Posts Tagged With: travel blog

Santorini

Santorini has been at the top of my travel wish list for years and the main reason I’ve always wanted to visit Greece. Flipping through travel magazines and seeing those white churches with the bright blue domes sitting high up on the Caldera made me want to book a plane ticket there immediately, and yet, somehow it’s taken me years to finally do it. Thankfully, when I first saw Oia, it was everything I imagined and more!

Walking along the cobblestone streets was like stepping into the photos of the travel magazines that made me dream of coming here. The contrast between the white cliff of Cycladic houses perched 300+ metres up at the top of the Caldera and the beautiful deep turquoise Aegean Sea shining below was breathtaking. I was immediately in love with all the blue doors and shutters and colourful flowers, such a striking contrast against all the white.

The island of Santorini surrounds the vast crater left by one of history’s largest volcanic eruptions, with smaller islands found around the western edge. The sunsets hitting the snow-white buildings give the whole place an orange-red glow and are definitely not to be missed!

We spent five days in Santorini, the first three at an Airbnb just outside Oia, in Finikia, and the last two in Fira.

Oia, located on the northern tip of the island, is a must-see when visiting Santorini. Restoration work after the earthquake in 1956 has turned this spot into one of the most stunning places in the Cyclades. Built at the top of the steep Caldera, bright white buildings are nestled into the dark volcanic rock and the contrast is stunning. Today, the often-narrow streets are lined with shops and restaurants. Boutique hotels and Airbnbs can be found built into the sides of the Caldera. Spend your time exploring the labyrinth of streets here, finding the iconic blue domes and numerous churches.

While not much remains of Oia Castle after the earthquake, the ruins of the Venetian Castle of Agios Nikolaos is worth a visit for the views alone. This is also one of the most popular places to watch the sunset.

Over 250 steps below Oia, you’ll find Ammoudi Bay. The walk down is full of beautiful views of the dark-red Caldera with its snow-white peaks looming above.

Several fish tavernas are found down here, making it a perfect spot to enjoy fresh fish for lunch or dinner. To get back to the top, you can take a taxi or ride a donkey … or just hike it like we did and get your steps in!

Another must-do in Oia is a sunset cruise. There are many tour options ranging in size, price, and number of participants. We went with Barbarossa Sailing, and are so glad we did. We sailed out from Ammoudi Bay and went snorkelling in the Caldera and spotted the tiny church built in the rocks at sea level and saw the boats hidden in caves for protection, sailed around Santorini, checking out the various rock formations and the old port of Fira.

We stopped for another swim in the hot springs by the newest island (still over 500 years old) before having a delicious dinner made by the crew onboard and then sailing back out into the water to watch the sunset, which was amazing over the water. (Have I mentioned that the sunsets here are not to be missed??) The cruise ended back in Ammoudi Bay, which all lit up at night is also a must see!

From Oia, we moved to Fira, Santorini’s largest town. Views from here are amazing as you’re in the middle of the island and able to see both edges of the island’s moon shape.

Much like in Oia, the Caldera’s edge is filled with layers of hotels, restaurants, and cave apartments. The narrow cobblestone streets twist and turn as you make your way up and downhill.

The old port of Santorini is 587 steps down from Fira. Here, along with walking or taking a donkey, you can also ride the cable car and enjoy the view.

Following the Caldera’s edge, you can walk to the neighbouring town of Firostefani, filled with more beautiful views and great restaurants to catch the sunset from. Anywhere along the edge here offers beautiful views of the island, the sea sparkling below and, of course, the sunset!

Also be sure to stop by The Church of the Three Bells of Fira, one of the most photographed Greek Catholic churches on the island, also known as the Church of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it can be a bit tricky to figure out how to get up, the view from the top is a must-see.

As one of Greece’s most important producers of wine, no trip to Santorini is complete without touring one of its wineries. Here, they are known for fresh dry white wine made mainly from the assyrtiko grapes of the region, and I couldn’t wait to try some.

We headed to Santo Wines for a tasting with a view. They have several different tasting options available. I opted for the 7 Premium wines and was quite happy with my decision! Our server gave us a brief history of the winery and some info about each of the wines we would be tasting, but if you are looking for something more in depth, tours are also available.

