Monday, November 27, 2006

Libations del Mexico

Or something like that, considering I could say what I want in French but never in Spanish (sigh, I know Xavi would be mad considering he was my nummero uno instructor in Spain but, come on, I was there for two weeks teaching English)...and who knows how to say "Can you put these burgers in a bag for take-away" en Espanol? Well, probably you Mexicans but for us culturally and linguistically impared it was a funny case of charades.

Anyhoo, there are several things you can order at a bar in Mexico.

Numero Uno:
Ask for the "special shot." I bet it will require tequila, flames and a tropical fruit doused in cinnamon.

Numero Dos:
Ask for any kind of fruity, tropical, drink that you see and I guarantee that it will be of the gigantic kind (right now I am sucking back on a similarly sized Pink Panther which is a Chi-Chi with grenadine and strawberries (Sigh, there goes trying to look slim and sexy before I see the BF).

Numero Three: (shhh I don't know three in Spanish)

Ask for the local specialty (usually an aphrodisiac). Below, we are drinking looking at rattlesnake tequila which has apparent aphrodisiac properties. Then of course there is Damiana, a local liqour with baby-causing properties (which in my humble opinion is the opposite of an aphrodisiac) But, that withstounding, I have decided to ignore taking shots of it (hello, I am all alone without my wonderful boyfriend for two weeks, like I NEED something to get me in the mood, GRRRR). But what I think I will do (what I probably have done by tomorrow) is buy a litre of the said alcohol to bring back home with me ;)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

When in Cabo San Lucas....on water

When staying in Cabo whilst on a boat, you have several options. One is to stay at the Marina, where all the fancy boats and fishing yachts are kept....

However, these slips (places you dock your boat) costs about $150USD a night! For that price, you might as well check into a fancy hotel.

So in order to save money, our boat is kept anchored offshore. Now I bet that sounds really nice and peaceful, to only have the gentle rocking of the boat and the sounds of the waves lapping the shore. Only it's the complete opposite of that. Just watch this video I took and you'll see what I mean.

Our boat is directly across from all the Beach Bars where the partying goes from 7 AM till 3 AM. There is always the hoots and hollers of drunk frat boys and sloshed girls, plus the MC who gives away buckets of beer if you show him "the twins." And believe me he is loud! You can hear him in the video trying to convince a girl from Vancouver (NOT me) to get down and dirrty.

What's even more fun is the fact that we have binoculars and can see the whole thing. My dad saw a couple of amateur lapdances the other night.

The other thing about being anchored is that there is SO much traffic on the sea. Our neighbours are huge cruisehips...

Or Tiger Woods' yacht (I kid you not)

Fishing boats ...

And waverunners piloted by drunk Americans who will do laps around your boat, causing enough wake to make you seasick.

Only at night does it calm down enough to ponder the good life...

...and take a much-needed siesta.

Monday, November 20, 2006

When in Cabo San Lucas....on land

... you can stay at the Best Western Quinta Del Sol. Reservations are easy to make and you can get good deals through I snagged a room for 85$ CND a night which is pretty good considering you are getting the reliable digs of a Best Western.

The hotel itself is a bit out of town. Well, a 20 minute walk or a 60 Peso ($6USD) cab ride, but it is brand spanking new with a cute swimming pool, spacious, cool-tiled suites and friendly staff that more than make up for its (short) distance from the action of Cabo. And though it is more of a Motel than a Hotel, it's wonderfully done up in colonial-style architecture.

Best Western Quinta Del Sol. Blvd. Lazaro Cardenas and Bordo de Contencion. Cabo San Lucas BCS 23450. Tel: 01 (624) 144-4500 Fax: 01 (624) 144-4501. Website.

Mexican food muy bueno

Or something like that since I do not speak Spanish.

I love Mexican food, and though the American/Canadian versions of the standard quesadilla or taco is quite tasty, nothing comes close to real Mexican food.

The other day I was treated to my favourite food, which is Tortilla Soup. A blend of tomato and chicken soup, topped with tortilla strips, avocados and sour cream, this soup is to die for and even worth having when you are sweating like a pig.

Everywhere you go in Mexico, the minute you sit down you are treated to free chips and salsa, even if you just order a beer. The ones you see here we paid for because it comes with guacamole, but just look at it. Fresh avocados, the salsa is unlike anything you will ever get at home, and the tortilla chips are thick, crunchy and deep-fried to high heaven. So bloody good.

