Flight Hacking Las Vegas

Toronto to Las Vegas, with connections After trying and failing to organize a trip here for my 25th birthday, I was convinced it was a sign that I wasn't meant to visit Sin City. But I knew it was one of the few places you can travel from Toronto for a) a short period of time, and b) for a reasonable price. (North America is huge, y'all.) Running short on vacation days through work, I have to be very selective with where I choose to go in a calendar year.

With the August long weekend coming up, I figured I'd check out last-minute deals and see if something popped. I checked Expedia, Travelocity, and Air Canada for last-minute packages, but everything seemed a bit too pricey for a 3 day long weekend trip ($700 approx.)

Out of curiosity I looked at flights alone and while it was more reasonable at about $400-450 round trip, then I'd have to add hotel on top of that, and I'd end up around the same price as the packages. No bueno. About to give up on my long weekend vacation dreams, I had an idea: I have credit card points! Would they work? Here's how it broke down:

I checked my RBC Avion Travel Visa Rewards and I had 55,706 points (I'll do a credit card reward comparison post at a later date--but I've been pretty happy with this one so far). The redemption schedule is normally as follows:

RBC Avion Travel Rewards Redemption Schedule

However. Since I wanted to book less than 14 days in advance, the rate was 100 points/$1.00.  (Note to self: definitely book ahead if I want to use points in the future--points will go much further that way!) I found an excellent flight (albeit not direct) on Cheapoair.ca for $436 return, stopping in Philly on the way there and Newark on the way home. I made note of the flight numbers and searched for them in RBC's travel reward booking system (you have to use their site to book air travel with points). I found the flights, although they were slightly more expensive through this booking system, and I'm still not sure why. The itinerary looked like this:

Flight itinerary--this was the cheapest option with desirable departure/arrival times. Direct flights were about $100 more per person when I checked.

After selecting this itinerary, I used all my points to decrease the price as much as possible. My points paid for an entire ticket, leaving a balance of less than half the full price. Breakdown is here:

This is how the payment broke down for two tickets to Vegas, using all available points.

We (you didn't think I went to Vegas alone, did ya?!) ended up splitting the cost of the remaining balance, meaning I flew to Las Vegas from Toronto for a total of $248.11 -- NOW we're talking a reasonable amount for a long weekend trip!

Stay tuned for more Vegas adventures detailing more travel hacking, including how I stayed on the strip for $37/night, and what I saw and did while there (spoiler alert: there are Lamborghinis involved.)


Not a Morning Person

This morning, we tried to get up early to go to the Vatican museums before our 1:45 train to Naples. However, neither Nez nor I are morning people, as we discovered. After our lovely (and now regular) wakeup from the cleaning lady, we had breakky then went to the station to leave our bags at the luggage place. After a half-hour trek through the depths of the station, we find the longest line ever--apparently it's no longer DIY luggage lockers. Since we were short on time, we were NOT about to wait in that line. We schlepped back to the hostel, and instead, left our bags there. At this point, we only had about an hour and a half, and the museums were not going to be visited. We decided to cut our losses and just relax before our train, so we shopped for a bit, and I fell in love with two Italian men: their names were Dolce and Gabbana.

We picked up our bags, and were a bit late leaving for the station. We literally had to sprint to our train, but we made it. Barely. The conductor blew the whistle as we stepped onto the train--now that's backpacking talent. Just in time!

After we got to Naples, we had to take an hour-long "Circumvesuviana" to get to Sorrento. I figured it was a regional train--slower, but no problem. We got to the station and discovered the 1 hr "regional train" from there to Sorrento is actually an above-ground subway. That my Eurail pass is not valid for. So I had to buy a 4 Euro ticket. (I really think my pass was less and less of a good deal, the more I use it and get told it's either not valid or I have to pay extra for the reservation).

We get on the train (if you can call it that) and are crammed like sardines, with no ventilation. We discover after boarding that we've boarded the wrong train. Of course.

After correcting our mistake and enduring a miserable hour and a half journey down the coast, Nez and I arrived in San Agnello, a small town just outside of Sorrento. The hostel directions sucked so we walked around a bit. We got a great photo of this tiny truck before getting busted by the owner, who turned out to be very proud instead, and offered to take a photo of us on the back--as long as we took one of him after. Got some great gelato then made it to the hostel, which is amazing. Makes the one in Rome look like a halfway house. Met some great people in our room (Aussies, of course) and all had dinner together--did I mention the hostel makes incredible food? A bunch of us are gonna see Pompeii tomorrow. I can't wait!

Ixnay on the Gladiators

Day 3: Saturday Oct 1 This morning I booked a flight to London for Oct 5th, then walked to the Coliseum to use the 2nd day of the ticket the guys bought. Discovered the ticket is valid for 2 days,but not at the same sites more than once. Embarrassing moment! I did the walk of shame past alllll the people lining up who actually had tickets, back out the way I came. Guess I won't be seeing the Coliseum after all!

Back at the hostel I met Nez, another Aussie solo traveler staying in my room. We got along great and had a nice dinner together before an early night. FYI, Rome is HOT right now. All that walking is exhausting!



26 / only child / Canadian

21 Countries & counting

5 Continents

English Bulldog named Meatball


Food – Sushi

City – London

Country –  Nepal

Season – Summer

Experience – paragliding over Pokhara

Oktoberfest 2011: Die Wiesn!


Day 2: Sat Sept 24 - Die Wiesn! Number one on your list of Oktoberfest Don'ts: Going out drinking the night before. I was hurting a bit this morning, since we woke up at 7:30 am in time to get ready for Oktoberfest--if you want a table you have to be there by 9 am! When we were walking we already saw lines of people outside the tents--they won't be getting in for hours! Silly tourists. Tanya and I got our picture taken by many of these tourists, so we must look legit. That made me feel better about my 65 Euro Dirndl purchase!

We got to the Wiesn, paid 3 euros (vs. the tents which are free but full of tourists and just sloppy--where we were was more traditional) and got some tables outside. Since we got there at about 9 am, we got coffee to start, and unpacked our picnic supplies--they actually let you bring your own food to this part, since they don't start serving food there until much later. It filled up quick, but we held our tables all day long. The weather was incredible--I actually got a sunburn, it was so hot out! Amazing! My shades came in handy and were passed around to just about everyone in attendance. So did my camera--we took more than 750 photos...

About 25 friends from my summers in Switzerland came from all over Germany to be here, which was great. I saw my girls that I lived with this summer in India (Franzi and Izy, my little sisters!), along with some other friends I haven't seen in YEARS. All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better day!

In this area, beer is served in huge stone mugs, which is the traditional way. I had an epiphany after these arrived about bier steins (Stein means 'stone' in German, who'da thought?). Everyone starts off with a Radler, however, which is half beer, half lemonade (sounds gross, but is super refreshing). 20110929-025500.jpg There were Lederhosen EVERYWHERE--so glad I bought a dirndl, i would've been the only girl without one. It was really funny, from the moment I arrived in Munich, these costumes were everywhere--I mean, it's expected to see them on the Wiesn, but it's somehow hilarious to see some guy just standing on the subway platform in his lederhosen, or in line at the grocery store. 20110929-025753.jpg
Franzi and I at Die Wiesn (pronounced Dee Veezen for all you Anglophiles) We stayed on the Wiesn from 9 am til 12 midnight--15 hours of Oktoberfest. The toilets were surprisingly good for a public event--kept clean and were a lot nicer than the outhouses I was expecting. (Just thought it's worth mentioning since usually you feel like you've contracted several diseases after using the facilities.)

