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 5 – Lisbon

I started the day off with an amazing buffet breakfast at my hotel, before walking to the Sao Bento train station to catch a quick Intercity train to Campanhã station, where I had a coffee while I waited for my train to Lisbon. The train ride to Lisbon took about 3 hours.

Before I dive into Lisbon, let’s explore a brief history on Lisbon. Lisbon is Portugal’s capital city, as well as Portugals largest city, with a population of 2.9 million people if you include its metro area. Similar to Porto, the area was originally settled by Celtic people, however much earlier than Porto. They settled in 1200 BC. The Roman’s, Moors, and Napoleonic’s then came and occupied the Iberian Peninsula, which we learned about in my writing of the Portuguese history. Lisbon was an important trade city, due to its port access. Lisbon became the capital city of Portugal in 1255. A fun fact that I mentioned before is that the ruler of Brazil became the King of Portugal during the 19th century, and the capital city was moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 1808 to 1821.

I arrived at Oriente Station, which was about a 15 minutes walk to my hotel; Myriad by SANA. Oriente Station (Gare do Oriente) was specifically built for Expo ’98. It is covered by a translucent roof composed of a reticulated roof structure. It creates a very grand entrance to arriving passengers. The building was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. This modernist station is a hub for the Lisbon Metro, high speed commuter train, regional trains, national and international buses, a police station, and even a shopping center. The train station has a lattice of reinforced concrete supporting the main floors, and a lattice structure of glass and metal covering the main floors and train platforms.

It was time to check into my hotel. The Myriad Hotel is adjacent to the Torre Casco da Gama Tower & Myriad Hotel. The tower is a 145 metre (476 foot) tall tower that was built in 1998. The 22 floor hotel was later built in 2012, and stands 72 metres (236 feet) tall. The tower was built in 1998 for the Expo ’98 World’s Fair. At the base of the tower, which is shaped like a sail, was a three-story building that served as the European Union Pavilion during the Expo. After the Expo was finished the three-story building was supposed to be leased out, but never found tenants, and sat vacant, with the rare exception for one-off events. Both the observation deck, and restaurant were closed in October 2004. Parque Expo eventually received permission along the riverside to build a 178 room luxury hotel. The three-storey building was demolished to make way for the 5-star Myriad hotel, which was designed by Portuguese architect Nuno Leonidas. In 2018 the panoramic restaurant named Fifty Seconds, was opened up in the space that was previously the observation deck, and now has a one-star Michelin rating.

After settling in for a bit it was time to set out and explore the Expo ’98 site. Expo ’98 was the specialized World’s Fair that was held in Lisbon from May 22nd to September 30th 1998. The theme of the fair was “The Oceans, a Heritage for the Future”. 143 countries participated, and the expo received over 11 million visitors. The idea for Portugal to host the World’s Fair actually dates back to 1989. The expo was built in a derelict area of the city, and ended up creating a thriving neighbourhood that left a legacy. The buildings include Oriente Station (see what I wrote above), designed by Santiago Calatrava; Portugal Pavilion, designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira; Lisbon Oceanarium New Extension, designed by Campo Costa Arquitetos; Teatro Camoes (Camoes Theater), designed by Manuel Salgado (RISCO); Pavilhao do Conhecimento, designed by João Luís Carrilho da Graça; Utopian Pavilion (MEO Arena), designed by SOM; Torre Vasco da Gama (see what I wrote above), designed by Leonor Janeiro and Nicholas Jacobs; and Vasco da Gama Bridge, designed by Armando Rito.

Portugal Pavilion is the central hub, or jewel of the Expo site. Located along the Tagus River, this building has an enormous and thin concrete canopy (70 metres by 50 metres and only 20 centimetres thick) draped between two columns, creating a beautiful frame of the water. This beautiful building was designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira. The canopy is formed by the catenary arc of steel cables draped between the columns (porticoes) which were constructed with pre-stressed concrete. This is essentially the same technology used in suspension bridges, and Calgary’s own Saddle Dome arena. It is designed as a stressed-ribbon structure, wherein the loose cables are stiffened with concrete to eliminate sway and bounce.

