Discovering the Sea Less Travelled in Greece

November 17, 2016 10:42 am
page47_dec2016_greece_milos_sarakiniko_beach

Article and photos by Vawn Himmelsbach.

There are no swaying palm trees here, no powder-white sand. There isn’t a single hotel or resort in sight, no striped umbrellas or beach bars or sunbathing tourists. Instead, the deep-blue sea is surrounded by multi-coloured volcanic rock that creates pillars and caves and cliffs, giving one the impression of being on another planet (or maybe a moon).

And making for a great backdrop when you plunge into the water from your catamaran.

This is Milos, one of the Greek islands in the Cyclades — an island that was created from a series of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. And while it doesn’t get the same level of attention as its more popular neighbours, like Santorini and Mykonos, that is perhaps what makes it so appealing.

page46_dec2016_greece_syrosIts rugged coastline offers up more than 75 beaches of sand, pebble or volcanic rock; some are more easily accessible and meant for swimming; some are wild and isolated and require effort to find. But they’re not packed with tourists like beaches on other Greek islands. Some are actually empty.

About half the island is a nature reserve, only accessible by boat or off-road vehicle (indeed, the best way to see it is to rent a boat for the day from the harbour). And it has what some visitors believe are the best beaches in all of Greece.

There’s Sarakiniko, with its lunar landscape of glaring-white volcanic rock, which makes you feel like you’re walking on the moon (if the moon had really cool swimming holes). There are the rock formations of Kleftiko, the caves of Papafragkas and the thermal springs at Kanava, Provata and Pikropiyi. The biggest beach is Ahivadolimni, but there are also beaches with dramatic landscapes at Fyriplaka, Yerakas and Tsigrados.

Many people come to the Greek islands to tick a few things off their bucket list. Santorini? Check. Mykonos? Check. The Acropolis? Check. But that’s like saying you’ve had souvlaki and Greek salad, so therefore you’ve experienced Greek food. There’s much more to Greece and, arguably, more authentic experiences to be found by going off the well-worn tourist path.

A cruise through the Greek islands with Celestyal Cruises took me to Santorini and Mykonos, but also to lesser-known isles such as Milos, Ios and Kos — islands that I had never heard of previously. Turned out, those islands were the best part of my trip.

I’d long wanted to see Santorini, with its blue-domed, whitewashed buildings; after all, it’s the stuff of legends. Clearly, though, I wasn’t the only one.

page46_dec2016_greece_milos_verticalSantorini is as postcard-perfect as I imagined. But as I elbowed my way through hordes of tourists all clamouring to get the same iconic photo of Santorini — and trying to avoid getting smacked in the face with a selfie stick or accidently photo-bombing someone’s Instagram shot — I found myself longing to get back to quiet, peaceful Milos.

Many of these tourists had been deposited from large cruise ships, the kind with up to 9,000 passengers, who were trying to cram in as much action as they could get in a couple of hours.

Thankfully, I was cruising around the Aegean Sea on a smaller vessel, one that’s small enough to visit ports that larger cruise ships can’t go (or don’t bother to). And while we paid a visit to Santorini and Mykonos, we were also able to avoid the crowds at smaller, less-visited Greek isles and along the coast of the Turkish Riviera.

“There are some ports that cruise lines can go, but rarely choose to do so,” said Dan Buru, cruise director for Celestyal Crystal, who has been with the company for 10 years and witnessed the growth of the cruise industry here.

“The big cruise lines, in order to attract thousands of passengers, they go to more commercial spots,” he said. “We go also to some niche spots where only we can go and where people cannot usually go by ferry or [by plane].”

Milos, for example, is a “hidden gem that nobody goes to,” he said. Why? Because when it’s winter back home in North America, it’s a hard sell: people want white sandy beaches and turquoise water, not volcanic rocks. In some cases, they simply can’t go: at Samos, for example, windy weather conditions make it too difficult for larger vessels to navigate.

“However, if you take this cruise … you go to the main attractions, but you go somewhere that others don’t go to,” said Buru. “They’re not even aware Syros is on the itinerary and when they arrive they’re amazed. Milos is the same.”

page47_dec2016_greece_turkey_ephesusWhile these islands are by no means deserted, they don’t get the volumes of tourists that Santorini and Mykonos see during the summer season — in part, because large cruise ships don’t go there, and in part because they’re less accessible to tourists in general. To get to Ios, for example, you’d have to take a ferry from Santorini; there’s no airport on the island.

Ios does have a reputation as a party island, but there’s more to it than that — especially if you’re out during the day while the partygoers are sleeping off their hangovers. While it’s not completely off the grid, you’ll find expats and backpackers here, only 500 people live on the island permanently. It’s dotted with authentic Greek villages, and has a church for literally every day of the year (yes, 365 of them) dotting the rugged landscape.

The best way to get around is to rent a vehicle or scooter and wind your way through the mountainous terrain on the island’s only road to discover isolated beaches. The Celestyal Crystal arrived in the morning and, after a short, scenic drive, I found myself at the isolated beach of Manganari, along with just a handful of other travellers — and plenty of empty beach chairs to choose from.

I couldn’t quite believe I had a long stretch of sandy beach practically to myself during the high season in Greece. But on some of these lesser-visited islands, it’s possible.

But the Greek isles aren’t just for sun-worshippers. Kos, the ‘island of Hippocrates’, was a surprise, with its lush, green hills, covered in olive groves and vineyards. Foodies can visit the beekeepers in Kefalos, where they can sample thyme honey, traditional loukoumades (mini honey donuts) and raki (a local spirit) flavoured with honey.

Then there’s the award-winning Syrah from the family-run Hatziemmanouil Vineyards. And in Zia, the most traditional village on the island, you can pick up the local liqueur made of cinnamon and sip on black, syrupy Greek coffee. If you want sun and sand, however, there’s good swimming at Marcos Beach.

The Celestyal Crystal has three- and four-day itineraries, for those who want to add some Greek island hopping to their European vacation. On the longer seven-day itinerary, the vessel makes its way to the Turkish Riviera, for a visit to swish Cesme, with its trendy beach clubs and high-end boutiques, as well as Kusadasi, with its Turkish bazaars ideal for shopping (and bargaining). Plus, there’s an option to visit the ancient kingdom of Ephesus, near Kusadasi.

Sure, Santorini and Mykonos are worth a visit, but the true gems of the Aegean Sea are the ones you’ve never heard of — and you just might discover you had the wrong items on your bucket list.

Flee to the Keys & Hawks Cay Resort

10:32 am
page44_dec2016_travel_fl_lagoon-kayaks

Now that it’s cold, our minds just naturally turn to heat and how to get it. This year, escape to the place that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s classic novels, that has the best ceviche and key lime pie you may ever taste and has breathtaking beauty. With a chill, Caribbean-esque attitude and island time, the Florida Keys will give you that perfect feeling of getting away from it all.

The Keys are a combination of some 1,700 islands that start where the Florida Turnpike intersects with Highway 1. You will find the locals refer to locations based on mile markers on the one highway/road in and out of the Keys. The Keys start at Mile 120 and run south to Mile 0 in Key West.

As you drive down Highway 1, you may notice it looks like a protected area. That’s because it is. The Everglades National Park, protecting more than 1.5 million acres, is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states, behind Yellowstone National Park (2nd) and Death Valley National Park (1st). It provides habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile and the Florida panther. It is a World Heritage Site, and even just driving by en route south provides incredible scenery. If you do want to stop and check it out, it is open for visits and has programming and trails.

Continue driving and you will hit Key Largo (miles 108-90). Be sure to stop at mile 102.4 at The Fish House restaurant. The décor is completely kitsch, but don’t let that scare you off. The fresh fish dishes are spectacular. It would be a lost opportunity not to stop. Locals rave about it for good reason. The Matecumbe dish (fresh fish done light with tomatoes, shallots, basil, capers, olive oil) has been featured on the Food Network and is an unparalleled fish experience. The ceviche is incredible as well. The yellowtail snapper, mahi-mahi, grouper and Florida lobster are impeccably prepared in a variety of ways to please every palate. Their key lime pie is the perfect way to top off the meal.

page44_dec2016_travel_fl_pirate-ship-pool

Not that you will be spending too much time indoors, but you do need somewhere to grab some sleep. There are countless motels, trailer parks, small inns, motels with calming-sounding names and big chain hotels along the 120 miles. However, the best place by far from which to explore the Keys is from a home base at the Hawks Cay Resort. This paradise, large resort is located right in the middle of Mile 61 in Duck Key. It is the perfect oasis. Not only is it the ideal place to stay, it is a destination unto itself. It has everything you want or need with helpful staff to make sure you get it. The luxurious, spacious rooms and cozy beds will keep you rested and have you feeling like Sleeping Beauty. There are various accommodation options (villas, suites, rooms that open up onto the 21-over pool area) that are there to make you feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible with spacious areas and cozy beds, leaving you fresh and ready to take on the adventures of the day.

As a resort, it has an enormous list of outdoor activities. A Smart Board in the lobby lists the daily events. For starters, you can book an offshore or backcountry fishing charter leaving from the Hawks Cay Marina, paddle your way around the island on a stand-up paddleboard (lessons and rentals are available) or swim with dolphins. Dolphin Connection, onsite at the hotel will delight kids of all ages (big ones included).

Children can attend Camp Hawk Environmental Education Academy while you relax by the pool, by the salt-water lagoon, get a massage at the spa or just wander and stroll around the enormous property. If walking is not part of the plan, there is a trolley to take you around the site.

page44_dec2016_travel_fl_lagoon-sunset

There are six phenomenal and massive pools, and if you are so inclined, each is perfect for swimming or for exercise. Of course you could also just hang out in the hot tub with a drink of the day (which you can sample for free early in the day by the 21-over pool.).

There are tennis courts, a fully-equipped gym and in the waters of the Keys, there are more than 1,200 colourful creatures waiting to be discovered during a dive. The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral reef system in the continental United States.

The lush surroundings and the beautiful vantage point to watch sunsets on one side (and sunrises on the other) are another bonus of the Hawks Cay. Take a sunset boat cruise (it is short, only 1.5 hours tops) and sip wine, beer and bubbly as you watch the sun set in the beautiful blue sky. There is a party atmosphere on the boat so enjoy it. You are strongly encouraged to enjoy the beverages in the quantity of your choice.

There are superb restaurants on site, Alma has fine dining, then there’s Ocean (comfort food), Beach Grill (fantastic ceviche, calamari and burgers), to name just a few and the Tiki poolside bar offers up incredible mojitos, margaritas and local beers to quench your thirst.

If you decide to venture away from Hawks Cay, Key West is 60 miles away. Visit the Hemingway House to see where Ernest Hemingway lived and soak up his creativity in his writing studio. Hit Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Captain Tony’s Saloon to see where else he got his inspiration. Both sites were Hemingway haunts. Captain Tony’s was the original site of Sloppy Joe’s until the bar owner (a friend of Hemingway’s) got into a fight with the landlord and moved to its current location. Both are worthy of a pint.

But you won’t want to stay away from Hawks Cay long, because there is so much to do and experience there. Most of all, it is the perfect place to relax and unwind.

Across Two Continents: Visiting the Ancient Byzantine Capital

October 18, 2016 1:20 pm
dsc_0997

All photos taken by Isabel Payne.

Dating back to as early as 660BC, Istanbul has a very colourful palette of cultures and history. The city we know today has undergone huge transformations over time. Founded as Byzantium in 660BC, and then later renamed Constantinople in 330AD, the city was the imperial capital for four empires across roughly 16 centuries until the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 moved the capital to Ankara. I recently had the opportunity to visit this ancient city with Turkish Airlines to explore what it has to offer. The city itself proudly retains much of its colourful history, but has also constructed the modern era alongside the old. The result is three sections of the city that almost allows you to walk through time itself.

What to see: 

dsc_1464

Tourists marvel at the beauty of the Hagia Sofia.

 

Istanbul is literally packed full of fascinating places to visit. From magnificent palaces to hectic markets, there’s a little something of everything to suit everyone’s interests. The sightseeing began starting right in front of our hotel, the Sari Konak Oteli, which was conveniently located steps away from famous buildings like the Hagia Sofia (pronounced Ayasofya) and the famous Blue Mosque. The Sari Konak gave me an immediate sense of comfort and welcoming, with spacious boutique rooms and a gorgeous flower covered rooftop terrace. Small shops and cafes lined the streets away from the hotel and up to the Hippodrome.

dsc_1282

Fancy boats serve food to fast food to tourist and locals alike along the shores of the Bosphorus.

Built in 203AD, the Hippodrome of Constantinople was once the social centre of what is now Istanbul. At its prime, the Hippodrome had the capacity to seat 100,000 spectators to watch horse and chariot racing. While the Hippodrome itself fell to ruins in the 1400s, it still remains a social centre of modern Istanbul with a few historical gems surviving the centuries. Now called Sultanahmet Square, the area connects multiple historical sites into one convenient location. Several artefacts in the Hippodrome have survived the pillaging and tests of time. The Obelisk of Theodosius I is among the oldest of artefacts still on display. The red granite obelisk was originally erected in Cairo by Pharaoh Thutmose II between 1479-1425 BC and initially stood at 30 metres tall. In 357 AD, Roman emperor Constantius II had the obelisk moved to Constantinople and had it re-erected in the Hippodrome. Today, only around 19 metres  of the obelisk survives in remarkably good condition.

A boat tour down the Bosphorus stright grants you an epic view of Rumelihisarı.

