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Travel Diaries: I left my heart in Sausalito

I have had the opportunity to travel to many locations and exotic destinations over the course of my three decades on this planet. For years my sights were set on Europe and the countries that sit nestled along the gorgeous Mediterranean. It was not until the past year or two that I began delving in and discovering what it is that can be found on the very continent that I reside. This curiosity finally took me to The Big Apple on numerous occasions, along with Miami and various locales on the California coast.  I have since fallen in love with the remarkable variation of settings, scenery and culture that lay waiting for discovery here in North America.

In recent months, I had the opportunity to set off to the northern reaches of California. After exploring Napa and Sonoma Valleys, where I obviously indulged in some premiere wines and delectable dishes, I decided to discover what it was that caused so many to leave their hearts in San Francisco. San Francisco and its surrounding beauty, offer an experience like no other.

Although I found pleasure in roaming through the neighbourhoods like North Beach and Telegraph Hill in addition to enjoying some chowder and taking in the fun sites and entertainment at Fisherman’s Wharf, it was when I crossed the symbolic and majestic passageway over the Bay-The Golden Gate Bridge- burning red in all its prestige and strength, that I discovered my true hideaway that will keep me coming back to the Bay area again and again.

Sausalito, California is a breathtakingly beautiful San Francisco Bay town that boasts a Mediterranean charm with the relaxed and luxurious culture to match.  Tucked into rolling hills overlooking the steely blue crashing waves, are scattered stately homes of all manner of designs. The front street is smattered with quaint boutiques, beckoning spas, for your relaxation while on getaway, and offers a plethora of fine-dining options. If it weren’t for the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge in clear sight, it would be easy to imagine that you were spending time on the shores of the Amalfi Coast.

Many inns are available for travellers while visiting this town of  well-to-do Marin County. All hotels include tastefully decorated rooms, and many offer spa services that will cap off a day of adventure with utter relaxation.

In close proximity to the main stretch is a ferry boat that can easily transport you to central San Francisco to attend whatever performance or tour you wish to partake in. A short drive north of the picturesque town of Sausalito and you’ll find yourself in wine-lovers’ paradise where Napa vineyards will keep your taste buds aroused. A drive back from the northern wine region would be even more spectacular if the route chosen is the California coastal highway.  Views are surreal and the number of fishing villages with fresh seafood on offer that you’ll discover while making the trek back are just another reason to add this adventure to your to-dos while in the area.

Keeping fit and active in San Francisco is never a difficult feat seeing as there is no shortage of hills to climb. Hop on one of the city bikes or take a bike tour by an offered tour company, through the streets of SF and back across the Golden Gate Bridge to rest your head in Sausalito at your choice of inn. Perhaps finish off an active afternoon in the spa with a well-deserved massage and a crisp glass of chardonnay from a choice Napa vineyard.

Working up an appetite certainly deserves the best of the best in regards to dining. Enjoy a lovely evening at one of many a 5 star restaurants, for some mouth-watering authentic bites that will have you singing “That’s Amore” before the night is through. Sweet treats are easily found by stepping out onto Bridgeway Drive and stopping in to one of the number of bakeries and ice cream shops on Sausalito’s main street.

A perfectly poised post for visiting all that San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma Valley have to offer, Sausalito is the luxurious and charming destination to choose to ensure that your getaway can involve a touch of relaxation,  fine dining, nightlife, exciting activities and adventure. I fell in love with this place while I was within Sausalito’s borders, and trust that you will as well.

Why your physical wellness is the best investment you can make

It was after harnessing as much courage as I could, that I recently found myself halfway up a mountain on a trail above Medellin, Colombia alone, muddy and incredibly sweaty. The trail, being on a mountain route, was steep and quite challenging at times, yet I was in my element: being outdoors and active has always been my thing. It was just after pausing to take in the landscape that the first drops of rain started to fall. Though I had the energy to keep climbing, I know Colombia doesn’t half-ass its storms. I turned back towards the farmer’s house below. Within minutes, it was deluging with the vibrant orange trails quickly turning to streams. I arrived at the bottom completely soaked with mud marks on my legs and tired muscles.

Moving from Toronto to Colombia has been an interesting personal experiment to say the least (and this is just the beginning). In making a transition like this, I’ve put myself in a situation where I no longer have a large social circle and comforts like my house, my routine, my directional awareness of my surroundings and even my ability to communicate are all gone. When I look at the elements that made up my day-to-day life a mere four weeks ago, there’s only one thing left: my fitness. During this transitional period, I’m glad for that.

