Canadian Rockies

I was born in the mountains of Poland, and I’ve always felt like the mountains are calling my name. That’s why I was super excited when I was finally able to organize a trip to Banff and Jasper. It had been at the top of my travel bucket list for about a year now. I’m so glad I had a chance to go with two girlfriends – and you better be sure I’ll be returning soon! We went for 4 days/three nights with the intention of hiking, relaxing and taking in the sights. If you’re planning on going here are some suggestions as well as my ideal itinerary for a getaway.

    · Transportation – renting a car is a must! The closest airport is Calgary and we rented a car there.

    · Lodging – Banff and Canmore are the closest cities to stay in. Banff books up pretty fast so Canmore is where we stayed (only about a 25 min drive from Banff and cheaper!). We stayed at a super cute cottage from AirBnb

    · Currency – all places take credit cards and even USD. If you pay in USD, they will give you back CAD.

   · Gear – Bear spray is a must (luckily we didn’t have to use it)! Hiking shoes will be your best friend. Depending on what time of the year you go – make sure to check the weather because it can get pretty chilly!

   · Places to eat – We loved the Grizzly House in Banff. Both towns have tons of breweries and pubs.

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Havana Nights

My time spent to Cuba was one of the most eye-opening trips I've ever been on. Not only did we have an amazing time visiting the cities, experiencing the culture and and see the countryside, but I realized that there is something truly special about the human connection. It was definitely a challenge to navigate without WiFi, but the warmth that the locals showed us and their willingness to help was truly remarkable. I realized we are no better for having constant access to laptops, phones, TVs, internet, etc. It was truly an amazing and enriching experience - and one of the reasons why I love traveling so much. 

With that said, here are some basic FYIs if you're thinking of heading to the beautiful country of Cuba:

  • Flight / Visa - You can easily purchase flights on the major US carriers (United, American, Delta & Spirit). The visa to enter to Cuba you can purchase at the gate as you're leaving the US for $30. However be sure to confirm that with the Airline you choose - each airline may be different. You will be asked for your reason for traveling to Cuba and we used "Support of the Cuban People" during our trip. 

  • Where to stay - AirBnb or Casas Particulares is 100% the way to go. Fun fact - Cuba invented AirBnb (aka Casa Particulares) long before AirBnb existed. Staying at a local's home is hands down the best way to experience Cuba. Everyone is soo welcoming to all the tourists and extremly helpful. We stayed at  Casa Habanera Bed & Breakfast (link) and our host Zaira was amazing! She was super helpful in getting us cabs, directions and even had a currency exchange person come to our location to exchange money.  Housing is relatively cheap to find in Havana and other cities as well.

  • Transportation - the best way to get around is via Taxi (when you're in the city) or by hiring a driver (if you want to travel to other cities in Cuba). Surprisingly this was the most expensive part of the trip and we didn't budget enough money into our costs to cover transportation. On average you will spend $30/per person and if you want to head out to Vinales or Trinidad expect to pay about $70 for a round trip. 

  • Money - Cuba uses both CUC (Cuban dollars) as well as USD. Before heading out, I did some research and exchanging Euros gets you the best exchange rate. However, USD is the easiest/most convenient way to exchange money. If you plan on exchanging Euros, you will need to exchange at either a currency exchange, the airport or a bank (which is harder to find/hours are limited). 

China Part II: Shanghai

And our China journey continues!!! For the second part of our China adventures we flew to Shanghai. Shanghai is more modern than Beijing, definitely less polluted and you will run into twice as many English speakers (thankfully!). Here are the highlights and to dos!

1. The Bund  - This was the first stop on our adventure. This is a river walk along the Huangpu River, and is one of the most famous tourist spots in Shanghai so prepare yourself for crowds of people! As you can see in some of the first few pictures, there is a great view of the Pudong and the Pearl Tower. 

2. Lingering (Liuyuan) Garden - this is a beautiful Chinese garden in the city of Suzhou that is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The garden is located just out side of the city of Suzhou. If you're in Suzhou, it's a must do! It is also one of the 4 most famous gardens in China.

