Best of 2017

Last year, I wrote a massively long Best of 2016 post and I still reread it constantly, every time I want to reminisce on how awesome that year was. I don’t know if anyone else found it as interesting as I do, but either way I really enjoyed writing it.

This year, I was thinking about writing one but I didn’t think there would be enough highlights since I didn’t travel as much. Then I realized I had been to Chicago, Vancouver, Victoria, Nova Scotia three times, Colombia, Greece, Italy, England, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. So I guess 2016 just really spoiled me; because objectively this was still an awesome year. When I actually got in to writing this post it was so nice to reminisce on everything wonderful that happened this year. Also this is long again. Sorry.

Sailing around Greece

Obviously, this is number one. I wrote a whole post about my week with MedSailors aboard a yacht, but suffice it to say this will be a tough adventure to top. Honestly, the best thing about this week was that I didn’t touch my phone after the first day. It was so freeing to actually live in the moment and not worry about posting the perfect snap story.

Me and Haley still text constantly about this trip, and we are definitely still planning to do the same in Croatia ASAP.

Exploring the Cotswolds

I LOVE England. I’ve been five times now, and I always try to make it to somewhere new while I’m in the country. In January I headed over to Surrey to visit my friend Brooke, who was au pairing for the sweetest family of all time. On her weekend off, we bussed to Cheltenham to visit my parents’ friends Rob and Karen. I’ve seen them lots of times over the years, when they come to Canada or when we go to England, and they are possibly the best hosts of all time.

Me and Brooke were just grateful that they let us crash with them, so we weren’t expecting the royal treatment we got: a personalized tour around the Cotswolds, wonderful home-cooked meals accompanied with lots of wine, and definitely more generosity than we deserved!

It couldn’t have been a more perfect weekend getaway, and I know I’ll be back to the Cotswolds. Every town was breathtaking and charming, especially since it was January and they weren’t packed with tourists.

Seeing the northern lights

On a related note, I flew to London via Reykjavik on Wow Air. I paid $400 CAD for the ticket, which was a darn good deal for a flight to Europe – but of course it came with the reduced service of a budget airline.

Right before I checked in, my dad sent me a message suggesting I get a window seat on the left side of the plane in case the northern lights were out. I took his advice, not really expecting it to happen. About halfway through the flight, the flight attendants announced that we were about to see the Northern Lights out of the left side. I immediately threw my book down and pressed my face against the window.

I don’t have a photo of the Northern Lights because I was busy crying. Here’s Iceland.

For the next twenty minutes I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky: as a child I loved the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, following a child named Lyra in a magical world. A lot of it takes place in the Arctic, and the northern lights feature heavily. I felt like Lyra, staring out at the sky and feeling strangely spiritual. It was a beautiful experience (I sound like a hippie) and I can’t WAIT to see the northern lights again.

Falling in love with Naples

Something I have learned this year: I do not appear to be destined to visit the Amalfi Coast. Three times I have booked and paid for a stay there, and three times something has gone wrong and I didn’t make it.  Our flight to Naples was so delayed that we couldn’t get to Positano without paying a truly absurd amount of money for a cab.

So we hopped in a cab to downtown Naples instead, at 1AM, without a place to stay. We went to the hostel we had booked for the NEXT night, assuming they’d have availability, but we were out of luck. We eventually found somewhere, and crashed around 2:30.

With this inauspicious start, our time in Naples could have been total crap. On the contrary, we fell in love! The castles and forts have stunning views, the people are so friendly, every alley is stunning. Naples certainly has a special Italian magic, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

Properly seeing Chicago

My previous experience in Chicago involved an unplanned overnight layover. I had been wanting to go back since then, so in June my friend Sunjita and I flew down for a weekend and had an absolute blast.

This was also the weekend that Porter Airlines delayed us over 4 hours on the way there and OVERNIGHT on the way back, and I swore off Porter forever. However, Chicago was worth it.

Ironically, in my Best of 2016 post I talked about two awesome girls I met in Austria. They lived in Chicago, so we stayed with Kim and spent the whole weekend with them!! It is so, so nice to actually reunite with friends I meet abroad, and I can’t wait to see them again.

Anyway, Chicago is awesome. We went to a taco festival, tanned at the incredible beaches (who knew?), and tried the life-changing deep dish pizza. 10/10.