The Lisbon Oceanarium was built for Expo ’98, and is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. The largest tank is a 5000 cubic metres! It was designed by Peter Chermayeff, the same designer behind Osaka Oceanarium Kaiyukan, which is one of the largest aquariums in the world. I went to Osaka in 2017, however I didn’t have time to visit it unfortunately. Inside the oceanarium there is a large collection of marine species (over 450 species, and over 16000 animals), including penguins, otters, sharks, rays, seahorses, starfish, etc.

Teatro Camoes (Camoes Theater) is another Expo ’98 facility. It was a concert hall with a capacity for 873 visitors at a time. I wouldn’t call this building beautiful by any means, however it’s certainly unique. The building is comprised predominantly of corrugated metal that is painted blue.

Pavilhao do Conhecimento is an interactive science museum that was built for Expo ’98. The modern building was designed by Carrilho da Graça and engineer António Adão da Fonseca.

Atlice Arena, also known as the Utopian Pavilion, is a multi-purpose indoor arena that was built specifically for Expo ’98. It has a capacity of over 20000 people, and was designed by Regino Cruz, alongside Skidmoore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). SOM completed many large sporting pavilions in Portland, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Minneapolis, as well as the Casco da Gama Tower, where I stayed during my stay in Lisbon. This unique building certainly resembles a UFO. In the background of this photo you can also see Torres Sao Rafael & Sao Gabriel, which are two modern luxury condos that are located close to the Expo ’98 site. They both have 24 floors and are 110 metres tall, and are the tallest residential buildings in the country. They somewhat resemble sails.

The Vasco da Gama Bridge is a six lane cable-stayed bridge, designed by Armando Rito, that spans the Tagus River. It is the second longest bridge in Europe, after the Crimean Bridge. It was built to solve a major congestion issue on Lisbon’s 25 de Abril Bridge, and eliminate traffic to have to pass through the city. Construction took place between February 1995 and March 1998, which coincided with the opening of Expo ’98. It is 12.3 kilometres long, 30 metres wide, and 148 metres tall at it’s tallest point. The longest span is 420 metres.

Telecabine Lisbon is a cable car that was built for Expo ’98. It covers a distance of 1230 m from the Aquarium to the Vasco da Gama Tower. Each gondola car can hold 8 people, and the route takes about 10 minutes to cover. This is how I took the pictures I posted above.

Also on site is a beautifully created piece of artwork of an Iberian Lynx, dubbed Bordalo II, by Artur Bordalo. He was tired of seeing trash strewn about the city, so he decided to do something about it and make art. This art has been on site since Summer 1999. I was inspired to find more of his artwork, so I will source that out on other days.

After exploring the Expo ’98 facility I explored other area’s of Lisbon, starting with a few subway stations.

Olaias Subway Station is located on the Red Line of the Lisbon Metro. The station, designed by Tomas Taveria, was built in 1998 and features beautiful art that was created by Pedro Cabrita Reis, Graça Pereira Coutinho, Pedro Calapez and Rui Sanchez.

Picoas Subway Station is located on the Yellow Line of the Lisbon Metro. That station, designed by Picoas Subway Station, was built in 1959. It was rebuilt and extended in 1982, and rebuilt again in 1995 based on the design of Dinis Gomes. What caught my eye was the classic Art Nouveau entrance, similar to some of the metro stations I saw in Paris.

Next to Picoas Subway station is Av Fontes Pereira de Melo 28 is an Art Nouveau building that was built between 1910 and 1914 as a residence for José Maria Marques. It was designed by architect Manuel Joaquim Norte Junior. Also next door was a really neat looking abandoned set of old buildings.

The Campo Pequeno Bullring was built between 1890 and 1892. It was designed predominantly for bullfighting, however it is also used for various other events. This beautiful building is of neo-Mudéjar style, a romantic style inspired by the ancient Arabic architecture of the Iberian Peninsula. The building design was based off an old bullring in Madrid that was designed by Emilio Rodriguez Ayuso, which was later demolished. The bull ring has a circular floorplan with four large octagonal towers on each cardinal point with oriental-looking domes. The Western tower is flanked by two turrets and serves as main entrance. The windows on the building also have a horseshoe shape.

