Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 2

Note: This part of the series was written in mid-August. Again, if long and rambly posts on home buying/life updates are not your deal, feel free to skim or skip!


So this has been one fairly eventful week. It all culminates in an update on the home buying front, but there are some other life details thrown in there, because buying a home isn’t supposed to be straightforward, is it?

At the start of this week, I was thinking it would be business as usual in our disgustingly hot apartment in New West. I figured it would be lots of working from Starbucks (I need their AC), wee pup walks and absolutely no travel or home updates. Clearly, I was wrong.

We actually decided to leave New West for a bit and headed out to Kelowna to visit Colin’s brother Kyle, his girlfriend, Corbie, and their brand new baby, Jordan.

I hadn’t been to Kelowna since 2012 when I went up for Residence Advisor Orientation at the UBC-Okanagan campus. To be fair, this should barely count as visiting Kelowna since we never left campus. I’ve been up to Kelowna three times before this and every single time I only saw UBCO. So this trip was a nice change.

It was a bit of a trek up to Kelowna, but we had our awesome road trip playlist, wee pup snuggles and a really good chat about life and money. I read somewhere that the best time to have serious conversations with a guy is when he’s driving. He’s in his element, he’s able to focus on the road, he doesn’t have to look directly at you and you’re not distracted by anything since it’s just the two of you. Turns out, that advice held true. Colin and I were able to have some really good talks about our money issues/goals, mental health, plans for the future, potential wedding ideas, etc.

Once up in Kelowna, we spent some awesome time visiting with Kyle, Corbie, Jordan and Kyle’s first son, Jaxon. Their house was awesome, as was the pool and the cute little cabin we got to stay in. Even without air conditioning and in Kelowna’s heat, that cabin was way cooler than our apartment. We got to try some great restaurants and visit Kelowna’s downtown.

Colin and baby Jordan!

We were super excited to meet Jordan and spend some time with Kyle and Corbie. I’m glad we got to go up and see them since they won’t be down in Vancouver until late September. At that point, Jordy will be almost 2 months old. However, we did feel like we were in the way sometimes. I really wanted to help out with the baby but it seemed like often, the best thing for us to do was just to give them some space.

All in all, it was a great trip. While in Kelowna, we also came across an awesome flight deal. And by “we” I mean that I saw the deal on Facebook and clicked through to the booking website, confirming with Colin once I had it all loaded up.

Colin and I have been wanting to get back to Europe for a while now. He visited in high school and I was there on exchange in 2014. We had talked about doing a big Europe trip in 2018. However, with all the talk of home buying, we assumed we’d have to postpone it.

But then, this amazing flight deal fell into our laps. Colin was a bit hesitant, but even he couldn’t argue with savings like this. Plus, it’s nine months away so we have lots of time to save and plan. So we officially booked flights to Ireland! We’ll be flying roundtrip from Vancouver to Dublin, April 9-19 for only $344 per person! How insane is that?

We’re stoked on the trip. Neither of us has been to Ireland before and we both have a bit of Irish in our bloodline. I would’ve wanted to stay for 2-3 weeks to see more of Europe, but I know Colin is worried about the cost. To be fair, I should be more worried about the cost so 10 days is probably the right move. We’ll spend all of it in Ireland and have an amazing time drinking beer, driving through the Irish cliffs and praying for sun.

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Can’t wait to see this in Ireland next April!

So we got Kelowna and Ireland – what more could we want out of a week? Oh, that’s right – something related to home ownership (the title of this post!).

Just before we left for Kelowna, Colin and I booked an appointment with a mortgage professional in Vancouver. I was excited about it because this is the first step we’ve taken in actually getting this househunt off of our internet browsers and into the real world. But it was also super scary. Colin remarked that we could be packing for Ireland from a new house that we OWN. Ahhhhh!

Another scary part of the mortgage meeting was filling out the online form and getting real about our finances. I’ve recently written about talking money with your SO and realize it’s something Colin and I are going to need to do if we are planning a future together. It was eye opening to see where we both were and what concerns we had.

There was also the controversy of meeting with a mortgage professional. In my research (articles I’ve found online and podcasts I’ve listened to), it seems that mortgage professionals are the way to go. They specialize in mortgages, have relationships with multiple lenders and can usually get you a better interest rate than you could get at your bank. Plus, like a realtor, they are free for buyers to work with. So what could be wrong?

Well, turns out not everyone is into that strategy. My mom immediately nixed the idea when I told her over text. She touted a friend of hers who had gone the same route and got screwed. After I explained my research findings, she softened to the idea a bit. She still wanted me to work with someone based on a personal recommendation. I get where she is coming from – it would be awesome to have a friend recommend a mortgage broker to us. But it might not be possible. We just don’t have that many friends buying homes. And personally, I prefer to go with the stats and research I am finding online over an anecdotal story from a friend who had a good or bad experience.

Colin’s mom also pushed back against the mortgage professional idea. She wants us to get a mortgage through a bank – specifically, her bank. Colin explained the research we had done but she still thinks her bank is best. And, seeing as she just bought and sold a home with them, I can see why. She has a great relationship with her bank and believes that she can use that to help us get a great deal. I’m less sure.

So all that to say, we are still meeting with our mortgage professional on Monday. But we haven’t signed anything yet and we’re not committed to her. We’ll likely take a meeting at Colin’s mom’s bank as well. It won’t hurt to try out a few avenues and see what is what.

