Vancouver’s Street Art

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Let’s head back to Canada – specifically, Vancouver – for a second, shall we?  I was going through my photographs a couple of weeks ago because I want to put a few of my favourite up on the wall and I came across all these colourful snaps of the murals I spotted whilst strolling around Vancouver.  I’ve already written a whole post about what I got up to during my 48 hours or so spent in the city, but I thought the murals were so incredible that they deserved a whole post of their own.  🙂

When Sunny and I booked our hotel we just went for one of the cheapest we could find (hotels in Vancouver are so expensive!) that wasn’t too far from downtown.  We ended up booking one in Mount Pleasant, which apparently used to be the rough end of town until it went through some regeneration a few years back.  Nowadays it’s full of coffee shops and poke restaurants and some really beautiful street art.  In fact, every year in August Vancouver holds a Mural Festival to celebrate diverse local cultures and their histories as well as issues facing the city through vibrant murals.  If you’re heading to Vancouver and fancy checking out all the murals, there’s a handy map pointing them all out and explaining the meaning behind them here.










Have a lovely weekend everyone! 🙂

Road Tripping From Vancouver to Banff

There are three things you need to be aware of if you’re ever planning on road tripping through Canada.  Number one; Sirius XFM plays A LOT of Eminem (Seriously, after 800km I can confidently say that I’m well-rehearsed enough to stand up and be the real Slim Shady).  Number two; Maple Cream Biscuits make for the best road tripping snacks.  And Number three; snoozing is impossible and that five hour stretch will quickly turn into a seven hour stretch because the views just keep getting better and better.  You’re not going to want to shut your eyes and you’re going want to keep stopping to snap away. 🙂


Our road trip began in Vancouver where we picked up this baby.  Our booking was originally going to give us a Volkswagen Golf, but when Sunny saw that there was a Dodge Charger available we decided on a sneaky upgrade (I mean, come on, it’s The General Lee!).  It was a lot of fun – especially when it came to whizzing past all those ambling camper vans on the road between Jasper and Banff.

We split our road trip into three days; on day one, we drove the scenic route through Frazer Canyon from Vancouver to Kamloops, on day two we drove up through Jasper to Hinton, and then on day three we drove Icefields Parkway all the way through Banff to Golden.  We only had a few days but managed to cram a hell of a lot in along the way including stopping to see bears at the side of the road (don’t look for the bears, look out for all the other parked cars!), mountains, rivers, four kilometer long freight trains and dip our feet in all of the gorgeous (but freezing!) lakes.  It was absolutely nackering, but so worth it!

Moose Lake, BC.

The Road to Kamloops




The Grizzly we caught scratching his butt 😉


If there’s anything you want to know about driving in Canada, feel free to fire away!  Have a great week! 🙂

Vancouver in a Day

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Okay, let’s be clear; we actually had a grand total of three days in Vancouver (two and a half, really, when you count the fact that we were stuck in immigration for most of the afternoon after we landed).  But, we pretty much explored the whole city in one day and then used our second day to explore North Vancouver – including Capilano and Grouse Mountain (stay tuned for that one…).  Of course, Vancouver isn’t a small city and we were absolutely cream-crackered by the end of the day (maple cream-crackered), but we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. 🙂

MAIN STREET

Back when we booked our trip we were stunned by how expensive hotels in Vancouver are and really struggled to find something that wasn’t either horrendously expensive or waaaaay out of the city.  We settled on the Best Western Plus Uptown Hotel, which was just off Main Street in an area called Mount Pleasant.  I’m told by an ex-Vancouverite that it used to be a bit of a run down neighborhood, but recently it’s undergone a bit of gentrification with its mural art, poke restaurants and taco bars.  The hotel was great; especially the crew on reception who were full of insider info and put out fresh drinks at the end of the day for weary, overheated guests to take back to the room.  We weren’t far from downtown but not close enough to walk (especially as there was heatwave on while we were there) and so we ended up using the bus to get around quickly.




