Hamilton pool is a natural wonder located in an idyllic setting in central Texas. We’ve always wanted to visit this attraction but it had become so popular that reservations were required. In summer, it tended to be very crowded anyway so it wouldn’t have made for a very enjoyable experience. Now in the age of Covid, you still need a reservation but there is a limit to the number of visitors that are allowed in.
For us, it was an easy day trip as it’s located about forty five minutes from the greater Austin area where we currently reside. We had a two o clock reservation and there was one other car there when we arrived. Admission to this attraction was $8.00 per adult and $3.00 for seniors. Booking online secures your reservation and the fee for that was $12.00.
It’s a short twenty minute hike in, down a fairly steep rocky but well defined trail which levels out as you get closer to the pool. You can also take the 1.8 mile loop trail along a river which ends up by the pool. That trail unfortunately was closed on the day of our visit so that wasn’t an option for us.
Fall is definitely here. The air felt fresher and there was a feeling of peacefulness and serenity that was welcome in these turbulent times. A nice walk in the woods does wonders for the soul. We thoroughly enjoyed our time here.
Swimming which is usually permitted is now prohibited as there are no lifeguards on duty. The pool is about thirty feet deep in the center and there are quite a few catfish. There’s a waterfall that flows over the top but this late in the year it was merely a trickle. All and all, this was a great day out and we do recommend this attraction.
This trip was a coming home for me. I’d been to my wife’s home country of Germany a few times so I was beyond excited to show her around the place I grew up. Lately, our flight days have been pretty long. Our home airport in Austin Texas doesn’t offer a lot of direct international flights so we connected through Miami. On arrival in Barbados, we were temperature checked as we entered the terminal for any sign of fever. This precaution was in response to the Corona virus. We were quite lucky in the timing of our trip because just after returning, all the lock downs started happening in response to the rapidly spreading virus. Getting through this small and quite modern airport was a breeze as they now have a lot of self serve kiosks. Once we cleared Customs and exited the airport, we headed to the taxi dispatch booth. We’ve been to a few countries where the taxi situation seems like a free for all, but here was very well organised. Fares are clearly posted. You can prearrange rides through your hotel but it’s just as easy to get one on your ownlike we did.
We booked our stay at the Rostrevor Hotel in St Lawrence Gap, a lively area with lots of bars and restaurants and nice beaches nearby. It’s considered a budget hotel as hotels go in Barbados (there are some really expensive ones) Whenever possible, we choose hotels that have a kitchenette which is great for preparing some of your own meals and a great cost savings tool. With the abundance of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables available locally, this was a no brainer. There’s a bar and small restaurant in the hotel and the Harlequin restaurant is right next door. Just steps away there is a convenience store and there are supermarkets in the area. We chose this location because of it’s proximity to the airport. A fifteen minute taxi ride to the hotel cost us about $US 15.00, fares are fixed so no need to haggle. The capital Bridgetown is also close, about twenty minutes, the Hastings area which is even closer offers lots of amenities as well.
St Lawrence Gap in Christ Church parish has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. After a long travel day, we relaxed with drinks at Sharkey’s Bar just across the street from our hotel.
On day two, we took a trip into the historic city of Bridgetown located in St Michael parish. This capital city has a UNESCO world heritage site designation. We traveled by way of the local transportation. If you don’t want to take taxis everywhere, there are plenty of other options. There are three main types of public transportation, the privately owned white vans ZR licence tags, mini buses, yellow with blue stripe and the government run buses, blue with yellow stripe. The government buses run on a schedule and stop only at bus stops, you need exact change $BDS only. The others stop anywhere and are very convenient. Fare is BDS 3.50 but $US welcome. They usually have conductors on board and can make change.
Bridgetown is a great walking city. Public transport drops you off in the heart of town. We walked around the marina and boardwalk, bought a few souvenirs then visited the Parliament buildings which houses the third oldest parliament in the Americas, Heroes’ Square with it’s World Wars I & II Memorial Cenotaph, Queen’s Park to see the massive baobab tree, Independence Square, St Michael’s Cathedral which dates back to 1665, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue built in 1664.
Our walk around Bridgetown took us into Queen’s Park to see the massive Baobab tree then ventured into Swan Street, a bustling pedestrian only area with lots of shops, eateries and street vendors. This is a place popular with localsand tourists alike. Lots of bargains to be had here.A little ways out of town, we checked out the fish market as the fresh catch was just coming in and did a quick stop at the Pelican Arts & Crafts Centre.All of this walking works up a real hunger so we checked in to Chefette Restaurant, the Bajan fast food chain. Lunch for two is no more than BDS $25.00 Offerings include roasted chicken, burgers, rotis (curried beef, chicken or vegetables in a flour wrap).
After our day in Bridgetown, we took a stroll along the beach, part of the long stretch that is Carlisle Bay. A walk along the Hastings boardwalk did not disappoint. Finally, we headed back to our hotel for some much needed pool time.
