Most people probably know Brisbane as the huge tourist destination it is in Australia, where all kinds of theme and water parks can be visited and fun can be had by the entire family. That wasn’t what I wanted to do in Brisbane and even though I found a lot of things to do, there was so much more I could have done. And none of those things I did were theme or water parks.
I was in Brisbane for a week and unfortunately I was just starting to get sick and my body was in pain so I didn’t get a chance to fully enjoy everything the area had to offer. What I did do though was visit several museums, hold a koala and get my picture taken, eat chocolate, and buy myself a beautiful tote bag from Country Road. I also rented a car for a day and drove down to the Gold Coast.
Getting Around Brisbane
You can rent a car while in Brisbane but I found using the public transportation system quite easy and it got me everywhere I chose to go. Also, there are tolls on some of the roads. I did learn how to use Uber when I was there though so that and taxis are also an option (Vancouver still doesn’t have ride share as of the end of 2018).
One thing that completely impressed me about travelling via the public bus system in several Australian cities, including Brisbane, is there are areas where the bus doesn’t travel along busy city streets. Instead, there are these busways. Busways are really kind of like highways solely for the public buses to travel along. It means you have to get to a station so the stops aren’t as convenient, but it also means you don’t sit in traffic which allows you to reach your destination much quicker.
Brisbane uses the tap-on tap-off method of payment with the Go Card travel card that you can conveniently replenish using machines at different stations, online, over the phone, or at select shops. The Go Card can be used on all trains, buses, and ferries in South East Queensland. I never took advantage of it but there is also a free service for the bus and ferry. The City Loop and Spring Hill Loop free inner city bus runs from 7am to 6pm on weekdays. Also traveling between North Quay and Sydney St New Farm, is the free CityHopper ferry service.
CBD (Central Business District)
I spent a few hours in Brisbane’s CBD. I visited City Hall and the Museum of Brisbane, and I walked around a bit checking out the historical building facades of Queen Street Mall, while I did some shopping. It’s where I found the Noosa Chocolate Factory as well as what was quickly becoming my favourite Australian shop, Country Road. I didn’t do a lot of shopping because I had more travelling to do and I couldn’t add to my luggage but I did get a large, stunning, tote bag on an amazing sale at Country Road. I could fold it to fit in my suitcase and I had been drooling over it since I first saw it in Adelaide, so of course I had to purchase it. Really that was my day in the CBD but there was more shopping to explore if you wanted. Especially the Gold Coast.
Noosa Chocolate Factory
I was in the CBD and knew I had to catch the public bus on Adelaide Street to get to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (link below to read about that experience) but I had time before the bus arrived so I walked a bit. I’m so happy I did too because I found Noosa Chocolate Factory (website). They had all sorts of chocolate covered items as well as beverages. Here is what I tried.
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts
For me chocolate covered nuts are almost always going to be a winner. You just can’t go wrong with them. Plus, I tell myself it’s protein so it makes them healthy. I find macadamia nuts delicious so covering them in chocolate was a big win for me.
Chocolate Covered Freeze Dried Strawberries
Strawberries are my favourite fruit and when you freeze dry them, it amplifies the flavour. Makes them much more strawberry-y. Cover those super charged strawberry pieces of goodness in chocolate and yeah, you have a yummy, flavourful treat.
Chocolate Covered Honeycomb
Have you ever had a Crunchie chocolate bar? This is what these pieces tasted like. Honey comb is a sweet, crunchy, melt in your mouth treat, all covered in chocolate. So again, it was good.
Iced 72% Chocolate Drink
Because I apparently need to try all chocolate drinks, I picked up the iced one offered at Noosa. It was made with soy milk, ice, and 72% chocolate. Not chocolate powder or chocolate sauce but actual chocolate. I enjoyed my cold, chocolate drink on the nice warm day that’s for sure. Cooling down with chocolate is kinda perfect really.
Museums in Brisbane
Queensland Art Gallery
Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art (website for both) are conveniently located across from each other. It’s wonderful, you get to enjoy all types of art in one day. The Queensland Art Gallery displays a wide range of Australian and local artists in many mediums. I myself really enjoyed the wall of painted portraits, but there were so many wonderful pieces to see in the gallery.
You can enjoy the permanent exhibits of the Australian Art Collection, the Indigenous Art Collection, and the International Art Collection. As well as the short term exhibits showcasing individual artists, shown throughout the year.
Admission to the Queensland Art Gallery is free except for some exhibits and events which have an admission fee. The gallery is open daily 10 am – 5 pm except for some holidays.
Gallery of Modern Art
What a wonderful art gallery (website above). I really enjoyed visiting and seeing the exhibits they had on display. I ran out of time before I could visit everything but what I saw was worth it. There was even an interactive, enclosed slide for people to slide down from an upper level.
Normally I prefer more traditional and historical art to the modern stuff but I really loved what I saw at GOMA. I’m not sure if it’s the way they had it all exhibited or just the art they chose to display but whatever it was, it worked. I really enjoyed myself and my time spent here.
Admission to the Gallery of Modern Art is free. Some exhibits and special events do have an entry fee though. They are also open daily 10 am – 5 pm except for some holidays. Wanna see something after hours? There is a light installation on the exterior of the building that runs from sunset to midnight.
Brisbane City Hall
I didn’t have a chance to tour around the Brisbane City Hall (website) too much, I only went there to visit the Museum of Brisbane. I do wish I would have seen more of City Hall though. It has so much history. It was in the process of renovations while I visited but it was still open to the public.
Museum of Brisbane
The Museum of Brisbane (website) is a smaller museum located on level 3 of the Brisbane City Hall. It’s open daily and admission is free. There were quite a few awesome collections to see but for me, I really enjoyed the permanent Perspectives of Brisbane exhibit. Using historic photographs, film, facts and stories, it shares the history of the area for us to learn. It really was a great exhibit and a wonderful experience. I learned quite a bit about the history of the area. From the first colony to local flooding, it told it all.
