Sound of Light Fireworks Show

Every year, the international fireworks competition, Sound of Light, takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays in August. They are way more impressive than Canada Day fireworks, and are also shot right over the Ottawa river.

IMG_20160813_211808-01This was the first time I’ve been to the Quebec side, since they moved from the Casino du Lac-Leamy to the Museum of History. It is a much better venue, with a much clearer view with less trees in the way, and a stunning view of Ottawa.

I have in the past couple of years watched from downtown Ottawa, by the river. Some good spots to watch from are: behind Supreme Court, by the Canal Locks, or near the Art Gallery. You can also stream the music from Majic 100.3 if you want to listen to the music along with the fireworks.

Anyway, I could keep talking, or I could just share pictures.

It’s over now, but you should come check them out next summer!

Sound of Light | August 6-20, 2016
http://www.feux.qc.ca/home/

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Ottawa as a tourist

I grew up in Ottawa, and don’t often visit the tourist spots unless I have an out-of-town friend visiting. I do however LOVE playing tour guide. I’m full of random fun facts that I love to spew whenever I have the chance to. Over the August long weekend, I got to play tour guide to both visiting friends AND Ottawa natives who had never really explored downtown before!

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Our tired smiles after a 2-hour walking tour of Downtown Ottawa

We started our tour from Centretown, and walked down Sparks Street (a street that is closed to vehicle traffic all year round), where the annual Buskers Festival was happening (no photos, sorry!). I always forget how incredibly talented buskers can be! We saw short bits of a couple acts, and stayed longer for one guy who was hilarious. He did a lot of typical busker type acts, engaging the audience, juggling, miming, fire, etc.

We walked past the Rideau Canal locks (one of my favourite places in Ottawa!), pointed out the place where the Rideau sinkhole was a couple months ago. Did you know that a truck fell into the sinkhole and because it was too dangerous to get it out, they cemented around it? That means it’s still in the ground!

We then made our way through Major Hills’ Park — great green space, by the way. Ottawa is full of green spaces throughout the city. We made it past the American Embassy on our way to the National Art Gallery to see the giant spider sculpture (Maman). You can see the marble eggs in the spider’s sac. It’s a little eerie, but also an awesome fixture in Ottawa.

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One of my favourite views, with Bourgeois’ Maman sculpture framing the National Art Gallery

Turning around, and heading back South, we weaved our way through Byward Market, pointing out local pubs as well as fruit and vegetable vendors. I also found the location of Sweet Jesus (an ice cream shop) for the first time, and I CAN’T WAIT to try it! It wasn’t yet open, but you’ll be sure to see a review once I go.

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On our way back to Centretown (where we left the car), we finally went to Parliament Hill to end our tour with the most famous tourist attraction. We didn’t have the foresight to nab any tour tickets of Parliament, but I think our feet were tired enough at this point. So we just called it a day.

On day 2, we went for a short hike around Pink Lake at Gatineau Park. If you’re looking for an easy hike, this is it. It’s the closest to Ottawa (only ~30 minutes away), and the shortest/easiest trail. Lots of families with young kids were on the trail while we were there. Since we were so tired from our 7km tour the previous day, this was a good trail for us.

Did you know that the lake is blue in the spring, and green in the summer? It’s because of the algae content. It’s never pink, but the lake is called Pink lake after the Pink family who settled in the area in the 1800s.

We also toured Old Chelsea a bit and went to the Visitor’s Centre to learn more about Gatineau Park as a whole. It is very large, and there are so many things that you can do – hike, bike, swim, boat, camp, beach, etc.

And because we all know how big of an ice cream fanatic I am, I wanted to go to La Cigale, but my company didn’t. So I guess I’ll just have to go back another day. That’s okay!

Then we decided to tour Embassy-land, and drive past the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive on our way to Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence.

We didn’t go inside, but we wandered the grounds (another beautiful garden and green space!). We visited the ceremonial guards at the entrance of the grounds, and wondered how they were managing the heat in their elaborate uniforms. Sorry I really didn’t think to take photos since I was tour guide-ing, not tourist-ing!

