Tech-‘no’ and the Berlin Wall

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We had been anticipating Berlin for some time, but had no idea what was in store for us. We were lucky to be hosted by Luke’s gracious cousin Ariana, in the hip, up-and-coming Wedding area.

We knew that one of the main things we wanted to do in Berlin was to taste some of their famous nightlife. Berlin is home to many techno legends and also to Berghain, a super-hard-to-get-into, cool-kids-only techno warehouse that is known for partying nonstop from Friday evening until Monday morning.

First, we took in a walking tour and tried some of Berlin’s famous dishes. Of course, I wanted to try the Doner and see how it differed from Nova Scotia’s Donair. While both have the same sort of concept, I must say that the taste was completely different. We loved sitting in the street and sampling some of the great restaurants. We also spent the day at the lake with all the locals, sunbathing and cooling off in the water. We enjoyed some meat and bread in a mini picnic before heading home as the sun went down.

In the evening, we all went out for a night on the town, Berlin style. We headed to the club IMG_20150808_031454district and stopped off the subway to grab a drink on one of the stands that sells alcohol. It’s interesting and exciting being in a place where you can drink so freely. A breakout party had started on the street below, underneath a bridge where music was playing and people were dancing. It’s common to pop into corner stores on the way to a club to buy cheaper drinks before hitting your main event.

The following evening, Luke and I tried to get into Berghain. The club is well known, so it does attract a lot of tourists, which the bouncers hate. You can read all sorts of tips, but really, it’s up to the bouncers to decide if you make the cut. No one knows what they look for, but they’re rumoured to prefer you wearing all black, not be too young, preferably single… the list goes on and on. We waited in line for 45 minutes, and finally the bouncers did a string of “no’s” to about 15 people before stopping at us. We waited until it was our turn for judgment to be passed and after a few moments of consideration, we also got the dreaded headshake. For me, it was a huge disappointment (although sort of expected); I had gotten my hopes and excitement up. Ariana was quick to make me feel better, assuring me that she heard that usually only 40% of people who try to get in actually get in, therefore it wasn’t personal. Still, I’m a huge techno music fan and it sucked to get judged by a quick and brief look.

Moving on, we enjoyed walking through the artistic district of Berlin and experiencing the hipster culture. Berlin is so, so cool and has so much life to it. We walked along the Berlin Wall at sunset, which was so mesmerizing. Ariana’s father had been able to pass through the wall back in the day, so it was interesting to hear about his story and think about what people had went through at that time. It really wasn’t that long ago at all that the city was living through such a different reality.

Now that we’re home, I think of Berlin often and feel as if it would be the place I would feel the most at home. There was something so special about it, so unique and perfect, that it’s been calling my name ever since we left.

 

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Best Toronto date spots to keep warm this winter

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Being back in the big city of Toronto has been so amazing, especially since last year we totally skipped winter! While most people are dying to escape the cold winter months of Canada, Luke and I actually missed it a lot when we were half way across the world.

One of our absolute favorite things about winter is being able to try new places and explore the city. Toronto has so much to offer and there are so many hidden gems! Expedia.ca wanted me to share with you some of our favourite spots to stay warm in the city, just in case you were planning on visiting or looking for some new ideas if you already live here.

FullSizeRenderSnakes & Lattes

This place is so great on so many levels. Perfect for a first date, or a 100th date, we love spending an entire evening amongst the games and incredible atmosphere. The Annex location is our favorite, with cozy lighting and friendly staff. I personally love going for a Nutella latte (a MUST try) and getting a bowl of candy to share. We’ve actually ate a lot of the food on the menu and can highly recommend their sandwiches and salads as well if you end up staying for a few hours.

What’s also great about Snakes & Lattes is that they have Game Gurus who will help you choose a game based on your interests and then explain to you all the rules (and even some strategy, if you’re lucky!), so you can start playing right away and try something new.

Friday Night at the ROM

IMG_0697Walking through the ROM and checking out all of the cool exhibits is high on our list as something we like to do in the winter, but the ROMs Friday Night Live series is extra special. While the events aren’t held every single weekend, you should definitely keep an eye out for these parties. Opening the ROM up 7pm-11pm, they have DJs playing with drinks and food served throughout the entire museum.

Dancing next to a giant T-Rex fossil, or grabbing a beer amongst the dinosaurs, the Friday Night at the ROM series is so, so cool. Another thing we really love about it is trying all of the food, since they often bring in local food truck vendors, adding to the experience and keeping things close to home.

