Tag Archives: culture
May 25, 2015

A quintessential corner of Canada in British Columbia

A quintessential corner of Canada in British Columbia
Grizzly Bear - Great Bear Rainforest British Columbia image CTC

Out for a walk in the Great Bear Rainforest – image CTC

I’m going on a bear hunt – (with camera only of course!)

Wide open spaces. spectacular wildlife, exciting sports, contemporary architecture, adventurous cuisine, intriguing history and diverse culture. Everything you can think of when you hear the word ‘Canada’ all in one state – British Columbia. With a population of about 4.5 million and an area of almost 950,000 sq km that’s a lot of country with a plenty of room for manoeuvre.  To be honest, I wasn’t really sure where exactly British Columbia was when I was invited on a Travelator Media trip to #exploreCanada in late spring. A few years ago I had the pleasure of discovering the culinary delights of Montreal and Quebec City on the east coast, and I knew BC was other other side of the country – that was about it. If you’re not sure either, have a look at this map.

british columbia canada map

British Columbia – maps.com

Whistler for skiers, Alaska Highway for petrol heads, the Yukon for gold diggers, Victoria for Anglophiles and Vancouver for just about everyone. Nature red in tooth, claw, beak and fin can be found here – bears, beavers, eagles, whales, moose, deer and much more. The more I read about Canada’s ‘Adventure Playground’, the more appealing this place became, until now I can’t wait to go …

Hotel Grand Pacific - Victoria Canada

Hotel Grand Pacific and Inner Harbour – Victoria

We’ll be exploring a relatively small but diverse area at the southern end of British Columbia. First stop is Victoria, historic capital on Vancouver Island. Named after Queen Victoria, it’s apparently redolent of ‘olde worlde Englishness’ in the nicest possible way. We’re staying in the elegant Hotel Grand Pacific overlooking Inner Harbour, slap bang in the heart of downtown Victoria. The highlight of our brief visit here will undoubtedly be going out on the Prince of Whales tour in the hopes of seeing orcas, humpback whales, sea lions and eagles.

Orcas in Victoria with Prince of Whales tour - British Columbia Canada

Orcas in Victoria with Prince of Whales tour

From Victoria we transfer to Campbell River and more sightseeing around Vancouver Island. It’s largest island off the North American coast, renowned for its colourful, quirky villages, superb fishing, tranquil forests and deserted beaches. The climate in this part of the world is temperate and on a sunny hillside in the Cowichan Valley (First Nation for ‘land warmed by the sun’) is Blue Grouse Winery; delighted to say we’ll be sampling a glass or two of their wines along the way.

Vancouver Island - image Harbour Air Seaplanes

Vancouver Island – image Harbour Air Seaplanes

Then comes the main reason for going to this part of the world – we’re going to find BEARS. British Columbia has the world’s largest concentration of grizzly bears, as well as black bears and the unique Kermode (Spirit) bears. For three nights I will staying at world-renowned Knight Inlet Lodge where we are almost guaranteed to see grizzly (brown) bears in one of the most remote and spectacular landscapes in Canada.

Dave Campbell grizzly bears Knight Inlet Lodge

Grizzly bears in the river – image Dave Campbell www.knightinletlodge.ca

Knight Inlet Lodge is situated in the Great Bear Rainforest on a river platform; to get there we’ll be arriving by float plane. Not only should we see the bears but hopefully bald eagles and maybe pods of orca whales. In spring the grizzly bears come out of hibernation and I’m crossing fingers and toes that there will be a number of bear cubs. It’ll be photography heaven and yes, I’m definitely after the ‘cute bear’ pic! Find out more about Knight Inlet Lodge here – as you can see it is a very special place!

