Personal Travels

Day Trip from Switzerland to Liechtenstein: Passport Stamp Chasing

This is going to be a very short post, probably about as short as my time in Liechtenstein. If you’re here for pictures though, I got you. The quick day trip from Zurich, Switzerland to Vaduz, Liechtenstein was strictly a ‘let me visit a next country real quick’ situation. This would be country #2 out of the eight I was going to visit during my 12-days of shenanigans through Europe.

The day trip I had booked on Viator would take me on a scenic tour through farmlands in Switzerland, to a one-hour visit in Liechtenstein and then finish it off with seeing Heidiland. You can find the tour here, if you’re ever interested in doing this adventure as well.

I started the morning with getting a pretzel that had cheese in the middle at the main station in Zurich. It was delicious, and it was cheap*. (*consider this an unusual phenomenon while in Zurich) After that I walked over to the parking lot area near the station to meet up with the tour group. There are a lot of buses in this area for various tours, so make sure you find the correct one that you signed up for.

Once you find your tour, they will most likely put a sticker with a specific colour/number on you so you can be identified for the duration of the trip among the rest of the tours. Then you’re off! The big bus starts moving and you have a tour guide explaining in 2-3 languages about what you’re seeing. I was lucky because our tour guide was awesome and had a great sense of humour so it wasn’t boring at all.

We drove through some pretty picturesque places on the way to Liechtenstein. On the one stop we were in a little town (Rapperswil) with cobblestone streets that had a medieval church overlooking the center of it. Looked as pretty as it did creepy at the time. But you know what the best part of this city was? There was this INCREDIBLE pasta place I ran into (Marco’s Pasta Bar) before the bus left for the next part of the journey. The owner/chef would actually prepare the pasta in the middle of the restaurant (I love seeing my food made) and the portion size? MASSIVE. If you ever do this tour or end up in Rapperswil, you must go eat at this restaurant.

From Rapperswil we made our way to Liechtenstein finally. The tour actually spent more time in the little city than it did in this country. There is no actual border when entering the place and most of the ride there our guide told us about how the tax breaks are so great in Liechtenstein and that is why many corporations have offices there. Great. I’m too broke for this shit anyways.

So because there is no border, how the hell are you supposed to get your passport stamp right? Well. When you enter the city there are a bunch of tourist offices and if you pay $3 Euros/Swiss Francs they’ll stamp your passport for you. I definitely did that and so did most of the people on the bus with me.

I don’t really have much else to tell you about Vaduz, Liechtenstein because…… I’ve seen high school campuses that are bigger than this country? I walked to the left. I walked to the right. There was a tree, there were very nice cars, a huge watch shop and some skating rink. Then we left. That was literally the time spent in Liechtenstein.

Another 30 minutes of scenic driving and we arrived at Heidiland. You may have heard of this place from stories where you were a kid about that blonde girl named Heidi living in the Swiss Alps. Well this place is named after her. We posed for some pictures, drank from a natural spring and kept it moving. It was literally a stop in a park.

The bus made it’s way back to Zurich after this and we lived happily ever aft…. kidding. Mans just headed home as the night fell, and trust me, night falls super early in Switzerland during winter.

That was it, that was how I found my way to Liechtenstein and paid for a passport stamp. Now I have been to the world’s smallest country (Vatican City) as well as the fourth smallest country, Liechtenstein. San Marino and Monaco, I’m coming for you next!

  • Mirna

Day Trip From Copenhagen to Malmo: In Search of Burek and Zlatan

On January 2nd I decided to venture from Copenhagen over to Malmo, Sweden for the day. Naturally, this had been planned WAY ahead and Sweden was going to be country #5 on my eight country tour this past December. But this was the day I was going to do it, I was going to visit Banja Luka Jr. Now if you’ve never heard of Banja Luka it is a city in Northern Bosnia where only tall, attractive women are born.

i.e. - Me. I was born there and so were many other tall, attractive women. YAY US!

The reason I call Malmo this name is because my mom told me that apparently after the war many Bosnians settled in Malmo, but specifically, many people from Banja Luka. My city. (well, what use to be ‘my’ city now it’s the de facto capital of…. nvm, let’s not do this right now.)

I woke up nice and early to have breakfast at some hipster spot named ‘Next Door Cafe’ in Copenhagen before heading over to the train terminal. I will say, probably the NICEST servers ever were in this cafe and their blueberry pancakes were delicious. Also, the dinosaur they have you hold as proof that you paid for your meal was especially awesome.

As I merrily made my way over to the terminal, this was the headline that read across my Twitter timeline:

Denmark Train Accident Kills Six on Bridge

Whoa.

Pardon? I’m in Denmark. I’m about to go over a bridge with a train. Whoa. Rest in peace to those who lost their lives that day and prayers to those who were injured. Super scary.

My train was on the opposite side of Denmark, going towards Sweden though. The train that the accident occurred on was going between Zealand and Funen. I made SURE to Whatsapp my mom at this moment because the last thing I needed was her seeing that headline and thinking the absolute worst.

I made it to my 11:27am train and left for Malmo finally.

At noon I make it to Malmo and the first thing I saw was pastries. I had a very difficult time this entire trip saying no to pastries so this time would be no different. The cinnamon roll I got was yummy, thanks.

I proceeded to just walk around the center of Malmo for a couple of hours, see what the feel of the city was. I found the shopping area to be quite busy and they had a very good variety of places to buy things, eat things and especially find sneakers. Between Copenhagen and Malmo, I don’t think I had ever seen so many sneaker stores. I also had found this super super cute set of trees that had gift boxes and hearts dangling from them. Took a million pictures trying to get both in one shot. Eventually I stumbled onto a place that sells cevapi. I had mentioned earlier than Malmo was supposed to be Banja Luka Jr so I definitely had to indulge in some delicious Bosnian food.

Malmos Cevapi was the name of the restaurant I had found. I really enjoyed walking into a restaurant and hearing my native language spoken, even though I was not in my native land. There’s something so warm and welcoming about that, it’s hard to fully articulate it. Just feels good you know?

HOWEVER.

I was a little disheartened when I went to order my food. I ordered some burek and the person behind the counter said ‘what kind?’ Sigh. So disappointing. I should have cancelled the burek order that second and just stuck to the cevapi.

For those of you who don’t know, burek is a phyllo pastry filled with meat. There are other variations of it WITH DIFFERENT NAMES like sirnica (with cheese), zeljanica (spinach) or krumpirusa (with potato). Therefore there can’t be ANY OTHER KIND of burek, as saying the word burek should automatically mean it is filled with meat. If you want to piss real Bosnians off, this would be a good way to go about it. We will argue to the death of us about how to use burek. Please see picture below for how serious we take it, it’s a running joke among people in the Balkans.

Croatia ‘Have you seen Bosnia?’ - Serbia ‘Hold on, I got this’ - Serbia yelling ‘Burek WITH CHEESE!’ - Bosnia yelling back ‘Burek is burek!, That’s not sirnica! Everything else is pita, but only burek is burek!’

Croatia ‘Have you seen Bosnia?’ - Serbia ‘Hold on, I got this’ - Serbia yelling ‘Burek WITH CHEESE!’ - Bosnia yelling back ‘Burek is burek!, That’s not sirnica! Everything else is pita, but only burek is burek!’

Yes, yes we take it that seriously.

So I get some burek and cevapi. As I predicted the burek was just OK, but the cevapi were very good. I liked those. My belly was nice and full now and it was time to make the trek over to what the main purpose of my trip to Malmo was.

Finding Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

I mean obviously I didn’t actually expect to find HIM, but there was a place called Zlatan Court built by Nike in Malmo to commemorate him in the neighbourhood he was raised in. I checked my Google Maps and it was about a 40 minute walk there from the location I was standing in, so I started my walk. Found some graffiti hailing Drake on the way too, yay Toronto!

After some confusion about where I was (yes, even with Google Maps) I finally found it. I had made it to Zlatan Court. I was just a little bit closer to that beautiful man, Zlatan. Rawr.

I took some pictures and posed in front of the court after setting up my tripod and praying that the strong wind wouldn’t knock it over. I was content. I got cevapi and I got to my fave soccer players court.

Made my way back to the central station and headed back to Copenhagen. Another 40 minute walk, but I guess between all the pastries and cevapi it served me well to get some steps in right?

Overall, I quite liked Malmo. It isn’t somewhere that’s particularly memorable out of all the places I’ve been to but it also does have charm to it. If you’re ever in Copenhagen and want to do a quick day trip, I’d definitely encourage you to take this quick train over the bridge and visit.

  • Mirna





A Layover in Iceland: The Blue Lagoon

Yesterday was the final day of my long Euro trip where I managed to go to eight countries in 12 days. The finishing touch to this awesome trip was going to Iceland and seeing the infamous Blue Lagoon. Iceland would be country #8 for this particular trip and was country #40 for my total count of places visited in my lifetime, so it was pretty monumental.

For this portion of my trip it wasn’t particularly hard to plan it out because Iceland and their main airlines (WowAir and Icelandair) encourage taking advantage of your layovers there to explore the country. I flew with Icelandair from Luton to Keflavik and then later in the day would have my flight from Keflavik back to Toronto.

My time of arrival in Keflavik was 11am and the departure was set at 5pm. Let’s say it would take about 30 minutes to get through customs etc. that would put me at 1130am and I’d have to be back at the airport at 3pm for pre-boarding stuff to fly home.

I knew that the MAIN thing I wanted to do in Iceland was see the Blue Lagoon. I looked at booking my slot for the visit there back in October because I had read through various blog pages to book as early as possible because they are very busy and these slots fill up quickly.

The nice thing is that you could book your roundtrip transfer from Keflavik airport to the Blue Lagoon while also booking your time slot.

They have two primary tiers for your visit:

1) Comfort: this includes your entrance, a mud mask, a towel and 1st drink of your choice. The cost of this option is ISK 6990 which amounts to $79.02 Canadian.

2) Premium: this includes your entrance, a mud mask, a towel, 1st drink of your choice, second mask of choice, slippers, use of bathrobe, table reservations at Lava Restaurant and wine included if you chose to make that reservation. The cost of this option is ISK 9900 which amounts to $111.92 Canadian.

I chose to go with the premium package because I was traveling with only a backpack so bringing a bathrobe and slippers with me was not going to be possible and I KNEW I’d be freezing the second I stepped out of the water. I also (obviously) chose to add the roundtrip transportation to and from the airport for an additional $61.00 Canadian. This would bring the total of my booking to about $173.00, which isn’t exactly a cheap layover activity you know?

Luckily, it totally ended up being worth every penny! I landed a little earlier than anticipated so the bus was able to take me to the Blue Lagoon for their 1130am departure, instead of the 1pm one I had booked. Sadly, they won’t actually let you into the Lagoon until your designated time slot but I was able to use my premium package and go have lunch at the Lava Restaurant there. Delicious. Absolutely delicious. They have three options for different two or three course meals, I went with the Icelandic option. Had the most amazing Atlantic char for a starter, lamb shoulder for my entree and some type of caramel ice cream as my dessert. So good, came to about $100 Canadian for it all. My belly was very happy and now I was fully prepared for my venture into the Lagoon.

When you are about to enter the Blue Lagoon the person at the front desk will give you a wristband and that is the MAIN thing you want to make sure not to lose. This is how you lock and unlock your personal locker and this is what any additional items you choose to purchase there (drinks etc.) will be logged into as well.

I was given my slippers, bath robe and towel at this moment as part of my premium package and then I was on my merry way to the change rooms. I will warn you, the change rooms are crazy busy. You will have all the women who are entering at the same time slot as you getting changed as well as all the women who are departing. You choose whichever locker you want because your wrist band will be programmed at that point to only lock and unlock the one you chose. I had a backpack and a laptop bag with me, along with a very large winter coat and boots - it ALL fit in their locker. Just in case you do have one of those really large checked-in luggage bags with you, there was a paid luggage storage building before you enter the Blue Lagoon where you could also put it. Within the Blue Lagoon the locker was included with your cost of entry.

After you get changed into your bathing suit, you HAVE TO take a shower naked. There are signs everywhere stating that anyone who wants to enter must first take a shower naked. So you put your bathing suit on, go enter the shower and take it off, shower, and then put it back on and head for the warmth of the Lagoon.

PRIOR to that warmth though, you will feel the wrath of the wind in Iceland while only having your bathing suit on. Listen, I had my bathrobe on and I still was well vexxed having to take it off and enter the water. I made that transition as quickly as possible.

Once you enter the water you feel soooooooo damn good though. I believe the temperature is 38 degrees Celsius in the water and it sends your body into an automatic relaxed mode. For my 2pm slot I didn’t find the waters particularly busy. For as hectic as the change room felt, the space in the water was pretty great. Didn’t feel crowded at all.

Make absolutely sure you bring your waterproof phone case with you when you go to into the Lagoon! I saw some people braving the waters with trying to keep their phone high above their heads and stuff, but between the splish splashing of some kids there and the steam radiating off the water - don’t risk it, just buy a cheap waterproof case from Amazon or something like I did. They do have them for purchase AT the Lagoon as well, but just come prepared and pay less OK?

As I mentioned, the damn splish splashing kids. Let’s talk about your hair for a second. I read MANY MANY posts about what the Lagoon water can do to your hair and how much it’ll suck after contact. I am tall enough to prevent my hair from touching the water while it was tied up. I knew I didn’t have time to condition it heavily, swim around and then have to wash it out after and blow dry it before my flight home. I was on a serious time constraint so I just chose to avoid Lagoon water touching my hair. I failed. The children that were at the Lagoon decided to swim around flapping all their limbs enough to splash everyone around them, which included me….. and my hair. So although I didn’t dunk my head into the water, it definitely got wet and I did not have the suggested conditioner in it before entering. Let me tell you, the current texture of the parts that did get wet? NOT AWESOME. NOT AWESOME AT ALL. So please if you aren’t on a time constraint like I was, ensure that you just do the damn conditioning before entering even if you don’t plan on dunking your head in.

I swam around for a little bit in the Lagoon, got some pictures, got my free drink (banana smoothie) and I indulged in their amazing mud mask. I should say, even though my hair feel like shit right now, my face feels incredible from that mask. WOW. They blob it onto your hand and you apply it to your face, leave it on for 10 minutes and then wash it off. Your skin is left feeling so soft. I guess because your pores are already surrounded by steam and warmth, adding this mask to it makes it that much better. Make sure you do it while there!

When I noticed it was about 240pm I hopped out and went to the change room so I could be on time for my 310pm bus back to the airport. I was glad I chose to not fully dunk my head in at this point as well because the long-haired-lasses had the blow dryers going and if I would have waited for them to finish to blow dry my hair? I definitely wouldn’t have even made it on time for my flight departure at 5pm.


