Heart & Seoul, Korea

Because the university where I teach has semester breaks every 11 weeks, I’ve been able to do a lot of travelling over the last 8 months. For April, I debated between Japan and Korea but decided that I really wanted to explore the country where so many of my students and coworkers, friends, and family have lived. A special bonus was that my time off would coincide with the cherry blossom season in Korea. First, I visited Seoul for 3 nights and 2 days, staying at G Guesthouse in Itaewon. When I arrived, I was very happy to learn that this is an extremely international neighbourhood. I had the chance to have Turkish, African, Indian, and Mexican food during my stay. I visited Dongdaemun traditional market and the very large DDP, Dongdaemun Design Park, with some space for a museum, art gallery, creation, and marketing. There was an interesting lighting and jewelry exhibit there.  In the evening, I went to Gangnam, to visit the brand new Apple Store and to replace my lost iPad.  It’s always interesting to me to watch the energy in an Apple Store.  A schoolboy who was about 12 was working at the Genius Bar on video-editing while I set up my new device.  Gangnam (famous for the song) is really a pretty classy neighbourhood with some interesting stores, including LUSH, one of my favourite stores for body products.  Taxis back and forth to the other side of the river were only about $5.

On my second full day, I visited another traditional market: Gwangjang/Kwangjang.  I’ve been collecting colourful cottons on all of my travels and this market had a huge selection of fabric.  However, the majority was silk and fabrics that are suitable for hanboks (the traditional Korean garment). Nevertheless, I was able to find a couple of uniquely Korean cotton patterns on my journey. Not only that, I discovered some terrific Kimbap (Korean-style “sushi) as well as a wonderful dumpling soup.  There were so many great food stalls at the market. In the evening, I enjoyed the rooftop with a group of people from the guesthouse.  The owners, staff, and guests were all very friendly and helpful at G Guesthouse. Laundry and fresh-brewed coffee were free.


When it was time to leave Seoul, I started out early for Gimpo Airport.  I expected to only take 2 trains but I probably got on 5-6 trains to get to my destination.  Instead of checking the map carefully, I got onto one train after another only to realize that I was going in the wrong direction.  Luckily, the trains run very frequently so I could easily get out and cross the tracks to the right train.  Finally, I took my time to examine the map carefully and I really focussed on what train I needed to take and what stop I needed to get out at.  There are lots of English signs but it’s easy to get mixed up if you don’t pay close attention. Because I left very early, I still had lots of time to relax at Gimpo before my flight to Jeju.  When I arrived at Jeju Island, luggage was available immediately and as soon as I stepped into the arrivals area, there was a tourist information booth straight ahead.  I told them what guesthouse I needed to go to and they wrote out excellent instructions, giving me a map and telling me how much money it would cost to take a bus.  Everywhere that I travelled, there were these wonderful tourist information booths where the staff spoke great English and where they worked very hard to help me. This was the best thing about travel in Korea and the transit was the second best thing.  I loved the country but this reduced so much stress for me.

I arrived at Jeju in the early evening.  I noticed that I didn’t pack my container of vitamins and medications.  In most Asian countries, it’s very cheap and easy to buy these things. I learned right away that this isn’t true in Korea.  One must have a prescription for many medications.  Supplements (Turmeric and Calcium-Magnesium) are extremely expensive.  As a result, I went to the nearby market where I was able to buy powdered turmeric to take.  My knee arthitis was pretty sore for the next few days.  The area near the guesthouse had lot of restaurants, bars, cafes, and small shops.  I was able to eat well on Jeju.  One thing that I really wanted to do in Korea was to visit a hot spring, since that’s a very popular activity for Koreans.  I learned that most of the interesting places on Jeju are not in the city.  However, the bus service is excellent. I tried using Google Maps to find my way to places like the bus terminal.  That didn’t work very well.  My friend in Korea suggested Kakao Maps, which gave much better information, but mainly in Korean.  At the bus terminal, they showed me the one bus that would take me almost directly to the hot spring.  It was about an hour bus ride.  All of the bus trips on the island cost just over a dollar if you have a T-Card, which you can buy and load at convenience stores. I have no photos of the hot spring because they aren’t permitted.  Once you’re inside, everyone everywhere is completely naked.  There are separate areas for men and women.  The water there has very high Bicarbonate levels.  In the unheated pool, it felt like sitting in a drink of soda.  It was a very pleasant and relaxing place to spend time.  Many of the older Korean women were curious about me, where I was from, and whether I was travelling alone.  Apparently, travelling alone is very admirable!

I should have eaten some oranges on Jeju because they grow everywhere and they looked very fresh and delicious.  However, they were usually set up to sell to tourists in large, expensive boxes. The flowers all over the island were really lovely, including the cherry blossoms. On my last morning in Jeju, I visited a traditional market, which was quite easy to find by bus.

My guesthouse there was in a great neighbourhood but it wasn’t a great place to stay.  It seemed like it was just a private residence for the “staff” who rarely seemed to work.  They took over the “community room” eating and drinking noisily until late at night, as well as taking up all of the kitchen space in the morning when the guests were trying to cook and eat.


