Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Explore 'The Home of 1000 Faces' in Radium B.C.


For a decade now, my family along with various members of my husband's family, have been vacationing for a week in Invermere, British Columbia. We rent a house (loosely called a 'cabin' by us), plan our meals, pack games and the Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville mixer, and spend a week enjoying laughs, family companionship, and various adventures.

However, even though we've been visiting the area for ten years solid, we somehow skipped exploring the wacky and unexpected 'Home of 1000 Faces' in Radium. Oh, we had seen it from the outside - how could you miss it? But we had never gone inside to see what it was all about. This year we decided to give it a fair shot, and were happy that we did.

Just a couple of examples of the detailed carvings at the 'Home of 1000 Faces'.

From what we had heard from locals, the 'Home of 1000 Faces' is basically the home of a very talented woodcarver who decided to open his doors to the public and turn his living quarters into a museum and tourist attraction using his wooden wares. For 38 years, woodcarver and artist Rolf Heer has been adding to his collection and attraction, making it better and better for a more interesting experience. And he knows what he's doing - he has been woodcarving decorative and custom-made pieces for over 40 years. (Thanks, Rolf, for calling and confirming that for me! I appreciate the phone call!)

To start with, the outside is completely adorned with life-sized wooden carvings of faces, people, and figures. A wall of cheerful, jaunty hand-painted signs offer words of encouragement, sarcasm, and humour to those passing by in their vehicles as they cruise along the road. The whole ensemble looks a little kooky and somewhat daunting - what IS this place?!? is the reaction that comes to mind - but truly, give it a chance.

The crazy exterior of the 'Home of 1000 Faces' shouldn't intimidate you.

We parked our truck in the small gravel parking lot along the side of the building and trekked to the unassuming front door. There were several signs on the door, including a handwritten note instructing us to ring the bell and wait for Rolf, and another note inviting visitors to come on in. We knocked, and when Rolf didn't magically appear, we followed the instructions on the second note and wandered tentatively inside.

The first room we entered looked like the heart of the wood shop, right there past the main doors. Bundles of wood, saws, axes, power tools, and chisels - everything was resting patiently, waiting to be used by their owner. But the owner himself was not in sight. Unsure if we should walk any further, Joey and I hesitated. Luckily, we have two small, excitable children who barged right in to the next room, and so we had no choice but to follow.

The first room we entered in the 'Home of 1000 Faces' displayed all of Rolf's tools.

Past the workshop (if that is what it was), we entered what I could only assume was a gallery and showroom for Rolf's amazing pieces. When the sign says "Home of 1000 Faces", one can assume there should be at least 1000 carved faces on the premise. I didn't start counting, but I don't think I needed to. Wooden visages lined the walls and tables, each exquisitely carved in detail and ranging in size, thickness, expression, and facial hair (although, to be fair, about 99% of the faces had long, Gandalf-esque beards).

Some carvings on display in Rolf's gallery.

My favourite piece in the gallery wasn't a face carving at all, but a massive, elaborate, and stunning table, carved and polished to a shine. My house is too small for a table such as that, but if I owned a mansion with a large front foyer, that table would be sitting smack in the middle to be sure! It was gorgeous!

Still we had not seen Rolf. But we did hear voices floating down to us from above, and so we assumed it was okay for us to be wandering about in his house. We left the gallery and walked outside onto the large wooden patio, where more faces, sculptures, and a giant purple bra were set on display. I don't know the story behind the bra; I didn't ask. It is bigger than a van, maybe a double D, a deep shade of violet, and it is hanging on the wall above the main patio. So there's that.

A wall of colourful faces at the "Home of 1000 Faces".

Past the main patio, a ramp leads down into a small courtyard, filled with unusual objects like old doors hanging from corrugated tin walls, an old refrigerator slumped in the dirt, door hanging open on broken hinges, and a semi-circle of carved faces as big as totem poles. My little family entered the courtyard cautiously, unsure of what the place was all about. We saw a family across from us, huddled near the fridge looking somewhat terrified.

