California #1 – The City – San Francisco

 

As you might be catching on I am game to travel. I have my group of travel buddies who will call me or send me an email suggesting a trip. This time the content simply said “California $400 return…”. That is a deal that is hard to pass up.

In 2014 Anne sent me that email and so we jumped on the amazing airfare and planned a 12-day trip to California. I had spent almost 10 years not travelling much between being in law school, building my career, paying off student debt and then meeting Kirby and the kids. My travel had stalled and I had forgotten how much I love it.

Last night three years later I sat down to drink one of the precious bottles of wine from that trip (see post #3 for lessons on importation of alcohol into Canada) and it spurred me on to write about that adventure.

The planning

The planning for a trip for me is almost as much fun as going on the trip. Anne and I sat down at a local restaurant Britt’s Pub with our computers and had a glass of wine and started to plan. We booked the airfare that started it off. The key with airfare is to keep looking on a regular basis and check airports other than your local one. This airfare came out of Bangor Maine, which is a 3-hour drive from home. The cost of gas was about 50 and the parking about 100 so for $150 we saved hundreds of dollars each on airfare.

We then talked through what we wanted to see and do. She wanted to see some of San Francisco, I wanted to do some hiking and we both wanted to hit wine country. So, there you go we had a rough plan.

I have to admit the biggest thing about travel is finding people you travel well with. Anne and I have now travelled several times together. We have similar travel styles and travel well together. We are both (fairly) easy going and we both are very fair about money. You need to find those people so that you enjoy yourself both planning and while you are away.

Getting there

The only downside to such a diverse trip is the huge amount of gear we needed to bring. We would be spending several casual days touring the city, several rustic days camping and a couple of luxurious days touring wine country. We each had a large backpack of gear plus a hockey bag of camping gear.

We drove down to Bangor and had no problem crossing the border. It is important to bring your travel documents and have a plan when doing that. Anne and I decided to go on a spontaneous weekend to Bangor without a plan one time and spent about 1.5 hours at the border basically bring interrogated because we had no hotel booked and no plan. I mean really come on, look at us, what trouble would we be up to?

The extra bag cost $100 to ship each way but the camping would save us 2-300 per night rather than being in a hotel so we figured it was worth it for the saving of money but also for the experience of camping and hiking.

The flight is long covering the country but we arrived and happily made our way to our hostel for night #1.

Hosteling

Yes, I said hostel. I had never stayed at a hostel before. Anne had and suggested that for San Francisco to keep our costs down we would stay at a hostel. I was open to the idea as long as we had our own room and she assured me it was just like staying at a hotel….

After a long day of travel, I was very excited to get to the hostel. We wanted to take a nap and then go out for dinner and see the city.

I have to admit that when I first walked into the room it was like returning to university dorm life. The bed was small and on a metal frame, the bathroom was shared and down the hall and worst of all is was SO hot. The weird part was it was really cool outside and there was a beautiful breeze that evening, but inside the room we were sweating just standing there…

Lesson #1 from San Francisco – I do not hostel. Perhaps this decision is based on one bad experience and I should give it another try but after all of my amazing experiences with AirBNB and other places to stay I’m going to stick this one in the lesson learned and not to be repeated column.

Alcatraz

I am usually not a big fan of tourist traps but this is a case of a historical site that has such a cool story but we both really wanted to go. Down by the water you buy a ticket for a boat to take you to the island and your entrance fee. We went with Alcatraz Cruises and they had series of boats and the wait and cost was very reasonable (I think it was about $40). The boats leave from Pier 33 and there are a few different reputable companies who you can order tickets from.

Alcatraz prison is on an island about a 20-minute boat trip from San Francisco. It is famous for being on an island, it was a maximum security federal prison and it was in operation for about 30 years. It was notorious as a place to send the worst of the worst and having been there is was a very depressing and seriously strict place. The prison boasted that no one successfully escaped from Alcatraz. Being on an island with strong currents surrounding it the very few prisoners who went “missing” were presumed to be drowned.

I have to admit it was a great tour and was completely worth the visit.

 

GOcar

One of our friends suggested that we rent a GoCar to tour around for a day. We looked it up online and I have to say it looked neat so we booked one. When we got there we realized the cars were TINY. Looking at this tiny gocart and the huge trucks and traffic on the streets we asked the attendant whether we could take it for only a short while and whether we would have to pay for the whole day.

We had decided I would drive so we hopped in. I had to ask Anne to give me a minute because I was SO scared pulling out onto busy downtown street in this tiny little vehicle.

 

Well that didn’t last very long! That go car was so much fun. We took it all over the city, to the golden gate bridge, down the worlds twistiest street and even a stop over to REI to pick up camping supplies.

We pulled into the depot to return the car just a couple of minutes before they closed. It was such a great day and so easy to park.

The only thing I have to say is that the sound system was broken so we couldn’t hear the tour (and directions on where to turn etc.). Luckily we had a map and made our own tour but it was a bit disappointing that they hadn’t maintained the cars. I would suggest you aks for a car with a working sound system if you want the guided tour.

The Golden Gate Bridge

One of our stops with the gocar was at the Golden Gate Bridge. We had decided to walk across the bridge and have lunch on the other side in Sausilito.

I had such a hard time on the bridge. I have a fear of heights but I was almost paralysed as I tried to walk across. Anne was hanging over the edge taking pictures and I was limping along as far from the edge as I could possibly be. Photo credits 100% to Anne.

It was beautiful and when the fog subsided it was such an amazing view.

On the other side it turns out that Sausilito is a lot further from the bridge than we anticipated so we decided to go back and have lunch in San Fran. I couldn’t tell you where we had lunch but that day was all about conquering fear.

Pride Festival

We were lucky enough that while we were there it was one of the cities pride festivals. We decided to walk to the festival and listen to some music.

Walking in San Fransico is a bit daunting. First off it was very hot that day. As you walk along one moment you are in a high end shopping area then a block later you could be surrounded by the drug trade. We were walking along and all of a sudden we had a woman standing next to us that was very high on drugs – we made some distance but decided to hightail it out of there when she threatened to kill us… A few minutes later we walked by two guys and their dogs, the dogs went at one another and we almost got caught in the middle of it. Poor Anne was having a rough time in the middle of all that excitement.

Arriving at the pride festival the area was alive with excitement, colour and entertainment. We moved around having an icy cold beer and watching the interesting sights.

That afternoon we went to a movie. The day called for a little less excitement and a lot more air conditioning. The last night we also pulled the shoot on the hostel and made our way down the street to a hotel so we could get a good night sleep with air conditioning and proper beds.