Our Meteora Hotel Room

I am confident that this is my favorite accommodation of all time, and I’ve stayed in some pretty awesome places from houseboats to resorts. We stayed in dirt-cheap hostels for our entire Greece/Italy trip EXCEPT in Meteora. I came upon Hotel Doupiani House and once I saw the view I knew we had to stay there.

This was our view!

Everything about our room was perfect, and the staff at the hotel were unbelievably helpful and sweet, but the best part by far was our balcony. We sat out there until late in the night, drinking a bottle of wine and catching up on all the gossip that we had missed in eachother’s lives.

Meteora is a magical place, and staying at the Hotel Doupiani House is an amazing way to make it even more magical.

One of my favorite photos from Greece

Hiking Grouse Mountain

If you read my Best of 2016 post you may remember that I have suddenly found myself really into hiking. Obviously, there were gonna be some hikes on this list as well. I visited Vancouver for the first time since I was three in May, spending two days in Victoria and two days in Vancouver. The indisputed highlight of my trip was hiking up Grouse Mountain!

Look how Canadian I am in this photo. Shorts in the snow! It was great to hike this right at the beginning of the season since it was fairly empty, but I did trip into the snow and get soaked at one point. Good thing I was sweating from the hike!

The view from the top is gorgeous, but the hike itself was a great experience as well. I met a lovely Austrian couple and we chattered away in German and English about their trip to Canada and my trip to Austria. We hiked most of the way together which was a nice change since I usually hike solo! It was probably the hardest hike I’ve ever done but well worth the effort.

Going back to Carter’s Beach

Carter’s Beach is a specific place in Nova Scotia, but really this highlight is just about learning to appreciate my home province again. I never realized how much I would miss the ocean when I moved to the middle of the country, and now every time I come home for a visit my first request is to visit a beach.

Carter’s Beach in particular is one of the most surprising beaches I’ve ever been to. The water is beyond freezing, but from the look of it Carter’s could be in the Caribbean. Being away from home has made me fall so much more in love with my home and I have loved being back here for Christmas!

A Day in Paradise in Colombia

Every single day in Colombia was amazing, and I still need to write a few more posts about it. The best day, though, was on our boat trip to the Rosario Islands. I don’t want to give a ton away here because I’m dying to write a really detailed post and use every single one of my photos, but basically, I had no idea this kind of water existed off the coast of Colombia. The Caribbean coast here is such an underrated gem and I had the time of my life snorkelling, hanging out with a random extended family from Miami, and getting a really great tan.

This is the aforementioned random family from Miami

Jungle Living in Minca

Another Colombia entry. Warning, the next one is Colombia too.

Anyway, Minca was so cool. Staying in a jungle cabana was such a lovely way to connect with the sights and sounds of the jungle, and I will never forget how lovely it was to wake up and grab coffee while everything around me woke up. The second night, staying in a dorm bed perched at the top of the building, with a totally open wall to my right, was simultaneously terrifying and extremely peaceful.

Ugh, now I miss Minca.

The Most Fun Five Days Ever in Cartagena

A friend recently asked me what to do in Cartagena, and I said, “I went to a rooftop that was really nice. But it was my friend’s apartment so you can’t go there. Otherwise I don’t know, just like walk around.”

Really, that sums up my time in Cartagena. I didn’t really DO a lot, but I sure had a lot of fun. Our hostel, Republica, was pretty much the definition of a party hostel, and we took full advantage of the party.

From having a beer on the city walls, to exploring a different nightlife district every night but always ending up in the same club, to the pool parties at the hostel, there was definitely a lot of drinking involved in our Cartagena stay. The vibe of the city just makes you want to live it up, and we did.

Also, I met a very cute and very tall Australian boy, which never hurts.

Quitting my job

Remember what I said about sailing in Greece being my number one highlight of the year? I take it back, quitting my job was DEFINITELY the best thing I did in 2017. I was so deeply unhappy sitting in an outdated office in a sketchy part of town, doing work I physically couldn’t have cared less about. One day I arbitrarily applied for a few travel jobs, hoping someone would throw me a rope that would convince me to take the plunge and quit.

Now I have fun coworkers who do things like get me sweet 16 cakes for my 22nd birthday.

Flight Centre called me in for an interview, and I made it through the process. I was hooked! I make a ton less money and work a lot more hours, but I am also about 1000% happier as a travel agent than I was as a “Category Shopper Development Analyst” (Barf)

How fitting to end on the best decision I’ve ever made. To 2018 – hoping for even more adventures!

