Thursday, August 11, 2016

Return Holidays: Why You Can't Discount a Repeat Trip

I believe I can speak for all travel junkies out there when I say that traveling to new and previously unexplored places is addicting. The thrill of seeing something amazing for the first time, or undergoing a totally new experience, gives those of us who love travel something equivalent to an adrenaline rush. The anticipation of an adventure somewhere new is almost as exciting as the journey itself.

However, there is something to be said about returning to a tried and true locale repeatedly. Getting to know the landscape of a well-loved travel site intimately can make the world seem so much more homey. Re-visiting the same place annually may not be all shiny new bells and whistles, but return holidays do have significant benefits that can't be overlooked.

For the last eight years, my husband's family and I have spent one week of our summers vacationing at a rental home in Invermere, B.C. It is a fantastic way for my husband to reconnect with his mother, and brother and sister and their kids, as we don't live in the same city as them. It is a great way for me to get to know my in-laws much better. It is a perfect chance to exercise our title as "best auntie and uncle" - yes, that's right, the BEST. And since we've had children, it has been an absolute joy to watch our little ones grow close to their older cousins.

The view from our Invermere cabin rental. Loving life this summer!

Occasionally, I get an urge to beg our group to plan a vacation elsewhere. After this long re-visiting one place, I feel like we've seen and done all the area has to offer. I long to go somewhere new, with new sights and experiences to occupy us. Sometimes, I wonder if it wouldn't be better for us to bow out of the trip altogether in favour of a more intimate family trip, with just my husband and our children, to a different part of the globe. And we may do just that, sometime in the future when our children are older and more cognizant of where we go for recreation. But for now, I've listed some of the reasons why I still very much enjoy our annual 'return holiday'.

Enjoying Favorite Sights More Than Once

This may be the biggest reason why it is beneficial to engage in return holidays. It isn't uncommon for travellers to discover places on this earth that are truly breath-taking, places they fall in love with, but then only have the opportunity to enjoy just once. Seljavellir Valley in Iceland is one such place for me, and I hope to return there, but realistically, I probably won't get that chance.

My daughter and I enjoying Lussier Hot Springs' relaxing waters.

When you return year after year (or every other year, or every five years - you get the idea), you do have the chance to revisit your favourite hangouts and enjoy them without the frenetic energy of a first and only stopover. You can linger happily, giving advice to first-timers with the sage wisdom of a true local, and because you are a return holidayer, no one will be able to tell the difference. Maybe. ;)

For example, our favourite spots to lounge around in within the Invermere region of British Columbia include Radium Hot Springs, Fairmont Hot Springs, Lussier Hot Springs (we like hot springs apparently), the Kinsmen Beach, and of course, Gerry's Gelato shop.

My son's first visit to Lussier Hot Springs in British Columbia.

Discovering the More Unusual Places

Trips and vacations are normally short stays, lasting anywhere between three days to three weeks if you are a typical full-time employee at a regular blue or white collar job. (To you 'modern nomads', this whole article, nay this whole blog, will definitely not apply to you. Have fun exploring the world and know that I am extremely jealous of your lifestyle, but I have excellent credit and a nice home that is almost paid off, and I do not intend to give up either.) If you are simply a run-of-the-mill traveler like me, escaping your every day life for a week or so, you don't have a ton of time to soak in one area in depth. You might hit the highlights, see a couple of 'recommended by the locals' stops, and maybe try to take a day or two to just relax and unwind. 

But when you find yourself returning to the same town or region over and over, you will have a chance to see places more off the beaten track. The highlights are still there for you to visit, but you don't need to see them each time you go. Instead, you can explore that strange museum located just off main street, or take that walking tour you didn't have time to sign up for last summer, or try a new hike through a new section of mountains that sounds interesting.

Touring the Kicking Horse Coffee Company's headquarters in Invermere, B.C.

You can also discover new restaurants that aren't found on the main drag, or shop in a small boutique that you might have overlooked last time you were in town. The possibilities are endless when you no longer have a mile-long checklist of things you want to see and do that a newbie might have.

There Really is Always Something New

Just when you think you've exhausted your options in the same old place, something new introduces itself. You might have to get creative, or leave your comfort zone, or even just talk to someone who knows the area well, but you can always find something original to tickle your fancy.

