Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Taste of Ireland

Greetings! One of the items on my Fall fun list is to travel to Ireland in October. This will be my first visit to Ireland. Like any first experience, what's exciting for me is the anticipation of what's going to be my first impression of the country, what I'll actually experience, and how my days are going to unfold until I return home.

So I've been doing some planning for my trip, and now that I've booked the essential flights, accommodation, and train tickets, I'm day dreaming about my four main stops in Ireland:

A) Dublin: I imagine that the city centre is compact, walkable, and that her history and architecture will enchant me. I also imagine visiting Trinity College library (the Hogwarts library!), the National Gallery to view some of the finest arts for free, Dublin Castle, and Guinness Storehouse where I learn how to pull a pint of Guinness and drink it, too. Maybe I'll take a picture of the Molly Malone statue. Maybe I'll get to visit Howth peninsula, a possible day trip from Dublin, and in my day dream, a picturesque place.

B) Cork: I imagine taking the train from Dublin to Cork and I'll get a good view of the Irish country side. I imagine to explore Cork city, the English Market, one of the oldest markets (1788), and maybe a visit to the Blarney Castle. I read that Cork is a friendly city. I hope to experience that friendliness here and throughout Ireland. I dream to have enough time and good weather to take a day tour from Cork to visit the famous Cliffs of Moher and/ or the Burren.

C) Killarney: I imagine taking the train from Cork to Killarney and again I'll get a good view of the Irish countryside. I dream of hiking in Killarney national park, seeing the famous Ring of Kerry without too many tourists (LOL), and visiting Ross Castle. I dream to have enough time and good weather to explore Dingle peninsula for some of Europe's most spectacular scenery, and/ or Slea Head, Europe's most westerly point, I can almost touch America.

D) Dublin again: I imagine that I'll return by train from Killarney to Dublin, and end this unforgettable trip at one of Dublin's many pubs before flying home the next day.

It is fun to dream, explore, and discover. Our ability to imagine is a gift!

What fun destination did you dream about recently? If you have been to Ireland, please share your experience.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

5 tips to stay fit while traveling

Happy Sunday! Regular readers of my blog have read that I exercise regularly and set specific fun fitness goals for myself. I received one comment a while back wondering how I keep up with my exercise routine while traveling. With a little bit of self-discipline, we can enjoy our vacation, and still feel fit when we return home. 

Here's my 5 tips to stay fit while traveling:

1. Stretch and stay mobile:

I do stretches and gentle yoga to release muscular tension, get my air and blood flows going, and stay flexible, especially after prolonged periods of sitting like a long flight. I also walk frequently. We can do stretches and walking just about anywhere and anytime. So build in 10-15 minutes of comfortable stretching every day, whether morning, or afternoon, or evening, stay in motion, and your body will thank you.

2. Moderation is the key:

When I travel, I enjoy the local food but I do not over eat at every meal. I drink in moderation as well. For overall hydration, I drink water. I usually have a healthy snack in my bag before I head out to explore. If we stay at a vacation rental, we usually buy groceries and prepare most of our meals. Eating out would be a treat.

Going on vacation does not equate overeating and excessive drinking. Moderate your calorie intake without sacrificing the fun experience is key. For example, you may choose a light breakfast, or lunch, on the day when there is a festive, multi-course dinner. Choose wine or dessert but not both. Having light, healthy snacks throughout the day also helps curb sudden cravings. Watch out for empty calories from sugar drinks, or accumulative calories from wine, beers, plus big desserts after a full meal.

3. Keep it up:

When I'm at home, I spend about an hour per day for exercising. One hour out of 24 hours is about 4%. I didn't count my daily walking around so my actual daily "active" time is more than 4% but basically, it's not a huge amount of time to invest in my health. When I travel, I'm mostly free from chores and have more free time available for exercising. Without the time pressure, I keep up my fitness routine by working with what I have where I stay at my destination, which brings me to tip #4.

