I definitely have two sides to my personality. One side is incredibly organized, always plans ahead and won’t go anywhere or do anything without reading reviews on both TripAdvisor and Yelp (and then cross-referencing the two). The other side is spontaneous and impulsive and likes to annoy the first side by doing things like making irresponsible expensive purchases, going skydiving and getting vacation tattoos….apparently.
The few weeks after getting my first tattoo last year were pretty much solely devoted to planning my next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. I decided not to book anything (I’ve learned to recognize when I should ignore the spontaneous side) and the moment passed. 13 months later, I still had only the one tattoo. Then I went on vacation to Southern California.
On our last night in Hermosa Beach, the man and I went out for some late night drinks in an awesome ‘locals’ bar, and half a cider later I’d decided that I needed to have the outline of a wave etched into my left rib. The tattoo on my wrist features the city and the mountains so something representing the beach could be seen as a natural and logical addition, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what I was thinking. I honestly can’t remember how I ended up reading Yelp reviews of tattoo shops, but there we were at Hermosa Ink & Apparel just after their 11am opening time the following morning.
It was here that my commitment to spontaneity started to waiver slightly. We arrived at the store literally seconds behind another customer (she held the door open for me) who was going in to book an appointment for a later date, but ended up deciding to have her tattoo done there and then. This meant it would be a 45 minute wait for us. I initially said no and left in a mini-strop, angry that I hadn’t listened to the organized side of my personality which told me to get there at 11am on the dot. Instead, the spontaneous side suggested we go for a walk on the beach, making us 2 seconds later than the other girl and potentially meaning that we wouldn’t have time to get the tattoo because we were supposed to be in Santa Barbara by lunch. Maybe it was a sign that this wasn’t meant to be? The man convinced me that there are no such things as signs (and there aren’t, unless I want there to be) and that Santa Barbara would still be there an hour later, so I went back in and booked my appointment for 12pm. That gave us half an hour to sit in the bar next door and practice drawing a wave. It’s harder than it sounds. Luckily, the tattoo artist, Olivia, was infinitely better at drawing than I am (of course) so nothing I drew ended up anywhere near getting permanently inked on my body.
Olivia was great and it was a very quick tattoo. It hurt more than the one on my wrist, which I was expecting with my ribs, but it was over much quicker. It lasted just long enough for the man to decide that he wanted in on the vacation tattoo bandwagon too! I thought this display of spontaneity was a little excessive, partly because this was his first tattoo and mostly because it was on his hand! Before I could feel guilty for peer pressuring him into it, his was finished too and he absolutely loved it.
Weirdly enough, we both got water themed tattoos, though in NO way was this one of those ‘couples’ tattoo things. Saying that, I will always think of Hermosa Beach and of him whenever I look at my left rib, which is kind of cool.
Three weeks on, I still love my little wave. The main reason that this tattoo was an easy decision for me is that it’s always covered up, so I’ve barely seen it since it was done. I learned last time that a placement of a tattoo is important not because of what others might think when they see it, but what YOU might think when you see it. I cannot escape my wrist tattoo, which was incredibly overwhelming when I was first getting used to it. It is always in the corner of my eye. Luckily I still like it, but it taught me a lesson that even my spontaneous side will never forget. This time I didn’t have that concern as I’ll only see it when wearing a bikini (when my tattoo will be the least of my worries), so in the words of half-a-cider-Lizzie, ‘why not?’
January and I have never really gotten along. My birthday is 11 days before Christmas, so December has always had double the excitement and celebrations than if I was born in any other month of the year. I’ve travelled somewhere for the last five Christmases (back to England and also to the winter wonderland that is Mount Baker) which just makes coming home and facing January that much harder. Every year I swear that I’m going to book a trip at the end of January, just so I have something to look forward to. Every year I then realize that I have in fact spent all of my money on December. So every year starts with a blank calendar and an empty bank account. Turns out January isn’t for vacations, it’s for vacation planning.
In case you didn’t already know, I really, really like planning vacations. A trip just wouldn’t be as fun without the weeks (or months) of anticipation and preparation leading up to it. I generally always have something to look forward to, which is why January 2016 threw me a little bit.
The big wedding savings plan begins this month (date is set for August 2017, yay!), and I’m trying this radical new thing of only spending money that I have instead of putting vacations on credit cards. This means that most of the new places I wanted to go this year (Kauai, Costa Rica, Cuba) are now out of budget. It also means I’ll hopefully have an amazing honeymoon to look forward to at the end of next year, so I can skip the more exotic destinations this year. After a month of panicking about having nothing booked, we talked about what we really enjoy doing on vacation. Turns out, we’ve already been to some pretty amazing places that we’d like to see again. So this year’s vacation plan looks a little like this:
March – Mount Baker
Technically, this is the one trip that’s to somewhere new. We’ve been to the Mount Baker area for Christmas for the past three years, but never actually made it to the mountain (though we got really, really close in 2015). We’re heading up with friends for a ski weekend in March and I can’t wait! The chairlifts at Mount Baker don’t have safety bars, so fingers crossed I survive and make it through the rest of this list.
