Oahu Itinerary: Road Trip to the North Shore

Let’s take a road trip for the day. These recommendations are based on driving from Waikiki Beach across the island of Oahu to the North Shore. The times are up to you but Go Hawaii recommends traveling on a weekday when it’s not so busy. The earlier you head over, the more time you have for shopping, eating, and fun under the Hawaiian sun.

TIP:  Download the Shaka Guide App for their Legendary North Shore Loop (8-10 hours)

If you want to make the most of this Shaka Guide tour — start early. Whether you dip in and out of the app for tips or use it as an actual tour guide in your car, it’s a valuable resource to own. I opted for the latter. It didn’t always work with my rental car’s radio due to technical problems. But, if it had worked, it would have been so worth it to have heard more about the stops while on the drive.

I did advance the locations on the North Shore Legendary Loop. After learning about Leonard’s malasadas, I knew that would be a good place to stop. This app can be overwhelming, so read ahead of time and plan out what you want to see, and do the things that are important to you. It has many suggestions of places to go, and if you are particular like me, you won’t get to see them all. The tour guides are downloadable. So they’re on your phone for a future trip. Mahalo!  

If you’re looking for advice on how to treat Hawaii’s culture respectfully, please review the Maʻemaʻe Toolkit that the Hawaii Tourism Authority created regarding proper terminology as well. Another initiative is Big Island’s Pono Pledge. The Shaka Guide’s app requests you accept this before you can use it, to encourage tourists to treat Oahu with reverence.

My North Shore Road Trip

This Oahu itinerary focuses on what to do if you have a day to spend touring the island, starting from the south and making your way over to the North Shore. It takes about an hour to traverse the 40 miles to Banzai Pipeline from Waikiki Beach. Come take a drive with me, and experience some of Hawaii’s finest establishments on the way. 

Activities

The scenic views on the road trip to the North Shore are within itself a reason why there are guides and apps made to assist tourists while they drive it. It’s safe and practical during these times when social distancing has become sort of the new norm. I felt at ease in my car as I listened to local stations glancing out my window at the rows and rows of fresh produce grown under the blue skies. I took a wrong turn before my intended first stop and accidentally found a Leonard’s Bakery Mobile off of H-1 near the Pearlridge Center (you are welcome). It was my lucky day. I stopped and said, “I could be upset that I took the wrong turn, but there’s NO LINE at this truck.” 

Leonard’s Bakery is an Oahu institution specializing in Portuguese fried donuts, malasadas. The line at the original shop in Waikiki wrapped around the building, and I was planning to go the next day to wait it out. The Shaka Guide said the line moves quickly, so I was confident. That being said, I happily accepted the no-line mobile option. Thank you, for the gift and the heavenly warm sugary pocket of goodness whoever sent it to me from the universe. As soon as the hot malasada touched my lips — I knew I had met my match. It was probably the best thing I’d eaten in a while because yes, it was hot indeed. Baked to order. It’s fresh and let’s not talk about how the woman wouldn’t let me order just one. I had to order three to purchase on a card. And, I gladly did. 

Dole Plantation

When I got back on the H-1 to head to the H-2, I stopped off at the Dole Plantation, and let’s say if you are there during peak season, get ready to hunt for parking. Pick a lane and wait for the person who is leaving and follow them. Get it. 

Dole Plantation is a fun experience and one that should be seen. It has the largest pineapple maze in the world. A train navigates you through the grounds — they are that big. Also, the refreshments are fresh and delicious. You will want to try a Dole Whip with fresh pineapple. 

TIP: Browse the gift shop. There are so many interesting items. Even if you don’t buy something, there’s an artisan making native crafts and interesting cultural things to see. It’s a fun educational experience! 

North Shore Soap Factory

What is it? Why is it there? The sugar mill dates back, way back. It’s almost a century old. The old sugar mill has been refurbished into the North Shore Soap Shop Factory. It has local charm, organic products, and friendly people. They provide tours of their facility and give details about their product. In addition, they have historical artifacts in their store to view, so it feels like you’re visiting a museum.

Waimea Valley 

Waimea Valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It’s also a culturally significant location. Locals call it The Valley of the Priests because of its religious importance. Look out for pohaku (stones) paying homage to Kuúla, the fishing god. The waterfall at Waimea Valley is a must-see. This green and pleasant landscape is full of native flora, and is educational and extremely low-key. 

Beaches

The North Shore is renowned for its waves, and you will enjoy the best surfing conditions in the winter. The winter season is from November through May. It’s important to have fun but also remember to be safe.

If you are lucky enough to be in Hawaii when the surf is up, it is truly a sight to behold. Remember to check the weather to confirm what’s what. There is no shortage of sights that will provide you with a good forecast for waves.

Here are three beaches to check out to see some big wave action: 

Banzai Pipeline or Ehukai Beach

Banzai Pipeline gets its name from the surfers who ride the barreling waves that curl like a pipe. Every year, prestigious events take place here. However, you can see surfers testing their skills against the pipe all throughout the winter when the waves are up. People come from all over the world to see these surfers in action. The pipe is smokin’ with surfers looking to win the competitions. It takes incredible skill to surf these waves and it is truly a sight to behold.

TIP: The surfer’s name Banzai Pipeline is not on the map and won’t be easy to find because there aren’t any signs that mark it. Look for Ehukai Beach instead, and remember unless you’re a highly-skilled surfer, this area is a no-swim zone. It’s a great place to savor a surfer’s paradise. Bear in mind that parking is limited even during the summer months. Park on the street and respect the property. It’s best to check the weather forecast before your road trip.

Sunset Beach

As the name suggests, Sunset Beach is not only a great place for surfers to catch a wave, but it offers a scenic end to a day too. Originally called Paumalü, which means “taken by surprise” in Hawaiian, legend has it that it’s named after a woman attacked by a shark as a punishment for disrespecting the reef. It’s a two-mile stretch of khaki-colored sand. 

Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay is a white sand beach that looks beautiful from far away. But, during the winter months, the shore break can be fierce. Be sure to check the signage and stay safe. A good place to get a view of Waimea Bay is Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau, a state landmark. Thrill-seekers are advised to take a 20-foot cliff dive from the rocks. Only do so if you see other people jumping in.

TIP: There’s additional parking across the street at Waimea Valley.

For more safety tips and advice, drop by HIOceanSafety.com. Some wildlife in Hawaii is endangered. Be sure to know the state laws. There are viewing guidelines, and it’s our responsibility to ensure the environment is respected. 

Haleiwa Town

This is a stop you can make at the beginning or end of the road trip to the North Shore. I chose to have dinner and explore Haleiwa Town before heading back to Waikiki Beach. Haleiwa Joe’s does not take reservations and is not open for lunch. They open at 4:30 pm, and the line outside starts at 4:00 pm during high season. The Mahi (dolphinfish) was so fresh it fell off the fork, and the service was timely. It’s worth the buzz. I’d try to go on a weekday to eliminate even more of a wait if possible. 

Alternative Options 

If the wait is too long or you want to eat lunch during your road trip to the North Shore, Kua’aina is another option that won’t disappoint. Want a burger in Hawaii? Open since 1975, it’s the oldest running food establishment in Haleiwa. 

A third option if you want to have a picnic at the beach is to pick up some local favorites. By the way, spending the afternoon at the beach relaxing is a pretty good way to do it. So here are three options for your plan. 

  • Huli Huli Chicken — Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Chicken serves it, and so do others around town. 
  • Poke — you can get this diced raw fish dish at the local supermarkets — amazing! 
  • Fresh fruit (hi vegans!) — Kuilima Farm Stand across from Kawela Bay sells the likes of coconut and star fruit. 
  • Last but certainly not least is shaved ice, and the local legend is Matsumoto’s. Somehow, the ice cream they put on the bottom (yes, this is how you must get it) makes for some magical combination of ice and ice cream that is worth the inevitable line you will have to deal with.

The road trip to the North Shore was eventful and certainly one I’d like to repeat. I didn’t do half of the things I’d like to, and each stop took me longer than the average person. Why? I take too many photos. If you’re a slow road-tripper like me, then plan to break up your drive and take multiple trips. The shopping and sightseeing could be one day, and the beaches could be another. I will have everlasting memories of driving up to and back from the North Shore; the first glance of the ocean as you pass the pineapple fields is a happy place. The mountains, the ocean, it is all part of the journey.

leesa-truesdell

by Leesa Truesdell

11 Amazing Things to Do in Iceland

Up until around 20 years ago, Iceland was off the map for most globe trekkers. By 2019, the second-largest European island has become one of the top-rated bucket list travel destinations for millions of people. With so many things to do in Iceland and a beautiful Icelandic backdrop, it’s hard to know where to begin! Iceland has a fascinating landscape that is unlike anything else in the world. From lush greenery to majestic waterfalls, from volcanoes to geysers, from natural hot springs to glaciers, Iceland is an outdoor lover’s paradise.  Modern houses with grass roofs, sheep darting around the fields, crisp air, plentiful organic food, and clear glacier water from the tap all contribute to making you feel like you are on another planet. 