Oktoberfest is actually a huge carnival--amusement park rides and games everywhere, food stands, etc. It was great fun to walk through all the stalls, see all the traditional food being made (hint: there's a lot of things ending in 'wurst'), and check out the rides. Somehow having everyone dressed up makes everything more fun--it's like Halloween, except everyone is going as the same thing, and every age group is represented--there are six year olds in lederhosen and sixty year olds wearing dirndls.

Such a cool sense of community here--I was saying to my friends, in Canada, because we're so multicultural, we'll have a small Oktoberfest in Kitchener, and a small Chinese New Year, and Caribana, etc. etc. But we never really have huge festivals where EVERYONE in the country is participating. I found that really great to see. It's also the mentality behind the event--the fact that it's a drinking festival--not serving beer in accompaniment to something, but actually as the main activity--that makes it so great. 20110929-025026.jpg
So part way through our epic outdoor Beer Olympics, our waiter decided to inform us we couldn't bring food in anymore. We suspect this is because he wanted to make more money--if we couldn't bring it in, we'd have to buy it--from him. Our friend Alex, who was the food President of the afternoon, went and talked to the chef, who said it was fine, and relayed this to our waiter. He then begrudgingly allowed our picnic to continue. Shenanigans.

After the tents were closing though, I smoothed things over with Halil (our waiter's name, as it turns out) and even convinced him to join in a few photos. He promised me 4 free beer MaBs if I come back on Monday, so I fully plan on collecting! That's 40 Euros! 20110929-030047.jpg
Halil (Back row, 2nd from right) as you can tell, is thrilled to be a part of our group
We went on the ferris wheel at the end and what a great way to see the entire Oktoberfest site. Lights twinkling, everybody happy with what a great day we've just had, it was incredible. One of the highlights of my trip for sure.

Paris Day 2


Today I forced myself to go see some other sights, even though it was freezing outside and after yesterday's general sentiments, have no motivation to be reminded what I can't have in Paris. Maybe that's why the first stop I found myself at was the catacombs. I paid my 4 Euros and descended into the depths of Paris. For those of you that don't know, the catacombs are essentially a massive cemetery that extends for kilometres in every direction--right underneath the streets of Paris. You head down into a dimly lit tunnel with musty stone walls and walk about 500 m until you reach the first part. Doing that alone is a little more than unnerving, let me tell you. All the side passages are barred off and dark; it's deathly still (pun intended) for the most part, but every sound you do hear makes you jump a little. It felt like a really well put-on haunted house! 20110929-024437.jpg
Then I got to the bones. Oh yeah, these aren't nicely laid out tombstones; they are stacks of human bones lining the passageways. To deal with overcrowding in cemeteries during the 18th century, people started getting buried in these passages, since you could shove more bodies together, thus saving space. Pretty morbid, but the organization is impressive--all similarly shaped bones are stacked together, separated by rows of skulls (for support? Who knows, I definitely did not come up with this idea). 20110929-024312.jpg

20110929-024605.jpg After the catacombs, I meandered over to Notre Dame to take a look at some gargoyles. (The last time I was here, I had cut my foot really badly in India just prior, and couldn't walk. All I remember is my mom piggybacking me around Paris, and in particular, up the tower of Notre Dame so I could see the little creatures protruding from the stone facade. Thanks mom!) 20110929-024516.jpg
It was nice, and in some ways reminded me of Gaudi's work, but traditional--his is warped, versus the classic medieval lines seen here. I could just imagine what it must've been like when this church was the centre of religious life in Paris--it's pretty impressive, the details that went into its construction. 20110929-024632.jpg
Next stop was the Champs d'Elyses, the world's biggest...roundabout? I'm not sure of the significance, since I refused to pay to go to the top of a tall structure and look out over another city. But I got my photos! And saw some breakdancing in the meantime, so it wasn't a total waste of time. 20110929-024712.jpg
Lastly, I made my way over to the Piece de Resistance, the Eiffel Tower. Also known as the giant asparagus by non-impressed Parisians, the tower was originally supposed to be covered, but someone quashed that idea and now we have what it looks like today. It's impressive and blah blah blah but I'm gonna go ahead and bet that lying on the grass solo is not as much fun as with your sweetheart. I was getting bored and frozen so I waited just until the tower sparkled at sunset (they do something cool with the lights) and got the heck outta there. One can only stare at a giant asparagus for so long! 20110929-024830.jpg
Another thing that was disappointing was my quest to cook at Le Cordon Bleu was quashed...I emailed them last week enquiring about a tour or one of the many day classes they offer...but everything was full, for every single day I could possibly be in Paris. I guess it's not meant to be, but still! Frustrating.

So it turns out Paris is not like Carrie's version in Sex and the City. This city is dangling a carrot in front of my nose--I can see what my visit COULD entail, if I was on my honeymoon, or in 15 years when I have a ton of money, spending extravagantly on nice restaurants, shopping, and fancy hotels, but nearing the end of my four month travels, that is not in the cards for BackpackKat. I did not get a suite at the Four Seasons, nor did I gallivant around town wearing a $20,000 dress. No trans-atlantic professions of love. I wore jeans and sneakers. I ate at McDonald's. I saw the sights. And I can't wait to leave.

Tomorrow I am going to MUNICH for Oktoberfest! I'm so excited to see all my german friends, I think there's 25 of us from all over Germany meeting up this weekend? It's gonna be epic. Au revoir, soul-sucking Paris! Time to become German! 20110929-024842.jpg



