Visiting the Coba Ruins

While in Mexico, like many people, we wanted to visit one of the Mayan Ruins. The first choice for most is the famous Chichen Itza Ruin that is about 3 hours away from where we were staying at the Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort and Spa. Unfortunately, due to deterioration and preservation of the ruin, people can no longer climb it and see the view from the top like the Mayans did. It is said that the great ruin and city was a major port and trading centre for the surrounding area. We opted for visiting Coba not only because it was closer to us but also because you can climb the major ruin there and it was in the jungle away from the blistering heat. Not many people would choose Coba so it's nice to see something that isn't as famous as the others so you can see a bit more of it without the crazy numbers of tourists that would flock daily to it.

Instead of choosing the tours that were offered by our resort where the cost would amount to about $100 USD each and having side trips to places we were not interested in, we opted to take the ADO bus. As mentioned in my previous article about going to Playa del Carmen the day before, we visited the ADO bus station on 5th Avenue to see what the prices are as they may have changed from what was quoted by other people in forums. The cost was excellent at $120 pesos on way so costing each person $240 pesos. The person was fairly fluent in English if you had any questions and there seemed to be only one time going there and back. The bus leaves the next day at 9:00 am and will pick you up at Coba at 3:00 pm. She didn't quote me any other times so I assume that is the only time available. The cost for us to get to and from our resort to the bus station will cost us $160 pesos each way. So the total cost for 2 people just on transportation alone would only cost about $56 CAD and that's a steal considering the sad currency exchange between the CAD and USD lately.

We arrived early at the bus station the next day around 8:30 am just in case. Look for a bus that says "Coba" at the front. Unfortunately, you cannot get on to the bus early. We pretty much had to wait in line as we were directed after confirming with the driver about the bus until exactly 9:00 am in which we were able to hop on. There is a stop to Tulum beach as well as the bus station so if you do decide to head to the Tulum Ruins instead, you would be taking the same bus although, my guess, the price of the bus ticket would be much lower. The ride to Tulum is about an hour and then another hour to Coba. It does stop at the Tulum bus station for about 15 minutes where you can stretch your legs or head to the bathroom although there is a bathroom in the bus. The bus driver does say (though in Spanish) that the bathroom on the bus is for #1 only and not #2 :)

Once the bus arrived at Coba, it will drop you off just in front of the gates before the parking lot and the entrance admission gate. I know from research that others said that the bus stopped about 7-10 minutes away from the entrance and you had to walk it (we did see a group of people do that on the way back) but it was nice it dropped us off at the gates just next to the small cafe ADO bus station that is there in front of the gates. It was a quick walk to the admission office where each person pays $60 pesos to get in. I recommend to leave the shopping and restaurant last as they surround the perimeter of the lot.

Once you pass the entrance into Coba, there will be guides waiting in case you do want to hire one. We didn't. If you did, you will be walking with the guide as we have seen with those that do hire them. There is also an option to rent a bike and a bike taxi. We decided to go on our own by foot. Big mistake on our part. It started off well with us going around but what we didn't know (as we didn't have a map nor a booklet like others), it was about at least 1 km between each ruin and there were about 6 I believe. We envied the people who were smart to rent bikes but envied those with the taxis more! There are bike parking lots so to say in every area and you will have to approach most of the ruins by foot walking about 100 - 400 meters depending on which ruin.

Without a guide or a book, we were hoping to make it somehow to Nohoch Mul Pyramid so we can climb it especially after our first ruin visit and our legs getting tired and being fatigue from the heat despite being in the jungle. We did guess correctly and approaching it was such a wonder in particular seeing all the people climbing up and down. There are about 130 steps and is about 42 meters in height. We took off our hats as there was a bit of wind and we didn't want to lose our balance. The steps were steep and you have to be careful. The climb up was easier than the climb down. We did rest at the top to enjoy the view, catch our breaths and see the vast amount of jungle that surrounded this area. On the way down, I chose to go on my rear. Even though I had good hikers on, the edge of the steps were rounded and some deteriorating that it was easy to slip even with good shoes and no rain. I saw one gal with just fashion sandals climbing up using a selfie stick to video tape her climb as I went down. That was dangerous and not worth the video unless you have a hero camera strapped to you, which is a safer option. After our climb down, I was drained. We decided to get a bike taxi to take us to the rest of the ruins as time was short and there was no way we can finish in time to catch the 3:00 pm bus, shop and get a bite to eat. We were charged less as we started later at $150 pesos. Our driver worked hard to take us to each ruin and we made an effort to stop and take our time at each so he can have a breather too. We tipped him well in the end as you can hear him huffing and puffing taking the 2 of us in one cart. Together we probably weighed 235 lbs. We gave him the tip at the end and paid for the taxi at the little rental shop at the beginning of the site.

