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Open letter by a former seafood-hater

It’s embarrassing to admit, but the first time I had sushi I hid it in my purse when no one was looking.

Late in high school, I finally decided to give this raw cuisine a try after hearing my gaggle of best friends rave about California rolls and fresh maki. At that point, I’d never eaten sushi or shellfish of any kind. I sat in the restaurant waiting for my meal to arrive. One bite and I’d be in their sushi-loving club… or so I thought. When my fishy meal came, I could barely tolerate the sight of it. The slabs of slippery, raw salmon on my plate before made me gag. Their texture made my stomach churn. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t a cultured eater at all. I didn’t even know how to use chopsticks. While there way no way I’d be feasting on this seafood dish, I was faced with an even bigger dilemma: all-you-can-eat sushi spots charge extra for that which you do not devour. So, I did something that only a picky eater could understand: I scooped up fistfuls of cold, gooey fish, stuffed them into my purse and left. I must have reeked of fish on the bus ride home.

A few years on, I was living in Toronto still successfully avoiding seafood (and especially the raw kind) when I started dating a man with a Portuguese background and an affinity for shrimp, lobster and, you guessed it, sushi. This person introduced me to the world of seafood, in gradual steps – first serving me the cooked kind. In time, I grew to love a plate of shrimp with a beer or a Friday night out eating lobster. Eventually, I tried a less offensive sushi meal and learned it wasn’t so bad at all.

Learning to love a type of food that I had previously dismissed came in handy when I traveled to new spots, like Brazil, for instance. This nation with its Portuguese roots was obsessed with all the foods which that past boyfriend of mine loved. I’ll never forget the day when, sunbathing alone by the ocean, I managed to order a small bowl of freshly-caught shrimp from a fisherman walking along the beach. My delight of being able to order this snack despite the language barrier quickly waned when I realized the shrimp came with the heads still attached. The freshly-peppered morsels caught just that day were a treat too good to pass up as I sunned myself on the beach though. So, without a second-thought, I removed the heads, doused the rest in lime and enjoyed the perfect Brazilian lunch.

Seafood and sushi are now favourite foods of mine. I’m glad I learned to become open-minded rather than dismissive of these dishes. That goes especially when travelling to places where these sorts of foods are the region’s pride and joy. I’ve found that being open to them while away from home has enriched vacation experiences. I gobbled mini octopus in Cuba on a white sandy beach with my brother. I munched on barbecued conch at a Bahamian cocktail party. I swallowed back ice-cold, butter-flavoured oysters in Boston after a long day spent reporting on the Boston Marathon. I fueled a Cape Cod relay race with a lobster roll and when I visited Nova Scotia, armed with a bib, ample napkins and tools for the occasion, I learned to crack my first lobster. More recently, in Vancouver, I sat by a sunny street and ordered a plate of sushi because you just can’t go to the west coast city without doing so. After I finished, I ordered an extra serving of two pieces of salmon sushi. My favourite.

The girl who once hid raw fish in her purse to avoid eating it has grown to be much more adventurous with fresh ocean foods. The menu items that once caused me to grimace have become a routine part of my diet – and a luxury when travelling. And so, I write this as a sort of open letter to the picky eaters out there because these are the ones I hope to convince to say yes to new flavours. Though it cost me a purse, my introduction to seafood has allowed me to better experience tastes from abroad.

Traveling to Egypt? What to know

This past month, my husband and I went to Egypt for a quick getaway. It was a beautiful experience. The desert sand between my toes, the beaming sun on my face after a long, treacherous Canadian winter, and the beautiful landmarks visible from almost anywhere on the streets are just a few of the things that have me yearning to go back. In the middle of the trip were a few other moments I wish we were prepared for. Its not easy to anticipate everything in a foreign country but hopefully this post can help  others when planning.

Expect to tip

Unfortunately, political turmoil and a national revolution has a way of taking a toll on a country’s tourism industry. Despite everyone’s concern, it is safe! But locals have become increasingly more aggressive towards foreigners. They will open a door for you and ask for a tip in return. It’s important to be extra wary of locals when visiting popular tourist destinations such as the Pyramids of Giza. Whether it’s camel owners looking for riders or tour guides waiting in front of the gates for solo travelers– everyone is unfortunately out to get what’s in your wallet.  

Everything is dirt cheap

Otherwise, don’t worry about running out of money while in Egypt. Food, souvenirs, and even tourist destinations such as the entrance into the Pyramids of Giza, are low in expense- the cost of visiting Egypt is significantly cheaper than anywhere else in the world. My husband and I very comfortably feasted for less than $10, sometimes eating falafels for a mere 25 cents!

