The X-Files and Vancouver travel journal | first time travel diary

The X-Files is back in 2016 – how X-traordinary. To say I was obsessed with this show when I was in high school is probably an understatement, but what can I say – it was a good one – still is! Not surprising then, that my X-Files and Vancouver travel journal is a prized possession.

I wasn’t alone – I had mates, Leisa, Michelle, Julie, Jacquie, Melissa… to name but a few. We all fed the beast. There are worse things to be addicted to though, and actually this series taught me about smart storytelling, mythology, history, passion, spirituality and creativity.

Like many fans around the globe, I’ve begun watching episodes again, cherry-picking my favourites, as sadly I don’t have time to get through all nine seasons (just yet). Through the re-watching exercise I’m remembering why I loved it so much – depth, characters and chemistry (despite at-times dodgy ’90s sound and production technology).

I also found one of my favourite destinations in the world because of this special production – Vancouver.

As many diligent fans before me, I too made the pilgrimage to Vancouver to hunt X-Files sets (although by the time my brother and I travelled to North America, filming had been shifted to LA). I ended up discovering a city I feel utterly at home in.

Life is strange and beautiful.

Anyway, the treasured travel diary I kept on that original adventure has since been in my top three personal possessions that I would take with me in the face of that hypothetical fire! The trip was my first foray into freedom, travel, challenges and real growth, fueling an incessant wanderlust; this diary and its stories of our adventures over six weeks in five areas of America and Canada represented all of that, particularly in the many years that followed where travel was not part of my life.

Now the show which inspired me in my teens is back (as of 24 January 2016) and also shot on location in Van, I decided I’d read back to relish in what actually happened across December 1999/January 2000, as Josh and I investigated on our own, throughout British Columbia (BC), to California and beyond.

Did we find what we were looking for?

Read on…

X-Files and Vancouver travel journal

2016 - present day

Vancouver now – so much to tell! Flying into British Columbia (BC) and driving to our city accommodation, I was breathless seeing snow-capped mountains, green grass, clean streets… this place is lovely!

We stay in Gastown, the oldest, original part of Vancouver. Quaint shops line Powell and Water Streets, and downtown city centre is only a block or two away.

The X-Files travel blog diary extractFound Canada Place where the ‘fountain scene’ from X-Files episode ‘Duane Barry’ was filmed, as well as the Gastown rail yards where many other X-Files episodes were shot (located a street behind our accommodation, actually). This, all framed by pretty waterways, ocean and snow-drenched mountains.

Met up with [Josh’s friend] Shawna yesterday. Took the skytrain to Surrey to meet her then drove back towards the city and had a look at Granville Island. Along the route, the epic landscape evolved – mountains, flat lands, residential areas, parks, snow – so inspiring, and appropriately (in my head, at least) the ride was set to an anthemic soundtrack of Savage Garden’s album, Affirmation.

Today was the real treat though. Woke up to find sunlight and fairly warm weather (7 degrees!). Decided to aim for Lighthouse Park and Atkinson Point in west Vancouver. This is the forest park where much including ‘Darkness Falls’ X-Files episode was filmed. Found the right bus route and it was a nice ten minute walk through the woods that eventually open up to the sparkling seaway. Beautiful BC!

Caught the bus back to Park Royal Shopping Mall for lunch. By accident, I spotted Buntzen Lake on a map. Previously I couldn’t find this precious location where ‘One Breath’ and ‘Quagmire’ were filmed.

The X-Files travel blog diary 2000Worked out the bus to Lonsdale Quay, seabus to Waterfront, skytrain to Westminster and then found another bus to take us to the area around Buntzen Lake just fine – I was a woman on a mission; too bad I can’t navigate my way around Brisbane this well.

Only problem, we didn’t realise it would take an hour and a half to get to this quieter and more regional part of BC – far away from Vancouver. We got there nearly on dark.

A local showed us a short-cut to the remote lake which turned out to be a twenty minute hike through snow, forest and mud, over a dodgy wooden bridge and well into falling darkness.

Emerging out the other side we found this peaceful, shimmering body of water surrounded closely by snowy mountains. It was the picture image of ‘One Breath’ (though I understand this emotional episode was filmed at a few locations around the region). The anxiety and craziness of walking back through a foreign forest in darkness (far too close for my liking to having just seen Blair Witch Project) will be worth it if any photos turn out to capture this simply magic moment. It was stunning, and gratifying finding this place, for many reasons. I can’t believe I’m here, cosy amongst such tranquility and in a world so far removed from Queensland. I should have written more on Vancouver. It’s touched me so.

