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Visit to a Cabane à Sucre

Spring is here and it’s a good time to visit a cabane à sucre (sugar shack). Sugar shacks are family owned operations of maple syrup producers. A bunch of us headed to the Temple Sugar Bush in Lanark, Ontario for brunch and a walk on the property’s nature trail. A typical sugar shack meal includes buttermilk pancakes, sausages and maple baked beans.

Typical sugar shack meal: buttermilk pancakes, sausages and maple baked beans.DSC_9829  DSC_9848DSC_9851

Sap is collected by tapping maple trees and having it drip into hanging buckets. It looks like a clear fluid that it’s then boiled into maple syrup. The process is green and environmentally sustainable. The result simply delicious:).

Walking Around Santo Domingo

From Samana it’s about three hours to Santo Domingo by bus. We woke up at 4:30 in the morning to catch the 5:00 AM guagua bound for Santo Domingo. The guagua is a local minibus which stops often to load passengers, mainly Dominicans, headed to the capital. The bus was full but extra seating was improvised in the aisle space between the seats. We sat like sardines, shoulder to shoulder for the next 3 hours. We arrived in what seemed to be a sketchy part of town. We were ready to walk and asked around for directions to Zona Colonial but we were told to forget it as the neighbourhood was “muy peligroso”. So we jumped into a cab that took no longer than 5 minutes to Zona Colonial. It seemed as if we were already there.

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We had booked a night at hotel Portes 9 in Zona Colonial, a quaint little hotel on a quiet street. We set to explore the city and headed downtown and along Santo Domingo’s Malecón. We walked for a good 15 km in the afternoon scorching heat and got a nice sunburn. We got a good feel for the city however outside Zona Colonial there isn’t that much to see. Aside from this shoot above, the city’s waterfront is nothing to brag about. It’s worth to mention that we felt safe in the city at all times.

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Zona Colonial was definitely the highlight of Santo Domingo. On our second day there we did a walking tour of the area and visited Museo de las Casas Reales.

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Walking the streets of the old part of town I almost forgot that I was in the Caribbean. Colonial architecture, old cathedrals, and charming parks with outdoor cafes made me feel like I was somewhere in Europe.

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The city comes to life at night and we had dinner at one of the restaurants with outdoor seating overlooking Plaza Epaña.

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As we sat there, a heavy downpour started and people rushed inside. Our spot seemed to be one of the few tables that was nicely protected from the rain by an umbrella. Another lucky group at the next table continued to eat their meal unfazed.

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The next day we headed back to Samana. The two days we had planned turned out to be the perfect amount of time in Santo Domingo.

Beach Hopping in Dominican

To escape the cold winter in Canada, we recently visited the Dominican Republic. We chose Samana as our pied de terre but planned to take several day trips to explore the beautiful beaches nearby. Samana has a lot of great beaches and Playa Rincon was one of my favorites. This beach stretches for kilometres and it’s appeal is the fact that it’s still a virgin beach unspoiled by resorts and commerce.

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As we walked east, the beach got wider and the white sand cleared of seasonal seaweeds. Waves crush against rocks and the beach ends with an impressive rock which mimics the entry to a cave. Really stunning!

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We rented a car and drove further east to Las Galeras which also has a good beach.

Las Galeras

From there we stopped at Playita, a beach that was recommended to us by a Spaniard from Barcelona who made Dominican his home in recent years. This beach is a favorite with locals and it’s memorable because of the coral corridor we had to walk through to reach the open ocean.

Playita

We had a great walk along the beach from El Portillo where we were staying to the small community of Las Terrenas. This town offers a variety of options for night life, shopping and dinning.

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In a future post I’ll talk about our trip to Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic. Too many great pictures to share in one post :).

Vamos a Sevilla y…

David is a navigator extraordinaire but for some reason in Seville we couldn’t get our bearings. We got lost from the train station on the way to our hotel. The streets seem to go for a block and then change name so it took us a while to find our way.

Seville

Metropol Parasol, Seville

All that aside Seville is a great place to visit and a great pied de terre for day trips to nearby towns. On top of that the weather in November is great.

Seville at night

Seville Cathedral

The Moorish influence is felt here just as much as in Granada. I was determined to visit the Alcazar, a palace in the middle of the city which was rumored to impress. Impressed I was by the tile decor and beautiful lush gardens surrounding the palace. Even in November there were trees full of oranges.

Alcazar

Alcazar, Seville

Only 1 hour and 45 minutes from Seville is the coastal town of Cadiz. We made the trip there only for the day. We spend the day walking along the coast and soaking in the sun.

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Ronda was another one of our day trips from Seville. Since time didn’t allow us to visit any of the white villages in Granada we decided to go to Ronda for the experience.

Ronda

The town is built on top of a massive gorge and the landscape is spectacular.

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Once again we were impressed with the practicality of living in Spain. Even smaller cities like Ronda are concentrated around a center thriving with life and activity. So much easier to get around than here in Canada were things are spread out.

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La Bola Shopping Street, Ronda

Hola Madrid!

The Spanish have found the recipe to good living: delicious food, good company, great art, beautiful parks and all these can be found in the city of Madrid. Lucky for us we like to incorporate all of those things in our travels :-).

Rooftop, Madrid

For a dose of history we started with a visit of the Royal Palace. The royal family does not live here anymore but the palace is still used for royal ceremonies. Photography is not allowed inside but it’s worth the visit.

Royal Palace, Madrid

Each room is unique and lavishly decorated.

Royal Palace 2, Matrid

Right next to the palace is Catedral de la Almudena. We were impressed by the stunning frescoes and grandiose architecture.

Catedral de la Almudena

We ate a lot on this trip but it was all in the name of research:). La Latina neighbourhood is a great place for tapas. First time ordering tapas was a little intimidating since the place had no menus or seats. We ordered by pointing at the tapas laid on the counter and managed to find ourselves a spot standing at the bar. Now we were eating like the locals.

Street in La Latina, Madrid

But La Latina is not the only place we ate. Not far from Plaza Mayor, we found Calle Leon which has a great variety of both traditional and modern restaurants. Below is a picture of one of the unconventional restaurants.

Casa Gonzales, Madrid

Of course we ate at Mercado de San Miguel. I mentioned it in a previous post because it’s a great place to try different things such as vermouth which is popular in Spain. Some days the mercado is open until 2 AM and has a great energy.

Mercado De San Miguel, Madrid

I love museums and Madrid is a good place to sample Spanish art. Museo del Prado has a good number of paintings by Goya, Velazquez, Picasso and El Greco.  If you are a fan of Dali, like I am, visit Reina Sofia Museum. We visited during the hours the museums where free. There is so much to see in this city so we allowed ourselves time to walk around and enjoy the things around us. Although we visited Madrid in November when the wether is cold, we walked through Park Buen Retiro (Pleasant Retreat) and enjoyed its great gardens and many statues.

Hope you enjoyed this post!

