4 days in Paris and a packed schedule, of course.


After a nice and easy flight from Toronto and upon finding my Airbnb in the City of Lights, I did what any good returning Parisian-at-heart would do – I bought a croissant and a coffee and sat in a park to take it in. 

can you see why you’d want to have one of everything? 🙂

Four days in Paris and then off to the country I go!

On my list of things: go to the Jardin Du Luxembourg, see Monet’s Water Lilies at the Orangerie Museum, buy cheese and a baguette for dinner, and people-watch in one garden or another. 

My Airbnb host Émilie was lovely to practice my French with and spoke almost entirely to me en français the whole time I stayed with her. We actually both had a craving to go see a movie and decided to see La Monde Du Dory (Finding Dory) O.V. avec sous-titres. (Meaning: “Original Version in English with French subtitles.) Pixar excelled again, of course, and the movie is wonderful and touching and adorable.

Émilie also suggested that before I return to the Luxembourg garden, I should check out Le Jardin des Buttes-Chaumont only a ten minute walk from her apartment. 

yes, there is even a waterfall.

Well I was not prepared for the fact that it may be my new favourite place in Paris. Multiple pathways, grassy hills, and big beautiful trees to sit under, I was delighted for the recommendation. This is why you ask locals!

After spending the entire afternoon there, walking every pathway, across the bridges, along the man-made streams, checking out the waterfall, painting a bit, and doing a lot of people watching, I was content to have a night in. I was determined to have an earlier start the next morning.
I’m on vacation, right? So I was all packed up and leaving for the afternoon at about 1. 😁😳
I decided to focus on the Orangerie visit, with a meander through the Tuilleries Garden, and anything else would be a bonus. The garden was busy because it’s the yearly festival/carnival and there are rides all along the north side of the garden. 



Following a delightful (and surprisingly not-too-crowded) visit to my favourite water lilies in the Orangerie, I indulged in some gelato (du mange, du framboise, et dû noix du coco) sat by one of the fountains, and definitely was in my happy place. 🙂


It was time to move locations, and get my gear to the FIAP Jean Monnet hostel in the 14th arrondissement. 

By far it is the absolute nicest and cleanest hostel I have ever been in ever. High security and a big place, this is clearly a regular spot for large school groups, conferences, and teams. I got to my 6-bed dorm room and had 3 quiet roommates who all arrived just as I was heading to bed.
That night I met up with my friend Robert from the French classes I took in 2014 and it was like no time had passed (and truly, two years seem to have just flown by). He has since finished school and an apprenticeship in marketing and is now fluent in French! I’m super impressed and a little jealous. 🙂 We met at La Rhumerie for drinks and the evening just whizzed by as we caught up on what happened in our respective lives over the last 730 days… 

The cool courtyard at the hostel- and a giant garden chess game.

 

A free breakfast at the hostel started my day early whether I wanted it to or not – breakfast was only served until 8:45am. Ha! That bumped up the beginning of my day a fair bit! 
I decided that I needed to return to the Orsay museum, sit by the Seine, and then go see the Rodin Museum


The garden at the museum is absolutely gorgeous.

I completely see why the Rodin Museum was highly recommended, so along with that  addition to the itinerary, I added a return trip to the Orsay, for more time with my favourite impressionist art (including Renoir’s dancers, Cezanne’s portraits, and more of Monet’s garden and water lilies), and a wander past the Eiffel Tower (tricky to do as it the Champ de Mars is currently entirely surrounded by fencing as part of an event for the EuroCup.)



My last half-day in the city included a quick but sweet visit to the Jardin Du Luxembourg, and some time at my quiet spot by the fountain before the mid/day crowd arrived. 


Then it was time to head to the country via the OuiBus (at the budget-friendly cost of €15) for the next couple of months, if all plans were to turn out. My first Workaway adventure. 🙂


A bientôt, Paris! 

“Has anyone warned you about the moose?” Aka, Our trip to Newfoundland

Mention Newfoundland to anyone who is from there, or has visited there, or knows someone who knows someone who has talked to someone who may or may not be have been there one time, say the phrase ‘road trip’ in conversation, and I guarantee you, the next next thing said will be:

“Has anyone warned you about the moose?”

There are thousands of moose in Newfoundland. (No snakes, in case you were wondering.) Numerous collisions with moose happen every year, and the moose almost always walk away them but of course, the humans, not so much. “Never drive at twilight“, “Watch out for moose“, and our favourite phrase “Keep your moose eyes on” were said to us constantly. There were also signs posted everywhere with updated numbers of collisions in 2016. So you can understand both our worry and also curiosity about seeing moose on our travels. 

But I will start at the beginning.
It was early Wednesday evening when we arrived at North Sydney where the ferry would take us to Port-Aux-Basques (along the west coast), and I had butterflies like I do before a big flight because in truth, we would end up on the ship for almost 10 hours overnight and awake in Newfoundland!!

So the ferry is pretty cool. 🙂

If you don’t want to pay extra for reserved seats or a room on the ship, you get your pick of a reclining chair on the same level of the ship that has a bar/restaurant, gift shop, and 24 hour snack bar. There are TVs if you want to watch something, but on the night ferry it seems most people bring their sleeping bags or blankets and pillows, and sleep in their chairs- or on the floor!


