Portugal – Day 6 – Sintra & Cascais

Today I explored the beautiful areas of Sintra and Cascais. I had a delicious breakfast at the buffet at my Myriad hotel. It was one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve ever had. After having breakfast I checked out of the hotel, and took the metro to pickup my rental car, Citroen 308. I quite enjoyed driving it, because I love driving manual transmission, and it had a square steering wheel, which was super comfortable to drive. I wish more cars took real world ergonomics into consideration. Most people drive with a hand at the 12 o’clock position, so having a square steering wheel is nice.

I set off towards Sintra area, with a quick stop at a gas station for a coffee. The drive took about 30 minutes, and had a bit of congestion for 5 minutes or so. First stop was the Palace of Sintra. The Palace of Sintra, also known was the Town Palace is one of the best preserved medieval royal residences in Portgual. It was utilized as a royal residence from the 15th to 19th century, before becoming a museum. It is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is a blend of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudejar architecture styles, due to the extensive time period the building was built over. The oldest surviving part of the palace is the chapel, which was built during the reign of King Dinis I around 1281. The palace chapel has a tiled floor with tiles in the apse laid to resemble a carpel. The walls are painting in patterned square that look like tiles, and depict the Holy Ghost descending in the form of a dove. The ceiling is constructed of wood and is decorated in geometrically patterned latticework. In the late 14th century, Portugal was conquering strategic areas in North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula, and established central trade routes. With this massive infusion of wealth, King John I ordered the large-scale Palace of Sintra project to be built. Most of the current day palace dates back to the era when King John I ruled. The most noticeable features are the twin chimney towers, that can be seen from miles away. The rooms surround the central courtyard are also from this period. The Arab Room is covered in elaborate motifs and blue ceramic tile work. The Swans Room’s ceiling is covered in painted swans. The Magpies room has 136 painted magpies holding a rose and scroll with the words Por Bem (For the good). 100 years passed, and King Manuel I made some additions to the palace, which included the Coat of Arms Room, a room with a hexagonal roof with paints of deer and the coats of arms of 72 noble families. This also saw the transition from Gothic to Renaissance art styles. In 1755 the palace suffered damage during the Lisbon Earthquake, however was quickly restored. The Palace of Sintra remained in use by the royal family until 1880. In 1910 the palace became a national monument. In the 1940’s the palace underwent major restoration.

After exploring the Palace of Sintra I walked about 45 minutes uphill to the Castle of the Moors. The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle located in Sintra, about 25 km Northwest of Lisbon. It was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. It is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle was constructed on an exposed rocky outcrop, which provided the Moors a strategic view along the coastline and surrounding lands. In 1147 Christian Crusaders stormed the castle and became rulers. The castle was left for ruins and was eventually overtaken by dense forests. In the 1800’s King Ferdinand II was mesmerized by the natural and serene setting of the castle ruins, and ordered the site to be restored. It was partially restored.

Further along the uphill path is the Palace of Pena. After another 30 minutes of walking I arrived at the Palace. Park and National Palace of Pena. The Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle located on the top of a hill in the Sintra mountains above Sintra. It was completed in 1854, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1995. The castle’s history starts back in the middle ages when a chapel dedicated to “Our Lady of Pena” was built on top of the hill above Sintra. In the 18th century the monastery was severely damage by lightning, and the following Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 essentially reduced the monastery to ruins. The chapel somehow escaped significant damage. The ruins remained untouched until King Ferdinand II decided to acquire the old monastery, and surround lings, including the Castle of the Moors. He transformed the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence of the Portuguese Royal Family. The current Romanesque style building was constructed between 1842 and 1854. It would have been completed sooner, however King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Mari II decided to make some extensive changes in 1847. After the death of Ferdinand the palace was passed onto his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla, who then sold the palace to King Luis. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum.

After a 1.25 hour walk back to the car I drove towards the coast and checked out a few areas, including a few beaches, a lighthouse, and an abandoned hotel.

Last stop before returning the rental car was Cascais. This is a beautiful small city on the coast.

The Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, originally known was Sebastian’s Tower, was built in 1900 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. It became a museum in 1931. This beautiful building has neo-gothic and Revivalist architecture styles.

Palacio Seixas is a small two-storey neoclassical palace that was built in 1900 on behalf of Carmen Graziella Castilla da Rocha. In 1907 Carlos Seixas, an industrialist, purchased the house. In 1997 Instituto Camões purchased the house.

Casa das Historias Paula Rego is a very unique museum in Cascais. The building was designed by Souto De Moura, who was chosen by Paula Rego. The building consists of two pyramid-shaped towers, and red-cloured concrete. The building consists of four wings of different heights and sizes, a large exhibition space, a 200 seat auditorium, a shop, and a café.

The Citadel of Cascais is a set of fortifications that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries to defend the Cascais coastline against attacks on Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The citadel consists of Santo António de Cascais, the Fortress of Our Lady of Light (Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais), and the former Royal Palace area. In 1488 a fort, known as the Torre de Santo António de Cascais, was built to provide resistance on possible military attacks on Lisbon. In 1594 the fort of Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais, designed by Italian Captain Fratino, was ordered to be built by Philip I. The fortress continued to undergo upgrades until 1755, when it was significantly damaged by the Lisbon Earthquake.

Casa de Santa Maria was a luxury private residence in Cascais. It was built in 1902 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. He originally built what is now the Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, and later on commissioned this building as a wedding present for his daughter. Raul Lino designed the building, which was built by materials only found within Portugal. In 1914 the building was sold to engineer Jose Lino Junior, who was the older brother of Raul Lino. He expanded the building by adding parts at each end, with the architecture being designed by Raul Lino. In 1934 the house was acquired by the Espirito Santo family. In 2004 the building was acquired by the Cascais Municipality.

Santa Marta Beach is a beautiful small cove with a sandy beach located behind the Marina in Cascais. The views here are simply incredible!

