It’s hard to believe I have yet to post anything about Santorini, Greece! While stunningly beautiful, I actually had a rather unpleasant experience with my hotel owner. It was the end of the season and in (what I saw) as a last attempt to make extra money, I was taken advantage of and overcharged. It put a bad taste in my mouth but it did not define the whole of Santorini. I ended up meeting a lovely couple from London who took me under their wing and a very sweet taxi driver. Over all I ended up having a lovely time. What made Santorini a must visit for me was when I heard they had a black sand beach! I stayed in Perivolos which is on the south-east side of the island. Santorini actually has red sand and white sand beaches as well; the differences are due to volcanic eruptions. The black sand was absolutely spectacular to see in person. Like always I spent as much time as possible on the beach and since it was nearly off season, the beach was almost empty. It was on this beach that I took this self portrait. This is probably my favourite picture of myself, ever. To me it has a sort of haunting quality and if you look closely I look happy, but from a far it’s questionable. I love the composition of this photo as well, the placement of my hand in the foreground and the blurred effect. This blog is just as much about photography as it is about travel and I really loved this shot.
As promised, here are my adventures in Vegas! My friend Vanessa and I arrived into McCarren International at approx. 10:30pm on the Friday before my birthday. After checking into the Hard Rock Hotel, where we were surprised by a complementary room upgrade, we decided to explore. Being huge classic rock fans (especially Vanessa), the Hard Rock was the perfect place to stay. It was very windy outside and we opted to see what our hotel had to offer. It was a fun first night with a late dinner at Pink Taco, drinks and lots of picture taking. We went to bed pretty early for Vegas standards so we could get a good start the next morning. Saturday was my birthday! We started the day with room service coffee (amazing) and ventured out to the strip for some shopping. In the first shopping centre we entered, we discovered Fat Tuesday. One of many such shops, at Fat Tuesday you can buy almost any kind of frozen drink your little heart desires! When you see photos of people in Vegas with giant drink cups, this is probably what they are drinking. They also have $1 Jell-O shots, which we gladly did. The best part is you get to take your cup and continue walking around and shopping. You’ve got to love the relaxed drinking laws! This is what we did for the rest of the afternoon, finally returning to the hotel in the early evening for a (pretty drunk) nap. Note: daiquiris contain a lot of sugar, which equals a hangover. After dragging ourselves out to dinner (a delicious steak dinner in the Wynn hotel) we decided to try our luck at Tao nightclub. We quickly got our second wind and just as quickly we made some friends. A bouncer called us over to join a bachelor party in the VIP area. Normally this would not appeal to me but they ended up being the nicest group of guys. All from Texas, they were the epitome of southern gentlemen. We danced into the wee hours of the morning with our new friends before heading back to our hotel. Just to give you an example of the character of these men; we took a taxi back to our hotel and as we tried to pay, we learned they had already pre-paid! That group of guys, along with Vanessa, gave me the best 30th birthday I ever could have asked for!
Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.
Sunday was obviously a day of rest by the pool, which quickly turned into our third wind and we made some more friends with a couple from Orange County. We left just before sunset to head down to “old” Vegas also known as Fremont street. While I was in Ireland, I met a woman named Patti on a tour who actually lives in Las Vegas. We met up with her and she showed us all around Fremont street. It was so much fun and exactly what I thought Vegas would be like. The signs are all lit up everywhere you look. There is a different energy here too that’s hard to put into words, it really is the “Fremont Experience”. We saw all the landmarks that you associate to Vegas; including Binion’s, the Golden Nugget, Vegas Vic and Glitter Gulch (to name a few). We also saw the impressive canopy of lights and caught a Bon Jovi “concert”. Patti then drove us along the strip to show us all the sights we missed during our drunken daiquiri escapade. It was a perfect end to our Vegas adventure. I would like to return one day even if it’s just to eat! But really, there was just too much to do and see in such a short period of time. Still, I had the best time and I am beyond happy to have gotten to go and experience all we did see.
Happy Birthday to me!