This blog post ended up being way longer than I anticipated. Shit. Sorry guys, I just wanted you to know ALL the goods. I hope you go to the Blue Lagoon at some point as well, it’s worth the money and I would especially suggest doing it before your flight home because you’re so relaxed after the experience. It makes the long flight home just a bit less shitty you know? Also, make sure you put some money aside to buy the products at their gift shop. They aren’t cheap, but it’s hard to resist taking some amazing skin products from there. Because I was traveling with only a carry-on bag I took all the products out of their packaging and threw them in my ziploc bag to make sure it would be close to the liquid allowance. I got them into the plane and back to Canada, great success.

  • Mirna

A Recap of 2018

Happy New Years Eve to all of you, wherever in the world you may currently be.

I am currently in Paris laying down because I ate too much escargot and I can’t stop eating everything in sight. I regret nothing though.

2018 was an incredible year for me. I won’t go through ALL the crazy shit necessarily because who really has time to read all of that today? Definitely not me and definitely not you nice people who probably have parties to get ready for or exes to reconcile with. (If you’re ONLY here for pictures - just click the links then, damn)

I began this busy year with my best friend Sherry and I welcoming 2018 in Abu Dhabi, amidst a 40-hr trek home from the Maldives. I’m one of those people that believe in how you start your new year will be how the rest of your year will go - so traveling? Yes. That was exactly how 2018 went for me.

The highlight of the year was actually not the crazy amount of traveling I did, it was that on February 26th, 2018: I finally got a permanent position at my workplace. I had been working on contract and up to that point there was really no definitive future for me and I was unsure what I would do after the contract was finished. But I got very lucky and I guess I must have done a good job because I was BLESSED with a permanent full-time position with ALL them benefits and ALL those yearly vacation days. I finally got stability and that really gave me a green light to pursue more travel than I had initially anticipated in 2018.

In April I finally got my return to Jamaica. I hadn’t been there since 2010 and being able to go back eight years after for carnival with my two best friends also there was amazing. Carnival in Jamaica was a good way to fill some of the tabanca I had from Cropover 2017. The main picture I used for this piece was actually taken on a yacht in Kingston, Jamaica while there for carnival. The flex was necessary.

At the end of May I surprisingly had put out what ended up being one of the most popular pieces ever on my blog. A breakdown of all the food festivals for summer 2018 in Toronto was put up on May 22nd and by like May 25th over 5,000 people had read it. I had never seen such traffic for my site. There was definitely some pieces that had been popular over time, but instantly? No. I hadn’t experienced such a frenzy before and I am truly grateful for it. Not only did it bring more readers to my page, it also contributed to others planning dates and potentially getting fatter as well. Great success on this end.

During June a group of friends and I made the trip out to Philadelphia for Roots Picnic. This would not be the only road trip for the year for me into America, because a month later my boyfriend Mark and I trekked over to Detroit to watch Liverpool vs. Manchester United play at the Big House. Both were amazing trips, with amazing people and they involved lots of naps.

For Labour Day weekend Mark and I went to Cancun on a quick little baecation. It was really nice to finally travel with him somewhere outside of America/Canada and take in a brand new country for both of us. Also, this ended up being country #30 for me so it was a momentous occasion all around.

An awesome non-travel-related thing did happen in September as well. I got to see my favourite soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic score his 500th career goal vs TFC in Toronto. He’s so damn fine. Hmph.

The following holiday (Canadian Thanksgiving) in October my best friend Lorren and I went to see Panama and Cartagena, Colombia. This fulfilled one of my personal goals as I wanted to surpass the # of countries vs my age since I never got to 30 by 30, at least now I had gotten to 32 by 32!

Shortly after returning from this trip Sherry’s sister got married and I got to go to a super fun wedding. The reason THIS wedding was especially fun was that after it ended …. we crashed the wedding party next door to it so we could keep dancing. I officially became a fucking wedding crasher. BOOYAH.

I laid low for most of October and November because I had this gargantuan trip coming up that I’m currently on. At one point I worked six weeks straight Monday to Sunday so nothing of particular excitement happened except for sleep deprivation and money making.

There was some amazing milestones during this time that happened for my blog though. First I had posted this free downloadable Excel spreadsheet to help people plan their finances for savings or for travel. I created the spreadsheet a while ago and this was how I planned all my trips so I figured other people would have use of it as well. I sure was right because that ended up being another super busy couple of days on my site. Furthermore, I dropped this GEM on my site for those people planning group travel. It was a checklist (partially joke/partially completely true) for them to go through before considering traveling with someone they knew OR didn’t know so well. Now THIS piece? That took off like me when I hear ‘dinner is served’ at a party. Everyone could relate to this blog post because it didn’t matter which country you were from, how old you were etc. You knew the exact types of people I talked about in it. Finally, all of these posts contributed to a momentous moment for the blog - the day I hit $1000 worth of earnings via advertising. That was a huge success for me because I had just begun monetizing earlier in the year and earning that much in the first year was insane to me. Some days I would earn $0.50 but then there was days where it was suddenly $77.00 as well.

I will forever be grateful to all of you who read, RT’d, passed along or recommended the blog in some way. Without you there’s no way I would have made a cent off of this in 2018.

On the topic of being grateful, I turned 32 on December 16th. My best friends Sherry, Lorren and Jummy threw me an awesome party in a hotel room which was followed by another awesome party in a night club. Oh, and the day after? I got to go to a Buffalo Bills vs. Detroit Lions game for free, in a limo, because my blog followers are amazing. You can read about that crazy ass weekend here.

This brings us to the trip I am on currently. Back in April of 2018 I had this idea to try and do eight countries in twelve days for under $2000. Why eight? Well I’m greedy. I knew I would hit 32 countries by the time I was in Colombia so why not try for 40? As I sit here in France I am at 35 and in the next six days I will be in five other countries that will get me to 40. Crazy right?

There will obviously be individual recaps of all these places I visited during these crazy 12 days but I just wanted to tell you all quickly about an incident during this trip that definitely ended my 2018 on a super high note. During a gondola ride in Switzerland I got into chatting with a family from North Carolina about their trip and they had asked about mine. As I went to mention I had a blog and why I was doing this trip, the mother in the family stopped me and said, ‘You’re the impatient tourist! I’ve been to your blog.’ Holy shit. This really happened. I’m there, on one of the bajilion gondola rides in Switzerland, with a family from frigging North Carolina and this woman had been to my blog. I can’t describe how I felt at the moment because it’s something I never saw coming. I debate regularly if I should call myself a travel blogger because I’m not famous nor am I successful, I’m a person who blogs about travel…. not a travel blogger. But in THAT moment? I felt pretty damn amazing. So if you’re reading this FAMILY FROM NORTH CAROLINA - you made my year. You really did.

I could see how 2018 seemed to be filled with ALL good things from how I wrote all of this above, but there were down times. Those are sadly unavoidable. My best friend lost her father this year and I wanted to hug her forever to try and make the sadness from that go away. Also, some bitterness and anger I had from bullshit in 2017 really still lingered in my feelings. You’re not supposed to bring the resentment and anger from one year into another, but I had. I actually had brought it from 2017 all the way to December 2018. It took me a full year to realize some conversations were never going to happen and that I have to do a better job at letting shit go. So I did. I will not be entering 2019 with nonsense from 2017, and I can truly say I only have otherwise amazing things from 2018 to take into 2019 with me - HAPPILY.

I hope all of you have a safe and super fun new years eve. I hope that whatever you wanted to accomplish in 2018 got done and if it didn’t, so what? Keep working hard and it could happen in 2019.

Thank you for reading the blog. i will try to continue and put out inappropriate content that sometimes makes no sense amidst some kick ass itineraries. Also, I will be back to doing personalized itineraries on January 7th when I’m back from this vacation.

I’m going to go take a nap before partying it up in the center of Paris tonight. I am wishing all of you the super duperest of happy new years!

  • Mirna

Carry-On Chronicles: Winter Travel Packing

(Repeating, for third time) I have written before about vanity being a detriment to smart packing and that it is more relevant that you stand in front of the Eiffel Tower in whatever clothes vs stand in front of the CN tower in a great outfit. 

Funny enough, because this time? I’ll actually be going to see the Eiffel Tower.

On December 25th I will be leaving on a 12-day trip that will take me to eight countries in Europe. I will start in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Paris (France) for NYE, Denmark, Sweden, Prague (Czech Republic) for the ballet, London and then finally Iceland.

I have never done winter travel to another cold place, especially not to eight different ones. During this trip I have like three spa visits, two alpine trips, museums and even the ballet as an activity. Usually I’d be totally fine with being a bum in thick clothes the whole time but some of these require me to look a little nicer or be prepared to go swim.

This trip managed to be under $2000.00 for all flights and stays, and I wrote about that here. With the money saving, this means I’m only going to be allowed 10kg (22lbs) with me on this trip. Some of the airlines I’ll be flying on do allow more, but I have to base it off packing for the one that allows the least so the 10kg it will be.


This is how I broke down my packing (clothing) list for this trip:

1 x boots, 1 x winter coat, 1 x all black hoodie, 1 x heavy wool pants, 1 x long sleeve, 1 x scarf —— these I will be wearing, to avoid putting heavy things into the carry-on.

2 x skinny jeans, 2 x leggings, 4 x long sleeve, 2 x bra, underwear, 3 x socks, 1 x heavy wool sock, 2 x nice shirt, 1 x PJS, 3 x swimsuit, 1 x day bag, toiletries

This time I saved A LOT of space for toiletries by switching to this Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. I have read MANY a travel blog that said this liquid can do it all so I’m willing to test this theory out. I brought two little carry-on size bottles of it to be used for: washing hair, body wash AND doing laundry in my sink. Will update on how this works out.

All the things going into the carry-on are on the right, all the things for the personal item on the left.

All the things going into the carry-on are on the right, all the things for the personal item on the left.

Unlike my previous carry-on travels, this time I won’t JUST have the carry-on. Because this blog keeps me very busy and I don’t want to take time off from posting on it, I finally bought myself a new laptop and will take advantage of the whole ‘personal item’ allotment for the flights as well. Basically, you can carry around a purse along with your carry-on bag. This purse of mine is just for my items needed to work on blog/stay connected.

1 x Pixelbook, 1 x Anker Portable Charger, 1 x Tripod/Selfie stick, 1 x Picture Bluetooth Shutter, 1 x Voltage converter, 1 x Waterproof bag, 2 x Chargers

Carry on + Personal Item

Carry on + Personal Item

I hope this packing list ends up working well for me because unlike some of the warm-climate places I go to where just buying anything is cheap, THAT IS NOT THE CASE IN EUROPE. Especially not in places like Switzerland and London where the Canadian dollar doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Happy packing everyone!

- Mirna 

 

 

Things To Do In Bali

I realize there are probably a MILLION pieces online for what folks think you should do while you’re in Bali. Look, I’m about to be 1,000,001 OK?

Because I plan SO MANY Bali itineraries I get asked frequently what I would suggest people do while visiting Bali, so instead of me having to send screenshots and links every single time, putting it in a blog post made the most sense. So here goes nothing, I hope I manage to steer you in the correct/fun direction. Everything listed below is something I actually did during my trip, so it isn’t hearsay or second-hand knowledge. I did this shit, and would suggest you do some of it too.

(Note: I tried to include as many descriptions and links to stuff as I could! So click around.)


Tanah Lot at Sunset

If you do absolutely nothing else, make sure you catch the sunset views at Tanah Lot. There will be at least another thousand people there with you so don’t expect much romanticism or mystique - but you will love it nonetheless. This temple looks unreal in person! Sometimes the water comes up really high and you can’t walk too close to it, but other times I saw people trying to walk/swim as close to it as they could for the perfect picture.


Spend the Day at Potato Head

This is the activity I did for my 30th birthday back in 2016. I literally spent the ENTIRE day here. What you do is show up at 9am and pick the cabana you want on their map. Once you do that you are given a little wooden ticket and have to come back at 10am when they open to enter your cabana. There are also choices for lounging chairs by the pool etc. I opted for the cabana because obviously I wanted to go all out for my birthday.

The minimum spend on the cabana was $1,000,000 Rupiah which converted to $100.00 Canadian. So to have the cabana for the whole day, I had to eat/drink $100 worth alone? Very easy. Very very easy. Embarrassingly easy. The cabana is awesome and you should definitely splurge on it. You have your own shade, towels, pillows and there’s a man with an AK-47 next to it guarding your stuff while you go swim. So quaint.

I really had an awesome time spending the whole day at Potato Head because you get to meet so many people from everywhere in the world that are looking to party, as well as getting enough relaxation by the pool and beach while profusely drunk and full of delicious food. Make sure if you can’t go early to get the cabana, that you still make it later in the day to at least get a drink and watch the sunset. Awesome day spent.


Visit the Rice Fields in Ubud

I truly hope the day YOU do this it isn’t 42 degrees outside like it was for me. The rice fields in Ubud are a must-do when in Bali because your eyes will thank you and you could potentially work off some of the food and liquor you’ve ingested while doing this activity.

The cost of a driver for an entire day in Bali is usually between $35-$40 and you should have the person get you to these rice fields at some point during this day. Make sure you wear some very comfortable running shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty because if you intend on going up and down on these hills, the mud and lack of traction are a bitch. The day I was visiting the rice fields was blistering hot outside so also make sure to wear a hat and a lot of sunscreen since there is no where to shelter yourself from the sun.

If Ubud is too much out of your way (depending on where you choose to stay in Bali) this website has an awesome list of other places in Bali to see the rice fields!


Spa. Spa. Spa.

My biggest regret from being in Bali was not going to the spa EVERY SINGLE DAY. The cost of going to a spa in Toronto for one hour won’t be under $100.00 at the very minimum. But in Bali? I spent almost 2 1/2 hours there for $35.00. THIRTY FIVE DOLLARS. I got a 45 minute neck/scalp massage, a 30 minute facial and a 60 minute full body massage. The spa I went to was in central Kuta and the name of it was Smart Day Spa. Recently, two of my fellow travelers took my advice and went there while in Bali also and enjoyed it just as much as I did. Not only is the service cheap, the spa is really calming and nice to be in. Don’t expect that you’re walking into some musty place with sketchy people! Make sure you hit the spa in Bali.


Take a Day Trip to Neighbouring Nusa Lembongan

One of the things people won’t tell you about Bali is that their waters are no frigging joke. To swim there you’d better be a hell of a swimmer or really into surfing. I consider myself a pretty good swimmer and even with that, when the undercurrent on the Balinese beaches hits you?? Yep, suddenly you’re 20 meters out into the sea. It happens so quickly and for someone who is more accustomed to the tranquil waters of the Caribbean, there is no wading in the water to chill. You better swim for your life! (kidding, little over exaggerated)

This is where I would really recommend a day trip to Nusa Lembongan. It is a really small island but the beaches are very clean and tranquil. You can take a walk around town where they sell beautiful shawls made on the island by hand or you can just hang out at the beach. This island was definitely the more chill version of Bali, it was like Tulum where all you saw was hipsters and surfer dudes/ladies wandering around. When I went to Lembongan there was an excursion that had a party in the middle of the water and a canoe that would bring you over to the island as well and I think it maybe cost $125.00 for all of it.


