Wild Junket » Romantic escapades http://www.wildjunket.com An adventure travel blog that brings you on a rollercoaster ride around the world Wed, 01 Oct 2014 14:30:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Our Home Away from Home: Villa Rental in Costa Brava http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/08/12/home-away-home-villa-rental-costa-brava/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/08/12/home-away-home-villa-rental-costa-brava/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:37:54 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17345 image (11)Just two weeks ago, we took a break from work and had a relaxing vacation in Costa Brava (i.e. no laptop, no concrete plans and no work). We wanted to get some unplugged time and also take the opportunity to visit our dear friends Dan and Esme who had moved to Barcelona recently; Costa Brava is [...]

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Just two weeks ago, we took a break from work and had a relaxing vacation in Costa Brava (i.e. no laptop, no concrete plans and no work). We wanted to get some unplugged time and also take the opportunity to visit our dear friends Dan and Esme who had moved to Barcelona recently; Costa Brava is just an hour or so away from Barcelona by car and we thought a road trip here would be the best way to catch up.

Having been to Costa Brava three or four times prior, I love this part of Spain (it’s my second favorite part of Spain next to Granada where we live). In fact, I think it’s the best place in Spain to spend summer: its rugged, wild coast makes for some fun hiking and discovery and the beaches here aren’t quite as crowded as those elsewhere in the country.

Costa Brava is also studded with historical houses known as masias (a type of rural stone house common to Catalonia) that have been converted to rural villas and rented out as holiday accommodation. A friend of mine, Richard, runs the villa rental company called Charming Villas and he kindly invited us to come stay at a couple of luxury villas that he manages. I’ve been meaning to take up his offer for a long time and this trip seemed to be the perfect opportunity.

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Country Retreat

The first villa we stayed at was Mas Grevol, an old farmhouse perched high above the rolling hills of the Emporda. The gorgeous property sprawls across 28 hectares of forest, with vast plains and winelands beneath our feet. There are no other houses in view and no traffic noise in the distance — it almost feels that we’re in deep in the hinterland of Costa Brava, and yet the coast is just a thirty-minute drive away.

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When the owners first chanced upon Mas Grevol, it was simply an abandoned masia that has been reduced to ruins after years of negligence. Within two years, the retired British couple restored it to its original glory, adding a very tasteful and stylish touch to its decor. Behind its traditional Tuscan-style stone exterior is a warm and welcoming interior featuring Mediterranean terracotta tiles, wooden furnishing and arched vaulted ceilings reminiscent of a wine cellar.

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The ground floor of the villa is a spacious open-plan room divided up into the living, dining and kitchen areas. French doors and ample windows bring in plenty of natural light to the living area, and open up to the outdoor patio of the house. As foodies who love to cook, the owners created an amazingly well-equipped kitchen with three ovens and more amenities than we know how to handle. The second floor of the villa is divided into four en-suite rooms, two of which are enormous and open up to stunning views of the surrounding greenery. While the house is decked out in rustic design, the owners definitely did not forget to include a few modern gadgets like iPod speakers to cater to new-age travelers like us.

Every morning, we awoke to a stunning view of the verdant green forests in the distance and beautiful lemon trees at our doorstep. Under the sunshine, we had breakfast out on the outdoor patio. It’s one of my favorite spots in the villa , I love watching the birds chirping away above my head, with the smell of red roses and wild basil surrounding us.

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In the afternoon, we would head out to explore the nearby towns of Besalu and Figueres (both are around a 15-minute drive away) — there are lots to do in the area, such as hot air ballooning in La Garrotxa volcanic area and canyoning in the Girona region. When we didn’t feel like driving/exploring, we spent our time lounging by the gorgeous pool (that has an even more spectacular view), playing silly water games. Every evening, we cooked up a storm and feasted on home-made food whipped up in the well-equipped kitchen.

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Coastal Living

The second half of our trip brought us closer to the coast, where we stayed at the elegant Mas Canyelles. This villa is even bigger than the previous, spreading across more than 14 hectares of gardens, pastures, oak and pine forests. It definitely feels very secluded and tucked away from civilization even though the closest town Mont Ras is just a ten-minute drive away (but the drive is not signposted and it brings you through forests, which can be difficult to navigate).

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What we like most about this villa is that it’s only a 20-minute walk from the nearest beach, El Crit. The walk is quite a scenic hike that leads you through the thick pine forests and eventually onto the wild and craggy coastline. Besides El Crit, there are several other secret coves and quiet beaches nearby that are accessible only by foot and absolutely pristine. The popular Platja des Castell is also just 30 minutes away by foot and it’s great for families with children. Hikers would love wandering around Mas Canyelles and exploring the many hiking trails in the area.

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The villa itself is just as spectacular with its designer decor and stylish furnishing: antique teak furniture and off-white sofas create a luxurious yet rustic feel that are brightened up with Moroccan kilim rugs, knitted cushion and upholstery. The feature of the ground floor is the spacious sunken living room that centers on a fireplace and is separated from the outdoor space by ceiling-to-floor windows.

The kitchen is also outstanding in design, featuring rustic wine-cellar-style ceiling and lots of cooking and area (although the oven wasn’t working while we were there), making for lots of fun dining opportunities. Considering every single detail gives off an old-world atmosphere, it comes as quite a surprise that the house itself is newly built (the original masia was too badly damaged and beyond repair). With five rooms in the huge villa, there’s more than enough room for 10 people and makes for an excellent family getaway.

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Conclusion: Would we rent a villa again?

Of course! As budget travelers, we don’t usually choose to stay in villas when we travel on our own; but these villas definitely opened our eyes to new possibilities. Charming Villas usually rent out the villas for €3500-6500 a week; but if there are 10 people sharing the cost, it’s actually not that expensive to stay in one. If we were traveling with a bigger group of friends, then yes we would definitely go for these villas in future.

