I have flown with LATAM Airlines a number of times and have reviewed their long haul Business Class flights. My trip reports can be found below. LAN Airlines, part of LATAM Airlines Group, South America’s largest airline group, became the first carrier to offer international service to South America on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. LAN … Continue reading LATAM Long Haul Business Class Flight Reviews
In this trip report, I review Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic, on their new Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner on my flight from London Heathrow to Newark in New York. This flight flew out of London Heathrow Terminal Terminal 3. If you have a Priority Pass, you will get access to the Club Aspire Lounge Heathrow Terminal … Continue reading Flight Review: Premium Economy On Virgin Atlantic 787 Dreamliner
The post Flight Review: Premium Economy On Virgin Atlantic 787 Dreamliner first appeared on Luxury Travel Diary.
I have flown with Finnair a number of times and have reviewed their long haul Business Class flights. My trip reports can be found below. While Finnair’s Airbus A330s still features a decent and above average Business Class product with comfortable lie flat seats, the offering on these planes pales in comparison with the Business … Continue reading Finnair Long Haul Business Class Flight Reviews
In this trip report, I review Business Class in a Finnair Airbus A330-300 from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Aiport (BKK) in Thailand to Helsinki Vantaa Airport (HEL) in Finland. Finnair, which is part of the Oneworld Alliance and one of the world´s oldest operating airlines (established in 1923), is one of my preferred European airlines to/from Asia, … Continue reading Flight Review: Finnair A330 Business Class Bangkok to Helsinki
The post Flight Review: Finnair A330 Business Class Bangkok to Helsinki first appeared on Luxury Travel Diary.
I have flown with Singapore Airlines a number of times and have reviewed their long haul flights in First Class. My trip reports can be found below. Singapore Airlines offers one of the most luxurious first class products of any airline (see photos above), on their double decker A380. This product is known as suites … Continue reading Singapore Airlines First Class Flight Reviews
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville has to be one of the coolest small cities on the East Coast, with a relaxed bohemian vibe and adventurous spirit. Here are some fun things to do there!
Located in North Carolina’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has a unique mix of hipster coffee shops, award-winning restaurants, outdoor activities, and more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the United States.
After hearing about Asheville for years, whether from friends, or the Obama’s visiting on vacation — it was time to learn what all the fuss was about.
Why was Asheville rated the #1 US travel destination for 2017? Why does everyone think Asheville is so cool?
Things To Do In Asheville
Anna and I spent 4 days visiting Asheville in partnership with Explore Asheville Tourism, and had a wonderful time eating, drinking, shooting photos, and enjoying nature.
Asheville’s creative (and slightly eccentric) locals contribute to a lively downtown unlike any other. You can experience an intoxicating drum circle, shop at vintage boutiques, sit down to an amazing locally-grown meal, and admire cool street art all in one day.
One of the best ways to experience the city fully is by exploring on foot. With about 87,000 residents, Asheville isn’t huge. But it’s not too small either.
It feels like a large town, and just the right size. Asheville’s downtown in particular is easily walkable, with a charm all its own.
Tons Of Art & Music
Asheville is known for its art scene, and you’ll quickly understand why. There’s fun street art all over the place, like colorful murals painted on the side of buildings & under bridges depicting the city’s history.
My favorite was probably “Chicken Alley” by Molly Must, which you can find on Carolina Lane & Woodfin Street. Two giant chickens watch over the alley, a place that used to be full of real chickens in the past.
In the 1980s artists began transforming a bunch of old industrial buildings along the French Broad River into studio space. Now the public can visit these studios as part of the Rivers Arts District and browse the work of over 200 local artists.
The town is full of small lounges, clubs, and breweries featuring live rock, jazz, and bluegrass. Many don’t charge a cover either.
Or you can check out some fun (possibly strange) street performances in the center of town. Don’t forget to tip if you enjoy the show! Asheville wouldn’t be the same without them.
Beer City USA!
Asheville is known as “Beer City USA”. Because with 26 different craft breweries in the city, and another 60 nearby, beer lovers won’t want to leave.
Some of the most popular in town are Green Man, Catawba, Wicked Weed, and Lexington Avenue Brewery.
About 100 local beers can be enjoyed in Asheville, and each brewery has its own unique character. From strong hoppy IPAs to dark stouts, to fruity raspberry ales, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.
On top of the incredible beer scene, the city is also “steeped” in tea culture.
Check out Dobra Tea, afternoon tea at Biltmore, and The Herbiary.
French Broad River
The French Broad River winds its way past Asheville, providing a natural space for all kinds of outdoor activities & adventures.