(Okay, so even I ended up sleeping on the floor, which is a lot like camping (but warmer),  and woke up to the “one-hour to arrival” announcement and a view of: you guessed it. Fog.) 
We drove to Steady Brook and our accomodation at our first Airbnb, close to Marble Mountain and the Humber River. Our host Yvan was super welcoming, and we soon met his roommates Brittany and Adam, then a friend who stopped by for an afternoon beer, and our new buddy John, who was planning on showing us the local (west coast of the Rock) sites and local adventures. We took a quick hike up to see the Steady Brook waterfall, which a remarkably easy effort for the incredible reward of a view of a giant waterfall that looks like espresso tumbling over rocks.


 We also got to watch a group of zip liners crisis-crossing the vast valley over the waterfall, which immediately sold me on wanting to join in, and simultaneously terrified Tara-Lee.

Our plan to spend a couple days in  St John’s meant that we had to drive all the way across the province, but not before stopping into Deer Lake to go up to the navigation tower at the Deer Lake airport to see John’s “office”! We brought him a coffee, and we got to watch him work through two planes taking off, and he showed us some of the tools and techniques he used to check weather, pass on info to pilots, and communicate with other airports. 


It was extremely fascinating! (And with the speedy technical radio chatter, it was almost like listening to another language!)

We arrived in St John’s to rain and low fog, and the drive across Newfoundland kind of made us feel at home with rolling foothills and lakes, and lots of highway construction. Dozens of kilometers of highway construction, to be exact. 

We stayed at a cute little house walking distance of George Street, the famous downtown strip where numerous pubs and restaurants (and music venues) are found all in one place. There are some fun stores to window-shop or find some great souvenirs – a lot of local artists are showcased- and we also stopped into The Rocket for a homemade lemon tart and hot tea.



We actually bar-hopped Thursday night to check out three spots. Our St John’s 3-bar-crawl, if you like. 

George Street on a rainy night

We started at the Duke of Duckworth (where they film Republic Of Doylefor fish and chips, and ended up sitting next to a couple of lighting designers just finishing up a contract for an event coming up for Canada Day. 
We then got to O’Riley’s Pub and caught a local band with a trio of guitar, fiddle and bass, a great dance floor and second level packed with people. It was a lively crowd and great local tunes, so we enjoyed one set before venturing to our third venue, Shamrock City, for the band we had been recommended to see: Middle Tickle.


Aside from having a pretty bad sound mix (and no actual sound person in sight), the band was top notch and were a powerful quintet of fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, and drums. We had a great time and seemed to be the only out-of-towners, as it felt like absolutely everyone knew absolutely everyone else there!

 We awoke to another grey and rainy day with the familiar blanket of low fog and cloud, but were absolutely looking forward to brunch at Mallard Cottage, a restaurant we were told was a MUST and so we had made a reservation for 10am. 


We arrived in the adorable neighborhood of Quidi Vidi, a colourful fishing spot down along the water. We drove right past the adorable little white and green house-turned-restaurant, and were delighted to find the front door and step inside the most charming interior of a restaurant I think I have ever been in. 

First of all, the song we heard as we walked in the door was one of my favourites (Veneer by Jose Gonzáles), and the mix of tunes they played while we ate brunch were right in the genre of our road trip soundtrack! You could say that the experience started on a high note. 😉

The cozy atmosphere and hand-written changed-daily menu on the chalkboard wall was delightful.  It’s the kind of place you’d like to stay in, if it was a B&B or some such thing. 

Apparently they have a writer-in-residence that came about like this: this writer would come by every day for breakfast or tea or dessert and spend all afternoon there. So they invited her to stay. 🙂

And not surprisingly, the food was divine. And very generous serving sizes! We regretted not checking out the dessert buffet table before ordering and eating, as we didn’t plan well and had no room to spare. 

Not only is the place a MUST, we think it’s a “MUST every time you are in St. John’s”, and we’ll be back for sure.

Next on our activities list: an iceberg boat tour. Following brunch, we made our way down to the waterfront. 
As a full boat of adults bundled up and armed with cameras, including a group of adult girl guides dressed in purple (not the “Red Hat Ladies” as we first guessed), and our crew of Matt, Sheldon, Alex, and our Captain Derek, we set out from the harbour towards Cape Spear, the furthest eastern point of North America, and out to find some icebergs.

It was windy and cold but the ocean was pretty calm, and we came upon two small icebergs relatively soon. We circled them a few times to get some photos and in hopes that a small piece might fall off as we watched, but the water was too calm and no waves crashed against the ice to encourage that. 

We meandered back towards the harbour and a few of the passengers spotted a whale as we turned around, but it was stealthy and barely its fin appeared again before wee made our way back to shore. 

The coastline looked like something out of a movie, and definitely made us think of the shores of Scotland or Ireland in the mist and fog.

Matt- one of the crew- wanted to get in on our photo! 🙂


We were absolutely delighted to warm up at our next Airbnb before heading out to catch the Opera’s Sweeney Todd that night.

 Our host Brian arrived at the door to greet us along with his friendly dog Bo, and invited us into the living room where he has a beautiful fire going in the wood burning stove. He served us tea and crackers with bakeapple jam. Bakeapple is a type of berry that looks sort of like a large yellow raspberry and doesn’t taste like any fruit I’ve ever had before. I liked it!

