In Defense of the All-Inclusive Resort Vacation

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of all-inclusive resorts.

What’s not to love about AI resorts? 

I have no problem with beaches, pools, buffets and all the margaritas you can drink. I love aqua aerobic classes and cheesy nightly shows. So why do I usually turn my nose up at AI resorts? Because I don’t think they’re real traveling. And yes, I acknowledge that this is my inner travel snob talking!

To me, traveling is discovering new places, trying new foods, seeing attractions, interacting with local people, learning more about the local culture and having genuine experiences in a new place. Most of that is hard to accomplish at the swim up bar of a resort. That’s not to say it’s impossible – you can always leave the resort, go into town and discover something new. But I think the problem is when people don’t. I know lots of people who don’t experience more of the world outside of their AI resort.

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So what changed?

My perspective!  I still don’t think spending a week at an all-inclusive resort is traveling. But, I do think it is a vacation. And those are sometimes not the same thing. In my opinion, a vacation is a break from your real life where you get to relax and recharge. On vacation you don’t have an itinerary and you’re not constantly on the move. It’s not always possible to fit in a lot of “vacation” time when you’re busy traveling through a new country. But an AI resort is all about the vacation!

Our trip to Mexico

Colin and I just got back from a week at an all-inclusive resort in Huatulco, Mexico. I was hesitant when this vacation opportunity first came up. I really didn’t want to spend money on a week at a resort. But the idea of ticking Mexico off my list (I can’t believe I hadn’t been to Mexico yet!) and spending time with my boyfriend in the sun, instead of alone in Snowcouver, sold me on it.

The view from our room!

The view from our room!

And I’m super glad we went! Things have been a bit stressful in the last month or so preparing for our move, Colin’s mom selling the house and trying to fit my freelance work and new job opportunities in where I can. It was really nice to take a break from it all. I originally thought I would bring my laptop and just do my freelance work in Mexico. But I wanted to have an actual vacation. So I worked hard ahead of time and spoke with my editors so that I could have a full week off. I still did a bit of work but I was mainly in relaxation mode!

Hola Senor Iguana!

Hola Senor Iguana!

I loved our routine in Mexico: sleep in late, head to the Mexico restaurant for breakfast, meet Colin’s family on the beach, grab lunch, switch to the pool, shower up, go to dinner, and then enjoy some music or entertainment outside. We mixed things up with some aqua fitness classes and catching some of the nightly shows as well.

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And we also did some non-resort activities. We took a cab into town one day and got to visit the local market, a church and a famous pizzeria. We also went on a snorkelling excursion, but I got seasick and came home early. And we did get to practice and use our Spanish, which was a really fun challenge. I loved using my limited language skills with the staff and learning new words en espanol! So we did get a dose of “travel” on our vacation.

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So really no complaints about lying under beach umbrellas, dipping in the ocean, grazing the buffet (there were churros!), dancing to a DJ and drinking way too many margaritas. But now we’re back to real life: packing, cleaning and working. While I don’t miss the constant sunscreen application, I do miss the waves, drinks, sun and chill vibes that you might only be able to find at an all-inclusive resort.

Adios Mexico! Hasta Luego!

Adios Mexico! Hasta Luego!

A Granville Island Staycation

So I finally got to use the Granville Island Vancouver Tourism package I won back in April. The timing worked out perfectly: my subletter arrived on Monday, I stayed at the hotel Monday – Thursday, and then headed up to Surrey for my final week before Vietnam.

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Welcome to Granville Island!

Arriving at the hotel Monday after work was really blissful. Even though I’ve been to Granville Island countless times, I was excited to just have a little break. I had spent the whole weekend doing an intense deep clean of my apartment in preparation for my subletter and packing up all of my stuff for the hotel, Surrey and Vietnam. It was so nice to put down the heavy bag I had lugged to work, plop onto the super comfortable king sized bed and just have a bit of indulgent relaxation.

Monday night I had the hotel to myself. It’s comical how much I enjoyed sitting crossed legged on the big bed eating fish n’ chips and watching Jeopardy. Those are the joys of hotel life that really thrill me. I ended my first night with a nice long shower and star-fishing in the middle of the bed with the lights out by 10:00pm.

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Best. Bed. Ever.

Unfortunately, going to work the next day wasn’t as fun. It’s hard to have a real staycation when work keeps getting in the way. Staying in a hotel usually means sleeping in so it was upsetting to be leaving my beautiful big bed before 7:30am.

On Tuesday night, Colin met me at the hotel and we headed to Dockside Seafood Restaurant for dinner, courtesy of the $200 Dockside gift card that came with my contest win. I had heard that Dockside was a nice place but Colin and I were both really blown away with the gorgeous decor, stunning view over the water and delicious food. We got the best seat in the house, right by the window, and thoroughly enjoyed our chili shrimp, prime rib and chocolate lava cake dessert.

We continued living our fake rich lives by heading to the hotel spa/health club and watching our TV show “Flash” from the jacuzzi. We had to blast the volume on the TV in order to hear it over the bubbles of the hot tub.

The next day, I headed off to work while Colin enjoyed a proper staycation by spending the day on Granville Island. He got to sleep in, have lunch at the Public Market and wander through all the little shops on the island – I spent the day printing posters and formatting excel sheets, so he clearly won.

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Super blurry pre-show selfie!

But we reunited that night. We went back to Dockside to finish off the rest of the gift card, enjoying a seafood carbonara and Thai bouillabaisse. We then headed over to Vancouver Theatre Sports League’s Improv Show with the ticket voucher that had come with my contest win. I had seen VTSL shows a few times before and usually found them pretty hit or miss. Luckily, the show we saw on Wednesday was definitely a hit! We laughed our heads off and, despite my nervousness when we got sat in the front row, didn’t get picked on by the actors. We ended our night watching “Survivor” while sharing a Toblerone from the vending machine.

And the next morning, I went off to my last day of work at UBC! That part hasn’t really sunk in yet. I imagine I’ll write about it once I’ve been funemployed a little longer and settled into my 12 day stay in Surrey. But I’m really glad I got to start this big time of transition in my life with a nice relaxing staycation on Granville Island with my favourite person!

A birthday weekend in Harrison Hot Springs

This past weekend I celebrated my 24th birthday by living my dream of pretending to be one half of a well-off elderly couple AKA spending the weekend at Harrison Hot Springs!

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I’ve been lucky that I’ve gotten to spend a lot of my birthdays in some really cool places. I’ve never been the person who wants a huge dinner or night out a club for my birthday. I always prefer to get away somewhere and just spend the day with a couple of special people.  And then stretch out the celebrations by going for lots of birthday brunch dates 🙂 My favourite blogger has a goal to spend each birthday of her 20s in a new country. And while I haven’t quite hit that milestone, I still love the idea of celebrating in special places.

Where I have celebrated so far:
1) I turned 15 at a beach resort in the Philippines with my Aunt Hayley and her family.
2) I turned 18 during my internship in Sosua, Dominican Republic. It was our day off so we spent the day horseback riding and picnicking.
3) Technically I turned 19 and 20 in Toronto but 19 was after spending a month in Peru and 20 was only a week or so after getting back from my first ever Europe trip!
4) I turned 21 in Mbabane, Swaziland and then took off to Cape Town for some more celebrating.
5) I turned 22 in Tokyo, Japan amidst lots of humidity and a delicious sushi dinner.

