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Montreal in Quebec is the largest city in the Province and second most popular city in the country. This is one of the most beautiful cities that I have been to in Canada. Even before I had explored Toronto, I had seen more of Montreal and had completely fallen in love with it, its only fair I write about my memories about Montreal, before its too late.
Montreal is about 5hrs drive from Toronto, so it makes a very good road trip from Toronto. I have taken train, bus and driven down “n” number of times, I think I enjoy the drive more than anything. You get to stop in Kingston, Ottawa and other beautiful locations, if you want to have a relaxed road trip, without taking much of a deviation.
Montreal is also the second largest city in the country, having said that, you can easily see the place in about 3 complete days, if you are pinched for time. You can visit the city anytime of the year, as it has so much to offer but, winter can be really brutal, so I would suggest summer is the best time, though I visited Montreal for the first time in Winter and loved every bit of it.
Top things to see and do:
Pebble Stone Street in Old Montreal: Music, art, food, shopping and just the lively feel is reason enough to visit this place. Take a stroll in the evening enjoying the music, shows, art and shopping, choose from umpteen number of best restaurants to settle in for a nice dinner or binge on home made ice creams and yummy dessert, this place will not disappoint you for sure.
Carriage Ride and Biking Trails: Take a carriage ride around the old Montreal, it gives you such a royal feel and introduces to where you should be heading after the ride, this is definitely a must do in the city.
Montreal has amazing biking trails, you can hire the bicycles in and around the city and set off on discovering the nook and corners of beautiful Montreal.
Biking Trail Map:www.mapmyride.com/ca/montreal-quebec/
Notre-Dame Basilica and old port: Located in the historic district of Old Montreal, it gives such a dramatic architectural feel when you visit the church.
Old port is along the St.Lawrence river and stretches for about 2kms and it is a very good walk along the river. There is a park if you are tired and want to just relax.
All the above places are located in Old Montreal and can be visited in one day.
Biodome and Olympic Stadium: Biodome is located in Olympic park, it has a indoor zoo, aquarium and four different eco-system and totally worth making a visit. You can easily spend one complete day here and I just don’t get tired visiting this place.
Visit the tallest inclined tower in the world and take the ride up to see the Montreal Tower Observatory and the view is just breathtaking. It is suppose to be award wining panoramic view of Montreal.
Mont Royal and Saint Josephs Oratory: Are you an early bird who enjoys watching the sun rise or the one who gets energized as the sun is ready to set, either ways, I am sure this is the place you want to be in Montreal. Along with beautiful sun rise and sun set, you also get a amazing view of Montreal.
Saint Josephs Oratory is Canada’s largest Church, exceptionally beautiful and architectural wonder. It is also famous for its healing miracles.
Laughter Festival (Just for laughs): Montreal is the city of festivals. There is something or the other going on through out the year but Just for laughs is something that I have enjoyed the most in summer time, which is held in the month of July. This is also largest international comedy festival in the world. This year its held between July 12 to 31st, 2017.
French is the official language of Montreal, so if you love just listening to people speak French, like I do, go say “Bonjour Montreal”.
Planning a vacation can be taxing but surely rewarding and if everything goes as planned, then its a cherry on the cake 🙂
Continuing with my travel itinerary, here is the exciting part, fruits of what you sow, places I visited and experiences I cherish:
Total Days: 5 days and 5 Nights, 5 complete days is more than enough to explore the country. Even though the day light was only for about 5hours, I did not feel that I missed out on anything, at all. If you are visiting in the summer, then with extended day light for about 20hours (its tempting to visit again in Summers, which I will for sure), 5 days will be more than sufficient.
Day 1 – Things I did:
- Walking tour: Took a 2-hour walking tour to know the city better. This is something one should do first thing when you visit a new place, explore the place either on your own or with somebody who knows the city really well. There are free tours offered, so you don’t even have to spend a dollar. www.citywalk.is
- Blue Lagoon: This needs a booking at least 1month in advance since this is the most visited place in Iceland, though I felt it was very expensive and little hyped, it is definitely worth a visit.(pictures I accidently deleted and couldn’t recover unlike other pictures I could after a long time:() www.bluelagoon.com
- I had booked a Northern lights tour which got cancelled hence I went to explore city in rain, which was fun. Though, I did not get to see Northern lights even one night, I would suggest you book the northern lights tour on the first night, if you are not lucky the first night, you can at least try your luck remaining days.
