FINLAND: In Search of The Northern Lights!


I said goodbye to Vanessa the next morning and flew from Zurich Switzerland to Helsinki Finland where I connected and headed North to Rovaniemi Finland. The goal: to see the Northern Lights! When I set out on this ‘trip around the world’ the Northern Lights were at the top of my list of things to see. However as the year wore on, and I made my plans and was planning this last leg of the trip in Europe, to get up north seemed really expensive and risky since there would be no guarantee that I would even see the lights. Finally, two days before leaving for England, I shuffled my plans and booked my last weekend in Europe to be in Finland. It would definitely be something I look back on and regret if I didn’t at least try. After a year full of so many incredible dream come true experiences, I didn’t want to end it wondering, what if?

I arrived at 9:40pm on a Thursday. I checked into my hotel, a cute little chalet with a sauna in the room then booked it to the lake where there is often a good view of the aurora. I had intended to buy a tripod (which everything I read said is essential for photographing the lights) at the airport in Helsinki, but wasn’t able to find one. And let me tell you, they were right. There were some beautiful lights but it was difficult to take clear photos without a tripod. Regardless, I was so happy to be in Finland, and that the lights were visible on my first night. When I could no longer feel my toes, I walked back and came inside, to warm up in the sauna! I was inside around 1am, but the lights are visible all night and that’s why I’m here, so every 10 minutes or so I would go outside and take a look! I learned a lot on my first night ‘aurora hunting’ and had a list of things to prepare for the next night!


I slept from 3am to 9am, had breakfast, and then left to spend the day at the Santa Claus Village. First, I went to the husky park where I got to hold a brand new baby husky and could have cried! I went on a ‘dogsled’ ride around the forest, which was incredible. From there I went in to see Santa! You walk through the North Pole to meet him. We chatted for a few minutes (he didn’t ask me what I want for Christmas) we took a photo, and then I went to the Santa Claus Café for some hot chocolate.



I was also able to go feed reindeer and take a sleigh ride through the forest. Finland in the fall is enchanting. The sun peeks through the trees, and hits the ground covered in moss and mushrooms. Everything is frosty and glistening. I half expected to run into a fairy or troll. It was stunning.



Thats the arctic circle!


I stopped to get prepared for another night outside:

  • mittens (I left mine in the taxi when I got dropped off)
  • thermal socks
  • Remember to bring headphones

I slept from 4pm to about 7pm, getting ready for another night aurora hunting! I went down to the lake at about 8:30pm, danced around listening to music (to keep warm) and playing around with the settings on my camera. The whole time I was out, there was at least a faint aurora which was incredible. This is the third or fourth night in a row that they’ve had ‘shows’ which isn’t that common so I was very fortunate. As the evening progressed the lights got brighter and more stunning. It often reflected on the lake which made it twice as bright and stunning.

One particular display started low in the middle of two islands in the middle of the lake, and grew and grew, going from dark green, to light green, to pink, to almost white, spreading all along the sky. It was incredible. The light danced and swirled above me. I got so excited to photograph it I had to remind myself to stop and take it all in. it was incredible. I lasted just under three hours before I couldn’t feel my toes and decided to turn in from the lake. I warmed up in my room, then ventured back out just outside my chalet. The lights were still out faintly, but became brighter and more magical! A pale green light shimmered over the trees and my chalet and was incredible! I couldn’t believe how stunning it was. After another hour the lights were settling down. I went to bed, knowing the lights were still dancing overhead, so grateful to be here in this fairytale place, after realizing another travel dream come true. The tripod really did make all the difference!






On my last full day in Finland I lounged around my room, went exploring around the lake and the woods near the hotel, and slept away the afternoon so I could stay up for my last night of aurora hunting!




The auroras were faint, but they were there. I had only three nights in Finland and was so so furtunate to be able to experience the lights each nights. I’m so glad I made the effort to make it to Finland. I fell in love with it more than I expected.

I left, and started my two day journey home.


London, Switzerland & Austria!

