Downtown Detroit… and my Birthday Surprise!

Going for a walk at sunset in Detroit

Going for a walk at sunset in Detroit

Hello everyone!  If you read my latest post then you know that I was in Detroit last week for work.  I was so preoccupied about finding things to do and places to visit around my hotel in the Downtown area… but in the end that was completely unnecessary given the fact that our schedules were full during our stay.  I spent most of my days – trapped – in a cold conference room inside our hotel, which happened to be the massive Marriott Detroit at the Renaissance Center.  Now when I tell you that this hotel is massive I mean that it was out of this world huge!  Let’s just say that I was handed a map upon check-in along with my room key.  There is a movie theatre in there, a CVS pharmacy, a food court, restaurants, a GM vehicle display and it has its very own stop for the People Mover, Detroit’s monorail system.  Yes, it is a big hotel.

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A fragment of the Marriott Detroit at the Renaissance Center

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The view from my hotel room, up on the 40th floor

But the first thing I saw when I was getting to our hotel was actually Canada.  I did not know that our hotel was actually across the bridge from the neighboring country.  A sign for the Caesars Hotel on the other side of the lake immediately caught my attention so I asked my taxi driver and he was the one that informed me of this. Sadly, I didn’t bring my passport… not that it would have made a big difference since we didn’t have much free time but it’s good to know for the future.

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Hey there Canada!

The only day that I got out of our conference room to walk around outside the hotel happened to be my birthday, so needless to say I was happy to get out and explore for a bit.  I apologize for my sad, sad pictures: the battery of my simple point-and-shoot camera no longer works so I had to take photos with my phone, which is not a fancy one at all.  I’m in desperate need of a new phone!

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Downtown Detroit and the People Mover

The hotel at night lit up in pink - I'm assuming for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The hotel at night lit up in pink – I’m assuming for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Since I didn’t get to do much in Detroit I really can’t say if I liked the city or not.  It wouldn’t be fair.   All I gotta say is that my favorite part of this trip was coming back home.  The reason being is that my boyfriend surprised me by decorating the house (outside and inside) for my birthday with banners, balloons etc.  And then when he got back home from work he gifted me a brand new camera.  It was the best gift he could’ve came up with!

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My brand new camera and flowers that his family sent me! Isn’t my boyfriend the best?

I can’t wait to start using my new camera!  I have to read the manual and figure out what to do with all those buttons.  I will probably keep it in Auto mode for now, but I definitely want to look into taking a photography course soon.  I’m not a natural good photographer but I’ve always wanted to learn.  And since I have this blog now I better stop taking pictures like a 5 year old.  It’s time to grow up!

Have you been to Detroit?  Feel free to leave any photography tips/advice you may have for a total newbie.

XoXo,

Globetrotting Doll

 

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… And I’m Off to Detroit!

After a wonderful sabbatical year, the time has come for this Globetrotting Doll to rejoin the work force.  My bank account is dry… and I need more funds to keep on traveling 🙂  Ever since I caught the travel bug it’s been hard for me to commit to a more grown-up, cubicle-type-of-job where you only get two weeks vacation time in a year, if that.  Your typical 9-to-5 job just doesn’t agree with me.  I’m too antsy!  Sadly, that’s the reason why I’m not doing anything with my two degrees (BA in Advertising and PR and a MA in Journalism).

I decided to go back to the Auto Show industry – the perfect job for me.  Yes, it’s only seasonal and as an independent contractor you don’t get any company benefits.  But what you do get is a lot of perks and the chance to travel for a living.  The company flies you out to the city where the auto show is being held, they put you in a nice hotel, give you a good per diem to cover your expenses and, of course, you get your daily rate. Not too shabby at all!

This year my training is in Detroit, Michigan. (My flight leaves in four hours.)  During training you get to learn all the ins and outs of the vehicle lineup you will be representing on the road.  It is a lot of information and time spent in a classroom – tedious but essential to do the job because, after all, we do need to know what we are talking about.  Makes sense?

