The next morning began the start of my journey into the Scottish Highlands. As we left Edinburgh behind we ventured off to check out the Wallace Monument in Stirling, which commemorates Sir William Wallace. While I did not particularly know much about the history relating to it, the views from the balcony were fantastic and worth the journey. After this, it was time to visit a pair of famous Hairy Coos, which are a Scottish cattle breed. Here we got to feed the cattle from behind the fence and admire the funky looking cows. Although it may not seem like much, it was an entertaining pit stop that I was happy we were given the opportunity to do.
Now onto the stuff that dreams are made of. After checking out the hairy coos, it was time to go on a scenic hike through Glencoe Mountains. The nature lover in me was beaming as we hiked higher and higher with water streaming from the mountain throughout the trail. It was a surprisingly warm day in Scotland that day and I was forever grateful the weather held up. Once we reached the end of our hike, we had a moment to sit back and relax and drink water directly from the mountain spring. It’s one thing to buy bottled water that claims to be from mountain springs, and another thing to actually drink directly from the spring itself. I’m a city kid so this was an experience I don’t come across too often. This would be end of our first day of the tour, and after the hike we headed to Oban where we spent the night filling our bellies and preparing for our journey to the Isle of Skye the next day.
If you have been following my blog, you will know that I visited Scotland once before in 2014. After four long years and watching far too much Outlander, I decided it was time to head back and really take the time to discover this beautiful country. This time, I would be heading to Scotland to appreciate the Fringe Festival and the Scottish Highlands.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival of the world featuring thousands of performers. This festival usually takes place during the first three weeks of August and it is something I truly believe everyone should experience. The first time I was in Edinburgh, it was a quiet and charming city. During the festival, this all changed. The quiet calm had been replaced by loud excitement and cheer wherever you went. Anywhere I turned there were street performers and flash mobs happening. When I first arrived, I watched a play about women’s role in the Vietnam war, followed by a comedy sketch by the lovely Jilberto Santos, and lastly a circus performance by the incredible Circolombia. What I loved about seeing Edinburgh in festival mode, was the diversity. Whereas it normally isn’t quite diverse, it was now filled with people from across the globe to celebrate this festival. During this day, I would also check out the National Gallery and revisit Calton Hill as I did so many years ago. This would be the beginning of my journey, and the next day would be the beginning of my adventure into the Scottish Highlands.
As the sun began to rise the next morning, I got ready and headed towards the meet up location for Haggis Adventures. It was with this tour I would spend the next five days exploring the Highlands which would include visits to the Isle of Skye, searching for the Loch Ness Monster, and taking part in a traditional Scottish Ceilidh (dance). So stick around, and see what this new adventure would bring.
My decision to go to New Orleans, like all my decisions in life, was a sporadic one. I had recently gone back to school, and I was in a desperate need of a holiday. So when the first semester was over, I headed to New Orleans for a change of scenery and a little bit of soul searching. It would be my first trip being solo for the entire duration of the holiday. While the trip would not end up being what I expected, I think it was an important journey to take. It was an important journey to take because it made me realize I was capable of travelling completely alone.
One fantastic thing about New Orleans is their public transit system. The streetcar lines that run through the city will get you to all the main spots of where you want to go. Simply download the CTA transit app on your phone and you can buy unlimited ride passes for 1,3 or 7 day passes to be used on the streetcars. It should be noted that these passes are only valid for the CTA transit routes, so make sure when planning your transit travels to check which transit operators you will need to use before purchasing passes.
Another good thing about New Orleans is the abundance of seafood that can be found. A great place for local cuisine is a place called Neyow’s Creole Cafe. The wait to be seated in this place is painfully long but it is so worth it. Looking for great breakfast food? Check out The Bean Gallery located near City Park for delicious paninis and sandwiches.
Speaking of City Park, this lovely park is a must see before you leave New Orleans. This park is full of beautiful greenery and has an amusement park for children called Storyland. For the adults visiting, The New Orleans Museum of Art is located within the park and attached has the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. In other words, City Park is your one stop shop for art, nature, and amusement.
Now, if you are into partying hard then Bourbon Street is where you want to head on down to. If you’ve been to Phuket, Thailand, consider this the equivalent of Bangla Road. It is full of people with over-sized drinks in their hands, partying in the streets, and music blaring from various establishments. While I avoided this street like the plague due to travelling alone, my brief walk through it to get to my destination said it all. Want to party? Bourbon Street will be your best friend.
If you’re looking to enjoy New Orleans fantastic music scene without the havoc and mayhem, check out Frenchmen Street instead. I made it a point to visit Balcony Music Club while in this area and I am glad I did. The place was fairly large and offered great live music that soothed the soul.
