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.

On Nature’s Edge in Tofino

After having a wonderful time in Victoria, I took the Vancouver Island Connector bus to Parksville and stayed there for two nights. Parksville is about 150 km north of Victoria, a perfect mid-way place to break up my full day trip from Victoria to Tofino and to meet up with three fabulous blogger friends as mentioned here.

From Parksville I continued my bus journey to Tofino, a small coastal village at the western edge of Vancouver Island. The driving distance from Parksville to Tofino is about 170 km (105 miles). The winding road and Kennedy Hill upgrades along Highway 4 meant the ride would take about four hours. The picturesque scenery made up for the time delay.

From Victoria (A) to Parksville(B) and Tofino (C)
From Victoria (A) to Parksville (B) and Tofino (C)

Tofino is situated in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples, who have called the area home for over five thousand years.

Welcome to Tofino

It is surrounded by the vast, breathtaking expanse of the UNESCO Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region. Being in Tofino means being close to nature, the ocean, the rainforest, the mountains, the islands and inlets.

Lone Cone Mountain
Lone Cone Mountain, Tofino, BC, Canada

I stayed at a hostel situated at the waterfront in Tofino, overlooking a harbour on Clayoquot Sound. The views were breathtaking and ever changing as the wind moved the clouds. They filled me with a sense of wonder.

Morning view in Tofino
Morning view in Tofino, BC, Canada

The green domes in the photo below housed my “neighbours”, an eco-lodge operated by WildPod for luxury waterfront glamping. One morning I saw a family of sea otters came right up to the pier and the rock wall to say hello.

On nature's edge in Tofino
On nature’s edge in Tofino, BC, Canada

Tofino centre is grid-like and very easy to navigate. There are many shops specialized in outdoor activities such as surfing, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), sea kayaking, scenic flights, whale watching tours, bear watching tours, and hot springs tours.

Tofino marina
Tofino Marina

I was drawn to the many public art works seen throughout Tofino, such as the Weeping Cedar Woman created by artist Godfrey Stephens to protect the ancient rainforests of Clayoquot Sound and Meares Island, and the Totem pole in Anchor Park, created by Master carver Joe David.

Weeping Cedar Woman, Tofino
Weeping Cedar Woman by Godfrey Stephens, Tofino, BC, Canada
Totem pole by Joe David, Tofino
Totem pole by Master carver Joe David, Tofino, BC, Canada

I took the self-guided Tofino Art Gallery Walk that featured five individual artist owned galleries, each a five minute walk apart. The bigger gallery of the five is Eagle Eerie Art Gallery by Roy Henry Vickers, a world-renowned Canadian First Nations artist.

Roy Henry Vickers Art Gallery, Tofino
Roy Henry Vickers (Eagle Eerie) Art Gallery

Within walking distance from Tofino village centre is a network of hiking trails that go through ancient forests and lead to various beaches. I’ll share one of my hikes in another post. I leave you with a view from my bed in Tofino. At night, the sky glittered with millions of stars. I’m so grateful.

View from my room in Tofino
View from my room in Tofino

Have you been to Tofino? What were your impressions?

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

A Whale of A Time in Victoria

I mentioned in my September Wrap-Up post that I traveled to Vancouver Island. My itinerary included Victoria, Parksville, and Tofino. All three stops are in the Province of British Columbia, on the West Coast of Canada.

From Toronto to Victoria, the flight time is about five hours. I had been to Victoria before so on this trip, sightseeing-wise I intentionally chose to do things that I cannot do in Toronto and skipped a few things that first time visitors to Victoria might do.

Be close to the sea

I strolled the Causeway circling Victoria’s Inner Harbour, to the docks at Fisherman’s Wharf, and walked James Bay Unity Wall and Breakwater. The sea air was refreshing, the views were wonderful, and there was always something in the surroundings to engage my senses. When I arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf early in the morning, most of the shops were still closed, the water was so calm, it mirrored everything.

Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria
Fisherman’s Wharf, Victoria, BC, Canada

Snap pictures of totem poles

I loved the totem poles at Thunderbird Park. I had seen them on my first visit to Victoria years ago and wanted to see them again. I was unsure why my obsession with the totem poles. I just took a lot of pictures. I think they are expressive, visually captivating, and unique artworks.

Walk the history

I attended the 30-minute guided tour of the British Columbia Legislature. It was time well spent to learn about the history of the building, and to see the beautiful building interiors, including the stained glass windows that celebrate Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee (1837-1897) and Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee (1952-2002).

British Columbia Legislature
Legislature building, Victoria, BC, Canada

I also followed the seven Signs of Lekwungen to learn more about Victoria’s history. The site markers are bronze castings of original cedar carvings, conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick. The markers depict spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. The spindle whorl was considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family.

Signs of Lekwungen by Victoria's City Hall

Visit the “superlatives”

I walked through Victoria’s beautiful Beacon Hill Park to see the Spirit of Lekwammen, the world’s tallest totem pole at about 38.89 meters (127 feet 7 inches). I also walked the narrowest street in Canada named Fan Tan Alley, and had a yummy snack in Victoria’s Chinatown, which is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and a National Historic Site.

