Exploring the Mayan Ruins in Tulum, Mexico

Jun 28

For the first time, I ventured to a place not called Europe and instead made my way to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. This was my first tropical vacation and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Mayan ruins in Tulum with a group of great friends. In fact, my only requirement for this tropical vacation was a chance at exploring the Mayan ruins in Tulum or Chichen Itza. Tequila and tropical drinks flowed liberally and we survived the heat by lounging by the pool and beach, taking a trip to Tulum, and of course, enjoying a Cerveza or five. It was a glorious vacation and one that I will make again in the future.

Exploring the Mayan ruins in Tulum

Exploring the Mayan Ruins in Tulum

Tulum entrance – Mayan Ruins

The History

Tulum was built in the late thirteenth century on the Caribbean coast as a seaport. Tulum actually means “wall” which is accurate as it is a walled city. It stands 12 metres (40 ft) up the cliffs with a majestic castle looking down on the beach. The city may have been called Zama, City of Dawn, and was an important trade route as well as a place of worship. It is estimated that as many as 1500 inhabitants occupied these lands.

The Maya civilization consisted of small states ruled by a king; similar to the Greek city-states. Their civilization still exists as the Maya can still be found in the area to this day. The peak of their civilization came between the 3rd and 10th centuries, where numerous cities flourished. But drought, deforestation, war, and the arrival of the Spanish all may have contributed to their decline.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins in Tulum Mexico

Cenote – Mayan Ruins at Tulum

The Ruins

We booked a day trip from our resort to visit Tulum and ended up with the most delightful guide, Mio. He was quite knowledgable and entertaining. It was a bit of a hike from the parking lot but once you saw the ruins, it was a worth the walk. The ruins are in pretty good shape and you get such lovely views of the beach and Caribbean Sea from up on those cliffs.

Temple of the Descending God - Mayan Ruins Tulum Mecxico

Temple of the Descending God at Tulum

There were so many highlights at Tulum but one of my favourites is the Castle below. It is just simply spectacular. The Maya were known for their pyramid building and cenotes (caves).

Mayan Ruins - Pyramid El Castillo (The Castle)(

Pyramid El Castillo at Tulum

Tips for Tulum

  • I recommend a guided tour – there are many options and you cannot go wrong with a knowledgeable guide who will get you to Tulum and fill you with its history and background
  • It was damn hot – bring water. Bring an umbrella and dress cool. Yes do not forget a hat and sunscreen
  • Go early in the day if possible
  • There is a fair bit of walking so bring good shoes – I had some nice walking sandals. Perfect!
  • Bring your bathing suit to go swimming if you have time. We did not but next time!

Have you been to Mexico? What was your favourite tropical spot? What trips are you planning next? Next up is a trip to Europe this fall: Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna and Salzburg, Austria; and Munich, Germany.

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Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey: The Women

Nov 20

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey: Canadian Glory

Another Olympics and another Canadian hockey gold. Aside from a silver at their debut in 1998 games in Nagano, Canada has won all other hockey gold in women’s hockey at the Olympics. They are an impressive team lead by hockey goddess, Hayley Wickenhauser, who has played in each Olympics since its debut. I planned my Olympic adventure for many years and made sure I got my hockey gold ticket. These are the best pictures as I usually take as I was very into the game and quickly snapped a few.

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women: Canada vs USA

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women: Canada vs USA

Once again, the two best teams in the world, Canada and the United States, were expected to plow through the Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey tournament with ease and make it to the gold medal game. Aside from one upset by the Swedes in 2006, the gold medal game has been contested by Canada and the United States. While the Swedes and Finns are improving, it is still a two nation sport.

In Sochi, the Americans lost to the Canadians in the round robin but it was a close game which set the stage for an exciting and magical gold medal game. I had travelled a very long way to watch this game and was expecting a thrilling game.  In fact, 2014 had a more exciting and dramatic finish to the game than Canada’s victory in 2010. It even rivaled Crosby’s overtime goal on home ice at the Vancouver 2010 game (yes I was there)!

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women: Victory for Canada

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women: Victory for Canada

It was another tight and interesting game. First period was tight with lots of penalties but no scoring. Americans scored in the second and early in the third. As the clock ticked down, it was looking more and more likely the Americans would win their first gold medal since 1998. However, Canada did not give up. With under four minutes to go, Canada finally scored and the crowd had something to cheer for finally. The Russian fans were cheering along with us Canadians. I think the Canadian fans outnumbered the Americans 2-1 already so with the Russians, the arena was overwhelming rocking in favour of Canada.

Down one goal and with less than two minutes to go, Canada pulled the goalie to get an extra attacker on the ice. The goal was empty and the Americans ALMOST scored. It hit the post. Wow!! And then not long after, Canada tied it up and we were going to overtime.

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women: Victory for Canada again

Canada took a penalty in overtime but it was negated quickly when the American took one themselves. Teams played 3 on 3 for a short spell until the Americans hauled down Wickenhauser who was on a breakaway. It probably should have been a penalty shot but no worries, Canada took the powerplay and didn’t look back. Marie-Philip Poulin scored the golden goal (and the tying goal) and the arena went nuts.

