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.

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 2

It’s been awhile and man have I missed you. But like some relationships in your life, sometimes you just need some space. That is not to say that I have given up on you, but rather I have been off pursuing a diploma in college. That’s right, your girl is back in school! As a result, my time has been occupied with assignments, but I can never forgot you. How can I? You are the one who has allowed me to keep this dream alive. By reading my posts, you the reader has kept me going. So thank you and let’s continue where we left off, shall we?

When I last left you, we were in the beautiful city of Malaga, admiring its botanical gardens and caves which are said to be filled of treasure. This was not the end of my journey in Malaga, however, but rather there was two more whole days in this beautiful city! So let’s get into what it is we did during the rest of our trip.

  1. Alcazaba de Malaga
    This beautiful fortress dates back to the Hammumid dynasty in the early 11th century. It’s name meaning “citadel” in Arabic. The Alcazaba is built on a hill in the center of the city and what makes this fortress so astounding is that it is not only a visual representation of Arabic influence and power, but of Roman influence which came centuries before. Adjacent to the Alcazaba one can see The Roman Theater which predates the fortress and is a relic of its era. As someone fascinated by history, I am always amazed by the footprint those before us left behind and the Alcazaba is one of those footprints you will not want to miss.
  2. Castillo de Gibralfaro
    Now, if you are already visiting the Alcazaba then chances are you will buy a joint ticket to check this fortress as well. After walking up a hill for what seemed like eternity and taking stops to enjoy the view of the bay (and so my asthmatic self wouldn’t collapse), we finally made up to the top of the hill and reached the Castillo de Gibralfaro. Upon reaching the castle, my friend and I walked along the castle walls and enjoyed the green shrubbery this castle was adorned with. It was a nice little stop, but if you are someone who struggles with uphill climbs, I would advice you to take a tourist bus or taxi to reach this destination. Trust me, you will thank me.
  3. Museu Picasso Malaga
    Now, I’m going to be real with you that this museum is great if you actually like Picasso. If you are like me, who never really understood the whole cubism thing, you may want to skip out on this place as it tends to be overcrowded and is quite pricey. For all you Picasso lovers out there, rest assured there are a lot of sculptures and paintings to make your heart fill with joy. As an added bonus, the architecture of this museum is absolutely beautiful and with my best friend dressed to impress (seriously this girl is a straight up model) , her photos came out amazing! So Picasso lovers out there, go see your boo. But for the rest of you all, maybe think twice.

4. Playa de la Malagueta
And finally, just relax. You’ve worked hard. You’ve killed yourself saving up for this trip and it is time to stop running around and just enjoy the beautiful weather in Spain. Vacation is not always about running around like a chicken without head, but rather it is about being in the moment. And so, sink your feet in the sand and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin as you close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the waves hitting the shore. This is why you came to Spain! And so, on our final day in Malaga, this is what we did. Breathe in…. breathe out. This is happiness.

Spanish Travels: Part 1

After spending a few hours in Faro, it was time to hop onto an overnight bus to Malaga, Spain. It was here we would spend the next three days exploring this beautiful city and all it had to offer. Upon arrival to Malaga, we were met with an incredibly kind Airbnb host and her lovely cat. She was like an aunt to us and we would start our day talking to her and listening to her recommendations, as we listed our supposed plan for the day. It was great to come home each night and have someone ask us how our day had been and what we had been up to. Traveling can make your homesick, and she made us feel a little less so.

Once we did get settled in, we made our way to our first stop: Botanical Gardens of Malaga. These botanical gardens expanse 25 hectares of land and include both tropical and subtropical plants from five different continents. Over the centuries, it has been the site for politicians, artists and nobility to meet. As a lover of all things outdoors, it was the perfect start to my day. With its beautiful flora, small trails, and carefully manicured shrubbery, one could spend hours here alone.

After the gardens, it was then time to check out the Cuevo del Tesoro. For those arriving into Malaga, this cave sits in a small suburb of Malaga easily accessible by public transit. Furthermore, if you visit on Monday, you will be happy to know it is free to visit. One important reminder is to check the opening times of the caves as it closes and reopens throughout the day.  When we arrived to this small suburb, we realized just that and ended up with three hours to kill before the cave opened up again for the day. It was during this time that we simply napped on a park bench and then walked to the grocery store for some snacks.  Now a little background about the cave. Cueva del Tesoro is the only marine cave that can be visited in Europe. Legend has it that a secret treasure was hidden in this cave by the Almoravid king Tashfin ibn Ali in the 12th century. Over the centuries, people have become fascinated with the legend of hidden treasure. So much, that one Swiss man would dedicate his life to finding it and ultimately died in his quest for it.Whether there truly is treasure hidden in these caves, what is true is that the cave is a treasure in itself.  As my friend and I fell behind from the other people visiting, we were given many moments of solace to appreciate the silence that fell upon the cave. The only sounds being that of the water dripping from the stalactites and freshwater streaming through the cave. It was a humbling experience. Being part of a society in which people never seem to pause due to the busyness of everyday life, it was great to press pause and enjoy. Instead of being connected social media outlets and falsified representations of experience, we were connected to the Earth itself.

