Iceland, Land of Awesome Quaintness

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Finally, the Iceland post! It’s taken a while but it’s finally here. Back in August, we met up with our good pals Chris and Ana in none other than Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s about a 7hr flight from Seattle. What were we expecting? Other than lots of ice?

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Reykjavik in itself is kind of like a country town on steroids. I imagined more of a big city, but it’s actually tiny. It has a quaint, old-school quirkiness to it and is spread over about 5 main streets. It’s filled with restaurants serving amazing food, and good handful of bars and pubs and nightclubs (though I think the term ‘nightclub’ is used pretty loosely).

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Here’s a cool little pub we found after (a) not sleeping on the night flight (b) hiring a car, driving the hour into the city, then waiting another 2 hours for our hotel room (c) trying to find a place to eat and deciding to just drink beer instead. We came back here a few times.

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The first night we arrived was also the night of the Reykjavik Festival. Which we thought would involved all sorts of cultural stuff, but was more just like a music festival with various stages set up around the streets. Crowds everywhere! And fireworks at the end of the night.

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One of the first stops with Chris and Ana was the infamous Big Lebowski Bar. Where, of course, White Russians were in order.

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On our second day there, Chris and Ana headed out on a whale tour and we hurried off to partake in the Silfra Snorkelling Tour – where you get to snorkel in the rift between two tectonic plates. The water is freezing cold, but it was cool to see the land dropping away into darkness underwater – and the seaweed and moss was nothing short of beautiful. Sadly, no photos.

Outside of Reykjavik, Iceland is a land of vast flatness. Very rural. The lava fields are huge and rocky, and there are lone mountains rising up everywhere. World of trolls indeed.

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Our first day trip consisted of a lot of waterfalls. This one (Seljalandsfoss) actually had a small cave behind it, so that you can walk under/behind it … pretty cool.

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This one (Skógafoss) flows from the Skoga River over a huge cliff and drops about 60m. You can see it from the bottom and also walk, via that little path on the right side of the photo, to the top. It was a big hike, but after Esh made us walk up the Eiffel Tower (and back down) that time in Paris, I guess there’s no room to complain.

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In the afternoon, we made it down to the town of Vik, and to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, which sports those famous basalt rock columns (made by mother nature). Despite assumptions, they were actually quite huge. The beach itself was insanely cold and windy, but cool to see!

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We also came across this funny little house, where trolls once apparently lived.

Our second road trip was mostly focused around the Geyers and Gullfoss Falls on the famed Golden Circle!

Here are the Geyers (Geysir and Strokker), spurting forth with boiling water:

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And the notorious Gullfoss Falls, on the Hvítá River, where the water flows down in ‘steps’ and then drops into the perpendicular crevice below … It’s very loud and pretty spectacular.

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Here’s a quick video:

Two nice little surprises on this drive were 1) the Secret Lagoon. Not so much a secret, but more just a remote little hot spring pool set in the countryside with deliciously hot water. It was basically like a giant bathtub in nature!

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And 2) this little Tomato Farm, where we stopped for lunch after the swim. It’s family owned, and they grow their own tomatoes in a greenhouse, and use them to create awesome things like bloody marys, pasta sauce and tomato soup. The service was lovely and welcoming and the food was brilliant.

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Lastly, we made it to Kerid Crater, a volcanic crater lake. Apparently it’s around 3,000 years old (which is pretty young compared to other local craters), it was caused by a collapsed volcano and the water in it is on par with the water table.

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On our second last day we treated ourselves to an outing at the glorious Blue Lagoon. A huge complex of hot spring pools, free mud masks made from lava and a swim-up bar. It was well worth the hot soak and it wasn’t overly crowded.

We didn’t have our phones inside so there aren’t any photos, but here are some pics by the extended lagoon outside the front entrance to give you an idea of what it’s like. Or you can go to: http://www.bluelagoon.com/gallery/

As per usual, one of the biggest highlights of Iceland was the food. Every restaurant is pretty much stunning and the food is top-class. It’s a lot of fish and meat. We ate everything from goose pate (made the nice way), puffin, minke whale (I know, I know, but apparently it’s another common delicacy), and more. We asked for horse, but they didn’t have it (apparently it’s standard there, because they cull the horses every year to make room for the new ones).