Get a Day-Pass Somewhere Private: The Hilton

I love day passes to places. It’s like you get the experience of that location, without having to pay the full price of staying there as a guest overnight. This is how I made my way to The Hilton Bali.

There are probably dozens of high-end hotels/resorts you can get day passes to in Bali but I happened to stumble onto The Hilton because the owner of the villa I was staying in told me he used to work there and that it was worth the $20.00 charge. Sure. Twenty bucks will do.

This ended up being a really good place to relax all day because majority of the people at the beach were 60+ year old foreigners without kids that just wanted to tan. You pay the fee for the day pass and get to use their pools, get your lounge chair on the beach and access to their change rooms with towels etc. I especially loved that even though I wasn’t a guest of the hotel, I could order food to my lounge chair on the beach and just pay with my debit card for it. (or cash)


Try the Coffee and Tea

I do not drink coffee nor do I drink tea. Figured I’d get that out of the way before beginning this section. The only time I drink tea is when I’m horribly sick and coffee? The smell of it alone makes me a little nauseated. HOWEVER, whether you like or do not like them - you have to try and make it to these coffee/tea plantations where the stuff is made super fresh.

Fun fact - the most expensive coffee in the world is actually Kopi Luwak Coffee which is big business in Bali. Basically, this animal called a civet (super cute, you get to see them on the plantations) eats coffee beans and then poops them out to become, yep, the world’s most expensive coffee. Now I know you’re wondering wtf is wrong with me, but trust me, you have to try it. I tasted EVERY tea and coffee on the menu you see in the picture below (yes, they have you try a sip of all of them) and it was the first time in my life there was a coffee I enjoyed the taste of. I even bought a whole bag of it, Coconut Coffee.


Splurge at Kisik or Rock Bar: Ayana Resort

If you are about spoiling yourself, this part is for you. The food in Bali is very cheap so there is really no need for you to go to this place, but naturally, I am extra AF so I had to do it.

I took myself out on a $200 date in Bali. Now, that is the equivalent to $2,000,000 in Rupiah. Most of my meals were under $8.00 until this point, just for comparison. Sometimes you have to spoil yourself and do fancy things right?

While researching my trip to Bali I had read about this place called the Ayana Resort. I believe the cheapest room there per night is $300.00, meanwhile MY hotel cost $300.00 for a whole week. Crazy right? But there were two awesome bars/restaurants on the grounds of this resort calling out to me to visit.

One is called Rock Bar and from my understanding it is seating for only hotel guests. I had my eyes on their other restaurant called Kisik. I made a reservation a month ahead for seating at this restaurant because they fill up very fast because of their incredible views, and incredible food.

I ate a seafood skewer, I drank and also bought a whole lobster to myself. In the picture below you will see they even had my name on the table because I told them it was my birthday week so I felt extra special. Fresh seafood and an awesome view at sunset, there truly was nothing more perfect. I did have a small heart attack when my bill came but it was also expected, kind of.

Make sure if you choose to go to Kisik to make a reservation for around sunset, get there early so you can wander around the Ayana resort and definitely walk over to Rock Bar to take pictures as soon as you finish your dinner. Splurge a little on yourself, you already made it all the way to Bali right?


Trust me, Bali has so many activities and incredible things to do that you will never ever be bored there. This list of mine didn’t even touch the surface of all the beautiful places you could go see in Bali that I didn’t even have time to make it to. (I.E: Broken Beach in Nusa Penida, Mount Batur, Mount Agung and of course the Uluwatu Temple) There’s just so many things you can fit into your itinerary while there because one of the best parts of being in Bali is - RELAXATION.

I hope those of you reading this make it to Bali one day and get to do some of the aforementioned activities. If you have been to Bali before and think there are other MUST DO activities or sights for Bali newbies to try, please make sure to leave it in the comments!

  • Mirna

Panama/Colombia Trip Recap

Usually, within a week of coming back from a vacation I would have the full recap up and finished. USUALLY I don’t get horribly sick after vacationing though.

The past two weeks have been absolute hell on my body (and my travel partner, Lorren). I’m one of those people who eats everything and anything in sight when I travel without any issues EVER with my tummy. I’d like to think of myself as someone with a rock hard stomach, on the inside, because mans are fluffy outside. When I went to do my Asia trip in 2016 I drank Dukoral weeks ahead to prepare and I even got my shot for cholera, which you can read all about here. Nothing gets to my stomach. Until something fucking got to my stomach.

I am literally 8lbs lighter now than I was when I left for my trip on October 5th. That was two weeks ago and I have been thin for no reason since last week. I will spare all of you the details but let me tell you, I’m not sure WHERE or WHY we picked up whatever stomach problem this was but I legitimately do not wish it on anyone. Three days laid up in bed not being able to eat is not exactly my idea of happiness after a vacation. Like you’re already sad you’re back to cold and work but your body completely malfunctioning as well? SUCKS.

But, let me move on to the awesomeness that was this trip. To look at the positive side of things, neither of us felt sick until the day we had to fly home. The vacation itself was super fun and exciting and I’m happy to share the goods with you lovely people.



FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5TH - FLYING/PANAMA

This seemed like such a late time to fly. 9:30am. I had to take the subway and UP Express with the regular working hours people. Who flies this late? I’m more accustomed to being at the airport from 5-6am and ready to be up in the air to somewhere by 7am. Lorren and I met up at the check-in for Copa Airlines to begin our journey to Cartagena, Colombia via Panama City, Panama. The great thing was we had checked in online already and only had our carry-ons to travel with so we avoided a super long line with everyone else. Score!

I’m not 100% sure on why we decided to go to Cartagena but I do recall being in the middle of a fete at Jamaica Carnival and looking at my Google Flights notification telling me that a flight to Cartagena from Oct 5 - Oct 8 had dropped 50% in price.

You read that right …. FIFTY PERCENT DROP. I messaged Lorren and asked if she’s good with that price, she said yes and boom we had roundtrip flight tickets to Colombia for $320.00 per person. That’s a damn good price.

Pearson airport was the same thing as always, boring. We both got some version of breakfast and then we were on our way to our layover in Panama City, Panama. The total layover time was seven hours, but with having to be at the airport two hours before a flight that total dropped to five hours of exploring Panama City. We had intended on seeing the Panama Canal, going to this Chorillo area where there was some delicious seafood and then just walking along the water and taking pictures at sunset. HA. We thought.

We checked our carryons at this luggage storage place in the arrivals area of the airport. (Cost $5.00 USD per bag) and then we found ourselves a taxi driver. His name was Ariel and I think he offered us ‘the weeds’ about six times during the drive. He was definitely our type of driver because he knew how to maneuver around all the traffic, which sometimes included driving on the shoulder and even through a park to get to the other side of a road. Sadly, even with his driving skills we were in for a big let down.

The traffic in Panama City is HELLA disrespectful. We did enjoy seeing how beautiful the city was and how far superior their condos looked to Toronto, but, ommmggg it was so slow getting through the city. We made it to the Panama Canal and paid the stupid $20.00 USD to enter.

So you enter, you go upstairs, there’s hoards of people looking at a canal, a big ship gets announced as incoming, people get amped and take selfies, the ship passes, it’s done. The end.

I do not care for the Panama Canal at all but it was kind of one of those ‘must see’ things if you’re going to go to Panama so we did it. It’s done. Check it off the list.

We wanted to go to the aforementioned Chorillo area after the canal but as we got deeper and deeper into traffic our Google Maps was giving us an unfavorable breakdown in time to the airport. This is where the day began to get a little weird.

There was definitely a language barrier between us and Ariel but we were able to tell him where we wanted to go for the day and how much we’d pay etc. It really wasn’t an issue - until it actually became an issue. As we were driving towards Chorillo myself and Lorren decided that it was best we just head directly back to the airport because we didn’t want to risk being late for our flight to Cartagena. Missing seafood was fine with us, missing a flight was definitely not.

This driver got SUPER weird at this point. We explained to him that we wanted to head for the airport because of the time restraints and dude wouldn’t take NO as an answer. He repeated and repeated and repeated ‘no no you must go to Chorillo’. Listen bro, we must not do SHIT. If we paying for the car for the day and we don’t want any extra detours and want to go back to the airport, that’s where the hell you’re going to take us.

Oh man, for the entirety of the drive back to the airport he literally repeated and bitched about us not going to Chorillo every 20 seconds. At one point he PULLED OVER to the side of some parking lot and said, ‘go take pictures!’ even though we explicitly told him 50 times to head directly back to the airport so we wouldn’t be late. Don’t get me wrong, taking pictures of Panama City during sunset was really beautiful. The city itself is gorgeous and I hope I come back another time to take it in some more. However, we had no idea what the hell dudes problem was. We were still on a time constraint. As we finally got into the airport area he was STILL repeating about the goddamn Chorillo place and I finally had enough and you could hear me saying over, ‘no we said airport. no we said airport. no we said airport.

We did finally make it to the airport and with plenty of time before our flight. Got some food and boarded the next Copa flight to Cartagena.

Upon arriving in Cartagena we got to deal with the pleasantries of the reciprocity fee only Canadians have to pay to enter Colombia which I wrote a blog post about here. Fortunately, a very nice man drove us from the airport to our hotel in the Bocagrande area of Cartagena.

At about 11:30pm - we finally got to bed. This weird day was done.


SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6TH - LUXURY IN CARTAGENA


Listen, after the day/night we had in Panama? Waking up in a five star hotel with the most incredible view was refreshing. Oh, it felt so good. I would go more into detail about the Hyatt Regency Cartagena, but you can click here and go peruse the blog post I made specifically about staying there.

For the Saturday we didn’t make many concrete plans. Lorren had booked herself in for some surfing at 10am and I had booked myself in for a spa session at 2pm. Because for some weird reason I can’t stay sleeping particularly late while on vacation, I was up early and both Lorren and I decided to go for breakfast.

We had searched Google for what was good around us and came across this breakfast spot named La Brioche. If you ever go to Cartagena, definitely make sure to eat here. The pancakes were so fluffy and the pineapple juice was delicious. Also, I appreciate any restaurant where the manager/owner comes by and talks to see if you’re bless.

After breakfast Lorren went onto her surfing shenanigans and I went right back to the hotel. You know what I did? I took a nap. Then I went to the spa to try and get Lorren a booking at the same time as mine, they weren’t open for another 30 minutes. OK. Took another nap. Went back down to the spa and was able to get Lorren a spa session appointment. Great success.

It was probably about noon and I had a tough decision to make - do I want to nap some more or will I go actually do stuff since I am on vacation? Disregarding my good judgement, I decided to go gallivant into Cartagena’s historical center …. in 34 degree heat. I walked so damn much, from Bocagrande and then to the historical center and then I drank some rum and then I walked all the way back to the hotel. The heat was INSANE. I will say the walk was well worth it. The center of Cartagena is incredible and very picturesque, and I sure do love taking a lot of pictures!

Once I returned to the hotel I had to take a shower because absolutely no one should have to rub down a profusely sweaty Eastern European woman during a spa session.

If you would like to know how the spa time went you can read about it here, I made a separate blog post for all you spa enthusiasts.

After Lorren and I both had our awesome spa dates completed, we hit the infinity pool at the hotel. Incredible view over Bocagrande, took some pictures and ordered some food. Nice and relaxing evening. That is the great thing about traveling with the women I choose to travel with, there’s an amazing bonding in quiet sometimes. You don’t even have to speak non-stop, you’re just happy to be somewhere together and taking it all in together. I love every minute of it.

Alright so it is a Saturday night, we are young, we are good looking and we are on vacation. Obviously, it is time to party!

Ha.

We got back to our room at 8pm, said we’d take a nap and woke up at 4am. That was the end of our Saturday. FAIL.


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7TH - BEACH LIFE

One of the things that makes me happiest in this world is being on a beach. I love swimming, I love the sand, I love being in the water and I just love the way it makes me (and my skin) feel. Today was our beach day and we were going on an adventure to Playa Blanca.

We were picked up around 9am and drove for approximately one hour to get to the destination. I’m not a fan of long car rides but this beach was worth the time in a pinch up van.

When we arrived we were taken (with our group) to a quieter area of Playa Blanca. Apparently Sunday is the day most locals went to the beach as well so it was crammed everywhere. The beach was super busy. I was happy the guide took us to a quiet area where we have a little piece of heaven, and shade, to ourselves. It is unfortunate that all the things you read about Playa Blanca are true though, every 10-15 seconds someone will be asking you to buy a service from them or food or liquor. As someone who prefers my beaches completely silent, it made the beach experience a little less pleasant.

The beach itself was clean, the water was clear and the temperature of the water was perfect as well. If you do have time, I would definitely encourage everyone to take a day trip to Playa Blanca. Another great part of our trip for the day was getting a delicious fish lunch, which we both enjoyed while overlooking the clear waters.

Sigh, mans really tried to scam us though.

Listen, I have no issue with people hustling because sometimes you don’t really have any other option. Although I may be annoyed that someone talks to me every 10-15 seconds trying to sell me things, I get that they need to make money. That’s fine. However, I don’t like people trying to take me for an idiot.

There was a group of women by us offering massages. I asked the woman how much it would cost and she said it would be $20 for 30 minutes. Awesome, that, I can definitely get down with. Lorren had requested a 15-minute foot massage from another lady after discussing her rate as well. Perfect! Massages on a beach were feeling sooooo good. Suddenly, I hear the woman who had given Lorren her foot massage say something along the lines of, ‘that was one hour’. THE FUCK? How is it that Lorren asked for 15 minutes and I asked for 30 minutes, but hers was supposedly one hour? NAH NAH NAH.

Then the lady who was doing my back I asked her if my 30 minutes was up and suddenly she couldn’t speak English very well. We were lucky that there was a couple with us on the same tour that spoke Spanish fluently. The lady told them she had been working on me for 40 minutes at that point, so I asked her like why you going past 30 minutes when we had agreed on THIRTY MINUTES? To hell with that. I paid her for the 30 minutes we had agreed to and told her to go on her way. I don’t like that shit. Make your money, but tricking or trying to scam people isn’t the wave. That just pissed me off.

So note to any of you that plan on getting massages at Playa Blanca, set a damn timer or just don’t do it. If I had the option to go through this again, I would have just not gotten the damn massage. SMH.

I’m not sure how the day at the beach finished so quickly. I easily could have spent another 2-3 hours there just relaxing but the tour guide said it was time to head back to Cartagena. Imagine? The driver tried to fit FOURTEEN of us in that pinch up van and Lorren literally couldn’t sit down. So we complained and had two small children move to the front so the adults could sit down properly for the one hour ride. Last thing we needed after the scamming attempt was an uncomfortable ride back to town. Hell no.

