Return to Scotland: Part Three

On the second day of our tour, we were on our way to the Isle of Skye. However, our first stop was the Glenfinnan Viaduct. For all you Harry Potter lovers out there, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is the location where the Hogwarts Express passes through in the films. The viaduct’s primary purpose however is to serve as a bridge which services a railway that passes through it. For some of my tour mates, they decided to take the Hogwarts Express train to relive their childhood memories. For the rest of my tour mates including myself we decided to skip the costly train and instead rode on in our bus to where the Viaduct was located. Once there, we took our very own Harry Potter inspired photos while enjoying the scenic mountain area.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

After this, it was time to take the ferry to the Isle of Skye. There is now a bridge which runs to the Isle of Skye, however for the sake of adventure we were made to take the ferry on the way there. After arriving to the Isle of Skye, we needed pass the time as our Harry Potter train riders had missed the ferry. As a result, we decided to check out Armadale Castle. Armadale Castle has castle ruins dating back to the early 19th century. A fire in 1855 destroyed the castle’s interior and it was left to slowly deteriorate as the family moved to a new house. Today the ruins are fenced off but visitors can enjoy the frame of this once beautiful estate. The frame is adorned with climbing flowers which bloom a beautiful fuchsia colour in the summer. In addition to the castle itself, there are magnificent surrounding gardens as well as small nature trails to enjoy where wildlife can be seen.

Armadale Castle

After Armadale Castle, we headed over to a small woodland trail in which we climbed rocks through the misty rain and observed various marine plants adhered to the slick rocks surrounding the water. The colour of them was a vibrant yellow which contrasted beautifully against the overcast sky. After climbing rocks and indulging our inner child, it was time to pick up our Harry Potter stragglers. Once doing so, we headed to our hostel where we made ourselves comfortable, ate some food, and settled in for the night. The next day we would be headed to the Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye which would prove to be extraordinarily beautiful!

Beach in Portree (Excuse the instagram tag, this is the only photo I captured of it

Return to Scotland: Part Two

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.

 

Feeding the Hairy Coos

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.

Glencoe Mountains

 

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Miami Travels: Part Three

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.

Miami Travels: Part Two

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.

Chicago Adventures: Part Two

Chi-Town:The Rest of the Journey

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!

Afterthoughts

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.

Spanish Travels: Part 4

On our final day in Granada, my best friend and I decided to check out Alhambra Palace…. correction… we attempted to check out Alhambra Palace. You see my dears, if you are interested in seeing the palace, you should do one of two things. The best choice, buy your ticket online. Second best, arrive really early to get a ticket. This is due to the fact that there are only a certain amount of tickets sold each day to the public to enter the palace. As a result, when we strolled in at 12 pm, the tickets to the palace were SOLD OUT. If you do not heed my warning, do not think all hope is lost. Alhambra Palace is just one of the many beautiful buildings this fortress complex has to offer. The Alhambra complex has so much more to offer with its botanical gardens, various courtyards, other palaces, and towers to feast your eyes on. Thus, even without being able to enter the Alhambra Palace, it was a day full of adventure. And so, my best friend and I spent the day traversing the grounds admiring the stunning architecture, aromatic and beautifully manicured hedges, and taking in the surroundings and scenery. Please note, when you do visit this complex, make sure to bring snacks. Trust me when I say you will be doing a lot of walking and the eating options are slim. After this, like all good things in life, our time in Granada came to an end. It was a magical city and one which truly filled my heart with joy.

