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travel: next adventure

so sometimes the universe just sends you a curve ball.
today i got mine.
today i won something VERY COOL.
i won an all-in trip to australia from my work.

yup.
thats right.
i’m actually going here.

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this is blowing my mind.
first off, i am obviously incredibly blessed to work for such an amazing company that gives away trips like this… but also i’m just damn lucky.
they took the 15 top sellers of australia product for last month and drew 3 winners and i was one of them.

australia, admittedly is a place that was not high on my priority list to visit.
in fact, i don’t even think it was on the list.
mostly based on this.

australia kills you

i definitely have a legitimate fear that i will die in australia, lol.
spiders and snakes are not my friends.
but i’m sure i’ll get over my fears and have an amazing time.

so among other awesomeness, my trip includes:

  • roundtrip airfare
  • accommodations & some meals
  • wine tour of south australia’s barossa valley
  • RV’ing victoria’s great ocean road
  • great barrier reef experience
  • queensland rail sunlander
  • sydney bridge climb
  • private yacht tour of sydney harbour
  • kangaroo island adventure

it’s going to be a whirlwind trip of about 10 days and then there will be an option to extend out for an extra 3 days to see uluru (ayers rock), which i’ll probably do because lets face it, i have to assume this is a once in a lifetime trip.

i’m really just gobsmacked that this happened.
its one of the biggest (and worth the most) agent trips that one could possibly win and i can not believe i’ve actually won it.
wowsa.
i should buy myself a lotto ticket because this guy is clearly lucky today.
happy early birthday to me.

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travel and drink: waikiki edition

ah hawaii… truly one of the few places on earth where a manly man can be seen with a drink garnished with flowers and umbrellas and not be mocked by his mates.
in fact, to not order such a drink is really just cheating yourself.

and the king of all drinks in hawaii is the mai tai.

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and honestly, it just takes it to a new level when its served in a fun glass like this.
this is how it comes at dukes and hula grill.  and good on them for keeping it extra real.

but at the end of the day, its really whats inside the glass that counts.  so what you’re looking for is premium spirits… and fresh squeezed juices.
and of course, a pretty garnish helps.

the supposed “best” in waikiki is hotly debated.  many many places claim it, but one place i kinda believe is the moana surfrider.  first of all, its a fancy pants hotel.  and they charge like $14 for it, so it had better be good… and it looks like this:

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its gorgeous AND comes with a beachfront ocean view.  so it wins.

and while every place does put a spin on the classic mai tai… this is basically the recipe.

  • 1 oz. Dark Rum
  • 1 oz Light Rum
  • 1 oz Orange Curacao
  • 2 oz Pineapple Juice
  • 1/2 oz Lime Juice
  • Dash Orgeat
  • Dash Simple syrup

and then you have the blue hawaii…
this is definitely one of those garbage pants sickly sweet cocktails that you’ll suck back in record time and then pay for in hangovers the next day.
…buuuuuut its a classic.  so you gotta have at least one.

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original blue hawaii

  • 3/4 oz light rum
  • 3/4 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
  • 3 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz sweet and sour mix

something that i really enjoy is this little fella.  they call it the lava flow in hawaii.  but in las vegas they call it a miami vice.  but same same.
its half pina colada and half strawberry daiquiri kinda layered together… and in vegas you get a strawberry garnish, in hawaii everything comes with a pineapple.

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one thing about hawaii, is that at one point in your trip you really must have a ridiculous drink.  like something giant or in a fishbowl or on fire… or all 3 if possible.

we went with this bad boy from LBLE  (thats Lobby Bar Libations Extraordinaire – clever name, huh?)

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it was a giant concoction filled with fresh juices and rum, rum and more rum.  and then they lit some 151 on fire inside a lime on top.  yup.  it was awesome.

its a tough act to follow… but i followed it up with a straberry, basil & vodka drink topped with a floater of champagne.  it didn’t steer me wrong.