Grouse Mountain and first time snow

The very definition of ‘winter wonderland’ is stepping off the skyride at Grouse – for above the city, through and beyond the clouds, Grouse was like a glowing powdery-white world of its own. Certainly, we’d never seen anything like this before. Josh tried skiing. I took photos with my new camera. The experience was just amazing. I’ve become obsessed with photography, especially framing the picturesque beauty of BC.

2016 - present day

Counting my location spots: found Grouse “Skyland” Mountain (‘Ascension’), Buntzen Lake in Anmore (‘Quagmire’, ‘One Breath’, ‘Conduit’), Lighthouse Park (‘Darkness Falls’ forest) and more across the city; Hotel Vancouver from ‘Fire’, St Andrew Wesley Church and St Paul’s Hospital from ‘All Souls’ and ‘Pusher’ respectively. Saw the site of the arcade from ‘DPO’, and the Ovaltine Cafe from ‘Jose Chung’, but these shops in north Vancouver and downtown don’t exist anymore. Found the GM Place stadium [now Rogers Arena] where the huge chess game and final Vancouver ep, ‘The End’ was filmed; and the fountains at Canada Place used in ‘Duane Barry’.

BC Grouse Mountain Sarah Blinco travellivelearn

Of course, we stayed in Gastown where much was filmed, including the rail yards and Water Street from ‘Redux II’, and ‘Beyond the Sea’, plus found the ‘angel made of stone’ from the same episode outside the city’s central transit centre. In Vancouver, The X-Files is all around you – particularly brilliant if you’re a fan. There’s always something being filmed around the streets of the city, it’s really cool. Vancouver proves to be true to its nickname, Hollywood of the North.

Pondering all this and sheltered from a cold winter’s night, I enjoyed a post-dinner tea in a cafe on Powell/Water Street, across the road from our hostel. Chatted to the owners who told me more about all the filming which happens around here. In fact, they had a photo of Billy Zane from when he filmed The Survivor in that very space!

We’ve decided to stay an extra day to return and attempt to capture better photos in the sunlight at Buntzen Lake, then we’re going straight to San Francisco. Oh, and I stopped by GM Place earlier to say I stood there (Ricky Martin is playing there on March 3!).

Spent some time on my own over the past couple of days, and I love the anonymity. Breakfasts have an ‘arty’ feel and I have adopted a favourite coffee shop in Gastown where I go almost daily for tea and fave North American find, sticky buns.

Just as I have to leave, I realise I’m sad because I’ve found a  place here. Nestled snugly within the Burrard Inlet, snowy slush and bare trees; despite a crisp winter not previously experienced by us, it’s a bitter-sweet comfort being so far away from home. But I can breathe.

Change of scenery – X-Files and LA

2016 - present day

The X-Files travel blog visitor pass[My friend] Lauren and I staked out Fox Studios in Los Angeles today – we’ve made it to the one and only Hollywood now! Fox is down on the Avenue of the Stars at Century City, between the massive space of Pico Boulevard and Olympic Boulevard, south of Santa Monica. We saw props and buildings which would be sets, we imagine, but no-one was around for us to question.

I have a phone number to make use of tomorrow. I’m fearful of hearing that word, ‘no’, but I’m not easy to stop! It’s worth a shot anyhow, to see if I can get on the set – I’ve come so far, why stop now?

Superbowl today, but I’m more excited about the brand new XF New Year ‘kiss’ episode that’s on tonight, ahead of Australia 🙂

X-Files Day – 2016 - present day

The X-Files travel blog diary extract travellivelearn.comThe world’s technology didn’t shut down on New Year’s as predicted, and just as astonishing, I talked to Gillian Anderson at 6.30pm tonight, before she left with [her daughter] Piper! She was lovely and pretty and had her costume on from the movie! I told her I’d come all the way from Australia and she smiled. She asked what we were doing there and I said we’d been watching filming. She laughed and said it must have been “so exciting” (the scene was fairly low action, not that I cared at all). Then she shook my hand and said it was nice to meet me. Dream done.

The second shot we saw in our two and a half hours on set, was of Scully receiving a phone message from Mulder and then she could be seen adjusting her bra before she left with an overnight bag and the Cigarette Smoking Man (who also smiled and said hello when we were on set)! We listened to proceedings in our own ‘Guest’ director chairs with headphones to hear what was going on, and could see in the monitor the shot in sequence.

