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All Sorts of New Stuff

What's new?

One of the most exciting news is that Travel and Transitions is now a designated YouTube Travel Channel Partner. You can find our extensive video clip collection at http://www.youtube.com/travelandtransitions. Our videos have now been viewed over 3 million times, making us one of the most popular travel video websites in the world.

So, what else is new?

2009 has been a rough year for everyone – including me. Being hit by the full brunt of the recession, I had to focus my attention on my full-time business, which incidentally funds this website. So I did not have as much time for travel writing, interviewing, photography and all the other wonderful things I love to do. Just staying afloat pretty much took up most of my time and energy.

But working with a small budget and being creative with my travel planning choices (using Airmiles, booking cheap packages over the Internet, sharing costs with friends, staying with family, going local etc.) I still got to do a few neat things about which I have not had a chance to write full articles. Check out the following adventures which are equipped with links to my Youtube videos from these destinations:

- My trip to Cuba in February 2009 where I spent a week on a very inexpensive (okay, really cheap) package vacation an hour outside of Santiago de Cuba. I did multiple trips into Santiago aboard the resort workers’ bus and enjoyed a great opportunity to interact with the locals, practice my Spanish and learn about Cuban life. I even stayed overnight in the city once with some local friends I had made at the resort and explored the fascinating Santa Ifigenia Cemetery as well as the Castillo del Morro, Santiago’s waterfront castle that is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

- My big trip to Europe where I travelled to my home country of Austria and also took a side trip to the city of Ptuj in Slovenia. Then I headed off to spend 10 days in Spain where I criss-crossed the entire island of Mallorca, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful islands I ever visited. Particularly the northern part of the island, the mountainous Tramuntana Region, captured my imagination. From there I went to the Czech Republic where I was able to visit one of my dream destinations: Prague, which is one of the most stunning cities in the world, particularly the gorgeous medieval architecture on Old Town Square and Prague Castle, the world’s biggest castle. Jitka Simkova and her team of local experts helped me get to know the city as indepth as possible within the short time that I had. On my way back to Austria I met my brother and sister-in-law in the picturesque Bohemian city of Telc, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. I spent almost a month in Europe and every time I come back from such a trip it takes me months to process the information, images and video clips and I am always blown away by the architecture, culture and landscapes of Europe. I am currently working on the article series about this trip.

From that point forward it was mostly domestic adventures in Canada. In line with the increasingly popular concept of “staycations”, I also decided to spend more time closer to home to save on funds. And I still managed to have a great time!

In July my husband and I went to Montreal to check out the Rogers Cup and do some sightseeing. Montreal is always a wonderful destination and although we only spent two and a half short days there, we still had a great time.

At the end of July I started covering some of Toronto’s great festivals: I checked out the annual Toronto International Beaches Jazz Festival which is one of my favourite annual events in Toronto. I had European visitors in town at that time and they absolutely fell in love with Toronto in the summer.

In August then I spent some time at the Taste of the Danforth, Greektown’s annual culinary and cultural celebration. At the end of August I headed downtown to partake of Buskerfest, a wonderful annual event with all sorts of amazing international street performers that benefits the Toronto Epilepsy Foundation.

During my weekend bike rides in Toronto I regularly stop off at the Distillery District which is an award-winning collection of over 40 restored Victorian-era buildings that has been turned into an internationally acclaimed entertainment, culture and shopping destination. The pretzels with garlic aioli at the Mill Street Brewery have become one of my regular treats when I stop at the Distillery during one of my bicycling breaks.

At the end of August I took my good friend Mario for a drive of Eastern Ontario for his birthday, and we visited Port Hope, Cobourg, Brighton and Trenton and came back through the beautiful Northumberland Hills. Ontario is definitely a gorgeous destination in the summer.

Being an avid bicyclist, I finally purchased a bicycle carrier and together with my biking buddy Gary I embarked on my first out-of-town bicycle outing. We drove less than 70 km west of Toronto to the City of Hamilton. Although Hamilton is primarily known as an industrial city it has a beautiful location at the corner of Lake Ontario and at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment. And it has an awesome waterfront bicycle path and some great well-preserved Victorian architecture downtown. It’s definitely worth a visit.

