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

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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:

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Pigeons, Puppies, and Pan Pa Ya

Time for another Bogota blog.

Laura and I are quickly learning that Colombia and Canada have more in common than we could have ever imagined. Sometimes we forget where we are… and we often compare the city to Vancouver. That’s probably mostly due to the fact that it rains constantly… we feel so at home. But seriously, they have everything that we have at home plus more. If the embassy is hiring… I’m applying.

So the past few days have been eventful. Yesterday we woke up very early by our standards so that we could beat the morning traffic. Unfortunately mother nature had different plans. Many people in Bogota take the taxi to work and apparently they are not difficult to get. However, when it rains, EVERYONE in the city suddenly jumps in a cab. And in a city of 6 million people you can imagine how that worked out for us. We called a taxi company… but they hung up on us… and then we called them back… and then they put us on hold for a long time. So we decided to try our luck on the streets. After another half hour of waving our arms in the air, a nice lady told us to cross the street instead.

Sidenote: Cars DO NOT STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS EVER in Bogota. There are multiple stars traced on the streets to mark the deaths.

So… with trepidation we ran at the only available break in the flow. Literally seconds later, we were in a taxi. We took an hour ride to the old historic part of the city called the Candelaria. We still arrived before the crowds so we were left pretty much alone in a square with thousands of the fattest pigeons we had ever seen. I decided to buy some food so that Laura could get some good photos. It was actually really fun to get attacked by birds… and they didn’t even poop on us.

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We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the old part. We visited some churches, the library, the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and Juan Valdez… of course.

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We planned to go out again after lunch but Beatrice wasn’t feeling the best (she is almost 7 months pregnant) so Laura called her friend Anne who also lives in Bogota… small world. She is still in high school but magically didn’t have classes that day so we took a taxi to her apartment. Anne lives in a gorgeous place in a very nice part of Bogota. We picked up her friend Santiago and then drove up the mountain to Monserrate, which has beautiful views of the whole city. We took the funicular up to the peak where we wandered around until sunset. There’s a gorgeous cathedral and a unbelievable restaurant that is apparently extremely expensive. I’ve decided that I want to be proposed to in that restaurant… I guess I better start gold-digging.

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We are definitely starting to feel the altitude these days. Any incline pretty much does us in… so that 3 day hike in Peru is going to be interesting. Laura is finally experiencing the tingling limbs that have been plaguing me since the flight here… I’m secretly enjoying her discomfort.

We are both a little concerned about leaving our translator tomorrow. Last night when we walked back to Beatrice’s apartment we accidently got out at complex 9 instead of 9A (they look identical). The guards turned us away and pointed in the opposite direction so we walked around the block to find nothing familiar. We wandered back looking clueless and begged for help. The guard was super nice though and escorted us to the right building. Oh dear… these next few weeks are going to be an adventure. That A in Spanish 101 doesn’t mean much in Colombia.

Enjoying a traditional breakfast of Tamals at Pan Pa Ya.

Today we went to the Colombian equivalent of Tim Horton’s called Pan Pa Ya. We had Tamals, coffee, and Mandarin Juice… delish. We spent most of the day shopping in some of the gorgeous malls that put ours to shame. They have all the stores we have and more. We went into about a dozen jewellery stores looking for an emerald ring for me to add to my collection. We finally found THE ONE so I have a gorgeous ring to show off at home.

Shopping till we drop

Shopping till we drop

I’ve also been christened the Taxi Queen. At least three times now, I’ve separated from the group and immediately got a taxi after we had been trying unsuccessfully for quite a while. It must be my good looks and business skills.

Now… mi favorita nuevo amigo… Paco. This dog just LOVES me. And, I do NOT love him back. I will say that he has been much nicer these past couple of days. Unfortunately, Paco has now learned how to get on the couch and has eaten the carpet, the chair, the plants, the toilet paper roll, Beatrice’s shirt, as well as actual food. Well, he paid the price for his disobedience today. This evening he puked at least six times… probably one for each banana he stole from the kitchen. I almost feel bad for him as he whimpers outside my door… but then I remember Mika’s scar… and the hole in Beatrice’s pants, and the empty living room and the feeling goes away. I will miss Mika, and Beatrice, and Joaquin, and Anne, and Bogota, but I will not miss Paco.

Don’t be fooled by his innocent face… this dog is vicious!

Sidenote: Laura enjoys Paco and finds this whole situation very amusing. What can I say? I am not an animal person. I prefer to appreciate them from a far. Only a very small, select group of exceptional animals work their way into my heart (Stefi… you can tell Wilson that I miss him).

