This is where I will be posting updates on my everyday adventures on this journey called life.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Paris and Versailles in December


We arrived back in Paris on December 14, 2016.  We headed to our airbnb near Bastille, which was a fun area to be in and explore!  During the next few days, we stopped by La Pyramide du Louvre, La Tour Eiffel (though closed due to a union strike), Trocadero, Notre Dame de Paris, Basilica du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre, and even caught the late show at the Moulin Rouge.  It was everything I imagined it would be and more!  "Feerie" was an incredible show, and I would highly recommend it for a splurge.  

I also had an amazing confit de canard not too far from our airbnb, as well as les macarons, les escargots, and les cuisses de grenouille.  We also took time to explore the different neighbourhoods in Paris, including the Latin Quarter and Chinatown.  Every metro station was decorated by a different artist, and each neighbourhood had its own charm.  Parisians were actually quite nice while we were there, and fairly understanding despite my rusty French.  Though we had purchased week passes, the Metro was free for two days while we were there, which was helpful for my sister who had joined us for the last few days.  

The last full day we were in Paris, we made a day trip out to Versailles.  The estate is enormous and we explored most of it.  I had purchased tickets ahead of time and so we were able to visit with ease.  The gardens were beautiful in their barren state, so I can only imagine how breathtaking they would be in full bloom.  We walked from the Versailles Palace to the Trainon Palaces and the Estate of Marie Antoinette on the other end of the property.  Let me assure you, that this was a trek in itself.  It was hard to imagine people actually living in these estates, due to the sheer size and ornate features.  

Overall, it was a successful trip to Paris, and I am beyond excited to see what new adventures await in 2017!

Venetian for a Day (or two)


The weather was gorgeous when we arrived in Venice, Italy.  This was a city that had been on my travel list since I was 12 years old, so I was really excited to finally visit!  It was warm and sunny when we arrived, a nice 12 degrees.  We took a waterbus to Ca'D'Oro, where our airbnb was located in the Cannereggio district.  After settling into our airbnb, we began our walk towards Piazza San Marco, with a stop by Ponte di Rialto.  We passed by a Gelateria and of course, had to go get some gelato.  This was by far my favourite gelato place during our short stay in Venice.  Ponte di Rialto was lined with businesses with a gondola station right in front.  Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to go for a gondola ride while we were there - but that just means I'll have to go back sometime!  We continued on to Piazza San Marco which was overrun with obese pigeons.  We arrived just as the sun began setting which brought out the gold flecks on the Basilica di San Marco.  The Basilica had tall gold ceilings, which were lit up by the rays of the setting sun.  This was an incredible time to be in the basilica, and I'm so glad we were able to witness it.  We also paid to climb up the Basilica and took close up pictures of the murals on the the outside, as well as the surrounding view of the Piazza.  We later found out that the clear, sunny skies were an anomaly as typical Venetian days in December are incredibly foggy.  Guess we were lucky!

We enjoyed a nice Italian dinner of pasta and wine in a local restaurant in San Marco district, and did some souvenir shopping before returning to our airbnb.  By this time, it was incredibly foggy - especially around Ponte di Rialto.  I bought a nice bottle of limoncello in a beautifully ornate Venetian bottle, and we made another gelato stop at our newly discovered gelateria before retiring for the evening.

The next day, I had arranged for a free walking tour of Venice.  We grabbed a quick breakfast at a local cafe where we had espresso and a sandwich (or two).  For those who may be planning a trip to Venice, keep in mind that there is often a "sit-in" fee if you decide to sit and enjoy your meal as opposed to taking out or eating/drinking at the bar!  It was a foggy December day, and we ended up being the only group on the tour.  This was nice because it was much more relaxed and our guide was able to tailor it based on our preferences.  She was extremely knowledgeable and took us around the various districts in Venice.  We explored small alleys, various canals, and she showed us the different facades for various buildings.  One of my favourite stops was the Libreria Aqua Alta, which is one of the oldest bookstores in Venice.  Because of the frequent floods, this bookstore stores their books in bathtubs and boats.  In the back of the bookstore, the owners had built a staircase out of books that were damaged in previous floods.  If you are ever in Venice, I do recommend a visit to this one of a kind bookstore!