We were famished and headed towards the first restaurant we saw. In hindsight, we would have chosen to try the Mayan restaurant right by the bus station outside the parking area but we wanted to shop for souvenirs after eating so we just chose the restaurant near us. We ordered something small such as salsa and tortillas (that I have been eating religiously every day) and chicken enchiladas. They were both pretty tasty but the black bean and rice were delicious. Such a simple dish that really is flavorful at the same time.

After eating, we went from one shop to another comparing prices and such. We were given so many chances to haggle. Some didn't budge while others were willing to do some bargaining. We ended up buying our stuff at the first shop (of course that always seem to happen) with only minutes to spare to catch the bus (we wanted to head to the bus stop at 2:50 pm in case). The bus arrived on time and stayed waiting for about 15 minutes before heading back to Playa del Carmen. It was a nice ride back as our legs were getting heavy (we did lots of walking over the past couple of days plus climbing). We even did one last shopping through a bit of shopping back in Playa del Carmen again and glad we did as some artists that were not there previously had shown up and we bought small artworks for a couple of people who would appreciate it. Although we didn't take a tour, we recommend using the ADO and finding cheaper ways of getting to the ruins as it's quite an experience.

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Walking to Playa Del Carmen (all about shopping and eating)

We were staying at the Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort and Spa while in Mexico. Before heading down there, I researched how much it would be to take the taxi to the city and if there were any other options available as it was located pretty close to the resort. I toyed with the idea of perhaps biking but the bike rentals at the resort were solely for resort use only. The other option that crossed my mind was walking but walking along the highway can be pretty dangerous if there weren't any sidewalks. Then I stumbled upon others who have posted on trip adviser saying that walking along the beach was possible and it would take about 90 minutes. That wasn't such a bad idea and to be table to explore the other areas of the beach side, walking towards a destination while getting a tan seems like a win-win situation to me! Now, trying to convince my other half was something I was going to work on once we landed and stayed at the resort.

Craig was not sure about walking along the beach and unsure about the safety not knowing what we may come across which makes sense but I think it would be pretty safe. We even told one of our trusty waiters at the Italian Restaurant, Jesus, about our plan that day to walk to Playa Del Carmen and taking the cab back. His face lit up in shock and jokingly said that it would take a very long time to get there (he said a day in exaggeration) and that he even finds the trek hard just from the entrance of the gate to the entrance of the resort itself. But it was something for us to try.

We left early that day and headed down south of the beach (past the elite section) at around 10 am so we do not get the blazing sun later on assuming it would take us 90 minutes as most people quoted. It was a very nice walk with the sounds of soothing beach waves and feeling the sand and water between your toes. We walked closer to the water as the sand was more firm there. The trek on softer sand makes it hard on the shines and calves and it was only day 2 of our stay so far in Mexico and we would like to ensure we weren't going to be limping from pain anytime soon.

There were quite a few seaweeds on the beach and we passed by a few other resorts along the way comparing them to ours. We notice most of the maintenance workers raking the dead and decomposed seaweeds to deter sand flies from making their homes on the beach so near to the resorts. We also passed by a few deserted buildings that we guessed and hypothesized on what happened to them to pass the time while walking. There were many locals that we passed along the way, some fishermen preparing their nets for a big catch or two. After passing by resorts, we saw what looked like a city but based on the time, it was not going to be Playa del Carmen. It was Punta Esmeralda and it was a cute little place that many locals including school children on field trips learning to scuba dive. There was this little lagoon area with clear light blue water that was ankle deep that you had to cross in order to continue down the beach towards Playa del Carmen. If you were a bit peckish, there were a couple of local stands selling chips and pop that you could stop by. We just took it in and kept on trekking.