So we got back to our hotel and got to shower and relax a little bit. We were NOT taking a nap tonight, we had to go out on our final night in Colombia. We got dressed up cute and caught a taxi into the historical center. We asked the taxi driver his favourite restaurant and he said it was ‘Alma’ - okay, so take us to Alma.

I’d like to say at this point, dear Mr. taxi man, if I ever see you again I’m gonna give you a massive tip for suggesting this place. YOU DESERVE THE WORLD SIR.

This dude has taste. This restaurant was beautiful, some real high end shit. The ambiance was lovely, the staff was attentive and there was even this beautiful pool in the middle of the establishment. The food too? OMG. To die for. From the lobster empanadas to the insane seafood chowder that Lorren ordered. Everything was delicious. Yes, this place was a little pricier than most of the food spots in Cartagena but, why not splurge a little? Was super worth it.

Then we just walked around the center and stopped at various bars to have a drink and people watch. By the time we got to the fourth bar it was some place called Tu Candela which we had read was a pretty decent nightclub. The spot wasn’t particularly big, but the vibes were GREAT. The DJ took requests and played some Vybz Kartel for me. We made friends with some guys from Florida that were there for a bachelor party too. Overall, a fun spot to party.

Naturally, I drank too damn much. Let me tell you something about Colombian pesos, that currency is confusing as shit. Now mix that with it being like 1am, you’re a bunch of rum and cokes in and you can’t count. Oh man. I’d never been so embarrassed in my life trying to count out 148,000 pesos to pay for our bar tab because they didn’t take cards. The bartender had to walk with me to the closest ATM so I could take more cash out. Horrible. Don’t drink and count foreign currency guys.

Lorren and I walked home to our hotel after the club. For as much as people worry about traveling to Colombia, neither of us felt unsafe at any time there. Super late at night, walking back to Bocagrande in our cute outfits and singing random soca songs - people just said good evening and kept it moving. No one harassed us and we just staggered our way on home. Fun night. Happy early birthday Lorren.


MONDAY, OCTOBER 8TH - HOME TIME

Waking up on Monday hungover wasn’t awesome. We went back to La Brioche to eat that amazing breakfast one more time and then we packed to head back home. The stay in Cartagena was over and we were leaving back to cold-ass-Toronto.

This was the moment where we suddenly didn’t feel well but we though it was because we drank so much the night before. Obviously, we were wrong about that.

Going through customs at Cartagena’s airport was super fast. I had read someone else’s blog post alluding to it taking forever to get through because you had to speak to a ‘minimum’ of twelve people by the time you got to your gate. False. Super false. I’m not sure if we were super lucky or what but it literally took all together MAYBE 10 minutes from entering the airport to getting through border security and to our gate. It really wasn’t nearly as bad as others had described it.

We flew back to Panama City with Copa and had some time to kill at their airport before our flight to Toronto. We ate Cinnabon and our stomachs just began feeling worse and worse.

Finally we got on the flight back to Toronto and by the time we landed we both realized our bodies hated us and we fucked up. Just how I wanted to end a vacation. Not.

Overall I would still say this was an awesome trip. I would like to go back to Panama City and enjoy it a bit more since the traffic and our strange taxi driver kind of ruined it for us. If I go back to Cartagena I’d really like to stay at the Hyatt again as well and would return to the EXACT same places to eat breakfast and dinner.

My apologies for this post being so lengthy, who knew so much could happen over one long weekend?

Thankful to have made it to country #31 and country #32 finally.

  • Mirna

Review of The Hyatt Regency, Cartagena

I’d say this is probably the second best hotel I have ever stayed at.

There aren’t too many opportunities for me to stay at high-end hotels since I pride myself on trying to find cheap deals, but sometimes you have to splurge right? We got our flight to Cartagena for so cheap that it made sense to spend a little more on our accommodations.

I knew I wanted to stay at this hotel as soon as I had seen the pictures of their incredible infinity pool overlooking Bocagrande. In fact, I’m pretty sure this hotel had five different pools and I was really pleased at the sexiest infinity pool having a NO CHILDREN policy. They had their own pool so the rest of us had peace and quiet to drink our liquor and take all the selfies for IG we wanted. Big win.

There isn’t too much depth and detail to go into with this review because unlike the other two ‘very nice’ hotels I have stayed at - we didn’t spend much time at the Hyatt. We had a lot of plans and activities to do so the hotel was truly only used for sleeping, swimming and the spa. (If you want to read about how the spa was, click here)

First of all, this hotel is massive. I can’t recall the exact number but I know we were on the 18th floor, the check-in desk was on the 12th, the spa on the 14th and there was floors going way up into the 30’s. This was the first time I walked into a hotel and the front desk wasn’t on the first floor, it was all the way on the 12th. Luckily the check-in process was very quick and painless as we had arrived at 11pm on a Friday night and just wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible.

The room was a good size and looked modern. Because I am lazy, I didn’t like the closets being all the way by the entrance to the room so naturally, the chairs and table by our beds ended up being where we stored our clothes. (don’t judge) The bathroom was cool because everything was motion-activated so if you went to the bathroom at 3am you didn’t even have to search for buttons, the lights would just turn on. Also, there was a lot of toiletries in the shower, the bath tub and by the sink. My travel mate said that the cream was very good and we made sure it accompanied us back to Canada as a result.

I should note, the best part of the room was the view! We were fortunate to get a room that overlooked the beach and we could also look below to see the infinity pool. This came in handy because we could time when to go to swimming due to the large groups of people wanting to occupy the area.

There are probably a million other things going on at this hotel that we maybe didn’t see or just didn’t have time to get to, but, I would definitely stay here again. For three nights we paid $280.00 Canadian per person and it was well worth it. The attentive staff, beautiful room, amazing infinity pool and location all combined into a very pleasant stay for a long weekend.

Happy travels!

  • Mirna

Review of Aqoral Spa, Cartagena

I’m really not a person who is big on spas. I don’t particularly like massages because they hurt and I’m here for a good time, not a painful time. However, there are two things I do absolutely love at a spa - head massages and body scrubs. Since I opted not to do any massages for this visit, the body scrub was my #1 choice.

Preparation to visit this spa started WAAAY ahead because I didn’t know how busy this place would be. Also, one of the main reasons I am writing this blog is because there’s literally NO information about this spa on the internet. Any reviews regarding it are just a part of peoples visits to the Hyatt Regency Cartagena so it’s mostly ‘good spa!’ or ‘my wife went and really liked it’ - that just isn’t good enough for me. I want to know more details about places so I figured I would write out my experience at Aqoral so that other people wouldn’t have to deep dive into Tripadvisor reviews that give you no information about it.

First let’s start with, no, there is no information about this spa. When you do go to the aforementioned website there is only this:

That is literally it for the information you have on the spa. If you click on the picture, it takes you right back to the front page of the Hyatt’s website. You get nowhere. What I did was message the hotel directly through the website I booked it on. From this, I received an e-mail with a PDF attached that showed all of the services available at the spa. (listed in COP currency, also note this was as of October 1st, 2018 - just in case anything changes.)

I opted to go for a (mid) smoothing scrub and 30min of the hydrotherapy and my travel partner chose the signature treatment called ‘Canarelief’. Hot tubs aren’t really my thing, but it was the pictures of the views from that damn hot tub that had me hooked on wanting to come here so badly.

Finally, on October 6th at 2pm I got my comfiest clothes on and made my way over to Aqoral Spa. Once you arrive you get to wait in this nice and relaxing lobby area and the staff will have you sign a waiver with your room # etc. on it.

Because I chose to have the hydrotherapy included, I was able to have this HUGE spa room to myself. It had its own shower, bathrobes, slippers, huge vanity, the massage table itself, the hot tub and even two chairs to lounge in one of the corners. Along with that, the incredible view overlooking Bocagrande and the pools below. Wow.

When you walk in the blinds are closed and it is nice and dark in the room, aside from a couple of candles. For the scrub I was given a disposable set of panties and a bra to put on. The scrub lasted thirty minutes and I truly could have laid there for a whole hour. I perhaps should have gone for the ‘deep’ option instead of the mid, I was worried I’d be sunburned by the time I got to the spa (I wasn’t) and the deep would have scrubbed it just a little deeper. Still great.

After the scrub I went and took a shower to get all the remnants of it off of me and during that time the lady doing my service prepared the hot tub and opened up the blinds so that I could have that kick-ass view.

For the first 20-minutes of the hydrotherapy I just took everything in. I was loving the view and my body felt so relaxed and nice in the hot tub after a long day of travel the day before and the scrub I had just gotten. For the final 10-minutes I set up my tripod and used my bluetooth shutter to take some fancy pants pictures. I did my best impression of a real travel blogger.

The total spent (with tip and taxes) was $140.00 Canadian. Although that isn’t as good as the prices in Bali for living luxuriously in a spa, I think it was still worth it. My friend also did enjoy her signature treatment, for anyone who wants to be rubbed down with cannabis oil.

Happy relaxing!

  • Mirna


Canadian Reciprocity Fee for Visiting Colombia

If you don’t know about this, and you’re planning to visit Colombia, your wallet will be in for a LARGE goddamn shock. That was the case for quite a few people that were in line with us when we entered the airport in Cartagena this past long weekend.

The exact explanation for the reciprocity fee (as stated on the Colombian immigration page) is:

This is a reciprocity fee for Canadian citizens demanded by the Canadian Government which obeys the biometric data imposition to Colombian citizens that request visa. The PLATINUM ticket cost is to use the Single Platform Migration Information - PLATINUM used as a tool for the Immigration Control process. This payment DOES NOT guarantee the entry to Colombia and won’t be reimbursable.


Basically, since December 1st, 2014 Canadians are required to pay this fee to enter Colombia. No, this is not a visa though. When you get a visa it means you’ve been granted entry to the country, you could pay this fee and STILL be denied entry. We legitimately only pay this tax because apparently Canada isn’t so welcoming to Colombians trying to come visit us. Got it?

This post isn’t to complain about the fee, that ain’t it. I respect the level of petty by the Colombian government. This post is to just let people know this exists because we noticed in the line MANY of the other visitors were completely unaware and one family in front of us suddenly had to shell out an extra $400 for their trip that they obviously didn’t plan for. Most people look up on Google if they need a tourist visa to enter a country (we do NOT for Colombia) but this fee may not come up in your search.

The cost (currently) is $201.00 COP which amounted to $88.00 CAD. You could pay with cash, credit cards or debit cards. When you enter the customs area there is actually a whole separate line JUST for Canadians to pay this fee.

There are exemptions for the fee: “Children under the age of 14 and adults older than 79 years are exempted. Canadians travelling only to the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina are also excluded.” (Gov’t of Canada Page)

ABSOLUTELY DO MAKE SURE TO KEEP THE CARD AND RECEIPT!

When I went to leave Colombia at the end of the trip, there was no stamp in my passport for Colombia. I guess the person who had questioned me on the way into the country forgot to give me one. So there I am standing, with NO proof of legal entry into the country. Luckily, I had kept the ticket for the reciprocity fee AND the receipt of payment which obviously proved I had legally entered. The border agent then gave me my stamp for Colombia and let me proceed to go home. But what if I hadn’t kept the receipt? You think my IG photos tagging their beaches would have sufficed or nah?

Just saying, I rather you all be prepared and ready than deal with any unnecessary bullshit or money issues.

  • Mirna

Cancun/Tulum Baecation Recap

Well, I finally made it to country #30.

Mexico!

What is better than reaching a travel milestone? Doing it alongside the love of your life (looking at you Mark). There was no possible way for this to be anymore perfect, except maybe if the water was bless, but I’ll get into that later.

We had booked the flight for Cancun earlier in the year and it was our first trip together outside of Canada/US area. Because I aim to be the MOST prepared person ever, I had gone ahead and booked all of our activities as well. On Friday we would zipline and ride ATVS, on Saturday we would go visit Chichen Itza + swim in a cenote and on the Sunday we would relax on a catamaran going to Isla Mujeres.

On top of booking all those activities I went ahead and found us a decently-priced airport transfer to take us from Cancun airport to our AirBnB in the hotel zone. I had read all these message boards about it being $60USD roundtrip and I refused to pay that! I luckily stumbled upon Canada Transfers which offered the same transfer (and I added an apple juice and a beer!) for $67.00CAD roundtrip. It worked out perfectly because their service was prompt getting to and from the airport.

When I booked all those activities for Cancun I also considered some of the items we may need for the excursions. Since we were only traveling with our carry-on luggage for the flight with Interjet, we needed to pack smartly. I had written a post about my packing for this specific trip and I will say, it worked out just fine. I fell within the weight limits and still had all the items needed for the trip. For the activities themselves I had purchased us:

  • Matching folding backpacks to use for our day trips. These were super lightweight and awesome for our carry-ons because they fold into a bag the size of your palm. You can get them here. I bought Mark a green one and I got myself a pink one.

  • To go with our backpacks I got Mark green water shoes and some pink ones for myself. Found here. I thought these might be necessary when we did the ATVing and jumping into caves and whatnot. Didn’t want to wreck my good shoes but still wanted my feet protected.

  • Made sure to get us two waterproof cases because there was no way I was missing out on some photo ops just because we happened to be a little wet. Found here.

  • Because I had contemplated taking my selfie/ussie skills to a next level I went ahead and purchased a bluetooth remote shutter (found here) and an amazing travel tripod that is able to stand, be used as a selfie stick and capable of being wrapped around things so you can take some different angled pictures. (found here)

  • Naturally, I also brought along my favourite portable charger because I never wanted to be without an opportunity to take pictures of Mark, food, beach or myself. (found here)

I bet you read that and are like, ‘wow that girl is well-prepared, this should be awesome!’ Or ‘who the hell thinks of this shit?

I do. I think of it. And guess what? Didn’t even end up needing to use most of it. Why? Because one week before our trip I saw a hotel on IG and we unanimously chose to cancel ALL the damn activities, get a refund, and stay at a hotel for one night in Tulum. We had already paid for three nights at our AirBnB in Cancun, but suddenly we were feeling adventurous I guess.

So let’s get to the trip now…..


Friday, August 31st - Arrival

We had an EARLY morning this day. Our flight was leaving at 7:30am, so we made sure to be at the airport for 5:30am. Breakfast at the airport was necessary. There really isn’t much to tell about the actual flight itself because it left on time, was fine in the air and landed on time. Nothing too wild happening.

Once we landed at 10:40am (Cancun time) we set out to find our prearranged shuttle to take us to the AirBnB. Although check-in wasn’t until 3:00pm usually, we had contacted our awesome host who said we could check in as soon as we got there. Joy.

As we exited the airport we were able to quickly find our driver, get our pre-ordered drinks and make our way down to the Hotel Zone.

The drive through the Hotel Zone is quite nice because on the left side of you there is a lagoon and on the right side is a LONNNNG strip of just resorts and beaches. I eventually found out that the length of this Hotel Zone was like 32KM? Wild.