After eight years of traipsing through Invermere, Radium, and Fairmont, my family and I discovered we'd totally missed out on visiting the Panorama resort nearby, with a gondola, mountain views, and great hikes. So that's what we did this year, although the highest mountain view was inaccessible since we didn't want to take a squirmy one year old up a chairlift. But now we have something to look forward to in the future!

On the swaying bridge at B.C.'s Panorama Resort.

Seeing the Place you Visit Change and Grow

That ice cream shop is new! Where did our favourite pizza place go? Aw, the theatre shut down! But wait, there's a new pub right beside the beach! (The last one was my favourite change. Ha ha!)

The now-closed Toby Theatre - it was so quaint!

When you repeatedly vacation somewhere, you notice these changes. The town feels like a home away from home, and any change can cause a certain amount of excitement or nostalgia. It is fun to watch favourite businesses expand. (Gerry's Gelato is in Radium now, not just Invermere. Yum! And Columbia River Runners operates from Kinsmen Beach now. Say, that's handy.) It is also sad to see some go. We really loved the ancient (vintage?) Toby Theatre in town and were upset to see it close down. Although, watching "Dirty Dancing" in the park was pretty fun for a ladies' night out.

Watching "Dirty Dancing" in Invermere's Pothole Park.

Having a Chance to Actually Slow Down and Relax 

As I said before, a typical vacationer usually spends a week or so checking out the hot spots in an area, then taking a couple of local suggestions, but usually reserves a day or two for leisurely relaxation. That's a typical holiday, according to my husband.

I'm not really typical. I like to 'holiday' at breakneck speed. I show up with a list about three pages long filled with things I want to see and do, and an accompanying detailed itinerary, right down to approximate cab fare costs. (The itinerary and three page list aren't suggestions either. Gotta get things done, people!) I actually pity the ladies who are traveling to San Francisco with me next month, and I am sure they will probably hate me after the week is done. Hopefully this post prepares them!

Radium Hot Springs is one of our favourite haunts during our annual B.C. trip.

However... after my eighth time sojourning in Invermere, I have no list. I just show up. I have seen all the highlights, and most of the strange and unusual local sights as well. I come here now to revisit old favourites, maybe find a new spot to explore, and watch my children play with their cousins. I come to play cards with my in-laws, drink some wine, and read on the beach. I come to have a relaxing massage (the only massage I have all year). I am actually forced to slow down and just enjoy my family and my surroundings, because I have no need to obsess over travel itineraries. And for that, I am grateful.

Relaxing at Kinsmen Beach, playing in the sand with my babies.

Of course, this doesn't mean I'm not itching to continue checking off my bucket list items. I can't wait to get up and go, seeing the new and exciting. Eventually, as the older cousins get too big to want to spend their summer with relatives, and my children grow old enough to appreciate travel, we will plan alternate vacations. But I am thankful that we are return holidayers, and cherish all of the wonderful memories we make year after year.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Strolling the Banks of Lovely Lake Louise in Alberta

While I have lived in Alberta, Canada all of my life, I freely admit that I have not yet explored every nook and cranny of my province's various natural regions. It is a big province with much to offer, so there's no shame in admitting that I have a lot left to discover. I AM a little embarrased to reveal, however, that I have never laid my eyes first-hand on one of our most famous gems: Lake Louise.

Well, until this weekend, that is, and I can proudly say that not only did I visit Lake Louise, but I also dipped my feet in the cold, clear water!

My family and I enjoying the gorgeous sight of Lake Louise in Alberta.

Nestled in the majestic Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Lake Louise is probably one of the top 5 tourist destinations in our province. Its blue-green glacial waters, surrounded by towering Rocky Mountain peaks carpeted in green pine trees makes for an idyllic view. Happy yellow and red kayaks and canoes slice silently through the water. The banks of Lake Louise are dotted with large boulders and rocks that allow visitors to take that perfect photograph. And to top it all off, a hotel that resembles a castle overlooks this powerful vista. Millions of tourists flock to this spot every year, and for good reason.

Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. Simply stunning!

My family and I decided to stop at Lake Louise on our way to our annual family vacation in Invermere, British Columbia. With two little ones trapped in the car for a five hour drive, a halfway walk-about is pretty much required. There are several lovely hiking trails around Lake Louise, but for this particular visit we opted to stick to the hour-long trek around the shores of the lake. Even then, we didn't get to complete the entire trail; we had to turn around and go back the way we came when missed nap times became apparent in the form of temper tantrums. Oh dear.