I realized that I really planned too much travel, going to 3 different Korean cities in 1 week, but they were all places that I wanted to see.  After Jeju, I flew to Busan, in southeast Korea, and located right on the shore. I stayed in the northeast part of the city, at Song Jeong Beach.  Again, the tourist information booth at the airport gave me a map and wrote detailed instructions to travel to the area by train, as well as to give to a taxi driver at the train station.  It was great to check in and realize that I was only about 50 metres from the seashore!  There were surf shops everywhere, as well as food trucks selling toast (?!).  The area around the guesthouse was very peaceful and there were some really lovely restaurants and cafes nearby. I ate a hamburger in a “bao” bun (steamed bun), which was really delicious.  Although the guesthouse was lovely, it was nearly empty. I had one roommate and there may have been one other guest staying there the first night. I chatted a fair amount with my roommate, a Taiwanese travel expert who had studied in Scotland. The second night, she and I explored the area for food, and she had already researched the best eating options. We enjoyed Korean fried chicken, which was very tasty. During the day, I visited my former classmate from the CELTA program.  He has a young family now and lives near another beach (Gwangam).  Although his area is very nice, it’s much more built up so it was less relaxing to be there.  We had some fantastic, fresh-roasted Ethiopian coffee from a barista school in the neighbourhood.   In Busan, I was able to really see the cherry trees in full bloom, all along the boulevards.


My final day was mainly spent on travel.  I took a taxi to the Busan train station, which was $20 and only took 1/2 hour in the very early morning.  I was kind of sad to be at the train station so early because it was really uncomfortably cold there.  However, it was a beautiful building and the train ride to Seoul was very comfortable. It was easy for me to take the train back to G Guesthouse to pick up the vitamin case I had left there.  They let me keep my bags there while I went for lunch and toured the area one last time. Then, I took the train back to Incheon Airport and relaxed until flight time. It was very easy to check my bag and to get my tax refund from the iPad I purchased.

All in all, I would say that Korea is a very good place to visit if you just take a little extra time to read signs wherever you go.  People are very helpful if you have any trouble.  My accommodation and transportation were quite reasonable. Meals were about $20/day. The hot spring was the only place that I visited that cost money ($12) and there was plenty to see and do, everywhere that I went. Coffee and beer were both expensive: $5+ for coffee everywhere I went.  It was always good-quality coffee. Beer was often $8/bottle, about $3-4 from a convenience store.  If you have the time and money to visit Korea, I highly recommend it!

Time away from work: August 20-28, 2016

I really prefer to choose my own time off, and with no paid vacation, I usually don’t take much time away from work.  However, my workplace decided that there would be 4 weeks/year with no classes, so I guess that I have time off, ready or not!  Most people consider late August to be summer, but in this part of the world, the summer weather ends about 6 weeks after the solstice, just after the August long weekend.  There is usually a lot of nice weather ahead, but the nights and mornings are often quite cool.  This week has been no exception.  The mornings are in the low teens or single digits, Celsius!

My original plan was to visit Prince Albert National Park, in Saskatchewan, to paddle to Grey Owl’s cabin.  However, as the week approached, I had no paddling partner, so I altered my plans to travel around Alberta, to some of the many micro-breweries that have started up over the last few years.  As Friday approached, I had a sinus infection, so I took another couple of days to recuperate.  I visited a couple of local “Irish” pubs at the end of the week: O’Byrne’s on Whyte Avenue and The Druid, on Jasper Avenue.  The Druid was closing on the weekend, and all of their staff had been laid off with only a week’s notice, which is very sad!Sunday, I started off from Edmonton to Red Deer, only 90 minutes south.  I camped at the Lions’ campground on Riverside Drive.  It’s a very nice urban campground, although traffic in the area seems to have a speed problem.

Sunday, I started off from Edmonton to Red Deer, only 90 minutes south.  I camped at the Lions’ campground on Riverside Drive.  It’s a very nice urban campground, although traffic in the area seems to have a speed problem so it was noisy in the evening. I met a running friend at Troubled Monk Brewery, in an industrial area of the city.  What delicious beer they have!  Their seasonal beer was very interesting because it was made with syrup made from a European ground cover plant.  They also had a raspberry syrup.  Their Homesteader Saison is always one of my favourites, and they filled a 1-litre growler with that for me to bring home.  Apparently, I really like Belgian yeast! The weather was pleasant, and I visited a cocktail bar in Red Deer, To The Lost for supper, and to try one of their very interesting cocktails.  They had some really interesting appetizers: devilled eggs and curried chickpeas.  It was hard to choose one cocktail, but I wasn’t disappointed with the Inner Light that I tried.  The bar is right in the historic downtown, so I spent time exploring the city gardens down the street, where all of the Pokemon players were out to play.  What beautiful flowers they have in the garden.

Sunday evening was very pleasant, but sometime during the night, the wind began to howl, and the rain began to pour!  When I woke up, it was too wet and windy to make breakfast at my campsite, and the temperature was only 8 degrees. I picked up some groceries and saw patches of clear sky, so I paid for a second night of camping, and drove to Olds, 1 hour south, for my second brewery visit.  Olds College has been an agricultural college for more than 100 years. 3 years ago, they began to teach the fine art of brewing, which is part of the reason that there are so many fine new breweries opening around Alberta! They had 6 lovely beers on tap, including a couple of wheat beers.  The brewery is counter service only, but again, I chose a 1-litre growler and had them fill it to take along, as well as buying a couple of their beers from the cooler.  There was a lounge in the adjoining hotel where they sold their beer, and I sat and watched the rain pour down, while the wind tossed the tree branches around.  I visited a local Indian restaurant, where $10 bought me a lovely vegetarian feast and I explored the local Pokestops. After a couple of hours, I realized that I would be spending all of my time searching for dry places to spend time indoors and that just wouldn’t be a fun camping vacation.  The forecast showed that the bad weather (80K/hour winds!) would continue for at least 2 more days. Finally, I decided to return to Red Deer to pick up my soggy camping gear and continue back towards home.