Due to its low population, most of Iceland appears almost deserted. Before the pandemic, annual visitors outnumbered its inhabitants by three times to one. With a 75% decrease in the number of visitors due to the pandemic, I decided to take my dream trip to Iceland without the crowds. The outdoorsy nature of my planned activities and the need to rent a car to get to my destinations made this wonderful road trip both safe and enjoyable.

Finding Things to Do in Iceland

The best time to visit this Nordic gem depends on what you’re after. The peak season is between June and August. Summertime offers the mildest weather, the most daylight, and the greatest number of activities available. Recently, the winter months have also become popular with the opportunity to explore ice caves, hunt for northern lights, and enjoy various snow activities. 

The average length of stay in Iceland is around seven days. Shorter trips are also possible but won’t give you enough time to really explore beyond Reykjavik and the west coast. Within nine to ten days, you can cover all of Iceland via its famous ring road without feeling rushed. Below is a selection of my favourite things to do in Iceland. 

1. Explore City Life 

Reykjavik — the capital and largest city of Iceland is home to 2/3 of the entire population of the island. The city is so small that its center can be easily explored by foot. It is dotted with vintage Norden houses with bright tin roofs, ultra-modern glass towers, hilly streets with impressive statues, colorful street art, and relics of its Viking and medieval past. Reykjavik’s gorgeous waterfront faces stunning coastal landscapes across the bay, adding to its charm. 

The most famous landmark of the city is Hallgrímskirkja. This church’s piercing tower acts as an observation deck, giving a panoramic view of the city.

2. Immerse Yourself in Hot Springs

Iceland is well known for its hot springs and geothermal pools. Some will cost you (for example, the Blue Lagoon) but others are completely free. Finding a hot spring is one of those can’t-miss things to do in Iceland. 

The Blue Lagoon is by far the most famous and popular hot spring in the country. The pale blue, milky waters are full of rich minerals and elements such as silica and algae and have a pleasantly warm temperature against the cold air. Although the lagoon is a byproduct of a geothermal plant, it is still a beautiful place to visit. For the most enjoyable experience, be sure to make your reservation well in advance and ask for the earliest time available to avoid the crowds. 

If you prefer a more organic and rawer version (not to mention free), I recommend Reykjadalur Valley and Seljavallalaug. Both places require some hiking but the landscape along the way is so picturesque that you’ll arrive before you know it. 

The Reykjadalur Steam Valley is a river full of hot springs and mud pits. You can “adjust” the temperature of the water to your liking by moving closer to the hot or cold water source. There are wooden platforms where you can change into your swimwear. The farther end of the platform tends to be warmer and less crowded. 

The Seljavallalaung 

The Seljavallalaung is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. You will find it in a narrow valley, built into the side of the mountain. It sports truly breathtaking surroundings. The hot water that flows into it is completely natural and the mountainside acts as the fourth wall of the pool. The hottest water is by the side of the pool opposite the changing rooms. 

3. Check Out How High Geysers Are Blowing 

The most active geyser in Iceland is Stokkur. Its eruptions usually measure 15-20 meters (49-66 feet) high and typically go off every six to ten minutes. The opportunity to get so close to this geyser was one of the highlights of my trip. 

4. Cruise the Turquoise Ice Lagoon 

The Jokursalon glacier lagoon is a lake filled with melted glacier water. The lagoon owes its fame to the blue, white, and turquoise icebergs that break off the edge of the glacier and settle in its waters. At the water’s edge, they are several dozen meters high but they slowly melt into the lagoon before drifting out to the sea. For those who would like to get closer to the icebergs, I highly recommend booking a glacier tour boat. These small zodiac boats can get very close to the glacier. During the excursion, you will ride past the huge icebergs populated by colonies of seals and seabirds.  

Where the glacier lagoon empties into the ocean, you will find Diamond Beach. This beach is famous for its numerous blocks of crystal-clear ice deposited on black sand. Being able to feel, sit, or even lie on the crystal-like glaciers was an amazing experience and certainly one of the best things to do in Iceland. 

5. See the Rainbow Above the Waterfall 

Iceland is a land of waterfalls. You will be able to find them in practically every part of the island. Its distinctive shape, enormous power, and the rainbow that often appear above are some of the reasons why Gullfoss is one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland. 

The unique feature of Seljalandfoss is that you can walk behind it. Prepare for a sensory overload: the mist of the water on your skin, the sight of the sun setting through the falling water, and the crash of the river as it falls to the rocks below. 

Just 500 meters away from Seljalandfoss, you will find another stunning hidden gem of Iceland — Gljúfrabúi. Its entrance is a narrow crevice that opens up to reveal a waterfall pummeling a small pool right at your feet. With rock cliffs surrounding the pool, this is one of the most intimate waterfalls of Iceland. Prepare to get wet since you will be walking through a small stream and mist will be everywhere.

Skógafoss is an impressive example of nature’s power. You can walk right up to it if you’re willing to get drenched. Standing next to it and feeling its sheer force felt overwhelming. Due to the amount of mist produced by the spectacle, rainbows (or double rainbows) appear on sunny days. 

The black waterfall, Svartifoss, is considered one of the most unique waterfalls in the world. Its walls are lined with dark basalt pillars whose columns were created by cooling lava. 

Many consider Dettifoss as the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Mist from the falls is visible from several miles away. Surprisingly, it can’t be heard until you get close. There is a good observation deck that overlooks this monument, but I personally preferred the view from below. 

6. Find Out How Volcanoes Work 

One of the top things to do in Iceland is to see an active volcano. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to experience it. The giant Fagradalsfjall volcano’s eruption started in March but had fallen dormant by the time I arrived. Magnificent crater and freshly-made lava formations are still spectacular to see on their own. The view from the volcano’s top is also well worth the hike.  

7. Explore the Plane Wreck

One of the stranger Icelandic attractions is the US Navy plane wreck. This plane has been lying on an empty beach since 1973. The wreck is not fenced or guarded at all. Anyone can approach it and climb inside. If you’ve ever dreamt about being in a retro sci-fi movie, this place is definitely for you. 

8. Hike to the Canyon 

Studlagill Canyon is one of Iceland’s largest collections of basalt columns. The color of the river that bisects the canyon will be different depending on the time of the year. Sometimes it has an azure color and is very transparent. Other times it turns brown and muddy. Although not easy to get to, I highly recommend it to those who like to go off the beaten path. Prepare to hike for about five km through relatively untouched terrain, steep paths, and slippery rocks and stones. In my opinion, words can’t describe the beauty of this place. 

9. Visit One of the Most Famous Black Sand Beaches

Black sand, volcanic cliffs, majestic rock formations protruding from the water, sneaker waves, geometric columns, and grottos — you will find it all in one place on Reynisfjara Beach. As with many natural wonders in Iceland, volcanic activity crafted this dramatic beauty. This was by far one of the most unique and wild beaches I have ever seen and is one of the best things to do in Iceland. 

10. Discover Geothermal Areas

Hverir is a geothermal area with bubbling mud springs, sulfuric steam spewing from vents, and colorful pools. To enjoy this “alien” landscape, you will have to endure the stench of rotten egg fumes. Those who’ve been to Yellowstone might not be impressed, but in my opinion, it’s still a fantastic Icelandic natural wonder. 

11. Enjoy a Scenic Drive 

Whether you stay on the main ring road that goes around the island or venture to smaller routes, Iceland is the place for scenic drives. Its diverse and colorful natural miracles help you focus on the journey, not the destination. 

Bon Voyage!

P.S. Don’t be surprised to see sheep crossing highways and walking freely everywhere. They’ve been known to take over roads and aren’t afraid of cars. But they are shy in front of cameras! 😊

P.P.S. Rent a four-wheel-drive if you plan to get off the ring road to explore. Many “highways” are unpaved gravel roads.

One of the sheep who wandered near the road.

by Anna Lech

How to Spend a Weekend in Alcalá de Henares

After moving back to Spain in January 2021 and enduring a record-breaking winter snowstorm, varying degrees of pandemic lockdown, and waves after waves of COVID infections, in July I finally took my first local trip in Spain, seven months after returning to the Iberian Peninsula, to Alcalá de Henares.

Alcalá de Henares

Located less than an hour to the east of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares is a charming city for a weekend trip. I had more than plenty to do and am looking forward to returning again someday soon. Best known for being the birthplace of the famous Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, the city is characterized by its focus on education, literature, history, and more. There are countless things to do in Alcalá de Henares and I encourage you to discover the city for yourself. However, I wanted to share my top five picks from my long weekend there.

1) Visit the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes

Alcalá de Henares is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote de la Mancha. The city offers a fantastic museum in the author’s childhood home. You can see Cervantes’ office where he wrote, his father’s in-home doctor’s office, and other period rooms too. It’s a charming attraction, and the entrance is free. Just outside the home/museum, there is a bronze sculpture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza seated on a bench. You can sit down next to them for a photo or a rest.

