Sometimes the best trips are the ones where you just say “Let’s go” and figure it out on the road!
Paris – the city of love!
A city full of history, architecture and pain du chocolat!
I’ve been to Europe 10 times but seemed to be dancing around Paris. It was finally time to go see this iconic city that everyone always has so much to say about.
We arrived and found our cute little Airbnb apartment in Montmarte, just around the corner from the Moulin Rouge and set out to join the Sandemans New Europe free walking tour. I’ve done this tour in other cities around Europe and always find it a great way to get your bearings, find some of the big tourist sites, and learn about lesser-known favourites that the guides love.
We gathered at Fontaine Saint-Michel to start the tour and learn a bit about the buildings around us. The architecture here is incredible. I could have happily just wandered through the city looking at the buildings, but there were far too many other things to see and do to just leave my eyes glued to the buildings.
We crossed a bridge and found ourselves walking up to Notre Dame, and while we didn’t find Quasimodo ringing the bells, there were a lot of gargoyles up on the arches looking down over the city. This gorgeous French Gothic church was set for demolition, but was saved by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The book was so popular that a petition went out to save the church.
The inside is as beautiful as the outside – especially the huge stained glass windows!
We made our way along the Seine River and came to the new Love Lock Bridge. Across the way is the former Love Lock Bridge, but so many locks had been placed on it that a piece of the bridge fell off into the Seine! It was considered a hazard (and an eyesore by many locals) and was moved to a sturdier landing by the bridge. Not as cool, but still full of locks.
We added our own lock to the masses and threw our key into the Seine. The area down by the water was nice to walk along except for the fact that like much of the city, the smell of pee was strongly wafting through the air. Such a beautiful…smelly city.
The Louvre was our next stop. This incredible building stretches along the right bank of the Seine. It houses over 35,000 works of art and it’s said it would take nine months to look at everything. Likely the most famous piece inside is the Mona Lisa, but we didn’t see it or any of the other masterpieces as we just wandered the outside of the building. Sometimes when you have limited time, you have to choose what you have time to see!
The Louvre used to be where the monarchy lived and they continued to add to it. In 1989, a new entrance was built. It’s supposed to be an invisible pyramid, but with its height, they couldn’t get the glass to stay without breaking as soon as the wind or rain hit it. Now it’s a bunch of small triangles with steel poles holding them together, making this invisible pyramid very visible and very odd looking next to this grand building from the 13th century!
Across the way is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a much smaller version of the main Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon commissioned it to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz. He had already commissioned the main one, but it took about 20 years to build, so he had this one made so he could walk under it in victory sooner! If you look though the marble arch you can see the Arc de Triomphe from one side and the Louvre from the other. Here, we were given more info on other main sites and our tour ended in the park.
We continued through the park, heading towards the Arc de Triomphe, walking along the fancy Champs-Elysees area with all the high-end shops and restaurants. To get to the Arc de Triomphe, you must take the underground tunnel, as it’s far too dangerous to cross the 12 lane roundabout circling it! It’s a very patriotic sight with a huge French flag flying in the middle of the 50-metre high arch.
The whole time we were walking up to it, I found myself singing songs from Les Miserables, specifically “Do You Hear the People Sing.” (If you don’t know this musical, go check out the soundtrack!)
Our walking tour continued along Champs-Elysees as we now made our way toward the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to have the classic romantic picnic by the Eiffel Tower so we looked for a place to buy baguettes, cheese and wine, but we waited too long and most of the bakeries were closed for the day. We realized we didn’t have a corkscrew and all the good wine needed one. Eventually, we found a little market with twist off mini bottles of wine, small baguettes and some cheese, so we bought it and continued to the Eiffel Tower. What an impressive sight! You see the image of the Eiffel Tower on everything these days, but seeing it up close was amazing. We found a spot in the grass just as the sun was starting to set and started our picnic.
It was definitely less than ideal. The bread was hard and the cheese smelled like dirty feet! We scrapped that and got seafood paella at one of the food vendors nearby. So much for our romantic French picnic!
