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The bones of Paris

For many, Paris, the ‘city of love,’ conjures images of romance, architecture and art. But once you’ve had your fill of the Mona Lisa and sipping champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower, a different side of Paris awaits. For this, you need to head down – about 20 metres below the city streets, where the catacombs wait.  20160826_170912

Located across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau station, is the entrance to the Catacombs of Paris. Here in the underground ossuaries lie the remains of more than six million people. The bones are laid in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone mines.

During the late 1700’s, many of the city’s cemeteries had reached capacity. Some, including the Saints-Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents) had gone beyond capacity. Here, people were buried in mass graves, piled one on top of the other until it became a source of infection for those nearby.  In late 1785, the Council of the State closed the cemetery and decided to remove its contents.

This transfer began in 1786 after the blessing and consecration of the site and continued until 1788. The moving of remains took place at nightfall,  where a procession of priests sang the service for the dead along the route taken by the carts loaded with bones and covered by a black veil.

Until 1814, this site received the remains from all the cemeteries of Paris.

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Since their creation, the Catacombs of Paris became a curiosity for more privileged Parisians. Public visits began after its renovation into a proper ossuary and the 1814 – 1815 war.

In the beginning, visits were only granted a few times a year with the permission of an authorized mine inspector. This turned into permission from any mine overseer, but as the number of visitors grew, it returned to its “permission only” rule in 1830.  Then, in 1833, they were closed completely as the Church opposed the public being exposed to human remains on display.  By 1850, the Catacombs were once again open, but only for four visits a year. Public demand led to the government allowing monthly visits as of 1867. This turned into bi-weekly visits on the first and third Saturday of each month in 1874 and then weekly visits during the 1878, 1889 and 1900 World’s Fair Expositions.

Today, they are open for daily visits, so head over and spend an hour wandering through the 2kms of bone-filled tunnels below the streets of Paris!

Plan your tour

The Catacombs are open daily from 10am-8:30pm (except Mondays and holidays)

Admission is granted in time slots, with the last admission at 7:30pm

Located across the street from Denfert-Rochereau Station
Métro et RER B : Denfert-Rochereau
Bus : 38, 68
Parking : Boulevard Saint-Jacques

Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time. Admission may be delayed for a short time during busy periods. Be prepared to wait. (We did for almost 2 hours).
Distance covered: 1.5 km
Duration of the tour: 45 minutes
No toilet or cloakroom facilities available

For more info, click here

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St. John’s by land and sea

Newfoundland was the only province I hadn’t been to, so for Canada’s 150th, I figured it was time to visit the last province to join Canada.

With only a couple of days, I spent my time in St. John’s trying to see as much of the city as I could!  After getting screeched-in, exploring Quidi Vidi, visiting the two local craft breweries and wandering around enjoying the colourful “Jelly Bean” houses, I had checked a lot of ‘must-do’s’ off my list.

Two remaining were visiting Signal Hill and taking a boat ride out into the Atlantic Ocean in search of whales.

Signal Hill

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Signal Hill is one of the most famous landmarks in St. John’s. It’s part of the capital’s historic past, offering a beautiful view of St. John’s and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as great hiking trails along the coastline.

Signal Hill is significant as it was the site of St. John’s harbour defences from the 17th century to the Second World War as well as being the birthplace of modern communications. It was here that Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901. It’s a good hike up the hill, so be sure to have proper footwear. Part way up is a visitor’s centre, which this year hosted a huge Canada 150 sign to pose with.

There was also a statue of the mascots- a Newfoundland and a Labrador dog!Newfoundland & Labrador dogs

The view from the top was great. On one side, you could look back over St. John’s harbour and from the other, straight out for miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

You could also see where it narrows into the harbour, with Fort Amherst Lighthouse standing guard at the entrance.Looking down at Fort Amherst

At the top, you could climb up Cabot Tower, which was built as a monument to John Cabot’s 1497 voyage to North America and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.   Cabot Tower    Throughout the tower, as you made your way to each level up steep, winding stairs, you could read all about the history of the tower, the history of communications, and the historic first transatlantic signal that happened right here. The view from the top of the tower was even more incredible.

I made my way back down and continued to wander around Signal Hill. As I was at the top, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, a thick fog started to roll in until you could barely see 10 feet in front of you.

I decided not to head out on all the hiking trails since the beautiful view had vanished. Instead, I made my way down to the harbour to catch a boat ride out into the Atlantic.

Iceberg QuestIt was the wrong time of year for icebergs, but I took an ocean cruise with Iceberg Quest, hoping to find some whales. We set out of St. John’s harbour in the thick fog, which didn’t seem to want to let up. Our guide told us all about what we would have been seeing if the fog wasn’t blocking our view, and we made our way out of the harbour into the Atlantic Ocean.

