N = Nicaragua

NNicaragua is a country situated north of one of my favourite places: Costa Rica.  Despite some uneducated people warning me that Nicaragua was dangerous and that there was fighting along the border, I did some research and decided to take a day trip into the country from Guanacaste.

I’m so glad I did!

Nicaragua is a beautiful country, despite being one of the poorest in the Americas. I was happy to contribute even a little bit to their economy and to my guide. Tourism in Nicaragua is quickly growing, and I expect as more and more expats retire and visit Costa Rica, Nicaragua will be the next hidden gem. There is so much history, culture and fascinating architecture to experience.

One of the highlights of the visit was enjoying a local band play on the hill overlooking Laguna de Apoyo Natural Reserve.

Enjoy the photos I took from my short excursion!  I will definitely be back!

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K = Kandahar

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I spent some time in Kandahar in 2009. Things weren’t great when I was there. But its history has seen much, much worse than what I saw.

Here are some interesting facts I put together about the city of Kandahar:

– It is one of the oldest human settlements in the world.

– Although it seems to be in a rather barren, uninhabitable area, it has held great strategic importance over centuries due to its location along important trade routes between the different edges of Asia.

– It was believed to have been founded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC and “Kandahar” comes from a local interpretation of “Alexander”

– Kandahar has been witness to alternating periods of war and peace and as such, the people have evolved to be resilient and adopt a survival instinct to keep their families alive.

– Kandahar International Airport was built in the 1960’s, by Afghans but under USAID support.  Over the years it has been controlled by Afghans, Soviets, Taliban and most recently, NATO, over the years. While the airfield was controlled by NATO, it was considered one of the busiest airports in the world with up to 5,000 military flights of all varieties coming in and out each week.Today, six commercial airlines service the airport and it is still used by NATO forces and the Afghan Air Force.

– Kandahar is also where my country spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to make things better after the Taliban were forced into hiding and NATO moved in to prevent them from using the area as a safe haven and training ground for terrorists. Canada put effort into eradicating polio, building schools and other infrastructure (such as the Dahla Dam), training teachers and security forces.  Kandahar Province is also where many Canadians gave their lives toward the effort: at least 130 young Canadians lost, and many more Afghans gone from this world because of constant conflict in the area. May they rest in peace.

I only hope that one day, Kandahar can be a thriving city in the crossroads of the world. Although, judging by its history, I’m not so sure that could ever be possible.
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I = Iceland

II was intrigued by Iceland. It absolutely inspired me. I decided to spend two weeks in Iceland with my mom, travelling around the entire island and see what it was all about. What an incredible experience, and what stunning and gorgeous countryside.  This is a place of dreamers. There is so much majesty, you can’t help but feel the magic and imagine the generations of Sagas that tell wild and crazy stories of the country’s history.

I learned history, I tried local foods, I saw gnomes and trolls, I peered over waterfalls, I stood beside active geysers, I tasted million year old ice, I rode Icelandic horses (don’t call them ponies), I ate puffin (sorry birdie, had to try the local fare), and I met some of the friendliest people.

Enjoy the photos!

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D = Dubrovnik

DAs part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, once we post our blog entry for the day, we are supposed to go through this list, visit other blogs and comment.  I’ve been checking out the next four blogs after mine,and one (TR) or Travel blog each day! The other day I found this great blog entry written by Jeremy about traveling alone. Travel can be a completely different experience whether you’re in groups, as a couple or on your own.  I quite enjoy “lonesome traveling”.  It prevents distractions and allows me to see things more clearly and better immerse myself in the local culture.

One place I visited alone was Dubrovnik, Croatia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dubrovnik is a fascinating walled city on the Mediterranean. Despite its protected status, the Yugoslav People’s Army didn’t seem to care and besieged the city for seven months in 1991 and 1992, destroying more than half of the city’s infrastructure. It didn’t take long following the most recent Balkan’s conflict to begin rebuilding efforts in the original style and originally used material.

Back to traveling alone:  I spent four days in Dubrovnik, simply walking around the city, taking in the sights and sounds, and concentrating on the remnants of a not-forgotten war. It was amazing how much was reconstituted in only eight years and how quickly the city gave the appearance of returning to a normal life.

** Neat Fact: Most recently, Dubrovnik has been used as various sets for the television show The Game of Thrones, depicting the city of King’s Landing.

Enjoy my pictures.  Taken in 2000, before I could afford a digital camera!