"Something is up," I told my husband, and just then my son narrowly missed getting blasted in the face with an arc of cold water. Hands in the air, he came running back to us. My daughter laughed in delight: it was a water gauntlet, and the challenge was to run from one end to the other while trying to stay dry. My son was having NONE OF IT, so we left to continue exploring and eventually watched my husband and daughter run the gauntlet from a balcony on the second floor.

My son happy to be nowhere near the water.

The gauntlet looked super fun. Hidden in the walls and even buried in the dirt were jets of water, either on a timer or motion sensor (I'm not really sure). Various obstacles provided protection (hence the open fridge door), and some were actually traps. The circle of totem pole faces looked like protection, but once you were safely ensconced inside, jets of water kept blasting past the opening and you suddenly were stuck. It was quite hilarious watching people struggle to escape. My husband and daughter did a fairly decent job at staying dry.

The water gauntlet area. 

I was a little jealous that I didn't get to run the gauntlet, but my son was quite content not getting blasted with chilly water. So we kept exploring.

On the top floor, after seeing even more elaborate sculptures and carvings, we found Rolf. He was chatting with another visiting couple about the goat walk. Yes, Rolf has a goat walk on the top of his house. He keeps at least two pet goats that I saw, and they live in a 'goat chalet' on the roof of the 'Home of 1000 Faces' in quite a lovely set-up. They had several boardwalks and runways to explore, green grass to eat, and a bucket filled with soda crackers and taco chips that happy tourists were willing to feed them. A pretty good life if you are goat, if you ask me.

My daughter enjoyed her goat feeding experience, and no one got bitten! Always a plus.

Rolf happily let the goats out of the chalet and encouraged them to wander down the goat walk to the feeding area. Then he politely allowed the lot of us to take photos with him: I couldn't resist as he was decked out in a fantastically eccentric costume. He is a quiet, shy man so beyond posing for the photos and answering a couple of basic questions, he didn't say too much.

Rolf sure stands out - we knew he had to be the owner instantly!

My kids had a wonderful time feeding the goats. We quickly learned that the goats preferred the taco chips over the soda crackers, but were relatively happy with whatever they got. There was also a brave, brave squirrel who continually risked the crushing affections of my children in a quest to get at the food bucket. They tried but did not succeed in catching him and taking him home as a pet (okay, that might have been me who wanted to take him home as a pet).

My son loved feeding the goats.

Admission for this little funhouse museum is $4 for adults and $2 for children, so it isn't expensive by any means. We stayed for about one hour, and after that, felt like we had seen all there was to see. But it definitely was something worth visiting at least once if you are in the Radium area. For more information on Rolf himself (he is fascinating person) visit his website. Be sure to click on the "More" link - cheeky monkey!


Saturday, August 5, 2017

12 Day Travel Itinerary for Iceland


Many people have emailed me requesting more information on how we planned, organized, and timelined our 2013 trip to Iceland. I already have several posts highlighting the amazing feats of nature that we encountered in Iceland, as well as the fascinating man-made sights, but each post is basically a stand-alone story designed to be read on its own. I guess I wanted my posts to be able to be read individually so that people could decide whether or not to include that particular sight in their own personal travel plans.

However, some of my readers have asked me questions such as, "How far did you drive in a day?" or, "How many sights mentioned in your posts were you able to see in one day?" So I thought I would pull up my old travel itinerary from four years ago and share it in a printable format so that others could use it as a base to plan their own adventure.

Please keep in mind that this itinerary only skirts the southern portion of Iceland - we weren't able to drive the entirety of the Ring Road due to time constraints and because of how much we stopped to explore along the way. If we had skipped a lot of the sights we saw, or stayed an extra four or five days, we would have been able to drive the entire loop of the country. So factor that into your travel plans if you must.

