Posts Tagged With: vacation

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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London: Hit or Miss?

I guess it really depends on who you ask and what their preference is. Personally, I found London to be the most disappointing European city I have visited to date. I went to visit friends who were living there, so I feel confident that I had the “full British experience” during my stay. I did some typical London tourist activities, but also lived like a local in a suburb and shopped at grocery stores and hung at the local pubs. In my opinion, I feel like I did enough to warrant me saying I would never go back to London again.

So what’s disappointing about London? I hardly want to focus on the negative, but it’s just too easy. I think the overall feeling of London is very plain and simple. The energy lacks. When I compare London to other large European cities like Madrid, Milan or Paris; London falls very short in a lot of categories. There is a lot to do, but once you do them…you kind of don’t care to ever do it again. So let’s start:

The London Eye: It’s the slowest moving “ferris wheel” I’ve ever been on. You get  awesome views of London, but by the time you get to the top….you just want to get to the bottom. The London views are nice…..but not that nice.

Tower Bridge: “London Bridge is falling down….” Yep, that’s the bridge we sing about! Is it as breathtaking as the Golden Gate? Negative.

Big Ben: Right out of the subway, you will see Big Ben. It’s just about as exciting as I’m describing it!

Tate Modern: I’m not one for art so maybe I’m being a little harsh here. But I hardly think the combination of bobby pins, ripped cloth and spray paint or birds made from metal clothes hangers should be deemed as “artistic” or even interesting for that matter. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.

Westminster Abbey:  If you didn’t hear about it before, I’m sure you know about it now. This is the church where Prince William and Kate married. It certainly is beautiful, but again, I felt like this Cathedral was missing a certain element about it. It’s a lot colder and unwelcoming compared to other cathedrals I have visited.

St. Paul’s Cathedral: Although similar to St. Peter’s in Rome, it’s quite unimpressive. This church is just smack in the middle of the city and tons of people eat lunch on the steps giving it a really bad curb appeal. I judge based on first impressions…..clearly!

Buckingham Palace: So everyone told me I must go. The palace itself is impressive. It’s huge and the grounds are well kept. However, the changing of the guard I didn’t quite get. I waited an hour to watch one guard replace the another guard’s shift. I would call this uneventful, not interesting.

Trafalgar Square: This is the heart of London in my opinion. Ok, it’s nice! There are tons of people and some cool places to grab a drink. Does it compare to Puerta del Sol or the Piazza della Signoria? Sure doesn’t.

Picadilly Circus: London’s response to New York’s Time Square. Again, it’s cool. But I would hardly say it was a highlight.

Leicester Square: A statue, a theatre, some benches. That’s about it.

Hyde Park: Now Hyde Park was a treat. It’s a very large park in the city. Super clean, but eerily quiet. Nonetheless, I would recommend the walk through. Wear some comfy shoes because it’s a pretty big park. If you want to take a break, sit on the lawn chairs that are spread throughout the park.

Regent’s Park: I will actually say that Regent’s Park is cool. It’s very peaceful and along the lake. It’s certainly clean which is a huge plus. Again, compare it to El Retiro in Madrid….it doesn’t hold a candle.

Primrose Hill: Home to celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, this area is just steps from Regent’s Park. The homes are nice, the area nice. Is it worth the walk through? Again, depends on who you ask.

Abbey Road: I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles….however, this was actually a highlight. Abbey Road had a great energy. Tons of die-hard fans cross this famous street and take photos in hopes of replicating the album cover. My hubby is a huge fan and I actually signed his name on the studio wall where the recorded. It was a great experience and I’m glad I went.

Harrods: Harrod’s is the Mecca of shopping, I cannot dispute that. Every floor has something to offer; clothing, furniture, groceries, Christmas ornaments. It’s spectacular….if you’re willing to dish out some cash.

Hamley’s Toy Store: It’s definitely not FAO Schwarz, but worth stopping in. If you have children, add this to your to do list.

Primark: If you get here early enough, you can find some pretty amazing deals on accessories, shoes, clothing and housewares. I recommend it if you like to sift through stuff to get the best deal.

Oxford Street & Carnaby: Home of great stores like Top Shop, Mango, Zara and tons of vintage stores. It’s worth the visit if you want to make some additions to the wardrobe.  Note that British fashion though is very trendy. If you’re looking for statement pieces that will survive a few seasons….good luck it’s tricky to find!

Canary Wharf: The professional area of London. Kind of cool with some hip bars where people go after work to unwind. It’s good for a Wednesday night and worth the visit.   

The Tube: I will give credit where credit is deserved. London’s subway system is simply incredible and very reliable. The only thing that sucks…..they stop at 11PM. Not good if you want to pub crawl! Oh ya, taxis are super expensive and not a good option.

