An Adventure into Northern Canada: Yellowknife

My four day trip into this part of my country is an eye opener in many ways.

Before boarding the flight to Yellowknife, I had a very busy month of teaching, holiday prepping and celebrating. There was no time to do any research on Yellowknife other than having scant knowledge of it as being extremely cold in the winter.

To my embarrassment, I thought Yellowknife is the capital of Yukon. My fellow traveler friend F.Y. corrected me that it is actually the capital of Northwest Territories. Also, the image I had of Yellowknife was not true. Instead of a tiny remote, barren and outdated place, it is much bigger than I envisioned with all the modern amenities you would find in a big city. Of course, in comparison to Toronto, Yellowknife is much smaller.

We were staying in the heart of the city at Quality Inn & Suites, so everything was accessible by a short walk from the  grocery store (Independent Grocer), Shoppers Drug Mart, restaurants (Boston Pizza, Black Knight Pub) to several banks (TD & CIBC). Our hotel was attached to the Centre Square Mall, so it was convenient to get there without putting on our jackets and snowpants. Tim Hortons and A & W were in this mall.

 

 

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The frigid temperature of Yellowknife is definitely true. On the first day we arrived, it was around -35 but it felt more like -50. When breathing outdoors, I felt the chill air hurting my nostrils and cheeks. Needless to say, dressing in layers was paramount especially during the nearly five hours we were outside at night (9:30pm-2am) waiting for the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) to appear. By the last day of our stay, we mastered dressing in layers quickly and staying relatively warm.

*Here is my rule of thumb for layering during winter in Yellowknife:

Head- wear a head warmer, a toque and the hood from your coat

Neck- wear one to two scarves depending on how much cold you can tolerate plus one breathable scarf or neck warmer to protect your cheeks/lower face from the elements

Eyes- if you wear eye glasses, wearing a pair of ski goggles is a must since the eye glasses will definitely freeze and/or fog up; even if you don’t wear eye glasses, the ski goggles can protect your eyes from the cold

Upper Body- one to two base layers, one sweater, one fleece top/jacket/sweater, one light down jacket, one thick Goose Down Parka

Lower body- one to two base layers, one pair of leggings, one pair of fleece-lined jogging pants, one pair of insulated snowpants

Hands- one pair of mittens/gloves as base layer, one thermal mittens/gloves on top

Feet- two to three pairs of thermal/insulated socks and a very good pair of snow boots made for at least -40 weather (I bought mine from the Canadian brand Baffin and my feet were very cozy warm)

 

Here are some other important facts I learned while staying and travelling in Yellowknife:

1. On top of layering clothing, hand warmers and toe warmers have to be the final touches to stay completely warm if spending a lot of time outdoors (e.g. Aurora hunting, ice fishing etc.). The brand “Grabber Warmers” is the best out there. It really heats up quickly and lasts for a long time. Any other brand pales in comparison in terms of keeping warm for long durations.

Handwarmers

Image taken from https://www.amazon.com/Grabber-Outdoors-Hour-Hand-Warmers/dp/B00GVKUWE2

2. Forget about dieting or eating clean! Eating a lot of food to pack on the fat to protect yourself from the extreme cold temperature is oh so important. Besides, I found my body was craving for constant food. Bread, butter, cheese, potatoes, hot chocolate, anything goes!

3. Packing extra food in the luggage is a smart move! I learned that from F.Y. who packed half of her luggage with our snacks and meals. As a foodie, I always love to explore the area I travel to and find locals eats. However, in Yellowknife I found the weather so unbearably cold that once we returned to the hotel from our daytime activities, I didn’t want to go out again to find food. These snacks and meals came in handy. We usually had a big local meal for lunch and then for the evening we ate these packed food before going Aurora hunting at night.

yellowknifesnacks

Some examples of our meals and snacks. We also brought Campbell soup and Kraft Mac and Cheese plus hot chocolate powder.

4. Bringing a thermos to sip a hot drink (my preference is hot chocolate!) while Aurora hunting is much needed! And snacks of your preference.

5. The sun rises at 10am and sets at 3pm. during winter so make use of the daylight!

6. Napping before Aurora hunting is a good idea so you have energy staying awake for at least 5 hours late at night and early morning!

