Posts Tagged ‘Vacation’

We usually travel to New York City around our anniversary to celebrate (read shop) and to have incredible food, but this year we decided to cross off another bucket list destination and go to Washington DC instead. I’ve always wanted to see the wonderful monuments, the Smithsonian Museums, Capital Hill and The White House and we did all that and more! We were lucky with the weather because it wasn’t raining but it was unbelievably hot and humid — we were told it was more like summer weather. But we donned our sunscreen, hats, comfy shoes (yes, you read that right) and left our hotel at 9am to return hot, tired (and did I say hot?) around 5pm just in time for wine and cheese in the lobby.

We stayed at the Kimpton Madera in Dupont Circle, a very good location which is close to Georgetown and the subway. We’ve stayed in several Kimpton hotels over the years and have always had exceptional experiences and this property was no different. My friend Karen from Back Road Journal made a great suggestion to join the Kimpton’s Loyalty Program and we did, and it has worked out very well for us, thank you Karen. Because we are InTouch members we received a voucher to raid the mini-bar (or one free cocktail in the bar — guess which one we did?), free WIFI in our room and a lovely room upgrade to one of their superior King rooms! Aron at the front desk and Fernando at the front door were incredibly helpful and friendly. Aron found out that we were celebrating our anniversary so he comped us breakfast every day, how nice is that? I consider breakfast an easy meal to really control calories while traveling, so the free continental breakfast with whole grain toast and fruit was perfect for us.

We ate at wonderful restaurants (reviews to come) and had some fantastic times with new friends — JT and I were very fortunate to meet up with fellow blogger Jed Gray and his beautiful wife Liz of the infamous Sports-Glutton blog. I started following Jed a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back. When I emailed Jed that we were thinking of coming down to DC, he and Liz very generously spent an incredible amount of time writing up recommendations for areas to stay in and provided some excellent restaurant recommendations and they were spot on. We met for dinner on our last night and as you can imagine we got on as if we were long-time friends. The lively non-stop conversation was richly dotted with good bouts of laughter. Thank you so much Jed and Liz it was such a pleasure to meet you both and JT and I sincerely hope that we will be able to repay your hospitality in Toronto very soon.

DC, what can I say? Go big or go home would sum it up. The city itself is only about 176 square kilometres or 68 square miles, so it’s not enormous, but because DC has so much to see and do, you really should plan on 4-5 days, sadly we were only there just under three days so it was a bit rushed but that just means we will need to go back sometime soon. We arrived on Thursday around 11:30 and took a stroll through Georgetown which was a 20 minute walk from our hotel. It was very hot and humid. We decided to have lunch at a Peruvian restaurant which worked out very well and then we walked around some more. Our hotel serves up wine and cheese from 5-6pm every day and we like to go because it gives us an opportunity to chat with the other guests. There weren’t other guests having the wine and cheese but we were able to chat with Aron at the front desk and he made some lovely recommendations about DC.

There is a lot to see and do in DC, so it’s best to have a game plan; figure out what is most important to you and then plan your stay according to that. We wanted to see a few of the Smithsonians (which by the way are totally FREE!): The Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian Castle, the National Gallery. And we wanted to spend some time walking around the monuments near the Tidal Basin. We did the Hop on Hop off bus tour, but we made the mistake of hopping on and off, so we ended up wasting A LOT of time waiting to hop back on. The bus we got on later in the afternoon was so incredibly slow it was painful. We should have cut our losses but we persevered, and therefore missed seeing a few of the things we wanted to see — so there will be a next time. Due to an earthquake in 2011, the Washington Monument was damaged and therefore closed for repairs and will not open until 2015…so that’s a great excuse to return.