3. Silk Spinning Factory - This was unexpectedly a very interesting stop in our itinerary. Surprisingly Suzhou is the silk capital of china and actually the source of silks for many international designers. The tour provides you with an overview of the whole life a silkworm! Then you will see how the people produce silk with the old style machine, and the making process of hand made silk quilt. 

4. West Lake- Marco Polo called Hangzhou the most enchanting city in the world. This charm is most evident in the West Lake (also known as Xihu) area which effectively functions as the center of Hangzhou. The lake is huge and we took a boat tour around it. The West Lake is one of the famous China attractions and is actually pictured on one of the Chinese bills. 

5. Dragon Well - Just south of the West Lake is the beautiful, lush, green Dragon Well Lonjing Green Tea Village.  It is filled with many teahouses that serve Chinese Green Tea. The villagers pic the tea leaves by hand in the fields. You can bet we brought back several bags of both green and white tea!

China Part I: Beijing

Each year we try to go someplace new, a country that we have never been to yett and in 2016 that was China. We randomly stumbled upon an amazing deal on travel zoo and purchased it within 24hrs. It is safe to say, if you're traveling to China (and for the first time) the best way to experience the culture and country is via a guided tour. There is a very large language barrier and we were surprised how very few people spoke English, so thank goodness for our travel guide! There is a lot to discover in and around Beijing - the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and the Great Wall! The pollution in Beijing is unfortunately hard to miss but the Chinese pride themselves on Beijing being an industrial and commercial hub. 

A few things to consider when you're traveling to China:

1.     Get a visa – This is a week long process but you can’t enter the country without one.

2.     Most credit cards and debit cards don't work - bring cash. 

3.     There are firewalls up on the internet so even in hotels you can't access Google, Instagram etc, - download a VPN (we used VPN Express app) and secure a connection to bypass the restrictions

4.     Always carry a business card from your hotel – it’s easiest to hand it to the driver considering they most likely won’t know how to understand or read English

5.     Check the weather – make sure you pack appropriately

 

'Merica the Great - Mt. Rainier

If you ever get out over to the northwest coast of the US, make sure to stop by at Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. One of the days from our weekend getaway to Seattle we drove out to Mt. Rainer. We were soo lucky that the weather turned out beautiful and there were barely any clouds in the sky! The drive is about 2.5 hours from Seattle and it goes by extremely fast because of the beautiful views along the way. 

There are tons of waterfalls in the Washington and Portland region. We decided to stop by one on our way to Mt. Rainier - it was called Snoqualmie Falls. These are located about 30 min outside of Seattle and are easy to access. You can park your car, and walk right up to them. 

Next we headed on further to Mount Rainer National Park. Luckily, the day we decided to go, they had free entrances, otherwise be sure to check to see if you need to purchase any passes. Along the way, there are many stopping view points, so take advantage of that! One of those is the reflection lakes (pictured below). One thing to keep in mind is that Mt Rainer because of the altitude is many times covered in clouds. That's why in half our pictures, the volcano is hiding behind clouds. You just have to be a little patient and eventually they'll move enough for you to get a shot. 

On our way back to Seattle we decided to check out another waterfall, right when you get down from Mt. Rainier you pass by Narada Falls - be sure to make a quick stop, there is almost always a rainbow or two you can see there! After a full day of driving and hiking waterfalls and volcanoes of course you are going to be hungry! We stopped at a super cute pizza restaurant that was inside a train car. They also have train cars that you can rent out as hotel rooms. The place was called Pizza Express. Check out the pictures at the bottom. The pizza was delicious so that was definitely a plus!

Lovin' Lena Lake

On our way from Portland back to Seattle, we stopped by the trail to Lena Lake, Well who are we kidding, it was actually more of a detour but definitely worth it! At the edge of the Olympic National Park, there is a trail that leads to lower and upper Lena Lake. We hiked only up to Lena Lake since the second leg of the hike is about a 5 hour hike (one way). Let me tell you - it was beautiful. You can also do some back-country hiking and camping here as well. Be sure to get a park pass on your way into the town - we didn't know but luckily the day we went was free! :)

Happy hiking! ~ xoxo, VB Sisters

Keep Portland Weird!

