Photo of the Day – The Cloud

This picture was taken in July  in Yellowstone National Park. Probably the first and only day it threatened to rain when we were camping. Mammatus clouds are rare, and also my favorite type of cloud! Score!

Mammatus Clouds

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Fantasy Friday – Kiwi

Could someone PLEASE sign me up for this tour. Not a huge fan of group tours, but this sounds AMAZING! (From goway.com).

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Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Queenstown, Glaciers, Christchurch

The ultimate classic tour of New Zealand journeys from Auckland in the North Island; through the thermal wonderland of Rotorua, rich in Maori history. Continue south to New Zealand ‘s capital city of Wellington before embarking on an exploration of the scenic South Island. From the alpine centre of activity at Queenstown, travel up the rugged West Coast to the Glaciers before crossing to Christchurch before returning home, or perhaps stay a little longer…

Day 1. Arrive Auckland. Haere mai – Welcome to New Zealand. Transfer to your hotel. The balance of the day is at leisure.

Day 2. Auckland sightseeing. This morning a tour of Auckland including a visit to Mt Eden, Parnell Village and Paratai Drive. This afternoon travel to the Waitakere Ranges, visit the black sand beach where ‘The Piano’ was filmed and travel into a dense rainforest with tree ferns, Kauri trees and waterfalls.

Day 3. Auckland to Rotorua. Travel to world famous Waitomo Caves before continuing to Rotorua, home to spouting geysers and boiling mud pools.

Day 4.Rotorua sightseeing. A morning tour includes Rainbow Springs, Rainbow Farm Te Whakarewarewa thermal reserve and

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Te Puia Arts and Crafts Institute. Tonight enjoy a traditional Maori concert and Hangi (feast). 

Day 5. Rotorua to Wellington. Transfer to the airport for your flight to Wellington (not included). On arrival in New Zealand’s capital, you are met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure.

Day 6. Wellington sightseeing. This morning visit the Parliament Buildings, Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Lady Norwood Rose Gardens, the National Art Gallery and enjoy fabulous views of Wellington from the summit of Mt. Victoria. This afternoon travel along rocky coastline to Sinclair Head, home to colonies of fur seals. Afterwards view the wild south coast of Wellington, the Leaning Lighthouse and the unique Red Rocks before returning to Wellington.

Day 7. Wellington to Queenstown. The morning is at leisure before your flight to Queenstown. On arrival transfer to your selected accommodation (airfare not included).

Day 8. Milford Sound. Travel south into Fiordland, through Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound. Cruise past mile-high Mitre Peak, along this 16 km long glacially-carved fiord, and out to the open sea. This will be one of the most memorable experiences of your holiday. In the afternoon return to Queenstown. 

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Day 9. In Queenstown. At leisure to enjoy New Zealand’s favourite holiday resort town. Optional tours include helicopter scenic flights, jetboat river trips, steamship lake cruises, white water rafting and Skyline Gondola rides.

Day 10. Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier. Cross the Southern Alps via the Haast Pass and continue past lakes, rain forests and rocky headlands to the glaciers of the Franz Josef region.

Day 11. Franz Josef Glacier. A day at leisure to discover Westland National Park.

Day 12. Franz Josef to Christchurch. Travel by coach to Greymouth to join the famous Tranz Alpine Express for a very scenic train journey through the Southern Alps to Christchurch, arriving at approximately 6:40pm.

Day 13.Christchurch sightseeing. Enjoy a morning tour of Christchurch, renowned as the “most English city outside of England”.

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Highlights include Canterbury Museum, morning tea at Mona Vale and a drive up to the Port Hills for scenic views of the city. Afternoon at leisure.

In the evening enjoy a five-course dinner on the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant. Sit back in the luxury of a fully restored colonial style tram and be treated to some fine New Zealand cuisine. 

Day 14. Christchurch to your next stop. The day is at leisure until you return to the airport for your onward flight.

Seriously, I absolutely CANNOT wait to see New Zealand. Such a long flight, but totally worth it, just by the look of all the pictures I saw as I browsed “New Zealand” in google images.

Gift guide for the travel lover

Aside for paying for a trip for me (which anyone is more than welcome to!), here are a few gift ideas I know I would enjoy as a lover of all things travel:

1. Make up case/organizer

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2. Hiking Guide

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3. Stylish, yet comfy shoes

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4. New Camera Lens

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5. Unique Luggage

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6. Car Charger

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7. Portable Coffee Maker (for those camping days)

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8. Pillows (to help me daydream)

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9. Hair Help (also for my camping days)

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10. Water Bottles that roll up!

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Holiday Shopping can be pretty?

I am almost finished my shopping for the holidays, and it feels good! Although I try to avoid going to malls, and usually order online, I had to check out Toronto Eaton Centre for my annual picture of the Swarovski tree.

It is so spectacular, I drool over it every year!

This year, I was happily surprised to see a few new decorations at the mall. Giant reindeers!

Here are a few pictures of my journey to the Eaton Centre beginning at my place, then via Adelaide Street. Happy Holidays!

Starting in my living room

Front Street

Adelaide Street

Giant Reindeers!

The tree!

Reality, no daydream!

I am on a bit of a budget right now. Attempting to buy gifts for the holidays and save a few dollars for some bigger summer travel plans. That leaves me with no extra fun money for quick trips.

The other day, I found a great website of travel ideas in my area. The Ontario Travel Blog has a great write up on Ontario’s  hidden gems, popular, and unique travel ideas in my area. A few of them, I have even been to, and they are great!

So today, I think instead of dreaming about traveling I will actually plan a quick get-away in the next couple weeks, and get my travel on!

