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Photo essay: Ukraine

I just got back from Ukraine. Though I still don’t feel like writing, I figured I could at least share some pictures with you all 🙂 ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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Going to Southern California? Take a detour! Don’t miss Joshua Tree

My mum and I just got back from a week of holiday in Oceanside, half an hour north of San Diego. First of all, 7 days is wayyyy too short. My mum and were both sad to leave, and would much rather still be on the beach (although she’s in Paris right now, so I don’t know why she’s complaining!)

I’m going to write some more posts shortly, about how to spend a day in San Diego, and how to spend a day in Los Angeles (Ugh! Short answer: don’t)

In the meantime, I’m going to post a few pictures of one day trip that you should make: Joshua Tree National Park. We hummed and hawed about it for a while, and finally decided that we really wanted to go. And boy, were we glad we did!

Our day didn’t really go according to plan: we had planned on going in through the North entrance, driving through the middle, and leaving through the South entrance, then going to a town called Indio, the so-called date capital of the world, on our way back to Oceanside.

We started our day by driving to the North entrance, which was a 3 hour journey from Oceanside, only to be told that it was closed due to a flash flood. The South entrance was also closed, which meant that we wouldn’t be driving through Indio either. We turned around, drove 16 miles back to the Joshua Tree entrance, and went to see some amazing, nothing-else-like-it scenery. We drove right down to the Cholla garden, which was just incredible, then straight up again, back to our same entrance. This detour added an extra two hours of driving to our trip that way.

We decided that we still wanted to go to Indio, even though it was a 30 mile detour (each way!) for us on the way home, in the hope that Shields, Indio’s famous date store and café, would be open.

Well, it wasn’t. And then the GPS took us home on the sketchiest, mountainiest road ever. So, that part sucked. All in all, we could have skipped Indio and saved ourselves a lot of driving for nothing, but hey – live and learn! Hopefully you’ll research your trip more than I did. (All I did was think “Hey! Let’s tell the GPS to bring us to the centre of Indio!)

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Mum and the Chollas

Mum and the Chollas

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

A dead cholla...

A dead cholla…

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Keyes view. Scared my mum by sitting (not really) close to the edge

Keyes Lookout. Scared my mum by sitting (not really) close to the edge

Actually pretty scary!

Kinda scary!

My mama, on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

My mama, on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Mum wanted to go to Shields to buy dates. I wanted to go and see a movie: The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.


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On being impulsive and deciding to go to Ukraine

When I was in college, my friend and I always used to laugh at how different we were – she always spent a lot of time thinking things over, and making sure that the decisions that she made were logical, practical and cost effective. I, on the other hand, have always been known for my impulsiveness. Does something sound fun? I’m there!

I decided to go to university in Ecuador over the course of an afternoon. Sure, I’d been thinking about studying abroad for a while, but one afternoon I was bored at work and I googled what my study abroad options were. Within an hour, I decided on Ecuador (for reasons I absolutely cannot remember, likely because I knew nothing about it), and chances are that by the end of that week, I had signed up to the program. While I was there, I met Marina and I believe that our friendship was forged based on this impulsiveness – Marina can always be counted on for adventure. Want to fly to the beach for the weekend? Decide at the last minute to book a hotel downtown London? Take a 24 hour bus to spend a few days in Bolivia? Marina is your perfect partner in crime. A few years ago, Marina and I decided to go to New Orleans. This happened during a brief email exchange, that probably went something like this:

18/10/10, 11:00am Alex: “Hey, Marina! What about New Orleans for New Years?”

18/10/10, 11:07am Marina: “Hmm, I don’t know. I promised my parents I’d be home for Christmas this year.”

18/10/10, 11:20am Alex: “Ok! Why don’t we meet on December 26 then? Flights are cheap!”

18/10/10, 11:30am Marina: “Let me think about it”

18/10/10, 12:00pm Marina: “Ok, let’s do it!”