And lastly, another big whopper on the house front: our down payment number changed. So all along, we have been counting on Margie (Colin’s mom) to help us out with our down payment. At first, we thought the money was a gift but now we understand it’s an investment. We still have to figure out all of the paperwork on that front. Our plan was to use her investment, possibly a bit of money from my parents, some of our savings and then the first time home buyers program to put together a pretty good sized down payment. 

Well, Margie just informed Colin on the phone that her contribution to our down payment was going to be more. Significantly more. So much more that we ran the numbers on some of our potential mortgage payments and they were laughable. I’m talking less than $600 for a monthly mortgage payment!

So obviously, this is a game changer. It’s way more money than we were expecting and it really could shake things up for us. Now, more than ever, do I want all of us to sit down and put this stuff in writing. Often, it’s Colin talking to his mom on the phone and then trying to relay as much of the information as he can back to me once they hang up. So it’s time to get things in writing once we meet in person. Of course, I want Margie’s investment to be protected. And I also want to make sure Colin and I are being fair to ourselves and our future. And I think it would be good to chat and get everything out in the open. It seems like the information we glean from her changes all the time – so it’s about time for us to be direct, sit down and talk like adults doing business.

We’re not quite sure what that sum of money means. Would she be signing the mortgage with us? Because if she does, we don’t qualify for the first time home buyers program. Is that bad? Or are we taking out a second mortgage with her? Colin said she mentioned something about a 0% mortgage we could do. How does this impact our other mortgage? How do we determine her investment pay off once we sell? Can we now start looking at higher priced properties because we have a larger down payment? Or should we continue looking at our current price range and just drive down our monthly payments/pay off the mortgage sooner?

So many questions! Basically, all of this new home ownership stuff has just resulted in a ton of questions. I’m hoping we can get most of them answered soon. I have phone calls planned with my parents for this weekend. I want to share all of this with them and get their opinion. Plus, if they were planning to contribute, as a gift or a loan or an investment, I’d love to know the number going into our meeting with the mortgage professional. Colin is also trying to get a ballpark figure from his mom so we have that information. He’s going to the bank with her on Tuesday but our meeting is on Monday.

And then I’m hoping everything else will get answered soon after that. I’m hoping our mortgage professional can answer a lot of questions at our meeting. And I’m hoping we can book a meeting with Margie’s bank this week and sit down with her to figure out all of the details. It’s scary! Things are really starting to move. The process is happening and the puzzle pieces are starting to fit together. Wish us luck!

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Five Days in Frisco

Colin and I just got back from “frolicking in Frannie” – our trip to San Francisco!

We’ve been looking forward to SF for a while now. I bought Colin tickets to the SF production of Hamilton (our musical obsession) way back in December when they went on sale. I gave him the tickets for his birthday in March and we’ve been planning our trip ever since. Even though this was my third time to San Francisco, I discovered there was still so much to see and do. I love the city by the bay and if I had to move to an American city, it would probably be this one!

Here’s an overview of our five days full of Frisco!

Day 1:

We arrived on Friday after what felt like a full day of skytrains, getting through customs, flying and finally taking an Uber to our hotel. We don’t have Uber in Vancouver so we were psyched to use it in SF. Once we arrived at the Fisherman’s Wharf Marriott (we scored an awesome deal on Priceline), we headed right down to the wharf for a famous bread bowl of clam chowder. Colin LOVED the Boudin Bakery sourdough!

If you squint, you can see apx 6 sea lions behind us

After dinner, we walked over to Pier 39 to see the sea lions and the shops. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many sea lions in the summer. And then it was back to our hotel for a change of clothes – I still can’t believe how chilly it gets in SF! We were in California in July and I was freezing in long pants and a sweater. We put on our warmest and headed out for ice cream sundaes at Ghiradelli’s. We both forgot that we are pretty lactose intolerant so those sundaes didn’t sit too well.

Day 2:

Started our next day with brunch at a nearby diner. After that we headed to Pier 41 where the Alcatraz cruises depart. Unfortunately, we had not booked ahead and were informed that the next available tour wasn’t until August 20th (this was July 15). Whoops! So instead we headed for Coit Tower. Google Maps said it was a 12 minute walk. They neglected to mention that it was also 450 steps up to the base of the tower. My legs were DEAD! Luckily, to get up Coit Tower itself you take an elevator, so my legs got a break. The views were awesome! It’s a San Francisco landmark I’ve always known about but this was the first trip I actually went to visit it.

View from the top! With a foggy Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.

Coit Tower!

After taking in the view we walked back down the hill and hung out in Washington Square admiring a beautiful church while we waited on a table at Tony’s. 30 minutes later we were enjoying a delicious wood-fire pizza and a giant meatball. YUM!

We didn’t go for a ride but we did pose next to a cable car – that counts, right?

From there we decided to walk through Chinatown to Union Square, taking in lots of SF sights. We took a break at the Starbucks in Macy’s after doing some window shopping. Next was an impromptu wardrobe change when we went to Target and bought new outfits. And then we took an Uber over to West Portal where my friend, Robert, is a chef at a little diner. We had a delicious dinner there and then visited crooked Lombard Street before getting back to our hotel. It was a busy day!

Hello, Lombard!