And of course, the food here is amazing. If you want a sunset view along with your dinner, be sure to arrive early or make a reservation. A few of our favourites were Piatsa Souvlaki Grill House, a cheap, delicious spot near the Oia bus stop with gyros, souvlaki, tzatziki and pita and more; Terpsi N Oia, a fancier spot where we enjoyed a great breakfast with a gorgeous view over the Caldera and the 3 blue domes in Oia; and in Firostefani, we had an amazing meal with a sunset view at Vanilia Mediterranean Cuisine.

Tips and Info

Santorini is a popular cruise ship stop, especially in Oia and Fira. To help avoid the huge crush of cruise ship passengers that flock here starting mid-morning, head out early in the day and then back out in the evenings. This is also a great way to beat the heat, as shade is almost non-existent here. Plus, if you’re looking to get great photos before both the crowds and the sun hit, 7 a.m. is a great time to be out exploring!

A cheap and easy way to travel both around the island and to and from the airport is by bus. Most rides cost less than €2 and buses run on a fairly regular schedule during the high and shoulder seasons. Buses all have luggage areas too, making it a much cheaper alternative to taxis. More info can be found here.

Ditch the heels as the cobblestone is very uneven and you are constantly walking up and down stairs and hills.

If possible, avoid high season, when crowds and prices are both at their peak.

Oia is a must, but accommodation prices here are definitely at the higher end, especially during the high season. So, while I would have LOVED to have a place right on the side of the Caldera facing the gorgeous sunset, based on booking last minute and the $500 a night and up price tag, we opted to stay just outside of Oia in Finikia, in our own Cycladic-style house. Then we’d walk about 20 minutes into Oia each day. This is a great option if you are unable to book well in advance or are looking for cheaper accommodations.

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Exploring Mykonos

Of all the Greek islands, Mykonos is considered to be the glamorous party island of the Cyclades, and after spending a few days here, it was pretty easy to see why the rich and famous flock to its fancy beach clubs and party the night away. But, for those of us with tighter budgets, Mykonos still has plenty to offer.

Mykonos has been attracting visitors since the 1920s, but back then, rather than sun seekers and party goers, the island was an intriguing getaway for archaeologists and antiquity hunters, who would use it as a base to visit ancient Greece on the island of Delos.

The island became more popular in the 1960s when celebrities began vacationing here, and its popularity has continued to grow. Now, during the high season, the island, which is home to over 12,000 people, sees a huge influx of tourists and cruise ship passengers, adding up to 15,000 more people a day!

With its popularity comes a higher price tag on many things, especially if you are planning to visit between June and the end of August, when prices are double or triple what they are in the low season or even the shoulder seasons of May and September. We arrived near the end of May when the temperatures were already rising and the crowds were getting bigger, but with only three nights here, we jumped right into exploring what Mykonos had to offer.

One of the most famous sights on the island is the windmills.

They were built and in use in Mykonos from around the 1500s and up to the first decades of the 20th century. As the island is blessed with a strong wind most days, windmills were the ideal tool for grinding grain into flour—primarily wheat and barley.

While they are no longer operational, many of the windmills still stand as a reminder of the past … and a great photo spot! Be sure to check them out during the day and then come back in the evening, grab a beer, and find a spot to sit and watch the gorgeous Mykonos sunset!

Below the main set of windmills, you’ll find the Little Venice area of the island, filled with lots of trendy boutiques and restaurants with colourful flowers and cascading bougainvillea. This is the perfect place to grab a drink at one of the bars and catch the sunset. (Just be aware that reservations are often required and many have a €100 sitting fee during the sunset hours.)

As you make your way along the cobblestone streets and up and down the many stairs found here in between shops and restaurants, you’ll also find a number of tiny churches. I’ve never seen so many churches in such a small area as I did around Little Venice and Old Mykonos.

Another thing Mykonos is known for is its beautiful beaches and many beach clubs, including Paradise, Super Paradise, and Paraga. Dotted along each one you’ll find beach bars, restaurants, and lounge chairs. Even for those who aren’t into the crowded party scene (like my husband and I), you’ll still have a great time down at the beaches.