The Santa Marta Lighthouse was built in 1868 on the site of Santa Marta to provide light for navigation of ships. It originally had a fixed red light, given by a dioptric lens. It was later replaced by a fixed-light catadioptric system in 1908. In 1936 the tower height was increased by 8 metres, due to new buildings in the area that were impeding existing light. In 1949 a foghorn was installed. In 1953 the lamp was electrified, and even included a backup system. In 1964 a generator was installed. In 1981 the lighthouse was modified. Further upgrades occurred in 2000.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I explore more of Lisbon.

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Portugal – Day 2 – Porto

Today I slept in until about 9:30am. I had a delicious breakfast waiting for me downstairs, which was also very nicely presented. It had everything you could possibly want ranging from yogurt, granola, pancakes, fruit, cheese, buns. a croissant, orange juice, milk (which I didn’t drink), and coffee. After breakfast I started out on my adventures for the day

Hotel Vincci Porto is an absolutely stunning Art Deco (Modernist) hotel built in 1933. It was designed by Januario Godinho and Jose Carlos Cruz. The hotel features 91 rooms, including 4 suites, and a 4-storey restaurant. I will be staying here in a few days, just for one night.

The Porto Tram Museum, which is located right next door to Hotel Vincci Porto, opened in 1992. It is located at a former Massarelos Power Plant along the Douro River. The collection contains 16 electric cars, 5 trailers, two maintenance vehicles, and the former equipment of the power plant. The power plant was opened in 1915, and served the city of Porto for 45 years. From 1915 until the 1440s the power station produced enough electricity to power Porto’s tram network, however due to the increase in the number of trams the power supply was insufficient and became partially dependent on the city’s power supply, and in the 1960’s energy production ceased, although it remained a substation for three tram lines until the tram museum was opened in 1992. Later on in the day I got to ride on one of the history tram cars.

Arrábida Bridge is a 500 metres long reinforced concrete arch bridge spanning across the Douro River between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. It was constructed between 1957 and 1963. At the time of its construction, its main 270 metre span was the largest of any concrete-arch bridge in the world. The building is now a protected historical item, and must be maintained. In 2016 some modifications were done to the bridge to allow pedestrians to walk across the archway, dubbed the Porto Bridge Climb.

Farolim de Felgueiras is a 19th century hexagonal lighthouse located on the Douro River. It is 10 metres tall and is constructed of granite. The views of the waves splashing again the walls is beautiful.

The Fort of São Francisco do Queijo, also known as the Castle of Cheese, is a fortification sitting on the coast. It was built in the 15th century, and is a fairly simplistic design. It was built on top of a structure that likely dated back to the 6th century. It’s suggested that the reason that it was built was to defend against the Armada of Galicia.

The Vodafone Headquarters is a unique modern building that has some brutalism components conveyed in its design. Designed by Barbosa & Guimaraes, and built in 2008, this beautiful concrete building has a dynamic modern twist to it. The concrete building has a bunch of free-form unique shapes. Internally the building is quite unique as it is essentially a shell of concrete with only three central pillars and two stairwells.

The Serralves Contemporary Art Museum is a great example of contemporary architecture, Modernism, and Art Deco architecture. The museum, built in 1999, was designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira. It is the second most visited museum in Portugal, with over 1 million visitors annually. There was a lot of audible art there, and it was fun to listen to. On site is Casa de Serralves, a beautiful Art Deco villa that was built between 1925 and 1944. The building is actually three different styles combined; neoclassical, romantic, and art deco. While I was here I had a smoked salmon wrap at the cafeteria.

Casa da Musica is a 1300-seat concert hall that was opened in 2005. The building, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is nine-storeys high and is constructed of concrete, marble and glass. It is the only concert hall in the world with two walls constructed entirely of glass.

The Super Bock Arena is a unique arena built between 1951 and 1952. This Avant Garde style arena  Designed by Jose Carlos Loureiro, it was finally opened in 1954. Between 2018 and 2019 it was fully renovated, bringing its capacity to 8000 people.

Museu Da Cicade (Casa Guerra Junqueiro) is a museum / residence of Guerra Junqueiro. This beautiful baroque style building was built between 1730 and 1746 for Domingos Barbosa, a magisterial deacon of the Se Cathedral of Porto. After his death, the house became the property was passed along numerous times to other family members before the home was donated in 1940 to the city of Porto, alongside the collection of over 600 works of art of Guerra Jungqueiro.

The Clerics complex consists of a Tower, Museum, and a Church. The church and tower are part of a baroque style building that was built between 1754 and 1763. It was designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. The tower is 75 metres tall, and after climbing 225 steps you are presented with a beautiful view of the city below. The museum is located in the House of the Brotherhood, which was built between 1754 and 1758. The museum allows you to explore the private spaces that were once part of the daily life of the Brotherhood of the Clerics. There’s a Dispatch Room, Safe Room, Registry, Infirmary, and a large collection of historical paintings, furniture, and jewelry.

The Livraria Lello Book Store is an absolutely beautiful bookstore that has been open since 1906. The building was designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves. This bookstore became one of the leading importers and exporters of literature in Portugal during 1920 to 1950. In 1993 the bookstore was renovated and restored. There’s a beautiful staircase going up to the second floor, that splits into two in the middle. It’s adorned by beautiful red steps. This was actually a mistake, because the original steps were brown, but during the restoration it was painted red. It was decided that it would stay that way, and all I can say is that it looks simply stunning. In 2013 the building received its designation as a heritage site. The building once again underwent restoration in 2018. This bookstore was featured as Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts. Did you know that J.K. Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990’s?

The Cunhas Warehouses are housed in a stunning Art Deco style building that was designed by Manuel Marques, Amoroso Lopes, and Coelho Freitas. Technically this building consists of three buildings with a single Art Deco facade. The main feature of the facade is the open feathered peacock displyed prominently in the middle. The building was finished in 1917.

Igreja do Carmo, also known as the Church of Our Lady of Carmo, is a Baroque style catholic church that was was opened in 1768.

Eurostars Aliados is a five-star 149 room hotel that occupies an old Art Deco style building on Avenida dos Aliados.