Once we got to our AirBnB at the Solymar Condo’s we just followed our hosts instructions and made our way to our room where the cleaning lady (SHOUT OUT TO BERTA, YOU’RE AWESOME) was waiting and let us in.

I really liked our place because it was enough space for the two of us, had a nice bathroom, huge bed and a really nice view from the balcony of the pool and beach grounds.

Because I am a beach bum I got changed ASAP and went down to the beach with Mark. Sigh. This is where the sadness came for the duration of the trip - seaweed. The entire beach area was absolutely covered in seaweed that was at least up to my shins. We got ourselves some beach chairs to still relax, but I was incredibly saddened by not being able to go into the water. Mark did talk me into making a try ONCE to go into the water where the seaweed wasn’t as thick, but after five minutes we both left the water because it was just gross touching your body.

After some relaxation and alcohol, we went back inside to change and decided to go find a local variety store just to have some necessities in the condo. It was about a 10 minute walk to the nearest Oxxo and they had everything we needed there. We bought: bug spray, spray deodorant, chips, chocolate, massive bottle of water, a big Heneiken bottle and a 750ml bottle of Captain Morgan rum. This came to $25.00 Canadian equivalent. AWESOME. I was loving the prices of things here very much.

Upon returning to our room, it was time to get dressed up a little and head to our dinner reservations at Navios. This is another place I had just happened to see on Instagram and it was also listed in our hosts binder of good places to eat nearby.

Again, this was just a short 10 minute walk away and actually ended up being right next to the Oxxo we had visited earlier in the day. This restaurant was beautiful. It is right on the lagoon and the setting is so romantic. As it got darker they turned their lights and candles on, which added to the ambiance.

The food was good and the service was especially nice. We totally had lied and told them it was our anniversary on the reservation to ensure we’d get a good seat. It worked! We got great seats and they ended up giving us a slice of cake with ‘happy anniversary’ written next to it. Please don’t judge me for lying, I just wanted somewhere nice to sit. Was I going to take a free piece of cake though? Absolutely.

After the dinner we walked back and went to sleep because Friday was a very long day and Saturday was going to be the same.


Saturday, September 1st - Tulum Adventure

This day will be short and sweet in terms of what I will write in this particular blog post. Why? Because I already wrote THREE blog posts about what happened on this day.

Today we were going on our adventure to go spend a night at the hotel we cancelled all of our activities for. We had planned out how to get from Cancun to Tulum on their transit system and it worked out really well for us. If you are wondering how to get from Cancun to Playa de Carmen to Tulum, the post I wrote about that is here.

Just know, it was a good experience and along the way we got to eat some delicious breakfast by the Cancun bus station that had ‘Jamaica juice’ aka sorrel on the menu, we saw Playa de Carmen for all 15 seconds during transferring from one bus to another and I had my FIRST guacamole I didn’t hate in the downtown core of Tulum.

Arriving in Tulum was interesting because prior to going on this trip I had to repeatedly hear about the dangers in Cancun and Tulum. I don’t doubt that bad shit happens, but once you enter Tulum it’s really even more confusing. That city is literally hipsters walking everywhere. Hipsters and locals, that is it. There are countless places to buy souvenirs, to drink, book excursions and to eat. Tourists are riding around on bicycles in hoards and it is a pretty chill place. I didn’t feel any danger, personally.

After tasting the first guacamole that didn’t taste like feet and sadness, we took a taxi to our Instagram hotel and you can read ALL about our experience there in this post I wrote about it.

Most important thing to note was, cancelling all the activities to stay at this place was most 100% worth it. The end.


Sunday, April 2nd - Back to Cancun


On Sunday we left the hotel around 11:00am and headed back to Cancun. Refreshed and feeling really good we thought this might be a good night to go party.

When we got back to downtown Cancun we wanted to first get some food before making the trek throughout the Hotel Zone to get ready and hit a club. This was the plan, at least.

Again, for someone who is adamant on planning everything to the second, this trip sure as hell wasn’t going as planned. We randomly stumbled into the loudest restaurant we could find. They had statues of Spiderman and Homer outside, how could this place possibly NOT be awesome?

As we sat down, it quickly became clear to us that there was no other tourists at this restaurant/bar and also that our servers spoke absolutely no English. I live for this shit eh? Please put me in situations where I have to just figure shit out as I go along.

This place had some deal for like six Coronas for $6.00 and I should mention I don’t drink beer so that was all for Mark. We managed to order some nachos and fajitas, the beers for him and a double shot of dark rum and Coke for myself.

This is where things began to get VERY entertaining. My boyfriend Mark is a gorgeous Jamaican man with dreadlocks, just to offer this exact description of him. No boost. EVERYWHERE we went in both Cancun and Tulum, locals wanted to high five him and take pictures with him. At this bar it was happening constantly. At one point they even played reggae on the speakers for him.

During this time I realized we only had cards to pay with and this wasn’t one of those ‘electronic payment’ type establishments so I went searching for a bank machine. Let me tell you, being three double shots of rum in and the sun beaming down on me - I really went for an adventure for those 30 minutes. I left Mark at the bar to take care of our belongings (and so it didn’t look like we were trying to run out on our bill) and oh mannnn the intense search I ended up on.

Not a SINGLE one of the bank machines near the place had money in them. I even walked all the way back to Cancun central bus station, all three of their bank machines were empty. Then I proceeded to walk to exchange booths that also ended up not taking cards. Finally I found a random variety store that took credit cards and withdrew money.

Once I returned back to the bar, I found five men huddled around Mark plotting out how we were all going bar hopping later that night. Told you, dude just popular there.

We kept drinking and then I did some dancing. It was an awesome afternoon. We made plans with one of the locals to come back at 9:00pm to this exact place and continue the party. Cool. Said our goodbyes to all the friends we made at the bar and went to find our bus back to the AirBnB.

Full disclosure: I don’t remember much after this. I know we got on the bus and that Mark made some other friends on that bus. Next thing I know, I woke up at about midnight and wondering where the night had gone? I know we had left the bar at 6:00pmish …. how the hell was it midnight? Weren’t we supposed to be out? When did I manage to shower? So many questions.

Mark turned and said to me, ‘I tried to wake you up, but you weren’t even trying to hear all that’. Shit.

I went back to sleep and yeah, that was the end of the trip.


On the Monday we woke up and just hung out in the pool of the hotel and stood in awe of the gargantuan iguanas on the property. Our host had OK’d using the property until almost 2:00pm (check out was supposed to be at 11:00am) and we took full advantage.

Our shuttle service came and got us at 2:00pm and took us to the airport so we could catch our flight back home. Sadness.

This trip was really amazing. This was the first time in a long time I actually 1) relaxed on a trip and 2) didn’t do everything I had planned out. Strange phenomenon for me. I guess I have my boyfriend Mark and the rum to thank for that. Sometimes you can’t go 100% by your itinerary, I guess, maybe, sometimes.

Just know, #30 was super memorable for me.

- Mirna

 

 

 

Review of Azulik, Tulum (Jungle Villa)

Here’s a wild story (not really): You plan out the entirety of your trip, you book your stay and your activities months ahead and then one week before the trip you see a place on Instagram and are like ‘holy shit I want to stay there’. So you cancel ALL your activities and use the refunded money to spend one night at this marvel you saw on Instagram.

This is how I ended up planning a trip to the beautiful Azulik Tulum. Now, I’m not popular enough (yet..) to be sponsored to go anywhere nice, so this review is my unbiased experience. Especially after forking out $520.00 CAD to stay there for one night. You damn well know, I was getting every dollars worth of this stay.

Our base for the trip was in Cancun and that was where we intended on spending our time, until we booked a night at Azulik - which is located in a city about two hours away named Tulum. Because I wanted to keep this blog post strictly about the stay at the hotel, if you want to read about how to get from Cancun to Tulum I made a whole ‘how-to’ post here.

When you arrive at the spot, it looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere. Since it is basically a luxurious treehouse, this location probably makes a lot of sense. We had arrived at 2pm and check-in wasn’t until 3pm, so we took some time to explore the grounds. The gentleman at the front desk took photocopies of both of our passports and gave us some ‘Caribbean Jungle Rain’ in a bottle to drink. They have many hostesses at the hotel they call ANGELS, and one of them proceeded to give us a little tour and take us to their amazing beach area.

I sadly have to preface the beach area with - WHAT A HORRIBLE FRIGGING TIME TO BE IN MEXICO. In Cancun and in Tulum you couldn’t really go into the water because there was at least 3-4 feet of seaweed as a barrier. Usually I would just try to be adventurous and hop over such obstacles, but even when you entered the water you would have to swim through about 100 feet of gross brown stuff to get anywhere clear. No thanks. I’m too squeamish for that.

Aside from that unfortunate water situation, the beach was beautiful to look at. Very clean and had a well-stocked bar on it as well. There were plenty of beach loungers to lay on and these cool nets that you could climb on top of to suntan on, which my boyfriend talked me into doing even though I am super clumsy. (I didn’t die, FYI)

After hanging out at the beach for a little bit, our angel came to show us to our room and give us our fuzzy keys. I was really really excited at this moment because I wanted it to be everything I had seen on Instagram. You know what? It was even more. Once we walked into our room shit began to feel really real. From the beautiful, high, round and mosquito-net covered bed to the beautiful tub to soak in and then to our incredible patio that had two chairs and our own private jacuzzi. Wow.

We were in Jungle Villa #2 which was on the far side of the property, but it was awesome because we faced the spa area and were on a lower level so the breeze was amazing. This hotel is eco-friendly so there isn’t air conditioning and only two electric plugs in the room. Furthermore, the jacuzzi was actually filled with salt water and the bathtub in our room was filled with some next hippie water as well.

My boyfriend and I literally spent most of our evening in that jacuzzi. We loved how peaceful and beautiful it was there and how good some salt water on our skin felt since we couldn’t go into the actual ocean. I enjoyed every minute of that evening, probably the most relaxed I had been in a long time.

Eventually we had to get out of the jacuzzi because we had made reservations at one of Azulik’s restaurants, Kin Toh. Looking back at it now, we shouldn’t have even gone to the damn dinner. We were good in the hot tub and some room service would have been perfect. If you want to read about my experience at Kin Toh, I wrote a separate post about that here. I feel like once you read that, you will understand why we should have just stayed in our room. Fail.

Cue next day…..

The morning of our departure I was up really early. Like, 5:30am early. I’m not sure why but I decided to put some shorts on and walk over to the spa area by our room. It was a serene and peaceful moment. There wasn’t anyone else outside (except the security who keep watch over the beach at nighttime). It is a shame the water was ugly and brown because of the seaweed, otherwise it would have made the most perfect of sunrises.

I returned to the room and woke my boyfriend up to do something I had been looking forward to since I read everyone else’s reviews of Azulik - ordering room service! Because this place tries to use as little energy as possible, you can’t actually call down for room service. In every room there is a menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner alongside two brown balls with your room number on it, a pencil, a pencil sharpener and little pads of paper. What you do it write down your order on those pieces of paper, put it in the ball and send the ball down a chute right outside your room! It was so cool. I realize it is very low-tech but I had never seen such an ordering system and it really endeared me.

Within about 30-35 minutes our breakfast order had arrived and we were able to enjoy this incredible meal on our private balcony as the sun came fully up. Probably one of the best moments of my life. I had food, a view and the love of my life next to me. Definitely an unforgettable experience. Also, if you ever go and order the breakfast make sure you order the little bitty pancakes. So good.

And that was it, the end of our beautiful adventure at Azulik.

This place was definitely worth the splurge. From the service, the grounds and our incredible room - I would spend that $520.00 all over again. The only thing that wasn’t perfect was the water situation (not the hotels fault) and how our dinner at Kin Toh went (again, not the hotels fault). So this place is actually perfect.

I wouldn’t really come here with a friend because this place reeks of romance and relaxation. Plus you better be REAL close with whoever you’re traveling with here since nothing covers the bath area. Your best bet is to come here with your significant other to connect or to come here alone to disconnect. Either way, you’ll love it. A day or two would suffice, I can’t imagine being here for any longer because even beautiful places get boring after a while.

I’m really happy we took a chance and came to stay at Azulik. I hope to return one day!

  • Mirna

Review of Kin Toh Restaurant, Tulum

The pictures do NOT do this place justice, yes, this restaurant looks like a damn fairy tale. 

My boyfriend and I made reservations to have dinner at Kin Toh inside the equally beautiful hotel we were staying at, Azulik. What lead us here? Instagram. But I mean, if Instagram lead us to meeting each other, obviously dinner reservations should be just as simple yes?

I will give you an honest opinion about this spot. I personally have no issue dishing out lots of money for good food. If I thought it was delicious and filled my belly, it was worth every cent. I don't think Kin Toh's food was worth the money. Yep, I said it. Even in that gorgeous ambiance and exceptional service, the food was just OK.

First of all - don't EVEN think of wearing heels to come to this restaurant. I had flat sandals on and I was already having a hard time walking around. There is a set of steps to go into the dining area that are shakier than Donald Trump trying to find the USA on a world map. Real shaky. When you enter a really nice hostess will greet you and offer to take you to your reserved seats. As you walk through you will see hoards of women sprawled out in their nice cocktail dresses sitting on the netting trying to catch the perfect shot for IG. 

If you thought you might get a seat in those beautiful, circular areas with the white pillows I am sorry to tell you it is not happening. Unless you booked it for a group and are willing to spend a minimum $1000 USD, you won't get in that seat.

We got to our nice table (with an equally nice view) and began perusing the menu. Prior to coming to this restaurant I had gotten some idea that it is pretty pricey because I couldn't actually find prices anywhere. You damn well know, if you can't find the price? It's expensive. 

On the second page of the menu there was a tasting menu option and we thought it was a good idea for the two of us to be able to try a variety of items. The cost? $110.00 USD 

I figured that was a good price for two apps, an entree and a dessert for us to split. The aperitif to start off the dinner was good and so was their awesome homemade butter. The first app was a ceviche and the second one (if I remember correctly) was sea bass. I mean, yeah, it was good but was it something I was going to call my mom about? No. 

Then the entree came and we each got this little strip of piglet with a side of vegetables. Again, it was good but nothing too crazy. Finally the dessert came and that was a chocolate mousse. This was probably the most impressive display of desserting (word? not a word?) I'd seen in a minute. They had a gentleman roll the ice cream on the table, while freezing it and then there was this incredible chocolate mousse cake to eat with it. To add, in the top cup there was weird, cold, chocolate milk I think? I didn't understand that part, but the display was very good. 

The food was finished and we were ready to head back to our room so I asked for the bill, this is where the night got shitty. I am accustomed to a tasting menu price being for TWO people. Also, as you can see in the pictures, the portions were very small so I really believed this was accurate. The bill comes.

