Italy – Part 3: When in Rome…

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After filling up with watermelon gelato (the best flavour of all time), Doran and I sped off to Pisa. Our research indicated that Pisa didn’t have much else to see other than it’s famous tower, so we decided to put aside three hours of our journey between La Spezia and Florence to see it.

So here it is, being chummy with Doran.

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Obviously doing the hands up pose was too cliche. Therefore, I instructed Doran to do this. Genius work, if I do say so my-self.

After spending 1 hour taking hilarious pictures of other people doing the “hands up” pose with the tower, Doran and I got bored. There was nothing else to do. I even helped an elderly Italian lady walk to a gelato store. True story. We walked by her on the way to the train station and she just grab my arm and told me to walk with her.

Then we were off to Florence.

This place is amazing. It’s such a different vibe from all the places we’ve been to in Italy. Its got a small town feeling but large city infrastructure (including terrible public transportation… they changed bus routes on us without a map showing where the changes were… we literally ended up staying on a bus for the WHOLE loop). But I digress. This place is beautiful.

Our favourite vegetarian restaurant in Italy is in Florence. Brac is half bookstore and half vegetarian restaurant. The food was amazing and after eating so much gelato and pasta, it was a nice change of pace for us.

Other than being such a scenic place (even DNCE enjoyed the views… their security guard didn’t even let me take a picture with them. He lied by telling me to wait one second only to find Joe Jonas walking away toward their car… cock blocked by security…), Florence houses the original statue of David.

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Look at how perfect this statue is. I was blown away by how huge it was! (That what she said…)

Similar to Venice, there are so many small lane ways and alleys to explore. There is always something cool to see or eat.

After two short days in Florence, it was time to head to Rome. I had high expectations of this city and it didn’t disappoint. There is so much history in Rome, I can’t even understand how buildings that we can touch and walk into are thousands of years old. Everywhere you turn something has been hanging around for many years. It’s a shame that when Christianity rolled in, many pieces got destroyed or defaced.

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Why cut off all the heads?!?! I mean… Come on!!!

Our first major tourist thing was a bike tour around Rome. This is a great way to get all the top tourist spots out of the way first, which then allowed us to enjoy all the other things Rome had to offer.

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One memorable moment in Rome was when Doran and I watched Carmen at the Baths of Caracalla. It was quite special to see a classic opera under the night sky in an area built around 212 AD.

Another memorable moment while we were in Rome was a visit Vatican City. I found the option to have breakfast at the Vatican Museum during my research and took the opportunity to get early bird access so that Doran and I could see the Sistine Chapel with the least amount of people. We had to be there at 7am, but it was totally worth it. We basically had the whole museum to ourselves for the first hour!

It even turned out that His Holiness, Pope Francis, was there that day giving his blessings. So, I basically had breakfast with the Pope.

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He’s up on the steps. Trust me, he’s there.

As for the food in Rome? It didn’t disappoint. We found an awesome truffle place that sold truffle dishes (black and white) for under 28 Euros! Osteria Barberini and a tiny gem tucked away in one of Rome’s many little roads. Definitely make a reservation if you plan to go.

 

And THAT was our trip to Italy. This was just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, how amazing was this adventure to a whole new country we never been before! We would definitely return to Italy in the future.

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I can’t believe I actually flew completely around the world this trip!!!

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Italy – Part 2: I Don’t Want Your Friendship Bracelet

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After screaming at 100km/hr on Italy’s first dive coaster, Oblivion, Doran and I headed toward Milan for our next stop in our Italy adventure. This was our first hotel stay and major city of the trip so I was excited to have someone make my bed everyday and seeing city life in Italy.

Other than being the “fashion capital” of Italy, Milan was a city I knew very little of.

The Duomo was something notable through out my research and so we thought we would see that. The subway station exit, of the same name, leads you directly to the front of the Duomo di Milano and what a reveal it was! Imagine the grandeur, crawling out of the depths of the underworld and seeing the bright blue sky and this amazing cathedral appear before your very eyes!

Yes, we were impressed.

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Other than shopping, one of the few interesting things worth visiting is the Teatro alla Scala museum. If you are lucky, you could witness a dress rehearsal and enjoy a nice view of the theatre.

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Sadly, one of the things I will remember most of Milan was the time I almost got in a fight with one of those guys who force friendship bracelets on you claiming they are “free”. At every tourist location you are presented with a handful of corn, so that you can take pictures of a pigeon attack, or a beaded bracelet because you just plain showed up. If you politely decline their generous offer, they will proceed to ask why. You know they’re free right? If you still say no, they put it on your shoulder. If you then raise your hand to say no, they will put it on your wrist.

These guys are EVERYWHERE and by the end of the day, I was not having it. I was getting really annoyed and was starting to avoid anyone that looked like they were walking towards me strings in hand. While window shopping, I turn around and see this man tying a bracelet on Doran. I reached out politely said no while trying push the man’s arms away. Then to my surprise, the man snapped and shouted: “Don’t Touch ME! I’ll f*** you up!” to which I retorted: “Go ahead, try it!” With my arms out wide ready in fight or flight mode, the man turned away continuing to shout expletives at me.

