Mellow & Magnificent Maritimes: Trip Recap & Gallery

About a week and a half before Canada celebrated 150 years of confederation, I found myself travelling to the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick for the first time. Had I not met my boyfriend, who knows when I would have taken the time to visit the eastern side of the country. After all, it’s usually less expensive to fly half way around the world than it is to make your way from one end of Canada to the other.

But, we had good reason to go. We were off to visit his family in Dalhousie, New Brunswick with plans for stops in Charlottetown, P.E. I. and Halifax, Nova Scotia. With no set itinerary in place, each day ended up being a surprise. I’ll recap everything as best as I can. Should anyone be interested in more details about sights or activities mentioned, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me through the comments below.

P.E.I.

We took a red eye flight from Edmonton to Halifax. Early the next morning, as soon as we deplaned, we picked up our rental car and drove straight to Prince Edward Island. Along the way we grabbed photos with the giant blueberry in Oxford, Nova Scotia and the friendly potato statue in front of Blue Roof Distillers (tours and vodka tastings are available) in Malden, New Brunswick.

The Confederation Bridge

A few hours later, we eventually made it to the New Brunswick side of the Confederation Bridge. We took a quick break there and walked up to a viewpoint to snap a few pictures of the 12.9 km bridge. I wasn’t aware of the fact that it’s the longest bridge in the world to cross over ice-covered water, and the sheer length of it didn’t actually hit me until we were driving the full distance. From a construction standpoint, it truly is a feat of engineering.

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Once we set foot on the other side of the bridge, we decided to pop into the information centre. There, we picked up a pamphlet called “The Lighthouses of Prince Edward Island.” It just seemed like the appropriate way to spend our time in this province. I immediately recognized one of the photos from my research before the trip, so we headed there as soon as we’d gotten a scoop of Cowconut Cream Pie ice cream in a fresh waffle cone from the Cows shop.

As we continued, we paused for pictures of the cheeky signs at the Kool Breeze Ice Cream Barn and we also picked up some much needed sustenance from the Da Mama’s Kitchen shack.

West Point Lighthouse

The drive from the visitor centre to the West Point Lighthouse was about an hour and a half. The 69 foot tall navy and white lighthouse was built in 1875 and manned until 1963. It is one of the most recognizable spots on the island and it has actually been converted into an inn and museum. Those who are keen to stay the night there have the option to do so. From the lighthouse is easy access to the beach and boardwalk.

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When we were done exploring the area around the lighthouse, we made our way back to Charlottetown. We’d booked a room at the new Sydney Boutique Inn & Suites. Recently opened, a portion of the building and grounds were still under construction, but that didn’t take away from the charm of the place. Unique touches from the converted 1857 Notre Dame Convent still remain alongside the updated, luxurious rooms. Shortly after checking in, we washed up and took a quick nap before returning to our adventures.

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Charlottetown is fairly small, so it’s easy to walk to most places. My boyfriend led us to The Gahan House, which is both a brewery and restaurant. On a Thursday night, it was full of people. However, we lucked out and snagged a comfortable window-side table that overlooked the patio and the street. We shared some beer tasters and ordered a much deserved dinner. While I have to say that my Lobster Gnocchi seemed to lack in the lobster (and rock crab) department, it was still pretty delicious. Yet, the definite star of the show was the Big G Burger. Stacked with beef, Cows white cheddar, maple stout pulled pork, Sriracha slaw, bacon and apple chutney, it was phenomenal.

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We ended the evening with a stroll along the waterfront where it looked like the city was gearing up for Canada Day celebrations.

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The next morning, before we left, we checked out Prince Edward Battery in Victoria Park. Then, on the drive out of Charlottetown, we spotted the flagship Cows Creamery that advertised factory tours. The tour itself is self-guided with a video introduction at the beginning and video screens as you move throughout the glass-protected areas of t-shirt production, ice cream making and cheese aging. No visit to a Cows shop is complete without a cone.

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Halifax

Welcome to Nova Scotia

With Charlottetown in our rear view mirror, we were on our way back to Halifax for the start of the weekend. It’s a must to take a photo at the beautiful “Welcome to Nova Scotia” sign with it’s miniature lighthouse and pretty landscaping. We also noticed wind turbines galore as we drove down the highway.

Upon entering Halifax, my boyfriend gave me a quick tour of the city by car; he showed me where he used to live in the city and then he pointed out the Dalhousie campus where my dad went to university for architecture. Afterwards, we quickly checked into the Hampton Inn by Hilton Halifax Downtown, which provided us with a comfortable two-night stay and free breakfast in a revitalized part of the city. Parking along the street was free over the weekend, so we found a spot for our rental and hoofed it the majority of the time.

