Escape to Norway 2016- London Day 3

DSC_0247.jpgDSC_0774The last day in the city of Red (black and white in my camera lens, sometimes!). Oh, how I miss it to this day. No vacation is better spent than just wandering around a city, map and camera in hand. Especially a city as amazing and as full of culture as London. We were all extremely sad that this was the last day in this glorious city, but we were all looking forward to the cruise we were about to embark to the fjords of Norway! A bitter-sweet ending in London, you could say.

We started the day off with a walk to the famous Trafalgar Square. Perhaps the most noticeable symbol of the square is the lion sculpture, as pictured below. Whether it’s on the news, in movies, or in print, it is highly likely that you have seen these famous felines before. Trafalgar Square is a public square in the City of Westminster and it is often referred to as one of London’s most vibrant spaces in the middle of the city. The square is surrounded by museums, galleries, cultural spaces, historic buildings, little restaurants and cafes, souvenir shops, boutique stores, and so much more. There’s so much to do and so much to see, here. My advice is to walk to the square. If this isn’t possible, take a cab TO the square and then take a bit of time to walk around the surrounding area to see it all. It is really impossible to truly see all that the square has to offer when you’re whizzing by in a car.

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The National Gallery, London. Definitely worth a visit!

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He looks happy.

DSC_0709DSC_0707After a short walk through this busy part of town, we proceeded to walk towards Downing Street. Even though we were here last time around, we just wanted to make a quick detour and head over to see whether or not things have changed. 10 Downing Street, to be more specific, is the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Government and the official residence of the Prime Minister. Essentially, it is where the “head of Parliament” resides. It isn’t incredibly beautiful or breathtaking from the outside; it’s literally just a black door with the number 10 on it. It’s a pretty popular landmark in some movies, especially the British ones! Now, unfortunately, they’ve stepped up the security there and visitors aren’t allowed past the main gates. It’s surrounded by guards and police officers, and because of this, we didn’t even get a good look at Number 10, as the Brits call it.

We then head off to our main destination for the day: the Shakespearean Globe Theatre. This theatre is a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse that was originally built in 1599. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a huge fire in 1613 and then rebuilt in 1614. It was then demolished in 1644. The modern Globe Theatre reconstruction that you see in the pictures I took below is an academic approximation based on available evidence from the 1599 and 1614 buildings. It first opened to the public in 1997 with a production of Henry V. I absolutely love select Shakespearean works. I’ve read ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Macbeth.’ The themes he writes about and the way he writes about them… sometimes, it just leaves me speechless. Macbeth was definitely my favourite tragedy, which is why we decided to go see the play that day in London.

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Accommodates about 1400 spectators each show!

DSC_0778If any of you are interested in going to see a play at the Globe Theatre, make sure you buy tickets on their website WELL IN ADVANCE. We didn’t do this and only went on the website to see which seats were available a few weeks in advance. I recommend at least 2 months, if you know for sure you are going. They didn’t have any good seats left that had a clear view of the stage, either in the Upper, Middle or Lower gallery. Most of the seats left were on the very side, and there was a warning of reduced visibility because of the poles blocking the stage. We decided to go with purchasing the 5 pound standing tickets. These “seats” are literally right in front of the stage, and for the entire duration of the play, you are standing there with a crowd of others watching the play. There is about 700 of these standing tickets available for each production.

DSC_0801.jpgThe play was at 2 pm, however, doors usually open a half hour in advance. If you have standing tickets, make sure you go AT LEAST one hour before the time of the show. We went a little before 1 pm and saw that there was already a short line up starting for the “ground tickets” After all, the standing spots you get are first-come, first-serve and if you want a good position near the front, you’re going to have to line up. A tip if you’re planning on buying standing tickets: it is A LOT of standing. Usually, the Shakespeare play renditions are at least 2 hours. Macbeth was 2 hours and 50 minutes in length. Plus, we were waiting outside for about an hour. All in all, it was about 4 hours of standing. It is definitely a lot more tiring, but if I had the chance to do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat. It’s a different feeling being so close to the stage and to the action. You can feel when the actors spit. If they pour water, droplets splash into the crowd. The ground ticket “seats” are much closer than the seated gallery tickets and you save a lot more money too. I definitely recommend it if you have the energy for it! Bring lots of water and snacks.

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Gallery Seats

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The Stage. Standing tickets at the front are truly this close!

