D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France

Aug 30

Juno Beach, Normandy, France

Juno Beach, Normandy, France

D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France

When I was planning my trip to the London Olympics, I noted that I had a few days without any Olympic events. I had been to London twice previously (go check out my Top 10 London Sights Here: Part 1 and Part 2) so thought I’d hit up the Chunnel and go to Paris. I got thinking even more, well if I’m in Paris, why not pop into Normandy to do the beaches? So my trip went from London to include Paris and Normandy. I decided to visit the cities of Rouen, Caen and Bayeux and of course visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France.

I was only able to visit three of the beaches due to car trouble on the day I planned for the other two. Sadly I missed out on the British beaches but I was happy to visit the Canadian D-Day beach of Juno and the American Utah and Omaha.

D-Day was a very important day during WWII: it finally opened up a second front. The Russians desperately had needed that second front since they had been holding off the Germans in the East since 1942. British Prime Minster declared, “it is the Russian armies who have done the main work in tearing the guts out of the German army.”

By the end of the first day, around 156,000 troops landed in Normandy. Paris would be liberated by August 25, 1944, less than three months after the Allied Forces landed in France.

[Tiny note about stats in this article: depending on the source, they may differ slightly and I have focused on the beach landings, not including the air units or paratroopers at this time]

Juno Beach

Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces, was planned for June 6, 1944 after a delay due to weather. Forces from Canada, Great Britain and the United States planned to land on five beaches (D-Day Beaches), crossing the English Channel. The Canadian forces landed on Juno Beach while Great Britain landed on Gold and Sword, with the United States on Utah and Omaha.

Juno Beach has a lovely centre that was built ten years ago. The Juno Beach Centre displays Canada’s participation during WWII and D-Day invasion. Right in front of the centre, there is a German observation bunker. I was able to go inside since I signed up for the tour (I was the only one signed up – awesome to have a one-on-one guide for an hour). The bunker would have informed and coordinated with the German army during D-Day.

By the end of D-Day, around 20,000 Canadians landed on Juno Beach and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had moved inland further than any other forces that day. Canada’s casualties totaled 1074, including injured and missing.

German Observation Bunker, Juno Beach, D-Day Beaches, Normandy

German Observation Bunker, Juno Beach, Normandy


Next up is the American beach of Omaha. This had the strongest German defenses of the five beaches and the casualties were high; it was nicknamed Bloody Omaha. This area is composed of steep cliffs which rise one hundred feet above the sea stretching six miles, the largest of the five beach landings. Roughly 34,000 soldiers landed on Omaha Beach resulting in over 3000 casualties.

Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

The American cemetery at the top of the Omaha beach cliff contains over 9000 graves. In fact, this piece of land was given to the United States by France so you are standing on American soil. The grounds are meticulously groomed and it is emotional place to visit.

American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy

American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy


The last beach I visited was Utah, which is three miles long. The American forces landed with little resistance (due to accidentally landing two miles from their intended target) and roughly 23,000 soldiers landed on Utah.  Due to the light resistance, American forces on Utah saw only a fraction of the casualties as they did on Omaha. Roughly 197 perished on Utah in total, including 60 missing.

Utah Beach, Normandy, France

Utah Beach, Normandy, France

25,000 Brits landed on Gold Beach with 28,000 on Sword while casualties, including injured and missing, totaled around 1000 for Gold and 1000 for Sword. In total, over 156,000 troops landed in Normandy on D-Day – June 6, 1944.

By the end of June 11th, there would be over 300,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles, and 100,000 tons of supplies.

I took a tour for the American beaches which worked out nicely: nice to have transportation and everything already arranged. Plus the tour guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining! So if you want to tour the US beaches, go check out Overlord Tours.

So have you been to the Normandy beaches? What did you think?

Update June 6, 2014: Today is the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, D-Day. I was lucky enough to visit three of the beaches and a couple cemeteries. It was an overwhelming experience. Many memorials and commemorations are occurring today in Normandy. Take a moment to think what those men went through that day or even the days leading up to the big invasion. It was the beginning of the end of the War and many lost their lives that day.

