Take Me to the World https://www.takemetotheworld.com Travel. Theatre. Life. Thu, 13 Feb 2020 20:46:20 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 Goodbye to the Decade – My 2019 Trip to San Francisco, and Why It’s Okay to be a Tourist https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2019-trip-san-francisco/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2019-trip-san-francisco/#respond Tue, 11 Feb 2020 02:58:43 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=28282 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

It's the last post in my retrospective of my travels in the 2010s. Today I'm looking back a trip I took in 2019 to San Francisco, California.

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This is the final post in my 10 part retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about the 2019 day trip I took to the San Francisco, California. Previous editions of this series include


This is it, the final trip I’ll be talking about on my 2010s travel retrospective. In 2019 I didn’t do a ton of traveling, but I went to three places. The only new to me destination though was San Francisco.

This was a trip that I took with two of the three friends who’d come with my to New York City back in 2014. And it wasn’t a trip I necessarily expected to take. My one friend messaged me New Year’s Day 2019 and ASKED “wanna go to San Francisco?” I looked at the airfare, saw I could afford it and booked a ticket right away.

There are some places I visit where I just kind of wander around and do whatever, and then there are other places I visit where I want to hit the tourist spots. And this isn’t a post about traveller vs tourist (the entire dichotomy of that debate is based on a false premise that the two things are different and that you have to choose one, which isn’t true). Anyway when it came to San Francisco my friends and I wanted to do a lot of the tourist things.

We took a hop on hop off bus tour. We went across the Golden Gate Bridge (it’s very windy, particularly on an open air double-decker bus). We rode the cable cars. We went to Alcatraz (something I really wanted to do). We had sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery. We wandered around Chinatown and went to the place where fortune cookies were made. We wandered around Pier 39 and had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, and spent some time at Fisherman’s Wharf. We did a harbor boat cruise where we went from the Golden Gate Bridge to the the Oakland Bridge (fun fact did you know there is someone on both of those bridges touching up the paint all day long…the guy on the Golden Gate Bridge saw our harbor cruise and waved). We walked down Lombard street (none of my friends or I wanted to drive down that street). The one semi touristy thing we didn’t do was spend anytime around Haight-Ashbury, but that’s mostly because we ran out of time.

A back alley of Chinatown in San Francisco.
Wandering around Chinatown in San Francisco.

I realize that above paragraph is just a boring dear diary list (you know, dear diary today I did this then I did this and then this,, etc) of my time in San Francisco. But I’m pointing all this out because if I’d gone to San Francisco myself I probably wouldn’t have done all this stuff. I tend to just kind of wander about when I travel solo. This can be great and lead to discovery things I never knew about, but it’s often stemmed from this subconscious/internal monologue of me going “okay you’re broke, you can’t afford to do all the stuff you really want to do, so just wander about this park because it’s free.”

A heart with the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay in Union Square, San Francisco, California.
There are several hearts in Union Square in San Francisco, which is a free place to visit. This heart was painted by Tony Bennett, who sings the famous song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”

And I’m not here to tell you to break your budget (because I’ve gone into debt for some stupid reasons and I don’t want to encourage that mindset), but sometimes it’s worth paying a little bit more when you travel. I always try to balance things out. Like for this trip my friends and I stayed in a hostel because San Francisco is expensive af and my job only has part-time hours so I’m hella broke. But we splurged on some of the experiences we did like taking that harbour cruise, or visiting Alcatraz. If there’s something “touristy” that you’re interested in seeing you should budget the money out to do that. And when I travel alone I sometimes get overwhelmed with everything I could do that I don’t do much of anything. And when you travel with other people you have well other people’s opinions and preferences and ideas of things to do. I likely wouldn’t have gone to the California Academy of Sciences if I was in San Francisco on my own, but both my friends wanted to visit the museum, and it was actually a pretty cool museum to visit.

Outside of the old Alcatraz Penitentiary.
One of the places I wanted to visit was Alcatraz. It’s pretty popular to visit and tickets are limited, so it’s best to buy the tickets in advance. Alcatraz is run by the National Park Services, so be sure to buy tickets from https://www.alcatrazcruises.com because they’re the only website where you can buy official tickets for the ferry to Alcatraz Island.

I feel like I should have some grand epiphany when I travel, and particularly with this post being the end of this travel retrospective. And I do have realizations when I travel, usually about the places I visit, sometimes about the people I travel with or the people I meet on the road or about myself. And I don’t want to say you have to travel, because I know that not everyone has the means to travel or even wants to travel the way I do. For myself travel is the best learning experience I have, and I am so grateful for all the travel opportunities I’ve had in the 2010s. And of course I look forward to a new decade of travel experiences in the 2020s.

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Goodbye to the Decade – My 2018 Trip to Belfast, and Why I Love Day Trips https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2018-trip-belfast/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2018-trip-belfast/#respond Wed, 29 Jan 2020 20:09:55 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=28275 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

In 2018 I took a day trip to Belfast to see some of the political murals in the city.

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This post is part 9 of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about the 2018 day trip I took to the Belfast, Northern Ireland. Previous editions of this series include


In May of 2018 I’d been working as a temp at an office job in Dublin when I found out my contract was ending. I liked the job, but I knew it was temporary. When I found out it was ending a little sooner that I’d hoped I decided I’d come home to Canada in early June. I spent the next few weeks traveling, around Dublin, but I also went back to Belfast, Northern Ireland. I’d gone to Belfast the year before and spent a couple nights in the city. I wanted to go back to Belfast for a day trip to see some of the political murals in the city.

I’m going to attempt to give a little background on Irish and Northern Irish history, but I won’t be able to cover this topic the way it deserves. So here’s a brief, but also not so brief summary.

