Mia goes M.I.A: Making the most of a short trip

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Trying to explore a country but don’t have a lot of time? Well I have some tips for you About 9 years ago I took the trip of a lifetime with my best friend. Two weeks exploring eight countries in Europe. As you can imagine 14 days and 8 countries didn’t leave us a lot of time to explore the beauties of each one but instead get little sample sizes.

Yet despite being in some of the most beautiful places in the world like Switzerland or Austria for approximately 24 hours, we truly made the most of each experience and had the opportunity to see some of the main attractions these countries had to offer. We also had a chance to experience local culture and lifestyle. Planning a short trip? Here are some of my tips on how to make the most of your time.

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1) Have a game plan 

When we were in Rome for less than 48 hours we wanted to see the Vatican, Roman Forum, and the Colosseum, seems like a lot right? Not if you plan ahead. We bought skip the line passes ahead of time. Despite going on a busy Saturday, we waited less than 20 minutes.

If you have some “must not miss” places on your list, plan ahead. See if you can skip the line, or if there are tours because they will always get priority access. Try and research to see if some attractions or places are less busy early in the morning or late afternoon. That will save you time which is precious when you are on a short trip.

2) Don’t be afraid to go with the flow

When we were in Paris for one night, I really wanted to see the Eifel Tower sparkle at night time, but my friend didn’t want to spend our whole 20 hours at the tower, so we compromised. We climbed the tower during the day and saw some stunning views of the city, and at night time we went to see a show at the Moulin Rouge. The show was incredible and I really got to experience even more of the Parisian culture in a short time.

Things are always going to come up, whether it’s a group disagreement, closures, or bad weather. Be ready to not get your way especially if you are only there for a few days. Instead make the most of what you do get to experience.  Hey, if you didn’t get to see the Eifel Tower sparkle, just means you will have to take another trip to Paris someday. At least that is what I tell my boyfriend.

3) Don’t Rush 

You aren’t going to see everything, unless you have found a way to clone yourself (If so, show me your ways). For example, when I was in Amsterdam I really wanted to see both the Anne Frank House or the Van Gogh Museum. Instead of rushing through the museums in hopes of seeing both, we decided that Anne Frank was more up our alley. We were really able to explore the entire museum, listen to our guide, and appreciate the history. I was so glad we had a chance to explore one museum to the fullest.

When you have a limited time, you may feel the need to rush around town in hopes of seeing everything, but if you do that, you won’t really het to see anything. By making compromises you will really get to enjoy what you do see. You will get to truly explore and learn about the areas that you do make time for.

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4) Logistics, logistics, logistics 

On our trip, my friend and I made sure we took the first train or bus out every morning. This ensured we would have a full day and night exploring cities.  We purchased our tickets ahead of time, and would check to make sure everything was on time. When you have a short amount of time every minute is precious, and you don’t want delayed transportation to affect your trip.

Make sure to do your homework ahead of time. Make sure everything is running on schedule and what will be the quickest way to get to your next destination or attraction you are visiting. The more you know before you go, the less time will be wasted on figuring things out.

5) City tours are your friend

When we were in London for just two days we decided to plan a trip on a hop on hop off bus. We had a chance to see all the major attractions like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. in only a few hours. Plus we had a knowledgeable tour guide giving us information.

With so much to see and do in such a short time period, it’s nice to have someone else do the work. They know the best routes and the history. You get to sit back, relax, and take all the pictures your finger can handle.

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6) Plan to return 

There is an old myth that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome you will return there one day. I made sure to do that because a day and a half in Rome was just not enough, and guess what, I will be going back there this summer and I cannot wait.

The best part of a short trip is you get a little taste of what the incredible city has to offer, and it just makes you want to come back for the whole meal. You get to see which parts you really loved, and find out more about cities that you would love to go back and visit for a longer time. Let’s just say it is an appetizer ahead of a main course.

I hope these tips help you plan a short trip of your own. No matter how much time you have, you can make the most of any vacation and get a glimpse of the beauty this world has to offer. So get out and explore. Bonne Voyage!

Mia goes M.I.A: Pacific Coast Highway

I had always heard how beautiful Pacific Coast Highway 1 was,  so I had to experience the drive for myself. My roomie and I decided to rent a car and drive down the coast of California for a long weekend. The three-day trip started in San Francisco and ended in San Diego, and let me tell you, it exceeded any picture, any story, any expectation. With the beautiful seaside cliffs and ocean line views we truly experienced California.

