Venice, Italy

Last week I was SUPER lucky to have one of my friends come visit us in London.  Courtney and I went to university together and met each other on the women’s hockey team.  We instantly became friends and she’s been by my side ever since.  She even stood up next to me on our wedding day as one of my bridesmaids.  Just before we moved to London, she started dating her boyfriend, Dan.  As we were leaving, I never had the chance to meet him – so when they arrived in London it was our first chance to meet.  And it was hard to believe by the end of the week we had just met – we loved Dan – I mean it doesn’t hurt that his name is also Dan ;)! The four of us had such a wonderful time together.

They arrived Saturday morning and without skipping a beat, we took off for a quick tour of some of the London sights.  We started with a walk through Hyde Park to see Kensington Palace.  After a quick pub lunch nearby, we made our way up to Notting Hill to stroll through Portobello Market.  It’s so easy to forget about these incredible streets and markets when we’re busy living our fast paced London life, so it’s extra special to go back and visit these places with friends and see the excitement on their faces when seeing it for the first time.

That evening we met up with the Ives and Phelps for a night of darts.  Flight Club is easily one of our favourite group hang out spots.  The atmosphere is so much fun!  After a few hours of hitting the bullseye, we made our way over to a speakeasy for some cocktails and live music.  Again, I just love having our US friends in town to visit.  Dan and I love London so much, and it’s so amazing to show our friends the city we’ve made our home.

 

Sunday was a full day of sightseeing.  We started with brunch at Dishoom before making our way across the city.

 

On Monday,  Dan  and I had to go to work for the week while Courtney and Dan made their way over to Paris then Munich.  Courtney’s brother and family live in the Munich area so they were able to spend some quality family time!

Friday night we all met back up in Venice! We had the cutest Airbnb! It had a fab terrace where we enjoyed many, many pizza’s and vino!  We were so lucky to have stumbled upon an uhh-mazing pizza shop just near our apartment on the first night.  We ended up visiting them every day (I think maybe even twice in one day?).

All day Saturday was spent sight seeing.  We quickly checked off all of the main tourist sites in the area.  These areas were SO busy with people, so we wanted to make sure we saw them and then were able to spend the rest of our time enjoying the quieter spots of Venice.

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Saturday evening was probably the best part of our trip.  Our apartment’s concierge service connected us with a local boat owner/guide (Marco) for a sunset cruise around the islands and canals.   Marco was incredible!  The five of us quickly became friends as we cruised around enjoying local prosecco and snacks.  The gondola’s on the main canals in Venice are SO expensive and touristy.  Again, it was nice being able to enjoy the quieter side of Venice and he even took us out to Burano which is one of the most colourful islands in the area!  The three hours with Marco flew by, and we all struggled to say goodbye and not book him again for the next evening!  I would HIGHLY recommend going with Boat Skipper Marco if you’re planning a visit to Venice in the future!

Sunday was spent meandering around and enjoying all of the hidden gems Venice has to offer.  All of the bridges, canals, boats, cute buildings make it so easy to just walk for hours.  And not to mention all of the homemade pasta shops and gelaterias! I also can’t believe I’ve made it this far without mentioning Bellini’s!  Venice is the home to the Bellini!  Prosecco and fresh peach juice – how can  you go wrong?  We made many pit stops along the way to enjoy fresh Bellini’s and spritz’ throughout the weekend!

 

 

 

We flew back to London early Monday morning for one last day of exploring and spending time together.  After a bike ride through the city, we ended up at Louis Vuitton where Courtney and I decided to celebrate our friendship with matching handbags 🙂  We had so much fun picking them out then flaunting them around the streets.

 

On our last evening together, we went to one of our favourite food markets, Mercato Metropolitano, for dinner before capping our trip off with drinks at the top of the Shard.  We had such a great time with Courtney and Dan!  The hardest thing about living abroad is not being close to friends and family.  And it’s even harder to say goodbye after such a special week together.  But…we’re already trying to plan our next trip together!

 

Birthday Trip to Morocco

I’ve officially joined the dirty thirty club!  And what a welcome I received! I started celebrating on Wednesday with my work colleagues and the party didn’t stop until the following Tuesday when we flew  back to London!  Friday evening I was welcomed with a surprise visit from the Phelps and Ives at our flat with a cake, sparklers and bubbly.  I’m so lucky to have such great (and thoughtful!) friends in London!  I was so surprised!  It as the PERFECT way to kick off my 30th birthday celebration!

 

The party kicked back off around 4am on Saturday morning when we had to meet the Ives on a bus to the airport for a super early morning flight 🙂  We flew into Marrakesh, Morocco for a weekend of birthday shenanigans and exploring.  After quickly checking into our riad* (which was ADORABLE!), we headed off to check out the city of Marrakesh and get lost in the souks! *A riad is a traditional Moroccan house that is situated around a courtyard, that typically contains a pool or fountain.  Many have now been converted into boutique hotels.

