Germany – Part III

***Continued from previous post.

{November 9 – 12:00 pm – Berlin}
On the ICE direct train to Nuremberg. (Cost: €194) The trains are so expensive! It should take about five hours to reach our destination. This morning we were up at 8:30 am (why, on our last day in Berlin, were we able to get up?!) to start packing our things. By 10:30 am we had checked out and walked down to catch the M5 tram to the stop just after Alexanderplatz. Hopped on the S-bahn to Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Bought our tickets for the 11:52 am train to Nuremberg (Nürnberg). Grabbed some sandwiches to bring with us for lunch (discount with Welcome Cards).

{November 9 – 7:15 pm – Nuremberg}
Here we are in Nuremberg! The streets are cobbled and the architecture is beautiful. At the Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof, we waited in line at the DB kiosk so that we could ask directions to our hotel, the Sorat Agneshof, and purchased bus tickets. Before leaving the station we found a grocery store and bought a few snacks. We absolutely love these refrigerated Kinder snacks:


Kinder treats (iPhone)

From the train station we hopped onto a local U-bahn train. After going a couple stops, we realized that we were heading in the wrong direction! I find the underground railway so confusing to use. We quickly got off and went to the other side of the platform and caught the proper train to Rathenauplatz. Then we transferred to bus #36 and got off at the Rathaus stop. From there we proceeded to get lost in the dark! We didn’t have a map with us and kind of wandered around, going up and down the cobbled, hilly streets dragging our suitcases until we ended up sitting on a bench in what turned out to be Albrecht Dürer Square. I stayed put, munching on a chocolate pastry and guarding our suitcases, while Jordan went in search of our hotel. Less than 10 minutes later he reappeared and told me that we had walked by the street earlier. Figures! Checked into our hotel. The room is small but it was cheap so no complaints! There is a bed, a television, and a good-sized bathroom, which is all we need.


Jordan & I heading to Nuremberg

{November 9 – 10:20 pm – Nuremberg}
After checking into our room on the second floor, we freshened up and went in search of dinner. The gentleman at reception gave us a few restaurant suggestions. More wandering around in the dark took us back to the square and past the castle, until finally we ended up at “Albrecht-Dürer-Stube”. This restaurant is just around the corner from the hotel and came highly recommended. Everyone sits around communal tables and the atmosphere is very warm and friendly. I ordered the pork shoulder with dumpling and red cabbage, while Jordan had the venison stew. (Cost: €25) We are getting low on cash, better find an ATM soon.


Room (Sorat Agneshof) Bathroom (Sorat Agneshof) Pork shoulder with dumpling and red cabbage

{November 10 – 6:25 pm – Nuremberg}
After being out all day (what else is new?!), we are having dinner at “Karl’s Brückla”, a restaurant we found randomly.

This morning we ate breakfast at the hotel to save ourselves some time. (Cost: €14) We got a map from reception and pinpointed where the nearest Deutsche Bank ATM is. Walked over to the Hauptmarkt (main square) and found the tourist info kiosk. Purchased a special group day pass for €8 which we will more than make up for just by taking the bus to and from the Documentation Centre. Looked around the square for a little while; all sorts of tables were set up with fresh produce, cheeses, lebkuchen, etc.


Agnes Sorathof Nuremberg Hauptmarkt Nuremberg

Walked to the Deutsche Bank and withdrew €250. And then returned to the Hauptmarkt to catch bus #36 to the Doku-Zentrum stop. Our plan for the day is to spend some time at the Documentation Centre & Former Nazi Party Rally Grounds. Admission with audioguide to the Documentation Centre is €10 per person. We spent over an hour in there, touring through the exhibits. Although it was very interesting, we got so hot and bored with listening to the audioguide that we ended up hurrying through the last few sections. Most of the information we had already read about in other museums. At the end of the tour we stepped outside to view the inside of the Congress Hall. We handed in the audioguides then went outside for some fresh, but chilly, air and ended up walking around the Congress Hall to take some pictures. Jordan really wanted to see Zeppelin Field so we asked directions inside the Centre, then set out walking again in the drizzle. It is about a 10 minute walk from the Centre. I’m glad we went because it was neat to see. The steps are crumbling and it’s “climb at your own risk” and the immense field is now a stadium.


Strange sculpture On the bus Documentation Centre Congress Hall View of Congress Hall across the water Pausing in the rain for a photo

Caught bus #36 back to the Hauptmarkt. Looked around at a few shops. I bought a keychain for Lori. Walked around for what felt like eternity before finding a place to eat dinner. I ordered the pork cutlets stuffed with ham and cheese (also came with salad and fries) and a delicious hot chocolate; Jordan ordered pork topped with a fried egg (with potato wedges, salad, and 2 beers). (Cost: €27) I couldn’t finish my amazing meal because the cutlets were huge!


Press this button for Breakfast

{November 10 – 10:30 pm – Nuremberg}
After that filling meal we hopped on the U-bahn at Lorenzkirche and journeyed to the train station. Purchased our expensive tickets for tomorrow’s ride to Geilenkirchen. (Cost: €230) Also got a couple snacks then returned to the hotel for the night. Too bad we couldn’t stay here longer because we didn’t get to see very much!


