Motivational Mondays

My quote for this week is, “we don’t travel to see different things, we travel to see things differently.”

Similar to the previous quote, I couldn’t find the original author. I connect to this quote deeply because traveling is so much more than just going to a new country and being tourist. It’s about immersing yourself in different cultures and getting out of your comfort zone. Most importantly, travel to me is about growing as a person through the experience.

Flashback Friday – Paris

Wow I can’t believe it’s Friday already. Somehow the weeks are flying or is it just me? This week’s Flashback Friday is being dedicated to the city of love, good ‘ole Paris. 

If I had to trace back my love for travel it leads me to a trip to Paris when I was 16. My mom had a business trip and my grandma and I tagged along. This was my first real trip if you exclude a couple of trips to Disney, the Jersey shore, or a cruise (which I do). It was my first time being in a new country, new culture, new language, etc. Not to mention it was freaken Paris! It’s pretty much one of the most glamourized cities in popular culture. I couldn’t wait to go. Our trip was in the fall so it was rather gray, cold, and gloomy the entire time. This trip was over a decade ago so traveling back then looked a lot different than it does today. We didn’t have smart phones and unlimited data to look up directions, translations, or recommendations. I do recall it being a little tricky to find places to eat (which sounds absolutely ridiculous nowadays). At the end of the trip I had decided I loved traveling and being in a foreign country, but I hated Paris. This was a harsh and disappointing revelation for a dramatic 16 year old. I was supposed to love the city of love!! I decide that the weather played a large role in this and that I would have to come back in spring or summer to see Paris in all it’s glory. 

I would get that chance to give Paris another shot a little over 5 years ago. My best friend was living in Paris and I surprised her with a visit with two of my other friends from college. The trip overall was super fun because who wouldn’t love traveling around with three of your best friends?! And admittedly, I did like Paris significantly more than the first time around, but I wasn’t sold on it. Truth be told it reminds me a lot of NYC, but with more impressive architecture and you get cat called in French instead of English. 

I would say to this day Paris isn’t my favorite city and it’s totally overrated. That being said, it is an easy city to get acquainted with traveling and a good starting point for first time travelers. Walking around a random street and looking up and seeing the Eiffel Tower is pretty awe-inspiring. I’ll be honest though because as much and I didn’t love Paris on either trip, I still do get an urge to go back randomly especially when craving a croissant. It’s so strange – I guess there is something that always draws you back in. Paris is the only part of France I’ve been in and when I get back I plan on exploring further and going to Southern France. 

There are so many resources on Paris, and the perfect “How To Paris Guide” doesn’t exist because it all depends on your ideal vacation. I will highlight my personal favorites below:

Champs-Élysées

The iconic Champs-Élysées is every girl’s dream come true. If you aren’t interested in shopping you can window-shop or people watch over a coffee. If you do want to snag some French or European goods the currency conversion and tax back offers make them less expensive than in the States. On my second trip we stayed in a hotel near Champs-Élysées and it was the best location. 

Sainte-Chapelle

Sightseeing and hitting up all the well known, iconic sites is a must. However, in the midst of your planning you may overlook going to Sainte-Chapelle, which would be tragic. This is one of the most beautiful chapels in the world. Constructed in the 13th century the chapel contains largest and oldest collection of original stained glass windows. It’s truly a gem on the Seine. 

Seine River Cruise

Speaking of the Seine, taking a boat tour on the river is a great way to see the city’s iconic sites from a different point of view. I would choose a boat tour over a walking tour any day in Paris. If boats aren’t your thing at least take a stroll down the Seine, just don’t pull a Madeline

Picnic at Sacré-Coeur

Seeing the inside of the Basilica is magnificent and most likely on your bucket list, however, take some time before or after to sit on the green lawn. It’s a popular picnic spot so grab a baguette, cheese, and some macaroons from a nearby shop and bon appetit. 

Louvre

I’m a sucker for museums so the Louvre is obviously on my list. I don’t know how it couldn’t be as the world’s largest art museum. The outside itself is a wonder! The most well known (and crowded) piece of work on display is the Mona Lisa. My personal recommendation would be to explore further than just seeing her, but that’s just me. I could spend days here and it wouldn’t be enough. Having lunch in the neighboring gardens is also very quaint in the warm weather. 

Eiffel Tower 

I cannot not include the Eiffel Tower on this list. Possibly, the most recognized monument in the world and you’ll see it everywhere you look during your trip. At the same time it’s the most touristy, but most necessary thing you can do on your trip. Going all the way up gives you an amazing view of the entire city. After, exploring inside the tower spend some time in the surrounding areas. Across the street there a beautiful carousel and other unobstructed views for great pictures. Similar, to the picnic at Sacré-Coeur, spend some time lounging around and drinking amazing French wine in the grass around the Tower. For a bit of a bougier experience you can opt to have lunch or dinner within the tower, prior reservations needed. Make sure that at least one night on your trip you see the Tower at night for the light shows.