And with that, our tour ended.

Anyway, I love Ottawa. And it’s a great place to visit. You can usually hit all the major spots in a day or a weekend. If you stay longer, I would recommend the museums as well. Ottawa has some pretty great museums – my favourites being the War Museum, and Nature Museum, the National Art Gallery, and the Mint.

Hamilton is bigger than I thought!

Last weekend I visited Jocelyn in Hamilton. Kind of a weird weekend to visit, but it was the only weekend that worked for the both of us! I had promised that I would visit some time in the 3 years that she has been studying at McMaster University… so of course I chose the last weekend she was still in town, as she was studying for her licensing exam.

My very first impression of Hamilton is that it is much bigger than I thought! I thought it was a similar size to Kingston, but the streets are much bigger and the buildings taller. It’s not a big city by any means, but definitely bigger than Kingston and its one downtown street (Princess Street).

I drove all day Friday, and got to Hamilton in the evening, so we went to grab a late dinner at Bread Bar. I got the I am Canadian pizza, and Jocelyn got the umami burger. We split the two, and both were EXCELLENT. I actually don’t know why I ordered the Canadian pizza, because I always worry about pizzas being too sweet. But in the end, it was the perfect balance of sweet and salty! Perfection. If I were to go again, I would try their loaded fries — they looked SO GOOD. Sorry no pictures because I was way too hungry. But the food was good enough that I wanted to talk about it anyway :)

On Saturday, after a slow morning at Jocelyn’s (I went to the gym, we had brunch, we each showered), we headed to Locke Street so Jocelyn could get some studying in, and I could explore the businesses in the area.

I got a latte at Brown Dog Coffee Shoppe (no latte art – a little disappointed), designed a couple cards and sketched some custom calligraphy designs. It was a super productive couple of hours for me. GREAT place to work. Spacious, good coffee, outlets, and wifi. I’m still trying to find my coffee shop of choice in Ottawa!

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After a couple of hours of work, I got a little antsy, so I went off to explore Locke Street as Jocelyn continued to study. I loved all the little local shops on the street. But especially Canoe, and Lulu & Lavigne. I was hoping to visit Quills, but unfortunately they weren’t open on Saturday.

I especially loved the card wall at Canoe. Maybe one day I’ll see my Simply Steph Ko cards alongside some of my favourite card designers?

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Afterwards, we met up with Isabel to go to the Farmers Market for pokeh and ice cream! At Pokeh Bar, I got a spicy pokeh (ahi tuna, spicy mayo, soy sauce/sesame oil, onions, cucumbers, spicy sesame seeds) with mango (for some tang), nori (for some salt), and taro chips (for some crunch). It was delicious and surprisingly filling! Totally recommend, and I’m still thinking about it. I want more!

We also got ice cream from Henry Brown’s – I got vietnamese coffee + hong kong milk tea. The vietnamese coffee flavour was SO GOOD. It’s close to rivalling the almond cookie flavour ice cream I had in NYC a couple years ago as my favourite ice cream. I love ice cream.

Hamilton is known as the waterfall capital of the world, with over 100 waterfalls in and around the city. So after our early dinner, Jocelyn and I went to hike Tiffany and Sherman Falls. The falls are only a couple minutes away, making them super accessible. The hike to Tiffany Falls was short, very short. Like less than 10 minutes short. But hey I’m not complaining. The hike to Sherman Falls was a little longer and you have to cross a couple roads to get there. But it’s still a relatively easy hike. Both hikes were just beautiful!

On Sunday, before I left, we went back to Locke Street to see if Quills was open.. and they were! Hoorah! They were away for a show in Toronto for Friday and Saturday, and were back unpacking the store. I felt totally at home chatting about calligraphy supplies and master penmen. Before I left, I picked up a jar of Dr. P.H. Martin’s bleedproof white ink, and a palette of Finetec golds. I’ve been seriously on the fence about buying these two online and dishing out the extra money for shipping + exchange rate, but thank goodness we stumbled upon Quills!