I know, I know… I’ve been delinquent with my posts. At least I have a good excuse! I recently celebrated my 30th birthday! My very good friend and I took off to Vegas for four days and it was incredible. Yes, I’m aware of the mantra of “What happens in Vegas..” But I fully intend to share the details of my experience. Not today though! That’s for next week. I’m starting off with the Grand Canyon because that’s the part of the trip we were both most excited to see. We started our day at the crack of dawn, having to pack before leaving to get our rental car. We left our road trip for the last day, I’m still not sure that was a wise decision. The sights are stunning for the majority of the drive, and the drive is fairly uneventful. Our rental car had satellite radio which was a blessing and we sang along to the hits of the 90’s as the desert flew by us. To say the sun is bright is an understatement, it is the brightest light I’ve ever witnessed in my life. There is no escape from the sun either, and the drive to the canyon is blinding in the morning (even with sunglasses and tinted windows). I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. The drive to the west rim of the canyon is actually only about two and a half hours from Las Vegas. Originally we thought it was around five hours, hence the super early start to the day. About half way there, we stopped at a little diner. It was your typical greasy spoon in the middle of nowhere and it was delicious! We took our breakfast to go and kept driving. We just wanted to get there. As the canyon started to come into our vision, we could hardy believe our eyes. It is magnificent! The colours, size… everything, it’s breathtaking. Pictures don’t begin to do it justice. There is a spiritual experience that occurs when you visit, that is unexplainable. We drove to the parking lot and paid for our tickets ($43 US approx.). We then boarded a bus that takes you to three stops along the rim. The first is Hualapai Ranch, which mostly for children. Our second stop was Eagle Point, that was my favourite. The rocks actually form an eagle with its wings spread. At this point I was still beyond terrified of the edge and was shaking like a leaf; but it was stunning nonetheless. After a bunch of photo op’s, we ventured over to Guano Point which is where they mined for guano beginning in the 1930’s and created a tram that went over the canyon 8,800 feet. There is an actual pointed rock formation that delivers 360 degree views and makes for really neat pictures, but it is treacherous in flip flops (I’m aware I’m an idiot for that fashion choice). We stayed for quite awhile here before heading back, stopping in town for a souvenir spoon (they were sold out at the canyon). We also took a little detour to the Hover Dam on our drive back to Vegas. Parking was a bit of a nightmare and we found a little place to stop for pictures on the way out. After that we got some dinner and then killed time at Starbucks until we could head to the airport. Being the only licensed driver, I was pretty exhausted and didn’t want to drive anymore, but we both were by this point. The flight home was cold and uncomfortable but I passed out once I got home! Over all it was an incredible trip with the perfect travel buddy; I couldn’t have asked for a better way to ring in the big thirty!
As anyone who knows me can vouch for, I am an avid supporter and encourager of all things Pilates, because it’s done wonders for me. When I was in high school, I remember seeing infomercials for Windsor Pilates; it peaked my interest but I couldn’t afford the tapes at the time. Over the years I continued to hear Pilates pop up here and there in conversation or on television. Finally about four years ago I bought a Stott Pilates DVD; I began doing it regularly and I really noticed my body firming up. Laziness kicked in though and eventually I stopped the DVD. I’m definitely not the best at self motivation. After my dad got diagnosed with cancer, I needed an outlet for my stress and took up running. The problem was I didn’t know how to run properly and it caused a whole host of issues for my legs. My new ailments combined with some recurring back pain caused so much physical pain, it made me miserable. There was no release for my stress anymore and I was suffering on every level. When I decided I was travelling to Europe it concerned me that I wouldn’t make it for four months, not in my current physical state. As it so happens, there is a very reputable Pilates studio up the street from my home and I decided to give try. It was like a light bulb switched on in my head and I was hooked. The back pain eased and my legs got stronger and (as we all know) I made it through those four months in Europe. It was such a positive experience and I loved it so much, I decided to continue when I returned. This February, I took it to the next level and began their instructor training program. It’s not an easy road, but I believe in Pilates and it’s effectiveness. When I’m able to do an exercise that I wasn’t able to do before or I notice a muscle I didn’t have a year ago; I feel such a sense of pride and accomplishment. My whole body has transformed; I’m stronger, leaner and more flexible. That has fed into my eating habits and, over all, I’m a much healthier and happier person. I have a long way to go physically and with my training but I know I’ll get there eventually.
This is my passion.
So it’s official, I’m a student again. Last week I started both my photography and French classes and, so far, I am really enjoying them both. My classes are my inspiration for this week’s post of Monet’s garden. Monet’s house is located in Giverny, France and the expansive garden was his inspiration for many of his famous paintings. Do you see why I chose this subject this week? Above are close up pictures of some beautiful flowers from the garden (Note: The first two photos are edited but third is untouched). They were absolutely spectacular in person and it was nearly impossible to select which to include in this post. Easily, I could make dozens of posts about this garden and the beauty that exists in it. It really is no wonder Monet called this his home.
For a more detailed account please see my previous post on Giverny, France.
