Sunday, January 13, 2013

New adventures

Wow... it's been awhile since I last posted - nearly a year! 
The highlights of the last year? Well, I was unemployed until August, which was stressful and then I I was hired for a position in my field that really is a great fit! It's a contract position though... *fingers crossed that something comes out of it* I'm enjoying it and learning a lot, which is awesome.

I can't believe it's been over a year since we got home from our Eurotrip adventure - time sure flies when you're having fun, I guess!  We still talk about it often and smile at memories and stories we find ourselves rehashing.  Around Christmas time, for example, we went into a popular upscale bistro/grocery store/market place in town and found a whole ton of products that we saw all over Europe... it made us laugh and reminisce.  We saw the Mozart chocolate balls from Austria, the awful cookies we had in Germany at the Haus Reinbeck, the Italian chocolates in the pretty blue wrapper... Pretty neat to see it all together in one store - IN TOWN!

I often reminisce about my travels and find myself wondering about the people that I've met around the world. I thought of the girls we met in Portugal who introduced us to the chocolate cookie, Tim Tams, that we found in our local Zehrs market - it made me smile at the memory of having dinner with them in Lisbon at the hostel.

When it snows, I often think about my host family in Ghana - wondering how they are doing and what life looks like 5 years since I've seen them.  I've emailed Pops a few times lately but haven't heard anything from him.  I fear the worst and that I won't hear from him again - I wonder if it's inevitable after so much time.  It makes me sad to think it.  At the very least, his son, Godwin, is on my facebook page (thank you Mark Zuckerberg - inventor of facebook), so at least we can still be in touch.

As for our current plans, Jeff and I have decided not only to join three of our friends on a relaxing, vacation to Cuba in Feburary, but we are also on an adventure to marriage!  The biggest adventure of my life I would guess (ask me in 60 years!).   He asked on Christmas day and it was sweet and funny - the way it should be coming from him.  I'm a lucky lady.  We're excited to be planning a great event to celebrate so many years together - 2014 will be here before we know it.

So, for our fabulous February vacation to Cuba, we're going to the Melia Cayo Santa Maria.  Aside from the 116 km drive from the airport, it's got everything the group of us were looking for; beachfront, swim up bar (a must), a la carte options, disco, international drinks... you know, all the important stuff!

It may not be a big adventure but it sure feels like a necessary trip!  We're very excited to be getting away on a vacation.  The holidays were busy and with the engagement and wedding planning, I feel a little bit like a spinning top! Not to mention my birthday is coming up soon - it's a busy time of season for us (essentially, all winter!).  It'll be nice to lay by the pool and the beach, with a cold drink and a good book.  I'm looking forward to the recharge.

Anyway - that's essentially the update for now - lots going on and yet not a whole heck of a lot to report on :)   Our next adventure may be our honeymoon! We'll have to start thinking about that one! Maybe another overseas adventure?  The possibilities are endless :)



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some of my Favourite Shots

Just copy and paste for some of my best amateur shots!

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100168743379937.2431848.122613545&type=3&l=bc3bc53a3b

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pictures

I took over 4900 pictures (no wonder Jeff wanted to throw my camera out the window at times!) and then deleted a number of redundant or blurry photos, which got me to approximately 4200.

Here are 128 that are posted on facebook that give a very brief glimpse into our adventure. It's much easier than trying to upload pictures to my blog (something I will most likely do over time but am in no rush to do right now).

Click on the first picture for it to enlarge and then you can click the arrow on the right of the picture to take you to the next one.

Enjoy!

Amanda

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.976037117857.2416113.122613545&type=1&l=4acd093ad9

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Trip Home

Oh my gosh, what a journey it was to get home!

We were up, packed and ready to check out by the allotted 10:30am after I picked up breakfast from the grocery store for the last time (bananas, fresh orange juice, danishes...).

We put our luggage in the luggage room because we had three hours to kill before heading over to the shuttle. We attempted to go for a little walk but after printing off our boarding passes at a phone/internet centre we just wanted to go sit and wait until it was time to leave.