Be careful though. Its easy to lose track of  money when casually throwing Egyptian pounds at everyone and everything. Little things like water bottles, a key chain here, a perfume there can leave travelers without notes in a blink of an eye. Exchange more money than needed, because ATM fees are expensive, and currency exchanges  can be rather shady. If you find yourself with money left at the end of your trip – donate it! It is not difficult to find someone who is in need of money in a developing country.

Value for money 

Just because things are cheap, doesn’t mean paying full price. I love the smell of essence and using oil -based perfumes so when I walked into the ‘Perfume Palace’, I knew I was about to do some damage to my bank account. Unfortunately, locals see foreigners as an opportunity to make significant profit. They will ask double the price for something shoppers are interested in buying. So even if it sounds ridiculous, if an item is 100 EGP, start bargaining at 50 EGP. Be firm – even if  it’s not half the price,  a discount will be given.

Make time for an authentic experience

One thing my husband and I strive for during vacations is authenticity. The last thing I want to do in a country like Egypt is go to an Italian restaurant. It just doesn’t make sense.  Each day try to do something unconventional and out of the norm from the average tourist. Although it is daunting to venture out independently in a foreign country, it is important to do so in order to get the full experience.  

Be wary of culture

Egypt is an Arab country with a Muslim majority population. Do some research before a trip! It is easy to stand out if wearing anything revealing. Although headscarves and long skirts are not mandatory like they are in other Arab countries, do try to cover shoulders and avoid wearing anything too short. Planning is also difficult. Egyptians go with the flow and maintaining a schedule is not part of their norm. This may also be due to the fact that traffic makes it almost impossible to get somewhere on time. Expect a 10 minute taxi ride to take up to half an hour. The roads are all one way but patience is key when in Egypt – speed limits and traffic lights do not exist here!  

Befriend an Egyptian

Feeling overwhelmed? Make a friend! Having someone during your outings who knows the language and culture can be a lot more comforting than venturing out alone. My husband and I were happy to meet a tour guide who ended up showing us around Cairo for two days and quickly became a friend. . Whether it was blasting Arabic music during the car ride, or stopping for sugar cane juice on the way to the museum, Halla was an amazing part of a great trip.

Research and be safe, but happy Egyptian travels! It’s a remarkable country.

Portugal travel tips: consider camping

From the stunning coastlines to the lush vineyards of the north, Portugal’s allure is one of a kind. I remember the overwhelming feeling when two of my best gal pals and I decided on this destination for a three-week trip in 2016- there was so much to see in so little time.

I wanted to visit the rolling hills of Sintra, the vibrant city of Lisbon and the cliff-lined Algarve coast, but there was plenty of natural beauty between the nation’s major hubs, and it was calling to me. An agreement was made to skip the headache of booking hostels and the group opted for a more rugged experience. Sleeping bags, cooking supplies and a three-person tent were packed  and plans were set to jump from campsite to campsite along the Alentejo Coast.

To this day,  adventures camping through Portugal are some of my fondest travel memories. Those looking for a journey on a budget, or merely for the chance to get outside and indulge in nature, consider camping along this country’s coast for the perfect cure to onset of wanderlust.

Cost

Camping is a much cheaper alternative to staying in hotels, Airbnbs and even backpacker hostels. On average, I spent about €5 ($7.75 CAD) per night, with some sites costing as little as €2 ($3.10 CAD). Sometimes, this charge was applied to each person, but more commonly, it was applied to each tent, and because the group decided to snuggle up in one, the overall accommodation costs were extremely low.

Most campsites along the Alentejo Coast are located in small towns, so food and alcohol were generally cheaper as well. I remember one night sitting around a picnic bench, listening to the ocean, and sipping on a €0.50 glass of local wine that was filled to the brim- and this was a common occurrence.

It’s worthwhile to dig through travel forums to find campsites and wild spots in an area of interest, or check out iOverlander and FurgoVW for mapped areas throughout Western Europe. In Algarve territory, be aware that wild camping is officially banned.

Environment

Coming from Canada, where there are  some of the most lush campsites in the world, setting up a tent in the often sparse landscapes of Portugal was a bit of an adjustment. But, where Portugal’s coast lacks in trees, it makes up for in ocean.

The Alentejo Coast is a string of sandy coves woven through steep and rocky ocean-side ridges. This stunning scenery is usually only a short walk from  campsites, or, if wild camping,  the ocean is right at your tent door! There’s nothing better than waking up to the soundtrack of the sea.

Some of the Alentejo Coast  is populated with oak, olive and other native plant species- Over 100 kilometres of the coast is part of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, a preserved slice of land that’s home to plenty of unique animal and plant species. Unlike Canada there are no black bears or big cats roaming around these parts. There are very few dangerous animals in Portugal, especially along the coast, which is yet another reason why camping here has such a draw.

Site Quality

Campground quality can be a hit or a miss, and the group definitely experienced some rougher plots of land. However, more often than not, all were pleasantly surprised with the location and perks that the accommodations had to offer.