Farmacia Vitalia is a pharmacy located in a stunning Beaux Arts (Arc Deco) style building that was built in 1933. The building features a very distinctive facade, and was designed by architects Amoroso Lops and Manuel Lopes.

For dinner I had Francesinha at a restaurant called O Bacalhau Em Prato. Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich that originated from Porto. The name translates into “Little French Girl”. The sandwich usually contains beef and chorizo, and then its covered in cheese and sauce. While it was tasty, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting texture wise, and of course it was quite rich.

Be sure to check back soon, when I explore more of Porto tomorrow.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 5 – Novi Sad, TV Towers, and Smederevo Fortress

Today was my second day in Serbia. I woke up around 7am and chatted with the receptionist on my way out, and headed Boutique #1 for breakfast, where I had an espresso and another prosciutto omelette for breakfast, but it wasn’t as good as the previous day’s restaurant. After breakfast I walked across the street to the Marriott, where I picked up my rental car that I had rented online last night. I usually use SIXT when I rent in Europe, and this was no exception. I was given a Renault Clio 3-cylinder, which was comically slow.

First stop on today’s adventure was was Iriški Venac Tower, about an hours away. Iriški Venac Tower, a 170 metre tall TV tower built of concrete, near Novi Sad, Serbia. The tower was built in 1975, and was used until 1999 when it was bombed during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Next up was the abandoned Spicer Castle, about 30 minutes away, which was built by the Spicer family from 1890 to 1892. The castle interior was decorated in secession style. The building was featured in many horror movies that were filmed in Serbia. Sadly the building was recently fenced off due to vandalism occurring, so I was unable to see the inside. I’ve attached some pictures of the inside, and given credit to the sources. The road to the castle was absolutely stunning with fall colours!

Photo Credit: Teodora Zivanovic
Photo Credit: Rejko Keravica

Close by is the city of Novi Sad, where I parked my car, and walked around, as well as ate some lunch. Parking was a bit of a strange scenario, which I eventually figured out. It’s not clear that you need to go to a tobacco kiosk, purchase a scratch ticket for $0.65 CDN, scratch off the hour you want to park, and then display on your dash. Since I was parking for a minimum of two hours I had to buy two tickets. This is an extremely inefficient system in my opinion, but hey it works!

My first stop on my walk around Novi Sad was Petrovaradin Fortress. Construction of the fortress started in 1692 and was completed in 1780.

My second stop was Saint George’s Cathedral. The Serbian orthodox church was completed in 1905 on the same grounds that the ruins of a church that was built in 1734, but was destroyed by a bombing in 1849. The cathedral was closed on the inside, so I was unable to enter, however the exterior is quite beautiful.

Looking Southwest you’re presented with the beautiful street of Smaj Jovina.

I was getting hungry so I stopped in at Dobri Dim Gastro Pub, and had a Cubano sandwich, and an IPA beer. The owner and I chatted for a bit, and she gave me a few other recommendation to see around town.

After lunch a few minutes away is the Roman Catholic Church of the Name of Mary. The Gothic Revival style church was completed between 1892 and 1894, and is 72 metres (236 feet) tall. It replaces a church that once stood the very same ground, and was also destroyed by a bombing in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Next stop was Menrat’s Palace. This beautiful Art-Nouveau style building was completed between 1908-1909, and was designed by Lipot Baumhorn.

Close by is the Serbian National Theatre. The current theatre was opened in 1981, however the theatre was founded in 1861 during a conference of the Serbian National Theatre Society. It’s hard to pin-point a style for this building however I’d say it somewhat resembles mid-century modern, despite being in the wrong decade for that style.

The final building I wanted to see in Novi Sad was the Provincial Secretariat for Education, Regulations, Administration and National Minorities & National Communities. Wow, what a tongue twister of a name! The building is also called Banovina. This building houses the Government of Vojvodina, which is an autonomous province of Serbia. This Art-Deco style building was designed by Dragisa Brasovan, and was built between 1936 and 1940.

It was then time to do some more driving. About 1.5 hours away (back towards Belgrade) was Avala Tower. Avala Tower is a 205 metre (672 feet) tall telecommunications tower located on Mount Avala. The original tower was constructed between 1961 and 1965, but was destroyed in 1999 during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. It was reconstructed between 2006 and 2010. The original tower was designed by architects Uglješa Bogunović and Slobodan Janjić, and engineer Milan Krstić. The tower had an observation deck, and was the only tower in the world to have an equilateral triangle as its cross section, and one of very few towers not perched directly into the ground, but more so standing on its legs. The legs form a tripod. The rebuilt tower looks essentially the same but is 2 metres (6.5 feet) taller than the original. Today was an extremely foggy day so I could barely see the building, however it made for some really neat photos!

Another hour away is Smederevo Fortress. Construction started on the fortress in 1428, with the inner city being completed by 1430. It was further fortified in 1459 after the Ottoman Empire overtook the city. Restoration started in the late 2000’s, and is currently being considered as a possible nomination to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I drove back to Belgrade airport, dropped off the car, got a PCR test for my travel on Tuesday to Budapest, and then took the bus back into Belgrade. It was about 8pm and I was getting hungry so I stopped at a restaurant called Guli, which my dad and sister ate at a few years ago and had recommended to me.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 3 – Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

Today I woke up around 7am and had breakfast at my hotel. There was a continental breakfast available so I had a coffee and made a sandwich out of the bread, salami, and cheese. After breakfast I checked out of the hotel and drove into Zagreb, parked my car, and started exploring.

Ljubljana, Slovakia

While I was in the beautiful city of Ljubljana, Slovakia I explored Robba Fountain, Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), Ljubljana Cathedral, Butchers Bridge, Dragon Bridge, and S2 Office Tower (Telemach POP Tivolska).

Robba Fountain, also known as the Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers is a fountain that stands in front of Ljubljana Town Hall. It was completed in 1751 by Italian sculptor Francesco Robba, and is one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. The fountain was modelled after Fontana del Pantheon, the fountain by Filippo Barigioni at Piazza della Rotonda. In 2006, the fountain was renovated and moved into the National Gallery, and the Town Square original was replaced by a replica.

Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) was opened in 1842. It is a group of three bridges across the Ljubljana River, connecting the Ljubljana historical and medieval town on one side to the modern city on the other side. The central bridge is built partially of limestone, while other parts are built from concrete. The balustrades (vertical pillars) with 642 balusters are made of artificial concrete. The bridge was originally built from wood in 1280 but was replaced in 1657 after a fire. It was again replaced in 1842 by a new stone arch bridge designed by Giovani Picco, an Italian architect. In order to prevent the new bridge from being a bottleneck, the architect Jože Plečnik designed in 1929 the extension of the bridge with two footbridges at a slight angle on each side of it. Construction of these bridges took place between 1931 and 1932.

Ljubljana Cathedral, also known as St. Nicholas’s Cathedral, was completed in 1706 in a Baroque architectural style. The site where the current church is located dates back to 1262. A fire that occurred in 1362 ended up destroying the original building, and it was refurbished in Gothic style. Unfortunately, the building was burned down again in 1461 and was rebuilt as a cathedral. It was suspected that the building was set on fire deliberated by the Turks. The building was eventually rebuilt between 1701 and 1706 in its current Baroque architectural style.

Butchers Bridge is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses the River Ljubljana. It connects the Ljubljana Central Market and the Petkovšek Embankment. The currently bridge was built in 2010 and was modeled after the bridge that architect Jože Plečnik had planned in the 1930’s. The bridge features a staircase on the left entry, glass walkways on either side, and two fences with steel wires, and a wide top shelf. It was designed by Jurij Kobe and decorated with sculptures designed by Jakov Brdar. The main sculptures on the bridge include Adam and Eve, shamed and banished from Paradise after having been induced by the Serpent to taste from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; Satyr, startled by the Serpent; and Prometheus, running and disemboweled. There are also some smaller statues of frogs and shellfish.

Dragon Bridge is a road bridge located close-by to Butchers Bridge. The bridge was opened in 1901 and features four large copper dragon statues on each of its four corners, and sixteen smaller dragon statues. The bridge was built as part of an urban renovation of the town. It replaced an old oak bridge which was destroyed a few years early by an earthquake. The bridge was built out of concrete.

S2 Office Tower (Telemach POP Tivolska) is the only part of the original urban design of the right side of the northern entry to the city center of Ljubljana. Architect Milan Mihelič planned to have two 15 story towers – S1 and S2, which would act as a “gate” to the entrance of the city. The building is designed as a combination of eccentric reinforced concrete core with vertical communications and two symmetrical steel volumes. The building is a very fine example of a combination of brutalism and modern architectural styles.

Here’s some pictures of some other interesting things that I saw.

Zagreb, Croatia

After exploring Ljubljana I drove the 1.5 hours back to Zagreb to finish exploring Zagreb. I took pictures of the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, Art Gallery (Art Pavilion), and Cathedral of Zagreb, before having some Cevapi for dinner at Plac Kitchen & Grill.

Esplanade Zagreb Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in Zagreb. It was built in 1925 and originally attracted passengers of the famous Orient Express. The hotel took only 26 months to complete. Each of the 200 rooms originally featured running hot and cold water, a shared bathroom for each second room, a telephone in each room. The hotel also featured many suites and lounges, and a dining room.

Art Gallery (Art Pavilion) started back in 1896 when a Millennium Exhibition was held in Budapest to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian statehood. The Budapest Pavillion was designed by Hungarian architects Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl and was constructed by the Danubius building company. After the exhibition had ended the building’s skeleton was transported to Zagreb, and Austrian architects Fellner & Helmer were hired to design a new version of the building based around the skeleton. Construction occurred between 1897 and 1898, and was officially inaugurated on December 15th 1898 with a large exhibition showcasing works of local artists. The exhibition was so popular that it attracted 1/6th of Zagreb’s population! In 2006 the glass roof was renovated and the lighting system was replaced.

Cathedral of Zagreb is a Roman Catholic cathedral church that started out in 1217 and consecrated by King Andrew II of Hungary. The building was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242 and rebuilt a few years later. At the end of the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire invaded Croatia, which contributed to the construction of fortified walls around the cathedral, of which some are still intact today. In the 17th century a watchtower was erected and used as a military observation point, because of the Ottoman threat. In 1880 the cathedral was severely damaged during an earthquake. The main nave collapsed and the tower was damaged beyond repair. The cathedral was repaired in Neo-Gothic style, which is its present architecture type. A fun fact is that the cathedral is depicted on the Croatian 1000 kuna banknote, which will soon be discontinued when the Euro banknote becomes standard currency next year.

For dinner I had Cevapi at Plac Kitchen & Grill. Cevapi is a grilled dish of minced meat served with a fluffy flatbread called Somun. It was recommended to me by a great friend, and I’m glad that she recommended it to me.

After having dinner I had a couple of meetings in the car, and sent some emails before heading to the airport. I was supposed to board a Air Serbia 840pm flight from Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia, however the plane that I was supposed to fly on had maintenance issues, so I was placed on an Airbus A319, instead of an ATR72. After the delay was announced people left, so I was the only one left in the airport, which was weird. I watched the security staff play catch, and I was the only one on the plane.

After arriving in Belgrade I was greeted by my drive, which the hotel sent for me. I’m staying at the Venati Suites, located right downtown. I grabbed my keycard from the front desk, checked myself in, had a shower, and went to bed since it was late.

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Iceland 2021 – Blue Lagoon, Waterfalls, Glaciers, and Plane Wrecks

This post is a very special milestone for me as this is my 250th blog post since I started writing in 2016. Today started off fairly early with me waking up around 7am, as I had to get ready for my 9am soak at the Blue Lagoon. On the way to the Blue Lagoon I drove to a local bakery called Bakarameistarinn, where I ordered a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I was a bit early arriving at the Blue Lagoon, so I sat in my car writing some of my blog, and going through my photos.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field near Grindavik, where I was yesterday. The Blue Lagoon is a series of man-made pools that are filled by water from a nearby geothermal power plant. After the water is used by the geothermal power plant to spin the turbines to generate electricity, it is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat for municipal hot water, and then fed into the lagoon. The water’s unique milk blue shade is due to its high silica content. The water forms soft white mud on the bottom of the lagoon, which feels nice on the feet. The water is also very high in salts and algae. The temperature of the water stays between 37-39°C.