But back to turning 24!

Colin and I drove out to Harrison Hot Springs on Saturday morning. Our original plan was to be in Calgary this past weekend for the Stampede and to visit with Colin’s family.  Unfortunately, that trip didn’t happen but fortunately it’s because Colin started a new job! Even though our Calgary road trip got postponed, I still wanted it to feel like a bit of a road trip so I got Colin to fill up his phone with a new road trip playlist featuring a lot of 90s/00s hits.

We arrived in Harrison around 1pm and had just enough time to check in, grab lunch and walk along the beach. I was amazed at how tiny and cute the town was! After check-in, Colin suggested a place for a quick lunch. I asked if we should drive and he laughed because it was literally across the street.  Everything in Harrison seems to be right across the street.

The beach! Unfortunately, we didn't get a ton of sun.

The beach! Unfortunately, we didn’t get a ton of sun.

At 2:30pm we had our spa appointment at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa – a birthday gift from my mom. I love spas. Everything is so indulgent and you get to strut around in a flurry of aromatherapy oils and terrycloth robes.  Colin had never been but trust me, he’s now a convert.  We started with a mineral spring soak with lavender mud and then a couples’ massage. We were both in heaven – thanks, mom!

Post-spa bliss

Post-spa bliss

As guests of the spa, we were also able to use the resort’s hot springs pool. What a nice end to our spa appointment – soaking in a warm pool outdoors and sipping on frozen drinks!

Pretending like we're in the Caribbean or something

Pretending like we’re in the Caribbean or something. PS: this is the lap pool; the other pools were much prettier!

After our pool time we returned to our hotel (a whole 3 min walk from the resort) to get showered and ready for dinner. We had reservations at The Copper Room which is, according to online reviews, the nicest restaurant in Harrison.  Most of the reviews raved about the food and made note of the live band and elderly clientele. I couldn’t wait 🙂

And, it totally lived up to the reviews! Colin and I got the chef’s prix fixe menu that included an antipasto plate, raspberry sorbet, entree plate of meats and sides, and a trio of desserts. It was all really tasty (except the mushrooms and artichokes on the antipasto plate, but mainly because we are picky when it comes to vegetables).  We were stuffed but even the next day kept talking about the tender beef and delicious chocolate hazelnut square.

Enjoying our dessert

Enjoying our dessert

But the best part was the dancing. Colin and I didn’t dance but I loved listening to the live band (picture 4 guys in their 50s/60s) who played songs by request so couples (also in their 50s/60s) could get up and dance.  There were lots of birthday and wedding anniversaries being celebrated that night and it was so cute to watch couples celebrating their 30th or 50th wedding anniversary slow dance to their wedding song. And these couples were killing it! It’s obvious they have been taking lessons and practicing just to show off their stuff at The Copper Room.

They requested "Moon Rive" - Awwww!

They requested “Moon River” – Awwww!

After dinner we walked along the beach and around a little lake.  Back in our hotel room, I was content to spend my last hours of 23 watching House Hunters on HGTV.

The next morning I woke up to lots of texts, calls and birthday cards.  I thanked all my well wishers while Colin slept in.  When he finally got up, we walked over to a cute mom and pop restaurant for a nice big breakfast.  After our meal, we walked out to see the actual hot springs sight.  It wasn’t actually much to see but the smell was pretty memorable (and not in a good way). Finally, we said our goodbyes to Harrison and started our journey home with a short detour at Bridal Falls.

Bye Harrison!

Bye Harrison!

Bridal Veil Falls is a cute little mini-hike (don’t worry, I still complained the whole walk up as if it were a real hike) to see these gorgeous waterfalls that are meant to look like a bride’s veil. It was a nice stop and only 20 mins outside of Harrison. From there we got back into the car and I introduced Colin to the musical “In The Heights” as we drove back to his house in Surrey.

Bridal Veil Falls!

Bridal Veil Falls!

Back at Colin’s, his mom had planned a really nice birthday dinner for me.  Unfortunately, she had pinched a nerve in her shoulder and was bed-ridden.  We had a delicious BBQ chicken satay with corn and potatoes.  For dessert, she had made a jello cake for me – I had never had one before but it was so tasty! We walked it into her room so they could sing happy birthday to me all together.  It was a really sweet end to a wonderful birthday weekend! And to make matters even sweeter, my friend Andrea sent over a delicious box of chocolate covered fruit.

Jello Cake with exactly 24 candles!

Jello Cake with exactly 24 candles!

Chocolate goodness from Andy!

Chocolate goodness from Andy!

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Here’s to another year older and (hopefully?) wiser!

A weekend in Pender Harbour

Every year, my boyfriend’s family gets together in Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast.  His mom’s cousin, Larry, and his wife, Marnie, own a water-front property up there.  Every July long-weekend they invite everyone and their dogs up in trailers, RVs and tents for a week of kayaking, fishing, marshmallow-roasting and drinking. The highlight of the week is the big horseshoe tournament and roast dinner where the winners get their names added to the coveted trophy.

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Last year, after my China misadventure, I came home and was lucky enough to be able to join Colin and his family for the last few days of their 2015 Pender Harbour trip.  It was the perfect China antidote: clean air, lots of love and family, and a perfect escape back to nature. I elected to keep my phone off and just enjoy the people and the place.

This year, Pender Harbour fell just one day after we returned from our Toronto wedding and quick trip to Montreal.  We arrived back in Vancouver around 10pm on Tuesday, I worked Wednesday and Thursday, and then Colin picked me up Thursday after work to drive to the ferry terminal.  It was a crazy week for sure but Pender is the perfect place to relax after some crazy.  Unfortunately, Colin and I were only able to stay for the long weekend as we both had to work Monday, so it wasn’t quite as long and relaxing as we would’ve liked.

View from Marnie & Larry's deck

View from Marnie & Larry’s deck

We arrived Thursday evening and got to work pitching Colin’s brand new 8-man tent.  He had previously bought a 3-man tent but I nagged him relentlessly until he upped the size.  8-man may have been a bit large but it was nice to stretch out and have lots of room for our stuff.  Colin forgot our bedding, but we were able to borrow lots of blankets, sleeping bags and a miraculous piece of foam to keep ourselves dry and comfy.

By Friday morning, most of the other relatives had arrived and everyone had claimed their spot around the property.  We took a quick walk down to the dock and spent the rest of the morning watching the guys chop down some trees, enjoying Marnie’s homemade fish head soup and playing with baby Kennedy. After some lounging, we decided to drive over to Skookumchuck and hike in to see the rapids.

