Paris, France – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Africa 2017 – Day 1-3

11/30-12/02/17

My friend Sarah originally asked me to go to Africa with her about 2.5 years ago but unfortunately timing didn’t work out back then. I did promise her that the next time she wanted to return, that I would join her and that I did.

Travelling with 4 in total (Sarah, Lulu & Jin), we arrived at the airport (YYZ) and checked in together with a lovely lady who called out Sarah for being in her own time zone. She scolded me for how small my signature was but first time in probably 3 years that I have checked a bag. We booked with Ethiopian Airlines, which is affiliated with Air Canada. The system isn’t 100% connected, as we needed to check in at CDG for the rest of our connecting flights. Our luggage however would meet us in Zimbabwe. We had 2 connecting flights – YYZ->CDG; CDG->ADD; ADD->VGA.

We got through security no problem with time to spare and grabbed burgers, fries and a shake before boarding. We didn’t check but our flight also included 2 meals (oops). We all sat together and watched Girls Trip simultaneously. Sarah on the other hand, had deep conversations with the passenger beside her for more than 3 hours with no breaks of silence. Usually I can fall asleep no problem but that flight, I was restless.

We arrived at CDG to temperatures outside of 2-4C degrees. We walked over to terminal 2 to catch the RER B train into town. You need to line up to purchase RER tickets at the machines. A 2-way ticket was 20,60 euro – single 10,30 euro. Arriving at Chatelet des Halles, we walked over to Centre Pompidou Museum (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France) but only walked the perimeters and surrounding area. For only 5 euros, you can get the panoramic ticket, which allows you to take the escalator to the top of the building to get a scenic panoramic view of the city. The fountain was turned off but there was a large golden thumb statue called The Thumb of Caesar. A little chilled to the bone, we stopped to rest and eat lunch at Le Cafe Rive Droite (2 Rue Berger, 75001 Paris, France) where I ordered the croque monsieur – 7,80 euro.

The goal for this roughly 10-hour layover was to see a good chunk of Paris (parts I haven’t seen in my past travels too) for as cheap as possible and spend some money on food before heading back to the airport. I am a huge fan of alleyways or hidden streets because they create wonderful vignettes unbeknownst to the rest of the surrounding area for that moment in time. I had looked up a few galerie & passages before coming to get a little glimpse of old Paris with its eclectic style and architecture that is still preserved.

We continued our adventures to Passage du Grand Cerf (8 Passage du Grand Cerf, 75002 Paris, France) to Galerie Vivienne (5 Rue de la Banque, 75002 Paris, France) to Jardin du Palais Royal (6 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris, France) and the courtyard of Les Deux Plateaux with its beautiful round pillars of black and white stripes and different heights designed by Daniel Buren. Would have been lovelier if we came in spring or summer for the garden and a sunny day at Les Deux Plateaux. Sarah and Lulu grabbed crepes (3 euro from the carts) and we walked into the Louvre courtyard and took a break from the cold by entering the Louvre Pyramid and sitting inside under the pyramid. You don’t need a ticket to enter into the Louvre (Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France) but you do need to pass through security.

We unfortunately didn’t have time to make it to L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) for a meal – It is a Michelin starred restaurant I had looked up nearby with a prefixed menu for 38 euro but lunch service ended at 3PM. After the Louvre, we decided we wanted to sit indoors somewhere because the cold was getting to us especially with Sarah in her Birkenstocks (which a I think a German man noticed while we were getting crepes and commented “are you mad?!”. We decided to stay near the Seine river and stopped by Coffee Crepes (24 Quai du Louvre, 75001 Paris, France). We all ordered a nice After Eight minty hot chocolates then took a quick glimpse of La Seine river with faraway views of the Eiffel Tower.

We wanted to grabbed a few pastries before returning to the airport and stopped by Bakery Gosselin (123-125 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris, France) to grab a few croissants, au pain du chocolat, Sable amande and a Flan. 9,25 euro. Our final stop before we made it back to Chatelet des halles was Galerie Véro-Dodat (8 Galerie Véro-Dodat, 75001 Paris, France).