Girls weekend in London:

On Friday October 2nd, I said goodbye to my dad at the airport as he flew home, while I stayed behind in London to meet the Cape Town girls! While volunteering in Cape Town in March and April, Vanessa, Jozi and I were staying with the same host family, along with several other girls. We have stayed in touch since we all left Cape Town and planned a weekend get together for when I was in London since they’re all from Europe. When it actually came to planning it, Vanessa, Jozi and I were the ones who were able to make it! We stayed in the city, saw the sights, had afternoon tea, and rode the London Eye. I felt like a guide since I had been there for a week already. The weekend came and went in a blink!


Switzerland and Austria:

From London, I flew to Switzerland with Vanessa! She is from Austria, but lives in St. Gallen in Switzerland right by the border. We arrived in the afternoon and had cheese fondue for dinner! (It was a bit too strong for me). On our first full day, we took the cable car up Mount Santis, the views were some of the most beautiful I have seen anywhere in the world. We were so fortunate to have good weather. From the top of Mount Santis, you are able to see into six countries. Vanessa was able to point out Austria and Germany, right ahead of us, and we guessed the others were Lichtenstein, France, and Italy somewhere in the distance. The alps were stunning, the rolling hills dotted with sheep and houses were breathtaking. We were 2000 meters up and it got cold quickly so we sat inside and had hot chocolate and apple strudel taking in the views. After coming back down the mountain we went into St. Gallen to shop and look around. We went into the cutest most wonderful smelling chocolate shop!



The next day was raining so we took our time starting our day. We drove into Austria to go shopping with Vanessa’s sister Sandra and visit with Vanessa’s family. When she heard I was coming, Vanessa’s grandmother offered to make plum dumplings for us. It was the sweetest thing! She doesn’t speak any English so Vanessa and her sister translated for me. We went for a walk around the neighbourhood Vanessa, grew up in, passing fields of sheep by a river. It was so picturesque. The dumplings were a pastry wrapped around a full plum and baked. They’re served covered in breadcrumbs with a warm vanilla pudding that you drink. It was delicious, and so sweet! Her grandma kept putting them on my plate and I was stuffed! I only had one day to visit Austria which was far to short, but was so grateful and happy to experience something so authentic.




England with My dad! (& a day in Paris)

I’m back on the blog! After getting home from China, I was working in Maine for the summer- but now am BACK with a new blog about my trip to Europe! This trip was essentially four parts; England with my dad, London with the girls I lived with in Cape Town, Switzerland with Vanessa, and Finland to see the Northern Lights.

England with my dad:

My dad and I flew out together and arrived in London on September 24th! My dad has never been big on travelling, but has always wanted to see England, where his family is from. While I was planning my travel year full of dreams come true, high on my list was making my dads travel dream come true as well! For this part of the trip he got his first passport. We explored the HMS Victory, a ship used in the battle of Trafalgar (right up my dads alley) , the Museum of the Order of St. John, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the typical sights of London. I fell in love with afternoon tea, and we had it almost every day.




On the second day I got a touch of food poisoning, which is my least favourite while travelling but luckily it only lasted 24 hours.. to be followed directly by a cold. I was indignant thinking that I don’t typically get sick while I travel, but looking back I have actually gotten sick quite often while travelling. In typical style, I’m not one to waste precious time, especially when this was my dads first time really leaving Canada, we wanted to make the most of it!

On one of our days in London, I was able to fly to Paris to visit my friend Katie who is studying there. My dad took the day to go back to see the HMS Victory. It was so cute seeing Katie, eating crepes and croissants, and laying out by the Eiffel tower! I’m also glad it worked out so well, because I changed my Paris plans last minute to go in the middle of my stay in England, rather than at the end of my stay in Europe.




The best decision I could have made.


CHINA: Part 2


This morning, we checked out of our guesthouse and walked through the village to get to the ‘Sleeping Dragon’ section of the Great Wall. There were actually other tourists out today! (Probably because it’s the weekend).

We hiked along this section of the wall. It was a bit more restored than yesterday. At the end of this section of the wall is a military base, so we stopped at the last possible watchtower for another picnic lunch, then had the option to hike back along the wall to the bus, or to continue off the wall down through the countryside to our next guesthouse. I opted to go back along the wall (to spend as much time on the Great Wall as possible!)




When the group was reunited, we drove to a more restored section of the Wall, Jinshanling. We would be staying in a village just beside the entrance. I’m always so excited to take my boots off and shower after a long hike, and that’s just what I did!