The Museum Residence of Dr. Anastacio Goncalves is a fabulous Art Nouveau style building that was the former residence of Dr. Anastacio Goncalves, that was later converted into a museum showcasing 19th-cenutyr Portuguese painting and Art Nouveau art and artifacts. The house was originally built in 1904 for José Victor Branco Malhoa, who sold it after his wife’s death in 1919. He moved into a home in Praça da Alegria. Between 1919 and 1932, the house exchanged hands a few times, before Dr. Anastácio Gonçalves, a great collector of artworks, moved in. Upon his death in 1965, the house and all its artifacts were left to the State, in order to create a museum.

Sotto Mayor Palace was built for the Portuguese aristocrat Sotto Mayor in the late 19th century. He was one of the wealthiest people in Portugal at the time. In 1988 the Sotto Mayor Palace was made a property of public interest after a fire at the palace.

I saw a beautiful Art Deco building on R. Rodrigues Sampaio 50C. I couldn’t find any information about it unfortunately.

Nearby to this Art Deco building I also saw two more buildings I found quite interesting.

Cinema São Jorge is one of the most prestigious cinemas in Portugal. It was opened in 1950. It consists of three rooms; Manoel de Oliveira, with 827 seats; Montepio, with 150 seats and room for 250 standing; and “Room 3”, with 199 seats.

Parque Mayer is the theatre district in Lisbon. It opened in 1956, and closed its doors in 1995. The land was originally used as a garden attached to Palacete Mayer (now the Spanish Embassy), before it was used as an amusement park in 1921, before the first of four theatres was built on the land. Teatro Maria Vitoria was opened in 1922, and continues to function to this day, although it was almost destroyed by a fire in 1986. In 1926, Teatro Varidades was opened. That theatre also survived a fire, and eventually closed its doors in 1992, and is currently undergoing restoration. Teatro Capitolio, a modernist style building, was opened in 1931, and is still in use today, however was closed for a long period of time due to extensive water damage. The last theatre, was Teatro ABC, which was opened in 1956, and was demolished in 2015.

Before heading back to my hotel I grabbed a salad, banana, and some sparkling water. I ate my dinner and chatted on the phone with a few friends, before heading up to the pool and sauna to relax for a bit. Continuing on the water theme afterwards I ran myself a nice jacuzzi tub, while watching some of the new season of Mayday: Air Crash Investigation. After getting my fill of relaxation it was time to head to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, when I explore Sintra and Cascais.

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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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Vietnam – Day 12 – Hanoi & Travelling to Cambodia

Today was a day of relaxation before I had to board an evening flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia. I woke up at 6:00am and went downstairs for an amazing buffet breakfast. It doesn’t matter what you wanted, this place had it! I spent the first half of morning relaxing in my nice and cool air conditioned room, before heading upstairs to the pool area. I had the pool all to myself and ended up relaxing there until checkout time, which was 1:00pm.

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At checkout I left my bags with the reception desk and went in search of food. While I was walking I saw a restaurant that was called Bami King, who’s sign looked like a knockoff of Burger King, so of course I had to eat there. The sandwich was super saucy but didn’t really have too much flavour; probably the least favourite Banh Mi that I’ve had so far.

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I got back to the hotel around 2:00pm and relaxed in the lobby for about an hour editing photos. While I was there one of the hotel workers began playing the harp, and it sounded amazing.

3:00pm arrived quickly and it was time for me to head to the airport. I ordered a GRAB for 120000 Dong ($7.50) which was less than half of the price that I had paid when I had originally arrived in Hanoi. The reason for this was because the surge pricing wasn’t in effect due to it being mid afternoon. When I had originally arrived in the evening there was surge pricing in effect.

When I was at the airport I had to find a way to print my Cambodian E-Visa, which I sloppily had forgotten to print off before I had left for the trip. After talking to numerous Vietnam Airlines desks I found someone who was willing to help me. I had to email it to her Gmail account and she had to print it to some really older printer that was off to the side. Remember most airline tickets are still printed on dot matrix printers in the fair majority of the world, so finding a modern laser printer is difficult sometimes.

