One Week in Istanbul, Turkey

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This is a blog post that I wrote in 2013 after first moving to Kiev, Ukraine. We had a break from work near the end of October and decided to go to Istanbul for the week. This was basically my first time going on a trip outside of Canada and the US, and my first time traveling without any family. Luckily, Britt had a little bit of experience traveling around Europe, but for the most part this was a very new experience.

Britt and I arrived in Istanbul on Sunday, October 20th. We had an early morning flight from Kiev which went pretty well considering we are both pretty big babies when it comes to flying. We maneuvered our way from the airport to our hostel quite easily using the metro, with only one setback as we missed our first stop and had to get off, go back, and correct ourselves. It was no big deal though, it just gave us something to laugh about! We made it to our hostel which was right near the metro and next door to a Starbucks, which was pretty exciting for Britt as we don’t have a Starbucks in Kiev.

This was my first hostel experience, and while I won’t say it will be my last, I am not so sure it will be something I am eager to do again. I think our hostel was clean, but it was very old and kind of gave me the heeby geebies. I am all up for roughing it, but more so in a tent with my own sleeping bags and pillows than in an uncomfortable old bed that we have to ask to have the sheets changed on because we’re not convinced they are clean. Anyways, we decided we were comfortable enough that we would stay, and we set off with our map in the general direction of Taxim Square where we were promised lots of shops and interesting sights along the way.

Just a few flights of winding stairs up to our floor at the hostel

Our room in the hostel

It was so refreshing to get to the sea line and be able to look out across the water. In Kiev, I’ve begun to feel a bit chlosterphobic out among the tall, tall buildings. It’s kind of like after being in BC for awhile. It is so beautiful and I absolutely love the trees and mountains, but after awhile I just want to be able to SEE! I guess I am just a true Saskatchewan girl, and I really do want to watch my dog run away for days and days.

 We walked across a bridge filled with people fishing over the side, we ate lunch in a Turkish restaurant, and we wandered up and down cobblestone streets.

One thing that we immediately noticed was all of the cats! They are literally everywhere! There are obviously stray cats and dogs in Kiev, but not like this! We could not believe how many there were, and how tame they were. Cats were everywhere, including hanging around the tables outside of restaurants. This is a good time to mention that Britt is actually afraid of cats, so needless to say we mostly spent the rest of the week dining indoors! We had to Google it when we got back to our hostel the first night, because it was just so strange to see so many cats. Turns out cats are highly tolerated and even respected within Islamic societies because of the prophet Mohammad’s love of them. It has kind of become folklore the way people will tell stories about Mohammed and cats. Most of the cats we saw were well taken care of, you can see many shops that have little food and water dishes out front for them. We read a saying, “if you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.” It’s pretty cool to see how the city kind of networks together to take care of its collection of cats.


Anyways, we enjoyed walking down the long cobblestone street that is lined with all types of shops, including some we’ve been deprived of, like The Body Shop and Sephora. It was a very long walk, I think over an hour there, and well over an hour back because of all the shopping. We went back to our neighbourhood for a delicious dinner of hummus, pita bread, chicken curry and more. Then we headed back to our hostel. We were exhausted and ready for an early night!


The next morning we decided to get all of our shopping out of our system, so we headed to a mall! It was huge, with some of the highlights being H&M, IKEA, Zara, and Mudo. Again, we came home played out after a long and successful day in the mall.


We decided to hang out at the hostel for a bit, and then had a place in mind for dinner and were looking forward to another early night in. Because there are SO many restaurants everywhere, the waiters stand on the sidewalk and try to entice you to come in by being charming and adorable (sidetrack- if Ukraine has the most beautiful women, then Turkey has the most gorgeous men!) but it’s a lot to handle, especially for two Canadians who would never want to offend anyone, so we literally walked up the streets saying, “hi, hi, hi, hi, no thank you, hi…” Totally Night at the Roxbury.

