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!

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Let’s Go To The Beach

After parting ways with Emilie in Hanoi, I headed back down south to Phu Quoc Island. Originally, I had wanted to go over to Cambodia and see the temples of Angkor. But the flights to Cambodia were pretty expensive. It would’ve been cheap to bus but I didn’t have the time. So I settled on Phu Quoc for a chance to relax on the beach, get in some writing and enjoy time away from a busy city.

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Welcome to Phu Quoc Island!

I got to Phu Quoc and checked into an upgraded room at a really nice hotel. As soon as I put my bags down, I headed right out to the beach! My hotel was only a 2 minute walk from the beach, which was perfect. The beach itself was really beautiful. It wasn’t as crowded as the beach in Hoi An and also looked a bit more rustic. Unfortunately, all of the beach chairs/umbrellas were either owned by beachfront resorts or very expensive to rent for the day. I decided to just put my towel down on the sand and get into the water.

Once in the ocean, I really felt the peace and quiet I was looking for from Phu Quoc. I was virtually alone in the ocean and the water was so calm and cool. I stayed there for a while and then returned to my blanket to dry off and watch the sunset.

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img_20161125_153716The rest of my days in Phu Quoc involved more time at the beach and a lot of time writing in my room (and watching the new Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix). Unfortunately, being in the south, Phu Quoc was very warm so it was hard to do much else besides jump into the ocean and back to my air conditioned room. I sampled some local food, including freshly caught fish, but didn’t do too much exploring. I had given myself permission to not really be a traveler for this part of my trip. I didn’t go into town, go on any tours or rent a motorbike to see more of the island. I was really just looking for a chance to relax a bit and get ahead with as much writing as I could. I still felt guilty, especially the day when I skipped the beach entirely and holed up in my room. It’s something I want to work on when I travel, and in my daily life: dealing with expectations I have for myself and the ones that I imagine other people have for me.

One of the bonuses of going to Phu Quoc was that it wasn’t a big tourist destination or very well known. I was looking forward to the fact that no one would be able to say, “What do you mean you spent all your time in your hotel room with only a few beach breaks? How could you not go out and see XYZ?” But I know that’s a shitty way to travel and something I need to work on moving forward. I don’t want to go places just to get a passport stamp or cross it off a bucket list. I want to enjoy my travels. And I want to be okay with taking time for myself to watch Netflix in a hotel room, despite being in a cool foreign country.

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But more on that in my next post! Title TBD but I want to explore my travel style and thoughts on future travels. This trip really opened my eyes to the type of traveling I want to do going forward and how different that might be from what I used to think.

The Disneyland of Vietnam: Hoi An

Hoi An was one of the highlights of our trip through Vietnam. It was the city Emilie and I were most excited about and had heard the most positive things about. And I think it’s safe to say that Hoi An lived up to it’s reputation.

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Why call it Disneyland?
So Emilie and I began calling Hoi An Disneyland after only a few hours there. Why? Because Hoi An is beautiful and picturesque. It’s much calmer and quieter than the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City. But it’s also incredibly touristy. The whole place seems to cater to tourists. Everyone is trying to sell something. It got a little draining – how many times do we have to say no to looking at your menu? At one point, Emilie and I would place bets on how many people we thought would approach us in a given stretch. And we had figured out the script that the tailors would use when they were trying to get us into their shops – to the point where we were answering their questions before they could even ask them.

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The streets of Hoi An
Our hotel in Hoi An was a little outside of the city centre and so we had to walk about 20 minutes to get to the Ancient Town. On the way, we realized that every store was either a tailor shop or a spa. And you better believe every one of those stores had someone standing outside trying to entice you with discounts. Once you get into Ancient Town, the tailors and spas disappear and get replaced by beautiful old buildings, bridges and a river. But what’s lining the river? A bunch of overpriced restaurants/bars all catered towards tourists. So the good and the bad 🙂 But we loved the look of the Old Town enough to put up with all the salespeople.

Full Moon Festival

Burn baby burn!

Burn baby burn!