The power plant feeding the lagoon was opened in 1976, and the runoff started to make pools. In 1981 a psoriasis patient bathed in the water and noted that the water alleviated his symptoms, and over time the lagoon became a popular place for people to bathe. In 1987 a proper bathing facility was built, and in 1992 the Blue Lagoon company was established. Numerous studies have been conducted in the 1990’s confirmed that the lagoon had a beneficial effect on psoriasis, and a clinic was opened in 1994.

After bathing in the lagoon for a few hours it was time for me continue on with my day. Next stop was two waterfalls next to each other; Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss. Seljalandsfoss drops from over 60 metres above and is part of the Seljalands River, whos origin is from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. If you feel like getting really wet you can walk behind the falls into a small cave. Gljúfrafoss is a smaller waterfall north of Seljalandsfoss. You can walk right up to the base of the waterfall by following a short trail down a narrow canyon. Make sure to take a picture looking up for a neat perspective.

After visiting the waterfalls I started driving towards the town of Vik, however was distracted by a glacier that I could see off to my left hand side. I decided to stop at Solheimajokull Glacier, and I’m extremely glad that I did. Solheimajokull Glacier is a 11km long outlet glacier that originates from the southwestern part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The glacier has undergone tremendous changes over the last century with measurements of its glacier snout having retreated 977 metres between 1930 and 1969, advancing by 495 metres between 1969 and 1955, and receding by 1312 metres by 2019. In 2011 a lagoon started to form in front of the glacier and has been growing steadily as the glacier continues to melt and retreat. The current depth of the lagoon is about 60 metres.

After visiting the glacier I drove another hour or so to Vik, where I stopped at The Soup Company for lunch. I had the Red Hot Lava bowl, which was a black bread bowl filled with a spicy prime rib soup. After lunch I drove to Vik Church to snap a photo of the beautiful oceanside and the church. This is one of my favourite views that I recall from my 2014 trip to Iceland with my father.

Close by is Reynisfjara Beach, a black sand beach with basalt rock formations. Last time I was here in 2014 with my father it was pouring rain so I didn’t have a chance to take great quality photos. This time it was windy as anything, but at least the sun was shining.

Next up was the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. You used to be able to drive right up to the crash site, however the road was closed many after numerous people got stuck in the soft black sand. The hike there is about 7.4km return, and took me only about 1.25 hours. In November 1973, a Douglas Dakota C-117 airplane was making a return trip to Keflavik airport after delivering cargo to a radar station near Hornafjörður in East Iceland. While flying back, the plane gradually started to lose power and altitude, and were forced to crash land on Solheimasandur. Some speculate that the plane ran out of fuel when the pilot accidentally switched to the wrong fuel tank, while others speculate that the plane crashed because of ice buildup on the wings during a storm. Keeping with the stormy conditions these pilots had to endure I nearly crashed my drone when the windy conditions worsened and started to sweep my drone away from me. I had to run after it a few hundred metres before it pseudo crash landed in the black sand.

It was getting fairly late so it was time for me to start the 2 hour long drive back to Reykjavik. I stopped at Tommi’s Burger Joint for dinner, which was recommended to me by someone the previous day, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

After dinner I went back to the hotel and was ready for bed, as it was nearly 10pm at this point in time. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series where I visit Glymur Falls, and soak in Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River.

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Saskatoon

Two weeks ago we decided to take a trip to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for the long weekend. We took an extra day off to turn it into a four day weekend. During the 7 hour drive to Saskatoon I ended up having quite a few work phone calls, which made for a quicker trip out. For lunch we stopped at A&W in Oyen.

Accommodation was at the Delta Bessborough, a historic grand railway hotel originally built for Canadian National Railway. The ten-story Chateauesque-style building was opened in 1935. The hotel was designed by Archibald and Schofield, who also designed two other hotels for the Canadian National Railway; Hotel Vancouver, and The Nova Scotian. The hotel features 225 guest rooms, three restaurants, a fitness centre, pool, conference rooms, and a massive waterfront gardens. The 8th floor was closed off for renovations, however we managed to sneak up there to check out what the hotel would have looked like before it was renovated in 2003.

After checking in to our hotel it was time to get some dinner. We walked over to Las Palapas, a Mexican place that was recommended to us. On our way to the restaurant we walked through the historic Nutana neighbourhood. Some of the buildings here were built in the very early 1900’s.

At Las Palapas we shared some tortilla chips as an appetizer. For our main meal I had some tacos, and Julie had enchiladas. We both agreed that the food was excellent.

After dinner we walked down the street to Prairie Sun Brewery for some potent potables. I picked up some Pink Himalayan Salt IPA’s, and Julie picked up some ciders. We walked back to our hotel and spent some time in the pool and hot tub, before crawling into bed and watching some Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime.

The next day we woke up around 8:00am and had breakfast at Broadway Cafe. I had eggs benedict with hashbrowns and Julie had a scrambler without eggs. The food was fairly mediocre, however the 1950’s décor was beautiful, and the staff were very friendly.

After breakfast we drove through the neighbourhood of Varsity View to find the few surviving examples of Art Deco homes that were built in the 1930’s. I had heard that Saskatoon had quite a few examples of these homes still around, however many of them were in bad shape.

After driving through Varsity View we parked the car and walked through the University of Saskatchewan campus. The University was founded in 1907. The original building, The College Building, was opened in 1913 (now declared a National Historic Site of Canada). Since then numerous other colleges were established; Arts & Science (1909), Agriculture (1912), Engineering (1912), Law (1913), Pharmacy (1914), Commerce (1917), Medicine (1926), Education (1927), Home Economics (1928), Nursing (1938), Graduate Studies and Research (1946), Physical Education (1958), Veterinary Medicine (1964), Dentistry (1965), and School of Physical Therapy (1976).