Queensland Museum and Sciencentre
This museum had a lot to offer but I enjoyed being shown the history of dinosaurs and animals in the area as well as the special experience of learning about the Hadron Collider. I had to buy a ticket for it at an additional cost but it was such a great learning experience.
I’m not a big nerd or anything, I mean I like some sci-fi but just some, just the popular mainstream stuff. But even I was super excited with the Hadron Collider exhibit. It is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Squueee! That’s pretty cool sci-fi stuff right there but this is real life. Don’t ask me to get all scientific on you and explain what I learned because I can’t but I can tell you it is a 27-km long tunnel made mostly out of superconducting magnets.
I liked the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre (website) and how it mixed several different things together in one place. It’s also another place where you can get a hands-on, interactive experience.
The Queensland Art Gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre are all located in the Queensland Cultural Centre in South Brisbane. Just across the bridge from the CBD. The Cultural Centre also contains the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the State Library of Queensland.
Streets Beach – A Beach in the City
Other than the Queensland Cultural Centre, South Brisbane is also where you will find Streets Beach. Australia’s only inner-city, man-made beach. A beautiful lagoon surrounded by sandy beaches and various plants, it’s free and has lifeguards.
Tourist and locals use this beach so it does get quite busy. There is free Wi-Fi to use, public toilets, and there is even a picnic area. It’s a great place to relax in the sun and swim in the water, all without leaving the city.
I really wanted to see more of the area than just Brisbane so I decided to rent a car for a day and drive down to the Gold Coast. I had chosen to rent the car from the airport so I could return it when I was leaving. It meant I wouldn’t have to walk as much or travel on the public transportation system with my luggage. But Brisbane has a lot of roads with tolls on them plus it costs a bit more to take the train to the airport so you should be aware of these additional costs if you decide to rent from the airport.
Shopping and a Beach in Gold Coast
The drive was lovely even though most of it was inland on a big highway. It did take me past all the theme parks though and that was kinda reminiscent of California. Because I didn’t have a goal in mind, I ended up just doing a bit of driving around, seeing the different areas, and getting a feel of it all. It was nice seeing all the different homes and buildings. Then I came upon the Pacific Fair Shopping Centre (website) so I had to stop. This shopping centre was amazing. Parts of it were outdoors, there were comfy chairs to sit on, and a lot of the shops were very high-end. It was quite the experience.
I drove a little further south and unfortunately I’m not sure where it was exactly but it was so quant. It looked like the quintessential definition of what most of us tourists think of as Australian. I watched so many people walk around in their swimsuits, barefoot, and some carrying surfboards while I was parked on a one way street of shops and restaurants. I went up the road a few blocks and there was the beach. There were so many cars around it was hard to find parking so I drove up a residential street where there were houses on one side and a park overlooking the beach and ocean on the other. On the day I roamed around there was some sort of maybe festival going on with music and even some vendors.
All in all, it was a great way to spend a day out of Brisbane and see a bit more of what the area has to offer. It has a lot to offer by the way.
Probably my best and favourite memory of Brisbane in Australia was visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (website). Apparently the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. I had really wanted to visit a sanctuary when I was in Alice Springs but unfortunately the dates I was there didn’t work for the dates they were open. I had no idea about Lone Pine either before I arrived in Brisbane, but my Airbnb host told me about it when she was making suggestions for things to do in the city. Obviously I should have done some research before I arrived but I will forever be thankful of that Airbnb host because I got to hold a koala. And I have the pictures to prove it. Well, and remind me of the joy as I get older and start to forget things.
Koalas at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Koalas are just these cute, sleepy, cuddly animals with sharp claws and spiky, course fur. They aren’t overly soft or friendly really. But hey, if you were always tired and wanting to sleep but instead random people kept wanting to hold you and cuddle you, wouldn’t you be cranky? The staff at Lone Pine are wonderful though. They hold the koala, you stand on an exact spot, they tell you how to place your hands, then they gently place the koala in your arms. If something is even slightly off or the koala doesn’t seem happy, they take them back from you. The koalas come first here. The pictures cost an additional fee of course but the staff will also happily take pictures for you using your camera. It was great because I was alone and I just wanted more than the one paid photo.
Cassowarys at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
I also got to FINALLY see a cassowary!! Or as I like to call them, dinosaur turkeys. They honestly look like one. Apparently the dinosaur turkey is everywhere in the Daintree Rainforest but of course I never saw one. I was so happy when I finally got to see one at Lone Pine. It too was trying to be elusive and hide from me but I went searching for it. I almost stepped on a lizard crossing the path while I was looking but I kept going. Even though I almost missed my bus back into the city, I kept looking. Finally, I was rewarded with seeing a cassowary in real life, not just the life-size statue in the Daintree. And holy crap, it really does look like a dinosaur turkey. It’s basically a giant, bad-ass looking turkey. And unlike a regular turkey who at worst will chase you and peck at your hands and feet, the cassowary will hit and cut you with the big boney fin-like thing on the top of their head. They will also karate-chop you with the crazy, dagger-like claws on their feet.
Kangaroos at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Shortly before I visited Lone Pine I saw a video on Facebook of a kangaroo kicking someone and taking them out. So of course when I was visiting the sanctuary I was a bit cautious. They were very well behaved and quite wonderful though. Just laying in a field. Honestly, that was a bit of a surprise but it was also really cool. Lone Pine has this fenced off, wide open field for the kangaroos to roam around in. Us mere humans can enter through a gate and roam around with them. There was a separate fenced off area for the kangaroos where people can’t roam though. There were also signs all over saying to stay back from the kangaroos and don’t touch them. I didn’t get too close and I didn’t touch them but I did watch as other people sure did. It made me feel bad for the kangaroos but all in all Lone Pine seems to treat them very well. You can purchase special food to take in the field with you and feed the kangaroos too if you want.