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise from across the lake.

Lake Louise is located in the middle of Banff National Park, and is about 40 minutes north of Banff. If you plan to stop at Lake Louise, even for a half hour visit, you must buy a park pass and display it on your vehicle's front window, or face a hefty ticket. There are several parking lots near Lake Louise, but even so, expect it to be busy. Parking lot attendants really simplified the parking experience for us, ushering us to the nearest empty(ish) parking lot, so I can't complain. Just be aware.

I was very impressed by Lake Louise's beauty. The view is stunning, the lake water is clear, crisp, and an unreal color, and the pathway around the banks of the lake shows off every vista perfectly. It was crowded, but that was to be expected. My daughter especially loved dipping her feet into the cold water and hopping from rock to rock. (She really wanted to go swimming, and it was all we could do to keep her from throwing herself head-first into the ice-cold lake.) I am not 100% convinced that Lake Louise is prettier than the smaller, adjacent Lake Moraine, which is on a level of beauty all of its own. Check out Lake Moraine here.

My daughter trying extremely hard to go swimming in a glacial lake.

I would have liked to hike further, but that will have to wait for later years when we don't have a double-stroller and two kids who haven't napped all day in tow. I can't believe it took me all these years to get my travel-loving self to visit Lake Louise, but I know it won't be the last time. I would really like to hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, which is one of the more famous Lake Louise hikes.

Maybe one day I will get to stay at this swanky hotel!

However, for a quick hour-long stop, I am extremely happy that we had a chance to see just how gorgeous Lake Louise is. Alberta is an amazing place and I know I am lucky to live here!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Jurassic Forest: Go Back in Time in Edmonton, Alberta

edmonton alberta dinosaur park canada

Imagine you are walking through a thick mass of poplar and pine trees, ferns and grasses brushing your legs, sunlight dappling the path before you. Bees and dragonflies buzz through the muggy air, humid after a fresh spring rain. Suddenly, you see movement through the trees ahead, and hear a low, moaning call being answered by a similar cry. As you push apart a curtain of Saskatoon bushes, you are stunned to see a life-sized Parasaurolophus hovering above you, protecting its young. It hollers at you to back off, shaking its head menacingly from side to side.

No, you are not having a daydream about being in the next "Jurassic Park" film instalment. You are wandering through Alberta's Jurassic Forest, one of the province's little-known hidden gems.

Jurassic Forest near Edmonton, Alberta is an excellent family attraction!

I live about an hour away from Alberta's capital city of Edmonton, yet it took a random "travel" search on Pinterest to learn about this Jurassic Forest, an attraction located just outside of Edmonton near a town called Gibbons. As soon as I saw a picture of this magical place, and discovered just how close it was, I knew I had to go. Unfortunately, my online search occurred during the winter months, and upon visiting Jurassic Forest's website, I learned that it was closed until April, when the warmer weather was due to return to our province. So I had to patiently wait.

Finally, this week, I packed my kidlets up into the car and off we went, while my poor hubby was left behind to work. (That only means we get to go back with him at a later date - I'm so excited!) We drove nearly two hours to get to the park, which is about 30 minutes north of Edmonton, but exceedingly easy to find, especially with handy dandy Google Maps.

Is everyone ready to see some moving, talking dinosaurs?

The park is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week, but we didn't get there until almost noon. I was worried it would be super crowded by that time of day, but it really wasn't. We were visiting one day after the long weekend in May had ended, so maybe people were back to their daily grind by then. Plus, it had rained all weekend, so maybe not many people were thinking about trying their hand at an outdoor adventure that day. Regardless, there were only five other cars in the parking lot, so my kids and I basically had the forest paths to ourselves.

The cost to attend is quite reasonable, in my opinion. It was $15 for me at the adult rate, and Avy, being over 2, cost $9. Parker was free. The fee includes all dinosaur trails and admission to the giant sand pit and small 'museum' they have near the entrance. Rides there cost $1, and the mini golf is extra. Visit their webpage to plan your trip, as there are also family passes, adventure passes, and seasonal passes.

The kids didn't like the dinosaurs at first, but they eventually came around.

As soon as we passed the admission area, we wandered into the small museum they have on site. It is really just one room with several displays of dinosaur bones, models, natural elements such as giant wasp nests, and live reptiles. Avy was invited to pet an albino something-or-other (please someone, help me identify it in the photo!). She loved it, and despite only being allowed to pet it with one finger, tried to snatch it away from the lady. Luckily, the lady was too quick for her!