 

Next thing we knew it was time to get the car and head to Yosemite. We had a great time and enjoyed what the city had to offer and I’m glad I went.

 

Mountains here we come!

Greece Post #4 – Schinoussa to Santorini and getting home (the long painful way)

So by now you must be almost sick of hearing about Greece. I am almost tired of writing about it, although it really was amazing! Let me tell you though you don’t want to miss the end of the story which is the epic saga of how I got home and the epic failure of our national airline to care that I exist.

Amorgos

Amorgos was my favorite of all of the islands we visited. It was larger than some but smaller and less touristy than some of the others.

We rented cars and went up the hill to an amazing little coffee shop and sat on a deck with amazing views, sipping Russian Coffee and seeing the ruins of ancient windmills. The nicest part about having Alex with us was that we did get exposed to some of these little places. Alex disappeared at some point during coffee though (as he was apt to do) and it was decided that I should drive, mostly because I know how to drive standard transmission and all of the Australians and Tasmanians were used to driving on the other side of the road. We survived…

The following day we went to the Monastery of Hozoviotissa which was built into a side of the mountain and is still managed by a group of monks.

To get there you have to climb a lot of steps and it was a very warm day. Adding to the fun there is a strict dress code and everyone must be fully covered and women need to wear skirts, which lead to all of us borrowing from the supply located in the entrance of the monastery.

This spot was amazing to see and it is a wonder how they worked at this location on the side of a mountain. The monks were very nice and served jellied candies and hard liquor when you reach the top. The liquor is similar to paint thinner and being already overheating from the sheer quantity of clothing I was wearing I managed to discretely leave it behind.

Schinoussa to Ios to Santorini

I wrote less in my journal as these days whiled away. The islands largely blended into one another and the days became less remarkable. I don’t remember a time in my life when I felt as comfortable and relaxed as I did in these final days on the boat.

Ios was more of a party island and we toured around the central core but we were late in the season and most businesses and shops were closed. We didn’t feel like we had missed too much.

The night in Ios was our last night together and had the most amazing meal of the trip all together as a crew at the The Mills.

 

Leaving the Boat

The next morning we were to get off the boat. Alex told us to be ready to go for 8am. This is the guy who up to this point we were hauling out of bed to start things moving at 9… But this morning he bounded out of bed and had everything ready to go for our departure (he was REALLY ready to get off the boat).

The original plan was to sail to one of the ports on Santorini and leave us there to find our way to our various destinations. Alex informed us that the seas were too rough and so he dropped us on a tiny side island, Theresa,  and we took a ferry over. We got off the boat into a little skiff and let me say it left a lot to be desired in the stability department.

I really enjoyed the people on the boat. I was sad to say good bye to this amazing group of people but I was so looking forward to a bed, a nice hotel and some time to relax on the most famous of the islands.

We spend a large part of the time in Santorini dealing with how we were going to get home (see below for the fantastic story) but when we did finally get it all worked out we enjoyed an amazing sunset on the balcony of our hotel.

 

We had very little time in Santorini but I got to see a lot of the island and we walked around a fair bit and I honestly felt like I have been there and seen it. It was very touristy and the busy season was behind it, I would not want to be there when it was actually busy.

Getting back – The debacle – Oh Air Canada why do you try my patience so!

I actually wrote this part of the post first even though it will end up coming last. Travel is not all glamour and excitement. Much of the time it is stress management. Getting home from Greece was a great example of this!

We got off the boat in Santorini, ready for a couple days of rest and relaxation in a nice hotel before travel home to Canada. As soon as we got off the boat everyone starts checking their phones (a theme of the trip) and the notices started to arrive that flights within Greece were cancelled because the air traffic controllers were planning to strike. Unfortunately, this included our flights from Santorini back to Athens and Athens back to Canada.

The strike was set to be 4 days – Sunday & Monday and Wednesday & Thursday. We were booked to fly back Sunday and that meant if we couldn’t get on flights Tuesday we could have been in Greece for almost an extra week. Despite my initial elation of the extra time away I had been away for 10 days at this point and I missed the family and my bed, not to mention didn’t relish the idea of having to pay the costs of an extra week abroad.

You always have a choice in how you will deal with these situations. My first thought was “lets go to the hotel and relax and figure it out later” but the group affected were all heading to the airport to try to re-book flights so we jumped in a cab. The airport was pandemonium as people were trying to get out and also change their flights. Air Aegean gave us one option – cancel the flights and get a refund. Unfortunately, that didn’t get us home we decided to cancel the flight to Athens and figured we could take a boat and figure it out there…

So off to the Port. The main Port in Santorini in at the base of a large cliff and once you are there you really need a cab to get you back to the top, especially if you have luggage in tow. We got out of the cab and went to see the office to try to book a ferry. No one seemed to understand what we needed and at this point we were very tired from not sleeping the last night on the boat and didn’t really know what we were asking for.

While I tried to book the ferry Anne called Air Canada to get our flights changed to Tuesday. Now this is when my blood really started to boil. After waiting 1.5 hours on hold – at international rates for the call – we were told there was nothing Air Canada could do to help us because they didn’t have the issue in their system and it wasn’t their airline that cancelled the flights… Which we both had a problem with since we had both booked the entire trip through the Air Canada website.

I said to Anne lets get to the hotel. Lets take a shower and relax and deal with this when we have wifi and a little rest.

We had to call Air Canada again (this was our 2nd call which lasted over 1.5 hours) and again it took over an hour to get through to an agent but at least we finally got someone with some experience and she managed to rebook us on Tuesday which made us feel much better and we were able to enjoy

Guess what! The next morning at 9am I woke up and saw the story that said that the strike was cancelled… On the phone we got again with Air Canada – another 1.5 hours on the phone and we got rebooked back onto our original flights except for the Santorini to Athens leg which we had accepted the refund for from the airline and which was now not available with all the stranded passengers…

 

So off the to port we went again… This time we knew we were looking for a high speed ferry to Athens and booked it and were off shortly thereafter. The ferry was 8 hours long and what was remarkable was when Anne and I both finished our books after a couple of hours we stopped and started to talk and realized with all of the people on the boat and excitement of trying to get off the island we hadn’t really talked all week. So with that we chatted all the way back to Athens.

One of the smartest choices we made was to book the airport hotel for the night before our 8am flight. It is always more expensive but being right at the airport when we had so little time was brilliant and the next morning was a breeze.

No, it is still not over

The flight out of Athens was delayed… So when we arrived in Munich to see our plane at the gate but it was already closed and they would not reopen for the 14 people who were supposed to connect on to it (a direct flight to Toronto)… So we went to the desk…

Anne let me take the next flight (because she knew I was dying to get home to the kids) which was through London, Toronto to Saint John. She was going on standby on a later direct flight to Toronto . Funny enough she made it onto that standby flight and got home several hours before I did.

