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 II

***Continued from previous post.

{November 7 – 10:00 am – Berlin}
Another dreary day. It’s cold outside; I’m thankful for my mittens and warm winter coat. Having breakfast at a small cafe just down the hill from the hotel. Scrambled eggs for myself and a bread/meat/cheese platter for Jordan. Reasonably priced. There’s only 2 little tables in the cafe.


Jordan's breakfast (Nov 7) Neue Synagogue City toilet

{November 7 – 7:45 pm – Berlin}
Eating dinner at “Kilkenny Irish Pub” at Hackescher Markt. Splitting a BLT sandwich, which is huge, some water, and pumpkin soup. (Cost: €10) Another long day that I’ll write about when we return to the hotel.

{November 7 – 9:00 pm – Berlin}
I think this is our earliest night! My whole body aches from walking and carrying my DSLR all day. My feet are sore. But it’s been a good day, despite the weather. So, after we finished breakfast this morning we returned to the hotel and filled up our empty juice bottles with water. That will save us a bit of money (mostly for Jordan, as he drinks a lot more than I do). Then we caught the tram to Hackescher Markt and walked over to Museum Island to the kiosk for the Neues Museum. The lady told us it was an extra €4 per person to enter the museum. Jordan was mad about that as we had already paid for the Welcome Cards that included Museum Island. We ended up not paying the extra money. I really wanted to see the Egyptian collection, including the bust of Nefertiti, but we are trying to save money here and there.


Reichstag government building

Next we hopped onto a double-Decker #100 bus and got off in front of the Reichstag building. Nice to finally see this place in the daylight. Took some pictures and Jordan took a couple with me standing in front of the building. Left there and walked back to get some daylight photos of Brandenburg Gate. And then finally continued walking until we reached the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We walked through the stelae until we found the main entrance to the underground museum centre. We went through security (they scan our bags, coats, etc just like at the airport) and entered the free museum. The warmth inside was wonderful. We spent some time inside, walking through the Holocaust exhibits room by room but there was so much information and things to see that we just skimmed through. I don’t know how to describe the feeling I got from seeing the exhibits….


Brandenburg Gate in daylight Stelae Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in daytime

Jordan replicating a postcard we saw

Moved on to the Topography of Terrors building to use the free washroom and to see the Berlin Wall in daylight. So far we haven’t had to pay for use of a toilet! By then it was raining and we decided to make our way to the Natural History Museum. Took awhile to find Invalidenstrasse but I remember we took a U-bahn and then walked some. On the way, since we were getting hungry, we bought some fries from a currywurst stand. They were so good! While walking by Potsdamerplatz I spotted waffles so we stopped for one of those too (nutella and whipped cream). I ate the whole thing myself! Once we reached the museum we got reduced admission with the Welcome Cards. We spent an hour and a half there. The first exhibit room is filled with dinosaur replicas. As we continued through, there were many neat things to see like precious rocks, replica animals, solar system, etc.


Berlin Wall Fries from currywurst stand Belgian waffle with nutella Naturkindemuseum Jordan with a dinosaur Earth

Zirconia

Tiger Jordan at the museum Amorak truck

After that museum we made our way back to Hackescher Markt to the Irish pub for dinner. Jordan was determined that we would locate the Volkswagon dealership we had walked by on Friedrichstrasse the other day, so off we went again! We did find it, after asking a local who Googled on his smartphone, and spent some time looking at the Amorak truck. Boring for me, but fun for Jordan.

{November 8 – 12:00 pm – Berlin}
So jet-lagged still! I don’t remember feeling so tired and achy the last time we came to Europe. Ready to head out for the day. The original plan was to go to Charlottenburg Palace today, but it will depend on how we’re feeling after lunch. We should have been up early in order to spend a good amount of time at the Palace.

{November 8 – 1:30 pm – Berlin}
Still haven’t made it to Charlottenburg Palace. Took us forever to find a place to eat, like usual. I don’t know why that is. We seem to wander around for ages before agreeing on a restaurant or cafe. Finally we settled on “Cancun” in Alexanderplatz. I ordered the chicken quesadillas and Jordan’s having chilli. We shared a banana milkshake. (Cost: €15) Before we found the restaurant, we wandered around Alexanderplatz and viewed the giant World Clock. At a store just off the main square I bought a pink Berlin bag (Cost: €6), keychain (Cost: €4.44), and deck of cards (Cost: €3.95). The cards are for Angela.


World Clock Quesadillas at "Cancun" In front of Marienkirche and TV Tower Posing with a giant seahorse Grosser Stern Sculptures in Grosser Tiergarten

{November 8 – 8:15 pm – Berlin}
At the Landsberger Allee S-bahn station having pizza and chicken schnitzel cheap. I don’t know the name of the restaurant. We didn’t make it to Charlottenburg Palace as I wasn’t feeling well after our Mexican lunch (although it was delicious at the time). I felt better in the late afternoon and it didn’t make sense to go all the way out there by then. Mostly we just walked around and explored the city. Took a few pictures of the Rathaus (city call) and Marienkirche with the TV Tower in the background.