Ireland (as in the whole geographical island) was once under British rule. During this time some people wanted to break away from British control (known as Nationalists or Republicans). Others people wanted to remain under British rule (known as Unionists or Royalists). There was more nuances to it than that, but I don’t want to write a thesis paper on this complicated topic. Several independence movements started, which lead to a civil war (the Irish War of Independence) from 1919 to 1921. In 1949 all the counties on the island of Ireland voted whether to become an independent republic, or to remain under British rule. Six counties in the north Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone voted to remain under British rule. They formed the country of Northern Ireland and joined the United Kingdom (along with England, Scotland and Wales). The other 32 counties became the Republic of Ireland, which we refer to as Ireland today. Belfast became the capital of Northern Ireland ,and Dublin the capital of Ireland.

But the story isn’t over and that’s where The Troubles come in. This was a period from 1968 to 1998, when violent conflicts and bombings took place in Ireland and Northern Ireland (and some in England as well). These acts were done by both paramilitary groups and the British army, and mostly stemmed from political ideologies. The main two being about how Northern Ireland should be governed, and whether or not it should join the Republic of Ireland. During this period communities, neighbourhoods, and even families were divided into Republican/Nationalist versus Unionist/Loyalist. 3,500 people died (52% being civilians) from violent conflicts and bombings. On Good Friday 1998 the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) was put forth. Both sides surrendered and a ceasefire was declared. In The Northern Ireland Assembly both Republican and Unionist parties should have equal power. As well at any time a referendum could be held for Northern Ireland to vote on whether to stay in the U.K or join the Republic of Ireland.

That brief overview was quite long, but also I’m sure I missed a ton of stuff. I do apologize for that, but there’s no way I can cover this topic in depth. But the too long didn’t read summary is; the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland is very complicated. Nowadays (or at least in 2018 when I was there) you can travel freely from Northern Ireland to Ireland and vice versa without any issues. I’m not sure if that will change with Brexit. I hope not because it’s from my understanding that a hard border (one with border patrol) between the two countries would likely cause problems. However Belfast still has some scars from it’s time in The Troubles. There are “peace walls” in certain parts of the city separating Unionist/Loyalist neighbourhoods and Nationalist/Republican ones. In these divided neighbourhoods are murals to pro Unionist/Loyalist or pro Nationalist/Republican members. And depending on who you ask the people on the murals might be seen as heroes or they might be seen as villains. History, and people are complicated, and there’s no singular truth or easy answer.

There are companies that will offer tours of these murals in Belfast, and that’s why I went back for a day trip. The tour I took was about 90 minutes and we went through several neighbourhoods. I didn’t actually take a lot of photos on the tour (although I was able to get it at most of the places). While you could do a walking tour on your own, I recommend finding one of the cab/car companies that do this tour. You’ll get a perspective on the murals from someone who lives in Belfast and knows the history of the city and Northern Ireland. If I’d walked around on my own I wouldn’t have any context for what I was seeing (plus I’d likely get lost cause that’s how I roll).

One of the peace walls in Belfast.

Mural of Republican activist Bobby Sands, who died from a hunger strike. There’s actually a really interesting documentary about Sands called 66 Days that’s worth checking out if you’re interested in learning more about Northern Ireland and The Troubles. 

There are also murals done by community members calling for peace. 

The legacy of The Troubles is a complicated one. While a peace wall doesn’t make sense to me I also understand that living through something is different than just hearing about it. One thing I came to appreciate about my time in Ireland and Northern Ireland was learning more about the history of these two countries. Belfast is an interesting city, and the energy there is very different from Dublin. It’s only about 2 hours from Dublin to Belfast by train and is a great place to go for a day trip (or even better for a few days). Aside from seeing the murals I also spent some time checking out at market at Belfast City Hall, and wandering around The Cathedral Quarter.

I would like to go back to Belfast and spend some more time there, and see more places in Northern Ireland at some point. However, I am happy I got to go back to Belfast for a day trip and learn more about the political murals there.

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Musical Theatre Podcast Episode 8 – A Chat About Musicals With Friends https://www.takemetotheworld.com/musical-theatre-podcast-episode-8/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/musical-theatre-podcast-episode-8/#respond Thu, 23 Jan 2020 20:45:09 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=27765 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

On this episode of the Take Me to the World musical theatre podcast my friends and I discuss some of our favourite and least favourite musicals.

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On episode 8 of the Take Me to the World Musical Theatre Podcast two of my friends and I have a chat about musicals. Be prepared for a lot of giggling and nerding out about musicals. We also discuss our least favourite song from our favourite musical, and our favourite song from our favourite musical. I may or may not sing in this episode as well.

Where to Listen to Episode 8?

If you haven’t heard it yet you can listen to Episode 8 on Podcasts.com

You can also listen and subscribe to the Take Me to the World Musical Theatre Podcast on your favourite podcast app or website below.

iTunes

Google Play 

Tune In

Stitcher

Resources – Music

This has links (mostly on Spotify, unless otherwise stated) to the cast recordings/soundtracks that I mentioned in this podcast, as well as to some musical playlists.

It’s Broadway, Bitch – Spotify Playlist. This has over 2000 songs from different musicals I’ve either seen or have listened to obsessively. Most of the playlist is from stage musicals, but I have a few movie musicals and musical TV shows as well. As I see more musicals and listen to more cast albums I’ll add them to this playlist. The albums are in random order. Some songs contain strong language and subject matter, so listener discretion is advised.

Sounds of Broadway. This is an online radio station with over 4600 songs from 560 different musicals. This is a great way to listen musicals you know and discover some musicals you may have never heard of before. The station also has a great weekly podcast about musicals as well.

Across the Universe (2007 Movie Soundtrack)

Cats (1983 Original Broadway Cast)

The Little Mermaid (1989 Movie Soundtrack)

Mamma Mia (1999 Original Cast Recording)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 Movie Soundtrack)

Rent (2005 Movie Soundtrack)

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008 Movie Soundtrack)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979 Original Broadway Cast)

The Who’s Tommy (1993 Original Broadway Cast)

Resources – Videos

These are links on Just Watch for the following movie versions of the musicals we talked about in this episode. Just Watch will have links to where you can watch these movies on various online and streaming sites.

