Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic Tour

Amber Cove Cruise Port

Popular photo spot for tourists. It lights up at nighttime.

The Amber Cove terminal was built by Carnival Cruise lines in the Bay of Maimon.

Amber Cove Port by Carnival Cruise lines, ocean cabanas, view of Sky Bar
Carnival masks in Amber Cove Cruise Port

Puerto Plata Tour

We skipped the Carnival excursions and poolside activities to book with Iguana Mama Adventure Tours. The independent contractors are not allowed to pick up guest in the terminal, so we had a little walk to the highway to meet with our tour guides. Just our luck, we were the only people booked. Christmas Day and my Mom’s birthday turned into a personalized experience.

Isabel De Torres National Park

Our first stop was the Teleferico Puerto Plata Cable Car. With this being a very last minute vacation, I did not have time to research everything. I just knew the cable car would take us to the Jesus statue.

My Mom defiantly said, “I’m not getting on that.” I told her it was like a tram I rode in Gatlinburg and we were only going “there,” as I pointed at the trees. Little did I know, I would be the one having to do breathing exercises to avoid getting sick. I had to look down as we went up a half mile (800 meters).

Follow the red tower for perspective of how high we were.
Going down was easier than the ascent. The passing cable car was going up.

I heard three versions of why Christopher Columbus named the city Puerto Plata, or City of Silver: the clouds, the glow of the water at sunset, and the shimmer from the trees in the mountain.

The lighter parts of the trees have a silvery tint to them from this view.
The red tower is no longer in view. We are are in the clouds.

The view from the summit was worth the fright I experienced. We walked the park and learned about wild life and flora. What looked like cats, the Dominicans called pumas.

Hibiscus, “virgin flower” given name because it never opens, sunflowers, poinsettias.
Puerto Plata Coat of Arms can be seen around the city.
Christ the Redeemer similiar to Rio de Janeiro at the 2nd highest point in DR

The photographers at the base of the statue are pros at getting the best photos. They only ask that you buy something from the gift shop inside the dome that used to be a grass covered look out for one of the dictators. I was happy to buy some trinkets to support their hustle. The vendors threw in some free stuff too. That seemed to be the norm every time I purchased souvenirs.

The open arms are a symbol of peace.
What a way to celebrate Christmas.

Macorix House of Rum

Macorix Tour Entrance
We saw a 7 minute video about the history of the company and how rum is made.
The toast level went from mild to heavy during 9 samples.
We ended with Pineapple, Apple, and Coconut flavors.

Fort San Felipe

The oldest structure in Puerto Plata is Fort San Felipe due to most of the city being destroyed by wars in the 1860’s against the Spanish. It was built between 1564-1577 to guard the seaport from pirates.

Holding down the Fort. Nothing new.

Kaffe Restaurant Bistro

Walking into Kaffe was like being greeted at family member’s home. It smelled fresh, the server was very welcoming, and the ambiance was just immaculate. Keep in mind that the host opened four hours early to accommodate us on Christmas Day.

Kaffe entrance
Eclectic courtyard seating

The all inclusive tour included admission prices, drinks and our choice of lunch. I went with the Dominican fried chicken, rice & beans and passion fruit with rum. Delish!

Typical Dominican lunch

Paseo de Doรฑa Blanca

This area was home to a hotel ran by Italian immigrants.
Hotel alley that has been refurbished to commemorate the start of tourism in Puerto Plata.
Dona Blanca bench

We did some sightseeing nearby at Umbrella Street and Parque Central.

“You can stand under my umbrella ella ella eh-eh-eh”
Independence Plaza
Puerto Plata City Hall
Vicrtorian Architecture

Espigon Cigars

I had the opportunity to learn more about making cigars at the Espigon Cigar Factory.

Skilled cigar makers

After a sample of Mama Juana, my Mom and I got a major surprise. The cigar makers told us to sit down. We hear music and out walks this beauty to dance with us. My Mom thought she was taking a video, but I ended up with still shots. We danced all over the shop. It was so much fun!

Final Thoughts

Puerto Plata is the second most visited city next to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. I experienced so much hospitality as a traveler when I know everyone wanted to be at home with their loved ones for Christmas. I am grateful for their kindness. The Dominican Republic is a place I would return for a 5-7 day visit to see more of the country.