I’ve been an active person for my entire life. In the early nineties when I was pint-sized but high energy, I danced, swam and pedaled my pink bike around and around the block. I spent my weekends playing tag and following the current of the stream by my house to see where it led. Soon after, I found my love for distance running and that never waned. I ended up in the fitness and health writing game.

It feels like by spending my youth as an active kid, I unknowingly set myself up to become a more self-sufficient adult. These days, I’m not only thankful that I’ve made myself into a physically active person but I also feel that this is the best investment I could have made. What’s more, is that I think putting time and energy into fitness is one of the smartest things any woman can do.

I spent the past few years writing about health and exercise. Through this work, one of the biggest things I wanted others to recognize is that the benefits of maintaining a decent fitness level go so far beyond looking trim and toned. While the workouts at first may seem to be means towards achieving a certain type of beauty, I don’t think that should be the point. Someone who makes athleticism part of her lifestyle is building a body that’s strong enough to take her on adventures no matter where she chooses to end up. Those activities could range from kayaking to hiking to climbing – you name it. Being fit enough to explore the surroundings through movement, I think, is one of the best things people can do for themselves. Sure, doing those planks and yoga poses may serve an initial purpose but once those ambitions have been realized, I think it’s about being fit enough to jump into physical activity purely for the enjoyment of it. For example, now that I’m spending much of my days on my own, I’m glad that I can hike tough terrain or spend an afternoon running without feeling exhausted. If I was starting from square one during this period, I’m not sure what I’d do.

This sort of a lifestyle is a big contributor to confidence, too. Believe me, moving to a different continent is a great way to test this trait. I may be nervous to venture out into the city (what if I get lost… again?) or talk to a stranger (what if my pronunciation is off… again?) but when it comes to moving my body, I know I’ve got this. With hiking, running or yoga, I know I’m well able to carry myself through – no matter where I am. That’s a confidence booster – one I’m glad for.

Everyone gets their fair share of curveballs to deal with. Keeping up with the workouts, I feel, is probably the best way to be proactive for those crappy days. To run or cycle or commit to those Tuesday night sessions is to contribute to overall wellness. When my body is stronger and fitter, I’m generally happier. When I’ve had a horrible day, I’m able to hit the roads for a tempo run and blow off steam and suddenly, the problem seems to have shrunk itself. Trust me, the workout has the power to benefit overall wellbeing. What woman wouldn’t want that in her life?

By the time I arrived home from my mountain hike in the rain, I was severely uncomfortable. First of all, my shoes were like a pair of waterlogged boats squishing with every step. Secondly, my white tank top was now see-through which, paired with my mud-stained shorts, didn’t make for a good look. The next day, my upper legs, not used to descending down a steep mountain were so sore I could hardly tackle a set of stairs. Still, it was one of the best days I’ve had in Colombia so far. Physical activity is a big part of who I am and I’ll continue to rely on that as I navigate this country. I’ve already planned my next hike here: a route along the spine of a mountain just outside the city.

 

Discover Dubrovnik, all the reasons you should

The Mediterranean is magical for not only its beauty, but also for the variety of cultures that call its shores home. It is without a doubt one of my favourite regions to visit on this planet for the beauty of the summoning blue waters and the history that each nation set along the coast has attached. Italy left me enchanted, Greece had me at Yassas ,  but it was Croatia that made my heart race and is strongly beckoning me back.

The moment our ship pulled into the cove, a short distance from the shores of the gorgeous port town of Dubrovnik, Andreas Bocelli came over the loud speaker and all passengers simply gazed in awe at the truly breathtaking scenery that in all my years traveling has never been matched. Surrounded by rolling hills that directly meet the Adriatic, and lined with windblown palms and old stone walls that beckon onlookers in for further discovery, my stomach leaped with excitement to step foot off the vessel and to see more.

The port town has become a tourist-filled destination over the years for good reason, as the beauty, matched with the cultural influences, architecture, hospitality and history, make it a must-see destination on your itinerary.

History & Sights

The old town within the walls of Dubrovnik includes an array of monuments and structures that remain symbols of the power struggle that the town had been plagued with right up until the early 90’s. Few of the buildings built during the Renaissance period survived the earthquake of 1667, but those which did, are worth a visit. These include the Sponza Palace, dating from the 16th century, that now houses the National Archives, The Rector’s Palace, which is a Gothic Renaissance structure, and is now a museum, and the St. Saviour Church, which is also a remnant of the Renaissance period. Stop by the ancient monastery and the forts which sit atop the hill of the old town, and you’ll have achieved gaining enough historical knowledge for your first visit.

