Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Colourful houses of Mazatlan, Mexico

Well this isn't even Throwback Thursday and I am reminiscing about my (all too short) week in Mazatlan, Mexcico in January of 2010.  It was one of my best holidays EVER.  I stayed in a delightful little hotel called La Siesta which was on the waterfront in the central part of town.(known as centro) overlooking the ocean.   I walked around the town photographing buildings, ocean views, dogs....visited the Mercado, attended a fantastic Flamenco dance performance in the restored Teatro (theatre), toasted the sunset with a beer from my balcony every evening and ate at some wonderful restaurants.  I also took a couple of day trips which were okay but my time in Mazatlan overshadowed anything else I did. My one foray into the Gold (tourist) Zone left me horrified and scampering back to my beloved Centro.  And did I mention I did this as a solo trip?  Mexico has had a lot of bad press lately and while there ARE bad things going on there I still believe the average tourist is safe.  Although in my heart I hope I can return to Mazatlan someday there is part of me that says not to go back - to remember it as this perfect week.  Not because I will encounter crime or anything negative but sometimes you just can't go back...

So here is a photo essay on some of the beautiful things you can see when you leave the resorts and explore what Centro Mazatlan has to offer...





This high level of houses was right around the corner from my hotel - so beautiful.










The restored "Teatro" in Mazatlan


The Cathedral downtown

Gazebo and cathedreal behind it.
I hope you enjoyed viewing the beautiful architecture of the centre of Mazatlan. 


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Visiting Corner Gas and why I love the Prairies

On a warm day in late July my friend June and I decided to go on a road trip.  Neither of us had been to the Claybank Brick plant and both being keen photographers we thought it would be an ideal way to spend an afternoon.  And it was!  More on that to come today I am sharing what we did AFTER.... which was visiting the setting for "Corner Gas".

"Corner Gas" was a Canadian sitcom that ran from 2004 to 2009.  This hilarious show focused on Brent Leroy, a fellow who runs the local gas station in Dog River, Saskatchewan and his (crazy) parents, friends, co-workers and the local cops.  It became a giant hit nation wide and resonated especially well with those who grew up in small towns on the prairies.  In fact "Corner Gas: the movie" was filmed this summer and will be released around Christmas time. 

"Dog River" is actually Rouleau, Saskatchewan , a small town not that far from Regina which is where I hang out when I'm not on the road.  Outdoor filming was done there and the indoor shots mainly shot at a sound stage in Regina. 

After the Claybank visit we decided we noticed signs for Rouleau and thought why not?  So off we went to Dog River. 

So come along and even if you've never heard of "Corner Gas" enjoy some classic prairie scenery.  Because nothing beats the prairies on a sunny day when the canola is in flower.... 

Arriving in "Dog River"
The famous Ruby's Cafe where a lot of the action takes place - how about a chili cheese dog? 


 The above picture was taken inside The Ruby - they had just finished filming the "Corner Gas: the movie" which will be released this December.  The door was unlocked so we just wandered in...

View of the Ruby in its prairie setting

Corner gas - where most of the action took place
 On the way home I took some fantastic prairie shots if I say so myself - no editing necessary....





Canola  
It was a grand day out - thanks to my friend June who did all the driving and had this idea that we should just hit the road together on the spur of the moment.  May there be many more fun days like this!!!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why I love Airbnb

I first discovered Airbnb about three years ago and now it's become my first choice of accommodation.  So many friends and acquaintances have questioned why I would want to live in a stranger's home that I decided I just had to write about it. 

Why?  First of all the price...it CAN be much cheaper than staying in a hotel or guest house. Not always...there are very expensive options as well....it ranges from cheap as dirt (perhaps not what I would want to stay at...one place in London I viewed on line had no shower or tub...um...as one who takes a shower every day...no thanks!!!)  As well, you have the opportunity to keep food in their fridge and cook if you like - especially important on an extended trip...saves money. Secondly...the people...you actually get to live and stay with locals (although admittedly they aren't always around).  Yes you can do that in a guest house but they don't always have the time to chat with you.  I know not everyone is into meeting the locals on a trip but to me it is one of the huge benefits of travel.  After nearly 40 years of travel I know what I want and that is to meet and talk to the locals and get a sense of how they live.  Also the hosts can recommend local restaurants, tell you about public transit, their favourite places to visit- I can only recall one place where they did NOT have a file folder filled with all of the above and more.  It just makes for a much more fulfilling experience for me.

