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Cool travels Grouse Mountain and Vancouver Island

Cool travels Grouse Mountain and Vancouver Island

Hello again! I’m back following a forced hiatus − that is, my computer decided to have an extended nap for a week. $$$ and a new screen later, I’m back!

It’s even cooler here in beautiful British Columbia, and the snow is falling. Ski resorts are now welcoming winter sports enthusiasts and I’m there ready to… well, drink hot chocolate and watch in awe.

British Columbia Grouse Mountain Vancouver travellivelearn.com

Cool travels – Grouse Mountain and Vancouver Island

We paid a visit to gorgeous Grouse Mountain last week. Grouse is cool because it’s only about half an hour’s easy commute from Vancouver city. We’ve been patiently watching from the city down below each day, waiting for powder to appear on Grouse’s peaks, and as soon as it did (on a sunny day, no less) we ventured up top for a play in the snow.

Grouse is special to me because it’s really the very first place I ever saw decent, fluttering, deep white winter wonderland-type snow, back in 1999 when my brother and I first visited.

British Columbia Victoria travellivelearn.com

Grouse is fabulous and this time around we trekked into the mountain a little further to see if we could meet the bears they have at a refuge nearby. Unfortunately the lazy little fellas (like the wolves in the sanctuary at the bottom of the mountain) were sleeping, so we were left to guess what they look like. Anyone however, can check out what they are up to day or night by logging onto the Grouse Wildlife Refuge bear-cam.

Little did we know that one day soon, we’d come face to face with a bear in the middle of the night in Whistler village!

Ice-skating, skiing, snowboarding, walks, hot drinks and fabulous Vancouver city views − it’s all at Grouse. There was even an Aussie Blue Cattle Dog playing up the top of the mountain with his owner − a highlight of our day, because this young dog looked just like our very own Harry who we miss back in Aus.

British Columbia Grouse Mountain Vancouver travellivelearn.com

This is my third visit to B.C. but there’s just so much to see in this beautiful part of the world that I never seem to make it far out of Vancouver city itself. We had an aim this time around to at least get to Victoria on Vancouver Island (about four hours from Vancouver by coach, ferry then coach − check for deals on Pacific Coaches).

We’ll have to get back over to Vancouver Island one day because we realise we’ve missed so much − it’s one of the largest islands off the west coast of North America, and there are numerous areas of the region (such as Ladysmith and Tofino) we didn’t get to visit: untamed, wild beautiful landscapes. Typical ‘super natural’ BC (as they tout in the tourism advertisements).

Victoria however (capital of British Columbia), is a picturesque, clean city brimming with cool old buildings, contemporary shopping and night-life.

British Columbia Grouse Mountain Vancouver travellivelearn.com

My friend, Lauren, once sent me a snow globe featuring Victoria’s romantic city skyline and I’ve wanted to visit for myself ever since receiving this treasured gift. Victoria is Western Canada’s oldest city, originally settled in 1843 and is named after Queen Victoria.

British Columbia Grouse Mountain Vancouver travellivelearn.com

Mostly it is easy to navigate by foot if you’re staying in the city centre. Stroll around the inner harbour for lovely views of the city’s classic, famous architecture of parliament buildings and grand old hotels; Government Street offers shopping and entertainment options, and look out for areas like Old Town, Chinatown, Market Square and Bastion Square for historical buildings and boutique browsing.

It’s also worthwhile finding your way to the famous Butchart Gardens and Craigdarroch Castle, and of course whale watching is a popular activity with numerous adventure companies offering a range of options to suit your time and budget.

We were lucky enough to be reunited with a fellow Expat Explorer from our brilliant August trip, which made this visit extra special.

Vancouver Island is definitely worth adding to your B.C. itinerary − it’s stunning, typical of the whole region, but with a slightly different feel to Vancouver city. Again, I feel fortunate to have visited such a pretty part of the world.

We adore Canada and British Columbia and believe it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Take a look for yourself here on Flickr

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

Wonderful Whistler adventures

The X-Files and Vancouver travel journal

By Sarah Blinco
Back-road blogging – vote 1 Sarah Blinco!

Back-road blogging – vote 1 Sarah Blinco!

Will you help make my travel blogging dream come true? The ultimate competition has just entered my online zone… an opportunity to blog for Escape Travel on a new trip into the heart of historical England. Wow (or in other words, Sugoi)!