Across the Universe (2007 Movie)

Cats (1998 Filmed Live Movie) – I won’t torture you with the 2019 version.

The Little Mermaid (1989 Movie)

Mamma Mia (2008 Movie)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 Movie)

Rent (2005 Movie)

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008 Movie)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007 Movie)

Tommy (1975 Movie)

Resources – Websites and Apps

Cats. This is where you can buy tickets for the North American tour.

Rent. This is where you can buy tickets for the North American tour.

Mamma Mia. This is the website where you can get tickets for various international productions of this musical.

The Who’s Tommy. There is a Broadway production for this musical slated to open sometime next year.

Reddit Musical Thread.This is a great place to go if you want to talk about musicals, or get recommendations on shows to check out.

Broadway Musical Home. This is an amazing website for any musical lover. They have an alphabetical list of over 300 musicals, and you can look up musicals by different categories like “based on a book” and “based on real life.” For anyone or any theatre company looking to put on a musicals you can check out the Rights page, where you can find where to get the rights to put on a variety of musicals.

Playbill has listing for shows (musicals and plays) in New York, London and National Tours.

Today Tix is an App for both iOS and Android. You can use the app to buy cheap, same day tickets for shows in cities like New York, London, Toronto, Chicago, and more. I used this app with great success in London and highly recommend it.

Use the Code JGZYL to save £10 (or $10) on your first order with Today Tix.

Check out some more Musical Theatre Podcast Episodes on Take Me to the World

Now what is your favourite song from your least favourite musical? Or your least favourite song from your favourite musical.

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Goodbye to the Decade – My 2017 Trip to Connemara, Ireland and Why A Quick Break Is Good https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2017-trip-connemara/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2017-trip-connemara/#respond Sun, 19 Jan 2020 21:16:59 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=28184 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

In February 2017 I took a quick break from living in Dublin to visit a region of Ireland I knew very little about, Connemara.

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This post is part 8 of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about the 2017 trip to the Connemara region of Ireland. Previous editions of this series include


In 2016 I moved to Ireland (temporarily). It took some time to find a steady job and a place to live, and in February 2017 I decided to take a quick “weekend” trip on my days off to Galway. I’d explored a bit around Dublin where I was living, but I hadn’t ventured to any other part of Ireland. Initially I thought about going to the Cliffs of Moher (and I would go there at the end of the year), but several coworkers of mine kept talking about Connemara, an area I’d never heard of and decided I should check out there.

A small mountain and lake in Connemara, Ireland.

On this trip I took a bus tour to see Connemara. It’s hard to take decent photos from a moving bus, but I think this one turned out pretty well and shows the unique and barren landscape of Connemara.

Living in Ireland I didn’t have a car, and I wasn’t about to rent one and try to drive manual (which I’ve never done) on the left side of the road (when I was used to driving on the right in Canada). The nice thing about Ireland is that it’s a small enough country and there are several buses that run from Dublin to Galway. Of course with a vehicle I would have been able to stop at small towns, but I was just excited to see another part of Ireland. There’s also train service to Galway from several cities in Ireland (though I opted for the bus because it’s a bit cheaper).

River Corrib

This is the River Corrib in Galway. It’s actually one of the shortest rivers in Europe (only 6 miles) and because of that it’s also a very flowing river, with high water levels. This photo was taken minutes before a huge downpour.

I spent two nights in Galway, staying at a hostel close to the bus station. It was above a pub (because obviously) and I went down for a pint and to listen to the trad music (a.k.a tradition Irish music). The next day (my only really full day) I took a coach tour through Connemara. This is region of Ireland that’s very different from other parts of the country. Most people think of Ireland and picture rolling green hills with grazing sheep, or the dramatic sea cliffs, but Connemara is a mountainous area with lakes and bogs that is a lot less green, but still beautiful, than other parts of the country. One of the places we visited we Kylemore Abbey and the Victoria Gardens (though there’s not much for gardens in February). We also visited the small village of Cong where the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara (she’s Irish) movie The Quiet Man was filmed.

This is Kylemore Abbey and yes this photo looks like it’s a magical castle on a lake. This was originally a home built by Mitchell Henry, a London doctor, who became an MP in County Galway. The home was built for his wife Margaret, who tragically died in 1875 before the house was completed. She is interned at a mausoleum on site. After Henry’s death the building because a school and a convent. Since 1920 it’s been the home of Irish Benedictine Nuns, who fled Belgium in World War 2. The main level is open for tours, but the top level is where the Benedictine Nuns live and work and is off limits.

Getting to see a bit more of Ireland was really nice, but I wish I had more time in Galway. It rained most of the time I was there, but the west side of Ireland tends to get more rain than the east side (where I was living), and so I didn’t really get to see much of Galway. I did wander around the Latin Quarter, but most of time in Galway was spent at the hostel or inside at pubs (not just drinking, I did order food too). I wanted to go back to Galway at some point while I was in Ireland I never did. That’s just another reason (of many) to go back to Ireland.

Check Out Some More Posts About Ireland on Take Me to the World

Have you been to Ireland? Would you take a trip out to Connemara?

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Goodbye to the Decade – My 2016 Trip to Tokyo and Why It’s a Good Thing When a Trip is Hard https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2016-trip-tokyo/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2016-trip-tokyo/#respond Thu, 09 Jan 2020 23:41:27 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=27901 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

In 2016 I went to Tokyo and it was one of the hardest trips I've done, but it's one that I'm glad I took, and it's one that I think about often.

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This post is part 7 of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about the 2016 trip to Tokyo. Previous editions of this series include


I’ve learned the good trips are good, but the hard ones are the ones that stick with you. And Tokyo was hard, and interesting, and overwhelming, but orderly and clean and just still so hard for me to wrap my head around.

