Dominican Republic, The Caribbean

#CheckInForGood to the Dominican Republic!

November 27 – 30, 2018 

This was perhaps my most intriguing trip, yet. The background of this is that a sorority sister posted a link on my wall saying, “You should apply for this!” JetBlue was looking for individuals to apply for an all-expense paid volunteer trip to an unknown destination for four days. You wouldn’t know the destination until you were on the plane! Well, why not, I thought, it’s a long-shot but it’s six questions.

A few weeks later, I shockingly got an email that I was accepted into the JetBlue Check In for Good contest – one of 50 out of 40,000! I was able to take one guest, so I chose another sorority sister who was very involved in volunteerism as well. The trip was basically in the middle of the week, so getting time off from work, school, and my internship was stressful, but I was not going to turn down a crazy once-in-a-lifetime experience! They gave us a packing list and some basic details, but that was it!

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Our first step was to get to JFK Airport in New York. We booked a flight out of Portland, Maine, early in the morning on Tuesday, November 27. Aside from this flight, all other expenses were paid, including airfare to “Destination Good” (the location to be revealed on the plane), resort accommodations, travel to and from the airport, meals, etc. Our flight was scheduled to leave Portland at 5:36 AM…. we were delayed…. a lot. Due to the snowy and icy weather, the plane had to wait in line for de-icing. We had a set time we were supposed to be at JFK. I was so anxious and convinced we were going to miss it.

After about an hour and a half of being delayed, we were up in the air! We made it to the proper JFK gate later than we should’ve, but we made it 15 minutes before the plane boarded! Thank goodness we weren’t delayed any longer! We were given our welcome packet that included the envelope revealing our destination: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic! (I do have a little secret – the flight attendant on our flight from Portland looked up our gate number and revealed the destination to us while we were on our way to JFK because we were concerned about the delay. They looked at us so weird when we said we only knew the gate number and not the destination! Other passengers were very interested in the program and how crazy it was to just hop in a plane to somewhere unknown!) We still were excited and pretended to be a little bit surprised 😉

And we were off to the Dominican Republic!

 

Ottawa, Canada, Québec, Ontario, Gatineau, Chelsea

Road Trip to the Homeland: Day 4

August 24 – 27, 2018

On our last day (Monday), we decided to stop at one more site and then begin the trek back to Maine. When I was in Ottawa last, I had went to the Canadian War Museum and loved it (see blog post here). It covers war history from way back until modern day.

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Outside of the Museum. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

This museum is one of Ottawa (and Canada’s) highlights.

The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum regarding military history “from the first recorded instances of death by armed violence in Canadian history several hundred years ago to the country’s most recent involvement in conflicts” (Wikipedia).

There are 3,000,000 artifacts and items in their collection and 500,000 annual visitors. The museum has its origins in 1880 where it was a collection of military artifacts. Its current location opened in 2005. “The Museum’s collections are among the finest military holdings in the world, including rare vehicles, artillery, uniforms, medals, personal memoirs” (About the Museum).

Admission was a little pricier than other museums in the area, but that’s relatively speaking. The cost was $17 CAD for adults and $13 CAD for students, including college students (about $13 USD and $10 USD respectively). One thing I love about Canada (and in England too) was that they offered a lot of student discounts. Even a few dollars here and there helps!

While my mom and I are certainly not history buffs, we still loved the museum! I would love to bring my dad here because he has huge interests in history and war history in particular.

There’s a lot of somber things at the Museum. For example, on the outside of the building, the words “Lest We Forget” are punched out in Morse code. When you walk into the Regeneration Hall, a recording of the wind going through the holes during the construction of the Hall. In the main lobby, there is a block of concrete suspended that holds the tomb of Canada’s Unknown Soldier. There’s also some artifacts such as a piece of the Berlin Wall, Adolf Hitler’s car, and a piece of one of the 9/11 airplanes (all pictured below).