Remai Modern Art Museum

After walking through the University of Saskatchewan campus we drove to the Remai Modern Art Museum. The museum was established in 2009, however has only been in its current building since October 2017. The museum has three floors with two different collections distributed amongst them; the two main collections being the Mendel Collection, and the Picasso Collection.

The entrance is beautiful and modern, with nice leather seats, a fire place, and cool light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

The Mendel Collection is a permanent collection featuring 7700 works by artists including Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Cornellius Krieghoff, and William Perehudoff.

The Picasso Collection, on the second floor, is also a permanent collection. It features ceramics and linocuts by Pablo Picasso, and features 405 linocuts, many of his beautiful wife Jacqueline. Linocuts, also called linoleum cut, are a print made from a sheet of linoleum into which a design has been cut in a relief. An interesting thing to note is that some of Picasso’s designs included 50 lays of linoleum, and if he made a mistake anywhere along the way, he had to start over again.

After visiting the museum we went and got some ice cream from Homestead Ice Cream. I had Saskatoon Berry and Lemon in a waffle cone, while Julie had Licorice and Saskatoon Berry in a cup. If you’re a lover of ice cream you have to eat here!

Western Development Museum

After getting some ice cream we drove to the Western Development Museum (WDM), which was established in 1949, and has been in its present location since 1972. There are technically four WDM’s, located at Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Yorkton, and Saskatoon, but the area of focus is Saskatoon. The Saskatoon one is called 1910 Boomtown, and focuses on the boomtown era of 1910’s, as well as features vintage automobiles, trains, farm equipment, and other memorabilia. There’s a tremendous amount of content to write about this museum, so I’ll release it in a separate post, and eventually link it here.

After visiting the museum we went back to the hotel for a bit to relax, before heading out to dinner at Bon Temps. Bon Temps is an authentic Louisiana Cajun / Creole style restaurant. I had a delicious brisket served with corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, and a jalapeno corn bread. Julie had scallops served with green beans, mashed potatoes, and a jalapeno corn bread. We also had some adult beverages to go along with our meal.

After our meal we walked to the 9 Mile Legacy brewery, which was unfortunately closing in 10 minutes, so they were no longer serving any pints. I picked up two cans to-go, and we walked back to the hotel and went in the hot tub before going to bed.

On our final day in Saskatoon we went to Hometown Diner for Breakfast. I had a breakfast poutine, and Julie had a delicious chicken bacon club sandwich.

After breakfast we drove to the farmers market, which was extremely underwhelming, so we quickly left. Next up was the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo, which was excellent! The zoo is a National Historic Site of Canada (designated in 1990), and was created in 1966. There were over 30 different types of animals on display including Bald Eagles, Burrowing Owls, Great Horned Owls, Grizzly Bears, Lynx’s, Swift Fox (which escaped!), Dingo’s, Pygmy Goats, Bison, Pronghorns, multiple types of Sheep, Alpaca’s, Meerkats, and Capuchin Monkey’s.

After visiting the zoo it was time to grab some lunch. We drove to Odla, which actually happened to be right next door to the Broadway Cafe that we ate at the other day. Odla is a fine example of farm to table. I had a delicious hamburger, which was the BEST hamburger I’ve ever had in my life, and Julie had a grilled vegetable and quinoa plate.

After having our delicious lunch I drove to Crossmount Cider Company, which was a short 15 minute drive south of the city. The craft cidery is built next to a retirement community and overlooks a man-made wetland area, where you can few all sorts of birds while enjoying some ciders. We decided to both get a flight of sample ciders. The cidery was established in 2014.

After visiting the cidery we drove back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit before going to Thirteen Pies Pizza & Bar for dinner. I had a pizza called The Midnight Meat Train, which included sausage, meatballs, bacon, provolone, mozzarella, jalapenos, and tomato sauce. Julie had a pizza called The White Walker, which included roasted mushrooms, provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, white sauce, prosciutto (added extra), and truffle oil. We barely at half of our pizzas before calling it quits because we were full. We packed up our leftover pizza and started to walk back to the hotel. On our way back we both decided that we would give our leftovers to a homeless man who looked fairly hungry. I also snapped a photo of a very cool brutalism building called the Sturdy Stone Centre. The Sturdy Stone Centre, designed by the architecture firm of Forrester, Scott, Bowers, Cooper and Walls, is a 13 story building that was built in 1977. Floors 3 to 7 are used as a parkade, with the remaining floors used as office space.

The rest of the evening we spent watching more of our Amazon Prime series called The Man in the High Castile, as well as some time in the hot tub, before going to bed.

The following day we had breakfast at OEB before driving back to Calgary. I had my favourite dish there, a breakfast poutine called Soul in a Bowl. Julie had some smoked salmon on gluten-free bread.

On the way home we were supposed to stop at the Saskatchewan Sand Dunes, however due to an immense amount of rain the road to the dunes was inaccessible. I only made it about 100 feet before getting stuck, needing a tow out from a friendly Saskatchewan family.

Well that concludes this series, but be sure to check back soon as I have a trip to Kelowna in a few weeks, as well as plenty of upcoming hikes, including trip to Lake O’Hara in July.

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Jasper & Wells Gray Provincial Park

Last weekend Julie and I took a long 1900km roundtrip road trip to Jasper and Wells gray Provincial Park. We used my new trusty steed; 2018 Toyota Prius PRIME. Total fuel cost on the trip was $60 because I was able to take advantage of multiple free charges during our trip, including at our hotels, and BC Info Centre’s.

We left Calgary on Friday July 31st 2020 at 4pm, picked up some Subway sandwiches and headed straight towards Jasper. The drive took just over 5 hours and we ended up staying at the Tonquin Inn for $200 for the night, which is quite acceptable for being a hot spot. The place was well equipped with a queen bed, separate living room, kitchen, and bathrooms.

