The CN Tower

Every city has its iconic monument, building or structure.

The Eiffel Tower.

The London Eye.

The Empire State Building.

In Toronto there are many beautiful buildings, but none are more iconic and recognisable than the CN Tower. So when we visited a few months ago, of course  we had to visit. After buying our tickets and a wait of about thirty minutes we were soon speeding up the tower, whizzing upwards as we looked out of the glass elevator at the city skyline.

Once there we were treated to gorgeous views of the city, the islands, Lake Ontario and beyond. At a height of 346/351 metres (or even higher if you venture up to the Skypod) you can see a long, long way!

It was fun to look down on the Toronto Islands where we'd spent most of the day exploring! The boats and planes looked tiny as the ferried people to and fro.

Matthew was very brave and went to take a snap through the glass floor. It is a long way down!

Meanwhile I took some snaps of the city and suburbs as they basked in the late afternoon sunshine.

It's always a little odd to see such huge buildings from above!

The sun was starting to go down over Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington in the far distance as we took in the views and enjoyed a glass of wine and a Canadian beer. Then we headed off to meet friends for steak and wine - holiday mode is such a joy, no?

The CN Tower was a definite highlight of our trip, as well as a constant sight during our time in Toronto. Not least because when you sat on the windowseat of our hotel room at the Intercontinental, the view was this:

Way to be, CN Tower!
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A Day in Bamburgh

Whenever we head up to the north-east to see our families (north-east England for Matthew, north-east Scotland for me), we always try and steal away for a little daytrip somewhere too if we're up for more than a couple of days. Last time we visited Matthew's family and stayed with them, we took an afternoon to head up the Northumberland coast to the beautiful little town of Bamburgh.

The Northumberland coast is absolutely beautiful. Rugged and wild, and far less visited than the beaches of the south, it has a charm all its own. In the winter it was most definitely not the not the tip for a dip in the sea, but the views were spectacular!

Most people know Bamburgh for its beautiful castle. As we visited on the off-season we couldn't go into the castle proper for an explore, but as architecture fans we had great fun walking the perimeter and taking in the views of the towers, parapets and arches from the ground.

After a good hour or so looking around the castle, we walked into the village (Bamburgh's either a small town or a large village - it depends who you ask!) to find a spot for lunch.

After tasty sandwiches and a warming cup of tea in the charming Wynding Inn we set off to look around the village. The houses were all beautiful, with several cottages I think I could happily live in, and all through the town there were beautiful little details and slices of history.

 Before the sun went down we ventured over to St Aidan's Church. St Aidan established a place of worship in Bamburgh in 635 AD, and the church now standing was built in the 12th century, so this is a place full of historical and cultural significance. We loved touring the church and finding out more about its history, its mission, and its importance within the history of Christianity in the UK.

We loved Bamburgh for a day trip, and will definitely be returning in sunnier weather to visit the castle properly and to take in some of the other attractions (I'm keen to see the Grace Darling Museum too). If you're in Northumberland, this is a great little town to visit.
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Plans for a day in Paris


Around here the middle of February is always a time to unwind a little, as the busy-ness of the Spring/Lent term breaks for a few days for the half-term break. As well as writing, catching up on house jobs, meeting with friends and doing all those little appointments which are harder to schedule during the school week, Matthew and I always try to schedule a day or more for fun, travel, or simply spending time together. Sometimes we'll plan a few days away, sometimes we'll go for a nice lunch, sometimes it's something as simple as a meal deal for two (viva M & S!). This year, we're going to zoom over to Paris for a day!

Eurostar always has some amazing deals on at the start of the year, so as soon as Matthew and I saw that there were lots of £26 seats available for the middle of February, we began to hatch a plan. There are parts of the UK we couldn't do for £100-odd return, so that price for a little French fun was not to be missed. We're heading across early, getting to Paris mid-morning in time for strolls and museums before lunch, and then have the whole afternoon and early evening before heading home to Blighty.

We've both visited Paris before, but not together, and I'm really looking forward to seeing a few favourite sights again, as well as catching a few new ones! Here's what we are hoping to do in the day. We won't stop much for food, as I'll be packing us a nice big Eurostar-picnic for breakfast en route, but supper should be lovely.

