San Francisco and the Wine Valleys

Union Square, San FranciscoOk, so I’ve decided that San Francisco is one of the few places that I could realistically pick up and move to. It’s not a fantasy that could never become a reality. I think I could actually do it and be really happy with that decision. Aside from the beauty of San Francisco, it’s the lifestyle that I fell in love with. I love that the locals are active, and have a laid back enough attitude where they can still be successful in life but can step away and see that there is more to life than work. I love the balance between a large city and the waterfront. I love that in the middle of the afternoon, people are hiking, biking or running. I love that just outside of San Fran, there are vineyards that provide a break from life. Have I sold you on San Francisco yet? Well then, let me keep building my case.

Union Square: Simply awesome.  Large department stores border around this massive city square that hosts a number of local events. When I was there, a number of localsYountville gathered to dance and listen to live music.  Can you believe that? I couldn’t!

Cable Car Ride:It’s a must if you’re in San Fran! Jump on the trolley and let it take you to your destination.  Unless it’s during peak hours, it’s pretty easy to find yourself a seat and enjoy the ride. And on a side note, no you can not hang off the side of the trolley like you see in the movies!

China Town:Just cool. It’s like a mini city within the city. Full of culture, good food, and great souvenirs. If you’re going to eat there, try Capitol Restaurant. It’s kind of pricey compared to other restaurants in China town. But delicious.

AlcatrazAlcatraz: I think this is pretty obvious and really don’t need to list the reasons for seeing this. What I can suggest is buying your tickets online beforehand. Depending on the time of year you visit, it could be sold out.

Napa & Sonoma Valley:You have to do a wine tour. It’s kind of waste if you don’t. Usually hotels can help you out and recommend wineries to visit. At the very least, they can get you in touch with several of the tour companies. Make sure that you stop off in Yountville. Crazy expensive if you eat lunch here, but so worth the visit!  Need suggestions on which wineries to visit? I preferred the smaller wineries like Sutter Home, Madonna Estates and Cline Cellars. The experience is just as important as the wine!

Golden Gate Bridge:Another obvious choice, but it’s actually really easy to forget since there is so much to do in San Fran!

Fisherman’s Wharf:  If I were a local, I would come here daily for inspiration.  You can buy blown glass bottles from street vendors, enjoy a meal along the water, walk to Pier 39, or just take in the view. You really aren’t short of options.

Appreciate:I don’t say this very often, especially about cities in North America. But there is something to be said about the architecture, color pallets and roadways of San Fran. Just walk, get lost, explore. The streets will just take your breath away.

There is much more to do in San Francisco, and I suggest staying here for at least three or four days to really get a feel for this beautiful city.Streets of San Francisco

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How to Enjoy Travel

I have always thought of travel as an essential part of life; no different than eating or sleeping. It shapes who you are and your outlook on life.  It makes you more accepting of cultures, and instills excitement that I truly believe can never be matched. Travel is not only what you make of it, it’s also who you share it with. So how does someone maximize their travel experience? Actually it’s pretty easy! Here are just a few things to consider once you book your vacation:

Find the perfect travel partner! If you seek adventure, travel with someone who wants the same thing. If you are afraid to try new things, go with someone who will push you enough so you don’t back down from an experience. If you hate planning? Go with someone who is willing to get lost with you. Don’t travel with someone who will hold you back. It’s not about boarding a plane, flying across the world and just standing still.

Step out of your comfort zone: Had I never embraced this way of travel, I would have never stepped foot on a cruise, hiked up a 10,000 ft mountain, driven an ATV, taken an overnight train, or shared a room with complete strangers! You have to embrace that life is not about being comfortable. It’s about challenging yourself to try new things and to be open to it.

Talk to locals: Don’t shy away from making friends. I still keep in touch with people who I’ve met on my travels. It’s incredible to have a network of people on the other side of the world. You get to swap experiences, talk about your travels and develop genuine friendships. We are on this planet for a reason, don’t be scared to find out what others think their purpose is.

