World Tourism Day 2018

In support of world tourism, September 27th has been marked as World Tourism Day to promote growth of international travel and inclusiveness.  This year UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organization) is focusing on innovation and digital advancements in the tourism industry.

Technology has certainly helped me travel with more ease.  I have been booking flights online for more than ten years and only used a travel agent to help with making more grand arrangements for my wedding guests and celebrations.  Planning a trip is quite an enthralling experience and the tourism industry is constantly changing.  Booking last minute travel and finding deals has become easier.  Navigating through cities using google maps has made getting lost in a city a less risky experience.  Using apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor make planning the agenda super easy.  I often refer to blogs and instagram photos to map out must see places in a city.  I even find the best doughnut shops with Instagram!

Traveling through security has also seen a ton of advancements.  From automated bag check in processes to automation at the security check to boarding passes scanned on mobile devices to TSA Pre-check and now most recently something call CLEAR.  Everything is about speed.

Connecting with people across the globe continues to get easier and safer.  Don’t let language be a barrier.  Google translate and other devices can have helped me connect with people and move around with more comfort than travelers did 20 years ago.  My Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese are very weak and while in Colombia, Brazil, and Japan, I did my best to speak their local language and people always appreciated my efforts.  Thank you Google for the help!

Traveling to many cities internationally will you give you a real perspective of what problems exist and the gaps from country to country.  We are witnessing countries create smarter cities and others that are still dealing with simple issues like lack of safe drinking water.  The Smart Cities Council has a vision to use technology to improve livability, workability, and sustainability across the globe. I look forward to more positive environmental impact that digitalization will have on all countries across the globe.

“Harnessing innovation and digital advances provides tourism with opportunities to improve inclusiveness, local community empowerment and efficient resource management, amongst other objectives within the wider sustainable development agenda”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
Photo credit: Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

1 Day in Denver

If you have a layover in Denver you can easily head into the city for a few hours by train.  The ride to Union Station is 45 minutes.

Here’s how we spent a few hours:

Union Station – This award winning historic landmark deserved at least a few minutes of our time before we took on the rest of this trendy city.

 

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If you’re hungry there are 10 chef-owned restaurants all ready to welcome you in and around this building.  We heard about a brunch spot called Snooze, but the wait was an hour, so we moved on and stumbled upon a new spot called Milk Market.  Arrive early enough and you can secure a Bingo card to get in on the game action while you eat.

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16th Street Mall – Walk and shop along this popular tree lined street while you also get up close and personal with skyscrapers of this Mile High City.  There is a free shuttle that runs along this street, but we chose to walk. Be sure to look down some of the alleyways to see the murals (street art) and a random happy face.

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The day we visited there was a free food festival with music, vendors and obviously tons of food in the Civic Center Park. Everything was very close together and this is definitely a walkable city. We went to the State Capital and a County Building in the Civic Center Park.  From far we took in views of the Denver Art Museum, however I was not able to get a good picture because there was too much sun from the angle I was standing. Do stop by the Denver Art Museum as the design is quite fascinating.

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Colorado State Capital

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Civic Center Park, Denver

We took in some of the county tunes in the park!

 

Tattered Book Store – Our final stop before getting the train back to the airport was at the Tattered Book Store.  At a time when people are buying more books online, it is always refreshing to walk into a indie book store that still feels original.  The owner of this retail chain is an advocate for readers in America and freedom of speech.

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Have you been to Denver?  What did you do while you were there?

 

For Pancake Lovers in Cleveland

Growing up, I would wake up on Saturday or Sunday mornings to the smell of mom’s pancakes, turkey sausage, and occasionally fresh muffins right out of the oven.  Having a flash back to that memory has me salivating and wishing I could relive that moment long enough to finish two servings.

On occasion, I do prepare a breakfast half as good as mom’s.  I prefer to go out for breakfast with Amir and a couple of friends.  On a trip to Cleveland, OH we read excellent reviews on Jack Flaps located at 5th Street Arcade.  I’m always in the mood for either pancakes or waffles and at that time I chose the Original Buttermilk Pancakes.  The pancakes were the right size with the perfect fluff and the taste was an A+.  The cinnamon butter, which I believe is prepared in-house, added a unique flavour to experience.

Quick Highlight Reel of Lima, Peru

With so many wonderful places to visit in the world, some of our trips have to be very short and keep them sweet.  You can spend an action packed two days in Lima to get a good taste of the culture, food, and the environment.  I share more information here.

