Authors Posts by Heather Keagan

Heather Keagan

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Heather Keagan is currently travelling the world teaching English to small children. From her hometown in Canada, she's been to Indonesia, Ukraine, Hungary, and so many in between. Right now, she calls Seoul home and she can often be found reading or writing while drinking a strong cup of coffee. She likes piña colada and evenings spent by the beach. Her favourite place on her travels so far was the sleepy but beautiful Danube town of Duernstein, Austria.

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Wales is often overlooked when planning a trip to the United Kingdom, but it shouldn’t be! It’s an amazing gem, with delicious food, fantastic people and ridiculously long place names. It may surprise you to learn that Wales is officially bilingual with the majority of people speaking Welsh along with English. Despite being boarded by England to the East,  when visiting Wales you’ll experience a unique cultural identity all its own. We’ve made a list of awesome things to do this November and onwards to make your trip worthwhile!

The Real Ale Wobble: Mid-November

visiting wales

The Real Ale Wobble takes place at the start of a 10-day long beer festival in Llanwrtyd Wells, Mid Wales. Split into two separate courses, this alcohol-fueled bike ride will weave you through some stunning views of mountains and forests in Mid Wales, while giving you a taste of some genuine local brews and some new folks to ride with. There is one course for more avid bikers, and one for eager amateurs, and it’s non competitive; because really, when you’re drinking handcrafted Welsh ale, everyone wins.

There are two checkpoints along the way along with a final checkpoint at the end and at each checkpoint, tokens can be exchanged for delicious ales — all which have been brewed locally (they also have other drinks available, but why would you want that?) and the main station will also have a BBQ and a “Coffee Pod,” and spots where you can buy food and more drinks. When you factor in the beautiful scenery, the amazing ales, and the added bonus of live entertainment and nighttime festivities, there’s absolutely every reason to grab your bike and get drinking!

Abertoir in Aberystwyth and Cardiff: Mid-November

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This festival has gained so much popularity that it’s begun to take over Cardiff (the country’s capital) as well! Every year, the festival showcases some of the best in new and classic horror films, along with a short film competition that allows you to explore some really good (and some very student-based) new horror as well. In addition to the films on show, you can attend scary story readings, panel discussions, and this year a Vincent Price themed dinner. If you’re into horror movies, or if you just didn’t quite get your fill of spooky stuff this Hallowe’en, then the Abertoir festival is for you!.

Hay-On-Wye Winter Food Festival: Late November

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Held in a place of the same name (Hay-On-Wye), this one day food festival comes a few weeks after the end of the main Hay Festival. As far as food vendors go, it’s actually quite limited with no more than 50 vendors allowed to partake in the festival, which allows for a bit of competition and an assurance that the food and the experience will be a good one. There’s an arts and crafts fair that takes place the same day at the Butter Market, and once you’ve filled your belly you’ll be able to listen to some traditional music, including male choir performances.

The Hay festival itself, which is held at Hay Castle is a solid meeting of minds for discussions of literature, film and political agendas which proves to be good fun for those whole like a good debate and enjoy being entertained.

Are you planning on visiting Wales in November?

Nobody needs a reason to visit New Orleans — the city has a soul unlike any other in the world and will always have something earthy and primal about it that pulls you in. With Halloween fast approaching, New Orleans takes a spooky and mystical light for those seeking to explore it. With a tonne of things to do year round, New Orleans also offers special Hallowe’en attractions that you can take advantage of this month — so if you’re looking for an excuse to take that trip, maybe these New Orleans attractions will set off that travel itch.

Do that Voodoo that you do so well…


It might seem a little cliché, but in New Orleans it becomes authentic. Voodoo has roots in this port city dating way back, so it’s not surprising that it plays an important tourism role.  The Voodoo Music and Arts Experience runs from October 30th – November 1st and is one helluva show. This year’s lineup includes Florence + the Machine, Third Eye Blind, Ozzy Osbourne, the Zac Brown Band and DeadMau5 amoung others- to call it eclectic wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Not simply showcasing bigger names, the festival represents local artists from varying musical genres and backgrounds so there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Not just a music festival, you can also check out some amazing local artwork and art installations; like an 18 foot tall Tarantula, or a giant, full operable skeleton bird. When your belly starts to rumble, you’re also in for a treat as the list of food stalls and vendors for this festival are almost too many to count, with goodies like fresh fish, Asian-Cajun fusion, slow roasted barbeque and more up for the offering, you will leave with a full stomach.

