Chicago - Architecture Tour Part I

May 31, 2013

I was really excited to take the architecture tour by boat. Luckily, it was a hot and sunny day on Sunday so we went to Michigan Ave. to book our tour. We decided to use Chicago's Architecture Foundation river cruise using the Chicago's First Lady boats. The river cruise tour is run by the foundation and volunteers hold the tours.

The cruise costs about $40 and it runs for 90 minutes. Weekends are really busy so be sure to book your tickets in advance. We showed up a bit earlier than the tour time and the line up was already quite long. If you want good seats at the top deck, you must be early and be sure to pack a hat (which I obviously forgot). Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are served at the lower deck bar.
 Marina City - 61 twin-story tower is part residences, parking, marina and also boasts restaurants, hotels, shops, and theatre.
 Passing through at least 20 bridges
 the "L" train
 333 West Wacker Dr - reflecting the river's hue
The tour was very informative and we had a great tour guide who gave us the history of the  buildings surrounding the river.

Part II of the tour coming up..


May 30, 2013

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photo via pinterest  

I have to remind myself that nothing is ever permanent in this world.
And while you can't change and predict what will happen in the future you might as well enjoy it while you can.

Don't put off your bucket list.
Cherish each day with your love one's as you do not know what will happen next.
Always be grateful for your blessings.

Chicago - The Loop

May 27, 2013

I booked my trip to Chicago back in November when I saw a sale on Porter Airlines. I didn't want to bother my bf with driving plus it's a long journey by car for only a couple of days so it wasn't worth it for us. So I booked the flight and forgot about it since I was too busy planning our Euro trip instead.
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When I got back from Europe, I finally started researching for hotels and found out that a big convention was happening on the same weekend. I panicked when I saw the hotels  being completely booked or charging a ridiculous amount of money per night. We debated re-booking the trip for another time but then we decided to look for accommodations on Air BnB instead. 
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After contacting a couple of hosts, we finally booked our apartment and couldn't be more excited to explore Chicago for the first time. Thanks to Chantelle, we had a general idea on what we wanted to visit while there.
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It was also my first time flying Porter Airlines which is conveniently located in our city centre. I didn't have to show up 3 hours before my flight or line up for hours to pass through security. Plus the Porter lounge is amazing!! it's stocked with coffee, tea, juice, water, etc. and light snacks. Everyone was relaxed and enjoying the amenities for free instead of paying so much money just to drink water.

The flight was approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. Chicago is behind 1 hour in time zone with Toronto. It was a little bumpy flying to Chicago but the service was impeccable. Finally, real glassware instead of plastic cups for everyone not just for business/first class.
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We landed at Midway Airport and it was a nightmare at customs. Another flight was ahead of us in the line and everyone had to be finger printed and photographed on that flight. So we waited for 2 hours just to get a 2 second stamp on our passport. It was absolutely annoying.
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The airport was easy to access by public transportation. We took the Orange Line to our destination and the rest of the time we took the Pink line to the Loop. The CTA has all the information you need to explore the city by train or bus. I just love that the trains are elevated and not underground. I was so amazed to see the train get so close to some buildings when turning.

Once, you get to the loop, you can easily explore the sights on foot.

Tips for Airbnb rental (UPDATED)

May 24, 2013

 Seoul, South Korea
 Quepos, Costa Rica

It's my fourth fifth time now to rent an apartment on Airbnb while on vacation and while I might not be an expert, I have a few tips and suggestions to share just in case you might consider renting an apartment while you're on holidays. 

I have rented through Airbnb when I traveled to Chicago, Malaga (Spain), Seoul (South Korea), Quepos (Costa Rica) and recently Naples (Italy). It's been a positive experience on all my rental stays *knock on wood*.

