My First Poster!

I’ve started designing posters for the BCITMA!

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for more check out the portfolio section!
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Goal #1 Accomplished!

1239664_10153209451410034_1924670184_nLast year I worked with the Surrey Marathon and witnessed how a race comes together. I saw so many different people with different goals come together and run; it was truly inspiring. This was enough for me to create my goal of running my first 5k.  

I chose the Color Run because it looked fun and I wanted to try something new. I am not much of a runner but I knew that 5k was something that I could do. 

When I first decided that I would do this I knew I didn’t want to do it alone but I wasn’t sure if I could find enough people to start a team with me. I was shocked to find four of my close friends were very interested! Amanda,Chelsea, Chantelle and Brittany all jumped at the idea of doing the Color Run!

All that was left to do was train. I started a training plan with the “My Run Keeper” App on my phone. Unfortunately I sprained my foot during training, but I was determined to run on September 14th, 2013.

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September 14th arrived and all of us (except Brittany who was sick with strep throat, Gavin took her place) gathered to do the run. We arrived at 8am with thousands of other runners decked out in white.  There were color stations at every kilometer: blue, pink, yellow, and orange. All of us jumped and frolicked at the color stations while getting doused in colorful cornstarch by volunteers.  As expected I wasn’t very good at running, but I was really happy to have my friends run with me and encourage me to run to the finish line. It was definitely a great day.
After I finished the 5k I felt such a sense of accomplishment. I ran my first 5k and was able to gather so many friends to do it with me. I don’t know if I will do the color run next year (if I am invited I will) but I am keeping my eye on the Sun Run 2014!

Slow Times in Vienna

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Viennese Parliament

Like many places we have visited, we went to Vienna with no idea what to expect. We had heard that it was beautiful, and that drinking coffee in a cafe was a must. While Vienna was one of the most beautiful cities we had been to it was definitely the most uninteresting.

We booked our stay at Wombats Naschmarkt.  We chose the Naschmarkt location because the Naschmarkt is a huge foreign street market and we love tasting foreign foods.

When we arrived at our hostel, the guy checking us in couldn’t find our reservation. He asked if we booked at one of the other Wombats locations. We were exhausted from a 5 hour train ride from Prague and using two underground train lines to find the hostel. If we had shown up at the wrong hostel we were not excited to get back on the trains and start again. After awkwardly watching the front desk guy fumble for 20 minutes, trying to explain that our reservation was lost and that unfortunately the hostel was full and he wasn’t sure what he could do for us….his manager showed up and told him he was looking at the booking from one of the other two locations and our reservation popped right up. The front desk guy apologized profusely and gave us four free drinks at the bar and two free breakfast vouchers. We expressed no hard feelings and happily checked into our room.

The hostel itself was the nicest one we had ever been to. It was built in the last year and reminded us of living in the dorms in university. Our room was clean and huge. There were two bunk beds in the large space. Most hostels would have tried to fit at least three bunk beds in the room. We also had an ensuite bathroom which is a luxury when you are backpacking.

We decided to go to dinner and try some authentic on current customers – probably hard to find officially Schnitzel. We went to a restaurant and were left waiting in our seats for 15 minutes before even getting a menu. In Europe customer service is not as highly prized as in North America, while in most places we visited customer service was adequate, a lot of times we would sit in a restaurant and wait up to 20 minutes for anyone to even acknowledge us. After reading the menu, Gavin ordered classic Vienner schnitzel and I ordered a Cordon Bleu Schnitzel. Despite the wait and the warm soda, the Vienner Schnitzel was amazing, the best I had ever had. My Cordon Bleu was delicious ( although the ham was a bit salty).

After our meal we casually strolled to the local grocery store. There were three grocery stores right next to our Hostel. Our Hostel had a nice kitchen so we wanted to pick up some food for the following day. To our surprise all three stores were closed at 7pm. We thought nothing of the early closure and hung out in our hostel. We looked into possible free tours that we could do but shockingly there was none in Vienna. Our hostel offered free tours, but only on Monday Wednesday Friday and Saturday. We had unfortunately arrived late on Saturday so we couldn’t do the tour until Monday.