26 / only child / Canadian

21 Countries & counting

5 Continents

English Bulldog named Meatball


Food – Sushi

City – London

Country –  Nepal

Season – Summer

Experience – paragliding over Pokhara

Je N'aime Pas Paris


Whoever said Paris is for lovers was correct. What they failed to mention is that it is downright depressing to visit as a party of one. There are couples everywhere. Dinner specials for two. Honeymoon hotel packages. Blech. What's wrong with taking myself to Paris, hmm? I slept for 14 hours in an effort to rid myself of the cold that half of Europe seems to have, but woke up in time for breakfast. After getting yelled at by the French cafeteria lady for taking the wrong tray (apparently there is a big difference between lunch and breakfast, so you'd better get it right!), I got ready to head out for the day--the hostel locks you out of your room from 12-3 pm so they can clean. A little severe to actually have a lockout, but no matter. To the Louvre! 20110929-024238.jpg
Channeling my inner Robert Langdon outside the Louvre.
I spent 6 hours exploring the vast array of exhibits, and I gotta tell ya...at least for the Egyptian exhibits, it was cooler seeing the same stuff in Cairo. Felt more authentic, if that makes sense. Ew, I sound so snobby. But it's true! And nothing was behind glass there. 20110929-024112.jpg
Really, France, that's the best you can do?
At the Louvre, though, the Greco-Roman sculptures were outstanding, one of the finest collections I've ever seen.. aside from a security scare that required the evacuation of the entire wing, it was a great way to lose a few hours. The crowds were out in full force but the lines moved quickly. I almost walked right by Venus de Milo until I realized what it was, and then I got in line just like everyone else to ogle the masterpiece. 20110929-024121.jpg
The Mona Lisa, however, was just a zoo. Totally ruins any attempt to marvel when you're being herded. It's on its own wall, behind thick panes of plexiglass, and it's tiny. I elbowed my way to the front, snapped a few pics, and got the hell out. I'll take lesser-known works any day if it means I can be in a room by myself to ponder. 20110929-024143.jpg There will be no impending nuptuals to a Grimaldi, a la Gossip Girl. Unlike Blair Waldorf, the closest proposition I got at the Louvre was from the aging security guard who inquired about taking me for coffee (I politely declined). After I exhausted my ability to absorb new artwork for the day, I took a leisurely stroll by the Seine, saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance, then headed to McDonald's for some free wifi to catch up on the blog. Tomorrow I'm debating doing a bike tour of Paris--sounds kind of fun! I've decided against going UP the tower--much better photos with it in the background anyways, and then it's free!



26 / only child / Canadian

21 Countries & counting

5 Continents

English Bulldog named Meatball


Food – Sushi

City – London

Country –  Nepal

Season – Summer

Experience – paragliding over Pokhara

The Art of Macarons

French cooking class in the morning--learned how to make macarons! Not to be confused with macarOOns, these pastries are light, fluffy, and delicious--they'd better be, considering they consist of butter, sugar, and egg whites. Yum. I definitely don't like the precision required to bake things though--I'll be sticking to savoury cooking back at home. But when in France... 20110921-111457.jpg
The chef walked us step-by-step through the process, although it was more of a demonstration than a hands on experience, since there were so many people in the class. I did get to pipe a few macarons onto the baking tray, however! And we got to keep some of the finished product at the end, which, let's be real, is obviously the most important thing anyway.

Went into town in the afternoon to try and deal with my Paris plans--apparently it's super expensive there so I'm trying to mentally prepare myself for that. Every hostel seems to be booked, even though it's the middle of the week--I don't get it! And the highest rated one that is showing up in my searches is 66%. Yuck. Looks like I may have to spring for a hotel...in one of the priciest cities in the world. Lucky me. Note to future travelers: do not put western Europe at the END of your trip when you are running out of money! Do it first! (and save in India--it's what I should have done. Boo.)

I also tried salad Nicoise at the hostel--I am in Nice, after all! It was SO delicious I forgot to take a photo. I will definitely be incorporating it into my rotation at home! That's about it--I'm exhausted from trying to figure out what I want to do about Paris. Definitely not designed for backpackers I think. Not ones who have seen Sex and the City, anyway. 20110921-111451.jpg

Mediterranean, You're Kind Of Big

Sept 16:I'm going to refrain from the joke here; it's too obvious....thatswhatshesaid. Okay! Moving on. Today was a travel day to Nice. I left at 8 am after not going to bed the night before, so sick, and had to change trains every couple of hrs so couldn't sleep at all. Got to Montpellier and had to buy new reservation for train from there to Nice, since they wouldn't do it for me in Spain. Of course, the train I need is full, so I have to wait two hours til the next (non-reserved) train departs. I met two Aussies from Darwin who were doing the same thing, so we navigated the rest of the trip together.

The last train from Marseilles was really sketchy--no light, so were just sitting in the pitch black with strangers going through tunnels. Brought back memories of my favorite travel movie, Eurotrip. Mi scusi! We finally arrive in Nice at about 10:30 pm, only for me to realize my pouch containing my sunglasses and phone is missing. Shit. Back to the train I go! I couldn't remember exactly where we were sitting since it was no reservation, so I searched. Every. Single. Compartment. Hoping the train wouldn't start moving while I was still on board. At last, I found it! Fallen between two seats. Mon Dieu!

I called the hostel which told me to take the tram to a certain stop, where their shuttle would pick me up. I finally arrived and collapsed into bed--folks, the med is a lot bigger than you may realize if traveling by train! 15 hrs is not fun, especially on zero hours of sleep.

Gaudi Crush

Me in front of Casa Batllo - about a block from the hostel
Today was my last day in Barcelona, so I got up in time for a Gaudi walking tour. We saw some amazing stuff by Gaudi--his first ever job, designing a lamppost (that has a suspiciously similarity to the Snitch in Harry Potter), Casa Batllo, Casa somethingelse (where 2 floors are still apartments that will run you a paltry 25,000 Euros a month), Palau Guell, etc. 20110921-084651.jpg
The one with expensive apartments--I would die to get a look inside!
Gaudi's first-ever job: creator of the Snitch for JK Rowling
Turns out this was the biggest group they've ever had (62 people!) so it was a little hard to hear. Combine that with having to take the subway twice and naturally, I lost the group during a bathroom/coffee break at Starbucks. I met up with them again at la sagrada familia though, just in time for the end of the tour. Good thing it was free! A bunch of us decided to grab some food after that, so we set off in search for non-touristy tapas. 20110921-084611.jpg
The offerings from lunch... We finally found a place with no English or photos on the sign outside, which we took as a positive. Once inside we discovered there were no menus--great! How much more authentic can you get? Turns out not speaking Spanish was a bit of a problem, because our order got lost in translation and we ended up with 5 of the worst steak frites I've ever seen in my life. Mine was actually beef jerky. Luckily, the entire debacle only cost us 7 euros each (including drinks) so we cut our losses and made plans to meet up for better tapas at dinner. 20110921-084811.jpg
Barcelona from the top of Parc Guell!
In the afternoon, I made the trip up to Parc Guell for more Gaudi and views of the city skyline. 20110921-084643.jpg
Me in the Parc Guell
Two things worth mentioning: A) it is a HIKE and a half to get up to the top of the hill! 20110921-084631.jpg
B) I don't understand why 'gaudy' means cheap. If I'm correct in assuming it gets its namesake from the Spanish artist whom I've fallen in love with, there is nothing cheap about his work--today he would be one of the highest paid designers ever! Just a random musing, courtesy of yours truly (and if the two aren't related, well, you're welcome--you've just encountered your blonde moment of the day). 20110921-084902.jpg
More Gaudi creations in the Parc

I met up with the guys from California (apparently Sacramento is now on my to-do list!) at the hostel for some drinks before dinner. Turns out there was a Tripping event at the rooftop bar that night, so it was a great chance to meet some locals and enjoy some free drinks. The atmosphere was great: sunset over the Barcelona skyline, with Casa Batllo and La Sagrada Familia both clearly visible from the roof.

I invited a fellow blogger on a whim when I noticed he was in Barcelona at the same time as me, and we had some fascinating conversations (he has seen John Mayer in his famous Borat bathing suit, and he's currently traveling the world for 9 months on $418. Impressive. He runs nerdfitness.com so check it out if you have a sec!)

