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November 6, 2017

A funky Food Tour of hipsterish Hintonburg in Ottawa

Art is In Cafe menu - Hintonburg Food Tour - Ottawa

Art is In Cafe menu

The smell of freshly baked bread mingled seductively with caramelized onions, thai curry, toasted cheese and clam chowder. A buzz of chatter hummed round the industrial-chic cafe as customers tucked into wholesome, tasty food in one of the most popular, and off-the-beaten trail cafes in Ottawa. I was at Art is In Bakery with guide Stefanie Siska of C’est Bon Cooking at the start of a unique food tour in Hintonburg, known as the ‘Burg’. It’s a hip neighbourhood of the city that’s up and come, reinvented itself from a hard-core working class district to THE place to go for eating out, independent shops, creative businesses and quirky coffee houses.

Art is in lunch - food tour Hintonburg Ottawa - collage Zoe Dawes

Art is In lunch

I was given a behind-the-scenes peek round Art is In cafe. From a whirl of very busy chefs, plate after plate of delicious food emerged; light-as-air croissant, door-stop sandwiches and scrumptious pancakes. In the bakery next door, crisp baguettes, hearty wholemeal loaves and many more tasty bakes were being loaded up for delivery around the city. It was a wrench to leave this foodie heaven and emerge into the unprepossessing surroundings of City Centre Avenue industrial estate.

Hintonburg Ottawa

City Centre Avenue – Hintonburg

However, our next stop on the food tour, punnishly named ‘Beyond the Pale Brewery, was only a couple of units away. This brewery is most definitely on the funky scale with beers called Pink Fuzz (grapefruit), The Darkness (oatmeal stout), Saison Tropicale (pineapple) and their classic Pale Ale Project. Brewer Shane Clarke told the story of two mates setting up one of Ottawa’s most popular and distinctly quirky breweries. “We want people to have fun with our beer. Whether it’s tasting with us at the brewery, drinking at home with friends and family, enjoying a pint at one of our great licensees, or joining us at a festival to spin the Wheel of Cask.”

Beyond the Pale beer

Beyond the Pale beer

We headed off then to the Happy Goat Coffee Company, hidden away down a side road you’d never come across by accident. But the cafe was heaving, with chatty people trading gossip whilst a guy played the piano. “At “Happy Goat Coffee” we promote the niche coffee market by encouraging neighbourhood-based small batch coffee roasting” My cappuccino was definitely a cut above the Costa brigade – and who wouldn’t love a place that provides bone-shaped dog treats for its canine customers?

Happy Goat coffee - Food tour Ottawa Canada

Happy Goat coffee

With coffee you’ve got to have cake, haven’t you? At Suzy Q Doughnut Store, you get the best BEST doughnuts in Ottawa, judging by the queue out of the door onto the street. Flavours include Raspberry Cassis, Salty Caramel, London Fog, Sugar Munnki, Bloop and the Canadian star, Maple Bacon. Lording it over the store is a large moose head garlanded with flowers.

Suzy Q Maple Bacon Doughnuts - Ottawa Food Tour

Walking the streets of Hintonburg is a bit like walking on a film set. You can imagine a Canadian version of ‘Friends’ being set here. Stefanie said it was one of her favourite suburbs of Ottawa as it has its own distinctive brand of ‘cool’, being both friendly and interesting. She pointed out the decorated water hydrants, part of city art that is prevalent throughout the country. We called into Maker House, a furniture and craft store on Wellington Street. They also have a branch in downtown Byward Market. Here you can find a huge variety of top quality artisan wares. I fell in love with a silky-smooth wooden platter featuring the Maple Leaf commemorating Canada 150 birthday celebrations but it was heavy (and expensive) so I had to content myself with a couple of delicate Birch Bark bookmarks.

Birch Bark bookmarks Ottawa

Birch Bark bookmarks

After all the filing food and drink it was a relief to stop by Simply Raw Express, a ‘vegan, gluten-free, plant-based, organic restaurant, specializing in cold-pressed juices and clean eating.’ Stefanie explained it was set up  in 2006 by Natasha, best-selling author and raw vegan of 23 years. Regular readers will know I’m more of a steak and chips woman, but I must admit the Collard Wrap filled with hummus, cabbage and a side of spiralized carrots with a Peaceful Warrior smoothie – bananas, kale, hemp & flax seeds and Sun Warrior protein (phew!) – was simply delicious.