So that night when we left the hostel I said to Britt, “get your game face on,” the plan was made, we were just going to go straight to our destination and not be swayed. About ten steps out of our hostel Brittany was having a full conversation with a local. He totally sucked us in with the line, “are you lost?” A special note here, this was not exactly a young man, and not one of the better looking ones, either.

Okay, Mom, Grandma, and any aunties, etc, you should probably stop reading now. Just a warning! But I know you won’t now, so get ready! This man told us he could recommend a restaurant to us. A really great restaurant that is was near the Blue Mosque, only two minutes away from where we were. For some reason our game plan went out the window and before I knew it we were wandering around with Omar, who was almost acting as a tour guide. Eventually we learned that he is a shop owner in a nearby market. So, naturally we ended up in the market checking out his carpets. Then, it turned out he was coming with us to dinner, not just showing us a place. I do not know why we continued to go along with this. I just kept looking at Brittany but she seemed totally fine, so I thought I’d just go along with it as well.

We found ourselves in this tiny little deserted restaurant sitting with this strange man and not really trying to make conversation. Brittany didn’t take my bate when I threw out my secret code words, “Britt, are you feeling okay?” So we stuck with it and picked something off the not-so-appealing menu. I think he lost hope in us when we wouldn’t order a drink and then said we also weren’t interested in smoking the water pipe after dinner with him. Luckily he ended up leaving without even finishing his beer. So Britt and I were left waiting for our food, and it ended up that he didn’t even order Britt what she wanted, but got her the most expensive thing on the menu.

Nothing like drumming up a bit of business for your buddies! Anyways, we ate super fast and got out of there as quickly as we could! So, being kind of kidnapped was a fun experience on our second day in Istanbul. Just kidding. Obviously, if Britt or I had ever felt like there was a real risk to our safety, we would not have gone along with it. We realize that it was still not the best choice, and after that definitely became a little more hardened to any advances that men would make at us. And we were always looking over our shoulder for Omar! Lesson learned.

To end off the night on a better note, we stopped at McDonalds to get ice cream, and were very excited to see that they served Smarties (Bonibon) McFlurry’s, which they don’t in Kiev.

Tuesday we had a really low-key and lovely day. Our motivation to leave our room was pretty much that the free breakfast ended at 10:30 and we wanted to get up to the rooftop before it was gone. The main office and lounge is at the top of a five story building, and the rooftop breakfast area has a gorgeous view overlooking the sea. It was so nice to sit up there at any time of the day, especially with the sun was shining down on us.

After breakfast we headed down to the seawall for a beautiful run along the water. The sun shone on us the whole time, so it was a really awesome run.

When we got back we took our time getting ready, then headed out towards the Grand Bizzare. We had lunch before going in, which was probably the best lunch of the trip…I had pizza and Britt had some kind of a wrap thing. Very good, anyways! The Grand Bizzare was absolutely huge, and we kind of just wandered around for a bit and then found our way out again. Britt decided she wanted to have a nap, so I went up to the rooftop of our hostel and she went back to the room. After a couple of hours I decided I should maybe go and check on her, since the plan was to only have a 20 minute nap. It was fine though, she just had a much longer nap which was obviously needed. We headed back out and did a bit of shopping and then found a great restaurant to have dinner. We sat on low couches with tons of cushions and ate our salads and our dip plate with flatbread. We also decided to carve out a plan for the rest of the week to ensure we didn’t miss anything that we were really wanting to do.

Our coworker and friend, Sean (also a Canadian) and his bf who was visiting from Toronto flew into Istanbul on Tuesday, so Wednesday we were excited to meet up and spend most of the day together. It was a pretty packed day. We went to the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace Museum, and to the Spice Market. These places were really beautiful and I still have  a hard time comprehending just how old things in Europe really are. The grandness and beauty of such places really takes your breath away, along with standing amongst things that people hundreds and hundreds of years ago built together themselves.