If you work out once or twice or three times a week before your trip, keep it up. Most people say "I'm on vacation", put their workouts on hold, and find it hard to get back into the fitness routine after their vacation. Traveling is a change that can really mess up our sleep (e.g. jet lag, different time zones), or diet (e.g. new food, constant eating out) so by keeping your workout routine, you reap the benefits of staying healthy during and after your trip. The bonus is you will not need to "get back" to your routine because you have always been on track!

If you find it challenging to keep up with your fitness routine, I'd recommend at a minimum to use tips #1 and #2.

4. Modify as needed:

Most of the time when I travel, I stay for free (e.g. with family), or at low cost accommodation which means I may not have access to a gym or equipment to do my regular workouts. As part of my trip preparation, I find out what's available for me to use at my destination, and modify my workout plan accordingly.

Assuming no gym equipment is available, I usually bring a resistance band and a skip rope which are both very light to pack, inexpensive, and useful. In addition, I find our body weight is an excellent tool for strength training. Examples: Jog around a local park if it's safe to do so, use the skip rope for cardio, use the resistance band for triceps/ biceps, and use my arms and legs for jumping jacks, lunges, squats, sit ups, or planks.

Remember local activities are fun exercises, too. For example, hiking at a national park, or a cycling day tour, or tango lessons in Argentina. In some nicer hotels, such as the Westin hotels, they have indoor fitness centre, maps of running routes, and workout gear lending service so if you are staying there, take advantage of their services.

5. Track your fitness activities:

When I'm at home, I track my fitness activities on a simple sheet. I take that sheet with me when I travel as a reminder and continue tracking. The calendar function on my mobile device is useful, too. Whatever works for you, use it to schedule and track your fitness activities as part of your travel itinerary. The key idea is exercising should be part of your day plan, like brushing teeth, and can be scheduled in small chunks of time.

I hope my tips help. Take on the world and take care of your health in your travels! I'll leave you with two quotes from Theodore Roosevelt:

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

"With self-discipline most anything is possible."

If you have a tip on how to stay fit while traveling, please share below.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Fall fun list

Greetings! Even though we've had a very nice, summer-like September in Toronto, I see pumpkins at the local farmers' market and know Fall is arriving in my part of the world. Today I have my fall list of twenty fun activities to share with you. On my list, you'll see a mix of self-care fitness, time with family and friends, celebrations, local explorations, and upcoming travels. Let's get right to it, shall we?

Fall fun list of 20:

  1. Exercise in the gym 3x per week, one hour each time.
  2. Yoga 2x per week, up to one hour each time.
  3. Swim 1x per week, up to one hour.
  4. Run short distance 1x per week, up to 5K.
  5. Celebrate Thanksgiving and my blog's 1st anniversary with a pumpkin pie. Canadian Thanksgiving is on October 9 this year.
  6. Enjoy a therapeutic massage.
  7. Travel to Ireland in October.
  8. Visit Dublin, capital city of Ireland.
  9. Explore the landscapes along Ireland's wild Atlantic side.
  10. Write my first guest post on another blog. 
  11. Email my friends who live overseas.
  12. Meet my local friends for coffee.
  13. Watch a new-to-me movie.
  14. Attend a concert.
  15. View a new art exhibition.
  16. Take a trip to Central Europe in November with my sister. 
  17. Explore Budapest, capital city of Hungary.
  18. Visit Bratislava, capital city of Slovakia.
  19. Re-visit Vienna, capital city of Austria.
  20. Explore Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic.
Fall is a beautiful season. I look forward to completing my fun list in the coming weeks, and sharing my progress updates here, with the first report out on October 21.

In case you're new to my blog, you might also like to see my previous lists:
I'm linking up with a group of fabulous bloggers so be sure to visit the linked up blogs below for more seasonal inspiration, or join us to share your list of fun activities this season.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

5K race and summer fun list done!