The square is also home to both the Ayasofya (or known in English as the Hagia Sofia) and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (or Blue Mosque). Literally translating to “holy wisdom”, the Hagia Sofia that currently stands in Istanbul is the third iteration of it to have been built. The church was built in 532 by Emperor Justinian I who, sick of the previous churches in the city being destroyed, decided to build a massive new church that would put its predecessors to shame. After the Ottoman empire had conquered the city, minarets were added and the church was altered to be the first imperial mosque of Istanbul in 1453 and continued to function as such until 1935 when it was finally transformed instead into a museum. Now, the Hagia Sofia is the only place in the world where you can see the artworks of two religions contained in one place.

Across the street, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque offers a gorgeous view of ottoman architecture. See thousands of gorgeous Iznik tiles lining the interior, or stick around the area to hear the call to prayer being announced from the mosque’s six minarets. While it’s not the biggest mosque in the city, it is arguably one of the most beautiful to visit. Just be sure to check the dress code ahead of time.

A short walk away from the Sultan Ahmet square leads to the Basilica Cistern, an ancient cistern filled with marble columns that once supported Pagan temples. Right next to it also stands a segment of the Valens Aqueduct, which was once over 900 meters long. From there, a quick tram ride can take you to the gorgeous Topkapi Palace, an Ottoman palace built for the sultan and his family in 1453. Be prepared to spend several hours there marvelling at the gorgeous architecture and well-kept gardens. Further up the hill hosts a number of gorgeous attractions, including the Galata tower, the Modern Art Museum, and Taksim Square.

What to eat: 

dsc_1067

A small cup of Turkish coffee served hot with sweet samples of Lokum: two must-trys in Turkey.

With its proximity to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, it’s not surprising that Turkish cuisine has become a delicious mix of many cultures. Cuisine in Istanbul maintains much of what was eaten from the Ottoman era. For meat lovers, try kofte or freshly caught fish. Begin your meal with fresh hummus or some acili ezme, a spicy tomato dip similar to bruschetta. Appetizers are generally served with freshly made flat breads that smell and taste like a million dollars. Follow up with a warm lentil soup or fresh calamari, however don’t get over zealous on the appetizers– you’ll want to leave room for the main course!  Mains can vary depending on the restaurant. Be sure to try Manti, a dish often called Turkish ravioli, and Pide, a canoe-shaped dish very similar to pizza.

dsc_1521

A sweets shop displays many traditional and non-traditional of freshly made Turkish Delight.

Turkish desserts are especially lovely. Feast on freshly made Baklava or sample the many flavours of Lokum, or Turkish delight. For a frosty desert, try Dondurma (otherwise known as Turkish ice cream) which is noticeably stickier and chewier than ice cream of the western variety. Ornately dressed Dondurma vendors can be spotted all around the city flipping around large amount of Dondurma with thin metal rods. One of my absolute favourite desserts to eat was Künefe, a buttery, sweet, cheese-filled treat that is best eaten when warm and fresh. Head into Hafiz Mustafa for freshly made Künefe topped with pistachio or Dondurma, or try some of their many puddings including Tavuk göğsü, a sweet rice pudding made with chicken breast (yes, you read that right).
Many restaurants in the city offer stunning views with many rooftop terraces. Seven Hills Restaurant boasts one of the most beautiful views in the city. There you can dine while watching the sunset over the Bosphorus, or if architecture is more your thing, sit on the other side of the rooftop terrace for views of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. For those who want to be close to the water, Villa Bosphorus gives you romantic views of the European side of Istanbul. The restaurant sits right on the edge of the Bosphorus and offers a selection of authentic Turkish cuisine to enjoy while dining next to a breathtaking view.

Where to shop:

dsc_1277a

Hundreds of lanterns hang from the ceilings of shops in the grand Bazaar.

Istanbul has thousands of small shops packed with colourful lanterns, detailed pottery and lots of Turkish snacks. A visit to the Grand Bazaar gives you a little taste of everything. With over 4,000 shops, the Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets in the world. Get your bargaining game on and be prepared to face pushy shop keepers selling everything from carpets to gold jewellery. If cooking is more your thing, the Spice Market boasts an insane amount of spices, including some not normally found in western markets. There you can sample some pomegranate tea or purchase some sumac or a bag of kebab spice to bring home for marinades. If you’re looking for a more European shopping experience, İstiklal Caddesi is one of the most famous shopping streets in the city, lined with great coffee shops, popular clothing brands, and art galleries. The street goes on for 1.4 km and leads from the famous Galata tower up to Taksim Square.

From the Government of Canada: While there is no nationwide travel advisory in place for people travelling to Turkey, it is recommended that you exercise a high degree of caution due to crime, the threat of terrorist attacks and ongoing demonstrations throughout the country. 

Colorado: Peace Among the Peaks 

October 14, 2016 12:54 pm
col-cabins

A resting place overlooking the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. All photos by Eric Murphy.

Halfway up a mountain looking over Boulder, Colorado I found a narrow rocky trail that split away from the well-worn hiking path. The trail ran alongside a steep, watery drop and arced upwards, disappearing into the looming treeline. Thinking that the potential shortcut might be my only chance to get to the top of Green Mountain before my bus left at 10, I turned off the beaten path and started climbing.

It didn’t take long for the trail to get too steep for me, but the detour wasn’t a total waste. On the way back down I heard a few branches crack to my left. I turned, expecting to see one of the off-leash dogs I’d met that morning, but instead I found a bored looking doe staring back at me through about 50 feet of brush.

A few seconds later, two more mule deer appeared, poking around the forest floor. Within  another minute, a total of seven deer appeared in the shade just a stone’s throw away. I took some pictures but mostly sat and watched the animals going about their day with lethargic ease.

col-deer2

One of the deer basking in Boulder’s morning sun.

Feeling more in tune with nature, I turned and went back down that narrow path. Near the bottom I ran into another hiker going upwards. She asked me about the trail and I explained it was a bit rocky, but just a minute ahead was the biggest herd of deer I’d ever seen up close.

“Cool,” she responded flatly, as if I’d just told her the sky was blue. At first I had a little trouble wrapping my head around her lack of enthusiasm. When I was growing up in Ontario, my father slammed the breaks on his truck every time someone spotted a lone deer in the distance.

This attitude is common in Colorado though. It’s not that people don’t appreciate what they have. There’s just too much to appreciate. The ever-present mountains, the sweeping plains between peaks, the all-season sun, the art and beer, it’s just too much for one population to celebrate every day. But for one spring week, I had a chance to pack my bags and see the centennial state with fresh eyes, and man did I celebrate.

col-paintedpiano

A man plays one of the painted pianos in Fort Collins.

Fort Collins 

Two days before my spiritual experience with the deer on Green Mountain, my plane landed in Denver’s sprawling airport and I headed straight for Fort Collins, a city that looks old but feels young. Brick and stone buildings abound and the main downtown streets are extra wide, a souvenir of the city’s mining days that allowed massive carriages to make a u-turn on the once muddy roads.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Fort Collins is something of a Mecca in an already beer-obsessed state. The city of 150,000 has 20 breweries, including the massive New Belgium Brewery, the fourth largest in the US. We visited the brewing company that afternoon, and about 10 minutes into the free tour I was convinced that their brewery should be considered a world heritage site. This place was enormous, with fermentation tanks bigger than my apartment and five free beers along the tour route.

Downtown Fort Collins is beautifully preserved. A few buildings are so quintessentially 19th century American that their design inspired Disneyland’s “Main Street USA.” Quirky street art abounds, and the city even has a fleet of nearly 200 hand painted pianos scattered around for anyone to sit down and play.

edited-boulder-photo-small

The view over Boulder.

Boulder

Boulder is a city with many faces. Head just outside the sprawling University of Colorado campus and you’ll find shirtless fraternity members playing beer pong on their front lawns. Hike up to the mountains and you’ll be surrounded by fit people walking their dogs and carrying long coils of rope towards terrifyingly sheer cliff sides. Explore the Pearl Street Mall and you have a solid chance of seeing a busker folding himself into a cardboard box.

No matter where you go, the city is filled with life. This could be a result of the roughly 300 days of sunshine the city gets each year, or the fantastic food. The perfect lunch spot in Boulder is the Sink, which has a longstanding reputation for serving up the best pizza in the city. Somehow this hole in the wall juggles a welcome feeling for tourists alongside a heavy college dive-bar vibe. The walls are coated with offbeat and irreverent paintings. The most noticeable is a floor to ceiling cartoon mural of Robert Redford, who worked there as a janitor in 1955. After a ghost tour of the city I settled into my cabin at Chautauqua, a national historic site filled with quaint lodges.

At 6 a.m. I ate some leftover Sink pizza that was even better cold, and headed out to the trail. Paths veered off in three different directions and the mountains dominated the horizon. Jagged rock formations called flatirons clung to the mountainsides, bursting from the treeline like a row of pointed teeth. I made it my morning goal to try and get to the top of one. Sadly, the top half of Green Mountain was closed for raptor preservation, but every minute of my hike was an adventure, especially the brief deer sighting.

col

Crossing some open land on a Colorado Trail Ride.

Buena Vista 

Two hundred kilometres south of Boulder and 2500 feet closer to the sky is a town called Buena Vista. The town is brimming with old stone and wooden buildings that look like they were ripped from a Wild West film. This is the land of white water rafting, grazing cattle and fourteeners, the tallest of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

All around town people were riding mountain bikes towards the nearby hills or tying rafts to the roofs of their Subarus. People seemed itching to get out into the country, and I followed suit, setting out on horseback for an hour long ride through the backcountry with no highways in sight. The guide led our group across wide open fields, along narrow wooded paths and through rivers deep enough to get our boots wet. The horses trotted along in single file, but there were a few faster uphill climbs that added a pulse pounding side to an otherwise very relaxing hour.

By late afternoon I ached down to my bones, so I headed to the secluded Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, which sits at the foot of a breathtaking cliff face. I can’t think of a better place to stay after a day on the trails. In the resort, fresh spring water from the mountains mixes with the hot springs, creating a chalk creek that can be icy cold or 50 degrees, depending on where you sit. Floating between the hot and freezing sections is absolute bliss. For those looking to just warm up, separate basins filled with nothing but hot, odourless spring water are only a few steps away.

Hotel rooms and log cabins dot the hills above the springs and spa. I stayed in one of the 30 cabins, which had two bedrooms and an enormous loft. The high ceiling, fireplace and kitchen made the space feel like a rustic version of home.

Outside the cabin were chairs lined up on the porch to face the resort and different peaks. I spent the rest of my evening there, glancing between a book and the mountains.

col2

Denver’s Larimer Street after dark.

Denver

For the final two days of my trip, I gave the world of hiking trails and grassy fields a heartfelt goodbye and waded into Colorado’s booming capital. Denver is a city of young people on sleek bicycles, where every restaurant is trying to break the mould in a quirkier way than the one next door. You feel cooler just by standing close to it all.

During the two days I spent in Denver it was easy to feel like a pinball bouncing between an endless series of colourful restaurants and bars. Their palatial downtown train station reopened in 2014 as an indoor market and you can sip a cocktail, buy a book or check into a hotel room before hopping on your train. My group had pre-dinner drinks in the second floor Cooper Lounge, sitting underneath Volkswagen Beatle sized chandeliers.

Dinner that first night was at TAG, a place that immediately blew me away with its sushi tacos. Picture a bubbling hard shell nestled in a guacamole blanket and filled with sticky rice, charred Hawaiian ahi and mango salsa. I was in love. After trying the rest of TAG’s more conventional sushi, I headed back out onto Larimer Street. The ceiling of lights strung above Larimer gave the narrow road a dreamy quality so late into the evening. I made sure to try two of the underground “speakeasy-style” bars before giving up for the night.

The food adventure continued the next morning back at Union Station at a breakfast spot called Snooze, which started in Denver and has since spread to three other states. As one of their servers set down my Oreo-covered pancake, he told me that the restaurant started out as a master’s thesis, a fact that might have surprised me five days before, but after a week in Colorado it seemed natural as sweet potato pancakes (another Snooze staple).

After spending two days in the city, my last glimpse of nature surprised me in the Denver Airport. While I was standing with my bags, a tiny bird darted past the gates and along the ceiling before settling on a metal rafter right above another departing group.

It started singing, but like my experience with the grazing deer on Green Mountain, no one seemed to notice.

Kadikoy, Kuzuncuk and Baghdad Street: Day Trips to the Asian Side of Istanbul

September 30, 2016 10:39 am
a-street-in-kuzuncuk

Introductory note: Istanbul, Turkey, has been described as the “City of the World’s Desire” (author Philip Mandel.)  Although this image of the tourists’ paradise has been tarnished of late by the spate of bombings and terrorist attacks, life goes on. Indeed, it’s now a bargain vacation destination with many hotels and airlines offering discount prices. Turkish Airlines operates three flights from Montreal, and six flights each week from  Toronto. For information on seat sales please check  http://www.turkishairlines.com/en-ca/

 

The turquoise and jade-green waves of the Bosphorus Strait danced in the brilliant spring sunshine as my Istanbullite friend and I crossed this beautiful stretch of water by ferry boat from Eminonu on the European side of Istanbul to Kadikoy on the Asian side.

I had always wanted to explore the lesser known neighbourhoods of Istanbul; one of the world’s biggest and most vibrant cities, known throughout the world for is iconic sights such as the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia, the Byzantine church-turned-museum.

But somewhat off the beaten tourist track is Kadikoy, a charming neighbourhood in the district of Uskudar on the north or Asian shore of the Bosphorus, the 32- km strait that separates the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, the only city in the world that straddles two continents

Kadikoy today is a commercial and transportation centre and residential neighbourhood, home to many middle class Istanbullites who often spend weekends relaxing in its laid-back atmosphere, shopping, dining out with family and friends and enjoying its many artistic and cultural offerings.