“If you have appreciated my stories or liked my photos, please pop a little
shout-out for me
 as the new BACK-ROADS BLOGGER on Escape Travel’s Facebook page, or TWEET


As well as writing print magazine features, regular readers of Sugoi! know I’ve been blogging my journey for a good couple of years, from Australia to the UK, beautiful Canada through to officially blogging for Expat Explore‘s fabulous new 2011 26-day tour of Europe. I’ve done this partly as a record of some of the most amazing experiences of my life, but also because I genuinely like to share adventures, tips, stories and life: social media makes this so easy now, and I love it! I’m sad in some ways to actually be on my way home to the ‘real world’ (but obviously swiftly running out of dollars and it will be cool to see all the old crew(s) again); this trip would provide the ultimate in soul rejuvenation though – a journey back to the UK, and an adventure into the country’s historical centre: a land of legends, Vikings, Princesses… Oh, and I could write about it – brilliant (yep, fun in my world)!

If you’ve followed my adventures you will know that:

a) I *heart* the UK (and I’ve told you all about it on Facebook and Twitter). I fell in love with London but unfortunately due to time restrictions didn’t get to do as much exploring of England as I would have liked (so this trip would be an amazing opportunity to further explore).

b) I’m a nerd, so give me old castle ruins and a Knight’s tale any day over contemporary stories. I’ll also be sure to spin an interesting yarn based on a location like Nottingham, or Florence and Pisa (to name just a few), my motto being that it’s always good to learn something new every day!

c) I’m also not a teeny bopper anymore (although some may argue that I behave like one on occasion), and my fiancé and I do like the ‘finer things’, so if we can do style (or ‘style’ in an economical way) then we’re going to share the details on how you can do it too. Like all our travel adventures, we like to share stories that are beneficial to our circle’s demographic (30s, 40s, 50s+).

*****With all this in mind then, spare a small thought for social networking karma and if you have appreciated my stories or liked my photos, please pop a little shout-out for me and my worthiness to be the new BACK-ROADS BLOGGER on Escape Travel’s Facebook page, or TWEET with a note… Muchas Gracias x


PS – thanks for your votes, I won this! xx

Life’s a witch in Boston and Salem

Life’s a witch in Boston and Salem

Today I’m soaring across a regional patchwork of green and brown, although for a while we’ve been cruising over a vast inland body of water. Judging by the route map I’m thinking we may currently be flying by Lake Michigan. We’re headed for a stopover in Denver, then on to San Francisco. The last time I flew a similar route was about ten years ago, from the west coast into Chicago. Unfortunately we’re not stopping in the ‘Windy City’ this time around, although perhaps we’ll fly across it so I can wave hello. Instead we’re on a route from Boston and excited to have finally ticked one more American city ‘to do’ off the bucket list.

Visiting Boston and Salem, Massachusetts

Regardless of drizzly weather, the city of Boston (one of America’s first big and important cities), to us had a lovely feel; a nice vibe with very friendly talkative locals, rich and influential history, and a bounty of exploration options. In fact, three days wasn’t nearly enough time in the region – just so much to see! Even aside from the city itself, there’s Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, numerous New England excursions, The Hamptons (playground to the wealthy – Revenge, anybody?), Rhode Island and Harvard University on Boston’s outskirts.

Boston is a popular US ‘walking city’, and much of the centre is accessible by foot. We chose a combination of walking, trolley tour, and public transport (using a weekly pass – called a ‘Charlie’ ticket – approx US $15) to make our way between famous landmarks including America’s first public park opened in 1634, Boston Common; School Street and the site of the very first public school in America (established by Puritans in 1635), and along The Freedom Trail – a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads to 16 nationally significant historic sites. Each stop along the Trail showcases an authentic American treasure, often with importance relating to the American Revolution. We dropped by the Cheers Boston (yep, the original 80s series’ pub!), and wandered along the city’s waterfront, through Chinatown and colourful markets.

Ask a local what the best free, fun things to do are, and they’ll suggest ideas like keeping an eye out for television or movie filming, visiting Boston’s Italian quarter on Hanover Street to sample authentic Bostonian fare; or instead of paying for a tour to a well-known (ie. expensive) beach-front hotspot, utilise the convenient ‘T’ (metro system) and take a train to a seaside town like Rockport, or to the fascinating and ‘bewitching’ town of Salem – ‘witch’ is exactly where we travelled on our chosen day-trip from the city.