$233.00 USD

Two-hundred-and-thirty-three-fucking-American-dollars. That is without tip and did I mention, IN AMERICAN MONEY? OK. Meaning this meal, without liquor, and with its tiny portions was over $300.00 Canadian. Don't get me wrong, this is my fault and my fault alone. I should have asked questions and been more diligent with my menu choices instead of being so enamored by my surroundings. But come on, THAT was not worth no damn $300. Not even close. 

Further to this bill, when the woman came with the machine for me to pay, do you know what the tip options were? 

10%

48%

56%

I swear to you, on my passport, that those were the automated tip options. Madness. I always tip, but 48% on that lackluster meal was not happening. 

Should you still check out this restaurant? Absolutely. Go visit the bar near sunset so you can get all the views without needing to spend all your money. I would not suggest going there for the food because it really just doesn't taste good enough and is not filling enough to justify the price for it. You will get your fill of great customer service and pics for your Pinterest, but you will not get full in your tummy, where it matters.

If you plan on making it a day trip to come to Kin Toh from Playa de Carmen or Cancun, I wrote a piece about getting to Tulum for cheap - here.

- Mirna 

How To Get From Cancun to Tulum

Hello all!

I just came back from an awesome long-weekend trip to Cancun that included a short 24hr detour to Tulum. I spent A LOT of time trying to read the 'how tos' of transit to get from the Cancun Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera) to Tulum central without paying the really high prices of private transfers or taxis. I'm not a fan of having to go through 14 different Tripadvisor message boards to find a definitive answer, so I figured I would just explain it VERY simply in this blog post and include pictures. We took two different paths to get there and to get back, so I am including both options in this step-by-step guide.

 

Step 1) Getting from Cancun Hotel Zone to the ADO Bus Station in central Cancun

If you come out of your hotel in the Hotel Zone (wherever that may be, since that strip is like 30km long) you have a 99% chance of the R1 bus stopping in front of it. Make sure the white letters on the front say R1 not R2! The cost of it was $1.00 USD per person. If you hop on that bus it will take you to right in front of the ADO Bus Station in central Cancun. 

 

Step 2) Getting from Central Cancun - Playa de Carmen - Tulum Central via shuttle

When the R1 dropped us off across the street from the ADO Central Bus Station, we were approached by a man who was trying to get folks onto the shared shuttles. These were about 9-10 seater vans with 'Cancun-Playa de Carmen' painted on them, followed by the next stops which would have 'Playa de Carmen - Tulum' written on them. The cost was $5.00 USD per person to get to Playa de Carmen, at which point we would have to switch over to another shared shuttle that would take us from Playa de Carmen to Tulum for another $5.00 USD per person. This is useful information to have because maybe you wanted to hang out in Playa de Carmen for a bit, with these shuttles you definitely could do all of that. They are also referred to as 'colectivos'. 

The vans are well air-conditioned, but if you are tall it isn't exactly the best seating arrangement. We are about 5'9-5'10 and our legs were definitely feeling the burn after this ride. The positive with choosing this option instead of the bus - these drivers FLY down the highways. It felt like the 1hr to Playa de Carmen went really quickly, and as soon as we stepped off that shuttle the shuttle for Tulum was caught within 15 seconds to continue on for the next hour. 

 

After taking the R1 + two shuttle 'colectivos' you arrive in Tulum central within about 2.5hrs at a cost of $11.00 USD per person from the Hotel Zone in Cancun.


Step 3) Getting back from Tulum to Cancun, via ADO Bus

Now, here is the alternative we took on the way BACK from Tulum to Cancun. We went to the ADO Central Bus Station in Tulum and pre-purchased a ticket for a 1pm departure from Tulum to Cancun. This ride would be on the big, clean and spacey ADO bus that also happens to give you assigned seats. If I had to re-do this again, I definitely would have just taken this option to get to Tulum as well. It does also stop in Playa de Carmen, but there is no need for switching buses, it just continues on to Cancun.

FYI - this bus does NOT drive as quick and fast as the shuttle buses did, however it is well air conditioned, they played Fast and the Furious on the TV and there is a bathroom on board as well.  The cost for both of us was $19.00 USD so there was barely any difference in prices. 

Once you arrive back in Cancun, just exit the ADO Bus Station and you will see the R1 buses passing by that you can catch right back to your spot in the hotel zone. 

After taking the ADO Bus + R1 bus you arrive back at your hotel in about 3hrs at a cost of $10.50 USD per person. 


I assume that the price probably was cheaper than I listed above for those who use Mexican Pesos, but the way my laziness was set up? Yeah, we stuck to using USD. The option to use either the R1 + shuttles or R1 + ADO bus combinations both ways is awesome. It is all about HOW you like to travel and get to places, for the least amount of money. Some of the private transfer companies we spoke to were saying $120.00 USD for one-way from Cancun to Tulum and a taxi driver told us he would drive us from Tulum to Cancun for $90.00 USD one-way. As you can see, the price difference is pretty astronomical if you chose the latter options over the bus/shuttle combos.

Hope this helped some of you and was straightforward. 

Happy travels!

- Mirna 

Carry-On Chronicles: Cancun Packing

I have written before about vanity being a detriment to smart packing and that it is more relevant that you stand in front of the Eiffel Tower in whatever clothes vs stand in front of the CN tower in a great outfit. 

This trip, I mean, I might need to be a little vain? 

From August 31st-September 3rd I will be going to Cancun with my boyfriend and this trip was supposed to be just beach and activities, very simple. Some zip-lining, sightseeing and a catamaran ride. We didn't pay the extra fare for checked in luggage, because a carry-on totally suffices for some hot weather activities during a long weekend. 

Well, things changed and now for one of the nights on this trip we will be staying in this cool high-end looking tree house hotel. Obviously, I need some hottaz outfits for the pictures I want to take there. 

We have our own private outdoor hot tub. Then there is the beach. Okay but there's also this really nice dinner spot. Suddenly all that vanity I talked about TOTALLY became my reality for this trip. Something about staying in very nice places makes me want to dress better for pictures. 

This is how I broke down my packing (clothing) list for this trip:

Friday - outfit for flying, bathing suit for beach, outfit for dinner reservations 

Saturday - outfit for bus ride to Tulum, bathing suit for beach, outfit for dinner reservations (but make it three different outfits because I want to make sure it's really nice)

Sunday - outfit for bus ride back to Cancun, bathing suit for beach, outfit for party

Monday - outfit for flying

The final packing list looked like this....

3 x bikini, small purse, underwear, tripod + bluetooth control, day bag, 2 x waterproof pouches, charger + portable charger, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, aloe, cream, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothbrush + toothpaste, romper, a dress, linen pants, 3 x earrings, sunglasses, bandaids, hand sanitizer, PJ's, water shoes, 3 x tanks, 2 x sandals, 2 x shorts, extra beach towel and leggings for flight home.

All the things going into the carry-on

All the things going into the carry-on

As with my previous travels, I just broke it down into what I think I would need per day and packed like that. The weight limit for a carry-on with Interjet is 10kgs - my carry on with all that aforementioned stuff is 7.10kgs. Not bad. 

Made it under the weight limit! 

Made it under the weight limit! 

I managed to fit all those items into my carry-on and stay under the weight limit. Even with some inklings of vanity, I made it work. I believe that is the perk of going to hot places, bikinis and shorts don't weigh very much. I don't think this will go as easily for me when I travel to a cold place, but for now I have succeeded once again.

Happy packing everyone!

- Mirna 

 

 

Michigan Trip Recap: Liverpool vs. Manchester United

I'm going to preface this with - I AM A BAYERN MUNICH FAN.

Okay now that we got that out of the way, this past weekend I traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan to go watch Liverpool take on Manchester United at 'The Big House'. Boy, is that house BIG. People have been telling me how huge it is for years, and I have watched countless NCAA football games on TV take place there but NOTHING prepared me for this behemoth. Truly.

I bought the tickets for this game many months ago, as soon as the schedule for the International Champions Cup was released. My boyfriend Mark is a big Manchester United fan so it seemed like a great reason to do a short getaway for a weekend. Luckily, I also have family in Michigan - so my cousin and her husband were going to come along too!

The drive to Detroit went as usual for myself, my mom and dad. Now with Mark accompanying me suddenly the back seat of my mom's car could be put down so we could nap stretched out? I was not afforded this comfort before that day, thanks mom. We had our usual stop at the EnRoute by London to get some food and stretch our legs. A big trend we did notice was the influx of Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) jerseys that were also getting food around us at the stop. Mark made sure to high-five all the Manchester United fans instead. 

As we got to the border we made our stop at the most important part of crossing into America - the duty free shop. I would like to mention at this time that Mark purchased some bars of chocolate and that it came to $53.00 CAD while I bought two bottles of Appleton Rum (so, 2L) and that came to only $29.98 CAD. Let that sit in your mind for a minute.

We expected a crazy lineup at the border but we actually got through the tunnel and to the border patrol guard pretty fast. The gentleman at the border told us they were expecting 40,000 people to cross into Michigan JUST from Canada that day to watch the Liverpool vs. Man U match. 

IMG_20180728_142307.jpg

Now about getting to this damn game once we were in the country....

First of all, get there EARLY. This town doesn't seem particularly big and it is lined with so many houses that come along with an insane amount of parking rules that could get you towed with ease. We left Detroit around 3:30pm and we were fortunate enough that my cousin drives like she trying to get those 5 stars in Grand Theft Auto. We got to the Michigan Stadium area really quickly, avoiding most of the traffic heading there. Once arriving there I got to see my first frat party out on a lawn, I was able to purchase a muffin from a four-year-old on the street and we miraculously found parking. This wonderful woman had ONE spot left for $20 USD and she was only a 10 min walk from the stadium. Success.

The walk to the stadium was fine, we just followed the crowd but wow, once we got closer the sheer size of attendance for this game became surreal. It was also really funny seeing all the trash cans with purses in them. Apparently, some people did NOT read any of the five e-mails Michigan Athletics sent to remind people attending about the no purses above the size of a clutch policy. 

Like I mentioned at the beginning, nothing quite prepares you for seeing 100,000 people in a stadium. It was such a beautiful sight to see. As an avid sports fan, this is a memory I will hold forever, just like the moment I went to the NFL Draft. You are just taken aback at what is currently happening around you/in front of you and how many other people are getting to enjoy this one specific thing with you. Great feeling. Since both teams wear red and white, the entire stadium was covered in those colours. We had chosen tickets in the Manchster United section but to be frank, you really couldn't even tell the difference.

Well, until Liverpool was scoring and won 4-1.... then yes, you could tell who was cheering for who.

I truly loved the experience but, if I may make a suggestion - DO NOT get up to do a goddamn thing during the game. Mark made the mistake of leaving 10 minutes before half to go grab us some waters and he didn't return until 40 minutes later. He basically missed half of the second half just being in line to get those for us. Pretty big waste of time and game to me, they need to do better with that process.

After the game we spent the rest of the evening + next day with my family enjoying life and food. Please see picture of me floating and being cute below.

IMG_20180729_150705_210.jpg

Hope the rest of you had just as great of a weekend!

- Mirna 

How To Go on a Trip To Eight Countries for Under $2000

The title of this blog post probably sounds super wild. 

Earlier this year I promised my mom I would be home for Christmas finally, instead of taking off somewhere hot like I usually do. For normal people that might mean, 'you know what? maybe this year I will take it easy and spend my winter holidays at home.' Me? I am not one of these aforementioned normal people. At my place of work, I am fortunate enough to have two weeks off during the Christmas break every year. While most people have this as a BLACKOUT period and can't usually take work off, I will automatically have it off every year. This is great for me because I plan everything super far ahead.

So, yes, I will be home this year for Christmas - but I will be flying at 6pm on Christmas day! I figure by that time I would have already opened presents and be somewhat sober, right? 

This year I am not going to a hot place during my winter break, I have decided to go to Europe instead. I realize I am going from cold to more cold, but I looked at the benefits of Europe in winter; less tourists + cheaper airfare! My goal was to hit up as many countries as possible between December 25th and January 6th. (I start work on the 7th)

The magic number is EIGHT. I wanted to hit eight countries in a matter of 12 days and I also wanted to do it under $2000. I am traveling solo, so I knew the 'private room' option for the AirBnB's would be necessary because in places like Zurich, even that would break my pocket. Also, I refuse to stay in hostels regardless of how cheap they are. I had to find a nice middle area that would keep me under my budget.

Guess what? I FRIGGING DID IT! 

I managed to stay under the budget I gave myself, without having to sleep in places where I may wake up to strangers breathing heavily over me in the middle of the night. Like the posts I did for Cropover, Carnival in Jamaica and the Maldives - I wanted to post this because I want people to see/know how cheaply they can accomplish their travel goals. I get asked a lot during or after my trip about how much such a trip costs so sending people a link to a blog post makes it must more straightforward. 

The countries I will be going to are: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, France, Denmark, Sweden, Czech Republic, England and Iceland. 

All of these countries are first-time trips for me and by the time I reach Iceland, I will be at country #40 in my country count. I'm very proud of this trip and the budget for it so I hope the price breakdown is informative and gets some of your imaginations going too! 


Flight to Iceland with Iceland Air: December 25 - January 6 = $494.10 CAD (roundtrip, direct)

*this flight is the reason I will be only traveling with 10kg in my bag this whole trip, to keep everything nice and cheap*

Flight to Zurich, Switzerland with Iceland Air: December 26 = $194.50 CAD (one-way, direct)

*I fly to Zurich about two hours after I land in Iceland*

AirBnB in Zurich: December 26 - December 30 = $299.00

*yes, this frigging costs too much, yes it does. I wanted to be central though*

Day Trip to Vaduz, Liechtenstein: December 29 =  $40.00 CAD (roundtrip, bus)

*because, why the hell not?*

Flight to Paris, France with Air France: December 30 = $91.00 (one-way, direct)

AirBnB in Paris: December 30 - January 1 = $161.49 CAD 

*I got lucky and found a great place walking distance from the Eiffel Tower so for NYE I can avoid any taxis and transit because I am paranoid*

Flight to Copenhagen, Denmark with Air France: January 1 = $78.33 CAD (one-way, direct)

Hotel in Copenhagen: January 1 - January 3 = $187.00

*honestly, I had FOUR AirBnB's cancel on me and I gave up and got a hotel*

Day Trip to Malmo, Sweden: January 2 = $17.00 (roundtrip, bus)

*I'm only going here to try and find Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the MLS off-season to be honest*

Flight to Prague, Czech Republic with Norwegian: January 3 = $89.06 CAD (one-way, direct

AirBnB in Prague: January 3 - January 5 = $125.49 CAD

Flight to London, England with British Airways: January 5 = $69.00 CAD (one-way, direct)

Hotel in London (near Luton): January 5 - January 6 = $63.19 CAD 

*I realize one day in London for everyone else seems crazy, but I genuinely have no interest in going to England, I was just capitalizing on flight prices. Maybe I will see Big Ben?*

Flight to Iceland with EasyJet: January 6 = $88.24 CAD (one-way, direct)

*I have a 6-hour layover in Iceland before I head back to so I will maximize this by wandering around aimlessly and making my way over to the Blue Lagoon*


Cost for flights = $1104.23 CAD

Cost for stays = $836.17 CAD

Cost for transit/taxi/bus = $57.00 CAD

Total Cost of flight + stays + buses = $1997.40


I am very very excited to embark on this trip in December. It may not be the fanciest accommodations and I will be roaming around with only a backpack of winter clothes - but I am super delighted. I didn't include cost of food and tours in this breakdown because I'm really not sure what that will come to yet, especially with me switching between like seven currencies? Insane. It is possible people don't go at this pace when they travel and would rather take time and take in cities for longer but I prefer moving quickly because I get bored really fast. Spending two days somewhere is perfectly fine with me because I seen it, I did it, I ate what I wanted - I'M OUT! 