Avy discovers a new love of reptiles.

Doors leading out of the exhibition hall open onto a giant play area for kids, including a sand pit, rope climbing area, slides, and a dinosaur dig zone embedded into the sand pit. Naturally, this was Avy's favourite place. There are also dollar dinosaur rides, where animatronic dinosaurs equipped with saddles offer quick mall-type rides for adults and children. Avy and Parker both refused to go near them.

The giant sand pit area with a rope climbing centre and a dinosaur bone dig.

After playing in the sand pit for what seemed like FOREVER, I finally was able to convince my daughter to climb into the double stroller and take a walk with her brother and I. We began in the South Discovery Trail, and it didn't take long to find our first dinosaur. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised by the set-up! (My kids, on the other hand, were not. They cried over the first couple of dinosaurs - I think they were a little scared of them - but after two or three they began to try and find them in the trees. So it was all good.) The trails are extremely well maintained, and as you can see, are stroller and wheelchair accessible.

We began our journey on the South Discovery Trail.

The dinosaurs are all mounted in a very natural setting amongst the woods, sometimes in an open plain, sometimes shrouded in bushes and branches, waiting patiently for you. All dinosaurs are triggered by a motion sensor set near the trail, which launches them into action. Every display moves and makes sounds (some more convincing than others), and every little scenario does its best to tell a story. One dinosaur is fighting off predators, while another fights with its kin for a piece of meat. A mother dinosaur protects her eggs, while another shelters her young from predators. I loved every one and I think I pretty much recorded them all in my excitement.

A dimetrodon awaits us in the trees at Jurassic Forest.

The North Discovery Trail is basically the same as the South Discovery Trail, just with different dinosaurs and settings. Each trail has a smaller path branching off of it, leading visitors down the journey of evolution. The South Discovery Trail has a path leading off of it that explores the evolution of mammals, while the North Discovery Trail depicts the rise of birds. I liked those, but still preferred the dinosaur displays. The best part is just walking the trails, listening to the sounds of the forest. Before you see any of the dinosaurs, you hear them. I really did feel like I was in a Jurassic Park movie.

The kids were fascinated with the moving, screeching dinosaurs.

Once we had finished walking the trails, we spent another hundred years in the sand pit again. I sat in the concession area with my son, eating a snack, while my daughter decided to get simply filthy before our two hour ride home. (I wasn't making up the 'fresh spring rain' in my scenario at the beginning of the post - that sand was spongey and wet!)

Parker plays with dandelions while Avy submerges herself in wet sand.

Additional activities include walking the trails using a palaeontology guide, which according to their website you can request at the admissions desk, digging dinosaur bones at the sand pit dig site, do a scavenger hunt using a guide which you can pre-print from the website, and stop to have a picnic among the unique Jurassic flora and fauna. When we go back with my husband, I think we will try using the guides to make it a little more educational.

We pose with a triceratops, Daddy's favourite dinosaur, because he couldn't come with us.

All in all, my kids and I spent two and a half hours just cruising around the forest and playing in the activity area. My kids are very young still, so I imagine you could make the day last even longer with the additional use of the scavenger hunt and palaeontology guides, as well as at least one round of mini golf. When I got home and told my friends where we'd been, only 2 in 20 had heard of Jurassic Forest, which I think is a shame. So I'm making it my duty to spread the word, because this place truly is worth it!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What to Expect on a Road Trip Around Scotland

When my husband and I planned our Scotland trip in 2012, we knew we wanted to get out of the cities and explore the country's many castles and cathedrals. However, we did not want to be trapped in a tour bus, seeing the beauty of the Scottish countryside out of a window. So we decided to rent a vehicle, and read up on driving in Scotland. It was a fantastic way to see some of Scotland's sights, but a huge learning experience for us regarding European driving. Some things research just can't prepare you for!

The misty highlands of Scotland are beautiful to drive through.

Of all the things we encountered on the road, here are the five most important "lessons" I'd like to share with you, so you know what to expect on a road trip around Scotland.