You have your obvious river sports like whitewater kayaking and inner-tube floating, but there are some lesser-known activities here too, like “bellyaking” and whitewater SUP.
Bellyaking was actually invented in Asheville — it’s a face first kayak-type ride using special “paddle gloves” to maneuver through the rapids.
I decided to try some whitewater SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) for the first time with Wai Mauna SUP Tours.
Stand-up paddle-boarding through class I & II river rapids on the French Broad River requires a lot of balance, it was more difficult then the lake or ocean SUP I was used to. I fell a few times, but it was still fun!
Farm To Table Dining
Asheville is home to over 250 restaurants, many serving locally produced meats and veggies while supporting North Carolina’s farmers. They’ve been doing “farm to table” long before it became a cliche.
We obviously couldn’t try every restaurant in town with just four days, but my favorite places to eat in Asheville were The Marketplace and Salsas.
French Broad Chocolates is an ice-cream lover’s dream too. The line outside is long, but there’s a reason for that.
The chocolate ice-cream floats are sooooo good! It was worth the wait.
The Biltmore Estate
The historic Biltmore Estate is one of the most frequently suggested places to visit in Asheville. George Vanderbilt’s gigantic, hundred-year-old property is indeed quite busy all year long.
George, an heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune, fell in love with North Carolina and began building his property by late 1889. He decided to create a dream home surrounded by natural forests and productive farms.
This 178,926 square foot mansion sits on 8000 acres, with over 250 rooms, and is America’s largest home. The Biltmore holds regular exhibitions — they were displaying movie costumes used in films set during the XVIIIth century when we were there.
George Vanderbilt was one of the most-read men in America, and amassed a library of more than 22,000 books — including over 3,000 he read himself. Gazing at the walls of books in his preserved library was fascinating.
Wild Foraging Tours
I’ve never been wild mushroom picking before, so we signed up for morning foraging tour with a company called No Taste Like Home.
Our day began with an overview from owner Alan Muskat about types of edibles we’d be looking for, and which poisonous plants to avoid.
After being equipped with baskets, harvesting knives, and paper bags, we headed into the enchanting North Carolina forest. I was completely surprised at how many things you could eat, and how good they tasted!
We collected Day Lily flowers, Chanterelle mushrooms, Stinging Nettle, Sassafras leaves, and strange mushrooms called Hairy Rubber Cups. While not popular in the US, they are apparently a delicacy in Malaysia.
After, you can bring your “catch” to local restaurants in Asheville like The Marketplace, where chefs prepare your dinner using the wild ingredients.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers year-round access to hiking trails and exhilarating views along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway.
The complete route stretches 469 miles from North Carolina to Virginia, and is home to a wide range of diverse plants and animals. It’s technically part of the National Park System.
Along with hundreds of hiking trails, the parkway includes sections of the Appalachian Trail — one of America’s classic long distance hikes that stretches from Georgia to Maine.
Asheville was a perfect base for exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we spent a full day cruising its winding pavement. Stopping occasionally at mountain lookouts and for short hikes to admire the area’s nature.
Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest is located South West of Asheville, only 30-45 minutes away. It’s considered the birthplace of modern forestry in America, and home to the country’s first forestry school.
Driving through Pisgah on Route 276 is a fun little road trip complete with waterfalls, white water rapids, hiking trails, and camping opportunities.
We stopped by two different waterfalls. The first is called Looking Glass Falls. Located right off the side of the road, it’s super easy to reach, and a nice place to cool off in the summer heat.
The second is Sliding Rock — basically a huge natural waterslide made of smooth stone. A quick ride down the 60-foot flat, sloping boulder will definitely wake you up due to the chilly 50 degree water!
The Davidson River is a popular area for fly-fishing too.
Places To Stay In Asheville
If you’re wondering where to stay in Asheville, here are my recommendations:
Grove Park Inn – Asheville’s most famous hotel is one of a kind. Built out of stone on the top of a hill, it features various restaurants, a beautiful spa, and scenic views of the city.
Abbington Green B&B – This has to be one of the best bed & breakfasts I’ve ever stayed at. Beautifully designed with a peaceful garden, tasty breakfast, and friendly southern hospitality.
Asheville Travel Tips & Advice
- There’s a fun public drum circle every Friday night between 6pm – 10pm in Pritchard Park, where people of all ages join in to dance to the music.
- Asheville has a beautiful array of wildflowers that bloom between April and June. Keep your eye out for trillium, lady slippers, wild ginger, evening primrose, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and many more.