The beauty of airbnb is that you can rent a whole apartment for yourself and your family/friends  (obviously a much less personal experience but works if you travel in a larger group and/or are not into living with anybody) or you can rent a room in someone's home.

Sometimes breakfast is provided and sometimes it isn't - don't expect a cooked full English as you will be disappointed.  It is usually a continental breakfast such as cereal, toast, coffe and (perhaps) juice that you fix yourself.  This way you have the freedom of getting up when you want - and if you wish, going out to get your own.  

Hosts are verified by airbnb so you won't be moving into a crack den or house of ill repute - they are checked out.   Guests usually review each time they stay (I am not too good on that I must admit - must improve!) so you will see reviews and get a good idea of what staying in that particular place is all about.   When you stay in an airbnb establishment you get reviewed as well so the hosts know they are getting a guest who (hopefully) will treat their home like their own.  I'm happy to say I have wonderful reviews.(lucky they can't see my own place right now!!!)

So here they are...some of my favourite airbnb places....make yourself comfortable and pour yourself a glass of coffee, tea or wine and revisit some of my favourite places.  I hope by the end of this I will have convinced you to try airbnb just once  I'm sure you will be hooked! 

My first airbnb experience was in Paris...I stayed in a room in a flat in the Montmartre district.  My host was away but the petsitter was living in.   Poor Simon did buy me breakfast food but I preferred to go to the local cafe and have a croissant or pain au chocolate and a cafe au lait.  I mean... really...I am in Paris...I'm going to have cereal? C'mon!

Pros:  Staying in a Paris flat...in Montmartre....
Cons:   Staying in a Paris flat ...the tenants above sounded like they were bowling in their flat, lack of heating (one electric heater) ; getting locked out of the flat due to quirky keys.  Parisian flats sound romantic but they do have their issues...

Would I do it again?  Yes please!!! Even better, if I could live in AND pet sit Sadie!!! 

I basically had my own little living area although shared the kitchen and bathroom with the pet sitter.  This was actually the host's room and the petsitter was in the guest room.  So I was lucky to get more space.

The sleeping area.....

Sadie and I having a "girls night in". 
    I loved my three full days over New Years in Paris which included attending the ballet Cinderella one evening - magical!.  The host was an American living in Paris who was addicted to travel in India - she was there while I was in Paris.  I wish I could have met her as I think we would have had a lot to talk about.  She had a string of small ceramic elephants in her flat that I fell in love with - and I found the same set in an Indian shop in Camden market in London so they now hang in my "flat" in Regina!  See, airbnb even influences home decor choices!!!

Just over a month after arriving home from my Christmas/New Years trip to Europe it was off to sunny Orange County, California and Austin, Texas for two weeks.  (I called it Winter holiday part 1 and 2)  Why Austin?  It's a state capital!  I fell in love with this quirky and liberal enclave in red neck Texas.  I proudly wear my "Keep Austin Weird" t-shirt.  Where else do you see this at the baggage carousels?

The second I saw these I knew I was going to love this town!
While in Austin I stayed at a place in the Barton Springs area of town.  The host wasn't there for most of my stay however her dad was staying there looking after her dogs so he greeted me and gave me the keys.  I had half the house...bedroom, kitchen, dining area, cozy living room.  I loved it.  Please excuse the blurry photos...I have no idea why I didn't trash these and take more...forgive me...

All sorts of material on Austin was on the coffee table

Because I was here such a short time (two full days) I did not cook in but I was left a full cupboard so I did make coffee in the morning. 

Very comfy bed

Lots of books to read if I wished.
Ah Austin....I will come back..I fell in love....hard.  San Antonio (I had an early childhood obsession for Davy Crockett - yes I wore a coon skin cap...) and Galveston (for reasons unknown...) call to me so I will definitely include a re-visit to this quirky wonderful city - hopefully in better weather so I can take advantage of  more of the food trucks and once again stay in this delightful home. 