Colin's Instagram shot of the Skookumchuck Narrows

Colin’s Instagram shot of the Skookumchuck Narrows

I’m not a big hiking person but this actually wasn’t a terrible time.  Looking back (and acknowledging that I have probably repressed the worst parts), I actually enjoyed myself.  The hike was really pretty – there were Jurassic Park-like glades, a beautiful lake and it ended with the natural phenomenon: the Skookumchuck Narrows where differences in water levels creates insane rapids and whirlpools that a handful of brave kayakers take on. There were a few moments of uphill that my thighs were upset about and poor Colin got stung near a very active wasp nest but all in all, it was a great time.  In fact, the hardest physical part of the hike was being squished into Colin’s backseat with his two 15 year old cousins who were all limbs for 30 mins there and back.

Colin and I after the first couple hours of hiking

Colin and I after the first couple hours of hiking

My favourite part about Pender Harbour is ending each night by the fire. I love looking up at the stars and just taking in the quiet with everyone in lawn chairs seated around the fire.  Of course, making s’mores is part of that fun as well!

The next day was all about the horseshoes and the roast! More friends and family poured in for the annual tournament that would consist of 30 games and last apx 7 hours (with a dinner break) thanks to a 2-loss elimination rule.  This is also where I learned that my horseshoe skills have not improved since last year but had, along with my enjoyment level, seriously decreased. But the partner that I bailed on after two games (sorry, Dave!) did go on to win the tournament with his new partner, so I really did them both a favour 🙂

On our final day in Pender, we didn’t get up to a whole lot. We had a nice breakfast and then started taking down our camp, packing up the car and saying our goodbyes.  Unfortunately, we never did find the time or perfect temperature to go swimming and Colin missed out on the guys’ big fishing trip.  So hopefully next year we’re both able to take a little longer off work and extend our stay.  But it was still nice to have our short and sweet visit this year.

**I decided to go phone/internet free for this Pender visit as well so unfortunately I only have a couple photos snapped on Colin’s phone to share**

Montreal for a minute

A week ago Colin and I drove from Toronto to Montreal for a quick 36 hour stay in the French Canadian city. It was a bit of a whirlwind coming off of our wedding weekend in Toronto and knowing we had to fly back to Vancouver just two days after we arrived but I think, despite the heat, we both had a good time.

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We left Toronto shortly after 12pm on Sunday and didn’t arrive in Montreal until closer to 7pm. The trip was pretty smooth sailing for the most part: we listened to the Hamilton soundtrack, counted roadkill (11 and 1/2 on the way there, 8 on the way back) and stopped in Belleville for lunch. But things turned hectic as soon as we entered the outskirts of Montreal.  It seemed like almost every road was under construction and our GPS didn’t know to route us around it.  Poor Colin, who had already been driving for 5+ hours on little sleep, kept getting thrown onto different freeways and one-way streets until we finally made it to our hotel (which we had to circle twice due to lack of parking). Once we got checked in, we flopped on our bed for a quick breather before heading out for a late night dinner.

A couple friends had recommended we visit Montreal’s famous smoked meat restaurant, Schwartz.  We walked the 20 minutes from our hotel and found ourselves in a packed, hole in the wall diner sharing a table with two large Russian men. We ordered a smoked meat sandwich each while admiring the countless newspaper reviews and celebrity photos on the walls. Verdict? Colin loved his sandwich and I was just meh about it. I don’t think smoked meat is really my thing.

First stop: smoked meat!

First stop: smoked meat!

We headed back to our hotel and cut through the Place des Arts.  This outdoor area is completely pedestrian-run and taken over by festivals in the summer. Unfortunately, there weren’t any festivals going on while we were in Montreal but it was fun to stroll through, listening to street performers play their instruments and watching little kids run through the fountains.

Heading out the next “morning” (I think it was past noon by the time we left), we were met with a bit of muggy weather. We decided to walk down to Old Montreal. From a handful of trips to Montreal, I think this might be my favourite part of the city. I love the cobblestone streets and cute little shops. We stopped at Chez Suzette and indulged in some delicious breakfast crepes. So yum!

YUM!

YUM!

After eating, we walked up to Notre Dame and I was pretty blown away. It reminded both Colin and I of the gorgeous churches in Europe. We paid $5 to go inside and I think it was well worth it. From there, we strolled down to the Old Port.  We happened to stumble upon this really cool amusement park-type thing that had a bunch of inflatable bouncy castles – except they were all different pirate ships. And on the other side, it had an insane ropes course (easily 3-4 stories high with 20+ obstacles) that ended with a zipline across the water. If Colin and I weren’t scared to death of heights, it would’ve been a lot of fun to give that a try.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

We walked back to the hotel for a mandatory air conditioning break.  It took quite a lot of cajoling by Colin to get me back outdoors but we finally did make it back out. We took an Uber (because Colin was done with driving in Montreal) to Mont Royal to check out the scenic viewpoint. And I guess all of Colin’s cajoling was worth it because the view was stunning!

Overlooking Montreal from Mt. Royal

Overlooking Montreal from Mt. Royal

From there we took another Uber to St. Joseph, Montreal’s most famous church. When we first got there, the sight of the stairs almost had me turning back but I made it up and we found an escalator for the last bit.  To be honest, I wish we had seen St. Joseph before Notre Dame as I was actually a little unimpressed. This is the church where Celine Dion was married but I didn’t find the inside nearly as spectacular as Notre Dame.

St. Joseph

St. Joseph

One cool part about St. Joseph was the gardens outside. You follow a path through a dozen or so statues that depict the crucifixion of Christ. It was actually really interesting because they set it up so that you’re walking uphill just as the statues would show Christ carrying his cross up a hill.

After all that sight-seeing, it was time for dinner. We headed to La Banquise so Colin could get his much sought after Montreal poutine. We had planned to visit another poutine place but our hotel concierge insisted that La Banquise was the best poutine in the city.  The restaurant itself was really cool and, of course, really busy. We managed to snag a table and ordered our poutine. Colin got a smoked meat version (he’s hooked on that smoked meat) while I opted for one with cheese sticks and marinara sauce instead of gravy (I don’t actually like poutine, so this was my compromise).  And since I’m not a poutine lover, I’ll have to trust Colin’s verdict that this was the best poutine he has ever had.

Colin enjoying his poutine!

Colin enjoying his poutine!

Following dinner we dragged our full bellies one store over for  dessert at La Fonderie.  We got a small chocolate fondue and it was delicious. I’m sure there is better (and cheaper) fondue to be found in the city but we were satisfied – so satisfied that after our fruit was gone we kept sticking our fingers in the bowl to get more of the yummy chocolate!

The next morning we had to pack our bags and get started on our long drive back to Toronto. While we didn’t get super lost this time (just one wrong turn out of Montreal), we did hit some crazy traffic coming back to Toronto making our journey another 7 hours.  But before we left Montreal, we had to sample some Montreal-style bagels!

Bagels for the road!

Bagels for the road!

We headed to Fairmount Bagel, the oldest bagel shop in the city, and picked up two poppy seed and two chocolate chip bagels.  They were extremely dense and we both enjoyed them.  Though eating them in the car without a knife to spread the cream cheese did prove a little difficult.

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And that was Montreal! It was a short little trip but fun to play tourist and fill our bellies with all of Montreal’s finest.  I hadn’t been to Montreal in about 7 years so it was nice to head back and Colin definitely enjoyed his first trip. We were both big fans of the architecture and the food but decided that the humidity and language barrier would be enough to discourage us from moving cross-country permanently.