Emus at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Oh, you know what else was in that open field? Emus. I enjoyed being so close to them and I figured they were as relaxed as the kangaroos. That was my mistake. I was standing there taking one’s picture when it decided to run at me. I kept thinking, oh this could be a great photo, I hope one of these turns out. Needless to say I didn’t recognize the situation I was in until the emu was right in front of me. Thankfully he must have realized how useless I would be to him so he ran past me. Apparently I was in a game of chicken without even realized it and I think I won.
The animals freely roam around in their pens, cages, or some kind of open containment. Except for that lizard I almost killed. Animals like wombats, Tasmanian devils, dingos, platypus, raptors, and even reptiles (like turtles and two of the most venomous land snakes in the world) live at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. There is a schedule of shows, talks, feedings, and different photo opportunities so check it out when you first arrive because there is an entire day of activities if you want to experience everything.
Getting There and Other Stuff Not Animals
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is quite easy to get to. I caught the 445 public bus on Adelaide Street near City Hall in the CBD and the 40-45-minute trip ended in the parking lot of Lone Pine. Because of course they have their own public bus stop. You can even take advantage of the free Wi-Fi in Lone Pine to upload all the really cool animal photos to your social media. Or go shopping in the gift shop to take home even more memories. If you are planning on staying all day at the sanctuary, there is a café just outside the entrance. Inside the sanctuary there is a general store with an atm where you can also purchase café food, snacks, and drinks. There are several public washrooms throughout the park.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary helps and cares for animals but they are also an interactive centre. Enabling you to meet and learn about all the different animals. It really is a wonderful experience and I am so happy I was able to visit.
The final destination on The 2016 European Museum Tour was actually the first place in Europe we arrived. London, England. My favourite city. After living in London years ago, I always jump at any opportunity to go back and visit. I love the feel, the history, and the architecture of the city. It just always makes me feel happy and comfortable to be there. On any day of the week you can find something to see or do. I swear no matter how long you are there, you can always find something new.
Here are the Museums we visited in London during The 2016 European Museum Tour.
Tower of London
This is the only museum with an admission fee from our London portion of the 2016 European Museum Tour. The Tower of London (website) is not only a walled castle/palace where the royalty previously lived and ruled from, but it was also a prison. At the same time. The history remains today in the buildings still standing, the ruins left behind, the stories being told, and even in the walls.
The Tower of London offers visitors a partial guided tour filled with stories of intrigue, death, greed, justice, pain, and even love. While they are responsible for looking after the crown jewels, and any prisoners (not held there anymore) the Yeomen Warders or Beefeaters as they are sometimes called, are also providing the tour. They are former military who look after the Tower and the ravens, but also tell a really good story. The Tower of London offers tours with ASL as well as descriptive tours of the Jewel House and the White Tower for visually impaired and blind visitors.
There are even actors dressed in period clothing, putting on shows throughout the grounds of the castle and talking to visitors. Nothing like interactive history for the entire family.
Several collections are housed inside the Tower of London and are included in the cost of your admission. The Armoury, the Royal Jewels, the White Tower (where the two Princes were believed to have been buried), the Royal Mint, and even the historical armour worn by kings which are displayed in Line of Kings.
If like me you love history and architecture, you’ll love walking through buildings that actually show you inside the walls. You can see how builders in that time period structured the walls and the buildings.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Like I said earlier, no matter how long you are in London there will always be something new. I lived there for three years and I have been back to visit several times but during the 2016 European Museum Tour, it was my very first trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum (website).
Calling itself the world’s leading museum of art and design I can confirm that I saw items in this museum that I have never seen in a museum before. And I loved it. With items on display spanning over 5,000 years and showing creativity in almost every medium, the Victoria and Albert Museum was a delight.
Needing to replenish with food and drink? The Victoria and Albert museum has three period rooms you can try out. Which apparently, are the world’s oldest museum restaurants, having been designed in the 1860’s. Interactive museum display, I love it! There is the ornately decorated Gamble Room, the Poynter Room(originally called the Grill Room), and The Morris Room.
There was the collection of wrought iron items. The staircase and balconies from a historical building in France. A façade of a building from the UK. There was just so much to see that you normally don’t get a chance to see in most museums. I really enjoyed the visit and will probably go again.
While admission for the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum is free, some exhibitions and events have a separate charge.
National Art Gallery
Love art? Want to see paintings created by some of the most famous names in the history of art? Want to see art created by people hundreds of years ago? Oh, and do you want to see all that for free? Then the National Art Gallery (website) is the joy you have been looking for.
I squealed like a man who saw a spider in front of him, as he walked around a corner and someone jumped out at him. I could not contain my excitement. I’ll explain…..
Leonardo da Vinci is my favourite painter. I love so many different painters but he is my favourite. Plus, the man was a crazy genius. Anyway, during the Paris portion of the 2016 European Museum Tour we saw his ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ painting at the Louvre, which is one of my favourite. Then as I was walking around the National Art Gallery in London, I saw it again. So, of course I Googled. He painted two of them and I have now seen both. This is something that hadn’t even made it onto my bucket list yet and I was already crossing it off. It was so exhilarating and amazing that I don’t feel these words describe the experience enough.
Needless to say, The National Art Gallery of London is a great way to spend some of your touristy time and embrace all the excitement and joy of witnessing the works of some amazingly talented painters. Plus, it is open every day. It’s also located in Trafalgar Square so you can cross that off your ‘to see’ list too. And after, you can either head up to Piccadilly Circus & Leicester Square or down the Royal Mile to Buckingham Palace.
