My Calgary: Village Ice Cream

Calgary’s got so many great places to eat and things to see, and I think they deserve some love. In this series, I’m going to talk about the places that I think make Calgary such a great place to be.

Village Ice Cream Britannia cone

When people ask me where my favourite place is for brunch, lunch or dinner, I’m hard pressed to find a definitive answer. When it comes to my favourite ice cream shop, though, I don’t hesitate. Village Ice Cream has been wowing me with their creamy, dreamy creations since they opened in 2012, and I’m a certified addict. I’ve eaten my fair share of ice cream in Calgary and beyond, and in my heart there’s nothing that comes close to this little establishment.

Night view from Village Ice CreamVillage Ice Cream Britannia

Dreamed up by Billy Friley while eating ice cream on his grandmother’s porch, Village Ice Cream has become a Calgary favourite, despite opening in a location that most would deem unfortunate. Their original Victoria Park locale is tucked into a building on Tenth Avenue SE that gets very little foot traffic, so the fact that you can often find a lineup out the door shows that I’m not the only one urging all of my friends to check it out. Not only have they managed to keep their head above water, they’ve had enough success to warrant opening another location, this one in Britannia Plaza. While the Victoria Park store has just enough space for the ice cream scooping station and a fridge full of pints and sandwiches, the Britannia spot has some indoor seating for those thirty below zero days when your ice cream craving won’t quit.

Village Ice Cream Britannia inside

An ice cream shop has to be serving some pretty extraordinary stuff to entice me to make a special trip instead of reaching in to the freezer at my local grocery store, and Village delivers in a big way. Their scoops are the creamiest I’ve tasted by a long shot, with no loathsome ice crystals to be found. The ice cream beyond decadent, which is just how an indulgent treat should be. They’ve got ten consistent flavours, ranging from the standard Vanilla Bean, Chocolate, and Strawberry, to the exotic Cardamom, the subtle Earl Grey Tea, and the salty sweet favourite Salted Caramel. My standby is Toasted Coconut – its not-too-sweet tropical-tinged flavour and chewy coconut chunks have me hard pressed to stray away.  Some of my most beloved choices have come from Village’s rotating slate of seasonal flavours, including the sweet and tart Meyer Lemon, the bright Key Lime Coconut Milk, and my unexpected all time favourite, Spiced Banana. I know that might sound like a strange flavour – it certainly did to me at first – but one taste of the sweet banana mellowed out by warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg will make you a believer.They constantly surprise me with their interesting concoctions, and the fact that they let their customers try as many samples as they want means that I never have to wonder what I might be missing out on.

Village Ice Cream Britannia pints

If you’re not in the mood for a scoop or two on one of Village’s perfectly chewy homemade waffle cones, try one of their out-of-this-world ice cream sandwiches. The cookies are sinfully chocolaty, almost veering in to brownie territory, and make the ice cream inside even more delectable. These things put my old favourite Oreo ice cream sandwiches to shame.

Village Ice Cream - Heather and Zevi 2

I’ve always been an ice cream lover, but Village Ice Cream has brought my infatuation to a new level. Even on the coldest days of Calgary’s winter, you’ll find me venturing out for a split single on a waffle cone. No matter what the weather, it’s worth checking out one of their shops for a sweet treat that will have your tastebuds begging for more.

Village Ice Cream

431 10 Avenue SE and 820 49 Avenue SW

My Calgary: Blue Star Diner

Calgary’s got so many great places to eat and things to see, and I think they deserve some love. In this series, I’m going to talk about the places that I think make Calgary such a great place to be.Blue Star

Take a drive down the main drag of Calgary’s trendy Bridgeland neighbourhood on a weekend morning, and you’ll most certainly see a group of brunch lovers waiting for a table at a little whitewashed cafe. While it isn’t as miniature as its sister restaurant, Dairy Lane, Blue Star Diner‘s cozy interior isn’t big enough to accommodate the ten AM Saturday crowd that shows up in search of the restaurant’s delicious fare. As these patient diners know, though, the wait is well worth it.

Blue Star Diner bar

Blue Star Diner Mom and Grandma

While I’ve happily waited my turn on lazy mornings in the past, my most recent trip to the diner was on a Thursday at lunch time. After a few minutes of admiring the beautiful robin’s egg blue-backed open shelving behind the bar as we waited for a larger table to free up, we were seated by the window, which was perfect for both people watching and for getting that all-important natural light for food photos (kidding…sort of).