After clearing customs and security I sat and waiting for two hours before the 6:00pm flight. A storm had rolled in at this point in time and there was a ton of lightening. I tried to get photograph or the lightening, which has been a bucket shot for me for quite some time, but no luck. I eventually ended up getting a photo from a video screen capture, despite it being low quality.

Lightning

The flight was on a Vietnam Airlines Airbus A321. The flight arrived at 7:50pm. I was even served a meal on the 1h50m flight. Siem Reap International Airport was a complete mess. After landing we de-planed in the middle of nowhere and there was no bus or guidance of where to go. People haphazardly walked to a few buildings before finding the terminal, which was not actually very obvious to find. Customs was easily to clear as I had already applied online for a Cambodian E-Visa. After clearing customs I went to the taxi commission desk to book a taxi to my hotel, since GRAB didn’t operate out of Siem Reap. After paying my $10 USD ($13.20 CDN) I was given this young man who spoke perfect English. The first half of the drive went by seamlessly, but during the second half he was trying to get me to hire him as a tour guide. I told him that I had already scheduled a guide for the next 3 days. He started to cry and I asked him what was wrong. He told me that they have to get a number and are only allowed to pick up people every 3 days or so as the Airport Authority only lets the one taxi company show up and there is a huge wait list. I felt pretty bad so I gave him a $10 USD tip; regardless of if the story is true or not. The guy needs the money more than I do.

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He dropped me off at my hotel; Golden Citadel Hotel, a hotel you can typically acquire for about $21 CDN/night. The room has a king size bed, free bottled water, mini bar, and two rainfall showers. This is pretty food value and the hotel is rated 4.3/5 on Google. After checking in I realized that my British passport was missing so I phoned the Siem Reap airport lost and found, and they confirmed that they had my passport. Turns out it fell out of my bag on the flight, which is super sloppy of me. I told them I would pick it up tomorrow in the afternoon. The key for the room had a very amusing statement on the back of the keycard; I feel somewhere the thought was lost in translation…

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It was time to head to bed as I was completely exhausted, and my tour guide was to pick me up at 7:30am tomorrow morning.

I will be taking a slight pause in the Vietnam series. Check back tomorrow for a recent hike I took with my dad and our friend Filipe to Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta. The Vietnam Series will continue on Saturday June 29th.

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Vietnam – Day 11 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I showered and got ready to start the day. Breakfast was at 6:45am and was a delicious buffet with a large variety of food, including hot cooked eggs, omelets, etc. After breakfast we took a smaller boat to Sung Sot cave, which can hold over 1000 people in it at the same time. It was absolutely breathtaking, even bigger than the caves that I’ve seen in New Zealand, and the United States.

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After visiting the caves everyone gathered around for some cooking lessons, but I found them mediocre compared to the cooking class that I took a few days ago in Ha Noi. I was given a few hours to relax before the ship docked at noon.

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Checkout was noon and the tour bus took everyone back the same way we came, again stopping at a similar expensive touristy spot half way back to Hanoi. I was dropped off at my hotel at around 4:30pm. I was again staying in a different hotel in Hanoi, this one was called La Belle Vie Hotel, a rather luxurious hotel which I received for free from hotels.com. Every 10 hotels I stay at I end up getting one free for the blended average price of the last 10. You can also get sponsored by hotels to review them and leave a good opinion if you are crafty enough with your social media skills on Instagram.

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I relaxed by the pool for the rest of the afternoon before taking a 30000 Dong (1.85 CDN) GRAB back to the to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016, where I ate a few nights ago when I was in Hanoi.

After eating I decided to walk back to my hotel which took about 45 minutes or so. I stayed up and edited photos before heading to bed at 10:00pm.

Check back tomorrow when I relax and spend time in Hanoi before taking a flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia.