Another museum that offers free admission, the British Museum (website) is a bit of a prickly subject for me. Because of an article I read years ago, I don’t appreciate the ‘how’ a lot of the artifacts were apparently acquired in foreign countries. For years I wouldn’t even visit this museum, until one day I finally walked in. I generally stick to items from the UK though, which means there is still so much to see because of the country’s lengthy history.
This visit, I found the old previous British Library room. It was magnificent. The room itself was wonderful and that alone made me want to just sit in the middle of it, on the floor. I didn’t though. The room is now called the Enlightenment Room though seeing as the British Library is now housed in its own building.
One of the hardest parts of the 2016 European Museum Tour was that I did it while I was injured and limited in movements and stamina. It made it hard to see everything I wanted as well as walk around the different venues. I had to stop and rest a lot. My cousin found these great folding stools you could use at the British Museum though. They were lightweight so it wasn’t hard to carry them around, plus you could use them to sort of help you walk. Then when you wanted to, or needed to, you unfolded it and rested. Every museum should offer these!
Squeeeeee!!! You might be wondering why a library would bring about that kind of a reaction. If you are, you have no idea what the British Library (website) contains. Imagine a 9-story building with over 150 million items. Not just exhibits or every publication ever produced in the UK and Ireland (EVERY ITEM) either. But there are also maps, sound recordings, drawings, the world’s earliest dated print book (the Diamond Sutra), the Magna Carta and even a napkin containing handwritten song lyrics by one of the Beatles. The variety of the objects housed at the museum is unbelievable and I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else. They have Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook, Chinese oracle bones that are over 3,000 years old, and even a recording of Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia trial speech.
We only went into one room the day we were there and I could have spent even more time in that room. The only other thing we visited was a punk rock exhibit. This is definitely a museum for me to visit more than once. Not only that but the library is open every day where you can take a tour, check out the exhibits, shop, eat, or even reserve and sit in one of the many reading rooms.
The British Library was an easy visit for the 2016 European Museum Tour because it is located right by the King’s Cross St. Pancras, Euston and Euston Square train and underground stations. Pssst, they also have free Wi-Fi.
Each of the museums have so much to see and do as well as wonderful facilities for visitors.
Please note when I say these museums are open every day, the hours are different for the days of the week and they are not open on all holidays. I’ve included the links to each website for you to double check though.
Between the drive and ferry rides, Victoria is only a few hours away from Vancouver, BC. So it is possible to do for a day trip. If you can though, it makes a wonderful weekend away. I find during the Christmas season places take on a magical feel to them with the special events and the twinkling lights decorating almost everything you see. Victoria is no different. Streets, homes, shops, trees, boats, and even the Parliament Building, are beautifully decorated. While I made the trip specifically for a few appointments, I did fit some fun things in too. Here are a few things to do in Victoria, BC including a few in December that make for a truly special festive experience.
Catching the Ferry
I won’t go into too much detail about the ferry to Victoria, you can read all about it here, but I will give you some additional info for the area around the two ferry docks.
You can decide to pre-book your ferry crossing for an additional cost or you can show up, sit in line, and take your chances like I did. With two different outcomes. I arrived at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal at about 9:45 am for the 11 am Sunday morning crossing. I made it on. While I waited, I walked around the Tsawwassen Quay Market. Inside you will find quite the assortment of places to shop or eat at, including some big names like Starbucks & Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
On the return trip to Vancouver, my luck wasn’t as good. I was close to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal just before 4:30 pm for the 5 pm Monday night crossing when the sign on the highway told me it was full. I decided to take the next turn-off, which was for Sydney, to spend time there before the next sailing (7 pm). There are quite a few places to eat and shop at on the main street in Sydney but a lot of them closed at 5. I did pick-up some wonderful Christmas baking at the Sydney Bakery though. Including an amazing Candy Cane Shortbread cookie with icing on top. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up taking any pictures before I shovelled it all in my mouth. Sorry.
Hotel Grand Pacific
Obviously finding things to do in Victoria is important, but you also need a place to stay if you are going for the weekend. While the Hotel Grand Pacific (website) was one of several hotels recommended to me, I chose it because it consistently had some of the best reviews. The most common positive review was its cleanliness and I can tell you, I was impressed with that also. Part of the hotel has been renovated but that’s not the part I stayed in. Even so, the room itself was quite nice, it was clean, and wasn’t in overly bad shape. Except for the balcony, I felt it was in desperate need of some attention. I can only imagine what the renovated rooms looked like.
I booked the most basic room, which I believe was the City View Room, but I was given an upgrade. The hotel’s website has a Hot Deals section that I recommend checking out because they might have something offered that you can use.
Hotel Grand Pacific is wonderfully located on the water front across the street from the ferry to the USA (Port Angeles). Oh, and across from a Starbucks. The Royal BC Museum is also only about one-two blocks down the road too. And the hotel is beside the Parliament Building, which is the view my room had. Well, that and the Empress and the water. The only thing I can say that annoyed me about this hotel and my experience there, is the walk from the lobby elevator to my room. I think I had to walk the entire length of the floor to get to my room when I exited the elevator. The hotel is quite large. Still, not a big deal when I consider the cleanliness of the hotel, the helpful & friendliness of the staff, and how nice the lobby was. Especially all decorated for the Christmas season.
There isn’t any street parking or free parking for that matter but for a fee you can park in the parking lot under the hotel (accessible from the road behind the hotel). There is a restaurant located on the ground floor which I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to eat in, but it looked very nice. As a guest, you also receive complimentary access to the Victoria Athletic Club located right in the hotel. You might have a few more people swimming or working out with you than other hotels but it means they offer other features not available at those other hotels.
I really enjoyed my stay at the Hotel Grand Pacific and I will be staying there again.
One of the popular things to do in Victoria is afternoon tea. I had my first afternoon tea in London in 2016 and I now love it. It’s kind of like eating an assortment of tapas. Depending on the place you eat it at, you can be served an assortment of mini sandwiches, scones, mini pastries, mini desserts, mini treats, and even chocolates. I never drink the tea but I love having all these little offerings to eat instead of eating an entire meal of one thing. Of course, I always love the selection of sweet items.