The next day we woke up bright and early to go to the grocery store. The strange thing was all three grocery stores were closed. We discovered that Vienna had very strict laws stating that no stores be open on Sundays, only restaurants. Gavin and I were dumbfounded. No tour, no stores, was there anything to do in Vienna on a Sunday other than go to a coffee shop and eat? It’s safe to say that we had an in day.

The following day we woke up bright and early to do our free tour! The best tour we had ever done was with Ozzy in Munich. Ozzy worked exclusively for Wombats so we expected good things from this tour. The tour started at ten but we weren’t too concerned about time because every  tour we had ever done started ten minutes later than they said it would. So at 10:02 when we noticed our tour group was gone, once again we were dumbfounded. We managed to catch up to the tour guide a quarter of a block away.

Our tour guide was elderly and did not relate to the travellers she was guiding. She spoke softly and stopped at a really inconvenient corners where there was a lot of traffic. She never waited for her group to completely gather before speaking and among other things, lacked the charisma, vibrance, and excitement that a tour guide should have. Within minutes we knew that this was the absolute worst tour we had ever been on. This was confirmed by a few people in our group who quickly lost interest when our guide spoke. Gavin and I took this as our cue to leave. We had never been so dissatisfied with a tour before and found ourselves bored and unsure of what to do.

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The Naschtmarkt

We wandered around the Naschmarkt for a bit before we used our guide map to find the museum quarter. The museum quarter had five huge museums in former palaces. While the museums would have been interesting to visit we were not too interested in having to spend hours listening to an audio guide because everything was in German. After walking around the museum quarter we walked around to some beautiful local parks. The parks all had really beautiful fountains with tons of benches and chairs. We walked towards the canal and walked through the main shopping district. During our walk we went by the Viennese Parliament and noticed a bizarre protest. The protest had about 7 people with a pre-recorded tape poorly playing their chant on a loop. After a long day of walking we went back to the Naschmarkt and bought some Turkish Delight. Unfortunately the Turkish Delights were terrible and we realized that unless you are in Turkey don’t ever buy Turkish Delights. We ate at another local restaurant and enjoyed more delicious Vienner Schnitzel.

Vienna was very beautiful, so much incredible architecture, museums, music, operas, and more parks and green space than we had ever seen in a city centre. I’m sure that if there was an opera or a musical to see we would have truly enjoyed ourselves. However as it stands, we did not enjoy our time in Vienna and found it difficult to immerse ourselves in the city and culture due to a lack of tour guides and anything to do.

Adventures in Prague

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Astronomical clock

A recurring theme in our adventure is our desire to go to cities we’ve heard of, but as soon as we arrive we have no idea what to do once we are there. The only thing we knew about Prague was that everyone says ‘it’s so beautiful’.  We checked into our hostel, Hostel One Prague, we stayed with the Hostel One group in Barcelona. Our room was fantastic. We had a  full kitchen  and a loft with two extra beds, we had so much space to ourselves and it was a welcomed change from the usual hostel rooms we’ve stayed in.

Our first night we decided we would have some local Czech cuisine and went to a local restaurant. We had some roast beef medallions topped with some berried jam, with  gravy and bread dumplings. The meal was amazing and super cheap, about 100 Czech Crowns which is 5 dollars Canadian.  We went back to our hostel and thought to ourselves, ‘how could we stay in such an amazing room with such cheap food for only three nights’? We immediately changed our booking to stay an extra night and changed our next booking in Vienna.

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Prague

The next day we took the tram to the old square to do our free tour.  On the tour we saw the Astronomical Clock (the third most disappointing tourist attraction in Europe), The Charles Bridge (a beautiful large bridge lined with statues), the Old Jewish Quarter with the Jewish Cemetery, and many facts about the city and its history. The Old Jewish Cemetery was very interesting because we had just seen the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. When looking at the cemetery you could see the influence it had on the memorial. The cemetery was one and a half stories high with so many headstones jammed into one space. It looked so cluttered and depressing. The reason for the cluttering and the height was because back in the 15th to 18th Century the Jewish people in Prague could only bury their loved ones in one space, and when they ran out of space they added soil to the existing graves, removed the tombstones and placed the tombstones on top of the new layer of soil resulting in 12 layers of graves with over 12,000 tomb stones visible.

