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September 15, 2017

All aboard the famous Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top of Wales

All aboard the famous Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top of Wales

Snowdon from Mountain Railway train Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

The air freshened and the clouds twirled closer together. A seagull landed on a nearby rock and squawked loudly. The sun played hide and seek as we wondered which would win. For a few minutes the world disappeared in a damp, grey mass and we felt bereft … Seagull on top of Snowdon North Wales

Then, just as quickly, the sun returned, the sky turned peacock blue and the seagull shook its wings and flew away to play on the thermals. Below us spread the most dramatic scenery in Wales; craggy mountains, grass-covered slopes, river valleys, glittering lakes and in the far distance a golden eyebrow of beach beside the sea. I was finally on the top of Snowdon, at 1,085 metres the highest mountain in Wales and somewhere I had wanted to get to for many years.

On top of Snowdon Mountain North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

View from the top of Snowdon

Twice before I’d attempted it. The first time many years ago, as a school teacher taking a group of school children on a hike up the mountain. Sharon, a feisty young girl, had an accident on the Miner’s Track and I had to accompany her back down to Llanberis. The second time, my boyfriend and I drove all the way from the Midlands, turned up at the Snowdon Mountain Railway ticket office to be told that the it was too windy and the trains were cancelled. This time I was on a tour with Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries and we were having the best weather imaginable.

Clogwyn Halt Snowdon Mountain Railway Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Our group had been driven by coach to Llanberis from Llandudno on the North Wales coast and got one of the earliest trains up the mountain. One of the pleasures of being on a tour is having all the organisation done for you; no queueing, tickets in hand and no hassle. For the train buffs amongst you, the Snowdon Mountain Railway is narrow gauge, 4.7miles long and is Britain’s only public rack and pinion railway. It started in 1896 and has been operating ever since, taking millions of tourists to the peak of one of the loveliest mountains in the British Isles.

Wyddfa and Snowdon Mountain Railway

Our train was pushed by illustrious steam engine Wyddfa (Welsh for Snowdon), built in 1895 and still going strong. I had a chat with Stoker Paul, who explained that the engine originated in Switzerland (the Swiss know a thing or two about mountain railways) and pushes the train UP the mountain via the rack and pinion system. There was a great feeling of anticipation as we chugged out of Llanberis Station, over a river, past a slick of waterfall and through ancient oak woods. ‘Sir Richard Moon built his railway knowing that the journey his little trains would make, would offer us a magical panorama, that until then, had only been available to the intrepid climber.’ (From the excellent Snowdon Mountain Railway Souvenir Brochure)

Wyddfa steam engine Snowdon collage

Wyddfa steam engine

As we slowly emerged into a more barren landscape, in the distance peeked the summit of Snowdon. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were as the sun shone and there was not a rain cloud to be seen. A couple opposite me said the last time they’d been, 23 years ago, the weather had been very different. “But, even on such a drizzly, windy day, we got glimpses of the amazing scenery and loved it. We had to come back but didn’t really expect it to such glorious weather.”  We climbed higher at a steady pace, occasionally running parallel with walking paths where hardy hikers made their way up and down the mountain. We got close up to mighty rocks that would give geographers a huge thrill. Overhead a bird of prey checked out the land; maybe a peregrine falcon?

View from Snowdon Mountain Railway carriage Wales - by Zoe Dawes

View from the carriage window

I spotted the ruins of some stone huts, apparently the remains of one of the oldest settlements in Wales. We stopped at appropriately named Halfway Station (500m above sea level) where we filled up with water and another steam train passed us on its downward journey. We waved at the passengers in the carriages opposite. Everyone had big smiles’ this is the sort of trip you’d have to be a very miserable git not to enjoy. The Llanberris Pass was clearly visible far below in what is known as the Cwm Hetia, Valley of the Hats. To our right, enormous curved mountains loomed past and we got superb views of many lakes, rivers and hills out towards the Lleyn Peninsula and over to Anglesey.

Snowdon Mountain Railway Train at the summit - photo Zoe Dawes

Engine 11 Peris at the top of Snowdon Mountain Railway

The steepest part of the track is before the summit and the our trusty engine chuffed out more smoke as it bravely pushed its heavy cargo of carriages up and round the corner to the Snowdon Summit Visitors Centre. We stepped down from our carriage, through the cafe and gift shop and out the back of the centre, up to the rocky point which is the actual summit of Snowdon, 1085m. There must be very few mountains that have such a perfectly formed point, enabling so many people to reach the top, get their souvenir photo and enjoy the breathtaking scenery all around. We’d made it, on a unique, never-to-be-forgotten railway journey to the top of Wales …

Zoe Dawes on top of Snowdon - North Wales

On top of Snowdon

Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries Steam Train Tours

I travelled to North Wales courtesy of Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries. Our group stayed in Llandudno at the very comfortable Dunoon Hotel, with superb food in charming surroundings. We also had an excellent Italian meal at the Wildwood Restaurant in the town centre. We had a great time travelling on four steam railways in the area, including the splendid Snowdon Mountain Railway.