March – Seattle
I really, really, really loved my last trip to Seattle. We broke out of downtown and spent most of our weekend in the breweries, bars and coffee shops of Capitol Hill and Ballard. We’re going to go back and do it over again in March, this time with our amazing best friends and former Hawaii travel companions. We haven’t been away together since that trip in February 2012, and I can’t wait to go be hipsters together.
April – California Coast
After uming and ahing over where to go in the spring, we booked an extra long weekend in California that includes all of our favourite things: driving, the beach and small towns with great coffee. We’re staying in Hermosa Beach for three nights and then driving up to Santa Barbara for our final night (new destination!). I stopped by Hermosa Beach on a post-Coachella road-trip last year and loved it so much that I decided I was going to move there for three months this summer. Little did I know I was about to get engaged and start saving for a wedding, so that didn’t happen. But three nights is better than nothing!
August – Oregon Coast
Speaking of driving, the beach and small towns with great coffee…we’re heading back to Oregon for our August long weekend tradition. Last year we headed inland along the Columbia River Gorge and down to Bend which was so much fun, but this year I am dying to get back the coast to this stunning view:
December – New York
Our first vacation together was to New York in December 2008, and we’ve been talking about going back for a couple of years now. Eight years later we’re so much better at vacations. We know what we like to do (eat food), where we like to go (neighbourhoods outside of downtown) and what kind of activities we like to do (food again). Our last trip was amazing but I think that we’d have a very different experience this time. And I never did get to ice skate in Central Park.
There it is. A year of going back to places we know and love, just with a different spin. And now I can get back to my 18 months of honeymoon planning…
Every January since 2011 I’ve written a list of places I want to visit in Canada. For a couple of years, I made the mistake of publishing said lists on this blog. I can officially say that I’ve been to 0% of these places. This year I left BC for the first time for a week in Edmonton with work, but I didn’t see much and it wasn’t my plan or choice so I don’t really count it as a ‘seeing more of Canada’ success. The first half my 2014 has suggested that the second half will go in much the same direction, so I’ve decided to take a stand. No longer will I waste away long weekends ‘relaxing in the city’, looking at Tripadvisor reviews for places I don’t get around to booking, or complaining that nowhere is pet friendly (lies). Ladies and gentlemen, I have a plan for the summer. And it looks a bit like this:
June 13-15 – Bowen Island
Yes, that’s today. We’re heading to Bowen Island after work for a weekend with my brother and his girlfriend, and of course Dave is coming too. I’m very much not looking forward to the horrific Pet Area on the ferry, but am thankful that the journey is only 20 minutes and know that the outdoor hot tub on the deck of our beach-side guest suite will be more than worth it. I’ve been to Bowen Island before, but only for a day and it was a couple of years ago, so I’m looking forward to more exploring. It’s been an intense week for me as I completed a 5-day intensive personal development course in a basement with no shoes on, so I’m looking forward to some fresh air and relaxation.
Remember when I went to Hawaii in March, and loved it so much that I booked a return trip the week I got back? Well, that return trip was 10 days in Maui, and I went at the end of October. It’s been a busy few months so I was desperately looking forward to the break, but the craziness of September also meant that this was the most unprepared I’ve ever been for a vacation. The boyfriend came down with food poisoning the night before, I forgot to print directions to our hotel, and left without any kind of cardigan or jacket. Luckily, none of it mattered and we had an amazing time exploring the diverse island of Maui. October really was the best month to do; the weather was 30 degrees and beautiful sunshine, yet the island seemed…empty. There was always a lounger at the pool, and always a table for dinner. I’m not sure where all the other tourists were hiding, but it wasn’t on Maui. Here’s a few things we got up to.
We spent our first four nights in Kihei, a resort area on the south coast of Maui. It’s the hottest part of the island because its sheltered by the wind, and is where most of the hotels are. We stayed at the Coast Hotel Maui which was across from Kamaole Beach Park I. It had a small but mostly empty pool area, where I spent a good amount of time reading and swimming.
Kihei is famous for its beaches, which really are beautiful. We visited most of the beaches in Kihei and Wailea (the expensive resort area just South of Kihei) either for a swim or a sunset stroll. My favourites were the stunning Big Beach with its yellow sands, and award winning ‘best beach in America’ Wailea Beach.
