Canada: A Historical Treasure Trove That Rewards The Traveler

Traveling the world is often tiring but always rewarding. This planet we inhabit is full of variety, and each country has its own ways. What separates France from Germany from Holland, and Europe from Asia, among others, is those differences. In no small part, those differences have come from the identity that history has forged. For example, visiting London gives you the chance to see its landmarks, testament to its history of monarchy and democracy.

Seeing a country in all its glory comes down to two major markers. History, as mentioned above, and geography. While the latter gives each country its shape and its contours, history gives countries their character. This is why Canada, for example, is very different from its neighbor, the USA. They may be similar in climate and terrain, in large part, but their histories, though overlapping, are different.

Historical Locations of Canada: What To See

Montreal and Quebec City

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Flickr

Quebec as a province is simultaneously Canadian and French. Montreal is the largest French-speaking city outside of Paris, and the French influence is clear here. You could never, however, mistake it for France. It is Quebec, and has its own identity.

See Montreal City Hall, where then French President Charles de Gaulle gave a speech in 1967. During that speech, he made a statement advocating independence from Canada for Quebec. See also Quebec City, which has historical tours tracing the French influence in Quebec through centuries.

Toronto

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Wikipedia

Although Canada’s largest city, and most modern from an architectural point of view, Toronto is also a historic city. As a front of the Anglo-American war of 1812, Fort York is a location worth seeing. Visit in summer, and you can watch re-enactments of the battles that took place here. Dotted around the city are museums for the city’s – and country’s – political and cultural history.

Ottawa

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Wikipedia

Worth the Canadian via application all on its own, Canada’s capital city is often ignored for the quirks of Montreal or the lights of Toronto. The Museum of Canadian history and Canadian War Museum are both reason enough to visit. The historic town of Ottawa is best represented by the preserved Byward Market. Shops and restaurants offer the chance to drink in the charm of old Ottawa while enjoying the sophistication of the new.

Vancouver

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Flickr

One thing that bestows history upon a city is its significance as a port for travelers. Hence why London is so important in the UK, Calais to the French, and so forth. As Vancouver provided a landing point for the early visitors to Canada, it developed a strong multicultural identity. That is still in place today, along with museums such as the Museum of Anthropology. A particular attraction for those with an interest in First Nations, it will inspire and educate in equal measure.

With all of the influences that have been felt in Canada, there is never going to be a shortage of historical locations. One of the most beguiling things about the cities of this nation is that they may be looking to the future, but they showcase the past perfectly.

Get On The Road – Road-Tripping From Oregon To San Francisco

Road-trips are some of the best holidays to go on with your friends or family. You get the feeling of driving out to meet whatever life throws at you and a sense of exploration. There’s plenty of potential for great shared experiences to just pop up naturally on the road. That and you get to see all the best of several places instead of just one. One road trip that everyone should try to make is the trip from Oregon to San Francisco. From beginning to end, here are some tips that might help you do just that.

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Link to Wikimedia

 

Set off with a picnic

Start your vacation trip surrounded by natural beauty and with a lovely homemade bite to eat. Picnics are always a great, lazy way to start the day and it certainly beats starting the holiday with a mad dash to the car. Let stress go by having a picnic right in the middle of the scenic Silver Falls State Park before you hit the road.

De Panamericana Road Trip

Link to Flickr

 

Calculate everything

It’s not bad to have a certain spontaneity to your road trip. That is, if everything’s going smoothly. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare as much as you can. Ensure that everyone has all the clothes and supplies they need and plan your route out all the way there. You can even do a bit of research to find some of the best feeding places to stop so you don’t make any stops you end up regretting after.

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Link to Flickr

 

What to see on the way

Of course, the whole point of the road trip, besides a sense of camaraderie, is what you can see on the way from one point to the other. There is lots to see on this particular trip, too. Start by stopping in at somewhere you might not know about. The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium might sound like something from Harry Potter. It’s actually much better. It’s full of curiosities, strange art and things like Portland’s largest kaleidoscope. On the other end of the trip, there are things like the Shine Drive-Thru Tree. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a giant redwood you can drive through.

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Link to Wikimedia

 

Where to stay

San Francisco is a haven for tourists, with some great places to stay. If you’re just looking for a place to crash, there are cheap bed and breakfasts just a hop, skip and a jump from the beaches. There are also those famous San Francisco vacation rentals for those who want to see the coast from the comfort of their own quality pad.