Like Madrid I never expected to go to Tokyo, but then a flight deal comes up for $550 to go to Hong Kong for a few days and then Tokyo, and what am I going to do? Not book a flight? Of course not.

Tokyo where you can turn in any direction and see a vending machine. Likely several, but never a garbage can.

Tokyo where you can get a tie at the 7-11. I went and bought gloves because it was rainy and cold.

A city of 35 million people. The biggest in the word. As I wandered around the streets of Tokyo I became overwhelmed with the fact the entire population of Canada was in this one city.

A tree with cherry blossoms and people walking by on a street in Tokyo, Japan.

One thing I didn’t expect to see was cherry blossoms on my trip. The cherry blossom season was still a couple weeks from starting (in Tokyo at least), but I lucked out a saw a few early blossoms.

One of the things I realize I often do when I travel is visit two different places back to back. I mean all places are different, but in 2012 I went from New Orleans (humid and altitude below sea level) to Denver (dry and altitude above sea level). In 2015 I went from Madrid (where the weather was 25C) to Helsinki (where it was about -2C). And in 2016 I went from Hong Kong, where the weather had been hot and humid (about 28C) to Tokyo (where it was a much cooler 5C). And in Hong Kong getting around with English was pretty easy (aside from when I went to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery). In Tokyo there wasn’t as much English, although I still got by knowing very limited Japanese.

a 3 coins oops! store, which is a 100 yen store in Japan.

There are some stores with English signage, like this one. 3 Coins Ooops! (which is the greatest name for a store ever) is a 100 Yen Store (kinda like a dollar store, but much nicer).

I often wonder if I just didn’t give myself a good chance in Tokyo. I arrived at night and didn’t really have the best plan to find my hotel. My phone didn’t have a simcard for Tokyo, and the wifi device I rented wasn’t charged up. I got on a train that was the wrong one, but then figured out where I need to go. At the last subway station before my hotel I hailed a cab, and realized I could use my subway card (I went with Pasmo) to pay for my fare.

I don’t want to give the impression that Tokyo wasn’t a bad city. I had a hard time in Tokyo, but I don’t think that was Tokyo’s fault. And normally I love travelling alone, but I found myself exhausted trying to navigate Tokyo on my own. Or trying to decide what to do every day, because I didn’t have a plan in Tokyo of things I had to do. And sometimes wandering around is amazing, to get inspiration is amazing, but when you’re in the biggest city in the world where do you start?

Giant Gundam Statue beside two buildings on Odaiba Island in Tokyo, Japan.

Obviously there are going to be giant robots on the streets of Tokyo. This is the Unicorn Gundam statue on Odaiba Island. Every few minutes it lights up and moves (well the head moves; it’s not running round in the city).

One of the best things I did was sign up for a tour through the Tokyo Greeters program. I wrote about that here, but having a local show me around a small part of Tokyo was a great experience. And there was some other great things I got to do in Tokyo. I went to a Kabuki show, something I was really interested in doing. I visited convenience stores and I tried as many weird Kit Kat flavours as I could. I went to a cat cafe and a maid cafe (that was a weird experience). I walked into a pachinko parlour and tried to play a game, but didn’t understand the rules and was very overwhelmed with the loud sounds and all the flashing lights. I walked across Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. I went to one of those massive arcades in Akihabara. I marvelled at all the weird and strange things I saw like Hello Kitty construction signs, hot coffee in a can from vending machines (perfect to warm your hands up at only ¥100), and all the fake food displays outside restaurants (which is actually pretty genius cause you can literally see what’s on the menu).

a display of fake food in a restaurant to show people what is on the menu

One thing that I loved was seeing these fake food displays in restaurants. You can literally see what’s on the menu at a restaurant.

It’s funny because I didn’t do a lot in Tokyo, but I did. There were all these little things that keep popping up in my head that I saw or did that just stick out in my mind. Tokyo was hard because I was alone and overwhelmed, and its not often that this happens to me. I didn’t go anywhere else during my 1 week in Japan, because I figured Tokyo would have enough for me to do, and it did. I remember getting on the train and heading to Narita Airport, and realizing I barely scratched the surface of Tokyo, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see it all. I would like to go back to Tokyo at some point, and I’d definitely like to see more of Japan.

Check Out Some More Posts About Tokyo on Take Me to the World

What would you do on a trip to Tokyo? Have you ever been somewhere that overwhelmed you?

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Goodbye to the Decade – My 2015 Trip to Madrid and Why You Should Go Somewhere You Never Expected to Visit https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2015-trip-madrid/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2015-trip-madrid/#respond Wed, 01 Jan 2020 15:15:35 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=27857 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

For this look back at a trip in the last decade I reflect on my 2015 solo trip to Madrid, Spain a city I never imagined I would ever visit.

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Happy New Year Everyone!

This post is part 6 of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about the 2015 trip to Madrid, Spain. Previous editions of this series include


A few years before the start of the 2010s I went on my first foray to Europe. It was a group tour with a few solo days in London beforehand. Though I have regrets about picking the particular tour I did (just because it was insanely fast paced; 10 countries in 9 days) I don’t regret going. It was the first time I’d traveled alone (for a few days in London, but you gotta start somewhere) and being an introvert the group tour aspect (where I didn’t know anyone beforehand) forced me to get out of my comfort zone a bit. On the trip our tour guide mentioned some “fact” (likely made up or exaggerated to get you to spend money on the extra options on your “trip of a lifetime”) that most people outside of Europe only visit Europe once.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know this statistic isn’t true for me (I lived in Ireland for almost two years and visited several countries during that time). Before October 2015 however that whole “not visiting Europe more than once” statistic was true for me. I’d done visits since to the US, around Canada, and Mexico, but not back to Europe since that group tour. Then in 2015 I found a flight deal to Europe. There were several cities and countries where I could fly into. Should I go to Athens? Maybe Prague? Or Sofia?
Ultimately I decided on a trip to Madrid. I’d be there for about a week in October, and then have a couple days in Helsinki (with a layover in Zurich in between) and another layover in Frankfurt on the way back. For this post though I’m going to focus on the Madrid part of the trip.