Grizzly bear cubs Knight Inlet Lodge british columbia canada

Grizzly bear cubs – image www.knightinletlodge.ca

The final destination on this unique Canadian adventure is Vancouver. I’ve wanted to visit this city for many years, since I worked in Hong Kong a few years before the handover from the British to China in 1997. At that time, many colleagues at HSBC were planning to move to Vancouver and from what I heard, it sounded like a beautiful, vibrant and diverse place to be. I’m about to find out …

Cycling in Vancouver

Cycling in Vancouver – image CTC

With just one night at ‘retro boutique hotel’, The Burrard we’ve got to make the most of our time. I’m looking forward to getting a real taste of the city on a foodie tour of ‘Vancouver’s breakfast, coffee and food truck culture’ – sounds suitably quirky! Think I will then need the City Cycle Tour that follows to work off some of that breakfast fare … Our final stop on this whirlwind trip of a lifetime is Sandbar Seafood Restaurant on Granville Island, where we’ll be able to try some of the fresh seafood for which this area is famous.

Sandbar Restaurant view of Vancouver

Sandbar Restaurant view of Vancouver

Inspired? Discover more about what Canada has to offer at www.keepexploring.ca  Join me from May 29th – June 7th 2015 on my trip to Canada’s two Cities on the Edge of Nature and the Great Bear Rainforest via Social Media including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #exploreCanada for updates – and lots more.

May 18, 2015

Granada – A destination for multisensory discovery

Granada – A destination for multisensory discovery

With city breaks becoming even more popular in 2015 and with travellers eager to pack the maximum amount into the minimum time, new research from American Express has found that holidays that stimulate all the senses are the most fulfilling.

Grenada street art Spain

Grenada street art

There are many destinations in Europe where travellers can fulfil their appetite for travel that stimulates all of the senses – one in particular is Granada, located within a close enough proximity to the Mediterranean to experience the crisp, salty air of the coast and next to the blissfully peaceful Sierra Nevada mountain range. This stunning geographical location combined with the heady scents and tastes of the traditional Arabo-Andalucían cuisine, the beautiful colours and patterns of the city’s surrealist street art, plus views of the stunning Alhambra, make this city in southern Spain an excellent place to indulge the senses.

Alhambra Palace Granada

Alhambra Palace Granada

The research from American Express also showed that while Brits find multisensory holidays the most stimulating, we also have particularly strong noses for travel, with over three quarters (79%) saying that a specific scent has the ability to transport them straight back to a happy holiday. In fact, not only does smell have the ability to create happy memories, but ones that last longer as well; nearly a third of us (31%) say a scent has triggered memories of a holiday they went on as long as 15 years ago.

Sierra Nevada Spain

Sierra Nevada Spain

Amex have worked with Professor Barry Smith, the founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses who commented: “Although sight and taste play a large role in creating memories, physiologically smell is the most powerful sense when it comes to evoking strong, positive memories. Whole scenes of people, places and things can be immediately brought to mind because in the brain, smell is connected to memory and emotion.”

Grenada street art

Grenada street art

With that in mind, Amex Insider Alex Zane travelled to Granada in Andalucia to find out more about all of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures that this ancient and exquisite city has to offer.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with American Express.  Discover other sensory European destinations with Amex Insider Alex Zane – visit youtube.com/AmericanExpressUK

May 3, 2015

The everyday magnificence of Magna Carta

The everyday magnificence of Magna Carta
Magna Carta Chapter House Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawesthequirkytraveller.com

Salisbury Cathedral Chapter House displays Magna Carta

Now how to put this diplomatically? One doesn’t want to offend, but at the same time, one doesn’t want to eulogise without meaning it … The truth is, when I finally got to see the best-preserved copy of the most significant document in this sceptr’d isle’s history, in beautiful Salisbury Cathedral, I was somewhat underwhelmed.

Magna Carta display Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes thequirkytraveller.com

Magna Carta display

I know, Magna Carta is a corner stone of democracy, influencing not only the rights of man in this country, but also many other countries including the United States of America, but … well, it is rather a mundane-looking document, with lots of tiny, neat writing on a fairly big piece of parchment with a lighter mark at the bottom where the Royal Seal was originally placed.

