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Exploring Coloane

When you think of Macau, it’s likely the dazzling casinos and grand hotels that come to mind. I mean, it’s not known as the ‘Vegas of the East’ for nothing. But if you head past all the hustle and bustle and ‘Ka-Ching’ of the slot machines, you’ll find yourself in Coloane, the leafy green part of Macau filled with hiking trails, beaches, temples and the giant pandas!

 

 

For more info on the A-Ma statue and cultural village click here

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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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Thailand’s fairytale temple

fullsizeoutput_c01Wat Rong Khun, better known as the “White Temple,” is one of the most recognizable temples in Thailand. This unique temple, located just outside the city of Chiang Rai, is one of the most visited attractions in the area. It’s not hard to see why.

The temple looks like something out of a fairy tale. The entire structure is a brilliant white colour with pieces of glass in the plaster, sparkling in the sun. It almost doesn’t look real. It’s more like a mirage you’ve stumbled upon – a beautiful mirage with a glistening pool of water below, filled with Koi swimming around.

fullsizeoutput_be1Last year, we made our way to Wat Rong Khun just before Halloween. With all the demons and villains that met us as we entered, coming out of the ground and hanging from trees, it was the perfect time of year to visit.

Wat Rong Khun was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a famous Thai visual artist. He chose white to signify the purity of the Buddha. The pieces of glass throughout it symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom and Buddhist teachings. The temple is filled with Buddhist symbolism.

fullsizeoutput_beeTo enter the main chapel (ubosot), 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.

The pathway symbolizes the way to happiness by overcoming worldly things like temptation, greed and desire.

After crossing the bridge you arrive at the “Gate of Heaven,” guarded by two creatures representing Death and Rahu, who decide over men’s fate. At the end of the bridge, you reach the ubosot where there are several Buddha images in meditation.

Once you make your way out of the main temple and leave the fenced in grounds, you come to an ornately decorated golden building. This one represents the body while the ubosot represents the mind. The building was created in a gold colour to symbolize the focus on worldly desires and money.fullsizeoutput_bfb

Around the temple grounds are several concrete “trees.”  Hanging from each of them are thousands of ornaments or ‘Lucky Leaves.’ For 30 Baht, you can add one with your name and a message written on it for luck.

You can also make a wish by throwing a few coins into the wishing well.

Most of Thailand’s Buddhist temples have centuries of history. By comparison, Wat Rong Khun is very young as construction on it only began in 1997.

Then, on May 5, 2014, a strong earthquake hit Chiang Rai and Wat Rong Khun was damaged. The designer, Chalermchai Kositpipat, decided to restore and further expand the temple.

At this point, the temple is not finished. It’s stated that eventually there will be nine buildings on site.

fullsizeoutput_c05If you find yourself in Northern Thailand, Wat Rong Khun is a must-see. Just get there early to avoid the crowds.fullsizeoutput_beb

Info

  • The temple is located about 13km south of Chiang Rai
  • The temple opens daily from 8 am until 6 pm.
  • The temple gets very busy with both tourists and locals, so plan to arrive early.
  • Admission is 50 Thai Baht per person.
  • Dress respectfully. No revealing clothes. Shoes must be removed before entering a temple building.
  • Taking photos is not allowed in the main building.
  • Souvenirs, coffee and snacks are available on the grounds.
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The bones of Paris

For many, Paris, the ‘city of love,’ conjures images of romance, architecture and art. But once you’ve had your fill of the Mona Lisa and sipping champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower, a different side of Paris awaits. For this, you need to head down – about 20 metres below the city streets, where the catacombs wait.  20160826_170912

Located across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau station, is the entrance to the Catacombs of Paris. 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 1700’s, 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.

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.

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Since their creation, the Catacombs of Paris became a curiosity for more privileged Parisians. Public visits began after its renovation into a proper ossuary and the 1814 – 1815 war.

In the beginning, visits were only granted a few times a year with the permission of an authorized mine inspector. This turned into permission from any mine overseer, but as the number of visitors grew, it returned to its “permission only” rule in 1830.  Then, in 1833, they were closed completely as the Church opposed the public being exposed to human remains on display.  By 1850, the Catacombs were once again open, but only for four visits a year. Public demand led to the government allowing monthly visits as of 1867. This turned into bi-weekly visits on the first and third Saturday of each month in 1874 and then weekly visits during the 1878, 1889 and 1900 World’s Fair Expositions.

Today, they are open for daily visits, so head over and spend an hour wandering through the 2kms of bone-filled tunnels below the streets of Paris!

Plan your tour

The Catacombs are open daily from 10am-8:30pm (except Mondays and holidays)

Admission is granted in time slots, with the last admission at 7:30pm

Located across the street from Denfert-Rochereau Station
Métro et RER B : Denfert-Rochereau
Bus : 38, 68
Parking : Boulevard Saint-Jacques

Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time. Admission may be delayed for a short time during busy periods. Be prepared to wait. (We did for almost 2 hours).
Distance covered: 1.5 km
Duration of the tour: 45 minutes
No toilet or cloakroom facilities available

For more info, click here

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Becoming an honourary Newfoundlander

You can’t go to Newfoundland without getting screeched in. (Well you can, but why would you give up the opportunity of becoming an honourary Newfoundlander?)

This was a chance I wasn’t going to miss and was told by a native of St. John’s (thanks Phill!) that the best place to go was Christian’s. So I signed up and sat at the bar with my Quidi Vidi 1892 beer, waiting for the ceremony to begin.

A Screech-In Ceremony has to be conducted by a native Newfoundlander. Ours entered with his paddle, wearing his Sou’wester. He did a little speech about Newfoundland and being a Newfoundlander and asked us all if we were ready to become honourary Newfoundlanders, to which we all responded with a firm “YES B’Y!”