As we wandered around Halifax, we noted an abundance of new development towards the waterfront and major construction down the usually busy Argyle Street. The latter was a bit of a disappointment as my boyfriend was hoping for me to experience the usual lively atmosphere found at the bars and restaurants along that stretch. No matter though. We made the best of it.

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Late reservations were made for dinner at The Bicycle Thief, which meant we had some time to kill before we ate. Therefore, a good chunk of our evening was spent at the Public Gardens. The grounds are pristine, green and lush. Each space felt inviting. Had the weather not taken a turn, we could have lingered a lot longer. Unfortunately, the wind started to pick up and the sky became cloudy and we needed to find an alternative venue. As fast as we tried to book it towards the waterfront, we still got caught in the rain. Thankfully, we were able to take cover under a doorway until the downpour subsided and we remained minimally wet.

With the storm quieted, we sprinted down the street and, in a split second, we opted to pop into what turned out to be Shuck Seafood & Raw Bar. Had we not already made plans for supper, I would have just stayed here instead. But, since we only had about half an hour to fill, we stuck with drinks only. My boyfriend kept it simple by ordering a pint of beer. I, on the other hand, asked what kind of non-alcoholic beverages they had. To my amazement, they were very attentive. The bartender came over to find out more about what flavours I like in my drinks and then he went back to his station to whip something up for me. What arose was a concoction that included mango puree, peppercorn flower, grenadine and pineapple foam. When the bartender dropped it off, he told me that if I wasn’t happy with it, he’d try his hand at creating another mocktail to my liking. That wasn’t necessary though. It was just slightly sweet and finished off with a sour note, and that was good enough. The best part was that my drink only cost $4. Not too shabby for an impromptu drop-in.

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Finally, it was time for dinner. The Bicycle Thief (paying homage to the classic film of the same name) is a happening Italian restaurant situated right along the waterfront. Despite the chilly weather, a few guests braved the cold by sitting out on the patio. We, however, we sat inside. My first impression of the place was that it was incredibly crowded and loud. Then, when we were brought to our seats, I observed how out of place this particular table was. It was angled oddly at a sharp corner in the restaurant and my chair backed into the couple next to us. Yet, the place was full, it was late and we were hungry, so we settled in and perused the menu. I will say that the complimentary focaccia bread and butter provided at the start of the meal was soft and fresh. The pasta dishes were so-so though. We didn’t feel that they were anything special; the Spaghettini ‘Aglio e Olio’ in a fresh herb and lemon gremolata with jumbo shrimp, scallops and mussels fared better with a decent amount of seafood and punchy flavours, but my boyfriend said his Linguini Fra Diavola was bland. Paired with the fact that our table was jostled by passing staff on a couple of occasions (it actually slid away at one point), our experience was severely dampened. We politely mentioned our feelings to the server and she promptly spoke with management about the situation. When she returned, she offered us free dessert, which we accepted (the chocolate cake was wonderful), and we saw that the staff was actually taking our complaint seriously by making arrangements to have the table removed.

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On our second morning in Halifax, we took a drive to Peggy’s Cove. Heavy fog enveloped us almost the entire way there and didn’t dissipate as we arrived at the lighthouse. A biting wind also deterred us from staying longer. The misty air provided some interesting photos, but it’s nothing like what I imagine it would be to see the place on a clear day. Maybe next time.

Not ready to head straight back to the city, we made a detour to Fisherman’s Cove. The fishing village has been in existence for 200 years and has since been restored to house several shops and studios along the boardwalk. The tide was low while we were there, so it was also possible to step off of the walkway and right onto the sandy beach.

A drink at 2 Crows Brewing Co.

When we got back into the city, we made our way to a friend’s home for dinner. Then, before calling it a night, we capped off our evening with a drink at 2 Crows Brewing Co., conveniently located right next door to our hotel. The space is awesome as the brewery is completely open and in view of patrons as they sit and drink. There’s also an expansive outdoor sidewalk patio that would be lovely on a warm day.

A gorgeous day out at Point Pleasant Park.

The following morning was our last in Halifax. Prior to leaving, we trekked through some of the wooded paths and along the water of Point Pleasant Park. On a sunny, blue sky day, it was an excellent way to finish our time in the city.