An ancient port city older than Istanbul itself, Kadikoy, once known as Chalcedon, was where the Council of Chalcedon (a great Christian conference to debate the  theological controversies of the day ) was held in AD 451,  eventually  leading to a split between the Western (Roman Catholic)  and Eastern (Orthodox) churches.

turkish-coffee-served-with-sherbet

Today, conversations in its quaint coffee shops-cum- art galleries-  are  more likely to be on whether to order sweet sherbet or lokum (Turkish delight) with one’s  miniature cup of  stronger-than- espresso  Turkish coffee, rather than on matters of other-worldly importance.

A delightful place for a day trip from Istanbul, Kadikoy is also home to the historic Haydarpasha Train Station, which was once the second last stop in Turkey of the now-defunct Orient Express line, associated forever with mystery and international intrigue and immortalized in Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express.

Although no longer a train station for elite passengers, this neo-teutonic castle-like building built by Germans architects in 1908, is worth seeing, and makes a great background for photographs.

After a leisurely stroll through the Kadikoy market, which was bursting at the seams with the freshest fish and seafood, an abundance of colourful fruits and vegetables, as well as a treasure trove of non-food items such as soap and olive oil, we sat down for lunch on a side walk table at the charming but unpretentious Ciya Sofrasi Restaurant specializing in home-style dishes from the various regions of Turkey.

This is the life, I thought as I sampled a few dishes from this very un-touristy menu.  One was Keledos from the Van province of Eastern Turkey -lamb cooked with wild greens that grow only in that region, yoghurt, chickpeas and butter. Delicately spiced and satisfying, it gave me a little taste of the diversity of Turkey’s regional cuisines and convinced me that there is far more to it than doner kebab and pide (Turkish pizza).

Dessert was green walnuts in syrup served with cream. I loved its mixture of sweet and tart flavours, and was fascinated to learn from my friend that it was from the repertoire of Turkish-Cypriot cuisine.  As I savoured the last spoonful of cream, I dreamed up a scenario in dinner-time diplomacy. I imagined Greek-Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci amiably discussing their differences at this restaurant, as they enjoy their dinner washed down with a few glasses of raki (a highly potent alcoholic drink similar to the Greek ouzo). Over this Turkish-Cypriot walnut dessert, they might even resolve their issues and find a way to move forward, I thought.

Cyprus has been divided into a Greek and Turkish areas since 1974, and there has been little love lost between the two sides.

After lunch, we headed out towards another impressively ornate building – the Hayder Pasha campus of the University of Marmara on Tebbiye Caddesi Street. Now a modern, multilingual university, it is on the site of an old, Ottoman-style medical school built by imperial architects with the best materials from Europe.

Kuzguncuk

Our next stop was Kuzguncuk , another neighbourhood on the Asian side of Istanbul. A legacy of Istanbul’s cosmopolitan and multicultural past it is a traditional neighbourhood with strong social ties and a history of peaceful coexistence. Indeed, for centuries this quaint  little village was home to a mix of Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Turks, as evidenced by the synagogues, churches, and mosques that were all built within a few short steps from one another.

In its latest reincarnation, the community is an artistic enclave dotted with galleries and cafés and old, brightly coloured  Ottoman style wooden houses along its narrow, winding streets.

After strolling through the streets, we stopped for steaming cups of Turkish coffee served with glasses of sherbet (cold, sweetened fruit juice to balance the extra strong black coffee)  at  the Kitbevi Kafé (Library Café), a library with an outdoor restaurant where you can read, if you wish, from its extensive collection of mostly Turkish books.

Florence Nightingale Museum

We then went to the  famous Selimiye Barracks, known to the English-speaking world as the Scutari Barracks, renowned for the hospital where Florence Nightingale, the British nurse treated thousands of British and Ottoman soldiers wounded in the Crimean War (1853  to 1856) , modernizing the profession of nursing in the process.  Located on the third and fourth floors of  an enormous building, the Florence Nightingale Museum is  deep within the headquarters of Turkey’s famous First Army and Garrison Command.

The Nightingale artefacts gave us a sense of her multi-faceted career as a hands-on nurse, hospital administrator , health educator and influencer of heath policy a letter in her own handwriting gave us a glimpse of her activism on behalf  of war veterans.  In it, she demands action  from  the  British  government  in the case of  a widow who was not receiving the pension that was due to her after her husband was killed in the Crimean war.

Finally, before heading back to my hotel near Taksim Square (on the European side) we drove through Bagdat Caddesi ( Baghdad Avenue) the fashionable shopping street  where wealthy Istanbullites shop to their hearts’ content at such high-end stores at Luis Vitton, Massimo Dutti, and  Burberry. Running almost parallel to the Sea of Marmara coastline, it is also the street where the annual National Day parade takes place on October 29.

Stopping  for coffee at Caribou, the alternative to Starbucks, we found it an ideal place for people watching, and glanced discreetly at  fashionable Istanbul matrons flashing their Gucci handbags and spraying themselves with Chanel perfume before resuming their frenetic shopping.

a-library-and-outdoor-cafe

Traveller’s Tips

To reach these places on the Asian side, it’s best to take the ferry from either Eminonu or Karakoy in European Istanbul, and get off at Harem or Kadukoy, then walk or take a taxi.

Since the Florence Nightingale Museum is within a military zone,  the public is requested to get prior permission to visit it. You may do this by calling 0 216 553 80 00 at least 48 hours before your planned visit.

 

 

Susan Korah is an Ottawa-based freelance writer.

A Trainload of Memories

September 1, 2016 11:25 am
20160626_132031

All photos by David Eisenstadt.

Raised in Calgary, I visited Banff year ‘round, travelled by car through the Rogers Pass and saw much of BC’s interior.

I never travelled there by train.

That changed when my wife Rhoda and I discovered the Rocky Mountaineer and their various routes through the majestic Canadian Rockies.

When our Brooklyn, Kelowna, and Toronto family agreed we’d vacay in Vancouver this Summer, we decided to celebrate five month-of-June Eisenstadt family events, including seeing drummer/composer son Harris perform with a British jazz trio at the 2016 TD Vancouver International  Jazz Festival.   Taking this train trip really made sense.

First, we flew to Calgary to visit family;  showed Rhoda the historic Banff sites of my youth. Then boarded the Mountaineer for our two-day railway odyssey.

20160626_072048_001 v2We chose the “First Passage To The West” package which traced an historic western route; a two-day ride along the rails from Banff to Kamloops to Vancouver.

For passengers in times past, “taking the train” wasn’t always that easy.  Because trains that rolled along were freights, operated by the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways, and they each owned a set of tracks.

In 1988, the federal government’s Crown Corporation Via Rail Canada, launched a Canadian Rockies by Daylight service. Fast forward to May 27, 1990 when the Mountaineer pulled out of the Vancouver station for Banff and Calgary. The rest is history.

Rhoda and I boarded in Banff (station originally called “Siding 29) on June 26, beginning a world-class life experience .

We settled into pre-booked, wide berth seats with lots of leg room. Lucky to travel atop the last car which afforded spectacular clear dome views from inside and outdoors from the unobstructed tailgate.  No sooner were we seated, then the Guest Service and Train Managers welcomed all aboard.  There were about 60 passengers from the world over in our car.

Snack time happened within 15 minutes of our 7:45am MT departure – coffee, tea, juice and fresh baked scones were offered by smiling and enthusiastic wait staff;  then taking a small spiral staircase, a gourmet breakfast awaited in the downstairs dining car with unbelievably tasty and nutritious choices.

Day One (Banff to Kamloops) is 497km (309 miles).  Breathtaking views of Castle Mountain, a bulky turreted mountain featuring horizontal rock layers, was subsequently renamed in 1946 by Prime Minister McKenzie King honouring Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Ottawa reinstated the original name in 1979. Today, the first mountain tower remains as Eisenhower Peak.

We sped through Lake Louise and though we couldn’t see the emerald green Lake, we saw the surrounding Mt. Victoria Glacier – elevation of 3,466 m (11,365 ft.)  As it happened, Rhoda and I lunched at the iconic Chateau Lake Louise and walked by the Lake the day before, and departed speechless.

Next, the Continental Divide which is the boundary between Alberta’s Banff National Park and B.C.’s Yoho National Park. It’s the highest point we saw, at 1,626 m (5,332 ft.) above sea level, separating the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds.

20160626_103337_001 v2Moments later, spectacular Wapta Lake and then whisked through a couple of tunnels; Lower Spiral Tunnel (Mt. Ogden) and Upper Spiral Tunnel (Cathedral Mountain.)  We passed Field and Golden, saw the Kicking Horse River where we crossed the tracks through the Kicking Horse Canyon seven times.  Saw the Columbia River which has 14 dams along its course to the Pacific.

Up next, the breathtaking Rogers Pass, named after Major A. R. Rogers, a CP Rail surveyor who in July 1882 discovered the Pass through the Selkirk Mountains.

Time for lunch in the dining car.  A gourmet feast awaited, prepared by a talented sous chef and served by a hospitable team.  We would have been disappointed if anything less.

Sights to see everywhere, so it was hard to keep up. We sped by Revelstoke and crossed the Columbia River Bridge where we saw Three Valley Gap Resort, a 200-room hotel resort complete with a heritage ghost town, antique cars and a railway roundhouse.

CP Rail’s Last Spike happened Nov. 7, 1885, driven by an original syndicate member, Donald Smith, who founded that Railway. A cairn marks the spot, noting the linkage of Canada by rail from sea to shining sea.

More BC small towns whizzing by –  Sicamous, Salmon Arm, Chase, Pritchard, Vavenby, Clearwater, Boulder, Little Ft. Ferry and Barrier.  Scattered through this region are the Hoodoos, unique rock-clay formations from the end of the last ice age.  And, we learned of the May 1906 Great Train Robbery, Billy Miner’s last successful heist, on the South Thompson River Bank.  We continued to wend our way to an overnight, off the train stay in a Kamloops hotel.

20160626_144645 v2Day Two, more on-train warm and welcoming hospitality.  Gawked at magnificent Lake Shuswap, passed through Ashcroft, one of the driest places in Canada netting less than 25.4 cm (10 inches) of annual rainfall.  Went through Black Canyon Tunnel and passed the spot where the Last Spike of the eastbound CN Rail was driven.

Then came Avalanche Alley, Rainbow Canyon, Lytton and Boston Barry.  Skuzzy Creek bridge was a site to behold; a 39.93 m (131 ft.) CP bridge crosses this picturesque waterfall and creek.  And there’s the Fraser River.  The Canyon’s renowned tourist attraction is Hell’s Gate, where as much as 909,218 litres (200 million gallons) of water surge each minute through a 33.53 m (110 ft. wide) gorge.

Rolled through Yale, Hope, Agassis, Chiliwack, into the Fraser Valley to Ft. Langley.  Soon, we spotted the Fraser River Swing Bridge which crosses New Westminster into Surrey.

Vancouver was just around the bend, where we arrived on time and refreshed, June 27, 2016 with a trainload of happy memories.

David Eisenstadt is a Founding Partner of tcgpr in Toronto, the Canadian partner firm of IPREX Global Communications– tcgpr does not represent Rocky Mountaineer.

A Taste of Toronto

9:40 am
20160826_132006

Yes, Ottawa is pretty and definitely worth a visit with all the summer festivals, the parliament buildings and mixture of city and nature. But sometimes one might long for something bigger, more exciting and vibrant. Having the fourth-largest city in North America and the largest city in Canada just around the corner, one doesn’t have to take a plane to go to places far away.

The big city vibe you’re craving for starts kicking in as soon as the skyscrapers of Toronto’s skyline show up.
Toronto has a lot to brag about: it’s voted the 4th most livable city in the world, has the largest gay community in Canada and is the most global city, with 50 per cent of the population born outside of Canada.

Toronto

On my trip to Toronto I checked in at the Chelsea Hotel downtown, the largest hotel in Canada, right in Toronto’s vibrant heart. Getting a comforting, clean and light-flooded room all the way up in the hotel towers, I got to enjoy a perfect view of the city’s skyline and the CN Tower of course. Apart from the great and friendly service, guests get to enjoy a sundeck, pools and an indoor gym, get to grab free popcorn and lemonade in the lobby or go for a fun ride in Toronto’s one and only indoor waterslide. Since the hotel is family orientated there is a check-in for kids only and a big family fun zone on the 2nd floor. Both the breakfast buffet on the patio of the market garden café and the breakfast a la carte in the cozy T-Bar have been delicious.

Our host Tourism Toronto followed the maxim “best things first”. We went to have dinner on Toronto’s best known (and tallest) attraction: the CN Tower. With the observation deck at 447 metres, a breathtaking view over the city and Lake Ontario is certain. Adrenaline junkies can go for an EdgeWalk and face the height from outside the building. We preferred getting seated in the 360 Restaurant and enjoy the 360° view while tasting delicious dishes and some local wines.

Hockey remains a game totally associated with Canada and the next morning we went to absorb its history and touch the actual Stanly Cup at the world’s one and only Hockey Hall of Fame. Being the perfect place for Hockey fans, the interactive games in the games area let you be a player or sports reporter for a change.

Toronto
Having lunch at the Canoe Restaurant we got to overlook Toronto once again. Fresh ingredients, mouthwatering dishes and amazing service topped the visit off. No one was able to resist taking pictures- of the skyline- and the picture-perfect food. Tip: the milk chocolate and kernel peanut dessert is to die for!

