Winery Hopping in the Naramata Bench

This past weekend we explored the Naramata Bench region of the Okanagan in BC.  Much like many of the beautiful pockets, it consisted of good food, wine and awesome views.  An easy 1.5 hour drive  from Kelowna, it made for a great day trip along Route 97.  The region has about 40 wineries all within close proximity making it easy to navigate sans tour.  The Kettle Valley Rail Trail uses a rail corridor that was originally built for the now-abandoned Kettle Valley Railway and is a great way to explore the area by foot or bike (if that’s your thing and if you have the time!).

Millions of years ago the Bench was the shoreline of the Okanagan Lake and we can thank years of sediment and soil deposits, along with the present rolling hills for some pretty unique regional wines.

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetArriving around lunch time our first stop was Red Rooster Winery where we grabbed a light meal at the Pecking Room Grill.  While the wines weren’t some of my favourite of the day, the views were inspiring and we enjoyed our lunch. From here we continued our drive North all the way to the end of the Bench and then back down again.

We stopped at Poplar Grove Cheese  , a boutique cheesery set amongst vineyards where they grow grapes for Lock & Worth Winery and Laughing Stock Vineyards.  Here you can enjoy a wine and cheese paired tasting (by donation).

The cheeses were creamy and delicious, our favourite was the double cream Camembert, a soft cheese, flipped twice a week with hints of white truffle.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Next was Terravista Vineyards which is a winery made entirely from concrete and sits in a hollow on their farm.  Their focus is white wines and they grow two grape varietals, the Albarino and Verdejo, which were grown in Spain and Portugal for nine centuries.  We particularly liked the Albarino and took it home with us!

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Further south our next stop was the award winning La Frenz Winery.  We enjoyed their wines the most and walked away with their amazingly balanced 2016 Reisling and 2014 Desperation Hill Pinot Noir – so much goodness!

Our fourth stop was the Upper Bench Estate Winery & Creamery  where the cheese steals the show IMO. They hand craft five different washed-rind, brie and blue cheeses and our favourites were the Okanagan Sun and the King Cole.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Last but not least, we ended our moving wine and cheese party with a tasting and a spectacular view of Penticton at Poplar Grove Winery . The winery has floor to ceiling windows and an impressive tasting room so it was the best way to cap off our day!  The winery focuses on six core wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and a signature blend called The Legacy.  Needless to say the wines were great and we left hands full with their 2016 Blanc de Noirs and the 2016 Pinot Gris!

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 5.24.11 PM

My Naramata Wine Route

Have you been on the Naramata Bench wine trail? What were some of your favourite wineries?

Happy Travels!

 

 

La Cocina Cubana

I had always dreamt about viewing sunsets from old colonial rooftops, buying old books from markets in Habana Vieja and salsa dancing into the night. I knew it the first moment I heard music blaring through open windows, saw people dancing in the middle of the streets and felt how colourful decaying buildings could be, that Cuba was unlike any place I had ever traveled to.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

IMG_3458

When I speak to those traveling to Cuba (especially foodies like me) the expectation for culinary experiences are unanimously low. And while dining at resorts or government operated restaurants aren’t the best way to measure Cuban culinary expertise, if you’re willing to take the road less traveled, the Cuban food scene uses simple but fresh ingredients and will take you into unassuming places where the walls hold years of stories waiting to be told by the generations who live within them.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

I’m sharing some of my culinary highlights and hidden gems from a road trip that took me from Trinidad to Havana. I hope my list pays homage to the small enterprises and paladars that are popping up rapidly in every home, alley and doorway, waiting for a chance to share a piece of their Cuba with the world.

What’s a paladar? A small, family-run restaurant, usually in a converted part of a home.

1) Café Don Pepe (Calle Boca, Trinidad) – A great little spot for a light traditional Cuban breakfast of honey on toast or a mid-day coffee break.  With a beautiful courtyard open to above, it’s a local favourite.

2) Restaurant Bar La Redaccion (Calle Gutiérrez, Trinidad) – An architectural delight (with a must visit bathroom) and a great spot for a piña colada and a pretty great veggie burger!

3) Café Arcángel (Habana Vieja) – A charming coffee bar that serves up fresh fruit juices, a solid cup of java and brunch in an old family home with a friendly cat that will surely pay you a visit.