We hopped on the train around 6PM and at one point, we had to transfer trains because someone got sick but luckily a local man saw we didn’t get off and lead the way for us to the new train. Once back in terminal 2, we saw line to check-in  was incredibly long and luckily enough, we were able to check-in online to avoid that line. Before we boarded the flight from CDG to Addis Ababa, the flight attendant came up to us and asked for our passports. Since the system wasn’t 100% connected before, our luggage was brought to their attention but not connected to a boarding pass until they fixed it in the system. The flight was much better with more rest. 2 more meals (yay).

The flight was still a long haul. But the last flight felt even longer with these 3 guys sitting around myself and the girls, who kept getting up, brought tons of snacks. Way too fidgety for me and they were really rude to the staff thinking they could leave their stuff everywhere and walk anywhere they wanted. We finally arrived and beat the line to customs where we got our single entry visa for $75USD. On the Go Tours arranged airport pickup and away we went. The 30-minute van ride was the best sleep I had in the past 24 hours.

We stayed at the Shearwater Explorer Village (Adam Stander Dr, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) where our accommodations where in tents on-site with a cot. *DOUBLE CHECK the cots for bed bugs before using it. Apparently the 2 cots in my domed tent had bed bugs as Lulu and myself woke up with these bug bites on our legs that did not resemble mosquito bites. The facility has 4 separate campsite tent areas with shared showers and toilet areas (hot water and toilet paper included) with a main building that has a infinity pool, spa and restaurant along with lodges you can upgrade to. The tents with the cots are the holding area as the 3 other campsite areas are where you are grouped by your tour.

The first night they provide you with a lock for the tent however, the second night, we got moved to another tent (which will be our tents for our trip). These tents, you will be required your own lock. We used my luggage lock. Once we settled into our tent, off we went to the pool to relax. We showered and by the time we were finished, we had a group meeting. On the Go Tours teams up with ATC (African tour company) a local tour company. This meeting is a debriefing of the tour and also where you share with your guides your insurance information and also get to meet one another. Clive was our cook, Frans our driver and Will our guide. Will went over an updated list of all the stops along the way as sometimes the information on the website isn’t 100% up to date. He also listed almost all the excursions that are included and optional add-ons. He also told us that we should save our physical money to pay for tours as they include a 11% inflation rate on credit cards but for normal day to day meals and whatnot to use credit cards like we do back home. Also to save local currency for tips.

Our group for this tour consisted of 13 people plus the 3 staff. Lisa the Yoga Teacher and Katie the Paramedic (Katherine) from Toronto/Calgary and Hamilton, Gordon & Margaret and David and Marianne all retired teachers and nurses from Hope, BC, Susan the Mental Health Administrator from Australia, Stephanie the Electrical Engineer from Dublin (who is working in Cape Town) and Alberto the Lawyer / Events Production company / Farmer etc from Costa Rica.

Also note that although first night accommodation is included in price, meals are not included until the Monday morning when you leave Zimbabwe for Botswana. The currency they use in Zimbabwe is USD.

We decided to go check out the market just outside the gate of our accommodations and just looking at possible souvenirs but the men the market are very pushy always approaching you “sister, take a look at my store, I give your sunset deal”. A little too aggressive for my taste. In terms of being on a tour, this was the only time we had to check out markets for souvenirs and because we had just arrived and we hadn’t even seen any animals we couldn’t justify purchasing anything – a big regret on our part. Zimbabwe is known for their precious stones and there were many beautiful stone sculptures of the big five amongst other things. The average for these stone statues asking price was $25USD but you need to haggle with them. Some other statues could be haggled for cheaper like $5USD. We had arranged to go for dinner with the group with our tour at the nearby restaurant The Three Monkeys and we walked over together. The food is great. We were recommended to get “The Dude burger” or in matter of fact, any burger or pizza – all American sized portions.