I wanted to share with you some highlights of this three-day adventure. Places we stopped, towns we stayed in etc. I also felt like we learned a lot from this experience and wanted to share some do’s and don’ts if you are thinking of doing the drive yourself.

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Day 1: San Fransisco 

The first stop on our trip was San Fransisco. Since neither one of us had been here before we decided to spend the full day exploring. We decided to be real tourists starting the trip with a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite the overcast skies, the view from the bridge was beautiful.

Next up a ride on a trolly. I mean with the up and down hills I didn’t feel like walking that is for sure. We first took the trolly to Chinatown (the largest of such outside of Asia) and then we hopped on again to head to Union Square for dinner. My highlight in both of these places was the various local art. Really take the time to look around Union Square and check out the local work.

Since I am from Canada, dinner was pretty basic, a trip to the Cheesecake Factory (hey we don’t have those up here).

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Day 2: San Fransisco to Long Beach 

On the second day of the trip we started the actual driving portion. I am not going to lie it didn’t start off smoothly. I have trouble parking as is, try parking on those steep San Fran hills. It was pretty smooth sailing after that near accident. Once we made it on to Pacific Coast Highway 1 I was speechless. The views were spectacular. Cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, it definitely isn’t for the fearful drivers.

Pit stop #1: Big Basin Redwoods State Park 

What is really amazing about this drive is you start off in forest before you get to beach so we really wanted to take advantage of the different landscapes. We decided to take a quick stop at Big Basin Redwoods Park which offers some beautiful hiking trails. Giant trees, beautiful wildlife, and waterfalls made for some great pictures. While we didn’t have time to hike any full trails, it was great to get some fresh air.

california4Pit stop #2: Carmel By the Sea 

Carmel by the Sea is a small beach town surrounded by fairytale like cottages and plenty of art galleries. The drive through this quaint town was what made us stop. We were told about the picturesque Senic Bluff Path which runs from the surf area of the beach to Carmel River State Beach which is known for its wildlife. Since the weather was a little chilly we decided to take a stroll on the path and trust me the views were amazing.

Pit Stop #3: Big Sur 

When we decided to do this trip, I said the one place I absolutely needed to see was Big Sur. Our whole road trip revolved around a stop here. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of the coast with some of the most breathtaking beaches I have ever seen. In fact, it has been described as the greatest meeting of land and water in the world, and I tend to agree. Again it was a little chilly so we didn’t get in the water, but we walked around some of the beaches in the area. The red rock formations were incredible. And of course there were some great waves perfect for the surfers that were a lot braver than us.

We stopped for a delicious dinner at Nepenthe, which has some yummy American cuisine with one of the best view points in the area before continuing our trip to Long Beach.

We learned a valuable lesson on night one, and that was to map out our overnights a little better. We didn’t realize the distances from San Fransisco to Long Beach was over 6 hours on the coastal drive. By the time we started making our way to the hotel the sun was setting. Trust me, not only is driving along PCH in the dark disappointing because you are missing out on some spectacular views, but also super scary. I do not recommend this whatsoever.

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Day 3: Long Beach to San Diego 

We woke up nice and early to get a good start on today’s drive. Because we covered most of the previous day, we knew this meant we could spend a longer time at each pit stop.

Pit Stop #1: Huntington Beach 

The first stop of the day was at a small surf town known as Huntington Beach. It was outlined by adorable beach cottages and cute coffee shops. Of course there was the white sand beach and crystal clear blue water. Again it was a little chilly ( I guess June gloom is  a real thing) so we didn’t get in the water but was a really adorable town to stop bye.

Pit Stop #2: Laguna Beach 

Well this was a childhood dream come true. After plenty of hours binge watching the MTV show Laguna Beach I needed to visit. The town consists of gorgeous mansions on top of rolling hills. We packed a picnic for the day and headed down to Aliso Creek County Beach ( less crowded than Main Beach). We grabbed a spot near the water and took in the smell of the ocean.

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Pit Stop #3: La Jolla 

Alas we made it to San Diego region and we were told we needed to check out La Jolla. La Jolla is considered the regions jewel by the sea and it was just that. I have never seen such a breathtaking town before. Cliffs down to the the calm and clear waters. We grabbed a coffee and then decided to take a cave tour. With the various rock formations, La Jolla has some amazing caves. On our tour we got really close to some of the locals aka seals that have populated the area.