Britt and I did some more shopping later that afternoon, and then hung out at Starbucks in the early evening. We met up with the guys later in the evening and went out for dinner at a Thai restaurant the guys had come across. It was a really great meal. I had fried bananas and ice cream for dessert, which was so amazing! We laughed away the night, while sipping (or maybe chugging) back bottles of wine until we all decided we better make our way home.

We had a bit of a slow start on Thursday morning, which may have had something to do with the aforementioned wine. Despite this we still had a productive day. We went to the brilliant Haiga Sofia Museum which has a really rich history of being turned from a Greek Orthodox church to a mosque and now to a museum. It’s construction started in 537 and lasted several years,at which time it was opened as a church. In 1453 the area was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who then turned it into a mosque. All Christian relics were removed and any of the mosaics depicting Jesus, Mary, Saints, or angels were removed or plastered over. Islamic features took their places. It stayed this way until1931 when it was closed from public use. It re-opened four years later as a museum. Some of the original tile has been scrapped clean and you can see some of the original Christian mosaics coming through again. The tile work and grandness of this building left us in awe.


For the afternoon, we took a ferry across the straight to the side of Istanbul which is on the Asian continent. We pretty much just ate and hung out at Starbucks over there, but now I can say I’ve been to three continents, so that’s cool. I guess Istanbul is like the Lloydminister of Turkey! We also got to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the ferry ride back over to Europe. Well, I did anyways. Britt took a nap! Sensing a theme?


I think we absolutely saved the best for last. Friday, we got up just in time to get the continental breakfast, went for a gorgeous run through a small park and along the sea wall, and then went to a hamam.

I have to admit, when I first read about Turkish baths in the guidebook my reaction was, oh hell no! But the more we talked about it the more I thought it would be worth a try. So that afternoon we headed down the street to the nearest bath.

It was this super old building, and once inside, you go and change and then walk into this amazing sauna-like room with the highest ceilings and tonnes of little tiny round windows in the curved ceiling. In the center of the room was a big marble slab, and that’s where you laid down to relax and eventually be bathed. You just lay there and sweat until it is your turn, and one of the women call you over. Basically it’s like a massage, but with an exfoliater glove and lots of bubbles! When you are done you have to sit by a little sink and they dump water over you and wash your hair. Then you get to go sit in a jacuzzi.

At this point, a lady came to get me to take me to get a pedicure. After the pedi I went for my oil massage. Up until this point I was able to get away with keeping my two-piece bathing suit on, unlike all the other woman who changed into the black bottoms they supply you with, and nothing else. However, when I got to the massage table the woman pointed at my top and before I could even say “no” she undid the halter and yanked my top down around my waist. Eep! I don’t think it was hard for anyone to tell that there were two North Americans in amongst the Europeans that day! Even in the buff, it was a truly relaxing and renewing experience, and we left feeling pampered and refreshed.

Back to food… I wanted to have one more pizza before we left, so we went back to the restaurant we had eaten at the first night and had a late lunch. We spent the next few hours lounging about, Britt in our room and me up on the rooftop. The hostel owner is a really cool older Turkish man, who is very kind, funny, and easy going. He was fun to sit around and visit with, and he liked to talk about Turkey and tell us cool things about it. His name was Dodo and he kept us quite entertained!


The pizza I had for lunch hadn’t been what I was hoping for, so later that evening when we went to a restaurant that had been recommended to us by coworkers, I tried the pizza from there, and it was SO good! It’s a place we probably should have gone to earlier in the week, because the owner is really cool and we had a lot of fun there.

I even got to try Raki that night, which is a Turkish unsweetened, anise flavoured alcoholic drink that’s really popular in Turkey as a before-meal drink. It smelt like black liquorice and reminded me of zambooka. It is the national drink of Turkey and you either chase it with water or pour water into it and it turns milky. It was so gross!


As we got our bags all packed up that night, I felt like I had done pretty much all I had wanted to do while in Istanbul. We had a busy but relaxing week in a beautiful city filled with history, culture, and beauty. I will miss the friendliness of the people, the sea and the sunshine, the beautiful call to prayer that rang out over the city several times a day from the mosques, the laid back lifestyle, the food, and the cats! What an amazing week.