Blue Star Diner yam fries

To get the meal started, we ordered a bowl of yam fries to share. I don’t know what kind of magic they work on the potatoes before they put them in the fryer, but they managed to achieve the much sought after combination of a light, crunchy outside and a silky-soft interior. My Grandma declared them the best yam fries she’d ever tasted, and when someone’s made 92 trips around the sun their opinion shouldn’t be taken lightly!

Blue Star Diner Pulled Pork Hash Blue Star Diner grilled cheese

We may have officially been there for lunch, but that wasn’t going to stop me from ordering from the breakfast menu. Who says that delicious breakfast foods should be reserved for early in the morning? My pulled pork hash was subtly spiced and full of tender peppers and creamy yams, and the pork was perfectly juicy and shreddable with the touch of a fork. The runny yolks from the poached eggs were a delicious mix-in, and the thick cornbread sticks provided the perfect vehicle for soaking up extra sauce. Everyone else gave rave reviews for their dishes as well, with the only niggle being a few too many onions on my dad’s grilled cheese.

Blue Star obviously shines in the early hours of the day, but they shouldn’t be overlooked for dinner. They make a mean traditional margarita, one of my favourite drinks, and I’ve had to restrain myself from scooping up the last bits of their guacamole with my fingers. They’ve got burgers ranging from beef, to chicken, to lamb, to veggie, and they’re all top notch. I’m always tempted by their tacos, but have yet to pull the trigger. Something to look forward to for my next visit!

Whether it’s breakfast, brunch, or burgers you’re after, Blue Star Diner is a great Calgary choice. I could go for one of those margaritas right about now…

Blue Star Diner

801 1st Ave NE

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2014 in Review

Gray GlacierChile camping  Easter Island cemetary Zevi road trip Machu Picchu Cartagena after the rain 2014 is in the rear view mirror. What a year. I think it’s pretty obvious that this will be remembered as the year I quit my job and left on a three month trip to South America. You don’t do that every year, as much as I’d love to, and it’s not something we’ll be doing again any time soon. I feel so grateful that we were able to make it work. Although it’s something that I’d thought about and wanted to do for a long time, I always had my doubts that it would actually happen. There were a lot of factors that had to come together for us to be able to leave for that long, and it still seems amazing to me that we pulled it off. Mexico Cherniawsky's at Sea Cider Erin and Nai in Drumheller Calgary skyline

Snowshoeing with Kyle and NaiThe other nine months of the year may have been overshadowed by the main event, but they were certainly no slouch. We travelled to Mexico, Sasquatch music festival, Panorama, the Shuswap, and Victoria twice. We saw a couple of our best friends get married and celebrated the elopement of two more of our closest pals. We went on our annual Drumheller camping trip, and enjoyed great music and good vibes at Calgary Folk Fest. Family selfieFolk fest selfieBachelorette selfieSasquatch selfie I ran my fifth half marathon, but didn’t get the result I wanted so I’ll be back for redemption this year. I got to spend a ton of time with my sister over the summer, which was so much fun. I ate at countless new restaurants, revisited old favourites, and went to some iteration of my very favourite, Anju, four times in three weeks. I learned that choosing compassion is never wrong, even in moments of confusion and hurt. Many selfies were taken along the way. We won’t be doing much jetsetting in 2015, but I’m excited to see what adventures we find closer to home this year. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of selfies.

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Cafayate – Part one

Domingo Molina

Cafayate was pretty far off my radar when we were planning out our time in Argentina. When we started doing research for our road trip, I started to realize that it might be somewhere we’d want to spend a bit of extra time. As it turned out, the city had even more to offer than we’d expected, and we ended up spending a lot more time there than we thought we would.

One of the reasons we had such a great experience in Cafayate was the excellent advice we got at the hostel we stayed in. As soon as we walked in the door, one of the owners sat us down and gave us a full overview of the activities she recommended in and around town. She also showed us a book they’d created that had instructions and maps detailing everything she’d explained to us and how to get to each place she’d suggested. This was SO helpful, and more hostels should really adopt this practice. After her fifteen minute explanation we felt totally prepared to plan out our days in Cafayate. Many of her suggestions involved wine, food, and being outdoors, which was just perfect for us.

