The Best Things I Ate in NYC

The Best Things I Ate in NYC

When thinking about travel, food is often a major influencer in where I go. This year has been filled with foodie trips to cities like Montreal and Chicago, but surprisingly my stomach was not a major player in my NYC planning. That was until a few days before departure, when I booked a food tour of Chinatown and Little Italy (more on that to come). That set the tone for the rest of the trip which was all about sampling the local cuisine.

Bagel & Cream Cheese: Absolute Bagels

My favourite bite of the trip was a complete surprise to me. Although, cream cheese icing is one of my guilty pleasures, I have ranked plain cream cheese at the top of my ultimate dislike list. Totally bizarre, I know. But, I was adamant that I would try the top rated Absolute bagels with cream cheese in true New York fashion regardless of my taste buds. My bagel of choice was sesame with a garlic and chive cream cheese and it was BEYOND! I am fully converted now and I can happily enjoy both the sweet and savoury varieties.

Pizza: Lombardi’s

We knew that pizza was a must-eat in NYC, and when we learned that Little Italy was home to the oldest pizzeria in America, we set our sights on Lombardi’s. I can’t say that it was the best pizza of my life but it was certainly tasty and a cool experience too.

Milkshakes: Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

 img_0064_2
I saw a blog post about Black Tap’s crazy shakes a few months ago and I really hoped we’d be able to squeeze in a visit. We almost didn’t make it due to the hour long wait (at 2pm on a Wednesday) but we were sure glad we did. This monstrous cookie shake was the perfect send off to fuel us for the flight home. Or at least that’s what I told myself to ignore the sugar coma.

Pork Dumpling: Tasty Dumpling

img_0018_2

 I’m not a huge Chinese food fan. It’s not that I dislike the food, I just like pretty much everything else more. But, I’m always game to try new things and I surprised myself with how much I ended up enjoying these pork dumplings in Chinatown. They are also super cheap so if anyone ever challenges you to eat for under $5 in NYC, this is your spot.

Cannoli: Ferrara Cafe

The way to my heart is surely through the bakery. That’s probably why I’m so fond of Peeta from the Hunger Games. Or something. Well, my happiness metre was off the charts with the cannoli from family-run Ferrara Cafe. The century old pasticceria was so delicious that we came back again a couple days later. Just doing my part to eat local.

Cheesecake: Junior’s

img_0024

One of my all-time favourite desserts is cheesecake so you know I had to make a trip to the NYC restaurant claiming to serve the The World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake. Upon review, it was definitely an excellent cheesecake but I could have done without the strawberry “goop” on top. Due to the popularity, the cheesecake did have a manufactured feel that I could have done without. I prefer a cake that looks and tastes like it was made by my grandmother.

I know that I missed so many amazing New York restaurants.
What should I add to my list for the next trip?
The Best Free Things to do in New York

The Best Free Things to do in New York

It’s no secret that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But, on my recent trip to the Empire State, I was pleasantly surprised by all the fantastic and FREE activities to enjoy in the Big Apple.

Central Park

img_3083

Central Park is undoubtedly the most famous park in the entire world, and an important check on every NYC bucket list. Countless movies and TV shows have been filmed in this iconic spot which makes it all the more exhilarating to explore. It was surreal to see the Bow Bridge (pictured above) in real life. It felt oddly familiar from all the times I’d seen it before on the screen. New York is like that, familiar and foreign all at once.

Staten Island Ferry

img_2928

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of hope and freedom to many immigrants who moved to America throughout the centuries. Tourists can pay to tour both Liberty Island and Ellis Island but the ferry to Staten Island is 100% free. The quick 25 minute ride through the harbour offers a perfect viewing point to get that coveted photograph of Lady Liberty in all her splendour as well as scenic shots of downtown Manhattan from the water.

The High Line

img_3059

The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. It is also one of the newer additions to NYC and wasn’t around on my inaugural trip back in 2007, which put it at the top of my list this time around. It’s the perfect place for a Sunday stroll with gardens, city views, and little restaurants along the way.

Grand Central Station

img_2859

Grand Central is the largest railway station in the world and the 6th most visited tourist attraction in the world according to Travel + Leisure magazine. After experiencing the size and grandeur of this historic building for myself, it’s no wonder so many choose to spend their precious New York minutes here.

The Brooklyn Bridge

img_2993

This NYC trip was dedicated to Manhattan but I’ve decided that my next trip will be based in Brooklyn. So as a teaser of coming attractions, we walked from Battery Park along the East River to the famed Brooklyn bridge. I love that the architects planned for an elevated pedestrian walkway to truly enjoy the experience.

New York Public Library

img_3148

I’ve always loved libraries. It completely blows my mind that there can be so many books in the world and I will read such a small fraction. When I heard that the Rose Reading Room in the NYPL was finally re-opening to the public after over two years of restorations, I was thrilled with my trip timing. This particular room is the length of two city blocks and holds about 52,000 books. Words really can’t describe it.

9/11 Memorial

img_2899

September 11, 2001 is a day that I and the majority of people around the world will never forget. It was my 14th birthday. I was wearing a blue skirt and a yellow shirt and I heard the news from my carpool on the way to school. I remember sitting in shock during Social Studies as footage of the planes crashing played on repeat. It was horrifying and surreal and a life changing day in history. I am not American but I too felt violated that day. I have many American friends and family members so this tragedy felt personal to me too. If it could happen in New York, it could happen anywhere.

I was finally able to visit the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero and the emotional 9/11 Museum last week. I was on the brink of tears for the better part of two hours while I re-watched the footage and listened to the testimonies of survivors. I was most affected by the voice mail recordings of the plane passengers in the moments before they lost their lives. The words of love for their family members were so beautiful and heart-wrenching. I cannot fathom the depth of that pain. But rather than living in fear or anger, I want to commemorate the lives lost by choosing peace, and hope, and love.

Take the time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and pay the extra to visit the museum. It’s worth it.

Riverside Park

img_3140

I am a self-delcared city girl and not one to shy away from crowds. But, after a few chaotic days in New York City, I was ready to retreat. Enter – Riverside Park. This lovely oasis on the Upper West Side was a convenient spot to savour our breakfast bagels and to enjoy some peace and quiet. You can tell that this is a local haunt and not somewhere frequented by tourists. I could have happily wandered for hours.

Charging Bull

img_2907

The Charging Bull, more commonly known as the Wall Street bull is the photographed art piece in the city and a symbol of the Financial District. Good luck getting a shot without strangers photo-bombing in the background.

Now what did I miss? What is your favourite free activity in New York?

 

A Weekenders Guide to Chicago

A Weekenders Guide to Chicago

“My first day in Chicago, September 4, 1983. I set foot in this city, and just walking down the street, it was like roots, like the motherland. I knew I belonged here.” — Oprah Winfrey

I’ve had the Windy City in my sights for several years now. When I announced that I had finally booked a trip to the architectural mecca, friends, colleagues, and casual acquaintances couldn’t stop singing its praises. As my wish list of food, sights and shows continued to grow with every passing conversation my only concern was how to fit it all in.

With merely a long weekend to spare, my trusty travel partner, Mindy, and I wasted no time in hitting as many of the cultural and foodie hot spots as possible. Good thing I’m basically an expert at the weekend getaway by now.

img_6858

We landed at O’Hare International on Saturday morning after a red-eye flight and made a bee-line for the famed Millennium Park with a brief detour past Navy Pier. On our way we passed by Giordano’s and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to finally try the much anticipated Chicago-style deep dish pizza.

We ordered a small cheese and pepperoni stuffed deep dish, which was intended to serve 1-2 people. We were hungry and barely finished half. This stuff is no joke. It was delicious but also not something I’m prepared to eat again anytime soon. Sorry Chicago, but I still prefer New York style.

Next on our agenda was the world-famous Chicago Bean. I’ve been to my fair share of monuments and tourist sites over the years and I was dumb-struck by the sheer magnitude of the crowd. In retrospect, visiting on a sunny, Saturday afternoon on a long weekend in summer probably wasn’t the best strategy for people-free photos. The public sculpture is actually titled Cloud Gate and certainly earns its popularity with its very cool reflective and distorting abilities.

img_6877

After visiting the bean, we decided to continue exploring Millenium park. We ended up stumbling across Buckingham fountain which I had never heard of before but turned out to be one of the most impressive fountains I’ve seen. And unlike the bean, it was nearly devoid of crowds while offering both stunning lake views and skyline vistas. My favourite surprise of the trip!

img_6927

From there the only place to top what we’d already seen was to shoot for the sky. So that’s exactly what we did at the Observation deck on the 94th Floor of 360 Chicago. The adrenaline junkie in me couldn’t resist trying out the TILT which essentially involves standing in a window that tilts outwards over the skyline. It wasn’t nearly as scary as the squealing girls riding beside would have you believe. But, if heights aren’t your thing then consider yourself warned.

We also made sure to time our visit so that we would be able to take in golden hour and sunset and even splurged for cocktails – now that’s what I call Happy Hour!

img_6939img_6949img_7009

Believe it or not, we managed to fit all of those activities into Day 1 after a red-eye flight. Needless to say, we were ready to call it a night by 9:00pm. We woke up well-rested and ready to take on another jam-packed day.

We kicked off round two with the much touted Architecture Boat Tour. Nearly every single person I spoke with about my upcoming trip to Chicago recommended this tour specifically so we knew that it needed to happen. The people were not wrong. After boarding our open air vessel and toasting with a morning mimosa, we spent the next 90 minutes in the very good hands of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The tour expertly guided us down all three branches of the Chicago river showcasing more than 50 skyscrapers, bascule bridges, and historic sites along the way. Informative and stunning – this was a trip highlight.

img_6993

Our next foodie goal was sampling an authentic Chicago-style hot dog. Our vendor of choice was Portillo’s which is known for the local delicacy. This “restaurant” could not be more American if it was located in the White House itself. The americana memorabilia and frenzy of calorie consumption was almost too much to handle but we soldiered on. I wasn’t sure if I could truly enjoy a hot dog without ketchup but the Chicago-original delivered.

In case you’re curious, the ingredients of this particular style dog include yellow mustard, chopped white onions, relish, dill pickle spear, sliced tomato, pickled peppers, a dash of celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

We had just enough time to Uber from downtown to Old Town to see a show by the legendary improv company – Second City. This is the same place where famed comedians Bill Murray, Tina Fey, and Steve Carrell got their starts. The performers we saw had some very big shoes to fill and they delivered a fantastic show of sketch and improv that lived up to its title Fast, Loud, and Funny. 

We took the scenic way home along the beach to dip our toes in Lake Michigan. I still can’t believe that it’s a lake and not the ocean. This is a seriously photogenic city and so much more than just the home of Oprah and Obama.

img_6997

As the weekend drew to a close we knew we hadn’t seen it all. With more time I would have loved to check out a jazz club and taken in a Cubs game at Wrigley field. But, I always like to leave a few activities still on the table because then I know I’ll have to come back again. I’m not finished with the Windy City yet.

 

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Contrary to popular belief… I am not moving to San Diego, as much as I may wish otherwise. After my annual pilgrimage to America’s Finest City last month, I reflected once again on why I fall more in love with California living each time I visit.

IMG_5718

There are some very obvious advantages: Near constant sunshine, + 25 ºC weather in February, an abundance of delicious Mexican food (mmm… fish tacos!), palm trees and beaches as far as the eye can see… I could go on and on.

IMG_5711

I love the laid back lifestyle and I love that after six visits, I am still discovering (and re-discovering) favourite places, eateries, and activities.

Balboa Park

IMG_5703

I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to finally explore Balboa Park. If you want to get technical, I did visit the famous San Diego Zoo back in 2009 which is located in the area of Balboa Park. But, I have never spent time touring the park itself, which is gigantic and lovely. I could have easily spent the entire day marveling at the Spanish architecture, watching street performers, and admiring the manicured gardens. I’m already itching to return.

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

IMG_5678

There is something so lovely about returning to the same familiar spot year after year. My best friend Jennie just so happens to live in Pacific Beach, and the first thing we do every time I visit is take a walk down to the PB Boardwalk. This area is quintessential California. You’ve got surfers, roller skaters, cyclists, and everyone from retirees to families on vacation. I love the endless beach, the waves crashing on the outstretched pier, the palm tree lined sidewalks… This never gets old.

La Jolla

IMG_5721

No trip to San Diego would be complete without brunch and a stroll along the cliffs in La Jolla. There’s always a new place to sample or an angle that I haven’t photographed yet (although that seems impossible!). There’s just something soothing and revitalizing about this seaside community that instantly relaxes me. These are the moments that I store up and savour to keep me going long after I’ve returned home.

IMG_5715

 Do you have a favourite state?

Do you ever return to the same place again and again?

 

 

Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

Happy New Year! I couldn’t be more thrilled to be writing these words in 2016. It just sounds good to say, doesn’t it? 2015 was a wild year but it ended on a beautiful high that has carried me blissfully into yet another January.

For the third year in a row, I have continued my favourite travel tradition of celebrating the start of the year in a new city. In 2014, I set the bar high with a fun-filled night on the streets of New Orleans. In 2015, I partied Catalan style at the Plaza de España in Barcelona. And this year, I welcomed 2016 in Seattle, a city that is near and dear to my heart.

IMG_5543

My partner in crime for this edition of NYE is a regular on the blog – my good friend Mindy. Neither of us had ever gone to a fancy New Years party so we decided to go all out this year. We got tickets to the largest bash in the city at the Experience Music Project (EMP) museum and a room at an adorable boutique hotel downtown.

IMG_5508

The event was fantastic! Not only did we get to tour the exhibits of the museum (which included set pieces from LOTR, Star Wars, Princess Bride, and beyond) but it also included amazing cover bands, a live comedy theatre, and prime viewing of the Space Needle’s fireworks show. It was so much fun that I almost want to break my rule and celebrate there again next year… almost.

 

But the good times didn’t stop after the clock struck midnight.

Outside of the lower mainland where I was born and raised, Seattle is the city that I’ve visited the most frequently. But, I rarely get to be a tourist as I’m usually in town for something specific: cheering on my Seahawks, attending a concert, shopping, or heading to the airport. So, this time I made a conscious effort to soak up a different side of Seattle.

