Return to Scotland: Part One

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.

Scott Monument
National Gallery

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 The quiet calm had been replaced by loud excitement and cheer wherever you went.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.

Comedy Sketch by Jilberto Soto
Circus Hub

 

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.

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.

Miami Travels: Part One

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.

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The Sugar Factory

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.

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Me at 11EVEN

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!

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.

Chicago Adventures: Part One

I remember it like it was yesterday… the day I decided Chicago would be my next destination. I was sitting at a job I loathed, wondering if getting a root canal without anesthesia was less painful then being there. As I complained about the circumstances to a friend of mine at the time, it was decided that a holiday was in order.

After weighing our options, we finally decided on the beautiful city of Chicago in the beginning of December of that year.

For those looking to visit Chicago, one thing you should keep in mind is that its reputation as “The Windy City” is no joke. As a result, bundle up darlings because you’re about to get frosty. If you can toughen up and handle the cold during December, I assure you that it is definitely worth your while. While we were there, everyone was incredibly kind and helpful. The city was in full Christmas cheer mode, lit up with Christmas lights everywhere, and the spirit of giving was definitely in the air.

First Day In Chi-Town

On our first day in Chicago, we arrived in the late afternoon and so our first order of business was dinner. We eventually decided on Epic Burger: a fast food chain in America. I don’t know if it’s just because I was hungry, but I swear to you that burger tasted like freaking heaven. It was everything you would want in a burger: crisp lettuce, juicy beef, succulent tomatoes, greasy bacon, and warm melted cheese all on a delicious warm bun. After devouring the burger, it was time to see what Chi-Town had to offer. As we walked downtown, I was struck by the beauty of Chicago’s architecture and how beautifully decorated it was for the holiday season. Christmas lights adorned every lamp post and tree imaginable, restaurant signs seemed to glow brighter than ever, and more than that it truly seemed people were just so damn happy. As someone who has never been a huge Christmas person, it was hard to resist being infected by the happiness that pulsated through the city.

As trotted along, we noticed that Chicago during the holiday season offers a variety of free events and these notices were posted on boards across the city. Events like these only further contributing to the spirit of happiness that was so evident around us. As many of you will probably do once you get to Chicago ,we then decided to visit Millenium Park and get a glimpse of “Cloud Gate.” In the darkness of the night, this metallic structure in Millenium Park so perfectly reflected Chicago’s skyline and beauty. As we continued to explore the area, there was an area where people could skate and just before it a grand Christmas tree adorned in colourful lights. Christmas was in full swing in Chicago, and I for once was all for it! This concluded our first day in Chicago, and it was already winning major points.

Day Two

On our second day in Chicago, we decided on doing the bravest thing yet: Take a boat tour down the Chicago River. Now, you must be thinking… why is that brave? And darlings, if you knew how freaking cold it is to be on a boat tour… on the river… in the middle of winter in Chicago, you would understand the bravery it took. But sometimes you just got to put on your Big Girl Pants and get to it, and so we did. Our tour company: Wendella Boat Tours. Now, just before we headed on our tour we decided to pop into the Chicago Cultural Center. The Chicago Cultural Center is an architectural beauty. It a beautiful landmark building which showcases various art exhibitions, as well as hosts both public and private events. One of the main beauties of this building: the beautiful stained glass dome ceiling in one room. The beauty so magnificent, that there was even a few individuals laying down on the carpeted floor admiring the domed ceiling. If you’re an architecture junkie or just like beautiful things, a visit to Chicago is not complete without visiting here. After this, we briefly checked out Chicago’s Christkindlmarket, a Christmas market modeled after a Christmas market held in Nuremberg, Germany. There was beautiful wooden crafts, and one stall which was of particular interest titled “Dragons and Fairytales” which sold wooden figurines of of dragons and other mystical creatures. After this it was time to head on over the docks to board our boat.

Besides freezing our butts off, the tour was fantastic and our guide was a saint for being as enthusiastic as he was in such cold weather. For anyone really wanting to appreciate Chicago’s architecture, the boat tour is a must! Although, maybe do it in the summertime? As the boat trudged along, the guide explained the different river locks and gave us the history of various buildings we passed by. One of the great things about the tour time we chose is we got to see how beautifully the glass paned buildings reflected the river. As someone who constantly refers to myself as a nature girl, Chicago is one of those cities which has made me realize the city ain’t so bad after all.

After the tour, we headed to a small cafe before making our way to Dylan’s Candy Bar. This candy store was absolutely massive and I imagine is what heaven looks like to a child. There were so many different treats and the decor was absolutely adorable. After this, we grabbed some food at Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse, where the food was delicious and the portions were absolutely massive! Our second day in Chicago was a massive success, and the Windy City was winning over my heart.

*** Stay Tuned for the Rest of the Story***

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.