It’s that time of year again, when we all reflect on the previous 12 months and for me that means reflecting on the great travel experiences I was fortunate enough to enjoy. Today I want to do something a little different though. Rather than highlight the most amazing, transformative experiences I want to instead share a few distinct moments that were just fun. Sure, we learn and grow as people when we travel, but the experience is also supposed to be fun and for me, these moments were amongst the best I enjoyed in 2017.
Playing With Wolfdogs
The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is an easy 45-minute drive from Calgary, not too far from Canmore, and is on the way to Banff if you’re heading into the mountains. I was excited to visit because, before even meeting my first wolfdog, I knew that my morning spent at this remarkable facility would be a highlight of my time in Alberta. As the owner of three dogs, including two slightly wolfish Siberian Huskies, I’m always drawn to dog-related activities when I travel, but of course Yamnuska is a lot more than that. The mission of the remarkable Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is fairly straightforward: to rescue and rehabilitate wolfdogs and to educate the general public about these beautiful pups. For whatever reason, some people see status in buying a wolfdog, but as the dog gets older they realize that there’s no way they can take care of them. So they end up at shelters or worse, euthanized because no one knows what to do with them. That’s where the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary comes in and spending the morning on one of their interactive tours was as much fun as I’ve had in a long time. The Sanctuary is about more than playing with the dogs though, education is at the heart of the experience. Convincing people that the dogs aren’t a great house pet but also letting people know that the wolfdogs aren’t dangerous, both goals are incredibly important to make sure these dogs don’t suffer needlessly and enjoy happy lives.
Hamburg Beatles Tour
One of the aspects I love most about revisiting cities is the opportunity to try more offbeat experiences and to get to know different areas of the city. That was my goal on what was my third trip to Hamburg and at the top of my to-do list was to take the world famous Beatles Tour. The brainchild of musician turned guide Stephanie Hemple, this top rated tour is a unique look at the formative years of the Beatles when they learned how to be a band in Hamburg. When the Beatles arrived into the city they were still kids and had no experience performing as a band. The years spent on the stages in Hamburg taught them how to perform and, ultimately, is what created one of the best bands in history. Stephanie takes guests through this history by visiting the clubs they played, meandering around the still quirky St. Pauli neighborhood. Since Stephanie is also a musician, the tour is accentuated with the strum of a ukulele and her melodious voice, bringing to life the early years of the Beatles. The tour is fun and informative and a great experience for just about any type of traveler.
Visiting Monaco with Azamara Cruises
I can’t imagine a better port of call than the south of France and Monte Carlo was the perfect backdrop for the Azamara ship as we anchored just offshore. Since I’d never been to the French Riviera before I spent the day touring around visiting villages, Nice and of course Monte Carlo. It’s easy to see why this part of the world is called the Côte d’Azur, the Blue Coast. The sky and seas seem to meld into each other creating a landscape that can only be called perfect. And that was my day – perfection in every way and once again I was reminded of the magic that only travel can provide.
Barcelona is one of those great global cities that many of us have passed through for one reason or another. That was my problem actually, I’d ever only just passed through. Although I’d been to the city on several occasions, I never spent time there, never saw its famous sights and certainly never got to know it a little better. That all changed recently at the start of my Abercrombie & Kent Connections Boutique Group Journey through southern Spain. Thanks to the organized tours as well as my own explorations, after just a couple of days I left the city content that I had at least started the process of getting to know it better, experiencing the sunny disposition that has endeared it to millions around the world.
Eating Around Bogota
What I enjoyed most on my trip to Colombia wasn’t a famous attraction, it was the food. I knew before even leaving home that the culinary side of the trip would be amazing, but even that is a gross understatement. Taking a Bogota food tour, I learned a lot about the culinary traditions of the city and country in general, from its many corn-based meals and snacks to desserts that may seem a little off, but which are all delicious. But it goes well beyond that into fresh and local eating, visiting the neighborhood or citywide markets and buying some of the freshest fruits and vegetables you’ll ever see. Due to the country’s unique sets of climates, they produce fruits so exotic you’d think you were in the middle of Thailand. I couldn’t even name half the fruits I tasted, but they were all delicious. Add in the medium-roasted and full-bodied coffee for which Colombia is so very famous, and the food scene in the country is worth a visit in its own right.
