring, and distilled. I thought the spring was tap, but the actual tap water is what I thought tasted best. I’ve always been a big supporter or drinking tap water, so it wasn’t too surprising.

Inside Lemieux Water Plant Treatment Area 
Inside the treatment area.

After taking some shots outside of the Ottawa River, we headed to the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat at 199 Sussex Drive. It was designed by Fumihiko Maki and opened only a couple of years ago. If you’re unfamiliar with the building and group, it’s probably easier for you to read the short Wikipedia article. It’s a really stunning building. We went mostly out of interest in the architecture.

Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat
Exterior shot of Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat.

Sunday got off to a late start, but we still managed to see a couple of buildings. First, we headed to the Fleet Street Pumping Station. This had been mentioned the day before at our Lemieux Island tour, and Gerry wanted to see it. It was nowhere near as interesting as the Lemieux Island plant, but I got what I wanted… some good shooting! It was a bit tricky to find, requiring a right turn off one-way Albert Street.

Fleet Street Pumping Station

Our last Doors Open stop was the National Gallery of Canada downtown. As we arrived fairly late in the day and had to park at the (expensive) indoor Gallery parking, we decided to just do some shooting and come back another day to tour the exhibits. The exhibit we wanted to see (Pop Life) doesn’t open until later this week anyways, so we were only there briefly. This is another stunning building in Ottawa though. It’s one of the better known symbols of the capital

Geomtric Too
Ceiling in the entrance to the National Gallery of Canada.

All in all, we saw some pretty interesting things. I’ll definitely be checking out this event in future years. I know the City of Toronto hosted a similar event last weekend. There are more photos from the event on my Flickr.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Camels and Chocolate Hyatt Give Away

Sometimes it's nice to drop the backpack and class things up a little. One of the best travel bloggers out there, Camels and Chocolate (Bloggies winner) is having a contest where you can win two nights at any Hyatt in the world.

These are pretty elegant hotels, so head on over and enter to win!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Changes Coming

It's been quite some time since I last updated! That's mostly because I haven't been doing any traveling. I've been doing lots of reading and researching though. I've found some new travel blogs to follow. I'm thinking about adopting something along those lines until my next trip for this blog. Highlight some special cities, post some of my favourite photos... basically try to make this blog more useful than just my travel diary.

I've been re-reading my diary from last summer. I can't believe it's been a year already. It's amazing how reading over an entry, no matter how brief, can mentally take me back to the street or pub I was talking about. A specific detail that's been lost in four months of details, but that is still there waiting for recall. If you're planning a trip, I can't recommend keeping a diary enough. It gives you the opportunity to relive your trip, more than you probably think.

At the moment I am in the very early stages of planning a trip down under late next year. Very early in that... I know I'm going, and I know for roughly how long. I'm hoping to spend about three or four weeks in New Zealand, four to six weeks in Australia, and hopefully about four weeks in the US. I know it probably seems a little bit odd to combine the US with Australia and New Zealand... but it's much cheaper to fly round trip out of LA than Ottawa... and I've always wanted to see the Southern US. In particular I'm aiming for the Grand Canyon and California. Anyways, it's all dependent on finances and life... but I'm hoping it will work out. It seems far away at the moment... but I think about how fast the planning stages of my European trip went and realize that it'll be here before I know it.

If you have any recommendations for Australia and/or New Zealand, let me know!

Hopefully you'll see some changes to this blog soon!
Thursday, October 08, 2009

Not life changing, but certainly the best experience of my life

Home... so now what? It's been a few weeks since I've been home. When I first got back... I was really relieved. The last few days of my travels were not the best of my trip, so I ended on a bit of a low note. Initially I was just sort of like... oh, that's it. It wasn't as amazing as I thought it was going to be... I'm not sure it was worth it.

But already, just a few weeks later, I'm realizing how truly amazing my trip was. How 100% worth it it was. I look at some of my pictures and my jaw practically drops, knowing that I took that picture, that I was there. You become so used to seeing incredible history and beauty while you're traveling... you don't even realize what it is that you're looking at, and how lucky you are to be there.

