Unless something major happens within the next two weeks, it's probably safe to assume my travels for the year are over. At the beginning of the year the only adventure I had planned was a trip to Eastern Europe, but as the year went on I ended up going on several more adventures too.
Because so much has happened this year, I thought it would be a good idea to write it all down. I'm hoping 2017 will take me on even more adventures, as it will be Canada's 150th anniversary, but before we talk about 2017, let's go over what happened in 2016.
Although I arrived in Krakow first, my only full day in Poland was put aside for Auschwitz. It was pouring rain the whole way to the death camp, and the tour was packed full of students, teachers and tourists. While it was great that so many people still visiting the camp, there were almost too many people and it seemed to lessen the experience.
Nevertheless, nothing is as humbling as visiting a death camp. Walking past rooms used for human experimentation, through courtyards where people were tortured and executed, into gas chambers and past small cast iron ovens seemed to put the world on pause. While there, I also saw what was left of the million prisoners that perished in the camp. There was pottery, some spectacles, a pile of clothing and a room full of shoes. The most powerful part of the whole tour, however, was seeing a hallway full of human hair. This hair was shaven off the victims after they were gassed, making it a permanent testament to the horrors of the Holocaust.
That and the sickeningly high pile of empty Zyklon B canisters only a few feet away made this trip unforgettable.
In a premeditated effort to clear my mind after visiting Auschwitz (spoiler: it didn't work), I booked a walking tour of Krakow. I carefully timed it so we would end the tour during sunset, which allowed me to get some great pictures of Krakow Old Town.
After an hour of waiting for my guide to show up, I called the tour company and learned my guide had been in an "accident" and couldn't make it. As I was leaving for Ukraine the next day, they sent me a last minute tour guide who was only available until her daughter's piano lessons were over.
Although the tour was rushed, and it was in the dark, it helped me get a better understanding of the city. Krakow's history is long, complicated and interesting. Its history goes from the Mongol invasion, through the Dark Ages, to the Renaissance, the Polish-Ottoman War, the three Partitions of Poland, the Napoleonic Wars, the two World Wars, and the invasion of the Soviet Union.
On the tour we also visited Jagiellonian University, the second oldest university in Central Europe, along with Wawal Castle and the dragon outside of it. We then ended our tour in the Main Square, which is the largest shopping square in Europe. I saw plenty, but also learned there was much more that I missed, such as the Jewish Ghettos and Oskar Schindler's Factory.
Because there was so much I didn't see, I hope there is a return trip to Krakow in my future!
Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine
The next place I visited was Chernobyl and Pripyat, just north of the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv. For those who don't know, Chernobyl was the site of arguably the worse nuclear disaster in history. After the initial explosion at Reactor 4, the two cities – and hundreds of villages around the plant – were evacuated. Some towns were bulldozed, many were destroyed and a concrete and steel sarcophagus was constructed around the steaming abyss.
30 years later, Chernobyl and Pripyat have become an urban-explorers dream come true. There are thousands of buildings left to rot in the radioactive dust of the city. While Pripyat is abandoned, Chernobyl houses the military that are stationed there to watch over the reactor. This is where we spent the night and ate some of the meals as open food and beverages are forbidden within the Exclusion Zone.
While in Pripyat, we visited abandoned hospitals, houses, apartment buildings, schools, military control rooms and the new but not-yet-completed sarcophagus. The new sarcophagus was completed this past November, so I'm one of the last people to see the first sarcophagus before it was sealed away.
Like Krakow, Kyiv is a city of many stories. While there I learned about the early wars that tore the city apart and the struggles it had undergone throughout the ages. I also enjoyed wandering the city and finding locations where history was made, such as the theatre where the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Pyotr Stolypin, was assassinated. It was also fascinating to visit the many churches, cathedrals, monuments and castles and learn about how they changed before, during and after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
I was a little concerned about visiting Ukraine because of the ongoing conflict, but besides a rather harrowing taxi drive from the train station to my hostel, I never felt unsafe in the country. Because of this surprisingly positive experience, I encourage you to consider visiting Kyiv during your next European vacation.
La Ronge, Saskatchewan
A few short months after my trip to Europe, my parents and I ventured up to La Ronge to camp and celebrate Canada Day. I've been up to La Ronge before but this is the first time I spent a few consecutive days there.
One of the first stops in La Ronge was the crash site of Convair 580A, which took the life of Andy Clark – my mother's cousin – a decade ago. The site has become a memorial to his life and there is even an Andy Clark Trail that leads up to it.
Afterwards we went for a hike around Nut Point and later took a boat up the Churchill River to Nistowiak Falls. There, we were shown some stone paintings illustrated by the First Nations regarding the nearby rapids. On our way back we also visited Holy Trinity Anglican Church, the oldest building in Saskatchewan.
On our way home we stopped by the Duck Lake Historical Museum. Here, we read some of the firsthand accounts of the events that would become the Northwest Rebellion. I've always been interested in these events so I was excited to finally visit one of these locations.
Although my mother grew up in northern Saskatchewan and loves the thick forest that surrounds the region, I felt a bit lost among the endless trees and rugged landscape. Being a prairie boy, I'm used to soft gumbo dirt and grain, not stone, wood and water. Although I was out of my element, it was a wonderful change of scenery and a great weekend trip with my parents.