Fish n’ chips in Iceland is meant to be a stand out as well, and everywhere we at it was pretty good. We didn’t get to try the traditional rotten shark, but we did go for this fish skin lemonade, which was surprisingly nice.

A few other cool and quirky things that stood out…

The Chuck Norris bar in the heart of Reykjavik:

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This Fish n Chip shop down south, which “probably” had the best fish n chips… Probably. Actually the fish was pretty amazing.

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This sign telling people not to throw coins into the geyers:

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The Icelandic attitude towards beer:

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Would we go back to Iceland again? Yes! But probably in the winter when you get to do things like see more glaciers and descend down into ice caves. Until then, really missing that hot spring.

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A Few Days in Maui, Hawaii

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I have to admit, I’m pretty depressed to no longer be in Maui! It was a fun-filled trip packed with awesome sights, luxurious activities and good times with Mark & Shaina. Other than seeing these two crazy cats, here are the main highlights, in no particular order, from our holiday:

Highlight #1. First Class (on the way)

Nothing beats a free upgrade! Even though it was just a domestic flight for us, were lucky enough to get First Class. With (genuinely) friendly flight attendants, big cushy seats. And Mai Tais.

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And yes, that is Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. If you’ve never read it I highly recommend doing so (it won the Pulitzer in 1928).

Highlight #2. Swimming with Green Sea Turtles

They are everywhere in Hawaii and they are HUGE! These local green sea turtles are pretty amazing to see up close, and their shells are as big as your arm or longer. They come in close to shore to forage for food on the rocks and they’re not afraid of people. Every five minutes or so they stick their heads above water for air. The first time, I only managed to get few pics of it’s back.

You’re not supposed to touch them, but they don’t seem to care if you stand close and gawk (though one stupid woman did touch one so she could take a photo, and while doing so got viciously dumped by a wave … = karma or “mother nature wins”).

Highlight #3. The Road Past Hana

Unfortunately, the Road to Hana (from the airport to Hana along the coast) was a bit of a let down and somewhat of a tourist trap. We drove it ourselves. The waterfalls weren’t really happening, the Cave of Waianapanapa took all of 2 minutes to get to and look at, the smoked BBQ food we wanted to get at the shop stop wasn’t happening, and the Seven Sacred Pools were closed for swimming!

But – there was redemption. The drive that continued on after Hana/the Sacred Pools was amazing (most tours turn around at this point, I’m guessing). It runs along the southern coast of the island, past the Haleakala volcano. Technically, you’re not covered if you take a hire car along this (dirt) road, but it was well worth it. The views and scenery were spectacular and there was barely another soul around!

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Highlight #4. Snorkelling  

We went snorkelling in two bays here – Honolua Bay and Kapalua Bay.

Honolua Bay was nice but murky near the shore, and further out there wasn’t a huge amount of coral/fish about. The biggest highlight here was probably encountering a GIGANTIC school of fish pretty far out in the bay … at first I thought I was approaching the rock wall, and then I realised it was actually a huge school! Probably the size of a small room. It was fun to swim and dive at them and watch them dart away. Never seen anything like it!

Other than that, Kapalua was definitely the better of the two for snorkelling (though we went earlier in the morning) and managed to see a good deal of tropical fish (though nothing compared to what you see on the Fijian islands). We also saw a cuttlefish, a few cornetfish (very cool), lots of butterfly fish, moorish idols and my fave, triggerfish.

(Check out this link to see what these fish all look like).

At certain points the water was quite shallow, so the reef was just an arm’s reach away and the fish were basically right in your face! Need to get an underwater camera for next time.

This is a photo of Napili Bay (I think) but it gives you an idea of how they all look.

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Highlight #5. The Jeep Wrangler

Spat: “What kind of car do you want to book for Maui?”

Esh: “Just the smallest, cheapest car is fine.”

Spat: “Okay, I booked a Ford Fiesta to save some money.”