4) Casa Miglis (Habana Vieja) – Who would have thought there was room for fusion Swedish-Cuban food in the middle of Havana, or anywhere really? Mr. Miglis’s paladar is unassuming from the outside but once inside you’ll be greeted with high ceilings, a funky bar and hints of Swedish design – not to mention an awesome mushroom pasta!

5) Parque Almendares (Habana) – A riverside urban forest which will give you respite from the bustling streets of Havana. Here you’ll find an open air bar (amongst other things like an amphitheatre and large dinosaur sculptures) that no doubt serves up the best damn mojito I had on my trip! You need to have one!

6) El Cocinero (between Vedado and Miramar) – Designed as part of the boiler system for the offices of the Havana Tramway in the late 19th century, the towering smokestack reminds us of the historic peanut oil company which occupied the building in 1930. Enjoy dinner from around the world using Cuban ingredients on the terrazza!

Don’t forget to try street food like freshly deep-fried churros or ice cream in a coconut to cool down from the heat!

Have you been to Cuba? Were there any hidden gems you discovered while exploring?

Happy Travels!

Brunch, Bubbly & Brioche: An Afternoon At Quails Gate Winery

I’ve arrived in beautiful British Columbia and right in the heart of the Okanagan.  The region is one of the most beautiful I’ve visited and known for its wineries and orchards. I’m lucky enough to be spending the summer in its main city Kelowna, which is nestled on the shore of the Okanagan Lake.  The view never tires and every day I’m amazed by the endless pine forests, valleys and mountains that surround me.

The Okanagan is filled with Canadian culinary hidden gems, with some of the best hospitality I’ve received. So, I’m looking forward to a summer of fresh ingredients, stunning views and developing my wine palette.  One of my favourite meals is Brunch so I was excited to kick off my first weekend here with the Sunday jazzy brunch at Old Vines Restaurant at Quail’s Gate Winery. Renowned as one of the top 100 restaurants in Canada and led by Chef Roger Sleiman you’ll get a fresh taste of the Okanagan here.

While the jazz is nice the views are just too killer to skip out on. The outdoor terrace and patio overlook the beautiful vineyard and end with spectacular views of the lake. I recommend to plan in advance and make reservations. Even if it’s a bit chilly the terrace is equipped with heaters, a fireplace and blankets so trust me when I say just sit outside!

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Start with a glass of bubbly or rose and enjoy Brunch in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.  Some of my favourite brunchables are shown below.

 

Pictured Above: Oysters on the Half Shell served with fresh horseradish, red wine vinegar mignonette and lemon; Dungeness Crab Cakes with shaved fennel and apple slaw and a buttermilk remoulade dressing; Artisan Charcuterie featuring Two Rivers artisan meats, Brassica mustard and house pickles; and MY FAVOURITE Brioche French Toast with whipped lemon mascarpone, roasted apples and maple syrup.

If you can’t already tell I just love this place and can’t wait to go back for the Dinner in the Vineyard Series that kicks off at the end of this month. They’ll definitely be seeing a lot of me this summer!

Have you ever been to the Okanagan? Share your recommendations with me!

Happy Travels!

 

 

IRELAND TRAVEL DIARY: PART 2 – KILLARNEY

As I wrapped up four days in Dublin (you can read Part 1 of my travel diary here) I was very excited to start exploring the beautiful countryside of Ireland.  Located Southwest in County Kerry, a charming town along the iconic Ring of Kerry coastal drive awaited.  Killarney was my next stop and Part 2 of my Ireland travel diary.

Brimming with history, a beautiful National Park and soooo much Irish hospitality, Killarney was a stark difference from Dublin. Not only were the Irish accents more melodious but it’s in Killarney where I found the Ireland that I had always envisioned.

Day 1

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 5.04.52 PMJust 3 hours from Dublin on Irish Rail and for only 23 Euros I arrived around lunch time. I decided to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Dublin and spent the remainder of my day exploring the town and took in a nice walking trail around Killarney National Park and the Muckross House & Gardens.

Day 2

After a home made Irish breakfast courtesy of my B&B host Marie – the weather looking good, I committed to hiking the Gap of Dunloe.  Hiking the gap was on my bucket list when I booked my trip.

