Travel report: Orlando

Travel report: Orlando

You may or may not have heard that I went on a work-related trip to Orlando a few weeks ago. Now that I have properly returned, I thought I could share some pictures with you and tell you a bit more about it. ***Disclaimer*** This blog will only contain an account of the trip. If you wish to read more on my professional opinion or outcomes of the trip work wise, then please visit discoverattractionsthemeparks.co. I will be blogging about the more professional side of things there.  photo orlando6_zpsfsx1uog7.jpg

Disney World Orlando’s Magic Kingdom end show Wishes

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Travel report: Rome

Travel report: Rome

It took a while for me to do this blog post, but I seriously had no time to go through my pictures to make a selection on what to use for this blog post. But even though it’s been almost three weeks since I went to Rome, all those memories are still fresh in my brain to be sharing them with you. You may have already seen my beauty haul with all the bits I picked up while I was in Italy. Today I will be telling you all about what I actually did. It’s a long one, so grab a cuppa and enjoy!

River Tiber with St. Peter in the background

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Travel Report: Budapest

Travel Report: Budapest

Earlier this month I spent a few days in Budapest. No major trip this year where I’m gone for weeks on end. Rather I decided to take a few short city breaks. Budapest was my second destination this year, the first being London and the final one being Rome. My Budapest trip was only 3 days long, but I still feel I got a good sense of the city. Today I’d like to share with you what I did while I was there.

View of Pest, from the Buda side near the palace

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Travel report: London 2016

Travel report: London 2016

During May break I decided to do a spot of traveling again. This time, I went to London. Yes, again, London. I pretty much go there every year as I just love the place. During this particular trip, I wanted to revisit a few of my favorite spots, visit some new places and take a tour at the Harry Potter Studios. This post is all about what I did during my 6 day trip. So get comfortable as this will be a long and picture heavy post.

Houses of Parliament with Big Ben and London Eye

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Travel report: Chicago

Travel report: Chicago

My final part of the trip took me to Chicago. It wasn’t my first time in Chicago. I went there 10 years ago when I was on exchange in the US. At the time it was spring break, which meant it was early March and just when I was there, a snow storm hit the city. It was blistering cold for my entire stay and I spent most of my time in one of the many museums Chicago has to offer. Because that was nice and warm. So I decided to return for a few summer days to truly explore the Windy City.

Chicago River with Trump Tower

Quintessential Chicago street

Cloud Gate aka The Bean

Selfie time!

This opened in 2006, so it wasn’t finished yet when I was there the first time

Hotdog with ‘everything’

Skyline time!

Because of the jump in time, I didn’t arrive in Chicago until 6 PM and then I had to get into town. I took the ‘L’ train into town to my hotel which was a bit of a splurge, but I thought I’d end my vacation on a high note. And it was only a 50 dollar difference between this hotel and another one that was much further out. My hotel was the Warwick Allerton hotel which is right on the middle of the Magnificent Mile. Because of that I spent the next 3 days walking everywhere. I was so much in the middle of everything that public transportation wasn’t even needed. I had a spot of dinner, grabbed some things from Walgreens and then went for a refreshing bit of sleep so I could properly explore the city the next day.

Because I was so close to everything I could explore the city at a leisurely pace. I decided against going on top of any of the skyscrapers that provide you with views as I already did that 10 years ago and I am pretty sure the view hasn’t changed much. I walked down the Magnificent Mile towards Millennium Park. That’s where I found The Bean. One of Chicago’s main attractions it seems, but it wasn’t around yet when I was there last time, so I knew I had to find that. I had a hot dog in the park, bought a ticket to the Chicago Art Institute for the next day and found out about a free concert in the park the next day.

I moved on to a stunning fountain that consequently also gave you a great view of the skyline to boot and then I walked along the lake shore and made my way to Navy Pier. My legs were still very sore from my little mountain hike in Vancouver, so it was slow going, but a fine walk. There were loads of geese and dragon flies around the lake and around 3 PM I found myself at Navy Pier. I didn’t walk the stretch of it, but instead bought a ticket at the IMAX theater to see Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. After that movie, I walked back to the hotel, went to Whole Foods which was only three blocks from my hotel and enjoyed a make shift dinner of cheesy popcorn, lemonade and some fresh fruit with bagels.

