While I always love traveling somewhere new, sometimes spending a couple of days in one of my favourite places makes for a perfect escape.
It’s been four years since I was last in New York City, a place I have visited at least once a year for over a decade until Covid put a halt to my travel plans.
Wandering through Times Square, already bustling by 9am, it felt great to be back.
One of my favourite things about visiting a place I’ve been many times is being able to relax. Sitting around doing nothing is not in my nature at home or when I travel, but knowing I will be back gives me the freedom to do just that. It was a beautiful, sunny day when I arrived, so I spent almost an hour sitting in one of the many little parkettes, enjoying my Dunkin Donuts iced coffee in the sunshine. Then, after wandering the streets, I grabbed a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery (a must on each of my NYC stays) and sat in Rockefeller Center people watching.
I had around 52 hours to spend here, so after checking into my accommodation in Queens, I headed to check out the Harry Potter store. The store contains two floors filled with merchandise from both Harry Potter and the Fantastic Beasts franchises as well as some memorabilia from the movies. The decor is fun and filled with some classic photo ops throughout and there is a Butterbeer bar where you can enjoy a cold Butterbeer while you take a break from shopping.
As always, my main reason for coming to NYC was to see shows on Broadway. This trip was specifically planned around seeing Moulin Rouge while Aaron Tveit was back for a limited time playing Christian.
The decor inside the theatre was amazing and the show was excellent (as was Aaron Tveit!)
I also saw Life of Pi and Parade (starring another favourite Broadway performer of mine, Ben Platt). I leave each show feeling both inspired and desperately missing performing.
The other planned stop on this mini getaway was The Drama Book Shop with shelves filled with plays, scores, librettos, books on script writing, set design, lighting, autobiographies, monologues, audition techniques, and anything else you could ever want to read about the performing arts.
Always a popular spot in the New York theatre scene, the shop has been around since 1917, moving locations several times and now found on West 39th St with Lin Manuel Miranda as one of its new owners! As you walk in the door, you are met with a very cool bookworm winding its way throughout the shop.
With a cafe inside, you can grab a coffee and curl up in one of the chairs after perusing the shelves for the perfect read. I could happily spend hours here.
Walking along these streets that have become so familiar over the years as I head to catch my bus back to the airport, I feel both tired and refreshed…the perfect way to once again leave one of my favourite places!
Big Island, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, has something for everyone. But as we only had a few days to explore, we squeezed in as much as we could.
Flying into Kona, we stayed in the area near the airport the first night. With the time difference, we were all up early and went out to explore the area. We wandered around the historic Kailua Village and Niumalu Beach, where beautiful turquoise water crashed against black lava rock.
There’s a sacred archaeological site, Ahuʻena Heiau, found near the pier with woven huts and tiki statues that can be viewed from a distance.
Before starting our drive around to Hilo, on the other side of the island, we stopped at the Puna Chocolate Company. There are four different locations on the island, two cacao orchards where you can do a walking tour, and two smaller chocolate factories and cafes. This one was the Kona Cafe & Chocolate Factory. We read about the local Hawaiian-grown cacao and how the volcanic soil and climate here are ideal for growing excellent cacao to make delicious chocolate and watched them churning chocolate through the viewing window.
We bought a variety of chocolate including peanut butter, molasses caramel toffee, and macadamia nut with toasted coconut and headed upstairs to enjoy our own chocolate tasting! Kona Brewing Co is located next door, so we hoped to do a beer tasting next, but unfortunately it was closed, so we continued on our way to the other side of the island to our Airbnb in Hilo.
There are some beautiful scenic lookout spots as you drive around Big Island and we stopped at quite a few as we made our way to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.
I have never seen sand this black. It was beautiful watching the huge waves crashing in and wading in the chilly water, but the highlight was seeing six Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles basking in the sand!
Sea turtles are protected in Hawai’i under both state and federal law. There were volunteers at the beach ensuring the sea turtles were roped off and that everyone stayed at least 10 feet away from them.
After, we stopped at Punalu’u Bakeshop, the southernmost bakery in the USA. It smelled amazing and the Hawaiian sweet bread was delicious.
Hawai’i is known for its volcanoes, so while on Big Island, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Parkis a must-do! There is a walking tour led by a park ranger that leaves from the visitor’s centre every day at 11am and 2pm, which I highly recommend. We had Ranger Dean, a conservation biologist, who was so enthusiastic and clearly loves his job. He was a wealth of knowledge on the unique geological, biological, and cultural landscapes here. Two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, are found here and the park has been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ranger Dean told us that 90-95% of the plants found here are unique to Hawai’i.