Dining

Dining is made not only delectable but also delightful while in Dubrovnik. Many wonderful options for a scrumptious meal are offered directly in old town, of which include the 5- star locale, Restaurant Dubrovnik, that serves only the best quality Mediterranean meals that are complemented by service from warm and attentive staff. The notable fine-dining restaurant does come at a cost, yet is worth every dime.

For an experience that includes a seaside view and the most delicious seafood found in the region, visit Nautika Restaurant. Your meal will be accompanied by panoramic views from the gorgeously decorated terrace, including a sight of the two fortresses, Lovrijenac and Bokar.

Restaurant 360 offers up an experience that the name makes self-explanatory- a 360 degree view of the ancient town and all that surrounds it, from atop a wonderful patio. Service is warm and prices are reasonable. This is a wine-lovers paradise thanks to the tastings the restaurant provides A remarkable view, delicious cuisine and fine wine- what more could a lover of all things chic ask for?

Accommodations

Accommodations within this historical spot are difficult to come by, yet merely a walk away from the old town walls, travelers can find luxurious villas and retreats to enjoy more seaside views while unwinding after a day of discovery and luxury dining. Villa Dubrovnik, Villa Orsula and Villa Allure of Dubrovnik are the top picks for your most comfortable, chic and quality stay. Each is a short kilometer from the old town walls and offer luxurious accommodation either directly on, or overlooking the sea.

As an avid traveler, it is always difficult for me to part with a destination I have enjoyed great experiences in. However,  while leaving the port of Dubrovnik, the captain played Andreas Bocelli once more, only this time it was his masterful piece, “Time to Say Goodbye,” and tears actually welled in my eyes at the sheer beauty and bittersweet moment during which we sailed away. I vowed to return and suggest an initial or return visit to each and all of you to this incredible destination.

 

 

 

 

Why you need to visit Lamma Island

Beyond the concrete towers that encapsulate Hong Kong’s skyline lies a hidden gem in the South China Sea. Originally known as Pok Liu Chau, Lamma Island is the tiny 13-square-kilometer destination that everyone should add to their bucket list. Although, sadly, there are no llamas, as the name may imply, this island is a true haven away from the dense commotion of central Hong Kong.

Lamma Island boasts some of Hong Kong’s finest natural landscapes, complete with thick greenery, swimmable beaches and a refreshing dose of ocean air. You can catch a ride to the northern village of Yung Shue Wan, or the eastern Sok Kwu Wan in just 20 minutes from Victoria Harbour, or 40 minutes from Aberdeen.

Whether you’re planning a day trip or a weeks-long getaway, here’s why this island will provide you with the perfect change of pace:

The Beaches

A spacious, tidy beach is a relic that’s hard to come by along the coasts of Hong Kong and mainland China. Lamma Island, however, has plenty of swimmable beaches with white sand and (mostly) clean water. Hung Shing Yeh is the island’s most popular beach in the main town of Yung Shue Wan, and despite being ordered to get out of the water due to a nearby oil spill during my own beach day, it’s definitely worth a trip. If you’re looking for a quieter spot, Lo So Shing beach is a must-visit, or you can explore the island’s coast, which is speckled with a ton of secret sandy shores. There is one beach, however, on the southern tip of the island that’s reserved for our marine animal friends. Although accessible by foot or private boat for some of the year, Sham Wan Bay is closed to the public from June to October, as it is the only remaining nesting site in Hong Kong for endangered sea turtles.

The Food

Hong Kong is internationally renowned for its seafood, and some of its best can be found on Lamma Island. Home to one of the territory’s oldest fishing villages, Sok Kwu Wan was once the liveliest fishing centre in Hong Kong. The village residents have been practicing this art for centuries and continue to use traditional fishing techniques to this day. Both of the island’s main towns are lined with seafood eateries, most of which come equipped with patios that overlook the ocean. And if fish isn’t really your thing, not to worry! Lamma is home to a hefty population of expats, many of whom have opened their own restaurants with an international flare. You can find delicious Spanish tapas, traditional British pubs, aromatic Indian grub, and plenty of cozy vegan and vegetarian cafes.

The Hiking Trails

With no cars or buses, Lamma Island can only really be explored by bicycle or by foot. Luckily, there are numerous trails traversing the island’s landscape.The most popular trail is known as the Lamma Island Family Walk and takes you between the major towns of Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan in about one and a half hours. The trail is mostly paved with clear markers and fresh fruit stands along the way, and it’s easily doable for beginners. It will bring you through the rolling green hills of the island to various lookout points where you can catch the sunset and see the glitzy shimmer of Hong Kong’s concrete jungle across the channel.