7. A regular cell phone and/or camera will either freeze or work very slowly since the battery is not used to such frigid temperature. I noticed people with DSLRs had no problem taking photos!

8. Almost all restaurants and shops are closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

9. Yellowknife has a diamond mine. Diamonds were discovered in the early 1990s.

10. Homelessness is a big issue in Yellowknife. It seemed everywhere we went in downtown, we encountered the homeless. Seeing so many of them wandering around and trying to keep warm in the extreme cold weather really broke my heart. 😦 I have been reading about this issue since returning home, and also asked one of the local guides on the last day of my stay how tourists can help. From her suggestion and my research it looks like we can give monetary donations to a few organizations helping the homeless. I found this website which lists four shelters/organizations in Yellowknife: https://www.yellowknife.ca/en/living-here/shelters.asp

If you are interested, feel free to read about them and perhaps you would like to make a donation too. 🙂 I plan to make some donations.

 

My highlights for this adventurous trip were…

-driving my own dogsled at sunset around a snow-covered lake!

Yellowknifedogsledding

 

-participating in an Aboriginal Ice Fishing demo by our guide William (I helped pull the fish net out from the hole) and then eating fresh whitefish that we caught at Great Slave Lake. The homemade Aboriginal meal of whitefish chowder, pan-fried whitefish and bannocks was so hearty and delicious!!

 

 

-enjoying the frigid chill air of Yellowknife and the sceneries along the way as we walk into Old Town Yellowknife.

 

 

 

-eating at the funky popular little restaurant Bullock’s Bistro in Old Town. It is set in a heritage building from 1936 and serves fish fresh from Great Slave Lake. The walls and ceiling were decorated with tourists’ notes and memorabilia which was very cool! We were served with their freshly baked bread and rich butter and ordered the “King Fishers Haul” whitefish combo where we could choose to have the fish deep-fried, pan-fried or grilled, plus have fries, salad or both (half and half) to go with it. The portion size was very generous and when we finished eating that day we didn’t have a big dinner. Tip: To avoid being turned away since it is very popular, it is advised to make reservations at least 3 days in advance. They also take walk-ins but it may be a long wait depending on how busy they are.

 

 

-enjoying the sunset and view of the city and Great Slave Lake on Pilots’ Monument, located on “The Rock”, the highest peak in the city.

 

 

-seeing the Aurora Borealis with my naked eye!! According to our guide, usually on a clear night, the Northern Lights are guaranteed to show up. However, on the first two clear nights we were there, we had a very difficult time spotting it. Only people with DSLRs were able to spot it. Finally on our last night we felt so fortunate that she finally danced for us on and off in various forms! Being there in person witnessing this beautiful phenomena was incredible and I have to say, the pictures don’t do it justice.

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On our last night, we were also treated to waiting inside the warmth of a tent in between viewings of the Aurora Borealis. Photo Courtesy: Olivia Wan

 

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Photo Courtesy: Olivia Wan

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Photo Courtesy: Olivia Wan

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Photo Courtesy: Olivia Wan

 

Overall, despite the extreme freezing temperature of such I’ve never experienced and the long exhausting wait for the Northern Lights each night, I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure with my dear friend and feel enlightened by getting myself acquainted with this remote part of Canada. I would love to return to Yellowknife someday during warmer weather to see the Northern Lights with other colours like magenta and violet!

Finding Affordable Yoga in Taipei

It’s now September, and most people say goodbye to summer and transition into their “back to school” routine or life. I remember exactly a year ago I moved to Taipei to start my life as a university student again, learning a new language. At the same time I wanted to maintain my daily yoga classes as I’ve had back in Canada, preparing myself for my yoga teacher training in New Zealand for February 2016, which meant finding a suitable yoga studio to attend classes regularly.

To my disappointment, I did not find a lot of online English information on yoga in Taipei, so I hope by writing this blog post, for those of you who are currently thinking of finding affordable yoga classes in Taipei, this will help you! 🙂

The big fancy yoga studios in Taipei (True Yoga, Pure Yoga, Space Yoga, and Yoga Journey) are very expensive since once has to sign a one year contract with them on top of initial membership fee. These studios are very rigid with their one year contract, so even if you opt out before 12 months is over, you still have to pay the full year. Another undesirable factor in joining these studios is that some of these yoga studios may charge foreigners a higher fee than a local; I found this out when I visited one of the locations of True Yoga. The sales representative told me because I’m a foreigner, I have to pay higher. I found that very discriminatory. Needless to say, I found these big fancy yoga studios unappealing in terms of the high pricing ($150-200 USD/month) and big class size (maximum 50 in a class).