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Oktoberfest Tips

Aug 28

Oktoberfest tents Paulaner

Oktoberfest – Paulaner tent

Oktoberfest Tips

The month is October. The year is 2008. Yours truly had ventured to Germany on her first ever solo trip. I was nervous about travelling solo but a friend recommended it so I figured, “Why not? Let’s give this a try.” I arrived on October 2nd in Munich, Germany a bit apprehensive. I had spent the previous six months learning German, even though I was told most spoke English which was true, so I was ready to let loose.

I had planned my entire trip before I left. I was more comfortable having all my hotels booked in advance since this would be my first solo trip.  Due to expense, I only planned on staying in Munich for two days during Oktoberfest. I would return three weeks later after my tour of Germany to spend a few more days before I flew back home to Canada.

Oktoberfest is incredibly expensive. Prices double or increase dramatically. I found a nice hotel near the main train station and not far from the Oktoberfest grounds. I would stay in this hotel for both of my Munich stays; the second stay say the price drop by 100 euros. Yes that is crazy. No I was not prepared to stay in a hostel. This was my first overseas trip alone and I wanted the security of a hostel. Plus, I’ve never been keen on hostels. In fact, I have never stayed in one. I do not plan to in the near future. Maybe….if I ever do a long-term travel.

I made my way to Oktoberfest and man it was crazy. Thousands of people milling around; many dressed up in lederhosen or dirndl. It was delightful and made me wish that I had come dressed up. Next time for sure. I did make my way into a few tents but they were packed and not a spare seat. I wandered around, found a few stand-up bars on the grounds, drank a few beer with some lovely Austrians and had a great time.

Oktoberfest inside tent Paulaner

Oktoberfest – Paulaner tent


Even wonder why the Germans get together for a fun and beer filled two weeks?  No, it is not to celebrate the deliciousness that is beer. That would be a reasonable deduction but there is a long history associated with Oktoberfest.

Crown Prince Ludwig, later King Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to the festivities in the fields near the city gates. This field would later be renamed Theresienwiese to honor the Crown Princess. The event was repeated the following year. In subsequent years, it was prolonged and moved to September due to weather.

Oktoberfest Tips

1. Book your table
– I figured because I was travelling solo, I would find an empty seat no problem; that was not the case.  Those tents are packed full. Book your table AND book early – that is my Oktoberfest tip numero uno! My guess is at least six months in advance or maybe more. You will not get served in the tents if you are not at a table.

You have to book directly with the tents. Oktoberfest’s website is not the best so you will have to click around quite a bit to find the contact information for each tent. When I return, I will probably book with the Augustiner tent. Augustiner is my favorite beer, ever!  And sadly, I cannot get it anywhere else but Munich. I have found other Oktoberfest/Munich beers in Canada but it is very rare. 🙁

Here is a link on how to reserve your table and a list of the tents and their contact info.

2. Timing – Do NOT go the last weekend of Oktoberfest (which is the first weekend of October). My dates simply worked out this way so I was there during the German national holiday (German Unity Day) and Oktoberfest is absolutely packed crazy. My second day in Munich landed on the holiday and it was almost impossible to get into the Oktoberfest tents, the grounds or hell, even any of the beerhouses in the city. It was nuts. Remember that Oktoberfest starts in mid-September and ends the first weekend of October.

3. Research – Before booking any tents, research which ones you want to be in. They are not all the same. You may be required to book a table of 10 even if your party is not that large or buy vouchers for food and drink in advance. Each tent is different.

4. Winging it – Yes I was able to get into the tents but could not find a seat. I had gone quite late in the day so if you do not want to book a table, go earlier in the day to snag a seat for yourself or your group. If you get into a tent, DO NOT LEAVE IT. You do not want to lose your table.

5. Accommodation – Just like booking a table in the tents, book your accommodation just as early. In fact, it may be necessary to do it earlier. I booked my hotel in February and the selection was limited. So the earlier is always the better in the case of Oktoberfest!

Random Oktoberfest Dude

Random Oktoberfest Dude

6. Drink up and have fun – Don’t be an idiot and chug the beer. That is ONE LITRE of drink (ein Maß) and you will be a sloppy drunk in no time, just like this little fella above. Enjoy the festivities: the singing, the dancing and the cheering and toasting (Prost). You will catch on to the drinking songs after an hour or two. If you are worried you will not be able to follow along, practice before you go. It is lots of fun singing German drinking songs while throwing back a litre of beer. 🙂

7. Explore the City – Take time out from the beer to visit Munich. It is a fantastic city with many beautiful churches and museums. It would be a shame to just go to Munich for the beer (yes it is damn tasty)!