Without further ado, here is how I plan a travel itinerary and what we saw and did in fourteen days in Iceland!

There are so many unique and beautiful things to see in Iceland!

DAY ONE: FLIGHT DAY

SIGHTS: None
ACCOMMODATION: Uncomfortable airplane seat
TRANSPORTATION: Airplane
COSTS: Flight ticket, meals at airport layovers

We opted for the red eye flight out of Calgary and skipped around the North American continent for almost a full day before landing in Keflavik. (Calgary, Seattle, Boston, then over the ocean to Iceland).

DAY TWO: KEFLAVIK / REKJAVIK

SIGHTS: The Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik (Laugavegur Street shopping)
ACCOMMODATION: Reykjavik hostel (Guesthouse 101)
TRANSPORTATION: Bus
COSTS: Blue Lagoon ticket, bus ticket, breakfast at airport, hotel, dinner expenses

We landed in the morning in Keflavik, and I was bleary-eyed and exhausted from the last leg of our journey (you can read about why in my Blue Lagoon post). We gathered our luggage and boarded a bus to the Blue Lagoon - I had secured tickets and transportation to the Blue Lagoon in advance from Canada during my trip planning. We spent a few hours enjoying the hot springs at the Blue Lagoon before boarding our bus again and driving into Reykjavik. The bus dropped us off at our hostel where we slept until dinner time, then we explored Laugavegur Street with all of its shops and restaurants. We ate dinner, then went back to the hostel and slept again.

DAY THREE: EXPLORE REYKJAVIK

SIGHTS: Hallgrimskirkja, Harpa Opera & Concert Hall, The Harbour, Einer Jonsson Sculpture Garden, City Pond, Icelandic Phallological Museum, The Pearl, Hop-On Hop Off Bus (optional)
ACCOMMODATION: Reykjavik hostel (Guesthouse 101)
TRANSPORTATION: On foot
COSTS: Hotel, breakfast, lunch, dinner, Hallgrimskirkja viewing deck fee, Icelandic Phallological Museum admission, Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tickets (optional)

We explored Reykjavik by foot on this day. We did NOT do the hop-on hop-off bus because we realized that Reykjavik isn't really that big and we could reach most of what we wanted to see by walking. The Pearl was the only thing too far away to access by foot. We stopped to eat when we found interesting restaurants, and we did spend a little money doing some souvenir shopping this day.

DAY FOUR: GOLDEN CIRCLE BUS TOUR & REYKJAVIK

SIGHTS: Geysir (particularly Strokkur), Gulfoss, Pingvellir National Park, Icelandic countryside
ACCOMMODATION: Reykjavik hostel (Guesthouse 101)
TRANSPORTATION: Tour Bus
COSTS: Hotel, breakfast, lunch, dinner, tour tickets, souvenirs (optional)

After a light breakfast in the hotel cafe, we boarded our tour bus to explore Iceland's "Golden Circle", which includes a magnificent geyser named Strokkur, a powerful double waterfall named Gulfoss, and a national park that houses Iceland's continental divide, Pingvellir National Park. We returned around dinnertime, ate our meal, and rested and packed up, since we were leaving the hotel the next morning. We also went grocery shopping at this time, because we intended on camping for the next leg of our journey, and we needed some supplies.

DAY FIVE: DRIVE TO SKOGAR

SIGHTS: hot springs along highway, Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Skogar, lava fields, countryside
ACCOMMODATION: Skogar campground
TRANSPORTATION: Rental SUV
COSTS: Car rental, breakfast, lunch, dinner (groceries), campground fee

This day marked the beginning of our Iceland road trip. We loaded up the SUV, checked out of the hotel, and turned on the GPS (it is highly recommended that you use GPS to get around Iceland, even with the one Ring Road being your main road). Right out of Reykjavik we started to see really neat landscapes, lava fields, and 'wild' hot springs along the side of the road. We first visited Seljalandsfoss and hiked under the waterfall, then drove on to Skogar and camped beside the thundering Skogafoss waterfall. The campground was reasonably priced, and we used our back-country camping gear that we had packed from Canada to cook a cheap dinner in order to save money.

