Exploring Mexico City

A sprawling metropolis of almost 9 million people, Mexico city has the highest population in North America. A vibrant and eclectic mix of old, new, modern, traditional, classic and contemporary, it is a city that makes you aware of all of your senses all at once.

We didn’t really know what to expect when planning our trip to the city; we had heard and read lots of differing opinions, good and bad. Mexico city turned out to be a vibrant, beautiful, over-whelming city and we really enjoyed our short-but-sweet taste of Mexico.

Here are some of the things we found while exploring Mexico City:


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A colourful city & Architecture

The official colour of Mexico City (CDMX) is pink, and you will see plenty of it, particularly the bright pink official taxis of the city (although we were advised not to use them, they charge tourists notoriously high fares… we walked or used Uber instead). We also saw every other colour you could think of in shops, stalls, murals, buildings, banners and even the plants and flowers. The smog can make it a little hazy and grey some days, but sometimes the smog clears and the sun beats down, exposing the blue sky behind.

Zoccalo is the main historic square in the central city, and it’s worth a visit. When we were there, they were getting ready for Mexican Independence Day, so there were red, green and gold ‘Viva la Mexico!’ banners on the building faces and a giant marquee in the middle of the square. This main square is ringed by government buildings, a huge old cathedral and even some Aztec ruins.

When we first arrived in Mexico City very early in the morning, we caught a taxi from the airport to our hotel in Zoccalo. It was strangely eerie, like we had gone back in time; the streets were dark and cobbled, and all we could see around us were the looming, shadows of old, stone buildings. Yet when day came, the area transformed into a bustling centre of traffic, tourists, noise, crowds, shops, street vendors, buskers and traffic wardens blowing their shrill whistles.

We were there in the off-peak tourism season, so we didn’t notice too many other foreign tourists. Most of the people we saw seemed to be locals, if not from CDMX itself, than from other parts of Mexico.
Like any big city, the locals are a mix - business people in suits with briefcases, families with young children, young hipsters with satchels and laptops. Also, akin to many other big cities, the buskers and beggars on the streets - including kids playing guitar and singing along to songs from CoCo, hoping the tourists will fling them a few pesos.

The city has a complex history, and this is evident in the changing architecture, ranging from roman catholic Gothic churches, to the wide and straight Paseo de la Reforma - a whole street running through central CDMX designed after Paris’ Champs Elysees Avenue.

The greenery is lush, thanks to the mild climate, but just watch your head if you take the open-air double decker tour bus through the city - you might get thwacked by a lusciously green ,but dangerously low-hanging frond.


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Art & Murals

Art runs through the city like blood through veins, whether it’s in the architecture of the buildings or one of the many murals found throughout the city. The murals tell rich and sometimes brutally honest stories; the artists used them to tell stories about the social and political scene in Mexico over the years, and the hardships they faced. But they also show the things that were important to them; plentiful crops of corn, mothers holding their babies, luscious bunches of flowers and baskets of ripe fruit.

Muralism has a strong history in Mexico city, some of the most famous include those of Diego Rivera, husband of Frida Kahlo. The murals can be found all over the city, some of them in the busy tourist buildings, on rooves and walls of old buildings and markets, down random side streets and many other places, both exposed and hidden. On a Market tour of the city, our lovely tour guide took us behind some fencing at a small market and up a staircase to find murals covering the walls and ceilings.
They were honest, and unforgettable. Depicting peasants, starving and hungry, and politicians growing fat on the money taken from the people. There was also a whole mural depicting Nazi Germany WW2, in the stark, ominous colours of black, white, grey and red.
We were the only ones there, the place seemed quiet and forgotten compared to other areas of the city filled with people and noise. It was strange to think that behind the hustle and bustle of this busy city, there were places like this where pictures of the past were sitting quietly, waiting for curious eyes to find them.

 
 

Of course some of the busier tourist spots were still must-sees and worth the waiting in line. One being the Frida Kahlo museum, which is the house where she and Diego Rivera lived. The house is a collection of quaint buildings that surround a wide, open courtyard with plenty of plants and foliage. From the walls, to the furniture, the art and even Frida’s belongings, you can see rich array of colours; aquamarine blue, salmon pink, mustard yellow, earthy brown, verdant green and much more. You can walk through the various buildings and and rooms of their house and see some of her works of art, and also the areas she lived and worked in. This includes her work shop, complete with a desk and the materials she used for her artwork, and also her bedroom, where her death cast is lying on her bed. One room also shows her unique and intriguing clothing, including the corsets and support system she wore underneath that helped her body with it’s various pains and disabilities.


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The Markets

The nation is a religious one, we saw plenty of statues of various Saints and of Jesus himself. Particularly in the markets; we did a walking tour with a lovely guide who took us to see some of the markets of Mexico City.

The Flower market had blooms of every kind and colour. Stalls displayed wreaths and arrangements for many different occasions.

 
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The Food markets had many traditional staples of the Mexican diet - including the ‘bread and butter’ of the country: Corn. The produce - lots of vibrant, colourful and deliciously ripe fruits and vegetables. The meat - a little bit different from a butchery window we’re used to seeing, but at least they use every part of the animal. Alongside your usual cuts, there’s plenty of other parts for sale, we saw many a stack of intestines and other things layered up ready to buy. The chickens on sale look strangely yellow - but there is a reason and story behind this. In the past, the chickens in Mexico were corn-fed, which made them turn yellow. However, at some point in history the government realised it was a bit of a waste feeding the chickens corn, which could be better used to feed more people! So they stopped feeding the chickens corn, and instead fed them other grains. However, the chickens started to look different; paler, and no longer had a yellow hue, so the people were quite unsure about buying the chicken meat, as it just didn’t look right to them. So, they started feeding the chickens marigold flowers, which turned the chickens that golden hue once more, but still kept the corn for the people instead of turning it into feed: win win, some would say.

We were also taken to the ‘Witches’ market - which did not have potions, cauldrons and ‘Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans’ like we might have expected. Instead, it was mostly herbs and other dried plants which apparently help with different ailments such as respiratory problems, digestion, sleeping and broken hearts. There were also perfumes and soaps that you could buy for yourself or a loved one (or even an enemy) which promised things like fortune, luck, love or bad wishes. There was an area which had animals for sale, though we’re not sure for what purpose and we are relieved we didn’t find out or go to that area - you could smell it throughout the whole market, so we can only assume the conditions weren’t ideal for the poor animals.
Some of the more strange and disturbing sights, were the dried skeletons of cats and monkeys, again, not quite sure what they are used for, but we’re okay with not finding out. There were also a few stalls where we could of got our palms read or fortunes told, if we spoke or understood Spanish.
And, yes, plenty of stalls that sold statues of more Saints than I knew existed - including the favourite for Mexican Drug Dealers or for hopeful growers of particular plants, Jesús Malverde, and the controversial cult religion following of Santa Muerte - lady of Death.

 
 

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Pyramids & Rural life

Not too far out of Mexico city, we visited the pyramids of Teotihuacan, also known as the Sun and Mood pyramid. Standing on top of the Moon pyramid looking towards the Sun, down the alley of the dead - it’s breathtaking. Not only do you get an amazing view of the valley and nearby villages, but you look down at what was once a thriving city and centre of obsidian crafting and realise you are standing on very old stones and in a place so rich in history it’s hard to imagine what went on there. When it comes time to climb the Sun pyramid, looking up at the steep climb to the top is intimidating, but once you’re at the top it’s worth it.

Throughout this tourist spot, there are old men selling trinkets and obsidian souvenirs, including a whistle that sounds like a wolf howl.

Our visit was part of another day tour, and afterwards we headed to the nearby village of San Francisco Marzapa to visit a family of Obsidian crafters. They were friendly and welcoming, and happy to share their skills and knowledge. They had lots of beautiful obsidian carvings and trinkets on display, and even gave us a taste of Mexican liquor - pulque, mezcal and Tequila.
Apparently the correct way to drink it, is salt the lime, squeeze the juice into your mouth, hold it there and follow with the tequila before swallowing it all at once. Delicious!
We are also shown a huge agave plant in their back yard, and we learn some of the many uses of this useful plant.

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After this, our tour takes us to another family business for dinner, where a lady has prepared a delicious, home-style Mexican dinner of fresh tortillas, tortilla soup, rice, meat and vegetables.
A simple, yet delicious way to end our tour, before our bus ride back to the city.

 
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Noise and Traffic

The city is certainly a feast of visual senses, but it’s also full of noise. Sometimes overwhelmingly so! Near Zoccalo and other busy areas, you can hear the piercing whistles of the local policemen directing traffic, screeching in your ear, but also helpful when telling you when to cross the road.

The street vendors and buskers have various things on sale, but a few of them create some sort of honking or kazoo-like noise. The buskers will sometimes have a guitar or music box in hand, and music pours out of shops onto the footpath and streets.

The traffic alone can be overwhelming to be a part of; the honking of car horns, cars rattling past, buses, scooters, trucks as well.
But they are all masterful in managing to weave in and out and merge in a gridlocked madness. We were told more than once, “if you can drive in Mexico city, you can drive anywhere!” by the locals. We think it might be better to leave it to the locals - just trust the driver and look out the window at the cars and city whizzing by.

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The Food

It’s hard to know what to expect of the food when visiting Mexico; in the Western world we see ‘Mexican’ food as Nachos with sour cream, crispy Tacos, massive burritos with rice and beans, and lots of cheese. But when you visit Mexico, you realise the food is very different from what the Western world has made of it.

Corn is a very important staple, you will find it in pretty much every form - even diseased.
Along with corn, meat from many different parts of the animals, some rice and beans, vegetables like capsicum/peppers and cactus, fresh fruit and delicious stringy cheese. Salsa exist at mostly every food stall, and plenty of options for sweet treats - Mexicans have a sweet tooth!

Morning Start

At the food markets, we tried Corn for breakfast in a couple of different ways - in the form of a Tamale (corn dough with a sweet or savoury filling wrapped in corn husk or banana leaf) or a cup of Atole (a hot, creamy drink made of corn and sometimes flavoured with chocolate). These two dishes are usually taken around Christmastime, but can be found around the city and street markets - a simple, yet filling breakfast that will keep you full all morning. For coffee - there are plenty of options (we’ll talk about that later).