Simply Raw organic vegan food - Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Simply Raw wrap

By now I was starting to feel extremely full, which was a shame as the next place on our C’est Bon Food Tour was a funky little Mexican restaurant, La Cocina. Stefanie suggested we had a drink first and a refreshing margerita quickly materialised. I’m ashamed to say I could barely do justice to the spicy tacos (made with ‘in-house hand pressed corn tortilla) but I can most definitely recommend them.

La Cocina Margarita Mexican restaurant Ottawa

La Cocina Margarita

Finishing off our drinks, it was time for the last stop – Stella Luna Gelato Cafe. Oh yes, superb Italian gelato in the suburbs of Ottawa. The last time I had such smoothly divine ice-cream was on a weekend in Rome; this was just as good. The multi-award winning gelateria is the genuine article. Master Gelato Chef Tammy Giuliani ‘combines old-world techniques and recipes with a passion for finely prepared food.

Stella Luna gelateria - Hintonburg Ottawa Food Tour

Stella Luna gelato

I met both Italian Tammy and his Canadian wife, whose love story is behind the success of their ice-cream, cakes, tarts, pies, crepes and coffee. It was only polite to have a tub of their Chocolate Sundae (rich chocolate, maple, bourbon, candied pecans with a fudge ripple) with a dash of Strawberry … A truly scrumptious end to a really excellent food tour.

Many thanks to Stefanie Siska of  C’est Bon Cooking for a fascinating and very tasty glimpse into the food and drink on offer in Hintonburg. Grateful thanks also to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Hintonburger - Food Tour Ottawa Canada

Hintonburger

Check out 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.

Find out more about Canada in these articles

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

Escape to Upper Canada Village, Ontario

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Vancouver in 24 hours

A Digital Detox with the Grizzly Bears of British Columbia

Top tips for a motorhome trip across Canada

Love it? Pin it!

Ottawa Food Tour Canada - image Zoe Dawes

October 25, 2017

Top 10 reasons to choose an escorted tour of India

Delhi Station porters

Porters at Delhi Station

“Here, ma’am, over here. Take your bag? Porter for you. I help you onto train …” A cacophony of voices ricocheted around Delhi Railway Station as we trotted down the stairs onto the busy platform. It was early morning and we were on our way to Kalka to join the Toy Train to Shimla. But first we had to navigate the chaotic melee that is to be seen at every big city railway station in India, find the correct carriage and make sure our luggage came on board with us. Fortunately I was on a Great Rail Journeys award-winning escorted tour and had nothing to worry about.

Ganesh Elephant God Shimla India - photo Zoe Dawes

Our wonderful guide, Farouk, had everything organised and it was a seamless, if noisy, transition from our hotel to the station and the Shatabdi Express. A coach had taken us from the 5-star Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel in the heart of the city to the station entrance from where our suitcases had been whisked away. The next time we saw them was on the train. All we had to do was follow Farouk, wait on the platform til our train arrived and take lots of photos of the lively scenes all around us. This was just one of the many advantages of being on an escorted tour in India.

10 reasons to choose an Escorted Tour of India

1.  Knowledgeable Tour Manager

Farouk Escorted Tour Manager Great Rail Journeys India

Having a dedicated tour manager who knows the lie of the land and can smooth away all the hassle of travel, is a huge benefit. They ensure your trip is hassle-free from the moment you come through customs, throughout your trip until you check back in at the airport. Farouk, our escort, dealt with a myriad of issues, from ensuring our hotel rooms were ready, booking meals, handing out train tickets, answering questions about Indian etiquette, liaising with local guides and keeping us all together as we wandered the streets of Shimla and scattered around the Taj Mahal.

2.  Smooth transitions from place to place

Agra street scene India - photo Zoe Dawes

Agra street scene

One of the biggest time-consumers on independent travel is getting from A to B and on to C. Travelling around a foreign country can be stressful, especially if you don’t know the language. India has many pluses, but public transport can be very challenging for some visitors. On an escorted tour everything is taken care of, so you can enjoy the journey, with transport, tickets and luggage all magically sorted.

