Thursday, 20 September 2018

Alberta National Parks trip itinerary

Last August Stuart and I travelled to Alberta, Canada for 10 days to visit our friend Kirsten. We flew into Calgary where Kirsten lives and spent the next week and a half driving around the province's world-renowned national parks: Jasper, Banff and Waterton. Kirsten organised the itinerary for our visit and it was the first stint of travelling that I've done that I haven't planned to the finest detail. It was so nice to sit back and let Kirsten show us around. She's Alberta born and bred after all and she certainly knows the best places to visit in the region.

Driving through Jasper National Park, Canada

Calgary was our base for the trip and we stayed in the city suburbs for the majority time we were in Canada. On 2 separate occasions we camped overnight in the national parks and it's these road trips to the national parks and the related itineraries that I'm going to be discussing in today's post. Stopping overnight meant that we could really see the national parks and have an authentic Canadian road trip experience. Without Kirsten, we certainly wouldn't have been able to cover 3 national parks.

Calgary to Jasper and Spirit Island

Spirit Island, Jasper National Park

After spending some time in Calgary city centre at the start of our trip, we drove to Jasper for a couple of days. On day 1 in Jasper we covered the Columbia Icefields Athabasca Glacier, the Glacier Skywalk, Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls. In the evening we continued on to Jasper town, where we had a campsite reservation. We put the tent up before sunset and called it a night as the sky started to go dark.

In the morning I went shopping in Banff town whilst Stuart and Kirsten got to experience Whitewater Rafting. I'm not interested in outdoor sports, so I was quite happy to potter about in the town and do some sightseeing. After they'd finished we met up for a picnic lunch in town, before driving further on towards Maligne Lake where we were going to pick up the Spirit Island boat tour. The boat tour ended in the late afternoon and we had pizza for dinner in Jasper town on the way back to Calgary. It was a 5 hour drive back and Kirsten was a trooper managing to keep going the whole way without stops, but driving back that evening meant that we could get a good night sleep in Calgary after a busy 48 hours.

Calgary to Banff (day trips)

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

The edge of Banff is under an hour from Calgary so we didn't have to stay over when we visited the national park's famous sites. On our first day in Banff we stopped in Canmore: a town on the outskirts of the park, before hiking Tunnel Mountain and visiting the tourist hub that is Banff town. We ate dinner in town and then headed to the foot of Sulfur Mountain for the Banff Gondola, which is essentially a cable car that takes you to the peak of the mountain. We got to watch the sunset in the national park, before driving back to Calgary.

Day 2 in Banff was all about the big lakes: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Lake Minnewanka. We covered the first two in the afternoon and then stopped at Minnewanka in the evening after having pizza for dinner in Banff town. Lake Minnewanka was so quiet at the end of the day, you'd hardly believe it was a huge tourist hotspot. We were back in Calgary in the evening after a busy day exploring Banff's famous lakes.

Calgary to Waterton via Vulcan: Canada's Star Trek town

An early morning walk in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada

Waterton is the least popular of the 3 parks in the province, but driving there provided us with some unforgettable experiences. On route to Waterton we got to drive through Vulcan: Canada's very own Star Trek town and learn about local history at the UNESCO Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage site. We arrived in the national park during the late afternoon and we set up our tents as soon as we arrived. In the evening we took a boat from the edge of Waterton to Glacier National Park in Montana, USA so we wanted to make sure we were all settled into the campsite early on. After our boat trip we drank hot chocolates at the café in Waterton town and chatted about our brief visit to the USA.

On our second day in Waterton we had waffles for breakfast at the park's famous waffle shop, before proceeding to hike up the Bear's Hump: a small steep trail in the park. The view from the top was incredible and it's probably where I got some of the best photos of the trip.

After our walk we had lunch at a cafe in Waterton town before heading back on the road to Calgary. On the way home we stopped at Red Rock Canyon and the Frank Slide disaster site, which was a really thought-provoking experience. It's places like Frank Slide that we wouldn't have heard about if we didn't have a local tour guide showing us around.

Last year we were fortunate enough to get to experience a whistle stop tour of Alberta's national parks. Although we crammed a lot into our schedule, we only just scratched the surface on some of the areas of the parks and it has definitely made me realise which of them I'd like to explore in more depth in the future. Banff in particular I'd like to head back to for longer and stay in one of the park's gorgeous lodge hotels. Alberta is such a fabulous province, which is full of places to visit. It's definitely worth heading out to Calgary and seeing what the national parks have to offer.