This morning, we checked out of this guesthouse (short stay!) and went to hike the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall. This is one of the most restored sections and was absolutely stunning. I actually took the cable car up because on day five of hiking, my knees were feeling it, and I wanted to save my energy for the Wall itself!






It was nice to be ahead because I was able to stop and sit and take in the views. There was a group of five of us who took the cable car, so when we didn’t know how far we were supposed to go, we waited at the top of a watchtower until we saw the others. I could look at those views all day. A woman came out of the watchtower, trying to sell us souvenirs. She actually just sat with us until the group came so I bought some things there.

When we found our guide, Frank, we were told we were only two towers away. This day probably had the most steps out of all the sections! We had lunch at a local restaurant, and then had a four hour drive to the next village. I started packing my flip flops in my bag so I could wear them in the van (thank God!) the drive was beautiful, through mountains and past lakes. We made it to our guesthouse before dinner.


Today was our last day hiking on the Great Wall! We had breakfast at our guesthouse, checked out, and drove about 15 minutes to the entrance at Huangyaguan. The walk up to the wall was beautifully short and then we were walking along looking at the most stunning views! The end of the wall on the right went right into the side of a mountain and continued on the other side. At one point along the side of the wall we saw a group of locals, men women and children, with horses, in hammocks, hanging out right beside the Wall. I wonder what they were doing! We waited for the group at the highest point. Then started hiking down, still along the wall. We ended in an ancient village with temples. We saw a monk watching us from one of them!






It was a bit of a maze to get out, but we made it to the car park (my boots were off before we got to the bus), and headed to Qing (pronounced Ching) Tombs. We took a shuttle (with no sides) to the entrance and explored inside. We had lunch at a local restaurant there, then started our three-hour drive back to Beijing. I listened to music, trying to take in the landscape as we drove but I fell asleep. When I woke up we were in the city, and the sky had become grey and overcast. It started to rain for the first time since I’d been there.


Now I had run out of cash on Wednesday, our first day on the wall. I told Frank, assuming ATM’s would be all over the place. I was wrong. We were in rural China, and even when we drove through cities, there were no ATM’s anywhere! It was awful! Luckily, Frank lent me money until we got to Beijing. When we pulled up to the hotel, the first thing I did before even unloading the bags was RUN across the street, in the rain, the the Bank of China. The branch was closed, but there was a machine around the back of the building. I walked through the dodgiest alley way, and looped around to the ATM. It was in a parking lot that was guarded (bless) and I was able to take money out! Such a relief! (even though I only had one day left!)

I got back to the lobby and about half the group was still getting sorted. Janet and I checked into our room, and were able to have a shower where we could regulate the temperature! (it’s the little things) We only had a few minutes to chill// get ready, because we met the group in the lobby at 6:40pm for our last dinner.

We went to a restaurant across the street where we ordered Peking Duck! I was really excited to try it. We had other dished as well, and then were shown how to eat the duck, with the wraps and condiments. It tasted really good! When we finished eating, the lights went out and Frank walked out with a cake! Three people in our group had birthdays on the trip so this was a cumulative ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY!’ It was a white sponge cake with grapes, dragon fruit, and kiwi on top! We ate, and said our goodbyes. Tuesday is a free day so there’s no guarantee we’ll see each other. I was so happy with my group and actually had the best time. I was sad to leave them.




This morning, I woke up slowly, and made my way out at 9:30am. I went to Costa, a coffee shop for breakfast, and ate sitting at the window, people watching. Some of the women have very bold tastes in clothes and shoes. They also all carry umbrellas to avoid the sun, and some wear breathing masks because the air quality can be very poor. The mall across from the hotel opened at 10am and I planned to do some shopping! I browsed around, bought lots of stationary, and found the cutest little shops to browse around in! I bought a clean shirt for the plane (all mine are dirty, and it makes all the difference), then headed back to the hotel to pack up. It was much less painful than I expected.

My flight out was at 11:55pm, but I have never seen traffic like in Beijing. It took us two hours to get from the airport to the hotel when I arrived so to be safe, I booked a car for 4pm. We got to the airport at 5:30pm (plenty of time!) I browsed around the shops, got some food, and before I knew it, it was time to check in. I feel like an old pro at airports now! We left on time and I was SO glad to be on my way home!