Cleanliness: Call me a snob….I don’t care. Brits standard of cleanliness are completely different from mine. When things get old, they should be replaced! Maybe that’s a North American way of thinking, but personally restaurants and pubs should not have rusty toilets and antique faucet dials. Again, just my opinion but I know there are people out there who agree.

There is a lot to do in London, there is certainly no shortage.  If this is your first trip to Europe and you choose London I think you would enjoy it. However, if you have visited a few other places before, I think you may be on the same page as me. It’s very unimpressive and lacks the European feel of most countries. Is it lack luster? For sure. Is it worth the visit? Maybe.

Until next time!

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Packing Light

I think I have packing down to an art. I really should teach a course. Depending on where you’re going and for the length of time, it is very possible to stick to one suitcase when you pack! If you’re really good, maybe just a carry on!  So how do I do it. Let me tell you!

Start with a list – I’m a bit of an organizational freak. I make lists for lists. That’s just my personality. But, if you make a list of what you need (I mean what you really need) that’s really all that you should pack. Don’t worry about extra clothing or the pair of shoes you might wear. Just worry about the essentials!

Plan your Outfits – Sounds weird, I know. But it actually works! If you plan what you are wearing everyday on your vacation, and throw in a couple of extra items just in case, you won’t run the risk of overpacking.

Wear the heavy stuff – This works when you are going somewhere cold. Don’t pack your boots…..wear them on the flight. Don’t stuff your jacket into your carry on….wear it. If you’re hot….too bad! Just deal with it. You can take it off when you’re in the air.

What can you buy?Very important. If you know your hotel is close to a shopping area, why are you going to pack things that you can just buy there? It makes no sense.

Hotel Amenities – Ladies, you know what I”m talking about. A blowdryer is our best friend, especially on vacation. But if you’re hotel provides a blowdryer, tons of toiletries and complimentary slippers…..why pack them?

Travel Size Everything – I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like shampoo and conditioner. I have a travel size flat iron and a travel size clothes steamer that I take with me everywhere I go. And yes, my suitcase is always under the weight limit!

There you have it. Just a few things to consider when you are getting ready for your next adventure. If you pack light, you avoid a lot of lineups and questions at customs. It’s a time saver too!

Happy packing!

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Marseille: A Welcome Surprise

Remember how I talked about cruising and how there are some stops that you aren’t particularly excited to see….and then you get there and you’re so happy you went?  Well Marseille is that perfect example. I will be honest, I could have cared less about Marseille. I didn’t know much about it and I wasn’t really interested in learning. That is, until I arrived.

Marseille is a surprisingly enthusiastic city and the oldest city in France.  It isn’t small in comparison to other French cities, in fact, it’s the second largest in the country.I’m not a history buff, but I certainly recommend either a guided tour or read up on Marseille before you get there. This port city has a lot to offer, you just need to know what you’re looking for.

Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica – The first thing you see in Marseille. How can you miss it? This basilica sits at the peak of the mountain on the south side of the port. Be prepared to sweat! There are steep stairs and hills to climb, but the spectacular panaromic views of Marseille are completely worth it. It’s worth taking a look inside as well.

Chateau d’If – If you have watched the movie The Count of Monte Cristo, then you know about the Chateau d’If. Reminiscent to San Francisco’s Alcatraz, the Chateau sits on the island of If and can only be reached by boat. You can explore the courtyard and surrounding area by catching the ferry from the old port.

Petit Train Marseille – This little train is designed specifically for tourists to get through the city. There a designated spots where you can jump on and jump off. Depending on which circuit you take, stops include the Basilica, St. Victor’s Abbey, and Hotel Dieu. The fares are very reasonable, but depending on the stop, you may encounter a long line up.

Catch of the Day – You can’t go out and fish, but you can definitely appreciate the fish market. As you walk through the port, watch local fisherman wheel and deal with market vendors. They catch the fish, rell them in and sell it to the markets at a good price. The area can smell a bit, especially during a hot day – but the fish could not be any fresher. If you love seafood, you would definitely appreciate this market.

Quai du Port – After a long day, I encourage a croissants, cappuccino and people watching. Choose from the many cafés or restaurants along Quai du Port and sit back and take in the views.

Graffiti – Say what? For anyone who has travelled through Europe, I’m sure you have noticed the increase in graffiti from self proclaimed artists. I personally think it’s a shame that people are willing to ruin historical areas with their self expression. However, since going to Marseille I have actuallydeveloped a slight appreciation for it. The graffiti here is stunning with vibrant colors and positive messages.  It actually adds to the city rather than take away from it.