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women: The Queen of hockey, Hayley Wickenhauser

I am four for four for hockey gold medal games: two in Vancouver and two in Sochi. The two best, men in 2010 and women in 2014, ended up in overtime victories (thank you Poulin and Crosby). I must be Canada’s lucky charm. See you Pyeongchang in 2018.

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women Team Canada Picture

Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Women Team Canada Picture

You might also be interested in:

Sochi Olympic 2014 Opening Ceremony

Men’s Sochi Olympic Figure Skating Long Program

Men’s Hockey Gold Vancouver 2010 Olympics

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Sep 05

Neuschwanstein Castle

A trip to Germany is not complete without visiting a castle or two. Germany was my first solo adventure and I had the best time. From enjoying my time at Oktoberfest to taking a trip to Eagle’s Nest, it was a blast. My favourite is still probably Neuschwanstein Castle.

The most majestic of all the castles is Neuschwanstein Castle located near the village of Hohenschwangau and the town of Füssen in Bavaria, Germany. With over a million visitors a year, Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most popular castles in Germany and all of Europe.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany

The man behind the castle is almost as infamous: King Ludwig II of Bavaria. You may recognize him by a more well-known moniker: the Mad King Ludwig or the Fairytale King.

King Ludwig commissioned the castle in the mid-19th century as an homage to the great German composer Richard Wagner. Many of the rooms are inspired by Wagner’s operas as well as medieval Germany.  Sadly, Wagner never visited the castle as he died before its completion. Walt Disney fashioned his castle in Sleeping Beauty after Neuschwanstein Castle.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany

Building commenced in 1868 following the death of Ludwig’s grandfather (Ludwig I) which freed up money that was previously spent on the abdicated King’s estate. The great castle was never completely finished due to Ludwig’s perfectionism (it is missing the all important throne in the throne room) but Ludwig did move into Neuschwanstein Castle in 1884 but only spent 172 days total in it. Ludwig died in 1886 under very mysterious circumstances; he died together with the psychiatrist who had certified him insane, after being deposed only days earlier.

Neuschwanstein is located in such a fairytale location: situated in the Alps in Bavaria, on top of a hill overlooking a beautiful village and valley. On the day that I visited Neuschwanstein Castle, it was rainy, cloudy and misty. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the iconic views of Neuschwanstein Castle on the Marienbrücke (Marie’s bridge which was named after his mother, Marie Friederike of Prussia).

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle by Valerio Bruscianelli via Creative Commons

Neuschwanstein Castle was open to the public a mere six weeks after Ludwig’s death, filling the coffers of his successors.

Tips for Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle

  • You may only enter the interior of the castle via a guided tour. I recommend to buy your tickets online to save time; the queue can get quite long. A reservation fee is required on top of the 12 euros to visit or more if you include the other castles and museum (1.8 euros which is reasonable to me) and you must purchase tickets online 2 days before your visit. Tickets can be collected from the Ticket-Center in Hohenschwangau (separate window for reservations) on the day of your visit (bring your written confirmation)
  • Guided tours are in English and German. If you do not speak these languages, you may purchase an audio guide in Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, Polish, Chinese (Mandarin), Portuguese, Hungarian, Greek, Dutch, Korean, Thai and Arabic
  • Note for the hiking trail: it may occasionally be inaccessible due to rock-slides – this will not affect visiting the castle nor guided tours
  • No photography is allowed inside the castle and the tour lasts about 30 minutes

"Neuschwanstein Boden" by Lokilech - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neuschwanstein_Boden.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Neuschwanstein_Boden.jpg

  • Transportation to Neuschwanstein Castle is simple: train, bus or car
  • It is a steep walk from the ticket centre – it takes at least half an hour. You may shorten that by hopping on the horse-drawn carriage where you only need to walk about 10 minutes. Price is 6 euros up and 3 euros down the hill
  • There is also a shuttle bus but as with the horse carriage, it does not take you all the way to the top but stops a bit short. The bus takes you to the lookout point Marienbrücke so you have a short walk downhill to the castle. Departure point: Schlosshotel Lisl, Neuschwansteinstraße and the price is 1.8 euros up and 1 euro down (return 2.6 euros)
  • Opening hours: 28 March to 15 October: 9 am-6 pm and 16 October to 27 March: 10 am-4 pm
View of Hohenschwangau Castle from Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany

View of Hohenschwangau Castle from Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany

So have you been to Neuschwanstein Castle? Or how about some of the other castles such as Linderhof or Hohenschwangau? Bavaria has the best castles in Germany!

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Visiting Lake Louise Canada in the Summer

Aug 07

Visiting Lake Louise Canada in the Summer

Lake Louise is a lovely lake and small village in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. It is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and the massive resort called Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. You will need to spend an arm plus part of a leg to stay there. A visit to Lake Louise Canada is worth a few days. There are numerous lakes to visit as well as hiking and icefields to see.