I would live in Hamilton, just to be able to hang out at Quills, and to learn calligraphy from Phyllis, resident calligrapher extraordinaire. I did not get to meet Phyllis, but I did get to admire her work  and chat with James and Jenn, who are totally super helpful and easy to talk to.

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I loved all of the local flavour that I experienced in Hamilton, and I would definitely visit again. I can’t believe it took me so long! Just about everything we did supported local businesses, and I love that about a place. Hamilton, you are beautiful.

Looking forward to more weekend trips this summer!

xo,

stephkoanie

A Family Vacation on the Quantum of the Seas

I just got back from a family vacation on board the Quantum of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean’s newer cruise ships. Get settled, and get ready as I try to remember everything I did on my vacation.

Day 1: Embarkation. We drove to the cruise terminal, and the GPS took us to a bridge that was closed for construction, so we were delayed about an hour getting to the port. And then once we got there, there was a ginormous line up, which we later discovered was because there was a dock worker strike, so everything was taking a little longer than usual. Once we got on the ship, we ate lunch, we had the ship-wide safety drill, and then just hung out.

Day 2-3: At sea. I really can’t remember what we did when on the ship. The days all blend together, but we definitely explored the ship, and did some of the cool activities they had on board. We went roller skating one night, and it was so retro and hard! I managed to not fall, and have a pretty good time though, haha.

We went simulation skydiving, which was much less like skydiving than I thought it would be. Or maybe skydiving really does feel like that. But it felt like there was a giant hairdryer blowing you up, instead of you freefalling (which is essentially what was happening, we were “flying” on top of a giant thing blowing air at you).

Day 4: Port Canaveral. My brother and I went into Orlando and went to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. It was fun, and since we got in pretty early (9 something ish), we got to hit all the big rides before there were any major lineups. We never waited more than 10 minutes for a ride. And since it was a cloudy Monday in April, the lines weren’t that crazy by the end of the day either (the signs said about 45-60 minutes). Success. We finished most of the park in half the day, due to the lack of lines. My favourite part was walking around Hogsmeade, of course. It was so cool. We shared a cup of butterbeer and it was just an overly sweet caramel-y carbonated drink, with foam on top. WAY too sweet, but hey, you gotta try it when you’re there, right? They were selling all sorts of cool things like the candies, wands, robes, etc. But everything was super overpriced, so we didn’t get anything. Overall, it was a lot of fun! Except I was mildly motion sick after getting off the ship, and going on all those high speed roller coasters. I was fine, but I probably wouldn’t recommend the combination, haha.

Day 5: Cococay, Bahamas. This is the private island that Royal Caribbean owns. My brother and I joined a kayaking excursion that left at 9:30 in the morning. We were in 2-person kayaks, and my brother sat in the back, supposedly the heavy lifting spot. We saw some nurse sharks, a conch, and something else but I didn’t actually see it or know what he was saying. Our tour guide was Canadian though (yay Canada!). The rest of the day we relaxed in the shade (cause my parents don’t like the sun, I guess), and my brother and I briefly went snorkelling, which is cool for about 5 minutes and you see cool fish and we saw a stingray.. but then it got uncomfortable and I started getting salt water in my goggles and in my mouth and stuff.

When we got back on the ship, I went rock climbing. The routes I did weren’t very hard, and the guy told me that I was the best he had seen on the ship, because I actually think and I use both my arms and my legs, and not just one or the other. I thought that was funny cause whenever I go with my friends, I am ALWAYS the worst, cause a) I’m short, and b) I’m not very strong. Hehe.

Day 6: Nassau, Bahamas. We didn’t join any excursions this day, but instead we just hopped into a taxi and went to Atlantis to explore the resort there. We didn’t realize that you need to pay to see anything there. When my mom was here for business, she explored the resort for free, without going on any rides or anything because it’s free at night. But during the day you have to pay to get admission to anything. So we just wandered, used wifi and took shelter from the pouring rain outside. We headed back to the downtown area and went shopping, collected free jewelry pieces (thanks to VIP cards from the cruise), and my mom bought me really expensive (in my opinion) earrings. They are tanzanite studs, a gemstone which is apparently really rare. My mom says I need to build my collection. Oki dokie.