Day 3:

Day 3 was our Golden Gate day! We started our visit on Baker Beach with awesome views of the Golden Gate Bridge. I wish we had thought to bring a blanket and a picnic so we could have enjoyed it more. Then we moved on to Sutro Baths, another SF first for me. These are the ruins of old public baths that existed in SF before the 1906 earthquake. There were also awesome lookout points, caves and Seal Rock (with sadly, no seals).

From there we drove over to Golden Gate Park (which is actually nowhere close to the bridge). We walked around Stow Lake and saw waterfalls, gardens and the California Academy of Sciences. We had lunch in the park and then walked out on the other end into The Haight. I love this unique neighbourhood of San Francisco. Colin and I both admitted that it was probably a little too cool for us, but we appreciated walking through nonetheless.

Back at the hotel, we got changed and then went out for dinner. We headed to Surisan, a Korean fusion place by our hotel. And it was DELICIOUS! Probably the best meal we had all trip. The atmosphere and decor were really cool and all of the dishes were so tasty. With full bellies (and light wallets), we headed back to our room for the season premiere of Game of Thrones! Yes, the Marriott had HBO!

SO YUM!

Day 4:

Day 4 was my birthday! I turned the big 2-5! Unfortunately, it was also the day that I woke up with an awful head cold. I had a runny nose and watery eyes all day – it was the worst! But despite my gross-ness, we trekked out to enjoy the day. We started with breakfast at IHOP and then took the ferry across the bay to Sausalito.

Sausalito is a super cute little waterfront town with lots of great shops. I’m sure if I was feeling better I would’ve enjoyed it more. We shopped around a little and then went into a fancy restaurant for drinks and an appetizer. We took the ferry back, picked up a late lunch at the San Francisco Ferry Building (awesome food options!) and then returned to the hotel so I could have a Nyquil-induced nap.

Colin woke me around 6pm and we made our way to the Giants baseball game we had gotten tickets for. I’m not a huge baseball fan but it was the only day the Giants were playing while we were in town and live sports games are always a good time. It was a fun evening, even though I was still sniffly and the Giants lost. Back at the hotel, Colin held up a video of a candle behind a mini cheesecake for me to make a birthday wish before passing out.

Day 5:

Our last full day in San Francisco was the reason we had come in the first place: Hamilton! We started off our day by going for brunch at Mama’s in North Beach. Mama’s is a famous brunch place that, according to the lady in line in front of us, is always lined up no matter what time of day and is Michelin rated! We waited 90 mins from the time we got in line until the time food arrived on our table. Colin even went to get us pastries to tide us over while we stood in line. The food was great but, if I’m being honest, not worth the wait.

Worth the wait?

After Mama’s, we had to lie down in the park for a little while to aid in our digestion. Then it was off to walk through some neighbourhoods and explore some more. We started in the Castro where we got to see the home and camera shop of Harvey Milk. Then we walked through the Mission and Delores Park. And then we took an Uber to San Francisco City Hall – the most beautiful building! It was so gorgeous and we got to see a few couples taking their wedding photos there.

How gorgeous is this building? The inside is even prettier!

We grabbed a beer and then a quick bite before it was Hamilton time! Colin and I (and everyone else in the theatre) were so excited to be there. Even though our tickets were for the very back row, the show was amazing. Everyone was on the edge of their seats – the energy was so electric. It’s the kind of musical where you cheer, laugh, cry and dance in your seat the whole time. It was 100% the best part of our trip and I would give my right arm to go see Hamilton again.

HAMILTON!!!!!

Leaving Day:

On our last morning in SF, we thought it would save time to get room service breakfast delivered to our room. Sadly, we didn’t read the fine print about service charges and delivery charges and ended up paying $81 USD for breakfast! Not a great note for our last morning. We checked out and then headed down to Anchor Brewing Company where we had booked a brewery tour. It was fun to learn about America’s oldest craft brewery and see how they make their products. But I’m not a huge beer fan to begin with, so I think all of the free samples were probably wasted on me.

After the brewery tour and one too many sample beers, we went across the street for sushi lunch. And then it was time to Uber to the airport and head home! We got through security with little trouble and were back in Vancouver before 7:00pm. And by 9:00pm we were reunited with Ellie and at home on our couch watching Parks n’ Rec!


An awesome trip to San Francisco for sure! We had a great time and were so psyched to finally see Hamilton after singing along to the soundtrack for the last year and a bit. And we’ll be back in SF for a day in September with my mom when we visit Portland and Napa Valley! But I think that’s it for summer trips for us – save maybe a couple days in Kelowna when Colin’s sister in law has her baby.

A Family Weekend At Pender Harbour

2017 marked my third year of going up to Pender Harbour with Colin and his family for their annual vacation. Every year, Colin, his parents and a bunch of other relatives spend the July long weekend at cousin Larry and Marnie’s property in Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast.

On one of our early dates, Colin told me about Pender and how he has spent every July long weekend of his entire life camping with his family there on the coast. I was blown away. I’ve gone on lots of trips and family vacations but never anything this consistent. We talked with family this weekend who have been coming up to Pender for 20, 30, 40 years! One cousin, Carl, who is probably in his 40’s has been coming up since he was in his mom’s womb!

On my third year up at Pender, I’m starting to feel like part of the tradition. I love the idea of this being an annual trip that Colin and I continue for the rest of our lives, bringing our own big tent (I don’t think we’ll ever be trailer or RV people) and kids one day. One thing I’ve done for the last three years at Pender is keep my phone off (save for a few photos!). They do have WiFi up there but I really love being able to disconnect for a long weekend.