Marseille is a beautiful city that you can experience in a day or two. I wouldn’t recommend staying here for too much longer than that. There is a lot to do if you have are a history buff, but if you’re looking for the balance of history, beach, shopping and nightlife, you may want to consider elsewhere. Nonetheless, I’m happy I’ve seen Marseille first hand. It was a surprisingly wonderful experience.

A la prochaine…..

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Monaco: The Fairytale

What can really be said about arguably the most beautiful place on earth? Are you stuck on where I’m referring to? Monaco, of course! I’ve been to many places, but without a doubt Monaco tops the list. It’s one of those countries (yes, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world!) that you visit and think to yourself…”Oh ya, I could live like this!” Where to begin when I talk about Monaco?  It’s so small, but truly has anything and everything you would ever need.

If you are visiting the French Riviera, be sure to dedicate some time to drive to Monaco. Drive past Villefranche-sur-Mer and the tiny coastal town Eze. You can miss Eze in the blink of an eye, so look for it. Perhaps the obscurity of Eze is what attracted celebrities like Bono and Sir Elton John to own villas here . The drive is no longer than an hour (depending on how many times you stop!) and is simply breathtaking. There are no words in the English vocabulary to describe the drive.

Once you get to Monaco, there is plenty to do and enjoy. Like I said, it’s small but it truly is spectacular.

Monte Carlo – Not the capital city of Monaco, (that would be Monaco Ville) but probably the most known district in Monaco, thanks to the Grand Casino, luxury hotels and James Bond. You must make your way to this district, and take it all in. You will really understand what true luxury is. A word to the wise, if you’re hungry….don’t eat in the casino square if you’re on a tight budget. Actually, don’t eat anywhere in Monaco! You will pay a premium.

Harbor – A part of Monte Carlo, but really is deserving of its own description. You will not see a tugboat here. In fact, it’s out of this world and almost ridiculous that people own these kinds of water vehicles. Walk down to the marina and look or possibly cry….you choose!  If you get really into it, you’ll even notice that some mansions that overlook the harbor don’t have a driveway – instead the residents opted for extra privacy and park their yacht below and take their own dedicated funicular up the mountain, right to their doorstep.

Golden Circle – Yet another place in Monte Carlo deserving of its own description. If you have enough restraint, stroll down Avenue des Beaux Arts or Avenue de Monte Carlo. It really is the Mecca of all shopping as far as I’m concerned.  No where, and I mean absolutely no where compares to this!

Circuit Train – It’s a bit of a tourist attraction, but it actually is much better than a map. Monaco offers tourists a full circuit train that departs from the Oceanic Museum every half hour. It’s not a hop-on-hop-off train, but this short ride lets you see the country very quickly. So when you decide to venture off by foot, you know exactly where to go.

Purple flowers – You may think that sounds insane right? Who cares about purple flowers? I never did until I got to Monaco. No matter where you go, these random flowers seem to pop up everywhere. It just compliments the entire ambience. They are beautiful!

Palais du Prince – The Royal Palace. The entrance fee is reasonable and watching the changing of the guard is free. There are 15 rooms to walk through, including a room dedicated to Nepolean’s personal belongings. If your time is limited in Monaco, skip it!

Oceanic Museum – On the cliff of Monaco (and where you catch the circuit train), the Oceanic Museum is home to the most tropical fish and deep-sea predators. I wish I had visited this place since I’m developing a fascination for aquariums but I just didn’t have enough time. Maybe next time….because there will be a next time.

Cleanliness – I have NEVER EVER seen a place so pristine. You can honestly drop your baguette on the sidewalk, pick it up and eat it. (I would not judge!) That’s just how clean this country is. I don’t know if it’s the residents or if it’s the hired help that keeps Monaco so clean, but whoever takes care of this country’s upkeep needs to offer up the same service to other countries around the world!

Events – When I was in Monaco, they were just wrapping up Formula One Grand Prix and getting ready for Tour de France. I’m a bit of a sports enthusiast, but this kind of stuff you just don’t see in North America. It’s pretty awesome.

Energy – You really have to be there to understand what I mean. Monaco is a very “rich” country. A regular Joe-Schmo can’t live there unless you have a couple of billions in the bank (national GDP averages 4 billion dollars). Although this is a country full of wealth, it’s not snobby. The citizens are welcoming and you don’t feel intimidated.

I mean it when I say it, Monaco is a fairytale. It’s hard to believe that there is a place on this universe so perfect. I think the birds chirp louder, the sun shines brighter, and the flowers are in year-round bloom. It truly is a magical country full of history and beauty.


Until next time…….

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Cruising: Good or Bad?

