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Wildlife: Vancouver Island Garter Snake

I ran into this Vancouver Island garter snake yesterday while watering the garden and managed to get quite close to take this video. He was actually quite curious and came to check out my iPhone while I took the video before slithering away.

About Garter Snakes

Most garter snakes have a pattern of yellow stripes on a brown or green background and their average length is about 55 cm, with a maximum length of about 137 cm. 

Garter snakes are very thin snakes. Most have longitudinal stripes in many different colours. They come in a wide range of colours including: green, blue, yellow, gold, red, orange, brown, and black. In summer, they are most active in the morning and late afternoon; in cooler seasons or climates, they restrict their activity to the warm afternoons.

The saliva of a garter snake may be toxic to amphibians and other small animals. For humans, a bite is not dangerous, though it may cause slight itching, burning, and/or swelling. Most garter snakes also secrete a foul-smelling fluid from postanal glands when handled or harmed. [source: Wikipedia]

This isn’t the first time I’ve run into a garter snake in my garden though, I saw another one (or maybe even the same one?) in the same spot just a few weeks ago and snapped this photo:

Vancouver Island Garter Snake

Have you ever been up close and personal with a snake? Please share your story in the comments below.

 

The Molson Canadian Passport Fridge

One of THE coolest things at the Sochi 2014 Olympics had to be the Molson Canadian Passport Fridge at Canada Olympic House. It’s like a vending machine, only instead of feeding it money, it only opens by scanning a Canadian passport.


Molson Passport Fridge

The fridge was turned on each day of the Games during Victory Hour, between 5pm and 6pm. I was still feeling under the weather and wasn’t sure I would make it to Victory Hour, so I connected with the lovely @MolsonTonia who was kind enough to give me a special viewing. She plugged it in for me when I stopped by Canada House one afternoon. I only had one *little* problem… Not only did I not have my passport on me, I don’t actually HAVE a Canadian passport!

Olympic Spirit Project Postcards are now available!

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My Canadian Passport Problem

My family immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands when I was very young and I’m still a landed immigrant and permanent resident. The Dutch government didn’t allow dual citizenship for years and we didn’t want to give up our EU passports and with them our access to work in Europe. The only difference in Canada is that I can’t vote.

A few years ago the rules changed and dual citizenship is now available for those who were too young to make their own choice to leave the Netherlands. This means that my siblings and I are now able to apply for Canadian citizenship without losing our Dutch citizenship. (Yay!) So last year, after I bought my Olympics tickets I sent in my application with the idea that I would have it in time for the Sochi Olympics to access Canada Olympic House. It is now 13 months later, the Olympics are over, and it is STILL being processed. It takes 23 months for a citizenship application to go through the system. Ridiculous, in my opinion, but there’s not much I can do about it. At least I’ll have it in time for Rio 2016! But I digress…

Let’s Open the Fridge!

So after explaining my passport problem to the Molson girls, I embarrassingly asked to borrow one of theirs to open the fridge. And let me tell you, it was nothing short of AWESOME!

Molson Passport Fridge Molson Passport Fridge Molson Passport Fridge

Molson Passport Fridge

I was still feeling under the weather, but was super happy about the beer fridge!

What Was Inside the Fridge?

The fridge contained only victory bottles. Russian customs blocked Molson’s beer shipment from entering the country so the victory bottles were display bottles only and were empty. Because of this, Molson served Heineken and Miller Genuine Draft at Canada Olympic House. Sad, but true.

What made it all ok? I’m Dutch and Molson is the Heineken distributor in Canada, so I was still drinking beer from my homeland, it was just the “other” homeland!

Travels of the Beer Fridge

This wasn’t the Molson Passport Fridge’s first appearance though. Molson has been spreading Canadian spirit all over the world! Check this video out:

Have you opened the Molson Canadian Passport Fridge? Where?

Olympic Spirit Project postcards are now available! 

BUY NOW!

 

Thailand’s Songkran Festival

From April 13-15, Thailand celebrates their new year with the Songkran Festival. During these three days, the entire country participates in the biggest water fight in the world.