I was in awe over the lush terrain. Puerto Plata was the cleanest Caribbean city I have visited. This may be due to hurricanes rarely hitting the Dominican Republic and rebuilding taking place less often.

I highly recommend Iguana Tours for first time visitors. We sang “Feliz Navidad” along with “Happy Birthday” on the way back to Amber Cove. They sent us walking back to the ship with a cup of “Dominican Gasoline” and Coke. Muy Bueno!

Kelsie Lou

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Carnival Elation Cruise Ship Review

Oh Ship! It’s a Mother Daughter Trip!

My Mom exposed me to cruising as a teenager when we took our first Carnival cruise to the Bahamas. Over the years, we have sailed to Bermuda, Cuba, and all over the Caribbean aboard Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruise lines. I chose the Carnival Elation because the ports to Grand Turk and Amber Cove were destinations we have never visited.


We were on the Upper Deck (6) with an ocean view. I prefer natural light in the rooms.

Cabin U161 Aft section by the elevators.

Carnival allows door decorations. Christmas day is my Mom’s birthday, so the steward showed some love with a few gift certificates and on board credits.


The Lido Deck 10
21 and up Serenity section on Deck 9
Christmas and Hanukkah in the Atrium lobby deck 7
Carnival Waterworks on Deck 11. I preferred the lounge area on Deck 11 more than the cramped up Serenity loungers. Best view for sunsets.


The food on the Carnival Elation was better than what Norwegian offers. The buffet area was called Tiffany’s. The two dining formal areas had the same menu except one was for cruisers who selected their time and the other was “Your Time Dining.”

The buffet food tasted better than the dining rooms. Other choices were a deli, Guy’s Burger, and the BlueIguana Cantina. One drawback to having the Guy’s Burger on the Lido deck is constantly smelling beef during the day. This would annoy me if I were vegan.

The highlight of our dining and overall Elation experience was paying additional for the Chef’s Table. We savored a 13 course meal in an intimate setting that began with a champagne toast in the Atrium.

We moved to the galley to see where 320 chefs and servers operate the ship’s culinary operations.

Liver pate (tastes like caramel)
Fresh parmesan and olives
Salmon and rosemary
Shrimp with bacon infused ice cream
Melting Chocolate Cake preparation

After cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, the Sous-chef led us into a special room for a VIP dining experience.

Personalized menu
Tweezers used to make the perfect presentations.
Spring Peas & Matcha Soup. We mixed the herbs with sprigs of chives held together with a cherry tomato and pineapple top.
Honey butter with pastry
Berkshire Pork Belly, Shrimps
Lamb, beets, pumpkin squash
Smoking cloche for veal
Veal, crushed green apples in light cheese broth
Olive oil poached sea bass, white asparagus & white miso
Quail, wild rice made with 5 variations of mushrooms, parmesan and pepper threads

Red and white wine pairings were flowing for each course leading up to the two desserts. We were given the option of coffee and tea to cap off the evening.

Citrus Cream- lime snow, elderflower caviar
Chocolate Hazelnut- basil moss, cocoa logs, chocolate soil

The servers presented each of us with the recipe for Carnival’s popular melting cake and group photo copy taken at the beginning of dinner.

Cruise Fashion

Most cruises have a formal night on the 2nd full day of the sailing. Because it was the holidays, Mom and I wanted to be classy on every night.

Mom in Duke’s piano bar

We made the most of our 5 days aboard the Elation. For a ship that has been refurbished in 2018, there is still room for improvement. I saw other Carnival ships in the ports and they looked kinda rusty as well. This was never my experience on Norwegian or Royal Caribbean.

Also, the dress codes were not enforced. I saw durags, hair bonnets, PJs, and swim attire in dining areas. Getting hand sanitizer was optional prior to touching serving utensils. There were two family spades tourneys going on at the dining tables. I had a flashback to college dorm days with cards slapping and trash talk.

Some of the teens were unruly and running all throughout the ship. They talked crazy to the stewards and lacked home training. On the bright side, all of the staff were very friendly. Unless it is a new, mega ship this will be my last cruise aboard Carnival.

