A glow-in-the-dark map of the Solar System graced my bedroom wall when I was a little girl, accented by luminescent cutouts of stars, moons and planets pasted to my ceiling. As I gazed upon my artificial universe, my mind drifted to far-off worlds, fueling dreams about the endless wonders of the universe and who else might be out there with us. My passions turned to travel and the arts as I grew older, but I still find joy in gazing upon the heavens and letting my mind fly high amongst the stars. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival, presented by Rocky Mountaineer, aims to connect people of all ages to the wonders of our universe and to stargaze in one of the world’s largest dark-sky preserves.
Like millions of Italians before and after them, my family was part of the great Italian diaspora that took place at the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th. Almost 30 million Italians emigrated during that period for similar reasons – to escape poverty, war and lack of work and to start better lives for themselves and their families. One of those emigrants was my five-year old father, Carlo. The Marrazzo family left poor Southern Italy in waves beginning in the mid-50s. My Nonno (grandfather) followed in his parents’ footsteps and left for Canada in 1956, working hard for two years to save enough to bring the rest of his family over. At the end of 1958, my Nonna, along with three children between the ages of three and seven, said goodbye to their small town of Piane Crati, Calabria, and never looked back. They made the 300km journey by train to Naples, where they boarded the Saturnia ship and spent a week crossing the Atlantic Ocean. This was followed by a week-long train trip crossing the vast expanse of Canada and finally arriving in their new home of Edmonton, Alberta, a place immensely different from the home they had just left behind.
Puebla is not a name that often crosses travelers’ lips. The medium-sized city of 1.5 million people is a treasure trove of colonial architecture and has earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is one of the great culinary capitals of Mexico, home to many classic Mexican dishes such as the ubiquitous mole poblano, a dark, rich sauce of 20 ingredients including chili peppers and chocolate. Despite the beauty of the historic centre, the endless opportunities for delicious meals, the proximity to Mexico City and Popocatépetl volcano, the second highest peak in Mexico, looming nearby, foreign tourists often overlook Puebla.
Teotihuacan. The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. The Avenue of the Dead. These words conjure images of complex ancient civilizations, ferocious warriors and a way of life that modern people could only imagine in their wildest dreams. Mexico is famous around the world for its wealth of ruins and archaeological sites, and Teotihuacan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is among the most famous of them all. The ancient city is only 48km, or 30 miles, south west of Mexico City, making it the perfect place to get out of the bustling city for a day and to discover some Mesoamerican history. Never content with only the easiest option, we decided to tack on a visit Tula, a much less visited archaeological site featuring towering Toltec warriors atop a lone pyramid.
Nicaragua, the Central American country that is sandwiched in an ideal spot between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is home to lush tropical forests, long golden beaches, and over a dozen volcanoes, many of them still active. I am drawn to volcanoes wherever I go in the world, and I had already hiked through the idyllic cloud forests of Mombacho at the beginning of my weeklong trip in Nicaragua. Now, it was time to climb one of the most active of them all – Telica.
Full of spectacular and abundant natural beauty, Banff is Canada’s outdoor playground, nestled in the Rocky Mountains and busy with visitors from around the globe all year round. In the winter, the town is full of people who love to hit the slopes at one of the three world-class hills in the area. Since I am not even close to proficient in skiing or snowboarding, I tend to save my trips for the summer, when the days are warm and the sun doesn’t go down until late at night. Expedia.ca encouraged me to see what I was missing, so I made the four-hour drive south at the beginning of March to experience what the area has to offer in the chillier months. Continue reading Beyond the bunny hill: Getting outdoorsy in Banff→
The colourful colonial town of Granada is one of Nicaragua’s main tourist draws. Low buildings splashed with paint in every shade of the rainbow line cobblestone streets, people on bikes and on foot lazily ambling in the heat while active volcanoes loom in the not-so-distant background. After hiking through Mombacho volcano’s cloud forest, my travel companion and I were deposited in the historic centre of town.
The throngs of tourists the travel literature promised were nowhere to be seen. We settled into our casa, cozy rooms dotted around a courtyard with a shallow pool, reminiscent of the riads we loved so much in Morocco. We walked the sun-drenched streets without aim, settling in to the slow pace of life. On occasion we passed small squares with pretty trees and fountains at their centres. Our meanderings took us to Iglesia de Merced, a church was originally built in the 16th century, destroyed by pirates, and rebuilt in the late 1700s. It was damaged and repaired yet again in the mid-1800s. For the price of a mere dollar, we climbed the narrow stairwell to the top of the bell tower for the famous postcard views of the low-slung buildings with Mombacho to the south and Lake Nicaragua to the east. The rooftop is small and the bell is never far from your ears. As I was serenely enjoying the views, the giant bell was rung violently by men out of my sight, causing my head to spin for hours afterward.
Growing up and living in Canada for my whole life has produced in me an automatic desire to hibernate in the winter, a hard shell that protects me against the cold and snow and keeps me going until summer finally comes around again. This desire is, however, slightly outweighed by the desire to do, to be, to see and experience new things. Jasper in January, held in 2016 for the 27th time, was the perfect opportunity for me to push my own boundaries and experience the glory of the Canadian winter.
Held over three consecutive weekends in January, the festival celebrates all things frosty and is split into three different themes – Adventure, Appetites and Arts. I dove right in to the winter adventure experiences with Winterstruck, an outdoor celebration of all things winter, set on the frozen surface of Pyramid Lake, a five-minute shuttle ride from the Jasper townsite.
This is the third post in a series on Edmonton and Jasper. Click here to read parts one and two.
The Icefields Parkway, which connects Jasper and Banff National Parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is arguably one of the most gorgeous drives in the world. Two hundred and thirty kilometres of smooth asphalt pass by the feet of towering mountains, ancient glaciers, and crystal clear streams and, lined with wildlife, it makes every list of ‘Best Drives in the World.’ It was on this road that our rag tag group of writers and bloggers traveled on the last day of our Rocky Mountain exploration.
This is the second post in a series on Edmonton and Jasper. Click here to read part one.
As a chronic wanderluster who lives in a city that is so isolated that it takes at least two or three flights to get anywhere exotic, I am constantly thinking of ways to maximize long weekends and make the most of my more immediate surroundings. Fortunately my hometown of Edmonton is only a few hours’ drive from the glorious Canadian Rocky Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the cozy mountain town of Jasper, Alberta.