Victoria Day in Victoria!

Since moving to Vancouver in 2010, I’ve been to Victoria a handful of times.  It’s always a quick day trip (except one overnight for work, that doesn’t really count) where most of my time is spent commuting. Which is probably why I’ve always said that my favourite part about Victoria is the beautiful ferry ride.

Now, the ferry is no longer the favourite.

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That’s not to say I don’t still love the ferry, because I do! I love the giant soft serve ice cream, strangely alluring need to browse the gift shop and ability to always see some awesome aquatic wildlife from the deck. But now I’m coming around to so many other cool things in Victoria itself.

I convinced Colin that it would be really fun for us to spend Victoria Day in Victoria.  Sorta like how my dream is to eat a nanaimo bar in a Nanaimo bar. So we decided to head over to the island for a quick Sunday/Monday trip.

A few highlights from our trip:

We arrived early on Sunday afternoon and got to check out a cute outdoor market and the famed Munro’s Books. I love outdoor markets – I would literally plan my days in Europe around which markets were open when. And Munro’s Books is a place I could spend hours and millions of dollars in.

Munro's Books

Munro’s Books

Our next idea was to find a brewery. We had one selected, but it ended up being closed on Sundays (one of the downsides of Victoria – there was also a high tea place I wanted to visit that was closed Sunday/Monday). So we headed to Phillips Brewery. To be honest, I was expecting a cool little tasting section but it was just a place to fill up growlers. Oh well, next time!

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After that we stopped for lunch at this cute pizza place with giant glass windows. I think it’s a chain but I’m forgetting the name of it. Anyway, it was delicious!

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After pizza we walked towards the Empress Hotel. One day I want to really splurge: spend the night there and go for their $80 high tea.

From there we walked over to the parliament building. I’m always struck by how gorgeous our parliament building is – to be honest, it sorta puts the Empress to shame.  We were really lucky that just as we were strolling by, a high school band was setting up. We figured it might be fun to listen to a song or two. We actually ended up staying for their entire set and having the best time. The band performed modern songs, like Uptown Funk, Bang Bang and even the Game of Thrones theme song, and the kids were loving it. They were all dancing and really getting into their music. It was so much fun – maybe the highlight of the weekend!

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Next we walked over to Fisherman’s Wharf. I didn’t realize Victoria also had a Fisherman’s Wharf and it was sorta reminiscent of San Francisco’s. And there were seals!  Three gorgeous seals were hanging out right by the dock and putting on a little show for us tourists who were only too happy to buy them fish to eat and snap their photo.

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We walked around and checked out all of the float homes on the wharf with our ice cream cones. The homes are really cool! Though I can’t imagine the home owners appreciate a bunch of nosy people walking within feet of their homes at all times of the day and night.

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To finish off the night we got some mouth-watering fish n’ chips and took a cute little water taxi back to our hotel. We watched Game of Thrones on a very tiny phone screen and then headed to bed.

Selfie from the water taxi

Selfie from the water taxi

The next morning we headed out to watch the Victoria Day parade! I love a good parade. I’m hesitant to call this one a good parade, but probably because I was raised on the crazy float-abundant Toronto Santa Claus parade.  But what the Victoria Victoria Day (VVD) parade lacks in crazy floats, it makes up for in marching bands.  Whoever said quality over quantity, clearly was not a part of the VVD parade committee. We watched from the sidewalk and again from our breakfast table at Cora’s and saw no less than 8 different marching bands.

After breakfast, we headed out of town and stopped at the Highland Games festival. We watched Scottish dancing, sword fights and a strangely enticing goose maze where an elderly Irish man and two dogs would very slowly attempt to herd a group of scared geese through various obstacles.

And that pretty much wraps up our trip! From the Highland Games we drove back to the ferry. Being a long weekend and us not having a reservation, we were expecting a long wait. And we did wait for a couple of hours, but we managed to squeeze in (second last car!) on the 3:00pm ferry back to the mainland.

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Next up: I serve as a co-maid of honour (co-MOH) at my friend’s wedding in Toronto next weekend.  Stay tuned for details on that adventure!

 

LA: Must Sees & Maybe Passes

I figured since I did one for New York, I might as well do one for LA! I just came back from my second-ever visit to Los Angeles.  Colin, his mom and I were there at the end of March for a quick week of sight-seeing and relaxing on the beach.  Read on for the highlights and lowlights of our itinerary!

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Uber
PROS: Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that Uber is a popular ride-share program.  You also know that LA traffic and transit are notoriously horrible. Uber was absolutely our saving grace.  We got all around LA, from Anaheim to Venice Beach, via Uber.  We saved a ton of money and met some interesting drivers – from world travelling photographers and ex-racecar drivers to our very own LA tour guides.

CONS: We don’t have Uber in Vancouver.  The worst part of Uber is that we couldn’t bring it home with us.

VERDICT: Uber is definitely the way to go when visiting LA.  It’s cheaper than taxis (and sometimes cheaper than renting a car) and way more convenient than public transit.  I couldn’t be a bigger fan. Uber, please come to Vancouver!

The Farmer’s Market
PROS: The Farmer’s Market has been a staple in LA since it opened in 1934. I really loved this space – so many stalls with all different types of cuisine.  We sampled gumbo, pizza, gyros and bbq in our two visits and barely cracked the surface.  Plus, it’s a covered outdoor market so we actually got to eat next to a giant tree.

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CONS: It’s not your traditional Farmer’s Market – it’s more like a diverse sprawling foodcourt.  And I do wish we had done a bit more research to make sure we hit up the best stalls.

VERDICT: Definitely check it out! There is something at the Farmer’s Market for every taste bud.

The Grove
PROS: The Grove is the beautiful outdoor shopping centre right next door to the Farmer’s Market.  There are lots of shops and a gorgeous fountain right in the middle.  I love that LA weather is so pleasant and rain-free that an outdoor mall is actually a viable option.  An outdoor mall in Vancouver would be open for max 2 weeks a year.

CONS: While the Grove is beautiful, it’s also beautifully expensive.  We were pretty much priced out of all of the shops.  But we did enjoy lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, splurging on a Michael Kors purse for Colin’s mom and window shopping.

VERDICT: If you can afford it, definitely check out the Grove for some fun shopping.  And even if you can’t afford it, it’s still a fun place to visit.

Trader Joe’s
PROS: I know Trader Joe’s isn’t LA-specific but I could wax poetic about this US chain until the cows come home.  I love Trader Joe’s.  I love the fun snacks, chalkboard signs and funky re-usable bags.  But most of all, I love that they sell wine for $2.49!

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CONS: Again, the biggest con is that we don’t have this wonderful chain (with its wonderful liquor prices) in Vancouver.

VERDICT: Always go to Trader Joe’s. Always.

Going to a show taping
PROS: We went to a taping of The Late Late Show with James Corden (we were hoping to see Ellen but she wouldn’t give us tickets).  It was fun to be at a live taping and see how the production of a show comes together.  James Corden was hilarious and we really loved seeing his guests Sam Heughan (yum) and Luke Bryan (yummier). Plus, we were on TV!