Midway through our tour our tour guide took a 30 minute break. Gavin and I wandered over to the Old Square to get some street meat. Gavin had been excited to go to the Czech Republic because they were historically linked to Bavaria, the land of Pork Knuckle.  We found some ham and potato salad at a wooden stall.  The potato salad was sold by weight, 30 crowns per 100 grams.  But when the woman put it into the bowl it was definitely more than 100 grams. When we were given a huge hunk of ham (which was mostly fat), the price came to 880 Crowns.  At first we didn’t completely get the conversion until we sat and thought about it. One Canadian dollar is 20 Crowns, which meant for a hunk of ham and some potato salad we paid 44 Canadian dollars!!!!

Following the tour we did a beer tour with our tour guide Bara. She was really smart and knew a lot about beer. We first went to a beer museum with over 30 different kinds of beer. Gavin ordered a beer taster of  a stout, a chocolate, a cherry, and a couple of dark ales. The chocolate beer was very strong and not great tasting. We went to a few more places followed a place where Gavin and I ordered a Czech specialty of half a duck and some potato dumplings with red cabbage. It was very delicious.  The last place Bara took us to was an old communist bar called Vodka Bar. The bar was covered in communist propaganda posters and had specialty flavoured Vodka like Honey Thyme, Jalapeño, Mars Bar, Green Tea, Coffee, and Saffron.  We had a single  beer and quickly left the bar after our tour guide had left. The majority of the people on our tour followed.

The following morning we wandered the city. We ended up making our way to the Prague Castle which was on the other side of the river and up a large hill. This day may not have sounded that exciting but there was a lot of beautiful architecture that we walked by. That night Gavin did a beer tour with our hostel and I stayed behind and read.

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Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora

The next day we did a day tour to Kutna Hora, a town about an hour outside of Prague. Kutna Hora was historically a town that minted the silver for most of Europe hundreds of years ago. The town was also the home of a bone chapel, The Sedlec Ossuary. Since we missed the Paris Catacombs we really wanted to see the chapel.  When we arrived in the town we learned the bus from the train station left every 30 minutes. We decided that instead of waiting 20 minutes for the bus we would walk the kilometre and a half to the bone chapel. The walk was long and hot, but

We figured we would catch the bus from the bone chapel to the town so 20 minutes in the sun was no big deal. When we arrived at the bone chapel the building was so cold and dark.  The Ossuary was decorated with the bones of 40,000 to 70,000 people. The human remains took the form of chandeliers (which contains at least one of every bone from the human body), and coats of arms.  After the chapel we had just missed the bus into town.  We decided that waiting 30 minutes for another one would be silly so we walked the remaining 3.5km into town. It was about 34 degrees and boiling hot. A walk that normally would have been no big deal was suddenly uncomfortable and heat stroke inducing. We both had headaches from lack of water. When we finally reached the town we went to the local museum and signed up for the tour of the silver mine.

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Inside the Hradek Mine

The ancient underground silver mine, Hradek dates back to the 1300’s. The tour was all in Czech, but they gave us a pamphlet with english translation so we could understand most of it. They showed us a replica of the old wheelhouses, great machines powered by 6 pairs of horses that would draw up great leather satchels that would hold the ore. Afterwards, they gave us robes that were replicas of what the miners once wore and we descended down a staircase to one of the shallowest tunnels. It was extremely cramped and damp, with low ceilings and suffocatingly narrow corridors. There were other tunnels smaller still that one would have to crawl through in order to get to. We were told some of the tunnels went 600m deep, which seems incredible for the technology of the time. After we emerged into the sunlight again, they had replicas of the forges and coin striking processes the mined silver would undergo after it had been brought up. It was a really neat experience.

Following our tour of the silver mine we promptly walked back to the train station. The walk wasn’t so bad this time ( it wasn’t noon and we had water). We took the train back to Prague. We spent the evening hanging out in the Hostel bar.