Kihei’s unobstructed view of the horizon over the water made it the perfect place for watching sunsets, and we spent two lazy evenings drinking Mai Tai’s by the beach. There’s no real ‘downtown’ in Kihei, it’s pretty much hotel after hotel, but we still found some great local food options, including the world’s sweetest French Toast and the local dish ‘Loco Moco’ (rice, hamburger meat, mushroom, fried egg and gravy). It was definitely very quiet in terms of nightlife, but the beautiful beaches made up for it.
As soon as we booked our trip, I knew I wanted to snorkel at Molokini. Molokini is a volcanic crater that’s partly submerged underwater, leaving a crescent shaped reef that just happens to be a stunning dive spot. The shape of the crater means that it blocks a lot of the currents, leaving a calm and protected area with great visibility. We did a morning boat trip with Pride of Maui which included snorkelling at Molokini, snorkelling at Turtle Town, breakfast, lunch and an open bar. I rented an underwater digital camera for the morning and got some great shots of the fish, and of the boyfriend trying out Snuba (just what it sounds like, a cross between snorkel and scuba). Turtle Town is an area closer to the shore where turtles are known to gather, and we were able to spot and swim with three or four. I looooove snorkelling and was very happy to spend a morning out on the water.
Road to Hana
The Road to Hana was another must-do on our list. This drive is famous for being very windy and narrow in places, with over 600 turns (apparently) and 50 one-lane bridges. It’s described in a way that makes it sound like a terrifying drive, when in fact it was a calm, relaxing and scenic journey through lush rainforest. If you’re an American in a large car who is used to multi-lane freeways then I can see how you might find it uncomfortable, but if you’ve driven anywhere in Europe it won’t be an issue. The highway itself is only about 70 miles long, but it takes at least 4 hours to drive because of all of the pools, waterfalls and hikes on the way. The scenery really is beautiful, and even though we missed a few stops (instructions like ‘stop 7/10’s of a mile past the mile 42 marker’ were not helpful when we couldn’t reset our odometer) we saw our fair share of rainforest life. My favourite stop was Ching’s Pond, a pool popular with locals where we stopped for a swim and saw a man cliff dive from a crazy height. Luckily James recorded the jump, as I couldn’t watch!
We spent the night in Hana itself, which is a very sleepy town. Hana itself is definitely not a ‘destination’, the road is about the journey rather than getting there. The apartment we booked was huge, and a had a great view of the black sand beach at Hana Bay.
In the morning, we got up and continued along the highway to the Seven Sacred Pools, part of Haleakala National Park. There are not seven pools, and they’re definitely not sacred, but were a beautiful (and popular) place for a morning swim.
This is where most people turn round and return via the same route they came on, but we kept driving round the bottom of the island, and the back of Haleakala Crater. The reason most people don’t go this way is that there’s a 5 mile section of unpaved road, which technically isn’t covered by rental car insurance. This means that if you break down they won’t cover your recovery cost, which will be in the thousands of dollars range. After a LOT of internet research I decided that we’d go for it anyway, as the promises of amazing scenery seemed to outweigh the possible risks. The decision paid off, and we couldn’t believe how quickly the scenery changed from rainforest to desert, and back again, as we passed behind the volcano. The road itself really wasn’t that bad, especially if, like the boyfriend, you grew up in mid-Wales where gravel roads are part of your daily commute. I’m so glad we took the risk as we got to see a part of the island that most people don’t.
On the way back from Hana, we stopped off for sunset at Haleakala Crater. The crater itself isn’t actually volcanic, but was formed when two large valleys were formed in the volcano summit by erosion, and then covered in lava in the latest 17th century eruption. The summit is 10,000ft high and is reached by driving up a series of long switchbacks. I did this drive, and can safely say that driving into, through, and out of the clouds was a surreal experience.
A lot of people travel up to the Summit for a great view of the island, but I was really hoping for cloud to have formed (it usually has by the afternoon) so we’d be able to watch the sunset from up above. Sunrise is the most popular (and coldest) time for visits, but this didn’t fit into our schedule so we went for sunset instead. We weren’t disappointed. After a very short hike down inside the crater, we curled up at the viewpoint to watch the sun light up and sink behind the clouds. Once it disappeared, it left behind a really eerie atmosphere. The drive down was long, slow and very very dark, but was made all the better by the world’s best burrito on the way home. This was the best day of our vacation!
