Before ringing in the new year tonight, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do a quick summary of how my year looked like on the travel front.
Although some of my original plans fell through this year, I still managed to visit my 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th countries in 2011. 3 out of those 4 countries, namely Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, had been in my plans since my non-trip in 2008 so I was more than happy to finally visit them. I also spent a quick week in Panama, which was, to date, my favorite experience in Central/South America.
I also roamed around Canada a fair amount and got a few more U.S. stamps in my passport but the “new countries” are definitely the highlight of my year.
I didn’t quite make it to my 5th continent but that will happen in 2012 and I’m more than satisfied with the experiences I’ve had while traveling this year.
– Bucket List
Do I keep a bucket list? Yes, ,I do. Do I plan my trips around it? No, I don’t. That being said, I still managed to cross a whopping 3 items off of it this year and also did some work on a fourth item, making 2011 a very successful year in terms of shortening the proverbial “list”.
I flew first class for the first time on my way to Belgium, which was a rather uncharacteristic splurge for me and although the flight wasn’t overly long (just over 7 hours), I absolutely enjoyed the experience. For the comfort alone, I would be more than willing to replicate the experience in the future and let’s be honest, the food and booze aren’t half bad either!
Although my visit to the Netherlands was a little short for my tastes, I managed to see Ann Frank’s house, which was definitely one of the things I didn’t want to miss out on while in Amsterdam. I had heard horror stories about the never ending lines in front of the museum but I lucked out and although pictures aren’t allowed inside the house (one of my biggest pet peeves about museums in Europe!), I was happy with the experience and glad to have included the visit in my itinerary.
In Germany, I finally managed to visit a concentration camp (I actually visited 2, considering they are plentiful in Germany), after failing to do so in 2008 and coming so close while in Belgium a few months before. While Auschwitz remains a place I desperately want to visit in the future, getting to spend a few hours in Dachau and Sachsenhausen was the highlight of my trip to Germany.
One of the long-lasting items on my bucket list is to visit 100 countries, which is obviously a work in progress but adding 4 countries in a year is a step in the right direction.
– The Road
I rarely travel with other people, both by choice and because I don’t always pick the destinations my friends are thinking of when they have time to travel, so when a friend of mine said he would like to visit the Gaspé peninsula and see Percé Rock, I was more than happy to tag along for a quick road trip. The tip of the peninsula is located at the far end of the province of Quebec and although the drive was rather dull at times, it was definitely a cool way to spend a long weekend. I had been meaning to visit the region for a long time but never quite got around to it so getting to explore that little corner of my province was something I was glad to finally do.
Although Ontario is the neighboring province, I somewhat ironically visited it more for business purposes than as part of an actual trip (layovers at Pearson excluded, of course). I had planned a few things to do while in Toronto but the schedule got a little hectic and it turned out to be all business. On the bright side, I got to see Suzie McNeil and the Barenaked Ladies perform, the Staal brothers being interviewed by TSN’s James Duthie and hear a speech by Bell Canada’s president George Cope, which made the whole event fairly cool to attend.
– So Many Ways
Blame it on my habit to travel solo or on some weird quirkiness but every once in a while, I tend to start counting random things involving travel. How many nights slept in a hotel/hostel, how many flights I was on or how many means of transportation I used are among the things I usually work with as they are somewhat easy to recall and count. Obviously, those are totally random facts and don’t have much of an impact on anything but the fact that I don’t spend months traveling each year makes it more than doable to simply sit and add up those things. They’re also a good way to pass the time when flying; which is usually the moment I choose to count those little stats.
For the record, in 2011 I;
Was on 10 flights
Used 8 different means of transportation
Spent 30 nights in a hotel or hostel
That’s it; a short (and sweet?) post about my travels in 2011.
Happy New Year & safe travels!
In case you didn’t know, yesterday was Canada Day and I’ve been juggling with ideas of what to write for my country’s national holiday. Keeping in mind that I haven’t been everywhere (we are the second biggest country in the world after all), I didn’t feel like I could truly capture the best of what Canada has to offer in terms of sights, activities or culture. I trust that there are several outlets available out there for anyone looking for things to do in Ontario or the best restaurants in Alberta so I’m going a different route. I want to put the focus on the country itself and maybe catch some interest not by listing a top 10 activities or the best national parks but by shedding light on what makes each and every one of the 13 provinces and territories unique and different but also pivotal in the shape that Canada has today.
The youngest territory and 13th division of the country, Nunavut officially became recognized as a territory just 12 years ago. April 1st 1999 is when it took the Northwest Territories spot as the northernmost territory in Canada. Not surprisingly, it’s also the home of the northernmost permanently inhabitable locale in the world; Alert.
Being a rather remote area, it has one of the lowest density of population in the world and yet, if it was a country, Nunavut would be the 15th biggest country in the world; edging out every single European country besides Russia.
