Wednesday, 17 January 2018

2 days in grand Vienna

Greetings! This post is the second of four posts inspired by my trip to Central Europe last November. My sister and I visited Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague. I wrote about our stay in Budapest here. I had been to Vienna with my friends before. This time it was lovely to re-visit Vienna and create new memories with my sister. I hope you'll enjoy my trip highlights and the selected pictures below.

DAY 4, Tuesday November 14 - Vienna

After a satisfying breakfast, we left Hungary and travelled through the Austrian countryside to Vienna, former centre of the Habsburg Empire, and the capital city of Austria. With the Communist regime ended in Hungary in 1989, and both Austria and Hungary are in the European Union, there is no longer any border control between the two countries.

Entering Austria from Hungary

Upon arrival in Vienna, we got off our modern coach for a short walk break and a quick snack. Michael, our tour manager, recommended the locally well-known Bitzinger Wurstelstand Albertina hot dog stand. My sister and I shared a hot Viennese sausage, cut up in bite sized pieces, served with mustard and rye bread. It was so tasty!

Bitzinger Wurstelstand Albertina

Next, we walked over to Kärnterstrasse, the main pedestrian-only shopping street of Vienna. The shops were beautifully decorated for the Christmas holidays. We window shopped until it was time to board our coach to go to Schönbrunn Palace for our scheduled guided tour.

Schönbrunn Palace was the baroque summer palace of the Habsburgs. Built between 1696 and 1730, it contains a staggering 1,441 rooms. Empress Maria Theresa and her sixteen children left the greatest impact on the palace. 2017 marked the 300th anniversary of Empress Maria Theresa's birth. One of her daughters is Marie Antoinette who was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. Franz Josef I, who was born in the palace and reigned for 68 years, was the last Austrian emperor to live here. The greatest attraction are the stunning State Apartments, followed by the Gloriette, a marble summerhouse, and the palace's Imperial Gardens.

Schonbrunn Palace
The Gloriette

After touring Schönbrunn Palace, we were dropped off at our nearby hotel. We checked in our comfortable room, rested a bit before heading out for dinner at Schonbrunner Stockl restaurant that our tour manager had recommended. I had the classic Viennese Tafelspitz served with creamed spinach, apple horseradish, and shredded potatoes, with local wine. It was an excellent meal. Sleep came easy after a wonderful touring day.

Viennese Tafelspitz

DAY 5, Wednesday November 15 - Vienna

Today we took a tram ride around the entire Ringstrasse or circle of boulevards that enclose the old city of Vienna. The tram follows the route of the medieval fortifications. We passed by several landmarks, historical monuments, museums, beautiful buildings, and even graffiti walls. It was a relaxing and inexpensive way to view the city.

Vienna, Austria
Buildings along Ringstrasse
Hotel Sacher & Cafe Mozart, Vienna

I was interested in taking a guided tour of Staatsoper, Austria's State Opera House. This French Renaissance-style building, with its elegant arcades, is right along the Ringstrasse. It was built in 1861-1869, and rebuilt in 1946-1955 to plans.

Vienna's Opera House

The queue for the guided tour at the Opera House was long so we decided to visit Domkirche St. Stephan or St. Stephen's Cathedral, the symbol of Vienna. Construction of St. Stephen's Cathedral commenced in the 12th century. Today, it is one of the most important Gothic structures in Austria. The cathedral is 107.2 meters long and 34.2 meters wide. It has four towers. The tallest of these is the south tower at 136.44 meters.

St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

Feeling energetic, we bought our tickets and climbed the south tower with its 343 spiral steps to the Watchman's Chamber for the panoramic views of Vienna. On the roof of St. Stephen's Cathedral, colourful roof tiles were laid to create the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the city of Vienna.

East view of Vienna
West view of Vienna
North view of Vienna
South view of Vienna

After returning to the ground, we did gift shopping for our families. The Christmas Market outside St. Stephen's Cathedral was getting set up. I imagined it would be very busy and festive here in the next few weeks.

We took the subway train back to our hotel. For dinner, we went to Strasser Brau, a local restaurant recommended by our tour manager. Both of us ordered the Wiener Schnitzel, another traditional Viennese dish, with wine. When the orders arrived, we had a good laugh as the portions were big enough to feed four people.

Wiener Schnitzel

I'm grateful for the opportunity to visit Vienna again. It is a grand city with so much history and culture to offer. I'd highly recommend Vienna to other travellers.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

2 days in blooming Budapest

Greetings! Last November, my sister and I took an 8-day escorted tour to Central Europe. I wrote about our itinerary here. I'm now writing four individual posts on Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague. This post is the first of four. I hope you'll enjoy my trip highlights and the pictures as much as we've enjoyed our trip.