We could see some sort of port as there were about a dozen or so boats docked there. Just behind them, we could see what seemed like the ferry that would take people to the Island of Cozumel. I didn't think we were that close to Playa del Carmen but the ferry was a give-away. We kept on walking until we saw some kind of sign. Again, we passed some abandoned unfinished buildings. They looked like a resort that never came into fruition but the one nearby could easily incorporate it to their existing place. We came upon the dock with the boats and and Craig noticed one of the signs on the side of a building store saying "Playa del Carmen." I was unsure about that. In addition, as you passed the dock, the beach abruptly ended. The only thing we did was to keep going and see if there was anything around the corner to the right.

Once we turned the corner, we saw the big city and had arrived at our destination! We quickly checked the time and we made it in about 1 hour to the edge of the city. It took another 10 minutes to get into the city via the many entrance ways. We ended up taking the first and second (we walked there a couple of days later but entered the first entrance instead of the second).The first entrance you see with the concrete wall that leads into Quinta Avenida (the famous 5th Avenue) from 40th Calle. The second entrance would take you to 38th Calle.

Quinta Avenida is full of shops and restaurants. And you will be "invited" to come see the shops and eat at their restaurants. Be warned that many will take note of which resort you are from based on the colour of your bracelet and say that they work at your resort in the buffet and that it is their day off to get you to go into their store. In talking with one taxi driver, many earn a living based on commissions so selling you something is better than selling you nothing. So haggle away as many will haggle.

In the Avenue, you will see many of the same familiar shops and restaurant chains like Aldo (for Gelato) every 2-3 blocks as well as a mall with American Eagle and Forever XII. We ate gelato every chance we got as it's a nice cold delicious treat when it's so hot and especially good after a long walk! We noticed that the further you are away from the main strips from Calle 1 to about Avenida Constituyentes, the cheaper things become. We got a great deal for 20 pesos less at a small gelato place on 38th Calle called "Come Gelato". You will shop like there's no tomorrow so taking a taxi home is a great idea unless you prefer using the Collectivo (cheaper and faster). I recommend a visit to one of the Ah Cacao cafes there to take in some awesome chocolate drinks. We sat at the one on 30th Calle which was less crowded. I had the Chocolate Mayan drink (soooooo good and satisfying with no dairy) and a piece of chocolate cake and carrot cake. I recommend the drinks. I also bought some souvenirs from their store. If you do buy, leave it as the last stop before leaving the city as the hot weather will surly melt the goods.

We planned to go to the bus station on Calle 1 and Av. Juarez, which was basically near the other end of the city to check out the schedule, price and get tickets for our bus to Coba the next day. We didn't take as much pesos out so we wanted to see how much things we be first and the best thing was ... there was a Scotia Bank right across the bus station. It was perfect for us! There are many Scotia Banks here and you will also see HSBC as well. It will cost an extra 9 pesos as the service charge but it isn't that bad really. The machine across the bus station only dispensed pesos too.

We did venture off to 10th Avenue to get away from the hustle and bustle of the 5th and found some great little gems along the way. One was a juice shop that had a sign that said MariaBonita - Mexican Breakfast and Seafood Cocina. In all honesty, I wasn't sure if it was that as the sign didn't fit with the products they were selling which was fresh juices that included detox juices and alkakine juices for those who are more health conscious. The owner spoke English well and is all about juice therapy. The juice shop was located between 7th ad 8th Calle on 10th Avenue. I highly recommend this place. We also had a beef empanada at the cafe next to it which was very good too! There is so much to eat and shop around this area that you will not get bored of it and there are street vendors and artists too if you are lucky to go at the same time they happened to be there. We bought many small art for people and to help out local artists. Happy eating and shopping!

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Staying at the Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort and Spa

We wanted to have a bit of a relaxed and short vacation without any worries. Many friends have suggested going the all-inclusive route. I have never been to an all-inclusive resort as I am used to travelling about and exploring the countries as much as I can to learn more about the culture and people. And I have to admit that I had a pre-conceived notion it was more for those who just want to drink and party all day and every day. I am not much for that.

But with a bit of push and research, I did end up going the all-inclusive route via Westjet Vacations and booking through their website. I think I researched each resort that was in the 4-5 star and read reviews after reviews until my gut says to go with a particular one called Sando Caracol Ecco-Resort and Spa. What won us over? Despite being more of a family focused resort, we liked that it had some free activities such as biking around the resort, yoga and kayaking, the location was near the city of Playa del Carmen (10 minutes) as well as a short drive to and from the Cancun airport (45 minutes) and being near all the ruins (as much as possible anyways). On top of that, guests are able to eat at any a la carte restaurants every evening as some resorts limit you to a few days during your stay (e.g. 3 of the 7 days). And the bonus is that this resort does it's best to be eco-friendly as possible and has animals in and around calling the resort home. So that is a great experience for not only adults but children as well. Many of the reviews for this resort has been positive and many people do end u coming back to stay at the resort. Since we were going in the middle of April, the price was also great and included a shuttle to and from the airport. The only catch was that the times of the flights were not the greatest and it wasn't direct (I always try to get direct if possible).

