Sunday, August 21, 2016

OH Canada!! Victoria, B.C.

Victoria B.C.
Victoria, BC is a lovely island slightly north of Seattle. You can travel there easily via air, or ferry. My first impressions were, “clean, friendly and easy to navigate”. The people were genuine and helpful, without appearing to patronize travelers. Victoria is a distinct tourist town. There are cruisers, snow birds and young international tourists milling around the small city. The city has so many statues, fountains and totem poles, it is surprising this isn't a well noted fact in the tourism paraphernalia that is distributed about the city sights. Victoria respects it's Native history and that is one of the beautiul points I noticed in the city no matter where we traveled.
sightseeing tour bus
   The downtown is extremely busy with a heavy tourist industry. Double-decker sightseeing buses and horse-driven carriages regularly make the rounds around the central port/ wharf area. It is common to see people walking around with their suitcases as they come to and from the ferry drop off areas.
University of Victoria
There is also a University in the area which attracts a number of international students and other visitors. The campus is spacious and encompassed by a natural, wooded setting, and plenty of deer and nature framing the campus. The University of Victoria is probably one of the more beautiful campuses I have visited, based purely on serenity and scenic beauty, accented with totems and fountains in homage to the local residents and tradition.

We stayed at the Marriott, right on the waterfront for the first couple of nights, enjoying the sights and easily walkable route to downtown and all the restaurants and bars centrally located. A brisk 10 minute walk over the bridge into downtown afforded us plenty of time to peruse the shops and experience a variety of eating opportunities. There is outdoor dining available, including rooftop bars, and seafood patios. We moved to the Capital City Center hotel for a couple days to get a better idea of a different part of the city and take in other artistic options closer to Chinatown. The entire experience gave us a full view of what Victoria has to offer; A beautiful city with many options for locals and tourists alike.

Local breweries and fine restaurants were as unique as the festivals and daily events which seemed abundant (CityVibe). We caught a farmers market which had an art and music aspect which seemed universal but had many nuances common to Canada. There were so many galleries and museums, we couldn’t visit them all. We did visit the Robert Bateman museum which is a small dedication to the local artist himself. We received a complimentary ticket to that gallery with our ticket purchase for the Big Bus. We also found renting bikes, scooters and cycles were easy and affordable and quite convenient. We rode from downtown Victoria to the University and all around the island, including a detour to Craigdarroch Castle.

You can get around easily with the help of the locals, maps, and accessible bike lanes. A fantastic and enjoyable option more cities should utilize. Maps were available everywhere we went, and appreciated.

We also purchased a two day pass on the Big Bus of Victoria which toured us all over the island and allowed us to hop on/ hop off at various designated stops. This allowed us to hear a colorful history of Victoria and some of the interesting stories we may have missed on our own. We also saw much more real estate, and all of the shore line.
Fisherman's Wharf Residences
We found many attractions to spend more time in the next few days, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, the Oak Bay Marina, and the historic Victoria Golf Club. The residential housing on the water at Fisherman's Wharf is fascinating, but there are local shops and lots of delicious, fresh seafood in this area as well.

Centennial SQ

Once we were at the Capital City Center Hotel, closer to Chinatown, it was easier to walk the Olde Town area and stumble upon smaller festivals in the Centennial
and Bastion Square areas. There is the same dedication to community art, totem and statues in these squares as there is in the downtown, wharf area.
We were excited to stumble upon a Flamenco Festival at the Centennial Square during our visit and not only see fun dancing, but listen to local music and nosh on food from local food trucks which were servicing the festival.

The Parliament area is also the center of all touristy things to do and directly across the street from the Empress Hotel which is a popular hi-end hotel directly across the street from Inner Harbour. 
We found the entire island walk-able, bike-able and so accessible I would say it was one of the easiest destinations to get around I have ever visited. Canada is fantastic and although my tourism had been limited to Niagara Falls in the past, Victoria is the cherry on top.