- The best time to visit Asheville is during the fall foliage season (October), as trees & mountains are incredibly colorful. Summers are usually pretty busy too, and get the best weather.
- Parts of the Appalachian Trail pass through this region. For a taste of this famous 2,180 mile trek, try hiking the Max Patch Mountain trail for great views.
- The Biltmore Estate is Asheville’s most popular attraction, so it can get quite crowded. Go super early for awesome photos and less people.
Asheville has a little something for everyone. You can enjoy scenic mountain vistas, fun live music, locally produced food and beer, a vibrant arts scene, hiking and other outdoor adventure activities too.
I have to say it has become one of my new favorite mountain towns in the United States, and an excellent weekend vacation destination. Who knows, you may never want to leave! ★
Bonus Video! Things To Do In Asheville
(Click to watch Things To Do In Asheville – North Carolina on YouTube)
Any questions about traveling to Asheville, NC? Do you have any other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!
Vancouver Island, Canada
The second half of my Vancouver Island road trip took me to the island’s West coast, and the fun little hipster surf town of Tofino. It’s a lush wilderness outpost on the edge of the sea.
Which means I was following a basic itinerary, while my accommodation, a rental car, and some activities were included in the price.
This 8-day journey across Canada’s Vancouver Island was mixed with adventure, a taste of First Nation’s culture, and dramatic Pacific Northwest scenery.
Yet I was on my own, taking my time to enjoy this road trip at my own pace.
Driving To Tofino
For the first half of the journey, I’d explored parts of Vancouver Island’s East coast. Today’s drive was a long one (about 6 hours) which took me across the island from Telegraph Cove to Tofino over the stunning Pacific Rim Highway.
I managed to drop into some native art galleries, hiked an ancient old-growth rainforest, and enjoyed beautiful mountain scenery and lakes along the way.
First Nations Art Galleries
During this road trip around Vancouver Island, I’m constantly reminded of the deep history of the landscape, first populated by the peoples of the First Nations around 7,000 years ago.
Driving into Courtenay, I stumble upon a K’ómoks native longhouse, decorated with a colorful mural featuring an eagle & whale. These cedar buildings were often shared by extended First Nations families, everyone participating in daily tasks like preparing food, building canoes, etc.
At I-Hos Gallery, local people express their identity through art. This gallery, with its masks, wood carvings, intricate prints and textiles, is designed to tell stories as much as please the senses.
Stories of origins, about their technological and spiritual relationship with the natural world, about how they lived, how they died, and how they endured to become modern descendants of First Nations cultures.
Goats On A Roof!
My eyes started to play tricks as I entered the town of Coombs. What first looked like a green hill with goats appeared to become the roof of a long, wood-pannelled building.
I found them. Vancouver Island’s famous “Goats On The Roof!”
In the 1950s, Kristian Graaten and his wife, Solveig, left Norway and emigrated to British Columbia.
When they decided to build a market in the mid-70s, Kris used the Norwegian tradition of lining roofs with grass/sod. It may sound eccentric, but this roof traps the warmth of the building, reducing heating bills up to 25%.
It’s also soundproof, easy to maintain, and the perfect place to keep your pet goats! Which has turned into a huge tourist attraction for his roadside Coombs Old Country Market, a fun location to stop for lunch.
Hiking Cathedral Grove
A twenty-minute drive west, and things got even more vertical. If you’ve never seen a majestic Douglas Fir, your first sight can be overwhelming.
Imagine the average fir tree, the kind you’d hang your Christmas ornaments on. Now double it in size. Now double it again. Maybe a third time. Now you’re getting close – but maybe not close enough, since a fully-grown Douglas fir can reach 225 ft / 75 m into the sky!
At the heart of MacMillan Provincial Park stands Cathedral Grove, home of the densest collection of these trees. It’s an opportunity to stretch your arms around their trunks, failing to make it even halfway (the widest has a circumference of 27 ft / 9 m).
When you stand there in the quiet, gazing up towards the distant canopy where the treetops meet the sunlight, it feels unchanging, like time itself has stopped to listen. Some of these trees are 800 years old.
Welcome To Tofino
Making it across the width of Vancouver Island, I finally arrive to the quirky Pacific coastal town of Tofino. A place I’ve heard so much about.
Tofino is the gateway to Vancouver Island’s wildest and most spectacular scenery, and in the summer, it’s an enormously popular destination for visitors, greatly multiplying its small local population of 2,000.
Pacific Rim National Park is right next door, a 500-kilometer expanse of rainforest trails, rugged wave-battered coastlines and pristine beaches.