Marsha enjoying ein maß at Okoberfest

Marsha enjoying ein maß at Okoberfest

That is my top Oktoberfest tips. It is a great trip to take and I highly recommend that you visit Munich and Oktoberfest. I plan on returning on at some point but with a large group, see my Travel Bucket List for more details!

Have you been to Oktoberfest?  Share your experiences or Oktoberfest tips!

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Surviving Overseas Flights

Aug 25

Surviving the long flight to Europe and Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Surviving overseas flights….how do you survive those flights? How do you handle being stuck in a flying tin can for 8+ hours? It is not fun. If you are flying coach, and let’s face the fact that most of us are, it can be a long frustrating day of travel.  I have not even mentioned those delightful layovers.


Surviving an eight hour flight depends on being prepared and bringing the necessities on the plane with you. I make sure to include my eye mask and ear plugs in case I wish to sleep.  If I do not want to sleep, then I need my ipad or kindle to pass the time. Airlines are getting better at providing the entertainment themselves. Most newer planes have personal TV’s at your seat with either movies or satellite TV for you to watch. But I prefer to bring my ipad with movies and television shows already downloaded just in case they don’t or the selection is horrible. Also, throw a few snacks in your carry-on.

Rest up

Make sure you do not show up at the airport with bags under your eyes. The only bags you should have are filled with clothes. Make sure you sleep really well the week preceding a long flight. Yes you may end up sleeping the whole time on that long flight, if you do I hate you, but more likely, you will not and your plane naps will be shorter than you had hoped.  You do not want to land at your destination and only want to go to bed, which results in jet lag (more about that later). So rest up, use melatonin if needed, for that long flight.

Jet Lag

Yes you will probably end up with a bit of jet lag. Everyone deals with jet lag differently but I found that if I get a good amount of sleep before the flight, that helps more than anything. I cannot sleep on planes. I try but wake up at the slightest turbulence so getting rest before hand is a vacation-saver.

Once you get on the plane, immediately change your watch to your destination’s time. That is the time and you should respond accordingly if you can. That means during the plane and after. When you get to your destination, DO NOT GO TO BED! Of course, I am assuming that you are arriving during the day. Do not nap, do not rest or anything. Shower, dress and GO OUTSIDE. Yes you will be tired but stay up as late as you can that first night. If you can make it to 9 or 10 pm, your jet lag will be barely noticeable.

Drinking Water

Yes this shows up in every single list out there. It does because it is true. You get very dehydrated on the plane and you need water. I always fight with myself over this one: do I drink another glass of water or do I want to avoid using the restroom? Yes I think like that. Yes I have even skipped the water so I did not have to use the restroom. Yes I made it eight hours once. No, I will not do that again. I did not feel well when I landed in Athens. You need the water. Drink the water. DO NOT drink the ICE CUBES! If they are made on board, that water is not great. If they are sitting out in a bowl, do you really think that circulated air is clean? No.

Boozing it Up

Many lists out there state you should avoid alcohol on long flights. Yes it can dehydrate you as I mentioned above but in my experience, having a drink or two on a long flight is fine as long as you have a few glasses of water as well. I usually have a couple of drinks and have never had a problem. Don’t overdo it.


Bring that bottle of hand sanitizer or wipes with you. You should wipe down the table and seat pocket. Those are missed quite often. Viruses can linger for up to 72 hours so wipe, wipe and wipe. You do not want to end up with a cold when you land at your destination.

Move that Body

Sitting in the same place for eight hours is not healthy so get up a few times during your flight to move around. Sure, hitting the restroom counts. You will be surviving overseas flights in no time and won’t end up with swollen legs. You can even wear compression socks to combat deep vein thrombosis and use some of my tips. I personally have never done so but many people do that if they had bad circulation. Do whatever feels comfortable!

So there you go, just a few tips that I use when flying overseas. What works for you?


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Searching for My Perfect Hotel in Moscow

Aug 22


St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ushakov

It is time to start planning my trip to Russia next year. I will be going in February 2014 during the Sochi Winter Olympics but plan on stopping in Moscow first and Prague on my way out. I have decided to stay in Moscow for five or six days, depending on my flight. Time to find my perfect hotel in Moscow.