2) Explore the Museo de Esculturas al Aire Libre

Scattered just outside the historic city center, you’ll find a sizable open-air sculpture museum, MUSEAL. The 50 pieces were first displayed in the early 1990s. They are found along the old city walls that once protected the Archbishop’s Palace and all along the Vía Complutense. The contrast between the modern sculptures and the city’s rich archaeological history is striking. There is also some diversity among the sculptures themselves with some being more abstract and some more traditional in style.

3) Drop by Casa de Hippolytus

Just one train stop away from Alcalá de Henares, near the La Garena station, you can find Casa de Hippolytus, a beautifully-preserved archaeological site near the much larger site of the Roman city of Complutum. One of the only known children’s schools from this period of the Roman Empire in Spain, the entire site sits underneath a large metal roof. This makes it an ideal escape from the elements any time of year. If you happen to be visiting during a milder time of year or feel well prepared for the heat or cold, be sure to check out the site of Complutum itself, which is open to the elements. To visit Complutum, access to a car is recommended. Traveling to Casa de Hippolytus is more comfortable on four wheels but not unmanageable if walking from the La Garena train station as I did.

4) Discover the Latin American Art Museum of the University of Alcalá

Tucked into a corner of the University of Alcalá, across from one of its libraries, you’ll find the University Latin American Art Museum. During my long weekend, this was one of my favorite experiences. The museum has two collections and mostly houses contemporary and abstract works of art. Much like the open-air sculpture museum, the contrast between the history of Alcalá and the modern art in this museum was fascinating. The Museum can be a bit hard to find — it’s in the Edificio Cisneros on Plaza de San Diego. To get to the museum, you’ll need to go into this building and take a left. Entrance to the museum is also free. The University of Alcalá itself is not to be missed either. The architecture alone makes the campus worth walking through.

5) Shop and Eat on Calle Mayor

Last but certainly not least, the city’s well-known Calle Mayor and the plentiful bars on and near it are worth a visit. The street itself has lots of local shops, restaurants, and bakeries. I spent an afternoon walking the length of it, which extends far past the historic city center. I’d also recommend taking a tapas crawl. Alcalá de Henares is known for its traditional Spanish bars that serve you your choice of tapa from a list with the purchase of a beer, tinto de verano, or other drink. I chose to visit three: Indalo, La Posada Magistral, and Las Retintas, all in the historic city center. For less than 10€, I got three drinks and enough food to count for dinner!

If you’re looking for a weekend trip out of Madrid or just looking for a charming Spanish city to visit, then you can’t go wrong with Alcalá de Henares. There is even more to discover than I did in the days I visited. If good food, an appreciation for literature, history, and art, beautiful architecture, local shops, and Roman ruins appeal — there’s something you’ll love there.

Emma's bio photo

by Emma Schultz

What I Know Now About Visiting Morocco

Why did I choose here of all places? What was appealing about the desert, only four hours of electricity at night, and washing my clothes in a river? To be honest, it was the prospect of a different perspective. It was the challenge of pushing my comfort zones and defying the stigma behind traveling to certain countries as a woman. It was to learn about a culture that has influenced parts of Europe in language, architecture, and cuisine. Visiting Morocco was challenging, but beyond rewarding.

Getting to Morocco is relatively straightforward. Its close proximity to Europe makes it easily accessible by plane or through the Strait of Gibraltar. I would suggest traveling both ways. Going by boat into Tangier from Tarifa is a fun way to take in the coastlines of the respective continents and see the influence Muslim culture had over southern Spain. The first time I went to Morocco, however, I took a cheap flight with Ryanair from Rome into Rabat. Here are some things I know now about visiting Morocco.

1) Make Sure You Know Where You Are Going

I know it sounds simple. You already bought the plane ticket. You obviously know what country you’re going to. However, make sure you have directions to where you’ll be sleeping. We arrived in Rabat as the daylight cast shadows across the streets. We had booked a room through Couchsurfing

Finding a taxi from the airport wasn’t hard, but the language barrier proved to be difficult. All we had was an address on a piece of paper. Ensure you have photos of your route or landmarks around the place you’re staying. We handed the paper to the driver and sat back with high hopes. 

Eventually, we were dropped at a restaurant on an empty street. The taxi driver didn’t know the address and said he couldn’t help us. This is when we realized we should have purchased a temporary international data plan. With the phone plan, we would have been able to contact our host or use Google Maps. We wandered the streets instead, following the directions of the restaurant staff until by sheer luck we found our host’s flat. 

2) Take the Scenic Route When Visiting Morocco

Don’t be afraid to stop and enjoy the scenery. The morning was brisk and the terrain flat until we reached the foothills of the mountains that stretched from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The Atlas Mountains boast diverse terrain and wildlife. It is a place you should visit to discover the Berber culture and lifestyle. Multiple times along the way we pulled over to admire the green contrast against the sandy hills. 

The oasis stretched for miles, home to the only civilization in the desert. Our driver spoke of a forest full of monkeys outside the city of Azrou. The forest is home to Barbary macaques (or Barbary apes). These are the only species of macaques found outside of Asia. As we wandered the paths staring into the trees, small, furry creatures emerged from the brush. Two puppies wobbled out to greet us and laid sleepy in the morning sun. Although we wanted to take them both, we had to leave them behind. 

3) Remember That You Are a Tourist

Our journey led us to a local in Marrakech, driving six hours with our driver who was a shy man, and sleeping amongst the towering cliff sides of the Todra Gorge. The latter being our final destination. A river cut its way through the course, tan rock faces; leading through a single hotel, the community gardens, and a small Berber village. This is where we learned the most about Berber culture. Our friend Watik, whom we had met the first time visiting Morocco, lived with his family on a mountain top; a two-hour hike up the Todra Gorge.  

We loaded up the donkeys with crystal clear water we collected out of a small stream that made its way through the rough rocks and came out at the bottom of the gorge. Let me tell you one thing though: there were fish in it. Yes. We drank fish water. If you don’t have a strong immune system, I wouldn’t recommend it. My friend was sick for two days. 

Another thing our friends told us was that only men were allowed to collect this freshwater. Women were not allowed. However, seeing as I was a tourist, I couldn’t resist. I asked Watik if I would offend anyone and he said no. 

One thing I had realized by this point visiting Morocco was that the locals didn’t want tourists to dress like them or try to ‘not be a tourist’. Tourism drives their economy and they know that. However, still be respectful and ask. I went over and put my gallon jugs into the fresh cold stream and filled them one by one. 

4) Sample the Local Cuisine

Heading into the mountains, the donkeys carried the necessities; our water and, most importantly, Berber bread. If you haven’t had this bread, you should. They eat it with every meal. Each night we huddled on the floor around a single plate of couscous and tagine. We split the bread in half, enough to use two fingers, and dug into the tagine, scooping it like a stuffing between the bread and shoving it into our mouths. Everyone partook at the same time. There was no silverware or plates. You took what you wanted, when you wanted. 

We had the opportunity to make this meal one night in the hotel and also on top of the mountain. On the six-hour drive over we also stopped for food and had a camel stew. For the Berbers, it is a delicacy, and to be honest you would have to try it to understand that it doesn’t taste like chicken. Back in the mountains when we reached the peak, there was a symbol made out of rocks. It resembled a stick figure, but the bottom of the figure mirrored the top. I asked Watik what it meant and he told me it meant ‘free people’. He said we would find it on every peak and oftentimes on peoples’ front doors. Standing on the mountain peak as the sun set over the Todra Gorge, you could hear the faint cries of the shepherd’s herd. 

5) Learn a New Skill

Watik’s family took us to another peak at dusk and brought mint-flavored shisha to enjoy at the top of the mountain’s peak where they lived. We sat up there smoking and watching the sunset as they brought out a sort of sling with two retention cords on either side of a leather pouch. This method of slinging goes back centuries.

Used in many different forms over different cultures, we learned how to use this sling to herd goats. Placing a rock in the pouch, you swing the sling around your body until you are ready to release. You usually try to hit on the opposite side of where you want the herd to go. This spooks the goats and forces them the other way and the direction you would like them to move. My friend and I tried this technique many times. The rock went everywhere but straight. Oftentimes it would fly above us or behind us. 

The next day we made our way down the mountain to do our laundry. We insisted on doing it ourselves to learn the customs. They handed us a plastic tub and a cup of powder. They directed us to the river and we went calf deep. 

Let me give you one piece of advice: don’t fill your tub while facing downstream. I lost a few good pairs of underwear on my first try. Quickly realizing I was doing it wrong, I readjusted my position to face upstream and allowed the water to fill my tub. I sprinkled the powder soap into the tub and began scrubbing my clothes together. It was the most humbling experience I had while visiting Morocco, especially coming from a western lifestyle where we have washers and dryers. 

6) Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

After rock climbing, one of our fellow climbers said there was a local hammam she wanted to try but didn’t want to go alone as a woman, so we accompanied her. Hammams are public bathhouses and we were not ready for this. When we arrived, a man at the front counter gave us a rag and a substance wrapped in plastic wrap. That brown glob was the soap. There was a gentlemen’s side and a ladies’ side. When we entered all the women were naked and stared at us. We proceeded to a bench and laid our clothes down.

We undressed and a woman approached us and started telling me something in Arabic. I couldn’t understand her but she was pointing to my underwear. She was telling me that our underwear was to remain on. Then she took all three of us through the curtains and we entered what looked like a college shower room. Women were bathing their children and some children were small enough that they just sat in their five-gallon buckets watching as we walked past. 

Playing soccer collegiately, I was used to a shared shower room. What I wasn’t prepared for was a woman bathing me personally. They threw us around on the floor like we were five years old again. They scrubbed us and both the women and children were fascinated with my tattoos. Everyone huddled over me and turned me over and around this way and that to see each one. At the very end, they stood all three of us against the wall and each woman took turns throwing buckets of warm water at us as the final rinse. As uncomfortable as it may have been, I would do it all over again. 

7) You’ll Never Be Prepared for the Local Transport

Let me tell you, unless you have a private car, you will never be prepared for what you may experience with local transport while visiting Morocco. As our trip came to an end, Watik and his friends found a local charter bus that could take us back to Marrakech. This was by far cheaper than a private car, however, you sacrifice some security and personal space. The charter also needed to make frequent stops in cities and so our quick six-hour drive became a ten-hour schlep. 

To get to the bus station, we had to take local transport from the small village in the gorge and it was packed. People were on the roof, hanging on the sides, standing, sitting, and in any other position you could think of. We crammed ourselves on, wide-eyed, enjoying every second and taking it all in. When we reached the charter bus, no one was on the roof and it was a typical charter you would catch in France. 

Being in a country with undeveloped road systems, we quickly came to a flooded road. A river was crashing through and the local police only let one car pass at a time. Slowly wading through, we thought we would be swept away in the current. Making it through, we had seven more hours to go. 

Wrap Up

Go travel in the desert on camelback. Stroll through fields, gardened by generations of families. Hear the river that feeds on smaller streams that nourish it. Whether it’s by boat or by plane, I would recommend visiting Morocco. Travel with another person or a group, though. The cities are bustling, set against a terrain that is vast and rugged. Traveling with others is not only more fun to create memories together, but it is safer. Trying to defy the stigma of solo traveling as a woman is both gratifying and motivating, but there is a time and place when you have to read your environment and the culture. 

Sam and her friend visiting Morocco with an oasis behind them

When I went back two more times, each to different areas, I kept this in mind. The first time was exhilarating and exciting, but there were moments of uncertainty and situations that could’ve been harmful for my friend and me. Morocco is a progressive and modernizing country, however, the history and culture still run deep through its rivers. Go have fun, see the beautiful coastline and the blue city, Chefchaouen, but be conscious of where you are. 

by Samantha Moultrie

Seven Magnificent Things to Do in Chicago

Chicago, the windy city. Once called the Second City, Chicago is now the third-largest city in the US after New York and Los Angeles. Sitting on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan, in the State of Illinois, Chicago is known for Al Capone, The Blues Brothers, being the starting point of Route 66, and great sports teams like the Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks. The city likes its B’s. With plenty of things to do in Chicago, here are my favourites.

1) Take a Walk in Millennium Park

With 24 public beaches, numerous parks, and plenty of attractions along Chicago’s 26-mile waterfront, you could spend all your time exploring that area alone. At 25 acres, Millennium Park is a huge green space that contains concert areas, manicured gardens, rock climbing, sculptures, and the famous Buckingham Fountain, featured in the opening credits of the TV sitcom, Married With Children. 

Between my wife and I, we’ve been to Chicago a half dozen times, taking in different sites each visit. We’ve found a huge variety of things to do in Chicago. On our last trip, we entered the park via the Cloud Gate, across Lakeshore Drive and the official starting point of the famous Route 66. There are bicycles to rent if you don’t think you can take in all the sites on foot. The Cloud Gate, better known as Chicago’s Bean, is a mirrored kidney bean-shaped piece of unique art. 

Near The Bean is the Crown Fountain, a black granite reflecting pool, situated between two glass brick towers that overlook the water feature and come to life with larger-than-life video images. Its ever-changing artistic displays complement the nearby Art Institute. Millennium Park sits between Lake Michigan and Lakeshore Drive, which skirts the great lake along the city’s eastern border. 

2) Moor Yourselves at Navy Pier, One of the Best Things to Do in Chicago 

About two miles north of Millennium Park is Navy Pier — a bit of a walk for most but easily reachable by bike, bus, or car. Off Lakeshore Drive, the entrance to the 3,300-foot pier is surrounded by more parkland and greenspace. Extending into Lake Michigan, Navy Pier offers things the whole family can enjoy. Besides restaurants like Harry Caray’s Tavern and Margaritaville, there is a giant Ferris wheel, various rides, and a funhouse. 

There is an observation deck at the end of the pier and various lake and river cruises, with the latter taking you into the city, along the Chicago River. The Billy Goat Tavern, a Chicago burger institution made famous on Saturday Night Live (think cheezborger, cheezborger, cheeps — no fries). Note: this is a franchise, the original location is downtown, off West Madison Avenue. Go there for the real deal. 

3) Stroll Along Chicago Riverwalk

From Navy Pier, follow the Lakefront Trail that goes under Lakeshore Drive and connects with the Chicago Riverwalk. Whereas there is a River Esplanade on the north side of the Chicago River, the Riverwalk follows the waterway’s southern edge. The scenic pathway, with towering skyscrapers on both sides, is below street level and takes you under an assortment of new and cool old city bridges. 

You can easily spend a whole day walking or cruising along the Riverwalk if you’re looking for things to do in Chicago. There are cruises from Navy Pier and water taxis that pick up and drop off at different stations along the waterway. As well as a concert area, there are several picnic spots, public washrooms, cafes, restaurants, brewpubs, and even a winery to check out. The Riverwalk dissects downtown, where countless stores and eateries can be reached by taking the stairs up to street level. 

The Chicago River is the only river in the world that flows in the wrong direction — a man-made feature to bring fresh lake water into the city. Due to the clay bottom, the water is a lovely blue-green color. It’s also dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day every year. The Riverwalk offers great views of buildings like the Willis Tower (former Sears Tower — once the tallest in the US) with its glass sky deck and Marina City.

4) Watch Sports 

Sports fans will love Chicago for its professional sports teams. Hockey has the Blackhawks, basketball the Bulls, football the Bears, and there are two teams for baseball — the White Sox of the American League and Cubs of the National League. The Cubs’ Wrigley Field is a national historic landmark and one of the last remaining century-old open-air ballparks. If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago, don’t miss this one.

5) Go Downtown

It’s been said that Chicago is one of the most easily walkable big cities in the US. However, if your feet can’t handle the action, jump on the L, Chicago’s historic elevated mass transit system that crisscrosses the city, running on steel stilts above city streets. Each time we’ve visited Chicago we stayed downtown for ease of access to the L for major sites and things to do.

On our last visit, we chose the historic Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Opened in 1893 as a world-class hotel, this place catered to famous folks from around the globe. While waiting to check in, a friendly hotel security guard took us on a tour. He showed us the beautiful grand ballroom and a secret outer room where Al Capone played cards. 

Just around the corner, we found one of the notorious gangster’s watering holes, the Exchequer Restaurant & Pub, on South Wabash. It’s a four-minute walk from the Art Institute of Chicago. The Magnificent Mile, a high-end shopping area, runs along Michigan Avenue, north of the river. If you visit the city in summer there are numerous music events, like Blues and Jazz festivals, held in Millennium Park. We took in the Jazz Fest on a previous visit. On our last trip, we dined at Andy’s Jazz Club & Restaurant. The meal was delicious and at one point our waiter excused himself to take the stage and sing. 

6) Explore Chicago’s Major Attractions

If the weather is sketchy and you’re in need of indoor activities there is the Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago Children’s Museum, and Field Museum. There’s the Chicago Theatre and Lyric Opera, or pamper yourself at the AIRE Ancient Baths. Even Chicago’s historic Union Station — the film location for countless movies — is something to see.  

7) Dine Out in Chicago 

Eating and trying regional specialties is one of our favorite things to do when Cathryn and I travel. Chicago offers traditional American cuisine but there are neighborhoods like Greektown and Chinatown that offer their own fare. Some folks rave about Chicago-style pizza, but we prefer our own Italian-influenced pie from home, in Windsor. You definitely have to try the burgers and experience the ambience at the original Billy Goat Tavern.