Quite surprisingly, mainly due to its geographical location, the Northwest Territories are home of the 13th longest river in the world. The Mackenzie river runs through the territory on a length of roughly 4200 kilometres (just over 2600 miles)
It is also home of the only unshared UNESCO site of the three Canadian territories; Nahanni National Park Reserve.
Yukon is home of the highest mountain in Canada; Mount Logan, which is also the second highest peak in North America.
For some reason, while Yukon has its own international airport in Yellowknife, it only offers direct flights to 3 other Canadian cities (Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton) one in Alaska (Fairbanks) and to Frankfurt, Germany.
After Vancouver’s winning bid for host of the 2010 winter Olympics, British Columbia became the third province in Canada to host the Olympics. It is also the only place in Canada to have “coffee shops” similar to the ones in Amsterdam. The major difference is that they are not allowed to sell the product; they simply offer a place to use it.
With 5 sites out of 14, Alberta is the province with the most UNESCO sites in Canada. It is also the 5th biggest energy producer in the world and Edmonton, the province’s capital, is where the world’s biggest shopping mall is located; the West Edmonton Mall.
Regina, the province’s capital, is where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recruits train as it is the only training academy licensed to offer training to the RCMP.
All of the province’s boundaries are man-made; setting it apart from the rest of provinces and territories. To be exact, the province is wedged between Alberta and Manitoba, right under the Northwest Territories and above the states of Montana and North Dakota.
The town of Elie, Manitoba, was hit by a F5 tornado in June 2007, the first category 5 tornado to ever touch ground in Canada.
Winnipeg, the province’s capital, inspired the naming of Winnie the Pooh, where it was originally purchased. Not only that but Winnipeg is also the Slurpee capital of the world even though the temperatures are below freezing point for about half of the year.
Ottawa is where, during World War II, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born. As her family fled the Netherlands because of the war, the hospital ward her mother was in was momentarily declared extraterritorial, making it possible for the princess to only have Dutch citizenship.
Although English is commonly used in several areas of the province, French is the province’s official language. This makes Quebec the only province to have French as its official language.
Throughout history, Quebec has attempted to become an independent state on two separate occasions; in 1980 and then again in 1995. Both referendums ended with a majority of Quebecers choosing to remain a part of Canada instead of seceding.
While French communities exist in other provinces and several areas of Quebec use English on a daily basis, New Brunswick is the only province to be officially bilingual; having both English and French listed as its official languages.
New Brunswick is home to four unusual natural phenomena;
– The largest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere (and second biggest in the world) is located between two of the province’s islands; Deer and Indian islands.
– The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world and they rise at a rate of 1 metre per hour.
– Due to the force behind the high tides, the Saint John River flows backwards twice every day. The phenomenon can easily be observed as the tide overpowers the regular current, causing it to flow upstream.
– Magnetic Hill, located in Moncton, isn’t as magnetic as its name may imply but drivers can put their cars in neutral and watch with amazement as it drives itself up the hill, without any help from the driver.
Halifax, the province’s capital, is where the first decorated English Christmas tree was located. In 1846, protestant Martin Luther (not to be confused with Martin Luther King!) tried to reproduce the effect of stars shining through evergreens by placing candles on a spruce.
Nova Scotia was the first settlement north of Florida and named after Scotland.
There are 150 lighthouses in the province; the most in all of Canada
Prince Edward Island
The only province to be considered its own country according to the Travelers’ Century Club because of the distance between it and the mainland; officially making it the smallest province and the only one to be considered its own land.
Newfoundland & Labrador
There are no snakes or poison ivy found on the island of Newfoundland but the province has its own kind of dog and pony (originally named the Newfoundland dog and the Newfoundland pony)
A few “firsts” also occurred in Newfoundland;
– First province to respond to the Titanic distress signal
– First place to have a wireless communication in the world
– First transatlantic flight departed from Newfoundland in 1919
With 13 provinces and territories, Canada has it all. Coastal towns renowned for incredibly fresh fish and seafood, never-ending fields offering the perfect background for amazing landscape photos, snowy peaks that are famous around the world are only some of the varieties of landscapes Canada has to offer.
July 1st is the day Canadians get hyped up on Tim Horton’s coffee, paint the town red, embrace their passion for hockey and fall in a maple syrup induced coma. In other words, July 1st is Canada Day. So beyond that funny accent and a love/hate relationship with Celine Dion, here are some purely Canadian things that make us proud to be Canucks.
Forget Starbucks; Canada’s own coffee chain is as popular, if not more, as its’ American counterpart. Never had a double-double before? Head to Tim Horton’s to indulge in this Canadian favourite. Odds are you won’t have to look far to find one and you’ll feel right at home with the coffee-loving Canucks. The best part is, Timmies is slowly making its way into the U.S. market; one small step for coffee shops, one giant leap for this pillar of Canadian pride.