When we returned from Haleakala Crater we drove straight to our final destination, Ka’anapali. Ka’anapali is in West Maui, and is a resort area known for the beautiful Ka’anapali Beach. We were upgraded to a HUGE apartment (bigger than any I’ve lived in!) which was a 7 minute walk across a golf course to Ka’anapali Beach itself. The resort owned a private beach cabana right on the sand, with sun loungers, towels, showers, washrooms and even a kitchen. It was the perfect place to spend the morning, especially as snorkelling at Black Rock (50ft away) was pretty good for considering it was so close to the shoreline.
10 minutes walk down the beach was Whalers Village, a shopping mall with a series of beachside bars and restaurants. We definitely made the most of a Happy Hour or two, and this part of Maui was much more lively in the evening. The guidebooks said that West Maui would be windier than South Maui, but we didn’t feel a single breeze during our 4 days there. It turns out I didn’t need any of the cardigans I’d forgotten, as it didn’t cool down much in the evening. Way to pack light!
Lahaina is a small town about 10 minutes south of Ka’anapali, and is an actual town. It has high street (Front Street) full of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and tourist shops. The oldest house on the island, Baldwin House, can be found here, and there’s also a Banyan Tree that spans a whole block.
We first came here for a boat trip to Lana’i (more below) and ended up coming back for lunch at Bubba Gump and an afternoon exploring. That wasn’t quite enough, so we went back once more for dinner on our last night. Lahaina was quieter than I expected, and was touristy but quirky and loveable at the same time. It was a little like a Hawaiian Carmel, and I definitely did some Christmas shopping in the most amazing gift store. Next time we visit Maui, we’d love to spend a night or two in Lahaina to really make the most of it.
I didn’t go to a Lu’au on my last trip to Hawaii, so I was exited to visit the Old Lahaina Lu’au on this trip. We were greeted with a flower Lei and a Mai Tai, and watched a huge, roasted pig getting dug out from the underground sand oven it was cooking in.
We’d selected the traditional seating, so we were placed in the front row on a low table where we sat cross legged on cushions. Dinner was a delicious buffet, and the cocktails kept flowing. The show itself is known for being the most authentic in Maui, and the performers told the history of the Hawaiian islands through a moving performance. The evening wasn’t cheap ($100 per person) but definitely worth doing once for a truly Hawaiian experience.
What’s better than going on vacation to a Hawaiian island? Going on vacation to TWO Hawaiian islands! Lana’i is just a 90 minute catamaran ride from Lahaina, so we booked ourselves a day trip to check it out. Lana’i is the smallest of the Hawaiian islands that’s accessible to the public and only 3,000 people live there. It’s a privately owned island, which means that every person with a job works for ‘the company’. Strange. When James Dole was the owner in the 1920s, Lana’i was the world’s largest pineapple plantation. Today, the main source of employment is two Four Seasons resorts plus a handful of grocery stores. We booked our trip with Trilogy as they are the only tour company who has access to Hulopoe Bay, a preserved beach area with fantastic snorkelling.
After breakfast and snacks on the catamaran we headed to Hulopoe Bay for some snorkelling, before joining a 90 minute van tour around Lana’i City. The city is where most people on the island live, and it was so interesting to see how the island transitioned from a plantation to modern day living. I say modern…there are no traffic lights or public transit on the island, and the barge arrives from Oahu on Wednesdays with food and supplies for the coming week. It has a very laid back, traditional feel, and I’m really glad I took the time to see the island. After the tour we had a delicious meal before returning back to Lahaina for sunset.
The question I keep getting asked now is ‘which island do you prefer, Oahu or Maui?’. My answer is that they were both beautiful, and my two vacations has very different themes. Waikiki has a bad rep for being touristy, which it is, but that’s no bad thing if you’re looking for a busier area with lots to do. I loved my trip there as we spent our days exploring the island and the stunning shorelines, and our nights eating and drinking in the many beachside bars and restaurants. Maui was much more laid back with more diverse scenery (rainforest, volcano, beaches). The focus on this island was the beaches and the relaxation that comes with them, to the extent that most restaurants stopped serving dinner by 9pm. It was also great to be able to visit Molokini and Lana’i, and the driving was fantastic. This made for a very different vacation, and I still don’t prefer one island over the other. My advice? Visit both! Next stop, Kauai…
1. I don’t have a Canadian accent…or do I?
I mentioned in my last post that every single friend I’ve spoken to since I’ve been back has commented on my accent, or lack of one. It seems like a year has been long enough to pick up more than a slight twang, though how strong that twang is depends on who you talk to. The one thing I will admit is that my vocabulary has definitely been altered somewhat, with words like toilet, autumn and lift being replaced by washroom, fall and elevator. If it’s any consolation, I get the same funny looks when I use the wrong word in both countries, perhaps even more so back in the UK!
