Proudly a HI Member in Toronto

I’ve been traveling a lot this year and I’ve been patronising one specific hostel that every place I visited, I stayed in the same hostel. I have never thought that one day, I will be a member of the Hostelling International community since most of my trips I’ve been staying with them. When I was in Washington, D.C and Chicago, I stayed with them and just recently, I was in Toronto and I picked them up as a place to check-in for 3 nights. Luckily, I saved almost CA$50 upon being a member so, I can say that at long last after 3 HI affiliates I’ve checked in, I am proudly a HI member.

Hostelling International is a network of hostels around the world. It offers great deals to travelers, students or even big family since they have wide selections of accommodations from private rooms to dorm bed for the night with shared facilities. In addition to that, being a HI member, members can get 10% discount on their overnight bookings. But they’re so much more than a bed they offer to members, there is also a whole range of great deals and offers through their partnerships worldwide. As a HI member, you can get discounted tickets from museums and tours, to adventure activities and national parks, while enjoying the benefits of the real hostelling experience. I have never realised that until I got to Toronto when I tried to purchase a day tour but it was expensive so, I became a member and saved almost 20% of the tour package.

HI Toronto: The Cavern

I was welcomed by Chantelle who is the front desk during my check-in since I arrived in HI at around 2100H. It was fast and it took about less than 10 mins. Upon checking-in, every guest will get a breakfast voucher for 50% discount on the first day and if you are a HI member, you will get another discount for drinks during the first night in the bar. They also provide free wi-fi connection and they will hand the password once you get your card key along with clean towel if you ask for it.

Waiting Lounge

Calendar of Events

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Reading Area near the Computers and TV

Before a guest can get to the dining area and rooms, each guest should have with them their card keys to access and open the secured door, thus, making it more safe for travelers to stay in. Safety and security are the assets of every HI hostels.

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Dining Area near the elevator

Once you get in, the elevator needs also the card key for you to get to your floor. If you don’t have any access card, you can’t even press the number on the elevator.

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Elevator Floors

I was in 4th floor, room 402 to be exact. In 4th floor, it has the laundry rooms and common washrooms which is way better for easy accessibility.

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4th Floor Washroom

I got inside the room with the use of my keycard. I took a photo during the morning since most of my roommates were asleep. In the morning, this is the view of the room after most of them left to tour the city. It is a dorm type accommodation with 5 double decks. Good thing, I was assigned to the lower deck since I don’t like climbing the upper deck of the bed.

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Dorm typed room with 5 double decks

The room was jam packed. The guest who slept on the upper deck of the bed was friendly. He is from England and we talked about travels which is the main reason why I am staying in a hostel rather than in a hotel because thru hostels, I can meet a lot of people and talk to them about their travel experiences. I, then, proceeded to the patio to see the view.

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Patio

Too bad it was raining that time. So, I just went down and out to explore the city.

Hostelling International Toronto: The Cavern is a really good and safe hostel located in the heart of downtown Toronto. It is just 5-minute walk from Union Station and few miles away to tourist attractions in the city such as the Hockey Hall of Fame, Eaton Shopping Centre, CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, St. Lawrence Market and more. If I’ll come back in Toronto, for sure, I’ll be staying there again since I can get better rates for being a HI member and advantages of staying in a hostel.

If you want to check HI: Toronto, The Cavern, visit their site by clicking here. It is located in 76 Church St, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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IATA Code: YYZ – Toronto Pearson International Airport

International Air Transport Association (IATALocation Identifier uses a 3-letter code to identify locations of airports throughout the world.pt5baag6c

YYZ or famously known as Toronto Pearson International Airport is an airport hub serving the biggest city of Canada, Toronto. It is the largest and busiest airport in the country. It is the main hub for Air Canada and is one of eight Canadian airports with facilities for United States border preclearance. Over 75 airlines operate from Toronto Pearson to more than 180 destinations across all six of the world continents.

Toronto Pearson International Airport has two active terminals, Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. Both terminals are designed to handle all three sectors of travel from domestic, transborder to international.

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Terminal 1 Check-in Hall

Terminal 1 is the largest terminal at Pearson Airport and is among the largest buildings in the world. It has 58 gates that serve airline companies for both U.S and international flights. For international departure in Terminal 1, passport control checkpoints and immigration checks are located in Pier F.

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In boarding gates with Foreign Exchange Automated Machine