It was still fairly early at that point, so I continued north towards Lacombe, with a really beautiful historic downtown.  I spent a couple of hours at an amazing restaurant and watering hole, Cilantro and Chive.  There were very few empty seats on a Monday night! I sat at the penny-decorated bar, watching the bartender make Caesar drinks that were topped with sandwiches and other crazy things.  Their beer selection was fantastic.  I found the Ribstone Creek/Norsemen Brewing collaboration of Rhubarb Saison that was so popular, but sadly, it wasn’t really my style. The burger (bison and blue cheese) was fantastic, though!

Now, it was Monday night, and I was already back at home for the week! However, it was nice having time off in the city to do things that I don’t usually have time for, even some housework! Tuesday night, my biking friends decided that they needed an early-week beer, so it was wonderful to socialize together!  My daughter and I had an amazing meal at The Local Omnivore on Thursday night.  Friday, I returned to Lacombe and met a new running friend to tour the town in style. We started out at Sweet Capone’s, a new Italian bakery that’s only open from 10-2, Tuesday-Thursday. It sounds like they sell out of their cannoli that early every day!  We tried a delicious variety, and she waited in the long lineup for me while I drove down.  After fuelling up, it was time to explore the town’s fantastic trail system.  Most of it was handmade by Bill Nielson, a local running legend (ran 100 marathons) who passed away 2 years ago.  One thing that I never realized was that Lacombe is full of many small lakes, and it was a great pleasure to ride around them on these lovely trails. After exploring the trails in town, we rode south towards Blackfalds, 10 kilometres south of us, on one of the only stretches of Trans Canada Trail that I’ve seen, connecting communities.  This trail was also amazing, and it went past the agricultural research station, farms, lakes, and acreages. A local cycling club was out enjoying the trail.  After 30 kilometres of riding, it was time to visit Blindman Brewing in Lacombe.  They have a lovely patio, and we enjoyed a plate of local cheese, sausage, and mustard while we sampled some really interesting flights of beer.  Our server helped me to remember the difference between a “Saison” (Belgian farmhouse ale, with yeast from the French region of Belgium), and “Session”, a lighter beer that would allow a group of friends to consume several rounds of beer at one session without any serious damage.  They do both extremely well, and I especially enjoy their sour beers.  I was able to try #5, which was only sold for growler fills and consumption at the brewery.  I also brought home their barrel-aged saison, which was magnificent.  I stopped by Cilantro & Chives to try their duck wings.  Although I’m crazy about duck, I thought these wings were a little salty for my liking.  Still, a dish that’s not available elsewhere

On Friday evening, many of the Edmonton cyclists met for a memorial ride to commemorate Isaak Kornelsen, a young Edmonton track star, who was killed by a cement truck driver, while riding to work. I returned to the city too late to ride but met at the small, memorial “parklet” where friends and family met to remember Isaak.  Afterwards, a group of us went for supper and beer at Situation Brewing, around the corner in Old Strathcona.  I tried a delicious pork steak accompanied by succotash, a fantastic bean dish.  It was a pleasant evening to socialize.  the weather was pleasant, and the windows were open in the bar.

On Saturday evening, friends from one of my canoe clubs organized a BBQ at their home in Beaumont, south of Edmonton.  That evening, we were back to the cold and rainy weather, so our group moved indoors to eat and visit.  Sunday was also a cool day, with rain at times.  I had a lot of time to organize my camping gear as well as reading and relaxing.  During free time, I visited the legislature a few times to play Pokemon, and it was really interesting to see how many people were roaming the lower grounds to play.  Some people dress in costumes, many people bring their babies, older kids or dogs and one man was walking his ferret.  When somebody finds an uncommon Pokemon, they yell out what it is, and there could be a hundred people or more who start to run in that direction to “Catch ’em all”.

The week wasn’t really what I had planned, but I think that I really needed some time to just relax and enjoy some different things than usual!

3 Ways Pokémon GO Can Create Meaningful Learning Opportunities | EdTech Magazine

Pokémon GO has only been available in Canada for about 10 days, but it’s become extremely popular, in a very short amount of time.  Players should pay attention to their surroundings, and they should be considerate of people who live and work near Poké Stops & Gyms, where you collect weapons and have battles.  Unlike other video games, players have to get out and move around their communities to play Pokémon GO.  It’s very interesting to see how much exercise players are getting, and how much interaction is happening, when players meet each other.  So many strangers have given me advice about how to play!  Think about some skills that you want to learn and how you can use Pokémon GO to help you learn those skills.  Prepositions are one area of vocabulary and grammar that are often difficult to learn.  Ask for advice and give it about where to locate Pokéstops, gyms, and monsters! Find new places around your neighbourhood, as well as when you go someplace new.