GRANVILLE ISLAND

We started off the day on Granville Island, heading over there nice and early for breakfast waffles before all the crowds of other tourists swooped in.  It’s not technically and island but a peninsula wedged between downtown and South Granville and while it used to be full of factories and warehouses, nowadays its home to Vancouver’s Public Market and foodie heaven.  From fruit and veg to doughnuts and bagels, and pies and oysters to clothing and artwork, it’s my number one recommended place to hit up if you’re ever in Vancouver.  We wandered around the stalls, stuffed our faces and shopped for some unique bits and bobs to bring home.



STANLEY PARK

From Granville Island, we caught one of the cute and colourful little Aquabuses that ferry people around False Creek, and got off at Yaletown.  From there we had the crazy idea to walk the seawall to Stanley Park, hitting up Sunset Beach and English Bay along the way.  By that point it was late morning, it was getting hot and it was much longer walk than we realised.  BUT!  It was a lovely walk and well worth it to see the beaches.

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s not-so-little oasis right on the edge of downtown.  It’s more than just a public park, it’s actually 400 hectare rainforest and home to plenty of wildlife (including racoons and beavers).  It’s also where you’ll find the famous Vancouver Aquarium.  We didn’t have much time to explore the whole park, but we did walk the scenic sea wall route which took us right past the famous first nation Totem Poles.



JAPADOG

By the time we did a loop of the park it was time for a pitstop and we just happened to stumble across a Japadog Stand.  I’d heard about Japadog before heading out to Canada and then passed one of the stands on the afternoon we arrived.  They’re basically Japanese-themed Hotdogs, which sounds really weird, I know.  But, as a self-proclaimed hot dog connoisseur I felt it my duty to give one a go.  I know, how I suffer, right?  We went for the Terimayo, which is a hot dog topped with teriyaki sauce, mayonnaise and seaweed, and d’you know what?  It was… really weird.  But good weird.  Like, really good weird. The salty seaweed totally made it.



VANCOUVER LOOKOUT

Next we took a tip from our hotel receptionist and headed back downtown to visit the Harbour Centre’s Vancouver Lookout.  We like to climb to the highest point whenever we visit a new city, so the Vancouver Lookout was definitely on our list.  However, it costs $17.50 each to zoom up in the glass lift to the viewing platform.  Thanks to a sweet little tip from our hotel receptionist, we got in the lift (for free!) and whizzed up to the revolving restaurant instead.  It was mid-afternoon, they were only serving small appetizers and drinks and it was pretty much empty.  We bought a hot drink for around $6 each and just sat and watched the view go by. Of course this trick would never work during peak restaurant hours, but during the middle of the afternoon it worked like a charm 😉


GASTOWN

Gastown is the oldest part of downtown and is named after “Gassy” Jack, a steamboat captain from “oop norf” who made it to Vancouver in 1867 and decided he’d had enough of the high seas and opened up the city’s first saloon.  It’s full of old brick buildings that reminded me a little bit of New York and is the best place to head to if you’re looking for a bite to eat.  We ended up at Gringo on Blood Alley which is basically where I want to retire to someday.  80s Music?  Check.  Stadium Nachos and Street Tacos?  Check.  Cocktails with Gummy Worms?  Check.  Neon Lighting?  Check.






COAL HARBOUR

We ended the day in Coal Harbour, which doesn’t really have that much to see or do – it’s basically a big harbour and bagged the name “blue blood alley” thanks to all the swanky apartment blocks and mansions there.  But, it was a nice place to round off our first day.  We walked down to the water and watched all the sea planes coming and going – flying off across the water towards the mountains – and then ended up soaking up the sunset on the terrace of the oh so trendy (and very reasonable) Cactus Club with a burger each. Perfecto.  🙂

Phew, that was a long one!  Have a great weekend everyone 🙂

 