Shediac, NB

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Shediac is known as the lobster capital of the world. Hence the World’s Largest Lobster that greets visitors. It’s a cute place with pretty beaches. Yet, we simply stopped through for the photo op and some lunch. We took a chance on Kuro Sushi. The online reviews were top notch. Since it was mid-afternoon, the place was empty. My boyfriend ordered the California roll and tempura shrimp roll. The latter was fine, but the California roll left much to be desired. The issue with his and mine was that the avocado was nowhere near ripe enough, but they served it anyway. My combo also included six pieces of sushi (salmon, tuna and white tuna). Those were fine. The fish was thinly sliced on top of the rice, but it tasted good.

Dalhousie, NB

Inch Arran Beach

Our main stop on the Maritimes tour was Dalhousie, New Brunswick. This is where my boyfriend’s parents live. The town has lost a couple of its largest employers over the years, so the majority of residents are often retired or live there part-time during the summer. It’s small and charming with many properties that overlook the water and provide views of Quebec across the way. There’s a great gift shop in town that offers visitors a chance to purchase handcrafted items made by local artisans. My favourite thing? The Bon Ami ice cream shop where I went three times during our week there.

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The day after we arrived, we ventured to the Inch Arran Lighthouse and followed the shoreline as far as we could go before turning back towards town. There are an abundance of mussel shells scattered along the beach by birds. But, if you look closely enough, you may find tiny crabs and seashells as well as coveted sea glass.

One of the things I looked forward to most while there was lobster dinner. The family had ordered 20 pounds of fresh fished lobster for a mid-week supper. They boiled the lobster and then let it cool for about 15 minutes in salted water. When they were served, the meat was still warm and juicy. The lobster was succulent and flavourful with absolutely no need for anything like garlic or butter. My only qualm is that it makes for a messy meal. Yet, the divine and filling meat is worth it.

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I also loved our day canoeing. The weather cooperated and plenty of sunscreen had to be slathered on in preparation for time out on the Restigouche River. This was considered a beginner-level run on the water and it was very easy going. All of our boating equipment (canoes, kayaks, paddles and life jackets) were rented from Nature Adventure out of the village of Matapédia in Gaspésie, Quebec. For the day it worked out to $50 per person.

That same evening, we waited until dark to set off fireworks, which were also purchased from the reserve in Quebec. They sell huge packages of fireworks at a more reasonable cost (although smaller boxes could be found at Walmart or even at the local Bon Ami). Although the fireworks didn’t go as high as the ones set up by professionals, they were still impressive and just as sparkly. These also served as our own early Canada Day celebration.

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If anyone is interested, we also took a couple of drives out of Dalhousie to neighbouring villages and cities, including: Charlo, Campbellton and Bathurst. Charlo was passed by a few times during our visit, but the best stop we made while there was for a freshly baked pie from Le Moulin a Café. They’ve won numerous accolades for their food and baking. In Campbellton, one will find Sugarloaf Provincial Park. While there, my boyfriend and his brothers climbed Sugarloaf Mountain. Admittedly, I did not join them at the top. I let them do their thing. I was not equipped with the proper footwear and it’s my understanding that it gets a little perilous towards the peak. I did see the photos of the view from the apex though, and it looked spectacular. Bathurst was more of an excuse to take a scenic drive, but we found ourselves at Nectar for lunch. It’s situated right next to the Bay of Chaleur, so there is a pretty vista while dining. Our one complaint was with the portion of meat in the sandwich my boyfriend ordered (four ounces of chicken barely made a dent in the pretzel bun). Otherwise, the food tasted decent and the prices were fair.

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When our vacation was all over, we had to drive back from Dalhousie, New Brunswick to Halifax. There was break for food at Joey’s Pizza & Pasta in Sackville, the town of my boyfriend’s alma mater, Mount Allison University. They make some great pizzas and garlic fingers with a super fluffy donair sauce.

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If I could sum up our holiday in five words, they’d be: quaint, relaxed, picturesque, welcoming and lobster. This type of trip is essentially the complete opposite of what I typically do when I’m away from home. Most days in the Maritimes were extremely laid-back. We spent them ambling to the ice cream shop, hanging out along the waterfronts, driving about town or down the highway just for the sake of exploring and sitting by the fire pit at night. While it may not be the ideal trip for someone as antsy as me, it’s certainly perfect for those who really want to get away from the hustle and bustle and just unwind without a care in the world.

The State of Things: A Nevada Photostream

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A trio of landscapes from Death Valley.

It seems that I go to Las Vegas, travelling through the state of Nevada, so often that there wouldn’t be anything left for me to do or see. When it is taken into account that I was just there in November for my 30th birthday, one would wonder what the point is of going again so soon. Partially, I needed a getaway from work. It also turned out to be one of the less expensive options at this time of year, despite the terrible exchange rate at the moment. Lastly, even though we’ve had a much warmer winter than typical of Edmonton, the mid-twenty highs in Las Vegas were still a welcome change.

