2015 TRAVELLING: The year in review

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Another year, another fourteen trips!

  • In January we were pleasantly surprised by sunny days in Lisbon – perfect for sipping green wine.
  • In February we spent Valentine’s Day in beautiful Paris.
  • In March I took the most amazing photos in Rome – I can’t believe it took me over 10 years to go back!
  • In April we spent a few days in a lovely flat at the heart of Vienna – and had a quick stop in Bratislava.
  • I also visited my friend in Edinburgh and discovered a few new great places for a pint.
  • In May I battled the crowds to visit the amazing ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • Later in the month we went back to Venice for another amazing Biennale – and stayed in the best Airbnb ever!

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  • In June we discovered Lithuania is great for craft beers.
  • In July my friend got married in Toronto – and off we went for our Transatlantic adventure of the year!
  • Also in July we visited Warsaw and Krakow – Poland is so nice and so cool!
  • In August I went back to Berlin to get my annual fix of their amazing brunches.
  • In September we crossed Transylvania by train – from Romania to Hungary with many stops along the way!
  • In November we were greeted like kings in Turkey – from Pamukkale to Ephesus and Istanbul.
  • In December we had cheap tapas and wine with friends in Madrid.

What a wonderful year – I can’t wait to see what 2016 has to offer!

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WHERE HAVE ALL THE YELLOW PONCHOS GONE? Day trip to Niagara falls

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Niagara Falls is only 80 miles from Toronto, so we made sure to visit during our Canadian adventure. There are lots of coach trips available, so we got on a bus early in the morning to see what it was all about – alas it was less yellow ponchos and more tacky casinos.

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The falls themselves are really impressive, a massive and powerful waterfall right across the pavement – really unlike anything you’d see. Usually you can take a boat trip to see it even closer (the ‘Maid on the Mist’), but we were unlucky with the weather and that wasn’t available when we were there.

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The downside is the massive tacky-fest right across the road: like a cheap, old-fashioned version of Las Vegas, so not really what you’d expect from such a natural wonder. But the coach trip also went up the river where we got great views without the intrusion of modern architecture.

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We also visited Niagara-on-the-Lake, a colonial town full of cute little shops which was nice if a bit fake – great gelato though!

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We hopped back on the bus for a final stop at a local vineyard before making our way back to Toronto at 5pm. All in all this was a nice little day trip – it not at all what I was expecting!

HOW TO DO IT:

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There are lots of day trips from Toronto, and they all looked quite similar (can you imagine all of them stop at a floral clock?). I chose Queen Tours through Tripadvisor, which cost $75 per person. It was easy to book and the guide was good, so it was a good option.

What a weird and wonderful place!

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BEER HOPPING IN TORONTO: Finding the best of the Canadian beers

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Our trip to Canada included a lot of time for trying local beers. There are lots of options that I never heard about, so it was really good to be adventurous and choose a pint by its name (my first choice was Moosehead – is there anything more Canadian?)

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A great place to taste the local brew is the Old Distillery District – there are lots of nice bars around, and it’s a nice pedestrianised area to just walk around and chill. In Kensington we stopped for a beer at The Embassy, a great bar with a very impressive selection of local and international beers.

Helpfully, they always indicate in the menu whether a beer is local or imported, which is great if you’re looking to try the local fare.

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But the beer highlight of our trip was the Steamwhistle brewery tour. You get to see how they make their beers, taste some hops (not great) and you also get a very generous amount of free samples. The brewery is conveniently located by the CN Tower so it’s quite easy to get there.

You pay $10 for the tour plus a souvenir glass, $15 for the tour and a six pack (we chose that) or $26 for the tour plus a twelve pack. Great value for money! Our tour guide was really enthusiastic and really loved her job – it was really fun!

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ONE WEEK IN TORONTO: A relaxing break with stunning views

When your friend tells you she is wearing a very simple saree to her henna party, you really shouldn’t believe her.

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My good friend Smriti was getting married in Toronto, so off we went for another trip. I didn’t do much research in advance, so I didn’t really know what to expect. What I learned is that local knowledge is key: you may well miss lots of cool places if you’re not looking for them, so ask around to make the most of your visit.

Downtown, Old Town and Distillery District

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We started off our first day in Toronto by getting the subway to Dundas. There you will find the Eaton Center, a shopping centre which looks like they all do. But we managed to find a vegan fast food place there, called Urban Herbivore, which offered lots of great salads and hot dishes.

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We then walked down Yonge St, which is one of the main thoroughfares in Toronto, then reaching the Financial District. I was starting to think Toronto didn’t have much to offer, but I was wrong! They key there is knowing where to go.

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We reached the Old Town to find nice cafes and bars, as well as the amazing St Lawrence Market. This indoor food market is really great: lots of fresh produce and also free samples!

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We continued onto the Distillery District, a quirky, pedestrianised area which is a great area for bars and beer tasting. By the end of our first day in the city we had covered lots of ground and also discovered some cool places.

Chinatown and Kensington

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Knowing that the key to enjoying Toronto lies in finding the right neighbourhoods to visit, we headed to Chinatown on our second day in the city. We didn’t eat there, but I heard the dumplings are really good.

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After walking around for a while, we walked up Spadina Avenue to reach Kensington (the Hoxton of Toronto). This is a nice area full of cool bars, shops and cafes. We ended this sunny day at the terrace of the hilariously-named Bovine Sex Club, a great place for drinks.

CN Tower

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The CN tower is Toronto’s most famous highlight, and visiting when it was sunny definitely made it better. You get great views across the city and over lake Ontario, with areas full of skyscrapers contrasting with the little houses outside downtown.

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It really is amazingly high, and you get a chance to look right down through a glass floor – an experience which makes everyone quite uneasy. Tickets are a bit expensive at $49 (including the Skypod, the highest level you can visit), but it’s a good thing to do if you’re in Toronto.

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The Islands

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Many people recommended that we visited the Islands, so on our last day in the city we hopped on a ferry and off we went (return tickets cost $7.50).

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This is a great place to visit on a sunny day: only 20 minutes off the city centre there are beaches and parks in a relaxed setting.

We stopped for a beer in a beach hut that looked straight off 90s films, Spin Doctors soundtrack and slush puppies included. The waitress helpfully overheard our conversation and suggested other good spots for drinks.

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This is also where you get one of the best views of the Toronto skyline, with the CN Tower high above everything else.

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The rest of our time we spent attending the many beautiful wedding celebrations, a wonderful Nepalese-Canadian-French affair.

HOW TO DO IT:

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  • Go: We booked Air Transat flights which were relatively cheap at £500. The flight takes about 7h and flying during the day is definitely the way to do it (our return flight was overnight and we really didn’t sleep much).
  • Stay: We stayed at this nice Airbnb place which was located in a quiet neighbourhood and felt like a real home. Toronto is really big, so stay around downtown or anywhere close to the Subway.
  • Transportation: Public transportation is pretty good in downtown Toronto, but further afield it’s likely that you will need to rely on (very expensive) taxis. Traffic can be a real nightmare, so ask locals how long it takes to get to your destination.
  • Money: Canada is not very cheap. Although prices look okay at first sight, like in America taxes are added to any bill and tips are expected and high.

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