Hoi An hosts a Full Moon Festival once a month where the Ancient Town gets flooded with tourists. We had checked out the schedule for the festival ahead of time and worked it out so we were arriving on the day of. On the night of the festival you enter Ancient Town and people carrying trays of paper lanterns begin coming up to you asking you to buy one. As soon as you turn one seller down, another one is right back in your face with their lit paper lanterns. We were used to people selling at us but it was a bit aggressive to have lit lanterns coming into our personal space. But we escaped long enough to watch from afar. Once you purchase a lantern, you can either get on a boat or use a long stick to push your lantern into the river. As you let your lantern go, you’re supposed to make a wish. The end result was really pretty; it was cool seeing all of the lanterns floating down the river. After getting a drink, Emilie and I decided to take part. We bargained our lantern price down and set them off into the water. Unfortunately, our lanterns got caught up with a bunch of others and all caught fire. I guess our wishes didn’t come true?

Getting dresses made
One of the things Hoi An is best known for is getting clothing tailor made. It was actually really impressive to see all of the different shops and things you could get made: dresses, suits, shoes, purses, and anything else under the sun. Emilie and I agreed that it would be really cool to show up in Hoi An with a bunch of money and get a whole custom wardrobe. But since we didn’t have a bunch of money, we settled on just one dress each. The whole process was pretty overwhelming. We didn’t walk into the shop with sketches or magazine tear outs of exactly what we wanted. Emilie had a bit of an idea but I was clueless. So I flipped through the books and eventually settled on a convertible dress in a dark blue. It was a really lengthy process to select a dress style, talk about what changes to make, pick a fabric and colour, get measured, etc. And of course, they don’t tell you the exact price until the very end (we had asked for a ballpark figure at the beginning but my dress ended up being more outfield than I had hoped – is that the right baseball reference?). I ended up bargaining my dress down to about $60, which is still way more than I had wanted to spend. But by that point, we had been there so long and they had already cut the price down quite a bit, so I gave in.

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We ordered our dresses on our first night in Hoi An which allowed us to come back the next afternoon for a fitting and the day after that to pick up the final product. If you’re ever in Hoi An, I would suggest giving yourself at least two days so you do have time to do a fitting and make any changes. And I would suggest doing some homework ahead of time so you know what kind of dress you’re looking for. But even without that foresight, it was still a cool experience and I’m pretty happy with the finished product.

Let’s go to the beach!
So one of the reasons we were so excited for Hoi An was getting to hit the beach. And we definitely had reason to be excited. The beach was beautiful! The water was so bright blue and the sand was so soft and light. We got ourselves nice comfy chairs, an umbrella and an unbeatable view. It was one of the most relaxing moments of the trip. I used to scoff at people who would do beach-only vacations but after that morning in Hoi An, I could definitely see the appeal.

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Pure paradise

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Our ingredients

Cooking class
Another thing Hoi An, and Vietnam in general, is known for is really cool cooking classes. I had read about ones where they take you to the market to pick out ingredients, bring you back to the kitchen to cook some dishes and then you get to eat them. The one we ended up signing up for skipped the market part, which is probably for the best because running around a market in Vietnam heat does not sound like a fun way to spend our time.

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Emilie in action!

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The finished product

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emilie and I did our cooking class at this awesome vegetarian restaurant Emilie found. We were the only two to sign up for the 4:00pm class that day so we had a private lesson all to ourselves. Our teacher was very nice – he even gave us pen and paper so we could write down all the recipes. And then he gave us his business card and said we should message him on Facebook if we’re cooking at home and have any questions. We made three dishes: pho (because you sort of have to when you’re in Vietnam), fried wontons with salsa, and stuffed tofu wrapped in a banana leaf. The class itself took almost two hours and it was such a cool hands on experience. I’m not a vegetarian but I loved everything we made and was really amazed with the finished products.

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And those were some of the highlights of Hoi An, not including our wonderful hotel, which I wrote about in my hotel round up. I was worried that three days in Hoi An wasn’t going to be enough but I think it was just perfect. We were able to fit in everything we wanted and left before we got tired of the touristy aspects.

Next up: A Day In Hue!

The Lees take The Dominican Republic!

Christmas is my favourite holiday. And I’m a pretty big supporter of spending the holidays back home with family and not escaping to some Caribbean resort.  But this year, I got to do both!

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I had a whirlwind tour of Toronto that lead straight into a sleepless Christmas Eve and 4am airport arrival on Christmas Day for our flight down to Puerto Plata.  14 Lees, including 4 under 8 years old, boarded the plane to spend a week stuffing our faces, sunning our skin and enjoying one another’s company. It was busy, humid and blissful – all at the same time!