The Gap is a narrow mountain pass forged between the MacGillycuddy Reeks and Purple Mountain by glacial flows.  The hike begins at Kate Kearney’s Cottage and the trail winds through the pass and descends into The Black Valley passing five lakes. Approximately 11 km, you can hire a horse drawn wagon BUT if you are able to walk you must WALK the gap to truly appreciate the beauty of the trail.

image1

Travel Tip: I recommend hiring a tour company from Killarney to transport you to/from The Gap of Dunlop. The cost also includes a boat ride through the 5 lakes post hike. I booked all of my tours through my B&B  by just calling into Deros Tours in the AM- they even picked me up! While I traveled in shoulder season (also recommended) in the summer months you may need to book in advance.

You can read more about my hike in my blog post “My 5 Core Elements on the Gap of Dunloe”.

Day 3

A day trip on the Ring of Kerry is an essential part of any visit to Ireland. While I wished I had my own car with the ability to stop along route where I pleased, traveling solo it proved more convenient for me to join a guided tour.

The tour (although long) was a great way for me to take in all the beautiful scenery on the iconic drive without the hassle of navigating on my own  – it’s literally stunning ocean and mountain views at every turn.

image4

image3

Day 4

Since I couldn’t get enough of the scenery in County Kerry I decided to continue exploring the region on my last day. The Dingle Peninsula which stretches out into the Atlantic ocean, is the most northerly mountainous region which forms the indented coast of Southwest Ireland.  I also had the chance to explore the quaint and charming town of Dingle.

image2image5

Travel Tip: If spending another day on the road isn’t your cup of tea there’s much more to do in Killarney, here are just a few ideas:

  • Climb Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil
  • Killarney is infamous for its singing pubs. Usually live bands play everything from well known Irish ballads to covers from the latest bands. By the end of the night the whole pub is singing along and you can’t help but join in!
  • Weather dependent, the Skellig Islands are about 10km off the western tip of the Iveragh Peninsula by boat. The Skellig Michael, was inhabited by monks for almost 500 years beginning in the 7th or 8th century. The monastery they built is well preserved and if you take the time out to visit I’ve heard it’s quite an impactful experience. I would recommend this only in the summer months.

Where I Stayed: B&B’s are the way to go in the Irish countryside. I love staying in boutique accommodations ranging from hotels, unique homes and bed and breakfasts. I’ve met some of the nicest people in them and I find that it gives you a unique perspective into those living in the region. In Killarney I stayed at the Orchard House B&B.  I highly recommend this property due to its short walk into town, great breakfast and the host Marie is a true gem – I still remember our daily evening chats!

Do you enjoy exploring National Parks and hiking when you travel? What are some of your most memorable?

Happy Travels!

 

Ireland Travel Diary: Part 1 – Dublin

With the celebration of St. Patrick’s day this past weekend I’ve been a little nostalgic about my time in Ireland last Spring. I spent 2 beautiful weeks on the Emerald Isle and it simply wasn’t enough. I can say with certainty that Ireland is a place I will return.

My travel diary will consist of 4 posts, one for each leg of my journey. Starting in Dublin -my first stop and a mere 6.5 hours from Toronto, makes it an easy flight and into the city bright and early, ready to take on the day – or at least until jet lag sets in.  From the airport I took the convinient and comfortable Aircoach right to the O’Connell Street stop – luckily my hotel was a stop on their route making my transfer hassle free.

Where I Stayed: For my 4 night stay I chose the Gresham Hotel which is located right in the heart of Dublin.  The LUAS lines are very close by and it’s walking distance from many attractions. While I didn’t think the hotel lived up to its 4* status I would recommend it based on the 3 C’s – clean, comfortable and convenient.

Day 1

From O’Connell Street my first stop (after I recharged with an Irish coffee) was Trinity College & The Book of Kell’s. While there are guided tours I would recommend the audio guide.

From Trinity College I traveled back across the river over the famous Ha’penny Bridge and into Temple Bar for lunch. For those of you who don’t know any better (just like me) Temple Bar is actually the city’s pub district and not just the name of a pub.  While the infamous Temple Bar does exist, there’s much more to explore than just this pub in Temple Bar.

image1image14

After lunch, I walked up Parliament Street to the Dublin Castle where I signed up for a guided tour.  After, I visited the nearby Christ Church Cathedral.

