Temples! – Bali, Indonesia

Today we took another a custom tour with Bali Customized Tours to Eastern Bali. Our tour included “The Mother Temple” known as Besakih, a Bamboo Forest, Penglipuran Ancient Village, and Gunung Kawi Ancient Tomb. Our driver today was Ambara.

Before we were picked up we had a delicious breakfast prepared by the lovely staff at Hideout Bali. I had a traditional breakfast with eggs and delicious toast, and Julie had porridge and fruit.

First stop was the “Mother Temple”, also known as the Besakih Great Temple. It is a pura complex in the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung in Eastern Bali. It is the tallest, holiest, and most important temple in Bali, sometimes drawing as many as a million visitors on some of the holiest days of the year. In fact, this is considered one of the largest Hindu complex’s in the entire world. The extensive complex contains 23 separate but related temples, with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung. The temple is built on six levels, terraced up the slope. The entrance is marked by a split gate. In the temple there are a plethora of pagoda’s with 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 roofs, which symbolize the different gods. This temple is undergoing an extensive $150 million upgrade to allow better parking, access, and more shop fronts. During our visit here we were blessed, and I still wear my red, black, and white bracelet that I was given after I was blessed.

Next stop was the Penglipuran Ancient Village, which was also next door the Bali’s largest Bamboo Forest, spanning over 20 hectares. Penglipuran Village is one of the few traditional Balinese villages remaining. The architecture of the buildings and land processing still follows the concept of Tri Hita Karana, the philosophy of Balinese society regarding the balance of relations between God, humans, and their environment.

The place we visited before grabbing lunch was Gunung Kawi, also known as Candi Tebing Gunung Kawi. Gunung Kawi is an 11th century temple and funeral complex in Tampaksiring, which is North East of Ubud. It is comprised of 10 rock-cut shrines (candi) that are carved into 7 metre (23 foot) high sheltered chines of the sheer cliff face. There are monuments dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty, as well as his favorite queens. On the Eastern side of the complex are five temples that are dedicated to King Udayana, his Queen Mahendradatta, and their three sons Airlangga, Anak Wunsu and Marakata. On the West side of the complex are temples dedicated to the King’s minor Queens.

After visiting the temple it was time to get some lunch. We ended up stopping at a local Warung. I had some duck, which honestly wasn’t very good, and was a rather small portion. After lunch we stopped at Oka Agriculture Bali to do some tea and coffee tasting, which included Kopi Luwak, which is a coffee that consists of partially digested coffee cherries that were eaten and defecated by an Asian Pal Civet. Honestly, which the coffee was quite smooth, I prefer regular coffee. We samples 16 different coffees and teas, and ended up purchasing some Ginger Tea and Mangosteen Tea.

After our coffee and tea tasting we drove a short distance to a local wood carving shop, and were able to see them creating their beautiful art work. It’s amazing how much effort goes into creating these carvings. We opted not to purchase anything due to limited space in our luggage.

It was then time to head back to our final night at Hideout Bali. We ordered some local Balinese dishes for dinner, and enjoyed watching some Netflix in bed, because the mosquitos were too bad to be out on our balcony.

Bragg Creek Getaway & Black Prince Cirque Hike

It’s been quite some time since both of us have taken a vacation so last weekend Julie & I decided to getaway from the city. Julie found a beautiful place to stay on Airbnb located near Bragg Creek. Our lovely hosts Lise and Alex were waiting for us on their large wrap-around balcony that included a large firepit. Lise, is an construction lawyer, and Alex is a retired tour guide who used to live in Ontario.

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Located at the top of their home is a massive penthouse suite, which is where we were staying, but more on that later.  Lise and Alex showed us around the house before showing us to our penthouse suite. The house is adorned in lovely artwork, as well as beautiful antique and modern wood and leather furniture. I’m a huge fan of mid-century modern and modern, and the house was a beautiful mix of mid-century modern and modern. The main centerpiece in the house is the fireplace, which was constructed from over 8500 hand laid bricks that came from an old warehouse in Chicago.

