Monday, May 29, 2017

January/February Trip Recap (Part 4)

Finally! The last leg of the trip πŸ˜ƒ and arguably the busiest one! My mom and I took once again to the road to make our way back up the coast, but this time, we veered a bit west so we could hit new states different from our usual route.
Our adventure back north started with St. Augustin, which strangely enough we had never been to. It's super weird because it's only 2 hours away from Orlando, so I don't know why we always veered more towards Tampa or Miami 4 hrs away than venturing a bit further north from Daytona. Anyway, after seeing insta posts from people I grew up with having an amazing time in St. Augustin, I pushed for a detour on our last day in central Florida to go see it for ourselves and it was better than expected. We only had a few hours to explore the area and it definitely requires a second visit but it doesn't feel very Floridian. St Augustin is the oldest city in America and with the beaches and quaint little streets it's definitely super fun, it just feels a lot more like Puerto Rico than the US. The fort and some architecture, the spanish-colonial history and their pirates stories are all very similar to PR, so if you can't make it out to sea and to the Caribbean, you can totally go check this city and play pretend, I doubt you'll be disappointed 😜 We missed a lot of the famous sights because of our lack of time but we did get to have great beach views, go into the old fort, and "go to school" in the oldest school-house in the country, it's a super cute museum set up just as it was when it did have students there in the 1800s, and once you're done exploring you get to pick up your diploma at the exit, how cute is that?!

Next on the itinerary was Tallahassee. Because of it being a larger city and our having had a longer drive after St. Augustin we gave it two nights. Unfortunately I cannot tell you much about it. It's definitely more Southern, culturally, than central and south Florida, so it was fun to get to know my home state a bit better and see the changes as we made our way further North on it. However it was the off season and no tours or attractions were opened. We tried to do our own thing but that is harder to do in a big city when most tourist friendly things are closed and we didn't get to do much. After a couple hours we gave up on doing it alone and my mom found a segway tour which was personalized so we could see all the highlights without having to drive around. I had only tried segways once before in the Caribbean but it had been fun, so off we went on our adventure. Except we didn't really. As it turned out, these were the smaller, less stable segways made for cities instead of the huge ones they use in the Caribbean. So on a practice run at a parking lot I went over a horrible bump and the thing flipped me over, threw me to the curb and ran over my leg!😒 Other than shock my first concern was that I had fallen over an icky ants' nest so I was worried about that and the throbbing pain along my arm, everyone else was worried about the fact that my helmet had broken from the impact, so thank goodness I was wearing one! After some fussing and confusion as to what to do I managed to get back on the thing, although I refused to go over any more bumps; but as time went by I started feeling a trickle inside my shoe and my leg was burning. We stopped at a public restroom and sure enough I had a puncture wound in my foot, which was bleeding and the back of my leg did not only had a bad road rash, it still had bits of rubber from the segway running over it stuck to it and unwilling to go away! Needless to say our tour was cut short, my mom was freaking out and I could barely move. The rest of the night was spent getting gauze and antibacterial solutions and washing and dressing the wound😞 It sucked! For days I had to change the bandage twice a day and could not walk or sit normally. So who knows how Tallahassee is really like? Lol. Also, we didn't know it but this was our last warm day...

From Tallahassee we drove to Louisiana so we could spend the next day and a half in New Orleans, which I loved! We did not expect the weather so far south to be in the 40s and windy so I was freezing after the 80 degrees day we had the day before but NOLA was so fun. Definitely not at all like what people have described to me; there is so much art on the streets and lots of cute touristy boutiques... I was a bit disappointed that not all of the architecture looks like the real life Princess and the Frog but there's a lot of that too and the fact that we're not in the 1920s/30s was also brought to my attention.
For our adventures we had beignets at Cafe Du Monde which tasted as good as Tiana's look like!! And had vegan po boys and gumbo in the garden district. We enjoyed the views to the Mississippi river, walked around the French Quarter and its market, took a quick bus tour around the modern areas of the city and had fun seeing all sort of tv and movie location spots!
The next morning we went to Lafayette Cemetery and when I started looking at everything through my lens: Wow! No wonder this is such a popular place for Hollywood filming. It totally made me want to watch Princess and the Frog, Vampire Diaries and the Originals again! I was disappointed that I didn't find any voodoo shops thoughπŸ˜• Not like I would even go into a real one, but I wanted to see the fake ones for tourists, however all I found was regular souvenir stores selling the classic t-shirts and mugs sort of dressed like a voodoo shops 😐 At some point while wandering I did see a magick shop in the French Quarter, but my mom didn't like the vibe and didn't let me go in so I have no idea what kind of magick it was...
We also just saw Burbon street in passing, during the day we just drove by it and didn't have time to stop and during the night is almost impossible to drive by it. It was nice to see everything lit up but there were drunks everywhere and who wants to deal with those vibes? It's worst than the voodoo, my mom didn't even let me get out of the car for pictures because you never know with drunks... Vampires might be better and safer lol.

