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.
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.
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…
Imagine a town where all the buildings and animals are made of LEGO. How many LEGO bricks do you think it would take to build? A model size of that town would consist of 60 million LEGO bricks and can be found in Denmark, where LEGO was invented. Today we went to check it out at LEGOLAND one of the top amusement parks in the world. The park is filled with activities for the entire family with a focus on challenging you to set your imagination free and embrace your inner child. The park started off with just the miniland opening in 1968 however has evolved since then with additions, rides, and waterparks.The largest model in the park is of Mt. Rushmore, built out of 1.5 million LEGO bricks.
The park is divided up into themed areas. The most recent addition to the park is the Polar X-Plorer, their largest roller coaster. The surprise 5 meter free fall near the end is completely unexpected, giving you quite the adrenalin rush! Throughout the roller coaster you encounter animals from the arctic made out of LEGO bricks. Pirate Land is another fun area where you can sail through a Pirate’s cave as they fight over stolen jewels and treasure. Even the trains and boats within the park are made of LEGO! Visiting the amusement park was the perfect end to our trip to Denmark.
Today we set our imaginations free as we visited the home town of author Hans Christian Andersen. From June 29th – August 10th there is a festival in Odense in celebration of his creativity. In front of the H.C. Andersen Museum the local theatre performs three plays a day featuring some of H.C. Andersen’s most popular fairytales. Although they were performed in Danish we could still follow the recognizable stories that were being told such as The Emperor’s New Clothes. H.C. Andersen had talent as both an author and artist with an imagination he described both as a gift and curse. Throughout Denmark sculptures are placed representing some of his fairytales as well as his paper cut outs. 11 of them are in Odense and today we saw the paper boat, the sea horse, the emperors new clothes and the steadfast tin soldier.
This area of Odense is great to walk around in. We came across an old merchants house from the 16th century that has remained unaltered. There isn’t a bathroom in the house and the only change that had been made was the addition of electricity. The antiques within the house are all for sale and come with a both a certificate and written guarentee of their age. The shop is closed on a Sunday so it’s best to visit during the week. Guided tours are available with special activities for kids too.
We spent the afternoon walking along the river that runs through the town. There were plenty of ducks swimming about and the swans were taking bread from people’s hands as they fed them. I would not want to get too close to one of those though. As you walk along the river you can see part of the Odense Zoo. We saw some camels, zebras and goats all from the path.