I on the other hand flew to London but my London flight was delayed into Toronto and so when I raced through customs in Toronto I was thrilled to get to the gate and was there before my flight boarded – yeah! I sat down and waited for them to call the boarding of the Saint John flight.

BUT when I went up to get on the flight and they told me I had been removed from the flight because my other flight was delayed and they didn’t think I had time to make it. I said no problem, I’m right here, put me back on the flight… BUT NO I had to go to the customer service desk… Do you feel my frustration yet?

By the time I got to the desk and they realized they had filled my seat on the Saint John Flight I noticed a Moncton flight leaving 15 minutes later. I made them put me on it, at least I was getting closer to home. I figured I could rent a car and drive home.

Then I got to Moncton and realized I had not taken my drivers licence to Greece and therefore I could not rent a car! ACK! I won’t ever travel without my driver licence again! Which meant at 1:30am I had to get in a cab, in Moncton, to get home – at a cost of $200. It turned out to be a blessing though because I could not keep my eyes open on the drive and I don’t think driving home would have been the best thing at that time of night after the crazy travel day I had. That being said I made the right choice because when I got home and climbed into bed (at 3am) I felt SO good!

The one good thing was that Monday my baggage arrived in Saint John. There was no note on the system as to why it was there or who it belonged to. Luckily I had my business card in the pouch and the staff at the Saint John airport gave me a call and even had it delivered right to my office. So a shout out to the Saint John staff!

After all that I contacted Air Canada to see if at least they would reimburse me for the cab fare. I figured if I had stayed in Montreal they would have had to feed me and put me up in a hotel and all of that would have cost more than $200… And you know what… All I got was a lousy 30% off voucher, only good for the next 12 months…

Air Canada – epic fail!  I am pretty excited to take Westjet to Ireland – not to say they will be perfect but I’m glad to spend my money elsewhere after such a horrible customer service experience.

Moral of the story is that you need to relax, take it all in and realize you can’t control everything. It will all work out in some way and don’t stop travelling because these things happen – my time in Greece was worth it and now I have this crazy story to tell!

A weekend in Toronto

My dear friend Anne moved away to Toronto. So, this weekend I took advantage of lower than usual airfares and flew up to visit her for the weekend.

Getting there

The flight getting there was delayed by two hours. There was more rain in Toronto this weekend than they have seen for 30-40 years. The craziest part was flying in and hearing the wheels come down on the plane and looking out the window to see what looked like pea soup. It is not a good feeling wondering how the pilot can land the plane if they can’t see the ground. All of the sudden we popped out of the soup and it was at least clear enough that I could see lights on the ground.

When arriving in Toronto I always try to plan some economical way to get to where I am going. Last time I booked the shuttle to downtown, only to arrive late and tired and not wanting to worry about connections so I took an airport limousine. This time I had booked the Up train to Union station where Anne was to pick me up. Well by the time the plane finally landed I had no chance to get to the Up before the last run so off to the limousines I went. At 1:30am, pouring rain and being so tired 100% the right call. Sometimes you throw a little money at a problem.

Coffee with the Irish

Friday morning I got up in a beautiful old house in a hidden away part of Toronto I didn’t even know existed. There is a big backyard, it is quiet, the trees are big and beautiful, the house old with character and charm.

Inside it is already bustling. Anne’s mother’s house (where I have been lucky enough to stay) is a hotbed of activity at 8am. There are painters and contractors at work freshening the place up. Anne’s mother is in her late 70s and never appears to stop moving. By the time we both gotten up she had been to her aerobics class and had made breakfast and coffee.

Anne heads off to work and I spend some time chatting with her mother. Her mother is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. She has been a lawyer, a political force, a rainmaker and is now the chancellor of Acadia University. Not to mention a mother and active in her community.

Around 9:30am Libby invites the contractors into the kitchen for coffee. They are a friendly bunch and Arthur the older of the three is a great storyteller. He is about 65 I guess and is Irish. He has gnarled hands from a life of hard work and probably a few job-related accidents. Paul is younger and is married to Arthur’s sister. He is also Irish and comes over to work with Arthur in the summers. They are all lovely and sit with this gracious lady as equals and regale her with stories.

A little me time

I have the day free because Anne is working so I head to the Eaton Centre to wander. It is pouring rain as I mentioned so my original plan of wandering the streets and little shops is set aside for the practicality of a dry environment connected it the subway.

I stop for lunch and a glass of wine at Nordstrom. My friend Julie introduced me to the restaurant at Nordstrom in Calgary and once again it did not disappoint. The couple next to me are so very rude. They belittle the server and are disgruntled at the amount of time it takes for them to be served (which I have observed and for a busy restaurant does not appear to be long enough to be so disgruntled). I am spoiled by the easy-going nature of the east coast of Canada.

A nice glass of wine and a beautiful salad and I am rejuvenated. The shopping in Saint John is wonderful for many things but it is nice to get out of town and find things that you can’t find at home or that a=come out much faster than at home.

Verity

Tonight, we have been invited to a women’s club called Verity. It is very reminiscent of the many men’s clubs that exist throughout the world but with a very purple flair. The club includes a restaurant, rooms for use by members, a spa, a yoga studio, individual work space and I’m sure more than I didn’t even see.

We joined a women’s networking group for a Friday after work cocktail which was very neat to meet some new people. Then we joined one of Libby’s friends for dinner at the Verity restaurant. It was an excellent meal and if anyone is familiar with the Toronto restaurant George, they share a kitchen so that goes a long way to explain the quality. It is a funky little spot!

Saturday

The AGO and a manicure

It is rare in my very overscheduled life that I sleep in. Well this morning I slept until 10:30 which was a luxury and much needed but when I woke up I bounced out of bed wanting to get out and explore the city. The AGO (aka the Art Gallery on Ontario) was featuring a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit – I would imagine that any time you are in TO there will be something interesting featured at the AGO to check out!

We then decided to try to take in an inexpensive manicure. Anyone who lives in a small town like mine has a hard time finding a manicure for a reasonable price but in a large city where there is lots of competition you can get one for under $20 so we decided to treat ourselves. The only trick is to make sure you find one that appears to be clean… We found one and enjoyed our down time.

The biggest mistake I always make when I am traveling it doing too much. I go to hard and miss out on some of the experiences. It sounds crazy but walking around a museum is exhausting and then to walk around shopping and exploring we were in need of a break.

Dinner at El Catrin – Distillery District

The Distillery district of Toronto is a funky little area which has lots of neat little shops and restaurants. El Catrin was recommended to me by my friend Frank and I’m glad he did because it was a fantastic meal.