The throwing of water started as a way to pay respect, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Over time, this tradition has evolved among young people into a full blown water fight including full on dousing of random passers by. Some also carry a bowl of talc powder mixed with water, which they then smear it on people’s faces and bodies as a blessing for the new year.

Songkran1

My Songkran Experience

A few years ago I was in Thailand for this festival and was not prepared for how crazy it would be. We decided to spend it in Chiang Mai, where the most famous Songkran celebrations are held. Chiang Mai is surrounded by a moat with streets that run alongside it, providing a perfect (but dirty) water source for this celebration.

We arrived the day before the festival began so we could prepare. We found our hotel, dropped off our bags and went shopping for water guns. This Minnie Mouse super soaker was my weapon of choice.

Mariska Songkran Weapon

We left the hotel to join the festival the next day and there was a group of kids waiting outside and I immediately got a full bucket of water to the chest! That was how the next three days went from start to finish. For the next three days I would wore the same clothes, still wet from the day before, as there was no point getting my limited supply of clean clothes all soaked.

This went on for three days straight! The Thai people loaded up in trucks with giant barrels of water and drove through the streets spraying water at people. Some got a bit nasty and added ice to their water buckets, which was absolutely shocking when you were doused with it. Most of the Thai people were fairly respectful not to spray water in people’s faces, which was great. It was the Western crowd that tended to take things a bit too far, spraying people in the face or in the ear with a super soaker full of ice water. Not cool.

Overall the festival was an absolute blast! When dusk hit in the evening the water fight would end for the day, and around about nine the next morning it would start up again.

Here is a taste of what those three days were like:

Songkran-4 Songkran-2 Songkran-3 Songkran-5 Songkran-6 Songkran-7 Songkran-8 Songkran-9 Songkran-10 Songkran-11 Songkran-12 Songkran-13 Songkran-14 Songkran-15

 What festivals have you attended while traveling? Share in the comments below.

 

Sochi Day 8 – Speed Skating Day!

Iceberg Skating Palace

It was team pursuit speed skating day!

I went to the Olympic Park early and met up with some other Canadians to grab a couple of drinks (ok, ok, beers…) in the sun before our day’s events. As we sat on our bench, people watching, probably one out of every three Russians walking by either wanted a photo with us or wanted to trade stuff for our Canada gear! We probably posed for about 20 photos that day!

Canadian Beauties!

This super cute Russian girl came up and asked me if she could wear my Canada gear for a photo, so I handed over my flag, toque and mittens, and she ROCKED it! You’d never know that she wasn’t Canadian!

Russian girl in Canada gear

Team Pursuit Speed Skating

When the time came, I headed into the Adler Skating Arena for the speed skating team pursuit event. The short track was so amazing earlier in the week so I was looking forward to watching a team pursuit event. The speed was insane as I watched both the men’s and women’s events. I still cannot believe the size of the athletes’ legs! Wow!

Sadly, Canada didn’t qualify for the finals, so that was a bit disappointing. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to photography the same team when they won gold in the same event at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

Inside the Iceberg Skating Palace

Team Canada - Team Pursuit Speed Skating Sochi 2014

Team Canada

Team Canada - Team Pursuit Speed Skating Sochi 2014

Team Canada

Team Russia - Team Pursuit Speed Skating Sochi 2014

Team Russia

Team Netherlands - Team Pursuit Speed Skating Sochi 2014

Team Netherlands

After the event was over, I headed toward the Bolshoy Arena to see if I could find a decently priced ticket for the men’s semi-final hockey game. Canada was playing the USA. I didn’t have any luck, so I went to find some food and again, I ran into a group of Canadians in the lineup. This group was a bit different though, in that they had been in Russia working on the Games for over six months already! I chatted with them about their experiences and what it was like to live in Russia and every one of them was looking forward to going home at the end of the month.