Having avoided an international crisis, we decided it was best to end the day and go back to the hotel. After some gelato of course.

On a positive note, Milan did provide some retail therapy. Although, all we could afford was Zara. Italian Zara.

Then it was off to La Spezia.

This port town was chosen as the place for us to sleep and store our things while we went hiking along the Liguria coast of Italy. The famous “Cinque Terre” (Five Lands) is a string of picturesque costal villages known for it’s beautiful hikes along the coast and inland. It only takes 30mins to 2 hours to hike between the cities so Doran and I thought it would be fun to do a morning hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza then to Corniglia then to Manarola, and end at Riomaggiore for their delicious pesto. However…. with the heat wave, narrow paths and steep inclines, we barely made it to Vernazza alive. Needless to say, once we arrived at Vernazza we decided it was in our best interest to take the trains if we still wanted to make it to Riomaggiore before sunset.

Despite the crazy hikes, the five villages and La Spezia are wonderful places to put on your itinerary on your next Italy trip. We had the best gelato at Gelateria Stella Marina and got some amazing pictures of the villages.

 

Italy – Part 3: When in Rome…

Italy – Part 1: Taking the Long Way

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This past June, I took my first ever three week vacation and it was an amazing adventure around the world!

My first stop circling the world was Canada to attend a friend’s wedding and visit the family. It’s always nice to go back home and see that absolutely nothing has changed since the last time I returned. This trip was especially fun since I was able to convince my parents to go do an escape room with my brother and I. Lucky for us, Escape Hour has the option to get as many hints as required since I felt we probably would be needing hints. Little did I know, we would be asking for hints for EVERY SINGLE PUZZLE. It was comical. However, with all the help one could possibly ever receive, my family “escaped” with just a minute to spare.

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We did it! (Sort of…)

After a week in Calgary, I whisked off to Toronto, giving my cousins the usual 48-hour notice that they’re so fond of. Many heartfelt thanks to Kitty and Mike for hosting me on such short notice and allowing me to have so many Canadian favourites: Costco poutine, Swiss Chalet, Timbits and HK style milk tea (Australia, you still need to get it together on HK style milk tea!!! COME ON!)

Then it was off to ITALY! I flew straight from Toronto to Venice where I met up with Doran. It only took a cruisy 9 hours for me, while Doran flew to Venice through Dubai from Melbourne on a crazy 24 hour journey. Poor thing. Once we found each other, we started our crazy Italian adventure. And what a city Venice is to start our trip with!

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This historic city’s main mode of transportation was via boats; especially on the islands of Venice, so we hopped on a vaporetto and headed straight to our first Airbnb of the trip.

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It’s an apartment in the centre of the island right above shops selling tourist junk! Amazing!

 

 

 

Here are some of the most memorable things for us in Venice:

  • This place is so picturesque, you could probably sell postcards with the pictures we took.
  • Our favourite dishes from the ENTIRE trip was surprising at this chain called Rossopomodoro
  • We had a really fun Doge’s Palace super secret tour where we got to go through some of the secret passages and prison cells this palace had. Even learned about how Casanova “Casanova-ed” his escape from this very place!
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Spoiler alert. The secret door is in the corner.

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We both really liked Venice and would absolutely recommend seeing it.

After Venice we headed off to Milan on Italy’s high speed train; a Fecciarossa. But before arriving in Milan, we decided to spend the afternoon at one of the top 10 amusement parks in the world: Gardaland.

Part 2… Italy – Part 2: I Don’t Want Your Friendship Bracelets

Craft Time: Crochet Whales

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Lately I’ve been in this vortex of crafting videos on YouTube and I have no regrets. I am not ashamed to admit, I now know how to make fancy shaker cards, felt animals (see previous crafting attempt), pretty nails (don’t even get me started on snow globe nails) and now crochet animals.

I wanted to make some adorable whales, so Doran and I went to buy some blue, grey and white yarn. We came home with our yarn and two 5mm crochet needles and started to crochet only to realize that our yarn was mean for 4mm needles. Fail. None the less, we forged ahead with our over sized needles and began the journey to adorableness.

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After 30mins of trial and error, we ended up with two lovely…

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Buttholes….

Clearly we did something wrong. Doran gave up under the guise of “needing better instructions”, but I persevered and I think I did a very good job for my very first crochet whale.

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You know this might be something I could really get into. It’s been two weeks and I’ve made more whales, stars, and a turtle!

Success!!!

Big Ol’ Family Trip

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So my mom, dad and brother came to visit in November. I was really excited to show them everything Australia had to offer, but as luck with have it, both mom and dad landed in Melbourne with a cold. >.>

Despite hacking coughs every hour, my parents were good sports and even went on a Sunset Tour with me to see the 12 Apostles. From being attacked by those darn Australian flies to almost missing the sunset on the sunset tour (blame the pizza place…), I had forgotten how hilarious it is to travel with each other.

After visiting Melbourne and Sydney, we all went to Hong Kong to attend my cousin’s wedding.

While we were there I took the opportunity to go back to Disneyland Hong Kong and show my brother how fun this Disneyland can be. I mean look at the fabulousness of it all.