The margaritas are made with fresh squeezed juice, the guacamole is mixed at the table and is amazing and the food is fresh and delicious.

The meals are tapas type sharing style. We ordered 4 dishes to share and they were all delicious. The entrée, beef short ribs in mole sauce, was very tasty but the portion was VERY small. That being said we were stuffed – well especially after the churros for desert…

Sunday

The ROM

The only thing I had on my must do list was to visit the Royal Ontario Museum. The ROM has ancient history but also natural history and I have been there before but I still haven’t seen the whole thing.

Right now it has an amazing exhibit called the Blue Whale. In 2014 9 blue whales died as the result of ice and it was well documented in the media as it was a serious tragedy and represented 3% of the entire blue whale population left on the planet.

Two of the whales beached in Newfoundland, a very rare occasion as they usually sink to the bottom of the sea. The ROM took advantage of the situation and brought the whales back to the ROM. The process of bringing them back, the whales themselves and the scientific value has all been captured at the ROM in a beautiful exhibit that if very family friendly. One of the coolest parts was to see the actual skeleton of the whale and to realize how huge they are!

If you have a chance to get there before it closes in September it is 100% worth the time!

La Societe

On our way back from the ROM both Anne and I were hungry and decided to pop into La Societe. Neither of us had read about it or been there before but it looked interesting and we were both hungry for brunch. We were not disappointed. It has a hint of French snootiness but the delicious food to go with it. The service was excellent and the pastries warm and devine.

Kirby tells me it is a “chain” but there are only two, one in Montreal and one in Toronto. The brunch was amazing, I would imagine their other fare would be excellent as well. The prices were also reasonable for downtown fare.

 

Getting home – AHHH Air Canada why oh why do you test my patience so!

After the ROM and breakfast we went back to Anne’s house to pack and relax. My flight wasn’t until 10pm so I had lots of time. I had avoided my email the whole weekend but I thought perhaps I should take a look and make sure my flight was not delayed… AHHH It was cancelled and I had been rebooked on a flight on Tuesday!

Onto the phone with Air Canada. They found me a flight through Montreal that night instead but would not commit to putting me up in a hotel for the night – well a night at the airport did not sound attractive… So they found me a flight through Halifax.

Lucky for me I am from Halifax and my AMAZING Mom agreed to come pick me up at 10:15 and house me for the night and then drive me back to the airport the next morning… Unfortunately for her the evening flight was delayed to 11pm but lucky for me she loves me so she did it anyway – thanks Mom!!!

As it turns out this story is not my own. There are lots of flights being cancelled right now because the runway repairs being completed on the main runway at the Pearson International Airport.

I am a very relaxed traveller and you have to go into these situations with the expectation that things will go wrong but come On!! Couldn’t a little forethought be put into advance notice?

 

Toronto – I will be back – but after your runway is fixed!

Greece 2016 Post #3 Mykonos to Amorgos – meeting the crew and a REAL greek salad

I had no interest in going to Greece. My friend Anne suggested going and I’m so glad I did! Sailing through the Cyclades was magical.

I could probably write dozens of posts about my time in Greece. The Islands are amazing but what put it over the top was the crew on our boat. We booked an 8-day sail from Mykonos to Santorini through Intrepid Travel. Anne had used them before and they did make things easy.

Mykonos

We flew from Athens to the island of Mykonos. We were scheduled to meet the boat and sail from the new port, Toulos, and so we figured we would just head right there from the airport and spend what extra time we had at the meeting point or touring around the port.

When we arrived in Mykonos we hopped in a cab looking forward to exploring the town. It turns out the Toulos is in the middle of NOWHERE. I wish the cabby had mentioned that to us (or we had thought to research it in advance) but worse things have happened.

We arrived at the meeting place 5 hours before the designated time. We were the first to arrive and the restaurant was deserted.  The owner of the restaurant agreed to watch our bags for a couple of euros and told us how to get a water taxi to the main port – which is where all of the action actually happens.

The main port is very touristy and the waterfront was lined with restaurants. We looked around a little bit but there was not a lot of action outside of the core of the port so we sat and had a salad and a glass of wine overlooking the water. The restaurant was very touristy and the food just okay but the view was beautiful and I was pretty glad Anne had suggested Greece.

Meeting the crew

When we returned to the meeting place restaurant my love of people watching kicked into high gear. We walked in and all but one table was now taken. We knew that some of these people must be on our boat but who, what were their stories?

There were two ladies and a man who were engaged in an animated conversation – they appeared to have had a liquid lunch.

A man and a woman were over in another corner, on their phones and close together.

An exotic looking woman in the corner. Reading. Sitting alone. She looked as if she has seen the world and I wonder who is she and wonder if she will be on our boat, as I am certain she will have a very interesting story.

One man sat alone reading an e-reader. Furtively looking up every once in a while, and scanning the room but not making eye contact.

A younger lady sitting on her own against the window drinking a coffee drink.

In walks a bubbly blond who blows up the whole charade. She walks right over us introduces herself. She starts to answer the questions we have all asked in our heads, “which of these strangers will be on our boat”, she is, her name is Stephanie. Next Heather, the coffee drinking lady comes over, she is from Tasmania, she has travelled the world, sails, is a nurse and she looks so very familiar. Sherry comes over next, the exotic woman from the corner, she is all smiles and a little sass, I have a lot of questions about her. Jules is tiny, vivacious and a bit older, she is bright and vibrant like the colour of her pants, she admits to having had a few drinks at lunch. I like her right away.

8 days on a boat with 10 strangers. You have no idea what you have gotten yourself in for. I didn’t worry about it until shortly before leaving. At this moment, I was mostly intrigued.

The Skipper

In walks in a thin, young Greek man with wild hair. I have to assume he will be our captain but he says nothing to any of us. He sits and eats a meal (which we learn is a free meal which is gifted to the captains who bring their crews to a restaurant for a meal). When he is finally done, he gets up and calls for anyone who is there for the tour. And so, it begins.

The Boat (photo credit: Alex the Skipper)

On the walk to the boat I meet Guy, who is British and is very shy and quiet. The young couple in the corner are Shay and Clayton, also from Tasmania and definitely not a couple. They are young but with a charm and interest factor that exceeds their young ages.

We go to the boat and the skipper, Alex, introduced himself and starts to talk about the boat. He is serious and I can’t tell if he is a complete ass or just worn out from a long season. He asks who is travelling together and starts to assign rooms. I eagerly tell Alex than Anne and I are travelling together – I’m glad to share a room with her but had not anticipated sharing a bed. Which we did – in the smallest berth which had one bed not quite a double size.