Some were very interesting, including a giant fernlike tree that had ‘fur’ patches growing on it that felt just like petting a cat! He explained that the fur protects the plant and if it’s removed, the plant dies. Another type of fern becomes mulch when it dies, creating ‘soil’ on the lava rock so the plant can continue to grow! The adaptability of vegetation here is amazing.
We soon made our way to a clearing in the trail, and in the distance, you could see the giant crater-style volcano, Kilauea, smoking away. There are some interesting ancient Hawaiian stories about how the volcanoes here came to be. They call her ‘Pele-honua-mea’ or ‘Pele,’ and she is the goddess of volcanoes and fire in Hawai’i.
The volcanoes here each tend to erupt every 2-3 years. Kilauea just erupted again in January 2023.
After the tour, we stopped for lunch at Volcano House. This restaurant is located in the hotel with a great view of the volcano. I had their Hawaiian pizza…always a favourite of mine and felt I needed to have one in Hawai’i!
Inside the park, there are numerous hiking and driving trails for guests to explore. We drove along Crater Rim Drive, stopping at several lookouts along the way as we made our way to Na’huku – Thurston Lava Tube. This is a 500-year-old cave where a river of lava once flowed. It was quite dark inside the lava tube, but it was cool to be walking through a tunnel carved by lava.
We drove along the Chain of Craters Road, which is 18.8 miles long, where you pass several old lava flows. It’s a pretty barren landscape with lots of lava rock, but interesting to see how vegetation has started to make its way back, depending on how long ago the lava passed through.
The road ends at the Holei Sea Arch, an arch that was created by lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
If you enjoyed the volcano by day, you can also head back after dark to really see the glowing red lava.
(Entrance fee – $30 per vehicle, good for 7 days.)
If you love lush tropical plants and beautiful landscapes, then Hawaiian Tropical Bioreserve & Garden is a must! It was founded in 1978 by Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse, who bought 17 acres here after falling in love with the overgrown ‘jungle’ on the ocean. They turned it into a garden, which opened to the public in 1984 after spending six years hand-clearing the tropical jungle. They later purchased another 20 acres and donated it all to the Hawaiian Tropical Bioreserve & Garden, establishing a non-profit nature reserve and protecting Onomea Bay. To enter, you head down a steep 500-foot boardwalk leading into the beautiful gardens. I have never seen anything so lush. This is exactly what I imagined when I thought about Hawaii. Huge ferns, birds of paradise, hibiscus, massive sprawling Banyan trees, streams with little waterfalls, a lily pond with koi fish, over 150,000 types of orchids, giant palm trees, and so much more. You can easily spend a few hours here, wandering around paradise!
(Open 9am-5pm, with last entrance at 4pm. Admission – $25)
There are also walking trails around Onomea Bay on either side of the Tropical Botanical Gardens with some gorgeous viewing areas.
As we drove around Hilo and the surrounding area, we stopped at several beaches and waterfalls. Top ones include:
Akaka Falls State Park ($5) – Walk a circle route through lush tropical gardens to falls. 442 feet straight down into the gorge.
Wailuku River State Park – Rainbow Falls – quick stop right off the highway.
Honoli’i Park – popular beach and surf spot.
After enjoying the beach, head for dinner at Pineapples, a popular open-air restaurant in Hilo with pineapple decor and delicious island-inspired food and drinks. I highly recommend their Pineapple Pow drink (a whole Maui Gold Pineapple filled with Maui’s ocean organic vodka, pineapple chunks, watermelon grenadine, and OJ blended and topped with whipped cream and tropical fruit garnish!)
You can also get a Pineapple No Pow as a non-alcoholic version. It was delicious, as was my grilled pineapple burger!
Our final stop on this short Big Island adventure was at Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. The Seahorse Hawai’i Foundation began in 1998 and they have been saving seahorses and sea dragons ever since. Before this time, seahorses were on their way to the endangered species list as so many were being captured and sold as pets, usually dying off within a week of being captured. At the farm, they have been able to successfully breed them for the pet trade, leading to a drastic decline in those being captured in the wild. We learned that they are hunters who need to be able to swim after the tiny shrimp they mainly eat, which is one of the reasons wild ocean seahorses struggle in aquariums. So, by breeding seahorses that are able to live in aquariums, they have been able to save hundreds of thousands of these creatures from being captured!
During the tour, we learned all about the seahorses here and were able to see them in various stages of growth from tanks filled with hundreds of tiny “fry,” only a week old, to slightly larger ones that were about a month old or so. Seahorses hit maturity around one, and at this time they are separated into smaller tanks containing 2-6 of them. At this age, they find a partner, as seahorses mate for life. It was so sweet watching them swim around, linking their little tails together as a sign of affection. A seahorse’s tail is similar to a monkey’s and it allows them to grab onto things and anchor them to coral. In these couples, it is the male who gets pregnant and has a little pouch filled with babies. The American Seahorse is pregnant for 30 days after the female deposits her eggs in his pouch. After 30 days, the male gives birth to 500-600 fry! They are independent right away and a few minutes after their young swim away, they begin the breeding process again. They look so cute with their big belly sacks!