Driving on the "Other" Side of the Road is Disconcerting

I live in North America, so naturally I am used to driving on the right hand side of the road. In Scotland, however, it is the opposite. It sounds like a simple thing - just drive on the left side of the road. But it is a strange experience, and a challenge for your brain to become accustomed to. Not only is the vehicle on the opposite side, but all of the levers and handles INSIDE the car as well. Joey, my husband, had to use different hands to shift, different feet to brake, and constantly mixed up the windshield wiper switch with the turning signal.

Joey poses with our trusty rental vehicle - oh, the fun we had together!

Even for the passenger it is a strange matter. I kept freaking out on Joey because it always looked like we were veering off the side of the road. It was only because I was sitting in the seat where usually the driver perches. To me, it felt like we should have been driving significantly more towards the centre line, but that was only because of my perception that my seat was supposed to be centre to the road. It was slightly disconcerting, and more than a few times Joey snapped at me to let him drive, because my paranoia was making him nervous.

Scotland has the best scenery of any road trip!

Eventually we both got used to driving on the left hand side of the road, but it took a few days. The thing that helped the most was driving down smaller country roads versus the highway or busy city streets. It felt more natural driving in the country, and after that driving in the city on the 'opposite' side of the street became more normal.

Rural Roads are Narrow and Passing Places Few

On the road to Loch Ness, we took a route that veered off one of the main highways because we wanted to skirt the lake and see the beautiful views. This meant driving on the country roads, which can be insanely narrow. These are called 'single track roads' and are basically created for one car to drive down - one way only.

One of the narrow single track roads we encountered.

The road we were on wove through several forested areas, cutting through hills and valleys, often with sharp drops on one or both sides of the road. Joey and I fretted about what would happen if we encountered another car coming in the opposite direction. Would we have to back up until we found a flat spot to pull over? Would the other car? How would we know? How do people drive like this?

There are sporadic flattened areas along the side of the road called "Passing Places". This is where slower vehicles can pull over to allow cars and trucks behind them to pass and continue on their way, or where two vehicles heading opposite directions can get past one another without scraping doors. Sometimes drivers honestly need to back up until they reach a passing place to allow oncoming traffic to move through. (Sounds nuts I know, but it is what it is.)

A good ol' 'Passing Place' sign. I'm not sure I'm a fan of this system.

And for the love of Scotland, don't PARK in a passing place. That is one of the most ignorant, not to mention dangerous, things you can do on a single track road.

Other things to remember when driving these narrow single track roads are to slow down near corners or bends to avoid colliding with an oncoming vehicle just past the turn, never speeding, watching for pedestrians or animals on the shoulder (since the shoulder takes up at least half the road!), and not dawdling when there are other drivers behind you, since it could be a long time before they get the opportunity to pass you.

There are Lots and Lots of Roundabouts

In Alberta, we don't have many traffic circles. Of course, we do have them and I know how to use one, but I don't often have the opportunity.

In Scotland, they are everywhere. Traffic signal lights are actually the more rare phenomenon.

A lovely example of a roundabout. Image via.

Five minutes into our first drive using our rental car, we hit a traffic circle that wasn't on our GPS - it was a brand new one at the airport. We, naturally, got lost instantly and ended up parking in a hotel parking lot to regain our bearings. After that initial kerfuffle, using the roundabouts was easy peasy. Just remember to take a wee refresher course on how to properly drive in a traffic circle before you head to Scotland to avoid crashing your vehicle or making the locals angry!

Use That GPS!

Before we even boarded our plane to Scotland, I'd already mapped out driving routes and saved images of driving directions and distances on my phone. I wanted to make sure we didn't get lost and find ourselves out of gas in the middle of nowhere with no rescue in sight. What I didn't account for, however, are the unusual roads and lanes in rural Scotland.

When we were driving through the Lothians on our castle tour, one castle was just off the highway, according to the Google Maps driving directions. It seemed rather simple and straightforward. We could have just puttered along using the map I had downloaded, but Joey, always the practical one, decided to enter the location into the GPS just to be safe.

It isn't all stress and narrow lanes - driving in Scotland can be extraordinarily beautiful and peaceful.

Boy, was I glad he did! The castle was decidedly NOT just 'off the highway', but down meandering country single track lanes, and even a rutted dirt road or two. I felt like we should have been navigating our way using a horse and carriage for most of that excursion, it took us down such a rustic path. Thank goodness we used the GPS, or we would have turned back early into the drive due to fear of getting lost.