I arrived in Dubai at 3:30am local time. I tried to get used to Toronto time so am sitting for 6 hours, trying to stay awake. My gate is right beside a ‘Shake Shack’ PERFECT! I had a burger, fries, and peanut butter shake at 5am. It was heavenly. I endured a 14 hour flight, and am now content on my couch, at home. I’m so happy! What an incredible trip!


CHINA: Part 1

On Sunday, April 19th I packed up my things and left South Africa after being there for two months! I flew from Cape Town, to Dubai, to Beijing!!!! I was almost as excited to fly on Emirates as I was for this part of the trip!

I had arranged an airport pick up but did not see them when I arrived! I had gotten a local SIM card but all the phone numbers I had were international and wouldn’t work! I walked back past arrivals and thankfully saw the sign with my name on it!

We drove two hours through Beijing traffic (probably a 20 or 30 minute drive without) and arrived at the hotel around 6:30pm. I checked in quickly and was directed to the 9th floor where my group was meeting in a boardroom. I went up with all my things to meet them! We were a group of 15 people, and our local guide Frank. We went through the itinerary for the first few days, and then went out as a group to dinner at a local restaurant. Frank ordered a ton of dishes and the table was able to try a bit of everything. I was very hungry so everything tasted really good!

The plan for this trip to is hike different parts of the Great Wall each day. My main interest in coming to China was to see the Great Wall so I was very glad to have found a tour that goes really in depth to lesser known// more wild parts of the Wall.


On our first full day, we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing. As a group, we took the subway there, which was actually really fun. I was also happy to find the signs were in English aswell (but was still glad to have Frank!) The line to get through security into Tiananmen Square was really long, (and the Chinese have different ideas about personal space) but we made it in and were able to look around and explore. It was really incredible. The emperors of China used to live in the Forbidden City so it’s a huge complex of palaces. We saw the imperial gardens, and then went to a noodle restaurant for lunch.





That afternoon, we were able to attend a traditional tea ceremony and try different teas local to China. We made our way back to the hotel and met up after dinner to go to a Chinese Acrobat show! It was very cool, and a great introductory day to Beijing.



I slept as though it was Christmas Eve because I was SO excited to wake up and go to the Great Wall!

We started off as 15 people in this group. BUT THEN Saleme from Canada, had been throwing up all last night and was not getting better so spent the day in hospital. He decided he wanted to go home. He has to return to hospital to get a note for his insurance and won’t be continuing with us.

Scott from Australia wasn’t feeling well after our sightseeing day. After we returned from the acrobat show we found out he also went to hospital and had developed a blood clot in his lung (likely Deep Vein Thrombosis from the flight) so he wont be joining us either. We’re dropping like flies!


This morning, we woke up, checked out of the hotel, and drove two hours out of the city centre to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. We could see the Wall as we approached and I was giddy! We stopped for a quick lunch then were ready to go! We took a shuttle bus to the foot of the wall, and then most of us climbed the steps. There were probably 1000 and it was VERY steep, BUT we made it and it was incredible! We could see the Wall going on so far in the distance! After catching our breath, we started to walk along and explore. Some of our group took the cable car up. The ones who walked got on at Tower 10, and we walked to Tower 19 to meet everyone. We passed a photo shoot for a wedding, which seems like such a fantastic place for wedding photos!






We met the group and were faced with a HUGE wall of steps going directly up, for what seemed like forever! Frank explained that it goes up and down like this, some times without steps, just loose rocks for most of the way. This is one of the hardest days of hiking. I figured we had 6 more days of hiking, and this bit didn’t look particularly fun. We had the option to turn back and meet our driver so I decided to do that. I’m not here because I’m an avid hiker; I’m here to see the Wall! It was nice to take my time going back along the part I had just seen. I met the bus and two others in my group and drove around the mountain to meet the rest of the hikers. We arrived in a little village, and shortly after the others arrived as well, and we drove to a cute little local guesthouse to stay the night. The house belongs to a local farmer who has turned some of the rooms into guest rooms. We had a big window with a view of the Wall on top of the mountain. It was incredible.

That night, we learned to make dumplings with the farmer’s wife, and then had them for dinner, along with a ton of other local Chinese dishes. We all went to bed early and exhausted!