Happy travels :) 

- Mirna 

 

 

Roots Picnic 2018: Philadelphia Recap

It has been like 30 hours since I came home and I am still exhausted from this trip. I'm not accustomed to such long road trips so my body is pretty mosh up. 

Philly was a timeeeeee! What a great city. I was a little apprehensive at first about going because as a devout Dallas Cowboys fan my opinion of those from Philly (Eagles fans) isn't exactly the greatest. I will openly admit, I was really really wrong. The city itself is picturesque with an endearing old charm to it and the people were exceptionally nice as well. I should also add, I've never seen so many joggers in my life! I think I saw more people jogging than I did walking or driving during my time in Philadelphia. Perhaps, it is because all of their food is delicious they have to jog it off? I know I must have eaten a billion calories during my weekend there and I did NO jogging at all. 


Friday, June 1, 2018

My day started at 5:30am on Friday. Super early. My boyfriend (Mark) and I were picked up at 6am by my best friend Jummy and her boyfriend Siem. Let me preface this pick up with, Enterprise car rental can go suck a lemon. We had booked a car with them months prior to going on this road trip and the night before they decided to pull some nonsense. Jummy had gone to their Yorkdale location to pick up our vehicle for the weekend only to be told they had already rented it out to someone else and had no more cars that size available. So it was between a pinch up Smart Car or having to pay extra for a luxury vehicle. 

Stupid. How are four big big adult humans supposed to trek 16hrs round trip in a tiny Smart Car? And to have no similar alternative or free upgrade since they screwed us? Unacceptable. Luckily, Jummy had her own car so we ended up using that for the duration of this road trip.

The drive towards the border went really fast and we crossed the border with no issues. Usually that is a good thing right? Unless you are Mark and Siem who asked the customs officer if the show Border Security was taping and how they could get on. SMH. We definitely did not have anything in the car that would warrant us being on that show, thank goodness.

Upon crossing into New York State we made our way over to the first Bob Evans we could find in Amherst, NY. I had been to a Bob Evans before and knew this breakfast would be an awesome meal to start the latter part of our journey with. They had these Reese's Peanut Butter Cup pancakes, delicious. I dummied that plate. 

We continued on our journey through some little towns and villages because we chose the 'avoid toll routes' option on our GPS. I'm still unsure as to why so many areas had no lights on their roads? We were driving in the middle of the day and that was still very odd because I imagine at nighttime it was really scary. There was another stop along the way to stretch our legs and we somehow ended up in Suzea's Gluten Free Bakery & Cafe in Mount Morris, NY. Probably the best apple pie I had ever tasted and the owner was super nice too, giving us a heads up about keeping to the speed limits because the police were eager to ticket out of towners. Following that, we had one final stop to refuel and enjoy the $1 menu at McDonald's before finally getting to Philly at about 7pm.   

Narrow roads much? Wow. The foliage and views were incredible driving into Philadelphia but holy crap were the roads a little wild. There was a moment where we made a right turn into a street that had a bus lane, a bicycle lane and there was also cars parked.... we had to somehow fit between all that and also not cause any accidents. Success. 

Jummy and Siem dropped myself and Mark off at our AirBnB in the Spring Garden area. This area was amazing! It was on a quiet street named Brandywine that had trees and joggers everywhere but at the same time was 10-15 min walk from the center of Philly and the Rocky statue. Awesome. 

Our AirBnB was probably the smallest one I had ever stayed in, but for the price and the location for a place that we just needed for sleeping? It was really perfect. Mark and I decided to take a little walk and during that one hour managed to take in a full inning of a little league baseball game, see the Rocky statue and the steps and buy a 15-pack of beer for $18.42 USD. We get shit done!

After a much needed shower and outfit change, we walked over to the Sheraton Hotel downtown where Siem and Jummy were staying. Near them was 'Love Park' - yes, it was time for me to take the absolutely most headass video/pictures of my life. I regret nothing.

Once the photo shoot in front of the LOVE sign was completed we took an Uber over to Dallesandro's, it was time to enjoy one of the staples of being a tourist in Philadelphia.  Philly cheesesteak time! I had done some reading on what the best place would be to eat one but I was fortunate enough that a really nice follower of mine from Twitter (Shout out to Rell!) that lives there put me on the one he felt was best. I didn't eat any other cheesesteaks while in Philadelphia but I can say - WOWWWWWW was the massive portion of food I ate at Dallesandro's delicious. 

This place was madness. There was a line going out of the door when we arrived and when we finally left. Make sure you go on the right side of the line to order and on the left side to pick up. Also, this is not for you quiet-indoor-voice people. It is loud and very busy, you will need to yell your order and they will yell back at you to confirm. 'Wiz wit' worked fine for me. Bring cash, as well. 

Through the chaos and the anticipation to have your name called, we finally got our cheesesteaks. I didn't realize it would take two hands to hold this sandwich. Behemoth of a melty, drippy and scrumptious smelling meal. All four of us really enjoyed our choices. 

Naturally, after being up for 19 hours, the drive to get to our destination and now a massive meal - it was finally bed time. 


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Although our AirBnB was small, the bed was pretty damn comfortable. I got a really good night of sleep after a long day of travel and ahead of a long day of standing and dancing. 

Our friends Lorren, Kevin, Brendan and Kyra arrived at 8am after a long night of driving from Toronto. As they freshened up, Mark decided to go get his Rocky on and run the stairs as a morning workout. Who works out on vacation? Pfft. I won't make fun of him too much as he did also go across to street to a bakery called Sweet Nectar and bring me some of the best donuts and cupcakes I have ever tasted. Apparently the owner used to be Jay-Z's accountant. Super random. 

All eight of us made our way over to Green Eggs Cafe at this point. This was another recommendation by my friend Rell, and he really went 2/2 on this. I had called one hour ahead to try and get seating for our large group and managed to get two tables of four next to each other. Winning.

The whole group (minus myself, because EWWW champagne) decided to partake in some mimosas and get to ordering the goodies on the menu. I knew exactly what I wanted because I had read this menu before even getting to Philly. French toast stuffed with cookie dough. This was so sweet and filling, I probably smiled for the next four hours without even meaning to. On top of that? I guess the kitchen had made an extra waffle and they offered it to us instead of throwing it out. Yep, ate that bad boy too.

Now that I couldn't breathe and my shorts no longer fit me comfortably - we walked over to the main event of our weekend. The Roots Picnic

Our timing was a little messed up because for the earlier sets there really wasn't anyone performing all of us cared for, but because we were already so close to the event we decided to go in anyways. Kevin partook in the NBA2K tournament, that was fun to watch and cheer him on. (He won his round

The first performance I was really excited about was when Jadakiss, Fab and Styles P performed. They all did their own sets, along with some duets. Hype. Very very hype. 

Jadakiss lost so much weight, but his voice still sounded like the smoothest rasp ever.

Fab performed a staple.

Styles P performed, well, most of my friends fave song by him

There was an amazing set done by DJ Drama after that, where much to our surprise he brought out T.I.

At this point, I have to say, we were a little disappointed because we thought Meek Mill would definitely be a guest for Drama's set but he was not.

After gallivanting around and getting some food from the food trucks, most of us went over to another stage where The Diplomats were scheduled to perform. I really looked forward to this because most of my high school memories had a Dipset soundtrack to them.

Cam'ron came out and killed it. He performed one of my favourite songs from high school along with a song that I rap loudly when I go to parties but wouldn't dare sing near any coworkers. It was a damn shame Jim Jones wasn't there and neither was Juelz because he is on house arrest. That really would have made it even more perfect.

Once Cam had finished, I felt finished as well. My ankle was in pain and I was just gross and tired from the heat all day. However, the final (and main) performance of the day was still left to be seen. This was supposed to be The Roots with Brandy and 2Chains, alongside comedian Dave Chappelle hosting it. A notice had been up all day on the screens that this performance wasn't event allowed to be recorded nor have pictures of it taken - lame.

I was over it. We left before this performance even happened. Usually I would be disappointed in myself for not finishing an event but I felt a little better once I saw tweets about the final performance actually being rained out. With the amount of people that were inside that festival, I'm sure once the rain fell and there was nowhere to hide from it - it was a sticky and wet mess. I was very happy we made the decision to be home long before that happened. 


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Our final day in Philly.

We woke up and all eight of us made our way to a brunch spot Brendan had suggested called Moshulu. I liked this place. It was a large boat with seating both inside and outside on the deck. Really fancy-looking but their staff was warm and didn't make it feel uptight. 

I had the Oreo pancakes and Mark had the fried chicken and waffles. Not a single complaint from either of us on those choices. I should also add, for $17 USD per person they had a 'bottomless mimosas' option which half of the table took advantage of as well. 

After the meal we all ran upstairs to the deck and enjoyed the views of the water and the random yoga sessions going on inside a different part of the boat. 

This was a really nice end to a great trip. After leaving Moshulu we began our drive back to Canada, arriving home sometime around 11:30pm. Long ass day, again.


I hope I return to Philly again one day. Although I realize the city would make me gain 50lbs - maybe I would eventually take up jogging as well? Doubt it. I'm sure there are some places in the city that aren't as beautiful as everything I had seen, but because I didn't see them I can't really say. I do know that the people were really nice, hospitable and cooked some bad ass food. 

Their NFL team can still go kick rocks barefoot, but the people, sights and food can get all my hugs (and money).

- Mirna 

Travel Reading: My Favourite Books, Part 1

I guess this isn't the typical blog post I have on here. When I travel I am usually too busy taking selfies for IG or being super extra on Snapchat. There are those times though, amidst a 15-hour flight or a slow day on the beach where I really enjoy immersing myself in a good book. FYI - if you're going to do the latter, don't take as many liberties as I do in the sun with such pale skin. Getting caught up in a good book will get you burnt because you were too busy reading instead of turning or applying sunscreen.

There wasn't really a definitive number of books I wanted to list here (nor is there a particular order), just ones I wanted to share as being something I enjoyed reading with my fellow travelers and readers. These books were the kind where I sat down and it was like the world around me stopped. Nothing else mattered, except for the next page.

Yes, you will probably notice I have interests that aim mostly to certain topics (Bosnia + Caribbean) but hey, that's just what I like reading about the most.


 

The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return - I guess this book probably spoke to me the loudest. The author (Kenan Trebincevic) recounts how he had to flee Bosnia as a child and two decades later made his return from the USA to Bosnia only to honour his father's wishes. He makes a list of all the things he wants to do while there and let me tell you, some of those? No way. I couldn't have done that. If you enjoy memoirs or are a fellow member of any refugee diaspora, I suggest reading this book. (Amazon has it in paperback here.)


The God Delusion - Before you ask, no, I am not an Atheist. Although I find nothing wrong with everyone choosing their own religious path, I personally was raised a Catholic. I really enjoyed this book. Richard Dawkins basically explains how believing in God is irrational and how religion only harms people (see: crusades + 9/11). I may not agree with everything he says, but I really enjoyed reading his take on the subject matter. Whether you are an Atheist or just someone who enjoys reading peoples opposing opinions on religion, this is a great read. (Amazon has it in paperback here.) 


Sexing the CaribbeanI actually had to read this book for one of my classes in University. The second I picked it up, I did not put it down until it was done. Kamala Kempadoo does an amazing job of explaining the history of sex work in the Caribbean and how this lead to current-day sex tourism. The thing about this book that will stick out to everyone is - you have SEEN the exact things she is talking about while traveling to many foreign lands, even outside of the Caribbean. How foreigners lust after 'the other' that they cannot have in their own countries. How money elicits attention that these people would not get in their homelands. This will educate you and piss you off. (Amazon has it in paperback here.)


The Book of Negroes: A Novel - This book is exceptional. Lawrence Hill wrote this for you to read it over and over. I know there was also a TV series/movie made from this book but I really enjoyed the book version. It follows an abducted 11-year-old girl from her home in West Africa to being a slave in South Carolina. I probably shouldn't write this so publicly, but, this book was SO good I was actually working a security shift and spent 6 out of the 8 hours reading it from start to finish. I did not stand to go to the bathroom, I didn't go get anymore water - NOTHING. I was so wrapped up in this book it was as if nothing else was happening at the time. If you are my employer and reading this, I am a changed person now OK? Everyone should read this book. (Amazon has it in paperback here.)


The Bridge on the Drina (also known as, Na Drini Cuprija) - I am really ashamed to say I didn't read this book until I was in University taking a Slavic literature course. Some of my family members will read that and probably be like wtf????? This book is kind of a big deal. I should have known that much earlier in my life, I know now. Ivo Andric (born in Bosnia, woot woot) is the author of this book and actually won the Nobel Prize for Literature back in 1961. The reason I loved this book is because it gives such a picturesque image of what was around the Drina river. Also, it reminisces on a different part of Bosnia's past, that isn't solely to do with the Balkan war in the 90's - because YES, we did exist before that happened. If you're a history buff, this is a great book for you. (Amazon has it in paperback here.)

I will definitely have a part #2 to this soon, but I figured 5 is a good number to start with....

What do you like to read while vacationing? 

- Mirna 

Carnival in Jamaica 2018 Recap

Well, I've been home for a week now and BOYYYY has this week sucked. With the incredible weather I experienced in Jamaica, coming back to ice-rain and snow really sucks lemons. The usual carnival tabanca burns, but when you have to endure an extended Canadian winter - it burns just a tad bit more.

Jamaica was awesome. Between the plethora of incredibly attractive men and women, the amazing food, my fill of dancehall music and perfect weather I can say my heart is full. Here is a daily recap of all the shenanigans that happened during my time in Kingston, Jamaica!


Thursday, April 5, 2018

This day started exceptionally early. Our flight to Kingston was at 1:30am from Pearson Airport. It was myself, my best friend Jummy and our friend Kyra en route for this carnival. There really isn't any excitement for this part of the journey except that we met up with some other friends at the airport and seven of us decided to do shots of rum on an empty stomach before boarding. Awesome. I should add, I was sick when we began this journey. In my head, I figured taking a shot would maybe clear my sinuses up a little.

Wrong. I was wrong. As we were descending into Kingston for the FIRST time in all my years of flying - my ears began to hurt. I had never felt such a strong pressure and pain in my head as I did in that moment. This feeling ended up lasting a day and a half, I was partially deaf until Friday afternoon. 

