Driving in Toronto, not for the faint hearted!

enhanced-17762-1442354818-1“I really miss driving” is an actual quote I’ve heard from expat friends here in Toronto! To these people I scold…….Please, I drive 800 km a week, do that for a while and you won’t want to drive for long in Toronto.

HOWEVER if you do decide to drive in Toronto, forget all the manners your mother and father bred into you and follow these handy hints (with a pinch o salt)

 

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To park or not to park?!

You will get tickets, so many tickets! If a spot looks legit, its probably not!                              The GreenP app will become your new best friend, you can find and pay for parking with it and even better you can extend parking remotely. Where possible, use actual parking spots, tickets can affect your insurance so beware. Another handy app is the Rover app (thanks Brian) This app is great for those who both want or have available parking. The app lets you choose from hundreds of parking spots all over the city. All for under $2 per hour. If you have a spot make some quick extra cash from your empty driveway. Rover let’s you rent it out when you’re not using it. Handy eh?!

 

enhanced-1310-1442348136-7Use your blinker There are two types of people in the world, those who use their turn signal, and douchebags. Worldwide indicating is a common practice to alert other drivers as to your intention to switch lanes. In Toronto blinkers show other drivers that they should speed up to prevent you from doing as you intended.

 

 

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The 401 aka my nightmare!

The 401 is where they weed out the weak. Ontario boasts the busiest and widest highway in the world. You don’t drive on the 401 to get somewhere. You do it for the challenge. Typically if the route planner says an hour on the 401, give yourself at least 30 minutes more and thats not when its rush hour. Rush hour 401 will break even the most patient of people. I have had some of my best musical moments whilst stuck on the 401, I have also arrived home and realised that i have zoned out for the last 40 minutes of the journey. Cars and tow trucks on the side of the road and crashes closing lanes are a constant reminder that you are driving on the highway of hell. Death is mere seconds away at any given moment. They’re always doing construction but nothing is ever finished. Need to take the 401…Good Luck!

 

anigif_enhanced-17269-1391931553-9Beware the trucks, particulary of the Dodge variety. There is a very good chance you are about to be flattened. These guys can see you, but you are irrelevant to them, because 1. they are bigger than you and 2. they are asses! I’m not sure if these vehicles are equipped with indicators because they are rarely seen in use, best practice is just avoid being near them.

Watch for Cyclists and pedestrians, No seriously, there are WAY to many instances of cyclists being hit in the city. Basically drivers and cyclists find it really difficult to co-exist, WHY?! Hell hath no fury like a driver who believes he has been wronged. Hell also hath no fury like a cyclist who believes she has been wronged. Both sides believe they’re doing the right thing and are therefore untouchable, irreproachable, and entitled to lecture on the subject of road safety. Motorists are pissed because of all the bike lanes (and lets admit it, we get jealous when cyclists whizz by) whilst cyclists want more! Lets just be aware of each other. So just so your clear, drivers hate cyclists, cyclists hate drivers and pedestrians hate everyone!

Buses and Streetcars; It’s safe to say that Toronto drivers find streetcars to be annoying. They’re slower than cars, they take up an entire lane, and even both lanes at a transit stop when passengers load on and get off. You know my pain if you’ve ever gotten stuck behind a street car on queen street. Buses aren’t so annoying, however they do have right of way on the road, so if they signal out in front of you, do not try to pass…It can lead to a ticket.

sub-buzz-3412-1474567943-15Traffic Lights; If the light is Green, go immediately….do not hestitate! I’ve never been beeped at more than when you the light turns green, and believe me I don’t hang around. In fact, I found that if you can begin to inch forward before the light turns they would really appreciate that. If the light is orange, you might think, slow down and get ready to stop. DO NOT slow down DO NOT stop! Orange means foot down you can make it.

And that’s driving in normal mode. Lest we forget about the six-month long Ontario winter and enter some top-tier level of driving. Let us know i you have any driving advice you’d like to share, and be safe of the roads. S xx

 

 

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From The Coolest to Most Hipster…

Calling all Donegal folk here in Canada…

Nat Geo Traveller recently came out with The Cool List: 17 for 2017, which ranked countries based on “culture capitals, hipster hotspots, wild escapes and places generally keeping it cool in 2017.”

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Deadly print of the world’s coolest place by Gary Reddin

 

 

Donegal came in 1st place!!Described as “a weather-nibbled coast spotted with sea stacks, Blue Flag beaches and offshore islands, Donegal is a land that feels undiscovered.” Star Wars: Episode VIII  was recently filmed on the Inishowen Peninsula. This area of Ireland is also expecting 2017 to be a big year, reasons to visit, include surfing beaches in Magheraroarty and Ballyhiernan Bay to Horn Head — a driving, walking or cycling loop that squeezes the 1,600-mile Wild Atlantic Way into a 4.5-mile nutshell.