I had always wanted to go to Barcelona, and I’d never turn down a trip to Spain in general (it looked like fascinating country), but Madrid wasn’t a city on my radar. It wasn’t that I was actively avoiding Madrid or had anything against it, but it was just not a city I ever considered visiting. It wasn’t on my Bucket List or Travel Wish List or whatever you want to say. And that’s a good thing, because had zero expectations when it came to Madrid. I knew it was the capital of Spain. I knew you could get tapas there (and free food while your drinking some wine sounded like a good idea to me). That was pretty much it. And even though when I booked my flights (about $530 CAD, which is a pretty deal from where I live) I didn’t know much about Madrid I started researching some of the things to see and do, and where to stay. Soon enough I was excited to go to this city I never expected to visit.

People sitting at tables and chairs outside of a cafe in Madrid, Spain.

One thing I love about Madrid (and many places in Europe) is the cafe culture, sitting outside with a coffee at a cafe in a plaza or square.

I really enjoyed Madrid. I stayed in a guesthouse in Chueca, and loved the lively energy and vibe of Madrid. New York is said to be the city that never sleeps, but I think Madrid might give NYC a run for its money. I remember seeing people outside at the cafes in the plazas at 11pm having dinner and drinks. I ate lots of jamón ibérico and many tapas, and drank some delicious wine. I wandered through some nice parks. I saw the Royal Palace and visited some amazing art museums (including taking a fascinating tour of the Prado Museum led by an art historian). I went on a tour where I got to learn about Flamenco music and dancing (and saw a Flamenco show). I got to see an Egyptian Temple (the only legit one outside of Egypt). Even just wandering through the streets and admiring the architecture (as someone with no knowledge of architecture) or visiting the local markets was enjoyable.

close up of a series of balconies on a building in Madrid, Spain.

What style of architecture is this? I have no idea, but I loved the buildings in Madrid. I took s many photos of just random buildings, including this close up of some balconies.

The only downside to my trip was that I got sick for a couple of days at the end. I’d been debating taking a day trip to Toledo, Spain (not Ohio) or somewhere else (I even thought about going to Barcelona for a bit, but I knew I’d want more time there). When I got sick I just had to stay in my room (after a visit to a pharmacist where I used the power of Google translate to get some medicine). It’s never fun being sick when you travel. Luckily the sickness subsided by the time I was at the airport waiting to board my flight to Zurich.

People boating on the lake at El Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain.

El Retiro Par was really nice to wander through in Madrid. I always like visiting city parks.

When people ask me where I want to travel or what my next trip is, it always feels like a loaded question. I can tell you all of the places I want to visit (and there’s a lot and the list is always growing), but just because I don’t mention a place doesn’t mean I won’t go there, or won’t like it if I do visit. Madrid was a city not on my travel wish list and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s great to go somewhere random and unexpected (I mean I booked the trip several months in advance so I had enough time to figure out some things to do). And since my visit I know Madrid is a city I could visit again, and there’s a lot more of Spain that I would like to see.

So I encourage you to go somewhere you didn’t expect to visit, because the results can be pretty spectacular.

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Goodbye to the Decade – My 2014 Birthday Trip to New York City and Why I Like Traveling with My Friends https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2014-trip-new-york/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2014-trip-new-york/#respond Wed, 25 Dec 2019 04:36:19 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=27845 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

For this edition of me reminiscing on my travels in the 2010s I tell you about the 2014 I took to New York City with a few friends.

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This post is part 5 of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about the 2014 collective birthday trip my friends did in New York City. Previous editions of this series include


In 2014 three friends and I decided to go to New York City to celebrate our collective 30th birthdays. We went in April. Two of my friends had already turned 30 as of that trip, and myself and another friend were still 29, but April worked best for everyone.

Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park in New York City.

Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park in New York City. We knew the weather in April might be a bit rainy, but it was generally pretty nice for our trip (minus one torrential downpour that ruined several umbrellas).

This was my third trip to New York City, one of my friends had also been before. It was the first time in New York City for the other two. We decided to go to New York City because we knew there would be lots to do. We all love theatre and musicals, and there are so many sites to see. New York City is a place I could visit again and again and not get bored of. I’ve written about the interactive experience of Sleep No More that I did during that trip (one of the coolest theatre experiences I’ve had) and seeing the musical If/Then (now closed, such is the life of most Broadway musicals). We went on a Food Walking Tour and a Broadway Walking Tour. We did some touristy things like eat at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and we went on the ferris wheel at Toys R Us in Times Square (while it was still there).

Bright lights and billboards of Times Square in New York City at night.

One of the things my friends and I did on our trip was visit Times Square. I’d been before, but I actually enjoy going there and wandering around. I’m sure if I lived in New York City the novelty would wear off pretty quickly.

One of the great things about that trip was we never felt any pressure to do everything together. My friends went on the Staten Island Ferry (to get photos of the Statue of Liberty), but I skipped out because I’d done it before (and more pressingly my feet were killing me and I just wanted to chill at the hotel). My two friends who hadn’t been to New York City went up to the Empire State Building, but my friend and I who had been to New York (and did the Empire State Building on previous trips) had dinner and drinks instead. One afternoon I took off on my own and wandered around Brooklyn. Don’t get me wrong we did lots of stuff together to, but no one was dragged along to anything. I never felt like I had to do something or another. And in the back of my mind I knew two things

1. You can never see and do everything in New York City and

2. You can always come back. Things might be different, but you can come back.

View of the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the East River from the Roosevelt Tram

One of my friends and I decided to take the Tram to Roosevelt Island. This is the view of the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the East River on the way back. Then we got a cupcake from an ATM, because what else are ATMs for? Money? Pshaw I say.