The only shortcoming we see in both villas is that you’ll need a car to get to them and that you must be used to navigating and driving off-road. We got lost several times and it was rather stressful trying to find our ways to these secluded spots. For both villas, it took at least 10 minutes of driving to get to the nearest supermarket or grocery store. We would have preferred to stay closer to a town or village but we definitely appreciated the rural location as well. That said, these villas are perfect for those looking for an exclusive, private setting to get away from it all.

All in all, this new form of accommodation was an excellent experience and we would definitely do it again. Being able to stay in a private, luxurious place with all the amenities you’d find at home (and even more) definitely made our vacation very comfortable and relaxing. The villas also gave us lots of space and freedom to hang out with our friends, cook, play games and just spend time together.


Practical Information:

For Mas Grevol, the weekly rental rate is €4500 (US$6000). As the owners live in this property all year round, it’s only available for rent in summer when they’re on vacation. You can check the availability here. The villa is a two-hour drive from Barcelona and it is located just 15 minutes away from the towns of Figueres and Besalu.

For Mas Canyelles, the weekly rental rate ranges from €3500 (US$4700) from Nov to April, to €6500 (US$8700) in high season (July and August). It is available for rent all year round. The villa is a two-hour drive from Barcelona and it’s ten minutes away from Mont Ras and Palafrugell. Some of Costa Brava’s best beaches are located in the vicinity.


Disclosure: Our stay at both villas were kindly provided complimentary by Charming Villas and the respective villa owners. As always, all opinions expressed above are our own.

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10 of the Coolest Hotels We’ve Stayed At http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/16/10-coolest-hotels-weve-stayed/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/16/10-coolest-hotels-weve-stayed/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:30:46 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16536 A collage of the differnent treehouses at TreehotelThanks to this website and our magazine, we’ve had the chance to travel far and beyond, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe, North Korea to South Africa. Along the way, we’ve also been fortunate enough to stay at many extraordinary and outstanding hotels. These aren’t your conventional five-star hotel chain or backpacker hostel — you’ll be surprised by how creative and unusual some hotel owners/designers can be. [...]

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Thanks to this website and our magazine, we’ve had the chance to travel far and beyond, from Antarctica to ZimbabweNorth Korea to South Africa. Along the way, we’ve also been fortunate enough to stay at many extraordinary and outstanding hotels. These aren’t your conventional five-star hotel chain or backpacker hostel — you’ll be surprised by how creative and unusual some hotel owners/designers can be.

Here’s a look at some of the coolest hotels we’ve stayed at:

1. Treehotel — Harads, Sweden

Undoubtedly the coolest hotel we’ve stayed at is Treehotel, a unusual abode tucked in the remote countryside of northeastern Sweden. It comes as a surprise to many, that hidden within the Harads forest is a cluster of highly innovative treehouses that bring design to a whole new level. Each of its five treehouses features distinctive architecture and interior design: The UFO – which we had the pleasure of staying in – mimics an outer space shuttle (with a metallic shell and retractable staircase), providing a comfortable escape to our childhood dreams. The Mirrorcube acts almost like a mirage, beautifully camouflaged into its surroundings by mirrored walls. Hanging from the tree canopy is the Bird’s Nest, clad entirely in a network of branches collected from the surroundings.

A collage of the differnent treehouses at Treehotel

2. Yunak Evleri Cave Boutique Hotel — Cappadocia, Turkey

Whimsical fairy chimneys, staggering rock spires and multi-colored cliffs sprawl across the high plateau of Cappadocia, Turkey. In the midst of this unearthly landscape stands Yunak Evleri, a boutique cave hotel that gives new meaning to the concept of ‘sleeping in a cave’. Carved into the rugged Mesa mountain cliff, the cave rooms of Yunak Evleri date back as far as the 5th century. Each of its 30 cave rooms has been immaculately restored and tastefully decorated with Ottoman-style furnishing, polished teak flooring and old kilim carpets – all of which open up to a panorama of the surrounding Turkish Mesa. I had the fortune of staying in one of the suites at Yunak Evleri where most couples on honeymoon stay. The living area was massive, the bathroom rustic yet elegant, and the view was outrageous.

Yunak Evleri cave hotel

3. Iglu-Dorf Igloo Hotel — Zermatt, Switzerland

Right in the middle of the ski slopes of Zermatt and surrounded by spectacular views of the Swiss Alps is the Iglu-Dorf igloo hotel. Built from fresh snow each year, the igloo hotel is a cluster of igloos made of a mixture of snow and ice, with igloo-shaped rooms and white icy bars and lounge areas. In the day, it acts as an aprés-ski bar and by night, it’s converted into a frosty ice hotel. For dinner, guests are served warm and rich cheese fondue and mint tea. The sleeping bag that was provided by the hotel was thick and warm, but I unfortunately suffered from a bout of indigestion at night and had to wake up several times in ngiht and venture into the cold (the bathroom was outside the igloo). I ended up vomiting inside my sleeping bag that night. Despite this minor setback, I would still highly recommend a stay at Iglu-Dorf.

Iglu Dorf in Zermatt

4. Ashford Castle — Mayo, Ireland

While doing a road trip in Ireland, Alberto and I had the chance to stay in the opulent and atmospheric Ashford Castle in the countryside of Cong, County Mayo. What used to be the Guinness family’s summer residence centuries ago is now an elegant hotel with a strong sense of those olden days. The hotel’s lobby is decorated with invaluable portrait paintings and china porcelain while its bar and lounge areas are tastefully embellished with paintings and furniture dating back to the 13th century. The intricately-crafted roof paneling and exquisite wooden furnishing in the hotel lobby are original, dating back to the 1200s. Rooms are decked out with velvet upholstery, floral-patterned wall papers and carpeted flooring and in the state rooms, guests can snuggle in their four-poster bed, blanketed with burgundy beddings and white linen. Our suite also had a spectacular view of Lake Cong and the surrounding pine forests.