When I was about to give up on ever finding affordable yoga classes with a smaller class size while living in Taipei, an American classmate introduced me to her neighbourhood yoga studio: Bodhi Yoga. At the same time I discovered that if I knew better Mandarin, I would be able to find smaller yoga studios with affordable pricing.

During my year of living in Taipei, I’ve discovered 3 nice affordable places to do yoga, and below, I’ll describe them briefly to you:

1.Bodhi Yoga

What it offers: Hatha Yoga, Hatha Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Flow, Prenatal Yoga

When: Daily yoga classes from morning (time varies each day) till 8pm at night

Where: They have 2 locations in Taipei, Guting and Songjiang. I’ve only been to the Guting location since it was close to my university and it was convenient to youbike there or take the MRT, as it was right in front of exit 1, Guting MRT.

Cost: drop in fee=$650 NTD, for first time users you can pay this price and get the second class for free (buy one get one free deal)

They also offer various packages for students such as 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or 12 months unlimited. Students can also buy 20 class or 40 class package deals. I chose the 3 months package for around $350 USD.

Why:Friendly front desk staff (receptionists) and fellow yogi classmates,a variety of yoga teachers with different styles, small class size (anywhere from 2-15), welcoming atmosphere to relax before and after class (Guting location), free water refill, tea and coffee, yoga mats and props are provided, and many classes offered throughout the day

Website: http://www.bodhiyoga.com.tw/eng/index.html

 

2. Unison Yoga Taipei

What: Hatha, Vinyasa flow, Ashtanga, Yin Yang Yoga, Dance Yoga,  Prenatal Yoga, Kids Yoga, Mommy and Baby Yoga

When: daily classes, a few in the morning but most classes are from 12:15pm onwards till 7:30pm as the last class (time varies each day)

Where: It is a relatively new yoga studio, about 13 months old. A few minutes walk from Liuzhangli MRT station.

Cost: first class free, drop in fee=$600 NTD;  10 classes package can be bought for $3600 NTD

Why: Cozy, small classes ranging from 1 student per class to 10, caring and dedicated yoga teachers who take their time to get to know you and chat with you after class if you have any questions, a variety of different creative yoga classes offered such as combining yoga with dance, and there’s also Pilates class, friendly front desk staff, free water refill and light snacks for after class, yoga mats and props are provided, and warm welcoming atmosphere.

Website: http://www.unisonyoga.com.tw/about.php

 

3. Yoga in Daan Forest Park (Harmony Yoga)

What: Any type of yoga style according to yoga teacher of the week. It is run by a group of volunteer yoga teachers who teach donation yoga classes weekly.

When: every Sunday at 9am (usually 1 hour class)

Where: Daan Forest Park (their website has a map to show the location in the park)

Cost: whatever you can afford ($200 NTD is a decent amount)

Why: outdoor yoga with sounds of nature and fresh air found in the city

Website: https://www.facebook.com/HarmonyYogaTaiwan/

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For me, the best part of taking these yoga classes is that they are all in Mandarin, so I was fully immersed in the Mandarin-speaking environment even when doing yoga! 🙂

10 Vancouver Must-Dos List

I just came back from a much-needed relaxing one week vacation to Vancouver, British Columbia after one intense month of wrapping up the end of the school year, and getting ready for my exciting summer teach abroad opportunity, and moving to a new school for September.

The past week has been incredible as I was able to explore and discover the beauty of Vancouver and its surroundings, and experience the laid back lifestyle of the Vancouverites. Part of this vacation was made so much better with the companionship of my good high school friend Sheena, and also my Vancouverite friend Greg, who has such a wealth of knowledge of his city and province. Thank you to both! 🙂

Vancouver is such a beautiful and eclectic city in Western Canada. Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie, a history buff or interested in trying out a variety of activities, there is definitely something to do for everyone there.

Here are my top 10 favourite things I enjoyed doing and seeing while in Vancouver and hopefully this list will entice you to visit Vancouver as your next travel destination!