Right now, one flight option I am looking at has me arriving in Moscow at 11 pm. That is certainly not ideal but it seems to be one of the better options. It has a longer layover than I normally would book (over five hours) but the other option is only a one hour layout in Frankfurt. That is one massive airport and I do not believe I would have enough to make that connection even if the flights were all on time. This is February, dead of winter, so I will need to be a bit more cautious. .

First question you always ask yourself: how much do I want to or can spend? I am normally very frugal when picking hotels but I also prefer to stay in good locations. So before you can answer question one, you must ask yourself a second question: where in the city do you want to stay?  My obvious answer to question two is near Red Square and the Kremlin. Question two’s answer now affects question one because if you stay central, the price usually increases. Moscow is a special city: hotels are CRAZY expensive to start with and they really climb once you get near the Kremlin.

I have decided to spend a bit extra on the Kremlin hotel. I have been saving up for years to visit Moscow and now is not the time to cheap out. Plus this is winter, I would prefer to be in the best location I can get so I can take those night pictures of the area. I prefer not to travel on the metro super late (after 9 pm maybe?) so this affects my decision in picking a hotel in Moscow.

I have picked my location. Next up: researching the area so your potential hotel is near the metro. Being near a metro stop is the most important reason for picking a hotel. I do not wish to spend half my day walking to the metro when I could be spending that time gazing down upon the body of Vladimir Lenin. 😉

First, I usually find a good travel guide book. My favourite is the Rick Steves series but he does not cover Russia so I pick up either Lonely Planet or Fodor’s. Both are very good options and in many cases, I use them both or along side Rick Steves when planning most trips. I find Rick Steves gives the best reviews for hotels. I have booked some great hotels from his recommendations (Rome and Munich in particular) and have never been disappointed.

I usually hit up Trip Advisor at this point to check out reviews of the hotels that I am considering.  I now have about five hotels that I am seriously considering at this point.  I have booked hotels due to ratings on Trip Advisor (Paris and Normandy last year) and I have never had a problem so I feel comfortable using this in my research.

Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

Kremlin, Moscow. Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ushakov

The Moscow Hotel Final Five

So the top choices are: National Hotel, Hotel Metropol, Ritz Carlton, Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow and Hotel Savoy.  All these hotels are ranked in the top 14 (out of 232) hotels for Moscow on Trip Advisor. I read through pages of reviews for all five.  Through trip advisor, I can enter dates for my travel and it will give me the prices from Expedia, Booking.com, Travelocity and several other websites that I have used before.

I quickly discard the Ritz because holy hell, that is cccccccccch-ching.  We are talking over $700. That is completely crazy. Goodbye Ritz!!  Two other hotels have prices over $400 so they are quickly discarded as well (Ararat and Savoy). The ones remaining are the National, Metropol and Savoy. The prices are pretty similar and pretty equal in terms of reviews and location.

I always visit the hotel’s website directly to see if rates are better (they often are) and email the hotel directly to get rates which once again can often be the case (it is not this time).  I have booked hotels through Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity and Booking.com so it all depends on where I can get the best rate. I also make sure I am signed up to any rewards program the hotel of my choice has and then go ahead and book. 

Picking my hotel in Moscow has been very different as I have noted above. I have chosen location over price and decided to splurge a bit. In most other cities, I can find a good hotel without having to pay a great deal more to be in a good location (Paris, Munich, London, Rome and Athens are some examples). Moscow is a very different animal. It is the most expensive city in Europe and second worldwide. So this is not the city to go to on a tiny budget. I am okay with that; I am ready to spend some rubles. 😉

Hotel booked! See you in six months, Moscow. [Update: I made it to Moscow: here is a post on Red Square and one on the Kremlin]

Hotel National, Moscow

My hotel of choice: Hotel National, Moscow

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Travel Bucket List

Aug 19

Globe of the world

Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/topfer

Do I have a travel bucket list? There are certainly a list of countries I want to visit before I perish. That is true but I have never written it down.  Now is the time to collate all those thoughts from my brain (there are A LOT) and come up with a list. I have decided to do a top ten travel bucket list. The trouble will be narrowing my thoughts into ten. 🙂 I had started this list the other day but after reading Backpacking Diplomacy’s bucket list and seeing we shared a couple in common that I had already put on my list, I figured I should get going on mine and finish it.