5 days later … we are driving off in a fricken Wrangler. Thanks to a cheap upgrade offer at the rental desk and Esh basically wetting his pants with excitement!! It was a chunky but fun car and despite the rain we still took the windows off!

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Highlight #6. Hawaiian Food 

It’s hard to go wrong in Hawaii unless you’re eating at some real touristy place. It’s kind of a blend of Polynesian and Asian food, so lots of stuff with meat and rice. Here’s the first meal we ate – Esh had the must-try Loco Moco, and I had real Mongolian Beef (rah! pretty much impossible to find in Seattle) with Pork Lau Lau (pork in leaf). Yummo

On our last night we also booked ourselves in for a luau at the Feast of Lele, which cost a bomb but included something like 5 polynesian courses (each relating to Hawaii, NZ, Tahiti and Samoa), all-inclusive drinks and cocktails (!!) and of course, music, dancing and info about each culture.

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The food was delish on on the more surprising side, we didn’t end up feeling as full as we thought we would be. Num num num.

Other foodie highlights include fresh fruit from the markets, and the food at the Fish Market cafe across the road from our hotel.

Highlight #7. Sunsets Over the Water

One per day! We had a great view from the back of our hotel. Here’s a video loop that will run through automatically:

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Highlight #8. Our Hotel (Paki Maui)

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Our hotel ended up being a winner (despite the rooms being a bit of a dump), thanks to the beach and water right out the back. Once you get past the rocky shore it’s fine, and we saw another huge turtle here! Drinking a few beers and swimming in the afternoons until sunset became a regular way to end the day.

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Other Honourable Mentions …

This bar in town with amazing views owned by Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac. Beautiful, but expensive.

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This guitarist who was part of the band at the Feast for Lele. Too many cocktails, boys, perhaps?

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This Bubba Gump restaurant from Forrest Gump, which I can’t actually remember but I’m sure is significant.

These views!

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And awesome friends! (Shaina, I stole some of these from you hehehe)

Til next time, Maui! I suspect I will need my tan back soon.

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Living It Up in Cabo San Lucas

The US doesn’t exactly get a lot of public holidays and long weekends, so this July 4th we took advantage of the free day off and headed to Cabo!

Cabo San Lucas sits right down at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula, Mexico. It’s about a 5-hour flight from Seattle, with a stopover along the way.

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After stuffing around at the airport, we finally made it onto the hotel shuttle with a beer in hand.

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We stayed at the Marina Fiesta, which was in a great location and easy walking distance to everything. This was our semi-view of the pool.

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We discovered a lot of cool little bars and eateries in the ‘back streets’ of Cabo, away from the tourist dock/strip. The food was amazing and best of all, it was cheap! Like $2 coronas and $3 tacos.

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One highlight was this awesome rock band, who basically shack up in an outdoor bar every night (the Jungle Bar, I think) and play cool tunes. They were playing War Pigs (Black Sabbath) when we first got there! \m/

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Another one of our faves was also this tiny tequila bar called Slim Elbows. It basically seated four people and was covered, like a few other bars in the area, in American dollar bills. Naturally, beers, (real) tequila and sticking a $1 bill up with our names on it was the go 🙂 It was great to chat to the barmaids as well, who were lovely Mexican locals.

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Of course, the biggest perk of the whole trip (especially having come from cold and wet Seattle) was the hot weather and the BEACH! We spent a lot of time here, mostly at the end where the locals hang out.

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That tiny figure in the water there is Eshy!

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Further down the beach there’s also the tourist spot and a few bars. The food was good but expensive! Nice views though. Here’s Esh waiting for some nachos:

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On our last day, we did (as expected) a boat tour out to the famous El Arco. The tour takes you out of the bay and around to the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula, which is beautiful but not swimmable.

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What they call Coyote Rock:

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Lover’s Beach – on the other side (the Pacific side) is Divorce Beach. Apparently called so because if you swim there you’ll get swept away.

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Looking back towards the mainland:

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A few more street shots to give you an idea of what it looks like there.

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The region outside the city seems like a vast desert wasteland… lots of bush, scrub and cacti!