Llanberis Station Snowdon Mountain Railway North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Our group at Llanberis Station

Great Rail Journeys Railways & Castles of Wales Tour includes a stay at the award-winning Dunoon Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Snowdon Mountain Railways plus excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon and Conwy CastlesGRJ Independent can also tailor make holidays to the region for those wishing to travel to Wales on an individual basis. 

Rail Discoveries Railways of Wales Tour includes a stay at the Kensington Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Llangollen Railways, a horse-drawn boat trip on the Llangollen Canal, and excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon Castle. Read about our four Steam Train rides in North Wales here.

Are you a fan of Narrow-Gauge Railways? Read my review of Small Island by Little Train – a Narrow-Gauge Adventure by Chris Arnot.

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Snowdon Mountain Railway North Wales - image Zoe Dawes

September 3, 2017

Visit 6 of the most notable tourist destinations in Japan

Visit 6 of the most notable tourist destinations in Japan
Phoenix Hall Byodo-in Buddhist Temple Kyoto Japan - photo Martin Falbisoner

Phoenix Hall Byodo-in Buddhist Temple Kyoto – photo Martin Falbisoner

In the next in our World Travel Blogger series, tourism expert Scott Carruthers shares some of his favourite places to visit in Japan.

Japan’s most notable tourist destinations

Kyoto in Japan

Kyoto

Japan is a beautiful country with so much to see. The historical side of Japan creates a world of fascinating cultural elements, like Samurai swords, ancient artwork, and tea-ceremony experiences. The modern side of Japan will leave your mouth agape, as you gaze at high tech infrastructure and dazzling skyscrapers. Through out it all, you will see breathtaking natural landscapes, meet amazing people, and taste amazing food. Here are six of the most notable tourist destinations in Japan, which you should be sure to include in your itinerary.

1. Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is iconic and carries the great weight of history. When you visit this cite, which is a memorial to the WW2 bombings of Hiroshima, you might feel a sense of loss. However, as you take in the paper cranes and vibrant, colorful memorial decorations, you begin to feel a sense of resolution. This memorial is truly a celebration of peace.

2. Todaiji Temple – Nara

Tōdai-ji_Kon-dō Temple Nara in Japan

Tōdai-ji_Kon-dō in Japan

The Todaiji Temple in Nara was constructed in 752 as the central Buddhist temple of the time period. The main hall of the temple is giant, and holds a stunning Buddha statue and is is said to be the world’s largest wooden Buddha room. Feed the deer that share the temple grounds, and visit the adjacent Todaiji Temple museum in order to learn more about this historically significant monument.

3. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

Fujisan from Motohakone Japan

Fujisan from Motohakone

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is home to Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain. The cone shaped and sometimes white-peaked mountain is a sight to behold! Hikers can attempt the daunting hike up this formidable 12,400 foot peak by traveling to a half way station and then managing the rest by foot. Though the peak is an active volcano, it has not erupted in over 300 years. The national park is a restful place to stay for several days if you need a respite from bustling city life.

 

4. Kinkaku-ji Temple – Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple Kyoto Japan

Kinkaku-ji – Temple of the Golden Pavilion

This widely loved and acclaimed tourist attraction in Kyoto is famous for good reason. Kinkaku-ji is also called the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and is a beautiful structure covered in gold leaf. This work of art is placed in a harmonious garden filled with natural beauty. The accumulated effect is a visual masterpiece. The temple sits on the edge of a pond, and the gold reflected in the water is a sight that you won’t want to miss.

5. Imperial Palace – Tokyo

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo Japan

The Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace of Tokyo is a must-see when you visit Japan because of its stunning architecture, landscaping, and rich quality of the scene. You will not be permitted into the palace or in many of the grounds, but you can walk through the traditional Japanese gardens that surround the palace. Be sure to snap a shot of the picturesque Nijubashi Bridge.

6. Ueno Park, Tokyo

Cherry Blossom in Ueno Park Tokyo Japan

Cherry Blossom in Ueno Park – photo Bernard Gagnon

This is a large park right in Tokyo filled with natural wonder. For a real treat, try visiting when the cherry blossom is in bloom. Ueno Park is designed in a very aesthetically pleasing way, and even if you do nothing but walk the many paths and soak in the design, it will be well worth it. If you’d like a little added adventure, visit the park’s zoo or go on a ride at the amusement park.

D. Scott Carruthers grew up within a military family and was forced to move from country to country through-out his youth. Rather than find this disagreeable, like many would, he enjoyed it! He loved being immersed in a new culture and landscape each time the family moved. From this background was born a love for world travel that did not leave him as he grew older. He entered the Air Force, and then studied business. He then used his expertise to start a successful travel-based business Dennis Scott Carruthers Travel.