The highlight of this tour was getting to ‘hold’ a seahorse! We were instructed on how to make our hands into ‘coral’ and lower them down into the tank, and one of the staff helped guide a seahorse over to you. Then, as long as they wanted to, the seahorse would wrap its tail around our fingers and hold on—just like it would with coral.
They didn’t stay long and were never forced to link onto you, but what a neat experience it was to have a sweet little seahorse decide to hang out on your fingers!
At the end, there are a variety of tanks with different breeds of seahorses and sea dragons from around the world.
Ocean Riders is near the airport and was a perfect final stop here before heading over to Kauai.
(Open Monday-Friday. Tours at 10am, 12pm & 2pm.)
This trip was a great way to scratch the surface of this beautiful island. With so much more to discover, it’s a great excuse to book a trip back here!
Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, is known as the Garden Island and as soon as you arrive, it’s easy to see why.
The island is one of the wettest places on earth, averaging 440 inches of rainfall annually. It has a very diverse landscape, with everything from caves to waterfalls and steep canyons to river valleys. This diverse landscape is host to micro-ecosystems where you can find 145 endangered species of plants and a dozen endangered exotic birds, some of which can only be found on Kauai.
We were only in Hawaii for a week, celebrating my aunt’s 70th birthday, and being ambitious, we decided to visit two islands, meaning we really had to decide what we wanted to see in each place and make the most of our days.
We rented a 3-bedroom condo on the beach in Kauai-Kailani, and walking along it, coffee in hand, watching the waves crash in was a perfect way to start each day.
At the top of our list of things to do here was attend a luau. We chose Smith’s Tropical Paradise Garden Luau, a family-run luau and tropical garden that has been around for over 60 years.
This is the same luau my grandma attended 30 years ago, making it an extra special stop for her daughters and granddaughters! We enjoyed a boat ride to the Fern Grotto and then wandered around the lush tropical gardens before enjoying a traditional Hawaiian feast followed by the evening show. (More about that here)
The easiest way to explore Kauai is by renting a car and driving around. It was easy to navigate our way around the island, making stops along the way and enjoying the beautiful landscape..
You can get a great view down to the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse and surrounding cove from the lookout above or you can head down below and walk around the grounds ($10 entrance fee for those 16+).
Hanalei Bay is a two-mile-long crescent-shaped bay in the cool town of Hanalei. The vibe here was great and I’d definitely love to come spend more time here. The beach and surrounding area were paradise—so beautiful it was hard to leave! The beach felt like it went on for miles, filled with people enjoying a beautiful day swimming and surfing with Hanalei’s misty green mountains located at the end.
The historic Hanalei Pier was built in 1892 and is a favourite spot among locals. The pier became world famous when it was featured in the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein film, South Pacific.
As we drove along, we stopped to check out waterfalls. Wailau was up first. Located just north of Lihuʻe at the south end of the Wailau River, it’s easily seen from the side of the road. Here, the water shoots right out of the rock.
Next up was Ōpaekaʻa Falls. You could only see it from a distance, but this 151-foot-tall waterfall cascades down into a hidden pool below.
“Ōpaekaʻa” means “rolling shrimp,” which were once abundant in the stream. The site has picnic tables and restrooms and across the street is the Wailau Heritage Trail lookout, and what a stunning view it was, with the river curving around a huge green hill in the middle.
Like other stops along the way, this one had a number of chickens. There are SOOO many chickens and roosters strutting around this island like they own the place. While on our tour at the Fern Grotto, we learned it was because during the last hurricane here, they all escaped their cages and have been running wild and multiplying ever since!
Kauai is known for its coffee and as a coffee lover, we had to make a stop at the Kauai Coffee Company.
We did a self-guided tour around the grounds, learning all about how the coffee beans are grown and then did a free sampling of some of their coffee varieties. The white chocolate macadamia nut was my favourite!
On Kauai’s South shore near the town of Poʻipu, we stopped at one of the island’s most photographed sites- the Spouting Horn blowhole.
Here, the water channels into a lava tube and releases a huge spout of water that can reach 50 feet in the air- an impressive sight!
I ended our time on Kauai by finally getting the ahi tuna poke bowl I’d been craving before heading to catch our flight.
I could have happily spent a month exploring this lush island, but with only 3 nights, we packed in what we could and I made a promise that I’d be back to see the rest, especially to take a helicopter ride over the Napali Coast and explore Waimea Canyon.