Quantum Coffee

Not just a regular coffee shop, Quantum Coffee is so aesthetically pleasing to exist in and serves up to-die-for coffee. The design of this place is so drool-worthy, I crave getting to go there to work on my projects and just bask in the atmosphere. Luke and I love taking our time and having a good ol’ coffee date, sipping on a well-crafted latte.

I think sometimes, coffeeshop dates are reserved for first-meetings or quick blind dates, but we have learned to really cherish gushing over a well designed place to relax, with friendly staff, and a killer espresso. Taking time to slow down together and appreciate the small things is so important! And, what a better way to keep warm?

SPiN

A little friendly competition is great for any couple, and SPiN Ping-Pong Social Club is perfect for rolling up your sleeves and battling it out on the ping-pong table. You can reserve a table for the night and square off in a one-on-one game or meet another couple there to really up the ante. With music blasting and cool lighting, it’s great on a weeknight or weekend. They serve beer and have an incredible winter menu as well, so make sure to take a break and fill up!

Cibo Wine Bar

Being huge foodies, I had to include a restaurant on this list! Cibo Wine Bar has three locations in Toronto, but I recommend the King St. W location as my favorite. With dimmed lighting and wines everywhere, you really feel like you’re in a cozy wine cellar. The staff is amazing and they make all of their bread on-site, which you get free when you order (and, they let you ask for more! But shhhh don’t let that secret get out too far).

Serving up mouth-watering Italian food and perfect wine pairings, this Cibo is romantic and doesn’t break the bank. We love going for appetizers and wine and a random weeknight, or going there for a full meal and dessert for a special occasion. It’s the perfect place to cuddle up in a booth and spend all night talking.

Winter time can be cold, but our city offers so many things you can do with that special someone to bundle up and stay warm. Whether it’s good food, good company, or a good game, there’s no need to stay inside watching Netflix! Looking for more great date ideas in Toronto? Expedia.ca has the blog post for you! Read it here.

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Castles and cheese in Germany

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Following Luke’s German roots, it was only natural that one of our biggest stops on this trip was Germany. We both had some history in this country, with Luke’s dad’s side coming from Germany and my family living on a military base in Germany when I was a child (where my sister was being born). We both had fond feelings of Germany and were excited to experience the country together.

Our first stop was Cologne, a small town near the border of Belgium. We spent the day walking on cobblestone roads and checking out the majestic Cologne Cathedral. It’s We had some authentic German beer, potato salad, and of course, pretzels.

After just a quick stop, we were on our way via train down the Rhine to Koblenz for Nature One. The Rhine is a stunning route to take and we had no idea what a treat we were in for. Castle after castle popped up on the horizon, each one overlooking the river. It was an unexpected mini tour of the old German landscape.

IMG_20150802_191805From Koblenz we got a shuttle bus to Nature One (but that’s for another post), and then a bus and a train to Ludwigsburg, just outside of Stuttgart. Family of Luke’s, Karin and Peter, live here. We were greeted warmly and treated to amazing home cooked food. Following two weekends of festival camping, it was so good to have warm showers and a healthy diet! We were also absolutely spoiled with a trip to the market where Karin allowed us to pick ANY cheeses we wanted from a local cheese truck. I think it was a dream come true! That evening, we got to meet Oma’s brother and hear story after story about the history of Ludwigsburg.

Ludwigsburg is called “The planned city” because, basically, the city was built to support the creation of the Ludwigsburg Palace. If you look at a map of the city, you can see it’s carefully crafted in its symmetry. Rich with history, this city was fascinating to learn about. We went to the museum before attending a tour of the palace.

Luke and I aren’t one for tours, but Karin insisted that this one was worth our while. Honestly, it was a huge highlight of our trip. Our guide was amazing and instead of telling boring history, she told us stories of infidelities, secrets heard from the servant quarters, and rumors from 300 years ago. Walking through the palace and seeing all of the original things still in place was truly an unbelievable experience. We were so happy we did it and would highly, highly recommend it!

We spent a wonderful few days relaxing, eating, and washing our laundry (thanks, Karin!) before heading to meet Karin’s daughter, Ariana in Berlin. More on that next post!

 

Nature One: Partying in a NATO missile base

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I may have mentioned it before, but we are huge music fans with an even bigger love of music festivals. When we heard of Nature One, a massive electronic music festival held in a former NATO missile base in the middle of nowhere, Germany, we knew we had to go.

Let’s just say that two major camping festivals one week apart was less than ideal. We were exhausted and tired of camping. Also, it got so cold at night! I was dying for a warm bed. But, Nature One was unique and we were glad we experienced it.