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We met Jed and Liz at 5:30 on Saturday night in Georgetown, a short cab ride from our hotel and their apartment. Jed suggested we meet at the Four Seasons bar called Bourbon Steak (well you just know the night is off to a great start!). In true gluttonous form Jed selected this classy establishment because of the variety of unusual cocktails served; we all know JT and I do cocktails, and Jed’s Thirsty Thursdays lead me to believe that they do too! The next course was dinner, we had a short walk (yes, I was wearing inappropriate shoes which made walking on the cobblestone in combination with the extreme heat very difficult!) to a very nice Mexican Restaurant called Bandolero. We started with more drinks and some very tasty treats. I loved this place because it was tapas style so we each got to enjoy every flavour and not have to commit to one dish. Conversation with either Jed or Liz was easy and JT and I flipped back and forth with the two. Our first course was La Muestra, which was guacamole, masa crisps, chicarrones, and three salsas, very flavourful salsas and the guacamole was delicious! Then, each of us selected one item to share; it was very tasty and four items seemed to hit the spot with all of us. In chatting with Liz I wondered if there were any cool jazz bars in DC and she lit up knowing just the one so our next stop was Blues Alley but we were only able to get tickets for the 10pm show, so without hesitation we went to a J-Paul’s saloon for, you guessed it, more drinks and conversation until it was time for the show. We heard the exceptional John Pizzarelli (who concidentally sometimes plays with Diana Krall – a fellow Canadian!)
Sadly we cut the night short as we were flying home the next day — we usually stay up much later, really we do! We really enjoyed our time with Jed and Liz (you guys really made our little DC vacation!)

I encourage you to visit Washington DC, it’s really much more than I expected and I was expecting a lot!

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Today is our final full day in Morocco. I always find this juncture in our vacations a little bitter sweet; did we see EVERYTHING? DO EVERYTHING? EAT EVERYTHING? But then again, I find some relief that soon I will be sleeping in my own bed, cooking my own food, and for the first while to be able to enjoy the mundaneness of auto-pilot of my life. And then we start thinking of the next adventure.
Casablanca is a three hour train ride; this time we bought our first class tickets the day before (apparently you can do this up to 6 days before). First class is about $10 more. We plan to have lunch at the train station, but leaving our Ryad takes a bit longer than expected. Hayat wants to come to say goodbye, but she is the manager at the other Ryad across the medina. We wait for her. Meanwhile the wonderful staff we have come to know quite well come by to give us hugs and wish us well. The Chef gives us a beautiful silver cardboard box filled with Moroccan hand made sweets! Hayat arrives, goodbyes are said, hugs and kisses. I will make the effort to remain in contact with her, with email and Facebook, one has no excuses anymore.
The car they hired to take us to Marrakech Train Station is lovely, although no seat belts! It has all if the original instruments in the dash! And the luggage can fit INSIDE! The driver proudly talks about some of the landmarks as we speed by. The train station is new, built in the modern Moroccan style – I don’t have an iPhone pic, but here is a link
We get there early enough that we can have a little lunch at an Italian style cafe (or McDonalds!). We ate delicious Ham and cheese panini sandwiches.
The first class car is simply compartments of 6 seats. The seats are upholstered in rich fabric, there is a curtain on the window to shield the hot sun and there us A/C. A little A/C. We are the second to arrive. The seats are numbered – someone has to leave my seat. There is a young man across from me, he speaks English, French, Arabic and a little Spanish. He is going to Casa to see some cousins, then back to University to study tourism. We are constantly mistaken for British tourist (no British accent at all). My only guess us that they don’t get many Americans, process of elimination. The young man is ELATED that we are from Canada; his favorite artist Justin Bieber is Canadian! He spares us the question if we know him. Nice kid, he helps us understand the announcements which are as garbled as the subways in Manhattan!
We arrive in Casablanca and another young man helps us with our luggage off the train just out of kindness (who’s great idea was it to bring two weeks of clothes?) it’s getting heavier every time we move it; and I haven’t been able to help much because of my stupid shoulder.
We find a cab and he drives us rather efficiently to our hotel. He honks his horn a minimum of 30 times! For some bizarre reason he lets us off across the street from the hotel. It’s a major street, like Broadway in Manhattan – 4 lanes each direction. There are traffic lights and what seem to be pedestrian cross walks marked by lines on the road, but did I mention, no one cares? We wait for a local to cross and we hold our breath (say a little prayer) and run like mad across the busy intersection dragging two weeks worth of luggage behind us. The hotel front desk staff remembers us; how was Marrakech they ask. Our room is efficient, same floor only two rooms down. The Royal Mansour Meridien is supposed to be a five star hotel. The bathrooms desperately need a makeover. Two nights. We were going to go outside for dinner but JT did a little recon while I was dolling up and found nothing really good. At least we know the food and service are great at the Meridien. We have drinks in a lovely bar where they give us beautiful little hors d’œuvres, olives and nuts, then we have a lite supper in the lobby restaurant.

