Vancouver – a trip back in time

Vancouver – a trip back in time

Having spent a year in Vancouver, a long time ago, I have had a yearning to walk along Robson Street again, ride the Seabus to North Vancouver, watch the squirrels in Stanley Park and take the Skyride to Grouse Mountain. Since the cruise I took recently from the UK was ending in Florida, I couldn’t resist the urge to extend my stay and fly to San Francisco and then up to Vancouver, even if only for a few days in each place.

Robson Street – Christmas lights just add to the magic

After the flight from San Francisco, I couldn’t wait to see Robson Street. My decision to book into the Listel Hotel, so close to my old apartment, was definitely a good choice. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was really surprised at the quality of the hotel, the friendliness of the staff and the spaciousness and decor of the room. Add to that, Happy Hour each evening and you have a recipe for the perfect holiday, although Happy Hour was wasted on me because they didn’t have milkshakes. And the location? It just doesn’t get any better than this, which was the basis for booking The Listel in the first place. Right on Robson Street, with my old Starbucks across the street, and an easy walk to everywhere, including Stanley Park at the bottom of the hill.

Day 1 – an early morning walk to Hornby Street and back, and then down the hill to Denman St, and a bus ride from half way up the hill to the Robson Gardens stop.  A coffee and wonderful chat (lots of reminiscing) with Dennis, my Landlord from all those years ago, some shopping, then ending with a very quiet day. Just being on that beautiful street again was all I needed to take me back to another time, another life. This is what travelling does to us – it creates the memories that are so powerful when revisited.

Day 2 – a bus down to the Sea Wall, a walk along the wall and then through Stanley Park. I was surprised that I had forgotten the basic direction of where we used to walk in the park,

On a cold day in December

but in the process of being a bit lost, the most amazing thing happened – I asked a lady for directions and she suggested we walk together, since she was going that way anyway. As we walked and talked, I found out she had lived in Cairns from when she was 5 until she was 16.  As an adult, her working life had included performing at schools to bring history to life for the children of Canada.  Over a coffee break on Denman Street, we swapped email addresses and websites and intend to keep in touch. You can meet Christine at christinepilgrim.com and I’m sure you’ll be as fascinated by her story as I was.

On the Seabus to North Vancouver - and then just a short trip to the mountain

On the Seabus to North Vancouver – and then just a short trip to the mountain

From Denman Street, I walked down to the Waterfront Center on W. Cordova and boarded the Seabus to North Vancouver. From there I took the bus to the Skyride Station and then up to Grouse Mountain where it was snowing – not a lot, but enough to be really beautiful.

The Skyride – the only way to travel to the top.

And you’ll never guess who I met up there (Hint: Cute, Cuddly and very Christmassy).

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – on Grouse Mountain

Even the reindeer are ready for the big night.

Even the reindeer are ready for the big night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A hot chocolate and warm soup is a must at the Chalet

Warming up with a hot chocolate and soup at the Chalet before the journey back to Robson Street.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 4 comments
Seeing the world – one port at a time

Seeing the world – one port at a time

Having arrived home late on the 1st November from China, with barely enough time to unpack, there I was on the 7th November at the Gold Coast Airport waiting for a flight to Melbourne, then Abu Dhabi, and on to London. From there, a bus to Southampton for a 2-night stay before boarding the Navigator of the Seas for a 13-night cruise to the US, stopping at Boston, New York, Cape Canaveral and arriving in Miami on the 23rd November.

One night in Miami, and then a flight to San Francisco via Atlanta on the 24th (Thanksgiving), and then Vancouver on the 27th. The final leg was a Qantas flight from Vancouver to LA, LA to Sydney, then Sydney to Gold Coast on the 3rd December. Phew! There was a lot to pack in on this trip. My retirement travel plans seemed to be all unfolding at once. The original idea was to pace myself over a few years, working my way through the list of places I want to see, but life has a habit of stepping in and making its own plans, with little regard for any plans you might think you’ve made. And because of this, the comfort zone I’d felt restricted by at the beginning, was slowly expanding, and it was starting to get too easy to just plan and go.

Southampton

Heathrow to Southampton was an easy coach ride – so comfortable in fact, that I slept most of the way. Two nights at the Novotel and then ready to start the sea part of the trip.

Embarkation was a very easy process. Having arrived a few hours before my designated time, I took a chance on being able to board early and was actually given preferential treatment by being ushered through the Diamond and Platinum lines, with only two people ahead of me. This saved me from taking a cab to the Titanic Museum to fill in the time; not a good idea when about to sail the same seas as that famous, ill-fated voyage. Every creak I heard on the first night sent flashes of scenes from the three-hour epic movie of the Titanic, shuddering through me. Having a balcony on the cruise may not have been the smartest choice – putting me so much closer to the water’s edge.

 

A Skoda Yeti (Jungle Green) in Southampton – gotta love this car

Six Days At Sea

Eat / Read / Eat / Sleep / Eat

You’ve got to love Johnny Rockets…

Boston

The sun rose that morning, as it does every day, but this time I was awake and ready to take it on. I made an early morning dash to the coffee booth on deck 5 and was on my balcony, coffee in hand, as Boston came into view.