We couldn’t see much, but had an enjoyable cruise listening to Great Big Sea. Just as we were heading past the sea caves on our way to Cape Spear, the fog began to lift!

We passed by the famous lighthouse on Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America.

(Another spot I missed visiting on this trip, but seeing it was still cool!)

Puffin flyingWe saw tons of puffins flying and swimming around, but sadly no whales on this trip.

By the time we were on our way back, the fog had lifted and you could see the mouth of the harbour,  Fort Amherst from the water and all the colourful houses greeted you as you entered St. John’s harbour.

While I may have checked out most of my ‘must-do’s’ in St. John’s on this short trip, I quickly added many more and realized I’d just have to come back to this beautiful province for more exploring soon!

 

 

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The colourful Jelly Bean houses of St.John’s

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The brightly coloured houses known as “Jelly Bean Row” have become one of the most popular photos used in St. John’s, Newfoundland tourism, but if you come looking for a specific “row” of houses, you’ll be surprised to learn that these brightly coloured homes can be found all over the city.

fullsizeoutput_b25Ranging from vibrant to pastel shades, a rainbow of colour hits you as you wander up and down St. John’s hilly streets. Many homes and shops are enhanced with “gingerbread” trims, in an equally bright, contrasting colour.

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These houses were constructed as temporary accommodation after the Great Fire of 1892, but many remained as permanent residences.

So where did this colourful tradition come from?

Some say it started with the fishermen who painted their homes bright so they could find their way home in the fog (or after having a few too many drinks at the pub). It was also cheaper to buy large amounts of one colour of paint, so they’d paint their boats and their homes the same striking colour. fullsizeoutput_afa

As fun as those stories are, the majority of the Jelly Bean houses appeared in the late 1970s as a way to inject new life into a rundown-looking city.

fullsizeoutput_bc1And they have certainly done their job. Walk along any street in St. John’s and you’ll come across a brightly coloured home (or a row of them!) Many even have Jelly Bean Row mailboxes posted out front, adding just one more splash of light to these already sunny homes!Jelly Bean Row Mailbox

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Playas del Este- Havana’s beautiful beaches

While most people travel to Havana to spend their time exploring the beautiful old city, just east of all the glorious old architecture is a series of white-sand beaches, known as the Playas del Este.On a recent trip, we decided to stay in the beach area and have the best of both worlds as our resort provided a free shuttle into Old Havana.The string of beaches stretches 24 kms along the north coast.  While the beaches here are a gorgeous white sand, palm tree-lined, turquoise water heaven, the accompanying resorts aren’t exactly luxurious. Many of them have a worn down appearance as most are over 50 years old, but for those wishing to spend their time in the city or enjoying the beaches, they are just fine.

Hotel Atlantico from the water

Our resort was located on Playa Santa Maria del Mar, one of the most popular beaches, where many of the international resorts are located.

Weekends can get very busy with locals heading out to relax and parking lots soon fill up with vintage cars and mopeds.

The crystal clear turquoise waters are perfect for swimming and snorkelling to check out a variety of fish.

But the best part was the incredible sunsets!

Getting there:  The beach area is about 20 kms away from Old Havana.

You can take the Habana Bus Tour tourist bus Line 3, which runs from Old Havana to the beaches at Cojímar, Bacuranao and Santa Maria del Mar daily from 9am-6pm for 5 CUC.

A taxi will cost around 15 CUC each way. Be sure to set the price before leaving.

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Havana- Classic meets Colourful

I just can’t get enough of the classic cars and colourful, and sometimes crumbling, architecture found in Havana. Even the gloomy, grey day seemed a little brighter with all the colours!

So here’s a gallery of some of my favourites!

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Bonjour Disneyland Paris!

I love the magic of Disney and always love visiting a Disney Park on my travels. So while in France, I headed to Disneyland Paris to cross another one off my list.20160825_2001171.jpg

Disneyland Paris is split into two parks – Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.   While it contained many of the same rides and attractions found at the other Disney Parks, there were also some new ones like Crush’s Coasters, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalment Toquee de Remy. 

The nighttime fireworks spectacular ‘Disney Dreams’ was as fantastic as their shows always are, but this one was neat as on top of popular Disney songs and characters being projected on the castle, they also made use of those Disney films that are set in France- Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ratatouille, with songs from these films being performed in French!

              **Please excuse the shakiness, 20 minutes of looking up without a tripod is harder than it seems!**

 

I’ve now checked five Disney parks off my list. Only one remains: Shanghai, I’m coming for you!