Magna Carta Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes thequirkytraveller.com

Magna Carta Salisbury Cathedral

So, with my philistine credentials well and truly established, let me to encourage everyone who can, to visit Salisbury Cathedral and see its Magna Carta. Why? Because it is displayed in the most magnificent setting, the glorious 13thc Chapter House. Because it has interesting exhibits illustrating many aspects of significance related to the charter AND because Magna Carta is celebrating its 800 anniversary this year, 2015.

Chapter House Magna Carta display in Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes thequirkytraveller.com

The Chapter House in Salisbury Cathedral

As you enter the medieval Chapter House light cascades down from the red and blue geometric mosaic of huge stained glass windows. With its intricate carvings and octagonal walls it cocoons the visitor in medieval loveliness, attracting the eye every upwards.

Chapter House medieval stained glass windows Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkkytraveller.com

Chapter House stained glass windows

I like my history in small doses, easily digestible and this is the perfect place to get a ‘feel’ for Magna Carta’s importance without being overwhelmed. A computer screen gives locals a voice to express what ‘My Charter’ means today. Quills, ink and parchment shows how the documents were created whilst political symbols and Eleanor Roosevelt demonstrate its global significance.

Magna Carta displays Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkyttaveller.com

Magna Carta displays

Very impressive was the informed passion with which the Salisbury Cathedral guides shared the story and significance of Magna Carta. Effervescent Rodney, he of the gorgeous waistcoat, gave a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of how Salisbury Cathedral got their copy of the charter, outlined how it differs from other copies and answered many questions with in-depth knowledge and humour.

Magna Carta guide Rodney Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes

Magna Carta guide Rodney

In the cloister corridors around the cathedral there’s a small exhibition of objects to bring history alive. Wooden figures of King John and some sheep weighed in the scales (of justice?), a banner summarising the story of 2015 and an enormous metal gauntlet, a copy of one which would have been worn by 13th c knights in battle, giving rise the the phrase, ‘throwing down the gauntlet.’

Magna Carta history exhibition Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkytraveller.com

Magna Carta history exhibition

To find out more you could read this ‘Idiot’s guide to the Magna Carta by Dan Johnson’; the things you didn’t know. Even if, like me, ancient parchment, however important, leaves you rather underwhelmed, I guarantee you will enjoy the whole ‘Magna Carta’ experience, and leave Salisbury Cathedral wiser and enriched by your visit.

Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkytraveller.com

Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral

I was in Salisbury with other travel writers and industry specialists for the Social Travel Britain 2015 conference. We stayed at Sarum College opposite the cathedral and Visit Wiltshire organised a tour of the ancient city and an awe-inspiring dawn visit to nearby Stonehenge.

Travel bloggers in the Chapter House Salisbury Cathedral - image Thomas Dowson

Travel bloggers in the Chapter House – photo Thomas Dowson

Here’s a short photo slideshow of Salisbury Cathedral and Magna Carta  …

April 29, 2015

Top 10 places to visit in South America

Top 10 places to visit in South America

South America’s such a massive country that many travellers panic when people ask them what they’ll be seeing. Should they spend all their time in Argentina, or Peru? Maybe Ecuador is their best bet? Brazil? Help!

South America map

We’ve scoured the internet and found the top ten most exciting, overwhelming sights in South America that you can’t miss. Even if you can only manage two or three, these are definitely experiences that should pop on your bucket list.

1. Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Iguazu Falls Argentina

Iguazu Falls – image Rod Waddington

Pride comes before a fall, but the Iguazu Falls bucks the trend – you’ll be feeling rather haughty after you experience the 275 waterfalls that make up one of the biggest falls in the world. It’s so massive, it actually straddles three countries of South America; depending on where you visit, you’ll be in Argentina, Brazil or Paraguay..

2. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Cuernos_del_Paine_from_Lake_Pehoe Miguel Vieira

Cuernos del Paine from Lake Pehoe – image Miguel Vieira

This is the place to experience the Andes in all their spectacular glory, but the much-loved Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia isn’t a one-hit wonder. Don’t miss the azure lakes, hiking trails, fragile-looking bridges that cross churning rivers and and the showstopping blue glacier. The snow-capped mountains are especially lovely; however, watch out for the unpredictable weather. If you’re camping, bring decent wet weather clothes and footwear and a synthetic sleeping bag.