DSC_0823DSC_0832I found Macbeth, starring Ray Fearon and Tara Fitzgerald, to be absolutely amazing. I loved every second of it, and I found it to be very dramatic. I do feel like I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I was sitting in the very back of one of the Upper Gallery Seat boxes. (I saw some people fast asleep in their seats after about an hour of the play) Being so up close was like being immersed into the history of Macbeth and all the drama and action Shakespeare intended to write about. It was truly amazing. Next, I hope to see either Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

After the play was over, we were much too tired to do any more sightseeing by foot. We took a cab back to our hotel and for dinner, we went out to the maze restaurant. It’s a very popular restaurant and what makes it even more popular is the fact that it’s a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Essentially, it’s modern European cuisine with a bit of an Asian flourish. For more information, you can click here to go to their website. It is a little on the pricier side, but it is a high-end restaurant that serves dishes of very good quality, so the price is worth what you’re getting! After a long day, we rode back to the hotel, all tired out but incredibly happy. It was a great 3 days in London; 3 days that I will never forget.

The next few posts in this ‘Escape to Norway 2016’ vacation series will finally be on the Land of the Vikings- Norway. Make sure to keep an eye out for the first post of the Norway series! The views are so stunning; you really won’t want to miss any of the pictures!

~Julia

Escape to Norway 2016- London Day 2

DSC_0646Our second day in London was just as eventful as the first, maybe even more so. Once again, it was a long day of walking. We prefer to walk rather than use the “tube”, taxis or the bus because we get to see so many amazing sights on the way. After all, sometimes, it’s more about the journey than the final destination. You get to see all the little side streets, and the quaint antique shops lining those streets. You get to see the neighbourhoods of London, the small city parks, and the various restaurants and cafes reflecting the city’s culture.

We started the day off with a walk to the famous British Museum. This involved a walk down Shaftesbury Avenue, which is a very busy street in London. Here, you can find many different theatres and it almost seems like the heart of London’s popular culture. It also marks the beginning of London Chinatown.

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The British Museum is one of the biggest, and most visited, museums in the world. We regretted not paying a visit to the museum last time we were in London, so this time, it was a must for us. Inside, there are so many historical artifacts to view and so many exhibits to tour. One could stay inside for a whole week and not even see everything completely. The interior was almost more beautiful than the outside; as soon as I walked in, I was amazed by the amazing architectural design of the ceiling and of the pillars. (Side note: many of the pictures I took were black and white because it just seemed so fitting for a historical museum. More simplistic!) I genuinely couldn’t tell which was more stunning: the exterior architecture or the interior architecture.

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Among the most famous artifacts at the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone. Found in 1799, it is composed of 3 scripts. The upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion is Demotic script, and the lowest text is Ancient Greek. At the time, the knowledge of the Ancient Greek script allowed the people to decipher the hieroglyphs, eventually leading to the better understanding of Ancient Egyptian text. The Museum also contains Ancient Greek exhibits, Ancient Egypt exhibits, Ancient China, Ancient Roman exhibits, many modern exhibits, etc. They have it all. Literally. I loved the Ancient Egypt exhibit the best. For me, it’s always a little daunting to tour a museum containing artifacts dating back to thousands of years ago. It’s a little terrifying when you think about their history, how they survived the forces of time, and that now, maybe hundreds or thousands of years after their creation, they are standing in a museum, surrounded by people from a completely different era.

DSC_0385DSC_0417DSC_0349.jpgDSC_0313After this wonderful time-travel back into the past, we went out for Afternoon Tea at the cutest little store called Bea’s of Bloomsbury (44 Theobalds Road) We chose not to go for the full afternoon tea experience as we weren’t incredibly hungry, so we opted for the “Cream Tea” package, which includes 2 scones and a small pot of our tea of choice. These are by far the best scones I have ever had. They’re toasty and warm, and they’re nice and thick. It’s almost like biting into a soft cushion of butter and goodness. They’re that amazing. It almost just melts in your mouth.

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After our stomachs were full, we continued our trek in the city of London. Our walk took us to many popular tourist attractions including:

  • Charles Dickens House and Museum (A must see for lovers of literature)
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • A stroll across the Millennium Bridge
  • London Eye
  • Big Ben
  • Parliament Building
  • Westminster Abbey

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St. Paul’s Cathedral

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View from the Millennium Bridge

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London Eye

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Westminster Abbey

For most of these attractions, we stopped to take a couple of pictures before heading off again. Since this is our 2nd time in the city, we weren’t incredibly interested in touring the inside; we just wanted to admire it from the outside. All in all, these views are magnificent and they are not to be missed on your next visit to London! After all, they are what make London… London.

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We walked back to our hotel with big smiles on our face, but tired feet. We called it a night, and then looked forward to what a brand new day had to offer in this city of adventure. Stay tuned for the next post- the last day in London! It’ll be a good one!

