I recently had the privilege to represent Flight Centre Canada at the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit in San Francisco. Surrounded by 6,000+ fellow marketers from around the world, this three day conference stirred up innovation in the nation, highlighting the latest trends and newest technologies resulting in a sophisticated marketing automation system. Hillary Clinton, the keynote speaker, addressed a number of different issues including; equality of wages, the role of social media in revolution, freedom of the internet and dropped one of the biggest hints yet that she’ll be running for president with a simple “I am thinking about it,” when asked of her 2016 intentions. Beth Comstock, CMO of GE, reminded attendees that you can be creative with a little bit of money and the value of partnerships. She stated that the problems we are trying to solve today are too large for one business to figure out or conquer on their own.
With every large marketing event these action packed days are filled with the best kind of parties. The Marketo Gala was held at the Exploratorium, down on Pier 15 and was the party of the year. Thank you to the brilliant Marketo team for hosting this incredible event and connecting marketers, partners and thought leaders from around the world.
Tuscany Italy is filled with extraordinary paintings, sculptures, architectural masterpieces and an outstanding countryside. As we left France and drove to Pisa, Italy we immediately felt a sense of comfort. Pisa is a small town that you can easily get around on by foot. As we approached Piazza dei Miracoli, the Cathedral Square, we quickly became entertained by the number of people posing with the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa. If you do plan on creating a photo where you are ‘preventing the tower from falling’ may I suggest the person with the camera move to get the appropriate angle and not the subject. The Bapistry, Campo Santo and Duomo di Pisa are equally as impressive as the leaning tower and worth checking out.
We stayed on a campsite just outside of Florence, the capital of Tuscany Italy. The camp sites in Italy are excellent with buses that will take you into the city centers, this is definitely the more affordable option. Florence has some of the greatest artistic treasures of the world and if you plan on seeing them all you will need more then a day. My favourite sculpture in the city was Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa placed outside Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall. The artist placed his signature in the form of his face on the back of the helmet and his girlfriends head as Medussa. It was unacceptable for a sculpture to sign their work however they often found a clever way of doing so. The amount of outdoor art in Florence is incredible including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. A must see for art lovers.
Ah the Côte d’Azur, also known as the French Riviera, is truly a place for the rich and famous to show off their wealth along the Mediterranean coast. With 300 days of sunshine a year it is the perfect spot to hit the beach or ‘park your yacht’ if that’s how you role. We stayed in Nice and toured around the area via bus, including driving part of the old Formula One track. We were most amazed by the unnecessary amount of wealth situated in the Principality of Monaco. Monaco has the world’s highest per-capita GDP and is an independent state surrounded by France. The hotel beside the Monte Carlo casino in Monaco costs 40,000 euro per night for the top floor, in case you were planning on staying the night. They even placed crystals in one of the tunnels road so it would sparkle as you drove through it.
Impressive waterfalls, secluded valleys and stunning mountain peaks surround Lauterbrunnen, the largest nature conservation area in Switzerland. Lauter Brunnen means many fountains, representing the 72 waterfalls in the valley. Staubbach Falls is one of the highest free-falling waterfalls in Europe plunging almost 300m. Trümmelbach Falls is hidden within the mountain and can be heard from a distance. Up to 20,000 liters of glacier water falling per second has carved through solid rock sculpting beautiful formations in the mountains over thousands of years. It is a series of 10 waterfalls and a UNESCO world heritage site.
We spent the day climbing 1650m up to Mürren, a cozy mountain village. Mürren is at the foot of Schilthorn, made famous by the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. If you don’t have as much time or want to be able to move the following day there are lifts and trains you can take up the mountain. The walk was beautiful with natural springs everywhere containing some of the freshest water I’ve ever tasted! We stayed in cabins to add to the outdoors experience. While in Switzerland we also made sure to have some fondu and their delicious chocolate.
For a university town, Cambridge sure is peaceful! It’s hard to believe that Pink Floyd played their first gigs here. You can easily visit all the universities within a day, however do check which ones are open to visitors as they change regularly throughout the school year. The best way to see the colleges is along River Cam via a punting tour. This will take you along what is known as the college ‘backs’. I believe the buildings were actually designed to be viewed this way, with the fronts of the college facing the river.
Many influential and respected people have studied in Cambridge, including over 80 Nobel Prize winners. One of the most memorable for me is AA Milne. Some of the first Winnie-the-Pooh books are at Trinity College where the original illustrations can be accessed in the library. Issac Newton was also busy studying at Trinity College, experimenting with universal gravitation while Stephen Hawking at Trinity Hall contributed to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity. It was also at Christ’s College (pictured) that Charles Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection.