On September 12, 2009 I headed down the Don Valley on my bike to make a long stop at the Cabbagetown Festival. Cabbagetown is a beautiful Toronto neighbourhood that is full of gorgeous Victorian homes and attractive gardens, and the local festival stretches several street blocks over to Parliament Street. Even the local residents participate by holding street sales all over the place.

On September 13, 2009 I packed two of my co-workers into my car and we went for a country outing to Hamilton, Guelph and Elora. We took a boat ride in the Hamilton harbour and then had a lovely picnic in Guelph where we also admired the gorgeous hilltop Church of Our Lady Immaculate before we embarked on a walk through the Victorian downtown area. We capped off a nice country outing with a stop in picturesque Elora, which is always a beautiful destination.

The following week my good friend Gary and I headed out to Port Perry where we had an invitation to visit Lake Ridge Farm, Koi Nursery and Water Gardens. Owner Laura Engelsman gave us a tour of her koi nursery (koi are very colourful Japanese ornamental carp), and we also got to see her miniature animal farm which features miniature horses, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and bunnies. It’s a great place to visit and Laura often hosts school groups and non-profit organizations. We capped off this visit with a bike ride in historic Port Perry, a picturesque Victorian town on Lake Scugog.

On September 20 my regular Saturday bike ride took me to the Distillery District and from there I headed out to the Toronto Waterfront Trail east of Ontario Place. The next day I jumped on the streetcar with my bike and headed all the way from the east end of Toronto to the Humber River. On my way back past Sunnyside Beach and Ontario Place, I stopped off at Ireland Park, a spot that offers absolutely fabulous views of downtown Toronto.

In late September I had the absolute fortune, thanks to my friend Shauna, to participate in one of the last-ever tours of Toronto’s historic Don Jail, an infamous yet strangely aesthetic institution that dates back to the 1860s. The Don Jail was recently bought by a private health-care organization which is planning to turn it a research and administration facility. It was awesome to catch the Don Jail in its authentic pre-renovation condition.

On September 29, 2009 I headed out on a country drive to explore some of the towns surrounding the eastern part of Georgian Bay. My first stop was in Port Severn, part of the Trent-Severn Waterway, and I also stopped off in Honey Harbour and Midland, which has become famous for its collection of oversize murals by local artist Fred Lenz. My last stop was in Penetanguishene, another Georgian Bay harbour town.

During early October I headed out with my friend Shauna (another little birthday tour) to Port Hope again to visit the Port Hope Historic House Tour, which ended up being an absolutely perfect outing for die-hard architecture buffs like the two of us. We also really enjoyed the hospitality and great food offered by the ladies at St. John’s Anglican Church who even gave us a private organ concert.

On October 4 I headed out for the night-time adventure of Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s avant-garde overnight contemporary art festival. Although some of the art installations were not completely intuitive to me at first glance, it was absolutely mind-blowing to see all of downtown Toronto completely full of night-time revelers in search of adventure. Toronto is a happening place…

My search for interesting local weekend destinations had come up with Brantford, a city of about 90,000 just about 1.5 hours west of Toronto. My 2-day program was packed and included a visit to the Glenhyrst Gallery, an evening of theatre at the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts, the Bell Homestead, the Mohawk Chapel, a visit to downtown Paris and a stop at Robert Hall Originals, an artist who creates beautiful pewter giftware. One of the highlights on the last day of my trip was a leisurely boat ride down the Grand River with acclaimed tourism entrepreneur Jamie Kent from Grand Experiences who knows everything about the history, architecture, fauna and flora of the area. I never realized that Brantford had so much to offer…

In mid-October my husband and I headed out to Virginia where we spent a week which allowed me to explore the colonial roots of America. I learned about early American history in Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown and we also made some side trips to Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

When I look over this list of adventures that I was able to enjoy in 2009, I guess it wasn’t such a bad year after all. Much of what I did was local and it was done on a minimal budget with a bit of gasoline in the tank and a home-packed lunch. Actually, many of the local adventures were done on foot, by bike or by using the subway.

By necessity 2009 was a year of financial restraint, but by being a little bit creative I managed to make a lot of interesting experiences and I came to really appreciate the beauty and diversity that my local surroundings have to offer.

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