Of course you don’t want to miss any of the main attractions! Joining a guided tour is the best way to avoid getting lost wandering around in a huge city. Our tour guide Bruce Bell was both informing and entertaining and took us to all the neighborhoods, including the eclectic and bohemian Kensington Market, Red Canoe Park, the totem in little Norway Park, Cabbagetown and Canada’s Walk of Fame, something many Canadians don’t know about.

Toronto might just be the city for huge sports fans. It has the Toronto Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argonauts and the Toronto FC playing for the city so you’ll definitely find a team to cheer for. We went to see a baseball match between the Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels at the Rogers Centre and enjoyed the classic sports food of hot dogs and beer. It might not have been as classy and haute-cuisine as the meals we got to enjoy earlier but definitely helped us soak up the atmosphere in the packed stadium. Having guests from all over the world in our group, we kept the baseball rules simple: cheer, when everyone else is cheering! Since it was the first time most of us ever watched a baseball match, we had lots and lots of fun discussing the rules just to figure out we’d been getting them wrong again and again.

Toronto


First item on our agenda for the next day was the St. Lawrence Market. Rated as the best food market in the world by National Geographic in 2012, it’s the perfect spot to shop for seasonal goods and some of the finest cheese, meat, seafood, fruit, antiques and artisanal crafts. Being more than 200 years old, there is also rich history to learn about the market. Must tries are the peameal bacon sandwich with honey mustard and the famous Toronto butter tarts. They’re delicious, addictive, and locally produced.

Even though it was a bit early for a whisky tasting, the Old Town Toronto History of Everything Tour took us to the Distillery Historic District. The industrial, red brick building complex was once the largest whisky producer in the world. Carefully refurbished, it is now home to a charming combination of art galleries, shops, restaurants and performance venues. Determining that it definitely is early enough for a beer tasting though, we enjoyed some delicious beer at the Mill Street Brew Pub located in the heart of the district.

Toronto

In case you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city already, take the ferry to Centre Island to explore it and the other surrounding islands. The small residential community of Wards Island is the largest urban car-free community in North America. Visiting the island in the summer and seeing all these pretty little houses, you might wish to move there immediately. Residents of the community instead warned everyone who was getting too excited with talking about the long waiting list, the cold winters and the chance of being cut off from the mainland not to mention grocery shops, doctors and work.

Getting to see everything on the island walking-wise can take a lot of time you sure don’t want to waste on a short visit to Toronto. We went around the islands with the Island Tram Tour which doesn’t only allow you to see everything but also teaches you interesting facts about the island’s history.

Even though there aren’t any grocery shops on the island, you can refill your energy at several restaurants and cafés all in a beautiful setting and surrounded by nature. We went to Rectory Café and can highly recommend the peanut butter chocolate cake (and a workout afterwards)!

Perfect for relaxing after a long day and to make you forget you’re close to the city: Take a walk along the beaches of Centre Island and dip your feet into the refreshing water of Lake Ontario. For those who love their freedom and dislike tan lines there is one clothing optional beach on the island as well.

Centre Island Beach Tomorrow

We had dinner at the Antler Kitchen Bar – a dream come true for all meat lovers. Nominated for “Canada’s best new restaurants”, Antler’s aim is to define Canadian cuisine, highlighting local seasonal and wild foods. The meat was delicate—the dish I enjoyed most was vegetarian though. The Wild Mushroom Tarte Tatin was d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!

Since Toronto is the biggest shopping metropolis in the country, you can shop ‘til you drop at the Eaton Centre, and many other places for well-known designer clothes and brands. Or you can try something different and go on a shopping tour with Made in Canada Shopping Tours. No matter if you are looking for clothes, accessories or home furnishing, whether you’re coming with a big or small budget, the tour team knows Toronto and will take you to all the hidden spots. It is Toronto’s first shopping tour for locally made and designed goodness. You’ll even get to visit the “second Coolest Neighbourhood in the World”named by Vogue.

My favorite discovery on the shopping trip: shoes with replaceable heels in all heights and colors. I mean, how cool is that?

Toronto

Shopping Tours tend to make one hungry, so we went for lunch at Bannock, a restaurant that focuses on Canadian comfort food delivered in an innovative and playful way. We tried one of their most famous dishes: the roast duck poutine pizza. Yes, it is just as good as you imagine.

If not for the paintings, the Art Gallery of Ontario is already worth a visit for its architecture design.
The design by Frank Gehry includes a billowing façade of glass and wood, as well as a dramatic sculptural staircase and the 40-foot glass ceilings of historic Walker Court.

For our last dinner we went to Hopgood’s Foodliner, a maritime inspired restaurant. Again, we didn’t get disappointed by Toronto’s cuisine and with a lot to try from our sharing platters, we surprised our taste buds with exciting, new and delicious tastes.

The best way to end your stay in Toronto? Go for drinks at Yonge-Dundas Square where the billboards and neon lights surround the swarms of people in Toronto’s most famous intersection. The square is always busy and you will have a guaranteed fun night.

Toronto

There is a lot more to do, see and eat in Toronto, way more than one can manage to see in a few days. You’d better start exploring it soon!

 

Chips Off the Rock: Random Musings From a Come From Away – Part 2

August 28, 2016 8:04 pm
Champney West (1 of 26) (17)

Champney West (1 of 26) (14)Bonavista Roadtrip (69 of 73)

All photos by Andre Gagne.

“D’ya’ know what da’ hardest thing about a dolphin race is?” Todd asks, checking his rear-view mirror again despite my having not seen another car on this stretch of road for at least an hour.

“No. What?” I reply, eyes scanning the woodlands we kept passing for possible moose sightings.

“Getting the saddles on ‘em, b’y!”

One grin, a short chuckle and a laughter eruption later I realize, while usually I am working to control a stomach attempting to learn the tango with my spleen on long car rides, I’ve spent a lot of this one smiling. Thus was the drive to Trinity with master storyteller Todd Shirran, owner of the taxi service that shares his last name. He does the 4 hour run from St. John’s to Bonavista daily, often logging twelve hours on the road shuttling tourists and the occasional islander visiting friends and relatives further up to coast in vans fueled by buckets of used vegetable oil he collects from area restaurants.

Related: Chips Off the Rock: Random Musings From a Come From Away – Part 1

He’s the kind of encyclopedic local you want to do this ride with as he’s an attic-full of information and history. You can read it on his face. This guy loves his homeland. He’ll tell you about how hard his town was hit by the closing of the fish plant in Bonavista, hold in no emotion as he speaks of what the controversial seal hunt means to area and, with a sly smirk, chortle out the tale of the lady who called back in the mid-90’s wanting to see the actual iceberg that hit the Titanic. Who knows if that one’s true?He admits that sometimes he does have his fun with the tourists spinning yarns like the dolphin race story or the whale graveyards out by Trinity. That just happened to be my current destination though not to pay my respects to the fallen in the great Minke War of ‘77.

Skerwink Trail 3 (10 of 25)Trinity East (32 of 33)Trinity East (13 of 33)Trinity (18 of 39)

I had come to Newfoundland to escape the city life and despite St. John’s being not your typical hustle and rush atmosphere it does still have seven Starbucks. Trinity, on the other hand, is a fishing town first used by ships in the 16th century, shaped by the sea, and still maintains much of its natural beauty. No logos, billboards or buildings larger than a church steeple. Current population: 191. That sounded perfect to this traveler looking to make it 192, at least for a few days.

Trinity (12 of 39)My escape-it-all hostel was across the bay in Trinity East which, I would learn the hard way, was actually a bit of a slog from Trinity itself if you didn’t have a boat, wheels or wings. Pondering how to get to my bedroom bunk was firmly rested on the mental backburner, however, with Trinity providing so many distractions in the form of historic homes, walking paths and at least one amusing road sign. “Deaf Dog NO VEHICLE TRAFFIC”, the sign warned. This is not only a wonderful courtesy for the hearing impaired canine but also a good name for a gangsta’ rapper and his first posthumous release.

Trinity (34 of 39)b

Sarah Rochacewich and some tasty treats.

“We first came to Newfoundland for a friend’s wedding and kept coming back for vacation after that. We quickly fell in love with the province and while on a holiday we decided to step away from our corporate careers and open our own business,” says Come From Away now Trinity resident and business owner Sarah Rochacewich in her shop surrounded by chocolate.

Aunt Sarah’s Chocolate has been in business since 1980 and is some of the best chocolate that will ever pass between your lips. Seriously, popping a Butter Crisp or Trinity Lemon Loop Truffle onto your tongue is like tasting artwork. While it’s not a wise choice to attempt to lick the Mona Lisa, I highly endorse snagging a few bags of these delights to munch on while taking in a production at the nearing Rising Tide Theatre.

Trinity (1 of 39)

Rising Tide Theatre.

Formed in 1978, the red barn-like theatre on the Trinity Bay shore is one of the longest running in the province and its annual Trinity Pageant has become an institution for the town.

Actors in period costume step outside the theatre and will tour you around in story and song.

Think of it as what would happen if you took a play, a Trinity history book, a guided walk, traditional music and a lot of heart and knitted them together to pull over you like a nice, warm sweater.

Trinity (35 of 39)

I was fortunate enough to experience the dinner theatre where, along with your cod au gratin or roast beef, you will be entertained by the various talents in the company via short skits and, of course, more music that will mist you up as much as it makes you want to jig. Founder Donna Butt is a member of the Order of Canada and also directs some of the season’s productions. Also, if you’re like me and stranded in Trinity after a play, she may even give you a lift right up to your hostel door before scooting back to setup the next production. The kindness of Newfoundlanders never ceases to astound me though, by this point, it really shouldn’t.

Like everything else in Trinity, the marvelously blue Skerwink Hostel feels warm and welcoming even when you’re standing on the Rocky Hill Road looking up the driveway. The path leading to the door is flanked by a small garden with little signs reading beets, thyme and kale and the quaint painted labels above the bedroom doorways not only evoke a comfortable night’s rest but also stir up thoughts of the nearing villages like Sweet Bay and Heart’s Content. There’s a guitar near the front entrance as area residents like to visit the hostel from time to time and play for the guests. Of course they do! There’s a table made out of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and, in the corner, a vintage radio one of the owners rigged up to some computer speakers.

Skirwink (1 of 2)

Gavin and Martha fire up the barbecue.

The hostel is run by Martha Nelson and her partner Gavin Clark, both Scottish Come From Aways that were seeking an escape of their own. Martha fell in love with the area, as most people with any working senses will when coming to Trinity Bay, and found that the house had been lying vacant for the last ten years. It had been built by a local crab fisherman who relocated his family to Alberta after the moratorium that saw so many fishers leave the island life.

“The most memorable thing about starting this business to me has been the reception from the community,” says Martha. “We were nervous to begin with as to how we would be received because we didn’t know anyone here, but everyone was so welcoming and encouraging.”

Skerwink Trail 3 (6 of 25)

Skerwink Trail steps.

They named the hostel after the nearing Skerwink Trail which is named after a local seabird though that seabird is actually called a Haigdown. Still with me? Some also say the name could have migrated with the English settlers who found the area coastline reminded them of home. What they saw remains. The Skerwink Trail is a checklist of natural beauty: beaches, cliffs, the scent of ocean and woodland, views to sporadically dislocate your jaw and wildlife close enough to touch like that bald eagle that swooped just a little too close to my head as I rounded one cliff-side turn. Then there are the moose that periodically cross the path blocking hikers from a return to civilization.

Skerwink Trail (10 of 17)

Though out of breath and sweaty from the climb, standing on one of the hills overlooking the bright homes resting on Trinity Bay as the sunset kisses them in a glow that makes you instantly want to take up painting, you wonder why you would want to return to the hustle for the bus, the office cubical clacking and cacophony of continuous city-life construction, anyway.

“Kind of makes you want to just live here doesn’t it?” asks fellow hiker James, reading my mind.

The current Torontonian from Alaska had been traveling around Newfoundland with his wife when their camper broke down near the trail. It was just another excuse to explore, something that’s not necessarily easy for him as he’s had all of his toes amputated. Climbing the steep jaunt to catch that Trinity sunset next to a dude with no toes is inspiring motivation to stifle any gripes and grievances my legs may have wanted to file.

Beach Feet

The ocean tide comes in.

Skerwink Trail 2 (8 of 11)

Skerwink Trail moose crossing.

The trail provides ample rewards like the peaceful beach that meets you at the end, bonfire wood already in place and a sky full of constellations above. Tilt your head just right and you can hear the ocean whispering you in for a swim. Mine lasted about three glorious minutes in the frigid night water but, the next day, sitting atop the trail outlook, I found myself transfixed by a moose crossing a lake, a tiny brown ink drop in motion. I could have watched him for hours.

Despite the claim that one could also see whales from this vantage point, my squinting and cup-eyed peering at the ocean for any type of black speck yielded no results. That’s where Mitch and Yannick came in. Traveling tends to produce a lot of happy coincidences if you do it enough. These two whale obsessed guys sharing my room were from Ottawa and just happened to be going up the coast and back again to places this none-driver would have missed. Faster than I could blink my camera and I were welcomed on as passengers to Bonavista where we’d stop along the way to see puffins, lighthouses and the curiously named Dungeon guarded by bewildered cattle. Oh, and whales, lots of whales!

Coast (3 of 4)Mitch and Yannick were full of tips on how to spot one of them from the shoreline. Look for the water on the surface to turn turquoise, for example, or be ready to see spouts from a distance out of your peripheral vision. Of course, doing this sometimes means glancing away from the views offered by the Bonavista Peninsula. The first time you see a tail flip out of the ocean as a humpback dives to feed is something you won’t soon forget, though. The coastline isn’t going anywhere. The whales are. Thankfully, however, this year there were always at least three more behind the last one you saw.