If you are going to take a punting tour go early in the morning before everyone gets there and crowds up the river. Also, there is the option to do it yourself but please don’t! You will only cause problems and hold up others along the river. Trust the pro’s, sit back, relax and enjoy the tour without worrying about running into others.
You cannot leave the UK without visiting the historical city of York. The city is only 2 hours by train from London and is largely traffic free so if you are driving be sure to use a park and ride. You can walk around the medieval walls of the city and through its beautifully preserved cobbled stone streets, while peeking in through old shop windows. We enjoyed walking through ‘The Shambles‘, an ancient butchers’ street mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086. This is the oldest shopping street in Europe and leads right to York Minster.
York Minster is an outstanding preserved building with the largest and most diverse collection of medieval stained glass in Britain. The great east window took three years to complete starting in 1405 and depicts the beginning and the end, from Genesis to Revelation. We had great weather when we visited and could climb up the winding staircase of the central tower. We got up close and personal with the gargoyles and overlooked the city from the top before heading over to the National Railway Museum, the largest railway museum in the world.
We could have easily spent the day at the National Railway Museum. Trains are just one of those things that are always going to be fun to go see. The museum features some of the Royal carriages including one that was used by Queen Victoria in 1869. Queen Adelaide’s saloon is the world’s oldest surviving railway carriage and is in the station hall. Station hall was built in the 1870s and today is used to provide visitors with an experience of being in a station from the past. You can even climb into one of the carriages. The museum is also the home to the famous locomotive, the Flying Scotsman.
We definitely could have used more time in York, however we only had the afternoon to explore. Some other highlights worth checking out in the city are JORVIK viking center and Clifford’s Tower.
It has been estimated that there were once 3000 castles around Scotland! Today many are left in ruins however some have been under careful preservation and are open to the public. Prior to our road trip we made sure we visited some of the Scotland’s more famous castles including Stirling and Edinburgh, spending the day at each. We spent 4 days driving around Scotland through the mountains and along the seaside stopping at as many castles and ruins that time would allow. We went to St. Andrew’s Castle, St. Andrews Cathedral Ruins, Eilean Donan Castle, Elgin Cathedral Ruins, Urquhart Castle and Stalker Castle.
Stalker Castle was our first stop after spending the lunch hour in Oban, a town built around a distillery in 1794. Oban is a beautiful town right on the water and is knows as the gateway to the Isles, a recommended place to visit from my grandparents. The castle is located 25 miles from the town and is most well known for the murders that had taken place there. I don’t know why anyone wanted to own it to be honest. Most of the time it was the owner who was the one being murdered ever since it was built in the 1440s. It stands out as it sits on a rocky islet know as the Rock of the Cormorants. The Gaelic name for the castle sounds less creepy, Stalcaire meaning falconer or hunter.
On our way to Isle of Skye, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, Scotlands most photographed and romantic castle set as the featured image above. It is located where three loch’s meet; Loch Long, Loch Duich and Loch Alsh. There’s simply one word to describe the scenery of Scotland, the backdrop to these castles, and that is majestic. After staying overnight in Isle of Skye we drove to Urquhart Castle in search of the Loch Ness Monster. The castle was built in 1230 and destroyed in 1692. Today only ruins remain and you can still climb the five-storey tower.
Finally we made our way across to Elgin and St. Andrews where we saw the most amazing cathedral ruins. St. Andrews Cathedral is medieval Scotland’s largest church built in the 12th century. It’s amazing how in it’s ruined state it still stands as a prominent landmark of St. Andrews. The castle here was the official residence of Scotland’s leading bishop.
New Mills is a town we will never forget! After visiting the area three times in the past year, it was our home away from home and a refreshing escape out of the city. We stayed with family and each visit reminded us of being back at home. We would watch movies together with plenty of snacks and find new recipes to try in the kitchen. David also learned some new cooking techniques that I will make sure he puts into practice soon. We will miss our family in New Mills when we move back to Canada and are looking forward to them visiting us in the future. Other fun things about New Mills are 1) they have a candy factory 2) they have the best Fish n Chips place 3) they have beautiful walking paths through the Torrs and 4) they have an old school railway station.
