31 May

Local Travel: Atlas Coal Mine

Atlas Coal Mine, East Coulee, Alberta

Winter whips up the valley and gets caught in the coulees. Drawing the company issued coat closer does nothing to stop the bitter cold and driving winds from penetrating  as he trudges up the escarpment to the wash house.

Changing quickly he pulls his clothes high up in the rafters to keep them from the unavoidable the coal dust that permeates everything.

Atlas Coal Mine, East Coulee, Alberta

Although he has hurried he’s last in line at the lamp house. His light and helmet are duly noted in the ledger; a cost that will be marked against his daily wage tallying upwards everyday so that, some weeks, he owes more than he has earned and cannot send anything back to his family in Hungary. He is grateful, though, that there is work for him as he knows that many are turned away everyday.

Atlas Coal Mine, East Coulee, Alberta

‘Brassing in’ so that company officials know he is inside, he climbs up through the tipple along side the conveyor belt to the entrance of the mine.

Atlas Coal Mine, East Coulee, Alberta

Atlas Coal Mine, East Coulee, Alberta

Today is his lucky day as he’s assigned to the pony team meaning he’ll be able to stand during his shift rather than work doubled over in a cramped tunnel next to the smallest of coal seams. Gulch, his horse for the shift, was born in the underground stable and has never seen the light of day.

Atlas Coal Mine, East Coulee, Alberta

Calm, despite the darkness and noise, he spends the shift pulling the several ton coal carts through the shafts to the railway carts that will deliver it to the weigh station and, ultimately, down to the tipple. Time after time after time.

Atlas Coal Mine, East Coulee, Alberta

Twelve long hours later horse and miner finish up for the day. Battling the snow drifts that have built up during the day he makes his way to the Rosedeer Hotel at the edge of town.

Pushing past the ‘ladies’ at the entrance he enjoys a quick beer before heading up to his basic room and falling, exhausted, into bed for the night. Tomorrow is another day.

The Atlas Coal Mine is located in East Coulee just 15 minutes from Drumheller, Alberta. At $15, the tour was a great value really giving us a sense of what life must have been like for miners back in the early 1900’s.

You can still book a room at the Rosedeer hotel; $60 for a regular room or $65 for the ‘Honeymoon Suite’. At the very least you should stop in for a beer at the Last Chance Saloon. It’s much more sedate now than it was 100 years ago but you can check out the memorabilia and the bullet holes in the wall that tell the stories of a much different time.

This is NOT a sponsored post; we visited on our own dime and really did enjoy it enough to recommend that you visit too.

28 May

Monday Moment: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Check out the size of this steak that we (thankfully!) shared in Buenos Aires! It was as big as my head and came with so many side dishes there was no room left on the table. We certainly had our fill of beef and wine during our stay…in fact wine was so cheap I think we drank a bottle every day we were in Chile and Argentina!

I had no idea that Argentina was so sophisticated (think Italy sophisticated) with great coffee, amazing food and unbeatable wine. It is definitely worth a visit!

24 May

Japan Itinerary (Redux)

Japan ItineraryPhoto Credit:  halcyonsnow

Ok, I really mean it this time!

Turns out it is three years, almost to the day, that I posted our original Japan itinerary intended as the last country of our RTW trip. We abandoned Japan back then (and rightly so) as our backpacker budget was already stretched thin and we found that we adored SE Asia; it’s cheap accommodation, fabulous food and great weather drawing us to stay, if not forever, then at least as long as absolutely possible.

We always said, though, that our next big trip would be to Japan. Abandoned once, but never forgotten.

After determining what we wanted to get out of our trip we set to finding those places that would give us culture and history but also a good dose of urban activity. I think we’ve done a good job; staying put for days at a time and then moving through smaller centers to get a feel for rural Japan also.

Through some grace of good luck there happens to be a direct flight from Calgary to Tokyo three times a week – that makes Tokyo the first stop. We’ll spend three nights getting our bearings, eating the first sushi and generally getting lost I’m sure. I’d prefer an apartment over a hotel but the short stay might limit that option.

Seven nights in Kyoto follow. I’ve been told that a week is barely long enough to explore the cultural center of Japan. We will definitely get an apartment for this week an spend our time wandering the city, chasing Geiko, and visiting as many temples as possible.