DAY 1, Saturday November 11- Depart for Hungary
  • Overnight seven-hour flight from Toronto to London. Arrived on time the next day.
  • Layover was two hours long at London Heathrow airport, just enough time to transfer from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5. The transfer took ninety minutes door to door, including a ten-minute shuttle bus ride.
  • Two-hour flight from London to Budapest. Arrived in Budapest around mid-day local time. So exciting!
DAY 2, Sunday November 12 - Arrive in Budapest
First impression at the baggage claim area of Budapest airport (BUD): A clean, simple, and modern terminal. Budapest is the embarkation of the popular Danube river cruise.

Below is a view of Budapest at night, outside our hotel. Note the tram, bus, bikes, and snow flake light displays as we were there about six weeks before Christmas. There is also a Metro (subway) entrance close by. Budapest has a well-established public transit system. 

In the evening, we met Michael, our tour manager, and nineteen fellow travellers (one from Australia and eighteen from the USA) at one of the restaurants in the hotel for our orientation meeting. Our group seemed friendly and courteous. We looked forward to having a fun week with them. We enjoyed a Welcome drink (champagne for me!) and a three-course dinner. My first dessert on the trip was a crème brulée served with three scrumptious cookies. 

DAY 3, Monday November 13 - Budapest City Tour, Great Market Hall, and Gellért Thermal Baths
We had a great buffet breakfast in the hotel, with plenty of hot and cold choices but the most unique is the delicious Hungarian goulash soup.

Next, we boarded our modern coach to take the morning city tour of Budapest. Budapest is the capital city of Hungary that straddles the Danube river, with the Buda Hills to the west and Pest to the east. We began in Pest and continued up the majestic Andrassy Boulevard toward Heroes' Square. This is Pest's greatest boulevard. It is lined with trees, museums, restaurants, and beautiful apartment buildings. It is a reminder that this city was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Heroes' Square was created for the millennium in 1896, which celebrates the arrival of the Magyar tribes in the Carpathian Basin in 896. The statues represent the chronology of some 1,000 years of Hungarian history.

Heroes' Square, Budapest
Leaving Heroes' Square, we passed by the Great Market Hall before crossing the Danube to the Buda Hills. Castle Hill, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, consists of two parts: the Royal Palace itself and the so-called Castle District. Most of this area is a reconstructed medieval city. The original castle was destroyed in World War II and replaced with the current Buda Castle. This is an interesting area for walking and wandering. There, we saw the Buda Castle and Matthias church.

Buda Castle, Budapest
Matthias church, Budapest

We continued to the Fisherman's Bastion for fantastic panoramic views of the city, including the Hungarian Parliament and impressive St. Stephen's Basilica, the largest church in Budapest.

Fisherman's Bastion
Hungarian Parliament seen from Fisherman's Bastion
St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

Budapest's exquisite Parliament building is the second largest in Europe after England's Westminster. The main facade faces the Danube. Designed by Imre Steindl and completed in 1902, the building mixes neo-Gothic style with a neo-Renaissance dome reaching 96m (315 ft), significant as the country's millennium was 1896 and the conquest of the kingdom of Hungary was 896. Unfortunately, we were unable to go inside for a guided tour as Hungarian Parliament was in session that day.  

Hungarian Parliament building
Afternoon was at leisure, so my sister and I decided to walk to the historic Great Market Hall with its over 100 market stalls and endless choices of regional products. It was fun to browse what was on sale. 

Great Market Hall, Budapest
Hungarian paprika
Hungarian salami
On our walk to and from the Great Market Hall, we admired the architecture in our surroundings. We reminded ourselves to always look up since so many interesting features on buildings are not at eye level. 

Great Market Hall at night
After an active touring day, nothing could be better than a soak in a thermal. We had passed by Széchenyi Baths, one of the largest spa complexes in Europe and the first thermal bath on the Pest side, however, the Gellért Baths are within walking distance from where we stayed. It is a big building, attached to a hotel. We spent about two hours soaking and relaxing at Gellért thermal baths. Below is Gellért layout to give you an idea of the inside. 

Gellért layout
We crossed the Széchenyi Bridge or the Chain Bridge which is the first permanent crossing to link Buda and Pest. Designed by William Tierney Clark, an Englishman, the bridge was also one of the largest suspension bridges of its time when it opened in 1849.

