My Travels

Go local! Travel local!

Lake Ontario

 

 

COVID-19 has thrown many social pleasures out the window, from weddings, summer festivals to concerts. But the pandemic has curtailed one of life’s biggest pleasures: travel. With global travel restrictions in place and pockets of rising cases, it seems like travel is the last thing on anyone’s mind. I, myself, had several big trips derailed due to the pandemic: skiing in Banff, California and Colombia. Regrettably, I don’t think I’ll be going abroad for the rest of the year!

Being a travel enthusiast, I feel somewhat empty inside not being able to indulge in one of my greatest pleasures. You fellow ‘wanderlusters’ probably feel the same way. But just because there are worldwide travel restrictions doesn’t necessarily mean travel has to go out the window completely. Now is the perfect time to play tourist in your own backyard and go ‘local’. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last month now.

I’ve been visiting towns and villages near my home that I either have never been to or haven’t been to since I was a child. And now that I have, I’m discovering local treasures I never knew existed. For example, I recently visited a town nearly seventy miles from my house. It turned out to be along this pretty river known for paddling and rafting. It also was a quaint town to walk around, I felt as if I was experiencing a more authentic Ontario. In another example, I went to a lakeside town that has a renowned theatre, and is popular with couples. It is also in the heart of Niagara wine country with vineyards galore!

town of Niagara-on-the-Lake

 

If you set your travel radar to local, you can have similar experiences as me! Chances are your home is nearby to countless ‘treasures’. Not convinced? Try doing a Google search or use an app I love called Culture Trip. You can use it to find various travel tips and insights on practically any destination worldwide. I normally use to look up places I plan to visit on any trip abroad. Give it a try! I’m sure you’ll be able to find places within 80 miles of your home, which would make the perfect daytrip!

Overnight stays at a hotel/motel may not be plausible for obvious reasons, so it’s best to look for places you can easily visit for the day. Not only will you discover new local treasures, you will have an opportunity for a selfie or two to add to your Instagram feed! So get online, discover travel-worthy locales and keep up on traveling. The day will come when we can all get back to savoring the great wonders of the world! I know I will when that day comes!

Happy ‘local’ traveling, where ever that might be!

 

 

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Why Mexico Rocks!

 

We all know that Mexico doesn’t exactly have the best P.R. reputation at the present. Homicides, kidnappings, drug cartels, etc. And then, of course, we have the situation with Trump. It seems like Mexico is the last place anyone wants to visit. Over the Christmas holidays, I traveled through this amazing country, and I’m here to share with you why Mexico rocks and why you should consider a trip there.
Most of my countrymen – and other foreign nationals – prefer to stay at resorts on the coast, such as the Mayan Riviera, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. Prior to my trip, I had only gone to Tijuana on a day trip from San Diego. I didn’t have the best impression from, and many Mexicans that I had met over the years told me Tijuana is not exactly authentic Mexico. So over two weeks, I traveled through southern Mexico, starting in Mexico City and finishing in Playa del Carmen. I hit hotspots such as Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Campeche. It was fantastic! Even Mexico City etched a special place in my travel memories! I also felt as if I had experienced things that resort-goers rarely experience. Furthermore, I didn’t feel unsafe during my entire trip.

So, what makes Mexico so special?

1. A foodie’s paradise – tacos, tlayudas, mole, enchiladas, the freshest peppers and spices, the list goes on! Note: Mexican food here is not like those typical Tex-Mex restaurants; it’s a whole new ball game, and the food is much spicier. Still, you will not be disappointed with Mexican gastronomy. And if you are looking to up your cooking skills, this is the place to learn. When I was in Oaxaca, I came across a renowned chef, named Gerardo, and his cooking school La Cocina Oaxqueña. Not only did I learn some new skills, Gerardo was an amazing teacher and hospitable. He first takes you to a local market to buy the ingredients, and then brings you to his house to do all the cooking. Totally worth a day out of your time in Oaxaca!

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Typical tlayuda.

2. Civilizations past – you know them! The Aztecs, Olmecs, Mayans, etc. A visit to Mexico is a chance to step back and time and trace these Pre-Hispanic civilizations. When you’re in Mexico City, you will be in the old Tenochtitlan. This was what Mexico City was called prior to the Spaniards’ arrival. It was also the center of the Aztec Empire! It’s mind-blowing to know that you are in the land of some of the most interesting ancient civilizations!

3. Natural wonders – this is a piggyback to point number two. Chichen Itzá, Teotihuacan, Monte Albán, Palenque, etc. Some of these are considered to be the great wonders of the world. Another natural wonder is a cenote. Cenotes, which are scattered in the Yucatan Peninsula, are natural sinkholes in caves. They offer a natural dip in an underground lagoon, where the visitor is soon congregated by minnows and other small fish. I visited one near Merida, and it was definitely a trip highlight!

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Cenote

4. It won’t break your bank – Mexico is cheap compared to other places out there. You can easily have a plateful of tacos and a beer in a taqueria for six U.S. dollars. And Mexico is a great place to practice your bargaining skills when you visit the local markets. They are also optimal for authentic souvenirs. In short, a trip to Mexico will definitely be easy on your wallet!

5. Friendly locals – despite what you may have heard, Mexicans are really friendly, and they really want tourists to visit their country. They are fully aware of the negative narrative going around. I struck up interesting conversations with a few locals (it helped that I’m fluent in Spanish), and I found them to be helpful.

