Archives for posts with tag: adventure

belleville on the water
(my favourite photo from the weekend – houses along the waterfront)

During my splendid getaway to Niagara-on-the-lake, one of my companions mentioned Picton, Ontario as a place to visit, particularly for their abundance of homemade jam. After a quick Google search, not only did I find places to buy jam, I stumbled upon the Great Canadian Cheese Festival!

great canadian cheese festival
cheese
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local winery field

When it comes to travel, I’ve always been drawn towards far off and exotic places. I’ve lived in Canada nearly all my live and only once flirted with the thought of travelling across Canada and seeing the great wonders of my country (not counting the work trips I had to Edmonton and Vancouver this year!). The trip never panned out and still, the idea still only sometimes lingers in my mind.

That said, I’ve been to Niagara Falls many times, particularly when relatives visit from distant lands, but I’ve never explored Niagara-on-the-lake. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about it and after spending a weekend there, I now know why it’s nicknamed “the loveliest town in Canada”. Tucked away in the southern part of Ontario, in the Niagara region, it is a fantastic weekend getaway from the city.

The weekend called for rain and but we set off anyway, fingers crossed for some sun since our plans included a bike tour around the wineries.

We smartly opted to stay at Globetrotter’s bed and breakfast. We were met with luscious landscaping and an inviting porch, wood interiors with exposed beam, and charming rooms peppered with worldly souvenirs.

globetrotter b&b porch
globetrotters b&b

The hosts, Donna and Fernando, showed incomparable hospitality (and some mean skills in the kitchen!). She is the editor for Dreamscapes, a travel and lifestyle magazine in the Globe and Mail and, he is an equality well traveled hospitality manager at a local hotel. Together, they make the perfect team.

After a quick rest, we walked to the local bike rental store, Zoom then took off to explore the wineries and sample local wine. We visited 5 altogether: Stratus , Caroline Cellars, Pondview Winery, Frogpond Farm Winery, and Mary Nissen

I don’t proclaim to be a wine connoisseur by any means but I definitely enjoyed being able to sample wine and having someone there to explain the nuances in taste to me. I found that I had an affinity towards sweeter wines, and ice wine.

ice wine shots
Ice wine shooters in chocolate – so delicious!

garbage bag poncho
The garbage bag poncho = solution to the rain

sheep
Sheep!

We must have biked for about 4 hours (in the rain) and were completely soaked but it was hilariously fun. A hearty meal at Strewn
was a great way to end an tiring day.

We woke up with sore limbs and butts but trooped to the town to take a peek at the local shops and for the infamous Cow’s ice cream.

brunch
Our fabulous brunch the next morning in the sun room.

sun room brunch
A perfectly cooked egg on smoked beef and a biscuit with hollandaise sauce, made by Fernando!

Kennedy's gelato
Scrumptious treats at Kennedy’s gelato, a new gelato joint owned by the nicest woman!

niagara apothecary
Pretty vintage bottles at the Niagara Apothecary.

After a quick lunch at the Old Winery Restaurant, we said farewell to Niagara-on-the-lake, with a promise to come back soon!

nyc by night
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
Theres nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you,
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York…

New York City is one of those places that I feel like I can visit over and over and there will always be something new to see and do. My trip was fabulous and far exceeded my expectations. It was the perfect mix of newness, education, exploration, and fun (the lovely weather didn’t hurt either!).

Monday morning was nerve wracking for me – my first day at my new job. As vain as it is, I fretted over picking out my outfit for the day! You can never take back that first impression. It’s like picking out your outfit for the first day of school. You want to make sure you fit in with the culture, are work appropriate, and look approachable.

first day of work
(shirt from Jacob, sweater from Jacob, skirt from Zara, necklace from Walmart, boots from Aldo)

My first day was jam packed with orientation stuff – introductions, building tours, social ice breaker games – and then the rest of the week just flew by and I was still LOVING it. I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow at my normal office (did I just say I can’t wait to go to work?).