Seas ‘n Greetings

Kelsie Lou

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Santa’s ๐ŸŽ… Run for our Kids 5K

Santa’s Run for our Kids

Winter Haven, Florida

December 21, 2019

I was on the first thing smokin’ outta Louisville for Winter Break. My Mom and I were on a mission to compete in another 5K. The Christmas themed race is organized by the Winter Haven Optimist Club. I had the option of running a 10K, but I was not waking up at the break of dawn for a 7 am starting time.

I knew the course route from running the 10K a few years ago and placing 2nd place female overall. The race plan was the same as the Turkey Trot; race hard then go back and help my Mom finish.

The 6:00 miler racers took the lead as I settled into my happy pace. I was alone for a half mile until I heard jingle bells. I knew that meant competition. Game on!

Just as I expected, there was a lady making me put in work. She played it smart by using me as her pacer and staying a stride behind me. I made my mind up that if she passed me, I would get her at the finish. We hit 1.5 miles, both bypassing the water stop. She made her move and lead by about 5 strides. With less than a half mile to go, she stopped for whatever reason. I made my way to finish 2nd place female overall.

I was not happy with my time being 28 seconds slower than the Turkey Trot. We had some head wind, but the humidity was low and I felt fine health wise. Maybe the missing sprint at the end is what made my time slower.

Next, it was time to double back and get my Mom. She trimmed 1:30 off of her last 5K time and earned 1st place in her age group.

Mom finishing strong.
FITniche Sponsor awarding my Mom 1st place Age Group.
Finisher shirt, medal and Age Group Medal.

My brother, Brad flew in the next day. He hasn’t been on “The Blog” in a while. We had time to catch up argue on the drive to take my Mom and I to Port Canaveral.

One type A personality. One type B. Guess which is which.

My Dad has been behind the scenes also. He has lost a lot of weight as a complication from dementia. Unfortunately, he had a minor fall that resulted in a partial hip replacement the day after these photos were taken. Life happens. Embrace life and the people who matter the most.

Brad, Kelsie, Big Phil. I stay getting side eyed.

Merry Everything, Happy Every Day!

Kelsie Lou

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Thankful for Miles

My Mom had a 48 hour notice about the Lake Wales YMCA Turkey Trot. I gave her the option to participate based on how she felt on Thanksgiving morning. She said if it was too hot, she was not doing it.

The 8:00 a.m. start is later than what she is used to for her daily walks. The temperature was only 67ยฐ which is mild for Floridians.

For a smaller race, my goal was to place in my age group. I needed to push through because I was dealing with a sinus infection. I told my Mom I would complete my race, then go back and find her on the course.

I got a dose of my own medicine when a young lady hawked me down at the finish. I beat her crossing the line. I knew her chip time would come in faster because I started ahead of her. She beat me by a 10th of a second. I was 20/324 overall, 3rd place Female overall, and 1st place Masters Female.

Next, I had to walk towards the lake to get my Mom. The rising sun and 97% humidity was making it difficult. We walked the last mile together. I stepped aside so she could own her moment of running across the finish line.

Alice Smoot completing a 5k at age 75.
AKAs running circles around you
Kelsie Smoot 1st Place Masters
Mom was 5/10 in her Age Group

I am thankful for a mother who exposed me to various sports in my youth. She drove me to the Eastside of Detroit to practice with the Motor City Track Club. I am thankful for my Dad’s genes. Phillip L. Smoot Sr. was the captain of the Scott High (Madison, WV) basketball team, team MVP, and averaged 20 points his senior year in 1962.

Forever thankful for my parents and enjoying the views of their retirements:

๐ŸŒžKelsie Lou๐ŸŒž

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It’s Fall Good

Over the last few months my focus has been setting the tone for a successful school year, keeping a foster care routine, and getting settled into my new home. It is important to set high expectations and to remind my Smootents of them daily. Students cannot learn in the midst of chaos. I don’t do chaos or clutter.

People often ask me if I still run. The answer is: Yes. I will always run as long as I am able to. I average three to four miles a day with a 5-6 miler on the weekend. Regardless of mileage, a proper running shoe is mandatory.