On January 29 we got to play in Nashville and we fell in love with it! At least with the first half we saw; I think we did it "wrong" though haha our experience had very little to do with music and cowboys and everything to do with Greece.
We spent the bigger half of our time in the city exploring their Parthenon which even had Percy Jackson's script on display, so now of course I want to watch it again also! Lol. Their giant Athena was a photographer's dream and even though it was freezing outside, it was so nice to be walking around the different parks after having spent some time in just urban settings. We visited both, Centennial and Bicentennial parks and went up hills to look at Nashville from above as well as then go visit the state capitol up close. The Greek influence everywhere was not what we expected out of "Music City". Because we only had a day there and it was the off season we didn't have any country concerts or anything, we did our best to drive or walk past and get a picture of the Country Music and Musicians Halls of fame as well as the Symphony center and in the morning during breakfast at a little organic cafe they had open mic with some really nice girls singing country. I guess that counts right? Speaking of cafes and food during our stay in Nashville we managed to eat twice at one of my new favorite vegan places Graze! Food was pretty spicy because apparently everything in the South is spicy! But so worth the pain!!!! LOL
The only downside to visiting Nashville in the off season was that we went to Broadway street to look at all the neon signs and souvenir shops after sunset, and apparently only locals that want to drink are around and there's a big homeless problem in the areaπŸ˜• So as we were walking down a street pass a street musician, a man shoulder-hit my mom tying to get her to drop her purse and kept walking by really fast, fortunately the bag was a cross body, we have very active guardian angels and we were safe with nothing worse to tell. We were extremely shaken up though and couldn't enjoy ourselves after that, so after collecting ourselves in a shop we went straight for the car drove to Cincinnati earlier than planned.

By the time we reached Ohio the temperatures were incredibly cold, we didn't have a buffer "middle temperature" as we had naively planned, and so my body never got adjusted to the sudden winter 😣 Freezing as we were we couldn't really spend time outdoors and it was a Monday, the time when museums and botanical gardens close, it was the off season and combine that with the fact that we're not that used to big cities that aren't giant tourist magnets anymore, we found hardly anything to do! So in Cincinnati we just drove by the Gaslight district because the houses are really pretty, found a bookstore-cafe where we could hang out for a bit and continued through to Pittsburgh. The same story as the day before repeated in Pittsburgh, mainly because their day to close there for some reason is Tuesdays. Pittsburgh's lack of fun didn't really matter though, as we had only added it to our itinerary so we could visit my friend Marianne. I hadn't seen her since 2011 despite her trying to come see me when I had cancer, but nothing ever seemed to work in our favor and for the longest time she lived out of the country, so now that she had moved back to the states and was on the same coast we had to go se her! That was the biggest highlight of those two days, we had dinner, reconnected and talked for hours, we really had a good time, although strangely enough despite her being a photography major, me being me and us switching phone screens constantly to show each other pictures of different things we forgot to take pictures of our reunion! Fortunately we made up for that a few weeks later for my birthday when she came to see me, but more on that later.
Right after dinner with Marianne, my mom and I started the drive to Niagara Falls! It was a longish drive, and according to my mom a stressful one since it started snowing and apparently there were areas with white out conditions. I missed all the scary parts because I was looking down at my Nintendo 3DS' screen and belting out Moana songs and thanks to my mom's mad skills we got to our hotel just fine and I was none the wiser πŸ™‚...