You never realize how truly "beautiful" America the Beautiful is until you actually go and see it.  Work had slowed down and last weekend we decided to take a Friday off and go up to the Pacific NorthWest since we've never been there. 

We spent the first part of the weekend in Portland, which is a 2.5 hour drive south from Seattle. The best way to describe Portland is weird - that's what everyone says. None the less it is definitely a charming cute town. We went to a delicious brunch place and a few cute coffee shops. The coffee there is amazing!! And of course you must try the famous Vodoo Donut shop - don't be intimidated by the long line outside the door, it really does go by fast as everyone says.  The donuts are delicious!!

There are tons of beautiful waterfalls and trails all outside of Portland, unfortunately we only had time for one. About a 35 minute drive west of Portland is a beautiful waterfall called Multnomah Falls (see pictures below). The drive to get there is along a beautiful scenic road through the Columbia River Gorge. There a bunch of viewpoints and stop along the way - be sure to stop at them, it will be worth it!

Portland also have a beautiful Japanese Garden and Rose garden that are a must do! The Portland Japanese Garden is a traditional Japanese garden occupying 5.5 acres. It is soo beautiful and serene! Just a cross the road is the Porltand Rose Garden and it's FREE! There are over 7,000 rose plants of approximately 550 varieties. It literally felt like walking through a rose heaven, every type and shade of rose was there. 

If you're planning any trips to Portland in the near future, let us know if you have any questions!

~xoxo, VB Sisters

24 Hours In Warszawa, Poland

Warszawa is one of the most beautiful cities in Poland! Too bad we could only stay there for one day. :(

Warsaw is the capitol of Poland, so if you are planning on going to Poland anytime soon you will probably land in Warsaw, and you should sight see for at least a day! In my opinion you will probably get the most out of your visit if you go to the Old Town. Warsaw's Old Town is filled with beautiful architecture, amazing ice cream shops, and amazing picture spots. Most of the Old Town in Warsaw was rebuilt after World War II because of the damage, however it is still a UNESCO site because it was rebuilt as a replica of what had previously existed. 

We got to Warsaw early in the morning, so obviously the most important thing to do was to look for a good breakfast/brunch place. If this is your first time in Poland, the best breakfast food is "nalesniki" which are Poland's version of crepes. Also, I would recommend "gofry" which are waffles that are served with fruity sauces, fruits, and whipped cream. They are amazing!!!! And, in Poland you can buy them anywhere and at basically any time, which is awesome. However, we decided to go to one of the best/most popular pierogi restaurants, "Zapiecek". It is located right next to the town square so you cannot miss is. Plus, they make their pierogi fresh each morning! If your wondering what pierogi are, they are polish dumplings. My personal favorites are the potatoes ones and the blueberry ones but you can also get sweet cheese, meat, apples and other fillings. Zapiecek was a little bit more pricey but I think it was definitely worth it. The pierogi were really good quality and you didn't have to wait too long for your food. Plus, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Old Town while you wait and sip your coffee. 

Next, we continued on our mission to take awesome pictures. I swear, which ever street you take you can take so many beautiful pictures. So obviously, we stopped by the main square where we danced for a little bit with Colombians that came to Poland for WYD. Next, we wandered down the streets where we picked up some smoothies and ice cream. You can go inside the many historical sightings, like the castle and museums however we didn't because we just didn't have the time. But we did walk across the ruins of the old walls of Warsaw which was really cool. We also stopped by in several churches including St. Johns, which is so beautiful! Trust me you can wander around this city for several hours, and don't forget you have to try all the amazing food which takes a while haha. When we were starting to head back to the airport we stopped by the Tomb of the Unknown Solider which is dedicated to all the soldiers who fought for Poland. Every couple hours there is a guard change which was cool to see, as well as to pay our respects to our motherland. 

We really do hope that one day you will get the chance to come to Poland and see all the beautiful cities, especially Warsaw!