~Julia

Escape to Norway 2016- London Day 1

CSC_0484DSC_0159And that’s officially a wrap to my London/Norwegian vacation for this summer! The fjords absolutely took my breath away and all the land exploring we did certainly didn’t disappoint either. What did disappoint was definitely the weather. The cruise made 9 stops in Norway and it rained for pretty much 7 of the ports of call. To make things worse, it wasn’t just a little drizzle; it was sheets of rain, and often times, we walked back to the cruise ship completely soaked. However, despite the bad weather and all, I got to experience the real Norway: rain, cloudy skies, and cold temperatures. Everything was so serene, and the peace of being in the fjords was such a refreshing breath of air from all the stress of our lives. I loved every minute of the trip and I would definitely be up for a journey back.

3 full days were spent touring London and the rest of the journey was spent aboard a 14 day Princess Cruises ship. Out of the 14 days, there were 9 ports of call (Stavanger, Olden, Trondheim, Honningsvag, Tromso, Gravdal, Aalesund, and Bergen) and 5 “At Sea” days. For this “Escape to Norway 2016” blog series, I will be doing a separate blog post for each day spent in London, and each cruise port in Norway. Make sure you stay tuned for all the posts!

Let’s kick it off with the first day in the city across the pond from Canada. We got off the plane at around 6:30 am London time and right after we got to the hotel and settled in a little, we were out the door exploring. We decided to just forget about jetlag. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace, where we wanted to see the changing of the guards at 11:30 am. This event typically happens daily, with the exception of unsuitable weather conditions. Make sure to get there at least 30 minutes in advance so you get a good view of the guards. I didn’t do this and the only view I got was of people’s selfie sticks raised high in the air. The entire square is filled with people and all you see are phones, cameras, and heads. It’s crazy.

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See the guards anywhere?

After we “watched” the changing of the guards, we purchased tickets for the tour of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. The Buckingham Palace is the residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Fun fact: You can tell whether or not the Queen is currently in the palace. If you see the British Flag waving above the palace, this indicates the Queen is NOT in residence. In the picture below, the Union Jack means the Queen is absent. Usually, during the summer months, she’s vacationing somewhere else. The tour tickets allow you to view the inside the palace and see the various rooms used for welcoming guests, dining, lounging, etc. I was blown away by the amount of gold in all the rooms. If you’re planning a visit here, I recommend buying the tickets online first. This was our second time in London and the reason we didn’t go in the first time around was because of the lineup for purchasing tickets. DSC_0048.jpgDSC_0075DSC_0107.jpg

After this important stop, we took a stroll through Hyde Park. Our plan was to walk from one end of the park, which is where Buckingham Palace was located, all the way to the other end of the park where Kensington Palace was. In the middle of the park, you can find Serpentine Lake where many swans, geese and little ducks like to call home. On the lake, they offer the option of renting a paddle-boat to kick back and relax for an hour or two. If you’re up for something a little more active, there are loads of bikes available for rental around London and especially, in Hyde Park. If I remember correctly, it’s 1 or 2 pounds per half hour and you’re free to ride around the park! There are designated bike paths and it’s a great way to explore the area.

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Serpentine Lake

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Kensington Palace is another royal residence (I think we have an obsession with the royal family) and it is the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Just like with Buckingham Palace, you have the option of purchasing a ticket to tour the interior, however, we decided to simply admire the palace from the outside.

DSC_0181.jpgDSC_0183.jpgAfter we took our pictures and said our goodbyes to the palace, we headed off for Notting Hill. Many of you might have seen the 1999 Notting Hill film starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. It is deemed an affluent district in west London, located north of Kensington. From Kensington Palace, it’s about a 20-25 minute walk and the walk allows you to see the little “nooks and crannies” of London, such as the street containing all the international embassies. Perhaps the most famous, and recognizable, part of Notting Hill are the streets with all the pastel coloured houses. The houses are in such close proximity to one another and they vary in different colours, ranging from pastel pink to a light grey. These make great Instagram pictures! If you do find yourself in Notting Hill, the Portobello Road Market is a must-visit. Portobello Road is also a popular street with the pastel houses, as pictured below. Market opening times include 09:00 – 18:00 Monday To Wednesday, 09:00 – 13:00 Thursday, and 09:00 – 19:00 Friday and Saturday. This road market offers various antiques, fruit and veggies, second hand items, clothes, accessories, and much more. The best day is to go on either Friday or Saturday, when all the markets and booths are open.

DSC_0203.jpgDSC_0204.jpgDSC_0207.jpgAnd that is it for the first day in London! Keep an eye out for the next few posts coming up shortly!

~Julia

Discover Yoga: A Road to Self-Discovery

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  • yoga (noun): a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation

Now that summer is underway, I’ve had a lot more free time for myself recently and I’ve decided to devote all that free time to improving my well-being and really finding myself. It’s all about self-discovery and both spiritual and physical health. Throughout the year, we are so focused on work, and on checking all our “to-dos” off on the list. We spend hours seated at the desk, hunched over a computer, as we move from task to task, trying to force ourselves to work as quickly as we can. We rush off to meetings, or to run daily errands, rarely having a chance to really stop and take a breather. Discovering yoga was like discovering myself again, and it was truly amazing.