Beginning at 9pm, there is a sparkling light show on the tower lasting about 5 minutes every hour on the hour. What a spectacular sight! After watching it again at 10pm, we caught the Metro back to Montmartre and saw another iconic Parisian landmark all lit up – the Moulin Rouge.
We spent day two at Disneyland Paris. You can see that blog post here.
The following day, we set out to walk around Montmartre, the artsy, bohemian area of Paris. I loved it here. We stopped at a bakery for pain du chocolat (delicious chocolate croissants) before continuing on. Montmartre is located on a hill, giving you some nice views, especially when you make it up to the top by the Sacre-Coeur Basilica.
The huge dome can be seen for miles. You can climb up the Dome and head down into the crypt here. If you are tired of walking at this point, you can also take the funicular up the hill to the Sacre-Coeur. At the base of the steps is a beautiful old double-decker carousel.
From here, we took the Metro to visit the Catacombs of Paris. It was a long wait, but it was a very cool experience, exploring the bones beneath the city. (For more on that, check out this blog post).
Our time in Paris was running out and although there were many more things I wanted to see and do, they would all have to wait for next time. I had one more main item to check off on this visit… climbing up the Eiffel Tower!
We made our way back over to the tower, paid our €7 and started climbing.
There are also elevators you can take, but we decided to walk up instead. You can climb as high as the second viewing deck. We stopped at the first level, 57m up, to take some photos before continuing up to the second deck at 115m. (The full tower is 324m to the tip). We toasted our success with a beer and enjoyed the view of Paris from up here.
What an incredible end to a short stay in the city of love!
Voted one of the top 10 beach bars in the world, Rick’s Cafe in Negril has become one of the most popular tourist spots in Jamaica. However, when the cliffside bar and restaurant first opened in April 1974, Negril was a sleepy fishing village with very little development. It soon became known as one of the best spots in Jamaica to watch the sunsets, and the crowds never stopped coming.
Rick’s Cafe was destroyed by hurricanes in both 1988 and 2004, but each time was rebuilt better than before.
Today, the 1.5-acre property hosts a gift shop, bar, restaurant, pool and live entertainment as well as lots of seating options.
You can also go swimming or try cliff diving, if you dare, off three different levels: 10ft, 25ft or 35ft cliffs, landing into 15ft deep turquoise waters below.
I didn’t get the nerve up to jump in, but watching others was great, especially when some of the locals started jumping off the highest platform, 80ft or so up.
Terrifying, but they make it look so easy! (Only locals are allowed to jump from up there. The highest platform the tourists can jump from is 35ft.)
Be sure to secure your spot early if you want a gorgeous sunset photo free of other people’s heads and cameras. It becomes very crowded around the edge as soon as the sun starts to dip. The live Jamaican music gets started around this time, too, adding to the atmosphere.
From up on the 35ft cliffs, looking down over the sea, the colourful sunset really is remarkable.
Unfortunately, we had some clouds covering the last little bit of our sunset, but overall, it was still worth it!
-Open every day (365 days a year) from 12pm to 10PM
-Admission is FREE
-Many hotels offer tour and/or shuttle options to get to Rick’s Cafe
-Cliff diving is strictly at your own risk
-Camera (or phone) – fully charged
-Bathing suit if you plan on swimming or cliff jumping
-Money if you wish to purchase food, drinks or souvenirs
Visit rickscafejamaica for more info
Most of the time, I don’t pay much attention to sports. Sure, I love going out to watch a Toronto Blue Jays game, but rarely watch a game on T.V. But every two years, I become completely obsessed with sports, most of which I know very little about, when the Olympic Games start. This year has been no different. Most mornings, you can find me streaming whatever events happened overnight and then watching the live events in the evenings. While I will happily watch whatever is on, figure skating will always be my favourite. As much fun as it is to cheer the athletes on from my couch, seeing an event live is even better. I was lucky enough to watch the women’s Canada vs USA soccer game at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, England. What an incredible experience!
I’ve never been to PyeongChang, but I have been to South Korea twice while my youngest sister was living there and quite enjoyed my time. Korean food is amazing, but I think my favourite part was wandering around the beautiful temples, like the colourful Beomeosa Temple below.