My 2014 Birthday Trip to New York City was a pretty stress free event (worst thing was my shoes were crap and hurt my feet, and it rained really hard one night and my umbrella broke). And perhaps my attitude was a bit lackadaisical because I had been to New York City twice before. I didn’t have this pressure of thinking, “aaah I have to see and do everything!!!!!” I believe that’s a problem a lot of people can get into when they first travel. You want to see and do it all, but you have to make peace with the fact that you just can’t. I am someone who likes to have hope and so I don’t ever tell myself “this is the only time I can ever visit this place” because that just leads to more anxiety. And there are many places I’ve visited several times. I have no doubt in my mind that I’ll end up back in New York City at some point again in the future. And whether I go back to some of the same places or see something new I’ll have an enjoyable time, but it won’t be quite the same as that 30th birthday trip with my friends. 

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Goodbye to the Decade – My 2013 Visit to the Terry Fox Monument Outside Thunder Bay https://www.takemetotheworld.com/2013-thunder-bay/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/2013-thunder-bay/#respond Tue, 17 Dec 2019 03:31:36 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=27817 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

In 2013 I did a solo road trip from Calgary, Alberta to Richmond Hill Ontario. For this post I want to focus on a moment I had outisde Thunder Bay, Ontario.

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This post is part 4 of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about my 2013 trip road trip across Canada (or part of Canada cause Canada’s really big). Previous editions of this series include


This post could be massive. I want to write everything I can about the solo road trip I took in 2013, driving from Calgary, Alberta to Richmond Hill, Ontario (just outside of Toronto). I made plans to go to the travel blogging conference I’d been to before in Vancouver and Denver. This year it was in Toronto, but instead of just flying there I decided to do a solo road trip through a company called Hit the Road. You basically sign up to deliver someone’s vehicle to them (usually it’s people moving from one part of the country to another, or delivering vehicles for Canadians who go south for the winter).

People I’m sure thought I was insane, but I really wanted to do this trip because I wanted the experience of a week long solo road trip. I liked traveling alone, but usually I was in a city like London or New York, not driving across rural Canada. I wanted the chance to see parts of the country I never had before. I love taking road trips, and stopping to see roadside attractions like “the world largest such and such” or “this town is the home of something or other.” And it was the perfect time to go, I was off from University (summer break) and was only freelance writing, so I didn’t have to worry about work (I did have some money saved up for this trip as well).

I want to write everything I can about this trip. About the friendliness and hospitality of family and friends I stayed with on the way (most nights were in motels, but a couple nights I got to stay with family). About the roadside attractions that I saw. About the cities and towns I briefly stayed in, but I’m just going to narrow my focus on one city and really one moment on this trip.

Thunder Bay was my fourth overnight stop on this trip. That morning I had driven from Winnipeg and the drive took longer than I’d anticipated. I’m used to 100km/hour or even 110km/hour speed limits, but crossing over into Ontario the speed limit went down to 90km. There’s a lot of lakes and trees (very foresty) and less open fields and prairie driving like I’m used to. I get the speed change from a safety standpoint, but I expected to get from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay in 7 hours. It took 9 (granted I made sure to stop along the way and get out and stretch my legs). But in Thunder Bay I stayed in a motel, and went to down to shores of Lake Superior. I could understand why this lake was called Lake Superior, because it was massive. You can’t see the other side of the lake; it feels like an ocean.

That’s not the moment I want to focus on. It came the next morning when I headed out of Thunder Bay I made a point to stop at the Terry Fox Monument. Now if you are not Canadian you might not know who Terry Fox is, but he’s a Canadian icon. Terry Fox was just an average teenager when he was diagnosed with cancer and had to have his leg amputated and replaced with a prosthetic. This was back in the late 70’s and in the early 1980’s Fox went on a marathon across Canada. His goal was to run from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia and to raise $1 for every Canadian (about $24 million at the time). Today charity marathons are pretty common, but back in the early 80’s they weren’t.

Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to his lungs and shortly outside of Thunder Bay Terry Fox had to stop his marathon. He passed away 9 months later at the age of 22. But Fox’s Marathon of Hope (as it was called) did raise that $24 million. Every September there is a annual Terry Fox run in cities across Canada, raising money for cancer research and treatment. Terry Fox died June 28, 1981, which is more than three years before I was even born. I was not alive during The Marathon of Hope, but in Canada you learn about Fox and his marathon and humanitarian effort in school. One year the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Channel) did a series on who the greatest Canadian is/was and Fox was picked as the number one Canadian.

I wanted to visit this monument and lookout point, thinking I’d take a moment and stretch my legs and be done. But I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed with emotions when I got there. And there isn’t anything amazing about the statue itself, not in a physical sense. There isn’t a gift shop or interpretive centre or tour here. It’s just a statue of a young man at a nice lookout point about 15km outside of  Thunder Bay. But when I parked the car and got out I just kept thinking “I can’t believe this man ran a marathon from St. John’s to this point, with a prosthetic leg, with cancer.”

Statue of Terry Fox outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

Statue of Terry Fox outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

My journey to Thunder Bay had been in the opposite direction of Fox’s (west to east) and I only started in Calgary, Alberta. I wasn’t running (I got to drive) and I wasn’t raising any money for cancer research and treatment. My journey was more selfish because I just wanted to travel and see more of Canada. But I remember feeling tired in Thunder Bay and then I felt like an asshole because I just thought of how tired Terry Fox must have been during his marathon. And while driving toward Thunder Bay I started to notice the landscape started to get hillier. And while these weren’t mountains they were pretty significant hills, and thinking about how Fox was running up and down this terrain made me feel very humble. And it was at this point I began to cry.

