Tag Archives: Travel

Travelling: You’re Doing it Wrong

I wrote most of this post while we were in South America but never put the finishing touches on it and published it. I came back to it today because it still resonates with me, and I thought it was worth posting. Enjoy! 

Northern argentina field

The title of this post is something that I find myself thinking every once in a while. I try to push the thought away as quickly as it appears, but there are times when I just can’t help myself. Before you think that I’m constantly judging others for their choices, I’ll clarify that I’m talking about the way that I think about my own travel. With so many different places to go and things to do, and an even bigger variety of ways to do them, it’s hard not to second guess myself and feel like we’re maybe not doing things in exactly the way they should be done.

When we were in Cusco, I had a brief conversation with another Canadian traveller about our plans for heading to Machu Picchu. He asked me which trek we’d be doing, and I let him know that we weren’t going to be doing any trek at all. Instead we’d be making our way up there by train and bus. He was completely shocked by this, and said to me “No way. There’s no way you can come to Cusco and not do one of the treks to Machu Picchu”. While I know that hiking through the Sacred Valley would be an amazing experience, for various reasons it just wasn’t going to work for us, and I attempted to explain this to him. At that moment I felt like I needed to justify our choices so that we wouldn’t somehow seem like “lesser travellers”, whatever that means. There was no convincing him, though – we were most definitely doing it wrong.

I’m giving this guy more screen time than the space he really took up in my head. Look me in the eye and I’ll tell you without hesitation that his attitude was ridiculous, and that no one should make those kinds of judgements about their fellow travellers, or fellow human beings for that matter. But the hardest voice to silence is the one in my own head. Zevi and I have realized that we just aren’t “museum people”. They honestly aren’t a lot of fun for us and we rarely feel like we’ve gotten our money’s worth when we go. We’d rather spend our cash eating at a great restaurant or seeing a cool show or doing some kind of outdoor activity. Even with that knowlege, it’s hard not to feel like we’re doing it wrong when we talk to people who rave about Bogota’s Botero gallery, which we skipped, or Arequipa’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries, which we gave a pass to as well. Are we missing some sort of key experience if we don’t check these things off our list? In my heart I know that we’re not, and we’re doing our trip in exactly the way that works for us, and that’s the only thing that matters. That doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of irrational self-doubt where I question the choices we’re making, though.

I’ve realized that the worst thing we can do is take someone’s else version of “doing it right” and try to apply it to our own trip. We love hearing about things that other people have loved along the way, but the fact that our newfound friends tell us that we just have to go somewhere, seriously does not mean that we do. We’ve made the choice to skip Iguazu Falls. It’s a real shame that we won’t be able to make it there, because everyone we talk to tells us it’s a showstopper, but it just isn’t going to fit within our budget and our itinerary. With a month in Argentina, many would be shocked that we won’t be making the trip there, but that’s just the way things are going to work out. And that’s ok.

In Puerto Maldonado we met a couple who decided to skip Machu Picchu altogether. For a second, I found myself feeling incredulous – how could they miss out on what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something so iconic? I quickly stopped myself when I realized that I was thinking about their journey in the same way as that guy in Cusco was thinking about ours. As strange as it might seem to me, the choice they made was the right one for them, and it’s not my place to declare that their somewhat unorthodox decision is the wrong one. As with most things in life, it’s best to just worry about what we’re doing and appreciate that everyone is doing what they’re doing for their own reasons. I’m going to keep on spending hours in farmers markets and leave the must-see museums for everyone else. When that doubting voice in my head starts to creep in, I’ll take another bite of ceviche and remember that as long as we’re being true to ourselves, there’s no reason for regrets.

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Morimoto Napa

Zevi in front of Morimoto fish wall

We ate a lot of great food when we were in Napa a couple of weeks ago, but the big standout for us was Morimoto Napa. Based on Morimoto’s title as Iron Chef and all of the fame and prestige that comes with that, we were afraid that the restaurant might be all style and no substance, but when we tasted the food we couldn’t have cared less whose name was on the front of the building.