Ellie loves belly rubs no matter where we are!

Firewood for our nightly campfires

This year was amazing! We had great weather: sunny but with a cool breeze. There was tons of delicious food – Marnie makes an incredible seafood chowder and Jackie brought out so many great snacks. And we got to bring Ellie, which was so much fun! There were almost a dozen dogs up there (and between 20-50 people depending on the day) so she had a great time running around and playing. We hiked through Francis Point Peninsula Park, swam in the chilly water, got warm by the campfire and read in the shade. And I didn’t have to participate in the horseshoe tournament, which I think everyone appreciated!

Happy Canada Day from Ellie!

And Happy Canada Day from Margie’s dog, Doodle!

One thing that made this year’s trip incredibly special was a boat ride we took on Saturday. We went out on Larry’s big boat, which I haven’t gotten to do in the years previous. He took almost 30 of us out and we got to see some amazing views of the bay. But the really special part was the tribute that Colin’s mom Margie had planned. Randy, Colin’s dad, loved Pender Harbour. It was definitely his happy place. And he loved nothing more than being out on the water with the guys, catching fish on Larry’s boat.

Living the luxurious boat life!

Colin and his friend, Connor, enjoying the yacht life

So to honour him, Margie brought some of his ashes up to Pender Harbour so we could lay him to rest in his favourite spot. Once we had boated out to a calm area in the open water, the ashes were distributed into little cups so everyone could get one. Dave said a quick toast and we all raised our cups to Randy while his favourite Adele song played in the background. We tossed his ashes into the water and threw some beautiful flower petals in afterwards. It was a really beautiful moment to be with so many of Randy’s favourite people in his favourite spot. You could definitely feel his spirit there.

Flower petals floating on the water

Pender Harbour was amazing! It was a trip both Colin and I have been looking forward to for months. We had a great five days on the coast and I’m already looking forward to going back next year. I usually hate repeating destinations because there is so much more in the world that I want to see and explore. But there’s something different about Pender Harbour. It’s a special place and I would be so happy to visit it every year for as long as I can!

Colin and Ellie at Francis Point Peninsula

View of the house from the dock

We ❤ Pender!

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!

2016: A Year In Review

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 really wasn’t anyone’s year; I mainly blame Trump. But even though it wasn’t a stellar year, I still love to look back to recount the highs and lows and see what’s coming up for 2017.

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I usually start my annual round ups by looking back at the previous year’s and seeing how well my predictions played out. Except, this year I took an accidental blogging hiatus from September 2015 until April 2016. Whoops! So I didn’t actually write a round-up for 2015. But I think I can safely say that my life is pretty different than what I thought it would be at this time last year. That actually seems to be a trend every time I write one of these reviews! Should I be surprised that my life is constantly changing?

So here’s a quick recap of my 2016:

January
In January, I had just finished spending my first Christmas with the Marriotts in Vancouver and had just moved into my new apartment. I was a month into my brand new job at UBC and was hosting Sophie, my previous roommate, on the couch in my studio apartment. Things were squishy but it was a fun-filled month.

Colin's birthday on the Canucks big screen!

Colin’s birthday on the Canucks big screen!

February
Sadly, Sophie returned to Ontario in February and I was roommate-less for the first time in a year. Besides that, February was business as usual as far as I can remember.

March
March was a busy month! My mom came to town so I got to enjoy lots of quality Moo time with delicious dinners and outings around Vancouver. We also celebrated Colin’s birthday and at the end of the month, we took off to LA!

April
We started the month of April in Los Angeles where Colin, his mom Margie and I spent 6 days thanks to a amazing flight deal. We packed in a lot during our short trip such as a basketball game, hockey game, city tour, beach day and visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Later that month, Colin and I celebrated our one year anniversary.

Venice Beach, California

Venice Beach, California

May
May was another busy month. We went to Victoria for Victoria’s Day, saw Macklemore and Matt Corby in concert, watched Billy Elliott and I started my new gig at the Allard School of Law at UBC.

June
If I thought May was busy, just wait until June! I spent the first couple of weeks getting settled in my new job. We also had Colin’s aunt, who had been sick, pass away, which was tough for the family. At the end of the month, it was off to Toronto for Colin and I where I got to be a co-maid of honour at my friend Kimberley’s wedding. We then took off for a quick couple of nights in Montreal. We got back to Vancouver, unpacked, repacked and left the next day to spend the long weekend in Pender Harbour.

Colin & I at Kim's wedding

Colin & I at Kim’s wedding

 

July
Our original plan for July was to do a roadtrip out to Calgary to visit Colin’s family and hit the Calgary Stampede. Unfortunately, with Colin’s work schedule, it didn’t happen this year. Maybe in 2017? But we did manage to get away to Harrison Hot Springs for my birthday weekend where we indulged in massages, courtesy of my mom, and a fancy birthday dinner. July was also the month where I got to see Newsies, Rock of Ages and a Vancouver Festival of Lights fireworks show!

August
In August, I headed back to Toronto where I was in yet another wedding. This time, I got to watch my best friend Andrea marry the love of her life. When I got back to Vancouver, my cousin Ryann and

Andy's wedding!

Andy’s wedding!

her boyfriend were in town thanks to med school placements that brought them out west. It was so fun to hang out with Ryann and Alex, go out to some great meals and experience Vancouver with them. Adding one more show to our year (we really see a lot of theatre!), Colin and I went to The Book of Mormon (his second time seeing the show, my fourth) with his good friends from high school.