Anyways, we have loved Bogota immensely. Our flight to Cartagena tomorrow is bittersweet. We are excited for heat and a new city but we will miss our friends here very much. I guess we will just have to visit again soon.

“Jesus meets the Holly mother”

Hola mis amigos! Prepare yourselves for the onslaught of travel updates to begin. After a very lack luster attempt at my final exam of the semester… Laura and I eagerly jumped into the back of my parents SUV for the daunting task of crossing the U.S. border. Laura, with wide-eyed fear, waited nervously for our fate. My dad pulled up to the border guard… and to our dismay… it was a woman. No good could come of this. That is until my dad turned on the charm. He immediately won over the female guard, explaining that these two young girls in the back were leaving them behind for a glorious trip to South America. She was so wooed by him, that she neglected to ask us any questions, even which country we were going to. I guess we’ll let that one slide, since most Americans think South America is a country. We were off to a great start. To summarize our epic day of travel. Whitney = 60 hours and 45 minutes without sleep. Laura = Gravol addict. And we both would like to thank Menno Travel for our free guest passes to the President’s Club Lounge in Newark… amazing airport by the way. I now skip ahead to midnight on May 1st when Laura and I were greeted in Bogota, Colombia by my friend Beatrice, who I worked with at Menno Travel and her wonderful father-in-law, Joaquin. We were welcomed with open arms and crashed as soon as we got to our new home away from home.

Beatrice's Apartment

Beatrice’s Apartment

Today was our first full day in South America. We woke up early to take the tourist train to the nearby town of Zipaquira. The two hour ride was filled with photo ops and live music from our cute little traveling band. Upon arrival we visited the Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) which was quite impressive. The underground salt mine boasts the largest indoor cross in the world at 16m tall and 10m wide. We were also shocked to learn that they actually hold weekly mass in this one-of-a-kind cathedral. Although, the mines are frequented by tourists during the day, they still mine 50 tons of salt per day during the night. Along the way we read some interesting Spanish signs with English translations. One of which read, “Jesus meets the Holly mother.” No that was not a typo on my part… apparently we’ve been wrong all along. Holly, not Mary, is the mother of Jesus. We definitely enjoyed that one and are now on the lookout for more Spanglish errors. We ended our time with a short 3D movie about the history of the mine… seriously? 3D? So random.

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Entrance to the Salt Mine

 

Lunch that day was at a typical Colombian restaurant in the town square. I had plantains with the freshest, most delicious guacamole of my life. The only downside of the day was the extremely annoying and continual tingling sensation in my hands and feet. Apparently, this is a very serious side effect of my altitude sickness pills (Bogota is approximately 2500m above sea level). According to my information, I am to seek medical assistance immediately. Oh joy… thanks body… hit me baby one more time.

Mmm… so good!

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Once we were back in Bogota, Beatrice’s father-in-law, my new favourite person, picked us up at the train station. We drove to pick up Beatrice’s four year old daugher Mikaela from her friend’s house. Mika and I are buddies from back in Canada so we were excited for our reunion. We then drove up into the mountains that surround Bogota to Calera where Joaquin’s siblings live on a gorgeous farm. We had tea with his family where I tried to use my newly acquired Spanish skills. I’m giving myself an A+ for effort. We were also able to indulge in some Colombian coffee, and I now fear that I may become an addict by the end of this trip. Sorry Starbucks, but Juan Valdez is where it’s at.

Me and Mika at Juan Valdez

On the way back into the city Laura and I had a sudden and unexpected burst of patriotism when we sang Oh Canada in the car to remind Mika of her birth place. That’s right friends… we’re representing. I guess the view of Bogota by night was just that breathtaking. But honestly, this city is beautiful… which I didn’t expect with a population of nearly ten million. We’ve both felt so safe and welcomed… Colombia is definitely winning us over. The night took an interesting turn when we returned home to find that Paco, Beatrice’s two month old labrador puppy, had completely trashed her apartment. He had destroyed an orchid plant, devoured five bananas leaving the peals all over the floor, ripped up several newspapers, and left six special presents for us all over the apartment. I’m about ready to call the Dog Whisperer. Cute only goes so far before the constant urination and attempts to tear off my jeans with his teeth bring out the worst in me. Although, I am blaming all bad behaviour on the altitude sickness pills. I’m sure Beatrice will forgive me if I accidently lock her dog in the freezer. Well, that’s the condensed version of our first full day. More to come as we continue what is proving to be an exceptional trip thus far. Ciao!