Czarina’s Getaway to Sweden – Part 2

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Travelling further north in Sweden is like travelling further north in Saskatchewan… Everything gets a little greener with dense forests and you are surrounded by beautiful lakes. It never gets completely dark here, even when you are still adjusting to the time change at 3am.

The journey to the wedding required a stop in the beautiful city of Gavle. A small, historic city with a river running through it and amazing gardens surround everything! As we walked the river path, we passed Gavle’s lovely concert hall, Konserthus. Sweden is home to some of the best music acts around. We happened to be here during a heavy metal festival. Sadly, I left my leather pants at home.

Walking around can make a gal hungry. Thankfully, we found a riverfront restaurant called Bryggan. I was pleasantly surprised by the view, food and service. Everything is a bit high on the cost side in Sweden but the mussels and fries were amazing! Swedes have it made with delicious seafood. Highly recommend this place.

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After a night in Gavle, we journeyed on to Hogbo, the sight of the wedding. Hogbo is a nature lover’s paradise! The Swedes love adventure and Hogbo has many biking and hiking trails, mini golf, beach area with beautiful lake, tennis and more. It felt like their version of Waskesiu. There was plenty to keep busy at the resort Hogbo Brukshotell! I’m not much for “roughing it” so I’m sure glad we were in the main hotel compared to the cabins which were a fair distance from the ceremony and reception sight. Unfortunately, mosquitos there enjoy Canadian blood too but it didn’t stop me from working on my tan! The weather was been perfect there.

What to expect from a Swedish-Canadian wedding? Lots of cheer, drinks and singing! The Swedes attending wished the happy couple best wishes with lots of Swedish songs. It’s a beautiful tradition that Swedes incorporate into every wedding. The couple looked beautiful and we were blessed with a fabulous sunny day!

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A great way to end our beautiful adventure! Back to reality…


Interested in planning your own trip to Sweden or Amsterdam?  Czarina would love to help!  You can reach her by calling 306-934-3400 or emailing czarina@uniglobevacation.com.

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Czarina’s Getaway to Sweden – Part 1

Not everything can go smoothly on every trip. On this trip I learned the value of packing a good carry on with all the essentials when I learned that my checked luggage did not make it on my direct flight from Amsterdam to Stockholm. Did Scandinavian Airlines give me a reason for the loss? No. Was I going to let it ruin my Swedish experience? Heck no! So I filed a baggage complaint at the airport, called my insurance provider and carried on with my day.

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Sweden is a beautiful, lush and sunny destination filled with the most beautiful people! Everyone looks like a super model. There are some good genes in these parts. The terrain here really reminds me of home. I forget sometimes how far North we are.

We are staying near the Stockholm Central Train Station in the heart of their central business district. Convenient if you are dragging your luggage off the direct train from the airport. Not me though!

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My first goal is to view the Royal Palace and hopefully catch a glimpse of Europe’s best looking royal, Prince Carl of Sweden! Just a short walk from the downtown core is the area known as Gamla Stan best known as their historical area. This is where the Royal Palace is located and where I find my first taste of Nordic eateries. The Palace is grand and opulent with beautiful views of the waterways. Sadly, no Prince Carl but we do get to meet a friendly castle guard who kindly allows us to take a selfie with him!

 

Sweden is so ahead of the game. A lot of businesses do not accept cash at all. This is a destination where you must prepare to swipe your card everywhere you go for every purchase. Leading to large bills as it is expensive! But when in Sweden, you must do as the Swedish do… We had a wonderful evening having drinks and delicious appetizers at a local bistro called Osterlanggatan 17 Bar & Kvarterskrog. Friendly service matched with great dining in old town was everything I needed after the long day I had.

My luggage finally made it after a 24 hour adventure and I am so very thankful. I need everything in there as we travel further north to an area called Gavle. This small quaint city is home to my dear friends who are getting married in the next few days. Can’t wait to experience a Swedish/Canadian hybrid wedding!