Canada landed in the 7th spot overall. Heres what they had to say about Canada-  2017 is going to be a hugely symbolic year for Canada — it’s the 150th anniversary of the Confederation, with celebrations including a tall ships fleet sailing along the coast in July, and summer-long events in Charlottetown, where the movement started. This is a year of openings as well as commemoration — from the zip-line along the gorge edge at Niagara Falls to a ‘seafood trail’ launching in Nova Scotia, and a new UNESCO World Heritage Site in Labrador, Mistaken Point. Add in free national park entry all year, Montréal’s 375th anniversary and the Invictus Games taking place in Toronto in September and it’s clear there’s never been a better time to be here.

 

The Cool List: 17 for 2017

  1. Donegal
  2. Santiago
  3. Helsinki
  4. Greenland
  5. Peru
  6. Aarhus
  7. Canada
  8. Portland, Oregon
  9. India
  10. South Africa
  11. Iran
  12. New Zealand
  13. Seoul
  14. Sudan
  15. Dusseldorf
  16. Sicily
  17. USA

Donegal folk in Canada you must be feeling pretty cool right now. S xx

Kanpai! TFC…..Thats Taiwanese Fried Chicken

The best Fried Chicken, I’ve ever tasted.img_7671

 

Located on Parliament and Carlton, Kanpai is the only Taiwanese fried chicken place in the city. Every day every table in the place is occupied. It’s a casual setting that attracts families early in the evening but you can also take advantage of the late night kitchen and unique bar program.

We went on Saturday and we certainly weren’t disappointed. The menu is rich with old-school rap references, and contains a collection of small plates primarily priced between $4 and $8 that are influenced by Japanese, Korean, Dutch, and even Hakka cuisines.  We tried a wide selection of their dishes, alongside the chicken obviously.   The Taiwanese fried chicken,  TFC, is crispy skinned poultry which is seriously moist. You can have it by the bucket ($19) or as a three piece order ($8). It comes topped with chilli peppers, cilantro, and scallions alongside a little pot of sweet chilli-spiked sauce. The sides we had (with the promise to share) were so good that we reluctantly passed the around. I had the “Ain’t nothing but a green bean baby” and they were soooo good!

Dinner and drinks for 2 was around $60
Beers are $6 and only $4 a Jameson, sure I thought Gavin was gona stay the night!

Thanks to Gavin, Grainne, Babs and Kyle for the pics

If you do pop in let us know what you think. S xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tunnel of lights……..

Always on the look out for new things to do, I saw a post on a Toronto Blog talking about about a Tunnel of Lights just 2 hours outside of Toronto. So in the car we hopped and headed to Bingemans in Kitchener to see their event called the Gift of Lights .

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The event will run from November 18, 2016 to January 1, 2017. It is the largest drive-thru holiday light display in Southwestern Ontario and it features a gorgeous light tunnel to several lit-up holiday statues. The entire path runs 2 km long. Word to the wise, the tunnel is not 2Km long, but there is lights along the entire route.

For more information, check out their website here

I probably wouldn’t encourage the two hour drive, but the money does got to charity and it’s certainly something different!

If you do head down, enjoy the lights….S xx

Thinking of an Iceland stopover?

Firstly let me start by saying, I had no interest in visiting Iceland. Having been away from home for almost two years all I wanted to do was go straight to Tyrone and spend as much time as possible with my family. When looking at flights,  Gavin persuaded me to look at an Iceland Stopover. Having agreed on extending the trip, so our time in Iceland wouldn’t take time off my time at home and since flights were pretty cheap, I got on board.

We departed Toronto Aug 27th with Wow Air and landed in Iceland for  three amazing days. Flights for two from Toronto-Iceland-Dublin (return) were about $1,800. So not much more than a direct flight.

car-shotGetting around and accommodation: Prior to our trip we were advised to hire a car. This means your not stuck in Reykjavik and you can really explore the island. Orange Car Rental  was the company we used. They shuttle you to and from the airport, provide a fuel discount card and they are a sound bunch, with lots of tips on getting around. Parking in Reykjavik is pretty expensive, if you happen to book the smallest cars available from the car rental agencies there’s a good chance that it qualifies as a eco-friendly car which will give you free parking in all zones. If your rental car qualifies there should be a sticker in the window that is shaped like a clock and marked by the Reykjavík crest. If you have one of those clocks you can park anywhere for free for up to 90 minutes. After 90 minutes you have to pay though. Luckily we got one such car….nice!

 

AirBnB provided our accommodation,  we were about 15 minutes outside Reykjavik in Kopavogur staying in a cute one bedroom apartment, hosted by a lovely lady Gudrun.

First Stop: The Blue Lagooni52

 

Landing in Iceland at 6am and heading straight to the Blue Lagoon, probably doesn’t seem like the best idea, but suprisinly once we hit the milky blue water we were wide awake.

  • The Blue Lagoon is actually a manmade lagoon;  a nearby power plant, Svartsengi, was drilling to create electricity and hot water for nearby communities and the Blue Lagoon was originally an accidental byproduct of this process.
  • The Blue Lagoon is now a Geothermal Spa and is run like most other day spas you find around the world. There is accommodation, as well as saunas, restaurants & cafes, lockers, showers, etc.
  • The geothermal water features three active ingredients: Silica, Algae & Minerals.
  • While it looks blue, the water is actually white. If you pour it into a transparent cup, it will have a milky white color. The sun simply makes it look blue!
  • The water temperature is 37-40°C (98-104°F), year-round.

