About Carrie Kellenberger

Carrie Kellenberger

Canadian expat Carrie Kellenberger has kept a home base with her husband in Asia since 2003. A prolific traveler, Carrie has funded her travels primarily as a writer, editor, travel blogger and photographer, but she has also worked as an educator, voice over artist, model and nightclub singer. She draws upon her 15+ years of travel experience to write about travel-related issues and the countries she has visited on her award-winning web site, My Several Worlds.

Her photography and travel articles have appeared in both print and online publications around the world, including Travel and Leisure Asia, Unearthing Asia and Hip Compass Escapes.


Latest Posts by Carrie Kellenberger

Finding Homemade Canadian Cooking in Taipei

November 20, 2014 by  

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Being a Canadian who has lived in Taiwan since 2006, I can say with confidence that there has been a distinct lack of good Canadian fare available in Taipei. In other words, it’s tough to find restaurants in Taipei that offer ‘True North’ dishes like poutine, smoked meat sandwiches, and breakfast skillets. Thankfully, Whalen’s has had us covered since the summer of 2012.

Salad with Raspberry Vinegarette Dressing

John and I have eaten at Whalen’s in Taipei’s Daan District on numerous occasions, although we’ve yet to visit for brunch or just drinks. I’ve never had a meal at Whalen’s that I haven’t enjoyed. In fact, we like the food at Whalen’s so much, it has been listed on my list of favorite restaurants in Taipei since January 2014. It’s going to stay there for 2015, too.

They make a lot of things from scratch, so items like their homemade salad dressings and hand-cut fries really stand out. Have I mentioned value for your money? Yes, they’ve got that covered too. The portions are so big, I always find it hard to clear my plate completely. You definitely get your money’s worth when you eat at Whalen’s.

Last week I was invited to come by Whalen’s to try some of their new menu additions. John and I were pretty excited as we knew we were in for a great meal. The only complaint we had going in – and this isn’t really a complaint - is that the menu is massive, just like their meals. It’s hard to make a decision because it all looks great! Plus Whalen’s always delivers a consistent meal, so we know that our tried and true menu favorites are going to be just as good as the last time we visited.

The invite was the perfect opportunity to try something new…with the exception of Whalen’s gourmet poutines. The Canadian in me really, really loves Whalen’s poutines. All they’re missing are the cheese curds! Believe me, when you see the poutines, you’re not going to be thinking about cheese curds, though. You’re going to be wondering how you can possibly eat everything that’s on your plate instead!

Anyways, back to my complaint about Whalen’s massive menu.

We went in with a strategy, which didn’t turn out to be a very unique strategy since the people eating next to us adopted the same technique. (Or maybe they saw us do it?) John and I decided to order two meals to share. (This is one of the main benefits of being married, in my opinion!)

Main dishes on the menu include a choice of two side dishes and a drink. For sides, you can choose a salad, yogurt and granola, fruit, or hand cut fries. You can even upgrade your fries to a classic poutine for an additional NT$40. We started with side salads, and I was so glad I went with the raspberry vinaigrette dressing. It was a nice tart dressing that worked really well with my salad. I’d buy this in a bottle if I could! Unfortunately, they only make it in house. I hope they remember who to contact if they ever decide to bottle that recipe. Yum!

Of course, we both went with poutine for a second side dish. You didn’t think I’d skip that, did you?

Whalen's Lucy Juicey and Pulled Pork Poutine

As for main dishes, John went with the Juicy Lucy burger, which is something we’ve both been wanting to try for some time now. The burger was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of meat and cheese. The bun wasn’t a hot congealed soggy mess of grease either. (Nothing turns me off a burger faster than a soggy, greasy bun.) This bun was fresh and lightly toasted, so we gave extra points for that! We are both huge burger fans, and I’d put Whalen’s Juicy Lucy burger right up there with some of our other favorite burger restaurants in Taipei.

I ordered the Kebabwich, which is fairly new to the menu. I’ve been waiting to try it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. This Middle Eastern sandwich is loaded with fragrantly spiced meat and cheese. It had a really nice flavor, and it’s not as heavy as some of the other sandwiches on the menu.