The Best of 2016

In my mind, 2016 is kind of broken into three completely separate parts. From January to April I was at university for the last semester, working at a cafe and hanging out with friends constantly. In May and June I went on an incredible whirlwind trip to eleven countries. In July I moved to Toronto and now I have a grownup job and sit in an office staring wistfully at my world map all day.

However, a surprising number of these 20 highlights happened in the school or the work part of 2016. Be forewarned that this is a very long post.

Going on a camping safari in Tanzania

I think in 80 years, my safari in Tanzania will still be the number one coolest thing I have ever done in my life. Sure, there were tsetse flies and both extreme cold and extreme heat, and a lot of time in a car, but thinking back on my 6 nights camping in the wilds of Africa none of that matters.

I watched thousands upon thousands of wildebeest make their way across the savannah, sitting on top of the Jeep and marvelling at how far I could see. I darted back into my tent in the middle of the night after seeing glowing eyes staring at me from the grass. I woke up to the most incredible sunset straight from my tent, and felt at peace.

Overcoming my fear of water by scuba diving in Zanzibar

Every time I think about the fact that I went scuba diving, I am in awe of my bravery. That may sound dramatic, but until literally last year I held my dad’s hand the whole time we snorkeled and sometimes cried into my mask because I was so irrationally afraid of the water. In Zanzibar, I saw a dive shop, marched myself over to sign up for a one day discovery course and then sat on the beach contemplating how afraid I was. I got in the boat, thought about all the ways I could die, and then threw myself backwards into the Indian Ocean with my heart in my throat.

And it was pure magic.

Taking the Sound of Music bike tour in Salzburg, Austria

Despite the fact that I only spent four days in Austria, three of the things on this list happened here. I think I need to go back to Austria…

Since the moment this tour began, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it again and take my mom with me. We LOVE the Sound of Music and the only reason that this tour wasn’t perfect is that my mom wasn’t there to experience it with me. My morning of riding out into the Austrian countryside, singing along to Do Re Mi and dancing around filming locations pretending to be Liesl will always be one of my fondest memories.

Hiking Pulpit Rock in Norway

Have I annoyed you all yet by continuing to rave about Pulpit Rock? Yes? Oh well, I’m going to keep doing it. You may notice that five of the items on this list are hikes; 2016 was the year I discovered that I actually do like hiking and now the first thing I do when planning a trip is check whether I can hike there. Anyway, I already wrote a whole post about this hike and I even used the word magical in the title (so dramatic) – here it is.

Hiking Ben Vrackie in Scotland

Another hike you say? Yep…I started my two month trip this summer with this hike, and it couldn’t have been a better kickoff. This random, not very well-known hike in Scotland was absolutely breathtaking and all it made me want to do was hike all over Scotland. My sister did a 10 day Scotland trip in August and did basically all the things I wanted to, and now we are seriously discussing opening a hostel in the Scottish countryside or trekking the West Highland Way together.

Scooting around Cappadocia

Oddly, my hot air balloon ride was not the highlight of my Cappadocia trip. It was incredible, but the day where my American friend Julie and I rented a scooter and drove wherever the wind took us stands out more in my mind. I was lonely in Cappadocia, the sole backpacker in my cave hotel’s dorm and shocked by the sharp downturn in tourism in Turkey.

When Julie arrived in the dorm I literally walked over and said, “Oh my god I’ve been so lonely, will you be my friend?” Somehow that worked, and we spent the rest of our time together. We climbed castles, feasted on Turkish food, got lost, and later went on the weirdest double date of my life with these two creepy Turkish guys. We also spent an amazing night dancing in a local bar, this time with less creepy Turkish guys.

I often say that Turkey is my favourite country, and I am heartbroken for what has been happening  there. It’s a magical place.

Visiting Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

I had a weird obsession with the Holocaust as a child, and I’ve read Anne Frank’s diary a million times and cried every single time. I managed to find a last-minute ticket through sheer luck (if you’re going, try to get one in advance) and on my last rainy day in Amsterdam I went and cried for a few hours. It’s impossible to describe how impactful this place was; they have set up the exhibits and memorials incredibly well and I believe everyone should know the story of this incredibly inspiring girl.

Spending the evening with the orchestra at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna

It’s no coincidence that two of these favourites happened with the same people. I met two girls from Chicago on my Sound of Music Tour (see above) and we traveled to Vienna together. I told them about a free concert by the Vienna Philharmonic happening at the Schonbrunn Palace, we picked up a French boy from their hostel, and off we went for one of the most special nights ever.