We had a delicious dinner at Paraga Beach at Taso’s Taverna and then strolled along the beach watching the sunset!

One thing I was most excited about on our trip to Greece was Greek food, and Mykonos didn’t disappoint—especially the fresh seafood found here. The beach tavernas have amazing dishes, but the ones found in Old Mykonos, like Captain’s, also have a great variety. We opted for the seafood-sharing platter and weren’t disappointed!

I made a promise to my husband that when he joins me on trips, I will always do my best to find a craft brewery for him to enjoy, and it turns out Mykonos has a great one. It was a bit of an adventure to find (I don’t recommend walking from town), but Mykonos Brewing Company was worth the visit.

We enjoyed a tasting flight of the beers they had on tap as the guy working told us all about each one and a bit about the history of the brewery. My fave was Fragos’ko, a beer made with the local prickly pear!

DELOS

If ancient Greek ruins are more your style, then don’t miss taking a trip over to Delos island. This UNESCO world heritage site, which was once considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, is easily accessed from Mykonos by boat. The Cyclades name comes from the islands encircling the sacred island of Delos, the mythical birthplace of the twins Apollo and Artemis. There are no permanent dwellings and overnight stays aren’t allowed. The island is only 5km long and 1300m wide and can mostly be explored in a few hours. Many of the pieces found on the island are now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, but there’s a good collection found here.

Tickets can be purchased down by the water in Old Mykonos. There are several time slots each day and you can opt for just the return boat ride for €22 or a guided tour for €60. The boat ride takes about 30 minutes. Entrance to the island isn’t included in the ticket and costs €8 at the gate. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and good walking shoes!

Where to stay

There are so many options around the island vastly ranging in price.

We wanted to be within walkable distance to Old Mykonos and the windmills and found Oniro Suites, a small boutique hotel about a 7-minute walk from Old Mykonos.

The room was beautiful and the small pool was perfect after a hot walk around town, but the best parts were Anna, who worked reception, and the amazing continental breakfast that was included each morning. We were expecting the typical North American-style breakfast, and instead had some of the best breakfast food we’ve ever had.

More Info

Mykonos is easily accessed by high-speed ferry. We used SeaJets, but you can find all the options on FerryHopper.

If you are arriving to the island by ferry, you can take the SeaBus from the new port (where the ferries land) to the old port for €2. The SeaBus departs every 30 minutes and has lots of room for luggage.

The main Windmills of Mykonos are located in the Chora, just a 5-minute walk away from Fabrika central bus station. They are also just up the hill from Little Venice.

You can rent cars, ATVs, and motorcycles everywhere and many tourists use this as a way to travel around the island.

But if ATVs aren’t your thing, you can easily (and cheaply) get around the island by public bus. Schedules can be found here. It’s a great way to travel to the beach clubs, especially if you’re planning to drink. Plus, asking for a roundtrip ticket to Paradise is fun!

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Travels with my Grandma

Today is my Travelling Grandma’s birthday and to celebrate I’m continuing to work my way through her massive collection of slides from her travels.

As as kid, I always loved seeing all the photos from her latest travels and hoping one day I would be able to see all the same places that she had.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to go through her slides and pick out photos of her in iconic and interesting places around the world with the hopes of being able to take photos of myself in those same places as I continue my travels.

I didn’t know at the time, what a huge undertaking this little project of mine would become. When I received boxes of her slides from my uncle, some were sorted into slide carousels…but many were just left in boxes with elastics that have long since rotted away, leaving thousands of slides in unmarked piles and turning this project into a huge game of ‘Where in the World is Grandma?’

What I’ve found as I’ve been sorting through the thousands of slides, is that we have a very similar way of taking photos on our trips. We are always marking where we are by taking photos of airports, ‘Welcome’ signs, destination markers, hotels we stay at, info plaques at places we visit etc. As most of the slides aren’t labeled, besides perhaps a country and date on the box, this has made this scavenger hunt a little easier to figure out where she is in the world.

I’ve also realized that we already have some very similar photos of us on our travels. It’s been interesting to see how places have changed over the years and fun to think of us visiting the same spots.

While I was never able to go on a big trip with my grandma, seeing photos of us in the same places almost makes it feel like we were travelling together!