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Day 7-8: At sea. We watched a bunch of game shows, which were hilarious. We also played a lot of table tennis and foosball as a family. My brother and I sat in on some trivia games, and we played once. We usually showed up late though, so that’s why we only played once. We probably got the lowest score, but they didn’t give any prizes for lowest score the time we played, although they did other times!!! Darn it.

Day 8: Disembarkation. We drove to Woodbury this day and went outlet shopping here all day. I got a new purse from Kate Spade, I got a new winter sweater, a bunch of work clothing, and a new pair of black heels. Successful day, I’d say!

Food: This ship was doing a new concept called Dynamic Dining, where instead of having the traditional dining room, there were 4 complementary restaurants where we could eat dinner. American Icon Grill (traditional american fare), Silk (asian fusion), Chic (contemporary cuisine), and the Grande (err.. the classics? something like that). The Grande was the formal dining room, and the others were semi formal. There was also other places to eat like the buffet/they called it the marketplace, a cafe, some snack shops, a pizzeria, a hot dog stand, etc. Basically, when you’re on a cruise, you never go hungry. Ever.

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Entertainment: We saw a ton of shows, and they were all amazing. Mamma Mia was a full length broadway show, which is unusual for a cruise ship. Usually they have 1 hour or 1.5 hour shows, but this was a full feature broadway show. There were some other shows as well. Starwater was in their high tech lounge space (which cost ~$35M to build), which was a dance and song show. It was super impressive. There was also a ventriloquist, an a capella group and a music/dance show called Sonic Odyssey – all three are Las Vegas acts. They were all top of the line, amazing. Royal Caribbean gets an A+ for the entertainment.

The ship in general: It was a high tech ship, the second newest in Royal Caribbean’s fleet (the newest is the Anthem of the Seas). The ship started sailing in November 2014. After this trip, the Quantum is moving to China, and Anthem is replacing it in its Caribbean route. Anyway, so they have this new app where you can text your shipmates, and you can schedule your excursions, your dining, your entertainment, etc. You can manage your accounts and everything electronically. It’s a super new thing, and the older ships still don’t have the app capability. I already mentioned some of the cool innovative things it has: indoor skydiving, surfing simulator, bumper cars, circus school, north star, rock climbing, and lots of entertainment space (Royal Theatre, Royal Esplanade (the shopping strip, but also sometimes had performers and parades), Music Hall, Two70 Lounge), lots of bars including a robotic bar operated by robots (called the Bionic Bar), the multifunction play space (called the SeaPlex, where the bumper cars, circus school, roller skating, etc. was), a couple pools, aaaand I don’t know what else. But it was definitely a fancy ship.

I am super thankful for the time that I got to spend with my family. Opportunities like this vacation, where we were disconnected from the internet, and got to spend time with each other really remind me of how important my family is to me. I am thankful for them, and am glad I got to go on this vacation with them. I had a great time! One of my favourite cruise vacations ever. A few days after getting off the ship, I still felt like I was rocking on the ship though.. has this ever happened to anyone else?

This is going to sound a little strange, but one of the greatest things I noticed from cruising is how incredible kind, friendly and hospitable everyone on the ship was! Especially the staff, because of course that is their job. But also our fellow cruisers. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that everyone is on vacation, and over 75% of the cruisers are retired (a stat I just pulled out of nowhere).. but still! It was an incredible reminder of just how sometimes it takes no more than a smile, a hello, or a how are you doing to show kindness and love. Especially as a Christian, I have SO MUCH to be thankful and joyful about. So, it’s something that I want to do more of in my everyday life – sharing the joy and love that I experience from Christ with my friends, family, and STRANGERS TOO. We all ought to love more in this increasingly individual-centric world.