18/10/10, 2:00pm – Flights purchased

This year, one of Marina’s goals is to start a family. Long term, I don’t think that this will get in the way of our adventuring, but I do think that things are going to slow down for a bit, and I might have to spend a few more holidays with her and the fam in the UK over the next few years (boohoo). In the meantime, until Marina gets pregnant, this year might be our last chance in a long while for a solo trip. Because I’ve gone to London every year for the last 3 or four years, my only condition was that we go somewhere else, so that I could scratch off another country from my travel map. Marina suggested Holland, and I’m super down, since I haven’t been and I hear that they make great cheese.

Now, here comes the impulsive part! Marina reckons that she can take one week off work, but I’m getting two, and I figure that while I’m in Europe I might as well cram in as much as I can! Over the last two summers, I got really close with a group of international volunteers, and it means that I have a lot of places to visit around the world. Based on how cheap flights are, and how cheap travel within the country is, I decided on visiting Ukraine, where I have four friends to see. I made that decision on Monday night, and I just booked my flight (today is Wednesday)

Based on the little bit of research that I’ve done so far, it’s super easy to travel around Ukraine, but only if you speak Ukrainian. I’m equal parts super nervous and super excited about that, and my friends have already said that they’ll help me with buses and trains. And I’ve just ordered my phrase book. Eek!

Now, here’s where the travel blogging community can maybe help! I land in Amsterdam on November 2nd, and am planning to be there until about the 10th of November. Therefore, I have from November 11 to the 18th to make my way to my flight home from Kiev. I’m really excited to see how things will unfold, and what options will be presented to me. I have places to stay in Western Germany, Prague, and Vienna, not to mention cheap accommodation options pretty much everywhere. My options currently include going through Dortmund (Germany), Prague, Warsaw, Vienna or Dubrovnik.

Thoughts, or recommendations? I have 10 days to spend in and around Holland with Marina, and 7 days solo, to spend getting to Kiev. I’d like to spend at least 4 of those days in Ukraine, so that I can see my friends. SO MUCH DECISION MAKING, SO EXCITING!!


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On trying to blog while travelling and working full time

Turns out I was a bit delusional when I thought that I could spend the summer backpacking across Western Canada for work, and blog all the way. This was especially challenging because I thought that an iPad would be enough to write on every couple of days. It turns out that a lack of time, and no dependable WiFi connection, made this impossible. So I’ve just decided to put together a short post of pictures highlighting what I’ve been up to so far, and in the fall, when things have calmed down, I will be able to write longer posts about where I’ve been this summer. These pictures aren’t in chronological or geographical order because frankly, I’m just too lazy to sort through them.

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Reconnected with old students and ate a lot of fudge in Moosejaw, Sask.

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Discovered that Calgary is, in fact, a lovely city

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Spent enough time on the Prairies that I began to feel like a bit of a cowboy

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Went for a drive in the countryside of Saskatchewan, and found an abandoned bus

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Participated in a full on Mantracker activity

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Went sailing off the coast of Victoria, BC

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Went for a drive in the countryside of Saskatchewan, and found an abandoned bus

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Went to see the giant dinosaur in Drumheller, AB

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Discovered that Canada is even more beautiful than I thought, in Drumheller, AB

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Got to spend a day (of work) swimming in a lazy river in Kelowna, BC’s H20 centre

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Met the beautiful Marshall from Walk Off the Earth

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Hiked around Lake Louise

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Got to spend a day (of work) playing on bouncy castles

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Wore my first ever cowboy hat at the Calgary Stampede


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The time we ate everything at the Calgary Stampede

I was so excited to go to the Calgary Stampede, really really excited. I planned my entire summer around it, and told everyone I was going. By the time it finally rolled around, I couldn’t handle the excitement!

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The day started off really well with a Stampede Breakfast – for two weeks, all around town, you can have a free pancake breakfast. We ended up at one place that made bacon pancakes, which was a bit of a dream come true.