DAY SIX: DRIVE TO VIK

SIGHTS: Skogafoss hike, Skogar museum, sod houses, Seljavellir valley, town of Vik
ACCOMMODATION: Vik hostel (Hotel Lunda)
TRANSPORTATION: Rental SUV
COSTS: Car Rental, Skogar museum admission, groceries for breakfast and dinner, cafe lunch, hostel fee, golf admission and rentals

On the morning of Day 6, we hiked up to the top of the Skogafoss waterfall, then visited the town of Skogar and explored the museum and sod houses. After packing up our campsite at Skogar, we backtracked a little bit on the highway to Seljavellir valley to soak in an unreal hidden and free hot spring. After a wonderful morning there, we continued down the Ring Road to Vik. We arrived in the afternoon, found a place to stay, and I explored the town and beaches while Joey golfed. We cooked our dinner in the hostel kitchen to save money.

DAY SEVEN: DRIVE TO KIRKJUBAEJARKLAUSTUR 

SIGHTS: Dyrholaey Nature Preserve, Fjaorargljufur Canyon, town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur
ACCOMMODATION: Kirkjubaejarklaustur campground
TRANSPORTATION: Rental SUV
COSTS: Car rental, groceries for all three meals, campground fee

In the morning we checked out of the hostel, and backtracked to the Dyrholaey Nature Preserve to make friends with the puffins and explore the unique terrain. Then we drove down the Ring Road, past Vik and onwards, to the amazing Fjaorargljufur Canyon, where we spent most of the afternoon. Finally we hit the town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur in time to set up camp and eat a late dinner made on our camp stove. We ate nothing but the groceries we had purchased this day to save money, and all of the hiking we did was free.

DAY EIGHT: DRIVE TO HOFN

SIGHTS: Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon, lava fields, glaciers, roadside stops, town of Hofn, Hofn pool
ACCOMMODATION: Hofn hostel (Hvammur Guesthouse)
TRANSPORTATION: Rental SUV
COSTS: Car rental, Jokulsarlon tour package, groceries for breakfast and dinner, restaurant lunch, hostel fee, pool admission

This day and the next day were the biggest driving days, since there's really not much for accommodations between Kirkjubaejarklaustur and the town of Hofn except Skaftafell National Park, and we weren't planning on stopping there. So we just drove and drove. We broke up the drive by stopping at roadside waterfalls, exploring the spongey lava fields (stay on the paths!), and buying an amphibious boat tour in the amazing Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon. Jokulsarlon is a DO NOT MISS attraction, so factor this into your travel plans! Once we finally arrived in Hofn after our long day of driving, we got settled in the hostel and then went swimming in the Hofn town pool, which was really nice.

DAY NINE: DRIVE BACK TO KIRKJUBAEJARKLAUSTUR 

SIGHTS: Skaftafell National Park, Svartifoss waterfall
ACCOMMODATION: Kirkjubaejarklaustur campground
TRANSPORTATION: Rental SUV
COSTS: Car rental, groceries for breakfast and lunch, dinner in Kirkjubaejarklaustur, campground fee

At this point, we realized we had to kind of high-tail it back to Reykjavik in order to catch our flight out of Iceland, so we used Hofn as our turning point and headed back west. On the way back to the campground at Kirkjubaejarklaustur, we used the backtrack opportunity to check out Skaftafell National Park, which we missed on the way to Hofn due to weather. We did some basic hiking and stopped at the famous Svartifoss waterfall. Back at the Kirkjubaejarklaustur campground, we wandered around the town, relaxed, played cards, and enjoyed some much needed downtime after the oodles of sightseeing we had already done.