The Chain bridge at night, Budapest

In the evening, we walked to a local restaurant and enjoyed dinner before returning to our room to rest for the night. Sleep came easily thanks to the fresh air from our walk, the relaxing thermal baths, dinner with wine, and dessert.

Our stay in Budapest was brief, however, we both felt that we had an excellent introduction to the city and the Hungarian culture. As we wandered through the city, I reminded myself of two facts: Much of Budapest was bombed during World War II, and the Communist regime only ended in 1989. In a relatively short time, the city has made tremendous strides and it seems to be blooming. I'm grateful for the opportunity to visit Budapest with my sister. I'd highly recommend Budapest to other travellers.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Wellness Wednesday Jan 10

Welcome to our new monthly Wellness Wednesday link up in 2018! My thanks to Amber for the graphic, Leslie for the link up codes, and the fabulous bloggers who joined right away after I made the suggestion.

First, about the Wellness link up: It is monthly so we have time to act on our goals and to enjoy the journey. Each month in 2018, we have a different topic to write about and a progress update. Please feel free to join us to share, inspire, and support each other.

2018 Wellness Wednesday schedule and topics:
  • Jan 10 - Wellness goals 
  • Feb 7 - Favourite cardio exercises or tips; Wellness goals update #1 
  • Mar 7 - Favourite exercise equipment or gadgets; Wellness goals update #2 
  • Apr 11 - Favourite natural wellness tips; Wellness goals update #3 
  • May 9 - Healthy skin and hair care tips; Wellness goals update #4
  • June 6 - Mental health care tips; Wellness goals update #5
  • July 11 - Emotional health care tips; Wellness goals update #6
  • Aug 8 - Healthy cooking tips; Wellness goals update #7
  • Sep 12 - Favourite strengthening exercises or tips; Wellness goals update #8
  • Oct 10 - Cancer care tips; Wellness goals update #9 
  • Nov 14 - Stress management exercises or tips; Wellness goals update #10
  • Dec 12 - Self-care rewards

Second, about my Wellness goals: To create my Wellness goals for this year, I looked at Wellness under seven to eight lenses such as emotional, physical, environmental, financial, intellectual, social, spiritual, and occupational (for people who are working). With this in mind, I wrote a post on 18 FEASTs to enjoy in 2018 here. FEAST stands for Fitness, Entertainment, Arts, Social, and Travel. To start simple and steady, I decided to set three wellness goals in January, one for my mind, one for my body, and one for my spirit.

My January wellness goals:
  1. Meditate 15 minutes daily. I usually do this in the morning and before bedtime. It clears and calms my mind.
  2. Exercise one hour daily. I'll rotate my physical activities to keep myself engaged and to use different muscles in my body.
  3. Smile or laugh every day. I'll be thinking of happy moments that I've shared with my family members and friends. They automatically bring a smile to my face. Some memories make me laugh out loud.

Each month I'll create a new set of wellness goals, work on them, and report my progress in the following month. Some months I'll have more goals in one of the FEAST buckets than the others. Hopefully, by the end of this year, I'll have enjoyed a well-balanced year.

Here's to a healthy and happy 2018! Good luck with achieving your wellness goals.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

What I've learned from my first escorted tour

Last November, my sister and I went on our first escorted tour to Central Europe. We've travelled together several times before but have always planned the trips ourselves. This time, we decided to book an escorted tour to try something new that does not require too much effort from our end, other than selecting a tour and paying for it.

We both had a fantastic time with lots of new memories and pictures from our tour. It confirmed what I thought about escorted tours, their benefits, and why I would consider another escorted tour for my future travels. At this time, with good health and being fairly active, independent travels are still more appealing to me. However, if an escorted tour comes along that meets my criteria, you may see me on it!

Why should you consider taking an escorted tour?
  • Itinerary and logistics are planned by the tour company
  • Guided tours are led by local guides in your language of choice
  • Travelling in a group is an opportunity to meet other travellers
  • Most expenses are known at time of booking

What should you look for when selecting an escorted tour?
  • Tour company with a solid history and policies that you accept
  • Excellent customer reviews or words of mouth from people you trust
  • The tour group size and targeted audience
  • The tour itinerary, its pace, and comfort level
  • The driving distance per day (i.e. How long are you sitting on a bus?)
  • The tour details, what's included, and what's not

