All-Inclusive Tenerife

As the title says: I went to Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, with a friend of mine in November. On an all-inclusive trip, too, so there was way less need to organize anything myself. This whole “almost everything is done for you” approach felt rather weird, but I think it was interesting to see how so many people spend their holidays. Even if it feels somehow foreign (tee-hee) to me. I had not, in fact, been on a holiday like this since I was a kid, when my parents took care of the holiday arrangements. I think it is a rather different thing organizing a trip with a kid anyway, as nowadays my mum is less of an all-inclusive kind of a woman herself…

I love planning trips, myself, so the whole comparing prices of flights/trains, hotels, checking out restaurants and planning things to do is one of my favourite things. Thus, as you can imagine, booking a trip via a travel agency that deals with most things for me is not really my preferred way of traveling, generally speaking. But you have to try everything at least once, right? And just so you don’t have to read all of my jabbering: yes, I do get the appeal, yes, it was worth it, and yes, I might do something similar again at some point. But probably not any time soon.

The Canary Islands belong to Spain, but are actually next to Morocco, so they are even more south than Spain. This means that all of the islands are rather popular around winter time, when it gets rainy, dark, cold and miserable in most of Europe. During our trip, the temperatures were around 20 degrees (Celsius, in case someone is wondering) every day, and mostly sunny. So basically my perfect kind of weather: temperatures didn’t exceed 25 and there was a slight breeze. I did live most of my life very much up north, so anything over 25 degrees feels weird and unnatural and makes me wonder how people survive such temperatures. But I still dream of going to all the places where temperatures are consistently higher than that. I’m weird that way.

So, back to the actual Tenerife trip. The flight left from Ostend-Bruges Airport, which was my first visit to this particular airport, despite it being, by far, the closest airport to me. Most flights from there go to the very touristy beach resort towns, so generally speaking I haven’t had all that much interest in flying from there. I am more of a city trip girl than a beach resort girl, and thus have never before flown from any other airport in Belgium than Brussels Airport. But flying from an airport close to home did make the morning a lot easier, as I got to the airport about 20 minutes after leaving the house instead of walking 25 mins to the station and then spending at least 1.5 hours in trains, as there is usually a change in Brussels… Cheaper, too!

And because this was an all-inclusive trip, after landing we got whisked away by bus straight to our hotel. In theory. In practice we had to wait for everyone to get to the bus and then sit in the bus approximately forever because not everyone was going to the same hotel. At least we saw plenty of the island while sitting in the bus, as we drove basically from one side of the island to the other. But it also meant we were at the hotel only after dark, and thus couldn’t do much else than a bit of scouting around the hotel on the first night. And, of course, we had a few drinks, since they are a part of the all-inclusive thing too. Now that’s a bonus I can agree with.

Los Gigantes.

Tenerife, like all of the Canary Islands, is a volcanic island. And it shows: the ground is mostly volcanic rock with plenty of sharp, jagged edges, and if you are expecting lush tropical forests, you will be disappointed. Of course the tourist resorts and areas around them have their palm trees, but once you go out of the more populated areas, there isn’t much life around. Well, except when you go up Mount Teide, the big volcano at the middle of Tenerife. There is this part with amazing, lush, more boreal-style forest before you go too high for trees again. Too bad we didn’t have the time to pause and take pictures there, for reasons that will become clear later. If there is ever a next time, I’ll be smarter and better prepared!

Pigeons! Such exotic wildlife!

On the first full day we had planned a boat trip in the afternoon. Or, well, booked one via our travel agency, so we just chose the day. Still, that meant that we could go walk around in actual daylight to see a bit of the old town and other areas near our hotel. I think we spent half of that time just looking at the sea: the views were quite different from what we are used to in Belgium (or in Finland, for that matter). No sandy beaches, but plenty of dark volcanic rock that meant interesting contrasts with the blue water.

The boat trip itself was definitely an amazing experience. We had booked it beforehand with just a few clicks, paid for it, and then everything was sorted out for us. We had bus transfer to the marina (which was, again, of course, on the other side of the island), plenty of drinks and some food on the boat, and a tour guide explaining to us what we were doing and seeing. The whole point of the trip was to see dolphins. Even the name of the boat company included dolphins. And boy, did we see dolphins. The dolphins actually came to the boat to show off a bit. I had, of course, seen dolphins already on my Curaçao trip a year before, but this time I saw them so close I could have almost touched them. (Don’t touch them though, you will get fined if anyone sees.) Quite the experience, seeing something like that out in the wild.

They were definitely faster than the boat.