The Regeneration Wall was awe-inspiring. “The highest point in the museum is called Regeneration Hall. This strikingly narrow space features angled walls that tower dramatically over visitors. Rising up with a tightly framed view of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, Regeneration Hall is a physical representation of hope for a better future” (CWM: The Regeneration Wall). I just love this. It was hard to get a picture of the Peace Tower through the window, but you can see it a little bit. This is one of those places that can’t really be shown through pictures. It gives you an idea, but you can’t really get it unless you are there.

After this, we began our trek home! We were pretty tired from such a busy trip! I surprisingly didn’t take any photos on the way home – probably because I was either driving or sleeping for basically all of it!

We did stop at a Subway half-way home, and there was absolutely nothing in English. That was really the only time during our trip where we experienced not being able to communicate. For the most part, everything was in both French and English. Particularly in Ottawa and Toronto, English is pretty dominant. Driving through Québec, French was the dominant language, but English was almost always provided.

It was a wonderful trip with lots of relaxation and site-seeing! It was also great to be able to experience this with my mom and have a fun trip! Until next time!

Ottawa, Canada, Québec, Ontario, Gatineau, Chelsea

Road Trip to the Homeland: Day 3

August 24 – 27, 2018

We started our third day (Sunday) by going back to Le Nordik Spa-Nature for our massage. They were booked out our first day, but we decided to go back for that. We had originally thought we might spend two full days at the spa, but we decided to go for the massage and then head into Ottawa for some exploring on our last full day.

Le Nordik Spa-Nature

Obviously I don’t have photos of the massage or the inside of the room. The photo above of the massage room is a sample from their website. I wish I had some more photos, but I guess it’s not super necessary! Some things can just exist in memories! It was super relaxing and amazing, and I would do it everyday if I could! We joked around about our bougie selves because clearly this is not something we do on the regular. We arrived early and our massage was at 10:00 AM. We had separate rooms (didn’t do that whole couple-massage-in-the-same-room-type thing because uh #no), and my mom was super chatty with her masseuse which I thought was hilarious. I feel kind of awkward with someone touching me and being all mostly naked, but I take the mindset of, “I’ll never see you again.”

After that relaxing start to the day, we headed to downtown Ottawa!

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Here’s a brief snapshot of the stops we made:

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Supreme Court of Canada

After heading downtown, we stopped by the Supreme Court and took some photos. When we went in, there wasn’t a tour for a little while, so we walked on over to a few other sites before heading back for a tour.

Bank of Canada Museum

The Bank of Canada Museum is literally a two minute walk from the Supreme Court – one block down and across the street. This is one place I went back in May (see blog post here), and it’s pretty cool. It’s on the ground floor of the Bank of Canada, and it opened up in the 1980s. It’s a free museum with lots and lots of technology and interactive exhibits. We took a short visit through just to see what it was all about and then headed over to Parliament Hill!

Parliament

Parliament was super cool! We didn’t do an inside tour (but I did last time, see blog post here). It was cool to just walk around and see Parliament Hill (or colloquially The Hill). There are three blocks. The Centre Block contains the Senate and the Commons chambers. The Peace Tower, a 306.5 foot clock tower, in the middle truly sets the building apart. The Library of Parliament is also in this building, and it is the only remaining part of the original Parliament that wasn’t destroyed after a 1916 fire.

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Me and my mom in front of Centre Block.

The East and West Blocks contain offices for ministers and senators and general meeting and administrative places.

In front of the Centre Block is the The Centennial Flame, which commemorates Canada’s 100th anniversary as a Confederation.

Supreme Court of Canada (Take 2)

We headed back on over to the Supreme Court of Canada for our tour. It was super fun and informative, and while I also checked this out last time, I feel like I learned new things and the experience was still unique!

They have three levels: the trial courts, the Federal Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. The SCC also offers free tours (check on the dates and times because some require a reservation) which was great. We learned a lot about the history of the SCC, its creation in 1875, and how it functions today.