Where I Ate: For lunch Bunsen is a cozy and casual spot that has some of Dublin’s best no-fuss burgers! For dinner Madigan’s Bar & Kitchen is where I enjoyed my first hearty and traditional Irish meal, pint and song – this was going to be a good trip!

Extremely tired and jet lagged I called it a day and caught some z’s for my early morning start. You can read more about my first day in Dublin in my post ‘The First 24’.

Day 2

Just a short hour away on the DART from Dublin, lies the beautiful seaside fishing village of Howth. I can still remember the smell of seasalt hitting my nose as soon as I arrived. If you have enough time in Dublin I cannot stress enough how amazing this day trip is.

Since I’m not a professional hiker I started my way towards Howth Head to pick my walking route on the cliffs. There are 4 route options for every level of walker but what I can assure you is that you’ll be rewarded with scenic views of the cliffs, beautiful traditional Irish homes and the Baily Lighthouse. My cliff walk took me about 3 hours before I returned back to the pier where seafront restaurants were preparing their daily catch for hungry hikers coming back from the trails.

image10

I enjoyed a beautiful stroll and meal on the pier before browsing around Howth Market where you’ll find local crafts, handmade jewellery and vintage antiques.

Once back in Dublin I took the LUAS to Kilmainham Goal.  I highly recommend visiting this prison as the guides are fun, informative and if you’re a history buff like me the tour will give you some really good insight into Dublin’s dark history. It’s extremely important to book this tour in advance – I practically had to beg being let on the last tour of the day!

Where I Ate: Seafood of course is king at the pubs and restaurants in Howth – what more should you expect from a fishing village?! I was excited to eat Fish n’ Chips at Beshoff Bro’s which is a much loved Dublin institution! Get all the delicious details of my visit to Beshoff’s in my post ‘Hungry in Howth’.

Day 3

Day 3 took me on a day trip to Glendalough & Wicklow with Collins Day Tours. This full day tour takes you into the heart of the Wicklow mountains where you’ll see some of the most spectacular scenery (think Braveheart and PS I Love You – they were shot here) as you travel through the Wicklow Gap.  In Glendalough you’ll visit a 6th century monastic settlement.

The tour stops off in Kilkenny for lunch and gives you time to explore the castle gardens and take a walking tour of the city which is included.

Day 4

On my final day in Dublin I took a Sandeman’s walking tour (my go to in Europe!) to catch any of the last sights I had left to see. Walking tours are a great way to meet people especially if you’re traveling solo like I was.  I’ve met some of the nicest people on walking tours and still keep in touch with some of them today.

Tip: In new cities I often like to start off my itinerary with a walking tour so I have time to go back to any spots that I enjoyed.  Since the weather in Ireland is highly unpredictable I played my itinerary by ear.

Weather you’re a beer lover or not, the Guinness Storehouse self-guided tour is a must when in Dublin. Again, I highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance as the crowds and lines are just so large.   In addition to the process and history of Guinness, you’ll learn how to do the perfect pour and enjoy a free pint up on the 6th floor Gravity Bar while taking in views of the city – the perfect end to my time in Dublin.

image7image9

What I Ate: Breakfast at Queen of Tarts is a must – the scones are to die for!  Read more about this yummy joint in my post ‘All Hail the Queen of Tarts’. When I travel I love to check out local food markets.  Temple Bar’s food market is held every Saturday and is a foodie’s paradise – it’s definitely on my list for my next visit.  For dinner, I ate at Boojum which is a casual Mexican burrito bar with locations across Ireland. Service is simple, fast and friendly on the wallet – not to mention delicious!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my travel diary – next stop Killarney!

Have you been to Dublin? What was your favourite part? 

Happy Travels!

Around the World in 5 Cups!

Coffee, cafe, java…or Joe…whatever you call it, coffee is more than just a pick me up.  For me, coffee is a comforting ritual that I look forward to when I’m at home in Toronto or while I’m traveling. There is something to be said about your first cup of coffee  – a sense of calm, indulgence, a commencement to your day.  Having a cup gives me a moment to myself and my thoughts and a way to share a moment with those around me.

While at home, some of my favourite coffee rituals include morning coffees with my husband and post-dinner coffee and dessert with my girlfriends which allows our 3 hour dinner outings to extend to 4.

Some of my most fondest travel memories are when I get to sit back over a cup, take in my surroundings and enjoy those around me.  Here are few of my favourite cups from around the world.