We woke up, had breakfast, and went on a hike to the Great Wall near where we were staying. The farmer came with us. He’s about 70 years old and climbed the wall like it was nothing (while I was huffing and puffing!) This part of the Wall was not restored like yesterday. They call it the ‘Wild Great Wall’. It was just as beautiful. To think how old the Wall is and how we’re able to come and walk on it is incredible. The stones were a bit loose and steep so we actually had to CLIMB with out hands as well but the views were more than worth it.






We climbed down, checked out of the guesthouse, and drove about two hours from Mutianyu to Gubeikou, another section of the Wall. We had lunch there, then a bit of a break before another hike on this section. I sat out on a beautiful little canal lined with flowy willow trees and red Chinese lanterns. It’s beautiful here.


We hiked up to another, less restored part of the Wall. If we didn’t already know we were on the Great Wall it would be hard to tell! It was beautiful though. We walked to two watchtowers, and from the second we could see different sections of the Wall as far as the eye can see! It was incredible! It got really windy, and one guy, David lost his hat. It blew a bit down the mountain and we could still see it but our guide was adamant he didn’t go get it; too dangerous. David was insistent and before it was decided, the local woman who we’re staying with (she did the hike with us) climbed down this treacherous little slope like it was nothing and got the hat! We hiked back down and returned to the guesthouse, and had a Thai Chi lesson before dinner!





I skipped sunrise thai chi this morning. We got ready, and hiked the ‘Crouching Tiger’ section of the Great Wall! To get there we crossed a set of train tracks that we thought were abandoned, but just as the last person crossed, a train came whizzing by!

The hike up to the Wall was on a steep windy dirt road that took quite a while! When we got to the top, there were two watchtowers to our right that we could go explore but they were up STEEP broken steps. Probably the steepest and least restored we’d seen. I was so excited! Some people decided to sit that one out, so we left our bags with them and started our climb. It was so exhausting and so fun! Craig and I made it to the top first. We were catching our breath, looking around and I found a set of stairs leading to the roof. I called Craig over and scrambled up the steps (thinking if our guide Frank arrived he might advise against it.) It was the most spectacular view! I was so proud of how far I had come (literally and figuratively) to get to this place. It was incredible.




We made our way back down and stayed on the Wall to have a picnic lunch. It was the perfect afternoon! There was another watchtower on the other side some of us went to look at. We could see paths along the hill that lead back to our guesthouse. There was a path that lead along the wall itself so we split into two groups, some going down the way we came, and the others walking along the wall. We met in the middle.


We made it back to our guesthouse in the afternoon. There was another optional walk (that I was not interested in) so I spent the afternoon hanging out in our village.



I’ve had the incredible opportunity this past week to volunteer at and attend Hillsong Colour Conference in Cape Town! On Tuesday we had volunteer orientation// training, then on Wednesday and Thursday I attended the conference. I volunteered on Friday. It was the perfect way for me to end my time in Cape Town, (and Africa!) I’ve had the most incredible trip!


I can hardly believe that tomorrow I fly to Beijing to check yet another thing off the TIPPY TOP of my bucket list; exploring The Great Wall! I’m beyond excited!

(Probably the shortest blog post yet!)


CAPE TOWN: Horseback ride// SKYDIVE!!!


This morning my housemates wanted to hike Lion’s Head. I had already done it, so decided to take the lazy route and met them at the bottom with water bottles! We drove in two cars to Old Biscuit Mill to have breakfast. My eggs benedict stall was open so I went there immediately! We walked around, and hung out, and waiting for our hosts to get back to drive the girls home. When they arrived, it was hard for me as I was saying goodbye to Vanessa for good. The next morning she would be flying to Madagascar for the last leg of her trip.

 Horseback Riding on the Beach

I had a few hours to relax before driving from where I stay in The Gardens over to Noordhoek to go horseback riding on the beach! It was a beautiful drive through the mountains. I could see hints of fall colours on the trees, and also all the areas on the mountain that had been burnt by the Cape Town Fires just over a month ago. I arrived at Sleepy Hollow Horse Riding, got sorted, and waited for the rest of my group. I rode with a family of four visiting from Tanzania. We started out along the road and made it to the beach. It was so beautiful and peaceful walking through the dunes, to the beach. There were mountains on either side of us and we were in a little bay. The sun was starting to set and it was absolutely stunning!