Ashford Castle in Ireland

5. Raj Palace Heritage Grand Hotel — Jaipur, India

In Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital, we experienced Indian royal living at the Raj Palace, an opulent heritage hotel converted from a 300-year-old palace. It was once home to the Maharaja (royal king) and is still a property of his descendants. Each suite in the hotel is decorated with 200-year-old antiques: brass figures, golden-plated pillars and bronze furnishing. Our suite even had a mini-museum with artifacts on display and old photos of the Maharani (Princess) who used to live in the palace. The biggest suite in the hotel was the Maharaja Suite, priced at a whopping US$15,000 for a night’s stay. It’s no wonder the hotel was voted as the World’s Best Heritage Hotel by the World Travel Awards for four consecutive years, 2007-2011.

Raj Palace Jaipur

6.  Hotel Ranga — Hella, Iceland

As part of our attempt to see the Northern Lights in Iceland (we did end up seeing them in the Swedish Lapland), we based ourselves at Aurora Central, Hotel Rangá. This countryside resort is not just a hotel on its own right, it’s a world-acclaimed expert in Northern Lights, specializing in aurora forecasts, studies and photography. Surrounded by the volcano Mt Hekla and a range of mountains and glaciers and the Atlantic Ocean, the resort’s geographical location in South Iceland creates perfect conditions for the phenomenon. In fact, Hotel Rangá has been dubbed the best place on Earth from which to witness the Aurora Borealis by The Sunday Times Travel Magazine.

Hotel Ranga Iceland

7. Lakaz Chamarel — Chamarel, Mauritius

As curious travelers, we like to seek out unconventional experiences and less-visited areas. At Lakaz Chamarel, we felt as though we’d found a different side to Mauritius. This ecolodge is tucked within the mountains and valleys of the Chamarel region, far beyond the beaches and resorts. To get there, we zigzagged our way along the winding switchbacks and climbed up steep mountain roads. Once in the peaceful grounds of Lakaz Chamarel, the sounds of birds singing echoed through the jungle and the smell of lush tropical foliage surrounded us. Designed with a stylish Balinese flair and elegant African decor, our bungalow featured high ceilings, natural hardwood furnishing, a private plunge pool and a spacious outdoor area was perched on a hilltop, overlooking stunning mountain peaks.

Lakaz Chamarel Mauritius

8. Cheetah Plains — Sabi Sands, South Africa

Both Alberto and I love are wildlife buffs and our favorite continent to go for wildlife watching is obviously Africa. We’ve been to most of Southern Africa and East Africa: from the Serengeti to Etosha and have stayed in several safari resorts and campsites. The best one was definitely Cheetah Plains, a gorgeous safari-style lodge in the Sabi Sand private reserve. The intimate size (only eight bungalows), proximity to the wildlife and gorgeous, natural setting definitely made it an experience to remember. Although the lodge was properly fenced, some animals still find their way into the lodging area. One morning we were in awe when we found a young bushbuck right outside our door. We were told that there have been sightings of leopards in the property grounds, which made us all the more excited.

Cheetah Plains in Sabi Sands

9. Hostel Celica – Ljubljana, Slovenia

 Dating back to 1883, the prison-hotel Hostel Celica in Ljubljana, Slovenia, used to serve as a military prison for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Yugoslav Federal Army after Yugoslavia was formed. After the war was over, Metelkova Network converted the building and its surroundings into an independent cultural hub. With the help of more than 80 local and international artists, each of the 20 jail cells have been artistically renovated and reinvented. Our room consisted of two single beds suspended close to the cell’s ceiling by a wooden structure that also served as a staircase and a small study table. We finally got to experience how it was like to sleep in a prison cell for the night – and it turned out to be so much fun.

Hostel Celica, Slovenia

10. Sumilon Island Resort – Cebu, The Philippines

Of all the island resorts we’ve stayed at, the Sumilon Island Resort has to be the coolest — not for the design/style of the resort but more for its location on a private island. Located 10 km from Cebu island, the island might be just a hop away from civilization but it sure felt like a world apart. Thick virgin rainforests and rugged coral terrain are kept in their original conditions, while the sparkling clear water surrounding it are protected even more so by Bluewater and relevant research groups. A clusters of stylish, and tastefully designed bungalows stand on the waterfront and an infinity pool is perched on a hilltop overlooking the sea.

Sumilon Island Philippines

BONUS: Zambezi Queen — Chobe River, Namibia/Botswana

Technically a boat isn’t a hotel, but I did sleep on this luxury river cruise and so I’ve added it as a bonus item. The Zambezi Queen plies the backwaters of Chobe River (that straddle Namibia and Botswana) and brings you deep into the heart of the waterways and savannas where wild animals roam free. The 45-meter-long, three-level boat is stylishly decorated in contemporary African style, and features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that open up to stunning views of the passing scenery and wildlife. As we glide through the glassy water, we watch groups of hippos and elephants grazing on one side and herds of gazelles running on the other. It provided a perspective unlike no other.

Zambezi Queen

Have you stayed in any of these hotels? Know of any other unusual hotel?

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Off-the-Beaten-Path Ideas for Valentine’s Day http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/02/11/valentines-day-ideas/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/02/11/valentines-day-ideas/#comments Mon, 11 Feb 2013 19:49:30 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13839 The most famous day of love is coming up again quickly, and whether you’re spending the first or the tenth Valentine’s Day with your companion, you might be seeking something beyond a candlelit dinner. For travelers, you might be seeking the thrill of discovering a magical place together or simply taking a short jaunt to [...]

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The most famous day of love is coming up again quickly, and whether you’re spending the first or the tenth Valentine’s Day with your companion, you might be seeking something beyond a candlelit dinner. For travelers, you might be seeking the thrill of discovering a magical place together or simply taking a short jaunt to get away from it all. But where? If you’re at a loss of ideas, here are some unique travel destinations to help you celebrate the most romantic day of the year.