As we were setting up our tent, music was already blasting from dozens of different areas. What makes this festival extra special is that the camping area is a nonstop party in and of itself. People bring speakers, full DJ equipment, lights, fog machines, kiddie pools, scaffolding for the speakers or partiers — you name it. One campsite had a 72-hour non-stop DJ lineup posted.  People go all night and all day. Yes, it’s impossible to sleep. We used our earplugs, but the bass pounding through the ground made sleeping a whole different struggle.

The festival offered free shuttles to the small town of Kastellaun, which allowed us to enjoy the cheap grocery store food and also allowed for a change of scenery. Nature One has the luxury of being very popular but not mainstream, which made for a very chill vibe. Instead of a horde of bros in body paint, we found true fans welcoming everyone with songs, chants and high fives.

Despite the lack of sleep, we were excited to venture through the 19 different stages of dance music. Some stages were on top of the bunkers and some were inside, others were set up inside giant tents in the back, and there were several huge open-air mainstages. We danced to trance, watched people go crazy to hardstyle, and we enjoyed some late night techno. Going into the bunkers to listen to pounding music was definitely a crazy experience. It was amazing to be able to see so many different music fans come together, enjoying one festival despite their different tastes.

Overall, despite being exhausted and camped-out, we loved Nature One and would highly recommend it to true music fans. Bring your tent, a warm blanket, and the best ear plugs and dancing shoes you’ve got.

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Our guide to Tomorrowland

 

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Being able to go to Tomorrowland has been a huge dream of ours, one which we didn’t entirely expect to achieve. Being one of the largest and most popular festivals in the world, Tomorrowland often sells out in only seconds. Luckily for us, we were living in Vietnam and I was able to be one of the first five people to pre-register for tickets in the country, guaranteeing us four tickets. We got super lucky!

After Amsterdam, we headed for Belgium! We were lucky enough to be able to stay with a couple we met off of Couchsurfing just outside of Brussels for two days for some serious R&R. They were so friendly and had two super cute dogs. We had arrived just in time for National Belgium Day, so we all went to a beer festival, saw some fireworks, and ate some amazing European food (and cheese!). It was a great chance to experience some local life before we headed to Brussels to meet our friends Sam and Chris from back home.

The four of us took a train from Brussles to Boom. The train was packed exclusively with festival attendees, who were conspicuous in their neon tanktops, facepaint, and national flag capes. The ride was so exciting, as everyone was proudly wearing their flags from all over the world and were super friendly and chatty. We were so happy to see friends from home after being away for so long, the four of us couldn’t stop talking!

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Upon getting to the festival, we checked in and pushed through the crowd to try and score a good camping spot in Dreamville. This process was pretty stressful, as they just move a barrier rope bit by bit, forcing people to push and try and claim a spot to put down their tents. Lucky for us, we waited patiently and got a pretty good spot by an area where there were washrooms and showers.

Dreamville has absolutely anything you could imagine! Free outdoor showers, FLUSHABLE washrooms (mixed with normal ones(porta-potties? optional)), charcoal BBQ areas, a butcher, a bakery, a grocery store, as well as tons of amazing food and drink options. They even had a hair salon for girls wanting to get up-dos each day. We felt like we were camping in luxury!

The festival itself was obviously a dream come true. The production and the stages were something we’ve all never seen before and we got to hear a lot of our favorite DJs. We spent so much time walking around, eating, relaxing, and dancing that the time absolutely flew. We had a lot of fun, despite the fact that it rained a majority of our time there.

Some quick tips if you’re heading to Tomorrowland:

  • It’s not always as hot as you think, and it rains! Despite the sunny after-movies, Belgium is quite cold at night and feels a lot like Canadian summers. Bring warmer, dry clothes that you’ll actually want to wear. Sam and I were stuck with baggy sweaters and no rain gear, and we were not pleased when it rained. I think I only managed to wear shorts one day out of three.  Bring proper shoes for this as well, such as sandals that strap on.
  • Bring warm sleeping clothes. Again, it gets cold at night!
  • Bring a flag! You’ll feel left out without one, trust me.
  • Bring lots of things to share with those around you. This is such a great way to make friends from all over the world! Sam and I had glitter, stickers, face gems, and all sorts of fun stuff to share so we could make some lasting girl friends from different countries.
  • Bring earplugs to sleep at night – nothing ruins a festival mood quicker than being kept up until the sun rises by chanting drunk people 😉
  • Bring a bathing suit so you can shower in the FREE outdoor showers.
  • Take advantage of the grocery store and save on food costs.
  • Don’t plan your DJ schedule! The stages are far apart and running from one stage to another is just going to drive you crazy. Just pick one or two ‘must-see’ shows, and leave the rest up to chance.
  • Go to the festival early each day and make the most of it. One day we waited until about 5pm to go from Dreamville to Tomorrowland and by the time we walked there, stood in all the lines, and ate dinner, it was pretty late. As the festival ends at midnight, it felt like we really hadn’t gotten a proper day of fun in.
  • Go to Mainstage for the final set, even if it’s not your favorite type of music. We were told this and followed the advice (reluctantly), despite it not being our preferred genre of music. Tomorrowland puts ALL of their production value into Mainstage at the end of the night and the show cannot be beat. When everyone is singing, chanting, and putting up their lights, it really gives you an amazing perspective of how massive the crowd is. Plus, the fireworks at the end are incredible!

All in all, Tomorrowland was a ton of fun but I wish we had prepared for the weather. It’s an expensive festival, packed with big name DJs — making it super busy and a bit too corporate. While it wasn’t my favorite festival we had been to, it was still exciting being part of such a global community of electronic music lovers from all over the world.

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Mui Ne and the sand dunes

Vietnam was celebrating its 40th anniversary of independence (victory over the Americans), and we both got a week vacation from our schools. We decided to head to Mui Ne, one of the spots we had so far missed.

Mui Ne is about 6 hours away via bus. You can take a bus or train from Ho Chi Minh City, but since it was a holiday, the train was all booked up for the week. We got lucky and snagged bus tickets from a couple that couldn’t go on their trip anymore, so we got a good deal. We used The Sinh Tourist bus line and we’d highly recommend it. It was a very comfortable and safe(ish) trip.

Known for its red and white sand dunes, Mui Ne is nestled in a rain shadow right beside the ocean. It has both the sea and the desert sand, making it a popular vacation spot for foreigners and locals alike.

On our first day, we rented a motorbike and drove to the white sand dunes. We had lathered on sunscreen, but we burnt to a crisp anyway. They were HOT. We enjoyed seeing them, but couldn’t stay too long since it felt like we had been left to die out there in the heat. Luke gently reminded me that we were only 30 feet from the shade, but I still hold that I nearly died out there.

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Later, we went to the red sand dunes, which I really preferred. I think they were much more beautiful, especially if you venture away from the crowds. It’s possible that the red sand doesn’t reflect as much heat, too. At about 4pm when the sun is going down seems to be the best time. The sunset is breathtaking and the sand is cool enough to explore in bare feet.

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For cheap, you can rent magic carpet boards from kids to sled down the sand dunes. Note that you will get sand absolutely everywhere, so think hard before taking part. It was definitely funny to watch the Asians sliding and screaming, though.

The next day, we went to the Mui Ne Harbor where you can see the blue ocean and boats that seem to go on for as far as the eye can see. It’s fun to see but really only worth a quick stop to take a photo and move on.

Later in the evening, we went to the Fairy Spring and walked along the bed of the creek, directly beside large, red-sand dirt walls. Since the sun was setting, it was the perfect temperature to be exploring the Fairy
IMG_9149Spring, and it wasn’t rammed with people either. We enjoyed our slow walk taking in all of the scenery.

On our final day, we spent the morning at the hot spring center. For $40 total, we both got mineral mud baths, a mineral pool soak, some time in the steam room, and an hour-long massage. It included lunch as well. We lounged in the pool and enjoyed our lunch and free smoothie. It was the perfect way to end our trip in Mui Ne.

For dinner, we went to the crab markets to have dinner like the locals. We settled on a plate of shrimp, since crab was a bit pricey. It was an interesting experience, but our dinner the night before at Sinbads was the highlight of our trip. It was much more affordable, and incredibly flavourful/filling.

On our way to our guesthouse, we stumbled across Pogo Beach Bar, which had beanbags and cabanas on the beach for lounging while they played some really good music. We sat on a rooftop on beanbags and took in the ocean air, saying goodbye to an absolutely perfect vacation.

If you come to Vietnam, do not miss Mui Ne, whatever you do! And again, only pictures can really do this place justice.

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Back to Vietnam: Life in Ho Chi Minh City

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Even though we didn’t enjoy our time in Hanoi, we decided to give Vietnam one more try. We had heard that Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon, as the locals call it) was much different than the North end of the country, so we booked a ticket and tried this whole teaching English thing one more time from March until this July. As of this post, we’re just getting ready to leave again after four awesome months here.