Happy Birthday Grandma! xo

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Flightless FA

It’s now been a year, 365 days since I last stepped onto an airplane. 365 days since I did my last rescue flight bringing Canadians home as the first Covid-19 lockdown began. 

365 days as a flight attendant who hasn’t flown. 365 days as a traveller who hasn’t travelled.

Photo on my last rescue flight bringing Canadians home- March 2020

This has been the longest I haven’t been on a plane or out of the country in almost two decades. For someone whose identity is wrapped up in travel both as my occupation and my lifestyle, watching new restrictions on travel continue to be added and enforced without a solid plan to rebuild, and feeling trapped in a seemingly endless pandemic have made these past 365 days the longest of my life. 

Sure, there have been some great parts, like lots of extra time to read and be crafty, starting to paint and finding out I really enjoy it, spending more time in the garden, and going for walks, but I miss my old life. The life that required me to wear something other than leggings and a hoodie. The one where I could visit in large groups and go to the theatre. The life where I used my passport on an almost weekly basis. The life where I could escape winter and enjoy the Caribbean sunshine even if only for a limited time. The life where I could actually go on trips, and not just sit at my computer planning ones to go on ‘someday.’

This past week has been hard. Hard to keep trying to be optimistic and find the good things about this past year to keep my mind from sinking into the bad. “Covid Fatigue” has me just wanting to pull the covers back over my head and stay there until this is over. I find myself wondering how a whole year has already gone by. A year since the first lockdowns were announced. A year without big family gatherings or nights out with friends. A year since our wedding was cancelled (two weeks before leaving), and now, today, a year since my last flight. I find myself being easily irritated and sad and tired, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

This year has been hard. This week has been hard. So let’s keep that in mind and be kind to both ourselves and others as we continue to make our way through this seemingly never-ending pandemic.

On a bright note…spring is officially here again, and if nothing else, at least it means warm sunny days are ahead!

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A very memorable Valentine’s Day

On this sunny, snowy Valentine’s Day morning, I woke to a beautiful bouquet of roses from my love and we baked a chocolate heart shaped cake to enjoy for dinner. As we are still on a Covid-19 lockdown here in Ontario, it’s a quiet February 14th at home with no dinner out or movie to attend.

As I scroll through my Facebook Memories, I’m soon reminded of a Valentine’s Day that was anything but a quiet day at home. In fact, I’m not sure that any Valentine’s Day will ever top the one I had in 2008, while I was living in Kenya. A day that included singing, Valentine date requests and a slaughterhouse. Of all the travel stories I enjoy telling and re-telling, this is definitely one of my favourites!

A Kenyan Valentine’s Day. Enjoy!

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An ‘Extra Ordinary’ Birthday

For over a decade now, most years on January 12th, I find myself in a different country, celebrating (and sometimes stressing) about turning another year older by doing one of my favourite things: travelling.

This trend began on my 24th birthday when, much to my mother’s tearful chagrin, I boarded a plane to Kenya, which was in the midst of its post-election violence, to volunteer for several months at a school and children’s home. My 25th was much more subdued as I made my way to New York City, one of my favourite cities in the world, to spend my birthday skating at Rockefeller Center and watching Broadway shows. My 30th birthday was spent in Vegas with bright lights, penny slots and a trip to the Grand Canyon, with many other birthdays being celebrated on the beaches of Mexico, Jamaica and Bahamas.

There has been the odd year where, due to work schedules or injury, I’ve found myself in the country on January 12th. For the most part, though, those years still ended up with at least a little getaway to someplace like Blue Mountain or Windsor to check out breweries or watch Cirque du Soleil shows.

That is, until this year, when I find myself at home in the midst of another Covid-19 lockdown in Ontario.

Birthdays tend to bring out the anxiety in me. Normally not an anxious person, I often spend the time leading up to the big day wavering between being stressed by it and wanting to celebrate it for the entire month of January. I used to think I was just afraid of getting older, but have come to realize that gaining another year has never been the issue. Rather, it’s the feeling that with each year, I’m running out of time to check off all the hopes, dreams, plans and wishes I have for my life—a feeling I come by honestly, as my dad recently said he calculated that he would need to live to over 200 to finish all the projects he’s put down on his multiple “to-do” lists.