Monday, July 4, 2016


Summer time is the time for road trips, visiting family and friends, and taking long car trips across the country. I hate road trips. I hate driving, therefore a road trip is not on my agenda, BUT I respect the idea. I have done it before. We all grew up on family road trips and seeing the country from the back seat.
As an adult, I realize it is so much more.
This summer, I got the opportunity to take a couple road trips. One with my hubby, and one with my 20 year old, college aged daughter. Both trips were very important to me, simple because I was looking forward to spending the time together with people I rarely get to spend that amount of quality time with. Even in a car, I wanted it.
As much as I despise being in a car for more than 15-20 minutes, I couldn't wait to trek a few hours, or a few days with my family. I realized, these moments define what, and how, we remember summers with our loved ones.
My husband and I drove from Denver, to South Dakota. In search of Mount Rushmore, we headed out on a trek to seek the holy grail, so to speak. How could I have reached age 48 and not seen Mt. Rushmore? Who knows, but we decided it was the perfect destination for this trip.
Then we arrived...
Mt Rushmore
The fog had dropped and we could no more see George Washington from the viewing deck in South Dakota than we could see him (and his three compadres) from Denver. It was a wash. I hate to say it but, "That's why I hate road trips". What was the point?

So, we drove on, and towards our final goal of Washington D.C., found ourselves at Notre Dame.
A landmark to both of us. We love football. Anyone who loves football has some respect for Notre Dame and their football program. So, we stopped here, toured the campus, re-lived our college weekends in a campus pub, and moved on emotionally from the disappointment of Mt Rushmore.
We woke up the next day and decided to just haul ass to our destination. The fun was over. We were 50/50 at road trip satisfaction and now adjusting our age and stamina to our actual desire to be in a car/ truck even one minute longer, much less one more day, we put the peddle to the medal, and pushed towards the east coast.
Then, I woke up...
One sign. A miracle I even saw it. The dedication and memorial to United flight 93 which downed in Stoystown, Pennsylvania. 9-11. We were passing it. And, although 100 miles out of our way, I knew immediately, this is why we'd come.
Those moments of serendipity...kismet....when you realize why you are where you are, and how you got there no longer matters. Sometimes, it is exactly about the journey.
We'd found what we'd been looking for.
My entire career was based on one day of terror. A day I resigned myself to stand up for those who were still terrorized. Those that stood before me. Those that dedicated their life to flying free, and flying American.
We veered off course to our destiny.
My destiny.

I cannot explain in words the emotion that overtook me as we walked the grounds, viewed the crash site, listened to the audio from that fateful day. We were able to see all the names, some video, and the stories of the passengers, the flight crew, and even the unborn passenger whose mom's name is now etched in permanence in a memorial to all who flew that day and gave their lives.
I posted a note on the message board in honor of my peers and fellow Americans, "We will never forget. SWA FA S. S. K."
I fly now, for you.

The road trip I resisted so much had meaning, and every summer, I have new found respect for those who gather their families for the memories, and the trips... the adventures that will mean so much, some day, to those who take them.

We will never forget.

Part TWO:
My daughter and I took a short road trip (in theory) from Denver to St Louis. We only made it to Goodland before my car gave out. Kaput!
We spent 2.5 days together in Goodland KS, wondering, what do people do here?
Needless to say, we got an education in smalltownology. We also got an opportunity to spend some one on one, quality time together. Time we had not gotten since my daughter's senior year of high school, 3 years prior. I soaked it in.
I won't bore you with details of mom-daughter relationships, or boring small-town eatery woes, but I will say, again, I was blessed with an opportunity. A reminder to live in the moment. To embrace these times with your children. With your loved ones. With your small slice of life. Embrace it. And screw broken cars, and strange people and self-absorbtion. Be 100% with yourself and with your family all the time. It's all you have. Especially while road trippin'.

Bill's shootin' shop

World's largest Van Gogh

Goodland, KS

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bali, much more than Eat, Pray, Love

Indonesia is distance and concept.

Aqua Bali Villa resort
One of the things I feared most in planning this adventure was the length of the trip itself. Two hours flying to San Francisco, where I connected to a fourteen hour flight to Hong Kong, where I stayed a couple days, because I was genuinely afraid my body could not take another five hour flight to Denpasar, Indonesia. It's far.