On this occasion, aside from a couple of shows, my friend and I avoided the Strip. This time we stayed downtown. About a block from Fremont Street, it was a completely different experience from the Strip. With many independent restaurants in the area, it was great to see another side of Las Vegas. My only qualm is that there is live music played every single night on Fremont, and it’s loud. The sound was manageable after the weekend, but, Saturday night, the music was so amplified that we could hear it loud and clear through the shower in our hotel room. The music was also relentless, being performed until at least 4 o’clock in the morning. Thank goodness for the earplugs that the Downtown Grand Hotel supplied to us.

Otherwise, this vacation was really relaxing. We sampled food from some new places, went to play games at the arcade and ventured all around Nevada. As usual, I’m sharing my photographs here in the hopes of inspiring others to branch outside of the familiar in Vegas and to travel, in general.

To read past posts about Vegas and Nevada, please check out the Travel category or do a search on my blog.

A mix of things seen on the trip.

A mix of things seen on the trip.

Food

Le Thai

A bowl of the spicy eggplant with tofu.

A bowl of the spicy eggplant with tofu.

Affordable meals, particularly at lunch time. We actually missed the lunch specials, but the prices are still good. My friend and I probably could have split one dish and it would have been enough to comfortably fill both of our stomachs.

Portofino

This was a great find on the myVEGAs app. Redeemed for only 9,000 points, we received a voucher that gave us one free entree with purchase of another. The cocktail we each ordered was refreshing. The pasta was delicious, but very rich, and it was a struggle for me to finish my dish, although I still managed to do so. We were surprised that we didn’t know of the restaurant’s existence since we actually stayed in the Mirage hotel on our last holiday in Vegas.

The Perch

A cute restaurant located in the Downtown Container Park, we were treated to a lovely, light meal. I had bought a Groupon that included a shared appetizer, two entrees, two desserts and a whole bottle of wine. It was indulgent, yet I didn’t feel overly stuffed, which is a good thing. The beef carpaccio was fresh and thinly sliced, and although there was some cilantro in the salsa verde that topped my salmon, it was a very tasty dish with the roasted Brussels sprouts and asparagus. As for dessert, the kitchen was out of everything that they would normally have had available, but they threw the chocolate dipped berries together for us.

JinJu Chocolates

The chocolate display at JinJu.

The chocolate display at JinJu.

Again, I came across a Groupon for this store, which is also located at the Downtown Container Park. The voucher I purchased included their signature box of 64 assorted chocolates. All of the chocolates are beautifully crafted, looking like little works of art. At over $1 CDN per chocolate with the deal, these are not inexpensive, but the Groupon definitely helped.

Pink Box Doughnuts

On day three of our holiday, we planned to road trip across the border into California and further north in Nevada. Knowing we’d have to be up earlier than most places were open, we sought out any place where we’d be able to stock up on snacks for a full day of driving. Pink Box fit the bill. The Summerlin location is open 24 hours a day, so the doughnuts are made fresh throughout the day. Closer to cake style, they were fluffy. However, I did find that the glazes were very sugary, leaving my teeth feeling less than ideal.

Park on Fremont

A really fun restaurant with an enviable patio space, this was a charming and quirky getaway from the hustle and bustle of Fremont Street just a block down the road. Portion sizes were large and filling.

Cafe 6 at Palms Place

One of our last meals in Vegas was at Cafe 6. Off the strip at Palms Place, they specialize in burgers, and great ones at that. I ended up with the Smoke Out, which I’m guessing is a top choice at the restaurant since they use a photo of it in much of their advertising. I can safely say that the ads didn’t point me in the wrong direction.

Attractions

Fremont Street

Although we stayed nearby, we really spent very little time on Fremont. We often went out of the area instead. I do love all the bright neon signs down the block. Old and new, they reminded me of our tour through the Neon Boneyard a couple trips back.

Graffiti Art – Downtown Las Vegas

Driving around downtown Las Vegas early in the morning, we attempted to find a bakery to pick up some breakfast before heading to Valley of Fire. The bakery happened to be closed, but we came across some fantastic graffiti art. If I knew of a walking tour, I would have signed us up as I’m curious about the stories behind some of the pieces. The pictures here don’t even account for everything within that area. Maybe next time we can explore more.

Downtown Container Park

A park that consists of shipping containers made into storefronts and restaurant spaces, this was a fun Las Vegas destination. Most of the businesses create an outer circle around a play zone that caters to children. There’s a big screen on the one end where various music videos were projected as we ate dinner at The Perch.

