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 Instead of a tiny remote, barren and outdated place, it is much bigger than I envisioned with all the modern amenities you would find in a big city.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.

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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!

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-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!

10 Most Beautiful Sunset Spots in the World

They say no two sunsets are ever the same. Through travelling and living abroad, I’ve discovered that I love watching sunsets, whether it’s strolling down the streets in Taipei, biking in New Zealand’s countryside, or making an event out of it by watching it in a famous scenic spot.

I find the waiting period between day and night where I can observe the sky’s changing colours very calming for my body, mind and soul. There is a respite from the busy day to fully relax and to be truly aware of my surroundings using all my senses. It is a time where I can check in with my breath, a gentle reminder to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of nature. To me, the sunset is the moment where magic and peace happens.

I’m excited to share with you 10 sunset moments I’ve captured while in France, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea and Japan. I’ve also included some travel tips of these places if you’ll go there one day to see the sunsets. Enjoy! 🙂

 

1.Paris, France

Walking the 704 steps up the Eiffel Tower, instead of taking the elevator, during late afternoon to catch the view of the whole entire city during sunset is well worth it!

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2. Taipei, Taiwan

In my opinion the best view of the city during sunset is not on top of Taipei 101 but at the top of Elephant Mountain. Don’t be afraid of the daunting steps of the Elephant Mountain hiking trail. A mere 15-20 minutes hike will take you to the serene resting spot of big rocks where you can sit and watch the sunset, or the pavilions where you can stand and watch it.

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3. Tamsui River, New Taipei City, Taiwan

As the sun goes down, it casts a golden hue to the river, therefore it’s also known as the Golden Riverside. Visiting the Tamsui Old Street Night Market, which is right next to the river, will be the perfect end to the night!

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4.Guanshan (Kenting), Taiwan

CNN has chosen this as one of the top twelve most beautiful sunset spots in the world. It is indeed beautiful but be prepared for the large amounts of tourists at the top of the mountain! Wait for the big crowds to disperse after the sunset before heading back down the mountain. It will be dark but I think to be able to hear the sounds of nature (cicadas singing) coming out at night is so soothing to the soul. 🙂

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5. Han River (Seoul), South Korea

I was on the tour bus during traffic jam when I saw this beautiful sunset over the Han River.

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6. Gyeongju, South Korea

I was standing on the rooftop of my hanok (traditional Korean guesthouse) in what was once known as the ancient capital of the Silla dynasty. The sunset was stunning as I could also see the ancient style roofs too!

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7. The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Australia

While driving down The Great Ocean Road, making a stop at this famous place is a must and seeing the sunset is like icing on top of the cake!

This sunset was simply awe-inspiring. Like Guanshan in Taiwan, be prepared for even bigger crowds!

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8. The Outback, Australia

Another name for this area is Red Centre, as the vast land is covered by endless red rocks, soil, sand and mountains. The wild beauty of the Outback has truly captured my heart and anywhere you stop your car to see the sunset is gorgeous, as can be seen in the photos below.

Many people travel to the Red Centre to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), plus the sunrises and sunsets as backdrops. I was lucky to be able to see two sunsets of Uluru at different angles. The first day I saw the silhouette of Uluru against the sunset backdrop and the second day I saw it glowing red as the sun went down.

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9. St Kilda Beach, Melbourne, Australia

This is the perfect spot for watching the sunset on a beach and then seeing the cute little penguins come ashore after the sunset. Cameras are not allowed to take photos of the penguins, because it will scare them.

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10. Miyajima, Japan

Two words to describe the sunset here with the Otorii gate: magical and tranquil. Most people come here for a day trip so by the time it’s sunset they leave. Therefore, it’s extremely peaceful and quiet observing the changing colours of the sky with a small crowd of people. I highly recommend at least an overnight stay on this beautiful island at a traditional Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

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St. Lucia: My Top 5 Short & Sweet Must-Dos

Like a lot of things in life, even the best planned vacation can go awry. I have learned this is true even when going on what is supposed to be a luxurious trip to St. Lucia for my cousin’s destination wedding.