The boat was a beautiful 56’ sailboat that was fairly new and in great condition. Alex shows us around the kitchen, where we will be responsible for making meals, and then the rooms, where we have ship toilets that require pumping and special procedures to make sure nothing clogs or causes problems out at sea. The shower is in each bathroom over the toilet, it is tiny and for anyone who had never sailed before would have come as a rude awakening.

On the boat I meet Karen and Ken, who I think are a couple. They are both quiet but very nice.

Once we are all on board and we have been told all of the rules (as if we were incompetent children) a few of us head off to the market to get food for the first few days of the trip. Alex has offered to make us a couple of meals and we buy food for the first few days on the boat as our first couple of ports will be small with limited chance to restock.

Mykonos again

The crew went back to Mykonos to spend the evening. Stephanie suggests going back to the restaurant where she had lunch for an Aperol Spritz. Aperol is a spirit made of roots and herbs and I have never heard of it before. The “younger” of us in the group start to get to know one another. I start to allocate roles for each of the boat members, Stephanie will be the master of fun, she is smiley and fun and the life of the party.

Eventually the “younger” of the crew met up for dinner at a restaurant that Alex takes us too, a few of the other couldn’t wait for the time Alex had proposed, meals in Greece occur far later than they would in North America. Lucky for us Alex takes us a to a restaurant that is away from the very touristy area near the water and is much more authentic. Alex tells us a bit of local information and we all started to get to know one another a bit.

The meal is amazing. I had zucchini balls as an appetizer and Moussaka for my main course. The food was fresh and felt very local and the company was wonderful – what an interesting group of well-travelled individuals – I was already looking forward to learning so much more.

Days on the Boat

The plan becomes to spend the days on the boat, eating breakfast and lunch on the boat and then heading to port in the evening and having dinner at a local restaurant.

The weather was amazing and I can’t remember being so relaxed and with absolutely nothing to do. I helped with many of the meals and cleaning but otherwise spent my days reading, socializing with my fellow boat mates and writing in my journal.

Mykonos to Naxos

In the morning we got up and waited for Alex. He definitely was not an early riser, but I shouldn’t judge on that topic because I really am. After fumbling with the coffee maker we resigned ourselves to the slow process of single drip for 11 people and a breakfast of Greek yogurt, fruit and honey. The honey in Greece is lovely, you can taste the flowers that the bees must have eaten and it doesn’t taste overly refined.

Finally, Alex is up and we are off. The wind was low (as it turns out it is this time of year) and we motor off to a small uninhabited island and we moor and have a chance to swim in the crystal clear water of the Aegean.

A Real Greek Salad

Our skipper Alex offered to make us lunch the first day on the boat – which was a “real” Greek salad.

This was by far the BEST Greek Salad I have ever eaten. I think a lot of it has to do with the ingredients. I’ve never had Feta cheese that was so creamy and which wasn’t overly salty. The olives were plump and juicy. The tomatoes also tasted just different and were fresher and lighter than what would be typical in Canada.

Alex’s Greek Salad

Ingredients:

5 Large Tomatoes

1 English cucumber

1 large green bell pepper

1 large red onion

1/2 cup of large capers

large black olives

1 cup Feta cheese

salt and pepper, to taste

Oregano, to taste

 

Method:

  1. Cut up the tomatoes into large chunks, the cucumbers into slices and DROWN them in olive oil, use a lot more than your North American sensibilities would allow. The tomatoes and cucumber need to soak in the olive oil for a while you prep the other ingredients.
  2. Cut peppers and onions into small slivers, drain capers.
  3. Add pepper onion and capers to tomato mixture.
  4. Crumble Feta into salad in large (approx. 1inch square chunks)
  5. Add more olive oil, olives, salt, pepper and oregano
  6. Stir gently from the sides so the contents don’t get damages, the feta doesn’t get broken up too much and the capers and olives don’t fall to the bottom.

Serve with sliced baguette. Alex had brushed the bread with more olive oil but I really liked to use it dry to soak up the extra olive oil mixed with the spices at the bottom of my bowl.

I have tried to replicate the above at home and it is definitely better than anything I’ve had before in Canada. That being said I would love to go back and have another one of Alex’s salad’s, on the boat, with great friends from all over the world.

 

In Naxos we wander the streets and climb to a castle in the centre of town ending up at a restaurant by the water to watch the sun start to set through an archaeological site. As we sipped on ice-cold beer and mojitos made with freshly squeezed juice Clayton tells us about the God of the Sun. Clayton is a very smart and interesting young man, he is also very charming and his stories made us feel as if we were staring at the temple of the gods in his story.

We finally drag Alex out of the boat to take us for dinner. He operates (as he explained to us) on GMT – Greek Maybe Time. Dinner at 8:30pm at a restaurant out of the way but that we were assured would be worth the long walk. Tonight everyone comes because the tales of our amazing dinner the night before made those who didn’t come with us envious.

I wish I had the name of the restaurant where we ate but I am a bit glad I don’t. It was by far the worst meal we ate in Greece. The food was bland and largely deep fried and the wine was cheap and reminded us of paint thinner. The worst was that Jules ordered a meal that they were out of. She ordered a second meal and they were also out of. Then she ordered what was suggested by the server the Boiled Goat.

The Boiled Goat became legendary on our trip because it came out on a plate with nothing else, grey and anemic. On the side was a bowl of pale broth. The idea (we surprised) was to break the goat up into the broth and it would be like a soup. It was from all accounts (she made us all try it) the worst meal of the horrible lot…

Perhaps a horrible meal but such a fun night. I have not laughed that hard in years.

Naxos to Donousa

The next morning I am up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean from the boat deck. The glow of the sun rises over the brightness of the iconic white buildings on the island. The town comes to life as the sun rises. Two older men have an argument, one holds a broom and the other an octopus, I can’t understand a word they say but the scene makes me laugh and revel in the experience.

The night before we had gotten Alex into a little conversation and he told us that he was a pretty accomplished windsurfer. I mentioned I had always wanted to try it and he offers to set up a lesson the next morning. Windsurfing in Greece – sure! So Guy, Clayton and I head off for our lesson in a little cove on the island of Naxos.

Windsurfing is a lot harder than it looks on TV. I start off well but my skills are definitely subpar. That being said it was a lot of fun to try and the three of us had a lot of fun “zipping” around the cove.

After the lesson we are back on the boat and head to Donousa. This island is not a usual stop for the boats because it is north and the seas are normally too rough to get there. This time of year the seas are calmer and so we are the first tour of the year Alex has taken here. Donousa is a tiny little island with under 100 inhabitants. The port is very sparse and we learn there is only one restaurant in the town, Captain George’s for dinner it is.

