Category Archives: Travel

The Last Hurrah

I meant to post this earlier but this week got away from me — it’s been busy times! So, this is it! The last Cuba post, and then we’re back to regular life things.

Wednesday was our last full day in Cuba with everyone who was still around. Although I was sad that our Toronto friends and moms were gone, it was really nice to spend a full day with the crew that was left. Aside from Sean, they are the group that we don’t get to see very often, since they live on the other side of the country. I was looking forward to a day of hanging out with them, and it was just really nice. We kicked the day off right by renting scooters (Heather and Brent didn’t come for the scooter excursion, as they had already rented one earlier in the week).

Baddest bike gang on the block. Eric was a little, uh, unsteady at first since he had never driven a scooter before, so Kenya got on the back of Lisa’s and had a much better time. Eric got the hang of it really quickly though!

Oh boy, that is a beard and a half.

Unfortunately I had forgotten my driver’s license, which you needed to rent a scooter, so I saddled up with Evan. We all scooted around the Varadero strip for a couple hours and it was super fun.

A highlight for sure!

Dixon was loving his life on the back of Sean’s scooter, his luscious locks floating in the breeze.

We stopped at the large outdoor market and did a little shopping, and then we headed to the beginning of the peninsula, where the oldest resorts are, and stopped for a break at a pier. Pelican!

Lovers!

LOVED the scooters. It was so much fun ripping around on those.

After we dropped the scooters off, we headed to a little chocolate shop across the street from our resort. Ian told us they had amazing sundaes, and we were hot and ready for ice cream. Ian had really bigged the place up but I was not disappointed! My sundae was even better than I had imagined.

Lisa got a chocolate iced coffee and it was also exceptionally delicious.

It could have just been because we were hot but we loved it all.

After the chocolate fest we met up with Heather and Brent and the 10 of us had lunch together in the buffet. Then we changed into our bathing suits and headed straight to the beach. We spent the rest of the day there and I would give just about anything to be back there right now. Brent brought a kite!

Scott flying that puppy around behind us…

Aww, my baby brother.

The tide was really low that day and it left a sandy island in the middle of the water. We set up shop there for a while and it was glorious.

Evan wearing his wedding ring! And also wearing shorts, although they are being sneaky in that pic.

Dixon got buried.

He was a good sport about it.

This would have been a much better photo if my camera didn’t have water all over the lens, but you get the idea.

We met a group of Americans, two guys and a girl who were touring around Cuba, and they approached us for help finding their GoPro they had lost in the water. Evan and I actually had goggles with us so we let them borrow them and one of the guys found it right away. They said they could tell we were Canadian because we all stopped what we were doing immediately and got in the water to help them. And then when they gave my goggles back I lost those in the water, and none of them offered to help me find them so I could tell they were American (ohh, just kidding just kidding. But they didn’t.) We ended up hanging out with them for a couple hours, hearing about their Cuban adventures and of course talking about the differences in our politics (of which there are MANY).

They offered to take a group photo of us so we took them up on that.

CUBAAAAAA. I love this pic.

At 6pm Evan and I met with Alex, our photographer, in the lobby. All our wedding photos were ready! He had all our pictures on a memory stick (that they had put in a wooden puzzle box with a Cuban flag on it, so that was cute), our videos on a hard drive, and a personalized album with 24 prints. We were so impressed. Alex went through all the photos with us on his Macbook and I may have cried. I couldn’t believe how amazing the pictures were and how quickly we got them. I was so happy.

Then we showered and headed out on the town with our pals. We took three cabs off the resort to a nearby restaurant where we had reservations.

I think the girls had the best car. Pink lightning!

This is what happens in a convertible when you have long hair.

The guys had sweet rides too, though.

We went to Paladar Nonna Tina, an Italian restaurant that Evan and I also went to last year (and he also went earlier in the trip with all the guys) and it has really great food! It was such a lovely family dinner!

And we had an album full of wedding photos with us. Evan and I waited until we were with everyone to look at them so we had a viewing session with the group and that is honestly one of my favourite memories. I love that we got to show our beautiful pictures to that group while eating delicious food and drinking all the beer. Fun times.

We ordered a large olive oil focaccia and two giant pizzas for the table (all delicious) and I ordered the spaghetti bolgonese.

Really good but after the pizza and some of Evan’s gnocchi (REALLY good) I was so full and couldn’t finish it all.