“Aging is just another word for living.” – Cindy Joseph
I came across this quote recently as I was thinking about the fact that I’m now entering the final year of my 30s and wondering where the time has gone…
I’ve always loved celebrating my birthday (in fact, these days I basically celebrate for the whole month of January), and whenever possible, I try to celebrate it in a different country. However, once I hit about 27, I started stressing about the fact that I was getting older and running out of time for all the things I want to do and places I want to visit in my life and that I seemed to be on such a different path from so many of my peers. It took me years to realize that while growing older was inevitable, the path I took was totally my choice and what a winding path around the world it has been!
So, today, when I look back over the past 38 years and all the beautiful memories, I know how I got here and I’m ready for another year of adventures.
A few years ago, I made a list of all the Halloween inspired places I wanted to visit. Salem was first up and we had a great time exploring the town and learning about the history of the Salem witch trials.
This spooky season, we drove to Sleepy Hollow, NY to explore the setting of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Irving’s short story is a favourite read of mine this time of year, so I was eager to see what the town had to offer.
Halloween decor was everywhere, with houses and businesses here really getting into the spirit of the season.
‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Must Sees
If, like me, you are mainly visiting Sleepy Hollow in October near Halloween because you love The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (book, movie adaptations and/or shows), then here are the sights you’ll want to see!
Headless Horseman Bridge
“If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.” ~The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The famous bridge where Ichabod Crane was unseated by a pumpkin is the most popular destination in Sleepy Hollow that doesn’t exist … at least not in the same location it’s found in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
That simple wooden bridge that spanned the river in the late 1700s has long since rotted away.
This Headless Horseman Bridge is located in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
*Fun Fact: As vehicles cross the bridge at just the right speed, you can hear the hoofbeats of the Headless Horseman’s horse!
The Old Dutch Church & Burying Ground
“Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper, having been buried in the church-yard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the church-yard before daybreak.”
~The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Old Dutch Church & Burying Ground was founded around 1685.
The church’s 2.5-acre burying ground is said to be the haunt of the Headless Horseman in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It’s also the resting place of local citizens who are said to have inspired Irving’s characters of Katrina Van Tassel, Brom Bones, and others.
This small cemetery is found adjacent but separate to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Washington Irving’s grave can be found.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
The 90-acre cemetery has seen over 45,000 interments, including some famous ones like Washington Irving, Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, Elizabeth Arden, and William Rockefeller.
You can walk or drive the grounds on your own or book one of the various tours offered both during the day and in the evening.
It’s a beautiful spot to wander around and enjoy the beautiful October colour. Just be respectful, and if driving, be sure you aren’t blocking driveways or parking on graves as you make your way around.
The grounds close at 4:30 p.m.
Location: 540 North Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591
Headless Horseman Statue
“Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless! – but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle!”
~The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
This 18-foot statue of Ichabod Crane being chased by the Headless Horseman was unveiled on Halloween 2006.
It’s located a few feet from where the Horseman would have hurled his pumpkin head at Ichabod.
It’s a popular photo op and the perfect place for catching up on Irving’s famous legend!
362 North Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Sculpture
Located across the street from the statue by the entrance to Philipsburg Manor, you’ll find The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Sculpture, which depicts Ichabod Crane fleeing for his life from the Headless Horseman.
The sculpture was presented in 1974 to the village of North Tarrytown.
The village changed its name to Sleepy Hollow in 1997.
Location: Philipsburg Manor, 381 North Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591
October in Sleepy Hollow offers something for everyone, from ghost tours to blazing pumpkins, storytelling, gothic mansions, a Halloween parade and, if you’re lucky, a sighting of the Headless Horseman himself!
Head to Irving’s Sunnyside, the author’s picturesque estate nestled along the Hudson River, where a candlelit path takes you down to see master storyteller Jonathan Kruk perform his rendition of Irving’s Legend, a dramatic performance of the classic tale. Live music and an appearance from the Headless Horseman himself make this a spooky, spectacular experience for all!
The performance lasts about an hour and takes place outdoors, so be sure to dress for the weather.
During the day, you can also take a spooky tour here on the grounds of Washington Irving’s estate. A special exhibit highlights how the Legend has lived on in popular culture through the centuries since its publication.
Location: 3 W Sunnyside Lane, Irvington, NY 10533
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze
The area’s biggest Halloween event features over 7,000 hand-carved pumpkins illuminated against the mysterious backdrop of Van Cortlandt Manor’s 18th-century buildings.
Grab a beer or a hot cider and spend an hour or so making your way through the trail of beautifully carved pumpkins.
Tickets need to be purchased in advance. More info can be found here.
