4 Perfect Canadian Lakes: Talbot, Moraine, Maligne & Louise

We started our four month trip around the word in Alberta, Canada, and honestly, a day in, I thought we screwed up. It was too beautiful, too perfect – we’d peaked way too early! I couldn’t imagine how anywhere else could measure up to such a truly spectacular part of the world. It had all of my favourite things – big, fluffy fir and pine trees, actual snow-capped mountains, endless stretches of road, and big, blue lakes.

I don’t think “blue” really captures the colour of them, actually. But I can’t think of any other words that can. The water was the blue of the sky on a cloudless summer day, of bubblegum ice cream – this insanely, richly, perfect blue that you have to see to believe. And there are plenty of lakes around Alberta where you can enjoy this eye candy, but today I’m going to take you to four of the most perfect ones.

Something to note just before we get started though is that we’re talking about National Park areas here, so make sure you get your permit to drive through them first!

Talbot Lake

This was the first lake we came across, completely by accident. We were following the map from Calgary to Jasper on day one of our 120 adventure, and noticed a big body of water coming up on the map. This was it: Talbot Lake. Surrounded by tall trees that looked tiny against the behemoth mountains behind them. The water was glass clear, to the point that you could easily see your reflection and count the stones beneath it at the same time.

Visitor tips: This isn’t one of the big “draw card” lakes like Louise, so just pull your car over alongside the lake, and walk on down to the shore. There’s plenty of space to walk around or just sit by the water and relax for a while.


Moraine Lake

While it’s much smaller and not as publicised as the far more well known Lake Louise nearby, Moraine Lake was easily my favourite of the lot. This turquoise beauty is fed by a nearby glacier, and is tucked down in the Valley of the Ten Peaks (you can see six of them in the photo above). It is literally impossible to take a bad photo around the lake. Trust me, I tried. Once you’re done with the camera, there are quite a few hikes and walks you can take, from beginner to advanced levels, and in the nicer weather you can hire canoes and take to the water for a while. And if you really want to treat yourself, I would highly recommend a night or two at the Moraine Lake Lodge – absolute heaven!

Visitor tips: Parking is very limited around Moraine Lake, so aim to get there before 8am. If you don’t manage to snag a car park, there are shuttles that run back and forth from a car park a bit further out, but they are seasonal, so if you’re not visiting in summer, you might be out of luck. You can find more up to date info here regarding seasonal closures. Food options are also slim pickings and quite pricey, so I’d recommend bringing your own lunch and snacks – just make sure you dispose of everything responsibly, because bears. And wear comfy shoes, because you’re going to want to walk around and see the places from a few view points!



Maligne Lake and Spirit Island

This was a bit of an accidental discovery for us. I knew I wanted to see Spirit Island, but I ignorantly didn’t know/check how to get there before we left. We drove to the general area our map told us Spirit Island was located, and found ourselves approaching signage that indicated we were at Maligne Lake. Shimmering blue under the giant Canadian Rockies, this is another lake fed by glacier flow, with a ton of great viewing points. Turns out there’s a lot more than Spirit Island there! We went out on a hike that was about an hour in each direction (there are longer and shorter ones, too), sat by the shore and relaxed with a giant chocolate chip cookie, trawled the gift shop, and took a boat tour out to Spirit Island (which is every bit as magical and beautiful as it looks in photos). Something to note is that you can’t actually go out onto the island, but chances are you want to take photos of it anyway, so being on it wouldn’t help!

Visitor tips: We arrived around midday and didn’t have any problems finding car parking, but you probably would in peak (summer) season, so as always, aim to arrive in the morning. There is a well-provisioned café on site and food was reasonably priced, but it’s not a bad idea to BYO picnic lunch, either. If you want to see Spirit Island, you’re going to be taking a cruise – you can buy tickets there, but they sell out early and you may not have many options for the time of the cruise on the day. A safer bet is to book online in advance. You’ll enjoy some phenomenal views on the lake, and get a good 15  – 30 minutes (depending on your tour option) at Spirit Island to take your photos and enjoy the peace & quiet. 



Lake Louise

This is the one everyone’s heard of, and she is just as beautiful as everyone says. We decided to forgo a sleep in and made our way out early, arriving around 7.30am – there were only a handful of other cars when we arrived, but it got busy pretty fast! You have to take the photos, but once you’ve snapped a few, put the camera away, and start walking. It’s a big lake, and the walk along it is really something to see with your own eyes. When you’re ready for a break from walking, you can take the gondola and see it all from above, and even if you can’t afford to stay at the Fairmont on the lake, you can still take a seat at the café and enjoy your tea with a view.

