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!!!

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

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.

Singapore: A Country City?

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The only thing I knew of Singapore was that it was famous for its Merlion statue and most recently, the Marina Bay Sands and their infinity pool in the sky. As much as Doran and I would have loved to pay over $400 dollars a night to take selfies in the pool, we decided that it was best to spend our money on other things Singapore has to offer. ie. tourist traps and food. Lots of food.

I can’t believe how much good food can be found in Singapore. We were lucky enough to have a friend that knew what’s what in Singapore and gave us an awesome list of places to eat. From cheap eats to high priced crab, we are very grateful to Yilin for hooking us up!

So without further ado, the following are pictures of food for you to salivate over. Enjoy.

 

Milk tea (the best outside of Hong Kong), pork floss on toast and eggs (apparently it’s a thing to crack open soft boiled eggs and eat it like soup) from ToastBox

 

Food court food has cheap but delicious noodles and CHICKEN RICE!!!!! Western food courts need to step it up.

You can also get durian desserts at the mall. I guess no one cares that you keep burping up durian hours after you finish eating. There is also a Takashimaya Food Hall on Orchard Road to give yourself a taste of Japan.

Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶 at Founder Bak Kut Teh. An amazing peppery herbal soup that’s usually served with pork ribs. So good, that we brought home the soup base to make ourselves.

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Pepper Crab. Expensive, but to me, it’s Singapore’s mic drop for food. We found a good place in Chinatown.

 

And just to show you that we did more than just eat, here are some pictures of us at the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest at the Gardens by the Bay, Universal Studios Singapore and the Night Safari. This city that is also a country is so amazing. I can’t wait to go back!

 

Too Sexy for Buddha

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So Doran and I decided it would be fun to meet up with my friends in the middle of their vacation in Thailand. Since it was our very first time going to Bangkok we thought we should share some of our experience via topics of interest like any other travel advice sites.

Accommodations

Our hotel Centre Point Silom was fantastic. The location was great: close to public transport (skytrain and ferries), in the centre of the city, close to shops, bars and other tourist attractions. The best was its breakfast buffet. It had a decent variety of hot foods (Asian and Western) and a good selection of exotic fruits; of which I made sure to stuff my face with.

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Centre Point Silom Hotel View

Food

You would think that I would have tried some authentic Thai street food during my stay in Bangkok, but you would be wrong. After witnessing the debilitating effects of eating bad street food on my friends, I was fully convinced to avoid anything bought off the streets.

Turns out that our favourite Japanese curry chain (CoCo Ichibanya) was at our new favourite mall: Siam Paragon. So how was the pad thai? I don’t know, but I can tell you how delicious CoCo Curry is!

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Experiences

This is just a fancy way travel sites call culture shock. I didn’t really have an expectation of what Bangkok would be like, but when I arrived it was certainly not what I was expecting. For such a big city, it looked so run down. The old and new clashed. It was such a stark contrast walking down the block of glass and steel that is Siam Paragon then turning the corner to see old weather worn buildings that looked like it hasn’t been cleaned for 100 years. The only thing that really pulled it all together was the air. The wall of dense, humid air sprinkled with a touch of sewage never really goes away.

Things to do

One of the top things to do for any tourist going anywhere is to encroach on sacred spaces and pretend to do so purely out of respect and curiosity. For us, we decided to go to Wat Pho; the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This place is massive. We managed to find our way around the maze of walls and chedis and into the temple that housed the Reclining Buddha, but before we enter we were informed that as a sign of respect, everyone that visits must cover their shoulders and wear pants that go past the knees. Well, as a tourist traveling to a country with an average temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, we packed nothing but the shortest of shorts and the thinnest of tank tops.

 

Lucky for us, there were some robes that are available to sweat in while in the presence of Buddha. As Doran and I go to pick up a pair, the robe lady loudly proclaimed that it was ok for men and that the rule applied only to women. However, as we continued into the temple a random tour guide approached us to inform us that we should be putting on a robe. I obliged and turned around to pick up a robe, but was stopped by the robe lady again. The two began to argue in Thai and after a few awkward moments, I was allowed in robe-less, but was warned that I was too sexy for Buddha.

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Sorry Buddha, it is way too hot to be covering our shoulders.