San Juan, Puerto Rico (Hacienda San Pedro)

This artisanal cafe really knows how to brew a good cup.  As soon as you enter your nose is hit by the invigorating smell of coffee beans.  In fact, Starbuck’s Puerto Rico blend uses Hacienda San Pedro’s beans for their roast as well.  The cafe also has an outdoor space which is a great spot to while away some time soaking in Puerto Rico as it moves by you.

img_6199

Cartagena, Colombia (Hotel El Marques

Is it fair to say that every cup of coffee in Colombia is amazing!? IT IS. So I thought I’d share a coffee done 5-ways inspired dessert that I still crave from time to time. The beans are from all over the country each with their own strength, texture and scent.

Oslo, Norway (Tim Wendelboe)

For the equivalent of $8, this cup is prettyyyy steep…but what isn’t expensive in Norway? Tim Wendelboe is a roastery and espresso bar in Oslo. Since their beans are always changing, their menu is small but the perfect way to end an afternoon after you’ve eaten your way through the Vulkan district’s Mathallen food hall.

Hanoi, Vietnam (Giang Cafe)

Coffee might not be the first thing you think of when visiting Vietnam but the Vietnamese coffee game is strong – no pun intended! Famous for its egg coffee I wasn’t sure how I’d react to this odd pairing but let’s just say don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Cafe Giang is an ancient hole in Hanoi, hidden down a small lane in the Old Quarter. Using egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese, the coffee is brewed in a small cup with a filter before the well-whisked mixture is added. The cup is placed in a bowl of hot water to keep its temperature. The family recipe was developed in days when milk was scarce in Vietnam and egg yolks were used to replace milk.

Taormina, Sicily, Italy (Da Cristina)

You can’t really go wrong with espresso in Italy.  I enjoyed this cup with one of the best canolli’s ever in beautiful Taormina.  The patio of Da Cristina is the perfect place to people watch and decompress for the afternoon.  Not only are the coffees and canolli’s delicious so are their arancini which people line up for through their take out window.

image1

Where have you had your favourite cup of coffee? Not a coffee lover? What do you enjoy drinking while traveling?

Happy Travels!

 

 

Puerto Rico: A Perfect Weekend Escape

There are so many good feelings I get when I think of the island of Puerto Rico, in fact it’s been one my favourite weekend getaways to date! A blend of lush forest, white-sand beaches, culture and the food….omg the FOOD…makes it a gem of the Caribbean.  I got to experience a lot of what this island had to offer with some of my nearest and dearest in a short amount of time and it didn’t disappoint!

Today on the blog I share my personal Puerto Rico itinerary which I hope will inspire you to explore this magical island on your own.

Tips & Tricks 

We rented a car for the duration of our trip and were extremely glad that we did! Getting around the island and exploring was a breeze in our rental and allowed us to save money that we would have spent on excursions and taxis.  Having our own car also gave us the opportunity to stop along the way with ease!

Day 1

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-7-12-20-pm

Sun shining bright in Dorado

We began our stay in the Dorado beach area of Puerto Rico at the Hyatt Hacienda Del Mar, an apartment-style resort that overlooked the beach and was surrounded by palm trees. It was the perfect location for us to base some of the activities and parts of the island we wanted to explore.  Arriving late at night and hungry, we quickly checked-in and made our way to a local restaurant nearby.  Our only expectation was a quick bite and some margaritas but instead we were treated to a jam session and the sounds of a spanish guitar by restaurant employees and frequent guests….margaritas in hand, hot humid air *sigh* island life had officially begun!

Day 2

Waking early we set out to hike El Yunqe Rainforest.  El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the US national forest system.  There are many trails to choose from, we took the most popular – La Mina. The trail follows the La Mina river downward through lush forest and eventually to the La Mina waterfall.

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-7-25-50-pm

We made it to La Mina!

With our appetite built up we were ready for lunch!  As you drive out of El Yunque, taking the local highway to Luquillo you’ll come to the famous Luquillo kioskos, home to over 60 different roadside diners. This row of ready to collapse buildings along the beach have a laid back casual vibe with authentic food. You’ll find everything from local favourites to Caribbean fusion, Peruvian, Mexican, Italian, or even New York style pizza.

