5 days in Toronto

In this blog I’m going to talk about what we’ve experienced and some things I’ve learned from being out here in Toronto.

We visited the Eaton centre which is a gigantic shopping mall with pretty much everything you can think of. It reminded me of New York City with the types of shops they have in there. It’s a must for shopping lovers.

A little tip for you foodies, a traditional dish out here is called Poutine which tastes so good. You can get it with all kinds of toppings. A must while your in Canada. Also try Canada Dry it’s better than 7’Up or Sprite, we’re hooked.

On one of the days we went to the Distillery District where they had the Toronto Christmas Market on, which was so cosy. If you visit around Christmas time definitely come here but don’t waste your money on a drink like we did, (we got a hot chocolate with Bailey’s that cost $9 and it was a small cup).

On route there, I noticed something, in Toronto you could be walking down a nice neighbourhood, then five minutes later you could find yourself in a rough one without even turning a corner.

On another day we went to High Park which has the big maple leaf on the grass and it was beautiful. I learned that they have black squirrels in Canada (which are adorable by the way, and seem to like to pose for my camera) as well as the one’s I’m used to seeing in England. I’ve been to some beautiful parks in England but they never have warning signs up for coyotes and poison ivy so that was a first but don’t be scared off, there’s plenty of people around, just make sure you like dogs because you’ll see a lot of them there which reminds me, (poodles seem to be the dog of choice here). I definitely recommend going to High Park if your visiting Toronto as it gets you out of the city for a bit and into nature. Across the road from a section of the park is a sea front which is also lovely to take a stroll along.

We visited Nathan Phillips Square with the big Toronto sign, and it was so Christmasy this time of year with a big Christmas tree up and all of the lights. They have an ice rink in front of the sign which was packed, but we didn’t skate on it. While we were there we tried another traditional Canadian treat called Beavers Tail, (no it’s not an actual tail of a beaver) it’s a desert which again you can get with all kinds of toppings. It’s delicious and perfect on a cold winters night.

We went to the movies out here too which was different to the UK. Behind the counter they only served salted popcorn which you could pour butter over using the dispensers. They had other flavours in packets too obviously but cheese flavour was not one I was expecting to see. The auditorium as they call it was smaller than what we’re used to and you don’t have assigned seats. It was also a lot busier than back home, all the seats were virtually gone and at the end of the movie everyone clapped, now I don’t know if that’s a thing out here or it was just because the film (CoCo) was great but I thought it was cute.

We ended our last day here with Niagara Falls. Wow. It’s the most incredible waterfall I’ve seen in my life. The falling water is mesmerising. You have to go to Niagara Falls.

Overall my impression of Toronto was great, for a city the people are very polite I say that because usually in cities you’ll find people are a bit more rude than outside because everyone’s always rushing but you could get on a bus and the driver will ask how you are in Toronto but in England sometimes they don’t even acknowledge you. Canadians also seem very grateful towards common curtesy, if you hold a door open for someone they will really thank you for it!

This has just been my experience anyone reading this might have had a different story to tell. Let me know in the comments if you do, I’d love to hear about it or if you have any questions or need tips I’d also love to help!

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Day 3: Iceland

We finished Iceland with a “free” walking tour of Reykjavík booked through City Walk. I say free with quotation marks just as they advertise it because you are actually supposed to give some money at the end. There is no set price for the tour you pay only what you think it’s worth and trust me it’s worth it.

We walked on a frozen lake afterwards which was really weird because part of it was water where geese and swans swam and the rest was ice where people walked and slid around. Our tour guide Tomas told us people ice skate and even play football on the frozen lake.

Something I seem to do in most countries I go to is visit the locals places of worship, so we went to a church which was as beautifully white on the inside as the snow on the outside.

I didn’t know Iceland was known for its hotdogs until I got here so we decided to see what all the fuss was about and went to Reykjavík’s most famous hotdog stand (thanks to Bill Clinton) and I can say that it really is nothing special the best bit about it for me was the crunchy onion but that’s about it.

All in all Iceland has been amazing and I definitely plan to come back here in the future.

(More photos to come)!

Day 2: Iceland

I experienced the coldest weather I’ve ever endured on my second day in Iceland. It was -8 degrees, so cold that our iPhones were malfunctioning.

