2019 Wrap-Up

Holiday greetings to you all from Natalie the Explorer! I took the above photo at the Winter Flower show where the poinsettias were bright and beautiful. Today I’m wrapping up 2019 and reflecting on the highlights of my year.

Highlights of 2019

Blogging
Health
  • I reached all my health goals as written here. I feel healthy and happy. Thankfully, my family members are in good health, too. I channel some of my positive energy and stamina into leisure activities and travels.
Leisure
  • Lots of enriching leisure activities! I keep track of the numbers which add up to 50 art exhibits seen, 62 books read (see the lists here and here), 48 concerts heard, 44 movies watched, and daily French and Spanish lessons done on Duolingo. I’ve also enjoyed taking photos and I’ve shared some of them on my blog.
Travel
  • Lots of travels in Canada and abroad! Some trips were with my family, some were to visit family and friends, and some were solo adventures. I wrote about them on my blog so feel free to check out my Travel page. All of them are amazing destinations to explore.
  • I marveled again and again at Canada’s beauty during my family trips to Kingston, Regina, Sault Ste. Marie, and solo trip to Vancouver Island.
  • My sister and I took two trips together. We had a fantastic time exploring Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia in March and Ecuador in December.
  • I enjoyed visiting my cousins and met up with one of my longtime friends in June in Germany. We did sightseeing in and around Munich, visited the beautiful Heidelberg Castle, and took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria.
  • I traveled solo to Guatemala in January, Malta in June, and Vancouver Island, BC in September. At each destination, I met new friends, saw beautiful sights, and learned something new.

So those are my 2019 highlights. I’m thankful for an incredible year with good health, many enriching cultural experiences, fun travel adventures, and happy times with my family and friends.

I’m looking forward to a new year just as amazing as this year and continuing my blogging connections with you all. Wishing you good health, joy, and peace in 2020!

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

5 Fun Activities for the Holidays

Holiday decorations

My blogger friend, Leslie, invited me and other bloggers to share my holiday fun list with her on November 21, and a quick update on how I did on my list on December 21. I call my list a Fun list since I don’t ever have a bucket list.

Now I’m challenging myself to have fun this holiday at either no cost or low cost and to be environmental-friendly as much as possible. I also want activities that engage my senses. So I come up with the following five for the period of November 21 to December 21.

5 Fun Activities for the Holidays

1) View the holiday light displays: The big banks and major department stores downtown always put up dazzling holiday displays, some with fairy tale themes. City Hall also has a real 15-metre (50-foot) Christmas tree that will be lit up at the end of November. I plan to do a 30-minute walk to get there and enjoy the visual treats for free.

2) Listen to live holiday music: I usually go with my friends to the Cavalcade of Lights event in November and/ or the annual holiday concert in December at City Hall. Both events offer wonderful music performances and are free to the public. Again I plan to do a 30-minute walk to get there.

3) Bake a Ration cake: I found this Second World War Ration cake recipe here. It would be fun to make it for the holidays. The cake is low cost as I already have the ingredients in our pantry. The kitchen will smell good. If the cake turns out well, my family and I will satisfy our taste buds with the yummy treats. Win-win-win.

4) Give food and hope: It’s a sad reality that we have people who rely on food bank because they have nowhere else to turn. I plan to donate online or buy food items and donate at a local grocery store. I’ve got the list of food items that our local Daily Bread Food Bank always needs because of their high nutritional value (e.g. baby food and formula, peanut butter, canned fish and meat, canned fruits and vegetables, rice, grains, lentils, beans, dried pasta, pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, cans of soup and stew, powdered, canned and tetra pak milk).

5) Walk to show the Earth some love: It would be fun to map an outdoor route with a few points of interest and walk it with my family or friends. We bring a warm beverage like hot chocolate or hot apple cider in our reusable travel mugs and enjoy it during or at the end of our walk. I keep my fingers crossed for reasonable weather between November 21 and December 21 so that I can complete this activity.

How about you? What do you have on your holiday fun list?