I got to meet Gillian Anderson today, and watch her play the character I love. I made this happen somehow. No one can take this away from me! This is amazing. I’ve read back through my diary too, and noted the aspiration to make this set visit somehow come alive here. I believe that it was always meant to happen – I just knew it, but I didn’t know how. ‘I want to believe’ (yep, truly dorky fan-nerd pun right there!).

Turned out we were watching the filming of ‘All Things’. And we could eat what we wanted from the huge snack table. Can’t believe after sweating on hold on the phone this morning and talking through several different people that they agreed to let Josh and I on set. I pulled this one-off by calling Fox myself and basically making it happen (despite being shy!). I can’t quite believe it but I’m very very glad.

2016 - present day

Funnily enough, I still live by this exact mantra today – write your desires down and go for it – regardless of fear. What’s the worst that can happen? More importantly, what’s the best thing that could happen?! That’s the lesson I share.

Looking back, I’m pretty proud of my ‘little self’ for being so resourceful and passionate in pursuit of her dreams, no matter how ‘out there‘ they may have been.

As for Vancouver, I’ve been there a few times now, and we even lived and worked in Gastown for a spell. Despite having to say goodbye to the city repeatedly over the years, it’s been a wonderful X-perience and ride.

Please share your thoughts below, I’d love to hear from you!

If you’re interested in more stories from this divine part of the world, you might also enjoy:

Heaven is Harrison Hot Springs

Coffee & cocktails in Gastown

Love this artist, Lisa Penz

Wonderful Whistler adventures

Discovering Grouse Mountain and Victoria, Vancouver Island

48 hours in San Francisco

This ‘city by the bay’, known for its famous landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and cable cars offers an abundance of attractions, dining, shopping, and night life that’s are certainly less pretentious than its Los Angeles counterpart but no less indulgent or exciting. Voted the ‘Best US City by Conde Nast Traveler for 16 years running, the city has recently been named the home of the upcoming Super Bowl 50 in February 2016 for the USA‘s National Football League (NFL).

Whether you’re just passing through heading to the Napa/Sonoma wine country or staying longer in this travel hotspot, here are a few suggestions for keeping yourself entertained while enjoying the ‘fog city’ even if you’re short on time.

48 hours in San Francisco – what to do

Dining and drink

San Francisco has no shortage of culinary treats to please every palate. From slow food to street food, farm-to-fork or caviar to champagne; no matter what your taste, this city has something to match it.

Urban Tavern main dining room

The modern Urban Tavern offers fresh, seasonal produce where 80 per cent of the ingredients are sourced within 100 miles of the Bay Area. Classic items that have previously been featured on the Urban Tavern menu have included spicy beer sausage and house made pretzel, crawfish and wild mushroom turnovers, five spice braised baby back ribs; and more.

The restaurant’s wine list is focused on selections that are organic, bio dynamic and/or made from sustainably farmed grapes. The domestic list includes more than 100 local vintages and even the table water being served is filtered in-house, not obtained from a commercial source.

Step back in timewith thistribute to old San Fran glamour as John’s Grill is an iconic restaurant located near Union Square. Featuring a wall full of photo of the famous diners who’ve enjoyed this eatery over the years, this particular restaurant’s atmosphere was also once made famous by Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The menu features a wide variety of steak, seafood and pasta options as well as a heavy serving of nostalgia.

Bluxome Winery Barrel with Lights

If it’s a tasty drop you’re after, Bluxome Street Winery is the first San Franciscan winery in over a decade. While the city was once long ago full-to-the-brim with wine-makers, unfortunately, most of the wine-making facilities were destroyed due to the 1906 earthquake and its ensuing fires.

Now the Winery offers enthusiasts a way to experience some of what makes the California wine region a favourite without leaving the city. The Winery crushes and ferment its grapes on site to produce small quantities of high quality pinot noir, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.

Often the site of special epicurean dinners, tastings and more, it’s well worth the visit.


Things to do

Geographically speaking, the city is small enough to get around in a short period of time which makes it easy to see and do a number of things in just two days, particularly if you take the iconic cable cars.