Our guide left us in a nice local restaurant where we enjoyed some "cicheti" (essentially Venetian tapas).  This was a delicious and affordable treat, and surprisingly filling!  We also stopped by Gelatoteca Suso, the best gelato place in Venice.  Our guide had recommended a few places for us to visit, however even with a map, we found ourselves getting lost quite often... it was a lot of walking, however we did manage to visit all of the places on the map.  Unfortunately, half of them were closed (despite the fact that they were supposed to be open!) but it was an adventure nonetheless.  After a long day of walking and exploring, we returned to the airbnb to rest for a bit before heading out for dinner.

We went to a local favourite in our neighbourhood, Trattoria Ca d'Oro alla Vedova.  We started with polpette (Venetian meatballs) and had fresh pasta.  The food was delicious, and the service and ambiance were more than I could have asked for.

With our stomachs fed and hearts full, we retired to the airbnb to rest up before our early morning trek back to the airport.

A Night in Paris, France

Hi everyone!

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to find cheap round-trip tickets to Paris, France and I ended up buying them on a whim.  We flew overnight to Paris and landed around 10:30am on December 11, 2016.  It was my first time flying with Wow Air, and it was basically what you would expect from a budget airline.  A word to the wise: fill up your water bottle at the airport airside (after security) because they don't serve water on the plane!  Also, keep in mind that layover times are incredibly short but they seem to work for the airline.  Though you may feel rushed, you can rest assured that the plane will (most likely) not leave without you.

I had booked an airbnb near Porte Maillot because our airport bus to Beauvais was leaving from a nearby parking lot the next morning. It was a bit of a struggle to get into our airbnb, which is why we ended up at McDonalds (sad to say but I needed wifi!).  However, after a bit of a struggle, we managed to find our way into our airbnb.  It was fairly large for a Parisian apartment but it was perfect for our first night in Paris.  After a quick nap, we headed towards l'Arc de Triomphe.  It was actually quite incredible to see in person, and though we didn't climb up, we spent a lot of time around the outside.  We even crossed into the traffic median in the middle of the street to take better pictures!

Afterwards, we made our way down the Champs-Elysees, which was lit up with holiday lights.  The street was lined with shops and restaurants, and it was alive with the hustle and bustle of tourists.  The Christmas Market lined the Champs-Elysees and was so much fun to walk down.  Stands were lit up with holiday lights, and the smell of mulled wine was in the air, all leading to a giant lit up ferris wheel at the end.  After exploring the market, we made our way toward the Eiffel Tower - after all, you're not really in Paris unless you have a picture with the famous Tour Eiffel!  We got there just around 9pm and were fortunate enough to see the tower sparkle!  I must say, it was smaller than I imagined but it was impressive nonetheless.

By then, we were hungry and were on the hunt for a true Parisian meal.  We ended up back at the Champs-Elysees and had dinner at an outdoor restaurant.  I ordered the boeuf bourguignon, which was saltier than I had liked but good!  After which, we made our way back to our airbnb to retire for the night as we were flying to Venice the next morning :)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A Week in Holguin, Cuba

Hi everyone!

As most of you know, I was able to spend a week at an all-inclusive resort in Holguin, Cuba back in July with my mom!  I didn't get a chance to update until now, but it was certainly a memorable trip.  It was our first time at an all-inclusive resort and definitely our first time in Cuba.  My mom had a week off and I was free, so I looked into affordable trips we could take that would accommodate our schedule, and Cuba fit the bill!

I booked our trip via Air Canada Vacations, and everything went smoothly.  We stayed at Memories Holguin and opted for Diamond Club.  We spent the first two days relaxing on the private beach and sipping drinks by the pool, really soaking in the sunshine and what the Cuban resort had to offer.  But we also tend to get kind of antsy, so we booked two excursions during our stay.