Navy Pier’s home to the Chicago Children’s Museum. Within that attraction, you’ll find Harry Caray’s Tavern. This is a family-friendly eatery serving American classics with plant-based options for visiting vegans. Head to Rush Street in the Gold Coast neighborhood at weekends where restaurants add al fresco seating thanks to the streets being blocked off to traffic.

Our last trip to the Windy City was for our journey along the historic Route 66, with its official starting point in downtown Chicago at the edge of Lake Michigan. To set the mood for our cross-country journey to Santa Monica, we had breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery, circa 1923, where they give out donut holes and Milk Duds after your meal. 

Celebrities from around the world have dined at Lou’s and it’s still a favorite for many locals. During our visit, I got to ogle members of the Chicago Police intelligence unit, decked out in their crested and matching black golf shirts. The team has been immortalized by the television show, Chicago P.D

I hope this article gives you a taste of what to expect on a visit to Chicago. If you liked reading it, I’m sure you will enjoy my site too. Why not drop by Life Written and Reviewed for a while?

by Edmond Gagnon

Memories of Studying Abroad in Greece

Maritza while studying abroad in GreeceThe memories I have from studying abroad in Greece are ones that I love to think back to every now and then. Studying in Greece symbolized my first trip to Europe, and an immense transformation I saw in myself both personally and professionally. Like many, I was bit by the travel bug as soon as I came back from studying in Greece, and today, I honor that as a travel writer and as an avid traveler. Here are some of my memories from studying in Greece. 

Being Away From Family for the First Time

Coming from a first-generation household, where my siblings and I were the first generations in our family to be born outside of Mexico, the concept of studying abroad was a strange one for my parents. But then again, many concepts in the U.S. were strange to my parents. Being the eldest daughter, I had to often maneuver these cultural shifts. I often bounced from one culture to the other. I had to make sense of the American way of life for myself and learn how to explain it to my parents in a way they would understand. Figuring out how to create harmony between these two identities was a challenge I was very familiar with. 

When I told my parents that I wanted to study abroad, they were shocked, scared, and worried. They didn’t want to take that leap with me out of fear. Thankfully after some time, they decided to support me. I don’t know where they grabbed the reassurance that I would be ok, or how they managed their fears over letting me go. However, with their blessing, I was on my way to Greece. While I was studying abroad in Greece, I spoke with them as much as I could through Facetime and text messages.

Discovering Independence While Studying Abroad in Greece

In many ways, I look at this Greek program and think how much it not only helped me grow more independent and sure of myself, but how much it helped my parents in trusting in me, the world, and in themselves to be ok to let their kids do things they never did. I appreciate them not passing down their fears to me. They slowly let go of a protective grip they had always had to keep us safe in the only way they knew how to. Studying abroad in Greece was monumental for me as much as it was for them. 

Maritza looking over a valley while studying abroad in Greece.

My First European City

They say that the European lifestyle is one that is favored by many for its laid-back approach to life. There’s the mix of tranquility and liveliness, quality of life overall, and so much more. Greece was the first-ever European destination that I visited. It left me absolutely enamored. It was around 6 pm when I arrived in Athens to study for the next three months. I took my first steps in the cute and picturesque neighborhood of Plaka where our hotel was. I was met with a sample of the charming aspects of European city life. People of all ages — locals and tourists — walked around leisurely, looking for a dinner spot or sightseeing on an unusually warm March evening. 

Athens, the first city Maritza visited while studying abroad in Greece

Crowds of teenagers hung out at ice-cream shops, waiters outside of the restaurant talking to people about their menu. Police patrolled around making sure everything was ok. Coming from a suburb town in Illinois where everyone drove everywhere, where we all lived in our own little world, and where we were all always busy with something, this was a sight I had never really encountered. People leisurely took their sweet time hanging with friends, enjoying a good meal outside next to a Greek ruin or temple. Super casual, and wonderful at the same time. I knew I would like it here right then and there. 

The Greek Language 

As a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish, I wasn’t sure how I would pick up the Greek language. Would the language be too difficult? Would my knowledge of Spanish and English help me in any way with Greek? 

I learned quickly that Greek was not part of the romance languages. Therefore, making sense of Greek with my Spanish-speaking abilities was simply not going to cut it. However, where my Spanish did come in handy was in my pronunciation of Greek words. I may not know how to order a Freddo, but I could at least hear someone say it and, then, pronounce it in a way where Greek people could understand what I was trying to say. 

Once I remember being in a taxi with three of my classmates when we were trying to get to the Acropolis. The taxi driver couldn’t understand when my classmates said “Acropolis” to the driver, but I had remembered the way it was written and pronounced, so I tried using my Spanish pronunciation on the Greek word “Acropoli” — and it worked! He understood and he replied with “efcharistó” — thank you. It was a small but amazing accomplishment that I will never forget. I had made contact with a local! 

Greek Food

The Greek people don’t like spicy food, but I do. For the first time in my life, I was without any kind of salsa or peppers in my food. This was one of my own personal culture shocks. As a Mexican-American, I was shocked and missing a bit of that spiciness in my food. But as a previous culinary arts student, I was super interested in the ingredients and the typical meals that Greeks enjoyed. Everything from gyros to spanakopita, to authentic Feta, which I never liked before until going to Greece, as well as souvlaki and moussaka. 

Some food Maritza ate while studying abroad in Greece

Studying in Greece gave me the opportunity to try new flavors. I experienced an authentic Greek Easter with the spit-roasted lamb, delectable and fresh Greek salad, flatbread with amazing quality olive oil, and observed and engaged with the culture through its food. When I came back home, I experienced reverse culture shock. I sought out the quality olive oil, the gyros, and the tzatziki sauce. Oh, how the tables had changed. 

The People 

My study abroad experience in Greece allowed me to meet people from countries that I had never met before. Do you remember the first time you met a Spaniard? A Greek? Or an Australian? 

What about meeting someone from your own country, who even though you shared a similar language and background, seemed like they were more “worldly” and “cultured” because they were travelers? A conversation with them left you in awe and utterly inspired. Studying abroad in Greece expanded my knowledge of people. It taught me that even though we may come from different places in the world, we all have more than we think in common. A conversation with people outside of your culture will show you that. If anything, you can always share your love for travel and meeting new people. That is always something to bond over. 

The Traditions 

I felt a sense of comfort in Greece, that to be quite honest, I was not expecting. I guess moving to Greece to me felt like taking a giant leap into the unknown. What would the people be like? What would the culture and traditions be like? Would I like the food? Though I consider myself to be quite an adaptable person, ready to accept any kind of culture shock that I would potentially experience, I realized that it was pleasantly easy to adjust to Greek customs and traditions. 

It reminded me a lot of my Mexican upbringing, such as the way the Greeks that passed near a church would make the sign of the cross, or how religion and church-going was a significant part of life and culture for many Greeks. The massive emphasis on family and looking after the giagiá and the pappoús and the ritual and love for food were comforting. I felt at times like I was in Mexico visiting my own family. It was almost as if I was visiting a village in Mexico when I was really in Greece. The feeling was special and comforting. I realized that it led to me questioning what home is if you can find that feeling outside of the place you were born in. It was one of the many questions that had never occurred to me until living and studying abroad in Greece. 

The Beginning of My Desire to Explore More 

I am forever grateful for the structure of this study abroad program I did in Greece. We didn’t have a university campus where we took all our classes. In fact, our time in Greece was divided up into three different subtopics of study. Depending on that subtopic of study, we would physically travel to the part of Greece with the most physical history and study it in person. 

So I studied the ruins and the Greek god Apollo on the island of Delos while walking around archeological sites. We sat on rocks on the sacred site of Delphi to take notes and learn about this mystical oracle that many people traveled from near and far to ask questions. I presented a project on the important documents stored inside Hadrian’s Library, and the importance of this landmark to my classmates, while standing in front of the ruins of Hadrian’s Library. 

On the Move

Because of the constant traveling, we did throughout Greece, from its northernmost tip in Thessaloniki to the southernmost island of Crete, and everywhere in between, my studies in Greece felt like a hybrid between a fun gap year of staying in hostels and doing school assignments throughout our journeys. For three months, it was hostels, hotels, trains, ferries, buses, and metros.

It was incredible and gave me a strong sense of adventure, learning, adapting, and adjusting to what the day held. Each day was different, and each day we learned something new. One cannot possibly deny the sheer excitement in that. It made me feel excited for the moment, and for life. I was hooked. I wanted nothing less than a life of adventure. The bar had been set high for what I wanted to do after this opportunity, and so my thoughts started to brainstorm just how. 

The Transformation 

Study abroad programs, whether they’re year-long programs or just a few weeks, for many, are the first opportunities to travel for many young American college students. I know it was for me. The combination of youthful excitement, combined with a desire to learn and travel — it’s the perfect recipe for major transformation.