Saturday was appropriately grey as we ventured up the coast towards Salem, a small city founded in 1626 and critical to America’s east coast because of its strong military and shipping history (along with witches of course, but we’ll get to that soon enough). Little kids were all decked-out in their wet-weather wellies, dogs out for a rainy weekend walk, and townsfolk dressed as, you guessed it, witches, ghosts and other Halloween-esque characters.

Salem – it’s the city renowned for the witch trials of 1692, upon which many books, plays and films, in particular The Crucible, are based. Throughout October everyone gets into the ‘spirit’ of Halloween, and I must admit to battling an overpowering urge to purchase ‘lucky’ trinkets, fancy-dress costumes, tickets to psychic readings, magic sparkly things, and dancing witch dolls (complete with straw broom and striped-socks) from the many celebratory ghoulish shops around town.

Jest aside, we did visit the memorial for those accused throughout the hysteria of Massachusetts’ infamous witch trials. Unlike regions of Europe where in some cases this type of frenzy lasted for many years, witch trials only remained for a year in these parts – but they were renowned. Today the stories stand as a lesson of tolerance. The memorials are surrounded by engraved fragments of final pleas of innocence: the missing words are to symbolise the sad fact that in the end no one was listening.

We’d recommend a ride on one of Salem’s trolley tours which takes visitors around town to interesting sites. One of these is Winter Island, a popular camping ground formerly the site of Boston’s last public execution when a young boy was hanged for stealing a horse. Another is Dead Horse Beach, a terrifying place where many people and horses who drew fire-carriages perished in a shocking fire. The horses were taken out to sea and ‘buried’ at low tide, but then floated back up again at high tide – bones are still found today, a hundred years on. We viewed the famous witch museums, extraordinary ‘old town’ areas where homes are engraved with the year they were built – oldest homes we saw dated back to early 1700s; House of the Seven Gables, the oldest surviving original home connected with the witch trials, is appropriately painted all-black.

Salem was home to America’s first billionaire, as well as to the founder of Harvard Law, and America’s oldest candy company, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, which was developed by Mary Spencer – an incredibly poor mum who started the candy business as a way to take care of her children. Long story short, it worked and she became very very successful. Oh, and incidentally she is also a direct descendent of Lady Diana Spencer, aka Princess Di.

Another interesting Salem fact is that it’s the town where the Parker brothers (Parker Bros.) developed games like Monopoly and Clue, and in fact it was their company that kept this region afloat during the Great Depression earlier in the 1900s. They employed most of the townsfolk at that time and paid using Monopoly money when there wasn’t any real money to go around. The town businesses accepted Monopoly money when times were tough, which kept the economic wheels turning. Amazing, don’t you think?

As in all supernatural tales, the sign of ‘3’ appeared out of nowhere. I arrived in town, we met a dog named Sarah and then promptly happened across poor Sarah Good’s memorial (she was one of those famously accused of witchcraft); I’m the third Sarah – am still unsure as to whether all this is a good sign or bad omen, but nothing has seemed out of the ordinary, so far…


S x

The gentle isle Prince Edward Island

The gentle isle Prince Edward Island

Anne-of-green-gables-anne-of-green-gables-600586_640_480_800x600I’m presently sitting on a remote beach somewhere on Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, waiting for sunset so I can take photos as the light goes down across the far reaches of the world.

If I was to set sail on the ocean in front of me I’d be heading back towards the UK, which might otherwise be a bitter-sweet thought, but given that the experience on PEI has been sublime I simply can’t be anything other than at peace.

I had waited my whole life to come here. Like many, it’s the appeal of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (image from the tv-movie starring Megan Follows, pictured above) that drew me to this far away land, but I’ve also always perceived Prince Edward Island to be some kind of heaven: and as the wind gently echoes across the green fields, quaint colourful homes and sparkling ocean I am pleased to share that I was right.

The Gentle Isle, Prince Edward Island

It wasn’t looking so good to start with though. I’ve been planning this pilgrimage for a while and each turn to get here since leaving London was plagued with one problem or another. We missed the summer season by one week, and consequently quite a few of the shuttles and bus services that would have made the journey on and off the island simple are closed for another six months.

