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 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 48 Hours in Budapest

We arrived in Budapest just over 48 hours ago.  It feels like much longer!  As I write this blog, we are on the train, already leaving Budapest and heading for Vienna.  We really enjoyed our quick and jam-packed time in Budapest.

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View of river and Castle Hill from the room

When we arrived in Budapest, we hopped into the private car we had pre-arranged for 40 EUR to take us to the Intercontinental Hotel.  It was about a 40 minute drive, so I think the 40EUR was quite reasonable.

The Intercontinental Hotel is right beside the Chain Bridge in the heart of downtown Budapest.  The location could not be better and we were lucky to get a River View room with a view of the Castle Hill.  It was amazing all lit up at night and being able to watch all the River Cruises sail by.

 

Our first afternoon in Budapest was spent wandering around the Castle Hill District and taking a 1 hour tour of the Hospital in the Rock Museum.  For $18 CAD, it was pretty reasonable and worthwhile if you have extra time.  The tours run every hour.  The underground hospital was used in WWII and during the Civil uprising in 1956.  They have some exhibitions set up to show you what the conditions would have been like at the time and also some exhibitions set up for later, when it was used as a bomb shelter during the Cold War.  The museum is found on the far side of Castle Hill, about a 20 -30 minute walk from the Intercontinental Hotel.

Hospital in the rock

Our one full day in Budapest we managed fit in two walking tours, 30,000 steps that covered the majority of the main sites of central Budapest.  Our first walking tour was a “Hidden Gems” Tour with a private guide.  We started by taking the oldest metro in mainland Europe from near our hotel to Hero’s Square.  We had a quick walk to the Szechenyi baths (very near Hero’s Square) for a quick look around.  I wish we had an extra day, the baths looked wonderful.  There is a combo of indoor and outdoor baths, you get massages and VIP tours.  That would have been VERY nice after a long day of walking.  They open early in the morning and that is the quiet time to go.  It gets busier later in the day.  After that, we went through Hero’s square with our guide, Gabor, talking about how Hungary was settled by Pagan Nomadic Tribes and later “civilized” and “Christianized” by St. Stephan. The Hero’s square pays tribute to them all.

 

We continued walking past the Opera House, with a quick look inside at the amazing opulent interior.  We walked through the Jewish Quarter with a Secret stop in a hidden courtyard to view the last remaining piece of the Jewish Ghetto Wall from World War II.  It still had some of the barbed wire on top and at one time 70,000 Jewish people were imprisoned inside those walls.  It was quite moving.  We had a stop for Kosher Cake and Coffee in a Jewish Bakery and continued on to the Holocaust Memorial, past the Terror Museum (which used to house the Secret Police) and back to the Riverfront.  This completed our “pest” side of the tour.

 

We walked across the Chain Bridge and up to the top of Castle Hill.  There is also the option to take the Funicular Train to the top, if you prefer not to walk.  There were some amazing lookout points from the Castle, across the Danube to Parliament.  We wandered past some of the artifacts in the castle and past the Presidents offices.  We viewed some more of Castle Hill’s “must sees”, some churches, lookouts and an 800 year old Church Tower.  The Church survived the Turkish invasion, but only the tower survived the bombing of WWII.

 

That concluded our first walking tour.  We had a couple of hours to rest our weary feet and change into dry shoes and clothes (it was quite a rainy day!), before we headed out on our second walking tour.  The second tour was arranged with Secret Food Tours and included many stops for authentic food and drinks.  This was also a private tour and we

Folodni cake

Flodni Cake

met up with our tour guide first for coffee and traditional Flodni Cake, then walked through Liberty Square, past some of the Embassy’s to the Downtown Market for an amazing arrangement of local sausages, meats, cheese, pickles, baguette and chutneys.  This was my favorite stop.  The Rosemary and Pear Chutney was so good, I had to buy a couple of jars!  We also received a traditional favorite chocolate treat of Hungarians.  It was a cottage cheese/lemon filling covered in dark chocolate.  It was surprisingly good and tasted like chocolate covered cheese cake.

We rolled ourselves to a food truck for Langos (fried bread covered with garlic, sour cream and cheese SO good!) and on past St. Stephens Cathedral to another food truck for cinnamon covered funnel cake.  By then we are so full we can hardly move, but we aren’t done yet.  The Hungarians take their food seriously.  We went to Cupakos in the Jewish district for Goulash Soup and toasted bread with Chicken Pate topped with warm Apple Chutney (their Secret Dish).

 

Finally, we moved on to the best part of the evening, the wine tasting at a local wine bar, which only serves Hungarian wines.  We sampled three, our tour ended there and we decided to stay on for another bottle of wine.  It was a nice little spot with live entertainment.

wine time

Finally, we called our very full day in Budapest to an end with a quick walk back to the hotel for a well-deserved good night sleep.  The main train station is under construction for a couple of weeks, so we took a taxi (17 EUR) to the Kelenfold Train station.   It was quite old and dilapidated but it did the trick and our train was pretty easy to find.  First class train tickets Budapest to Vienna were about $100 CDN per person.  Sandwiches on the train, which were surprisingly good were only $3.50 EUR each and there is free WIFI.  The three hours is passing quite quickly with some nice countryside and green rolling hills and villages to look at on our way.  We are looking forward to our few days in Vienna!

on the train

Kyra’s Amazing Alaska Cruise – Part 4

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Today we sailed through Glacier Bay National Park! The first glacier we visited was Margerie Glacier which is 250 feet high above the waterline and has a base about 100 feet below sea level. It was absolutely gorgeous and we were lucky enough to have a perfect view right from our balcony. The ship stayed at this glacier for about 1 hour, but the captain turns the boat around after 30mins so the other side of the boat has a good view as well. We were also lucky to witness the glacier calving. Calving is when chunks of the glacier break off into the water. When this happens, it sounds like thunder!

Next up was Lamplugh Glacier. Smaller than Margerie, but still beautiful! We just sailed by this one as we were sailing onwards to Johns Hopkins Inlet at Jaw Point for a jaw dropping view of Johns Hopkins Glacier! One of the most beautiful views in the park! Again, the boat turns after a bit to give the other side of the ship a better view. It was just stunning!

After viewing the glaciers, we sailed back out of Glacier Bay National Park. It is a wildlife hotspot filled with marine life. There was a naturalist onboard with us for pointing out wildlife and providing commentary on the glaciers, park, and wildlife. We saw whales, seals, and sea otters!

I even got to see a playful seal completely jump out of the water twice as he was following the ship.

You don’t want to miss Glacier Bay, so get out and enjoy the beautiful scenery!

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