That being said, I won’t have much down time to explore the city but I do still want to try to do a little bit of exploration.  I’ve never been to Detroit before!  I reached out to a few friends that have been to Motown though and they all told me to “stay in your room” for safety reasons.  I understand that they are trying to look out for me.  I’ve heard of the town’s bad reputation- as far as safety goes – before but “no one puts baby in a corner!”

So, as soon as I check-in at my hotel I will talk to the concierge and get recommendations of places I can go to in my down time.  Like I said, I won’t have much free time but I can’t just go to Motor City and not leave the hotel at all.  I refuse to believe that there’s nothing worth seeing in Detroit.  There has to be somewhere I can go to by myself.  Wish me good luck!  And if I’m able to take good pictures with my not-so-good-camera you will see a post here on my Detroit adventure in the near future.

Hope you all have a good week!

XoXo,

Globetrotting Doll

A Spooky Outing

 

Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

Driving into the amusement park at night.  A first for me!

Driving into the amusement park at night. A first for me!

 

 

Busch Gardens after dark

Busch Gardens after dark

 

The biggest upside of living in central Florida, besides the nice-all-year-long-weather, is that there is an abundance of theme parks you can go to.  Universal Studios, Disney World, Busch Gardens, Sea World… they are all here!  I don’t care how old I am, I will always love my amusement parks.  And, since I’m a Florida resident, I get my tickets at a discounted price.  Score!

Every year, during the month of October, Universal Studios in Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa celebrate Halloween by offering themed nights with haunted houses in addition to their thrilling rides.  Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights it’s already on its 23rd year and the production it’s amazing!  Busch Garden’s Howl O Scream is celebrating its 13th edition this year, and since it’s 2013 their whole production revolves around the infamous number 13.

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Since John and I are new Tampa residents and had never been to Howl O Scream, we decided to give our local production a chance.  We also prefer roller-coasters over themed attractions  and, hands down, Busch Gardens has the very best.  The tickets were also cheaper for Busch Gardens, which is always a bonus, and we also found a promotion code that we were able to use online for an even greater discount.  Our tickets came up to $50 each for a Saturday night.  (The entrance fee varies depending on the night – Thursdays is $35, Fridays is $55 and Saturdays is $65.)

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The first thing that you encounter after walking into the park is a spooky scare zone where you are “greeted” by The 13 Evils.  If you get scared easily, I recommend you walk past this section rather quickly, otherwise you risk getting up close and personal with the following characters:

  1. The Possessed
  2. The Torturer
  3. The Hunter
  4. The Butcher
  5. The Banshee
  6. The Voodoo Queen
  7. The Surgeon
  8. The Demon
  9. The Zombie
  10. The Cannibal
  11. The Psychopath
  12. The Hangman
  13. The Clown
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The Devil

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The Psychopath

The Possessed creeping up on me

The Possessed creeping up on me.  Smile!  Or not…

I’m not one to get easily scared so this zone did not pose a threat to me.  They do creep up on you and seem to come out of nowhere, but I guess I’m just not a jumpy person in general.  I actually had a ton of fun trying to get them to break out of their character and taking pictures with them.  Out of all of them my favorite character was The Possessed.  She had a crazy walk that was a fusion of a crawl and the way and orangutan would move.  She was a lot of fun to watch.  Sadly, I did not get to see The Clown or The Voodoo Queen in action when I was entering nor leaving the park.  They must have been on break somewhere 😦

Map to the attractions and haunted houses

Map to the attractions and haunted houses

If you get the chance to go to this event I recommend you go on a week night (Thursday) or get in as early as possible.  The reason being is that the lines are ridiculously long, at least on a Saturday night.  We are talking over an hour wait to get into a haunted house, and there’s seven of them total!  Instead of waiting in line, we decided to go straight to the roller-coasters, seven of them also, where the lines were significantly shorter – between 10 to 20 minutes.  We only had to wait a long time – 45 minutes – to get on the Cheetah Hunt but, since this is probably the fastest and longest roller-coaster out there, the wait was well worth it.  This ride is insane!

The Cheetah Hunt is 4,429 ft long and 102 ft high.  Pretty darn speedy at 60 mph!