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Link to Wikimedia

What to see when you get there

Choosing San Francisco is a great idea because there’s just so much to see there. It’s a weird and wonderful town that’s full of some of the most colourful characters you’ll ever meet. Not quite unlike Portland. But then you have some of the most impressive structures you’ll ever lay your eyes on, like the towering San Francisco Bay Bridge. It’s a great place to catch the whole city’s skyline in a single view. Bring your cameras.

Vancouver, British Columbia and Its Surroundings

VANCOUVER, B.C.: Vancouver is considered as one of the top destinations in Canada for its variations of activities for its guests, climate, food, shopping, culture, and thriving city life. While Vancouver Downtown has a vibrant and energetic vibe, its green spaces and big parks within the city are place to enjoy quiet city view from afar. Only couple hours from downtown, you can enjoy snow-capped mountains, ocean sides, and some outdoor adventurous destinations. This is where local Canadians go to play and enjoy during the winter months.

TIME of TRAVEL: It was our second time in Vancouver. This time we were there with another family during the Memorial Day weekend in May, 2015. Though it was closer to summer, we had sweaters and jackets for our trips to mountains. It gets very cold and windy up there, therefore, always wise to be prepare with coats and boots, especially for the kids.

EATING and SHOPPING: Vancouver is known to be very diverse when it comes to food. Downtown Vancouver and its surroundings are packed with tons of international and local cuisines. We had Middle Eastern, Indian, Bangladeshi, and fast food (Nandos) during our visit. You may find one whole street is known for one type of food and the next block has another type of restaurants. For shopping, downtown Vancouver is an ultimate paradise with lots of brand name stores and local boutique shops.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We had 2 full days to enjoy Vancouver. We started early and stayed out late. Especially, if you are planning to go to the mountains, plan ahead and start driving before the traffic starts or wait until late morning.

1) GROUSE MOUNTAIN: We visited Grouse Mountain and Stanley Park on our first day in Vancouver. Also known as the Peak of Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is a perfect getaway from the chaos of city life. Grouse Mountain gives a beautiful view of whole Vancouver, Stanley Park, and English Bay.

 

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On top of Grouse Mountain on a foggy day near Vancouver, Canada

It was very foggy the day we were there which made it even more exciting. We saw the Lumberjack Show, Birds in Motion, and electric chair ride that took us 1100 meter high to Peak Chalet. Some other activities visitors can do up in the Grouse Mountain are Skyride, Mountain Disc Golf, Mountain Ziplines, Helicopter Tours, Theater in the Sky, Grizzly Bear Cave, and lots more. Usually the shows go on for the whole day with multiple show times but check the time table for each show to manage your time wisely here.

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“Birds in Motion” show on top of Grouse Mountain near Vancouver, Canada

We took a family package called, “Peak Experience” for 2 adults and 2 kids for $122 but there were other bundles to choose from depending on which mood you are in. “Peak Experience” included Alpine Experience and Peak Chair ride. You can find snack bars and restaurants up in the Grouse Mountain.

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Skyride on top of Grouse Mountain near Vancouver, Canada

2) STANLEY PARK: By the time we came back to city and drove to Stanley Park, it was already dark. Stanley Park is another getaway within the city. Lush gardens, beautiful English Bay, strolling paths, and green meadows are here to welcome anyone year round. We stopped at a place where we could get a view of the famous Lion Gate Bridge, beautifully lit at night. Lastly, stopped by one side English Bay from where you can see the dazzling lights of the Vancouver on the other side of the water.

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View of Lion Gate Bridge from Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada

Stanley Bay has an aquarium, few restaurants, old totem poles here and there. You can easily spend half a day or more in this park.

 

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Vancouver skyline on the other side of English Bay as seen from Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada

3) WHISTLER VILLAGE CENTER: Our second day started by another mountain area of Vancouver. Whistler Village Center reminded me of Chamonix in Mont Blanc, France. This is a very European style pedestrian only village center with shops, live music, pubs, galleries, gelato bars, and outdoor/indoor restaurants surrounded by mountains. Many tourists come here for winter sports or summer hiking in nearby mountains.

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Whistler Village Center near Vancouver, Canada…loved this place for its European touch and look

Village Square and the Mountain Square are some of the pretty places to stop by. Mountain Square is where you can get cable car to go to top. Again, beautiful and artistic buildings here gave me the feeling of Europe. Town Plaza is another fantastic place to shop for winter gears or just to chill.