There is a sweet pink cadillac that I had seen driving up and down the street not only this year, but last year as well, and it was my dream to ride in it. That night my dream came true.

We got in there!

It was just as fun as I hoped it would be and the guy even played Summer of ’69 for us as we cruised back to our resort. It was pretty groovy.

Brent, Eric and Dixon ended up in one of the cars that drove us to the restaurant.

And Evan, Scott and Sean somehow ended up in a horse and buggy. They ate our dust. Byeeeeeeee.

Hey girrrrrlllllls.

We ended our night at the Beatles bar, because OF COURSE. There was a different band that night and I was digging them.

I LOVED this girl, she was killing it!!!

I wanted to be her friend.

And the guitar player was really into it.

Our new American friends met us there. We really liked Ashley in the red shirt.

But then the two guys who were with her got sort of weird (pretty sure they were just really drunk), so we didn’t end up hanging around with them for too long.

Sistas.

Once we were back in our rooms packing to leave in the morning, Heather and Brent called us and asked if we wanted to go swimming in the ocean with them. Um, YES. I had my bathing suit on and was ready to go in about 30 seconds. I hadn’t been swimming in the ocean at night that whole trip and it needed to happen. It was a full moon and the water was so beautiful, it was such a good way to end the best trip ever!

I still can’t believe how much fun we had. Ah, I want to go back and do it all again. I’m still hearing stories about things that happened that I didn’t personally witness. And we had quite a large group with us so I’m impressed that everyone got along so well and there was no intergroup drama or conflict or anything (not that I expected that but you never know). Just good times all around. We have a reunion coming up this summer at Brad and Brennie’s cottage and I already can’t wait!

 

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La Habana

Our amazing Cuban wedding photographers, AV Smile, had several add-ons to the packages they offered, one of them was a photo session in Havana for an extra $200. We figured why not. We’re here, and we’re already spending all this money (although our photographers were very reasonable and so beyond amazing for the price we paid), and we’re never going to have the chance again to traipse around Havana obnoxiously in our wedding attire. It is an amazing city. We did a private tour last year that I never ended up blogging about, because we saw SO MUCH in one day that I was just overwhelmed. I wanted to do it justice and I didn’t know where to start.

Anyway, we decided to do it. I woke up at 6am on Tuesday after the catamaran day, had my bestie curl my hair and help me get into my wedding dress (THANK YOU AGAIN LISA!!!), and then we waited for Alex (the main photographer) in the lobby. All our Toronto friends and our moms were leaving that morning so it was cute that I got to hang out with them for a bit in my wedding dress before they left.

Alex brought a driver and an assistant lighting guy with him. They picked us up in a classic car, and we were off!

Havana is about a two hour drive from Varadero, but the entire way is beautiful and interesting — there is so much to see! The time flew by. I should probably tell you to get ready for a ton of pictures, though considering my posts over the last couple of weeks you should be prepared by now. We had over 200 pictures from Havana and I’ve cut it down to only about 50 for this, which was so hard. Our pictures are all so amazing, it’s hard to pick favourites! Again, they’re all by Alex at AV Smile.

We started in Old Havana in the Plaza 13 de Marzo, and our first photos were in front of the Museum of the Revolution, which is a former presidential palace. We canoodled around in that area for a bit.

And it was INSANELY. BEAUTIFUL.

What a scene to stumble upon. Our photographer Alex is so ridiculously talented. I still can’t believe it’s us in these pictures.

So many people clapped and cheered or waved at us, or yelled congratulations, we felt like celebrities! I remember a man yelling to us “I am so happy to see you today!” The people of Cuba are so nice!

It was really nice to just chat and, well, kiss and whatever, even though we had an audience. We were in such a beautiful place and it felt really romantic. We also didn’t get to spend a lot of time alone in Cuba, since there were people around us all the time, so this was something we got to do just the two of us. I’m so glad we did it.

We walked over to the edge of the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta (a fortress in the Bay of Havana), right beside Playa Malecon (a local beach), and resumed the photo fest there.

We were taking pictures right across from the Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro or just Morro Castle, which is a popular symbol Havana (we actually toured it last year). It first saw action in 1762 in the Battle of Havana, and the lighthouse that was added in 1846 totally photobombed our picture.

We did not know what was happening and Alex and his assistant were looking at the picture after and just dying laughing. Alex showed me and said “Show this to your girls, they’ll like it.” Yes, yes they would. He only spent a day with them but he knows them well. But I feel like everyone can appreciate it.