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I was first introduced to the world of yoga the summer of last year. I had purchased an introductory unlimited month pass for my local yoga studio because I had heard great things about the wonders of yoga. Being that it was my first time, I was a little hesitant into “diving into the deep end” so fast. The very first class I attended was hot yoga. With hot yoga, the room is heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and you go through a series of postures that are all linked by breath. I loved the first class, but I only went back a couple more times for that month due to the lack of free time, yet again. After practising hot yoga, you truly feel like you are reborn; you are a new, and better version of the person you entered the studio as. After my unlimited month was up, I purchased a 10 class pass to use throughout the year and that tided me over until this summer.

At the very start of July, the local yoga studio was having a promotional deal for a 2 month Unlimited Summer Pass. Seeing that this was the perfect opportunity to try and delve back into the world of yoga, I purchased the pass and made it my mission to go at least 3 times a week. The class I attend is “Moksha Yoga.” It’s typically a 60 or 75-minute hot yoga class, filled with many different types of challenging, but doable poses ranging from all levels of difficulties. Moksha classes are intended to open, strengthen and detoxify the entire body. These are great for anybody who is new to yoga, as it familiarizes you with many of the common yoga poses, their names, and their flow sequences. I committed to it about 3 or 4 times a week, and every time I left the studio, there was a smile on my face and a spring in my step. You really work up a sweat in the studio (Have towels ready), but that’s the best part of it. When you walk out of the humid, dark room and into the fresh air of outside, you feel lighter; you feel mentally at rest. You feel light.

Some poses for moksha yoga are quite difficult if you are a first-timer, but they will get easier to do with practice. It really works your muscles and your joints, so what is great about is that while you are exercising physically, you are also exercising mentally. The biggest challenge is if you can banish all of your thoughts away while you are in the room. Can you have an open, calm mind while you are simply lying on your back and breathing? Can you think about breathing, and only breathing, when you are in your poses? This can be the most challenging part, but certainly the most rewarding. If you are interested in attending a yoga class in the near future, just make sure you bring a mat, plenty of water, a towel that you can lay on your mat to prevent slipping, and a hand towel to wipe your sweat.

Recently, because of the flexibility of my unlimited summer pass, I also tried a new type of Yoga Class: Yin Yoga. It’s pretty different from Moksha yoga, as it is less active. It is a slow-moving, deep class where you can truly relax and recharge. It focuses on long, deep holds so you can relax and restore joints and muscles. Unlike moksha yoga, where you are moving for the majority of the class, Yin yoga features poses that can be held for up to 5 minutes. It is extremely soothing, and really tests how well you can stay focused on the class and keep out other invading thoughts. Some poses do really require flexibility, but just like anything else, it will all come with practice. If you’re attending yin yoga, make sure you bring a mat, a yoga block, a bolster, and a blanket. Usually, these are done in an unheated room as the purpose is not to sweat, but to calm and clear the mind. My next goal is to even try a Meditation class they offer at the studio.

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The best part about yoga is the mental health that comes with it; for just 60 to 75 minutes, you are leaving behind the stress of the day before, the present day, and the day after. You are only focusing on this very moment and the sound and feeling of your breath. You are leaving behind all the distractions and worries of the world and you are just focusing on your inner self. Yoga is such a rewarding experience, and no matter how busy I am, I try to squeeze in a couple classes more month. If you have never tried it before, I highly recommend it. It is so incredibly peaceful. Sometimes, it can be strenuous, but in those moments, when your legs are wobbling and your arms are in pain, you realize how strong you can be. You realize how strong you actually are. The practice is so beautiful, and it has helped me to grow so much as a person. I hope it can do the same for each and every one of you.

~Julia

 

10 things to say “Oui” to in Paris!

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I’m so incredibly in love with Paris. I mean, how can you not be? The cobblestone streets. The sound of the Parisian accent wherever you go. The croissants and espressos. The Eiffel Tower as your background. I could never get sick of the City of Lights. I’ve already visited it twice in the last 5 years, however, I still have this urge to keep going back.

There’s so much to do in Paris, no matter what kind of “taste” for activities you have. The first time I was in Paris, it was strictly for sightseeing. 1:00 pm: Visit Eiffel Tower. 4:00 pm: Visit Arc de Triomphe. It was running from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, baguette in hand, while on the road. The second time in Paris was incredibly different. It was all about lounging in a chair, sipping on some coffee and watching the hustle and bustle of Parisian life. Instead of the typical “Let’s go to the Eiffel Tower” type of day, we tried to find new places; places that we didn’t discover the last time we were in the city. It was extremely casual, and so much fun.