Just like every other time we’ve been, we had enough food on our plates to keep us full for hours.Whalen's Kebabwich and Poutine

The desserts on the menu look incredible and I seriously thought about ordering something, but I was stuffed after my meal. They offer a nice assortment of cheesecakes, tarts, and waffles. I’d say that if the dessert portion and quality of the dessert is the same as other dishes at Whalen’s, you can expect more than enough to satisfy that sweet tooth.

In the past, we’ve ordered a number of classic items off the menu. The Roughneck Poutine comes loaded with fries, cheese, gravy, chili and sour cream, which makes it an instant favorite for me.

Whalen's Hot Turkey SandwichI also LOVE their homemade open faced Hot Turkey Sandwich. It’s one of my absolute favorite menu items. I’ve never found it anywhere else in Asia that’s worth mentioning. (It’s the best comfort food sandwich in Taipei, in my opinion!). John also really enjoys Whalen’s Philly Sandwich, which comes stacked with grilled beef, onions, and cheese on a giant hoagie bun.

The Whalen’s Food Challenge: Usually my husband likes a good food challenge, but even he did a double take when he saw Whalen’s Killer Whale challenge – 5.5 POUNDS of poutine-y goodness WITH chicken fingers, bacon, and mac and cheese. (I went into a food coma just writing that out.) If you can finish it, your photo goes on the Whalen Hall of Fame. With that said, if you do decide to take the challenge, Clint advises that you make sure you’re prepared. “Plan ahead, and don’t try it on a whim,” he warned.

Other than that, it’s enough to feed a party of four easily.

The customers seated next to us that I mentioned a few paragraphs back also shared their meals, and they happened to order two menu items that we’ve both been curious about. The quiche and Eggs Benny looked seriously good. It looks like we’ll have to go back to Whalen’s some time soon.

Whether you’re looking for Western style comfort food, a home cooked meal, easy family style dining, or a great North American style brunch in Taipei, you can trust that Whalen’s will have exactly what you’re looking for. The name is practically synonymous with homestyle North American cooking of the very best kind in Taipei.

BIG THUMBS UP!

Whalen’s Restaurant

  • Address: 145, Anhe Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (At the corner of Anhe Road and Leli Road)
  • Closest MRT Station: Xinyi Anhe Station on the Red Line
  • Telephone: (02) 2739-3037
  • Hours of Operation: 10am to 9pm
  • Details: Credit cards not accepted, 10% service charge

Images of Whalen’s poutine and hot turkey sandwich were provided by Whalen’s.

Celebrate Pride in Taipei at Largest LGBT Pride Parade in Asia

October 23, 2014 by  

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PRIDE

Asia’s largest and most colorful Gay Pride Parade is held on the last Saturday in October in Taipei each year. This year, Taipei’s annual Pride Parade is happening on October 25, 2014.

The parade attracts tens of thousands of local supporters and visitors from abroad each year. Over 65,000 people participated in the 2012 Pride Parade. Last year Taipei’s Pride Parade attracted more than 67,000 supporters. Parade organizers are expecting even more visitors to show their support for the LGBT community this year!

Taiwan is one of the most progressive countries in Asia, and it has long been known for being gay-friendly. Equal rights is a huge issue in Taiwan, and Taipei’s Pride Parade serves as a colorful reminder that showing respect for sexual diversity and equal rights is important to everyone.

The parade starts at the Presidential Building at Ketagalan Boulevard, and typically follows the same route each year. The whole event takes around two hours, so wear comfortable shoes and bring water with you.

You can expect plenty of entertainment with elaborate floats, bubble machines, marching groups, drag queens, giant rainbow colored flags and banners, and music.

This year, please show your support for Taiwan’s LGBT community and say no to discrimination and bullying. For more information, please visit the LGBT Pride Taiwan website and  Taiwan LGBT Pride on Facebook.

Taiwan Pride 2011-15

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Taiwan Pride 2011-2

 

The Top Things That Make Me Love Taiwan

October 6, 2014 by  

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Fu Dog and Taiwanese Temple

I love my life here in Taiwan, and that is why I decided that my post today would be about some of the things that Taiwan does right. And when I mean right, I mean, really, really right. 

1. Temples everywhere

Taiwan is crammed with Buddhist and Taoist temples. You can throw a stone in Taiwan and hit a temple – that’s how prolific they are. They’re everywhere, and they’re crammed into the most unlikely places. I love to introduce my friends to Tianhou Temple, which is tucked away on a busy street in Taipei’s Wanhua District. Most people don’t even know it’s there. You’d never notice it if it weren’t for the heavy smell of incense in the air, and even then, most people just walk on by.

