Tourists Guide to the World: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic Edition

Punta Cana BeachI’ve decided that if utopia exists, it is definitely on a beach. The more beach vacations I have the more sure of this I become. Seriously, no body can be unhappy at the beach. Warm sand, sun, cool blue waves, palm trees, hammocks, rum, so much rum. If that doesn’t sound like perfection… let me tell you more! Our beach had these big beds lined with cotton curtains and at lunch time they cooked sea food paella. I brought a book with me and relaxed, slept, tanned, and when I needed some action we played soccer, Frisbee and snorkeled. Pure perfection.

Most of our days looked something like this. Wake up, eat breakfast. Go to the beach. Swim. Tan. Swim. Read. Swim. Tan. Lunch on the beach. Swim. Drink. Tan. Swim. Drink. Read. Tan. Around 3:30-4ish we went to the spa. At the spa we used the sauna, the steam room, the cold immersion pool and the regular pool. Afterwards we would rest, shower and get ready for the evening.

11018600_10153184740818558_4753323313503597318_n

However, not all of our days were quite so calm. On our 4th day myself, Lucas, his sister Alysha and her husband Ruban went on a dune boogie adventure! This was an off resort excursion and it was such a blast. A bus took us to the dune boogie base camp where we were given protective face gear.

11057235_10153176089053558_3621636467864557417_n

Then we were let loose on the roads! Well, not exactly, but we did drive on the open roads. We drove as a very large group to a beach that (I kid you not) was even more perfect than the beach at the resort. Utopia, I’m telling you. Anyway, while at the beach we got some leeche nuts and coconut water. Then out of nowhere this guy put an iguana on Lucas’ head! Naturally I had to get a picture. But when I started snapping pictures the iguana man insisted that I also get in the pictures… Here is the thing. I do not like reptiles. The whole situation was a little dramatic. But the photos are hilarious and I will never forget the feeling of his scaly little legs on my arm.

11811473_10153184742943558_7720003810433534930_n11180641_10153184743128558_6060428255140989265_n

Next we drove to a local coffee farm. This place was unreal. They had coffee, chocolate tea, vanilla infused cigars and so much more. I’ve never had coffee that was so delicious. If I was carrying cash I would have purchased a bag to take home with me. Lesson learned. Also on the coffee farm was a fresh water cave to swim in. Fun fact: In Spanish the term for fresh water translates to sweet water. They call it this because sweet is the opposite of salty and fresh water, unlike sea water, contains no salt. Who knew?!

20111_10153184744353558_2309859379085921915_n

After that we journeyed back to base camp and headed back to the resort, just in time for a late lunch. Our second adventure took place at night on our 6th night. We went to this fantastical, amazing, unreal club called COCO Bongo! Also off resort, so we paid for a package that included a bus to and from the club, the entry fee and bottle service. It is kind of hard to describe COCO Bongo, but let’s just say it is unlike any clubbing experience you’ve ever had before.

11800117_10153184746823558_7775549349064283562_n

Basically it is half club, half show. And when I say show I mean singing, dancing, impersonations, sketches, aerialists, acrobatics, and more. It has everything! The format was 10 minutes of show and then 15 minutes of music and dancing. So you were kept entertained but you also got to dance and party.

11709643_10153184747618558_7345411554161452750_n 11141258_10153184746073558_580509840980943411_n

Seriously, if clubbing was like this at home I would go clubbing all the time.

11203046_10153184749688558_2900907249571261818_n

I even managed to get in some exercise while I was on vacation. I had to wake up super early if I wanted to get some fitness in because it became hot and humid very early in the day. Still I managed to get in two short early morning runs. Just around the resort. And twice Alysha and I did some beach yoga. Yoga on the beach is one of the most peaceful activities. The sound of the waves rolling in, the sun coming up on the horizon and the whole beach to yourself. It was perfect. Practicing on sand also challenged and improved my balancing skills.

I loved being able to relax and enjoy a week of paradise with Lucas and his family. I would say I am much closer with his sisters now, which is great. And I got some great colour. All my coworkers commented on how tanned I looked when I came home. As a perpetual pale person this was a huge accomplishment. I guess I just have to go on a tropical vacation to the Caribbean every summer! Canadian sunshine just isn’t cutting it. 😉

11796320_10153184753953558_417258163410382472_n

Advertisements

Tourists Guide to the World: Bol, Croatia Edition

Last summer while I was in Italy we decided to take a short stop in Croatia. A vacation within a vacation, if you will.

