Day one in Churchill, Manitoba

Flying out of Winnipeg early this morning with just three fellow passengers signaled the start of my adventure in Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill Airport is a surprisingly lavish affair, certainly considering the few people arriving and departing the terminal building. The ten-minute taxi ride into town sped along roads virtually clear of snow and completely free of polar bears.

A typical street in Churchill
A typical street in Churchill
 

Thankfully the temperatures were still unseasonably high, clocking in at around -5°C plus a little wind-chill, so ambling around town was pleasant enough. With a population of just under 1,000, the town is easy to explore in a few hours including visits to the Eskimo Museum and the well-presented local history museum located in the old rail station building. I must confess to being quite scared of bumping into a polar bear. Warnings are posted everywhere and there’s a polar bear watch throughout the town 24 hours a day. Walking back from the restaurant, several blocks, just a moment ago was particularly scary when a fox leapt across the street a few feet in front of me. I suddenly had a feeling that next up might be a polar bear roaming about, so I quickened my pace, especially as the wind chill had dropped the temperature to -19°C.

Looking out towards Hudson Bay

Looking out towards Hudson Bay

Tomorrow is an early start for my Tundra Buggy tour. That’s when I want to see the polar bears!

>> See my set of Churchill photos on Flickr

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Ten sleeps to the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”

I’ve always been fascinated by “comfortable extremes.” I’ll happily trek a challenging mountain route but, come evening, I’ll opt for a homey inn or warm bed and breakfast. I love snowboarding in the Laurentians, begrudgingly bearing the lows of -20ºC in exchange for the speed thrill, provided there’s promise of a hot chocolate and toasty log fire.

Churchill, Manitoba, has been on my bucket list since arriving in North America seven years ago. That 800 people live year-round more than 1,000 miles north of Winnipeg is incredible. That polar bears surround the town waiting for the vast Hudson Bay to freeze over in November should provide opportunity to see them up close in their natural habitat aboard a Tundra Buggy.

Unlike my vacations to date, there is no “on the cheap” option to see Churchill. While I wasn’t about to shell out several thousand dollars on a fully-escorted tour, I did want to include a trip out on the tundra.

Knowing that the long-distance ViaRail train – which rattles its way north from Winnipeg over 36 hours – is often extremely late arriving in Churchill; I’ve opted to fly one-way into Churchill Airport at the extortionate cost of CAD $560 to ensure that I wouldn’t miss a day up north. This will be one of two necessary splurges. The other is shelling out almost CAD $400 for a full-day Tundra Buggy tour.

I’ve arranged two nights bed and breakfast accommodation at Bluesky Bed & Sled in Churchill at CAD $114 a night. And I’ve booked the train back from Churchill to Winnipeg with a private cabin at $410 (thanks to ViaRail’s handy online discount coupons). With the nights drawing in at this time of year, I’ve no idea what to expect from the long journey except that the train is often up to 20 hours late; that it lurches and bumps its way along ill-repaired track; and that it is occasionally canceled altogether. The experience will be fabulous, exciting and a little adventurous for sure!

So that’s the advance logistics taken care of, along with a stock of thermal clothing and jacket which is apparently good to -40ºC. Given that the wind-chill should be biting, I’ll need those several layers for the relatively brief moments I’ll be outside exploring the small downtown area and hopefully gawping at bears from the Tundra Buggy deck! I guess I’ll find out when I arrive in Churchill on November 16th whether I have enough warm layers. And what life is like in this small frontier town located just below the Auroral Oval. I’m really looking forward to this one…

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Live blog: Visiting Cardiff whatever the weather this winter

[Originally posted on www.usa.visitwales.com on January 15, 2010] I’ve been in Cardiff for a few days this week, and head back to New York tomorrow. Meetings, meetings, meetings. With just an odd minute here and there to catch a breath and see a bit of Wales’ capital. With snow on the ground at the start of the week, then slushy snow, then rain, and now drier warmer conditions, we’ve certainly had varied weather.