Highlights of our trip:

Pools, beaches & endless drinks: Everyday was some lovely combination of wading in the Atlantic Ocean, playing in the sand, swimming in the pools and complimenting all of that water time with delicious strawberry daquiris (poco rum por favor!).  I especially loved watching Lee and Nathaniel dig huge holes on the beach (for hours!), doing hilarious aqua aerobics with my dad (who was the only male in the class), and catching our resident Water Baby, Lara, as she flung herself tirelessly back and forth in the pools.

Jade living the island life

Jade living the island life

The boys & a bird

The boys & a bird

All that food! Suffice to say, we ate A LOT in the DR. I honestly don’t remember feeling hungry at any point during our trip.  Some of the food was better than others; some was a lot better.  My favourite meal was our night at the a la carte seafood restaurant where I was ready to marry my salmon entree.  A few other dishes, like the warm bread pudding, chicken parm at the Italian restaurant, or the daily omelette station at breakfast were close competitors, but the salmon won out.  However, the insane feast they put out for New Year’s Eve (complete with ice sculptures, a sushi station and multiple roast pigs) was probably the most impressive to witness.

Nightly shows: Every night our resort put on a show.  And most nights it wasn’t that spectacular.  The magic show was creepy, the African show was a little culturally-insensitive and we never did make it to the tropical show.  But Michael Jackson Night was, surprisingly, stellar! We were blown away by the MJ look-a-like, the amazingly talented dancers and the perfect compilation of Michael hits.  We were that family clapping and singing along in the back row.  We’re sorry.

Jade & the cast of the Michael show!

Jade & the cast of the Michael show!

Dune buggies! While I opted out of the waterfall outing (it involved hiking and leaping – no thank you), I was pretty stoked for dune buggies.  Our family of five headed out to drive over bumps and through puddles on a course that took us into a forest, village, field and beach! It was crazy messy and a huge adrenaline rush to be going so fast.  I even put my fears aside and took the wheel for a stretch of it.  The whole morning was a ton of fun and I would definitely recommend it.  However, don’t wear flip flops to drive – big mistake.

Dune buggies!

Dune buggies!

A ride up the cable car: We headed off the resort one day and up the cable car (of which mountain, I couldn’t even say) to get a great aerial view of Puerto Plata.  The views were awesome and the cool trails at the top made for a very scenic mini-hike.  After the mountain, a few of us headed into the city centre for lunch, a walk and a visit to the Amber Museum.  Lunch was a bit of a gong show, but all in all the day was enjoyable.  It was nice to spend some time away from our resort and to practice my Espanol!

The views of Puerto Plata

The views of Puerto Plata

Shameless mountain-top selfie

Shameless mountain-top selfie

Ocean World: Another off-resort activity took us to Ocean World, where we snorkelled in a pool with fish, took in sea lion, dolphin and shark shows, played with birds and hung out on the beach.  Sure, it was a bit overpriced and definitely catering to tourists, but that didn’t stop us from being in awe of the amazing animals. Jade even has plans to get a degree in marine biology and return to work as a trainer!

Jade & Lara are all smiles!

Jade & Lara are all smiles!

Awesome family moments: The best part about our trip was spending so much time with this side of my family. Jadey and I roomed together, and got to bond over hilariously loud shower songs, early morning wake-ups and helpful sunscreen applications.  Dad worked hard at improving his (very limited) Spanish during our week in the DR and it was really fun to help him out with that.  Staying up late and drinking with our uncles will always be a fun time that Jade and I won’t forget.  And bringing out the girly side of our adorable cousin Lara by painting her nails and singing Frozen songs at the top of our lungs is easily one of my favourite memories.

Jade & baby Lara :)

Jade & baby Maddy 🙂

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From getting all dressed up for nightly dinners and dancing at the New Year’s Eve party to walks along the beach at night and a luxurious visit to the spa, this trip was certainly awesome and unforgettable.

And lastly, Montenegro

Montenegro was the vacation from our vacation. We had nothing planned, no one to see and nothing beyond “eat seafood” on our agenda.  While travelling this leisurely would’ve bothered me if it had been our whole trip, by Montenegro, I was ready for it.  Coupled with the fact that I had barely heard of the country before this and it was stinking hot, I was more than happy to spend the majority of our last few days doing next to nothing.

And “nothing” turned out to be walking along the water from Igalo Beach (where our apartment was) to Herceg Novi, exploring the Old City and fort walls, reading on the beach, searching every open store for postcards and eating seafood at least once a day.  Most of that seafood came from Nautilus, a restaurant we frequented far too often for a five-day trip; the waitress recognized us and remembered our orders.