We finally made our way to Tapas 24 (again for me, but it was so good, and the boys needed a lesson in proper Spanish cuisine after the debacle that was lunch!). It was a long wait but totally worth it. We had several of the same things, plus mussels, black paella (that was a new one), and a ham and cheese bikini (spanish for sandwich i guess? It was way better than it sounds).

After that we met up with some girls who are working here in Barcelona as au pairs, and we sat in the Plaza Real, talking and drinking beers that sketchy guys come up to you and sell for one euro each. seems shady but everyone does it, so I guess it's acceptable here. 20110921-090500.jpg
The plaza

We decided to go dancing and ended up in this Jazz club that turns into 80s night after a certain time (random?). It was a lot of fun, although I really should not have stayed out til 6:30 am the night before I have a 15 hour travel day--in my defense, I didn't know it would be that long! But I had to do my last night in Barcelona justice. The sleepless night was worth the memories made...cheesy but true! Adios, Barcelona, I'll miss you!

La Sagrada Familia

September 13:

Woke up in time for free breakfast, then decided to check out La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's piece de resistance. It. Is. Amazing. One of the architectural highlights of my entire trip. One of those places that you can't quite seem to capture the grandeur in photos (but I tried my best!) It's interesting because it's like Gaudi got bored with the style he was building part way through, and just switched tactics--the Nativity facade looks like the outside of the building is melting. Then you walk over to the Passion facade and are greeted by modernistic, Picasso-esque statues. It's very strange. 20110921-081653.jpg
Nativity facade, possibly melting
Picasso would have sued for copyright infringement on this side of the church

The inside is incredible; he designed the columns to resemble a forest, and with the light from the beautiful stained glass windows streaming in, it's simply magical. 20110921-082020.jpg
Some of the beautiful stained glass windows There's a prayer section in the middle of the church, but it's filled with tourists just taking photos (you have to sit to take pictures in that part, which coincidentally happens to be the best view of the ceiling). 20110921-081452.jpg
Gaudi's impression of a forest

We sprung for the lift ticket and went up to the top of the Passion tower. Great views of Barcelona, although the skyline is remarkably unremarkable. At least I didn't walk into another gift shop (remember Vienna?). 20110921-082034.jpg
View from the top of the church--or lack thereof!



26 / only child / Canadian

21 Countries & counting

5 Continents

English Bulldog named Meatball


Food – Sushi

City – London

Country –  Nepal

Season – Summer

Experience – paragliding over Pokhara

Tasty Tapas

Sept 8: I woke up in some serious pain this morning, so I staggered down the street to McDonald's (seriously where else do people eat after going out? It's the only logical choice) to rehash the night with some friends from the night before. I met up with Mr. Zimbabwe (I really wanted to call him Cady (Lindsay Lohan's character in Mean Girls, who also grew up in Africa) but I don't think he would find it as funny as I did so I refrained) in the afternoon, and we wandered over to Plaza De Espana and the cathedral (the biggest Gothic Cathedral in the world), although it was so hot we weren't too enthusiastic about anything. The Plaza was really beautiful--it reminded me a lot of the palace in Vienna, except red. One thing I will never get sick of is all the palm trees. Canada, get with the program! You have everything else, heat included. Rule No. 76: No excuses! Play like a champion! I also made my way over to the train station to book my trip to Alicante for the next day.

One problem (among many) with a Eurail pass: - You need reservations for a lot of the trains, which requires you to plan further ahead than you'd maybe like. - Reservations cost extra (on top of the 393 Euros I paid for the pass) - You can't book them online, as there's no aggregated system for the different rail lines Eurail is valid for. Result: Spanglish disaster.

Anyone who says the French are snobbiest when it comes to people not speaking their language have clearly never been to Spain. Coincidentally, I never realized how little Spanish I knew until I arrived. The problem is that unlike every other country I've been to so far, Spanish people don't speak English, and refuse to make things easy for you. There is no slow, simple sentences reserved for foreigners. If you don't speak like they do, tough luck. Now try to imagine explaining the parameters of the Eurail pass you'd like to buy, and that was my afternoon. I start with the customary "Ola! Como estas?" So far so good. I smile apologetically and continue with "No habla Espanol." The ticket cashier stares at me and replies, straight-faced, "No habla Ingles." Okay then. This should be fun. I wanted to book a train to Alicante, which required a change at a certain station. I feel like a senior citizen when I'm booking these tickets, because I'll hear the entire sentence, yet comprehend every seventh word, so it's like putting madlibs together: Train ____ _____ _____ ______ Alicante _____ _____ ____ __ ________ change _____ _____ _____ No ____ _____ _____ Reserva.

Okay. Let me get this straight. You can book me a train to Alicante, but I have to change and you can't reserve me a seat? Good to see my Eurail pass is just teeming with value--I've already spent at least 50 Euros on reservations, on top of the 393 I already paid for the pass. So ridiculous.

That evening, Zimbabwe and I decide to meet up and try some local tapas--our hostel was doing a tapas tour, but after our experience with Raphael we decided we'd try to find better value for our money elsewhere. We settled on a little place called La Mata, which was empty but looked nice inside, and boy am I glad we did.

Easily the best meal I've had my entire trip--I'm so mad I didn't bring my camera with me! For anyone who doesn't know (hopefully none of you), tapas is like little plates of food in really interesting combinations of flavours, designed for sharing. It's really cheap, and really good. It's like building your own tasting menu (which normally costs a fortune).We tried: - Chicken tulips - Mussel tempura - Salmon tartare - Iberian pork shoulder with orange chocolate sauce - Grilled prawns with taboulet (couscous) - Grilled fois gras medallion with caramel sauce - Gin and tonic sorbet - Spanish wine Guess how much that all cost us? A whopping 35 euros. Each of those plates was so expertly put together that it would have easily cost 30 PER PLATE at home in a city like Toronto. The flavor profiles were just incredible. I was so impressed. If that's what the food is like in Spain, I'm never leaving.

After that, I headed back to the hostel to pack because my train left at 7:15 the next morning. Not that my attempt at an early night mattered one bit, as I was staying in a room with 6 other French girls who had no respect for the other six people who were also there. (It seems logical that if the lights are off and it's after midnight, you try to be quiet when entering your room. Mais NON!--lights were flicked on, drunken shouting ensued, as if the rest of us weren't even there. Mind-boggling. I wanted to throw a bottle at their head but I didn't. No pending assault charges, unless the cops can read my mind.) It's been a good time in Seville, but I can't wait to see what Alicante is like!

I'm really glad I went down to Seville, because I'm going to get a taste of three very different Spanish cities. Seville is typical Andalucia; Alicante is a coastal university town, and Barcelona is Barcelona.

So today, I get to Ciudad Real, the city I have to change trains in, and check at the information desk. Through my Spanglish I discover the clerk in Seville did not book me a reservation all the way through, but only to Ciudad Real. Real helpful, buddy. Good thing I checked, or I would've been ticketless on this train--the last thing I need is to be forcibly removed and dumped in a city in the middle of nowhere. Crisis avoided, though, and am on my way to Alicante.