According to Wikipedia, “Croatia is located in Central and Southeast Europe, bordering Hungary to the northeast, Serbia to the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southeast, Montenegro to the southeast, the Adriatic Sea to the southwest and Slovenia to the northwest. Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coast contains more than a thousand islands.”

We were staying on one of these many islands. The Island of Brac. Getting there was a bit of a mission though. First, we flew from Rome into Split. Then we went from the airport to the harbor, which was about an hour away by bus. Once we got to the harbor we had some time to kill as it was about 4 hours until the next departure to Brac. We wandered around, ate some food and basked in the Mediterranean sunshine. Eventually we were able to board the ferry and experience what we thought was the final leg of our journey. The ferry took us directly to the city we were staying in, a beach town called Bol.

1512574_10152478488998558_3773595102228541815_n

We had rented a small apartment for two nights and three days for this visit. The instructions indicated that we were to check in at the welcome desk upon arrival. The booking came with a map, it all seemed pretty straight forward.

We were wrong.

See, when you get off the ferry there are no signs, no kiosks, nothing. And the map we had was not particularly accurate. The way we read it we assumed that the check in place was north east to where we were. So we followed the roads up and over, up and over, up and over. Then we realized we were not at all in the right place. So we walked south west. Down and over, down and over, down and over. Keep in mind we did all of this with luggage. And Bol is not flat, in fact it seemed like the whole city sat on the side of a very steep hill.

After an hour and a half of sweaty wandering we found the check in! As it turns out if we had walked left instead of right off the harbor we would have found it pretty quickly… Live and learn.

10599676_10152478490258558_2711712469828138528_n

Once we were settled into our apartment it was dinner time. We had an amazing sea food dinner at a restaurant near by. I wish I could remember what it was called. The mussels were cooked in a white wine sauce and they were unbelievable! If you love sea food, visit Croatia.

The next two days were spent on the beach. Bol is super cool because the beach is shaped like a point. Check out the picture below to see what I mean.

10710712_10152478488808558_9020309859328162855_n

Another really neat thing about the beach in Bol. There is no sand, it is all little pebbles, smoothed over by the sea water. If you bunched up the pebbles properly under your towel you could make a very comfortable chair. Walking on the pebbles was a tad challenging but mostly because they pebbles got so hot in the sun. By the end of the second day I was a pebble walking pro.

10711087_10152478490328558_3140014051599616398_n

The beach was stunning. Seriously, I’ve never seen water so blue. So clear. So clean. It was sunny and hot and just wonderful. I enjoyed the sun so much that I got heat stroke on the second day. Although, I don’t recommend doing that…

Lucas and I had planned to check out the night life but I was running a fever so that didn’t happen. But my sister also visited Croatia last summer. She went to a different island and enjoyed a lot of dancing and pool partying. So whether or not your looking for a relaxing get-away or a raging beach adventure. I would definitely recommend Croatia.

1966694_10152478489663558_7649258339288184862_n 1236827_10152478489843558_2559066645857492502_n

Tourists Guide to the World: Capua & Casserta, Italy

I love Europe. I really do.  I love the history that is on display in the middle of bustling cities. I love Canada too but it is so young by comparison. There are no royal palaces or crumbling gladiator areas in Toronto. That scenery is unique to Europe and perhaps also Asia.

10712921_10152478586313558_4556818237212626439_n

One of our day trips while we were in Italy was to the neighboring cities of Capua and Caserta.

The first stop of the day was the gladiators training arena in Capua. This arena was where the gladiators fought before making their way over to Rome. It is basically a smaller version of the Roman Colosseum. The outside is pretty crumbled but they have done a good job at preserving the inside and below ground passages.

An underground passage of the amphitheater.
An underground passage of the amphitheater.
Lucas' dad giving us his best Gladiator pose.
Lucas’ dad giving us his best Gladiator pose.