The lighthouse got Photoshopped out of the next one.

So we have one we can send to family 😉

Skyline of new Havana!

After that we walked over to Paseo del Prado, a street designed in 1772 and the dividing line between old and new Havana.

I do not know what building this is, but it’s a beauty.

Rawr.

The street itself is quite an attraction, and is considered to be the most beautiful street in Havana.

I’m gonna have to agree with that.

The building in the below photos is a schoolhouse! Alex asked the teachers if we could walk through to go up onto the balcony, and that was quite the interesting experience. It was currently recess so the kids were all playing in a courtyard and no one was in the classroom we walked through to get onto the balcony, but there was some pretty difficult-looking math on the chalkboard. I did not envy those kids.

I love, love, love that Alex got the school kids playing in the doorway below us. That is one of my favourites.

After Paseo del Pravo we got back in the car to go to the National Ballet of Cuba (or Ballet Nacional de Cuba), which looks like this from the outside and is just incredible. The inside, too.

I felt like Cinderella in there!

Ugh, so beautiful.

We almost blend right into the background in this one.

This one was taken outside of the old Bacardi Building.

And this one inside.

It is also magnificent, as seriously every single building in Havana seems to be.

You can see El Capitolio, the National Capital Building of Havana (currently under renovations and they’re moving the government offices back into it), behind us in the below picture.

And the Great Theatre of Havana (or Gran Teatro de la Habana).

Alex actually went inside the theatre and up onto a balcony for these next shots.

I love them!

The pictures below were taken where this old building had its side ripped off and the inside was now exposed. Alex was like “This is a beautiful spot but there are piles of caca in there and it’s a bit stinky, do you feel comfortable?” The bottom of my dress was already destroyed by that point so why not. Alex told me to lift my dress up, and in we went (I dropped my dress back down in a clean-ish spot for the pictures).

There were literally a few piles of crap behind us and Evan asked me “do you think this is human or animal?” We got our answer a few seconds later when some random dude dropped his pants, squatted behind a pillar beside us and took a big caca. I did not know what was happening until after the pictures were taken or I think I would have looked a bit more horrified.

I should probably burn my dress now, but the pictures are so beautiful I’m gonna say it was worth it.

Back to the Capitol building.

After that the driver picked us all back up and took us into more of the interesting alleyways of Old Havana, the area surrounding Plaza Vieja (or the Old Square).

The lighting guy carried my Wifey purse all through the city all morning, which greatly pleased me, mainly so we could get this shot:

I appreciated it.

Just dancing in the street.

I almost didn’t wear my wedding dress for this because I was thinking “how many photos of myself do I really need in a wedding dress?” But I am so, so glad I did. The pictures would not have been the same without it!

Old Havana has four squares, Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral), Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Armas (Arms) and Plaza Vieja (Old Square). This is Plaza Vieja — it’s been around since 1559 and has been the site of executions, processions, bullfights and fiestas (source). And now our wedding photos.

The little girl beside Evan in the below photo was smiling and waving at us, it was cute.

After that we were pretty done with pictures. It was HOT and we both felt exhausted. We stopped for the best ice cream of our lives (this could have also been because we were hot and thirsty) at a little cart in the square. It was served in half a coconut and it only had coconut milk, coconut water, and shredded coconut in it. We bought some for Alex and his assistant as well and the four of us sat around eating and chatting for a while. Alex and his wife come to Toronto fairly often so we told them next time we’re having them over for dinner!

Alex has a really great eye for photos and was telling us that he doesn’t like to take the same picture twice, he likes to go to new areas and find cool shots that jump out to him. Right before we got in the car to go home, a spot jumped out to him, and he took this:

I was so done with photos by that point but I’m so glad he got it. He was also so good with posing us and telling us what to do. If it weren’t for him you know I’d just be skinny-arm posing my way around the city.

What a day. And I just want to mention if you’re ever in Cuba and looking for a Havana tour, I HIGHLY recommend Blexie’s Havana Tours. Blexie took us last year (I talk a little bit about him in this post from last year), and he also took Emily and Corey this year, and his colleagues Bill and Roly took Dawn and Mark and Eric, Kenya and Dixon. You get an entire day in Havana with a private tour guide and a driver in an old car (we had a cherry red ’57 Chevy when we went) and it’s almost the same price as the bus tour and SO. MUCH. BETTER. Go there!!

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CHAN CHAN!