All my photos posted today are completely original, without any filters or adjustments, and from my simple point-and-shoot camera. I had issues with my fancy new camera so had to rely on my point and shoot and it did a decent job. Lake Louise Canada and its surrounding lakes are truly this beautiful: they need no editing.

What Lakes to See:

  • Lake Louise obviously tops the list; it was named after Queen Victoria’s daughter. You can rent a canoe as well as hike around the lake. The emerald/blue colour is a result of the rock flour, which is fine powdery rock that has been crushed and ground by the glacier, carried into the lake by the melting of the Victoria Glacier
Lake Louise Canada

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

  •  Lake Moraine is a short drive from Lake Louise and a must-see. One can hike around the shoreline to the other end for great views of the lake and mountains (Valley of the Ten Peaks) or climb the rock pile for a startling view of the lake’s vibrant blue colour. You may also rent a boat here; it is open from June to early October
Lake Moraine Alberta Canada

Lake Moraine Alberta Canada

  • Peyto Lake is probably my favourite of all these lakes – the colours were so bright and vibrant! Peyto is another glacier-fed lake so you once again get those great colours. It is a short drive from Lake Louise (around 35 minutes) on the Icefields Parkway. You have two options: park at bottom and walk up or park at the top (bus parking lot) and there it is. I parked at the bottom and hiked up. It does have a bit of a steep incline so if you have mobility issues, park at the top. You may also hike another 3 km to the Bow Summit Lookout from the Lake Peyto viewing platform. This is a nice stop either on your to or from the Columbia Icefield (more on that in an upcoming post)
Lake Peyto Alberta

Lake Peyto Alberta

  • Bow Lake is not far from Lake Peyto. The turquoise blue water is the source of the Bow River and you can also view the Bow Glacier in the background
Bow Lake Alberta

Bow Lake Alberta

  • Herbert Lake is a few miles from Lake Louise village. I recommend stopping here first thing in the morning to get that reflection on the water: I just love reflections off the water
Herbert Lake Alberta

Herbert Lake Alberta

Where to Stay:

  • If you wish to splurge, the Fairmont Chateau overlooking Lake Louise is the place to stay. Remember, it’s a big hit to your pocketbook ($350++). Otherwise, there are a few other accommodations that are more affordable but they are a few miles from the Lake if you don’t mind. There are a couple hostels as well and there is always the option of staying overnight in Banff, which is about 45 minutes from Lake Louise. This all depends on your price range and whether you don’t mind staying a bit further away
  • Other smaller hotels or resorts can be had for $150-300 – all depends how far in advance. Do not wait to the last-minute (I might have done that – ch-ching)

What You Need to Know:

  • Lake Louise Canada is a short drive from Calgary: around 2 hours
  • You are entering Banff National Park and are therefore required to pay an entrance fee. Daily fee ranges from $9.80 for adult to $4.90 for youth. You may also purchase an annual pass if you plan to enter the park numerous times in the season. For more info on park fees, visit Parks Canada
  • Wear layers – the temperature can get quite cool even during the summer months
  • If you’re driving, the parking lots get VERY full mid-day so if you can, go early. That is especially true for Lakes Louise and Moraine

Just a few tips for visiting the Lake Louise area: these are my top lakes to visit. Especially if you love the mountain backdrop (reminds me of my visit to Eagle’s Nest, Germany), Lake Louise Canada is for you. There are many other things to do such as visiting canyons, taking a gondola ride, etc but you cannot miss out on these lakes. Next up: visiting the Columbia Icefield. Stay tuned.

So have you visited Lake Louise? What are your favourite lakes??

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Cliffs of Moher in the Emerald Ilse (Ireland)

Jun 19

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

During my two-week tour of Ireland several years ago, there were two highlights: the delightful basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher. Both sights are impressive and are a great geological marvel. The Cliffs were formed in the Upper Carboniferous Period, around 319 million years ago and consist of shale and sandstone.

Cliffs of Moher Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland – view from the northern platform

The Cliffs of Moher Ireland (County Clare) are located on the western Irish coastline where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. They stand 214 meters (702 feet) at their highest point and stretch for 8 kilometers (5 miles). There are two platforms you can take a view of the Cliffs – north and south platforms. I ventured up the North side where the O’Brien Tower is located. Depending on how much time you have, you can go up both sides.  You’ll need at least two hours to climb both sides (probably more). It is a bit of a climb. If you have more time, you can walk 5 km to Doolin or hike the coastal trail which coverages 20 km.

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland – view north from the north platform

O’Brien’s Tower is located on the North platform. It was built in the 1830s by Cornelius O’Brien, a descendant of the Kings of Thomond. It is a wonderful observation point. A million tourists visit the Cliffs of Moher Ireland each year.