Palace of Versailles

Technically outside of Paris, but accessible by public transportation, Versailles is a perfect day trip. There’s so much to see, but I would definitely recommend adding on the Marie-Antoinette tour to your ticket. An entire day spent here is not in vain as you are transported back in time on this beautiful estate. There are various day trips available as well as what’s offered on property. I would like to take a bike tour around Versailles if I get back one day. 

Cooking Class 

French food is tres magnifique and usually a big reason many people come to France. Naturally, a cooking class is the perfect way to get some hands on experience. I took a three hour macaroon class and to this day it is still one of my favorite travel experiences ever. I love love LOVED it and hands down recommend the class to everyone! The school also offers other classes, which I would have taken if I had more time and plan on doing so if I get back. Of course there’s other (and many) cooking schools in Paris, but I just had such a great experience I still remember that early morning day so clearly and fondly. 

Honestly, looking back on my trips in Paris I am once again itching to go back. My head is saying no, but my heart is saying s’il vous plait. Paris doesn’t make my top favorite cities list, but it is iconic.

Taveuni Island – Fiji

Taveuni is known as the Garden Island of Fiji. It’s the third largest island full of rich volcanic soil and covered in thick, dense rainforest. 

The island can be reached by ferry or plane. Taking the ferry from Suva takes an average of 16 hours overnight, but it is a fraction of the cost of the flying. Most locals will take the ferry. Flights to Taveuni fly from Suva and Nadi multiple times a day. From Suva the flight takes about 20 minutes. Be warned it is a small, sixteen-seater plane. 

Taveuni is known as the Garden Island for the lush greenery and abundance of beauty. Bouma National Heritage Park takes up more than a third of the island. Hiking throughout the park is very popular. There are many birds and animals exclusive to the island that can be found here making it a nature lovers dream. During October to December, you can hike further up to Des Vouex in search of Fiji’s unofficial national flower, the Tagimoucia. The beautiful flower is found on Fiji’s $50 notes and has a love story/legend around it. Many Fijians see coming to Taveuni to find the flower as a right of passage or bucket list item.

Bouma  Falls are also found in Bouma National Heritage Park, and they are deemed the most iconic waterfalls in Fiji. The first waterfall is a short walk from the park’s visitor centre, followed by two other falls a longer trek away. Seeing the falls is worth the effort and after basking in their beauty you can cool down in natural swimming pools. 

Hiking Lavena Coast is a winding track which leads off the end of Lavena village to breathtaking beaches, across rock-strewn rivers, and into the jungle. The trek ends with a dip at the bottom of waterfalls. 

Many people come to the beautiful island of Taveuni not for the jungle, but for the water and the diving. The Rainbow Reef and Somosomo Strait are found off the island’s coast and filled with countless dive sites which are easily accessible. The Great White Wall is one of the top diving sites in the world. The water and weather conditions have to be perfect to dive the Wall, which limits the amount of days you can reach the site monthly. If you’re planning on diving in Taveuni reach out to local dive sites beforehand to see when the best diving is expected to be and plan to give yourself some extra days in case of weather delays.

Beyond exploring the island and surrounding waters there’s also several boat day trips to smaller more remote islands. These tours will be offered at your accommodation and will usually run with a minimum amount of people signed up.

Taveuni is absolutely gorgeous and a highlight of my Fiji trip. It’s not easy to get to, but I think the voyage out here is totally worth it. You could easily spend a week or more if you’re planning on diving. It’s truly paradise. I was here in March and the weather was perfect. The mosquitos were not as prevalent as they were on the mainland. April and May leads into cyclone season and heavy rainfall. If I get back to Fiji I would love to come to Taveuni between October and December and try to find the Tagimoucia flower.

Hotel Review – Suva

My next stop after Beachouse was Fiji’s capital, Suva. I caught a shuttle service all the way there which dropped me off right in front of my hotel. I was staying at Novotel Suva Lami Bay. I’ve stayed at a Novotel before and was familiar with the company/brand. The price was reasonable and it looked really nice online. The lobby area was gorgeous and all of the staff was extremely accommodating and nice. The rooms were a little run down, but comfortable enough to sleep and relax. My room also had a private balcony.