Cabras de Cafayate Goats at Cabras de Cafayate Baby goats

Road to Cabras de Cafayate

After we’d dropped our things off in our room and gotten settled at the hostel, we decided to check one of the suggested activities off our list and go for a tour of a local cheese farm. Located a couple of kilometres outside of town, Cabras de Cafayate offers tours every hour on the hour, with a mid day break for lunch. We were lucky enough to be the only people there for the 5:00 tour, so we got our own private visit! They only offer tours in Spanish, so I asked our guide to speak slowly and let me translate for Zevi as we went along and he was happy to oblige. We visited the goats, and even got to see some little babies as it was birthing season. Unfortunately they were a little bit camera shy but just trust me when I say that they were painfully adorable. After learning about the process from milking to transportation to processing to the shaping of the cheese, we got to sample some of the goat and cow cheese that is produced in the farm. It was all delicious, and if we’d been closer to home we definitely would have taken a few different varieties home with us.

Lunch at Piatelli

Chicken at PiatelliPastel de choclo at PiatelliHeather and Zevi in front of PIatelli Wine barrels at Piatelli

The next day it was time to truly get down to business and check out a couple of wineries. The first winery recommended by our hostel was Piatelli. We weren’t surprised to learn that this vineyard had been started by a Californian, as its grand buildings and architecturally impressive grounds reminded us of the wineries we’d visited in Napa a few years ago. Piatelli’s restaurant is touted as one of the best places to eat in the area, so we sat down to grab a bite to eat before taking a tour. We were not disappointed, as Zevi’s chicken was perfectly cooked, my corn pie was full of balanced sweet and savoury flavour, and our bottle of torrontes was crisp and refreshing on the sunny spring afternoon. The beautiful views didn’t hurt either!

When it came time to take a tour, we got lucky again. The next tour was supposed to be in Spanish, but since we were the only ones there at that time our guide agreed to do the explaining in English, which meant that I could leave behind my role as translator for the time being. Though it’s always interesting to learn about each winery’s unique wine making process, we’re always in it mostly for the tasting, so we were excited to sample the wines produced at Piatelli’s Cafayate location at the end of the tour (they also have a location in Mendoza). We were already fans of the Torrontes, but the reds were equally good. I really enjoyed the Cabernet, while Zevi was a fan of the Malbec.

Domingo Molina Vineyards at Domingo Molina

White wines at Domingo Molina

Our second stop that day was at Domingo Molina, a smaller and more unassuming winery than Piatelli. The wines here were some of our favourites of the entire trip, and the entire tasting experience was a highlight for both of us. We were the only ones there that afternoon, and as we sat in the sun overlooking vineyards that stretched to the majestic mountains, sipping wine and munching on cheese and crackers, it seemed that life couldn’t get much better. Although we really enjoyed all of the wines we tasted, the Finca Domingo Torrontes and Cabernet Sauvignon were standouts, and we bought a bottle of each for an astoundingly cheap $14 Canadian. This price included the tasting, which made us feel like we’d really come away with a steal!

We were only planning to stay in Cafayate for two nights, but we loved it so much that we decided to extend our stay for another day! I’ll wrap up our time there in a second post.

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Road Tripping in Northern Argentina

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After spending twelve wonderful days in Buenos Aires, we were off to see a completely different side of Argentina. We headed up north to Salta, and from there we rented a truck and headed off on one of the craziest and most memorable road trips I’ve ever been on.
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Graffiti in Buenos Aires

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So many of the cities we’ve visited so far on this trip have had a wealth of amazing street art, and Buenos Aires is no different. To get some more insight into the art we were seeing as we explored the city and learn more about the culture surrounding it, we signed up for a tour through graffitimundo. We did the North City tour, which started in Colegiales and ended in Palermo.
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Ten Things You Should Know Before Going to Argentina

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We spent a month in Argentina, and I still have so much more to say about most of the places we visited there (how am I ever going to get to Chile??). I would highly recommend visiting this beautiful country, and I hope that all of you get a chance to experience it! Before you go, here are a few things that you should know.

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Buenos Aires: The City That Defies Description

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I have so many great memories of our time in Buenos Aires, yet I’m struggling to figure out how to do our time there justice. As I try to put together my thoughts about our day to day in Argentina’s capital, I’m having trouble figuring out where to start, or how to start. There were no epic hikes or picture perfect views, or even much in the way of beautiful architecture. Our time there was pretty lacking in picture worthy moments – outside of some phone photos and a lot of graveyard shots we have less snaps from our twelve days there than we’ve taken in one day in other places. And yet, despite the lack of big moments and once-in-a-lifetime happenings, Buenos Aires holds the spot as my favourite city on the trip so far.

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Maybe that seems counterintuitive, but I guess it’s a testament to the way I like to travel. Since we had such a long stay in the city, we were able to take off our tourist hats for a while and just live. We went to some cool shows, went for coffee every morning, and searched out fun restaurants to check out most every night. We went grocery shopping and cooked ourselves breakfast in our rented apartment and did laundry upstairs and pretended for a little while that we were Porteños going about our daily business. We began to understand the rhythm of the city and grew accustomed to late breakfasts and even later dinners. While previously steak after midnight had seemed pretty ridiculous, when the rest of the city’s doing it, you join in.