The arrival area is wide and grandiose. Upon de-planing the aircraft, it took about few minutes to get to immigration counter. Since it is not allowed to take photos in immigration counters, I will describe how it looks. The counters are divided into two. The Canadian and US passport holders are on a queue for first group of counters and the other line is for non-Canada and US passport holders. It only took about half an hour including from the queue until I got to pass the immigration officer. It was easy since I am a US permanent resident so, the officer just asked me some questions such as how long I’m staying in Canada, where I’m staying and do I have relatives who live in Canada. After that, I got my customs declaration stamped and went directly to baggage claim area.After I got my baggage, I went out to the arrival area. In Toronto  Pearson International Airport, there are a lot of modes of transportation to get to downtown Toronto.img_4950img_4948One of those is thru taxi or limousines. Taxi and limousines offer either flat rate or fixed rate. A passenger needs to ask the driver though, if he chose the latter. You can also even pre-arranged a pick-up service so when you arrived in the airport, the driver is waiting for you.img_4949Other option is thru renting a car. Within the arrival gate, rental car companies are visible. There are also local bus services, just check this site by clicking here to view and know the route and loading areas within the airport. And lastly and the most affordable ground transportation to and from the airport is through the use of UP Express or Union Pearson Express. UP Express is a direct air-rail link that speeds travelers from YYZ to downtown’s Union Station. I took the UP Express. I just followed the signs to get to Train to City.Finally, I got to this gate to Union  Station. I just needed to get to the train for me to see the city. Union Station is the heart of downtown Toronto.I was already in the UP Express station in Terminal 1 and I saw a vending machine to purchase ticket. It cost me CA$12.00.img_4954I got inside the train and waited for it to start its engine and I was en route to downtown Toronto.img_4955The ride was fast and the trip took about 25 minutes passing two stations of Weston and Bloor. Train runs between 0530H and 0100H with 15-minute interval. To know more about UP Express, visit their site for Toronto airport or UP Express itself. It is really convenient to ride the UP express train since it offers free wi-fi connection and has charging outlets in every seat. It is a great way to get around Greater Toronto Area and the airport.

As a summary, YYZ or Toronto Pearson International Airport is a well-planned and spacious major hub in the country of the north, Canada. Even though it is miles away from downtown city but it can be accessed easily. It is labeled as the busiest airport in Canada but it is big that it is not crowded. Toronto Pearson International Airport is indeed a great airport with stunning architectural design and incredibly friendly hub.

Not So Windy After All

Chicago has been named as the Windy City in the state of Illinois. It might be due to its location which is up north and near Lake Michigan. Aside from being a windy city, this city has served an important part of my life. I came in the United States a year ago and Chicago was my port of entry. It was memorable and this city will always give me happiness in my life. It is considered the door to fulfilling my every dream.

After a year, I have decided to come and see what is within the city since the first time I sat foot in Chicago, I only stayed in the airport at O’Hare International Airport. I traveled from Caldwell, Ohio to Alliance, Ohio since the latter is the only nearest access to the train station. Alliance has an AmTrak station that serves Capitol Limited route. Capitol Limited route runs from Chicago, IL to Washington, D.C passing thru stops in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was my second time to ride AmTrak and I chose it because it was convenient and comfortable than riding a bus. The trip also took about almost 8 hours as compared to interstate buses that’ll take 12 hours or more. Anyway, I have arrived in Union Station in Chicago at 0800H. The ride was smooth and I got few hours of sleep. I went out the station to see the streets of Chicago. I was expecting it will be amazing since I’ve been to New York City three times so, I envisioned it to be like the Big Apple. I was not mistaken. Skyscrapers were visible with matching bumper to bumper traffic. But I was still astounded because it’s not everyday I got to see a busy street of the U.S since I live in a small town in a southeastern part of Ohio. I did decided to snap a lot of street pictures.20160826_16562220160826_104402
One of the many reasons why I wanted to visit the city again is also to meet a friend whom I’ve known online for over a year. I haven’t met him in person so, we have come up with an idea to finally meet since I got Chicago listed as one of the cities to travel. I met him and his family the next day and I was so glad to finally see them eye to eye. They were hospitable, accommodating and lovely people. They also offered to show me around the city. Since my friend is still taking up his Masters course in Roosevelt University, he invited me to tour around the university campus first and meet some of his cool and awesome music lover friends. I got the opportunity to introduce myself and know some of them.

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Roosevelt University

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View outside Roosevelt University

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A Serbian friend/ student playing the piano

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Roosevelt University students/friends and family: (L to R) Allison, Justine, me, Artem’s family Mark, and Tanya and Artem

After the university tour, we headed out to the street. While walking within the busy street of Chicago, never had I known that the city is also famous for its architectures, theaters, music and more. Thus, giving me ideas to explore more locations within the city.  The first stop was the ever famous Cloud Gate or widely known as The Bean.

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Cloud Gate

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Cloud Gate or The Bean

Cloud Gate or The Bean is a public sculpture by artist Anish Kapoor which has been the centerpiece of AT&T  Plaza at Millennium Park in the Loop community area of downtown Chicago, Illinois. It has been nicknamed The Bean because of its shape. It is made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together, it is highly polished with no visible seams. Cloud Gate has gained popularity both domestically and internationally and is one of the most photographed attractions in Chicago.

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Cloud Gate and the reflections

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At the underside is the “omphalos” (Greek for “navel”), a concave chamber that warps and multiplies reflections

Few walks from the Cloud Gate is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion or the Pritzker Music Pavilion.

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Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the Great Lawn

This music pavilion is a bandshell in Millennium Park. It was named after Jay Pritzker whose family is known for owning the Hyatt Hotels. It is the centerpiece of the Millennium Park and is the nation’s only remaining free outdoor classical music series.