Royal Canadian Mint

Next stop was the Royal Canadian Mint! There are mints located in both Ottawa and Winnipeg. The Ottawa Mint makes collection coins and investment coins, while the Winnipeg Mint makes circulation coins and oversees the production of bills. While they do change the inside as technology changes, the outside is preserved in its castle-like form. I was only allowed to take photos outside and in the gift shop, so I don’t have a lot to show! The tour was really interesting and lasted about 45 minutes. It only cost $6 CAD (about $4.65 USD), which was also really great. This is definitely a tour I recommend! This was the second time I did it, but it was good this time around, too!

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Holding 28 pounds of gold, worth $650,000.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

Notre-Dame Cathedral is the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa. Construction began way back in 1841 and was completed in 1846. My last time visiting this church was actually because I stumbled upon it getting lost trying to find the Mint! At least this time, I knew where we were going and could guide us!

At this point, we had had quite the full day and decided to head back after visiting Notre-Dame to our Air BNB to rest up for our last day in Québec/Ontario and our trip home! We watched some Netlix, had some dinner (and a few drinks), some laughs, and hit the hay early!

Ottawa, Canada, Québec, Ontario, Gatineau, Chelsea

Road Trip to the Homeland: Day 2

August 24 – 27, 2018

After settling in to our Air BNB the evening prior and having our trip to the lake, day two was for getting to the core of our trip: Le Nordik Spa Nature! This is a beautiful nature spa just over the Québec border in Chelsea about 30 minutes or so outside of Ottawa, Ontario. I went here when I visited Ottawa back in May (see blog post here), and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to go back and wanted a road trip, and my mom was interested, so here we are!

Here’s a little bit of a run-down about the spa and how it works.

The big thing about Le Nordik is their thermal cycle. This is where you start in hot (such a one of the saunas or hot tubs) for about 5-15 minutes, and then in a cold pool for about 15 minutes, and then a period of rest. 

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Courtesy of https://chelsea.lenordik.com/

To see more photos and learn more about the basics, go to their website here. For more info on prices, go here. I can’t quite remember how much we spent this time around, but it was very similar, if not the same, as to the prices I paid back in May 2018. The all-day spa access was around $70 CAD (about $50 USD), and we decided to get a massage, which was about $108 CAD (about $75 USD). We also spent around $15 USD on drinks, but we brought our own food to keep in the locker for mid-day snacks (which is against their rules so you gotta be stealthy). The food there was super pricey, and we were trying to be reasonable with prices, so that’s why we bought groceries and had breakfast at home and lunch on the go.

When we went the first day, I was insistent on getting there as early as possible because I’ve heard they’ve gotten full before. I had gone on a weekday back in May, and I was nervous with it being a Saturday that increased attendance may foil our plans! We got there before it opened and waited in quite a long line, but we made it in and my worries were unnecessary (per usual). Their massages were actually booked out for the day, though, as people can register for those in advance. We decided we wanted to try that out because obviously it’s not something we do on the regular (or ever), so we booked a massage for early the next morning. But Saturday was our day to enjoy the spa access with all the pools, saunas, hot-tubs, aromatherapy, and relaxation!

Arriving and waiting!

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In the central part of the spa. One of the hot-tubs, waterfalls, and saunas in the background.
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Me and mom at the end of the day! Feeling fresh and relaxed! One of my favorite photos from the trip and in general!

Next, we were on our way back to the Air BNB for the night. We got take-out dinner and got supplies to make drinks. It was quite the adventure trying to find alcohol, and we went to quite a few different places! We had tried the night before, too, but everything was closed. Who would’ve thought! The best part is we forgot a shot glass, and there weren’t measuring cups that would’ve worked. So, mom suggested using the the cap to the cooking spray as it was a similar size. It was super funny, but it worked! And now that cap is in our shot glass display case 😉

Next, we were off to bed and ready to hit up Le Nordik in the morning for our massage, and then onto Ottawa to explore some sites!