Visitor tips: Arrive early – 8am at the latest. Like Moraine Lake, if you miss a car park, there are seasonal shuttle options. The Fairmont’s café options were actually really good, both quality and pricewise, so don’t think you need to lug food around here. Comfy shoes again are a must, because there’s a bit of walking to do in the area. I’d also recommend pre-booking the gondola if you want to ride at a certain time, especially in peak times, as the lines are long and there are no guarantees! 


Eat here: Flavio Al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy (Italian)

Flavio Al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio 97, Rome

In Rome’s Testaccio district, the ex-garbage dump of the ancient Romans (literally, there’s a hill around the corner from here that we found while walking around to kill time before lunch that was made from broken Roman terracotta), where the tourists rarely venture, is a bowl of pasta that is the stuff of legends.

It’s a dish that’s just now gaining momentum and becoming trendy (god help us), and it’s so simple it sounds downright boring, made with only three ingredients: pasta, cheese and pepper. Seriously – that’s it. Well, it’s not, there’s a real art to it, and Elizabeth will explain it to you better than I can if you want to take a quick detour to her blog.

I knew we were eating cacio e pepe when we visited Rome, and there’s only one person I trusted to recommend the right place to eat it – and Elizabeth Minchilli didn’t let me down. Having seen a ridiculous number of bowls of this dish on her Instagram account in the year leading up to our trip, all from the same restaurant, it was decided we’d make the trip out to Testaccio to visit Flavio’s.

The restaurant itself is one of those you’d-miss-it-if-you-weren’t-looking-for-it kind of places. No big flashy signs out the front, no neon lights in the shape of pasta bowls, just a little gated courtyard with the name clearly printed above it.

We rolled in right on opening time, because we heard it got busy fast – it did. The place is surprisingly big inside, with several dining areas seperated by walls and corridors. The tables were laid with crisp white linen, and the staff gave the immediate impression of being a very well-oiled machine, to the point of being almost mechanical – I’m guessing the Roman regulars have a bit of a warmer welcome, though.

I knew what I wanted to try well before I saw the menu – cacio e pepe, obviously. A deep fried artichoke. And pasta carbonara. Oh, and a bottle of wine, because, when in Rome…

I’m used to my family’s artichokes, which are marinated in oil and herbs (and are very good), so a deep fried one was very different – and so, so good. The petals were like salty little artichoke chips, and the heart was still soft and sweet underneath all that crunchiness. Perfect starter, clearly, because every other table in the room had one, too.

Then came the pasta – the tonnarelli (like fat spaghetti) cacio e pepe did not disappoint. Perfectly al dente pasta smothered in cheese and pepper is a thing of beauty. Husband said it was the best bowl of pasta he’s ever eaten. Again, a clear winner, because every table seemed to have at least one bowl of this.

The other bowl of pasta I chose was rigatoni carbonara. This is one of my favourite meals, but I don’t order it at home, because most restaurants don’t know how to make it. Contrary to popular belief, carbonara is not made with cream; it’s made with eggs. So when restaurants make it with cream and call it “authentic Italian,” it makes my blood boil. But here, they make it right, with eggs. And guanciale (cured pork jowl, one of my favourite meaty things). And more cheese. And let me tell you, even though it may not look like much, that was the best bowl of pasta I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Nonna).

We washed it all down with what was left of the bottle of wine, used the contents of the complimentary bread basket to mop up what was left of the sauces, rolled out the front door and continued to talk about lunch for the next three days. If you’re only going to eat pasta at once place in Rome, make sure it’s at Flavio’s. And that’s coming from an Italian.

A Quick Guide to Ameyoko Market, Tokyo

I last visited Tokyo back in 2015, and the post I wrote on the Ameyoko Market is comfortably the all-time most popular post I’ve written since starting this blog! I recently visited again (January 2018), this time with husband in tow, and thought I’d re-visit it on the blog again, too 🙂

Where is it?
First up, a clearer map. It can get a little confusing around the area it’s located, so hopefully this makes it a bit easier to navigate than my last map! I’ve marked below where I took the photo above, standing at that Y-shaped intersection where the road diverges into two. Those are your two main shopping streets, with others intersecting and cutting across them.

How do you get there?
Via subway – it’ll depend where you’re coming from, and you can use this nifty map to work it out, but the closest stations are Ueno-Hirokoji on the Ginza line, and Ueno-Okachimachi (literally across the road) on the Oedo line.