 

IMG_5551

EMP Museum

Underground City Tour

Several friends had recently raved about the Seattle Underground City Tour and I have to echo their praise. The comical beginnings of the “Emerald City” lend itself perfectly for a joke-filled tour of the subterranean passages that once made up the main streets of pioneer square. We learned a lot more than we ever wanted to know about early sewage systems and how The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 was maybe the best thing to ever happen to the city. I won’t spoil it all here, but I definitely recommend you take the tour yourself.

IMG_5532IMG_5535

Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum

I’ve never thought too much about how glass was made. Well, except for that scene in Sweet Home Alabama with the lightning. But, honestly, I had no idea what to expect when we decided to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum located in the Seattle Center. I was completely blown away by the truly incredible works of art created by glass blowing (see what I did there?). Inspired by the Venetians and created by Dave Chihuly, the exhibits were whimsical, vibrant, stunning, and awe-inspiring. We even got to watch a live demo from a couple of professional glass blowers and I was seriously impressed by their skill and patience. Usually I am intimidated by this sort of thing, but glass blowing is so cool that it makes me want to pick up a new hobby. Good thing I don’t make New Year’s resolutions…

IMG_5573IMG_5586IMG_5578IMG_5597

Boeing Factory Tour – The Future of Flight

I love everything to do with aviation. I love airports. I love airplanes. I love flying (even when I hate it, I love it). I’ve not-so-secretly always wanted to be a flight attendant. So when I found out that you could actually tour the factory where these dream machines come to life – I was sold. And while it was definitely cool to see the largest building in the world by volume, the tour left me a bit underwhelmed.

IMG_5606

The factory is actually located just 30 minutes north of Seattle in Everett, Washington, which made it a logical pit stop on our journey home. Perhaps it had something to do with visiting the site on a holiday weekend when less action was happening (a whopping 35,000 work at this location) or maybe we just got a below-average tour guide but the whole thing was kind of whomp whomp. I was hoping to hear some stories or get more up close and personal with the planes when really all I heard was a lot of statistics which flew in one ear and out the other. The one thing I do remember is that you could fit all of Disneyland and a 12 acre parking lot inside the factory. So there’s that.

IMG_5615IMG_5616

All in all, I had an amazing three days in Seattle. After dozens of visits, I still have more to explore, which is a tried and true sign of a world-class city in my opinion. 2016 is off to a fantastic start!

How did you celebrate the new year? Have you ever found a city that continues to excite after multiple visits?

Pin it!

Seattle

 

Hello Autumn: Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway

Hello Autumn: Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway

Living on the West Coast is the best. I love our mild winters, idyllic summers, and laid back style. But, one thing the Pacific Northwest is lacking in a big way is fall colours. I’ve never really understood the autumn obsession and that is likely because it’s not really a thing in my part of the world. I started to understand it better when I travelled to New England last November and got to enjoy the tale end of the beautiful red, orange, and gold.

So, this year I decided to make a return trip to the East Coast but this time to North Carolina. The main purpose of my visit was to visit my travel bestie Megan who recently relocated to Greensboro. But, the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway was a close second. We spent two days exploring the area and I was blown away by the incredible pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. Who knew North Carolina was such a stunner!

IMG_4810

We lucked out with picture perfect blue skies, warm but not too hot weather, and PEAK FOLIAGE! The hiking couldn’t have been better, well, except for the crowded trails. It seems like everybody else at the same idea for their Sunday afternoons. But can you blame them?

IMG_4784

We spent about 6 hours driving, stopping, and hiking on the parkway. The highlight was definitely our scramble up the muddy trail on Rough Ridge where we saw the best colours of the day and found many rocky summits to perch on.

IMG_4796 IMG_4798 IMG_4790 IMG_4777

We also pulled off to enjoy the overlook of the Linn Cove Viaduct, which was built to protect the fragile slopes of Grandfather Mountain.

IMG_4807

And we ended our day at the Linville Falls. We hiked to several vantage points in the Gorge where we were able to get some very impressive views of the two cascading falls descending nearly 2,000 feet.

IMG_4813 IMG_4815

After such a wildly successful day, we definitely weren’t done exploring. So on a much quieter Monday, we ventured out to a different, but equally majestic spot, Pilot Mountain State Park. The foliage wasn’t quite as vibrant but the views were just as epic and it often felt like we were the only two people on the trails. We viewed the big pinnacle and even got to circle under the cliffs.

IMG_4835 IMG_4863 IMG_4871 IMG_4901

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I committed myself to a weekend in North Carolina but I was very impressed by the natural beauty. Nature lovers take note. This state is not to be overlooked.

Into the Wild: Bear Spotting at the Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary

Into the Wild: Bear Spotting at the Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary

For the better part of a week in the notoriously wet coast of Alaska, we had enjoyed cloudy but dry skies. All of our guides told us that we had really lucked out with the weather, which can throw a wrench in even the best laid plans. So, when we arrived in our final port of call, Ketchikan, I had a moment of dread when I saw that our luck had finally run out. It wasn’t really unexpected though as Ketchikan is one of the wettest places on earth with 150-200 inches of annual rainfall.

IMG_4639

And in truth, wouldn’t you be a bit disappointed to visit one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world and NOT experience some rain. That’s what I told myself anyway. So, we disembarked from our ship and eagerly explored the bustling town with so many claims to fame. Ketchikan is Alaska’s first city, the totem pole capital of the world, and the salmon capital of the world. That last one is very important because where there are salmon, you will find BEARS. And bears is what we were looking for.

Ketchikan is located on Revillagigedo Island which boasts a population of nearly 15,000 black bears. That’s a ratio of 2 bears for every one human inhabitant. With stats like that, I was really liking our odds of getting up close and personal with our furry friends. To give us the best possible chance, we drove about 20 minutes outside the city to the 40 acre Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary where our bear guide Zoe led us into the picturesque Herring Cove. They don’t guarantee you will see bears but we timed our visit at the end of the annual salmon run so our chances were pretty good. We certainly didn’t expect to spot our first bears within MINUTES of starting down the one-mile trail.

IMG_2428 IMG_2440 IMG_2449 IMG_2467

There was almost no point in our two hour visit that we were not watching female black bears and their cubs fishing for salmon or climbing through the Tongass forest. It was unbelievable! I’m not certain of how many bears we saw but it was in the double digits for sure!

IMG_2456 IMG_2477 IMG_2474 IMG_2488

It’s important to note that these bears are completely wild and living in their natural habitat. We were able to observe these creatures safely from elevated viewing platforms and suspension bridges that leave a minimal impact on the environment. What a thrill to see these bears outside of the confines of a cage! It may be more expensive and difficult but viewing animals in the wild is worth every penny. I have made a personal choice to prioritize animal welfare by supporting sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres, while avoiding institutions that exploit animals for entertainment. I just don’t believe in captivity unless it’s absolutely necessary.

IMG_2473

In addition to viewing the bears (which was more than enough!), we also got to visit the Alaska Raptor Center’s aviary exhibits which included a hawk, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon. Each of the birds at the centre is unable to survive in the wild or being rehabilitated so that they can be released.

IMG_2518

We ended our day with a walkthrough an historic sawmill where a Native master totem-pole carver was putting the final touches on his latest creation. Nature, History, and Culture of Alaska all in one afternoon!

IMG_2516

Oh and remember that rain I was complaining about… well the rain stopped right about the time we arrived at the Herring Cove. And it turns out black bears tend to hide when the sun comes out so the misty skies were actually a blessing in disguise.

What’s the coolest animal experience you’ve ever had? Leave a comment below.

A Tale of Two Rides: Touring Skagway by Train and Bike

A Tale of Two Rides: Touring Skagway by Train and Bike

I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to the coastal towns of the Alaskan Panhandle. In fact, I barely did any research before I set sail for the great white North (so unlike me). It did, however, make for a very exciting week of adventures as I discovered each town first with my eyes instead of through a screen.

IMG_2371

Port of Skagway – so pretty!

Our second port was historic Skagway. This gold rush town looks straight out of a Western movie complete with a restored boardwalk, saloons, and brothels. We were soon to find out that for a town with a permanent population of less than 1000 people, it sure has a lot going on.

IMG_2353

Back in time to the Gold Rush era!

IMG_2355 IMG_2350

The one thing that I did know about Skagway before I got there was that it had a railroad. And if there’s one thing that I love… it’s sightseeing by train. So of course it was a complete no-brainer in my books to join Sockeye Cycle for the White Pass Train and Bike Tour.

IMG_2369

We met our guides straight off the cruise ship and had a quick spin around the town before boarding the White Pass Rail. I was instantly in my happy place, thoroughly enjoying the beautiful scenery and fascinating gold rush trivia from the comfort of our vintage passenger car, complete with wood burning stove.

IMG_2332

All Aboard!

Our 20 mile journey took us from sea-level to nearly 3000 ft and across the Canadian border to Fraser, BC. On our way we passed through tunnels, over sky-high trestles and beside cascading waterfalls.

IMG_2316

One of two tunnels we passed through. I even rode through this one on the outside balcony!

IMG_2324

Old Wooden Trestle Bridge

IMG_2322

But, this trip was not about the destination – it was time for the return journey – this time by bike! Another guide met us at the summit with our bicycles and after a safety orientation we bundled up for the windy ride down. We glided 15 scenic miles downhill, stopping multiple times along the Klondike Highway to enjoy Alaska with all of our senses fully engaged. We coasted down the mountain at speeds of 15-25 mph – definitely the fastest I’ve ever gone on a bicycle and far more exhilarating then the way up. We even got to ride our bikes back across the US border – how many people have done that?!

IMG_2339

A small portion of the Bridal Veil Falls

IMG_2334

IMG_2335

Possibly not the proper way to wear a helmet – but I kept my ears warm!

IMG_2344 IMG_2347

Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Thought it’s only used for tourism now, it played a very important piece in the life of the early settlers. My whole family had a great time on both the train and bike ride despite the initially chilly temperatures. It’s a great way to check out the scenery, get some fresh air, and learn a bit more about the fascinating history of this wild land. No wonder it’s the most popular shore excursion for cruisers!

What’s the best train route you’ve been on?

Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier

Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier

Alaska is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit but was sort of saving for when I’m older. It’s certainly not your typical backpacker destination as most visitors arrive by cruise ship. For this reason, it tends to draw a more senior crowd and I was perfectly content to wait for my golden years. But, when my parents suggested Alaska for a family vacation I was more than happy to oblige. After all, who knows how many of its glaciers will still be there in thirty or forty years? The sad truth is that the time to see Alaska could be right now.

IMG_2416

Our first stop of the cruise was the capital city of Juneau. The town is on the small side and while it has its charm, I was more intrigued by the more extreme sights. So we promptly ditched the shopping scene for glacier boots and loaded into a helicopter. That’s right you heard me. My first ever helicopter ride took me 3000 ft above sea level to land on the expansive Mendenhall Glacier.

Downtown Juneau

Downtown Juneau

IMG_2291IMG_2199 IMG_4598 IMG_2211 IMG_2216 IMG_2218

The helicopter ride could have easily been enough excitement in itself but it was actually just a means to an end. We landed at the only remaining dog camp in Alaska where 250-300 sled dogs are trained for racing. We were divided into small groups where we were allowed to take turns mushing our own sled as we raced across the snowy trails. How cool is that?

IMG_2226 IMG_2232 IMG_2236 IMG_2243 IMG_2248

All of the dogs are Alaskian huskies and purposely bred for racing. Our dogs were very energetic and friendly but the cutest moment of all came at the end when we got to meet the camp’s current litter of puppies all named after metal bands. I got in some snuggles with the adorable Motorhead and promptly started negotiating how I could take him home with me. Apparently they are not for sale.

IMG_2273

The dog trainers spend four months from May to September living up on the glacier in several not-so-insulated tents with no running water. They return to Juneau once a week to shower and do laundry. They do have a gourmet chef at camp, which definitely enhances the experience but even still, I don’t think I could spend more than one night up there. It may be beautiful but even in summer, it’s too cold for this sun worshipper.

IMG_2281

After returning to Juneau once again by helicopter we all agreed that our first Alaskan adventure had been one for the books. It’s going to be hard to top but I’m always up for the challenge.

My Top 5 Favourite Islands

My Top 5 Favourite Islands

Last summer I wrote a series on some of my Favourite destinations. But one of these lists needed some serious updating after my travel adventures over the past 12 months. So without any further ado, here is my updated list of favourite island escapes.

Spanning five unique countries, all of the islands on my list have one important thing in common: stunning natural beauty.

Top 5 Favourite Islands

Galiano Island, BC

This lovely little gem in the Gulf Islands is the nearest to Vancouver making it a perfect weekend getaway or even day-trip from the mainland. Very few people live here year round, but those that do love it’s laid back vibe and tight knit community. Galiano is the only place where I’ve ever felt safe enough to hitch hike or leave my bike unattended. They even have a free store and a free book store where you are welcome to take whatever you like – no donations required. With stunning views from the top of Mt Galiano, lovely trails near Montague harbour, and the friendliest locals around – It’s no wonder I have come to consider Galiano my second home.

Mt Galiano Viewpoint

Hvar, Croatia

If you are looking for an intoxicating blend of old world charm, exhilarating night life, and ruggedly beautiful coastline, then look no further than Hvar. Touted as the sunniest spot in Europe, this beautiful island on the Dalmatian Coast convinced me that it would make a perfect Honeymoon destination. A consistent contender on many top 10 lists – it’s no surprise that Hvar easily holds its own among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Hvar

Capri, Italy

I just can’t get enough of the Amalfi Coast and especially my favourite little piece of la dolce vita – Capri! Twice I’ve visited this lovely island off the coast of Naples and twice is not nearly enough time to soak it all up. Famous for its dazzling Blue Grotto and beloved for its majestic Cliffside vistas, Capri is the perfect place to soak up luxurious Italian living.