We spent the entire day wandering through the market stalls and bartering for Moroccan goods.  I loved all of the foreign sights, sounds and smells that the area had to offer.  It’s so fun for me to experience a culture that is so far from what my day-to-day is.  I love to fully submerse myself into it.

That evening we had a lovely dinner at a restaurant the Riad recommended.  After feasting on various Moroccan tajines (a stew that is cooked for long hours in a clay pot, typically with meat, vegetables and sometimes dried fruits such as dates or apricots). Dan let the staff know it was my birthday…and the party started!  A group of about 10 staff brought out a beautiful dessert, firecracker candles and a beautiful serenade of a Moroccan rendition of Happy Birthday!

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The next morning we were met by our driver, Aziz, who would transport us for the next 3 days through the mountains, countryside and desert.  Our first day on the road was primarily spent winding through the Atlas Mountains.  We made various pit stops along the way to soak in the views.  It was quite surreal seeing snow tipped mountains just above the yellow/orange sand desert.  Our favourite pit stop along the way was a craft market where we spent hours searching for the perfect Moroccan rug to bring back as a souvenir.  I fell in love with the bartering and feel very proud with the deal I managed to negotiate for our stunning area rug!

After a total of 6 hours of driving, we arrived at the Dades Gorges where we stayed the night.  The area is jaw-dropping as there are small villages and winding roads carved in and around a large gorge that is formed from the Dades River.  Our hotel was no exception, as it was literally carved out of the earth with the Dades River flowing in front.  We loved the hotel, especially the staff.  We quickly became friends with the staff and spent the early evening hanging out sharing stories about our lives and learning about their traditional Berber lifestyle.  That evening we had a fantastic meal followed by another birthday party.  The Moroccan’s love a birthday party – and this one again did not disappoint! Our driver, Aziz, (and the rug guys from earlier in the day!) ended up getting me a birthday cake and surprised me!  The rest of the evening was spent enjoying Berber music and dancing with our new friends.

Sunday morning we met Aziz early for another long day of driving.  We drove another 6 odd hours with many stops for beautiful photos of the dramatic scenery along the way.  We even managed to find a roadside stand selling traditional Berber clothing where we couldn’t resist the photo op of playing dress up!

After what seemed like forever, we finally made it to what I was looking forward to the whole time…the Merzouga Sahara Dunes.  Some of the largest, most dramatic dunes in the Sahara!  From every direction your eye could see were the most gorgeous orange velvety smooth dunes.  It was almost as if they were large orange sand waves frozen in place.  We hopped on our camels to make a 1.5 hour trek out further into the Sahara where we would camp for the night.  The trek was incredible – slightly uncomfortable, but hard to think about your discomfort when the scenery is once-in-a-lifetime beautiful!

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That evening we had another traditional tajine dinner in the communal berber tent after watching the sunset over the dunes.  We enjoyed some entertainment before hitting our beds early as we had an early start the next day…

…at 4:30 am!!!  We woke and hopped on our camels again for the 1.5 hour trek back.  It’s hard to describe how beautiful the trek in the dark was.  I’ve never seen the sky so on fire with stars.  You could see the creamy milky way weaving through millions and millions of bright stars.  It was unbelievable.  And after about an hour of trekking in the dark, the sun started to peek up from the horizon and we witnessed the most beautiful sunrise as we arrived back to our vehicle.  The rest of the trip was spent in the vehicle making our way back to Marrakesh to make our flight home back to London. It was such a lovely way to celebrate entering into a new decade of life!

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Seoul, South Korea 서울

 

Once again, we’ve been on the move!  This time Dan had to go to Seoul, South Korea for a 2.5 week work project.  The first weekend he was in Seoul landed on the Easter holiday, and I had Friday and Monday off work so decided to join him for a long weekend.  It was quite a long flight (11 hours!), but being able to experience a new country with Dan was 100% worth it for the quick trip!

With the time difference, I landed in Seoul early Friday morning.  Dan had to work the day, so after he greeted me and had a quick lunch with me, I was off on my own to explore.  I spent the afternoon wandering around Myeong-Dong which is a popular shopping area.  The streets were filled with beauty shops, clothing stores and street food vendors.  I couldn’t believe how many beauty shops there were!  Skin care is taken so seriously there, you can’t go more than 5 steps without another shop selling their famous sheet masks.  I had heard a lot about them, and was quite sceptical at first…but after purchasing a handful and testing one at our hotel…I understand the hype!  I’m addicted and loved stocking up on different versions I would find throughout the remainder of my trip.

Dan met up with me for a Korean BBQ dinner.  I forgot how much I love Asian restaurant culture.  Everything is so organised, efficient and just DELICIOUS!  After dinner we went over to Seoul Tower to catch some of the night views over the city.

On Saturday, Dan had to work until mid-afternoon so I set out to do some sight seeing on my own in the morning.  I first visited the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple.  It had the coolest outdoor area surrounding the temple.  Thousands of colourful lanterns we strung in the sky creating the most beautiful rainbow canopy! I loved watching the locals come and go and perform their traditions/rituals.  It is especially cool to see the differences between all of the Asian cultures and religions from all of our travels.