Zeppelin Field Hitler's platform Pork cutlets stuffed with ham and cheese Amazing hot chocolate from "Karl's Bruekla" Warming my hands

{November 11 – 1:25 pm – Somewhere between Wurzberg and Frankfurt}
On the noon ICE train to Frankfurt. Once there we change to another ICE heading to Aachen. From Aachen we will end up in Geilenkirchen where Tammy & Tyler will pick us up. We ate breakfast at the hotel again, then took the bus and U-bahn to get to Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof. We should be in Geilenkirchen by 5:00 pm.

{November 11 – 3:00 pm – Montabaur}
We barely made our connection in Frankfurt. Once we boarded and found our seats there was announcement stating that the train would be delayed 6 minutes. I hope that doesn’t mess up our connection in Aachen. Ate our chocolate cookies for snack.

{November 11 – 6:00 pm – Tüddern}
Made our train in Aachen. Tammy & Tyler were waiting for us in Geilenkirchen, with their dog Doug. Now we are just settling in.

{November 12 – 6:45 pm – Tüddern}
Yesterday we had veggies & dip, various cheeses, herbed crackers, and sliced sausages for a snack at Tammy & Tyler’s home. Later, Tammy made chicken kebabs, rice, and white asparagus for dinner. We sat around eating and watching “Top Gear” on Netflix for the rest of the night.


Trier, Germany

Funky statue (Trier) Porta Nigra Trier's Church of Our Lady

Thermal bath ruins

Today we drove for 2 hours to Trier and walked around the town centre. We bought “cone fries” (aka fries in a cone of paper that we fell in love with in Austria two years ago) and “pizza in a pocket”. Bought a couple postcards to add to my collection. Took some photos of the Church of Our Lady, Porta Nigra (near the tourist information building), and the thermal bath ruins. Beautiful day to be out! I should note that I finally had to pay for use of a toilet today. When you gotta pee, you gotta pee!

{November 13 – 2:40 pm – Tüddern}
Tammy had to work today so Tyler, Jordan, and I drove out to Aachen. We wandered around the area near the cathedral. There are tons of bakeries selling printen (Aachen’s version of lebkuchen). I bought a bag of miniature printen pieces covered in chocolate. The christmas displays in the bakeries are beautiful to look at. Jordan bought a cherry danish for a snack. We found a Starbucks and I had to go in to try the lebkuchen latte; it tastes like a light gingerbread with a lot of cinnamon. Jordan ordered a caramel macchiato and we enjoyed our beverages sitting on a bench by the cathedral.


Enjoying a danish in Aachen Aachener printen Aachen Cathedral

Our main reason for coming to Aachen was to visit the Lindt chocolate factory. Jordan asked for directions in the Starbucks and the girl gave him a free map with the route drawn on. We walked over to the factory, when we probably should have drove. Luckily it wasn’t raining and we all seemed to have plenty of energy thanks to our coffees. When we got near the factory we noticed a huge sign saying “Lindt Chocolate Factory” but neither of us noticed the huge arrow pointing to the left. Instead we kept walking straight and ended up having to walk around the entire perimeter of the factory to find the entrance. Oops! No photos allowed inside the factory and it’s cash or debit only. I went a little crazy seeing all the beautiful chocolate for sale but knowing we could only pay cash, I tried to limit myself. I ended up spending €34 on chocolate! It could have been worse….


Drinking a lebkuchen latte Jordan's caramel macchiato Lindt chocolate factory

Posing in Aachen

We got back to the truck by 1:30 pm just as our parking was about to expire. On the way back to Tüddern we stopped at a gas station in The Netherlands and bought some sparkling Lipton iced tea! Reunited at last with my favourite iced tea. And then the realization kicks in: Oh no, tomorrow we leave!


Sparkling iced tea (iPhone)

{November 14 – 5:30 pm – In the Air}
We’ve been in the air since 2:00 pm. Time to play catch-up.

Didn’t do much yesterday after returning from Aachen. Watched the boys play Forza Horizons on Tyler’s XBox 360. Once Tammy came home from work she heated up some cheesy tortellini for dinner. And of course we snacked on more bread, crackers, and cheese. We talked the boys into turning off their game and instead watched more “Top Gear” episodes that cracked us up. By 10:30 pm we had our things packed and were in bed. I can’t believe how much cramming I had to do to get all that chocolate to fit in my suitcase.


Leaving Germany Plane food A fighter jet outside my window

Tyler came home from work early and drove us to the Köln-Bonn Flughafen. Took about 1.5 hours. He dropped us off at Crew Gate Alpha. After getting the attention of some military personnel on the other side of a glass door, we were let inside and passed through security quickly. We waited outside for what seemed like ages before a bus showed up to bring us to the plane. Sat on the bus with four other people, also for ages, before being allowed to board the plane.

***End of journal.


Welcome home!

The food served on these military flights is so much better than other flights I’ve been on. Each time the stewardess came by, she would give me cookies! The flight home was fine. Jordan and I sat at the front for the first leg of the journey, which gave us lots of leg room. Once we entered Canadian airspace, two fighter jets came up along side the plane and welcomed the soldiers returning from Afghanistan. That was pretty cool!

My chocolate stash and souvenirs:


Kinder and Milka Lindt chocolate bags Yummy Lindt treats

More Lindt chocolate bars

Postcards Magnets

Germany – Part I

Our short trip to Germany in November 2012 was a much-needed getaway. Both of us were feeling the stress of living apart and trying to sell our home, so we really needed this time together. I booked the time off work knowing that we wouldn’t know if we were on the flight out of CFB Trenton until 48 hours prior. We figured that if we weren’t able to go to Germany, we would still use our vacation time and go somewhere tropical instead. The reasoning behind Germany was that our friends are still posted near Tüddern and we wanted to visit them one more time before they come home in Summer 2013.