Stay in the Ice Hotel – Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

Want to do something unique and completely unconventional? Take a trip to the Swedish Lapland and check in to the ICEHOTEL – the world’s first hotel made out completely out of ice and snow. Even from photos, it’s easy for anyone to see the amazing artistry that goes into designing the rooms and the structure itself. February is still one of the colder months, so it would be a perfect time to book a room with the ICEHOTEL (before the ice melts away and must be rebuilt anew after the summer). *Read about our visit.

Hot Air Ballooning Amongst Fairy Chimneys – Cappadocia, Turkey

For a taste of adventure with a spectacular view, you might want to try hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey.  One of the most popular destinations for hot air ballooning, Cappadocia has breathtaking views from above as well as lovely weather conditions. As other balloons rise into the air in the early dawn hours, you may not be the only one celebrating a one-of-a-kind Valentine’s day but it’ll definitely be a day to remember. If love makes you feel like you’re on a cloud, let’s just say this experience will help you achieve the feeling of floating.

Kick Back in Loreto – Baja California, Mexico

If you’re looking for a little bit of a warmer destination, try the quiet beaches of Loreto, Mexico. Unlike many popular cities in Mexico, Loreto veers away from any kind of mass tourism; you’ll be able to enjoy the beauty of Loreto while relaxing, and slipping away into empty remote corners. Because it’s so secluded, you’ll be able to enjoy quality time with your partner while admiring anything from the sunrise, to the sunset, to the stars.

VDP Loreto 2012: La PlayaFlickr photo by writer elicasue

See the Northern Lights – Abisko, Sweden

Those with a soft spot for natural beauty will probably dream of seeing the Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden. Though the name is often heard of and the image that comes into someone’s mind is universal, how many people can actually say they’ve seen the Northern Lights? The unparalleled beauty of the lights (though maybe paralleled by your loved one) would make it a special day to remember for years to come, but it would be even more special if you had a special someone by your side.

Fall for Taj Mahal – Agra, India

To marvel at majestic architecture, the place to visit for Valentine’s Day might be Agra, India to see the Taj Mahal. It’s long been known as a symbol of love since the emperor constructed it to express his love for his wife who passed away. The Taj Mahal incorporates a various array of styles of architecture and is a gorgeous masterpiece. This, too, is one of the many examples that love is eternal.

Where do you plan on spending Valentine’s Day? Anywhere unique you’d like to share?

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Inside Sweden’s ICEHOTEL http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/22/icehotel/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/22/icehotel/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2013 17:08:27 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13729 Main entrance of ICEHHOTELAmidst the gorgeous Narnia landscape of the Swedish Lapland stands ICEHOTEL, the world’s first hotel built entirely of ice and snow. It’s hard to believe that everything here is made of ice, until you see it for yourself. We recently visited the ICEHOTEL on a daytrip from Abisko and were blown away by this work of [...]

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Amidst the gorgeous Narnia landscape of the Swedish Lapland stands ICEHOTEL, the world’s first hotel built entirely of ice and snow. It’s hard to believe that everything here is made of ice, until you see it for yourself.

We recently visited the ICEHOTEL on a daytrip from Abisko and were blown away by this work of art. Everything is made of ice: The ice chambers have rock solid ice beds and frosty ice chairs, and ice chandeliers hang from the ice ceiling. Even the glasses in the ICEBAR are made of ice. Thankfully, despite the all-ice philosophy, guests are snug under reindeer skins and thick sleeping bags.

Since it first opened its doors to guests, many ice hotels have popped up around the world, but few can compare to the original ICEHOTEL in terms of size and artistic style. Each winter, the hotel is built afresh in Jukkasjärvi, right next to Tornio River where the ice is collected from.  Over 21,500 tonnes of snice (a mixture of snow and ice) are used to build the the 5,500-square-meter building each year. Once summer approaches, the ice all melts away and flows back into the river. To avoid pollution, the hotel never uses color or paint in the ice.

Each year, around 45 artists from around the world are invited to design the suites. These artists have been carefully selected by a panel of judges based on their artistic skills and ice sculpting experience. Each suite features its own unique design and story so before you book your stay at ICEHOTEL be sure to find the story behind your suite.

Here’s a photographic tour of the ICEHOTEL:

Main entrance of ICEHHOTEL

The main entrance of the ICEHOTEL is simply constructed of rectangular blocks of ice and a reindeer hide door.

ICEBAR

This year’s theme is ‘unfold’, thus the folding patterns in many of the ice sculptures around the hotel. The photo above shows the arches in the ICEBAR.

Whitewater Suite

My favorite suite in the ICEHOTEL is the Whitewater Suite, which is designed to give the sensation of floating in the Tornio River.

Flower Suite

The Flower Room is designed by a Japanese couple who have been designed suites at the ICEHOTEL seven times. This room represents the re-growth of Japan after the tsunami.

Northern Lights suite

The Northern Lights suite has gorgeous turquoise green lights fluttering overhead to resemble the auroral display.

Crazy and cool suite

The Cold and Crazy suite is at its name implies, wacky and icy!

Virgin in Space suite

 The Virgin of Space Suite was inspired by the movie, ‘The Moon’.

Iceberg Suite

This suite is designed by a Dutch artist who wanted to create “an iceberg in a soft environment”, which prompted him to design a single icy object lit from within, incorporating a bed, a sofa and a dining table with two seats.

suite

A standard room is gorgeous on its own.

ICEBAR

The ICEBAR is eclectic in design and features a huge collection of cocktails. There are also ICEBAR branches in London, Copenhagen and Oslo.

the bar counter

The entire bar counter is made of nothing but ice.

ice glasses from the ICEBAR

The ICEBAR produces more than one million ice glasses each year. All the cocktails in the ICEBAR are named after the suites.