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Tortillas & Salsa

Corn tortillas can be bought by the dozen at the local tortilleria; the price is capped by the government, to keep this important, basic food affordable to everyone. On our first day, we arrived early, dropped our bags off at our hotel, then headed straight to meet our tour guides for a street food tour. They took us to a neighbourhood tortilleria and we got to look at the giant tortilla press, the mounds of masa (corn meal dough) and then taste a fresh, hot tortilla. There’s a special technique to rolling it in the palm of your hand, and you can add salt and salsa if you wish. Delicious!

Many street vendors and tortillerias will have 2-3 bowls of salsa for you to add to whatever dish they’re selling. Usually one is red, one is green, and they range in spiciness - and colour is not a given guide! Some places the green will be the hotter, sometimes the red, so if you’re up for it, give them a go, they are the most delicious, fresh and zesty salsas you have tasted, just go easy on the drops in case you get the hotter one!

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More Corn

We also tried some corn soup at a market, the girl selling it was working for her mother before and after school and was eager to practice speaking English - the corn soups were warm and tasty.
Another corn dish we tried a couple of times was the diseased corn. Apparently at one point in history, a fungus/disease came over some of the corn growing, but rather than waste it, Mexico decided that they should still use it and it became a delicacy.
It is a grey colour and the ears look a little mishapen. It’s not too bad, it is similar to mushrooms, but we recommend trying in small amounts to start with, as it has a rich flavour.

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Tacos

Tacos can be found at many street vendors and stalls, but they are a bit different to Old El Paso or Taco bell. A fresh, soft tortilla, is filled with the filling you choose and then you can top it with one of the aforementioned salsas if you wish. The fillings range from vegetarian friendly options like cheese, vegetable and cactus to meat-based choices, mostly chicken and pork. It is important to mention that they use ALL parts of the animal, so depending on what filling you choose, you will probably get a mix of cuts of meat in there, including the occasional grizzly bit. We were a bit adventurous and even tried the local delicacy of a taco with pig uterus meat inside - it just had a strong pork flavour. But there are plenty of more tamer options also.

Aside from tacos, you can get sandwiches, quesadillas and burritos. All have a range of fillings to choose from, and can be topped with salsa if you want.

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Cactus

Another popular local flavour that we tried a few times was cactus - we found it had a similar taste and texture to pickled green beans. Apparently it’s full of fibre and quite good for you.

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Traveling pains…

After the first few days, we did both get tummy aches, however we don’t believe this is from the preparation or handling of the food, but more so just a culinary shock to the system for our western palates. The food was good, and we tried lots of different things in our first couple of days, but if was different to stuff we usually ate - different cuts of meat, but also a lot of corn, when we are probably used to a more wheat based diet. So next time, we would probably pace ourselves a little better.

Another note, is the water - don’t drink it. We had bottled water free at our hotel, so we barely needed to buy any, but it can be found pretty easily and inexpensively around the city. You are also supposed to be careful and use bottled water even when brushing your teeth as well, but we forgot a couple of times and managed to be okay.

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Sweet stuff

Mexico seems to have a strong sweet tooth! There are lots of sweets and candies on sale at street vendors, and in shops. We had read about a long-time favourite place that we wanted to visit - El Moro. A churreria, which specialises in churros (delicious Mexican pastries) and divine hot chocolates.
We were lucky enough to catch it mid morning on a weekday, so the line wasn’t too busy and we were seated pretty quickly.
However, be warned, this place gets very busy in the weekends!

It’s a busy, quaint place decorated in blue and white tile, with a view of the kitchen where the churros are being made right before you. Our Español and our servers English weren’t great, but we managed to put an order together.
Soon enough, two plates of fresh, hot churros and steaming mugs of hot chocolate were before us. They were delicious! We knew we were going to be facing a sugar overload after, but we didn’t care, sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment!

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Coffee

One of the big interests fueling our visit to Mexico city, was the chance to taste the local coffee scene there.

Mexico is unique in that the nation mostly drinks mostly coffee grown in the country. So when you are in a cafe or specialty coffee house, you are drinking something pretty local and likely fresh due to the shorter distance it needs to travel.

Like any big spot, Mexico city has a good range of options for coffee drinkers - from the more commercial chains like Starbucks, to the stylish Hipster-esque espresso bars and the more casual local coffee places in between.

We tried a good range of the places we wanted to visit, but still feel like there was plenty in and around the city that we didn’t get to.

Here is a slideshow of the coffees and places we did manage to visit.

While we were there, we also attended a coffee tasting and cupping workshop at Café Borola. We booked this through AirBnB (interested? Check it out here), and it was a great choice. We learnt a lot about tasting coffee and we also learnt how to prepare pour-over coffee. Our host Ricardo was incredibly warm, friendly and knowledgeable not only about coffee but about Mexico city and happy to answer any questions or make recommendations of things to do and places to try coffee around the city.

 
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Mexico City is a vibrant, busy city and a great place to visit as a tourist. There were some things about the city that we found we could easily liken to other places around the world we have been to, but plenty more that was very new to us and such an interesting experience.

As with many other places around the world, be sure to do your research before visiting and take the necessary steps to ensure you can enjoy your adventures safely and wisely.
With our limited Spanish (almost zero…), we found day tours with local guides a great way to see, hear and taste some of what Mexico city had to offer, while also feeling comfortable and not out of our depth.

Hopefully we can return to Mexico, not only to the big city, but to see more of the country as a whole.

Have you every been to Mexico? If you have, let us know how you found it, and if you have any recommendations of other places to visit in the country, we’d love to hear them.

Until next time, happy adventuring! :)

How we pass time (cheaply) while travelling!

Travelling can be fun, interesting, mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, and life-changing.
When we are thinking about and planning an up-coming trip, it can be really exciting thinking of all the things we want to do and how to squeeze them all in to the time we have.

However, often not talked about or planned for, are the times when travel can be stressful, expensive, very tiring, at times lonely and also boring. We’ve often found ourselves in a new city or place with not a lot to do, whether we were in transit, or passing through a smaller town with not a lot happening, or sometimes we were in a bigger city but didn’t want to blow all our money at that point in our trip.
Something we have learned (and are still learning…) over the last couple of years, is that just because we are travelling to a new place or on a trip, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to have the mentality of “I’m on vacation!” and “Treat myself!”.
When we are travelling on a tight budget, carefully planning out and thinking about how to use the funds we have means we will have more money to spend on the things that really matter to us and the things we really want to go to, rather than just paying to go see or do something to pass the time.

As said earlier, travelling can be REALLY TIRING! The endless walking, the navigation of new public transport systems, the anxiety of trying to understand a foreign language or hoping the locals don’t hate you for not speaking theirs; and of course, the weather being really hot and humid so you break out in a sweat as soon as you walk out of the hotel, or the weather being freezing cold and having to climb hilly, cobblestone streets in an ice-storm! All of this can make for amazing and memorable trips, but can also be extremely tiring on us humans.
We have also learnt not to feel bad about allowing some down-time while travelling, especially when you’re away for an extended period of time. If you pack a trip full of non-stop experiences it can be draining on your energy-levels and your overall well-being.

Here are some of the things we do to pass the time while travelling, that give our minds, our bodies, and our travel wallet a bit of a break.


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Public Libraries

Not just for the book-worms

Public Libraries are available in many cities and small towns and open to everyone, even if you don’t live in the city/town you are visiting. They usually have free WiFi, places to sit and plenty of books, magazines etc. to help keep you entertained. Most libraries will also have power outlets so you can charge devices, some will have computers for use even if you are not a member; and they will also have bathrooms and fountains for drinking water or filling your drink bottle.

You can easily pass time in a library for free, or for the small cost of getting there via public transport or parking near-by if you have a car. Sit back, relax, read a book, flick through a magazine, browse a cook book for recipe ideas, catch up on your emails, message family or friends, or use the internet or the travel book section to research the next stages of your adventure.
They will sometimes also have information about the local area you are visiting, which can be interesting, and may have local support contact information should you need it.
Look out for free events that might be going on while you’re there too e.g. information talks, workshops, presentations, cultural festivals.

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Shopping Malls

A rainy day haven

Yes, a shopping mall isn’t the first place you think of when wanting to save money. However, being in a mall doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend money. They often have free parking if you have a car (though watch for time limits) and will sometimes have free internet (or at least a McDonalds or Starbucks to slyly hang around outside).
For rainy days or when you have nothing else to do, it can be a warm, dry, easy way to pass the time; do some window shopping, grab any items you might need, use the free bathrooms and water fountains, or find a cheap meal at the food court.

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Museums

You might learn something new

Some cities, particularly small ones, will have museums that cost very little or even nothing at all to enter. They will usually be found in the centre of a town. It might not be the most exciting museum you’ve ever visited, but if you’ve got nothing else to do, why not pay one a visit. It might be interesting to read about the history of the place you are visiting, and you might be pleasantly surprised - these small museums still have some really interesting stories or information to learn.

In larger cities, you will usually find a few museums or art galleries to choose from, so decide which one interests you most or which one is more value for money and go for that one. Spend time reading and looking through the exhibitions rather than rushing through.

Our favourite museums so far:

  • Museum of Pop Culture - Seattle, USA

  • Ghibli Museum - Mitaka City, Tokyo, Japan

  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum - Hiroshima, Japan

  • Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum - Nagasaki, Japan

  • Museum of Anthropology - Vancouver, Canada

  • Museo Nacional de Antropología - Mexico City

Some surprisingly interesting ones:

  • Historic Village of Steveston (including a historic cannery!) - Richmond, BC, Canada

  • Kyoto International Manga Museum - Kyoto, Japan

  • Musée de la Civilisation - Quebec city, Canada

Parks & Gardens

Enjoying nature and some fresh air

Look for public parks or gardens to visit in the town/city you are in. They are often free, or might have a small donation or fee. If the weather is nice, you can find a nice bench or patch of grass to relax in for a while and enjoy watching people, animal or clouds! If there are gardens, you can wander around looking at the plants they have growing there. Depending on where you are visiting, the flora might be very different from what you are used to seeing in your hometown, or if not, it’s still nice to just get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature.