The longer I investigated journeys in and out, the higher travel costs became. Note to prospective travellers – PEI is absolutely worth the trip, but organise yourself early and book flights in and out of Charlottetown to avoid any hassle.

The complications continued to the very end when our train from Montreal was delayed by two hours overnight causing us to miss the last connecting bus to the island, and then the following day there was a delay with our transport on arrival into the island thus drastically reducing our limited window of exploration time. I was quite distressed by this point, really feeling like I wasn’t meant to get here – what could go wrong next?

Gentle Isle Prince Edward Island travellivelearn.com

Fortunately the bad luck subsided, and I’m here! The weather has been stunning, accommodation in our little cabin at the Anne Shirley Motel & Cottages fabulous, locals friendly and helpful, and the island itself simply stunning. Prince Edward Island is much bigger than I had expected. It’s a vast space of land consisting of rugged beach front, rivers, lakes, bays, lighthouses, pastoral land, small white churches with tall steeples, deep-sea fishing boats, and scattered townships and cities including the capital where we landed initially, Charlottetown.

PEI, The Gentle Isle

Regardless of it being larger than I had imagined, the maritime province is still the smallest in Canada, but it is significant as being the ‘birthplace of Confederation’. This is marked by the famous (and loooong) Confederation Bridge which links PEI with Moncton in New Brunswick, the place where we were stranded the evening before arrival.

Pockets of civilisation were founded throughout the area from the 1700s, and it’s obvious from where founding fathers (whether by original land discovery or through spoils of war) hailed – examples of township names include New London, New Glasgow, Cornwall, Kensington, Stratford, Greenwich, IIe Saint Jean and Irishtown.

Visiting Green Gables was obviously a highlight. It’s straight out of a storybook! What I didn’t realise is that the building is historical, not just a film set. In real life (back in the 1800s), the farm was the home of the Macneill’s, cousins to the famous author L.M Montgomery. She grew up nearby with her grandparents but was always inspired by Green Gables and the surrounding woodlands which she named Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood, as depicted in the fictional Anne of Green Gables series.

The gentle isle: Prince Edward Island

Green Gables is just one of many beautiful examples of quaint homes and gardens across Prince Edward Island though. When driving around it is easy to be captivated by the scenery, but the houses are just as striking! Gorgeous triangular roofed homes – colourful, well-kept with beautiful gardens, huge farm barns, and often matching dog houses out in the large back yards. In fact, my initial impression of the island was that it is so picturesque that it’s almost like a country version of the Desperate Housewives set! Similar architectural styles exist whether located in the ‘middle’ of the island across sprawling green countryside surrounded by cows, sheep, horses and dogs, or on waterfront property bordered by boats bobbing in the breeze.

The locals are simply divine too, with several going out of their way to help, guide and chat to us. The folks at Anne Shirley’s Motel were more than helpful, and today we even met a real life Anne Shirley, a lovely lady who was indeed named after Montgomery’s character, and who in the 50s used to own a hair salon and visitors used to ask for her autograph – cute!

Prince Edward Island is the magical land I’d always imagined it to be, perhaps thanks to L.M Montgomery, or Maud as she liked to be called, and her vivid descriptions of her truly beautiful homeland that she wrote about all those years ago. Over the past day and a half on PEI we’ve met two lovely people who both said their lifelong dream was to visit our home, Australia, all the way across the other side of the globe. They said they probably won’t get to travel the distance though, which makes me sad for them, but also makes me realise that I am very lucky to have been able to see this place − so far away but always on my mind. I’m very lucky and grateful indeed.

Gentle Isle Prince Edward Island travellivelearn.com

Getting to PEI:
Try Air Canada, ViaRail and Acadian Bus Lines. Read more here

Anne Shirley Motel & Cottages anneshirley.ca

Getting around:
You’ll need a map of the island and a car – we hired from Enterprise Car rental (Charlottetown) enterpriserentacar.ca. Alternatively, there are cycle lanes surrounding the island so hire a bike and go exploring.

It’s customary to try a ‘Lobster supper’ on Prince Edward Island, and some of the best are allegedly located in New Glasgow.

**More useful information at tourismpei.com

If you have visited Prince Edward Island, please do drop a line in the comments and let me know if you loved it as much as I did x

I adore it in this part of the world.