Click here to share your plans.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Agawa Canyon: From Rail to Trail

After enjoying a nice family hike along the Attikamek Trail in Sault Ste. Marie, the next day we took a rail excursion from Sault Ste. Marie to Agawa Canyon Park. Agawa Canyon has been on our list of destinations to visit for a while. We were so glad to make it happen.

Getting There

The Agawa Canyon Park is only accessible by hiking trail or the Algoma Central Railway, and is located 186 km or 114 rail miles north west of Sault Ste. Marie. We take the Agawa Canyon tour train that departs from Sault Ste. Marie at 8 am and arrives back in Sault Ste. Marie around 6 pm.

Agawa Canyon Park location
Agawa Canyon Park location (red marker)

About Agawa Canyon

Agawa Canyon was created more than 1.2 billion years ago by faulting along the Canadian Shield. A series of ice ages subsequently widened and reshaped the Canyon over a period of 1.5 million years with the last ice age retreating about 10,000 years ago. The word Agawa is native Ojibway for “shelter”.

The Sault Ste. Marie visitor guide provides a map of three nature trails in the Agawa Canyon Park. They are the Lookout Trail, River Trail, and Talus Trail. We hike the River Trail and the Talus Trail for the three waterfalls in the park. The Lookout Trail is closed on the day of our visit. The trails are well maintained and are covered in fine gravel.

The Train Ride

Rarely is the journey as rewarding as the destination, but the Agawa Canyon train ride is truly an exception. The train is outfitted with large tinted windows and comfortable seats to watch the ever-changing and breathtaking Northern Ontario landscapes. The train ticket includes a $10 voucher that we can use for food and drinks in the dining car.

Spruce Lake
Spruce Lake

We drink in the beautiful scenery as the train hugs the shores of northern lakes and rivers, crosses towering trestles, and passes by mixed forests that turn red, purple, gold and yellow in the fall.

Autumn foliage
Autumn foliage towards Lake Superior

We also listen to a GPS-triggered audio commentary about key points of interest and the rich history of the region. When we can peel our eyes away from the window, the train has locomotive-mounted cameras that provide an engineer’s “eye-view” via flat screen monitors installed throughout the coaches.

A view from our window on the Agawa Canyon train
A view from our window on the Agawa Canyon train

The Weather

The weather changes frequently during our train ride, from overcast, to partly cloudy, to light snow flurries at high elevation, to partly sunny as the train starts its descent into the canyon at Mile 102 and full sunshine by the time we reach the canyon floor at Mile 114.

Light dusting of snow
Light dusting of snow at high elevation
Train arrival at Agawa Canyon Park
Full sunshine upon train arrival at Agawa Canyon Park

The River Trail

Upon arriving at the Agawa Canyon Park, we start our hike on the River Trail which gently rolls along the banks of the Agawa River. The strong sunlight quickly melts the thin layer of snow. The trail glows and smells fresh as if it just received a spa treatment.

Autumn colours by the Agawa River
Autumn colours by the Agawa River

We walk about twenty minutes, enjoy the trail and the vibrant autumn colours along the river before reaching the beautiful Bridal Veils Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park.

View along the River Trail
View along the River Trail

We see many white birch trees with their golden leaves and mountain ash trees with their red fruits that accentuate the landscape.

Mountain ash
Mountain ash

The water flow at all the falls in the canyon is contingent on runoff from snow and rainfall. We luck out that Bridal Veil Falls at 68.5m (225 ft.) are running strong. The Agawa River is the calm and reflective barrier that holds us back from getting closer to the falls.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls at 68.5 m (225 ft)

The Talus Trail

From the River Trail, we walk about fifteen minutes to reach the Talus Trail which follows along the base of the west canyon wall. This trail leads us past lichen covered talus slopes to the viewing platforms at North and South Black Beaver Falls.

The Talus Trail
The Talus Trail

We can hear the rushing sounds of water before reaching the viewing platforms. Black Beaver Falls at 53.3 m (175 ft) are also running strong and look so beautiful with the surrounding autumn foliage. We respect the Caution sign to keep off the rocks.