After an epic quest to find the only store in Vienna that was open (I think it was a public holiday) we bought a crap-ton of wine, bread, and cheese and made our way to one of the most beautiful palaces in Vienna. Obviously, it was packed, so we made our way to a hill behind the actual orchestra, ignoring signs that said we wouldn’t be able to hear.

The signs were in fact correct, but it didn’t matter. We got tipsy, talked about our favourite international misadventures, chatted to random strangers around us, and I kept having those moments of perfection where I stopped to take it all in.

Near the end of the concert, we decided to leave and avoid the rush. We ended up walking by the orchestra at the perfect time to hear AND see the final flourish – that’s right, there were fireworks.

Amazing.

Hiking Lion Rock in Hong Kong

If you had asked me during this hike if it would ever make it to a highlight list, the answer would be a firm no. This hike was REALLY HARD and I thought I was going to die. I actually hiked to Amah Rock first, which was a waste of time, then up to Lion Rock, and it was so hot. I’m much better at handling cold than heat (thanks Canada) and I have never sweat so much in my entire life. I considered giving up about 7 times but when I made it to the view, it was all worth it.

Hong Kong itself was a highlight, just like I expected it to be – it’s an unbelievably cool city with so much to do and see, and the cute Swedish boy I met certainly didn’t hurt.

Hiking Daimonji Yama in Kyoto

Japanese temples and shrines are gorgeous, but I find when I travel solo, going to these kinds of places means walking through in half an hour and leaving. In Kyoto I felt kind of listless after hitting the major highlights in a day, so I googled ‘hiking in Kyoto’ and found this gem. It was extremely confusing to find because there were no English signs, but if you use these directions you’ll be set.

The hike isn’t too hard, especially compared to some of the others on this list. At the top, there’s a very convenient area to picnic, chat, or read and journal – I did all of the above. I was the only foreigner for most of the time, and tons of Japanese families and groups were there. The atmosphere was great and the view was just incredible.

Hiking Mount Tampa in Brasov, Romania

When I arrived in Brasov, it was raining. When I left three days later, it was still raining. I napped and hung out in the hostel lounge much more than I would care to admit, because I couldn’t motivate myself to get out and do anything.  Luckily, the one time I dragged myself out of bed was great enough to make it to this list.

I booked my hostel (Kismet Dao) solely because a dog lived there, and when I got there I learned that if you walked the dog you got free beer. Um, win-win situation much!? I put on my sneakers and leashed up Zara for what I expected to be a light stroll around town. However, Zara had a mind of her own and since all I knew in Romanian was  thank you and no, controlling her was a challenge. She led me to what appeared to be her favourite path and we ended up climbing a mountain.

Going on a pub crawl in Edinburgh

I loved Edinburgh in general, but one of the highlights was the pub crawl I went on. I may not have thought so the next morning, but the girls I met were so fun and the pub scene so buzzing that the hangover was totally worth it. The hostel employee running the pub crawl was also a riot, with the most Scottish accent ever and the most Scottish beard ever.

Strangely, one of the highlights of the pub crawl did not happen in a pub. I only took one piece of photo ID with me because I didn’t want to lose my passport three days into my trip. At one spot the guy refused to let me in without another piece, which made me sad because the drinking age in Scotland is 18, and I was 20. I look sixteen.

Anyway, I had to run back to the hostel to grab my passport and the walk took me down the most charming little alleyways and streets I’ve ever seen – and the fact that I was already a pint of beer in just made me more pleased with my surroundings. It was strangely lovely and I will never forget how happy I was in that moment!

Visiting Iceland

The only country which is itself a highlight on this list. Iceland was the last destination on my insanely packed 2 month trip so I was worried that I’d be so tired (and maybe even jaded) that it wouldn’t impress me. Not so. Yes, I was exhausted, but Iceland is so COOL. I wrote about the logistics of planning a trip to Iceland already, and still need to sit down and try to remember the details of both tours I took.

But suffice it to say that there is a reason everybody gushes so much about Iceland. The sights are beautiful, the people are beautiful, the prices are horrifying, and you will never forget your time here.