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 13 September 2018

How to spend a Saturday in Canterbury

I absolutely adore my home city in Kent and whenever we've got a free weekend at home, I like to spend my Saturday in town, wandering the old city centre streets. When I moved to Canterbury in 2014 for University, I had no idea that I'd still be here 4 years later, but I guess plans just change when you end up adoring your University town. Canterbury is full of history, gorgeous architecture and every kind of independent cafe that you could ever dream of, so it's incredibly popular with holidaymakers and weekend tourists. Saturdays are busy in town, but the atmosphere is electric and there is always plenty to do if you're planning to visit the area for the day. To encourage more people to the area, I've decided to dedicate today's article to the tourist attractions, restaurants and cafes that you should visit if you come to Canterbury on a Saturday. I've spent many Saturdays in town with Stuart, our family and friends and I've grown to learn which parts of the city should be top of your must-see list.

Telephone boxes in front of the Westgate, Canterbury


Canterbury Cathedral shop in Canterbury city centre

No trip to Canterbury is complete without a visit to the Cathedral, so I recommend getting to the Cathedral gates for opening at 9am. You'll probably spend an hour at the UNESCO World Heritage site, wandering through the spectacular old building and exploring the beautiful grounds. Tickets aren't cheap at £12.50 per adult, but it's absolutely worth it as you get to visit one of the UK's oldest and best-preserved Cathedrals.

The Beaney Museum

The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, Canterbury

On the high street you'll find The Beaney Museum, which always hosts unique art exhibitions. The exhibitions are usually always free and you can easily spend half an hour in the museum, admiring the art collection. In April we went to Quentin Blake's BFG exhibition and it was so nostalgic.

The Beaney is also where you'll find the city tourist information centre, which sells fantastic Canterbury postcards and souvenirs. If you want to take something home with you from your day out, the quality of souvenirs at The Beaney is much higher than anywhere else on the high street.

Shopping time

Shops on Burgate, Canterbury

Once you've finished at the Beaney, I'd pencil in some time for shopping. Canterbury has lots of independent gift stores and if you happen to visit near Christmas, you will find lots of unique items for your family and friends. On the old city streets near the Cathedral you'll notice the majority of the independent stores. My favourite gift store in the city is Wrapped and they have so many cute party decorations, stationary and bath products. It's one of the stores in the town that I feel so fortunate to have as they sell items that you'd normally have to order online.

Flatbreads for lunch at Canteen

I originally heard about Canteen thanks to Groupon, but their flatbreads are delicious. From caesar chicken to houmous and falafel, they sell a variety of fillings for all kinds of diets. When you're in Canterbury for the day, you must visit a one-off café for lunch and Canteen will not disappoint.

River tour in the afternoon

River tour pick up point near Westgate Gardens, Canterbury

This is something that we've never actually done as we get to walk along the River Stour whenever we like, but the river tours are incredible popular with tourists. Some of the city river tours go past the Westgate Gardens, The Marlowe Theatre and the old streets via the Cathedral. If you join a tour in the afternoon, you're bound to see lots of the city's historic buildings.

Westgate Gardens

Westgate Gardens, Canterbury

After getting a glimpse of Westgate Gardens on the boat tour, I recommend heading there for a wander in the afternoon. The Westgate Arch dominates the skys above Canterbury city centre (once you reach it, you're at the end of the high street) and adjacent to the arch is the gorgeous Westgate Gardens. In the gardens you can perch on the banks of the River Stour, amongst the colourful flowers that the garden is known for. You can watch the river tour boats go past and enjoy an ice cream on a sunny day. Stuart and I's first date actually involved spending a sunny afternoon in Westgate Gardens.

Westgate Towers Museum and Viewpoint

Westgate Towers Museum, Canterbury

This is top of my list of things that I'm still yet to experience in the city, but for £4 an adult you can go up the top of the Westgate Towers and see Canterbury from above. This is very affordable given that the Westgate Towers is one of Canterbury's major attractions. It makes sense to pop into the museum on your way back from the gardens, before you head back into the centre of town for a cup of tea; this is Canterbury after all!

Tea and cake at Alice and the Hatter

Animated door handles at Alice and the Hatter, Canterbury

In the late afternoon, make sure you stop at a tearoom for cake. Alice and the Hatter provides you with a unique afternoon tea experience as the whole place takes inspiration from Lewis Carrol's iconic books. There are lots of weird and wonderful flavoured slices of cake and an expansive variety of teas, so it's certainly the place to visit if you'd like try something new. Alternatively if Wonderland is not your cup of tea, head to Tiny Tim's for classic scones or the Chocolate Cafe for waffles.