4) RAINBOW PARK: From the Whistler Village Center, we drove about 45 minutes or an hour to come to this park. There is a beautiful big lake and small mountain/hill on the other side of the lake. With some public facilities, this is a pretty family-oriented park for strolling, jogging, picnic, or just chilling.

 

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Rainbow Park near Whistler Village Center in Vancouver, Canada

5) QUEEN ELIZABETH PARK: This was our last spot in Vancouver during this trip and we made it to this park on the 3rd day, before our drive towards Portland. This looked more like a beautifully decorated garden to me. Many different species of trees and flowers adorn this place. Visit the Japanese Garden and Rose Garden while here. It is a big park and very nicely maintained. We spent couple hours here but you would probably need half a day to explore every corner of this garden.

 

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Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, Canada

It is free to enter the park and has a parking lot near the entrance. Bloede Conservatory inside the park requires a ticket to enter. The conservatory houses a typical rainforest, tropical birds, and plants inside a big white dome.

San Jose – the Capital of Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA: Capital of Costa Rica, San Jose,  is the heart of this beautifully country that is ringed by green mountains and deep valleys. I wouldn’t call it a huge metropolitan or modern town, like Panama City, nor it had small cozy feeling to it.  While Costa Rica was my most favorite country in this trip, its capital was the least impressive place for me. I am sure it has its own charm and hidden gems… obviously we weren’t looking at the right things.

The main pedestrian street in the heart of San Jose, Costa Rica

The main pedestrian street in the heart of San Jose, Costa Rica

TIME of TRAVEL: Costa Rica was our second country to visit in this Central America trip in the mid-March of 2015. We first visited El Salvador, then Panama and from Costa Rica we finished our trip with Nicaragua. It was very hot and humid, especially when we toured outside San Jose to the mountains and rainforests.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Radisson, about 15 minutes’ walk from downtown San Jose. It was a fantastic place with free breakfast and Wi-Fi. Other than its excellent customer service, we had a big swimming pool and a hot tub very close to our room. Radisson in San Jose is a very big hotel and had a big gate at the entrance for extra security.

EATING and SHOPPING: We saw plenty of fast foods in the heart of San Jose. But we did have a hard time finding a local Costa Rican restaurant…maybe we were just looking at the wrong place. We eventually had lunch in Mercado Central after few locals directed us there. Inside the market, there were some small places and quick-serve counters who were offering local dishes. We had some fish with rice and pickled vegetables, like jalapeno and chili peppers. Other than those, you can find fish soup, ceviche (raw fish), and other seafood options too.

Our lunch (fish fried rice) in San Jose, Costa Rica...inside Mercado Central

Our lunch (fish fried rice) in San Jose, Costa Rica…inside Mercado Central

Again, Mercado Central was the only place where we saw only a hand-full of stores selling local hand-crafts and souvenirs. We didn’t see any other place outside this market selling souvenirs…eventually, we didn’t buy anything from San Jose.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We had three full days to explore Costa Rica, out of that we spent a day in San Jose. We arrived in the morning and it was enough for us to just take a short tour of the capital for the rest of that day.

An interesting statue we saw while roaming around San Jose in Costa Rica

An interesting statue we saw while roaming around San Jose in Costa Rica

1) MERCADO CENTRAL: We walked quiet a far from our hotel to come the heart of San Jose. Once we hit the center point, we followed the pedestrian road to hunt for some local meals and after about 10 minutes, saw this market. When we asked some locals about where we can get some good seafood, they pointed at Mercado Central and gave a name of a restaurant (which I forgot).

Mercado Central is a very old and bustling indoor market and has been there since 1880. Countless shops and restaurants are packed inside this place. You can find almost anything and everything here. Quality may not be of good standard but they are very reasonably priced.

2) METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL: While we were walking towards the main square to our hotel, we took a little detour. On the other side of the street a big square showed up with a giant Neo-classical edifice in the front. A mass was going on while we were inside the cathedral, so we couldn’t walk around much. But it’s a big place elegantly decorated with some stunning stained-glass windows from Paris and Germany. A new group of bells were installed here in 1998 which came straight from Spain. The tabernacle is a replica from the original one in 1855. The artistic tubular organ is from Belgium that was inaugurated in 1891 and it is considered as one of the best tubular organs in whole Central America. The structure suffered few major earthquakes in the past few centuries.