I think one of the reasons the outside is literally turning to dust is because the government cannot afford to upkeep the place. I find this incredibly sad as it is a beautiful piece of history. This place isn’t like Rome. There were no lines. It only cost us 2 Euro each to go in. And there was only 1  other couple there at the same time as us. (by comparison we waited for 30 minutes to get into the Roman Colosseum, it was crowded and it cost 16 Euro per person). In a way I loved that we had the time and space to explore but I hate to think that this place just be a pile of rubble one day.

A side by side replica of the amphitheater as it looks today and when it was originally built.
A side by side replica of the amphitheater as it looks today and when it was originally built.
The outer ring of the arena.
The outer ring of the arena.
Standing in the middle of the area. Can you imagine how much blood was shed here?!
Standing in the middle of the area. Can you imagine how much blood was shed here?!
A view of the outer wall from afar.
A view of the outer wall from afar.

Our next stop was the Reggia Palace in Casserta or the Royal Palace. This place was absolutely stunning! It was set up kind of like an art museum. You walked from room to room. Some rooms where set up with paintings, others filled with furniture, other rooms were works of are entirely on their own.

The Reggia Palace in Casserta
The Reggia Palace in Casserta
A Bed fit for a Princess
A Bed fit for a Princess
The library! My favourite room in the house!
The library! My favourite room in the house!
Check out that candle holder...
Check out that candle holder.

I had a million more pictures. Seriously I took pictures of EVERYTHING. But I can only photo drop so many pictures before people get sick of me. Take my word, it was an exceptional day trip. I learned a ton and saw so many beautiful things. So if your looking for things to do in Italy outside of Rome I recommend a visit to both of these wonderful spots. 

Tourists Guide to the World: San Donato Val di Comino, Italy Edition

Fun fact of the day: Lucas’s family has a house in Italy. In a tiny little town called San Donato Val di Comino. Fun fact number two: He didn’t use that as a pick up line… but if he had, it probably would have worked…

san 14
Panoramic view of the town courtesy of Wikipeadia

It goes like this: His grandparents came to Canada in the 50’s but they never sold their property in Italy as it has been in the family for many, many years. At one time the house was something of a mansion. As time went on sections of the very large house were sold off until a small section remained. This small section belonged to Lucas’s great-grandfather. When he died he left it to his 3 children. The children decided to break up the space into 3 small apartments. So one of these apartment’s now belongs to Lucas’s dad and his two siblings. The space is shared between the 3 of them as a summer vacation destination. As flights to Italy aren’t exactly cheap there is never a problem sharing the space.

san 7
Just a street in town

Last August (2014), I was lucky enough to visit their beautiful home with Lucas and his parents for a total of 3 weeks. Sheer perfection doesn’t even begin to describe my trip. As we were there for quite some time we were able to do a lot of tourism and traveling around but today’s post is going to focus solely on the little town of San Donato.

Hidden away in the Italian mountains, this little town rests. Quiet and peaceful. For reference if you are looking at the “boot” San Donato is in the middle of the shin. Between Rome and Naples. I love this little town but it is not by any means a typical tourists destination. The population of approximately 2000 is mostly made of of elderly people.

san 8
View of houses and surrounding mountains
san 6
Cappuccino

Life moves at a simple pace. Wake up, walk to the piazza, have your morning cappuccino. Residents work from 8 am to 1 pm and then close up shop for lunch. Lunch is usually from 1 pm to 3 pm and then it’s quiet time, or as I like to call it nap time. Seriously everything is still until about 4 or 5 pm when people go back to work until 8. Dinner is served around 9 pm and then everyone goes for an evening walk or passeggiata. Some people just walk around and then go home but some walk to the Piazza and enjoy a drink. Everything there was so carefree. Lucas says it isn’t like that in the winter and people are only so easygoing in the summer because of festa. We got there after festa but basically its two weeks of holiday. People do nothing but party, or so I’m told.

san 9
This is front door to Lucas’s house…

The town is literally sitting on the side of a mountain. One day Lucas and I walked through the town all the way to the top. The view from anywhere in town is spectacular. You can see everything coming in and going out because there are only 2 entrances/exits. One at the bottom of the mountain and one at the top. Lucas’s home is located in the very center of the town and therefore has the best view. It is so good, in fact, that during WWII the German Nazis occupied the house and used it as their home base. On door frames and window frames there is writing and drawings. Likely drawn by soldiers who got bored while keeping watch. Apparently there used to be a large swastika in the front entrance way of the house but it has since been covered up. The history in the town, in the buildings is so rich. For someone like me who has only ever learnt this history from books it was a very eye opening experience.