Despite the winding route, I really enjoyed that drive. Setting aside the stress that our GPS had lost its mind and was just spitting out random directions for fun, it was lovely seeing the Scottish countryside, dotted with grazing sheep amid the vibrant green hills. Getting lost, or at least thinking you are getting lost, can be fun if you are surrounded by beauty!

So even if your destination seems straightforward, it is always sensible to use the GPS anyway. Because you never know. And you don't want to miss that castle.

Have Fun Discovering Unusual Road Signs

While cruising through the lush and beautiful wilds of Loch Ness, my husband and I continually encountered some very odd road signs posted for drivers. After passing a few different ones, I finally begged Joey to stop the car, and I dashed (through a light mist of rain) back to the sign to take a photograph...

The Scottish truly value their Red Squirrels!

They are very protective of their squirrels over in northern Scotland!  The ironic (and yes, very sad) thing about this is that while we were chuckling over the silly road sign as we continued towards our destination, we saw a flattened red squirrel on the pavement ahead of us. So I guess the signs are necessary after all.

Other strange road signs found in Scotland, but unfortunately un-photographed: "Caution: Cat Crossing"  and "Slow Children at Play". I realize the latter sign was meant to say "Slow - Children at Play" but that lack of hyphen must have done some damage to the self-esteem of those poor kids who live nearby!

Once you have these rules of the road under your belt, driving in Scotland is just the same as driving at home (at home for me being North America). Wear your seat belt, keep your gas tank full, follow the laws of the land, enjoy the scenery, and have an amazing road trip!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Foodie Bucket List: Learn to Make Sushi

"A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." ~ Anonymous

This is one of my favourite quotes, and I apply it to my travel philosophy all the time. Try new things. Experience new places. Meet new people. Get out there and make the most of your life instead of wrapping yourself in the comforts and safety of your own home. At least, when you have the time and money!

However, I realized a while ago that I don't usually apply this to my every day life. Of course, having children was a major step outside of my comfort zone, but now life with my kidlets is the new normal. And once again, I seem to have settled into a daily routine that sometimes threatens to become a rut. 

My sushi supplies all ready to go, minus the seafood.

So... I decided I was going to try something new, and I signed up for a cooking class at our local Lifelong Learning Association. I am a great cook when it comes to the staple meals I love to make: sweet dijon chicken with scalloped potatoes (from a box) and Parmesan asparagus, honey garlic salmon with Asian green beans, and chicken and leek lasagna are a few of my signature dishes. Yes, they have a little flair, but for the most part are simple, easy, and quick to whip up.

But sushi was something that has always been on my bucket list to learn how to create. Today I can confidently say that I now know how to make sushi, at least a basic roll. 

Pressing the rice onto the seaweed paper - so fun!

My class was a small one consisting of eleven 'students' and one teacher, which was nice because she was able to answer our questions and bring us supplies pretty much instantly. She had the rice pre-made for us, so that is something that I will still have to learn to do. (Don't scoff - I'm surprisingly bad at making rice.) Our teacher demonstrated how to make two different types of California rolls, then handed us our supplies and set us loose.

Adding my tasty fillings - cucumber, avocado, and carrot so far...

I was amazed at how easy it is to make sushi. I always thought that it would be a long, drawn-out process, but I was wrong. The most time-consuming aspect is the preparation - making the rice, cutting the vegetables, blanching some vegetables (such as carrots or asparagus), and shopping for supplies. But once you are prepared, you can whip out rolls like you are a one-woman factory! Our teacher even gave us some tips to make prep even easier, such as cut your veggies the evening before, and cook the rice in the morning, then put it into a roaster and have it stay warm until you are ready to roll (literally). 

My favourite part was the actual rolling process, where you roll, pull the mat out, squish, roll, pull the  mat out, squish, and on and on until the sushi roll is nicely compacted and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I also had fun mashing the sticky rice onto the seaweed paper with wet fingers (you MUST use wet fingers or you will have rice attached to them for the rest of your days). 

Making sure my hands are nice and wet so the rice doesn't get glued to my skin.

Because of the small size of the class, I was able to make three full rolls - one traditional California roll with the crab sticks, one roll with shrimp, and one roll with shrimp, crab AND smoked salmon. Yum! Dinner for tonight is done!

I am glad that I stepped out of my culinary comfort zone and tried learning a new cooking skill. Now that I know how simple sushi is to make, I know I can add it to the usual rotation of yummy dinners that I like to feed my family. And if I ever travel to Japan - which might be in the works! Stay tuned! - I can take a class there and build on my knowledge base. 