Swamp Thing!

new orleans attractions

Flickr photo via Judy Kiel

The nearby Manchac Swamp is creepy. It’ll give you the heebiejeebies any time of the year, but a torchlit tour near Hallowevooen? It’s goosebump inducing to say the least. Passing under long grown over Cyrus trees, you’ll be taken in by the homespun tales the guides will weave for you as your boat glides through the murky waters of the swamp around you. They call it the Haunted Swap because of the hundreds of people who died here in a tidal wave, and the stories you’ll hear about them will send a chill up your spine. Tours usually last around an hour and they are open for children, so if you want to give everyone in the family a scare – you can!

The Walking (Amongst the) Dead…

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Flickr photo via Lucid Nightmare

Within walking distance from the French Quarter, you’ll find New Orleans’ most famous cemetery: St. Louis Cemetery #1. You’ve seen it in countless movies and the ornate tombs that litter the cemetary may be one of the first things that come to mind when you think of New Orleans. Because of where the city rests on the water table, and with flooding occurring in some sense pretty much every year, any grave must be constructed above ground. This results in the beautifully decorative mausoleums and tombs you’ll see all over New Orleans. There are a number of tour options available if you’re interested in a guided walk through St. Louis Cemetary #1, though you are also free to wander around the crypts on your own. Amoung the eternal residence here you’ll find famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, who attracts quite a crowd of true believers and curious folk alike.

What are some of the coolest or creepiest New Orleans attractions you’ve seen?

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Día de los Muertos or “The Day of the Dead” is celebrated on November 1st throughout Latin America, and you may be familiar with the beautiful flowered skull face paint (the skull symbol is called calacas or calaveras) adorned by countless Halloween revelers. You might also think of Mexico when thinking of Día de los Muertos, as that’s where the holiday originated.

It’s twined with the Catholic celebration, All Saints day, and combines traditional Aztec practices with the Catholic practice of celebrating those who have passed on. Despite a more melancholic sounding name, this holiday is actually quite jovial and can be uproarious. It’s celebrated with food, drink, parades, songs and dancing as well as things that the dead enjoyed doing when they were still alive.

If you have the opportunity to experience a Día de los Muertos, it’s an amazing thing to behold. So, why not seize the opportunity or make one of your own? We’ve complied a list of the best places to see, experience, and really live your own Day of the Dead — give it a chance?

Pátzcuaro, México

day of the dead

Flickr photo via David Bacon

A quiet town in central Mexico, Pátzcuaro is a beautiful colonial and indigenous architectural dream, though it doesn’t have much on the go most of the year. It may seem sleepy, but it comes alive for the Día de los Muertos celebrations beginning in late October. The main square comes alive with a craft market and competition that is known and celebrated nationwide. You’ll find some amazingly beautiful and ornate calacas, and the chance to taste some pan de muerto, a kind of sweet bread that is commonly eaten on this holiday. The streets will be decorated heavily with garlands of marigolds, and bustling with tourists so make sure you keep your camera handy to snap some amazing photos.

On the first of November, vigils will be held in the graveyard of the nearby villages and they last all night. In this area of Mexico, you’ll notice that most of the ceremonial aspects of this holiday are a bit more sombre and spiritual, which helps to balance the amount of commercialism and decadence that the tourists in the area often seem to inspire. Entrances to cemeteries during this time (all night long a well) are free and photographs are allowed within respectful reason.

On Isla Janitzio, you may notice some candle-lit boats and a predominantly female presence. This is in celebration of the souls of children or angelitos, and although beautiful is also quite sad. It’s advised that you go quite late (past midnight) for this celebration, but be prepared for crowds.

San Francisco Bay, USA

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Flickr photo via Carnaval.com Studios

A spot a little closer to home where you can see some amazing Day of the Dead celebrations is in San Francisco. The Mission District is the place to be, and where the procession and alter exhibit happen and where you’ll want to be on the 2nd of November. You’re more than welcome to make your own altar for a loved one that has passed away, and you can add yours (or simply check out the ones that others have made) in Garfield Park. The procession includes traditional Aztec dancers, and is completely free of charge, though donations are accepted for the Garfield Park Clubhouse.

The San Francisco Symphony hosts a Día de los Muertos community concert on the 7th, which is heavily decorated and traditional foods and refreshments are available though you will need to buy tickets for this event. The SOMArts also hosts a month-long Day of the Dead exhibition that you can check out any time from about mid-October until early November.

Oakland’s Fruitvale district also has a street fair on the Sunday after the holiday where you can also get a glimpse of some traditional altars and dance performances. The food here may not be traditional but it will be delicious as tones of local vendors roll out their tastiest treats for the fair.