A Roadtrip through British Columbia and the Okanagan Valley

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A summer road trip took us through Alberta and into British Columbia. Our first stop in British Columbia was Golden. We travelled there from Banff because my travel partner knows the owner of Glacier Raft Company and we wanted to test the waters with his crew.

We chose to stay at the Golden Municipal Campground and RV Park after checking out one other campground that we didn’t love. When we first arrived at Golden Municipal Campground we were given a site in the middle of the campground with no privacy between sites. We took a short walk and discovered several beautiful, and empty, spots. After a quick trip back to the office, here is the site we were given:


Golden Municipal Campground and RV Park

This was a beautiful site, and the campground had two different bathrooms with showers available. The bathrooms that are connected to the main gate are very nice and new, with pay showers. The campsite backs Kicking Horse River, and just on the other side of the river is the railway track, so there was definitely some noise throughout the evening and night. However, we were told that you can’t really go anywhere in Golden without hearing the trains, so I wouldn’t let the railway track stop me from staying at this campground again.

After we had supper at the campsite, we went for a walk. It took about 15 minutes to get to The Wolf’s Den where we stopped for a couple of drinks and an absolutely brilliant nacho platter. We had been told that this was the place to go for burgers, and the menu sure did make our mouths water. We can’t wait to go back here with empty stomaches.



The Wolf’s Den

The next morning, we drove up to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort as neither of us had been there before. There are opportunities to ride up the mountain on either the chair lift or the gondola. There is also a Grizzly Bear refuge where you can try and spot the grizzly that was orphaned as a cub and now relies on food from the refuge workers. We didn’t have a lot of time, so instead of taking a tour, we ate a quick lunch at one of the resort restaurants, and then headed back down the mountain.

Our next stop was Glacier Raft Company for our afternoon adventure. The owners, Ryan and Carmen, and the rest of the guides make this business so welcoming and comfortable that it’s hard to leave! We enjoyed an afternoon of high water rafting on Kicking Horse River, and would go back again and again if we could! At the end of the day, we even got to share a local beer around the campfire back at shop. This was my first time riding level 4 + rapids and it was definitely an adventure to remember.


You have to buy the shirt!

We ate a wonderful dinner at Eleven 22 restaurant (seriously, so good) and then headed out of town, towards Revelstoke. We used iMaps to find campsites along the route. We were nervous about finding a place for the night, but brave enough to turn down a one or two after a quick drive through them. We really wanted to find something beautiful.

And did we ever! Illecillewaet Campground was the hidden gem that we had been searching for! What a gorgeous front-country campsite this is. The only drawback? It didn’t have showers. However, we knew we would only be there the one night and the surroundings- and the fact that this was the first campground of our entire trip that did not have a fire ban on- so we were more than happy to stay even without showers. The woods surrounding these campgrounds were gorgeous, a lush cedar and hemlock forest, with a river cutting right through it, providing the most peaceful and natural wilderness setting.



After setting up camp, we took a very short drive across the river to what remained from the original CPR railway “loop” bridges that were necessary to allow the trains to pass through this section of the Selkirk mountains. They were huge and we were in awe of the work that must have gone into these structures. It took four years to complete the construction of these “loops!”


Unfortunately, after returning to our campsite, it started to rain. We spent some time inside the truck before ducking into the tent for the night. The rain continued throughout the entire night and into the morning. When it briefly broke in the morning, we got up and immediately started a fire and began to cook breakfast- we were so anxious to make bushpies!! Unfortunately, it did start to drizzle again, but we already had our fire going and were able to enjoy a delicious campfire breakfast before packing up camp and moving on.