Men’s 5000m Relay

After I finished eating, I headed back to the Bolshoy for one last kick at trying to get a ticket to the game and one of that group of Canadians ran after me to give me a ticket to the short track relay event that was about to start. I tried to give him money for it (face value was at $200), but he insisted I just take it and go enjoy myself! Again, I was impressed by how amazingly generous people can be!

When I arrived, the event had already begun. This was a huge event for the Russians and the cheering in the Iceberg Skating Palace was deafening! The relay event was CRAZY! There were so many skaters on the ice all at once, some racing and some circling on the inside getting into position for their turn in the relay. It was a wonder that none of them ran into each other!

Russia wins Gold in the 5000m relay at Sochi 2014

Russia wins GOLD!

USA wins Silver in the 5000m relay at Sochi 2014

USA wins Silver!

China wins bronze in the 5000m relay at Sochi 2014

China wins Bronze!

 

The final result of the men’s 5000 meter relay was Russia – Gold, the USA – Silver, and China – Bronze. It was an unbelievable sight and the cheering and support from the crowd was unmatched to anything I had seen at the Games yet! It was absolutely awesome! Just. AWESOME!

A Perfect End to a Perfect Day

I was pumped after all that fan energy at the men’s 5000m relay event! The Canada vs USA men’s hockey game wasn’t quite over so I sweet talked my way past the bouncer at the House of Switzerland (sweet talking bouncers is much easier to do when you are traveling alone) to watch the last 10 minutes of the game. As we all know, Canada WON! and the Swiss House EXPLODED because as usual, it was FULL of Canadians! It was a perfect end to another FANTASTIC day!

Have you ever watched either team pursuit or team relay speed skating? When and where? 

 

My Face Was On the MegaFon Pavilion!

One of the coolest sponsor displays at Sochi 2014 had to be MegaFon Faces on the jumbotron in the Olympic park. The MegaFon jumbotron wasn’t just ANY jumbotron though…

Remember those Pinart things where you put your hand in to depress the pins so it takes the shape of your hand (or whatever other body part or object you put in there)? So the MegaFon jumbotron was more like jumbo-Pinart! So when a friend asked me is I wanted to go meet the MegaFon representative and have my face on the thing, of course I said yes! (cuz seriously, that’s Awesome!)

MegaFon Pinart Jumbotron

So we were invited upstairs to the VIP area at the MegaFon pavillion, where we were offered champagne (and coffee, but who drinks coffee when there’s champagne??) while we sat on their cushy couches and gave them our info before stepping into the photobooth to have our photos taken for the jumbo-Pinart.

When we were all done, they gave us each a Sochi 2014 branded Pinart souvenir (a perfect gift for my 5-year-old nephew!) and then we had to wait a couple of hours before it would show up on the jumbotron, and they said would text us when it did.

So here is what it looked like (skip to 0:25 to see my face start showing up):

So ya… I thought that was pretty cool!

 

 

Men’s Quarterfinal Hockey: Canada vs Latvia

Bolshoy Arena

 

Canadians were buzzing with anticipation as they entered the Bolshoy for the Canada vs Latvia quarterfinal hockey.

It’s always interesting walking into an event solo, not knowing who you will be sitting with or the energy of those around you. I was pleasantly surprised and excited to find that my seat was beside these guys! Canadian superfans always make the experience that much more awesome.

Canada vs Latvia with the Helmet Heads

There were no alcohol sales inside the official Olympic venues, but these guys didn’t let that stop them! Cuz seriously, how can you be at a Canadian at a hockey and not have a beer in your hand? There is something very wrong about that scenario. So these superfans each came in with a backpack full of beer and generously shared them around to fellow Canadians (ie. me!)

There was plenty of Olympic Spirit to be found and you can see from this photographic summary:

 

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Canada vs Latvia Quarterfinal day6_hockey-7  day6_hockey-5 day6_hockey-4

 

Canadian Fan in a Crosby Jerseyday6_hockey-8

day6_hockey-6

Canada won over Latvia with a score of 2 – 1, the two goals were scored by Patrick Sharp and Shea Weber. You can find more stats and details from the game here.