For the history buffs, Lamma’s trails are also decorated with remnants of the past. Along the way, you’ll find one of many small caves that were built by the Japanese during their occupation of Hong Kong in World War II. The caves were dug to hold speedboats that would be used in suicide attacks on enemy ships. Although they were never fully in use, the caves are untouched to this day, and are now known as the Kamikaze Grottos.

The People

Lamma Island is home to approximately 6,000 residents– not many, compared to the millions of people that populate the rest of Hong Kong. Some locals have lived here for generations, with roots reaching back to the island’s booming fishing days. However, Lamma’s laid-back energy and undeniable charm has attracted expats, artists and wandering nomads from all corners of the globe. It’s also been a recent draw for many workers who’ve opted for a daily ferry commute over the dreaded apartment hunt in mainland Hong Kong. The apparent multiculturalism has infused the island with a free-spirited vibe that makes it one of the best corners of Hong Kong if you’re looking to meet new people.

The Peace & Quiet

Lastly and, in my opinion, most importantly, Lamma Island is a slice of serenity in the foreground of cosmopolitan chaos. There are no cars and no skyscrapers to pollute its natural beauty, in fact, government restrictions forbid any units to be built over three storeys high. This not only curbs the number of residents, but it also opens the view to the skies above- something that’s quite a rarity on the mainland. If you really want to bask in the silence, avoid the island’s busiest time, which is summer weekends when a wave of mainland citizens come rushing in for the prime beach-lounging hours. But, just as quickly as they appear, they vanish at the call of the last scheduled ferry.

If you want to experience Lamma Island and all it has to offer, I suggest planning your trip soon. As the island gains popularity with visitors from near and far, an increasing number of developers are setting their sights on this relaxed hideaway. It may not be the same place in ten, or even five years from now, so hurry up and pack your bags!

Ireland Inspiration: six places you must visit on a trip to Ireland

If there’s one thing that St.Patrick’s Day is especially good for, it’s the ability it has to bring on a strong case of wanderlust. It’s no wonder Ireland gets a reputation for being a magical, fairytale-like place: with its cobblestone roads, ancient castle ruins and perfect green fields, this island looks made for the pages of a storybook. Each year as St. Patrick’s Day arrives, many are bombarded with images of Ireland that look nearly too perfect to be true. For the avid travellers out there, this annual holiday may make booking a flight all too tempting. If considering a trip to Ireland across the Atlantic, there are several corners of the country well worth a visit. (Trust us, they won’t let your Instagram down.) Sure, Dublin may seem the most obvious spot for a tourist and while the city is as vibrant and lively as one would expect, there are several other areas to make the trip one for the books. Below, a few suggestions.

Limerick

Readers of world renowned author Frank McCourt, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the memoir Angela’s Ashes, need to make a visit to Limerick a top priority. Though the book is quite a sad story, fans of his work will see where he developed his Irish humour and can be sure to stop by iconic locations like the River Shannon during their stay.

Cliffs of Moher

These cliffs are at the top of many a traveller’s bucket list for good reason. Visiting the Cliffs of Moher is one of those experiences that actually does leave a traveller breathless. The west of Ireland has a reputation for being absolutely stunning and this gem is one of the main reasons why. The photo ops at this natural tourist attraction are aplenty. Standing 214 metres at their highest point, the cliffs are too pretty not to plan a tour. While there, keep eyes peeled for the 30,000 birds who call this place home.

Galway

Outgoing women who journey to enjoy a good party best get acquainted with the city of Galway. Situated on the coast, Galway smells of saltwater and is the perfect place to spot quaint fishing boats. The nightlife here is incredible. Take a girl pal out for the night and commit to a pub crawl along the cobblestone roads. Be sure to sample local brews of course. Looking for a day trip outside of the city? Visit the former village of Claddagh just a short drive outside of the city. It’s famous for, you guessed it, Ireland’s iconic ring.

Ulster

Exploring the streets of Ulster in Ireland’s North will satisfy the politically savvy wanderer as much as the visitor interested in art. Painted during the politically unstable period, many of the murals on city walls and houses served as propaganda and contributed to the tense atmosphere of two rivalling sides: the north and the south. Since then, some have been painted over to show more cheerful scenes, however  many originals still remain.