More photos and such on my New York trip to come!

A four night, 3 day trip to Sapa, about 8 hours north of Hanoi, very close to the border of China was by far my favourite place in Vietnam.

sapa, vietnam

We were quite comfortable taking the overnight sleeper to Lao Cai, where we then hopped onto our hotel bus to take a 30 minute winding journey up the side of the mountain overlooking miles and miles of perfectly manicured lush, green and golden tiered rice paddies. Quite a remarkable and surreal sight. There was mist atop the mountains, a bright blue sky, and white fluffy clouds.

sapa, vietnam

A grueling 12 km trek up and down the rice fields followed and we were accompanied by a group of Black H’mong teenage girls. Their presence made the hike very enjoyable as they told us about their daily lives, asked us about ours, and made us tiaras, pendants and miniature animals from leaves, twigs, and flowers.

sapa, vietnam

Their lives are very different and I am reminded of how fortunate I am. In conversation with one of the girls, about 14 or 15, carrying a one year old child, I naively asked if that was her baby brother, she said, “No, this is my baby.” I was glad they were with us and we had the chance to talk to them. The terrain was often rocky and hard to navigate and these girls showed us the way, seemingly just skiping from rock to rock in flimsy slippers. Their balance and familiarity with the route was impressive! After a 4 hour trek, we arrived at our homestay lodge which was conveniently located beside a riverbed.

sapa, vietnam

The group of us, hot and sweaty, eagerly jumped in to cool off. The night was spent chatting with fellow travelers, and karaoke-ing. Day 2 of the hike, only 5 km, was even more difficult as the inclines became steeper, and it was raining, making the path through the fields and the bamboo forest slippery and dangerous. Luckily, a group of Black H’mong women offered their help to ensure we were safe.

sapa, vietnam

*Vietnam Travel Letters, part 2 (read part 1 here); sent on August 31, 2009*

The east coast of Vietnam borders the South China Sea and the southern peninsula is interrupted by the Mekong Delta, which flows through Cambodia and Laos. Being by so much water has allowed us to experience several boat trips.

boat, mekon, vietnam pop rice, vietnam, mekong

The first was a day trip down the Mekong, where we passed by the locals on their boats stacked with harvested goods such as yams and fresh fruits. Arriving at a floating market, we watched as people made pop rice (similar concept to popcorn), rice paper, and coconut candy and then was ushered onto a smaller row boat where we were asked to don the infamous conical hat.

After a 10 hour bus ride to Nha Trang, one of the popular beach destinations, we embarked on the Funky Monkey boat cruise, where we island hopped, tried to snorkel with sub-par equipment, indulged in Tiger beer, swam in the South China Sea, and was entertained by our singing tour guide (the Funky Monkey himself!).

south china sea, swimming
We then basked in the sunset on the Tran Phu Bridge, over the Cai River.

Tran Phu Bridge, Cai River

(On the subject of bus rides, I must interject here and curse the Lonely Planet for giving us a faulty sense of the true condition of South East Asian buses. The LP states that foreigners are treated as perishable goods, and kept cool in snazzy air-con equipped buses…this has not been the case! Imagine a sweaty 10+ hour overnight bus with 40 smelly tourists.)

At over the vertical halfway point of Vietnam, we got an intense dose of culture in the historical city of Hue. Called the dragon boat trip, this tour putts along the Perfume River. Along the riverbank, families as big as eight or nine are quite poor, earning less than 20,000 Dong as a day, and live in this fishing village.

Perfume River

From there we visited Thien Mu Pagoda (resting place of Thich Quang Du, who burned self to protest vs. president Ngo Dinh Diem); Hom Chem Temple (one of the emperors had 400 wives, and 132 kids); Ming Mang Tomb (a giant park, which from the air resembles the shape of the emperor’s body); Khai Dinh Tomb (boasting a mix of Vietnamese and French architectures and my favourite of the three tombs we visited); Tu Duc Tomb (set along a lake, nestled amongst trees).

temple hue, vietnam
hue, vietnam hue, vietnam
hue, vietnam

The highlight of the day was probably at the Phu Mong Garden house where we saw a crazy showcase of Vietnamese kung fu (remind me to show you the videos!).



