The colourful Jelly Bean houses of St.John’s

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The brightly coloured houses known as “Jelly Bean Row” have become one of the most popular photos used in St. John’s, Newfoundland tourism, but if you come looking for a specific “row” of houses, you’ll be surprised to learn that these brightly coloured homes can be found all over the city.

fullsizeoutput_b25Ranging from vibrant to pastel shades, a rainbow of colour hits you as you wander up and down St. John’s hilly streets. Many homes and shops are enhanced with “gingerbread” trims, in an equally bright, contrasting colour.

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These houses were constructed as temporary accommodation after the Great Fire of 1892, but many remained as permanent residences.

So where did this colourful tradition come from?

Some say it started with the fishermen who painted their homes bright so they could find their way home in the fog (or after having a few too many drinks at the pub). It was also cheaper to buy large amounts of one colour of paint, so they’d paint their boats and their homes the same striking colour. fullsizeoutput_afa

As fun as those stories are, the majority of the Jelly Bean houses appeared in the late 1970s as a way to inject new life into a rundown-looking city.

fullsizeoutput_bc1And they have certainly done their job. Walk along any street in St. John’s and you’ll come across a brightly coloured home (or a row of them!) Many even have Jelly Bean Row mailboxes posted out front, adding just one more splash of light to these already sunny homes!Jelly Bean Row Mailbox

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September 11th.

I still remember the shocked feeling I had 16 years ago today when my English teacher wheeled in a television for my class to watch as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Centre.  The feelings of confusion as to why someone would deliberately harm so many innocent people mixed with the sadness for all those who were killed.

Fast forward 16 years and I still sit here with those same feelings, but one now stands out above the rest – the feeling of what those flight crew members must have been thinking in those final minutes before their plane crashed. Becoming a flight attendant added another level to my feeling of loss surrounding September 11th.

Over the past year, I have been completely obsessed with the musical “Come From Away,” and especially with the character of Beverley Bass, the first female American Airlines captain in history. She was one of the pilots who found themselves landing in Gander, Newfoundland after the American airspace was closed following the attacks on September 11th, 2001.  She sings about her love of aviation, working her way up as a female in a male-dominated profession, and how she felt that day learning that someone took the thing she loved most and turned it into a weapon:

“When suddenly someone on air to air traffic says
At 8:46 there’s been a terrorist action”
And the one thing I loved more than anything was used as the bomb
Suddenly I’m in a hotel
Suddenly something has died
Suddenly there’s something in between me and the sky”

Me and the Sky- Jen Colella, Come From Away (short version)

That feeling of having something you love being used in such a horrific way brings me to tears every time I listen to this song.

The musical is based on true accounts of the days that followed September 11th, when 38 planes bound for the United States were grounded in Gander, Newfoundland.

There is also a book, “The Day the World Came to Town- 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland”, that shares stories from passengers, crew and the townspeople who generously dropped everything and opened their doors to the “plane people” who arrived in their small town.

fullsizeoutput_bd4On a flight this summer, I found myself stopping in Gander. Looking out at the small airport, it was hard to imagine 38 planes and 6,595 passengers and crew members arriving here, in a town with around 10,000 living in it. fullsizeoutput_bd5

‘You are here at the start of a moment on the edge of the world where the river meets the sea. Here on the edge of the Atlantic on an island in between there and here’

In a time of terror around the world, these Newfoundlanders did everything they could to make their unexpected guests feel safe. Both the musical and the book share stories of love, compassion and the unselfish desire to help those in need.

 

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Wanderlust

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Memories

I love taking photos while I travel. Looking back at them, I’m always transported back to the place where it was taken, remembering all the amazing adventures I’ve had over the years.

Lately, however, all of my Facebook memories have been reminding me that for the past ten years, I’m always away having fabulous adventures during the summer months: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, exploring Alaska and the Yukon, travelling around Asia or backpacking around Europe. This summer, I’m at home, working and feeling jealous of my previous summer fun…..

Guess it’s just about time to hit the road again!

 

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Playas del Este- Havana’s beautiful beaches

While most people travel to Havana to spend their time exploring the beautiful old city, just east of all the glorious old architecture is a series of white-sand beaches, known as the Playas del Este.On a recent trip, we decided to stay in the beach area and have the best of both worlds as our resort provided a free shuttle into Old Havana.The string of beaches stretches 24 kms along the north coast.  While the beaches here are a gorgeous white sand, palm tree-lined, turquoise water heaven, the accompanying resorts aren’t exactly luxurious. Many of them have a worn down appearance as most are over 50 years old, but for those wishing to spend their time in the city or enjoying the beaches, they are just fine.