After enjoying the reprieve, it was time to head back home. It been a long journey and a day full of adventure. Now it was time to rest, and boy did it feel good.

***

Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures in Malaga.

Travelling in Portugal: Part 3

If you read my last post, then you will undoubtedly know that Uber in Lagos is incredibly unreliable. Before we continue into Spain, I will break down what occurred on that fateful morning on our way to the bus station to head to Faro, Portugal. A pit stop on our way to Malaga, Spain. It was one hell of a journey friends.

The Story

The day began with my best friend and I waking up early in the morning to catch our “8:30 am” bus to Faro. What started off as a regular day would soon become the most stressful morning of our entire vacation. As we stumbled out of our accommodations and opened up the Uber app we were greeted with a message neither of us wanted to see “no Ubers available in your area.” With still some time to spare we decided on walking from the bus station. Three mistakes were made that day:

  1. Relying on Uber and then choosing to walk to the bus station
  2. My outfit
  3. Not checking the time of the bus the night before

All these three things together resulting in dire consequences. As we walked towards the bus station about 30 minutes away, it was very evident I had made my second bad decision of the day with my outfit. I had decided to wear a black sweater in thirty degree heat, and the sun was merciless. As if this was not bad enough, ten minutes into walking towards the station, my right sandal broke. With my other shoes tucked deep inside my suitcase, I had a decision to make. Would I risk opening my suitcase in the middle of the street? Or would I attempt to walk the rest of the day with one sandal on. I chose the latter. As the time passed and the temperature rose, so did our tension. We were like a volcano ready to erupt and that we did. After yelling to my best friend to haul a cab which we saw in the distance, she loudly responded “NO”… or so I thought. And so, the smack down commenced. As I continued to erratically yell about my barefoot situation, she clarified she had never said no, but rather said “OK!” Whoops, my bad. As we finally hauled the cab and arrived at the bus station, we thought the worst was over…rookie mistake. As Ivgot the tickets out, I noticed that they were for an 8:00 am departure not an 8:30 am departure. It was now 8:05 am. At this point I was 100% done. I looked over to my best friend helpless as she proceeded to go to the ticket vendor to see if there was another bus available that day that headed to Faro. A few agonizing minutes later, we received the news which would salvage this terrible morning. There was one last bus available headed to Faro bus station at 8:30 am that day. We were saved. With the fantastic news that we would make it to Faro that day, I was finally given a moment to open up my suitcase and find shoes that I could actually walk in.

***

After winding through the streets of Portugal, we finally made it to Faro. Unfortunately due to time constraints, Faro was merely a transit stop on our way to Spain. However, upon arrival it is evident that this small city should at least be given 24 hours. The city was charming in its main center with its small shops and cobbled streets. As we navigated through the streets, we finally were able to just sit back for a moment and relax. Have more than a few hours in Faro? Visit Old Town Faro, known for its beautiful architecture, cobbled streets, and Faro Cathedral. In addition, this small city is also the gateway to Ria Formosa Nature Park for all you nature enthusiasts out there. The park is considered one of the 7 wonders of Portugal complete with mazes of canals, marshes, and islands. Whatever you folks, always check your bus tickets and wear sensible clothes. This has been a public service announcement.

Travelling in Portugal: Part 1

Growing up in Canada and particularly in the areas I attended school, I was constantly surrounded by Portuguese people. After seeing photos of their hometowns and hearing the experience of various coworkers and old classmates, I decided that a trip to Portugal was long overdue. And so, in mid-August of last year I decided to head over to Portugal’s beautiful capital, Lisbon.  Below I will break down all the things to do in Lisbon and its surrounding areas.

1. Tower of Belem

Want to visit a 16th century tower once used as a lookout to protect Lisbon? Look no further than the Tower of Belem. Situated at the mouth of the Tagus River, this beautiful 16th century tower offers beautiful architectural design and instagram worthy backgrounds. If you are planning to head there during peak season (July-August), do yourself a favour and buy your ticket in advance to enjoy everything this little tower has to offer without the two hour wait. If you have time, make sure to visit Jeronimo Monastery complete with beautiful gardens and more stunning architecture.


