Sunday 16 December 2018

Missing the Mark in Morocco

Morocco was the main reason we decided to book this cruise. The port of Agadir was only on the itinerary once a year, so it was what sealed the deal for this cruise for us.

We had a sea day in between Lisbon and Agadir, Morocco. So we were well rested for our day in Morocco. Agadir is a beach resort destination, but the port is a commercial. It was not very welcoming as there were stacks of containers in a very industrial environment greeting us.

I really desperately wanted to love Morocco - and I tried, but things just weren't in our favour. Marrakech was about a 3 hour drive away, so a 6 hour commute in total, and with a $300 price tag, we decided to choose a different tour. We chose to tour Taroudant, also known as "Little Marrakech." Taroudant was a bit closer with a 3 hour commute. We saw something interesting on our way there. In Morocco, there's an eye-catching phenomenon of goats on trees. Morocco is famous for their argan trees, which is where Moroccon oil - or argan oil comes from, and goats are attracted to the smell and taste of the tree fruit - so much so that they will climb the tree for it! We had the luxury of driving past many trees with goats, and our tour guide allowed us to stop for pictures. We also made a stop at a restaurant for a traditional Maghrebi mint tea. I'm not sure if it's made differently at other restaurants or hotels, but this restaurant did not not rinse or wash the peppermint. Our cups of tea were filled with bugs. No one on our tour actually drank the tea. I took a small sip after taking some bugs out and it tasted delicious, but there were way too many bugs in the tea. It was too bad, I really wanted to enjoy it.

Moroccan architecture is very unique and distinct. There is a lot of geometric designs, ornate tiles and bright colours influenced by Islam.

Unfortunately, the souk wasn't anything like what we had expected. We had hoped to visit a marketplace with local food, souvenirs and handmade crafts. Instead, we were at a flea market with junk and secondhand knick-knacks. Merchants were haggling the tourists and trying to trap them in their stores. It was very chaotic.

When the tour returned us to the ship, we wanted to venture out on our own. We still had half a day and we thought Agadir had more to offer. However, the shuttle service hired by Royal Caribbean had been shut down. According to the crew, the shuttle wasn't dropping the passengers off where they were supposed to so the ship stopped the service - I guess that should have been our first sign to stay on the ship. Well, we decided to take a cab. Most of the cab drivers didn't want to take two passengers into town - this was our second sign. They didn't think the trip was worthwhile for them. They also wanted us to pay in Euros. We had Moroccan dirhams and they wouldn't take it! This was because they charged double the amount in Euros, so essentially, they were trying to rip us off. We finally found a driver who was willing to drive us into town, but he didn't speak any English. We got dropped off in the city centre, and walked around the area. I'm not exactly sure which area we were in as there were no landmarks or attractions. There were a lot of hotels with little souvenir shops, so it felt like a tourist area. By the time we reached the beach a couple of hours later, the weather had done a full 180˚. The sun and blue skies were gone, the sky was grey and cloudy. It was windy, sandy and cool. We were disappointed, and decided to head back to the ship. We had a lot of trouble tracking down a cab, even in the hotel area.

We didn't feel entirely safe in the city of Agadir when we explored on our own. There were a lot of men hollering at me even though I was with my husband. With the series of disappointing events, we felt like we weren't able to experience the real Morocco. I don't know if we'll ever be back, because it's such a far trip. But I would be open to re-visiting in the future.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Soaking up Lisbon

Lisbon is a city of both modern culture and unique heritage. It just seems like one of those cities that has sunshine all year round. There's something just so warm and inviting about the city.

We wanted to see as much as Lisbon as we possibly could in 9 hours, so we hopped on a sightseeing bus to take us around Lisbon. We literally got on the first bus operator who approached us, and that was Yellow Bus. We had a few hot spots on our list, and luckily, this bus route took us to all (but one) of them.

We got off the bus at the stop along the Tagus River, where the Belem Tower and the Padrao dos Descobrimentos are located. Both are The Belem Tower is a fortified tower built in the 16th century. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Padro dos Descobrimentos monument is located across from the Belem Tower. It was first constructed as a temporary exhibit, but was reconstructed as a permanent structure twenty years later. The monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th century. Unfortunately, you can't walk over from the Belem Tower to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos monument on the dock. You have to walk around the pier, on the sidewalk along the street. I decided to look around the souvenirs stand while the husband ran over for some pictures.