Day 2 – Things I did:
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls: The highlight of Seljalandsfoss falls is that you can walk behind the waterfalls, which is spectacular. I spent good 20 to 30min behind the falls admiring the majestic beauty, I could do that because I had my rain coat on, though a lot of people were just there for about 5min. Even if you have a winter jacket, make sure to carry a raincoat which is very helpful, if you are travelling in winter.
- Skogafoss Waterfalls: This is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland and there is also a belief that the first Viking settlers have hidden the treasure behind the waterfalls. Looking for some treasure hunt, this could be the one 😛
- Glacier Hike: I can go on about my glacier hike adventure but I feel pity for the reader who have already read “My Iceland Adventure” article, hence not saying much.
- Black Sand beach: This is the most gorgeous beach that I have seen so far, though it’s also one of the most dangerous beach and tourist are advised against going even close to the beach, forget dipping your feet. Make sure you visit the beach when there is day light.
Day 3 – Things I did:
- Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon: This is my first ever experience seeing a glacier lagoon and it could not have gotten any better. Words or pictures cannot do any justice to what you witness in-person. Just go visit is all that I would say. Btw, a lot of films and music videos are shot at this place.
- Diamond Beach: Diamond beach is just opposite to Glacier Lagoon and you can see the glacier washed off to the beach. Glacier in a beach, doesn’t that sound exciting?
- Ice Cave: This is something which attracted me to visit Iceland in winter as the cave will be filled with water in summer, so if you are even thinking of a visit to Iceland in summer, look at the pictures, though not very impressive, I can bet you will thank me after visiting this place.
Day 4 – Things I did:
- Gullfoss Waterfalls: Gullfoss waterfalls is also called Golden Waterfalls, this is in South of Iceland and part of Golden Circle. There is a very interesting story behind this waterfalls. This was privately owned by a farmer who wanted to sell this waterfalls to foreign investors to harness electricity but his daughter opposed him and took him to court only to have won the case. Icelanders are grateful to Sigridur Tomasdittir for saving it from being destroyed. Frankly, this waterfalls is as majestic or ever more than Niagara Falls.
- Strokkur: Strokkur, natural fountain Geyser is located in Geothermal area. Well, this is something which left me spellbound. I was not really expecting something this phenomenal when I reached the place. Just when I was trying to figure out which way I should be heading to see the natural geyser, it just shot up right in front of me leaving me speechless. The feeling is something which cannot be put in words. It has a lot of hot water blow holes too.
- Pingvellir National Park: Pingvellir also called as Thingvellir is a National park and a historic site. This is located between two tectonic plates Eurasia and America. Though its a little crowded comparatively, I loved visiting this place. There are a few waterfalls which has some interesting stories of their own and who wouldn’t like to be in Europe and America at the same time. The landscape is just enthralling and makes a good walk just exploring the place.
Day 5 – Things I did:
Snorkeling Tour: Booked it with www.Dive.in, you can be picked up from your hostel/hotel with extra cost. As I have already written about my experience, I am not saying much here. This is easily a day activity, even though you get back to your hotel by 4pm, you need to sit back relish the experience, when you are there snorkeling it doesn’t hit you as you are trying to fight the cold, but when you are back and think of the experience is when you feel so good about yourself for doing it in such cold weather.
Iceland is surely one of the places which will stay very close to my heart for the longest time and I am already thinking of visiting it again in next summer. If you are looking for some adventure, Iceland is the place.
Decision to travel alone was impulsive, but booking a one-way ticket to Iceland was just crazy. That’s exactly how my planning started, after I was back from my Rockies trip. People say “you need a vacation to get over a vacation blues” that was pretty much the case with me. When you have a supporting husband, an amazing daughter and understanding parents, everything falls in place and a solo travel can be done even after being married and having kids.
Iceland is definitely very travel friendly and safe for solo travelers. Since the economy of the country is majorly dependent on Tourism, the planning gets very easy and there is so much information on the web.
As I had everything booked beforehand, things went very smooth and I dint have to think what I should be doing next day and where to book.