So we land in Kingston at 4:30am and our driver is nowhere to be found. Not exactly the greatest sign of things to come, but, luckily I called him and woke him up and he said he was on his way. Around 5:15am our driver (David) arrived and we began our journey out to Havendale where our AirBnB was located. I will say, driving through Kingston at sunrise was incredible to see. It was already 26 degrees outside and you could feel the city waking up with it. Great feeling at the time. 

Our AirBnB was HUGE. This place had a kitchen, living room, a downstairs bathroom, two bedrooms upstairs (with an en suite bathroom in each one) and a big front yard. Probably one of the best choices we made was to stay in this particular AirBnB. Our host Barrington was awesome as well, he was easy to call at all times and super helpful checking us in at 5:30am. 

All three of us took a nap at this point because we knew a long ass day was ahead of us. 

Noon. Time to get up and get to moving. The first place we were off to was to pick up our tshirts and wristbands for AMBush (j'ouvert). Luckily, this part was very straightforward and organized. We were in and out in no time. Unfortunately, our next pick up was our costumes for Xodus and that didn't begin until 3pm. Naturally, we went to get food in between all of this. Found a place called 'Mothers' and threw my whole face into some jerk chicken and festival. My body was ready for this. Delicious.

We get over to Xodus now for our costume pick up and we sure were lucky arriving when we did. I was #27 on the wait list for pickup upon arrival, within six minutes the girl who sat down next to me was #64. Yikes. I was fortunate because my costume pieces and everything were bless for pick up, although I didn't know until then that my costume was actually a one-piece? Fine. I can deal. Also, I loved the duffel bag we got for our goodie bag from Xodus!! I should note the back piece to my frontline costume was massive. This was my first time playing frontline and holy crap, I knew I'd look fabulous for my pictures but that no way all of these pieces would last long on me. (Fast forward to Sunday, I was right.)

Unfortunately, my friend Kyra was having some issues with her cage bra fitting so we ended up having to wait a little longer for that to be fixed at the mas camp. From there we had to speed back to our AirBnB, shower, get changed and head off to our first event. AFloat boat ride starting at 5:30pm.

I had a good time on this boat cruise. The vibes were nice, the sunset views were awesome and there was some slackness on the boat as well. My kind of party. It was a good way to kick off the partying for Jamaica. As someone who loves rum, the only two rums I do not like are Appleton and Wray & Nephew. As you can imagine, being in Jamaica this put me at a disadvantage at all the all-inclusive parties we bought tickets for. I drank Johnny Walker and Coke at AFloat. It wasn't so bad..... I guess. Not like I died, so I'll take the win.

As soon as we disembarked from AFloat - race home, shower, change, off to Tribe Ignite for 11pm. This party was OK. I think I was just feeling it a little bit from being sick and the flight, being deaf and then the post-AFloat tipsiness. The best part of the night is we got to see our friend Sherry at the jam and that Kerwin and Kes performed, which is always a treat. 

We went to leave Ignite and a random man at that point decided to try and swerve by telling me I look 16. What? I wasn't sure at the time if I was more offended that he cut my age in half or that he might be attracted to 16 year olds? How did we get here? DAVID!!!! Time to take us home.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Candy Coated time! I love this boat ride. I loved it in Barbados and I was super excited to go to it in Jamaica. We arrived at around 11am and I think we finally sailed at noon. The most important thing you need to know is - THE FOOD! Omg the food selection on this boat was incredible. As soon as we got on the boat there was ackee and saltfish along with rasta pasta. As the boat ride went on there was curry goat and some jerk chicken as well. It is mid-afternoon in Jamaica, you are drinking a high dosage of rum punch, eating jerk chicken and dancing to soca with hundreds of other people. 

Great feeling. Fun boat ride. I will say, this was one of the key moments where I had to stop myself from comparing Jamaica carnival to that of Cropover in Barbados. Sometimes you just have to accept that everyone does things differently or in their own individual way. I was use to Barbados being really hype up and slackness while in Jamaica they really prefer their groovy soca. Don't get me wrong, I love soca but power soca and bashment soca is my fave.  I just expected it to be different. It wasn't just this party either, at AFloat, Tribe and on road there really was a preference to play groovy soca. Foreign concept to me.

One VERY different thing in Jamaica was also the presence of weed absolutely everywhere in the open. At the Candy Coated boat ride they even gave away their own Candy Coated spliffs with their goodie bags. Although I am not a smoker, it was kind of a nice talking piece seeing how happy those around me were with these extra item in their goodie bags. 

After Candy Coated we realized that we had no food back at our AirBnB and that we would need to have some fuel before we hit the road that night for AMbush. 

Let me give you all a GREAT TIP OK? If you are outside in a fishnet top, or a bathing suit with a thong and cover up - DO NOT go to the grocery store. Don't do it. Somehow it seemed like a great idea for us to go in such outfits to a grocery store in the middle of the afternoon to get food after a boat ride. I cannot even begin to tell you the kinds of looks we got from the workers and the patrons at the store. There was definitely someone in there who was going to ask for penance on behalf of us in church that Sunday. What a spectacle. 

It was time to try and get some more sleep before what was going to be an exceptionally long Saturday night-morning-afternoon-evening. 


Saturday, April 7, 2018

You thought Thursday was long? Thursday ain't got shit on what our Saturday looked like. 

First of all, we wake up for Jummy to make us some eggs and bacon before we hit the road for AMbush. So, the fire stove wouldn't turn off. We tried all the knobs, we Skyped my mom, nothing - we could not turn off this damn stove. Finally we had to call the owner of the AirBnB to yes, turn a knob off for us. We found out it wasn't us being dunce, it was the knob being a damn knob. Crisis averted. 

David picked us up at 1:30am to take us to where AMbush was being held in the parish of St. Catherine. I have no idea what we were thinking arriving so promptly for a party that goes until 8am. I think we finally boarded the shuttle to get to the liquor trucks/music trucks around 3am? Waste. Could have been sleeping more. When the party picked up though? WHAT A TIME. I can see why people like attending AMbush now. When the liquor hits you, its nighttime, there's paint in your eye and your unmentionables..... you're really in for a good time. 

People were throwing paint everywhere! I was covered head to toe but it was nice because unlike the j'ouvertish event I do in Barbados, the paint they use here was water-based. So I didn't turn all crunchy and stiff from the paint. I loved every minute of this party. To top it off, when we were leaving at 6:30am, we were one of the first people to get to their food tents that were set up post-party to enjoy. I didn't know that was a thing? Imagine? You're exhausted, its 6:30am, you can only taste paint and now you walk up to like 7 tents of all you can eat food that is included in your ticket price? Heaven. This is heaven. I must have slipped on some paint and died and gone to heaven. Largest doubles I had ever seen in my life were consumed at this moment. 

Our driver had actually slept in his car for the duration of the party so he whisked us away ASAP so we could get back to our AirBnB for 7:30am and leave for our next party at 9:00am.

PACE!

As you'll see in the pictures below, I deadass went from ugly swamp creature to princess in a matter of an hour. This is probably as girly as any of you will ever seen me, so take it in. You're welcome. Usually it would take me about an hour or so to get the paint off of me, but this time it was just washing off so easily. Not to say I wasn't finding random specks of green paint in my ears for days after, but at that moment I was as clean as I could be.

We were picked up at 9:00am and made our way to Constant Spring Golf Course to attend a party called Sunrise Breakfast Fete which is considered the crown jewel of events for carnival in Jamaica. All-inclusive food and liquor. Massive space. I won't pretend like I didn't feel like death at this moment in time following AMbush and still feeling the fatigue of being sick. 

Hot sun. I mostly remember the heat. When you're still a little tipsy and been dancing since 3am, you feel the sun sooo different. The lineups at the venue were long since it began at 5am and we didn't get there until 9am and I have to say, I was a little disappointed. Not only were the lineups super long but they were running out of food regularly. I stood in one line for 20 minutes only to get to my time to be served and they informed me 'oh we are making a new batch, it will be another 20 minute wait.' What? Are you duuuuuumb? I think I finally got like some little serving of food at a next booth that didn't have much of a line, eventually. At least the bars were moving quickly, I will give them that. I must have drank a gallon of coconut water at Sunrise to try and gain some strength in my body to continue partying in that heat.  Also, whoever did the design/set up of Sunrise should be given a medal for how visually appealing it was. The set up was nice and simple with beautiful bright colours everywhere. The stage had DJ Puffy on it and I hear later in the day Aidonia performed as well.

We stayed at Sunrise until noon and then we had David drive us over to Kingston Harbour where our friend Sherry had invited us to spend the day on her family's three-bedroom yacht. No big deal. Just you know, massive yacht for like 10 of us for the day.

This yacht was INCREDIBLE. As soon as I stepped into it I felt like my credit score went up by 100 points. Jummy and Kyra both took the opportunity to go shower in the lower deck while I just sat in awe posting ignorant things on IG. Eventually Sherry arrived with her awesome family bringing liquor and KFC. If you haven't had Jamaican KFC, what are you really doing with your life? Game changer.

The boat took off to this beautiful little beach (sandbank?) called Maiden Cay. What a marvel. Probably one of the most pristine and beautiful stretches of beach I have ever seen. Because our yacht was so gargantuan we had to park it a little further away from the beach so all of us would have to swim about 50-60 meters to get to it. For me, this wasn't an issue, and I ended up being the first one to jump in the water and make my way over to the beach. I'm not going to throw shade at the other people on the yacht with us, but, I'm BIG and my friend Sherry's cousin Craig is also a fellow fluffy - we swam JUST fine multiple times to and from the boat. Some other people who will remain unnamed and skinny used floaties and a boat to have to get back to the yacht. SMH.

We spent a couple of hours just hanging out on the beach, somehow we got a bottle of Appleton and Wray over onto the beach, Sherry and Kyra posed for an impromptu tent advertisement and along came a party boat as well. The girls left me on the beach and headed back to the yacht in a smaller boat and as I went to leave I noticed there as a full bottle of Wray still left on the beach. So, naturally, I swam back to the yacht with a bottle of Wray in one hand. Michael Phelps ain't got shit on me, if we being real.

The rest of the afternoon and early evening was spent dancing on the yacht and just shooting the shit. A highlight of my 31-years of life is I Genna Bounced on a yacht in Jamaica as the sun set. I'm not sure what life event could possibly top this, but I would like to see it try. Eventually we made our way back to the harbour and in some miscommunication our driver didn't know he was supposed to come pick us up at that time. Luckily our host Craig, had a pick up truck. We sat in the back of a pick up truck on our way to Port Royal to get some food. Bumpy ride with a lot of squealing from me. How embarrassing.

I was probably the most excited person EVER to go to Port Royal. Please understand, when I was doing my degree in Caribbean Studies I remember reading about the story of Port Royal. The place was considered to be the wickedest place on earth during the time of colonies and pirates that God decided to sink it! In 1692 Port Royal had an earthquake and basically a massive piece broke off and vanished into the sea. Obviously, that as just mother nature doing her thing but the whole myth behind it being the wickedest place on earth always created a great story in my mind.

Fish soup. Steamed fish. Garlic shrimp. Oysters. Bammy. Festival. I HAD IT ALL. Port Royal for seafood was most welcoming to my tummy. It was about 10pm and we had been up since the night before at midnight, it was finally time to go back to our AirBnB for some much needed sleep.


Sunday, April 8 - Monday, April 9 2018

Finally! Time to play mas.

This is the day we had been waiting for. All the times I was at the gym to drop to 200lbs. All the stamina I had been building by playing basketball. It all culminated on the Sunday. My fancy decorated shoes (Bosnia and Canada flag) and my teeny weeny thong costume were ready. David picked us up at 10:30am to head for the road.

I have no idea if Xodus had a breakfast in the morning. Maybe if we had arrived earlier we would have known? I was accustomed to a breakfast included when I play mas so if they didn't have it - that sucks.

There is no need for a whole days worth of recap playing mas. If you have played mas, you know how it goes. Dancing. Dancing. Chipping. Water. More dancing. Let me focus on the new things that happened to me that day.

Well, like I said earlier - all those fancy pieces of my costume got thrown off of me within an hour of me being on the road. The big beautiful feathers, the heavy necklace of pearls... all gone. In the heat and for my mobility, I just couldn't do it anymore. I removed my back piece, walked over to a fence and left it there. FREEDOM.

I did take issue with the amount of groovy soca played, again. Shout out to DJ Puffy for the awesome dancehall set he did play. Also, to Aidonia, Shanseea and Bunji for their performances. There was only so many times I could hear: Hulk, Full of Vibes, Hello and did I mention Hulk? For all the complaints I heard before I got to Jamaica that they play 'too much dancehall' at their soca events, I definitely saw no examples of this during my time there. I was still having a wonderful time with my friends though, don't get it twisted.

One BIG bonus the road in Jamaica had (or at least Xodus did) was the midday cool down. WHAT A BLESSING! There was a massive space for all the Xodus masqueraders to sit down, eat, drink, get a massage, makeup touch up and get their costume fixed. One hour of relaxation and reenergizing to finish off the day. I ate a small piece of KFC and got my fill of coconut water. The other girls I believe hit up the makeup touch up and massages as well.

Once we were back on the road it felt like it went by so quickly. Suddenly it was already sunset and the day on the road was finishing. How? Holy crap. Sherry checked her fancy pants watch and it said we had crossed 17km of walking. Crazy.

Now we got to this awesome post-road party Xodus had called Wine Down.

Let me tell you guys, if you do absolutely NOTHING else all Jamaica carnival, make sure you go to Wine Down! Best party for the entire time I was there. We arrived and had dinner, put our feet up a little bit and BOOM got to some more dancing. The cool thing was Xodus had free entry to this party for ALL masqueraders from all the bands. The DJs and the hosts were awesome. The music? BLESS. I got a whole set of dancah chunes. By the end of this party I truly believe I was a pro at: Genna Bounce, Flairy, Fling and Lebeh Lebeh. Absolutely no doubt in my intoxicated mind - I was the new member of the Ravas crew.

This party was the most perfect way to end this day and this trip. Also, quick shout out to the man at the Grace stand who was making some concoction of like oats, cinnamon, coconut, almond...I have no idea. It was delicious and it felt like it gave me all my power back to keep going.

We really were dancing 10:30am to 11pm that day. Felt incredible.

The Sunday was such a wild day that our taxi driver picked us up in another persons taxi. No lie. He was out drinking at another party and was picking us up with another driver for him. That was a new phenomenon for me.

Monday morning came. Slept. Packed. Cleaned up. Returned keys. Headed to the airport. It was over. The whirlwind that is Jamaica carnival as over with. I regret not going to the airport even earlier because their food choices and shopping choices are amaaazing. I also didn't know white Hennessy cost $80USD. NOT impressed.

Time to fly home. Sadness.