From there I wandered over to Gwanhun-dong to check out some more shopping and culture.  There was an incredible shopping centre (Insadong ssamjigil) which was filled with local artist shops and retailers.  I even stumbled up on a poop themed cafe’ – I swear, some of things you find in Asia…you can’t even imagine!

After meeting up with Dan, we went to explore the Gyeongbokgung Palace.  The palace is the largest and most grand of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Our timing was perfect as when we walked up the changing of the guards ceremony was just starting.  It was really cool to watch.

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I quickly noticed that many of the visitors (and locals) at the palace were dressed in traditional Korean clothing.  It didn’t take me long to decide that this was the perfect opportunity to play dress up and engage in this fantastic tradition and rent a Hanbok for the day! I felt like such a princess.  I LOVED exploring and spending the afternoon in this stunning gown!  I couldn’t stop twirling around and of course I was wearing a huge grin the entire time.  Let’s be real though…the palace was lovely…but this dress…took the crown!

 

That evening after reluctantly returning my Hanbok…we made our way over to Hongdae Street.  This area is known for it’s urban culture, art and street performers.  The entire street is shut down and flooded with food stalls, retail shops, art stands and…screaming KPop fans for the street performers that are set up about every 20 meters.  It was bizarre.  Literally every 20 meters down the street was a mini stage or sectioned off area with a street dancer/singer/artist.  Each one had it’s own HUGE loyal crowd.  It was so much fun walking the street and seeing performer after performer and enjoying some tremendous street food!  We ended the evening with some delicious Korean fried chicken (the real KFC!).

On my last full day in the city, we visited the Changdeokgung Palace, which is another of the Five Grand Palaces within Korea.  We didn’t find this to be too dissimilar from Gyeongbokgung Palace, so our visit was short and sweet!  From there we quickly explored Bukchon Hanok Village then took a long walk along the Cheonggyecheon to get to our lunch spot.  The Cheonggyecheon is a 10k long urban park/stream that cuts through the middle of Seoul.  It has a big beautiful walking path on both sides – hard to believe that it used to be a big concrete expressway!

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Lunch was incredible!  It was another version of Korean BBQ – however this time no one spoke any English so we had no idea what we were really doing or eating!  We love the traditional style restaurants where you sit on the ground and wear an apron and cook your own meal!  This meal was probably my favourite of the trip!

 

From there, we had one last area I had to check out before leaving – Gangnam!

 

That evening we went out for a last bowl of Bibimbap (YUM!) and I stocked up on some last minute sheet masks.

 

The next morning I flew back 11 hours to London and went to work the following day!  It was a whirlwind trip for me, but I’m SO glad I did it.  Dan stayed on for another 2 weeks before coming back for my birthday (and birthday trip!) then ended up going back to finish the project for another 10 days!

 

Skiing in Chamonix, France [Chalet Bibendum]

Woo hoo! It’s ski season!  And we live in Europe – so we get to ski the Alps!  The first taste we had of skiing the Alps over two years ago in Innsbruck got us hooked! I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months now.  We rallied together a group of 8 of our friends, rented the most INCREDIBLE chalet and headed off to Chamonix for a long weekend of shredding!

Let’s first talk about our Chalet.  This was by far the best AirBNB I’ve EVER had.  It was unbelievable!  It was beyond perfect for the 10 of us, as it had 5 beds all with their own ensuite.  The centre of the chalet featured a stunning fireplace, the peaked trusses made the perfect frames for large windows highlighting the French Alps, and I can’t forget the massive chef’s kitchen, which was a total vision board in reality.  The host had a total eye for style as everything flowed together perfectly…from the funky, Moroccan lamps and rugs to the modern copper bath tubs. Not to mention, it was right in the middle of the Chamonix Valley, so all of the skiing areas were a quick 5-10 minute car ride away.  Oh and while I’m mentioning a car ride…I feel I should share a photo of this beautiful beast that transported all TEN of us for the weekend!  Dan was an incredible bus driver for all of us…this thing was hilarious, but totally perfect for the occasion!  🙂

*Links to Chalet so you can book your own dreamy holiday: Chalet Bibendum & Chalet Bibendum AirBNB

For our first day of skiing, we visited Le Tour.  Everyone was at very different skiing level’s, so we tried to all stick together, but inevitably, we ended up splitting into a few smaller groups.  Conditions weren’t the best as the clouds were very low and there was a lot of snow so it was difficult to see about 5 feet in front of you sometimes.  But we were skiing…in the Alps!  So can’t complain!  One of my friends recommended taking one of the very long red runs down the back of the mountain that ends down at an adorable little ski village, Valorcine.  Although this run wasn’t very fast or difficult, it ended up being one of my favourites because of how beautiful it was!

