Glaciers and Ice

December 20, 2017 | Allison Silvaggio

Did you know that about 10% of land area on Earth is covered by glacial ice? Antarctica is the world’s largest ice sheet, and is so large that it even covers mountain ranges and a bunch of volcanoes. Yes, volcanoes… underneath the ice. So as the world’s fifth largest continent, and on average, the highest AND coldest out of the seven, Antarctica and its glaciers are a sight to see. Just don’t forget your long underwear! Read More >

West Greenland

December 19, 2017 | Shauna Cook

I was so excited to visit West Greenland.  I departed Copenhagen airport, and flew with Air Greenland to Kangerlussaq, Greenland.  Kanglerlussaq is a nice little village in the heart of Western Greenland.  It has a well-equipped international airport as it was formally a US Airbase.  For the larger planes arriving from Denmark, this is the only place in Greenland they are able to land.  Once we arrived in Kangerlussuaq, we had about 3 hours to wait until our next flight north to Ilullisat left.  There is not much in the way of airport security if you are travelling domestically in Greenland – nothing at all in fact!  We went outside and did a little walking tour of the area including some really unique gift shops and the local police station.  When it was time to meet our flight, we made our way back into the airport and readied ourselves for our flight north!  Read More >

Sailing the Drake

December 15, 2017 | Allison Silvaggio

No, this is not a reference to Drake, the Canadian-born rapper, with song titles that are actually quite fitting for a post about Antarctica. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what he meant, but I’m going to go with it anyway. Read More >

Northern Ireland and Hurricane Ophelia

December 11, 2017 | Karen Pearson

In October, I was part of a group of travel agents who went on tour jointly sponsored by Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland. We were so fortunate, as this was the first familiarization trip that combined both countries. It was a whirlwind trip, quite literally, and so much fun. I was lucky enough to travel with a fabulous group of people from all across Canada, from Vancouver to St. John’s. In no time, it was like we’d always known each other.

You can fly into Belfast, but Northern Ireland is just as easily accessible from Dublin airport. With WestJet, Aer Lingus, and Air Canada all flying into Dublin, there are so many options for flights. We flew WestJet via Toronto, and although the landing in St. John’s was bouncy due to the wind, I can’t complain about the extra stop. It broke the trip up so it didn’t seem quite so long. I experienced the same friendly service and on-time flights that I have come to expect from WestJet.

On arrival in Dublin, we were met by our guide, Lynn Corken, who was very welcoming and informative. Her Northern Irish accent is lovely, although it does take a bit of getting used to. For quite a while, we all wondered where this Kine-ty Dine (rhymes with ninety-nine) was located, then laughed at ourselves when we realized that’s where we currently were, County Down.

From the airport, we went straight to Newcastle, where we had tea at Slieve Donard Hotel. It’s a lovely, historical seaside resort, and hosts Van Morrison concerts every August. The tea and cakes were lovely, and the view was dramatic, with sunshine in one direction and ominous black clouds in the other.

From there, we continued to Downpatrick, less than 3 hours from Dublin airport. There, we did the Winterfell Game of Thrones Experience, which was fantastic. (More about that in a future blog!)

Later that afternoon, we were hosted by Tracy Jeffrey, who offers cooking demonstrations for couples to small groups in her home. We sampled savoury potato pancakes made by the charming Fred, along with black pudding and dulse (seaweed) butter. Yummy, believe it or not. As if that weren’t enough, we were served a delicious home-made lunch of soups and breads, along with assorted cookies for dessert. We all left armed with recipes provided by Tracy that we all vowed to try at home.

Our next stop was Titanic Belfast. The museum, opened in 2012 just shy of the 100th anniversary of the sinking, certainly lived up to its name. The building is imposing, looking itself like a gigantic ship. The exhibits are very well-done, with many artifacts as well as hands-on exhibits and videos. We has only about 45 minutes to zip through the entire museum, which is nowhere near enough time to do it justice, but we enjoyed our tour all the same.

That night, we stayed at Europa Hotel in Belfast, which was once the most-bombed hotel in Europe. It’s centrally-located near many restaurants, pubs, and a few tour operators. More than one person in our group was disappointed to learn that our trip was not planned to coincide with Van Morrison’s appearances at the Europa hotel on December 4th and 5th.

Across the street from the Europa Hotel, is the nearly-200-year-old Crown Liquor Saloon. It is decorated with mosaic tile floors and mahogany wood carvings. The snugs (booths enclosed by stained-glass walls and a door) were a great novelty for us, and although it was really tough, we forced ourselves to wait (with a whiskey or a pint, of course!) until one of the snugs was vacated and we could enjoy a pint or two in the cozy little room. Sadly, although the service bell still works, it did not summon a bartender for a refill of our drinks and we had to make the (sigh) long trek to the bar a few feet away.