We did stray a little farther from “nothing” to spend one of our Montenegrin days out on a boat visiting different islands.  We had hoped to go on a tour boat but since it was pre-season, we ended up chartering a little (extremely tiny) boat of our own.  We made stops at the Blue Cave, to see the luminescent blue waters, Mamula, where the old prison used to be, Zajinc, to lunch on fresh fish over the crystal waters and Rose, where our driver (captain?) found us a little private beach.  It was a beautiful day and a great way to explore a little more of Montenegro.

Let's go to the beach, beach. Let's go get away!

Let’s go to the beach, beach. Let’s go get away!

Sipping some OJ and figuring out where to go

Sipping some OJ and figuring out where to go

Climbing up to the Old City of Herceg Novi

Climbing up to the Old City of Herceg Novi

Hi Moo!

Hi Moo!

I was going for a "strong like this fortress" pose

I was going for a “strong like this fortress” pose

Sunsets in Montenegro

Sunsets in Montenegro

Hamming it up with the anchors

Hamming it up with the anchors

More ham :)

More ham 🙂

We're on a boat!

We’re on a boat!

Entering the beautifully hued Blue Cave

Entering the beautifully hued Blue Cave

Exploring the old prison fortress

Exploring the old prison fortress

I'm like a bird!

I’m like a bird!

Wandering Mamula

Wandering Mamula

Crystal clear waters of Montenegro

Crystal clear waters of Zajinc

Fresh fish carpaccio

Fresh fish carpaccio

Loving the boat life!

Loving the boat life!

Look who's in the ocean!

Look who’s in the ocean!

Probably our 5th meal at this restaurant :)

Probably our 5th meal at this restaurant 🙂

Enjoying a beach day

Enjoying a beach day

After five days of good food and relaxation, we started the long trek (cab, bus, cab, plane, bus, cab) back to London.  As documented in my previous post, London was the end of Moo & Boo time and the start of my 5th London adventure with new friends.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a more awesome month-long trip with one of my favourite travel companions.  We got to do it all: re-visit old haunts, show off my new home, discover new cities, eat well and laugh a lot.  It’s been a while since I’ve had that much uninterrupted time with my mom.  And while we did get on each other’s nerves a bit, we made up for it with all of the amazing moments and incredible memories made in 28 days adventuring around Europe!

Naples, EATaly & the Amalfi Coast!

After Rome, Nabil and I took a train to Naples – the gritty, fast-paced, mafia-run, pizza capitol of Italy. 3 days of checking out sights and eating A LOT of Italian food later, I then took 2 days to check out Positano on the Amalfi Coast.

*****

Our first stop in Napoli, after dropping our bags off into the world’s tiniest loft room, was PIZZA! Right around the corner from our hostel was a pizzeria made famous by former president Bill Clinton. He ate there once and now, of course, his picture is all over the wall! After a few ordering issues, we ended up with an amazingly delicious full-sized margherita pizza….for only 3 euro! 

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So much yum for so little money!

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Can you spot Bill?

After pizza, we stumbled into a limoncello factory. Limoncello is an Italian liquer, commonly drunk in the south as a digestive after dinner. Contrary to the shot glasses it’s usually served in, the drink is actually sipped slowly. Lucky for us, this place was offering free samples! We got to try the original limoncello plus a variety of cream flavours such as melon, strawberry and chocolate! After our tasting, we both picked up a few tiny bottles (that looked like potions!) for home.

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Enjoying some citrus-y delight!

Continuing on our gastric tour of Napoli specialities, we went right next door for baba. Baba is an Italian dessert that people, apparently, enjoy. We were not those people. It’s a stale cold muffin that they squirt with rum and tasted like a sponge soaked in alcohol. I could feel the taste in my mouth hours after eating it and still get shudders thinking about it. I lasted only a few bites. But dear Nabil decided to tough it out and finish the baba – which resulted in a HUGE final bite and the agony pictured below.

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He deserves a medal for this!

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Good job Nibs! Finish strong!

We spent the rest of our first Napolian day exploring the city, walking to the pier and getting lost in the tiny streets. It’s not as picturesque as Rome, but it was definitely an interesting walk. On the way back to our hostel, we ran into the cutest pug! This guy was sitting on the sidewalk, waiting patiently for his owner who was shopping across the street. I almost took him home! 

