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Spooky places to spend your Halloween

Halloween is my favourite time of year. I love all the decorations and costumes and how everything seems just a little spookier as the leaves change colour and the carved pumpkins glow.

It’s also a great time to explore some of the world’s creepier destinations.

Here are a few of my favourite spooky spots to check out this time of year:

The Catacombs of Paris.

Exploring the Catacombs of Paris

Exploring the Catacombs of Paris.

“The City of Love” has a darker side waiting 20m below the city streets. Here, in the underground ossuaries lie the remains of more than six million people. The bones are laid in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone mines.

During the late 1700s, many of the city’s cemeteries had reached capacity. Some, including the Saints-Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents) had gone beyond capacity. Here, people were buried in mass graves, piled one on top of the other until it became a source of infection for those nearby. In late 1785, the Council of the State closed the cemetery and decided to remove its contents.

Millions of bones

Millions of bones found in the underground ossuary of Paris

This transfer began in 1786 after the blessing and consecration of the site and continued until 1788. The moving of remains took place at nightfall, where a procession of priests sang the service for the dead along the route taken by the carts loaded with bones and covered by a black veil. Until 1814, this site received the remains from all the cemeteries of Paris.

Nowadays, the 2kms of bone-filled tunnels is a perfect place to spend a couple of hours on Halloween!

 

Wat Rong Khun, Thailand

Koi fish

Koi fish swimming in the pond surrounding What Rong Khun

Better known as the “White Temple,” Wat Rong Khun is one of the most famous temples in Thailand. Located in Chiang Rai, this temple looks like something out of a fairy tale… until you get a closer look.

There are demons and villains popping out of the ground and hanging from trees all around the temple. To enter the main chapel, you cross a narrow bridge over a pool of hands and faces reaching up, trying to claw their way back to the surface, representing suffering souls in Hell.

And they sure are creepy to walk across!

 

Walt Disney World, Orlando

Mickey Halloween Lanterns

Mickey Halloween Lanterns

While it may be known as the happiest place on earth, Disney World turns into a spooky night out with Mickey’s Not- So-Scary Halloween Party.

Jack and Sally

Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas with Mary Poppins and Bert!

It may not be as creepy as some of the other spots on this list, but with all the Halloween decor, characters like Jack and Sally out for photos and special shows like the “Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular” and the “Boo-to-You” Parade, it’s definitely a fun night out. Plus, it’s the one time of year that as an adult you can dress up as your favourite character at the park – and you get to trick or treat along the way, no matter how old you are!

Disney is truly a place where you never have to grow up, and that makes celebrating Halloween there even more fun!

 

And then, of course, there is Salem, Massachusetts

Salem is widely known as the site of the witchcraft trials of 1692, and the history and stories surrounding the hysteria of the witchcraft trials is found everywhere here, from museums to historical re-enactments to haunted walking tours.

During the month of October, this small town of 40,000 doubles in size as Halloween enthusiasts make their way here to explore the haunting history

You can visit the memorial dedicated to the 19 innocent people who were killed during the witch trials and you can also check out some of the film locations of my favourite fictional witches, The Sanderson Sisters from “Hocus Pocus ” 

Allison's Mansion from Hocus Pocus

Allison’s Mansion from Hocus Pocus

Salem has something for everyone and should definitely be on your Halloween travel list!

Zombie Prom

All dressed up for Zombie Prom in Salem

Next on my list of places to visit for Halloween are New Orleans, and of course, Transylvania!

What’s on your spooky travel list?

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Trying Cuy in Peru

One of Peru’s most famous dishes is not exactly a conventional one – at least not by North American standards. Here, though, Cuy (guinea pig) has been a staple in the Andean diet for around 5,000 years. Long before they were considered cute fluffy pets, they were raised in the Andes for food.