Brian is a musician, and now that he’s retired, he likes having his home open to Airbnb guests, and he clearly has a soft spot for animals as his dog and cat are both rescues. We felt right at home, like we were just visiting a neighbor or long lost uncle. He even played the piano a bit while we were ther even. It was lovely.
That night we went to see the opening night of Sweeney Todd, and really enjoyed ourselves! The leads were all exceptionally strong, and the crowd jumped to their feet at the end.  

In the morning Brian made us pancakes (though all the while proclaiming he didn’t know how to make pancakes), with fresh blueberries and locally-made (from all the neighbourhood maple trees!) maple syrup. 

Did you know to make maple syrup you boil 40 parts sap to get 1 part syrup? No wonder it’s such a pricey treat!
We took off back for Steady Brook with a tentative plan to veer off course for a quick (?!) detour up to Twillingate or some such place on our way back. The weather started off grey and ominous but actually turned out quite pleasant and we had a completely different view driving west (i.e.: we could actually see what we were driving past!). 

Our arrival in Steadybrook was easy and we already felt like we were staying with friends at Yvan’s Airbnb so it was only fitting no one was there when we arrived so we made ourselves at home and spent some time relaxing on the hammocks in the backyard.

On Sunday we decided to check out Gros Morne and the various views and hikes and activities it offered, as our ‘tour guide’ John had thrown out his back a couple of days before and couldn’t do much at all let alone take us out exploring. Nevertheless, the kitchen party (or Sunday Fun-day, as they also called it) was definitely the plan that night.

Gros Morne could have been a week worth of our vacation with all the places to go and various things you could do. 


We checked out the Table Lands, a couple of waterfalls, and enjoyed the drive along the shore. 

We ended up driving along the south side of the bay to Woody Point and checking out the charming coastline, ‘main street’, and some local folk art that we almost purchased.


The landscape here is gorgeous. All the sapphire blue lakes and luscious green hills, and some magical blue sky that graced us for part of the day, just made it all breathtaking.

The kitchen party was a raucous event that went into the wee hours, with friends and coworkers of our hosts showing up with more and more beer, and we even got some music by way of Adam playing accordion and later guitar. We tried Iceberg Water beer, had chocolate cake that John made that was to die for, and we even had a bonfire. It was fantastic.


The next day, our last hurrah in Newfoundland, I was adamant that I wanted to zip line on Marble Mountain. Most of the guys and some of the girls at the kitchen party worked for Marble Zip Tours and were telling Tara-Lee how incredibly safe it was and helped me convince her to do it. 

The best part was, we booked to go at a time when there were no other people so it was a private trip down with just the two of us and two guides (one of whom was at the party last night)!
What’s so scary about ziplining 2000 feet across and hundreds of feet up in the air over a waterfall and rocks 8 or 9 times?

It. Was. AWESOME. Phenomenal. thrilling. Wicked. I loved it. 

(And by the end, I think Tara-Lee didn’t hate it, either.) 

The lines got more spectacular (and longer) as we went. At one point we did a ‘trust fall’ to start one line. You stand with your heels hanging over the ramp and hold out your arms and fall back, then zip line across. It felt crazy and exhilarating. 

This was by far the best zip line course I had ever done.

(I caught a moment of Tara-Lee zooming across. Hopefully the video works!)

At one point, the guys asked if I wanted to run off the deck of the line we had just completed and just hang out over the falls for a bit and then they’d come out and get me. (I did and it was amazing, but sadly there is no photo because I left my phone with Tara-Lee and she didn’t get a shot. Next time I think I must do a selfie. 🙂
We couldn’t really top that experience so we drove south to Port-Aux-Basques to take the ferry back to Nova Scotia, and as a bonus got to see the ‘strawberry’ moon on the drive, even before twighlight!
Now the question I’m sure you have is: did we see the oh-so-infamous moose that every single last person told us about?
The answer: no. 😀

After another night ferry (on which we felt like old pros), we drove through Sydney Nova Scotia and back to Halifax for one last evening, where we stayed at yet another amazing Airbnb and chatted with our host Paul, who had a beautiful house, brewed his own beer, and was a wealth of knowledge for not only his city but the Atlantic Provinces as well.

 Paul gave us a whirlwind tour of the harbour front, through the poshest neighborhoods and around the college and university, along the streets of local breweries, and even stopped by the Titanic Memorial in the Halifax Cemetary, before taking us to his favourite pizza place in the city, Salvatore’s. We shared their delicious “Original” pizza before spending one last night in Halifax before ending our 19-day road trip. 

It wouldn’t have been natural for us to sleep late and have a lazy morning on our last few hours before we drove to the airport so of course: at 9am we met a childhood friend of Tara-Lee at the Public Gardens, before heading to the Art Gallery to spend our last hour in the city checking out Maude Lewis’s artwork and relocated (real !) house !


And then, it was done, we returned a car with over 6000 km added (!), and off we flew, already planning our next visit to these Atlantic Provinces: this absolutely unforgettable part of the world!!

Dreamy PEI

The third installment of the East Coast/Maritimes/Atlantic Provinces, was on le petit Prince Edward Island. 😉

We drove from Nova Scotia across the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, and the crossing was actually more fun than we thought it would be. At times you can see the sides of the bridge, and with the view of water on either side, we quite enjoyed the short ride over.