Meaning the “Valley of the two lakes” in Irish, Glendalough is a popular getaway for a few reasons, namely a certain St. Kevin. A 6th century hermit who actually lived in the caves above the Upper Lake pictured here, a large pilgrimage site popped up nearby in his name a couple of hundred years after his death. Today the chapels and towers are largely in ruin, but make for a fantastic visit. Glendalough also lies within the massive Wicklow Mountains National Park and there are bunches of walking and hiking paths for all levels, even if you just have an hour to spend meandering along the green paths. Spending a couple of hours exploring, this lake was one of the highlights of the walk – I think I was just so surprised to see it that I immediately loved it. But the entire site, from the monastic ruins to the hikes are worth a visit to see and experience a more natural side to Ireland’s Ancient East.
Festival in Kyrgyzstan
Attending a special ethno-festival on the banks of Lake Issyk-Kul was one of those rare occasions when I had so much to say that I didn’t know where to start. The daylong event shared some of the best aspects of traditional culture in Kyrgyzstan. Dancers, story tellers, athletes and cooks all gathered in a fun and friendly sharing of their heritage. The most popular event at the 2017 festival was also the one that was splashed in newspapers around the world during the World Nomad Games, dead goat polo. Otherwise known as Kok Boru, this very unusual activity started as a way to practice for raids on neighboring villages, but today is a fun and important aspect of the Kyrgyz nomadic identity. It’s actually a lot like watching a soccer match, two teams square off and try to capture the dead goat and take it to their goal on the opposite end of the field. Played on horseback, this is an intense sport to watch and for the riders a dangerous one. It’s also oddly enjoyable as a spectator and I quickly found myself cheering on my favorite team.
Getting Back to Nature in Nova Scotia
While I almost always enjoy spending time outdoors, admiring the natural splendor of whatever place I’m visiting, I equally enjoy going back to my comfortable hotel at the end of the day’s adventures. No, I am not what you would call a camper, far from it. I’ve done it, I don’t usually enjoy it and I almost always try to avoid it. That all being said, my two days spent kayaking on the Bay of Fundy and camping along its shores was one of the highlights of my time in Nova Scotia. Joining one of the tours offered by local provider NovaShores Adventures, I arrived in the quiet cove and waited for my adventure to begin. NovaShores Adventures takes folks out everyday for a fun day trip out on the water, but I was there for much more than that. I was taking part in one of their well-known overnight experiences. With a private guide and outdoors expert as my escort for the 2-days, we immediately set out on the water, eager to start the adventure. And that really is a good word for it, adventure. During the easy day of paddling on the mighty Bay we saw everything from amazing natural formations to bald eagles and more. It was also a great way for me to first experience the incredible tidal changes the Bay sees every day, creating new landscapes every 12 hours. As much as I hate to say it though, spending the night on the beach along Fundy was the best part of those two-days. Watching the sunset without another soul in sight, it was peaceful, it was spiritual and it was fun. It was also the ideal first introduction to the best aspects of the Bay of Fundy.
Volunteering with Elephants in Thailand
Since it was my first time visiting Chiang Mai, I wanted to spend most of my time there, exploring the city and learning all about it. One important reason though why I decided to visit in the first place was to spend the day at a very special facility about an hour or so outside of town. The Elephant Nature Park was created in order to rescue elephants horribly mistreated in the tourism and logging industries. It’s a place where they can be slowly rehabilitated and given the life that all elephants deserve. Sadly, many tourists don’t understand that riding elephants, watching them in circuses, painting or so on involves significant abuse to the elephant. When talking about responsible tourism, it’s important to know that if you see an animal doing something that isn’t natural for them, then it took severe treatment to get them to that point. In the case of elephants, they undergo a horrible ritual known as the Crush, which destroys their resolve and will to live through slow torture. Add to that the pain endured during the activities themselves, and you hopefully begin to understand why elephant tourism is so incredibly harmful to these beautiful animals. At the ENP, these elephants are rescued and a team of professionals and volunteers start the long process of helping them enjoy life again. I visited as a day guest, one of many, there to learn more about the sanctuary as well as interact with the rescued elephants through feedings, bathings and more. It was the first activity I booked when planning my trip and it was everything I had hoped it would be.