Funkturm (radio tower) Motorbike sculpture Pizza for dinner (Nov 8)

Ended up on an S-bahn to the Zoologischer Garten station, then bus #100 to Großer Stern (in Großer Tiergarten) to view the giant Victory column. We spent a bit of time there, but as it was raining and getting dark we wanted to keep moving. After taking some pictures, we caught the bus back to the Zoologischer Garten S-bahn station. Jordan had found something called Funkturm Tower (radio tower) on our map and wanted to see if we could find it. So we got on another S-bahn and headed over. We did end up finding it after a lot of walking. I’m not even sure which station we got off at. If I wasn’t so terrified of heights, we could have gone up the Tower in an elevator. I’m not so fond of elevators that you can see out of.

***Continued in next post.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part III

***Continued from previous post.

{February 14 – 1:10 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went down for breakfast at 10:00 am. Had my morning donut, yum! After eating, we headed out to the hotel shops to check out some prices on souvenirs. Cloudy sky, very warm, yet with a lovely breeze. Then we walked down the long, winding road that led to the resort gates, and left the property. Crossed the street to the “Steve’s Bar” side and continued to the right, passed Plaza Bavaro, and found ourselves at another plaza called Bavaro Shopping. Prices a bit higher here. If the vendor didn’t like our haggling, they shook their heads and just waved us away. Only bought one item here, a lovely picture frame for $15.00 USD. We decided to give Plaza Bavaro another shot.



We returned to the shop there that had originally asked $65.00 USD for a purple Punta Cana beach bag I really liked. Ended up buying the bag, 3 magnets, and a shot glass for $35 USD. No other good deals so we left. Crossed the street and looked in some more shops, trying to ignore the pushy vendors. Jordan struck up a conversation with one guy, who ended up giving us a magnet, playing cards, a shot glass, and a pretty stone turtle for $10 USD! I would have spent more money in his shop since he was being so fair but we were getting very warm and wanted to move on. Another young man asked us into his shop so we shrugged and followed him to his stall. I was definitely in a shopping mood as I hadn’t spent much on souvenirs, and that’s one of my favourite things to do while traveling. Bought 3 small paintings for $35 USD, which Jordan picked out. This guy told us he was from Haiti, but he was a little hard to understand. We talked to him for awhile. I picked out 2 larimar stone bracelets for $15.00 USD and he ended up giving me a set of matching earrings included in the price.



We made it back to the resort by almost one o’ clock. Stopped in the lobby for a “Melisa” cocktail, which turned out to taste very good! Back to our room to change into swimwear. Had a delicious pannini for lunch.

{February 14 – 5:50 pm EST – Punta Cana}
No available loungers on the beach so we laid towels in the shade of a tree by the main pool, close to the pool bar. Both of us read, napped, ate some French fries as a snack. Then around 4:00 pm we packed up our stuff and went back to the beach. We found a couple empty chairs.


Ron Barcelo advertisement


Back in our room now. The fan is on but the room feels humid still. I don’t think the air-conditioner is working. It’s our last full-day so it’s not a big deal. We have reservations at the Oriental restaurant at 6:30 pm tonight. It’s Valentine’s Day.

{February 14 – 9:20 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Dinner was rather disappointing. The grouper fish in my first course was too chewy and tasted like a block of salt. The sweet n’ sour pork was very tough to chew. Jordan also didn’t like his meal. We skipped out as fast as we could and went to the buffet for banana crepes. Valentine’s Day theme everywhere, including a guy dressed up as cupid running around the grounds. We ran into the couple who had been on the excursion with us the day before, and talked to them for awhile. They were from New Brunswick, no wonder they were so friendly.



Had our last “Victor’s Special” drink and one more mochaccino from the lobby. Back to the room to pack!

***End of journal.

We spent check-out day lounging around, waiting for our bus to pick us up. It was very hot and sunny. A few pictures from that last day:


Leaving the island

And some souvenirs:



Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{February 11 – 11:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Slept in until 9:00 am! Yet another omelet and banana milkshake for breakfast for myself. Changed into swimsuits after eating and grabbed some beach towels from the hut. Cloudy but blue sky, very warm with a slight breeze by the water; better yet, no rain! We found two broken loungers on the beach and pulled them over to the shade of a palm tree. We only needed them for less than 10 minutes, though, as a family nearby vacated their spot and non-broken loungers. We pounced on them right away! Ah, nice to relax under a palapa with my Kobo in hand.



Around 12:30 pm we headed back to our room to freshen up and go to the 1 o’ clock lunch buffet. Had the alfredo pasta yet again. Jordan tried some this time, too. After lunch, as we were walking by the main pool, I spotted 2 empty loungers in the shade. Jordan saved them while I ran back to the room to collect towels, sunscreen, and my beach bag. We hung out there enjoying the beautiful weather for the remainder of the afternoon.