The Cheetah Hunt is 4,429 ft long and 102 ft high. Pretty darn speedy at 60 mph!

By the time we got done with the roller-coasters the lines to get inside the haunted houses had gotten shorter, but we still had to wait 30 minutes to get inside the Blood Asylum, one of the least popular ones.  The lines to get into Circus of Superstition and Zombie Mortuary were still out of control and it was already after midnight. Needless to say, we only made it to one haunted house all night but we had a wonderful time and would do it all over again.  Next time I would definitely try to come on a week night or fork out the extra moola for a Front Line pass or a VIP tour.

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For more information on Howl O Scream and Halloween Horror Nights go here and here. Howl O Scream is open until Oct 26 and Horror Nights closes on November 2.

We might end up checking out Universal Studios too.  This year’s haunted houses include The Walking Dead and Resident Evil, among others.  We shouldn’t pass this up, especially since Orlando is only an hour away from us.

Do you like haunted houses?  What are you doing for Halloween this year?

XoXo,

Globetrotting Doll

 

 

A Taste of Lisbon

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Portugal is a country that, I could swear, had been eluding me in my past trips to Europe.   For one reason or another, I just could never make it there.  When I was planning my latest Euro trip I decided to make it a point to go to Portugal once and for all, so I smartly booked my return ticket to America flying out of Lisbon.  Now there was absolutely no way I was  going to miss it since I had a plane to catch there.  Right?

Well, I did indeed made it to Portugal but with not much time to spare; just the last three days and two nights of my journey.  As I was so short for time I decided to spend all three days in Lisbon and scratch the idea of trying to make it to Porto and/or the beach towns.  There is always next time.

We flew into the Aeroporto de Lisboa from Marrakech, Morocco, and the views from above were stunning. When I travel around Europe I usually do it by land (trains, buses, car rentals) but we decided to fly instead to save us some time and I’m very glad we did.  The views of Portugal from the sky are spectacular.

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But, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.  We were coming from warm, toasty Morocco and were hoping to keep that trend.  It looked sunny and warm from above, but as soon as we got to Lisbon it turned gray and a little chilly.  Not horrible, but definitely not a walk-around-in-shorts-and-sandals type of weather.  Sadly, out of my backpack came my boots, scarf and rain jacket.  (Sigh.)

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One of my good friends from Puerto Rico, Maite, went to school in Barcelona and made it to Portugal a few times while she was there.  I had asked her before making this trip to describe Lisbon in one word and she chose “sweet”.  When I asked her why, she said it was all about the people and the pastries.  As soon as we got there we realized that at least the “people” part of her statement was right: the Portuguese are very welcoming and their language is very melodious. ( I love languages and accents, probably one of the many reasons I love to travel.)

I don’t know about you, but the weather plays a big part in my mood when I’m traveling around.  So it was kind of a bummer that it was so overcast when we were there.  It made us sleepy, tired and not as adventurous as we usually are.  During our stay we walked around -and got lost in- the main neighborhoods: touristy Baixa, ancient Alfama and cool Bairro Alto.  We moved around in the bright yellow trams, walked along the river, got offered drugs several times right in the middle of the day (we were actually shocked by this) and took pictures.  We did not go inside the museums and monuments; we were just not in the mood.

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And then in one of our walks I found the second part of my friend Maite’s statement about Lisbon being “sweet”: the pastries.  There was a very long line outside a pastry shop in the Belém neighborhood.  We soon found out that the shop, Pastéis de Belém, has been in business since 1837 and is basically an institution in Lisbon, almost as relevant as its historic sites.

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I had the popular pastei de nata “to go” (the wait for a table in the azulejo decorated cafe was about an hour long) and it was SCRUMPTIOUS.  Perfect in every way that a pastry can be: sweet, fluffy, warm…. so good!   I sat in front of the nearby  Mosteiro dos Jeronimos to experience the “sweetness” of Lisbon.  I should say this was the highlight of my trip.