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Inside the suite was a comfortable king-sized bed, a large deep soaker tub, a rainfall shower, his-and-hers sinks, a minibar fridge, and a French press to make tea or coffee. Inside the mini-bar fridge were some drinks, some fresh fruit, yoghurt, and a lovely bottle of champagne, which was a wonderful surprise. The suite gives a 270 degree view of the luscious trees below. Close to the penthouse suite, down just a few steps, is a large balcony with a table and two chairs, where we spent the evenings watching the beautiful sunsets.

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After getting settled in Julie made us a beautiful Charcuterie board with a bunch of cheese, meats, crackers, fruits, and vegetables. We sat on the balcony and ate it while enjoying the beautiful view.

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Later on in the evening we watched a hilarious show on Netflix called Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father. It is a travel documentary where Jack Whitehall travels with his father, Michael Whitehall. His father, is a grumpy old British guy, and is always complaining about things, but in a hilarious fashion.

The next day we woke up at around 7am. I made some coffee for us and we enjoyed it in bed while talking until it was time to go downstairs for breakfast. Lise and Alex are amazing cooks and they had prepared us some stuffed tomatoes filled with tiny wild mushrooms, alongside some toast, bacon and seasoned potatoes.

After enjoying our delicious breakfast we drove into Kananaskis to hike Black Prince Cirque, which is a 4.8 km roundtrip hike to the beautiful Warspite Lake with a backdrop of the towering Mount Black Prince and Hermione Peak. The hike has a total of 178 metres of elevation gain and can be done in as little as an hour. We took our time because of Julie’s knee, taking approximately 1.75 hours.

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On the way back we decided to stop at Foothills Creamery in Bragg Creek to get some ice cream. Julie got black licorice and root beer float flavoured ice cream in a cup, while I got a waffle cone filled with tiger flavour. We then drove back to the house to relax for a bit before heading out to dinner at The Italian Farmhouse in Bragg Creek. Julie had gluten free seafood linguine with white wine sauce, served with a glass of red wine. I had spaghetti carbonara, served with a few pints of lager. We also shared so wild boar meatballs.

After dinner we drove back to the house and relaxed in our room for a bit. When Lise and Alex came home we went downstairs to great them and meet their beautiful Weimaraner dogs named Otto and Ester. Otto is a huge flirt and is quick to open up, while Ester is a bit more shy but she eventually opens up.

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We spent the evening watching the sunset before enjoying the relaxing deep soaker tub and watching more of Jack Whitehall show. The next morning we woke up at 8am and enjoyed coffee in bed before venturing downstairs to yet another amazing meal. This time it was smoked salmon and cheese on toast; it was to die for!

After breakfast we played some board games and card games before it was time to checkout. We would both gladly stay here again in a heartbeat and have already recommended this place to family and friends. You can book it on Airbnb here.

After checking out we drove to Elbow Falls, which we both hadn’t been to in probably over ten years. It has changed a lot since the flood of 2013. I’ve enclosed a photo of what it used to look like before the flood.

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Lake Annette & Read’s Tower Hikes

Today I completed two hikes; Lake Annette & Read’s Tower. I woke up at 4:00am and had some eggs, brisket, and cheese for breakfast with some coffee and then set off at around 4:30am. I had to fill up with fuel on my way out of the city, but thankfully gas is only 95 cents/litre at the moment so it only cost me $23 for a partial fill.

My first stop was Lake Annette, which is near Lake Louise. The drive took about 2.25 hours. I arrived at 6:45am and got started on my hike. Lake Annette is rated as a moderate hike with 377 metres of elevation gain over 11.3km of distance. The hike took me just over 2 hours to complete. The hike spends the majority of the time in the woods, with a few spots of alpine meadows. I was the only one on the trail for the majority of the hike, except towards the end when I was nearly back at my car.

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The next hike was Read’s Tower, which is in the Spray Lakes area near Canmore. The drive from Lake Louise took about 1.5 hours. There was only 3 other cars in the parking lot, so I knew the trail would be quiet. I made it about 2/3 of the way up the 6.8km trail with 855 metres of elevation gain before throwing in the towel. My shoes were not giving me any grip what so ever and I fell over a few times. It’s time for new hiking shoes since my tread is almost completely gone.

