Dog's Day Out

It's becoming a trend these days for businesses to go "dog friendly". More and more establishments are opening their doors to our four-legged friends, and I think it's grand. I love that I can take Gus for a walk and scratch a few items off my "to-do" list at the same time. He loves all the attention and the treats.

Here are a few of our favourite local dog-friendly businesses:

I haven't ventured into food venues with Gus, but the Battery Cafe has an adorable walk-through window and picnic tables overlooking the harbour. It's the perfect pit-stop before / after doing the Signal Hill trail. They even give out treats to the pups :)

I'm not aware of many chain-stores that are dog friendly, but here are a couple!
  • Wicker Emporium

  • Canadian Tire on Hebron Way

Any pet store - The Doghouse, Pet Smart, Pet Planet, Pet Zone etc.

For out-of-town travelers, the following hotels are dog friendly:
You can even bring your dog to The Hair Factory in the Sheratan

Do you know of any other dog friendly places in town? I'd love to hear about them! :) 

Hanging loose in Hawaii


Once upon a time, there was a massive seat sale to Hawaii. We're talking 20,000 aeroplan points and $91 return from Newfoundland to Honolulu taxes and fees included. Even 'broke-Natasha-who-just-bought-a-house-and-is-getting-married-in-two-weeks-after-a-three-month-engagement' could not turn that down.

It was T-minus-21 days to the wedding, and I landed in Oahu with two of my sisters-in-laws-to-be.

Hawaii has never actually been at the top of my travel bucket list. In my mind it wasn't as exotic or exciting as other destinations because its a part of America. I was wrong. Hawaii exceeded all of my expectations. In my humble opinion, I think that its too cool for the US and that they should be their own country.

We stayed in an Airbnb near Waikiki Beach in Honolulu (read: tourist central). We decided not to completely adjust to the time difference for such a short trip. It was a foreign feeling to be a "morning person" for a week. But that meant we could hit the beach at sunrise, before it was crawling with tourists.

You can't travel to Honolulu without visiting Pearl Harbor. I've always been intrigued by the second world war, and was really looking forward to seeing the USS Arizona. However, when we arrived there was a big conference in town and all of the tickets were sold out. Rotten luck, really. Book your tickets in advance if possible. (Link here)

One of the things that caught me off guard about the Pearl Harbor site is the fact that you're not allowed to bring a purse! I mean, I expect to be required to check-in backpacks and large bags, but they will not even let you carry in a clutch! This is all fine and dandy for guys with cargo shorts, but I was wearing a dress with no pockets... so I had to carry my passport and wallet around in my hat!

Playa say what?!?!

We went to the museums and explored inside the USS Bowfin submarine. I knew that naval submarines had tight quarters, but I didn't realize that there were bunks literally on top of torpedoes.

When in Hawaii, eat the Hawaiian pizza. Drop by the "Lovin' Oven" and hang out with the friendly hippie that works there. You can even BYOB free of charge. (Link here)

My favourite adventure was cruising around on scooters through Kahala, which is known as the "Beverly Hills" of Oahu. Scooters are always a good idea.

Fun fact: Hawaii is one of four states that has completely outlawed billboards. You will not see a single billboard on any of the islands.

The "Shaka" hand gesture represents the "Aloha spirit" that stands for friendship, compassion, and solidarity among the various ethnic cultures that reside in Hawaii.

The symbol is often interpreted as "hang loose" and embodies the island and surfing culture.

The origin of the gesture is credited to Hamana Kalili of Laie, who lost the three middle fingers of his right hand while working at the Kahuku Sugar Mill. His wave of thumb and pinkie is said to have evolved into the shaka.

I picked one of these hibiscus flowers to put in my hair (because I'm touristy like that) and then shortly realized that it was crawling with bugs.

Far away from the hustle and bustle that is Waikiki, on the windward coast of Oahu, lies Kualoa Ranch. It's wild beauty has attracted Hollywood for decades to film various blockbusters such as:

- Jurassic Park
- Godzilla
- Fifty First Dates
- Mighty Joe Young
- Pearl Harbour (obviously)
- Parts of the Hunger Games

During World War II, the United States Military operated an airstrip at Kualoa. The military used many of the large monkeypod trees to provide natural camouflaged hangers for small planes.

This view from Kualoa Ranch is "Chinaman's Hat" (for obvious reasons)

We also stopped in the Japanese Byodo-In Temple in Ahuimanu. It was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants. This is the closest I have ever been to Asia!