The Waterfront

To be beside the sea-side (or lake… or river…)

Many places that are built around or on water-fronts will have a walk-way stretching along part, if not all, of it. Big towns might have a built-up walk way (e.g. the Vancouver Sea-Wall), small towns might have a small lake front or wharf area to walk around. Or, if you’re somewhere coastal, try a walk along the beach!
These walks are most likely free, and provided the weather is nice, are a lovely way to spend some time outside and a good way to walk around, particularly between long journeys via car, train, plane etc. You might even catch a beautiful sun set or some wildlife viewing, depending on when and where you visit.

Some will have attractions along the water-front too, like playgrounds, parks, gardens, sculptures, seating, public toilets and more.

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Walking or Hiking

Stretch your legs and get your body moving

Similar to hanging out at the water-front, check out any local walking or hiking trails to visit. Many places will have somewhere nearby to walk around and enjoy nature, with varying difficulty levels.
Make sure you do your research before you go, particularly if it’s a trail of higher difficulty.
Some things to keep in mind/plan for:

  • Do you have plenty of time?

  • Is there any particular wildlife or plant-life to look out for?

  • What’s the weather looking like?

  • Season/time of year - is it open and is it safe? Is it going to be really busy?

  • Do I have what I need? e.g. wet weather gear, boots, food and water

  • Will I have cell-phone service if I need help or navigation?

  • Who will I be going with? Is it safe to go alone? Do I need to tell someone where and when I am going?

  • Are there particular sights on this walk I don’t want to miss out? Should I take a camera?

If you can’t find a good trail to visit, then why not just walk around the city. Just picking an area, a suburb or street and walking around looking at the local life can be a good way to pass time, get outside, familiarize yourself with a city and get your body moving.
Again, just be mindful depending on the city and area you are in; do your research to make sure you are safe and also respectful of the locals.

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Airport

A place of both pure excitement and painstaking boredom

It’s inevitable that at some point during your travels you will be stuck in an airport for a painfully long period. Whether you’re between flights, stuck due to delays or just waiting to take off, it can be hard to make time pass enjoyably while in this situation.
A key thing is to plan ahead! Take something(s) with you to do, like a book or a magazine, hand-held game console, puzzle book or whatever you like to do. And don’t forget to make sure you have the chargers, adapters and ear/head phones you need to keep your devices going.

Wear comfortable clothes, you might be in them for a while! Wearing layers, or having them easily accessible in hand luggage is a good idea, so you can warm up or cool down as necessary. Take small necessary items with you rather than in your checked baggage e.g. medication, lip balm, travel size toiletries, painkillers.

One good thing is that airports are becoming a lot more technologically savvy, so you will often find somewhere to plug in and charge your devices. They might have free WiFi available also, even if it means hanging out in the food court for a while.
Try to walk around a fair bit, particularly if you have a long flight coming. Drink plenty of water to prepare your body for that notoriously moisture-sapping cabin air and make use of the spacious, many-cubicled bathrooms before your only option is the tiny airplane toilet with a terrifying flush that seems like it might suck the entire aircraft into a black hole.
Walk around and look at the shops to kill some time, get something to eat if you need to, do some stretching and accept that you are in the lifeless void of the airport terminal for now, so you’ve just got to wait it out…

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Coffee Shops

Coffee and Chill

We are biased towards coffee…but this can apply to many people. Coffee shops can be a great place to pass some time for little cost. You can get the cheapest drink on the menu; a cup of tea, a drip/filter coffee. Even your favourite latte, mocha or hot chocolate doesn’t have to be super expensive (depending on where you go) and then you can sit and pass time in a warm, relaxing cafe. If they have free WiFi (as is often the case) you can make use of that, if not you can people watch, read any magazines they might have sitting around, or chat to your travel buddy if you have one.
For us, we like to choose independent coffee shops, they are more relaxing in our opinion and we get a chance to taste the local coffee scene and get more of a local feel. You can chat to the staff behind the counter for tips and ideas on what to do and see in their town/area.
But, if that isn’t to your liking, or there isn’t anything else available, you can always go to a coffee chain.
Just be mindful of how long you stay, particularly if it’s a small, independent coffee shop or a busy spot. Don’t hog a seat for a number of hours if you’re only going to buy one small coffee - spend a little time there and then move along.

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Movie Theatres

Catch a movie

Like malls, movie theatres don’t usually come to mind when trying to save money, however if you don’t mind spending a little bit of money, a movie is a great way to spend some time.

There might be something showing that you’ve been wanting to see, or if not, see what else is on. Most theatres will at least have a few films showing, so you will likely find something to enjoy. Don’t be afraid to give that lesser known art or foreign film a try, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Many cinemas have discounts on certain days of the week or even during school/work hours or weekdays, so look around and see if you can time it to catch a good deal. Different cinemas might offer different prices and deals too, so if there are a couple to choose from nearby, see which one has a better offer.
Skip the concession stand and instead take a water bottle and some snacks you already have, or visit a supermarket beforehand for more reasonably priced treats.

Your Accomodation

Hotels, motels, AirBnB’s

One of the biggest expenses of travelling can be accommodation. This varies greatly depending on where you go and what your budget is, but you will probably spend a good deal of money on where you are staying, so why not make use of it as a place to hang out or pass time?

Some hotels and motels have really nice lobby areas where they might offer complimentary coffee, tea or other drinks. Some may even have entertainment rooms, pools, fitness areas, rooftop patios, reading rooms and more. You have the convenience of all your things being a short distance away in your hotel room, and you might have access to free WiFi anywhere in the hotel.
If your accommodation doesn’t have a lot of areas like that to relax in, then you can always stick to your room and put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign.

When we stayed in Austin, we often found ourselves back in our hotel lobby for a short while to enjoy the air conditioning and also use the WiFi to research where to go and what to do next. Other times, we have stayed in AirBnB’s that are quite cosy and have had quiet days or evenings just staying in where we have cooked cheap meals for ourselves, watched some TV or a movie and caught up on emails or contacting friends and family.

Sometimes a day of rest is necessary, or you may have even picked up a cold or other illness along your travels. These things DO happen! Don’t feel bad about it or try to fight it, just give yourself a bit of a rest and it will hopefully mean your next full-on day of travel is easier to manage.

Another helpful thing to note, is that many places of accommodation will also be happy to hold luggage for you if you arrive before the check in time or aren’t leaving the area until after check out time. This is very useful if you want to make use of time in the place you are visiting without lugging around bags and suitcases.


A key thing to remember, is that every adventure is different, and just because you have less money for a certain trip doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t bother going or that it will be less enjoyable. You can still experience a new place and a new culture and you can have lots of fun even without spending a lot of money.

And apart from the financial side of things, there is often some expectation or pressure to fit a huge amount of stuff into a trip; taste as much as you can, visit as many places as possible and see as many sights as you possibly can squash in.
But that isn’t the only way to travel. Slow down, relax, be more realistic and easier on yourself. Ask yourself what is it you REALLY want to do in this place? And spend more time enjoying doing that, rather than cramming your time with lots of things just to put on social media or be able to say “Been there, done that.”


A quick (and nerdy) trip to Austin, Texas

A good excuse to see a new city, or even a new country, is an event. Be it a concert, visiting a friend or family member, a special occasion, festival or convention. For our trip to Austin, Texas it was the latter.

Rooster Teeth (an internet based company that makes podcasts, videos, movies and more) has been holding RTX in their home-town of Austin since 2011. It is a convention/expo which consists of panels, live shows, premiers, stalls and more. They have since expanded to Sydney and London.

This wasn't our first RTX, we actually went over to Sydney a couple of years ago for the very first RTX Sydney. So this year, while on the great big continent of North America, we wanted to take the chance to go to the original RTX in Austin. We also figured it would be a good excuse to visit a new city.

Video games and nerdy pop culture aren't necessarily the first things that come to mind when you think of Texas, but they definitely have a presence and even add to the dynamic and unique feel of the city of Austin. The city is laid-back, while also proud, and seems to embrace different cultures existing within it, including video game ‘nerds’, anime fans, ‘geeks’ and more.

There were still many of the elements you would expect when visiting the Southern state; country music played in restaurants and shops, hearing “y’all” actually being used, BBQ joints with their glossy array of meat served by weight, and Tex-Mex specialties like breakfast tacos.
However, there was also plenty that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from Texas. As we walked around the downtown area, we saw electric scooters available to rent, art-house cinemas outnumbered mainstream multiplexes, and rather than seeing an endless row of all the usual shops and fast food restaurants, there was a vibrant and unique array of independent restaurants, bars, shops and businesses.

Most of our time was taken up by the Expo, but we did manage to explore Austin a little bit. Here is a collection of things that we did, and also things we noticed about the city. It might help you get an idea of what to do if you’re heading to Austin.

NB: We feel obliged to mention the heat… If you’re not from a city (or country) that is consistently 30-40+ degrees Celsius, then you ARE going to find it hot. There’s no fighting it, you just have to accept it and let the sweat flow. On a positive note, the Texans are as equipped to deal with heat as Canadians are with snow; every building has air-conditioning and we found plenty of places around to fill up our water-bottles. That being said, prepare yourself…dress light, don’t exert yourself and drink plenty of water.

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RTX 2018

If you are a fan of Rooster Teeth, we highly recommend visiting one of their expos at some point. Unlike other expos where you often just spend time walking around looking at stalls, RTX has a huge schedule of many different panels and shows, as well as a selection of stalls, signing events, community events, meet and greets and more. You can pick and choose what panels and events you attend according to your interests and timing. We attended all 3 days, and found plenty of things to fill up each day comfortably. Panels covered a wide range of topics such as video games, animation, cosplaying, anime, writing, video editing, vlogging, comedy and plenty more. They also had guests such as Mega 64, Houston Outlaws and Meg Turney.
We found the event to be really well organised, it seemed to run smoothly and getting into the expo was fast and easy with little to no lines.
To make everything fair for all attendees, they only allowed line-ups to begin 1 hour before a panel, and when lines were formed they were organised and orderly.
We found we were able to gets into in all of the events we were interested in, except for some of the super popular ones (e.g. Achievement Hunter, RTPodcast).