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6 must-see sights in Japan - The Quirky Traveller

 

August 29, 2017

Visit Ottawa and discover Canada’s capital city of colourful charm

Visit Ottawa and discover Canada’s capital city of colourful charm

Discover Ottawa - capital city of Canada

Haunting sounds evocative of another continent drifted around the busy streets, bringing a touch of the Orient to Canada’s capital city.  Strumming a curious-looking stringed instrument, the woman in the Japanese kimono seemed oblivious to the people scurrying past. She sums up Ottawa; a colourful mash-up of diverse sights and sounds in a historic setting.

Japanese musician at Byward Market Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

I was here for a week, part of a group of 14 UK Travel Bloggers spread out across the country, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Staying at the uber-cool Andaz Ottawa Byward Market put me slap bang in the heart of the city’s bodacious beating heart. On the evening of my arrival, I’d seen dozens of cool ‘hipsters’ ascending to the hotel roof bar to enjoy a Saturday night of cocktails and chat with one of the best views of the city spread out in front of them. Fortunately I had a very similar view from my bedroom. Dominating the skyline, the Parliament Building is the democratic symbol of this relatively young and very exciting country.

Ottawa at sunset from Andaz Hotel - photo Zoe Dawes

Ottawa at sunset from Andaz Hotel

On my first day out, Jantine Van Kregten, Director of Communication for Ottawa Tourism, took me out to Ottawa’s Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne Park. We stopped on the way to see the locks on the bridge  over the famous Rideau Canal, reminders of love and the bane of city officials as they weigh down the bridges around the world.

Locks on bridge over the Rideau Canal

Locks on bridge over the Rideau Canal

Lansdowne Farmers’ Market is a part of the Savour Ottawa initiative that bring together local farmers and producers with chefs and consumers. Savour Ottawa works to develop and promote Ottawa and area as a premier, year-round culinary destination, with robust offerings of local culinary products and experiences for both locals and visitors.’ It’s everything you’d hope from a Canadian market, showcasing delicious produce, including fresh asparagus huge tomatoes, crispy apples, luscious rhubarb, early strawberries, artisan bread and cheeses, meat, pies, honey, spicy mixes and, of course, maple syrup in various guises.

Maple syrup stall Ottawa Farmers Market

Maple syrup stall

The Aberdeen Pavilion, built in 1898, is now a huge exhibition space. There was a Latin American festival going on in another hall, with salsa dancing lessons and lots of laughter.

Watch video – Lansdowne Farmers’ Market (spot the Huskies)

The following day I went on a boat trip on the Rideau Canal. In spite of torrential rain, I thoroughly enjoyed drifting along the canal, learning about its history from our guide, who injected plenty of humour into his informative spiel.

Rideau Canal boat trip Ottawa

Rideau Canal boat trip

The Rideau Canal freezes over in winter; people skate to work as well as enjoy it for recreation. In the summer pleasure boats cruise its tranquil waters. We motored alongside the University of Ottawa and luxurious mansions waved to people out jogging and dog-walking, passed by Lansdowne Park and turned round in the large basin of Dow’s Lake. I sat next to an American couple who had come to Ottawa specifically to ride on the Rideau Canal; it’s a well-known World Heritage site. They were staying at the Chateau Laurier, overlooking the canal and were clearly very impressed with the city. “A friend recommended we visit and we’re so glad we did. There’s so much more to see and do than we’d expected.

Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier Ottawa

The Rideau Canal, Bytown Museum and Chateau Laurier

Being the capital of Canada, Ottawa has a world-class collection of museums and art galleries. You can read about the Canadian Museum of History and the National Gallery of Canada here. One of my favourites was the Bytown Museum. It’s housed in The Commissariat, the oldest stone building in the city, beside the lower locks of the Canal. An eclectic mix of exhibits tells the history of Ottawa and how it became the capital of Canada. There’s a copy of Queen Victoria’s Proclamation for uniting the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, into one Dominion under the name of Canada. It’s dated the 22nd of May, 1867 . Bytown, the original name for Ottawa, was clearly a bit of a ‘wild-west town’ in its early days, notorious for the riotous behaviour of the European settlers who came for the lumber trade.