That evening we were all exhausted from a full day on the slopes.  I cooked a big family style spaghetti Bolognese.  Erin decorated the table beautifully, and we all sat around the massive table stuffing our faces and enjoying the family-like atmosphere.

For our second full day of skiing, we went to Brevant/Flegere.  The conditions were a bit better that day, but this area was definitely much easier than Le Tour.

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That evening, we went into Chamonix for drinks and dinner.  We found this really cool self-serve beer bar and then a pizza restaurant, where again, we stuffed our faces.  It’s amazing how hungry skiing makes you! The actual village was adorable too.  I wish we had a bit more time to explore the area (particularly the shops!)

On Monday, we had a half day before we had to go back to the airport.  Dan and Kent went off skiing on their own, while the rest of us stayed back and relaxed/packed up.  The two of them took Grand Montes by a storm and shredded hard for those 3 precious hours.  They said it ended up being some of the absolute best powder skiing conditions either of them have ever had!

It was an incredible weekend with a fantastic group of friends!  Can’t wait to get back on the slopes again!

Lisbon, Portugal

If you follow us regularly, you’ll probably notice both Dan and I have been travelling a lot for work.  Our last weekend trip was stapled onto a work trip Dan had in Oslo, Norway  and this time it was my turn to travel for work and have Dan come visit me on the weekend!  I’m working on some really cool projects across Europe right now, and lucky for me, two of them are in Portugal.  After a few days in Lisbon and Porto for work, Dan joined me Friday evening for a weekend of exploring.

For some reason (which were both still not entirely sure why) we did a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city. We rarely do this, but it ended up working out great as it got us quickly to some of the main sites…although in retrospect, we only used the bus about 2, maybe 3 times 😉

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First stop:  Belém Towera stunning tower structure that from afar looks like it is floating off of the Lisbon shoreline.

After snapping a few photos and walking along the shore, we walked over to Pasteis de Belem, the world famous bakery known for its Pastéis de Nata (custard tarts)!  We were warned that the queue would be quite long, but it would be worth the wait.  Luckily, we only had to wait a few minutes before we had the most delicious, warm custard tarts in our possession!  Unlike a lot of places that are very hyped up about being “the best”, this place totally lived up to the hype – they were outstanding!  Totally worth it if you’re in the area!

A quick Uber away (not the bus :)) was the, also very famous, TimeOut market, where we enjoyed some delicious lunch.

We spent the remainder of the day wandering around various neighborhoods, while gawking at all of the gorgeous architecture and TILES. I fell in love with the tiles.  I took close to 100 photos of buildings and tiles.  We even ended up visiting a tile shop to purchase some to bring home with us!

That evening we had a really good Portuguese dinner at a really cool, funky restaurant and topped off the night with some incredible wine at what is now possibly my favourite wine bar ever.  The entire building was covered in beautiful green glass wine bottles and their service and selection was FAB!

On Sunday we did a bit more exploring, but mostly just enjoyed relaxing and walking in the sunshine.  We had the most perfect weather while in Lisbon, about 65-70 degrees and sunny the entire time.  We loved the food, the wine, the culture, and just about everything!

It was a lovely, relaxing weekend. I’m so grateful that I am able to work on a project in this incredible country!

Oslo, Norway

Dan has been able to travel to Oslo a few times for work trips these past few months, so we decided that I would join him for a night to do some exploring!  It was as really short trip, as we flew in Saturday morning and I flew back Sunday night.  But it’s a really small city so it was really easy to do in a quick weekend.  So many people told us that Oslo is a really boring city, but we ended up really loving it and finding it incredibly beautiful!

We spent Saturday afternoon just wandering around the city’s shopping area.  It’s basically just one long high street.  But one beautiful high street and at the end of the shopping street sits the Palace up on the hill with a beautiful park.  When we reached the end of the walk and got to the park, we decided we should go ice skating in the park!  We rented hockey skates and as soon as we got them – it started to snow!  I’m talking the most perfect big fluffy snowflakes!  Living in London, we don’t get snow and I LOVE snow!  And how perfect to be skating in the snow in Norway!  Perfection!

 

As I only had one night in Oslo, we decided to try and visit as many places as possible for food and drink.  So we started off at the top floor of our hotel for a cocktail – which happens to be the tallest building in Oslo!  Next stop was a cave bar/restaurant for dinner and some Norwegian beer.  They were known for their sausages so we had to try them, and they didn’t disappoint!  After dinner,  we bar hopped at a handful of craft beer bars around the city.  The craft beer scene was fantastic there – especially the sour beers!  So many fun ones to try, I loved it!

On Sunday we decided to take a long walk along the waterfront.  We started over by the Oslo Opera House which is a stunning display of architecture along the sea.  The  building and sun created beautiful reflections into the water.