Aran Islands

A trip to the Aran Islands is an absolute must. Found at the mouth of Galway Bay, seeing these picturesque islands is bound to be the highlight of the trip for most tourists. Don’t believe it? Consider that National Geographic named the location one of the world’s top island destinations. These islands will seem like a throwback in time. One area that can’t be missed: world heritage site Don Aonghasa.

Comeragh Mountains

Active travellers get the hiking gear ready. For the athletic wanderer, a visit to the Comeragh Mountains is a great spot to explore Ireland by foot. The mountains have many trails to choose from and taking in the site of Coumshingaun Lake (a glacial lake) is the cherry on top of an epic day trip. The mountains are found in Waterford county which is also famous for its crystal so if visitors are looking for a rather fancy souvenir, that’s well worth the investment.

Five reasons why the career focused woman should go on a work retreat

 

By Sinead Mulhern

For me, 2018 marks the year when I turned an idea that had been brewing for four years into a reality. The notion of travelling for months on end had become impossible to ignore so before the timing became hopelessly complicated, I left my life in Toronto and boarded a plane to Colombia. This wasn’t in the fashion of your classic quit-your-job-and-travel story, but rather, as a way to travel while moving forward with my career. Conversations around travel often hint at getting away from work but for me, a woman who enjoys her line of work, my travel experience will be the opposite.

I believe that spending time abroad to enhance work life is the way to go and, luckily, there are plenty of work-travel retreats that make the transition less daunting. In the era when working remotely from a laptop is becoming the norm, there are several options that allow workaholics to commit to travel knowing there are like-minded individuals waiting on the other side. Programs like Be Unsettled and Remote Year offer more temporary stays around the world whereas artist residency programs or co-working houses, like Roam and We Live, cater to digital nomads who want a longer-term fix. Interested in taking work abroad? Below, find a few reasons why a work-travel experience is the best way for women to explore in 2018.  

Your career won’t stagnate.

My will to explore the world is a big reason why I ended up pursuing a career in journalism. Like many, I don’t need to stay put in one place to build upon that career. Before I left, I built a stronger network of clients so that I could make my version of work-travel a reality. I’ve expanded the topics I write about as well as the places in which my writing is published. Contrary to the belief that one must stop working for a period of time in order to explore foreign regions, travel can actually open new doors – professionally speaking. In other words, it’s not an “either or” ultimatum.    

The environment fosters personal growth.

While the projects may bring joy, work life can be enhanced further by attending a work-travel retreat. Just like the travel companies that cater to those who want to escape the office for a couple weeks, there’s no shortage of folks who plan travel experiences for digital nomads, freelancers or entrepreneurs. Relocating to foreign territory kick-starts some much-needed personal growth – instilling more confidence and inner peace. This in turn impacts professional life in positive ways.

You set your schedule.

More and more in recent years, I had been itching to pack my bags, board a plane and travel for longer than the quick in-and-out experience that my vacation time from my office job afforded me. Like many, at times I also took issue with working the same hours every single day. By signing up for one or two months of a remote work-travel program (or custom designing your approach like I’m doing) laptop workers can maximize productivity by working during their most constructive hours. Full disclosure: be warned that this could come at a financial cost – at least in the beginning. Adjust expectations accordingly.

New vantage points lead to fresh ideas.

Part of the day can be spent at a desk with a beach view and part can be spent eating local cuisine. Getting away from the daily grind for a month or a year – whatever you choose – will provide a new perspective since everything from the people to the cultural norms are completely different. Because of this, working professionals are likely to tackle projects with new approaches and a fresh pair of eyes.

Getting out of the comfort zone lends well to making bold moves at work.

When spending time abroad, even completing the most basic tasks can seem like an accomplishment – especially if there’s a language barrier. When simply ordering lunch or navigating transit becomes difficult, the things that seem intimidating at work become much more doable by comparison.

 

5 tips to pack light on your travels

Travelling can be exhausting, especially if you are going on vacation solo. The biggest source of this fatigue is packing. You need a certain number of outfits for each day, and then you need options for if the weather is cold or hot, or if you are spontaneous and decide to go out for the night. And then there are the killer shoes — one is good for walking, one for dancing, one for rain, one for snow, and one for the beach.

It’s not just the act of packing either. It’s the weigh-in at the airport, baggage claim, lugging your suitcase around the city for half a day while you wait for your hotel room to be ready. And then there are the extra fees if you do any shopping while abroad!