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How cute is he? 🙂

That night we went for Julia Roberts pizza – pizza at the place where Julia Roberts filmed Eat Pray Love (or the Eat part, at least). Despite being a Hollywood film set, this restaurant is extremely popular with the locals! We got there around 7, which is early for Italian diners, and still had to take a number (lucky #13!) and wait to be allowed in. Once inside, your choices for pizza are limited to margherita and marinara. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed just the plain marinara pizza – probably the best pizza I’ve ever had. If you’re headed to Naples, this place gets my highest recommendation! 

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YUM!

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Pictures of Julia are also all over the restaurant! This gem was right behind us while we ate.

On day 2 in Naples, we took the very crowded Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii – the ancient town that had been wiped out by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. It was very similar to Ostia Antica in Rome, but much bigger, more crowded and a lot hotter. It was amazing to see how well-preserved this city still was and to see some of the “mummified” inhabitants from 79 A.D.  The large amphitheatre, where one of the visitors decided to do an impromptu song for us, was probably the coolest thing to see. As much as I loved seeing all of the ruins, the heat and crowds were definitely getting to me on this day! 

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After sweating all day at Pompeii we came back for a nap at the hostel before a dinner of, you guessed it, pizza! This time we went to Signollo’s which is run by one of 21 (!) pizza-making siblings! All of the pizzas on the menu have Italian names, which we hoped correlated with each of the siblings. It was nice to get a pizza with a few more toppings and, of course, it was delicious! 

Across from the restaurant is a graffa shop we had read about in our guidebook. Graffa is basically an Italian donut, but at this shop, they hand make them and fry them fresh to order. They also have a magical machine that squeezes chocolate into them. So, basically, they’re little bites of heaven. Nabil and I loved them so much, we came back twice more before leaving Naples! The staff started to recognize us 🙂 

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Way better than a Krispy Kreme!

Our last day took us on another day trip, this time, to the island of Capri! We had a pretty rough time getting there, spending an hour+ walking along a giant pier to try and find an affordable ferry or hydrofoil to take us. But, we made it! And within minutes of disembarking, we were sitting on the beach with Caprese sandwiches in our hands. 

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“Let’s go to the beach, beach, let’s go get away!”

After getting in some beach-time we took a funicular up to Capri Town – which is atop the mountain on the Isle of Capri (there’s also AnaCapri, but I won’t get into where that is). I’m really glad we didn’t spend all day at the beach, because the views from the top were amazing! It’s so different than what I picture when I think of Italy – pebble beaches and houses on grassy hills all less than an hour from crazy Naples! We walked along the main road, stopping often to take photos and squeal over the view. 

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In order to really enjoy our surroundings, we thought it would be a good idea to grab a drink on one of the terrace bars.  This turned out to be a horrible idea as the price of the drinks was steeper than the hill we were sitting on top of! We reasoned that all our meals had been about 5 euro each, so a few pricey drinks wouldn’t be too bad.

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Beautiful view but hideous for my wallet!

Finishing our time on Capri with a cup of gelato, we headed back to the mainland and relaxed a bit before dinner. Finally tired of pizza, we turned to our hostel staff for a non-pizza recommendation and ended up at Tandem. At Tandem, you can play a game where you pay 1 euro/minute for either a bowl of ragu and bread or ragu with spaghetti.  Stepping up to the challenge, I went for the spaghetti and Nabil got the bread. Once served, a man from the kitchen came out with his cellphone timer and counted us in. After a few giggles and complaints over the heat of the sauce, I got serious and was able to finish my bowl of pasta in just over 3 minutes! Nabil had me beat at 2 minutes 40 seconds, but we both agreed it was the yummiest ragu we had ever not really had the time to taste!

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Nabil gearing up to demolish his dinner in less than 3 minutes!

The next day concluded our time in Naples and my time with Nabil 😦 It was sad to be heading different ways at the train station, after having had so many fun adventures through Rome and Naples. I was used to travelling with someone, and having that someone be as organized , informed and enthusiastic as Nabil was such a treat. But I was also really excited to check out Positano and, essentially, do nothing for 2 days before getting back to my oh-so-hectic-and-demanding life of 1 class per week in Amsterdam 🙂

Having survived an extremely long Circumvesuviana ride and very windy bus trip, I walked up to Hostel Brikette and was greeted by two lovely British guys and an amazing view! Positano was winning me over immediately. 

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The view from my hostel balcony!