London Snapshots

We had a six-hour layover in London on our recent trip to Spain. We decided to leave the airport and walk around. This was my first time in London and I was excited to get a feel for the city. One thing we do well when we travel is walk. We can walk eights hours a day and cover twenty to thirty kilometres. Being in London I was ready for the challenge. Here’s our itinerary and some pictures we snapped along the way. We got off at Paddington Station and headed north towards Little Venice.

London 8We crossed Hyde Park and walked on Kensington Road all the way to Hyde Park Corner.

London

We walked through Green Park and enjoyed the changing colours.

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We continued towards Buckingham Palace and our timing was perfect so we stopped to watch the changing of the guard.

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For lunch we ate at The Red Lion, a favoured watering hole of the political and literary elite for centuries including none other than Charles Dickens. We walked southeast to Westminster Abby and Big Ben. It was time to head back and we rushed back to Paddington Station past the National Gallery and via Regent and Oxford streets.

A humble 13 km walk in under 4 hours but a good introduction to London life.

Exploring Granada

Granada was definitely my favorite stop on our trip to Spain. The city is impressive because of its geography and its past. Granada sits at the foot of spectacular Sierra Nevada and proudly maintains the Moorish influence of its past.

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Alhambra citadel stands at the top of the hill; a good legacy of Granada’s Islamic past.

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We spent the day exploring the narrow, winding streets of the Moorish quarter of Albayzin. The houses are typically painted in white and shaded by orange and olive trees.

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Albayzin is on the side of a hill and the peak offers spectacular views of the Alhambra and its surroundings.

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We love the outdoors and we decided to do a hike in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Thirty minutes away by bus (Bus #183) from Granada is the town of Monachil. There are several hiking trails starting right from the bus station. We chose to do the Cahorros trail. The hike was not too difficult and it offered a great variety. We walked along olive and orange orchards, along the river and through a gorge, crossed several hanging bridges, and climbed a higher route to get great views of the valley.

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The hike was not without suspense. The afternoon was coming to an end and we decided to head back but take a different route.

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As time went by we started to worry because we didn’t know if the trail would take us back to town or we would get lost at the top as the sun was coming down. We followed the curb of the mountain which led us to a valley which hosted the town of Monachil. What a relief!

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Tapas & Beyond

In Spain, tapas are a national obsession. Tapas bars are literally everywhere and the selection is incredible. Before going to Spain I thought tapas were finger food snacks served on pieces of bread. Some tapas are just that, however I discovered that tapas could be anything served in small portions.

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Seafood paella, cured ham, manchego cheese, green olives.

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Ceviche and coquille st-jacques inspired tapa.

Tapas from the Basque region of Spain are called pintxos. Some places offer a free tapa when you order a drink.

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Pintxos at Txacolina in Madrid.

A good place to sample tapas is Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. This glass walled market is a shrine to food and drink.

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Another cool spot for tapas is Bar Alfalfa in Seville. This small place seats no more than fifteen people but simple tapas like tomato with aubergine and arugula are to die for.

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The cured ham is a culinary constant in Spain and it can be bought in specialty shops. Jamon iberico is one of the most expensive ones and the gold standard for cured ham. This ham comes from a black-coated pig descendent of the wild boar.

Spain

8 Close Encounters With Animals

Getting close to wildlife is another reason I love to travel. We put together some of our favorite snapshots of animals we have encountered in our travels. There is a human quality to some of the animals in these pictures that makes me smile. Hope it puts a smile on your face too.

Above: penguins, aka flightless birds, in Cape Town, South Africa.

India

Camel makes eye contact in Jaipur, India.

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Mom and baby elephant crossing a road in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Chicago

Meerkats get cozy at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

San Francisco

Sea lions sunbathing at Pier 39 in San Francisco.

Sloth chilling on a pole in Peru.

Sloth chilling on a pole in Puerto Maldonado, Peru.

Nepal

Rhinos look back at the camera before walking away in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Scary stuff!

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Lama roaming free on the ruins at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Street Art

Graffiti are a form of creative expression in many parts of the world. Here are some we have photographed in our travels. The artists are skilled and some themes hit close to home.

Above: graffiti in Lima, Peru.

San Francisco, USA

San Francisco, USA

Panama City, Panama

Panama City, Panama

Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau, Bahamas

Regina, Canada

Regina, Canada

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

New Orleans, USA

New Orleans, USA

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San Francisco, USA

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina

In Bruges

Bruges is a picturesque town in Belgium complete with old stone bridges, interesting architecture and charming windmills. The town is a quick 50 minutes by train from Brussels.

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Bruges is a time capsule. The place maintains original buildings dating back to Medieval times. The town has been called the Venice of the North because of the winding canals crossing the city center. A day is sufficient to just wander around and grab a meal.

Bruges 3Bruges 11Bruges 7A good way to see the town is by taking a boat ride on the canals crossing the city. The place is surreal, almost like a movie set. Buildings from different centuries stand side by side.

Bruges 6BrugeWhile you’re there, you can shop for Belgian chocolate and handmade lace and don’t miss the chance to try a delicious Belgian beer. I loved the local beer Brugse Zot!

Two Days in Paris

If you only have two days in Paris, skip the museum lines, slow down the pace and enjoy. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

Stop and smell the roses

Paris has many gardens and parks and if you visit the city in spring (ideal time is May) everything is in bloom. Some of my favorite places to relax  are the Tuileriers and Luxembourg Gardens and Place des Vosges. Great for people watching too.

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Eat and drink your heart out

No need to mention how good the food is in France so make it a point to try as many things as you can. Berthillon on Ile Saint-Louis has the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten. I recommend trying the chocolate and orange flavor (Gianduja a l’orange).

Check out Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter. This street has mouth-watering fromageries, boulangeries and boucheries but also charming restaurants where you can have a three course meal without breaking the bank. We dinned on duck confit, snails and crème brulée and enjoyed a bottle of red for around 60 Euros.

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If you get caught in the rain like we did, take refuge in the tea room located inside the Mosquée de Paris. You’ll feel like you’re inside a Turkish café and you can enjoy a glass of mint tea.

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Another Paris institution is restaurant Le Trumilou. The interior looks like an old brasserie and you can have simple but flavorful dishes. The restaurant is located not far from the City Hall.

Paris 4Art is Everywhere

In Paris you don’t have to go to a museum to see great art. Just walk around and enjoy the city’s architecture. You’ll see classical,  modern, eclectic and avant-garde works of art. Let yourself be inspired!

ParisParis 2Paris 7Go ahead, enjoy yourself. You deserve it!

Why Visit Luxembourg

Luxembourg is not an obvious travel destination but it’s worth visiting.  If you’re coming from North America I think Luxembourg City is an ideal point of entry into Europe. From the airport you can reach the city centre on a public bus in only 10-15 minutes. Something that cannot be said for bigger European cities like Paris or London.

Luxembourg City

Canals run through Luxembourg City connected by bridges that take you to different parts of the city. Green valleys host lush parks and gardens. Some streets are paved with cobble stones and offer that old town feel. We enjoyed visiting the city’s Casemates, a fortress built in a rocky cliff with tunnels and observation decks that offer great views of the city.