Nonetheless, there’s so much to do, so much to see and way more to eat. This post will be a list of 10 things I recommend doing when you’re in Paris and it will cater to all the different types of travellers! For those that don’t have their summer plans in check yet, Paris would definitely be an amazing place to go. I hope you enjoy this post!

  1. Cruise down the Seine River

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Tired of figuring out the complicated Metro system to get from Point A to Point B? Boots not made for walking? Take a cruise down the famous river that goes through Paris! What is so great about these mini river cruises is that while you’re on it, you can see so much of Paris, whether it’s the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, or the little stores on the side. While you’re on the boat, there will also be an automated voice pointing out all the sights for you! “On the left, you have…” “Now on your right, you can see the ….” It’s such a great opportunity to relax and take some great pictures. If I’m not mistaken, some even offer a meal for a fee.

2. Climb to the top of the Notre Dame 

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Oh, the famous Notre Dame- a building we imagined when we read the famous childhood story. You get the best photos from the top of this famous landmark. The line is a little long, but it’s so, so worth it. This is perfect for the photographer of the group (or even just for the Instagram lover!) It’s definitely seeing Paris from a different angle, and the exercise wouldn’t hurt too (especially after all those croissants!)

3. Visit Laduree Royale for some sweet treats!

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Absolute heaven in a box, and in your mouth. A trip to Paris sans Laduree sweets is not a real trip to Paris. Go in, breathe in the sweet fumes, take a seat at a table, and enjoy some tea paired with a macaron. You’ll fit right in.

4. Go for a stroll in Le Marais

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Le Marais is considered to be a historic district in Paris. It has many sights to see and many museums to visit. You can easily take a taxi there, or, if you’re up for a little extra walking, it’s a great way to get some exercise! Le Marais has the Picasso Museum, the Place des Vosges, one of Victor Hugo’s past houses, etc. What I loved most about it is how quaint it was. It was a refreshing breath of air from the busy lifestyle in Paris. Le Marais is definitely the road less travelled for tourists, which is exactly the reason we should all embark on that road!

5. Lounge at a cafe for a few hours with some good food.

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A must do. Eclairs, a croissant, a glass of champagne, some pizza or pasta. I love the cafe right beside the Notre Dame, to its left, if you’re facing the church. Such a great view. All you’re missing is some good company! (And that shouldn’t be too hard to find in Paris)

6. Montparnasse Tower

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I raved about this in my detailed Paris post back in September of 2015. This really is the absolute best place for pictures, if you’re looking for a “bird’s eye view of Paris” What I love about this is that you can go for as long as you want. You don’t have to worry about getting hungry either because there’s a small eatery up at the top of the tower. I recommend going 30-45 minutes before sunset and then staying until the city is completely dark. Bring a tripod to take pictures of the city landscape for when the lights start to shine.  Occasionally, the Eiffel Tower starts flashing lights, and that is absolutely breathtaking.

7. Louvre Museum

DSC_0217.JPGA cliche tourist thing to do, but it is a must. Go in and take in all the art. You’ll walk out completely spell-bound. The Mona Lisa can do that to people.

8. Go visit Versailles!

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Take a train out to visit Versailles! It’s a little far off if you’re just looking to stay within the city boundaries, but it is so incredibly worth it. There’s so much history, art, and culture all in one place. Go on a day that’s sunny so all the golden parts of the building will be even more glorious.

9. Spend an afternoon at the Jardin du Luxembourg

This is such a beautiful garden. If you’re up for it, bring a picnic basket and lounge on one of the grass, taking in the sight of the flowers, the people and the buildings.

10. Shop ’til you drop at Champs-Elysees! 

1.9 km long and 70 metres wide. The best road in the world for shopaholics. Have your credit card on hand, because some stores are very high end (The Louis Vuitton store is so unbelievable) This is a refreshing break from sight-seeing and a little retail therapy is good for everybody!

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I hope everyone got a few ideas about what they would want to do if they were to ever go to Paris! It truly is a magical city; so enchanting and so mesmerizing. You never forget your first visit; your first view of the Eiffel Tower; your first bite of a local delicacy. No matter what you do, you are guaranteed to love it. I truly hope everybody gets to enjoy the full experience of Paris.

Happy travels! Stay tuned for my next post on lifewithjulia!

~Julia

 

Summer 2016 Norwegian Getaway

Hey everybody! It’s been quite a long while since I’ve written a post on lifewithjulia. My work load has been absolutely insane and to be quite honest, I’ve been a little stumped about what to write. The ol’ writer’s block,  you could say. However, I’m back with a post about my tentative summer 2016 plans! I hope you guys all have your summer plans “in the works” as well!