There was a small gym onsite and a pool overlooking a lake. The anticipation of COVID-19 was spreading and it wasn’t advised to actually use the pool. When I was there it seemed as if there were only a few other guests and I’m not sure if that was typical or because of COVID (note at that point there hadn’t been any reported cases in the country, but many travelers had begun to head home).

The restaurant at the hotel overlooked the water and the food was surprisingly really good.

I spent most of my time in Suva at the hotel, but did venture out one day. I wasn’t very impressed with Suva and I personally think it should be skipped during your Fiji vacation. If you are planning on traveling onward to an island off the east coast you can usually time your arrival to Suva and going onward the same day. That’s what I would recommend and only stopping in Suva if absolutely necessary. Another note, the country is fairly religious and many stores are closed on Sundays.

Flashback Friday – Poland Edition

This week I was meant to be in Poland with my family for a wedding. However, due to the Pandemic the wedding has been pushed back a couple of months, but I’m not sure Americans will be eligible to travel to Europe for the new date. I suppose only time will tell.

A fun fact about me is that I was actually born in Poland. Although, I don’t remember much of living there my mom and I have traveled back a few times throughout the years. The most recent trip being the summer of 2018.

I believe Poland is a wonderful country to visit, especially during summer, because it’s completely underrated and therefore not as touristy as other European countries. In major cities/destinations English and other languages are becoming more widely available, but fair warning you may come across some language barriers in smaller towns.

Krakow

Krakow is my favorite city in Poland. Sitting in the main square of Old Town you’re transported back a few decades and it’s easy to spend hours at an outdoor cafe people watching. The city is classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site. While visiting Krakow you will want to stay as close to Old Town as you can and from there you’ll be able to walk or take the tram all around the city.

Exploring Wawel Castle is a must while you’re in Krakow. There has been extensive restoration to the castle and to this day it feels as if kings were recently roaming the yards. Entrance to the property is free, but going into any of the exhibits tickets are required.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

It’s heavy, it won’t be a fun day, emotions will run high, but it’s so important to remember and educate ourselves about the horrors of WWII. I truly recommend everyone to make it to Auschwitz one day. The site is such a significant part of our world’s history and the countless lives lost should be forever remembered. I honestly will try to make a trip out here every time I visit Poland. I would recommend taking a guided tour and then spending the rest of your day walking throughout. There are many day tours and transportation options that go out of Krakow. Most tours will pair with the next destination, however, I would advise to do two separate tours on different days. Fully take the day and really spend time at Auschwitz. Fair warning you’ll be emotionally drained after.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka is a very unique experience – I haven’t been to anything quite like it. Wieliczka was an operational salt mine for more than 700 years. The costs of mining salt grew too expensive, and the area now serves more as a museum/exhibit with tours throughout the day. You take stairs deep underground and are guided through various tunnels. One of the most impressive rooms is a beautiful chapel featuring sculptures, chandeliers, and more all made out of salt! It’s located only 14 km from Krakow and it’s an easy day trip. However, there is a hotel on the property as well as a spa. The microclimate is said to have health benefits.

If you feel comfortable driving my suggested route for a couple of days would be to drive from Krakow to Auschwitz and then to Wieliczka on the way back. Stay the night at the Grand Sol hotel and take the salt mine tours the next morning before driving back to Krakow.

Gdansk/Gdynia/Sopot

Northern Poland touches the Baltic Sea making this area significantly different from the rest of Poland. Trying fresh fish around this area is a must. Gdansk’s history is deeply rooted in the wars and due to air raids from WWII the city essentially had to be totally rebuilt. Post-war the city had Dutch and French influence and it reminds me a lot of Copenhagen. Gdynia and Sopot join Gdansk to form the Tri-City which line the Baltic Coast and can all be done in a day via train or car/Uber. Sopot is known as a ritzy resort town with many health spas and a beach. Gdynia is known for their museums and again a very easy day trip from Gdansk or stop before reaching Sopot.

Malbork Castle is one of the largest castles in the world. It’s just a short train ride away from Gdansk and a favorite day trip location from the city. The castle dates back to the 13th century and has a fascinating, deep history. Buying tickets in advance and getting there early are the best ways to visit.

Warsaw

If you’re flying internationally it is very likely your flight will land in Warsaw, Poland’s capital city. The city was also completely rebuilt after the war and a must to explore and wander. Far less crowed than most capital cities, it’s very enjoyable to stroll around. Similar to Krakow, Warsaw also has a bustling Old Town, which is really nice for exploiting during the day or a nice dinner. We stayed at an apartment overlooking Old Town and although it was a little tricky to find at first it was a wonderful spot. There are a few museums and monuments to check out while exploring the city. The Warsaw Uprising Monument was one of my favorites.