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Another place worth visiting is Little Switzerland, an area in the east part of the country. Echternach is the oldest town in Luxembourg and a good starting point for exploring the area.

Echternach

The trip from Luxembourg city to Echternach takes about 50 minutes by bus. We went there to do a hike from Echternach to the nearby town of Berdorf. The hiking trail conveniently starts right next to the bus terminal.We hiked among huge rocks that resemble an exposed cave labyrinth. The town of Echternach has the unmistakable charm of a quint European town with charming cafés and perfectly manicured gardens.

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Ultimately I enjoyed Luxembourg because it allowed us to use the “travel formula” we prefer; the place is small enough that allows to explore the cultural and historical but also to get away and visit the remote.

New York, New York

New York City has something for everyone: the artsy, outdoor enthusiasts, fashionistas, foodies, music lovers, misfits, history buffs and the list goes on. We put together a photo essay of some of New York’s highlights. These are just some of the places you can hit as a first time visitor to New York but you can also revisit time and time again as you make your way back to this amazing city.

Start your visit in Harlem and visit the beautiful Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

New York

Take the subway from Harlem to Manhattan and visit the Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Walk to Central Park for a well deserved break. Central Park is more than just a park. It a venue for performance artists, an outdoor museum and nature haven. If you’re lucky to visit New York in spring the sight of the blooming trees is nothing short of amazing.

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Take the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge for great views of the city.

Not far from the Brooklyn Bridge are Chinatown and Little Italy. Sip a cappuccino at one of the charming sidewalk Italian cafes and have dinner at Peking Duck House in Chinatown. The roasted duck and trimmings are to die for.

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Only a 15 minute walk from Chinatown, Soho is a shopper’s paradise with interesting fashion and decor boutiques. After a gruelling day of shopping you can stroll the High Line, an elevated greenway that runs for about a mile on the lower west side of Manhattan.

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The High Line takes you to Times Square in about 25 minutes. No visit to New York City is complete without a walk in Times Square to take in the vibrant energy of the city. Seeing a Broadway show in New York city is definitely a memorable experience.

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Two Days in Beijing

Beijing was the first stop on our trip to China and we allowed two full days for the visit. On the first day in Beijing, we got up early and headed to Jingshan Park to watch the elders practice tai chi. The park is peaceful and has a great view of the Forbidden City to the south.

Beijing

We entered the Forbbiden City through the northern Divine Might Gate and ended our visit through Meridian Gate which opens up to Tiananmen Square. The Forbidden City gets its name from the fact that no one could  enter or leave the palace without the permission of the emperor. Except for a few annexes, a lot of the buildings in the complex are closed. The outside of Meridian Gate is heavily guarded and features a portrait of former leader Mao Zedong. We walked around the sombre Tiananmen Square and then got on the subway for the Summer Palace.

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The Summer Palace is another Chinese architectural achievement but this one’s got a woman’s touch. The palace was rebuilt in 1886 and 1902 to serve as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty. Cixi was a concubine to Emperor Xianfeng and she gave him a son. A lot of the palace’s architectural details are said to have been of her choosing. The palace is surrounded by beautiful Kunming Lake. We circled the lake and crossed the unique Jade Belt Bridge, a bridge with a tall arch also known as Camel’s Back  Bridge.

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We ended our evening at Li Qun Roast Duck Restaurant. This place is popular with tourists and locals alike for its delicious Peking duck.

No visit to Beijing would be complete without a trip to the Great Wall of China. On our second day we got on a local bus and travelled to Badaling section. As we approached the wall, the weather got significantly colder.

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A lot of other sections of the wall have been closed which makes Badaling even more popular and crowded with tourists. The walk along the wall was challenging. The winds were cold, the climb was at times steep which was made even more challenging by the large crowds of tourists blocking the way. If you get far enough from the wall’s entry point, you will find yourself away from the crows and you can enjoy the magnitude of this human accomplishment and the majestic mountains surrounding it.

Exploring Yangshuo

Yangshuo is a county in Guangxi Province near the city of Guilin. The area is popular because of its karst peaks and beautiful scenery. We reached Yangshuo is by taking a river cruise on a bamboo raft from Guilin down Li River. Visually, it’s an incredible experience. The color of the water and the reflection of the peaks are surreal.

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Streets in Yangshuo still preserve their ancient layout dating 1000 years back. The town of Yangshuo is popular with tourists and the locals have responded with a variety of hotels, bike rental shops, souvenir markets, and food stalls with local delicacies. Whatever the town lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in its surrounding natural beauty.

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Hiking and biking are popular activities in Yangshuo. We climbed the nearby Moon Hill, unique for its natural arch and semicircular hole in the middle. Although I found the hike challenging, I was amazed at the local vendors that kept up the pace in the hopes of selling us refreshments once we reached the peak. The climb is worth it because the views from the top are impressive.

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On our second day in Yangshuo, we explored the area by bike. We wound through the country side and watched hunched women and men work the rice fields. To me this is what “real” China is all about, the China in my dreams anyway. On the way back we were lucky to get a ride from a local who carried us and our bikes in the back of his truck.

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Despite being a popular tourist destination, Yangshuo still offers a glimpse into what rural China is all about. Locals are pretty laid back and you can wander around and get a good sense of how people here live. The area is safe and you can let you guard down and enjoy the beauty of the place.

5 Things to Do in Panama

We only had one week to explore Panama so we had to be selective about what we could see. Here are my five favorite things we did during our stay.

1. EXPLORE CASCO VIEJO NEIGHBORHOOD

Stroll the narrow streets of Casco Viejo and take in the colonial architecture. Check out the Presidential Palace, Plaza Herrera, Iglesia de San Jose and the National Theatre. End the day with dinner at The Fish Market, a food truck nestled inside the ruins of a colonial building. All of their dishes are under $10.

National TheaterThe Fish Market

2. HAVE LUNCH AT MERCADO DEL MARISCO 

A quick walk from Casco Viejo, the fish market is a great place for lunch. For $5.00 you get a satisfying lunch for two consisting of two cups of fresh ceviche and two local beers. Once you’re done with your lunch, walk around to see the catch of the day, men cleaning fish and preparing ceviche.

Fish Market

3. VISIT A NGABE CHOCOLATE FARM 

The Oreba Chocolate Tour in Almirante is run by indigenous Ngabe farmers. The guide takes you on a great hike of a cacao farm and you’ll learn everything from growing cacao trees, harvesting, fermenting, drying and ultimately roasting and making chocolate. The tour is a great introduction to the Ngabe community way of life.

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4. GO ON A BIKE RIDE TO BLUFF BEACH 

Ride your bike west on Jungle Highway from Bocas del Toro town to Bluff Beach Lounge. The ride is about 9 km. Stop for lunch at The Beach Bar and try their fish tacos. Spend the afternoon taking in the sun.