Eat, drink and do it again: If there is one commonality in travel, it’s food!  Go to restaurants, stop off at the local market, pick up something from a street vendor, or eat at someone’s house. Food brings us together. Try it all or at the very least try it once. Who knows when you will get the opportunity again!

If you can walk it…walk it:If there’s one thing I’ve picked up during my travels is don’t drive a car if you don’t need to. Walking the streets allows you the most freedom to discover. You can find hidden alleyways, paths and shops that you would miss out on had you been in a vehicle. Walking through a city is much more fulfilling.

Try: You don’t have to speak the language, you don’t have to agree with the culture, you don’t have to like the food. But try. There is something to be said about those who are miserable and dismiss any type of experience. Don’t be that person. If you go to France and don’t speak french, try. People will appreciate it, and to be honest it will help you enjoy your experience even more!

Don’t bring kids:I know what people, especially parents will say when they read this. I’m not saying you can’t travel with kids. I’m saying travel is not as enjoyable with kids. Be honest, do you think a 7-year old wants to tag along to see the Louvre? Do you think a toddler should be out until 2am at the local bar or hip restaurant? Just think about it.

There you have it. Just a few things that can help you out when you travel. It’s very important to not only travel, but to enjoy it. You’re already lucky to be able to take a break from life, don’t waste that time on not enjoying the adventure that is in front of you. Safe travels.

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Olympia: Where it all Began

I’m sure by now you have noticed that I’m a huge fan of sport. I like the competitiveness, the discipline and the energy of a live sport.  I enjoy looking around and watching fans scream, cheer and come together for the greaterOlympia good of their team. I was very lucky to visit the place where amateur sport began, and I could only imagine what it was like in those times.

Olympia was the first place to ever host the Olympic games. At the time, Olympic sports were very different. The athletes didn’t represent a country, instead they were meant to only entertain the world. Athletes (only men) would participate in neandrothol-like competition, at times to the death.  As time passed, we obviously witnessed the evolution of the Olympics, but to stand in the very spot where the first torch was lit, where historical greats stood to observe the games is really quite moving.

So what is there to do in one of the oldest cities? Surprisingly, a lot more than just visit the historical grounds. The reality is Katakolan (Olympia) is a port town, so it can’t be compared to larger Greek towns. Stay for 24 hours and then get out.  Here are some tips on what to see and how to get there.

Geotravel: Do not, I repeat do not pay for any type of tour. When you get to the Katakolan’s main town square, locate the Geotravel office. From there, you can pay 7 euros each for a small private drive to all the places on this island. The tour includes Olympia.

KatakolanCarriage Ride: Take a romantic carriage ride through the Olympia grounds.  The area is lined with pedestrian friendly paths and wonderful scenery. A horse-driven carriage will only amplify the experience.

Agios Andreas: A beautiful but tiny beach tucked away on the side of the main town. It’s packed, especially if there is a cruise stop that day. If you  plan on skipping out on Olympia and making it a beach day, get there early or truthfully, you won’t find a place to sunbathe.

Restaurants: You will run into a number of outdoor restaurants as you walk through the main street. Now, which restaurant to pick is up to you. I do recommend looking at the menu and ensure that wherever you choose to eat serves their specialty fried cheese dish. Unbelievable.Argos Atheos Beach

Arte Cafe: Once you are ready to wrap up your day, make sure to stop off at the Arte Cafe and enjoy Greek espresso. The difference between espresso in Greece and anywhere else? It’s served with a touch of cream. Very strange, yet very good. And the view…tranquil.

Olympia: I know a lot of people who visit Katakolan debate on whether or not they should skip out on Olympia. I personally recommend the visit. You don’t have to appreciate sport or be a history buff to be floored by what used to exist there.  It really is worth the visit.

IMG_9628So there you have it. If you happen to stop off in Katakolan or want to see the birthplace of the Olympics, I really do think it’s worth the visit.  Don’t spend to much time on the island, all you need here is 24 hours.