A Pokémon gym in Fort Assiniboine, AB, also the world’s largest wagon wheel & pick!

Educators from around the web offer ideas for incorporating Pokémon GO into the classroom.

Source: 3 Ways Pokémon GO Can Create Meaningful Learning Opportunities | EdTech Magazine

Lakeland Canoe Circuit, a beautiful weekend with friends

A misty morning on Jackson Lake2 years ago, I enjoyed one of my best canoeing experiences, when I visited Lakeland Canoe Circuit, near Lac la Biche, Alberta.  One of my good friends had a similar experience, in the same location, a few years earlier.  We talked about trying to enjoy the area together.  She really wanted to share this lovely area with some of her closest female friends, from Southern Alberta.  Early this year, we began to look at our schedules to see if we could find a time to enjoy the area together.  She talked to her friends, and we decided to make our trip at the end of June.  For her friends, this was their very first trip without cars, and for one of them, it was her first time ever sleeping in a tent!  We talked and planned a lot, to try to make this a very special weekend for everyone.

Thursday night, we met at Beaver Lake Provincial Recreation Area, just south of Lac la Biche.  Because our cars were parked nearby, we could use a lot more equipment and clothing.  Taking showers and using flush toilets were also possibilities.  We took time Thursday night and Friday morning to determine exactly what to pack for the next part of our trip, and what to leave behind.  Thursday night rained heavily, and we could see from the forecasts that rain and lightning were going to be continuing all weekend.  Because of the weather and our friends’ inexperience, we decided to make our backcountry trip as “easy” as possible.

Around noon, we arrived at the Jackson Lake Staging Area, a parking lot where we could load our canoes onto wheeled carts, for the next part of our trip.  All of our gear was packed inside the canoe, and we paired up for a 3-kilometre hike, down the trail to the lake.  The first time I did this, I was shocked at how easy the hike felt.  This time, it didn’t feel so easy.  I think this is probably because I broke 3 bones in 2014/15, and I’ve needed to take a lot of time off exercise, in order to heal from my injuries.  There is a lot that I can do now, but I can’t do it as easily, or as quickly as before.  At any rate, we arrived at the lake about an hour after leaving the parking lot.  When we arrived at the dock, we unloaded and reloaded the canoes, this time in the water.  My friend and I each paddled “stern”, in the back of the canoes, since we needed to steer for our friends without paddling experience.  The water was calm and lovely.  In order to keep things simple, we had decided to stop at the main Jackson Lake campground, just before the lake joins with Kinnaird Lake.  On arrival, we set up our tents and organized all of our gear.

For the next 2 days, our focus was on relaxation, conversation, fun, and the natural beauty of the area.  The campsite we chose is very big, enough to accommodate a scouting or school group.  Since we had it to ourselves, we could arrange things in any way we wanted.  Throughout the 2 days, there were several periods of rainfall and thunderstorms, primarily at night.  We used tarps to protect ourselves from getting really wet.  Whenever we felt hot or dirty, we wandered over to the water’s edge and had a swim.   There was a trail through the campsite, so some of the women went for a short run every day.  A big bag of wine managed to disappear.  We cooked and shared some delicious meals, including a fantastic steak dinner.

One of my favourite things about the canoe circuit is the abundance of natural beauty that surrounds the campers.  Loons were never far away, and their haunting cry warms my soul.  There were tiny ripe strawberries, wildflowers, butterflies, and many kinds of water birds in the area.

Sunday morning, it was time to pack up, paddle back to the trail, and hike back out to our cars.  I’m so glad that we all had this peaceful time to share with each other!


25 Things to do in Edmonton on Canada Day 2016

Canada Day Parades

Canadian summers are full of long weekends, which give us extra time to enjoy all of our favourite activities.  Here are some, which may be especially good to do with kids, but kids aren’t necessary for most!  The Legislature grounds are the place to spend the day if you really want to see and do as much as possible to celebrate the holidays, but all of the small towns, and many neigbourhoods will have special Canada Day celebrations, complete with fireworks.  Fireworks won’t usually start until 11, since the sky is too light to enjoy the show before that.  For me, camping is the way to go for any long weekend, so I made my reservations months ago!

Source: http://www.raisingedmonton.com/25-things-to-do-in-edmonton-on-canada-day-2016-yeg-yegkids/?platform=hootsuite

This Is Your Brain on Nature — National Geographic Magazine

Nature is nurture for me. There are many stresses in modern life, but when I can spend even 15 minutes in a natural environment, I begin to relax and deal with things more effectively. This is a beautiful article showing how nature is used for wellbeing in many areas of the world. Even if you don’t want to read the very interesting article, you can enjoy the lovely images.

When we get closer to nature, be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree, we do our overstressed brains a favor.

Source: This Is Your Brain on Nature — National Geographic Magazine

Memories from my past~student writing

My Favourite Places

I can say that I had a wonderful childhood. I grew up in a small city among many cousins who were the same age as me. My mother is from a small town near my hometown, where we have a lot of relatives. We visited it every 6 months. The city is called Palermo, and it has several rivers, fields, trees, and good places to share time with your friends and family. Its environment is perfect for raising children. My cousins and I used to go to the river every weekend for swimming and making up new adventures and stories. We ran around the town playing different games such as soccer, hide and seek (it was the most common and exciting game for us), and parades. Moreover, we visited an uncle who lived on a farm, where all the family sat around a fireplace to listen to his old stories about ghosts. It was a great family moment, but at the same time, scary.