I had just over a month to save up some cash, and unfortunately I was only able to put aside $500 CAD. Once turned into Euro, that chunk turned into a measly €375, which I knew from our previous trip in 2010 would not get us very far. My darling husband agreed to withdraw cash once my money was used up, though, as the trip was his idea and his “treat”.

On November 3rd (coincidentally my sister’s birthday) we found out that our house was SOLD–I signed the papers at work–and that we were confirmed for a November 4th departure out of CFB Trenton to Köln-Bonn, Germany! Talk about an exciting day. The stress I had about the house selling and my worries about not being on the flight all culminated into a burst of happiness that day. And then I had to rush home to pack! Good thing I had already drawn up an itinerary, including a list of things to do and see. I do love TripAdvisor. 🙂

Once we leave Ontario, all times listed reflect local time in Germany (6 hours ahead). And so, my journal:

{November 4 – 8:30 am EST – CFB Trenton}
Here we are sitting in the waiting area at CFB Trenton. After quite the eventful drive (aka the search for diesel and an open gas station extremely early in the morning en route), we finally got checked in. And even that part wasn’t easy. A slight hiccup occurred and I almost wasn’t allowed on the flight due to my husband not putting my name down on his leave pass that his boss signed off on. Luckily they were pretty easy going and allowed him to login to something-or-other to show proof that I am indeed his wife. Crisis averted!

After check-in, we drove over to long-term parking and then walked over to the Mess Hall for breakfast. Since it was so early I couldn’t eat much, just a bagel with cream cheese. Jordan ate lots. Then we bundled up again and walked to the MP shack to register our vehicle. And yet another walk from there back to the terminal building. They really need a shuttle service in the winter!


Germany

{November 4 – 11:00 am EST – Quebec}
Short flight from Trenton to Quebec. I think we are in Montreal to pick up more soldiers. We are so lucky to be allowed on this military flight! The plane we are on is like a normal Air Canada plane, except that we can sit wherever we want. Just waiting around while the plane is refueled, then we will continue on our way. Next stop, Köln-Bonn Flughafen.

{November 4 – 5:10 pm EST – In the Air}
Just ate our second meal on the plane. The first meal was sweet n’ sour meatballs with rice and assorted veggies. The second one was a sandwich, cole slaw, gouda cheese, juice, and a package of “Ah Caramel”. We should be landing in about 1 and a half hours, sometime after midnight local Köln (Cologne) time.

{November 5 – 2:45 am – Köln-Bonn Flughafen}
Not off to a great start! We had a mishap with the train ticket machine and of course as it’s wayyyyy early in the morning there was no one around to help us. At first the ticket machine was not working at all… blue rebooting screen, loading screen, then it kept repeating. Finally the stupid thing loaded properly and we bought 2 tickets for the 1:30 am train heading to Berlin, only to find out that that train had already come and gone while we were struggling with the machine. We were very tired and irritable at this point. Now we are waiting for the 3:15 am train, hoping that we can still use the €194 tickets. So expensive–there goes most of my cash!


NH Alexanderplatz Breakfast omelet Single rose

{November 5 – 5:15 am – Near Düsseldorf}
At last we are on our way to Berlin after yet another issue. We are finding the tickets to be slightly confusing to decipher. First we jumped on the regional train to Köln Hauptbahnhof (HBF) and then transferred to the ICE to Berlin. We had to pay an extra €45 to stay on that train. Jordan was not impressed, especially after all the problems we’d encountered so far, and he tried to explain our situation to the ticket master (machine not working, original train leaving while we were in the midst of purchasing tickets, waiting around for hours in the cold, etc). I handed over the cash as I just wanted to sit in peace for the next few hours and not have to worry about changing trains during the journey. (The train ride from Köln to Berlin is about 5 hours.) The first ticket master couldn’t understand English but he got another one who could and after speaking with him he encouraged us to go to the customer service kiosk in Berlin since we had photographic proof that the ticket machine wasn’t working properly. I seriously hope we have no more problems because I want to enjoy this beautiful country!

{November 5 – 11:30 am – Berlin}
Berlin! We are sitting down to lunch near our hotel, the NH Alexanderplatz; starving and exhausted! Once we reached Berlin Hauptbahnhof, we purchased Welcome Cards (72 hours / Museum Island) that we plan to use tomorrow. The cards include unlimited use of the city’s transportation system in ABC zones, entry into the Museum Island museums, and discounts at other attractions and restaurants for €36 each. Jordan filed a complaint at the Deutsche Bahn customer service kiosk.

(Side note: We didn’t receive a refund for the extra €45, however a few weeks after our return home we received a DB voucher for €45. That’s great, but we can’t use it as we are in Canada. I ended up mailing it back to Germany to our friends’ place so that they could use it.)


Our room (NH Alexanderplatz) Hawaiian pizza from "Rocco" Halo sign

From the main train station we hopped on Bus #142 and got off at the base of the hill (Landsberger Allee) near NH Alexanderplatz. Our room wasn’t yet ready but they said to come back in a couple hours and it would be. Off we went to find something to eat! I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but the waiter was very exuberant and literally scooped us off the street and into his restaurant before we could protest. A huge cheese omelet and Sprite for me; cheese and fruit platter for Jordan.