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The Stage

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People rehearsing and preparing the music pavilion for an evening show

We, then, headed to the Crown Fountain which is just beside the Cloud Gate.

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Crown Fountain

It is interactive work of public art and video sculpture also featured in Millennium Park. The fountain is composed of black granite reflecting pool placed in a pair of black glass towers. Both towers has LED to display digital videos and spouting through a nozzle on each tower’s front face.

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The other brick tower

We visited most of the tourist attractions in Millennium Park and we have decided to grab a bite before heading to our next destination. My friend suggested to try Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria.

When we got our tummy filled, we headed back to the streets and visited more tourist spots. Next on the list was the Buckingham Fountain but before we can even get there, we passed thru interesting and attention seeking sculptures such as:

Daphne

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Daphne by Dessa Kirk

Daphne is a sculpture by Dessa Kirk and is found in Congress Triangle Park. It is a Greek mythology figure who was transformed into a plant or tree so the she wouldn’t be captured.

Equestrian Indians The Bowman and The Spearman

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The Bowman by Ivan Mestrovic

If you happen to be wandering in the Congress Plaza, you will see this powerful male figure on horseback providing an idealised portrayal of Indian Americans and we got to see this on our way to the Buckingham Fountain. The artist Ivan Mestrovic who was a Croatian sculptor had built the equestrian Indians to commemorate the tribes that once roamed the Illinois prairies.

Artists and Automobiles

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Enormous Red Lily by Dessa Kirk

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Hedgerow by Lucy Slivinski

In 2006, AllState Insurance Company sponsored the Artists and Automobiles exhibit and provided old car parts that the sculptors used to create the artworks. Only three  works of sculptor artists remained in Grant Park. The enormous red lilies by Dessa Kirk which are made of doors, hoods, trunks and roofs from several Cadillacs. Lucy Slivinski’s Hedgerow is a garden feature composed of entwined mufflers, tailpipes, and headlights.

Flamingo

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Flamingo by Alexander Calder

This work of art is not located near the Buckingham Fountain but I’ll just add it up here since I was roaming the Federal Plaza alone just to see this sculpture. It is the Flamingo created by Alexander Calder. It is composed of steel and is vermilion in color. Calder gave the stabile its color as ‘calder red’ to offset it from the black and steel surroundings of nearby office buildings.

We got to see a lot of  artworks on our way to the fountain and after about 30 mins, we got to Buckingham Fountain.

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Buckingham Fountain

It is a Chicago landmark in the center of Grant Park. It is one of the largest fountains in the world and was built in a rococo wedding cake style. Buckingham Fountain also has water and light shows and has visited frequently by tourists and locals alike.

Just a street away is the Chicago Lakefront Trail.20160826_20095020160826_202240img_4873-1

The trail is considered a foreshoreway for walking and cycling along the coast of Lake Michigan. The trail connects various beaches and recreational amenities located along the lakefront and also serves as a route for bicycle commuters. There are also attractions along the path such as the Museum of Science and Industry, Monroe Harbor, Belmont Harbor, Soldier Field, John Shedd Aquarium and more.

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John Shedd Aquarium

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Chicago Lakefront Trail view from the Shedd Aquarium

After seeing the aquarium, my newly met friends and I have decided to separate trails since I have other friends to meet. My batch-mate who works in Chicago has decided Navy Pier as our rendezvous point. It was a decent walk/ exercise from the lakefront trail all the way to Navy Pier. The walk took about almost an hour but it was worth it since I haven’t seen this school friend for almost 10 years after we graduated from our university. We dined in at Margaritaville Restaurant in Navy Pier, reminiscing about our school years and we have also decided to ride the Centennial Wheel which I paid US$15 just to see the Chicago skyline at night.

We spent almost 3 hours just having fun and it was almost 2200H that we called it a night. Since my friend lives near the Navy Pier, she showed me where she was staying and got the clear view of Chicago skyline. It was perfect. She lives in an apartment where I dream of living in the future and I have thought of looking for a possibility of moving there once I’m done serving my contract in Ohio.

The next few days, I had my self-guided tours thru the help of Booking.com travel guides. I have decided to do some shopping in famous Fashion street in Chicago and also tried the Chicago Riverwalk.20160826_09365420160826_09382520160826_10011620160826_10222920160826_10230820160826_10485620160826_105714My whole Chicago trip was a blast. It may be named as a Windy City but it was not windy after all. Chicago welcomed me warmly and I got to meet a lot of really nice people.

Check my YouTube channel and my vlog about Chicago’s Not So Windy After All.

Out-of-State Travel

Traveling interstate for me is difficult for many reasons:
1st, I just got into driving recently and I’m not that confident to drive to other state;
2nd, Routes and unfamiliar roads make me more nervous;
and lastly, Different type of drivers gather in one road and I’m one of the reckless category.

So, I ended up getting into a bus for my trip from Cambridge, OH to Washington DC. I’ve searched thru the net on what buses have routes going to the capital of the country. I found the Greyhound Line, Inc and purchased a round trip ticket. The ticket costs about $166 but if I have purchased it more earlier, it would have cost lesser. Check their site, here. Continue reading