Happy Sunday! Hope the weather is good and you’re enjoying the weekend wherever you are. Two things are making me happy today:

First, I finished the 5K running race on Toronto Centre Island this morning with better time than last year, and received a nice, big medal for my achievement. There were 140 participants in this year’s 5K race. I finished 29th place overall out of 140, and 3rd place in my age category. The race was small in size compared to other 5K races that I’ve done, however, I’m happy that I’m still fit to run (LOL), and that I've achieved a personal fitness goal that I’ve set for myself this year. Now I can add the nice medal to my small collection of 5K finisher’s medals. My thanks to my family for coming out to cheer me on and watch me finished the race.

Second, this weekend is the last weekend before fall officially arrives in my part of the world. After reviewing my Summer fun list of twenty items, I’m happy that I’ve completed all of them, woohoo!

My Summer fun list of 20 is below:
  1. Take a trip to Costa Rica. Yes, highly recommended!
  2. Enjoy Costa Rica’s “pura vida”.Yes!
  3. Do wildlife spotting in Costa Rica. Yes, loved the toucan!
  4. Celebrate Canada’s 150 with a BBQ with our extended family. Yes!
  5. Attend at least one music festival at home. Yes, more than one!
  6. Chill out with my friends with an iced drink, or ice cream in hand. Yes!
  7. Stroll or picnic in a park. Yes, more than once!
  8. Go to Spain and explore. Yes, highly recommended!
  9. Travel by train in Spain. Yes, very glad I did!
  10. Visit up to four UNESCO World Heritage sites while in Spain. Yes, saw five!
  11. Take a siesta to beat the heat. Yes, several siestas actually!
  12. Savour Spanish paellas and tapas. Yes!
  13. Watch a flamenco show. Yes!
  14. Speak basic Spanish while in Costa Rica and Spain. Yes and yes!
  15. Cross Spain-Gibraltar border twice. Yes, both times were a breeze!
  16. Tour the Rock of Gibraltar. Yes!
  17. See the Barbary macaques (monkeys). Yes, saw about 50 wild apes!
  18. Play with sand and seashells at a beach. Yes, at home and in Gibraltar.
  19. Look for dolphins in the the Bay or the Strait of Gibraltar. Yes, saw many!
  20. Stay fit by exercising up to one hour daily. Yes! The regular exercises helped me run well today.
You might like to see my updates with pictures at:
 Summer fun list progress report #1
 Summer fun list progress report #2
 August in a sentence-a-day

Am I going to have a fall fun list? You bet! So stay tuned for my fall fun list, to be revealed by September 21.

What fun activities did you enjoy this week? Do you have a fall fun list to share?

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Toronto International Film Festival

Greetings! The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF or stylized as tiff) is currently underway from September 7 to 17. TIFF is one of the largest publicly attended film festivals in the world.

The weather has been beautiful with clear blue sky and pleasant temperatures which encourage people to go out and stay out longer. TIFF attracts over 480,000 people annually so it’s definitely big business for Toronto.

Some interesting numbers from the 2017 TIFF official film schedule:
  • 21 programmers covering 6 continents to choose the films
  • 255 feature-length films and 84 short films are included in this edition
  • 3,200 dedicated volunteers who help make TIFF happen every year
  • Only about 30% of Festival screenings are actually sell out thus tickets are always available
  • Weekday daytime screenings: CAD$18-25 for adults, and $10-18 for age 25 and under
  • Regular evening and weekend screenings: CAD$28-35
  • Rush regular screenings: CAD$20
As a local resident, it’s entertaining for me to see the fans lined up to catch a glimpse of celebrities on the red carpet, or at the nearby five-star hotels. You can always tell when a celebrity makes an appearance from the fans’ sudden shrieking.

Movie fans
The event organizers did a good job setting up facilities such as tents, display booths, barricades, and signage starting a few days before the Festival began. They also do a good job dismantling and moving everything out once the Festival is over. Here’s a temporary covered red carpet walkway for the movie stars:

Temporary red carpet walkway
Aside from the movie stars and their fans, there are also many international media crews, TIFF employees, volunteers, and security personnel at the venue sites.