Boston, on the horizon
Being the first port of call in the US, we had to clear Customs before disembarking for the day’s excursions. I kid you not, the queue to reach the Customs Officer, started at one end of the ship and ended two hours later, at the other end. Needless to say, the scheduled time for departure for our excursion to Salem, was long gone by the time we reached the front of the terminal. Fortunately for us, the bus had waited. The delay had made the excursion a little rushed, but certainly worthwhile.

Seeing Boston in Autumn (or Fall) left me almost speechless. Mother Nature had turned on her charm and splendour, and changed green leaves to red and orange, in every hue imaginable.

New York

At Last!

I had wanted to see New York for so long and I was finally there.

At night, the Cotton Club was on the agenda. I’m not a big fan of Jazz, but this was of the very mellow variety and I’m glad I didn’t miss it. It felt like such an honour to be there, being entertained by very talented people and in such a fantastic place.

While Boston and New York were definitely the highlights, the other ports had their special charm as well, not the least of which was the much warmer climate. I opted to do my own thing in Port Canaveral and Miami and was very glad for the downtime after such a busy schedule. And I have to say the beaches of Miami don’t have much on our Gold Coast beaches. Having once lived within walking distance to the beaches of Surfers Paradise, I feel qualified to make that comparison, but I would welcome your thoughts – maybe I missed something?

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments

Ni Hao China – On My Way

After months of planning, the trip to China officially starts tomorrow. I’ll be up VERY early in the morning, and off to the airport. I’ve even debated the benefit of just staying up all night – but I know I’d live to regret that decision, so I will try to get some sleep – even if it is only a few hours.

Have you ever packed for a trip, thought you’d been really careful about not over-packing, zipped up the bag, only to find you can barely lift it? Where did I go wrong? Was it the chocolate biscuits I bought as gifts for my hosts in China? Or the souvenirs I’ve packed to share with my new Chinese friends? Or the two very special gifts I’m taking with me for some very special people? It must be the combination of all those things because it couldn’t possibly be the few clothes I’ve packed. I was really careful not to pack too many – just enough that I won’t have to be washing every other day. I reckon I’ve got enough to last about four days before I have to consider finding the laundry. Oh I’m glad I mentioned laundry – that reminds me – I was going to pack some washing powder. But wait a minute – won’t that make the bag even heavier? Well, perhaps I’ll just have to buy some when I get there. In fact, maybe I should check the bag one more time – perhaps I could leave a few of those extra shirts at home.

I’ll let you know soon how the trip eventuated, but for now, I need to think about one last check of the packing and then try to get some sleep.

 

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments

Russia

Russia is on my bucket-list – but I won’t be venturing there until the world is a little less crazy…

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments

The Places I’ve Seen

Because I’ve been a gypsy most of my life I’ve seen some pretty amazing places; from drought stricken outback towns to bustling major cities, and everything in between. I’ve lived in four countries and backpacked through Europe in the middle of winter. Some of the places I’ve seen looked best in the rear-view mirror as I was leaving, but most are high on my list of places to go back to. When I think of future travel, it’s those familiar places that call the loudest. While going back is tempting, moving forward means taking new risks, seeing the places I haven’t seen, and have no connection to. It’s about stepping out of my comfort zone, even if only to the inner circle, but always with a view to going a little further each time.

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Tumbulgum – One of the nicest spots on the Tweed

Sunrise

Sunrise – while cruising the great Pacific Ocean

Travel, in my life, isn’t usually planned  – it just happens. And that’s how a trip to China  eventuated in 2016. I didn’t  have China on my radar, but because the trip was organised by someone who knows what they’re doing, and because I would be travelling with people I have a lot in common with, I couldn’t resist. I had never travelled on a guided tour before – my modus operandi is usually an impromptu, impulsive, plan as I go method.

The trip was fantastic – and luckily I took my real camera with me, as well as my trusty iPhone camera. You can read about the trip on my Travel Blog.

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
Places I Almost Saw – While Being Very Lost in Europe

Places I Almost Saw – While Being Very Lost in Europe

Russia!

Right there at the top of my to-do list. I almost got there when I backpacked through Europe with my daughter, a long time ago. The truth is, it was our first day ‘on the road’ and we got very lost. I’m not talking about lost in a city here, I’m talking lost in a continent, namely northern Europe.

We’d planned as far as flying from London to Helsinki, but no further. On the flight across the Channel we actually looked at the map and worked out where we would go once we got to Helsinki, since we didn’t actually have any plans to stay there – it was just a stepping stone to somewhere else.

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While resting from our flight over the Finnish equivalent of a Big Mac, downstairs at Helsinki Train Station, the train we had planned to take was pulling out of the station upstairs, without us.