For more info on Disneyland Paris, click here

Bonus Feature in honour of my mom, who’s favourite ride at Disney is ‘It’s a Small World‘ and who had us all riding it multiple times when we were younger!! Enjoy!

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A walk through memory lane

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Honest Ed’s, the iconic Toronto landmark, closed its doors on December 31st, after 68 years in business as a discount department store. Over the weekend, the space was opened up for a four-day arts initiative put on by the Centre For Social Innovation called “An Honest Farewell.”

As we headed into the building underneath the bright marquee sign, we were invited to “Come in and get lost”one last time. Each day had different programming. Friday night was the “Toronto for Everyone: aMAZEment & Craft Beer Tour.”  The emptied out building was turned into a maze and, as always, with the multi- levels and passage ways connecting the east and west sides of the building, it was certainly easy to get lost in.

When I first moved to Toronto to attend The Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts, I spent many hours searching for treasures and usually ending up completely turned around in the maze that was Honest Ed’s.

This time around though, it was actually fun getting lost  as we made our way through the maze filled with art displays as well as the few remaining puns, posters from the many shows the Mirvish’s brought to the city and signed photos of celebrities Ed Mirvish met along the way. We also sampled beer from the 10 different breweries located around the building, including a special ‘The End of Honesty’ beer brewed by Henderson’s Brewing Co.

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Such a great way to say goodbye to the one-of-a-kind, Honest Ed’s, a piece of Toronto’s history that will definitely be missed!

Photos from “Toronto for Everyone: aMAZEment & Craft Beer Tour.”

 

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Canals, Windmills and Beer

20160823_154754The Netherlands is known for many things, including wooden clogs, canals, windmills and Heineken beer.  So this summer, when we had an afternoon in Amsterdam, we found the perfect spot to spend a few hours sitting near a canal, drinking beer in a windmill brewery! (If only we had wooden clogs…)

20160823_172253Brouwerij’t IJ  is located outside of the downtown part of Amsterdam, but is easy to get to by bus, bike or a longer walk.  There is seating both inside and out and on a nice day it fills up very quickly. After walking along the canal, we found a couple seats at one of the long, shared tables and began ordering half pints, trying one of almost everything that was on tap. They have seven beers that are always available and then rotate through a selection of seasonal and limited edition beers.  While they don’t have a full menu, they do offer a selection of sausage and cheese to nibble at while enjoying your beer.

If you find yourself in Amsterdam, be sure to stop by and check them out!

20160823_172356The tasting area at Brouwerij’t IJ is open daily from 2pm-8pm.                                                                               For directions click here
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Another year, another January

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January: the start of a new year and the month where I once again grow older. It’s also the time I start planning where in the world I want to be when the 12th of the month comes around.20170116_1128560

This year, I set off for Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a few days of sunshine, sand and all-you-can-eat tacos!

 

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While we spent most of our time lounging at the beach and walking around the marina area, admiring the huge boats and searching for iguanas, we did set out one day to go zip lining through the El Eden jungle.

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Hand feeding iguanas

It was a bit of a drive from the Marina area where we were staying, but it gave us a chance to see some of the Old Town and drive along the beautiful coastline in Puerto Vallarta, picking out all the houses I would love to own!

El Eden is located upriver from the Mismaloya beach, above sea level in the lush green jungle of the Sierra Cuale. It’s a popular natural attraction in Puerto Vallarta that became famous after being used as the set for much of the Predator film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Here, at the El Eden Canopy Tour, we posed with the Predator before getting into our harnesses, drawing on our warrior paint, and heading to the zip lines. It started out slow, moving to larger, faster zip lines as you made your way up into the jungle to fly over the river on the canopy’s 10 zip lines. You also had to be sure to avoid the Predator, who could sometimes be found lurking about.

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If you make it through with your skin still intact (if you haven’t seen Predator, now would be a good time), you can celebrate with a beer and some chips and guacamole at the El Eden Jungle restaurant, next to the Mismaloya River.  You can even go for a dip by the waterfall or swing Tarzan-style into the refreshing, turquoise pool.

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Not a bad way to spend an afternoon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico!

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Tips

  • Bring bug spray – the bugs are bad in the jungle!
  • The restaurant is expensive if you are looking for a full meal.
  • The canopy tour is great, but the price of the souvenir photo disk was not. While you aren’t allowed any cameras on the zip lines, be sure to take a few of your own photos before and after if you want to save some money.

 

 

 

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2017 goals

As always, my goal for 2017 is to travel and check more countries and experiences off my life to-do list. 

Happy New Year! Wishing you all a 2017 full of travel and new adventures!! Xo

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