Drinking from the ice glass

 Sipping from an ice glass can be quite an experience.

Book an ICEHOTEL package with Discover the World, including flights from London to Kiruna, airport transfers, two nights in warm accommodation and one night in a snow room. Prices starting from £870; available from December to April.

*This post was sponsored by Discover The World.

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Photoblog: Nordic Charm in Trondheim http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/17/photoblog-trondheim/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/17/photoblog-trondheim/#comments Thu, 17 Jan 2013 15:50:48 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13162 Of all the places we visited on the Ice Run, Trondheim has got to be the biggest surprise for us. Surrounded by fjords,  the city is a charming Nordic enclave rich in history and traditional flair. The town itself is tastefully built around a hill, studded with narrow cobble stoned alleys, classic Norwegian houses and [...]

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Of all the places we visited on the Ice Run, Trondheim has got to be the biggest surprise for us. Surrounded by fjords,  the city is a charming Nordic enclave rich in history and traditional flair. The town itself is tastefully built around a hill, studded with narrow cobble stoned alleys, classic Norwegian houses and walled fortresses. 

During our short stay, we wandered through the old docks, visited the magnificent Nidaros Cathedral, sampled the best seafood soup in town, interviewed the winner of the World Championship in Cocktail Mixing, and even had a cosy Christmas meal, Norwegian style. We were met with warm hospitality and couldn’t have welcomed it more during the festive season. This city escape was very different from our usual adventurous pursuits but it was refreshing to kick back in a city as charming as Trondheim.  

Wherever we went, the light quality in the city was just perfect. Anywhere else in the world, I would usually have to wake up at 4am to get an image of such quality — but in Trondheim, it was easy to capture such lighting.

What used to be an old dry dock is now converted into a series of hip boutiques and restaurants in the city’s Old Town.

The Old Town Bridge connects the south end of the main street Kjøpmannsgata to the neighborhood of Bakklandet.

The Nidelva River flows through Trondheim with old storehouses flanking both sides of this river. This is the picture-perfect representation of Trondheim in brochures and postcards.

We had the opportunity to try the best fish soup in Trondheim at Baklandet Skydsstation, housed in a cosy traditional building that dates back to the medieval times.

The locals say that if fish soup is a must-try in Trondheim.

Kristiansen Fortress is another must-visit location for Trondheim visitors.

The view of the city from within its walls is spectacular.

The impressive Nidaros Cathedral holds years of history inside its walls.

We stayed at the beautiful Britannia Hotel, a tasteful Victorian-style hotel and an iconic landmark in Trondheim. They kindly put us up in their penthouse suite, where the Japanese Emperor stayed during his visit in 2005.

Our plush four-poster bed

At the restaurant Two Rooms & A Kitchen (To Rom Og Kjøkken), we met Mr Roar Hildonen, world champion cocktail mixer who prepared few delicious cocktails for us, including his masterpiece Bar Room Rose.

It was an invite that was too hard to resist. Trondheim’s Director of Tourism, Line Vikrem-Rosmæl, warmly welcomed us to her house for a delicious Christmas dinner with her family.


Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Visit Norway and Eurail.com, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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Woof Poof: Husky Sledding in the Swedish Lapland http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/09/woof-poof-husky-sledding-in-the-swedish-lapland/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2013/01/09/woof-poof-husky-sledding-in-the-swedish-lapland/#comments Wed, 09 Jan 2013 14:30:13 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=13118 Our troop of huskies“Yap yap, kom igen!” Come on, shouted Lina. The cacophony of howling and barking suddenly ceased and we were instantly engulfed in silence as our troop of huskies took to their heels. All morning, this was what they had been waiting for: running with all their might, with their tongues wagging, saliva dripping in all [...]

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Yap yap, kom igen!” Come on, shouted Lina. The cacophony of howling and barking suddenly ceased and we were instantly engulfed in silence as our troop of huskies took to their heels. All morning, this was what they had been waiting for: running with all their might, with their tongues wagging, saliva dripping in all directions.

And off we went, swooshing through the thick snow into the pine tree forests on sleighs led by our trusty canine hosts. With Abisko National Park as our destination, we headed high up into the slopes, leaving the stunning Lake Torneträsk behind us. We zipped through snow-covered bridges, over frozen water channels and slippery ice chunks. Towering mountains surrounded us at all times, with the Aurora Sky Station perched high up on Mount Nuolja at the edge of the fjord.

Our troop of huskies

Throughout the way, our huskies never slowed down their pace, winding through the snow trail and sprinting up and down slopes with much excitement in their eyes. The winds whipped against our hair and crystals of snow grazed our faces. as we shivered in the chilly cold (despite being wrapped up in overalls), but the huskies stood strong and continued to blaze their trail in the snow. I laughed and cheered, thrilled to see the dogs enjoying themselves as much as us.

As a dog lover, I had my doubts about dog sledding prior to this trip. All sorts of questions filled my mind: Are the dogs being treated right? Is this animal abuse? But once here, it was obvious that I had nothing to worry.

Huskies live to run. Every day they run for miles, not just as a race with their peers but also for the fun of it. Lina said, “To them, running is their way of having fun. Huskies barely need to train – they’re natural-born runners. They have so much energy wound up within them that running is the best way for them to release it. They also have their own personalities, likes and dislikes. We can never make them run if they don’t want to.”

Huskies live to run. Every day they run for miles, not just as a race with their peers but also for the fun of it.

Our group of sledders

A Dog’s World

Earlier that morning, we familiarized ourselves with the pack of huskies while helping Lina strap them up to their harnesses and place them in position. Even before we took them out of their cages, they would bursting with so much excitement. Some yelped in short excited bursts while others moaned eagerly. We got acquainted with two of the strongest and biggest huskies of the pack, 11-year-old Haldi and Alfa. Once of their cage, the two dogs were dragging me along with all their might, eager to get into position.  I had to use all the energy I had to hang on to them and calm them down.