The house in San Donato was the perfect place for us to stay because it gave us a relaxing homey atmosphere where we could make our own food and enjoy evenings on the patio. And it was also central enough that with a vehicle we were still able to go on touristy adventures.

Stay tuned for more of my Italy adventures!

The Tourists Guide to the World: Cuba Edition Part Two

As I’m sure most of you have heard, last week I traveled to Cuba to enjoy some tropical sunshine. As expected, the weather was perfect, the beach was beautiful and the sun was IMG_5572hot! This was my third trip to Cuba, so the resort life is nothing new to me but it never gets old. The major difference between my 3 trips down south was my traveling companions. On my first trip I traveled with a small group of 4 girls, my second trip was large co-ed with about 14 people, and my most recent trip was with just Lucas and I. For more detail on my first two trips to Cuba check out The Tourists Guide to the World: Cuba Edition (Part One).

To give you guys some back story, Lucas and I have been two peas in a pod for about a year and 4 months. So its been a while, but not a super duper long time. Technically this was our first official vacation alone together. So a real fear was that after a week of being stuck together 24-7, we would be bored or argue a lot. Well, good news all around because that did not happen! woot woot! In fact, I think the time away together brought us even closer. We planned ahead and brought lots of things to keep ourselves busy. I brought a book, The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, see my book review here. I also brought my colouring book and my iPad, loaded with games and tv shows. Lucas also brought his iPad and we brought along a deck of cards. The cards were great to have when we sat in the lobby, especially in the evenings after dinner while we listened to live entertainment. We also passed the time with some people watching and a week long competition called “spot the worst tattoo”. Don’t worry we kept our opinions to ourselves, but between you and me there were a lot of great contenders.


IMG_5568

We didn’t go off the resort at all so sadly I didn’t get to experience any Cuban culture but one day I hope to go back there and do some local living. This time it was all about relaxation and soothing the soul. The beach was stunning and the resort was beautiful and super clean but the rest of the resort needs some work. This place just recently opened and they have quite a few kinks to work out before they can really claim to be a 5 star. The two biggest issues were the towls and the food. They are having a shortage of towels, so we didn’t receive any clean towels all week. And the food is just not great. Instead of cooking authentic Cuban food they attempt to make north american food and really miss the mark. Lucas actually lost weight while we were away because there was so little to choose from and he is skinny enough as it is. I don’t think I would return to this particular resort but you will definitely find me vacationing in Cuba again in the future. Check out some of our pictures below!

How do you keep yourself entertained on vacation?

The Tourists Guide To The World: Packing & why I suck at it…

As I am leaving for my Cuba vacation tonight(we are leaving for the airport at 3:30 am! woo), I figured that a travel themed post is in order. However, instead of posting about a particular destination I am going to share my opinions on everyone’s least favourite part of the journey: Packing.

download

I’m absolutely terrible at packing. I always bring way to much stuff, like WAY to much stuff. I am no expert folder. I’m incredibly ambitious when it comes to my reading list. I believe that you can never have enough sun screen. I do not trust hotel shampoo. Shoes, omg, shoes. See the issue…

EXCEPT!!! I think I may have solved my over packing problem!! Okay, not entirely but I’ve definitely made some headway. Let me share my infinite wisdom with you.

Step One: Write it down. Before I even thought about opening up my closet I got a pen and paper and wrote down everything I wanted to bring. Then I looked at the list and thought “alex, that is a dumb amount of stuff to bring on a 7 day trip” so I crossed off half of the items right then and there.

Step Two: Give it a title. As I pulled things off of hangers I listed, out loud, where I would wear it. “Beach”, “fancy dinner”, “nighttime”, ect. If it didn’t get a title then it didn’t get pulled. And no, “random t-shirt that I might possibly wear” is not an adequate title.