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Walled city with Lokrum in the background

Walled city with Lokrum in the background

Narrow streets and stairways

Narrow streets and stairways

Dubrovnik from above

Dubrovnik from above

Dubrovnik from above.  Looks like they had cable cars prior to the war - see bottom right corner of photo.

Dubrovnik from above. Looks like they had cable cars prior to the war – see bottom right corner of photo.

My take on reviewing things on TripAdvisor

I use TripAdvisor often, to help me pick hotels and make decisions on what to see in different regions.

While planning for my most recent trip to Washington, D.C., I noticed something odd on some of the TripAdvisor reviews. People were giving attractions one star for stupid things beyond that attraction’s control!

The Washington Monument was a classic example of this. As every American and most everyone else around the world knows, the Washington Monument is a prominent fixture of the Washington D.C. skyline, honouring the U.S. founding father. It was completed in 1884, and at the time, it was the tallest building in the world, reaching over 555 feet in the air.

This is a “must-see” if you’re visiting D.C. for the first time.

As you know, there was an earthquake in D.C. during August of 2011, measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake didn’t destroy the monument but did do considerable damage to its structure. It has been undergoing repairs for a while now, and the monument itself is not open to the public.

I mean, that’s a shame, right? It’s too bad you can’t ride to the top and see the city from the monument right now, but safety first, right? I doubt it means that the attraction deserves a ONE STAR on TripAdvisor, which eventually will downgrade the attraction’s ranking in the city? I mean, it’s still really impressive, and you can still go to the old post office to see the city.

I guess in the end, it doesn’t really matter, and I realize some people just like to complain, but I just got a kick out of reading the posts on TripAdvisor complaining about how the monument was closed and how it wasn’t fair that they didn’t get to go in. That’s the nature of this world, I guess, and the nature of EVERYONE having online access to say what they want. Hey, like I’m doing right now!

Have a great night, and if you’re in D.C., be sure to check out the Washington Monument. It’s an awe-inspiring piece of history that’s not to be missed 😉 Here are my iPhone pics of the monument that I grabbed while I was there.

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Washington Monument as seen from the old Post Office

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Washington Monument from Forrest Gump’s vantage point.

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Washington Monument with psychedelic skies

Traveling with Pets: Part II

A big decision has been made, and we’ve decided to move to Colorado. This is a HUGE change and adventure for Canadians who have never had a ‘home base’ outside of Canada.

Once everything was set up, the biggest challenge was to drive 3,000 km with a Siberian Husky in the car!!

We ended up getting a Thule roof box so we could pack things away for the journey, leaving room for the dog crate and overnight luggage in the car.

We travel with a crate for two reasons, really: 1) so the dog is not climbing over everything, and 2) most importantly, to keep the husky fur contained! Whenever Loki shakes, moves, breathes, she leaves a pile of hair behind! Especially this time of the year!

Because of this, there are a few traveling doggie ‘must-haves’ that we bring:

– individually packed meals in ziploc bags (makes it simple at feeding time)
– collapsible bowls for food and water
– a leash long enough to tie Loki to picnic tables/lamp posts etc
– lint brushes! (everything gets a roll-down whenever we stop)
– our Dyson hand-held vacuum (to vacuum the crate and the hotels rooms as we depart)
– treats (of course)
– full roll of poo bags! (we keep ours in a container attached to her leash)
– grooming tools (toothbrush, nail clippers, comb/furminator etc)

We scouted out ‘pet-friendly’ hotels along our route and booked rooms each day in advance as some hotels only have a limited number of rooms designated for pets. For me, ‘pet-friendly’ is a hotel that does not charge an additional fee higher than the nightly room charge. A $100 non-refundable deposit a) isn’t really a deposit, and b) exists to discourage travelers with pets from staying there.

Our faves in the U.S.:

1) La Quinta (pets stay free!)

2) Choice Hotels (Quality, Comfort, Sleep Inns etc – check rates first – $10-$20 per pet)

3) Drury Inns (pets stay free!)

4) Red Roof Inns (pets stay free!)

Another thing we made an effort to do, was scope out dog parks in the towns and cities where we stopped.  All hotels we stayed at had free Wi-Fi and we were able to check out the next town in advance and find a place for Loki to run. This allowed us to have uneventful drives the next day while the dog sleeps in the car.

The real challenge when travelling with dogs is eating.  We search out restaurants with take-out and/or outdoor tables and chairs so that we can eat with Loki.  We never leave her alone in the car, and take turns going in to buy groceries/food and use the rest rooms. If it’s raining, we eat in the car.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Loki has handled the journey like a champ.  I think we could definitely travel with her more often and choose vacations that she can take part in.

