Blog Posts

Normandy

Normandy was one of my all time favourite trips…

I am actually really excited about writing this blog post, even though I should be writing essays, because this was probably one of my all-time favourite trips.  Normandy is a beautiful and unspoiled part of France where the largest allied military offensive took place during the Second World War. I’m sure there a few of you out there really hoping that I don’t start talking about the history of the D-Day invasions, so I will try and keep it short. Essentially the allies landed on the beaches on June 6th, 1944 where they took the beaches and eventually won the war. Okay obviously it was a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea.

I am assuming that most of the people who read my blog are family and friends, in which case you already know that I am a huge history nerd and am majoring in History at University. So of course, this was a dream trip for me. Europe is so full of history and Normandy doesn’t disappoint, plus it really is a gorgeous area of the world which always helps.  My dad and I planned the trip purposely to be in Normandy for the 73rd Anniversary of the landings which meant that there were celebrations and events going on all around the region. The coast of Normandy is basically spotted with small French towns which meant they all had their own celebration according to what their liberation looked like 73 years ago. For example, Sainte-Mère-Église is famous for paratrooper John Steele getting stuck in their church tower, where he stayed until he was taken as a POW. This town had a paratrooper dummy on their church tower in honour of him, along with bands and military representation.

One of the really cool things was that after the war was over, many people bought up the old military vehicles and refurbished them. Everywhere we went, and I honestly mean everywhere, there were people camped out in fields with their WW2 jeeps and motorcycles in honour of the anniversary. You were able to walk around their camps as well and see all of the equipment they had been able to maintain, even authentic WW2 sleeping bags! (Okay, after typing that I realize that sounds super lame, but at the time I thought it was really cool)

We definitely spent most of our time doing the beaches as there are 5 to see, each with their own museums and events that were taking place. If we hadn’t gone so near the anniversary it wouldn’t have taken us as long to do everything, but when you are surrounded by live music and military fly by’s you don’t really want to rush. All of the beaches were amazing but honestly, if I write about all of them this post will go on way too long. Each beach had their own history of D-Day and of course, were extremely interesting but, even before I got there, I knew what beach would be my favourite.

I’m sure most people know that one of the landing beaches was ‘Juno’ and that is where the Canadians landed. Being Canadian, Juno Beach was the key point of the trip for me and we spent A LOT of time there. We had dinner our first night there overlooking the beach and found our way back there at least 3 times again during the trip. We decided to spend the actual anniversary on Juno beach, our way of honouring the fallen countrymen I suppose. Sadly, the event was completely full so we didn’t get to see the actual ceremony but knowing that we were on Juno Beach for the anniversary was worth it all the same. The tour that we were given around the old German bunkers was amazing too, we actually got to go down into them and see what they were like.

I would say, the most amazing part of Juno Beach was that there are Canadian flags everywhere. I mean I had shivers about how, 73 years after the fact, this array of small town surrounding the beach was still so thankful for the Canadian soldiers who liberated them. In Bernieres-sur-Mer, ‘Canada House’ still stands, one of the first areas liberated on  June 6th. They had pictures taken, then and now of the house and it even shows up in pictures that were taken during the D-Day landing.

I know that my posts usually talk about travelling on a budget but Normandy was so incredible to me that it was more important than a budget. I wanted this post to talk about the trip itself and less about the money because to me, it would be worth spending the money. There is so much to see in Normandy outside of the D-Day beaches like Bayeux and their namesake tapestry, but that will be for another post. If I could, I would go back to Normandy on the anniversary every year. I really don’t think that I can put into words how much this trip meant to me and how thankful I am to have had the experience.

In case anyone is interested in the history of the landings, this link sums it up really well:
http://en.normandie-tourisme.fr/sites-and-attractions/the-d-day-landing-beaches-5-2.html

 

The Golden Circle

So I had originally planned on splitting my trip to Iceland up into two posts but after I started writing this second piece, I realized that it would be best to split the trip up into 3 separate posts. It seems fitting, three posts for three days.

