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!
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.
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!
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.
Like so many others, my travel plans so far in 2020 haven’t exactly worked out as I had hoped. I’ve really been missing getting out and exploring, especially during this beautiful summer weather.
I may not be able to journey as far as I usually do, but for August, I promised myself I’d get out and explore local tourist spots.
So today, I went five minutes up the road to check out The Sunflower Farm, located just outside my little town of Beaverton.
This beautiful farm, with 10 acres of sunflower fields, just opened a few weeks ago and I’ve been dying to check it out. (Apparently I wasn’t the only one as the wait to get in with current Covid regulations was over an hour…. so be prepared!)
Once inside, you follow the trail past 1000s of bright yellow sunflowers. I was in heaven.
Sunflowers have always been my favourite flower so wandering along the path here, with a sea of yellow stretching on and on, was the perfect way to spend a sunny, summer afternoon!
I’ve been spending a lot of time in Moncton, New Brunswick with work this winter, and on a rare day off, I decided to go check out the famous Tidal Bore. This natural phenomenon is caused by the Bay of Fundy tides and takes place twice a day. As the Tidal Bore comes in, the water in the Petitcodiac River rolls back upstream in a rippling wave that can get to a height of 60 cm.
The one I witnessed wasn’t anywhere near that high. In fact, a man passing by commented that it was one of the smallest he’d ever seen. Oh well – at least I can say I saw Moncton’s Tidal Bore, one of the world’s highest tides!
You can find the estimated daily Tidal Bore times online. From downtown, the best viewing area is at Bore Park. Be sure to arrive early as many factors may affect the time of the Tidal Bore by 15 to 20 minutes either way.
On the way back to the airport in Puerto Maldonado, we stopped off at Inkaterra’s Butterfly Farm. The enclosure is filled with tons of flowers, fruit and variety of butterflies and moths, ranging in size and colour.
Such a beautiful spot to explore before getting on another plane!
Summer is just around the corner and with it brings the perfect opportunity for a road trip! I love packing snacks, coffee and my favourite tunes and heading out to explore a new place. Even if you don’t go far, it’s still a fun adventure!