LAST STOP: BARCELONA

Now, I am probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but honestly I am not a fan of Barcelona. Maybe it was our AirBnB being less than perfect, maybe it was the exhaustion of all our travelling setting in, maybe it was the fact there was a terrorist attack just before I arrived, or maybe it was the busy city environment, but Barcelona was not for me. First and foremost, compared to the warm welcome we received in the south of Spain, this was less so the case in Barcelona.. In addition, this city was absolutely packed. So much so that I avoided the famous Sagrada Familia because who is really trying to wait forever to enter a church? I’ll pass. That being said, it is unfair to completely dismiss Barcelona and so if you are keen on visiting, I recommend staying about three days. To make the most of your visit, check out the following places:

Park Güell:

If you made it out to see Sagrada Familia, you will know that it was designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi. As a result, it is only natural that your next stop is Park Güell. This park features many of Gaudi’s impressive architectural masterpieces complete with gorgeous mosaics, impressive pillars, and beautiful gardens. Like many things in Barcelona, save yourself some trouble and buy your tickets in advance. The reason being is that failure to do so will result in you having to buy a ticket for a later entry time sometimes 2 hours after your arrival and while you can traverse the gardens for free, this will probably not be the way you want to start your visit. Furthermore, it should also be noted that there is literally no food around here. If you’ve noticed a theme here, you’ll know that your girl likes to eat. As a result, make sure to pack some food before heading down here to avoid starvation. Trust me when I say those bag of chips will not be enough.

Parc de la Ciutadella:

As you must know by now, you will know that nature is literally my calling. As a result, something as simple as checking the Parc de la Ciutadella, which is a large park located in Barcelona proved to be one of the better moments of my time in Barcelona. This park has a gorgeous water fountain, beautiful greenery, and is complete with a pond. My best friend and I spent a few hours here just hanging out and walking around the grounds and enjoying the fresh air. Couple this with renting out a canoe in the little pond and learning how to canoe on the spot (we are gifts I tell you), it was truly enjoyable to just be. Also, talk about arm workout! Don’t forget to check out Arc de Triomf while there, which is a beautiful archway built in the 1800s.

La Rambla:

Now, my best friend and I only did a short walk through here as the attack in La Rambla market had occurred only about a week prior to our arrival. As a result, when we went things were a little tense. That being said, La Rambla is where the shopping is at. Thus, if you are a shopaholic, then be free my child and shop to your heart’s content.

If you are visiting La Rambla, then you are practically in the Gothic Quarter already. As a result, take a moment to appreciate these medieval streets and artisan shops that line them. Along these streets, you will find neat bars and restaurants to enjoy a drink and people watch.

Tibidabo Amusement Park

As a proud Torontonian, everyone knows what a big deal the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) is to us. It is a fair that spans two weeks at the end of August and includes a plethora of food vendors and amusement park rides for your entertainment. It signals the end of summer for us and our last chance to enjoy it to the fullest. Despite the fact that I am literally never in the country when the CNE is happening, I was feeling a little nostalgic for this experience while in Spain. And so, we went to the amusement park in Barcelona. This was our final day in Barcelona and after an exhausting few days in the city, it was a great end to our journey and travels. When we arrived to Tibidabo, my best friend and I decided to check out the bumper cars. As adults, we often forget that it’s okay to have fun and let loose. We are so tied up in eating the right foods, working towards our dream careers, making others happy, we have forgotten what it means to simply enjoy the moment. We take for granted the time that we have, when in reality we do not know what tomorrow brings. We forget to cherish those we love and make time for them. And so, this was a moment to return to that. To go back to a simpler time.

After enjoying the simple pleasure of bumper cars, it was time to check out the haunted house they had at the amusement park. It was here we met a mother with two children. They spoke to us and asked us where we were visiting from and due to not being a fan of haunted houses, the little girl even reassured me it would be okay. They let us know they lived around the area ,and so the little girl said she had done the haunted house many times before. The cutest thing about it all was when we went into the haunted house, the little girl even grabbed my hand to reassure me that it would be okay. That’s right, me… a grown ass woman was reassured by a little kid. Honestly, it was the most precious moment ever. After making it unscathed through the haunted house, we carried on and checked out the rest of the park. We may have been cold up in that Ferris Wheel with the high altitudes, but we were also so damn happy. While I had not been a fan of Barcelona, it definitely found a way to make sure I would not leave disappointed. For that I was grateful.