Daytripping in Oklahoma City

I never really had this city on my list of destinations, but now that I’m mostly in the southern US, why the heck not?!  So what does OKC have to offer anyway. Like any city, upon arrival, I always grab all the tourist brochures and figure out what is supposedly the best things to do in the city.  I usually try to figure out more of the local scene, but in such a short timeframe it wasn’t too imperative this time. For OKC…I decided to stick with the highlights.

First stop…

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Inside the paid area of the botanical gardens.

Myriad Botanical Gardens.  This 15-acre botanical garden sits in the middle of the city and is home to thousands of beautifully displayed tropical and desert plants.  The garden is like a symphony of plants orchestrated to be together. The garden is free and if you want to step into tropical zone the cost is $8 for Adults and $5 for children.  Get ready to sweat when you step in there, even on a hot day it felt like I was walking into a sauna cranked up to 100 degrees.  I was dripping in sweat before I even finished walking through.  From the banana trees to coconuts to cocao to ginger, and lots of other cool plants you may have never seen up close and personal this attraction was a great experience.  I rank this the #1 place to visit in OKC and it’s great for small children.

 

Next…

We jumped back in the car and drove through the Business District, Arts District, and Film Row because it was way too hot to walk around everywhere.

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Civic Center Music Hall

 

We then drove to the Park Plaza area and made a visit to the OKC National Memorial.

OKC National Memorial. This site and museum is a memorial that honors victims, survivors, and rescuers of the Oklahoma bombing in 1995.  A National Park representative spoke for about 10 minutes to give the history and an explanation of the design.  There are two gates, which are marked with the time before the incident and one at the moment everything changed (when the bomb struck).  A field of empty chairs represents the lives taken on April 19, 1995.

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The East Gate is marked 9:01, which represents the moment of innocence for the city.
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9:03 – the moment everything changed
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The Museum and the Survivor Tree.  The inscription next to the tree reads: To the courageous and caring who responded from near and far, we offer our eternal gratitude, as a thank you to the thousands of rescuers and volunteers who helped.

Next…

We drove through Automobile Alley and didn’t really see anything. This must be more popular when there is an actual event happening.  Our drive continued through Deep Deuce, which is a nightlife area and then we parked in Bricktown to grab a late lunch.  There are a many restaurants, bars, and shops here and a nice canal, which also offers boat rides to cruise the canal for 45 minutes.  We wrapped up our day here after eating quesadillas and soft tacos at the Yucatan Taco Stand.

If you like riding scooters, there are plenty of Bird scooters available in this neighborhood.

Cheers to another short and sweet trip completed! #shortandsweettrips

 

Free Observation Deck in Tokyo

Tokyo has quite a few places where you can go to an observation deck to lookout over the magnificent city.  We found one that was less crowded, free and easy to get to on our way to Senso-ji. The Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center is just around the corner from Asakusa Station and the building itself, designed by well known Kengo Kuma, is a site to be seen.  The first floor is staffed with a team ready to welcome guests (in Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean)  and each floor offers either an exhibition or conference rooms and a cafe.  Make sure you get to the 8th floor to have your FREE lookout of the Asakusa area.  Don’t expect to be able to see the whole city, after all you are only on the 8th floor.

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The cafe and sitting area on the observation deck floor.
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Information board on the first floor.
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This exhibit gave a plethora of information on all of the famous districts in Tokyo.
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From the observation deck you can see the Tokyo Skytree, the Asahi Headquarters and the Asahi flame.  Notice that the Asahi building looks a little like beer in mug with suds on top.

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1 minute walk from the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center

Traveling to Japan With Ease

First time travelers to Japan will likely find themselves overwhelmed with all of the information that is available, EVERYWHERE.  At least that is how I felt.  I would plan and then get lost in my plan, then start over and get sent down a spiral of endless options again.  I only had 9 days and I didn’t know where to start, what to do along the way or how to wrap up this potentially once in my lifetime adventure.

I remembered what is important in life is to experience the experience.   Regardless of what we chose to see and do it was bound to be memorable and our shared experiences will last forever.

The reality is, there was absolutely no way to cover everything we wanted in such a short period of time.  Even if we were heading to Japan for several months, I guarantee you that we still would not be able to see all the beauty and wonder the country contains.  The highlights for me consisted of half the stay in Tokyo and the other half in Kyoto and we made day trips to Nara and Osaka.