Location: Van Cortlandt Manor, 525 South Riverside Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520
There are lots more tours and events happening throughout the month of October, including the Sleepy Hollow Halloween Parade on the Saturday before Halloween.
A charming tavern with a good selection of beers on tap and some unique food options like the North American Elk Burger, the Chipotle Bison Burger, the Wild Boar Chorizo Burger, and the Disco is Dead Fries (wild boar fries). They also have a beer garden. Menu can be found here.
Location: 226 Beekman Ave, Sleepy Hollow, New York 10591
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company
The Hudson Valley’s largest craft brewery hosts a large brew facility, indoor beer hall, and outdoor beer garden. They offer a variety of beers on tap or you can opt for one of the two tasting flights. They also have food, including numerous pizzas to choose from. I recommend the Honeybear Pie!
They now have two locations. More info can be found here.
The best time to go is in October. The closer to Halloween, the better!
You’ll also find the best fall colours during the month of October.
Most events have parking included with your ticket.
While exploring the town, there are municipal lots with parking for $1 per hour.
The town is very walkable, so find a spot to park and set off!
Beware of the Headless Horseman and enjoy your time in Sleepy Hollow!
In traditional Hawaiian culture, the feast and festivities of a Luau were used to celebrate special occasions. So, while in Hawaii to celebrate my aunt’s 70th birthday, a Luau was high on our to-do list.
We chose the Smith Family Garden Luau at Smith’s Tropical Paradise on the island of Kauai. While sorting out my grandma’s slides from her trip to Hawaii in 1991, I found that this is the luau she attended while on the island, so since we were back in Hawaii with her two daughters and two of her granddaughters, it felt like the perfect place to celebrate!
Smith’s Tropical Paradise was created over sixty years ago by Walter Smith Sr. and his wife Emily along the Wailua River. Today, four generations later, the company has grown as the Smith family continues to welcome guests to explore their beautiful gardens, take a boat ride to the Fern Grotto, and enjoy a feast and show at the Garden Luau.
We started with a two-mile boat ride along the Wailua River with Captain Walter Jr. III sharing stories about the island and his family’s company on our way to visit the Fern Grotto.
Once docked, there’s a short walk through the lush rainforest to the Fern Grotto—a geological wonder of Kauai. Here, the ferns grow upside down from the roof of the grotto, which was formed millions of years ago.
When my grandma visited thirty-one years ago, guests were able to walk right into the grotto and be surrounded by the ferns. Unfortunately, this is no longer an option as rocks have begun to fall from the ceiling and the grotto was deemed unsafe for entry.
So, in order to continue tours here, they built a large platform out front. While here, we were treated to several Hawaiian songs performed by one of the crew on ukulele while another showed us some traditional hula dances. More of these were performed on the boat ride back.
From here, we headed over to explore the gardens at Smith’s Tropical Paradise, where we were greeted with a shell lei before boarding a tram for a tour around the thirty-acre botanical garden.
Since I began sorting through Grandma’s travel slides, I’ve enjoyed seeking out places she’s been on my travels and trying to get a similar photo to the ones she took.
The, entrance may have changed a bit in the past 31 years, but I’d say it still looks pretty similar!
Then you were free to wander around the beautiful, lush grounds including a Hibiscus garden, Japanese Garden, Bamboo Rainforest, multiple ponds, and more. The grounds were gorgeous with all the lush green foliage and brightly coloured flowers, with the mountains creating a lovely backdrop!
At 6 p.m., the Imu ceremony begins where they dig the Kalua pig out of the earthen imu oven.
The host explains about the Hawaiian cooking method called Kalua and what food to expect during dinner before sounding the conch shell and giving the food a blessing.
The Smith family entertains during cocktails and dinner with Hawaiian songs, stories, and hula. So we grabbed a Mai Tai and a Blue Hawaiian and enjoyed the music.
The dinner was delicious and included many traditional Hawaiian dishes like Kalua pig, beef teriyaki, sweet ‘n’ sour mahi mahi, lomi salmon, fresh poi, Hawaiian sweet potato, various salads, and dessert including tropical fruit, coconut cake, and rice pudding.
The Rhythm of Aloha show began at 8 p.m. in the outdoor Lagoon Theatre, complete with an erupting volcano!
The show was great—full of music and dance with some history of the island woven in. There were traditional hula dances from Hawaii and Tahiti, Samoan fire dances, and traditional dances from New Zealand, Japan, and the Philippines.
It was a fun show and made me want to learn to hula! (Pre-Covid, guests were invited up to participate, so hopefully that will open again soon!)
It was a wonderful way to experience some Hawaiian culture with my Ohana, made even more special as we shared the same experience as my grandma!