Capri, Italy

Maui, Hawaii

Oh Maui… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Before I first visited Maui, I had previously been to Oahu twice. And I thought it was great. Then, I went to Maui and now I wonder why anyone even bothers going to Honolulu because Maui is E V E R Y T H I N G ! Less crowded than bustling Waikiki, Maui offers a more laid back vibe but still delivers a ton of activity if you want it. In my four day escape I lay on gorgeous beaches, snorkeled with sea turtles, drove the winding and scenic road to Hana, summited a volcano, and ate my heart out. I still look forward to visiting the other islands in the future but for now I am content with my version of paradise!

IMG_3544

Santorini, Greece

Located in the Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of mainland Greece is Santorini, one of the most popular islands in the world – and for good reason! I fell head over flip flops for the spectacular caldera views, beautiful beaches, cliff-side villages, amazing restaurants, and friendly local hospitality. Santorini was a dream destination for me and it absolutely lived up to all the hype. I had one of my favourite travel days of all time while riding an ATV around the island and touring the nearby wineries. It was so unbelievably gorgeous that it almost pained me to leave. I will definitely be back someday!

IMG_4097

What’s your favourite island escape?

Gone Coastal: Relaxing Reunion in Oregon

Gone Coastal: Relaxing Reunion in Oregon

For someone who had never even been to Oregon a mere 3 years ago, I sure am making up for lost time! And a lot of that has to do with the relocation of my awesome cousin Jordan and his wife Emily. They moved from Kansas to Portland a year ago and I’ve already been down twice. But, something I’ve been dying to do for years is spend some time on the famed Oregon Coast.

IMG_2167 IMG_4370

So, I hatched up a reunion scheme involving an adorable cottage rental in Gearhart and a crew of Canadian cousins ready to road trip. In the end we were seven 20-somethings and a dog enjoying lazy days at the beach and cozy night of Cards Against Humanity. We ate A LOT of good food, played games, flew kites, drank beer, and enjoyed the laid back life that we love in the Pacific Northwest.

IMG_4391 IMG_4394 IMG_4343 IMG_4360

We even had an unexpected surprise on our morning walk to the beach one day. As we approached the path between the town and the beach, we noticed some large creatures in the tall grass. It turns out that a herd of approximately 50-60 elk had decided to hang out beside our beach. Initially terrified but soon excited as locals assured us that it was safe to continue. We proceeded to pass by these majestic creatures, completely awe-struck. It was one of those magical encounters with nature that I will always remember.

IMG_4356

Move over #selfie because we prefer the #elkie

Move over #selfie because we prefer the #elkie

Since we could walk to the local beach in Gearhart – we didn’t stray too far from our little home away from home. But, we did make one excursion to nearby Ecola State Park in Canon Beach. The view point gave us a stunning back drop for some long overdue family photos. And the beach, mostly deserted, and stretching on like glass, made for a very chill afternoon.

IMG_4373 IMG_4380 IMG_4383 IMG_2166 IMG_4371

IMG_4375

Cousins – me and the boys!

IMG_2168 IMG_4389

Typically on a short trip like this, I would try to pack in a lot of activities. Especially when I’ve had my eye on the coast for such a long time. But, for this long weekend I left things unscheduled and gave myself permission to just relax. Maybe it’s part of getting older. Or maybe it is the craziness of my home life right now (flooded apartments are no joke…eek!). But a weekend away with good people and no plans was exactly what the doctor ordered. And let’s get real… we all know I’ll be back.

From Sea to Summit: The Haleakala Volcano

From Sea to Summit: The Haleakala Volcano

With only four full days in Maui – it was extra important to prioritize the activities that we most wanted to see. And one place that I didn’t feel right about skipping was the massive Haleakala volcano. Maui’s highest peak makes up approximately 75% of the island’s landmass, so in many ways Haleakala IS Maui.

After checking out of our Airbnb condo rental and loading up our trusty rental car, we set off for our last major Maui adventure. The drive from our base in Kihei to the summit took approximately two hours. It’s a 37 mile drive from sea level to the 10023 foot summit – the world’s highest elevation gain in the shortest distance. With that kind of elevation gain happening, altitude sickness was a mild concern. However we didn’t plan to do any major hiking so we ended up just fine.

At one point we were completely engulfed in dense clouds and wondered if we would even be able to see anything from the summit. Fortunately, we soon emerged from the clouds and were delighted by the view from the lookouts on the way up. The scenery was dramatically different from everything we had previously seen on Maui.

IMG_0705 IMG_0714

Can you believe that on the drive to the summit, we passed through just as many ecosystems as you would if you drove from Mexico to Canada! At times the landscape was so foreign that it appeared as if we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on the moon!

We decided to head up mid-day to avoid the crazy crowds at sunrise and sunset. Although I’m sure the views are stunning at those times of day, we weren’t disappointed with our view at all. We lucked out and had a beautiful, sunny, clear day. From the summit we could even see neighbouring Moana Loa over on the Big Island.

IMG_3523 IMG_0717The summit of Haleakala is above one third of the Earth’s atmosphere and has excellent astronomical seeing conditions. The limited light pollution combines to make one of the most sought-after locations in the world for ground-based telescopes.

IMG_0731 IMG_3537

There are so many ways to explore the Haleakala National Park. This trip was really just a teaser of what’s to come. Next time that I visit Maui, I want to try (1) a cycle tour from the summit, (2) paragliding!!, (3) hiking down into the crater, and (4) checking out the famous sunrise!

It’s easy to see what people love about Maui and why it truly is paradise. I’m clearly smitten and I know I’ll be back!

IMG_3541

Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

When I was initially looking into this trip to Maui, there was only one thing that I HAD to do. Ok – maybe I had to go to a beach, and eat pancakes with coconut syrup, and eat fish tacos, and drink Mai Tai’s, and photograph palm trees but really the most important activity on my radar was the famous (and sometimes infamous) Road to Hana.

The Road to Hana is really just the Hana Highway, which is a 64.4-mile long stretch connecting Kahului with the town of Hana in east Maui. But don’t be mistaken, this is not your average highway. Although, Hana is less than 100km from Kahului, it takes about 2.5 hours to drive when no stops are made as the “highway” is very winding and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. You heard me – ONE lane! This means that every few minutes you may be required to pull off to the side to let a vehicle, that is coming straight towards you, pass.

This winding road is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many people experience extreme car sickness or anxiety due to the 620 curves along Route 360. Fortunately, I did not experience any of the negative side effects on my own trip to Hana. I was deliriously happy to be driving through lush, tropical, rain forest, snaking along the coast, and passing by beautiful waterfalls. Simply put, Maui is paradise!

IMG_3544

With so many potential stops and view points along the way, I enlisted my friend Natasha (a Maui expert) to help me nail down a kick-ass itinerary. With only one day, we needed to make it count.

These are the 5 main stops we recommend on a one day return trip to Hana:

Stop #1: Twin Falls Farm Stand

IMG_0627

The Road to Hana starts near the town of Paia. After following highway 36 for about 20 minutes you should come across this easy to spot Farmstand with a small parking lot. We got there bright and early (8:30am) so we easily found a spot to park. We spent an hour strolling along the path and enjoying the jungle-like atmosphere. This is also a great spot to buy fresh local fruit (although you will pass tons of vendors along the way) and sample some coconut candy on your way out.

IMG_0636IMG_3437IMG_1106 copy

Stop #2: Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread in Ke’anae / Halfway to Hana

IMG_0646

We were eagerly anticipating our second stop because BANADA BREAD! Maui is famous for the stuff and I was told that Aunty Sandy makes the best. After another 45 minutes of driving we pulled off in Ke’anae and our jaws hit the floor. The view was so spectacular that we were barely phased by the unfortunate closed sign on the store front (it was Easter Sunday). We had a mini photo shoot and then continued on our way before quickly running into a giant Halfway to Hana sign. We pulled over and discovered that we could still purchase banana bread at this snack shack instead. And it even turned out to be home of “the original” banana bread. Our lucky day!

IMG_3458 IMG_0647 IMG_3460

IMG_3459

Stop #3: Waianapanapa State Park

IMG_3495

Yet another 40 minutes down the road was Wai’anapanapa State Park where we were excited to see our very first black sand beach! While the hot sun beat down on us, we enjoyed photographing the blowholes and climbing over the volcanic rock. I especially loved the colour contrast of the black rock and the vibrant green plant life against the blue sea and sky.

The park is a great rest stop; It’s set up for camping, picnic lunches, or just a relaxing day at the beach. We could easily have spent the entire day here but we soldiered on.

IMG_0656 IMG_3512 IMG_3476

Stop #4: Hana & Red Sand Beach

IMG_0680

Following our leisurely stop at Wai’anapanapa, it was only another 10 minutes to our excursion’s namesake. We reached Hana Bay and found the town a bit small and underwhelming. Many people decide to stay in Hana overnight or camp nearby but we needed to get back to the other side of the island by nightfall. We originally planned to visit the Red Sand Beach here, but opted to skip it in order to spend more time at our final major stop of the day. We’d been warned that the best stops were past Hana.

Stop #5: Kipahulu Area of Haleakala National Park

IMG_0684

You can’t miss Kipahulu – It’s a very obvious stop and has something for everyone. Upon arrival, I quickly darted into the visitor’s center to seek shelter from the sudden rainstorm. The weather on the eastern side of the island is milder and wetter, prone to sudden heavy rains and winds. Unfortunately, the Seven Sacred Pools at the Oheo Gulch were not open for swimming during our visit. So instead I opted to hike the Pipiwai Trail in search of Waimoku Falls (pictured above), the great Banyan Tree (below) and the Bamboo Forest.

I began the hike knowing full well that I was going to be completely drenched by the end and that flip flops (the only footwear I had with me) would not be ideal. I was mildly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way when I saw everyone coming down decked out in proper hiking gear. But I surprised myself and managed the 2 mile trail and 800 ft elevation gain with relative ease, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Check out Go Visit Hawaii for detailed tips on hiking the Pipiwai Trail.

Even though I was soaking wet and covered in mud by the end of it, I felt elated. This is what it means to be alive! I loved how it felt to be alone in nature with the elements and nothing to think about but where to put my feet next. I returned to the car rejuvenated and thankful for a body that can move and for the opportunity to travel to places like Maui.

IMG_0689 IMG_0692 IMG_0694

The Way Back

IMG_0697

Most people return from Hana by going back the same way they came.

If you continue on past Kipahulu around the backside of Haleakala and around, the road gets really rough. Not only is it one lane for a major section but it is unpaved and rocky with blind turns and drop offs. We had been warned about the road conditions but were promised that the road does get better and that the view is worth it. And it was!

My photos do not do justice to the awe-inspiring landscape we drove through in near isolation for the 2 hour return trip. The road did get better and the landscape was completely different from the tropical rain forest we had passed through on the other side. We drove through rolling fields of long grass, seemingly untouched by civilization. We presume that tourists are told not to travel this way so that the locals can hoard this place to themselves.

IMG_0698 IMG_0700

So in conclusion I leave you with a few words of advice if you plan to do the Road to Hana for yourself.

Top 8 Hana Survival Tips:

1. Pull over for faster vehicles

This one is more about etiquette and the aloha spirit. On one lane roads, it is just better for everyone if you let the speeders pass you by.

2. Plan for a full day and leave early

We left our condo just after 7am and returned just after 7pm (post-sunset). I’m not a fan of driving those roads in the dark and it really is a full day. Beat the crowds and start early.

3. Leave with a Full tank of Gas

There are no gas stations between Paia and Hana so do not make the mistake of expecting to find gas on the road.

4. Find good music

My favourite part about road trips is singing loudly and car dancing with friends. Katie and I fell madly in love with the station 99.9 Kiss FM – Maui’s Best Mix of Yesterday & Today. One minute you’re belting it out to Sam Smith and the next minute you’re dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! What could be better than that?

5. Prepare for Rain

Hana is lush and tropical for good reason. It is one of the most rained on places on Earth, so be prepared with something to dry off with and some protection if you plan on walking around a lot.

6. Eat the Banana Bread

I don’t care if you don’t like bananas – eat the bread! Yes, I am bossy. You’ll thank me later.

7. Don’t Stop Everywhere, but do stop where you want

As I mentioned, the best stops are past Hana so if you stop at every bridge and shoulder with a view you are never going to make it in one day. We definitely made some unplanned stops because the view was just too good not to but we definitely passed on a lot of spots. Trust me, you will see amazing things no matter what!

8. Bring snacks and water

There are not a lot of restaurants between Paia and Hana (and basically nothing on the backside) so we packed a full day of snacks and water so that we would have enough energy to tackle all of the awesome sights on the way. Plus we never had to wait in lines to buy food. Efficiency is sexy people!

IMG_0641

Our little engine that could – 2014 Ford Focus

If you can stomach up the courage to rent a car and drive the Road to Hana, I highly recommend it. In this case it really is (as cliché as it sounds) all about the journey, not the destination.

What about you? Have you ever consider driving the Road to Hana?

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater & Turtle Town

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater & Turtle Town

I like to consider myself a fairly adventurous person. I love heights (and jumping from heights). I will eat pretty much anything. I enjoy road trips, climbing, hiking, and camping. I grew up exploring a wide variety of water sports from tubing to knee boarding to wake boarding. But for some reason I’ve always been a little bit frightened of the ocean.

Even though I live on the beach and could spend all day every day looking at the blue waves crashing on the seashore, I’m still a bit hesitant to merge my land loving life with what lies under the sea. I think it has to do with all of the deadly sea creatures just waiting to sting, bite, and dismember me. But, fortunately, I know that this fear is mostly irrational (but not entirely – shark attacks happen people!) and I have taken the plunge in many beautiful spots around the world… most notably snorkeling in the Red Sea and the South China Sea. And if truth be told, I’ve always enjoyed snorkeling.

So on my recent trip to Maui I decided to join my aquaphile bestie on yet another snorkel trip. I knew it would be fun but I certainly didn’t expect it to be the highlight of my trip!

_MG_4450

Molokini Crater

We started off the day at Maalaea harbor where we boarded the Pride of Maui and took our seats for a one hour sail to the first stop. We knew we were in for an excellent day when the crew was already serving my favourite Kona coffee at registration. We filled up on delicious Maui pineapple at the breakfast buffet and braced ourselves for what was shaping up to be a fabulous day!