DAY TEN: DRIVE TO HVERGERDI

SIGHTS: Hvegerdi hot springs, hotel pool
ACCOMMODATION: Hotel in Hvergerdi (Hotel Ork)
TRANSPORTATION: Rental SUV
COSTS: Car rental, groceries for breakfast, cafe lunch, hotel dinner, hotel fee

We were really winding down at this point, and I was sick and tired of camping. So we splurged a little on the fancier Hotel Ork, and enjoyed eating good quality food, sleeping in proper beds, and just feeling a little pampered. (Hotel Ork isn't THAT fancy, but after tents and hostels, I felt like a queen.) We arrived in Hvergerdi around lunch time after driving from Kirkjubaejarklaustur, and since the trip was coming to an end, we ate lunch and dinner in restaurants since our groceries were running out. We explored the town, which is literally steaming due to excessive thermal action, and just relaxed at our hotel.

DAY ELEVEN: DRIVE TO REYKJAVIK

SIGHTS: hot springs along highway, lava fields, countryside
ACCOMMODATION: Rekjavik hostel
TRANSPORTATION: Rental SUV
COSTS: Car rental, breakfast, lunch, dinner, hostel fee

We cruised into Reykjavik and found our new hostel, arranged pick up for our rental vehicle, then sat in a pub and enjoyed our last evening in Iceland. Our hostel was overpriced and dirty, and I hated it. I am looking for it online now, and don't see it, so thankfully it must have closed down. I won't even bring up the name. But it did the trick, since we had to get up in the wee hours of the night to catch our bus to the airport, so I didn't even really sleep much on the bed, which I suspected did not have fresh sheets. Yuck!

DAY TWELVE: FLY FROM KEFLAVIK

SIGHTS: countryside to Iceland, Keflavik airport
ACCOMMODATION: uncomfortable airline seat again
TRANSPORTATION: shuttle bus, airplane
COSTS: Shuttle fee, airline ticket, meals, souvenirs and snacks at the airport

That about sums up the trip. We caught our shuttle, arrived at the airport, and boarded our plane smoothly. The Keflavik airport is nice and straightforward, so there's no getting mixed up about where you have to go. It was in the process of undergoing renovations when we were there, so I can only imagine it got better from that point on.

We certainly hope to go back to Iceland - see you there?

Hopefully this travel itinerary helps anyone out there who is considering doing a tour of Iceland, or is in the midst of planning one. We had such a great time, and I encourage others to design their own road trip rather than purchasing a bus package. For more tips, read my post on what to expect on a road trip around Iceland, and of course, I have a blog post about almost every sight I have listed on this itinerary (I will link them as much as I can to make finding the posts easy for you).

Would you add anything to this itinerary? Keep in mind this is just the southern portion of the island. My husband and I would like to return to Iceland and explore the western and northern regions, as I am sure we missed out by not visiting! Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Coast Hillcrest Hotel in Revelstoke: Hotel Review


During a recent visit to Revelstoke with my family (my Mother's Day / birthday getaway), we had the pleasure of staying in Revelstoke's Coast Hillcrest Hotel. I have noticed that my readers seem to enjoy hotel review blog posts, so I thought I'd share a little about this mountain resort getaway for anyone planning on making a trek out to the region.

The Coast Hillcrest Hotel as seen from the front. Image via.

My husband chose this hotel based on the balance between its price and star-rating. With mostly positive, glowing reviews, and a fairly average price considering the amenities, it seemed like a happy medium of 'you get what you pay for'. My husband was looking for a place with a nice restaurant, a hot tub, a beautiful mountain view, clean rooms, and easy access to town without being right smack downtown, and the Coast Hillcrest met every requirement all at a decent price.

For those of you looking to walk everywhere in Revelstoke, the Coast Hillcrest might not be your first pick. It is located just on the edge of town, and is not even really connected to Revelstoke. It would be quite a hike to get to the downtown area, so we simply drove into town each time considering we were hauling two toddlers with us everywhere we went. However, I liked the fact that it wasn't connected to Revelstoke - it had a 'cabin in the woods' feel and you were literally surrounded by nature.