TIFF box office

I’ve scanned TIFF film schedule and short listed a number of films to see. The films are screened at some of the best theatres in Toronto. Movie goers can buy tickets on-line, or at the ticket office. Rush tickets are available on site. I’ve seen queue around the blocks at some of the venues.

Official film schedule
In case you want to bring home a TIFF souvenir, feel free to stop by this shop set up in a giant container:

TIFF souvenir shop

Although some of the movies will be released in the theatre in the coming months, the Festival buzz is certainly something fun to experience. Once again, I feel privileged to live in such a dynamic city.

What fun activities did you enjoy this week?  Please share below.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Movies, Veg Food Fest, and Love's Lament

Greetings! September seems to go by so quickly for me, already ten days into the month. I'd like to think "time flies when you're having fun". This week I’ve enjoyed two movies, and two live concerts at the Veg Food Festival, and at the Toronto Music Garden.


After what seems to be a long hiatus from movie watching, I watched Guardians of the Galaxy II movie with my neighbours. The movie would not be my first pick if I was to go to a theatre but to watch it with three smart youths, I was in for the fun company (read I want to stay cool LOL). They gave the movie 3.5 to 4-star rating. It’s good to know our galaxy is saved, and even better that the youths did not mind having me around :-)

The next day my dental appointment was rescheduled at the last minute so I decided to go to a theatre and watch the Spiderman: Homecoming movie. I enjoyed it very much, especially when there was no one sitting in front of me! It was also interesting for me to see the changes that have taken place since I was here last. The theatre name has changed slightly, and there are new condos and businesses in the immediate area.

Veg Food Festival:

This is the biggest vegan/ vegetarian food festival in North America with over 130 vendors, local restaurants and bakeries, plus free presentations, live music, yoga classes, cooking demos, and plenty of veg-friendly products for sale. The festival is in its 33rd year and there sure were a lot of attendees. I thought the following sign was cute:

After browsing the vendor booths, I was going to get an ice cream but the long line-ups changed my mind. I found a place to sit down and enjoyed Colleen Allen’s one hour music performance very much.

Colleen Allen's concert
Love's Lament: 

My fortune to listen to live music continued at the Love's Lament concert at the Toronto Music Garden. Montreal's Les Idees heureuses played intricate love songs from late medieval France and Italy on a sunny afternoon.

The flowers are still in bloom in the garden like the sunflowers above but it was the sight of the tall ships that caught my attention upon leaving the concert. The Empire Sandy is the taller one at the back. Another beautiful day!

What fun activities did you enjoy this week? Please feel free to share.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

August in a sentence a day

Greetings! I started writing my month in a sentence a day in April. It was fun so I've continued with May, June, July, and now August.

August was an Awesome month in that we started the month with a long weekend getaway, followed by our amazing trip to Spain and Gibraltar for over two weeks, and spent the last five days of August at home to catch up before turning the calendar page to September.

On our trip, we visited five historic and magnificent UNESCO World Heritage sites, explored ancient cities, royal palaces, and gardens, travelled by train in Spain, crossed Spain and Gibraltar borders twice, shared delicious wines and fresh food with our family and friends, played at Caleta beach, watched the Barbary macaques scaling the Rock, and dolphins swimming in the Strait of Gibraltar, and many more. It was challenging for me to select the pictures for this post since there were simply too many great experiences. Life is amazing and I truly appreciate every minute of it!

August in a sentence a day

1. A sunny and warm summer day, perfect for doing yoga, learning Spanish, and running errands to get ready for our long weekend getaway.

2. Exercised in the gym, learned Spanish, and went for a walk to soak in another beautiful summer day.

3. Practiced yoga, learned Spanish, posted my July in a sentence a day, and enjoyed reading how other bloggers spent their July.

4. Exercised in the gym in the morning, learned Spanish, and took the train to our family weekend getaway in the evening.

5. Yoga today in lieu of swimming, learned Spanish, spent time with my immediate family, and relaxed all day since our beds and meals were prepared by hotel or restaurant staff.