Bonavista Roadtrip (26 of 73)

Elliston puffin colony.

After our whale-overload, we headed to Elliston where one of the closest land views of the official Newfoundland bird awaited us. You kind of feel sorry for the puffin as you watch them vigorously flapping their little wings next to the gulls swooping in effortlessly on the strong, ocean winds. It’s like placing a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk chopper next to a pinwheel. Well, like the pinwheel, these little birds are colourful and they abundantly fill the grassy cliffs and rocks here between May and September. Elliston is also the Root Cellar Capital of the World, a claim, I have to believe, which has never been contested mainly because, let’s be honest, most people are here for the birds.

Bonavista Roadtrip (44 of 73)What has been questioned by historians, however, is the town of Bonavista’s assertion that Genoese navigator John Cabot landed there in 1497 becoming the second European (after Columbus) to discover North America.

500 years later both the Canadian and British governments decided to accept this as fact despite there being no proof of it having transpired, Todd Shirran had told me on the drive up.

By that rational, I thought, I could decree that Magellan once docked in my linen closet, sit back, and await the steady stream of tourists to knock on my door.

Bonavista Roadtrip (36 of 73)Bonavista Roadtrip (42 of 73)

After a stop at the area coffee shop, Two Whales, we returned to the hostel where Gavin and Martha were holding a barbecue supper for the volunteers and guests. I don’t know what you all believe heaven to be like but there, on the porch of the Skerwink, a warm plate of food in my lap and another gorgeous sunset painting the sky above to bay, I had to believe that this was pretty damn close.

Trinity East 4 (11 of 32)

Trinity East swimming hole.

One of the other’s told me that there was a lot more to discover away from the trail and, the next day, I found myself lost –no easy feat in such a small area– looking for a waterfall cascading into what was said to be a wonderful swimming hole. Sure, I thought to myself, I can still remember the up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right pattern that began the code for Contra but directions given to me roughly ten minutes beforehand needed an accompanying map.

Trinity East 2 (5 of 15)It was later sketched out and the little escape within the escape was well worth the journey off the beaten path. On the way you can collect shells and still see some of the aftermath of 2010’s Hurricane Igor that decimated some of the bridges and homes closer to the shoreline.

An email from Martha would pull me out of the water for a quick change and sprint back to the hostel. The Champney West cardboard boat races were about to begin! I had no clue what that actually meant but it seemed too interesting to pass up. On the ride, it was explained to me that the towns in the area all have their festivals on different weekends so as not to overlap and each have a little something unique to offer.

The town of Champney West, though, gets extra points for creative lunacy.

Champney's West Cardboard Boat Race (11 of 43)Paint, duct tape and cardboard are the only tools in your arsenal when it comes to building what you hope to be a vessel mighty enough to set sail off the shores of town and make it just far enough out of port to round a buoy before trying to return. That’s the easy part. Keeping afloat? Not so much. Most boats, sporting colourful names like What the Duck? and Piece of Ship, don’t get very far before venturing down in a southward splash much to the amusement of the gathered crowd which, on this day, could have been the entire town with the amount of people filling the pier.

Champney's West Cardboard Boat Race (35 of 43)“There they go, b’y, there they go,” shouted a man beside me as though he were watching the first few seconds of the Kentucky Derby and not some wittily named pieces of cardboard being wildly paddled by locals for unknown glory, a year of fame and, mainly, the sheer fun of it.

Champney West (1 of 26) (24)Later, Gavin led a few others from the Skerwink and I around English Harbour to a place called Horse Chops. He’d been told the whales were returning to the area in abundance. Standing there on the edge of another cliff as the group pointed out whale after whale breaching the surface, I smiled. It was one of those moments where the world sort of fades out around you leaving you with this euphoric sense of calmness. I thought of the friendly people I’d met and the beauty I’d seen on this far to short a trip.

Newfoundland has a way of making you feel at home even if you weren’t born there and your citizenship status was obtained by way of making out with a dead cod. Now, back in Ottawa, typing this I can almost feel the wind on that cliff, smell the ocean, and, like the whales, I could easily see myself returning there every year. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true because, in all actuality, I don’t feel it would take many returns to make the choice the Gavins, Marthas and Sarahs did before me and this Come From Away becomes just another Here Now to Stay.

Trinity East 4 (23 of 32)

Chips Off the Rock: Random Musings From a Come From Away – Part 1

August 25, 2016 10:16 pm
Signal Hill c (13 of 38)

Petty Harbour (13 of 26)All photos by Andre Gagne.

The large, bearded man had just put his tongue into the mouth of a fish. I watched, eyes wide, as it was then thrust towards me.

“Your next, b’y,” another man said, holding an oar in one hand and the lifeless fish in the other.

Wait, did that guy brush, I thought?

When kissing a dead fish it’s best not to think about sanitation. Sure, other questions like “Just where did that thing come from?” or “How many lips were on it before mine?” and “Are you sure it’s dead?” may race through a mind swimming in the haze of whatever liquid was consumed moments before you were face to fish with the frozen cod but there’s not much time to come up with the answers. After all, there are about 30 other people waiting in this fish kissing frenzy egging you on, some of them actually licking their lips, and we all paid twenty bucks for this! One has to wonder how much fish you can purchase that you don’t have to get intimate with for that price but this is not a time for logic. It’s time to close your eyes and pucker up. Welcome to Newfoundland!

Screech In (8 of 14)

Pucker up!

This odd scene is called a Screech-In and some places on St. John’s fabled George Street do them every hour. The popular and extremely bizarre Newfoundland ceremony is for the Come From Aways, a ritual to welcome people visiting The Rock and make them honorary Newfoundlanders. It’s unsure how far back this tradition dates but I can only assume the origins have something to do with a fisherman realizing he could get $20 from a tourist while simultaneously acquiring a hilarious story to tell his buddies about what said tourist did with the catch of the day.

 

Screech In (12 of 14)

Shots of rum await the Screech-Ins.

“‘Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” the Screechers are asked to say after downing a shot of rum, eating a piece of Newfoundland meat and, of course, getting jiggy with Codzilla. Now, before you think you wouldn’t kiss your mother with a mouth that had uttered such a phrase –which is probably a good thing because, let’s face it, you just kissed a fish with it– this sacred oath actually translates into: “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch the wind.”

Gentle ribbing aside, Screech-In’s like the one I attended at Christian’s are great fun in all their absurdity. Brian Day, the pub’s owner, has been performing the ceremony for over 15 years and, dressed in his sou’wester and carrying the oar he looks the part of a man who may have just dredged the fish out of the ocean. He really gets into it on a near nightly basis. The place boasts 60,000 plus Screech-ins! That’s one lucky fish!

Pubsandshops2

The pubs and shops of St. John’s.

Now that you’re a Newfoundlander why not experience some traditional music?

Elsewhere on George Street, in O’Reilly’s or Kelly’s or Birdie Molloy’s, you can hear tunes like “The Night Paddy Murphy Died”, “The St. John’s Waltz” and “I’s the B’y”.

Fiddles, bodhrán and guitars make for a toe-tapping good time on the city’s most popular street.

It’s two-blocks of nothing but bars, pubs and clubs so it’s not hard to understand the draw.

You can take in a comedy show at Trapper John’s, head over to hear some Blues at the Fat Cat, join a traditional sing-along at the Shamrock and then merge with the younger set above the Rob Roy for something a little more electronic and pumped with bass.

All that without walking more than 25 feet!

If you want a party, there’s something for everybody on George Street.

“I’ve only been in jail for three hours,” slurs a local trying to pick up an attractive German tourist who may or may not understand him.

Granted, this isn’t a good opening line in any province, but Newfoundland does have a rather unique dialect coming out of arguably the friendliest people on the planet, even the one’s who did a marginal stint in the slammer.

The accent is what happens when the Irish, French and English all settle on an island and mingle. I discovered it early.

 

“I’m just ‘bout gutfounded, b’y,” a man said to me twenty minutes after I left the airport. An acknowledging nod seemed like the best reply.

Fish and Chips (1 of 1)

The Duke of Duckworth serves up a tasty plate of fish and chips.

I later learned he was hungry and was probably somebody I could have asked where to find some fish and chips. I would soon learn that everybody has an opinion on what place served up the best. Some say Ches. They’ve been in business for 50 years. Some say you have to go out of town where they practically fry it on the boat after it’s caught. Other’s still will point you to the Duke of Duckworth, made even more a local hot spot by its inclusion in the CBC series Republic of Doyle which, despite him starring in five episodes, has nothing to do with Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle.

Though the band retired last year, they are still beloved and everybody in St. John’s seems to have a story about meeting Alan or Séan McCann. Music is just one of the things that unites the islanders and, in St. John’s, the songs of Newfoundland are especially celebrated during the George Street Festival’s day long Kitchen Party and at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival where, this year, local bands like The Once and the beautiful melodies of the Ennis Sisters wowed the crowd.

NFL Folk Festival (2 of 10)

The Ennis Sisters perform at the 2016 Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival.

If “Rock” music is what you’re looking for you really have to wander into only one place: Fred’s Records. Located on Duckworth, it’s been the go to spot for local music even since opening four decades ago. Their goal is to have the largest selection of Newfoundland music anywhere, which makes sense it being Newfoundland and all. Well, they succeeded! From compilations of oldies, island mainstays like the awesomely named Shanneyganock, to new musicians like Amelia Curran and The Dardenelles, you can flip through it all on Fred’s shelves. My favourite find was Ron Hynes, a local folk singer who passed away last year. His songs are just part of the fabric that is Newfoundland.

Churches 2 (1 of 23)

The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Churches 2 (15 of 23)

Ghost or not? You be the judge!

Newfoundlanders really embrace their culture and they are not afraid to tell you about it. The Great Fires, the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel and even a few ghost stories like those told on the Haunted Hike.  It’s recommended to do one of these on a foggy night where, dressed in period costume, a guide will tour you around the city to chill you with tales of the city’s spooky past. The skeptic can even enjoy this as it’s a fantastic history lesson but even they may have trouble figuring out what that strange specter is in the photograph on one of the walls of the Anglican Cathedral.

I happened to take one of these on a night of torrential rain which creates street-side waterfalls in a city full of hills. Seriously, when going to St. John’s prepare to walk up…a lot! Of course, what goes up must come down, as they say, and there’s certainly a lot of great excuses to rest. Jellybean houses, for example.

Jelly Bean Homes (6 of 11)-2Jelly Bean Homes (4 of 4)

The colourful homes line many of the streets near the downtown core and each turn can seem like a postcard waiting to happen inside your camera.

Signal Hill (4 of 8)

Cabot Tower

Speaking of streets, Water Street in St. John’s is the oldest in North America. It’s just one of many firsts for Newfoundland like the first place to host a transatlantic flight, the oldest continuous sporting event in the Regatta, the first province to respond to the distress signal sent from the Titanic and the only province to have its own pony, dog and dictionary. It’s also the place where, on December 1, 1901, Guglielmo Marconi discovered that transatlantic communication was possible, ear pressed to his rudimentary headset, to hear the faint sounds 1,7000 miles away from his spot on Signal Hill.

Signal Hill c (19 of 38)

The noon day gun on Signal Hill.

These days, Signal Hill brings most people there for its half-dozen hiking trails and the views you acquire by walking them. You can start out in the Battery, where some of the oldest homes around still remain, working your way up paths like the North Head Trail or the Gibbet Hill Lookout. If you’re fast enough you might make it up in time for the noon day gun. In fact, you might even get to shoot it. If thinking the kickback might blast you clear through Cabot Tower, have no fear but you should cover your ears. The 19th century gun once used to protect the city from invasion is still mighty loud.

Signal Hill B (5 of 13)Signal Hill c (31 of 38)

“You know those blueberries are edible,” says a man on the trail pointing towards a patch of ground near my feet. “Except for the one’s that ain’t blueberries.”

“How can you tell the difference?” an out of breath me asks.

“Oh, ya’ don’t really know until you pop one of ‘em in your mouth.”

“Are you some sort of horticulturalist?”

“Nope. Plumber!”

Signal Hill c (24 of 38)While I didn’t eat the blueberries or the ones that possibly weren’t blueberries, I did hike the hill trails a few times while out there, even the spots where you need to brace yourself against the cliff by holding onto a chain drilled into the rock. The needed exercise aside, the views are spectacular. When you look out over the Narrows at St. John’s what you see down there is a lot of history.

You can read about it on all those plaques scattered about the city urging self-guided walking tours or visit The Rooms, St. John’s Newfoundland history museum but you really feel it standing high above being hit by the ocean winds.

A good way to end a day in St. John’s is with a beer. Well, that’s a good way to end the day anywhere but it’s only in Newfoundland that you can get Quidi Vidi. How do you say that exactly, who knows, but this neighbourhood in St. John’s is more like a fishing village frozen in time, a place to peek back at the past though nowadays it’s become a place to visit the biggest microbrewery on the island and snag yourself an Iceberg!

Quidi Vidi (15 of 15)Quidi Vidi B (1 of 13)

When a 250 million ton iceberg found its way off the coast of Twillingate, the brewers in Quidi Vidi got an idea: all this fresh water might make a pretty tasty brew and they were right. Bottled in its signature blue glass (so much a collector’s item that they had to take out ads to ensure they were returned), Iceberg beer became so popular that even at producing 1,100 cases a day they couldn’t keep up with the demand.

I’m not sure where they get the icebergs when one doesn’t just happen to float on up to their door but, and this could very well be psychosomatic, it was the coldest, most refreshing beer I’ve ever tasted. Besides, there’s nothing like 25,000 year old iceberg water to wash the taste of just kissed fish out of your mouth, b’y!

