I am planning a university exchange to Calgary in Canada. I'll be there from early September to late December and will be staying on campus. Can you suggest any day or weekend activities suitable for a very low budget that also offer insight into the local culture?
Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:
Bold, brash and dripping in oil money, Calgary isn't a cheap city to visit. However, if you know where to look you'll find plenty to do without breaking the bank.
With student ID, pay just C$9 ($11) for entry to Glenbow, the best museum in the province. Tracing the history of pre- and post-oil Calgary and Alberta, local artefacts fill its halls along with a fine collection of contemporary art and travelling exhibitions.
At first glance, Calgary may seem designed entirely for the automobile. However, there are actually more than 400km of walking and biking trails within the city limits. Hire a bike from the university, download the Calgary Pathway & Bicycle Route Map and get pedalling.
Cycle back in time at Heritage Past Historical Village or roll along the grassy fields of Prince's Island Park, where you can catch a Shakespeare production in its natural amphitheatre.
Having travelled all this way, it'd be a shame not to head out of town and bask in some of Alberta's famed countryside. To the west of Calgary is Banff National Park, and while it may not ooze culture of the man-made variety, its natural marvels rival anything the Romans built. Skiing, climbing and kayaking are all popular pursuits but Banff's hiking trails are the highlight, offering opportunities for exploring the mountainous charms of this Unesco World Heritage area. Staying in one of the campgrounds in the area will keep your costs down.
Mission to Anatolia
Since Lake Rotomahana's Pink and White Terraces don't exist any more, I was hoping to visit the white terraces at Pamukkale in Turkey. However, it seems the Pamukkale Express from Istanbul to Pamukkale doesn't run these days, and we would end up taking something like a 16-hour bus ride. Is it worth it? And if so, what's the best way of getting from there to Santorini in the Greek Islands? Should we head back to Istanbul and fly via Athens, or travel to the coast of Turkey and take a ferry?
Famed for its intricate series of calcite shelves - known as travertines - Pamukkale is undoubtedly the biggest tourist drawcard in western Anatolia.
Unfortunately this popularity has taken its toll, and if you've been looking at older photographs of this sight you may be disappointed by the reality. Things are improving, however, largely because of its designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1988.
Since then, significant steps have been taken to ensure its future, including demolishing unsightly hotels nearby and draining and refilling the pools to ward off pollution.
Atop the travertines lie the crumbling ruins of Hierapolis, an ancient city and healing centre. They're well worth a look, but arguably the most impressive ruins in the area are Afrodisia, which almost trump the columnar wonderland at Ephesus. Because of its remote location - 101km by road from Denizli - you'll likely have the place to yourself.
Denizli is a key transport hub for Turkey and the town you'll pass through on your way to Pamukkale, nearby. The 665km from Istanbul will take an arduous 12 hours by bus, but it's a thrifty option at $28-$45. An alternative is the hour-long flight from Istanbul, costing as little as double the bus price if you book early enough.
As for getting to the remarkable semi-submerged caldera of Santorini, it's far quicker to fly. You could depart Denizli after lunch and be sipping a glass of Assyrtico wine on the edge of the Aegean by sundown.
Otherwise, you can travel over land and sea from Denizli.
Take a bus ride to either of the resort towns of Bodrum (4.5 hours) or Marmaris (3 hours), then catch a ferry to Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese Islands. From here you can fly to Santorini in peak season or catch another couple of ferries via Iraklio on Crete.
Check ferry timetables and book online at greekferries.gr