We also saw some small whales, but they were rather far off. At that point I was also feeling rather nauseous, so I didn’t really feel like running around the boat trying to get a good picture, either. For a while I was worried I was seasick (which I’ve never suffered from before), but it turned out I was just too hungry. Oops. Thus my only shot of a whale is a distant fin that could be just about any kind of fish or marine mammal. Maybe I’ll see some more whales somewhere else. Some day. Somehow.

On the way back towards the marina, we were mostly standing around at the bow of the boat, just sipping sangria and enjoying the sunset. And then promptly going insane because we saw some flying fish. Yes, we both went mental because of a few little fish. We were like gibbering idiots for the two seconds after spotting the first one. And then again every time we spotted them again, fleeing from the big scary boat. People were looking at us like we were completely demented (we kinda were, really), but it seemed that after the dolphins and whales no one else had the energy to get excited about flying fish anymore. Some people need more childlike wonder in their lives, seriously!

For the next few days, we rented a car. We had plans that did not include bus transfer, so we sort of had to rent a car to actually be able to do everything we wanted to do. This car, getting the tickets to Mount Teide’s cable car and getting to the big zoo of Tenerife were the only things we actually organized ourselves on the whole trip of. The trip itself was 6 days, so that’s not much organizing at all, even if the first and last days were spent mostly in buses and planes and waiting for buses and planes.

Even food was sorted out for us: that’s why there are no food pictures at all in this post. None. Zilch. We only ate a few times outside the hotel, mostly lunches during our outings, since at the hotel the food was “free” and outside the hotel it was not. The food at the hotel was okay, of course, but it was a buffet in a big hotel, and frankly, that’s not exactly my thing. I prefer to get my portion for me, trusting it will be relatively freshly made and not dried out like some of the buffet food was. Still, the food was plentiful, and after the rather active days we had, that was definitely a good thing.

Some of the animals in the Jungle Park seemed happy with their lives.

So, we visited actually two zoos on this trip. Both me and my friend like visiting zoos, so we figured might as well make the most out of traveling with someone with similar interests. The first of them was the Jungle Park (which I shall not even link to, will explain the reasons below), which had animals, but also a bobsled ride and some other activities, like an adventure route. Basically a place for families with something for everyone.

But the problematic part for me personally was this: there were quite a few animals in the park, and several of them seemed to have relatively miserable living conditions. The birds of prey, one of the first animals you saw after entering the park, were chained with short chains on the ground. That was a BIG no-no, and it made me very worried about what I had paid money for. Their big cats were also in relatively small enclosures, and the leopard was really obviously overweight. There was no one watching over what people do in the (lemur and bird) enclosures you could go into. They also had seal shows, which we didn’t see, but I felt like the seals had a relatively small area to swim in, too (which seems to be a common problem in a lot of zoos, even the better ones). And they basically forced a few birds on us to hold and took pictures of us with them. And if they do this with everyone that visits the zoo, that’s a lot of new people touching and handling any given bird on a daily basis… Basically this is already plenty of reasons why I’d advise people not to support this particular place.

Still, it wasn’t all bad, luckily: most of the animals looked relatively okay. You could also feed a few of the animals with feed you could buy next to the enclosures, meaning it was meant for these animals only. The only animals you could feed that are not relatively common household pets were the emus, and it turns out, emus are not the gentlest of birds. Who would have known that you should not offer a HUGE bird food from your hand. It might be slightly painful when they peck it out of your hand. And if you go inside bird enclosures, make sure you have some tissues and hand sanitizer with you. I was prepared, luckily, and we could wipe off the worst of the bird poop straight away.

From near the top of El Teide.

The third full day was the day I had been already dreading: we went to El Teide or Mount Teide. We had decided to take the cable car up, and hike down. We had been relatively smart about it, and checked Google Maps for an approximate route and time. Turns out that wasn’t smart enough and Google Maps knows nothing about hiking down volcanos.

The trip already started in an interesting way: According to Google Maps, the drive there was supposed to take approximately an hour, so we left the hotel with a nice extra 15 minute buffer. And still realized half-way there we will never make it on time. We had a ticket for a certain time slot for the cable car so of course I was freaking out about that. My friend, who was driving, almost got a panic attack driving Tenerife’s roads, then again. Turns out someone who has learned to drive in one of the flattest countries in the world might not do all that well when suddenly the roads are tiny, windy and so steep the car starts sounding like the motor might explode. Again, who would’ve known!

But we did get there in the end, and after some more panicking even managed to find a parking spot for the car. And got to go up with the next cable car: turns out the time on the ticket is more an idea, not an exact thing. I’m assuming we were not the only tourists that trust Google Maps too much. So, up we went. My ears popped so many times during the ascension it wasn’t even funny, but views from up high were worth it. I have never been that high (outside a plane, at least), and it was all kinds of amazing to be above the clouds. You could even clearly see how the Earth curves from that high up.