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from LBLE we were forced by the bartender to go to her favourite bar after. and i mean literally FORCED.  she refused to serve us another drink and called us a taxi and sent us there.

its a place called the Pint & Jigger and it was really everything she promised it would be.
they served me the best manhattan of my life.  the glass was smoked, the booze premium, the ice cube singular and giant and the garnish was a homemade maraschino cherry.

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last but certainly not least… hawaii makes some good beers.
most prevalent is the kona brewing company, and they’re damn fine, but don’t stop there.  head over to Yardhouse for a great selection of local brews.  or dukes also has a beer sampler that will scratch your itch for local.

my personal favourite, which i don’t have a picture of is the Hawaii Nui Mehana Volcano Red Ale. but then again, i love me a red ale.

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travel: the delights of waikiki

aloha!
once again, i must hang my head in shame and apologize for my absence. i was away for 9 days, but the rest of it has just been real life and a giant black hole of stress sucking my inspiration.  but this morning, i’ve committed myself to posting my hawaii roundup before i head off to seattle for the night.

november saw me return to waikiki for the 5th time.  but this trip wasn’t about sightseeing or anything important… it was about getting some sun and relaxing with my husband.  …and special guest appearances by my bro & his buddy and the puss & her family.  all around, it was a great time.

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we stayed at the aqua bamboo, which was new for me.  it was actually my first time not staying at a beachfront property right on waikiki beach.  for those familiar with the area, the bamboo is on kuhio, pretty much in line with the surfrider.  so it’s not far to the beach… lets say a 5 minute walk (2 blocks), but i will still stand by my preference of staying beachfront.
the hotel itself was good… cheap and cheerful as they say… nothing fancy, but absolutely fine for a week stay.  the hotel had an adorable little pool and the world’s tiniest hot tub, which was a factor in choosing the hotel, but at the end of it all we never actually made it in to either.

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i did enjoy that the bamboo had a very affordable massage place that was poolside.  my husband i both had a 50 minute massage for just under $80 including tax & tip.  a great bargain.  and boy did it ever feel good after that hike to diamond head.

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ah the diamond head hike… its turned into a must do for me.  you know… i must punish my body for so many mai tais.  somehow it makes me feel better. this trip, i literally woke my hangover up, did the 45 minute walk to diamond head, then did the hike and back and then ate a giant burger and then swam in the ocean,  then went for a massage.
overall, i’d say it was a hawaii win.  cured my hangover, thats for sure.

so, beverages will come in their own post, because in hawaii, there is no shortage of happy hour and tropical delights… but this one is all about the food.

hawaii’s food is a unique style of cuisine that defines melting pot.  it has strong influences from asia, polynesia, north america and when its mixed in with the traditional foods native to the area, you get things you can’t find anywhere else.  my husband’s favourite is loco moco.
basically loco moco is rice, a hamburger patty, 2 fried eggs done any style and smothered in gravy.  for breakfast. and its delicious.

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you know how they say; when in rome…?  well, when in hawaii, you’d best eat some loco moco.  and my husband did.  5 times.  lol.  he was on a mission to sample the local favourite at as many places as possible… and his verdict was that every place did it a little different, but at the end of the day, it was all delicious.  some places had a homemade gravy, sometimes adding mushrooms and/or onions… some places garnished with chopped green onions… some places put the gravy on top of the eggs, others eggs last.  some burger patties were clearly frozen from a box, others were hand formed and fresh.  but the base for all of them never changed… this delicious hawaiian style white rice.  i’m not too sure how they make their rice taste so good, but it sure does.  and for me, it’s one of my LOVES about hawaii, is that i can get this yummy sticky almost sushi style rice with my breakfasts.

so while my husband was eating his weight in loco moco, i was eating things like this:

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and i can’t forget the magic of this…

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ahhhh pancakes in hawaii.  another random thing to be in love with, but i never ever order pancakes at home. i just don’t care for them much. but in hawaii its a different animal.  topped with things like pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts and other local treats… and then smothered in coconut syrup instead of maple?  oh man, put a fork in me, i am DONE.

and let us not forget the papaya that much accompany every breakfast no matter what your main of choice is:

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yup, thats the stuff.