These past 10.5 months of being at home, off work and unable to travel have only added to the feeling this year. This past week, it’s been a struggle to force myself out of bed in the morning and do something with my day, as reminders pop up on my Facebook and Instagram memories of where I was heading off to celebrate my birthday in past years (with many more of those memories flooding in today).

My day didn’t start with a buffet and breakfast mimosa’s. Instead it was a slow start, with a cup of coffee with Forty Creek Nanaimo Bar cream and bacon and eggs made by my finance. Curled up on the couch reading my new Dolly Parton book, instead of taking my book to the beach. A lazy day filled with homemade lasagna made by my Mom and an ice cream cake (is it even a birthday if you don’t have one of those?? I don’t think so!)

Texts, messages and calls from friends and family and homemade cards and cupcakes delivered from some of my favourite little people (and their moms).

It was definitely a different kind of birthday for me, but still a good one filled with special little moments.

I fall victim to wanting my birthday to be extraordinary each year. A celebration of another year of great memories of travel and experiences with family and friends and the kick-start of the next year and what I’m going to be able to see, do, try and accomplish just beginning. If this past year taught me anything, it’s that the universe has a way of upending even the best laid plans. Sometimes years that were supposed to be big, important years filled with weddings and travel can end up being a year filled with gardening, crafts and baking, and that while I can’t wait to get back to celebrating my birthdays abroad…occasionally having a birthday that’s not extraordinary but merely ‘extra ordinary’ might just be okay.

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Christmas Travel Tree

Nearly a decade ago, I began collecting ornaments for my Christmas tree as I found ones I liked along my travels. It started out as a fairly sporadic collection, but over time has turned into something I seek out in every new country, adding a few new ones to hang on my tree each year.

Our beautiful Christmas tree filled with ornaments from around the world!

For the first time in years, I didn’t have a new one to add to my tree, but I still got to enjoy all the memories of my past travels as I hung these beautiful ornaments on my ‘Travel Tree’.

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The Seashell Tree

My travels this year have looked very different—mainly just around my house. As both a travel addict and a flight attendant, being home for this long has been very strange for me, and while I’ve got lots of cleaning and reading done, one of my main outlets has been crafting.

I’ve always been a creative person, and while I usually lean towards music and drama, this year has allowed me to really spend some time exploring my visual arts side by painting, crocheting and using my Cricut on an almost daily basis. At this rate, I’m going to come out of Covid-19 with a craft emporium in my house!

Now that we are into December and Christmas is just around the corner, my latest craft helped me bring some travel memories and the illusion of being at the beach into my home in Canada, where outside there is now over a foot of snow.

I’ve been collecting a few shells from all the beaches I’ve been to around the world, and now have quite a large collection. I figured maybe I could use them to create some kind of beachy Christmas tree, so the Sparkling Seashell Tree was born!

Materials:

  • Hot glue gun & glue sticks
  • Styrofoam floral cone (I got mine at Michael’s)
  • Seashells- variety of sizes, shapes, colours
  • Something for your tree topper. (I used a resin starfish I had ordered from Amazon)
  • Turquoise glitter paint

I glued the shells on starting with the larger ones and then filling in gaps with the smaller shells. I chose to use mainly white shells to cover the green floral cone and then filled in the gaps with a mix of small, colourful shells and uniquely shaped shells to give the tree some colour and make it look like ornaments. This part took far longer than I thought it would…although this could also be because I was watching Hallmark Christmas movies as I was crafting and kept getting distracted!

For years now, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing where I got each shell on the back (using the airport codes for the tiny shells), so it was fun to look at them and reminisce about my travels as I was gluing them on. I found shells from Costa Rica, Panama, various places around Mexico, Jamaica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Antigua, St. Lucia, Kenya, Portugal, Florida and more.

Once they were all attached, I painted two of my turquoise resin starfish with glitter paint, glued them together and placed them at the top of the tree. Then I finished it off by adding some turquoise glitter paint to some of the white shells spaced out around the tree to add a bit of sparkle.

And voilà! — I had a beautiful Seashell Tree to add a little warmth to this 2020 holiday season! 

