This is the third post in a series on Edmonton and Jasper. Click here to read parts one and two.
The Icefields Parkway, which connects Jasper and Banff National Parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is arguably one of the most gorgeous drives in the world. Two hundred and thirty kilometres of smooth asphalt pass by the feet of towering mountains, ancient glaciers, and crystal clear streams and, lined with wildlife, it makes every list of ‘Best Drives in the World.’ It was on this road that our rag tag group of writers and bloggers traveled on the last day of our Rocky Mountain exploration.
This is the second post in a series on Edmonton and Jasper. Click here to read part one.
As a chronic wanderluster who lives in a city that is so isolated that it takes at least two or three flights to get anywhere exotic, I am constantly thinking of ways to maximize long weekends and make the most of my more immediate surroundings. Fortunately my hometown of Edmonton is only a few hours’ drive from the glorious Canadian Rocky Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the cozy mountain town of Jasper, Alberta.
Southern Alberta has become one of my favourite destinations in the past couple of years, one that I am fortunate to be able to reach with an easy half-day road trip. I love the larger-than-life Alberta skies and the vast, flat, golden prairies. I love how the landscape can change so quickly and how the Earth opens up in front of me to reveal something completely different.
For this year’s Alberta exploration, I started with two nights in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park before moving on for two more at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park/Áísínai’pi National Historic Site.
Bulgaria is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites – places in the world that are designated and protected by the United Nations as culturally and or physically special and significant. Two of these sites – Boyana Church and Rila Monastery – are easily doable as a daytrip from Sofia, which is exactly what my husband Dave and I did on our four-night stay in the capital.
We awoke in Skopje, Macedonia in the ungodly hour between late night and early morning. It was pitch black outside and the streets were deserted. My head was in a fog and I was still unsteady on my feet. It’s a familiar feeling for anyone who has to get up in that in-between time and move. In our case, we were moving on to our next destination; Thessaloniki, Greece. More importantly, I was moving towards achieving a goal, the biggest undertaking of my life; traveling to 30 countries before the age of 30. Greece was it: #30.
Lake Ohrid is one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes, 940ft at its greatest depths and millions of years old, nestled amongst a mountainous region of the Balkans. The lake and the town it is named after are a Macedonian UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet a third of the shoreline lies in another country: Albania.
My husband Dave and I were spending a few nights in the town of Ohrid to catch a bit of downtime during our month in Europe, but we can never stay idle for very long. We had a rental car with us that we had picked up in Skopje and were delighted to find out that we could take it into Albania for a small extra fee. We decided to circumnavigate the entirety of the lake, about 100km, and get a very small taste of what Albania has to offer.
Three hundred and fifty days after our last month away in Europe, Dave and I were packing our bags again, going through the familiar motions and making the drive down the same stretch of highway to the airport, ready to embark on another month on the continent we love so much. This time, though, the trip carried serious significance. This would be the biggest trip of my life to date. This would be the one where I would finally achieve my goal, the purpose of my life for the past four and a half years; to travel to at least 30 countries before I turned 30 years old.
After three easy flights we touched down in Budapest, a city I’ve wanted to visit for years. We took the bus and then the metro into the historic centre. The second we emerged from the station I was stunned by the gorgeousness all around me. It’s common to be smitten with a place when you first see it, but this feeling held steady for our whole four days in Budapest, from the grandest buildings to flower pots lining the streets, from the great Danube and its bridges to multiple neon signs in the shape of teeth.
I got my first glimpse of Africa as we began our final descent into Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport. I noticed the vibrant green land, the huge sky and the immensely tall clouds like I had never seen before.
I had been waiting for this day, Friday the 13th, for many years. This was the day that I was finally going to walk up to the mouth of the sleeping monster, Mount Vesuvius. I have a very distinct memory of being around seven years old and finding a book at my elementary school that fascinated me. It was full of stories about ancient and faraway lands, and the stories that stuck with me most were about Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Ever since that day it had been a huge dream of mine to see those incredible places. I visited Pompeii on my first trip to Italy and had seen Mount Vesuvius from afar, and now I would finally walk on it.
In order for us to get there without a rental car, we first took the metro to Garibaldi Station. I couldn’t help but laugh as the metro pulled up. It wasn’t sleek and new like in countless other cities in the world. Perhaps they are for other lines, but the one we hopped on was an ancient, slow Trenitalia train. Once we got to the main station, we bought tickets for the infamous Circumvesuviana line. A lot of travelers worry about catching the train at Napoli’s main train station and taking the CV because they are afraid of being pickpocketed. While this can and does happen, as long as you stay aware you shouldn’t have any problems. We didn’t. The station was quite busy with 95% tourists heading to Pompeii. Everybody was smoking. We happened to be standing beside two young British men and witnessed a funny encounter. An Italian man was going around with a small box of lighters trying to sell them to people, who would wave him along and that would be the end of it. He managed to engage these two guys and have a little bit of back and forth, neither of them really speaking the language. Eventually, after several minutes, the Italian was able to sweet talk them into buying a lighter with a kitten on it for one Euro. Continue reading Hiking Mount Vesuvius: Fulfilling a lifelong dream→
I have always wanted to experience Naples, the Bay of Naples, and Mount Vesuvius. My husband and I originally planned to visit the city on our first trip to Italy all the way back in 2008. We even had a hotel booked, but we were fresh travelers on our first trip to Europe and the Internet boogeymen got the best of us. Add to that an ongoing garbage strike, and we cancelled our stay. Fast forward to 2013 and our third trip to Italy. With more experience under our belts, we finally made it to Naples.
The overnight ferry from Montenegro docked in Bari, on the Adriatic coast. From there, we picked up our fourth and final rental of the trip and had an easy drive to Naples.
I’m ashamed to admit that we made a major rookie mistake once we dropped off our rental. We walked over to where all the taxis were lined up waiting for customers. One pulled up and let out its passengers. Then the driver, rather than going to the back of the line to wait for fares, swung over to us and ushered us inside. He was breaking the rules and we should have known better than to get inside. In the back of my mind I was screaming “RIP OFF!” but it was hot, we were tired and hungry. He was a real smooth talker, trying to act like our buddy and giving us common tips about Napoli. What should have been a 15EUR cab ride ended up being 35EUR, and he even had the balls to straight up ask me for a 5EUR tip so he could “get some coffee.” Worse things can definitely happen, but I felt a little ridiculous.
After we checked into our charming B&B, we hit Via Toledo in search of some famous Neapolitan pizza. We had plans to visit some of the famous pizzerias later on, but needed a quick fix. We didn’t have to go far before coming across Pizzeria Mattozzi. The menu was quite extensive but we hardly even needed to look before deciding on the classic margherita pizza, perfectly simple with only tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. Delicious pizza combined with classic nonchalant Italian service, the waiter singing beautifully to himself, and a cute older gentleman clearing tables gave us a perfect introduction to they city. Turns out you can’t throw a ball of dough in Napoli without finding a good pizza. Continue reading Iconic art and eats in Napoli→