Chicago Art Institute

Wheat stacks by Monet

Grant Park Music Festival @ Millennium Park

For my second day in Chicago I had a very set plan: I was going to visit the Chicago Art Institute. Chicago has some amazing museums (Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and Adler Planetarium are all great museums if you ever find yourself there) and I had visited most of them on my first visit. I didn’t really get round to the Art Institute at the time though, so I already knew that when I was in Chicago I would have to go there. I could skip the line because I had already bought a ticket and pretty much spent the day looking at art.

The Chicago Art Institute houses one of the most important Impressionist collections in the world, mainly because many people in Chicago bought Impressionist art when it was being made. But there is more. There are some smaller collections of art from Japan, China, India, Mongolia and the Americas and then there are different collections on Modern art (from Europe and the US respectively) and art from before 1900 (again there is a split between Europe and the US). There was also a special exhibition on Charles Ray, a sculptor I had never heard of before and that was ehm, weird and then there were a few other ones that were hidden in the actual permanent collection.

After the museum vist, which pretty much lasted until closing time at 5 PM, I set out for a bit and found a Barnes & Noble close to the museum. After getting a few books, I walked back to the park and watched a free concert featuring Mozart’s Piano Concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. They put on free classical concerts all throughout summer, so if you ever find yourself in Chicago over summer, you should definitely check it out. It is free in any case and the museum was right around the corner so it made a great 2-in-1.

Sephora makeover

Caramel pecan turtle cheesecake @ Cheesecake Factory

For my final day in Chicago I had very different plans: it was time to shop! I had an appointment at Sephora for a free makeover (because I spent so much money there on the trip that I was promoted to from Beauty Insider to VIB) and a 10% coupon to spend as well. I still had to go to Victoria’s Secret and I wanted to have an early dinner at Cheesecake Factory as well. My hotel was also pretty much next door to the Nike store, so I went there to find some new sneakers.

And that is pretty much all I did that day. I spent roughly an hour in Victoria’s Secret trying to decide what to get. And I tried on three of four different pairs of shoes before settling on a pair of grey Nikes that I forgot the name of by now. I had lunch and then it was time for my Sephora appointment. The lady who did my make up did a great job I think and she was really lovely too. I was in there for nearly 2 hours after which is was the late afternoon and time for Cheesecake Factory. There was one book I didn’t find at the first Barnes & Noble I went to and when I saw a couple with a B&N bag at the restaurant I asked them where they had gone. They gave me directions and it was only a few blocks from the restaurant and my hotel. So I checked that out and found the book I was looking for.

With all my shopping done I went to the hotel to repack my bags and made sure that none of the make up had broken. A tip if you are buying powder make up products: don’t put them in your checked luggage but in your carry on bag. That way you can be sure that it won’t be tossed around too much for the powders to break. I went to bed early as I had to leave for the airport at 7 AM.

Manhattan views on the way home

My final day of the trip was spent on getting home. I had a 10 AM flight from Chicago to JFK and then my flight going back home later that day. When the plane was about to touch down on JFK I was treated to some great views of Manhattan, which was a nice sort of farewell after my 3 week trip. I had a 6 hour layover which I spent reading and lounging at the airport. There was a Shake Shack at the airport so I had that for a late lunch: my last time trying some American grub before heading out. I am not sure yet when I will be going back to the States. I have been there quite a few times already and I think it’s time for me to explore different horizons. For next year I know I want to at least visit London again and then travel around Italy for a few weeks over summer.

But for now I am going to focus on enjoying my final week of summer vacation. I spent my first week back, battling the worst case of jetlag I have ever had, so that was fun, NOT! But I also spent plenty of time just chilling and having a nice vacation at home and I will continue to be doing that for the remainder of the week. I can’t wait to start writing reviews on the products I bought while I was away. And if you are curious what they are then stay tuned, because that post will be up tomorrow.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Travel Report: Vancouver

Travel Report: Vancouver

A new destination means another early wake up call. Around 6 AM I got up and set out the door soon after to catch a train from Seattle to Vancouver. Traveling by train with Amtrak is a bit like taking a plane: I had to check in luggage and was assigned a seat, which is why I had to arrive at the station an hour in advance. The train ride takes your right along the Pacific Coastline and after a 4 hour journey I arrived in Vancouver. I found my hotel, only to meet with a very unpleasant surprise.