Until next time….

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Istanbul: Two Sides of the Coin

Turkey is a country that straddles two continents and one of the only countries that truly embraces the influences of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It holds the remnants and class of European Emperors, the mystique of Sultans and the history of a place once ruled by all fractions. The sights and smells of Istanbul are ones that can only be truly appreciated when experienced for yourself. However, an insight into this beautiful country will leave you either sitting at the edge of your seat in suspense or rolling over in laughter at the sheer madness that happens in the country that diffuses elements of two distinct worlds.

 Istanbul. A word that whenever said brings a smile to my face. A city that stands out on its own like no other. And, the home to many foreign sounds and smells, food and shopping malls that would make any avid shopper drool at the sight, size and organization of these gigantic fashion houses. A city with 13.5 million people could be nothing short of an unexpected escapade waiting to happen. In every nook and cranny of this city are people who are willing to greet you with a smile and sell you something.

The first time we visited Istanbul, we stayed in the central district of Beyoglu and off the main street of Istiklal Caddessi (Independence Avenue). Istiklal Caddessi can only be compared to a Canadian Yonge Street or a New York Broadway Avenue. A busy street full of shopping, North American restaurants blended in with kebab shops, baklava bakeries and tea shops lined with waiters calling you in for a glass or two. At the top or start of Beyoglu is Taksim Square which houses the largest statue of Ataturk; the father of the modern Turkish state. The square is lined with merchants selling flowers of every colour and style. Roses of yellow, pink, and red line the square and the smells are only accompanied by the smell of street merchants selling simit, a bread that looks like a mix of a bagel and a pretzel. The square is in constant movement and the hustle and bustle can only be compared to the busy movement of people in the historic area of Sultanahmet. I have never been one for travel books; except to see the list of must visit bars. The rest of my travel has always been on foot and by exploration. Some may be disgusted with the thought of avoiding all the “Must See” tourist sites, other would flourish with the thought of going off the beaten track and finding out what the real Istanbul has to offer. Sultanahmet is the home to Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque and a maze of markets which are all beautiful and well worth a see. I however have only seen the outside of these majestic mosques since Hagia Sophia charges an exorbitant amount to enter. When I find myself in these predicaments, I can do only one feasible thing: stand in front, take a picture and read about it when I get home. To me this isn’t the real city; this isn’t where the heart and soul of the city beat so this isn’t where you will find me.

Of all the busy areas a traveller can find in Istanbul, Nisantasi and Ortakoy are worth a visit. Often not noted in the travel books, Nistantasi is the home to trendy European cafes, beautiful people that could grace the covers of Vogue Magazine and the home to the beautiful mall of City Nistantasi. Sipping fancy cocktails in one of the posh bars, watching supermodels flock on the arms of famous people I know nothing about and dancing the night away at Reina is what champagne dreams are made of. Ortakoy on the other hand, is home to café lined streets, undisturbed views of the Bosphorus and the home of Topane, a group of Nargile cafes where one can smoke as much shisa (flavoured water pipe) as your hearts content. The mix of these areas infused with the smells and noise of Sultanahmet give each of Istanbul’s districts their own distinct feel.

The posh areas of Istanbul are just one side of the coin. Recognizing the duality in everything that happens in the city is vital in understand the fuel that makes the city run. In Turkey, a common practice for many is to visit a bath house called a hammam. After exhausting ourselves from trekking around the city by foot for many days, a friend and I decided to relax by getting a massage. I was expecting the typical Western spa experience, an experience I got, but it was nothing I could have ever expected and it was nothing like the spa experiences back home in Toronto. We were instructed by the bath attendants to disrobe and made our way into the main hall that housed a massive room decorated in white and blue marble. The steam room was decorated in the most intricate floral and geometric patterns that echoed the vision of artists long gone. The complexity of the patterns transported me to the 16th century and I envisioned what being in Constantinople had been like and what the life of a concubine consisted of. Visiting a hammam is a common experience for Turks who go and wash away the day and relax in what becomes an important social experience. For me however, this was cultural learning at its finest. It was also at this point that I wished that I had packed not just a bathing suit but a wet suit. What went from uncomfortable went to sheer shock as a bucket full of cold water splashed against me. I soon figured that the cold water was to shock the system which was followed by warm water and a thoroughly cleaning and the deepest tissue massage I have ever had in my 30 years. One hour and three luffas later, I had finally figured out that with travel, you need to let go. In certain situations you don’t fight the cultural differences; you just go with it and enjoy the ride!