Flight: I booked my flight tickets with WOW Air and it cost me about $249 for one-way ticket from Toronto and two-way would have cost about $350, which is not bad at all. I travelled mid-week, so that was another advantage.
Airport Transfer: I highly recommend you book this well in advance, unless you are doing a road trip. After a tiring flight, it is very nice to just get out of the airport and find the bus right in front, without having to wait in the counter to buy the ticket. Buses usually go to the central Bus station but, if you pay a little extra while purchasing the ticket, you get dropped off at your hotel/hostel and also, get picked from your hotel/hostel/other destination, while returning.
Accommodation: I booked 3 days in Loft Hostel, this place is right in center of the town, walkable distance to everything in Reykjavik, right in middle of all the good restaurants and shopping places.
Link: http://lofthostel.is/ (3 days, 1st night and last 2 nights)
Hotel Hofn (1 night): After the Glacier hike and in search of Aurora, we settled in the Hotel Hofn as the Auroras are visible from the hotel. You get the best fish dinner which made my taste buds happy after a tiring day. Beautiful and very clean, cleaner than Marriott or any other hotels in the category.
Hotel Eyjafjallajökull ( 1 night): Another gorgeous location and impressive room. It was just perfect in every angel, food, cleanliness or location.
Tour Booking: I booked a three days 2 night’s tour with “Guide to Iceland” which included everything that I wanted to do. Most of the activities that I wanted to do had to be booked through a guide, so this was perfect. If you do individually tours, it would pretty much cost the same. We were connected to Wi-Fi throughout the trip, so you don’t have to buy a sim card or internet package.
The daily Itinerary will be posted in my next article, watch out for some exciting stuff.
Looking at the gorgeous weather of 10 degrees in February, it looks like Groundhog -Wiarton Willie was right and spring is just around the corner. After forceful skiing on the roads to building muscle shoveling the snow, it’s almost time to enjoy the Spring time!
With little time that we have spent in Toronto, we have always made sure to take advantage of the warmer weather in Spring. Here are some of the places we have had fun during spring:
Ottawa’s Tulips Festival: Driving to Ottawa during the Spring time is by far the best outing we have had during Spring. Though the Tulips are not really equivalent to what it looks like in Netherlands or in Skagit Valley in Washington, it is still one of the best we have. Hiring bicycles and going around the Rideau Canal and exploring the beauty of the park makes it all worth it being there.
Festival time this year: 12th May to 22nd May, 2017
Toronto High Park Cherry Blossom Festival: No need to head to Japan (though that’s on my list to visit soon) to see the Cherry Blossoms, they were kind enough to give a few samplings to Canada and you can see the beauty blossom in High Park mostly during April (depending on the weather). The flowers last only for a week so don’t miss out, here is a link where you can keep a watch on when the flowers are in full bloom.
Kite Flying Festival: As kids, we have made our own kites and flied it from our roof top but it’s not the same everywhere, Toronto hosts Kite Festival during Spring and trust me it just takes you back to your childhood. If you fancy flying kites on a beach or in a conservation parks, there are quite a few festivals which takes place during April and May, here are a few links where you can pick which one to go for –
Easter Egg hunt in Blue Mountains: Good Friday long weekend gets better mostly because of the egg hunt that happens pretty much everywhere, but it gets even better when you are not confined to a space and expected to run around the Village in Blue Mountain hunting for the easter eggs. Its not just for kids they also have some amazing rides for adults and you can even try skiing (if it’s not too warm for the snow to have melted), as Blue mountain is mostly famous as a skiing destination from Toronto.
Maple Syrup Festival: If you are in Canada, you better like Maple Syrup. Pouring it over on pan cakes or just having them as a maple syrup candy, it’s a treat to our taste buds. There are a lot of farms hosting maple syrup festival combined with wagon rides and fun activities. Here is a link to all the festivals:
Happy Spring Time and do let me know your favourite spring time activity!