Hostel Brikette is located at the top of Positano, which is a town on a hill.  The beach, of course, is located at the bottom. I took a series of secret staircases down and was amazed by how well-designed this precarious town perched on a hill seems to be. I arrived at the Fornillo beach to find the place pretty much deserted. There were maybe 5 other beach-goers present. So I got to read my book, stare at the ocean and take a scary amount of photos – aka my perfect afternoon! 

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The Il Fornillo beach I had to myself

From Il Fornillo, I took the path over to the main beach: Spiaggia Grande. This one had a few more people, but was still relatively quiet. I checked out the touristy shops and enjoyed a pizza sandwich under the shade of a palm tree.

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Spiaggia Grande

Following my day at the beach, I headed back up the hill to my hostel. I’m not a huge fan of ascending steep staircases, so I opted to follow the road which winds up and down the mountain (less steep but less direct). It took about an hour to get back to my hostel, but I was able to stop and take in Positano from lots of interesting angles. I even befriended a couple of old ladies from the States! 

Back at the hostel, I hung out on the balcony and met the few guests who were also staying there. Most hostels I’ve stayed at have felt pretty impersonal and nothing more than a place to sleep at. Hostel Brikette was really different. On my first night, I met 2 students from Melbourne, a social worker from Brisbane and another student from San Francisco.  The 4 of us, and one of the English guys who worked at the hostel, decided to go for dinner together. It was really nice to chat with new friends and spend a night together laughing over pasta, wine and lemon cake! After dinner, and for the rest of my stay, we all spent a lot of time chatting on the balcony and grabbing food together. It was a really nice feeling of community, something I don’t get that often in hostels.

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The next day, I headed back to the beach! There’s not a ton to do in Positano, besides beach-time and hiking (which I passed on), but that suited me fine. I took my time walking down, checking out little boutiques along the way. I went into one cafe that doubled as a decor store. They had an open kitchen in the back, where they prepared made-to-order organic food.  Tables lined one wall and the other was used to hold the beautiful homeware they sold. If my budget (and backpack space) had allowed it, I would have loved to buy some of the gorgeous bowls and table runners. But, I settled for a lemon ricotta cheese cake and tea! 

 

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I spent the rest of the day shopping around, reading and relaxing on the beach. Unfortunately, being a Saturday, bus-loads of other tourists had also descended on the beach. It wasn’t as relaxing as my first day and made me very glad I had opted to come in April, instead of the summer when the place gets swarmed. 

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This guy followed me on my walk back up the road to my hostel! He even waited while I stopped to take photos.

My last night ended with (another) pizza, though it wasn’t up to Napoli standards. It was nice to sit out on the balcony with new friends and take in the last of my sights of Positano and the sea. The next morning, I woke early and took a shuttle to the Napoli Airport and back to Amsterdam. It was sad to leave Italy, but also exciting to return “home” and get back into my routine. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to check out a few more amazing Italian cities and can’t wait to visit the rest on my list (Venice, Pisa, Florence, Verona, etc.) one day! 

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Ciao Positano!

More photos of Naples & Postiano can be found in this facebook album.

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Shockingly, I don’t have any future travel plans at the moment. The plan is to stay in Amsterdam until my mom comes to visit/travel in late May. But, I’m still keeping busy! The day I got back from Italy, we hosted a friend from Berlin and today another friend from Sweden is coming to stay! I plan to do more local sightseeing – such as checking out all the museums (for free with my MuseumKaart) and beautiful parks. This local touring started off well with yesterday’s visit to the Amsterdam Zoo and through an Easter fair. There’s also the gorgeous tulips at Keukenhof and King’s Day on April 26th!

So while I might not be crossing country borders, I plan to be crossing a lot of things off my Amsterdam to-do list in the next month! 

 

 

Sydney in Nature

Part 3 of my Sydney posts. Check out Sydney Icons & Shopping Sydney if you missed them! 

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Sydney is home to many gorgeous natural sights. Where some cities suffer from cement suffocation (looking at you, Toronto), Sydney manages to balance a bustling modern city with beautiful parks, gorgeous beaches, crazy cool mountains and delightful furry friends.

Right outside the famed Opera House are the Botanical Gardens; a gorgeous park that literally winds along Sydney’s busiest streets.  You can go from gridlock to greenhouse in a matter of metres.

Garden

The Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens have lots of picturesque spots and are often the sight of many weddings. I especially loved the archways filled with flowers, ancient statues and rose garden.