We walked back through the dunes and in through the back entrance to the farm. We were in a grassy area letting the horses eat while our guides lead us to the ramp one by one to get down. I was facing away, still on my horse, and all I hear form behind me is a blood chilling scream of terror. It was the mother from the family I was riding with. She just kept screaming! The two sons and I were frozen, holding on to our reigns tight hoping our horses wouldn’t get spooked and run off. Turns out, horse #1 kicked at the mothers horse, so it jumped to get out of the way and threw the mother off. She landed half on the ramp before falling to the ground. Somehow, her husband jumped down off his horse to run and check on her, and stepped on her ankle. Her sons wanted to get down and go to their mom. Our guide had the two horse by the reigns, trying to secure them, she ended up hooking them together and going to get the son down. She started coming over to me but I said I could surely wait (she looked very busy). A few moments later, she came to me and I got down. I asked what I could do to help, and was holding two horses by the reigns while she went to do something else. When she was done, I gave her the horses and went over to see the mother. She was laying on the groups, she had really hurt her lower back, and her ankle, so they had called an ambulance.

A vehicle arrived from ‘Cape Medical Response’, which is a private medical company (so strange to me). They loaded her up, and I drove home.


This morning I went to Hillsong Church with my housemates (for the last time!) and then went to Canal Walk to have lunch with my Connect Group to say goodbye! It feels like I just got here and I’m already saying goodbye, and doing things for the last time. So strange. I met up with my housemates and we went to have a picnic (dessert for me) at The Company’s Garden, a beautiful little park in the centre of Cape Town. Parking however, was impossible so we drove to Camps Bay Beach instead. It was nice to hang out with the girls, but already felt so different without Vanessa. I dropped Jozi and Tangi off and had my second round of goodbyes, I still have a week in Cape Town, but will not likely see them again. It was so hard! Next I dropped Antje off at her hostel and had my last goodbye. That was a heavy afternoon! I didn’t officially say goodbye to my Host family because I thought they were coming to our picnic this afternoon, but they weren’t able to.


That night, I rented the movie, Wild, made popcorn, and stayed in!


This morning I woke up bright and early to go SKYDIVING! For some reason, I hadn’t really got to excited about this, even though it had been planned for about a month. Probably because its so dependent on the weather, and as I drove it was EXTREMEMLY foggy! I was set to go at 9:30am, and arrived at the location, and no one was there. I only have data on my phone (not airtime) so I emailed to see what was going on. At 10am when there was still no one there, I decided to drive back to a mall to buy some airtime. I got through to someone on the phone and was told my dive was suspended due to the weather, but was looking good for 1pm. I got some lunch and made my way back, still hesitant to get excited.



It wasn’t until I was in my harness, watching the group ahead of me land that I started getting excited and nervous! On my jump was a girl named Ana from Sweden. I jumped attached to a guy named Jason. We walked out to the plane, and took off. We were just sitting on the ground of a small little plane. It had a garage type door that opened from bottom to top. It was a beautiful flight over farmlands and the ocean, with a beautiful view of Table Mountain and Cape Town in the distance. We were up for about 7 minutes then Jason hooked me to him and I put on my goggles and started FREAKING OUT! He opened the door and I had to put my feet out of the plane. I started SCREAMING! WE WERE SO HIGH UP!!!!! I couldn’t feel my legs, just thinking about it now I cant believe I did it. Jason pushed us out of the plane and it was a FREE FALL for a few seconds, actually SO SCARY! The little parachute opened and we were a bit more controlled so I could relax. We fell and fell then he pulled the big chute and there was a jolt before we were caught and started our leisurely decent to the ground. Then I could enjoy the ride! Except the harness was SO uncomfortable. He was able to loosen some straps but still. I was able to take the controls and spin us to the left or to the right which was so fun! We floated over the hanger and landed in the sand. Ana and her guide landed just a few seconds later and Jason and I got buried in their parachute! I was so glad to be back on the ground!

After getting home and wrapping my head around the fact that I just went skydiving, I drove out to Clifton Beach for my last chance to watch the sunset in Cape Town. The rest of this week I will be attending/ volunteering at Hillsong Colour Conference Cape Town and I couldn’t be more excited!