Once we've arrived we'll be hoping onto the Metro to head over to the Arc de Triomphe. Despite being in Paris many times, I've never gone to visit the Arc specifically! I have spent many a moment circling it though, within the unique insurance zone, often with colourful expletives ringing in my ears as a Parisian cabbie has disagreed with another driver's choices. This time we'll be going to pay our respects and enjoy the monument itself.

After that I feel a little stroll will be in order. We'll wend our way along the Champs-Élysées, then down Montaigne towards the Seine. I'm looking forward to gawking in all the windows of the designer stores. I'm not the biggest designer clothes girl, but man, I love the pretty windows!

Once we reach the Seine, we'll be taking a boat tour of the city. As it's a flying visit on this occasion I thought a tour would be nice, and in a day with lots of walking this'll give us a wee break to sit and have a snack too. I love the bateaux on the Seine, it's a really lovely way to explore the city.

When we've had our tour on the boat, we'll walk along the right bank to the Pont de Champs-Elysee, then cross to the left bank for a visit to one of my favourite museums, the Musée D'Orsay. This gorgeous museum is housed in the former Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station, and it is full of beautiful paintings and sculpture. While researching our trip I also discovered that we can get two tickets for the price of one as we are travelling by Eurostar - always nice to pick up a bargain, no?

After we've seen our fill of art, I thought we could walk a little further along the river and pop into the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. I've heard so much about this place and I always have time for an independent bookshop! Then I'd like to go and see a little of Notre Dame; last time I visited there were hoardings up everywhere, so I'm keen to see what it looks like now.

I imagine by then we will be positively full to the brim with culture and staaaaarving, so I thought we could pop back on the Metro at Cité and head back up to the area around Gare du Nord. There are so many great places to eat in Paris, but as we are heading back on the last train I'm keen to make sure we're in the right area! So imagine my delight when I spotted the lovely restaurant at Terminus Nord, right across the road from the station. I've booked us an early table for steak, wine and chats before we check in for our train and head back to England.

I'm so excited for our busy, fun day. What do you think of our plan? Have you ever tried to do a city in a day?
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Travel plans for 2017

All pictures are from our glorious day on Toronto Island

Happy New Year!

I hope your 2017 started beautifully. Mine had a quiet beginning, but it began with good friends, bubbles and cosiness, so I have absolutely no complaints!

2016 was a fun year for travel - lots of fun, short breaks to places in Europe, and a magical four-stop break in the autumn taking in New York, Boston, Toronto and Las Vegas. In 2017 I'm returning to full-time work, and that will change how I holiday - I'm hoping to utilise my weekends and holiday times well to see lots of places! This year I'm thinking most of my travel will be in the UK and Europe; I'm planning for lots of little visits. In 2018 I'll aim for a long haul, but 2017 should be the year of adventuresome little jaunts.

Already planned are a weekend in Newcastle later this month. We're going to stay at one of our favourite hotels, the beautiful Malmasion, and take in a Newcastle United match from one of the boxes at St James' Park. Next month we are going to Paris for the day - Eurostar has an amazing sale on seats so we took advantage and will be enjoying a day of museums, patisserie and gorgeous Parisian views. In March we are hopping up to Inverness for a family visit and to catch up with one of my best childhood friends who's over for a visit from the US.

Apart from that, we are deliciously unplanned so far. We usually plan holidays so far out, but as we're focusing on shorter-haul trips we can afford to be a little more chilled about proceedings. We are definitely planning on Italy at some point (Matthew studied Italian for years and I'm obsessed with Italian food, culture and architecture). Other destinations up for discussion are Oslo, Lisbon, Berlin, Barcelona, Stockholm and Santorini - it's such fun throwing ideas around!

I think in the long summer break I'll be taking a small holiday on my own. I haven't travelled solo in ages, so I'm excited for that challenge too. I'm mulling over what shape that trip might take, but as I have such a generous holiday in July/August I'm excited to take advantage of my schedule and get some adventures in the diary!

Lastly, this year I'm going to be doing lots of touristy fun right here in London. In a few years we'll be leaving London, I imagine, so I want to make sure I enjoy it as much as I possibly can in the meantime.