Hotel Atlantico from the water

Our resort was located on Playa Santa Maria del Mar, one of the most popular beaches, where many of the international resorts are located.

Weekends can get very busy with locals heading out to relax and parking lots soon fill up with vintage cars and mopeds.

The crystal clear turquoise waters are perfect for swimming and snorkelling to check out a variety of fish.

But the best part was the incredible sunsets!

Getting there:  The beach area is about 20 kms away from Old Havana.

You can take the Habana Bus Tour tourist bus Line 3, which runs from Old Havana to the beaches at Cojímar, Bacuranao and Santa Maria del Mar daily from 9am-6pm for 5 CUC.

A taxi will cost around 15 CUC each way. Be sure to set the price before leaving.

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Havana- Classic meets Colourful

I just can’t get enough of the classic cars and colourful, and sometimes crumbling, architecture found in Havana. Even the gloomy, grey day seemed a little brighter with all the colours!

So here’s a gallery of some of my favourites!

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Happy Birthday, my travelling Grandma!

‘Travel is the best education you can give yourself.’

Growing up, I heard this advice a lot from my Grandma as she was showing us photos and telling us all about her latest trip. 
She saw the world and inspired me to do the same.
A lifelong teacher, she knew the value of education, but also knew that the world had so much more to offer than you could ever find in a classroom.
Only while immersing yourself in someone else’s way of life do you realize how alike we truly are.  Thank you for instilling in me this love of travel and need to constantly be educating myself.

Happy birthday my travelling Grandma!  I hope everyone up there enjoys your travel stories as much as I always did! Xo

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Taking a step back in time in Havana

fullsizeoutput_868Wandering through Havana feels like taking a step back in time with the old colonial-style buildings and classic American cars making their way along the narrow streets.  I’ve been wanting to visit Havana for awhile now, and the city certainly didn’t disappoint. The architecture here is beautiful, with many of the buildings painted in vibrant colours. While they may be in various states of crumbling, they certainly have a lot of character. It’s easy to see why Old Havana was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1982.

Some of the main buildings, like the Capital, are currently under construction as they prepare for the city’s 500th birthday in 2019. 500! And to think Canada has just celebrated its 150th!
With age comes culture, and Havana certainly has a culture of its own. Live music can be heard everywhere with people getting up to dance along. There’s a rhythm found in the city, that even when you spend half your day running from the rain, you still find yourself caught up in. The city also has a rich history and numerous museums to explore.

Old Havana has four main plazas that are all worth wandering though: Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas, Plaza San Francisco de Asís, and Plaza Vieja.

fullsizeoutput_859Catedral de San Cristóbal, located in Plaza de la Catedral, is a gorgeous Cuban Baroque facade carved from fossil-embedded stone, originally built in 1727.

Stepping through the big wooden doors, you head into the chapel with a beautiful altar at the front.  You can also pay 1 CUC and climb up the bell tower for an amazing view of the city.

 

fullsizeoutput_856La Bodeguita del Medio, a short walk from the cathedral, dates back to the 1940s, when Ernest Hemingway used to stop by regularly for a mojito.

If that’s all you’re looking for, there’s a bar set up just off the street where the famous mojitos are served. Otherwise, the building hosts several stories and lots of nooks and crannies where tables are set up to serve delicious creole dishes.

Almost every square inch of the walls are covered in signatures of both famous people and those of us just passing through. We lucked out with a little top floor room with a few tables and a balcony with a view of the cathedral that now hosts our names.

Plaza de Armas is the city’s oldest plaza dating back to 1582, when it was used mainly for the military. Today, there’s a beautiful garden and statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. It’s also surrounded by buildings with huge overhangs – perfect for hiding out from the rain!

fullsizeoutput_80aPlaza de San Francisco de Asís is located near the waterfront with an ornate Lion’s Fountain (Fuente de los Leones) as the centrepiece and the beautiful Basilica Menor y Convento de San Francisco de Asís at one end. Today, concerts featuring classic and Cuban music are held here.