Like a little culture with that coffee? Travel in Quebec

Like a little culture with that coffee? Travel in Quebec


We’ve just come from the charming province of Quebec where we were based in Montreal, but took a day-tour to beautiful old Quebec City.

Montreal is colourful and artistic, known for its majestic churches, the Olympic Stadium, fun festivals, vast underground shopping city (for when the weather is a little nippy (that is, literally freezing!), and as being home to Cirque du Soleil. It is also the world’s second largest French-speaking city!

In fact, I didn’t really feel like I was in Canada in Montreal! We were told that Montreal is somewhat like the ‘Melbourne’ of Canada, and I think that’s true if you’re taking into account the city’s prevalent art and music scene. It’s a little older than Melbourne though (obviously), and one of the city’s coolest hotspots is actually its most aged: The ‘Old Town’, filled with fabulous old (French) architecture, quaint pubs, and Poutine shops.

Oh, and Poutine – well let me just tell you this is one of my new favourite things – fries, cheese and gravy – oh my! Travel in Quebec is divine!
Quebec and Montreal

I quite liked Montreal for its ‘interesting’ factor: There are dozens of amazing museums here, covering everything from contemporary to fine arts, ancient history, artefacts, dance and modern history – whatever you can think of really. We were lucky enough to test-run an economical City Museums Pass which entitles the holder to unlimited entry to all museums, public transport and special offers. A steal if you’re in the city! Our pick of such attractions would be the Biodome – an environmentally regulated indoor menagerie of plants and animals – including monkeys!

We were also lucky enough to strike the city during a celebration dubbed PopFest, which just so happened to culminate in a massive (I’m talking 80,000 revellers in the street outside our hotel) free street party/concert – full sound, stages, lighting, food and drink stands, port-a-loos and headlining act, the hugely popular Canadian group, Arcade Fire, on Thursday night. Amazing!

Travel in Quebec and Montreal travellivelearn.com

We didn’t rave on ‘til the crack of dawn with the locals though, because on Friday we were up bright and early, set for our adventure to historic Quebec City where history and modernity coexist harmoniously. I’d seen this place once, live on Channel 9 (Australia) when the breakfast show broadcast live from Quebec for a week. Ever since I’ve been keen to see it for myself. Turns out the sweet fairytale-esque town was actually falling into disrepair a few decades ago, but following the discovery of some very old, very important artefacts under a cathedral in the city centre, money was spent to restore the buildings to their former romantic state.

Now visitors can roam the winding roads and along the waterfront, admiring old homes and shops (some streets inspired by the English, the rest French), inspecting local artwork (a prominent industry here) and huge outdoor murals, and enjoying some local cuisine in between shopping up a storm on locally-made products. Quebec City again adds to the aforementioned ‘interesting’ factor in that its primary industries are tourism, government, agriculture and what they call the ‘economy of knowledge’. In fact, the region is renowned worldwide for offering the foremost research and technology into areas like psychology, oncology, infectious diseases, aerospace sciences and even the study of actuary!

Travel in Quebec and Montreal travellivelearn.com

I was somewhat expecting a little more of ‘Europe’ in Quebec, especially Quebec City, but the intriguing thing is that the city is a true mixture of its historical influences. Like Montreal, Quebec City was settled and raised by the English, French, Scottish and Irish. It’s a culture mash-up of grand proportions – a place where there is a Changing of the Guard ceremony that is commanded in French, and a grand statue of Joan of Arc stands within proper English gardens! Some streets look English; some French.

Quebec City is alluring to the traveller’s imagination, having been lovingly and carefully restored to look as it did several hundred years ago, and the fact that French is being spoken all around simply adds to the thrill. Montreal itself is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, with much of the inner city being cleaned up, rebuilt and remodelled (one nice example is that of a new cultural centre which is presently being built near The Marriott on Saint Catherine Street).

All in all, an interesting ‘Canadian’ experience – unexpected in a way, because I really didn’t feel like I was in Canada – the one I’m familiar with anyway; fascinating nonetheless, to see how this only-French-speaking region in North America (and one of the earliest settlements on this continent) has evolved over the past few centuries.

Loved our travel in Quebec, but now we’re off to PEI (yay!)

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


By Sarah Blinco