With visions of myself spending a lot of time under the hot sun on a beautiful stretch of white sand beach while sipping a fruity cocktail, away from the freezing cold weather of Canada, and eating tons of delicious food, I did not anticipate that I would be spending more time in the hotel room than on the beach! Needless to say, due to a variety of factors, my first day of arrival was less than idyllic: from a rough nauseating two hour rollercoaster car ride to the resort where I supposedly started a chain reaction of vomiting (according to a fellow passenger who confided in my cousin a few days later at the lounge) whereby the rest of the passengers felt nauseous along with me to my diet of ginger ale, water and only fruits for dinner. Anyways, I could not believe a seasoned traveler like me who has been to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia, would get sick, much less car sick (I’ve never gotten car sick before!) on this trip to St. Lucia. But hey, you learn something new about yourself every time, and this time I’ve learned that I can even get sick in an all-inclusive vacation.

We stayed at Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa & Beach Resort and if you’re looking for a review on it, check out my review on TripAdvisor: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g147344-d263015-r250257791-Sandals_Grande_St_Lucian_Spa_Beach_Resort-Gros_Islet_Gros_Islet_Quarter_St_Lucia.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Despite my short stay in St. Lucia, compared to my family who stayed for 8 days, I still enjoyed my few days in paradise. The wedding on the beach was beautifully orchestrated and I can’t rave enough about St. Lucia as a wedding destination locale!

Here is my list of the top 5 must-dos for a short and sweet time in St. Lucia (if you only have a few days here like me):

1. Lounging and enjoying the panoramic view of the beach

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Nothing spells relaxation, at least for me, than lounging at the beach with the warm sun shining down on me while gazing at the panoramic view in front, in between reading my beach read!

 

2. Breakfast by beach

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How to make the most of beach time when your short is stay? Well, for me it is enjoy it to the fullest by taking advantage of every minute, which means starting off early with a decadent breakfast and making my own mimosa using champagne and orange juice! 😉

 

3. Speedboat Tour

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The speedboat was going so fast, I couldn’t take any of the scenic views, but managed to take this one in the beginning of the tour!

Partaking in this half day tour down the Caribbean Sea on a gorgeous sunny day with a knowledgeable and friendly tour guide plus good music blasting in the background rounded off a pretty perfect day on the island. Seeing the stunning scenic geographic views along the way was well worth it! We booked our private speedboat tour with JJ Touring and I highly recommend them!

http://www.jjtouring.com

 

4. Sulphur Springs Park

This is the island’s only drive in volcano and this experience is incomplete if you don’t take a dip into the hot spring’s mud bath! The locals say the mud is good for the skin; after covering my whole body from the tip of my toes to my face with said mud, and then rinsing it off, I have to agree with them that my skin felt so much smoother! 🙂

Unfortunately, there are no photos from the mud bath since I kept my camera away from the mud bath.

 

5. Creole Buffet

I think food is such a big part of every culture, and I’m always excited to try local cuisine, and I have to say the food I tried here was pretty yummy, especially the jerk chicken!

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Here are also 2 of my favourite photo moments in beautiful St. Lucia:

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NYC: Ringing in the New Year at Times Square

To my dear readers,

Happy New Year from New York City! 🙂

For me, 2014 has been a year filled with ups and downs. To say goodbye to 2014 in a profound way and to welcome in the New Year, I decided to check off something from my bucket list. Something I definitely learned in 2014 was that life is too short; we have to go reach for our dreams! And doing the countdown in New York City’s famous Times Square has been a dream of mine since I started watching this spectacular festivity every New Year’s Eve with my family.

Words cannot describe how thrilled and blessed I felt to be able to experience one of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration around the world with approximately 1 million people in NYC! Waiting for over 6 hours in the frigid temperature while soaking in the atmosphere and excitement in the air was well worth it for me. I want to thank my two good friends C & S for coming along with me on this fantastic adventure, even when everyone commented, including New Yorkers, that we were crazy for lining up in the cold for hours “just to watch a ball drop”! Yes, by midnight I could hardly feel my legs and feet even though I thought I was well-prepared in dressing warmly and I barely drank or ate anything for fear of using the washroom and losing my good spot in the “party pen”, but I loved every moment of being frozen! 🙂

It was fun to meet and chat with people from all around the world, who flew to NYC just to be in Times Square for the countdown; and I also gained a new appreciation for New York City’s Finest. NYC’s Finest did a stupendous job in keeping 1 million revelers safe! The police officers were all very professional, friendly, helpful, and strict when needed to be.