Our flight out was unfortunately a red-eye flight departing at 11:30 pm on a Saturday. The pro about this is that we were able to do what we needed to do during the day before leaving and it was a direct flight; the con about it was it was so hard to wait for the trip to get started and that we arrived at around 6:00 am (about 7 am at the resort). Once you arrive, by pass ALL the timeshares and other resort staff who will try to lure you in with goodies and deals. Once you pass the sliding glass doors, go and find the stand that says "WestJet Vacations" and check in with the Best Day staff that runs the buses and tours as they are affiliated with the Westjet vacations. They will have a list of all the guests and will bring you to the shuttle bus that will take you to the resort. They will wait for ALL guests to arrive and sign in with them before leaving. We ended up staying for another 20 minutes as they searched for one more couple that may have ended up taking their own transportation out. If you do, just let them know so they don't wait for you. Our rep, Carlos, was very helpful providing tips such as not drinking the tap water EVER except for brushing your teeth and showering as it is not safe (the resort has water dispensers in each room so bring a bottle with you) and to avoid people trying to offer timsehare presentations even WITHIN the resort (the give away is when they ask for 90 minutes of your time). another thing you MUST do is that you have to meet your Best Day rep to not only set a time for the shuttle to take you to the airport but explain any tours.

We were lucky that Sandos was the first stop of the shuttle. There were 3 other hotels that were listed. The check-in for this resort was 3 pm. Although the room was not ready when we arrived (they told us to check back at around 11:30 am), they provided us with a bracelet and full access to the resort and all it's facilities while we waited for our room. we left our bags with the bellmen and explored the resort including taking in the buffet breakfast as we were famished! You can change and shower but in all honesty, I just wanted to unpack and shower at my own suite instead of packing and unpacking what we had.

There are 3 restaurants that offer a breakfast buffet - Mexican, International and Italian. They all had the same kinds of foods available such as fresh baked breads, fruits, oatmeal, tortillas and salsa, cereals etc. with each being slightly different (e.g The International had more variety and choices). We ended up eating at the Italian and Mexican (we had to wait again until 12:30 pm to see if the room was ready so we ended up eating again). We liked the quaintness of the Italian and visited there every breakfast and much of the lunches while we stayed. One staff, Jesus, was very helpful and friendly and was great with English. Our room was finally available at around 1:30 pm and I was happy as my patience was wearing thin with me wearing my long sleeves and not wanting to change in the blistering heat. But that was my choice. Also, be aware that you must wear your bracelet at all times even when exploring outside the resort.

I would recommend based on our experience to go to Guest Services after you arrive. This will help in terms of them giving you a map (although there is a map all over the resort) and to provide you with any tips in and around the resort. It probably will take about 30 minutes depending on what questions you have and who you end up with. A word of caution that they will try to get you to a 90 minute presentation to view the Elite portion of the resort and offer you a free beach bag and such. If this is something you are interested, I say go for it and if not, please don't waste your time nor theirs and just say no. We passed on it and did end up seeing some people with some nice beach bags the second last day of our stay but we're ok with that.

The second recommendation to pass the time while you wait for your room to be ready is to visit the hospitality area where the Best Day reps are. You will receive a book with info and tours when you get on the bus shuttle. On the front page, is a sticker with the time booked to visit your rep. (usually the next day at 10:30 am). We decided to do it earlier as per Carlos' suggestion. It took about 40 - 45 minutes and was informative. They also booked your shuttle when you check-out and was nice to know the time needed at the beginning of your stay. They will provide a printed ticket and the time to meet out at the front. Our departure flight was 7:35 am so the shuttle was leaving at 4:10 am. It was good to know when we were planning what we would like to do especially on the last day. In addition, by visiting the rep the day you arrive, you are able to do what you want the next day without having to re-arrange your day around the appointment. It's a win-win situation.