They had the option of whole fish, and invited us to the kitchen to see their catch of the day. The catch was a dish full of fish you could choose from. Ken and I decided to go for it and I picked a smaller fish than he did. We all shared some appetizers that were (mostly) delicious. I really loved the eggplant in Greece, it must be different than what we get in Canada or they just cook it better because I have never liked it when I have tried it in Canada but in Greece I can’t get enough.

The fried fish comes on a plate all on its own. There are no sides. The fish was very tasty but it is a lot of work to get the fish off the bones. When the bill came we were both floored because mine was 12 euro and Ken’s was 24! Perhaps we should have realizes they were going to be that expensive but it seemed excessive. I had checked that box and didn’t need to go there again, if for no other reason it was just too much work!

Donousa to Amorgos

By Tuesday we have a routine on the boat and everyone has a role. It is quite fascinating to see all of the personalities mashed together. Some people dive right in and work and others just sit back and let others do things for them.

Alex is in a lather because he has to get the boat cleaned for travel and it is not being kept tidy enough. He also has to fix the sink because it appears to be blocked. He was such an unusual guy, I had a hard time telling if he was a complete jerk or just tired from a long summer of dealing with dumb tourists, maybe both…

I start to spend more time with Ken and Karen and I really enjoy both of them, they for the record not a couple. Ken is a doctor from Australia who retired and bought a B&B only to realize as he cleaned a toilet one day that it was probably a waste of his skillset. Karen owns a B&B in Tasmania, The Cambridge House, which is now on my Bucket List, she is travelling for 2 months with Jules while her partner Glen runs the B&B because he doesn’t like to travel. What a brave and adventurous spirit.

We haven’t sailed much and Alex is often keen on stopping. Our next stop is over a WWII shipwreck which is in shallow water for anyone who wants to try snorkelling to it. You wouldn’t see much but it really was quite amazing to see the bones of the ship poke through the sand that have been there for almost 100 years.

I could write about this trip for days. I was trying to wrap up the Greece topic in this post but I can’t get it all in in few enough words! This is what a vacation needs to be – calm – solitude amongst many (from my travel journal and so true).

Stay tuned for the finale.

 

 

 

 

Greece 2016: Post #2 – I Kriti Restaurant Review

I love food. You will probably notice this theme throughout my blog.

I had been trying to fit this restaurant information into my first post on Greece but every time I tried I couldn’t get it all in.

I decided to make a post just for this topic because it really was that good.

I Kriti – Restaurant Review

We had arrived in Athens. We were hungry. Our plan to eat at the hotel rooftop restaurant was foiled because we hadn’t made a reservation.

We stopped at the front desk to ask their advice on where to go. I always like to ask someone from the area where to go – or more importantly where would they go.

The (very friendly) front desk clerk suggested a restaurant called “I Kriti” which was very close and where she said she would go. Anne and I are pretty adaptable travellers but after a long day of travel we both just needed a good meal and no more logistics so we jumped on this suggestion.

We walked out of the hotel and followed the directions on a little business card that the hotel had given us. It had a tiny map on the back which we followed.

We walked right past the restaurant more than a couple of times as it was down a little hall and you would never know it was there if you weren’t paying very close attention. It is small and crammed, it was inside what appeared to be a shopping centre and the sign did not say “I Kriti”. We were definitely a little nervous as we walked down the hall towards what looked nothing like a restaurant. At this point though it was late and we were tired so we were going to stay no matter what.

We were greeted in the hallway by a friendly young man who offered to bring us to a table.

There were lots of people working at the restaurant. We were brought drinks and bread to start, I was already happy. There is a small open kitchen where they were preparing the food. It was busy and full of locals, which is always a good sign. An older fellow who you have to assume owns the restaurant comes over to take our order. Anne tried to order a Greek salad and he said “NO”, we were taken aback but let him explain. He said he does not let foreigners order a Greek salad in Greece, you have to try something else. I have read some reviews (most of them are great) on trip advisor that say this man is rude but we liked him and he was right. We picked other menu items that we never would have thought to order with his help and guidance, and he seemed happy with our choices.

The items are tapas style and so we ordered 4 plates. To explain how good the food was would be impossible. It helped that we were hungry and had low expectations but the food was amazing. We had (yes I am that person taking pictures of their food at restaurants):

chickpea salad with figs, stuffed mushrooms

baked potatoes with parmesan

meatballs in tomato sauce.

We were positively stuffed when desert arrived and it was beautiful and we could not bear not to eat it. It was yogurt with stewed plums (I think) and it was delicious.

The best part of the whole meal was when the bill arrived and it was only 30euro for BOTH of us. I cannot for the life of me remember when I have had such an exquisite meal for such a reasonable price. Did I mention I had wine with my meal?

Il Kritiki – Night 2

Our second night in Athens we had made a reservation for the rooftop restaurant at the hotel overlooking the Acropolis. In the afternoon we were at the rooftop pool which is next to the restaurant. We decided to look at the menu while we were there.

We both thought that the menu items didn’t look nearly as interesting as the menu from the night before. Not to mention the prices were significantly higher. So we pulled the shoot and decided to cancel our reservation and go back to Il Kriti for  a second night.

Night two proved to be completely worth it!! What an amazing restaurant. It was pretty fun because when we arrived they made a big deal that we were back – as if we were regulars and came all the time.

We decided to let the owner pick our meal (mostly) that night as he had made such good suggestions the night before. We had:

 

beet salad, beef and potatoes (which I forgot to take a picture of because we dug into it so quickly)

feta cheese in pastry covered in honey. The Greeks love their cheese and the cheese I ate while in Greece tasted nothing like what I have eaten at home. This particular dish was such a great treat. The pastry was crunchy, the cheese warm and soft, the cheese was salty but the honey was sweet.

squash blossoms

The squash blossoms he said were hand stuffed by his mother in the traditional Crete style.

He told us that all of the food was prepared upstairs and then they finished it off downstairs. I could have eaten those little blossoms of deliciousness all night long. I found it incredibly amusing to picture a tiny older woman, leaning on a big old table digging into a huge pot of rice mixture and gently stuffing those beautiful little blossoms. For the record I did not see any of what happened upstairs, nor did I see the owner’s mother, but this is what I pictured in my head and it still makes me smile.

 

So good. Great service. Great food. If you are in Athens you have to check it out!

 

Greece 2016 – Post #1 – Getting there and Athens

I love to travel. From the time I was a little girl I remember being on a plane. I think I spilled milk on my dress and cried but I still loved to travel.