Pit Stop #4: San Diego

All good things must come to an end right? We finished our drive in San Diego, which is one of my favourite cities in the world. Since we only had one night in San Diego we decided to make the most of it. We went to Florent for dinner which is a restaurant and nightclub combined into one. The modern American food menu is delicious and they have some awesome cocktails. My personal fav is the Maui Mule. california5

We capped off the night at a rooftop bar  ( a must in San Diego). We decided to go to The Rooftop at STK at Andaz. Grab a drink and then grab a spot to overlook the breathtaking city views.

This marked the end of our incredible road trip. While it was an amazing experience, there were definitely wish we had done some more planning ahead of time and wanted to share some of the lessons I learned with you in case you are planning a PCH road trip. So the following are some of my do’s and don’ts

Do: Stop when you want to

One of the points of a road trip is to experience what is along the way. We had such a set map of the places we wanted to visit that I feel like we missed out on some really adorable towns on the way. If you see something that catches your eye stop and take a look

Don’t: Book a hotel too far away 

This we definitely learned the hard way when we were forced to drive PCH at night time. Really map out the route and figure out how far apart the hotels are. This way you won’t feel rushed at your stops and you will really get to experience the beautiful drive.

Do: Get a convertible (if you can afford it) 

One of the biggest regrets of the trip was not shelling out more money to drive with the top down. While a convertible seems cliche I think it is totally worth it. Especially with the views of the ocean that you sometimes miss with the windows up.

Do: Pack layers 

Here I was thinking California was always sunny and hot, I was wrong. Only later did I find out about this June Gloom. It was overcast and chilly for the majority of the trip and I was so upset I didn’t pack a cute sweater and pair of jeans.

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Don’t: Speed 

Driving PCH is scary, the road is winding all the time and there is only one lane of traffic on each side. You don’t want to lose control at any point and you really don’t know what is around each corner. Plus you may miss some amazing views if you are just speedy through.

Do: Drive North to South 

I didn’t think of this before, but while on the trip I realized how smart we were. By driving from the North to the South means you will be on the ocean side of the road.

Do: Research for booking your car 

There are so many car companies out there that you want to find a good deal but also a reliable dealer. We booked with Hertz and didn’t have any issues. I highly recommend checking them out.

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Have you driven PCH? I would love to hear about your experience or I hope you find these tips helpful if you are planning a trip out there.

Happy traveling and can’t wait to share my next Mia goes M.I.A adventure with you

xo

Mia

Mia goes M.I.A: Why Traveling with your BFF is the Best

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 5.32.21 PMAs I was looking through some old pictures, I came across some gems from a trip I took back in 2009 with my best friend. We did a European adventure of a life time, 12 days,  8 countries, countless memories.

The reason for this trip was a last hurrah together before we both went off to university. I was moving from Canada to the US for my studies and knew that time with my childhood friend would be limited. This was a time to really get to appreciate each other’s company.

At first I was a little nervous for this journey. We had never travelled before and I had heard horror stories of friendships ending over a bad travel experience. The trip started off in the airport with my dear friend throwing clothes, underwear, and shoes on the ground because her bag was way overweight. It was only later in the trip did we realize her toothbrush did not make the cut.

Yet it seemed our airport scramble was the only really hiccup we had in our near two-week adventure.

We traveled from Toronto to London to Amsterdam to Munich, to Austria, to Switzerland, to Italy (with stops in Venice, Florence, and Rome) to Paris, back to London. We saw the colosseum, the Eifel Tower, The Louvre, The Big Ben, The Vatican, The Red Light District, and the list goes on.

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We laughed at cows being herded in the morning, we cried at Vimy Ridge, we danced on the streets of Munich and drank in their beer halls. But most importantly we helped each other through the lost cell phones, misunderstood languages, and we compromised on activities vs relaxation. If anything this trip actually made our friendship stronger by proving we can survive two weeks together, with no escape, in a foreign land

Needless to say that trip was an unforgettable experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to experience some of the most beautiful landmarks in Europe, but I had the chance to share these once in a life time moment with my best friend.

And so I decided to share with you all why I feel it is important to take that trip with your best friend, even if it scares the heck out of you.

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  • Your BFF will have the patience to take a million billion pictures so that you can get the perfect Instagram shot
  • Speaking of a million pictures, you have someone who is willing to do the totally ridiculous touristy things you are supposed to do in pictures.
  • Any tough challenge you may face, you know you have your biggest support system with you, and the two of you will get through it together
  • Besties usually have similar interests meaning you can explore those interests together
  • And if you don’t have similar interests you care enough about each other to compromise. I will always go see a musical with Randi and she will always come to sports game with me.
  • Traveling feels safer when you have someone with you to look out for you. Your BFF will always have your back
  • You create life-long memories together. In fact, our friends still hate it when we bring up an inside joke from our Europe adventures.
  • Experiencing these moments whether it be the beauty of the world, or the struggles of not understanding the language, it brings you closer together (plus small shared hotel rooms makes you talk out any problems)

So get out there, see the world, and why not share it with your Best Friend by your side!