While gourmet chefs have spruced up the original recipes and are now adding their own flare to the dish, Cuy is generally roasted whole, with the head, teeth, ears, and other parts left intact. They are doused in salt and garlic to crisp up the skin. You can find them being sold as “street meat” on sticks in areas surrounding the Sacred Valley, but many restaurants in Cusco and a few in Lima also serve the dish. For Peruvians, Cuy is a dish served on special occasions, not part of the everyday menu anymore. But with the influx of tourists over the last decade, many restaurants keep Cuy on the menu for those curious travellers to taste. It’s generally one of the most expensive items on the menu, costing anywhere from 40-70 soles ($15-28 USD).fullsizeoutput_1be0

I like trying local dishes while travelling, but this one was harder than most. Growing up, I had pet guinea pigs named Fuzz and Magic, and seeing the little face still intact on this Cuy dish definitely made me feel guilty for taking a bite. If you can get your head around it and forget what you are eating, the crispy skin tastes a lot like fried chicken.

I certainly won’t be making this dish a regular, but if you are in Peru, it’s definitely a must-try!

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Watching Sunsets around the World

Watching sunsets around the world is boring-2

I am obsessed with sunsets and love to catch beautiful ones on my travels around the world. While any colourful sunset is beautiful, I especially love watching them set over the ocean, like this one in Negril, Jamaica!

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A quick trip to Paris

The Eiffel Tower at nightParis – 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.

Inside Notre Dame
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 LouvreThe 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. Pyramid outside the LouvreIt’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!

Arc de Triomphe du CarrouselAcross 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.

Arc de TriompheWe 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!)

Eiffel Tower 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.

Our Parisian 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. 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. Beautiful carousel near Sacre-Couer

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. Climbing the Eiffel Tower

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. View of Paris from the Eiffel Tower

What an incredible end to a short stay in the city of love!

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Watching the sunset at Rick’s Cafe

Rick's Cafe

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.

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Unfortunately, we had some clouds covering the last little bit of our sunset, but overall, it was still worth it!

 

Info:

-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

Bring:

-Camera (or phone) – fully charged

-Bathing suit if you plan on swimming or cliff jumping

-Sunscreen

-Money if you wish to purchase food, drinks or souvenirs

 Visit rickscafejamaica for more info
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Olympic obsession

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!!

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Travel Christmas Tree

fullsizeoutput_de2Over the years, when I found Christmas tree ornaments that I liked on travels I’d take them home as souvenirs. It started as a fairly sporadic collection, but over the past few years, I’ve tried to find ornaments from each trip to add to my Christmas Travel Tree.

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Finding ‘Crystals’ around the world

I’ve always enjoyed seeking out ‘Crystals’ in my travels around the world.

From the beautiful Crystal shops in Hungary and the Cristal beer in Cuba to swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida to these shining Crystals at the Galaxy in Macau.

So when I heard there was a Crystal Pagoda in the small village of Ban Thaton, where we were staying, near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, I just had to go see it for myself.

fullsizeoutput_d60Wat Thaton is a large temple complex located at the top of a hill overlooking the Mae Kok River. It turned out to be quite a hike up into the hills surrounding Ban Thaton, near the border of Myanmar.  The view on the hike up was incredible.

The temple complex is built on several levels, hosting statues, temple buildings and a Buddhist school on the way up to the top.

 

While the hike itself was beautiful and all the statues and buildings on the way up were great, none were as striking as the Chedi Kaew or Crystal Pagoda.fullsizeoutput_d66

Sitting at the top of the hill, this colourful building can be seen from miles way.  The structure is covered with intricate designs depicting the Buddha’s teachings.fullsizeoutput_d73Wandering inside, we found a large number of Buddha statues coming from many different countries.  In the centre of the Chedi Kaew is a spiral platform that leads to the top level of the building, with more artifacts found along the way.

The Wat Thaton organizes several programs to benefit the local community. A project for local children and hill tribe children aims to bring several communities living in the area closer together.

Within the complex , there is a Buddhist school for monks and novices and a Vipassana meditation center. You can also find a herbal medicine center, a restaurant, a large meeting hall and several other buildings.

fullsizeoutput_d64So, if you’re headed to Northern Thailand, pack your hiking shoes and visit the beautiful Crystal Pagoda. The Wat Thaton is open from 8 am until 5 pm. Admission is free and the view is incredible!  fullsizeoutput_d6e

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Long boating the Mae Kok River

fullsizeoutput_d0fWhile in Northern Thailand, what better way to travel from one place to another than by traditional long boat?