Here’s a couple other things about Illecillewaet campground; like all campgrounds in Glacier National Parks, reservations are not available. Sites are first come, first serve, and require a self check-in which means you grab an envelope, fill out your information, and leave your money. Also, as mentioned, there are no showers here but there are both outhouse-style washrooms and some gorgeous washrooms with running water complete with granite countertops! This was our favourite campground of the trip, which is saying something as we stayed at half a dozen over the 10 days! It could have been our excitement of finally being able to have a campfire, but most likely it was the surroundings that made this the highlight, even in the rain.

After a fuel stop in Revelstoke the next morning, we continued on to Crazy Creek Resort. We had been to Crazy Creek the previous winter, and weren’t sure what to expect of the hot pools during the summer. We were pleasantly surprised and still enjoyed our time in the hot pool even though it was warm out. We took a plunge into the freezing pool to cool down between time in the hot pool, and then got the bonus of a free shower afterwards.


We drove West through Salmon Arm before dropping South and entering into the Okanagan Valley. As we drove towards Armstrong we repeatedly saw signs advertising the Log Barn rest stop, so when we got to it, we decided to stop and take a look around. It is quite a strange place. Originally it started as a roadside fruit stand, but over the years has become much more. They sell all kinds of sweets and treats. Although the food was expensive, it was certainly delicious. Without a doubt, Log Barn falls under the title of “tourist trap,” but we were, after all, tourists!


The Log Barn rest stop is also home to Dave’s Goat Walk. Does the name seem a little strange? Well, it is. You kind of have to see it to believe it, but I will describe it the best I can.

Dave’s Goat Walk is literally a platform high above the ground, where goats can walk right from their outdoor pen, all the way up a ramp and onto the platform to look down on us. What makes the goats want to go up? Well, the corn. Tourists pay 25 cents for a handful of corn that you put into a little bucket, and then using a pulley-system, relay it up to the goats. The goats are smart enough that they can actually turn the pully-system themselves and get the bucket to the top and reward themselves with the treats inside. Check out our pictures:


After this exciting stop, we made it all the way down to Kelowna, wondering the whole way where we would spend the night. We did stop at one hillside campground that offered gorgeous views of the lake, but no privacy or shelter, so we made the decision to keep driving, which had us both nervous.

We arrived in Kelowna and after numerous phone calls and a couple more stops, we finally settled on Willow Creek Campground. This was a very urban campground, the kind of place that many people call home as they have their RV set up year-round. It was right beside a main city street, which meant a lot of traffic (including motorcycles and semis) all through the night. Really, we knew to expect this from a campground in the city, so we shouldn’t complain too much. It was still an incredibly affordable way to stay right in Kelowna, it had showers, and it was close to a beach that we took an evening stroll along (before the campground locked it’s main gate and we could no longer enter or exit).

The next morning, we got out of the campground as quickly as we could. We had a brilliant breakfast at Bohemian Cafe and Catering Co. and then enjoyed some of the sites of downtown Kelowna.


Bohemian Cafe and Catering Co.

And, finally, what you’ve probably been waiting for this entire time- the wineries and vineyards! 11:00 was the earliest tour we could find, so we headed up to Quail’s Gate winery to learn all about the process of making wine. We would definitely recommend going on at least one winery tour while in the Okanagan. It was informative and interesting, and of course ended in a wine tasting. Yum!


We made one more winery stop in Kelowna at a place called The Vibrant Vine. This was recommended to us by a friend who had never even been there, but had heard great things about it. I searched it online, and agreed that it did look very cool, so that was winery tour stop #2.

Going to The Vibrant Vine was a very psychedelic experience for all senses! It hosts not only great wine, but also some amazing art work. It seems like the place you would want to go and spend your evenings listening to the musical performances that take place on the small stage set up outside. And did I mention the wine? It was awesome. The gal working there told us all kinds of stories about each of the wines, and even the labels. One of our samples was of a dessert wine, and you drink it out of a chocolate shot glass, which you then get to eat. So tasty!

After we bought our few bottles of wine, we were given a pair of 3D glasses so that we could fully appreciate the art work on the bottles! Take a look at the picture below to see the style of art I am referring to.