The Train in Spain is Mainly a Pain

(Spain Day 1) See what I did there? Enough with the My Fair Lady references...we are in the land of Carmen! Fun fact: The plot of the opera came from Seville, where a Christian soldier was dating the most beautiful girl in town (Carmen) who dumped him for a bullfighter (way more badass, I'd do the same thing). He went crazy and killed her and her family, felt bad, and killed himself. Typical man...so dramatic. Holding a boom box above his head would have conveyed the same emotion. If you want to get acquainted with the story, Beyonce made a hip-hopera for your viewing pleasure. Youtube it..

I flew from Cairo to Madrid, almost dying of dehydration on the plane (did you know the air in the cabin has less water in its oxygen than the desert? I love the sips of water they ration you every two hours because you can't bring liquids on the plane, like that's going to do anything in this environment...) get to Madrid, still not sure if want to stay or go to the south. After a lengthy conversation with a Spanish couple on the plane, I decide to go to Seville, but need to get to the train station. (Seville, the home of a certain Barber, if you're familiar).

I take a bus from airport and make my way to the ticket counter to buy a Eurail pass. I priced it out and I will end up saving quite a lot by having this pass. I can buy it for only the countries I need, so it costs less than a global pass, and will be much cheaper than buying individual tickets.

I wait in the ticket line only to be told I can't buy a Eurail pass at this train station. I have to take the metro to another station. I manage to navigate this, then decide to take the last train to Sevilla at 21:30. Have been up since 5 am. Get to Seville at 12:05. Haven't booked anything so I head to the first place in my guidebook (side note: Lonely Planet is not the best book for the budget traveler. Their hostel suggestions are lacking--just a general observation. Let's Go is much better, but they don't have as many books).

The taxi driver doesn't know where it is so he drops me in a downtown square saying it's close and points vaguely in one direction--I think he just wanted to get rid of me. Thanks for being concerned about my safety! I wander around for a bit and am not having any luck. I'm going to have to take up residence under a bridge! Finally, I ask some people I overhear speaking English, who take me through dark alleys to an unmarked door I would never have found on my own. Success! Just kidding. I get inside and they're booked. Crap. But he calls their other property and find me a bed there, so I haul my stuff ten mins down the street to the Oasis Palace. Cheesy name but at 1:30 am I just want a flat space to pass out on. Exhausted after a 20 hr travel day, I've made it; I'm in Europe!

Canada Dry, Never Die

Total hours in Cairo so far: 17Number of marriage proposals: 28 Number of gifts: 3 Number of gifts possibly hiding concealed narcotics: 2


Sept 2/3 I arrived in Cairo at night, after my plane was delayed in Doha. I dodged a proposal from the airport clerk (in exchange for a free visa, tough call...) collected my bag, and met my friend Sarah and her boyfriend Bilal, who were picking me up. I've known Sarah since I was little, even though she's from Germany, as she also works with the same charity in India, so we kind of grew up together. She even came and stayed with my family in Canada a few years ago!

They took me to this fish restaurant on the Nile (literally on a boat in the river, so cool! There's a ton of places like it along the river) where we selected our seafood like you would in a marketplace, then the chef weighs and makes it. Had amazing spreads and dips with bread, soup, salad, shrimp, calamari, and the fish. So much food! It was a feast. But a delicious one. I don't think many dishes can top freshly caught seafood. Move over, Red Lobster (except your biscuits, they can stay).

The next morning, Sarah had to go into her school (she teaches at the German International school in Cairo--the public system in Egypt is so bad that they have private International schools everywhere, so anyone who can afford it gets sent there), so Bilal took me to get falafel for breakfast, which was amazing. I can't believe I thought I wouldn't like it! And handy, too; it comes in a sort of pita so you can grab it and go. McDonald's, girl please.

After making sure I had enough water to last, he dropped me at the pyramids. I cannot stress this enough: if you have a student card, bring it! Everywhere! (The only catch is that because I have no date on my student card (unlike an ISIC card, which you have to pay for), certain sticklers at ticket windows won't accept it. But I've gotten away with it more times than not, so it's worth a shot for sure.) You never know where you can get a discount, and it never hurts to ask. Case in point: Entrance to the pyramids: 100 pounds. With student card: 30. Boom.

Alright. Going to the pyramids is exhausting. Luckily, I had just come from India, so I was prepared for the touts hounding you every step of the way. It's the blonde hair! I can't hide--they spot me from a mile away! Egyptians will come up and ask to take a photo with you, so I was back in celeb mode all over again. That much I was at least used to from my time in India. But Egyptians take it up a notch. When I take off my sunglasses and they see blue eyes, I'm really in for it. That's when the gifts start coming. I now have in my possession: a mock Sphinx, a model of the pyramids (to scale), and a papyrus painting. Not a bad haul.

Bilal warned me they can be quite pushy, so I was ready for anything. Instantly, someone came up to me and assured me they worked there, so it was fine. I repeated my standard "La shukran", or "No Thank You", but they're persistent. I make it clear that I'm not paying them for whatever they're offering, but they continue anyways. I figure that's my disclaimer; if I tell them I won't pay and they choose to give me info about the history, or take pictures for me, that's their problem for not listening. You have to stick to your guns and be ruthless, though! It's funny seeing the system they have--at the end, I start walking away, and they say "hey! what about a tip? I told you so much stuff, took photos, etc." Then they try to suggest what the "Standard" tip is--20-50 pounds..such a joke. Trying to guilt trip me into giving them money! I stand my ground and shrug, "Sorry! I told you I wouldn't pay for this and you kept going anyway! Not my problem." They get mad, but I think they're more angry that their little scam didn't work on the hapless little blonde girl. Ha! Don't mess with this seasoned traveler.

The rules in the pyramids are inconsistent at best. To go inside the big pyramid, no cameras are allowed--yet I saw at least 5 others with cameras once I was in the tomb. In another area, however, the guard let me walk right by the sign that said no cameras, because I was Canadian. No joke. They all ask where I'm from, and every time I tell them, they go "Canada Dry! Never die!" What?! such a random thing to say!

An FYI: the pyramids are HOT inside. The corridors were built for midgets at best, or I guess the average height of Egyptians back then, but it means you have to walk up crazy narrow ramps, bent in half. There's little to no airflow. It's cool to say you've been inside, but it's really not that exciting. 20110909-011926.jpgWhat's a little sweat if you get to wear the police officer's hat at the end?

The tombs surrounding the pyramids were way more interesting--you can see a ton of hieroglyphs. In true tourist fashion, I decided to take a camel ride into the desert to get a good view of the pyramids (and photos, because let's be real, that's half the reason anyone goes out there). I haggled my way down from 130 to 60 pounds, and refused my camel owner's attempt to extract more as a tip from me. A price is a price, bud! Really touristy thing to do, but I'm so glad I ponied up the cash (pun intended, ahaha).