Xo

Mia

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MIA goes M.I.A: How I caught the travel bug

 

15826145_10211358331329966_453133994250923598_nCuriosity killed the cat, at least that how the saying goes right? Well not in my opinion. In my opinion curiosity helped the cat grow, learn, and evolve. I like to think of myself as a curious person, curious about other countries, cultures, and lifestyles. Curious about what makes different parts and people of the world unique

It is this curiosity that lead to my passion for travel. My passion to explore lands that are so diverse and different from the one I grew up in. To listen to the languages, to enjoy their foods, to take in the beauty of their landscapes.

It is this reason why I decided to start writing about my travel experiences. My whole life I have been the sports girl, the athlete, the sports reporter. But travel has also been a huge part of my life, a quieter part of my life, and now I am using this outlet to share that part of my life with you.

So where did this curiosity come from?  I believe it starts with the fact that I am a first generation Canadian. My parents moved from South Africa the year before I was born to give our family a better life.Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 5.15.17 PM.png

For my first birthday, I took my first trip across seas to visit my family in South Africa. Every other year until I was 16, I would go back. Each time seeing a new part of that society. From safaris, to towns, to the poverty of Zimbabwe, to the dangers of Johannesburg, I experienced it all first hand

Then there is the fact that my father, a cinematographer, is also a photographer. His wildlife and landscapes have been featured in The National Geographic. So as a child I would have the opportunity to travel a lot with him.

No matter where we were in the world, he found beauty. Car rides would seem endless because of all the “photo opp” stops we would have to take. I soon learned to see the beauty through his “lenses” his eyes. The colours of the sun, the beauty of the mountain range, the pureness of the wildlife.12377763_10207676017514422_7198305888946536788_o

As I grew older, my travel adventures changed. Less with my family and more so with my tennis coach as I tried to pursue a professional tennis career. I would still travel to this amazing places, Costa Rica, Panama, you name it, but no longer for leisure, it was no for work.

I no longer had free time to explore the beauty, instead I explored hotel rooms, lobby restaurants, and tennis courts.

I loved being an athlete, but I hated traveling to these amazing places, and not being able to learn, to explore, to experience. The curiosity was still there but it wasn’t fed, it wasn’t satisfied.

And so when professional tennis didn’t work out for me, I made a promise to myself. A promise to never give up that need, that want to travel. I wanted to go back to all of the places I went as an athlete but this time as a student ready to learn about what each and every places I was fortunate enough to visit had to offer. My mind was my new notepad, blank page after blank page just waiting to be filled with experiences.208257_1019401081244_6043_n

I have been so fortunate to have traveled to many different places. There was the Europe back pack trip my best friend that took us through the valleys of Germany to the top of the Eifel Tower in France.  There was the Barcelona to Cannes road trip with mom and pop. There was the solo trip to Thailand. The ski adventure in Whistler, and most recently the first real trip my boyfriend and I took to Cabo as a couple.

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Each one of these trips offered different experiences, opened my eyes to different cultures, and interestingly taught me something new about myself.

Yes, the job title on my business card is sports reporter with the National Lacrosse League, and yes I love my job and wouldn’t dream of doing anything else as a career, but as a person, I am so much more than just my title.

As a person I am a reporter, a writer, and explorer, an adventurer, a traveler, a student, and a curious cat, and I hope to continue to grow, and learn, and experience until my very last breath.15940908_10211420765530782_4844108439737673929_n

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I already have my next adventure planned, and this one is right in my own back yard. Since this is Canada’s 150th birthday and all the National Parks are free, I decided to make a trip to one of the parks this summer. I am going to have the opportunity to explore the Bruce Peninsula and I cannot wait.

So many times I think of all the places I want to go, that I forget the beauty that is right at home. I hope that you will follow along with this adventure and the ones to come in my future.

I also hope, more than anything that you will embrace your true passions in life, whatever they may be, and that you too will be a curious cat.

XOXO

Mia

Mia goes M.I.A: Blue Mountain Resort

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After living in the Southern United States for seven years, returning to the cold winters of Canada wasn’t an easy task. For the first few years, I decided to hibernate from November until May, however this year I made a pact to myself to get out and enjoy winter, starting off with a weekend getaway to Blue Mountain Village and Resort.