When planning this trip, my family and I were a little indecisive. Stay home? Road trip to other places in Canada? Iceland? More countries in Europe? We just weren’t too sure about where to fly to.

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Then, we found the Norwegian Fjords cruise line and we fell in love with it, one fjord (and one Norwegian Viking) at a time. As always, we’ll be embarking on a Princess cruise because we’re all members of their established Captain’s Circle. The more we cruise with them, the more benefits we get. We love their service as well. The cruise to the North Cape and Norwegian Fjords will be on the Emerald Princess (a first for us!) and will last 14 days. The cruise will visit the following ports:

  • London, England (Embarkation location)
  • Stavanger, Norway
  • Flaam, Norway
  • Olden, Norway
  • Trondheim, Norway
  • Honningsvag (North Cape), Norway
  • Tromso, Norway
  • Gravdal (Lofoten Islands), Norway
  • Aalesund, Norway
  • Bergen, Norway

Had trouble trying to pronounce those names? We’re in the same boat, don’t worry haha. My biggest fear is trying to speak to the locals there and absolutely butchering the name of the place. Try saying Hellesylt 10 times fast. Maybe if I put on a Viking hat, I’ll blend right in.

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During the cruise, there will be 4 sea days (which are the days I look forward to the most, to be honest!) 24 hours of relaxing on board, eating all the food you want, and doing all the fun planned onboard activities. However, something that I’m not quite looking forward to is the weather. Norway definitely isn’t Mexico. There probably won’t be too much swimming and tanning in the “sun.” Although, I’m definitely willing to put on a couple layers if it means getting to witness the incredible views of the fjords!

For those of you who don’t know much about the fjords of Norway, in total, there are about 1,190 fjords in Norway and the Svalbard islands. What exactly is a fjord (pronounced fee-yord)? They’re narrow elongated passages in the sea that were shaped by giant glaciers that sliced the Norwegian landscape for millions of years. After the glaciers retreated, the sea fills the resulting valley floor. Sognefjord is Norway’s largest fjord and stretches 204 km in length. Naerojfjord is the narrowest fjord on the planet with only 250 m in width at certain points. As you can see from the pictures below, it is definitely a place you have to put on your bucket list if you haven’t already visited. Definitely a breath-taking view.

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Before embarking on the cruise, we also plan on spending a few days in London. It’ll be our second time there so instead of crossing off the major tourist attractions on our list, we’ll spend more time wandering around the city, going for some afternoon tea perhaps, and really enjoying the British lifestyle. However, we’ll definitely have to pay a visit to the Shakespearean Globe Theatre (and maybe catch a play!) and to the British Museum! If you’re familiar with the area, definitely leave a comment below with suggestions on how we can spend our few days in London!

And as always, I’ll be capturing the entire trip, from beginning to end, with my camera so of course, stay tuned for all the posts coming up about the fjords! All that’s left to do is count down the days!

What are your upcoming plans for the summer?

~Julia

Oh hello, Mr. Sun

Sometimes, (or should I say most of the times), we are so swamped with work, daily responsibilities and chores, tasks, bills that need to be paid, homework and assignments that need to be done, floors that need to be cleaned- I think you’re getting the point. It clutters our minds to the point where we neglect everything else and focus solely on the next deadline or task that needs to be attended to. We’re so inundated with information, with chores, with everything. Reminders to do this, reminders to do that. Often times, we forget to really look up from our computers, our papers and our phones to appreciate the small things in life and really notice the details that typically go unseen.

This short post that I have composed consists of just pictures of the sun. Literally. It’s shots of our glorious star that I have taken on vacation, in the car, etc., and I just really wanted to share some of these with all of you. Even though the Sun is something that we see every day of our lives, (unless you live in the Arctic or something. If so, congratulations on your amazing wifi connection), we sometimes fail to notice its beauty and true wonder. Same goes for a lot of things. Time. Ourselves. Others around us. Something simple, like the leaves on the trees rustling in the breeze, or the grass blowing in the wind.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to clear your head every once in a while! Look up every so often, because you never know what you could miss.

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Hope you all liked this short, but sweet, post! Stay tuned for more on lifewithjulia!

~Julia

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands- Holiday Cruise 2015

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Last but certainly not least for this Panama Canal Holiday Cruise is the port, Grand Cayman- the largest of the Cayman Islands; one of the many islands of heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever seen water this clear and this blue before. Grand Cayman is a very popular cruise ship destination and is popular for its many attractions, especially the famous “7-mile beach.” What also causes tourists to flock to the island is the amount of duty-free shopping available there, what with all the big name brands and Caribbean-only products and brands. It truly has its specialities.