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Bats on Congress

From March to November, Congress Bridge in downtown Austin is home to about 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats. Not long after the sun sinks behind the horizon, the bats begin to emerge in a stunning synchronization and fly off into the night for their nocturnal feeding habits. People line the bridge around sunset and wait so they can watch this phenomenon.
We did this on one of our first nights, and ended up returning twice more because we found it so wonderful to watch. It is a truly amazing experience to be on the bridge and see a cloud of bats flying into the twilight, and it is staggering to see just how many bats live under the bridge (this event can last over 45 minutes). They can fly quite close to the side of the bridge, so if that makes you a little nervous, stand back a bit to feel more at ease. On the other hand, if you want to get up close, there are a selection of boat and kayak tours that will take you onto the water of Lady Bird Lake so you can watch the bats emerge from a different perspective.

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Food

There is A LOT of delicious food to choose from in Austin. TIP: It’s best to visit hungry!
Firstly, let’s address the BBQ… Texas is famous for it’s BBQ (particularly beef), and if you are a meat-eater you should definitely try it. It can be a little intimidating to walk into a BBQ restaurant and try to read their ‘Menu’, which usually consists of different types and cuts of meat and the weight in Ounces and Pounds, but the people of Austin are really nice, and will help you if you seem a little confused. It is a little heavy on the digestive system, so keep that in mind when ordering; don’t go if you want a ‘light meal’, share with someone else or with a group to taste more but eat less, and don’t be afraid to take some away in a ‘doggy bag’ if you can’t finish it.
Don’t necessarily skip the sides either (corn, potato salad, mac and cheese etc.), they will help to counter-balance out the mass of meat you’re about to ingest, and they are also really good!

Texas is also the birth place of Tex-Mex (Texas-Mexican food), but the main food item you should try in Austin is breakfast tacos. They can be found in a few places around the city, and there are plenty of varieties and flavours to choose from. Much like BBQ, they are not something you’d want to be eating every day, but still a delicious thing to try when visiting the city.
Look out for the Migas taco, which is an Austin specialty with scrambled eggs, tortilla chips and toppings.

Other great food options to look out for are sandwiches (get as a meal with the potato chips!), fried chicken, hot dogs, burgers and pizzas…basically all the American foods you know and love.

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Drinks

Austin has a legendary bar scene, in particular the infamous area of 6th street, which is located in Downtown. The street is dotted with many bars, clubs and restaurants and closes to traffic in the evenings and weekends.
Don’t just stay around 6th street though, as there are plenty more worthy places not far from it (often less crowded, more classy ones).

We went to CU29 for some delicious, elegant cocktails and the bartender there gave us a great run down of the bar scene and some ideas of where to go. Another place worth a mention is Red Headed Stepchild Bar, AKA Floppy Disc Repair company - a speakeasy style bar that requires a secret code to enter.

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Coffee

With everything else going on in Austin, we were expecting much more of a specialty coffee scene there. However, we didn’t find a lot of good coffee spots, particularly in the Downtown area where we mostly spent our time.

We ended up going to Houndstooth Coffee most days, the only good coffee shop we could find near Austin Convention Centre. They had different beans to choose from for Espresso or Drip coffee, and the drinks tasted pretty good - not too sour or bitter, with a little sweetness. They also had a small range of light breakfast/snack options to choose from e.g. banana bread, breakfast tacos, nut bars, cereal.

On our last day we ventured a few blocks out to a place called Better Half Coffee & Cocktails - we don’t remember how we found the actual taste of the coffee, but we do remember finding the drinks a little lukewarm. They had a good food menu though, and quite a large space with seating options inside and outside.

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Cinema

An interesting observation we made while in Austin, is that the city seems to have more small, independent Cinemas than large multiplex chains. They are serious about their boutique cinema scene, some even having strict ‘No Disturbance’ policies, where you will be asked to leave for talking or using your phone.

Independent cinemas often mean smaller, stylish theaters and a unique range of films to choose from and support. They often also have a menu of great food and drink options to enjoy while watching a movie.

We managed to fit in a visit to the Violet Crown (pictured above) to see Eight Grade and we really enjoyed both the movie and the experience of the cinema itself. We would love to explore more of the cinema scene in Austin next time.

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Other

Some other things to note/check out:

Texas State Capitol
Hard to miss, in the Downtown area, cool building to look at, though some of the statues/memorials around the outside are uncomfortably pro-Confederacy

Rent-a-Scooter
This is a cool and fun-looking option for getting around the city. You just need to download an App onto your phone and scan the QR code of the scooter, and you’re away. They are electric, so don’t require too much effort, and they look super fun!
You do, however, need to be able to use Mobile data for the App (so we couldn’t try it).
Just be careful and mindful of pedestrians and cars - the rules for riding these scooters are the same as riding bikes.

Festivals/Special Events
There are plenty of events that happen each year in Austin (e.g. Austin City Limits, South by Southwest) and it can get very busy when they are on, so just bear this in mind when planning to travel to the city. It might give you a reason to visit Austin, or it might give you a reason to move your trip dates slightly to avoid the crowds.


We really enjoyed our time in Austin and at RTX, but definitely feel like we only touched upon the surface of this effortlessly cool and unique city. We would absolutely return to explore it more (and just brace ourselves for the heat)!

Coffee in Squamish; our Home away from Home

If you head north from Vancouver, along Highway 99, in less than an hour you will reach Squamish; a small-ish but growing town. It is about halfway between Vancouver and the very well-known ski-town of Whistler.
To some people it's home, to others it's a town you pass through on the way to Whistler, and maybe a good place for a brief stop along Highway 99.
To us, it has been our Canadian home for almost a year and a half.

We didn't expect that we would find much in the way of a good cup of coffee here, but we were pleasantly surprised; there are some good choices in Squamish.

We've probably tried EVERY coffee shop here, so we thought we'd create a brief guide to coffee in Squamish, so you can get a better idea of where to go next time you're visiting or passing through.

Some things to note:

  • These are not necessarily in order of preference
  • We are using our rating system as below. The rating is for COFFEE ONLY - not based on food options, location or service

               ☕                   Not good, didn't want to finish
☕☕               Okay, wouldn't return
 ☕☕☕            Good, nothing special
☕☕☕☕        Great, would go back
☕☕☕☕☕    Excellent, a favourite!

 

We'll also add in a last-minute mention of Galileo Coffee Company and Roastery (for some reason we can't find any photos!). As we lived in Britannia Beach for a while, it was a place we would visit frequently. The coffee can be good (depends on the day) but they have a really good selection of food, particularly their Breakfast sandwiches and Lemon & Blueberry scones. Located South of Squamish, it's a good place to stop if you are heading to and from Vancouver.  

Whether you are a Vancouver local, or from elsewhere and just visiting the area, it's worth stopping by and spending some time in Squamish.
Not only are there good coffee options, but also lots of great food, recreational activities and attractions (we might talk about those in another blog post). 
Whistler might be high on your list to visit, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to skip Squamish to get there. Instead, why not try incorporate it into your visit and explore more of the Sea to Sky corridor than just Whistler.   

We hope you enjoy tasting the coffee in Squamish. We're pretty sure we've hit most of the coffee spots, but if there's any we've missed let us know here, and we'll be sure to check it out!

Snapshots from our Spring-time travel in Eastern Canada

Earlier this year, we ventured over to the East Coast, to check out the Maritimes and French Canada. 
Even though it was Spring (April), it was pretty cold in the East. There were some beautiful, blue-skied days, but there were also grey, snowy days and even an ice storm! 

Here's some shots of what we got up to while we were over there...

Technical Note: If you are on your phone and want to view the captions for each photo, open the blog in an internet browser (e.g. google chrome) and make sure the phone is on landscape


Nova Scotia


Prince Edward Island


Quebec City


Montréal

What to expect when you visit Vancouver

As one of the biggest cities in Canada, Vancouver is the hub of the West Coast.
The locals are proud, and generally support the idea that "West is Best".

Before we came to Canada, we didn't know a whole lot about it, so we did some research.
Vancouver sounded like a good option to start with, for our time in Canada; warmer, greener, plenty to do and a West Coast "hipster" vibe (meaning a higher possibility of good coffee).
It didn't seem as big and spread out as Toronto, and we didn't need to be learn French, like Quebec.
So, we decided to try it...

We arrived in Vancouver on a chilly, grey and miserable day. We were tired, jet-lagged and on the other side of the world from everything we knew. In all honesty, we were a little shocked, and disappointed. This city wasn't quite the magical, forested wonderland it had appeared to be on the internet.

Yet, just over a year later, we are still here in the West. Not in Vancouver itself, but in a small town not far from it. Although we've escaped the city life, we're close enough that we can venture back into the city pretty regularly and explore it more. With time, Vancouver has grown on us and we have really enjoyed getting to know it a little better.  

So, as an outsider coming to Vancouver, what should you expect? Here's an honest list of the points that stood out to us; some good, some not so good. Come and experience the "best of the west", while also being prepared for what to expect.


1. Vancouver is not that cold

B.C has the mildest year-round climate of all the Canadian Provinces; it even has a coastal rainforest region.

During Summer, you will experience plenty of blue skied, sunny and warm days. Temperatures usually sit around the early to mid 20's (celsius), but some days can get up into the late 20's - it can get pretty hot! So, make sure you use sunscreen if you're visiting during the hotter months. The heat feels more dry than humid, and unfortunately B.C can experience forest fires.
A lot of locals will warn you about the rain, and it's true: it rains a fair bit in Vancouver and the surrounding areas. But, the rain is rarely heavy or stormy, it just has a tendency to settle in for a few dreary days/weeks at a time. The season usually covers May/June - September.

Vancouver does get some snow in winter, however, it gets off lightly compared to the rest of Canada. Temperatures rarely drop below 0, but be prepared for a damp cold. Again, the grey, rainy and misty days can settle in for long periods, leaving you wondering what the sun looks or feels like, but it's all pretty manageable and doesn't affect day-to-day life too badly.
If you're planning to drive in Winter, keep in mind that you will need to prepare for Winter driving conditions, including the use of seasonal tyres. The season usually covers October/November - March.  

Occasionally, some particularly snowy weather may restrict you going very far for a day or so in Winter, but the roads are maintained pretty well with plows and salt.
If there are forest fires in Summer, just be aware there may me some smokiness and lowered air quality also. 

Overall, come prepared with layers and waterproof clothing and shoes; but you don't need to go overboard; you're in the Pacific North West, not the Arctic Circle!