Touring the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg

Totally never thought something in Winnipeg would be on this list. My sister moved to this fairly remote Canadian city for work. I had visited on a layover just to be able to say I’d visited all ten Canadian provinces, but hadn’t explored the city in depth. We found a cheap flight, split the cost and I was off to visit on a packed weekend.

Most of the time was spent snuggling doggies and eating junk food, because dogs and junk food are two of our favourite things, but we also made time for some sightseeing. The only must-see on my list was the Human Rights Museum, which I’ve heard only amazing things about.

It lived up to my expectations: the design, exhibits and educational value of the museum is stunning. I learned a ton. I was very moved to see Malala Yousafzai’s bloody school uniform on display; I have so much admiration for Malala and loved her book.

Wondering at the Austrian National Library in Vienna

I am SO obsessed with libraries. Many of my fondest childhood memories occurred in our local library and I read a lot, so anywhere with books is a draw. When a library is historic and stunning, I can’t resist but to stop by. That’s why in Vienna, my very first stop was the Austrian National Library – I saw it on Instagram and immediately knew I had to go.

Did I wander the library pretending to be a Hapsburg princess? Perhaps. I was totally captivated by the amazing room, the exhibits on Hapsburg royalty, and even the smell of old books. I could have spent hours here.

Spending a solo Thanksgiving at the Stratford Theatre Festival in Ontario

I love plays and solo travel. I couldn’t afford to fly home for Thanksgiving, and it’s never been a huge deal in my family anyway, so I decided to take a weekend trip in my new province. When I realized that I could get youth discounts on tickets to shows at the Stratford Theatre Festival, I was sold!

I stayed in the weirdest hostel ever (it was attached to a hospital and I was the only one staying there) but at least it was cheap. I saw incredible productions of Shakespeare in Love, MacBeth and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

My emotions were all out of whack in October; the three-month mark was one of the toughest adjustments in moving and starting a new job. Solo travel always centres me, and this quick trip was exactly what I needed.

Pretending to be rich in Muskoka – Ontario’s cottage country

One of my best friends, Nicole, was working at a swanky resort (the JW Marriott) in Muskoka, which is the gorgeous lake country 2-3 hours north of Toronto. I headed up to visit her and see if I could take advantage of the resort facilities without staying there. The answer – yes. During Nicole’s shifts I walked in like I owned the place, plopped myself down by the pool and tried to put on my best snooty rich person face.

It was so relaxing to pretend to be rich for a day, and having my every whim catered to was just delightful. Top it off with the chance to see one of my best friends and the gorgeous surroundings of the resort and it was the recipe for a much-needed escape from the blistering heat of Toronto.

Visiting New York for the fourth time

It never gets old. My friend Emma was in Toronto, so of course we decided to travel a 10 hour bus ride south to NYC and spend like 36 hours there. Because we took Greyhound and Greyhound is the worst company in the history of capitalism, our bus was delayed almost five hours and we were stuck in Scranton, Pennslyvania for EVER. We did make it, though, and once we made it we had a blast.

Our hostel had the comfiest beds known to man and we took in two shows: Fiddler on the Roof and An American in Paris. I literally go to New York just to see Broadway shows…no regrets. It was HOT and EXPENSIVE and TIRING but would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Graduating university!

Somehow, this milestone pales in comparison to all the other amazing things I did in 2016. While during my third year of university I travelled more than I went to school, in my fourth year I think I only left the province twice, and it was all job interview-related. Despite this, I had the most incredible time during my last semester of school.

I worked at an Italian espresso bar, finally falling in love with the community vibe of my small university town. I finally made the close groups of friends I’d been searching for, spending my free time with so many people I absolutely love. Since I was also finally legal drinking age for the whole school year, I took advantage of that a bit as well..and by a bit I mean all the time.

I also barely had to put any time into school because I had completed most of my courses. I may have skipped classes every now and then (or all the time), but by fourth year I had mastered the art of getting good grades while putting in very little work.

I never understood why people say your university years are the best years of your life, but now I get it. I will remember how happy and free I was during my last semester of university forever.

Extending a work trip to Boston

My second week at my new full time job in Toronto, I flew off to Boston for a work trip. I felt very glamorous and everything about it was very exciting to me. I think it’s funny that my superiors, who travel all the time for work, are so jaded about it while the hotel bed is enough to make me clap with glee. I guess that’s what happens when you have a spouse and children to come home to!