This is the bar. Sadly they allow smoking everywhere!

Little hors d’œuvres.
Our waiter is intrigued that we are from Canada and not Great Britain, he says “Canada is my dream“. I am so touched and I’m reminded to be grateful to have been born there. He asks a lot of questions, but then he surprises us both, he knows the name of our Prime Minister! (hmmmm, I may have to do little quiz about Canada with a prize, of course!)
As a special gift, he brings us tea, made exactly the same way he makes it at home. Syrupy sweet, but the Moroccans love sweet!
Our first full day in Casa, we want to see the Mosque Hassan II. It is relatively new (1986-1993). Immensely opulent. Hand carved, hand made. It is quite a contrast to the crumbling city.

Its capacity is 105,000 of which 25,000 are indoors and additional 80,000 on the Mosque’s grounds.
It’s only one of two Mosques that non Muslims are allowed to visit. It’s designed by French architect Michel Pinseau. The Mosque is built on reclaimed land much of it over the Ocean.
King Hassan II declared “I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the Creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.”

The inside we were allowed photo without flash, although the German Tour group we were following ignored it. The lighted spots on the floor (there is a guy cleaning on the right) are windows to the spaces below.

The roof is supposed to open, although I’ve only read it in their pamphlet.
Our driver waited for us here too! Next stop, Casablanca Twin Tower Centre
It’s a relatively new shopping centre in the central business area. We bum around until we stumble into, another grocery store! Woohoo! I buy non-instant couscous, eucalyptus honey and cashews! We ponder some snacks as our flight leaves at 7:30 the next morning (5am wake up call:(!)
Next stop is Rick’s Café, yes, the one from the movie! We’ve read that it’s pretty good. We have a tasty lunch. Not terribly expensive and the food is surprisingly good.

We both have the goats cheese and fig salad.
I had the eggplant parmigiana and JT has beef stroganoff! The eggplant wasn’t fried! It was layers of baked eggplant and tomato, a little basil pesto, olive oils and a little baked cheese on top! Delicious!


We return to the hotel to begin strategically repacking and getting psyched up for our 5am wake up call. Dinner was a glass of wine in the bar (some olives and nuts!)

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Today is Labour Day in North America. Traditionally it is the last day of summer vacation for the kids; the day before the first day of school. Since we are no longer kids, nor in school, nor have any kids, this is just an ordinary long weekend. Except that we are in Montreal! And it’s a national holiday and everything is closed 😦 We did find a single shoe store open on St. Catharines (the main shopping street down town) but nothing to shout home about. And it’s raining. Pouring at times; and the temperature has plummeted, it’s down right chilly out there!
We started our day in a cute little breakfasty place just around the corner from our hotel; cold café au lait and soggy croissants! Oh well, we won’t go there again! We then took the Metro to Crescent Street and St. Catharines to window shop and hopefully find a great place for lunch. We walked around to find W&G, an eclectic Italian restaurant/bar. I had a delicious grilled octopus Polpo alla griglia: Octopus, red wine vinaigrette, roasted red peppers pickled onions and JT had a pizza special, with a fish soup starter. The fish soup had a great bouillabaisse taste, with chunks of fish. The pizza had sundried tomato pesto, chicken, basil, gouda and mozzarella cheese. It was delicious! A good find on Crescent Street! http://www.wiensteinandgavinos.com