North Black Beaver Falls
North Black Beaver Falls
South Black Beaver Falls
South Black Beaver Falls

Clouds roll in and out while we pass bridges, creeks and waterfalls to return to the train. Altogether we walk 5 km and enjoy every minute of the hike in Agawa Canyon Park.

On our way back to Sault Ste. Marie, we get to see the spectacular landscapes again from our train windows. Everyone is wide-eyed to take in as much as possible the pristine beauty of Canada’s rugged wilderness.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Hiking the Attikamek Trail

I’m co-hosting the Wellness Wednesday November 13th link up with my blogger friend, Leslie. The optional prompt is Healthy Holidays so in this post I’m sharing a hike that my family and I did during our mini-vacation in Sault Ste. Marie, a city on the shore of the St Marys River connecting Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (green marker)

About the Attikamek Trail

The Attikamek Trail is located at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site of Canada, easily reached from the city centre. It’s 2.2 km long (1.4 miles) on flat terrain. Attikamek means white fish.

Hiking the Attikamek Trail

We started from the Sault Ste. Marie Canal gate, crossed the lock, and followed an accessible pathway onto south St. Marys Island. The weather was overcast, cool, and calm without any wind so it felt quite comfortable for an outdoor hike.

Looking towards the International Bridge
The Attikamek trail is on the left in this photo.

We soon entered the packed gravel trail path, surrounded by autumn foliage, from green to various shades of yellow and red. Part of the trail let us walk under the International Bridge, built in 1962.

Attikamek Trail

The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge spans the St. Marys River between the United States and Canada, connecting the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie

We stopped by St. Marys Rapids to listen to the sounds of the water and watched a few dedicated fishermen patiently waiting for a good catch. The packed gravel and leaf-laden trail then turned into a wide wooden boardwalk with lovely views on both sides.

Boardwalk

A flock of small birds happily greeted us at the boardwalk. They had light yellow and some black feathers. I think they’re warblers. Can you see a bird blended in with the berries in the centre of the photo below?

We enjoyed the calm reflection of autumn foliage, woods, and wetlands in the river. A family of ducks lazily swam along while other ducks were just watching us.

Autumn reflections
Ducks

Further along the trail, we found a few beaver dams but no beaver in sight since they usually work at night. What looks like a heap of branches is protection against their predators and gives them access to food during winter.

A beaver dam
A beaver dam

At the end of the Attikamek trail we reached the Sault Ste. Marie lock and walked around to examine how it works. The lock operation to raise or lower vessels that go from Lake Huron to Lake Superior is fascinating and deserves a separate blog post.

Looking towards the Locks
The lock is behind the white bridge at the end of the photo.

It was a nice short hike on a calm afternoon in Sault Ste. Marie. Altogether we walked about 3 km (1.8 miles) and experienced the wonder of quiet woods and wetlands. Happy trails!

Click here to join the Wellness Wednesday link-up and share your health goal updates or healthy holiday ideas.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Postcard from Kingston

In August, my family and I took a train trip to visit Kingston and stayed at Queen’s University campus for a few days. Kingston is a historic city. It was named the first capital of the United Province of Canada on February 10, 1841. It’s located midway between Toronto and Montreal.

Map of Toronto-Kingston rail route
Toronto to Kingston by train

We have visited Kingston a couple of times and have been on the Thousand Islands cruise which departs from downtown Kingston. During this stay, we explored a bit of history, nature, and arts. Below are the highlights.

National historic sites

We visited three national historic sites: Kingston’s City Hall built in 1844, the Shoal Tower built in 1847, and the Murney Tower built in 1846. Shoal and Murney Towers are part of the Kingston Fortifications. In 2007, the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Kingston City Hall
Kingston City Hall
Shoal Tower in Kingston
Shoal Tower in Kingston
Murney Tower in Kingston
Murney Tower in Kingston

Nature

Kingston’s waterfront pathway spans over 8 km along the Lake Ontario shoreline. We enjoyed strolling along the waterfront and saw many kayaks and sailboats on the lake and many windmills in the distance. The Breakwater Park is one block from where we stayed on Queen’s University campus so it was very convenient to get my morning walks done.