The one downside to afternoon tea is they aren’t always vegetarian friendly. This means I give-up items or whoever is with me will compromise so we trade and both give-up items. Obviously, when I found out Venus Sophia (website) had a Vegetarian afternoon tea I was super excited. Also, for the month of December they offer a special Christmas afternoon tea. So of course I went with the Christmas one. It definitely was not vegan though because there was a lot of cheese or cream cheese in the sandwiches.
Venus Sophia is a large, cute tea room conveniently located in Chinatown. It is also a winner of Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence for the last three years. I loved my afternoon tea there and will be visiting again to try their regular one offered throughout the rest of the year. The other bonus, Venus Sophia is like half the price of the Empress’s afternoon tea. So, for half the price I was able to eat all the food served.
Gingerbread House Display
Besides all the beautifully lite up things to see, there are also festive things to do in Victoria. For example, the annual Gingerbread House Display. The people competing in this are very serious. I thought I was going to walk around, see gingerbread houses, and by the end I was going to be trying to steal pieces off the houses. Of course that would have lead to me running out the door trying to escape security but I was excited to see anyway. In reality, some of these displays were so intricate and extravagant, I forgot they were made out of gingerbread.
Honestly the work and attention these creators did was amazing. I was in awe while also feeling a little sorry for myself and my lack of abilities. Bravo to everyone who competed though, those displays (I can’t even call them houses) were impressive. It’s a lovely way to spend some time in December and enjoy the holiday spirit. Plus, it is free.
Christmas Tree Festival
Another one of the free things to do in Victoria in December is the Christmas Tree Festival (website) that takes place in The Bay Centre shopping mall. The trees are spread out over several floors and they are decorated by different shops and companies with different themes. Honestly, I had time between an appointment which is the only reason I decided to check this. So, I went in without really having any expectation. I’m so happy I checked it out though. The trees were amazing. So much thought was put into decorating them. It was a joy to see and it really helped with the Christmas spirit. You can visit just to see the trees or you can also get some Christmas shopping done while you are there. Either way it’s a lovely way to spend some time and get festive.
When I visited in December one of the things to do in Victoria for me, was to find hot chocolate. I like to think I am something of a hot chocolate connoisseur. I don’t drink coffee or tea, so I look around and try different places and their hot chocolate offerings. Several of the Hotel Grand Pacific employees kindly recommended I try Chocolats Favoris (website). The shop turned out to be a chocolate lovers treat.
I walked in and was overwhelmed with the abundance of selection. I don’t even feel I’m a huge chocolate fan. There was the seating area of course but after that, the rest of the one wall was chocolate bars and treats for sale to take home. On another wall was the fine chocolates and fondue counter. And the third wall? Well that contained the desserts, drinks, soft serve ice cream, and chocolate dips. It was wonderful. It all felt a little Willy Wonka actually.
All About The Treats
I was offered tasting samples of dips and I can honestly say, I want to go back and eat lots of ice cream cones dipped in those gloriously tasting flavoured dips. I especially loved the amazing cookie dough flavour. Normally I don’t eat cookie dough flavoured items, or cookie dough itself but this was so, so good. I also don’t usually eat dipped cones but for those dips, I can make an exception.
The regular hot chocolate was chocolatey & rich without being overly sweet. I enjoyed it even if it doesn’t equal my favourite hot chocolate. Chocolats Favoris also has drinkable desserts that are made with the soft serve ice cream. Think milk shake but with treats added to them.
My favourite item though, and the reason I would head over to Victoria just to visit Chocolats Favoris again, was the Salted Caramel chocolate bar. It has to be the best salted caramel chocolate bar I have ever tasted. I would seriously make a trip to Victoria just to buy more. Of course, then I would also have to have a dipped cone but it’s just a bonus at that point.
Okay before I found the best salted caramel chocolate bar and the vegetarian afternoon tea, one of my favourite things to do in Victoria was visit Craigdarroch Castle (website). I love history and architecture so this place has always impressed me.
Built between 1887 and 1890 for the Scottish immigrant Robert Dunsmuir who made his wealth during the industrial age, this massive house, called a ‘bonanza castle’, is stunning with it’s beautiful stain glass windows and amazing woodwork.
Robert and his sons were involved and had companies in several industries, owned large plots of land, and even had positions in the government. Unfortunately, Robert died before the house was finished but his wife Joan, three of their daughters, and two orphaned grandchildren, lived in it until her death in 1908. The address is even 1050 Joan Crescent. I like to believe the stone posts at the end of the street were once part of the gate to the entire property. The castle was on 29 acres of land that included a tennis court, other buildings, orchards, streams, and even a man-made lake.
One year after Joan Dunsmuir died, Craigdarroch was sold and all the contents were auctioned off. The property was also sectioned off and sold. It then housed several institutions before becoming a museum in 1969.
What makes this castle, or home, different from other historical places I have visited is you are able to see the servant’s areas. The castle is four floors of amazing workmanship, beautiful antiques and a view into the lives of prominent people with money during the Victorian era in Victoria. It is also a peak into the parts of the house where the staff lived and worked. That isn’t some place you normally get to see in other castles and mansions. It really shows the difference between the classes. Plus, because you are shown this normally hidden part, you get to see historic bathrooms. Having spent more than 13 years in the plumbing industry and having a lifelong weird obsession with bathrooms, I thoroughly enjoy seeing them.
The Castle is open daily from 10am to 4:30pm with longer hours during the summer months from June 15th to September 6th. It is closed for December 25th, 26th and January 1st though. If you decide it is the perfect location for your wedding or other event, you can even rent it .