What should I shop for?
As I said in my previous post, everything from dried fish to nail polish. But there actually are a few things that are more popular:
– Golf gear: there are more than a dozen multi-level golf shops, selling clothes, shoes, clubs, bags, and even lessons.
Athletic wear and shoes: they’re an active bunch, so probably no surprise that you can find a lot of stores selling training gear (gym shoes, clothes, etc).
– Fish: fresh fish and dried fish, they’ve got it all. If you’re looking at taking some of the packaged, dried stuff home, best check if you’re actually allowed to take it through customs before you stock up!
– Packaged snacks: there are a couple of mega-stores absolutely full of snack foods. Chips chocolate and crackers and lollies in flavours you never imagined could exist.

Do you barter?
Honestly, I didn’t bother, for a few reasons:
a) The prices are already very reasonable.
b) Language barrier.
c) The Japanese are just so damn polite and likeable that I didn’t want to rip them off!


When is the best time to go?
Around 12pm is a good time to go – most of the stores should be open by then, but it’s not so hectic yet that you can’t walk around comfortably. Most casual eateries are already open and the restaurants are still getting ready for the lunch rush which is good, because you’ll want to have eat there.

What should I eat?
A sashimi bowl. I managed to find the same place I ate at last time I visited, and it’s still just as cheap and just as delicious! My bowl of fresh tuna, fatty tuna and salmon on sushi rice cost about AUD$10.00, and it was the best. You can’t beat fresh fish! If raw fish isn’t your jam, they cook up gyoza and tempura, too. Next door is an Osaka-style takoyaki stand if you fancy something a bit different. And then head back for a matcha soft serve.

Normally I’d say anywhere at the market is good for eating, but there are actually some really touristy places here I’d highly recommend steering clear of. General rule of thumb is if you walk past and someone walks after you waving a menu in your face and telling you that you must try their blah blah blah, don’t bother. If the food is good, they won’t chase you down to eat there!

How do I pay for stuff?
It’s a market – cash is king. If you’ve forgotten to bring some with you, just look for the green and blue Family Mart sign (they’re on every second corner), which should have an ATM inside.


When I’m done shopping, what else is there to do?
Head up to the Ueno Imperial Grant Park to walk off all that sashimi – it’s a short walk away, and the grounds are gorgeous. There are several pagodas and shrines on the grounds, museums, and even a zoo. And, if you time it right, cherry blossom trees!

Saxman Village, Ketchikan

How we ended up in the small town of Ketchikan, Alaska, literally 48 hours after the close of cruise ship season, is a story for another day. But being in such a small town at such a quiet time gave us the perfect opportunity to see it in peace and to meet quite a few locals on our way through. One of them recommended a visit to the Saxman Village, just out of the centre of town – we dutifully waited an hour for the one bus servicing Ketchikan and hitched a ride out to Saxman.

In tourist season, there are shuttles that head out there, and day tours – on arrival, you pay your entry fee, can follow someone around who can tell you about everything you’re seeing, and even get to watch some totem pole carving in action. We had missed tourist season, so we were on our own. The bus driver was kind enough to tell us when to get off and direct us to the correct street – luckily, because if not for her directions, there wasn’t much else to point us the right way. We walked up a pretty quiet and residential looking street, and found the totem poles guiding the way.

Without the option of a tour guide, we were glad to find a plaque outlining the background of Saxman:

Tlingit Indian Village, established 1894, is named for school teacher Samuel Saxman, one of three men lost Dec of 1886 while scouting for a new location for people of Tongass and Cape Fox Villages. Totems here, comprising world’s largest collection, including poles moved from Pennock, Tongass, and Village Islands, and from Old Cap Fox Village at Kirk Point. Many are poles restored under federal works project directed by the U.S. Forest Service beginning in 1939.

Husband and I both had an interest in the Native American totem poles before the visit; he adores the art work, and I love the stories and myths that go with them (I’d highly recommend Tlingit Myths and Texts, Recorded by John R. Swanton for a solid collection of these stories), so we were really stoked to be able to see them in person, and all alone. The colours are simple, just red, black and teal, but that’s all they need. And the reasons for carving the totems are as varied as recording a momentous event to shaming someone who had committed a crime. But they were all incredibly detailed and beautiful…

The clan house, the centre of the village, was magnificent. The façade is decorated with a tri-coloured beaver, the clan’s crest. Traditionally, the clan houses housed several families from that clan, and also doubled as a clan function centre, and in tourist season, it is opened to the public. We just got to enjoy it from the outside, which was pretty magnificent, anyway.