Czarina’s Amsterdam Adventure – Part 2

67385791_2350863545164903_1859054079855034368_nSince reading her book as a child, I’ve dreamed about the day I would get to see Anne Frank’s secret annex. I was so glad we booked ahead of time because the lineup is huge, even in the early morning. It is a solemn and moving experience that hurts your heart and brings tears to your eyes. Learning more about what she and others experienced still leaves me reeling and should remind us to see the humanity in all people. The stillness of that annex and her words will be with me forever and I hope any traveller to Amsterdam takes in this time capsule to commemorate her and the other victims of WWII.

Not far from the Anne Frank House is where we rented a boat to cruise the canal on our own. The sun came out for our little adventure and we packed a picnic with wine, cheese and other goodies. I loved having our freedom and doing it on our own, but it isn’t easy! There are lots of boats, turns and bridges to watch out for. This was by far the highlight of my trip to Amsterdam and something I will never forget. For those who aren’t comfortable doing it on their own, I tried the 1 hour guided canal cruise too! Seeing the city from the water is a must.

I love the diverse food options here! Looking for delicious Italian cuisine? Look no further than an Italian restaurant called Impero. My pasta was cooked in a flaming cheese wheel…. sending me into flavour overload and into a food coma! I also visited Amsterdam’s “Food Hallen” located in a trendy, up and coming area. It’s basically a big food court in a historic building filled with hungry hipsters. Tons of vendors to choose from and specialty bars, plus some live music. A foodie’s delight!

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Off to Sweden!


 

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Czarina’s Amsterdam Adventure

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When life sends you to Amsterdam, you must eat pancakes (aka Pannenkoek)!

Amsterdam is a city bustling with amazing sights, a rich history and delicious food. Everywhere you go, you feel positive energy all over and it can’t help but put a smile on your face. The Dutch are quite possibly the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Look out for their bicycles peddling down every road. They aren’t so friendly if you are in the way… yikes!

We are staying within walking distance to some of the must sees: Dam Square, Red Light District, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Central Station and more.

67643791_342898019973217_9138694329957613568_nThis lady needs to see it all in the four days we are here and I had to start with the classic Windmill Tour to Zaans Schans. Just a short drive from Amsterdam, takes you to this little quaint town where you learn all about the pioneering methods the Dutch used to prepare everything from wheat, paint, cooking oil and more using these beautiful windmills. It’s incredible what they were able to achieve using wind power back in the day. It’s even more fascinating that all the windmills remain operational 600 years later. We were not expecting rain but the downpour didn’t sour the mood at all because there was plenty of Gouda cheese samples to enjoy. And shopping for shoes always makes me happy… even when they are wooden clogs!

By night, we were curious to see the infamous Red Light District where the streets are just insanity! Tons of foreigners, including us, come to get a glimpse at the spectacle and learn more about the oldest profession in the world. Do not take pictures of these hard working “ladies of the night”. They are not afraid to come outside and hit you over the head.

Uber has been key to take us to some of those attractions a little further like the Rijksmuseum and the Heineken Experience. Both tours can’t be missed since the Rijksmuseum has a lot of different art pieces important to the Netherlands and Heineken gives you an incredible tour and beers at the end! I would have never guessed that Heineken even had a “ride” which I liken to a mini Universal Studios experience.

Time to hit the canals and visit Anne Frank’s house…

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Kyra’s Amazing Alaska Cruise – Part 5

Kyra Tristan Glacier edit

A popular belief is that an Alaskan cruise is a trip to take if you’re looking for a slower paced vacation; and for some this can be true. However, I am here to tell you that I believe it is a perfect trip for all types of travellers!

For the adventure seekers, there are tons of fun and exciting excursions available at each port. Some of these include the ZipRider zip-line in Icy Strait, ATV adventures, tree-top climbing apparatuses, helicopter tours, railways, boating trips, hiking, gold-panning, dog-sledding, gondolas, and wildlife spotting.

For the foodies, there are so many delicious food venues and options onboard you’ll be in heaven! Bordeaux or Provence for daily changing menus, the Pizzeria for delicious pizza made right in front of you, The Grill for burgers and hot dogs, and of course the buffet Horizon Court. There are also a couple of specialty restaurants onboard such as Sabatini’s for Italian food and Bayou Cafe for New Orleans inspired cuisine! All food was delicious and beautifully presented! Plus there’s room service or you can splurge on a balcony dining experience like we did for a super special meal. Did I mention, the dessert options are just endless??