Aguascalientes, México

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Flickr photo via Hidrocálido

Every year here, this beautiful city hosts the Festival de las Calaveras or the Festival of Skulls. It’s held from October 28th until November 2nd and in similar fashion to the previous mentioned locals, you’ll be able to see some beautiful handmade alters, and try some delicious traditional food. You’ll also be able to see some theatre performances, and concerts throughout the festival that are often breathtaking and original.

What makes this festival different from the others? Here, you can see the original engraving of La Catrina an infamous symbol of the Day of the Dead carved by Jose Guadalupe Posada who was born in Aguascalientes. Essentially a feminized skeleton, La Catrina was truly made famous (and given the moniker of La Catrina) by Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo’s husband) and has been a Day of the Dead symbol, and in fact an important symbol in Latin cultural ever since. You can have your picture taken with the original here at the festival, or take home some manufactured trinket of it’s facsimile.

How are you planning of celebrating the Day of the Dead?

 

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Autumn is here and so is the harvest and all the wonderful fruits and veggies that come into season before the first frost.  Now is the best time to take advantage of the amazing variety of produce available that can often be found locally grown and supplied. We’ve complied a list of healthy, hearty, heart warming fall foods that you can try this season. Some of them may be old favorites and some may be brand new to your dinner table, but all are certain to please.

Pumpkins

fall foods

Flickr photo via Pat Kight

Pumpkin is a classic vegetable for Fall, and has been appropriated in countless ways for the masses- especially “pumpkin spice.” Now, most of what makes up pumpkin spice is cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice (which is easy enough to add to your coffee in the morning without a trip to Starbucks), but when it’s combined with pumpkin puree and baked into pumpkin pie, the results can be amazing. If pumpkin pie isn’t your thing, why not try making pumpkin and carrot soup? It’ll warm you up on those chilly Autumn nights, and it’s amazingly good for you.

It’s not just an American fall treat wandering through beautifully crisp and colorful foliage when the weather starts to turn chilly. If you’ve already had the pleasure of exploring the changing colors of autumn in the United States, why not check out the more exotic fall foliage options this season? Here are a selection of places around the world that celebrate the yellows, oranges and reds of autumn, and a little information for those of you wanting to explore these new spots!

Nara, Japan

fall foliage around the world

Flickr photo via Yen-Chi Chen

Hearing both Japan and seasonal changes may bring beautiful pink cherry blossoms to mind, and you might not have known that fall brings it’s own beautiful colors with it. The leaves begin to change in the north and spread quickly throughout the country, setting forests ablaze with deep beautiful reds, and warm yellows and golds. Nara, the ancient capital city a short train ride away from (also incredibly beautiful) Kyoto has some of the best views in the country. While taking in the views, make sure you see the Daibutsu (the Great Buddha) in the Todai-ji temple. You may even get the chance to encounter some tame deer wandering through the Nara-koen National park.

If you find yourself in Toronto for only a brief 24-hour period, you can still see some sites and take in some of the vibe that defines Toronto (or Tdot to the locals). It won’t be hard to make the most of your time and maximize your experience. We’ve compiled a list of must-see Toronto attractions to help guide you along the way.

Coffee stops:

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Flickr photo via Roland Tanglao

First thing, if you want to fit in with the locals, you’ll need coffee and you’ll need it by the bucket full! Torontonians love their coffee and you can find them on the run with it on the way to work, during breaks, even on the way home. Tim Horton’s is a Canadian institution when it comes to coffee, donuts and breakfast food on the go- plus Timmies is cheap so it’s perfect if you’re on a tight budget. If you’ve got some time, and wouldn’t mind spending a little more than a toonie (that’s $2.00CAN), then there are a ton of unique coffee houses dotted all over the city where you can spend your morning reading the paper and doing some quality people watching. Dark Horse Espresso Bar is always a favorite, and Jimmy’s is also quite popular among the locals.

*If you’re in the city on the weekend, do brunch! It’s a great chance to get boozy and enjoy one of the most popular weekend activities in Toronto. Try Aunties and Uncles or the Beaver.

The nights are getting cooler and a little bit longer, which is the first herald ushing in the beginning of fall. With the oncoming cooler weather, we can look forward to warm sweaters, cinnamon-scented public spaces and -my personal favourite- pumpkin-spiced everything.  Outside of pumpkin spice, the second best part of Fall is watching the leaves change from greens, to golden yellows, burnt umbers, and deep rusty reds. If you’ve never experienced the beauty of the fire-colored forests in fall, make this September and October your introduction. Not sure where to find the best? Try these spots to see some great fall foliage. 