I saw the sphinx after that, which was really awesome. It's smaller than I thought it would be, but the setup is neat--because it's sort of dug out of the ground, there's no fence or anything, just the edge, so you can take great photos. Minimizes the touristy feeling a bit, which is more than can be said for the pyramids themselves.

Another guide, Mohamed, came up to me and offered to take some photos. I did my usual speech about not paying, but for once, he actually didn't want money. He offered to show me some of the less busy tombs behind the sphinx that tourists don't really know about, so next thing I know, I'm clambering down stone steps into a dark cavern where they used to perform mummifications (the stone slabs are still there, creepy!). I did have a thought that maybe Mohamed had a more sinister reason for bringing me to a deserted tomb, but luckily all was fine and he was just a friendly tour guide. I got to see some interesting tombs, completely alone, and felt like I got to see a hidden part of Giza.

Last, Bilal met up with me and we saw the boat museum. Basically, in the 1920s, archaeologists discovered these massive boats buried beneath the surface right beside the pyramids. Turns out, these were the boats used to transport the stones used to build the pyramids up the Nile. They were buried next to the pyramids as a means of transportation for the afterlife. The museum is a funny concept--they raised the boat straight out of the ground and built a building around it so they never had to move it. And you have to wear these ridiculous slippers to prevent sand from eroding the boat (or something, they didn't exactly explain why they handed me burlap sacks for my feet).

When we got back to Sarah's, she was napping, so Bilal convinced me to do a video workout with him called Insanity. It is exactly that--40 minutes of cardio torture. Suicides, jump squats, pushups, football run thingys, mummy kicks (obv, we're in Egypt), mountain climbers, you name it, we did it. I could not move after it was over. Apparently it's a two month program with a different video everyday. I actually think I might check it out when I get home--I love that feeling of having nothing left after a workout! (My body, however, will disagree with me when trying to go down stairs for the next few days)

We went for sushi that night (my first sushi in 2 months, I cannot even tell you how excited I was for this--sushi is definitely my favorite food, I could eat it every day) and being the resident sushi expert, Sarah and Bilal let me explain a few things. Little did I know that this sushi place liked to use hot sauce instead of wasabi to spice things up. My spicy salmon, salad, and most other things were just about unbearable to eat, but it was too late to go back. Never again. I will ALWAYS ask to clarify this from now on, lesson learned.

A great first day in Cairo. Going to the Egyptian Museum tomorrow, can't wait to see some ancient treasure (and a few old folks--5000 years, give or take).



Do Something Crazy

The Last Resort: August 3120110904-051736.jpg
On the bridge before the big jump! Apparently my appetite for adventure wasn't satisfied by paragliding, because guess what I signed up for today? My thrill-seeking tour of Nepal took me to new heights (to the Tibetan border to be exact) for a day of canyoning (rappelling down waterfalls--7 to be exact) and...wait for it...bungee jumping.

Canyoning, and...bungee jumping. That's right. Because hurling myself off a mountain wasn't enough, I'm changing venues to a bridge. And going head-first. And it's non-refundable, so I have to jump. Good lord. James decided to do an overnight hike in the mountains, so I was on my own for this particular adventure.

Yes. This gal right here faced her fear of heights (seriously--I get dizzy if I stand on a chair in my living room) and signed up to jump off a suspension bridge in the middle of a gorge, more than 160 metres in the air, with raging waters below.

I met a med student from Norway (read: McSteamy) on the bus ride there who was also doing the jump for the first time, and we talked the whole way, which didn't give me time to get nervous about what I was about to do.

I had a full day so I wasn't sure which activity I would be doing first--the jump or the canyoning. Luckily, they gave me no time to think and called my name as the first person of the day to jump.

It wasn't so bad on the bridge itself, although it may have helped that I didn't look down once while crossing. Once I was in the middle of the bridge, getting my ankles strapped into a harness that would be my only lifeline preventing me from falling to my death in the river below, the flutters began in my stomach.

"Breathe in, breathe out, and look out at the gorgeous scenery around me," is what I kept telling myself. It's a really interesting exercise in managing your fear, because logically I know nothing can happen--this isn't going to hurt, it's safe, lots of people do it--but that doesn't stop your mind from going crazy thinking of the worst case scenarios.

Once your ankles are strapped together, you penguin-walk your way over to the jumping platform and the bungee cord is secured to your harness. The scariest part of the jump, in my opinion, is the fact that you have to jump head-first. there's no tentativeness allowed here (just my luck). 20110904-051745.jpg
The jumping platform...see? It's not so scary til you look down. I step out onto the platform and my wall of fear-control disintegrates, and panic takes over. You know that feeling of dread when you get caught red-handed telling a lie? That's the best way for me to describe what it feels like to be on that edge, half listening to the instructions, half thinking about what you want your last words to be. I hear the instructions come to an end, and the guy counts down: "Three, two, one, JUMP!" My legs are frozen. I can't do it. I literally can't make my body perform the motion necessary to move forward. 20110904-051805.jpg
The last thing I saw before I jumped. He cajoles me closer to the edge, and I am convinced he is trying to make me walk off the edge. "No, I don't think I can do this" I say to him. He reassures me the longer I'm up there the worse it gets...and he's totally right. I take a deep breath, I think about all the scary things that could happen, decide to listen to the part that's trusting everything will work out, and tip forwards into nothingness (a swan dive was out of the question--my legs were jelly). 20110904-051754.jpg
Me, mid-jump...proof I actually did it! The best way I can describe it is terror combined with elation--so basically what you feel when you go down that first big hill on a roller coaster. The feeling of falling is amplified because you have this narrow canyon wall on both sides of you, and you're watching the angry rapids of the river get closer and closer until suddenly you're being yanked upwards at the last second. Floating through the air, you're so disoriented that the feeling of falling has disappeared, and you're laughing because you can't believe you just did that, and it feels great.

Then you feel the ankle straps move, and terror seizes you again in full force. LOGICALLY, I know I was strapped in tight and wasn't going anywhere. But show me someone who is thinking logically while falling at 150 km/h. I thought I was going to survive the big jump, only to have my harness come loose on the after-bounces and die in the river anyway. How anti-climactic.

I'm flexing my feet for dear life, praying i stay in long enough to be brought down to safety, and finally I'm on solid ground. I have so much adrenaline that I can't stand right away--my legs are too shaky, and I'm laughing so hard I'm crying. It really makes you crazy!

A nice guy I met on the bus (Ash from Nepal, whattup!) was kind enough to take a few photos for me, but I also bought the DVD (as proof that I really did it, because I know I probably won't even believe it in a few years). They had to mail it home to Canada since I left early the next day, but when I get it, you'd better believe you will get to witness the hilarity of a little blonde girl tipping herself off the ledge of a suspension bridge.

Luckily, I had a half-hour hike back up the canyon to get back to the lodge to come down off my adventure high--they definitely fail to mention that part in the brochure--and prepare for my next activity, canyoning (which I cannot BELIEVE I spent money on Crocs for--so disgusted with myself). I changed into my gear--wetsuit, helmet, and Crocs..ugh...and found myself hiking the same trail I had just come up from bungee jumping! 20110904-051720.jpg
My canyoning gear...minus the heinous atrocity that are Crocs...I was afraid they'd crack my lens if photographed

Canyoning was a change of pace from the morning's adrenaline rush; we rappelled down seven waterfalls of varying heights--I think the biggest was 47 metres. It was fun, but slow since we were a group of 10 and had to wait for everyone to do it one at a time. You get soaked, no way around it, and it made for some great views. At some parts we could even watch others doing their bungee jumps.