What was my experience on my first escorted tour?
  • We travelled in shoulder season so the group size was less than half of what it would be in prime season. We lucked out with meeting a group of nineteen friendly and considerate fellow travellers, fifteen of them travelled as couples or in small groups, and four were solo travellers. We had plenty of room on our tour bus which can accommodate fifty five people.
  • The tour was well-organized. Our itinerary covered the half-day city tours and left us with free time to explore on our own. The tour manager and local guides spoke excellent English. They were also very helpful with their recommendations for local restaurants or optional activities.
  • The distance from one city to another is not too far (e..g. From Budapest to Vienna was about 2.5 hours by car, and from Vienna to Bratislava was about an hour by car). Being a person who prefers walking, I particularly appreciated that I did not have to sit on a bus all day.
  • The pace was just right for us although people who are not 'morning persons' might struggle with getting ready, breakfast, and out the door by 8:30 a.m. for several days in a row.
  • We paid for most expenses in advance and did not have any unexpected charges. We had sufficient foreign currencies with us for small purchases (euro for Austria and Slovakia, forint for Hungary, and koruna for Czechia). Credit cards were accepted at the restaurants and shops that we visited. Coins were useful where we made stops for public washrooms since they typically had a small charge and an attendant to accept payments. We used up the coins before leaving the countries since we can exchange bills but not coins.
  • The four cities (Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague) are beautiful with well-established tourism. I highly recommend a visit to each city or all four if you have the opportunity. 

Should you consider taking an escorted tour?

Ultimately, if you prefer someone else to manage the itinerary and logistics, and don't mind travelling with a group on a schedule, then escorted tours may be the right option. 

I'd consider another escorted tour for places where I don't know the local language and English is not widely spoken, and if the tour meets my travel criteria. I'm also on the look out for a Canadian tour company. There are many but if you have one to recommend, please share.

What is your experience with escorted tours?

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

18 FEASTs to enjoy in 2018

Happy New Year! It's so exciting to have a brand new year ahead of us and a new calendar to pencil in upcoming events and activities. I wrote about my best of 2017 here. I hope to make 2018 an amazing year. 

As I was thinking about 2018, interestingly enough, the word ENJOY kept popping up in my mind. Then when I jotted down the activities that make me feel good or that I enjoy doing, I noticed that I had eighteen (18) items and they can be grouped into five buckets. The first letter of each bucket turned out to be FEAST. Hmm, '18 feasts to enjoy in 2018' sounds pretty good to me.

Here are my 18 FEASTs to enjoy in 2018:

  • exercise one hour daily
  • eat more plant-based foods
  • meditate daily
  • sleep 7-8 hours each night 
  • smile and laugh every day
  • admire nature every day
  • attend fairs and festivals
  • listen to music recitals
  • watch movies 
  • visit art exhibitions
  • learn a foreign language
  • read something new every day
  • spend time with family
  • stay in touch with friends 
  • blog and make new friends 
  • take trips within Canada
  • explore new destinations
  • revisit some destinations
I'll set specific goals in my seasonal fun lists, like my winter fun list here. I'll also post my updates on how I'm doing throughout the year.

How about you? What do you do for fun in 2018?

Sunday, 31 December 2017

December in a sentence a day

Greetings! I enjoyed a very festive December without stress as we stayed with the five simple pleasures that I listed here. On Christmas Eve, we had significant snowfall overnight and the next day got a beautiful white Christmas which seemed to make the holiday lights brighter and the family gathering cozier. We've also had an extreme cold alert since Christmas Day. This means bundling up when we go outside and not staying too long outside in the cold either (no frostbite please). It's a perfect time to enjoy the warm comfort of home, reading, writing, listening to music, travel planning, baking, drinking hot chocolate or coffee, talking to family and friends on the phone, and blogging.

I’m writing my December in a sentence a day on the last day of 2017 just because I have time to do it while waiting for the New Year to arrive. I'll link up with several fellow bloggers on January 4, 2018. Be sure to visit the linked up blogs next week for more inspiration.
December in a sentence a day:

1. Happy Friday with yoga at home and made a donation to our local community centre.

2. Swam 45 minutes in the morning, did light reading during the day, attended the Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol event in the evening, and made cash donation to the Out of the Cold program.

3. A fun Sunday with a 5K run and guest blogging on Donna’s Retirement Reflections blog about me living a car-free lifestyle.

4. Enjoyed a beautiful evening and my 5K walk to view the holiday light displays in the city centre.

5. A great Tuesday with gym time and family time.

6. Stayed indoor on this cold Wednesday to do yoga, blogging, and writing holiday cards.

7. A great Thursday with gym time and family time.

8. Happy Friday with yoga and a fun evening at the Holiday Fair in the Square.

9. Enjoyed my Saturday morning swim, mailed our holiday cards, did grocery shopping, laundry, and booked our family trip to Ottawa in January.