To explore more of the island, you can book a tour, arrange for a private driver or just rent a car. We choose the latter. Express Rent A Car was within walking distance of our hotel so we booked through them. We received one free day if we booked four days or more cost was US $80.00 per day, taxes and drivers’ permit included. You drive on the left side here British style but after a few days you get used to it. We hit the road and our first stop was the Historic Garrison Savannaharea. There you’ll find the Barbados Museum, George Washington House, (Barbados was the only country the first US president ever visited) The old barracks and clock tower, several cannons and tunnels and of course the horse racing track. We stayed for the ceremonial changing of the sentry which is done every Thursday at noon.It was nice to see the old veterans still carrying on the tradition.
We returned to the Garrison on Saturday for horse racing with the featured annual Gold Cup high stakes event for thoroughbreds. This is such a big and exciting event, seems like half of the island’s population was there. It’s like one huge tail gating party, there’s no entrance fee to the grounds so you just pull up in your vehicle, find a spot, set up your little picnic or whatever and enjoy. You could sit in the stands for $BDS 50, regular race day is about $10. There are video clips of some of the action including the paradeWeopted to take the bus there as the traffic leaving was going to be a nightmare and it was. We ended up walking the three miles back to our hotel with a stop at Mama Mia’s where they serve some of the island’s best authentic brick oven pizza. There are video clips of some of the action for you to check out below.
After a good night’s sleep, we hopped in the car and headed down the West Coast for a stop in Speightstown, the second largest town and my old hometown. A stop at the old Fisherman’s Pub is a must. Established in 1936 to cater to fishermen after a long day at sea, this restaurant offers buffet lunch and has a wide variety of authentic Bajan dishes. Lunch for two was under US $30.00. After lunch, PRC Bakery was worth a visit to get some coconut turnovers and sweet bread. After walking the town we ended up on Heywoods Beach for a well earned dip in the surf.
Another beautiful, sunny day. Time to head into the country to check out the Grenade Hall old growth forest with its caves, soaring palms, mahogany and cottonwood trees to name a few. We climbed the old restored signal station which offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. This is all part of a wildlife Reserve and one fee (US $15.00 covers both areas. There are troops of monkeys roaming about and you can hand feed them if you like. There’s also a general feeding by staff at 10:00 and 2:00 pm.We came mainly to see the monkeys but there are other animals including parrots, peacocks, deer,mara, iguanas and hundreds of tortoises.
After leaving the wild life reserve, our drive through the country continued with a stop at the Cherry Tree Hill overlook. Here we got a sense of the rugged beauty of the East Coast. We spent about twenty minutes here then continued along a narrow winding road through sugar cane fields past the Morgan Lewis farm. Here you’ll find the only still intact sugar mill on the island. A quick picture and we’re on our way.
Our drive continued along the beautiful and rugged East Coast. I always loved coming here as a kid, the terrain and the surf were so much more interesting. There are fewer hotels and restaurants here but just enough to satisfy. The pounding surf makes it a popular spot for surfers. The beaches are not crowded and you can swim here but keep to the tide pools for safety. We stopped at a few nice overlook spots to take it all in.
Our next stop was Andromeda Gardens.This is the original botanic garden of Barbados. Started out as a private garden but opened to the public in the 70’s While not considered a flower garden, it still has a wide variety of flowers, shrubs, trees and more types of palms than I was aware of. Entrance fee is US $15.00 and tours are self guided.There are places to sit and relax in this six acre wonder so we took our time checking out the various species of flowers and trees.
As our journey continued, we stopped in at the historic Codrington College which dates back to the 1700’s. It’s now an Anglican seminary with University of the West Indies affiliation. We walked the grounds and just marveled at this great Barbadian treasure.
As we continued our trip around the island, we ended up at the easternmost point and the iconic Ragged Point lighthouse built in 1875. Not your typical tourist spot, a bit off the beaten path, but hiking along those majestic cliffs was something special.
Our last full day begins with a trip to the Earthworks Pottery in St Thomas parish. We always wanted to learn more about the process of creating beautiful pieces from start to finish. We walked around the studio, talked to workers who gave some insight into what they were doing and also gave demonstrations. The pieces here are unbelievably beautiful. We ended up purchasing a very nice plate. They can ship larger items if you desire.
After a truly amazing and educational experience at Earthworks, our next attraction for the day was the Animal Flower Cave at the northern end of the island. This naturally formed sea cave is one of the island’s oldest attractions and we were excited to experience it. A quick stop in Speightstown to pick up some coconut turnovers at our favorite little bakery and some fruits from a street vendor for snacking later. Driving through the northern parishes is a bit more relaxed as they are not as heavily populated. On arriving at North Point, we found the scenery at to be very interesting with steep cliffs, blow holes and caves. You can hike along the cliffs or just sit on the various benches that are available. A few minutes before we arrived, a pod of migrating whales had just gone by and we missed it. We came for the cave and to access it you have to make your way down some very steep and narrow steps that were hand carved about a hundred years ago. There are guided tours. It’s relatively large inside and there are some windows to the sea. There’s a pool where you can swim but we opted not to.