Any hints, tips or best practices for travelling with your pets?

 

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Loki loves the Red Roof Inn. Laminate floors and minimal fabrics. VERY dog friendly!

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Napping in the hotel, but do it by the door so the boogey man can’t get in!

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There are fenced in dog parks in many cities and towns across the U.S. and Canada. Scope them out and stop by to stretch some legs!

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Newly renovated Sleep Inns have great rooms AND pet-friendly!

Las Vegas live shows

I’ve been to very few ‘live shows’ throughout my life. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the arts, or ‘sophisticated’ entertainment. To be honest I couldn’t tell you exactly why, except that I grew up in a small town that didn’t present those types of opportunities.

When I was in high school, we went on a band trip to Chicago. It was a fun trip and our symphonic band actually earned a silver medal in our category! One of the sightseeing parts of the trip was to see Les Misérables and my 15-year-old self was blown away. I loved every part of it: I loved the experience of seeing it live, I loved the storyline, I loved the music. I even bought the cassette tape, and listened to the songs over and over in my Walkman until I knew all the lyrics and could sing along to every song!

I saw STOMP! in New York City at the Orpheum Theatre. If you love rhythm and beats, you’ll love this show. I even watched it a second time at Canada’s National Arts Centre when they came to town.

While we were in Vegas, there was no shortage of shows to see, and if you weren’t careful, you could spend a LOT of money on entertainment! My husband had treated me to my first Cirque du Soleil show for my birthday a few years back, so I wasn’t convinced that I needed to see another.

We looked at all the shows in the area and decided on two. We had a $200 credit at our hotel, and used it towards Le Rêve, then bought tickets to see David Copperfield the next night.

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Le Rêve was incredible! There were the elements of a Cirque show with so much more! Every one of these entertainers were athletes first! Gymnasts, synchronized swimmers, divers, etc. The stage was a pool, the ceiling and platforms that came out of the water. There are no bad seats in the circular theatre; everyone had an unobstructed view of all parts of the show. There was so much going on at all times, sometimes it was hard to focus on one thing cause you were afraid you’d miss something else!

VIDEO: Behind the Scenes at Le Rêve

David Copperfield was a completely different type of show. Everyone I know who’s seen him has praised how amazing the show and the illusions were, and I really wanted to see it for myself! This show lived up to all the hype! Some of the illusions, I could figure out, but others just blew my mind! People disappearing and reappearing, objects (sometimes LARGE objects) appearing out of thin air, ‘mind reading’… It was truly something to see and I was so glad I was able to see him live!

The best part of it all, was when David Copperfield’s Assistant came to us at our table before the show and asked us to wait after so David could meet us! There were people who paid for front row seats and a meet and greet, and he quickly stepped out to meet us before rejoining them. I felt truly honoured and special that he made that effort!

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Me and David Copperfield. The true magic is how he manages to remain looking so young!

What travel apps make your journey easier?

Before I get started about my Las Vegas adventure, I just wanted to highlight some of my favourite travel apps on the iPhone (I just transferred my blog from Blogger to WordPress, so bear with me as I figure out all the new features!).

In 2009, when we escaped to Belize and Mexico for three weeks, a guy sitting next to me on the plane told me about Trip Case. It’s a really cool app that lets you enter your travel details, and then sends you updates during your journey, such as flight delays, gate changes etc. Obviously, it only works with a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. I don’t know if there are better travel apps out there now, but Trip Case is the one I know and like (so far, unless you tell me about a better one!).

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You’ll note my phone is in airplane mode. Canadian cell phone providers seem to still be a little behind the times in terms of North American and International plans. One text down here will cost me 75¢! That could add up!!!

Another app that I enjoy is the Camera+ app. It’s the only one I use on a regular basis for all my iPhone photo finishing. I tried Instagram, but now with all the talk going on about them owning and using your photos for commercial purposes without any payment/credit to you, I think I’ll stick with this one.

I keep Trip Advisor Offline City Guides always updated and ready for quick ideas and reviews of the best things to do/see wherever I am.

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Thank you Google Maps for making a comeback last week, I was getting frustrated using the Apple maps app!

Oh, and for those Canadian coffee lovers out there, your Canadian Starbucks card works in the U.S.! (… and that includes your Starbucks Canada iPhone App so you can still pay with your phone and keep track of your purchases!)

What are your favourite apps that make your trip/adventure go more smoothly? I’m curious/interested to know if there are others I should be using!