These are a just few of the things to do in Victoria but I will definitely be visiting again. I’ll do and visit other things to share. Victoria might not be a very large city but it has so much history. It also has such an, almost British, feel to it. There are so many things to see and do and it is also quite beautiful.
Paris is Paris. By that I mean you don’t go to Paris to only stick yourself in museums. There are so many things to see and do in this amazing city. Sure there are the standard tourist sights, but there are also a few slightly different things that can still be touristy. Or maybe even offer a different take on something you know from elsewhere. We found things to do in Paris that aren’t museums while on The 2016 European Museum Tour.
***this is a long read***
Getting Around the Paris Area
We travelled around Paris and the surrounding area using the Metro trains. Google Maps on our phones was great for directions. We also each had the paper hand-held map or mini map, of the Metro train system. I don’t pretend to understand a lot of French, but these maps allowed us to travel all over, on our own, without any major problems. It won’t help with accidentally getting off at the wrong station or catching the wrong train, but it will help you navigate this very large system.
Chateau De Versailles
While there are things to do in Paris that aren’t museums, there are some things that are magnificent but technically still considered a museum. The Palace of Versailles is a former royal chateau in Versailles. It is also a UNESCO site, and one of the most opulent places I have ever seen. Versailles was once a small village but now as one of the suburbs of Paris, it is easily reached with the Metro. I have been to the Palace several times and it is a sight that really shouldn’t be missed. The way the royalty lived in the 18th century is the reason there was a rebellion and both the ruling and the class systems were forever changed in France.
Expanded and altered over time to what you can witness today, Versailles started out as a royal hunting lodge. It is outstanding and I have yet to see another palace like it. Ceilings gilded with gold and painted by some exquisitely talented artists are so high, you feel they reach the sky. Pretty much what isn’t in gold throughout the palace, is in marble. There are intricate light fixtures and chandeliers with crystal that bounce light in every direction with the help of so many mirrors and windows.
The gardens and fountains are also exquisite. Perfectly laid out hedges and trees show paths to water fountains, statues, a canal, lake, park, private areas and individual groves containing beautiful patterns of trees with more fountains and water features. The palace and the grounds are enormous.
So large you can rent golf carts up near the palace and bicycles further down in the gardens. Within the gardens, you will also find the Grand & Petit Trianons. These are smaller and more private locations that some of the different royals lived in. And they are both beautiful.
You can plan your trip in advance based on opening days and times as well as if you want to see the fountains running or the musical fountains show. You can also purchase your tickets in advance on-line to save yourself a second line-up. This is another one of those jam-packed tourist sights so expect to stand in line before entering and to share the experience with a lot of people.
Seeing all the Disney Parks is on my bucket list. I’ve been to Disneyland in California several times as well as Disney World in Florida so I really wanted to do Disneyland in Paris. Plus it is another of the things to do in Paris that aren’t museums.
Once again, we easily accessed it with the metro train but it was a bit of a distance. The Disneyland Paris layout is similar to the original California park. There are the different sections with main street leading you from the entrance to Cinderella’s castle. Disney World in Florida is Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
In Paris you will find the main Disneyland Park but also The Walt Disney Studios Park and the Disney Village. The area is quite a Disney tourist destination though with several different Disney hotels to choose from. The Disneyland Hotel is even located right at the entrance of the park.
Some of the rides are pretty much the same as in California but some are different. The Indiana Jones ride in California is a large car that moves indoors with some fast sections and a drop or two. In Paris, it is a rollercoaster. According to my cousin Megan, it was freaky and finished quickly.
My Favourite Experience in Disneyland Paris
There was one aspect of Disneyland Paris that made it better than all the other parks. While there were line-ups for rides and attractions, there wasn’t the insane amount of people I expected from my experiences in the USA. It had a much calmer feel to it. I wasn’t even hit by an aggressive parent with a stroller once. Let alone repeatedly.
Thankfully we did research before we left and bought our tickets in advance on-line. We bought the ‘Special Mini Tickets’ which were only available on-line. They were for use during the week only during certain summer months, but the prices were great. I think they were less than $50 (CND) each for two parks.
la cuisine Paris
My cousin Megan wasn’t sure if she really wanted to see certain sights or if it was just because they were the touristy things to do. So, we chose to do something that was kinda touristy but more of an experience rather than a ‘lining up with heaps of other tourists to see a sight’ thing.
We took a croissant making class with la cuisine Paris. Megan and I both bake so it was perfect, and we loved it. Even though we normally have different styles. She’s very specific and likes to follow the instructions exactly. I like to change things and wing it to create something slightly different. The class was set up so that you could learn without any previous experience though.
Making the Complicated, Simple
The 3-hour class was taught in English by a chef, and consisted of other tourists. A husband and wife with their teenage son, a mother and her teenage daughter and a single woman. I loved that we were given an instruction sheet to take home with us. It showed us how to create the different shapes for croissants, le pain au chocolats, and le pain au raisins. Everything you need was supplied in the class. Including after you make the dough, being given a different one to use for the final product. Making croissants can take more than 6 hours so using the other dough, allows for the shorter class time. We were even taught how to make the crème patissiere (pastry cream) for the le pain au raisins.
After everything is baked, you can enjoy your masterpieces warm out of the oven and even have enough left for breakfast the next morning. We each made two of each of the items. The cost was $99 EURO each but it was such a wonderfully fun experience and I am so happy we decided to do it.
Some of the best things to do in Paris that aren’t museums, are the basics. Walking around neighbourhoods. Eating and drinking wine at local eateries. Buying freshly baked croissants for breakfast at the local bakery. And of course, seeing the very touristy sights and monuments.
The Eiffel Tower is amazing and I love it. We didn’t get a chance to go up it this time but I can tell you from experience, the view is stunning. It is a wonderful spot to see the entire city of Paris and get a feel of the enormity of it.