We sat out in the garden area of the hostel and chatted with a few other people coming and going. During one of these chats we learned that Rome had undergone daylight savings time that night and we had no idea! That meant that we were up and checked out an hour earlier than we had to be! Which meant we had four hours to kill, not three! URGH! lol It would have been helpful to know that information before we got out of bed...

Anyway, Jeff and I entertained ourselves by chatting with a few other Canadians who had just arrived and by playing Akinator Web Genius on the ipad... love that game! :)

We headed off to the train station at the correct time and stood in line to get our boarding passes for the bus. The whole shuttle thing was chaotic as people didn't have boarding passes or validated their ticket wrong or tried to pay cash to get on the bus. It was a little nuts but we figured it out and got a seat. Now, it couldn't just be any seat because Jeff didn't want the first two rows but the third row and the only two seats on the bus that were broken! Well, the seats ahead of us were broken and the only thing keeping the heavy set guy in front of Jeff from leaning too far back and squishing him was a red rod stuck between the backs of the seats to hold them together... lol I couldn't stop laughing at Jeff for choosing those seats out of them all!

The ride only took half an hour and I'm not surprised why as the driver weaved in and out of traffic, pissing people off along the way (at one point, a passing car was giving him the finger, while laying on his horn, while a smoke dangled out of his mouth and his daughter witnessed). I felt nauseous with the whole jerky movement of the bus but managed to hold my breakfast down (barely).

We checked our bags, found our gate, shopped at the duty free and then tried to spend every last euro we had - it was surprisingly hard! I ended up getting some biscottis and some beer nuts from a shop in the airport... lol

Because we pre-booked our seats we knew we'd be sitting in a two-some together which was excellent. Airtransat isn't known for having a lot of room but we had no problem with it at all. We received a hot meal, beef stirfry with rice (something we hadn't had in a long time) and then proceeded to watch four movies, FOUR! It was a super long flight, over nine hours and neither of us slept much at all (I think I got about 20 minutes maybe... Jeff said I didn't sleep long enough because he wanted my late night pizza snack when it came around, lol).

The plane ride was pretty uneventful, which is good for flyers. The flight director was really thorough and kept us update with all the happenings on the flight and it was all executed smoothly. For over nine hours, it was a good flight.

We found our airtransit shuttle after going through customs, which gave us a little bit of a hard time (so irritating! "How can you afford this trip if you're not working?" Oh, I don't know, we saved our money, how else do people do it!? Urgh), and found we were the only two getting driven home. The driver was super chatty and talked our ear off the whole way, which actually helped the ride go quite quickly.

We definitely had mixed emotions when we arrived home; It was nice to be in a familiar, clean, homey place, but it was sad not to be heading off on another adventure. Both of us felt the sting of the end of our trip and weren't exactly happy about it.

We showered, watched a few episodes of Big Bang Theory on DVD and then hit the hay. It was nearly 1am (7am Rome time without the daylight savings!) by the time we got to sleep. Talk about a day of timing confusion!

We slept until 7am or so this morning and then both lay awake until we decided to get up. It's now 8:50am or nearly 3pm in Rome time. Our bodies are all out of whack and yet we're both awake (Jeff's looking at the savings we got on our duty free purchases and watching sportsnet as he unpacks his stuff).

I'm going to find something to eat for breakfast... Oh, funny story - when we arrived home last night I found a sample pack of nutella in our pile of mail! I had so much nutella on our trip because it was everywhere, so this was hilarious to come home to!

Anyway - yesterday was a long, long day, and we'll probably be beat later this afternoon, but for now we're adjusting to being home and are looking forward to sharing our experiences with our families and friends.

Thanks again for following our journey and for encouraging me to post :)

All the best,

Amanda (and Jeff) :)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Last European Post (for now!)

So, our last day arrived, whether we liked it or not and we didn't have much of a plan which made for a pretty uneventful yet long day.

We headed off in the direction of Trastevere, the old part of the city (I think) as we knew there was a market from 5am to 2pm, but we didn't end up finding it once we got there (having directions or a street name would have helped and we didn't want to wander too far in the area as we didn't have a good map). The most notable difference between Trastevere and the other areas of Rome we have seen has to be the foliage - there is more green in this area. That walk took most of our morning.