I think the biggest thing that disappointed me on my trip was the people I met. There are definitely a few people that I know I'll keep in touch with, and some that have become fairly good friends. And my trip was not without romance, I did meet a guy that I quite like (Aussie, of course), and he's already come to visit me in Ottawa. But for the most part, the people I shared hostels and buses with were incredibly immature, ignorant and annoying. I know this is mostly because the methods of travel I used were aimed at budget travelers and young people. And I've learned my lesson. I can guarantee you that I will never do another Topdeck tour, and I wouldn't even consider a Contiki. I might do another Radical Travel trip... but probably not. And I definitely regret doing Busabout. A lot of the best parts of my trip were when I was completely on my own.

I also realize that I should probably have done a shorter trip, or one that included solid chunks of time in places where there's nothing to do but relax. By the end of my trip, I was burnt out. I was tired of walking. Tired of sightseeing. Tired of meeting people. Tired of drinking. I still saw some incredible things in the last couple of weeks, but I probably would have enjoyed them a thousand times more in May. All that being said, as long as it sometimes felt at the time, it went so fast! Probably the fastest four months of my life.

The one last negative thing from my trip... I am still sick. It turns out the sickness and horrible tiredness and lethargy from the last month of travel was mono (glandular fever). It took a few weeks at home before I was properly diagnosed... my doctor had narrowed it down to mono or tuberculosis. Neither were great options, but I guess it's better that it was mono.

Anyways, on a more positive note. Getting back to reality makes you truly appreciate how awesome traveling is. Every single day you're traveling, even if something goes wrong, people are annoying you or you sit in the hostel all day... it's far and away better than even a good day in your real life. I already have a thousand ideas about where I want to go next. I'll never do a four month trip again... unless it includes working abroad... but there are places to see, people to meet! Top of my list are New Zealand and Australia, especially since I now have friends in pretty much every inch of Australia. Turkey is still at the top, after seeing Bosnia I'm all the more gutted about not experiencing Turkey. Russia is now up there as well. And Morocco has jumped quite high up the list. And other parts of Africa. As well as South America. So basically, I still have the travel bug! Stay tuned... I'm sure I'll be doing more traveling very soon.

In summary... I had the experience of a lifetime. I met a lot of amazing people (mostly Aussies... they're taking over Europe!), I saw all the sights I wanted to, I drank way too much, I spent a fortune (but about as much as I expected) and I came back a slightly different person. It wasn't lifechanging, but it was certainly the best experience of my life. No regrets. :) Do it if you can.

And finally, to end this gigantic post, some of my top fives:

Five places I know I'll return to
1. Ireland
2. Bosnia
3. Norway
4. Switzerland
5. Hungary

Five places that really disappointed me
1. Rome, Italy
2. Croatia (both Split and Dubrovnik)
3. Prague, Czech Republic
4. Nice, France
5. Klaipeda/Nida, Lithuania

Five biggest surprises
1. Paris, France
2. Poland
3. Riga, Latvia
4. Munich, Germany
5. Vilnius, Lithuania

Lived up to/exceeded expectations
1. Ireland
2. Bosnia
3. Budapest, Hungary
4. Venice, Italy
5. Norway

Best Hostels
1. Vilnius Old Town Hostel – Vilnius, Lithuania
2. Naughty Squirrel – Riga, Latvia
3. Rowan Tree Hostel – Ennis, Ireland
4. Hostel 99 – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
5. L' Imbarcadero – Venice, Italy

Worst Hostels
1. Klaipeda Travellers Guesthouse – Klaipeda, Lithuania
2. Plus Alba D'Oro Camping – Venice, Italy
3. Ullapool Youth Hostel – Ullapool, Scotland
4. Plus Prague – Prague, Czech Republic
5. Valley Hostel – Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Five Best Foods
1. Italian gelato – Italy (duh)
2. Stroopwafels – the Netherlands
3. Ćevapi - Bosnia
4. Burek – Bosnia
5. Paulaner weissbier - Germany

Five Best Nights Out
1. Berlin
2. Munich
3. Stockholm
4. Amsterdam
5. Ullapool (it's what you make of it haha, right Kaitlyn? :P)

Also, to rank the tour operators I used
1. Shamrocker Adventures (7 Day All Ireland Rocker)
2. Eastern Trekker (Balkan Trek > Classic Rhapsody Trek)
3. Haggis Adventures (Island Explorer)
4. Busabout (3 Day Italian Adventure > North/South loops)
5. Topdeck (Northern Exposure)

If you're curious about other top fives, or have any questions about my trip, feel free to comment!
Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Home At Last

My last morning in Europe... sad but mostly excited to go home. My lovely roommates took as long to get ready as they did going to bed, making even more noise beginning at about 6 am.