Istanbul is the type of city you go into knowing that you will get out of the city whatever you put into it. You will experience foods, smells and sounds unlike anything you would find in the Western world. You will also find exactly that- the West. It is exactly this that makes you want to visit over and over again. The fact that it is one of the only cities that mixes the two: old and new, east and west so well and allows the two to live harmoniously together without one outshining or competing with the other is what makes this city a must see and experience.

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About Slavi….

I hold my next guest blogger in the highest regard. She is personally responsible for kickstarting my passion for travel and thanks to her, she opened my eyes to the world in front of me.  She extended an invite years ago to travel to Europe with her, and because of that unbelievable experience, I haven’t looked back since. It is with great honor that this blogger has agreed to share her travel experiences on my blog and I know that she will inspire you, as she has inspired me…

~Jenn

The thrill of knowing you are leaving on that plane sitting on the tarmac, holding your ticket in one hand, your passport in the other and feeling the heavy weight of the carry-on mould into your shoulder is the first thrill of many as nothing but adventure stands in front of you. As they call your seat number, you realize it is all worth it, and all of the hours of packing, folding and refolding were worth every agonizing second.

And, this is why I love travelling! I love travelling because of my need to experience, feel and see a different perspective, a different point of view and most importantly to figure out that I am stronger and more adaptable than I ever thought I was. It is challenging oneself to problem solve, to figure out how to navigate a foreign ticket machine that seems to be in every language except English, to figure out an extensive subway, to order exactly what you want without pointing and to accept other cultures and people for exactly how different and how alike we really are.

I probably should have started with a subtle introduction, but who said travelling and adventure are for the subtle at heart. I grew up as the middle child of working class parents and made my way through University working endless hours in a cubicle. With a student loan under my belt, I used the little extra money that was left after paying the minimum payment on my student loan to travel. And travel I did – and still do. Travel has never been so exciting!

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Back at it!

If you follow me on Twitter (@travelwithjenn) you already know. Next stop, the beautiful and sunny St. Kitt’s!

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Maui: The Real Paradise Island

What can I say about paradise? Where to even begin? Hawaii, specifically Maui is probably the closest I will come to heaven….and I mean that literally.  I spent 2 short days in Maui, and I am certain I will be back at some point in my life just to see this beautiful island paradise again.

So where to begin? That’s a good question. There isn’t one place better than another in Maui.  When I thought one thing wouldn’t top the next, I was wrong.  There isn’t enough time to see all that this tiny island has to offer. You just have to go, explore and be open to anything and everything you come across.

So here goes:

 Haleakala Sunrise: You may think I’m insane waking up at 3AM and partially taking a bus and hiking up a 10,000+ foot mountain. Maybe. But there is no experience that has even come close to getting to the top of this mountain, to only see clouds above me and below me. At first, it’s cold, dark, even a little eery. But when that sun starts to rise, and the park ranger starts his ritual sunrise chant as the sun peaks out of the horizon, I will promise you that you will not feel more connected to this planet than in that moment. When I say it takes your breath away, I think that’s the biggest understatement of them all. (beware: it’s cold when you make the climb, but it is well worth it!)