Lieutenant Colonel John By - Bytown Museum Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Lieutenant Colonel John By

An imposing bust of Lieutenant Colonel John By lords it over the gallery. In the British Royal Engineers, he was,  ‘instrumental in the construction of the canal. The name “Bytown” came about, somewhat as a “jocular reference” during a small dinner party of some officers, and it appears on official correspondence dated 1828.’ [Wikipedia]

Byward Market Neighbourhood Ottawa

Byward Market and Andaz Hotel

I spent a lot of time exploring Byward Market neighbourhood, a popular hub for bars and restaurants, excellent foodie shops and cafes, performance artists and people watchers. I met up with Canadian travel blogger Cindy Baker (check out her blog My Travel Bliss which has a lot more on Ottawa), who showed me round. I especially loved the indoor market, originally built to provide supplies for the lumber trade. Suspended over the stalls is very quirky sculpture, McClintock’s Dream by Hungarian artist Victor Tolgesy. A lumberjack in a plaid shirt lies below a giant cloud, dreaming of all the thing he will buy from the market when he gets back home to Ottawa. Hanging over the cloud, vendors tempt him with strings of sausages, poultry, garlic cloves, apples and much more.

Byward Market sculpture McClintock’s Dream Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

McClintock’s Dream

During my week in Ottawa I did so many more things, including a C’est Bon foodie tour of hipster Hintonberg and a bus tour of the city, ate out in some of the best restaurants in town including Play, Food and Wine, listened in on politicians exchanging gossip and mingled with the beautiful people at the opening of a new bar. I admired street art in lively neighbourhoods, watched the Changing of the Guard at the War Memorial, had a guided tour of the Parliament Building and watched the sun go down over the Rideau River. Keep an eye out for my article on the food and drink scene.

If you’re going to Canada, make a date with Ottawa; you’ll be seduced by its friendly charm, low-key sophistication, impressive architecture and exuberant joie de vivre.

Ottawa city sculpture

Uplifting Ottawa

Visit Ottawa

Visit Canada Keep Exploring to discover more about where to go and what to do in Ottawa. Return flights from Gatwick to Toronto from £346 (October 2017) and £349 (May 2018) per person with Air Transat. Canadian Affair offers an 8-day package tour Ontario Taster Holiday which includes 2 nights in Ottawa.

Many thanks to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit to Canada. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Find out more about Canada in these articles

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the capital city

Top 10 Memorable Moments in Canada

Vancouver in 24 hours

A Digital Detox with the Grizzly Bears of British Columbia

Top tips for a motorhome trip across Canada

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Discover the delights of Ottawa, capital of Canada

 

August 14, 2017

5 beautiful and different places in Europe you must visit

5 beautiful and different places in Europe you must visit

In the next of the World Travel Blogger series, writer and sweetie lover Emily Johnson shares five of her favourite places in Europe.

5 beautiful places in Europe

Europe is renowned for its unparalleled beauty and favourite tourist destinations include Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome. Many famous places in Europe have their fair share of visitors every year and it’s difficult to choose. There are some hidden gems that lie amidst the amazing Europe? Well, here’s are 5 places you might like if you are looking to explore something different in this mesmerizing continent.

 1.  Lugano, Switzerland

Lake Lugano Switzerland Europe

Lugano is more of a commercial and financial hub of Switzerland but has been untouched by the teeming crowds that visit Europe. You can explore the parks, buildings and gardens of Lugano that is somewhat modern in its nature but gives an impression of a hidden small town in the tourist region of Ticino. It is situated by the splendid Lake Lugano and is blessed with the aura of beauty and nature.

2.  Bacharach, Germany

Bacharch Europe

Located in the Rhine River Valley in Germany, Bacharach is another great treat for explorers and has small castles, intersting buildings and quaint villages to discover. It is nestled close to nature and is more like a town in a Disney movie that have castles, colorful houses and vibrant liveliness to it as Bacharach will add another great travel experience to your bucket list. The green, natural vibes of Bacharach are what make it a must-visit place when you are in Germany or travelling in Europe, this unknown gem will surely augment a lot to your trip.

3.  Santorini, Greece

Santorini Greece Europe

This crescent-shaped island was created from a volcano in prehistoric days. There is a huge lagoon surrounding this beautiful island and Santorini has been discovered by many tourists recently. It is one of the most popular Greek islands, especially with cruise ships. However, at times it’s less crowded than some streets of more famous European tourist sites. It has alluring sunsets, sizzling panoramas and beaches just blessed with tempting vistas. On Santorini, find a place away from the crowds to relax at, unwind, sip your favorite cocktail and spend a whole day admiring the gorgeous views.

4.  Svalbard, Norway

Svalbard Norway Europe

Svalbard is one of the best places to see the astonishingly beautiful Northern Lights. Its location is also interesting as Svalbard is situated halfway between Norway and North Pole. It is ideal for those looking to explore wildlife, Arctic Ocean and told mining towns. The northern lights can also tempt you to explore this wonderful gem while the overall landscape is worth a chance to give if you are wondering for some offbeat place in Europe.

5.  Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled Slovenia

This picturesque lake in Slovenia is relatively undiscovered place in Europe. Lake Bled is a splendid emerald-green; there are the top mountains of Julian Alps, some castles to be explored and picture-perfect churches to visit. You can try adventure sports like hiking, water-sports and biking while also immersing yourself in the breezy atmosphere of this appealing, undiscovered pearl of Europe.