3. Montevideo, Uruguay

Playa Pocitos Montevideo  - image Elemaki

Playa Pocitos Montevideo – image Elemaki

Want to make the most of Montevideo? Take in the sunset at the seafront, then, if you’re lacking protein, grab a steak sandwich with eggs and vegetables, and chow down. It’s called a chivito, and your arteries will suffer afterwards, but it’s really, really good. The weather here is normally fantastic, but watch out for sleet.

4. Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu Peru - image David Stanley

Machu Picchu – image David Stanley

This popular tourist trap is open all year, but never bank on a lack of rain or thin crowds – you’ll be disappointed. You can climb to the top of Machu Picchu, and many people do, but a head for heights is essential requirement, and if it’s a cloudy day, your view might be restricted. You’ll need a separate ticket to climb Huayna Picchu, and you need to book in advance—there are a limited number available. Don’t be put off by the expense and the time it takes to organise this trip; the view looking down on the Inca ruins is spectacular.

5. Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina Decembre 2006 - Panorama by Martin St-Amant

Huacachina – Panorama by Martin St-Amant

Built in an oasis in the middle of the desert, Huacachina, a relatively-new city, will surprise and delight – even though it hasn’t been built exclusively for tourists in mind. Sporty types can sandboard and take dune buggy rides, and rumour has it that a mermaid still lives in the lagoon. Legend has it that a princess was apprehended bathing young hunter; she fled into the lagoon, and she’s still there now. That’ll be the longest bath ever, then …

6. Praia Vermelha, Brazil

Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) Brazil - image Msadp06

Praia Vermelha Brazil – image Msadp06

Don’t be fooled – Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) may be Copacabana’s lesser-known sibling, but it still has loads to offer. This is the place to visit to get a spectacular view of Sugar Loaf mountain (yes, this is where Bond and Jaws had a rather tense stand off in Moonraker) and maybe take the cable car up the mountain – they run every 30 minutes throughout the day. Visitors are undecided about the beach – many say it’s welcoming and clean, and others choose not to bathe there – but it’s definitely a place to watch the sunset with your friends or a partner and a few cold beers.

7. The River of Five Colours, Colombia

Cano Cristales - River of Five Colours, Columbia - image www.canocristales.co

Cano Cristales ‘River of Five Colours’ – image www.canocristales.co

Not named after a McFly song, although we see where you’re going with that, this very special river in Columbia is also known as Caño Cristales. From July through to November, the river bed turns many glorious shades of red due to the riverweed Macarenia clavigera flourishing. The River of Five Colours appear anywhere from magenta to a bright red, and its brilliance causes the colours that appear alongside it to ‘pop’.

8. Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge, Brazil

Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge - photo marcosleal

Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge – photo marcosleal

If you are a bridge enthusiast, take note – the Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge really is worth a visit. This is the only bridge in the world which has two curved tracks supported by a single concrete mast. Renowned for its beauty, the bridge is loved worldwide – however, take care if you’re visiting on food, as it doesn’t have a pavement. Sadly, it’s also a magnet for thieves; in recent years, they’ve targeted the wire, and the lights. If you visit at the end of December, you’re in for a treat – lights are strung along the cables, and the bridge resembles a giant Christmas tree.

9. Asuncion, Paraguay


Gran Asuncion –  image Felipe Mendez

The capital of Paraguay, Asuncion is beautiful without being showy; original colonial and beaux arts buildings sit easily alongside the international cuisine on offer, the shady plazas and the friendly people (they’re really good with tourists.) Most of the city can be explored by foot – the glam shopping malls and trendy nightclubs are a great place to people-watch. If you’re asthmatic, steer clear of the city centre when it’s busy; there are lots of fumes from all the traffic.