The entire Fern Grotto tour takes about one hour and twenty minutes. Tickets are best purchased online ahead of time. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for children. Tours currently run Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
*If you are going to the luau after the boat tour, select the 3:30 p.m. time.
The Smith’s Family Garden Luau dates vary based on time of year. Check the website for more details. Adult $125.00, Jr. (7-13) $35.00 & Child (3-6) $25.00. The luau includes entrance to the gardens, dinner, drinks, and the show.
If you just want to tour Smith’s Tropical Paradise gardens, you can Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 8:30–4 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be bought at the entrance.
Santorini has been at the top of my travel wish list for years and the main reason I’ve always wanted to visit Greece. Flipping through travel magazines and seeing those white churches with the bright blue domes sitting high up on the Caldera made me want to book a plane ticket there immediately, and yet, somehow it’s taken me years to finally do it. Thankfully, when I first saw Oia, it was everything I imagined and more!
Walking along the cobblestone streets was like stepping into the photos of the travel magazines that made me dream of coming here. The contrast between the white cliff of Cycladic houses perched 300+ metres up at the top of the Caldera and the beautiful deep turquoise Aegean Sea shining below was breathtaking. I was immediately in love with all the blue doors and shutters and colourful flowers, such a striking contrast against all the white.
The island of Santorini surrounds the vast crater left by one of history’s largest volcanic eruptions, with smaller islands found around the western edge. The sunsets hitting the snow-white buildings give the whole place an orange-red glow and are definitely not to be missed!
We spent five days in Santorini, the first three at an Airbnb just outside Oia, in Finikia, and the last two in Fira.
Oia, located on the northern tip of the island, is a must-see when visiting Santorini. Restoration work after the earthquake in 1956 has turned this spot into one of the most stunning places in the Cyclades. Built at the top of the steep Caldera, bright white buildings are nestled into the dark volcanic rock and the contrast is stunning. Today, the often-narrow streets are lined with shops and restaurants. Boutique hotels and Airbnbs can be found built into the sides of the Caldera. Spend your time exploring the labyrinth of streets here, finding the iconic blue domes and numerous churches.
While not much remains of Oia Castle after the earthquake, the ruins of the Venetian Castle of Agios Nikolaos is worth a visit for the views alone. This is also one of the most popular places to watch the sunset.
Over 250 steps below Oia, you’ll find Ammoudi Bay. The walk down is full of beautiful views of the dark-red Caldera with its snow-white peaks looming above.
Several fish tavernas are found down here, making it a perfect spot to enjoy fresh fish for lunch or dinner. To get back to the top, you can take a taxi or ride a donkey … or just hike it like we did and get your steps in!
Another must-do in Oia is a sunset cruise. There are many tour options ranging in size, price, and number of participants. We went with Barbarossa Sailing, and are so glad we did. We sailed out from Ammoudi Bay and went snorkelling in the Caldera and spotted the tiny church built in the rocks at sea level and saw the boats hidden in caves for protection, sailed around Santorini, checking out the various rock formations and the old port of Fira.
We stopped for another swim in the hot springs by the newest island (still over 500 years old) before having a delicious dinner made by the crew onboard and then sailing back out into the water to watch the sunset, which was amazing over the water. (Have I mentioned that the sunsets here are not to be missed??) The cruise ended back in Ammoudi Bay, which all lit up at night is also a must see!
From Oia, we moved to Fira, Santorini’s largest town. Views from here are amazing as you’re in the middle of the island and able to see both edges of the island’s moon shape.
Much like in Oia, the Caldera’s edge is filled with layers of hotels, restaurants, and cave apartments. The narrow cobblestone streets twist and turn as you make your way up and downhill.
The old port of Santorini is 587 steps down from Fira. Here, along with walking or taking a donkey, you can also ride the cable car and enjoy the view.
Following the Caldera’s edge, you can walk to the neighbouring town of Firostefani, filled with more beautiful views and great restaurants to catch the sunset from. Anywhere along the edge here offers beautiful views of the island, the sea sparkling below and, of course, the sunset!
Also be sure to stop by The Church of the Three Bells of Fira, one of the most photographed Greek Catholic churches on the island, also known as the Church of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it can be a bit tricky to figure out how to get up, the view from the top is a must-see.
As one of Greece’s most important producers of wine, no trip to Santorini is complete without touring one of its wineries. Here, they are known for fresh dry white wine made mainly from the assyrtiko grapes of the region, and I couldn’t wait to try some.
We headed to Santo Wines for a tasting with a view. They have several different tasting options available. I opted for the 7 Premium wines and was quite happy with my decision! Our server gave us a brief history of the winery and some info about each of the wines we would be tasting, but if you are looking for something more in depth, tours are also available.