I guess the next airbnb place was later on in the year (gosh I traveled a lot in 2012!!!) when I visited the midwest...dogsitting for a friend as well as knocking off some state capitals......sometimes when you stay in airbnb places you don't sleep in a real bed but a sofa bed....in some instances in the living room...not for everyone I admit but when you travel as much as I do you look for in expensive.  I did this in Indianapolis with the sweetest couple ever.

A pull out couch - comfortable and worked for me. 

The house I stayed in and the cute couple who hosted me
 I enjoyed my time with Chris and Carolina despite it being one less day than I had planned due to missing the bus.   They picked me up at the Greyhound station and we got on so well.  I needed extra special treatment for those few days as I had just found out via text message that my uncle had died. (my US cell phone could not be called from Canada) and they gave it to me. I asked them about local specialties and they told me about breaded pork tenderloin.  And with that they said we have to take you to the best place - so off we drove..and drove....but we got there and I treated us all to a pork tenderloin sandwich.  That was above and beyond the call of hosts and while I did not have the privacy of my own room (although they went up to bed early and I was up and showered before they even came down) they more than made up for it in just being so kind.

The next memorable airbnb experiences were in Scotland...one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh.  Glasgow stands out due to the kindness of the hosts.   I stayed in the trendy West End - having one bedroom of a two bedroom flat with David and Sringya.  Once again they gave me all sorts of information about the area and their favourite places.  Close to the subway station...a two minute walk to the beautiful Botanical Garden.  Well it was perfect for me.


The view from my bedroom window

View of the street where I stayed - a quiet street just off the main road
I thought I had taken a picture of the room but I guess not but suffice to say it was huge with a very comfy bed.  Just looking at my pictures makes me want to go back to Glasgow and this flat - and soon!!!

After our walk on the Great Glen Way we headed to Edinburgh for a few days.  I shared with two of my travel mates Robynn and June on different dates - when one left for home another arrived.  I enjoyed my time at Rebecca's.  She was renovating her house so it was a bit chaotic but on the bright side very reasonable in cost.

One of the twin beds in our room - there is my suitcase however.  Lots of room for two people to spread out.

I managed a photo of this table before it got covered!!! 

My bed.  Comfy
I can't speak for the others but I enjoyed my time at Becky's place.  In the evenings we sat at her huge wooden table in the living area with cups of tea or bottles of wine and set the world right whether it was with Becky herself or her university student lodger Rachel.  After eating out for a while it was fun to be able to pick up some ready meals, salads, fruit, etc. and create our own meals. 

I told you this was a long post!!!  Time to top up the cup or glass!

On the way back from the United Kingdom last year I stopped in Iceland and stayed with Michael and his dog Rosa in a flat near the harbour in Reykjavik.  The bedroom was small I must admit but I didn't spend much time in it either.  Michael directed me to a reasonable supermarket where I was able to purchase food for breakfast...including the wonderful Icelandic yogurt like deliciousness called Skyr.  I was literally steps from the harbour and a five minute walk (or less) to the downtown area.  And bonus time:  there was a resident dog.  I love staying in places that have pets - especially dogs!. (if they have pets it is clearly stated in the description)  


This where I stayed in Reykjavik - Michaels flat was on the main floor, right side. 

Rosa being a bit of a naughty girl while dad was away...this was the living room

kitchen - there was a table to eat at. 

The last two airbnb's I stayed at were in New Orleans and New York respectively. 

My friend June and I stayed at a shotgun house in the 7th ward of New Orleans that we both fell in love with.  It was very reasonably priced and the host was a sweetheart and so helpful and even gave us a ride to the half marathon we took part in.  We had the first half or 2/3 of the house with a separate entrance sleeping area for each of us as well as a big kitchen and bathroom of our own.  Similar to where I stayed in Austin.  We loved staying in a down to earth residential area. It wouldn't be for everybody but for adventurous souls like ourselves it was absolutely perfect.  I would go back in a heartbeat.   We happily made our breakfast every morning and also snacks in the evening.