After flying into Chiang Rai, we spent the night at The Legend Boutique River Resort & Spa in Chiang Rai, a gorgeous, peaceful spot a short tuk tuk ride from Chiang Rai’s bustling night bazaar.

After a delicious breakfast in the morning, we made our way down to the dock, where a long boat was waiting to take us along the Mae Kok River to our next spot.

It was a long 6 hour journey, but it was peaceful out on the river with hardly anyone else in sight most of the journey and the landscape we stunning.

Our long boat captain knew the river like the back of his hand, easily maneuvering through the sometimes very shallow, sometimes very rough water, knowing exactly where any dangers like rocks or sandbars were hiding.

Along the way, we stopped at the Ruammit Elephant Camp in Karen Village. While you could ride them here, we decided against that and instead spent our time feeding and petting these incredible animals, before heading across the street for a delicious Thai lunch.

Continuing along, we made it to our final destination, the Maekok River Village Resort, another incredible resort on the banks of the Mae Kok.

The grounds here were lush and filled with flowers and you could wake up and have breakfast each morning with a view looking out over the Mae Kok River.

While it may take longer, if you are travelling around Northern Thailand, consider taking a long boat. You won’t regret it!fullsizeoutput_d0c

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Halloween with Mickey Mouse

fullsizeoutput_c30Halloween is my favourite holiday. I love the decorations, Hocus Pocus, carving pumpkins, and most of all – dressing up. It’s a magical holiday, so what better place to celebrate than at one of the most magical places on earth! Disney World is one of my favourite places to visit and I’ve always wanted to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with the magic of the park. So this year, I headed to Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party to celebrate Halloween with Mickey and the gang.fullsizeoutput_cb5

The event is a separate ticketed event that runs certain evenings from the end of August until November 1st.  Once you get your wristband, you are given a bag to go trick or treating!here were Treat locations set all over the park where you could go to get candy. There were also lots of characters out for photos and autographs, including those who aren’t normally out like Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas

There were Treat locations set all over the park where you could go to get candy. There are also lot’s of characters out for photos and autographs, including those who aren’t normally out like Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. fullsizeoutput_ca7

In Tomorrowland, you can join Mike Wazowski, Sulley and Boo for a Monstrous Scream-O-Ween Ball – a fun dance party with all your favourite songs.

Not all of the rides are open, but there’s still a good selection for those wishing to enjoy them (including The Haunted Mansion, the perfect ride for this time of year!)

Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade makes its way through the park at 9:15 and 11:15, filled with Mickey and friends as well as a number of villains.

One of the main reasons I wanted to go was to see The Sanderson Sisters in the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular! The sisters were back for the night to brew a potion to create the most Villainous Halloween Party the Kingdom has ever seen.  They were joined by a variety of Disney’s greatest villains and ended with their iconic song.

As always, there was a great fireworks show over Cinderella Castle. This one had a Halloween theme. “Happy Hallowishes” invites you to join the 999 happy haunts for an evening of fun!

fullsizeoutput_c97It was a great night at the park with all of Magic Kingdom decorated for Halloween, but one of my very favourite parts was getting to dress up in costume and seeing everyone else dressed up, wandering around this magical place!

Happy Halloween!

Info

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party runs from 7pm-12am on certain dates during the Halloween season, but you can typically start entering the park as of 4pm. Just be sure to get your wristband as only party guests are allowed in the park after 7pm.

Be sure to check out the costume guidelines on the website before planning what character you want to be.

Treat bags are fairly small, so if you want to hit all the locations, you might want to bring a bigger bag or buy one at the park.

The character lines are LONG, especially Jack and Sally. They are out before the party officially starts, so you can get in line early or try later at night.

For more info visit the park’s website

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Full length versions:

Happy Hallowishes Fireworks

Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular

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