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We got to the stampede, and I was really excited because the first sign that we saw was for all kinds of fried food – I would finally be able to try things that I had only heard about!

Highlights of the Stampede included: pretending to birth a calf, a pretty cool water show, the opening act to the rodeo (not really the rodeo itself, that was kind of sad and scary) and meeting Walk Off the Earth. Turns out that the Stampede is pretty much one big fair, and I probably wouldn’t plan on going again unless I was in Calgary at exactly the right time.

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Otherwise, the most exciting part of the stampede was the food. We decided to photo document our food journey. As a team, we ate pizza, poutine, mac and cheese, chicken on a stick, schnitzel, frozen yogurt with all the toppings, cotton candy, donuts, and fried snickers and mars bars. Not bad for a day’s work! Our biggest regret is that we weren’t able to try the fried butter.

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When splurging is worth it

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I’m traveling across Western Canada for work this summer – that post is slowly being written. In the meantime, I’m sitting having breakfast in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and I’m going to chat about splurging!

While all of my summer travels are expensed as work trips, I work for a non profit and I really believe that it’s important to spend my budget reasonably. Also, the less I spend, the more I can travel throughout the year! Since this is summertime and the weather is beautiful, I decided to travel mostly by bus. I flew from Vancouver to Calgary, then bussed from Calgary to Edmonton, and Edmonton to Saskatoon. I’m getting a ride from Saskatoon to Regina, and finally will be bussing from Regina to Winnipeg, before flying from Winnipeg to Vancouver in August.

Everywhere I go, I am taking public transit, staying in hostels or university dorms, and eating at people’s houses or cooking for myself. I did, however, budget for the entire meal allowance that I’m allowed, which gives me a lot of wiggle room, and brings us to the point of this blog post!

Yesterday, I took the bus from Banff to Edmonton, which took about 5 hours. Then, I waited in Edmonton for 6 hours before boarding a 7 hour bus to Saskatoon. I arrived this morning at 6:30, much too early to check in to my university accommodation. I decided to head out and by to find breakfast, but that’s also a bit tricky at 6am. The first place I saw was the Holiday Inn – their breakfast buffet is $15, and includes fruit, yogurt, cereal, bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs Benedict 3 ways, and a pot of coffee right at the table. The table has its own tv (royal baby news on all the channels this morning), and power outlets.

Who could ask for more? So, while I usually try to spend under $10 when I have to pay for breakfast, often spending just $4 at Tim Hortons, today I decided that I deserve the extra bit of luxury.

I might – might – also go for a massage (12km mountain hike + 12 hour bus ride), but that’ll be with my own money, of course 🙂

When do you decide to splurge, and when do you decide to save?


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Which shoes to choose?

Lets face it. I have too many pairs of shoes. In fact, if you look at the very top of this page, you’ll see a page named ‘feet’ – this is because I like to take pictures of my feet in different places, but it has also shown me that I am always wearing different shoes. I may have a problem.

Today, however, I’ll make the most of the problem and run through a different variety of shoes and what they’re good for, when you’re travelling. Hopefully you can give me advice too, because I have yet to find the perfect shoe. (Christie over at ChristieThinks seems to be getting close!)

I want to start with an ode to my favourite shoes ever. I bought these at Old Navy, at the very last minute before leaving for my year abroad in Ecuador. If you are good friends with me in person, then I have told you about these shoes. They started to wear away at the sole after a year of wearing them everywhere around the world, and I gave them away. I still regret it. I have never stopped looking for their replacement, and still haven’t found their equivalent anywhere. Sigh.

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Converse

Not really ideal for much walking, but they do look fun and take up no room at all in your suitcase. The high-tops allow space for an insole, which helps give them more support. I do love my converse shoes, but I don’t really travel with them anymore.