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5. GO FOR A HIKE IN PARQUE NATURAL METROPOLITANO

This park is a convenient way to see a rain forest without leaving the city. The climb to the top is easy and you might get to see sloths, colorful birds, agouti (giant rodents) and diverse insects. At the end of the hike you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of Panama City.

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Walking Tour of Istanbul

Istanbul is a beautiful city and a great time capsule. The city has been a cultural hub during the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. There’s a lot to see but here are my favourite spots and the best part is that they’re all within a thirty minute walk:

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Start your walk at the Grand Bazaar. Built in the 15th century, this is one of oldest malls in the world and has about 3000 shops. The bazaar is a maze and you could easily get lost but it was a lot of fun to wander around and see the jewellery, carpets, clothing, and art available. I did try to bargain for a carpet but walked away empty-handed because the price was still outside my comfort zone. The selection is overwhelming and the process can be a little intense.

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Walk east from the bazaar for about 10 minutes and you’ll arrive at the Basilica Cistern which once served as a water reservoir and filtration system for the city including Topkapi Palace. The cistern dates back to the 6th century and it can store up to 100,000 tons of water. The inside has long slender columns (336 to be exact) and a vaulted brick ceiling. The columns are mismatched which means that they were probably recycled  from other abandoned buildings. The place is beautifully lit and the visit is accompanied by music.

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About 350m from the Basilica is Hagia Sophia. Now a museum, it was first built during the Roman Empire as an Orthodox Church and although painted over, it still preserves some paintings from its Christian era. In the 15th century during the Ottoman Empire it was converted into a mosque and it’s still decorated with sayings from the Quran. The landmark also displays beautiful tile work.

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A close walk from Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. The mosque is a great example of  Islamic artistic expression. The surroundings allow to be a quiet observer to some of the daily habits associated with the Muslim faith. We watched men washing their feet at the lined outdoor fountains in preparation for prayer.

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A kilometre away from the mosque is Topkapi Palace, another must see landmark. The palace was home to Ottoman Sultans for about 400 years and it was complete with mosques, a hospital, library and bakeries. It is said that at its peak the palace hosted up to 4000 people. We only paid general entry and skipped the harem quarter which costs extra. The palace is impressive with beautiful tile walls, colourful glass, gold and silver decor.

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Last but not least make your way to the Spice Market where you’ll find anything from spices, clothing, nuts and all kind of delicious snacks.

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I hope you get to visit and enjoy this wonderful city.

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Out of This World Cappadocia

I don’t say this often but Turkey’s Cappadocia is definitely a must see destination for any world traveler. The unique rock formations, or “fairy chimneys”, at Cappadocia are said to be the result of volcano ashes, basalt and lava deposited and shaped by earthquakes and erosion over time.

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As the rock below the top layer of basalt is extremely soft, it can be easily carved. Homes have been carved out of these formations and people still leave in them today. Staying in a “cave hotel” is a unique experience and we decided to give it a try during our stay in Cappadocia. The rooms look exactly like they sound, like caves, and are decorated with a few furniture pieces. In May, overnight temperatures in Cappadocia drop dramatically and sleeping in a cave is as authentic as it gets. The owner of the hotel seemed reluctant to turn on the electric heater but he did provide us with a multitude of blankets. Jumping out of bed and into the cold cave shower was a sure way to get us going in the mornings.

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The best way to explore Cappadocia is on foot. We walked from Göreme to the nearby town of Uçhisar. The walk is spectacular. The scenery changes often with different shapes and colours. Pointy suggestive rocks, red rocks, and some that almost look fluid.

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You can wander around the rocky valleys and enter at random some of the abandoned fairy chimneys. Some still preserve beautiful religious paintings. A large underground city was built by Christian believers during the Roman Empire to serve as a hiding place from the persecuting Roman armies. The underground city is approximately 60 m deep and accommodated up to 20,000 people. The city is complete with a winery, chapels, storage rooms and stables. Tunnels connect some of the nearby fairy chimneys where Christians lived to the underground city. Levels of the city are connected by vertical staircases and although dangerous climbing them makes for a really cool experience.

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Uçhisar is about 5 km from Göreme and it’s the tallest point in Cappadocia. Uçhisar Castle is the summit and it provides great panoramic views of the area. We had pizza at a pizzeria recommended by our guide-book and even got to try handling the pizza in the fiery wooden oven. The walk back was just as spectacular. Without a doubt one of my favourite adventures.

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Machu Picchu, The Land of the Incas

Machu Picchu (Old Peak) is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We decided not to do the Inca trail so instead we traveled from Cuzco to Aquas Calientes, the foot of the mountain where Machu Picchu lies. Aquas Calientes is a beautiful town at the edge of Willkanuta River surrounded by tall mountains and green forests. Aquas Calientes If you came all the way here to see Machu Picchu, you also have to climb Huayna Picchu (Young Peak), a nearby peak that provides amazing views of the ruins on Machu Picchu. Access to Huayna is limited to 400 people per day and entry is allowed on a first come first serve basis. We woke up at 5:30 in the morning to get on one of the first shuttles going to the entry point to the peaks. The light of day was just coming out and the peaks were covered in fog. The place looked mystical which seemed  appropriate since some of the rooms in the complex at Machu Pichhu are believed to have been used for religious ceremonies. Machu Picchu The ascent of Huayna is intense to say the least. We were hiking a steep mountain, at high altitude on a trail hanging at the edge of the mountain with no railing to stop us from plummeting to our death. On top of that, it was hard to stay focused on the climb because the views from Huayna are absolutely spectacular. The climb is challenging even for the more fit however some of our ascending companions were on the older side and some were lugging young children. No one could be accused of being “athletic”. At any moment I expected to see someone tumbling to their death. We were huffing and puffing our way up amazed that the Peruvian authorities would let anybody climb this peak without guidance or supervision. The peak narrows towards the top like a pyramid and the plateau is a small standing ground covered with big rocks but the ascent was absolutely worth it. Slowly the fog lifted and the sun came out. We could see snowy mountains in the distance, the ruins on Machu Picchu and we could even hear the sound of the Willkanuta River. I could understand why the Incas wanted to call this place home. On our way down we walked among the beautiful ruins at Machu Pichu and imagined how life would’ve been thousands of years before. Little is known about the complex but I was amazed at the human effort that’s gone into building these structures. The Incas were skilled masons and buildings from that time are still standing while more recent ones have been destroyed by earthquakes. Terasses were built on the side of the cliff to accommodate crops of corn and cocoa. Lamas were busy mowing the grass. This place is truly idyllic.

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Venice In October

Venice was the first and last stop on our recent trip to Europe. To my surprise the city was still busy with tourists at the beginning of October, technically the end of high season.

Gondola RiderGondolas on the CanalZodiac in Piazza San Marco

Venice is a great place to wander around, explore and get lost. And get lost we did on multiple occasions while trying to navigate the intricate narrow streets and figure out the impossible-to-read city map. Venice is living history but it also entices visitors with designer boutiques and inviting window displays. Although the budget didn’t allow for shopping, I took the time to admire the perfect leather Italian shoes in the shop windows.