CONS: There were so many lines! We arrived at 2:30 and stood in line (outside in the sun) until past four.  And then we were brought through security only to sit in another line.  We were taken upstairs to the studio where we, you guessed it, stood in line, until they finally took us to our seats.  Another con, musical guest Rita Wilson performed her song not once, not twice but three times.  There are certain songs I would love to see performed three times in a row – this was not one of them.  Also, we didn’t get any free swag 😦

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VERDICT: If you’re prepared to wait a while in lines, it can be a fun experience. It would probably be best if you’re really into the musical guest, just in case they have to perform 3+ times.

Universal Studios
PROS: We decided that instead of Disney, we would go to Universal Studios during our trip.  This was a great call since Disney is way busier and neither Colin or I particularly enjoy rides.  Universal was amazing! We went to a bunch of shows to see stunt people, special effects, animal actors, etc.  We went on the studio tour and got to see lots of movie sets, more special effects and even sat through some 4D rides.  But the best part was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We had checked online before our trip and saw that TWWoHP wasn’t opening until April 7th and we were leaving on April 5th. But when we arrived at Universal, we were told that it had been “soft open” for a few weeks! Actual tears came to my eyes. I was so excited! I literally skipped into the magical world and was just blown away by the whole place.

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Butterbeer!

Butterbeer!

CONS: I thought I would be listing long lines here but strangely enough our Saturday visit to Universal Studios was not too busy at all. So I guess I would say the cons of the day would be the food (overpriced and lacklustre, which is to be expected of fast food at an amusement park) and the one ride we went on: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. As I mentioned above, neither Colin or I are ride people.  We don’t do roller coasters, heights, and you would probably have a hard time even getting us on a merry-go-round.  However, we decided to be brave and try the Forbidden Journey.  There were a bunch of cool Harry Potter artifacts along the way, no lines and many ride-goers had assured us it would be nothing like a roller coaster.  They were right.  It was worse.  Needless to say, we did not enjoy ourselves.  I spent the entire ride muscles straining to hold on as tight as possible to my seat, eyes practically glued shut and silently willing myself not to cry.  We made it through, but I don’t think we’ll be risking it on any other rides again soon.

VERDICT: Universal was great! I would definitely recommend it. I think it’s better for an older crowd and there’s tons to see/do if you don’t love rides.  If you’re happy to skip meeting Mickey Mouse, this would be my recommendation.

Hollywood Tour
PROS: We took a tour on our second day in LA.  It picked us up in Anaheim and drove us around to Venice Beach,  The Santa Monica Pier, Rodeo Drive, The Grove/Farmer’s Market, the Walk of Fame and then back to our hotel – all for $50! It was a great way to see a lot of LA in one day. I particularly liked our stroll along Rodeo Drive and seeing all of the stars on the Walk of Fame.

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CONS: The timing seemed a bit off.  We got off for an hour at the Santa Monica Pier – not during meal time or when the amusement park was even open – but only half an hour at the Walk of Fame.  We also wished our driver had pointed out some more sights to us during the drive.

VERDICT: I’m usually not a fan of tour buses but if you’re short on time and want to see the highlights of LA, this is a great way to do it.  It was nice to not have to worry about transportation or where we needed to go.

Anaheim Ducks game
PROS: So our initial reason for going to LA was actually to watch our Vancouver Canucks play the Anaheim Ducks.  Actually, this was Colin’s reason.  I can’t really condone going all the way to LA to watch a hockey game, but it was a fun experience.  And the Canucks won!

Go Canucks Go!

Go Canucks Go!

CONS: It’s kind of hard to cheer against the home team.  I missed being able to cheer along with the crowd.

VERDICT: If you happen to be in Anaheim during hockey season and you’re a fan, sure, take in a game!

LA Clippers game
PROS: Our next professional sporting game was in the famed Staples Center and we got to cheer with the home team.  I love basketball and haven’t been to a live NBA game in a long time so this was a real treat for me.  Plus, the tickets were fairly cheap and the Clippers won!

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CONS: We wanted to see the Lakers, of course.  Unfortunately, we got priced out of that game.  Sorry, Kobe 😦

VERDICT: I might be a bit biased here since basketball is my favourite sport and we don’t have a team to watch in Vancouver, but I would definitely recommend taking in a game and cheering on the home team!

Olvera Street
PROS: This street is tucked away behind a large church by LA’s Union Station.  It’s referred to as the Mexican Market because it’s home to stalls and stalls of Mexican food, clothing and other wares.  As someone who has never been to Mexico, this was a pretty cool area to explore.  We ended up buying some beautiful blankets (for only $10!) and snacked on churros while listening to a travelling mariachi band.

CONS: As authentic as the stalls looked, I resisted my urge to buy some of the traditional Mexican items.  I would prefer to buy them in Mexico! So, I guess this isn’t really a con, but more of an increasing desire to travel to Mexico!

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VERDICT: Again, as someone who hasn’t actually been to Mexico, I really loved this little market and think it’s a great LA stop.

Marina del Rey & Venice Canals
PROS: The canals themselves are actually pretty cute.  They’ve got nothing on the Amsterdam canals but there are lovely homes all along and a bunch of little bridges.  It’s a quaint little community and sort of hidden off the main streets.

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CONS: The marina, on the other hand, was a pretty big let down.  We walked for quite some time to get there and then were pretty disappointed when we realized we had made it.  Maybe we didn’t go to the right part?

VERDICT: See the canals.  Skip the marina.

Venice Beach
PROS: We spent the last three nights of our trip at a beachfront hotel on Venice Beach.  It was awesome! The beach itself is beautiful – not too busy, great waves and nice warm sand.  And then the boardwalk and Venice Beach culture is so eclectic.  I loved walking around and seeing all of the vendors, street performers and shops.  It was the best place to stay and so much fun to explore.

Colin & his mom getting their wave frolick on!

Colin & his mom getting their wave frolick on!

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CONS: While we didn’t run into any issues, I probably wouldn’t recommend any midnight strolls in the area.  The locals are definitely fun and seemingly harmless but even when we went out after 8 looking for a late dinner, we ran into more open tattoo parlors than pizza shops.

VERDICT: Absolutely check out Venice Beach – and sample the fish tacos by Muscle Beach! They are, as the sign says, the best in Venice Beach.

The Santa Monica Pier
PROS: The Santa Monica Pier is really fun.  As soon as you spot the iconic ferris wheel, you know it’s going to be a good time.  There are lots of people, vendors and amusement park rides and games for all.  And, best of all, off the end of the dock you can spot seals and (so I’m told) dolphins!

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CONS: The pier is well-known and therefore, flooded with tourists and overpriced vendors.  I wouldn’t suggest it for too much shopping or dining if you can avoid it.

VERDICT: Being the end of route 66, it’s iconic, so you might as well see it. But I would go mainly for the seals 🙂

In N Out
PROS: Well, at least we can say we checked off a California must? All of our Uber drivers told us we couldn’t leave LA without trying In N Out.

CONS: I wish we had left this one out. I’ve had In N Out twice before and was not impressed either of those times. I don’t know why I thought this time would be any different. To be honest, the food is nothing special (sorry, Californians!). And to make it worse, we decided to go lie in the sun afterwards to let the gross food really take its toll on our bodies.