But in free-spirit style, we just got on the next train, with no idea of where it was going. Maybe we knew then, but I can’t remember now, other than a vague recollection that our skewed thinking may have tempted us to think it would be going in the direction of our previously, albeit hastily made plan. So there we were, kicked back and toasty warm (did I mention it was -24 degrees when we arrived in Helsinki at 4 pm?), and enjoying what scenery we could see as the train sped out of the city, because by now it was dark. At some stage, one of us had the sense to consult our trusty map, and it was then that we discovered we were heading in the wrong direction. Also by now, we realised the train wasn’t stopping very often, in fact, hardly ever. Around 8 pm we arrived at Tampere Station and made a quick decision to disembark and catch the next train back to Helsinki. That idea sounded reasonable, in theory, except there wasn’t going to be a train going back until the next day.

My observation skills aren’t the best, but I did notice that it was extremely cold when we walked out of Tampere Station, and I’m talking seriously cold! Since our research prior to the trip hadn’t included such trivial matters as ‘temperature in Finland’, or ‘what accessories will I need to beat the cold?’, we found we were seriously lacking in warm accessories.

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Tampere
Actually, we thought we had it in the bag when we’d bought fingerless gloves and a nice woolly scarf before leaving London. My geographical intelligence is a bit limited when it comes to Europe because I should have known that, unlike Australia, the further north you go, the colder it gets, and Finland is a bit further north than London. Needless to say, the gloves were as useful as deck-chairs on a submerged submarine. Luckily we were carrying backpacks and not dragging suitcases because we could at least put our hands in our pockets for a bit of extra warmth. But, after a few minutes, we both felt like we had frostbite on our fingertips.

My daughter had been working in London for a few months before our hike across Europe, and the old comfy, hole-in-the-sole boots she was wearing were fine – for London – but not fine for the weather we were now trying to endure on the dark, lonely streets of Tampere, at 8 o’clock on a freezing cold night.

That was another thing we’d somehow overlooked – how much local money do you need, bearing in mind there could be minor emergencies – like getting stuck in a country that you had only planned to pass through? So there we were, on the street, freezing, very little local money, and everyone with any sense tucked away inside a nice warm building, so there wasn’t even anyone to ask directions from – not that either of us spoke any Finnish. Another minor technicality in the great scheme of things.

After a quick deliberation on the consequences of standing out there in the freezing street all night, we decided the only sensible thing to do would be to go back to the railway station and sleep on a bench until morning.

By kallerna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Tampere Station
Another good plan, in theory only. Luckily, when we arrived back at the station we found a nice young ‘gentleman’ who spoke English. He explained that the station closed at midnight, but in true gentlemanly form, offered my very attractive, blonde 18-year-old daughter a bed for the night. I quickly assured him we were a package deal, and he just as quickly retracted the offer.

So there we were, safe and warm for the moment, but feeling like Cinderella (times two) with midnight fast approaching. While we sat and pondered our upcoming night of sleeping on the street, miraculously an approaching train was announced, and just as miraculously I found an ‘older’ gentleman who spoke English. I asked him, not where the train was going (we really didn’t care), but what time it got there. His response solved our accommodation dilemma. It would arrive at 6 o’clock the next morning, and it was going to Rovaniemi. I’m writing this recount on the 24th August and the temperature in Rovaniemi at this very minute is 9 degrees Celsius, and they’re not even into winter yet. So picture the scene awaiting us in that cold December a long time ago, especially since Rovaniemi is north of Helsinki. Very north of Helsinki. I’m talking about 800km’s north of Helsinki. We were never so happy to jump on a train than at that moment. And even more grateful that we’d bought Eurail passes before leaving Australia, so we didn’t have to worry about tickets. And since no-one had asked to see our passes yet, we kind of squeezed an extra day or two out of them, which is just as well since we were in the process of wasting two whole days being lost.

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It doesn’t get much colder than this
Somewhere on that train going to Rovaniemi, we discovered the real value of the map we’d bought before heading off from the relatively warm city of London. It was going to prove its worth right there and then, because instead of having to go all the way to Rovaniemi and then turn around and go all the way back down to Helsinki, we could actually get off at Joensuu, where the temperature at this very moment, at time of writing, is a balmy 12 degrees Celsius – a whole 3 degrees warmer than Rovaniemi. You’ve got to be thankful for small mercies.

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Joensuu Station
So we disembarked at Joensuu. Luckily there was a booth on the station selling hot coffee and snacks, and more luckily, we had just enough Finnish money to buy a little of each, since it had been a long time between refreshments, given that our Finnish Big Mac, the very one that got us into this mess, had been devoured more than 12 hours earlier. It had been a very long night, and so began our journey back to Helsinki, about 500 km’s south, but with the bonus of the most spectacular scenery to enjoy along the way. And again, no Eurail Pass inspectors came our way, so even though we’d lost a day somewhere in outback Finland, it hadn’t cost us a day of our travel pass. Phew!

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Helsinki Railway Station
Now, back to Russia. While gripping the trusty map firmly in both hands for fear of losing our only hope of ever seeing civilisation again, I discovered we were so close to Russia as we journeyed north that cold night in Finland, that I could almost have touched it. But, that’s a trip I’ll have to make another day, another time, and hopefully without a backpack, and in a much more organised fashion.

Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
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