Then we headed off to find a pizza place, even though knowing it would be closed on Sunday, in hopes of finding another one. Along the way we stopped at a small organic market where various items were being sold (fruits and veggies, pottery, clothes, olive oils, pastas, etc.) and a few minutes into it we nearly witnessed another brawl. Now, because everything was happening in Italian we didn't understand what was going on, but we did see a man smash his arm purposefully into a woman's pottery stall, breaking some items. There were screams and shouting back and forth; Jeff and I got out of their pronto!

We found the busy square, Campo di Fiori, where we hoped to find cheap and delicious pizza but couldn't find the place and were not interested in sitting down for lunch. We picked up some olive oil for dipping bread and some spice mixes to play with when we get home and then we left. On our way out of the area Jeff noticed a small panini shop where we picked up homemade, made-to-order sandwiches that were delightful. I also picked up a piece of homemade chocolate pie (that is awaiting its fate in the fridge right now, probably a bedtime snack, lol). We enjoyed our fresh sandwiches on a ledge of some old ruins currently inhabited by 16+ cats (at least that's how many we could see).

We went looking for the other recommended gelato place we had read about and found it after another hunt. The line was out the door and they had so many flavours we couldn't even see them all. I had cinnamon and coconut (the cinnamon was incredible) and Jeff had strawberry and banana (he said the strawberry was excellent). We thoroughly enjoyed our treat at the base of some statue in a square somewhere, lol.

We headed off to some gardens in hope to see a little greenery but found ourselves amongst hundreds of people on a busy main road first. There were more people on the road than on the sidewalk and with Jeff and my patience wavering with slow-walkers, city-gawkers, stand-right-in-the-middle-people, etc., we found it rather congested and frustrating.

We arrived to a square, Piazza di Popolo, where relay races for teens was taking place. We watched a race then continued up into the garden area. By the time we got there though our patience was waning. We were tired, sore, irritable, and just ready to go back to the hostel, so that's what we did. It took awhile but we made it and were happy to be home.

I had a shower (my next one will be at home!!) and then we had a small snack before skyping with Jeff's family.

Around 7:45pm we headed out to find pizza and decided to try somewhere different than last night. We found a place, sat down, looked at the menu, were not impressed with their pizza selection and then left (that's twice now we've done that and seeing as this would be our last dinner out, I didn't want a lousy place). We walked back to the hostel and asked the receptionist to make a recommendation and she gave us direcfions to a place around the corner, the same name, look and menu (practically) as last night! They must own both.

We got ushered into the back at a table for two at the busiest spot in the restaurant. We were between the kitchen, wine cooler, washroom and server prep area... It was loud and busy the whole time, but we just laughed it off. We shared a half litre of the house wine (which was good), some mineral water, appetizer bread and each a whole pizza. They were good and we enjoyed them but I think we still prefer our place down the street at home. Maybe we just didn't have the best stuff. Doesn't matter! We were practically ushered out, which was really unusual as we usually have to wait ages for the bill, so it must have been a busy place. We laughed at the whole situation.

Now we're back in our room with bags nearly all packed and reminicing about the last two months. There are stories and adventures that will last a lifetime and we are both sad to be heading home (although definitely looking forward to our shower [the one here provides less pressure the hotter you want it, which means it barely drizzles unless you want to cool off!] and seeing our kitty, Clyde who we have missed).

A big huge thank you and love you to Jeffrey, my traveling companion, friend, encourager, comedian and master navigator. I couldn't have done it without you and I can't wait to see where our next adventure takes us. Huge hugs and kisses.

And to our families and friends who have been nothing but encouraging and supportive through the planning, preparation and craziness that led up to our departure. We are looking forward to seeing you all soon.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day with three hours to kill after we check-out before heading to the airport by bus and then three hours before our flight and then a 9.5 hour flight... Then a shuttle home. It'll be late and we'll be exhausted by the time we get there but we're both looking forward to our bed.

I'll most likely post about our journey home and will eventually add pictures to this blog for you to enjoy (no guarantee when it will be done though!).