Travel transforms people from the inside out. From the people you meet, to the new foods you try that end up being what you crave when you get back home, to the observing of and participation in a new culture, and the physical distance and feelings of being in a place so far from home where virtually no one knows you. It’s liberating. It’s euphoric, and it’s unlike any other feeling. You see yourself maneuvering a new culture, becoming more social, taking more risks, and saying yes more often. You learn A LOT along the way. Finally, you see yourself grow, and you learn more about yourself than ever before as you go through a myriad of different situations, emotions, and adventures. 

Travel is a confidence booster and a transformation. You don’t return home the same. My Greece study abroad program inspired me to start writing, and eventually start my own travel blog. It cleared a career path like nothing ever had. My memories of studying abroad in Greece are a constant reminder of why I do what I do.

by Maritza Chavez

How to Spend a Day in Fort Worth

Woah, Nelly! You’re in for a wild ride if you’re only in Fort Worth for a day.Fort Worth often gets overshadowed by the “Big D” aka Dallas, but in my humble opinion, Fort Worth holds its own as a notable destination. With its storied past converging with the new in a tasteful way, it can’t help but stand out. I have jotted down some logistical insights and tried to keep suggestions to the “most” significant for you to cherry-pick adventures. I have also provided a mock itinerary should you just want to be along for the ride.

Getting to Fort Worth

If flying, DFW or DAL are the most common airports. From either location, a car can get you to Fort Worth within 40 minutes. DFW also has a light rail (TEXRail) that will give you a direct shot to Downtown Fort Worth’s Central Station. If driving from out of town, I-30 and I-35 are the main highways that lead into the city. 

Lodging

With limited time, you’ll pay a premium to be in the action. I highly recommend staying in The Stockyards with options varied based on service levels and price point. The five hotels within walking distance of each other are Hotel Drover, Autograph Collection by Marriott, Springhill Suites by Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott, Hyatt Place, and The Stockyards Hotel.

Dining 

Lunch and Dinner

  • 97 West Kitchen & Bar — If looking to dine Friday evening through Sunday brunch, advanced reservations of three-four weeks are encouraged to catch a preferred seating time. The menu is delicious, and you certainly can’t go wrong with the Catch of the Day Ceviche, Little Gem Wedge Salad, and Bone-in Ribeye Steak. 
  • Provender Hall — This charming two-story loft space is located in a repurposed Mule Barn where rehabbed wood and brick lend to its charm. The food suits the vibe and the Skillet Cornbread and Steak Frites are must-tries. 
  • Àtico — A rooftop restaurant with great views of Downtown Fort Worth. The flatbreads are tasty, but simply enjoying a beverage around sunset would be my recommendation. 
  • Joe T. Garcia’s — In existence since 1935, the iconic restaurant consistently has two-hour waits for dinner service and a line around the block. Despite that, it’s worth the wait if you have time. The décor, service, food, and margaritas all lend themselves to a remarkable experience. 

Breakfast 

  • Biscuit Bar — A local family-owned franchise with five locations throughout DFW. The menu is varied, delicious, and affordable. The Boss, Fully Loaded Tots, and El Jefe have been fan favorites amongst my social circles, but you really can’t go wrong with anything from the menu. 
  • Esperanza’s Restaurant & Bakery — Named after Mr. and Mrs. Joe T. Garcia’s daughter, Esperanza (Hope), this family restaurant serves traditional Mexican food. Luckily, breakfast is served all day so take a little morning stroll to enjoy. 

Activities in Fort Worth

  • Running, cycling, or horseback riding along the Chisholm Trail and Trinity River while overlooking the Fort Worth Skyline.

Mock Itinerary 

Get in the night before and check into your preferred Stockyards hotel. 

If budget permits, Hotel Drover is recommended for the best overall experience with all senses indulged. The thoughtfully curated art, intricate design features, relaxing backyard, and true Southern hospitality will leave you wanting to return immediately. If more budget-sensitive, Hyatt Place is next door and still located in the heart of The Stockyards.

Rise ‘n shine!

Walk to Biscuit Bar for a patio breakfast on Mule Alley and enjoy a quiet stroll before it livens up for the twice-daily cattle drive (11:30 AM and 4 PM). 

Morning and early afternoon adventures!

Take a horseback ride for 30 minutes or an hour at 10:30 AM down the Chisholm Trail, along the Trinity River, and overlooking the Fort Worth skyline.

  • Upon return, explore Stockyard Stations, Mule Alley, and the museums within the area before and after lunch.
  • For lunch, I would request seating upstairs at Provender Hall. It’ll be a nice respite from the crowds and noise within The Stockyards.

If horseback riding isn’t your thing and/or you want to go on a longer adventure, rent an electric bicycle East of Hyatt Place on East Exchange Avenue or go for a run along the Trinity River Trails.

  • I suggest heading towards downtown, pit stopping at Panther Island Brewing if you’re craving a craft beer, and continuing onward to the Kimbell Art Museum. On your way back, drop by The Foundry District for artistic vibes and get back to The Stockyards area for a bite to eat at Joe T. Garcia’s. 

Line up at 3:45 PM for the 4 PM Cattle Drive down East Exchange Avenue. 

Insider secret, go to the west end of East Exchange Avenue and stand in the middle of the street right outside the cones. This will give you a head-on view as the cattle come your way. 

After the Cattle Drive, head to the hotel to freshen up for nighttime festivities!

If venturing through The Stockyards on a Friday or Saturday, an early dinner is suggested so that you can make the Rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum by 7:30 PM.

  • 97 West Kitchen & Bar dinner reservations for 5 PM are recommended since it would allow for ample time to enjoy your meal, take in The Backyard post-meal, and stroll leisurely to Cowtown Coliseum. 

After the rodeo, venture to Billy Bob’s for two-stepping and live concerts. Be sure to check the show schedule and purchase tickets in advance.

Finally, head home and reflect fondly on your day.

You’ll soon be reminiscing about your next trip to Fort Worth, Texas!

Google map screenshot of Fort Worth

I also wanted to provide a map for those that prefer visuals, like myself, for ease in referencing key areas within The Stockyards noted above.

I hope this helps with planning and I hope you tag #DreamsAbroad on your trip so we can share in your adventures! 

by Morgan Yearout

Part Three of Canada’s West Coast – Vancouver Island

edmond gagnonIn Part Three of my article on Canada’s West Coast, my wife and I explore a small part of Vancouver Island, from Nanaimo to Victoria, along the island’s southeast coast. From the mainland, you can catch ferries from north or south Vancouver to take you to Nanaimo or Swartz Bay. Another ferry crosses further north.

Coming from the Sunshine Coast, we took the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver and then another one to Nanaimo. The second ferry ride was about an hour and forty minutes. If you are trying to make connections like this, be sure to check out ferry schedules at BC Ferries. You can also fly if you don’t have a car and want to save time. 

Nanaimo: Home of the Famous Dessert 

The waterfront City of Nanaimo is scenic and easy to navigate, with less than one hundred thousand people. This was my second visit to the city. Sadly, we did not spend too much time there on either occasion. Cathryn and I had two reasons to visit Nanaimo on this trip. First, to visit some good friends who live there, and second, to drive along the coast to Victoria.

Any sweet tooth will be happy in this city. It’s home to the world-famous Nanaimo bar, made in several flavors and sold everywhere. We spent most of our visit on the scenic waterfront and on Protection Island, a 10-minute ferry ride from the city harbor. Our friends took us to the island for dinner, where we dined at the Dinghy Dock Pub, a cool floating restaurant that offered great views of the Nanaimo harbor.

The food was typical pub grub, but with an emphasis on fresh seafood. Cathryn’s highlight of our mini excursion was getting up close and personal with a giant purple starfish living on the side of a floating dock. The pub was a cool place to sit and watch seaplanes taking off and landing in the harbor. 

Chemainus, A Vancouver Island Secret 

In our experience, the best way to get good advice and recommendations while travelling is from locals. One of our resident friends proved this theory by recommending we stop in the little town of Chemainus on the drive south to Victoria. Being off the inland highway and on the waterfront, we would have driven right on by completely unaware of this cool pit stop.

Like many former logging towns in British Columbia, Chemainus has had to rediscover itself to stay on the map and draw visitors off the bypass. Fifty-three outdoor murals and colorful turn-of-the-century buildings that have been painstakingly restored make this town the perfect place to get out and stretch your legs. There are unique shops to browse, some with antiques far cheaper than those in bigger cities. And there are places to grab a beer, lunch, ice cream, or even a Nanaimo bar.

Victoria, A Highlight of Vancouver Island

Some think it’s Vancouver, but the City of Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. We spent five days exploring this beautiful waterfront city, barely enough time to see and do it all. From the time we pulled into the driveway at our waterfront Airbnb, we knew we were in for a treat. Our unit was the lower level of a ranch-style home. We had an awesome view of the tree-lined park and walking trail that parallels the river gorge across the street. 

All we had to do was follow Gorge Road to get downtown and to the harbor front. The Victorian and century-old buildings capture your eye, with the giant Fairmont Hotel stealing the show, overlooking the main harbor. And just when you’ve focused on that, the historic dome-topped government building nearby screams for attention. Be sure to check it out at night when it’s all lit up. For a great dinner, try Finn’s Seafood, an upscale restaurant with a great deck.