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For those interested in wildlife and scenery, I can assure you that you will get your fill of beautiful and stunning views of mountains, forests, waterfalls, rivers, glaciers, valleys, etc.! There’s lots of exciting wildlife spotting opportunities throughout the entire trip! We saw whales, lots of sea otters, and tons of bald eagles right from the ship especially in Glacier Bay and College Fjords!

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Onboard the ship, they have activities that may appeal to all guests such as trivia games, dancing contests, karaoke times and contests, gambling and gambling contests, dance parties, Movies Under the Stars, and so much more to keep yourselves entertained while at sea! This is in addition to the pools, hot tubs, spa, salon, shuffle boards, foosball tables, mini golf course, etc. onboard as well.

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I believe Alaskan cruises are a great trip for any type of traveller! I have been to Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Europe and various other places but my Alaskan cruise with Princess has now become one of my favourite trips so far even as a traveller in my 20’s!

Ready to start planning your own Alaskan cruise?  I would love to help get you there!  You can find me at our Sutherland office or call me at 306-955-1449 or email kyra@uniglobevacation.com.   I can’t wait to help you see Alaska too!

Air Canada Premium Rouge vs Air Canada Premium Economy

Air Canada Premium Rouge vs Air Canada Premium Economy:

I often get asked the difference between Air Canada Premium Rouge and Air Canada Premium Economy. I have flown them both before, but it was nice to fly both on this trip to get an up to date comparison.

On our flight from Toronto to Budapest we flew direct with Air Canada Premium Rouge. Rouge planes are older, but the Premium Rouge seats up front are quite roomy and similar to the old style Air Canada Business class. The seats have quite a lot of leg room, good recline, foot rests and access to the business class bathroom at the front of the plane. There was a hot meal service shortly after take-off, drink service throughout and a simple breakfast of banana bread and coffee or juice before landing. They gave us a comfort kit, blanket and pillow when we got on. The comfort kit has an eye mask, ear plugs, socks toothbrush and toothpaste. There are no seat back TVs on Rouge. You can either use your own tablet to connect to the AC app for movies etc., or if you are in Premium Rouge, they give you a tablet pre-loaded with entertainment, free of charge.

 

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On our flight from Vienna to Toronto, we flew Premium Economy on one of the new Dreamliners. It was my second time flying back from Europe on this aircraft and there is a noticeable difference in the air quality/humidity levels from older aircraft and the dimming lights and windows make for a nicer ambiance and atmosphere. Being a newer plane, the seats are quite a bit more comfortable. Otherwise, the leg room, seat recline, foot rests, comfort kits, blankets and pillow are almost identical from Premium Rouge to Premium Economy. Air Canada Premium Economy has seat back TVs with a wide selection of movies and entertainment. We received a hot meal shortly after take-off, drink service throughout and a warm pastry snack before landing. The food was perhaps a small bit better in Premium Economy on mainline Air Canada, but let’s face it – it’s all airplane food. Whether it’s a 6 out of 10 or a 7 out of 10, it’s not going to be fine dining.

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All in all, both services were good. If I had a choice, I would opt for Premium Economy on mainline Air Canada every time – mainly for the more comfortable seats and newer aircraft. That being said, if it was a choice between a direct flight on Rouge and a connection on Mainline AC, I would opt for the more direct flight and forego a small difference in comfort for the convenience and time saving of a non-stop flight.

Want to discuss the best airline upgrade options for your next trip? Reach out to our team!

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Jamie’s Working Vacation in Vienna

Here we are, on our new Air Canada Dreamliner service from Vienna to Toronto, having just completed our 4 nights in Vienna, following the 2 nights we spent in Budapest.