10. Ran 5K in the morning then relaxed at home for the rest of the day.

11. I loved the winter scenery after our first significant snow fall of the season.

12. One hour in the gym inspired me to suggest a new Wellness link-up in 2018 to my blogger friends (suggestion accepted!).

13. Enjoyed yoga, lunch with two girlfriends, a therapeutic massage, and my thanks to Karen at Profound Journey blog for including my blog on her list of favourite blogs and channels of 2017.

14. Extreme cold alert Thursday! Exercised in the gym before heading out in my winter gear to meet my friends for coffee because a date is a date.

15. A snowy Friday made indoor yoga and travel reading perfect activities for me.

16. Enjoyed my Saturday morning swim, did grocery shopping, laundry, and light reading.

17. Reviewed and booked a hotel for our family out-of-town stay in February while my husband baked cookies.

18. Happy Monday after an hour in the gym, and writing to my friends.

19. A relaxing Tuesday with 3K walk, yoga, travel reading, and writing.

20. Worked out in the gym with my friend, and wrote my Winter fun list.

21. A fun-filled Thursday with yoga at home before heading out to view the window displays at the Bay (a department store), attended Christmas Concert at City Hall,  browsed at the Toronto Christmas Market, and watched Home Again movie before bed time.

Christmas Concert at Toronto City Hall

22. Walked 3K in winter wonderland, exercised one hour in the gym, read Chile travel information, listened to holiday music, and sent holiday greetings to my friends and relatives overseas.

23. Enjoyed my Saturday morning swim, did grocery shopping, and read more on Chile travel.

24. Ran 5K in the morning, then relaxed at home to write my Best of 2017, while my husband baked shortbread cookies.

25. We’ve got a white Christmas with significant snowfall overnight and an extreme cold alert! 

26. Celebrated Boxing day with yoga at home in the morning, and the rest of the day at my extended family's gathering with delicious food, good wine, and great catching up with everyone.

27. Exercised in the gym, did housework, and scored a few good discounts for my trip to Chile in March.

28. The extreme cold alert continued so other than a short walk outdoors, I practiced yoga at home, and drafted my upcoming blog posts.

29. Exercised in the gym, relaxed at home with my family, and did more travel planning.

30. Felt great after my Saturday swim, did grocery shopping, and had a lovely chat on the phone with one of my close friends from grade six.

31. Marked this New Year's Eve with my usual Sunday 5K run, watched Star Wars The Last Jedi movie in the theatre, and enjoyed dinner at home with my family.

Happy New Year 2018 to you and your loved ones!

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Fun family time

We were at our extended family gathering yesterday for our holiday meet up and dinner. There were twenty two of us in attendance. Each family unit came with some food contribution. My sister and her husband, the hosts, cooked a perfect turkey.

We spent time nibbling on appetizers, having wine or soft drinks, playing board games, and catching up on family news. Then came the big festive dinner with turkey and side dishes, followed by desserts. It was a lot of food, a lot of laughter with several conversations going on, and a whole lot of family love. The best is that everyone is healthy. The children each got a gift from our secret Santa exchange. The adults just enjoyed watching the gift openings and the children’s reactions.

It was freezing outside as we had an extreme cold spell this week. We came home happy after sharing a delicious meal with our loved ones, and having some leftover for today (bonus!). Looking forward to our next get-together tentatively planned for February.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Best of 2017

As we are approaching the end of 2017, I'm taking a moment to write down the best bits of the year. I'm grateful every day that I have: 
  1. My good health to enjoy life with my family and friends.
  2. A happy home where I feel relaxed and renewed.
  3. The ability to live my life my way. 
Below are the best fun bits that I've experienced in 2017:


I maintained a daily fitness routine and enjoyed the associated health benefits. One of the tougher goals that I set for myself was to run the final Island Girl 5K race in September. Running is a challenge for my mind and body. I finished the 5K with slightly better time than last year. I was happy to be able to run without injury, to share a common sport with my family, and to support a good cause.


Wonderful experiences in 2017! I attended numerous cultural events both at home and abroad. They varied from art exhibitions, to festivals, to recitals, to movie nights, to new food establishments, and more. Each event made me feel enriched and energized.


My visits to beaches, gardens, parks, walking trails, and a rain forest were so rewarding. Mother Nature continued to show me her beauty and nurture me in 2017.