There are eleven parishes on my little island and we touched ten of them. There’s so much to see and do here, we barely scratched the surface. Getting around was easy, I guess a little local knowledge helps. We will definitely be back and you should put this destination on your list. This is by no means the cheapest island out there but with some research you can find the right deal to fit your budget. Come for the sea and sand, the history, the traditions but by all means, come!!!
Visit Curacao, you won’t be disappointed. This small island has a lot to offer. Besides the usual offerings like sand & surf, there’s great shopping, dining both local and international, museums, art galleries, Great houses or Landhuizen as the old plantation houses are called, off shore adventures and so much more. Getting around is so easy, Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu the local dialect are all spoken freely. From what we’ve seen and experienced, the country seems very safe, police and private security were ever present and we felt very comfortable venturing out on the town even in the evenings.
The best time to visit, economically speaking is off peak season, May to November. Hotel rates and airfares are much cheaper but really, any time of the year is fine since there’s hardly a threat of hurricanes, average temperatures are in the mid 80’s F (30 C) and rainfall is minimal.
We spent a week at the newly renovated MarriottBeach Resort, but while everything was shiny and new, you could see they were still working some of the kinks out. The hotel wasn’t very full as it had only been open for a few days. We asked for and got upgraded to an ocean front room. Overall though, it was a pleasant experience.
On our second day there, we decided to take the 2.5 mile (4 km) walk into Willemstad. If you’d rather not walk, you could take a local bus (Autobus Bedrijf) fare is 2.00 Guilder approx US $1.15 There is a bus station in Otrobanda and also Punda. Taxis (licence plate TX) are another option to get around. Taxis are unmetered and work off a rate sheet based on four persons. Rates can change depending on the amount of luggage you have or if you need service after 11:00 pm. Discuss fare before hand. There are no Ubers here. You can also rent a car, a compact is all you need, all the major rental companies are represented here or you can just hire a driver for the day.
Willemstad has four distinct quarters. Otrobanda is on the west side, cross the Queen Emma bridge to Punda and further east is Pietermaai, to the north across the Queen Wilhelmina or L.B. Smith bridges is Sharloo.
We checked out Rif Fort (built in 1828) now a trendy spot that houses retail shops and restaurants, a beautiful setting where you can see cruise ships in port and next door the Renaissance Hotel Casino and shopping mall.
We grabbed a quick lunch at the Gondola Italian restaurant, their pasta and pizza are the best.
After lunch, we headed over the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, stopping occasionally for photos. This bridge opens periodically to allow ships and other water craft to travel in and out of the inner harbor. We happened to catch a few openings later in the day.
Watch video here.
We marveled at the beauty and color of the buildings along the Handelskade, great photo op here.
On the north side of Punda, we paid a visit to the Central Market which has a wide array of goods, fruits, vegetables, clothing shops, souvenirs and the like. Next door is the Old Market (Plasa Bieu) which is now a food court specializing in local cuisine. I really wanted to try the iguana soup but thought better of it, maybe next time.
We enjoyed some ice cream at the Iguana Cafe which offers al fresco dining on the waterfront. It was a welcome treat after a day of exploring the city’s side streets, shops, art galleries and eateries.
Some scenes from our self guided city tour.
As part of our city exploration, we strolled through the historic Pietermaai district, checking out the fully restored 200 plus year old houses that’s now home to boutique hotels, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Very vibrant night scene here for which we returned in the evening to dine atGinger’s and drinks later at Cafe Mundo Bizarro enjoying some salsa music.
Salsa music video here.
So many dining options along the waterfront. We stopped for lunch at the Grillking Steak house. Local, family friendly and reasonably priced eats.
We took some time out to visit Kura Hulanda Museum ($10.00 admission) to learn about the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas. Great collection of artifacts on display. If this experience doesn’t move you, you simply cannot be moved.
The oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere dating back to 1651, Mikve Israel-Emanuel can be found in Punda. The interior has a sand floor symbolizing the desert through which the Israelites made their journey to freedom. To book a tour, email email@example.com
We were there during the Holiday season so everything was festive and bright. The town really comes alive in the evening, the lights, music, it seems on every corner, food vendors, outdoor cafes packed, everyone having a great time.
It’s time to get out of the city for a bit so we rented a car and set out to explore. We rented from Hertz (available at the hotel) for one day US$49.95 base price for an economy compact. Driving is easy here ( you drive on the right side) Once out of the city, traffic is very light. We wanted to experience a bit of the rugged north shore with it’s desert like landscape and also the beaches.