another island favourite is “pupus” which as far as i can tell is just hawaiian for appetizer.  which makes for hilarious (warning: may only be hilarious after several mai tais) jokes about needing to “take a wicked appetizer”.  haha.
anyhoo…. we had a lot of pupus.  because happy hour is cheap!  and if you do it right, you don’t really need a proper dinner.
one of my favourite destinations for pupus in waikiki is hula grill in the outrigger waikiki on the beach.  its upstairs from duke’s and often overlooked in favour of dukes.  but here’s the thing.  the decor is just as awesome upstairs, the food is pretty much the same and the drinks are waaaaay cheaper during happy hour.  so the hula grill is where you’ll often find me at happy hour…. eating things like: kahlua pork potstickers and ceviche and crab & mac nut stuffed won tons…

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and my personal favourites: crispy pork belly bao

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and the honey chicken lollypops which were ridiculously sticky sweet goodness.

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and at the end of a several hour long happy hour… we weren’t much worse for the wear financially.

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then there’s downstairs.  duke’s.  what can you say? if you’ve gone to waikiki, you’ve gone to dukes.  you just… have to.  yes, its loud and crazy and filled to the brim with pasty tourists and there’s children… but it’s dead centre in waikiki beach and makes a wicked mai tai and has good food and live music and, well, it’s just fun.

i am particularly in love with their salad bar.  there’s not a lot of good salad in waikiki, and dukes scratches my itch for fresh crispy lettuce and tons of good toppings so that i can construct my picky girl salad of choice.
but the fish entrees should never be overlooked.  you get the list from the server of whats in season and fresh right now and you choose from one of 4 preparations that they offer and chow down.  the fish entrees are always well cooked, perfectly seasoned and just fucking delicious.

we had the following: mine is the opah with mac nut crust and butter caper sauce (i just drooled typing that)
SAUTÉED MAC NUT AND HERB CRUSTED – Lightly dusted in parmesan cheese & bread crumbs, topped with lemon and caper butter

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and my husband dinned on the ono done duke’s style…
BAKED “DUKE’S STYLE” – Baked in a garlic, lemon and sweet basil glaze

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both were giant portions of fish so fresh, it may have been swimming yesterday… and at a fair market price.  plus it includes salad bar. did i mention the salad bar?

my last category for hawaiian eats is pop ups, food carts & beach shacks.  yes, food is everywhere in waikiki.  on two occasions this last trip, my husband and i grabbed some fish tacos & pork tacos from the food hut right on waikiki beach beside the surfrider and deemed it one of the best deals around.  $19 got us 4 giant tacos and a house brewed iced tea with pineapple juice in it to share.  not too shabby.

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a few days into our trip, on the way back from the beach to the hotel, we were surprised by a pop up market of sorts… except it was all food stands.  it wasn’t selling groceries, like our markets here, but selling fresh baked delights and pad thai and poke and even empanadas and dim sum treats.  so we stocked up and went back to our balcony with some local beers and made our own happy hour.

Hawaii 241  Hawaii 242Hawaii 243   Hawaii 244

Hawaii 088  Hawaii 089

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last, but certainly not least… once can not forget that hawaii knows its food trucks.  possibly the best one i’ve ever seen… the malasadas truck.  leonards is famous for its malasadas which are basically like a big round dounut rolled in sugar and sometimes stuffed with creme or fruit filling.  they’re DELICIOUS.  and leonards is the king.  buuuuut we didn’t quite make it to leonards proper, so we were thrilled to stumble across their food truck on the way to sandy beach one day.

so while we did this:

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we also go to eat this:

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a clear win win situation.

and off course, on our quest to enjoy this beach:

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we also got to enjoy this shrimp shack on the north shore.