The Travel Bucket List

1. Russia – Russia is the first on my travel bucket list. No surprise to anyone that knows me. I have studied Russian history for years and have been obsessed with the country for decades. My first memories of Russia are during the late 1980s during the Winter Olympics. Canada was hosting the games in 1988, in Calgary, and the whole country was on the edge of their seat. Russia existed in the form of the Soviet Union, the  so-called ‘evil’ comrades from Russia and several other eastern countries.

My memories are pretty scattered from that time. I remember the Battle of the Brian’s, the Jamaican bobsled team, Elizabeth Manley’s unexpected silver medal and Karen Percy kicking ass on the hill. The other memory is one of dislike. There was a lot of dislike for the Soviet Union and all the Eastern Bloc countries. I was young and did not like that so from that moment on, I decided to cheer on the commies (all of them). I did not like that no one liked them. Seriously, that was the reason.

I do not remember when my love of Russian history started but I can only assume it was around that same time. I read up on Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Ivan the Terrible (actually translated incorrectly – Grozny is closer to formidable or threatening), Ivan the Great, and so on. I only ended up studying Russian history in university by accident. I had planned on majoring in German history, as my mother’s family is German, but switched to Russian when the German professor retired and the university did not replace him immediately.

Why Russia? There is so much beauty and history in Russia. From the Kremlin to Red Square to the Heritage to Peter and Paul Fortress, you will need weeks to visit this beautiful country. I am very excited that I will be crossing this item off my bucket list very soon. I will be going to Russia next February for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. I am also planning a few extra days in Moscow. Well, I will not be able to cross it off entirely as I will not have time to visit the Golden Ring, Novgorod and St. Petersburg. Plus, a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway is a must-see (see below, I had to separate it out since that is a massive trip in itself). I hope to check off St. Pete during a Nordic trip. Maybe a cruise of the Baltic Sea??

UPDATE: I finally made it to Russia. HAPPY HAPPY. I stopped by Moscow and Sochi for the 2014 Olympics. In Moscow, I enjoyed Red Square and the Kremlin!

St Basil's Cathedral, Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow. Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ushakov

2. A Cruise – I have always wanted to take a cruise.  Whether it is an Alaskan, Baltic or Mediterranean Cruise, I definitely plan on making this happen. I lean towards a Baltic Sea cruise since I think that will be the easiest way to hit up Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and St. Petersburg in one trip and a good introduction to all those countries. I can always return on a separate trip, or trips, at a later date. I am a bit concerned that I would end up sea-sick. I live inland; we do not have a lot of water in Alberta. I did grow up in Manitoba which is the province of lakes but not oceans. I still think this would be a fun way to travel around an area.

3. African Safari – I have only recently been thinking about hitting up Africa as I have only even wanted to visit Europe. Now? I have such a yearning to visit Africa on a safari. How fun would that be? Obviously, I want to see the big attractions, known as the Big Five. I live in a very northern city in Canada (Edmonton – great city but we are quite north) so we do not have many exotic animals in our zoo. I just do not have the opportunity to see these majestic creatures often. The Big Five are: Elephant, Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. These were coined by hunters and are not the only animals I would love to see in their nature habitat. Others are Giraffes, Cheetah, Hippos, Gorillas and many more. I want to see them all. Maybe even go on a hunt? 

African Lion

Meoooow!! Photo via http://www.sxc.hu/profile/GermanGirl

4. Egypt – This is the easiest one to put on a travel bucket list. Who does not have this on their list? And if you do not, what the hell is wrong with you? 🙂  Come on – pyramids, mummies, cruising down the Nile, ancient temples and on and on. Sadly, there are serious troubles going on in Egypt and have been for several years. I really hope they can figure things out. There has been too much death and I hate to see such a beautiful place crumbling from within. I really hope things work out for them. Of course, I want this to happen as quickly as possible. I have pushed back a possible Egypt trip for a few years. I have an opening in 2015 – hint hint. I want to come visit. 🙂 

Egypt Pyramids Sphynx

The Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt. Photo per http://www.sxc.hu/profile/tanya_b

5. The Tropics – As I mentioned, I have rarely wanted to even venture outside of Europe but as I look toward Africa, my eyes have started looking at visiting some place warm. I refer to this as “The Tropics” since it really covers many, many, many, many countries. Maybe I will go to Mexico, Bora Bora, Turks and Caicos or Hawaii. I really have no idea which country I will visit for my first warm vacation but I know one thing, it will be an adult-only resort. Ha, sorry no children allowed. Thank you! 🙂

I will try to relax on a beach, trying not to plan every minute of my trip, with a cocktail or twenty. There are quite a few activities you can do other than relaxing on the beach with a beverage in your hand. You can go horseback riding, take a boat ride, go scuba diving or snorkelling. That is usually not my jam; I am more of a museum and castle girl. I have not met a castle I did not love. I have not met a museum I did not want to marry and live happily ever after. 🙂 I hope to take that tropics trip in the next 12-18 months.