Haldi and Alfa

There is much camaraderie within each pack of huskies, with two leaders leading the pack and several followers behind to balance up the dynamics of the group. The leader of our pack was Lady, Lina’s personal favorite. At only 1 year and 4 months old, Lady is very young but already has the ability to lead the group. Lina had adopted Lady when she was just a puppy and had watched her blossom into a confident and beautiful teenager. With a coat of beautiful black fur and sharp blue eyes, Lady exuded a sense of confidence and chirpiness that few could resist.

When we stopped for a break, Lina took time to show some affection to the huskies and reward them with hugs and kisses.  As a husky farm owner, she knows each of her 60 huskies very well. “It is very important for us to understand their personalities so they are happy and we are happy too.”

Husky

Finding the Key to Happiness

It was easy to see that Lina had formed quite a bond with these dogs and that she was more than just a leader to them. Originally from Southern Sweden, Lina had moved to Abisko over three years ago to be a nature guide after as falling in love with the huskies and the great outdoors on her first trip here. She now runs Abisko Dog Sled with Morgan and usually brings her huskies out once a day for sledding trips like these. The huskies take a break for a few months in summer and then gets ready to run again come winter.

Ready to rumble

Back on the snow, the huskies were already eager to set off, barking for our attention. We got back onto our sleighs swiftly and set off back towards our lodge; once again the huskies broke into silence and we whizzed through the pristine landscapes of Abisko.

I asked Lina what her favorite part of the job was, she responded without much hesitation, “This! Being outdoors, on the sleigh with my dogs!”

Lina’s face beamed  with happiness against the glow of the snow. I looked around the sparkling white mountainscapes and I think I understood every word she meant.

Alberto and I on the sleigh


How to:

This sledding excursion was part of our Aurora Hunt trip with The Aurora Zone. The four-night trip costs £1895 (US$3100) for twin sharing, including flights from London Heathrow, transfers, a snowmobile safari, two Aurora hunts in heated minibus, visit to the ICEHOTEL®, Aurora snowshoe, and a husky safari.


Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by The Aurora Zone and Eurail.com, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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Sharks, Rays and Boobies: Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/11/14/heron-island-in-the-great-barrier-reef/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/11/14/heron-island-in-the-great-barrier-reef/#comments Wed, 14 Nov 2012 20:06:28 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=12485 Heron island from the harborA giant manta ray flaps across the sandbar under the spearmint blue water beneath my feet. A brown-footed booby soars overhead, while an egret swooshes to the water surface and nabs his catch for the day. We’re out on the beach taking a morning stroll, but scenes from the Animal Planet are unfurling upon us. This is Heron Island, a coral cay [...]

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A giant manta ray flaps across the sandbar under the spearmint blue water beneath my feet. A brown-footed booby soars overhead, while an egret swooshes to the water surface and nabs his catch for the day. We’re out on the beach taking a morning stroll, but scenes from the Animal Planet are unfurling upon us.

This is Heron Island, a coral cay located in the southern Great Barrier Reef. It’s one of the 14 islands that make up the Capriconia Cays National Park, an area of significant biodiversity. Fringing the massive Heron Reef, the cay and the water around it support around 900 of the 1,500 marine animals and 72% of the coral species found on the Great Barrier Reef. Thanks to a combination of its geography, climate and strict conservation rules, we’re surrounded by abundant wildlife — both on land and underwater.

Through all but a few months, Heron Island is a breeding and nesting sanctuary for a variety of birds, including the Black Noddy Terns and the Wedgetailed Shearwaters. The cay is also a significant nesting location for two vulnerable turtle species, the Green Turtle and Loggerhead Turtle;the day we left the island we heard that two turtles had come up to shore to lay eggs just the night before – a pity we had missed the spectacle. Every June, whales also pass by Heron Island on their annual pilgrimage. It truly is a playground for all types of animals.

Thanks to a combination of its geography, climate and strict conservation rules, we’re surrounded by abundant wildlife — both on land and underwater.

Heron island from the harbor

Island Life

Heron Island is just 72km from the mainland in Queensland, Australia but we might as well be in the middle of the ocean. Surrounded by sparkling, pristine water, the island feels untouched – thanks to the protection by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. There is no fishing nor collecting shells on the island; there are also very strict guidelines on snorkeling and diving as well as turtle watching. The island resort takes the eco-consciousness very seriously – they run their own power generator, potable water producing and treating wastewater, and has also been awarded an Advanced Eco-Certification by Ecotourism Australia.

Besides being eco-friendly, the resort ensures that its rooms are television-free, with no mobile phone reception – its goal is to bring guests “back to nature”. Alberto and I were more than happy to kick back, be unplugged, and enjoy some time off work. We couldn’t have asked for a better setting: Every morning we awoke to a spectacular view of the sea and the gentle sound of the lapping waves, then we spent our afternoons going on educational walks or snorkeling off the island. The island is small enough to walk around in 20 minutes, yet it has everything we could wish for: a restaurant with excellent meals, a swimming pool and lecture rooms for evening presentations.

Most importantly, Heron Island is not just any Great Barrier Reef resort – it’s a resort on the Great Barrier Reef. Reefs literally surround the island and stretch for miles beyond the distance. We loved snorkeling right off the beach in front of our room, swimming amongst dozens of manta rays, black-tipped sharks, and tornadoes of barracudas. We also went scuba-diving and even went on a reef walk during low tide. As our guide Amanda Ford said, “There are few places in the world where you can literally walk on the reef.”  And we were the lucky few to have experienced walking the Great Barrier Reef (more stories on that later..).