One day, I’d love to cheer on the athletes from the stands again, but for now, it’s back to my couch!
Go Canada Go!!
I had always wanted to visit Paris, but seemed to always find myself heading elsewhere on my trips to Europe. Finally, on my last trip over, I had a few days to spend exploring the ‘city of love’. The architecture here is amazing. I loved just wandering around the streets taking in all the old buildings. Since we didn’t have much time, we walked the streets looking for all the iconic Parisian sights, stopping at bakeries for croissants and coffee along the way!
Here’s a little video with some of the most famous sights in Paris.
Ten years ago today, on my 24th birthday, I set out on my biggest adventure yet. I had recently graduated from theatre school and was looking for something completely different to do. I researched various travel companies, looked at backpacking options and read about volunteer trips before finally deciding to head to Kenya to volunteer in an orphanage. I couldn’t think of anything that would be further away from my current life and thought it would be an interesting and challenging way to kick off my 24th year on earth.
Heading in, I knew it would be an adventure. After touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, making my way through customs and heading out to find my ride into the capital city, Nairobi, I knew immediately that my time here would be a completely life-changing experience.
I arrived in January 2008, while the country was still in the midst of the violence that erupted following the election on December 27, 2007. I had been following what was happening closely and speaking with members of the Global Volunteer Network (the organization I was going with) who were currently in Kenya to decide if I should be pulling out like some of the others had – and like I’m sure many of my friends and family hoped I would. But in the end, I decided I was still going. It was a clash of tribes and at this point, no foreigners had been harmed. I knew I’d have to watch where I was going and stay away from the growing number of rallies taking place, but overall I still really wanted to go. So on January 12th, after one final wave and “Happy Birthday” from my tearful mother, I boarded the plane and headed to Kenya to meet the handful of other volunteers who still elected to start that week. After a couple days of orientation, we were sent out to our placements. Some were working in schools, others at local hospitals, and some, like me, were based in various children’s homes. I was placed at the Manaseh Children’s Home just outside of Karen, Kenya with another volunteer who happened to be from Canada.
As we pulled through the gates, we were greeted by a number of the home’s 32 children screaming hello and waving. I was immediately pulled into hugs by the woman who ran the home and the kids, and although it was all very overwhelming, I knew coming had been the right choice.
We quickly settled into life at the children’s home, helping with meals and homework, figuring out what days the water was working to shower, playing outside and trying to infuse as much love as possible to these kids who so badly just wanted to be hugged. The children here ranged in age from 4-16 years old, and while some spoke more English and were able to communicate with us easier, we had no trouble communicating with laughs and smiles as we ran around outside or worked on homework questions.
Many of the kids here would finish their homework only to ask us to make them more questions. They so desperately wanted to learn and knew how important getting an education was to improving their life. I learned that primary school is free to attend, but you need to be able to afford the uniform, leather shoes, books and lunches, so school is still out of reach for many Kenyan children. I asked why some of the children here weren’t in school and was told they didn’t have the money to cover all the fees. I had put on a show to fundraise before I left so I’d be able to help with things like this and soon all the kids were in school. We’d visit the classrooms the kids went to and lead them all in songs and games. Walking into a kindergarten classroom to find all the kids quietly drinking tea and waiting for their next lesson is something I’ll never forget.
After purchasing some soccer balls, we’d spend many afternoons playing soccer games in the back field and hours sitting around cutting up mangos and passion fruit while the kids taught us Swahili words and laughed hysterically when we’d mess them up. They would entertain themselves for hours playing with an old water bottle or an empty yogurt cup as real toys were few and far between here. Some days, I’d spend hours getting my hair braided and re-braided by the girls wanting to practice or teach the younger ones.
We spent time in the kitchen learning how to make chapati, which were my favourite and a rare treat around the orphanage for special occasions.
Generally, our meals consisted of rice or ugali and whatever vegetables the owner could get for a discount (usually meaning they were close to being bad). Meat was a rare treat and usually only happened when one of us went to visit a local butcher (for more on that experience check out my Kenyan Valentine’s Day post!) Most nights would end with everyone gathered around the living room after dinner and at least one child climbing into my lap and falling asleep.