However it’s best to visit in the summer months, as winter conditions can get a little fierce (it’s a haven for storm-watchers in the winter).
Tofino is ideal for hiking, surfing, hanging out at the beach, wildlife viewing, or just strolling down boardwalk paths through pacific northwest temperate rainforests.
Whale Watching & Hot Springs
You can’t visit Tofino and not go whale watching! But I’ll give you a tip, rather than take a dedicated whale watching trip, join the Hot Springs Cove Tour with Remote Passages.
Because there’s a very good chance you’ll see whales (and other wildlife) on your way to the hot springs. Like I did. It’s like two tours in one.
As part of the Maquinna Marine Provincial Park, Hot Springs Cove gets its name from the nearby Ramsay hot springs (it hits up to 50 C / 110 F in places), which are only accessible by boat or float-plane.
The trip had us speeding through the waves in an inflatable zodiac, stopping to watch playful Orcas (don’t call them killer whales!), large sea lions, sea otters, and even a black bear fishing for crabs on the coastline.
After the boat ride, it was time to relax by soaking in these steaming-hot natural pools & waterfalls while enjoying an epic view.
Surfing Around Tofino
If you surf, or want to learn, Tofino is a good place to hit some waves. In fact they call themselves the Surf Capital of Canada. Although keep in mind this is the Pacific Northwest, and chilly 50 – 60 F water means you’ll want a wetsuit.
There are a few surf-shops in town that can outfit you with a board, wetsuit, and even a surfboard car rack. I stopped into Long Beach Surf Shop and rented a longboard for a morning surf session at Chesterman Beach.
Tofino is a surfer’s paradise – so if you’ve been following my surfing adventures, you can imagine my reaction to these miles and miles of surfable coastline, reliable beach breaks, and uncrowded waves.
There are a few good surf-spots in the area, and waves for all abilities. Long Beach is a popular spot, a 15-km stretch of undeveloped coastline that’s regarded as the park’s most photogenic.
Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay are two more. Winter usually has the better swells, and fewer tourists — but crazier weather and colder water too.
Places To Stay & Eat
Tofino has a super fun farmer’s market every Saturday, where you can sample all kinds of good food, or pick up some locally-made artwork/crafts.
If you’re looking for a great place to watch the sunset with a beer and some fresh oysters, check out Tofino’s Ice House Oyster Bar. Thank me later. ★
Bonus Video! Vancouver Island Road Trip
(Click to watch Vancouver Island BC – Road Trip on YouTube)
Location: Vancouver Island, Canada
Self-Drive Tour: Canada By Design
Useful Notes: With a self-drive tour your accommodation, rental car, ferry trips, and some key activities are included. You present pre-paid vouchers for these things on arrival. The rest of the trip is yours to create as you go.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Pacific Northwest
Suggested Reading: Island Of Dreams
READ MORE FROM CANADA
Have any questions about visiting Vancouver Island? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!
This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.
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Vancouver Island, Canada
Just when we’re about to give up searching, a group of humpback whales pop their heads above the water, feeding on a school of fish swimming in the turbulent coastal currents. Then they dive below, flashing us glimpses of massive tails.
But the whales come later in this tale. My first impression of Vancouver Island is not whales, but trees. So many trees.
They rise in a green wall on each side of the road, or fall away to reveal incredible views of cliffs, rivers, inlets, the straits that separate it from the mainland, or the endless sweep of the Pacific to the west.
There’s no doubt about it: Vancouver Island is a natural wonderland.
I arrive to the island by ferry, just a 2 hour journey from the city of Vancouver to Nanaimo. After driving off the boat, I grab some breakfast at a coffee shop in town, and begin my 8 day Vancouver Island road trip.
Canada By Design Self-Drive Tour
This is not your typical road trip. I took a self-drive tour with Canada By Design – specifically, their 8-day Coastal Cultural Explorer, starting and ending in Vancouver.
As you’d imagine, the itinerary takes in all the most beautiful spots on this mesmerizing, rugged stretch of coastline – but as the title suggests, it’s also designed to open your mind as well as your eyes, giving you a taste of the inhabitants’ rich, culturally fruitful relationship with this vast expanse of natural beauty, both now and in the past.
While some aspects of the trip have been planned (accommodation, rental car, and a few activities) I’m basically free to move at my own pace, and take side-excursions whenever I see something fun along the way.
Canada By Design’s local experts put together a general itinerary for me to follow along with recommendations. But there is plenty of free time to figure stuff out on my own too — and have a real adventure.
As someone who prefers independent travel over group tours, this is an ideal mix of convenience and freedom.