Tower of Belem photos 


Jeronimo Monastery in the background 

2. The Berardo Collection Museum

While we unfortunately did not have the chance to visit the museum as it was closed during our time in the area,  this museum is a must with works from Picasso, Bacon, Warhol and many other famous artists. If you’re looking to save a couple of dollars, visit the Berardo Collection Museum on Saturday when it is free all day to the public. After your visit, relax on the museum’s terrace and enjoy the sweet sunshine.

3. Bairro Alto

Hey there foodies and cocktail aficionados, don’t forget to check out Bairro Alto before you leave Lisbon. This eclectic neighborhood has got your back for all your food and drink needs. Want to enjoy a night out without frequenting a nightclub? Check out PARK bar in Bairro Alto. This bar was recommended by our Uber driver and is a rooftop bar that is situated on top of a parking garage. It will make you feel like your sneaking into a speakeasy during prohibition.  With beautiful views of the city and great drinks it cannot be missed. To make the most of your visit to PARK bar, arrive early to get a great seat with a view as this place fills up fast!


Not the best view from PARK bar, but the only photo I took that night 

4. Day trip to Sintra

During one of my days staying in Lisbon, we made a day trip to Sintra. The trip is easily accessible via train which can be taken from Rossio station or Estação do Oriente. If you can, consider making this a two day trip as there is so much to see and so little time. Our two main stops during our visit to Sintra was Castelo dos Mouros and Pena National Palace. Castelo dos Mouros is a beautiful medieval hilltop castle and a UNESCO Heritage Site which will offer you the refreshing mountain air that us city folks are always grateful for. After this, head on over to Pena National Palace, a beautiful colourful masterpiece and also home to an immense national park. Have more time in Sintra? Visit Quinta da Regaleria estate in Sintra. While we did not get a chance to see it, the photos I have seen from acquaintances who have gone are phenomenal. It is truly like living in a fairy tale. Before heading back to Lisbon, take a moment to sit down and enjoy a glass a wine at one of the many restaurants with a view overlooking the city. Nothing better than sitting down and enjoying a glass of sangria after walking all day long.

5. Day trip to Portinho da Arrábida or Cascais

After a long night partying in the city of Lisbon, our final day in Lisbon was spent in Praia do Creoro (Portinho da Arrábida); a beautiful beach situated in a national park in the small town of Setubal. With crystalline waters surrounded by magnificent limestone cliffs, it was absolutely spectacular. Be sure to make the most of your visit by arriving early and hiking the beautiful park. For those who are not renting a car,  consider visiting Cascais instead which is more easily accessible by transit routes. While it does not offer the amazing lush green landscape of Portinho da Arrabida, it will be the little beach getaway you need away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon.

Whatever you end up doing friends, know that Portugal is the hidden gem you wish you knew about sooner. With its pristine beaches, gorgeous architecture, delicious food, and friendly people there is so much to love about this great little country. But the adventure is not over yet, stay tuned for my next stop to Lagos, Portugal where there is more fun in the sun to be had. Until next time!

Six More Tips and Tricks for Your Next Holiday

Hey guys,

After spending some time talking to one of my closest friends about my experiences travelling, I realize that my tips and tricks did not end with my previous Top Ten post and so I here I am continuing to share my wisdom. Whether you are a solo traveler or travelling with a group of friends, let me help you navigate your way around the world.

1. Download an offline map on your cellular device before heading abroad

During one of my first trips abroad, a friend I was with had downloaded an offline map to help her navigate the country we were in. Before this, I never knew there was such thing as an offline map and was astounded by this information. And so, my advice to you is to consider downloading one before taking off. With the rise of technology these days, there are a wide range of offline maps available.Not only do these maps offer the lay of the land but are also able to give you directions on how to get to and from places. My app of choice: Maps.Me. What makes this app superior to the rest is it is your one stop shop for offline maps spanning the globe. Thus, if you are planning on visiting multiple locations on your trip simply download the app and the offline map for each country and you are ready to go!  No flipping through multiple applications on your device!

2. Get an external battery case/pack for your phone

We all know that dreaded moment when you’re travelling and having fun, and suddenly your phone dies. Not only are you now left with no means to capture the scenery that surrounds you, but you have also lost your means of communication and means to navigate the city (offline map mentioned above). The solution: an external battery pack.  For those wondering where to purchase such things, Amazon offers a broad selection, as well as your local Costco, or electronic stores. While I am guilty of not having an external battery pack, I have in more than one occasion kicked myself because of it. As a female traveler, it definitely provides you with a peace of mind when traversing the streets abroad.