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We also took a ferry to Macau. I had never been to Macau, but I heard it was basically the Vegas of China and it didn’t disappoint (sort of). From the outside it is pretty spectacular, but after you go in, you notice a big difference. The games were all exactly the same in EVERY casino, and there was definitely a lot less people gambling their life savings away. It was all just too new and too empty to be fun.

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I also found out that Macau has quite the split personality. On one hand, it has the glitz and glamour of Vegas in Cotai, but when you drive across the bridge in to actual Macau, you get hit with an old Chinese town with Portuguese influences! I also found out that my mom took a bus here from China when she was six (all by herself) to meet up with her grandma to live and go to school until her mom got her Hong Kong papers ready. It was really great to see how excited my mom was to see her old haunts. She took us to the exact spot where she met up with her grandma, the place they lived and where she went to school.

Macau, you hold a special place in my mom’s heart and now in mine as well. I would definitely come back to show my kids in the future.

 

Wet and Cold – Shanghai Part 2

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So after having two magical days in Shanghai Disneyland, Doran and I had the opportunity to spend two days in the “real” Shanghai. By real, I mean the tourist traps. We had such beautiful hot weather the days before (almost boiling) that it was a terrible surprise that our time in the city felt so cold and dreary. Here are my most memorable (not always my favourite) moments in Shanghai:

1. The Food. I had high hopes coming to Shanghai because it’s the birthplace of my favourite dumpling of all time. The Xiao Long Bao. (Here in Melbourne, we are lucky to have large and soupy dumplings just a five minute walk away). I was very interested in comparing what we can get in Australia with what they are supposed to be like in the motherland. So we went to one of the top rated chains, Jia Jia Tang Bao, and immediately asked for the English menu. Sorry mom.

img-20161020-wa0005.jpgThe flavour was amazing, but I was surprised that they are supposed to be that small. The most amazing thing was that what you see in that picture above only cost three Australian dollars!!! THREE!!!!

We also tried some Tang Bao from Nanxian Mantou Dian because it was the thing to do. Basically, it’s a giant dumpling with just soup inside and you drink it through a straw. The novelty of having a dumpling through a straw was intriguing, but after having the soup, you are left with a thick skin sack. We didn’t know if we were supposed to eat it, so we left it. Sorry Shanghai.

Some of the other food things we bought while wandering Yunnan S Road included: baos stuffed with minced meat, noodles and free range chicken. We even ordered something from a cart on the street. They were good, but not great. AND!!! We survived the night; bowels intact.

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And as usual, we tried unique McDonald’s items and even found a CoCo Curry House!

2. Yu Gardens is very picturesque. Even in the rain we got some beautiful pictures. This place is by far the biggest tourist trap I have ever seen. The massive garden itself was surrounded by an even larger “market” where you can get random trinkets and souvenirs. It is also where you can find a Starbucks every 50 steps.

3. The Bund and Shanghai Skyline are iconic to the city. I mean. Look at how the mix of modern and old work so well together. Even in the rain, it’s pretty.

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So that was our trip to Shanghai, China. Even though we had to tell the Chinese visa office our life story to get into the country, it was worth the trouble. Thanks for everything Shanghai!

Especially Disneyland.

Visual Overload – Shanghai Part 1

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Mainland China…. the place where everything you own comes from. Now it even has it’s very own Disneyland! Seeing how it is on my bucket list to go to all Disney parks around the world (it was 5/5 until Shanghai came along…) I had to go. So after waiting a couple months after opening day, Doran and I made our inaugural trip to Shanghai Disneyland, China.

I did some minor research so that I knew just enough to get around while not spoiling some of Disney’s trademark storytelling and surprises. My biggest worry from all the research was China’s crowd behaviours and lack of personal space, however, I am happy to report that I encountered very little stereotypical Chinese idiosyncrasies and had a WONDERFUL time there. The weather was unbearably hot, but the skies were blue and wait times were all under 30 mins. Below are some of my favourite moments during my 2 days at the park:

1. My first moment in any Disney park is always a favourite and this time was no different. However, this time was especially magical because it was the first time I get to see the largest Disney castle to-date!

2. The “Running of the Guests” is a scary yet exhilarating experience. You are allowed to purchase tickets before the park opens. Once you have your tickets, you are allowed to enter the park up to a certain point. When the time has come for the park to officially open, the rope drops and the guests are released into the wild. Chaos ensues because everyone is running for their first ride of the day. Thank goodness most people are not runners and we soon passed them to go on our very first ride.

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3. TRON Lightcycle Power Run is one of the best roller coasters Disney has to offer. With it’s innovative ride vehicles (you sit like a you are riding a motorcycle!!!) to the cool queues, this was such a great first impression for us of the park.

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4. Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure is BY FAR the most advanced ride I think I have ever seen. This ride took a Disney favourite and made it EVEN BETTER! From Jack Sparrow materializing from a skeleton to really feeling like you went under water, I never knew rides could be done like this. It’s so hard to explain without spoilers, so just get yourself over to Shanghai Disneyland ASAP!!!

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5. Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Look at it. Just. Look. At. It.

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This place is amazing. Well done Disney. Well done.