Out of Willemstad on the main highway Weg Naar Westpunt, we turned onto Weg Naar St Willibrordus. About two miles down the road, just pull over to see flocks of flamingos, best viewing time is early to mid morning, this is a free attraction.
We stopped in to the Landhuis Jan Kok, one of the many slave plantation houses on the island. It now showcases the work of late local artist Nena Sanchez. There’s also a gallery in the Willemstad art district.
Heading back on Weg Naar Westpunt we made a quick stop in Barber at the Hofi Pastor nature area to check out the very impressive 800 yr old Kapoc tree with it’s massive roots and gnarly limbs. There are a few short hiking trails here. The $3.00 entrance fee is more of a donation than anything else, few amenities here but it’s all about the tree.
On the road to Shete Boka National park, the wild north side with it’s caves, blowholes and inlet. It feels worlds apart from Willemstad, there’s a peacefulness about the area. We paid US $10.00 entrance fee plus $2.00 for a map. You could explore either on foot or venture farther out by car, we chose the latter. To some the entrance fee might seem like a lot but the money helps to provide security in the more remote regions of the park. Security is taken seriously here so there was no sense of uneasiness as we went a bit off the beaten path. We entered one of the sea caves where I shot this video. A bit eerie and cool at the same time. Check it out.
There are no seven mile beaches here. Most, especially on the north west side can be described as inlets carved out of cliffs but they are a good size nonetheless. We visited Playa Porto Mari where wild but friendly pigs are known to roam about. It’s a beautiful white sand beach a bit off the beaten path, popular with tourists and locals. There are some amenities, snack bar and restaurant, toilets, changing rooms and chair rentals. Great for snorkeling and diving. Dive shop on site.
Our anniversary dinner at Namora’s Restaurant. Located within walking distance of the Marriott, it’s fine dining at it’s best. All the courses were prepared and presently exquisitely. Dinner for two is easily US $200.00 plus but it’s not somewhere you go very often. Something to bear in mind, most nicer restaurants add a service charge anywhere from 10 to 20% some of which goes in a tip pool for your servers so beware of that when you tip. It’s not allowed to be taken off your credit card so it’s added directly to your bill.
Time to say goodbye. We really enjoyed our time here and recommend you add this destination to your list. Danki Curacao, te aworo.
When we got married, we made a promise that for our fifth anniversary, not only were we going to Bora Bora, but we would stay in an over water bungalow. Promise kept!!! From our home base in Texas, getting to the South Pacific made for a long travel day but we were very excited, we’re finally doing it. We checked in at Austin Bergstrom airport for our 6:30 pm American Airlines flight to LAX. Not the smoothest of check ins. We were asked to check our bags through to Tahiti which we didn’t want, full flight we were told. As it turned out, there was plenty of overhead bin space. Needless to say, we weren’t happy. The thought of not having your bags with you can be a bit unsettling especially when connections are involved.
On arrival at LAX, we had to make our way to Terminal B. It was quite a long walk to get there but we had a three hour layover. The second leg of the flight was at 11:00 pm. The boarding process was a bit weird. We were called by sections, then boarded buses that took us to the aircraft. Upon exiting the buses, there was no order in boarding the plane so the whole system of calling sections for the bus made no sense. The eight and a half hour flight itself was great. Air Tahiti Nui Boeing 787 Dreamliner is by far the most comfortable plane I’ve traveled on. The food and service were great as well.
At around 5:30 am the following day, we arrived at the Tahiti Faa’a airport, collected our bags (thankfully they made it) and checked in for a quick fifty minute flight to Bora Bora aboard a smaller turbo prop plane. The main island is surrounded by a ring of smaller islands called motus and the airport is situated on one of these islands.
Since most of the resorts are located on the small islands, they all have their own free shuttle service. After meeting our hotel representative and being adorned with the traditional lei necklaces, we boarded a boat for the ten minute ride to the resort.We stayed at the Pearl Beach Resortwhich is the only hotel on the very private Motu Tevairoa. Video of the boat ridecan be seenbelow.
We arrived quite early, 8:30 am, and understandably our bungalow wasn’t ready. Since breakfast was still being served, we made our way over to Tevairoa restaurant, one of three restaurants at the resort. The staff was very friendly and welcoming. French, Tahitian and English is spoken here. After breakfast, we walked around a bit then relaxed in the lobby with some welcome drinkswhile our room was being prepared.
Our bungalow is finally ready. It’s been such a long day, we just wanted to get settled, get off our feet and and marvel at the beautiful surroundings, the mountains and of course the crystal blue green water. We got a welcome visit from a stingray who cameby to see us everyday during our stay. As night fell, we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
LookHERE, we’rechecking out our bungalow, number 40.