Valley of Fire

We’d already been to Valley of Fire in November, but we only made it through about half of the park. This time, we checked out the Seven Sisters, the Petrified Log, Elephant Rock and Mouse’s Tank. The sunny day saw that the open valley heated up quickly, so even though we started early, it was scorching hot (to us) by noon.

Lake Mead

From afar, Lake Mead looks nice enough, but, up close, it was kind of a sad sight. Other than the fact that you can see just how much the water in the lake has receded over the years, the lake is home to dozens, maybe hundreds of seagulls and very little vegetation. There’s no actual sand, and it seems unappealing to swim in the water. Granted, a lot of visitors to the beach didn’t seem to care.

Clark County Wetlands Park

For a wetlands park, we expected more water than we saw. Also, the park could do with a lot more signage. Whenever there was a fork in the road, we just made a decision and walked. Yet, we really had no clue where we were going or just how far away were getting from the parking lot. There was little wildlife to be seen, too. Perhaps it’s the sort of man made nature of the park that contributed to that sense. Otherwise, it was a quiet, peaceful place that might be better to wander through later in the spring or during the summer.

Death Valley, CA

Aside from the questionable gas fill up at the Alien Brothel on the way to Death Valley in California, this was one of my favourite days on this trip. Within reasonable driving distance from Vegas, this national park is vast with varying landscapes throughout. Unbeknownst to us, we even happened upon a super bloom year (millions of wildflowers growing in the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America due to extreme rain in the fall), which hasn’t occurred in a decade.

Ghost Town of Rhyolite

The ghost town of Rhyolite is just a minute away from the Goldwell Open Air Museum that we had on our itinerary. I’m sure that some of the building were quite gorgeous in their day. It’s actually quite sad to see what’s become of this gold mining town.

Goldwell Open Air Museum

What an oddity this open air museum is. Large scale pieces of art are scattered around a parcel of land in Goldwell, Nevada. If the art, the store, and the barn in the far distance wasn’t there, you’d assume it had been abandoned as well.

Goldfield, NV and the International Car Forest of the Last Church

The most northern location on our road trip, the International Car Forest is easy to miss. We stopped in the tiny town of Goldfield to ask for directions. Turns out the forest was simply a minute’s drive away, but somewhat hidden from the road. While wandering among all the cars that had been left behind and tagged by graffiti artists, I wondered what exactly has gone on in this place. It seemed a perfect location for middle-of-the-night raves, and is apparently the backdrop for a music video. I also questioned how exactly these cars were placed where they were and if anyone could drop their decrepit vehicle there. Needless to say, it’s an interesting vista for photographers, and it’s another random place, dotting the American landscape, for road trippers to see should they be inclined.

Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Garden

I really enjoy getting the behind the scenes look at various businesses. Whether it’s touring a brewery or a guitar factory, they’re often fascinating. Ethel M does things a bit differently with a self-guided viewing lane at their chocolate factory. Large glass windows allow you to peek into the factory at the assembly line, and there are plaques and videos that provide information along the way. While we went through during their suggested hours, the factory was actually very quiet that day. Most of the areas lay empty, save for a few maintenance workers checking out the equipment and some staff filling heart shaped boxes with chocolate. It’s still a neat concept though.

Equally as quiet was their botanical cactus garden, located just outside of the factory and store. It is not a particularly large garden, but they have plenty of variety when it comes to cacti, making for a somewhat educational visit through a colourful, dry desert space.

Pinball Hall of Fame

The Pinball Hall of Fame was one of my favourite places. From the outside, the building doesn’t look all that appealing, but once you enter the dimly lit warehouse space, you’re greeted by several rows of pinball machines that span decades. Far from the look, but don’t touch mentality of most museums, the Pinball Hall of Fame is part history, part arcade. You can read the index cards placed inside most of the machines to learn more about the origins of each, or you can play the games as the majority are still in great working condition. It took a few games to get the hang of the pinball machines, but it was a lot of fun. I was reminded of when I was a child playing arcade games at Fuddruckers back when Edmonton used to have one of those restaurants.