My favorite kinds of temples in Taiwan are Taoist temples, which are not to be confused with Taiwan’s many Buddhist temples. You can tell the difference between the two by their appearance. Taoist temples are known for being extremely colorful with lots of carving and statues of mythological creatures from folk tales, whereas Buddhist temples aren’t nearly as colorful and they don’t tend to have as many ornate carvings and designs.

2. Super friendly locals

Taiwan is well known for its kind and super friendly locals. People here are always willing to help, even if their English isn’t very good. Can’t find your way somewhere? Someone will almost certainly stop to inquire and point you in the right direction!

3. Recycling and trash

I am always a little dismayed by how shoddy recycling practices in North America. It seems like people hardly recycle at all in North America. In comparison people are really diligent about recycling in Taiwan. Everything that can possibly be recycled is handled with care.

In Taiwan, neighborhood garbage trucks collect garbage at specific times during the day and night, and you always know when they’re coming when you hear Beethoven’s Für Elise or Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska’s A Maiden’s Prayer.

Several decades ago, the Taiwanese government came up with the idea of musical garbage trucks to prevent people from dumping their garbage on the streets. When you hear the music, you better get your butt outside fast. You need to be downstairs with your trash when the trucks come or you end up chasing them or holding on to your trash for another night.

The only thing I don’t really like about trash collection in Taiwan is that you can never found a trash bin when you need one. I suppose if the cities put them out, people would stuff the bins with personal trash.

No system is perfect, but I think Taiwan does a pretty great job.

4. Convenience stores

You can find a convenience store on every corner in Taiwan, and when I say that they’re ultra convenient, I really mean it. Most convenience stores are open 24/7, and you can do pretty much anything there. You can pay all your bills, use their business center to scan and photocopy, or you can order in specialty food items. You can even order things online and have them delivered to your local convenience store. Convenience stores sell hot meals and alcohol. They even sell fresh fruits and vegetable. You can pick up a hot meal or choose from their selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Beer, bottled liquors, and wine are also available.

5. Fresh Tea

There are fresh tea stands all over the island. Any flavor, hot or cold, sweet or tart, a cup of tea in Taiwan is a treat that can be enjoyed every day for as little as NT$30 (approximately $1USD).

6. Universal health care

Over 95% of the population in Taiwan has access to health care.

For someone like me, who needs regular access to medical professionals, Taiwan is like a dream come true. There is no way I can receive the same level of care in the US and Canada that I receive in Taiwan, simply because I have access to a doctor on the day that I need it.

The system is set up as a single, government-run fund that forces everyone to join and pay.

When you need to see a doctor, you have your choice of any number of medical clinics and specialists clinids, which are set up all over the island. You don’t have to make an appointment, you rarely have to wait longer than 30 minutes to see a doctor, and once you’ve paid your NT$150 service fee ($5USD approximately), you see the doc and collect your prescription drugs on your way out.

Even if you’re not employed, health care is relatively cheap compared to what you’d pay in North America. I required an MRI, for example, a few years ago. With my health insurance, I paid around $30USD for the MRI. Two summers ago, my mother-in-law sprained her wrist badly. Although she didn’t have health insurance, we took her to our local hospital and they x-rayed and taped her wrist for the equivalent of $15USD.

Taiwanese Meat Market7. Night markets

I’ve been to plenty of night markets all over Asia, but I hold a special place in my heart for Taiwan’s night markets, especially our local night market!

My favorite part of any night market is the food, and there are specialties to be found at every market we visit. Just a few months ago, we went to Keelung Market for some freshly stemmed basil crab. It was out of this world!

8. National ParksTaroko Gorge

There are eight national parks on this tiny island in the Pacific, and they’re all beautiful. These aren’t to be confused with National Scenic Areas, which are also in abundance. There are 13 of those.

The biggest difference between National Parks and National Scenic Areas in Taiwan is that National Parks are controlled by the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of China, whereas National Scenic Areas are run by Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of the Republic of China.

They all share something in common though. They’re beautiful, cheap to access, and pristine.

9. LGBT and gay friendliness

Taiwan is known for being one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in Asia, and same-sex sexual activity is legal in Taiwan. In other words, people are free to be who they want to be!Taiwan is also home to the largest LGBT event in Asia. Taiwan’s Pride Festival attracts more than 65,000 visitors each year.