 

Montreal

Montreal

September
Unfortunately, September was the big low of 2016. Towards the end of August, Colin’s dad Randy entered the hospital and on September 8th, he passed away. The short 11 days we spent in the hospital is still a bit of a blur and doesn’t quite feel real. Even though it’s been months, I still sometimes find myself waiting for Randy to come in from his workshop in the backyard when I’m staying in Surrey.

October
October was a month of a lot of changes, definitely spurred by the great loss our family suffered in September. I decided to quit my job, booked a fairly spontaneous trip to Vietnam and finally said out loud that I want to be a writer. We ended the month with my last day working a 9-5 at UBC (maybe forever!) and a complimentary stay on Granville Island thanks to a contest I had won earlier in the year.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

November
I started this month by living with Colin and Margie in Surrey for 12 days before heading off on a three week trip to Vietnam with my friend Emilie! It felt great to get on a long haul flight and check somewhere new off of my bucket list. There were definitely moments that I did not enjoy – when I was too hot and just wanted to lie in bed with air conditioning all day. But overall, I loved the trip! Highlights include our perfect day in Hoi An where we hit the beach, went to a cooking class and got dresses made, cruising beautiful Halong Bay, going on my own writer’s retreat to Phu Quoc Island and all of the delicious and cheap food we enjoyed!

Christmas light maze

Christmas light maze

December
I got back to Vancouver just in time for the most festive month of the year. I had a couple weeks in Vancouver where I split my time between my Kits apartment and Colin’s place in Surrey and tried to fit in as many social catch ups with friends as I could. And then it’s back to Toronto for Christmas. I didn’t get to go home last year, so it’s really nice to know I’ll be spending the holidays with my family and Toronto friends. But it’s also very hard to leave my Vancouver family behind, especially since they’re a smaller group this year after some pretty significant losses. December was also my first official month of what I like to call “fake employment.” I’m really giving this freelance writer thing a proper shot. And, a bit to my surprise, it’s working out. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I am making a decent amount of money from something I only got serious about in the last two months of the year.

I’m posting this on the eve of my flight to Toronto, so I assume the last 8 days of the year will be filled with chilly Toronto temperatures, lots of happy reunions with friends and family, all of the Christmas songs and decor I could want, and more food than one should reasonably eat in 8 days.

What’s next?
This is my favourite part! I love looking ahead and trying to predict what the next year will bring me or writing down some of my hopes and goals. I used to do resolutions; I’m not sure I’m going to make any for 2017. I like the idea of setting goals and having affirmations to guide me through the year, but I don’t want to rush to come up with a list just to meet an arbitrary deadline.

So what is happening in 2017?

Career: I would love if I could be a full-time freelance writer in 2017. It would be the dream to make my living just from my writing. However, that might not be realistic, especially since I’m just starting out. So I’m looking to pick up clients and get some steady gigs. But I’m also applying to some part-time stuff so I can still focus on writing but have something more steady on the side. I hope by the end of January/February, I’ll have that a bit more figured out. But if I could end 2017 confidently saying, “I’m a writer” when people ask what I do, that would be huge. I can’t even put into words how happy that would make me to be able to boldly say that.

Living: Surprisingly, I managed to stay in one apartment for a whole year (I can’t say the same about any of my jobs…). But as I shared previously, the plan is for me to give my notice when I get back from Toronto because Colin and I will be moving in together in March. We’re looking for a spacious, modern and affordable apartment in New West, preferably right by the skytrain. Any leads?

Travel: My first trip of the year will be in February. Colin and I are joining his mom and some other friends and relatives at an all-inclusive in Huatulco, Mexico for a week. I’m not usually a fan of all-inclusives but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a country I’ve never been to, hang out by the beach with my boyfriend and escape a dreary Vancouver February. Other potential travel plans include a family trip to Europe in May with my stepmom’s side, a possible trip with my mom in September and a little surprise I’m working on for the summer!

Anything else? I think that’s all I’ve got planned for 2017 so far! I kind of love that the year is open and that I can take advantage of any opportunities that come my way. You know I can’t resist a good deal on a flight! But I’m really stoked for the things that I do have planned. I’m trying out my dream career as a writer and I’m loving every minute of it. I’m months away from moving in with my boyfriend and getting to live out my domestic fantasies in decorating a new place and maybe stepping up my cooking game. And I’ve got lots of exciting travel plans on the horizon. 2017 is sounding pretty stellar already.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! All the best for your own stellar 2017 🙂

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Whenever I go on a big trip to somewhere new I know I’m going to learn my way around a new place, learn local customs, learn a bit of the language and learn about a new culture. But I never count on learning about myself.

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My trip to Vietnam came at a huge point of transition for me. I had essentially quit my job to go on this trip and was/am forging down a brave new career path to follow my dream of being a writer. The trip was also exactly two months after the loss of Colin’s dad, which really put everything in my life into perspective. Vietnam was both me running away and starting fresh. Whenever my life is in flux, my instinct is to get on a plane. When I’m bored of filling out job applications, I look for flight deals or read through other travel blogs. Travel is always the answer, no matter what the question.

Except, this time it felt different.