While I was there, we’d also have weekly volunteer outings, where those of us placed nearby would go for dinner or a movie or visit a local attraction. We went camping in the Ngong Hills (careful to put all food away at night so we wouldn’t attract the local lions), and visited an animal orphanage where I got to pet a cheetah!
But my favourite outing of all was visiting the Giraffe Centre where you could pet, feed and kiss the giraffes!
We took a bus trip to Mombasa and Diani Beach, where we slept in tree houses, swam in the warm Indian Ocean and visited a local eco park.
A few of us also headed north to climb Mount Kenya, not quite reaching the summit as a nasty storm was coming in. Our guide told us he could get us up, but couldn’t guarantee he could get us back down. We decided the last couple thousand metres weren’t that important and headed back down, only to be stopped while a rogue elephant was chased away!
With everything going on in the country, my flight home was cancelled, allowing me to stay longer and experience more. We had a pizza party movie night, where most of the kids tried pizza for the first time (many didn’t like it). We also had cake and ice cream for Valentine’s Day, but most of them let the ice cream melt and then drank it as it was too cold.
I went to the boys’ boarding school for parent night and met their teachers, learned to make beaded jewellery, and helped fund an outdoor kitchen so that they’d be able to cook their meals even when it was raining. Imagine not being able to get your stove to start if it rained and trying to cook on an open fire indoors, creating thick smoke throughout the house. Things like that really opened my eyes.
For the most part, my time there was safe and uneventful, though one night a couple of weeks after arriving, we awoke to screaming coming from next door. Next thing I knew, it seemed like the whole village was up and running around outside. I sat crouched by the window, trying to see what was happening. The next morning, the owner explained that the house next door was broken into and the whole village heard the screams and went out to chase the thieves away. At this point, most people didn’t bother calling the police. They just dealt with issues on their own. We were told that two got away. I never asked what happened to the third. We were also told they weren’t professional. When I asked what the difference was, he explained that if they were professional, they’d have guns, and we could all be dead. Very eye-opening.
It was also a surreal experience watching the news each night. The home had two channels, a local one and the BBC. We’d spend the evening watching horrific scenes of what was happening in the country we were currently living in. I always knew when a particularly bad day had occurred when I’d get a panicked phone call from my parents just making sure I was okay. I was careful about where I went and thankfully the feeling I had that I’d be okay when I decided to come followed me through my time here.
Before leaving, I went on safari to the Maasai Mara with another volunteer. What an incredible experience it was seeing all these animals up close and sleeping out in luxury tents under the African sky. (This was the only time I had a hot shower while I was in Kenya!)
When it was finally time to leave, my kids each packed a chapati for me to take home (customs had a laugh at that as I tearfully explained that I couldn’t leave them behind). After lots of hugs and tears, I finally got in my taxi to head back to the airport. Leaving them all behind was harder than I ever could have imagined it would be, and as I sat in Heathrow on my stopover wrapped up in my Kenyan Kikoy, eating my chapatti, I had to fight the urge to turn around and head right back to the children and experiences that had so greatly impacted my life.
Coming home, I had trouble adjusting back to life here. It took me quite awhile before I could go grocery shopping without crying over the fact that we have 25 kinds of chips, while they survived most days on rice.
My time in Kenya definitely showed me what was important in life – friends, family, experiences, love, and understanding for those who are different from you.
These kids had lost everything and yet were more loving and caring then most of us ever will be. They played with garbage and ate the same meal day in and day out and I never once heard anyone complain. They were always willing to help each other, and although there were fights (as there always are with large groups of kids), the disagreements never lasted long.
It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since my first trip to Kenya. I still remember everything so vividly that at times it feels like I’ve only just returned. While I’ve had many other amazing travel and life experiences since then, I’m not sure I’ll ever have another that will turn out to be quite as life-changing as this one was.
As always my new year’s resolution for 2018 is to travel. Travel to new places. Travel to old favourite places. Explore and say YES to as many new adventures as I can.
Happy New Year!