O'Brien's Tower at Cliffs of Moher Ireland

O’Brien’s Tower at Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Other Information:

  • Price is 6 euros for adults; children under 16 are free; Seniors are 4 euros
  • Additional 2 euros (1 for children) to access the rooftop area in O’Brien’s Tower
  • It is open year-round but hours will change during season – always open at 9 am and closes at 5 pm in winter and between 6:00-7:30 in the spring and 9:00 pm in July/August. For more info, visit the official website
  • You can stay after the visitor centre closes onsite in case you wish to get a sunset photo (no limit to parking)
  • Bring a sweater because it gets quite windy up on the platforms even during the summer months
  • If you wish to photograph Puffins, they are around from late March to mid July and the best play to view them is from the south platform

Have you been to the Cliffs of Moher? What are your thoughts?

 

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Men’s Hockey Gold at Vancouver 2010 Olympics

May 23

Hockey Gold

When Vancouver was awarded the 2010 winter Olympics, the most important event to snag tickets to was the men’s hockey gold medal game. Everyone in Canada wanted that ticket: hockey gold was the only thing that mattered. Canada had recently won its first men’s Olympic gold in 2002 in fifty years but to win on home soil would be a great accomplishment. During planning my Vancouver Olympic adventure, the hockey gold medal game was on my mind. I set up three accounts for me, mom and dad. I submitted my main request on my account and the two gold medal games for the men and women on my parent’s account. I was hoping to hit one.

Olympic Flame, Vancouver 2010

Olympic Flame, Vancouver 2010

Getting Tickets for Hockey Gold

Ticket demand was so high for the Vancouver Olympics, a lottery was held for 120 of 170 events.

There was 140,000 requests alone for the men’s hockey gold medal game out of a possible of 4000 tickets in an arena that had about 13,000 tickets available. The rest went to the media or sponsors.

During the initial ticket request, you submitted your request plus an alternate for that day/time. I submitted about $7500 in my original ticket request. I ended up with only 10% of my original request. I did not know how many other opportunities there would be to buy tickets. For my most recent trip to the Sochi Olympics, I posted my tips for planning an Olympic spectator trip and how to get tickets.

During my original request, I was lucky enough that my mom won the lottery and received a ticket for the men’s hockey gold medal game.

Vancouver 2010 Olympics - Hockey Gold

Vancouver 2010 Olympics – Gold for Men’s Hockey

During the next year, I was able to get tickets to the women’s hockey gold medal game to go with the men’s game. Leading up the Olympics, I was unsure if I would sell the ticket or gamble and hope Canada would make the final. I could probably have sold it for $5000 or more but I decided to hang in and wait. I could always sell during the games if Canada faltered.

Canada had a slow start at the Olympics, worrying the whole country. The media were particularly wrapped up in the “Canada has never won a gold medal on home soil” narrative while the rest of the country was not; we wanted medals but didn’t care that gold had never happened in 1988 Calgary nor 1976 Montreal. We knew it would happen. In the end, Canada would finish first on the medal count: gold medal count is the one that matters according to the IOC and most countries (except the US of course); Canada broke the record of total gold medals with 14 (Russia failed to break that number in Sochi).

I arrived in Vancouver during the second week. After attending a few events, I had grabbed a last-minute ticket to the men’s quarterfinal hockey game. Canada had a rough round-robin and had to beat a qualifier to make that game but I was pretty sure they’d take out the pesky Germans, which they did. They would face the Russians in the quarters, a match that should have been the final. The Russians are our hockey nemesis; sorry America, you are not. I wanted to beat Russia for gold!

Canada vs Russia in Vancouver 2010

Going for Hockey Gold: Canada vs Russia in Vancouver 2010

Canada came out like a team on a mission against the Russians. It was complete domination; surprising considering the Russian lineup but Canada had just as much firepower and came out on top 7-3.

Canada played Slovakia in the semi-final. I did not get a ticket to that game (I had one for the other semi-final but sold it). I figured Canada would domination Slovakia easily and I’d be waiting for them in the gold medal game. Yeah that game was too close for comfort and Canada squeaked out a 3-2 victory. I made it back to my hotel to watch the end of the game as I was watching Canada choke in the women’s curling gold medal game.

My patience had FINALLY paid off: I would be attending the gold medal hockey game as Canada went for gold against the USA. USA had ridden their hot goalie Ryan Miller into the gold medal game, shocking pretty much everyone who didn’t think they stood a chance. Hot goaltending can shake up predictions!

Canada vs USA – Hockey Gold

I had the men’s hockey gold ticket for over a year. I resisted the urge to sell. I had planned to attend the game all along; I knew Canada had to make it. It was the only option. Of course, I would have sold the ticket in a heartbeat if Canada had succumb earlier but my persistence paid off. I had the hottest ticket in the land and soon, I would watch one of the most exciting hockey gold medal games , ever! It would be one of the most important hockey victories in Canadian history: I still place it behind Paul Henderson’s sweet goal against the Soviets in 1972 Summit Series but winning hockey gold on home soil is a pretty damn close second. I wasn’t even alive during the Summit Series and I still place that as number one!

I was in the lower bowl, behind the American net and near the suites. Mmm hey is that Vince Vaughn? Get your tissues ready Vince, you will need them soon!! I was sitting beside an American couple who were great. We had a great time watching the game together. They owned some football team (NFL) and I can’t remember which one. But great people though….