Our next stop was lunch! We sat down for lunch at the original Pasteis de Belem. They're famous for their Portuguese egg tarts, also known as pastel de natas. The bakery was packed! It's a small shop, but a big operation. The recipe has been a secret since the early 19th century, and it's a huge hit! They sell over 20, 000 tarts every day.


From the bakery, we hopped back onto the Yellow Bus. We got off in the Commerce Square (Price ado Comercio) by the Tagus River, and eventually made our way to the Lisbon Cathedral, or the Se de Lisboa, or the Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa. It was quite a steep walk on cobblestone to the church. The church is the oldest church in the city.

We were a little tired at this point, and luckily, there were a ton of tuk-tuks parked around the church. We decided to take a tuk-tuk tour in the city, and our driver drove us to the highest point of Lisbon, Our Lady of the Hill or Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. The hillside overlooks Lisbon with panoramic views. From this viewpoint, you can also see the Sao Jorge Castle.

Our tub-tuk driver took us back into the city, and dropped us off in downtown. We did some shopping, grabbed some ice cream, ogled at the pastry shops and took an uber back to the ship at sunset.

Lisbon has a lot to offer, but we didn't have enough time. We tried our best to get a taste of it, but it is a big city. We barely dipped our toe into it. With so much distance in between attractions, I definitely wouldn't recommend the sightseeing bus as the bus moves slower and makes many stops (Uber would be the way to go).

Lisbon, we'll be back one day!

Thursday 13 September 2018

A Visit in Vigo

Our first sea day was pretty rocky. Although we were supposed to avoid the Bay of Biscay, I suspect we didn't sail too far around the bay. We experienced pretty rough seas going down from Southampton to Vigo. The Bay of Biscay is known for its rough waters and intense storms. The ship was pretty empty for the day, and it was too misty to go out on the deck. Since not much was going on around the ship, so we rested up. We did manage to get dinner in the dining room at our newly assigned table. Dinner was enjoyable!

We visited the Windjammer right before the show for a snack and discovered another great thing: it was stocked with exotic fruits! We enjoyed rambutans and dragonfruit almost every day. There were also a lot of evening activities on the ship. We're always happy to see a large number of musical performances! On the first day, we watched the cast perform Abba's greatest hits. We returned to our cabin to find a towel animal waiting for us.

We visited Vigo on a Sunday. Vigo is definitely a cruise port with a large marina and a big mall waiting for you once you get off the boat. However, most of the mall was vacant. But because it was a Sunday, everything else (shops and restaurants) was also closed.

Vigo had a lot of cobblestone and Romanesque architecture. We had planned to walk to the the Castro fortress but because everything was closed, there were not a lot of people around. The path seemed like a road less travelled and very steep. We were heading into a more residential area, we decided against wandering off and stayed in the town centre. There was protest that day, which was why the town centre was so busy. Vigo also had a lot of sculptures and street art. There is a park facing the ship along the pier. A great place to sit and enjoy the sea breeze.

We grabbed lunch at a local restaurant, Taberna A Pedra. The food was so delicious but there was a language barrier and we had a little trouble ordering off the Galician menu! We ordered fresh scallops, octopus tentacles and padron peppers. Padron peppers are small, mild green peppers. Eating a plate is kinda like playing Russian roulette. Theres always a few spicy ones on the plate. Funny story, we didn't finish the peppers, so I tried to bring them back onboard. My peppers made it through security but when the crew member who scanned my SeaPass saw my container, he asked me to throw it out. I was not about to waste half a plate of green peppers, so I ended up eating a box of peppers in front of him. :)

Here we are sailing away from Vigo... We stayed up on deck for sail away. The sun was setting as we headed in for dinner.

Dinner that evening...

I didn't find dinner to be anything special that evening, especially not after our meal in Vigo! I ordered the gyoza dish (not pictured) but I'm pretty sure it came out of a freezer. The ceviche was not very authentic. Dessert was just okay. The performance that evening was Soul Satisfaction, a Motown show.

Our next port is Lisbon, Portugal, one of my favourite ports on this cruise! We had a full day in Lisbon and an amazing time. Stay tuned!

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Touchdown in London Town

It's time to take a trip down memory lane and revisit our European cruise from last year. It was hard to write about this trip because we had a family medical emergency on our way home. We ended up staying behind in Montreal for an extra week.