Canada, Chelsea, Gatineau, Ontario, Ottawa, Québec

Road Trip to the Homeland: Day 1

August 24 – 27, 2018

When I went to Ottawa in May 2018, I fell absolutely in love with the Le Nordik Spa-Nature (blog post here). I was interested in taking a trip back because I loved the area, and I wanted to do a short trip with others (I often travel alone, but I like both). My mom was quick to jump on the idea, and we planned a weekend trip for three months later! We tried to get a few others on board, but to no avail. But we were excited for a mother-daughter trip! The trip was scheduled for Friday, August 24, through Monday, August 27, just in time to finish up the summer and head back to college!  I had also just finished a long and tiring summer internship, so this was a wonderful end to that and something to look forward!

The core of our trip was going to the spa and having a road trip to Canada, but we also left time to do some other exploring. My mom’s parents are Canadian (as is my dad’s mother), and while their never completed their citizenship paperwork, I still like to identify myself as a pseudo-Canadian 😉 So I deemed this adventure “The Road Trip to the Homeland.”

It’s hard to say where we went because it was three different places in two different provinces! Hence why there are six tags on this post! So here’s the short answer – we went to Gatineau, Québec, for our Air BNB. This is the fourth largest city in the province of Québec, and it is directly across from Ottawa over the Ottawa River, so it is right on the border of Québec and Ontario. I visited Gatineau last time I was in the area because it’s the location of the Canadian Museum of History (blog post here). We went to Chelsea, Québec, to go to the spa, which is about 10 miles/17 kilometers or so from Gatineau.

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I can’t remember exactly what route we took. We adjusted it slightly so we could drive through the White Mountains in New Hampshire. We left super early after my mom got home from her third shift. The plan was to let her sleep for a few hours and get up and drive. Well, she couldn’t sleep so we ended up just switching off quicker than expected. She did more driving than I did (on the way there at least), but I was helpful a little bit 😉

The trip was about six hours and 350 miles/563 kilometers. At some point, we stopped for lunch and groceries (pro tip: pack lunches to save $ while traveling, also breakfast is a super easy meal to make from wherever you’re staying, even if it doesn’t have a kitchen!). We reached the Canadian border around noon. We had a sassy border patrol guy who was mad about us missing a stop sign, but eh, wasn’t labeled well. But you don’t want to piss off border control, so we just had to grin and bear it. We crossed the border in Vermont at the Stanstead Port of Entry in Québec.

We drove through Québec for a while, then through Ontario for a little bit, and then back into Québec. We arrived in Gatineau to stop and settle into our Air BNB first!

Photos courtesy of Air BNB host. Listing can be found here.

That evening, we went to do a little exploring. We went to Dow’s Lake, which I visited when I went to Ottawa back in May (blog post here). I have recently found an enjoyment for kayaking, and so we rented a two-person kayak and were on our way! We only stayed for about an hour or two, but it was nice. I enjoy the mindful component of kayaking and just watching the waves and water and feeling energy. You can actually go all the way to downtown Ottawa via the river attached to Dow’s Lake! That would be quite the adventure but also would’ve taken a while. Maybe next time? 😉

I didn’t actually take any photos of the lake or going out! I left my phone in the car, so this adventure will exist in our memories! Here are some photos from May 2018 to give an idea of what it looks like.

Next, we went back to our Air BNB to rest up for the next day!

Massachusetts, United States

Boston Day Trip July 2018

On July 29, 2018, I headed down to Boston, Massachusetts (USA) for a day trip. This was the shortest out-of-state trip I’d ever taken – only about eight hours there! It takes about 2.5 hours via train from Portland, Maine. I went down with a sorority sister to show her Boston for the first time. My brother also currently attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology so of course I wanted to stop by there!

Boston is the most populated city in New England (which consists of six states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) with around 700,000. It’s an extremely historic city, which is one of the many reasons I love it! I actually lived in Boston for almost three months during the summer of 2016 for an internship.