Nara is usually a day trip from Kyoto but after a week and a half of city dwelling we want to start on a more relaxing path. A visit to the Great Buddha in the company of the famous deer of Nara should put us on the path to enlightenment…no? A small guesthouse here will be our home for two nights.

I have been intrigued lately by the idea of meditation retreats; silent ones in particular. I like the idea of quiet contemplation at this point when I seem to have all kinds of ideas jumbling around in my head. I somehow think that things would become clearer if only I were silent long enough to hear myself. I’m probably not ready to commit to a multi-day retreat yet (nor would it be likely I could convince Jason it’s a good idea!) but I do like the idea of staying in temple in the Koya-san region just south of Nara. Here, we can stay in a temple and take part in the morning ceremonies with the monks. It’ll give me a taste of a retreat without the long term commitment…perfect for me!

I believe that when you visit a place you should visit the good and the bad. I couldn’t visit Germany without remembering the Holocaust and visiting a concentration camp, or spend time in Peru without learning about the Shining Path; I think it’s a travellers responsibility to acknowledge all facets of a place so a visit to Hiroshima is necessary. It’s not all doom and gloom though – we’ll also visit Miyajima and the ‘Floating Temple’ and visit the town of Saijo just outside of Hiroshima to sample sake from the many breweries in the area. Four nights seems like a long time here but we plan on taking our time, especially with the sake.

A day of traveling through the mountains will take us to Takayama, a small city that boasts of traditional buildings, morning markets, sake breweries and stunning mountain scenery. Time to slow it down again here and just take it as it comes.

From here it gets even slower as we make a one night stop in Magome before hiking the ancient trail to Tsumago the next day. I want to stay in a traditional ryokan in the mountains and this place sounds just about perfect. Nestled in the mountains on the once populous route from Tokyo to Kyoto these towns are steeped in history and should offer some quiet distraction as we head back to Tokyo after this.

Five days remain and Tokyo remains barely scratched. We’ll find an apartment and explore all that Tokyo has to offer. From back alley izakayas and yakitori stands to upscale sushi; the Tsukiji fish market, the Imperial Palace and Harajuku; day trips out to Hakone and quiet days sampling beer an sake. After almost four weeks in Japan we’ll really be ready to tackle one of the biggest, and densest cities in the world!

I think it’s a good mix of rural and urban, food and culture and, although it moves a little quicker than I originally intended, it slows down often enough to let us settle in a little bit.

Do you have any Japan itinerary advice? Think there is somewhere we are missing? Something we absolutely have to do or see? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook page!


Have you checked out the Japan boards on my Pinterest account? I’ve found it to be one of the best travel planning tools ever!!


21 May

Monday Moment: Pak Ou Cave, Luang Prabang, Laos

Fortune Sticks at Pak Ou Cave, Luang Prabang, Laos

A tuk-tuk ride, lunch by the river watching over an elephant, and a boat ride finds us in Pak Ou cave just outside of Luang Prabang in Laos. Like many caves in the area, it is a shrine to Buddha…in fact, this one contains thousands of tiny Buddhas that people leave as part of their visit.

A journey here can also tell of your future. Take a marked stick, match it to a paper slip from the box and hope that it is good fortune coming your way and not a bad omen. Regrettably, I didn’t have mine translated and so will just have to wait for it all to play out.


Is travel in your future?  Laos is a great destination and is super cheap to travel once you are there. CouponCodes offers some great travel online discounts which means that getting there doesn’t have to break the bank either. There are coupon codes for Expedia flights that can wing you away to any number of exotic destinations.

17 May

Five Ways To Use Pinterest When Trip Planning

Japan Board On Pinterest

I, like most people, started using Pinterest to look at pretty pictures and procrastinate from whatever I was supposed to be doing.

I am the queen of procrastination! Supposed to be cleaning the house? Look at all these beautiful decor pins! Supposed to be making dinner? Look at all these yummy food pins! Supposed to be writing a blog post? Look at all the amazing travel pins! Supposed to be going for a run? Oh…don’t look at the fitness pins because it makes me think that I’ll never look like that…may as well stay in and have another brownie. Did I tell you about that fabulous brownie recipe pin I saw?