My other favourite place was my paternal grandmother’s home. She lived on a small farm, surrounded by nature. It did not have rivers, but instead, it had a lot of trees. I had good adventures with my 3 brothers in that place. We climbed trees to reach fruit, for instance, guayabas, mangos, avocados, mangas (it is a big mango), and guanabanas. Sometimes, my brothers made mischief and my grandmother always got mad. However, she calmed down quickly and we continued playing. She told us stories about when she was younger. We really enjoyed the time we shared with her.

Although I loved and enjoyed every moment with my brothers and cousins in those wonderful places, I hated the mosquitos. I had to wear repellent and long-sleeved T-shirts every single day. Otherwise, I could get painful and itchy hives. In spite of my precautions, I always got hives. Other bad memories about my adventures with my cousins are when my twin cousins pushed me into the river in deep areas with a strong stream. Luckily, their father, ‘’other uncle’’ always rescued me or I did it for myself, but finally I learned to swim and my cousins grew up. Therefore, this event only happened a couple of times.

To sum up, I enjoyed my childhood, sharing time with my cousins and brothers. So, if somebody asks me about how many friends I had as a child, I would say that I had few friends because most of my time was spent with my family.

A “Near-Death” Experience

I grew up in a small city close to Avignon, south of France. My city is surrounded by nature. As a child, I loved biking around with my friends, building tree houses or dams on the river. I have this nostalgic memory about this dam we built with my friend Remy. We were 12 and it was the summer season. Because school was done, we spent our whole time playing outside. Unfortunately and unusually, it can be rainy some days during the summer. When that was happening, we were pretty bored with Remy. However, during this boring rainy afternoon, we decided to plan what to do the next day. We thought it could be a great idea to build a dam, so we figured out where to do that, and what we would need. We decided a location not too far away, because we would have to bring stuff. Then we prepared all the equipment we needed in the garage at my house, such as ropes, wood planks, and nails. Also, because it was a big project, we prepared snacks and beverages for the big day and we also thought that taking our swimsuits could be a good idea. We were really excited about our project. After completing the preparations, we agreed to meet the next day at 10 am at my home.

Then the day came. Remy arrived at 10 and we loaded our bikes with our materials. The adventure could start! After biking for twenty minutes, we arrived at our chosen location. It was a small river, stuck between two vineyards. After the rainy day, that day was a shiny day and it was already really hot even though it was only 11. Taking our swimsuits was definitely a good idea! We also had chosen this location because lots of bamboo was growing there. In addition to our wood planks, it would be the perfect material to build our dam. We started working by cutting bamboo and gathering rocks. However, we had an incident. Remy got a splinter in his hand. It was really often that we got those when we were building something with wood and it could ruin our plans, because that was painful. Anyways, we couldn’t give up our project so we had to operate. I was the doctor and I had to take the splinter out. Without the necessary material I was thinking that I couldn’t succeed and our day would be ruined. By chance, I managed to take the splinter out. Even now, I realize it was not an exploit for this particular day. It was vital, and succeeding made me really proud. After several hours of work, the dam was almost done when suddenly we heard someone yelling at us. It was a furious farmer with a rifle (gun) who was running towards us. In the beginning, we didn’t understand why he was so mad but because of our fear, we just grabbed all the stuff we could and we biked away as fast as we could. Unfortunately, we left behind a hammer, our snacks, and one towel. My parents weren’t happy about that. We understood later why the farmer was mad. Even though it was just a game for us, our dam blocked and slowed down the river and the farmer needed the water for his crops. Now I laugh about this story but when it happened I was scared to death and because of this story, it took Remy and me several years before going back there.

One summer vacation that changed my husband’s opinion

 Most average people spend all their lives running somewhere or for something. Someone is running to work because he or she is late, parents are running to school to pick up their children, another is running to buy a meal at a store, or I am running to a gym and running here and there all my life. But the most important thing is to enjoy every moment of our lives, because you can’t buy happiness with money.

One day, I stopped running and we decided that every year, our small family would travel to a new place. Two years ago, my husband and I went for summer vacation to Christina Lake in British Columbia. Our route to Christina Lake took almost 12 hours to drive and 971 kilometers on highways number 2, then number 22, and finally we drove on #3. Because my husband is the only one who drives, we stayed at Fernie for one night. Fernie is a small mountain town that has saved the Wild West style in their downtown. There, we had the most delicious ice cream from a local store, “Happy Cow”. During our trip, we saw a few old ghost towns and a very old mini-museum.

When we got to Christina Lake, we were surprised, because we saw that it was a very small town with a big and beautiful lake. Canadians say, “Christina Lake is one of the best-kept secrets in British Columbia”. For the whole week, our busy lives changed to lazy and relaxed lives. Every day, we had a regular cup of coffee with our neighbours. There was a very friendly squirrel, which visited us every morning. During the day, we went swimming and had our lunch on the beach or in a local café. One day it was cloudy and we went hiking on Cascade Gorge Trail and by the Christina River. In the evening, we usually stayed in the campground and cooked our supper on the barbecue. I almost forgot, one evening we had a country music concert at the campground. It was the most romantic night under a starry sky. And finally, when we came back to Edmonton, my husband said, “I learned how to enjoy life”. I just smiled because it had taken me a few years to convince him that we should stop running and have a vacation every summer. At this moment, I knew it was a new beginning for our family. It was the most fabulous time for our family, and we still discuss every pleasant moment of our trip to Christina Lake.