All in all, it was a busy, exhausting, exhilarating day, and I wouldn't change it for anything.

Today was one of the best days of my life.

The Taj in 24 Hours


Travel day: Jodhpur to Agra. We took a 12 HR train ride today so we could get to Agra at night, stay over, and be up to see the Taj at sunrise the next day. We literally sat there for the entire day, so not much to write about. When we got out of the train station, many drivers came up asking if we needed a ride (as usual) and one guy was particularly friendly, so James agreed to go with him. I try to stay out of these decisions since I think it'd compromise james' ability to bargain down the price. We asked how much, and the driver said "no problem. I take you first, then you pay as you like." Big mistake. He was super friendly, and told us about all these hotels he knew for a good price, but we knew they do this and have commission deals with the places they mention, so we told him had a reservation at the first place on our list and went there to check out a room. India 101: never book ahead until you've seen a room. There are no assumptions here, including standards of cleanliness.

Turns out the place we wanted was full, and we didn't really know many other places, so we agreed to go look at this place the driver suggested. James went inside to look, and I stayed in the car with the luggage and driver. It was fine for a while, but James was gone for a long time and the driver started getting creepy, telling me about his workout plan and flexing his muscles. Thankfully, James came back shortly after to say the room was fine-we were only here for one night- and I took my bags inside. The driver had been trying to convince us to hire him for the day tomorrow to take us to all the major sights, but we knew his price was obscenely expensive so I let James decline for the both of us. I headed inside at a good moment apparently, because the driver got extremely upset. It didn't help that James paid him 100 rupees for the ride from the station. Sorry buddy, but if you didn't quote a price ahead of time and say "as you like", sometimes you're gonna get tourists who actually know what things cost. Can't scam us, we've been in India too long!

James came inside and relayed this development to me, just as the driver walked in behind him, past the check in counter, and into the hotel restaurant, where he also works. SHIT. we spent half the night terrified our food was poisoned, and the other half waiting to hear the lock on the door turn. I definitely checked to make sure my limbs were still intact the next morning. Lesson learned: be very wary of drivers that seem too nice, because they probably are.

We woke up at 5:30 am to make it to the Taj Mahal for 6 am, when it opens for the day. 750 rupees for entrance is highway robbery, but I guess that's what a Wonder of the World costs nowadays. After dodging the annoyingly persistent guides trying to get our business, we headed to the entrance. Since this was the main attraction and the whole reason we came to Agra, we had packed snacks so we could stay for most of the day. Of course food isn't allowed, and there's no signs to indicate this. Thatd be too efficient. There were storage lockers a 5 minute walk away, and I was not about to waste perfectly good granola bars. I peeled a banana on the way over, only to come face to face with a particularly aggressive looking monkey who was staring me down. I attempted to deak him out, but he bared his teeth and growled, so i hurled said banana in the opposite direction and booked it. I arrived at the storage room only to find out it costs money. Of course. Out of principle, I refused to pay, and ate my granola bars sullenly as I made my way back to the entrance. Bureaucracy...

We finally got into the grounds and began walking when I caught my first glimpse of the domed roof sparkling in the distance. I'm rarely awestruck, but the Taj has to be up there with one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. It's so perfect, it doesn't look real. It looks cartoon-I felt like I had stepped into the world of Aladdin or something.

For those of you that don't know, the story goes something like this: after the Shah Jahan's wife Mehmtez Mahal died giving birth to their 14th child, he was heartbroken. He built the Taj Mahal as a memorial to her. It took twenty thousand workers over 33 years to build the structure. When his son grew up he overthrew the father and imprisoned him in Agra Fort across the river, where the Shah was forced to look at his creation every day until he died there.

After we exhausted our photographic options at the Taj, we got tired of the touristy atmosphere (if it was this crowded at sunrise, I shudder to think of what it must be like during peak hours), so we decided to check out the Agra Fort. My dashing good looks awarded me free admission for being 14 and under, so we wandered around there for a bit, but it wasn't very impressive, especially having seen the fort in Jodhpur and the Taj itself.

We saw signs for a golf course so we decided to check it out. How cool would it be to play 9 with the Taj in the background? Unfortunately, Indian logic proved too much for us to handle, and we decided a thousand rupees plus a mandatory caddie, and no left-handed clubs (I'm difficult, I know) was not worth it.

We pretty much exhausted our options for activities in Agra at that point--it really hasn't got much to offer other than the Taj, so I'm really glad we only spent one day there. I got some postcards and we hung out at a coffee shop, writing while it rained outside. We had dinner at Pizza Hut before catching our first overnight train to Varanasi, where we're spending the last three days before flying to Nepal.



Zip Lining Over Mehrangarh Fort

20110824-050253.jpgAfter a morning of sightseeing on a blistering hot day, we headed to lunch, and keeping my streak alive, ended up at McDonald's. After a quick dip in the pool at the hotel, James and I split up to do our own thing: he wanted to check out some gardens he read about, and I decided to do the zip line course at the fort.20110824-045425.jpg

I made it there just in time for the last group at 5 pm, the sunset course.After an encounter with a turtle and a practice run, I was ready to go. 20110824-045908.jpg



There were six lines total, and it was just epic. The most amazing views of the fort as I flew through the air, high above the walls, watching the sun set on the Blue City. Fun fact: they shot scenes from the upcoming Batman movie at the Fort, so look for it when it comes out! Apparently they turned it into a vampire castle or something...spooky. 20110824-045728.jpg It was a great way to end my time in Jodhpur, and it was one of the highlights of my trip so far. Now I can't wait for bungee jumping and white water rafting when I get to Nepal!

Dirty Delhi and Train Travel

In India, two important things to know: 1) people will always try to rip you off, and 2) the hotel never looks like the pictures. We arrived at the airport in Delhi just before midnight. Our hotel was the only one we actually booked ahead of time, since we did not want to be going from place to place looking at rooms in the middle of the night. After we failed to connect with the hotel pick-up that was supposedly sent for us, we opted for a pre-paid taxi. My travels have shown me so far that these are generally more expensive than negotiating with a driver, but only if you know the proper value for the ride you're taking. We were quoted anywhere from Rs 250 to 400 for the exact same ride, so we were immediately suspicious of negotiating this when we didn't know how far away the hotel was from the airport.

We arrive at the hotel we booked and it is in a seedy area of Delhi that I would not want to be in during the day, much less at night. The room was dingy and the bathroom smelled like mothballs, but we were only there for about 6 hours--we had an early train to catch the next morning.