Most importantly, Heron Island is not just any Great Barrier Reef resort – it’s a resort on the Great Barrier Reef. Reefs literally surround the island and stretch for miles beyond the distance.

walking on the Great Barrier Reef

An Open Air Classroom

But Heron Island is a lot more than just a resort – it’s an outdoor classroom that offers a crash course in nature. We went on a bird walk where the naturalists pointed out the birds that inhabit the island and interesting facts about them; we visited the research station – the biggest in the Great Barrier Reef; and we went for a talk on sharks and learned so much about this intriguing creature. There was so much to learn and do on Heron Island, we barely scraped the surface. We will be sharing more stories from island, but now, we’ll be dreaming about our time back in paradise…

black noddy
a marine creature

Lounge area in the resort
shipwreck at Heron Island

sunset on Heron Island

Details:

How to get there: The Heron Islander provides transfer from Gladstone to Heron Island and the journey take two hours. A one-way ticket on the boat costs AU$99.50. Alternatively, there are helicopter transfers for AU$370 each way.

Prices: Room rates start from AU$398 per night for twin sharing; there are also diving packages and spa packages. Check this page for more details.

 


Disclaimer: Our stay was made possible by Heron Island, but all opinions expressed above are our own.

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A Quiet Corner of the World: Isla Coronado, Baja California http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/11/08/the-quiet-corner-of-the-world-coronado-island/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/11/08/the-quiet-corner-of-the-world-coronado-island/#comments Thu, 08 Nov 2012 19:28:40 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=12392 An empty beach The warm Mexican sun kissed our shoulders, as we looked out into the horizon. A trail followed the boat as it skimmed the surface of the water, and white glass beads sprouted from the sides of the boat that cut the surface. The deep cerulean water hugging the islands in the near distance became lighter and lighter, [...]

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The warm Mexican sun kissed our shoulders, as we looked out into the horizon. A trail followed the boat as it skimmed the surface of the water, and white glass beads sprouted from the sides of the boat that cut the surface. The deep cerulean water hugging the islands in the near distance became lighter and lighter, now a beautiful, aqua-blue where the shapes of crystals and prisms danced underwater when the rays of the sun met with the forever swaying sea.

We were on the Isla Coronado, an island just off the eastern stretch of Mexico’s Baja California. Fringed with cliffs and boulders, the islands are rugged and untouched, offering some of the best diving in North America. This area is best known for its wildlife: from sea lions to elephant seals and moray eels. On my recent trip to Baja California, I had the chance to swim with the sea lion and float by yellowtail fish and soak in the serenity of the islands.

On a gorgeous secluded beach, we let our hair down, snacked on ceviche and chips while drinking in the stunning view. It was hard to imagine that a place like this really exists in the world; and that I was actually there. Through my photos, I hope to bring you all a piece of paradise, and give you a taste of what it’s like in the quiet corner of the world.

An empty beach

A picture perfect bay

Bienvenido!

Bienvenidos a Isla Coronado

A view of the islands from the mainland

A view of the islands from Loreto, Baja California

Sea lions lounging under the sun

More sea lions spotted swimming in the water

Sandy patches on the island

Patches of pearly white sand on the shore

the clear water of the secluded beach

An empty beach with the mountains in the backdrop

our boat

Our ride for the day

Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Wild Loreto and Villa del Palmar Loreto, but all opinions are our own.

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Heaven on Earth: Myanmar’s Inle Lake http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/10/11/inle-lake/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/10/11/inle-lake/#comments Thu, 11 Oct 2012 12:34:39 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=12224 Fishermen on Inle Laket’s 7am and the sun’s rays are pouring into our wooden stilt bungalow. I open the windows and hypnotic sounds of prayers flood in from the near distance. Every morning at exactly this hour, the Inthas recite their sermons in the Buddhist temple nearby. It’s become a daily ritual for me to rise to this beautiful [...]

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It’s 7am and the sun’s rays are pouring into our wooden stilt bungalow. I open the windows and hypnotic sounds of prayers flood in from the near distance. Every morning at exactly this hour, the Inthas recite their sermons in the Buddhist temple nearby. It’s become a daily ritual for me to rise to this beautiful wake-up call.

The water around us is as still as glass, with nothing but small clusters of purple and green hyacinth plants bobbing on its surface. A lonesome fishermen rows past in the distance, sending ripples in the water. He smiles and waves at me, before slowing disappearing into the horizon.

Inle Lake is a magical watery world of floating gardens, stilted villages and Buddhist stupas. The lake is hemmed in by the beautiful Shan hills of central Myanmar, creating a poetic setting for this heaven on earth. Clusters of beautiful stilt houses are scattered all over the lake, built by villages and communities who rely on the water for a livelihood. At just 22km long and 11km wide, Inle supports a substantial population of 70,000 in and around the lake. The Inthas are a resilient bunch of people who call this place home.

Fishermen on Inle Lake

Entering Their World

That morning, we head out on a small wooden boat to explore more of the lake. Our young boatman leads us into the open water, past floating hyacinth and purple water lilies. Seaweeds sway underneath us through the brackish water while coconut trees dance in the distance. I watch as dragonflies flutter in the air and pond skaters slide on the water surface. Our boat slices through the water, its engine drumming along like the sound of a helicopter. I ask the boatman to turn off the engine, and immediately we slip back into a world of tranquility.

As we head out towards the villages, we see boatfuls of friendly locals who all wave and shout “Mingalabar!”. Wooden boats zip past us, with groups of young monks and students all squeezed into them. Many of them wear thick thanaka makeup on their faces, while those chewing betel nut have blood red liquid dripping off their mouths. Young and old happily flash us wide grins, even seventy-year-old ladies are equally welcoming.

Out in the open water, a few fishermen are fishing with hand-woven rattan baskets and using the traditional method of leg-rowing to move their boats. It’s a unique tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next: fishermen literally use their hands for fishing, one leg to balance and another to row the boat with the oar. When we ask for permission to photograph one of the fishermen, he giggles coyly and nods his head. He doesn’t smile, but his gentle eyes show his kindness.