This picture was chosen strictly for it’s ability to make me smile. Today I looked through hundreds of pictures trying to find inspiration for this weeks post, but my brain just couldn’t focus. Work and schooling are becoming more stressful and are taking up all my time. Scrolling past this photo made me crack a smile and when I passed it for a second time I smiled just the same. Then I began remembering how happy I was in Barcelona. It was such a milestone visit on my trip and a huge reason I even went back to Europe. Yes, I miss it terribly; I’m also blessed to have experienced such a journey. This picture brought me happiness today, just as Barcelona brought me happiness then. That’s why pictures are so important, because even when your brain forgets, they are with you forever. And, if your really lucky, those photos will bring a smile to your face too.
Some weeks are more difficult to choose my blog topic than others; this was one such week. Looking through my pictures often helps me when I’m feeling particularly stuck. Today my inspiration came from a video I stumbled upon from a boat tour I took in Montreux, Switzerland. Avid readers of my blog will know I’ve already done a post on this city, but I couldn’t help myself again. This is truly one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been! These photos are all taken at dawn, which is when I both arrived and departed Montreux. It’s so peaceful that early, with just the odd person out jogging or walking their dog. The colours of the scenery beginning to come to life as the sun rises into the sky is utterly breathtaking. I’ve included the quintessential Freddie Mercury statue photography in this post as well (how could I not?). Below is also the aforementioned boat tour video, which clearly shows the twinkling turquoise waters of Lake Geneva. That particular shade of water, I have yet to see anywhere else. Montreux has an unparalleled beauty that must be seen to be understood.
As much as this blog is about travelling, it’s also about the pictures I’ve taken along the way. On the topic of last weeks post about school; I signed up for a French course and a photography course, both of which start in September. I’m really excited to learn more and expand creatively. With that in mind, I took a couple of shots this past week that I really liked and decided to share them here. Hopefully you enjoy them as well.
Currently I am studying to become a Pilates teacher and I’ve been in class for the past two weeks. Therefore, I have decided to reminisce about my time at school in France. In my head I couldn’t justify a trip like mine without learning something in the process; for me, that meant studying French. I already had some background but wanted to learn how to converse more confidently. After much research, I decided on EF Language School which has campuses worldwide. Their Nice campus was a no brainer for me because of my love for the city and the beach. The last time I was in school was in 2009, so understandably I was nervous going back to a school in a foreign country. Luckily I made friends at the residency on the first day and we pulled together for the first little bit. During the summer months, EF uses the University of Nice’s dorms for it’s students. I never lived in dorms before and enjoyed having my own room for that time. My new friends were both at different levels of French understanding and so we were split up in class. The great thing is most people didn’t know anyone else either and we all warmed up to each other fairly easily. The actual classes were quite long days overall and we could only speak French. Some days it was too intense on my brain and other days it was manageable. I surprised myself with what I could remember from my schooling back in the day. Quickly, I started to think in French and I got fairly comfortable with speaking. Making friends with local shop owners helped too. The Nicoise people are so welcoming and upon learning I was in school, they would encourage me to speak to them. Nice feels like home to me now and I miss it a great deal. EF Language School was a wonderful learning experience and I met a lot of amazing people. I’ll be continuing my studies of French this fall at night school. Above I’ve included a neat shot of the Promenade des Anglais from the lookout at dusk. After the heat of the day has subsided, all the street performers come out to play and the energy becomes electric. The promenade is a buzz into the wee hours of the morning, as is most of the area around the old town. EF’s unofficial bar is called Sansas and it’s just off Place Massena, which is the stunningly beautiful main square. They host a variety of events for the students there, including quiz night and salsa dancing. Being immersed in a language from all directions made all the difference for me. My time in Nice and at EF was invaluable and a memory I will cherish always.
As I have mentioned countless times in my posts, by the end of my trip I was not feeling the best physically. Crete came after Athens and Santorini, both of which took the last ounces of energy I had left; therefore, Crete became a place of rest for me. This photo is from my beach front hotel, which while not nearly as glamorous as it appears here, was very comfortable and clean. The view was by far my favourite part about my stay; I mean just look at it! My time on the island was spent in those beach chairs below. Safely planted in the first row by the water, I ordered a lot of drinks and food and sunbathed until my hearts content. In my spare time, I ventured along the single street my hotel was situated to do some shopping or dine out. No, I didn’t see much of what Crete has to offer, but I had a blissful experience to say the least. I will say this though, Greece had some of the best food I ate on my entire trip! Luckily, on my arrival I befriended a nice taxi driver who gave me a discount to my hotel (saving me because I had no more cash on me and couldn’t find the bus station). He gave me his number and I called him to take me to the airport when I left. Another person I met was Bruno, my server on the beach. He was such a nice man and took especially good care of me; even saving my chair for me on both my second and third day. Being in the service industry myself, I sincerely appreciate it when someone goes a little above. Thank you to those two men, you made my time in Crete that much better.