10. Valparai­so, Chile

Cerro Concepcion Valpariaso Chile - image PR

Cerro Concepcion Valpariaso – image PR

This isn’t the most popular city in Chile; that accolade belongs to Santiago, which is about two hours from Valparaiso. This stunning South American port city is a great place to spend a few days relaxing; pretty, well-kept homes line the hillside and there are plenty of boutique hotels and lush restaurants to enjoy. However, don’t be fooled – the city has an edge. Poets, painters and would-be philosophers have always been attracted to this unusual city, and they mix well with the sailors, dockworkers and prostitutes which frequent the port. This is the city where anything goes, so be spontaneous, and make the most of the devil-may-care atmosphere.

This article was written by Vicky Anscombe for Columbus Direct.

PS I have to add one more to Vicky’s excellent list of places to see in South America and that’s the Galapagos Islands. It’s taken top position as my favourite place in the world :-)  ZD

Sea lion Gardner Bay Galapagos Islands Ecuador - image Zoe Dawes

Sea lion Gardner Bay – image Zoe Dawes

April 22, 2015

Quirky Travel Photo: girl with red umbrella outside Il Duomo

Quirky Travel Photo: girl with red umbrella outside Il Duomo
Girl with umbrella - Milan Cathedral in the rain Il Duomo Italy

Girl with red umbrella

During a heavy rain shower, the huge Piazza del Duomo cleared quickly as people rushed to get into Il Duomo, Milan’s cathedral, or nearby uber-fashionable shopping mall Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to shelter from the storm. I was being shown round Milan by Italian travel blogger Simon Falvo, who directed me into the gloomy splendour of the cathedral. When we came out, I spotted this young girl, texting on her phone, oblivious to the world around her. The red of her umbrella reflected brightly against the wet stones. I took a quick snap with my iPhone before we walked over the piazza to have a campari at Camparino and watch the fashionistas go by …

Milan Cathedral Il Duomo Italy

After the rain

Italy is famous for its big, ornate churches and this one is huge. Mark Twain was seduced by il Duomo’s beauty, “What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful!” Oscar Wilde was less enamoured, “The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic.” I’m with Mr Twain. You can find out more about Il Duomo here in my article for Laterooms.com,

February 11, 2015

3 things to do in Arctic Tromsø, Norway

3 things to do in Arctic Tromsø, Norway

“An atmosphere of fantasy enwraps this northern land, more intense and apparent than in any other provinces …”

On Arctic Norway from ‘Scandinavia' by Doré Ogrizek

Protected by undulating, snow-covered mountains, surrounded by icy waters, fjord-safe and imbued with exploration history, Tromso (Tromsø) has a maverick feel to it that gives an exciting edge.

Husky sledge Tromso Norway - image Zoe Dawes

Husky sledge Tromso Norway

Situated 150 miles into Arctic Norway, Tromso is the capital of Finnmark region, named after the Finns or Lapps who have lived in this area for centuries.

Tromso in Norway map

Tromso in Norway map

Ships have shuttled between here and Russia and it was a major centre for polar bear, whale, seal and walrus hunting. In tribute to the many who made their living in this way, there’s a huge statue of a whaler overlooking the spectacular harbour and beautiful bridge.

Tromso in Arctic Norway - sculpture of whaler - image Zoe Dawes

Tromso in Arctic Norway

Given its geographic position, it's not as cold as you might imagine. The average January temperature is -4ËšC with plenty of snow to add to its attractiveness. A relatively small town in European terms, with almost 70k inhabitants, it’s one of the largest in this isolated part of the world. Many Polar expeditions set off from here. Famous Norwegian Roald Amundsen left from the town to rescue fellow explorer (and competitor) Umberto Nobile, in a seaplane. Roald didn't return.

Roald Amundsen Museum in Tromso Norway - image Zoe Dawes

Roald Amundsen

I visited Tromsø in March, joining the Hurtugruten ferry â€˜Richard With' for a magical voyage along Norway's impressive coast to Europe's most northerly point and Kirkenes. I spent an evening and day wandering its pavements, some of which are actually heated to prevent icing. (It was VERY slippy; I tumbled twice so if you go in winter make sure you have boots with a good grip!) Here are 3 things to do in Tromso which give a glimpse inot the challenging life of Arctic Norway.