I last left you on Thursday afternoon just before my bestie Lisa and friends were arriving from Calgary. I felt like I was on pins and needles all day waiting for them, and finally I heard Lisa and Heather’s (not quiet) voices drift over from the lobby so I ran over there and practically tackled them. They made it!

Now we were just missing my pal Joanna, my brother Eric, his girlfriend Kenya and their best friend Dixon, who were all arriving on Friday.

To celebrate the Calgarians arrival and also Hannah’s birthday, 20 of us had dinner reservations on the patio of the restaurant next door to our resort, Barbacoa.

I wanted to make sure I got a good group photo of everyone, so I took several. That dinner was so much fun and probably one of my very favourite memories from the entire trip.

It was my first time seeing Lisa and Scott since their big engagement!!!

Lovers! I’m so excited for them. Scott is a thoughtful cat like Evan. When we came back to Lisa’s place after our great western road trip in September, Scott had cleaned her entire apartment (we had tornado’d through there and totally trashed it) and left her a vase of flowers on her kitchen counter. He had also packed the car for us before we left and let us borrow all his camping gear. Smooth moves all over the place. I already can’t wait for their wedding.

We are definitely each other’s first loves, however.

Sherrie and Will were looking quite lovery as well.

And so were Corey and Emily…and Sherrie…

I was loving Emily’s green number.

Lovers all around.

I ordered the chicken supreme and it was pretty delicious. I also hear the steak there is very good. But the biggest treat is the live band that plays there!

Cheryl got her hands on some maracas…

And then we passed them around so we could all pretend to be in the band.

I really, really wanted them to play my favourite Cuban song, Chan Chan. I love it so much and I hear it every time I’m in Cuba so it just reminds me of fun Cuba times. So I requested it (probably obnoxiously) a million times and they finally played it. And they even let me come up there and play it with them!

I think that is my mom’s “I am so proud of my wonderful daughter” face.

I was trying to sing Chan Chan along with them but I don’t know Spanish so I was mostly just making the sounds. I’m sure it was awful, and when I looked over at our table most of our friends were crying with laughter.

This is Evan’s favourite picture:

And this is mine, mostly because of the guy’s face beside me.

He likes. CHAN CHAN!!!!

They even played it a second time…possibly a third? It was amazing. Scott said I looked like I was enjoying it so much he bought me their CD! Now I can listen to Chan Chan all the time! I’m gonna listen to it right now!

It was Hannah’s birthday and we told our servers in advance that we wanted to have a surprise celebration for her. All of a sudden the lights started flickering in the entire restaurant and we were all like “OMG the power’s going out!” but no no, our servers were just creating some birthday drama.

I thought it was so sweet that they brought her a dessert. We all sang happy birthday, our servers in Spanish, which none of us knew, so we all yelled it in French. I bet the rest of the people on the patio really enjoyed us.

Notice Hannah’s Blue Jay hat, Cuba edition! Evan and I picked it up at the market that morning when we were there with our mom’s. She loves the Jays so it was a perfect find.

After dinner we headed back to our home base, the lobby bar, for a few drinks.

And piano playing.

That green dress, I tell ya.

And then we walked over to our favourite spot, the Beatles Bar! I think we went there almost every night. But when you can walk for two minutes and see this happening, how can you say no?

Again about 20 of us made it so we got a big section at the back. The new guy was redeeming himself.

I still don’t think he’s quite as big of a character as the guy last year, but the leather pants were definitely stepping up his act.

We had a special surprise for the very last song of the night. Cheryl made an appearance on stage.

Girl SLAYED that song!

Just so into it. Evan calls me The Jambon (The Ham) but I think I may have some competition in Cheryl. I was dying laughing when I saw her up there.

Since the outdoor bar Calle 62 is right across from our resort we dropped by there on our way home. This picture is from last year but it looks like this every single night, so just to give you an idea of what it’s like over there.

Just a total street party.

They have a charcoal grill where you can buy half a grilled chicken for 2CUC. It is DELICIOUS and the most wonderful thing at midnight.

My first picture of Heather, and some bearded man who we did not particularly enjoy. Though Dawn enjoyed his glasses.

And Sarah makes an appearance!

I feel like a broken record saying “it was a good time, it was such a good time” about everything, but seriously, it was a good time.

The next morning after breakfast we headed back to, where else? The beach.

