Monthly Archives: January 2013

Time’s Up?

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Hello travelers! Can you believe that this little ol’ blog started 1 year ago? I really think I must have blacked out for a month or two because I have no idea where the time has gone.

When I started this adventure with sweaty palms and photo files that were too small, I thought that calling it ‘A Year Of Travel’ meant that I was reaching FAR into the future, and I was really stretching myself. Huh. Turns out that 12 months is not really stretching anything.

So, this is where it all began: Sicily, where our car tried to do the backstroke, and we may have indebted ourselves to the Mafia.

These trips got some attention from you, too:

Malaysia where I was ready to saddle a rat.

Waterton where I nearly engaged in some Greco-Roman with the wildlife.

Edinburgh where I came face to face with Prince Charles.

I have many more trips to write about, so if you will indulge me further I will happily ramble along for another year.

 

I will selflessly continue to gaze longingly at baked goods (and eat them) for the sake of this blog.

I will continue my intrepid ways to experience the adventures for you to read about. (That hill was MUCH bigger than it looks.)

It’s beyond wonderful that so many of you have taken a moment in your day to stop, to read, to comment or to give me a “thumbs up”. I know there are a gazillion blogs out there to peruse. The fact that my voice is somewhere in that magnificent mix is an honour and a gift.

Thank you. xx

(Unless you are the person who searched for ‘flamenco rear’ or ‘the moon skaters’ and wound up at my site. To you, I say “I’m afraid you are mistaken.”)

I will continue to take photos to fuel your travel daydreams. (In years to come my kids will struggle to recognize me without the camera up to my face.)

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Birds of a feather picnic together

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Where: Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Canoe

Plate of food: We stayed at the beautiful Rimrock Resort which feels blissfully tucked away from Banff townsite. Little did we know that Rimrock Resort has a cracker-jack of a restaurant, Eden. This is the only 5 Diamond (Canada’s foodie ranking system) restaurant west of Ontario which is important because there is a *touch* of East/West animosity in Canada. Ahem.

We decided to book a table and see what 5 Diamonds gets you.

We were seated at an intimate table in front of floor-to-ceiling windows which offered us dramatic views of the forest and the surrounding mountain peaks. There was a team of 3 people, two waiters and one sommelier, who referred to us by name, and were perfectly attentive and discreet.

Then they started presenting the food. And I realized that 5 diamonds are so gastronomically fabulous that THIS is clearly what they were talking about when they said “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”.

While enjoying our welcome glass of champagne (yes, please!), one waiter brought a spruce log to our table. Yes, a spruce log. It was slightly smouldering on one side, just enough to give off the evocative aroma of the forest. Perched near one end were two bright red “lollipops” skewered on spruce twigs (of course, because someone in that kitchen is a bona fide genius). We popped them in our mouths and were greeted with the pleasant surprise of smooth foie gras encased within a thin layer of tart cherry gelatin. Oh, Eden, you 5 Diamond minx!

I wanted to do THIS at dinner, but not sure if that is completely appropriate.

I wanted to do THIS at dinner, but not sure if that is completely appropriate.

The chef also impressed us with his interpretation of High Tea (thyme infused broth in tea cups with blue cheese biscuits and savoury macarons), fresh bread served with hay-smoked butter ( just enough golden earthiness to transport you to a picnic on a farm) and a cheese platter that could bring about world peace (teeny, tiny jewel-coloured checkerboards of fruit jellies to accompany the cheese – have they got pixies working in the kitchen?! What is the labour law on pixies?).

In case we weren’t yet ready to pledge our undying love to Eden, they sealed the deal by presenting us with a gift bag full of chocolate glazed banana cake to TAKE WITH US.

I surrender.

The best: Hiking in Sunshine Meadows. This is an area near Banff, surrounded by stunning mountain peaks, milky blue lakes, and, in the Autumn, golden larches which are deciduous coniferous trees (go on, just take a moment with that).