A part of me was scared to go to Vietnam. After my disastrous trip to China last year, Vietnam was sort of a test. Could I do it? Was I still a traveler? Obviously this trip was a million times better than the China one, based solely on the fact that I planned it myself and I wanted to go. But I was still nervous. I think a large part of why I wanted to do this trip with someone was to help me really commit to it. If I had a China meltdown all over again, I had someone there to help get me through and as an incentive to stay.

Luckily, Vietnam was not China Trip Part 2. There was never a point where I wanted to throw in the towel and move my flight up. But some things did definitely change in my travel style.

The first time I noticed this was when we were having dinner with my friend Jonathan and a new friend of his he had met on his travels. We were asking her about her trip and she explained that she was travelling for 8 months through Asia, Australia and parts of Europe. My immediate reaction shocked me. As soon as she said that I thought, “No thanks!” Which is crazy! If you had told me two years ago that I would be turning my nose up at 8 months of travel, I never would have believed you. That was the dream! But I guess my dream has sort of changed. I’ve talked before about wanting to travel at a slower pace and not rush from city to city, which I think has a lot to do with my disgust at the idea of spending 8 months on the road.

This showed up in other parts of our trip. I’m sure Emilie would concur that it took a lot to get me out of the hotel room some mornings. I was having a hard time getting motivated to go out and see the city. The idea of putting on sunscreen and lacing up sneakers pained me. A lot of that had to do with the heat – I do not do well with humidity. But I think there was probably more to it than just hiding from the sun. As I’ve said before, I am a homebody who loves to travel. It’s a very weird dynamic and sometimes one wins out over the other.

Another part of this feeling was missing out on stuff at home. Even though Colin and I had lots of time to prepare for this trip, including the 14 days straight we spent together leading up to it, I really missed him. It’s hard to not be with the person you see and talk to all of the time. Colin was so great about messaging me and having a couple long chats on Skype but I still missed being with him. And I missed experiencing the trip with him. I have always been a huge proponent of solo female travel and people travelling without their partners. We met lots of people on the road who had left their significant others behind. I’m really happy that I got to do this trip with Emilie. And Colin was super supportive of me going. But all that being said, there’s still that part of me that would have wanted him there.

Another aspect of home that affected the trip was the pressure of my current job situation. As I wrote above, I quit my job a couple weeks before going on this trip. Thinking back, I still believe that quitting was the right decision. I was unhappy in that job and heading in that direction. This is the time for me to try something that I actually want to do and not be stuck in a soul-sucking administrative job. But it’s stressful! It was hard spending 3 weeks away knowing that I wouldn’t be coming home to a 9-5 or a vacation days paycheck. I was also keeping up with some of my freelance assignments, which was a bit to juggle at times. And anytime I took a break to watch a show or even write a post for this blog, I felt guilty that I wasn’t applying for jobs and attempting to figure out my life.

So yes, Vietnam was a very different trip from any I have taken in the past. I still had an amazing time and wouldn’t trade the experience. I’m so glad that I went (besides the horrendous jetlag I currently have; not so glad about that). I needed something to shake up my year and help me start this writing career track on a new foot. I think Vietnam was that. But it also has made me think about the type of travelling I want to do in the future. I don’t know exactly what it will look like but I want to find something that will make me happy. Or maybe it’s about accepting that travel, despite the perfectly filtered Instagram photos and adorable souvenirs, is not always fun. Sometimes you have a bad day, even when you’re living the dream and travelling in a new country. So maybe that’s the lesson I am actually learning: how to be okay with travel not always being 100% fun. Look at that! The lesson even changed from the beginning of my blog post to the end 🙂

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Speaking of changes, it seems that my living situation will also be changing soon. Colin and I are planning to move in together in the spring, hopefully into a nice apartment in New West. So if you hear of anything, let us know!

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.

Cruising Halong Bay

The big excursion of our Vietnam trip was a two night cruise on Halong Bay, a beautiful area made up of almost 2000 limestone islands scattered around a peaceful and scenic watery bay.

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To get to Halong Bay, we joined a tour group and started out on the four hour drive to the Halong Marina. Choosing a tour to go with was half the battle. We had read lots of reviews online and heard that prices could range from dirt cheap to absolute luxury. In the end, I’m really happy with the tour we ended up going with. We paid $110 USD/person for the two night cruise, which is about middle-ground for cruising prices. That included transportation, accommodation, activities and food. 

Here are some highlights from the cruise:

The views
After getting on the boat and cruising for only a few minutes, we were already in the middle of something pretty special. It was so peaceful to be out on the blue water and taking in all of these gorgeous limestone islands jutting out at random throughout the bay. My favourite part of the cruise was just hanging out on the top deck and being in awe of the impressive scenery. And despite Halong Bay being very popular, it never felt like our area was crowded with boats.

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The food

Enjoying fresh shrimp with our Spanish Papi

Enjoying fresh shrimp with our Spanish Papi

Emilie and I were pretty nervous about the food. Emilie especially, being a vegan, was worried they wouldn’t be able to cater to her needs. But were we ever wrong! The food on the boat was AMAZING! We ate family style, seated across from an adorable old Spanish couple, and had so many delicious dishes hit the table. I was amazed with the variety of dishes and the quantity. The fresh seafood was definitely a highlight! And Emilie ended up lucking out as well: she received at least 3-4 special veggie dishes just for her at each meal. It got to the point that she was sharing them with the whole table because it was way too much food for one person. And I’m glad she did because they made her an awesome veggie curry one night that was delish!