Wailea Beach: You really didn’t think I wasn’t going to plop on the beach for a day, did you? Wailea is considered one of the best beaches in the world, so of course I had to go see that for myself.  This beach is between two of the swankiest hotels in town – the Four Seasons (where a salad is $41) and the Grand Wailea.  If you’re hungry and didn’t happen to bring wods of cash with you to the beach (because that’s normal!), I suggest taking a scenic walk to the shops at Wailea. Meal prices are a little bit more reasonable, and the view although not quite as enjoyable is still a nice one.  As for the beach itself, I can safely say it’s probably one of the top beaches I’ve been to, and I’ve seen my fair share of beaches. Sigh. 

Road to Hana: A scenic highway that twists through the spectacular rainforest, cascading waterfalls, and the coastline. As you drive there are some sharp turns, so if you aren’t comfortable driving, pay for a professional to get you there. Again, if you are a nature lover, this drive will be worth it. The drive doesn’t put you at ease, but the view sure does.

Red Sand Beach (Kaihalulu): Just one of the many reasons why I need to return to Maui. This beach is apparently very memorable just based on the red sand itself. This exotic beach has vibrant colors because of the eroded volcanic cinders and contrast with the crystal blue waters.  The only drawback? It’s a 10-minute hike down to the beach. But to see such a unique site, I would hardly call it a drawback.

Sea Turtles: I’ve seen some pretty interesting creatures, I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo! But, I have never seen see turtles quite so large or unafraid of humans. If they spot you in the water, don’t be alarmed because they will come close to say hello. They’re odd creatures, but kind of cute!

So there you have it. Just a few reasons to go to Maui. Personally, Maui was one of the nicest islands I’ve been to, and I definitely plan on going back. If you can afford the time, stay here for at least a week, it will be well worth it!

Safe travels!

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Wailea Beach

Wailea Beach

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Florence: The Real Deal

Florence is the city that gave me clarity in my life and for that I’m eternally grateful. It’s the city that showed me what life is truly about and is the city that kick-started my passion for travel. Before visiting Florence, I was concerned about the irrelevance that surrounded me; stresses from work and working hard but for the wrong reasons. It became very clear, very fast that life….true life…..is about appreciating family, good friends, fantastic food & wine, and amazing conversation.  Florence taught me a life lesson in less than 24 hours. Pretty incredible, right?

When I describe the “energy” of cities in my other posts, I don’t think I get the message across. It’s almost like an X Factor. Something that makes it so unbelievable and incredible that you would live there or return at the drop of a dime. Florence is that to me. There’s a special place in my heart that I have for this magical city and aside from the important life lesson it taught me, there is also so much to do.

So here’s where to start:

Piazza della Signoria – The most famous square in Florence and very busy one at that. Should you want to visit this historic area, I recommend visiting it  first thing in the morning.

Il Duomo & Campanile – You really can’t miss this. This extraordinary cathedral spans across the middle of Florence. Climb the bell tower for unbelievable panoramic city views.

Ponte Vecchio – You can buy gold jewelery or stop for gelato. It doesn’t matter, you just need to go! This bridge is awesome as you walk towards it and even better when you’re on it.

Baboli Garden – Once you cross Ponte Vecchio, you will be lead to this hillside park. It’s such a peaceful area in the middle of such a busy city.

Piazza Santa Croce – This square is worth the visit.  It’s in front of the cathedral and pretty happening in the evening.

Shopping – You haven’t experienced true retail therapy until you visit Florence.

Statue of David  – Outside of the Palazzo Vecchio sits this grand marble statue.  But don’t be fooled! The real statue of David is inside the Galleria dell’Accademia.

San Lorenzo Market – An experience in itself! If you’re looking for some good deals head towards this market. There are tons of street vendors and so much to buy!

Like I said before, Florence is more than a city…it’s an experience. The people, the food, the vibe is just something that can not be captured in words.  My hope for everyone is that at some point in your life you visit this unbelievable city. I hope it changes your life the way it has mine.

Safe travels…..

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Back at it in September!

Booked and ready to fly….See you soon Hawaii!

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