While driving around to get a feel for the city, we discovered great little neighborhoods with pop-up markets. A section of Government Street, downtown, is a pedestrian mall where you can walk to Chinatown and inner-city market squares. The whole core and waterfront are easily walkable. 

Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley

With a population of a hundred thousand people, Victoria looks bigger than Nanaimo. However, it’s easily walkable with waterfront boardwalks and cool neighborhoods like Chinatown. Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada. It is only second to San Francisco in North America. The neighborhood also boasts the world-famous Don Mee Chinese Restaurant. We ate the highly recommended dim sum brunch there, and it was second to none. 

As in the United States, thousands of Chinese immigrated to western Canada to help build the railroads that would stretch across the country. They also worked in the mines. Three thousand settled in Chinatown by 1911, the largest population of Chinese in Canada for a decade. 

A famous landmark is Fan Tan Alley, a narrow walkway that was once lined by brothels and opium dens. If you like to explore, don’t stop there. I found more cool alleys with hidden shops, cafes, and cute patios belonging to private apartments. There are also Chinese grocery stores and a giant Chinese-inspired arch that marks the main street.

Fisherman’s Wharf

If you don’t have wheels, take public transportation or a water taxi further into the harbor’s mouth to Fisherman’s Wharf. With its colorful houseboats, shops, and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon sipping on a cold beer or grabbing a bite to eat. Add people watching to that list. Cathryn spotted Canada’s New Democratic Party leader, Jagmeet Singh, took a selfie with him, and found out he’s from our hometown in Windsor. 

If you want a different perspective of Fisherman’s Wharf, jump on one of the water taxis and take a tour. They’ll do a loop of Vancouver Island’s picturesque harbor or drop you off anywhere else along the waterfront. The wharf is family-friendly. Gazing at the brilliantly colored houseboats and buildings, I wanted to break out my crayons and a coloring book.

Butchart Gardens

To me, Butchart Gardens is a world-class example of how to recycle planet earth after it’s been ravaged by man and make it even more beautiful. About a half-hour drive (take the scenic route) from downtown, the extensive gardens were created in an old gravel pit, with giant trees and thousands of colorful flowers expertly planted in 55 acres of manicured gardens. There is every type and color of annual, perennial, shrub, and tree imaginable. 

Statuary, garden ornaments, and ponds linked by winding and shaded paths, take you on a magical journey through one of man and mother nature’s finest accomplishments. We thought the admission price was a bit steep at $31 (Can) each but found it worthwhile. You could spend a whole day wandering through the themed gardens, but we found a few hours in hot weather was enough. 

The Scenic Coastline of Vancouver Island

If you have a vehicle, there are other places to explore along the coast. We drove from Fisherman’s Wharf, staying along the water on Dallas Road, which heads east and follows the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Dallas becomes Crescent Road, and then Beach Drive, which turns north and continues along the coast. Views of the Salish Sea and Haro Strait are amazing from the winding and hilly road and scenic overlook. 

In conclusion, Cathryn and I thoroughly enjoyed the small part of Canada’s west coast that we visited. While the City of Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast were fun to explore, we liked Vancouver Island and Victoria the most. If you enjoyed this segment of Canada’s West Coast, be sure to check out Parts One and Two here at Dreams Abroad. You can see more of my travel stories on my personal website

by Edmond Gagnon

My Solo Trip to Comuna 13, Colombia

Leesa in Medellin in 2015A solo trip to Comuna 13, solo travel in general, is not only a way of traveling — it’s a mindset. In an earlier article, I spoke about What I Know Now after solo traveling. Since my first international flight abroad to Medellin in 2015, my mindset has evolved and grown. It’s taken me almost two years to write about this trip back to Medellin since my initial summer abroad where I studied and did an internship. I made friends, worked really hard to complete the research I needed for my master’s degree, and went home to graduate. Although I did get a chance to travel and explore (some) while I was there, the majority of my summer was spent working and completing class assignments.

Fast forward to November 2019 — I fly back to Medellin after living a year abroad in Madrid and working in the US. It’s my first return since that initial summer solo trip. I worked a lot when I got back to the US. I traveled back to Medellin that November because I missed being abroad. As I was no longer employed, and I wanted to explore. My soul was on the rebound and needed a good awakening, and it got it. Solo travel to Comuna 13 — and the locals I met on this trip made me feel even more empowered to connect with the world around me. 

My Solo Trip to Comuna 13

Here are three examples from my previous What I Know Now coupled with my solo trip to Comuna 13.  I merely scratched the surface on my trip to Comuna 13 and highly recommend anyone traveling to Medellin, Colombia to visit this bright and colorful neighborhood. It’s also on the rebound. I look forward to going back and exploring more because there is so much to see. It’s best to hear the history straight from a local rather than from me. However, I can touch on preparation and getting there (pre-COVID) from the perspective of someone who lived there. 

Backstory on Comuna 13: I lived in Medellin to study and work, so I have locals who were able to give me guidance and referrals on which companies to use. I had not been back to Medellin since the summer of 2015 when I had been working and completing an internship. Comuna 13 was around but it was not an area that I knew about at the time. In the fall of 2019, I was in Medellin, looking at perhaps moving back for a teaching role. A friend told me to check it out amongst other places. Here are three of five things from the WIKN I mentioned above that I used specifically while on my trip to Comuna 13:

Be Flexible

While traveling, it’s important to remember things are going to change. Embrace it and enjoy it. I hadn’t been back to Medellin and I could feel the growth. My first international solo trip abroad was to Colombia, and I wound up living there! It was terrifying and thrilling at the same time. It felt scary and unsettling because I was leaving my comfort zone and heading to someone else’s. Keeping a go-with-the-flow mindset and knowing that things are going to get mixed up will alleviate stress and anxiety while traveling. Embrace the mix-up and enjoy the ride. 

Say what? Enjoy the ride? I can’t say more about transport to and from locations, especially those that you know are going to be hard to find. When it was time for me to get to Comuna 13, I wanted to try something new. Uber had recently launched in the country and I am a fan of this app. I could write an article about my Uber encounters — this is how much I enjoy using it. So, instead of taking the metro to the location where I would find my Zippy Tour 13 guide, I took an Uber.

This Uber ride is a post within itself. I smile thinking about the driver/attorney who began her first day of driving the day I stepped into her car. She was no longer practicing law and I happened to be her first client! I was so glad I ordered the Uber early — let’s just say that. She and I made it to the San Javier metro stop and I had one minute to find the blue umbrella for the Zippy Tour. I ran quickly across the street and checked in. I made it!

Plan But Don’t Over-Plan (Go With the Flow)

I usually tend to over-plan — I am the traveler who has an itinerary with a backup in case that one does not work out. However, for this trip, since it was more of a business trip, I used my go with the flow mentality when planning. My day was full and the extracurricular activities weren’t at the top of my list for this trip. I didn’t plan on which ones I would do while visiting Colombia and this turned out to be one of the best decisions I made.

I went to the university to find out about the job, met some friends, and they made several recommendations about where to go. This method has proved to be a great one. Over-planning can sometimes backfire. When on a trip, the plan might not work out and you spend time thinking about that disappointment rather than living in the moment. Enjoy the moment!

Make New Friends

When I arrived, I was placed in one of the three groups. Each group for Zippy Tours is led by a local who knows the area. My guide, Stiven, was born in Comuna 13. He talked to us about the community, the graffiti walls, plus the escalators that you can find online everywhere. The escalators remind me of a reference to the stairway to heaven song. You see art and brightness in this community and then escalators… It’s interesting. 

What you can’t find online or anywhere else are the lives of the locals who live there. Stiven spoke to us about his childhood and growing up with invisible lines that he could not cross. Crossing these lines was forbidden. His story should be told by him but it did affect me, because how could it not? 

Stiven was born in 1998 and grew up during Medellin’s dangerous and violent period. This is a tour that should be seen and heard from him. However, having connected with the locals before doing this tour, made me appreciate Stiven’s courage and childhood all the more. We all have a story. Even so, some have invisible lines drawn from trauma from a young age and turn that into a blessing and awakening for others.

For me, Stiven’s life and landscape not only touched my heart but encouraged me to come home and look into programs in the US for higher education Ed.D degrees in social disparity and conflict. I ended up applying for a degree (which unfortunately turned out to be the wrong fit). In hindsight, lines get blurred and I might look into this field once again. Stiven’s story still remains in my mind and heart. 

Leesa taking a selfie overlooking the vista of Comuna 13

Wrap Up

Solo travel to Comuna 13 opened my mind and heart to a population that was negatively impacted way beyond their control. My experience and interaction with this community positively transformed and shaped my views about Medellin even more. Had I not been flexible, able to jump in an Uber ride to get there, and use a local guide (now friend), this experience might have been different — maybe even boring (oh!). I encourage travelers from around the world to embrace solo travel at least once in their lifetime. Women should see this as a strength and embrace the world around them. You might just meet your next best friend that can transform your life. 