Morimoto kitchen Morimoto Heather

Don’t get me wrong, though, the place has plenty of style. As we walked in, I was immediately captivated by the oversized fish mural. How can I get one of those for my kitchen? The dining room was polished and elegant, and the music was just at the right volume for good conversation. I loved peeking over at the brightly lit sushi bar to see an army of chefs working behind display cases filled with raw fish. There aren’t many sights more beautiful to me than giant slabs of raw salmon and tuna waiting to be turned into delicious sashimi.

Morimoto carpaccio

We were enticed by some of the creative main courses, but we decided to share a few of the smaller plates instead. I love to eat off of everyone’s plate so sharing is always right up my alley! We started with the meltingly tender waygu beef tartare, thin strips of beef brightened up with a sweet ginger-garlic sauce.

Morimoto sashimi

Next up was the most unexpected dish of the evening. We’d ordered the Morimoto sashimi, which was described as “seared toro, salmon, eel, tuna, hamachi, five sauces”. I’d expected the fish to be presented in the regular sashimi style, but I’d forgotten that we weren’t at my neighbourhood sushi joint (which I love, by the way). I was surprised and intrigued when the we were presented with the plate pictured above. The pieces of fish were layered one on top of the other, each with a different mini garnish, and accompanying them were droppers filled with the aforementioned five sauces. The server demonstrated how to put little drops of each sauce on to our plate and dip our fish towers in as we saw fit. I wouldn’t want to eat my sashimi like this every day, but I really appreciated the whimsical and creative presentation. Most importantly, the fish was delicious!

Morimoto fried rice Morimoto bone marrow

I’m a sucker for a runny yolk, and egg on top of our duck fried rice provided the perfect mix-in for this flavourful dish. While the fried rice was good, the bone marrow was a true standout. I’d been eager to try bone marrow for some time now, and I managed to get Zevi on board. We were both glad we’d jumped on that train! The marrow was silky smooth, and the spiced panko breadcrumbs cut its luscious richness just enough. We were still trying to scoop out more of that heavenly stuff even when we knew in our hearts that we’d eaten every last drop.

Morimoto sushi

When sushi’s on the menu there’s no way I won’t order at least a little bit of plain old raw fish. While this was the simplest thing we ate that night, it was probably my favourite. The fish was extremely fresh with a perfectly firm texture, and the rice was expertly prepared. In fact, it was so good that we ordered another round!

Morimoto dessert

After seeing how inventive our savoury courses had been, we were eager to check out what the chefs at Morimoto had up their sleeves on the sweet side of things. We ordered the “s’more”, and while this wasn’t your campfire special, when we ate all of the components together we could certainly identify one of our favourite summer treats. The presentation was gorgeous too, and there were no sticky hands in sight.

We were thoroughly impressed with Morimoto, and I would make a point to go back there if I return to Napa. It’s definitely a special occasion type of place, but if you’re looking for a high end meal in California’s wine country, it’s certainly worth checking out.

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Napa Valley – What We Ate

Addendum flowers

If you know me, you know that my main goal when I travel is to find and eat delicious food. The Napa Valley is wine country first and foremost, but all of those wine obsessed tourists bring a lot of money in with them which means that there are lots of world class restaurants to choose from. We barely scratched the surface of the dining scene when we were there, but we did eat some pretty delicious meals!

Ca'Momi cheeseboard Ca'Momi prosciutto and burrata Ca'Momi pizzas

The evening after our wine tour we got together with the rest of our group and went to Ca’Momi, an Italian restaurant in downtown Napa’s Oxbow Market. We sat on their covered patio which was perfect for a large group and plenty warm on a spring evening. Zevi and I had actually visited this place on our last trip to Napa, and the crust was as perfectly chewy and tender as I remembered. I’d filled up on too much free cheese and fruit at our bed and breakfast before heading out for dinner so I wasn’t able to enjoy as many of the appetizers as I would have liked to, but they looked great as well. The menu is huge, and there’s really something on there for everyone. To me, the crust is the defining element of a restaurant that claims to be making authentically italian pizza, and this was some of the best I’ve had outside of Italy.