This house could have accommodated up to 7 people - three beds and a sofa


Well equipped kitchen

Yes we even did laundry with laundry detergent supplied...

We loved this place - complete with swing on the porch.  


Next up was New York - for three nights I stayed in East Harlem with Nancy. (I then moved on to a hotel in midtown to be closer to the Beatlefest I was in town to attend)  It was handy as I was able to take a local bus in from LaGuardia rather than a more expensive shuttle being as it was in the northern end of Manhatten.  Nancy had two dogs - one friendly and one not so friendly but as they both looked alike I tended to avoid both.  A bit frustrating for a dog mad person like me.  This was definitely a unique place to stay - Nancy was a strict vegan and allowed no animals products in her house.  Luckily she ignored my leather running shoes and I quiet scoffed the pralines (lots of cream i those babies) in my room.  Oops..my secret is out..I must admit I felt like a naughty child doing this.  Still, Nancy was interesting to talk to and I learned a lot from her.  East Harlem was a very interesting area and I wish I had had more opportunities to explore the area and over into Harlem as well however the weather was definitely a negative factor.  Wet miserable snow that created huge puddles at intersections that made walking around quite difficult.  Nancy also provided a healthy breakfast which I took advantage of a couple of times but when you are in New York...well my default is bagels for breakfast!  However

My usual mess...a small room but it did the trick. 

Nancy and the boys.  I didn't use the living room at all as I came home mainly to sleep - I was in New York!

Outside the building



Okay...that's it for now...(just wait until next year!!) as you can see I have stayed in a variety of places.  I know some people will say "no way" and others maybe a bit intrigued.  Airbnb goes from the very cheap to the very expensive and luxurious.  As a budget traveler I tend to go for cheap but clean. I love the fact that I have stayed in East Harlem, in the 7th ward of New Orleans and other areas that tourists don't tend to go.  It's nice to get away from the tourists...yes even if I am one myself...

I don't always stay in airbnb - it just depends on the situation.  Time of arrival:  When I stop over in Iceland on the way to the UK this December I am actually staying at a tourist guest house.  My reasons?  I am arriving early in the morning and by the time I get to the city it will be at a time when people go to work. (as most airbnb hosts do)  I want to be able to store my luggage and do a bit of exploration before crashing (and I mean crashing) for the evening so I need a place that I know will be accessible to me.  Location....not traveling with a car 99% of the time I need to be close to downtown or at least public transit.  In most big cities there is a variety of options however you have to be choosier in smaller or more rural areas.  Privacy:  Sometime I just want the privacy of a hotel room.  And sometimes I actually splurge and stay somewhere nice like the Yellow Submarine room of the Wanderlust hotel in Singapore.  Staying in cheaper accommodations lets me have this luxury which is especially welcome on longer trips. 

As a mostly solo traveler airbnb is perfect for me - it might not be for everyone.  Suggestions for researching a place to stay on airbnb:

1)  Ensure there are reviews. (and positive of course) and read them all.  You will learn a lot not only about the host but about the area.   I know this is tough for airbnb hosts starting out and as a petsitter starting out internationally I find the same thing.  Any new job seeker...how you can have experience if no one will give it to you?  So I get it....but I still err on the side of caution and go with a well reviewed host.

2)Description  - ensure the place is what you want - everything they have on offer is listed by an icon or in the description.  Also there are usually a lot of pictures (I would avoid staying at a place where they only have a picture of just the outside of the house or of locations around the area and not the residence itself - a good host has pictures of both) if it's a good place and in my experience they are accurate. 

3) Location - look for information on bus routes.  Most hosts list them.  Look up the area on google maps.  You don't want to be stuck in an area that does not have public transit if you don't have a car.

4)  The gender of the host may have an impact.  If you are a single woman you may not feel comfortable staying with a single man.  I used to be squeamish but as long as they've got good reviews (and I pay attention to female reviewers on this one) I no longer have a problem with this.

So that's it.  I hope you enjoyed this and that you will give it a try.  There will be lots more airbnb "second homes" in my life in 2015 so stay tuned.  Here's the link so why not go and have a browse!