Before I end my New Year’s post, I highly recommend you to add NYC’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Countdown to your bucket list. It is an extremely safe and family-friendly event.  I will now share with you 10 tips to make the most of this experience, if you ever decide to do it. I hope you will bookmark this post for your future reference. 😉

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10 Tips for NYC’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Countdown:

1. Dress extra, extra warm!

If you are afraid of the cold, and trust me it gets extremely cold as the hours tick down to midnight, wear your warmest and thickest Winter coat/jacket AND snowpants, plus insulated winter boots (better yet, wear double socks too)! And of course wear insulated mittens/gloves and I know this ain’t pretty and I’m not kidding (I will do this if I ever return for the countdown again), I suggest you to wear a ski mask, instead of a regular winter hat!

2. Bring a blanket!

We saw quite a few people coming prepared with a blanket and we thought they were so smart. You can use the blanket to cover your whole body to ward off the freezing cold on top of your warm winter clothing or even use it to sit on the ground after you get tired from standing for over a few hours.

3. Eat a big meal before you line up!

This is very important as you don’t want to starve for the rest of the night; we found that our huge late lunch at 3pm in a restaurant lasted us until midnight. FYI: If you’re someone who prefers to eat a proper meal even in the frigid cold every few hours, rest assured that pizza delivery guys will be walking around the “party pens” to sell warm pizza. The pizza is sold in a box for $20.

4. Use the washroom before lining up & drink as little as possible.

Make sure you use the washroom before you line up because once you get into a “party pen”, you cannot go out of it unless you don’t mind leaving it, losing your good spot, and lining up all over again to get back in, which can take at least an hour. Also, drink as little as possible to prevent you from going to the washroom once you’re in the pen. FYI: Washroom options are quite limited in the Times Square area on New Year’s Eve.

5. Bring snacks and/or hot drink in a thermos.

If you like, bring some snacks if you tend to get hungry and a hot drink in a thermos to keep you warm. My friend C was the only one who ate our snacks since she said eating a little kept her warm; while I only drank tiny sips of hot water from my thermos to stay a bit warmer. FYI: If you’re lucky, you may meet a Tim Hortons delivery guy going around the pens to sell hot chocolate. One cup of hot chocolate is sold for $5.

6. Move around!

Since you’re stuck in the party pen for hours before midnight, even with warm clothing, you may start getting colder due to lack of movement. To prevent further freezing, I suggest you to move your body a bit like jumping up and down, marching your legs or if you’re lucky, and it’s not crowded in your party pen, walk around it as much as you can.

7. To line up early or not?

Depending on how serious you are in getting a good vantage point, you can start lining up in the morning, or if you are like us, and want to check out the city a little bit and enjoy a big hot meal before lining up, late afternoon works too. Even though we started lining up at 5:30pm, we thought we still got a pretty decent vantage point of Times Square from 50th Street, which is 8 blocks away from where Times Square is located on 42nd Street. The main area, 42nd Street to 47th Street, is usually packed by 3pm. Check this site out for more info:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/holiday-lights/2014/12/31/visitors-guide-new-years-eve-times-square-ball-drop/20824125

8. If you prefer the indoors, make reservations early!

 If you want to be in the vicinity of Times Square but do not like to freeze, a variety of restaurants, lounges and hotels with a good view of Times Square offer pricey viewing parties. Just make sure you make reservations early. FYI: For a cheaper option, you can also stay in a McDonald’s either on Broadway or Times Square and wait till midnight. We noticed many people doing this while we were in our party pen. Just make sure you get a window seat and stay there till midnight. 🙂

View from our party pen on 50th Street: These 2 restaurants seemed like good options to stay in for the countdown.

View from our party pen on 50th Street: These 2 restaurants seemed like good options to stay in for the countdown.

View from our party pen: Novotel Hotel seems like a good hotel option to stay in for countdown as well!

View from our party pen: Novotel Hotel seems like a good hotel option to stay in for countdown as well!

9. No backpack and alcohol.

To pass through the security checkpoints quickly and to be able to get into one of the closer party pens (if you can), do not bring any of these items.

10. Forget you are freezing, smile & have fun with everyone around you! 🙂

 

The new year is here and it’s a new beginning…I have more things to check off my bucket list this year!!

I would love to hear from you: What do you want to check off from your bucket list for 2015? 🙂

Wishing you all another wonderful year filled with good health, joy, peace, love, prosperity, many blessings and new adventures! ❤

XO, Violet 

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