Another great thing about being in a fishing village (or fishing Mecca) is that fresh seafood is abundant and if you look around, you may just be able to enjoy it at a great price. These prawns were cooked at our table, in a mixture of lime, tequila, wine and salt.

They came to 15 USD, which is amazing considering its location on the Marina and how freakin' good the meal tasted. I sure know how to pick 'em.

As do my parents, who when they joined me at my table, brought along two random Swedish/American guys. But hey, I'm not complaining. It's not like they offer Swedes on the menu.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mexican Tip numero uno

I've been to Mexico many times before butI had never gone by myself, until now. I thought Mexico would be a fairly easy country to bribe navigate. What I didn't realize is the fact that it seemed easy because my parents were the ones in charge of bribes negotiations. When you are on your own and don't have your usual wits about you, it becomes a whole different ball game.


Bring cash. Bring American cash. You don't even have to exchange it. In Cabo San Lucas, where I am right now, the US dollar is just as acccepted by the Peso. But just bring a lot of cash, in a lot of small bills.

Don't think that you can get money from a cash machine. If there is a cash machine, it is probably broken. And don't be surprised if there is only one cash machine for miles (as was the case in the airport).

Don't think you can rely on your credit cards. Mexico is not very credit card friendly. Sure, the touristy and upscale restaurants and bars take credit cards but most other places do not, even places you swear they should. Also, do not think that you can go to a money exchange and extract money from your visa card. Most currency exchanges operate on a cash only basis.

Do realize that if you don't bring hard cash into Mexico, there is a chance you could be stranded at the airport for hours because the shuttle/taxis into town do not take credit cards. And the ATM might be broken. And the currency exchange booth can't help you. And you have to rely on the overwhemling generosity of Mexican airport workers named Irak who lend you the 14 dollars (140 Pesos) in order for you to take the bus into town and not get swept up into a rogue prostitution ring for lost and penniless Gringas.

If you do find yourself in the said situation, make sure you seek out boys from Alaska. They will buy you beer and dinner until you can afford to live again.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Doing Disneyland Right - It's not just for kids anymore

OK, don't laugh. Disneyland is not just for kids, my friends. It's a hip, fun and wonderful place to go with your girlfriends and/or your significant other (seriously, I would love to have my honeymoon at Disneyland...that or campervaning it around NZ). Oh, and I suppose it's a great place to go with children too, or something.

I'm sure many of you have been there, but only when you were younger. Which is exactly why you should go back now that you are older and have your wits about you. I've been a few times as a child and had a blast, of course. But I didn't really appreciate the Happiest Place On Earth until I went in my 20's, on two seperate occasions with two amazing friends (see below).Take it from me, if you want a vacation to remember but don't have too much time and don't want to break the bank, Disneyland is it. And with Disney's California Adventure, next door, you now have two reasons. An added plus is that the new theme park is a bit more adult, the rides are scarier (though maybe lack a bit of the charm of the old ones) and they serve beer (see below) and margaritas. I'm telling ya, you haven't had fun till you've been drunk at Disneyland. And now that alcohol is legal in one of the parks, you no longer have to sneak a Pepsi bottle of rum and coke onto Splash Mountain (not that I've ever done that ;).

The key to enjoying your stay in Disneyland is to follow these three tips:

1) Read up on the Park. This site has a list of the best guides to Disneyland. I recommend the Unofficial Guide because its savvy chapter "The Nazi Guide to Disneyland" (I swear it's called that) is the best way to maximize your time in the park. It may seem redundant to follow a strict schedule in a theme park but trust me, it's worth it.

Sample tips from the book (that are tried and true by yours truly) are lining up for the park before it opens (yes, you wake up super early but then you leave the park at noon - when it is busiest - and go home for a swim and a nap) and fast-passing most popular rides (the ride for Space Mountain is minimal within an hour of opening...ride it and then fast pass it so you can repeat it later, without standing in line for an hour or two).

2) Don't stay over a weekend. The park gets way too crowded with the locals (yes, the lucky bastards in Southern Cali can purchase a fairly cheap year-round pass).

3) Stay close to the Park...and I mean within a block or two. If you are dependant on shuttles, you might miss out on the peak times that you should go (some shuttles don't leave for the park until after it opens and you want to be there before). I've stayed at The Annabella and Howard Johnson ...both nice enough hotels, but when it comes down to it, they were both close and had swimming pools; you don't spend much time in your room anyway.