My octopus:


JTs pizza:

Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 2.5/5, service 3/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

We have one of the best restaurants in Montreal booked for this evening: Barroco http://www.barroco.ca/, we tried getting in last night but failed to make reservations for six. This place gets amazing reviews on trip advisor!
Unfortunately, I didn’t luv it. Perhaps what I ordered didn’t hit me, or the music (it’s a century building with three foot walls and exposed brick, playing Michael Jackson, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones). It would have suited the place better to play Nora Jones or Michael Buble! Oh well.
I had the organic salmon carpaccio, which ended up rather tasteless; and the Mediterranean Branzini – I thought it was too mushy, but I’ve never had Branzini before, so the texture was new to me. JT had the sangria marinated watermelon with Serrano Ham, too watery and the braised short rib with a gnocchi side-the gnocchi was very tasty. He said the short rib was fine!
Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 2.5/5, Value 1/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).
We walked back to our hotel, the rain had subsided and had our complimentary glass of wine at the bar.



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It’s been a while

We’ve been busy…a trip to Europe from May 2-19 took us from Vienna, Budapest, Venice, Verenna (Lake Como), Province and Paris! Check out our photos – 345 of them! Enjoy.

Highlights of the trip: Venice was wonderful, we were there 1.5 days and could have used about 2 more to really explore. Verenna in Lake Como was lovely, very picturesque – we were there 3.5 days and likely could have cut it down to 2. Paris was fantastic, as usual we stayed in the latin quarter where it was very lively. Next time we’ll find an apartment for a week! Lots of eating, walking and shopping! I didn’t put on any weight, mainly due to the walking!

My favorite dishes: Caprese Salad (tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese!), Salade Nicoise (tuna and salad stuff, YUM), Steak Tartar (yep, that’s raw meat!) and Snails. We also had a crepe in Paris that was fantastic (ham and cheese!) JT and I took it across the street and had it in a lovely park.

Best buys: Milan skirt (brown dotted skirt), brown capris from Paris, and a couple of really sexy bras from Venice (those Italians know how to make lingerie).

Best Adventures: Venice – the Valporettos (water buses) went on strike on the morning we were leaving…we ended up having to walk about 1 hour with luggage in tow. The bridges in Venice are stepped, never ramped! The roads are cobblestone or brick…thump thump thump. We could have taken a water taxi for $80 and as a good friend put it “you cheap bastards” but then we wouldn’t have had the adventure.

The car: the car that we would be spending about 15 hours in (7 at once, then various day trips) would have cost us an additional $500 to drop in a different country than where we picked it up…ended up not costing the drop off fee because we got a France origin car. A teeny tiny little Mercedes. The boys filled it with luggage (see photos) packed so tight. T and I couldn’t see each other in the back!

Manifestation, Paris: Upon arrival from Avignon TGV we could not get a cab because of some Manifestation (Protest) whereby the protestors blocked all bridges to car traffic. When I went back into the train station to buy a map (because we didn’t have any maps because we had Garmin) I noticed army guys in fatigues with machine guns – which kind of freaked me out. John and T had noted that there were some bad guys convicted in France the day before so we figured it was related to that…so we didn’t want to be stuck in the subway, so we walked to our hotel…about 1 hour!!!! That glass of wine was well deserved!

A few shots:

This little movie is taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe one weekday afternoon. It seems that a bunch of students got together to protest something or such, and blocked traffic for about an hour. The dark blue area on the left are the cops, very systematically walking after the students. They didn’t really seem interested in catching anyone!

This little video is the speed of the TGV from Avignon to Paris (about 800 km in 2.5 hours!!!!)

And last but not least, this little video is a street entertainer on Montmartre directly on the steps to the Sacred Heart Church.

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