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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Till then, buon appetito!

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

 

How to Create a Travel Itinerary

For those of you who know me well, you probably have a huge smile and are thinking: “I can’t believe she took so long to write about this”.  For those of you who don’t, welcome to my world! I create and have been creating beautiful, masterful pieces of organizational bliss called itineraries for a really, really long time in my special events business.

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Photo by: G+H Photography

For me, a travel itinerary is just as critical for a successful trip because it outlines all of the details and information I may need, in one place so I’m not scrambling for that piece of paper or cursing because Hotmail can’t find my email confirmation.  No matter what kind of traveler you are, some form of an itinerary is important and can be a really useful travel tool.  You can decide how much or how little you want to include, or how often you want to use it, but I’m positive you won’t regret it!

First: Gather Information

  • Pull together and consolidate all the pertinent information for your trip first.  This should include things like flight information (airline, flight number, timings, reservation codes, etc.) and accommodation reservations (hotel name, phone number for your AirBnB host, addresses, confirmations, etc.)
  • If you won’t have access to your mobile phone I highly recommend including directions to your accommodation so you’re not wasting precious travel time trying to figure it out once you arrive.  If you’re using airport transportation it’s helpful to have reminders on fees, routes and timings of buses and trains on hand so you’re not left waiting, trying to figure out your stop or scrambling for cash!

Tech Tip: If you have access to WiFi or internet on your phone prior, it’s a great idea to preload directions from your arrival point to your accommodation on Google maps, this way you can still use it offline when you arrive at your destination.  

  • After you’ve done your research on your destination(s) include a list of the things you would like to do on your trip. Wanderlust excitement can severely cause forgetfulness! For each activity I like to guesstimate how long I will need there and how long it will take me to get there so I can plan my day accordingly.  Travel is your own experience, if you want to allocate a whole day to a museum because you’re a huge art history buff, do it! Planning just helps you avoid obstacles; things like closures, national holidays etc. so you can spend more time doing the things you love!
  • Use guidebooks, travel blogs, online sites, forums and recommendations from friends to gather information not only on the destination you’re visiting, but the places you’re planning on seeing.  You’ll be surprised how many tips you’ll gather from other travellers. Be nice, if you discover something new or helpful while you’re there, return the favour to the travel community and share it with others!
  • Do some quick research on local holidays, special events and festivals and the weather, to see how they may affect your travel plans.
  • Include a timeline that displays each activity. You don’t have to include every hour of your day, but having a rough idea of what your morning, afternoon and evening looks like, not only on paper but on a map, could help save you some back and forth.
  • Allow for some flexibility in your schedule, that’s the fun part! Maybe even add a free day to your plans. This will allow you to incorporate all the new things you’ll be discovering into your agenda.

Next: Make it Yours
Here’s where you get to be boss! Include what you think YOU will need on your trip.  Don’t worry about being an over planner, this is your trip…do YOU!  Sometimes I like to include a list of restaurants I’ve read about or a list of foods I want to try while I’m away.  This is where you get to add all the things that matter most, so you won’t forget them while you’re there!

Tech Tip: I love the My Places feature from Google Maps. It’s helpful if you’re planning a night of barhopping, want to plot out all the restaurants you want to try, or pin your places of interest for a particular day or city. Here’s a quick video tutorial to highlight some of things you can do with it!

Lastly: Organize & Create

  • Type all of your details out on a Word document or using an online travel itinerary template – whatever you’re comfortable using once you’re at your destination. If you like notebooks, go for it – don’t try to be techie if you’re not, it’ll only cause you more stress once you’re there. Remember there’s no right or wrong way to travel!
  • If you like referring to a piece of paper, you can store your documents in a binder or folder, separated into tabs by destination or by category (tours, reservations, etc.)
  • Ensure you can access your itinerary easily whatever method you choose!

Tech Tip: TripIt is a free app and a great way to organize confirmation numbers, maps, directions and addresses by auto-generating your itinerary. It supports confirmation emails from travel booking sites, airlines, hotels, rental car companies, railways, airport shuttles, travel agencies, cruise lines, and event and activity sites like OpenTable, Evite, Fandango, and StubHub. What I love most is the ability to write notes, add weather forecasts, excerpts from travel blogs, photos of important landmarks/buildings, local taxi contacts and local maps to your itinerary.

How do you organize yourself for your trip? Do you have any tips or tools that you love using?

Happy Travels!

 

Eating Your Way Through Prague

Prague is one of those cities that is so romantically mysterious that you’re intrigued even before you arrive.  It’s untouched old world charm, majestic spires and picturesque neighbourhoods will slowly, but surely captivate you as you begin to explore this fascinating city.  I knew before I even got there that I wanted to explore Prague in a different way. Already six cities into my trip, I wasn’t in the mood to attend another typical guided tour, so on my six-hour train ride from Budapest (thank you Europe for making free WiFi a standard!) I did some research and decided to click on “Buy Now” when I stumbled upon Eating Prague Tours. I mean do you really need to sell me on 4 hours of history and food?