Aside from music, don’t forget to check out their incredible art scene in New Orleans and consider supporting their economy by investing in some pieces. Before heading to Balcony Music Club, I checked out Secondline Arts And Antiques. Like everyone else in New Orleans, the staff were incredibly pleasant and made my experience shopping there an absolutely great one.
Other things to do in New Orleans include taking a swamp tour (avoid in the winter, as alligators hibernate during this time), going on ghost tours to acquaint yourself with New Orleans haunted history, and checking out some of the plantations in Louisiana to acquaint yourself with America’s dark history. Maybe it’s because I majored in history but the history provided on the plantation tours were very simplistic and didn’t truly convey what truly went on during the period of time when slavery operated. That being said, to those not familiar with America’s history it is a decent introduction to what occurred.
New Orleans is still a city very much struggling from the events from Hurricane Katrina which left over 1,800 dead and caused $125 billion in damage. As a result, there are many parts of the city that remain rundown and impoverished. The best way to help, is to invest in their economy and support their local businesses when you go down to visit. New Orleans has so much potential and one only has to look at their French Quarter with its beautifully coloured buildings to see its beauty. So head on over to New Orleans and help make it become the city it is capable of being.
The final day in Miami was upon us and man had it been an amazing ride so far. Our plan for the day consisted of going to Vizcaya Museums & Gardens, followed by the Venetian Pool and lastly a stop at Calle Ocho. Our first stop, Vizcaya Museums & Gardens was the former villa and estate of the businessman James Deering. The villa was interesting but it was the surrounding gardens which won my heart. The gardens were beautiful manicured and included several fountains and beautiful sculptures. While I did not care for the actual history, I admired the property for its greenery and the work in keeping it so beautiful maintained. So do yourself a favour, and make sure to check out Vizcaya the next time you head to Miami.
After wandering through the grounds of Vizcaya, it was time to soak in the sun and so we headed to the Venetian Pool in the Coral Gables District. This pool is a public pool which has a lovely man-made waterfall and places to lounge around while you get your tan on. After spending the last two days at the beach but not being brave enough to venture into the water, the pool was the perfect way to perfect my swimming skills. After lounging around here for some time, we headed out our final stop of the day: Calle Ocho.
Now I’m going to be real with you in that Calle Ocho didn’t do much for me, but what they did have going for them was honestly the best food I had during my trip. Calle Ocho is Miami’s Cuban district and it was here I had some delicious Cuban cuisine. We went to Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina where I ordered the Lechon Asado with beans and rice and fried plantain. It was absolutely delicious. To top it all off, the staff serving us were an absolute delight. Unfortunately, I did not get any photos at the Venetian Pool because water and phones don’t mix and at the restaurant I was too hungry to pause and take a photo of the food. But, enjoy all the images of Vizcaya and just believe me when I say Old’s Havana is absolutely worth every single dollar. This concluded our trip to Miami and it was perfect way to unwind after a stressful few weeks. Thank you Miami for your hospitality and while you broke my bank account you were worth every penny.
Waking up with absolutely no responsibilities or obligations has got to be one of the best feelings in the world. As your eyes begin to open, the time on your phone reads 11:00 am. Now, usually this would be a cause for alarm but not today. Today, it’s all about relaxation mija. The only preoccupation is deciding if you should go to the beach first or later. We decided on heading to the Wynwood Art District first. The Wynwood Art District is an area of Miami where everywhere you turn there are murals on the walls. The art, however, is not limited to the walls, but covers every available space imaginable including the sidewalk itself. This district is a place for freedom of expression and it is here you get a sense of the emotions and feelings that run through Miami. You see joy, elation, and celebration but you’ll also see sadness and pain. It is the human experience conveyed through this artistic expression. It was here we spent some time appreciating the artwork and seeing how the swampland and vibrancy of Miami were blended together within art. The soul of Miami was found here and I recommend that anyone who comes to Miami needs to visit Wynwood before leaving.
After immersing ourselves with beauty, we concluded our visit by heading to Coyo Taco. As someone with a love for tacos, these were absolutely delicious! Another plus, the awesome Frida Kahlo painting in the women’s washroom. Following this, we headed to South Beach for the second day in a row and got our tan on. With the sun shining bright and Spotify playing in the background we were all set to relax for the rest of the day.
As the day drew on, we began our hunt once again for food and stumbled upon Il Bolognese on Ocean Drive. I don’t know if its just because I was hungry from all the sunshine and walking, but man the food was delicious. Afterwards, we headed back home to prepare for our night out at El Patio Wynwood. El Patio proved to be just what we needed. Its offered Latin tunes in a cute rustic setting. Our promoter of the night, Chally was an added blessing and as a result it was the best night we had in Miami. So, if you like Spanish music, make sure to check out El Patio and become the dancing superstar you were destined to be.