Wilanow Palace

Wilanów Palace took my breath away. The property is absolutely gorgeous and each room in the Palace is remarkable. Dating back to 1677 and actually surviving both wars is unfathomable. During the summer months, live music and concert series take place in the surrounding park. I think visiting the Palace is a must do while in Warsaw.

Bialowieza Forest

Admittedly, I have yet to visit the Bialowieza Forest and this was a major stop on this trip’s literary. The forest straddles the Belarusian border, but on Poland’s side is the Białowieża National Park. Throughout the park you may stubble upon the European bison, the largest land mammal on the continent. The space was once a private hunting ground for kings and tsars, but now it can only be admired by nature lovers. It’s located over 200km from Warsaw, but staying around the park is recommended.

I think Poland is underrated as a destination, but there are so many wonderful spots and things to see here. It’s a country rich in history and that alone draws me to visit. I would personally suggest coming to Poland during summer as winters can be brutal.

Beachouse/Coral Coast – Fiji

Most travelers start and end their Fiji trips in Nadi/Yasawas, but because I had the time I decided to extend my trip and venture out beyond the typical tourist stops. Someone I met whist island hoping had said her next stop was Beachouse in the Coral Coast. She was going because her cousin had gone and loved it when she was in Fiji. Word of mouth recommendations from fellow travelers is my favorite way to travel. I looked up the property and it looked nice so I decided to go there after my lux few night stay in Nadi

It was hard to leave the Radisson, but after one night extension I decided to force myself out. The only way to the Coral Coast is by driving or bus. So from my hotel I took the bus to the main bus terminal for $1 FJ (CRAZY) and then hopped on the big bus, which was $10 FJ. It’s about a two-hour drive to where I was getting off, but the bus continues on to Suva. 

Beachouse is set on a beautiful, lush green property and it was like walking into a private retreat. The main area looks over the ocean, pool, and there are lots of lounging options. Rooms are a little bit of a walk inland and away from the ocean, but it’s no more than two minutes to all the action. I booked three nights here before I would head onward to Suva. 

There were plenty of activities on offer including yoga, kayaking, hike to a waterfall, snorkeling, massages, day trips to nearby islands, and more. Scuba diving was also available here. There were plenty of options or you could just lounge and swim – that was what I mostly did. Something to note the high and low tides here were insane; I’ve never seen the water recede so far back. If your first impression made during low tide you probably wouldn’t be impressed, but the landscape does a full 180 when the tide comes back in.  

A simple breakfast was included (fruit, toast, muesli, and coffee/tea), but you could buy a hot breakfast. Then for lunch and dinner there were separate menus that changed daily. For travel pricing, I found everything reasonable, but it may have been on the higher end for Fiji pricing. There was also an afternoon tea at 3pm included. In addition to the drinks there was also something to nibble on as well (pancakes and warm rolls were on offer two of the days). All the food I had was pretty tasty.

One of the highlights to me was the little shop up the road; it was maybe a minute walk from the rooms. They had all local artisan goods (clothes, jewelry, swim wear, etc.), but it also served as a coffee shop. They also had some sweets and I’ll admit I had cheesecake there more than I should have, but it was soooo good! I liked coming here in the afternoons and reading on the porch or chatting with the workers who were all super sweet. 

It rained every day during my stay, but it was usually at night and didn’t interfere with the day’s activities. It did however bring out a lot of bugs, which were relentless. That was probably the biggest downfall of my stay. I was being bitten up like crazy and no repellent was working. I didn’t have this much of an issue anywhere else in Fiji. Another “con” was that you’re kind of sucked in to this place. You feel like you don’t really need to leave because it’s so chill. Obviously, this isn’t a con for the property, but if you want to see more of Fiji you need to move on from here. I probably would have stayed longer if it wasn’t for being bitten like crazy. 

Motivational Mondays

I’m dedicating every Monday to an inspirational/travel related quote. Starting the week with a quote in mind can set the mood for the remainder of the week.

I stumbled upon this quote in a very glamorous fashion in a bathroom stall in Tasmania back in 2014.

With every trip you’ll meet new people, see new places, and learn something new about a country. And in between these things you’ll find yourself, explore your character, and shape your personality. 

Anonymous

If you have any favorite quotes please share them with me.

The original picture I took of the quote.

Book Review 18: Worth Fighting For

The book exchange at the Novotel in Suva provided me with Worth Fighting For by Mary-Anne O’Connor. This book takes place during World War II, but rather than touching upon Europe it focuses on the war in the pacific (Pearl Harbor, Australia, etc.). I really liked O’Connor’s writing. The story was well told and the characters developed in a way that you really felt they were real. 