And of course, the food here is amazing. If you want a sunset view along with your dinner, be sure to arrive early or make a reservation. A few of our favourites were Piatsa Souvlaki Grill House, a cheap, delicious spot near the Oia bus stop with gyros, souvlaki, tzatziki and pita and more; Terpsi N Oia, a fancier spot where we enjoyed a great breakfast with a gorgeous view over the Caldera and the 3 blue domes in Oia; and in Firostefani, we had an amazing meal with a sunset view at Vanilia Mediterranean Cuisine.
Tips and Info
Santorini is a popular cruise ship stop, especially in Oia and Fira. To help avoid the huge crush of cruise ship passengers that flock here starting mid-morning, head out early in the day and then back out in the evenings. This is also a great way to beat the heat, as shade is almost non-existent here. Plus, if you’re looking to get great photos before both the crowds and the sun hit, 7 a.m. is a great time to be out exploring!
A cheap and easy way to travel both around the island and to and from the airport is by bus. Most rides cost less than €2 and buses run on a fairly regular schedule during the high and shoulder seasons. Buses all have luggage areas too, making it a much cheaper alternative to taxis. More info can be found here.
Ditch the heels as the cobblestone is very uneven and you are constantly walking up and down stairs and hills.
If possible, avoid high season, when crowds and prices are both at their peak.
Oia is a must, but accommodation prices here are definitely at the higher end, especially during the high season. So, while I would have LOVED to have a place right on the side of the Caldera facing the gorgeous sunset, based on booking last minute and the $500 a night and up price tag, we opted to stay just outside of Oia in Finikia, in our own Cycladic-style house. Then we’d walk about 20 minutes into Oia each day. This is a great option if you are unable to book well in advance or are looking for cheaper accommodations.
Of all the Greek islands, Mykonos is considered to be the glamorous party island of the Cyclades, and after spending a few days here, it was pretty easy to see why the rich and famous flock to its fancy beach clubs and party the night away. But, for those of us with tighter budgets, Mykonos still has plenty to offer.
Mykonos has been attracting visitors since the 1920s, but back then, rather than sun seekers and party goers, the island was an intriguing getaway for archaeologists and antiquity hunters, who would use it as a base to visit ancient Greece on the island of Delos.
The island became more popular in the 1960s when celebrities began vacationing here, and its popularity has continued to grow. Now, during the high season, the island, which is home to over 12,000 people, sees a huge influx of tourists and cruise ship passengers, adding up to 15,000 more people a day!
With its popularity comes a higher price tag on many things, especially if you are planning to visit between June and the end of August, when prices are double or triple what they are in the low season or even the shoulder seasons of May and September. We arrived near the end of May when the temperatures were already rising and the crowds were getting bigger, but with only three nights here, we jumped right into exploring what Mykonos had to offer.
One of the most famous sights on the island is the windmills.
They were built and in use in Mykonos from around the 1500s and up to the first decades of the 20th century. As the island is blessed with a strong wind most days, windmills were the ideal tool for grinding grain into flour—primarily wheat and barley.
While they are no longer operational, many of the windmills still stand as a reminder of the past … and a great photo spot! Be sure to check them out during the day and then come back in the evening, grab a beer, and find a spot to sit and watch the gorgeous Mykonos sunset!
Below the main set of windmills, you’ll find the Little Venice area of the island, filled with lots of trendy boutiques and restaurants with colourful flowers and cascading bougainvillea. This is the perfect place to grab a drink at one of the bars and catch the sunset. (Just be aware that reservations are often required and many have a €100 sitting fee during the sunset hours.)
As you make your way along the cobblestone streets and up and down the many stairs found here in between shops and restaurants, you’ll also find a number of tiny churches. I’ve never seen so many churches in such a small area as I did around Little Venice and Old Mykonos.
Another thing Mykonos is known for is its beautiful beaches and many beach clubs, including Paradise, Super Paradise, and Paraga. Dotted along each one you’ll find beach bars, restaurants, and lounge chairs. Even for those who aren’t into the crowded party scene (like my husband and I), you’ll still have a great time down at the beaches.
We had a delicious dinner at Paraga Beach at Taso’s Taverna and then strolled along the beach watching the sunset!
One thing I was most excited about on our trip to Greece was Greek food, and Mykonos didn’t disappoint—especially the fresh seafood found here. The beach tavernas have amazing dishes, but the ones found in Old Mykonos, like Captain’s, also have a great variety. We opted for the seafood-sharing platter and weren’t disappointed!
I made a promise to my husband that when he joins me on trips, I will always do my best to find a craft brewery for him to enjoy, and it turns out Mykonos has a great one. It was a bit of an adventure to find (I don’t recommend walking from town), but Mykonos Brewing Company was worth the visit.