It was a fantastic little long weekend, and we were thrilled to get some sun, get a tan (well, I did) and hit the beach like old times.

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Next time, I think we’ll head over to the other side of Mexico, to the coast of Yucatan, and maybe even head down to Belize!

 

To the Bridge at Deception Pass

It’s an entire state park, but Deception Pass – at least in the short time we spent visiting it – is also a tiny straight separating Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands in Seattle / Washington.

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It’s known for it’s famed bridge (the Deception Pass Bridge) and it’s gorgeous views, and so we took a quick day trip out here with Moby the other week.

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Some shots of the views below… You can see the small beach at the water’s edge, though we didn’t make it down there.

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Kayakers!

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Moby liked the view too!

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We took a short ‘hike’ underneath the bridge, which was fun. It was pretty hot though and at the time Moby had a sore leg, so we didn’t get too far.

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According to this plaque the Pass was named by Captain George Vancouver (the same guy Vancouver is named after) who had originally thought Whidbey Island was a peninsula.

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From the State Parks website:

“The name Deception Pass derived from Captain Vancouver’s realization that what he had mistaken for a peninsula was actually an island. He named that island Whidbey in honor of his assistant, Joseph Whidbey, who was at his side when Vancouver realized the mistake. The captain named the inlet at which he was anchored Deception Pass to commemorate the error.”

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All in all, it was nice to visit another glorious part of Washington state – if only for a short stop. Thank god for nice spring days. Maybe next time it’s hot we’ll stop off proper and go for a (freezing cold) swim! Til next time.

Hellooooo, Las Vegas!

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Yes, we finally got there! (and back).

Our Vegas trip was a tonne of fun, from touring the casinos and doing a bit of gambling to eating out Downtown and relaxing by the pool at The Mirage.

Here are some pics of The Strip. It is dazzling in a very trashy American sort of way. There are people everywhere. By day it looks like a total dive that’s probably worst than the Gold Coast. By night it’s all glittery … but still trashy 🙂

The famous Bellagio Fountains … thought the show was a little overrated. It was pretty swish inside though! Still, the Wynn was nicer.

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Planet Hollywood:

Daytime at The Venetian and canals … you know, just in case you have a desire to go to Venice, but don’t actually want to leave the country.

 

Inside The Venetian … somewhat nicer, in casino terms. Tables were generally cheaper than at The Mirage – but let’s just say I also paid $17 for glass of low grade red wine.

We also learned that every movie, celebrity and TV show under the sun is not afraid to pimp itself out to a pokie machine. As you can see above, there are Gremlins pokies. We also saw pokies with Ghostbusters, Ellen, the Big Bang Theory, Bones and a whole bunch of others.

Here’s a tower built by some raving lunatic … fortunately, we had a view of this from our hotel room.

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Needless to say, Esh and I actually LOVED Downtown – aka the old / original Vegas. This rests about a 10 min drive from The Strip and is much less “glamorous” and more authentic and fun.

The food here is also amazing – best dinner we had took place at Carson Kitchen on 6th – Bacon Jam & Brie (see pic below), Crispy Chicken Skins (also in pic), Oxtail and Black Rice Risotto … need we say more! And of course, cocktails.

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Another two awesome places we ate at – Rollin’ Smoke BBQ, for really great BBQ, and Tacos El Gordo, for some amazingly authentic Mexican tacos. The queue was out the door and it took almost an hour to get food, but it was worth it. If you’re in Vegas, you HAVE to eat at these places.

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At the other end of the scale, we also sauntered by the infamous Heart Attack Grill downtown … where you can order a burger with something ridiculous like 20 patties and 40 slices of bacon, and where you eat free if you weigh over 350lbs. No wonder America has an obesity problem…

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But overall, we had a blast – thrilled to have finally done the ‘Vegas thing’ and looking forward to going back one day in the far future … probably to explore more of Downtown, work on my tan, and do a little more gambling and cocktail-by-the-pool drinking.