After a brutal few weeks with assignments back to back, it was time to treat myself to another vacation. And so, when reading week came around it was time to pack my bags and head to Miami, Florida. With the temperatures in Canada being incredibly frigid, the warm weather was very much welcomed.
Upon arrival, our first order of business was to get some food in our bellies. First stop: The Sugar Factory. The sugar factory is more than just a candy store. It is a restaurant with a huge menu and even bigger drinks. It seems that in America the mentality is go big or go home, and man oh man did these drinks deliver! My friend and I shared the Watermelon Patch drink which was a fruity, fizzy delight. After our delightful drink and filling our bellies with quesadillas, it was time to head over to South Beach.
The purpose of this trip, unlike many of my other trips was to simply go with the flow. And so, that is exactly what we did. My best friend and I lounged on South Beach and began working on our tan. While we were there various promoters reached out to us regarding different club events that were being hosted, which meant the night was about to be all expenses paid. Woohoo!
After the beach, we went to get some dinner and eventually headed back to our place to squeeze in a power nap before letting the night commence. The itinerary for the night: Rockwell Nightclub followed by 11even Nightclub.
I’m going to be completely honest in that I have never really been big into party scenes. However, being in Miami I had to suck it up and head out to see what the hype was about. First stop: Rockwell.Now Rockwell personally wasn’t my thing, it was a lot of private booths with very little room to dance. And while I was privy to being in these private booths, I honestly just wanted room to dance. In addition, the music during that night was almost exclusively hip hop. So after awhile, it was time to head to 11even. What I liked about 11even was the enormity of it. The place was massive and included performers dancing upon a stage which was super cool. After our night out, it was time to get a post-club meal at The Tavern. I’m telling you that this 24/7 eatery had some of the best damn fries and coconut shrimp ever! They were the perfect ending to our first day in Miami. Stay tuned to hear the rest!
On our third day in Chi-Town, we decided to start our day off at Corner Bakery Cafe, an American chain of cafes. After indulging in a sandwich to fill our hungry bellies and a warm tea to brace up for the chilly Chicago air, we headed onto our next adventure of the day: Revisiting the Chicago Cultural Center. The first time around we were on a time crunch due to our boat tour, and so this time we were able to truly take in the different exhibits. After this, we made our way over to The Magnificent Mile. The Magnificent Mile is Chicago’s upscale commercial district . Although, I am by no means in a position to purchase expensive brands it was great to just window shop as we walked along the mile.
As we walked along the mile, we headed on over to the Cub’s Clubhouse; a gear shop full of Chicago Cubs apparel. After this, we simply walked through the streets and eventually stopped by the AT&T store on Michigan Avenue. Now, you may be wondering why is it that I stopped by a phone store while in Chicago? The reason is simple. During the time I was there, the AT&T shop was promoting the Justice League movie and as a result had costumes on display that were worn by the actors of the movie. In addition, they also had props and other interactive displays relating to the movie. It was an unexpected surprise and after spending far too long in here, we headed over to The Shops At North Bridge. The Shops at North Bridge is a mall located on Michigan Avenue with a plethora of different stores for all your shopping needs. After entering the mall, we ended up coming across Charming Charlie. At the time, this store did not exist in Canada and I’m telling you it’s the cutest store in the entire world! If you are a girly person and love all things cute, this store is a must for you. Even as someone like myself who spends more time in gym clothing than real clothing, it was hard to resist the allure of this little shop. As a result, I ended up walking out with two scarves and the cutest fox shaped bag. Adorable!
We then headed on over to Goddess & The Baker to enjoy some delicious dessert. If you are headed to Chicago, this bakery is a must and their rainbow cake is absolutely delicious! Furthermore, this place is incredibly homey and it was here we began to draw our day to an end. The rest of the night was spent indoors, making use of the pool table in our AirBnB. Although I did not win the game, it was a great time nonetheless! Thank you Chicago for your hospitality, you truly were amazing!
There are a few things I didn’t get the chance to see in Chicago that I recommend people try and see during their visit. For starters, I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Museum of Contemporary Art and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting. Another great museum to check out, The National Museum of Mexican Art. If you’re a baseball fan, check out the Wrigley Field to watch a Chicago Cubs game. And last but not least, the Chicago 360, an observation deck with a tilting glass lookout.
Two things that really stuck out to me during my visit in Chicago was how amazing their transit system is (and how underutilized it is) and the sheer hospitality of the people in Chicago. Maybe it was because it was the Christmas holidays, but what I observed in one instance was a cook offering food to a homeless man, someone on the bus offering clothing to another individual during the frigid temperatures, and just the general kindness of everyone I interacted with in all the shops and outings while I was there. Another great thing that Chicago had implemented was heated bus shelters in some areas. While it may not seem like much it made waiting for the train a little less painful. So thank you Chicago for showing me the kindness that exists in the world and for being an absolutely beautiful city.