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Toms

Kind of the same deal as converse – no real support, but they go with pretty much everything and are great to stuff into an already full bag, as they take up no space and weigh nothing. My man complaint is that they get VERY stinky, very quickly, and you can’t wear them extensively or they will wear out after a few weeks. I wore the light grey ones in the picture below for my entire week in San Francisco, and they were far from ideal – they killed my feet (although I did walk up to 10kms a day, so that’s my fault for not planning on better walking shoes), and they already smell too bad to wear anymore. From now on, I will keep them for shorter trips, and wear socks in them. I always bring the purple ones below when I travel for work, because they are great to wear inside at conferences and meetings.

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Rain Boots

Definitely one of my favourite types of footwear, but also completely impractical for travel. They make me feel invincible when I wear them, but they just take up so much room that unless you’re driving somewhere, you can’t really travel with them! Can someone invent roll-up, comfy rain boots with solid soles please?

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Winter Boots

Being from Quebec, I definitely know my way around winter boots. I went through the usual adolescent phase of refusing to wear them, but now I’m all about proper winter footwear. Problem is, they are also super annoying to carry around everywhere. I love my purple Sorels, but they live at my mum’s house because I don’t really need them in BC, nor do I want to take up valuable suitcase space for them! I also used to have a pair of Merrell boots which were beautiful, functional and warm, but the sole cracked after a few winters. Now, I make do with a pair of black Hush Puppy boots – they look good with pretty much everything, and while they are not very warm, they are exactly what I need for going to conferences in snowy places in the winter. The same problem remains though, that I have to wear them on the plane if I want to take them at all.

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Other impractical shoes

These include flip-flops, which I now only take on beach holidays, and slip-ons with absolutely no arch support, which I usually just wear around town when I’m at home. No sense bringing these travelling unless you’re not planning on doing much more than going to the beach.
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Big ol’ leather boots

Man, I love these boots. They are definitely my favourite style, and I can’t wait till autumn so that I can wear them again. The ones on top are my original, completely beaten up ones, that I still wear when it’s raining, or muddy, or anywhere that my shoes might get wet. They feel like slippers. The onesbelow are my ‘nice’ ones, that I’m (trying) to take care of.

I’ve been on a lot of trips with these boots – the only drawback is that the sole is a bit hard so my feet do hurt at the end of the day, but otherwise, if my trip consists mainly of city walking and no demanding terrain, I will continue to bring these with me. They just make me feel good! (And the ones cause the shoe-cleaning staff in airports to run after me)

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Actual, sensible walking shoes

That’s right, I actually do have some of these. Full on running shoes, that I never take anywhere unless I know that I’ll be out and about and running around, and unless I know that it’s a setting where I won’t care about how I look (Let’s be honest now. Style goes into almost every shoe decision that I make). The other shoes that I like for easy trails, and that are actually my favourite, are my Keen shoes – the blue ones below are a bit more city with less grip but tons of comfort and support (and the chickens approve), and my actual favourite, comfortable, tons of support, and grippy for easy to moderate trails, are my Keen Toyahs. Problem is? They are bulky and heavy, so not convenient to stuff in a backpack, and quite clunky, so they don’t go with everyday outfits.

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So, what’s the verdict?

The verdict is that I’m still trying to find the all around best travel shoes, and sandals! For this trip, I’ve decided to go with black Birkenstocks that go with everything, because I know that they offer comfort and adequate support for days of city walking and standing around, and I’ve just bought a pair of barefoot runners from Merrel (Pace Glove), based on the fact that they are light, squishable, offer moderate arch support, good enough traction, and that they are SUPER cute. (Seriously. I’m sad to say that looks have such a big part in this.)

I just finished the first day of my 4 week trip, and the Merrells remained comfy after walking all day. I’ll let you know how they fare on Banff’s trails, and during my Mantracker run in the Prairies.  Keep an eye out for pictures of my feet wearing them in different places across Canada 🙂