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Vietnam – Day 6 – Hoi An Eco Cooking Tour

Today I unfortunately woke up early again at 5:00am. I did some photo editing in the room until it was time to have breakfast. For breakfast I had Cao Lau Noodles at the villa restaurant.

I booked myself a cooking class tour with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class Tour company on a recommendation from Viktor and Sandrine. I was picked up at 8:15am and was taken for a tour of the Hoi An food market before venturing on a boat ride on a traditional basket boat. I went fishing and caught 3 purple crabs! After riding on the basket boat it was time to start my cooking class.

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During the cooking class I learned how to make pho, eggplant aubergine, Vietnamese pancakes, fish sauce, aubergine sauce, and shrimp salad rolls. The cost of the cooking class was 750000 Dong ($46.85 CDN). The class ended at 1:30pm and I was dropped back off at the villa.

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It was time to check out sadly… it was an absolutely amazing villa! I stayed here for four nights and actually had the whole place to myself. This family run villa has the most amazing friendly staff that are eager to make your experience in Hoi An as perfect as possible. The rooms are spacious, clean and bright. The rooms have a super cold minibar fridge with cold drinks that are very fairly priced. The pool is incredible, especially on a hot day. My favourite staff member was Lap; she works in the afternoons. She’s so sweet and makes sure you have everything you need; including if the weather is bad she wants to make sure you don’t get wet and gives out rain ponchos. You can rent motorcycles for fairly cheap (110,000 Dong ($6.85 CSN) for a newer Honda automatic with lots of power). The complementary breakfast is amazing with an option of 13 different choices with Vietnamese and traditional western foods as options. They also have amazing fresh fruit juices and authentic Vietnamese coffee. I would absolutely stay here again and would recommend it to anyone.

After checking out I had a private driver drive me to Da Nang Airport for roughly 130000 Dong ($8.15 CDN). I arrived at the airport at around 3:00pm.

My Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi was at 5:00pm on an Airbus A321 CEO (Current Engine Option). After arriving at Hanoi I took a fairy expensive GRAB ride to my hotel; O’Gallery Majestic Hotel & Spa, for 272000 Dong ($17 CDN). I received two nights for free at this $200 CDN/night hotel on Hotels.ca for free. If you don’t use hotels.com or hotels.ca you should; every 10th night is free with a blended average rate from your previous 9 stays. This hotel has everything you can possible imagine; a private pool, a massive room with a luxurious king size bed, free food, mini bar, a 3:1 staff to tenant ratio. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone who wishes to visit Hanoi.

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After checking in I walked to the famous Hanoi rail tracks where the train passes by every day in the evening at 7:30pm. After taking pictures of the train I went for some chicken broth pho at Bahn Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van. After eating dinner I walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore the massive city of Hanoi.

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Santorini

I just spent a few days on the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. Santorini’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC.

Accommodation was at Villa Danezis. This luxury villa was rather affordable at $70 CDN per night and is managed by the owners who live on site. The villa has ten beautiful appointed rooms with nice art work, a sizeable outdoor pool, a beautiful patio area, and morning coffee with delicious home made muffins.

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During my stay I rented a car as it was a lot easier than trying to take the local transit, despite it being a more expensive choice. When I was on the island I did the famous Fira to Oia hike in reverse, which took about 3 hours to complete and is rated moderate. The hike takes you through both the ancient districts, and along the mountainous terrain between the two districts, with many beautiful old churches painted in blue and white. All of the “towns” on the islands are now just referred to as districts of Thera (Thira), since 2011 when the government decided to do so.

I explored Oia and Fira in detail, visited the old Akrotiri Lighthouse on the south side, and the ancient towns of Akrotiri and Ancient Thera.

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The ancient town of Akrotiri date’s back to as early as 5000 BC, when it was a small fishing and farming village. By about 3000 BC the community had developed and expanded significantly. Akrotiri continued to prosper over the years with the introduction of paves streets, an extensive drainage system, and high quality pottery and craftsmanship. This all came to an end in 1627 when the volcanic eruption of Thera buried the entire community in volcanic ash. The community wasn’t found again until 1867 when some locals found some old artifacts in a quarry. Extensive modern excavations of the site occurred in 1967 by Professor Spyridon Marinatos. Excavations are still ongoing to this day.