Since we flew into Iceland in Keflavik, which is realistically the only place where you would be flying in Internationally, that was the starting point for the beginning of the adventure. One of the main attractions near Keflavik and the airport in the Blue Lagoon. Probably one of the best-advertised excursions throughout Iceland, it is a geothermal pool turned spa. First of all, it is very enticing from all the pictures and there are bus transfers right from the airport and Reykjavik (the capital) every hour which is super convenient. However, it is really expensive to go; like $70 cad just for entrance into the hot pools. So for that reason, the Blue Lagoon did not make the list of things to do in 3 days. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to hang out in a geothermal spa all day but it just wasn’t realistic in terms of price. Also, there are geothermal springs all over Iceland that are way less crowded, in the middle of beautiful forests AND FREE!! The goal was to spend our last day hiking down to one of these free pools but the weather didn’t cooperate. In retrospect, it was probably something that should have been planned for the first day to allow for the unpredictable Icelandic weather. Oh well, I guess it means that I will have to visit Iceland again just to visit the hot springs.

The first full day in Iceland was spent doing the ‘Golden Circle’. I have attached a link below to the Lonely Planet explanation of what exactly that is. Now, the tricky thing about the Golden Circle is that it really does need to be driven in order to see it in a short period of time. I’m sure people have walked/biked it but that would require a lot more time than we had to spare. The issue with this is that realistically, as a student, you aren’t old enough to rent a car but the whole time we drove around the circle there were buses going around with enthusiastic tour guides leading the way. A tour bus with under 15 people per tour would cost around $100 per person which, yes is on the steeper end but totally worth it for all the sites you get to see along the way.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland/reykjavik/the-golden-circle

The first stop on the circle was Þingvellir National Park which is where the National Parliment of Iceland was founded in 930AD (the super nerdy history buff inside me was really excited about this).  The cover photo of this blog is of Þingvellir, but the park itself is so much bigger than this. There are waterfalls, walking trails, hills, lakes. It was truly so stunning and it was such a peaceful and serene environment that was, for the most part, filled with outdoorsy folk from all over the world.

The next stop on the circle was to Geysir which is an area where there are many geysers,  big and small. I didn’t know this until I was doing some extra research for this post but apparently, Geysir (the place) is where geyser (the name) originated. If I am being honest, it was really smelly. All the geothermal water in Iceland is full of sulphur so basically, the entire site reeked like rotten eggs. But once we got past that it was still very entertaining to try and guess when the next ‘eruption’ was going to happen. We really lucked out because it started raining right as we got there so a massive crowd of tourists was clearing out but we brought rain coats so got to enjoy it regardless of the weather. Just a P.S. about Iceland weather, it rains a lot and it can be very warm and very cool on the same day so layering is key and bring rain jackets and pants and you will be fine AND you will get to stay at sites even when it rains like we did.

The third and final stop on the circle was Gullfoss waterfall. This waterfall is nowhere near as big as Niagra Falls but I personally thought that it was so much nicer. You go up and down a long winding path with all the other tourists, right by the side of the waterfall but it never felt as packed as Niagra Falls. The entire area surrounding the waterfall was simply nature, there was only one gift shop which I felt made it such a better experience than the over commercialised experience at Niagara Falls. Yet again it started raining while we were going down to the falls which, combined with the immense spray of the water, made for quite an uncomfortable experience. I mean honestly though my dad and I were both exhausted already and cold so it wasn’t the waterfall that was the problem but the fact that we were super jet lagged and had thrown ourselves into the first day of activities on very little sleep.

The Golden Circle does end back in Rejkyavik area but we ended up travelling down to Vik which I will talk about in my next post. I think that the Golden Circle is an absolute must see and really gives you a great idea of all the sites to see in Iceland.

 

Iceland on a Budget

So this past May, my dad and I went to Iceland together and this was my first trip to Iceland or any of the Norse countries to be fair. I was a little apprehensive as I assumed that any country with ‘ice’ in the name must not have a very exciting landscape or much to do. I honestly couldn’t have been more wrong! Iceland is absolutely stunning. I have never seen such magnificent waterfalls, and I live an hour away from Niagara Falls. I think that what made it even more exciting for me was that I really didn’t know anything about Iceland so I was always pleasantly surprised with the scenery and the history.