When I arrived, the tropical heat did not surprise me. Nor did the masses of drivers waiting fares at the exit of the airport.
What surprised me was the gentle manner in which the people, even in their crowded state, addressed the exiting passengers. There was an unnatural (to me) sense of calm within the chaos, which I took for granted. I noticed it, and I felt the anxiety I always feel when entering a  new country where, immediately, the masses are trying to sell you something - trying to get the tourist dollars. It is understood.
This was different. The one constant I noticed about the Bali locals was, they never lost their sense of calm, or dignity as they worked. Yes, it is important to feed their families, and yes, tourism is a vital industry, but they never begged. They never shamed. They never lost their humanity when seeking work. I have never admired a group culture so much. I also did not see one homeless person. And I looked...I had a conversation with a taxi driver about homelessness, and the word itself was unfamiliar.

My plan was to see all the typical tourist attractions, the temples, the monkey forest, some waterfalls, and perhaps a sunset or two. The hotel sent a local driver to fetch me from the airport, and he agreed to drive me around the island a few days later to act as my private tour guide.

Not only did I get to see all the sites I was aware of on my little list, I was given a history lesson, taken to a cultural center for dance, escorted to the off the beaten path shopping areas, and even stopped at a  lovely butterfly park.
My driver was working not solely for my fare, but also on a commission for the places he introduced me and sales were made. Interesting concept for me, but how else would some of these businesses get the traffic they see? I was grateful for the private tour.

The other days I spent in Bali, I chose to seek out the local beaches, watch the surfers and meditate. Although, every birthday I like to recharge and re-position my state of mind for the upcoming birth year, this was a wonderful opportunity to really downsize internally. Lose some baggage, release myself of expectation and re-secure life's purpose.
Seminyak Beach

And I ate...Nasi garung was my favorite meal and I tried to eat it every day. Skewers of meat, with fried rice, crawfish, vegetables and different sauces which tasted of a combination of Indian and Chinese foods I am accustomed to in the states, but so much better. Hints of peanut and coconut, creamy delights to my taste buds. I thoroughly enjoyed every meal I had.

The shopping was another treat. I am not a big shopper, but finding dresses at a third the price, and jewelry unique to the island was like finding hidden treasures. I felt like a thief in the night and I cherished every piece I found.

The temples were exquisitely beautiful. Thinking that people built these intense sculptures was only overshadowed by the tributes and offerings that the local people gifted the sites daily. The burning incense in the street was common, as was the small offerings in front of local homes and businesses. Life and prosperity is a gift...and this culture is thankful and gracious, every day.

 Bali is a wonderfully, magical place. I can absolutely understand why so many people want to visit and soak in the culture. It is a mindful experience which everyone could use to help realign themselves and learn to just be.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bali, Indonesia Video

Here is a short taste of the Bali experience I recently had - see written accompaniment above.
And Welcome Back!!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was an interesting couple of days. I am not sure what I expected, but what I got was a visual cataclysm of things I could not put together in a puzzle. The construction was overwhelming. It was everywhere. Cranes and tow trucks, smog and piles of stuff, littered the downtown area.
Then there was the visual confusion of palm trees interspersed with construction and water and sky-rises. Towering buildings shadowed the streets filled with street vendors and small shops and food huts. Residents clothes hung from every building in the humid city seeking any dry, arid relief, while palm trees popped up in sporadic areas.
7-11's on every corner.
It reminded me of industrial cities like Detroit, but with the air of in-affordability. Confusing at best.

What Hong Kong revels in is the shopping. Chanel, Hermes, all the high end retailers were blatantly on display in downtown Kowloon, eagerly inviting tourists in to spend loads and loads of money.
A busy, busy, wharf city - titillating visitors with commerce and relishing in the appeal of retail to foreigners. 