The Brooks Ghost and Glycerins in my rotation were on their last cushion. I used some GO365 bucks to order the Glycerin 17 from Amazon. The newest model would not let me “run happy.”

I went to Fleet Feet for a foot scan. I learned from the Volumental 3D foot scan that my feet are almost in the narrow width. After trying several brands, I decided to go with the Hoka Clifton 6. They are very lightweight despite the heavy cushion.

Hoka One One Clifton 6

Cute running gear makes the time on my feet more fashionable and enjoyable. I don’t know how long Goodr sunglasses have been around, but I discovered them last summer. I bought a pink and green pair called, “Flamingo on a Booze Cruise.” I needed a Fall neutral, so I picked up these:

The last weekend of daylight savings time was the perfect opportunity to visit my Grandma. I treated her to a day pampering with a pedicure, hair cut and eating all the shrimp she wanted from Red Lobster.

Chillin’ with Grandma Lucy L. Smoot
The Little Coal River steps from my family’s property.

My visit happened to fall on the same weekend of the Marshall University Marathon/Half Marathon. I did not want to risk injury of pushing through 13.1 miles without the proper training, so I registered for the 5k.

The race website mentioned how all 5k participants would receive a finisher’s medal and only the Top 3 male and female would win additional awards. I drove from Madison to Huntington with no expectations of winning anything. Boy was I wrong.

The MUM and half races started at 7:00 a.m. with 31ยฐ temps (28ยฐ real feel). There were runners from 44 states. I spoke with a lady from Florida who needed a WV race for her 50 State Challenge.

Marathon and Half Marathon runners braving the cold temperatures.

I warmed up in the Joan C. Edwards Stadium parking lot before the 5k started at 7:15. We took off and right away, there was a young lady putting in work by my side. We were neck and neck for 1.5 miles until she stopped for water.

Next, I had my sight on a lady in green. I was feeling confident about being able to pull off a strong finish. I didn’t want to hawk her down too early though. The last half mile of the race took us through the campus of Marshall University. I saw the Memorial Fountain that stands as a tribute to the lives lost in the 1970 plane crash.

I thought there was another woman who was with the speedy runners who jolted out of my view after the first turn. I ran onto the football field a few steps behind the woman I tailed. She didn’t take the football, but I did.

Volunteers handing out footballs as runners enter the field.

Running with the football gave me a super charge. At that moment I wished I was wearing cleats. In my mind this was not a 5k; I was on a punt return. I did not want to slip and fumble on the AstroTurf. Once I made that loop towards the end zone, it was all she wrote. My running tights rolled down on me and everything.

A volunteer told me I was the first woman to cross the line in the 5k. I was like, “Nah, there was a lady in pink way ahead of me.” Again, she said she was sure I was the first one. I checked the results, and 24:11 was enough for me to win it all! Ten men finished ahead of me, placing me at 11/316 overall.

Blenko Glass Award. 1st Place Female overall 5K: Kelsie Smoot. I thought I was Serena Williams holding my award.
2019 MUM Shirt, Medal and Overall Award. Marathon/Half Runners received jackets and custom Goodr glasses in their packets.

I ran the MUM Half Marathon in 2016 and placed 2nd in my age group. This course holds my personal best record of 1:41:54. I felt very accomplished on the ride back to Louisville. I was able to brighten my Grandma’s weekend and this race experience was a bonus.

‘Til next time. Expect the unexpected.

๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿ‚ Kelsie Lou ๐Ÿ‚๐Ÿƒ

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Grandma’s 95th Birthday Celebration ๐ŸŽ‰

My family will be gathering for the 90th annual Smoot Family Reunion in Madison, WV soon.

While the fellowship amongst family since 1929 is a rich tradition, the milestone of my Grandma, Lucy L. Smoot, turning 95 is also worthy of a celebration.

Lucy L. Smoot

My Mom and Dad flew from Florida to show some love.

My parents were married in this house 53 years ago.

Although my family came from humble beginnings, there was always an abundance of love in this home constructed by my Grandpa, the late Boyd Smoot.