The next morning, we had a short tour of Belfast. It reminds me of Glasgow, both once primarily industrial cities, now with a revitalized waterfront and more commerce than industry. We viewed the Peace Murals on Shankill Road, and I was surprised to learn that there are still gates in the walls that close every night at 7pm, keeping the Catholics on one side and the Protestants on the other side. It appeared to be a very peaceful city; even wandering around by myself lost at night, I never felt unsafe. The gates seemed such an odd contrast to that feeling, and they were something I never expected to see in a Western European country in 2017.

After our brief tour of Belfast, we headed out on the Causeway Coastal Route, which is a spectacular drive along the shore of the Irish Sea. The drive from Belfast to Giant’s Causeway can be done in two hours, but if I were doing it again, I would prefer to take at least a day, and perhaps even a few. There are several appealing little towns along the way that I would have liked to stop in, and many lookout spots with fantastic views. The road is winding and curvy and not particularly wide, but otherwise in good condition and an easy drive.

About an hour into our journey on the Causeway Coastal Route, we stopped at Glenarm Castle and Tea Room in Ballymena. The grounds are beautiful, lush and peaceful. The walled garden, stunning even in autumn, is almost certainly a popular location for wedding photos. The expansive estate and working farm has been in the McDonnell family for more than 400 years. This historic house is the private residence of Viscount & Viscountess Dunluce and is open to the public only on certain dates, so visits must be planned in advance.

The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre provides extensive information about the history, geology, and legend that created the stunning landscape of mostly hexagonal basalt columns. However, the Visitor Centre was closed that day due to the threat of Hurricane Ophelia. We were fortunate enough that the weather cleared up completely just as we arrived at Giant’s Causeway, and the wind and rain started up again as we exited the bus for our lunch at Smugglers Inn only one kilometre away. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect and we thrilled that we were able to see the legendary stones in person. We raced down to the shore and back up the hill in about 45 minutes, but I would certainly suggest taking more time for a leisurely stroll to enjoy the scenery.

Near Giant’s Causeway and not for the faint of heart​​ is ​Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge​. It spans 100 feet over an open gorge to an island, so the only way off is back along the rope bridge. At least one uninformed acrophobic soul has had to be rescued by helicopter after realizing that the bridge did not lead to a peninsula. Frankly, I was extremely relieved that the bridge was closed that day due to the impending Hurricane Ophelia. Last year, I saw photos of the rope bridge, and just the mention of its name caused me dread even before we arrived. I’m sure my fate would likely have been the same as that poor woman’s.

Derry/Londonderrry is built around an ancient walled city. It is also known as the best Halloween destination in the world. Unfortunately, everything was closed when we were there, again due to Hurricane Ophelia, but still it was an interesting city to walk around. Martin McCrossan’s yellow-shirted guides conduct inexpensive tours (£4 per person) of the walled city. They recount the fascinating history of the area, and explain why the city has two names.

That night in Derry, we stayed at City Hotel. My room had a view of the striking Peace Bridge and the near-empty traffic roundabout in front of the hotel, and the wind sounded fierce from up there the fifth floor. City Hotel is a nice hotel in a good, central location. The rooms are very spacious and clean. The in-house restaurant had good food, but the service was a little lacking. However, we chalked that up to the hurricane and assumed they had conscripted staff into doing jobs they do not normally perform, since many people were unable to make it to work that day. 

Hurricane Ophelia turned out to be much ado about nothing in the north, but it sure created a stir. Everything in the country was closed because of the frequently quoted ‘health and safety,’ from schools and offices to shops and restaurants. A few of us crazy Canadians had to go for a walk to see what it was like being in the midst of a hurricane. We figured, we handle blizzards on a regular basis. How bad can a hurricane be?! It was rather surreal to stand in the middle of an empty street in downtown Derry during rush hour. In that area of the island, the hurricane amounted to just wind and rain. Touring Giant’s Causeway in full sunshine under a bright blue, cloudless sky, I couldn’t help but think, “Inclement weather? HUH??? What a bunch of sissies! They should come to Canada in the winter and experience REAL inclement weather.”  However, after hearing news reports, we realized that hurricanes are indeed nothing to take lightly. The storm was much worse in Cork, 350 kilometres to the south of Derry. Several people were killed by falling trees, and a stadium lost its roof. We were grateful that it was only a minor inconvenience in Northern Ireland, with some of our activities being modified or cancelled. However, this was just a reminder that unpredictable weather and unforeseen events are all a part of travelling, and one has to go with the flow. Luckily, everyone in our group took the changes in stride, as did our unflappable guide Lynn and stoic driver Niall. The events that day added a sense of adventure to our trip and let us proudly we survived Hurricane Ophelia. It certainly didn’t negatively affect my opinion of Northern Ireland. I can’t wait to go back again.