Bouchon coffee and pastry

It’s hard to talk about food in the Napa Valley without renowned chef Thomas Keller’s name making its way in to the conversation. While we weren’t planning on making a trip to the highly touted French Laundry, I did want to sample some of his offerings, so we made a stop at Bouchon Bakery. Located in Yountville, or “Thomas Keller-ville”, as one shop employee in a nearby town jokingly called it, Bouchon is celebrated for its amazing pastries, breads, and other baked goods. We tried the monkey bread, and it was incredible. I was expecting more of a cinnamon bun type of dough, but it was actually almost as light and flaky as a croissant. The salted caramel glaze gave it amazing flavour, and every bite had me wishing I could try one of everything Bouchon had to offer.

Zevi at Solbar Duck bahn mi at Solbar Fish tacos at Solbar

We spent one day laying off the wine and driving to check out a few of the towns in the area. Solbar is part of the Solange Hotel in Calistoga, and we stopped there for lunch during our travels. The weather was sunny and gorgeous, so we sat on their beautiful patio and sampled their globally influenced fare. The duck in my bahn mi sandwich was extremely tender and juicy, and the cucumbers and jalapeños provided a great crunch, but the bread could have been better. The mango slaw on the side may have actually stolen the show – I loved the tart bite of the barely ripe fruit. The flavour (and the gorgeous plating!) of Zevi’s fish tacos was spot on, and I loved the pickled cabbage that accompanied them. It was a beautiful spot to grab a bite and wish just a little bit that we could sneak in to their pool and soak up some sun on such a gorgeous day.

Lunch at V.Sattui Lunch at V.Sattui

If you need some lunch during a busy day of wine tasting, or if you just need a little something in your stomach to soak up some of that vino, I would highly recommend heading to V.Sattui. Not only do they offer great wine and a top notch tasting experience, they also have a deli where you can buy delicious food to eat at picnic tables outside. It was hard to choose what to get from their dizzying selection of cheese, charcuterie, breads, salads, and warm entrees, but in the end we went with a baguette, a couple of cheeses, a golden beet salad, some truffle mac and cheese, and some prosciutto (just for me, of course). Everything was delicious, and we (Zevi) left feeling ready to make the drive back to town.

Addendum sign Addendum meal Addendum Heather

When I heard that Addendum, another Thomas Keller spot, was opening up for the season, I knew I didn’t want to leave the Napa Valley without paying it a visit. On our last day in the area, we made a stop in Yountville to try some fried chicken in a gorgeous garden setting. At Addendum, you get the choice of either fried chicken, pulled pork, or pork ribs, plus whatever two sides they are serving that day. As tempted as I was to go for the pork, after reading many rave reviews of the chicken I just had to try it, and I knew that stealing a bite of Zevi’s wouldn’t suffice. After ordering from a little shack in the back, we sat down at a table with our sides, which that day were a macaroni and a beet salad. I knew I’d enjoy the beets, but I’m normally not a fan of mayo based pasta salads so I was surprised by how much I loved Addendum’s version! The fried chicken was even better than advertised, with ultra crunchy skin and tender, juicy meat. The flaky salt and rosemary sprinkled on top made it extra flavourful, and Zevi and I agreed that it was some of our favourite fried chicken ever.

I love the opportunity to try amazing wine in the Napa Valley, but the food scene is another great reason to head there. Among all of these great meals, I didn’t even talk about our favourite, which was at Morimoto, bus since this post is plennnnty long I’m going to save that for another day.

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Our Napa Getaway

Napa convertible riding

We’re not usually the spontaneous types, but a couple of weeks ago we decided to take a last minute trip. We considered a few different destinations, but in the end we agreed on Napa. Ever since we got engaged there almost four years ago we’d been talking about going back for more wine and sunshine, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to head down. In 2011 we’d gone down in scorchingly hot July, but this time we got some pretty ideal March temperatures, and the crowds were minimal too.