A lot of people have debated about what it means to be Canadian and what the Canadian identity is/was/will be. And there are multiple answers Canadians may give to that question depending on a huge variety of factors. And indeed I doubt any two Canadians will have the exact same answer. But for me I can say I never felt more humbled and inspired and proud to be Canadian than I did standing beside a granite statue of Terry Fox outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

I don’t actually like the travel part of traveling (aside from road trips). I just like being in a new place or another place. But visiting the Terry Fox statue outside of Thunder Bay I could see, for a moment, how the journey is the important part. And sometimes it’s hard to see or understand this when you’re on the journey (whether it’s a physical trip somewhere or life itself). The road trip I was doing wasn’t really about my end destination, but about all the little things I saw and did along the way. Terry Fox didn’t get to make it to Victoria like he planned, but that’s not his legacy in Canada. We don’t remember Terry Fox because he didn’t make it to Victoria, or because his cancer became too aggressive and forced him to stop his marathon. We remember Terry Fox because he started this marathon, because he inspired hope, and because sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

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Goodbye to the Decade – My 2012 Trip to Denver Was Weird And I’m Gonna Try To Explain It But Fail https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2012-trip-denver/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2012-trip-denver/#respond Mon, 09 Dec 2019 16:00:18 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=27791 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

For this edition of me reminiscing on my travels in the 2010s I tell you about my 2012 trip to Denver, something I'm still trying to figure out to this day.

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This post is part of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about my 2012 trip to Denver Colorado. Previous editions of this series include


“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson

I felt strange when I walked out of the Denver Airport to wait for my shuttle. Lightheaded, and confused.

Perhaps I was feeling the vibrations of the airport. There are some crazy conspiracy theories about the Denver Airport (everything from Illuminati or whatnot to secret bunkers underneath in case of a nuclear holocaust). I don’t give much credit to conspiracy theories (way too easy to go overboard and overanalyze details that don’t matter until it becomes something that “they don’t want you to know”). I don’t want to make anyone paranoid.

I will state for the record that my 2012 visit to Denver was weird though. Now Denver is not a bad city (and labelling a city as “good or “bad” is usually a gross generalization). Nothing horrible happened on my trip, but I felt weird when I got off the plane and I felt weird during most of my time in Colorado, but particularly in Denver. Usually I either vibe with a place or I don’t. And I know that’s pretty vague hippie language I just used there,  but I usually have pretty positive feelings toward the places I visit. I love travel after all. With Denver I was never really sure if I liked it or I didn’t. I wasn’t even sure what was going on while I was there. What was Denver? What is Denver?

Of course the likely culprit for my lightheadness was a touch of altitude sickness. Denver has the highest state capitol in the US. It’s a mile above sea level (hence it’s nickname The Mile High City). And I had just flown in after spending a week in New Orleans, a city whose elevation ranges from 2 feet below sea level to just 20 feet above. That’s a pretty noticeable difference, and I was feeling it.

I was in Denver (or in Colorado really) for another conference (same conference I attended the year before in Vancouver). The conference was going to be in another part of the state, a couple hours away. I wanted to spend two days in the Denver before driving to the conference with some other bloggers. Then a couple more days in Denver before heading home.

Sculpture of a Big Blue Bear (titled I See What You Mean) looking in the glass windows of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, Colorado.

I See What You Mean. That’s the name of the big blue bear statue in front of the Colorado Convention Center. The conference I attended was not here.

I’ve stayed at a lot of hostels and never had any major issues, but the hostel I stayed at in Denver was strange. Dark. Stuffy. When I was waiting to check in the lady in front of me at the desk kept complaining about her parole officer and all I could think was, shit, is this not a good neighbourhood?

It wasn’t a great neighbourhood. Not like I have to get out of here now kind of neighbourhood, but more I’m going to look into couchsurfing for the two nights I’ll have in Denver when I get back from the conference kind of neighbourhood. My first night in Denver (before the conference) was spent drinking beers at an official party for the conference I was attending. It was only partway through the evening that I realized I was spending most of my time at the wrong part of the bar. The party for conference attendees was in another room.

Fun fact Denver has a lot of microbreweries, so you can drink lots of beer if that’s your thing (and I like beer particularly when it’s free at a conference).

The next day I went to a coffee shop and had a latte. I visited the History Colorado Center (tickets were free with the conference), but still felt strange. The beer was gone and I hadn’t had anything else to make me feel this way. I went to the 16th Street Mall, which has lots of shops and restaurants (a bit touristy). I wandered around and took photos of the street pianos there, but never played any. I visited a Federal Reserve Museum (that was free). I saw oversized public art.

In Denver the air was dry. In New Orleans the air had been muggy; I felt like it was compressing on my chest. In Denver the air was too light; I felt like it was sucking the breath from my lungs. I felt powerless and disoriented in Denver. The weather was hot. I had expected Denver to have cool mountain breezes, but there were no breezes during my visit in June. Looking back at photos I see cloudy grey skies, but I don’t remember rain, just heat.

The Colorado State Capitol Building in the distance with an obelisk in front with grey skies in Denver Colorado.

The Colorado State Capitol in the distance. Did I walk all the way up the stairs outside the building, just to be a mile above sea level? I think I did. I must have, but maybe I just looked at the top and never went up. At this point I can’t be sure.

The conference went well, but I didn’t do much other than attend the official events and parties. When I came back to Denver I found a lady to couchsurf with. This was only my second time couchsurfing (first being a few days earlier in New Orleans). That kind of turned thing around. She was really nice. I went to the Botanic Gardens for a bit and after work she showed me around the city. We went out for dinner at a burger joint and talked a lot about travel. She’d just spent several months in Spain, which sounded amazing. She had a Vitamix and I was pretty sure that now I wanted one as well. You don’t even have to peel the apple people. And it makes hot soup? What!?

Plants and trees along a small pond at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Denver Botanic Gardens. They were nice. Denver was nice, but I just felt so weird here. Does any of this make sense to anyone? Probably not. That’s why this post isn’t a travel guide to Denver.