Friday was our only overcast day, but that didn’t stop us from beaching around. It was the day to bust out my mermaid suit, one of the best buys of my life, from Cupshe. That site does not have great reviews but Lisa ordered a bunch of bathing suits from there and they were all amazing so I gave it a try and was also impressed. When I was reading the reviews for that suit they were mostly like “the bottom half is great but the cups in the top are as big as my head!” so I knew it was the one for me. I have such a hard time finding bathing suits that the nungas don’t want to escape from. It’s a real problem.

Lisa and I used to play this game in the lake when we were younger where one of us is Forrest Gump and the other one is Bubba and whoever is Bubba has to be carried. You may remember…

Since we were there for my wedding I got to be Bubba.

Heather and Brent were doing life right with their floaties.

I had to get in on that leisure life.

Every Friday on the resort is Fiesta Cubana and it’s a Cuban themed day with flags and everywhere and live music all afternoon.

And a special lunch by the beach.

They have these grilled pork sandwiches which are THE BEST. The bread is so soft and fresh and the pork just melts in your mouth. So good.

Also coconuts filled with coconut water and rum.

I didn’t even try one. I don’t know what I was thinking.

And you know there’s dancing. Evan was down.

Actually I witnessed him literally get down.

There was also quite the party by the pool. You’ll notice our pal Randy on the right.

And that’s where we spent the rest of the day, by the pool. And that is a story for another post.

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Beachy Keen

On Wednesday morning Evan and I met with our wedding coordinator on the resort, Elimay, to go over all our wedding details. That was interesting, mainly because she told us to forget everything that our Canadian wedding coordinator from Starfish resorts told us before we left and that now we’re going to start from scratch. Alright then. She said that because they were such a small resort, and weren’t a popular wedding spot, they couldn’t accommodate some of the things the Starfish chain had originally included in our package. This alarmed me at first, but the changes weren’t anything too crazy. The biggest was we had to change the wedding ceremony time to 4pm instead of 5pm, and because they only had one large speaker that they needed for the nightly entertainment, we had to end our reception at 9pm. I was hoping for 10 but I knew we were all going to go off the resort for an after-party anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. However, any idea I had of a day-of timeline went completely out the window. I will probably do a post on what to expect (or how not to have any expectations) when planning a destination wedding, because it is very different.

Elimay also told us that the other wedding that was originally planned for Saturday, the one that bumped our date to Sunday, was cancelled and we could move our wedding back to Saturday if we wanted. Gah. After all that! We decided to keep it on Sunday to minimize confusion. We felt it was too late to go back at that point, and I’m actually glad that everything worked out the way it did. But more about the actual wedding later.

We felt a lot better about wedding stuff after meeting with her. They really did seem excited to be hosting us, and I was just glad to FINALLY be able to talk to someone about our Cuba wedding IN PERSON and get some details sorted.

After that it was back to that glorious beach. I took about four pictures all day so I don’t remember what went down, except I do know our favourite pineapple pina colada guy came by with his wares.

Yassssss.

I was hoping he would make an appearance. I have been craving that pineapple all year!

You don’t know what pineapple is until you’ve had fresh Cuban pineapple. We got one for our friends Kim and Dylan and as soon as Dylan tasted it he was like “what kind of pineapple have I been eating all my life?” It’s so good. I was excited to introduce my mom to it.

She liked.

We mentioned to Elimay that we got engaged at this resort on the beach last year and when we went back up to our room we found a bottle of wine and a little note from the staff welcoming us back, so that was nice. Our maid also left us this:

I did like her services and I love a good towel swan. It was cute that they incorporated our wedding flowers!

We made dinner reservations that night for a bunch of us at the Italian restaurant (also where our wedding reception was being held).

We tried to get more people in with us but the resort isn’t big on hosting large groups so 10 was all we could do. And then Joel didn’t show up so 9 it was. Our dinner was actually really good and my favourite thing about that restaurant is the view!

You can watch the sunset right from your table!

I don’t remember what we talked about aside from our celebrity crushes (I told them all that Evan’s celebrity crush is Judge Judy) but I do remember that we laughed pretty much the entire way through dinner.

Afterwards we headed back to the lobby bar to meet up with everyone, our nightly ritual.

We watched the nightly entertainment in there and Mark once again made friends.

I was still a bit tired from the day before and plus my bestie and friends were arriving on Thursday so I wanted to be fresh for them! So, I went to bed around 9:30. No regrets.