Oh, and during your time at Disneyland and California Adventure, make room for the following rides. They are so worth it:

1)Grizzly River Run (wet, wet fun)

2)California Screaming (fast fun)

3)Indiana Jones (different everytime)

4)Splash Mountain (a classic...and that zippidy doo dah song is haunting)

5)Hollywood Tower of Terror (Ever wondered what it's like to be in an elevator that suddenly drops?)

All right, I'm jetting off to Mexico tomorrow morning. I'll be sailing on my dad's boat from Cabo San Lucas to Puerta Vallarta. I won't be able to blog very often until I get back (Dec 1st) but when I do you can be sure I'll have some excellent Mexican tid-bits to tell you. I just spoke to my father on the phone and he said they just had dolphins jumping in front of the boat and he caught a huge tuna and had homemade sashimi. Yum. I've never sailed anywhere further south than Victoria, BC, so I'm very excited! Providing I don't meet any Pirates...unless they are of the Disney version, of course.

Friday, November 10, 2006

When in Venice...

Venice can be somewhat of a conundrum when it comes to finding affordable accommodation.

Hostels and backpackers are either nonexistent or horrible. Believe me. Don't chance this. Check out reviews from or ask people who have been there. You'll find yourself plied with stories about stray cats that pee on your floor and wake up on your face and beds covered with mold and rotted wood. There isn't a single good word to be had about budget accommodation in Venice. It's like a conspiracy or a plague or something.

So. your best best is to splurge. You could go extreme (two travelers I met, who had the cat experience, moved out of the hostel and into a Best Western holiday rental the next day) or you can stay within your budget and stay at the charming Hotel Bernardi Semenzato Venezia.

The hotel is located just off of the vaperetto stop Ca D'Oro making it a quick journey from the train station (crucial when you're packed onto one of those water taxis in stifling humidity, with a heavy pack and with tons of other confused tourists). It's also near shops, cafes and restaurants, with the Rialto Steps a few minutes away and St. Mark's Square a 15 min walk (give or take the number of glass shops you detour into).

The hotel is run by friendly and helpful staff, they serve a free breakfast every morning and the bathrooms are clean. I paid for a single room for about 35 Euros, but received one with two single beds and a handy sink. Prices have gone up since I visited last June, but singles should be between 30-40 Euros and doubles for 40-60 Euros.

Hotel Bernardi Semenzato Venezia. SS.apostoli, 4363-66, 30121 Venice, Italy.
Tel.(041) 52.27.257 Fax (041) 52.22.424. Email:

The view from my room fulfilled all my Italian stereotypes

The paperweight of a hotel key outside St. Marks Square

The nearest vaperetto stop, Ca D'Oro

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tarragona, Spain: History and Heart on the Mediterranean

The following is and article I wrote for GoNomad, an online travel mag:

Tarragona is an ancient Spanish town on the shores of the Mediterranean, about 56 miles (90 km) from Barcelona and 332 miles (534 km) from Madrid.

Why Go
Located on Spain’s pristine Costa Daurada – and just a short hop from Barcelona – Tarragona has miles of blissfully bare beaches, ancient Roman ruins, affordable accommodations and a vibrant cultural scene. To top it off, Tarragona has stayed away from the mass tourism that frequents most of Spain, making it one of the best-kept secrets in the country. Until now.

When To Go

Tarragona is a great place to visit all year-round. In spring and fall, the weather is warm and the ocean temperatures are bearable. During the summer it can get stiflingly hot with high humidity but offshore breezes can provide a refreshing lift. In the winter months the town slows down but the lack of tourists and mild temperatures make it a unique and pleasant experience.

Getting There and Around

Because the town is located on one of the main railway lines, it’s very accessible by train. Trains run frequently to Barcelona (about an hour, $6, €5), Valencia (3 hours, $17, €14) and down the coast to Andalucia. When arriving at the train station, your best bet is to take a taxi into town, as the hotels tend to be at the top of the hill.

National buses run often and to more places – such as Madrid and Pamplona – but take more time. The only way to catch a flight to Tarragona is to fly into Barcelona and then take the train or rent a car from there.

There is a local bus service in Tarragona, which services the city and its environs although it runs less frequently in the evening and on weekends. Check with the tourist office for a complete schedule.