When I left Denver and got to the airport I still felt strange. I was still unsure. What was Denver? Had I discovered it or found a part of it? Was I even in Denver? What is a city? The security line was strange, the food court was set up weird. I was told I might need to be put on another flight (overbooking). And had to call my parents to tell them about the delay, but then everything was okay and I was put on the original flight.

Denver this isn’t a criticism. I know I was only there for a few days, but what was your city? I’ve never felt a such a bewilderment at a place before. I like most places I’ve visited, and like I said nothing bad happened in Denver. It was pleasant enough but I also felt weird and baffled during my entire visit. At some point I’d like to go back to Denver and see if my experience is different. But I wonder if people feel this way when visiting other cities? Is a city that I love like Montreal or New York or London completely incoherent to other people like Denver was for me?

Every moment during my time in Denver felt weird, and I don’t know if that weirdness was the city or me.

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Goodbye to the Decade – My 2011 Trip to Vancouver and Why Repeat Visits Are Good https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2011-vancouver-trip/ https://www.takemetotheworld.com/my-2011-vancouver-trip/#respond Tue, 03 Dec 2019 00:36:46 +0000 https://www.takemetotheworld.com/?p=27770 This is post is from TakeMeToTheWorld.com

I love visiting new places, but there's something to be said for visiting the same place several times. This is why I went to Vancouver in 2011.

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This post is part of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about my June 2011 trip to Vancouver. Previous editions of this series include


I like visiting Vancouver, British Columbia (I haven’t been to Vancouver, Washington yet). I’ve been to Vancouver enough times that I’ve seen most of the major tourist attractions, so I don’t feel pressured to try and cram in a bunch of stuff when I’m there. Still I haven’t been so often that I feel like, “I’ve done Vancouver.” It’s a nice balance.

In 2011 I went to Vancouver for a travel blogging conference. This was the third or fourth year of the conference, but my first time attending. I was excited to check to go and check it out. Vancouver is only a 90 minute flight from where I live. The city is by the ocean. There are mountains. There’s great food. There’s lots to see and do there. And the weather is pretty temperate year round (something that makes it pretty tempting to go there when the winters are unbearable here in Edmonton).

View of the Vancouver, British Columbia skyline from the seabus to North Vancouver.

View of the Vancouver, British Columbia skyline from the Seabus to North Vancouver. It was pretty grey during my trip, but not rainy, which is always a bonus in Vancouver.

Side note: when I was living in Ireland and people found out I was Canadian I received one of two comments.

    1. My niece’s friend’s second cousin’s classmate just moved to Toronto (or some variation of that) or
    2. I really want to go to Vancouver.

And I can’t blame people for wanting to visit Vancouver because the city is gorgeous. Part of my trip was inside a conference centre attending talks about blogging, SEO, writing, marketing, etc. I’m sure that’s not so exciting to many people, but I found it interesting and got to meet some bloggers (though I’m an introvert and not really great at networking).

The conference had worked with the Vancouver tourism board and had some complimentary attraction passes and tours for attendees. I got to go up to the Vancouver Lookout, which is a nice lookout point in the city at Harbour Centre. I took a food tour at the Public Market at Granville Island. That tour broke what was supposed to be a year without chocolate (a resolution I’d make at New Years; chocolate is too delicious don’t give it up unless you’re allergic or diabetic or something like that). I also took hop on/off trolley tour, which was the weirdest tour ever. I like hop on/off tours all right. If you’re short on time it’s a good way to see the sites, get your bearings, and learn about the city you’re visiting. But the live tour guide I had on this particular tour just kept talking about the coffeeshops in the area, and how there was a Starbucks on every corner. Yeah, I get it Starbucks is everywhere, but like I don’t need you to point out that there’s another Starbucks down the block from us. I can understand hearing about Starbucks on a tour in Seattle (you know where the company started), but not in Vancouver. Since there was a live guide I’m sure other guides on the same tour would have been different, and not just talk about coffeeshops.

One thing that was unique about this trip was that it took place while The Vancouver Canucks were in the playoffs for The 2011 Stanley Cup. I wasn’t there when they lost and the riots were going on (something that’s just awful, but I’m not gonna get on my high horse and point fingers; I know Edmonton has had riots after The Oiler’s lost in 2006…some people get stupid over sports). However I was there when The Canuck’s won their last game in that series against The Boston Bruins in that series. I’m not a huge sports person (I mean I cheer for my local sports teams, but I’m not super invested in games). However I gotta say energy in the air was electric as there was tons of people watching the game on giant outdoor screens downtown. I also happened to be wearing blue and green (Canuck team colours) that day, so I had a lot of people (likely very drunk people) giving me high fives. If you’re visiting a city when their local sports team is a finals/playoff game wear the team’s colours and you’ll be greeted with a lot of enthusiasm.

A crowd of Vancouver Canuck Fans in front of the CBC Building in Downtown Vancouver.

A crowd of Vancouver Canuck Fans in front of the CBC Building in Downtown Vancouver.

I’ve written before that I like to have a quest, but it isn’t always super big. I do like to have something to look forward to when I travel. I’m a planner, so I always try to find something I want to see or do at destination; in Vancouver it was visiting the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens. The gardens are quite beautiful, and like the name says they’re designed in a classical Chinese style (for gardens I guess). I was there in June so there lots of plants and flowers in bloom. This was something I hadn’t been able to do on my previous visits to Vancouver, so I’m glad I got to go there on this trip.

Beautiful plants at a pond at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sun Classical Chinese Gardens.

Beautiful plants at a pond at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens.

And best of all I got to see my friend (the same one I went to Toronto with) as she had moved to Vancouver earlier in the year. We went out for lunch and had a great time like we always do when we get together. Having a friend live in a place you’re visiting is always nice because they know how to get around and knows where to go. It makes for a less stressful trip.

My friend still in Vancouver, and that’s a good enough excuse for me to fly out for a visit every so often. I was there in 2015 and this past June, and I’ll definitely be back again at some point. Vancouver is too close, and too awesome for me not to visit over and over.

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