Edmonton’s Best Photo Spots | Edmonton Tourism

Edmonton's Best Photo Spots | Edmonton Tourism

Edmonton has a lot of fun areas to explore, and if you like taking pictures, you can have even more fun!  I often see shots from these locations, as well as from various viewpoints along the River Valley, and in some of the ravines, like Mill Creek and McKinnon.  If you’re new in the city, get out a map and discover someplace new!

Edmonton’s Best Photo Spots | Edmonton Tourism.

More Iron Horse Trail and Camping: Franchere-Mallaig, AB

Starting out at the beginning of a very hot day, Glendon-Mallaig, 15+K

Starting out at the beginning of a very hot day, Glendon-Mallaig, 15+K

Since I learned that there were 300 kilometres of completed trail in Northeastern Alberta, it’s been my mission to hike the trail bit by bit until it’s complete.  Last year, I hiked about 95K of the trail.  This year, I’ve started later, due to my broken bones in the winter, as well as my busy paddling season.  This last weekend, it was time to begin again.  I reserved a campsite at Franchere Bay, Moose Lake Provincial Park, close to Bonnyville, with the intention of hiking several stretches between Bonnyville and Abilene Junction, over the course of 3 days.

This campground was definitely not my favourite.  It was pleasant to be shaded by many pine trees, and to be close to a large lake.  However, there were many enormous trailers camped all around us, and a lot of them operated gas-powered generators for hours on end.  Others drove in and out frequently in diesel trucks, hauling their massive boats.  In other words, it wasn’t such a peaceful environment.  I enjoy the sounds of playing children as well as partying friends and families, and those sounds were also around us.  A very unpleasant surprise was finding out on day 3 that the lake was affected by Blue-Green Algae.  Unfortunately, we both swam in the lake on day 2 and had skin irritations following our swim.  Many children were swimming in the lake since the notice was only on the shower house, not on the outhouses or at the beach.  According to Alberta Health:

People who come in contact with visible blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), or who ingest water containing blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), may experience skin irritation, rash, sore throat, sore red eyes, swollen lips, fever, nausea and vomiting and/or diarrhea. Symptoms usually appear within one to three hours and resolve in one to two days. Symptoms in children are often more pronounced; however, all humans are at risk of these symptoms.

After our night of camping, we got up to hike on Friday.  To our disappointment, it was already one of the hottest days of the year, early in the morning.  Given that, it didn’t make sense to take an extra-long hike.  We rearranged our plans, and decided to hike from Glendon-Mallaig, leaving cars at both ends.  When we drove back to Glendon, we enjoyed the giant perogy statue, as well as a nice Chinese restaurant, across the road.  The town was quite pretty, and the restaurant owner was Vietnamese, so I tried a little of my language with her.  While eating, we were surprised when another member of our group just happened to choose the same restaurant, at the same time of day, out of the entire region of the Iron Horse Trail.  He had stayed at Whitney Lakes Campground for 2 nights but found that the Iron Horse Trail was too muddy for biking, and the highway wasn’t safe enough.  In other regions, he found that the trail was too soft to easily bike.  However, he spent time taking some excellent photographs in the area.  We had a nice campfire in the evening, thanks to some friendly neighbours who brought a lot of dry firewood from home.

Saturday, we woke up determined to hike from Bonnyville-Franchere, and we drove to Bonnyville.  However, the skies were full of smoky haze that morning, due to the forest fires in northern Saskatchewan and northern Alberta.  The smoke caused a headache and burning eyes and throat, even with the air conditioning running in the car.  Again, it wasn’t a safe day for a long, cross-country hike.  We spent time in Bonnyville, where I recharged all my electronics at the very friendly A&Ws, and I picked up some groceries and medical supplies at the Grocery Warehouse.  I managed to get a pretty bad blister on the trail, so I was happy that blister bandages were available in the store.

There was quite a bit of rain on Saturday evening, which meant that I needed to set up a tarp, to protect my tent from getting too wet.  It also made for great sleeping conditions, and we woke up to find no more smoke in the air.  Unfortunately, there was a Red Alert for Aurora Borealis that night, but it would be impossible to see Northern Lights on such a cloudy night.  In the morning, conditions wee good for hiking, cool and cloudy.  We walked from Glendon-Franchere, about 10K, meeting a very friendly pet sheep on our travels. On our way back home, we stopped for a coffee at a “biker bar” in Ashmont, and I bought some very fresh veggies at a market garden in Smoky Lake.  I also stopped at Sunbake Pita in north Edmonton, for some spinach pies.

We only hiked 25K over the 3 days, rather than the 70 that we had hoped for.  Nevertheless, it’s nice to be able to look at a map and see that we’ve hiked over more of the province.  The terrain on this stretch is very soft gravel, with quite a few large, loose rocks between Glendon and Mallaig.  Most of the trail has shrubs or trees nearby, with a few open areas.  There are plans to visit the area near Wasketenau and east, as well as the area around Cold Lake, over the next few weeks.  After looking at the Backroads mapbook, I realized that there is a further network of trails that connects the Iron Horse Trail in Waskatenau with the city of Fort Saskatchewan.  Maybe someday, I will have walked from the far west border of the province to the city of Edmonton!