I wish that we had been able to spend more time there but we were on our way to France, so had a very limited time window. I am going to split my travels in Iceland up into two separate blog posts, this first one will be dedicated to travelling Iceland on a budget. Admittedly, this was a challenge as Iceland is, generally, an expensive place to visit but we found many ways to save money where we could. I have put together a list below of the main areas where you can save money.

Flights:
One of the amazing parts about visiting Iceland as a student is that IcelandAir has started offering a ‘stopover’ in Iceland for up to 7 nights while en-route to your final destination. This comes at no extra fee to you, except food and accommodation in Iceland, and is a GREAT way to see two countries for the price of one.

https://www.icelandair.ca/flights/stopover/?pos=CA&lang=ez

We found that most of the people who were touring Iceland were doing the stopover, the same as us. IcelandAir offered the cheapest flights to Europe anyway so it was an added bonus that we got to see two countries instead of one.

Food:
One of the most expensive things in Iceland was the food. We heard that Iceland has 20% taxes which is what makes it so expensive to eat out at restaurants (if this is incorrect please let me know!). The simplest way that we saved money was by getting food from grocery stores. It seems like an oversimplified solution but seriously, it is very often overlooked. My Dad and I didn’t have a fridge to keep stuff in but we could always find cheap pre-made sandwiches at the grocery store that we would buy before heading out for the day. Combine that with a few snacks and you’re all set for the day! The grocery stores were basically the same price as they are in Canada so we really never felt like we were out-of-pocket.

Accommodation:
The one place that we found we couldn’t cut corners to save money was for hotels and hostels. Basically, any ‘hotel’ was out of the question in terms of what we wanted to be spending. It seemed pointless for that to be the area where we splurged because we spent so little time in the room anyway! My dad found a lot of great places for us to stay and none of them were ‘primitive’ by any means, well sure they weren’t a Hilton but they were great for what we needed. I added the link for one of the places we stayed, the Alex Guesthouse, because they also offer a free shuttle to and from the airport which was super helpful for us.

http://alex.is/home/

If I had gone on my own or with a few of my friends I would have looked seriously into camping out. Iceland has over 170 places that you can camp and we saw so many people who just carried a tent with them and camped out as they travelled around. It seemed that Iceland is the perfect place to backpack and hitch-hiking is very much a thing. I was talking to a man who is from Europe but lives and works in Iceland, he told me that most of the time he just hitch-hikes to work because it’s cheaper than filling his car with gas!

I am really excited to share the rest of my trip to Iceland with you all, but I figured it was better to start off with how to travel on a budget as I needed another week to put all my thoughts together before writing about everything that we did and saw during our trip.

I should be posting the second part of my Iceland blog next week but in the mean time press the follow button at the very bottom of the page. That way you’ll get a notification when the new blog goes up!

Let Me Introduce Myself

It seems a little strange to me to be writing an entire page about myself, but I think that it plays an important part in understanding me and why I am writing this blog…so here goes.

Fun fact, I went on my first transatlantic flight when I was 4 months old. Ever since then I have been so unbelievably fortunate to have spent my childhood travelling with my mom and dad. Now that I am older, I find my self constantly craving adventure and, honestly, my browser history reflects it; flight sales, best places to visit in 2017, cheap hotels in Rome, need I go on?

Half of my family still lives in England so it makes a lot of sense that travelling has been such a major part of my life, I mean, if I ever want to go visit my family I have to travel across the Atlantic Ocean! I think that since starting University last year, at the University of Western Ontario, I have been even more inclined to travel. Perhaps it’s that completing a degree in History means that I have a desire to go see the old cities in Europe or that I want to walk in the footsteps of great leaders from the past. I seriously doubt it is either of those but rather that travelling gives you a sense of excitement and intrigue that I haven’t found anywhere else.

I decided to start this site as I have found that there is a stereotype around travelling, that it is ALWAYS expensive. No one could argue that, yes, some travelling is expensive but there are so many ways of visiting amazing countries without having to spend a small fortune. More importantly, travelling as a student can seem overwhelming, paying for tuition as well as flights all over the world. My hope is that by sharing this page I will be able to show how possible it really is to travel on a student budget and have an incredible time doing so. I truly believe that travelling in itself is a learning experience.Travelling has been such an important part of my life that I hope to share the excitement of new places with each and every one of you.

My name is Rosemary and I am a Wanderful Student.