After a little exploring as the rain clouds threatened, and then cold and rainy night of  camping near Summerside, we searched for breakfast/coffee around Cavendish, our next major stop on the island. It really hit home at this point just how early we were for tourist  ‘high season’; we could not find one single restaurant open in all of the Cavendish area (not even a Tim Hortons!)!

We were determined to see Green Gables and Lucy Maude Montgomery’s homestead that day, and thankfully we ended up finding coffee and cinnamon buns at the tiny cafe on site. Hiking boots on and full rain gear equipped, we set out to stay as dry and warm as possible and explore the inspiration for the Anne of Green Gable books. 


We walked the path of the “Haunted Forest” from the Green Gables farm to the Montgomery homestead, library, and post office. The staff there were very eager to share their knowledge of the writer and her life and books. (I had no idea that Lucy Maude Montgomery rewrote the journals she kept from her youth all the way to her last year of life, and they were published! I also had no idea she had written so many books.)


The rain and cold weather were pretty tenacious while we were on the island, but it didn’t dampen our spirits since we had our night booked into the Airbnb and had theatre tickets, and we were happy to duck into the Water Prince Corner shop for dinner (bacon-wrapped scallops!!) and went to see Mamma Mia at the Charlottetown Festival! 

Now, I am not an ABBA fan, but not only had I heard high praise for the show but my friend Adam directed it, so I knew it would be a good time.

It was SO much fun! Great cast, beautiful set, fantastic choreo, and I enjoyed an entire evening of ABBA music way more than I expected to! We had a wonderful time!


Friday we spent the afternoon window shopping and enjoying some tea in a great little coffee shop called the Black Kettle, and then made our way to our next campsite. One night of reprieve from trying to sleep in a damp tent made us optimistic for another campground booking. 

We arrived at the KOA Cornwall campground and were amazed at the amenities including a kangaroo jumper (giant inflated canvas pillow for kids to jump on), bike-style ‘go carts’, kayaks, a pool (not open yet), and games room. Even last night there were card games galore and the staff were making popcorn for the guests.
This was the busiest campground we have been to so far!

Our campsite was kind of dreamy. 

We even made it to the original Cows Ice Cream Parlor (and self-guided factory tour), and tried a few popular flavours like Moo York Cheesecake and Wowie Cowie. Oh, the many bovine puns.

On Friday evening we had a fantastic catch up with my friend Adam at his house, and then we went in search of live music downtown and found ourselves at the Old Dublin Pub, where we could hear sounds of a great live band upstairs. We found a table near the front of the busy spot, and spent the next two hours listening to The Kitchen Boys perform a mix of popular bar tunes and traditional Maritimes music. The most impressive thing, actually, is that the drummer mixed the sound for the show right where he was, with an in-ear monitor to hear the mix. We were extremely impressed. It was fantastic, and I even got some dancing in! 🙂

Saturday we woke up to SUNSHINE! It felt like a miracle and we quickly changed our ferry booking from 1pm to 4:30 so we could stay on the beach at the campground a little longer. 

The beach! What we had been dreaming of as we planned this trip, was everything we had hoped it would be. I can’t get over how beautiful the red sand is here. The farmers freshly planted fields are red, the shorelines and rocks are red, the dust is red, and this rusty earth is all due to the red sandstone that is found throughout PEI.

Our last day in PEI was perfectly delightful, and after a lazy morning in the sun on the shores edge, some sunbathing, reading, and a little barefoot walk (carefully) among thousands of shells and shell fragments in the shallow water, we packed up and headed to the southeast point of the island.


We decided to take the Northumberland Ferry from Wood Islands Harbour to Caribou, Nova Scotia, which felt like a nice introduction to ferry travel, and a 75 minute ‘training session’ before next week’s 8-hour ferry to Newfoundland.


We got to the park early and got to visit the Woods Island Lighthouse there, and see the inside of a lighthouse for the first time on our trip. 


Then onto the ferry, which had a snack bar, a few arcade games, comfortable seats, and wifi. So civilized. 🙂 

Back to Nova Scotia we go, and on to Cape Breton and the glorious Cabot Trail!!

Bahamas 2016; New Providence Revisited!

A return trip to Nassau was in order after our dream of a vacation last March. We booked our stays again with Airbnb: one week again at Sarah and Derek’s, and a second week with Shaun and Christine.

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We arrived to windy and cloudy weather, and a rainstorm that started late in the evening and woke us up with it’s heavy hitting raindrops throughout the night! We woke to cloudy skies and wind, but the smell of the sea and warm breezes just can’t be beat!

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Breakfast on the patio was yet again delicious as always, and we did meet some of the other guests in the house, though there were fewer than the previous year by half!

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Like last year, we made dinner one night for Sarah and Derek: my dad’s famous Caesar salad and my mom’s famous Lemon Meringue Pie! Without an electric mixer, that meringue was truly made with love. Hand whipping egg whites to create meringue takes tenacity and strong wrists! 😀

 

We had our favourite spots we planned to see, but also had a few new locations on our to do list, including an organic farm/market/restaurant, the Primeval Forest, The Island House, sea kayaking, and a sailing cruise. We did however, make sure we touched the ocean every day.

 

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Walking back from Love Beach.