1. Discover history in the quirky Polar Museum

Polar Museum Tromso Norway - image Zoe Dawes

The Polar Museum

The Polar Museum (Polarmuseet) 0n the harbour front in ‘Old Tromsø', is housed in the former Customs House, a red-painted wooden building that has survived since 1830. It is crammed full of intriguing exhibits from Polar life and sea-faring adventures, including equipment, itineraries, maps and beautifully illustrated journals.

Journal of Arctic exploration 1962 in Polar Museum Tromso Norway - image Zoe Dawes

Journal of Arctic exploration 1962

I was particularly intrigued to see a very chic fur coat belonging to Wanny Woldstad (1895-1959), the first female trapper to spend the winter in this region – and the town’s first woman taxi-driver. There is plenty about Fridtjof Nansen's and Roald Amundsen's lives and expeditions, including the stuffed dog Amundsen took with him to the South Pole.

Roald Amundsen's dog in Polar Musue,m Tromso, Norway - image Zoe Dawes

Roald Amundsen’s dog

Opposite is the Amundsen Museum and the area has ship-building yards, old warehouses and other historic wooden buildings set higgledy-piggledy around the harbour.

2. Look round seal-hunting vessel M/S Polstjerna

MS Polstjerna and SnowHow Exhibition Tromso - image Zoe Dawes

MS Polstjerna and SnowHow Exhibition

Built in 1949, MS Polstjerna (Polar Star) was a seal-hunting ship and is now preserved in a state-of-the-art glass-covered exhibition space. With light refracting from the surrounding mountains and icy waters it’s easy to imagine this doughty vessel slipping its moorings and setting off down the fjord and into the open sea for one last adventure.

MS Polstjerna Tromso - image visittromso.no

MS Polstjerna – image visittromso.no

3. See the Northern Lights – guaranteed – at Polaria

Next door is Polaria, a great place for all ages to find out more about this unique area of Norway. This striking building represents ice floes that have been pressed up on land by the rough seas of the Arctic ocean.

Polaria in Tromsø - image Copyright : Ola Røe, Røe Foto AS, 9000 Tromsø.

Polaria in Tromso – image Ola Røe

Inside there are Arctic ‘walkways’ where you can learn how the melting ice impacts on both human and animal life life as well as current scientific work. Aquariums are stocked with fish and bearded seals from Spitzbergen. The lengthy darkness of Polar Nights in winter create ideal conditions for viewing the Northern Lights aka Aurora Borealis. (It’s where Joanna Lumley had her emotional sighting.)

NNorthern Lights map Tromso - image Guide Gunnar

Northern Lights map Tromsø – image Guide Gunnar

However, if you’re unlucky, like me, or there at the wrong time of year, then you can get the next best thing by going to the panoramic cinema and watching Northern Lights in Arctic Norway which explains how the aurora is formed, with stunning photography by Ole. C. Salomonsen.

Northern Lights Tromso Norway Ole.CSalomonsen arctic light photo

Northern Lights over Tromsø – image Ole. C. Salomonsen visitnorway.com

In the other film showing here, Svalbard – Arctic Wilderness, a little auk takes viewers on a helicopter flight along the coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the group known as Svalbard.

Arctic Cathedral Tromsø

Arctic Cathedral Tromsø

Without doubt, the most uplifting experience I had during the Hurtigruten cruise was the midnight concert at the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso. You can read about it in this article by fellow travel blogger Kathryn Burrington. We stayed in the uber-contemporary Scandic Ishavshotel and from my huge bedroom there was a great view of the old harbour and town.

View from Scandic Ishavshotel Tromso - image Zoe Dawes

View from Scandic Ishavshotel

In 1952 Doré Ogrizek wrote of Tromsø , “The place is alive with a motley crowd, among which may be seen many Lapps in their traditional dress – high boots and square cap rather reminiscent of that worn by Oxford dons.” Scandinavia. You may not see many Lapps in traditional dress today, but it’s definitely alive and the motley crowd consists of tourists as well as locals, all adding to the unique international mix that makes up this special Norwegian town.

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