The bartenders were very fun and had a great energy. The only draw back was that in Prague you can still smoke in bars, and this bar was in a basement with no ventilation which resulted in our clothing reeking of smoke. Smoke aside we had a great time with this bunch and reluctantly packed our bags for Vienna.

Ich bin ein Berliner!

The train from Amsterdam to Berlin was about 5 hours long. When we arrived in Berlin we found our way to my Uncle Klaus’ apartment. Klaus was letting us stay with him while we were in Berlin. We were really excited because after being in so many hostels for so long it was nice to stay in a home. We were also excited because Klaus drove tour buses and knew all of the best tourist stops away from the downtown tourist districts. Klaus said he would take us out on Sunday so we had all day Saturday to wander on our own.

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Holocaust Memorial

Saturday afternoon we went to the Brandenburg Gate to start our free tour. We were shocked to see our Irish friend Amanda whom we had met in Brussels a week before. It was a complete fluke that we ran into her for the tour. Our tour guide was really cool, but unfortunately due to the large volume of people on our tour ( forty people) we felt we couldn’t really get to know him or his personal insights which was unfortunate. We saw German Parliament which had a giant clear dome that you could watch people walking inside of. The clear dome was supposed to represent the transparency of government after Hitler’s dictatorship. Our next stop was the controversial Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial was almost 5 acres of 2,711 rectangular concrete slabs arranged on a grid. The memorial was based on a Jewish Cemetery ( which we later see in Prague). The concrete slabs ranged from a few centimetres to 2meters in height. The memorial made you feel so many different things depending on your own personal views and interpretations. I felt like I was staring at physical bar graphs of murder while Gavin saw rows of concentration camp barracks. Afterwards we went to a plain parking lot which had a simple information sign telling the reader that it was the location of Hitler’s Bunker. After the bunker we went onto see a preserved section of the Berlin Wall, behind which were the preserved foundations of the former Gestapo headquarters.

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Portion of the Berlin Wall

We were then shown the site of the famous Checkpoint Charlie, where a tank standoff between West and East Berlin came precariously close to heating up the Cold War. It is now jokingly referred to as the Disneyland of Berlin, as an entirely fabricated replica of the checkpoint has been built, along with German actors in American uniforms you can take photos next to. The tour ended at Museum Island, an island in the middle of the city populated with, shockingly, many museums.

At the end of our walking tour, we bought tickets to the pub crawl that night with Amanda, and agreed to meet up later at the beginning of the tour. We took a short break back at Klaus’s place before heading to the club crawl. We went to four pubs and the Matrix nightclub, which was underneath a bridge. We had fun, especially when running into an old friend, but we decided that we had enough evidence to dismiss clubs all over the world as sweaty, expensive and obnoxious places not worth our time. We would rather go to a quiet place for a drink to get to know people than a loud expensive club. That being said we got home at 4am.

The next day, Klaus had time to show us around some of his favorite sites. He drove us to the impressive Olympic Grounds where we climbed up a large tower overlooking the nearby stadium which was hosting a soccer game. There was also an exhibit about the 1936 Olympics and naziism. Next, he showed us a great red clock tower, the Grunewaldtrum, dedicated to Wilheim I. Afterwards we ate lunch at a beer garden in the nice weather. We then toured the grounds of Potsdam, the city of German Kaisers and the home of their most famous palaces. Klaus was an excellent tour guide, and had plenty of amusing local anecdotes.
The next day we returned to where the walking tour had begun and explored some of the sites we had been shown during the tour in greater detail. Upon reaching Museum Island, we visited the Pergamon Museum. The museum had impressive permanent exhibits and collections from Greek and Middle Eastern antiquity, including structures and massive gateways rebuilt within the confines of the building. The most impressive exhibits were the gates of Ishtar and the fully reconstructed Pergamon Altar.
This marked our final day in Berlin. We said goodbye to Klaus, and boarded yet another train towards the city of Prague, which we had heard so much about from our fellow travellers.

I Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities. To many Amsterdam is known for two things, marijuana and prostitutes; to me it is a warm and welcoming city with friendly people and beautiful infrastructure. I have been to Amsterdam twice before with my dad and loved every time I visited. This visit was my first without my dad and Gavin’s first visit ever.