Chocolate Shot Glasses at The Vibrant Vine

With that, we began winding our way through the vineyards on our way to Summerland. We stopped at one or two more wineries, but had to be careful because those tiny samples do add up, and someone had to do the driving in between!

When we got to Summerland we went to the much-talked-about Dirty Laundry Vineyard. It was the busiest vineyard we had been to, but had a lot of character and we could see why it was so popular. We enjoyed the wine and the atmosphere here, had our samples, bought our wine, and were on our way.


Wine IS fun!

After Summerland, we continued on to Penticton. I haven’t mentioned this yet so I should here- the drive through the Okanagan Valley is gorgeous. The hills and lakes make for breathtaking scenery. Everyone should drive this area at least once (a year!).


By the time we got to Penticton, we were a little scarred from our Kelowna campground experience, so decided to really splurge and get a hotel room. On short notice, we ended up paying quite a bit (more than all of our campground passes combined) but we were thrilled to have a night away from the air mattress (did I mention it went flat on night three and we spent a night on the ground?). Plus, our room had a small kitchen so we were able to empty and clean out our coolers over night. Bonus!


Welcome to Summer! Penticton, BC.

As tempting as it was to spend the entire evening on the comfortable hotel bed, one of my close friends that I grew up with lives in Penticton, so we arranged plans to meet for dinner that night.

We had a delicious meal at Hooded Merganser. This restaurant was right on the water and offered gorgeous views along with their fantastic drinks, mains, and dessert!

After dinner we were so full that we decided to take a walk along the pier to try and work off some of that amazing meal. Again, more beautiful views.


The next morning, we headed out of Penticton and were homeward bound. My only regret of this trip was that we didn’t take advantage of the 30 degree weather and tube down the river that connects the Penticton lakes. This is a huge favourite among locals and tourists. Next time I go to Penticton, I will definitely be going river-tubing!

As we wound our way out of the Okanagan Valley, we stopped at a few more vineyards and a fruit stand. We left BC with our tummies, hearts, and truck full!






Travel to Kiev, Ukraine

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I moved to Kiev in August of 2013, and had no idea what to expect. The decision to move there wasn’t quite on a whim, but it was pretty close. I was at a time in my life where I felt like it would be a good time to travel and see the world. I was eager to look at international teaching jobs, but I was still just nervous enough that I didn’t want to do it on my own. One of my best friends was away teaching, and I asked her if she would join me in an adventure somewhere totally amazing and awesome.

The trouble was, by the time I asked her, she had already committed to a second year teaching at her current school in Kiev, Ukraine. To be honest, I didn’t even know that the capital city of Ukraine was named Kiev. The idea of going to teach there did not excite me nearly as much as more exotic locations such as the UK, Thailand…or anywhere else, really! However, my fear of striking out on my own led me to agree to submit my application to the same school that my friend worked at in Kiev. Before I knew it, I had accepted a two year contract at the British International School, Kiev.

I went into this adventure with limited travel experience. Travel details in the past had usually been sorted out by family members or friends. I will admit, I did very little to prepare for this new endeavor either. My friend assured me that it was a great place to live and work, and that it would be no problem to get out of the second year of the contract. At the time, I thought that was all I needed to know. In hindsight, I would certainly never do that again, but of course hindsight is 20/20.

After nine months of living in this amazing city I had done enough “field research” that I can now share what I have learned with others who are planning on traveling to Kiev. Here’s what I know:

The main language spoken throughout most of the capital city is Russian.

Most people are fluent in Ukrainian as well though. Most signage and things like menus are written using the Russian alphabet. You don’t really need to worry about learning Ukrainian phrases unless you are traveling to the west side of the country, to places like the beautiful Lyiv. Grocery shopping, no matter where you go, will likely pose a problem. You learn to rely heavily on the pictures on food packaging.