Niagara Falls was freezing but so beautiful! I loved seeing all the snow around them and the bits of frozen water at the top of the river, it was such a magical experience. The only thing that was sad was how close Canada built their city! They get the best view because even if we have some houses and stuff nearby, there are not towering, glittering buildings so you do get the views of Nature right there. From our side is hard to try and get Nature shots, stupid Toronto is messing up the shots more than half the time! I don't understand why people don't have any respect for natural wonders or ancient marvels. Leave some space! Stop encroaching and endangering it! UGH!
But ok, other than that it was a great time πŸ’— We had almost two days which during the off season is a lot of time apparently, but it was so worth it for my inner photographer. We were even rewarded by a rainbow going up from the water to the sky. It was Breathtaking! Part of our adventure there was making me making us go out at night again to capture the falls with the light show on. I froze my hands until they almost fell off and I endangered my camera by dropping it on the other side of the fence to get the right shot haha, but every icy second was worth it. Being so close to something so magnificent is nature is extremely healing. Now we need to go back in the summer to get to the actual adventures of exploring the caves and going on the Maid of the Mist! 
After Niagara, that was it for our adventures. Everything was like a movie-ghost-town except, instead of tumbleweeds there were snow flurries! We hit Saratoga and Buffalo as the last sleeping stops before heading home but found nothing worth a detour for the Winter. On the last drive back we went through lots of different areas in Vermont, we tried mapping a route that would take us through a National Park, I wanted to make our road trip last as long as possible and since we were already in the area why not get more photo material? But even though the GPS clearly showed us crossing the park, there was nothing but houses and road and no signs for anything! So we just drove through without finding the woods lol and we eventually made our way to NH and to my mom's place where I rested and helped unpack, etc from Feb 3 to 6. Once the adventure was officially over, sad as I may have been, and once I was totally settled back home on Feb 7 that's when my year actually began 😜. And now you're all caught up!

✵For more pictures and random trip details from my traveling bear's perspective you can follow their insta account. If you scroll down enough you'll see the trip day to day. If you scroll down to Xmas in Manhattan you've gone too far 😜

Thursday, May 18, 2017

January Trip Recap (Part 3)

Third out of four installments of my trip recap! This one all about home AKA Disney World!

Immediately after being "kicked out" of the cruise ship at an ungodly hour before 10am on January 7, we got our car from the cruise's terminal and drove to Orlando to stay for the next 2.5 weeks, because that is home, and that's the place you go to recharge and decompress, which by this point with my mom sick and my misadventures on the island the day before we really needed.
We had lots of plans to be "tourists" this time, since we haven't really seen non-disney properties in the area for years, but as already mentioned we debarked under less than ideal circumstances, (if you missed it you can read all about them here) and to make matters worst, when we got to Orlando we were received by a freakish 30 degree weather, which was a great shock to my system and got me sick tooπŸ™.
Half of our time in Orlando was spent recovering from the flu so we took it easy, only doing half days at the parks, visiting favorite restaurants and shops within Disney and between Lake Buenavista and Kissimmee and just sleeping the bug off to be honest.
All our plans went out the window and we used Disney for the most part as a breather from life as we usually do haha. At least there's no better place to stay inside than a Disney resort!

But now on to the main even during my time in Orlando. The absolute biggest highlight of those two weeks was meeting my first IGGPPC pen-pal and one of my very best friends person! Ann from Carnival Hearts πŸ˜ƒ
We've been friends for a couple of years now and one of our biggest bonds has been over Disney. We both grew up in the Orlando area and love going to the Disney parks as much as possible so getting to have our first in person meeting there was beyond perfect! You can read an interview we gave about a year ago for the IGGPPC blog about our friendship and daydreams to meet at a Disney park here!

It is sometimes weird and kinda surreal to hang out in person with someone you've only ever met through letters, but we had already shared so much and were now in the most magical of places that it all felt pretty natural within a few minutes, despite both of our social awkwardness.
My only regret if you can call it that, was that both me and my mom were sick and were not as energetic and enthusiastic as we wanted to be. Nevertheless I had a blast with both Ann and her boyfriend Steve and at least from my perspective, also hanging out with her boyfriend and my mom at the same time didn't feel awkward at all. We all got along pretty great and both Steve and my mom would give us "friend time" alone on rides or strolling around the parks so we could catch up which was amazing! <3 p="">
It was so fun to experience the parks with someone new and get to know each other better, picking up conversations from our last letters and doing our belated holiday gift swap in person! Ann and I got to play at all the parks together except for Epcot because that was the day I couldn't breathe and therefore didn't make it 😞 But we made the most of our time together and I even got to share some Animal Kingdom secrets she was unaware of. It was just so fun!
At animal kingdom, because we were wearing our "I'm Celebrating!" buttons, a cast member asked us about the story behind them and then got so excited about our friendship story, we got our picture taken, for a stories-thing the cast members share between themselves, and were given a free giant "friendship" Mickey cookie! It was such a magical experience and I can't wait for the next time we get to hang out together.
We had so many fun moments, at Hollywood Studios we got to ride Toy Story Mania 3 times in a row! Got to meet Moana and get our pictures taken using "the force" and shared a meal at my ultimate favorite restaurant in the entire world: The Sci-Fi Dinner πŸ’œ                                           Magic Kingdom was where we first met, but since my mom and I weren't feeling great after a quick trip to Tomorrowland we had to leave. On Ann's last day at the parks however, I caught up with her and Steve to enjoy our last few hours together as much as possible. My mom couldn't join us that night and the rain seemed to want to keep me and Ann apart since they were trapped going from ride to ride in Adventureland while I was stuck on Main Street. I eventually found them and we got to meet Aladdin and Jasmin, go on a few rides, have our own merry unbirthday party spinning the mad tea cups and have dinner together before saying goodbye at the main gate after getting our last friendship picture taken in front of the Mickey flowers.
"I've Decided We Should Be Pencils" Tank Top by Jordandene
I'm really grateful I got to meet Ann in person, and can't wait to see her again. Hanging out with her made my visit back home extra special. I started missing her the day after she left and not only do I wish we could live closer to each other but now I also want to meet other great friends I've only met through letters!
After Ann and Steve left the next biggest highlight was attending the first ever Epcot Festival of Arts which was a lot of fun. It's similar to the Flower and Garden Fest but with art, there's food shaped like art, different chalk paintings on the "streets" of the World showcase, a mural all guest can be a part of painting, concerts, and a figment art scavenger hunt which was the most fun for me! At the end if you completed it you got a magnet of figment as one famous painting.