Opened to the public in 1889, the Eiffel Tower has three levels accessible to the public. Things have changed over the years. The lifts (elevators) and the staircases have all been replaced and there have been different uses for the tower itself. There have been a variety of restaurants, a theatre, a small apartment, laboratories, and different communication uses. A new apartment was even built in 2016 for competition winners during the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament.
You can access each level of the tower by both staircase and elevator. The first two levels each contain a restaurant, and the top level observation deck is 276 metres from the ground. Offering you that stunning view. Although the view from each level is also amazing and worth the visit.
You can buy your tickets in advance on-line for the Eiffel Tower, saving you one of a possible two lines. Every time I have been there, there are crowds and lines of people.
The Champs-Elysees is one of the widest streets I have seen, that wasn’t full of cars. There are cars of course but when you see a road that wide you expect it to either be stuffed or a highway of fast moving vehicles. Even the sidewalks are wide and that’s not including the area taken up by the trees lining them.
With its long history dating back to the mid-1600’s, this avenue has seen a lot of changes over the years. The avenue started out as a garden and wide promenade for one of Louis XIV’s palaces. Today though, while you can still see a park at one end, the Arc de Triomphe is at the other end and there is a whole lot of commercial buildings between them. Most of its commercial history has been for luxury brands but now, you can even shop at some brand name stores along the avenue. There were also luxury cars to rent, restaurants, theatres, and cafes to name a few things.
Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is a massive, military monument at one end of the Champs-Elysees. Erected to honour the people who fought and died for France during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, this monument stands 50 metres high and 45 metres wide with a depth of 22 metres. It is enormous.
I’m not a big military history person but I loved seeing this monument for its sheer size. Cars, people and even tour buses look miniature next to it. I wasn’t expecting to be as impressed as I was, standing there watching the vehicles drive around the base of it.
Food and sugary delicacies are very enjoyable things to do in Paris that aren’t museums. Located at 75, avenue des Champs-Elysees, Luduree Paris is a sugar lover’s delight. A tea room with an entire shop for macarons and chocolates. Mmmmmm. They had common flavours like vanilla, caramel, lemon, and chocolate but there were also different ones like rose, pistachio, liquorice, and Marie-Antoinette tea.
Originally Laduree started out as a bakery in 1862, at 16 rue Royale. The area grew into an elegant district with French luxury items being offered. In 1871, a fire created the opportunity to reopen the bakery as a pastry shop and it soon became a tea room where woman could gather. Something not easy to do outside of the home during that time period.
Laduree not only has the above two Paris locations, they also have several international locations to choose from. Since discovering macarons at the Champs-Elysees location, I have satisfied my new-found love of them at both the Vancouver and the Sydney location.
If you are interested in or starting to plan a trip, there are several travel related products and websites listed on the Yup…..We Like These page, to help you out. Some of the affiliate link descriptions also contain a coupon code for you to use.
Last year I was reading emails when I saw one that said flights to Australia from Vancouver were something like $660 return. Turns out that was USD but still I jumped at the opportunity and booked myself a flight for $845 CND return. It meant I had two long haul flights with one stop each way, and a layover in Guangzhou, China with China Southern.
I had never flown China Southern before so I didn’t know what to expect. The airplane was huge and there were heaps of people crammed in. The flight attendants were wonderful though. There were so many carry-on bags and so little space, they were sharing their space by putting bags everywhere possible.
[bctt tweet=”Taking advantage of a layover is a great way to spend your time & offers a teaser for a new country.” username=”dapsile” nofollow”yes”]
I’ve been on flights before where the flight attendants get very upset that you are in their way as they are trying to move and work. Totally makes sense, I would be too. Even though I always wear compression socks when I fly, I appreciated how the China Southern flight attendants understood how we needed to get up, walk around, or even just stand for a time. They were patient with us while we tried to get out of their way so they could work. I also watched the flight attendants continuously wipe up the bathrooms. The one I was using wasn’t the messy, stinky disaster scene you normally experience on long haul flights.
Setting the Bar
By the time I landed and got through my layover in Guangzhou, China with China Southern, the bar was set pretty high. I wish I wouldn’t have done that because the flight from China to Australia wasn’t as good. The bathrooms weren’t looked after as well and I had to ask for my vegetarian meal for each meal. I actually argued with a flight attendant for one of them because she gave me a regular meal, until someone else brought me my vegetarian one. In her defense though, the woman in front of me was horribly difficult and complained about the food she was given each time. Before she even tried it.
The flights from Australia to China and China to Vancouver were somewhere in the middle though both for my expectations and the outcome. I have heard some scary, faulty airplane stories about China Southern but I never experienced that. Overall I felt China Southern was a good airline to fly with.
City Street in Guangzhou, China
Taking Advantage of Opportunities
About six years ago, I decided that when the circumstances allowed, I would start maximizing my layovers in different locations. It hasn’t really amounted to too many so far but I enjoyed my recent layover in Guangzhou, China with China Southern.
There are exceptions, but if you have a ticket purchased to a 3rd country and you will be leaving within 24 hours, most people do not require a Visa to travel through China. You will need to receive a stamp in your passport allowing you to leave the airport though. My first layover was about 4 hours between Vancouver and Australia, so I didn’t try to leave. Nor did I go through any section where I could have even received a stamp to leave. I saw my departure area, stopped & stayed there. There were shops and restaurants to get me through the time. Even though the public washrooms in the airport contained mostly standing toilets, I did appreciate the few sitting ones they had.
My second layover, on my way back, was about 9 hours. I went further through the airport and went through an immigration check where I received a stamp for temporary transit, good for 24 hours. I must admit I didn’t ask any questions and I had no idea what was happening but because I was flying with China Southern, they took care of everything. Someone was even waiting for me after I went through that check and received the stamp in my passport. I was then taken to the front part of the airport. Turns out it is huge.