We did the Golden Circle excursion which was incredible. We started at 8:30am and the sun hadn’t yet risen. It didn’t rise in fact until around 10am.

The whole journey to the sights consisted of 360 degree views of snow and mountains. It was beautifully white all around.

Our first stop was the Gullfoss waterfall, if you go there in the winter be sure to take a leaf out of our book and get a hot drink from the little shop there before you actually go near the waterfall itself as being closer to water you feel the cold more so in temperatures that low it was definitely a good idea. It’s also a good idea to buy some cookies from the local supermarket beforehand like we did and enjoy some biscuits and tea with a stunning view. Be sure to drink it fast though, it didn’t take long to get cold.

We headed to the Geysers after this, the lake-like water running through was 80-100 degrees and you could see the steam ghosting over it. One of the Geysers went off every few minuets which was amazing, and allowed for plenty of opportunities to capture a shot or video as well as the chance to more importantly enjoy it through my eyes rather than through the lens of a camera.

We finished by going to Thingvellir National Park, which has made it onto my list of one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. The water was part frozen and crystal blue, an hour was not long enough for me here.

I’d recommend doing the Golden Circle if your time here in Iceland is limited because you get to see so much in one day.

(More photos to come)!

Day 1: Iceland

We arrived in Iceland on little to no sleep due to the time of our flight which made the start of our journey a bit of a haze.

It didn’t take long to snap out of this though, when we reached Keflavik airport we were waiting for our driver near the automatic doors which opened anytime anyone went near them. This meant that the snow which was falling down was being blown at us every time the door opened by the wind that came with it.

Our journey to the hotel was an experience in itself, due to the snow the roads were a bit icy, which meant our shuttle bus swerved a little here and there but the driver was so relaxed about it, it didn’t unnerve us. After all, as he said himself they are used to these kinds of conditions.

One of my favourite things about travelling is being able to learn things you wouldn’t know unless you actually went out there and there not always things anyone else knows just because they’ve been to the same place because everyone has their very own experiences.

Here’s some things I learned on my first day in Iceland:

-Walking in the snow is like walking in water just with less resistance.

-Iceland is VERY expensive.

-You CAN budget out here if you are willing to do some walking and make your own food bought from cheap supermarkets (Bonus is the one we went to).

-If you aren’t use to the snow, what you consider layers, double it.

-Icelandic people are pleasant and polite.

-There are Subway restaurants everywhere.

We spent most of our first day relaxing and exploring our surroundings so there’s not much else I can say but tune in tomorrow for day 2!

Rome in 3 days

Last week I spent three amazing days in Rome. If I could have had a couple of extra days however, I would have, to spread out the sightseeing as covering them all in pretty much 48 hours was exhausting.

I say 48 hours because the first day we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing we mainly just walked around Rome. That’s an experience in itself. I noticed everyone seems to smoke there and your lucky to get a seat on a bus. There are also striking statues dotted around such as that of Pope John Paul II, so your eyes are always busy even just walking around the romantic city.

For a matter of two days we did an impressive amount which included the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, the Vatican, St. Peters Basilica, the Pantheon, the Garden Of Villa Borghese and my favourite the Trevi Fountain (at night). We also managed to eat some incredible pizza which has now made me not want to eat pizza in England anymore because it was just so good and some delicious gelato which had somewhat of the same effect.

I’d say that overall three days in Rome is not enough but if you don’t have a choice for whatever reason that may be, don’t fret, you’ll definitely be able to see a lot and you can use this blog post as proof and motivation. Just make sure that you wake up early, that you’re well rested and to drink plenty of water because Rome is one of the most tiring cities I’ve visited not just because of our time constraint but because of all the walking!

To see some of my photographs from Rome please click here: https://mehrnazkarimi.wordpress.com/photography/

You’re never too old to travel

Travelling is something that many of us want to do but how many of us actually do it?

Croatia, Plitvice Lakes. Photography by Mehrnaz Karimi

Sometimes it’s because obstacles in life get in the way which just can’t be helped. Other times it’s because time passes by and the travel bug is just forgotten about until you find yourself retired and reflecting on life. Then the disheartening thought of being “too old” comes to mind. Well stop there! There is no such thing as being too old! You are wiser, more experienced, and so therefore all the more ready to explore.

Nobody wants to live their life with regret, which is why you shouldn’t let an inevitable thing such as aging stop you!