Swizzles Matlow Ltd. (the candy factory), has been located in New Mills since the 1940s after relocating from the London Blitz during WWII. During this time the factory was being used to make water purifying tablets for the Ministry of Defense. In 1957 they launched my personal favourite candy of theirs, the Drumstick lolly, the only chewable lollypop available at that time. Today they are one of the largest employers in the area with their sweets being constantly in demand from the public.
For the outdoors type, Torrs gorges, created during the ice age, are beautiful to walk through in New Mills. The area is known as the park beneath the town with rivers Sett and Goyt intersecting. New Mills has a history of being a leader in renewable energy with 18 mills once surrounding the area. Today they have the Archimedean screw (they call it Archie), a rotating turbine attached to a generator used to produce clean, green electricity. They are the first town in the UK to own and run community hydro, Torrs Hydro.
Finally, the Fish n Chips in New Mills are fabulous. It’s the batter that make them stand out from the rest, and of course making sure the fish is fresh. Our family took us to two places where they are amazing, 1) the golf course and 2) The Crispy Cod. The railway station in New Mills is also picturesque and a great viewpoint. The railway was opened in 1868.
Today we set out on our final road trip around the UK before heading back to Canada. Our first stop along the way was Oxford, the world’s most famous university town. You can park just outside the city for free and a local bus will take you into the city center for only £2.25 return. Plenty of cities in the UK have these, taking away the stress of parking downtown and eliminating some of the congestion.
The oldest college in Oxford was established in 1249! Many famous authors studied at Oxford including Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and JRR Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings). Lewis Carroll was actually enrolled as Charles Dodgson in 1851 at Christ Church College for mathematics. During his time he wrote a story for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean and her many adventures around the college grounds and Oxford. The shop in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ was modeled off of a small grocery shop in Oxford (only with details reversed) and today is known as Alice’s Shop. This is the only tangible link to the stories in Oxford however it becomes easy to imagine the many places in the tales after walking around the town.
The Bodleian Library, also known as the bod, is part of the University of Oxford and is worth checking out. The library was opened in 1602 and today carries 9 million items on 176km of shelving. Two sections are open to the public including The Divinity School that was built in 1427. Close to Bodleian Library is Hertford Bridge, completed in 1914 connecting two parts of Hertford College. The bridge is photographed by many visitors as it resembles the Rialto Bridge in Venice. I personally think there should be no comparison after seeing both.
The University Church of St Mary the Virgin can not be missed when visiting Oxford and if you have time, climb up the tower. Back in medieval times when Oxford was a walled city, the church stood in the center. During this time scholars lived in the same house as their teachers meaning there was no need for university buildings, however they used St. Mary’s as their hub. As centuries passed universities started to expand and all business was removed from the church by the middle of the 17th century.
Oh to be out in the country again! The small towns on the Isle of Wight make for the perfect weekend getaway and the best part is, you don’t need a car to get there. We jumped on a bus from London to Clarence Pier and much to our surprise crossed over to Ryde in just 10 minutes via hovercraft. The Hovercraft travel is the quickest form of transportation over to the island but make sure you book your ticket in advance if you plan on traveling at peak hours. Ryde was our base for the trip as it provided direct buses to most points of the island as well as access to all the open bus tours when you buy a 24h or 48h travel pass.
Our first journey was on the Downs Breezer, an open top bus ride. It was a great way to take in the countryside without having a vehicle. The bus stopped at all the major sights along the way with a brief description of their historical significance, we even passed by the most haunted place on the island. The main attraction I was looking forward to was The Garlic Farm, UK’s renowned garlic specialists. We took part in the ‘garlic experience’, trying all of their products and were taught about the many different kinds of garlic, how to grow your own and its medical benefits. We picked up some to bring back with us as well as a tasty roasted garlic mayonnaise. The island has a garlic festival in August every year, my type of place! We took the the bus to Sandsdown beach in the evening for a calming meal overlooking the water.
The following morning we had an action packed day as we crossed to the other side of the island to Needles Park. Unfortunately it had rained, so it was foggy on the water. We took the chair lift down to the beach overlooking the famous multi-coloured sands in the cliffs. From the chairs you get an incredible view! A trip to island is not complete without visiting East Cowes and the Osborne House. This is where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert lived peacefully enjoying their private life. The property contains their own private beach, Swiss cottage and walled garden. Beautiful detailing is found throughout the building from the ceilings to the floor and customized with their initials. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would often give artwork to each other as gifts and the house is filled with original artifacts. If we had more time on the island we probably would have gone for a picnic on her private beach to soak up some extra sun! Perhaps next time…