The third recommendation is to go to the concierge and book a time to eat dinner at the El Templo for a Teppanyaji dinner. This is highly recommended as it is booked solid daily and you may not get in at all during your stay there. It is rare that people would cancel out. A printed ticket will be given to you for your booking. Ensure that you arrive 10 minutes early. You will NOT regret booking this. The show was spectacular. We have something similar in Edmonton called Japanese Village but after seeing this show, I think they should send their cooks this way to get them trained! In terms of the other a la carte restaurants in the resort, we found that the best food (for us) was Los Lirios - Steak and Fish Club. There desserts were fantastic if you get in early. Once busy, we found that it was a bit lacking on the details which is understandable with the amount of people and staff. The best dessert was hands down La Riviera - Mediterranean Cuisine. They had THE BEST Creme Brulee and the brownie was a close second. We did not go to the Fogo de Brazil nor Salvia (Vegetarian Restaurant) based on what we felt like each day but we heard some great things from other people we have met along the way. In the end, it will be subjective as we each have our own taste buds to satisfy. But one thing is for sure, go early. Most of these restaurants open between 5:30 - 6 pm and if you come after 7 for any of them, be prepared to wait from 30 min to an hour.

Last thing I would like to mention is tipping. We brought pesos instead of USD. We didn't go on any tours but we did do our own things and when eating within the resort, each staff really go out of their way to do a great job from getting your drinks on the beach to making your drinks at the bar so tipping is highly encouraged. I did research and came across a very informative tipping shared by one of the guests that frequently goes to Mexico (I don't have the link I found on Trip Advisor as it was removed) and this is what we used from him:

  • Housekeeping: 50 pesos/day
  • Minibar refiller: 10-20 pesos/day 
  • Porter: 10 pesos/bag
  • Buffet: 10-20 pesos
  • A La Carte: 50 pesos
  • Bartender: 20 pesos/round
We also tipped the taxi or drivers about 20 pesos. Using the above, this can help in terms of how much to bring before heading to an all-inclusive. The only thing you can't anticipate is what tours you may go on unless you are a solid planner and know before hand. I do recommend that you credit card the tours as most of them are in USD. Some are in CAD but ensure you ask the Best Day rep or any rep you choose to deal with. 

There are many things to do when you do want to just stay in the resort. As mentioned before, there are water activities, pools, one pool with slides, the beach, Kids Club, 24 hour snack bar, shop and weekly vendors they bring in and also the theatre at night. The shows are kid friendly and usually start at around 8 - 8:30 pm depending on what it is. We watched the Heros Parody which was excellent and the Freddy Jackson Show (Michael Jackson tribute). Be warned to spray some bug spray as we were eaten alive inside the theatre by tiny mosquitoes (they originally seemed harmless). We itched all day and the rest of the week and the welts were defined and huge in comparison to what I usually get. Craig usually does not react as he is not allergic like I am but he, too, was welting like crazy. They also turned purple and looked like bruises. We had about 23 bites altogether for each of us on both of our legs. So please, make sure you have bug spray!

Otherwise, just enjoy your days in Mexico whatever your plans may be.

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Christmas Holidays in Victoria

It's been a very long time since I came to Victoria, almost 20 years! And back then, my friend and I were on very tight budgets that we didn't really enjoy as much as we could and would have liked. We lived on granola bars and walked everywhere! My parent's were shocked how thin were were after a week and fed us immediately after picking us up from the airport.

But that was then, and this is now. More mature and more importantly, am not a poor student anymore so I can actually enjoy this wonderful Canadian city. Mind you, my stay was taken care of so that alone saved me lots of money as I was staying at my boyfriend's parent's place that is located very, very close to the ferry terminal and only about a 5 minute drive from the town of Sidney and about a 30 minute drive into the heart of Victoria.

The town of Sidney is small with a population of about 11,000 people. It's located right by the ocean so if you get a chance to just stop by, you can walk on the ocean walkway that also has a few docks here and there. With the beautiful weather we were having (hovering about 5C every day and only one day of rain when we were there for 2 weeks), you can see everyone out and about including those who are by the docks daily catching crab. There is a bylaw that those who catch the crabs can only keep those of a certain size and we were lucky to observe a father and son catching crabs using their own home built traps on a Monday holiday (statutory boxing day). Unfortunately, because it was a holiday, most of the main places like the Fresh Fish Market didn't have the usual hustle and bustle we would have been able to see. We did see a seal hanging around the fish market though. Sadly, one of his eyes was damaged; what from, we don't know. But he hung around for quite a long time. There are lots of little cute shops around and sadly, I really wanted to check out the Sidney Bakery as I love bakeries and reviews were very positive about it but they were off on vacation until we left so we would not be able to taste the yumminess they may have for us. We were lucky enough to try the "Taste of Toyko" as we were all craving Japanese. While here on the west coast, it's a sin not to with all the fresh seafood here they get compared to land-locked Edmonton. I've heard such great things about this restaurant from my boyfriend, Craig, that I was happy to finally try it and we were lucky that it was a Monday as they had a special where you get to pick 3 types of rolls with miso and a drink for just $15! Now that was a deal and we were stuffed!