{November 5 – 11:30 pm – Berlin}
After a very long nap (I think we slept 8 hours), we showered and around 10:15 pm headed out to find dinner. Apparently this is very late for eating, but we were starving again. Got on tram M4 at the base of the hill (€2.40 each) and got off at Hackescher Markt. Found a pub but they were no longer serving food. Walked over to “Rocco” and the guy there said the kitchen was closing soon but we could order pizza or pasta. We ordered a Hawaiian pizza, iced tea, and a Strongbo for €17. Not sure how much we’re supposed to tip around here.

{November 6 – 1:45 am – Berlin}
After eating we walked around for awhile to tire ourselves out. Not too cold, just wintry enough that we needed thin mittens and a hood to cover our ears. Walked by three prostitutes, which Jordan found amusing. Saw a Starbucks advertising lebkuchen latte; might have to try one of those! Finally we made our way back, on foot, to Landsberger Allee.


Ready for our first Berlin day

{November 6 – 11:30 am – Berlin}
So much for getting up early! I’m so jet-lagged, it’s unbelievable. All I want to do is sleep. Finally we are heading out for the day. Plan for the day: Find breakfast, er, lunch and visit some museums.

{November 6 – 9:10 pm – Berlin}
We spent the entire day walking around and exploring the city. I will write about our adventures once we return to the hotel. Right now we’re sitting down for dinner at “Roma” on Friedrichstrasse near the Orianienburger U-bahn stop. I ordered tortellini with tomato sauce, smothered in cheese, with a Sprite; Jordan had chicken and broccoli pizza and fries. The food is good but I’m so tired that I can hardly eat. After the waiter cleared our plates, we waited another 10 minutes and finally asked for the bill. Time to head back out into the drizzle and head home.


Statue in the lustgarten Berlin Cathedral Unter den Linden Pergamon Altar 087_2012_11_06_5534 Sitting with part of Pergamon Altar Ishtar Gate Vessels Islamic horn

{November 6 – 11:30 pm – Berlin}
Now that we are back, I will write about the day. Once we left the hotel this morning we walked to the grocery store at the base of the hill and purchased yoghurt with granola, 3 beverages, and a snack-size baguette sandwich filled with ham, mayo, tomato and lettuce. With our tummies full, we used our Welcome Cards to catch the tram to Hackescher Markt. From there we slowly walked over to Museum Island. Strolled through the lustgarten by the art museum and took some photos. Somehow we ended up missing the Pergamon Museum, which is what I really wanted to see, by walking right past the kiosk for the Neues Museum and turning down a long path lined with tall trees. The path lead to the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). We kept walking and eventually turned right onto Unter den Linden; after walking past the DDR Museum I realized we were going the wrong way. Sat down on a bench to consult our map and figured out that we needed to head back toward the Neues Museum kiosk and then keep going down the road to the Pergamon Museum. (All the construction going on is confusing.) Entry to the Pergamon Museum is included in the Welcome Card. We spent most of the afternoon in there, perusing all the neat artifacts. Photography is allowed so I took quite a few pictures. Bought a couple postcards and a bookmark on the way out.


Berlin Cathedral

After the museum, we wandered over to the Cathedral and for €4 per person (discounted with Welcome Card) we were allowed inside. Once we entered the sanctuary it was very quiet and awe-inspiring. The domed ceiling is beautiful. Non-flash photography is allowed. We sat in the silence for awhile, then continued our exploration of the cathedral; there are a lot of exhibits and things to see. Finally we walked up to the dome of the building using the indoor walkway; once outside, the views are unbelievable! Jordan took quite a few pictures. After that we did a quick visit of the crypt and then bought a couple cookies from the basement cafe.


Domed ceiling Town hall seen from Dome View from Dome 211_2012_11_06_5661 Brandenburg Gate at night The Reichstag at night

Back outside into the cold. Hopped onto double-Decker Bus #100 and got off near Madame Tussaud’s and walked to Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). As it’s dark, pictures are difficult without a tripod. Walked by the Reichstag government building as well. Back-tracked a bit and discovered the outdoor Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The stelae are different heights and seem to go on in a maze. Once again, pictures were difficult in the dark. We ended up getting lost trying to find Checkpoint Charlie and ended up walking around the Sony Centre and the Topography of Terrors building. The outdoor exhibit was closed so we went into the Documentation Centre to warm up and use the free washroom. We viewed some of the exhibits but there is so much information to read that it would have taken us all night.

Finally found Checkpoint Charlie at Friedrichstrasse. Not that impressive. Decided to get dinner first before going in the museum. We walked and walked and couldn’t seem to find any restaurants that weren’t fast-food until we came upon “Roma” close to Orianienburgerstrasse. We decided not to return to the Checkpoint Charlie museum due to tiredness.


Berlin Wall memorial Sony Centre Reading info at Topography of Terrors Checkpoint Charlie Cheesy tortellini from "Roma"

After dinner we just missed the M6 tram and ended up walking back to Hackescher Markt. Caught the M5 there which goes past our hotel. However we didn’t realize that the tram doors don’t automatically open at each stop; you have to hit the “STOP” button to open the doors. Seems straight-forward now, but at the time we assumed the “STOP” button meant the tram would stop and the doors would open. We ended up going 2 stops past our hotel before we figured this out, and as soon as we managed to get off the tram we couldn’t stop laughing about it. Maybe the button should say “OPEN” instead of “STOP” for silly tourists like us?!