IMG_3399

Our first stop was the beautiful Molokini crater, which offers exceptionally clear water with visibility reliably in excess of 150 feet. The healthy coral reef is sheltered in the arms of the crater creating an amazing underwater sanctuary. And to Katie’s delight… a bird sanctuary above. Her major dilemma of the day was how to manage her face time… in the water vs. looking up at the sky. Molokini snorkeling is truly a unique experience, as there are only 3 volcanic calderas including Molokini in the entire world!

IMG_2594

We swam for about an hour enjoying the calm currents and thousands of fish. My fears were completely forgotten as I eagerly asked Katie to identify all of the brightly coloured fish I was seeing. It turns out that it is pretty handy having a science/marine/animal expert for a travel buddy.

OV02 IMG_2744 OV14_2

Back on board we set sail again for our second stop of the day – Turtle Town. While we enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch we spotted North Pacific Humpback whales in the distance. This was a thrilling surprise as whale season was just wrapping up and we weren’t expecting to see any on our trip. We eventually settled just off the Southern coast of Maui near Nahuna point where we hoped to be able to swim with the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.

OV20 IMG_2664

This area is home for the protected sea turtles who were soon bombarded with snorkelers ignoring the rules to stay 10 feet away and not swim overtop of the surface breathing reptiles. I got a bit frustrated by the crowds so I swam off on my own and quickly found my own personal turtle to observe for over 20 minutes. I swam alongside as my new little friend surfaced and dove down to the volcanic coral. I feel so privileged to have experienced that moment.

IMG_2836

I was beyond elated when I climbed back aboard the Pride of Maui for an early happy hour at the open bar. Katie and I raised our Mai Tai’s in the air to celebrate a truly wonderful morning that we won’t soon forget.

IMG_2913

The Best Food I ate in Maui

The Best Food I ate in Maui

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” ― Anthony Bourdain

I am not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination but I do love to eat. And to me, experiencing the local cuisine is one of the best parts about travel.

When I casually mentioned to friends and family that I was going to Maui for a quick long weekend getaway I was flooded with enough restaurant recommendations to easily feed me for 3 weeks. I had to prioritize all of the delicious local delicacies due to my limited time and these were the meals that topped my list.

Macadamia Nut Pancakes with Coconut Syrup: 5 Palms Restaurant in Wailea IMG_3517 If you have not had coconut syrup on pancakes then you haven’t truly lived. It is without-a-doubt the best topping and is best experienced in Hawaii where everything tastes more tropical and delicious.

Fish Tacos: Paia Fish Market in Paia IMG_3396 If I could eat fish tacos every day, I think I probably would. There is an abundance of amazing fish tacos to be found on Maui and these ones made of the tropical Ono fish (meaning “sweet, very good to eat”) definitely hit the spot.

Ali’i Plate: Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina IMG_3408 We didn’t have time to attend a luau during our short 4-day stay in Maui, so instead we opted for a luau on a plate. This authentic Hawaiian dish included many famous delicacies such as Kalua Pig, Lau Lau, Lomi Lomi Salmon, Hoaloha Farm’s Poi and Haupia.

Breaded Mahi Sandwich & Taro Chips: Da Kitchen in Kahului IMG_3539 I first tried Mahi Mahi on my first trip to Hawaii back in 2005 on the island of Oahu. It has been one of my absolute favourite fish ever since and I certainly couldn’t leave Maui without enjoying some once again. The taro chips were an excellent addition – I love a good root vegetable!

The Original Banana Bread: Halfway to Hana Snack Shop in Haiku IMG_3459 We attempted to sample the banana bread at Auntie Sandy’s in Ke’eane on our Road to Hana adventure but alas it was closed for the Easter holiday. Fortunately, the snack shack at “Halfway to Hana” delivered in a big way as this was some of the best banana bread I’ve ever tasted. Apparently it’s “the original” banana bread so with a claim like that it should be pretty delicious.

On this trip we also enjoyed Shave Ice (not shaved ice as I incorrectly called it many times), Fresh Maui Pineapple, delicious Kona Coffee, all the Mai Tai’s, and my new favourite gelato flavour – Sandy Beach (think peanut butter, graham crackers, coconut, and salted caramel…mmm).

Stay tuned for more Maui updates. We packed a lot of activity into a four day trip so let the highlight reel continue!

In My Bag: Hawaii Packing List

In My Bag: Hawaii Packing List

Packing is one of those topics that people surprisingly seem to love. After my last packing-related post was a gigantic hit I vowed to start sharing more of them (since you know I’m making these list anyways).

This is my packing list for a four day girlfriend getaway to Maui in April.

This will be my third time visiting the Hawaiian isles so I already have an idea about what to pack. The real challenge here is fitting everything into my trusty carry-on suitcase and an over-sized purse. The only reason that I am able to travel as much as I do is by cutting extra costs wherever I can… and the last place I want to spend my money is baggage fees. So here’s how I packed for a carry-on only vacation.

IMG_3324

I like grey and black… apparently even in tropical destinations.

CLOTHING AND SHOES

IMG_3353

  • 1 pairs of jeans (for the plane and volcano summit)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 beach cover-up
  • 4 tops (1 t-shirt, 3 sleeveless)
  • 2 cardigans (for the plane, chilling evenings, air-conditioned restaurants)
  • 1 fleece jacket (for the top of the volcano)
  • 2 bikinis (following the wash one, wear one rule)
  • 1 set of sleepwear
  • 4 pairs of underwear + 2 bras
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of bandelettes
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 long scarf (for the plane or to use as a shawl)

Note: I used three packing cubes for my clothing: 1 for dresses/bottoms, 1 for tops/cardigans, 1 for underwear/swim suits IMG_3351 TOILETRIES & ACCESSORIES

  • Stella & Dot Hang On Travel Case (toiletries/make-up/jewelry) – mine is sold out, but click the link for a similar version.
  • Norwex Cloth
  • Small Medicine Bag (kleenex, band-aids, meds)
  • Travel Flat Iron
  • 1 Pair of Sunglasses

ELECTRONICS

IMG_3352 DOCUMENTS & MISCELLANEOUS

  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Travel Documents & Insurance
  • Tote Bag (for beach use)
  • Small Purse (for day use)
  • Ear Plugs
  • Travel Journal / Pen
A Sweet Summer Preview in Portlandia

A Sweet Summer Preview in Portlandia

I almost feel bad sharing this next post because while the Northeast is still drowning in wave after wave of snow, the Pacific Northwest is enjoying a super early spring (even for us). It honestly feels like summer is just around the corner and this past weekend I got a sneak peak of what that looks like on my second ever trip to Portland, Oregon.

When I dream about summer (which is fairly constant), I picture leisurely strolls through Farmer’s Markets, blissful naps in sunny parks, and eating as much ice cream as physically possible! I realize that summer isn’t a requirement for any of these activities, but a blue sky backdrop and the smell of flowering trees really enhances the experience in my opinion. And we know that my opinion of Portland was due for some enhancing.

Last time I visited the City of Roses, I left feeling a bit underwhelmed. Portland had fallen victim to a classic case of over-hype. My expectations were sky high after the onslaught of 5 star reviews I’d heard from every friend, neighbour, and stranger in my vicinity. They made Portland sound more like Shangri-La than a cool hipster hangout. So even though I had a perfectly nice visit, I wasn’t hiring a marching band to proclaim any rose-coloured declarations.

But, I knew that Portland had something going on that I hadn’t quite fully tapped into yet… so I did what I do and I came back! Apparently the city had caught wind of my last blog post and decided to pull out all the stops for my second trip complete with clear blue skies, 18-degree temperatures (in March!!) and a visit from my travel bestie Megan. I was in for a guaranteed good time!

Washington Park & the Japanese Garden

IMG_0561

Megan and I are a tad obsessed with parks and so I knew that our first stop had to be Washington Park. Even though the famous Rose Garden wasn’t blooming, the Japanese Garden was a lovely placeholder. Beautifully manicured grounds, a miniature pagoda, weeping cherry trees,  a tea house, and even a koi pond! I felt like I had been transported to Japan… and immediately started scheming my next Asian excursion.

IMG_3257

Salt & Straw

IMG_3300

Portlandia takes absolutely everything to the next level. So I’m not sure why I was surprised to find a line wrapped around the corner at 3:00pm on a Friday in March… for ice cream. True, it was a beautiful day, but don’t these people have jobs?! Anyways, back to what has to be the most mind-blowing ice cream experience that I’ve ever had. Salt & Straw is to ice cream what Ritz-Carlton is to hotels. Not only does it deliver unique handmade flavours that taste delicious, but the customer experience is like being at a fancy wine tasting. We had our own private server who took the time to get to know us and let us taste as many of the flavours as we wanted. He told us about each flavour and what we could expect. We were even served with REAL metal spoons. The most interesting flavour I tried was undoubtedly the Lumberjack Stacka seasonal flavour that combines maple syrup from a small farm in Vermont with real chunks of sweet, fluffy, blueberry pancakes! “You HAVE to try this!” I pleaded to Megan who was busy sampling Cinnamon Snickerdoodle. In the end I settled on Coconut with Petunia’s Salted Caramel Bars – a coconut based, non-dairy ice cream with hand-burned caramel and housemade chocolate ganache and salted caramel bars mixed in. And yes, I do realize that I just wrote an entire paragraph in a travel blog about ice cream.

My wrist is my best feature ;)

My wrist is my best feature ;)

Portland Farmers Market

IMG_3271

Saturday mornings were made for Farmers Markets and we were lucky enough to be in town for the first Saturday of the expanded two-block Farmers Market at PSU with easily over 100 vendors in attendance. We spent the better part of two hours sampling everything from cheese and vegan nut butters to hard cider and gourmet cookies. I practically ate a full breakfast before my breakfast.

IMG_3303

Blue Star Donuts

IMG_3280

I’m not usually someone who makes a big deal about donuts but when in Portland… Voodoo Donuts tends to get the majority of the fanfare resulting in lineups that make Disneyland queues look insignificant. So for the second time I opted to hit up Blue Star Donuts instead. From what I’ve heard, Blue Star actually beats Voodoo in taste, although I still think Cartems in Vancouver, BC has the best tasting donuts around. I’ll do the official comparison someday but for now my mouth was satisfied by the much adored Maple Bacon Donut.

11038250_10153102672116963_7310741701223367163_o copy

Sunday Brunch at Broder

IMG_3283

Brunch is practically a religious activity in Portland and if you’ve seen the Portlandia episode “Brunch Village” then you’ll know what I’m talking about. We decided to get up early to beat the crowds and try out the Swedish restaurant Broder. I can’t say that I’ve ever tried Swedish food before so this was a completely unique dining experience with dishes like Aebelskivers and Smørrebrød. The ambience was really cool (we ate inside a wooden pod) and our server looked like Jared Leto so I was sold even before my delicious baked eggs and smashed potatoes arrived!

Waterfront Park

11004543_10153102672061963_436409424843325749_o copy

And no sunny Sunday would be complete without a leisurely stroll in some beautiful outdoor space. Personally I will always prefer the ocean but a nice lake front or river walk can certainly fill the void in a pinch. Portland’s Waterfront Park along the Willamette River did just that providing beautiful views of the downtown skyline and the city’s many bridges. We even found a bustling open air market to wander through while sipping our Stumptown coffee.

10530503_10153102672056963_5186739740143137478_o copy IMG_3292

As it turns out, I am quite the fair-weather traveller. All it took was a sun-filled summery weekend for Portland to start winning me over in a big way. A huge thank you to my cousins Jordan & Emily (and their friends) for hosting me once again and showing me a fantastic time. We know I’ll be back again soon.

Vitamin D Days in San Diego

Vitamin D Days in San Diego

I am quite fond of Southern California and have made it an annual winter retreat since my best friend Jennie took up residence back in 2012. The older I get, the more I enjoy returning to places that I love. San Diego is one of these places. I love the laid-back atmosphere, the abundance of delicious Mexican food, and of course the gorgeous beaches. It’s so fun returning to familiar neighbourhoods and at the same time knowing that there is still so much to explore.

My latest long weekend getaway was filled with rejuvenating beach walks in the sun, delicious meals at local hot spots, and a ferry ride to one of my favourite islands. My time in San Diego is never quite long enough but I know that I’ll be back again soon.

Palm Tree lined streets on the way to Jennie's apartment

Palm Tree lined streets on the way to Jennie’s apartment

Beautiful walk along Pacific Beach

Beautiful walk along Pacific Beach

IMG_3176 IMG_3178-0

Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

The view of the San Diego skyline from Coronado Island

The view of the San Diego skyline from Coronado Island

Cute shops and restaurants at the Ferry Landing on Coronado

Cute shops and restaurants at the Ferry Landing on Coronado

The Truth about Portland: Is it really that cool?

The Truth about Portland: Is it really that cool?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve likely heard of a little city in the great state of Oregon called Portland. Not to be confused with the other Portland (Maine)… this Portland has grown to fame over the last decade thanks in part to the satirical sketch comedy show, Portlandia, that pokes fun at life in the coolest city in America. I’ve been curious about this place for many years now, especially after countless Where Should you live quizzes proclaimed PORTLAND as the perfect place for me. With it’s coffee and craft beer obsession, and nary a negative comment to be heard from my friends, I was falling for the hype.

When my cousin and his wife recently decided to move there… I knew it was finally time for a visit. So this past weekend I road tripped 5 hours down the I-5 to discover the city for myself. I needed to know if the TV depiction of a crunchy, fussy, foodie mecca where “young people go to retire” was real.

IMG_2681

What I found was mostly what I expected. Great Dining options. Abundant locally produced coffee. A religious bike culture. Breweries on every corner. And Powell’s – a four story book store every bit as heavenly as I’d hoped.