After falling asleep to the sound of the water gently lapping against the pylons of our bungalow, we arose just in time to catch the sun rise behind Mt Otemanu. The beginning of a great day in paradise. Tevairoa restaurant is where breakfast is served every day so that was our first stop. We will spend this day rather leisurely, just checking out the amenities. We toured the spa and the well equipped fitness center. There’s also a game room, tennis court, mini golf and a dive center for all your water sports activities. We tried our hand at paddle boarding but weren’t very good at it.
We’re liking what we’re seeing so far. I can’t believe we’re really here. It’s always been a dream of mine to travel to the South Pacific and here I am with my lovely wife Trudy. After getting the lay of the land, we went back to the bungalow to prepare for our first swim in the lagoon. What a magical moment. The water is only about three feet deep, crystal clear, warm and soothing.
After several hours, we managed to drag ourselves out of the water and prepare ourselves for dinner at the Tevairoa restaurant. The tranquility of this setting coupled with the gentle, balmy breezes made for a very pleasant evening. The food, the wine and the service were superb. Trudy had a perfectly cooked rib eye steak and I opted for the freshly caught wahoo, pan seared and served with a chorizo tomato cream sauce. Breakfast is the only complimentary meal and a basic dinner cost about 10,000 Polynesian francs, roughly 90 US dollars. We’ll sleep well tonight for tomorrow, we head into town.
For the trip to Vaitape on the mainland, we scheduled the 9:00 am shuttle. The resort offers this free boat service across the bay, then you take a fifteen minute bus ride from the dock to town, US 16.00 round trip. For return trips to the resort, you should be at the dock by 12:30 or 5:00 pm. Since we had arranged for a rental car through the concierge, we met the rental agent at the dock upon disembarking and she drove us into town. All the cars at this particular rental company (Avis) were manual transmission so this is one thing you need to be aware of when you choose a rental company. For me it wasn’t a problem. We opted for a full day rental but should have done a half day instead. Driving is on the right side and the roads were pretty good, somewhat narrow but there are lots of small cars here. Once out of town, traffic is minimal. It takes about an hour to drive around the island (eighteen miles) so unless you’re checking out restaurants, bar hopping or lounging the beaches, it doesn’t make much sense to do a full day rate. Bikes can be rented for about US $ 20.00 per day. The terrain is fairly flat, only one small hill I can recall. Motor scooters are also available for rent.
After our drive around the island, we walked around Vaitape, checking out the souvenir shops, craft stores, fruit and vegetable stands, the waterfront area with cruise ships anchored in the bay and some jewelry stores. Here you can find the exquisite black Tahitian pearls. If you’re buying pearls, go with a reputable jeweler as there is some fake merchandise out there.
Lunch time is approaching so we check in at theAloe Cafe, a quaint little bistro tucked away in the corner of small shopping plaza. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a light lunch and some very good ice cream and sorbet.There were some food trucks around as well where you could get hot dogs, crepes and sandwiches. We met a nice older couple who were in Bora Bora for the day. They were on a South Pacific islands cruiseon the Windstar Spirit.
Bora Bora can be a very expensive place so before heading back to the resort, we bought some fruit from one of the roadside stands, then stopped in at Chin Lee’s grocery store (where everyone goes) to pick up some snacks and other light foodstuff. There were fresh baguettes and a great selection of cheeses and wines, obviously the French connection has something to do with that.It’s interesting to see all the resort guests on the boat trip back with their shopping bags filled with groceries and other food. Paradise does come at a cost. That evening, we relaxed in our bungalow while enjoying a light supper and discussing the plans for the next day.
Another day, another beautiful sunrise. There hasn’t been a drop of rain so far and we’re loving it. We begin our day with a one hour workout at the gym. This was by far one of the nicer gyms we’ve seen in our travels. We opted for an easy, laid back day today so after hitting the breakfast buffet, we went swimming and kayaking around the lagoon.You can do as much or as little as you want around here, there are plenty of tours to go on if you need some adventures or you can just stay around the resort and chill out.Evening falls quickly here since it’s close to the equator. Tonight we’ll have drinks at the Miki Miki bar and enjoy some traditional Polynesian music.
It’s Sunday morning I think, but who’s keeping track of days anyway. This day promises to be an exciting one. Trudy booked herself a spa day, the Otemanu treatment special complete with a coconut sugar scrub, bath and massage, facial, hair and scalp conditioner, jacuzzi, the works. Meanwhile, I went swimming with sharks and stingrays. It was a very enjoyable sail around the island, stopping off at some prime snorkeling spots and swimming in the crystal clear waters. There are a variety of tours that you can book directly through the hotel.
Check out shark and stingray videos here and here.
Monday night is Polynesian buffet and show at the main restaurant, Tevairoa. The two other restaurants are closed this evening but the pool bar is open and offers a light menu if you’re not inclined to spend the CFP 8500 (approx US $75.00 per person) Of course we’re going. We travel for experiences so we’re all in. There were a lot of great selections offered on the buffet, several varieties of marinated fish, salads, meats and vegetables, fresh fruit juices. The use of local ingredients like coconut, pineapple and papaya were incorporated into the French inspired pastries.Midway through dinner, the show begins. It’s your typical Polynesian show with the dancing young women being the main attraction. We’ve probably all seen these scenes from the South Pacific in the movies before, but to see it live in this setting is something special. There was guest interaction and photo sessions afterwards.