Most campgrounds along the coast are equipped with amenities that are suited for a resort- clean showers, outdoor pools, laundry rooms, on-site restaurants, grocery stores, barbecue stations and even widespread WiFi access. Some of the grounds are so clean and comfortable, that it’s not uncommon for families to park their camper vans or trailers and stay for months at a time. The parks can get quite full in peak season, but luckily, our group was travelling at the end of September and missed the summer rush.

A few coastal spots  are world renowned for their waves and are popular with surf camps and retreats. The grounds stayed on in Sagres, for example, had a surf camp on site and offered lessons to interested visitors.

People

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of camping through Portugal was the many faces  that I met along the way. As most small-town campgrounds are frequented by Portuguese families, I had the opportunity to spend time with the locals and learn about their culture firsthand. Friendly residents and fellow campers brought the group to their favourite beach spots, as well as to local gatherings. They cooked the meanest salted cod (or baccalau) I’ve ever tasted in my life!

There’s something about being in the great outdoors, especially in a country as beautiful as Portugal, that sparks the most basic instinct to bask in the joy of company. The intimate, yet open spirit of camping is one that brings people closer together and it’s an experience that the hostel-jumping trend of travelling often seems to miss. So, on the next trip to Portugal, (or anywhere for that matter) plan  a different kind of adventure- one that allows travelers to see a destination in its purest state.

Solo Travel: Here’s what I’ve learned from being extremely vulnerable

When I told people of my plans to live abroad in South America for a year, the most common response I got was: “I wish I did that when I was your age.” I’m in my mid-twenties and as my departure date got closer and closer, this response became more and more normal for me to hear from those ten or twenty years my senior. In the months leading up to this adventure, I became accustomed to hearing “I wish” over and over again and though I never asked, I usually silently thought to myself: “Well, why didn’t you?” That question was one I genuinely wanted the answer to. By the time I was headed to the gate with my boarding pass in hand, I had a good feeling I already knew the answer. I had just said goodbye to my family, friends, job and home and it felt like I had gone through several breakups in a condensed period of time. Six weeks later, I still suspect that many of those people didn’t bother because hitting pause on life and travelling away from home is so damn uncomfortable.

This is the first time I’m giving the whole living abroad thing a shot and I’ve never felt more vulnerable in my life. The past month and a half has been great yet at the same time, I’ve been well outside my comfort zone almost every time I’ve left my apartment. I see why many opt not to do this, but after  spending weeks fumbling through conversations, getting lost and feeling very, very new in town, I’ve noticed a few things that are likely true for those who do book that one-way ticket. Below, a few realizations I’ve had through the chaotic times.

Many people will genuinely want to help.

My first assumption was that Spanish speakers and Colombian people would surely think of me as an idiot tourist. I expected looks of judgement or for locals to simply overlook my struggles when, say, ordering a coffee or navigating the subway. That has not been the case. Rather than judging, most people want to see others thrive. Here, locals are quick to switch to English if they speak it and when I got lost during my second week, more than one person on my bus kept an eye out for my stop.

The definition of intimidating changes.

A great way to make small problems go away is to replace them with larger ones. I’ve noticed that my definition of intimidating has changed immensely since arriving in Medellin in late February. Before I left, intimidating would have meant going out for dinner alone in Toronto on a Friday evening. Now, that pales in comparison to last Friday’s plans which were to navigate the metro system to get across the city to meet up with strangers to then go on the most exhausting hike way up in the mountains. Afterwards, I then went out for dinner alone… and had to order in a different language. Dining alone in Toronto? Yeah, not so bad…

Small gains become victories.

I had no idea about all the small things I took for granted back home. Basic conversational skills, being aware of my surroundings and having many friends willing to meet up for a spur-of-the-moment beer are all examples. Once in a totally unfamiliar place, the smallest accomplishments seem massive. During my first week, that meant being able to successfully buy three empanadas. Now, I’m still happy with minor things like making a new friend or constructing basic sentences in Spanish.

Consider lifelong interests a fallback plan.

While I’m away from family, friends and all things familiar, I’m finding that my hobbies and interests have been my way of feeling grounded. For example, I write almost every day and as an active and outdoorsy person, I’m enjoying mountain terrain and working out regularly. Knowing your interests and committing to the things you actually like certainly enrich the travel experience.

Personal comforts are way too easy to come by.

It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the secret to acquiring a cozy household is to first blow hundreds of dollars at Bed Bath and Beyond and consult with hygge gurus to get everything just so. I arrived to my new home with nothing but a (very stuffed) MEC duffle bag and have found that I’m able to find comfort in the objects I have. Like the cards from my mom, sister and best friend, my favourite sweater, a bottle of mint essential oil and a calendar of prints from an artist local to my hometown. I’m making do without favourite beers and comfort foods and all the items that made my bedroom the perfect chillout zone. Surprisingly though, that hasn’t been that hard.