The Strip

As previously mentioned, my friend and I spent very little time on the Strip during this trip. The only reason we were there at all was to see comedienne Kathy Griffin‘s show at the Mirage and Canadian singing sensation, Celine Dion, at Caesars Palace. Otherwise, we likely would have skipped the area all together. However, since we were nearby, we made sure to stop at Sprinkles for our cupcake fix (peanut butter banana is still one of my favourite flavours). We also perused the stores in the Forum Shops at Caesars. Ted Baker had some beautiful pieces that were surprisingly less expensive than expected, but still not within my price range. Lastly, as a fan of the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, I was kind of excited to see some of the actual looks worn by the models being used as window displays. It’d be a dream to work for the VS Fashion Show (and try on a pair of wings). The amount of work that goes into it is insane and, although the clothes are small, the details of each outfit are intricate. It was very cool to see some of the outfits in person.

NYC Winter Wonderland: Photostream

Wow! My trip to NYC really crept up quickly this year. My friend and I booked it all the way back in March (see my April post about planning for our vacation) and, at the time, we were thinking it was forever and a day away. But, before we knew it, it was the end of November and we only had a few more days to prep for our holiday. If there’s nothing else I’ve learned with this trip, I will walk away with the knowledge that time sure slows down for no one as we get older. I mean, it’s already been three weeks since we returned home and I’m only just getting to this post.

Aside from my contemplation of the passage of time, this, my sixth visit to the Big Apple, proved to be as spectacular as ever. All of my vacations in 2013 sprung up as a result of a concert and this was no different. Shopping and shows was the name of the game, along with a bit of sightseeing and partying, lots of eating and getting into the Christmas spirit.

What never ceases to amaze me is how much of Manhattan you can cover in the span of a day. It is also an extremely walkable city. My friend’s wireless fitbit® surprised me by telling us that on Day 2 we took over 28,000 steps, climbed more than 40 flights of stairs, walked over 12 miles and burned over 2,000 calories, and I wasn’t even tired. That’s the thing with New York; it’s a little like Las Vegas where you don’t realize how long you’ve been awake or how much you’ve been doing until you get home and you’re completely burnt out and you need another vacation from your vacation. New York City is like this magical place where the atmosphere completely makes you forget that you require sleep to survive. New York City right before Christmas is like that times a hundred.

My photos are grouped into galleries by day and I’m going to let them do most of the talking, but I thought I’d give a little synopsis as well.

Day 1:

Compared to last December in New York City as well as what we left behind in Edmonton, Alberta, we were extremely lucky when it came to the weather. Goodbye -30 degrees Celsius! Hello +14! It was so nice outside that, unlike the rest of the New Yorkers and tourists we encountered, we walked around in just our sweaters and still felt warm. I certainly wasn’t complaining. After we checked into our hotel, 6 Columbus, we started off our first afternoon with a Japanese meal at Natsumi, a quick jaunt to Times Square and then followed up with a Broadway musical called First Date. We loved the show – it was a little clichéd, but so true and very funny – and we left the theatre with newfound crushes on Zachary Levi (@ZacharyLevi) whom I already was a fan of from NBC’s Chuck and Disney’s Tangled. I’m a bit sad to share the news that the show closes on January 5, 2014, so I’m glad that I had the chance to see it while I was there. The night ended with a trip to Whole Foods (please open up a location in Edmonton!) for sustenance to keep us energized for the rest of the trip.

Day 2:

The day started with one of my favourite meals ever. Norma’s Lox & Lox of Bagel and their Waz-Za Waffle. I sort of feel like it’s the quintessential breakfast place and if I’m going to eat anywhere whenever I visit New York, Norma’s is definitely going to make the list. Ever since my cousin took me there, I haven’t skipped it once on any subsequent trips. That breakfast powered us through a visit to Statue of Liberty Island, a shopping excursion to Century 21, a walk through St. Paul’s Chapel and an introspective look around the 9/11 Memorial site. That evening, we had a delicious Greek meal at Ethos Gallery, strolled along Fifth Avenue looking at the holiday window displays and made our way back to our hotel and another stop at Whole Foods (seriously, this place would make so much money from us if they opened in Edmonton).

Day 3:

After a couple of late nights staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning for no reason whatsoever, we started the day a bit later and headed over to one of the better rated sushi restaurants according to Yelp and Urbanspoon. Aoki provided us with a comfortable atmosphere and an affordable and tasty lunch of miso soup, assorted rolls and über fresh salmon sashimi. We took an express train to Brooklyn and got a little lost (we shouldn’t have been on the express), but we eventually made it to the borough where we met a couple of friends for dinner at The Burger Bistro, completely stuffing our faces with burgers, fries and sangria. Then we ventured to Barclays Center for the first Knicks vs. Nets game of the NBA season. Apparently both teams are doing abysmally this year, but I would say that the Knicks are doing better based on this particular game. Since we missed out on the tree lighting festivities the night before at Rockefeller Center, we went back to Manhattan and took pictures in front of the rink and the giant tree. It was so beautiful! As it lightly snowed we hopped onto a carriage and Benny the horse towed us over to the bar, so we could ring in our friend’s 30th birthday at midnight.