The problem, however: Why did I ever agree to walk down? WHY?! That may have been the worst decision I have made in my whole life. I am actually this very moment wearing the sweatpants I wore on that hike, and they have a hole in the butt because I fell on the way down. Did I already mention the volcanic rock around the island is very jagged and sharp? I was also terrified most of the descent, because it turns out the path was not really a path as much as a “if you walk here where others have walked before, you might not die” sort of a solution. And no, the descent did not take “only an hour or so” like Google told us. It took several times that. The sun had already set way before I got into the car again. Heck, the sun was setting already before I even reached the road. I was apparently looking so miserable after the first hour that quite a few people we saw going the other way were smiling at me VERY widely, and a few even told me “you’ll be fine” or “it will get better soon”.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t soon enough. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that I would more likely get down than back up at that point. My legs were moving more on pure mental energy than actual physical energy by the end. And boy did I pay for that for days afterwards, too. Actually more like a week than just days.

So, if you are not a hiker: just take the cable car up AND down. If you are a hiker: apparently it is easier to go up the mountain (slowly and calmly) than down. We were told this by one of the hotel reception people afterwards. She said she has climbed up the volcano, but would never go down. Was good to know all this afterwards, right?! But I have hopefully learned my lesson now.

I’m still happy I did that, because it was one of the most scary but also impressive feats of strength I have ever done. I’m more of a lazy nerd than an active sports person, and even the sportier people seemed to take their time, no matter which way they were going, up or down. But I also never want to experience anything that scary again. I was almost crying a few times because I was just so tired and afraid of falling and breaking my bones. Not dying, mind you, but breaking something important and being stuck there, as the only speedy recovery type would most likely be via helicopter. And think how expensive that would be! But I survived, and the only thing broken was my poor pants.

The turtle had been saved as a small shrimp, the shell was all wrong.

The last full day we went to Loro Parque, the big zoo in Tenerife. The free tractor train thing to there left from a square about 5 minute walk away from our hotel, which was nice. We just ate some breakfast, headed to the stop and waited for the next train to arrive. Then we used the time it took for the slow ride to get us to the zoo to catch some Canarian Pokémon. Yes, we were mentally maybe 8 almost the whole trip, and yes, we were both well aware of it. Life is more fun when you are mentally 8.

Loro Parque was definitely the better zoo experience of the two. The animals seemed to have better living conditions, nothing was chained to anything, and they were educating people on plastic ending up in seas, explaining how much they had helped endangered birds in the wild in South America, and on other things they do to try and help wildlife thrive in natural environments as well. They also had some saved animals, like the turtle that had been saved as a little baby turtle, and had lived in the park since, and the deaf orca that had been found severely malnourished, as it couldn’t hunt that well.

But. They had dolphin and orca shows, and I’m not sure how you can watch those without feeling sort of bad about it all. Especially when the area for both animals seemed really small, when you think how many animals there were in there and how much they swim on a daily basis in the sea. I fully understand that building huge enclosures for sea animals is way harder and expensive than it is for land animals, but somehow it feels even worse when they are made to just do tricks in front of an audience several times a day.

So what did I learn from this trip?

  • I have issues with zoos when animals are chained up, have obvious health issues or very small enclosures, even if I really like zoos in general. Basically I like zoos even if the whole idea itself is rather problematic.
  • All-inclusive holidays are super easy, but they also mean there is less of a chance of finding amazing things sort of by accident.
  • Apparently I am an okay travel companion, at least as long as I have the option to tell them if I need my peace and quiet without anyone getting offended by the introvert needing introvert stuff, and by stuff I mean peace and quiet. Not that I needed to use said option, but it was something we discussed already before booking anything, as I know myself well enough to know sometimes I just need to recharge a bit.

All in all, it was an interesting experience, and I wouldn’t even mind doing an all-inclusive thing at some point in the future as a “home away from home” sort of thing. That means I’d still work during the day and all, but at least then I could spend the evenings and weekends doing something very much different than what I would do at home. Will have to think about it. I think flying for just that would feel silly, unless I’d stay there for months, though, so who knows, maybe not.

Oh, Canada: Toronto pt. II

As I promised, I wanted to do a separate post about the food we ate in Toronto, because there were quite a few specialties and otherwise interesting things on that trip.

Toronto seemed to be a rather good foodie town, as I can’t recall anything been actually bad on that trip, even if certain things were definitely better than others. That’s normal, though: not everything can be mind-blowingly amazing all the time. And if it would be, it would become the new normal and disappointments would come more often. Rather have some “only okay” food from time to time than be disappointed more often, really.