10. Hot Springs

Taiwan’s hot springs are known all over the world, and there is an abundance of them. There are over 100 hot spring locations in Taiwan, and this is one of the reasons why it’s listed as one of the top 15 hot spring destinations on Earth! The other reason is that it is one of just a few locations on Earth that has several different kinds of hot springs. From natural sulphur bath and cold springs to mud springs, and even sea salt springs, it’s no wonder that Taiwan has such an active hot spring culture.

What about you? What are your favorite things about Taiwan? 

Taiwan: The Hungry Ghosts of Isla Formosa

September 4, 2014 by  

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The hungry ghosts of Taiwan are currently haunting this beautiful island. Yes, you read that right! And they’re going to continue haunting the island for the entire seventh month of the lunar calendar.

Don’t stay out late after dark. Ghosts usually roam the earth at sunset and at night.

This means a number of things for residents of Taiwan. For one, there is a lot – and I mean A LOT – of paper burning and alter worship happening in temples and on the streets right now. The Taiwanese are a naturally superstitious people, and this is particularly evident during Ghost Festival, also know as the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Ghost Month typically occurs in August, but in 2017, for example, Ghost Month in Taiwan falls in September.)

The custom originates from China, but it is also celebrated by Buddhists and Taoists in other Asian countries and in Asian communities around the world. The most important day of Ghost Month is known as Ghost Day, and it falls on the 15th night of the festival. Taiwanese believe that this is the time of year when spirits and ghosts are nearest to our realm of existence, thus the living are likely to be visited by the dead – unless they are appeased.

Ghost Month Offerings (4)

This may sound similar to another article that I wrote about Qingming Festival, which is also known as Tomb Sweeping Festival. The difference is that Tomb Sweeping Day pays respect to older generations of ancestors, whereas Ghost Festival pays respect to all the deceased.The ghosts that emerge during Ghost Festival are believed to be the ancestors of families who forgot to pay homage to them after they died. It is believed that these ghosts are coming straight through the gates of hell, where they are free to walk the earth to seek pleasure and food.

This time of year is very auspicious for the people of Taiwan. Alter lamps are lit on the 12th day, paper money and incense are burned, and offerings of food and drinks are made to appease the spirits, keep them happy, and prevent them from visiting private homes. Every year in Banciao, for example, our building complex always hosts a big party in the lobby. With five towers of residents contributing food, drinks, and incense, it’s easy to imagine how busy (and smoky) it gets during the celebration.

There are always at least 20 tables loaded with fruit, vegetables, packaged foods, beer, and other goodies, all strategically spread out with sticks of incense poked in various nooks and crannies for good measure. A make-shift altar is set up at one end of the building complex, and this is where residents can burn incense and joss paper, and offer their blessings. Many families pray to their deceased relatives, but they also offer prayers to other wandering souls so that these ghosts don’t intrude into the family home to wreak chaos.

Ghost Month in Taiwan

Standing under a tree at night or visiting a graveyard during Ghost Month is a bad idea.

There are many taboos associated with Ghost Month:

  • Don’t stay out late after dark. Ghosts usually roam the earth at sunset and at night
  • Don’t whistle at night. That’s a sure way for the ghosts to find you!
  • It’s never a good idea to make large purchases during Ghost Festival.
  • You shouldn’t have surgery or get married
  • Important events are usually avoided during the month to avoid bad luck
  • If someone taps you on the shoulder or calls you from behind, it’s best not to turn around. This is an easy invite for ghosts to possess you!
  • Travel plans are best avoided
  • Do not wear red or black. Ghosts are attracted to these colors.
  • Don’t move house during Ghost Month
  • Don’t go swimming. Spirits like to hide in the water
  • Don’t spit, stare at fire, or open an umbrella at night
  • Don’t look under the alter table during prayer session

During Ghost Month in Taiwan, it’s typical to:

  • Offer prayers to deceased relatives and other lost souls
  • Offer food and drinks
  • Burn joss paper and hell bank notes, which are believed to have value in the afterlife. It’s not uncommon to see people burning paper replicas of things like cars and houses to please ghosts
  • Hold a large feast for ghosts on the 14th day of the seventh month
  • Throw a live performance, such as a Chinese opera or a burlesque show. If this happens, the first row of seats are always left empty so the ghosts have somewhere to sit
  • Buddhists and Taoists often hold special ceremonies in the afternoon and at night
  • Burn incense in the front doors of homesteads and businesses.
  • On the 14th day, people traditionally float water lanterns outside their homes so ghosts can find their way back to hell. These lanterns generally look like a lotus flower on a paper boat
  • It’s not uncommon to see people praying by roadsides or crossroads. That is because these areas are believed to be areas that attract ghosts.
  • Throw a big feast on the 15th day of the month to bring good luck to your family
 I’m not a naturally superstitious person, but it’s easy to get caught up in things when you’re constantly being warned about evil spirits. What about you? Do you believe in ghosts? (For this article’s purpose, I am writing specifically about practices that occur in Taiwan, but keep in mind that practices vary from country to country.)

 

Quaint Jiufen in the Mountains of Northern Taiwan

August 11, 2014 by  

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You only need to visit Jiufen once to see the magic in this place. A small village situated in the mountains of Northern Taiwan, Jiufen is located in the Ruifang District of New Taipei City.

The village was once home to nine families in the Qing Dynasty, and was named Jiufen for the number of shipments that were delivered to the town. (Jiu means the number nine in Chinese, and fen is a measure word for a portion of something.) Nine portions were always requested whenever shipments were delivered to the village, and the name stuck.

Jiufen

In addition to being one of the prettiest towns in Northern Taiwan, Jiufen is special because of its location. The mountain roads leading to Jiufen are narrow, steep, and winding; and the village itself is set atop a mountain and offers stunning views of the ocean.

There is gold hidden in these mountains, and the discovery of it in 1893 lead to Jiufen’s first gold rush. This sparked an interest in its development as a proper town. The gold rush reached its peak during the Japanese rule, and that is why you can still see so many Japanese inns in the are today. In fact, many of the buildings there have remained unchanged.

The mine was closed in 1971 and Juifen started to fade back into obscurity, but then it became famous once again when it became the focus of two films.

The 1989 film A City of Sadness was filmed in Juifen, and the village experienced a revival owing to the film’s success. In the early 1990s, Jiufen experienced a tourist boom because of how it was portrayed in A City of Sadness, and much of what was built back then to accommodate the tourist industry is still there today.

In 2001, Studio Ghibli released a Japanese animation film called Spirited Away. The movie is about a young girl who moves with her family to a new home and enters a spirit world. It is said that the creators drew inspiration for their spirit world from the streets of Jiufen.

Jiufen is known for its distinctive red lanterns and cobblestone stairways, and its small alleys and lanes that hold untold treasures. It’s also home to lots of cool little retro style Chinese and Japanese teahouses, cafés and restaurants.

Back in the day, these teahouses were very popular with Taiwanese writers and artists, many of which hold articles of historical significance. People come here to purchase beautiful handmade ceramics as well as high quality tea. You can also browse through numerous artisan shops and souvenir stands.

My favorite part of Jiufen, other than the architecture and scenery, is the same as it is in every small town in Taiwan: the food. Fresh deep-fried squid, roasted golden King mushrooms, seafood of all sorts, soft chewy taro balls, and fresh tea can be found everywhere. The rows of food stands that are set up along Old Jinshan Street and Shuqi Road serve delectable Taiwanese snacks.

One of the charming things about living in Taiwan is that every city/town/village has its only speciality. Taichung is famous for its suncakes, Penghu is famous for its cactus ice cream and brown sugar candies, and Jiufen is known for its delightfully chewy taro balls. This is a must-try in Jiufen, and there are plenty of taro ball dessert shops on this street. The most famous is Grandma Lai’s Taro Ball Shop.

Jishan Old Street

Jiufen Old Street snakes through most of the village, and this is where you can find the best shopping. There is a diverse array of local handicrafts and souvenirs on sale here, and there are a number of specialty shops that sell bamboo artwork, wood handicrafts, and children’s toys.

There are also many shops that sell local snacks and dishes. The fried squid is amazing. Local fishermen bring it in fresh every day, and it practically melts in your mouth. Even Caleb loved it. (This is saying something, since it’s practically unheard of for a 7-year-old North American boy that likes squid.)