But our wedding festivities have come to an end and everything is back to normal now, so I thought it was a good idea to look back on our trip. The incident may come up later on, and I may or may not choose to address it then. For now, let's focus on our happy moments during our vacation.

To refresh your memory, our trip started in Southampton, England. From there, we set sail on a two week cruise across the Atlantic stopping in Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands. We then sailed back through the Bay of Biscayne returning to France, where we disembarked early for three days in the wondrous city of Paris.

We flew into London on a red-eye, and took a car to Southampton. Southampton is about an hour and a half away from London, and it was exactly as I had imagined it... Cold and dreary, much like Vancouver, to my dismay. We stayed at the Holiday Inn directly outside of the port for one night. It was a great location! From our hotel room, we could see the Navigator of the Seas.

The hotel was also about two blocks away from the West Quay Shopping Centre, so we decided to check it out. We took the long way there through Old Town as tourists. We passed by the Titanic Restaurant, a pub that paid tribute to the Titanic as Southampton was the port of its ill-fated maiden voyage. We explored the area around Bargate, which is a medieval gatehouse. Today, it serves as a historic monument for the city of Southampton.

Since it was pretty late when we arrived at West Quay, we decided to have dinner there as well. There are a strip of restaurants outside by the movie theatre, and we wanted something filling so we chose L'Osteria, the Italian restaurant. I recommend sharing a pizza. It's huge! The pasta, on the other hand, was not great. It had gotten very cold and windy by the time we finished dinner, so we rushed back to our hotel.

It was raining the next morning, so we ran to Primark to get myself some water-resistant shoes. I was worried it would rain at the ports and all I had packed were espadrilles, sandals and heels. Luckily, I was able to buy a pair of loafers for £5. Why don't we have Primark in Canada?! When we returned to the hotel, we set out to the cruise terminal. There were two entrances to the cruise terminal, unfortunately, the one closest to our hotel (which was literally a two minute walk) was closed due to a boat show. That meant we had to walk all the way around the port to the other entrance. With six pieces of luggage and unfavourable weather, it made more sense to take a cab instead. It was about £12. Once we were there, security and check-in was a breeze. Because we were Platinum cruisers, we had a large window for check-in - between 11 AM to 3 PM. We were in no hurry and ended up going at 2 PM.

Once onboard, we headed straight to our cabin to put down our carry-on luggage.

Immediately after, we headed up to the Windjammer for a late lunch. Nothing like a hot meal to start your cruise! Afterwards, we attended our muster drill before the sail away. Goodbye Southampton!

We had dinner in the dining room that evening. As it was the first day of the cruise, the menu wasn't very exciting. We did have to put in a request for our own table. Out of our many family cruises, this was the first time our party of four was seated with two other groups. I wasn't full from dinner, so we grabbed a few slices of pizza from the Promenade Cafe. The Promenade Cafe is opened 24 hours, and it serves pizza, sandwiches, sweets and other hot food. It's also the place to grab a hot cup of tea after a show. We found ourselves sneaking in a midnight snack at the cafe nightly throughout the cruise.

Age is finally catching up with me! I was still pretty jet lagged so we turned in early that evening. The next day is our first sea day. Stay tuned...

Tuesday 7 August 2018

City Girl in a Small Town

Three and a half months ago, we got married! We had a beautiful ceremony on the Oasis of the Seas, and spent a week celebrating with our closest family and friends. A month later, we hosted a local wedding reception for our friends and family. It's been a hectic couple of months, but we are settling into married life and looking forward to being travel partners for life.

I'm way behind on our travel diaries! I still have to catch up on our Navigator of the Seas cruise and Paris. It's hard to believe that trip was nine months ago. But I will definitely get to them, and get to our Oasis of the Seas wedding cruise. In the meantime, while this is fresh on my mind, I'm going to jump right into our little mini-moon trip last month. We won't be going on a real honeymoon, so this is as close as it will get!

The husband goes to the Okanagan for work twice a year in the summer. The Coquihalla highway is notorious for its steep, mountainous terrain. It's especially dangerous in the winter, which is why he visits in the summer. I've never been the Okanagan so we thought it would be a good idea for me to join him for the weekend. It was also a chance for me to explore my own province!