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there’s a lot of shrimp options, and generally we go to giovanni’s, but this one lured us in with their option to have local shrimp, while a lot of stands have switched to the cheaper and inferior thailand shrimp.  the difference slapped you in the face.  these were almost like my beloved spot prawns.  sooooo worth the half hour wait.  (this place was BUSY – also a good sign)

and of course, i had to have my coconut… and this time i also may have had a corn on the cob at the roadside pit stop…

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mmmhmmm.  and thats how i do hawaii.
oh, but before i wrap up, i’d like to give a surprising honorable mention to buba gump’s shrimp.  yes, it is a chain theme restaurant and generally that goes against my better instincts, but my husband loves it and he actually sold me on it with this:

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thats a pound and a half of hot fresh cooked peel & eats with half caijun spice and half butter and garlic.  ya, we slayed those in a few minutes flat.  they were messy and buttery and so fucking delicious.

but then we followed it up with some shrimp tacos…

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and the calamari that they swore was the best ever and you know, it actually was like top 5 in my life and i’ve eaten a LOT of fried squid in my day.

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theirs had half squid, half rock shrimp and also deep fried red peppers and pepperoncini peppers.  well played bubba gumps, well played.

and so, i leave you with my last view of hawaii for this trip… diamondhead from my brothers suite on the 33rd floor of the sheraton.  yes, it was a grand time had in hawaii, and yes, i’ll be back as soon as i can.

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food & travel: eastern europe

well hello!  now that my jet-lag has subsided and things are back to normal… here it is… my long-awaited food of eastern europe blog post!
it seemed a natural choice that my wrap up of this trip would be all about the food… but what i didn’t realize was exactly how many pictures of food i took… and sorting through them was a bit of a task.
and trust, i did take pictures of every single thing i ate… but this is the greatest hits, so to speak.

we started our fine culinary journey in prague.
our very first night was spent at a traditional czech restaurant that featured the classics of their culture… this was part of the included meals with contiki and really a lot of fun and delicious!
we started with some appetizers:

 

stuffed tomato, asparagus in ham… lettuce.  a nice light start given the meat extravaganza that would follow soon…
and the soup. it was a really tasty potato soup. light and well seasoned. and while part of me was a tad disappointed it wasn’t goulash, i realized when the main came that it was for the best.

we feasted on duck, sausage, ham and roast pork. and two kinds of dumplings (bread & potato) and it perched on two kinds of cabbage (red & white).
ridiculous amounts of meat & carbs. not a green vegetable in sight. welcome to eastern europe.

we finished off with crepes & coffee.

and enjoyed the entertainment…

day two in prague brought us more delights…
and i finally got my goulash and dumplings.
and we also had table pretzels (do not be fooled, they are not free) and maybe my favourite thing of the afternoon – svařák – a czech hot mulled wine that worked wonders for fighting the chill in the air.

 

i really must unravel the secrets of svařák for this winter… i see recipes online and i think its worth experimenting with because it is a delight.  after this meal, i grabbed a cup to go from a vendor and wandered through the fog across charles bridge.  this is the stuff dreams are made of, kids.

but all good things must… change scenery?  sure!  off to vienna!
one of my favourite meals of the trip was our first night in vienna.  it wasn’t fancy or rich or anything crazy, it was just very well cooked and featured fine ingredients.

our starter was a delicate leek & potato soup and our main was a braised beef with mashed potatoes and carrots.
dessert was a decadent chocolate lava cake.
wins all around!

   

but my most favourite culinary moment on this trip was definitely the schnitzel.

i was so excited to eat schnitzel in vienna… and so when i asked my contiki tour director for her suggestion, she sent me without hesitation to figlmuller for what is considered to be the best in city.  (man, i LOVE having an expert to ask these things!)

and behold… the mother of all schnitzels.
with a side of the most unique potato salad i’ve ever had, topped with lamb’s lettuce.  amazing.

see… look how happy this made me…

the most amazing thing about this meal?
i actually somehow managed to eat the entire schnitzel.  i have no idea how, but i can only take it down to sheer willpower and the fact that my new tour friends were cheering me on.
and also because it was so delicious and the thought of wasting it made me unbearably sad.
the potato salad was sacrificed.  while delicious, something had to give.

after a brief wander around gorgeous vienna, my companions and i had one more vienna specialty to take down.
so again, on the advice of our awesome tour director, we headed to cafe leopold hawelka for an apple streusel and an espresso.