St. David's CentreThe good news is that the sparkly new St. David’s shopping center affirms Cardiff as a year-round city destination. I loved wandering around the split level shopping areas, warm and dry. The new center links into the original St. David’s shopping center, making a huge shopping mall which also connects with the Queens Arcade.

And Cardiff is an easy walking city. Just outside the shopping malls and I was steps away from the edgy new Central Library building with six floors containing 900,000 books. Continue reading

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36 hours in Mid Wales

[Originally posted on http://blog.visitwales.co.uk on September 17, 2010] Presteigne, Offa’s Dyke, Llandrindod Wells, Elan Valley, Montgomery…

After spending two nights in Mid Wales, straddling the border with England, this has become one of my favorite areas of Britain. It’s certainly easily accessible by car from London, Manchester and Birmingham airports – all with direct routes from the United States.

Milebrook House hotelSnag two nights at Milebrook House hotel. The location is exceptional, surrounded by farmland and its own beautifully manicured gardens. In the restaurant, if the ingredients aren’t from the chef’s kitchen garden, then they’re from local farms.

A world away from my usual New York soundtrack, I awake here to the bleating of sheep and birdsong. The hotel’s location is perfect for exploring the surrounding historic market towns, stately homes and stunning scenery… Continue reading

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36 hours on the Isle of Anglesey, part two

[Originally posted on http://www.usa.visitwales.com/ on May 26, 2009] Day two of our live blog from the island of Anglesey, and a spectacular day of exploring. Huge thanks to our Wales Facebook fans who gave thoughts on their favorite places on Anglesey…

Tre Ysgawen Hall is truly a majestic setting, and what better place to awaken for breakfast than at this great Victorian mansion hotel. I was set to continue the day reminiscing Victorian-era Anglesey as I headed towards the town of Amlwch.

Parys MountainAs I drove through pretty villages, the landscape started to become more colorful as the iron ore hinted hues of red and terracotta on Parys Mountain. Parys Mountain Copper Mines are a “must-see” for visitors to Anglesey… I parked the car amidst the colorful terrain and walked about 10 minutes along the “Industrial Heritage Trail.” The view across a large opencast copper quarry is stunning, firstly for the vivid colors of yellows, reds and purples, but also for the dramatic chasm itself. Continue reading

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36 hours on the Isle of Anglesey, part one

[Originally posted on www.usa.visitwales.com on May 25, 2009] Welcome to today’s blog post; coming live from Anglesey…

Menai StraitAfter a long drive across the width of England and Wales, I was pleased to finally cross over the Menai Strait, arriving on the island of Anglesey. This is a beautiful part of Wales. The sun was shimmering across the narrow stretch of water dividing Anglesey from mainland Wales, and I immediately headed to a village with one of the longest place names in the world: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – just to take a photograph of the railroad station name… cheesy photo opp’, I know, but a lot of fun. And it impresses my American friends that I can almost pronounce that place name! Continue reading

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36 hours in Swansea

[Originally posted on www.usa.visitwales.com on May 30-31, 2009] After full-day meetings in Cardiff over the last few days, I’m now in Swansea for just two nights before flying back to New York. Here’s a kinda’ “36 hours in Swansea” –style blog post…

Swansea CastleI’ve always loved Swansea but was never quite sure why. But on this visit – my first “proper” visit to Swansea for well over a decade – I think I’ve sussed out the reasons. The Maritime Quarter, marina and Swansea Waterfront are stunning, especially yesterday which seemed to be the best day of the year with temperatures in the 70s and sunny blue skies. Then there are the museums, all with free entry: National Maritime Museum, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea Museum and the Dylan Thomas Centre. Then there are hidden gems like the Arts Wing of the Grand Theatre. The people in Swansea are really friendly (I looked lost with my head buried in a map a couple of times, and everyone offered to help direct me!) and the busy downtown shopping and entertainment center is scattered with historic Victorian buildings and Swansea Castle and Castle Square taking center stage. Continue reading

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