If you are planning your trip to Japan, put your mind at rest, pick what is important to you to see and do and have no worries.  It doesn’t make sense to get stressed about any trip that you go on. Your on vacation and your mind needs to be at ease.  Sometimes, picking less activities is more enjoyable.  I left this beautiful country with more joy than I expected and by the grace of God I will have the opportunity to visit again.

Thanking God for all my travels and more.

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Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Only 30 minutes from Kyoto Station.

 

Image Featured is Osaka Castle in Osaka.

Japan and Sake

The Meiji Era was the first half of the Empire of Japan from October 23, 1868, to July 30, 1912.   During this time the Emperor Meiji, led the industrial growth and modernization of the country and the Japanese people held Emperor Meiji and his family in the highest regard.  I visited the Meiji Shrine located in Shibuya, Tokyo as it was ranked one of the top Shinto shrines to visit in the area.  At the start of the path towards the shrine, I reached a wall of barrels of sake wrapped in straw.  Every year barrels, pictured here, are given to the enshrined deities by members of the Meiji Jingu Sake Brewers Association along with members of other associations as a symbol of respect for the souls of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, whom was also buried here.

Sake is a Japanese rice wine with a very strong taste and can have as much as 20% alcohol volume. Sake is said to be the oldest known alcohol that dates back to 4800 BC in China and 300 BC in Japan.   By the 1300s breweries allowed for mass production and during the industrial revolution hand work by villagers was no longer necessary. It seems to be that since about 1904, Japan has been strongly branded with this fermented rice specialty.  I drank sake with a coconut violet cocktail mix nearly every night for the second half of my trip.  It became my tradition to wind down after a day of walking for about 8 hours. Respect be to the Emperor and family souls.

Tip: Purchase a JRailpass (at least 2 weeks before you depart for Japan) to give you more flexibility to see more that just one city when you visit this spectacular country.

Tokyo Streets

I can hear one of my favourite tracks “Where the streets have no name”. U2 fans can hear it too.

Walking through the streets of Tokyo had me practicing my patience at least 100 times a day and even with the frustration of being lost in translation, I still love this city!  There are street signs, but they are not always easily visible and there are so many alleyways for shopping and sometimes dining.  It’s easy to get lost. Thank God for my T-Mobile International plan.  I was able to use the google maps to help us navigate.

I have a very important tip…

When using Google maps, put in the address you are going to but do not press directions. The moment you do, it will send you off course.  Just load the location so that you can see where you are walking. It sounds weird, but I promise you this is the best way to use google maps right (May 2018) in Japan with a US phone.

My eyes were faced with unending stimulation as I people watched, stared at the skyscrapers, bowed at the temples and walked through the parks and there were no shortage of sites to experience in this amazing city. I will definitely be back!

Long ago, I heard about the efficient rapid transit and its complex map.  Like my attitude with New York’s subway lines, I chose not to be intimidated and to just take my time to get my bearings (even with this method, the crew I was with still got lost a few times).  Whether I was on the street or underground, I always had to pay attention very carefully to the signs. The street signs outside were not always obvious, but underground everything is written quite well, except the signage for elevators are less obvious.

For every plan that you make in Japan, add an extra 30 minutes to your schedule to allow for your travel errors. No matter how good you are at reading maps and taking directions, you are bound to get lost at least once.

If you have been to Tokyo, I would love to hear about your experience. How many times did you get lost?

Getting lost is part of the fun, as long as you are not in a hurry to get somewhere.  I find that you can learn more about yourself and a city when this happens.  You also learn about the people that you are traveling with.  It’s okay to go offtrack, especially in Japan. I never felt threatened or unsafe and people try to be helpful even if they can’t speak much English.

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This photo was taken in the Harajuku area. Fortunately, most tourist attractions do have elaborate signs with an arrow to point you in the right direction.

 

Best,

Isabel

 

 

Rooftops and Observing

Last summer I discovered a beautiful restaurant called Lavelle on King Street West in Toronto.  I stopped by in the afternoon before the crowds to observe the beautiful skyline and enjoy the gorgeous rooftop patio.

Something about rooftop patios designed with such luxury automatically gives me a burst of energy and pumped for a fun girls night out or a hot date with handsome husband.

What are some of your favourite rooftop patios?

 

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