 

How to fly to Australia and visit a few of your favourite places in the world along the way

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So for the past month, I flew back to Calgary while Doran stayed in Melbourne since my leave of absence was over. Then I received an offer to work in Melbourne, so I resigned and spent the next 3 weeks preparing our condo for rental and packing everything to start a new career back in Australia. This is my step-by-step guide on how you can fly from Calgary to Melbourne and visit a few awesome places in between!

Step 1: To save money, book a standby flight back to Melbourne via two connections: one in Vancouver and another in Sydney. Remember to give yourself a few days just in case you don’t get on (eg. If you are supposed to start work Oct 5th, leave Sept 30).

Step 2: Have heartfelt goodbyes and start your journey to Vancouver.

Step 3: Find out that your flight to Sydney is somehow overbooked and there isn’t another flight until the next day. Show your standby ticket to the gate person and get scolded: “Absolutely not, no staff will fly on this flight.” Thank them without showing how devastated you are and head to the nearest hotel to rest while your boyfriend tries to figure out the answer to the question at hand: “Now what?”

Step 4: Flights from Vancouver to Sydney for the next few days look overbooked as well. New plan: Go from Vancouver to LA to Honolulu, then from Honolulu to Australia. Go to sleep and be happy that there is a plan.

Step 5: Arrive in LA and head over to the connecting flight to Honolulu in the domestic terminal in LAX. Meet a really nice Delta agent who comments on how fun you are by looking at your fun carry-on and bag tags.

Step 6: Don’t get on the Honolulu flight because it’s severely overbooked. You’re 44th on the standby line. That’s last place. Talk to the Delta help desk to see what you can do, only to find out the flight has been overbooked. Your checked luggage, however; somehow has a seat and has already been put on the plane to Honolulu.

Overbooked flights

Step 7: Run to the United Airline terminal to see if you can get on their flights.

Step 8: They are completely full for the day and overbooked too, so run to the American Airlines terminal to check there.

Step 9: Be sweaty and distraught while you go back to Delta to inquire about the extent of how overbooked everything is.

Step 10: Get lucky and find out someone cancelled their flight tomorrow morning to Honolulu. Pay for a confirmed ticket and be satisfied that you have a way to get to Honolulu. Thank the Delta agents for their help and sympathy.

Step 11: Things are looking up so why not get out of the airport (it’s 5pm) and go to Disneyland to lift your spirits?

Step 12: Rent a car and get stuck in LA traffic.

Kill me now.

Step 13: Drive up to a hotel in next to Disneyland so that you can stay as late as possible in the park. Talk to the hotel for rates and find out the park closes at 10pm tonight. It’s 8pm.

Step 14: Die a little inside and head to the only place that has Wi-Fi (McDonald’s) to lament your situation to your boyfriend on the phone and have dinner.

Step 15: Since all your toiletries are all in Honolulu already, head over to Walmart to buy some small travel stuff and an apple because dinner at McDonald’s is not filling.

Step 16: Have your Visa payment be declined at Walmart for the 15 dollar purchase. You’re already dead inside so this is nothing. Just ask to use the phone to call Visa.

Step 17: Visa has office hours? Apparently so, because they are closed. Head back to the Walmart cashier and say you don’t need those items anymore and head back to a Wi-Fi area (McDonald’s) to find a hotel.

Step 18: The cheapest hotel near the car rental place smells like marijuana, but be glad you have a place to sleep and collect call Visa again. Don’t forget about the LA traffic.

Step 19: Find out your card was fine and realise you could have used your Visa debit card. Again, no worries, you’re already dead inside.

Step 20: Wake up and head to Honolulu.

Step 21: Make the best of the situation and utilize the 18 hour layover in Honolulu to have a mini vacation. Reminisce about your last couple of times here. Eat an Acai Bowl, walk along the beach in Waikiki. Eat the best Japanese curry of all time (Coco Curry House) and enjoy your time at the Ala Moana mall.

Ahhhh, it's so nice to be back!

Ahhhh, it’s so nice to be back!

Yummy!!!

Yummy!!! (Acai Bowl)

Step 22: Wake up and head to the airport. Pray you get a seat from Honolulu to Melbourne.

Step 23: You have a seat and you’re on your way home, but just before you land, have the 10 hour flight be meal-less because apparently you have to pay extra for a meal. And be ignored by the flight attendants when the drinks cart rolls by. Watch other people eat.

Step 24: Arrive in Melbourne 16 hours before your first day of work on Oct 4.

Thanks Doran!!!

Thanks Doran!!!