The trip continues up the coast where whales, puffins and cardboard box boats await!

Fun in the Waves at OWL Rafting

August 22, 2016 10:08 am
article10

All photos by Isabel Payne. 

In early August the OLM team had the opportunity to spend the day white water rafting on the Ottawa River with OWL Rafting. Located about an hour and a half outside of Ottawa, OWL rafting provides fun outdoor adventures ranging from one day rafting trips to two day adventure packages. We opted for their one-day Adventure Rafting, which took us through a number of rolling rapids along the winding Ottawa River. Unsure of what the day had in store for us, we set off to Owl Lane with excitement overlapping any nerves.

GOPR0129Our day began bright and early at the main OWL base for sign-in. It is there you get to meet your guide for the day, as well as learn about the boat you’ll be in and the kind of equipment you’ll be wearing. Life vests, helmets and paddles are provided for everyone at the lodge. When our team was set, a bus took us up the river to a small beach where the rafts awaited. Once on the water, the hard work begins. Our guide taught us the basics for controlling and steering the boat and then set us off towards our first rapid. As we held on to the rope lining our raft, we were flung in all sorts of directions as we careened down what our guide said would be the largest and most powerful rapid of the day. Those seated at the front got a huge surprise as they found themselves practically underwater as they were drenched by a massive wave. After our initial passage, we soon turned around and went back to the same rapids to do multiple rounds of “surfing” the waves. According to our guide, rapids shift and change throughout the seasons, with some being huge in the spring and then drying out as the weather heats up for the summer. So each trip would be different from our experience that day.

article11

Midway through the trip we took a brief break from paddling and stopped for some fun cliff jumping and re-hydration. Those of us who couldn’t brave the jumping simply took a moment to marvel at how beautiful the forest around us was. Once we were feeling properly full of snacks, we were back on the river paddling off to our next rapids.

article3

Rafters climb aboard the makeshift slide.

Although the later rapids weren’t close to the size of the first one we hit, we still had that same rush of adrenaline as our boat was flung forwards and backwards, threatening to dislodge anyone who wasn’t holding on properly. At the end of the rapids we were lucky enough to have some extra time on our hands, and the guides gathered all the rafts together to make one giant raft slide!

Our exciting excursion ended with a gentle ride back to home base in a comfortable Pontoon boat cruise. Snuggled up with our dry towels (given to our guides at the beginning of the trip), we took a rest in the shade while enjoying a fantastic BBQ lunch provided by OWL. Shortly after we arrived back at the lodge, we got to rest our weary muscles and watch a video of our adventures on screen.

While white water rafting is in itself a dangerous sport, safety is OWL’s number one priority. From the safety equipment before departure, down to the watchful eyes of the guides, not once did we feel in danger, even while our raft was launched nearly sideways over a wave. OWL’s rafts stick close together to watch the backs of those going through a rapid before and after us, catching anyone who may have fallen from their raft to even looking for lost sandals.

OLM Recommends:

  • Pack lots of sunscreen to wear. You’ll be out in the sun for hours with little shade to protect you from the sun’s rays. On a similar note, some aloe vera might be handy for after the trip!
  • You also will not be able to carry a purse or backpack with you. Your guides can carry smaller items (like sunscreen or medications), but be prepared to spend roughly 6 hours disconnected from your phone, dry clothes, and sunglasses.
  • Wear light and comfortable quick-dry clothes (avoid cotton), and good water shoes or sandals that will stay on your feet.
  • For those lucky enough to have a GoPro or any sort of waterproof camera, we highly recommend bringing it with a helmet attachment or with a strong string that can attach to the life vest. Both hands are required for a majority of the trip to paddle the boat or for holding on to the boat for dear life. If you don’t have one, fret not, OWL has a dedicated videographer and photographer filming your progress down the river and capturing all the best moments.
  • Keep your mouth shut when going through the waves. Trust us.

Rafting trips run until September 11, so if you’re looking for one last huzzah before the summer ends, OWL Rafting is the place to be. Our verdict? 10/10 Best. Day. Ever! A HUGE thanks to the OWL team for making our trip a fun and memorable one!

IMG_0215

Caveman Luxury at Kayakapi Premium Caves

August 9, 2016 12:56 pm
DSC_0239

All photos by Isabel Payne.

On June 1, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a few nights in a cave. Located in the touristy Cappadocia region of Turkey, Kayakapi Premium Caves offers a hotel experience like no other. Named after the historical neighbourhood it’s located in, a stay at Kayakapi means sleeping in luxuriously renovated caves originally built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Each room is carefully designed to incorporate elements of what it was originally used for, with a sense of comfort and homeliness that most of us wouldn’t expect when strolling into a cave.

Each room has its own personal courtyard and outdoor seating area that offers a gorgeous view over the land below. The interiors also vary quite a bit. My room had a comfortable seating area near the entrance way and my bathroom had a large stone Turkish bath as well as my own personal Hammam. Other rooms contained larger family rooms, hot tubs, or even an indoor swimming pool! Beautiful secrets are scattered around the hotel grounds.

After a small walk, I found myself in a garden with a romantic view of the mountains and vineyards below. I woke up early the next day and went back to that very spot for a gorgeous view of the sunrise with hot air balloons dotting the sky. Another short walk down the mountain landed me in the unrenovated area of the cave neighbourhood. While they are still renovating more caves to become future hotel rooms, some interesting caves still dot the area. The House of Saint John the Russian is an interesting place to visit if you can, as well as several Roman baths.

If you’ve had enough of sight-seeing and just want to relax, Kayakapi offers all the facilities you’d need to never leave the hotel again. Their onsite restaurant, the Maide restaurant, cooks up fresh and delicious breakfasts, and in the evening serves up some luxurious and mouth-watering meals. Near the restaurant you can relax by the swimming pool which also has a breath-taking view, or simply sit a spell in their guest lounge, where you can access computers as well as local and international newspapers.

If you’re ever visiting Cappadocia, I highly recommend a few nights at Kayakapi! Check out our gallery below for more photos of this gorgeous hotel.

The Resort that Timmy’s Built

August 5, 2016 10:51 am
The_Resort_That_Timmy's_Built1_Guest_Suites.jpg-replacement (1)

Guest accommodation overlooking the golf course and sea at Fox Harb’r Resort glows at sunset. Photo by Tracy Hanes.

Fox Harb’r Resort, on Nova Scotia’s north shore about 20 kilometres east of Pugwash, isn’t your average luxury vacation spot – if there is such a thing.

The guest accommodations offer amenities you would expect when in-season prices start at $350 a night for a studio:  deep whirlpool tub, heated granite bathroom floors, luxurious linens, the English line of Molton Brown toiletries and beautiful views of the rolling golf course and sea.

The_Resort_That_Timmy's_Built3 (1)

Custom detached homes and townhouses, with upscale finishes, are now being offered for sale at Fox Harb’r. Lots can also be purchased. Photo by Tracy Hanes.

But Tim Hortons coffee at the mini-bar? Absolutely. At Fox Harb’r, Timmy’s is the brand of choice.

This is, after all, a resort built and sustained by proceeds from the iconic coffee and doughnut chain, and it represents the vision of co-founder Ron Joyce, a Maritimer, born and bred in nearby Tatamagouche.

Fifty years ago, while working as a cop in Hamilton, Joyce got to know NHL hockey star and doughnut-shop owner Tim Horton. In 1967, they signed a franchise agreement, and the legendary business relationship began.

Horton provided the personality and the promotion; his partner, the business acumen, according to Kevin Toth, Fox Harb’r’s enthusiastic president: “Ron Joyce’s real skill was picking locations.”

And what a spot he’s picked for this 1,150-acre (465-hectare) spread with its four kilometres of shoreline in a part of Nova Scotia that boasts warm waters, spectacular sunsets and views across the Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island. The region, with unspoiled countryside and a growing number of wineries and craft breweries, is called the Sunrise Trail.

With this prime bit of real estate, the 85-year-old billionaire, who sold out his fast food interests, is not looking for financial gain, Toth says. In fact, Fox Harb’r, which opened in 2000, is debt free and backed by a trust fund that covers operating losses.

The_Resort_that_Timmy's_Built4_Robillard_Replacement (1)

Fox Harb’r Chef Shane Robilliard knows how to please guests with his lobster boils and his specialty, lobster ravioli. The resort prides itself on the fact that seafood on its menu is sustainably sourced and organic greens and vegetables come from its greenhouses and gardens. Photo by Tracy Hanes.

So what motivated Joyce?

“He wanted to give back to the north shore community,” Toth explains to a group of visitors, “… and he wanted a place to enjoy and to come home to.”

Given back he has. Fox Harb’r is the largest employer on Nova Scotia’s north shore, with almost 200 full-time and seasonal staff. And, no question, the resort reflects Joyce’s interests:

-He took up flying to speed his travels during rapid expansion at Tim Hortons. The resort has a 1,500-metre airstrip.

-At 65, he became an avid golfer:  The resort offers an 18-hole course, a nine-hole Par 3 and a golf academy staffed by three experts.

-And, for a Nova Scotian, it’s only natural to offer hunting and fishing – stocked trout ponds, clay shooting and fall pheasant hunts.

The_Resort_That_Timmy's_Built2 (1)

The clubhouse is one of Fox Harb’r’s impressive amenities. The resort opened in 2000, the vision of Tim Hortons co-founder Ron Joyce. Photo by Tracy Hanes.

While deep pockets support the resort, plans are afoot to make it more financially sustainable. A 10-year plan calls for 225 dwellings, in addition to the 31 existing homes, some occupied year round, and accommodations for guests.

Now on the market are luxury townhouses from $525,000, two detached models ringing in at $1 million and $1.6 million, and building lots from $195,000.

For a part-time getaway, starting at $169,000, Fox Harb’r proposes a quarter interest in three and four-bedroom townhouses through fractional ownership representing 12 weeks’ occupancy.

Fox Harb’r is unusual, and not just for its trust fund.

“It’s very rare when all the amenities and everything are already built,” says residential sales manager Eric Lum.

In addition to golf, trout ponds, sport shooting, a jetport and marina, the resort has an impressive clubhouse, spa and indoor pool; mature landscaping and gardens, punctuated with statuary; and restaurant facilities, with one of the largest wine cellars in Eastern Canada. Home-grown salad greens and vegetables come from the greenhouses and gardens, and seafood is sustainably sourced.

There’s more to come: riding horses arrive this summer, a 25-acre (10-hectare) vineyard is being planted and a conference centre planned.

Even without that last amenity, big names have visited, including Tiger Woods, who set a course record of 63, and Bill Clinton, who attended former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna’s annual networking session.  That’s just one of Fox Harb’r’s many events.

You can find out more about the resort and all that it offers at foxharbr.com.

Article by Ellen Moorhouse.

Take a dip into Salaberry-de-Valleyfield

July 15, 2016 4:06 pm
The fountain in the bay in front of the Hotel Plaza Valleyfield.

In a small but bustling city midway between Ottawa and Montreal, the Régates de Valleyfield has been happening every year for the last 78 years. The event showcases high speed hydroplanes (basically boat-planes without wings!) that reach up to 225 km/h. There are stadium seats set up for people to watch the races set up along the city-side of the St. Francois Bay, offering extreme thrills from a safe distance. There are also concerts and lots of activities to enjoy, and that’s only for this weekend.

Salaberrry-de-Valleyfield, where the regatta is held, is on a small island just past the tail end of the St. Lawrence River, and it has a long and intricate history with the water that surrounds it. The main strip of the town runs next to a beautiful and clear canal that leads out to the bay, and a string of rivers and lakes that leads to the Great Lakes

If you want to make your way up there this weekend, it’s only over an hour away from both Montreal and Ottawa, and the Régates are definitely not the only things going on in the city.

Photo credit: Hotel Plaza Valleyfield.

I got the chance to go up last week, and I was even luckier because I got to bring my boyfriend Ciaran around with me to explore all the things that the area had to offer, which we both discovered was plenty! It was somewhat of a couples retreat.

Valleyfield loves their watersports, so if you’ve ever wanted to try some whitewater kayaking, there are some rapids located right in the middle of the city, and right next to the Hotel Plaza Valleyfield, the best place to stay if you’re considering a jaunt up to the town. Our room was modern and crisp, with a great view of the bay and the fountain within it that lights up the city at night. The hotel hosts a variety of different people. There are large conference rooms and ballrooms for business events, and the first day we stayed there, there was an extra-large biking party stopping for the night. The area holds over 140km of paved bike paths, a great thing to consider if you plan to bike your way up to or past Montreal.

Although we aren’t exactly the extreme-sports type of people, Ciaran and I geared up for whatever activity we figured we wouldn’t die doing, and water was on the docket.

IMG_0181A favourite activity of mine was stand up paddle boarding, or SUP, as we learned it was called. To be honest, I think this was the activity we were dreading the most; neither of us have ever done it before and really it just looks plain hard.

We were lucky enough to try SUP polo, which is basically a mix between polo and lacrosse, while balancing on SUPs. The games are run on Saturdays and Sundays in the canal right in downtown Valleyfield . The SUP polo games are run by the very lovely (and very athletic) couple, Stéphanie Chiasson et Pierre-Hugues Chatigny, who cleverly put the first three letters of their last names together to create their business name, CHICHA SUP.

When we arrived, they had been waiting for us, along with some local firefighters who had been playing all day. Let me tell you, Ciaran and I fell, a lot. In fact, I probably fell the most…I fell trying to get on the SUP. But after the first dip into the water, after you learn to close your mouth and figure out how to get back on the board (although I could never do it as gracefully as our hosts) SUP polo is incredibly fun!