Yuck.

Yuck.

VERDICT: Hard pass.

****

Los Angeles was a great trip.  It was so nice to spend six days with Colin and his mom, to be in the constant presence of palm trees and to not have to worry about work or school or anything else.  We fit in a lot of fun stuff but also made time for relaxing on the beach and watching TV back at the hotel.

Since coming back to Vancouver in 2014 to finish my degree at UBC, I haven’t done a lot of big travelling.  It was  a change to be more settled and to not have future plans to move to so-and-so foreign country for 1-6 months.  But I have had so many other great life experiences and opportunities.  And I’ve really started to embrace the idea of local travel.  As much as I want to jump on an international plane every time I see a flight deal posted, with work, rent and two weddings this summer, I know it’s not realistic.  And I’m learning to be okay with that.  I still plan to see a lot of the world – there are so many countries I can’t wait to explore.  But in the meantime, there’s a lot of my own backyard to see.  The last time I went to LA, I was 12, so this was kind of like a first trip for me.  It was fun to play tourist and go on a little adventure, even if it was only a 2 hour plane ride away.  And we have other plans this summer to head down to Seattle, do our Calgary roadtrip and possibly even fit in a trip to Montreal when we’re back in Toronto.  So yeah, lots to see around here while I save up and countdown to the next big trip 🙂

New York: Must Sees & Maybe Passes

Way back in August of 2015, Colin and I went on our first trip together. We started it off by meeting all of my friends and family in Toronto and then exploring New York City.  It was both of our first trips to New York so we wanted to see as much of The Big Apple as August humidity would allow.  Below is a list of some of the main spots we went to, why they were awesome, why they sucked and what we would do differently next time.

*Disclaimer: there was a lot of New York we missed so this list is by no means comprehensive!
**Another disclaimer: despite not being comprehensive, it’s still a fairly lengthy list. You may need to break for water while trying to get through it. 

***

Grand Central Terminal (not Station)
PROS: Grand Central Terminal (only tourists call it Grand Central Station) was our first New York stop. The building itself is gorgeous and so iconic from all of the movies it has featured in.  There is also a cool room with “whispering walls” that is worth checking out and a pretty sweet food court in the basement.

CONS: I had this overly romantic idea that I would pull Colin into the middle of a throng of busy commuters and kiss him passionately as if we were getting on two different trains. Only, the throng of commuters ended up being a bunch of overtired tourists staring at maps and busily snapping photos.

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VERDICT: Definitely an easy stop to check off your New York bucket list but at the end of the day, it’s just a train station.

Shake Shack & Magnolia’s Bakery
PROS: Shake Shack and Magnolia’s are two of New York’s most iconic food chains.  And they definitely produced solid food.  We enjoyed our burgers and cupcakes.

CONS: But we didn’t enjoy them that much.  Maybe all of the hype had raised our expectations or maybe we visited the wrong locations but we weren’t blown away or rushing to visit either place again soon.

VERDICT: If you happen to be passing a Shake Shack when you’re in the mood for a burger, sure, head in and grab one. Or if you’re a cupcake connoisseur and want to scope out the original Magnolia’s Bakery location, why not? But if you visit New York and don’t make it to either, I don’t think you’re missing much. (Native New Yorkers, please don’t kill me! I also don’t think much of California’s beloved In-N-Out, if that helps.)

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
PROS: Full disclosure, the sweet frigid air conditioning wafting out of this place is what initially drew us in.  But it ended up being a really fun time!  We loved posing with all of the celebrities and sipping on the frozen margaritas we bought (in souvenir cups, of course).  And there’s actually quite a bit to see!

CONS: It’s definitely not the cheapest place to visit.  You get a very clear feeling that you’re walking right into a tourist trap as you hand over your credit card.  And I assume the original Madame Tussaud’s in London, with the never-ending line to get in, is way better.

Ahhhhh!

Ahhhhh!

Looking fierce with Kim K

Looking fierce with Kim K

VERDICT: If you visit New York in August, this is an amazing place to get out of the heat.

Time Square
PROS: Um, it’s Time freaking Square! The most iconic landmark in New York! Our first visit to Time Square was actually in the middle of a downpour.  You’d think that would make it on the cons list, but it actually was a huge pro.  Firstly, it helped break the disgusting humidity. And secondly, we got to watch crazy tourists do cartwheels through puddles and huddle under a yawning with local mascots Batman and Spiderman.  After it was all over, the Square had pretty much cleared out so we could snap pictures and marvel at the signs to our hearts’ content.

Hanging with the NYPD in Time Square!

Hanging with the NYPD in Time Square!

CONS: Because it’s so iconic, you know it’s going to be packed.  That’s part of the magic, so you just have to embrace it.  Also, everything within eyesight is marketed to tourists and you’ll be paying way more for it.  We had the pleasure of overpaying for a pretty gross Italian meal just off of the Square.

VERDICT: You definitely need to see it.  You don’t, however, need to eat anywhere near it.

Alice’s Tea Cup
PROS: You’re probably wondering what this is.  It’s not a New York landmark.  It is a hidden gem that Colin found for us one morning.  It’s tucked between some adorable brownstones on the Upper West Side and features the most extensive list of teas.  It’s an adorable place for lunch, brunch or high tea.  Also, if you bring a small child there, they will offer her fairy wings to wear during her meal.

CONS: No one offered me wings 😦

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VERDICT: If you can get there, I definitely recommend it for a brunch date.  It’s a great local spot and nearby to all the museums and Central Park.

American Museum of Natural History
PROS: This museum is INSANE.  Honestly, if we had actually stopped to read every plaque and check out every exhibit, we would probably still be there.  The place was fascinating.  Bonus: it’s pay-what-you-can so is definitely affordable.  Double Bonus: their air conditioning game was real strong.

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CONS: It is A LOT to take in.  I get museum-ed out after about an hour or two.  I think we lasted three hours in this place but I was definitely feeling it by the end.

VERDICT: If you’re into museums, it’s a great one to hit.  Plus, you can pretend like you’re Ben Stiller and co from Night at The Museum!

Central Park
PROS: Again, so iconic! And maybe the only truly green space in the whole city.  I love how huge this park is and that there’s something for everyone.  We really loved the John Lennon memorial (across the street from the hotel where he died and where Yoko Ono still lives), Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain (the fountain from Friends!).

CONS: It’s highlights are it’s downfalls – the park is just so big! We were there for quite some time but we barely saw any of it.  Also, it’s very hard to explore a park in gross weather, especially when you’re coming from a beautifully air-conditioned museum.

Bow Bridge in Central Park

Bow Bridge in Central Park

VERDICT: Definitely go to Central Park.  And if you can go when it’s not sweltering or freezing out, all the better.

Mets game
PROS: I’m not a huge baseball person but I had an amazing time at the Mets game! I bought a shirt and Colin bought a hat so we could truly support the team.  There were tons of fans so the atmosphere was electric.  And they won, which didn’t hurt!

Go Mets!

Go Mets!

CONS: It’s a bit of a ways out of the city.  It’s not too hard to get there by transit but it is a long ride.  And, of course, it may have been more iconic to see the Yankees play.