Anyway, I wanted to extend the trip for a weekend and managed to get my way. I stayed in a lovely Cambridge Airbnb and powered through the Boston heat to sightsee. A highlight was ordering a cocktail at the Cheesecake Factory and not getting ID’d (I was 20). After my whirlwind weekend I was off to a paid-for Marriott and a packed week of meetings and orientations, which at the time was fun and exciting!

I completely adored Boston, but the highlight here was the fact that my flights were free 🙂

It has been the most incredible year and it has felt like an entire lifetime of experiences. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings – in the first two months, I already have trips to Boston, London and Colombia booked!

Toronto Bucket List

As you might remember from this post, in December I signed a contract for a real adult job, and in July I moved to Toronto. I still have VERY conflicted feelings about being ‘settled down’, but considering I’ve already been to Muskoka, New York City, Boston and Pennsylvania and I’m off to Quebec City tomorrow, I can’t be too mad.

Toronto is an incredible, cosmopolitan, diverse city, and despite its many issues it’s a great place to live. I’ve been trying to make the most of living here, but sometimes I wake up on a Saturday, get overwhelmed with everything there is to do, and just end up marathoning Netflix all day. In an effort to encourage my exploration efforts (and maybe inspire yours!), here’s my grand bucket list for Toronto:

  • Hike Scarborough Bluffs
  • Visit Casa Loma, the only authentic castle in North America
  • Face my fears on the Edge Walk at the CN Tower
  • See Ripley’s Aquarium
  • Take a trip to the Toronto Islands
  • Learn at the Royal Ontario Museum
  • Drag a friend to Canada’s Wonderland
  • Shop in Kensington Market
  • Visit Niagara Falls (again!)

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  • Get a break from city life in High Park (preferably during cherry blossom season!!)
  • Take a free walking tour
  • Browse St. Lawrence Market
  • Take a Steam Whistle Brewery Tour
  • Photograph Graffiti Alley
  • Take a food tour

There’s so much to do here, and my favourite part so far has been the ability to take advantage of all the ethnic food. I also love the chance to do things like language classes – I’m starting Japanese in a few weeks in advance of my trip in November!

Niagara Falls in the Dead of Winter

Despite the fact that I’ve been to every Canadian province, I had somehow never  been to what is arguably Canada’s biggest and best attraction: the famous Niagara Falls. The falls are about an hour and a half from Toronto, a city I’ve now visited 4 or 5 times. In February, I redeemed some frequent flyer miles and visited my older sister at her place in Etobicoke, a suburb in the Greater Toronto Area. Since I’d been to the city multiple times, there really weren’t that many things I wanted to see, but I knew I had to make it to Niagara Falls.

I was planning to take the cheapest bus I could find and explore on foot, but my sister’s boyfriend’s mother (wow that’s kind of confusing) generously offered to drive me and Anna. One of the many benefits of visiting family and friends! We decided to make a stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake for high tea, which was the most posh thing I’ve ever done. The Prince of Wales Hotel is famous for its afternoon tea (definitely make a reservation) and it’s not hard to see why! While this is never something I’d splash out for myself on my backpacker budget, it was an excellent treat and worth the price. The setting itself is stunning: I felt out of place in such an elaborately exquisite hotel, but I tried to seem more sophisticated than I am.

In honor of my desire to go to Morocco, I ordered Marrakech Mint tea and drank as much of my teapot as possible. Everything seemed fancier coming from the tiered tray of food, from cucumber sandwiches to quiche. We also ordered grapes and cheese, and while I’ve always thought all grapes were the same, let me tell you these grapes were something else.

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Once we had eaten as much food as physically possible, we packed up the rest and headed off to the main destination of our journey! Now for some background, the days I spent in Toronto had possibly the coldest weather that I have EVER experienced. My sister is a dog walker, and when I went downtown with her it was below -50 Celsius with windchill. Even with two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, two shirts, a sweater, a coat, scarf, mittens, hat, etc….I could barely stand to be outside. It was even worse out in the open at Niagara Falls, and despite our admiration of the gorgeous view and desire to stay longer, we genuinely couldn’t stay outside longer than ten minutes. It was just enough time to snap a few selfies, force my sister to take pictures of me, and admire how much nicer the Canadian side was than the American falls.

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DCIM101GOPRO

I was worried that Niagara Falls would be totally underwhelming since it’s been built up so much. Now I can say that the falls are not at all overrated: believe the hype! If you happen to be in this part of Canada, try to make your way over.