He then asked us all our names and where we came from before handing us a piece of “Newfie Steak” (fried bologna) and continuing on with the ceremony, where we had a shot of screech (Jamaican Rum) and kissed a codfish.

Before we were handed our certificates stating that we were now officially honourary Newfoundlanders, though, we had to recite an oath. When it was my turn, he asked, “Are ye a screecher?” I proudly replied, “Deed I is me ol’ cock, and long may yer big jib draw!”fullsizeoutput_ba1

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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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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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Macau Tower

Macau Tower first opened in December 2001 and since then has become one of Macau’s best known sights and a focus of its skyline.  The tower stands at 338m and has something for everyone, from shopping and cinema to dining with an incredible view and extreme thrills. 

The Observation Deck is up 223m and offers a 360 degree view of the area. From here, you can see all of Macau Peninsula, Taipa, Coloane and across the Pearl River to mainland China. It’s a great deck for snapping photos, and for the milder thrill seeker, you can walk along the glass floor, looking WAY down to the ground below.

For the more adventurous thrill seeker, head up to the Adventure Deck at 233m. Here you can walk around the edge with Skywalk. Plunge towards the earth with SkyJump or try the Guinness World Record holder for highest Bungy Jump. For the truly extreme, there is Tower Climb, where you can ascend to the very top of the tower.

If you prefer to leave the thrills to someone else, head to the 60th floor for a buffet with an incredible view at the 360 Cafe.  Here, you can watch the bungy jumpers go sailing by as you enjoy your dinner!

If you are in Macau, the Tower is definitely a must-see!
For more info visit www.macautower.com.mo
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Exploring the Vegas of Asia

A few years ago, my sister moved to Macau, a Special Administrative Region of China near Hong Kong, to teach. Knowing I now had a free place to stay, Macau quickly made its way to the top of my “Must Visit” travel list. I arrived not knowing a whole lot about the country besides that it’s full of casinos and was a Portuguese colony for years.

Wandering around, it was very interesting to see the meeting of Chinese and Portuguese cultures, languages and food, mixed in with big, elaborate casinos. Definitely an interesting place to visit.

Here, I highlight a few of the not- to-be-missed sites found in Macau.

 

 

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Sleeping on ice at the Hotel de Glace

Let me start by saying that I’m a beach girl.  I love the sand, the sun and the heat.  Although I grew up in small-town Canada, where as a kid, snow meant days off school, snow forts and tobogganing, I have long since outgrown my love of winter.  Even though I spend my time shivering and wearing multiple layers as soon as the temperature starts to hover around the freezing mark (and trying to stay indoors as much as possible once it goes below -10), this year, I decided that sleeping on a bed of ice sounded like a great idea!

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The magnificent Hotel de Glace in Quebec City, Canada.

I’ve seen photos of the Hotel de Glace in Quebec City for years and always wondered what it would actually be like to stay there.  So this year, I booked a room and set off to find out.

Of course, the day before we arrived, Quebec City had been hit with a major snowstorm and the temperature was sticking between -20 and -23 degrees celsius – perfect weather for sleeping in a room made of snow on a bed made of ice….

Upon arriving, I almost forgot how cold I was. The Hotel de Glace is incredible. I felt like I had stepped inside the Disney movie Frozen, into a palace created by Elsa herself.  Now in its 16th year, the theme at the hotel this year was “Rivers.”  Here, dozens of artisans work to create a truly magical world of ice and snow.  Each year, the hotel opens in early January and runs until the end of March. The hotel is built in four phases throughout the month of January.

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Map of the Hotel de Glace, stating when each of the four phases were completed.

The Hotel de Glace has 44 rooms, 16 of which are suites, each sculpted with a different River theme: an African river with hippos; an Arctic one filled with polar bears; a whitewater raft where the rafters have been thrown overboard and more. The rest of the rooms feature a bed made of a block of ice and a bedside ice table.

The hotel also has several ice bars, where you can have a drink served in a glass made of ice.

In the centre of the hotel is an ice slide surrounded by an orchestra of sculpted penguins.

You can even get married in the chapel here, if a frozen tundra theme is what you’re going for. (Personally, once again I’d prefer a sandy beach!)

After checking in, we set out to explore, humming songs from Frozen along the way.  Before dinner, we had an orientation session. Here, we learned how to properly get into our Arctic sleeping bags and what to do to stay warm. The key lesson here was “If you sweat, you die.”  While layers during the day were a necessity, at night they would most likely leave you shivering.

During the day, the hotel is open to the public, so you can only access your room after 9pm.  This is also the time when the hot tubs and saunas open.  After freezing all day, a nice soak in the hot tub was in order before drying off in the sauna and heading to our room to try and get some sleep, all the while chanting my mantra for the evening: “You will not have to pee. You will not have to pee.” Once I finally got myself situated in my sleeping bag and blew out the candle, I was not getting up for anything.

Sleeping on a block of ice turned out to be exactly how it sounds.  While there was a mattress on top of the ice, some of the coldness still seeped through. Every time you rolled over, you’d have to re-warm the surface under you. I had the hood of my sleeping bag pulled so tight, only my eyes could be seen (and I even had them tucked inside most of the night). Sleeping like a mummy inside my sleeping bag took some getting used to, but eventually I did manage to fall asleep – at least for a little while.

I’m sure I’ve never been so excited to see daylight creep through the curtain door – I had made it through the night without freezing to death! I had slept on a bed of ice, in a hotel made of ice and actually made it through!

What an incredible experience. I had channeled my inner Elsa (although really the cold DOES bother me…a lot) and checked another item off my travel list. I usually leave a place wanting to go back, and this is one I’d love to see again. Although next time, I’ll opt for the day trip option!

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