oh wow.  this was an amazing experience on its own.
i’m not the biggest apple lover, but this was a pretty special little treat.  wonderfully balanced, not sweet and not full of mushy fruit.  when you taste it, you know why they say the best in world comes from austria.

and of course, i couldn’t leave vienna without one last specialty product… the world famous sacher torte.
i’ll be honest.  at this point i wasn’t sure i’d ever be able to cram anything else into my body…
so i bought 2 sacher tortes and packed them lovingly for home.  gave one to my mom and my husband and i devoured the other.  it did not disappoint.  its hard to describe… so just think of the best chocolate cake you’ve ever eaten and then times that by 10.  and add a layer of apricot jam.  and you have the magic that is sacher torte.
plus it comes in a fancy wooden box.

last, but most certainly not least… our final stop was when the contiki bus rolled into the gorgeous city of budapest.
where i once again was on the trail of goulash.

our first night we spent on a dinner cruise down the danube and there’s just no words for how stunning this evening was.  the food was an excellent buffet of local eats and the scenery was indescribable.

my last full day in budapest was spent wandering the city after a tour of the parliament buildings… and naturally i was powerless to resist a mid-morning snack in the form of pastry stuffed with cottage cheese.
seriously, budapest knows the power of the cottage cheese.  it’s in a lot of food. and i approve.

after snacks, we moved on to check out the food markets… i could do a whole post on the wonders of the market, but since this is a pretty picture heavy post already, i’m going to give you my two favourites.
a streusel stuffed with cottage cheese and apricots warm from the oven… and kremes.

  

kremes are an emotional throwback for me.  i used to work in a slovakian bakery when i was about 19 years old and we served up all sorts of proper eastern europe treats that i’ve never seen since.  until this trip.
kremes used to be my favourite dessert we made and i sold them by the sheet pan for $2 a square for about 2 years of my life.  and i’ve never seen them since.  so this was pretty cool to see them in their natural habitat so to speak.

anyways, after a trip to the famous szechenyi baths for a few hours of sweet sweet relaxation, we had worked up a bit of an appetite.
what could possibly be left to try that you can’t find at home?  langos!

basically you’re looking at a giant piece of deep fried dough (think a savory beaver tail for the canadians) and its then topped with sour cream, TONS of raw chopped garlic and a mountain of cold cheese.

the result is nothing short of magic….
this was something i had never heard of until this trip. so thank you jen, our contiki tour manager extraordinaire!  because its not easy to show me a food i’ve never heard of before.  especially one thats so clearly up my alley. (hello deep-fried + bread + cheese)

all in all, the food of eastern europe wowed me.  it was at times, what i expected, and at other times it caught me off guard.
i’m so excited and grateful for all the authentic cuisine that i had access to and truly commend contiki on their great work with sourcing great restaurants and being at the ready to point us towards unique specialty items.
as far as culinary world travels go, this was unforgettable and just so unique.
when i first saw the schnitzel come out of the kitchen in vienna… or my first taste of the hungarian paprika in the goulash… and the delight of seeing kremes in the market…

i loved this trip.  and i’d return in a heartbeat if given the possibility.
now… to the gym to work off all those langos, lol!

travel: home for a rest

alright friends. as much as i adore traveling the globe, i am really thrilled to be home and to not have to go on a flight for another few weeks.

i feel so behind on life.
this blog is due for many posts…
my work email was exploding with things to tend to…
and i haven’t seen my friends since the end of august.

so i am totally okay with early nights to bed and keeping the party to a minimum for a bit.

my contiki trip was wicked fun.
but it reminded me that ‘m on the upper end of the age group they cater to, lol.
so there were some mornings when it was a challenge for me to muster up the energy to keep up with the kids.  us old people like our sleep and need more recovery time, haha.
but in all honesty, it was wonderful.

our tour director was super rad and lots of the people on the trip were very cool as well.
we had some good laughs and made friends easily.
since it was my first agent trip, i wasn’t too sure what to expect, but i really sincerely enjoyed myself.
and i definitely felt blessed to have been chosen and taken.