Churchill Manor

Churchill Manor flowersChurchill manor breakfasts

Once we decided on Napa as our destination, we knew right away where we wanted to stay at the same place we’d stayed on our previous trip. Churchill Manor is a beautiful bed and breakfast just steps from the downtown area. We had fond memories of the place from our last time there, and it may have been even better this time around. The staff are great, and we made sure to take advantage of the free wine and snacks this time around (when in Napa…). One of the main reasons we wanted to stay there again were the breakfasts (let’s be honest, we’re always in it for the food). Every morning we were greeted with pastries, and a beautiful fruit course. Then we got a choice between a sweet or a savoury entree. Predictably, I chose the savoury option every morning and Zevi went with the sweet choice, but I have to admit, the baked french toast was the best thing we had all week.

Selfie at Bounty Hunter Bounty Hunter

One of the things we really wanted to do on our return trip to Napa was head back to the bar where we got engaged. We may have had a few glasses of wine on the day Zevi proposed so we hadn’t gotten any good pictures of us there. It was really fun to revisit the place where I’d cried over a free glass of champagne from our waitress after such a big life event.

Dutch Henry Winery Dutch Henry Cave Tudall Wine Tasting Cairdean tasting Platypus tours group shot

Driving between wine tastings can get a little dicey, so we decided to do a group tour one day. We were so glad we did! We went with Platypus Tours, and we couldn’t have been happier with the experience. The four wineries we went to all provided us with great information and generous amounts of wine, and our driver did a great job of keeping things upbeat. We lucked out and met three great couples on the tour – one of them was even from Calgary! We got along so well that we ended up meeting up for dinner afterwards which was really fun.

Mustang Napa flowers Napa Zevi wine tasting Napa Heather wine tasting

We spent the rest of our time enjoying the beautiful sunny weather in our red mustang convertible, visiting the neighbouring towns, tasting more great wine, and eating delicious food, which I’ll talk about more in a later post. Napa will always hold a special place in our hearts, and we were really lucky to get to spend a few days down there, especially right before Zevi started his new seven days on/seven days off work schedule. I’m sure it won’t be our last visit to Northern California wine country.

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A little trip to the coast

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We’re in Victoria for the weekend to visit family. Zevi’s dad lives just outside the city and I have some family here as well. My grandparents moved here right after I was born, so I’ve been coming out here for as long as I can remember, and even though I’ve never lived here, I always feel at home when I arrive. The lush beauty, the ocean, and the laid back pace of life never cease to make me feel relaxed and renewed.

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On our first day here, I ventured out for a run (I’m training for this race at the moment) and was excited to discover a beautiful trail through the woods right near Zevi’s dad’s house. After the winter we’ve had (and apparently are still having) in Calgary it was an immense relief to see a green landscape instead of brown and white. I had a lot of fun flying down the hilly path and feeling the springy moss under my feet. My sister and I went a longer run yesterday and as we ran through leafy forests and by budding bushes I couldn’t help but wonder if I could somehow extend my stay until Calgary was just as green.

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Along with its natural beauty, Victoria had always charmed me with its small town quaintness. It has more quirky charisma than a city of its size really should. Houses sprawl on huge lots, but somehow their moss-covered exteriors and weathered stone steps make them look magical instead of overbearing. The year round evenness of the climate lets the city’s residents spill their personality out the front doors of their homes, rather than keeping it confined to the indoors. The neighborhoods are a mishmash of colours and textures, leaving nothing the same from one house to the next. It’s such a refreshing change from the stark sameness I see as I look down the streets of Calgary.

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We ate at a few great restaurants in town. Jam is worth the wait for brunch – you may have to stand in line but you’ll be glad you did when you taste the delicious huevos rancheros. Go down the street and grab a coffee at the adorable Union Pacific to keep you warm while you wait. I try to stop by Adriana’s every time I’m here, and not just because she’s a family friend. I’ve yet to have better Mexican food than the stuff she makes north of Puerta Vallarta. They even make their own tortillas!

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We’re heading back home to snow and cold in Calgary in a few hours, but it sure was nice to see some green and smell the ocean for a few days.