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Of course there were plenty of touristy moments sprinkled throughout our visit to the city, but they were just that – a sprinkling, rather than our every day. In Buenos Aires it was easy to feel like we were just part of the crowd, and even the most tourist-oriented attractions that we visited didn’t feel overrun by outsiders. Whether on bikes, on one of our long neighbourhood-spanning walks, or on the subway, it felt like we were able to navigate the city from the inside, rather than just scratching the surface as we often had in other spots. Buenos Aires has a way of keeping you guessing, though, and just when we thought we had a handle on things we’d discover a new neighbourhood with a totally different flair. That’s part of the thrill and intrigue of the place. It’s a city that charms you with a new facade at every turn.

So many of the places we’ve been on this trip have been incredibly memorable, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. So far, though, Buenos Aires is the only place I could see myself happily staying for a long time. While many of the things we’ve done have been true once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, I can see myself going back to BA for more midnight steak, delicious choripans, amazing coffee, fascinating cultural events, and all of the nooks and crannies and quirks of this crazy city. Here’s hoping I get back there before too long.

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Buenos Aires: The Coffee Diaries

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As I’ve mentioned on a few different occasions, we’ve suffered from a serious lack of good coffee on this trip. The coffee in Peru was pretty terrible across the board, and, minus a few exceptions, Colombia’s wasn’t much better. One reason I was excited to get to Argentina’s biggest city was that I knew there would be a chance that our coffee fortunes would turn around, at least temporarily. Buenos Aires is a modern metropolis filled with hip neighborhoods, and trendy areas usually bring with them people who like a good cup of joe. I’m not sure why, but that just seems to go hand in hand. We tried three of the top rated cafes in Buenos Aires, and here’s what I thought.
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The Dreaded Sunday

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You’re fresh off the airplane, ready to explore a new city. As your taxi winds through the one way streets and shop-lined thoroughfares, you notice that most stores have their shutters pulled. Maybe this is just a quiet part of town, you think to yourself.

You check in to your hotel or hostel or apartment and drop off your mammoth bag. This routine is nothing new. The leaving and arriving and rediscovering has been played out so many times over your trip that you’ve lost count. That’s not to say you’re sick of it, it’s just a part of the game that is long distance and long duration travelling. You actually relish the chance to walk out your door to a sight that you’ve never seen before. Yes, you’ve read the TripAdvisor reviews and the Lonely Planet tips and heard about THE BEST cafe in town from your newest, and now former, best hostel friend, but discovering a city is so personal that you don’t know what you’ll think of it until you get out there yourself. As tempted as you are to maybe just stay in the comfort of your room, the one place where you don’t have to attempt to navigate a foreign language and wave off sticker sellers and tour hawkers, for a few more minutes, you know it’s time. It’s time to get out there and find out what the city has to offer. It’s time to discover your version of the latest stop on your travels.

As you walk out the hostel door, you’re confused. All of the reviews on HostelWorld said that this place was in the heart of the tourist district, that there were a ton of things to do just steps from your door, and that THIS was the place to be if you really wanted to have a good time in your temporary hometown. So why is there no one walking the street? The main square is so deserted that you could probably hear a two peso coin drop. The snack sellers and vegetable vendors have left their stalls deserted. The only restaurants open have ten page long menus and are clearly only geared towards the desperate tourist. It turns out that that’s you right now, and suddenly you figure out why. It’s Sunday.

When you don’t have the five day work week and two day weekend rhythm dictating your life, losing track of the days is a regular occurrence. Friday’s no longer your holy grail, and there’s no reason to wait for Saturday night to party when you could just as easily live it up on Tuesday. You don’t fear Monday morning unless it involves trying to dig your truck out of the Argentinian salt flats. Sunday, though… Sunday is the worst day to be a traveller. Yes, there may be an antiques fair here or a market in the park there, but that’s no consolation for the fact that your first eight restaurant choices are closed, and every shop except for a couple of corner stores has its doors barred. If you want to turn the most bustling downtown into a ghost town, just tell everyone it’s Sunday.

You walk back to your apartment and remind yourself that tomorrow is Monday, and tomorrow the streets will come back to life. Tomorrow is a better day to form your first impression of this place. It’s a good thing you’ll still be here tomorrow, because today is Sunday, and the city is asleep.

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