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C-Level Cirque, Wapta Falls, Takakkaw Falls, Emerald Lake, and Natural Bridge

On August 18th I went and explored Yoho National Park in British Columbia, and completed C-Level Cirque in Banff National Park.

I started the day early and left my place at 7:00am with a quick stop get to some coffee from McDonald’s. First stop was Natural Bridge, which was once a waterfall, but the softer rock that was below the hard limestone had eroded away until the rock widened enough for the water to flow under the outcrop, thus creating a natural bridge.

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A quick drive down the road had me emerging at Emerald Lake. It was full of tourists so I didn’t stay very long. Despite being full of tourists it was still a beautiful sight to see.

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The next stop was Wapta Falls, which you can get to from a quick 4.7km rountrip hike that has 126 metres of elevation gain. It took me about 1 hour round trip to complete. Wapta Falls is a waterfall of the Kicking Horse River, and is about 30 metres high and 150 metres wide. The waterfall averages 254 cubic metres of second of water flow.

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The next stop was Takakkaw Falls, which you can get to from an even quicker 1.4km rountrip walk (yes lets not even call it a hike), with only 36 metres of elevation gain. Takakkaw Falls stands at an impressive height of 373 metres tall, making it the second tallest waterfall in Canada. Takakkaw, a Cree word, translated to the word “wonderful” in English. The falls are fed by meltwater from the Daly Glacier, which is part of the Waputik Icefield.

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The last and final stop was the C-Level Cirque hike in Banff National Park, about a 45 minute drive away. The hike is quite the huff at 9.2km with 755 metres of elevation gain. The hike mostly has you in the trees until you are greeted with an amazing view of Lake Minnewanka. At the beginning of the trail there is some old abandoned coal mine buildings and shafts. I was warned about a bear towards the end of the trail head but that didn’t deter me. I had my bear spray with me.

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Willcox Pass Hike

A few weekends ago I had the wonderful opportunity to complete the Willcox Pass hike with my friend Ashley. We set off early in the morning with a quick stop at McDonald’s to fuel our bodies with coffee before continuing the 3.5 hour drive to the Willcox Pass trailhead.

Sticker time on the hike is about 3 hours but we took closer to 4 because we wanted to take our time and we ran into some people and got chatting. The hike is 9.5km return with 522m of elevation gain. At the end of the trail you are greeted with a beautiful view of Athabasca Glacier (aka Columbia Icefields)

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After our hike we decided to go for some Montreal Smoked Meat poutine in Canmore at 514 Poutine, which is owned by a group of friends from Montreal. The clientele was mostly French speaking so we knew it was a good place. After our delicious dinner we drove back to Calgary. It was a 13 hour day all-in-all but an amazing one!

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Plains of Six Glaciers Hike

Yesterday my dad and I completed the Plains of Six Glaciers Hike, which is considered to be one of the top twenty hikes to do in Alberta. My dad picked me up at my house at 6:00am and after a 2 hour drive we had arrived at Lake Louise. We thought by getting there early that we would find parking… we were wrong. We circled the parking lot a few times, and lucked out and grabbed the last available spot.

The Government of Canada starting running a massive promotion of the Canadian Parks back at the 150th Anniversary of Canada back in 2017, and ever since then tourism has kicked off. They figured by running buses to Lake Louise and Moraine lake that it would help ease congestion, but it actually made the problem worse because people park at the Lake Louise lot, instead of the overflow lot to catch the bus to Morraine Lake, leaving not many parking spaces available for people actually wanting to visit Lake Louise.

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The 14km and 587 metres of elevation gain trail starts at Lake Louise, then hugs the east side of the lake, before starting a gradual 500-or-so metre elevation gain through the trees towards the Plains of Six Glaciers Tea House. When we were nearing the Tea House we heard a rumble, and you could see a small avalanche that was occurring; luckily I had my camera in hand and ready to shoot and was able to snap a great shot of the avalanche in action. At the Tea House we stopped for some beverages and food. Dad had a delicious sandwich, some lemonade, and some tea, while I had some coffee, as well as some chips and salsa.