Upstate New York

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Flickr photo via Liz

Upstate New York offers amazing scenic drives for you to see the colors as they change. Travelling from Hancock to Port Jerv on Highway 97 will take you on a relatively quiet stretch of sleepy, winding highway with some gorgeous scenic views, as well as small towns to stop and visit along the way.  The Catskills are also amazing for leaf viewing in the Fall. You’ll be able to take your pick of craft fairs, harvest festivals and beautiful little bed and breakfasts as you wander through the Catskills. Even some hiking can be done, if you’re feeling more adventurous and physically inclined. Try to venture in upstate New York near the end of September and into the middle of October for the best selection of colors.

Vermont

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Flickr photo via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

Vermont can also boast of some beautiful autumn landscapes, and in Burke you can attend the annual Foliage Festival which begins around September 26th this year. At the festival, you can partake in horse drawn carriage rides, rubber duck races and cow plop bingo. Green Mountain Byway is a perfect drive to take, as the foliage views are incredible. You’ll see a beautiful selection of trees, like maple and beech, and there’s no end to the pit stops you can make on the journey. You’ll pass state parks, multiple ski resorts that offer gondola rides for an even better view of the trees. You can also stop off in Waterbury, where Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream got its start.

Massachusetts

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Flickr photo via ashokboghani

 

Massachusetts, specifically the Berkshires, offer an easy escape for city dwellers to get out and see some of the beautiful seasonal colors. A trip to the Berkshires may weigh heavy on your wallet, so opt for picnics whenever possible so you can easily afford that spa treatment, or antique shop purchase. There are many quaint Bed and Breakfasts available along with spas and resorts for you to rest your weary bones all while taking in the beauty of the fall.  Make sure you get there by mid-October for the best color available.

Oregon

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Oregon is also home to some beautiful fall colors, and you don’t have to venture too far outside of Portland to see it. Multnomah Falls offers some breathtaking views, and Portland’s Japanese Gardens are usually a beautiful spot to hit (though this year they are closed until March for redesigning and landscaping projects). If you can make it to Columbia River Gorge, you’ll be in for a treat. You can easily hike, backpack, camp and picnic in the park and really immerse yourself in the feeling of fall or if you’re not interested in camping, you can drive along the Columbia river and take in the sights from there. Much like our other destinations, make sure you come before the end of October to get the most out of the seasonal foliage.

Where will you visit to see great fall foliage?

Sometimes the only thing you want in a holiday, is well a holiday. You want to get away from it all, relax and take in some of the sights and sounds that nature has to offer. Getting back to nature, while still being able to enjoy the perks of a city break is often the perfect marriage of the exciting and the soothing elements that make any vacation perfect. Chattanooga, Tennessee offers this perfect blend of city break and country escape, along with some excellent prices, friendly people, and an easygoing way of life. Whether you’re traveling with friends, with your family, or with that special someone in your life (like your dog), our guide will suit any city mouse or country mouse.

Starting in downtown Chattanooga, you’ll want to make sure you stop by the Tennessee Aquarium. You’ll start with some playful otters, and continue on to see local catfish, sharp-jawed alligators, and gigantic dinosaur-esque sturgeon. You can stop off at the ray and shark touch pond (great for kids and adults alike), and wander through the rainforest butterfly sanctuary. Plan to spend at least 2 hours here to get the most out of your trip, and if you’re up and at ‘em early enough (around 11am) you can even opt for the “Backstage Pass” tour that will allow you to feed the otters, or talk to a scuba diver who’s just come out of the shark tank (ask for Lotto number advice?).

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Flickr photo via Andrew Steele

 

Next, why not experience something that feels truly “old timey” and southern, by going on a riverboat cruise? There are multiple riverboat cruises available to suit your tastes: Chattanooga Ducks offers a tour that’s perfect for people travelling with children, though be warned- duck-billed noise makers will be available to your children and your spouse. Don’t say we didn’t give you a heads up. If you’d rather partake in a more mature riverboat cruise, the Southern Belle offers you an old-fashioned feel, with some of the best panoramas of the riverfront as well as Lookout Mountain. Choose an evenings cruise if you like good Southern food and the opportunity to dance to some good ol’ Southern music as well.

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Flickr photo via Brent Moore

If you get seasick, or if you’re really into the Great American Railroad and its historical locomotives, then why not try seeing Chattanooga’s beauty by train. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a little outside of the city, and it’s perfect for couples and families alike. You can choose how long you’d like to ride: they offer tours that last anywhere from 15 minutes to 8 hours (though the longer tours include sojourns for walking about a sightseeing). Pack a picnic for a longer trip, or plan to have lunch at one of the local diners and restaurants for an authentic home cooked taste.