Monks waving at us

one-leg rowing

Market Day

It’s market day at the village of In Dein. Our boatman leads us through a long, narrow water channel to get there. Along the way, we see a boy scrubbing down his water buffalo, looking shy as we wave and say hello. Young boys are taking a morning bath in the lake, while women do their laundry by the shore. There is plenty of life on the banks of Inle Lake, and we’re thrilled to be in the midst of it.

We hop onto shore at In Dein to wander around the village. On our way to the market, we talk to local vendors, watch as children jump in and out of the water, and ladies do their grocery shopping. Many tribal folks from the nearby village of Pa-O have come to sell their wares, products and spices. Rows of antiques and Buddhist relics are on display, with vendors pushing hard to sell us their collection. We linger around the handicraft store, happy to nab some meaningful souvenirs for family back at home.

Kids taking a bath in the lake

Buddhist antiques

Inle’s Water World

As we continue our boat ride around more communities, we stop over at several weaving workshops and silk stands. Here, we find some Padaung ladies spotting thick, brass rings around their neck. Beauty for them is represented by the elongation of their necks: the longer their necks are, the more beautiful they are.  The Padaung tribes do not live in the area, but many of them have moved here to make a living from tourism. While it is an unfortunate truth, tourism has after all created jobs for these people who otherwise would not be able to survive.

We end our journey at the Kela floating garden, an agricultural area where locals grow tomatoes, spinach and many other produce. In the thick of this greenery are farmers sporting conical straw hats and ladies bent over their backs, working hard at farming fresh fruit and vegetables. As we float amidst the lush green vegetation, this garden almost reminds us of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Like Inle Lake itself, this garden feels surreal, magical and too beautiful to be true.

Long-neck lady from Padaung tribe

View from our room


Where to Stay

Shwe Inn Tha Floating Resort is a gorgeous water hotel made up of several wooden bungalows, built on stilts, in the middle of the lake. All of its bungalows are stylished furnished with teak wood furniture, hand crafted by local carpenters. The rustic hotel features a swimming pool and restaurant as well as comfy sundecks to laze on after a day of explorations. The hotel also organizes half and full-day boat trips around the lake. Every morning, we awake to the million-dollar view of the peaceful lake and mountains in the backdrop.

Shwe Inn Tha

How to Get There/Around

Travel in Myanmar can be difficult due to the lack of tourism infrastructure and political concerns. Generally, the easiest and fastest way to get from Yangon to Inle Lake (Heho airport) is by plane (around US$150). The public bus takes around 16-20 hours and costs approximately 15,000 kyats (US$15). In Nyaung Shwe, you can hire a boat and explore with a tour guide.

Wooden boats for hire

Note: Special thanks to Myanmar Travel who hosted our hotel stay and provided plenty of valuable advice. Myanmar Travel is not in anyway associated with the military government. All opinions expressed above are my own.

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Diving into Paradise: Florida’s Secret Isle http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/10/03/floridas-secret-isle/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/10/03/floridas-secret-isle/#comments Wed, 03 Oct 2012 16:11:02 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=12106 View from aboveThe pearly white beach is empty, except for our footprints in the sand. A regal 19th-century fortress stands behind us, but apart from that, we are completely surrounded by sparkling, spearmint blue water. Alberto and I hold hands and smile at each other. It’s almost as if we’re on a private island, in the middle [...]

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The pearly white beach is empty, except for our footprints in the sand. A regal 19th-century fortress stands behind us, but apart from that, we are completely surrounded by sparkling, spearmint blue water. Alberto and I hold hands and smile at each other. It’s almost as if we’re on a private island, in the middle of the ocean.

In some ways, we are.

We’re 70 miles (113 km) away from the mainland here at Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, afloat in the Gulf of Mexico. Along with six other islets, Garden Key is part of the Dry Tortugas National Park, a highly-protected marine conservation area. The mainland I’m referring to is the American continent, and we are at its southernmost tip, closer to Cuba than most of North America.

Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the island is easy to get to, but surprisingly remote and unknown. Yet, it’s a part of Florida that few get to see: indigo blue water clearer than glass, pristine beaches empty of sun-decks and loud holidaymakers, and marine life more colorful and impressive than those in the aquarium. And of course there’s an intriguing historical element here as well. Fort Jefferson was built to protect the nation’s gateway in the 1800s, due to the large number of vessels that plowed its waters. Though it was never completed, it remains as the largest all-masonry fort in the United States.

Thankfully the vessels that plowed its waters are long gone. In their place are speckles of curious, responsible travelers, who have come a long way to keep this place a secret. We want to share this little secret with you, but shhh… remember to keep it to yourself!

View from above

A narrow sandbar that links Garden Key to Long Key

Snorkeling off the beach

Putting on my fins to go uncover its underwater world

View of sea from the fort

A view of the sea from the fort

Jumping off from the fort

Alberto jumping off the walls surrounding the fort, into the clear water

Walking around the fort

Walking on the wall that surrounds the fort – on one side, the color of rust, the other spearmint blue.

Blue Horizon

Again, looking out to the sea from the top of the fort

Looking into the fort

This time, looking into the gardens of the fort – can you see the blue peeking in through the arches?

A seaplane

A seaplane docked on the beach

How to Get There:

Dry Tortugas is accessible only by private boats, charter boats, or seaplane, though getting there itself is expensive.

Yankee Freedom is the only ferry that goes to the park from Key West, day trips cost US$165 per person including park fee. Key West Seaplane Adventures offers seaplane tours from Key West, with half-day excursions starting from US$265 per person.

Camping is allowed on the island, but be sure to bring everything (including water) with you as there are no facilities other than a small gift shop in the fort.


Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Visit Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park, and The Florida Keys and Key West, but all opinions expressed above are our own.

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