Boat ride to find Orca

My first day in Vancouver was a good one, but there was a part in the middle that was rather blah. Like I said, the journey went fine and the landscape we traveled through was stunning. Later in the day I met up with my mom’s cousin who drove me around to show me the Vancouver surroundings and then we went to his place to wait for his wife. Once she was there we had a lovely dinner and then they were kind enough dropping me off at my downtown hotel and driving me around town and explaining something about all the different areas of town. So it really wasn’t a bad first day, but it was tainted by one of my most horrible traveling experiences.

Upon my arrival at the hotel in Vancouver, I wanted to pay for my room with my credit card. And then the card was denied. That is something that has never happened in itself, and so after a few times the hotel clerk and myself determined it wasn’t their terminal but my card. I didn’t know what was going on, but thinking it must have been blocked for some reason or other I decided to try and contact my bank. Unfortunately that was a bit of a fiasco and a long story short: I ended up calling my mom who called Interhelp who could tell me what to do. I ended up paying for my room in cash and called my bank in the middle of the night (because they are only opened during Dutch office hours) to have it reactivated. Apparently the card was blocked because I crossed the US/ Canada border and for security reasons they then automatically block your card. I have yet to visit my bank to get a full explanation, but that whole ordeal left a bit of a sour taste on an otherwise lovely vacation.

Waterplane landing in the harbor

Stanley Park seawall walk with harbor and Mount Baker in the background

Large container ships in the harbor with mountain ridge

Totempoles @ Stanley Park

Lush goodies

Luckily the money situation was fixed within 5 minutes and after a good night’s sleep, I set out to explore Vancouver. I got some groceries from Safeway, arranged a bus ticket for a trip the next day and set out for the Seawall which allows you to walk around Stanley Park. It was a beautiful day and so I thought a good walk would be a good idea. I forgot to bring sunscreen though so that was rather painful in the end, but the walk itself was awesome. It starts in the harbor, near the Waterfront Skytrain station and then you can just walk all the way to the other side at English Bay. It’s a 9 km walk and I walked it at a leisurely pace. On the way there were views of the mountains that surround Vancouver, the Vancouver skyline, Mount Baker, plenty of lighthouses and the Lions Gate Bridge which leads up north. After a day out in the sweltering sun, my feet were sore and I found a Lush near my hotel. Since my room came with a tub, I decided to try some Lush bathbomb as a treat for my burning skin.

Whistler Mountain

Ride to the top
(and yes I’m still afraid of heights, just in case you were wondering)

Proof! My first time on top of a mountain coincidentally.

Prettiness abounds

Spotted some wildlife too… Can you see him?

In a gondola going Peak to Peak from Whistler Mountain to Blackcomb Mountain

Celebration of Light Fireworks in English Bay

After that first full day with activities, day 2 would prove longer and even more tiring. I had bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Whistler Mountain and once I returned to Vancouver it was time to see a massive fireworks display. So again an early morning: I had to arrive at the bus station an hour in advance, which meant I had to catch a bus from downtown to the bus station at 5.30 in the morning. The bus ride to Whistler takes about 2 – 2.5 hours and takes you through some stunning views of mountain lakes and Vancouver. It’s crazy how you get Vancouver and then BOOM, mountains. We had a short stop in Squamish and then continued our journey to the town of Whistler. In 2010, the Olympic Games were held here and the very mountain I stood on top of, was the scene of skiing and various other parts of the tournament.