2014-05-01 15.02.02

Kiev does have a tourist industry, but it is not as far advanced as other parts on Eastern Europe.

This means that many places outside the very center of the city don’t have English speaking staff or menus. Even those who do know English may be hesitant to speak it, out of lack of confidence or perhaps just to be difficult at times. This is not meant to discourage you from leaving the center, just to warn you that some awareness of the language would be helpful if you want to see all that the city has to offer.

The centre of the city remained largely in tact through all of the bombings that have taken place throughout its history.

This means that there is a lot of beautiful architecture to take in around Maidan (the city centre). Take some time to stroll along the cobblestone streets and through the many parks.


And you can’t mention Kiev without talking about the cathedrals

The beautiful onion domes (as my young cousin calls them) can take your breath away when you see them in person. Step inside to be truly amazed.


St. Andew’s Church (Andreevskaya Church)

The transit system will get you where you need to go, but don’t be afraid to walk! 

It didn’t take us long to realize that sometimes taking the metro can actually take longer than walking. By the time you go down, down, down underground on the escalators, wait for the train to come, make the stops, and then travel back to the surface, a twenty-minute walk could have gotten you to the same place, without having to go underground. Even better- you get to avoid playing the Kiev Metro game- how many people can be touching you at the same time? (the most we ever got was 6). This is a regular day on the metro in Kiev.

Because of the hilly landscape and deep river beds, the Kiev metro has some of the longest escalators in the world. One of them is actually the second longest in the world. So, seriously, it takes some time to get down and up at some of the stops.

Speaking of Transit:

It is so cheap! A token for the metro costs 2 UAH. Buses that run along the streets are usually around 1.50 UAH. Don’t forget to validate your bus tickets after you buy them from the old Ukrainian ladies on the buses!

Also, when you go to the ticket window to purchase a token for the metro, have your money out and ready. Just trust me on this one.


The M M Gryshko National Botanical Garden offers a breath of fresh air and beautiful views:

I didn’t know it then, but on what would be my third last morning in Kiev, I took a (long) walk to the Botanical Gardens. It was one of the most peaceful experiences I had while in Kiev. It was such a beautiful place to stroll around, breathing in the flower and tree-filled air. After awhile I settled down in a bench and read until I couldn’t bare to be in the sun any longer.


The Dnipr0 River provides endless opportunities to while away an afternoon. 

Go here to see the locals. Couples gazing into each other’s eyes (or maybe doing more than that- public displays of affection are very common in Kiev), parents walking with their children, and men fishing together off the banks of the river. It was my favorite place to go and run. You can run (or walk) for kilometers on end, and you won’t get bored because when you’re not people watching, you can take in the sculptures and the street art. One time I even witnessed a group of mimes practicing! You never know what you’ll see along the Dnipro.


The historic Opera House offers world-class productions at crazy-low prices! 

Not that I’m an expert, having never been to a ballet or an opera before, but while I was in Kiev I went to both Swan Lake and The Nutcracker and was blown away by the beauty of these performances. For only about 20UAH per ticket, you can’t go wrong here.


Buy from the markets!

In places like Androvski’s Descent, most of the merchants are able to speak enough English to make a deal. In other areas, such as outside of the metros, it is less likely that there will be English-speakers. Don’t let that stop you from buying their fresh produce or unique goods. Be brave- the worst that will happen is that they will giggle at your struggle to communicate. Or, maybe they will tell you (in Russian) to scram. Either way, once you walk away you will never have to worry about it again!


By all means, take a look at the main attractions of Kiev, but don’t forget to live like the locals. 

You can’t leave Kiev without visiting places like St. Andrew’s Church, Androvsky’s Descent, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (the center square), the Lavra, and Kreschatyk Street. But the time I enjoyed most in Kiev was when I was doing “normal” things that the locals were doing. Hang out along the river. Go to a park. Sit in small pubs and take a guess at what you’re ordering.