After spending a bit of time walking around and staring up at the enormous totem poles, it looked like it was about to start raining again. We made our way back to the bus stop and hoped it wouldn’t be another hour wait – as luck would have it, the bus saw us coming and waited for us so we’d have a ride back to town.

Eat & drink here: Der Pschorr, Munich, Germany (modern beer hall)

Der Pschorr
Viktualienmarkt, 15, Munich

We were about 48 hours into the Berlin leg of our trip when we began to suspect that these awesome beer halls we’d heard so much about might not be as easy to find as we had expected.

A bit of Google investigating revealed that beer halls actually aren’t a German thing; they’re a Bavarian thing. As in, stop looking for them in Berlin and wait to get to Munich. In preparation for the next stop, husband compiled a list of beer halls declared by the internet to be worthy of our time and stomach space. One of those was Der Pschorr, located in the Viktualienmarkt.

We figured we’d drop in for a post-market shopping beer before moving on for lunch. Spoiler alert: we didn’t.

As beer halls go, Der Pschorr was unrecognisable from the stereotypical underground, dimly lit affairs of the movies. Instead, it was modern and flooded with natural light, still with warm wood finishes and flooring, but you couldn’t imagine pot-bellied old men throwing steins around there. It was more of a hip young bucks night or millennial business meeting kind of place.

I was skeptical. We were there for traditional, old school, not shiny and new. But we took a seat and husband had a beer. He said it was excellent. And in a fantastic throw back to tradition, a small barrel was brought to the bar while husband enjoyed his first beer – this was to be tapped open then and there. He hadn’t tried beer right out of a freshly opened barrel before, so he tried that, too. Excellent again.

Meanwhile, we were getting hungry, so we ordered the snack platter, thinking we’d get a small tasting platter €16.90 seemed pretty reasonable). Wrong again – it was huge, and the variety was great! We had a huge assortment of cured meat, pâté, terrine, cheeses and pickled vegetables, and it wouldn’t have been at all out of place at any fancy restaurant back in Melbourne. And I have to say that despite initial assumptions based on the tacky outfits, the staff were wonderful – they couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful in their recommendations, and were super efficient, even as the place started to fill up.

While the older, more traditional halls were amazing, this modern twist on an old favourite was a really pleasant surprise – I just wish we’d have had time to go back for a meal!


Top 10 Things To Do in Barcelona

1. Get stuck into the markets!

Where? There are SO many! Try Mercado de Santa Caterina (Av. de Francesc Cambó, 16), Mercat de la Concepció (Carrer d’Aragó, 313-317), and of course La Boqueria (La Rambla, 91).
Why go? Because there’s no better way to get to know a city than by visiting the markets! You can get a taste of the food, the people and the culture all in one hit, as well as some more unique souvenirs than what you’ll find in stores.
How long will you need? As long as you can spare! At least an hour per market is ideal.
Cost? Depends how much you’re planning to eat and buy! They’re pretty well priced, though, so you won’t have to blow a heap of cash to come out with a full belly.
Read more:
– La Boqueria food market, Barcelona


2. Stroll La Rambla with a gelati in hand

Where? La Rambla, a large pedestrian walking street.
Why go? Back in the ‘old’ days, people used to go out and promenade of an evening; basically, walk up and down the street, seeing who else was out, enjoying the fresh air. La Rambla is perfect for an afternoon or evening promenade, because not only is it beautiful and always busy, but there are lots of little gelati stalls lining the walk.
How long will you need? How much gelati can you eat?
Cost? A few euro will be more than enough for a gelati.


3. Enjoy a Gaudí day

Where? There are perfectly preserved sites all over the city – a few favourites are Park Güell, Casa Batlló, Casa Amatller, Casa Milá, Casa Vincens
Why go? You don’t need to know anything about architecture to appreciate Gaudí’s work. These sites are all magnificent, all marked by that distinct, colourful mosaic tile work people so often associate with Barcelona. Walking through these places feels like a stroll through a movie set, and while the designs all have similar elements, they all feel so different. Maybe you’ve heard of Gaudí before, but after you visit, you’ll get why he’s such a big deal.
How long will you need? At least 2 hours for the bigger sites that require tickets.
Cost? Anywhere between free for places like Casa Amatller, where you can admire the façade free of charge, to around  €25 person for a fast pass entry to Casa Batlló.