6. Ran 6K this Sunday, learned Spanish, and continued to enjoy our mini vacation.

7. Monday (Civic holiday in Ontario) - Exercised in the hotel gym, enjoyed a delicious buffet breakfast, learned Spanish, and had fun with TBB Asks summer Q&As before taking the train home.

8. Yoga, learned Spanish, and worked through my travel checklist.

9. Exercised in the gym, learned Spanish, and felt excited to finally complete online check-in for our flight to Spain.

10. Enjoyed yoga and Spanish lessons in the morning, left for the airport in the afternoon, and flew overnight to Madrid, Spain to embark on a grand adventure.

11. A smooth arrival, a power nap, clean bed and bath, plus some Sangria and tapas hop in the evening made this day a very Happy Friday from Madrid.

12. A wonderful Saturday spent on exploring Madrid’s landmarks, museums, and enjoying more delicious Spanish food.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

13. Took a day trip from Madrid to visit Toledo, exploring Toledo’s Alcazar, Gothic cathedral, the city’s ancient walls, gates, and beautiful train station.

The Alcázar, Toledo, Spain
14. Bid adios to Madrid, arrived by train in Cordoba, and visited the historic Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, in the late afternoon.

The Mosque-Cathedral, Cordoba, Spain
 15. Continued to be in awe while exploring Cordoba’s lovely historic town centre, its alleys, courtyards, the Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos (The Fortress of the Christian Monarchs), and its beautiful gardens.

The Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos, Cordoba, Spain
16. All tiredness from our long but smooth travel day that involved a train ride, two taxis, and a quick border crossing to enter Gibraltar (a British overseas territory) was wiped away when we checked in our hotel room and saw the unobstructed ocean view of the Catalan Bay.

The ocean view from our room, Gibraltar

17. A leisure breakfast, plus plenty of rest before we met up with family and friends for a lovely cocktail party in the late afternoon.

18. Enjoyed a happy Friday in Gibraltar using our hotel amenities like the lounge chairs by the pool (ahhh).

Lounge chairs, Gibraltar

19. Took the Tour of the Rock with family and friends, visited Europa Point, St. Michael’s Cave, World War 2 tunnels, viewed Europe and Africa shorelines from the top of the Rock, and was thrilled to see about fifty of the Barbary macaques (wild apes).

Barbary Apes, Gibraltar

20. Sun, sand, and seashells at Caleta beach with family.

Caleta Beach, Gibraltar

21. Wrapped up our stay in Gibraltar with a dolphin safari in the Strait of Gibraltar, happy to see so many dolphins, and enjoyed a lovely fancy dinner with family and friends.

Dolphin spotting, Gibraltar
22. A long but smooth travel day from Gibraltar to Spain that involved three taxi rides, two train rides, and a stop at the While Village (Puerto Blanco) near Jerez de la Frontera, before we arrived at our hotel in Seville.

Puerto Blanco near Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

23. Seville seduced us with her beautiful and magnificent Plaza de España and Maria Luisa Park, and a mesmerizing flamenco show.

Plaza de España, Seville, Spain

24. Our jaw-dropping reactions continued when we visited Seville Real Alcazar (Royal Palace), Seville Cathedral, and the Giralda Tower.

The Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain

25. A leisure Friday exploring Seville on foot, checked in our flights online, and savouring an ice cream after dinner.

The Giralda Tower, Seville, Spain

26. A long but fortunately very smooth travel day flying from Seville to Frankfurt, changing planes, and flying from Frankfurt to Toronto...we’re back in our bed tonight.

27. Woke up at 4 AM (or 10 AM Seville time), enjoyed a leisure breakfast, ran my Sunday 5K, unpacked, and spent the day doing general catch up.

28. Signed up for 5K race in September, and continued catching up on this cool and relaxing Monday,

29. Enjoyed a yoga session, met a friend for coffee, and am still on happy vacation mode.

30. Reviewed and posted my selected pictures from Madrid and Toledo.

31. Wrapped up an awesome August with a relaxing day at home.

You might also like:
  Pictures from Cordoba
  Pictures from Seville
  Pictures from Gibraltar

I look forward to enjoying the last bit of summer and more travel planning in September!