1. For Cyclists: Biking around Stanley Park via Seawall

StanleyParkBiking

Stanley Park is a huge public park located in the West End of Vancouver and it is very bike friendly. It has a path called Seawall, where one can bike, cycle or in-line skate around the park. Sheena and I enjoyed a very pleasant day biking all around the Seawall, savouring the scenic views along the way and stopping whenever we wanted to take photos or rest. There are benches spread throughout the park and logs placed on the beaches for sitting. This urban park is like a peaceful paradise in the midst of the city.

Tip: End your biking at Kitsilano Beach where you can get a beautiful view of the sunset around 9pm.

 

2. For Lovers of Shakespeare: Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park

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If you love Shakespeare as much as I do, this summer festival cannot be missed! It runs from June to September and is located by the beautiful waterfront in Vanier Park. Plays are performed in open-ended tents, where the backdrop is the magnificent view of mountains, sea and sky. We saw an evening performance of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and loved it a lot because it added a modern twist to it with some 21st century fashion and music thrown in as well.

Tip #1: If you have time before the show, walk around the waterfront in Vanier Park so you can see the natural beauty all around you.

Tip #2: The weather cools down in the evening, so dress for the evening weather by either wearing layered clothing/long pants or bring a light jacket.

 

3. For Yogis & Yoginis: Yoga Everywhere!

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Vancouver is known as the yoga capital of Canada and literally everywhere you go, there will be signs of a yoga studio nearby. Of course I had to try a yoga class! Luckily, I found one right in the heart of where I was staying in West End Vancouver. The exciting part is that this local yoga studio is a secret gem in the neighbourhood and not a lot of people know about it. I will be blogging about my yoga experience there soon so stay tuned! 😉

Tip: BoredInVancouver has a good post on free yoga around the city so check out
http://www.boredinvancouver.com/listings/free-yoga-vancouver-by-donation/

 

4. For Nature Lovers & Hikers: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

CapilanoBridge
You can easily spend a few hours here because the suspension bridge is not the only attraction; it also has trails for walking/hiking. As well, it has its Treetops Adventure and Cliffwalk where you can walk to get closer views of the rainforest, and the Capilano River and Canyon. I found it fascinating that in the middle of the city there is a rainforest. I learned a lot about vegetation in this part of the province during this trip. This place is another peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Tip #1: Even though it is about 10-15 minutes away from downtown Vancouver, we really appreciated the free shuttle bus service offered by the park for tourists like us who don’t like driving a car. The shuttle bus service is frequent; it runs every 15 minutes. The stops are located in several key places in downtown for pickup and drop off. Here is the free shuttle bus service schedule: http://www.capbridge.com/visit/shuttle-service/

Tip #2: The fudge is freshly made here and is a must eat! There are so many flavours to choose from and the fudge shop is located in the souvenir gift shop called “Trading Post”. I think the sea salt chocolate fudge is out of this world!!

Tip #3: If you’re not too tired after this adventure, you can drive over or take the bus to nearby Grouse Mountain to hike up the challenging and steep hiking trail known as the Grouse Grind. It takes about an hour and a half to hike all the way up. Once you’re up there, you can get a beautiful view of the city, sea and mountains.

 

5. For Foodies and Sushi Lovers: Sushi is a Must!

Sushi selection at Fujiya Japanese Foods

Sushi selection at Fujiya Japanese Foods

As my friend Greg pointed out when we were on our city tour walk, Vancouver is a highly Asian-populated or influenced city. It seems almost around every corner, we were greeted by Asian restaurants. Therefore, what better place to have freshly made sushi by Japanese chefs than in Vancouver? We tasted a variety of sushi from restaurants and even bought some from this Japanese supermarket (“Fujiya Japanese Foods” on 912 Clark Drive) for a picnic at Queen Elizabeth Park, another beautiful park with gardens and panoramic view over the city. There were so many different kinds of sushi to choose from in Fujiya that it kind of got overwhelming. 😛 My final verdict on the sushi from Fujiya is that they are not only cheap, but also fresh and super delicious!

Tip: If you come all the way to British Columbia (BC), you have to try the BC Roll. It is a roll that has barbecued salmon and cucumber since BC is known for its wild pacific salmon. I think it’s so yummy!

 

6. For Shoppers, Foodies & People Watching: Robson Street

We discovered this cute Japanese cafe on Robson street that specializes in yummy parfaits for desserts.