The next morning I met Casey at 6:30am in the lobby for a run along the streets of Varadero. I ran there last year as well and it’s a super fun place to run, but best in the early morning ’cause it is HAWT. Everyone is out going to work and school and sweeping the sidewalks in front of their businesses with palm leaves. It’s a cool place. Casey is a running superstar (I mentioned she ran a 50k trail run on Saturday) but I was glad she slowed her pace down for me. I was initially planning on only running for 5k but Casey distracted me and we didn’t turn around until after 3.5k so I ended up doing almost 7.5k. Whoops. The last few kilometres were a bit rough, the sun was in our face and I thought my clothes were just going to melt off my body, but we made it and I was feeling pret-ty good about myself.

After showering and breakfast Evan and I took our moms to the market for a little shopping. It’s about 3k from our resort (Casey and I actually ran by it that morning) so we took a horse and carriage on the way there and this sweet ride on the way back.

That gem is from 1927!

My mom talks to everyone, and you know that includes the cab drivers.

She likes to ask everyone about their lives. And they always tell her.

And then it was back to the beach.

Dawn got me a bride cup for the trip and I busted it out for the occasion!

We told Evan that his hat looked like a “Make America Great Again” hat, just missing the words.

I like that we could send the boys in to refill our drinks at the bar.

They liked.

Once again, a good ocean time.

And now I’m going to introduce Randy to you because he was a vacation staple.

Strategically placed sun glare.

Randy was one of the entertainment guys at the resort, and he was always coercing us into playing games and calling us ‘babies’. He was on the resort for about 12 hours a day so we would see him around the beach and pool all day, and then at night dancing it up in the lobby. He and quickly became one of our favourites!

And then my bestie Lisa, her fiance Scott, her sister Heather and Heather’s partner Brent arrived and things REALLY got fun!

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Varadero Vixens

Hola muchachos!!! We are back from the best two weeks of our lives! We had an amazing time in Cuba and I don’t even know where to start with telling the tale. I guess from the beginning and I’ll see where that takes me.

Our flight was just after 6am on Tuesday, May 2, which means we had to be at the airport around 4am. Not wonderful but it’s a lot easier to get up early for a vacation than it is for work, so I didn’t mind. Leaving early just meant we got to the beach earlier! It’s also fun seeing 20 of your friends around the airport. Every time I ran into someone I perked up a little bit more.

Evan picked us up a couple of fitting passport holders for our trip.

Cuuuute.

We paid extra for everyone to sit together at the back of the plane, and I thought this included Evan and I, so I was surprised to find us upgraded at the front! On Sunwing flights you get complimentary champagne and they brought us all the leftover glasses so we were living large up there.

The trip was off to a good start for Evan Evanoff.

We had the speediest customs experience I’ve ever had at the Varadero airport. We were out of there quickly and on the bus to the resort. I was excited to find that we all had a bus to ourselves!

We were excited. The ride to our hotel was less than half an hour by bus but you know that’s enough time for a couple of bus cervezas!

We stayed at the Starfish Cuatro Palmas again, the same resort Evan and I got engaged at last year. I’ll save you another review of the actual hotel and the food, but I did that last year so you can check it out here. I actually didn’t take pictures of anything I ate this time and it was kind of refreshing!

Anyway, we arrived at our resort so early that our rooms weren’t ready yet, which I was prepared for so I told everyone in advance to make sure they had bathing suits easily accessible. We arrived and headed straight to the beach!

Casey, my Toronto blogger friend (who ran a freakin’ 50k on Saturday!!!), and I were twinning pretty hard. I had two of my other blogger friends in attendance as well, which was awesome, Shanondoah and Michelle!

They were known by everyone else all week as “the bloggers.” They needed a fourth member for an even number so they immediately adopted my friend Hannah into their group, or maybe she joined herself, I’m not sure which, but she became an honorary blogger for the week.

I loved all the co-mingling of the friend groups. It makes me happy.

The beach and the ocean there is AMAZING. One of the nicest beaches I’ve ever been on. Dawn’s mom Brennie (you may remember from her 60th birthday that we celebrated back in December) and Joel were definitely feeling that ocean hard.

We all were, it was a dream day. And I don’t know if it’s because we were tired or just because we couldn’t get into our rooms yet, but that day seemed to stretch on forever. We all said that day felt like the longest, but in a good way!

I wish I brought a tube for leisuring a la Sherrie.

We broke for lunch for a bit and then just got back into that ocean for the rest of the day.

Dawnald!

Bubbas up!