IMG_2631

IMG_2682

So why did I leave this city feeling a little bit meh? I love coffee. I love beer. I love books. I love tax free shopping. And I definitely love a walkable city. On paper it is perfect for me. But in person, it was missing that je ne sais quoi. Maybe I’m not cool enough for Portland? Scratch that… I KNOW I’m not cool enough for Portland. I like to try on the alternative lifestyle every once in a while  but in many ways I’ve graduated from the “young, carefree” attitude that seems compulsory to fit in here. And I’m way too cheap to look the part.

IMG_2635

Don’t get me wrong. I had a super fun weekend and I will definitely be back. My hosts couldn’t have been more lovely and I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the city has to offer.

But I think the main issue here is that living in Vancouver has spoiled me. I can’t quite imagine trading in the Vancouver skyline with its mountain backdrop and ocean views for the industrial edge of Portland. Where Vancouver is cosmopolitan and culturally diverse, Portland feels distinctly less urban. Vancouver is undeniably impressive and demands attention. It has an obvious beauty that has locals acting like tourists in their own city on a regular basis.

In contrast, Portland is a subtle charmer. That must be why residents love it so much. It’s an insider’s city where the pleasure is in the everyday. It’s about knowing the best bar in the neighbourhood and the right time to get Sunday brunch before the quiche runs out.

IMG_2628

IMG_2641

I am curious to see how Portland changes and evolves over the years. Will it drown in stereotypes or will it thrive under the influence of its free thinking locals? I sure hope it is the latter because Portland has definitely got something going on… I just haven’t figured it all out yet.

IMG_2649

Football Fever: The Seahawks Experience

Football Fever: The Seahawks Experience

If you’ve never been to a National Football League game, you are missing a truly incredible experience.

My first NFL game was back in January 2011 watching the Oakland Raiders at the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a memorable event even though I didn’t know the rules and had never watched a full football game in my life. It must have been the tailgating at 9am that did it.

IMG_1144

Tailgating at the Chiefs game in Jan 2011

Flash forward 3 years and I’m throwing a super bowl party and cheering as my “home” team the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl. I may be a bit late to the party but I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

This past weekend I got to attend my second ever Seahawks game at Century Link Field. Similar to Vancouver in many ways, Seattle feels like a second home to me (must be all the airport visits). And since Vancouver doesn’t have an NFL team, my family has adopted the Seahawks.

IMG_2502

My dad is a season ticket holder and somehow I weasel my way into a game every season. Last year I had the unfortunate luck to be at the only home game they lost all season… so you can imagine my distress when this year’s game was against the very same team, the Arizona Cardinals, who also happen to have the best record in the league. Uh oh…

IMG_2516

Fearing that another loss would banish me from the stadium as bad luck, I was really crossing my fingers for a win. We arrived at the stadium in good time to enjoy some delicious (but not so nutritious) munchies (a must at any pro-sporting event) and the pre-game atmosphere. I have come to love all the rituals, like the raising of the 12th man flag, watching the hawk fly out before the team, and yelling FIRST DOWN in unison with the crowd. I even tolerate the SeaGals despite my feelings about cheerleaders. It all goes with the territory.

IMG_2519

It wasn’t the most beautiful win but it was a defensive masterpiece with the final score 19-3 for Seattle. To say this was a huge win is a bit of an understatement. The Seahawks have been having a rough year defending their championship and they need every win they can get to clinch a playoff spot. Needless to say, I was relieved to know that I wasn’t bad luck after all.

But, win or lose, I always have fun at Century Link Field. The fans are the loudest in the NFL and the people watching doesn’t get much better. With the steady flow of alcohol, and the mixture of testosterone and competition in the air, people tend to get a little crazy. If I wasn’t pulling my hair out with nerves, yelling at the refs, or laughing at the fans, then I was cheering my heart out.

As I said, it’s quite the experience.

IMG_2522

Campus Tour of Harvard University

Campus Tour of Harvard University

Boston is America’s college town. There are more than 100 colleges and universities in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, earning the title of most students per capita with ease. In fact, one in every five people is either a student or affiliated with higher education. From my brief visit I quickly saw that this incredibly walkable “big city” has a small town feel that is the perfect setting for a large student population. Too bad I’ve already got my degree…

I was able to visit several different campus’ during my stay, including Northeastern, MIT, and a little old place you may have heard of called Harvard. I’m not going to lie, Harvard was the number one place on my to do list. Not only is it consistently ranked as the Top University in the WORLD, it’s also America’s oldest college founded nearly 400 years ago in 1636. Back in the day it used to be referred to as simply “the college” because it was the only one.

How do I know this you may ask? Well, I could have googled it but I decided to get my info the old fashioned way by taking a free campus tour provided by a an actual Harvard student. It was fantastic! My sophomore Kiwi guide gave us the traditional historical information but also gave us an insider’s perspective on student life and some of the fascinating traditions that have been passed on through the generations. Walking the grounds of this colonial campus was like stepping back in time… no wonder they call it New England.

IMG_2426

I won’t tell you everything I learned on my hour long tour because I’m too lazy (and I didn’t take notes) but I will share a few key pieces that stood out to me.

John Harvard & The Statue of Three Lies

IMG_2462

Harvard gets its name from deceased clergyman John Harvard, who left the school £779 and approximately 400 books. I’m sure that was a huge donation back in 1638 but today that doesn’t even buy a semester’s worth of textbooks let alone get an entire college named after you.

There is even an incredibly famous (and inaccurate) statue situated in Harvard Yard to commemorate his contribution. The Statue of Three Lies is the third most photographed statue in the United States, behind only the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial. Not bad company eh? Apparently students (and visitors) rub his toe for good luck but another rumor has it that freshmen also pee on that very same toe… so I’ll let you decide the value of a little luck.

But the statue is not all that it seems. It’s actually nicknamed the “statue of three lies” because of all the inaccuracies inscribed on it:

(Lie #1) John Harvard did not actually found Harvard. Even though the statue says “founder” John was simply a benefactor.

(Lie #2) Harvard wasn’t founded in 1638. As I mentioned above Harvard was actually founded in 1636.

(Lie #3) The statue isn’t even of John Harvard. It may say his name but the image is actually Sherman Hoar as there was no surviving image of John Harvard.

IMG_2450

Widener Library

Harry Elkins Widener’s mother constructed the Memorial Library in her son’s name after his tragic death in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Widener was a Harvard alumnus and a great lover of books which made the library a fitting tribute and is now the world’s largest university library system. With over 3.5 million books the library’s shelves run four miles underground over ten levels. The place is completely dark until you begin walking and then the lights flicker on in front and go off behind you as you walk. I don’t know about you, but that sounds terrifying. I’d need to bring a survival kit and a whistle to go down there alone.

IMG_2440

Another fun fact: Widener Library has a copy of the Gutenberg Bible! Only twenty one complete copies survive, and they are considered to be among the most valuable books in the world. Apparently a staff member of the library flips one page of the bible each day. At 1,286 pages long that would take just about as long as a Harvard degree to read each page. Of course you’d also have to read Latin, but I suspect if you’re smart enough to get into Harvard, you’d also be smart enough to learn Latin…

It also turns out that the freshman dining hall (Annenburg Hall – not open to the public) is also the prototype that JK Rowling used for Hogwarts. Can you imagine eating breakfast in Hogwarts every day?

IMG_2434

And walking the grounds during these autumn months was simply gorgeous.

IMG_2464

IMG_2463

IMG_2421

I highly recommend an afternoon at Harvard on your next visit to Boston/Cambridge. You actually get smarter by just being close to so much brilliance. Okay, maybe that’s not true but I did learn a lot on my campus tour that I didn’t already know and it almost made me want to become a student again. Almost. I think I’m pretty content with being a student of life for the time being.

The Best of Boston: Autumn in New England

The Best of Boston: Autumn in New England

It’s no secret that summer is 100% my favourite season. I live in the Pacific Northwest and from July to September I am deliriously happy. Beaches. Mountains. Festivals. Islands. Lakes. Vineyards. Just take a look at these pictures and try to argue the greatness. I dare you.

Unfortunately, the aftermath of this obsession with summer is the inevitable fall hangover. While many of my friends are excited to pull on cozy sweaters and tall boots, all I’m thinking about is shorter days, excessive amounts of rain, and how it will be a long 9 months before my beloved summer returns from hibernation. #firstworldproblems

Well… I’m happy to announce that I’ve found the cure for my autumn blues and the answer lies approximately 5000 km east in New England where October and November are magical months of glorious foliage – all golden, orange, and red.

IMG_2484

Earlier this month I was able to visit my friend Megan in her adopted home of Boston, Massachusetts and finally figured out what all the fuss is about. Since downtown Boston is actually quite small, we were able to explore most of the sights on foot. With perfect weather and minimal crowds, we soaked up the breathtaking colors, expansive public spaces, and historical sights with ease.

Boston Marathon Finish Line

As an avid runner someone mildly interested in athletics… I was very curious to see the now infamous street where the Boston marathon takes place each year. After the tragic bombing two years ago, the site has even more meaning than ever before.

IMG_2295

Boston Public Library

IMG_2316

I have a sweet spot for libraries (VPL is one of my favourite buildings) and my visit to the BPL’s central branch was no exception. Established in 1848, it is the second-largest public library in the United States with approximately 23 million items. That’s a lot of books! We arrived just as the library was opening which afforded me the chance to scurry up to Bates Hall for a rare photo op sans people. Thought by many to be architecturally one of the most important rooms in the world… I just thought “how pretty!”

IMG_2366

I also decided to be super classy and straddle the lion statue… sorry mom.

IMG_2308

Boston Public Gardens

The Public Garden was the first public botanical garden in America. With a gorgeous lake, commemorative statues, picturesque bridges, and lovely walkways, I could have happily wandered the grounds all day.

IMG_2322 IMG_2329 IMG_2330 IMG_2365 IMG_2336

Boston Common

Located just beside the Public Garden is the Boston Common, America’s first public park, created in 1634.

IMG_2337 IMG_2338

Massachusetts State House

The Massachusetts State House is the state capitol and house of government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. My first question for my tour guide, Megan, was “is the dome made of real gold?” Apparently, there is a long history with the dome; it changed from wood to copper due to leaks. And the color has transitioned from gray to yellow to black to prevent attacks (something to do with being reflective?). But to answer my question… Yes. In 1997, at a cost of more than $300,000, the dome was re-gilded, in 23k gold. Wowza!

IMG_2340

Obviously I'm super mature.

Obviously I’m super mature.

Granary Burying Ground

Founded in 1660, the Old Granary Burial Ground is the third-oldest cemetery in Boston. It also happens to be the final resting place for many notable Revolutionary War-era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere, and the five victims of the Boston Massacre.

IMG_2347

Faneuil Hall (Quincy Market)

Faneuil Hall has been a marketplace and a meeting hall since 1742. Now it is a popular stop on the Freedom Trail and part of a larger festival marketplace, which includes three long granite buildings called North Market, Quincy Market, and South Market. Essentially it’s  an indoor/outdoor mall and food eatery extraordinaire! This is where I was able to sample devour a gigantic bread bowl of the famous New England clam chowder.

IMG_2350

This was way more delicious than it looks.

This was way more delicious than it looks.

North End

This historic neighbourhood has the distinction of being the city’s oldest residential community where people have continuously inhabited since it was settled in the 1630s. Predominantly Italian American, I made it a priority to savour a life-changing, espresso-flavoured cannoli from Mike’s Pastry.

Paul Revere IMG_2360 IMG_2361 IMG_2364

Fenway Park

If there’s one thing that Boston could be known for, it would be sports. Fenway Park is home to arguably the most famous sports team in the world, the legendary Boston Red Sox baseball team. For over 100 years, fans of America’s pastime have been flocking to Fenway to watch players from Babe Ruth to David Ortiz in the hopes of bringing home the World Series championship.

IMG_2370 IMG_2375

Harvard Bridge

I was able to take a beautiful walk across the Harvard Bridge (also known locally as the MIT Bridge, the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, and the “Mass. Ave.” Bridge) at sunset, enjoying stunning views of the Charles River. What’s more interesting than the view though is the strange measurements I noticed along the sidewalk. It is locally known for being measured, inaccurately, in the idiosyncratic unit of length called the smoot. The smoot is a nonstandard unit of length created as part of an MIT fraternity prank. It is named after Oliver R. Smoot, a fraternity pledge, who in October 1958 lay on the Harvard Bridge and was used by his fraternity brothers to measure the length of the bridge. I will seriously never understand this whole Greek system.

IMG_2403 IMG_2393

I could in no way become an expert on Boston in one long weekend visit, but I certainly know that this is a part of the world that I want to explore more in depth.

Next up: Harvard University

Trip Journal: A Whirlwind Weekend in San Francisco!

Trip Journal: A Whirlwind Weekend in San Francisco!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my last trip (okay – my only trip) to San Francisco in August 2008. I’m thinking about heading back before the end of the year so I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to revisit a place that steals so many hearts around the world.

I definitely wouldn’t call myself an expert when it comes to the city by the bay – but I do know how to jam pack a lot of activity into a weekend getaway. And, that’s exactly what I did when I decided to take my mom on a mother/daughter birthday trip. Don’t go handing out daughter of the year awards just yet (unless you feel compelled of course)… I really just wanted an excuse to go away and to see the Full House in person ;)

FRIDAY

I found us some insanely cheap flights (If I remember correctly, we both flew round trip for less than $100) on Allegiant Air departing from Bellingham, WA direct to San Fran. I am going to take a gamble and say that 75% of the flyers out of that airport are actually Canadian because it saves us SO much money. We arrived in the late afternoon and took the easy and convenient BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from the airport straight downtown to our swanky hotel in the financial district. At the time I was working at a travel agency and scored us a really good rate. So why not stay at the 4 star Hyatt Regency?

Now that's what I call a lobby!!

Now that’s what I call a lobby!!

After checking in, we set off to find the oldest restaurant in San Francisco, the Tadich Grill! First started during the Gold Rush in 1849, this restaurant mainly known for its seafood (mmm…) is one of the city’s top restaurants. We agree!