Early Paddling season: excellent trips near Edmonton

Readying our gear at start of day 2, Drayton Valley-Keephills

Readying our gear at start of day 2, Drayton Valley-Keephills

Spring started very early this year, with open water already available in April. This is a terrible thing for our planet since it’s probably due to climate change, however, it’s an excellent thing when you’ve been waiting all winter to get out on the water. I’ve been very lucky to get out and enjoy different adventures every weekend since late April. Here are some images and stories from those trips. None of them involved driving for more than 1.5 hours from downtown Edmonton, which is a big advantage.

End of April: Islet Lake, Blackfoot Natural Area

Blackfoot Natural Area is a fantastic resource for anyone who loves to be outdoors since it’s only about 45 minutes away from most parts of Edmonton (when there’s no Anthony Henday construction!).  There are about 85K of multi-use hiking and biking trails, many of which are also available for equestrians.  As well, Islet Lake is a lovely, sheltered lake, which you can access from the Islet Staging Area.  Ceyana Canoe Club had an early season paddling outing to the lake.  Quite a few club members came out to use their paddling gear early in the season, and the paddling was followed by a potluck barbecue (everyone brings food to share).  I needed to hurry off that day, so I didn’t have a long paddle or any BBQ, but it was a beautiful afternoon on the water.


Early May: Burtonsville Island Biking/Camping Trip

At the end of May, some other cyclists talked about a weekend camping trip that was being organized by members of Edmonton Bicycle Commuters. Cyclists were planning to bicycle 100K each way, to camp overnight on Burtonsville Island, southwest of Edmonton, and south of Keephills, on the North Saskatchewan River.  Because of my broken bones during the winter, I had been training very little, so I knew that I couldn’t do a long bike ride like that.  However, I offered to drive out to the island and carry any extra luggage that cyclists didn’t want to carry.  I also offered to share my car, tent and cooking gear, if anyone else wanted to go by car, instead of by bicycle.  Although there was very little time in advance, I was able to find a travelling companion, in time for the trip.  We drove out from Edmonton in the afternoon, with our camping gear and food.  Cyclists had to bike through rain, heavy wind, and hail, so it was a difficult day for them!  Because I live in an apartment, I store my canoe on my car all summer.  It was very helpful when I arrived at the end of the bike route.  Although Burtonsville is technically an island, it’s possible to walk onto the island by crossing an old beaver dam.  Needless to say, this isn’t a very easy walk, especially if you are carrying a lot of camping gear.  Cyclists locked their bikes together on land, and then walked over to the island.  I used my canoe to ferry their gear over to the island while they walked over the dam.  Once on the island, there were narrow “trails” though the woods, marked with lids from freezer orange juice cans.  Sometimes, these were easy to follow, and other times, they seemed impossible to find.  I had brought too much gear to comfortably carry, so I dropped some of it beside the trail.  Because it was still early Spring, it began to get dark pretty early.  I returned to shore, to try to locate some of the cyclists who hadn’t yet arrived.  The final cyclist arrived right at dusk, and we had to hurry through the bush to find the other campers.  I was glad to locate my dropped gear on the return trip.


Once we arrived at an open area for camping, it was rather magical to be on our own on a peaceful island.  I could see a lot of elk scat (poop), so I knew that they lived there.  We could hear many creatures throughout the night, and the group set up a big campfire, and prepared their suppers quickly.  Most people were pretty tired after their long rides. In the very early morning (4 or 5), most of us heard a creature moving past our campsite, barking 3 short barks in a row, followed by a very short howl, again and again.  It was a very unusual noise, and there was no answer from another animal.  In the morning, the fog was really lovely on the stream by our campsite, and I saw that there were frog eggs on a cattail in the stream.  We discussed what kind of animal had made the noise, and one camper suggested that it was an elk.  In fact, when I came home and compared the sound of elk, to the sound of coyotes, the sound was much closer to that of an elk.  What a surprise for me!  Several cyclists packed up and left in the early morning, as did I, and again, I carried some items in my car so that they wouldn’t be overloaded for the return trip.  Burtonsville Island was lovely, and I was very happy to be able to share it with a group.  Many of the cyclists stayed until Monday so that they could spend all day Sunday relaxing and exploring the very large island.

Mid-May: overnight at Rainbow Valley, overnight trip, Devon-Big Island-Laurier Park

On the May long weekend, my sister and brother-in-law visited Edmonton and we enjoyed a Thursday night together, camping at Rainbow Valley Campground, on the banks of Whitemud Creek, next to Whitemud Drive.  It was a lovely, peaceful environment, where we spent the evening outside, visiting, singing songs, and eating and drinking.  Rainbow Valley is a perfect place for you to try camping since you can always pack up and drive home in the middle of the night if anything goes wrong!