Evan can nap anywhere.

I have like 30 pictures of Emily trying to piggyback Joel.

It was not going well until they switched it up.

Man, it was a good ocean time.

We got into our rooms around 4pm and I was excited about our ocean view.

We had a street view last year and I also really enjoyed that because you could see all the old cars drive by and it was good for people-watching, but you can’t beat the ocean!

I also don’t think you can beat the sunset at this resort.

We hit the buffet for dinner and then all met up in the lobby bar for drinks. They had live music with dancers in the lobby bar every evening so that was a good time. Mark made new friends.

We would usually all hang out in the lobby bar after dinner until we headed out on the town, which we almost did every night. Our resort is across the street from the three best bars in Varadero so it was very convenient. On our first night we went to the Beatles Bar, an outdoor bar with live rock music every night, which you may remember me absolutely raving about last year.

Unfortunately our favourite rock star doesn’t work there anymore, which is sad. Evan and I were looking forward to introducing him to everyone. We like to think he got discovered and is now living it up in Havana. The new guys weren’t quite the same (their pants weren’t as tight, they didn’t light a smoke in the middle of their song, and they had their shirts on), but they were still quite entertaining.

It was a great night.

And a great day, and that’s only the first one! It was so nice the entire trip to look around and see all our friends having such a fabulous time. I don’t know how we’re ever going to be able to go on a trip without most of the people we know again.

I have so much more to come so hang tight.

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Alcatraz, Burritos, Sea Lions and Garlic

Alriiiight, last day in San Francisco! I keep wanting to call it San Fran but I’ve heard locals don’t like it and never call it that. One of the guys at Hotel Diva said people who live there just call it “The City” but I don’t think I’m allowed. I don’t get it though, San Fran just rolls off the tongue so easily!

Anyway, we had a lot packed into our final day. Get ready for a ton of pictures. First up we were headed to Alcatraz. Dawn and I checked out of our hotel (they held our suitcases for us all day which was great) and headed down to the harbour to catch our 11am ferry to the island.

Goooooood morning San Francisco!

It was FOR ONCE a gorgeous day. We originally had our tour scheduled for Monday but there were downpours all day so I’m glad we were able to change it. This day was a bit chilly (seriously it was warmer in Toronto that day) but it was sunny and most importantly, no rain! The best day to go.

Hello, Alcatraz.

Before we started our indoor audio tour we had an outdoor tour learning the history of the island with Dr. Ranger Steve.

He kind of reminded me of Rick Moranis, so naturally I loved him immediately.

As we learned from Ranger Steve, Native American activists took over Alcatraz Island from 1969 to 1971 and held it as Indian Land, led by the Indians of All Tribe (little tidbit I did not know!). Hence the “Indians Welcome” above and the writing below:

Ranger Steve also said that whenever that water tower is repainted they invite the Indians back to paint those words again.

I also did not know that Alcatraz Island is essentially a bird sanctuary, which makes sense since there are no natural predators on the island. There are thousands of nesting seabirds hanging around singing their bird songs.

The island is now a National Park and it is honestly beautiful, with lush gardens…

Stunning views…

And interesting architecture.


And that’s just the outside, onto the actual prison!

It was creepy.

I mean…

Creepy.

Dawn and I did the self-guided audio tour and it was fantastic! It was easy to follow and well-paced so you didn’t feel like you were rushing through, but you could pause it if you wanted to stop and linger at a certain area. There were so many interesting facts and a lot of interviews with past inmates and wardens with realistic sound effects, which really brought the tour to life. I think I might have preferred it to a guided tour.

Thinking of all the men kept there gives me a heavy feeling.

The isolation rooms were the creepiest, in my opinion.

We were able to walk around in there, known as “the hole”, and it immediately made my skin crawl.

Some of the cells were set up to look like not such a horrible prison time.

They were able to have musical instruments and hobby activity items in their cells. On the audio tape one of the wardens was saying that one of the prisoners (I can’t remember who or if the person’s name was mentioned) enjoyed playing the trombone in his cell. I would murder the person in the cell next to me if they played their trombone all day. Oh I probably shouldn’t joke about that…

You knew that picture was coming.