I flew up late after work one night to rendezvous with the husband. The flight was over an hour delayed, and it was via a small, little propeller jet. For a girl who flies often, I was nervous about this tiny little plane. It honestly felt like it didn't have enough power to take off. Thank God it was a short plane ride. We were only in the air for about 40 minutes.

Kelowna definitely had a small-town charm vibe. It was very quiet, and the air was still. It's hard to describe, but in the city, you always feel rushed like there's always a sense of urgency. There is always honking and people talking in the background. It's different in small towns.

We had lunch at Old Vines Restaurant at Quails' Gate Estate Winery. I visited my first vineyard, and boy, do I love being in the vineyard. I just wanted to run up and down the rows for days (actually, I am majorly out of shape so I didn't.) It's an awestruck feeling though, and the views are beyond gorgeous.

I'm not big on wine, unfortunately, I haven't quite acquired the taste of wine yet. I know, I was in wine country and everything is dry! I will have the odd Riesling, but I am totally guilty for being a Moscato fan.

For lunch, we had oysters to start. I had the cod (pictured), he had the steak (not pictured).

After lunch, we drove to La Frenz in Penticton to pick up a few bottles of wine. Penticton is about fifty minutes away from Kelowna. While we were there, we stopped by Tickleberry's, a local favourite ice cream shop. Here, two scoops was the minimum!

The next day, we drove Oliver, which is about an hour and twenty minutes south of Kelowna. We stopped at Terrafina at Hester Creek Estate Winery for lunch. I had a squid-pea sprout salad, and the husband had pasta. Both dishes were very unique and delicious!

Oliver was where we started to see cherry trees everywhere. Being in the produce industry, I knew that cherry season had just started. I had never seen a cherry orchard before, so I was pretty excited to see them. Unfortunately, U-Pick doesn't start until July, so we missed out on cherry picking.

We also made a pitstop at LaStella, the only winery in the Okanagan that makes a Moscato! LaStella is a smaller winery, but it was the end of the day, so we were able to sample a couple of wines while we were there. Wine tastings at LaStella are to be pre-booked, so the sommelier was very nice to let us sample a few.

From there, we continued our drive to Osoyoos, another twenty minutes west. Osoyoos is a border town to the US. It is also the most southern town in the valley, so it was pretty hot and humid. We stayed at Spirit Ridge at NK'IP Resort. It is a unique area with lush vineyards for miles. While the resort overlooked Lake Osoyoos, behind it was the Cascade Mountains. It was also a desert, home to rattlesnakes and gophersnakes, both of which are "at-risk" species in BC. The resort is on the Osoyoos Indian Band's reserve. There was a cultural centre in the resort, but we didn't have time to visit.

It was raining and the weather was cool when we checked in, so that meant we had to skip the pool.

We visited the NK'MIP Cellars and had our first wine tasting. I didn't try anything I liked, but the husband really enjoyed their Merlot, and ended up buying a bottle for himself, and a few bottles of Meritage for our family. Afterwards, we walked around the vineyards and the desert trail to take in the surroundings and the gorgeous view.

We took advantage of our full kitchen, and cooked dinner. We had cedar plank salmon, sweet corn and grilled mushrooms. We watched the sun set and enjoyed a glass of Moscato on our balcony.

Isn't that a cool sunset picture on the right? I read about this trick online - using your iPhone as a mirror to photograph a "live" reflection with your SLR. I really liked how it turned out!

The next day, we checked out and had lunch in the resort restaurant, Mica. It was Father's Day, but it was a very quiet day. Maybe it's just like this all the time in the Okanagan?

Before we set off on our way home, we had three more wineries to stop at. We stopped at Platinum Bench Estate Winery. Funnily enough, Platinum Bench is known for their artisan bread. We had pre-ordered three loaves. It was so good. Next stop was Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, a very well-known BC winery. Burrowing Owl had an observation deck for viewing. The climb up the tower was well worth it - the view was breathtaking.

Lastly, we mad a quick pit stop at LaStella to pick up a couple more bottles of wine! It was much busier than it was the day before. But we were in and out in no time.
On our way out of the Okanagan, we stopped at many fruit stands, buying cherries for our families. We took Highway-1 home. It was a four hour drive, a shorter route than the Coquihalla.

Even thought I am from this province, BC is uncharted territory for me, and I love being able to explore it like my own backyard. We had a wonderful time in the Okanagan and I would love to go back for a longer visit next time! And whether you like wine or not, I highly recommend a visit to the Okanagan!