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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I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!
Part 12 of my cross Canada series takes us to the smallest province in Canada, Prince Edward Island. However, don't let the name confuse you: PEI is actually 232 islands!
PEI also happens to have smallest population of any province in Canada, with only 146,300 people as of 2014. This means this province has less people than my hometown Regina!
Being so small, however, it was difficult to find images on Instagram. That isn't to say there's nothing there worth seeing! Quiet the quandary, actually. PEI has a few very unique locations that drive their tourism. One of them is the gorgeous themed village of Avonlea, named after the village in the hit novel "Anne of Green Gables" published in 1908. This story, and the subsequent stories, follows Anne, a red-haired "fiery" orphan who grows up on PEI. The story is an international bestseller, and is strangely very popular in Japan (or so I've been told)!
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.