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The Tea House was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1927 as an enjoyable spot to hike to have a cup of tea and overlook the amazing scenery. In 1959 Joy Kimball purchased the Tea House and it has been run by her family ever since. The Tea House still has no electricity, and all food is prepared on a propane stove. Non perishable food items are helicoptered in once at the beginning of the season, and workers bring in the rest up with them in backpacks or by horse every 5 days, when there is a shift change.

I continued the last 1.5km and 100 metres of elevation gain of the hike to the end, while dad started to head back towards the car. The view at the end of the hike was out of this world amazing!

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It was time for me to head back towards the car too. I ended up catching up with my dad towards the beginning of the hike along the east side of Lake Louise. Total time for the hike was roughly 3.75 hours, which is actually slightly faster than the sticker time for the hike.

On the way home from the hike we stopped in Canmore for some well earned coffee and cola.

What hike is in store next? We’re not quite sure as we both have a busy July, but I do have the following hikes on my personal list that I’d like to complete this year: Galatea Lake & Lilian Lakes, Valley of 10 Peaks: Wenkchemna Pass, Geraldine Lakes, Crypt Lake.

The next blog post will be a continuation of my Vietnam. In the next post I’ll be travelling to Ha Long Bay, so be sure to stay to check back tomorrow!

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Vietnam – Day 5 – My Son Sanctuary

Today I woke up at 5:00am with an alarm. Why so early? Well today I was heading to My Son Sanctuary; about an hours drive away.

The My Son Sanctuary is a cluster of abandoned Hindu temples that were constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. Champa was a collection of independent Cham societies that extended in roughly the same area that today is central and south Vietnam from the 2nd century until 1832, when Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang absorbed and annexed it.

The temples at the My Son Sanctuary are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. Some of the temples lay in partial ruin. Restoration began in 1937 by the French and ended in 1943. Unfortunately many buildings were again destroyed in the Vietnam War in August 1969 and the surrounding area became dangerous due to unexploded land mines. Restoration began again since being recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1999, with the majority of the money being funded by the Italians and Japanese, as well as some money from the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam.

I had rented a motorcycle from the villa the previous night for 110000 Dong ($6.85 CDN). I set off around 6:00am and stopped at a local coffee shop close to the sanctuary called Café Que Huong (Liberty Café). I had coffee with the owner and took a selfie together. After having the coffee I continued towards the sanctuary.

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Parking at the sanctuary was 5000 Dong ($0.32 CDN). After parking I ate some hand pulled noodles in a chicken broth at the restaurant at the entrance before walking to the electric tram that would drive me to the start of the ruins.

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I explored around the ruins and it was pretty quiet until about 10:00am, when the tourist groups started showing up. I finished walking around the site at around 11:00am and was hungry again so I decided to have more noodles at the restaurant before getting my motorcycle and heading back to the hotel.

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The ride back to the hotel was very hot and the traffic was heavier. It took a lot of concentration and it was pretty slow going. I stopped on the way back to the villa for some more beer and some more Doritos. I spent the afternoon hanging out at the pool.

At around 6:00pm I decided to head into town for dinner. I went to a restaurant called Vinh Hung Restaurant and had the famous local Hoi An dish called Cao Lau Noodles. Cao Lau Noodle dishes typically contain pork and greens, with rice noodles that have been soaked in lye water, from a famous local well, giving them a unique texture and colour that sets them apart from other traditional Vietnamese noodle dishes. To be honest I absolutely love the flavour and texture.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, before riding the motorcycle back to the villa.

Check back tomorrow as I dive head first into a Vietnamese cooking class and take a tour on a traditional Hoi An Basket Boat.