How much does it cost? This depends on season, and various packages are available ranging from, €40-€80. The package we choose was the premium €80 which included; Entrance to Blue Lagoon, silica mud mask and algae mask, use of a towel, 1st drink of your choice, use of bathrobe and slippers, as well as a reserved table at LAVA and a sparkling wine at LAVA. On reflection the Comfort package at €65 would have been the better bet unless you plan on visiting the restaurant, which we didn’t. You have free access to as much slica mask as you want, which is located in buckets around the pool. Drinks at the swim up bar aren’t crazy, around €8.50.

Will the Lagoon Ruin my hair?

Prior to visiting the lagoon I had read horror stories of breakage and frizz. I found this widespread concern to not really be an issue at all for me. I wet my hair with the shower water and then lathered on a coating of conditioner before getting in. if you are concerned though many girls had their hair up in buns and swim caps. After washing and drying, my hair did feel slightly “crispy,” and explains my terrible hair in most of the photos!

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Tips for your visit:

  • The Blue Lagoon is about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik and about 20 minutes away from the airport. We went straight from the airport, to fill the time between landing and our AirBnb becoming available. There are shuttle transfers available to the Lagoon from both locations.
  • The water is not hot hot. It felt more like warm bathwater.
  • The weather in Iceland is highly unpredictable. Don’t let bad weather keep you from going to the Blue Lagoon. It was pretty cold when we were there, but once you hit the water you warm and wake right up
  • If you plan on taking photos inside the Lagoon, use protection. You can purchase a waterproof phone case from the bar for around $20. This was a serious lifesaver in Iceland between the dirt and water we encountered in our adventures.

Next Stop: Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland, remember Justin Beiber running around in his pants, this is the place! It is 65 meters high and it is breathtakingly beautiful. It is a must visiting Seljalandsfoss when visiting the south-coast, you will not regret it, I know I didn’t since once there Gavin got down on one knee and proposed!!

It is possible to walk behind the waterfall so bring a raincoat (we didn’t) as you will get wet from the drizzle. It is awesome walking behind Seljalandsfoss, especially on a sunny day when you can catch a rainbow. In winter time the path is closed when it gets too slippery and dangerous to walk behind the waterfall.

Seljalandsfoss is not far from Reykjavík, only 120 kilometres, so you can take a day trip South Coast Tour and waterfalls and visit Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss and return back to Reykjavík on the same day. You can spot Seljalandsfoss from the ring-road long before you reach it and it is a beautiful sight watching it getting closer and closer. In winter time it is lit up.

Day Two: Travelling Snæfellsnes (don’t ask me how its pronounced!)

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Snæfellsnes is a peninsula in western Iceland, North of Reykjavik. According to Google Maps the drive from Reykjavík around the peninsula and back is about 475 km and they estimate that you need just over 6 hours for the driving without stops. This day trip could easily take a lot longer with all the things to see and do on the way but if the weather is nice I would say it’s well worth it. Its worth mentioning that you will drive a lot, so take snacks and not to sound like your mum, plan your pee breaks!

After setting out, we stopped in Borgarnes for lunch and stumbled upon the cutest little guest house and cafe Blómasetri∂. Here we had a quick bite and chatted with the owners who provided us a really helpful guide to travelling Snæfellsnes, which ended up being our guide for the day.

This drive was amazing, with every corner the landscape seemed to change. Normally I’m a complete hag, but I made myself climb the hills, and jump the rocks in streams and Im so glad i did! We took in as many attractions as we could including;

  • Saxholl: 3000-4000 year old lava crater
  • Lóndrangar: a pair of sharp basalt cliffs 246ft high. Awesome sight, shaped by force of nature like a viking ship.
  • Helena: an ancient fishing village
  • Songhellir (singing cave): Cave is know for amazing echoes, and ancient home to Bár∂ur Snaefellsás
  • Stykkishólmur: a fishing village and home to lighthouse.

Day Three: Exploring Reykjavik

By this stage we were pretty much exhausted and decided to explore the city. Eating and drinking in the city is pretty expensive, but we did check out the local establishments over the course of the three days and would recommend The Laundromat, The chuck Norris Bar, The Big Lebowski bar, and Bravo.

Reykjavík is a hipsters paradise, You could spend more than one day checking out the city and you will want to check out all the cute wee shops, the graffiti and the bars.

 

Be sure to visit the Hallgrímskirkja (Church of Hallgrímur) which is the most prominent of the Reykjavík landmarks. The tower is 73 meters high (that’s almost 240 feet) and it’s placed on top of a hill (Skólavörðuholt) so it is impossible to miss.It’s possible to take a elevator to the top of the tower and it costs 500 ISK, about $.6 per person. According to locals its a great way to get photos of the city, but due to time constraints we didn’t do it.

Also check out the Viking ship and the Harpa concert hall along the waterfront.

 

Wow that was a long post,  AND I could go on. If you didn’t guess, I LOVED my time in Iceland, and will definetly go back.

I really struggled to decide which photos to use, all of which were taken by Gavin or myself.

Have you been to Iceland? Let me know what you thought?

S xx