Treats

One of my favourite landmarks in the city is the Doge Palace. The tour of the palace allowed me to learn about Venetian history and the structure of the Venetian government across centuries. Layer upon layer of government was added over time to deal with social and political issues. The palace is also a great place for art lovers. The interiors of the administrative offices are decorated with oversized paintings, wood panelling and Murano glass chandeliers. My boyfriend was particularly impressed by the weaponry collection.

Piazza San MarcoThe Dodge Palace

Venice and its surrounding islands are easy to access with the local vaporetto. A short boat ride brought us to the Island of Murano, known for its tradition of glass production.

Glass Flowers on Murano IslandMurano Island  Music Academy

I loved wandering around Dorsoduro, the city’s university area.  We stumbled upon the Music Academy where the interior courtyard’s traditional architecture contrasted with the contemporary exhibition on display. Just beautiful!

Exhibition at Music Academy

Venice has a great variety of restaurants serving traditional pizza and pasta dishes. The restaurant we enjoyed the most is Impronta Caffe located in Dorsoduro. The interior is modern and the dishes have a sophisticated twist on traditional Italian dishes. We had a fantastic octopus appetizer and my favourite dish in Venice, Squid Ink Pasta.

Impronta CaffeOctopus Appetizer at Impronta CaffeSquid Ink Pasta at Impronta Caffe

Picturesque Piran

Piran is a small town in the southwest of Slovenia on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. There’s no direct train from Ljubljana to Piran but the bus ride between the two cities takes only about 3 hours.

Fishermen Boats

Piran is popular with Slovenians and other Europeans alike. The town center is small and it can be visited quickly. This is the perfect place to take a few days to unwind after a busy trip without feeling guilty that parts of Piran are left unexplored. We stayed at Hotel Piran, a well established hotel that had been recently renovated. The hotel is right on the coast. Breakfast was phenomenal and included prosciutto, smoked salmon and a variety of delicious baked goods.

Waterfront CafePiran Water Collection System

Piran was under Venetian rule for over 500 years (13th to 18th century). Traces of Venetian Gothic architecture have been left in Piran. A tower inspired by the tower in Piazza San Marco in Venice was built here. The tower is on top of a hill overlooking Piran right next to St-George Cathedral.

View of Piran's WaterfrontSt-George Cathedral

The town’s main square, Tartini Square, is named after composer Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) who was born in Piran.

Tartini Square

The waterfront of the nearby resort town Portoroz is lined with restaurants, casinos and shops. As Piran slows down in the evenings, Portoroz offers additional dinning and entertainment options.

The Škocjan Caves are an hour car ride from Piran. The best way we found to get there was to hire a driver through our hotel. If you’re not pressed for time you could also take a bus from Piran to Divača and then walk the 4 km to the caves. The entry to the caves is 15 euro per person and you have to go with a guided tour. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside but we managed to take some photos at the beginning and end of the tour.

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The Škocjan Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and they’re definitely worth seeing. The caves are about 6 km long but the area visitors get to explore is 2.5 km. The tallest cave is about 150 m high and inside the caves there is an impressive  bridge over Reka River with a drop of 47 meters.

Bloody Good Trip to Bled

Bled is a small town fifty minutes by train from Ljubljana. The town is known for its incredibly blue glacial lake and its thermal baths that became popular with European aristocracy at the beginning of the 20th century. In the middle of the lake there’s a small island home to Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church that can be reached by climbing 99 steps. This church is a popular venue for wedding ceremonies.

Bled Castle watches over the lake. The castle has an exhibition of the history of the area. The entry to the castle is 8 euro but it’s worth visiting if only for the beautiful views of the lake and its surroundings.

Bled Castle

About 4 km away from the lake is Vintgar Gorge. You have to walk through the quaint countryside of Bled to get there. Golden corn fields and beautiful gardens line the road.

Bled Countryside

A wooden walkway 1,600 m long has been built along the steep banks of the Radovna River. The river flow is interrupted by waterfalls and the water is crystal clear. The walk is spectacular.

Vintgar Gorge WalkwayStatue of Jesus Along the GorgeVintgar Gorge

We made our way back to Bled through the country side climbing down another side of the hill. Slovenians take pride in their homes and many enjoy gardening.

Bled PastureCaramel Color CowBled Country Home

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and the first stop on our recent trip there. The town is small (about 280,000 people) but trendy and cosmopolitan; it has designer boutiques, a castle on a hilltop, Roman ruins, Art Nouveau architecture, a gigantic park and a modern university campus all within 30 minutes walk from the train station.

Hipster Pub  Art Nouveau Architecture

The city’s Old Town is an area of pedestrian streets lined with beautiful architecture, restaurants and boutiques. On our first  evening in Ljubljana we had dinner in the Old Town at Špajza. We ordered Jakončič Cabernet Sauvignon with our dinner and I was impressed. This wine comes from the western part of Slovenia that’s known for its wineries. Unfortunately this is not sold in stores across Slovenia but only distributed to restaurants. One would have to take a visit to the Jakončič winery to get a bottle of this delicious Cab Sauv.

Dinner at Spajza

The city is divided by the Ljubljanica River and the bridge leading to Ljubljana Central Market (Butcher’s Bridge) is decorated with key locks and interesting sculptures. The market has an outdoor area where you can get your fruits, vegetables and flowers but also two long indoor halls were you can get meat, cheese, fish, and pastry. The apple strudel I had there was the best I had in my life.

Key Locks on Butcher's BridgeMushrooms in the Central MarketCentral Market

Right next to the market stands the Cathedral of St Nicholas which has a beautifully painted ceiling and great detailing on its metal doors.

Statue on Butcher's Bridge  St Nicholas CathedralInterior of St Nicholas Cathedral

Ljubljana Castle is located on a hilltop overlooking the city. Inside the castle there’s a great restaurant, Gostilna na Gradu, where we had dinner on our second evening in Ljubljana. I ordered goulash with polenta, a local speciality, and it was the best meal I had in Slovenia. There’s a funicular that takes you to the top but we didn’t know that it stops running at 9 PM. After dinner we had to make our way down the hill in complete darkness. A bit of an unnerving experience for me.

Ljubljana Castle

A Perfect Day In Montréal

Food is an important part of my travels so on my recent trip to Montreal I decided to hit one of my favourite breakfast places and try some new eateries. My boyfriend and I started our morning at the French bakery La Croissanterie (5200 Rue Hutchison) in the quaint neighbourhood of Outremont. La Croissanterie has the interior of a Parisian cafe and its croissants and pains au chocolat are to die for.

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After breakfast we took a walk in Outremont, a charming neighbourhood with interesting architecture and home to Montreal’s Hasidic Jewish community.

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For lunch we ate at the MUVBOX in the Old Port, a shipping container cleverly converted into a restaurant complete with solar panels and two eating arias. The star of the show is the lobster roll. Although the big chunks of fresh lobster were delicious, I was a little taken aback by the $11 price and that the lobster was served in a hot dog bun.