3.  Heading to a country that doesn’t speak your language? Don’t fret. Google Translate is coming to your rescue…most of the time. 

If you are heading to a country in which you are worried about travelling to due to the language barrier, do yourself a favour and download the offline official language of the place you are visiting. Now while we all know that Google Translate isn’t perfect at translations, something is better than nothing. If the country your visiting has an entirely different alphabet, do not abandon ship. Rather, if you find yourself lost in a foreign country, visit a tourism office, hotel, or currency exchange business where more often than not there will be someone who speaks English.  So, take a breath, calm down, and look around for the following establishments. Do not let your fear of the language barrier keep you from travelling. If I can do it, so can you.

4. Opt for shorter tours rather than lengthy week long tours 

My advice is often to do as I say, and not what I do. And so, while I am incredibly guilty of purchasing longer tours,  it is not the most time efficient means to see all the sights in a country. The reason being is usually on these tours you spend a lot of time on buses and/or boats and have shorter periods of times to check out the cities you are visiting. That being said, the positive aspects of week long tours is the sense of comradery that is created among travelers. During my travels, I have participated in two group tours and while I do wish we did have more time checking out certain sights or were able to arrive earlier, I would not change my decision to go on a group tour.  That being said, if you are more concerned with seeing sights then consider opting for shorter tours instead and doing more individual travel.  In doing so, will maximize your time visiting the sights on your list while having a taste of the comradery among travelling strangers.

5. Do not let fear stop you from travelling alone 

As I mentioned in my previous posts, after my friend unfortunately could not join my tour in Greece I made the decision to head to Greece alone.  So how did I survive?  Just breathe. Travelling alone, especially as a female was absolutely terrifying. As I sat there boarding my flight, all I could think about was every goddamn news headline about violence towards women across the globe and atrocities committed to us. Do not let that fear stop you. Now let me ask you something? Wherever you live currently, Have you not faced unpleasant experiences and found yourself in dodgy areas every now then? And yet, here you are. Breathing and living.  Do you spend every waking minute of your daily life fearing everyone who shares a sidewalk with you? No.  So, take that leap of faith and head on out there. For those who are afraid of getting lost, consider doing your first solo trip with a tour group (I know I’m contradicting my previous point here). The website TourRadar allows you to compare and purchase tours across the globe run by various tour operators.  I have had nothing but positive experiences using them and would highly recommend utilizing their services. Want to bite the bullet and go completely solo? Consider staying in hostels.  Whereas hotels can often leave you feeling isolated, hostels are great in that you will meet other travelers like yourself who you can easily bond with. Furthermore, many hostels offer a variety of tours and events to help you mingle with travelers and make friends abroad. Whatever you decide, just take the leap and go for it!

4. Looking for suggestions and a free place to stay? Check out Couchsurfing.

This platform offers travelers a space to ask locals questions about the best places to visit in the country they are travelling to. Not only this, but as the name suggests Couchsurfing  provides a platform for travelers with a shoestring budget to meet locals willing to offer a place to stay for little to no cost.  The great thing about this app is as more people stay with these hosts, references are added to their profile to ensure they are a safe and good host. While I have not used the following app, I have met many travelers abroad who rely on this app and have had great success.

5. For the love of God, get travel insurance.

I know, I know. What are the odds that something will happen to you while on vacation, right? Well as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  And so, do yourself a favour and get yourself some travel insurance. You never know what will happen while zip lining cloud forests, hiking mountains, and visiting sanctuaries or simply walking down the street. Although I only had to use my travel insurance once while abroad it was at that moment I realized how important my insurance was. Furthermore, nowadays many travel credit cards already include travel insurance with them so consider getting a travel credit card to save yourself some major bucks. Those looking to get some serious protection? Look no further than WorldNomads. While many travel insurance companies only offer protection in regards to basic activities, trip interruptions, and personal belongings, WorldNomads can be customized to protect you during all your adrenaline fueled activities.  Whatever travel insurance company you choose, stay safe my friends!

6. Bring an extra credit card with you and inform your bank of your travel plans

Now, here is the thing.  You never know what might happen when you go on vacation and sometimes that might mean that one credit card you didn’t think would get lost or stolen is now out of your possessions.  As a result, you are now left with only the spending cash you brought with you and no emergency fund. As a result, I strongly urge you to consider bringing two credit cards on vacation. Before doing this, however, make sure to inform your bank of your travel plans. I know a lot of banks nowadays state this is no longer necessary due to them being able to recognize your patterns of spending but take the two extra seconds and let them know. As someone who was told two days before a trip that my credit card has been compromised and I was almost left without a backup plan, trust me when I say you will want one.