TBT: A Winter Wonderland in Quebec City

My parents took me and my sister on so many amazing trips when I was growing up. I’ve shared posts about a few of them (England, Newfoundland, Antigua), but I’m home right now, and looking through all of our photo albums made me realize how much I haven’t shared! In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I’ll be sharing memories and photos from some of my favourite trips: look out for St. Lucia, Australia, New Zealand, and lots of Canadian travel! My dad took all the pictures in this post and likely the others: I’m so glad he documented all this for us!

My fascination with train travel began on this very trip. In the dead of Canadian winter, booking a flight can be very risky business, and road trips are no fun during a blizzard. Trains, however, are reliable – and there’s something magical about watching our gorgeous countryside zoom by from the comfort of a train. We booked a cabin on the 22 hour train ride, spending a few days in one of the most underrated places in Canada to enjoy a winter wonderland in Quebec City!

Quebec City is basically a taste of Europe in the middle of Canada. It has a rich history and gorgeous architecture, and it’s surrounded by winter sports opportunity. A lot of people make their way here as a day trip from nearby Montreal, but I think it’s worth its own trip. We stayed in an apartment, which was my first taste of this kind of accommodation: it was two levels, had an awesome view, and made it so easy for us to save money by cooking. Halfway through the trip a total blizzard hit, but we were prepared with our hardy winter gear! Quebec City has a famous winter festival, but even at other times in the season there’s tobogganing and other awesome activities. Like most European cities, this place is sometimes best served by some aimless wandering. I hope you enjoy my dad’s pictures!

The view from our apartment!

The view from our apartment!

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So European!

So European!

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Incredible Chateau Frontenac

Incredible Chateau Frontenac

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Yum crepes.

Yum crepes.

And so the blizzard begins...

And so the blizzard begins…

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2014 in Review: Beginning a Life of Travel

I’ve always travelled a fair amount with my parents, but 2014 was the year I really got inspired to make travel a bigger part of my life. This year I took family trips, a girls’ trip, a business trip and, most importantly: my very first solo trip. I also started this blog in June, which was an amazing decision! Although the end of the year was definitely more travel-heavy, I have tons of exciting plans for 2015 and I can’t wait to share all of my adventures with you. For now, here’s a post wrapping up my year: 2014 in review!

Saskatoon, Winnipeg & Calgary

I flew to Calgary for an Enactus event, which is an organization I’m involved with at my school. Naturally, I took the chance to visit my long-distance best friend in Saskatoon! I also checked something off my bucket list with a convenient layover in Winnipeg: I’ve officially been to all ten provinces, although there’s still a ton more exploring to do. I was a really bad traveler for most of this trip and did more friend-seeing than sight-seeing, but I’d been to Calgary and Saskatoon before! I extended my stay in Calgary because Sunjita and I got the chance to compete in a Westjet contest. It was really cool to come up with a marketing campaign for a major Canadian airline, and we were so excited to be declared the winners!

Winning the Westjet case competition!

Winning the Westjet case competition!

A night out in Saskatoon

A night out in Saskatoon

New York City

Anybody who knows me is aware of my undying love for New York City. I finally made it there for the first time in April for a quick mother-daughter trip that was just as amazing as I hoped it would be! We stayed on the Upper West Side and as soon as I left, I wanted to go back. Highlights included a day spent shopping on the Upper East Side, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and the highlight of my year: seeing Mamma Mia on Broadway.

Posts

New York City’s Top Ten Attractions

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Chicago

Due to a major travel mishap on the way to China, I finagled a free night in Chicago which was my first time in the city! I had to explore without doing any research at all, which is very unlike me, but I fell in love and can’t wait to go back for more than an evening.

Posts

Turning Travel Problems into Travel Opportunities in Chicago

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China

This trip was a game-changer. I had genuinely never even considered solo travel; I didn’t even know it really existed. When I started reading travel blogs, I was so inspired and knew I had to made solo travel part of my life. There was an event going on in Beijing that I really wanted to attend, and nobody could come with me – so I went myself. Originally I was booked to see Beijing and Hong Kong, but I changed my flights after the protest and explored Beijing, Datong, Xian and Shanghai. I had a ton of mishaps and the trip totally changed my life! I’d love to get back to Shanghai as soon as possible.