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The ancient town of Ancient Thera date’s back to 9th century BC until 726 AD when it was buried after a small eruption of the volcano of Santorini covered it in pumice stone. The ancient city was re-discovered in 1895 by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen and excavations started to occur between 1961 and 1982, and 1990 and 1994.

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I also ate some of the most amazing food I’ve had in my life. The meat and vegetables are so fresh and the Greek meals are delicious; whether it was traditional Greek coffee, Greek salad, fresh sea food, or vegetarian dishes. Yes you read that correctly, vegetarian dishes! Santorini has vegetarian only restaurants and they serve incredible food; my personal favorite being Tranquilo where I had Greek salad and goat cheese filled hot peppers.

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Another fantastic restaurant that you must visit is To Briki. I had traditional Greek coffee served with old wine grapes soaked in honey, deep fried Greek cheese, and amazing smoked salmon and avocado bruschetta.

Check back shortly for my next blog post where I explore the beautiful city of Zurich!

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2018-08-27 – Kenyan Safari

I just finished a seven day Safari organized by GoWay and fulfilled by Sense of Africa. My truck, driven by a fantastic driver named Daniel, had four other Canadians with me from the Toronto area; a retired couple named Brian and Kelly and a young couple named Courtney and Nick.

The trip started out with two days in Samburu National Reserve. Accommodation was at the Serena Samburu Safari Lodge, where we stayed in luxury tents and were woken up with coffee and cookies delivered right to our tent door, followed by breakfast and a game drive. The afternoons were spent relaxing, followed by an evening game drive and a five course dinner.

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The third day consisted of driving to Mount Kenya National Park. Accommodation was at the Serena Mountain Lodge, a rustic mountain hotel-lodge in the dense rainforest in Mount Kenya. We had views of the buffalo drinking from the water hole. I saw the occasional owl and hyena. Dinner was a five course meal and breakfast the following day was a five course meal as well as a buffet.

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On the fourth day we drove through Lake Nakuru National Park where we saw a few black rhinos and flamingos, before arriving at Serena Lake Elementaita Camp, where we stayed at some ultra luxury permanent tents with rainfall showers. Dinner was a five course meal.

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On the fifth day we ate a five course breakfast and drove to the Maasi Mara, with a quick stop at a Maasi village where we were shown the traditional ways of life that the Maasi people live. It was neat to see but left a bad memory when we were separated from each other and pressured into buying things that were supposedly made by hand but clearly mass manufactured. We spent the next two days at the Serena Mara Safari Lodge, a luxurious hotel that resembles something that Antoni Gaudi would have created. We had a morning and evening game drive on both days, and I enjoyed a hippo breakfast on the second day in Mara while the other four completed a somewhat disappointing balloon ride. This time of year the great migration was occurring and we got to see an amazing amount of animals migrating.

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On the seventh and final day we ventured 7 hours back to Nairobi. I’m spending the night in the Hilton hotel near the airport before I head to Athena, Greece tomorrow morning.

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Thailand – Day 4 – Death Railway & Hellfire Pass

Today I woke up at 4:00am because my internal clock is still messed up. I laid in bed listening to music and talked with a friend over the small amount of cell coverage I had.

Breakfast was at 7:00am, and included two eggs, four slices of toast, 1/4 of a pineapple, two slices of tomatoes, potatoes, a slice of ham, and coffee. The staff were very friendly.

While waiting for my 8:00am long bag back to the pier on the main land I saw an elephant in the water. The kitchen staff grabbed some food and went over to it and starting feeding it pineapples and watermelons. I asked if I could feed them to the elephants and they gave me some scraps. I got another hotel guest to take a video of me feeding the elephant, and I even got an elephie (elephant selfie).