We enjoyed a tasting flight of the beers they had on tap as the guy working told us all about each one and a bit about the history of the brewery. My fave was Fragos’ko, a beer made with the local prickly pear!
If ancient Greek ruins are more your style, then don’t miss taking a trip over to Delos island. This UNESCO world heritage site, which was once considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, is easily accessed from Mykonos by boat. The Cyclades name comes from the islands encircling the sacred island of Delos, the mythical birthplace of the twins Apollo and Artemis. There are no permanent dwellings and overnight stays aren’t allowed. The island is only 5km long and 1300m wide and can mostly be explored in a few hours. Many of the pieces found on the island are now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, but there’s a good collection found here.
Tickets can be purchased down by the water in Old Mykonos. There are several time slots each day and you can opt for just the return boat ride for €22 or a guided tour for €60. The boat ride takes about 30 minutes. Entrance to the island isn’t included in the ticket and costs €8 at the gate. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and good walking shoes!
Where to stay
There are so many options around the island vastly ranging in price.
We wanted to be within walkable distance to Old Mykonos and the windmills and found Oniro Suites, a small boutique hotel about a 7-minute walk from Old Mykonos.
The room was beautiful and the small pool was perfect after a hot walk around town, but the best parts were Anna, who worked reception, and the amazing continental breakfast that was included each morning. We were expecting the typical North American-style breakfast, and instead had some of the best breakfast food we’ve ever had.
Mykonos is easily accessed by high-speed ferry. We used SeaJets, but you can find all the options on FerryHopper.
If you are arriving to the island by ferry, you can take the SeaBus from the new port (where the ferries land) to the old port for €2. The SeaBus departs every 30 minutes and has lots of room for luggage.
The main Windmills of Mykonos are located in the Chora, just a 5-minute walk away from Fabrika central bus station. They are also just up the hill from Little Venice.
You can rent cars, ATVs, and motorcycles everywhere and many tourists use this as a way to travel around the island.
But if ATVs aren’t your thing, you can easily (and cheaply) get around the island by public bus. Schedules can be found here. It’s a great way to travel to the beach clubs, especially if you’re planning to drink. Plus, asking for a roundtrip ticket to Paradise is fun!
With my favourite holiday just around the corner, today I decided to check out a spot that combines two of my favourite things- Halloween & Coffee!
Deadly Grounds Cafe, located in Courtice, ON was the perfect spot to grab a coffee on this grey, rainy day in October.
The cafe features horror themed drinks & baked goods, as well as over 30 coffee and tea options with names like Haunted House, Camp Blood, Never Sleep Again, Tropical Terror and Witches Brew.
In the cafe, there are a variety of specialty lattes including Camp Crystal Lake, Myers Macchiato and White Zombie, as well a snacks including “Sin-o-man skulls.”
There’s retro video games and artwork and decor from all your favourite horror movies found throughout the cafe, including a few large animatronic characters.
The “Odditorium” is filled with creepy masks and retro horror merch and even a secret room…which not going to lie, made when jump when I saw what was hidden inside! (You’ll have to go check it out for yourself!)
Today, I enjoyed a Camp Crystal Lake latte and a Sin-o-man skull- both of which were delicious!
If you’re looking to get in the Halloween spirit…or just looking to get your daily coffee fix with a side of horror, this is definitely the place to be!
I like wine and during this pandemic I’ve come to enjoy it even more, so when I came across our next ‘Unique Stay’ on Airbnb, I knew we definitely had to stay here.
I actually found the listing last summer, but as it is a very popular one it took us awhile to get a date. Thankfully this gem was worth the wait!
Continuing to explore places in our own province, we made our way to Essex, part of Lake Erie Wine Country and after stopping for lunch and some rosé at Viewpointe Estate Winery, we got checked into our stay for the night….this amazing Wine Barrel!
Floating in Fox Creek, surrounded by lily pads, this red cedar barrel is tied to the shore with a panoramic window perfect for watching the stars at night on one side and views of lush vineyards full of grapes on the other.
The tiki bar was the perfect spot to watch the gorgeous sunset while enjoying a bottle of wine from one of the local wineries.
The barrel runs on solar power, with a whiskey barrel sink and even an outdoor shower right on the little dock. A chemical toilet is located on shore, along with a fire pit and big lounge chairs for enjoying an evening fire. There’s also a rowboat if you want to head out into the creek (easier to do when the water is a bit higher as the lily pads are thick!)
We opted to stay on our little dock and watch the fish swim around below us.
No matter the time, this spot was beautiful!
The bed was cozy and watching the sunrise through the panoramic window was the perfect way to wake up!
Want to spend a night in a wine barrel? Click here to check out the listing on Airbnb.