Reading reviews about shady Halong Bay tours (i.e. bed bugs and rats on the boat) made us weary, so we decided to splurge and go for the higher end Amber Gold Cruise (highly recommended!). Named as one of the natural wonders of the world and extremely hyped up by travel books and tourists, I was a little underwhelmed (edited to add: I don’t know why I said this – it was still a surreal and beautiful place!) but still appreciated the scenery and enjoyed the tour of one of the limestone caves.

halong bay, vietnam, cave
We kayaked in the bay to a little cove and were fed like queens with meals of fresh seafood. As the sun set, the stars appeared and it was absolutely beautiful.

halong bay, vietnam

I hope that Hong Kong and I will one day cross paths again. What a wonderful start to my trip. Check out more photos here.

*Vietnam is up next, my first stop after Hong Kong (Part 1, 2, 3, 4). Part of my Travel Letters series; sent on August 31, 2009*

Chào from Vietnam!

vietnam cone hat

Okay, so I lied. I’m not actually in Vietnam anymore…I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia, trying to finish this email update that I began a week ago, with the intention of sending it out before I left Hanoi. Apologies for the lack of updates. A big thanks to all those who sent me emails and updates on how things are going on your side of the world and I’m sorry I haven’t properly responded to them…I will (eventually!).

It’s been a busy 3-4 weeks since my departure from Hong Kong (my flight, by the way, was fortunately unaffected by the storm), and I don’t even know where to begin…

In three weeks time, my travel companions, D and Y, and I bussed our way from the southern city of Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon, all the way to northern Hanoi, city of lakes. Here are some details of the journey thus far…

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*sent on August 4, 2009 from Hong Kong; part 4 of 4*

Waking up today, I was greeted with the news that Tropical Storm Goni has prompted HK to raise warning level 1, with a pending level 3 warning later in the day.  The kicker – it was slated to go to a level 8 tomorrow, at which point the storm is so severe that everything is closed, and most flights are re-scheduled – very likely my flight to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow will be one of them!

There wasn’t much to do but wait for the verdict.  The streets were wet and it was raining but I didn’t want a little rain to dampen my last day in HK.  I barely spent any time on HK island and there are TONS of attractions and sights to see and do.  We opted for Repulse Bay, a beach area, and Stanley Market.


To be honest, I was fairly disappointed with both! After having gone to Cuba last year, this beach pales in comparison and Stanley Market was a very touristy area. The highlight was the winding bus ride around the mountain to get to these sites.

At this point, we got a call that HK had raised the warning level to 3, which is still okay, it just indicates high winds and rain.  We headed to the Central area for some lunch at a restaurant that specialized in tripe, beef intestines and other interesting innards (I didn’t order those items…not my cup of tea!).   In this area, there is an outdoor escalator that takes you up the mountain and at each level, you can get off and do shopping or grab a bite to eat.  We then headed back to Tsim Sha Tsui to browse the stores.

After 4 days in Hong Kong – I am exhausted!!! I need to learn to take it easy and not cram so many things into one day. All in all, HK was a lot of fun and I would definitely come back!  As for the next city on my travel itinerary, Ho Chi Minh City, we’ll have to see how that pans out tomorrow.

Hope everything is well with you all. Let me know what’s up with you!

Until next time,
Jen

P.S. This is a really long email, sorry! Will try to be more brief!
P.P.S.  Also sorry if I forgot anyone, feel free to forward!
P.P.P.S.  Sorry again, I would have attached photos but I realized I forgot to bring the cord that connects the camera to the computer. Major OOPS!!!