Day 4:

We slept in a bit and upon waking we headed to Central Park where we found the fabulous Columbus Circle Holiday Market, which had been set up for the Christmas season by UrbanSpace. Locally made gift items, Christmas ornaments and festive snacks and drinks to warm up customers really helped to bring out the cheerfulness of the season despite the rainy day. After browsing around for a little while, we made our way to Greenwich Village for a pre-booked dessert tour. Unfortunately, the guide did not show up to meet us, but thankfully, we were just a few steps away from Joe’s Pizza (even after a half dozen trips to New York, this was my first time enjoying a famous Big Apple slice) and numerous other food establishments where we decided to create a tour of our own. If plans don’t pan out, you just have to make the best of it! Since we had some time to kill upon finishing our impromptu meal, we ventured back to Fifth Avenue where we came across the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Afterwards we enjoyed supper at a cozy Italian restaurant in the lower east side called Grotto. And, last, but not least, we, again, met up with our friend to officially ring in her 30th birthday at Tao Downtown and then Le Souk.

Day 5:

I have to say this day was a bit of a write-off. We were at Le Souk until 5am and I was wired from the night out dancing. I didn’t sleep until we got onto an 8:30am shuttle bus to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets just outside of Manhattan. Dead tired, but determined, my friend and I were real troopers and pretty much got our shopping done within the first few hours. Maybe if we had more energy and it wasn’t so bitterly cold in contrast to the first few days of our trip, we may have walked around a bit more. But, after days of late nights and next to no sleep for at least 24 hours, we just couldn’t do it any more. Once we made our way back to the city, we went to Aoki for dinner (becoming regulars) and then I bought myself a last minute ticket from the TKTS Discount Booth in Times Square to see Big Fish at the Neil Simon Theatre, which I am, again, sad to say has ended its run as of December 29th due to poor sales. The night I attended, it was a packed house, probably with those wanting to catch the well-reviewed show before the curtains officially closed, but it was too little, too late.

Day 6:

This was another slightly late day where we worked our way to Murray Hill for lunch at S’MAC. The portion sizes of our mac and cheese dishes were massive and I only finished about half of mine. A walk to burn off the heavy meal led us to Grand Central Terminal and the MetLife Building and back to Fifth Avenue where we shopped at Saks and Bloomingdale’s before having our final three-course meal in New York at David Burke at Bloomingdale’s (delicious by the way!). A stroll back to the Columbus Circle Holiday Market for one last look around before it closed for the night and a quick stop at our hotel to drop-off of all our stuff from the day and we were off to Barclays Center to finally see what we had booked the trip for in the first place – P!nk’s The Truth About Love Tour! Let me just say that I have seen many concerts over the years and this one just blew me away. P!nk is a topnotch performer who entertained us with her acrobatics, dancing, and incredible voice, which, to my knowledge, was live and not recorded. She was everything I hoped and, honestly, her show was a perfect cap to our holiday. I left thinking that if I could still get just a single ticket to her sold out, but postponed Edmonton show on January 16, it would be worth it to see her one more time.

I really hope you enjoyed my adventure and that it inspires you to visit New York soon. Whether you go on your own, with family or friends, you’ll be sure to have a great time.

I thought I would leave you with some extra information that would be useful for your travels to New York or wherever your next trip finds you.

General travel tips:

– Use deal vouchers – Groupon and LivingSocial can save you a lot of money on what would be otherwise extravagant meals or shows!

– Prepay for what you can (it’ll help take the sting out of it come bill time if it’s all spread out). Although make sure you can cancel and get a refund in case plans go awry.

– Make reservations for restaurants that you really want to try out – many restaurants, in the States especially, use Opentable and it’s a great way to ensure you get a table.

– If you don’t have a particular show in mind and you’re willing to take a chance, get last minute discounted tickets – in NYC go to the TKTS locations to see what Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are available the day of.

– Check Booking.com for hotel deals – many of the hotels offer free cancellation up until just a few days before you are supposed to arrive. They also don’t charge booking fees and most hotels don’t require that you pay ahead of time, so you can keep a watch out for better deals in the meantime.

Tips for NYC in December:

– Layer – you never know if the weather will take a turn!

– Mix and match pieces, so that it looks like you’re wearing something different everyday even though you only brought a few things.

– Winter items are heavier, thus taking up more space, so re-wear items, such as pants, throughout the trip, but bring enough, so you can alternate.