Tadich Grill

We wrapped up our first night with an evening walk along the Embarcadero to get some lovely views of the Bay Bridge. I wasn’t quite prepared for August in San Francisco… the weather is crazy! Among major U.S. cities, San Francisco has the coldest daily mean, maximum, and minimum temperatures for June, July, and August… not exactly the California heat I was expecting. During the summer, rising hot air in California’s interior valleys creates a low pressure area that draws winds from the North Pacific High through the Golden Gate, which creates the city’s famous fog. A popular quote (incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain) explains it well. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I couldn’t agree more… whoever you are.

IMG_0070

Brr… I can’t feel my toes…

SATURDAY

We woke up bright and early Saturday morning after a restful night on our Grand Hyatt beds and set off to explore the city with a bus tour of the very unique neighbourhoods. I think we saw nine in total but some of our favourites (or the ones I can remember) were China Town, Nob Hill, Union square, and North Beach. We made three stops during the tour… all places that you should definitely take the time to visit.

Stop #1 – Golden Gate Bridge

IMG_0083

Obviously I don’t need to say much about this one but I will because blog. The Golden Gate Bridge is arguably the most famous bridge in the world and heralded as one of the top ten construction achievements of the 20th Century. Other adjectives used to describe it… most beautiful, most photographed… basically you should see it and walk across it too if you have the time.

Stop #2 – Twin Peaks

The Twin Peaks are two hills near the center of the city that provide great views of San Fran and the bay area. Frankly, I was just happy to get above the fog and feel the sun on my skin. Did I mention that San Francisco is chilly in summer?

Look mom... the sky is still blue above the fog!

Look mom… the sky is still blue above the fog!

Stop #3 – The Painted Ladies

Everywhere you look, Everywhere you go...

Everywhere you look, Everywhere you go…

You will recognize these well-known Victorian houses from the opening credits of the widely popular 90s television series Full House and numerous other media programs. Built in the late 1800s, these colorful homes across from Alamo Park are also often referred to as “Postcard Row.” I waited around for a while, but it was next to impossible to get a photo without any people in it… so I ended up buying a postcard as well.

We left our bus at Pier 33 where we quickly jumped on a ferry to Alcatraz Island. I normally love ferry rides and the views were certainly beautiful, but I was not (I repeat NOT) dressed warm enough for the open air seating. I’m starting to sound like a broken record here but seriously wear lots of layers.

IMG_0118

We spent about two hours in total touring “The Rock” and the abandoned prison site, which also includes the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast, a military fort, and lots of wildlife. The isolated island was the perfect spot to house war prisoners and was eventually used as a federal penitentiary for 29 years. Most of the prisoners were notorious bank robbers and murderers, even housing some of the most famous criminals in history such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and James “Whitey” Bulger, to name a few.

IMG_0137 IMG_0135

It was a very interesting trip and admittedly a bit creepy stepping inside those cells. I shutter to think about being incarcerated way out there, but I have to say, those prisoners had some prime real estate with vistas like this…

IMG_0136

We ended our very busy day at Pier 39, a famous shopping centre and tourist attraction located at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a really fun spot to people watch, enjoy street entertainers, stock up on souvenirs, and grab a bite to eat. We stuck with our seafood theme and dined at the Crab House. When in San Fran…

IMG_0142

SUNDAY

On our last day we decided to relax a bit and basically spent the whole day shopping in Union Square and enjoying the sights and sounds of downtown.

We didn’t have time to accomplish everything on my list, like riding a cable car or taking a stroll in Golden Gate park, but I was sure I’d be back again someday. And hopefully that day is soon! The chilly temperatures won’t keep me away… I’ll just bring a warmer jacket next time.

IMG_0077

My Top 10 Favourite Cities

According to my Trip Advisor travel map, I’ve been to 265 cities and counting! I believe that this stat gives me a bit of credibility in listing some of my favourites thus far. I wholeheartedly recommend all of these cities and have visited half of them more than once. As always, I reserve the right to update this list whenever I like because I’m constantly visiting fabulous new destinations. But, for now at least, here are my top 10 favourite cities.

My Top 10 Favourite Cities

San Diego, California

La Jolla

I first visited San Diego on a family vacation when I was 10 years old. We did the typical touristy activities like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. I loved them both and even got called up on stage during two of the shows (my 15 minutes of fame). Flash forward a decade and my views have certainly changed. I may no longer support animal captivity but fortunately SD still has a plethora of amazing (cruelty free) things to do – try whale watching or surfing instead. When one of my best friends moved to the city in 2012 I was beyond excited about frequently visiting (and I have!). With blissful temperatures year-round, stunning cliffs and beaches, and amazing restaurants, San Diego is my favourite winter getaway. I could even see myself living here someday – Hello Vitamin D!

Paris, France

Paris

A wise woman once said, “Paris is always a good idea” and I couldn’t agree more. If you were to visit my apartment, one thing would quickly become apparent, and that is that J’adore Paris! I can’t possibly think of a city with more class and culture. Just imagine perusing the markets in Montmartre, strolling the grounds of les Jardins du Luxembourg, or savouring a crepe on the Champs-Élysées. An exemplary model of urban planning, this world-class city has so many unique neighbourhoods to explore. Not to mention being home to some of the world’s most famous sights; L’arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, and La Tour Eifel, to name a few. Now if only I could remember my 8 years of French lessons…

Rome, Italy

Rome

Ah Roma… a textbook example of why you sometimes need to revisit a city to truly appreciate it. Ten years after my first visit, I went back to the eternal city to discover what I had missed back in my teenage years. Yes, I remembered that the monuments were impressive and that the gelato was tasty but I couldn’t seem to understand what the fuss was all about. Well, let me tell you – Rome is simply magical. The entire city is like an open air museum with rich history spanning more than 2,500 years and amazing architecture around every corner. You could easily spend years in Rome and still not discover it all. I’ve thrown my coin in the Trevi Fountain twice and I’m sure I’ll be back again!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

My inaugural trip to the pearl of the Adriatic was almost ruined by a missed train and a spiral of lost connections. Fortunately, I pushed passed the roadblocks with the lovely premonition that I was about to fall in love. Most of the cities on this list are places that I’ve courted over several trips but Dubrovnik is my only one night stand. So, you can imagine how intoxicating a city it must be to have such power over me so quickly. Well let me tell you that one walk around the old city walls is all it took to have me spouting off grand declarations and adding Croatia to every list in my book. Dubrovnik is quite simply the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen and even though our time together was brief, it left a lasting impression on me. I hope I won’t have to call her The One that Got Away for long.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh

Edinburgh was one of the very last stops on my 8 month European backpacking adventure in 2005/2006. I arrived there feeling a bit of travel burnout and was definitely looking forward to heading home. Fortunately I arrived to perfect spring weather and a gorgeous city dripping with classic European charm. Edinburgh has a distinctly medieval feel with cobblestone streets, Gothic architecture, and a castle resting on an extinct volcano. But, it’s also a great city for young people and maybe even a place to find love… I mean if it worked for Will & Kate! I have yet to hear a negative review of this Scottish gem so if it isn’t on your bucket list yet… you know what to do.

Bogota, Colombia

bogota

This is one that may raise some eyebrows. Bogota is a very unconventional choice and probably won’t make many top ten lists (unless you’re looking at the negative side). But, I don’t care what the critics say – I have my own opinions and my own experiences and Bogota won me over big time. It likely had a lot to do with my personal tour guide / travel agent friend who hosted and entertained me the entire 5 days, but that also proves that there is plenty to love about Colombia’s capital. The historic district La Candelaria (pictured above) has lovely Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture with a wealth of churches and squares to fill your camera. The city has great shopping and dining options plus Monserrate, one of the most beautiful mountain top attractions I’ve ever seen – the funicular ride to the top is a must-do for all tourists. Transportation may not be super easy (although I was kind of taxi fairy) and English still isn’t widely spoken (if at all) but the effort was definitely worth it to discover the inner beauty of this very misunderstood city.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg

Visiting Salzburg was the realization of a childhood dream – to step into the world of Fräulein Maria and the Von Trapp children. After growing up with an obsessive passion for the Sound of Music I knew I had to do the official SOM tour when I finally made it to the famous city – and it did not disappoint. Even in the fall, the Mirabell Gardens (pictured above) with views of Hohensalzburg Castle were enchanting. The nearby palaces, abbey, and Lake District easily appeased the fan girl in me and proved that my adoration of Austria was well deserved. But, the city has even more to offer. As the birth place of Mozart, culture in the way of museums and music is at a premium and the lovely riverside hosts one of my favourite little Christmas markets in the winter. Although it is much smaller than Vienna and harder to avoid tourist groups (sorry – that was me), it is worth your time and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Florence, Italy

Florence

Tuscany. That’s probably the only descriptive word that I need to use to explain why I love Florence so much, but this is a blog, so I will elaborate. Firenze is another city with a medieval feel. Often considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, it is so easy to get swept away with the impressive art (Michelangelo’s statue of David), gorgeous churches (Duomo and Santa Croce), and unique bridges (Ponte Vecchio). I loved exploring the winding streets and discovering epic views (see above) from the Piazzale Michelangelo. And to top it all off, Florence is where I first discovered gelato (Tiramisu flavoured nonetheless)! There’s something dreamlike about this part of the world and it’s orange roof tops – it easily makes my list.

New Orleans, Louisiana

20140727-151635-54995368.jpg

Welcome to Nawlins y’all! There is just something special about the South that makes me want to slow my speech and eat something fried… but maybe that’s just the Bourban talking. Joking aside, New Orleans is a truly amazing city that in many ways doesn’t even feel like part of America. With buildings dating back to the 1700s and a unique French influence, Louisiana is easily one of the most interesting of the 50 states. Known for its delicious Cajun food, amazing jazz music, beautiful colonial architecture, and the wild and crazy Mardi Gras – NOLA has something for everyone. You can party in the street all night long or step back in time on a beautiful antebellum or creole plantation. The city has faced a lot of adversity with its history of slavery and recent tragedies like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But, what I saw here was beautiful resilience, hope, and a whole lot of fun! Do your part to help and make New Orleans your next vacation stop.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Vancouver

My city. My home. My happy place! The past two years of living in Vancouver have been some of the very best of my life. I still pinch myself every time I cross the Burrard Street Bridge (which is usually twice per day) because I can’t believe that this is my real life. Vancouver is by far my favourite place on earth. Wherever you look you see water or mountains or both! You can ski, golf, bike, sail and kayak– all on the same day. Not only is this city breathtakingly beautiful but it is bursting with activity, diversity, and general awesomeness (that’s a technical term)! In Vancity we know all about living well – we are clean and green. We love yoga and craft beer and playing outside all year long. If you’re not planning a visit to the magnificent Pacific Northwest – then you should be!

Honourable Mention:

My Top 5 Favourite Beaches

I decided to finally take the time to reflect on my travel past and document some of my absolute favourite finds over the past twenty-something years.

This is the first post in a new series on my travel Favourites (yes – I am Canadian, and this is how we spell favourite!)

Since it is summer, I thought it would be apropos to begin with the best beaches I’ve been blessed to sink my toes into.

 

Top 5 Favourite Beaches

 

Bai Dai Beach, Nha Trang, Vietnam

This gorgeous beach on the South China Sea had everything: White Sand, Warm Waters, and No one around. Touted as the best beach in a country with over 3000 km of coastline… it is easy to see why people love Southeast Asia.

Bai Dai Beach

Muchavista Beach, El Campello, Spain

I was incredibly lucky to spend 3 months living just a mere 5 minutes from this expansive beach north of Alicante. The entire length of the beach is lined with a boardwalk and a tram so that even getting groceries became an exciting event.

El Campello

Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Oahu

On my second trip to Oahu, I decided to do my research and find a beach, ANY BEACH, other than Waikiki. My search landed me on lovely Lanikai in the sleepy town of Kailua where public access is restricted to pedestrians only, making it the perfect island escape. It’s also made quite a few top 10 lists so this one is a no-brainer.

lanikai

Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

Whenever I go to San Diego (which is fortunately quite often) I always look forward to spending time on the island of Coronado. I can’t believe that people actually live there all the time because it is almost too lovely to be real.

IMG_2350

Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, BC

No top 5 list would be complete without the place that makes me happier than any other. I live about 1 minute from the Pacific Ocean and it is a frequent stomping ground for me all year long. Vancouver has a lot of great beaches that I could include on this list (English Bay, Jericho Beach, Spanish Banks, Wreck Beach) but Kits beach is home. With breathtaking views of the North Shore mountains, Stanley Park, and the Vancouver skyline, it’s my favourite walk in the city! Our version of Venice Beach is also great for people watching, dog walking, bike riding, or playing some beach volleyball all year long.

Kits

 

What is your favourite beach?

Top 10 Activities to do in Vegas

I managed to squeeze a lot of activity into three days in Las Vegas this past May. Here’s my summary of what not to miss in Sin City (in no particular order).

1. FREE Entertainment

bellagio

Bellagio Fountains

 

Vegas might be one of the most over-priced cities I’ve ever visited… and that’s saying a lot with my resume (I’m looking at you London). But, that being said, it does have a plethora of free activities to enjoy that are actually many of the most iconic. Let’s start with the infamous Welcome to Las Vegas sign at the beginning of the strip. Visitors can pull off Las Vegas Boulevard and snap a pic under the famous sign absolutely free. Now… the same can’t be said for photos with the countless street performers you will find dressed as everything from Spiderman to Minnie Mouse… but still the sign is free. Then you absolutely cannot miss the Bellagio Fountains! The choreographed music and fountain show is always a highlight – I just love pretending to be a part of the Ocean’s 11 gang! And to give you a top 3, I would also recommend checking out the evening Mirage Volcano eruption… that’s as close as I ever want to get to a real eruption… you could really feel the heat!

2. Thrill Rides

stratosphere

View from the Top of the Stratosphere

I love heights. I love jumping from heights. I love the view from the top of tall buildings. I love roller coasters. So basically what I’m saying is that the Stratosphere was built with me in mind. If you are also a thrill seeker then I would definitely recommend checking out the rides atop the Stratosphere hotel. You can shoot into the air on the Big Shot (think Tower of Terror in reverse). You can launch off the edge of the building on X-Scream. Or you can spin in the air on a mechanical arm on Insanity (think Toy Story’s the Claw on steroids). And if you’ve got some extra cash then you can even Sky Jump off the building!