4. Explore the Gothic Quarter on foot

Where? Stretching out from La Rambla to Via Laietana.
Why go? This is the best part of the city, for my money. The streets twist and wind in no real order, and there is SO much to see if you’re ready to spend the time getting lost there.
How long will you need? Spend at least half a day wondering the Quarter. But once you’ve been there, you’ll want to head back again.
Cost? Walking and window shopping are always free!


5. Eat tapas and drink sangria at Mesón del Café

Where? Carrer de la Llibreteria, 16
Why go? Tucked away in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, this is the perfect place to indulge in one of the best Spanish pastimes – the tapas are freshly made and the sangria is the best in the city.
How long will you need? Spend at least an hour to slow down and enjoy the time out.
Cost? About  €5 for a glass of sangria and a few euro per tapas plate.
Read more:
– Eat here: Mesón del Café


6. Get an education at the Barcelona City History Museum

Where? Plaça del Rei
Why go? Not only is this an incredible museum with fantastic exhibits, it’s also set in a palace. And it’s a palace that contains the remains of one of Europe’s largest Roman settlements below ground level, which are all part of the exhibit and open for you to see!
How long will you need? A couple of hours to see it properly.
Cost?  €7 per adult.


7. Do a little people watching in one of the parks or squares around the city

Where? There are more options than you’ll cover in a few days, ranging from the big, popular ones like Plaça Reial and Plaça de Catalunya , as well as lots of smaller and quieter ones like Montjuïc and Parc de la Ciutadella.
Why go? There’s a lot to do in Barcelona, so it’s nice to take a step back, sit in one of the beautiful public  spaces and take it all in!
How long will you need? As long as you need to rest and recharge.
Cost? Free!


8. See the Sagrada Família, inside AND out

Where? Carrer de Mallorca, 401
Why go? I’m not a religious person, but this building took my breath away. While it may never be finished,  what is there is the most spectacular building you’re ever likely to see.
How long will you need? A good 2 hours.
Cost? Basic tickets start at  €15 per person.


9. Visit Camp Nou

Where? Carrer d’Aristides Maillol, 12
Why go? Even if you’re not a football nut, the team means a lot to the city, and it’s a pretty impressive stadium and museum. It’s also really well set up for non-football fans, so even if you don’t know the first thing about the game, it’s still worth the visit!
How long will you need? Half a day.
Cost?  €25 per adult.
Read more:
– Visitng Camp Nou


10. Take in some shopping & architecture on Passeig de Gràcia

Where? between Avinguda Diagonal and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes
Why go?  If you’re a shopper, you’re going to love this area. Ditto if you love some good architecture – buildings like Gaudí’s La Pedrera are on every corner!
How long will you need? Spend a few hours exploring and looking and shopping.
Cost? Free.

Shop here: Skoob Books, London, UK

Skoob Books
66, The Brunswick, off Marchmont Street, London

Skoob Books was another one of those places that popped up on my Sygic Travel app while I was looking at other things in the area. It was described as a “second-hand bookshop boasting a huge selection of academic and art books.” Count me in – I was hoping there’d be more than just university text books in there.

Enter at street level and down the stairs you go, like Alice down the rabbit hole. I can see how some people might find the dingy, windowless basement vibe a bit claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but I instantly felt right at home in there. Because in that dimly lit basement, there are books everywhere. So many that the divine smell of musty old pages hits you before the sea of paper fills your vision.

This shop is filled to the brim with books. Crammed onto the shelves, piled on the floor, tucked under tables and falling out of boxes. They claim 55,000 books in a 186 square metre shop – that’s 295 books per square metre. That’s heaven. And it turns out they have a lot more than academic and art books – their range is probably the best I’ve ever seen in a used book store. Everything from philosophy and science to religion and history is covered in an atmosphere that can only be described as semi-organized chaos.

Possibly the best part is that the books are actually really reasonably priced, and they are constantly getting new books in (unlike some used bookstores that just have the same ones in stock for months on end because they’re too overpriced for anyone to purchase them…); they have a warehouse where they have over a million (!!!) books ready to replenish the shelves.

It’s a scary time for us bookworms; one day we read that book sales are up again, the next they’re closing bookstores as more people favour electronic devices to read from. But visiting Skoob gave me a bit of hope that maybe places like this can survive. Its the kind of place you immediately feel a kinship with the other patrons, where you get the feeling that the staff are there because they want to be and actually read, too. A bookshop where things are disordered enough that you feel comfortable being in there, but at the same time, the books are treated with the care and reverence by the types of people who understand that they’re not just books. This is the kind of bookshop that I really hope will never die out, because it’s a place that actually inspires you to pick up a book and read.