As for Victoria, there are many things to see and do. We drove to the Butchart Gardens early evening for during the Christmas season, they annual have "The Magic of Christmas" where they displayed festive decorations and lights all over the gardens. We decided to get there early to beat the crowds and we had kids with us. Even at that time, the car line to the entrance was very long. When we left around 2 hours later, the line was worse. It was nice to see the transition from dusk until night where the lights and display shone brightest. They had the 12 Days of Christmas all over the gardens and it was a treat for the kids finding them like "Where is Waldo." There was a stage with carolers singing, an ice skating rink where you can rent skates to skate in, a carousel kids can ride on and a coffee shop with all the goodies to warm you up. The lights were amazing. My favourite hands down was the one we left for last, the quary (Sunken Garden) was just magical. You would enter a forest like area and above you were green lights above that made you feel like you were in an enchanted forest full of stars, fireflies or fairies. I wanted to just sit and stay there forever. I tried to take a photo of it but in the end, the image in my mind will be my photograph. There are some things you can't capture with the camera.

In Victoria itself, there are so many things you can do including having high tea at the Empress Hotel which the family just loved especially the girls as they went with a princess theme. While they were having high tea, Craig and I would walk about the harbour, shop and take in some of the bakeries I wanted to check out like the Dutch Bakery and Crust Bakery which were both delicious in their own ways. I loved the former for the desserts and the latter for their savory goods as well as their sourdough bread. We had bubble tea by the bubble tea shop La Tea Ah and I had the nice hot bubble tea. We went to the Foo Ramen Bar for a bowl of delicious hot ramen. It's a small little place and it got full pretty quick so sharing a table with complete strangers will be normal. We also had a cupcake for dessert at Oh La La Cupcakes. It was sweet but not that sweet. I bought the vegan chocolate cupcake and it was good!

Chinatown is another place to go check out. Craig kept talking about the honey buns were to die for in Victoria. I can see why. They are similar to the cocktail coconut buns in Edmonton but the honey inside adds that extra sweet kick. You can only get them at the Wah Lai Yuen Restaurant. And also go for dim sum if you get the chance. It was slightly different in terms of items on the cart compared to Edmonton which was nice. We ended up going to the Don Mee Restaurant. Try to get there before 11AM to beat the crowd. It fills up extremely quick especially on holidays or weekends. I did a lot of shopping and was glad. I bought icewine cream cookies at one of the souvenir shops to give to my parents and once we were back and had some, my family and I wish we bought more! Those cookies don't exist in Edmonton and they were sweet but a nice sweet, almost berry like sweetness. I will have to return and get more the next time but highly recommend that one as gifts. All in all, Victoria is more than a retiree city as I've seen more young families on the plane saying they are going home and not we are visiting family.

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Chihuly in the Garden Exhibition

We were very lucky to be in Phoenix around the time we did to check out the Chihuly in the Garden Exhibition at the Desert Botanical Garden.

Dale Chihuly is a glass sculptor and making them in large scale. The closest I have come to experiencing making glass is when I took a one-day glass blowing class here in Edmonton many years ago. It is such a hard substance to control to the way you want it and you really have to work with it than controlling it. Since that day, I have a great appreciation for the glass making in general and Dale's works of art is no exception - his large scale sculptures were really amazing incorporating them into the garden itself.

As you enter the Botanical Garden, you will see this beautiful burst of blue and transparent ball of glass that he also uses as his main sculpture on the banner posted just outside the garden. The amount of work and detail that go into this is just amazing. I couldn't even fathom how they can transport all these delicate items piece by piece from one exhibition to another - taking them apart and putting them back together again.

While going through each area, you feel like you are playing a game of "Where is Waldo" as he also camouflages some of his sculptures into the garden itself.