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Vietnam – Day 2 – Cu Chi Tunnels

Today I woke up at about 3:00am. I’m struggling a bit more than usual with my jet lag. I was starving and was in need of coffee so I walked to McDonald’s, since it was the only restaurant open around me. I had some Vietnamese coffee, Matcha Tea, and a deluxe Egg McMuffin, which was much better than the ones at home. After breakfast I walked back to the hotel and hung out until the hotel restaurant opened for breakfast. I had rice soup for my second breakfast, which was surprisingly delicious.

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After breakfast I waited around for my Cu Chi Tunnel tour bus to pick me up from the hotel. The bus arrived at 8:15am and the drive to the tunnels took about 2 hours, which included a half hour stop at a restroom facility. At the restroom facility there was a touristy-like shop that sold hand made paintings and art work made by disabled people who were injured during the Vietnam war directly, or indirectly from all the chemicals used during the war. You could see the people making the art work right then and there. They used sea shells, bone, paint, etc. to create a variety of art work, which was absolutely beautiful. The amount of time and effort that went into the art work was staggering.

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After arriving at the Cu Chi Tunnels we all donned big spray as we were very close to the river, and the mosquitos were quite prevalent. I didn’t want to get dengue or malaria. Our tour guide showed us around the tunnel complex and described what it would be like to have lived and survive in the tunnels, as well as showcase some of the traps that the Vietnamese used against the Americans and the Viet Cong. Towards the end of the tour we all had the opportunity to crawl through the tunnels, which were very narrow despite being enlarged roughly 40 percent for tourists. It was quite claustrophobic in some areas.

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On the tour I met this wonderful couple living in Malaysia. Their names were Viktor and Sandrine. Viktor was an avid photographer like me so we nerded our quite a bit on the bus ride back to our hotels. I decided to get off with Viktor and Sandrine at their hotel and go for some lunch and egg coffee at the famous tiny restaurant called Little Hanoi Egg Coffee (Góc Hà Nội). I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the kitchen area as to protect their secrete recipe. After climbing two flights of very narrow stairs we arrived at the top of the restaurant with a view of the street below. The room was decorated with plates, artwork, and photos on the wall. I had an avocado grilled cheese and egg sandwich with some deliciously rich egg coffee, which was almost too sweet and too creamy for my liking. Egg coffee is traditionally prepared with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee.

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After having lunch with Viktor and Sandrine it was time to head back to my hotel and clean up before heading to the airport to head to the next city of Hoi An (the airport is in Da Nang).

The flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang was only about an hour and was on one of Vietnam Airlines brand new Airbus A321 NEO’s. The Airbus A321 NEO (New Engine Option) is a re-engined version of the Airbus A321 using CFM LEAP-1A or P&W PW1100G-JM engines and new Sharklet’s to increase fuel economy by 20%. The plane was only a few weeks old and the interior style was completely different than their old fleet with modern teal leather seats, instead of the older beige fabric seats with lotus flowers. The flight arrived at 8:20pm. I was greeted at the airport by a driver sent by my villa. The drive to Green Hill Villa took about 40 minutes or so. Since I had arrived at night I could see the beautiful lanterns of Hoi An lit up.

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I was greeted with a welcome drink in the reception area by the family who ran the villa; a young lady, her husband and their new born.

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I was quite tired and it was starting to get late so I ended up going to bed.

Check back tomorrow when I explore the beautiful city of Hoi An.

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Chile – Day 3 – Valparaiso

Today we woke up at 7:30am. We packed our bags while waiting for the cafe’s around us to open. Most of the cafe’s don’t open until 8-8:30am. We decided to go to a coffee shop called Coffee & Me. C had a cappuccino and I had an Americano. The food at this cafe was very expensive so we decided to get food elsewhere. Across the street from Coffee & Me was a NesCafe branded coffee shop were we both go panini’s for $4 and some more beverages before heading back to the hotel. C had a Chai Tea Latte and I had another Americano. As you can tell I don’t really like sweet beverages very often.

We told the hotel that we were checking out a day early because we were going to head to Valparaiso. After checking out of the hotel we made our way to the Red Metro line right below our hotel and took it all the way to the other end of the line and got off at Pajaritos station.