One of my personal goals is to travel on my own or with a friend every year. I love my partner and I love my kids but there is something very liberating and relaxing about only being responsible for yourself.

I am very lucky that I have a number of friends who are also travel junkies. This year it was Anne who got the pleasure of accompanying me on a trip. We decided we wanted to go sailing through the Cyclades – the Islands of Greece.

The Plan

One of my favorite things to do is plan the trip. Anne lives half way across Canada so this one was all coordinated over the phone and through email. Despite that it came together very easy and fast!

The first step was to book the sailing trip. We wanted it to be easy and hassle free so we signed up for a tour with Intrepid Travel. Anne had used Intrepid before and that trip had gone well so we chose them for this trip. There are lots of other tour operators but you have to make sure the tour is for you and fits your travel style.

It was very easy to book with Intrepid and our conversations with their staff to confirm the details of the boat etc. were very pleasant and friendly. Now that being said they can’t tell you much because they hire a local operator for their boat and skipper – all they know is the number of people who will be on the boat, that the boat is small so quarters would likely be fairly tight and that they choose their partners carefully. Those were all things we could live with, lucky for us Anne and I are both pretty flexible and adaptable.

Once we had the sailing booked the itinerary came together fairly easy:

September 28 – Travel to London
September 29 – Travel London to Athens
September 30 – Day in Athens
October 1 – Fly to the island of Mykonos and meet our crew
October 2-8 – Sail
October 8-9 Santorini
October 10 – Travel home

Why I love to travel – the KING and QUEEN

I love airports, there are so many people there. I wonder what their story is. Where are they going? Why are they going where they are going? What is the relationship between people travelling together?

Anne and I travelled separately to London and met at London’s Heathrow Airport. Heathrow Airport is one of the largest and busiest airports in the world. The international departure area at Heathrow is a big circle and everyone sits in the middle until shortly before their flight. When your gate is announced you go there just before the flight and from what I’ve seen it is fairly efficient. I sat there for about 2 hours waiting for Anne to arrive, just watching people as I drank a cappuccino and ate a chocolate croissant – yummo!

The biggest advice I can give you is to travel light, especially through the airport, keep your head up (there are always signs to follow), be confident and give yourself lots of time.

Keep your eyes open has the benefits of making you look confident but you also never know what you will see. I saw a young attractive couple and his shirt said “the king”… I thought little of it until the girl he was with took off her jacket and her shirt said “his queen”. I sat their quietly, smirking, discreetly but frantically looking around – wondering if anyone else saw what I could only summarize as one of the most ridiculous things I had ever seen. And yet one of the most amusing. I saw them again going through security a little while later, I did see a few other smirks in their direction, I don’t think I was the only one who noticed.

Arrive in Athens

Despite my amusement I found Anne and we made our way to our gate. The flight from Canada to Europe usually occurs overnight which is great because you arrive nice and early in the morning and have a full day in your destination but it makes for a sleepy morning.

Our early morning took us on a flight to Athens. The flight is substantially longer than you might think it would be looking at a map. I love to fly. I am happy to sit on the plane and read or watch a movie and eat snacks. That being said after a night of no sleep and a long day of travel I was ready to arrive.

We arrived in Athens late afternoon and headed by cab to our hotel. There are times when taking a cab is just the right thing to do. I usually find coming to and from an airport if you can swing it to take a cab is much faster, safer and often even less expensive than the other options. Especially when you arrive in a foreign country and you are exhausted and have no idea where you are going. BUT make sure you find an official cab, you can ask at your airline’s help desk, to confirm which cab you should take.

I didn’t know what to expect of Athens. I had never had Greece on the top of my list of places to go. When Anne suggested it I was game purely because I haven’t been there before but didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the city and didn’t even do a lot of research before we went. I should disclose I’m not a huge lover of big cities. I find them generally busy and abrasive and stepping into a place where everyone is just trying to get around and live their lives is often unpleasant for the hapless traveller bobbing along in the middle of it.

I tend to notice the silliest things. When Anne and I were wandering around the one picture I took was of this magazine rack. All of the magazine had a “gift with purchase” but not a tiny one like you would get in North America. A full size bottle of cream or shampoo or perfume! See this is why locals can’t stand tourists 🙂

Athens surprised me. There is a LOT of graffiti. As we drove along in the cab from the airport into athens I was struck by how large the city was and that there was graffiti covering the vast majority of it. I wish I had pictures but unfortunately I was lucky to be awake let alone functional at this point.

The hotel

We had chosen the Melia Hotel because it had a pool, beautiful view of the Acropolis and it is within walking distance to the acropolis so we could go sight-seeing the next day. My idea of what is walking distance is pretty long so you should always consider for yourself how far you actually want to be walking or travelling by foot. Also in a big foreign city it is helpful to research where is the safest place to stay that will have the amenities you require. The hotel is clean and the staff was very friendly.

As two friends travelling together we had worked hard to find a hotel that has two beds. In Greece it was very hard to find. We arrived to find one bed and Anne and I had a mini exhaustion induced breakdown until we realized it was two single beds pushed together. No problem we just pushed them apart and it was evident that not many people had done that before because there had definitely not been a vacuum run over that part of the floor in quite some time.

The hotel has a nice rooftop restaurant from which you could see the acropolis so we had originally thought we would just eat there when we arrived and that would make things very easy after a long day of travel. Unfortunately, we had not made a reservation and the rooftop restaurant was full. Since we had done no other research, it was about 8pm and we were starving, we asked for advice at the front desk. I would always suggest asking a local where they would eat. You have to be specific, try to make friends with them and ask them where THEY would eat and not where the hotel might steer you. We had a wonderful meal at I Kriti (my next post is all about the restaurant it was that good, I’ll link it once it comes out).

The Acropolis

The next day we decided to just get up when we woke up. Unfortunately for Anne I slept until 11am! I guess that overnight flight did me in. Very nice of her though because it made a big difference in my ability to switch to Greek time.

We got dressed and took off for a little bakery around the corner for breakfast. I bought a filo dough pastry filled with a spinach and feta filling that was to die for. These pastries are everywhere in Greece and they are amazing, I sampled quite a few over my 12 days there. As you might have noticed I enjoy the local food (and thereby usually toss aside my diet sensibilities) when travelling. I find you will miss too many excellent experiences if you don’t.

Map in hand we set off in the direction of the Acropolis, you can see it from where you are so how hard could it be to find. As it turns out we had a bit of trouble getting to the acropolis entrance. The map we had was a little basic and there are a lot of small winding streets as you near the Acropolis. Eventually we dug out the GPS and it sent us the wrong way up the hill.