To me it was fascinating reading a story from this wartime period from this perspective/location. I had no idea the extent of the war in Australia because we’re only taught extensively about the war’s impact in Europe. In the Author’s Acknowledgements at the end O’Connor tells us that although the story and characters are fictional many things in the plot really did happen or were drawn from historical facts. This made me like the story even more.  

I recommend this novel if especially if you like historical fiction books – the story was lovely. 

Goodreads’ Synopsis

From Darwin to Pearl Harbour, Sydney to Papua New Guinea, a compelling story of courage, honour and a great love set against the epic backdrop of the Second World War

Eighteen-year-old Junie Wallace is a smart girl and, with her two brothers away at war and her third brother just killed in action, she knows there is only one way to save the family farm for her grieving parents. Unfortunately, that solution involves marrying the unscrupulous Ernest, and breaking the heart of the young drover she loves, Michael. 

But the war is looming ever closer, and when Pearl Harbour brings the threat of Japanese aggression to Australian shores, the fates of many becomes inextricably interwoven.

From the explosive battles of the Pacific campaign to the desperate fighting in the Papuan New Guinea rainforest; the dancehall gaiety of Sydney’s Trocadero to the terror of the Darwin bombings, this epic family saga brings home the importance of mateship and of fighting for what you believe in, even when impossible odds seem stacked against you, even when all seems lost…

Worth Fighting For is a resounding testament to the enduring force of love: a reminder of what can be achieved if you draw on your reserves of courage and listen to the truth in your heart.”

Book Review 17: Toys

The bookshelf at Beachouse had moths fly out…literally. When you moved a book you also moved the moths and the book selection was equally sparse. My only option was Toys by James Patterson and Neil McMahon. I never thought I would find myself reading a James Patterson novel, but here I was. Even more surprising though I really enjoyed it. It was an easy, swift read with an interesting story. The novel fast-forwards to the future in 2046. There’s flying cars, clones, and lots of other toys. There’s action in a James Bond type of hero. The book was a page turner in a slightly predictable yet addictive way. 

I would categorize this as a good, but not a must read to run out to pick up. I enjoyed the read , but wouldn’t have bought at a bookstore. If you stumble upon it give it a go. Since I enjoyed this one I would definitely read another James Patterson book if i come across it.

Goodreads’ Review

“Hays Baker and his wife Lizbeth possess super-human strength, extraordinary intelligence, stunning looks, a sex life to die for, and two beautiful children. Of course, they do–they’re Elites, endowed at birth with the very best that the world can offer. The only problem in their perfect world: humans and their toys!

The one with the most toys–dies

The top operative for the Agency of Change, Hays has just won the fiercest battle of his career. He has been praised by the President, and is a national hero. But before he can savor his triumph, he receives an unbelievable shock that overturns everything he thought was true. Suddenly Hays is on the other side of the gun, forced to leave his perfect family and fight for his life.

Now a hunted fugitive, Hays is thrown into a life he never dreamed possible–fighting to save humans everywhere from extinction. He enlists all of his training to uncover the truth that will save millions of lives–maybe even his own.”

Book Review 16: The Brighton Mermaid

I picked The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson up at the Radisson in Fiji along with Big Little Lies, but don’t worry I left two in their place. I was drawn to this book for a couple of reasons. Firstly, mermaid is in the title so that grabbed my attention immediately. Second, one of the main events occurred my birth year, 1993. Thirdly, it’s based in Brighton and I’ve had a keen interest in reading books taking place in the UK recently. Lastly, the main character was a woman of color and lets be honest most books’ main character is a white woman with blue/green eyes (hair colors range, but there’s always a unique eye color unless we aren’t meant to particularly like them then they have dark eyes) – this is of course just my opinion and I haven’t put much thought into it. 

This book would also be classified as a mystery and bit of a thriller and I really enjoyed it. Did a really good job with the twists and turns and I really didn’t have much pegged once the story was unraveled. I loved that I didn’t have everything figured out so of course I’m not giving any spoilers. 

Goodreads’ Synopsis

**WINNER OF THE PRECIOUS LIFESTYLE MUST READ OF THE YEAR AWARD 2018**

Brighton Beach, 1993

Teenagers Nell and Jude find the body of a young woman and when no one comes to claim her, she becomes known as the Brighton Mermaid. Nell is still struggling to move on when, three weeks later, Jude disappears.

Twenty-five years on, Nell is forced to quit her job to find out who the Brighton Mermaid really was – and what happened to her best friend that summer.

But as Nell edges closer to the truth, dangerous things start to happen. Someone seems to be watching her every move, and soon she starts to wonder who in her life she can actually trust…”