2. Home will always be home…
I was excited, nervous and more than a little apprehensive about heading back to the UK after a year, mainly because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know whether arriving home would make me feel happy or sad, or whether everything would be the same as I remembered it. As it turns out, I didn’t really feel any of these things. There was no rush of emotion or epic conclusion to the weeks of worrying, I just, well, came home and got on with it. I was surprised at how quickly I settled back into normal life, and how weird it wasn’t being back in Ipswich, Southampton, London and Cambridge. When I met up with friends it really didn’t feel like a whole year (or in some cases much longer) had passed since I left; we just got right back into our flow. Which I guess is a good thing.
3. …but one person’s home is another’s holiday.
Despite feeling comfortably at home as soon as I touched down at the airport, my trip back to the UK was a vacation in all senses of the word (three weeks of work…hello?) and I did make the most of the holiday feeling as much as possible. There are so many, many differences between England and Vancouver, and I found myself naturally appreciating the things that make each place unique rather than comparing the two. I loved sailing down the Orwell River in the freezing cold, wandering past historical colleges in Cambridge and enjoying a (cheap) drink in a London pub. I insisted on taking photos of everything, because ‘my friends back home would love this’, and I realised how lucky I was to be spending three weeks of my year in a place that many people only dream of coming. It sounds a bit soppy (and a tad unbelievable), but there’s definitely something to be said for looking at your everyday life through the eyes of a tourist.
Today marks the 10month anniversary of my Canadian adventure, and also one month until I arrive back home for my Christmas Vacation (Holiday Roooooooooaaaad). It’s been 10 months since I saw my friends, 10 months since I walked my dogs, and 10 months since I had dinner with my family. When I first booked my flight back I was disappointed to be returning home so early in December as it wasn’t ideal to be using up so many of my previous vacation days at this time of year. In reality it turns out I’ll have plenty to spare after all, and the timing is in fact perfect. I have had an amazing 2011 and couldn’t be happier in Vancouver (well, the Canucks could pick up their game this season), but I am beyond excited to be returning home for three and half weeks.
Those of you who know me will not be surprised to know that the planning has well and truly started. Facebook messages have been sent, dinner reservations made and travel plans arranged. When I arrive back at the airport the boy and I will be heading out separate ways. Him to spend some time with friends in London and me to go straight back home with my family, where I’ll spend a relaxing few days being jet lagged, playing on the Wii and eating British cheese.
It’s my birthday on December 14th, and I’m celebrating with my family and grandparents during the day then meeting the boy in London that evening. From there we’ll travel onto Southampton to catch up with friends before stopping off in Winchester on the way to Basingstoke to visit my other grandparents on the way back home. The next few days will be spent travelling in and out of London and more coffee, lunch and dinner dates before returning home for Christmas. I’ll be visiting Cambridge between Christmas and New Year, then seeing in 2011 back in London before flying back out to Vancouver in early January (date TBC when flight is eventually booked).
It’s going to be a busy few weeks, but one I absolutely cannot wait for. I’m excited to see my friends, excited to see my family, and excited to see just how I’ll feel about being back in the UK after my year away. The strangest part of the whole trip will be not being at work for over three weeks, which is hard to imagine after the craziness of the past few months. Checking out of my Canadian life and back into the UK will be a little like stepping into a parallel universe, and I can’t wait to find out what I’ve missed. The countdown to Christmas is well and truly on!
This week, the final of September, is an important one. It’s officially the start of fall, and it’s the season premier of Gossip Girl. But even more importantly, it marks the end of 8 weeks of visitors to Vancouver. 41 of the previous 54 days have been spent hosting guests from across the pond, and all of a sudden I’m finding myself without friends or family, and experiencing quite the range of emotions.
First out of the gate were my boyfriend’s family – Mum, Dad and 10 year old Nephew from a little village by the Brecon Beacons in mid-Wales. This was their first trip to a large, North American city (Orlando doesn’t count) and we weren’t 100% sure how it would go, but they loved all of their 14 days (despite the obvious culture shock) and can’t wait to return! Next in line were my brother and his girlfriend, and their 6 day visit was part of a larger post-graduation, North American trip. They also loved the city, particularly Grouse Mountain and Stanley Park. We then enjoyed a 10 day break, before two of our friends arrived from Southampton. They also had a fantastic week (there’s a running theme here), loved the shopping and the scenery, and spent their final night in Vancouver googling jobs in the city. Last but definitely not least were my parents. They were here for 11 days and squeezed in trips to Seattle and Whistler as well as Vancouver before they headed home a week ago today.