That's me, falling in for the millionth time.

That’s me, falling in for the millionth time.

It’s only 1$0 an hour, and they provide you with T-Shirts and all the know how to have a great workout and to have some laughs, because really it’s just funny to watch other people fall, and everyone did, even the pros and firefighters we were playing with.

We also got a chance to go to the Parc régional des îles-de-Saint-Timothée, or for short, let’s call it the beach. There you can rent bike, and bike on a trail that runs around the park, which we did (where again I fell pretty hard, but on gravel instead of water). You can also rent SUPS, paddle-boats and kayaks, the latter in which we chased each other around the little islands around the beach.

After we biked and kayaked and worked up a good appetite, we enjoyed packed lunchboxes from La Petite Grange, a lovely little café that brings people from miles away to tastes their breads, sandwiches, patisseries, homemade chocolates and goodies. Our lunchboxes were healthy, hearty and fresh, perfect for a beach picnic, and Ciaran especially liked the cookies and chocolates for desert.

IMG_0118
Something we didn’t get to do because you do have to be certified, is scuba diving. That’s right, it’s a big thing in Valleyfield! There are 12 wrecks in the area to explore, including one massive airplane hidden somewhere beneath the surface. We were going to do some snorkeling, but the bad weather muddied up our plans.

Jean-Michel Lalonde is the owner of Centre de Plongé Eco Dive, a fresh new scuba headquarters located right on the main
strip of Victoria Street across from the canal. It’s a kind of one-stop-shop for all your scuba and snorkeling needs. He sells and rents all the equipment, he gives scuba lessons, and he does both snorkeling and scuba excursions, and, get this, ice-diving during the winter! How very Canadian. This guy knows his stuff, he’s been an instructor for 7 years, 2 of those years he spent in Mexico. He even built his own diving boat, on which we were graciously given a ride to explore the bay.

IMG_0210

Lalonde explained to us that the reason there were so many wrecks in the area was twofold: ecological and for scuba diving. Goby fish were taking over Ontario waters and eating other fishes’ eggs. So, the government of Ontario allowed vessels to be sunk in the waters so that fish could hide their eggs, and so scuba divers could explore those ecosystems. So no, a plane didn’t crash anywhere near Valleyfield.

Ciaran and I only got to see the tip of one sunken wreck, the Charbonnier, which is the oldest and only semi-natural wreck in the surrounding waters. The people in the area sank the old coal boat in the 1940s because trains became the main method of bringing coal to the area. Lalonde said it’s still a mystery why it was sunk instead of being repurposed. Looking down at the tip of the wreck, only about eight feet beneath Lalonde’s boat, did instil quite the sense of mystery and wonder, and it made me eager to get myself certified for scuba diving.

The Charbonnier’s coal was used for an industry that built Salaberry-de-Valleyfield over a century ago; the Montreal Cotton Mills. The English name Salaberry-de-Valleyfield comes from the British mill-owners who ran the mills that employed a major part of the population, and gave birth to the area that’s there today.

IMG_9970

The Muséee de Société Des Deux-Rives, or the MUSO, also situated right downtown, was the perfect introduction into the rich history of the area. Opened in 2010, the MUSO’s main entrance is in a repurposed protestant church, originally built in 1882. The church itself is kept for temporary exhibits, whereas the rest of the attached building holds and interactive journey through the area’s history with Montreal Cotton. The cotton industry that has left the city, but still obviously has a great influence on the architecture and organization of the area. Adèle, our tour guide, was sweet and very informative, and she comes highly recommended! She took us through the different neighbourhoods built for the workers, the history of unions and strikes, and all the different tools used to make cotton into what we have now.

IMG_0022Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t swoon a bit over the dining. We tried two very different restaurants for dinner. The first was an impressively large restaurant called Club Touriste, a beautiful old Victorian villa named after it’s transformation in the 1930’s, which made the old home into a private club. Now a bustling and modern restaurant, its large patio was the place to be. It was as much a dining experience as it was a social one. Once people sat, they stayed for hours, sometimes getting up to see someone they knew on the other side of the patio, but mostly, they sat and enjoyed the food and conversation at their tables.

Ciaran was in his element there, at least when it came to food. Club Touriste’s menu was varied, but our lovely server Geneviève told us to go for the grill, so we did! Although we both started off with delicious variations of duck, me with paté and he with a duck sausage pogo, it was the main dishes that really stole the show. I got a rack of lamb, which was tender and flavourful, and Ciaran went full out and ordered a boar shank for the first time, which he adored. Once he devoured his own dish, he shamelessly ate the rest of my lamb, which I couldn’t finish because the portions were so generous!

We finished our meal with two fantastic deserts, chocolates made by the owner’s wife on my end, and a decadent caramel
cheesecake on Ciaran’s end. That night after a walk about town on the charming canal, we went back to the hotel and fell asleep in our clothes. I believe that’s what they call a food coma!

IMG_0018

The second night, we chose to go to La Bibliothèque Café-Bistro, which is themed after the city college’s neighbouring library. More low-key than Club Touriste, La Bibliothèque has a relaxing and intellectual vibe. It too is a restaurant built within an old beautiful home, but the architecture was kept rather than reworked. The design on the inside was is classic but eclectic, with a library room, bathrooms plastered with old New York Times front pages, and a wrap-around porch that led to the most charmingly lit patio I’ve ever seen. The food was absolutely incredible, modern yet hearty and simple enough that the strong flavours were doing most of the impressing.

Our meals started off with an amuse-bouche; a little jar of lentils with edamame beans and pancetta. This was Ciaran’s first foray into the world of lentils, and he was delighted! Our two appetizers were super savoury: I had Vichyssoise topped with a pecan vinaigrette and a slice of crispy pancetta, while Ciaran had a creamy barley and shrimp risotto dotted with strongly flavoured mushrooms.

IMG_0257

We both got pasta dishes for dinner, which for the heaviness alone might have been a misstep, but no regrets, because they were excellent. Ciaran had what I secretly wanted, the duck gnocchi in a beautiful mushroom cream sauce, but I was very pleased with my arugula pesto penne and shrimp. We kept switching dishes trying to figure out whose was better, and the winner was always whatever sat in front of us at the moment.

A word on the chef, Marie-Claude, who just opened the restaurant over a year ago. She is from Montreal, and a sommelière by profession, and so the bottle of wine she chose for us was perfectly balanced for our meal; French, red and named El Pépé (it was basically made for me). We also learned that she is a self-taught chef, and only began cooking since the opening of her restaurant. Obviously, she had a knack for it.

IMG_0268

La Bibliothèque was so good that we went back the next day for brunch, and had equally delicious eggs benedict and a steak sandwich. We’d go back to Valleyfield just for that restaurant! Especially since the prices were so reasonable.

Our last stop was just a block away at Local du Gourmet where we picked up a couple of mousse delights in a jar, one vanilla and one chocolate to satisfy Ciaran’s insatiable sweet tooth.

All in all, it was the perfect place for a couple’s retreat. So if you’re even remotely into water sports, biking, good food, or beautiful scenery, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield is a must. Get up there this weekend for the Régates and cool off in the clean and crisp water, or if you’re on your way up to Montreal, drive through the area and take a look. I know we’ll be back there soon enough.

Cayman Reboot

July 12, 2016 11:00 am
Page44_Cyaman_IMG_5583

A British Overseas Territory, the Cayman Islands are unlike almost all other Caribbean Islands. As an international financial centre, residents are educated, affluent and benefit from the wealth of indirect taxation.

Head to the Cayman Islands for a personal system reboot. No green juice required…the hot sun, cool cocktails and delicious food of this luxury Caribbean destination is all you need to change your personal programming.

With some 50,000 inhabitants, Grand Cayman is the biggest and most populated of the three islands. Seven Mile Beach is public, so instead of being segregated in individual hotel compounds, visitors can wander down the sand and breakfast at the Westin, walk into the Ritz for a spa treatment or have drinks at the Marriott. There are no all-inclusives so the island feels like one big open resort.

Start your visit by shaking off the travelling fog with yoga on the beach. The sand underfoot makes it a little tricky to hold a pose, but with the waves gently crashing in and the instructor from Bliss Yoga leading the mind-calming, meditative movements, you will be well on your way to updating your personal system.

Reboot Options

Pet therapy Cayman style is a mid-ocean stingray experience. As you stand in the crystal clear, chest deep waters of the Stingray City sandbar, the rays swim to you like a pack of puppies. They’re attracted by years of feasting on the cast-offs from fishing boats who stopped in the calm waters to clean their catch before heading into dock. The experience is completely natural. There’s nothing preventing the rays from swimming away. If you stick your arms straight out in front of you, they nuzzle into you, seemingly wanting to cuddle. Many of the rays have been coming back for years and the locals have given them names. There are many options to get there. We went in style with Cayman Luxury Cruises.

page36_QCH-Exterior-collage-2

With your serotonin level up, it’s time to further destress with some kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Most hotels either offer equipment for use or have rental facilities beachside. The waters of Seven Mile Beach are calm enough to venture off straight from the beach. There are also kayak tour operators who offer tours through the mangrove forests. Keep an eye out for the iguanas that seem to drip from the trees like the melting clocks in a Dali painting. For a unique experience, opt for a bioluminescent kayak tour under the stars.

If scuba diving takes you to a Zen place, the Caymans are said to have the best diving in the Caribbean. Grand Cayman offers 171 dive sites with a choice of sunken wrecks, shallow dives or the western wall. The sites are heavily regulated and respected by operators who rotate locations to mitigate overuse. Little Cayman is the destination for serious divers who are crowd-adverse. Bloody Bay Wall is considered to be one of the best diving sites in the western Caribbean. New divers planning a dive vacation are encouraged to take their in-class courses before leaving home. The calm seas and clear waters also make for some of the best snorkeling.

If feet firmly planted on earth is the way you cruise, don’t miss the observation tower in Camana Bay. The Escher-esque double helix stairs and the stunning undersea mosaic that rises from street level to the top floor makes it a must see. Admire the artistry of the tile work and note how the marine life and light levels change as you ascend to the top. It’s spectacular. The whole Camana Bay development is an impressive new urbanism work/living development that includes offices, shopping, and some fantastic restaurants, all designed to maximize the experience for visitors and residents alike.

page36_QCH-Exterior-collage-3

While the sun and sea rejuvenates your soul, head to a Spa to do the same for your skin. Walking through the doors of the La Prairie Spa at the Ritz Carleton is like entering a Krypton-like dimension. With dim lighting and the sound of water trickling, it is very cool but also classy. The staff is on par with that of a Michelin star restaurant. Who knew that a facial could leave you feeling so relaxed and noodly.

Feeding your Cells

Food on the islands is fabulous. Top chefs have opened restaurants and the farm to table movement is robust. Leading that trend is The Brasserie in Grand Cayman. Acclaimed American Chef Max Dean was on hand with master gardener Joel Walton of Plantation House Organic Garden and owners Lisa and King Flowers. Together they described how, until recently, only imported produce was coveted. But all that has changed and the single, struggling farmers market has now increased to two bustling markets where buyers arrive early to ensure they are not disappointed. The Brasserie is in the hub of Georgetown, a stone’s throw from the busy cruise terminal, but it still manages to have an on-site garden. The restaurant also holds events and classes to promote sustainable cooking. Further, they have developed recipes to promote the consumption of a previously unconsumed fish that, although beautiful to divers, is destroying the local reefs. They share these recipes with other chefs during the very popular, yearly Cayman Cookout in order to help the cause.

A short flight away, on 19 km-long sister-island Cayman Brac, ultra-private Hotel Le Soleil d’Or has taken the sustainable table movement a leap further. Born as a refuge for friends and family, the resort works in harmony with the environment and the local population. Lunch at the 20-acre farm was like tasting vegetables and fruit for the first time. Everything was kissed with freshness and infused with hyper taste. Secluded and exclusive luxury might bring visions of excess and waste, but instead Le Soleil d’Or embodies sustainability.

Updating Your Drivers

Take some time away from the sun and visit the National Gallery in Grand Caymen. This little gem is likely the smallest national art collection you’ll ever see, but considering there were no art supplies on the island until the 1960s, the collection is only going to grow. The museum offers workshops and lectures along with drop–in sessions that are open to the public.

Page45_Cayman_collage-1

You can’t recharge your battery if you are herded on and off a bus for an hour-long ride from the airport to your hotel. Considering its 35 km x 13 km size, there are no long cab rides anywhere on Grand Cayman. Everything is close. In fact, Little Cayman is so small that walking to the airport is an option, passing trees full of rare red-footed boobies on the way. The main road intersects the landing strip. When flights are due to land, a car is pulled out to block other vehicles. With only 200 or so permanent residents, you are more likely to encounter an iguana.

Considered a luxury destination, the Caymans do offer budget options for those who don’t mind trading a beach view for beach access. There are some big saving opportunities during May to November’s off-season, but let’s face it, it’s winter that we need to escape from, not the warmer months.

If you are looking for the latest in all-inclusive, winter-busting southern destinations, the Caymans are not for you. Instead, Grand Cayman is a cosmopolitan destination that offers luxuries both big and small. Together with its two smaller sister islands, they are a safe, friendly and a highly recommended destination to reboot your system for foodies and sun seekers alike. Consider them one large anti-depressant for the soul. The hot sand and warm waters of the Cayman Islands will help you recharge your system.

visitcaymanislands.ca.