~VB

15 Reasons to Love Helsinki

One of my secrets to seeing as many places as possible is to try and get a longer layoverwhen you book your flight. This way you can knock out more than one place at the cost of one flight. When we were looking for our flight to Poland this summer (ps - you have to check out our blog posts about WYD, Zakopane and Warsawa for all the deets!) I found a flight that had a 24hr layover in Helsinki, Finland both ways. So I thought - why not?! I've never been to any of the Nordic countries so I didn't know what to expect. And I definitely didn't think I would fall in love with this adorable city. There's so much to love about this city and country so I figured I could share my top 15 reasons. 

1. Ports - The city is located on the edge of Finland right on the Baltic Sea. In Helsinki you can sense the proximity of the sea everywhere, as the city has over a hundred kilometres of shoreline and around 300 islands in its archipelago. Maritime attractions are a must in the summertime!

3. Style - If i had to describe Helsinki in one work it would be "stylish". Finland’s world-renowned modern design heritage can be seen everywhere in Helsinki. We stayed at the Klaus K Hotel right in the center of the city. The designs and interiors were amazing - even my dad was amazed and loved it!

4. Daylight -  One of the best things about summer in Helsinki is the long days. You have so much time on our hands to enjoy every bit of the city. One of the locals told us that there are 2/3 days during the middle of the summer in the northern part of the country where the sun does not set at all - how crazy is that! 

5. Blueberries - Blueberries all day every day! Finland has an abundance of blueberries so of course the Finnish make almost everything out of them! We had delicious blueberry ice cream. There are all sorts of pastries, to chocolate and even just straight up blueberry juice! Soo much blueberry goodness everywhere!

6. Seafood - Being a port city, in Helsinki you can get the most delicious and fresh seafood you can imagine. If you love seafood as much as I do, this is definitely the city for you!

7. The Locals - Helsinki’s locals are extremely open and hospitable, and most speak English fluently, so don’t be afraid to ask us for advice. When we were taking the train to the airport, we originally had one the wrong the directions. Luckily one of the locals gladly helped us and point us in the right direction. 

8. Transportation - Although it is a treat to see the city on foot, Helsinki is also very well connected via the tram system. Not only are the trams very efficient and every, they are also very charming and make navigating the city a breeze!

9. Serenity - One thing that definitely struck out at me was the quietness of the city. Surprisingly, Helsinki is not very heavily populated. The roads are not extremely busy and the streets are not crowded. 

10. Coffee - The Finnish loove their coffee, and they make it almost as good as the Italians! It's probably due to the long and cold winters they have to endure, but be sure to step into a coffee shop - you won't be disappointed!

11. Market Square - In the heart of the city and right on the Baltic sea is the central market square. Here you can find vendors who sell everything from delicious Finnish food, flowers to had crafted souvenirs. I definitely purchased some gorgeous sweaters and socks. They also sell a clothing with beautiful food. Talk about a full day of shopping!

12. Spas & Saunas - Being the capital of Finland, it should be no surprise that Helsinki has some great public saunas. There’s no better way to get to the heart of the Finnish identity! Unfortunately we did not get a chance to visit them but it's on my list for the next time for sure!

13. Architecture - The At Nouveau buildings are the highlight of the architecture of Helsinki including the grand Central Station and the imposing Kallio Cathedral. Be sure to also check out the Capital hill along with the Uspenski Cathedral - some pictures below. You can definitely see all the changing architectural styles of the past centuries. 

14. Bicycles - I absolutely love and applaud cities that offer public bicycle rentals. I'm happy to see that more and more city across the world are offering this. Cycling is a great way of getting around the city and getting a taste of the local life. 

15. Nature - Finland has the most water bodies and forestland of all European countries. This is definitely evident in Helsinki. There are parks everywhere!

Travel Guide // Zakopane, Poland

We finally got to vacation in the Motherland!!!

We always love going back to Poland because all of our family is there! The reason why I got the chance to go to Poland was because this year Poland hosted World Youth Day. Just like the title says it is a couple days where youth from all over the world come together to worship God and meet the Pope. However, I will have more on that in the next post. We got a group of your from our parish to go and we stayed in Poland for about two weeks. Our Mom is from the mountain region in Poland so that is why we spent our first week in Zakopane. Zakopane is a city located in the Tatra Mountains. It's great for skiing in the winter but in the summer it's a perfect place to do some hiking.