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Our trip to La Manzanilla

The view at sunset

The view from our balcony at sunset

It’s been a pretty great winter for us so far. A week ago, we came back from a wonderful trip to La Manzanilla, Mexico with seven of our good friends (and one toddler). It’s hard to know how travelling with a group of friends will go – you never know whether personalities will clash, or if you’ll see a completely different side side of the people you go out for drinks with a couple of times a week. Luckily for us, our friends are just as great as we imagined them to be and the trip absolutely went off without a hitch.

La Manzanilla at night

La Manzanilla at night

We stayed at this house, which was absolutely incredible. The pool was out of commission for the first few days, but the beach was only a short walk away, so it was far from the end of the world. It was nice to have our own kitchen for the few times that we decided to cook. The property management company was great and gave us a 25% discount because of the issues with the pool. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again!

Diving birds

Every day we saw hordes of these birds diving for fish

We spent most of our days eating, drinking and soaking up the sun at the gorgeous sandy beach right in the town. There were a bunch of little restaurants right on the beach, and we set up camp at a few different ones over the course of the week. The common theme among all of the eateries was deliciously fresh seafood, cheap beer, and a limited grasp of english. I was actually pretty thrilled about all three of these things, as, not only was I well fed, but I got a chance to practice my Spanish, which starts to fade away with limited practice. I ate my fair share of ceviche, and we all tried to take advantage of the inexpensive, fresh seafood that isn’t easy to find in Calgary.

Shrimp ceviche

The seafood and avocado put ours to shame

Indio beer

Love this label

La Manzanilla has a very cool vibe. I loved it because, although there were people hawking their wares on the beach, it didn’t have much of a touristy feel. The town is overtaken by 50 to 70something “gringos” who spend their winters (or, in some cases, the whole year) living the good life away from the snow and the cold of their northern homeland, so although they aren’t native to the area, they aren’t sipping $2.00 cervezas all day every day, either (not that there’s anything wrong with that – that’s what we spent most of our time doing). It makes for nice doses of the authentically Mexican mixed in with a sprinkling of cultural diversity supplied by the winter residents. With zumba, yoga, spinning, and cooking classes offered, there is no shortage of things to do in town! We did get many comments about how nice it was to see some younger people out and about, so that gives you an idea of the kinds of people you’re likely to meet.

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I really could go on and on, but suffice it to say that it was an unforgettable trip. We all talked at one point or another about going back in the next couple of years, so I don’t think La Manzanilla has seen the last of us.

Stray dog1

So many stray dogs everywhere, reminding us of our own rescue puppy

Stray dog 2

Jolanda's

At one of our favourite restaurants, Jolanda’s

Z on the beach

Zevi on the beach

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Vancouver – What I Ate

Zevi and I are on a little road trip out to the coast in search of some rest, relaxation, and delicious food, of course! Vancouver was the first stop on our journey, and I thought I’d recap some of the places that wowed me in this great city.

Kadoya Sushi

Kadoya has long been a favorite of mine. I believe that Zevi and I went to this small sushi spot the very first time we road tripped out to the coast together only three weeks into our relationship (what??) and we’ve been going back as often as possible ever since. With creative rolls, super reasonable prices, and quality that is above and beyond anything that I’ve ever found in Calgary, I dream about this place on a regular basis and count down the days until I can make it back for another visit. My favorite roll is the Snow White – prawn tempura, ebi, tamago, and a delicious dusting of coconut on top. I think that a great measure of a place is if they can make something seemingly mundane into something memorable, and Kadoya does that with their Spicy Salmon roll, with the perfect amount of spice and the crunch from the tempura bits on the inside making this menu staple an irresistible treat.

Kadoya - spicy salmon roll

Kadoya - Zevi and sashimi

And then of course there is the sashimi – I am a sucker for atlantic salmon, and Kadoya serves huge pieces of fish that melt in your mouth like butter. I always know what to expect from this great little joint, and it hasn’t disappointed me yet!