VERDICT: If you are into baseball, I would definitely recommend it.  I can loan you my shirt 🙂

Staten Island Ferry
PROS: In preparation for our trip, I searched through all of my favourite travel blogs for NYC tips.  One that kept coming up was taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry and I’m really glad we did.  First of all, the ferry is FREE! Nothing in New York is free so that in itself was cool.  And you get the most amazing view of the Statue of Liberty from the boat.

CONS: Because it’s free, and used by non-tourists for actual commuting, it’s pretty busy.  We went early and still had to push through the crowds for a good sightline to Lady Liberty.  Also, there is nothing to do in Staten Island (sorry to any natives! But I’m right, aren’t I?).  They enforce all passengers getting off the boat so we literally walked off the ferry and then joined the line to walk right back on.

VERDICT: If you have the time, this is definitely the cheapest way to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty.  If you have the money and interest to see her up close and personal, I’d suggest a boat tour instead.

Brooklyn Bridge
PROS: This was probably my favourite part of New York.  I love bridges! I don’t know why but I think they are so beautiful and love being able to walk across them.  In fact, the only New York photos I have printed and framed are of the Brooklyn Bridge.  The bridge itself is gorgeous but it also offers some amazing views of Manhattan.

CONS: It’s not a short bridge.  And there are lots of other tourists, vendors, bikers, etc. on it so expect some crowding.

One of my top 3 fave bridges

One of my top 3 favourite bridges

VERDICT: If you’ve brought the proper footwear for bridge walking, I definitely think this is a must for a trip to New York.  Plus, unlike Staten Island, there is actually stuff to do on the other side!

NY Pizza
PROS: What’s more New York than authentic New York pizza? I did my research on this one too and had us try two different places: Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn and 2 Bros Pizza in Manhattan.  Grimaldi’s was delicious! Honestly, it rivals the pizza I ate in Naples (different, but almost as delicious).  And 2 Bros was simply known for being tasty and cheap ($1/slice!), which it was!

CONS: Grimaldi’s is an authentic pizza place – right down to their long waits, slow service and lack of air conditioning.

He loves that I'm using this picture of him :)

He loves that I’m using this picture of him 🙂

VERDICT: You have to try authentic New York pizza when you visit New York.  I’m not 100% sure we went to the very best places, so I would suggest doing some research first.

Broadway
PROS: If you know me (or have read any of my blog posts in London), you know that I love musicals and Broadway. The greatest allure of New York for me was the chance to see a show on Broadway.  We lucked out and got to see two shows very affordably.  We visited the TKTS booth and scored cheap seats to Hedwig and the Angry Inch and then Colin won us two seats to Book of Mormon during the daily ticket lottery!

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CONS: There are no cons, it’s Broadway.

VERDICT: I think taking in a Broadway show is an essential part of the New York experience. Luckily, we got to do it on the cheap.  Not everyone gets to win the Book of Mormon lottery (of course Colin wins on his first time meanwhile I lost every time I entered in London).  But the TKTS booth is a great way to score cheap seats.  They don’t have all of the shows but you can check out the listings online.  Also, pro tip: visit their location near Water St and not the one in Time Square to avoid the lines.

Top of The Rock
PROS: After some more careful research, we opted to do Top of The Rock instead of Empire State for our view of the city.  I’m really glad we did, though I can’t say we definitely made the right choice since I have nothing to compare it to.  But we decided to do Top of The Rock because it was less busy, less expensive and included a view of the iconic Empire State building.  It’s sort of like when people go to Paris and go up the Eiffel Tour to see the view – you’re missing the most iconic building in Paris in your view because you’re standing in it! We also decided to do our Top of The Rock experience at night.

CONS: While I listed it as a pro, I think going at night was also a con.  Don’t get me wrong, we got amazing views of the city all lit up.  But I’m sure we missed out on the awesome sunset view.  Also, it’s not such a good time if you’re not into heights.

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VERDICT: I really enjoyed the experience and the view but I don’t think I would fork up the cash to do it again.

 

Places we just saw the outside of (and that was okay):
The following places were only outwardly graced with our presence – aka we stood on the opposite street corner and took a picture. And, to be honest, a picture from the outside was all I needed.

  • The MET, Radio City Music Hall, 30 Rockefeller Center, Wall Street (Raging Bull, Trinity Church, New York Stock Exchange), Empire State Building, Flat Iron Building, Tiffany’s

Places we just saw the outside of (because we couldn’t get in):
The following places were places we wanted to see but due to early closures, long lines, expensive admission, etc. we were unable to. Until next time!

  • New York Public Library, Serendipity Cafe, Yankee Stadium, World Trade Center Memorial (tour)

 

*****

And that was our New York trip! I knew I would get around to posting about it at some point 🙂 We had an amazing time and saw a lot in only a few short days. I would love to go back (and score tickets to Hamilton!) sometime soon.  But there are also lots of other amazing places on my list to see!

How to visit everyone you know in 4 days flat*

*So “everyone” might be a slight exaggeration, but let me have it

In the last week of August, my guy and I headed back to my hometown of Toronto for an absolute whirlwind trip of family, friends and (of course) food.  We also had to sneak in a few tourist highlights, as it was someone’s first trip to #the6ix.

***

Wednesday (Day 1)

We started with a delayed red-eye on Tuesday evening that didn’t have us flying out of Vancouver until 2 in the morning! My family met us at the airport and greeted our groggy bodies and blood shot eyes with giant hugs.

Back at home we dined on a lovely homecooked breakfast before passing out hard for a much-need mid-morning siesta.  By 1:00pm we were awake and on our way to the Toronto Zoo with my siblings.

Getting to know the wildlife at the Toronto Zoo!

Getting to know the wildlife at the zoo!

The zoo was actually a great time. I’m not always a huge fan of zoos and I hadn’t been to one in about a year, and not to the Toronto one in many years.  We took in the special exhibit on the Giant Pandas and then made sure to see everyone’s favourites: gorillas for me, wolves for my sister, careful following of the map for my brother, and a Beaver Tail snack break for my guy.

After a few hours at the zoo and right about when we had had it with Lee’s complaints of sore feet, we headed back to the car and home for a Lee Family BBQ!

It was so nice to catch up with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents from the Lee side. I love our family get-togethers and know I had missed quite a few. It’s always tough to find time to actually chat with everyone especially when there are dogs trying to steal food, baseball games to watch, adorable babies to play with and way more food than necessary waiting to be consumed.

After all that family fun, our fivesome (who were six for the night) decided to fit in a little more bonding over a friendly game of Texas Hold ‘Em. My sister and I spent the majority of our childhood trying to convince our parents to play boardgames with us or attend disco parties we had planned.  It was kind of nice to spend a few hours doing the adult version of that.  Everyone enjoyed it, even Lee, who I think ended up winning a few hands and then pulling a Robin Hood (stealing from the bank to help his sisters out).  I don’t know who won but I’m pretty sure I came top 3 🙂

Day 1 recap: arrival, zoo & family bbq
Day 1 total # of fam/friends visited: 14

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Thursday (Day 2)

We had to head out straight away Thursday morning to make it downtown in time to join the Ladies Lunching (my mom, aunts and a few cousins) at a cool spot between the financial and entertainment districts.  The food was a bit strange and the company was all female, but my guy pulled through.