I bought a ticket to go up the mountain using gondolas and ski lifts and figured out what to do once I was there. There were some hiking trails set out according to the map I received from the lady at the Visitor’s Center which was conveniently located near the bus station. I walked some of the trail at the first stop and then waited for the lift to the peak to be opened. I walked along the path to that lift and was brought to the top. I shot plenty of pictures, did a little bit of hiking (which, with asthma and short Achilles heels is no ill feat let me tell you) and then went back down to take the Peak to Peak gondola to Blackcomb mountain. The gondola is suspended on only 4 different poles to cross the valley between the two mountains and it is listed as having the longest suspension cord. But I did it.

After all that (which took a good 3 hours), I walked around the town for a bit and since it was a Saturday there was plenty to see. Most of the streets are shopping and food outlets, but there was also a busking competition going on. On one of the squares a band played rag time jazz songs and they were really good! After they stopped playing, I walked around and found a supermarket where I bought some snacks for the road and caught a bus back to Vancouver around 4.30 PM. I wanted to be back in town on time so I could see the Celebration of Light fireworks display which happened to be on while I was there. There was a huge turn out and thanks to the nice man in the Peak to Peak gondola I was able to find a good spot to see the fireworks that wasn’t too far from my hotel. My second full day in Vancouver can rightly be dubbed a highlight of the trip.

Strike a pose!

 I think these pictures speak for themselves don’t they? Yep, my final day in Vancouver featured a whale watching tour. I knew there were a few that were leaving from Vancouver and when I found out they were to see Orca, I was sold. I already saw whales in Boston 3 years ago, but that was a humpback whale. Orca are far more entertaining let me tell you that. I ended up being lucky to a find a place that still had a spot for me on a tour. Due to the credit card fiasco I wasn’t able to arrange a tour any sooner than Friday and so I knew it would be a long shot. But I found a company that had one spot left and so I set out to Granville Island around 10 AM.

It was easy to find the place, I paid my fee and set out to the Granville Public Market to grab a snack (a delicious wheat free piece of carrot cake) and a cup of tea. The Public Market is a large covered market place where they sell anything food wise. If you’re a foodie you will like this place. They had some affordable fruit on sale and there were loose leaf teas (and one place also sold them per cup on the go, which is what I ended up having), coffee places, bakeries, places that sold spices, you name it: it was there. Since it was still fairly early on a Sunday morning it wasn’t too busy but as I went outside to eat my snack it rapidly became busier.

I was once again early (what else is new) and found someone else who was also on the tour who was by herself. We started chatting and then we heard our boat would leave a little later because some people were late. No big deal, because this company promises to search until they find whales, even if it takes a 7 hour trip. And we were in for a long haul. The whales were found near the San Juan Islands which is in fact in the US, and thus it took nearly 3 hours to get there. The boat spends about an hour in that hour I got to see these whales do anything and everything they are famous for: from somersaults to cartwheels, great big jumps and just popping up every once in a while. A group of 81 whales lives together in the waters reaching from Seattle to Vancouver and we got to see roughly 70 of them (all grouped into groups of 4 – 5 whales) all together having a little get together. Due to regulations the boat has to stay away from the whales, but near the end of our hour with the whales a mother and her baby passed just a few meters by our boat.

All in all that was an amazing experience and I was very lucky to come on this particular trip to see something so extraordinary. We headed back to Vancouver, again the boat ride was no punishment either as you get to see plenty of great views, and again Mount Baker popping up in the background. Near the end of the boat ride, just before we entered the harbor, the captain took us to North Harbor where a group of seal were lounging out on some tree trunks catching a bit of sun. So I got to see two species of animals all in one trip that I had never seen before. Another highlight right there!

After spending 7 hours on a boat and seeing tons of amazingness I was absolutely beat. I went to bed early, which was a good thing because the next day I would already be traveling to my final destination for the trip.

Travel report: Seattle

Travel report: Seattle

My third destination was Seattle. I left Miami with it’s sandy beaches, sunny weather and palm trees for one of the rainiest parts of the USA. Luckily for me, Seattle was about to hit a heat weave when I was there and got out before it got so hot that exploring would be made difficult. So I spent 4 days in Seattle with excellent weather for hitting the town.