Finish off your trip with wine, in Chattanooga’s first one and only urban winery. Located in a historical and beautiful building (dating back to 1910), you will find DeBarge. Most the wines you’ll taste in the elegant tasting room are cultivated on site and the grapes come from their vineyard on Pigeon Mountain in North Georgia. Whether you’re new to wine tasting, or whether you’re a budding sommelier, you’ll be pleased and impressed with the selection available to you, for a simple 5 dollar tasting. DeBarge is surrounded by some beautiful art galleries and fantastic restaurants, so there’s plenty to do before and after the tasting.

This is just the beginning of what’s available to you in Chattanooga, but these are great basics to start framing your trip.

Did we miss something? What would you like to see in Chattanooga?

Stuck in the San Francisco rain? No problem. We’ve got a list of things you can do to beat the weather and have an amazing, and pretty unique time.

Lose yourself in a Labyrinth:

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Flickr photo via Curtis Fry

It may not seem like the most conventional San Francisco activity, but the Grace Cathedral has an indoor labyrinth that you can explore solo or with family and friends. The walks are meant to be meditative, and they offer bi-monthly candlelit walks for those looking for a definite spiritual vibe. Yoga is also held in the Labyrinth on Tuesdays (they ask for a $10 donation), and essentially as long as the Cathedral itself is open, you can wander in for a wander around the indoor labyrinth. Should the rain let up, there’s always the outdoor labyrinth to try as well!

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Vancouver, or Vancity to the locals, has always been a solid tourist destination for all the right reasons. It’s got culture, got delicious food, mild weather, and it’s a little bit different from any other city in Canada. Add the fact that it’s only a two and a half hour drive from Seattle, and there’s no reason not to go. Here’s a few helpful bits and bobs to add to your Vancouver itinerary.

Spend the day wandering Grandville Island:

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Flickr photo via T.E.A Photography

As a concept, an island in the centre of a city is pretty quirky all by itself. When you throw in the amazing fresh produce, the cozy cafes and the exclusive restaurants, you start to think it’s a pretty perfect place for your trip to Vancouver to begin. You can start in the Public Market and grab everything you need for a picnic, or simply inundate Instagram with as many gorgeous flower and fruit photos your data plan can handle. The island is crawling with buskers, and some of them have amazing talent, so once you’ve found your nourishment, take a stroll down the Island’s cobblestone streets for some live entertainment.  If you’re traveling with kids, there’s a Kid’s Market that will keep them entertained for ages! It’s got a water park, and an Adventure Zone where they can run themselves ragged! Be warned: Many shops close around 6pm during the week.

Push your boundaries naturally:

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Flickr photo via jan zeschky

The whole province of British Columbia is teaming with incredible beauty. It’s got  an ocean, mountains and forests — what more could you possibly want in one place? In Vancouver, you can start experiencing the untamed beauty by climbing ,800 feet worth of giant wooden steps to the top of Grouse Mountain. If you’re not as keen on getting your glutes into Olympic performance material, then you can opt to take the Skyride to the top. A ticket for the Skyride will run you around $32.95 for adults but also includes an IMAX screening, a ticket to the wildlife refuge (where you can see grey wolves and bears!) and an eco tour.

Maybe a billion wooden stairs doesn’t seem daunting enough for you. In that case, try the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The main suspension bridge was built in 1889 and is a stomach-turning 230 feet above the Capilano river. There are other bridges as well, including a cliff walk, and a series of bridges designed to give you a ‘squirrel’s eye view’ of the 1300 year old trees in the park.

Eat and drink and eat some more!

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Flickr photo via Raj Taneja

Vancouver is a foodie paradise! If you love fresh sushi, and truly authentic asian tastes, then you have hit the jackpot. With a large Asian population, you’ll find some of the best Chinese, Japanese, and Korean food imaginable in Vancouver (and it’s not necessarily that pricey!). If sushi isn’t your jam, you could opt for actual jam at High Tea in Sutton Place Hotel. Maybe organic places with vegan food, like the kind you can find at Tractor Foods or Nourish Vancouver is more what your soul craves? Why not try the opposite spectrum and have one of the best burgers in the city at Displace Hashery or Argo Cafe?

But wait, we haven’t mentioned drinking at all yet. Cocktail bars are vogue in Vancity, and each one boasts it’s own unique gambit. The Diamond in Gastown has a menu filled with drinks divided and categorized, while The Shameful Tiki Room says it all in the name. There’s a plethora of gastropubs, cocktail bars, themed bar/restaurant combos and just about everything in between. Shop around, you’re on vacation after all,  no one would blame you for wanting to take a liquid tour around the city.

Have you been to Vancouver? What did we miss?

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visiting wales

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Wales is often overlooked when planning a trip to the UK, but it shouldn’t be!