 


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2. West-coasters LOVE the outdoors

This probably stands for most Canadians really. The winters are long, and miserable; so when summer comes, there's a definite feeling that Canadians are packing as much into the season as they can.
Hiking, camping, rock climbing, biking, running, swimming, walking, campfires, 'patio season'......... If it's outside, they'll do it. 
It will probably rub off on you too, so don't be afraid to take advantage and head outside if you're interested.
Talk to the locals; they are passionate about their beloved outdoor activities and love to share experiences and help newcomers out with tips and tricks, places to go and what to do. 
Just watch out for the wildlife (they WILL bite)!

Another point to note in regards to the Canadian outdoorsy lifestyle, is the fashion sense. You'll see A LOT of locals dress in perpetual "sports casual". Some will find any occasional for their Lulu Lemon yoga pants (we once stood behind a women doing a yoga pose while waiting in line at the bank!). Vancouver itself is a metropolitan city, so you can comfortably get away with any style or fashion, but if you head a bit further out of down (e.g. heading north to Squamish or Whistler), even a swipe of lipgloss may make you feel a little overdressed.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a point of note that you can feel free to embrace the relaxed, casual dress sense of the West Coast. 


3. Homelessness and drugs

This is North America, so any big city is going to have a homeless community. Vancouver is no exception to this, and it is also partly encouraged by the warmer climate (it's a lot colder to sleep on the streets elsewhere in Canada).

The homeless people can be found in many places of the city, but they tend to be concentrated to Central Downtown, Gastown, Chinatown and the Lower east side. The infamous East Hastings street is known for drug-use and homelessness, but you will most likely never have a reason to go there.

Some will sit quietly with a sign asking for spare change/food/cigarettes, some will ask you as you walk by, and some you will just see sleeping in doorways or on the side of the path. 
Don't be too alarmed though, for the most part they are fairly docile; if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. They are often quite polite too, so if you say "no sorry", or if you do share some spare change or food with them, they will likely thank you and wish you a good day.
Occasionally you will see someone a bit strung out, or flipping out and acting aggressively/unpredictably; just keep away and seek help if need be.

Generally, when you are walking around the main areas of Vancouver, you will feel pretty safe. However, you still need to be careful. If you're heading along East Hastings street, avoid venturing too much further than Chinatown, and be careful walking anywhere alone and/or at night. 
Practice safety as you would any where you travel to - keep handbags/packs close, don't flash around large amounts of money, and be wary of your surroundings. You never know how some people will react, especially if they are under the influence of drugs/alcohol, experiencing hard times, or just desperate for something (food, money, cigarettes, substances). 

Another point to note is the Marijuana. Like a few states/provinces in U.S & Canada, Cannabis is legal(sort-of). You will see, and smell, some people around town smoking marijuana, so just be prepared for this. 


4. It can be a little dirty

For some reason, we were partly expecting Canada to be this pristine place of mountains and forests, with a constant smell of fresh pine in the air. 
In reality, there are many places like that in Canada, but Vancouver is not one of them.
Some days and in some areas (particularly Downtown), it smells of piss and old cigarette butts. There's gum baked into the side walks and the odd patch of dried blood on the concrete. One time we caught the Skytrain and someone had peed at one end of it, and as the train sped around the city, the pee had gone everywhere dried as a sticky, stinking mess on the ground. You might see some excrement on the side of the road, and wonder 'animal, or human'"
You might see a used syringe on the edge of the side walk, or get hit in the face with a cloud of Marijuana smoke as you walk down the street.

So just be prepared for the dirty 'city' parts, but don't let it completely ruin your dreams of Canada. If you get the chance to explore Vancouver more, there are also nice, clean parts of the city to be found. And if you travel more around the country, you can see some truly beautiful places that haven't yet been tainted by humans. 


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5. Eco-friendly locals

Even though it can be a little dirty, the city is also quite eco-friendly. Many food places and cafes will have compostable/eco-friendly take away containers, and will sort their garbage, compostable and recyclables. It is encouraged for people to have their own reusable water bottles and coffee cups, and many shops will ask if you need a bag before giving you one. Some places have also gone 'straw free'.

Locals are pretty proud about it, and just like their exercise and eating habits, they WILL let you know about their eco-friendliness. Occasionally you will come across some people who take it quite seriously and can be a little annoying about it. However, for the most part, many people just care about the environment and don't want to make unnecessary waste, and this is a pretty good thing. 


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6. B.C = Bring Cash!

Most of the main cities in Canada aren't cheap places to live or visit, but Vancouver is definitely known as being the most costly. The whole province of B.C has notoriously been nick-named "Bring Cash"; living costs are expensive, taxes are high, and attractions and travel costs aren't cheap.

If you're on a working holiday visa, and wanting to experience life in Canada while also travelling around a bit, it can be a bit of a hard slog. Although we have managed to travel around a bit in our time so far, we have found it pretty hard going to cover the costs of living, while also experiencing and saving for traveling. We underestimated just how large the continent of North America is, and how much time and money it takes to see different parts of it.  

It's not impossible to afford being here, just try to be realistic and accept that you are not going to be able to see it all. You may also have to sacrifice certain comforts that you used to indulge in, in order to have more money for travel and experiencing. It's definitely a good learning curve in budgeting and prioritizing. 

If you're wanting to visit B.C for a holiday, you might just find that everything costs a little more and your spending money doesn't stretch as far. But this is all depending on where you're visiting from, and where else you have travelled in the world to compare it to. Look out for price tags, as the prices are often displayed before tax. Also, for food, drink and some other services (e.g. taxi, hairdressers), a tip of between 10-20% is expected. 

 


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7. Wildlife

Don't feed the bears!

In the inner city of Vancouver itself, it is fairly uncommon to see any wildlife, apart from squirrels and crows. But the further out of the city you get, the more likely you are to come across something a little bigger.

The most common places you are likely to run into any large animals, is if you take a road trip out of the city, or if you are heading out for some hiking/biking etc.   
And even then, you are still not that likely to see anything unless you are venturing out at night, early in the morning, or in quiet, less travelled places. 
If you are thinking of hitting the highway, have a read through this and if you are thinking of heading into the great outdoors for some recreational activities, check out this website.

Remember they are wild animals, and they actually don't want to run into you! Be careful, be respectful, and be aware - the more aware you are, the less likely yourself, or the animal, will come to harm. 


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8. Hollywood North

Vancouver is known as "Hollywood of the North", because a lot of movies and TV shows are filmed in and near the city. As you walk around and explore, you might see familiar sights or places. Or, after having visited Vancouver, you may watch something and notice somewhere you've seen while you were there.  

Certain areas in the city may occasionally be closed off for filming (e.g. parking lots, buildings, streets), but they usually don't take up too much space and there will be notices up in the days before to warn you of any upcoming closures.
Be careful and maintain a respectful distance if you come across a set. They sometimes don't mind a few quiet, curious onlookers, but there will be security guards to keep people out of the way if they get too close.
Filming days can often be long and tiresome, so don't make it more difficult for those trying to work, just because you are being nosy or want a picture.

Also, some famous faces reside in Vancouver during filming, or even permanently, so you may see some of them out and about as you explore the city.
Again, try not to bother them too much, they are just trying to go about their life.

If you're a film and TV buff, it can be exciting and fun to see the setting of some of your favourite shows or movies. Here's a list of what's been filmed in Vancouver before, and here's a website that keeps you updated on the current filming activities. 

 


All in all, Vancouver is definitely worth a visit - whether you are planning a short trip, or a longer stay. 
It also seems like the kind of city that if you live there, or spend more time there, you would find plenty of hidden gems.

If you're there for a short stay, do some research before you go and work out the areas and attractions you really want to see. If you've got a little more time, be sure to head out of the city for a day trip or short trip (e.g. Vancouver Island, Okanagan, Seattle).

Also, don't necessarily believe the 'West is Best' mantra. Yes, the West Coast is a beautiful part of Canada, but there are also plenty of other beautiful and great places to visit in the country. 

Coffee Adventures in Victoria

Mid-winter, we caught the ferry over to Vancouver Island for a quick get-away. Although brief, we really enjoyed our time over there, particularly in B.C's capital: Victoria.
It's an elegant, charming city with an amazing food, drink and coffee scene. 

Staying mostly in the central downtown area, we found enough there to keep us occupied, and still leave us wishing we had a few more days. 

We found some great coffee while in Victoria, so if you're thinking of heading over there and want to visit some good spots, read on...


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1. Hey Happy

Market St, Downtown

We enjoyed this quaint coffee bar so much, we went back for a second time. In central downtown, it was easy to find and get to. It seems like a place that would attract local regulars who appreciate good coffee.
It caught a lovely amount of morning sun, and had a nice window-seat at the front, so we could taste, drink and enjoy the view.  

They had a small but varied selection of delicious pastries, with some unique flavours included.
The coffee was very good! 


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2. Discovery Coffee

Blanchard St

We arrived at this next place at the right time; it had started to snow. Having found it on-line, we were interested to taste what Discovery Coffee had to offer.
They had a few locations, so it was easy enough to find one near-by.

Inside, the space was very open, clean and minimal. It was well-suited as it was quite busy, but we managed to find a seat. They had a small cabinet for baked goods, but as it was later in the day, they had already run out. This was fine for us, as we weren't looking for food; just keep it in mind and get there earlier in the day if you want to try some of their snacks.
The Cappuccinos we tried had a very good taste and texture.
They seemed to really specialise in coffee, and also offered beans and equipment for at-home use. 

Overall, this spot wasn't an overly "cosy" place; but definitely somewhere to go for a solid, well-prepared coffee. 

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3. Habit Coffee

Chinatown

Habit coffee was comfortable and relaxing. This felt like the kind of place where you could catch up with a friend, or chill out by yourself.
It was in a restored, old-brick building, and had a rustic, open feel. Like Hey Happy, it managed to catch some glorious morning sun.
As well as great coffee, they had a nice selection of baked goods to try.
One thing that stood out, was their range of magazines to flick through while enjoying a cup of your favourite something.

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Our time in Victoria was brief, but enjoyable. There were still many places we wished we had time to check out. We'd love to head over there again, so if you know of any more great coffee spots we should try, let us know!

Traveling to Japan: FACT vs. FICTION

Back in 2014, before we travelled to Japan for the first time, we read and heard many different things about the country. Once we arrived there and spent some time exploring, we found that some of what we expected turned out to be true, and some of it really wasn't true at all. 