Reflection (iPhone)

Reflection (iPhone)


Back in our room. There is only one towel in the bathroom and the duvet on the double bed is twin-size. During our nap yesterday we must not have realized how little the blanket was. And there’s no way we were sharing one towel. I went down to the lobby and asked for more towels and a second blanket. The guy at reception didn’t seem to think it was strange that our double room only had one towel and one twin duvet, but more were sent up later.

***Continued in next post.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part I

At last I got my wish: a trip to the Dominican Republic! Hello Punta Cana, with your lovely palm trees, blue skies, clear water, smooth sandy beaches, beautiful resorts, and tasty food. Like usual, we traveled in February as it’s the easiest time for the both of us to take holidays together. At first the idea of going to the Dominican started out as a chance for Jordan and I and our friends, Reg and Michelle, to take a trip together. We even chose the hotel that they’d stayed at a couple years earlier – the Occidental Grand Flamenco Resort in Punta Cana. Unfortunately, our friends had to cancel due to not having someone to watch their little boy, but my husband and I decided to book anyway. We got what I think was a really sweet Air Canada all-inclusive package out of Toronto, just before the price rocketed sky-high. We brought US dollars to purchase souvenirs. The time zone is the same as Ontario, however Punta Cana is an hour ahead in the winter because the country doesn’t keep daylight savings time. As usual, I kept a journal.

{February 8 – 8:20 am EST – Toronto Pearson Airport}
Yesterday after work we drove to the Hilton Garden Inn located near the Toronto airport. We had a late dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, splitting a very delicious chicken parmesan sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries. A little pricey, but it was worth it. I’m glad we didn’t order two meals because it was almost too much food. This morning I woke up at 5 am to shower and make sure everything was packed up properly. We went down to breakfast and had the $8.00 cold buffet, then caught the 7:30 am shuttle to terminal 1. Waiting at gate E80 right now; boarding is at 9:45 am. For some reason we couldn’t get seats together.



{February 8 – 8:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
When boarding time came and our flight wasn’t announced, I checked the screen only to realize that the gate had been changed. Other travelers began to notice this as well and we all rushed to the new gate. At the new gate we had our seats changed so that we could sit together. Flight took off a little late but we still arrived on schedule. During the flight beverages were free but any food or snacks were available for a fee. By this time I was absolutely starving, and when I get really hungry I also get a headache. Since our seats were at the very back of the plane, we were the last to be served drinks and of course there was only licorice, chips, and noodle cups left. I don’t usually buy food on the plane but I needed to eat something; that cup of noodles for $3.00 was disappointing but at least it was food.



Upon arrival at the Punta Cana airport, we skipped the long line for tourist cards since ours were included with the trip package. Customs didn’t even look at the forms we’d filled out on the plane; they just took them and waved us on. We made our way to the parking lot in search of our bus and arrived at the resort a little after 6 pm. At check-in we were asked for our voucher but I guess I never received one from itravel2000. I printed out and had with me every email the site had sent me about the package but there was no voucher so I don’t know what I was supposed to give them. Anyway, the hotel staff just had us sign a paper. We were also given a complimentary fruity beverage. After getting our luggage a staff member drove us to building #13 (room 201). Very close to the beach (less than 2 minutes) but a longer walk to the lobby and restaurants. Went looking for food after getting settled in. The buffet wasn’t open for dinner just yet so we decided to go to the pizzeria. Then we just wandered around the grounds to get familiar with the resort. At the lobby we paid $25 USD for the key to the in-room safe (for a week).


The beautiful beach

Looking out to sea... Posing on the beach

{February 9 – 10:45 am EST – Punta Cana}
Woke up early to shower and headed down to the breakfast buffet for a quick bite to eat. Meeting in lobby with our tour representative at 9 am. She gave us a bunch of information on the resort and available excursions, and said that if we ever needed anything we were to talk to her first. Afterward we booked two dinner reservations: La Hacienda (Mexican) for 6:30 pm on February 10th and Via Venneto (Italian) for 6:30 pm on February 13th.

Still hungry after the meeting so Jordan and I went back for more breakfast! I had some French toast, a sugar donut, and a delicious glass of freshly-made banana milkshake. Jordan had a plate of fresh fruit and some milkshake as well. Great food selection for breakfast. Earlier he had tried a mochaccino from the lobby bar (our friends had raved about them) and turns out they are very good! We ended up drinking many of them throughout our stay. We went for a walk around the grounds to work off breakfast and then returned to our room around 11:15 am to change into swimsuits. For some reason there was no water when Jordan tried to shower; good thing I showered this morning!



{February 9 – 3:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went down to the main pool but there were no available loungers, of course. None on the beach either. No surprize there! Instead we just walked along the beach (facing the ocean, we walked to the right side). Perfect weather! The sky was very blue with just a few clouds. The water was also very refreshing on our feet. We took many photos along the way. After about an hour of walking, we returned to the resort for lunch. I ordered the pasta with white sauce that the staff make right in front of you. Mmm, it’s my favourite! Relaxed after lunch by sitting at a table outside the lobby area sipping mochaccinos and basking in the sunshine. A little later we returned to our room to change shoes only to discover that we had no power!