This picture below was from what would end up being my last weekend in Kiev, and it is one of my most treasured memories of my time there. Even in the moment, I realized what a special day it was. We were surrounded by Ukrainians who were enjoying their Saturday’s with their families and friends. I think the beauty of the way most locals live in Kiev is that it is the simple life. Due to the political situation in the country, many Ukrainians don’t have much in the way of material things. To me, this is where the beauty comes in because you can sit and watch them interacting with each other, and they are filled with joy and love for one another. That to me is what makes a city, and its people, beautiful and why I would tell anyone to go to Kiev!


Stay tuned for more information on Kiev. I am lucky enough to get to return there in early 2016, and will be posting more specifics following that trip about what to do in Kiev, and where to eat (and drink) while you visit! Have any questions about the city? Comment below and I will do my best to find an answer for you.


Staying near Sunshine Village

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Throughout my life I have been fortunate enough to experience many of Alberta and British Columbia’s ski resorts and stay right on the mountain. I love the accommodations and the terrain at both Panorama, BC and Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana. So, when my boyfriend and I decided to sneak away for a three-day weekend, we chose the mountain resort that was nearest to our home in Saskatchewan. That meant we would have two days of skiing at Sunshine Village, near Banff, Alberta. We also thought it would be very convenient to stay on the hill.

We left for our getaway Friday after work, and since we faced a 7 hour drive, we decided to save money and book budget accommodations for Friday night. We booked at the Banff International Hotel. I have nothing bad to say about this hotel. It was a great price, they have recently undergone renovations in the hotel rooms, and will be continuing to do renovations and updates in the future. You can’t beat the location, it is less than a block away from the main shopping areas on Banff Avenue. The friendly staff and location made the stay. If you are looking for a clean and semi-modern hotel at a good price, stay here.

On Saturday morning we headed to Sunshine village, which was about a 20 minute drive. We had two nights accommodation booked at Sunshine Mountain Lodge. Although it did include the cost of our lift tickets, I would consider this resort “luxury” based on the price.

We booked the “waterfall suite” thinking we would have a luxury room for a romantic weekend. We weren’t too sure why we were promised a room with a waterfall view. It was either a joke because the ski run outside the window was called waterfall, or if there actually was a waterfall, it must only be visible when there is no snow.

We were pleased with the service at the bottom of the mountain for our check in and baggage drop off. All staff was friendly, cheerful, and helpful.

We got into our room around 3:00 which was an hour before the actual check-in time. It was quite small and very cold, although luckily included a fireplace which was extremely welcome after a chilly day on the hill.

Our suite was very compact, although it did include a king-sized bed. Other than the fire-place, nothing seemed very luxurious. The resort was, however, quite lovely and you can never beat the mountain views when staying on a skill hill. There is a large outdoor hot tub, a restaurant right in the hotel, and you can’t get any closer to a chair lift than the front door of this resort does!
The deal breaker of this resort for us was this though-during check in we found out that you cannot leave the mountain after the gondola closes at 5:30. So much for evenings out including shopping, supper, and pubs in Banff! At that time, we decided to cancel our second night stay so that we could spend the next night in Banff instead. There was no trouble canceling the second night as it was still 24 hours before.

After our second day of skiing we drove back into Banff, where we booked a room at Fox Hotel and Suites, which we had admired both online and then in person upon arriving in Banff. We had booked online and when we arrived we paid a small price to upgrade to the suite, which was double the size and included a king bed, and a kitchen, dining, and living room area.
We were pleased with the service upon check-in, the underground parking, and the hot pools located in the basement but with an open-air ceiling opening up to the courtyard.

The walk to the downtown area was a little further than we expected, but was completely doable.

We had the complementary breakfast the next morning which was nice as we were seated beside the wood fireplace. It was a very typical complimentary breakfast, but we weren’t complaining.

The rooms were clean, well kept, and nicely decorated. The lobby is beautiful and we were excited to get to see the Christmas tree and other festive decorations.

We loved it here and didn’t want to leave! Now we know where we will stay on our next visit to Banff.