I have, however, found it to be very useful as I plan our upcoming trip to Japan. Here are five ways to use Pinterest when trip planning:

  1. Pure Inspiration. In the beginning I searched Pinterest for any pins with reference to Japan. I was hoping to find websites and blogs that write about Japan so that I could get some personal stories of where people went, what they did and maybe even some secret hide-aways.
  2. Find Interests. Then I began pinning sites that had anything of interest to me. I didn’t sort them at all (other than pinning them to my Japan board); I was just looking to see what types of things were catching my eye. In this way I learned what parts of Japan that interested me. I could easily see that I am interested in landscapes (gardens, nature, mountains), food (all kinds of food pins!), sake, culture, and temples. It was this process that helped determine our final itinerary – find the things your interested in doing and then figure out where you can go to meet those interests.
  3. Track Accommodation Finds. I started a Japan Accommodation board. As I searched using various methods (Lonely Planet, Agoda, travel blogs, and more Pinterest) I weeded out hotels, ryokans, hostels and inns I was interested in staying in and pinned them to this board. If I included a price in the description it flagged the price for me too so I can see at a glance how one place stacks up over another.
  4. Keep Track of ‘Want To Do’s’. I haven’t yet but will soon soon start a board for each destination of our trip. On these boards I will keep track of things I want to do, or places I want to see, at each of the destinations. We may not do all of them but I can pin them as I come across them and not have to wonder where I saw that great idea.
  5. Use As A Trip Journal. In much the same way as the ‘Want To Do’ board, I will start a board for each destination detailing what we actually did in a certain place. Hotels, restaurants, sake breweries, gardens, and temples will all be recorded with details and a small review. This way I will have all the information I need to write about a place without having to search for it all again.

I love the visual nature of Pinterest. It’s much better than simply bookmarking as it reminds me of exactly why I bookmarked that page just by looking at it.

And now I have reason to be wiling away the hours searching through pins – it’s not procrastination, it’s trip planning!

You can follow me on Pinterest at: Pinterest.com/gillianduffy I’m trying to find a way to have a board that other people (like you!) could pin to also. I would love to have a ‘Japan Tips’ board for people to add to as a way of sharing a tip with me. Does anyone know how to do that?


Why not try Wimdu, to help you plan and book your perfect accommodation. Search for search unique apartments at Wimdu and find something to make your trip that little bit special.

14 May

Monday Moment: Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

I’m English by birth and, as such, I think I have tea running in my veins. My brother, sister and I started young; drinking weak tea in our sippy cups and, to this day, a good cuppa is what we all run to for comfort. I even remember my Grandma giving tea (with milk and sugar!) to her dog and cat at tea time.

I expected the tea plantations of Malaysia to have an overwhelming aroma of tea, but I didn’t get that distinctive scent until we entered the processing plant where the leaves are rolled, dried and oxidized.

We drank plenty of tea on this visit but I wouldn’t say it was any better than my favorite Tetley from back home. Guess I’m just not a tea snob!

02 May

Local Travel: Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary AB

The weather has been dull and rainy here lately; it quite reminds me of winter back on the coast…except it’s May!

Saturday was sunny though and predicted to be the only nice day in the string of days to follow so we decided to head out to one of the local breweries for a tour.

Situated on a decommissioned army base Wild Rose Brewery won’t be winning any design awards but what this compact brewery lacks in aesthetic it makes up for in atmosphere and flavour!

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, Alberta

The tour is $14 but includes a glass of beer to get you started. I opted for the Foothill Pilz; a great, light, pilsner perfect for summer sipping.

Foothill Pilz, Wild Rose Brewery

Anthony was a great tour guide dispensing all kinds of facts about the brewery and maybe even spilling a few secrets.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

It’s small. This is one of only two brewing vessels.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

The fermentation towers finish the job off.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

And then it’s into kegs.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

Or to the bottling machine. Like I said, it’s a small operation…one six pack at a time here.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

Quite the record.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

You can get a Party Pig to keep in your fridge. Each has it’s own name.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

We were able to visit ‘The Pig Cave’ at the end of the tour.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

The taproom is small but homey feeling. No tv’s makes it much easier to enjoy a beer with friends.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

We decided to finish our tour with a taste of them all.

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB

The IPA was a great standard but my favorite was the Belgian IPA with it’s spicy notes. Definitely worth a visit!

Wild Rose Brewery, Calgary, AB