The day after a fabulous evening, we took one more trip into town for some last minute shopping, then spent the remainder of our time enjoying our bungalow and snorkeling the small artificial reefs around the the lagoon. We see the occasional cruise ships passing by, mostly smaller ones like the Aida and Paul Gauguin.
Unlike myself, Trudy doesn’t care much for open water, she likes to stay close to the shore. I got her this full face snorkel mask a few months before for her birthday and this was the first time she got a chance to use it. I researched many brands and settled on this one from Aria (“affiliate link”) You can see the video of her snorkel outinghere.
It’s been a wonderful ten days in what really felt like paradise, a dream come true for both of us. This wasn’t one of our usual active, adventurous vacations but sometimes you need to slow it down and relax a bit. We can look back on this trip with great fondness. It was a once in a lifetime kind of trip but we definitely want to return.
We’d been visiting Seattle for few days and stayed just twenty five minutes outside the city center in Lynnwood at the Best Western Alderwood. Not only was it cheaper but we wanted to have a shorter drive to the US Canada border and not deal with the Seattle city traffic. We loaded up the rental early in the morning and headed to Vancouver. From Lynwood, it was about an hour and a half drive to the border and another thirty minutes or so to cross. We chose the Peace Arch crossing which is the third busiest but offers a more direct route to Vancouver. Peak times are 3- 4 pm. Crossing times on other routes may be quicker but they take you thirty to forty miles east of Vancouver and that’s not where we wanted to be. Thislink can help you choose the crossing that’s right for you.
The wait at the border didn’t seem that long, pretty straight forward with the usual questions, “where are you going, where are you staying, how long?” Now we’re on our way, no hassles and it’s about fifty minutes to Vancouver center. Ourhotel is again outside the city to the north which is a great jumping off point for all the outdoor activities in the Capilano and Grouse mountain area.
Before checking in to our hotel, we spent all day exploring the city. First stop was Gastown, a trendy neighborhood with lots of boutiques, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and art galleries. It’s home to the famous steam clock that shoots out steam sounds of the Westminster chime on the hour and quarter hour.
Visit to Chinatown.
We took a stroll through the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese gardens. Established in 1986, this place offers a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the city. As we wound down our day, we drove to Stanley Park which has amazing views of the city skyline.
Stanley Park sits on the edge of town and is almost entirely surrounded by water. It’s a free park so you can stroll, hike or bike around. You can drive through as well but if you’re going to spend a significant amount of time, there are fees for parking. In the high season (Apr – Sept) it’s $13.40 and $7.20 in the winter (Oct – Mar) There are miles of hiking and biking trails including the five and a half mile sea wall which overlooks English Bay. On the opposite side of the park, the Burrard Inlet offers views of the Lion’s Gate Bridge, West Vancouver, Grouse mountain and the surrounding area.
After a long and exciting first day, we checked into our hotel. Depending on the type of vacation we’re taking, we like to book hotels that have some kind of kitchenette where we can prepare some meals. It’s a great cost savings which allows us to pay for more attractions and other things. Once settled, we took a short walk to the Capilano Market which was a few blocks from our hotel. We stocked up on some foodstuffs, snacks and enough water to fill our insulated water bottles from Camelbak (“affiliate link”) The following day was going to be a busy one with all the activities we had planned. A good night’s sleep was very welcome.
Day 2 and we’re out the door after a quick in room breakfast. First stop was the Capilano suspension bridge park, about a five minute drive from our hotel. If you’re staying downtown, you can ride the free shuttle bus from CanadaPlace with your ticket purchase but it’s first come first serve. The cost seems expensive CAD $54.95 adult and $49.95 for seniors (65+) but there’s a lot to do there. The park is much more than the bridge. We did the cliff walk, tree top trail, boardwalk, hiked some of the shorter trails, and checked out raptor education center. We were lucky enough to spot some bald eagles soaring through the tree tops. After our visit, we grabbed a quick bite and finished up with some very refreshing locally made ice cream. We were pleasantly surprised at how many dining options there were at the park.
Trudy is not a fan of suspension bridges, but how do get to the other side? The bridge is roughly four hundred and sixty feet long (140m) and two hundred and thirty feet (70m) above the river. As you can see by the video below, she made it and has a certificate to prove it. Bring on the next challenge.