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The remainder of my short time in the city was spent just wandering around, enjoying the wonderful weather and being with Dan.  We love weekends away where we can just take it slow and not feel rushed to see a lot of tourist sites.  Oslo was so beautiful and was the perfect quick (but slow) getaway! And I got my snow fix in 🙂

Australia [Cairns & Sydney]

After the most incredible week in New Zealand, the 2nd (and 3rd!) part of our Christmas trip begun. We began in the northern Australian city of Cairns. We chose this area as it was easily accessible to the Great Barrier Reef, it was known for its great beaches and it has a rainforest!

Kicking this part off with a bang, our first stop was the Great Barrier Reef! We did a full day tour with Passions. We chose them because they were one of the smaller tour companies, and their boat is a brand new catamaran! The trip out to the reef was about two hours, which to be honest, surprised both me and Dan! But let me tell you…it was WELL WORTH the long trip out there! As we were on a smaller boat and we lucked out with the weather/wind conditions we were able to visit some of the best reef spots in this area!

We were both blown away with the amount and variety of fish we saw. The schools’ of fish were massive! From teeny tiny fish swimming in schools of thousands, to massive parrot fish swimming together in groups of ten or twenty. I will let our GoPro videos speak for themselves – there really are no good words that I can use to describe the Great Barrier Reef. It’s something that you just have to experience for yourselves!
Oh! And we saw some sharks too! They’re just reef sharks, so they aren’t too threatening. The white tip ones are completely non-aggressive, but the black tip sharks can become aggressive if threatened. They were fun to swim around and watch.
We were able to spend about 3 total hours in the water snorkeling, which was perfect. I mean, mermaid Kirsten could have spent ALL day in there, but they forced me out J It was a magical day, we are so happy we were able to see the GBR. I will say, the colour of the corals were not at all what we expected, as they were a bit more muted than coral we have seen at other snorkeling spots (ie Zanzibar), but the fish and the vastness of the reef here were definitely one of a kind!

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It was really hard to believe that the next day was CHRISTMAS DAY! It was a totally bizarre feeling as it was our first time not having a white Christmas! I mean, technically we had a white sandy beach, so I guess that counts! We spent the day relaxing on the beach, swimming in the ocean and floating in our hotel pool. We found out that a lot of people from other parts of Australia come up to Cairns for holiday. We made some friends from the Outback that were there for Christmas weekend. We learned from them that the traditional meal for Christmas is barbequing meats and having an outdoor family-style picnic. They were so fun and let us enjoy some of the local fruits and snacks with them! That evening, we wanted to partake in this tradition, so we used the hotels’ awesome barbeque area and put some steak and shrimp on the Barbie!

We spent the next day exploring the Daintree Rainforest. We took a really cool glass bottom gondola ride over the canopy of the rainforest. The gondola offered a few stop off points along the way before ending at a little village in the middle of the rainforest. There, we visited a koala park where I was able to snuggle the cutest little koala bear! He (Charlie) was so sleepy, cuddly and soft! I had the hardest time giving him back to the handler!
After a full day in the rainforest, the last part of the day was the scenic railway back to our starting point. The train is a 2 hour journey through the rainforest over and through impressive bridges and tunnels. It was a stunning ride, and was nice that all of the carriages were open air.

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On our last full day in the north, we spent the whole day relaxing. Both Dan and I aren’t ones to go on long beach vacations, and even if we go somewhere tropical, we tend to fill our time with activities rather than lay around and relax. But we decided we could use a little relaxation, so we enjoyed the incredibly hot tropical weather with our floaties in the ocean and the pool! We topped off our trip with a great meal at a beach bar.

We LOVED Cairns, particularly the Palm Cove area. We felt like we were in the coolest, hip local village. Everyone was so friendly! It was really hard to leave, but we left feeling relaxed, tanned and ready for a NYE celebration! We took a super early 6am flight down to Sydney to start the last leg of our trip!


This part of the trip was super special because we joined up with our friends from London the Phelps! They spent a week in Fiji before joining us in Sydney! We rented a really cool AirBNB flat in the Surrey Hills area. We didn’t know it when we booked, but that area is super trendy and filled with some of the best restaurants in Sydney!

Dan and I spent the first day relaxing at our AirBNB and jogging down to one of the marinas while we waitied for the Phelps to arrive that evening.

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The next day we did the famous Congee to Bondi walk!  It’s a stunning path that follows the stunning coastline for about 6.5 km.  There are beautiful beaches and swimming spots along the way to stop and enjoy.  We started first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, and are so glad we did because by the time we got to Bondi – it was PACKED! We stopped twice along the way to swim (we even saw some sting rays!) and ended in Bondi for lunch at a beachside restaurant where we enjoyed fish & chips!

In the evening we went to another lovely pizza dinner.  We did so good with restaurants in Sydney! Not a single meal disappointed!  As our AirBNB had an awesome outdoor deck on the 2nd floor, every night after dinner we found ourselves hanging out playing games enjoying the weather!

Our next full day was spent doing our own version of a city walking tour. We hit up the typical spots:  Sydney Harbor bridge, botanical gardens, the Opera House and walked many of the streets in and around the area.