I highly recommend renting an entire apartment if you're planning to stay in the city/town for more than 4 days and if you have 2 or more people. It's sometimes cheaper to rent than to book a hotel room. You will have access to a kitchen, living room, washer, wi-fi, t.v., and sometimes a patio depending on the apartment you choose. It will save you from eating out all the time by making your own meals!
  • Budget - have a budget in mind while browsing through the sites. You can tailor your search to the amount you want to pay each night. There is also a Airbnb service fee that is included in every booking. 
  • Rules - always read the terms of the host. Ensure that you understand all the rules before you book. And if something is not clear or you need more information, contact the host directly to clarify. Make sure to check the minimum stay required as well, again, this varies from host to host. And if you think you can't adhere to the rules then by all means look elsewhere. 
  • Contact your host - don't be afraid to ask questions or if you have any concerns. I had to ask about parking with my host and he was a great help. Referring me to street parking or a private one. Your host can give you tips and suggestions on what to do, visit, eat, shop, etc. 
  • Check in/check out -  most hosts are more flexible with check in/out. If you are going to be late or early, always check with your host ahead of time if he/she can accommodate your time. Once you confirm your booking, you will be provided with your host's contact information. I always save his/her phone number on my phone. In Italy, we had set a time for meet up with the host and when I got to the train station; it was delayed. I sent a text message to the host letting him know so we arrange a different time to accommodate the delay. It's always best to communicate with your host when you can to let him/her know changes in your plan so they are not waiting around for you. 
  • Inspection - be thorough with your inspection once you check in to make sure the apartment is in the condition as listed on the website. Ask questions if you don't know how to use something inside the house. And ask about garbage days and where to throw the trash (soo important!). And if you forget something, contact your host. 
  • Local - the best part of staying at an airbnb is that you feel like a local. I love shopping for groceries and then going home to the apartment to cook a meal. It makes me feel like I live in the city/town that I'm visiting. I get to interact with locals than with my fellow tourists more. 
  • Clean - leave the apartment as you found it. This is not a hotel but your home for the length of time of your stay so treat it like one. No one else will clean up after you. 
  • Review - make sure you write a review after your stay. It is a benefit for you and the host to have positive reviews of course. Always discuss your stay with your host when you are checking out. It's best to be upfront about your stay. If you have any problems, always talk to your host first to discuss solutions before contacting Airbnb. 

I've been lucky to have stayed in apartments with great hosts who made me feel at home in their city and apartment. It truly made me feel like I was a local (for at least a short period of time).

Have you tried Airbnb and did you like the experience? If not, would you?


May 21, 2013

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I'm back after a long weekend in Chicago. I had a great time exploring the city. It was a relaxing trip mixed with a lot of sightseeing. The weather co-operated and we had sunny skies almost all weekend and it was hot but thanks to the wind it was bearable to walk around the city. 
I can't wait to upload more photos and share my stories.

How was your (long) weekend? 


May 15, 2013

After spending a whole weekend in Oporto, it was time to head back to Lisbon to pick up our rental car. It took longer that we expected to get all the paperwork and the car ready at DS Car Rental in Lisbon but we got our little Fiat Punto. It's a really small car but it was perfect for us. I had to put my suitcase in the trunk and that was all that could fit..everything else went to the back seat.  photo IMG_8847_zpsa8992512.jpg Getting out of Lisbon was easy but putting gas in our car was another story. We couldn't figure out which gas to use and it took us forever to leave the gas station. And of course the cost of gas was astronomical!!! I don't even understand why some people drive an SUV in Europe. The parking alone is a nightmare. We crossed the Abril de 25th Bridge and headed down to Algarve. We we're going to stay in Faro for 2 days. We took a toll road and it was amazing! The drive was easy and it took us about 2 hours to drive from Lisbon to Faro but we payed 20 euros worth of toll (yikes!).  photo IMG_8853_zpsf86bab3a.jpg We arrived in Faro late in the evening and the next day we drove around the region. Our first stop was Albufeira. We passed by orange trees everywhere and pottery stores. A lot of people were selling oranges on the road side for 2 euros. It was really really good. We ate a lot of oranges that day.  photo IMG_8855_zpsb2080935.jpg We stopped by the marina in Albufeira to explore and to stretch our legs. I can only imagine how nice it is here in the summer time. We saw a lot of vacation homes. It must be nice to live there for a couple of months. I can only imagine this region in the summer time full of tourists.  photo IMG_8854_zps1cadcebe.jpg  photo IMG_8862_zps6e6718c1.jpg


May 13, 2013

Every year in May, we get to experience the Japanese cherry blossoms here in Toronto at High Park. It was a circus especially this year since the weather co-operated and gave us sunny skies and hot temperatures. Every single Asian person I know descended to High Park with picnic and camera in tow. I have never seen that park filled in every square inch with people and cars.