Most of our time the first week was spent hiking and touring the city. The first day we walked to the main square that is located on the street "Krupowki." Here you can eat the authentic Polish grilled/ smoked goat cheese and get some good shopping in. The exchange rate now from US dollars to Polish zlote is very good so everything there is relatively cheap. The next few days we spent touring the Tatra National Park. It is so beautiful and definitely worth the hike. One of the biggest attractions in the Tatra National Park is Lake Morskie Oko. It takes about 3-4 hrs to walk to it but you can take a wagon that takes you up the mountain. We chose to walk and on the way we got plenty of beautiful pictures that made the walk worth while. Zakopane is filled with plenty of scenic trails and I wish we could have done them all. 

The whole week we stayed at a place that is similar to a B&B, however lunch and dinner are also included, which is great. This place was located in Pardaowka, however Zakopane is filled with them and they all have fairly good prices. 

Zakopane is hands down one of my favorite cities of Poland and visiting it with some of my closest friends was the best experience ever. It is a city unlike any other and you for sure won't regret going!

~Dominika 

 

 

Zion National Park (MDW - part 3)

The third park that we visited in our National Parks tour was Zion National Park in Utah. This was actually a last minute decision and we had not originally planned on visiting. Literally - the day before we decided to go. Turns out out that it was right on the way to when we were driving back to Vegas from Antelope Canyon. Imagine my excitement! This is hands down my favorite national park that I have ever been to <3 <3. We only had about 3 hours or so but you can literally spend days here. Regardless, we made the best best use of our time!

The nice thing that Zion has to offer is that there is a really cute campground right in the middle of the park and shuttles that can take you from one trail head to another. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive cuts through its main section, leading to forest trails along the Virgin River. The river flows to the Emerald Pools, which have waterfalls and a hanging garden. Also along the river, partly through deep chasms, is Zion Narrows wading hike. We hiked to the two bottom Emerald Pools and the view was majestic! If you are a fan of nature, hiking and camping, I definitely recommend this park! The best part is that it's only about a 3 hr drive from Vegas so if there are any cheap flights, be sure to take advantage of that!!!

Antelope Canyon (MDW - part 2)

The second park we visited was Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a popular location for photographers and sightseers, and a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation. Private tour companies have been permitted to offer tours since 1987. It has been accessible by tour only since 1997, when the Navajo Tribe made it a Navajo Tribal Park.

The only way you can visit this canyon is by booking through one of the two touring companies In Page Arizona. The company that we used  was Antelope Slot Canyon Tours . The tour guide was extremely helpful and even helped us adjust the settings on our phones so that we could capture pictures of the beautiful canyon. He even showed us the different spots and angles to get the best lighting/shadows.  Be sure to book your tour in advance otherwise they will probably be sold out if you try to go the day of. 

Grand Canyon (MDW - part 1)

Every year, we try to plan a quick get-away or mini trip during the long weekend. What better place to visit than some of America's beautiful national parks. A few of my girlfriends and I planned a trip to see the Grand Canyon. What was originally a Grand Canyon trip, quickly turned into a mini tour of a few National Parks (see part 2 & 3). 

We flew in and out of Vegas - which was only a 4 hr drive to the Grand Canyon and 2.5 hr drive from Zion. The first two days we spent in the Grand Canyon. We rented a small cottage in Williams (a small town outside the National Park area) via www.VRBO.com which worked out really well! We only had a little less than an hr drive to the park. The park its self his HUGE and you could probably spend over a week there. With our limited time, we decided to hike the Rim Trail the first day and the Bright Angel Trail the second day. The staff and rangers are extremely helpful and kind and gave us lots of suggestions/tips for the best way to spend our day there. If you are planning to head out to this park, I recommend definitely doing some research to see what type of hiking you want to do. We watched the Sunset the first day and then the Sunrise the second. There are a few pictures below - this was hands down one of the most amazing parts of the trip!