I have always joked with friends and cousins, lets runaway to some unknown place, every now and then when I was exhausted with mundane work, but this time I told myself and I did. Well, doesn’t that say I should have just told myself this much earlier and would have visited many more places and made more memories to share? Nevertheless, when I finally did, I came back with tons of experience, some that I consider adventurous for my standard 😉
- Glacier Hike: Not sure if I was over confident after having learnt ice skating that I booked myself on a Glacier hike tour, without giving it a much thought. In my Rockies trip, we did a Glacier tour where this humongous bus took us all the way up to the glacier and all we had to do is get down from the bus and pose for the pictures and get back. Well, that’s exactly what I expected would happen and thought it just has a fancy name. But alas, I was wrong and realized its some serious stuff when I saw all those gears that we had to wear and carry with us to the starting point of the hike. It got even more exciting (not so), when I saw this small figure (read people, that’s how they looked from distance) on the glacier and asked the guide if that’s where we were going and pat came the answer “Beyond that, in fact”. It was about 3 hours hike, Oh boy! How I loved every moment of it. From peeping into a 30 feet hole to breathtaking views to naturally carved ice, it was all worth it.
- Exploring the Ice Cave: Going on a Glacier hike was not enough that I wanted to see Ice Caves as well, this was also one of the reason that I wanted to go to Iceland in winter. The beautiful pictures that I had seen was reason enough for me to book a tour and it was exactly how I had imagined it to be. The walk was even more rigorous than the glacier hike as we had to climb the glacier where there were no defined path or manmade steps. There are too many ice holes which are not too obvious if you are not familiar with the glacier or don’t follow instructions. But, you will be amazed with the beauty of nature and gods creation.
- Snorkeling between Tectonic plates: This was just not on my travel plan for sure. After I had planned my Iceland trip, I see a friend’s FB post that she is in Iceland. I was thrilled and was following closely the places that she was visiting. Out of 5 days, I had 4 days all booked with my plans and was left with just one day and when I was thinking if I should go whale watching or just explore the museums, I see this beautiful snorkeling pictures from a friend who was touring Iceland. That was the deciding point but I was going in winter and she was there in Fall but I dint want to back-off so I started reading reviews and most of the people said even though it was one of the best experiences, cold can be very nasty and your body would turn blue and all the horrifying experiences but there was one post which said – “cold is not that bad and its a experience of lifetime, if you get a chance, do it”. Well, there was no looking back and I went ahead and booked my tour. Everybody in my group were very cold, since they all had come from warmer places, as Canada is much more colder than Iceland (Yes, that’s true), I dint feel the cold much and no, my body did not turn blue or my hands go numb for hours. You are given a body suit and a dry suit, so you have 2 layers apart from your clothing. When you give your clothes size, just make sure to give the right size, carry 2 pairs of thick socks and cover your mouth with the head gear until you go into the water, then you are all good. The dive is for about 40min but mostly people get out in about 30min.
- Staying in a Hostel: I call this adventure since I have never stayed in a girls hostel leave alone mixed nor have I shared room with my own siblings. There is always something that goes wrong in your planning invariably and for me it was booking a mixed hostel. I just assumed that the hostels are generally separate for men and women and booked a hostel for 3 days of my stay. Surprise hits me when I enter the hostel room and see a big guy sleeping middle of the day and I go back to the desk asking if it was a mistake and they say “No, you are booked in mixed room”. Not only had I dared to share room and bathroom (I don’t share bathroom even with my husband) with the species from Venus but also with the species from Mars. Rooms were all booked that I could not even change, well what do you do for next 3 nights? You become friends with them, spend sleepless nights even though people were so very nice and keep account of who came at what time and who has checked out early, who snores the loudest and where did that nasty loud noise came from, eeeks.
Each one of these experiences has thought me something, I need to get fit (yes, for the first three activities, you need to be physically fit and for the last one mentally unfit :)) , double check every booking and go with your gut feeling, when you want to try something new.
Get Adventurous, It’s Fun!
Toronto is a very small City and it doesn’t need too many days to go around but there are a lot of places to visit on a day trips keeping Toronto as a base, which I would save it for another article.
My top things to do in Toronto, assuming you are visiting the city just for couple of days as a tourist (I would say 3 to 4) or visiting on work and have only weekends in hand:
CN Tower: Canadian National Tower or Canada’s National Tower is the 3rd tallest tower in the world. So, if you are visiting Toronto, you should go up the tower to see the city from 1122 feet high.