Best Attractions

The town is blessed with several attractions that bring in people from all over the world, many of them listed by UNESCO World Heritage. The most famous of all these is the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. Situated downtown and just steps from the beach, this well-preserved battleground dates back to 2 BC. Standing in the middle of it, it’s not hard to imagine gladiators fighting each other (and beasts) to their death.

There are other Roman ruins scattered throughout the city, including a jaw-dropping aqueduct called the Pont Del Diable (or Devil’s Bridge). It’s further out from the main core than most other attractions but marveling at the wonders of Roman engineering is worth the trek.

In the middle of the old town lies the majestic cathedral. Built in 1171 AD, the cathedral is a stunning example of Roman and Gothic architecture. The interior is a long, moody stretch of tapestries, carvings and a marble altar.

Best Unusual Attraction

The Museu d’Histoira de les Arms, an antique arms museum, is a compelling stop if you have any interest in old swords and guns. It’s also a perfect way to spend a (rare) rainy day.

Best Activity or Tour

From swimming and sailing to hiking and golf, there are a lot of outdoor activities in Tarragona and the surrounding Costa Daurada (Golden Coast) region.

The simplest (and cheapest) way to get your daily workout is just to stroll around the town and admire all the history it offers. Start at the western end of Rambla Nova – the main street – and make your way down until it ends at the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. From there, wind your way past the Roman amphitheatre and along the old city walls – admiring prolific statues and cannons – until you end up back in the city again. Reward yourself with a cool cup of gelato for your effort.

Best Alternative

A popular activity is spending the day at Point Aventura, Spain’s version of Universal Studios. Choose from nausea-inducing roller coasters, music shows or refreshing water-slides. And unlike Disneyland, the churros (sticks of fried dough) in this theme park are the real deal. Trains run frequently from Tarragona to the park, which is about 7 km west of town.

Best Lodgings

The best place to stay in Tarragona is at the Las Palmeras campground, located about four miles (7 km) from the city. While camping is an option, your best bet is to rent one of their many bungalows, which are scattered throughout their gorgeously landscaped grounds. I scored one for myself, even though it sleeps up to six people, and was enamored with how clean and modern it was.

Its large terrace – and the fact that the shore was only yards away – was an added bonus. The campgrounds also feature a reasonable beachside bar and restaurant, a mile (1.5 km) of empty beach, a sparkling swimming pool and onsite grocery store with all the amenities. Bungalows go for about $39, €32 but jump up during July and August. The campground is closed between November and March.

If you plan on coming during the winter months, or just want to be closer to town, Hotel Lauria is an affordable place to stay. It overlooks the leafy green Rambla Nova so you are never far away from the vibrant city-life. The hotel is clean and comfortable and is sprinkled with personal touches. Rates range from $46-$83, €38 to €68.

The popular Hotel Imperial Tarraco is another choice, albeit more expensive, especially during the summer months. However, its prime position – overlooking the sea and nearby ruins – range of services and tastefully appointed rooms, justify the price. Winter rates from $80, €66.

Best Eats

On Rambla Nova, Restaurante Txapela serves up affordable Basque-style cuisine. Try the Milanese veal ($12,€10) followed by their cool lemon sorbet ($3.60,€3).

Bar Toful is located within the city walls of the old town and is a great place for tapas and a couple of drinks. The bar is outfitted in a retro-modern motif and is popular with the locals, which is an indicator of its scrumptious food.

Best Entertainment

Tarragona has many festivals throughout the year. One of the most well known activities during these festivals has to be the Catalonian version of the human pyramid. These castells – or human castles – can compromise of up to nine storeys of precariously balancing people. The next championship will be held in Tarragona in October 2006.

The nightlife in Tarragona will also entertain you into the wee hours. El Candil is a laid-back establishment in the old town, a place where students like to grab a beer before heading out for the evening. For nightclubs, many of the locals head down to the port area of town, where DJs spin crazy beats into the night. Foam parties are not uncommon here and can be a lot of fun (just don’t wear anything too nice).

Best Shopping

Tarragona is a great place to pick up local artwork, trinkets and household items. There are several trendy clothing stores in town as well as more upscale boutiques. Tarragona is a great place to pick up souvenirs. I have often found them to be cheaper – and of better quality – than in places like Barcelona.