Emily Johnson writes about sweets on her blog engaging her audience with articles about flavored candy treats and also sharing her tips on travelling around the world for other explorers.

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5 beautiful destinations in Europe

July 28, 2017

Experience the nostalgic pleasure of steam train railways around North Wales

Experience the nostalgic pleasure of steam train railways around North Wales

Four steam trains in three days – what a treat. I was on on a very special trip to experience the delights of North Wales Heritage railways, sampling itineraries from specialist railway tour operators Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries.

Ffestiniog Railway

Ffestiniog Railway steam train Merddin Emrys

Engine driver Paul on Merddin Emrys

The heat is overwhelming. There’s a smell of coal dust, hot metal and sea-salt. Steam hisses and a seagull squawks overhead. Adults ready their cameras, children giggle with excitement and the sense of anticipation builds. “Keep right in to the side there and watch that pipe; it’s boiling hot and will give you a nasty burn if you touch it.” Engine driver Paul ensures I’m ensconced in my tiny corner of the cabin, gives a brief nod to stoker Andrew, a piercing whistle shrieks across the river estuary out to sea, there’s a chuff-chuffing from the steam train and we are on our way.

View from inside Ffestiniog Raliway steam engine cab

View from inside Ffestiniog Raliway steam engine cab

I’m on the very splendid Merddin Emrys, a push-me pull-you Double Fairlie locomotive built in 1879, on the  Ffestiniog Railway, fulfilling a life-long dream to travel on the footplate of a steam train. The Festiniog Railway Company, in North Wales, is the oldest surviving railway company in the world. It opened in 1836 to take slate from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog for export around the globe. We used to holiday in nearby Llandudno and I remember seeing the little train chugging along the track and wishing we could go on it … and now I’m finally here.

Minffordd Station - Ffestiniog Railway steam train - photo Zoe Dawes

Minffordd Station

The train slowly gathers speed as we pass fields of sheep and quaint cottages. People wave as we rumble through Boston Lodge and cows stop grazing to gaze at us as we steam by. At Minffordd, where we pass another steam train going in the opposite direction, I have to leave the engine and join the other passengers in one of the lovely old wooden carriages. We slowly start the steep climb into the mountains where the scenery becomes wilder through the glorious Snowdonia National Park. Sunlight glimmers through wooded groves and we disappear into a tunnel before doing a loop-the-loop at the Dduallt Spiral.

Ffestiniog Railway Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes

Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes

Afternoon tea arrives; a plate of local Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith (fruit loaf) are most welcome. Against railway rules I put my head out of carriage window and watch the steam train puff its way round the curve of the narrow-gauge track. The sight and sound of this sturdy little engine brings back many memories of childhood and a world where time seemed to go at a much slower pace. We arrive at Blaenau Ffestiniog Station and we have a quick look at the brand new, very luxurious, Pullman Observation Carriage, with beautiful wood panelling and maps of the railway route carved onto the tables. On the platform we watch as Paul and Andrew jump on top of the engine to check it and fill it with water.

Steam train at Blaenau Ffestiniog

With its twin funnels and gleaming red livery,  Merddin Emrys is a fine example of a Victorian steam train and I feel privileged to have spent some time in its company.

Welsh Highland Railway

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

We had started the day in castle-dominated Caernarvon, boarding the Welsh Highland Railway, UK’s longest heritage railway, that took us inland, past the foot of Snowdon and on to the pretty village of Beddgelert. Our train was pulled by a mighty fine black locomotive, NG/G16 No.87, built in 1937, originally used in South Africa and rebuilt in the Ffestiniog Railway’s own Boston Lodge Works. En route we got superb views out towards the Lleyn Peninsula, beside old slate mines and tiny railway stations, past lakes emerging from steamy windows, near rushing waterfalls and on up into the mountains.

Lake View from Welsh Highland Railway steam train North Wales

View from our railway carriage

Clare, our very informative host from Ffestiniog Railway Company, outlined our route on the map and gave us some facts and figures about the company and its rolling stock. Well-equipped walkers got off at one of the halts to hike up Wales’ highest peak.

Welsh Highland Railway route

Welsh Highland Railway route

As we crossed the impressive Glan-yr-afon Viaduct I gazed up towards the summit of Snowdon, shrouded in mist. This stretch of the track is one of the steepest gradients in Britain, 1-40 and we snaked our way back down through the forest toward Beddgelert, Snowdon playing hide and seek along the way.

Welsh Highland Railway steam train Snowdonia - North Wales

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

As we disembarked in Beddgelert, the rain arrived, not so unusual in this part of Wales. However, by the time we’d got our coach to the quirky village of Portmeirion it had stopped and the sun was peaking out again.