I also want to make sure I'm open to other opportunities to travel that may present themselves - have passport and will definitely travel!

Linking up with the #travellinkup lovelies, starting the year out right. What are your travel plans for the year ahead?
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A Circle Line Ferry Tour in New York

On our first full day in New York, we headed over to the Pier 83 on the west side of Manhattan Island, to take a Circle Line Ferry tour. We took the Best of NYC tour, which takes in so many of the sights you associate with New York. As there were bridge works we couldn't complete the whole circle of the island, but the horseshoe route we did take offered amazing sights of Manhattan, as well as Hoboken, Jersey City, Brooklyn, Roosevelt Island, and more.

We caught a glimpse of the USS Intrepid and the tail of Concorde at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum as we headed off on our tour.

It was such fun to spot the other traffic on the Hudson River and the East River as we sailed by. These bodies of water were huge and very busy with work boats, ferries, pleasure craft and other sailors.

As we sailed down the river the sheer scale and height of the towers of Manhattan was eye catching, to say the least!

Two of the funnest boats we spotted? The Beast, a speedboat that offered a quicker (and much bumpier!) tour of the city by boat. We also sailed by the cruise ship Arcadia, which was incredibly big - even with the backdrop of the city to contend with, this was a beast of a ship.

Loved spotting the little boats out for a weekend sail. You would have to be such a skilled sailor to set out in such busy waters!

The tour takes you very close to Liberty Island and I enjoyed getting these shots of Lady Liberty herself. On a whim we had upgraded our standard tour tickets to VIP ones, and our seats at the back of the boat offered a great vantage point from which to take photos.

We spotted a retired navy boat out for a Sunday pootle as well!

And spotting the bright orange Staten Island Ferry of course gave me this earworm.

The scale and span of the bridges was so impressive!

The UN building was very busy as they were in session - made for a very busy town while we visited. The Obamas were actually in a hotel a few blocks down Madison Avenue from our base!

Being more used to the Thames, where adverts are not permitted, the commercial efforts along the banks of the rivers were particularly striking.

If you're heading to New York, I'd really recommend a boat tour - it was such a great way to explore the areas and to really getting our bearings. At various points in our visit we got a birds-eye view of the city, but travelling around it by boat was a great way to take in all the sights and to understamd how the city worked as a whole.

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Exploring Amsterdam with Canal Cruises

One of the great treats of living in London is how close we are to such a wide variety of destinations. While I enjoy flying off to places further afield, it's also delicious to hop on a plane and in an hour or two and be somewhere completely different!

Last month Matthew and I did just that and headed over to Amsterdam for a couple of days in the Dutch capital. We'd both visited before, but this was our first time visiting together.

There are so many lovely ways to explore the city - there are great public transport links, it's hugely walkable, and there are bikes everywhere - but my favourite way to sightsee has to be from a boat on the canals that crisscross the city.

From various points around the city (we travelled with Amsterdam Canal Cruises, and embarked from just outside the Heineken Brewery, close to the Rijksmuseum) you can take a tour around the city, and you get such beautiful views of the streets, houses and attractions from the canal level.

We spotted so many sights - from beautiful churches to elegant hotels, museums to restaurants and bars. The boats move at a lovely, leisurely pace, affording you ample time to drink in your surroundings. There are also great audio commentaries available in more than a dozen languages, so you can learn a little about the history and culture of Amsterdam.

Our tour took a little over an hour and a half, and even in late autumn the light was great for seeing the sights - and snapping plenty of pictures, too!

Even though I'd been to Amsterdam before, I really feel like the canal boat tour gave me a greater understanding of the geography and history of the place. Having visited elements like the Anne Frank House previously (pictured above) it was an opportunity to see how these places wove into the wider story of Amsterdam.

One of the coolest bits of the tour had to be when we headed out towards the Ij, the huge body of water to the rear of the railway station. It's vast - I was reminded of the huge grey sweep of the Hudson, in New York. Nothing like the small city rivers of the UK I've seen (although there are some big ones!).

I'm so glad we opted to explore Amsterdam with canal boat and would recommend it to anyone visiting the city!

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I'm Claire, a thirty-something teacher, writer and blogger living in London.