WHEN YOU GO:

  • This is an island of bankers and brokers so wifi is available everywhere.
  • Safety. Feel confident that you are visiting a country that is completely safe.
    It’s the fifth largest banking centre in the world and the world’s best domicile
    for healthcare.
  • There are lots of annual festivals and events in the Caymans. From Pirates,
    to cooking, legends tennis and open-water swimming, there is always
    something going on.
  • Taxis on Grand Cayman are everywhere, but families be forewarned that
    rates are per-person. A $2O ride in from the airport will cost each person
    on board $20. Public transportation is currently almost non-existent so car
    rental is a great option if you want to move around.
  • For those accustomed to the pre-paid southern holidays, be aware that most
    hotels do charge an additional daily, per person resort fee.

Bring on the Bajans

June 22, 2016 2:00 pm
Camera: DCS660C Serial #: K660C-01165 Width: 3040 Height: 2008 Date: 15/10/01 Time: 6:30:33 DCS6XX Image FW Ver: 3.2.3 TIFF Image Look: Product Sharpening Requested:Yes (Preferences) Tagged Counter: [438] Shutter: 1/60 Aperture: f7.1 ISO Speed: 80 Max Aperture: f3.5 Min Aperture: f22 Focal Length: 28 Exposure Mode: Shutter priority AE (S) Meter Mode: Color Matrix Drive Mode: Continuous Low (CL) Focus Mode: Single (AF-S) Focus Point: Center Flash Mode: Normal Sync Compensation: +0.0 Flash Compensation: +0.0 Self Timer Time: 10s White balance: Auto Time: 06:30:33.331

Crane Beach, Barbados –  Photos courtesy Visit Barbados

It’s never too late for a southern getaway. The year 2016 marks Barbados 50th anniversary of independence from Britain and while any time is a good time to go, 2016 will prove to be a stellar year to experience all the island has to offer, which is a lot. There is always something going on here culturally and since it is not a large island (it runs about 35 km in length and about 22 km in width), you are just a drive away from being part of the fun.

History and Geography

With the third oldest Parliament in the world with uninterrupted parliamentary governance since 1639, Barbados is an economically and politically stable country. It has one of the highest per capital incomes in the Caribbean (in large part thanks to tourism and offshore banking.) There are over 2.8 million people who live here and the country has a literacy rate of almost 99 per cent, which is one of the highest rates in the world. There is a fantastic hospitable feel everywhere that comes with all that stability. Take advantage of it and rent a car to explore because there are different vibes to the various areas on the island. (The country is divided into 11 areas, or “parishes”).

The West Coast of Barbados is known as the Platinum Coast not just because of its incredible beaches and crystal clear water, but because of the wealth. (Pop star Rihanna (who hails from Barbados) owns a home there, Tiger Woods was married nearby.) Expensive resorts are everywhere with a designer shop complex (Lime Grove) with all of the big names in couture. There is also a lot of history on the West Coast. Holetown was the first settlement in Barbados and if you head to there in mid-February, the Holetown Festival takes place. You can sample local foods and experience a Gospel Explosion. Given Barbados is a religious country (there are over 100 religious groups operating in Barbados), this is a spiritual extravaganza.

There are Great festivals throughout the year. The Barbados Wine, Food and Rum Festival is a growing and fairly new annual event. It takes place in November year and attracts top chefs from around the world and events are held in various locations throughout the island, an added bonus. November 2015 featured among others, celebrity chefs Craig Harding of Toronto and American star chef Chris Cosentino. The event in 2016 precedes the actual 50th anniversary date of November 30, so November 2016 will be a fantastic time to visit Barbados.

While still on the West Side, you may see yellow buses driving by that look like open-air party buses as they blare reggae music. Try and fit in a ride on one of them. It is an unparalleled public transportation experience. Ask a local about the routes so you are taken exactly where you want to be.

April2016_Barbados_collage1000pxl
No trip to Barbados is complete without a visit to the Mount Gay rum distillery located in Saint Michael Parish. Various samplings will make a rum lover out of anyone. Rum was actually discovered in Barbados.

Bridgetown (also in Saint Michael Parish) is the country’s capital and is on the southwest part of the island. Parliament is there, of course, but the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is a UNESCO World Heritage site and worthy of a visit. Interestingly, Barbados is the only place George Washington visited outside of the United States.

The East Coast has a completely different feel than the West Coast. There is a hip surfer culture developing here. It is one of the best-kept secret locations for surfing. Soup Bowl, as it is called, is just by the town of Bathsheba (Saint Joseph Parish). It is becoming legendary for its waves that rival Hawaii’s. The East is more rugged with stunning cliffs, not prime swimming area, in fact stay out of the water here because of dangerous rip tides, but it is breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring.

The South also has a different vibe to it. It has a lively night life and it is also a great place for water sports, including diving and boating.

As you drive inland, to get from one side of the island to the other, the tree sanctuaries and scenery will amaze you. While it may be a total touristy thing to do, if you’ve got time as you drive inland, visit Harrison’s Cave, a crystallized limestone cavern. It’s not a particularly cheap excursion, but it will provide a unique experience. It is located in Saint Thomas Parish.

Fuel Up

Barbados has incredible cuisine. Gourmet restaurants have been popping up around the island, marrying various cuisines with local twists. If you are craving a Beckta-type meal, there is no shortage of restaurant options. The West Coast, as you might imagine, caters to that palate. Try Champers and The Cliff or Cin Cin for upper-end eating. All three are phenomenal restaurants. Cin Cin has the most incredible surfside tables to boot.

While fine dining is definitely in order, some of the restaurants for authentic Bajan and incredible food are in rum shops. They are local, small restaurants that offer fresh fish, lamb, chicken, rice and bean dishes and fried plantain that is nothing short of divine. You can wash it all down with Banks beer (or homemade rum punch).

Make sure you hit Oistens in the South (Christ Church Parish) on a Friday night for its fish fry. It will redefine bbq fish for you. The flavours, the recipes and fish cooked to perfection make Oistens an absolute must. There are lots of tourists lurking about but ignore that fact and enjoy the experience.

Do not leave Barbados without visiting Cuz’s Fish Shack right by Carlisle Bay (by the Hilton Barbados Resort) in Bridgetown.

While on the East Coast, hit Atlantis Restaurant (Saint Joseph Parish). The view and food are incredible.

Sleep

Saint Peter’s Bay Luxury Resorts and Villas on the West Side is a great option for families and those who want to share accommodations. They are luxury condos that even have their own Jacuzzi on a deck overlooking the ocean. Port Ferdinand, Saint Peter’s Bay’s sister resort, cranks up the upper high-end luxury factor and it too offers condo-type accommodations with service fit for royalty. In fact, royalty does stay there. There are of course all the major chains on the island as well. The Hilton has an incredible beach, as does the Fairmont.

On the East Coast, Atlantis hotel is more of an intimate location with spectacular views, but bear in mind you can’t swim in the ocean there.

Barbados is brimming with opportunities for everyone to have a good time. Bajans know how to have fun and you should join in. With perfect weather, perfect sunsets, sunrises, impeccable beaches, cuisine for every palate and lots of culture and history to feed the mind as well, you can’t go wrong in Barbados.

visitbarbados.com

It’s Time to Discover Niagara

June 14, 2016 11:26 am
Niagara-Falls-Horseshoe-Falls-view

We’ve all heard of Niagara Falls, and rightly so, it’s a gem in Canada’s national landscape. But if you haven’t really discovered the Niagara region yet, it’s time to book your trip! We teamed up with Expedia.ca to bring you some must-do’s to help you plan your trip:


1. Visit the falls…obviously:

niagara1Once you’ve arrived, start off by visiting the falls. Board the famous Maid of the Mist, a boat that lives true to it’s name and brings you so close to both the American Falls, and to the famed Canadian Horseshoe Falls that you become engulfed in the mist of it’s tumbling basins. Want to get behind the scenes? You can also take a Journey Behind the Falls by heading down into the cliff, and exploring the caves underneath the Niagara Falls. If you’re curious to see how the falls were created, Niagara’s Fury will help you do that, with a “4D” experience in a 360 degree theatre, where you can literally see and feel how the Ice Age formed the Niagara Falls.


2. Fun by the Falls:

SkyWheelClifton Hill is your fast way to fun for the whole family around the falls. A ticket will get you access to a myriad of attractions, such as the Falls-adjacent Niagara Skyweel, themed mini-golf, a Wild West themed coaster, a wax museum, and much more. There are also themed restaurants and great shopping to be had, so for families, this is an easy yes.


3. Believe it (or not):

niagara2Niagara Falls has long been famous for having a bit of a fun and kitschy vibe. A fan favourite is Ripley’s Believe It or Not, an experience for the whole family that includes the Odditorium, a 10,000 square feet museum with 15 themed exhibits showing some of the strangest artifacts imaginable (two-headed animals are on the list!). Ripley’s also has the Waxworks museum if you’re feeling like rubbing shoulders with waxy stars old and new, and a moving theatre where you can act out your favourite films.


4. Get up close and personal with wildlife:

niagara5If you’re feeling less funky and more fluttery, then the Butterfly Conservatory and Bird Kingdom, both beautiful places to get in touch with nature, are minutes away from the falls. And let us not forget Marine Land, where you can spend an entire day kissing seals, belugas, killer whales, feeding deer and taking a ride on roller coasters.

 


5. Eat, drink, and be merry:

niagara 6If you’re looking for a more “tasteful” experience, the region’s culinary environment is vast and varied. Whether you want to enjoy fine dining overlooking the falls, find affordable and delicious food for the family, or you want to enjoy the local food and wines of the region, Niagara has the right selection for you. Lundy’s Lane is known as Niagara’s favourite dining neighbourhood, looking for dinner theatre, a pub, fine dining? Lundy’s lane has it all.


6. Drink more and be merrier:

Wine country is also a must visit. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a town based in the region where wine-791133_1280Canada’s VQA wines have found their maturity in the last few years. In staying in the quaint small town, you have the opportunity to see the quieter, more sophisticated side of Niagara. The region carries 32 varieties of grapes in Canada’s largest wine-growing region, so sign up for a wine-tour, and enjoy a relaxing and luxurious experience. Find a cottage on the lake and go into town to window shop (or really shop) in the small boutiques.


7. Take a hike, or a ride:

niagara7To burn off the food and wine, Niagara also has extensive and beautiful paths to explore. Get your walking boots on, rent a bike if you’re looking for a relaxing jaunt through the rolling countryside, or bring your own bike and plan your trip out beforehand so you can rake up your km’s and see as much as the area as possible. Or if you’re still thirsty, take a bicycle wine tour and hit two birds with one stone.


8. Bet on it:

niagara 8If you’re a blackjack fan or a poker aficionado, Niagara has two casinos for your entertainment. Fallsview Casino lives up to its name, overlooking one of the most fantastic natural wonders of the world, it is the largest, and one of the most luxurious casinos in all of Canada. If slots are more your game, then head to Casino Niagara, they have two full floors of slots, and 30 tables to test your hand.


9. Waterworks:

niagara 9Ever been on a White Water walk? Niagara has one of those that allows you to see some of the world’s wildest whitewater, and it’s only a short walk from the Falls themselves. If you’d like to get a little closer to the water, then book a Whirlpool Jet Boat tour, where you can speed along the Niagara river at 80 km/h while the guide takes you through Niagara’s historical past. There’s also the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark that might be better for a little more controlled water fun. The waterpark has 16 waterslides, a giant wavepool, and for the parents, adult-only hot tubs.


10. Catch some fireworks:

niagara10Finally, in Niagara it’s easy to end the night with a bang if you head back to the falls at the end of your day. Niagara has the longest running fireworks series, set against the backdrop of the falls themselves. They run at 10 p.m. every Sunday, Wednesday, Friday and Holiday from May 1 to Oct. 31.

1000 Islands Harbor Hotel

May 24, 2016 1:22 pm
Untitled

Photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel. 

Weekend Escape to the 1000 Islands

Famous for a certain salad dressing, Clayton, New York is also well-known as the gateway to the luxury hotels that dotted the 1000 Islands during the Gilded-Age. Heading into its second summer in operation, the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel is the modern face of this historic little town.

A short hour and 40-minute drive from Ottawa, Clayton is very easy to get to. Crossing into the US over the Hill Island bridge make sure you look down and take in the view of the magnificent archipelago that is the 1000 Islands. There are more islands here than in the Great Barrier Reef. Some are barely big enough to hold the dwellings that perch on them like something from the pages of Dr. Seuss.

HaborHouseHotel_ClaytonThe 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel is located right on the water. It is one of only two dozen hotels in upstate New York to receive the prestigious four diamond rating from the American Automobile Association. The hotel has 105 guest rooms, a great restaurant and bar area along with meeting rooms and free wifi. The gym is very well equipped and there is a hot tub and pool too. The staff is super friendly and the hotel décor is classy conservative. Wonderful historic photographic prints of boating life on the St. Laurence River decorate the walls.

The guest rooms are spacious with a classy cottage décor. The wood floors are a welcome change to standard hotel broadloom and the beds are supper comfortable.

Every morning there are complimentary coffee and hot beverage stations set up on each floor and nightly turn down service includes a pillow chocolate. Nice touch. When you book, it’s worth paying the small surcharge for a river view.

There is a great vibe to the town. Main street boasts a spa, wine bar, general store, gift shops and even an opera house. Summer is the high season here so some of the shops and restaurants are only openly seasonally, including the boating museum.

The hotel is a real gem. Take advantage of one of the many themed weekends or simply visit for a quiet getaway. In the cold of late November, it was a perfect place for a retreat. A return visit in the summer is in order to take advantage of the local boating culture, tour the islands and soak in some sun on the hotel’s great patio.

Recent Posts