Llangollen Railway

Llangollen Railway Station and 80072 steam train

Llangollen Railway Station and Steam engine 80072

The following day we headed off into the valleys for a ride on the Llangollen Railway, the only standard-gauge heritage railway in Wales. As with many other railway lines, this was originally built for the mining industry, but Llangollen has been a tourist destination for many years. It’s a very attractive town on the River Dee and the railway is its biggest attraction. The quaint Station Building sets the scene with old suitcases piled on the platform and uniformed guards, drivers and other staff bustling about making sure everyone gets aboard in time for departure. We had a reserved carriage all to ourselves again, with scones, jam and cream laid out on crisp white linen – very civilized. The velvet-upholstered seats and lacquered wood panelling all conspired to give that feeling of nostalgia for rail travel in stylish luxury.

Llangollen Railway reserved carriage North Wales

Reserved Carriage

We were being pulled by beautifully restored locomotive 80072, built in Brighton in 1953 to run on the south coast, but left to rot for many years after the Beeching cuts of the 1965, which is when the Llangollen Railway also closed for main-line travel. There are few transport sounds more evocative than the huffing of an engine as it builds up steam on its way out of a station. We got that experience a number of times as there were a three stops along the line, which runs beside the sparkling River Dee, to Corwen. The return journey was equally delightful and everyone thoroughly enjoyed our very special steam train journey.

Llangollen Railway steam train -photo Zoe Dawes

Llangollen Railway steam train

After lunch we went on a leisurely glide along the Langollen Canal on a horse-drawn boat – perfect end to a perfect day.

Snowdon Mountain Railway

Wyddfa steam engine Snowdon Mountain Railway - photo Zoe Dawes

Wyddfa

On our final morning we set off early to get the 9.30am Snowdon Mountain Railway steam train from Llanberis Up the Mountain. We went up and down in glorious sunshine, pushed up by Wyddfa, a Swiss-built engine from 1893, driven by Paul and stoker Robert. It was a truly epic journey – watch out for the story in another article …

Top of Snowdon with Mountain Railway train North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Top of Snowdon with Mountain Railway train

Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries Steam Train Tours

I travelled to North Wales courtesy of Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries. Our group stayed in Llandudno at the very comfortable Dunoon Hotel, with superb food in charming surroundings. We also had an excellent Italian meal at the Wildwood Restaurant in the town centre.

Dunoon Hotel Llandudno

Our group at Dunoon Hotel

Great Rail Journeys Railways & Castles of Wales Tour includes a stay at the award-winning Dunoon Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Snowdon Mountain Railways, and excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon and Conwy Castles. GRJ Independent can also tailor make holidays to the region for those wishing to travel to Wales on an individual basis Save up to £30pp when booking on or before 15th August 2017.More details Railways and Castles of Wales.

Rail Discoveries Railways of Wales Tour includes a stay at the Kensington Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Llangollen Railways, a horse-drawn boat trip on the Llangollen Canal, and excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon Castle. Save up to £30pp when booking on or before 15th August 2017. More details Railways of Wales.

Andrew and Paul on the Ffestiniog Railway steam train - photo Zoe Dawes

Andrew and Paul on the Ffestiniog Railway

Love Narrow-Gauge Railways? Read my review of Small Island by Little Train – a narrow-gauge adventure by Chris Arnot.

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North Wales Steam Railways

 

July 1, 2017

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the lively capital city

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the lively capital city
Ottawa Canada 150 - photo zoe dawes

Ottawa celebrates Canada 150

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear Canada

Happy Birthday to you!

Maple Leaf platter Canada 150

Beautiful wooden Maple Leaf Platter seen in Ottawa Craft Store

On 1st July, 1867 Confederation united the country’s first three provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada (including Ontario and Quebec) into a federation known as the Dominion of Canada. Now, a hundred and fifty years later, the country is celebrating that date with a year long party of events and commemorative memorabilia. I recently spent a week in the capital, Ottawa, where the whole city was en fete and getting ready for Canada 150 in colourful style.

Aberdeen Pavilion Lansdowne Park Ottawa Canada 150

Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

I will be writing about my trip in more detail later, but in the meantime, here are a few images from Ottawa that sum up the beauty, diversity and history of Canada.

Images of Canada 150

Queen Victoria

Portrait of Queen Victoria in Ottawa Parliament Canada 150

Portrait of Queen Victoria in Ottawa Parliament

This glorious portrait of Queen Victoria hangs in Canada’s Parliament Building, reminder of the country’s strong ties to Great Britain and its historic past.  The portrait has survived numerous disasters including fire so it’s clearly a survivor. Take a tour round the building; our guide told us it was her favourite painting there and that no-one knows who painted it.