I'd love to hear about your August. I’m linking up with several fabulous bloggers so be sure to scroll down and visit their blogs for more fun August reviews.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Pictures from Gibraltar

Greetings! As part 3 of 4 of our trip to Spain and Gibraltar, we spent six nights in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, for a family event. We left Cordoba by train, arrived at the border of Spain and Gibraltar, crossed the airport runway, saw the imposing-looking Rock, went through passport control, and took a cab to our hotel.

Any tiredness that we had on this travel day was instantly wiped away when we walked into our hotel room, and saw the unobstructed ocean view! The next five days were spent with family and friends, enjoying good wines and fresh delicious food, visiting Gibraltar's sights such as Europa Point Lighthouse, St Michael's Cave, the World War 2 tunnels, cannons, and the city core. We were thrilled to see the Barbary apes (macaques) up close, and so many dolphins in Gibraltar Harbour. Our down time was spent at Caleta beach in Catalan Bay, sunbathing, swimming, and playing with the sand and seashells. The weather was excellent the entire time, lots of clear blue sky, and temperatures around 26C (78F).

Below are my Top Ten pictures from Gibraltar:

1. First view of the Rock in real life at the border of Spain and Gibraltar:

2. The ocean view from our room:

3. The Gibraltar Lighthouse at Europa Point, the most southerly point in Gibraltar:

4. St Michael's Cave, big enough to be used as an auditorium for events such as Miss Gibraltar beauty pageant. The current Mayor of Gibraltar, Kaiane Aldorino, won Miss Gibraltar title here, and subsequently Miss World title in 2009. So Gibraltar residents can say they have the most beautiful mayor in the world :-)

5. A family of Barbary Apes (tailless Macacas Sylvanus) which live on the upper rock:

6. Caleta beach at Catalan Bay:

7. Lounge chairs and shades at our hotel:

8. Spectacular views of Europe, Africa and Gibraltar's busy port from the top of the Rock:

9. Gibraltar's marina:

10. Dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar - We saw many dolphins but they were very quick so below is one of the best shots I've got of these beautiful, playful, and intelligent creatures:

I hope you enjoy the pictures. Please feel free to leave a comment.

You might also like:
  Pictures from Madrid and Toledo
  Pictures from Cordoba
  Pictures from Seville
    Have a great week!

    Sunday, 3 September 2017

    Pictures from Seville

    Greetings! As part 4 of 4 of our trip to Spain and Gibraltar, Seville was our last stop before flying home. We arrived in Seville by train and stayed for four nights. During our stay, as expected, it was very hot between 11 AM and 7 PM, with temperatures around 39C (100F). So we typically would have breakfast in our hotel, then went sightseeing either before 11 AM or after 6 PM. The middle part of the day was spent indoors relaxing, having lunch, reading, writing, and taking a nap!

    We had a wonderful time exploring Seville. The city has so much beauty and a great metro system which made it easy to get around to the major sights. Below are my top fifteen pictures from Seville.

    Pictures 1 & 2 - The Plaza de Espa, a beautiful square in Maria Luisa Park in Seville, built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929:

    Pictures 3 to 8 - The Real Alcázar (Royal Palace) of Seville, with a history stretching back more than a thousand years, and magnificent palaces, rooms, and gardens. It was registered in 1987 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO:

    Pictures 9 to 13 - Seville Cathedral, the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world: the Cathedral ceiling (#9), Cathedral organs (#10), Tomb of Christopher Columbus (#11), Rosette (#12), and  Silver or Jubilee altar (#13).

    Picture 14 - The Giralda, the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral, was built in the 12th century, and was also registered in 1987 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO:

    Picture 15 - The Tower of Gold (Torre del Oro) was constructed in the first third of the 13th century as a military watchtower in Seville:

    I hope you enjoy the pictures. I'll be posting my pictures from Gibraltar in the next post. Please feel free to leave a comment.

    You might also like:
      Have a great week!