IMG_5458Step Three: Use a small suitcase. No joke, I am using a cary-on case for all my clothing. This wouldn’t work on a longer adventure but it is perfect for a 7 day beach resort vacation. Rule of thumb, if it doesn’t fit in the case it doesn’t make the cut. I also used the rolling method. To be honest, I’m not sure that it saved me a ton of space but I do know that the tiny case method is a winner.

Cheats: I did cheat a little bit. My shoes are in Lucas’s regular sized case… As are my toiletries… And my book (singular, I’m being realistic) is in Lucas’s cary-on bag. But seriously, look how tiny that case is.

All in all, I think my new step by step plan to packing will help me to greatly cut down on my luggage in the future. Anyway, Lucas and I are off to paradise for a week. The timing could not be more perfect, as Toronto got hit with a fresh snow fall today. I wont be updating while I’m away but you can expect lots of new and exciting content when I return next week. Actually, I can’t promise anything. But here’s hoping!

The Tourists Guide to the World: Cuba Edition

Exciting news! Over the weekend Lucas decided that instead of exchanging gifts this year we should drop everything and go on vacation. So I got approved for the vacation time and we booked the trip last night! From January 4th to 11th we are traveling to Cuba! 

230572_10150179967203558_4729440_n

This will be my 3rd time visiting Cuba. Each trip so far has been similar in terms of resort life but very different in terms of travel companions. & as all travelers will tell you, who you’re with can make or break the trip.

The first time I went to Cuba was in May 2011 with 3 of my bestfriends. Katie, Karin & Laura. The four of us have been friends since grade 10 and we are still going strong.

226197_10150179945253558_6002793_n
Karin, Laura, Katie & I. (May 2011)

Whereas the second time, in February 2012, I was with a large group of 14 friends. It was a mixture of men and women. It was a mixture of couples and non-couples. It was a mish-mash of people who just wanted an excuse to go on vacation.

420611_10150886709589012_935278179_n
Top left: Nate, Tour Guide, Me, Palo, Jordan, Rebecca, Jen, Tour Guide, Kim, Jason Bottom Left: Carly, Kat, Karen, Kyle, Max (Feb 2012)

Both trips were amazing, fun and special in their own way. One was not better than the other, just different. But there were pro’s and con’s to both groups, so let me break it down for you.

Cuba With a Small Group

Pros

  • The conversation is always intimate 229240_10150179956578558_1765402_n
  • It is easy to coordinate group activities
  • It is really easy to meet new people

Cons

  • If you are the only person who wants to do something… you’re on your own
  • You have to ask a stranger for help every time you want to take a group photo
  • At least one small argument is inevitable

Cuba With a Big Group

Pros

  • There is always someone new to talk to419090_10150886667949012_1942697123_n
  • Even if you are the only people at the resort, it is still a party
  • There is always someone willing to join you… no matter what you want to do

Cons

  • The couple you are traveling will get in a fight and sides will be temporarily be chosen
  • Two people from the group will hook up and be awkward for the rest of the trip
  • organizing group activities is a mission

Honestly, I really can’t decide which group of travel companions was most preferred. Maybe I just have great friends, maybe I’m an easy going traveler. Who knows…

Share in the comments! Do you have a preferred travel companion number? 

Oh! In terms of what Cuba is like? Well, resort life is pretty standard. Brightly painted hotel rooms with towel swans. Buffet meals. Limitless alcohol. Relaxing by the pool. Tanning on the beach. Swimming in the ocean. Sipping on drinks from the swim up bar. Boat rides and dolphins. Enjoying shows in the evening. Dancing the nights away. Basically it is paradise. Here are some more pictures! Enjoy.

The Tourists Guide To The World: London, England Edition

In June 2008, when I was 17, my family traveled across the pond to the mother land a.k.a. England.

keep-calm-and-love-england-38

My mum was born and raised in England but while traveling in Canada she met my dad and after they got married they settled in Toronto. Our time in England was part of a larger trip that also included France but those are stories for another day.

Primarily we used our 12 days in England to visit family. We stayed with my nana & granddad in South England in a tiny town near Kent. Their little bungalow was bursting at the seams with my larger 6 person family but we made it work. A lot of relatives came down to see us while we were there. Aunts, Uncles, but most importantly cousins! I don’t have any cousins in Canada. Well I mean I have some distant second cousins but we aren’t close. I may have 3 younger siblings to play with but I always wanted cousins. It was possibly the best part of that trip for me, getting to know my family members. I am the oldest of the sibling/cousin clan so we played a lot of kids games but it was such a blast.