6. Group trip to Oktoberfest – I went to Oktoberfest back in 2008 as I took my first solo vacation. I toured around Germany for twenty-five days and had THE BEST TIME EVER. Ever since that trip, I have travelled solo to Europe two more times and I highly recommend a solo trip to every single person out there. Do it. Now. Great people and food!!!

I popped into Oktoberfest in Munich for two days but in honestly, I was there one afternoon. It was the last weekend of Oktoberfest which also coincided with Germany’s national holiday so it was CRAZY busy. I suggest going earlier and avoiding that last weekend. I had a great time, met some lovely people from Germany and a couple cute Austrians in their lederhosen and had the best time. I do want to return with a group of friends because I think it will be a lot more fun to take a group of friends to Munich. 

Oktoberfest Munich tent

Oktoberfest Paulaner Tent

 7. Santorini, Greece – I took a one day tour of three islands when I visited Greece back in 2011. I went to Hydra, Poros and Aegina and they were so damn lovely. I want to return to hit up Santorini, the most famous of all the Greek islands. I know several people who have gone and loved it. I think a return to Greece is needed. I did not have the time back in 2011 to add a few days in Santorini as I was also heading to Italy after my 9 days in Greece. I regret not making time but I will return. 🙂

8. Venice, Italy – This travel bucket list shares the same reasoning as Santorini. I simply did not have the time to add it to my Greek-Italian vacation in 2011. I chose Florence over Venice because I wanted to see Michelangelo’s David which was absolutely worth the trip. However, I have had my eye on Venice for many years and would love to visit. There are so many museums, churches, bridges and canals to gaze upon! Plus who can refuse a gondola trip down the canal.

Venice, Italy

Venice, photo credit http://www.sxc.hu/profile/leonardobc

9. Riding the Trans-Siberian Rail – I am not sure why this sounds so appealing but hitting the rails to make my way from Moscow to Vladivostock (seriously, how is that not the best city name ever? Just rolls off the tongue) sounds like a great trip. It is one of the longest rail trips in the world at 9,258 km; takes six nights and seven days to complete. You can also go to China or Mongolia as it links up with the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian lines or stay in Russia.  All three sound great to me.

[Edit: Just found this fantastic article on How to Travel the Trans-Siberian Railway. Some great tips for stops such as Yekaterinburg and Kazan]

Trans-Siberian Railway map

Trans-Siberian Railway Route via Wikipedia

10. Camel Ride (or Elephant) in the desert – This is pretty self-explanatory. Who does not want to ride a camel or elephant? That would be totally fun. Wheeee!!

Camel, Desert

Come ride me – photo by http://www.sxc.hu/profile/mofl13

Well there you go. That is my travel bucket list (for now). I hope to cross a few of these off my list in the next year or two. There is nothing like travelling; it is better than sex and chocolate. 🙂

So what’s on your bucket list?

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Top 10 London Sights – Part 2

Aug 17

Top 10 London sights – Part 2

Rosette Stone London British MuseumBritish Museum is another fantastic sight in London to visit.  You will need a good three to four hours to make your way around this large museum and see just a fraction of the 8 million works.

Do not miss  the Rosetta Stone (196 BC). Its discovery allowed the decipher of hieroglyphics! The three scripts on the stone are Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, used for priestly degree, Demotic script used for daily purposes and Ancient Greek, language of the administration.

In addition, the Egyptian antiquities number 100,000 pieces and from the bust of Ramesses II to the statues of Amenhotep III, this is truly a brilliant collection.

Other items include the Discus-thrower, a Roman copy of the bronze original of the 5th century BC from Hadrian’s Villa in Italy; Lindow Man; Standard of Ur; and the Lewis Chessman of Scandinavia.