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799.JPGFor this port, we couldn’t resist the temptation of the sunny weather and warm waters so we opted for the Stingray Encounter, Sail and Snorkel shore excursion, offered by the ship. This tour had 2 stops: a stop at the Stingray Sandbar, where you get to spend some time playing around with the dozens of stingrays that visit the location daily, and a great reef for snorkelling with the fish. The Stingray Sandbar does not in any means “trap” or “enclose” the stingrays in that area; they are free to come and go as they please. However, they all just keep coming back every day because of the all the food the tourists feed them!

This was the first time I was seeing stingray up close, so I was completely amazed by the creatures. The water is extremely shallow- so shallow that you can walk around or even kneel and still have your face above the water. This way, you get a great look at the stingrays and your tour guide will give you the opportunity to hold them (and kiss them! A stingray kiss actually brings good luck!) Stingrays are absolutely the cutest underwater creature ever, and if you get a chance, make sure you rub the white part under their “wings.” It’s unbelievably smooth. Unbelievable. What I love about them is how they almost look like underwater birds when they’re gliding on the sandy bottom.  Below are some shots taken with my trusty GoPro camera.

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The Stingray Sandbar

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A male and a female stingray. Oddly enough, the male stingray are a lot smaller than the females

027.JPG040.JPG044.JPGOur next stop was the reef, and it was one of the best snorkelling places I’ve ever visited. What I loved so much about it is how close the coral was to us. If you were to sit down, you could sit right on top of the coral. At first, it was a little nerve-wracking because of how close we were to all the marine life, but after a bit of getting used to, it was a lot of fun. The snorkelling here differed from the one in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico because there were less fish but many more species of it. I saw rainbow parrot fish, ribbon fish, black clownfish, and so much more. Swimming around, snapping pictures and exploring the landscape really felt like an adventure.

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I think I spent a good 10 minutes just following this rainbow parrotfish around in circles haha.

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Hope I’m not interrupting a meal!

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That officially concludes the 2015 Holiday Cruise blog posts! I hope you guys all enjoyed it and maybe even added some of the destinations to your own personal bucket list! (Check out my post on my own Wanderlust List if you’re looking for even more information!) Hopefully, these posts sent some sun to the dreary office cubicle you may be in right now. I know it definitely helped me get rid of my post-vacation depression! Feel free to always leave a comment if you have any questions about Grand Cayman or any other destination I have blogged about, or even just to share a destination you think I might enjoy!

~Julia 

Panama Canal- Holiday Cruise 2015

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Now it’s finally time for the long-awaited post that I have been putting off for a while: the journey through the Panama Canal. The voyage through the canal was the highlight of the cruise as it was the reason why many of us had chosen that cruise line in the first place.

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The first set of locks: Miraflores Locks

A few facts about the Panama Canal to boost your IQ (you can thank me later):

  • There are 3 sets of locks: Miraflores, Pedro Miguel, and Gatun. If you go on a full transit cruise through the canal, you pass through all 3 locks. If you do a half transit, I think you only go through 1 set of locks. (Gatun)
  • Miraflores has 2 steps, Pedro Miguel has 1 step, and Gatun is composed of 3 steps.
  • It first opened on August 15th, 1914. The very first ship to make the transit was the SS Ancon.
  • Work on the canal, however, began in 1881 by the French, however, they had to abandon the project due to high mortality as a result of diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.
  • The Panama Canal spans a total distance of 48 miles (about 77 kilometres)
  • It connects the Atlantic ocean (via the Caribbean sea) to the Pacific ocean. The main reason why the Panama Canal is so popular and so one-of-a-kind is because it saves so much travel time for ships. They can just go through the canal instead of having to travel around the tip of South America and back up again.
  • Each lock displaces 52 million gallons of water each time.
  • The largest ship that can go through the locks is called a “panamax” ship. The ship that I was on- the Island Princess- was one of them. The current locks are only 33.5 metres (110 feet) wide. We barely squished through haha.
  • Gatun Lake connects the Pedro Miguel locks and the Gatun Locks. At the time it was made, Gatun Lake was the largest man made lake in existence.
  • Originally owned and operated by the United States, Panam finally took over full operation, administration and maintenance of the Canal on December 31st, 1999.
  • There is current, on-going construction to expand the Panama Canal by adding in a new “lane of traffic” and this is set to open later this year, in 2016.

As you can see, there is a TON of history with the Panama Canal and the struggles and hardships people had to overcome to complete the construction. Our ship started to enter the first set of locks at around 8:45 in the morning. (I was up at around 6, ready to take pictures. I got to see the ship pass under the Bridge of the Americas and pass by Panama City in the distance.

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Panama City in the distance

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Bridge of the Americas

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And up we go!

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The locks from behind

After the Pedro Miguel Locks, the ship entered Gatun Lake and the Culebra Cut during the early afternoon. As you can see in the pictures below, the water was a lot more blue as we left the Pacific Ocean and started to get closer and closer to the Caribbean sea; it wasn’t that murky yellow colour anymore.