Tourist Tips: Surviving a police trap in Vietnam

 

We missed our turn. Even though we had a map, and even though the man at the motorcycle shop showed us exactly where to go. Even though we had read plenty of ominous articles warning readers to not miss that very crucial turn, we missed our turn.

Let me take you back…

It was the beginning of December in Vietnam and my partner and I were wrapping up our six-week backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. We only had ten days to spend in Vietnam and, although there were plenty of cities and villages we yearned to see, we didn’t want to spend our last week of vacation commuting across the country. But, our unsettled spirit for adventure also refused to let us situate ourselves in one place for the entire duration. So, we compromised.

We decided to hitch a short ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Mũi Né, a sleepy beach town where we could relax and explore the southern coast. Mũi Né is a fairly quiet place, but it still seems to thrive on tourism. It’s especially popular with Eastern European travellers, as many of the restaurants, shops and hotels are owned and operated by Russian expats. The town’s main claim to fame, however, is an unlikely set of rolling red and white sand dunes that are popular for dune buggy trips and beautiful desert panoramas.

This natural landmark was at the top of our list and, as we had done in previous countries, we set out to rent a motorbike that we could ride to the dunes and beyond. The streets were much quieter here compared to Ho Chi Minh City, a place where the mere thought of mounting a bike in  the lawless flow of traffic was enough to induce a panic attack. However, I’m a pretty overly cautious traveller (and person), so, naturally, I began looking up license restrictions, driving conditions and shop scams in the area. Low and behold, Google returned a slew of results about the dreaded ‘Mũi Né Police Trap.’

Story has it, that a while back, some Russian tourists were driving recklessly in the area. In response, the Vietnamese police decided to clamp down on unlicensed drivers. Technically speaking, you require a Vietnamese license to drive a motorbike anywhere in the country, but it’s very rarely enforced, as locals prefer to keep vehicle rental businesses alive. The Mũi Né police force, however, took the order as an opportunity to construct a scam using the popular sand dunes as their bait.

Situated near the landmark’s entrance, they pull over non-Vietnamese drivers and pitch freedom at a cost, encouraging tourists to reach deep into their pockets if they want to leave without consequence. As you can imagine, the more fear they instill, the heftier the bribe they’re likely to receive. Thankfully, we knew exactly where these police officers were stationed and had clearly mapped driving instructions to avoid their shady trap.

Here’s the part where we miss our turn.  

We didn’t realize until they were ten feet in front of us, pulling every foreign face to the side of the road. The night before, we overheard a guy at a bar telling a drunken story about how he just kept on driving, right past the police officers who were too lazy to get on their bikes and chase him down. I felt my boyfriend rev the engine and I squeezed his waist as we zoomed on by, hoping the universe would grant us the same fate.

Suddenly, we were the prey of a police chase. And, before you envision Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh whizzing through dense traffic at full speed, reel in your imagination- it was more like Wallace and Gromit going a steady 40 kilometres per hour and whistling an apprehensive tune.

The police officer pulled right up beside us, looked over with a tired face and simply said, “stop.” We joined a small group of scared, helmeted tourists who had also been caught. He first asked to see our Vietnamese license, which of course we didn’t have, so he then proceeded to pull my boyfriend into a parked pick-up truck where he broke down a deal: we go free, with the motorbike, for five million dong (about $280 CAD).  

Now, you’ve probably already heard this travel tip preached by your father or your Lonely Planet Guidebook, but any time you clip in your backpack buckles, be sure to have a trusty stash of emergency doe tucked away in a secret spot. It’s easy to shrug off, but, trust me,  it’s so worth it once your staring into the sweaty face of a corrupt policeman.

We told the officer that we didn’t have that much money and showed him our empty pockets as proof. So, he ordered my boyfriend to drive to an ATM machine and withdraw the amount while they held me as ransom. At the time, we were using a Chinese bank card and, for some reason, it wasn’t working in Vietnamese bank machines. In all other money-related situations we were screwed, but in this instance, that Chinese card saved our butts.

We explained our situation as best we could, and after nearly one hour of broken debate with the officer and his sidekicks, they shook our hands and let us free for the mere price of $5 CAD. I’m still not sure if it was our knack for sweet talk, or just the pure exhaustion of being a tainted trooper that got us off, but I sure was relieved to hit the road again leaving the hustle in our dust.

Sometimes in life you miss a turn or two, but hey, all you can do is reroute yourself to the destination. We did reach the the sand dunes, after all, with a stack of hidden cash in our backpack’s inner pocket and a soon-to-be hilarious travel tale to add to the books.

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.