You are only on this planet once, and there is so much to see, so what are you waiting for get that backpack on!

Travelling on a budget

 

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Photograph by: Mehrnaz Karimi

Travelling on a budget can be a tricky thing, but assuming you already have some money saved up for your big adventure, you may be worried that what you are taking isn’t going to be enough. However, there are surprisingly many ways of managing your money sensibly whilst travelling.

Depending on where it is that you plan on travelling, determines how much money you will need to take with you. If you were thinking about heading off to Australia, you’re looking at taking around four figures, but there are many other destinations that you can travel to on a three figure budget. If you’re looking at travelling to destinations from the United Kingdom to Europe, you can fly to your first destination from some of the smaller airports in the country at a very reasonable price, with costs varying, depending on which destination you decide to start your adventure off in. Don’t think that you will have to fly from destination to destination though, because once the first flight is over, you can travel to all of the other destinations in many other ways if flying isn’t your preferred way of travelling. Take Europe for instance, if you prefer a journey more grounded, then you can travel all over Europe on the train.

Now that we’ve tackled the transport side of things, the next concerns are accommodation, food and generally surviving off of your budget.
When it comes to accommodation, try not to be too picky, although the sound of a hostel doesn’t really sound appealing, many people find themselves pleasantly surprised, because if you’re lucky enough to get a room in a decent hostel, you may find that it is actually nicer than some hotel rooms. There are even some perks if you choose to stay in a hostel, as accommodation and food can come hand in hand. This is the case for certain parts of Australia, where some of the hostels provide jobs in cleaning and reception work in return for your stay, so you wouldn’t actually be paying anything for your keep.
This is why it is good to go travelling on a budget with an open mind and a willingness to actually do a bit of labour, even if it doesn’t sound appealing to work whilst travelling. Another perk of staying in a hostel is the fact that there are going to be tons of other explorers just like yourself that will be staying there, so you may find that if you have gone alone you may leave wherever you are with a phone book full of new friends or you may even meet people to continue your journey with.
Some hostels also include food by providing a continental breakfast, so that’s one meal out of three that will save you a bit of cash.

There are also many people who provide work for accommodation at their own properties if you decide that a hostel is not for you. If you choose to go down this route, food may also come provided just as they would in some hostels in return for work and you may find that you are provided with more than just one meal unlike a hostel depending on how much work you are willing to do.

So go with an open mind, be prepared to work, and above all, follow these tips and you may find yourself coming home after your travels with a bit of extra money in your pocket.

Why you’ll never be able to relate to a backpacker until you’ve travelled

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Vietnam, Halong Bay                                                                   Photograph by: Mehrnaz Karimi

Ever noticed the understanding that backpackers share and wondered why you can’t relate? Here’s why….

The reason behind why those that have travelled can only relate to one and other is because when a person has been exploring they see and experience some of the amazing and awful sights of the world.

It is through these experiences that they learn and develop in a way that is unrelatable to someone who has not been out there. This isn’t to say that everyone who’s been backpacking can relate to each other on the same level of course (there isn’t a secret club don’t worry) but there certainly is a hidden understanding amongst those that have. It takes certain traits to want to go backpacking in the first place. Traits that not everyone shares in the same respect. You have to either be fearless or have a certain sense of bravery about you to want to go on such a voyage.

It isn’t an easy step to take even for those who’ve longed to go their entire lives, it is a matter of going out into the unknown after all. Travellers learn to be more open minded to all kinds of different things from food to people, the list is endless. They learn things about themselves that they’d have never have discovered if they hadn’t gone. Some will see poverty in unimaginable forms (depending on where they go) and that can be life changing in itself.

This can be for many reasons and some of the time it is because it makes them appreciate their own lives more. So if you know someone who’s been travelling and they’ve gone and come back a completely different person, don’t take it to heart. Another distinct characteristic of the backpacker is once they have been, for some that will be it and they will forever want to be back on the road.

That in itself can only be understood by those who share the same longing. There are of course those that will never want to do it again, and sometimes this is simply because they just haven’t been to the right countries. To those I say, don’t let one adventure stop you from going on another!

Travelling can be one of the most eye opening and life changing experiences that should be tried at least once in a lifetime. The understanding amongst them is one that everyone should get the chance to know.