Stop the madness! In light of the negative attention that cruising has had in the past few weeks, I thought I would help put everyone’s mind at ease. I’m an avid cruiser. In fact, I don’t think there is a single better way to travel. Strong statement, right? Like anyone reading this, I too was a non-believer. Well, until I went on my first cruise.

Before I address the obvious issue that has been hitting the news waves….(ehem, sinking ship!) Let me address the reality of cruising first hand before you make any rash decisions. Here are some reasons of why to consider cruising:

Convenience: Where else can you unpack for weeks, have the same home base, but wake every morning in a new location with minimal effort?

Food: I’m a foody! I love food, snacking, desserts, you name it…I will eat it. Of all the expensive restaurants, all-inclusive resorts and hotel room service meals that I have had, it does not compare to the quality of food on a cruise!

Ports of Call: I would say I have been happy with all the ports I have ever been to 95% of the time. Sure, there are a few stops that I could do without but I certainly don’t regret going or discovering these places. In fact, some ports I didn’t care for when I booked, turned out to be some of my top faves.

Things to Do: There just isn’t a comparison to an all-inclusive resort! We’re talking rock climbing, swimming pools, hot tubs, theatre, ice skating, basketball courts, mini putt, arcades, casino and so much more. In fact, there isn’t enough time to do all of these things!

Service: I have a high standard for service, I really do. Every night there is turn down service, staff addresses me by my first name, I go to dinner and the waiter knows the dishes inside and out and provides guidance as to what to order, and customer service is exceptional. I have never been disappointed with the service on cruise ships.

Rooms: Ok, they’re tiny! But this is hardly a complaint. If anything, I’m thankful. Who the heck wants to be in their room while on vacation?

Safety: Funny I mention this, right? Everyone needs to rest assured that contrary to popular belief, there are actually safety drills. I have never boarded a ship that hasn’t told me where the nearest emergency exit is or where I can find my life jacket. There’s a channel on the TV (that re-runs over and over) that goes through the entire safety procedure!

So there you have it folks, just a few reasons why cruising shouldn’t be entirely off the list. I understand why people are wary. I mean, it’s not like people were jumping at the chance to fly after 9-11. But the reality is, sometimes things go wrong. We take a risk getting into a car or getting on the bus everyday! So don’t be afraid people…just cruise!

Happy Cruising!

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Aruba: Bon Bini

“Bon Bini” really sums up the island of Aruba. From the moment you step foot onto this wonderful little island, you feel the warm spirit of the island.

Finishing my Yard!I have visited this island twice, and I’m sure I will return at some point again…in fact it would be a shame if I didn’t. My first experience in Aruba, was a short one. It was part of a cruise stop, and I was really forced to explore this island in fast forward. The second time, I stayed for a week, and I really took the time to explore this beautiful island.

For anyone who is used to the typical all-inclusive holiday, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Aruba.  The pro’s are there is so much to do in comparison to other Caribbean islands.  There is a variety of restaurants, casinos, night life, beautiful white sandy beach, and plenty of activities.  The con’s, there are limited amounts of “all-inclusive” hotels, so if you’re looking for a cheap vacation, then I would warn you to stay away from Aruba.

So what’s there to do? Tons!

  • Shopping: Take a bus (yes, it’s safe!) into downtown. For a little island, there is actually a lot you can buy. Jewelry is less expensive, there are clothing stores and a row of stands and kiosks that sell souvenirs and keepsakes.
  • Senor Frogs: You want nightlife, well where else can you drink a yard, and be part of a conga line where you get shots of free tequila poured down your throat? Tons of fun!
  • ATV: if nothing else, go ATVing through the island. It’s a quick and fun way to explore all that this island has to offer. You go through the beaches, the mountains and if you’re tour guide lets you, ask him to take you to the Springs! It’s unbelievable after a long day in the sun!
  • Hotel: I’ve heard great reviews about a lot of hotels. From experience, I’m recommend the Hyatt. It’s beautiful, has a onsite casino, is right on the strip and backs on to a wonderful beach. Did I mention there’s a waterslide? You really can’t expect much more from any hotel!
  • Restaurants: Half the fun of not staying at an all inclusive, is you’re forced to leave your resort. The Hyatt has a number of restaurants on premise, but don’t limit yourself. Go to Texas de Brazil or El Gaucho…trust me, you will not regret it!
  • Water: Besides miles of white sandy beaches, rent a seadoo or get a bunch of friends and do the banana boat! It’s a great way to keep active, and still tan!

I’ve been to a number of islands, but have to say that Aruba is one of my favourites. If you ever feel the need to take a week for some fun in the sun, I would not hesitate to recommend this wonderful island.

Happy travels!

Categories: Caribbean | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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