After the game we were once again approached by Russian after Russian for photos. This group included a couple that I had been sitting beside earlier in the day for the Russia vs Finland game. They were super excited to run into me again, so of course wanted a photo.

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I LOVED this super cute mini fan that we found on our way to the House of Switzerland to celebrate.

day6_hockey-9

I traded my Canada scarf with this group of Russian athletes at the cauldron for some Russian Olympic pins.

Russian Fans at the Olympic Cauldron

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Most Canadians made their way to the House of Switzerland to celebrate the win and as was the nightly tradition, the Canadian national anthem broke out.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWLp7cdS5RU&list=UUAX8Y6j1NZFWZleMJcM_FXA

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It was another awesome day full of pleasant surprises. Two incredible hockey games, an unexpected curling, new friends and fantastic memories that will last a lifetime! Despite my challenges with lost luggage and the flu, my Olympic experience was only getting better and better with each passing day!

Did you watch Team Canada play in the quarter final match?

A Message from the Shore of the Black Sea in Russia

I haven’t posted much since I’ve been in Russia, thanks to a nasty flu, so I thought I would record a bit of a wrap-up video before I leave Russia early tomorrow morning. So here’s a little message from the shores of the Black Sea in Russia:

Sochi Day 2: Sunshine, Short Track and Swiss House

Sunshine!

I woke up on Day 2 to a beautiful day. It was sunny and about 18 degrees celsius. I decided to take a walk along the boardwalk along the river Mzymta before heading toward the Olympic Park and these are the views I was faced with. Adler was absolutely beautiful! It was so warm that I found myself wishing I had packed a pair of shorts and flip flops! The palm trees along the river made the idea that I was at the winter Olympics completely surreal!

Day2-2 Day2

Day2-4

Short Track

I didn’t have any events scheduled for that day so I headed to the Olympic Park with the intention of buying a park pass to explore some of the cultural venues. I connected with an American friend who I had met through one of the Sochi Facebook groups, and as I went to stand in the 90 minute ticket lineup (ugh), he went looking for a pair of inexpensive event tickets from people selling extras outside the park. I figured that if I was going to pay for a park pass anyway, I was fine with paying a few extra dollars if it meant I would take in an Olympic event that day.

The ticket office outside Sochi Olympic Park

 

I wasn’t in line more than 15 minutes and my new friend messaged me saying that he had been successful! He had found a pair of short track speed skating tickets for only $30 each from another American who had extra tickets! Yay! And just like that, we were off to our first event of the 2014 Olympic Games! HappyDance!

Day2b-3   Short Track Speed Skating - Sochi 2014 Olympics

If you have never watched speed skating live, it is an absolutely amazing sight! Short track is especially exciting because they move so quickly around such a small track. They lean in at such an angle around the corners that you think that they may just fall over! Unfortunately, one of our Canadian medal hopefuls did just that… I watched Charles Hamelin lose his balance and as he fell he also knocked the American competitor out of the race and they both hit the padded arena wall HARD!

Short Track Speed Skating - Sochi 2014 Olympics


In the end, two Russians won gold and silver, while the Netherlands brought home the bronze medal for the event Men’s 1000m event. They usually don’t actually present the medals at the events, but they do bring the athletes up onto a podium to recognize their achievement and to perform a flower ceremony. The medals were presented later that evening in the Medals Plaza.

 

Short Track Speed Skating - Sochi 2014 Olympics
When the event was over, I wandered around the park in search of Olympic Spirit and some Russians provided some excellent examples:

Russian Olympic SpiritRussian Olympic Spirit

 

Swiss House

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the park photographing Olympic venues and landmarks and ended up at the House of Switzerland.

The Swiss House was great fun! Since Canadians were not permitted to go inside the Canada Olympic House unless they were friends or family of the athletes, the House of Switzerland became our second home. This is where we (Canadians) would end up daily to celebrate the events of the day with food, drinks and great company. It was no strange occurrence for the Canadian national anthem to break out (it would happen nightly, sometimes more than once), and the house would be packed until sometime between 2am and 4am, depending when they decided to shut it all down.