I've been learning Spanish on my own throughout 2017. With 15 minutes of learning daily, I've gained enough vocabulary to have basic conversations with local residents in Costa Rica and Spain. I can also read and understand materials written at the basic level in Spanish. It's a fun brain teaser with practical value so I'm interested in continuing.


Absolutely fantastic in 2017 with trips to Costa Rica in June-July, Spain and Gibraltar in August, Ireland in October, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Czechia in November. I loved all of the new experiences and treasured the time I shared with my family and friends.


It's been a fun ride. I enjoyed writing more than ninety posts in 2017 on my blog, with who knows how many pictures attached to them. The best part is the support that I received from the blogging community. I truly appreciate the fellow bloggers who have read and commented on my blog, welcomed me to join their link ups, or let me and my blog name appear on their blogs in 2017. Thank you for reading, commenting, making me feel welcomed, and supporting me.

All in all, 2017 has been great. I look forward to enjoying 2018, and making the present a great present wherever I am with whatever I have.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Winter fun list

Dear friends and readers,

Today's post has two parts:
  1) An update on my list of 5 simple pleasures for the holidays.
  2) My Winter fun list for the period of December 21, 2017 to March 20, 2018.

Two birds one stone means the post is a little bit longer than usual so grab your coffee or tea before you read on.

PART 1 - Update on my five simple pleasures for the holidays

1. Make donations to help those in need: Yes, we donated cash to a local community centre, and the Out of the Cold program which serves hot meals to those in need. We also donated non-perishable food items to a local food drive.

2. View the various light displays in the city centre: Yes, some of my favourites are the 100-feet tall and sparkly red Christmas tree, the life-sized silvery reindeer at Eaton Centre, and the festive lights at Nathan Phillips Square.

Christmas tree in Eaton Centre
Christmas reindeer in Eaton Centre
Nathan Phillips Square

3. Listen to choirs singing joyous seasonal music: Sure did. We were at St Andrew's church for the dramatic readings of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and choir singing.

4. Taste freshly baked goods with chocolate or ginger or cinnamon flavour: My husband baked a batch of delicious and cute-as-a-button cookies with cinnamon flavour. We've been eating them this week. I think we he'll bake again next week :)

5. Enjoy a big family gathering and dinner on Boxing Day (December 26): Coming soon. I'm looking forward to catching up with everyone, and enjoying dinner with my extended family.

PART 2 - My Winter Fun List

My winter fun list is shorter than the previous three seasonal lists (spring, summer, and fall) because I'd like to spend some time working towards my goal of living light by reducing my material possessions. I made some progress on this goal in 2017 and will continue until I'm satisfied.

For each item on my winter fun list, I have a time frame or a numeric count for me to track my rate of completion. I plan to report my progress on the 21st day of each month.

1. Exercise one hour daily: From December 21 to March 20, my target count of exercise sessions is 11 in December, 31 in January, 28 in February, and 20 in March. I'll vary my exercises with yoga, walking, swimming, strength training in the gym, stretching, and running short distances.

2. Continue learning Spanish 15 minutes daily: I've been doing online Spanish lessons throughout 2017. From December 21 to March 20, my target count of online sessions is 11 in December, 31 in January, 28 in February, and 20 in March. Knowing basic Spanish was useful when I visited Costa Rica and Spain. It will be useful again for my upcoming trip (see below).

3. Enjoy three fun family outings: We have one big family gathering confirmed for December 26, one long weekend family trip booked in January, and another long weekend family trip booked in February.

4. Go on five coffee or lunch dates with my friends: I'll wait until after New Year's to book the dates and will aim to go to some or all of my five favourite coffee shops.

5. Attend seven cultural events: I'm excited to have a series of art and entertainment events lined up throughout the winter so I can get out there and experience new sights and sounds.

6. Start a new blog link-up: I've proposed a new monthly Wellness Wednesday link-up with fellow bloggers in the New Year. The first link up is on Wednesday January 10, with Wellness goals as the topic. Easy, right? I hope you'll join in on the fun. The more the merrier, so we can share, inspire, and support each other.

7. Plan an independent trip to Chile: This includes activities such as reading travel guides, designing my itinerary, booking the essentials, etc. Having had wonderful experiences in Argentina and Peru, I look forward to exploring another country in South America.

8. Explore Chile in March: A new adventure awaits! If you've been to Chile, I'd love to hear your comments.

I look forward to enjoying the holidays with my family and friends, and completing my winter fun list with much enthusiasm. Happy holidays to you and your loved ones!