Off to the airport and picked up my bag. Leaving it at the airport was an A+ decision. It took me about a year to find the Air Canada check in desk... they had stuck it down in the very furthest little corner of the airport. Screaming Canadian kids abound... North American brats are the worst.

Getting onto a flight at Frankfurt is a bit of a mission. First they check your ticket. Then your passport. Then through one security check where you're free to wander the duty free. Most people would assume the next step is getting on the plane, right? Not in Frankfurt. For my particular gate I had to go through security AGAIN. Tell me ladies and gentlemen, how does it make sense to encourage people to shop duty free if they have to throw out all liquids? Please... I'd like to know. Never mind the fact that these people already went through security and tossed all outside liquids there. Granted, I only had a Fanta... but if someone had purchased liquor, perfume, cosmetics, et cetera... that's pretty lame for them. They could at least warn you that you have two security checks to go through.

Time to get on the plane right? Nope! Now they want you shuttled into a secure waiting lounge. Pretty much an hour before boarding. I thought I had given myself way too much time for the airport, but not at all. I had just cleared security check two when they started paging passengers into the lounge. Ridiculous.

Anyways, the flight was pretty bad. Full of kids, including one who screamed the ENTIRE eight hour flight. I'm not exaggerating. It was hellish. Customs at Ottawa is always a treat... they never have enough people on duty, and usually have all International flights landing at the same time. It's a clever scheme.

After about an hour or so there, I finally grabbed my bag and made it up to meet my parents. Home at last!
Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Last Day

I was woken up very early by my roommate who departed at about 4 am for his flight. Ugh. I tried to sleep for awhile but eventually gave up and got ready. When I went to check out... there was nobody there! I tried calling the numbers on the front door... the woman who answered didn't speak English... awesome. I was getting pretty annoyed, but finally the mother (it's a mother/son operation) showed up so I could pay her.

I made my hot way over to the bus station, where I caught the local bus to the airport. I juuust missed one, but they leave every 20 minutes or so. I got on with my pack. The ticket guy was a bit rude (as were most Croatians I met). He also let this drunk bum on who didn't pay. Who had been kicked off another bus, partly for not paying and partly for touching a young girl all over the place.

Well, he continued the trend. He sat down next to a pretty, probably teenaged girl. And over the next hour proceeded to wrap himself around her, stroking her hair, whispering to her, while everyone on the bus snickered and stared. I was absolutely shocked and disgusted. If not for the fact that nobody on the bus seemed to speak English, I would have been up complaining to the driver or something. And why didn't the girl DO anything? Get up and sit elsewhere, there were plenty of seats. Get off the bloody bus. SOMETHING. It was really upsetting. She was on the verge of tears the whole time. I just felt so helpless. A really unpleasant way to end my trip.

Anyway, eventually I got to the tiny airport. I hadn't had anything to eat and assumed there would be restaurants or something inside the departures lounge. Wrong! Oh well. I was just so happy to be leaving Croatia. Onto the Croatia Air flight to Frankfurt I went. Frankfurt Airport was overwhelming. I stowed my bag in luggage storage and went to catch the S-Bahn into town. The system at Frankfurt airport is really confusing, and all the employees in the station were pretty rude. One girl working for Deutsche Bahn (the people who run the S-Bahn) was incredibly rude. I got off at the wrong stop, bad directions from the hostel. But eventually I made it to the hostel, located in the heart of Frankfurt's Red Light District. I had known about that, so it was all good. Up to my room... quite a comfy bed but some brutal roommates. Figures that I'd end up with that on my last night in Europe. I chatted with a lovely Scottish girl for some time before settling down to a movie. Which I managed to watch ALL of while the roommates from hell got ready for bed. We're talking over two hours here. By the time they were finished I was absolutely seething. So I ended up taking my laptop into the stairwell where I could get wifi and vent to someone.

It was really a horrible last day in Europe. But,as someone reminded me, even if the end wasn't great, I really had an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime adventure... most of which was absolutely amazing.