4 Generations of family from Charlotte, Detroit, Winter Haven, Morgantown, Dunbar, and Louisville

My Aunt Shelia recognized the sacrifices my Grandma made to care for her seven children with the reading of Proverbs 31:10-31.

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

My Grandma loves to share a story about me when I was around five years old:

She and my Mom had me hyped up to go shopping in downtown Madison, WV. I hopped out the car and looked around. I said, “This ain’t no damn downtown!”

Regardless of the rural setting, it was always a privilege to travel from Detroit to visit my grandparents.

Kelsie Smoot, Sassy since birth.

Grandma kept it classy as the Birthday Queen for the weekend.

Gratitude is greater than regret…
Phillip L. Smoot Sr, The oldest of 7.
Two of my lifelines.
Matthew 18:20

Happy 95th Birthday, Grandma. We all love you! ๐Ÿฅณ


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Niagara Falls

From Toronto, to Montreal, to Niagara Falls

The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
Water making its way from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

The Hornblower

Experiencing the falls up close was my main priority for a day in Niagara Falls on the Canada side. I read reviews about getting there early to avoid long lines. Thankfully, that was not my experience. At 3:00 p.m., I was able to get a ticket and board in the time it takes for 700 people to ride the elevator down to the dock, get a poncho, and board the vessel.

Everyone wanted to rush to the top deck. I did my research and found out that both decks offer the same views, with more of a soaking on the top deck.

We went right into the Horseshoe Falls and stayed long enough to experience the power of the falls. The water was refreshing for a hot, summer day.

The boat turns around and gives a view of the Bridal Veil and American Falls.

Maid of the Mist

The Maid of the Mist used to operate on the Canada side until their lease expired. The cruise follows the same route as the Hornblower. The only difference is the blue poncho.

Journey Behind the Falls

Journey Behind the Falls was too much time wasted for about 15 minutes of an “up-close” experience to Horseshoe Falls. I didn’t even get wet. There is an assigned time to go through security and take the elevators down to what used to be called “Table Rock.”

The only good thing about waiting for the assigned time was the sun coming out and being able to see rainbows. The afternoon and evening rainbows are an advantage of viewing the falls from the Canada side. These photos are not edited.

This is an above view of Journey Behind the Falls. There are two viewing decks located on the edge of the Horseshoe Falls.

New York’s version is called Cave of the Winds. It has more of a walking deck along the American Falls. I think that is better than tunnels.

There are two tunnels that lead to views of this behind the Horseshoe Falls:

Clifton Hill Good Eats

The best way to describe Clifton Hill is a mini Great Smoky Mountains Parkway. There were some of the same attractions and franchise restaurants. I preferred a meal that was more fresh and authentic. I found a place called Fusion Wrap by accident when I was navigating to a BeaverTails location. The chicken shawarma and cardamom tea were excellent.

I was wanting BeaverTails ever since the Toronto Island tour, but it was closed by the time I got back Downtown. I was so happy there was a location in Niagara Falls.

Beavertails Canada Fusion Wraps

For dinner, it was back to Fusion Wrap and a place called Sweet Jesus for dessert.

Sweet Jesus Ontario

Rainbow International Bridge

I was right by the Rainbow International Bridge when I got off the Hornblower. Silly me forgot to take my passport, so I had to save the walk to the U.S. for later.

Niagara Falls at Night

The finale to my Canada vacation would be watching the fireworks from the Rainbow Bridge I was finally able to cross.

Back in the U.S.A.

The quickest way back to Louisville, KY was crossing the Peace Bridge into Buffalo, NY. The scenery changed from lively to stark.

I learned a lot during my visit to Canada. I respect that it is more of a mosaic than a melting pot. I am grateful that everything worked out smoothly with safe travels.

Kelsie Lou

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Barbie Expo Montreal, Canada

Downtown Montreal’s Les Cours Mont Royal is home to the world’s largest exhibit of 1,000 Barbie dolls. Here are some of my favorites from the Barbie Expo:

Kelsie Lou

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Montreal Memories

My Canadian adventures continued from Toronto to Montreal. The drive was very scenic and more metropolitan compared to the rural landscape between Windsor and Toronto. I did all of my research about “Things to do in Montreal” and “Best area to stay in Montreal” during the drive.