Spanish Travels: Part 3

Welcome back my darlings! I know what you must be thinking… she left us for two months and now she’s hitting us two posts in one week! And yes you are correct, when the motivation strikes and the workload finally minimizes you bet I’m going to take advantage of it. So let’s get back to the story!

After an amazing few days in Malaga and saying goodbye to our AirBnB host which was more like a cool aunt, we made our way to the beautiful city of Granada. Granada is a city where people are great, the architecture is spectacular, the views amazing, and where the bees will win the fight you for your food (more on the bees later).

The great thing about Granada is that if you are already visiting Malaga, then Granada is just a short bus ride away. So purchase that bus ticket and let’s get going. My best friend and I had only two full days to enjoy this city and man did we pack in a lot. On the first day our first stop was Basilica of San Juan de Dios. As someone who has seen so many religious buildings in my travels, this one in left me particularly impressed. Honestly, I don’t understand why this place doesn’t get more hype. According to Lonely Planet, this historic basilica was built between 1737 and 1759 and is known for this beautiful baroque decor. This place was true perfection with its gold embellishments and fresco paintings. As if this wasn’t reason enough to visit enough, let’s get into the spooky factor. Anyone who knows me by now, knows I am still not over the fact Halloween is over. I live for the spooky factor and this basilica had just that. With the dim lighting, deep tones of red and brown, and human skulls on display (yea you heard me right), it was certified spooky. Add in the random doors that are painted over and bolted, and we are having a good time. Time to get spooky!

After our spooky adventures and visiting Granada Cathedral, my friend and I made our way in search of Palacio de Dar al Horra. One thing I loved about Malaga and Granada was the Islamic influence found all over the two cities. This palace was a prime example of this. It is a 15th century palace which was the home to Aixa, the mother of a Moorish sultan named Boabdil. For those trying to find this palace, note that its entrance is hidden in an alleyway so be sure to ask some locals to point you to it to avoid wandering aimlessly like my friend and I did.

After finally got our lives together we found the place we were looking for and man were we grateful. It was like finding water in the desert, once we found this place. The Palacio de Dar al Horra has phenomenal views which overlooked the city below and its greenery. Due to it being one of the lesser known attractions in Granada, my best friend and I had lots of space to move freely throughout the residence and admire the Spanish- Islamic architecture. After some time, it was time to move on to El Bañuelo (Arab baths).

According to Go2Alhambra website, it is the oldest and best preserved Arab public bath in Andalusia and dates back to the 11th century. It was not only an important place to wash up, but to maintain social ties. When entering the chambers, take a moment to admire the striking pillars and arches. As you look above you, it is here that you will fall in love. Above your head, light filters in from star shaped cut outs in the ceiling. It truly makes for a magical experience.

After this it was getting late and we were getting hungry, it was here I was about to lose a battle to a swarm of bees. As we went on the hunt for food, we stumbled upon the Paseo de los Tristes. The Paseo de los Tristes is a street full of life and adventure with shops and restaurants lining the walkways and musicians performing in the great outdoors. This walkway is situated below Alhambra palace and so while you are enjoying your meal and entertainment, one only needs to look up to see the magnificent fortress complex we would be visiting the next day. It was almost a perfect ending to the day, until the bees came to attack. My first mistake was that I ordered honey glazed chicken. After getting a few bites of my meal, the bees honed in on the scent of sweetness and sure enough they began to arrive. As my best friend and I tried to gently shoo them away, they were not giving up without a fight. Eventually, it was too much and I had to surrender my meal to them. It’s a sad day when you’re a grown ass woman who can’t stand up to bees. I’m telling you though, those bees were something else. My best friend swears one bee even tried to breakdance in front of us just to gloat. So do yourself a favour, head down to the Paseo de los Tristes, but for the love of God do not order the honey glazed chicken. You’ll thank me later.

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Stay tuned for our trip to the Alhambra Palace complex and my adventures in Barcelona.