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The next day was our last full day in Sydney – an it was New Years Eve!  We had our big NYE celebration in the evening, so for the day we decided to relax and take the ferry over to Manly Beach to hang out for the day.  The ferry ride was so pretty – I can see why people use it to commute daily!  What a way to get to work!

While Gina, Charles and I spent the day relaxing on the beach…Dan hit the waves for some surfing!  It was quite busy, and the waves were pretty small – but he spent the better part of a few hours *trying* to ride the waves 🙂

So that night was the big one! Although not the main reason we came to Sydney…but one of the big ones! NEW YEARS EVE!!! We ended up going to an island party at Shark Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour. There was a ferry that took everyone out to the island, then we had the whole island to make a picnic spot and enjoy the evening. Dan was incredible and sprinted off the boat and went to what we think was the ABSOLUTE BEST spot on the island to secure out spot for the night. We had the most perfect view of the bridge where the fireworks are set off from! We set up our little picnic spot with all of the goodies that we brought with us and enjoyed a few hours of eating and games before the first round of fireworks went off. They do two sets, one at 9:00 for kids then the big show at midnight. I had pretty high expectations for the fireworks…and they still completely rocked my socks off! They did such a fantastic job. It was so uhh-mazing! If we were ever to go again, I can say we did NYE perfectly. From our spot on the island, the ability to bring our own picnic, the perfect weather, the friends we were with, to the unbelievable fireworks show – all perfection!

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Australia was so much fun.  We already know we want to go back someday and explore the incredible continent further.  There is so much more there that we didn’t see, but what we did was amazing.  It was so fun to be able to experience Sydney with the Phelps too!  They were so fun to travel with and we can’t wait to do more together!  Not sure if we’ll ever be able to top this Christmas and NYE!

New Zealand [South Island]

For our Christmas adventure this year, Dan and I decided we’d go really big.  We quickly decided on Australia and New Zealand! While planning our route, we decided to make it an AROUND THE WORLD experience by first travelling to LA, California.  DSC07327 (2)Dan’s brother, Scott, and his wife, Christine, recently moved to the LA area AND just had a baby so we were anxious to meet our new nephew, and we figured the few extra flight hours on an already long flight were totally worth it!

We spent our two day layover loving on our nephew, Henry, and catching up with our brother and sister.  We loved seeing their new home and lifestyle in LA.  Their neighborhood is beautifully located in the hills near Pasadena.  Our time with them is never enough, but it was great to see them and catch up (last time we saw them was in Japan!).  And how handsome is my nephew…I couldn’t get enough snuggles with him!!!

After LA, we flew into Auckland, New Zealand which is in the North Island.  This is the only way to get to New Zealand via international flight.  After a quick layover, we few down to Queenstown on the south island which was our base for the next week.  We picked up our Jucy campervan at the airport and headed off!  The best way to do New Zealand is by campervan, and ours was absolutely perfect for the two of us.  The converted minivan’s backseat area turned into a full bed for sleeping, bench seats and a table for dining and the trunk was a kitchen, full with a stove, sink and mini fridge.  We were really impressed with Jucy, their service was great and the campervan was in great condition.  We also loved seeing other bright green and purple Jucy van’s on the road and everyone honked and waved as we passed by!

Our first stop and campsite was in Wanaka, just about an hour through the mountains and north of Queenstown.  We explored the nearby lakes (including the infamous “Wanaka Tree”) and the town before settling into our first campsite.

On our first full day in NZ, we drove up to the base of Mt. Cook, which is the tallest mountain in the country.  On our way there, we stopped by the Clay Cliffs.  These striking cliffs are quite the site as they are HUGE and so different then any of the other landscape around it!

Once at Mt. Cook, we did a long hike through the Hooker Valley which sits just below the mountain.  The hike was beautiful (and hot!), but we were both surprised at how busy the trail was.  Most of NZ was very quiet and we never saw that many people, but out of the whole trip, this trail was the busiest (although we’ve become pro’s at making our photos look like it’s just us and nature!)

After our long hike, we drove back down south to Lake Hawea for our 2nd campsite.  This was our favourite campsite out of the whole trip.  We were able to park right on the lake and we were virtually the only ones there!  It was such a serene place to relax.

We were fortunate to be visiting NZ during their summer time, and even more fortunate to visit during the longest day of the year.  Our days were incredibly long, with the sun rising around 6am and setting at almost 11pm.  So we woke up very early and had nice long full days to enjoy! We went back into Wanaka the next morning to shop around the little town before heading into Queenstown to explore the city and check out Fergburger.  We had heard a lot about this burger place, and were warned that queues are usually around an hour for lunch and over two hours at dinner!  Lucky for us, we only waited about 30 minutes!  The burgers were good (and huge!), but definitely not worth waiting two hours in a line for!  Fun to try!

After lunch in Queenstown, we drove down to Glenorchy.  The drive to Glenorchy is known as the most beautiful drive in all of New Zealand.  And it did not disappoint!  It was incredibly scenic, with twists and turns along the lake and through the forest.