I tried Airbnb and the listings were not as nice as what Toronto offered. I played it safe and booked two nights at the 5-star, Hotel Le Crystal.

Le Crystal Hotel saltwater pool
Self care in the saltwater pool, Swedish sauna and outdoor terrace hot tub.

Mary Queen of the World Cathedral

This was my first outing in Montreal. The majesty of this church was nice for prayer and reflection. The architecture stands out in the downtown location of modern buildings.

This church is a 1/3 size replica of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Montreal’s Most Iconic Dishes

Every where you go in Montreal, there are restaurants selling poutine. Poutine is french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. It does not sound appealing, but the flavors blend nicely.

If your diet allows, do not leave Montreal with out eating a smoked meat sandwich. When I walked out of Rueben’s Deli and Steakhouse, the manager said, “See you tomorrow.” He was right. What made the dining experience even more unique was having a hilarious waiter from Louisville, KY. It’s a small world and a reminder that I was in the right place, doing the right thing. I don’t take coincidences lightly.

Another must-try food in Montreal are the bagels. I worked in a bagel store in high school, so I know what a good bagel tastes like. Fresh out of the oven with cream cheese is the way to go.

It is a good thing that I did a lot of walking. I do not want to look at a french fry for the rest of the summer.

Montreal is a 24 hour city.

Scooter Tour of Montreal

After planning every step in Toronto, I thought it would be nice to go on a guided tour of Montreal. A bicycle tour was suggested, but I do enough of that at home. Dyad Scooters would lead the way for 4 hours in the city.

As we rolled through traffic towards Mount Royal, I noticed similarities to Toronto in terms of city murals.

We stopped at the bottom of Mount Royal for an explanation of how buildings in Montreal are not permitted to be built higher than this landmark.

Mount Royal location of tam-tams parties held every Sunday with a lot of “recreational” activities.

We rode down Avenue Maplewood where luxury homes lined the streets.

Once we crossed the Mount Royal Cemetery, we went to the Mount Royal park, designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted. Olmsted was a blessing to North America with his landscape designs.

Fredrick Law Olmsted Mount Royal Park
Mount Royal Park
“All you need is love and skylines.”

We had to be careful going down the steep mountain. We stopped for a view of the Olympic Stadium where Caitlin Jenner who, as Bruce Jenner won the gold medal in the 1976 Men’s Decathlon.

Montreal is a bike friendly city with purposely marked lanes. Our tour went into a laid back area of The Mile End. There are a diverse number of ethnic divisions of Jewish people in Montreal, with the Hasidic families being the most noticeable.

Our last stop was at the Jean- Talon Market. I was not shy about sampling the fresh produce. A bag of cherries would be my snack for the day.

Montreal Jazz Festival

The Jazz Festival was getting ready to start just a few blocks from the Dyad Scooter store. There were at least eight different stages, plus stand alone performers. I was surprised to a lot of interactive music activities for children.


Montreal’s Chinatown was better than Toronto’s. I didn’t sample any food, just sightseeing. A very sweet woman gave me a pamphlet about Falun Gong.

Cannabis Dispensary

SQDC Montreal
I had to stop and Google this place. I knew people were not lined up around the block for a men’s clothing store. The smell was very loud!

Notre-Dame Basilica

In addition the the Montreal Jazz festival, there was a Cirque Festival going on too. After a long day, I was not feeling the outside events and I can catch an indoor Cirque show in any city.

I was pressed for time so I caught the Metro from downtown to Old Montreal.

Old Montreal

One of the best experiences in my life was attending the Aura show at the Notre-Dame Basilica. Photography was strictly prohibited during the 20 minute luminous show that told stories using lights and angelic music. This is a must do activity in Montreal, for sure!

You definitely feel a divine presence in this beautiful church. Celine Dion was married here.
The last photo before Aura began.

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

Anita Desai

Kelsie Lou

Posted in Culture, food, landmarks, Montreal, Photography, restaurants, Travel | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Toronto Street Art: Graffiti Alley

Kelsie Smoot Graffiti Alley Toronto

Kelsie Lou

Posted in Art, Canada, Culture, Photography, Toronto, Travel | Tagged , , | 7 Comments