Practical Information

Country Code: (0034)
Currency: Euro
Language: Spanish, Catalan

For links to the aforementioned accommodations, activities and restaurants, please view the orginal article here. In a future post, I will go into greater detail about my "best-kept secret" at Las Palmeras. I'll give you the low-down, the details, photographs and a video tour of a place I would seriously fly all the way over to Spain for just to stay there for a week.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Stay Safe, Stay Stylish: Part 2

Like I said before, the number one tip to avoiding being a victim of crime and getting a better cultural experience is to blend in with the locals.

Which means, NO FANNY PACKS.

Seriously. Don't do it. They are ugly, so "soccer mom" and an easy peasy target for theives. Why don't you just wear an American Flag shirt and sandals with socks while you are at it?

"But I don't want to carry around a regular purse. I might get robbed."

Sure. But you carry around a regular purse in your own home city, right? What makes you think you are going to be targeted in Amsterdam? Oh right. The Fanny Pack or Day-Packs. Look around the people in your home city. It's easy to spot the tourist, isn't it? That's why the criminals are going after them and not you.

But I understand that while traveling you don't have the securities of home and are more likely to be carrying items that are irreplaceble.

The solution? The leg wallet, which I posted about below, and a bag that not only looks stylish but will make you feel more secure.

Messenger bags are in at the moment and you can get them anywhere (Old Navy, H&M, etc). Look for ones with a thicker strap so it doesn't put too much pressure on your shoulders (and doesn't cause that ugly line of seperation on your chest). Make sure you wear it across your chest, with the front of the bag facing forward, close to your hands for safe keeping. This way, your bag is less likely to get pick-pocketed and by wearing it across your chest, it becomes hard for someone to run past you and gab your bag (without dragging you along with it). Most messenger bags come complete with lots of secure pockets too and are quite roomy, so they make excellent companions for traveling.

Best of all, a messenger bag doesn't scream tourist. And if you buy the right one, it may just say "Ooh, la la. Je suis Parisian."


Ah. That's better

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Flying the Friendly Skies: security-approved beauty

I don't know about you, but I was devestated when I found out that the TSA was confiscating makeup and other toiletries in your carry-on luggage. I mean, if there is anytime that you need moisturizer or makeup or toothpaste it's when you are flying on a freakin' overnight to Paris! And sure, maybe celebrities can pull off sporting sunglasses in an airport but us mere mortals can't. Plus, I think that would make you look more than a wee bit suspicious than wielding a mascara tube.

I have an upcoming flight or two before the end of the year and I found myself fretting over the fact that everything I need to disguise my dry, air-ravaged plane face will be buried deep below in the cargohold. I kept hearing the horror stories about ladies spending hundreds of dollars at Duty Free stores on perfume only to have it all dumped out. I heard about friends whose favourite lipsticks were swiped out of their hands. It seemed that nothing was sacred.

That was until I came across the following bit of news: according to the TSA's latest flight plan, you are allowed to bring aboard travel sized items liquid and gel beauty products (3 oz or less) but they must fit and be housed in a 7.5" by 8" clear, zip-top plastic bag (think Ziploc).

So, keep your eyes peeled for travel friendly versions of your favourite makeup and pampering products and you won't have to worry about getting off the plane looking like a overwrought prune.

The Travel Book : a must for avid and aspiring wanderers

As soon as this book hit the shelves last year, I knew I had to get it. Thankfully, I found it under my Xmas tree (I had shown my Mum the book, so it wasn't exactly a surprise). At the time, we were vacationing in Palm Springs (look for my next post), so I spent the next few weeks after Xmas just pouring through every heavy page in this book. I read through every country, occassionaly crying out at the overwhelming possibilities of the world, and marching up to my Mother and announcing, "This year I am going to go to Eritrea....Yemen...Cape Verde, etc."

The book now sits on my coffee table and is frequently picked up by those who visit me. They too flip through a few pages before exclaiming, "Oh, I want to go there" or "There's a country called Sao Tome & Principe?"

Best part of the book, besides its continuous urge to see the world within its front and back covers, is that every country gets equal treatment. Doesn't matter if it's Luxembourg or the USA, they both get two pages with aspiring photographs and a few key narrative descriptions.

Brought to you by the good people at Lonely Planet, The Travel Book: a journey through every country in the world, can be purchased at any fine bookstore, such as Amazon or Chapters.