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Another thing I should mention about Lisbon’s culinary scene is that we went to a restaurant in Baixa called Bonjardim, famous for a rotisserie chicken dish called Frango Piri Piri.  My boyfriend John loved it, the prices were  affordable and there were many locals dining there that day, which is always a good sign when you are trying to taste the authentic flavors of a country.  You never want to end up in a tourist trap.

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Have you been to Lisbon?   How was the weather when you went and did you try the pastry from Pastéis de Belém?

XoXo,

Globetrotting Doll

Hang Gliding in Florida

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I’ve been flying on my sleep for a while…

It’s been my #1 recurring dream my whole life.  In my dreams, I’m always in control, soaring fearless over mountains and rivers.  I can’t describe how incredible it feels to be able to fly in my dreams, so when I’m awake I try to replicate this experience.  I hope to someday skydive, but in the meantime, and to prepare myself perhaps, I have partaked in other “flying” experiences.  I’ve bungie jumped, I went indoor skydiving in Orlando, FL, and I went zip-lining in Belize and in Puerto Rico (you can read about it here).

My latest “flying” adventure took me all the way to Clewiston, FL.  There were places to go hang gliding closer to home, but a company called The Florida Ridge had a really good Groupon for a Tandem Sky Ride and we decided to take advantage of it.  They offer several rides to choose from.  Our Groupon was for the basic one, “Tandem Discovery Flight”, but since I’m a thrill seeker I opted to upgrade to “The Screamer”, which included dives, spins, and 360s going all the way up to 3,500 ft.  It was out of this world incredible!  My boyfriend John is no daredevil so he stuck to the basic one.  No tricks, no problem… and 1,500ft was high enough for him.  We both added the picture/video package and it was totally worth it.  How else could I get such amazing pictures!

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Our instructor Eric was THE BOMB!  If you decide to fly with The Florida Ridge I highly recommend you ask for Eric  He is a very skilled pilot and has the personality to match.  Know that you will be suspended in the air by yourself with a stranger, so you definitely want to make sure that you do this with somebody who is going to make you feel safe but have fun at the same time.  Eric will even let you manipulate the Tandem yourself if you ask him to.  I did!

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We started off by being pulled by a plane into the sky.  Once we got the right altitude we got disconnected and we took off gliding.    Hang gliding is very peaceful; kind of like it is in my dreams.  You are basically floating in the clouds while you are enjoying the scenery…  But then it was time for the thrill part of my ride.  Suddenly we were turning, and flipping… and it was all great!  If you love roller-coasters and attractions of that sort I highly recommend you do this.  My favorite part was when we dropped about 500ft in a second.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it right now.  Such a fun time!

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Next up for me is to finally go skydiving.   John already told me that there is no way he is coming along for that.  So I’m still looking for somebody to come along with me but I might just go on my own in the end.

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We survived our first tandem flight! (don’t mind the cheesy shirts – they were a gift)

Have you gone hang gliding before?

XoXo

Globetrotting Doll

Wonderful Niagara Falls

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My boyfriend John is from Rochester, NY, which is about an hour away from Niagara Falls.  Before we met, I have never been to Canada so, logically, he took me to the falls when we went to his hometown for a visit.  I’m usually the one that plans all of our trips, but since he has been to Canada on so many occasions  I allowed him to take the lead… this time.  It was nice not being the tour guide for once.

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Crossing the border went very smoothly.  The lines were not long at all and the process was fast and straightforward.  Once in Canada, there are signs everywhere to point you in the right direction.  You will not get lost here.  Finding parking was very easy too.

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Seeing the Niagara Falls in person blew my mind away.  It really is one of the most impressive and dramatic sites I’ve ever seen; mother nature at its best.

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   I guess I was not supposed to climb there. Ooops!

If you go to Niagara Falls you must get on the Maid of the Mist, a boat ride tour where you can see the 13 story falls from below.  You will get super up-close and personal with this powerful waterfall… and you will get wet.  They do provide you with some plastic blue ponchos to cover yourself up.  My advice: use it, and make sure your camera and your phone stay dry, or else…

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After our wet and wild boat ride, we went around the city for a little more sightseeing and to grab a bite.  There’s a lot of things to do and places to visit just walking distance from the falls, but nothing compares to the main attraction – my personal opinion.  The most popular tourist spots are in Clifton Hill, Falls Avenue, Victoria Center, Fallsview and Lundy’s Lane.