Vaughn in Vancouver watching hockey gold.

Vince Vaughn in Vancouver watching hockey gold.

It was a tight game: Canada scored first and then second. It was a nice 2-0 lead midway through the second. But the US got on the board before the second period was over. The third period was nerve-wracking and of course, the Americans tied up the game with seconds to go. Overtime was needed and hopefully it would result in a victory. NO ONE wanted this to go to a shootout; North America hates international hockey rules like this. Let them play it out.

Canada has bad memories of shootouts: see 1994 gold medal game and 1998 semi-final. International hockey allows for a shootout after so many minutes of overtime. In North America, there is no way we’d allow a Stanley Cup final (or any game in the playoffs) determined by a shootout. Hopefully it would not come to that in Vancouver.

Canadian men celebrate Olympic hockey Gold, Vancouver 2010

Canadian men celebrate Olympic hockey Gold, Vancouver 2010

Of course it did not. From the drop of the puck in overtime, Canada turned it up and dominated. I had NO DOUBT they would score, and score they did seven minutes into overtime. Jarome Iginla passed to the best hockey player in the world, SIDNEY CROSBY and he put it home.

I cannot describe the utter joy of that moment: Canada winning on home soil. Hockey gold and I had held onto that ticket for over a year. I had planned this trip for seven years with this moment in mind the whole time and Canada was victorious!!

Crosby receiving hockey gold in Vancouver 2010

Crosby receiving hockey gold in Vancouver 2010

Over two-thirds of the country was watching and I was there in person. The country completely freaked out and I love it. There was a time that Canada was not an Olympic favourite in any sport: we didn’t hit double digits in the 1980s nor win very many gold medals. Each Olympics saw an improvement in medal totals: 0 gold in Calgary; 2 in Albertville; 6 in Nagano; 7 in Turin; 14 in Vancouver.  Total medals keep rising each year: from 5 in Calgary to 26 in Vancouver.

I think we like hockey: check out Canada’s reactions to hockey gold!!

Hockey is our favourite sport and winning on home soil meant the world to every single Canadian. Of course, winning on Russian soil was pretty great as well. Too bad the Russians didn’t show up in Sochi. 🙂

What is your favourite Olympic sport?

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Looking back: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games

May 14

I have been a spectator at the last three Olympic games but nothing can top attending your home Olympics. When Vancouver was bidding to host the 2010 Olympics games, I had decided I would do anything to attend the games if they won. Happily, their bid won the games and I started planning my first Olympic adventure: the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games.

Bidding Process: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games

The final candidates: Vancouver, Canada; Pyeongchang, South Korea; and Salzburg, Austria. Voting was held on July 2, 2003 and would be a very close race. I was living in Winnipeg, Manitoba and watching the vote live. I thought it was a race between Salzburg and Vancouver. They had the two best bids but you know these bids can get quite political. The best candidate/bid does not always win (see Toronto for 2012 summer games) and this was not long after the Salt Lake bribery scandal.

Olympic Rings, Vancouver Olympic Games

Olympic Rings, Vancouver 2010

Voting for the 2010 Olympic games included two rounds of voting. Salzburg was eliminated after the first round (my head almost exploded) and Vancouver finished second to Pyeongchang with 40 votes to their 51 votes. Vancouver cleaned up in the second round of voting and won by a vote of 56 to 53. What a close race!! The 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games would be a great experience and after waiting for seven years, it was worth all the time I put into planning this trip.

I ended up moving to Edmonton, not long after Vancouver won their bid, for graduate school. I had a chance to move to Vancouver or Toronto but I chose Edmonton instead. I then spent the next seven years planning my Olympic trip. Since there was such a demand for tickets, a lottery would be assigned to the most in demand tickets (hello hockey) and I spent the next few months hoping for a win. I had submitted a ticket request for the entire Olympics but was not allocated my entire request; only receiving 10% of my original request. Thankfully there would be more opportunities to purchase tickets as more were released several times and they put up a reselling website.

Neil Young, Vancouver Olympics Games - Closing Ceremony

Neil Young at the Vancouver 2010 Closing Ceremony

Planning the Vancouver Olympic Games Trip

I posted about planning your Olympic spectator trip adventure for Sochi, Russia 2014 trip of my dreams which include the Men’s Figure Skating Sochi 2014 recently but used many of those tips for this trip as well. I had waited five years to submit my Olympic ticket request. I had just returned from Germany (Berlin travel tips) in October 2008 (including visiting Heidelberg, top travel tips) and was thankful the deadline had been pushed back a few weeks. I submitted by request and waited a few months to hear back. I also created accounts for my mom and dad (in case they wanted to go) and to give me a few more chances at the men’s hockey gold medal game.

I remember being at work and wondering what tickets I had been allocated. They charged the credit card before the emails were sent so I had no idea what tickets I received. I phoned my mom and she checked her card and a certain amount had been charged: I knew right at that moment it was my men’s hockey gold medal game. What a thrilling moment!!