Canadian Parliament

The Parliament Building with Peace Tower Ottawa Canada 150

The Parliament Building with Peace Tower

Parliament Hill is the focus of the main Canada 150 party held on July 1st, as well as the annual Canada Day celebrations. Wander round the grounds and spot the many statues and artworks that celebrate its fascinating past. When I visited, there was a great deal of work being done in preparation for the big day, as well as a lot of renovation work. It’s a meeting point for locals and visitors who enjoy walking round Parliament Hill as well as relaxing on the lawn. NB. From 2018 the main Parliament Building will be closed for at least 10 years for total refurbishment, so get there soon if you want to have a look round!

Aninshinabe Scout

Statue of 'Anishinabe Scout' by Hamilton MacCarthy overlooking Parliament Hill Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

Statue of ‘Anishinabe Scout’ by Hamilton MacCarthy

Find the ‘Anishinabe Scout’ made by Hamilton MacCarthy in 1918. It stands opposite Parliament Hill overlooking the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River. It represents the First Nations people who helped in the development of Canada. All round the city there are many excellent sculptures, some dating back to the 19th century and others very contemporary.

The Canadian Museum of History

Canadian Museum of History Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

This is the stunning Main Hall in Canada Museum of History. The museum is actually in the city of Gatineau, over the river from Ottawa, but feels very much a part of the capital. The lower floor has a large collection of First Nations totems and many artefacts telling the story of the people who lived in this country well before the first travellers arrived. Unfortunately, the renowned Canadian History Hall was closed in preparation for the Canada 150 opening on July 1st but I am sure it is fascinating.

National Gallery of Canada

Maman and the National Gallery of Canada Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Maman and the National Gallery of Canada

A ginormous spider lurks in front of the National Gallery of Canada, quirky monument to the country’s artistic spirit. Towering 30feet above the street, Maman, was made by Louise Bourgois from steel and marble. Inside the beautiful glass museum is a comprehensive collection of Canadian artworks. ‘The National Gallery of Canada strives to provide Canadians with a sense of identity and pride in Canada’s rich visual arts heritage and to make art accessible to all.’ I especially enjoyed the Indigenous Art Galleries, where intricate antler carvings are beautifully displayed next to simple images of wildlife and people.

Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup Stall Lansdowne Market Ottawa - Canada 150

Maple Syrup Stall Lansdowne Market

One of the most famous products of Canada is maple syrup. The Maple Leaf features on the Canadian Flag and the trees can be found all over Ottawa as well as in many other parts of the country. I learnt all about maple syryp production at Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush, a couple of hours’ drive from the capital. (More on that trip in another article.) There are shops selling this luscioous syrup all over the city and at Lansdowne Park Market I found a stall not only selling it but also explaining the changes in labelling that have recently been brought in.

Obama Cookies

Obama Cookies in Le Moulin de Provence Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

Obama Cookies in Le Moulin de Provence

So what has Barack Obama got to do with Canada 150? Well, when he was USA President he visited Ottawa and called into the Moulin de Provence bakery in downtown Byward Market. He bought one of their iced maple leaf cookies. The bakery was very savvy in its marketing them as ‘Obama Cookies’ and now every visitor to city has to try one of these iconic biscuits. Of course, I bought one in a commemorative tin to bring home.

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier

One of the greatest Canadian engineering feats of the 19th century, the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, flows through Ontario, finally cascading out into the Ottawa River. Constructed to aid British military operations against a possible American invasion, it was opened in 1832 and is 22km long. It’s the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America and the name comes from the French for ‘curtain’ due to its appearance in the lock system in front of the Chateau Laurier. This famous hotel opened in the early 20th century and was another of the railway hotels that spread across Canada as the trains brought the modern world to this enormous country. I can highly recommend the cocktails in Zoe’s Bar!

Celebrate Canada 150

I travelled to Canada with Air Transat courtesy of Destination Canada with a group of 13 other fab UK travel bloggers visiting 14 cities in celebration of Canada 150. I stayed at the very cool Andaz Ottawa in Byward Market. Many thanks to everyone at Ottawa Tourism and the lovely Canadians for making me so welcome.

If you enjoyed this celebration of Canada’s birthday do share it with others and leave a comment at the end of the post. If you have any tips or stories about Canada, please share those too!

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June 30, 2017

Top Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking – all a newbie hiker needs to know

Top Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking – all a newbie hiker needs to know

In our latest World Travel Blogger series, hiking expert Rebecca Crawford shares her top tips for a beginner hiker/walker.

Hiking is so much fun, and can be therapeutic at best! You get to exercise and connect with nature at the same time, which unravels a world you had no idea existed in the first place. If you’ve never gone on hikes before, there are a couple of things you need to know before you actually get on that trail. Keep in mind that no one knows everything; but it sure does help having a few tips that will guide you through this awesome adventure and make your first trip a memorable one.

Beginners guide to hiking

Beginners Guide to Hiking

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts as you embark on your backpacking journey, as well as some tricks you can use to make things better and easier on the trail. Read on for a full guide on just what you need to know as a beginner hiker.