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Then, we made our way to the Gatun Locks at around 3:15 in the afternooon and we began our descent back to sea level. We finally entered the Caribbean Sea at around 4:45 to 5 pm. As you can see, from 6 in the morning to around 5 pm, the Panama Canal is an entire day of excitement, adventure, and pictures. I even participated in the sign flip that was captured by one of the photographers in the helicopter!

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Here are some pictures that the professional photographers took on board and up in the skies of our ship going through the canal.

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ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess010ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess015ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess019ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess020ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess067ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess070ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess087ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess102ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess105ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess147ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess156ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess175ScenicPhoto_IslandPrincess180Fun Fact: All ships have to pay tolls when they go through the canal and for cruise ships, it is based on the number of berths, which is the number of passengers that can be accommodated in permanent beds. Since January 1, 2011, the fee has been $108 for unoccupied berths and $134 for occupied berths. To go through the canal, our ship, the Island Princess, had to pay a total fee of $257,000. The most expensive toll was paid by the Norwegian Pearl in 2010, totalling to $375,600! No wonder the Panama Canal is vital to Panama’s economy- it’s a huge revenue stream for them. On the other hand, the cheapest toll was paid in 1928 by Richard Halliburton, who paid only 36 cents because he swam the canal!

I’m super happy that I got to cross off the Panama Canal trip on my bucket list. It was amazing just going through the locks and marvelling at the blood, sweat, and tears that were  put into this massive project. To think that what was once nothing is now a full-functioning canal attending to over 14,000 ships a year is absolutely astonishing. If you haven’t made the trip yet, I definitely recommend scheduling it sometime soon, especially after 2016 or 2017 so you can see the new sets of locks that are wider! Hope you all enjoyed the pictures and the facts! Happy travels!

~Julia

A walk down Queen Street

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I absolutely love exploring downtown Toronto because no matter how many times you go, there’s always something new to see, something new to try, or someplace new to explore. A new store opens up. You eat at a restaurant you never even noticed before. You take a wrong turn and you end up seeing a whole new side of the city you didn’t even know existed.

When my friends and I take the trip downtown, we usually end up walking along Queen Street West- a very busy shopping/dining street. There’s tons to do and tons to see on Queen Street. They have many of the popular shopping stores, such as Zara, H&M, Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, etc. They also have many small, local stores, such as a crystal shop, various fabric stores, and more. You’ll never find yourself short of something to do or see in downtown Toronto- the possibilities truly are endless.

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Butter Avenue- the best macaron shop in Toronto

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A crystal shop we stumbled into

My friends and I were feeling a little hungry while walking along Queen Street so we decided to eat at the Queen Street Warehouse because we’ve seen it on social media before and we’ve heard really great things about it.

And we certainly were not disappointed. The food was beyond amazing and the price was probably even more amazing. Their entire menu (excluding drinks) was $4.95 CDN. Everything. Everyday. All the time. $4.95. When we first heard that, we were a little skeptical because we assumed that the portions would be tiny and the food wouldn’t taste too great. However, the servings were huge and you got just as much food for $4.95 compared to a regular restaurant, where you would be paying more than 20 dollars.

Amazed by the prices and feeling a little hungry, we ordered 3 starters to share and they were absolutely fantastic. We had the potato skins, a 3 cheese dip with tortilla chips, and a poutine. Even when the food was in my mouth, I still couldn’t believe they offered this amount of tasty food for that significantly low price.

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For our entrees, my friend chose the Bacon Macaroni and Cheese.

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Myself and my other friend decided to go for a good, old-fashioned burger with a side of salad (because we’re so healthy, of course)

032035036031.JPGLooking at these pictures, it’s still a little hard to imagine that each dish was less than $5, and that’s probably why the Queen Street Warehouse is so popular (we even had to lineup for a little bit outside!) Pair your meal with a refreshing drink (or two!) and it’s the perfect lunch. Other than the food, the only downside was that since it’s so crowded, the wait for the food was quite long, although we didn’t really mind since it gave us time to just sit back and talk. Inside, they have TV and music blasting so if you’re looking for a quiet place, this wouldn’t really be suitable (especially on a crazy, Friday night- there’s an open bar inside.)

Despite that, I still give the Queen Street Warehouse 5 stars, simply because of how amazing the food is; it was the best burger I had in a while and nothing can top the cheese dip! I’m definitely going to be going back in the near future- I just didn’t get enough! If you’re ever in Toronto, I definitely recommend a visit here for lunch and dinner. I can guarantee you’ll come out with full bellies and a wide smile plastered on your face. You’ll love it.

Stay tuned for my next post on the Panama Canal!

~Julia