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Biosphere 2

While in Phoenix, we thought we would go visit the Biosphere 2 about a 2 hour drive south. Along the way, we saw many different types of terrain that was not just dessert like and saw many luscious plants.

As you approached the facility, you cannot notice how huge it is (about 40 acres altogether). The main facility is glass-enclosed and is about 3 acres, We went for a guided tour where the guide had many information to present to us as we went along each area. The tour itself was probably about 2 hours long if I can recall (depending on your group as well).

The facility was constructed in the late 1980s in hopes to explore life systems in particular ways to colonize in other planets in the future. The research facility houses different areas of the life system so it can be controlled such as the rainforest, ocean, desert, and water and life experiments. Living quarters were also built to house the scientists specialized in their own fields to create living areas where they will depend their basic survival needs from. For example, using their agricultural system, they were able to produce about 83% of the total diet like bananas, beets, rice, wheat and even peanuts.

As you tour the facility one-by-one and learn what they managed to do while living in Biosphere 2, you will be impressed on what they were able to achieve despite the problems they ran into that ultimately cancelled and aborted the mission that Biosphere 2 intended to do. The engineering that went into this building is amazing especially when you get to see the machinery to maintain the facility dealing with water transfers. It's definitely a recommended stop if you happen to be near there.

They even offer summer programs for students interested in working with the sciences!

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The Art of Brass Rubbing

My sister emailed me a list of some things to do in London before we left for our trip. When I took a look at it, I stopped midway through when I read "Brass Rubbing." Brass Rubbing? What the heck was Brass Rubbing? A flash of possibilities went through my mind and I giggled at them all. I finally googled it to end the debates going on in my head.

So what is Brass Rubbing? It's a form of replication of brass portraits in the Medieval times and were usually placed in burial vaults; some of the brass also depict church events. The brass was mounted on granite or marble (tombs). Paper is then stretched over the brass and rubbing on it vigorously using wax cake that feels and looks like crayon. It was an interesting simple art that we all wanted to try so we headed to St Martin-in-the-Fields.

There are no classes offered but was simply a drop in. We just walked in and went through their little hallway full of brass mounted on granite chunks on both sides of the wall. The price range was based on the how big the brass was (from 4.50 GBP). You would find small ones about 5" in width to large ones as long as a table and prompted on the walls. It took us a while to choose what we wanted but we eventually chose our brass. We then chose the paper - either black or white. Seeing some of the examples on the walls, I chose white as it would especially work for the detailed brass that I have chosen. Michelle also did the same while Jenn decided to do it on black.

The first thing that needs to be done was to tape the paper onto the brass. After, the guy helping us used a piece of cloth to rub the paper on the brass so that we can see a bit of the impression and know what we are working on. As he demonstrated to us, the one thing we found out was that when you do brass rubbing on black paper, it gives some room to erase any errors you may have by putting a price of cardboard between that brass and the paper and using an eraser to erase. On the white paper, you pretty much have to live with any mistakes you've made or try to cover them up the best way you can. He provided us with pieces of cardboard to use to pull the paper while rubbing and chose our wax cakes. There were blue, gold, bronze, silver, red, and black waxing cakes to choose from. Then we went at it.

We were taught to use the straight end of the cake to do some light rubbing and then using the tip and rubbing it hard in one direction to bring out the brass artwork onto the paper. Who knew we would be sweating while doing brass rubbing?! Time flew by fast and I admit that it was quite zenful. It was neat to see the results as you work along. Overall, we were all pretty proud of what we did and enjoyed it very much.

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A Side Trip to Majorca, Spain

While staying in London for about 2.5 weeks, we decided early on to head on to another country for a few days for a bit of variety. Like Canadians who head down to Las Vegas for a few days to get away with great package deals or cheap flights, Europeans head on to sunny places like Majorca, Spain for some sun and relaxation.

Majorca is an island known also for it's resorts. We didn't fancy the all-inclusives and opted to head out with a cheap flight via EasyJet for about 50 GBP RT instead and book a place. Michelle found a fabulous place (a full flat) in the city of Palma for about 63 GBP a night. It's located within walking distance to all the sights and amenities in town including the port.

The city is just beautiful if you really enjoy old architecture including a few by Gaudi. We didn't even notice those ones if we hadn't looked up and admired some of the buildings around the Cathedral and old town. Many of the sights are in and around old town. The cathedral is massive. You can see it from afar especially around the port and bike path area. There was a beer festival at the time we went and you can hear the many different languages as you walk around. There are many tapa bars and restaurants, pharmacies and shopping. It's really a easy going, laid back kind of city.