Now, when people find out we've been to Japan multiple times, they often ask questions about it; and we still hear some of those "facts" or "myths".

So, we've put together the following list, to inspire you and to help work out whether your next travel destination could be the Land of the Rising Sun...

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1. "Japan is REALLY expensive!"

FALSE

This is definitely one of the most frequent lines we have heard, and still do.

Cost of travel is always a really hard topic to compare between destinations. People travel differently, and what one person might spend money on, another person may not.

However, the biggest expenditures on a trip are usually the following: 

Flights - This really depends on where you are travelling from, and at what time of year. We have flown into Japan each time from New Zealand, and found that there were frequent sales, so our flights were in the range of $600-900NZD per person. This was for a direct, return flight with baggage included (we flew with Air New Zealand). We mostly travel outside of major and school holidays, as that is when we could get time off work, so this may help to lower costs a little.
Flights are a necessary cost when travelling, so if you're concerned, look out for sales or take your chances with more budget airlines (JetStar). In our opinion, what we paid wasn't unreasonable; we have spent more than that just flying across Canada.

Accommodation - In Japan, we have mainly stayed at hotels or apartments, and mostly stayed at places where the cost was between $100NZD to $200NZD per night. This is a similar cost to what we have found in Western countries such as NZ, Australia, Canada and the U.S.A, but we found the standard consistently higher than Western equivalents of the same price. We always found the hotels to be comfortable, clean and extremely well-stocked, with all the toiletries you need (even toothbrushes and razors). And the staff are always extremely helpful and professional. Occasionally the room may be a little on the small side (this is common in Japan) but it was never small enough to be an issue, particularly as we tended to spend most of our time out exploring and just came back to our hotels to rest and sleep. 
Location is something you don't have to worry about much in Japan, as most accommodation you will stay at will have food options and convenience stores nearby, and will also most likely have a Metro/train station very close. 
NOTE: This is mostly based on our experiences in larger cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka and some other smaller cities such as Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Mt. Fuji area. Experiences may differ in smaller, more remote areas. Also, we haven't used Hostels, Airbnb or other options in Japan, so we didn't want to comment on that; you might find some good, cheaper options there.

Transport - Japan has an amazing train system, that will get you anywhere. Unless you really wish to go somewhere that requires it, it would be unnecessary to hire a car (and good luck reading road signs if you can't read Japanese!). The trains are extremely efficient, clean and busy but orderly. The stations are dotted all over cities, and the system extends into rural areas as well. If a train doesn't quite get you where you want to go or when, a bus will. The costs are pretty reasonable; getting around a city is pretty cheap (a few hundred yen for a few stops in Toyko). To save transport costs, loosely plan to explore 1-2 areas in a day so you're not going back and forth on trains.
Catching a train between the big cities is obviously going to cost you a little more. For instance, it'll probably cost you around $160+ NZD to catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto. However, domestic travel is rarely cheap between major cities of any country, and the bullet train is FAST and convenient and a really nice way to see the country.

Don't forget, if you are able, your legs are also a great way to get around! We always walk A LOT when in Japan; for the most part the main cities are quite flat, and it's a great way to see different parts of the city and work up an appetite for more local delicacies. Most days we walked 20,000+ steps, and one of our highest days was 40,000+ steps (thank you Tokyo Disney!).

Food - There are so many food options in Japan! To be honest, the 'Food in Japan' topic warrants an entire new blog post, so we won't talk about it too much here, but we will give you a general idea. 
Yes, some food options will be costly (we're talking Kobe Beef, Very Fatty Tuna sushi, Kaiseki dinner etc.), but the great thing about Japan, is that there is also a huge amount of really good, more affordable options too. And unlike many Western destinations, cheap doesn't have to mean bad or "junk" food. Some more cheaper options can include ramen, donburi (rice bowls), Japanese curry and street/market food like fruit sticks, gyoza (dumplings) and takoyaki (pancake balls with octopus). There are also lots of non-Japanese food options on offer, like pizza, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, cafes and more. Many food places will have breakfast and/or lunch "set meals" or "specials", where you will get a meal and possibly a drink at a reasonable cost. Some will also have this available for dinner as well. So, with all this in mind, a casual/cheap daily food cost for the two of us, could be approximately ¥4000/$50NZD.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that Japan has the BEST CONVENIENCE STORES! You can find a wide range of food for inexpensive snacks or meals. For instance, you can find sandwiches, fruit, cup noodles, yogurts, drinks (including hot and iced coffee), hot food, onigiri (rice ball with filling), sushi and more. You can also find toiletries, magazines, sun screen, ATM's, printing and a lot of other helpful (convenient..) things. 

Attractions - Many attractions are free or will only request a small donation, such as temples and shrines.  Most other attractions, such as museums, galleries, zoos and the more popular temples and shrines, are still very reasonable; the cost will usually range from a couple of hundred, to a couple of thousand yen per person. 
The attractions that we spent the most money on in Japan, were theme parks; Tokyo Disney and Osaka Universal Studios will cost around ¥74,00 - ¥76,00 for 1-day-admission per person.

Overall, we don't find Japan noticeably more expensive than other places we have visited so far. We found that once our flights and accommodation were sorted, we could get around and enjoy the culture, sights and amazing food the country has to offer without spending too much money. 

2. "Japanese people are really polite!"

TRUE

It is a big generalisation to describe all of the people from one country in one word, be it "polite", "friendly", "rude", "stand-offish" or anything else. Wherever in the world you visit, there will be a huge range of people and personalities. In some places that will be more apparent, in others, you may not notice unless you spend more time with the locals. 

Nevertheless, we CAN understand where this generalization has come from; most of the Japanese people we have interacted with have been really polite!
This could be due to Japan being a collectivist society, meaning people are encouraged to think of others around them, and put the needs of the group before their own as an individual.
You will usually find service (shops, restaurants, cafes, train stations, hotels, attractions etc.) to be very professional and courteous. Japanese people can also be shy though, so they won't necessarily interact with you as a foreigner unless there is a reason. This is particularly the case in busy cities, like Tokyo, where the locals are more used to tourists.

Don't take the politeness of the Japanese people for granted though! Please be mindful you respect their practices and act politely around them too. Yes, if you are obviously a foreigner or "gaijin" they will let certain things slide, but you may be seen as rude if you don't follow along with certain expectations. 

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3. "Most people will speak English"

FALSE

Before going to Japan, we took a night class for about 8 weeks, to learn the basics in Japanese language and culture. We really enjoyed our classes; our teacher was lovely, the information was helpful, and it was also a nice way to prepare for, and get excited for our trip. Even with a small amount of basic language under our belts, we still expected a little more of the English language to be present in Japan, but once we were there, we didn't always find this to be the case. 

You can take a trip to the main cities of Japan (i.e. Tokyo or Kyoto) fairly easily without speaking Japanese, but we highly recommend you learn at least a little bit before you go! It will help you get the most out of your trip and will make the whole experience a little smoother. It will also give you a deeper understanding of the country, people and culture.

Yes, some Japanese people are able to speak English very well, particularly in common tourist spots like hotels and attractions. But there are also a lot of people who speak very little or no English at all.
As the locals can also be quite shy, if you try to talk to someone, they may just say they don't speak English so as not to make a mistake or embarrass themselves.
Whether you speak Japanese or not, the shop assistant, waiter, or local who you are interacting with will usually be very polite and will try and help you as best as they can. 

Occasionally, you may also come across people that will want to talk to you to try and improve their English. We have had a young man come up and talk to us in a Burger King once! He was very excited to meet English speaking travellers and make friends.
A few times, we have also been approached by school kids; they often have assignments to find English speaking foreigners and ask them a few questions, i.e "What is your favourite Japanese food?", "Where are you from?"
Don't be alarmed! They are not looking to cause any trouble, they are just getting their homework done.

The further you go out of the main cities, the less chance you have in coming across people who speak English, so just be aware of this if you are heading to smaller towns, or "off the beaten track" without a guide or some knowledge of the Japanese language.
The same goes for written English; in bigger cities you will find signs, maps, brochures and even audio announcements available in English, but if you head out of the main tourist areas, that will decrease. 
The great things about menus in Japan is they often have pictures! So if there is no English menu available, you can always try pointing to the picture of what you want and hoping for the best.
In supermarkets, the labels will mostly be in Japanese, so you might end up like us; suddenly realizing that butter and cheese can look quite similar in a foreign country when there are no English words to tell you the difference! 

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4. "I love Sushi! So I will love to visit Japan!"

TRUE AND FALSE

When asked about Japanese food, a lot of people will automatically think of Sushi. While sushi IS delicious, it is not as much of a common, everyday food as you might expect in Japan. Out of the 3 times we have visited the country, we have only had sushi about 2-3 times.

Japanese food and cuisine is SO MUCH more than sushi, so make sure you keep your mind open to trying new tastes and experiences. There are so many flavours and varieties of Ramen, and you can find it everywhere. Udon and soba noodle dishes are also great options. Try some authentic Tempura, Pork Katsu and Japanese Curry. Also, don't be afraid to try non-Japanese food too. Like many countries, Japan has food from all over the world. We have had great burgers, pizza and even delicious Indian food there.
And if you want something easy and familiar, they have all the Western Restaurant chains too (McDonald's, Burger King's, Starbucks). 

Of course, make sure you treat yourself to some authentic and fresh sushi. You can try going to a Sushi restaurant, or head to Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. It might be a good idea to have a quick read-up on Sushi eating etiquette before going though, just so you know what to expect, and how it is recommended to eat. 
Other places to find sushi are at convenience stores, in food courts (often in the bottom levels of department stores) and in the food/shopping markets in and around train stations (e.g. Tokyo Station). 

If you are a fan of sushi in your home country, keep in mind that the sushi you are used to is just a variant of traditional Japanese style. So, if you are used to "california rolls" or various types of sushi with chicken, avocado etc., you are less likely to find that in Japan. Traditionally, sushi will mostly be made with fresh, raw seafood (fish, eel, roe, sea urchin etc.)
If that doesn't sound like something you would enjoy, TRY IT anyway; the sushi we ate for breakfast in Tsukiji Fish Market (Outer Market) in Tokyo, was fresh, simple and easily the BEST sushi we have eaten. It helped us to really appreciate the taste and texture of raw fish. 
*NOTE: For good sushi, expect to pay, it is prepared with extremely fresh and premium ingredients by highly skilled and experienced chefs. At the Sushi place we went to in Tsukiji, we payed around ¥300-800 per piece (that's about $3-10NZD!).