My finished products, before slicing them into pieces. They look pretty!

If you have a sushi-making class in your area, I encourage you to try it! It is tons of fun, very informative, and the best part, extremely tasty!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

10 Things For People With Itchy Feet To Do When They CAN'T Travel

Not able to travel? Here are some suggestions on how to stay inspired while stuck at home!

If you are like me, you are addicted to traveling. Your daydreams are all about discovering new places and experiencing everything the world has to offer. Your home decor revolves around fitting in knick-knacks from all corners of the Earth. Your feet are perpetually itching to move.

But life has other plans for you. For me, it was two babies in two years, which meant I had to quit my job and our family moved down to one income. Granted, my husband earned a fantastic promotion, but with his promotion also came a demand for increased work hours on his part. We have responsibilities like never before, and payments constantly depleting our bank account. (Am I complaining? NEVER! I am happier than I have ever been and enjoy *almost* every second with my little ones. Stinky bums and tantrums in the grocery store excluded.)

Yet the dream to travel the world will not fade. I am only on a hiatus from travel, and I vow to return!

So what does a travel-bug-infected dreamer do when NOT able to travel? Here are some fun ideas to keep people like you and me inspired when our itchy feet are tied to the floor!

1. Make future trip itineraries 

I have been spending a ridiculous amount of time planning future trips that I may or may not ever go on. (Shh. Don't tell my husband. He thinks I've been *cleaning the house*. Pfft.) I have detailed and extensive plans for trips to the Amalfi coast, Poland, the Grand Canyon, New Zealand, and the California coast to name a few. They go day-by-day, with sights to see on each day, opening times, admission fees, distances between stops, driving times - you name it! 

My itineraries stop just short of naming exact hotels to stay at, and specific pricing for car rentals and flight plans. But if we ever did select one of these itineraries, I'd have the hotels, flights, and car rentals locked down in a matter of hours. I keep telling myself that having a fun trip pre-organized in this way will make it more likely that we will eventually go.

Planning future trips gives me great joy. Image via.

2. Create trip-specific Pinterest boards

It is easy to go click-crazy when pinning beautiful travel destinations you see on Pinterest. I admittedly have a "Travel Bucket List" board on my Pinterest account where I slam images willy-nilly in a frenzy of "Ooh, I want to go there!" madness. But that board, so full of amazing visuals yet so disorganized, can also make it feel like the world is a huge, overwhelming place and I'll never get to see it all.

To stay inspired and to hold on to that feeling of hope - yes, there is hope that I might be able to see even a portion of my bucket list - I try to spend a little time in the evening, after the kids are asleep, to pick apart my "Travel Bucket List" Pinterest board. I will choose a destination that seems to keep popping up, such as Brazil for example, and combine all of the Brazil photos from the scattered "Travel Bucket List" board onto just a "Brazil" board. This might sound a little OCD, but in the end, it helps me feel like I'm better prepared for the moment when my husband announces, quite out of the blue, "Hey, I bought us two first-class tickets to Brazil. We leave in two weeks."

Some of my more organized travel boards.

3. Work on photo albums or scrapbooks of past trips

Sometimes it is helpful, when you are in the throes of wishing and praying for an all-expenses-paid world trip, to look back on the places you have been lucky enough to visit and just be grateful. Having a little perspective helps to reel me in when I start whining about wanting to begin traveling again. Yes, my travel bucket list remains largely unexplored, but many people would be thrilled to see some of the things I have been able to see. 

I use digital scrapbooking to memorialize my travel photos and memories. I have been trying to use this break in travel to catch up on all my trip albums and to feel thankful for the places I have been.

My scrapbook for our 2013 Mexico trip.

4. Learn a new language for a future trip

I really, really, really want to use my Amalfi coast travel itinerary in the near future. Italy is so gorgeous, and the Amalfi coast is one of Italy's gems in my humble opinion. I'd love to travel there, either with my kids or with just my husband - I don't really care as long as I get there.