Strolled back to the beach again in the evening. Jordan grabbed a beer, then swam in the ocean for a bit while I took some photos. Then we went to dinner at 8:30 pm. Not much of a fan of the dinner buffet because I haven’t found anything that I really enjoyed. Ate the lasagna and calzone again and had a few sips of red wine. I had a craving for something sweet n’ sugary and found what looked like a tater tot but what was actually a really delicious, sweet … something. No idea what it was but this was the only night they were available!



Once again, a mochaccino from the lobby bar to end the night. Watched some of the “Copacabana” show at the theatre. Jordan went to the bar next to the pizzeria and tried “Victor’s special” drink – finally an alcoholic drink that tastes fantastic! All I know is that it tasted like grapefruit and quickly became our favourite.



{February 12 – 4:20 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went for breakfast at 10:00 am. Just had a banana milkshake, donut, and random items this time. Found loungers by the pool and remained there all day. Figured we might as well take advantage of having them for once! Ate lunch around 2:00 pm and returned to our place by the pool. After an entire morning and afternoon spent lounging, we decided to head down to the beach for a change of scenery.



{February 12 – 9:45 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Tired out from a full day in the sunshine. We did end up hanging out at the beach for awhile. Jordan swam; I read. We ate dinner at La Taqueria this time. The chicken quesadillas are to die for! Ordered “Victor’s special” drinks again. Jordan’s meal didn’t quite fill him up so we moved over to the pizzeria side and he ordered himself a pepperoni and blue cheese pizza. After eating we went to the theatre to listen to the live music. The woman who sang has a beautiful voice. Her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was lovely.

{February 13 – 6:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Up bright and early at 6:30 am to get ready, pack our beach bags, exchange for clean towels, etc. Ate a quick breakfast at 7:45 am. Today we are going on an excursion: Outback Safari, the full-day tour. I was pretty excited as I’d read many reviews about this tour. We waited at the main entrance of the lobby for our pick-up until we realized that the hotel has a special excursion pick-up zone across the lot. We ran over there and waited on the benches, and talked to the other couple who would be going with us. At 9 o’ clock the Outback Safari open-air jeep pulled up and we were introduced to our guide, Jesus. Unfortunately, today’s weather was not so great. I only had a light, long-sleeved top on over a tank top and shorts so the ride was a cold one. I assumed the weather would clear up but boy was I wrong. The roads were very bumpy but there was plenty of scenery to watch.



First we stopped at a local school. Jesus explained that both Haitian and Dominican kids go to the school. He also told us how to distinguish between the Haitian and Dominican peoples. We said hello to the kids and some of us gave cash donations. Then we climbed back into the jeep and drove through more lush landscape, finally arriving at a ranch. Here, we ate a hearty meal of salad, rice with beans, potato salad, dried sweet potato, dried plantain, and the most delicious fried chicken I’ve ever had! For dessert, coconut cookies. While we were at the ranch the sky opened up and down-poured. I took as many photos as I could while trying to keep my camera dry. Jesus showed us around the ranch and talked about growing bananas, coffee, etc. We even saw some crocodiles.


Dragonfly

Later, we pulled up to a plantation to see how a local Dominican family lives. We walked through their living quarters and then everyone piled into a large open-air hut to sit on benches. We learned about the production of coffee, cacao, and sugarcane; sampled the island’s famous mamajuana drink (tasted like cough syrup to me), as well as real cacao hot chocolate; smoothed coconut oil into our legs; and tasted the incredible local vanilla. All these products were available for purchase. I ended up leaving with 2 bottles of the spicy, sweet-smelling vanilla, a bottle of honey, cacao, and coarse sugar for $20 USD total.

The final part of the afternoon was spent at Macao Beach. It was cold, rainy, and very windy! Jordan and Jesus went boogie-boarding while the rest of us stayed on the beach. There were lots of people there, some also in the water. It looked cold but I enjoyed watching Jordan fighting the waves. The excursion was definitely worth the money!



{February 13 – 9:15 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Just back from dinner at “Via Venneto”. We were a little late as Jordan was slow to wind down from the excursion and get dressed for dinner. Once seated, I ordered the penne carbonara, which turned out lovely, and Jordan had the pasta with salmon. Afterward, we walked to the very crowded lobby for mochaccinos. Couldn’t find any free chairs so we pulled a low coffee table over to a desk and sat on the coffee table. A special check-in area was being prepared for some visitors from Spain. Advertisements for “Ron Barcelo” rum were everywhere, as well as women in really tiny dresses. We people-watched while sipping a White Russian and Spanish coffee. Finished our drinks and walked down to the theatre to listen to some live music before returning to our room for the night.



There was a free 350 mL bottle of Ron Barcelo rum waiting for us in our room.

***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.