{February 9 – 6:30 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Turns out most of the resort was without power for little over an hour due to the hotel replacing a transformer. During that time we just walked around, checked out the spa facilities, and had some drinks. The sex-on-the-beach and lime margaritas were terrible but Jordan enjoyed his Presidente and also a Pepsi with whisky. Unfortunately, no power meant no flushing toilets and nothing but candlelight in the lobby washrooms!

We changed into our swimwear again at 5:30 pm, only to realize that the towel hut closed ten minutes early. So we sat around on the beach enjoying the breeze. I brought my Canon 60D and took some photos while Jordan went swimming in the ocean. So far the weather has been great; very hot during the day but a nice cool breeze in the evening.



{February 9 – 10:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Back from dinner! I had beef lasagna and a ham and cheese calzone. Oh, that calzone was heavenly! For dessert I ordered crepes from the “crepes station”: fresh slices of banana, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate syrup. Jordan tried some fish, rice, and various cheeses. I think we were there for a good hour or more, eating and chatting with the couple sitting at the table next to us. After eating we wandered back to the lobby so I could purchase wifi for our room ($25 USD for 25 hours worth of internet than could be used anytime over a 7 day period – I even connected to it using my iPhone on the beach). Ordered more mochaccinos and sat in the lobby to relax. On our walk back to the room there was a beautiful full moon in the sky!

{February 10 – 8:30 am EST – Punta Cana}
Woke up at 6:30 am this morning because we booked a tour with Punta Cana Mike for the Higuey Circle tour. Unfortunately, we received an email from him canceling due to severe muscle strain in his neck and shoulders. While this was disappointing because we were really looking forward to this tour, there isn’t much we could do about it and we appreciate that he at least emailed to let us know. I had some school supplies with us that I was going to donate but instead I’ll just leave them in the room on our last day. Now we have the day free. What to do? For starters, breakfast! Must have rained early because the pathways are wet and the sky is gray.



{February 10 – 8:40 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Calling it a night! It’s certainly been a long day. For breakfast I had a delicious omelet and a donut with a glass of fresh orange juice. Afterward we walked down to the beach and turned left facing the ocean this time. Walked for about forty minutes before turning around. All the time the sky was pretty gray but no rain. We came back for lunch around 1:15 pm and I had that awesome pasta again. I can’t get enough of it.



Before our walk we had spoken to our tour rep about taking the shuttle bus to Nicole’s shop this afternoon. We were picked up at 2:30 pm at the gates to the hotel. The bus turned right and passed the Bavaro Plaza. Nicole’s shop is at an old golf course. We browsed for a bit, more interested in the scenery than the jewelry. Mostly this was just something for us to do to pass the time. I ended up purchasing 2 bags of Santo Domingo coffee for $12 USD. When we got bored in there, we came outside and waited for the shuttle to come back. Jordan chatted with an older gentleman from Quebec; this nice man suggested we try shopping at “the stores near the pharmacy just past the Bavaro Plaza”. We also had a nice conversation with a guy from Peterborough.

Tipped the shuttle driver $2 USD to let us off across the street from Bavaro Plaza so we could explore on foot. We browsed through the stores in the Plaza but the vendors are extremely pushy and got upset if they didn’t get their way. That definitely turned me off from wanting to spend money there. We left and crossed the street again and looked through a few more shops but didn’t buy anything. At this point it was very warm and we were tired so we walked the short distance back to the hotel.



Had dinner at the Mexican restaurant tonight, “La Hacienda”. I ordered the chicken fajitas and Jordan ordered the Azteca dish (tortilla strips with chicken and re-fried beans). The food was very tasty but the fajitas weren’t served with shredded cheese, only a cheese sauce like what one would put on nachos (yuck). The dessert, “milk cake”, was really good as well. After eating we browsed through the vendor stalls that had set up outside the lobby area by the main pool. I ended up buying 2 necklaces for $15 USD, which is probably more than they are worth but I didn’t care so much as I hadn’t done much spending.

***Continued in next post.

Las Vegas – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{April 4 – 4:50 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
What a long day! Got up for 8:30 am and met Ryan & Stacey outside our hotel. We walked over to Hooters and ate breakfast at the Mad Onion. Jordan had eggs, bacon, and potatoes; I ordered a breakfast burrito with beans and rice on the side ($25.00 USD including tip). The food was good but I could hardly finish half the burrito.



We walked down the Strip together, popping into souvenir shops along the way. Bought some shot glasses. We also found some black T-shirts with a bride and groom on them and the words “GAME OVER” printed at the top, which the boys bought so that they could wear them to “crash” Chris & Katie’s wedding. Walked all the way down to the Venetian and watched the gondolas for a bit. I spent $14.05 USD in Sephora on some yummy Tuscan blood orange cream and grapefruit body scrub. I love that store! We also went into the Mirage and paid $15.00 USD per person to get into the Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. There’s a huge pool where dolphins swim around, and then a second pool where the dolphins will do a few tricks and you can pay a small fee to swim with them. After watching the dolphins for a little while, we meandered into the secret garden portion and saw some beautiful cats – lions, a leopard, a panther, and a gorgeous snow white tiger. Before leaving we bought some ice cream to cool ourselves down. I picked out a few items at the gift shop ($13.00 USD).