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 Old Montreal has a great mix of architectural styles and a vibrant atmosphere animated by street performers.

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For dinner we made our way to the west part of town to Joe Beef  (2491 Notre-Dame St W). This is a popular restaurant and since we were coming into town on a Saturday we had to make reservations months in advance. If you like French food this place has the typical rich, decadent, buttery sauces of French cuisine.

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My boyfriend ordered the double down; possibly the richest appetizer ever created. A take on the KFC dish of the same name, the Joe  Beef version replaces deep fried chicken with deep fried foie gras.

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For his main my boyfriend had the half-rabbit swimming in a rich gravy with mashed potato, peas and carrots. I had a gigantic duck breast accompanied by an equally gigantic piece of roast cauliflower.

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The fellow at the next table had proposed to his girlfriend an hour before (she said yes!). To celebrate he ordered the rib eye for two, for one. In case the eighty ounce steak wasn’t decadent enough it arrived with two sausages and multiple side dishes. He made a valiant effort.

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The Old Charm of Buenos Aires

I loved the days I spent in Buenos Aires. The city’s neighborhoods are very different but worth visiting depending on the experience you’re after. On our first day there we had breakfast at the hundred and fifty year old Cafe Tortoni. I had a cafe con leche and three medialunas (croissants) and my boyfriend went for a hot chocolate and three churros (fried-dough pastry). The croissants were smaller and sweeter than a typical French croissant. The cafe is charming with beautiful wooden panels, lots of pictures and waiters dresses in elegant suits.

Colorful Exterior in La Boca

After breakfast we headed south of the city to La Boca. La Boca is the birthplace of tango and soccer player Maradona. Italian immigrants took over this part of town and made it their own by painting the exterior of buildings in bright colours. We walked el caminito, a popular street in La Boca with artists, souvenir shops and tango performers inviting us to sit down at their restaurant for a tango performance. La Boca has a huge soccer stadium and it could make for an interesting experience to watch a game with the soccer crazed locals. Life size puppets celebrate the local celebrity Maradona and even Evita, the other well known Argentinian figure.

Basketball Game in La BocaTango Performers in La BocaPuppet of Maradona in La Boca

San Telmo is not a must see destination however our hotel happened to be in this neighbourhood so we decided to see what it has to offer. The neighbourhood has a few interesting thrift stores and unique pubs and steakhouses. We stayed at  Axel Hotel Buenos Aires & Urban Spa Hotel, who’s motto is “Walls are optional”. It’s a trendy hotel with concrete walls and floors and a pool and spa on the top floor. This might not be the best choice for those traveling with someone who’s not a partner or love interest. As the motto indicates, the rooms have very little privacy. The shower is a glass box in the middle of the room with no way of preventing someone from looking in.

Restaurant in San Telmo

Next we visited El Ateneo bookstore in Barrio Norte, a must see area of Buenos Aires. The bookstore is located in an old beautiful theater. The setup is perfect for spending an afternoon reading a book and sipping a cup of coffee.

El Ateneo Bookstore

Recoleta cemetery is reminiscent of Prazeres Cemetery in Lisbon, Portugal. The graves are built like houses and decorated with beautiful sculptures. A lot of past Argentinian presidents rest here. East of the cemetery, we took the elevator down to enter Buenos Aires Design, an entire mall of home furnishings and hardware fixtures and the epicentre of Argentinian home decor.

La Recoleta Cemetery

If shopping is your thing you have to check out the Palermo Viejo neighbourhood. There are many designer stores that amazed me not only for the beautiful clothes but for their decor and modern interior design. Palermo also has many trendy restaurants and the occasional charming cupcake shop. In a future post I’ll be sharing my experience at one of the best steakhouses in Palermo Viejo.

Men Clothing Store in PalermoCupcake Shop in Palermo

I was adamant about seeing a tango show in Argentina. Most shows start around 10 PM and have a cover charge. We finished dinner early and walked around trying to find a cafe that had a performance starting early. We got to Bar Sur and the owner quoted us a cover charge but when he saw we were ready to walk away lowered the price to about $40 USD per person which included a glass of wine. Bar Sur is a small cafe and there were only two other couples in the place. The show contained of a three piece band, a wonderful singer and the two tango performers. Each act took turns and then performed together. The tango dancers invited us to join them on the floor and we did our best not to step on their feet. Tango is a dying art in Buenos Aires and the singer thanked us for our contribution to keep the tradition alive.

Tango Show at Bar Sur, Buenos Aires

The Beauty of Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is an absolute visual delight. The city has something for everyone from beautiful Ipanema and Copacabana beaches to  breathtaking views of the city from the top of Sugarloaf mountain and Cristo Redentor. The city is humming with life and Brazilians seem to strike a perfect balance between work and play.

Copacabana BeachView from Sugarloaf Mountain

Rio has an interesting and diverse mix of colonial, modern and even bizarre architecture like the cone shaped Catedral Metropolitana.

Real Gabinete Portugues de LeituraView from Santa TeresaLapa

On the weekends, you can visit the busy street markets of Flamengo and take in the sights and smells of fresh produce.

Flamengo Market

Don’t miss the quaint and quiet neighbourhood of Santa Teresa with its steep cobble stone streets and colourful tiles decorating the street steps. Rest from the climb up on the terrace of Cafe Rustica and enjoy a caipirinha, Brazil’s specialty drink.

Streets of Santa TeresaSanta TeresaRustica Cafe, Santa Teresa

Colourful graffiti are a trademark of the city of Rio and they enhance the visual experience.

Graffiti in Santa Teresa

You can shelter from the afternoon heat under the beautifully manicured trees of the Botanical Garden or rent a bike and follow the beautiful paths surrounding Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.

Botanical GardenJARDIM BOTANICO

Jamaica: Garden Island

I’m not the type of person to spend my entire vacation laying on the beach and for that reason I decided to visit Ocho Rios in the eastern part of Jamaica. Unlike Negril which is well known for its beautiful beaches, Ocho Rios and its surroundings are a great blend of mountains, rivers, waterfalls and remarkable flora.

Only a thirty minute walk from Ocho Rios’s town center are the wonderful Mahoe Falls. Although Dunn’s River Falls are the bigger and more popular falls in the area, they also tend to be crowded with tourists and to lack the charm and tranquility of Mahoe Falls. Surrounded by Coyoba River Garden, Mahoe Falls is a little piece of paradise. This fall can be climbed with ease because it doesn’t have the force of Dunn’s River Falls. The surrounding gardens are lush with exotic flowers and colourful butterflies. There is a lookout point with a panoramic view of Ocho Rios and small history museum of Jamaica from its Spanish occupation to present day. This was truly a charming experience.