After leaving Capilano, we headed to Grouse mountain which was just a few miles away. If you’re doing both attractions, it’s cheaper to buy a combo ticket which includes the sky tram ride up the mountain. This is a major skiing area but in summer there are lots of other attractions here as well. You can ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain and explore further. There’s also zip lining, lumber jack shows, theater and restaurants. There was still some snow on the mountain but it was nice and sunny and a light jacket was all that was needed. We checked out the grizzly bear habitat and did some short hikes. After lunch, Trudy booked a helicopter tour which was quite the surprise. I’d never done one before so this was a welcomed idea and a great way to finish up our day on the mountain.
On day 3, the plan was to take a day trip to Vancouver island. After a day in the wilds of North Vancouver, and a good night’s sleep, we loaded up the car and drove the fifty minutes to Tsawwassen. Theferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Vancouver island takes about 90 minutes. If you’re spending more than a few days on the island, it’s better to take your car but you have to get there early, the line can be pretty long as there are commuters who take the trip every day plus all the commercial vehicles. We parked our car nearby at a secured lot and took the free five minute shuttle ride to the terminal. They offered pickup service as well as long as you were back by 9:00 pm. The walk up cost per person for the ferry is about CAD $17.00 and for car and driver CAD $75.00 The crossing is very scenic and picturesque as you sail between the Gulf islands. At the right time of year, you may see pods of killer whales.
Once we arrived in Swartz Bay and exited the terminal, we took a short walk to catch the #81 bus to the world famous Butchart Gardens. The ride is a little less than an hour and the fare was CAD $ 2.50 Taxis can take you there in half the time but cost up to $ 45.00. The cost to enter the gardens was $30.00 and to fully appreciate this fifty five acre wonder, you really need to set aside about three to four hours.
Butchart Gardens is a truly amazing place and we spent several hours there. There are themed gardens which include the Sunken garden in what was once a quarry, Japanese, Italian and rose gardens. I’m told that there are about seventy gardeners who are responsible for the daily upkeep and new plantings as the floral displays change according to the season.
After spending several hours in the gardens, we boarded a local bus for our trip to Victoria. There’s a bus stop three minutes walk away where you take the # 75 bus for the fifty minute trip to downtown. It was Mothers’ Day weekend so we had a booking for afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress. We had just enough time to walk around the beautiful waterfront area checking out the assortment of ferries, water taxis and whale watching boats. Tea at the Fairmont is a very formal affair so we cleaned ourselves up the best we could and made our way over to the hotel. Dating back to 1908, this is one of the oldest hotels in British Columbia and has a national historic site designation. Although the experience was quite expensive, we thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s just one of those once in a lifetime things we don’t mind indulging in.
After a very satisfying tea experience, we walked the grounds of the Parliament Buildings and relaxed on the great lawn. As it turns out, May is a great time to visit Vancouver, the weather was sunny and not a drop of rain the entire time. It may also have been a little warmer than usual.
Vancouver island is one of those places that we would love to explore more. We barely scratched the surface of the things to do there. Next time, we’re staying on the island instead of the mainland. I wished we had more time but we wanted to make the 7:00 pm ferry. We saw enough that we know we want to return. The evening was a bit cool as we sailed back to Tsawwassen but the sun setting behind the islands was breathtaking.
Isn’t it better to look back on your life and say “Boy, I can’t believe I did that than to lament “I wish I’d done that”?
We met about six years ago online and realized we shared a similar passion for traveling and exploring. I’m originally from Speightstown Barbados and Trudy is from Helmbrechts, Germany. We’re married and now living in Round Rock Texas, USA. Between us, we’ve been to over fifty countries.
Welcome to our travel blog, designed to cater to older travelers like ourselves. We’re Trudy and Andy (Trandy) and our aim is to give insight through our own adventures to travelers, especially to those who might be venturing out for the first time, or haven’t traveled extensively. We will share with you ideas on affordable hotel rates, where to find upscale or cheap eats, some not to be missed attractions including some off the beaten path, ideas on how to stay safe, basically some do’s and don’ts especially when traveling abroad.
For my wife Trudy’s birthday, we decided to visit Niagara Falls. We wanted to stay on the Canadian side as there were more choices of accommodations and besides we got one more addition to our countries visited list. We flew from Austin Bergstrom to Buffalo via Charlotte, North Carolina. Getting to Niagara is pretty easy. There are shuttle buses available, $65.00 to the Canadian side or $50.00 to the USA side. Taxis are another option, the fare is about the same. We rented a car and it took about forty five minutes to get there. As you get closer to the Falls, you could see the spray of water rising like a cloud in the distance. Border crossing was a breeze, just have your travel documents ready. The get the latest updates and requirements on border crossings, you can visit http://www.cbp.gov
There are quite a few hotels along the rim of the Falls especially on the Canadian side. Our hotel of choice was the Marriott. We’ve stayed with them several times and have always had great service. We asked for and got upgraded to a very nice room on the twenty fourth floor which offered us magnificent views of both the Canadian and American Falls. A welcome gift basket for the birthday was also a very nice touch.