With windy and slightly rainy weather, we booked our exploration to ‘inside’ sights in our first week. We re-visited the National Art Gallery, which was showcasing the life’s work of Brent Malone, a Bahamain artist, and it was a real assortment from sketches to prints to sculpture to paint, from abstract to realism and everything in between. It could have been a collection of different artists, his work was so varied. I think our favourite pieces were his more recent work with Junkanoo as the subject matter. You could hear the drums and cowbells!  🙂

We took the bus most places (#10 and #12 travelled most of the length of West Bay street), but often we chose to walk because the weather was nice enough and we had the time! The funny thing? There are no sidewalks. No one walks on New Providence. They drive or take the bus. (There are very few cyclists, even.) This meant taking your life into your hands when traffic got busy, as there is barely any room on either side of the road for any sort of pedestrian traffic.

Bus drivers overall were very kind. We often noticed they drove out of their way to drop someone off or pick someone up, and no one on the bus seemed to mind. We were often driven off the main road closer to our destination simply because the driver knew where we were headed and said “Well, wouldn’t want to walk that far!” and would drive an extra 5 minutes out of their way. We even had one bus driver offer to take us the extra distance to Jaws Beach (not on the normal bus route, but sometimes alright if you gave the bus driver an extra $5), and then he asked us what time we wanted to be picked up and he came back to get us!

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A very quiet Jaws Beach

Goodfellow farms was amazing! It is owned by a Canadian family and they use Aquaponics to grow their food. They keep Tilapia fish in several giant tanks, and the water is used to fertilize lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries, and I’m sure much more. Then the water, cleaned by the plants growing in it, is recycled in the tilapia tanks.

We had some of the best food on our trip in the restaurant on the grounds there (I don’t normally gush about vegetables, but OH, the salad!!). They also have a small store with specialty foods, and locally made ice cream.

The Primeval Forest was actually ridiculous to get to. We were told we could walk from the organic farm to the entrance, (“about 5 km”), but it turned out these directions were beyond optimistic, and when we asked to confirm the walking route on our map with the folks at the restaurant, they gawked and told us we would need a car for sure, and called us a taxi.

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The forest was fascinating, with very strict instructions to”stay on the steel-reinforced pathway unless you want to chance falling into a sinkhole”. There was also a type of tree there that was supposedly 10 times worse than poison ivy or poison oak, which made our wander through even more trepidatious. With a  $10 entrance fee, it is an interesting way to spend 30-45 minutes seeing the last un-touched area and oldest trees of the Bahamas, but not  a vital must-see.

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It felt like a place Tarzan would be very comfortable in.

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We also checked out the caves– a step off the main road and 5-10 minutes tops to explore. Free, and easy to check out if you are interested in seeing where the pirates liked to hide on the island back in the day.

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A highlight of our trip was definitely the All-Day Sailing Cruise we took with Barefoot Sailing Tours. It was something my mom wanted to book last year but I wasn’t interested. Boy was I glad she convinced me this year!

The weather was perfect for our travels over to Rose Island, with 3 hours of sailing, and 3 hours at the island to swim snorkel and tan, and a bbq lunch on the boat made by the captain himself.

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The water was straight out of a travel magazine, and we couldn’t believe its beauty even as we swam. The snorkelling was fantastic, and we saw everything from (small!) Barracuda to parrot fish to baby squid.

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Our sailboat is on the right!

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We thought that we had planned well with regularly re-applying sunscreen, but we got cooked that day! Happily ‘sail-boat-cooked’. 🙂

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Our second week had calmer weather days, and the temperature jumped and we spent almost every day at the beach. We learned in our first week that no amount of 100% Deet bug spray kept away the no-see-ums (aka sand fleas) that like to hang out in the sand and LOVE to bite us, and keeping off the sand was vital to our happiness. (In fact, we are now educated that we should likely start taking Benadryl several days before our trip to get our immune systems boosted against the allergic reactions we have to the bites.)

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We frequented the beach by Sandyport Resort, where we would make good use of the beach chairs and umbrellas they so generously supply. 🙂 The restaurant there, The Blue Sail, makes excellent pizzas.

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I don’t recall finding this out last year but ALL beaches in the Bahamas are public. There is no such thing as a private beach; the law states that 30m up from the high water mark is public beach on every single one of the 700+ islands. Even the beach at Atlantis is free to the public, whether you are staying at the resort or not (though we hear it is always crowded).

 

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The Island House is a dreamy resort that is not on the beach and it doesn’t matter. Our friend Sarah suggested we go see a movie in their 40-seat theatre on one of the stormier days, and we felt like we had stumbled on a movie set; it was such an out-of-this-world hotel.

It was definitely a ‘happy place’ of ours for the trip, and we saw two movies there and tried out the restaurant Mahogany House for lunch on our last day in the Bahamas.

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Deluxe and comfortable seats, with tables to hold your wine or beer as you watch and leather footstools to be extra comfortable.

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My mother, the model/movie star.

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I could get used to this! 😉

Unless I win the lottery or marry a millionaire, I will never be able to afford to stay here, but I will pay it a day-visit whenever I am in Nassau!

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Speaking of food, we, of course, had to have another freshly made conch salad, this time, complete with a grapefruit Radler beer, at Dino’s. Now, we learned a very important new tip: if we wanted to see our lunch without having to wait 40-80 minutes (the epitome of island time, people, island time!): Call ahead and order in advance. Then when you arrive your order goes to the front of the line (and you wait 15-20 minutes instead of an hour)!