What to expect:
- Glass Floor and Outdoor Observation terrace located at 1122 feet high;
- Indoor Observation terrace at 1135 feet high;
- The Horizons Café and 360 revolving restaurant, I do not like the food much but you should go just for the experience. Also, if you dine in the restaurant, the admission to observation center is complimentary;
- If you are feeling adventurous, then there is “Edge Walk” to add to your crazy adventure list. Check it out http://www.edgewalkcntower.ca/;
- Magnificent structure itself from outside, you don’t have to spend a penny to take selfies with the tower.
Ripley’s Aquarium: Aquarium is right next to CN Tower, so if you are planning to visit the tower, you can include the Aquarium as well in your itinerary for the day. It is definitely, one of the best Aquariums that I have been. The aquarium displays about 13, 500 exotic species.
Distillery District: Distillery district is a National Historic site in Toronto. It has some unique boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops, brewery, jewelry shops and art gallery. Its unique since it does not have any of the regular chains and all the shops are individually owned.
It’s mostly famous for its Christmas market during the winter time apart from all the amazing shops it houses. This is definitely one of my favorite place to take my guest.
Harbourfront: Toronto Harbourfront is one of the most happening places in Toronto come winter or summer. The place is always buzzing with lot of activities throughout the year. Taking a boat tour from here would give a fabulous view of the Toronto Skyline. Also, you can take a boat to the Centre Island from here which is again another tourist location.
Check out www.harbourfrontcentre.com for the latest event details.
Nathan Philips Square: Apart from housing the large illuminated Toronto Sign which is every tourist desire for clicking picture, it also has skating rink during winter and various events like Cavalcade of Lights Festival (lighting of official Christmas tree), concerts, exhibits and annual New Year’s Eve party. If you are in Toronto and can bare all the crowd, this is the place to be during the New Year time.
All of these places are located in Toronto Downtown. If you buy a City Pass, most of these attractions are included and you would save up a lot of money. Other places which you can be visited are Casa Loma (castle), Bata Shoe Museum, Royal Ontario Museum and some amazing galleries around downtown area.
Iceland was full of surprises and I heard a lot of fascinating stories, here are some facts and some stories, which stood out for me:
- Iceland was supposed to be called Greenland and vice-a-versa and some say it was a honest mistake and some other say they wanted to dissuade tourist to protect the country.
- Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland and the only city of the country, rest are all towns and villages.
- Its very common to leave a child in their pram unattended outside the house, restaurants or shops, so don’t call the cops if you see one 🙂
- Two third of the Iceland population lives in Reykjavik.
- Fish export constituted the major economy for Iceland, until Tourism took over just after the 2010 volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull (something good came out of that other than just disrupting the air traffic for days together).
- Iceland does not have an active Military.
- Iceland presidential office looks like any other normal office without any guards outside. (Wonder what would have happened to Mr. Trump only if he had to sit like this ;)).
- The animals in Iceland are of just one type of breed and there are no deadly animals in Iceland.
- Icelanders get offended if you call the Icelandic horse a pony, though they look like one 😉
- Icelandic Horse is unique, since it’s the only horse in the world which can walk in 5 different ways and that makes it the fastest running horse than any other type of horse.
- Transportation in Iceland is only through air, water and road, there are no trains in Iceland because of the terrain.
- Iceland has so many hot springs that they are generally used for cooking eggs, boiling potato and the sand near hot spring is so hot that local burry the bread deep in the sand and it will be cooked within an hours’ time.( so well use of natural resources)
- Have you ever dreamt of moving around your house closer to your best friend’s house or office? Well, go to Iceland and you could do just that. Some of the old houses in Iceland are portable since it’s built out of timber though I could not find any reference regarding this anywhere.
- You don’t need to carry cash if you are visiting Iceland, since 98% of transactions can be done using the credit card, even if you are buying something which is worth just a dollar.
- Water and Internet is free and available anywhere in the country. I was always well connected and even could video chat with my family from most of the tourist spot, only thing is I would wake them up at odd hours to show an active geyser or a floating glacier 😛
- When naming a new born, the selected name should be approved by the “Icelandic Naming Committee” to make sure the names are not controversial and kids don’t get bullied in schools. (may be they should also consider having some simple and pronounceable names).
- There are very few trees in Iceland and the ones which are there are very short.