I booked my hotel nine months before the Olympics and my airplane ticket about six months before the event. Vancouver had lots of hotels so that was not an issue as it was in Sochi.

Canadian men celebrate Olympic hockey Gold, Vancouver 2010

Canadian men celebrate Olympic hockey Gold, Vancouver 2010

Now I had to wait a year and a half until the Olympics, hoping that Canada would make the finals. Thankfully they did and I was rewarded for holding onto that gold medal ticket for over a year and a half. I also had tickets for the women’s gold medal hockey game as well as both curling gold medal games. Canada went three for four in the gold medal games. For the next few weeks, I will post about all the events I attended in Vancouver.

Have you attended the Olympics?

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Top 3 Things to Do in Heidelberg, Germany

May 09

Top 3 Things to Do in Heidelberg

There are many things to do in Heidelberg, a quaint city in western Germany near the Neckar River which dates back to the 12th century. In the 12th century, Konrad of Hohenstaufen became Count Palatine of the Rhine and took possession of the oldest castle and settlement from the Bishop of Worms, establishing the Palatinate line. Heidelberg was devastated during the Thirty Years’ War in the mid-17th century and later by the French in the later part of the century.

Heidelberg Castle - Statue of Goethe

Heidelberg Castle – Statue of Goethe

Martin Luther was received in Heidelberg not long after he posted his 95 Theses; he defended those theses in Heidelberg. The Holy Alliance between the King of Prussia, Emperor of Austria and Tsar of Russia was formed here in 1815. Heidelberg has a fascinating history as does most of Germany. It was lucky to escape bombing during World War Two and is therefore quite well-preserved.

I visited Germany back in 2008: it was my first SOLO trip and I had such a great time. I toured around Germany (Berlin top travel tips) for over three weeks (including Eagle’s Nest, Germany) and simply fell in love with the country (Oktoberfest tips). Heidelberg is a great city to visit and I enjoyed two lovely days in this lovely city.

Heidelberg Castle, Germany

View from Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle is really the top on the list of things to do in Heidelberg. It was constructed in the 13th century and is in the gothic and renaissance style; partially destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War and the Palatine War of Succession in the 17th century plus a lightning strike in the mid-18th century. Eventually all attempts to restore the castle were abandoned. The castle was later used as a quarry and stones were removed to build other houses in Heidelberg. Attempts at preservation occurred in the 19th century.

Things to Do in Heidelberg: visit the Castle

Heidelberg Castle, Germany

The wine cellar in the Heidelberg Castle holds the largest barrel in the world (over 55,000 gallons of wine).

It is a STEEP hike to Heidelberg Castle as it sits atop a hill. You can take bus line 33 to the top or Bergbahn (funicaular rail) instead or go for a hike.

Palace interior may only be seen on a guided tour. The time differs per season so check their website for more info. The castle/gardens are open 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily. Palace entry is not expensive: 6 euros for adults plus an additional 4 euros for a guided tour.  You can also check out the Deutsches Apotheken Museum (German pharmacy museum) which is located inside the Castle.

Old Bridge

The Alte Brücke is a stone bridge was built in the 18th century after the original was destroyed by fire (it was made of wood which dated back to the Middle Ages). The medieval gate still exists. You can view the Castle from the bridge and enter the Old Town through the gate. The market square is a wonderful place for souvenirs or shopping as well.

Heidelberg Bridge

Heidelberg Bridge, Germany

University of Heidelberg and Old Town (Altstadt)

The university is the oldest in Germany; founded by Rupert I and chartered by Pope Urban VI in 1386. It is known as a university city with over 28,000 students in a city with a population of round 150,000.  Old Town is a great area for shopping, visiting the university or museums (the student prison in particularly interesting), and not far from the Castle.

University of Heidelberg Library

University of Heidelberg Library via Wikipedia

 Tips for Visiting Heidelberg

  • Two nights in Heidelberg is plenty of time to see the city
  • Consider visiting in the fall. I visited in October and enjoyed the cooler weather, fewer tourists, and beautiful fall colours
  • Heidelberg is a very walkable city; wear some good shoes and you can walk for hours or hop on the trams/buses
  • The Heidelberg Card will save you money – it covers the Castle, 12 museums, public transportation, walking tour, and a city guide. Price starts at 10 euros and can be bought at main train station or transport machines around the city
  • Give yourself at least three hours or half a day for the Heidelberg Castle – you will need that much time (maybe more) to tour the inside, the gardens, the pharmacy museum, and the grounds. If you are walking to and from the Castle, add another hour to that
  • Take a stroll down the river banks particularly during the summer months; great place for a picnic
  • Stay in a hotel near the Old Town. I stayed way too far away and it would have been nice to walk around the Old Town in the evening after a day of sightseeing

 

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Berlin Travel Tips

May 05

Berlin Travel Tips

Berlin is well-known for its nightlife but you cannot discount the culture and history of the city. It is a fascinating city that was separated by a WALL for four decades; a city that was a part of two different countries. It is a very unique city: west and east that have come together to be one. However, the city’s history goes beyond the past century. It dates back to 13th century and it was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia for three centuries before becoming the capital of the unified German Empire in 1871 and would once again become the capital of a unified German state after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990.