– Bring an umbrella, a hat and gloves. While we were there, it was balmly (to us anyway), wet and snowy within the span of 6 days.

Things to check out in NYC in December:

– Rockefeller Center – the Christmas tree is a must see!

– Columbus Circle Holiday Market was lovely, especially if the weather is nice and you can take your time. Grand Central Terminal also had a market set up for Christmas and it’s indoors, so you can stay nice and warm.

– Fifth Avenue – Christmas displays at the department stores are quite exquisite. I didn’t even get inside Bergdorf Goodman, but the windows were beautiful!

Lastly, I wish I was going back to NYC in 2014. I want to see Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) kick serious ass in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, which is playing a limited engagement run from the end of March through to almost the end of July 2014. I’m so jealous of anyone who is planning to see that. If you’re going, take me with you.

If you liked my photos, please follow me on Instagram @crystalcarwin.

Photostream: London UK Holiday

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve done a photostream post. My last was after my trip to Toronto in June/July 2012. This time I’m sharing pictures of my travels to London (in the UK, not Ontario).

I tried to do it all and for the most part I think I succeeded in seeing as many of the sites, eating the food, visiting the galleries and museums, tube and double decker bus riding, walking, shopping and show watching as I possibly could have in just 8 days.

I stayed in the Hammersmith district at the Best Western Plus Seraphine Hammersmith, which was excellent. Their staff was quite friendly and helpful (contrary to reviews we read prior to leaving on our trip). And, though the room was small for three people, it wasn’t actually any worse than others I’ve stayed at. The bathroom, thank goodness, was normal sized and the double bed more than accommodated two people. If you’re thinking of European standards, this exceeds it byfar.

Other than that, we mostly stayed within zones 1 & 2, making good use of our unlimited weekly transit pass. We took in Trafalgar Square, went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, saw a performance of The Woman in Black, now in its 24th year at the Fortune theatre in the West End, had high tea at Fortnum and Mason, shopped at Primark (fabulous clothes for affordable prices – their limited edition collection is amazing) and ate at the pubs as well as the ever-popular Pret A Manger, among many more things.

However, the best part of the trip for me was seeing singing group, Girls Aloud, at the O2 arena on their 10 year anniversary tour (please stay together!). I actually cried a little. It was like seeing the Spice Girls in Las Vegas in 2007 on their reunion tour or seeing Kylie Minogue live. Like the previous concerts, I never expected to see them in front of my very eyes. Yet, I decided to take this trip just for them. I’m so glad I did. Not only was the show amazing, but the whole experience was much better than what I recall of my last trip to London.

While this is not my whole collection of photos (I won’t bore you with the over 1000 I took during my time there), these are my favourite ones. I took the time to Instagram them when I got home. I find them a little more pleasing this way. At least until I have a chance to edit the other 900+.

I hope you enjoy perusing the images. Maybe they’ll spark a memory of your own trip to that vibrant, historical city. Or perhaps they’ll inspire you to visit one day. And, if you like, please take a moment to share with me your recollections of London or what you wish to see when you’re there in the future.

Follow me on Instagram @crystalcarwin

Photostream: Toronto Adventures

I took a bit of a break from blogging over the last week as I was on holiday in Toronto. Yet, the whole time I kept contemplating what my next post would be about. After some thought, I have decided to go with a photostream of my adventures during my vacation.

Photography has been an interest of mine for years. However, like many people who love the medium, I am no professional. Though I have considered purchasing a fancy DSLR camera, it is a bit out of my reach at the moment, so I’ve stuck with my Nikon and Ricoh point-and-shoot cameras instead.

What I find interesting nowadays is despite carrying around a real camera almost everywhere I go, I tend to grab my smart phone first when I want to capture a moment or an image. Cell phone cameras have come a long way over the years, and with the addition of all the apps that are available, even those who have little experience with photography can create share-worthy photos. A good eye for composition still helps, but the ability to crop and apply filters gives everyone the ability to become an artist in their own right.

While there are many apps out there that are probably as good as Instagram, I did stick with that particular app for my entire trip. My apologies for not noting which filter I applied for each photo as I didn’t keep track myself (I will be sure to do so next time). On the plus side, you can likely gauge some of them based off of the frames that you see. Some of the images have also been brightened or blurred for greater effect. All of the images were shot using my HTC Incredible S Android phone.

I hope you enjoy the ride and perhaps consider your own trip to Toronto, the NYC of Canada!

If you like my pictures, follow me on Instagram at: crystalcarwin.

(Click individual photos for enlarged images and to leave comments)