Yolk’s Breakfast

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On the second morning of our visit we were headed to see a Vancouver Whitecaps and wanted to find somewhere to grab some brunch along the way. After a couple of failed attempts at nearby restaurants, we decided to give the Yolk’s breakfast cart a try. Conveniently parked right beside the Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain station only a couple of minutes from BC Place, we weren’t the only soccer game goers taking advantage of their breakfast offerings.

Their special sounded amazing, but unfortunately they had run out by the time we arrived, so I settled (not unhappily) for an egg sandwich on an english muffin with ham, dijon, spinach and hollandaise. Extreme messiness aside, the sandwich certainly did not disappoint, with the tang of the dijon acting as the perfect counterpoint to the rich yolk and hollandaise sauce. I also tried the truffled-lemon hash brown skewer, and was impressed by the perfectly soft potatoes with a crispy exterior and the flavour combination of the truffle oil and the lemon. Zevi ordered blackberry pancakes, and although they may have been slightly underdone, they had great flavour as well. Based on what we were able to sample I would certainly go back for more!

Tacofino Commissary

Tacofino - Albacore Tuna Tacos

We were very excited to eat at the recently-established Tacofino Commissary, having gone absolutely bananas over the original truck when we were in Tofino after our wedding last summer. Sometimes high expectations can lead to disappointment, but let me eliminate the suspense for you – pretty much everything we ate was incredible.

Tacofino is a self-described tapas type joint, where sharing is encouraged and plates come out as they are ready. As its name suggests, the menu consists mainly of tacos, with a few appetizers and desserts thrown in as well. The first dish I got was the Albacore Tuna Taco (pictured) – I had sampled this taco in Tofino and couldn’t resist going back for more. The amazing seared tuna, crunchy cabbage and salty seaweed salad made for a combination that was just as good as I remembered it. Other standouts were Zevi’s extremely flavourful skirt steak taco, his light and crunchy fish taco and the brussels sprouts appetizer that my sister and I shared. Unfortunately there was a ferry that needed to be caught so we didn’t have time for dessert, but when we come back (and there will be a next time, that’s for sure) I hope that the Banana Sriracha Ice Cream is still on the menu!

Fable Kitchen

Being a fan of Top Chef in all of its many incarnations, Fable, started by TC alum Trevor Bird, had been on my radar for a while, so when we were looking for a place to go for brunch with friends I jumped at the chance to try it. We managed to arrive just before the rush would have forced us to wait in line, and the hostess even agreed to break the rules a little bit and seat us before our friends arrived, so things were off to a great start. The rustic feel of the dining room really reflected their farm to table focus, and the open kitchen let us peek at what the chefs were up to as we walked in.

Unfortunately I was too busy stuffing my face with my blood sausage eggs benedict (the special of the day) to get any photos, but everyone at the table pretty much licked their plate clean, which gives you an idea of how good the food was. Though I usually love a savoury breakfast, Zevi’s french toast was a major standout. The bread had an almost cake-like texture and was moist and incredibly flavourful. I will most definitely be visiting again to try out their dinner menu!

Jun Sushi

Our final meal in Vancouver, other than the bagels we grabbed from the always-delicious Siegel’s on our way out of town, was at a small sushi spot recommended to us by a friend of Zevi’s. Since we’re usually pressed for time when we’re in the city we don’t usually stray away from what we know and love (read: Kadoya) when it comes to sushi, so I was glad to have someone steer us outside of our comfort zone.

Jun’s food far exceeded its unassuming decor. The sashimi was incredibly fresh, with the tuna being a standout for me (that’s a big deal considering we got salmon, my usual favorite, as well). The rolls were also delicious, with my favorite being the Vancouver roll – prawn and yam tempura with mango and masago and avocado on the outside. It’s hard not to be jealous of all of the amazing sushi places that charge next to nothing for something that can’t be matched in Calgary, but I guess it’s just a reason to keep visiting the coast!

I think it’s pretty evident that Vancouver is a great place to eat and of course there’s way more to offer than I had the chance to try. I can’t wait for our next visit!

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