Ceyana arranged an early season, overnight trip to allow club members to start out the season easily.  They have done this trip over many years so that new paddlers can get the idea of what an overnight trip is like, without travelling too far from home.  We started out midday from Edmonton, and we were lucky that Mark Lund, founding club member, was organizing this trip, since he has all kinds of paddling gear at home, including a canoe trailer and a truck to haul it. He loaned a canoe to 2 of us to share since it had more space for cargo.  This stretch of the river is quite easy to paddle.  We made good time, paddling to our destination for the night: Big Island.  This is another “island” that is actually connected to land and on our arrival, there were a number of quads and trucks driving back and forth.  Nevertheless, we followed the signs posted by River Valley Programs and located an open area, with a wilderness “throne” (open-air bathroom seat) nearby.  We set up a very comfortable camping area and settled in to prepare our suppers.  After dinner, we walked around the island a bit to explore it.  We saw and heard evidence of a lot of wildlife, including bald eagles, woodpeckers, and mule deers.  We passed a very comfortable night.  Luckily, we had pulled our canoes very high up on shore because water is frequently released from upstream dams during the night.  In the morning, water was about a foot higher on shore, and people who drove to waterfront campsites the night before were now surrounded by water.  It was an easy return to the truck at Laurier Park.  We were fortunate enough that a club member rode out with us to Devon the day before and drove the empty truck back to our take-out point.  As a result, we could just load up the truck and return to our vehicles quickly.

Early June: Drayton Valley-Keephills Overnight Trip

A joint trip was organized between Ceyana Canoe Club and Northwest Voyageurs Canoe and Kayak Club.  The original plan was to paddle on the Red Deer River, but water levels were too low.  The alternate plan was to paddle between Drayton Valley and Keephills (the site of the old Genesee Ferry crossing).  A group of 10 people in 6 boats met in West Edmonton and dropped off 2 shuttle vehicles at Keephills.  Following that, a hearty breakfast was eaten at Teddy Bears Restaurant, near the junction of Highways 39 and 22.  After breakfast, we proceeded to Willey West Campground, just across the river from Drayton Valley,  This was the put-in point, and all of the vehicles that had carried boats were parked here.  After getting out on the river, there were a number of rapids and waves to deal with during the first couple of hours.  By paddling standards, these were nothing, but for me, they’re somewhat stressful to negotiate, especially since my canoe is not designed for river paddling.  With a bit of bailing and some changes in loads, we carried on, to enjoy over 40 kilometres of paddling for the day.  When we stopped for the day, it was on a small island that was opposite of Burtonsville.  I would have like to explore Burtonsville from the river side, but it sounds like there have been many changes to the river over the years.  It might prove to be difficult to access some of the trails and campsites from the river.  The cyclists who camped there earlier reported that they never saw the river during their stay.

One of the things that is most interesting about going on a group paddling trip is seeing all of the different arrangements that people make for carrying their gear, and for preparing meals.  Our trip organizer had paddled for longer than most of the participants had been alive, and a lot of his gear is gathered at garage sales, or it is repurposed from other household items (i.e. TV trays, vitamin bottles, peanut butter jars).  Others had everything fresh from an outdoor equipment store.  Everyone really enjoyed their supper, and all reported getting a great night’s sleep.  After breakfast, we were back on the water, but this 27K+ stretch was far calmer.  We did very little paddling on day 2, letting the current carry us towards our takeout point.  After getting off the water, most of us shuttled back to Drayton Valley to pick up our vehicles.  The participants who stayed behind found that they were surrounded rather quickly by families with Pit Bulls, as well as by people who came to the Crown land to shoot guns!  It was stressful and they were happy to see us return so we could load up and get back home.

June daytrip: Capilano Park-Fort Saskatchewan

Because I’m trip coordinator for Ceyana, I receive emails from many people who want to go paddling in or near the city.  The FIFA Women’s World Cup is being held in Edmonton so there are many visitors to the city.  One of them is a photographer from Texas who wanted to do some paddling in the Edmonton area.  Fortunately, we could both get away on a Friday afternoon, so we paddled a very lovely stretch, between Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.  That day was very windy, and the dark clouds threatened heavy rain all afternoon, but we only had a very brief stretch of “spitting” rain.  We paddled into a headwind for a lot of our trip, but my partner had paddled a number of long-distance canoe races, so he relished the challenge.  He handled the stern duties very effectively.  It only took us 3 hours, 13 minutes to paddle the 27.5 kilometres.  We had shuttled my car to the takeout and we made a quick return to the city after finishing our trip.  We saw plenty of pelicans, some osprey nests, and some really nice grasslands and cliffs.  I’d recommend that stretch to anyone who wants to start out with river paddling.  There were no real obstacles along the way.  The river runs more slowly, but it still moves you along.

5 Important Reasons To Embrace A Little Adventure

5 Important Reasons To Embrace A Little Adventure.

My students often roll their eyes when I tell them (again!) how important it is for them to go have adventures when they have free time.  It can be very stressful living in a new place, using a new language, and being away from friends and family.  It often seems that going out and doing new things will only add to that stress.  However, science and my own experience show repeatedly that adventure enriches your life, and makes everything in it more possible and more enjoyable.  It’s true that it can be expensive to do new things, but if you commit yourself to trying something, you will usually find a way to make it possible. Perhaps you can’t travel the world, but you can join a travel group and enjoy the photos and adventures of other travellers, or you can join Couchsurfing and meet or host travellers from around the world.  Before the New Year begins, make 3 promises to yourself for 2015, to do something that will bring you great joy.