North America

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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Picturesque Quidi Vidi

Picturesque Quidi Vidi Harbour

Not far from downtown St. John’s is the picturesque village of Quidi Vidi. A historic fishing village located in Quidi Vidi Harbour, also known as the Gut, it’s just off Quidi Vidi Lake, where the annual St. John’s Regatta takes place.

Quidi Vidi, NewfoundlandPronunciation seems to vary, even amongst those who have lived there all their lives, but the most common is “Kiddy Viddy.”

The village of Quidi Vidi was used after World War II for the construction of the United States’ Air Force Base.  Today, it’s a great spot to go for a hike around the lake, check out artisans at the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation and walk around the harbour to Quidi Vidi Brewery. After a tour, you can sit out back by the water and catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean from inside the Gut.

Quidi Vidi Brewing

Quidi Vidi Brewery offers tours and tastings. For $10, you can learn the history of the brewery and the beers and taste five of them, including their popular Iceberg beer. It’s made from the water of 20,000-year-old icebergs and bottled in a shiny blue bottle. You can then take a tour of the facility they are quickly outgrowing!

So head to Quidi Vidi, grab an Iceberg beer and enjoy a peaceful afternoon at the harbour.Enjoying an Iceberg beer at the brewery

 

 

*For those looking to try craft breweries in the city, after stopping at Quidi Vidi, head to Yellow Belly Brewing downtown St. John’s.  (The seafood chowder is delicious!)

 

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Becoming an honourary Newfoundlander

You can’t go to Newfoundland without getting screeched in. (Well you can, but why would you give up the opportunity of becoming an honourary Newfoundlander?)

This was a chance I wasn’t going to miss and was told by a native of St. John’s (thanks Phill!) that the best place to go was Christian’s. So I signed up and sat at the bar with my Quidi Vidi 1892 beer, waiting for the ceremony to begin.

A Screech-In Ceremony has to be conducted by a native Newfoundlander. Ours entered with his paddle, wearing his Sou’wester. He did a little speech about Newfoundland and being a Newfoundlander and asked us all if we were ready to become honourary Newfoundlanders, to which we all responded with a firm “YES B’Y!”

He then asked us all our names and where we came from before handing us a piece of “Newfie Steak” (fried bologna) and continuing on with the ceremony, where we had a shot of screech (Jamaican Rum) and kissed a codfish.

Before we were handed our certificates stating that we were now officially honourary Newfoundlanders, though, we had to recite an oath. When it was my turn, he asked, “Are ye a screecher?” I proudly replied, “Deed I is me ol’ cock, and long may yer big jib draw!”fullsizeoutput_ba1

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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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September 11th.

I still remember the shocked feeling I had 16 years ago today when my English teacher wheeled in a television for my class to watch as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Centre.  The feelings of confusion as to why someone would deliberately harm so many innocent people mixed with the sadness for all those who were killed.

Fast forward 16 years and I still sit here with those same feelings, but one now stands out above the rest – the feeling of what those flight crew members must have been thinking in those final minutes before their plane crashed. Becoming a flight attendant added another level to my feeling of loss surrounding September 11th.

Over the past year, I have been completely obsessed with the musical “Come From Away,” and especially with the character of Beverley Bass, the first female American Airlines captain in history. She was one of the pilots who found themselves landing in Gander, Newfoundland after the American airspace was closed following the attacks on September 11th, 2001.  She sings about her love of aviation, working her way up as a female in a male-dominated profession, and how she felt that day learning that someone took the thing she loved most and turned it into a weapon:

“When suddenly someone on air to air traffic says
At 8:46 there’s been a terrorist action”
And the one thing I loved more than anything was used as the bomb
Suddenly I’m in a hotel
Suddenly something has died
Suddenly there’s something in between me and the sky”

Me and the Sky- Jen Colella, Come From Away (short version)

That feeling of having something you love being used in such a horrific way brings me to tears every time I listen to this song.

The musical is based on true accounts of the days that followed September 11th, when 38 planes bound for the United States were grounded in Gander, Newfoundland.

There is also a book, “The Day the World Came to Town- 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland”, that shares stories from passengers, crew and the townspeople who generously dropped everything and opened their doors to the “plane people” who arrived in their small town.

fullsizeoutput_bd4On a flight this summer, I found myself stopping in Gander. Looking out at the small airport, it was hard to imagine 38 planes and 6,595 passengers and crew members arriving here, in a town with around 10,000 living in it. fullsizeoutput_bd5

‘You are here at the start of a moment on the edge of the world where the river meets the sea. Here on the edge of the Atlantic on an island in between there and here’

In a time of terror around the world, these Newfoundlanders did everything they could to make their unexpected guests feel safe. Both the musical and the book share stories of love, compassion and the unselfish desire to help those in need.

 

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Campfire singing with Chip N’ Dale

I’m a HUGE Disney fan and I’m sure I have as much fun at the various Disney parks (if not more) than the kids do. But let’s face it – a day at Walt Disney World just keeps getting more and more expensive.

So last week, while I was in Orlando with my best friend and her baby girl, we decided to skip the parks and try out some of the free (yes I said FREE) things to do around Walt Disney World Resort!