After lunch, we loaded my mom up with our suitcases (sorry, mom!) and headed over to The Hockey Hall of Fame. I was preparing for 3-4 hours of absolute boredom.  Turns out, it was actually a good time (and only 2 hours!).  I needed a lot of interpreting but even I could appreciate some of the awesome trophies, the 4D movie and the interactive areas.  Partners of hockey lovers: do not fear! The HHOF is not all that bad!

From there we headed up to Nathan Phillips Square to pose with the newly iconic Toronto sign (courtesy of the Pan Am games) and to meet my wonderful friend, Kimberley, over a few beers.  We got to catch up with Kim, I got asked to be a co-MOH and then we jumped on the subway en route to the Annex.

 

#typicaltourists

#typicaltourists

Reunion over board games!

Reunion over board games!

In the Annex we met up with some more of my high school friends for a great night of cheap food and board games at Snakes and Lattes. I’ve been to S&L lots of times but it’s always more fun with a big group. The 7 of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves over a number of fast-paced and quick-witted games.

Day 2 recap: lunch, HHOF, beers, boardgames
Day 2 total # of fam/friends visited: 13

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Friday (Day 3)

Friday started with Toronto’s must-do tourist attraction: The CN Tower! Again, I hadn’t been for years so it was a kind of cool (and horribly expensive) experience for me to go back up.  The security is tight (at one point, you walk through a machine that blasts air at you while supposedly searching for explosives) and the views are awesome.  It was fun to get a great view of the city on a non-cloudy day and to try and point out different spots (“I used to live right there!” “Where?” “Look where I’m pointing!”)

View from the top!

View from the top!

We stopped for lunch at the Jack Astor’s outside the big ScotiaBank Theatre and then carried on to Yonge and Dundas where Buskerfest was in full swing.  It was a pretty great time to experience the area, though the mob we got stuck in on the way home (when I desperately needed to pee) was not the best.

Back at my mom’s, we packed up our stuff and caught a ride with my cousin.  Thanks to rush hour traffic, we got to Mississauga about 90 minutes later.  In Missisauga we picked up my other cousin and then headed on to Fort Erie where the Ang Family would be cottaging for the week.

Around 9pm, we pulled into the cottage site and got to explore our new home for the weekend. It was too dark to head down to the beach so we lazed around the living room and got our butts handed to us in a few rounds of Big 2 by my pre-teen cousins.

Day 3 recap: CN Tower, Buskerfest, cottage
Day 3 total # of fam/friends visited: 9

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Saturday (Day 4)

On Saturday morning we woke up and got to appreciate the beautiful lakefront cottage we were staying in.  Our room that night looked right out to the water and we decided to take our breakfast out on the lawn.  A little while later (because it takes a while to get 10 people going) we headed out to Niagara Falls!

Another off the tourist bucket list: seeing the falls! We got to experience them up close with a ride on the Hornblower (formerly known as the Maid of The Mist which apparently the US has copyrighted for boats leaving from their side). I remembered the Maid of The Mist as, just that, misty.  I knew you got the plastic ponchos but I didn’t remember actually needing them.  Well, either I was wrong or something has changed because on the Hornblower we got SOAKED! Even in our ponchos, it felt like we had gone swimming. But it was a great time and no better way to appreciate the beauty and power of Niagara Falls.

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We followed our swim with a walk up Clifton Hills and lunch at the world’s slowest burger joint.  From there we headed back to the cottage for the main festivities: Grandpa Ang’s 80th Birthday! The rest of the family started pouring in and the cooking began in earnest.  We feasted on fish, chicken and 4 different cakes until our stomachs ached.

When you turn 80, you get 4 cakes

When you turn 80, you get 4 cakes!

Family by the fire

Family by the fire

After dinner and dessert, we headed down to the beach so my man could earn his keep by building us a campfire.  12 years in the Boy Scouts proved useful and soon we were roasting marshmallows, singing along to a ukulele and praying the rain would stay away.  There’s something about singing with my family, whether it be to Jason Mraz tunes around a campfire or classic carols on Christmas Eve, that always warms my heart.

Day 4 recap: Niagara Falls, birthday dinner, campfire
Day 4 total # of fam/friends visited: 8

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Early the next morning my extremely kind cousin drove us to Pearson so we could catch our noon flight to NYC.  I love every opportunity to see my family and I think we really made the most of four very short days in Toronto.  We got to see a lot of people and fit in a few tourist classics.  Granted, it wasn’t the most relaxing trip and it sucks that I could only see most people for a single meal, if that.  But any chance to be with my loved ones in Toronto is always worth it.

Grand total: 44! We managed to see 44 members of my friends/family in only 4 days! And that’s not double counting; 44 different people were graced with our presence 😉

Until next time, Toronto!

Down by the bay

This past weekend I decided to tack on a few vacations days to our Family Day holiday and spend them down in San Francisco (aka Frannie) with some lovely ladies who I first met in Amsterdam a year ago!

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Carlie and I ventured down from Vancouver to meet our friends, Stephanie and Candy, who both live in Frannie and go to San Francisco State.  I’ve been to Frannie before but it was Carlie’s first time. And lucky for us, we had our own tour guides! It was the perfect way to see the city: enjoying the tourist highlights while also getting a bit of a local perspective. And while the forecast called for mostly rain, we did luck out with some awesome rays of sun. My blissful 5 days in Frannie were filled with friends, sights, fabulous food, photos and so many laughs.  It was an awesome way to catch up with people I haven’t seen for a while and recharge before going into a pretty busy stretch at work.

And here is Frannie in photos:

Alcatraz!

Alcatraz!

Chilling with the sea lions on Pier 39!

Chilling with the sea lions on Pier 39!

It doesn't get more Frannie than clam chowder in a bread bowl on Fisherman's Wharf

It doesn’t get more Frannie than clam chowder in a bread bowl on Fisherman’s Wharf

JUMP! Our classic "jumping shot" from Europe made it to the Golden Gate Bridge.

JUMP! Our classic “jumping shot” from Europe made it to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Take me back to the beach please!

Take me back to the beach please!

<3

According to Candy, the most authentic Mexican tacos in all of SF!

According to Candy, the most authentic Mexican tacos in all of SF!

Welcome to the Castro district!

Welcome to the Castro district!

That one time we ended up at a comedy show in a hidden bar in the Mission

That one time we ended up at a comedy show in a hidden bar in the Mission

One of my favourite Frannie neighbourhoods with my other favourite: a puppy!

One of my favourite Frannie neighbourhoods with my other favourite: a puppy!

Winding down Lombard Street!

Winding down Lombard Street!

Golden girls by the Golden Gate

Golden girls by the Golden Gate

The stunning view from Twin Peaks! Our first sight of Frannie was off to a good start :)

The stunning view from Twin Peaks! Our first sight of Frannie was off to a good start 🙂

The gorgeous Moraga steps!

The gorgeous Moraga steps!