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The next morning we got breakfast at Coco’s Cafe. We both had coffee and a Montreal style bagel (Julie had gluten free) with Salmon and cream cheese. After we ate our food we drove to Overlander Falls, about an hour away.

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Overlander Falls was a quick 30 minute return walk to the beautiful high-volume, but low height waterfalls. We were the only people there so I was able to take the time to capture some video and long exposure photographs.

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After visiting Overlander Falls we stopped in at the Mt. Robson Information Centre, which was only a 5 minute drive away. There we received some information booklets on Wells Gray Provincial Park, and the Berg Lake hike, which I plan on doing sometime this year. While we were there I took advantage of the free Level 2 EV charging there and was able to charge my PRIME about 50%.

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Continuing along we drove to Clearwater, BC, with a brief stop in Blue River for $15 worth of fuel, as it was a good price. We stopped at Clearwater to quickly take a look at which hikes we should visit on the first day. First stop was Spahats Falls. The walk / “hike” to Spahats Falls is an easy 3.1 km with 91 metres of elevation difference. The views are stunning! This is where I realized Julie was a bit afraid of heights, but she did really well all things considered.

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Second stop was Dawson Falls. The walk / “hike” to Dawson Falls is an easy 1.4 km with 38 metres of elevation difference. The falls are very wide, but only about 15 metres tall.

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Third stop was Helmcken Falls. The walk / “hike” to Helmcken Falls in an easy 1.0 km hike with 60 metres of elevation difference. The falls are a stunning 141 metres tall and are the fourth highest waterfall in Canada. While we were there we saw a cute young couple getting married, which we saw later on in the evening when we were eating, but more on that later.

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Fourth stop was Osprey Falls, about a 30 minute drive away, but it was very underwhelming so we didn’t take any photos. It was 6pm so we decided to head back to our accommodation for the night; a cute bungalow at the Wells Gray KOA Journey Campground.

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After checking in and plugging in my car to recharge we walked over to a wonderful restaurant called Hop N Hog, where I had some delicious brisket and Julie had some delicious Pulled Pork. While we were there we learned of some nasty false reviews from a woman on Google and Travelocity against the owner. I suspect it was a date that went bad. This saddens me because these small “ma and pa” style restaurants rely on reviews from people like you and I. I left a super positive review because I thought the food and service was incredible.

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The next day Julie and I woke up around 7am, got ready and headed to the Painted Turtle Restaurant, which was just a few kilometres away. There I had an Eggs Benedict and Julie had a traditional breakfast, minus eggs, since she’s allergic to eggs. The restaurant overlooked a gorgeous lake which had a variety of turtles. The restaurant was on the same property as a campground, but the lack of trees at the campground would make me reluctant to stay there.

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After breakfast we drove to our first hike of the day; Moul Falls. Moul Falls is a 5.5 km return hike with 200 metres of elevation differential. At the end of the hike you decent via a steep trail / staircase to the bottom of the waterfall, where you can walk behind the waterfall. I decided the venture behind the waterfall, but Julie stayed behind because of a previous knee injury.

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After hiking Moul Falls we drove to Triple Decker Falls. The hike is only 0.8 km, and 52 metres of elevation differential, but don’t let that fool you, because it’s difficult. When you start the hike you’re presented with some donated hiking poles from “Y2C”; Youth to Christ, that you can borrow. Julie and I both took two as she has her prior knee injury, and I didn’t want to fall. Halfway through the hike I told Julie to stay behind, and I went to the bottom to complete the hike. The waterfall is beautiful, but I’m glad that Julie stayed behind as the last 1/4 of the hike was very technical and would have probably resulted in further injury to her knee.

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After completing the two hikes we drove back to Jasper and checked into our accommodation for the night; the Jasper Inn. Our room had a queen sized bed, a nice bathroom, a kitchen, and separate living room. After checking in we decided to walk to Jasper Pizza Place for dinner. Sadly they were out of gluten free crust so Julie had gluten free pasta, while I enjoyed a delicious glutenous pizza.

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After dinner we returned to our hotel where we watched a movie called Extraction. After watching Extraction we went to bed.

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The next morning we woke up around 8am and drove to the Jasper Fairmont where we had breakfast. I had Eggs Benedict, and Julie had the traditional breakfast, minus eggs, due to her allergies.

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After breakfast we started the drive back to Calgary with a couple of stops; Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Glacier.

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Bragg Creek Getaway & Black Prince Cirque Hike

It’s been quite some time since both of us have taken a vacation so last weekend Julie & I decided to getaway from the city. Julie found a beautiful place to stay on Airbnb located near Bragg Creek. Our lovely hosts Lise and Alex were waiting for us on their large wrap-around balcony that included a large firepit. Lise, is an construction lawyer, and Alex is a retired tour guide who used to live in Ontario.

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Located at the top of their home is a massive penthouse suite, which is where we were staying, but more on that later.  Lise and Alex showed us around the house before showing us to our penthouse suite. The house is adorned in lovely artwork, as well as beautiful antique and modern wood and leather furniture. I’m a huge fan of mid-century modern and modern, and the house was a beautiful mix of mid-century modern and modern. The main centerpiece in the house is the fireplace, which was constructed from over 8500 hand laid bricks that came from an old warehouse in Chicago.

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Inside the suite was a comfortable king-sized bed, a large deep soaker tub, a rainfall shower, his-and-hers sinks, a minibar fridge, and a French press to make tea or coffee. Inside the mini-bar fridge were some drinks, some fresh fruit, yoghurt, and a lovely bottle of champagne, which was a wonderful surprise. The suite gives a 270 degree view of the luscious trees below. Close to the penthouse suite, down just a few steps, is a large balcony with a table and two chairs, where we spent the evenings watching the beautiful sunsets.

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After getting settled in Julie made us a beautiful Charcuterie board with a bunch of cheese, meats, crackers, fruits, and vegetables. We sat on the balcony and ate it while enjoying the beautiful view.