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Never Forget

New York City is one of my favourite places in the world and I try to visit at least once a year.

I will never forget being there on September 11, 2006. It was a grey, drizzling day out as I made my way down to where the Twin Towers had once stood. 

I remember them reading out the names of all those who were lost that day and looking out at the empty space that had, until a few years earlier, been the towers at the World Trade Center—a sight I would never see in real life.

As I’ve been off from my job as a flight attendant due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve been going through the tens of thousands of slides from my Grandma’s travels and recently came across a box labelled “Cruise from NYC to Bermuda 1993.”

As I began to click through them, one of the first slides in the carousel was this…

A grainy old photo she’d taken through the window on the cruise ship of the Twin Towers, standing tall above the Hudson River.

What a sight. 

I sat for a moment taking them in and thinking about their horrific end along with the lives of so many, especially those in my field of aviation. Today, I found myself going back to it and thinking about all the stories of loss and love that took place 19 years ago. Never Forget.

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Exploring Flowerpot Island

I’ve been wanting to explore Flowerpot Island for a few summers now and with Covid-19 continuing to impede international travel plans, this seemed like the perfect time to explore more of my own province.
Flowerpot Island is one of twenty islands found in Fathom Five National Marine Park, located off the coast of Tobermory on the beautiful Bruce Peninsula in Ontario.


We booked a glass-bottom boat ride with Bruce Anchor to take us out to the island, 6.5km from Tobermory.
Before heading to the island, we sailed into Big Tub Harbour to see two of the over twenty historic shipwrecks found in the Fathom Five National Marine Park.

Through the clear turquoise waters, we came across the Sweepstakes wreck. This schooner was built in Burlington, ON and was damaged off Cove Island before being towed to Big Tub Harbour where she sank in September, 1885. It’s amazing how much of this ship is still intact 135 years later.

The second ship found in Big Tub Harbour is the City of Grand Rapids, a passenger steamer built in 1879 in Grand Haven, Michigan. On October 29, 1907, a fire broke out aboard the Grand Rapids while docked in Little Tub Harbour. To prevent the fire from spreading, the ship was towed out of the harbour and released to burn itself out. Eventually, the charred remains sank in Big Tub Harbour near the Sweepstakes, where it can still be found just offshore.

The cold water found here has helped to preserve these wrecks, and just sailing over them, it was clear why this area has some of the best freshwater diving opportunities in Canada.

From here, we sailed past Big Tub Lighthouse, which was originally lit in 1885, over to Flowerpot Island. As we got close, you could see the ‘Flowerpot’ rock pillars sticking up from the water.

We docked at Beachy Cove and decided to do the full Loop Trail, 2.6km, including hiking the Marl Trail.

It was a beautiful day to explore the island, although we came across a few too many snakes for my liking!

By the time we made it around to the Lighthouse station, we stopped to have our picnic lunch. Here, we found out that there are also an abundance of little red squirrels just waiting for you to leave your lunch unattended!
The Lighthouse museum was closed this year due to Covid-19, but you could still wander around the buildings and down to the white rocky beach.

If you trade the rocks for white sand and the trees found here for palm trees, with the beautiful turquoise waters, you can almost imagine that you are in the Caribbean instead of Canada.

Unfortunately, the caves were also closed this year, so we just got to see the outside walls. The rock formations along the trail from the Lighthouse station to the Flowerpots were really cool.

The Flowerpots were definitely the highlight though. They were the reason I wanted to come here and they didn’t disappoint, standing tall against the clear turquoise waters. Crazy to think that these have been here for hundreds of years!

I took off my shoes and stood with my feet in the glittering cold water taking it all in (and wishing it was less crowded…) Such a beautiful spot.

After taking a bunch of photos at the Big Flowerpot, we headed over to the less crowded Little Flowerpot, finding a spot to sit and relax on the rocks nearby before catching our cruise back to Tobermory.

*We spent 4 hours on the island which was the perfect amount of time to hike the trails, have a picnic lunch and spend some time at each of the flowerpots

For more info check out: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/amnc-nmca/on/fathomfive/activ/flowerpot https://explorethebruce.com/mobile/story/your-flowerpot-island-experience/67/

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