The accommodation
I was also really nervous about where we would be staying. After our disastrous hotel on our last overnight tour in the Mekong Delta, I had very low hopes for this cruise. Luckily, I was wrong. Our cabin on the boat was small but quite clean and nice. We docked overnight so it wasn’t too rocky or anything either, which my seasick-prone self really appreciated. And our hotel on Cat Ba Island, where we stayed the second night of the cruise, was so nice! It was a pleasant surprise and made our return to Hanoi even harder.

The activities
On our first day of cruising, we stopped to visit the Surprise Caves (I don’t think that was their official name but it’s what our tour guide, Popeye, told us to call them. He probably shouldn’t be the authority on real names…). We walked up some steps and then inside a series of three caves. And yes, it was surprising! Every time we walked into the next cave room, we were blown away by how big the space was and the cool features along the walls. Our guide liked pointing out different shapes in the rocks, which Emilie and I decided to try our hand at as well.

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Inside Cave Room #3

Emilie kayaking!

Emilie kayaking!

After the cave, we found a quieter spot on the bay and were invited to go kayaking. After a traumatic kayaking experience with Emilie last summer (it wasn’t all that bad, I just panicked and tipped), I decided to pass on kayaking. But Emilie really enjoyed it and even got to see some local monkeys!

The next day we started off early to get to Ti Top Island – a lookout point for Halong Bay that is 535 treacherous steps up. I was not feeling those steps and really struggled getting up them but I did make it! And I’m really glad I did. The view was beautiful! It was cool having an overhead shot of Halong Bay and seeing all of the islands and boats. Our tour guide had arranged for us to arrive at Ti Top at 7:45am, which made the walk up the stairs even more painful, but I was grateful for his choice. We were the first tour to arrive so had the lookout to ourselves for a while. Plus, there was only one set of stairs to get up and down, so as we were walking down, things were getting very crowded with people coming up. I would not have wanted to try climbing up those stairs with tons of people coming down at the same time and stealing my railing.

The view from Ti Top Island

The foggy view from Ti Top Island

Other activities included beach time, hiking in a national park on Cat Ba Island, visiting Monkey Island and free time around Cat Ba.

More views
The views again! I could’ve spent the entire cruise just sitting on the top deck getting whiplash trying to take in all of the scenery. The best part of Halong Bay is Halong Bay! This was definitely one of my most favourite experiences from our trip and maybe from all of my travels in general. If you haven’t been to Halong Bay, I definitely recommend it!

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We love Halong Bay!

We love Halong Bay!

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After Halong Bay, we returned to Hanoi, which I shared about in my previous post. From there, Emilie headed home to Vancouver and I flew to Phu Quoc Island for a writing retreat/beach vacation. More on that in my next post!

Next up: Let’s go to the beach! 

Heading to Hanoi

Hanoi was our last city together and the farthest north Emilie and I would be heading. We had heard that Hanoi would be a lot busier and dirtier than Ho Chi Minh City, so we were preparing for the worst. But I don’t think it was all that bad! We were also told that Hanoi, since it was in the north, would be a lot cooler. Unfortunately, that was also not true and we suffered through more sweltering days.

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They call this Vietnamese Spaghetti

They call this Vietnamese Spaghetti

Vibe of the city
Hanoi kind of had a cool city vibe. Emilie actually said that it was one of her favourite spots; she liked that it was less touristy and more real. I loved that there were such distinct streets and neighbourhoods. For example, our hotel was located on Toys Street where every other shop was a toy store. To get there we had to drive through Clothes Street. And to get to one of our favourite restaurants we walked down Shoe Street and Home Improvement Avenue. Basically, every few blocks had a different niche.

But people weren’t wrong about the streets being busy. Most of the shops exploded onto the sidewalk or opened restaurants onto the sidewalk so we spent most of our time walking on the road and trying to avoid cars and motorbikes.

Our favourite foods

Delicious pancake wraps!

Delicious pancake wraps!

We made a few awesome foods finds during our time in Hanoi, mainly thanks to Emilie’s awesome app, Happy Cow, that locates veg-friendly restaurants with good reviews. On our first night, we went to this fried wrap/pancake restaurant where you get to assemble the wraps yourself. We actually ended up going back there for our last dinner in Hanoi too. Another great find was a bun cha restaurant with delicious bun noodles. It was the spot where local food tours visited, so I think we made the right choice.

Our favourite smoothie place!

Our favourite smoothie place!

Right around the corner from our hotel was a bun stand that sold delicious chocolate buns. Our hotel breakfast was sort of lacking so this was a nice supplement. And then there was the great smoothie place that we stumbled upon. One night after dinner, Emilie and I were saying how much we would love to get some fresh smoothies. So we started walking, down Kitschy Home Decor Lane, and happened to find a tiny little smoothie shop on the corner with tons of cool combinations. So yum!

Hoa Lo Prison
Emilie and I aren’t huge museum people. We actually hadn’t done too many educational or historical activities throughout the trip. But we decided to pay a visit to Hoa Lo Prison while we were in Hanoi. The prison was originally built by the French to house Vietnamese prisoners and then by the Vietnamese to house American POWs. It’s the prison where John McCain was held. It was really interesting to walk through the actual prison and see the rooms and all of the old artifacts. But what was more interesting was the spin put on the museum. The treatment of the Vietnamese prisoners was depicted as very bleak and cruel while the treatment of the American prisoners was shown as pretty cheery. For example, there was an entire exhibit about the different torture devices used on Vietnamese prisoners. Meanwhile, the room talking about American prisoners showed them decorating a Christmas tree and playing basketball. Emilie and I both admitted that we don’t know enough about Vietnam’s history but the visit to the prison definitely wanted to make us learn more.