Stay tuned for more articles on Medellin, Colombia. 

Ciao for now. 

by Leesa Truesdell

Top 10 Things to Do in Krakow, Poland

The Norwegian fjords, the Swiss Alps, the Greek islands, and Italian architecture are some of the famous European landmarks recognized around the world. But what about Poland? What’s the first thing that crosses your mind when you think about Poland? 

When I introduce myself as a Pole, especially outside Europe, I often see the confusion on people’s faces. I’ve met a dozen people who have never heard of Poland or were unable to find my home country on a map. So, it’s no surprise that Poland is not on the top of the list for globetrotters. I’d like to do my part to change that a bit.

Introducing Poland

Before I virtually take you around my favorite Polish city and share things to do in Krakow, I’d like to dispel some common misconceptions about my homeland. Poland is not an ice-locked country with never-ending snowfall. No polar bears are roaming the streets, and Poles do not speak Russian. 

Poland is not a tiny country tucked away somewhere in a corner of eastern Europe. In reality, Poland enjoys an average summer temperature of 20 to 25 degrees Celsius (68 to 77 F) and -3 to 3 degrees Celsius (27 to 37 F) during winter. It’s the 9th largest country in Europe by land size and population. Picture a country with as many people as California squeezed into the land about the size of New Mexico. Lastly, Poles speak Polish which is distinct from Russian. 

The number of visitors to Poland dramatically increased after it joined the EU in 2004. The opening of borders and expansion of tourist infrastructure from EU funds are only some reasons why over 18 million tourists visit Poland annually. But the main reason is its beauty. From amber beaches of the Baltic Sea fringed with white sandy dunes and beautiful cliff shores to the clear, calm waters of the Masurian Lake District to the snow-capped peaks of the Tatra Mountains, Poland has something for everybody. All of my friends who traveled to Poland with me were amazed by its rich history, friendly people, and mouth-watering local cuisine. The Poland they found was far more interesting and complex than what they imagined.

Welcome to Krakow 

The recipe for the perfect city to visit probably involves some combination of fascinating history, great architecture, rich cultural life, fine dining, and a vibrant nightlife — this is Krakow. It is the historical capital of Poland, full of legends, beautiful architectural monuments, and art. If you ever visit the city, give yourself extra time to discover some of its most iconic specialties. Poland proudly boasts many regional cuisines which I plan to introduce in future articles. For now, here are my top 10 things to do in Krakow:

The Old Town 

Any list of must-see places in Krakow starts with the Old Town, Stare Miasto. The oldest and the most famous part of the city was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List over 40 years ago. This part of Krakow never sleeps. There’s always something happening 24 hours a day through activities that vary by season. In the summer months, social life revolves around the restaurants and cafes located in the main square, Rynek Główny, and nearby streets. Things get a bit quieter during cold and snowy winters when locals and tourists enjoy mulled wine in old Krakow cellars.  

If the Old Town is the center of Krakow, the Market Square is certainly its beating heart. It is the largest square in Poland and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in Europe. The square is always noisy and loud. You can expect to hear street musicians entertaining crowds, horse-drawn carriages clattering on cobblestone streets, and the sound of the bugle from the tower of St. Mary’s Basilica at the top of the hour. It’s far from serene and that’s part of its charm. For those looking for tranquility, side streets off the Market Square offer an escape from the hustle-and-bustle. For me, this place is what Krakow is all about. I could spend hours in the square watching kids chasing soap bubbles, people feeding pigeons, admiring street artists, or simply enjoying Polish specialties served by many restaurants surrounding the square. 

The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) 

Right in the middle of Market Square is Cloth Hall (Sukiennice in Polish), one of the most important historical buildings in the city. It’s considered the world’s oldest shopping mall. Sukiennice includes two rows of stalls selling leather goods, folk-inspired artifacts, hats, lace, jewelry, woodcraft, and souvenirs. A decade ago, a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow opened in its basement. The museum is a real treasure and worth a quick visit for those interested in Krakow’s past.

St. Mary’s Basilica 

The basilica is the most prominent landmark of Old Town and one of the most famous churches in the country. It is full of priceless objects, including brilliant stained-glass windows and a magnificent altar.  Two towers top the basilica, the taller of which served as a watchtower during medieval times. A guard manned the tower day and night. He would blow on his bugle to warn citizens of fires, invaders, and other dangers. Even today, a “guard” blows his bugle from the watchtower, though it is done to mark the top of the hour, and it is decidedly more mellow. The bugle call has become the musical symbol of Krakow, and crowds gather to hear it. This watchtower offers a gorgeous, panoramic view of Krakow for those willing to climb its 300 steps. 

Town Hall Tower 

Also known as the Krakow Leaning Tower, the Town Hall Tower is the only remaining part of Krakow’s old town hall built in the 1300s. The tower displays black and white photographs of Krakow, medieval costumes, and a nice view of the city. Near the top, there is an old clock mechanism that visitors have a chance to see from inside. There is also a small café and theatre located in the basement. 

Schindler’s Factory

Made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory attracts record numbers of tourists from Poland and around the world. This museum not only exhibits the life and work of Oskar Schindler but also illustrates both the tragic and uplifting life in Krakow during World War II. In my opinion, Schindler’s Factory is one of the best museums in Poland and one not to be missed during a visit to Krakow. I highly recommend booking your tickets in advance. 

Planty 

Planty is the garden that surrounds the Old Town. It is one of the largest parks in the country, with a circumference of over four km. Originally the park was planted with mainly chestnut trees, but nowadays, it’s a home for a variety of the trees like lindens, maples, and spruces. It is the Central Park of Krakow (albeit smaller in scale) where we can find joggers, walkers, and cyclists.  With plenty of areas for rest, the park is the perfect place to relax for locals and tourists alike. 

Florianska

Florianska has always been one of the most important streets in the city. It’s been the center of artistic life for many famous Polish writers, painters, and performers. On both sides of the street, there are beautiful, historic tenement houses, including the oldest hotel in the city from the 1800s and a pharmacy museum that showcases exhibits from over 1,000 pharmacies from all over the country. Today, the street is a major tourist attraction. There are many shops, restaurants, cafes, and similar establishments, but their exterior building has been carefully preserved to maintain their original beauty.  

Wawel Castle 

The Wawel Royal Castle on Wawel Hill is one of Poland’s greatest places of historical and cultural importance. For centuries, it was the home of kings and the place where Polish history was made. 

It has become one of the most important museums in the country, and, in 1978, it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List along with Old Town. The complex has beautiful gardens, courtyards, a chapel, a treasury, stately rooms, city views, and, of course, the Wawel Castle itself. Make sure to plan your visit and be sure to pick up self-guide headsets. Allow yourself half a day to discover this magical place. 

Kazimierz 

Kazimierz is the former Jewish district situated a stone’s throw from the Old Town. After the Jewish population resettled here in the 15th century, it quickly became an important center of Jewish culture in Poland and the world. Many outstanding scientists, writers, and politicians were born in this area. Before WWII, approximately 60,000 Jews were living in Krakow, but tragically most did not survive the war.

Today, Kazimierz is one of the main attractions of Krakow, buzzing with cultural and artistic life. It tends to attract those who want to feel Krakow’s bohemian spirit. Endless cafes with unique character and artistic flair, as well as many well-known art studios and galleries, fill the district. You can expect to see a mix of historical monuments and synagogues (including the Old Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue in Poland from the 1400s) along with highly-rated restaurants and food trucks. 

Vistula District  

The Vistula River (Wisla in Polish) is the longest river in Poland. It traverses through four countries (Slovakia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland) and cuts through Krakow and Warsaw before flowing into the Baltic Sea in Gdansk. The Vistula riverbank in Krakow is among the most relaxing places in the city, along with Planty. It’s where locals sunbathe, picnic, and go for a leisurely walk or bike ride. There are a wide variety of churches, new developments, industrial parks, and bridges along the Vistula. Visitors can walk along the riverbank or enjoy the view from one of the restaurant ships that dot the river.

You can explore Krakow in multiple ways. Guided tour options include walking, biking, golf carts, and even Segway tours. Traveling couples may opt for romantic boat tours. It’s a city for those interested in history and art as well as culinary and alcoholic adventures. Krakow caters to students, families, and seniors by offering a variety of activities like vodka tasting, traditional Polish dumpling cooking classes, food tours, pub crawls, and museum tours. It’s worth mentioning that visiting Poland won’t break the bank, and your dollars (or pounds or euros as the case may be) will go farther than many other European countries. You will be able to eat, see, and enjoy so much more compared to better-known tourist hotspots. 

Hopefully, I have piqued your interest to discover what is in my mind about the most beautiful city in Poland. I personally can’t wait to be back there again. Stand by for my gastronomic guide to Poland for all you foodies out there.

by Anna Lech