A Dinner Invitation

December 05, 2017 | Ian Kalinowsky

Hey there! We would like to invite you for dinner!

Sounds great – when would you like to go?

What are you doing in March?

Um, I don’t know? That’s pretty far in advance.

Well, this place is pretty spectacular and reservations fill up fast.

Sure, I can mark it on my calendar so I don’t book anything else that day – when is it?

Well, that’s the thing. It’s Monday, March 5th, but you won’t be home until the 6th.

I’ve never heard of dinner taking two days…

It’s actually 1000 km North of Winnipeg. I have already made you a plane reservation on CalmAir.

I am intrigued. A thousand km north of Winnipeg? Like Churchill?

Yes, but dinner is not actually in Churchill.

We have to go somewhere else?

Yes, a tundra buggy is going to come and pick us up and head out of town.

Cool so we are going to eat sandwiches in a tundra buggy.

No, in a tent.

What? A tent – isn’t the temperature about -20C?

It’s about -21C today, but the tent will be warm because it’s inside a massive 250-year stone fort.

So let me get all this straight. We are having dinner –  in a tent –  inside a fort – reached by a truck called a Tundra Buggy – after taking a 2-hour flight north from Winnipeg. Anything else I should know?

Oh, the tent is clear so we can watch the Northern Lights dance across the sky, in a location that NASA says is the best on the planet.

This is an amazing surprise. Do I even ask what is for dinner?

Actually, it’s a surprise. Chef Mandel Hitzer, from the celebrated Winnipeg restaurant Raw: Almond, will prepare a dinner inspired by the type of ingredients that explorers, adventurers and First Nations folks would have used in their meals 250 years ago while at the Prince of Wales Fort.

Ok! I’m fired up and ready to go!

One last thing: don’t wear heels.

Five Things Travel Has Taught Me

December 04, 2017 | Pearl McCallum

I have been in the travel industry for many years and have travelled to many different places. And in all these years and all the different places, I have learned quite a lot. Here is my top five things that I have learned while travelling: Read More >

The Wildlife of Antarctica

November 30, 2017 | Allison Silvaggio

Most travellers head to Antarctica to complete their 7th Continent, for the amazing scenery and ice, and for the wildlife.  Just having returned 4 days ago, I remember all of the amazing wildlife.

With just under 2 days from Ushuaia to cross the Drake Passage, much of this time was spent on board enjoying the bird life which included; Wandering Albatross (which just happens to have the longest wingspan of any bird on the planet, reaching up to 3.5 metres across!), Southern Giant Petrel and Southern Fulmar. Read More >

Day three: Last Day on the Northern Frontier

November 28, 2017 | Andrea Rempel

I woke up at 6:09 according my phone clock. I pack up what belongings I have taken out and head off to the shower. A push of the button gives you 2 minutes of hot water. It’s their way of conserving the water that needs to be brought in (and out) from town.

I got dressed and put on my fuzzy slippers and make my way to the lounge car. Not many people are awake yet, so I find myself a table and a cup of coffee and enjoy the views outside the window. As people trickle in, the volume gets louder and the space becomes full of people. Breakfast of french toast and bacon is served. And coffee. There is always coffee.  Read More >

It’s a Small World, After All

November 23, 2017 | Pearl McCallum

Vietnam is a wonderfully diverse country offering experiences that are found nowhere else.  Its storied history has resulted in a unique blend of language, tradition, even religion.  My friends and I began our adventure in Ho Chi Minh City, with its bustling markets, underground maze of tunnels, and ever-present traffic.  Our Canadian eyes were opened to an entirely unfamiliar way of life, and of course that is the reason we travel in the first place.  Delicious pho is found at too many restaurants to count, and for those so inclined there is a high end shopping district.  Read More >

Part Two: A Polar Bear in a Snow Storm

November 20, 2017 | Andrea Rempel

Day two on the sub-arctic terrain and there’s a snow storm! Flights were grounded, but we were nice and cozy warm in the Tundra Buggy Lodge and then later on the Tundra Buggy… until someone spots a bear or bird or fox and opens the window so they can try and get that great photo. Even through the snow, you can see the amazing life hunkering down in the snow. Read More >