There are numerous restaurants in the area that offer outdoor patio seating – The perfect place to sit and watch the sun set over the ocean. Once darkness arrives, the village falls under the light of its warm, soft, red lanterns.

Shuqi Road

Whenever you see photos of Jiufen, you are likely looking at photos of Shuqi Road. This road consists of a number of stairways with teahouses, curry shops, and art retailers to be found on each side. People come to Jiufen to walk along this famous street and to take photos. This street was also the main inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s 2001 Japanese animation film Spirited Away.

 

Things To Do in Jiufen:

Visitors don’t just go to Jiufen for the atmosphere, shopping, and the food, although shopping on Jiufen Old Street is probably the main reason why people visit Jiufen.

  • You can also go hiking on nearby Mt. Keelung.
  • The Jiufen Kite Museum displays beautiful kites from all over the world. Classes are available for visitors that want to try their own hand at kite making.
  • Enjoy some traditional Taiwanese tea at a local teahouse.
  • Visit the Gold Museum and learn about Jiufen’s history as a gold-mining town.
  • Spend some time in Jinguashi Park.
  • Stay at a local inn and enjoy the evening. Wake up the next morning and have breakfast in view of the ocean.

To Get There:

Take the train to Reuifang Station on the TRA Yilan Line. From there, you can catch a local bus across the street from the train station. Look for the bus stop next to the Welcome Mart and board the Keelung Transit Bus heading to Jiufen.

Buses depart from several points in and around Taipei and from Keelung.

Zhongxiao Fuxing Exit 1 – Take bus1062 (Keelung) to Jiufen.

Wait in front of the pavilion next to the 7-11 to catch the bus home. The 7-11 is next to the Jishan Street Entrance.

The journey takes between one and two hours by public transport.

Taking in the Best of Cultural Portugal

August 5, 2014 by  

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Porto Venere, Portugal

 

Medieval castles, fairytale-like towns, and sandy beaches soaked in sunshine – Portugal has it all. Travel here to experience quintessential Iberian culture, to wade through its brilliant blue waters, and relive history in its many tiny coastal villages and medieval towns.

Here are some of the top things to do if you plan to travel around Portugal.

Lisbon Street, Portugal

Explore Lisbon

Often considered one of Europe’s most scenic capitals, Lisbon is the heart and home of Portuguese culture. Must-see sights include the Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower, both built in the 1500s (and both on the UNESCO World Heritage Site register), the beautiful architecture of the Madre de Deus Convent, and the Chapel of St. John the Baptist inside Sao Roque Church – called the “most expensive chapel in the world” by many.

If you’re visiting Portugal for the weekend, take a stroll around town and take in its unique heritage, which has plenty of elements borrowed from Asian culture. After all, Macau in China was once a major Portuguese colony!

Palácio Nacional da Pena (UNESCO)

Visit the Pena National Palace

At first sight, the Pena National Palace looks surreal. Sitting high atop a gentle hill overlooking the town of Sintra, the palace looks like something straight from a fairytale. Dating back to the late 1400s, this Portuguese landmark has walls painted a shade of pink, a yellow tower, and crimson & grey walls. The architecture blends together elements from Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Islamic periods, making it one of the most peculiar (and prettiest) palaces in all of Europe.

Parade 2011 des Vieux Trams de Porto (Portugal)

Stroll through the historic centre of Porto

Even though it counts among the four largest cities in Portugal, Porto has somehow remained in the side-lines in most tourist itineraries. This means that despite its rich history and heritage, it is free from crowds, touts and expensive hotels. This also means it is a wonderful place to explore on your own. Stroll through the narrow streets in its historic sections by the River Douro, or take in the sunshine at one of its many street-side cafes for a taste of authentic Portuguese life.

2011-04-24 Portugal 533 - Évora

Explore the historic city of Evora

With a history that dates back to the ancient Celts, Evora counts among the oldest cities in Europe. Its ancient buildings and medieval fortifications are surprisingly well preserved. Highlights include the Cathedral of Evora (built over 60 years between 1280 and 1340), the palace of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the ancient Roman Temple of Evora which dates back to the 1st century, and the stunning University of Evora built in late 1500s. Taking a weekend-long detour to explore the historic heart of Portugal is highly recommended.

Portugal has two things in abundance: sunshine and history. Visit these four destinations listed above to get a taste of both!

Top photo credit: Image by Pank Seelen, used under the Creative Commons license.