Among the quintessential San Francisco icons, the Golden Gate Bridge is said to be one of the most photographed structures in the world and still manages to impress visitors with its expansive span over the Bay. Also in the San Francisco Bay is the notorious Alcatraz prison, former home to some of the most famed ‘baddies’ in US history including Al Capone. This prison was closed in the 1960’s and remains a fascinating tour and attraction for exploration.


Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to Pier 39, an area bursting with waterfront shopping, dining and night life options. It’s also home to a large and highly photogenic community of seas lions who have taken up residence on the floats to the west of the pier.

Serious shoppers will adore Union Square with its multiple department stores, designer boutiques any so much more all within a short stroll.

Sea Lions 2

Lastly, and certainly one of the city’s most underrated attractions, Beach Blanket Babylon, is a quirky comedic musical revue that’s stood the test of time for 40 years. The outrageous and elaborate costumes, irreverent humour and high calibre performances are enough to even make the toughest crowds chuckle. While much of the humour is based in American pop culture, even international guests will connect with the jokes. Performances are held at Club Fugazi in the North Beach district and are well worth booking for something out of the box.

Where we stayed

The Taj Campton Place is centrally located in Union Square and offers easy access to most anything in the city. Rooms are spacious and comfortable and in 2010, its restaurant earned one Michelin Star.

For more inspiration on this destination visit The San Francisco Travel Association at


About the author
Gwen O’Toole is an accomplished writer focussing on travel, events management and food and wine. She also published a fiction novel while spending the past eight years as a magazine editor and travelling the globe before launching The Ideas Library, a creative services and event management company. She is regularly featured in a variety of travel and leisure publications and blogs.


Have you visited San Francisco recently? Do you have any extraordinary experiences you can share with us in the comments below? We’d love to hear from you! 



Mont Tremblant in Canada’s summer

Gareth Anderson explores Mont Tremblant in Canada‘s summer, a fun winter sports playground, and ideal for a warmer-months tour through the land of the great redwoods. There’s plenty to keep even the most dedicated adrenaline junkie happy, and he shares insight with …

Mont Tremblant is most often seen under a frosting of fresh powder nestled as it is in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec. But this mountain playground is even better bathed in summer sunshine. Check out the challenging mountain biking trails, improve your grade on the many outdoor rock climbing routes or put your best foot forward and set out on a hike. This is a great destination for active families who will be well placed to enjoy the mountain from one of the many accommodation options on offer across the town.

Lighthouse Park Canada hiking outdoors


Mont Tremblant National Park has a variety of European and North American style routes to try. If you are looking for a good introduction then the Tremblant Climbing School can teach you the basic techniques to get you started. Or if you are seeking something unique why not try the Diable Via Ferrate? These ‘via ferratas’ which translates as ‘iron roads’ are made up of steps, handles and beams hammered into the rock face. Climbers are clipped into a steel cable that runs the length of the route making it safe for all levels and ages. The view from 200 metres up is truly spectacular.

Biking and running

Biking fans won’t want to miss the Quebec and Canada Cup Mountain Bike Race. Over 1,000 bikers take on the mountain in this challenging downhill race each year. There are also cross country trail races that make the most of the many miles of mountain bike tracks in Mont Tremblant. Keen cyclists can also enjoy the excitement – or of course take part in – the Mont Tremblant Iron Man Competition. Competitors must swim 3.8 km across Lake Tremblant, cycle for 180 km and as if that’s wasn’t enough, run 42.2 km to reach the finish line at the Tremblant pedestrian village. You can get a taster of the Iron Man Competition by taking part or cheering on the athletes in the Mont Tremblant Triathlon. There are different levels to choose from, so match ambition to your course!

Kayaking at Deep Cove in British Columbia

Water Sports

Mont Tremblant also offers great options for those who want to spend some time on the water, kayaking, canoeing, rafting and sailing are all readily available around the resort. Rafting down the white water of the Rouge River is about as exhilarating as it gets, but if you want a slightly more restrained experience, La Diable river or the hidden beaches of the lake are easily explored by kayak. On the lake itself sailing, water skiing and wakeboarding are available at all levels with tuition on hand for those looking to get started or to simply improve skills.

hiking in the woods Canada Deep Cove


In the winter months the trails are covered in snow and ski slopes dominate everyone’s attention. In summer the hiking map is revealed, allowing walking enthusiasts to enjoy over 12 trails of varying distances with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. For those who like to take the scenic route down, there is the option of taking the panoramic gondola – the perfect way to arrive back at base refreshed and ready for your next adventure.


We adore Canada and British Columbia and believe it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.