When To Go?

If you do not mind a bit of cooler weather, I would recommend spring or fall. There are fewer tourists which makes a big difference. I went in the fall: the colours are beautiful. The weather is a bit cooler (15 degrees Celsius maybe) but you’re walking around the city so you warm up quickly. But you really can’t go at a wrong time; the city is buzzing all year round!

Berlin Travel Tips - Visit in the fall

Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

Where to Stay?

Berlin is a fairly large city so be careful about where you stay. I was using airmiles so I wasn’t particularly picky about where I was staying but I realized later that it was not the best area. Decide on your price and pick a neighborhood or location where you will spend a lot of time: maybe Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg? Just try to stay a metro stop: that is always my number one consideration. Berlin has MANY hotels so you should be able to find one for a very good price or really cheap if you stay at a hostel.

What to See?

There are too many places to list but I will mention my favourites!

1. Museum Island – there is a small “island” in Berlin that is the home to Berlin’s state museums. These are just a small list of museums in all of Berlin but they are my favourite. You can also visit Berliner Dom while on the island; it is not far from the museums and is free to visit. My top choices are:

Neues Museum is where the Bust of Nefertiti is located along with the rest of the Egyptian museum and papyrus collection. The museum collection also contains a Neanderthal skull and Heinrich Schliemann’s Trojan finds. This is a spectacular museum and one of my all-time favourites.

Nefertiti, Neues Museum, Berlin

Nefertiti, Neues Museum, Berlin

Altes Museum which houses the antique collections (divided with the Pergamon Museum) such as a large Greek collection including the treasury.

Pergamon Museum which contains more antiquities such as the Pergamon Altar and the Market Gate of Miletus from what is now Turkey. It also contains sculptures and art from the ancient world such as Hellenistic, Greek and Roman.

2. Checkpoint Charlie (and the museum) – the checkpoint may not be operational anymore but some of the signs still exist plus there is a museum with lots of photos and stories about escapes.

3. Schloss Charlottenburg – I was lucky enough to attend a classical concert at this palace where the musicians were even dressed in 17-18th century garb. The music was of course W.A. Mozart (there can be no other) and J.S. Bach. This used to be the summer residence of the Prussian kings and it is lovely.

4. Reichstag – one cannot visit Berlin and not stop by the German Parliament. You can book free tours or visit the dome at the top. You may need to book in advance as they allow only a small number of people into the building each day.

Reichstag, German Parliament, Berlin, Germany

Reichstag, Berlin

5. Brandenberger Tor – a short walk from the Reichstag is the Brandenburg Gate. You walk down a lovely park area with trees on both sides to get to the Gate. Once again, the colours are very vibrant in the fall. The Gate was commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia in the late 18th century as a sign of peace. It was right beside the old Berlin Wall and is now part of a cobblestone pedestrian area.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

How to Save Money?

First, get the Berlin Welcome Card. This is a favourite of my Berlin travel tips! You can save a lot of money on museums, transportation, maps, etc depending on the card you select. If you plan to visit museum island, there is a card that covers it (one example: three day pass for 38.50 euros which covers museum island, reductions of 25-50% to more than 200 tourist and cultural sites, free transportation depending on the zone you select which may include the airport, city map and guide plus shipping to your home before you travel to Berlin).

Second, if you don’t get the welcome card, get the Berlin Museum Pass instead which covers many museums in the city for 24 euros for three days. It covers 50 museums in the city including Museum Island, the Jewish Museum and the New National Gallery. You can get the pass at the Berlin Tourist Info or all participating museums.

Third, sign up for a bike tour or straight out rent your own. It is a cheap way to tour around the city. There are several to choose from so just google it and go from there.

Oktoberfest ein Mass Munich

Marsha enjoying Augustiner

Fourth, street food is good and delicious plus also very economical. There is a good variety and you will save some moolah! Look for “Imbiss” food stands: good Turkish food. And try the currywurst – Berliners are known for it. And it is delish! There is even a currywurst museum near Checkpoint Charlie (no, I did not visit)! And of course, BEER!!!!!

Fifth, visit the parks especially Tiergarten. It is near the Brandenburg Gate and is a lovely place to rest, have a picnic or to enjoy the scenery!

Sixth, the Topography of Terror is a free outdoor museum. Over a million people visit each year and is located on former grounds of the SS and Gestapo. This outdoor museum is open daily 10 am to 8 pm.

Lastly (thanks Tamason), try the free walking tours. I usually join one and they provide a good overview of the city and provide some history as well.

Getting Around

Berlin is a very easy city to navigate. The transportation system is excellent plus there are many areas you can walk. Bus 100 passes most of the top touristy sites. Or rent a bike to travel around the city as I mentioned above. You can use the trains (U-Bahn or S-Bahn) as not everything in Berlin is nearby nor on the bus route. The trains are easy to use.