The lobby at the Coast Hillcrest is part cabin-in-the-woods, part hotel retreat.

The hotel was comfortable, spacious, and reminded me of a hunting lodge, albeit a hunting lodge designed for someone very, very rich. By no means was the hotel 'glamorous' or pretentious: there weren't crystal chandeliers dripping from the ceiling or chocolates on the pillows, but it was luxurious enough. (Granted, I live in a house terrorized daily by two crazy children, so any hotel at this point is pure luxury to me!)

When you first enter the lobby, you see a large, open area filled with plush couches, grand fireplaces, a pool table and TVs waiting for you to turn on. Free coffee and lemon water are available, and the restaurant and lounge are conveniently located through a set of doors just off of the lobby's 'living room' area.

We had the kids with us, otherwise we'd have spent a couple of evening relaxing in this lobby!

Past the lobby's sitting area, you will step out onto the outdoor terrace, which features a hot tub, garden swing, fire table, and a fantastic view of the mountains. The terrace is split between the hot tub recreation area and the restaurant patio. Both look out onto a wide panorama of the mountain range found just beyond the town of Revelstoke. Below the terrace is a swath of green grass decorated with vibrant flower gardens. One flower garden fills an old wooden chuck wagon, which I thought was clever.

The amazing view of the mountains from the balcony hot tub at the Coast Hillcrest.

Other amenities include a 'spa' area on the bottom floor, which boasts a second hot tub, steam room, mini gym, and sauna. There is also a real spa where you can pay for a massage, but it wasn't open while we were there. There is no swimming pool, but my kids love to swim, so we spent time in both hot tubs for variety's sake.

Our room was fairly average for a hotel, but it was clean, bright, and had a large shared balcony that had a stellar vista of the mountain range. The washroom had a large shower but no bathtub. Our kids usually like to bathe, but the large shower enabled us to drag the kids in with us one at a time and get them clean when we needed to. I really enjoyed the full-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles: no teeny tiny little sample bottles for the Coast Hillcrest!

Our bright and clean room at the Coast Hillcrest Hotel.
I loved the full-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner, but I wasn't sure if I could take them home!

We sat out on the balcony a lot, and the only bad thing about the shared balcony aspect was that my kids continually tried to sneak into other people's rooms. Good thing everyone remembered to lock their doors!

The shared balcony that our kids loved, and the green space beyond.

We ate one dinner at the hotel restaurant, and it was excellent. Since our kids are young and were more than ready to splash about in the hot tub, we ate an early dinner that night. Subsequently, we had the entire terrace to ourselves, and our kids thought it was hilarious that Mommy and Daddy ate at one table, and the kids got another table entirely to themselves. Our waitress ensured us it was okay after I fretted about her having to clean two tables, which made the kids very excited! The food was excellent, and my husband and I ordered some local craft beer from the Mount Begbie brewery. It was perfect.

Enjoying dinner and a local craft beer on the restaurant terrace. (No craft beer for Avy!)

Our little family stayed three nights at the hotel. We had originally only booked for two nights, but we were having such fun exploring Revelstoke and liked the hotel so much that it was a no-brainer to stay the third night and then just have a relaxing drive home in the morning the next day.

The kids' favourite part of our hotel - the hot tub!

My favourite part of the Coast Hillcrest Hotel was the amazing view of the mountains it offered, and the laid-back but always friendly hospitality of the establishment. I would go back in a heartbeat. In fact, when we got back from our little vacation, our neighbours asked us where we had stayed and when we told them, they admitted they come to this very hotel every year for their anniversary. So that also says a lot about the hold this place can have on you!

Enjoy the hotel tour video below. If you have ever stayed in the Coast Hillcrest Hotel at Revelstoke, share your thoughts and experiences below in the comments section!