Following lunch we made our way to the regional Jose Aponte de la Torre airport for the shortest and smallest flight I’ve ever taken – 10 mins and 9 passengers later we landed on Vieques island!  The island is a unique blend of beautiful beaches with a rustic and laid back vibe – not to mention its main attraction and reason for our visit, the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay.  For our quick 24-hour visit we chose a humble and modest guesthouse, Trade Winds located in the smaller of two Vieques towns, Esperanza. Steps away was Esperanza beach along with restaurants and bars on its lively boardwalk perfect for pre-bioluminescent drinks and a seafood dinner.

Day 3

After our quick stay in Vieques we hopped back to mainland Puerto Rico ready to brunch.  We decided to hit up a classic Sunday brunch and what better than San Juan’s Abracadabra.   If you love brunch as much as I do, this place is a must visit. With an early-era magic theme and charming decor there are few things better than nutella, jazz and mimosas!

After brunch we headed back to Dorado beach for some much-needed RnR – what better way to recharge for a night in San Juan.

Now if there’s one restaurant that I would recommend that you come prepared to splurge it’s Santaella.  This trendy yet unimposing San Juan restaurant is on my best meals I’ve ever had in my life list.  Dimly lit, romantic, Chef Jose Santaella brought us up close and personal with locally sourced Puerto Rican ingredients that were bursting with flavour.  Once dinner is done enjoy the streets of San Juan that come  alive with outdoor bars, the smell of street BBQ (if you have room) and the sounds of Reggaeton.

Day 4

Waking up early, we packed our bags ready to make our way to Old San Juan, BUT no trip to Puerto Rico could ever be complete without making a stop at Casa Bacardi. The distillery offers  various tours, all of which come with a welcome cocktail (not the best idea if rum is your first meal for the day!), brochure of recipes and your very own Bacardi cup. The rum-tasting tour includes access to the Cathedral of Rum and a flight of different Bacardi’s to sample. On the longer mixology tour that we did, we learned how to create the perfect Cuba libre, mojito and daiquiri from the in-house mixologist.

Arriving in Old San Juan a few hours later we hit the streets exploring colourful calles and historical squares.  The old city being just seven square blocks is a mix of cobblestone and colourful Spanish-colonial buildings and strolling around will eventually lead you to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro a 400-year-old fort in the old town an impressive fortress that served as Spain’s control point over most of the Caribbean.

puerto_rico-371

The colourful streets of Old San Juan

I recommend spending your time in Old San Juan soaking up the sights, sounds and of course all the eats.  Grab a mofongo (the official unofficial dish of Puerto Rico) and some of the best coffee you’ll ever have and simply stroll the last bit of your weekend away – life can’t get much better.

Have you traveled to Puerto Rico? Share your favourite treats and eats with me!

Happy Travels!

The Comfy Zone

comfort-zone

The infamous C zone. We all have one, and we’ve all been consumed and sucked into it’s vacuum. Traveling doesn’t always mean you’ll automatically step out of your comfort zone. Since I travel often, it wasn’t until I traveled completely solo for six weeks, that I truly felt and understood what it meant to “step out of your comfort zone”.  While travel gives us the opportunity to discover the unfamiliar and experiment with new patterns and behaviours, just because you’ve strapped on your backpack, doesn’t mean you’re out of comfort land.

For me, stepping out of my comfort zone wasn’t about engaging in Survivor style stunts, but it was about bungee jumping off my own mental boundaries; the things that don’t go celebrated or get posted on Facebook…like hey I just spent 3 hours staring out of a train window and all I did was think – ya that kind of scary stuff.  It was about getting lost, sometimes literally but mostly emotionally.  I was knowingly putting myself in situations that challenged me at the core. Coming out on the other side, slightly changed but mostly a better person.

I know it can be difficult to think, “how am I going to step out of my comfort zone?” As I reflect back on my trip today, here are some of the baby steps that I took which helped me. The ones I find myself reverting back to even now that I’m home.

Go Solo – When you look back on your travels do you always find yourself traveling with your spouse, significant other, your designated travel buddies or a tour group? If so, maybe it’s time to go at it alone! Traveling solo makes you more approachable, but I quickly realized that you can’t always depend on life coming to you, sometimes you have to make that initial effort.