What I loved the most about the day was that it was a completely unplanned day without expectations and it turned into a day filled with incredible surprises from the warm weather to the unexpected short track ticket and all the wonderful people I met along the way. Any anxiety that I may have had about traveling to Russia and the Olympics solo had completely melted away, and when I got back to the hotel at 2am I was completely exhausted and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

 

Digital Nomads: Goodbye commute, hello world

Back in October, I took the leap of becoming a Digital Nomad and 2014 is the year this becomes a reality.

I watched this video made by oDesk today and it has inspired me once again to believing that it’s all possible.

Digital Nomads: Goodbye commute, hello world

My nomadic adventure began with a month-long trip to Costa Rica at the end of 2013. I had sold and donated all of my things and Costa Rica was the perfect place to unwind and leave my old life behind to be inspired by what life has to offer outside of an office.

I spent the month traveling around the country, exploring, photographing, learning Spanish, eating well and working out. It was truly an amazing five weeks that I often go back to in my mind when I start to have doubts about the path I’ve chosen and it brings renewed confidence.

After my return from Costa Rica, I began work on a new project and after MUCH hard work on the Olympic Spirit Kickstarter campaign, the adventure and travels will continue, thanks to my many generous supporters. In less than a week I fly to Europe, spend a few days with family and then 10 days from today I land in Sochi, Russia to capture the Olympic Spirit as the world celebrates their athletes! I can hardly believe it!

Through this project I will share the Olympic experience with my amazing Kickstarter backers and others through social media and this blog. Once the Games are over, the stories and images will be compiled into a book documenting the Olympic spirit and will be available for sale. I invite you to join me and share in the experience from wherever you are!

Napoleon Hill’s wrote what has become my mantra:

What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

This project is living proof!!

With gratitude,
Mariska

CBC’s Road to the Olympics with the Olympic Spirit Project!

This morning I had my first ever television interview!

It was with Heather Hiscox of Toronto’s CBC News Now morning show, featured on CBC’s Road to the Olympics segment. Because of the 3-hour time difference, my alarm went off at 4:30am to be awake and ready for the 5:20am call. Here’s how it went:

The whole thing went so fast! I’ve been both excited and nervous about this interview for over a week, and waiting for my 5 minutes of fame felt like forever.  I called in via Skype and was on hold and listening to the show (I had no video on my end) for the longest 10 minutes of my life, and then Heather started talking to me and the next thing I knew, it was over.

Overall, I’m happy with how it went, despite a couple of verbal stumbles. After seeing the replay however, there are a few points I’d like to add.

The plan is to spark the Olympic Spirit back home while in Sochi. Those who will be in Sochi are driven to be there by their Olympic Spirit, which I will be there to document. But what I am really aiming to spark is the spirit back  in Canada and beyond! It’s challenging sometimes to get excited about a world event when all you hear about are the controversial issues and security threats. So I hope to spark the spirit in YOU from Sochi through the stories of my experiences and my images.

It’s time to put the focus back where it belongs: on the sports, the athletes and the fans.

I’m not saying that these other issues are not of concern to me, because they are. I am definitely aware of what’s happening and concerned but I’m also prepared to be cautious and safe. It’s not going to stop me from going and supporting our athletes and capturing the true Olympic spirit of the 2014 Winter Games.

I invite YOU to be a part of the excitement as well, through social media where I will be posting the images and stories throughout the experience. I’ll be posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as often as connectivity allows, so please be sure to follow along so you don’t miss any of the excitement. And of course, please share the excitement to grow that Olympic Spirit even more! (I will post the final edited images to Flickr as well.)

         

As of today, there are 10 days and 40% remaining to be raised on the Kickstarter.  Please pledge what you can to bring the Spirit to life.

For more information and to check out the great pledge rewards, please visit the The Olympic Spirit Project on Kickstarter.

Pledge your support on Kickstarter

 

Thank you all for the support, and I’d love to hear what you thought of the interview in the comments below!


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