Lord Nelson Memorial, Trafalgar Square, London

Trafalgar Square is a great space in central London. It named after the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century.  Nelson’s Column (see above) is dedicated to Admiral Horatio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

From the beautiful fountains and lion statues, this is a great place to have a picnic or just stop to rest between museums.

The National Gallery, St. Martin in the Fields Church and Canada House surround Trafalgar Square and are all fantastic to pop in and visit. I particularly recommend the National Gallery, an art gallery with over 2300 paintings of Rubens, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Leonardo, Monet, Vermeer, and many others.

If you are Canadian, you can pop into Canada House (High Commission of Canada) for information, computer access, reference library and temporary exhibitions on art and artifacts.

Buckingham Palace, London

You cannot miss the famous Buckingham Palace.  I recommend – tea time with the Queen. If you visit during August or September, the state rooms are open to the public and are a must-see. It is best to go first thing in the morning to avoid crowds during the very busy summer months.

If you do not wish to tour the Palace or are not visiting London during August-September, it is still a spectacular sight to visit. From statues of Queen Victoria to the Gardens to the Mall, the ceremonial route to the palace, this is a great spot.  It is another excellent spot to have a picnic or rest up before hitting the pubs later that night. I may have done that! 🙂

If you can get a hotel in this area, do it. Centrally located, near the Palace and the main train/tube station.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral is a brilliant masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren who built this version after the Great Fire in the 17th century.

You can climb the dome or take a walk into the crypt. I vote for the crypt (if you have not realized by now, I love me a good tomb). You can pay your respects to Lord Nelson who was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Lord Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren.

Take a moment to sit in the pews and take in the magnificence of the Nave or the monuments of Nelson and Wellington, heroes of the Napoleonic Wars.

Do not forget to check out the effigies of two Bishops of London and a marble effigy of John Donne, a Dean of the cathedral and one of the finest poets, who died in 1631. His effigy is one of the few that survived the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Stonehenge, England

Last but not least and while not in London, you need to take a day trip to Stonehenge.

What is this place? It is a place of sun worship, a healing centre, a burial site or perhaps a huge calendar? Maybe it has been used for all of the above. Whatever the primary use, we can all agree that this is an incredible sight to see with one’s own eyes.

I took a day trip to Bath, Windsor Castle and Stonehenge back in 2005. It was the perfect amount of time for see all three. Stonehenge is the obvious standout. You walk around it entirely, wondering when it was built (maybe around 2500 BC) and why it was built. People buried their cremated dead here around 5000 years ago. I strongly suggest you read up on Stonehenge as it went through multiple buildings and usages. It is absolutely fascinating.

That was my personal top ten for London. Click here for part one.  I have visited three times and will return again hopefully soon. London is an extremely wonderful city!  Even if you have no desire to see historical artefacts or castles, go for the beer and the accents.  :)))


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Top 10 London Sights – Part 1

Aug 16

Top 10 London Sights (part one)

Westminster Abbey London Top 10

Westminster Abbey – visit the great Abbey where its Kings and Queens are buried in magnificent tombs. This is my favourite spot in the entire world. You can visit the Royal Tombs, Poets’ Corner, the Cloisters and the Nave.

I recommend skipping the guided tour and picking up an audio guide which is free with your admission entry tickets.  These hand-held devices are easy to use and you get to hear Jeremy Irons’ lovely voice.  How can you say no to that?  🙂

Don’t forget to visit the Museum where you can see the effigies of Edward III, Henry VII, Charles II, William III, Mary II and Queen Anne.  Effigies or tombs: I love both!

I have popped in here three times, every time I come to London, and cannot wait to return someday soon.

The Abbey is across from Big Ben and Parliament so you can visit all three in a morning and have plenty of time left to to see other sights on my list.


Big Ben and Parliament, London

As you walk from Westminster Abbey, you will Big Ben and Parliament across the street. This photo is taken from across the bridge, near the London Eye. The Abbey is behind Big Ben.

Big Ben, officially called the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, was completed in 1858.

The Palace of Westminster, or better known as The Houses of Parliament, is where the House of Commons and the House of Lords meet.

Big Ben and Parliament are one of the most well-known landmarks in London and the world.  All visitors can visit Parliament but only UK residents can book a tour of Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben.

I have been here three times and I simply love walking around this area of London. It can be quite touristy so go early in the morning.


Grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, LondonHighgate Cemetery is in the north of London.  I have a particular fondness for cemeteries, tombs and graves so this was one of the highlights of my London travels.  Basically, I’ve never met a tomb I did not love. 🙂

The best grave is that of Karl Marx who spent the last thirty years of his life living in London. Originally just a simply grave, this spectacular tombstone was added in 1954 (many years after his 1883 death) by the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Whatever your beliefs, Karl Marx was a revolutionary writer who played a key role in the upcoming century. As a Russian historian, Marx’s impact cannot be understated.   His Communist Manifesto was written in 1848 and along with Das Kapital in 1867, these two books left a huge impact on most subjects than I can list.

I do think a visit to Highgate Cemetery is worth it as you can as there are 170,000 buried in around 53,000 graves.  Karl is buried in the East Cemetery, and vistors can roam freely after paying the entrance charge, while you can see the West Cemetery by guided tour only.

Don’t forget to bring your copy of the Communist Manifesto! 🙂

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge is another one of those iconic images of London. It is located near the Tower of London and crosses the River Thames.

It was completed in 1894. It is often mistaken for London Bridge, the next bridge upstream.

This is a lovely area to go for a stroll along the river banks.

Tower of London

Tower of London is just across from the Tower Bridge. You’ll need a good afternoon to see everything here. Join a Yeoman Warder tour (it is included in your ticket admission).

Originally founded by William the Conqueror in 1066 as a Castle, known as the White Tower. It’s primary purpose was not as a prison but as a royal residence.  It was also the starting point for the procession to Westminster Abbey for the coronation of the monarch from the 14th century until the 17th century.

It is most well-known as a prison. From the murder of the Princes in the Tower to the executions of many people under King Henry VIII including two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Other notables executed include Lady Jane Grey, Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Come back tomorrow for part two of my London top ten!  Click here for Part Two!


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Welcome to The Travelling Historian

Aug 15

London, Gatwick Airport

London countryside near Gatwick Airport

Welcome to The Travelling Historian.  I have been obsessed with Europe for as long as I can remember. I used to run to the encyclopedias on a fairly regular basis to read up on England, Germany, Russia, Italy, and practically every single country in Europe. This was in the olden days, before the dawn of the internet age where all this information is available with a click of a button. Back then (let’s say late 1980s), you had the encyclopedia, the library and the occasion book.

My parents bought me one of my favorite books when I was around 12. It was the Kings and Queens of England and I read that book cover to cover at least ten times in the first year. I still have that book. I also still have that obsession about the King and Queens of England. It is a fascinating history. That probably helped me decide to get a couple degrees in history (although I switched to Russian/Soviet by the time university came around).

It was fitting that London was my first overseas trip in 2005.  I wanted to travel so badly that I had even started the passport process several times in the years before I went. I never sent it in because I did not know anyone else who wanted to travel. That changed by the time I moved to Edmonton. A friend was going to London and asked if I wanted to go. I never said yes so damn fast, providing I could get a passport in a few weeks. Luckily for me, the passport process was incredibly fast and I had it within two weeks, just in time for our flight to London in June 2005. I was very excited to visit Great Britain.

We flew into Gatwick Airport via Air Transat. The photo above is near Gatwick; my first picture in England. One quick note about Air Transat: it was convenient, cheap and a non-stop direct flight. It was perfect for my first trip to Europe. Would I ever fly it again? No damn way. It was VERY cramped; little leg room and exceptionally uncomfortable.

I have returned to Europe four more times since (London and Ireland in 2007; Germany in 2008; Italy and Greece in 2011; France and London Olympics in 2012) and am planning another trip next year to Moscow, Sochi Olympics in Russia and Prague, Czech Republic in February 2014. It will be my longest trip at a month and probably the most ambitious in terms of going to Russia in the winter, for the Olympics and popping into Prague on my way home. It is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Finally knowing Russian will come in handy! 🙂

My first two trips were partly booked with the help of a travel agent but I have completely planned and booked the last three. It is a great deal of work but over the past five years, more and more information has been made available online so it makes it easier. It is very time-consuming but I really enjoy it.

I have set up this website to document my travels and provide tips for researching, planning and booking a trip. While I will focus on Europe, this can be transferred to any country in the world.

Join me on my travels to Europe and maybe one day, I will be brave enough to venture out of my comfort zone and go to Africa or a spontaneous last-minute trip.



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