Don’t stress too much. There are ways to pack light while travelling that will allow for plenty of shopping space and a lot less hassle. Here are five tips:

Pack outfits, not options: This will save you so much room in your suitcase. Do you need a pair of pants for every day of your trip? Probably not. Choose a minimum number of bottoms and one or two shirts per bottom. While packing, you can sometimes fall victim to the “options” mentality, in which you pack numerous tops with numerous bottoms so you have a lot of choice. While choice is great, it is not prudent for light packing. Outfits are complete looks, and therefore you only bring what you know goes well with other items in your bag.

Bring laundry detergent: Who says you can’t do laundry on your trip, especially if you are away for over a week? Bring some detergent that is sink-friendly so you can wash undergarments midweek if you need to. I travelled through Europe for three weeks and this saved me! It meant I just had to pack a few outfits, wash, and re-wear!

Sorry ladies, limit your shoes: Shoes are the hardest part about packing for a trip. On the one side, you want something practical and comfortable if you plan on doing lots of walking. But, what if you want to go to the beach? What if you want to dress up for dinner? What if it rains? This is a constant problem, and my only advice for you is to choose two, and then add flip/flops if the beach life is for your. It seems impossible, right? But honestly, no one is going to look at your feet while you are on vacation – so go with comfort first. Invest in good walking shoes that are waterproof. This ticks off two boxes. Then, choose a pair of nice shoes that you can wear with both jeans and a dress. My go-to is a cork-heel sandal, as it is relatively comfortable and works with everything.

Bare minimum makeup: Hair products, foundation, brushes, and jewellery are some of the bulkiest items you can put in a suitcase. Go minimal — either purchase mini bottles of these items or get a travel pack from the drug store for shampoo and soap. Think about what you will be doing. If you are spending time on a beach or in the water, you don’t really need much makeup to begin with. Bring foundation or concealer, some mascara and eyeliner, and a lipstick for the evening. Eyeshadow will melt if you are going somewhere hot and there is no need for blush if you are wandering through a cobblestoned town in Amsterdam. In terms of jewellery, pack easy to match items like stud earrings or simple necklaces. If you want something funky for a fancier night out, that’s fine, but limit it to one look.

Backpack it: If you plan on doing any exploring or long adventures, make sure to have a small backpack to bring with you. This way, you can pack a few granola bars or a bottle of water with you for easy travel. You can purchase small locks and use it for your big pockets so that when you walk through large tourist hubs, you don’t have to worry about theft. It’s a lot easier than keeping your passport or wallet in a purse that is easy to grab. Having a backpack also gives you a little more freedom if you, let’s say, want to ignore my rule on shoes and truly believe you need an extra pair. Simply put it in your backpack and when you get to the hotel, remove it. This saves on any extra weight limitations you may have and allows you to pack an extra towel or necessity in your suitcase.

Bonus: roll, don’t fold! You can fit more if you fold your clothing in half and then tightly roll them up. You can fit double the amount of clothing in your suitcase this way.

Remember, that if you don’t have enough of something, you can always go to the store!

Tortillas and sugarcane juice in Costa Rica

Travelling through Central America was on my bucket list. After months of painstaking research, I realized that doing it all was impossible. I settled on visiting Costa Rica, in the northwest of the long finger-like country. The Pacific coast beckoned with its black beaches, diverse communities, and abundance of flora and fauna. My adventures were inundated with wild animals, sugarcane fields, and one-of-a-kind experiences.

Here are some of the highlights:

Sweet as sugar

A small town named Filadelphia in the interiors of Northwestern Guanacaste province acts as a gateway to huge acres of sugarcane. Sugarcane is a big player in the country’s largely rural economy. All parts of the crop are used up so there is little waste. Workers use machetes to hack through the tall tough stacks of cane before it goes to the ‘Trapiches’, or sugar mills, to be ground into sugar.

My guide, Ulysses (how epic is that?), points out the sodas lining the main street. Soda is a term for the ubiquitous eatery found at every corner. The sun is riding high in the sky, and from the cool interiors of the sodas, local Costa Ricans raise their hands in greeting. They know where I’m headed. Soon, I see orderly rows of sugarcane and lines of melons on the other side of the dusty road.

“These belong to the company Del Monte. You have heard, yes?” I nod, my mind flying back to my local grocery store. I’ll always have this picture in my head when I see those tins next time, I think.

El Viejo Hacienda

The group made a stop at a hacienda, which lay past the fields and the streams where egrets continue to fish, unfazed by my picture taking. Built in the 1800s, it retains much of its original wood work. I wander into the courtyard, entranced by the view of the surroundings.