Larches

Our waiter at The Bison (another great place for a meal in Banff) recommended that we hike up to Sunshine Meadows. He had such an enthusiastic, positive spirit that I would have done pretty much anything he told me to…well, that’s not true because he also expressed great passion about kayaking over waterfalls.

Death in a kayak. No. Sunshine Meadows. YES!

We were stunned by the beauty of what this hike had to offer. After a steep climb and an amble across a scruffy alpine plateau, we discovered vast swaths of golden larches carpeting the hills. Bathed in sunshine, the needles glowed; the most incredible autumnal sight.

Larches

Although the shuttle bus to the trail head was full, the group quickly dispersed and we spent the entire day on our own, enjoying the views and the fresh mountain air. (And some good quality chocolate, obviously.)

Hike

We just happened to be there at precisely the right time to see the larches in all their glory. Lucky, lucky us!

Story that needs to be told: We visited the breathtaking Chateau Lake Louise for lunch one day. After gawking at the view along with 1/4 of Japan’s population (only a guess), we decided to buy sandwiches and drinks at the hotel deli. The 90 minute wait at the hoity-toity cafe was too much for us (oh, yes I did use hoity-toity. I’m bringing it back into common usage). Plus, what could be better than an impromptu picnic in one of the most stunning locations in Canada? Okay, okay, not being denied the shot of apple brandy in my warm cider due to public drinking laws would have made it marginally better.

Lake Louise

As we sat in the sunshine and admired the view across the lake to the glacier, we nibbled on smoked salmon bagels and salt & vinegar chips (the only flavour that should pass your lips, I believe).

Being in the Rocky Mountains, nature surrounds you and alpine creatures scurry about. We were joined at our picnic by a few birds who landed nearby to chirp and cock their heads, then move on.

I noticed that a large, grey bird with a chip on his shoulder (I could just tell) alighted in the gravel near our feet. I continued to wax lyrical about the mountains and our good fortune of being there at that moment, gesturing with my free hand while the other clasped one half of my salmon bagel.

Suddenly and with deadly accuracy, that bird swooped at my bagel, his claws grazing my hand as he tugged once at my food with his beak. Luckily my instincts kicked in to protect such a tasty morsel as smoked salmon and I held on tight. His wing brushed against my hair and, with that, he was gone.

Well, I can assure you that I reacted in a very calm manner (there are no witnesses except for Matt and he ain’t saying a thing), but I was outraged at the audacity of this bird, even with his refined tastes. I abandoned that half of my bagel because his claws and his beak had made contact with it and – do I really need to elaborate here?

I continued to rant about the sheer balls of this bird who would try to take the lunch right out of my hand to Matt who was already over it (no surprise there) when – GET THIS – the bird swooped again. This time he came from my blind side and tried once more to pilfer my bagel. I was not impressed.

He and I spent the rest of the time eyeing each other suspiciously. Him hopping around with his wee beady eyes, me shouting out “OY!!” like I had Tourette’s every time I saw his feathers shift.

You know, I really felt like I convened with nature. I clearly have a gift.

fall

“It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw.”
– Emily Carr

In the cold light of January

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Hello friend! Welcome to 2013! Here’s hoping that your holidays were magical and bright.

Now we are into the first week of January which is THE biggest let-down, is it not?! Jiminy. All the sparkle is gone, the decorations are packed away, and I’m left with the realization that my resolutions are exactly the same as last year (not because they are so awesome, but because inevitably I did not accomplish them).

But I say January does not necessarily have to be a shock to the system. You can begin a new year gently, tenderly. You do not have to know everything by this first week of this first month.

You will have seen all of the “Year in Review” questionnaires bouncing around. Here is my take on it, in the spirit of A Year of Travel:

Top destination in 2012:

Argentina: Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Iguazu Falls. That country ticks all the right boxes.