Major events from the American Revolution, like the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston all occurred here. There’s something called the Freedom Trail which is a 2.5 mile path through downtown Boston and covers 16 significant locations. It’s been established since the early 1950s and is marked by red brick to guide you through the trail. The sites are:

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  • Massachusetts State House
  • Park Street Church
  • Granary Burying Ground
  • King’s Chapel and Burying Ground
  • Benjamin Franklin statue and former site of Boston Latin School
  • Old Corner Bookstore
  • Old South Meeting House
  • Old State House
  • Site of the Boston Massacre
  • Faneuil Hall
  • Paul Revere House
  • Old North Church
  • Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
  • USS Constitution
  • Bunker Hill Monument

The last two sites bring you into Charlestown and is a longer part of the walk, so we stuck with the downtown sites. Here are some highlights from that:

Next stop was over the Charles River to Cambridge, a city bordering Boston which is home to schools such as Harvard and MIT. We stopped by MIT to visit my brother who is a physics student. We stopped by his dorm and a few buildings, and I was able to snag a photo before we left. Here we are in front of the Great Dome:

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Next, I took some time to take in the beauty of the Charles River and have some mindful time before taking the train home!

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New York, United States

Silver Bay, New York

This past weekend, I went to the Silver Bay YMCA for a retreat for individuals with leadership positions in my sorority, a small academic and philanthropic based social Greek organization with 13 active chapters along the east coast.

I drove down with two of my fellow sisters, and we chose to take a scenic route rather than a majority of highway driving. We went through New Hampshire and spent a lot of time in the Green Mountains and Adirondack Mountains. It definitely helped pass the time during our 5.5 hour drive with 250+ miles to cover!

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alum and active sisters of my sorority’s chapter who attended the retreat
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group photo of active sisters and national board members

After a 3-day retreat, it was time to make the trek back to Maine and enjoy some scenic views again!

Canada, Ontario, Ottawa

Sample Itinerary for One Week in Ottawa

Day 1

Arrive in Ottawa, settle in, get rested from your travels. Explore the area around wherever you are staying. Find a nice restaurant or park. Take it easy.

Day 2 

Take a bus tour around the city of Ottawa to get a lay of the city and learn some interesting facts (and also have transportation through the hop-on, hop-off option).

Go to the Canadian Museum of History right over the provincial border.

Finish the rest of the tour. Find a local restaurant for dinner and call it a day.

Day 3 

Go to Parliament, the Bank of Canada Museum, and the Royal Canadian Mint.

Day 4 

Go to the Supreme Court of Canada, the National Holocaust Memorial, and the Canadian War Museum.

Day 5 

Go to the National Gallery of Canada, Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, and the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Day 6 

Visit the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. Go to the Canada Science and Technology Museum (this is not one I went to, but this goes well with the CASM and might be of interest to you).

Spend the afternoon at Dow’s Lake and take a kayak downtown.

Explore Canadian nightlife in the evening at ByWard Market. Have a few drinks and dinner and reflect on the trip. There’s nice low-key restaurants and also bars and clubs if you’re into that scene.

Day 7 

End your trip with a relaxing day at Le Nordik Spa about 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa over the provincial border.

Day 8 

Sleep in. Pack. Travel home. Rest from your trip.

Note: This is based off of my itinerary and is very similar to what I did, but I made some slight changes. 

Canada, Ontario, Ottawa

The Trek Home: Ottawa to Boston

Sunday morning I was up around 8:00 AM and off to packing for the trip home. Then, it was goodbye to my Air BNB hosts, into a Lyft, and off to one of Ottawa’s airports.

After the fiasco of getting to Ottawa (shoutout to Porter Airlines, American Airlines, and Vayama for taking my sanity, a day of my trip, $100 extra, and 12 hours on the phone), I was super nervous about getting back to Boston! Thankfully, the first one was only a few minutes behind, but my second one from Toronto got delayed by about a half hour, thankfully that was all! After my trip there, I think I was deserving of a smooth trip home.

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I arrived in Portland a little later than expected because the plane was just late enough for me to barely miss the 6:35 bus, but I was on the 7:35 one and back to Portland around 9:00 PM! Then back home to spend time with my family and my doodle.

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