When we got to Glenorchy, we did a horse back riding tour around the Reiss River Valley.  This area is stunning!  And it serves as the filming location for many films such as, Lord of the Rings (Isengard), Mission Impossible 6 and X-Men Wolverine!  It was a really cool ride because we got to go through rivers and do a fair bit of trotting!  It was a great way to spend the afternoon!

That evening we made our way to our next campsite.  We camped alongside Moke Lake, which is 15 minutes outside of Queenstown.  It was a cool site because it’s up in the mountains alongside a lake, surrounded by a horse farm, a cattle farm and a sheep farm!  So nature and animals were all around us!  We made a wonderful stirfry for dinner and enjoyed some local wine before going to bed early so we could wake up in the middle of the night to star gaze.  Living in London, we don’t see a vast array of stars.  So we set up on top of our van and enjoyed the beautiful night sky!

Our next day started bright and early with a 7am flight to Milford Sound.  The fjord’s were at the top of our list to see, but to get there by car, you have to go all the way around a mountain range which takes 5.5 hours EACH WAY!  So Dan found a flight company (Air Milford) that gets you over to Milford Sound in just 45 minutes!  It was an incredible flight (Dan got to be co-pilot!) over the lakes and mountains!

When we arrived at Milford Sound, we hopped on a cruise boat for a tour of the area.  This area is remarkably breathtaking.  It’s been unofficially titled the 8th Wonder of the World – and I totally agree.  The striking coastline, the waterfalls, the wildlife (seals, otters, dolphins, penguins) and the water all make this place magical.  Our boat tour was only two hours, but I could have spent all day in the sun enjoying the views!

We hopped back on the plane after the boat tour for a quick flight home.  But our pilot told us it was very rare to have little to no wind in the area, so he wanted to have some fun and took us a little out of the way to see some cool glacial lakes and more views of the fjords!

That afternoon, we went back into Queenstown where we took the gondola up to the top of the town.  Dan did downhill biking and I enjoyed the sun and read my book 🙂  Dan LOVED the biking!

For our last night in NZ, we stayed in Queenstown at a Holiday Park walking distance to the town.  We spend that evening having dinner in the town before catching a good night’s sleep for our last big NZ adventure…

…BUNGY JUMPING!!!  The first thing we did after booking our flights for this trip was book bungy jumping!  We’ve had this up on the top of our adventure lists for awhile now, and why not do it at the home of bungy!?  This was the most UHH-MAZING experience!  Words cannot describe the feeling you have as you freefall 134 m over a gorge!  Both Dan and I loved every second of it and we can’t wait to do it again!!!

Shortly after bungy jumping, we boarded a plane and made our way over to Australia for the next part of our Christmas Trip!  New Zealand was incredible; if anyone gets the chance to go you have to take it!  We loved everything about it and are ready to go back and explore some more!

Oh – and if you didn’t notice…we FINALLY GOT A GOPRO!!!  Our parents got us the new Hero6 for Christmas!  We were finally able to capture some of our crazy adventures!  We hope you enjoy some of these fun videos!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saint Petersburg, Russia

 

Russia has always fascinated me.  The history, the vastness of it’s land, the people, everything about it interests me.  I also love the cold, and the ballet, and beautiful architecture, so Saint Petersburg in December sounded like the perfect trip for us!

The trip is very easy to accomplish in just a long weekend.  Unfortunately because of the time change, you need almost a full day to get there from London.  Although the flight is only a little over three hours, the three hour time difference means a six hour plus travel journey.  But the city is pretty small and condensed, so having just two days to explore works well.

We spent our first morning visiting Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.  It is the largest orthodox basilica and the fourth largest cathedral in the world! Also – the dome structure at the top was actually the inspiration for the United States Capital Dome!  The interior of the church is jaw-dropping.  The amount of gold, marble, granite and bronze decorated throughout is magical.  I loved the bright green from the emerald columns and the glittery bright mosaic’s that scattered the ceiling and walls.  The cathedral also had an external staircase up to the top which gave way to some of the most beautiful views over the city.

IMG_0165Standing atop the cathedral, I spotted a massive turquoise building, adorned with gold and white trim and immediately declared we had to go there.  Having done very little research on the city myself, Dan quickly informed me that it was the Winter Palace, and that was actually already our next stop on the trip! (He’s so good at planning and research!)

A quick walk from the cathedral and we arrived in the Palace Square.  And what  MASSIVE square this is…but for some reason, I just expect everything to be huge in Russia. I mean they have so much room for everything!  The square itself was home to many significant historical events, including the Bloody Sunday massacre, assassinations and parts of the October Revolution.  But now, it’s just a beautiful square in front of the Palace, and they even had magical horse drawn carriages dotted throughout for rides throughout the city!