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We also splurged on the insanely classy Sapodilla restaurant, with the most elegant atmosphere (and menu) of our entire vacation.

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Live piano was being played in the lounge throughout our entire dinner, and we were even offered a ride to and from the restaurant when we made our reservation. We were also asked if it was a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, etc) so they could plan accordingly for our arrival.

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They made Caesar salad at the table, and it was just like Dad’s!

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Seriously, go to this restaurant. It is spectacular.

(Expert tip: don’t order water; order Persecco: they cost the same.)

 

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We did revisit the fish fry and Sonja’s bbq Jerk truck, and Twin Brother’s and their fabulous pina colada/daquiri slush on a couple of our evenings, as well. We love our Bahamian food. 🙂

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We spent as much time on or in the water as possible, and were able to rent a kayak and explore the west end of the island via the ocean, and it felt like a private island as we paddled along! It was peaceful and gorgeous!

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It was also cool to learn the names of the creatures that we came across, as our host Shaun was an avid diver and had these great snorkelling cards to identify fish and wildlife in the waters around New Providence.

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Until next time, Nassau… 🙂

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A long overdue beach vacation.

The bahamas are a highly underrated tropical destination by Canadians. Not that I’m a regular visitor or anything- I haven’t been here in 20 years…. But it is amazing. The Caribbean waters are warm and refreshing, and it’s ‘winter’ here right now, and about 28 degrees Celsius.IMG_7576

My best friend and her husband gave me the most generous gift- a one-week slot of her timeshare at any of the participating hotels and resorts they belong to. They had offered it to me last year when I was in Europe, but it wasn’t to be. As a result we decided it would be best used for an escape from the winter in Calgary; by early March you just don’t want to be cold anymore, as it has been winter for almost 6 months…

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The view as we left Calgary: a fresh dusting of snow…

On our descent: beautiful ocean!

On our descent: beautiful ocean!

It was going to be a family trip with my mum and sister, and when the idea was suggested we go somewhere with a beach, the unanimous decision was the Bahamas. We had been twice before for family reunions to a smaller island my aunt and uncle have property on, but with the relatively new non-stop Calgary-to-Nassau Westjet flights, we jumped at the chance of staying on the island of New Providence for the first time. About a month before we booked, however, my sister got a new job at a company she had been hoping to work for, and she couldn’t get the time off, so we adjusted the plans and it became a mom-daughter trip for two.

At Compass Point resort

At Compass Point resort

So: timeshare booking. I’ve never owned a timeshare and have very little knowledge on how they work, but basically they entered in the week we hoped to travel (online), and the search began. Once we got a booking at the most incredible looking resort we have ever seen, we decided to book a second week of accommodations somewhere to make the best use of our travel time.

We found a room on Airbnb that I would recommend to everyone! Our hosts, Sarah and Derek, have several rooms to rent in their property about a 25 minute drive west of Nassau. You are far enough from the city to feel more like a local than a tourist, and there are so many beaches on this island (including across the street!) that we never had to go far.

The first morning at the BnB we awoke to beautiful guitar music. Two of the guests were writing a song on the balcony while having breakfast. We joined them!

The first morning at the BnB we awoke to beautiful guitar music. Two of the guests were writing a song on the balcony while having breakfast. We joined them!

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Our favourite beach, thanks to Sarah’s recommendation, was (Nirvana) Love Beach, a ten-minute bus ride down the road. We spent almost every day there. It was so quiet on weekdays it almost felt like a private beach.

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Our new friends Kelsey and Nigel walking along the beach.

Our new friends Kelsey and Nigel walking along the beach.

There were a few excellent restaurants near Love Beach, and we made a couple trips to the grocery store to get some snack food and lunch items to picnic on the beach.

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Dino’s Conch salad! Delicious and refreshing!

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The all-fruit version: mango, apple, pineapple, covered in lime and orange juice.

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First time trying conch!

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They make it fresh to order chopping up onion, green pepper, tomato, and conch, and it is served doused in lime juice with fresh pineapple on the side.

We met so many incredible people at the B&B, and now have friends in Austria, Washington, Missouri, Montreal, Louisiana, and Germany.

From left to right: Tyler & Renee (Louisiana), Kelsey & Nigel (Edmonton), Marianna & Maria (Montreal), Kamel & Hasan (-with guitars,  Washington), Katrin (Austria)

I can easily see visiting any of these people on future trips, and love the camaraderie shared between travellers that you don’t have with anyone else.

It also makes me want to travel more, of course. 🙂

We spent a couple afternoons with Derek snorkeling along the shoreline and got to see a sunken plane, numerous sunken statues, several colourful starfish, a beautiful turtle, and even came across a couple of nurse sharks (!!) resting in the coral. (We felt a little better having two experienced Bahmaians on either side of us with fishing spears in case the sharks became agitated.) We didn’t bother them and after a while they gracefully swam away and we went back to ogling the smaller sea life.  We saw dozens of different colours of fish, though we never saw the infamous spiny lobster of the Caribbean… Well, we did eat some (and it was delicious!) but we never saw it in its natural habitat. 🙂

This was right across the road!

This was right across the road!

We felt like part of some crazy extended family at the B&B and had a couple barbecues on the beach out by Clifton Heritage Park on the west end of the island, and one included almost an entire evening of dual guitar music by two brothers who are also musicians. It was incredible. Everyone on the island is so friendly and generous, and we fell in love with it there.