“Careful!” warns Ulysses, and I step back in alarm. Snoozing in the sunny courtyard is an iguana, all orange crest and striped tail. I was too busy looking about to have seen what lay at my feet. My heart is in my mouth.

“They’re harmless,” he grins. “They only fight among themselves.”

I’m not convinced and vow to pay attention. But the lovingly restored hacienda works its soothing magic on me. Upstairs are rooms whose wooden floors are scuffed with the imprints of a thousand visitors. The walls hang with pictures of another era. From the upstairs verandah, I see the clumps of weirdly shaped cacti, and beyond, the fields and mountains, misty in the noon haze.

Sabaneros

The group then had the opportunity to learn about the Sabanero (cowboy) culture, native to the region. Time lies still in these parts, I think. I meet El Capitano, the ox who will help in moving the mill press, which will grind the sugarcane to make juice. He’s a robust bull, but docile, on account of his castration, Nina, the young lady showing me around, explains. Then she makes a peculiar howling sound and, in an instant, is answered with the same sound from beyond the canopy of trees. That, she explains, is how the cowboys communicated with each other. Tourists gather around to watch the churning of the old machine with El Capitano’s help.

I cannot help it – I’m captivated, held fast by the sunshine, the scent of woodsmoke, the nectar-like sugarcane juice, and the living groves of tamarind and mango trees. Ulysses leads me up the steps to the modest Casa del Sabanero, with an open hearth with roaring fire, pats of corn dough, and an invitation to bake fresh tortillas. The taste is reminiscent of a simpler time, of sun, of community, of the earth, I think poetically.

Wetlands

The wetlands are only a short drive away. Through densely treed land, the van stops at the banks of the fast-flowing Tempisque river.

“You must see the monkeys. And crocodiles. Big!”

Ulysses’ appetite to let me make closer acquaintance with the stuff of my nightmares is unending, it seems. But I forgive him when I’m on the boat. A cooling breeze, jungle-thick banks, and the brackish waters of the Tempisque river.

“Crocodile!”

Everyone turns to the right. And on the bank, amid the mud, lies an enormous monster. It looked at us balefully with one eye.

“That’s Boss”, claims the boatman.

“How do you know? Can you recognise him?” someone asks nervously.

“He had an accident some years ago – fighting with another male. He’s blind in one eye.”

Our boat dawdles near the bank. Suddenly he lifts up his huge girth and in a second, slides into the water. The speed was frightening. Our boat zips away.

A flock of black necked stilts peck through the water near the bank. And at last, in the trees, a clutch of capuchin monkeys swing. Except for two of them.

“What are they doing?” a curious 10 year old asks.

Silence, and then laughter breaks out on the boat.

“Eh, fighting, I guess”, says the embarrassed mother.

If you are looking for a trip which combines the pleasures of a laid-back lifestyle, interesting experiences, rich diversity in plant and animal life, and smiling people, you need look no further.

5 ways to keep active this winter season

It may be difficult to stay motivated with your workout routine during the dark winter months, but this does not mean you should lose hope that momentum you’ve built up over the last few months!  Here are five tips from Women’s Post on ways to stay active in the winter.

Get out there

The biggest hurdle in embracing the winter season is the cold weather and chances of snowfall. The best thing to do is bundle up, change your mindset, and enjoy the season . Get out there and find something to do. It can be having a snowball fight with your kids in the backyard, or going ice skating with your friends. If you aren’t up for a big to-do, you can always just go for a walk and enjoy the sights — there is nothing like crisp snow on tree branches. Use this opportunity to practice your photography skills or catch up with a friend.

 

Try a winter sport

Just like summer, winter time offers a few sports that you can take part in or at least introduce yourself to, including skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snow tubing. If you want to stay away from anything competitive, try building a snowman or going tobogganing. Check out sites like Toronto Adventures Inc to get started.

 

Try a different gym class

If you’re anything like me, doing the same gym routine over and over gets a bit boring. Add the extra nuisance of marching through snow or beating winter traffic and it’s a wonder you get to the gym at all come January. The key is to get yourself excited about working out. Try something outside of your usual treadmill and elliptical routine. Take a  salsa dance class, do some boxing, go bellydancing, or sign up for a  winter bootcamp. Just switch it up to stay motivated and group fitness classes is a fun way to do so. Check out places like YMCA.

 

Try something indoors

So the cold air isn’t for you? That’s okay! This may be time to take advantage of the indoor track at the gym, or even going on long walks along the Toronto underground PATH. There are many indoor activities that are offered all year round or maybe even take part in your own at-home practice with exercise videos or create a home gym. You don’t have to be outdoors to be active!