The first excursion was the Sun Cruise, which included swimming with dolphins, a catamaran ride, snorkeling in the coral reef, and a lobster lunch (half-day excursion).  Lots of firsts on that excursion, but really fun nonetheless!  Swimming with dolphins was a lot of fun and they were friendly and well-trained.  There were even photographers on-site who would take professional pictures as well as pictures with your own cameras/phones.  The catamaran was relaxing, but snorkeling was definitely one of the highlights.  The waves weren't as calm as they were the day before (according to our guides) so it was a little difficult to get oriented at first.  It took a bit of practice to get used to the snorkel gear and proper breathing techniques, however once I did, what I was able to see and experience underwater will not soon be forgotten.  Unfortunately, my mother had a lot more trouble with the gear than I did and wasn't able to participate in the snorkeling portion.  She still had fun on the excursion though!

The next excursion we went on was the Bay Adventure, which included a catamaran ride, snorkeling on a different reef, a wildlife observation safari on the secluded island, and a buffet lunch (full-day excursion).  To our surprise, we had the same guide!  Alfredo was great and really friendly, so it was certainly a welcome surprise.  The waters were a lot calmer in this reef, and so mom was able to participate!  It still took a bit of practice but she did end up getting the hang of it.  This excursion is only offered about once a week and so it was a bit more crowded than the other one.  The secluded island wasn't that close and so the crew members would dance and entertain the guests on the way (and kept encouraging full-use of the open bar).  After the snorkel session, we went on the island for the observation safari.  The island had hundreds of different species that were introduced to the area, however we were limited in the animals we saw because the weather was too hot for most of the animals to be out.  Our jeep driver was really helpful in slowing down and pointing out animals that were hard to see.  He even brought us to the highest vantage point of the island which overlooked the gorgeous clear turquoise water.  Absolutely breathtaking.

After the safari, we returned to the restaurant for a buffet lunch.  Mostly Italian influenced, however the meat was Cuban inspired.  After lunch, we had 45 minutes of free time to relax on the beach or to spend how we pleased.  Mom and I decided to go horseback riding on the beach!  It was 3 pesos for 1/2 hr and we had a guide who led the horses.  I guess he could tell that I was really enjoying myself because he would click his tongue and my horse would start trotting, resulting in my extreme laughter and struggle not to fall off my horse!  It was such a fun experience and I'm so glad it was one my mom and I shared.  After our horseback ride on the beach, we made a quick stop by the gorgeous secluded beach where a professional photographer was commissioned to take individual pictures of the guests (included in our package).  Shortly after, we were loaded back onto the catamaran to start heading back to our resorts in Holguin.  It was a fantastic excursion and I highly recommend it.

There was also a bus that came by the resort daily to pick up/drop off tourists to Guadalavarca.  There was a beach and an outdoor market, so we decided to go and see what it had to offer.  The market was petite but great to explore, however the beach was crowded and not as pristine as our resort.  We were glad we went though!

On our last day in Holguin, we booked the Hasta la Vista Holguin tour which was a half-day tour of Holguin and ended in VIP access to the airport lounge with priority boarding.  We chose to do this tour because we wanted to experience a bit of Holguin city before we left.  Our guide was fun and knowledgeable and we were able to pick up some last minute souvenirs. The lounge was quaint but it had A/C, food, drinks, and wifi so we were content.  It was a great end to our relaxing week-long stay in Cuba!

Until next time.  Hasta la vista!

SE Asia: Week 4 - Hong Kong & China

We left Hanoi and headed for Hong Kong for the last week of our journey.  We checked into our accommodation in the Tsim Sha Tsui area of Hong Kong.  If I could do it over, I would definitely have spent more and stayed in better accommodations.  We had decided to invest in an Octopus card, which made getting in/around the city an absolute breeze.