At the first beach BBQ; talented musicians included!

At the first beach BBQ; talented musicians included!

Our hosts were happy to show us the best local spots and activities, and even gave us a tour of the Atlantis Hotel on Paradise island, which is the gargantuan resort with its own golf course, water park, aquarium, casino, shops, and the “Michael Jackson suite”- a $25,000 USD per night room in the hotel.

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The main lobby.

 

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The “Michael Jackson Suite” is that centre piece between the two buildings.

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Aquarium sights…

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Every day has been absolutely beautiful, and the sunsets and skies and jewel turquoise waters have been the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen since Provence. Every day we would wake up and look outside, and say ‘looks like another beautiful day in paradise’. Because it was.

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The dock out at Compass Point… *sigh*

We do so love hibiscus flowers.

We do so love hibiscus flowers.

After one slow-motion week that seemed to be at half-speed for the amount of time we were there, we said goodby to Sarah and Derek and arrived at our room at the Sandyport Resort.

We were greeted with friendly front desk staff and the happiest bellhop I’ve ever seen helped us to our room, which was a deluxe suite facing the canal, with a king size bed and full kitchen. It was unreal.

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The Sandyport beach

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Piña colada, anyone?

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The view outside our door.

Lunch on our patio

Lunch on our patio

After the first week of major exploring mixed into beach days, we felt like we had seen a lot and could easily relax. It didn’t stop me from joining a group of folks from our Air BnB and head to karaoke one night, nor did it stop us from checking out the local Fish Fry street of restaurants, where we had the most delicious grouper, fantastic cracked conch, classic baked macaroni and amazing jerk chicken and pork (though not all at the same time). We went to Twin Brothers fish fry restaurant and tried their ‘world famous’ daiquiris, and let’s just say we went back for those more than once….

With Maria and Katrin!

With Maria and Katrin!

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this was the second time…. or was it the third? mmmmm… strawberry and pina colada daquiris …… 🙂

Derek picked us up the second Saturday and took us to see the Junkanoo Parade down by Atlantis and it was so much fun!! It’s a small sample of the kind of music and costumes and dancing they do twice a year in the Bahamas, where hundreds of musicians parade through the streets for hours twice a year: on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Tubas, trumpets, drums, and cowbells thundered through the streets and you couldn’t help but dance along. Great photo opportunity!

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We made it into Nassau a couple of times, and were thrilled to discover the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas and some of the strongest and thought-provoking social art I have ever seen. (No photos from inside the gallery, of course.)

The most beautiful old house converted into a gallery.

The most beautiful old house converted into a gallery.

The statue of a Junkanoo costume outside

The statue of a Junkanoo costume outside

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Some pieces for sale in the gift shop.

 

We also visited the Graycliffe Hotel, the oldest hotel on the island. It was grand and decadent, and the garden and pools were beautiful. We also tried a couple of handmade treats at the chocolate shop there.

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The larger pool with hand painted tiles

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Posing by the pool, of course. 🙂

Our last few days included dinner at The Poop Deck, where we had the most incredible seafood dinner, another visit to the Conch restaurant but this time for a tropical salad and conch fritters, and several batches of piña colada with the best coconut rum I have ever tasted.

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Spiny lobster: WAY more expensive than Maritime lobster, and no claws… but very very flavourful!

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this way…

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Our view at dinner

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Dressed up with somewhere to go! My beautiful Mama!

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I caught the sunrise our final morning and felt like I had stumbled upon a secret beach. I made sure to walk along the water’s edge so my footprints would be washed away when I left and the next person to arrive would feel like I did.

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We packed up our luggage, enjoyed French toast at the breakfast bar by the pool, and then made one last piña colada blend and headed to the beach for the last few hours. To dry off we were happy to swing in the resort hammocks and dream of coming back.

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No final morning beach time is complete without one last batch of pina coladas with Bahamian Coconut Rum!

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Already dreaming.

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A bientôt, Bahamas, a bientôt.

Three days in Prague, and a lasting impression.

It all started with a night train.

Finding our 6-bunk cabin and making fast friends with the French students that would sleep on the bunks about 2 feet above our faces, Carly and I left Amsterdam and headed to Prague, on a 14.5 hour trip. We were misinformed with our original booking, which told us it was a 9 hour trip, and then we found out the train left 5 hours earlier. 😦 but in the end we still figured: this is our accommodation and our travel wrapped into one, with no important daylight hours lost in either city.

The summary of making this choice in travel? I don’t think I ever want to do it again. For more somewhat whiney details, you can read the rest of this paragraph. If not, skip to the next one. The ‘beds’ were more aptly described as wood planks with carpet wrapped around them. In addition you get a sheet, a tiny pillow, and a fleece blanket. The noise of the old train, the tracks, the many stops along the way, and the additional two people who joined us as we passed through Germany just after midnight meant that I probably had about a couple hours of sleep in total – and it should also be noted that if you buy a ticket for a bunk bed, there is no place for you to sit if you want to stay awake- you are forced to lie down in your cabin or stand in the hallway. There are no pictures to document the next morning because we looked so terrible after not sleeping.