20170309_190719We made our way to the campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort for Chip’n Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long, which takes place nightly in the Meadow Trading Post area of the campground. The campfire is lit around 6:30pm, with the show starting at 7pm. You can bring your own marshmallows and roasting sticks or you can purchase a s’more making kit at the Chuckwagon Snack Bar.  Benches are set up around the campfire and the Chuckwagon stage for the show, which is led by a guitar-strumming, joke-telling cowboy.

He gets the show started and is soon joined by Chip ‘n Dale, who welcome everyone and then make their way through the crowd, greeting guests, signing autographs and posing for photos. 20170309_191905 It’s a great character meet and greet option that has no line and doesn’t come with the price of the character dining options!

20170309_190813The show lasted about 40 minutes and then Chip ‘n Dale waved goodbye and headed back into the forest as we got ready for movie night with Disney’s Movie Under the Stars. They have a giant screen set up by the stage and every night they play a different Disney Movie. We enjoyed a bucket of popcorn as we sang along to one of my personal favourites – Frozen!

Both the sing-a-long and the movie were complimentary to anyone. You didn’t need to be staying at the resort or even have a park ticket. You can just show up and have a free night of Disney Entertainment.  It really is a magical place!!

 

 

Tips & Directions:

If you are driving, head towards Magic Kingdom and let the parking gate attendant know you are here for Chip n’ Dale’s campfire sing-a-long and they will let you through.  It’s the first right once you are through the gates (it comes up fast). If you miss it, you’ll have a lovely tour of the resort grounds and golf course like we did our first try! Once you get to Fort Wilderness Campground, let the park ranger know you are there for the show and you can park for free and walk over to the bus stop.  Here, catch the Yellow or Orange bus to the MEADOW TRADING POST area of the park.

There is also a Disney Wilderness Lodge near Magic Kingdom and the two are not connected. If you happen to end up at this one instead, you can either catch one of the Disney buses or head down to the water and take the boat across to Fort Wilderness.

You can also take one of the Disney buses from any of the parks or Disney Springs (where you can also park for free). Just be sure to catch the one to FORT WILDERNESS.

The Meadow Trading Post store and the Chuckwagon Snack Bar both have snacks, food and drinks for sale. At the Trading Post, you can also find a variety of Disney and Fort Wilderness souvenirs.

For more info click here20170309_190810

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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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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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Country Road Take Me Home

dsc_0317My road trip to Tennessee this summer was basically centred around my love of music – beginning with Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton and ending in Nashville with country music. With only a day to spend in Nashville, we stopped at two of the most famous country music places in the world: The Country Music Hall of Fame and The Grand Ole Opry!
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We started at The Country Music Hall of Fame, a place I soon learned I needed way more time at.  There are always different exhibits moving in and out. While we were there, they had the following exhibits featured: ‘Blake Shelton: Based on a True Story,’ ‘Dierks Bentley: Every Mile a Memory,’ and a big Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan Exhibit called ‘Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City.’ Throughout the Hall of Fame, they also featured staple exhibits like the history of Country music. All those who were big stars in each era were honoured; Hank Williams, Minnie Pearl, and Jimmie Rodgers in the early years; then Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline; then onto Reba, Garth Brooks, and Trisha Yearwood; up until present-day Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, etc. There’s also a room for really new and up-and-coming artists. Here, you can find a replica of Taylor Swift’s tour bus and a huge guitar.  Continue reading

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Walking in Memphis with the King

I grew up on Elvis. My mom loved him and his music could often be heard playing around the house or in the car. Soon, I got to know all the lyrics and could sing along to his smooth, soulful voice.  Even though he died before I was born, like many others whose parents who grew up listening to and loving Elvis Presley, I always felt like he was a singer for my generation as well.

So this summer, on a road trip to Tennessee, I decided to stop by a couple of Elvis Presley’s famous spots.

dsc_0989Our first stop was Sun Studios, where Elvis was first recorded. The studio is found in an old industrial area that looks pretty run down, but in 1950, Sam Phillips started the studio here. At first, he was just a recorder. He had a portable set up and would travel around recording anyone and everyone, but the new blues style of music was his favourite.  He was doing all these recordings, but getting no credit, as the artists were taking their demos and getting signed by labels. This led to the decision to start Sun Studios. Elvis first came in to record a few songs for his mother at 18 years old. Sam didn’t like him, but the woman at the office, Marion Keisker, loved him. Over the year, he kept coming back to record songs and speak with Marion, and eventually sang something Sam liked. In 1953, he signed him. Over the next two years, Elvis recorded 5 hits before being sold to RCA. Sam needed money at the time for one of his many lawsuits to save the studio and knew Elvis would do well with RCA.  For 25 years, the studio sat empty. Then in 1984, they started recording there again at night. During the day you can take a tour, and at night everyone from U2 to Maroon 5 comes in to record. The recording studio is still exactly the same as it was when Elvis recorded there. It was also where Million Dollar Quartet was secretly recorded on December 4, 1956. Elvis liked to stop by and see how things were going when he could and one night he was there with some Sun Studio artists – Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis. They all started jamming, and Sam secretly recorded this session, but legally couldn’t use it for anything as Elvis was under contract with RCA. So it remained a secret until the 1980s, after Sam sold the studio.

Continue reading

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