Madeira Photo Diary


I’m going to throw an idea out there that’s going to sound a little strange.  Madeira is like a sub-tropical Iceland.  Okay, I can tell you’re pulling a face right now and I know it’s weird, but try and stick with me on this one.  When Sunny and I booked our trip to Madeira and researched where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do while we were there, we kept saying that phrase over and over again.  And although it sounds really strange to pair two places that are so different when it comes to temperature and scenery, a lot of what we loved about Iceland we saw in Madeira.  Obviously they’re both islands, but it’s not that – they’re both islands that are quite unlike anywhere else and rock at being quirky and unique.  The locals are lovely, the scenery is stunning and often strange in its own way, and they’re both places that are just made for adventurers. 🙂

Hibiscus – the most fake looking real flower on the planet!
Bathing Pools at Porto Moniz

We almost didn’t land in Madeira.  Two and a half hours into our three hour flight the Captain made an announcement that the winds on the island had gone outside the “safe range” and that if they didn’t drop again we’d have to divert to Lisbon.  It was at that moment that Sunny decided to come clean and y’know just casually drop the bomb that Madeira happens to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world to land in.  For someone who’s completely terrified of flying, this wasn’t great news.  See, the short runway is built on stilts on the side of Madeira’s rocky coastline and susceptible to high winds and turbulence.  A lot of the time planes try to land only to pull up at the last minute because they can’t make the landing!  Fortunately for us after taxying around for an extra hour the winds dropped into the safe range just in time – and only just! – so we did land, but it was a wobbily one!


We stayed in the capital Funchal for three days, then took a Ferry to Porto Santo for some beach time and then came back (two days late – but that’s another story!) to explore the rest of the island by car.  You can do it by going with tour operators who will take you by bus to various tourist spots around the island but for us, doing it by car offered way more freedom – even if driving was really, really scary at times!  We got to see far more of Madeira than we would have if we’d resorted to getting around via coach.  We climbed mountains and clifftops and stopped for Espresso in tiny cafes in even tinier villages and it was lovely 🙂


So many cute stray dogs!
Curral das Freiras (Nun’s Valley) on the Eve of their world renowned Chestnut Festival where you can eat Chestnut Bread, Chestnut Soup, Chestnut Cake and wash it down with Chestnut Liqueur.



Away from Funchal the roads in Madeira are narrow and wind up and down the mountains and along the cliffs.  Up to a certain height you’ll see banana trees and Bird of Paradise growing all over the place and when you break through the clouds everything changes and you’ll see Agapanthus and Hydrangia.  Because we were there in October a lot of the flowers were finishing, but I bet if you went in the summer they’d all be in bloom at the roadside.  There are lots of lizards and we even saw a Monarch Butterfly while walking around Funchal which was amazing… even though it wouldn’t stay still for a photo 😦

In the UK when you see that someone’s painted their bungalow bright pink your first thought is, “Ugh, what were they thinking?” in Madeira it’s weird if you don’t.  Not only that, but they build houses and roads in places you’d think it was dangerous/impossible to.  There are houses on the edge of cliffs and tunnels that burrow miles into the mountainside so that the highway can get through.

I was surprised how much I loved Madeira and even more surprised that more young people don’t go there.  If you like holidays where you can enjoy a bit of everything – sun, adventuring, city culture – then it’s definitely worth a look.

Traditional Madeiran house at Santana

Valetta

Alla tiegħi, I loved Malta – which came as a huge surprise since it was one of those places I’d never been fussed about visiting. This, I think, made it even better – it was a total surprise.
Valetta, the capital of Malta, is like a great big, beautiful sandcastle dropped right in the middle of the Mediterranean. The pale, sandstone buildings (and remnants of British culture here and there) reminded me a little of Bath, but with a Mediterranean twist.  The island only gained its independence from the UK in 1964, so the island is still heavily influenced by old Britannia; English is spoken pretty much everywhere, there are British shops, and even a few red telephone boxes.