Overall a very different experience from what we have planned but so good and so necessary. After all like they say you have to be full of expectancy but never of expectations. Planning is never that great, taking it one day at a time is the way to go, we got lots of rest so we could have our health back for the road trip back home, had the most amazing few days with one of my besties and we were there at the right time for my new favorite Epcot festival. It was perfect despite life being lifeπŸ˜‰
<3 p="">                                                                                                                                                                        ✵For more pictures and random trip details from my traveling bear's perspective you can follow their insta account. If you scroll down enough you'll see the trip day to day. If you scroll down to Xmas in Manhattan you've gone too far 😜

Thursday, May 4, 2017

January Trip Recap (Part 2)

Second Installment on my adventures! This one is all about my Eatern-Caribbean cruise πŸ˜ƒ

From Dec 31 to January 7 my mom and I were on board the Disney Fantasy. To be completely honest this is my least favorite Disney ship, but still a Disney ship and any of them is better than pretty much any other cruise ship out there hehe.
We had the best last day of 2016 chilling by the pool, riding the water coaster (the Aqua Duck) and overall just enjoying ourselves on deck. Minus the bits when we were also trying to get the last bits of cell phone reception to wish our loved ones a happy new year, which was a mess because of everyone's time zone differences and the afore motioned distractions 😜. At night we had dinner and as usual a massive deck party to ring in the new year topped with fire works at sea. It was so fun! Even if incredibly packed and we didn’t get as good a view of the stage or the fireworks as we did back in 2013 but no complains! If you’re not at the Magic Kingdom to receive the year covered in Pixie Dust, a Disney Cruise is definitely second best! 

January 1st and 2nd were days at sea (but at least we’re talking about 2017 now!) Which one would assume are nothing but relaxing, but in general cruises have so much happening on a daily basis, and Disney cruises much more so, that sea days are usually a mad dash to catch as many possible activities and shows and explore all the magical details of the giant ship in just those few "off" days.

As Gold Castaway Members we even got a special "mixer" with Captain Mickey to attend first thing Jan 1st!

The third day brought us to the British Virgin Islands and we visited Tortola. This was a new island for me which is awesome, I love that feeling of visiting a new place for the very first time! I am so blessed and do not ever take it for granted, but I was a bit disappointed on the island or rather on the services. As it is to be expected the landscape is the same as the US Virgin Islands, which is amazing!😍 No complains on that department but the service and friendliness of the people leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to other islands in the area. One lady even wanted me to go fetch her the ingredients she left away from the kitchen while preparing my smoothie! Also the cleanliness of the non-natural areas isn’t as spotless as one would want and expect in a paradise island πŸ˜• 
It was super fun though, especially going to Pusser’s landing to enjoy the Caribbean vibes and watch pelicans chill on yachts, then walking to the “souvenir market” and getting to watch lots of tiny, fluffy baby chicks trying to escape, climb on or burry themselves under their mom haha. 
That night after all the port fun we had the Pirates in the Caribbean party, which is super fun. Everyone dresses up in their best buccaneer getups and there are character’s dressed up in their pirate’s best all over the ship and there is a deck party/show before dinner, then themed dinner and later at night Pirate’s club, which is a different mini show before having it be an open air night club that includes more fireworks at sea, making Disney cruises extra special. No one else can have fireworks at sea, let alone two shows in one weekπŸ˜ƒ

On January 4th we visited both St. John and St. Thomas. Since we had already visited these islands a few times before, I decided to put photography as my priority versus adventure. Big mistake! I mean yeah the views are amazing! But the way our tours were scheduled we had free time but not enough to go swim with seals or dolphinsπŸ™ And as I realized way too late, on the way to all the fun animal encounters you also get some picture stops...So this was a live and learn situation. As it was, we ended up going on a super fun ferry boat to St. John where we got beyond soaked after 10 minutes, explored St. John’s ancient sugar mill and high island points as well as their newer areas and then we headed back to St. Thomas for lunch and to just enjoy the bits of island and shopping areas closer to the port.