During the walk back we stepped into the CVS so I could buy the picture frame I had spotted during an earlier visit. The frame was only $7.99 there and I had seen the exact one in other souvenir shops for close to fifteen dollars! Stacey and I also had our picture taken with Superman! 🙂 Then we headed back to the Tropicana, hoping to make it in time for Chris & Katie’s small wedding ceremony. We were not technically invited to the ceremony, only their parents were, but by the time we showed up we had already missed it. The boys wore their “GAME OVER” T-shirts, too. We hung around for a little while until the newly married couple came back from having their photos taken, and then took a few more pictures with them.



{April 4 – 8:45 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
After saying goodbye to our friends, we went looking for a place to eat dinner on our last night in Las Vegas. Jordan ended up with an expensive slice of pizza from a place in New York New York that he said wasn’t even that great. I bought myself a mocha frappuccino from the Starbucks and sat with him while he ate. We left that place, as none of the restaurants really appealed to me, and ended up at Hard Rock Cafe. I’ve never been to one before. I ordered a pulled chicken sandwich with seasoned fries and Jordan ordered the apple cobbler with a big glass of milk, totaling $30.00 USD (including tip). Not bad, we managed to keep the food cheap!

On our way back down the Strip we went into ROSS and I found a dress that doubles as a skirt for $15.00 USD, a purple Guess handbag for $40.00 USD (normally worth a hundred dollars), and a baby outfit for my nephew. We spent quite a bit of time in that store, browsing. Finally we made it over to the Coca-Cola store so I could buy a magnet for my sister. For a tip, Jordan had a couple photos taken with a guy dressed up as a character from his favourite video game, Halo.



Now we’re calling it a night. We’re being picked up by the shuttle at 6:15 am tomorrow and I know we’ll be dead tired if we stay out any later. I can’t believe how much fun I had here and I regret that we can’t stay a few extra days. We never even reached the end of the Strip! Maybe another time? Well, time to pack!

***End of journal.

A few hiccups on the way home. When we reached the airport we were informed that the computers were all down and there was a HUGE line-up, all the way outside the doors. We were very lucky that we arrived early, because many people missed their flights. We made ours just in time. Stop-over in Chicago, and then home sweet home!

Las Vegas – Part I

After our trip to Jamaica in February, we hadn’t planned on taking any more vacations for quite some time. However, a good friend of Jordan’s planned to get married in Las Vegas during the first week of April. His friend, Chris, had mentioned to a bunch of their buddies that everyone would be welcome to come out for a good time in Vegas. After some thought, we decided that Las Vegas sounded like fun and we might as well go since we had the opportunity! Neither of us had any interest in gambling, which was one of the reasons why I initially didn’t want to go, but some research on TripAdvisor convinced me that we could still have a good time exploring The Strip and hanging out with our friends.

This decision came at the end of February when I noticed the decent price for a WestJet package, flying Toronto to Las Vegas, and staying at the newly renovated Tropicana Las Vegas resort. It was right in our budget. Unfortunately, by the time Jordan’s leave pass was signed and given back to him, it was a few days into March and the great price I had noticed jumped up $600. We were almost unable to go due to that huge increase in price, but my travel agent was able to book us flights and the same hotel for only a hundred dollars more than the February WestJet package. We ended up on a Continental flight from Toronto / Dallas / Las Vegas and an American Airlines flight Las Vegas / Chicago / Toronto. In one months’ time I was able to scrape together $500 spending money for the both of us as long as we didn’t gamble.

So here is my journal from our April adventure in Las Vegas, Nevada!



{April 1 – 2:15 pm EST – Toronto Pearson Airport}
We left the house this morning just before 9 am so we could first stop at the bank to withdraw cash and exchange it for US dollars. Arrived at the Economy Park n’ Fly close to noon and caught the shuttle to airport. Easy check-in with Continental Airlines and security was fairly quick for myself. Jordan was given a pat-down and then security went over his backpack and laptop with a fine-tooth comb. Had a quick but expensive bite to eat: chicken wings, two beer, fries, club sandwich for $35 CAD (MasterCard). Now we are waiting at our gate after having been informed that our flight to Dallas has been delayed by two hours, which will cause us to miss our connecting flight. Luckily I was the first person to run up to the counter and explain our situation, and the nice lady changed our connecting flight to a later one.



{April 2 – 9:00 am PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
What a looooong day yesterday was. We barely made our connecting flight in Dallas. Once off the plane we literally ran for the Skylink monorail to get to gate A39 from D, and just caught the last of the boarding line! The flight was smooth but Jordan and I didn’t have seats next to each other. Arrived in Sin City at 8:30 pm Pacific Standard Time. Grabbed my bag from the carousel and went to inspect the long line for a taxi. Decided it wasn’t worth the wait and bought tickets instead for the shuttle bus ($24 USD round-trip for the both of us). While we waited for the bus, Jordan bought a $3 USD bottle of Dr. Pepper from a vending machine. After a very long wait we boarded the shuttle and were the first to be dropped off! I was so happy to finally be here, but very exhausted with a bit of a headache from the flight.



Our friends, Ryan & Stacey (not the ones getting married), were waiting for us in the Tropicana lobby. They stayed at the Luxor and had arrived the day before us. We checked in, took the elevator to our floor in the Paradise Tower, dropped off luggage, and inspected our room. Very large and spacious, everything was fresh and new. The whole place smells like coconut suntan oil, which is neat. Ryan & Stacey convinced us not to go to bed yet but to walk some of The Strip with them so they could show us around. First we walked over to MGM Grand to get a frozen drink from Fat Tuesdays: $12 USD for a tall peach bellini slushie alcoholic drink. So good! I was starving so we grabbed a meal at Wendy’s for a very late dinner. Then walked over to the Bellagio to watch the spectacular fountain show! At long last we made it to bed by 1 am PST (4 am EST). Now we’re up and getting ready for our first breakfast in Vegas and a trip to Hoover Dam with Ryan & Stacey!