I boarded the 8:00am long boat back to the pier on the main land where I met up with the same driver as yesterday. He drove me to the Hellfire Pass Death Railway museum. I walked through the museum exhibit and then walked through Hellfire Pass. The place was very somber and I learned a lot about the sacrifices and horrible conditions the workers had to go through. The Death Railway was built during the Second World War. To sum it up quickly 60000 prisoners of war and about 200000 labourers built this Railway from Thailand to Burma for the Japanese during the Second World War. They had horrible living conditions, almost no food, almost no sleep, and were beat. 20 percent of the people ended up dying. If you want to read more about it you can here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Railway

After visiting the Hellfire Pass museum my driver came and picked me up and took me to the train station where I had some green Thai curry for lunch before boarding the train to Kanchanaburi.

When I arrived in Kanchanaburi I walked around the town a bit before heading to my Hotel, the Felix River Kwai Hotel. The hot is very beautiful and sits right on the river embankment overlooking the famous Kwai River Bridge. The hotel is almost completely empty so I was able to sit and drink beer watching the sunset at the “Bar by the River” all by myself until an Australian couple joined about an hour later. I took some long exposure shots and some time-lapse videos. I even got to watch two Thai people do some welding without any PPE equipment and dangling precariously close to the river!

After watching the sunset I walked across the bridge to a restaurant called the Floating Raft. I ordered something that resembled Red Thai Curry but I regretted it afterwards. It tasted and smelled like garbage and made me feel unwell. My friend Kirsty told me it was probably durian, which now to me makes sense as it has the smell, look and texture of durian. I decided I will try a different restaurant tomorrow evening.

Check back soon for my next blog post, where I will be going to an Elephant Sanctuary to bathe elephants and cuddle with them.

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Thailand – Day 3 – River Kwai Jungle Rafts Hotel

Today I woke up at 4:00am because I am still a bit out of sync. I talked with some of my friends on iMessage and Facebook before I walked across the street to the 7-11 to get some breakfast. I ended up getting some grapes, a ham and cheese sandwich, some soup and some coffee.

I walked back to my hotel room and ate my food and relaxed until it was time to leave for Thonburi Train station to catch a 7:45am train to Nam Tok. The walk was about an hour, including one river ferry crossing. I had already made my Fitbit happy before 7am!

The train ride took 6 hours instead of the scheduled 5 hours because of delays, but the trip was an amazing experience. Somehow I lucked out and got the fancy train car with soft seats for free instead of the extra 100 baht over the 100 baht ($4) base fare to Nam Tok. The train conductor asked for everyone else’s train tickets but kept smiling and nodding at me instead of asking for my ticket.

Upon arriving in Nam Tok I was greeted by a local driver who drove me to the hotel pier for 400 baht ($16), which is quite pricy for Thailand standards, but there is no alternative. We agreed tomorrow he would pick me up at the pier at 8:30am and take me to the death railway museum and then back to the train station for 800 baht ($32).

At the pier I waited about ten minutes before boarding a long boat for a 10 minute journey down the Kwai River to the hotel. The river journey was so amazing! The roaring noise of a straight piped diesel motor screaming away, the sounds and smells, the river rushing on by, the sights; they were all amazing. This is so Thailand!

Upon arrival at the hotel I received my room key, which unlocked something that resembled a lock that you’d lock your shed with, or perhaps the liquor cabinet from the kids with. I opened my room, which was amazing, with a huge comfy bed! I took the opportunity to take my new travel tripod out for the first time and take some long exposure shots of the hotel room, since the room was quite dark.

I then proceeded to grab a beer and a local dish containing chicken, rice, and a ton of spices from the restaurant before enjoying my afternoon reading a book and writing my blog. I even floated down the fast moving river in a life jacket a few times from one end of the hotel to the other. It was fun!

Dinner was at 7:00pm and included five local dishes as well as rice. All were delicious and very spicy, just the way I like it.

After dinner I watched a local Mon Dance. The dancing was cool, but I couldn’t really make out much of the music they were making because they didn’t seem to be playing the instruments in sync. I did record it with my iPhone and played it back with headphones after and it sounded better, so clearly my hearing has deteriorated a reasonable amount.

After the Mon Dance I went to bed. Stayed tuned for the next instalment in my blog series where I visit some world war 2 museums and ride the death railway back to Kanchanaburi and get to stay in a luxury resort!

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