Berliner Dom - Berlin Cathedral

Berliner Dom

The Language

Berlin, along with most of Germany, are fairly well versed in English. They may even speak better than English than you. You probably don’t need to learn German BUT I am a fan of learning the language of the country you are visiting. If you do not wish nor have the time to learn German, at least learn a few key phrases. The locals will appreciate it and will respond in English to you. I spend six months learning German and rarely needed to use it. A good rule: Germans under 40 will likely speak English but those over 40 may not. I encountered many older Germans who did not know one word of English.

Where to Spend Your Saved Money?

Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm for short) is the shopping district where you can spend, spend, spend until you are broke. You can also find the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) – it’s a massive shopping mall.  Or visit Mauerpark on the weekend for the flea markets! These are all great places to shop and top of my Berlin travel tips!

What About the Nightlife?

Berlin is a jumping city. Go and explore at night. When I was there, I met some people and we hopped into a cab and asked him to take us to a nightclub. We hit up a few that night and for some reason I cannot remember the names of the clubs. Was it the beer? 🙂 But go and have fun. It is a nightclub paradise. Ask the locals where to go or your hotel/hostel. They should know the places to be.

Have fun in Berlin! Have you gone yet?

You might also be interested in:

Top 3 Things to do in Heidelberg

Oktoberfest Tips

Eagle’s Nest, Germany

My Favourite Travel Food – Sauerbraten

 

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Sochi 2014 Figure Skating: The Men

Apr 25

Sochi 2014 Figure Skating: The Men

When I decided and started to plan my Olympic adventure, it was a trip of a lifetime (Russia and Czech Republic) which included the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, one of the events I made sure to get a ticket for was the Sochi 2014 Figure Skating in the men’s category. Canada had the defending three-time world champion and number one contender; a coronation was waiting for Patrick Chan. Unfortunately, Chan did not skate to his fullest abilities but was able to hold on for a silver medal. After enjoying the Opening Sochi 2014 Ceremony and two alpine Olympic events (men’s downhill and super G), I was ready for some ballet on ice. 

As a child, I loved figure skating. I took lessons. I was an okay skater but wasn’t a fan of falling on the ice. I eventually stopped after my figure skating coach left to marry an NHL hockey player (very Canadian of her) but I never stopped watching. I was cheering on the right Brian in the Battle of the Brians at the Calgary Olympics (the right Brian is of course Brian Orser….hehe). I cheered for Viktor Petrenko in 1992: I was a very bad Canadian that year. 🙂 I cheered on Elvis Stojko in 1994 as he was robbed by the judges (yes he was). I loved the Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2002. I was in the arena for Canadian and Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette’s emotional short program in Vancouver 2010, just days after her mother unexpectedly passed away. I had to be in the arena for men’s figure skating in Sochi.

Sochi 2014 Figure Skating: Patrick Chan on his quad in Sochi 2014

Patrick Chan in the air on his quad in Sochi 2014

It was a night of disappointment and set the stage for an interesting figure skating competition at these Olympics. Interesting in terms of major upsets and some very dicey figure skating judging in the women and ice dancing categories, which is nothing new to the figure skating. Sochi 2014 Figure Skating was no different from past Olympics.

Russian and 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko withdrew before the short program which saw Russians trying to ditch their tickets. I already had a ticket but was offered tickets numerous times from my cruise ship to outside the venue.

Olympic Flame in Sochi

Olympic Flame in Sochi

Patrick is one of the greatest male skaters in history. Three straight world championships set him up for the Olympics: he could be the first Canadian man to win an Olympic figure skating gold. Canada has churned out some of the greatest male figure skaters in history: from two-time Olympic Silver Medalist Brian Orser to four-time World Champion Kurt Browning to two-time Olympic Silver Medalist Elvis Stojko. Canadian men have been the first to land the triple axel, the quad, the quad in combination…..it is a great history! However, none have won Olympic gold.

There has been many silver medals but it appeared Chan was one step away from making history. After his biggest competitor, Japan’s Hanyu, fell twice in his program, the stage was set for Patrick Chan to grab the gold medal. He started strongly with the quad but over-rotated the triple axel, his nemesis jump. He continued to make little mistakes throughout his program which was not enough for gold. He lost by half a point which is very close considering he was down by five after the short program.

Patrick Chan flower ceremony in Sochi 2014

Patrick Chan flower ceremony in Sochi 2014

Chan left Sochi with two silver medals; the other silver from the new team competition. He joined Orser, who was Hanyu’s coach in Sochi and who lost the gold medal in 1984 because of compulsory figures, that aren’t used anymore, when he won the short and long program (robbery in other words), and Stojko (another robbery in 1994 when the judges didn’t like his non-classical style) in the double silver category. It is still an accomplishment but you wish he would have seized the moment: it was set up for him. Will he return in 2018? No one knows yet.

Are you a fan of figure skating? What was your favourite Olympic moment?

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