A few helpful tips to Mexican travel:
1. Brush up on your Spanish – this will make your trip more enjoyable, and it is a must if you visit Mexico City, or CDMX as it is colloquially referred to.
2. Include Mexico City – it’s not as bad as P.R. makes it look out to be. With great restaurants, and a chance to discover Aztec history, this city should not be excluded. It was my favorite place, and IMHO, no visit to the country would be complete without CDMX.

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Mexico City

3. Download Uber – taxi drivers have a negative reputation in CDMX, and Uber is a safer, more reliable way of getting around this colossal city. I used it to get to the city from the airport. Just know some basic Spanish, as most Uber drivers don’t speak English.
4. Invest in a money pouch/belt – do not carry your wallet in your back pocket for obvious reasons. It’s better to have your money and passport inconspicuously stored.
5. Buy a SIM card – don’t expect reliable WIFI here. A SIM card means you will always have reliable WIFI. They are inexpensive and the data included will last you your entire trip (just don’t stream videos).
6. Travel in an organized tour – not comfortable traveling alone? No problem. I advocate investing in an organized tour, such as G Adventures. This way, you will be traveling in numbers with someone who knows the country inside and out.

So, I hope you are now more convinced about Mexico. If you’re still not, that’s okay too. Happy traveling!

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My Favorite Places in Poland

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So this may come as a shock, but back in the summer I completed my teaching contract and subsequently decided to return to my homeland, aka the Great White North!

I regret not posting as much about my time in Poland as I would have liked, though I did touch on the city I was living in, which was Radom. IMHO, it wasn’t exactly ‘top’ of my favorites list. So now I’m going to focus on some of my favorite Polish locales I encountered during my time there. Hopefully, you will be inspired to visit these places!

Warsaw

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Ah, good old Warsaw, or Warszawa as it is called in Polish. The capital and often the starting point to any Polish travels. Since Warsaw was a two-hour bus ride from Radom, I was there A LOT! Like almost every weekend. Because of the frequency of buses between Radom and the capital, it was the perfect day trip. Now most people I met said they preferred Krakow over Warsaw (Poles included), but Warsaw held a special place in my heart. It has great restaurants, chic coffee houses and a growing craft beer scene! My favorite place happened to be the Old Town. I was dating a Polish girl, who lived in Warsaw, and we had our second date there (great romantic spot FYI).

There was always something going there all year. And if you’re a fan of green spaces, there’s this neat park in the south end of the city. I like to call it Poland’s version of Central Park but on a smaller scale. I will always remember all the times I spent in Warsaw.

Toruń

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Now your average tourist wouldn’t think to include Toruń (pronounced ‘tor-in‘) in their travel plans. And I think that’s a shame! This little medieval town, located about a two-hour train ride from Warsaw, is actually the birth place of Nicolaus Copernicus. You will hear his name a lot there. In fact, there is a statue of him near the main cathedral in the center of town. I only visited Toruń once on a weekend trip, but it was well worth the journey and money! I met some locals there in a bar and ended up dancing with them in a nightclub! When you visit some of the lesser known places in Poland, it is really easy to get noticed by the locals!

I definitely recommend stopping by Toruń if Poland is on your travel bucket list!

 

Zakopane

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Pronounced ‘zak-o-pa-nay‘. This little town, which lies in the extreme south of Poland, is dubbed the Winter Capital of Poland. Polish winter enthusiasts flock to this town during the winter months, especially during Christmas and the first week of February (kids have a break from school during this time). Because it is nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, it provides opportunities for skiing and winter hiking. Of course, Zakopane is a great place to visit all year round; summer hikers would love the opportunities here. However, many Poles will tell you that to truly experience the richness of Zakopane, you must visit it during winter. And that’s exactly what I did! One chilly, snowy weekend in February, I made the trip here. Being a winter enthusiast myself, I had to. I did a mini hike through the national park that straddles the Tatra Mountains, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable Polish experiences for me!

Another interesting thing about this town is the folklore. It isn’t long before you notice the locals wearing traditional clothing, especially the staff at restaurants and hotels. It almost felt as I was in a Polish version of Bavaria. Zakopane is also famous for its cheese-filled pastries. No trip here is complete without sampling one!

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Be forewarned: the closest airport is Krakow, so the only practical way of getting there without renting a car is bus. You can catch one from Krakow, which takes three hours. There is one from Warsaw as well, BUT add five hours to the journey. Since that bus stops in Krakow anyway, it’s better to just start from there unless you’re a fan of long bus rides.

 

Honorable mentions go to Krakow and Wrocław. The former is especially wonderful during Christmas when the main square becomes a giant Christmas market. The latter is a neat university city, offering a authentic taste of Poland. But I think I have bombarded you enough with information already.

Sadly, I didn’t make it to Gdansk or Auschwitz. I was not able to include either in any weekend trips, nor was I able to extend my time in Poland after the teaching contract. So many things to do, so little time! However, I may not be living in Poland now but it doesn’t mean I won’t ever be back.

So with this I close the chapter on my posts about Poland. The experience there was one of the best in my life and changed me forever. Will I go back to teach abroad? Perhaps. But this moment, I am happy on home soil.

If Poland is on your travel radar, be sure to include the places I have mentioned. If Poland isn’t on your bucket list, well…maybe you should consider it!

 

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