Meet someone famous

I “met” Our Emily, a bronze statue created by sculptor Barbara Paterson. The statue honours the renowned Canadian artist and Victoria’s famous citizen, Emily Carr. The sculpture features Emily Carr seated outdoors with her sketchpad. Her Javanese monkey, Woo, perches on her shoulder and her dog, Billie, stands nearby. The building behind the statue is the also famous Empress Hotel.

Our Emily sculpture by Barbara Paterson
Our Emily sculpture by Barbara Paterson

Go whale watching

The weather was beautiful as I boarded the boat for my whale watching tour. It took about 40 minutes of travelling South to come across our first sighting. It was two humpback whales whose large blows were visible in the distance.

The pairing looked like a mother and calf. Initially they were a little spaced out from each other but eventually the mother soon caught up with her calf. The two flicked both of their tails up in the air in a synchronized dive. What an unforgettable sight!

Humpback whales

We continued watching this pair until we spotted another couple of humpback whales further away. These two were making large blows, swimming leisurely, and then captured our hearts with a few tail flukes.

See the seals and sea lions

The whale watching tour included a visit to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve where we saw the Harbour seals and California and Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks. Some were sleeping in the sun while others were engaging in power struggles for the top of the rock. The Harbour seals blended very well with the rock colours.

Seals and sea lions

Conclusion

I had a whale of a time in Victoria 🙂 All of the activities mentioned were free, except the whale watching tour. I’d love to see whales in the ocean again. This trip was also the first time I took all my photos with my phone. They turned out better than I expected.

Have you been to Victoria? Have you ever watched whales in the ocean? What were your impressions?

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.

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Fit N Fun Walk: Toronto Islands

Growing up in Toronto, one place that holds many fond memories for me is Toronto Islands – also called the Island, or Toronto Island Park. It’s located in Lake Ontario, a 12-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto. As an adult, I try to visit the Island as often as I can to savour this beautiful jewel. Here’s my ten favourite activities on the Island:

1. Ride the ferry

There are three main ferry docks on the Island: Ward’s Island, Centre Island, and Hanlan’s Point. Ferry boats go more often to Centre Island than Ward’s Island or Hanlan’s Point because it’s the most popular.

In the summer, the ferries are usually full but service is frequent. The upper deck has open sides for passengers who like a good view and the breeze. The lower deck is more enclosed with glass windows for passengers who bring their bikes or like to be sheltered. Once the ferry departs, the views of the city and Toronto Harbour are wonderful.

Ferry to Centre Island
Ferry approaching Centre Island

2. Walk on the Grass

How often do you see an official invitation to walk on the grass? I love this “Please Walk on the Grass” sign. The green colour has a soothing effect as soon as you arrive on Centre Island.

Walk on the grass sign
Please Walk on the Grass sign

3. Visit the gardens

The gardens and fountains on Centre Island add visual interests as well as provide welcoming places to relax your mind and body when you need a break from walking.

Main fountain on Centre Island
Main fountain on Centre Island

4. Walk the pier

I like to walk to the end of Centre Island pier to see the expansive view of Lake Ontario. It makes me want to inhale deeply and exhale slowly. On a calm and sunny day, it’s a peaceful scenery of the lake dotted with sailboats.

Lake view from Centre Island pier
View of Lake Ontario from Centre Island pier

At the pier, the directional sign says it’s 65 km to Niagara Falls, 1269 km to Halifax, 3361 km to Vancouver, and 4521 km to the North Pole. Having been to the first three destinations, I can say that they’re all well worth visiting. Poor Santa has a long way to come and visit us every year.

Directional sign at the pier on Centre Island
Directional sign at Centre Island pier

5. Have a picnic or Lunch al fresco

I love to have a picnic at one of the tables by the water. If you like to eat out, go for lunch al fresco at Carousel Cafe, or at one of the island restaurants.

Carousel restaurant
Carousel Cafe

6. Paddle on the water

The Island is actually a group of 15 islands inter-connected by pathways and bridges. You can rent a canoe or kayak to paddle in the calm harbour where swans, ducks, and birds also share the waterways.

Canoe on Centre Island
Centre Island waterway

7. Go to the beach

Centre Island beach typically achieves annual blue flag certification for its water quality. It’s supervised from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from June to September. On a hot summer day, the beach is perfect for taking a swim.

Centre Island Beach
Centre Island Beach

8. Ride a bike

I’ve biked from one end of the Island to the other and all over the Island. Bring your own bike on the ferry or rent a bike on Centre Island to explore interesting landmarks such as Gibraltar Point Lighthouse which was built in 1808 and was said to be haunted.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

9. Run or Walk 5K

The Island is approximately 5 kms long from Ward’s Island to Hanlan’s Point, a perfect distance for a 5K walk or run. I’ve finished several 5K running races here.

Map of Toronto Island Park
Map of Toronto Island Park

10. View Toronto’s evolving skyline

Before leaving Centre Island, while waiting for the return ferry, I always enjoy the view of Toronto across the harbour and take a few photos of the evolving Toronto’s skyline. Home sweet home!

Toronto skyline summer 2019
Toronto skyline in August 2019

I love that the ferries operate year-round. Return tickets for adults cost CAD$8.20, with discounts for students and seniors. It’s the best deal for an island experience so close to the city. I hope you enjoy Toronto Islands through my lens.

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.

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