Kingston's waterfront
Kingston’s waterfront
Kingston's waterfront pathway
Waterfront pathway by Breakwater Park in Kingston

Visual Arts

We visited the Agnes Queen’s Art Gallery on Queen’s University campus. Admission was free. There were various types of artworks on display, some are more contemporary than the others. I liked one of Sarah Robertson’s paintings and Claude Tousignant’s bold geometric style.

October, Ottawa Valley painting by Sarah Robertson
October, Ottawa Valley by Sarah Robertson
Horizontal Ultra Orange by Claude Tousignant
Horizontal Ultra Orange by Claude Tousignant

Queen’s University also has many beautiful limestone buildings worth browsing. Kingston’s nicknames are The Limestone City, or K-Town, or YGK. Aside from the above sightseeing, we met with our friends in Kingston to catch up. It was a nice and fun trip that was part of our wonderful summer 2019.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Postcard from Regina

In July, my family went on a trip to Regina, the capital city of the Province of Saskatchewan, located about 3 to 3.5 hours by plane west of Toronto. During our stay, I took a day out to explore some of the sights located in the heart of Regina.

The Saskatchewan Legislative Building

Known as the marble palace, the Saskatchewan Legislative Building is one of the largest legislative buildings in Canada. It was erected between 1908-1911. Walter Scott, first premier of Saskatchewan, envisioned the Legislative Building in a park-like setting with grounds that would reflect the grandeur of the building.

Saskatchewan Legislative Building and Walter Scott statue
Saskatchewan Legislative Building and Walter Scott statue

Tours of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building are available seven days a week (except Good Friday, Christmas Day, and New Years Day) and are conducted on the hour. I took a guided tour to learn more about the architecture and history of the building. I highly recommend it. Why?

During the free, fun, and interesting guided tour that lasted about thirty minutes, I got to:

  • Visit the same building Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited on May 25, 1939.
  • Stand in the same spot in the rotunda where Queen Elizabeth II stood to view the Northern Traditions and Transitions murals.
  • Touch the beautiful green marble columns and look up to see the dome of the building.
  • Enter the legislative chamber and the library, where the Confederation table is kept. This table was used during the meeting of the Fathers of Confederation in Quebec City in 1864.
  • View numerous sculpture and artworks, including fifteen Portraits of Indian Leaders, all pastel on paper, completed by Edmund Harris during 1910 and 1911.
Saskatchewan Legislative Building rotunda
Saskatchewan Legislative Building rotunda

Queen Elizabeth II Gardens

Located in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, Queen Elizabeth II Gardens was dedicated by Her Majesty the Queen on May 18, 2005 on the occasion of the Centennial of the Province of Saskatchewan 1905-2005. A statue of the monarch on her favourite Saskatchewan-born horse, Burmese, was designed by Susan Velder and unveiled by Her Majesty in 2005.

Queen Elizabeth II Gardens
Sculpture of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on her favoutire horse, Burmese

The Saskatchewan Legislative Building and its grounds were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2005. After the indoor guided tour, I picked up a booklet at the information desk and completed a self-guided outdoor tour that takes me through approximately 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) of the beautiful legislative grounds.

Trafalgar Fountain
Trafalgar Fountain looking towards Wascana Lake

Wascana Centre

Wascana Centre features a 930-hectare urban park built around a 120-hectare lake. The trails around the lake are accessible for walking, cycling, and rollerblading. It was a sunny and warm day so I appreciated the shades provided by the trees, the water fountains in and around Wascana Centre, and the light breeze from Wascana Lake.