Favourite Posts

Beijing Trip: Solo Doesn’t Mean Alone

How to Avoid Getting Lost and Crying in a Cab

Twelve Hours in Xi’an

Arriving in My New Favourite City: Shanghai

Taking the Train in China

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New York City

My best friend and I were supposed to reunite in Croatia in September, which I’m still really upset didn’t happen. We really wanted to see eachother, so we planned a long weekend trip to New York City! I got a great deal on flights, which turned it from a long weekend to missing a week of school….whatever right?!  It was a bit ironic to celebrate my 19th birthday (legal drinking age in most of Canada) in a place where the age is 21, but we had a blast exploring familiar and new neighborhoods from our Airbnb base.

Favourite Posts

My Favourite Food in New York City

The Number One Thing to do in New York City

Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge

Antigua & Barbuda

I just got back from yesterday from a great trip to close out the year: Christmas on my favourite tropical island! My family spent the holidays in Antigua two years ago, and this year we ended up returning because we loved it so much. I can’t wait to share more about this island that tends to fly under the radar. Highlights included a tour with Adventure Antigua and standup paddleboarding!

All in all, my year may not seem that impressive, but for an 18/19 year old student I’m pretty proud of the places I’ve managed to go this year. I know 2015 is going to be an incredible year for travel: I have a trip to Toronto and Montreal booked in February and I could not be more excited about my summer in Italy!

Two Quintessential Newfoundland Experiences

I’ve already talked about one of the best places to go in Newfoundland (Gros Morne National Park), but there are two other incredible attractions that can’t be missed:

See how the vikings lived

One thing my family definitely wanted to visit on our trip was L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. In the town of Port au Choix, about two hours from Gros Morne National Park, you can visit the historic site as well as Norstead Viking Village. They’re right on the edge of the province so in addition to their historical value, the ocean views are incredible!

L’Anse aux Meadows is a reconstructed Viking village showing where real Vikings lived. There’s also an archaeological site where you can see what artifacts they’ve discovered from the past. I feel like I would enjoy this more now, since 10 year old me had an even shorter attention span, but even then it was a fascinating insight into Viking life hundreds of years ago.

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Norstead Viking Village is a far more kitschy and kid-oriented Viking attraction, but that doesn’t make it any less fun! I couldn’t find many pictures, but you can watch battle recreations, buy “authentic” viking goods, talk to “Vikings” in period costume, and even try on helmets and mail.

See below…I hope that axe was dull, because I still wouldn’t trust myself with that thing.

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See the unique birds of NFLD

As someone who has developed a complete phobia of birds in the past few years (it’s ridiculous, my head goes all fuzzy and I get very panicky every time a bird comes near me), it’s interesting to remember how cool I thought both of these places were.

Cape St. Mary’s is a bit of a long drive, but the experience of getting close to Bird Rock is worth it. I think the birds are Northern Gannetts, and I have no idea how many there were but I would definitely say thousands! It’s very loud with the squawking, and the scenery is great too.

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We also went on a puffin boat tour, and I must say puffins are possibly the cutest birds in the world. I might not even be scared of them now! I can’t remember what tour we used, but it was just the four of us on a boat, gallivanting through the waves and watching hundreds of puffins swim and ‘fly’.

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Have you ever seen these quintessential Newfoundland experiences? Is there anything else you would add?

Gros Morne National Park

For me, the highlight of Newfoundland was undoubtedly the time we spent in Gros Morne National Park. From hiking up Gros Morne to exploring the Tablelands and the other natural beauty in Canada’s second largest national park, ten year old me had a great time.

It’s pretty much essential to get a rental car in Gros Morne, or Newfoundland in general, since everything is fairly spread out.

The Tablelands

This is one of the only places in the world where you can actually walk on Earth’s mantle. There’s an easy hike you can do to see this amazing geological formation, and it’s one of those places that humbles you and makes you realize how small you are.

Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park

Climbing Gros Morne

I’m definitely not a big outdoors person, but this 16km hike was absolutely worth it for the incredible views. There’s a portion before you actually get to the mountain that almost convinced us to turn around, it was so hot and horrible. Then you have to climb up loose rocks and past numerous plateaus until you finally reach the top. Believe me, if I could do this at 10, you can and should.

Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park

The Fjords

Taking a boat tour down Western Brook Pond Fjord is absolutely unforgettable. It really felt like we were in Scandinavia! Apparently the water in these fjords is so pure that it won’t even conduct electricity, which is pretty cool!

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DSC00397 DSC00407Look out for a few more posts on my favourite parts of Newfoundland! It’s such a beautiful province.