We’re only here for a few days and want to make the most of it. We made reservations for birthday dinner at the Skylon Tower which has a rotating restaurant. Food was excellent, lots of selections on the buffet, but it’s all about the view here. As night fell, we were treated to a fireworks display.
On our second day, we booked a “Journey behind the Falls” tour. We rode the funicular down from the hotel to meet our guide. We descended about a hundred feet by elevator through the rock table where you go through a series of tunnels. There are a couple of lookout portals where you see the water and really hear and feel the power. Afterwards, we made our way out to the observation area, (rain gear on) for the incredible up close view.
We had a full day of activities planned so we strapped on the backpack from Matein (“affiliate link”) which has USB connectivity and paired it with our new charger from PowerBank (“affiliate link”), (great for charging your devices when you’re out all day.) We walked cross the Rainbow Bridge to the USA to check out the American Falls. After a quick immigration and passport check, we continued on. The Canadian side is much nicer than the American side, more lodging, amenities and fun things to do. The American falls however affords you the opportunity to get really closeas we discovered later towards the end of our trip.
Niagara is more than just the Falls. The area of town closest to the Falls has quite a few attractions, gift shops, casino, restaurants and bars and all within walking distance from our hotel. There’s also an amusement park which is great for families with kids. The old Niagara city on the American side has seen better days when there were lots of hotels and casinos but is now a mere shell of it’s former self.
There are plenty of attractions for families with kids.
Niagara at night.
The days are going by so fast, we’ve had a blast. Looking at the water every day, the sound and the power were just hypnotic. I’ve dreamed of coming to this place for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. So glad I was able to share it with Trudy. Today is check out day from our hotel so having experienced a taste of the American side, we decided to explore it a bit more. We drove across the border this time and headed to Niagara Falls State Park which is the oldest state park in the US.
The condition of Niagara Falls state park was a far cry from what we saw on the Canadian side. It looked a bit run down but there seemed to be some renovations going on which was encouraging for the future. Canada on the other hand was very clean, lots of flowers and well kept gardens.
Relax and enjoy the splendor of Queen Victoria Park with its beautifully manicured flower gardens. Established in 1885, this park is the centerpiece the Niagara recreational area.
There are boat tours that take you up close to the Falls. The “Maid of the Mist” operates from the American side and costs US$ 22.25 for adults, kids six to twelve years $13.00, elevator ride included. The Canadian Hornblower boats are CAD$ 30.50, kids five to twelve, $20.50, this includes the funicular ride down to the dock.
Niagara Falls was always seen as the quintessential honeymoon destination but it’s much more than that. There’s a lot more to do than you realize and the city of Toronto is not too far awaywhich makes for a nice side trip, time permitting. Now this is just our opinion, but if you do take a trip here, I suggest going to the American side first and finishing up on the Canadian sidewhich is so much nicer and has lots more to do.
In 2013, I took a trip to Germany to meet up with my lovely wife Trudy. We’d been dating long distance for a while and I was really looking forward to meeting up with her in her home country. It was my second trip there but it would be my first time in Berlin. On long flights and especially in the cramped quarters that passes for coach these days, it’s a good idea to wear your compression socks, whether you’re at risk of DVT or not.We started using these a few years ago and never fly without them, we especially love the ones from SBSox (affiliate link) After Trudy picked me up from the airport, we checked in at the Berlin Marriott close to Potsdamer Platz where we relaxed for a few hours. With fresh legs, we head to the city. We tried to see as many sights as possible in the short time we had due to the fact that on the next day, we had a three hour drive ahead of usto Trudy’s hometown of Helmbrechts.
For lunch, Trudy had the famous Berlin Currywurst and I had the fried Semmelknoedel (bread dumplings)It’s always exciting to try the different cuisines when travelling.
We visited the Topographie des Terrors which is an indoor outdoor museum that chronicles the atrocities the Nazis inflicted upon the European Jews. The site used to house the headquarters of the Gestapo. There’s a large section of the Berlin wall still standing here.
After World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors administered by the US, France, UK and the Soviet Union. Checkpoint Charlie in the US sector was a border crossing between East and West Germany for the Allied forces. It’s also the place of the 1961 stand off between American and Russian tanks. We visited the open air exhibition which shows in great detail the history of the area.
As we walked around the city, I couldn’t help but notice these pink pipes running throughout. I thought it was some kind of cool art installation. I was told that since the ground water level is so high in the city, during construction of new buildings, the basement sites tend to flood and the water has to be pumped to the canals or river by way of those pipes. Apparently, the area on which the city now sits used to be swamp and marsh lands hence the high ground water.
Lots of different ways to get around town. The “hop on, hop off” bus is also a great option if you don’t have a lot of time in the city. We ended up doing a lot of walking anyway which is what we generally do, obviously having great shoes is essential. Paired with the right socks makes for a comfortable day, love those Balegas (affiliate link)