We decided to take advantage of a gorgeous summer weekend and stayed at Burns' House Bed and Breakfast for the night. Burn's House Bed and Breakfast is a gorgeously restored T. Eaton's catalogue home built in 1919. We shared the house with two other guests and played board games well into the night. The following morning we had a delicious breakfast of yogurt, fruit, toast, eggs and bacon.
Fifteen minutes after leaving the bed-and-breakfast we arrived in Ogema. Here we visited the Deep South Pioneer Museum, a recreation of how Ogema looked over a century ago. It was incredible to visit the houses, schools, churches, stores and halls of this massive outdoor museum. With 33 buildings to explore, it's easy to spend the whole day here!
After the museum we hopped on the Southern Prairie Railway train and took it to the town of Horizon. In an earlier article I said Horizon was a ghost town, but some residents have since informed me it isn't abandoned – it's just really empty. There we were given a tour of a grain elevator before heading back to Ogema.
While the trip itself was fun, the best part was spending it with my girlfriend. For anybody looking for a romantic getaway, a night at Burn's House Bed and Breakfast and a train ride in Ogema is a perfect weekend trip.
Medicine Hat and Cypress Hills, Alberta
I was asked by Seekers Media to visit Cypress Hills and Medicine Hat to do a story on the upcoming food festival this past fall. Being as I have never been to either location, I said yes.
I wasn't given too much information about Cypress Hills, so imagine my surprise when I discovered I would sleep in a cabin with no power, no water and no heat! It was all worth it, though, because after the sun came out the following morning, I was greeted by a stunning landscape and some beautiful lake front mist. I then had a few hours to explore the park so I drove up to the Head of the Mountain, the tallest point between the Rockies and the Labrador peninsula. After that, I drove around the Edgewater Campsite a little longer and then headed out towards Medicine Hat.
While Cypress Hills surprised me with its beauty, Medicine Hat surprised me with its coffee. I was taken on a tour by Jace Anderson of Tourism Medicine Hat and tried many delicious foods, drinks and deserts. I was then given a brief history lesson of the city's downtown area. Jace then invited me back to learn more about this awesome city, so if you're reading this Jace, I'd be more than happy to take you up on that offer! I've been hooked on Chai Tea ever since you introduced it to me!
This summer I took my first trip to Saskatoon as a tourist. I've been to Saskatoon for other reasons in the past – conferences, football games, etc. – but I've never had the chance to really enjoy the city. This summer my coworker Jose Luis wed his beautiful wife there, so it became the perfect opportunity to sample what Saskatoon offered.
For accommodations, I spoiled myself after what happened in Cypress Hills and stayed at the Delta Bessborough, a castle-like hotel on the banks of the Southern Saskatchewan River. For the wedding we visited the Berry Barn, and for supper we ate at the Village Guitar & Amp Co. By day, this is a quaint and cozy guitar shop, but by night it's a rocking venue with live music and scrumptious food.
The following morning I took a walk around the city and spent the afternoon at Boomtown in the Western Development Museum. Boomtown is a late 19th century recreation of how a prairie city might have looked. I found this museum so interesting that they pretty much had to kick me out when they were closing!
During this past year I also ventured all throughout Regina, visiting Government House, Hotel Saskatchewan, the RCMP Chapel, the Elvis Presley Museum, and the Regina Cemetery where I made some new blogging friends. I also attended our second annual Instameet and played a little more Pokemon Go than I would like to admit.
All in all, it was a pretty good year.
What did you get up to in 2016? Did you go on any adventures? Tell me all about them in the comments below!
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.
They say hope was the last thing to die in Auschwitz.
It's been just over 70 years since the Allies liberated the death camp and the horrors of the "Final Solution" were revealed to the world. Prior to their arrival, Auschwitz was the most effective death camp ever created, having taken the lives of over 1.1 million Jews.
Block 4 of Auschwitz holds the museum, explaining the best it can about what happened seven decades past. The museum explains what Auschwitz was originally built for – a camp for Polish prisoners of war – and how it became key to the Nazi's "Final Solution". The museum goes over the construction of Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), the increased sizes and effectiveness of gas chambers and the factories of death that stood and smoked over the camp during its operation.
Frank Albo is known to many as "The Dan Brown of Canada". He gained this informal title through his many decades of research, interviews and investigations into the secrets of the Manitoba Legislature. Through his work, he claims that Winnipeg was meant to have a much larger role in Canada – going so far to say that it was to be the "Jerusalem of the New World".
It may sound odd, but there are a lot of strange motifs within the Manitoba Legislature that otherwise wouldn't make sense. These include being the exact dimensions of King Solomon's Temple, having medusas and demons guarding the entrances, and a "black star" of sacrifice beneath the rotunda. Stranger still is that none of these symbols are in the visually similar Saskatchewan Legislature which was constructed about the same time and for the same purpose. For some reason, the Manitoba Legislature was uniquely created in this manner.
Albo's research has not only gotten a lot of attention in Canada, but international attention too. One of these people was His Excellency Konstantin Zhigalov, Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan. While visiting Winnipeg in 2014, Zhigalov attended Albo's tour. After it concluded, Zhigalov pulled Albo aside and invited him to the capital of Kazakhstan. The request was peculiar, but the moment Albo arrived, he knew exactly why he was chosen.