Space Needle @ Seattle Center

Rocky Mountains seen from the plane

I had to get up at 4.30 AM to catch my flight to Seattle. Traveling from the east to the west coast takes about as long as traveling from Europe to New York. So my first day I pretty much spent on a plane with a layover at LAX. I arrived at the hotel around 4 PM and checked into my hostel. I had booked a room close to the train station seeing I would be taking a train to my next destination. It so happens to lie just in Seattle’s Chinatown with a large Asian supermarket and bookstore just two blocks away. I browsed the supermarket and the bookstore and had some Chinese BBQ for dinner. That was pretty much day 1.

Pike Place Market

Seattle skyline

Bainbridge Island

The first full day I had to explore I just walked around for a bit. I checked out the retail core and then headed to Pike Place Market. I had fun exploring the market, had some Starbucks (that’s where it’s from!) and there was a city Target which needed checking out. The top of the market is mostly for selling fresh produce like fish, meats and veggies. There are also elaborate flower stands and lots of little independent trade shops from the area.

I had lunch in the park adjacent to the market and then I set out to explore the lower levels of the market. Entirely less busy, the lower levels housed the more interesting shops. There were shops selling used books and records, gaudy souvenir shops, and some relics of days gone by in the way of viewing the largest shoe in the world. It was nice to wander around for a bit and then found myself with the exit at the back of the market that lead to the waterfront.

I walked up and down the waterfront and then went to a shop that was a combination of a souvenir shop and a curiosity shop. Part museum of desert mummies dug up in the 19th century and gifts from chiefs, part key chains and fudge shop, it had a bit of everything. After checking that out, I went down to the ferry dock and took a ferry down to Bainbridge Island. Some type of suburb just out of Seattle, with a cute shopping street, it was a definite change of pace from the big city. Plus there were lots of blackberries up for picking.

Seattle Center

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

Wearing a stunning cap in preparation for a visit to a chocolate factory

My second full day in Seattle meant going all over town, chasing the best views. I first took a bus down to Seattle Center to check out the main tourist attractions Seattle has to offer. That’s where the Space Needle, which I didn’t travel all the way to the top as I had other plans for views that also came completely free.

Just past Seattle Center is a hilly road leading to Kerry Park. It’s a bit of a walk but the view is absolutely stunning. Since the weather was nice Mount Rainier could be seen very clearly in the distance too so that was an added bonus.

After Kerry Park, I took a bus up to Fremont where I walked along the river and noticed they had a chocolate factory around. They were fully booked for that day, but I booked a tour for the following day and so I went back on my last day. Before I knew it, it was time for me to head to my next and final destination of the day: University quarter. I walked around campus for more view of Mount Rainier and then headed a street where there were a lot of little student type shops. I ended up reading in Starbucks before heading tot he bus and catching one back to the hotel.

Nirvana memorabilia @ EMP

A tree made out of guitars? Why not?

A dragon in its lair

Aliens!

For my last day in Seattle I decided to do something fun and different. For one I visited a chocolate factory. I visited Theo Chocolate: a local Seattle chocolate brand that is 100% fair trade and organic. Their chocolate bars are sold across the US and Canada so it was a brand I did not know. It is one of the first US chocolate that I’ve tried that is actually good. The tour included an explanation of the process of making chocolate: from growing the beans to processing them into chocolate. The first part was explained through pictures and a timeline, after that the tour continued onto the factory floor and patisserie where the chocolate and bons bons are made. It also included lots of tastings!

After that fun visit, I headed back to Seattle Center and visited the EMP museum. This museum is dedicated to music, science fiction and popular culture. It was a very modern museum that was pretty high tech. There was this huge video wall that played music videos and documentaries and there were some exhibitions on two of Seattle’s greatest music legends: Jimi Hendrix and of course, Nirvana. The museum also includes exhibitions on movies in the realms of horror, fantasy and sci-fi. They also had a special exhibit on on Star Wars costumes, but I didn’t see that. I spent quite some time in the museum and liked how unique and original the concept was.

I headed back towards downtown Seattle by the Monorail that drops you off in the heart of Seattle from Seattle Center. I walked around some more and then found myself at the Hardrock Cafe for some dinner. I walked back to the hotel and went to bed early since I would have to be up at 6 AM to catch a train to Vancouver!