 

fullsizeoutput_80fJust up the street is the Havana Club Rum museum (Museo del Ron Havana Club). We made our way over and took a tour to learn about the history and process of making Havana Club rum. As we made our way through an old colonial building, our guide gave us a brief history of this Cuban rum and then showed us all the tools used in making it. At the end, we met at the bar for a sample of Havana Club 7-year-old rum before heading into the shop where you could purchase the various rums they make here. The tour costs 7 CUC.fullsizeoutput_8d1We also tried out two local craft breweries – Cerveceria Antiguo Almacén de la Madera y El Tabaco, which is located down by the waterfront, and Factoria Plaza Vieja which is found in the fourth plaza (Plaza Viejo). For more info on them, click herefullsizeoutput_8d5Near the waterfront is the Mercado de Artesanía San José. This huge market is a great place to find all kinds of crafts and souvenirs.fullsizeoutput_8eeWe made our way across Old Havana to wander a bit of the Prado, one of the prettiest promenades in the city, which marks the boundary between Habana Vieja (Old Havana) and Centro Habana (Central Havana), with colourful buildings, wrought iron street lights and trees.fullsizeoutput_8eaThe Capitolio Nacional building shares a remarkable resemblance to the American White House and is one of Havana’s great landmarks. The building is currently under construction in preparation for the 500th anniversary, but from what you can see from the outside, it’s an impressive building.  fullsizeoutput_8f4Continuing along, you come to the Gran Teatre de la Habana, another beautiful old building across from Parque Central. With all the old cars parked out front here, you could almost imagine great theatre stars of the 40s and 50s making their way out of the theatre after a night on the stage.

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No visit to Havana is complete without taking a stroll along the Malecon – the 8km waterfront boulevard which runs from Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta on Havana’s northern shore all the way to the Almendares River which separates Vedado from Miramar.

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Good to Know

* When you arrive, you’ll need to exchange money to the tourist Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). Locals use Cuban Pesos.

* Always set your taxi price before getting in.

* Old cars, horse carriages and bike taxi prices are based on distances and timing. It’s always good to show the driver a list of what you want to see.

* There are two Habana Bus Tour buses with two different routes:

T-1: Double decker Hop on/off – Offers a panoramic view of the city. The full ride takes 2 hours.

T-3: Beach Bus – 30 min ride to Santa Maria Beach.

T-1 costs 10 CUC and T-3 costs 5CUC. Both run from 9am-6pm every 30 minutes and leave from Central Park (Parque Central).

* WiFi cards are available for a charge at most of the bigger hotels, but the service can be spotty and very slow.

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Taking a break from Cristal: Havana Craft Beer

fullsizeoutput_7eaSeeking out new craft breweries in foreign cities seems to have become a normal part of my travels these days, and Havana didn’t disappoint.

On a recent trip, we found two craft breweries to check out.fullsizeoutput_7fbThe first one, Factoria Plaza Vieja, is located in a bright yellow building in the corner of Plaza Vieja, one of the four major plazas in Old Havana.

 

Here they serve three different beers: Clara, Oscura and Negra.  You have a choice between a 500ml glass or a 3L tower to enjoy your beer in. A 500ml glass of beer costs 2CUC and the tower costs 12CUC.

As it’s located in one of the major plazas, this brewery is a popular spot for tourists. They have a food menu with a variety of options to enjoy along with your beer. fullsizeoutput_7fa

fullsizeoutput_8d1The second brewery we hit was Cerveceria Antiguo Almacén de la Madera y El Tabaco.  This one is located down by the water in an old tobacco factory, near the Mecardo de Artesania San José, a great market for crafts and souvenirs.  This brewery is huge and has lots of seating both inside and out on the patio.  fullsizeoutput_8d9Again, there were three different beers: light, medium and dark, and you had a choice of a 500ml glass or a tower. Pricing was the same.fullsizeoutput_8dc

While it wasn’t like a typical North American craft brewery, it was a nice break from Cristal and Bucanero and a great way to try a new brew!

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Bonjour Disneyland Paris!

I love the magic of Disney and always love visiting a Disney Park on my travels. So while in France, I headed to Disneyland Paris to cross another one off my list.20160825_2001171.jpg

Disneyland Paris is split into two parks – Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.   While it contained many of the same rides and attractions found at the other Disney Parks, there were also some new ones like Crush’s Coasters, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalment Toquee de Remy. 

The nighttime fireworks spectacular ‘Disney Dreams’ was as fantastic as their shows always are, but this one was neat as on top of popular Disney songs and characters being projected on the castle, they also made use of those Disney films that are set in France- Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ratatouille, with songs from these films being performed in French!

              **Please excuse the shakiness, 20 minutes of looking up without a tripod is harder than it seems!**

 

I’ve now checked five Disney parks off my list. Only one remains: Shanghai, I’m coming for you!

For more info on Disneyland Paris, click here

Bonus Feature in honour of my mom, who’s favourite ride at Disney is ‘It’s a Small World‘ and who had us all riding it multiple times when we were younger!! Enjoy!

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