The worst disappointment I had on the trip was the supposedly “special” Chinese restaurant close to where we were staying. The food was supposed to be from some certain area of China and be super special and fancy, but if this was a good example of the cuisine of said area, I can’t really blame anyone skipping it in the future after the first try. It was all very bland and boring. I think you need to be from around there to appreciate the finer things in the dishes, I guess.

The second disappointment was the Japanese restaurant, again near the place where we were staying at, where the actual Japanese beer was the best part of the meal. I don’t think it helped that I had just been in Japan a month before, but the place was definitely not what I was expecting. But at least the beer was good.

But let’s focus on the good and interesting experiences instead of the bad ones. Because mostly the food was good. I don’t even have pictures of all of it, actually. Which is a bit of a shame.

Poutine with Beyond Meat sausage.

Because this was Canada, we of course had to go eat some poutine. For those of you who might not know what poutine is, it is fries with cheese curds and gravy. Relatively simple stuff, but for some reason not really available that much elsewhere in the world. Not sure why, because basically everyone likes the gooey, artery-blocking stuff. Or at least that is the case for most of the people I know.

So we went to Fancy Frank’s for the first proper try. Well, first try for me, my boyfriend had already sort of accidentally been in Montreal during Poutine Fest or something… But I chose Fancy Frank’s because it was mentioned on a few lists on the best poutine in town. It is more of a hot dog place, though, and it was also actually rather far from where we were staying at, but I do feel it was worth the trouble. I got to try a vegetarian poutine with Beyond Meat sausage, which meant I was more than full after my portion. The boyfriend, however, was not completely convinced his portion was enough, so he tried one of the hot dogs, too. Apparently it was all good (I was too full to even have a taste), and on the way back we popped by to a few interesting shops, even if neither of us is much of a shopper. Unless, of course, it is nerdy stuff… which most of the shops we pop into tend to be.

Lobster eggs benedict.

I also used my chance to try fancy stuff I’d most likely never eat in Europe because of the price: Eggs Benedict with lobster. In the amazingly named Eggspectation. It is such a bad pun I can’t do much else than chuckle. Eggspectation is a chain, but the food was good and the service super friendly, even if the place was, by my standards, disorientingly busy.

I’m still not really a huge fan of lobster, but I think my wallet thanks me for that. I preferred the less expensive parts of the portion: the poached eggs and the hollandaise sauce. Could eat those more often, really, but making them both at home is a bit of a hassle. I can make an okay poached egg, but the hollandaise is not really something I excel at. I think I have made it once at home and it ended up okay, but the mess in the kitchen was less okay.

Only in Canada: poutine pizza.

The only place we went to eat twice on this trip was Bannock. It gets its name from a kind of bread, which in Canada is most likely (but don’t quote me on this) based on the bread made by First Nations, even if there is a similarly named thing in Great Britain as well. Or at least used to be, not sure if anyone calls anything ‘bannock’ there anymore.

And we tried their namesake, of course. But, umm, I don’t remember much about it. Nor do I have pictures. I remember was very dense and thus filling, but that’s about it. It wasn’t as memorable as the main dish I had on the first visit: poutine pizza. With some duck. I mean, talk about overkill. I ate less than half of my portion as it was just too darn much, after which my boyfriend tried to finish it off. He also failed (especially since he had already had a burger as well).

But since neither one of us really learns from our mistakes, we decided to go back on the last day for lunch just to get that prime example of fusion food gone rogue again. And nope, we still could not finish one of them with the two of us… I shouldn’t have ordered a main dish of my own at all, really. And I’m still not sure we could have finished it.

Beavertail galore!

Another super-Canadian thing is beavertails. I had actually never heard of them before. They apparently get their name from the fact that they resemble beaver’s tails. Not really sure I fully agree, but at least they taste good. The main issue was that it was huge. Deep-fried dough, caramel, nuts and chocolate sauce meant I was regretting my life choices half-way through the thing, but eat it I did, because I’m not a quitter! Or maybe I’m just stupidly stubborn. Maybe these two are the same thing.

And now, looking at that picture, I feel like I could maybe eat one right now, too. I mean, in all honesty I probably couldn’t, not all of it, but I’d still want one. And I would do my best to finish it. And regret it again afterwards, most likely. Maybe it is better I don’t have easy access to beavertails in my everyday life.

Cheaper grub.

