The perfect combination of adventure, relaxation and charm can be found in São Miguel, the principal island of the Azores. With its botanical gardens and crater lakes, this island brings you back to a simpler time. You can spend days hiking around strikingly blue and green lakes, eat food cooked in boiling water underground or even bathe in thermal springs surrounded by tropical vegetation. The island has everything one could ask for while exploring unknown territory.
Tips while travelling in the Azores:
- Do not plan in advance. The weather can change drastically by the hour as the island is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s best to rent a car and when you have a sunny day capitalize on it and go to some of the lookout points. We went after it had rained and spotted a beautiful rainbow over Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) from Pico do Barrosa (947m), pictured above. Had we been there ten minutes earlier with a tour it would have been fogged over.
- Stay in Furnas, about a 45 minute drive from Ponta Delgada. This is where the island’s regional dish, ‘Cozido”, is prepared. The hotels have both indoor and outdoor thermal spas and excellent restaurants. After hiking up Pico do Ferro (570m) for a breathtakingly beautiful view of Lagoa das Furnas, we couldn’t wait to get our muscles into these thermal pools. We stayed at the Furnas boutique hotel which also has an excellent restaurant.
- Buy snacks from the supermarket. Kitchens are open at select hours meaning if you get hungry between 3 and 730 you’re out of luck.
- Hike a trail with a reward at the end. Yes, all trails on the island are beautiful but some are greater than others, particularly those that open up to crater lakes or waterfalls. For example, Faial da Terra trail leads you through the once abandoned village of Sanguinho, along a stream of water and opens up to Salto do Prego, an incredible waterfall.
- Take the scenic route. Travel along the east side of the island for the gardens. There’s plenty of spots to stop along the way for a picnic or even outdoor BBQ if you have the supplies. Stop at Ponta da Madrugada and Ponta do Sossego on your way to Nordeste, the furthest point on the east side of the island.
We spent one week travelling around the island and it was the perfect amount of time. Since we weren’t quite ready to head back yet we decided to hop on a short flight over to Lisbon for a few nights. Post on Lisbon will be coming out soon! Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions in the comments.
Some of the best memories my sisters and I have with our mom are while travelling. Whether this was a surprise trip to Disney, a road trip throughout eastern Canada or tagging along with her on a business trip to Montreal, mom always made the trip special for us…and our exchange students too!
We love travelling with our mom, however there are a few things we’ve learned throughout the years regarding her travel preferences for a smooth trip. For example, if you are travelling with your mom for an athletic tournament and your team is terrible, make sure there is a place for her to pick up an excellent cup of coffee so she can make it through the game.
We also learned the following while travelling with mom:
1) It takes an extremely long time to cook a roast in the oven of a motorhome
2) Make sure you have a backup photo of everything your mom wants a photo of because hers are guaranteed to be blurry
2) Underpack your suitcase as your mom will overpack hers and then purchase items while travelling that she will then need to store in your suitcase
3) Our mom can arrange an awesome picnic so definitely have a picnic day while travelling and catch up on some traditional family time in a park
We love you mom, never stop travelling and we will continue to tag along. Happy Mothers Day!
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.
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.