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Later on in the evening we watched a hilarious show on Netflix called Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father. It is a travel documentary where Jack Whitehall travels with his father, Michael Whitehall. His father, is a grumpy old British guy, and is always complaining about things, but in a hilarious fashion.

The next day we woke up at around 7am. I made some coffee for us and we enjoyed it in bed while talking until it was time to go downstairs for breakfast. Lise and Alex are amazing cooks and they had prepared us some stuffed tomatoes filled with tiny wild mushrooms, alongside some toast, bacon and seasoned potatoes.

After enjoying our delicious breakfast we drove into Kananaskis to hike Black Prince Cirque, which is a 4.8 km roundtrip hike to the beautiful Warspite Lake with a backdrop of the towering Mount Black Prince and Hermione Peak. The hike has a total of 178 metres of elevation gain and can be done in as little as an hour. We took our time because of Julie’s knee, taking approximately 1.75 hours.

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On the way back we decided to stop at Foothills Creamery in Bragg Creek to get some ice cream. Julie got black licorice and root beer float flavoured ice cream in a cup, while I got a waffle cone filled with tiger flavour. We then drove back to the house to relax for a bit before heading out to dinner at The Italian Farmhouse in Bragg Creek. Julie had gluten free seafood linguine with white wine sauce, served with a glass of red wine. I had spaghetti carbonara, served with a few pints of lager. We also shared so wild boar meatballs.

After dinner we drove back to the house and relaxed in our room for a bit. When Lise and Alex came home we went downstairs to great them and meet their beautiful Weimaraner dogs named Otto and Ester. Otto is a huge flirt and is quick to open up, while Ester is a bit more shy but she eventually opens up.

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We spent the evening watching the sunset before enjoying the relaxing deep soaker tub and watching more of Jack Whitehall show. The next morning we woke up at 8am and enjoyed coffee in bed before venturing downstairs to yet another amazing meal. This time it was smoked salmon and cheese on toast; it was to die for!

After breakfast we played some board games and card games before it was time to checkout. We would both gladly stay here again in a heartbeat and have already recommended this place to family and friends. You can book it on Airbnb here.

After checking out we drove to Elbow Falls, which we both hadn’t been to in probably over ten years. It has changed a lot since the flood of 2013. I’ve enclosed a photo of what it used to look like before the flood.

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Lake Annette & Read’s Tower Hikes

Today I completed two hikes; Lake Annette & Read’s Tower. I woke up at 4:00am and had some eggs, brisket, and cheese for breakfast with some coffee and then set off at around 4:30am. I had to fill up with fuel on my way out of the city, but thankfully gas is only 95 cents/litre at the moment so it only cost me $23 for a partial fill.

My first stop was Lake Annette, which is near Lake Louise. The drive took about 2.25 hours. I arrived at 6:45am and got started on my hike. Lake Annette is rated as a moderate hike with 377 metres of elevation gain over 11.3km of distance. The hike took me just over 2 hours to complete. The hike spends the majority of the time in the woods, with a few spots of alpine meadows. I was the only one on the trail for the majority of the hike, except towards the end when I was nearly back at my car.

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The next hike was Read’s Tower, which is in the Spray Lakes area near Canmore. The drive from Lake Louise took about 1.5 hours. There was only 3 other cars in the parking lot, so I knew the trail would be quiet. I made it about 2/3 of the way up the 6.8km trail with 855 metres of elevation gain before throwing in the towel. My shoes were not giving me any grip what so ever and I fell over a few times. It’s time for new hiking shoes since my tread is almost completely gone.

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Cambodia – Day 3 – Even More Temples, Tonle Sap & Heading Home

Today was my last day in Cambodia before heading home back to Canada. I was picked up from my hotel at 8:30am. I skipped breakfast because the hotel breakfast was rather disappointing. After being picked up I was driven to the first stop of the day; Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was built in 967 AD out of red sandstone, and brick. The temple complex is elaborately decorated in wall carvings, which are well preserved.

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Next stop was Banteay Samre. Banteay Samre is a Hindu Temple that was built in the early 12th century in the Angkor Wat style. It was named after the ancient people of Indochina.

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Lunch was at Khmer Angkor Kitchen. I had a traditional meat and vegetable stir-fry dish, which was pretty good. In the afternoon we visited Tonle Sap. Tonle Sap is a massive fresh water lake, which used to be part of the sea thousands of years ago. It was interesting to see where a lot of Cambodians went fishing, but sadly this lake is so badly polluted I can’t sit idly and not say something about it. We have a SERIOUS global pollution and garbage problem. It honestly sickens my stomach to think that I ate fish from this lake a few days ago. The whole lake is covered in a plume of algae and coolant / fuel from leaking boats. The shore is covered in garbage and plastic. As a society we consume way too much, use too many single-use plastics (in fact we shouldn’t use ANY single-use plastics), and we should be more thoughtful with our use and maintenance of transportation. Sadly, the Cambodians are just trying to survive and are not able to even consider any of these factors. This is a serious problem in the developing world, and I’ve mentioned this in the past in my travels to Thailand.

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After visiting Tonle Sap I was dropped off at Siem Reap airport, where I relaxed for a few hours at the Starbucks before boarding a Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City, where I ended up staying the night. I stayed at The Airport Hotel, which was a 15 minute walk away and only cost me $35 CDN.

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I had to wake up the next day at 4:00am for a 7:00am flight to Tokyo, Japan and then onwards to San Francisco, USA and then finally home. The first flight was on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 767-300ER, the second flight was on a United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER, and the last fight was on a United Airlines Express CRJ200. I must admit that United Airlines has severely disappointed over the last few years; the seats being quite uncomfortable, and the food being mostly inedible. I will go out of my way to avoid flying them in the future. You can see below what was supposed the be breakfast, but ended up resembling something that I wouldn’t even give to a dog. That’s an omlette, not a chicken breast…

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There will be a bit of a lull with new material for the next few weeks as I have some weddings I have to shoot, but do stay tuned for my weddings, hiking, and a quick trip to Belgium in October.

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