Mahoe Falls  Cranbrook FlowerBromeliad Flower  Hanging Vines

We couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Blue Mountain which is only two hours away from Ocho Rios by bus. So we booked a bike tour of Blue Mountain and we were on our way. The tour bus took us close to the mountain top where bicycles where waiting for us to commence our decent. After a quick brunch we got on our bikes and started our way down along with the other cyclists on the tour. The views were spectacular and I was in awe of Jamaica’s green and lush vegetation. We stopped along the way to take pictures and wonder at waterfalls, oversized banana trees, beautiful tropical flowers and the common sight of goats.

Bike Tour of Blue Mountain

Bike Tour of Blue Mountain

View of Blue Mountain

View of Blue Mountain

The group was travelling close together but if you’re lucky to find yourself separated from the others and riding on the side of the mountain with the sun on your face you can really feel in touch with nature. Everything around me seemed oversized and the colour enhanced. Half way through our tour we stopped for lunch and had one of the tour guides show us how coffee is being made. Blue Mountain is well know for its coffee and of course we were given the opportunity to purchase some. Although rain started coming down on the second part of our trip down, it didn’t ruin the wonderful experience of the day.

Coffee Beans

Coffee Beans

Essential Portugal

Prazeres Cemetery, Lisbon

Prazeres Cemetery, Lisbon

Despite how little I knew about the place, Portugal had been calling my name for some time. The place had me dreaming of sunny hills with beautiful orange orchards maybe because Portugal sounds like the Romanian word for orange –Portocală. So Noodle and I decided to make the trip there this spring. Portugal is a small country which makes exploring it quite easy and affordable. We arrived in Lisbon and got on the airport shuttle to city centre. We were delighted that our hotel,  Residencial Alegria, was located on a quiet street overlooking a small park that even the local homeless seemed to enjoy. Without a direction in mind, we walked the streets of Lisbon and took in the city life on board Tram28. We visited Prazeres Cemetery and walked among the beautiful mausoleums that rest some of Portugal’s prominent people.

We spent the next two days visiting the neighboring cities of Sintra and Cascais. The morning of our trip to Sintra, we had breakfast at a Lisbon street cafe and made sure to stock up on pasteis de nata (custard tarts) for the trip. Only 45 minutes by train from Lisbon, Sintra was definitely the highlight of the trip. We got off at the charming train station and started the climb up the road sheltered by beautiful trees. The warm weather and the pasteis de nata treats made the climb to the top a sinch. The hilltops of Sintra host the ruins of a medieval castle build by the Moors during the 8th or 9th century and the Monserrate Palace, a fairytale like palace built in the 19th century and used by the Portuguese court as a summer palace. The views around us were breathtaking. We ended the day with dinner at a restaurant that used to be a stable for the Knights Templars and then made our way back to Lisbon.

Medieval Moorish Castle, Sintra

Medieval Moorish Castle, Sintra

Cascais is a fishing town on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and its main attraction is the bay. We walked along the pathways that surround the bay and during the hotter hours of the day we relaxed in a park with beautiful peacocks. In the afternoon we visited the local fish market where the catch of the day was up for bid. We watched the variety of fish passing in front of our eyes while the locals entered their bids in small electronic devices. For dinner we savored delicious grilled fish for a bargain price.

Our fourth day in Portugal we made the three-hour train ride to the city of Porto. To our disappointment the weather had changed drastically to cool and rainy. Since we were traveling on a budget we decided to skip all the museums and historical buildings that had a cover charge and enjoy the medieval architecture that Porto is known for. So we walked under the on and off cold showers and my repetitive whining for having to climb yet another hill-side street. Laugh if you will but I hate walking on a an incline, especially before breakfast, and this city is built on a giant hill. Since Porto is the birth place and the only place in the world to produce port wine, we decided that there is no better place to sample the thing. So we crossed the bridge over Rio Douro to the English port houses. Noddle had decided he wanted to visit Taylor’s Reserve house so guided by a sketchy map we wondered around trying to find the damn place. Unlike some of the other port houses who were lined up on the main street in plain sight, Taylor’s reserve was nowhere to be found.  Just when we were about to give up, Noodle’s amazing navigational skills kicked in and we were able to find our way. For only 3 euros we were able to get on the next tour of the cellar and sample 3 types of Taylor’s port, one white and two red.

View of Porto

View of Porto

The rain continued to fall so we decided to take refuge in a cafe to figure out our next move. The hotel was far and going back was out of the question so we decided to keep walking the streets of Porto in the hopes of sitting down for dinner early. We had made reservations the night before at a sushi restaurant called Kyodai recommended by Lonely Planet but the reservation wasn’t until 9 PM. Hungry and cold at 8 o’clock we made our way to the restaurant in the hope that we could get an earlier table. We got there and discovered that just like many other restaurants in Portugal, our restaurant wasn’t opening until 9 PM. Frustrated we made our way to a nearby square where we discovered a little port bar nestled inside what looked like a cavernous structure. We decided to shelter from the rain and warm up with a glass of port by the gas heat lamps they had going. What a wonderful invention the port wine, it was just the kind of thing we needed to sweeten the bitter experience of the day. When the time came we made our way back to the restaurant and this time the owner welcomed us in. It was a small space, maybe only five tables and we were the first ones to arrive. Trained in Japan, the owner spoke Japanese and English and took the time to explain the menu and cater to us exclusively. The menu was set and so was the price. Most Portuguese restaurants bring to the table small appetizers that customers pay for only if they chose to consume them. It was no different this time except that unlike the small bowl of olives and bread we had received in the past for an extra euro, the appetizer was a dish of sashimi and the 12 euros charge, called entry fee, was automatic. The Portuguese are known for their delicious seafood dishes and it was no different this time. The fish was fresh and it was prepared with Japanese skill and simplicity. I took the opportunity to use the little Japanese phrases I could remember from my stay in Japan. What a great way to end the evening! The next day we made our way back to Lisbon.

Our sushi meal at Kyodai, Porto

Our sushi meal at Kyodai, Porto

Galapagos Lessons

The Galapagos Islands are an amazing place. We saw plenty of wildlife and were surprised at how great the beaches are. Still, visiting ‘on the cheap’ wasn’t all smooth sailing.

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There’s such a thing as a permit to get a permit. National parks cost money, but $20 for a form to apply for a permit that costs $100? Yup, that’s a thing. Oh, and there’s a another permit for Isabela island.

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Are you there yet? Nope. Travelling in the Galapagos can feel a bit like Frodo’s journey into Mordor. Getting from the mainland to your hotel may involve a couple of planes, a couple of buses, a boat or two and a taxi. But the volcanoes are lovely.

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Don’t lick your ice-cream before it’s paid for. Hardly anyone on the islands seems to have change, but you’re expected to. And if you don’t have change you’re expected to find it. Or you can do as David did and give back your ice-cream cone to the cashier who didn’t have change for a $10.

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Be prepared to check yourself out. Checking out of a hotel at 5:30 to catch a 6am ferry is never a good plan, but it’s an especially bad idea in the Galapagos where you may have to walk the hotel staff through what a hotel bill is and how to use a credit card machine. Oh, and be prepared to explain (in Spanish) why it’s not OK to charge an extra 12% to pay with a card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Me Gusta Cartagena

A short five hour flight from Montreal and we arrived in Cartagena. We stayed a total of five nights in the city. The first two nights in the historical centre and the last three nights in Bocagrande. Getting from the airport to the historical center was easy in the authorized city taxi that costs 10,000 pesos (about $5).