On our first day, we met up with my friend Jasmine for #jalex2016.  We walked around the botanical gardens (and got eaten alive by mosquitoes) and made our way up to Victoria Peak.  We had our first meal in Hong Kong up at the peak and it was delicious!  We took many pictures, shared news and memories, and made new ones until the next time we see each other!

The following day was our first full day in Hong Kong.  We started the morning by trekking to a famous restaurant which served one of my favourite foods - however, we didn't realize it was supposedly a holiday and the restaurant would not be open that day.  Though we were disappointed, we were also not the only ones in line so we didn't feel as bad.  We ended up walking around and grabbing a bite in a nearby neighbourhood.  I had planned to take the Star Ferry and visit the other side of the island, and a walk through the Ladies Market.  We ended up catching a movie at a mall near Central, and then had an amazing hot pot dinner at Nabe One.  Highly recommend!  We decided to go with the Australian Wagyu Beef (middle option) and it did not disappoint!

The next day, we caught up with my friend Andy who was kind enough to show us around Hong Kong.  We went for dim sum, and then out and about in the city.  We made a stop on the other side of the island (near Stanley) and were able to witness a dragon boat race.  Walked around the beach area, and the adjacent market.  Even stopped by a bakery for some snacks.  It was a great tour and I'm so grateful he was able to take time to accommodate us.

The initial plan was for my sister Wendy to fly from Germany to Hong Kong, and we would take the train together to visit our family in Guangzhou, however there were several mishaps regarding her flight.  It ended up being severely delayed, however it worked out in the end because they were able to fly her to Guangzhou without routing through Hong Kong.  We checked out a day early and bought train tickets the next morning to meet her in Guangzhou.

Luckily, my family was able to meet us at the train station (my sister had already been picked up from the airport earlier that morning and was already at the house).  After a near fiasco, we were all finally together in Guangzhou!  It was the first time my sister and my aunts/uncles had met so it was quite a joyous occasion.

My family spent the next few days taking turns spending the day with us and showing us around Guangzhou.  Highlights include Yuexiu Park where we saw the Five Rams Statue, stopped by one of the beautiful gardens, and even spent a day at the zoo about an hour outside the city.  It was great spending time with my sister and extended family exploring the town our family is from, and I'm so glad we had the opportunity.  After a few days in Guangzhou, we said our goodbyes and made our way back towards Hong Kong where we would be spending some time before our journey came to an end.

We made our way to the hotel in Hong Kong, and then went in search of lunch.  We had a quick bite at a Korean restaurant nearby, and then ended up exploring a market or two before having a lovely dinner nearby.  Afterwards, we set out to see the light show at the harbour.  Unfortunately for us, it was raining but it was the only night we would be in town so we had to make it work.  Afterwards, we went in search of the Bruce Lee statue on the Avenue of Stars - the Avenue was under renovations at the time and the statues had been temporarily moved elsewhere.  After a bit of a walk, we managed to find him and some other stars on a semi-private outdoor terrace.  We then retired for the night and prepared to depart for home the next morning.

My sister had an earlier flight and so she set out first.  We spent a bit more time walking around the neighbourhood (and eating!) before finishing packing and heading out ourselves.  The flight was long but uneventful, and before we knew it, our month-long trip had come to an end.  It was quite a trip, and I'm glad I was able to have all the experiences that I did.  Glad I was able to check so many things off my list of things to do, and I'm excited for the next adventure to come!

SE Asia: Week 3 - North Vietnam

We landed in Hanoi in Northern Vietnam around 9pm on Saturday May 7, 2016.  We took a taxi to the hotel we booked for the evening and went in search of nourishment.  Everything in the area started closing early (despite being a weekend) and it became increasingly more frustrating as the hanger settled in.  Eventually, we ended up going to a little restaurant next door to our hotel which was enough to tide us over.