in the past 2 months i’ve been on 13 flights.
i’ve visited 7 countries.
i’ve been at home a total of 18 nights of the last 50.
i have lived on this time zone for under 3 weeks of the last 8.

i am exhausted.
and i feel like i could sleep for years.

while i was gone, vancouver went from sunny and warm to cold and raining.
and now i go to work and come home in the dark.
when i left, i swear it was summer.

its strange to say the least.

please don’t construe my quantifying as complaining.
i am grateful for my travels, but that doesn’t make them any less tiring to this old gal.

anyways.  i hope to have proper blog posts this week.
my italy pictures are still trapped on my camera card, but my eastern europe pictures have been set free.  so they’ll likely jump the queue.
in the meantime, here’s my favourite picture from my last trip.
taken in beautiful budapest, which i absolutely unequivocally fell in love with.

travel: prague, vienna & budapest today!

well, today is the day!  my flight departs at 4pm to take me into prague via amsterdam.
and man, i am EXCITED.
i have the pleasure of visiting 3 of the most beautiful cities in eastern europe and its all because of the fabulous folks at contiki.  so my huge thanks to them for hosting me!

prague is a city i have always wanted to see… vienna is a city my mother mentions over and over as being her favourite in europe… and budapest is a jewel i never dared to dream i might be able to cross off my travel list.
so this is not an opportunity i am taking for granted.

but as i’ve mentioned, it will be a whirlwind tour.
2 nights in each city will pass in the blink of an eye… and less than 7 days after departing, i’ll be back in vancouver.
and then i get to chill out on the flying front for a bit.
well… i’m off to hawaii on nov 17th.  but thats like a month away.
*then* no more travel until at least march.  maybe may.
but who has time to think about the future when tomorrow i’ll be looking at this:

to be honest, i haven’t done any research.  i’m basically going into all this blind.
i know that i’ll get the major highlights with contiki and then there’s a little free time in the afternoons and i figure i’ll just kinda wing it.  see what catches my fancy, wander around and take pictures… and just go with the flow.
i won’t really have enough time to really do anything big and i’m sure i’ll make friends with some of my tour mates, some who may have been to these places before, so i’m open to suggestions.
or you know, naps, lol.

anyways.  i haven’t packed, i’m still doing laundry from italy, and i guess i should check the weather forecasts to see what kind of clothes i need… so i literally *am* winging it this trip, lol.
i love this whole guided tour thing, its really allowing me to relax and not be that anal uber planner for all my trips.  its wonderful really to give up the control to a pro and just sit back and show up.  and for anyone thats ever been on a vacation with me, they know that i’m not good at giving up the planning control.
but now that i have, its so freeing.  i should have done this years ago!

okay. time to sort myself here and do the packing.

i believe our hotels will have wi-fi, so please follow me on instagram (vancityrockgirl) for pictures and also on facebook – EatDrinkFlydotcom where i’ll put some pics and updates for you.
xoxoxox

travel: home sweet home

 

ah yes… home sweet home.  for now.
in 3 sleeps i’m headed back to europe for prague, vienna & budapest for my whirlwind 6 nights with contiki.
but for now, i’m basking in italy memories, and relaxation in the form of pumpkin beer.

my italy pictures number about 1600 and i have to buy a new external hard drive to get htem off my camera, since my computer doesn’t have enough memory left… so what i’m saying is that you won’ be getting full italy posts for a few weeks because i want to wait for pictures.

in the meantime, i can tell you that my trip was absolutely wonderful.
the “favourite city” is hotly contested right now, but i have to give mad props to sicily for totally blowing our minds with awesome.  it was absolutely stunning there.  and it makes me kind of sad that so many people don’t quite make it there when they explore italy.  its one place that we immediately said we’d like to go back to.

anyways, gotta race off to work now (i’m scared of my inbox right now, not gonna lie) but here’s a couple pictures from my iphone that kind of start to do a little justice to the magic that is sicily.

here i am in the ruins in selinunte.  so amazing.

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and enjoying a limone granita in savoca (where the godfather was filmed)

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