I stayed at the Panda Hotel downtown. They provide shuttle service to the airport as well as the shopping areas of Kowloon. A pleasant high rise hotel, with restaurants and a sports bar on site. Walkable to many places downtown. A very safe and affordable hotel. Cute rooms and accessible staff made for a pleasant visit. I would recommend this hotel to any tourists looking for a central hotel.
Hong Kong 2016

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Welcome Back! Travel Savvy has been upgraded!!

The Savvy Traveler you all know and love has finally fund some congruity.
Check out the blog for new videos and writings compiling all the cities I toured in 2015, including Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Bali and Hawaii (again).
New pictures. New dialogue. New vibes, and here is a little video to say thank you and I missed YOU!

Also, I am no longer on FB, but please follow photos on Instagram @TravelsavvyIntl and tweets @TravelsavvyIntl : You will find my posts here on my blog, and you may always reach me by email and phone (DM if you do not have that current information). I am planning on vlogging more, so you can see my face and I can charge you with my travel energy, so watch out for that fun stuff coming up!

Love and Blessings~

Monday, March 2, 2015

St. John, USVI

The US Virgin Islands, consisting of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John might be the best kept secret down south. Quiet and central to the Caribbean, these islands offer an adult break from the hectic and sometimes aggressive visits to over populated islands like Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Cruz Bay
St. John is the smallest (and least populated) of the three islands, and likely the most serene. A quick ferry ride from St. Thomas will get you on the island in about 20 minutes from STT. The ferry entry is the busiest part of the island with people traveling back and forth from the island from 5a until early evening. The Cruz Bay area is buzzing with taxis, hotels, bars and restaurants. A variety of shops and car rentals are available in this small downtown area. It is easy to navigate and people are very helpful, locals and ex-patriots alike.

A 30 minute ride via car or bus will get you to the other side of the island where Coral Bay and the National Forest are located. Coral Bay is much smaller than Cruz Bay and far more limited in resources. There are only a handful of restaurants but there is a grocery, but better shop or eat before sundown, because this sleepy side of the island shuts down at dark. There are only two breakfast options that we found and one was consistently open every morning with coffee and US TV, so if you need CNN and a solid cup of coffee every morning head on over to Pickles in Paradise. The food here is also very good. The best deli on the island; breakfast sandwiches, burritos and so many choices for lunch items. We enjoyed everything we tasted here.

The other breakfast place we found was only open some mornings and at sporadic times. The evening dining was just as limited with only a couple options for food and drink. There were many rental homes on this side of the island, so prepare to make your own meals if you choose to stay in one of the beautiful homes in the Hurricane Hole area.

Local Island Fare

You can’t leave the island without trying the local pate. These breaded pockets hold meat or fish and are the specialty of the Virgin Islands. You can find them almost anywhere, but like food trucks in the states, some are good, and some are really good. Make time to head over to the local mall in the center of town and visit Etta’s. These were the best Pate’s we tasted, and were fresh and flavorful. Hands down, a must try for island fare.

Good evening, Donky!

The wildlife all over the island was rampant and fun to watch. Deer, goats, sheep, dogs, chickens and crabs roam freely. There was no surprise when donkeys came right up to our car to greet us. By the second day, the donkeys were meeting us at the gate to our rental home to get more apples from the kind main-landers. We were happy to oblige and even made a special trip to the grocery to get fruit and carrots for the local animals.

The nightlife is restricted to Cruz Bay, so if you want to drink and party into the wee hours of the night, you will want to stay on this side of the island. There is nothing going on in Coral Bay after dark. Nothing. 

Coral Bay is famous for snorkeling and hiking and if you are the outdoorsy type and appreciate exploring National Parks and wildlife, please take advantage of the hiking trails and open Park trails to the many secluded beaches. We found trail maps were easily accessible, but not very accurate. Follow the local signs and trust the handwritten tips. They work.

If you are like us, we enjoyed sitting on the porch of our house and watching the sunrise every morning, and the sunsets in the early evening, as they reminded us how precious life is in Technicolor. The coquis chirping and the wave’s consistent sounds kept us attached to the earth as we just enjoyed breathing in the natural gifts of the earth.