The girls and myself sat with Frans and Will and got to know them better. Both have been with ATC for about 1.5-2 years a abs both are from Joburg. Frans is 28 with a young baby at home (taking time off after this tour) Clive is 31 with 4 children and Will is 30 and has a younger sister who is working to save the endangered animals and their environments.

For those who wish to walk with lions, check out Lion Encounter. My friend was working with this organization however we both dropped the ball and didn’t connect or follow-up with one another and missed re-connecting in the short period of time that both of us would have been in Vic Falls.

Seattle – Washington – 2014

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I travelled to Seattle for a weekend trip (2 days, 1 night) with my friends Christian, Joanne, Yolande, Joseph & Stanley. We rented 2 cars and drove down from Vancouver.

We made it to the border by 9AM and first stop along the way was the Seattle Premium Outlet mall. Nike was on everyone’s mind and everyone left with a pair of shoes. When in the states, you can’t go wrong with McDonald’s for a meal. They had this deal called Feast Mode $10USD (2 cheeseburgers; in our case 3, 20 McNuggets, 2 med fries) that we got which fed 3 people. Seattle’s facade reminds me of Vancouver by the water but the highways and the actual downtown core like Toronto with a mix of New York. We stayed at the Paramount Hotel at 8th & Pine St (Paid parking across the street). Then straight to the Niketown and Nordstrom Rack (Designer goods at non-designer prices).

By the time we were finished shopping, it was already 8PM. We Yelp’ed a couple of places to eat and our first option that was open that late was Taylor Shellfish on Melrose. We walked up Pine St to Melrose St (this area is the Cap Hill neighbourhood) and walked into the establishment. It is not meant to hold big parties and is first come first serve on seating where you pick an item and they will grab it fresh from their selection. Unfortunately, it was already packed so we left and right beside it was Sitka & Spruce which was recommended that we check out. During the day, it’s a deli/butcher shop in the front and they serve coffee but in the back is the restaurant. The decor was very lovely and somewhat hipster looking. It was also very packed and they said they had multiple reservations however they did recommend other eats on the same street. We finally settled at the corner restaurant called Terraplata. It’s an earth to plate type of restaurant and is open late night. It is very cute corner restaurant with a solid oak door and windows on all sides with a huge bar and long communal table type of seating. I was fortunate enough for my dear high school friend Katrina to join us for dinner.  For dinner I had the Quinault river steelhead (cauliflower, harissa, cilantro, pinenuts, salsa verde). Crispy skin and the combination with the cauliflower made the meal. Presentation wise, they plated on these long and somewhat narrow plates which was okay but also at the bottom of their menu, it mentions their meals are made to be shared family style which is not the case.

After dinner, Katrina wanted to take us to Molly Moon for ice cream but it had just closed when we finished paying the bill so next best option – Cheesecake Factory.  Pineapple upside down cheesecake for me and I don’t regret a single bite of it.  As we were walking along Pike St, we passed by another recommendation – Rumba which is Caribbean dining.

 

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The rain never stopped falling during our visit. But it didn’t stop me from exploring. We walked over to Pike Place Market (Similar to Granville Island and St Lawrence Market) with the booths for fresh farmers market, meats, flowers, jewelry etc. We grabbed lunch at Pike Place Chowder for bread bowls – I grabbed the smoked salmon chowder and we all found a place to sit and eat where we were accompanied by a dog from one of the stalls. We also saw the first Starbucks that also had a huge line. Katrina recommended we try some Russian pastries at Piroshky Piroshky. I had the Cinnamon cardamom twist. A rainy Sunday but otherwise a fun little walk and great food.

Our last stopover before heading north of the border was to Trader Joes (2410 James St, Bellingham, WA 98225). I absolutely love this store and if I had one closer I would’ve bought so much more from this store. I loaded up on the Unsulfurated Dried Mangoes and the Dark Chocolate Edamame Beans because they are that good. We made it back in to for some good old volleyball and to the usualy spot for late night pho – Pho 99.

If we had time, we would have like to try these restaurants that were highly recommended:

Sitka & Spruce

Rumba

The Walrus & the Carpenter

Paseo a Caribbean