3. See a Show

jersey boys

I want to go ahead and throw out a statistic that might be entirely false but I think is probably true. Vegas has to have more hotel rooms per capita than any other place on earth. And each of these monstrous hotels has a theatre with a show, which means that the toughest decision of your trip might be narrowing down which amazing show to see. On my most recent trip, I couldn’t choose just one and was able to see Cirque du Soleil’s O as well as Jersey Boys. Both were incredibly well done and worth every penny.

4. Pool Party!

One thing you learn tout de suite upon touching down in Vegas is that it’s a desert. And if you are visiting anytime between March and November that also means it is H O T! It was 100 + degrees every day of my last trip, which meant that the pools were packed and for good reason. There’s no better way to beat the heat then with a cold drink in hand while sitting in the pool. Some hotels even throw lavish and exclusive pool parties with DJs and celebrity guests. I prefer a more relaxing environment but that’s the beauty of Vegas, there really is something for everyone.

5. Shop Till you Drop

I don’t know why this surprised me but Vegas has gooooood shopping. Not only does it have high end designers and boutiques in every hotel, but it also has huge malls and outlets on either end of the strip. You will also find very unique shopping, such as the 4-story M&M store with it’s own 3D movie. If you need to escape the heat, then there is probably a mall a few steps away that can entertain you for as long as your credit limit allows.

the venetian

The Venetian

 

6. Cruise the Strip

Dealing with traffic jams and getting stuck at painfully long lights is not my idea of a vacation so my preferred way to cruise the strip is on foot. But, beware; Las Vegas Boulevard is deceptively long. It doesn’t look that far on the map but trust me; you will need comfortable walking shoes to make the trek. But, it is worth your while to take in the city from below. The streets are filled with street performers and it’s the best way to get your fill of people watching. If walking isn’t your cup of tea or the heat gets to be too much then try out the monorail or walk through the hotels instead.

7. Gamble

Whether you like to gamble or not… everyone should toss at least a few coins into a Vegas slot machine (or feed a few bills as it turns out). I didn’t end up a big winner but at least I could cross this one off my bucket list. Plus, if you catch a servers attention, you can get free drinks while you play! My advice… play slow. Drink Fast!

8. Eat somewhere famous!

IMG_0729

Vegas is known for so many things and food is definitely one of them. It seems like all the famous chefs have opened at least one, if not several, restaurants in Sin City. Do your research and fulfill your fantasy feast by splurging on a good meal.

9. Enjoy the Night Life

Most of my friends know that I’m not really into the club scene but if you are going to go out… Vegas is the place to do it. With many of the top night clubs in the world it’s no wonder that so many bachelor and bachelorette parties make their way to Sin City. Best of all – ladies can jump the line and get free cover (and often free drinks) by getting on a VIP list earlier that day. Promoters are everywhere! If you’re like me and don’t love the club scene then Vegas still has great bars, including some fun karaoke and dueling piano bars. We checked out the one at Harrah’s but I hear that the New York New York has a good one too.

20140604-182321-66201594.jpg

10. High Roller

Las Vegas’ newest attraction is the world’s largest ferris wheel at a staggering 550 feet tall. Take the 30 minute ride in an air conditioned capsule by day or night to see panoramic views of the strip. I prefer to ride at night to see the city lights. This is fun to do with groups or a special someone and of course, drinks are allowed!

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

The Pacific Northwest is definitely one of the most beautiful places on earth. Fortunately, I get to live here. Unfortunately, I often take it for granted. But every once in a while I make an effort to play tourist in my own backyard.

This past weekend I took three friends with me to Lake Whatcom, WA for a girls weekend. We rented the bottom floor of a gorgeous lakeside mansion with a view that took our breath away. We spent our time mostly relaxing (like in our private hot tub) with a bit of sightseeing to mix it up. Our vacation was a mere hour’s drive across the Canadian border but it felt like we really got away. We were also conveniently located near the historic town of Mt. Vernon where every April they host the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which is surely not to be missed. Our touring took us to RoozenGarde, which boasts 1000+ acres of tulip, daffodil, and iris fields. The manicured gardens even came complete with an authentic Dutch windmill, which definitely brought back memories of my time in Holland. If the weather cooperates like it did for us and you get there early in the day to avoid the crowds, then you are sure to bring home a camera full of photographs that are 100% grandmother approved.

We had such a fabulous time that we’ve already talked about making it an annual tradition.

20140429-144426.jpg

20140429-144746.jpg

20140429-144840.jpg

NYE in New Orleans!

When I decided to celebrate New Year’s in the Big Easy, I had no idea that Travel & Leisure would rank New Orleans as the top NYE destination in the USA or that National Geographic would name it a must-see city for 2014. I guess I chose well.

Aside from the unusually cold weather and the periodic rain, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to ring in a new year. We began the night on the legendary Bourban Street where crowds filled the streets and party goers filled the second story galleries (balconies) dangling beads over our heads. The drunken masses proceeded to entertain us all night with their antics… doing pretty much anything and everything to get the cheap plastic beads that could be purchased for less than a dollar in the countless tourist shops. We were wearing multiple layers of beads ourselves, but I’ll leave you guessing if I earned my beads or not ;)

We took a break from the crowds to cram our way into a completely full night club with live singers performing Top 40 covers. The energy was enough to keep us inside despite the smoke and lack of personal space. Soon enough we were ready to grab a world-famous Hurricane and head to Jackson Square for the main event. When the rain settled in we dodged the weather by grabbing some beignets and coffee in a nearby cafe to wait for the fleur de lis drop at midnight. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Happy New Year! We were situated right along the banks of the Mississippi for a beautiful firework show right over our heads.

We made our way back to Bourban Street to get in some more people watching before we headed over to Frenchmen Street for some more awesome jazz from our favourite neighbourhood clubs. All in all, we had a great time and this will go down as a NYE to remember!

photo-3 IMG_0614

Honey Island Swamp

Today I was once again made thankful that I get to live in a city. A comfortable, safe, and beautiful city.

Our major excursion today was to visit the Honey Island Swamp just outside of New Orleans. On the way we were able to see some of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction as many buildings are still completely abandoned or damaged. Our driver has lived in the city his whole life and told us stories of what life was like after the storm. I can’t imagine the suffering and loss that these people endured and it makes me appreciate their strength and spirit all the more. The people of New Orleans have blown us away with their kindness and hospitality and injected so much humour into our days. It’s amazing that they still have so much joy after such hardship.

Just across Lake Pontchartrain is Honey Island swamp, which is unique because it’s one of the least-altered river swamps in the country. Nearly 70,000 acres of it is a permanently-protected wildlife area. On our tour we saw snakes, birds, racoons, and wild hogs but alas no alligators were out in the cold winter weather. An unexpected trip highlight was visiting the Cajun Fishing Village where the Academy Award nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild was filmed. The people live in these rundown shacks that float on the swamp. Apparently most of them are drunks that just fish and drink moonshine all day. It is incredible to think that people actually choose to live like this. It was like taking a tour of celebrity homes… except the opposite. Half of them were falling into the water or had been abandoned after flood damage. Hmm… maybe you shouldn’t build your house on a swamp?

All in all, it was a very enjoyable, albeit chilly boat tour through the cyprus forest. The spanish moss hanging over head was eerie and magical at the same time and beautiful in its own unique way. And we ended up seeing a baby alligator in the aquarium at the end of the tour so we left satisfied customers.

IMG_0408IMG_0449IMG_0454IMG_0463IMG_0470

The Great River Road

Today I got to scratch another one off the bucket list: Visit a plantation in Louisiana!

In fact, we got to see two of these beautiful properties that face the Mississippi River (or the great river road). We started off at the Laura Plantation, which is a Creole Plantation built in 1805. The Creole were the French speaking people who dominated the area until America took over the colony after the Louisiana purchase. The plantation’s colors show the Caribbean influence and the Creole’s desire to be different from the English-speaking American’s who foolishly built big white houses that were just going to turn green anyways. Our tour was fascinating and told the long history of the plantation’s presidents, who were mostly women, as well as the sad truth about slavery in the south. Not only did the house survive fire and Hurricane Katrina, but it was also kept well preserved over the years,  retaining its original cyprus wood and brick structure and even most of the furniture.

IMG_0313

Our second stop was to a much more traditional plantation called Oak Alley. It’s claim to fame is also it’s namesake, the breathtaking, 300 year old live oaks that line the path to the main house. We ended up skipping out on the house tour completely to spend more time photographing the trees and enjoying the beautiful sunshine. It was definitely a trip highlight and I could have easily stayed under those trees all day.

IMG_0361 IMG_0363 IMG_0344 IMG_0381

What Happens in New Orleans… Get’s Celebrated!

So far New Orleans, or NOLA for short, is living up to my expectations. Even though our first full day was filled with monsoon like rains and flooded sidewalks, we still managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

To start, our B&B Chez Palmiers, is absolutely perfect. We have the Loft Suite, which is spacious and includes a bar kitchen and ensuite as well as TV and WiFi. Our hosts Schuyler and David are so friendly and provided the most wonderful breakfast spread in the morning as well as a custom list of recommended restaurants, cafes and bars nearby. We are staying a couple blocks from the world famous French Quarter in a residential neighbourhood called Marigny. We love being able to walk everywhere.

This place is so unique. It’s hard to believe that we are even in the U.S. anymore. Some moments, like today on our New Orleans history walk, it feels like we’ve stepped back in time. And then mere seconds later we are being dazzled by hilarious locals like Billy the Hootenanny who won us over with his killer dance/hip thrusting. You had to be there but I promise, it made our day.

We are slowly but surely attempting to try the local cuisine. Today we tried muffeletas (sandwich) and Shrimp Creole, which were both successful. In New Orleans you are allowed to drink alcohol in the street so most places serve drinks in plastic to-go cups. Basically, the whole city is a bar. Did I mention that alcohol is really cheap here?

Most of our day was spent experiencing 19th century holidays in the New Orleans style on our walking tour of five historic houses. We were told the history of the owners and even got to see the home of the first princess of Monaco who happened to be from New Orleans. It was really interesting and gave us a better appreciation for the rich history of this city that has seen so much change over the centuries.

So far the people have been extremely friendly and we’ve had many interesting conversations. Most of the locals are amazed that we are here all the way from Canada. One of our tour guides advised us to have as much fun as possible and that what happens in New Orleans… Gets Celebrated! Well Sir – we plan to… in fact, I don’t think we have a choice. The party never stops in NOLA.

Tonight after dinner we were wandering down the streets of the French Quarter, looking in shops, and then decided to stop at a bar on Frenchmen Street called Cafe Negril. Frenchmen Street has been touted as the local’s Bourbon Street so we definitely wanted to check out the scene. The bar had no cover and a really great Blues Rock band. We enjoyed that for a while before spilling out into the street to find another band playing on the street corner with a large crowd dancing in the street, like actually in the street. Of course, we joined in. At one point the crowd had grown so big that the cars were having difficulty getting through. One car was clearly annoyed and ran over a lady’s toe (or so she said). She obviously got upset and somehow dented his car. While we stood there in shock watching the confrontation – no one else seemed to notice. Just business as usual on a Saturday night in New Orleans!

IMG_0299 IMG_0294 IMG_0289

The Happiest Place on Earth

What could possibly be better than visiting the happiest place on earth at the most wonderful time of the year?

After 15+ years since my last Disneyland adventure, I eagerly coerced my new SoCal resident, best friend into a day trip to remember!

Early on a mid-November morning we made the 75ish minute drive from San Diego to Anaheim. Upon arrival we quickly parked our car (FREE), stored our bags (FREE) and loaded up at the breakfast buffet (FREE) at our awesome hotel, the Residence Inn Anaheim Maingate, conveniently located just across the street from the park. We were off to a great start!

After the mandatory photo-stop at the entrance we quickly joined the throngs of people lining the sidelines of Main Street, U.S.A. for the filming of the Disneyland Christmas Parade special, which airs Christmas Day on ABC. It was great to see the park all decked out for the holidays, but the filming meant that the Parade was not running like normal. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Disney magic takes a lot of rehearsing, resetting, and rewinding. Instead of waiting around all day, we opted to take advantage of the minimal crowds and cross off a few of the big name attractions: Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, and the Haunted Mansion (with a spooktacular Nightmare Before Christmas dressing)!

For lunch we enjoyed a sit-down meal in New Orleans square – preparation for my upcoming trip to the Big Easy this December! The jambalaya was good, but I’m sure the real deal will taste even better.

The afternoon crowds were a bit bigger but we still managed to spot one of my childhood icons, Joey Fatone of N’Sync fame! A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without spotting at least one celebrity. We also managed to squeeze in a holiday cruise on the iconic it’s a small world ride, followed by the Storybook Canal ride where our tour operator sounded so robotic in her high-pitched Disney voice that I thought her head might explode. Kudos to all the ride operators at Disneyland for performing such a monotonous job while wearing those ridiculous fun costumes in the hot sun every day.

We capped off the day with the Matterhorn (my first time in 3 visits!) and my personal favourite Space Mountain. By 4:00pm we were ready for some adult time at the bar in Downtown Disney – something I certainly couldn’t have enjoyed 15 years ago. All in all it was an enjoyable day if not slightly less magical as an adult. The rides seemed less impressive while the attention to detail surpassed my previous recollection. November truly is a great time to visit – the weather was perfect and the crowds, totally manageable. I wish I could say that I’m dying to go back, but I think this travelista has come to appreciate a more mature way of travel. And, I hope this evolution takes me to some far off corner of the globe in the very near future.

IMG_0163 IMG_0134 IMG_0145 IMG_0147 IMG_0164

Sun, Sand, and Surf in San Diego

On the most depressing weekend of the year (statistically), I decided to take a quick trip to the beautiful west coast city of San Diego, CA to attempt to beat the winter blues. What I got was perfect weather, gorgeous vistas, and delicious food. I spent 3 days gallivanting around Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and Coronado and having a marvellous time! I even went on my first whale watching tour with San Diego Whale Watch where I saw 7 grey whales and a pod of dolphins. It was a bit chilly out on the water but it was a beautiful day and way more impressive to see these animals in their natural habitat instead of at neighbouring Sea World. I wish I could have extended my winter getaway, but I’m sure SD and I will meet again soon.