The Gardens lead into another beautiful place, Hyde Park. The main walkway is shadowed by a canopy of tall trees and leads to an impressive fountain in the middle of the park.  To the left, is the famous St. Mary’s Cathedral. And to the right, lots of shopping!

Hyde

Walkway into Hyde Park

The beaches of Sydney are also pretty spectacular. I started my sandy tour with the idyllic Manly Beach, a ferry ride away from Central Sydney.

A few days later and I got a little more serious about my beach visiting. I did the well-trekked path from Coogee to Bondi beach. The walk is about 6km but with lots of uphills, downhills, stairs and people to weave around, it feels a lot longer.  It probably didn’t help that I felt a compulsive need to take a photo every 50 metres.

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Gorgeous Sydney blue!

Coast

The gorgeous coastline…and a cemetery?

But the long walk was so worth it! Sydney’s coastline is incredible! There are a bunch of beaches to check out and lots of interesting sights along the way (like a cemetery). I would absolutely recommend this walk to any future Sydney-visitors.

Bondi

Made it to the very popular Bondi Beach

The Blue Mountains are located in Katoomba, about 2 hours from Sydney by train. The town is very small (kinda like Yamba) and it’s safe to say the mountains are the main draw.  You can take a local bus from the train station to Echo Point, for your first view of the mountains. After two hours of fairly flat train-viewed landscape, I was immediately taken with the huge expanse of hills, valleys and greenery. I did a baby-hike (20 minutes tops) to get a closer view of the stars of the Blue Mountains, The Three Sisters.

3Sisters

The Three Sisters

For the more adventurous (and less afraid of heights) people, there is lots to do at Scenic World, Blue Mountains’ viewing Mecca.  You can take a cable car across and then a separate one down to the base of the mountains.  Or you can take the world’s steepest railway to the bottom. Once you’re down there, you can enjoy a sky walk or a variety of hiking trails.  Unfortunately, being fairly uncomfortable with heights, I decided to keep my viewing on solid ground at the top.

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My view from the top, not too shabby

Looking to fill my Aussie animal viewing quota, I took a day trip to the Koala Park Sanctuary, about an hour outside of Sydney by train.  It was an awesome park; a cross between a zoo and a reserve. It was very quiet, and the animals had a very cozy natural setting. I wandered around and encountered wallabies, echidnas, wild birds and other native Australian animals.

Wallabies

Wallabies: basically mini kangaroos

Next, I walked into the open kangaroo enclosure where you’re able to feed, pet and snuggle up to the kangaroos! It wasn’t as impressive as my first time seeing wild kangaroos in Yamba, but it was still pretty amazing. They were very nonchalant about people petting them and were only too happy to eat right out of my hand!

Kangaroo

This hungry one almost jumped the fence!

Roo

RooSelfie

Selfie with a very disinterested roo

But the best part of Koala Park was obviously the koalas! An adorable little colony of koalas were sleeping in Eucalyptus trees in the centre of the park. They were so much smaller than I thought they would be. Sleeping, they looked fake! The stuffed animals I’ve seen are fairly accurate representations. I hung around for one of the employees to come and tell us more about koalas. After a brief lesson, she brought one guy, Junior, down from the tree and plied him with leaves while we all took turns snuggling up to him for a photo.

Junior

Me & Junior

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I swear he looks plush!

In NSW, it’s illegal for non-keepers to hold koalas, so the best we could do was pet and cuddle with them. But it was still awesome! Their fur is incredibly soft and they’re just as cute up close. I’m hoping to see some wild ones before I leave Australia (fingers crossed!).

Junior

Junior working up an appetite from all that posing

From my meet with the koalas, I headed over to a sheep shearing demonstration. After a fairly lengthy talk about the history and present job realities of sheep shearing ($2.80 is the going rate for a sheep and shearers are expected to shear about 200 a day while some get up to 400), Justin brought out a sheep and a few minutes later, the sheep was naked! It was fairly impressive, and a little scary, to watch up close.

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Despite how this photo looks, I can promise no animals were harmed in the making of this wool blanket

On my way out, I wanted to say a last goodbye to the koalas. Luckily, the keeper was still there and offered to bring out another one for the small group of us hanging around. This time we met Kamara, an eleven year old female koala. Snuggling up to her was a perfect ending to my day at Koala Park Sanctuary.

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A final goodbye with my last koala!

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