I would definitely recommend taking a pit-stop at the Macadamia nut farm. Two words: FREE SAMPLES.

We also went the Dole Pineapple plantation, but it is basically "world's largest pineapple store". Read: Tourist Trap. If you are pressed for time I would skip this stop.

My favorite thing about the plantation was actually the trees! Rainbow eucalyptus. I never even imaged such trees existed in real life. They look like something out of a children's book.

You can't go to Hawaii without taking in a luau. We went to the Polynesian Cultural Center, a theme park of sorts that represents the main Polynesian islands. The business is set up so that Polynesian students work here to pay for their university tuition. There is plenty of music and dancing.

We even saw a man climb a coconut tree!

I noticed that are no temples in the model villages, but there are missionary churches. It didn't click in until the end of the day that there was a reason why the girls don't wear coconut bras and no alcohol was served at the Luau: this whole operation is run by the Mormons.

The luau was HUGE, but it wasn't exactly what I had imagined. I envisioned myself dancing around a big fire at a beach, lol. There were literally hundreds of people sitting at long tables and we watched people dance on a stage. When it came time to take the pig out of the ground, everyone was so crowded around you couldn't actually see anything. Anyways, I am on the fence about whether I should cross #98 off my bucket list (Dance in a Hawaiian Luau)

Oh, and we finally got lei'd.

I'm not a big "beaches and palm trees" vacation type of girl, but another highlight of the trip was snorkeling with the fish in Hanauma Bay. I wish that I had an underwater camera!

If you find yourself in Honolulu, make sure grab something to eat at the "Barefoot Beach Cafe". You'll find it on the far side of Waikiki beach towards Diamond Head. (link here)

You can sit outside and eat supper whilst listening to live music, and watching the sun set over the Pacific.

We were only in Hawaii for 5 full days, so we decided against island hopping. But I've officially added Maui to my bucket list now (number 131), I want to go back and explore the 'big island'. 

Alas, I had a wedding to pull together. So, we boarded the plane with suitcases packed with Target treasures and mint dark chocolate M&M's. (This photo literally makes my mouth water)

Mahalo, thank you for stopping by! 

Deutschland: a road trip without speed limits

Think Germany. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? If you're anything like me, my mind automatically flashed to black and white photos I saw in history books of Hitler, the Holocaust and Concentration camps. Sounds like a depressing trip, right?

Although this is a very real and dark part of German history, it is just one chapter of this nation's rich heritage.

Think lush green rolling hills. Think tall trees. Think mountains. Think Cinderella castles. Think colourful medieval villages. Think rivers and bridges and valleys.  Think technology and innovation.

Deutschland is one of the most unique, memorable and beautiful places I have ever traveled. Ireland felt like a European version of Newfoundland, whereas I haven't been anywhere that I can compare to Germany. 

We started our adventure in Berlin, Germany's reunited capital. I don't know how exactly I pictured Berlin, but it was nothing like I imagined. Berlin isn't pretty. It's edgy, rugged and intriguing. (Read more about it here)

We rented a car and jumped on the autobahn heading southwards. Alex has a need for speed and he's always wanted to drive on the "Autobahn" - where there are 4 lanes and no speed limits! At first we thought that there was only one specific road or stretch that had no speed limits. But we soon realized that there are many "Autobahns" all over Germany that you can drive at whatever speed you like.

Disclaimer: the whole Autobahn is not exactly a 'free-for-all'. You must slow down where there are on-ramps and off-ramps. A sign with four lines across indicates no speed limit. Here is a quick reference if you ever find yourself driving on the German Autobahn:

When you're close to major cities (Berlin & Munich), you'll see many expensive cars whooshing by. Tourists rent cars and push test their limits. We saw an Audi R8, M3 and M5 BMW, Ferrai, Porsche and even a 2006 Saturn Ion! (The same model as my piece of junk car) 

**Nerd Alert** I didn't realize how much of the German grid was powered by wind! I have never seen so many wind turbines! 

We stopped in a small town in southwest Germany that will capture your heart. Heidelberg escaped bombing in the World War II because it wasn't an industrial hub, and therefore was of no strategic interest to the Allies. Unlike many German cities, it has buildings dating back to the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The ruins of a medieval castle overlook the city.

The castle is constructed with sunset-coloured sandstone. Mark Twain once described it as "deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful."

The view from the castle is spectacular, it overlooks old town, the Neckar River and Karl Theodor Bridge Bridge.