Lastly, don't miss out on the cakes, pastries and desserts in Japan. You will see Tea Houses, Cake shops (e.g. Ginza Cozy Corner), Pastry shops, Crepe stalls and Cafes with beautifully presented treats; TRY THEM! They are often as good to eat as they are to look at, and they are not overly sweet. This is to suit the palette of the locals, who don't eat a huge amount of sugary food. 

5. "The subway is really crowded, I've seen the Videos!"

TRUE AND FALSE

We have all seen the videos of the Japanese subway, when attendants will push a few more business people into an already packed train so it resembles a tin of sardines. The first time we caught the Narita Express train from the Airport to Tokyo Station, we arrived at rush hour...to find a sea of heads bobbing back, forth, left and right in the rush to catch the train home. It was intimidating, but also amazing to see so many people moving about with minimal bumping, tripping or altercations!

Even with over 120 million people, the roads are not as busy as you might expect in Japan. The train system is extremely efficient, so people don't really need to use cars. A majority of people, particularly in main cities, will use the train/metro on a daily basis, or ride bikes (you will see lots of bikes around!).
Remember that Japanese society is collectivist; it's better for the community and environment to support public transport.

When you visit Japan, you will probably have to ride a few busy trains; it's inevitable when travelling to a small country with such a huge population. However, you can avoid the sardine-squash fairly easily: by avoiding trains at peak times. Trains WILL be packed when people are on their way to work, usually between 7-9am. The evening is not as bad, as end of day times vary between workers, and people will often go out to socialize after they have finished. However, you may find it gets busy again between 5-8pm.
At any time of day you might happen upon a busy train, but if you're lucky, you'll get a seat, and if not, there's plenty of standing room. Being a tourist, time is usually not on as tight a schedule, so sometimes if you wait a few minutes for the next train, you might get lucky and catch a slightly less busy one. You can also try scanning an incoming train and making a bee-line for the quieter carriages (hint: they are usually further from the stairwells or escalators leading to the entrance/exit). Another trick, is to avoid busier stations, and taking alternate routes to where you are headed (e.g. in Tokyo, Shinjuku and Tokyo stations are the busiest).

If you do have to get on a crowded train, don't worry too much! Follow train etiquette by keeping relatively quiet, turning your phone on silent, and giving your seat (if you have one) to others who need it more. Be prepared to stand up and get close; this isn't so bad as everyone is usually quiet and respectful, and there is a steady turnover of people getting on and off the train. Practice patience! You'll get to where you need to go.
*NOTE: in point 8, we talk about safety on busy trains.

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6. "I love Anime, so I will love Japan"

PROBABLY TRUE

Although it is often related to 'geek' or 'otaku' culture, a lot of people enjoy anime and manga, regardless of age, gender, race, occupation or social standing. This is apparent when you visit Japan; you will see lots of different people reading manga on the train, watching anime on their phone, or buying anime figurines in Akihabara. Even Tokyo Tower now has a whole themed area based on the popular anime "One Piece".  

If you are a fan of anime, manga, video games and/or technology you should definitely check out the Akihibara district of Tokyo. Even if you are just a tourist wanting to explore, it's worth a visit. It feels a bit like venturing into the future, or an alternate reality; flashing neon signs, 3D billboards, shops full of figurines, multi-storey electronic stores, themed cafes and restaurants, retro video game stores, an infamous 4-storey sex shop, waitresses dressed as maids handing out flyers in the street, and more. 

Travellers from other countries who are fans of anime (Dragonball, OnePiece, Naruto, Evangelion, Studio Ghibli etc), are often attracted to visit the country where it all came from.
It is great to have an initial interest in something that draws you to a country, and by all means follow that and enjoy it while you visit; just make sure you don't limit yourself to experiencing only that part of Japanese culture, use it as a stepping stone to see all that the country has to offer.

And for those who haven't experienced the world of anime and/or manga before, Japan could be a great place to introduce you to it. If you're in Kyoto, a visit to the Kyoto International Manga museum is well-worth it for manga fans, and anyone who is interested to find out what manga is all about. In Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum is a truly wonderful place to visit, particularly if you are a fan of the Studio Ghibli films (get in quick, there are only limited tickets that sell out quickly!). There are also plenty of themed cafes, restaurants and bars - so if you've got a favourite series, see if there's a themed place to check out! 

7. "Tokyo is over-crowded and full of people"

FALSE

We've already touched on the fact that Japan has a huge population for such a small country (over 127 million!). Over 13 million of those people live in the prefecture of Tokyo alone.
In certain places, and at certain times, there will definitely be crowds (and lots of long lines), but in general, it doesn't feel too crowded when you are exploring the city of Tokyo. Japan is very well managed and organised as a country and society. Walking down the street, people will move to avoid bumping into each other, even with suitcases, umbrellas, travel bags or young children. If someone does happen to bump into you by accident, they will often utter "Sumimasen", meaning "Pardon me/Sorry". It is polite for you to do the same in return. 

As with the trains, you can always try to avoid busy places at peak times, but some spots will be busy no matter when you go, so be prepared to wait in line. One example is Tokyo Disney; it is busy regardless of the time of day, time of year, season, or weather. Fast passes for the most popular rides will sell out for the rest of the day, so get in quickly for the ones you don't want to miss out on. We also visited another popular theme park, Fuji Q Highland, and some of the wait times for rides were up to 4 hours long! Japanese people have mastered the art of waiting in lines. Even in Harajuku, there is a popular store that people line up outside of just to buy gourmet popcorn. 

Some crowds and lines are inevitable, but they will usually be fairly well-ordered and fast moving. For places you are expecting to be quite busy, research the best times of day to visit, and make sure it isn't a special holiday. If you are expecting a big line (e.g. a special event like Tokyo Game Show) go to the bathroom first and make sure you take water (and maybe even snacks) with you. 

In our experiences, we've never found it so crowded that we didn't enjoy ourselves; if anything it taught us to be a little more patient.

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8. "Japan is very safe"

TRUE

Walking around many areas of Japan, you feel pretty safe. Their crime rates, particularly involving tourists, are pretty low, and you can feel comfortable walking around and not worrying about pick pocketing, mugging or violet crimes. You will most likely never come across Yakusa, or other gangs/criminals. 

There are a few light scams to be careful of, for instance we fell into one trap where a man dressed as a monk came up to us, gave us a prayer bracelet and asked for a donation. He didn't appear to speak much English, and we thought he was a legitimate monk, so we gave him ¥2000. We later found out it is a common scam in areas near shrines or temples where tourists frequent. Be sure to look out for people posing as monks; we should have known this man was suspicious, he had a pair of Nike kicks on underneath his monk attire...
Authentic monks will be seen in shrines and temples, but they will not come up to you and ask you for money.  

We have also heard of solo females occasionally being touched inappropriately on crowded trains, so be aware of this. We are always traveling together, and tend to avoid busy trains, so we have not experienced this. However, this is not to say it doesn't happen. If it does occur, talk to a train attendant or police officer, or grab the perpetrators arm, and yell/cause a commotion if need be. At certain times of day or night, there are also women-only carriages on many popular train routes, so if you are a female traveling alone, you can always keep an eye out for those. 

Walking around the cities, you will see little police huts/stations called "Kobans", with 1-2 officers inside or standing just outside. You can always go and talk to them if you are concerned about something, or even if you are lost; they can help you find where you need to go. 

Don't take the "safe" feeling of Japan for granted though; like anywhere you travel, practice general common sense and safety.

Another thing to be mindful of, is getting on the other side of the law. There are a few small minor infringements that tourists can sometimes make without realising it. One common mistake, is smoking while walking down the street, which is illegal in Japan. If caught by a police officer, you will most likely face a small fine.
*NOTE: If you want to smoke, find a designated smoking area, or look to see where the locals are smoking, this is usually an acceptable area. Malls, trains and hotels will often have smoking compartments/rooms too. 


Before traveling to different countries, you will likely hear and/or read good things, bad things and everything in between. Take all this advice with a pinch of salt, particularly when it's coming from people that haven't actually been to the country. 
Do your research; read travel guides, articles, books, have a look on the internet and talk to people you know that have travelled to the destination you are wanting to visit. Thorough research will help you to make the most of your trip and to stay safe. 

Most importantly, if you want to visit somewhere, and it is viable to go, MAKE IT HAPPEN, and don't let other people put you off somewhere you dream of going!

Have you heard any other tips, rumours, facts or fictions about travelling to Japan? We'd love to hear them! And if you have any questions about travelling to Japan, let us know!

 

Coffee Adventures in Halifax, Nova Scotia

We booked overnight flights, so as to save money on accommodation. We had read about that "tip" on a travel blog, aimed at travellers like ourselves; young(ish), low on funds, high on travel aspirations. It seemed like a good idea at the time...yet we soon remembered, an hour or so into the flight, that our brains have a slight, no, moderate aversion to sleeping in a plane, car, train, basically anything other than a bed really. 

But it was a means to an end, and it got us where we needed to go: Eastern Canada.
We were really excited to see the complete opposite side of Canada. And especially to explore the Coffee scene outside of B.C.

Flying out of Vancouver, Monday night

Flying out of Vancouver, Monday night

Flying over Eastern canada, Tuesday Morning

Flying over Eastern canada, Tuesday Morning

So, we managed to lightly doze our way through the 6+ hour flight from Vancouver to Halifax (with a brief stop in Montreal). Needless to say, we emerged into the chilly eastern air, tired, groggy and a little worse for wear. 

After collecting our bags and picking up the rental car, we already knew what the next, and vital step was: Finding a good cup of coffee.

From the Airport, it was a short drive into the city, including a bit of scrambling to find a spare coin for the toll bridge (a "loonie"/$1 coin will do!). We parked, did some quick research on our phones, and decided which coffee destination we would start our Eastern explorations with. 

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1. The Old Apothecary

Bakery and Cafe

From the parking lot down by the waterfront, to The Old Apothecary, there was a KIND OF BIG hill. That, paired with the fresh and biting wind of the Atlantic Ocean, sure woke us, and our appetite, up. Once we found the cafe, we were immediately charmed by the exterior. It had a boutique style, elegant, yet simple.