Blue Mountain is just a short two-hour drive from Toronto, making it the perfect weekend destination to escape the city. The ski resort has 42 runs accessible from 16 different chairlifts there are slopes for all different levels. When your legs are tired from the day on the hills, there is an adorable European style village to get some shopping done, or find a spot to sit down for Après. There are also several hotels and cottages in the area to stay and get your zzz’s.

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What to do:

On my recent trip to Blue Mountain I arrived bright and early to make sure I would get a full day on the slopes. I really wanted to check out all the sides of the mountains. I even dared myself to go outside my comfort zone and try some double black diamonds.

After one tumble it was time to take a time out. It is a ski tradition of mine to stop a hot chocolate break. I made a stop into Bullwheel Pub. This pub is the only one located on the South end of the mountain and offers a beautiful view of the slopes. The rustic deco makes you feel like you are inside a cabin.  It offers delicious Canadian comfort food. I had the chicken fingers and mac and cheese along with my hot chocolate.fullsizerender-5

After a full day of skiing and some sore muscles, it was then time to relax at my favourite après spot, Rusty’s at Blue. Rusty’s is located right at the base of the slopes in the village. It offers a beautiful view of the mountains and live music in the afternoons and early evenings which offers the perfect atmosphere to unwind with a beer in hand.

Next it was time to shop until I dropped. The Village at Blue Mountain has so many unique stores, boutiques, and even candy shops. My personal favourite spot is Red Devil Sports. They have so many vibrant outfits, that is where I got my favourite ski jacket.

After dropping off all those bags, and a delicious dinner (you can find my favourite spots for food under where to eat) it was time to put the dancing shoes on. I went to check out Twist Martini Lounge Bar and absolutely loved the elegant interior, delicious cocktails, and amazing DJ that had me moving all night long.Screen Shot 2017-02-18 at 6.56.48 PM.png

Day two of the weekend I needed some serious R&R after all the skiing and dancing, and so I made a trip to the Scandinavian Spa. The spa is located just a shot 10-minute drive from the mountains and with big trees surrounding it, it is very secluded and tranquil. I arrived early to make sure I would have a spot in their famous baths. Basically you rotate from hot to cold baths which is meant to cleanse the body and get blood circulation going. I must say I felt surprisingly energized afterwards.

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Where to Eat: 

The Village is packed with amazing restaurants for all taste buds but the following are a few of the spots I really enjoyed on my recent trip.

After a full day of skiing, my legs were exhausted and I didn’t want to venture far from the hotel, so thankfully there was Oliver and Bonacini Café and Grill right in the lobby, and what a teat it was. The restaurant offers a fine dining experience with a beautiful view of the village. The food was delicious to say the least. I absolutely loved the Miso Glazed Salmon.

The following day for lunch I was craving more of a carb loaded meal to say the least, and so I made a stop into Firehall Pizza Co. I absolutely loved the decoration, modelled after a Northern Ontario Firehall. The menu itself was a pizza lover’s dream. They had everything from the Sexy Texy Mexy (a Mexican style pizza) to the Meat Head (self-explanatory) creative and delicious.

For the last supper I decided to go Greek and give Tholos a try. The restaurant was so beautifully put together. It really transforms you to an ancient Greek ruin. I love the interactive experience this restaurant has to offer, from dancing and traditional plate smashing. And of course the food is delicious. I personally love the Stuffed Florina Peppers.

Where to Stay:
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If you are looking to stay in a luxury hotel for the weekend, the Westin Trillium is the place to be! I had a beautiful room that overlooked the skating rink, village, and the mountains. There was so much space and a fireplace to warm me up after a day on the slopes. The hotel really payed attention to detail, from their custom made soaps and shampoo, to bed side mist supposed to help you sleep better. The bed was heavenly. In fact, this was probably the most comfortable hotel I have ever stayed at. Besides the incredible lodging, the hotel has so much to offer, including their own mini spa, with two hot tubs and a heated swimming pool, perfect after a long day of skiing.img_0729

I think the whole experience at Blue was an eye opener for me. I realized that Canadian winters can be enjoyable if you embrace it. Secondly I learned that Ontario has so much to offer. Having had the chance to ski at Whistler last year, I was very impressed with what Blue Mountain had to offer, from the ski experience, to their village, to their nightlife. I will definitely be making a trip back there soon, and I hope you will as well!