The world’s largest wine barrel with a capacity of about 58,000 gallons lies beneath the castle. There is even a dance floor on top of the barrel! (See 6'4 tourist for scale).

Heidelberg is also home to Germany's oldest university, founded in 1386. 

Next we stopped in an enchanted medieval town that time forgot. Wandering the streets of Rothenburg felt like I had stepped into the pages of a fairy-tale. In the Middle Ages Rothenburg was Germany’s second-largest city, with a whopping population of 6,000.

A fortress encircles the ancient medieval town. We walked around the wall and had a picnic overlooking the countryside.

It's actually ridiculous how charming this town is, even the hotel keys were charming. 

I didn't want to leave Rothenburg, but we had to be in Inglostadt for the 11:30am Audi factory tour.  *WARNING! BOOK YOUR TOUR WELL IN ADVANCE* Apparently this was the first week that they were open after a month of factory shutdown and all the tours were booked solid! We waited around hoping that someone wouldn't show up for their pre-booked tour, but no luck. It wasn't a completely failed venture because we were able to go to their museum (only 2 Euros!)

I was able to get a tickets for the factory tour 4 days later, which meant that we had to rent the car for an extra two days and drive back to Inglostadt, but it was worth it.

It was only 7 Euros for a 2 hour guided tour through the factory. We followed the process to assemble an Audi A3 (Alex's first car) from beginning to end. It was mind-blowing. We saw them press and cut pieces of medal, a dozen robot arms weld it all together, adding of the frame, steering wheel, the human assembly line to install headlights and then the test drive etc. Unfortunately there was no photography allowed in the factory. But, here are some photos of the tour from the internet:

We also grabbed a lunch at the Audi cafeteria and it was AMAZING. They literally have every kind of food you can think of being prepared freshly before you. They even have Audi Cappuccinos!

I would highly recommend the Audi factory tour to anyone and everyone. It is located in Inglostadt, 45 minutes north of Munich. There is only one English tour a day at 11:30am from Monday-Friday, so make sure that you book it well in advance here.

We headed southwards towards the Alps to see Neuschwanstein Castle. This was the most scenic part of our road trip.

We stayed in a sleepy little ski town nestled in the Alps called Oberammergau. Even though it was September, there were Santas in every store. I can only imagine what this town must be like when it's covered in a blanket of snow at Christmastime. I definitely want to come back to the Alps for a ski trip.

We heard about a gravity fed roller coaster on one of the ski hills and decided to check it out. When we arrived at "Alpine Coaster" we thought it was closed because there was literally no one there! We took a ski lift to the top of the mountain. It felt strange being on a ski hill without snow, the mountain almost felt naked.

Hand breaks were used to control your speed and to prevent your cart from bumping into the person ahead! Naturally I let Alex go first. This coaster is not very well known, but it was one of the highlights of our trip! (Trip Advisor link here)

We weaved through the alps and towards Neuschwanstein Castle. This one has been on my travel bucket list for a while. 

The alps provide the perfect backdrop to a fairy-tale like castle. No wonder Neuschwanstein inspired Disney's infamous Cinderella Castle.

The problem with Neuschwanstein is that its beauty has brought with it a plague of tourists. People from all over the globe descend to visit Germany's #1 tourist attraction.

When we arrived we found out that the wait to see the inside of the castle was 4-5 hours. We decided that it wasn't worth it for us because we'd seen so many other castles around Europe. But, if you DO want to see the inside of the castle, make sure that you pre-book your tour in advance. (Link here)

A number of people advised us to spend a lot of time in Munich, but I don't get what all of the fuss is about. Maybe if we were there for "Oktoberfest" it would have been different. If I was to have my time back I would have spent less time in Munich, and more in Rothenburg and Berlin.

Regardless, we enjoyed the cheap beer, wine, and pretzels.

One thing that I noticed about Germany: There are dogs everywhere! And they're not even on leashes. You would sit down in a cafe and there is a dog under the table next to its owner. Even in the busy and crowded streets of Munich people walk across intersections without their dogs on leashes.

If you do find yourself in Munich, make sure that you check out the city surfing! There are pro surfers lined up on either side of the Eisbach River and jump in as soon as someone wipes out.

Castles, mountains, medieval villages.. a trip to once-upon-a-time Germany can be like stepping into a fairy tale. It can also reveal the horror of Europe's fascist nightmare. We took a train from Munich to Dachau, Germany's first concentration camp. It was a very sobering experience and I felt that I should write about it in a dedicated blog post. Please take few minutes to read more about it here.