Catedral Metropolitana in San Jose, Costa Rica

Catedral Metropolitana in San Jose, Costa Rica

3) MAIN SQUARE with TEATRO NACIONALE: We honestly didn’t find a name of this square. It looked like the main square where people and pigeons gather to chill. Many buildings and eateries surround the square. Beside the square is the National Theater of San Jose…an old but nice architecture. There was ice-cream store where we stopped and picked up some nice flavors while walking back to the hotel at the end of the day.

The main square of San Jose, Costa Rica, which houses some museums and important buildings, including the National Theater

The main square of San Jose, Costa Rica, which houses some museums and important buildings, including the National Theater

2 Hours in Mainz, Germany

MAINZ, GERMANY: Mainz, a delightful German town situated at the confluence of River Rhine and River Main. This is the home of famous publisher Johannes Gutenberg who introduced printing to Europe and the town where one of the Europe’s oldest and largest music publishing house, Schott Music, is located. Old Town of Mainz is a little cozy place to hang out or get together with someone over a meal.

Mainz Cathedral looming over its Old Town in Mainz, Germany

Mainz Cathedral looming over its Old Town in Mainz, Germany

Most of the historic sites are in Old Town and have information boards near them; but they were all written in German, nothing in English. There is a paid parking lot very close to Mainz Dome and the Old Town.

Square in front of Mainz Dome in Old Town of Mainz, Germany

Square in front of Mainz Dome in Old Town of Mainz, Germany

TIME of TRAVEL: We were driving from Belgium to Stuttgart, Germany on the 2nd week of June 2014 to one of our friend’s house for one last time before leaving Belgium for good. We chose Mainz as our dinner-venue and to spend couple hours before reaching Stuttgart. It was already around 6pm when we reached Mainz and we stayed mainly in the Old Town.

EATING and SHOPPING: Old Town has plenty of options for drinks or meal from McDonald’s to decent local or international kitchens (like “Konoba” a Croatian bar/restaurant). We had dinner at “Maredo” right opposite of Mainz Theatre in Gutenbergerplatz. They had many options for soup, salad bar, steak, and scrumptious choices for desserts.

My dessert - mango mousse ice-cream in a restaurant "Maredo" in Mainz, Germany

My dessert – mango mousse ice-cream in a restaurant “Maredo” in Mainz, Germany

It was already too late to find any store open when we arrived Mainz but Old Town has lots of fashion and other stores all around it. We couldn’t find a single souvenir shop, may be they were on the other streets or further down.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: City center of Mainz is pretty compact and all the attractions are within walking distance. Here are only few things we could see in Mainz:

1) ALTSTADT or OLD TOWN: As I mentioned before, we mainly stayed in Altstadt of Mainz. This is the place to be on any lazy afternoon or for strolling after dinner or just for some coffee time. It’s lined with some very artistic and gorgeous buildings opposite of Mainz Dome. We sat down in front of a fountain while our girls were soaking their feet and playing in the water. All the stores were closed when we arrived, but I can imagine this place during day time when everything is open and locals are going on with their lives…a fantastic place to be a part of that atmosphere.

Attractive buildings in Altstadt or Old Town of Mainz, Germany

Attractive buildings in Altstadt or Old Town of Mainz, Germany

2) MAINZ DOME (CATHEDRAL of ST. MARTIN and ST. STEPHEN): The magnificent steeples of Mainz Dome dominate whole Altstadt and can be seen from any corner. Construction of this Romanesque cathedral started in 975 AD (yep, it’s that old), but its current look is from the 11th to 13th centuries. This is one of Germany’s oldest cathedral and a historic landmark of Mainz. It was closed by the time we were there, but still could enjoy its spectacular exterior from every side. Square in front of the cathedral “Markt”, and on the side are really beautiful. There is a miniature version of the dome in Markt.

Standing in front of Mainz Dome in Mainz, Germany

Standing in front of Mainz Dome in Mainz, Germany

3) GUTENBERGERPLATZ and MAINZ THEATER: Mainz Theater and opposite of it the statue of Johannes Gutenberg are the highlights of this square. Johannes Gutenberg was a well-known inventor who introduced printing in Europe. His invention of movable type printing is regarded as the most important event of modern printing and publishing. There is also “Gutenberg Museum” in Mainz for those who are interested.

Mainz Theater in Mainz, Germany

Mainz Theater in Mainz, Germany

Gutenbergerplatz is surrounded by many cafes, restaurants, and old buildings. Bunch of young people gathered around in front of the theater and were chatting away and laughing. We didn’t go further down the street and stopped here to come back to our car after finishing the dinner. What a short but lovely trip that was!

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