 

Be prepared

The best way to get along with winter is by being prepared for all the season has so offer. Layer your clothing, stay hydrated, and create a positive mindset to the season ahead and you will find that it’s a great way to continue doing the things you love. Remember, you’re just trading the beach for an indoor pool.

 

How will you stay active this winter? Comment below !

8 movies that will make you book your next flight

What if I told you you could go on vacation right now? Art mediums like books and movies can transport you to far-off lands, but it can also encourage people to take real trips to other countries. The sensory experience of film can transport you to another world entirely, exposing you to culture, food, music, and art in the span of 90 minutes. So take this journey with Women’s Post as we list eight movies that will inspire you to travel.

Thailand-The Beach (2000)

Like the name, this movie was filmed on location from the streets of Bangkok to Maya Bay in Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand. Based on a novel by Alex Garland, this adventure packed film follows a young American tourist. Leonardo Dicaprio plays the young American who finds himself travelling to a secluded island in the Gulf of Thailand and joins a secret community with magical blue waters and pristine lagoons. Despite the wonderful visuals of this movie, this films isn’t all paradise.

 

Spain- Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

As the title suggests, this Woody Allen film transports you to the streets and ways of Barcelona, Spain. This romantic comedy follows two American friends on vacation in Barcelona where they put their inhibitions to the side and indulge in a weekend of seduction by a Spanish painter played by Javier Bardem. Woody Allen captured many stunning visuals in this film while promoting the Catalonia region of Spain. Scenes are also filmed in Oviedo, the northwest Spanish countryside. One scene of the movie also captures the Church of La Sagrada Familia, a famous unfinished Roman Catholic Church from 1882. The architecture and seen in this movie will be greatly appreciated.

Scotland/ United Kingdom- One Day (2011)

While I may never forgive the ending of this movie, this film captures scenes from Scotland, France and England. Most of the production took place in Edinburgh,Scotland, where the lead characters of the movie attend University. Scenic views also includes the Brittany region of France and several shots of London. The movie follows two university friends, who always find themselves connecting over the years, eventually invoking feelings of love, disappointment, bad timing and hurt.

India/France-The Hundred- Foot Journey (2014)

I discovered this film by mere chance on a long flight — the irony is not lost on me. After watching, I was ready to fly to India and to the French countryside instead. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a witty comedic film with the backing of two powerful people. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, this film tells the tale of a family’s journey from Mumbai, India, to opening up a restaurant adjacent to a Michelin star restaurant in the French countryside. Filming took place in the south of France in Saint Antonin Noble Val. The movie captures the beauty of Southern France and included scenes from Northern Paris.

Colombia- Love In The Time Of Cholera (2007)

Filmed in the beautiful seaside town of Cartegena,Colombia, this movie visually captures many interesting scenes of Spanish culture. Love in the time of cholera is based off the famous Spanish novel in 1985 by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This classic tale of a love triangle captures the rustic day to day life of a Spanish lifestyle, with vibrant colours. Scenes also include street markets in Bolívar, Colombia and a historic church.

Italy- Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

This classic Romantic comedy tells the tale of a recently single American woman( portrayed by Diana Lane), who impulsively buys a villa in Tuscany and embarks on restarting her life. The beautiful and stunning scenes showcase the beauty of the countryside. The location of her new villa is in the town of Cortona,Tuscany. Shots also include scenes from Florence and Rome.

 

France-Paris Can Wait (2016)

Diane Lane returns again to deliver another witty romantic and comedic role of an American woman travelling abroad with her husband. While deciding to disconnect from her busy husband and taking the scenic route, Lane’s character travels with her husband’s associate. The pair drive from Cannes to Paris. Like the title of the move, very little of Paris is seen. Starting from the French Riviera, the pair drive the countryside of South-Eastern France, there are shots in Aix en Provence, Lauris,and Cadenet, France.

 

Indonesia/ Italy/ India – Eat,Pray,Love (2010)

I don’t think this list would be complete without the ultimate wanderlust movie. Eat, Pray, Love is the wildly popular film based off a bestselling memoir of the same name. The movie recounts an American woman’s journey to finding her true self after her divorce. Her travels include eating, praying, and obviously, loving. The movie highlights, Italy, Indonesia and India. Filming locations included, Bali, Naples, Dehli and New York City , encourages viewers to take a short trip around these amazing countries.

 

Hope this list is able to fulfill some of your wanderlust and you’re off to book your next flight.

Let us know in the comments below some movies that have inspired you to travel and explore. Bon Voyage!