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We arrived in Prague just before 10am on the Wednesday and proceeded to immediately get lost trying to find the right tram. The vast majority of Czech words have absolutely no resemblance to English, German, or French. We had a list of phrases we might need to know, but we actually had no idea what the correct pronounciation was. Lesson learned: even a few important words and phrases, pronounciation and all, are uber helpful to know before arriving in a new country.

My translator app, quite useful up until now.... It couldn't even give me correct pronounciation for Czech, a cool but super complicated language.

My translator app, quite useful up until now…. It couldn’t even give me correct pronounciation for Czech, a cool but super complicated language.

We had found accommodations through airbnb, and our host Vlada met us at the tram station and brought us home, which was really nice.

His English was quite good, and as we pulled into the driveway he let us know that he and his wife had four pets, so we always needed to make sure we closed the gate properly. It turns out they had three rabbits and a tiny terrier puppy, all of whom have names I can’t remember because I couldn’t pronounce them. Well, that’s not true. I do remember the black rabbit’s name. It is Karel (the Czech version of ‘Carl’, and coincidentally, the name of our tour guide on our walking tour of Prague).

How can you resist this face?

How can you resist this face?

Vlada was delighted to tell us he had a surprise for us, and showed us our (new) huge room with two large beds and a balcony. It was lovely, and I think we were so tired from our 15 hour travel we didn’t have the mindset to take our photo of the room (or house) at all.

(This is a photo of downtown Prague, nowhere near the suburbs where we stayed):
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Armed with a map and suggestions for our first day from Vlada, we took off with bus, and then tram, to get to the oldest medieval castle in the world, and the church there. It was quite a busy place, and we immediately saw the juxtaposition of the pastel buildings of Prague with the dark stone and gothic influence of the older buildings, clock towers, and churches.

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We also came across a toy museum, which had everything from tin windup toys to a full anniversary collection of Barbie dolls from the beginning until now.

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Walking across the Charles Bridge to Old Town was beautiful, and there were many artists doing portrait work- from characatures to full painted portraits, several art and jewelry vendors, and a few musicians.

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The only sign we came close to understanding.

Vlada told us that if we wanted authentic Czech food we should go to “Staromēstské Restaurace” right on the Old town Square. So we went there twice. 🙂

I had the roast beef goulash with dumplings, cranberry sauce and whip cream. It was delicious. Carly had locally caught Perch with green beans and Parmesan risotto. She said it was also excellent.

I had the roast beef goulash with dumplings, cranberry sauce and whip cream. It was delicious. Carly had locally caught Perch with green beans and Parmesan risotto. She said it was also excellent.

We sat inside because he told us the prices are less than half what they charge on the patio, which was absolutely true. It is also true that beer is cheaper than water here, and so it was very sad indeed that I am not a beer drinker. My sister found a nice Belgian dark beer here so she was very happy.

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Old Town Square:

Way more fun with saturated colours. :)

Way more fun with saturated colours. 🙂

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The astronomical clock by night

We checked out the astronomical clock tower and it was beautiful. We took a walking tour on our second day and our guide told us that every hour the animatronics around the clock face still function, even though the clock is over 600 years old. Huge crowds gather around the base to watch it throughout the day, so of course I had to get a picture of that.

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The walking tour was free and organized by New Prague Tours. Our tour guide – Karel (like the aforementioned bunny) – was amazing. He also works in drama therapy, and you could see right away he enjoyed putting on a show of giving us a detailed and entertaining tour around the centre of Prague; the amount of information he knew and shared was spectacular, and we were very close to paying for an afternoon tour with him as well. We walked through the Old Town Square, down to Wenceslas Square, over into New Town and Charles Square, and through the Jewish quarter, passing by the four beautiful synagogues there. He told us about the history in Prague during World War II, many of the local stories of artists and inventors, and we were so glad to have found this company. If you go to Prague, look up http://www.newpraguetours.com. They offer free walking tours and tour packages you can buy as well. If we had been there longer we absolutely would have paid for afternoon tours and possibly even a day trip. Well, next time.

Walking through the streets sometimes felt like you were walking on a movie set, or that the buildings were made of either marshmallows or tinted white chocolate, and the styles we’re varied too. They had everything from Art Deco and Art Nouveau,  to the only cubist architecture in the world.

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We came upon some of the coolest shops, including many marionette stores. If only I had room in my backpack (and perhaps more money in my pocket), I would have loved to take one or two of these masterpieces home.

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We also tried a local snack: ‘Trdlo”, a sweet kind of bread cooked on a turning spit and covered in sugar, almonds, vanilla, and cinnamon.

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The evenings in Prague has even more free entertainment in the Old Town square with performers of every variety at every corner of the square- if you didn’t like something, walk 10m.

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Awesome jazz band

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Flame-baton guy.

One night as we were window shopping we came across a black light theatre company called Teatro Negro, and they had a show called Aspects Of Alice, so we immediately bought tickets and had a great time seeing a very creative piece based loosely around Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and falling down the rabbit hole.

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Also in our shopping, I bought my first piece of artwork in a small gallery. I couldn’t leave without buying the limited print of a boy and his dog, so I have to get even more creative with my packing now.

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The last place we visited before bidding farewell to Prague was the National Gallery. It was on the other side of the river from downtown but had quite a mix of art from many centuries, and we were happy we got to explore it.

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All in all, it wasn’t as busy as Amsterdam, but it was fascinating and exciting and well worth the trip.

Well, that’s all for now, folks!

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