The Layover in Guangzhou, China with China Southern Treatment
Apparently, because my layover was over a certain amount of time (not sure exactly what that time limit is), I was taken out of the airport and put on a shuttle bus to a hotel. I was given a room and a voucher for food. So, I showered, changed, and hopped on the shuttle back to the airport.
Trees in February at Guangdong Folk Arts Museum in Guangzhou, China
I went back to the customer service desk and asked if there was a tour or some way to see the city. It took quite a bit of asking, repeatedly, but I did find out there was both a tour and a welcome travel package. The tour was a specific time, which didn’t work for my flight times, but the welcome travel package contained a travel card for the public transportation system, two tickets that could be used at two different museums, what looks like a page of coupons for all kinds of different things (there is not a lot of English so I am not sure exactly), and a fun, touristy, above ground map.
My first stop was to an ATM for money then I placed my carry-on bag in the left luggage facilities. After that, I headed downstairs to the underground train station. Both the station and the train from the airport had English so that helped. Actually, while not a lot of people spoke English with me, most of the airport, hotel and China Southern employees did.
The train was very busy on a weekday morning and I had to transfer at an even busier station. I am so glad I read the map on the first train and counted the stops to the museum I wanted to go to though because once I transferred trains, there was no English. I visited the Guangdong Folk Arts Museum which ended up being about one hour train ride from the airport.
While the Guangdong Folk Arts Museum was mostly outside, and it was a pretty chilly day, I still enjoyed it. This was my first time to China so I loved even looking at the architecture of the neighbourhood let alone the artifacts, etc at the museum.
Statue in Front of Guangdong Folk Arts Museum
Maybe I wasn’t able to see as much of the city as I would have liked, that free city tour would have been great, but I am so happy I chose to see something during my layover in Guangzhou, China with China Southern. It was my first time in China and it was a great teaser for the country. Showering, changing, seeing sights in a new country, these are all wonderful ways of spending your layover time between two long haul flights. I especially enjoyed the treatment and perks China Southern provided their passengers on these long layovers.
Europe is one giant tourist dream with so much to see and do everywhere you go. One of the best aspects of Europe is the history. There is so much of it, and while countries and cities continually modernize, they value their history and reuse it. Paris is no exemption. Palaces, hotels, train stations, all once bustling with activity and opulence, now house some amazing museums. Still bustling with activity and opulence but in a different way, and to a different class of people. The buildings themselves now become part of the draw. With over 100 museums, there is something to see for everyone. Paris is where the 2016 European Museum Tour continued.
Travelling Around Europe
Travelling through Europe is super easy, and can be very affordable.
The first stop with my cousin Megan on the 2016 European Museum Tour was Amsterdam. We then took the train from Amsterdam to Paris. We booked our tickets online with GoEuro (affiliate link) a few months before we left, for around $40 Euro each. The day we were leaving Amsterdam though, I confused the departure time up and we missed our train by like 1 minute. So, we had to buy new tickets to Paris. The price on that day, at the station, was approx. $200 Euro each. That is a HUGE price difference. Plus, most of the trains were already booked so we had to take the slower one. Prices are constantly changing on GoEuro so if you see a good price you might want to make a quick decision. We looked at prices one evening and they were different the next morning; one trip increased and one decreased.
You can also get cheap flights with companies like Ryanair (some seriously cheap flights!). You do have to pay for everything with Ryanair though, including baggage. There are of course buses, car rentals and tours if you prefer one of those options.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Louvre. And it really is as amazing as you might think.
The Louvre is housed in a former grand palace that was once a royal residence. Oh yah, and it has Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. It is stunning in its architecture dating hundreds of years, and its grandioseness. You can spend your entire day walking around a royal palace checking out the architecture. There are also historically decorated and furnished rooms, as well as all forms of art and artifacts on display, including even fashion. Something for everyone.
I especially enjoyed all the statues and busts. I’m not sure if I have ever seen so many in one location before. Among them were religious ones, Greek mythology, and a range of people from the past.
I’ve been to the Louvre twice and I still haven’t seen everything there is to see. Years ago, my brother wanted to go to Paris to see it. Someone told him you needed days to visit so he changed his plans. Don’t be like my brother. Yes there is heaps to see, and yes it would take you days to see everything, but don’t pass up the chance to spend some time there. It is worth a visit for even a few hours.
A Bonus Luxury Rest Stop
If, like me, you have a bathroom thing, there is an amazing, paid, public bathroom just outside the Louvre in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall. Point WC is part of 2theloo. They are clean, private, toilet facilities with a store. It is rather luxurious and not too expensive, depending on what you choose to pay for. Why not go in comfort and privacy, as well as enjoy a wash and dry.
You can even buy coloured toilet paper and other products to take home with you. Including black toilet paper which does give a sense of mystery, in many ways. Can you imagine using this?
There are several locations of 2theloo in Paris and the world so you don’t have to worry about always heading back to the Louvre when you have to go. The facilities are cleaned after each person and each ‘room’ is designed to be spacious, private, and soundproof. I paid for the Japanese SPA. In the room I had a toilet, sink, mirror and plenty of space. The toilet even offered a wash and dry. It was so much better than normal public washrooms. And such a great experience. If you have a washroom thing.
I am fortunate to have visited Paris two or three times previously, but I had never been to the Musee d’Orsay before. I liked this museum though. Not only is it a wonderful showcase of various forms of art but the entire building is stunning. It is a historical piece of architectural art. The museum is housed in an old train station and hotel that opened in 1900 in an aristocratic neighbourhood. The train station closed in 1939 though and then the hotel in 1973. The building was deemed historical and was repurposed, opening its doors as the museum in 1986.
The large, main hall of the museum is still recognizable as the original area that once contained the train tracks with platforms. At one end there is also a large, windowed wall that contains a massive clock.
There were paintings of course, including several from Vincent van Gogh.