1. Do your Research

The moment you decide that you want to start hiking, you should start reading extensively on the subject, as well as watching online tutorials and documentaries so that you get a scope of just what it entails, and what you will need to look out for during your first hike. For instance, you can research on the best pocket knife to use during your hike. There is a whole wealth of information out there, especially on online platforms like YouTube. You can also join hiking communities that are made up of other hikers who will be more than willing to show you the ropes.

2. Plan ahead

Beginners guide to Hiking - map reading

For every successful hike, there was intensive planning behind it. You have to plan out your hike before you embark on it. Get a map and study the trail so that you can get a feel of the place. Get enough gear to last you the whole trip, including food and money. And most importantly, if you will be staying in hotels, make your reservations in advance to avoid the last minute rush.

3. Prepare your Hiking Gear

Beginners Guide to Hiking - walking boots

We all know that you can’t just wake up one morning and decide that you are going for a hike. It has to be after days or months of preparation, which also involves purchasing the right gear for your trip.You will need a large and comfortable backpack you can use to carry your clothes, food, sleeping bag, footwear and a camera if you are into photography or you want to capture every moment of your adventure.

For your sleeping bag, ensure that you purchase one that’s lightweight and can fit about two people comfortably, especially if you will be sharing it with your hiking partner. It should also pack small because you will be moving around with it for the rest of your trip. Since this is your first trip, we advise that you borrow a sleeping bag so that you can first try it out and know what to look out for when you will be buying your own.

Pack enough canned foods and water purifiers because you just don’t know the next time you’ll come across fresh drinking water or food. If you are hiking in a large group, it’s better if you carry a stove along with you, to heat food and water, and a large tent you can all sleep in.

4. Get an Experienced Hiking Partner

Beginners guide to hiking - walking

Even after watching tons of hiking documentaries and interacting with other enthusiasts, you should not think that you can handle going out on the trail by yourself. This is because nothing ever prepares you to face the real situation. We recommend seeking out an experienced partner for your first trip. They will help you manoeuvre the trail easily as they teach you the hiking basics that will help you on your subsequent trips

5. Safety First

Beginners Guide to Hiking - First Aid Box

You are going out in the wild and this makes you susceptible to animal attacks as well as diseases from eating contaminated foods and water. Safety has to be one of your key priorities. Ensure that you have a way to keep animals at bay,  especially when you are sleeping. Moreover, bring a hand sanitizer with you to use before handling foods and most importantly, always carry your first aid kit with you. This also means that you have to know basic first aid beforehand to be able to use the kit effectively when the time comes.

6. Keep it short

For your first trip, you want to keep it short because let’s face it, you are never quite prepared to be on the actual trail and even if you have planned for a longer trip, in most cases, you won’t last until the end. Always plan for a shorter trek and keep advancing to longer hikes, and with time as you gain confidence on the trail, you will find yourself going for days without even realizing it.

7. Avoid pitfalls

Snakes crossing Osoyoos Canada

During your research and interaction with other hikers, there are a couple of things you should avoid at all costs. For instance, there are trails you should avoid, plants you should not eat, and other general blunders you should not commit. Always stick to your plan.

8. Be Respectful

When backpacking, you have to learn to respect nature as well as other hikers trekking on the same trail as you. For instance, we advise that you always give the hikers trekking uphill the right of way. Another trick is to always have a plastic bag with you that you can use to carry trash with to avoid polluting the environment.

Also, do not feed wildlife you encounter on the way and never should you talk loudly or play loud music while on the trail. Keep in mind that people resort to hiking to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

9. Hike Your Own Hike

The Paper Bridge Lake District

You will hear this a lot; especially among other hiking enthusiasts. It only means that despite everything you have learned from other people and sources about hiking, when on the trail, it’s all about you. You should focus on getting the most out of your experience with nature and not try to conform to standards that have been put out there by others.

10. Practice

Lastly, you will never be good at hiking unless you are prepared to put a lot of work into it. The first few trips will be tough and you will feel like giving up. Don’t! Keep going back to the trail and trying to be better at it, and eventually you will.

Concluding Thoughts

We hope that you have learned a thing or two about hiking for beginners. We only give tips to improve your hiking experience and you should not feel pressured to get it right the first time. No one does. Just focus on having the best experience and everything else will fall in place.

Loved the tips given? Comment and let us know what you liked best and what we left out. Do not forget to also share this post with other hiking enthusiasts, family and friends.

Author Bio: Rebecca Crawford lives in USA, but loves hiking all over the world. Her favourite is Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. It usually takes 16 days, but she likes to slow down, enjoy mountains, company of other adventurers and take more pictures, so it took her 28 days last time. Another of her passions is the ocean, so all short and long hikes along the ocean shore bring a lot of joy. She also writes for Hiking Mastery.

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