We discovered this cute Japanese cafe on Robson street that specializes in yummy parfaits for desserts.

If you love to spend a day strolling, shopping, eating and people watching, this is the street for you! This busy teeming street is filled with ethnic restaurants, coffee shops, sports bars, lounges, grocery stores and shops. There are a variety of shops from big names to little boutiques, and even a few souvenir shops in between. If you get tired from shopping, you can simply buy a cup of coffee/tea and sit outside on a patio and people watch for fun! 🙂

 

7. For Beach Goers: English Bay Beach, Second Beach and Third Beach (located in Stanley Park), Kitsilano Beach & Sunset Beach

Third Beach

Third Beach

Vancouver is surrounded by beaches, so it is definitely worth to hit up one or more of these beaches and enjoy them whether you want to swim, walk, windsurf, sail, bask in the sun or just play in the sand. I thoroughly enjoyed just sitting on one of its many logs placed on these beaches, observing the beautiful landscape.

 

8. For Photographers: Scenic Route along Whistler

The drive from Vancouver to Whistler and vice-versa is simply breathtaking. There were so many scenic views along the way that I’ll share some notable stops with you here:

Shannon Falls Provincial Park

Shannon Falls Provincial Park

Green Lake Provincial Park

Green Lake Provincial Park

 

Stawamus Chief (a.k.a as the Chief) where people challenge themselves by rock climbing!

Stawamus Chief (a.k.a as the Chief) where people challenge themselves by rock climbing!

Porteau Cove, Provincial Marine Park

Porteau Cove, Provincial Marine Park where scuba diving is possible

 

A view of Vancouver city from the peak of Cypress Mountain

A view of Vancouver city from the peak of Cypress Mountain

 

9. For History Buffs: Victoria

A view of the waterfront and British Columbia  Parliament Buildings

A view of the waterfront and British Columbia Parliament Buildings

We thought if we come all the way to Vancouver, we might as well take a day trip to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, known for its British charm. This city is named after Queen Victoria of England, and is one of the oldest cities in Western Canada. The British settled here in the 1843. The British influence is evident in its historical buildings, architecture, double-decker buses, horse-drawn carriages, formal gardens and tearooms around the city. We enjoyed leisurely strolling around the major streets and the waterfront area which is pretty and buzzing with activity from buskers performing to artisans and artists selling their work of art. As passionate foodies, we could not resist trying two British meals in famous places while here in Victoria. We had fish and chips for lunch at the popular Red Fish Blue Fish and Afternoon Tea at the majestic Fairmont Empress Hotel. I will be blogging about both food experiences so keep an eye out for them. 🙂

Tip #1: When we arrived to Vancouver, we learned that Victoria is actually very far from Vancouver, and it takes about 4 hours to reach Victoria via bus and ferry boat. At the suggestion of our hotel’s front desk, we decided to book our transportation to and from Victoria through a company called Pacific Coach. They specialize in their Cross Water Service and we found it very easy to reach their bus terminal (Pacific Central Station) from our hotel to board their bus and then we didn’t have to worry about the rest of our trip. See http://www.pacificcoach.com/Bus-Coach-Travel/Crosswater/Vancouver-to-Victoria

Tip #2: The scenic views from the ferry boat was simply stunning. Make sure you go on to the top deck to experience the magic and natural beauty all around you. Bring a light jacket/sweater as it tends to be cooler outside.

Morning ferry ride to Victoria

Morning ferry ride to Victoria

Sunset ferry ride back to Vancouver

Sunset ferry ride back to Vancouver

 

10. For Lululemon Addicts: Lululemon Lab

LululemonLab
If you are a fan of Lululemon clothing, you have to visit this place, where it all began! Be prepared that it is a small retail and fashion space where innovative Lululemon items are designed, produced and sold all in one space. The majority of the products are in neutral colours of black, white, gray and navy blue, and are created in limited quantities. I found the staff to be super friendly, helpful and honest.  The cool feature of this store is that you get to see the seamstresses at work, creating the designs for this shop only, based on the design boards. Lastly, you get pleasure knowing that when you walk out of this shop, you are one of a very few people owning a piece of unique Lululemon clothing, made in Vancouver, that will most likely not be sold in the regular Lululemon stores.