Next time I’m going back to Ocean World or something similar so I can have more exciting stories to tell hehe 😜

January 5th was our last full day at sea which we finally took more for relaxing this time. We enjoyed ourselves by just going to a couple shows, playing mini golf on deck and having more pool time before the semi-formal dinner.
Next day our port adventure was Disney’s private Island, Castaway Cay
This is usually my utmost favorite island in the Caribbean, there are so many things to do and enjoy, there's never enough time to have all the adventures and enjoy every hidden scenic gem, but some changes seem to be happening that not everything I remember was operational, and to my iggle dismay the post office closed early, way before I could get my special stamps! 😒
There was still enough adventure to go around and we started the day on the island parasailing. This was my second time trying it and therefore the experience was less nerve- wracking than three years ago, sadly it was booked solid and they didn’t offer repeats or single rides this time, but it was super fun for me and totally relaxing for my mom lol. After returning to land we were supposed to go snorkeling but mom had gotten sick the day before and as the day’s temperatures increased she started feeling worst. We hadn’t noticed it before but apparently a bug was making the rounds in the ship and some stresses we had over this week depleted our immune systems. My mom waited for me to snorkel on my own, but without a grown up to make sure I didn’t drift off to open sea or drown I was to stressed to enjoy it. Also, the floaty bag I got my iPhone worked great outside of the water but not under, it wouldn’t recognize my finger on the screen so it didn’t focus on the fish, which were also much harder to see than in Hawaii. So I ended up out of the ocean after only about 30 mins just in time to find my mom ready to return to the ship😞
I stayed behind with the plan to just take some pictures around the island, shop for some island-exclusive goodies and head back on board early. This is when the real adventure began…
For some reason while asking a cast member at the shops where the best vistas around the main area were, he didn’t seem to know and a lady overheard us and decided to give me directions for the look-out tower. My mom and I had heard about it the night before but she told me it was inaccessible unless you took a bike, I do not know how to ride a bike so it was out of the question. I told this to the random lady and she said from where we were it was close by on foot and sent me around a not very traveled loop. I ended up getting lost in the 5K loop, where no cast members patrol, hardly any visitors ever go by and if they do is on bike! So because of bogus directions I ended up making the 5K loop and then some, carrying shopping bags and camera equipment, completely on my own, under the 90 degree sun with no water and wearing water-shoes not made for walking!! There was hardly any one I could ask for help and those I did see were unable or unwilling to help! By the time I made it back to the main areas I ended up in the grown up beach which is super boring and isolated and full of drunk people so I had to wait for a tram to come get me as the one that saw me approach left me anyway! I’m sure in the future this will be a very funny story of my misadventures but I still get annoyed. I was so exhausted and dehydrated when I made it back to the ship! For a while there I was even worried of not making it to the all aboard time, my phone had no reception and I had not brought the sea phone with me to let anyone know I was in a marshy area of the island! 
The day ended with me passing out for a while before dinner and then having to go to the last dinner alone with my bear since my mom was still not feeling well.
I know it happens, but don’t you kinda hate it when life happens while you're on vacation? LOL

Overall this was the least super-amazing Disney cruise in general. There were definitely lessons in tolerance and letting go at every moment. Lots of buttons got pushed with the staff not meeting Disney standards of service, not speaking English when visiting only English speaking Islands in an American ship! Lack of vegan options which we had never had a problem with before, super rude, loud and intrusive guests, Disney’s weird allowance of so much alcohol everywhere which is pretty new and leads to obnoxious and inappropriate drunk people…the couple of misadventures and of course my mom getting sick… But as I always say, if I don’t travel it I don’t learn it lol. My biggest lessons usually happen while traveling. And I don’t think I truly managed to learn these lessons, they still got me pretty peeved so at least I know where to focus on my growth so things like these don’t repeat and we get to enjoy our next cruise as much as we have every other Disney one!

*For more pictures and random trip details from my traveling bear's perspective you can follow their insta account. If you scroll down enough you'll see the trip day to day. If you scroll down to Xmas in Manhattan you've gone too far 😜