I was one of those eager cherry blossoms fanatic. It never gets old year after year. I always make it a point to go although every year I always curse myself from fighting the crowd for space.

This time, we went to a quieter side of the park away from the blossoms so we could enjoy a picnic. We had our Portuguese grilled chicken from Costa Verde (much better!)and potatoes while people watching the crowd making a walking pilgrimage to the blooms.  photo IMG_0613_zps8171e38f.jpg  photo IMG_0614_zps0ae3bd6d.jpg  photo IMG_0615_zps3014c059.jpg  photo IMG_0618_zps3f545618.jpg  photo sakura1_zps304da505.jpg After our picnic, we joined the pilgrimage and walked to the site where the cherry blossoms trees are located. It was sooo beautiful but a little hard to digest and find a quiet space to relax. I wish I came so early in the morning when it's more peaceful.
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Vila Nova de Gaia

May 9, 2013

Across the river is Vila Nova de Gaia or for short Gaia. We walked across the bridge again but this time using the lower deck. Now, we can see the full view of the Ribiera in the day time. 
Spent the whole afternoon walking around this side of the waterfront and admiring the beautiful boats docked on the river. The boats are just a decorative touch for tourists and he bigger boats are for tours. I opted not to take the tour, it was way too packed for my taste. 

The art of eating while standing

May 6, 2013

When my bf came back from Lisbon last year, he was raving to me about going to a restaurant and ordering a sandwich and eating it standing up with beer. I was a little puzzled with the concept.
I'm the slowest eater in the world and I always carry a bag so I had no idea what to do but thankfully my bf warmed me up to it. We went to a couple of restaurants and got a table and watched as other customers eat standing up beside the bar. It was a quick turn around. You get a sandwich, order your drink, eat, pay, and go! Very efficient!
Finally, I got the courage to try it. Stood by the bar, ordered a bifana sandwich and wine. It was delicious!!! See that picture with the meat in the pan bubbling up, that's the bifana! I actually started liking this concept especially for lunch when you don't have enough time to wait for a table. You just find a little space and order your food. It was so easy and I was so amazed with the selection of sandwiches. I mean fish sandwich for lunch? Yes, please! 

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend and Cinco de Mayo! It's was hot here in Toronto and everyone was outside enjoying the glorious weather. I actually got a sunburn from being at a patio. It's caught me by surprise but I'm not complaining. I'll take all the sunshine I can get.

What did you do this weekend?

What I Ate: Churrasqueria

May 1, 2013

It's all about food on my blog this week. Specifically, what I ate in Portugal while I was on vacation.
Before I even went to Portugal, I started going to churrasqueria's here in Toronto. I always ordered the grilled or roasted chicken with rice and potatoes.  I was happy with it until I went on vacation and had the best grilled chicken in Porto!

Hands down the best chicken EVER! Tucked away in a little street was Pedros dos Frangos restaurant. We peered inside the window and we were drawn to the grill and the sizzling sound of meat.

Everyone was super friendly and we ordered the meat platter (above photo) and it did not disappoint. It had everything we wanted and blew my expectations away. The sausages were also the best! You must order it with the chicken if you visit this restaurant.
I could not sleep thinking about this dinner. The next day, we went back for more chicken and sausages. We packed it up to go and the really really nice man at the grill counter even packed us the hot sauce to go. We left Porto early morning with our loot in tow and ate the chicken in our car like hungry wolves.

We also looked for a churrasqueria in Lisbon and we were given a recommendation by one of the restaurant server we spoke to. This time, it was rotisserie instead of grilled chicken. It was good but not as good as the one from Porto.
The restaurant is called Restaurante O Churrasco and it's located in the busy Rua Portas. This was our last dinner in Lisbon and it was wonderful. The restaurant is pretty popular but we didn't have to reserve in advance.
I've been trying to find a similar tasting grilled chicken here in Toronto and so far I'm out of luck. I tried Churrasco of  St. Clair last weekend but of course it was a disappointment. I have no idea how to cure my cravings now without booking a plane ticket to Porto. 

Any ideas from people who live in Toronto? And please don't say to make my own..that's going to be impossible. I have no talent in the kitchen.

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