Saigon really is a lot different than Hanoi. Perhaps it’s just the fact that the South is much different than the North, but it seems that everything from the traffic, to the food, to the locals is much better. 

The traffic

The roads are better for riding a motorbike since they’re set up with bike lanes and one ways, creating a lot less congestion than Hanoi. The roads are wider, with many of the major arteries being 3 or 4 lanes in each direction, separated by medians. In Hanoi, it was often two cramped lanes only. The craziness level is (a bit) lower and it’s way easier to get around. It took us only about two weeks before we no longer needed Google Maps.

The food

While Hanoi was amazing for traditional pho and bun cha, Saigon has so many more options, and all for incredibly cheap. We eat for about $5-7 a day, and that’s eating out for every meal. For breakfast, we grab noodles with spring rolls anIMG_7957d pork for 75¢. For lunch, I usually get an omlette with pork on noodles for $1 and a bubble tea (my favorite) for $1. Then for dinner, we get a buffet style chicken, pork, or beef dish with rice and veggies for $1.50. Luke often gets a large meat and rice lunch for $1-2.

You can also get banh mi sandwiches at any street stall for 50¢-$1, and different kinds of soups and noodles are everywhere. I really love the ‘pho Hue’ in the alley near our house, which we get for $1.50. It’s a special pho with a red broth and rare beef. There are also juice ladies everywhere that will sell you a mango smoothie for $1, and/or a freshly juiced fruit or veggie drink.

I could go on and on about the food, but that’s for another post!

The people

The locals have a much different attitude towards foreigners here, and I’m not sure why exactly that is. We are greeted with warm smiles and people who chatter away at us in Vietnamese, always excited to meet us. When we’re eating, people are so helpful and really want to make sure we enjoy their food (which we do!). Even at the gas station when my bike got blocked in, a guy jumped off his bike to back mine out for me.

IMG_8124We have a tea lady in the front of our apartment and she’s always smiling and chatting away at us, even though we have no idea what she says. It’s nice to try charades-type conversation with her. She’s like having a watchdog grandmother always looking out for us. Another lady down our alley has the cheapest tra tac (a lemon oolong ice tea) for 25¢, and she loves asking me where Luke is when I’m alone. She makes sure to always smile and wave at us when we drive by. It’s very charming, and a refreshing change from the cold stares of the North.

It’s been nice to really settle in here. We have a lady who mends our clothes for us (and gets stains out of Luke’s clothes), usually for about 50¢ or so. We have friendly ladies who run a vegetarian restaurant, where they sell buffet style imitation meat and rice at $1 a box. We have mechanics that laugh at us every time we come in but never overcharge us, and we have a smiley doorman named Lin who watches over us. We also have three friendly neighbourhood ‘So dogs’ (alley dogs) that we love to pet and feed. The locals judge Luke a little for being so hands on, but he just washes his hands immediately after. It has really begun to feel like home.

The expat community in Saigon is also much different. Here, everyone hangs out and goes to the same few places. There’s more of a nightlife and community feel here. In Hanoi, everything shut down at around 11pm, whereas here, there’s no time limit. We’ve made friends easily, enjoyed the kind of music we liked, and we get to hit up events all the time.

Our life

We’ve been living in a small one-bedroom furnished apartment in Binh Thanh district, which is outside of the main District 1. We pay about $290 (not including electricity) for our place, which has washer/dryer, Internet, and cleaners who comes 3x a week (they do our sheets too!). It’s on a nice quiet alley and we have Lin, who provides 24-hour security and helps me take myIMG_8378 motorbike out in the morning. We never have to worry about our bikes being stolen, as they’re under lock and key, and there are about three locked doors and a doorman between our apartment and the city. It’s nice to not have to worry about break-ins or theft, which is a very real reality in Asia.

We bought second hand motorbikes for very cheap. My Honda Wave was $150 off some backpacker with a flight the next day, and Luke got his Yamaha Nouvo for $230. Gas is about $2.50 a week for me, and $5 a week for Luke (he pays extra for a little horsepower).

It took us both about a week to find good jobs. We work down the street from one another at Korean language schools in District 7. We’ve been very happy with both places, and I have a second job at night that I love as well.

All in all, I’m really happy we gave Vietnam another chance. The country is a little rough around the edges, but has such a soft side to it. We’re working a ton to save up for the next leg of our journey but for the last four months, this has been our happy home.

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