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Cartagena can be a little overwhelming at first. The city has a different rhythm that we are used to. The drivers navigate the streets with disregard for street signs and pedestrians. The noise is another issue. The constant honking makes it a little difficult at first to relax. We arrived at our hotel in the centre and immediately noticed that the safety box in our room was broken and the password could not be reset. The man at the front desk reassured us that the problem will be dealt with the next day. We laughed when the next morning he came and removed the safety box from the wall and replaced with another one that had a working battery. We locked our things away but thought it was funny that anyone could break into our hotel room and leave with the safety box that was not longer attached to the wall.

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Cartagena’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage and it deserves the accolade. It’s a neighbourhood who’s buildings have been well restored and painted in vibrant colours. Hanging plants and flowers grow on the side of buildings adding extra charm to the place. We spent days exploring the narrow winding streets and relaxing in small parks popping up here and there along the way.

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The neighbourhood has no shortage of restaurants and cafes. One of my favourite features where the interior courtyards hiding behind the facade of buildings. Art galleries, cafes and restaurants hide in these open spaces, away from the hustle and bustle of the street and the heat of the afternoon.

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Restaurants and bars compete to outdo each other in terms of decor. Some could compete with the trendiest places in North America. The local beer is cheap but cocktails are expensive even by Canadian standards (anywhere around $10-$12). Salsa is a constant in Colombia and it’s fun to walk around Cartagena and hear the music playing out of open door bars and restaurants. We sat in a bar which we decided to nickname the “bar that real men frequent” because the place was full of men and only served beer. The owner is a salsa fan and the walls were filled with pictures of him always wearing a striped polo shirt posing with different salsa musicians. We sat at the bar, had a Colombian beer and listened to salsa.

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We left the city for a couple of days to do some hiking in the north of Colombia. I’ll talk about it in a different post. When we returned we headed to out new location in Bocagrande. We were sitting in a taxi heading to our new hotel when our taxi drove so close to another car that his side mirror was completely shattered. Nobody got off to exchange insurance information, we kept going. Our taxi ride took us through some of the poorest neighbourhoods of Cartagena and we got to see how the other side lives.

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Bocagrande is the modern side of Cartagena and the streets are lined with high rises, shopping malls and chain restaurants. The appeal for us to stay here was the proximity to several city beaches. Unfortunately the beaches were too busy and not very clean and we were immediately approached by street vendors. Also it was too hot to lay there and umbrellas came at a premium. Although we stayed three nights in Bocagrande we spent most of our time in the historical part of Cartagena which was only 5 minutes away by taxi (about $3.50). We visited the Museum of the Inquisition which although set in a great building it was a little be of a let down. We also toured the Gold Museum which I truly recommend to anyone. It had a great collection of gold figurines and English inscriptions detailing the history of Colombia going back 2000 years. The best part the museum is free.

Although this trip exceeded our expectations, we realized that there were some things that could’ve made the trip more enjoyable. For anyone who might benefit from our mistakes, we’ll dedicate one of our future posts to “The perfect week in Colombia”. Hopefully it will help others avoid some of the things that gave us grief on the trip. Happy reading!

Montreal Rediscovered

For our latest visit to Montreal, we decided to pick up a guidebook from the library. Even though I lived in Montreal for fifteen years having a guide drew my attention to things that I’ve walked past many times but accepted as part of the city backdrop. We started our walk in China Town where a friendly local suggested Lobster Cantonese for dinner at Beijing Restaurant.

Lobster Cantonese

The Plateau is my favourite place in the city. I love the eclectic feel of the neighbourhood. Little sidewalk cafés, green spaces everywhere, art in the park and graffiti of gigantic proportions.

Street Art 4, MontrealStreet Art, MontrealLes Lecons Singulieres  Le Plateau, MontrealRue Demers, Montreal

We stopped at Wilensky’s for a quick-lunch. This place has been around since 1932 and the interior remains unchanged. I was impressed by the speed with which the bologna sandwiches and soda drinks appeared before us.

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After lunch we walked west on Avenue des Pins and admired the mansions on Redpath Crescent. We stopped to rest in parks along the way.

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Once we got to the other side of the mountain, we set to explore Westmount. Some of the highlights were the Westmount bowling green club, Westmount Park and Westmount’s public library with direct access to its Victorian Greenhouses.

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A great set up to pick up a book and spend an afternoon reading among palm trees.

Save Money & See The World

Traveling can be an expensive hobby so over the years I had limit my spending to enable my habit. Here are some of my tricks for saving money without compromising on style.

1. Wear neutrals. I have a lot of black basic items in my wardrobe because they’re easy to match and classic. A black shirt with a nice pair of jeans is chic and timeless. Same goes for grey and white. The fit is key. I buy items that fit and drape really well on my body. I use accessories to create different looks around my neutral staples.

2. Make it yourself. I started sewing about two years ago. I love browsing fabric stores for unique fabric. I made this top from what seemed to be fabric for window coverings. It only cost me 0.99 cents/meter and it’s one of my favorite items of clothing. I love the creative process of making clothes. This top was hand stitched and took about an hour to cut and sew.

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3. Shop thrift stores. A lot of people feel icky about shopping in thrift stores but it’s a great place to buy accessories. I love belts and thrift stores carry great leather belts for $2 or $3. Same goes for purses and costume jewelry.

4. Spend more on shoes. Over the years I bought my share of cheap, uncomfortable shoes. Not only my feet suffered but I had to replace them more often and spend more money in the long run.  Paying more for shoes is an investment and if you have a good pair of shoes you can get away with spending less on clothing.

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5. Buy less undergarments. I used to buy bras in different colors but the cost really adds up. Nowadays I stick to black or blue bras and wear them with everything, which is great when I travel. I’m not concerned with matching my bras with my tops. I wear a lot of loose-fitting tops and a blue bra can look interesting under a white tee. Once again the fit of the bra is key.

Thank you for reading and I hope you find some of this useful.

Back to the County

We returned to Prince Edward County to visit a few wineries in the area. The county is one my favourite day trips from Ottawa. Our first stop was in Wellington to have lunch at the Tall Poppy Café. The town is quaint with small shops and 200-year-old buildings on the shore of Lake Ontario.

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Next we stopped at Rosehall Run winery for a few samples.

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We continued to Casa Dea Estates Winery and tried a beautiful white wine made from Melon de Bourgogne.

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This winery has an Italian restaurant and a patio overlooking the estate. It also offers visitors games of chess and pétanque.

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My favorite winery was Chadsey’s. The property is beautiful and it’s currently for sale. They only offered white and rose wines and an unexpected sparkling rose.

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On our way back we stopped in Bloomfield for some much-needed ice cream.

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