The Botswana Guide, From Art + Food to Lions + Caverns

July 26, 2014 by  

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Bostwana Safari - Photo by Mathias on Flickr

As one of Africa’s premier travel destinations, Botswana offers a high standard of living and it is a politically stable country that travelers enjoy visiting for a number of reasons. It’s no surprise that the most popular activities are the Big Game Safaris, but that’s not all that this gorgeous country has to offer. There are lots of things to do in Botswana, and any list of activities that you read will certainly have great suggestions on how to fill your time there.

Here are our top five favorite things to do in beautiful Botswana.

Tsodilo Hills, Botswana

Get Your Art On in Tsodilo Hills

If the idea of a spiritual outdoor art gallery makes you smile with excitement, consider a visit to Tsodilo Hills, home to more than 4,500 ancient San Bushmen rock paintings. The San Bushmen believe that the creation of man began in Tsodilo Hills, and that this area is resting place for spirits of the dead.

There are over 400 sites in this area, all of which feature traditional hunting scenes, animals, and dances. Some of the rock art in this area dates back to more than 20,000 years ago. Tsodilo is often referred to as the “Louvre of the Desert”, and it’s no wonder that it has received UNESCO World Heritage site status. Archaeologists have determined that people lived in this area as long as 100,000 years ago!

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Go on Safari

Because of its massive private animal reserves and beautiful landscape, it’s no suprise that Botswana is known as one of the most famous safari destinations in the world.

The majority of Botswana’s wildlife areas are located in northern Botswana. Okavango Delta, Moremi Gorge, Chobe National Park and Linyanti are all easily accessible and they offer some of the best wildlife viewing on the planet.

Being comprised of mostly desert terrain, Botswana is also a great place to visit if you’d interested in embarking on a desert safari. Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and Central Kalahari Game Reserve are two popular destinations for this sort of experience.

Whether you’re searching for a regular safari up north or you’re looking for a startling contrast to the typical African safari, Yellow Zebra Safari offers some spectacular safari tours in areas all over Botswana.

Try Seswaa, Botswana’s National Dish

The traditional cuisine of Botswana is typically based on meat and maize dishes. Botswana’s national dish, Seswaa, is a tasty meat stew served over a thick polenta/porridge.

The stew is made by boiling meat, typically beef or goat, with onions and peppers for approximately two hours. The meat is then shredded and pounded with salt to add flavor. The mixture is pored over a maize meal and served with a leafy green called Morogo. This may seem like a very basic meal, and it is, but it’s important to remember that meat was once considered a luxury that many families couldn’t afford.

Famous street from the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books

Go on a Literary Journey in Gaborone, Botwana’s Capital City

OK, so maybe this activity isn’t particular exciting, unless you’re a bookworm like me. I wanted to include it though, because I love The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and it’s an unusual way to see some of Gaborone, Botswana’s capital city.

This popular book series has put Gaborone firmly on the map, and since the books have been turned into a popular HBO Series, you can watch Precious Ramotswe’s hometown spring to life before your eyes. A half-day tour features film locations for the books, a drive by Precious’ home on Zebra Drive, and a visit to her office at Speedy Motors.

Gcwihaba Cave

Image courtesy of Botswana Tourism

Visit Gcwihaba Caverns

Set amongst the rippling sand dunes of the Kalahari Desert, Gcwihaba Caverns are a wonderful option for adrenaline seekers who are seeking something a bit out of the ordinary. The caverns are located in one of the most remote locations in Botswana, and they aren’t easy to get to, but they’re worth every minute of the long journey there. The two-story caves are a maze of linked passageways that are full of stalagmites and stalactites, which have been formed over thousands of years by dripping water. The unusual rock formations and frozen waterfalls are a veritable kaleidoscope of colors. We bet you never knew rocks could be so complex and beautiful!

This completes our list of five things that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Botswana. Have you been to Botswana? What do you recommend doing in Botswana?

 

Canadian Reflections: Lake Nipissing in North Bay

July 22, 2014 by  

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The pitter patter of light summer rain on a hot tin roof and the slap of bare feet against a wooden dock are sounds that take me back to my childhood.

As a young child, there wasn’t anything I liked better than spending my summer up at the family cottage on Lake Nipissing in North Bay, Ontario. My parents were both teachers, and come the last day of school, we’d pack our bags up the night before and hightail it out of town the next morning at the ‘early’ hour of 8am with cats and dogs in tow. It was usually closer to 9am, though, because my dad likes to sleep in.