Wascana Lake and Wascana Park
Wascana Lake
Fountain at Wascana Centre
Fountain in Wascana Centre
Tree-lined sidewalk
Tree-lined sidewalk

MacKenzie Art Gallery

From Wascana Centre, I walked further south to explore the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s Outdoor Sculpture Garden. Some of the artworks that are on display on the grounds around the Gallery caught my attention. Joe Fafard’s bronze cow statues reminded me of his work, The Pasture, in Toronto.

The Bull (Potter), the Calf (Teevo) and the Cow (Valadon)
Joe Fafard – The Bull (Potter), the Calf (Teevo) and the Cow (Valadon)
Ancestors Rising sculpture
Mary Longman – Ancestors Rising
Mother and Child II sculpture
Jacques Lipchitz – Mother and Child II

It was a wonderful and educational outing on a gorgeous summer day. I walked about 8 kilometres (5 miles) outdoors, learned a bit of history in Regina, and saw some beautiful architecture and artworks.

I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Day Trip to Salzburg, Austria

When I was in Munich in June, one of the day trips that my cousin and I took together was to Salzburg in Austria. Salzburg is known as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and home to the “Sound of Music”. Salzburg lies about 145 km south east of Munich. With the German ‘recommended’ highway speed of 130 km per hour, it took us just a little bit over an hour to get there by car.

Upon our arrival in Salzburg, the weather was sunny, warm, 32 Celsius, and humid. We managed to see five of the top sights in Salzburg: Hohensalzburg Fortress, Mozart’s Birthplace, Mozart’s Residence, Salzburg Old Town, and Salzburg Cathedral Quarter.

Hohensalzburg Fortress is the biggest fully preserved castle in Central Europe. Construction of the Hohensalzburg Fortress started in the year 1077 and ongoing development of the fortress architecture continued until 1500. The fortress is open year round and can be reached on foot or by funicular. It’s worth visiting if you’re interested in historical exhibits, including original furnishings from the year 1501/ 1502.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Mozart’s Birthplace and Residence, both of which are now museums, provide a glimpse into his extraordinary childhood:

  • The yellow-walled Geburthaus (or Mozart’s Birthplace) at 9 Getreidegasse where Mozart was born on January 27, 1756 and lived there until 1773.
  • The soft pink-walled WohnHaus (or Mozart’s Residence) at 8 Markatplatz where he lived with his family from 1773.
Salzach River and Mozart's Homes

Salzburg Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on the left side of the Salzach River which divides Salzburg into two halves. The pedestrian-only streets in the Old Town are lined with shops, all with decorative metal works above the entrances. We enjoyed exploring the maze of streets leading to and from several main public squares.

Salzburg Old Town

Salzburg Cathedral and Cathedral Square (Domplatz): Of its numerous churches, the cathedral is Salzburg’s most important sacred building. The façade is made of marble. Looking down from it are four monumental statues: Apostles Peter and Paul holding a key and a sword, as well as Salzburg’s two patron saints, Rupert and Virgil, clasping a salt vessel and a model of the church. The two statues at the top of the gable commemorate the two builders of the cathedral, Markus Sittikus and Paris Lodron. The cathedral interior is also stunning to see.

Salzburg Cathedral

Cathedral Square connects with Residence Square (Residenceplatz) which is surrounded by the Residence building (left in the photo below) and Salzburg Museum (right in the photo below).

In the centre of Residence Square is the beautiful baroque Residence Fountain created by the Italian sculptor, Tommasso di Garone. At the base of the fountain, four snorting horses seem to spring forth from the spouting rock. Giants rooted in the rock carry the lower basin, in which three dolphins balance the scalloped upper basin. The upper basin holds a Triton, a jet of water shooting into the air from his conch-shell trumpet. It’s truly magnificent artwork.

Residence Square and Residence Fountain in Salzburg

From Residence Square, we walked to Salzburg Market to pick up fresh snacks and to browse all kinds of food products, traditional folk wear, and souvenirs. Then it was time to head back to Munich.

Salzburg Market

I had a wonderful day trip to Salzburg. I hope you’ve enjoyed visiting (or revisiting) Salzburg through my lens.

I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.