After tea, you'll probably have seen enough of the city for one day. There are other places to visit such as Dane John Gardens, the Marlowe Theatre and Canterbury Roman Museum, but why cram them all into the remainder of your day in the city, when you could easily come back another weekend? One day is simply not enough to experience the whole of Canterbury.

Have you ever been to Canterbury? How did you spend your time in the city?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 6 September 2018

Traditional British food in Canterbury

When Kirsten first arrived in the UK, she came to stay with us in Canterbury for a few days. I was at work until the end of the week, but I was at least able to show her around our home city in the evenings. On her first night here we wanted to take to her a restaurant that is typically British, as we couldn't have her eat any other food than a roast dinner or pie and mash as her first meal in the UK. Luckily we remembered 'The Old Weavers' restaurant in town, which is situated in one of the high street's oldest buildings. It's black and white fronted and located right next to the River Stour, and the restaurant has an outdoor seating area which overlooks the river. We booked a table for 6:45pm on the Wednesday that she arrived, but fortunately for us the restaurant was quite flexible and we could get an outside table a little earlier than that.

We were sat at one of the tables overlooking the river and the view was spectacular. Whilst we were choosing our food and waiting for it to arrive, we really enjoyed catching up with Kirsten and people watching all of the tourists that were stopping to get photos of the River Stour. On the menu there were lots of classic British favourites such as roast dinners, pies and stuffed Yorkshire puddings. Stuart and I went for roast dinners and Kirsten chose a stuffed yorkshire.

When the food arrived, there was so much of it. I had a vegetable tart as a meat alternative and we each got a bowl of vegetables with our meals, which had the most delicious roast potatoes inside. Normally I don't have roast dinners out as I'm a firm believer in the fact that they aren't as good as home cooked roasts, but my meal at The Old Weavers was fantastic. The vegetables were cooked so well that I'd honestly have been happy with a big bowl of veg for dinner. Stuart and Kirsten really enjoyed their meals too and Kirsten was thrilled to have found Yorkshire puddings so early on in her UK trip.

We didn't stay for dessert as we wanted to catch the second half of our World Cup semi-final at a local pub, but we were certainly full enough after our mains. The Old Weavers sells British comfort food in a historic city building at a fair price (£10-15 a main). It's the perfect place to take visitors to city who want to eat good British food and experience Canterbury's heritage.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at The Old Weavers and we'll definitely take friends or family that are visiting us there again soon. It's a really special independent restaurant in the city!

Have you ever been to Canterbury? What did you think of the city?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 30 August 2018

Punting in Cambridge

In July I ended up going to Cambridge twice. The first time was with Kirsten during my week off and the second time was for my friend Sophie's Hen Party. On both occasions I ended up going punting, which is one of the most popular tourist activities in the city. You can either 'self-punt' and go out on the River Cam on your own, or you can have a tour guide who will steer the boat for you. The first option is the cheapest one, but then self punting isn’t such a relaxing experience. The guided tours are more formal, but then you don't have to actually put the leg work in yourselves. Both experiences were entirely different and in today's post I'm going to talk about why punting should be top of your to-do list when you visit Cambridge.

Clare Bridge from the River Cam

It’s the perfect activity for groups.

Arriving back at Scudamore's Boatyard after 2 hours of punting on the River Cam

Self-punt boats take up to 6 people and guided boats can take 10. Given that you pay a fee for the boat, it’s a more affordable tourist activity for groups. It’s also a lot of fun when you’re on a boat with friends as you can all take turns punting and steering the boat.

You get a fantastic view of the University colleges.

King's College, Cambridge

There are two routes that you can take when you’re punting and the most popular route is the University Colleges one. You get to travel past many of the Colleges which overlook the River Cam, including the majestic Kings. The view of the Colleges is spectacular and it’s one of the reasons why I always say yes to going punting when I’m in Cambridge. The river is such a great place to take University photos from, as you get a much greater sense of the scale of the Colleges from the water.

It’s a totally unique way to see the city.

Kat and Kirsten punting on the River Cam

Normally when you’re sightseeing you can either walk around a city, take a tour bus or travel by tram. Punting boats are much more exciting than this as you can enjoy a fun activity at the same time as touring the city.

Cambridge is such a great place to visit and punting is something that you should definitely consider doing whilst you’re in the city. If you’re going with a big group I definitely recommend booking a time slot, but it’s not necessary to do this if you’re prepared to self-punt as smaller groups.

Have you ever been to Cambridge? What are your favourite things to do in the city?

Thanks for reading my blog today.