Fantasy Friday – Learning about responsibility in the Arctic

I am still able to tolerate this cold weather that has swept Toronto, and I am nervous that this high spirit I have about snow and cold and warm drinks may go away at any moment, so I better daydream about a cold weather travel adventure while I can!

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Along with this cold weather adventure, I have also been supporting the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition‘s recent issues with a proposed pipeline through a very ecologically sensitive area, an area where the spirit bear lives. Oil tankers might soon be using the waters in the area where the bear lives, which consists of areas that are very dangerous and difficult to navigate through. How absolutely ridiculous this idea is to me, and to many others out there. (please help them, it’s easy, or even just learn about the spirit bear, it’s facinating!).

Does Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline know that there is a perfectly fine pipeline infrastructure (Kinder Morgan) ALREADY in place to Vancouver harbour that is much safer to use? Easier all around? I am baffled why this is so hard for Enbridge to figure out.

As a result of my daydreaming this week, I declare my fantasy trip today to be:

1. chilly

2. include a possibility of seeing white bears (polar bears in this dream, not spirit bears just yet…that’s for a special occasion!)

3. be environmentally responsible.

Responsible Travel seems like a great site to use if you have the money to spare, and like guided tours. They claim to provide ‘respectable, environmentally-friendly and safe expeditions in the Arctic’.

Sounds positive and right up my alley in the adventure category.

For their sustainable tour of the Arctic, this is what they invite us to partake in:

Spitsbergen; with its rugged mountains, sweeping tundra and ancient glaciers, is part of the Svalbard archipelago in the High Arctic and lies just 600 miles from the North Pole. This true Arctic wilderness represents a remote and fragile Arctic realm, steeped in history and rich in wildlife.

Spitsbergen is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and exciting of all Arctic destinations, acting as an important hunting and breeding ground for its population of more than 2,000 polar bears. Large numbers of walruses, Svalbard reindeer and Arctic foxes, as well as huge colonies of Arctic seabirds are also found across the island. The combination of long daylight hours and ice-free shores help facilitate the exploration of the unspoilt natural beauty of this area.

Our trips are led by experienced natural history experts and well-equipped zodiacs are used to navigate deep inside dramatic fjords and hike across spectacular tundra, dotted with an array of both plant and animal life.

A voyage on the waters of the Arctic seas is not one you merely take to reach your destination but one to savour in itself; giving you time and space to remove those urban cobwebs and revitalise the mind. From the outset, the seascape is both rich and expansive, where one may marvel as colossal whales raising their tail flukes from the water; follow beautiful skuas wheeling through the skies after smaller birds or watch as iconic polar bears walk along frozen pack ice in search of seals.

We provide you with the opportunity to explore Spitsbergen by sailing on a beautiful one hundred year old schooner. This charismatic light ship accommodates twenty passengers in comfortable surroundings and as the sails unfurl and catch the winds, a touch of exploration and romanticism is added to your Arctic adventure. All of these trips include a programme of lectures by noted naturalists and the leadership of experienced expedition staff.

Our exclusive Around Spitsbergen natural history voyage provides our longest exploration of this polar archipelago and the greatest opportunity to include all that you hope to see on one trip. On this 16 day trip, there is ample opportunity to see the very best of the Arctic wildlife, including beluga whales along the western coast, walruses up north, polar bear breeding grounds on the eastern shores and fin whales and Arctic foxes towards the southern end of the island, as well as the opportunity to visit some truly immense colonies of seabirds.

We are running this voyage 28th July – 12th Aug, when we can expect both to circumnavigate Spitsbergen, yet find sizeable areas of sea ice which provide ideal hunting grounds for polar bears. In this brief window, the Arctic summer brings with it immense numbers of rare and beautiful seabirds, often nesting in colonies exceeding one hundred thousand in number. This is also the season when Arctic foxes have their pups and mother polar bears emerge from their dens with their young cubs for the first time. Sailing around Spitsbergen experiencing the phenomenon of the ‘Midnight Sun’ allows you to watch for wildlife, enjoy landscapes of coastal mountains and glaciers, and truly experience the Arctic realm at your leisure.

Cookies!

Phew, it’s been a very busy few days, and it’s a very clear indication that holiday season is now in FULL swing. Another indication is my depleting bank account. Ouch!

In order for this holiday season to be complete, I need 2 things:

1. A significant snowfall. Perhaps coming this evening into tomorrow morning.

2. Holiday baking! Well, I am not the seasoned baker, that’s for sure, but I love making these relatively easy Gingerbread People. (Thanks, Martha!)

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Gingerbread People:

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 teaspoons powdered egg whites (meringue powder)

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg and molasses. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; mix just until combined. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days, or freeze up to 3 months (thaw before baking).
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks set in upper and lower thirds. Working with one disk at a time, place dough on lightly floured parchment paper, and roll out to 1/8 inch thick, dusting lightly with flour as needed. Using paper, lift dough onto two baking sheets; freeze until firm, about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove paper and dough from baking sheets. Using a long offset spatula, loosen dough from paper. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters, and brush off any excess flour. Transfer to baking sheets. (Gather scraps, briefly freeze, and re-roll.)
  4. For softer cookies, bake 8 to 10 minutes; for crunchier cookies, bake 11 to 12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Make icing: In a large bowl, whisk together confectioners’ sugar, powdered egg whites, and 1/4 cup water (if needed, adjust consistency with confectioners’ sugar). Transfer icing to a pastry bag with a small tip, or place in a resealable plastic bag, and snip a small hole in one corner. Decorate cookies as desired.