We took the train for almost 3 hours from Budapest to Vienna and arriving in Vienna was almost like arriving in an entirely different land. It surprised me that Budapest and Vienna were so very different, given their close geography and sometimes intertwined history. Where Budapest has the twin cities of Buda and Pest, both centered around the Danube, Vienna is not intersected by the river. Where Budapest is still showing signs of the communist era and there is a drastic mix of beautifully restored buildings and buildings that haven’t been touched and are still riddled in bullet holes, Vienna is pristine with every building restored and perfect – not a paint colour out of place and not a single piece of cobblestone broken. I was very glad we had the chance to experience both beautiful and diverse cities and I was even more thankful that where Budapest rained for us, Vienna brought out the sunshine.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Vienna and it is outside Stadpark on the edge of the downtown, historic core area of Vienna. It was a very nice hotel with a beautiful hotel lobby bar and very comfortable rooms. It was a great location to have for a home base. We attended a conference for a couple of days and their conference facilities also seemed in good order – a good choice of conference rooms, food and beverage, audio visual and friendly staff.

When we had some free time in Vienna, we made the most of this beautiful city:

Top attraction highlights:

*Kursalon Concert Hall
Located right across the street from our hotel in Stadpark the Kursalon Concert Hall has a concert every night featuring Strauss, Mozart, Ballet and Opera. The performance was just under 2 hours.  We paid 69EUR for good seats and found it quite entertaining for casual music lovers like us. I would have loved to have seen an opera at the Vienna Opera, but there was not one playing when we had a free evening.

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*Lipizzaner Stallions
Lipizzaner Stallions perform at the Spanish Riding School. You can either purchase seats that are “seated” or “standing”. Our seated tickets start around 100EUR each. The performance is just over an hour and the horses and riders go through the different skills the horses learn over many years. It was impressive.

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*Hofburg Palace
Adjacent to the Spanish Riding School, the Hofburg Palace has a tour of the Silver Collection, the SISI Museum and the Imperial Apartments for 15EUR per person. The self-guided audio tour took about 1 1/2 hours.

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*St. Stephens Cathedral
This is an amazing Gothic structure in the middle of the main square in Vienna. You can go in and view the main cathedral, plus there are options to go up the tower for 5EUR for views over all of Vienna, or for 7EUR you can go down into the Catacombs beneath St. Stephens. Mark climbed the tower while I was at the conference, so together we chose to go beneath St. Stephens to the Catacombs. The Cardinals and Arch Bishops are buried there – It is still used today, so there are some new graves as well as some that are over 400 years old. The Hapsburgs and Imperial family had their internal organs buried there and the main chambers were full of all the ordinary people, including one chamber that was filled with those who didn’t survive the last bubonic plague…a little creepy, but interesting.

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*Stadpark
This is a beautiful green space with walking paths, food vendors, outdoor restaurants and a nice place to unwind, relax and rest your weary feet. You can anything from a hot dog, to fine dining and Biergartens.

Restaurant Recommendations:

We ate at many good restaurants from small local coffee shops to upper scale Italian and Austrian restaurants. One highlight was Lugeck – located in a historic building, just off the main square. It serves local Austrian food with a bit of flair. The service was great, as was the food and for four of us, with wine, beer and dinner, the bill was 150EUR, which seemed very reasonable. The Wiener Schnitzel was particularly good and with two huge pieces, big enough for two to share!

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One afternoon we happened into a Keller – a Viennese tradition of historical underground vaults used for bars/restaurants. This particular Keller had been used for almost 1000 years – called the Zwolf Apostelkeller. It had several rooms, vaults, traditional Viennese dining (think upgraded pub food), Austrian wines and beer and local entertainment. It is a very unique and Viennese experience not to be missed when you are in Vienna. The location is right around the corner from the Lugeck restaurant.

There is an outdoor restaurant; just inside the Stadpark entrance, across from the Intercontinental called the Kleinod Stadtgarten meets Cafe Francais. They had the most amazing “tarts”, which to us North Americans is a very thin crust pizza with toppings like bacon and spring onions, apples and Brie, etc. It was the most enjoyable lunch, outside in the sunshine and green space of the park with wonderful food and a nice Rose Garden.

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I look forward to returning to Austria one day to see more outside of Vienna, but for the short time period we had, Vienna did not disappoint.

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