The next morning, we had breakfast in the lobby and checked out as the luxury van pick-up for our cruise arrived.  We had decided to splurge on a luxury cruise with Indochina's Dragon Pearl junk boat cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay.  There were many options for Halong Bay tours, however Indochina is the only company with permission to tour Bai Tu Long Bay, next to Halong Bay but much less touristy.  It was one of the best decisions I had made!

The area on the Bay was lovely and lush.  It was refreshing not being surrounded by a crowd of other tourist boats, and actually quite relaxing.  We kayaked through the Bay 2 of 3 days of our tour, but the highlight was the dinner in a cave.  We spent the few hours before dinner on a private beach on the island the cave was located.  We took a kayak and went out on the water circling the near islands before heading back to the ship to get ready for dinner.  I had secretly arranged for a special birthday surprise during the cave dinner and Indochina delivered!  They surpassed all expectations and I was so happy they were able to accommodate.  Though it was a day before his actual birthday, it was certainly a surprise and definitely memorable.  After a fabulous and romantic 10-course dinner in a cave (as romantic as it could be with 20 people!), they asked him to close his eyes and surprised him with a birthday cake and a small souvenir of a shell with "Halong Bay" written on the side.  The whole experience was simply amazing.

We spent the next two days exploring Hanoi, including a visit to Hoan Kiem Lake, and a stop by Cafe Giang for authentic egg coffee; a specialty of Hanoi.  We made friends with the other guests on the cruise, and we even managed to meet a few for drinks in Hanoi before everyone departed to continue on their separate journeys.  We met at Beer Corner, a popular area for drinks among locals and tourists alike.  Hanoi is a well known destination for young budget travelers, especially with its countless happy hour deals.  Certainly an interesting experience!

SE Asia: Week 2 - South Vietnam

We landed safely in Ho Chi Minh City after a near miss of our flight from Bangkok.  We were met by his family who took us out for dinner and I was able to experience my first real bowl of pho in Vietnam - my favourite food!  I hopped on the back of one of the motorbikes and was thrown right into the hustle and bustle of life in HCMC.  After dinner, we returned to his aunt & uncles' who were to be our accommodation for our week-long stay in HCMC.  Knowing that we would be visiting family, this was the one week where I was hands-off and just went with the flow.  It was a nice break from the constant research and planning I did in preparation for this trip.

During our stay, we spent most of our time eating and enjoying different specialties the city had to offer.  It was a real culinary experience and I am so grateful to his family for their generosity and hospitality.  We spent a day with his cousins and watched Captain America: Civil War, to take a break from the heat.  They took us around different parts of the city, and it was interesting to see the subtle differences between districts.

His family had arranged for a day trip to the islands about 1-2 hours from the city, where we joined a tour who brought us around the 3 different islands.  We had fresh honey and tea, fresh local fruit, and fresh coconut juice from a coconut that grows locally in that area (swamp coconut!).  I was also able to feed alligators!  They would tie a piece of meat to a string that was attached to the end of a thin bamboo pole and you would lower it in and out of the alligator enclosure.  It was certainly an interesting experience, and I'm glad I was able to experience it!

While in HCMC, I also had the pleasure of trying ostrich meat pho.  It was surprisingly similar to beef, and thoroughly delicious.  We also spent time visiting one of the shopping malls in another district, where we were able to order small hot pot in the food court!  While we were there, we also celebrated his aunt's birthday with the entire family.  The last night we were in the city, we enjoyed a homemade meal with the family.  Afterwards, his cousins decided to take us out for a night on the town.  We went to a rooftop lounge in downtown HCMC, where we enjoyed beer towers and fruit while singing along to Top 40 tracks.  It was the best way we could have spent our last night in HCMC!

Late that night was terrible, but for the sake of blogging... I woke up in the middle of the night feeling nauseous.  We were staying on the 3rd floor and the bathroom was a mere 6-8 steps around an L-shaped hallway.  Needless to say, there was an "accident" and a fall resulting in a huge mess and massive bruises.  Not the best way to end a stay, but certainly memorable!

We headed to the airport the next day to continue our journey.