Passion for hockey
I’m not going to lie; I’m not a fan of hockey (shock, gasp, horror) but like most Canadians I know, once the playoffs start, I know it’s all about the game. Some people do take that passion a little far, as recently witnessed in Vancouver, but most of us are just extremely supportive of our teams and let’s be honest for a moment; there simply are no greater fans than the fans of the Habs.
Is it a healthy meal choice? No. Is it appealing to look at? Not exactly. But combine fries, cheese curds and gravy and you get the ultimate decadent meal. For the original (and best!) poutine, the province of Quebec has you covered and while more and more restaurants around the country offer this gooey guilty-pleasure, it’s always best to go with the original.
Being surrounded by two of the biggest oceans and having a strong fishing industry in several provinces means that no matter if you’re visiting the west coast or spending time in the Maritimes, fish and seafood are easy to find and always fresh. Besides, you’ve never actually lived until you’ve had a chance to ask for a side of lobster with your lobster club.
A genuinely good nature
Yes, jokes are made and yes, we may in fact apologize even when we aren’t at fault but we also have a reputation as one of the country with the nicest people. We know we’re not perfect and we know we could take notes from other countries on several things but as generalizing as this may be, I do believe we take pride in knowing what the world thinks of Canadians and we’d rather poke fun at our funny accent than get angry aboot the situation. Besides, it’s a lot more fun that way, eh?
Whether it is a pivotal part of travel plans or it simply happens to fall in the middle of a trip, odds are if you travel enough, Holidays will sooner or later be spent abroad. On one side, you have the Holidays that don’t really have a lot of signification in the sense that you will probably not feel homesick traveling on Labor Day or Halloween but when traveling keeps you away from your family and loved ones on Christmas, Valentine’s Day or birthdays, the stakes are definitely higher.
I haven’t had the guts to spend Christmas away from home yet but I’ve been away for a few different Holidays and from personal experience, those are some of the ways to make the whole experience better.
Research, research, research
Generally speaking, it’s never a bad idea to do a minimum of research on a destination but searching for Holidays-specific information might actually make your experience a lot better. Not only will it allow you to know what’s closed and what’s opened but it also gives you some insight on what to expect. The traditions you’re familiar with might not translate into the same experience when you’re halfway around the world and if you get up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, expecting to be joined by the locals, you might be heading for disappointment.
Find out about the local traditions and try to embrace them; it might not be your definition of Christmas but if you know what to expect, you’re likely to enjoy the experience much more.
Do something about it
Traveling alone on your Birthday? Plan something. Make sure to schedule some cool things to do so that you don’t spend the day sulking alone in a corner. If you’re a fan of tours, go for it; that way you’ll be surrounded by people all day. The important thing is to make sure you make it a day to remember and doing something unique that’ll fill your head with memories and stories to tell is the best way to do it. Go Zorbing if you’re in New Zealand, take a helicopter ride over volcanoes in Iceland or see one of the World Wonders; you might not be home but the experience alone will be worth it.
Don’t see being away from home as an unfortunate experience, see it as a way to do something completely out of the ordinary and make it a Holiday to remember.
Follow the local traditions
The old saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, is particularly true when it comes to Holidays and doing some planning to make sure you know what to expect is key to make sure you aren’t taken by surprise by a Holiday you aren’t familiar with. Maybe you’re used to celebrating New Years at the end of December but if you’re traveling through China, you should expect some serious celebrating at the end of January. The Carnival in Rio, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Mexico’s Día de los Muertos are some of the most famous area-specific Holidays that you may experience and always making sure that you know what to expect, especially in terms of what is closed and the services running on a limited or modified schedule is key to enjoying the experience instead of being held back by the celebration. The same logic applies if you expect to visit the most famous Mayan sites of the Riviera Maya. If your trip falls around the equinoxes, expect to be surrounded by crowds of people who are there specifically for the equinox.
Play it safe
If you’re traveling for an extended period of time and have some freedom to build your itinerary along the way, why not build it around the Holiday in question? Not only does it make sense to plan your itinerary around a unique experience and still be in a relatively familiar setting but it also definitely beats avoiding celebrations altogether.
Spending Christmas abroad? The Christmas markets across Europe are world-renowned so spending Christmas time in Austria or Germany might actually be an experience that’ll make you want to travel even more around the Holidays.
It can be New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Easter at the Vatican, Valentine’s Day in Paris or even Halloween in Europe to visit some famous haunted places; Holidays abroad can be a unique experience that’ll completely take your mind away from feeling homesick about missing out on traditions.
Sure, maybe you’re used to seeing snow on the ground and bundling up in winter clothes to go to church or Christmas Eve and it may be hard to get in the spirit of Christmas if you’re on a beach in Thailand but embrace the local traditions and be open to a celebration that’s out of the ordinary for you.
Worse comes to worst, if you realize that you simply cannot break away from tradition, there’s always next year if you want to go back to a more traditional celebration. On the plus side, you’ll be able to share the unusual experience you’ve lived and who knows; you might actually fall in love with the traditions you’ll discover abroad.