The lake
There’s this lake near the Old Quarter of Hanoi that is really pretty. On our first day in the city, Emilie and I decided to just walk around it. Our first stop was this red bridge that goes across the water to a temple. Except, they wanted to charge us to go across and the temple seemed pretty mediocre. So we just stood on one side and admired it. The gate was also quite pretty, there was a pagoda we could look at and the cutest group of little daycare kids walked by. They were all in a row and had to hold onto the shirt of the kid in front of them. Too cute!

How cute are these munchkins?

The Mausoleum & One Pillar Pagoda

On our last day in Hanoi, Emilie and I walked over to some of Hanoi’s most famous sites. It was a bit of a long walk, in lots of heat and, to be honest, the monuments at the end were a bit of a letdown. The mausoleum is where Ho Chi Minh is buried. And according to a Google search, CNN ranked it the 6th ugliest building in the world. I didn’t think it was all that ugly but it was a bit of a letdown. We couldn’t even get close to it, or else guards would blow a whistle and make sure you got back to standing behind the line.

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Next was the One Pillar Pagoda, which Ho Chi Minh had demanded be built after he had a dream about it. But it was also a pretty big let down. It was tiny! Like the size of a treehouse on one very thick pillar. I guess I’m glad we saw them, since they are some of Hanoi’s more famous monuments, but I definitely don’t think we would’ve missed anything if we hadn’t gone.

Unimpressive, right?

Unimpressive, right?

Spa Day!
Ever since we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Emilie and I have walked past tons of spas and the promise of $6 manicures. So on our last day in Hanoi, we decided to splurge and spend the afternoon at a really nice spa near where we were having lunch. We ended up paying for the more expensive pedicure, a whopping $15, for an hour worth of bliss. We were very tempted to add on a massage or something after we were done so we could stay in the heavenly spa a bit longer.

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Hanoi was also the last city Emilie and I were hitting together. We did two days in Hanoi, two days in Halong Bay, and another day in Hanoi. So after our afternoon at the spa, we had dinner back at our pancake/wrap restaurant and then the next morning, we were saying our goodbyes over pancakes. It was so wonderful to have a full two weeks of exploring Vietnam with Emilie. She was the perfect travel companion and our travel styles (air con breaks, cheap eats and in bed by 9) meshed perfectly. And if it wasn’t for her, I probably would’ve spent all day lying in the hotel with the air conditioning blasting and eating at the closest restaurant. I hadn’t travelled with a friend for a while so this was a really nice opportunity to do so and spend more time with Emilie in a new country.

Next up: Cruising Halong Bay!

A Day In Hue

Hue is pronounced “h-way” so A Day In Hue actually rhymes! I love a good rhyming title 🙂

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After Emilie and I finished up our time in Hoi An, we boarded the coolest bus in the world to Hue. This bus looked like a typical greyhound style bus from the outside but once inside there were two tiers of pods. Each pod had a reclining chair and leg room so you could crawl in, tilt you chair all the way back and sleep almost horizontally. They even gave you a blanket and the bus had WiFi. Plus, the three hour ride to Hue only cost us $3. The only downside was that the aisles were a little narrow and getting out of he pods was a lot harder than getting in.

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How cool is this bus?

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Once we got there and checked into our pretty swanky hotel, we set out for the Imperial City. The Imperial City and Citadel were actually the main reason we wanted to come to Hue. We were deciding between a stop in Hue or a national park nearby. Hue won out because it was a lot easier to get to and we only had about 24 hours.

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So we walked over to the Imperial City. Unfortunately, we ran into a very pushy guy on a bike on our way there. We had faced a lot of sales people on our trip already but this one was a bit different. He kept insisting that we take a ride on his bike and followed us into the Imperial City, despite us telling him we did not want a ride multiple times. We got very adamant and assertive until he finally left us alone. I don’t think we ever felt endangered but we did roll our eyes noting that if we had been two dudes, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Anyway, we finally reached the Imperial City! Unfortunately, we showed up at the exit, instead of the entrance. But we were able to buy some delicious mango, which was yummy to eat on our walk over to the proper entrance. We finally got inside and it was such a treat. We showed up later in the afternoon and practically had the whole place to ourselves. There were so many beautiful buildings and cool crumbling walls to look at. We loved walking around and exploring the grounds. At one point, we just sat on the side of a wall and took it all in. It may have been the quietest and most empty spot in all of Vietnam! I’m really glad we took the time to go there. It was supposed to be our substitute for not making it over to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

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After our time in the Imperial City, we walked back to our hotel and then out for dinner. Emilie had found us this one vegetarian restaurant but unfortunately it was closed. So we headed to one next door, which turned out to be a mistake – definitely not our best meal. The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel lobby, Emilie went for a walk while I did some work in our room, and then we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Hanoi.

A few more shots of the Imperial City:

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So just a quick stop in Hue! It was a nice city though – not as crazy as Ho Chi Minh but not as peaceful as Hoi An. But I’m glad we were able to make the stop, check out the Imperial City/Citadel and ride in the coolest bus ever.

Next up: Heading to Hanoi!