Ask – What? Why? When? Where? I found myself asking so many questions and I was so curious. Kid’s are great at this – they are so honest, they have no fear of letting others know that they don’t know something.  As adults this quality sometimes closes in on us, we’re so inhibited and scared. We don’t want to let anyone know that we don’t know something.  Traveling can wake up this curious giant inside of you and instead of just reaching for your phone and asking Google, ask someone on the street.  Maybe you’ll discover a personal story or hear a different perspective.

Walk – On my trip I walked..A LOT.  So much so, that I missed walking when I got back home. Walking brought me so much closer to my environment. I noticed and took in details of places and things that I would have never been able to see if I was in a cab. The activities around me, the people, they sucked me in. Everything was so much closer to me, so much harder for me to just walk by without paying attention. In the instances where distances were just too far to walk, I took public transport.  I discovered new neighbourhoods, I interacted with locals way more and I was forced to use my horrible charade skills when language was a barrier.  Figuring out how to use a completely new transport system was an area of discomfort in it’s own right, but when you successfully arrive at your destination it’s a feat that you can add to your confidence.

Dive into foreign language – The more I placed myself in foreign language situations the more proud I was with my ability to deal with the frustration and sometimes embarrassment of it all. At minimum you’ll have a funny story to tell – so wrong with that? While I was in Vienna I went for sushi one night. All I wanted was a cucumber avocado roll, was that so complicated? Apparently it was! In fact, I spent about 20 minutes trying to get the server to understand that I wanted a mix of the two and not two separate rolls as listed on their menu.  I tried pointing, I tried drawing, I tried math, and just when I thought we were on the same page, suddenly there were 12 pieces of sushi sitting in front of me – 6 avocado and 6 cucumber. Ummm what?!?!?! All I could do was laugh.
Next time you go out to eat, try a restaurant with a foreign language menu. You might not get exactly what you expect, and you might have to work for your food but the experience of trying to communicate in a language different than yours will make up for that!

Visit a market – Even if you’re not a foodie like me, local markets are a great way to interact with locals and see them in their day to day.  Each market has it’s own smells, pace, foods and people.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is definitely not easy.  You’ll meet people along the way that don’t want to be interacted with, maybe you’ll encounter a difficult situation but when you really start tuning into your surroundings, into your feelings and thoughts, you’ll be amazed by how much all of us humans have in common. No matter what part of the world we live in, what language we speak, what foods we eat – we all feel in the same way, and that’s kind of a big deal!

How do you step out of your comfort zone while traveling? Sharing is caring!

Happy Travels!

 

My Carry On Essentials

After taking my share of flights, both domestic and those pesky long-hauls, there are few carry-on items that are an absolute must for me, no matter where I’m going or how long my flight is. My comfort onboard is really critical to me and what I take to help pass the time and arrive looking and feeling alive sets me up for success, especially when I’m hitting the road on day one.

Here’s what comes with me…

IMG_9820.JPG

Multi-purpose Travel Bag – At the moment the Michael Kors Jetset Travel Tote, in black is my go to.  I love it because it has a padded section that protects my laptop, meaning I can leave the case behind. There’s also lots of pockets for your tablet and phone so you’re not rummaging when you need it. It’s dual purpose for me because when I’m not in the air, I use it as my work bag! It’s simple yet chic and functional.

Travel Wallet – I love my Aldo floral wallet! Not only do I always get compliments on the pretty print, but it fits all my cards, IDs, business cards, multiple currencies AND my passport! It’s really a no brainer.

Comfy Socks – If you’re like me, my feet tend to swell when I fly.  Nothing is worse than having shoes on a plane, so I always pack a pair I can slip on as soon as I’m airborne – not only do they keep me warm but they make me feel at home.

Big Scarf/Sweater – I don’t care if you’re going to be soaking up the sun, planes and airports are freezing! Cuddling up in a warm scarf is way better than germ-filled airplane blankets.  If you bring both you can double up and use one as a pillow, eye mask or blanket!

Headphones – I’ve never really been a listen to music all flight long type of gal.  I’m either sleeping or reading. But recently, especially on long hauls, headphones have come in handy when I want to catch up on some of my favourite shows, listen to a podcast or to cancel out surrounding noise.  I don’t have a favourite yet but would love your suggestions!

Notebook & Pen – Yup I kick it old school!  No but seriously, if you’re a grown-up you should be carrying a pen when you travel.