Train travel in India is a unique experience. I'm not sure if it was the lack of signs anywhere, the throngs of people sleeping on the platform, or the wafting aroma of excrement coming up from the tracks because, oh yeah, the train toilets are just holes in the floor of the car. So whenever people use one, it comes out on the tracks. Lovely. This attracts rats, which are scurrying everywhere. We had help buying our tickets from a man I was working with at the charity in Shantimalai, and thank goodness, because there is no such thing as a line in India, as I may have mentioned before. We had to find our coach number and then our bunks inside, which, in a rare shining moment, actually turned out to be nicer than I expected. The train station probably set my expectations so extremely low, they could only be exceeded. 20110824-031107.jpg

My sleeper bunk on the train

6 hours later and we arrived in Jaipur, also known as the Pink City. I had read about this place called Krishna Palace on wikitravel, so we decided to give it a shot. They offered free pick-up from the train station, so we were already off to a good start. We arrive and it is quite literally an old palace that has been converted into a hotel. They showed us a room, which was pricier than the website said, but then offered us a cheaper room on the roof--it was the only one up there, so it was very quiet. Lots of stairs, but I could definitely use the exercise. I'm so happy we took it. This place turned out to be the best hotel we've stayed in. Large rooms, AC, marble everywhere, wifi that actually works in the room (most places tell you they have it, but it only works in certain areas like the lobby, which makes skype kind of awkward). The staff was friendly and helpful, arranging the rest of our train tickets and hiring a car for half a day to show us some of the sights in Jaipur.


At the Amber Fort The afternoon we arrived, we went to see the lake palace and the Amber Fort, which is on the outskirts of town.We were too late to go inside but walked up as it's on a hill and looked around. Great views of the city from here. It looked like whoever built this fort tried to also build India's response to the Great Wall of China. That's all we had time for before it got dark, so we headed back to get some rest. Jaipur may be the Pink City, but it's not the most exciting city on the planet. 20110824-031456.jpg

See? Great Wall of India!

Lake Palace in Jaipur

Indian tuk tuk bargaining 101

State where you want to go. 1. "Good Price." This is the initial price you will be quoted. Never accept it. (I.e. 100 rupees.) 1a. Counter with half. (ie Rs 50)

2. "Indian Price." The Good Price minus ten percent. Never accept it. (ie Rs 90) 2a. "Very Good Indian Price." This is the Indian Price minus another ten percent. This will continue a few more times, depending on gap between your original offer.

3. Walk away--this is your most powerful bargaining tool. They know just as well as you do that there are 20 other drivers who will take you where you want to go, and they can't afford to lose your business. ("No, then I find someone else")

4. Wait for them to call you back. Restate your original offer. (Rs 50) Wait for them to grudgingly accept.

5. If you feel bad, know that you're probably still paying more than what locals would for the same ride.




26 / only child / Canadian

21 Countries & counting

5 Continents

English Bulldog named Meatball


Food – Sushi

City – London

Country –  Nepal

Season – Summer

Experience – paragliding over Pokhara

Seasickness and Port Blair

Andaman Day 5: Tues Aug. 16.Today we checked out of Emerald Gecko and took the 9 am ferry back to Port Blair, where I discovered I have an innate ability for violent seasickness--it was not a fun ride. We were the only white people on the boat both times, which is a really strange feeling. I had gotten used to strange looks from people in Tiruvanammulai, where I was for the past few weeks before this, but in other cities, it takes some getting used to again. People will just sit across from you and stare at you. They don't say anything, they just stare. Or, if you're an army officer at the gate, you tell me I have a nice face. Thanks...as opposed to what, exactly?

We hadn't booked a hotel in Port Blair yet, so we took a pre-paid rickshaw to one of the properties suggested in my guide book to check out the rooms. Our driver tells us of his affinity for WWE and the Undertaker. Reminded me of that scene in Eurotrip where they end up in eastern Europe and they have just gotten Miami Vice on tv...a little behind the times. Wrestling is so 1999...I think. Or never. Shocking fact, I'm not a big fan. Naturally, he takes us to the wrong resort, but we decide to check it out anyways. The bedroom was seedy yet livable for one night, but the bathroom looked like they pulled it straight out of the swamp. Much like dating, this is an absolute DEALBREAKER.

Moving on, we checked out a place we passed on the way to the first one, Sinclairs Bayview, and it was much better, albeit more expensive. James bargained down to Rs 2100 from 3500, so we took it. We just wanted to be comfortable before our long travels the next day, and this place had airport transfer, internet (although that's debatable with the connection speed, it was like dial-up all over again...on second thought, maybe they ARE stuck in 1999...Michael J. Fox, where are you!), and free breakfast.

After getting our bags, the rickshaw driver tried to get us to pay him extra because it took about an hour for this whole process--but isn't the whole point of a pre-paid taxi that you don't have to pay at the end? It's not our fault he took us to the wrong place first, and if there was an extra charge for waiting, they should have told us at the stand where we paid. I felt bad for him, but it's kind of not our problem--we can't just give him money because he feels like he deserves more, not with pre-paid.

We walked around Port Blair in the afternoon, and went to the aquarium, which was very basic, but for Rs. 5 it was a good detour. I learned to identify many of the species we saw snorkeling, which was great.

After giving up on the tragically slow internet available only in the lobby of the hotel, I headed back to the room to watch a mixture of Bollywood classics and brutal B movies that are for some reason extremely popular in India--Anaconda 2: Trail Of Blood may be the worst film I've seen, yet somehow it made it all the way over here and I'm still not famous. Maybe I need to rethink my career path.

We finally settled on The Alamo (great movie by the way), and in the process of getting ready for bed, I discovered something moving in my backpack. I froze apprehensively, waiting for this thing to reveal itself. Get ready for it, a COCKROACH was in there. I screamed and James went to work dismantling my luggage, pulling out one bra after another, looking increasingly uncomfortable, until he found the critter and captured him with a teacup. MacGyvered. And this is supposed to be one of the nicest hotels in Port Blair. I guess that's the trade-off: you either get isolated beach paradise but sketchy accommodation at best (like what we found here), or you get bathed in the lap of luxury, but you have to bribe fish to come near you (in the Caribbean). Luckily we were only there for one night before a long day of travel.

Jungle Trekking

20110817-110353.jpgAndaman Day 3: sunday aug. 14. It was cloudy this morning, so James and I drove up the coast to this elephant trail we found the night before, and decided to hike through the jungle and see where it led. I hung in there for a couple of hours, but eventually I reached my mosquito quotient for the day. After that, we headed over to beach no 7 to catch the (legendary?) sunset but were promptly escorted off the beach by two armed guards: apparently the beach closes at 5 pm everyday. No reason given. SUSPICIOUS. So all those guidebooks that say come to Havelock for this sunset need to be rewritten...cause you can't see it even if you want to!

We did, however, stumble upon Barefoot, the best resort on the island (according to Tripadvisor, with prices to match). We kicked back, had a beer there and played foosball in the lobby. Dinner, however, was out of our voluntary price range, so we came back to Rony, our usual and new favorite spot, for dinner.

The moon is incredible from our beach--I've never seen it so bright, but it makes the whole ocean sparkle. Cameras can't do it justice, but to give you an idea, here's a quick photo. Impressive.