    *sent on August 4, 2009 from Hong Kong; part 3 of 4 (read part 1 and 2)*

    In Toronto, you often see Asian ladies carrying around umbrellas even when it’s a beautiful day. While I understood they do it to shield themselves from the sun’s cancerous rays and preserve their porcelain skin, I never really appreciated the practice.  I finally did during my day trip to Macau, a 1 hour ferry ride from Hong Kong Island. It was a blazing 33 degrees + humidity, so I dug out my umbrella (lined with a UV reflector, of course)!  I was on my own for the day so navigated to the centre of the Macau at Sao Paulo Square.

    First stop, a well-known store that specialized in jerky, little almond cakes, and portugese egg tarts – delicious!  Macau used to be a Portugese settlement and its influences are evident in the city centre, where there were cobblestone streets full of little shops, European style balconies and buildling, and churches. Walking through the streets, there were greeters thrusting samples of jerky from all angles and one even tried to shove one into my mouth with a pair of tongs when my hands were too full (the umbrella, and a cold drink) to take their generous offer.

    The day only got hotter as I trekked around to see the Ruins of St. Paul, the remaining facade a Portugese cathedral and the Fortress and Crypt around it. After about 3 hours of walking, the heat was too unbearable.

    I wanted to check out the Fisherman’s Wharf as well but didn’t want to get heat stroke. So, I hopped back on the bus and headed to the Venetian Casino.  The exterior was gorgeous and there was even a canal with gondola rides (both inside and outside!).  There were murals everywhere and the insides were designed so that you felt like you were strolling the streets of Venice. 


    From high end designer stores, to buffets, shows such as Cirque du Soleil, and of course, the casino, the Venetian was packed with things to do.  Eventually, I headed back to Hong Kong Island…and decided to go to the Peak to get a beautiful view of the city. But I must say, the highlight was probably taking the Peak Tram up to the top, a funicular rail car that has been around since the 1890s, because you can see the harbour and the city line, and due to the steep climb, everything looked like it was angled at 45 degrees.

    *sent on August 4, 2009 from Hong Kong; part 2 of 4 (read part 1 here)*

    My travel mantra is that I can sleep when I’m dead.  We got up bright and early, walked down Electric Road (well-known for many of their restaurants).  The intent of the day was to head to the biggest island in HK called Lantau to visit the giant seated Buddha, visit Tai O fishing village, take a ferry to Cheng Chau Island (which used to be inhabited by pirates), and then to Lamma Island for tasty seafood delights. I guess we were a little too ambitious!

    Going to Lantau Island was fun since we took the Ngong Ping 360, a cable car that takes you over the mountains to Lantau Island in about 25 minutes. 

    The view was amazing! Once there, we toured around Ngong Ping Village, visited the Po Lin monastery, then climbed the steps to the Big Buddha.  There are tons of trails and hikes that you can do around the area as well but we opted for a short walk to the Wisdom Path where we saw a mountainous landscape and wooden pillars with carvings on them, arranged in a figure eight.

    Tai O fishing village was unexpectedly interesting. Most of the houses there were built on stilts and walking down the main streets, you can watch as people make snacks, buy live seafood, and purchase lots of trinkets.  We tried a peanut-filled cake, fresh clams (cooked right in front of you as you wait), and roasted squid.




    By this time, it was late afternoon and our feet were sore and we were exhausted! The plan to head to Cheng Chau and Lamma was nixed as we were told that most of the stores there were closed at that point and the ferries were few and far between.  That said, we took a 40 minute ferry ride back to Hong Kong Island.

    *sent on August 4, 2009; part 1 of 4*

    Hello friends!

    I’m alive and kickin’ on Hong Kong Island! I arrived here at 2 pm on Saturday afternoon (that’s 2am Toronto time) after a 15 hour sleepless flight. Stepping off the plane, it was hot and muggy and within minutes my shirt was damp and I was sweating like crazy.  But I was pumped and ready to go!

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