I don’t have to worry about the more tedious aspects of planning a trip, and can just relax and enjoy the discovery of a new travel destination.
Exploring Quadra Island
My first stop is Quadra Island, which crumbles off Vancouver Island on the eastern side, marking the passage northwest into Johnstone Strait.
Many hundreds of years ago, long before Europeans set foot on these shores, it was called “Tsa-Kwa-Luten” – gathering place in the Kwak’wala tongue.
Based on the relics and carvings discovered in this area, it was well-named.
I spent my time wandering around the island, hiking some trails, photographing wildlife like deer and bald eagles, and rented a sea kayak with Quadra Island Kayaks to paddle along the coast.
Sea kayaking is a popular sport here – there’s tons of varied coastline to explore.
I saw seals playing off the side of my boat, and watched jellyfish float under the surface of the water. Some of the smaller islands also have colorful starfish clinging to the rocks.
My home for 2 nights is Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge, located within a large peaceful forest on the coastline of Discovery Passage. The lodge, owned by the Laichwiltach people, is built on the site of a former First Nations village.
It’s decorated with indigenous art from the area, and surrounded by wildlife like deer, bald eagles, and seals. In the early morning at low-tide, you can find ancient petroglyphs carved into rocks on the shoreline.
A short drive away from the lodge is the Nuyumbalees Cultural Center, which displays an array of Native artifacts of cultural, artistic and historic value to the Kwakwaka’wakw people.
Potlatch masks, totem poles, ceremonial costumes, and more. The craftsmanship was incredible!
Wildlife & History In Telegraph Cove
Driving further North, my next stop was the tiny former lumber/canning community of Telegraph Cove. With a population of only 20, this is one small town!
However it feels like a picture postcard, nestled on the edge of a tiny bay in the middle of the Pacific North West wilderness. These days tourism is the main draw, wildlife fans visit for access to excellent whale watching, grizzly bear viewing, sea kayaking, and fishing.
In the morning I met with Mike Willie, owner of Sea Wolf Adventures, for a local whale watching & First Nations cultural experience on his inflatable zodiac speed boat.
Mike is a member of the Musgamakw Dzawada‘enuxw First Nation, and his family has lived off this land for generations.
U’mista Cultural Center
Before we go looking for humpback whales, Mike takes me to Alert Bay and the U’mista Cultural Center to learn about some sad history.
In 1884, the Canadian government outlawed the most important of all ceremonies performed by Canada’s First Nations – the Potlatch – to assimilate and acculturate the country’s indigenous people.
Half a century of arrests and confiscations later, cultural treasures of the Kwakwaka’wakw remained scattered.
Today U’mista works to promote the Kwakwaka’wakw language and culture, and to preserve the heritage of the 5,500 Kwakwaka’wakw making a living in and around modern Vancouver Island.
The center sits next to a recently demolished Indian Residential School, a tragic part of Canada’s history.
Whale Watching In The Rain
So after a somewhat depressing yet eye-opening experience learning about Canada’s indigenous First Nations history, it was time to cheer up and head out on the whale watching part of our wildlife & cultural trip.
Mike knows these waters like the back of his hand, and it wasn’t long before we came across a pod of three giant humpback whales feeding on fish along a roiling tidal current.
It was mesmerizing watching the massive animals crest the surface of the water, arching their back in the “hump” shape they’re named after, before diving into the depths with a flick of their large tail fins.
Humpbacks are about as large as a school bus, growing up to 60 feet long and weighing 40 tons!
Strathcona Provincial Park
I had some more time to venture off my itinerary, so I decided to visit Vancouver Island’s largest provincial park, called Strathcona. The park is known for it’s many lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers.
The drive through Strathcona Provincial Park was spectacular, tons of amazing scenery to take in on the winding mountain roads. Not very busy at all, I was able to stop at a few overlooks and a waterfall called Myra Falls.
Much of the park was empty, too far for most Vancouver Island tourists to venture, but well worth the trip if you have the time! If I had more myself, I would have loved to do some overnight hikes in the area.
Road Tripping Vancouver Island
After experiencing the nature, wildlife, and culture of North Eastern Vancouver Island, it was time to drive to the opposite coast and see what the West side had to offer.
Make sure to read PART 2 of my Vancouver Island road trip, where I visit an ancient rainforest, take a dip in some natural hot-springs, catch a glimpse of orcas and bears – plus give cold-water surfing a try. ★
Bonus Video! Vancouver Island Road Trip
(Click to watch Vancouver Island BC – Road Trip on YouTube)
Have any questions about visiting Vancouver Island? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!
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