After exiting the metro at Pajaritos station we went to the TurBus checkin counter to purchase tickets to Valparaiso, which ended up only being $18/pp return-trip, which was a bargain compared to the cost of the tickets online. We boarded a 10:20am bus to Valparaiso. During the bus ride we played a few games; hangman and 94% (a game on her iPad where you guess what words are associated with a certain theme).

The bus arrived in Valparaiso at 12:15pm. Within 3 minutes of exiting the bus C realized she left her jacket on the bus and when we went to go back to the bus it was gone. We talked to the check-in counter at the bus terminal and they said the bus driver would return it within 30 minutes. We were skeptical and thought the jacket would be gone, but we waited around for 30 minutes and sure enough the jacket turned up. What we think happened was the bus driver stopped and met another bus on the highway back to Santiago and did the exchange. This level of service goes above and beyond the level of service I’d expect from any company and TurBus gets a 5/5 star review from me.

We exited the bus terminal and walked towards the train station where we boarded an LRT style train towards Puerto train station, just two stops away. After exiting the train station we checked into our hotel; ibis Valparaiso, which was right at the train station. After dropping off our bags we went exploring the cerro’s (hills) of Valparaiso; which are officially recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

We started off by grabbing some panini’s from the self titled Panini Cafe. I had a cubano panini and C had a chicken, cheese and mushrooms. We visited Plaza Sotomayor, Cerro Concepcion, Cerro Carcel, Cerro Alegre, Cerro La Loma, Cerro Pantheon and Cerro Bellavista. The other Cerro’s are known to be pretty dodgy areas and therefore decided not to visit them. We took some classic photos such as climbing the very long and tall Valparaiso Stairs, Piano Stairs, and the steepest and oldest funicular in the city; Ascensor Reina Victoria, which opened in 1902.

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Below Ascensor Reina Victoria is where we had some dinner at Altamira Brewery (Casa Cervecera Altamira). I had a black IPA (7.5%) and Regular IPA (6%), while C had a Pina Colada. All the drinks were fantastic. For dinner we shared a plate of fried covered in cheese and pulled beef brisket. After dinner we decided to walk back to the hotel and watch an episode of Marvelous Miss Maisel. If you have not watched that show I highly recommend it!

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2018-03-19 – Barcelona

Today I woke up at around 8:00am without an alarm clock. I walked down the street to a local cafe just simply titled as “365”. I had a delicious seedy bagel with Brie cheese, smoked salmon and what I think was arugula, almond with a croissant and two Americano coffees. I needed two as one was simply not enough to get me going today.
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After breakfast I went back to the hotel room to pack, placed my bag into a locker at the hotel, and took the metro to Sagrada Família. Construction of Sagrada Família started in 1882 (136 years ago) and is scheduled to be completed in 2028. The architect Fransico de Paula del Villar started the project and Antoni Gaudi took over as chief architect only one year after construction started. Gaudi devoted almost his entire remainder of his life to the project until his death in 1926 at the age of 73 when he was hit by a tram. Construction was slow because it relied solely on private donations, and then was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War for a period of time.
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After visiting Sagrada Família I went and checked out a few other Gaüdi buildings and Barcelona’s Arc du Triumph before returning to the hotel to grab my bag from the locker before taking the R2 regional train to the airport, as this allowed me to use my 72 hour transit pass instead of having to pay again to use the Airport Express Bus. I should have just taken the train when I arrived as it was much better and cheaper than the airport bus, but hey that’s a lesson learned.
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I arrived at the airport a bit early so I had some food and a beer before hoping onboard my Joon (Air France) flight. This is a new spin-off hip airline similar to our own Air Canada Rouge, but in my opinion it’s much better as there is more leg room and the staff are nicer and presented better.
The Nomad Hotel I was staying at was a short complimentary shuttle ride from Charles De Gaulle airport. The hotel was very futuristic with a tablet controlling everything from the lighting, air conditioning, and projection television to displaying how much water I used and how much I had left. The bed was also exceptionally comfortable.
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