Joseph from Salt Lake City Utah

As we headed up the hill we ran into a guy who had just come from up the street also trying to find the entrance he asked us for directions and confirmed for us it was not towards the top. Just for the record it is towards the bottom of the hill. So we headed down the hill and learned that this very friendly guy was Joseph from Salt Lake City Utah. He and his wife and family were on a cruise and had stopped in the port for the day. Unfortunately, Joseph’s wife was terribly ill with morning sickness so he was on his own. It was lucky for us because we had a nice chat and a free photographer for a portion of our tour around the Parthenon.

The acropolis is a pretty amazing place. Thinking about how it was built without modern technology, without big excavators and cranes. What a marvel of engineering as well that has lasted such an incredibly long time. They are working on a huge renovation of it and have been for about 100 years. Some of the older repairs and renovations have had to be replaced because they actually caused more damage than good in the long run but the goal is to preserve as much of it as they can and restore the structure over the next 20 years.

The site is also very busy. October is the shoulder season and not close to the busiest time of year for their tourism. That being said it was very busy and slow to move around. The site is large and it was very hot, definitely bring water with you and sunscreen.

We also went to the Acropolis museum which is at the base of the Acropolis and is air conditioned. It has a lot of original pieces that have been removed from the structure of the Parthenon to preserve them from further damage, including most of the Frieze.

Any that was about it. This is definitely not a definitive text on the marvels of the Acropolis but it was amazing to see and I learned a lot at the site and the museum. At this point though we were really tired. We had seen what we had come to see and we were ready for a rest. It is really to over pack your travel schedule and miss out on the rest portion of a vacation.

Afternoon by the pool

The roof of our hotel had a pool that overlooked the acropolis. So we spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool reading and enjoying an amazing piece of history. If you have a chance to take some time now and then to relax it will make the trip all the more worthwhile.

We had decided to come up and eat at that restaurant that night and had made a reservation the night before. While we were at the pool we took a look at the menu. We noticed that the prices were more than double what we had seen the night before and the items on the menu didn’t really whip us into a frenzy. So.

We went back for dinner at Il Kritiki again. Again we had an amazing meal and I will write all about it separately. Here is a little sneak peak.

It was a quick stop in Athens and I’m sure there was a lot more we could have done but I was happy to have a taken a small amount of time to see the Parthenon. That being said I couldn’t wait to get to Mykonos and see what this sailing adventure was all about! 11 strangers on a boat for 8 days what could possibly go wrong… Stay tuned!

2017 – Ireland Baby!

I love to travel. I love (almost) everything about it – I love being at the airport watching people, I love sitting on a plane and have captive time to just read or watch a movie, I love meeting new people, eating new food and seeing places I’ve never seen before.

The obvious problem is the amount of time and money available to travel. When I was in university I had a chance to travel a bit but since then I have been working to build a practice, had very little vacation time and no disposable income.

In the last couple of years I have started to have a little bit more leeway in all of those areas but I also realized after that night in the hot tub with my girlfriends I realized I can’t risk waiting for the right time because I might never getting to all of the places I want to see.

Make time for friends

A few years ago (in the middle of the aforementioned busy period) I realized I had not seen my fabulous friend Colleen in more than a year. She also has a young family and is a busy professional and we hardly even spoke. I had this feeling that I would wake up in 10 years and I would have no friends because they all would have slipped away from these years of being busy.

Colleen and I made a pact that once a year we would go somewhere together so that even if our lives are busy we will reconnect and foster our friendship regularly so it won’t be the ashes from the fire that is life with young kids, household responsibilities and a busy job. It has always been a weekend in the fall, we have gone Christmas shopping or just spend a couple days somewhere close. Last year we realized that in 2017 we both turn 40 so we decided that we should make this year a bigger trip.

Why Ireland

We both decided we could use about 1 week of our vacation allotment for the year for the trip which restricts where you can go because of the time to travel there. From the east coast of Canada it can take several hours to get almost anywhere and because I live in Saint John, NB, which is a small place, you have to fly somewhere to get anywhere.

We didn’t want to go somewhere in Canada or the USA and based on proximity, interest in the destination and travel time we have decided to go to Ireland!

The planning, making mistakes and a shout out to Linda at Westjet

I have to say the planning part of the trip is probably the most fun for me. We sat down with our computers and worked it out together. The first thing was to look for a time and flights, and we lucked out to find a sale right after Christmas on Westjet, so we went ahead and verified the flight numbers with eachother (we were each booking separately on our own computers) and booked.

Then we set to find accommodations and a car rental. Colleen offered to start on the first night so I said “great I’ll start on the last night – Saturday in Dublin would be fun” to which she replied “but we are flying back on Saturday”. Have you guessed it? Yes I had booked to come back Sunday and she had booked to fly back Saturday – YIKES! So here is a good tip – if you call the airline (both Air Canada and Westjet have this policy for sure) within 24 hours of your booking they will make a change for free (subject to the price difference in available fares)– which lucky for me Linda at Westjet did without a hitch and she even took a couple minutes to tell us the highlights to her two trips to Ireland just last year. So more than just being fun planning together it was practical because we caught the problem and fixed it before it cost more money or lead to me being alone in Dublin for 24 hours. A HUGE shout out to Westjet and Linda for great customer service!

The Plan

We went on to plan most of the outline of the trip and booked hotels and here is what it will look like.

September 15             Drive to Halifax and fly overnight to Ireland

September 16             Arrive Dublin, get rental car and take day to
explore and drive to Galway
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD

September 17             Hike – Cliffs of Moher

September 18             Driving south and castle day

September 19             Hike – Killarney National Park

September 20             City day in cork

September 21             Blarney Castle and Kilkenney Castle

September 22             City day in Dublin

September 23             Fly home

The Cost

I know you are probably thinking “I can’t afford to do that”. This trip is actually very reasonably priced. The easy part is that because I am travelling with a friend so we are sharing the cost of a lot of the expensive stuff (like hotels and car rental). The other big thing is finding a good price on the airfare and being flexible to move your dates around to improve the fare – we are only paying $650, all in, round-trip from Halifax to Dublin. We are also staying out of the big cities, especially for accommodations and we are using a lot of AirBNB spots, which has the added benefit of giving each of us our own room.

Its not cheap for sure and we could do it cheaper (I’ll have to write about my recent hostel experience in California) but it is infinitely affordable and I am already sure absolutely worth the time and money.

More to come

Please come back and check out the trip itself which I will blog about when I get back. But more importantly, get out there and see the world, travel at home or abroad, explore and have your own something special to look forward to. I have set a countdown clock to the trip, really for myself, because as we trudge through the winter and get back into a busy workload after Christmas having something to look forward to is very valuable.