One row of cells faced large windows that overlooked the water and the city of San Francisco and the audio mentioned those cells had a spectacular view of the sunset. I don’t know but it to me it seemed…not that bad. For a prison. Obviously it would not be a wonderful time, but I’ve visited other prisons and think there are worse ones to be in, especially considering this place was supposed to be for the worst of the worst (though Ranger Steve mentioned that a lot of prisoners were there because of crimes they committed in other prisons). One inmate in an audio interview said the worst thing was sometimes you could hear sounds from the city — especially on New Years’ Eve, laughter and celebrating would drift over the water — so you knew exactly what you were missing. Lives were happening outside, and you could hear it, but you were stuck.

That would suck for sure, but I’ll tell you the food didn’t look so bad.

According to the above display the dining hall was considered the most dangerous part of the prison, but at least they had good food.

I would eat all of those things. If I was in prison I’d want to be running the cafeteria like Red in the first season of Orange Is The New Black. That would be my jam.

It was a great tour — definitely do it if you have a chance! Once you’re on the island you can stay as long as you like and catch whatever ferry back. We were able to do everything in a few hours.

Byeeeeeeee.

Maybe you noticed this but Dawn was donning her sailor’s hat for the occasion, so she used that as an intro to get into the captain’s area of the ferry boat (“Hello sir, as you can see I am also a captain”).

We told the captain that we have driven boats before (I mean I don’t like to brag but I was pretty pro at driving that cumbersome houseboat at Melon’s bachelorette) so he could let us dock the boat. It’d be fine. Probably no one would get killed. Unfortunately he didn’t let us touch anything until the boat was safely docked, but I think we look like we knew what we were doing.

I sadly did not think to bring my captain’s hat (of course I have one), but the captain generously let me wear his.

Just tell people you’re from Canada and they’ll let you do anything.

I actually bought our souvenir photo because I liked it so much.

Ahoy!

After Alcatraz we headed to the Mission District because nearly every single person who recommended eating somewhere said a burrito in the Mission was a must. We asked Kiley if there was anywhere in particular we should go and she said she really enjoyed La Taqueria.

Definitely a no frills dive type place, which are usually my favourite.

When I look it up now I see that there are in fact many restaurants in the Mission with “tacqueria” in their name so, whoops. I don’t even know if we went to the right one. But it doesn’t even matter because I had the best burrito of my life there.

That photo doesn’t do anything justice but that was the freshest most delicious bundle of beef burrito goodness. I could have eaten several.

After checking that off the ol’ to-eat list we Ubered to Chinatown to wait for the Big Bus there (there’s no stop in the Mission). We chose that stop because I hadn’t really seen Chinatown yet, aside from driving past it. It’s quite spectacular and we had time to do some perusing before our bus came.

And then we got back on the bus and rode it to Pier 39. It looked like a really fun area and I wish we had a full day to explore it. Another thing for next time.

I would have loved to go into all the shops but we did see the Pier 39 sea lions!

They’re so cute and funny.

Lots of anger happening on those docks when a sea lion would suddenly move and disrupt the rest of them. We saw a few entertaining fights.

You can read about the history of those sea lions here, but basically after the big San Francisco earthquake of 1989 the sea lions arrived and took over those docks. There was plenty of food in bay and no predators so it seemed like a good place to hang out. So now they just live there.

While we were hanging with the sea lions we met up with one of Dawn’s friends from Ontario, Melissa, who recently moved to the Bay area for work and was meeting us for dinner.

It was her first time in San Francisco as well, so we walked around with her for a while, making our way to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Another cute area. I never got to eat clam chowder though!

And then, the last supper. Thanks to your recommendations we went to The Stinking Rose, a garlic restaurant!

They season their garlic with food! I love garlic so I was excited for a garlicky time. It definitely looked garlicky in there.

We started with warm garlic rolls with garlic butter.

And then ordered a bunch of dishes to share. Garlic focaccia with garlic spinach fondue.

Garlic meatballs with cheese.

And a garlic shrimp skillet with a garlic sauce.

Everything was so good, and even though it was very garlicky the garlic was not overpowering. They even had garlic wine! But our sever (who was fantastic and hilarious) told me not to get it because it was awful, so I felt I shouldn’t go against his recommendation.

I did get the garlic ice cream though.

Which was a lot more delicious than it sounds.

It was a great dinner. Not cheap, but so good, and it was the last meal so you gotta do it right.

After eating all the garlic, I headed to the airport to get on my red eye flight to go back to Toronto. I’m sure my seat mates enjoyed my garlickiness. Sorry!

Oh San Francisco, you beautiful, crazy, fun city, you will forever be in my heart!

I had such a good time adventuring around with the Dawnald!

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