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Palm Trees

La Jolla

La Jolla

IMG_2336 IMG_2339 Hotel del Coronado IMG_2350

No Tax on the Oregon Trail

On July 14, 2012 my baby brother married the love of his life, my new sister, Faith. And… lucky for me, they chose to get married in Faith’s hometown of Salem, Oregon. This historic capital city is full of culture and beauty, the perfect setting for this multi-cultural couple to exchange vows. During my time in Oregon I got to wander the city and enjoy the rolling vineyards waiting just outside the downtown core. Oh yeah, and the tax-free shopping didn’t hurt either :)

Faith's family farm - Salem, Oregon

Faith’s family farm – Salem, Oregon

Colin & Faith

Colin & Faith

Siblings

Siblings

O’ahu – Circle Island Tour

On our final day in Hawaii, we had to think of something to do until our flight left at 9:40 pm. Since we had to check out of our hotel in the morning, we were quite limited in our options so we decided to take a tour around the whole island. Groupon hooked us up with a Circle Island Tour from VIP Transportation. We got picked up bright and early and spent the day exploring the Hawaiian lifestyle outside of Waikiki.

Our first stop was the Nuuanu Pali lookout, which overlooks the 985 foot cliffs of the Koolau Mountain Range. It is by far the best view in O’ahu and also happens to be the site that King Kamehameha and his warriors defeated the O’ahu armies in 1795 to unite the Hawaiian islands by pushing them off the cliffs. That would be quite a way to go. Our favourite part of the spot was probably the incredible winds that threatened to take us over the cliffs as well… apparently we were there on a rather calm day.

View from the Pali Lookout

Trying to keep the hair off of my face long enough for a photo… very difficult.

After the lookout it was on to the Dole Plantation for the ultimate pineapple experience. We highly recommend the Dole Whip (soft serve ice cream)!

The Dole Plantation

After that we kept cruising to the North Shore where we drove by the infamous Bonzai Pipeline where you can find the best surfing in the world from November to March. We kept driving until we hit another popular surf spot called Sunset Beach. Unfortunately the waves are quite small this time of year, but the beach was still beautiful!

Sunset Beach

Our last stop before lunch was in the town of Laie to see the Morman Temple. That’s right… you heard me… Morman Temple. To me, Hawaii seems like the most random place for a Morman Temple, but then again, Brigham Young University is right next door so I guess it makes sense. Laie Hawaii Temple was the first LDS Church temple built outside of the continental United States. The temple is also the oldest to operate outside of Utah, and the fifth-oldest LDS temple still in operation. I’d also like to suggest that it’s the most beautiful… I mean seriously? There’s a reason they call it the Taj Mahal of the Pacific.

Laie Hawaii Temple

For lunch we stopped at Kualoa Ranch located in the Ka’a’awa Valley. We were given the choice of eating on the back lanai with the view of the mountains or on the front lanai with a view of the ocean… it was a tough decision but we opted for the mountains. This valley is actually best known as a film location for productions such as Jurassic Park, Mighty Joe Young, Pearl Harbor, Windtalkers, Godzilla, and Lost. After lunch we wandered around the ranch, pet the horses, and ended up at the ocean. We finally found the perfect place to get a picture of the island known as Chinaman’s Hat for obvious reasons.

Kualoa Ranch

Us with Chinaman’s Hat

The next stop was definitely my favourite. We went to Tropical Macadamia Nut Farms, which is a macadamia outlet factory. We met the owner of the whole facility and thanked him profusely for all of the free samples. You can tell that this was my favourite stop since I took so few pictures. I was too distracted by the cinnamon glazed macadamia nuts, the macadamia nut Kona coffee samples, and the freshly cut coconut that I couldn’t be bothered to take pictures. We definitely came home with some treats.

The last two stops were simple and beautiful. We visited the Halona Blow Hole, which wasn’t very exciting due to the low ocean surge at the time. But just to the left was the Halona Cove where the kiss of Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster took place in the film From Here to Eternity. I have to admit that I haven’t seen that one, but Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler also shared a kiss there in the movie 50 First Dates. I can definitely see why. Access to the secluded beach is very difficult and it certainly has a cinematic feel. Maybe next time, I’ll be brave enough to climb down.

Halona Cove

And the last stop of the day was Hanauma Bay, which is a marine embayment formed within a volcanic cone. It has some amazing coral and a vast assortment of tropical fish, which makes this a prime snorkeling location. Unfortunately, the bay has suffered some to do overuse and now it is highly regulated, but for a small fee and some conversation education, you can still spend a highly enjoyable day down by the bay.

Hanauma Bay

I had a marvelous time in Hawaii and I can’t wait to return and maybe check out some of the other islands in the future!

I’m Sailing!!!

“Isn’t this a breakthrough, that I’m a sailor? I sail? I sail now?” – I can’t help laughing at these memorable quotes from What about Bob? every time I’m out on the open seas. But, it’s true… there really is something remarkable about sailing. If I could splurge on one really expensive item, I wouldn’t even hesitate – SAIL BOAT!

So, when my mom and I were casually walking along Waikiki beach after another glorious breakfast at the Hula Grill, it didn’t take much persuading to get us on a 1.5 hour catamaran cruise. We went for a late morning sail through Honolulu harbor out to the open water just off of Diamond Head. With the fresh Hawaiian breeze, the gentle spray of sea water, and an icy Mai Tai to keep us cool, we lay back and enjoyed our perfect view of the entire southern coastline. It was so rejuvenating and relaxing to be at sea, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I definitely think I could get to used to this lifestyle.

Our catamaran – Maita’i

My mom

Me with Diamond Head in the background

How to Visit 6 Islands in 1 Day

How does one experience the unique and varied cultures of six different Polynesian islands in merely a day? Well… the Polynesian Cultural Center in the town of Laie, Oahu makes it easy. I was able to spend a glorious afternoon visiting replicas of villages from Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Hawaii, plus the exhibit of Rapanui (Easter Island). To me this was a cultural Disneyland. I can’t really think of something I enjoy more than pouring over a map and exploring new cultures. We were able to watch shows and demonstrations in each village, take a canoe ride through the massive lagoon, watch a canoe pageant, eat at a fantastic buffet, and watch the amazing finale show called “Ha – Breath of Life.” All of the performers are actually from the islands they represent and are passionate about sharing their culture with visitors. It was educational and highly entertaining, which is probably why it ranks as Hawaii’s #1 paid attraction.

Rapanui (Easter Island)

Diamond Head Rediscovery

Memory is a funny thing. With the passing of time you can practically rewrite history with the power of your mind. You can simply remove the boring or painful parts and choose to recall only the most exciting and enjoyable memories from the past. Of course, the opposite is also possible.

To those of you who know me well, it’s no secret that hiking has not always been my favourite pastime. However, while I was traveling in South America last year I had a complete, 180 degree change of heart. Now my new travel wish list includes trekking in Nepal near the very top. I attribute this transformation to the power of positive thinking and mental preparation. Don’t pretend that you’re going on a nature walk; be prepared for the worst but take the time to appreciate the astounding beauty of your surroundings. Hiking is a privilege and the most amazing vistas in the world often come at a price.

So, in a roundabout way, this leads me to my most recent “hike” at Diamond Head State Park in Oahu. The last time that I climbed to the top of the Diamond Head Crater was in 2004. I remembered being exhausted afterwards so this time I was prepared for a tough workout. Well, a short 30 minutes after starting our ascent we were at the lookout point on the top. We even passed ladies in high heeled shoes on the path, although they didn’t seem to think the hike was too easy. But, nevertheless, I was completely shocked and couldn’t understand how my memory had gotten it so wrong. The hike seemed more like a nature walk to me but fortunately it still had the payoff with some absolutely stunning views of Waikiki beach and the crater below. It’s definitely a must-do if you’re in Oahu, but for the avid hikers, I hear that Mariner’s Ridge in nearby Hawaii Kai is the real deal.

Hau’oli la hanau – Birthday on the Beach

I can’t think of a better way to spend a birthday than lying on the beach in Hawaii. And, that’s exactly what my mom got to do on our recent trip to Oahu. As I wished my mother “Hau’oli la hanau” (Happy Birthday in Hawaiian) we found ourselves in the town of Kailua on the windward side of the island. It took a 45 minute bus ride followed by a 45 minute walk to get to Lanikai Beach but it was well worth the trip to see if National Geographic had rightly rated it as one of the top ten beaches in the world. What we found when we got there was white, powder-like sand far away from the crowds that constantly swarm Waikiki. This is mainly because Lanikai beach is only accessible through public access paths that cut through the upper-class homes that snake along the coastline of this residential area. In a place that is so infested with tourists, a day of peace and quiet with the locals was a true delight, although we’ve both seen better beaches in the past.

A day on Lanikai Beach

We ended our celebratory first day in Hawaii with a delicious meal at House without a Key at the Halekulani Hotel. This unique restaurant showcases authentic Hawaiian music and hula dancing from 5:30 – 8:30 pm every night. Many people come to enjoy the live music and watch the sun go down from the outdoor patio. We made sure to get there early to secure a table with a view as the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. After the most beautiful and delicious cocktails, our fill of gourmet seafood, and some coconut cake to finish it off, we could easily say we had the perfect evening.

House without a KeyCoconut Cake

House without a Key

Basketball in the Midwest: An Education

Well… I’ve been home almost two days now and I figured it was time to recap my experience in Kansas/Missouri.

As I’ve already mentioned, I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a professional football game while staying in Kansas City. This was a completely foreign event to me. As a proud Canadian, my passion has always been hockey, and the football craze just never really made sense to me. But, being the good student that I am, I learned the basics and was keen to understand what makes millions of people so fanatical.

However, what took me completely by surprise had nothing to do with the NFL… it was something I am very well acquainted with… university. You see, college sports, specifically basketball, are a religion in Kansas. The University of Kansas Jayhawks are the defending National Champions in college basketball and are so incredibly popular that they have huge stores devoted to selling memorabilia and clothing. Rivalries are fierce and family ties are often stretched to the limits. College basketball is actually more popular than the NBA. Needless to say, this is something that very few Canadians can relate to. I know that I would never pay $75 plus to watch a UFV hockey game… sorry team :(

Allen Fieldhouse (KU Basketball stadium)

In addition to my introduction to college sports… I also saw a few other glaring differences between my home in Beautiful British Columbia and life in the Airplane Manufacturing Capital of the World. The first being the number of restaurants and stores. There really isn’t a lot to do in Wichita during the colder months unless you want to eat out a lot… and trust me we did. Seriously America, this is why you are the most obese country in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat out, but I would weigh 900 lbs if I had the selection of restaurants that they have. But, with this immense selection also comes way more alternatives for people with allergies, such as dairy and gluten, and also stores devoted to organic produce. There are definitely some perks associated with the American lifestyle. Oh and did I forget to mention the sunshine… 8 days of sunshine was a welcome reprieve from the constant precipitation in dreary old Abbotsford.

To be fair… I did choose the worst month of the year to make by inaugural visit to Kansas. I have been assured that Wichita is actually quite beautiful in the spring/summer months when it isn’t so dry, and brown, and windy.

Wichita, Kansas

And I am certainly one to give credit where credit is due… and Kansas City (which is technically in Missouri) has a beautiful downtown. I fell in love with the Country Club Plaza district and would love to spend more time wandering around and visiting the beautiful museums.

Country Club Plaza, Kansas City

So in closing… I have extremely fond memories of my time in Kansas, which is thanks to all the wonderful people whom I stayed with. My friends and family made my stay so comfortable and filled with love and laughter… if home is where the heart is than I guess I left a big chunk of my heart in Kansas. There’s just no place like home :)

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

Yesterday was a day of firsts for me: First time in Kansas/Missouri. First tailgating experience. First time gambling in a Casino. It was a real taste of the culture here in the Mid-West.

The day started bright and early with me trying to squeeze into as many layers as possible. We then drove to Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, where tailgaters had been setting up since 8am. We set up our portable barbecue, lawn-chairs, and blankets to enjoy the pre-game fan fair. There’s nothing like beer and chicken wings for breakfast.

Chillin in the Parking Lot!

I had a great time at the game with Jennie, her boyfriend Austin, and a few of their friends. Strangely enough, the main event of the game, occurred off the field and way up in the nose bleed seats. At about 1:00pm, a drunk man in the stands wet himself and had to be escorted down the steep stairs by a couple of security guards. It was the ultimate walk of shame. I really enjoyed my first real football game, but in the end the Chiefs lost to the Oakland Raiders 31-10.

Chief’s Game!

After the game we headed to Harrah’s North Kansas City Casino for a free night in a suite. We had a very healthy dinner, which included an appetizer of fried pickles (aka heart attack on a plate). After our energizing dinner we decided to gamble our lives away… obviously a good decision. Jennie and I tried a few slots which quickly sucked up our money… so we tried to take a stab at Blackjack. It’s a bigger risk but also has much bigger rewards. All day long we had been mocking Jennie about her unluckiness and she didn’t disappoint. She lost her first $20 bucks on the table in record time. So I pushed her aside and proceeded to win and win and win again until I had turned my $20 into $95. I just love winning. Winning is my favourite. I even shouted “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!” when I got a blackjack. I now understand how people get addicted to gambling. It was loads of fun and with Jennie as my personal cheerleader, I was on my way to fame and fortune. Although, I can’t take all the credit, the man beside me coached me the whole way… I must be lucky because I was having trouble even counting to 21… yep, my education is hard at work. In the end, Jennie joined the table, and I took a turn for the worse. I decided to quit while I was still ahead and ended up with $40… still not too bad for my first time.

Today we are taking it easy and spending time at the Country Club Plaza entertainment district, which is actually really beautiful. According to Jennie, Kansas City has over 200 fountains, which is the second most in the world after Rome. Pretty impressive stuff right? Not too shabby Missouri.