1930637_23643178557_5889_n1930637_23643173557_5518_n

My grandparents live right along the coast (the eastern one I think). So we also spend some time at the beach. It wasn’t a great day for tanning but the waves were wild so we had a lot of fun attempting to stop the water from reaching our strong hold.

1930637_23647373557_4350_n1930637_23647383557_5037_n

Maybe that is just the way it is with families or maybe it is because we were all so young and carefree, but we all got along swimmingly. Would it be the same if we went over today? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I hope so. We don’t really keep in touch all that much but I follow their lives on facebook and what not. I plan on going back again in the not-to-distant future so I’ll report back when that happens.

Here is a picture of my siblings and one set of cousins. Can you tell who belongs to which family? I’ll give you a hint… I don’t look like any of them.

From Left to Right: Tasha (sister). on her back is Molly (cousin), Me, one my back is Fred (cousin), beside me is Henry (cousin), beside him is Amy (sister), on her back is Carter (brother).

1930637_23651683557_9127_nThe second half of this trip consisted of… you guessed it… being a tourist!!! We did all the London touristy things that you can think of. We took the train into the city from my mum’s friends place in Redding. We went to the Tower of London. I loved it there! I find British history so fascinating. We saw the crown jewels, we saw the armory, we saw the draw bridge, we were told some haunting stories about the princes who went missing in the tower and about Ann Boleyn being beheaded. Like I said, fascinating.

We also walked across to the Tower Bridge, we took a ride on a red double decker bus. We went to see Big Ben (the parliament buildings), we also took a spin on the Eye of London. It is basically a huge Ferris wheel. It was one of those trips where everything we did was uber touristy. Next time I visit London I’d like to go to some lesser known spots. I’m of age now so grabbing a pint in an English pub is on my bucket list. I’d also love love love love looooovvvvveeeee to visit the Harry Potter studio tour. Here are a few more pictures from London.

 

 

 

 

The Tourists Guide to the World: The Introduction Edition

Hello everyone! Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a relaxing, yet exciting weekend. I was very busy but more on that in posts to come later in the week.

Today, I am excited to announce a new reoccurring segment about traveling. I call it “The Tourists Guide to the World”. To answer the question you are all asking… No. I have no traveled around the world, but I have visited a lot of very cool places. Usually when I travel I bring a journal with me so that I can document my thoughts and experiences. So for the most part these posts will be inspired by those past journal entries, until I travel somewhere new of course.

download (2)

Just to clarify, I define travel as going anywhere new and exciting. So these posts could be about a tourist attraction or travel destination on the other side of the world or right in my own city. The opportunities are limitless.

Below you will find a list of all the places I have traveled to so far. In the Tourists Guide to the World I will be writing about each of these places and the experiences I had there, in no particular order.

Where In The World Has She Been…

Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Home)

Muskoka Woods, Ontario, Canada

British Columbia Canada

New Found Land, Canada

Denver, Colorado, USA

Orlando, Florida, USA

London, England

Cognac, France

Paris, France

Varadero, Cuba

Rome, Italy

Bol, Brac, Croatia

On most of these trips I did a lot of traveling around to different places so each post will likely consist of only one major experience from a particular location. My trip to Italy, for example, was three weeks long. I saw a lot and did a lot, so instead of cramming it all into one post, I am going to write a whole bunch of different posts about the small things that made the trip special.

10-Common-Travel-Mistakes-You-Can-Avoid

Next summer (2015) I have plans to visit Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Someday I’d like to visit Spain, Greece, Amsterdam, New York City, California, Thailand, Brazil, Ecuador, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Egypt… and more. The world basically.

I hope you will find The Tourists Guide to the World informative and inspirational. Perhaps, a post will entice you to jump on a bus, plane or train and experience these wonderful places for yourself! Or maybe you will learn something new. Regardless, I hope you enjoy!

Ps. You may have noticed that my site header changes from page to page. Most of those photos were taken on my adventures and eventually I’m sure I will explain where each and every one came from. But if you have a question about a particular photo, please leave a comment and let me know!

Where have you traveled to? Where would you like to travel?