Portable charger – No explanation required.

Lip Balm & Face Mist – Planes can really suck the moisture out of your skin. It’s so important to stay hydrated while flying.  I love my Burt’s Bees lip balm in honey and Dermalogica’s Ultra-Calming Mist.  They keep me feeling fresh and keep my pH levels in check!

Deodorant & Rollerball Perfume – Right now I’m using Ralph Lauren’s ‘Ralph’ Rollerball. It helps me go from smelling average to awesome! I also love the dual rollerball fragrances from Michael Kors with a scent on one side and a lip gloss on the other – another no brainer!

Toothbrush & Toothpaste – Alright, if you need an explanation why, please go smell someone’s breath after a long-haul (if you dare!) – it’s gross! So do everyone a favour, pack these and brush away.

Sanitizing Wipes – Not only will you use them on your plane ride but they’ll come in handy  on your travels.  I cannot stress how gross and germ-filled planes are – nobody has time to get sick!

Medicine – Have you ever tried looking for a pharmacy on board? Ya it’s not fun.  Whatever your poison, bring it with you.  Headaches and muscle aches are my enemies,  and most recently I’ve been bringing my favourite essential oils to help fight them off!

Reusable/fillable Water Bottle – You already heard me preach about hydration. No longer do you need to gulp down your cup of water and hope it doesn’t crack and explode in your seat pocket, just so you can put your tray table up. You can sip as you please and all flight long and it’s also a great way to save money instead of buying a bottle every time.

What are your carry on essentials? Have I forgotten anything?

Happy Travels!

 

Sicilian Summer: Gelato di Vaniglia

There are few sounds more nostalgic than that of an ice cream truck.  The excitement that ensues from an off-tune song that can be heard getting louder as it approaches, and the resulting panic to quickly gather your change and run outside – it’s a classic childhood summer ritual that never really dies.

Gelato is a social institution for the Italians. Evening strolls through the streets, and enjoying the city is an Italian past time and custom – it happens everyday and in every town. Gelato is primarily milk-based so it’s less fatty compared to ice cream. It’s made with pure, all natural, in-season and local ingredients, and the churning process doesn’t have as much air as your traditional ice cream. So basically my conclusion (or excuse) is that gelato is actually good for you and we should all eat more of it!

Last summer in Sicily there were few days (or meals) that didn’t include gelato.  I mean in the scorching Italian sun, what’s one to do? In an attempt to take me back, I had a go at Sicilian Gelato di Vaniglia.  My recipe of choice is from Saveur’s cookbook, Italian Comfort Food. It’s very uncommon to find a Sicilian gelato that incorporates cream and egg yolk, so this one peaked my interest. I love it because of it’s ultra silky-smooth and  creamy textue and that it’s not entirely frozen, as true gelato should be!

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. cornstarch (the use of cornstarch in this simple recipe only assists in creating a silky-smooth texture, so it’s optional)
Serves 6-8

First: Place 1 1/4 cup milk, cream and vanilla bean in a saucepan and place over medium heat until bubbles start appearing around the edge, right before boiling.

IMG_1855.jpeg

Meanwhile: Mix the remaining milk, sugar and cornstarch in a separate bowl and stir well. Take your saucepan off the heat and stir in your sugar mixture.  Place the saucepan back onto the heat, stirring often and until the mixture thickens slightly, approximately 10 mins or so. Once it does remove from heat.

Next: Whisk your egg yolk in a separate bowl until it’s slightly thick. Pour 1 cup of your hot milk mixture into the egg yolk and whisk, then gradually add back the mixture into the hot milk mixture and keep stirring. Set this aside to cool.  You can place it in an ice bath like I did, to expedite the cooling process.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or until completely cool.  Don’t forget to remove your vanilla bean before the churning process!

IMG_1336.jpeg

Finally: Process your mixture in an ice cream maker according to your manufacturer’s directions. For best quality, consume within 3 days – trust me that shouldn’t be a problem!  Since I’m a newbie I’m trying out Cusinart’s Pure Indulgence model and will be sure to write a review once I have more of a go at it. I decided to garnish my gelato with crushed pistachios since they are consumed by Sicilians in the east and are still grown there, especially around Mount Etna.

IMG_8571.jpeg

Till then, buon appetito!

Do you love ice cream? Where did you have your best scoop and what flavour was it?