We stepped inside and found colourful furniture, rustic brick walls, quirky decor and a nice looking selection of desserts and baked goods.

Lemon meringue tart seemed a good choice for breakfast at the time (blame the sleep deprivation), and we paired this with a Latte + Double Macchiato. 

Our experience:

Food - the Lemon Meringue tart looked really good, and the taste was really nice. The meringue was well done, not over- or under-cooked. 

Coffee - the Taste of the coffee was okay, but the milk texture wasn’t great. The Latte came out more like a Cappuccino. However, the milk wasn’t burnt and the overall flavour still held well. The Barista probably just needed to hone their milk texturing technique. 

Would we visit again?
We would go back there to try more of their baked goods.

Lemon meringue tart for breakfast, solid choice

Lemon meringue tart for breakfast, solid choice

sweet selection at the Apothecary cafe and bakery

sweet selection at the Apothecary cafe and bakery


The next day, we had a busy day of driving planned to explore the East coast of Nova Scotia. We needed coffee and a snack to start the day before heading out, and were happy to find that one of our pre-researched coffee spots was right down the road from the Hotel we were staying.

 

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2. Dilly Dally 

Coffee Cafe

A small, cozy place; light and bright and busy, but didn't feel cramped. They had lots of good cafe-style food to choose from, including cabinet and menu items.

We went for the Veggie Bagel + Coconut coffee Muffin + Latte + Flat white.

Everything came on mismatched, antique crockery, which looked cool. The staff were hipsters, but seemed friendly enough.

Our experience: 

Food - Muffin had unique flavour and tasted pretty good, though it was a tad dry. The bagel was really good, and they cut it in half for us without us even asking, which was nice service.

Coffees - Very good taste and they had pretty good-looking latte art.

Would we go back? Yes, and we would be interested to try more of their food/menu too.

 
dilly dally eats

dilly dally eats

 

Our third, and last day in Halifax. We had read about our next spot and were keen to check it out before heading to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

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3. Grafton Cafe

 

by Scanway


Scanway bakery’s specialty is their baked goods, and when you first walk into this cafe, that is apparent. They had a big selection of breads, baked goods, and a cabinet with some great looking doughnuts.

It was one of those moments when you just accept your fate and eat pastries, because, well, why the heck not...we got a pain au chocolate + white chocolate blueberry doughnut + Latte + Double Macchiato.

Our experience:

Food - the pastries, as expected, were really good. It was a little bit of a sweetness overload, but that was due to our choice of goods.  

Coffees - Unfortunately, I would say their specialty lies in their baked goods, and baked goods alone. We may have just got an inexperienced barista that day, she did seem kind of young. The milk was piping hot (burnt) and the taste of the espresso was bitter and ashy.

Would we go again?
We would probably return for the food; it would be a good place to go grab some baked treats to share with friends, family or workmates. 

 
Grafton cafe

Grafton cafe

 

Wandering around the Maritime Museum for a few hours, and our time in Halifax was drawing to a close.
We had a longish drive ahead of us to our next destination, and wanted a little fuel to keep the fire going, our next stop had been on our radar, so we mapped our route out of the city and made sure to pass it on our way out.

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4. Two if by Sea

Cafe

When we pulled up to park outside Two if by Sea, we were a little apprehensive upon seeing the brick facade and old fashioned awning. We wondered if it might be a little dated, with not-so-good coffee. 
But, as they might just say, "Don't judge a cafe by it's facade". Once we stepped inside, the interior was much more new and modern. It was light, open and fairly busy.

We were looking for lunch, and at first were a little disappointed by the small selection of baked goods on offer. But then we noticed a winding staircase leading to a second level, and were happy to find some food options up there too (more on that here).
Once we had lunch, we headed back down the spiral staircase to grab some drinks to go. We also checked out the merchandise. There was a good selection of general merch and also coffee to purchase, and we bought a t-shirt.

Staff were a little spacey, or awkward, or shy? We couldn’t really tell which, but they were nice enough. We ordered coffees (Latte + Double Macchiato), and picked up a cookie for later, as they looked too good to miss.

Our experience:

Coffee - Great texture of milk and the overall flavour of the coffee was very good. My 12oz Latte tasted a little weak, so next time I would check the espresso to milk ratio when ordering, and possibly go down a size, or add another espresso shot to get more strength in flavour.

Food - the cookie we had later on, and it was really good! It was oatmeal chocolate chip, with a blend of spices, so it had a great flavour. Texture was good too; firm on the outside, soft on the inside.

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Our time in Halifax was short, but sweet. It's a small city, a little bit quirky, and with lots of character.
We would definitely like to go back, should the chance arise, and could see it being a cool place to live.

In our adventure to find good coffee, we managed to go to 4 of the coffee places that we wanted to visit, and out of those we had some pretty good coffee.

We have no doubt there are a probably a few more good coffee spots hiding away though. Or if not yet, in the near future the city will see growth in the coffee and food scene.  

Have you experienced good coffee in Halifax? Or in other parts of Nova Scotia?

Let us know! We're curious to hear more...


Food and Drink Adventures in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia lies on the East Coast of Canada, and makes up what is known as the "Maritimes", also including New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It's main city, Halifax, has a long and vibrant history, resulting in a varied selection of good food and good drink options to be found. The Maritimes are probably most well-known for the seafood, however we found there to be so much more on offer than just seafood. 

We had just over 2 days in Halifax, so were time limited. However, we still managed to squeeze in a taste of the local flavours. 


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1. Chain Yard

Urban Cidery

We found Chain Yard Cidery after a quick Google search of places to eat within walking distance from where we were staying. It peaked our interest on-line, and in person, it did not disappoint.

The decor is urban, rustic, and chilled out. Dimmed lights and a glowing red neon sign gave the place a night time glow well-paired with good food and alcohol. We were seated and served extremely well by the waiter; the service was excellent. 

Our experience:

Food - We chose a few small plates to share and it was all REALLY good. The kitchen was pretty small, so it was impressive with how quickly the food came out and at a high quality. 
The dessert was amazing!

The plates we chose were: Scallop Arancini + Southern Fried Chicken + Apple cinnamon crumble with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce

Drinks - We chose 2 flights: one had four Chain Yard ciders, and the other had four local "guest" ciders. The presentation was unique, and the names were written under each small glass, which was great, because we knew what we were drinking and didn't have to try memorise what the server told us. There was a good variety of flavours in each flight, and it was customisable, so you could choose the ciders that interested you to try. 

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2. Good Robot

Brewing Company

We had researched this brewery back in B.C before embarking on our trip, and it was on our list of places to try while in Halifax. It also happened to be not far from where we were staying (I guess everything was..? Halifax isn't huge).

They specialise in beverages, but they have paired up with local food places who will come and cook in the corner of the bar to offer things to eat as well. We just had beer this time, but the food and menu looked good.
As it was Winter, inside was humming, but we managed to find seating. We can imagine some evenings getting pretty busy, but in warmer months, they have a great outdoor area, which would spread people out a bit. 

They also had a shop on-site where you could buy Drinks and Merchandise to take home.

The decor was cool, and we're always interested to see different and unique ways to display flights; here they came in a muffin tray which was pretty inventive and deserved a mention. 

What we tried:

"All you can Eat" Coconut IPA - we really liked it, and it wasn't all just talk; it actually had a coconut flavour. Delicious.

Flight of 4: El Espinazo del Diablo, We're not Bitter, Dave and Morley 4.0, But Wait there's More
As with Chainyard, you can mix and match your flight, and there's lots of interesting options to choose from. The four we chose were all very good, but our favourites had to be these two:

El Espinazo del Diablo - with Lime and Jalapeno; some zest and heat. Like the coconut IPA, it really did taste like it said it might and the flavours were well-balanced. Recommendation: try this last if in a flight, as the warmth from the Jalapeno can linger and affect your taste of the others!

Dave and Morley 4.0 - this was a coffee brown, and of course we will try almost anything with coffee in it. The taste was deep and dark, and the rich coffee flavour came through well. It was almost like drinking a cold brew. 
 

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3. Studio East

Food + Drink

After trying out the some local beer at Good Robot, we wandered to our next spot. We were ready for some food, and possibly a few more beverages, as it was Wednesday Tiki Night at Studio East. 

The place was cosy, and decorated accordingly. We were seated quickly, and right next to the Tiki bar, which allowed us a Front row seat to watch the bar tender at work.  

We ordered some unique cocktails, and after perusing the menu, chose some food to share.
The staff were charismatic and friendly. The kitchen and bar wasn't huge, but they really worked their space and it seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine. 

What we tried:

Drinks - For Tiki Wednesday, the bartenders create 3 feature cocktails. The 2 we chose were the "Cinnamon Girl" and the "Sleeping Giant". Now, we don't have a good recollection of what exactly was in them, but we do remember that they tasted amazing! They were fresh, full-of-flavour and the display and garnishes were excellent. 

Food - Calamari Pakora + Dumpwing + Ricebowl with Pork Belly. The food was excellent. Particularly the Ricebowl, which had extremely tender pork belly, and some amazing house-made kimchi.    

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YeahYeahs

Pizza

On our way out of Halifax, we stopped in Dartmouth to check out a coffee shop (more about that here). While there, we stumbled across our last foodie stop before heading to our next destination.

Yeahyeahs offers New York style Pizza sold by the slice, and by the pie. A few choices of flavour kept it nice and simple. The decor was also simple, but stylish. 

What we tried:

A slice of cheese and mushroom + a slice of pepperoni. 

Both flavours tasted really good, and there was a good ratio of toppings, cheese and base. They weren't too greasy, and we liked that the flavours were kept simple, but they still had ample flavour and taste.

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Overall, we enjoyed getting a brief taste of Nova Scotia. As we travelled in Winter, there were a few places and areas closed for the season, so although it was good to go when there weren't too many tourists around and the hotel prices were a little lower, it would be good to go back to sample more in the warmer seasons. 

As for seafood, we didn't end up having a lot of it in Nova Scotia, but later on in our Maritime travels we did eventually get to taste some. You can read more about that soon. 

Any other local food places in Nova Scotia that you think are worth a visit? Let us know