3.  Accommodation organised in advance

Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel Lobby Delhi India

Taj Diplomatic Enclave Lobby

With so much choice, choosing where to stay in India is a dilemma. Can you trust the web description? Is the Trip Advisor rating accurate? Where exactly is this hotel in relation to the sights you want to see? On a reputable escorted tour, this is all taken out of your hands. They will choose good hotels because they want happy customers. In Delhi we stayed at the excellent Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel. Great Rail Journeys only chooses the very top hotels so satisfaction is guaranteed.

Oberoi Cecil Lounge and bedrooms Shimla

Oberoi Cecil Lounge and bedrooms

In Shimla we had two nights in the delightful Oberoi Cecil, It’s famous not only for its local heritage but also because Mohan Singh Oberoi, the founder of Oberoi Hotels, started work here, rose through the ranks and eventually bought the hotel. The food, a combination of international, pan-Indian and local Himachali dishes, was superb and the service second-to-none.

TIC Mughal Agra banquet India

ITC Mughal – the biggest Indian bread you ever did see

The uber-luxurious ITC Mughal in Agra was another perfect hotel. We each stayed in a gorgeous suite and were treated to a delicious Mughal Banquet which included the biggest Indian bread I’ve ever seen. (even bigger than the Bradford Naan!)

4.  Value for money

Woman at the Red Fort Agra India- photo Zoe Dawes

Woman at Red Fort Agra

A trip to India is, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime holiday but, whatever your budget, you want to know you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck, if you’ll pardon the expression. Taking into account all your costs (see Point 5), an escorted tour can be the most cost-effective way of travelling. Whether you go for more economically priced tours, or splash out on a top-quality company like Great Rail Journeys, you can be sure that you are getting excellent value for money.

5.  Easy to budget

Closely linked to point 4, you can easily budget because just about everything is included. For example, on the Indian Golden Triangle Tour I sampled, scheduled return flights, 5-star hotel accommodation, superb meals and filling packed lunches, rail and coach travel, transfers and porterage, guided tours and dedicated Tour Manager are all included in the booking price. That meant we only had to pay for drinks, tips and souvenirs – which are a bargain in India.

6.  Tailored excursions to make the most of time and place

The Toy Train in the Himalayas Shimla India- photo Zoe Dawes

The Toy Train in the Himalayas

Good excursions should be a winning combination of stress-free organisation combined with well-informed local guides who take visitors rounds sites, share interesting stories and intriguing facts at a pace suited to the group’s level of fitness and interest. The major highlights of our trip included the Toy Train to Shimla, city tour of Delhi and to Agra for the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, which was more lovely than I had imagined. That visit was enhanced by our tour guide, who brought the love story of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to life with fascinating information about the building and the significance of the architecture.

7.  Bespoke experiences to enhance local knowledge

Raj Ghat Mahatma Ghandi Delhi - photo Zoe Dawes

Raj Ghat – memorial to Mahatma Ghandi in Delhi

All good tours will have some unusual experiences to enhance their customers’ enjoyment. It might be a cookery lesson, wine-tasting, sailing on house-boat, wild-life photography or joining  in a traditional festival. On our trip, we watched locals taking part in a temple blessing, saw the sun rise over the Himalayas and heard an excellent talk on Shimla and the history of the British in India from charming historian Raaja Bhasin.

8.  Relatively risk-free giving peace of mind

Fast food on a railway platform in the Himalayas - India - photo Zoe Dawes

Fast food on a railway platform in the Himalayas

The best tour companies have fine-tuned their holidays to ensure that customers have a smooth and risk-free trip. India is a vibrant, colourful country with a somewhat lax approach to health and safety … With guides chosen for their attention to detail and drivers chosen for their experience of the crazy Indian driving habits, we were in very capable hands, even on the exciting journey back down the mountain road from Shimla. Advice on what food and drink to try ensured that I for one, avoided Delhi Belly and was able to experience superb Indian cuisine with no side effects.

9. Freedom and flexibility

Marble sculptors in Agra Market India - photo Zoe Dawes

Marble Sculptors – Agra Market

Select your escorted tour carefully and you will get both free time and flexibility in the programme. These trips are often packed with things to see and do, which can be tiring.  I’m sure you will find plenty of options to suit your own tastes. I need a break to just wander around on my own. On our trip, we had some free time in Agra and I went off with a couple of others from the group to explore a local market. Others relaxed by the pool, chatted at the bar, read a book, slept or had a indulgent Spa Treatment.