When we arrived in Amsterdam like most places we have visited we really didn’t know what to do or where to begin. Since we were in the city for six days we decided to use our arrival day as a day to relax. The next day we planned on doing a free tour at 11am. Unfortunately it was pouring rain so we declined the tour but waited to do the 1pm tour. Unfortunately, Gavin and I were boneheads and tried to find the meeting place without a map and failed to find the location. We spent our first full day wandering the streets. Our second day in Amsterdam we were determined to finally go on our tour.

Our free tour was given by a peppy British girl named Stephanie. Stephanie was very informative and showed us the former headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, the infamous Red Light District, hidden Catholic Churches, the worlds first stock exchange, Multatuli’s giant head, Anne Frank’s House and the Jewish Quarter. We also saw the widest bridge and skinniest house. At the end of the tour we were invited to enjoy some local Dutch cuisine, Stampot, which is a sausage on top of mashed potatoes with cheese and carrot and gravy mixed in. From here we signed up for the Red Light District and bike tour. Gavin signed up for the Coffee shop tour.

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With Our Tour Guide Lee

Later that day we went on our red light district tour. We were particularly interested in the tour because we wanted to learn the history of Amsterdam’s most controversial neighbourhood. Our tour guide Lee was amazing. The best tour guide we had in a long time. Lee lived in the Red Light District and knew a lot about the people and what was going on, so she was able to answer any and every question we had. As many of you know prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and treated as a freelancing business but is kept strictly in the red light district. The sex workers are able to work legally and have protection from police officers making the roles of pimps and drugs almost nonexistant.The strangest thing was that the main concept of the area was for the workers and their patrons to maintain a sort of anonymity yet the workers stood in windows under red lights posing in underwear. The most interesting thing about the area was that the European Union wanted the space to be gentrified so the Dutch government was paying up to €5 million Euros for a single building to display fashionable clothing in the window instead. It was educational to see such a controversial space especially with such an amazing guide. I think the best thing about Lee was that she took us to a pub and didn’t ditch us after she got commission like every other tour guide we had from Sandemans. We hung out with a couple of cool Australians and had a pretty good night.

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Bike Tour

The next day we went on a bike tour with Lee. I really wanted to do a bike tour in Amsterdam because the Dutch are such avid bike riders. The bikes they ride in Amsterdam are generally heavy land cruisers which are much different from the light mountain bikes we ride at home. When Gavin and I got our bikes we wobbled a lot because we hadn’t ridden bikes in a long time and also because we were not used to the heavy cruising bikes.

The bike tour took us across the many canals and to parts of Amsterdam tourists don’t usually see. We rode our bikes through Amsterdam’s Central Park, Oosterpark, past the last windmill in the city, De Gooyer Windmill, the Amsterdam Zoo ( where we saw giraffes and zebras), the Rijksmuseum, and the Heineken Brewery. At the Rijksmuseum we wanted to take a picture in front of the famous “I AMsterdam” letters, but the sign had been moved apart during a royal celebration. After the bike tour we met up with our Australian friend from the night before and her friend Neil from Scotland and we had a double date.

On our last full day in Amsterdam we wanted to accomplish every tourist thing on our list. First we went to Reypenaer, a family owned cheese store, and did a wine and cheese tour. We sat at desks and learned about how cheese was aged, how different aged cheeses taste, and then we were able to try each of the five cheeses they aged. We discovered so much about different cheese it was tasty and awesome! My favourite was the Chèvre which is like goat cheese.

Gavin then got a straight edge shave from a barber down the road from the cheese place. After the shave Gavin went on to do the “coffee shop” tour and I went shopping.

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Amsterdam

After Gavin’s tour we met up and did a one hour canal tour on a long boat. The tour was comfortable and informative with a prerecorded tape describing all of the sites supplemented by the driver giving us local details about the surroundings. We finished the canal tour in front of Anne Frank’s House, the last tourist stop we wanted to see. I had been to Anne Frank’s house before and every time it fills you with so much emotion. I haven’t read the book in 15 years but her hopes and dreams quickly rushed back as we walked through the house she went into hiding in. When we finished the tour our last night in Amsterdam came to an end.