Unfortunately, we were there at a time where May 1st was Labour Day and not many places were open. We didn't know what was going on when we saw a bunch of what seems like protesters as we wanted to check out this 9-story shopping centre called El Corte Inglés. Was it a stike? A holiday? We weren't sure until Michelle recognized some words in Spanish on the banners they were carrying. She mentioned it may be Independence Day or something similar. She asked on the police escorts posted on the street we were at and he told her that yes all the stores were closed so no shopping - a typical tourist question! Great, what should we do? We were thinking of taking the train to Sóller the night before but even that seems to be out as we didn't want to get stuck there the day before we left so it was overall a good 3 days of walking, shopping, sitting and relaxing.

The surprise from day 1 was how it was easy to get fresh fruits, vegetables and meats at a nearby indoor market. It's rare to find something like this available daily in Edmonton (except for the Strathcona and Downtown market) and we took advantage of filling ourselves with good food since we had a kitchen to make things. For lettuces, lemons, strawberries, avocado,  mushrooms, etc., it only cost €13! We found out that on the 2nd floor of the building of the indoor market was a supermarket so when we weren't able to make it to the fresh market (I believe it closes at around 14:30), we headed to the supermarket including fresh seafood. We were so happy to find the fresh seafood as we have been just craving for it and ate calamari/squid for the days we were there. The breads like Baguettes were also just as good but not as good as the ones in France (of course).

Majorca is a great place to relax but if you can stay longer and rent a car to go around the rest of the island, it would definitely be more beneficial as it seems like the mountains would be a nice place to check out as well.

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Archery has always fascinated and interested me for as long as I can remember. It's the old movies and stories of heroes like Robin Hood and reading historical accounts of people living in the medieval era. There are so many influences that draws each of us to archery and what better way to learn this beautiful art than in England itself.

I went looking on the internet to see if there are any one day classes or even an archery lane where I can learn even just the basics of archery and perfect it later on down the road. I thought since England and Europe in general has so much history with archery that there must be more options to choose from and I found the perfect class in London called "Have-A-Go At Archery" at the 2020 Archery. It was only £20 (very reasonable) and the class was for an hour and a half (plenty of time to learn the techniques). It was even better that I can book this class in advance online which is highly recommended as they sell out fast and early. The great thing was that my 2 sisters were also up for it despite thinking how geeky I am and can be!

The place was easy to find and the way there was nice as we passed the Tower of London on the way and crossed the London Bridge. The area itself was in construction but the detour gave us an opportunity to check out the other streets we may have never have gone to. When we arrived, we signed in at the front desk and a lovely gal helped guide us up to the rooftop area.

Our instructors John and Dickson were very nice. We shared the archery area with some advanced shooters who pretty looked pro to us with their shiny recurve bows and their accessories. We watched them shoot the targets as we waited for the rest of the class to show up. We were in awe on how great their technique was and hoped we wouldn't make a fool of ourselves when it was our turn to go.

When all us were accounted for, John and Dickson gave us the important safety rules we needed to know and a bit about archery. We then put on our arm guards on and finger tabs for protection. I automatically felt pro just having them on! We were paired up based on our heights as we need  to share the same bows and our arms measured for the height of arrows we would use. They taught us how to put in the arrow, pull and release. We each took a turn and had 3 arrows each though I did wish we had more! It was quite fun and all of us did really well. My sisters and I even had a bulls eye each at one point! But the fun took another turn when the instructors announced that we would have a competition of 3 rounds Dun-dun-DUN!

Jenn, Michelle and I looked at one another - GAME ON! We decided to have a side bet - winner gets a shirt or whatever we find at the Chelsea Sample Sale we were going to the next day. Well one round after another, Michelle and Jenn were doing very well almost to the point where I started to wonder if they have done it before. I did well on the practice rounds but they must have saved their best for the competition. This was when I thought to myself that I would suck at the Olympics if I had to compete! But it was wonderful to see my sisters doing well and actually enjoying it more than  they thought. In the end, Michelle was on top at 2nd overall but really should be first considering the guy at first place has been there a couple of times ;) And Jenn said she would be game to do more shooting once we get back home - Awesome! I can see myself adding archery to my hobby list thanks to John, Dickson and 2020 Archery.

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