We spent about two hours wandering the Winter Palace.  The Palace has a long and complicated history.  Changing hands a lot and suffering wars, fires and battles. The last time royals lived in the palace was early 1940’s, and since it’s been a tourist museum.  As we went in the non-tourist season, the place was relatively empty so we were able to make our way through very quickly.   What impressed me the most were the ceilings and the floors!  Each room had it’s own character, with it’s own ornate ceiling design and floor design.  It was incredible to imagine the amount of work that went into creating everything.  I think I took at least 100 photos of the ceiling, and I think my neck even hurt a bit from looking up the whole time! I thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Winter Palace, it was one of my favourite palaces/museums we’ve visited since moving abroad.

After the Palace, we spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering the streets and canals of the city.  Deemed “Venice of the North”, the city is dotted with many rivers and canals, which adds to the picturesque-ness of the city.

That evening, we went to a Georgian restaurant for dinner, followed by the Russian Ballet!  I love the ballet, and the Russian ballet was one of the big draws to going on this trip.  We saw their performance of Cinderella.  It was incredible!  Definitely a once in a lifetime experience – amazing!

On our last day in the city, we started off with breakfast at an adorable café where I discovered the Russian coffee drink – the Raf.  It’s basically a latte, but it’s made completely different with everything being put in the frothing mug then frothed together (versus just the milk being frothed and poured on top of the espresso).  They also dotted the top with about 2 whole cups of marshmallows, so I was in espresso heaven!

After breakfast, we went over to The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  This is one of the most striking buildings I’ve ever seen.  The ornate, colourful domes stand out and provide a stunning backdrop along the canals.  (Sadly, the very top of the cathedral was under construction so there was some scaffolding on the top – but nevertheless, it was still STUNNING!

 

We spent the remainder of our time waking around and shopping!  We loved our experience in Russia.  Saint Petersburg had a wonderful Eastern European feel with so many colourful buildings and all of the water makes is so charming.

 


As a side note, we also hosted our 6th annual Glaser Holiday party! We did a crazy wig theme this year which turned out pretty amazing!  Everyone smashed the theme and looked great!

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Germany + Netherlands Heritage Trip

Dan and I have always known we had a bit of common German and Dutch heritage, but it wasn’t that long ago we found out how close our family’s history’s actually were.  Dan’s dad’s side of the family is from the Leer area in Germany, which is just east of the Dutch/German border.  Dan’s mom’s family is from the Friesland area in the Netherlands, which is just west of the Dutch/German border.  Crazy how close they are to each other!  Then we come to find out, my mom’s side of the family is also from the Friesland area of the Netherlands! We decided we needed to go explore these areas to learn more about where our family’s are from.  It was a quick trip (although was unexpectantly extended…will explain later!), but it was a great one.

Dan’s family provided us with a lot of information and detail of actual places/homes to check out which was incredible to see.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really have much information from my side, except that Groningen was the main town that they were from.

We flew into Bremen, Germany early Saturday morning, grabbed our rental car and start our journey.  Our first stop was in the adorable little town of Oldenburg, about halfway from Bremen to the German/Dutch border.  We don’t have any evidence of either of our families spending any significant time there, but it was fun to check out and have an incredible German lunch.  The restaurant has been there since 1886! It was fun to visit small German cities where English is not widely spoken.  It was a great chance for me to practice mein Deutsch!

IMG_0057After lunch we made our way into the Netherlands, all the way over to Balk (Beam).  Balk is where Dan’s mom’s side of the family was from.

We were able to see Dan’s Great-Great grandparents house and the church where they attended and his Great-Great grandpa played the organ.

That night we stayed in Groningen at an adorable little hotel in the countryside.  We went into town that evening for dinner at a local pub, but were exhausted from our early flight we called it a night early! We went back into Groningen Sunday morning for coffee and breakfast and the chance to explore a bit in the daylight.  It was fun wandering around knowing some of my great-great-great grandparents walked there as well!

From Groningen, we drove back into Germany to Leer where Dan’s dad’s side of the family is from.  Our first stop was a funny one, because it was to a Chinese buffet.  If anyone knows me well enough, you’ll know it had to take a lot of convincing to get me in the door as Chinese buffet’s are at the low side of my kind of restaurants.  But we were under the impression that the building was an old hotel in which the family had stayed many, many years ago.  So we did it! … come to find out the building actually had no real significance to the family, it was just a hotel that Dan stayed in with his family when they visited the area in 2000. Ha!  But it was a funny experience and we have comparison photos of Dan then vs. now!

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town of Leer and the surrounding Holtland area.

After checking all the heritage places off our list, we then started making our way back to Bremen where we experienced their Christmas market and did a bit of shopping!

We were supposed to fly out of Bremen back to London that evening.  Unfortunately, our flight was cancelled which caused quite the stir.  We took a train over to Hamburg with the intention to fly out of Hamburg back to London, then found out our Bremen flight was rescheduled for first thing the next morning.  So we took the train back to Bremen, stayed in a hotel for the night and eventually made our way back to London mid-day on Monday!  Quite the exhausting travel experience, but we made it!