{April 2 – 8:00 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
Ryan rented a red Cobalt from Tropicana. We drove to the Premium Outlets mall and shopped there after breakfast. First we went into the IHOP but the line was really long, so we decided to skip that and walk over to “Dunkin’ Donuts” for food. Jordan and I spent under $10 USD on our food. At the mall I spent $70 USD on a pair of dirt biking gloves and a pair of jeans for myself at the Fox Racing apparel store. At the huge Skechers store I got a pair of sandals for myself and another pair for Jordan ($100 USD). We spent most of our time in those two stores or looking at luggage; there wasn’t anything else of interest to the four of us. Grabbed an iced tea and Gatorade from the “Dunkin’ Donuts” kiosk ($3.88 USD) before hitting the road. Stopped at Carter Powersports for awhile to look at bikes. Jordan bought me a chest guard and elbow pads for $190 USD, but he didn’t find anything for himself.



Finally, we reached the Hoover Dam! Parked in a free area, then walked down. Amazing views and we took plenty of photos. Beautiful day, windy, but humid compared to being in Las Vegas. I bought some postcards at a gift shop. We ate lunch at “High Scaler Cafe”: $21.35 USD for my chicken wrap with fries, and Jordan’s chicken fingers with fries, plus a large fountain pop. After eating we walked slowly back up the hills to where we’d parked the car.



We stopped at the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign on our way back to the hotel but it was very crowded. Instead, Stacey and I snapped some pictures from the vehicle. Dropped off the rental car, put our purchases in our room, and then headed over to the Luxor to see their room and hotel. The hotel is shaped like a pyramid and the windows in the room are slanted on an angle; it’s pretty neat! I found the hotel a little shabby though. We got frozen drinks at “Evening Call” in the Luxor. Jordan and I both got the passion berry flavour called “Call Girlz” ($7.00 USD for 17 oz and $11.00 USD for 25 oz). From there we walked leisurely through to Mandalay Bay, intending to visit the aquarium and shark reef but then we realized we can’t take the beverages inside.

Getting ready to see Cirque du Soleil’s “KA” tonight! I hope I can stay awake; I’m exhausted!



{April 3 – 3:30 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
Met up with Ryan & Stacey at our seats in the KA theatre at MGM Grande last night. This particular Cirque show has a storyline and I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. There was plenty of acrobatics, but it didn’t really “feel” like a Cirque show, if that makes sense. Some of the scenes were pretty cool but I did fall asleep a few times. I wonder if maybe I was just too exhausted to be able to enjoy it?

This morning Jordan and I left the hotel around 9:00 am and walked up the Strip on the New York New York side and made it as far as Caesar’s Forum Shoppes. Bought some water, chocolate bars, and a Vegas calendar at the CVS, a magnet for my friend Stacey back home, and some other souvenirs (all for under $12.00 USD). Browsed around the Crystals shopping centre; the stores are very upscale. Popped into the Cosmopolitan for a look around. Admired the beautiful ceiling of blown glass flowers in the Bellagio lobby, and wandered through the butterfly-themed courtyard.



We ate lunch at The Cheesecake Factory in Caesar’s Forum Shoppes, which was a recommended affordable place to eat that I read about on TripAdvisor. I ordered a delicious smokehouse BBQ burger with fries, Jordan had a pizza and beer, for $35.00 USD (including tip). While walking back to our hotel after lunch, Jordan was asked for money by a guy on the street. He offered the guy his beer instead, which he took with thanks. We’re going to head over to the lion habitat at MGM Grande in a bit, to meet up with a few people.



{April 3 – 10:00 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
Met up with our friends Ryan & Stacey and Chris & Katie (the couple getting married) around 4:00 pm at the MGM Grande’s lion habitat. We waited and waited to see the lions fed but nothing happened, so we left after taking a few photos. At one point Jordan asked me to hold his drink and as soon as I took it from him a security guard came over and asked for my I.D. Almost 29 years old and he thinks I’m underage. We left and wandered over to the Luxor to show Chris & Katie around. Headed over to Mandalay Bay and paid $16.95 USD per person to get into the aquarium and shark reef. It was neat to see but my camera battery died; I ended up taking some pictures with Jordan’s camera but it didn’t do a great job, unfortunately. Stacey had a headache so she and Ryan returned to their room while the remaining four of us walked over to New York New York. Jordan, Chris, and Katie wanted to go on the roller coaster. The ride costs $14.00 USD. Jordan said it’s not worth the price itself, but it was cool to go on the ride.



Jordan and I returned to our hotel afterward to change footwear and grab a sweater. The days are warm and windy and the nights are cool and windy! Walked over to M&M’s World and wandered around the store but didn’t end up buying anything. Checked out the Coca-Cola store as well, and bought my sister a Coke magnet. We ate dinner at Denny’s, trying to keep things cheap: appetizer platter and a chocolate milkshake for $13.00 USD (including tip). So tired, it’s time for bed!

***Continued in next post.