Until we meet again,
Thanks for reading,

Ciao,
Amanda

Saturday, October 29, 2011

When in Rome

- Go to a market; which we did this morning after taking the subway to get there (might as well get the most of our Roma Pass as it ends today!). Jeff hadn't been to an outdoor market like this one before, so it was a new experience for him and not one I think he is quite ready to repeat - there is only so much pushing and squeezing between people while saying 'no' to pushy vendors one can take at one time! We both still got stuff though and haggled down the price to boot. Nothing threatens a vendor like someone willing to walk away empty handed!

We then headed off in the direction of the colosseum to a place called Rewind Rome, a virtual reality museum tour of Ancient Rome. We got there around 1:30pm and bought tickets for the 2pm tour. We luckily found a grocery store near us where we picked up pikes (aka pringles) and some pastry pizza things to tide us over until after the tour.

We arrived five minutes early and appeared to be the only two people doing the tour, which seemed great to us! Unfortunately though, as many things in Italia go, it started late and people were squeezed in to ensure a full tour, which left Jeff and I waiting for 20+ minutes or so before we started - irritating!

Anyway, we did a quiz at the beginning about Ancient Rome and I guessed at nearly all of the answers, needless to say, I failed miserably, but Jeff passed his!

We were taken into a room where we stood on a see-through floor that had 'ancient' ruins beneath it as part of an 'archeological dig' and we listened to an audio guide talk to us about it. It was cute and pretty funny. The whole floor moved up and down and at one point we were made to believe we were under the floor of the colosseum where the gladiators would wait to fight.

We then were taken to a theater room where we watched a short 3-D animated movie about Ancient Rome; it was cute but Jeff and I would have preferred more information than bad jokes. We got to play dress up at the end, Jeff didn't want to but was happy to take pictures of me dressed as a female fan (standing beside a distraught looking Russel Crowe from the movie Gladiator - I should watch it again to appreciate what I've now seen here in Rome).

The whole thing took about half an hour and Jeff's still not sure if it was worth it, but it was different than anything we'd done before and that's good enough for me!

We headed off to find a gelato shop mentioned in our Rough Guides: Europe on a Budget book that said to have delicious flavours. We found it, stood in line, paid more than usual for less than usual and were blown away by the flavours! I tried the pear (as recommended by our book) and banana and both were amazing (Jeff has pistachio and ended up kicking himself for not getting the banana he wanted). It was fresh and juicy and absolutely full of flavour, nothing like what we have at home unless there is a secret authentic Italian gelato shop I don't know about... We know there is a gelato place but I'm not sure if it can live up to our high expectations! We'll have to see when we get home. We savoured the flavours until we finished and said we'd be sure to find the other recommended place tomorrow.

We hopped on the subway and a couple of stops later we were at the station and heading to the grocery store (again - we were out of crackers for our cheese!). We enjoyed our snack, talked to my family via skype and then spent a few hours listening to music and singing along kareoke style until we were sure we were annoying anyone who could hear us - thankfully no one was in the apartment.

At 8pm we squeezed into the restaurant next door that was very busy and had some authentic Italian cuisine. I had the canneloni with minced meat that was so delicious and Jeff had spaghetti with a meat sauce - he said mine was better (but it could have been because they covered his in parmesan cheese and he's definitely not a fan).

We're now full and getting ready to bed. It's hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day of our trip. It's been one heck of an adventure and we are both sad to see it end. The world is such a huge place and there is so much to see of it, we've only had a little taste. I know that we'll be back at it again though!

No huge plans for tomorrow... Pizza and gelato and whatever we happen to come across - we may wander over to an older part of the city (I don't even know what that means when this whole place is 2000+ years old!).

For now though, buona sera (good evening),
Ciao,

Amanda

J.K. Rowling vs. The Queen of England

Funny moment:

When leaving the colosseum the other day, a young boy, about seven years old with the most adorable English accent told his dad that J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series and worth over a billion dollars) has more money than the Queen of England and his dad says, "No, I don't think so" and the child says, "Yes she does!"

Oh too funny.