We learned that lesson well from him when we were kids. To this day, my mother is still the only early riser in our house.  We three kids would spread our pillows and blankets out in the back of it, and we’d lie there in the sun and count cars and sing along to my Dad’s ZZ Top tape. ABBA, Dire Straits, and Wilson Philipps were also frequently played during those journeys, so much so that we knew those albums front and back.

It was during those long summer road trips that I caught the travel bug.

The journey there was every bit as important as the places we were headed to together as a family.

We always took the back roads from Carleton Place through to Almonte before making a pit stop at MacDonald’s in Arnprior. I’ve never been a big fan of sausage and egg McMuffins, but no one else in my family can pass them up, and we all believed in being well fortified for our four-hour journey along Highway 17, also known as the TransCanada Highway. This highway follows the Ottawa River along the old fur-trading route, passing through pretty little town after pretty like town.

Two hours later, we’d stop at the Laurentian Diary and Ice Cream Shop in Deep River, where my brother, sister and I would make short work of their famous Pig’s Trough. We’d move on through Mattawa, home of Big Joe Mufferaw. The highway here snakes through rugged Canadian Shield all the way to Manitoba. From time to time on our way home, we’d stop at Myrt’s Grill, which I first remember visiting with my grandfather when I cwas just a little girl. We always looked forward to their diner style milkshakes, thick cut fries, and juicy hamburgers. They pack a mean turkey and gravy sandwich too.

Eventually we’d start seeing more and more signs for North Bay, which sits on the eastern end of beautiful Lake Nipissing. North Bay is the largest city in this area, but it’s still very much a small Canadian town in a lot of ways. Summer beach homes and cabins stretch along the shoreline, and the Aboriginal tribes that live in this area have been here for around 9,400 years. The area is rich in cultural heritage, and it is also a beautiful place to vacation at during the summer.

Our family cottage is nestled in Tillicum Bay.

There are a number of cottages for rent in this area, including Cozy Cove Cottages, which are probably the best known cottages in the area. Idle Tyme Fishing Camp is also in this area, and it offers some of the best fishing expeditions on the lake. People really love cottage life on Lake Nipissing, and some of  the families who own cottages here have been here for generations, like my family.

Tillicum Bay YMCA. This used to be a cadet camp. When I was a little girl, we used to hate to be woken up by the sound of a bugle playing Reveille.

Nippissing is also referred to as the gateway to northern Ontario, and it’s one of the best fishing lakes in Ontario. Some of the trophy fish coming out of its waters are frickin’ huge. Nippissing is well known for its giant muskie, walleye, Northern Pike, and Jumbo Perch, to name a few.

For those of you who don’t know your fish, consider this photo. A muskie is big enough to pull your canoe around the lake for a few hours, which is exactly what happened to my brother when he went fishing in our bay several years ago!

Ice fishing is also a popular activity on Lake Nipissing. I’ve never stayed on Nipissing much past November, but my brother was an avid outdoorsman, and there’s nothing he liked better than being up at the lake to ice fish throughout the winter.

Marshall Cottage, with its sunny yellow frame and white trim, has been our second home for as long as I can remember. As cramped as it is for a family of five, it was an easy life of swimming, fishing, reading, sunbathing, canoeing and bbq-ing. We’d have visitors throughout the summer. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all made the journey north; close family friends like the Dales and the Grahams would come with their own children, and as we grew up, we started bringing our friends.

Those hot, golden days passed long and slow, and we moved in and out of each summer day with a familiar fluidity that isn’t hard to recapture 20 years later.

Little footprints and handprints of all the children who have spent their summers at the cottage everywhere. We are everywhere.

As the years have gone by, my siblings and I moved through a love/hate relationship with our cottage, especially when we were in high school and two months with our parents at the cottage was just about the last place we wanted to be, but that time passed quickly.

Nowadays, our family get-togethers are different. But they aren’t any less fun than those days we had growing up in North Bay. We spend more time sitting and basking in the sun in the backyard or on the beach, content to be with one another. Canadians are known for loving their cottages, and this writer is no exception. If you’ve spent any time on a lake looking out over the placid surface of its water, you’ll understand how nothing beats life on the lake.

 

 

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