While I would love to divulge and a describe all the amazing food I tried while spending half the day with my amazing guide and foodie Jan, I think that would just be cruel unless you’re jumping on a plane to Prague tomorrow, but most importantly it’s a total buzz kill if you already know every detail of what to expect when you’re in Prague…not IF..WHEN (yes you seriously need to go!). Not knowing what I was going to eat and getting to experience it without any predisposed information was half the fun and made the experience more memorable. The one thing I can tell you is, go hungry…not a little bit hungry, like don’t eat breakfast or anything before the tour kind of hungry because you will eat, and eat and eat some more…and just when you think you can’t eat anymore, you will.

Ok get excited…here are some snippets from my tour!

What I Loved:

  • In addition to tasting amazing food, I learnt so much about the culinary history and traditions of the Czech Republic which helped me connect to the culture and Czech traditions that much more.
  • Jan was a local Czech guide who even after the tour was helpful in providing more foodie recommendations. He told us tales of his childhood, growing up in Prague and connected his stories to history and the food we were eating.
  • We visited authentic and local joints not the ones built for tourists.
  • On my particular tour there were only 3 of us which allowed for some serious foodie talk.  I learnt so much about the people I was with, apart from everything I was learning from Jan! I know that Eating Prague Tours keeps their tours to a maximum of 10 so you’re guaranteed an intimate and personalized experience!
  • Variety – not only in the types of food that we tried but the types of eateries we visited (including a secret garden in the heart of the city!)
  • In depth information on all the food we were eating.
  • Foodie guide including information on all the places we visited so we could go back and more recommendations of what to try next.

What I Wished For:

  • While we definitely had many stops and walking along the way I wished that it was at a slower pace, only because I was stuffed and wasn’t able to finish my dishes at a few.
  • On my particular tour we didn’t have the opportunity to meet any of the chefs or restauranteurs who are the heart and soul of the food they create. If we had that chance, I think it would have made the experience even better than it already was!

I wish I could tell you what my favourite dish was but I really can’t because I loved them all. So as I said, WHEN you go to Prague please do yourself a favour and take this tour.  It will let you see the city through a different lens and you’ll have such a better understanding of the Czech people, culture and traditions through their evolving culinary history!

Have you been on a foodie tour? Where did you go and what did you eat?

Happy Travels!

*All the opinions in this blog post are my own, I attended this food tour on my own and not as a guest of Eating Prague Tours*

 

The Buddy Bench: A Lesson in Empathy

Back in April the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) went out to test the Buddy Bench at Willowgrove School in Saskatoon.  The results were this heartwarming viral video that quiet simply shows the power of empathy, inclusiveness and that a small gesture of kindness can go a long way when somebody needs it the most.  If you don’t have time to watch the video (but I really think you should) the buddy bench is a subtle way that the kids at Willowgrove show their peers that they are in need of someone to play with!

This video brought me back to my travels when I came across the solo bench at Stockholm’s Central Station. It was designed as a means for solo travelers to connect, those looking for travel companions and also for those traveling alone to take advantage of some of the 2-for-1 promotions without being left out.

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Traveling solo for six weeks I was extremely grateful for random gestures of kindness when I needed it the most.  Sometimes it was in the form of a simple conversation when I felt lonely.  Other times it was someone buying me a hot chocolate when I was completely soaked and cold on a 2 hour, rain logged boat ride in Norway.

My solo trip did a really important thing for me.  It really helped me understand situations, feelings and the motives of others.   I think that travel, no matter who you are, will help you realize that something different isn’t wrong.  When you travel and experience other people, other ways of life you realize that their opinions are based on their own experiences, their stories and lives.  They’re not right, not wrong…just different, and that was ok because we still connected even as strangers.  Differences are more interesting, they’re more fun and most importantly they helped me build a stronger sense of empathy.

As travelers we all have baggage, literally.  Maybe we’re traveling in search of something or perhaps we’re traveling to get away.  Someone could be traveling to heal, others to rejuvenate. Maybe you’ve lost something…or maybe you’re looking for it.  Regardless, everyone has a story and you truly never know what the person in the seat right next to you could be going through – and you don’t need to either.  Too often we really underestimate the power of a simple touch, a smile, maybe a kind word, a listening ear, a genuine compliment or a simple act of compassion.  All of these are an opportunity to turn someone’s day around in a moment when they may need it the most.

Has someone shown you a random act of kindness on your travels? How did you pay it forward?

Happy Travels!