Not all of our food was fancy and weird. We also went to eat in a cheap burrito fast food chain. And it was okay. Not something I’d eat on a daily basis, or probably even a weekly basis, but it served its purpose: we left with our stomachs relatively full and I didn’t complain too much about the flavour. And if all else fails, mix in so much superhot chili sauce that you can’t taste anything else anymore anyway.

This way we saved up some money to go eat SUPERfancy later. Well, okay, technically it wasn’t because of that, but it was an added bonus. I had made a reservation at a restaurant already weeks and weeks beforehand, because I had been watching too much Mind of a Chef around the time we booked the trip and Because David Chang is sort of amazing.

So, in case you didn’t guess already: we went to his restaurant in Toronto, called Kōjin. David Chang is a tv chef of sorts, and based on Mind of a Chef his taste in food seemed somewhat similar to mine. He is most known for Momofuku, but the Momofuku in Toronto is a noodle bar, and I wanted to go eat fancy.

And the food was definitely worth it. I don’t mind splurging on food as long as it is worth it, and here it was. It had been a while since I had had such a good meal with such good drinks to go with it. We had some sausages and corn flatbreads with different toppings to start with, and they came with chili sauce and mustard, all made in-house, and I was so darn tempted to take then with me when they told me I could do so. Too bad we had no fridge in the room and I figured they might not be quite as good anymore after a few days in room temperature plus almost a day of travel in planes and trains and what else. So there they stayed, but I still remember them fondly.

For the main dish the waitress managed to convice us to order the most expensive thing on the menu: dry-aged ribeye. And it was definitely worth every penny. We also had side dishes of grilled mushrooms and nori seaweed and grilled asparagus and egg sauce, but I have to say they were by far the least interesting parts of the whole meal. I’m sort of glad this sort of super fancy meat is really expensive, because otherwise my plan to cut down a bit on meat consumption would be very much in trouble.

And there was the dessert: a slice of ice cream cake with layers of peanut butter, maple and chocolate ice creams. All of the layers were very good, but I think we were both rather happy we decided to share a portion instead of both ordering a dessert, considering how much we had already eaten (and drunk, in my case) at this point.

Based on this visit, I’m now very tempted to go visit the original Momofuku on my trip to New York in March, but I don’t know if it would be the same alone. I might need someone with me, just so I could go “ooh” and “aah” every time I taste something new. I think the reservations might be a tad tad more problematic than in Toronto, too, but I haven’t actually checked.

Talking about desserts… I saw a rather Japanese-looking gentleman in the hotel elevator with a bag from Uncle Tetsu’s, so of course I had to figure out what and where that was. Turns out Uncle Tetsu’s is a Japanese cheesecake shop that had a “to go” window just a block away.

So I may have gone a bit mad and bought a whole darned cheesecake just for myself, since my boyfriend is not that into cheesecakes in general. I ate approximately half of my matcha-flavoured cheese cake in one go and a few slices later on, but there was no way I could finish the whole thing. And as I mentioned before, we had no way of keeping things cool. Such a waste of perfectly good, extremely fluffy cheesecake… But these things happen, sometimes, even if I try to avoid wasting food. Easier to do at home than on a trip, I guess.

The white cheddar popcorn in the picture was also very good, by the way, but the cheesecake had already stolen my heart by the time I tasted them. The poor things had no chance. Except as a way to try and balance my sugar overdose with salt and fat overdose. Balanced diet and all that jazz, right?

It might not look like much, but it was all kinds of amazing.

I also ate some bison at the restaurant near Toronto Art Gallery. And it was a mind-blowing experience. I suddenly understood so well why the poor things were almost hunted to extinction.

The waiter actually mentioned to me that he tries to eat vegetarian, but this particular portion is something he usually cannot resist. I don’t even remember what else was with it (maybe sweet potato puree and some buckthorn), but I remember sighing happily while eating. And wishing my boyfriend had had the chance to try it as well, but alas, he was busy running around nerdy shops while I was being all cultural in the art gallery. Maybe next Canada visit we can go eat some bison together. No clue when that might be, but I’m sure it will happen at some point, as he is very much a Canada fan.

In case anyone forgot where we were…

So what did I learn about Canadian food? Poutine is good. The best things in Canada are the weird things you did not expect to be that good. The Canadians are amazing, so nice and polite. I also want more Momofuku food. And more Japanese cheesecake. And should maybe avoid Asian restaurants unless I hear from good sources they are actually good, because on this trip the different kinds of Asian restaurants disappointed me more than anything else.

And, fun fact to end things with: that big building (or technically two buildings, I guess, at least from this angle) on the picture behind the Toronto sign was designed by a Finnish architect. I did not know this until we went inside the building where they had a sign telling me so. Damned Finns, they get everywhere.