10.  The company of like-minded people

Great Rail Journeys escorted tour Taj Mahal India

At the Taj |Mahal

This is one of the biggest selling points of an escorted tour. Because everyone has chosen the same trip, you can be sure that you will find plenty of people who share your own interests. On Great Rail Journeys a common denominator is often, but not always, a love of rail travel, for which India is rightly famous. However, many people go on their tours because of their desire to see famous sights, learn more about the culture and traditions of India and to experience these memorable moments with others.

I travelled to India courtesy of Great Rail Journeys; I am grateful them for enabling me to fulfill a life-long dream in such a marvellous way. Special thanks to our guide Farouk for his unfailing care and good humour, to all the friendly staff in the hotels we stayed in and to all the wonderful people we met along the way who made this trip so special.

If you’d like to go on a similar trip, take a look at Great Rail Journeys escorted tours of India, specially tailored for the 50+ demographic, and start planning your trip of a lifetime now 🙂

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Top 10 Reasons to choose an Escorted Tour - Pinterest image Zoe Dawes

September 30, 2017

Upper Canada Village: escape to another era where life is slower and more relaxed

Horses Upper Canada Village Ontario - photo Zoe Dawes

Carriage horses on Church Street

The children squeal with delight as a piglet clambers over the back of its brother to get a better place in the sun.  A huge sow slowly rolls over in the gloopy mud, grunts and flops back into contented slumber. A tussle breaks out as three youngsters nip ears and legs before deciding it’s all too much effort and collapse in a piggy heap on top of each other. Just another day of buccolic pleasure in Upper Canada Village, not far from Morrisberg in Ontario.

Pigs in sunshine - Upper Canada Village Ontario - collage Zoe Dawes

Happy pigs

Less than 60 miles (90kms) from Ottawa, Upper Canada Village is a unique visitor attraction depicting life in Ontario around 1866, when the pace of life was much slower. Many of the 40 historical buildings were transported here from nearby villages which were flooded to make way for the St Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s. It gives a vivid idea of 19th century agricultural practices including caring for livestock, growing crops and harvesting vegetables. Attractive gardens showcase the plants and flowers that would have been grown in the summer. Staff dressed in clothing of the period carry out domestic tasks and discuss what social life, music, religion and politics would have been like at the time. They demonstrate how cheese, bread, shoes, tin jugs, brooms, furniture, dresses and hats were made.

Crafts at Upper Canada Village Ontario - collage Zoe Dawes

Demonstrating crafts and housework

I’m visiting Upper Canada Village with local travel blogger Cindy Baker of Travel Bliss Now on a day out from Ottawa. It’s a school trip day and lots of children run around the grounds, stopping to pat horses and watch sheep being shorn. Wandering along sunny paths and through shady nooks we pass the Woollen Factory and Saw Mill before reaching elegant yellow house. On the veranda a young woman in a vivid orange dress sits reading a book.

Robertson House Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Robertson House

Inside Robertson Home we learn how a well-to-do middle-class family would have lived. The parlour has ornate decor with family portraits and lots of knick-knackery typical of the Victorian era. Further on we find the Bakery where a young man is showing how the bread is made. Later in the day we see the baker’s horse-drawn cart collect the bread; it’s sold on site and served in the Village Cafe and at Willards Hotel.

Bakery Bread Upper Canada Village - collage Zoe Dawes

From bread oven to table

We have lunch at Willards Hotel,  with Customer Service & Corporate Communications Manager Susan Le Clair. Willard’s Hotel is one of the oldest buildings on the site, constructed in the late 1790s and restored to the style of the 1850s. It’s now a restaurant where we are served by costumed waiting staff with food from the period. I have the local bread and cheese platter – very tasty. Susan explains the philosophy of Upper Canada Village. “Our aim is to show what it was really like to live and work in the 19th Century. Many people in Canada have little idea of what that looks like and this place is ideal to teach visitors some of our important history in an engaging and fun way. It’s especially popular with families and people come back year after year. We have a diverse and interesting Educational Program that enable young people to discover their past in engaging and fun way. Although we’re usually closed in the winter months, we do have special events including our very quirky Pumkinferno at Halloween.” 