Key Lessons Learned:

  1. Vegas is stupidly expensive, especially on The Strip. We paid $30 USD for 2 drinks at The Mirage (WTF). Yes, you get free drinks if you sit at the tables and gamble, but you kind of have to be prepared to put in at least $50-$100, because those waitresses aren’t bringing your drinks back quickly.
  2. Downtown is awesome for food. All the locals (uber drivers) we spoke to basically told us to get downtown for something decent. We ate at the California Pizza Kitchen in The Mirage on the last day; the service was great, but the food was shit and overpriced.
  3. DON’T fly Spirit Airlines! Booked 10pm departure flight. Left at 1.15am – got home at 4.30am the next morning.
  4. It’s shallow classy! I think I was expecting a little more from places like the Bellagio, Venetian and Wynn … but overall it just doesn’t compare to something like Monte Carlo. But oh well!

Hello, Harrison Hot Springs, Canada

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A few weeks back we (finally!) made our first trip across the US border – and into Canada-land!

The purpose: To head to Harrison Hot Springs Resort, on Lake Harrison, which lies just about an hour over the border. The resort describes itself as a “1920s spa option” – complete with mineral hot spring water pools.

After a long drive to get out of Seattle (Friday, peak hour), we arrived at the border at Sumas. There was a short line-up and we were across in about 10 minutes.

We made it to the resort (which was more like a 3 star hotel, not a resort), checked in, and headed straight to the hot spring pools!

I actually forgot to take a photo of the hot spring pools – but here’s one I stole from their website:

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The pools are man-made, but the springs are all natural (apparently) and have that slightly stuffy sulphur smell. But they are sooooo nice and warm (like a hot bath) and with icy old weather, it was definitely refreshing.

You can also drink in the pool, which was fun. Next time we’ll have to remember to bring those waterproof cups with lids like everyone else.

While the Friday night was nice, the Saturday night was RIDICULOUSLY packed … Imagine the photos above crowded with people. Esh described it as a 1970s pool party – like those ones you see in the movies. But at least we still managed to get a seat at the in-built pool seats around the sides.

The tiny town of Harrison itself is essentially a tourist town with not a great deal to offer. The best place we found, however, was a local pub called the Old Settler – great food and beers.

Here are few daytime shots of the view just outside our hotel – the lake and snowcapped mountains were very pretty. On the last day before we left, we also went on a steep hike down to a secluded beach – but alas, my phone died and I couldn’t take anymore photos.

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Moby also had a ball running around, sniffing bird poo and playing on the makeshift tiny beach.

All in all, we loved Canada! Even if we only saw a tiny slice of it. It felt kind of like home being in a Commonwealth country. It was cool to see road markings in kilometres again, rugby on TV, and to find food that was fresh and tasty.

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Esh also almost wet his pants over the classic Canadian dish poutine (chips with cheese curd covered in gravy) – and ate it twice! From Wendy’s (which is like a cross between Maccas and Hungry Jacks) … it was the only place we could find it, and it was better than nothing. Definitely tasted like chips n gravy back home.

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Me, I treated myself to 4 x giant sized duty free blocks of Cadbury Hazelnut chocolate, which is hard to come by in the USA. A month later, it’s … er … pretty much gone.

Our next trip will hopefully be up to Vancouver in July! Til then, so long, Canadia!

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Moby Turns 1 Year Old!

Hard to believe it, but our little puppy – who was 8 weeks when we got him – turned 1 year old last weekend!

He’s definitely bigger (almost full-size now, can’t believe how small he used to be!), a little smart-arse and unsettlingly clever, and overly demanding when it comes to food and wanting to get his own way – but we love him to death!

Couldn’t be more thrilled to have this little guy as part of our family. He’s turned out to be a pretty well-behaved little pup. His tail wags non-stop, and he’s still a little ball of energy and fun.

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Here’s what we’ve figured out over the past year:

  • He’s his “own little dog” – very independent (sometimes code for stubborn)
  • He’s super smart; show him something once or twice and he picks it up
  • He’s got an oddly good memory
  • He lets out a cross between a bark and a howl when he’s busting to go to the loo and you’re not taking him fast enough
  • He LOVES snow