But since this trip doesn't look like it is coming to fruition anytime soon - hey, we need a backyard fence more than a trip so my children don't get squished on the road - I will invest a little time in future travel preparations. Learning a new language doesn't happen magically overnight, so if I want to travel to the Amalfi coast within three years time, I should have plenty of opportunities to grasp the basics of Italian. I use a free program called 'busuu' that can be downloaded to your computer, or as an app on your phone. Every few nights, I spend a bit of time learning some new words and phrases. This makes me feel like I really WILL be going to Italy, but I'm not panicked about learning the language quickly, because we all know I won't be going any time soon. Unless that lotto ticket ends up being the winning one!

Learning a new language is time-consuming - be thankful you have a travel break! Image via.

5. Try foreign foods in nearby restaurants

With today's society a veritable cultural melting pot, there are always new restaurants available for you to test out foreign foods. Once Vietnamese food was a strange and scary sounding notion - today I start salivating whenever someone mentions grabbing some for take-out. I actually want some now. 

Before heading to a country, it is always a good idea to educate yourself on its food - both its traditional and modern dishes. Then, if you have restaurants nearby that serve similar cuisine, go try it! Usually the meals here are more Westernized, but you will still get an idea of what suits your palate and what doesn't. On my list to try is the new Ethiopian restaurant which opened in our city - what's on yours?

Try a new dish while waiting for your chance to eat in-country! Image via.

6. Learn to cook an exotic dish

Not everyone lives in an area where culturally-diverse restaurants abound. I grew up in such a place. My little hometown's most exotic meal was served in a Chinese food restaurant that also coincidentally served the best burgers and fries. So I get it. 

Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. If you want to experience a country's national dish but don't have an establishment in your area that cooks it, cook it yourself! It may call for some strange ingredients that you don't recognize, and you might have to try a method you've never heard of before (and needed to Google), but you may surprise yourself. 

If you have to wait three years before you travel to the country itself, that will give you tons of time to perfect your cooking skills. Then you can impress the locals with what you know once you arrive!

Learn to cook something exotic so you feel like you are travelling.

7. Read books about life in a distant country

These can be legitimate travel books, such as guidebooks or non-fiction books, but you can also use fiction to inspire your sleeping travel bug. I like to use both - the guidebooks give me a realistic idea of places to visit, things to watch out for, and how much money I might need to bring. The fiction books give me a sense of how a place might 'feel', or what it might have been like at a certain time. 

Historical fictions often romanticize a location, and once you get to where you want to go, you can sink back into your memories of the novel and imagine yourself strolling the same streets. Then be sure to use the guidebook to make sure you are actually on the right street.

Reading can take you anywhere! Image via.

8. Use documentaries to research a country you'd like to visit 

If reading just isn't your bag, baby, then you could try spending a nice evening with a bowl of popcorn and a documentary about traveling. The documentary could be country-specific, teaching you about the customs, the culture, and the history of a place. Videos such as these are extremely helpful in preparing you for a future visit, and although not as detailed as guidebooks, can give you a good idea on what you might get to see and do once there.

I also enjoy a good general travel documentary every now and then. Netflix has a great one called "Departures" which follows two Canadian gentlemen in their 20s as they roam the great, wide world. (I'm always a supporter of my fellow Canucks.) You can add frantically to your own bucket list as you watch them explore some of the more unusual spots on the globe.

9. Watch movies set in a country you'd like to visit

Not everyone is a documentary person, and that's okay. There are plenty of travel-motivating movies out there produced by Hollywood and the like. Alas, not every country on your bucket list will be featured, but there are a surprising amount of destination-related films available. You might not learn one single thing about the country you are viewing except how much you truly want to visit, and that's okay too.

Movies and documentaries can stave off the pain of not traveling for at least two hours. Image via.

10. Connect with other travellers on Facebook and Twitter and share experiences

If you really want to prepare for a future trip, regardless of how soon you will actually be visiting (or if ever), you will want to hear your advice straight from the horse's mouth. Find Twitter channels about or from your destination location, and connect with other Twitter users who can direct you to other useful Twitter users. They can find you almost any information you desire.

Find a Facebook page or group from that country, and ask to join. Then ask all the questions you may have about what to see, how to see it, when to go, what the locals recommend, etc. You might make some valuable friends who can help you out when you do finally choose to make your journey. I myself have been personally and enthusiastically invited to dine by the gentleman who runs a cute cafe I want to visit in Warsaw. Use the power of social media to make your trip daydream a firm reality!

Social media is a great way to connect with the world when not traveling the world.

What else do you adventurers out there do when your adventure opportunities are slow? Share in the comments below!