Susan Le Clair in the livery Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Susan Le Clair in the Livery

After a delicious meal, Cindy and I go off to explore more of the village. In the distance we catch a glimpse of some people floating by on some sort of craft. It’s the horse-drawn tow scow which pootles back and forth along the village canal from the dock behind Cook’s Tavern to the Tenant Farm. A tow scow is ‘ … a flat hulled barge that is drawn along the canal by a horse walking along the bank. Two villagers (one at the bow, and one at the stern) help steer the scow using long poles. In typical village life, the scow would be used to transport heavy goods to mills and other distant locations.‘ (Upper Canada Village website.)

Horse-drawn Tow Scow in Upper Canada Village Ontario - photo Zoe Dawes

Horse-drawn Tow Scow

We climb aboard and listen to the gentle shuck of the boat on the water as we pass the Pier Light. A flock of Canada Geese pecking around in the grass, honking as we pass and overhead birds swoop and dive across the clear blue sky. Time seems to slow down and the ‘real world’ fades away as we drift along. Beyond the canal, the wide open waters of the Saint Lawrence River glitter and ripple as ship sails past; an incongruous reminder of 21st century Canada.

Tow Scow trip Upper Canada Village Ontario

Tow Scow on the canal beside St Lawrence River

 The tower of white-painted Christ Church peaks out above the trees near the canal. On the front cover an excellent book, ‘A Village Arising – the Story of the Building of Upper Canada 1957-1961 and After‘ by Peter Stokes, there’s a photo of the church being hauled along the road from Moulinette to the site of Upper Canada Village on top of flat-bed trucks. We peak inside; the interior is similar to a Scottish Presbyterian kirk and includes box pews, a gallery and a cast iron stove.
Christ Church - Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Christ Church

Just round the corner from the church is brick built Cook’s Tavern, which serves Ginger Beer and Sarsaparilla,  based on the popular 19th century tonic made from the root of a South American plant (Genus Smilax).  Commonly referred to as “root beer”, these tonics contained a variety of roots, such as ginger for tang, sassafras for flavour and sarsaparilla to make it foam. Outside, a few people are waiting for one of the horse-drawn wagons to take them on a 20 minute drive round the village. It’s late afternoon and the school groups have left; the place is quiet, with a tranquil atmosphere very different from the frenetic excitement of the morning.

Cook's Tavern Upper Canada Village

Cook’s Tavern

Exploring some of the back lanes of the village we come across a farm with a large-horned cattle in the fields and a tiny calf in a paddock. I get up close to take a photo and the farmer asks if I want to buy him. We haggle a bit and then I seem to have bought him for a couple of dollars. “Now you can take him back to the barn.” I think the farmer is joking but no; the next minute, a rope is thrust into my hand and I am taking a calf for a walk …

Walking calf on farm Upper Canada Village - Zoe Dawes

Walking my baby back home

After a full-on day it’s time to go. On our way out, we have a quick look at the gift shop and exhibition centre, which tells the history of the area. Outside the little train that runs round Upper Canada Village is setting off on its last ride. We stop for a photo of the monument commemorating the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, a nationally significant battle in the War of 1812 that halted the 1813 invasion of Canada.
Upper Canada Village

As we drive onto the main road back to Ottawa I can still hear the sound of children’s laughter, feel the soft muzzle of the wagon horse and smell that freshly baked bread. Upper Canada Village is a charming place of sensory and historic enjoyment that magically encapsulates an idyllic moment in Canadian history …

Days Out from Ottawa

This is just one of the many day trips you can take from Ottawa. I also visited Merrickville, a pretty village on the banks of the Rideau Canal, Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, Fultons Pancake House and Sugar Bush and spent a very relaxing day at Nordik Spa-Nature, a luxury spa at the entrance to Gatineau Park.

Many thanks to Susan Le Clair of Upper Canada Village for showing me round and sharing stories about this unique attraction. Grateful thanks also 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.

Check out 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.

Find out more about Canada in these articles

Discover Ottawa, Canada’s charming capital city 

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

Upper Canada Village – LOVE IT? PIN IT!

Upper Canada Village Ontario - Pinterest - Zoe Dawes

September 15, 2017

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

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

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

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