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There is a Ripley’s Moving Theatre and a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum.  We went to the latter but it wasn’t that great.  This house of the bizarre has authentic shrunken heads and several truly odd objects in their collection but, for the most part, it all looked fake.  Kids will probably enjoy this museum though, so don’t rule it out completely.  I wish we would’ve gone to the Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks instead.  They had a great true to life wax figure of the late Heath Ledger as “The Joker” in one of their window displays (pictured above) that gave me the goosebumps.  I really miss him; such a talented actor!  Gone too soon…

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Up until we went to see this beautiful waterfall, I always thought for sure that the Niagara Falls was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  Apparently it isn’t.  Am I the only one that thought it was?  Well, it really doesn’t matter if it is or it isn’t… it was wonderful to me!

Have you been to Niagara Falls?

XoXo,

Globetrotting Doll

 

An afternoon in Bari

Readers beware:  If you are looking for a very well researched, informative post on things-to-do in Bari, stop right now.  This is not it. This post is just a photographic recollection of the three hours we spent in the city of Bari, Italy waiting for the ferry that would take us to Dubrovnik in Croatia.   (We decided to travel to Croatia from Greece by sea.  That involved a ferry from Kefalonia -our last stop in Greece- to Brindisi in Italy, and a short train from Brindisi to Bari. )  Without a map, no plans whatsoever, and our heavy backpacks on our backs, we decided to just kill some time wondering around Bari, looking for a place to eat pizza cause when in Italy…. and some birra, of course.

These are my first impressions of Bari, Italy:

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Where is everyone?  Echo… echo… echo….

Fist of, I’m not saying that there is not one, but at least we didn’t find a Tourist Information office or kiosk near the train station in Bari.  With no city map to guide us, we decided to do what we usually do in these situations: follow the crowds.  Unfortunately, in this particular afternoon there was no crowd to follow.  Our first impression of Bari was that we were walking into some sort of Italian ghost town.  This took me by surprise, as we were in the middle of the European high season.  And when I’ve been to Italy before -Venezia, Roma, Firenze, Pisa, Cinqueterre, Napoli, Capri, Pompei-  it was usually really crowded.  That wasn’t the case in Bari.  At all.

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After walking around for a bit we found what looked like the heart of the town; a round piazza of sorts, surrounded by a church and and a bunch of restaurants.  The later were actually closed at the time (siesta, perhaps?), so it was starting to look like we were not going to get that pizza this time around.  Luckily for us though, there was a fountain in the middle of the piazza which we used to refresh ourselves.  The south of Italy gets very hot in the summer and carrying those backpacks around made it even worse.

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We decided to keep on walking and found a place open -yay!- but they didn’t have any pizza -boo 😦  So we opted for a beer, not an Italian birra though since the ones that they offered we had tried already.

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The picture above is just a token of love from my boyfriend to me.  My name is Isabel and there was a sticker that said Isa right behind him.  I-Love-Isa.  Get it?  I thought it was cute.

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After another hour or so we decided to walk back to that first piazza and were delighted to see that the restaurants were starting to open up.  We opted for one called “Mercantile Pizzeria Trattoria” and ordered our much sought after authentic Italian pizza;  pizza al pesto.  Oh my God!  Believe me when I tell you that it was delish!  Not to mention that at that point I was starving.  It tasted like heaven on a plate.  The crust was thin and crispy -just the way I like it- with the perfect amount of cheese melted on the top and some really tasty pesto.  It was exactly what I wanted, and then some.

At this point it was time to head over to the port and board the ferry that would take us to beautiful Dubrobnik.  We said goodbye to Bari with our bellies full and excited for our next adventure.  Looking back I wish we would’ve stayed in Bari for the night and plan a day trip to nearby Alberobello.  It does look pretty stunning on the pictures I’ve seen online.

Have you been to Bari?

XoXo,

Globetrotting Doll