Favourite plate of food in 2012:

Sweetcorn pancakes with bacon, asparagus, and Hollandaise sauce in Australia. I would eat that meal again in a heartbeat. (Then again I would eat most meals again in a heartbeat.)

Best thing about 2012:

I found another piece of myself through starting this blog. Truly.

Oh, and this song. I played it so much that my children can sing along to it. My work here is done.

Story that needs to be told about 2012:

Oh, so many! But thankfully the stories coming out of last year are happy, blessed ones.

There was a surprise helicopter ride in New Zealand; there was a trip to Banff with no children along (!); there was my large-ish 50/50 raffle win on Canada Day; there was the “hilarity” of our dishwasher taking 10 weeks to be fixed; there was my brother getting married (just like a grown-up…when did THAT happen?); there were visits from family which acted like a well-meaning cattle prod and made us explore Rio more; there were trips that renewed my faith in nature, people, and hotel upgrades…..So much. Thanks for it all, 2012!

A word that sums up 2012:

Travel (doing it, writing about it, planning it…)

A resolution for the new year:

Well, there are those pesky ones from last year, but….

I have some hopes for 2013. I hope to discover more of Brazil in particular, to carve out more time to enjoy this blog, and to not take things so seriously (it’s kind of laughable how grave I believe things to be – “WIPE HIS CHIN! QUICK! THAT CHERRY JUICE WILL BE IM-POSS-IBLE TO GET OUT OF THE TABLECLOTH!”….that was some insight you did not need).

May this year offer up the things you least expect, but need the most.

Here was my 2012…

January

Old world Portuguese charm

Old world Portuguese charm in Petropolis.

February

Best winery experience in Chile

Best winery experience in Chile

March

So, a helicopter showed up and....

So, a helicopter showed up and….

April

Seeing the city with my sister!

Seeing Rio with my sister!

May

Birthday bunting for my sweet girl.

Birthday bunting for my sweet girl.

June

Colour of the sky exhibit in Calgary.

Colour of the sky exhibit in Calgary.

July

Yeehaw! Stampede Centennial!

Yeehaw! Stampede Centennial!

August

Best restaurant discovery of the month.

Best restaurant discovery of the month: Quinta.

September

Golden larches in Banff National Park.

Golden larches in Banff National Park.

October

Best meal in Rio of the entire year. Fact.

Best meal in Rio of the entire year. Fact.

November

The breathtaking Devil's Throat Falls in Argentina

The breathtaking Devil’s Throat Falls in Argentina

December

My Brazilian gingerbread beauties!

My Brazilian gingerbread beauties!

I’m in the market for love

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Where: Vienna, Austria

Crowd

Has anyone ever surprised you with a trip? It’s truly fantastic. There is nothing quite like setting off for the airport, but not knowing which flight you’ll be on.

Matt planned this trip and only told me what weather to pack for (he’s not an idiot; not letting me properly pack would have been a disaster). When he revealed that we would be spending a long weekend in Vienna, I was thrilled – a place steeped in culture and history, and more importantly, a place with my beloved Christmas markets. Well played, Matt.

Plate of food: Growing up with the Calgary Stampede as a fixture in my summers means that I am not afraid of food that you eat with your hands or food that is deep-fried (please refer to deep-fried pickles, Oreos, Pop-Tarts, and so on). So I felt right at home when I discovered Langos at the Christmas market in Vienna.

Langos are large discs of puffy dough, deep-fried, and then – get this! – slathered with garlic. Imagine the glorious smell when the fresh garlic hits the hot dough….deliciousness.

The garlic vehicle

The garlic vehicle

I’ll confess – we ate a lot of langos. They were comfortingly hot on those cold nights; warming our hands as much as our bellies. And the salty, garlicky flavour was the perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the mulled wine we were guzzling sipping.

You should definitely try these if you get the chance. Just make sure anyone you are with eats one, too. The saying goes, “If one has Langos breath, all must have Langos breath”. At least I think that’s a saying…well, it should be.

The best: I have fully admitted my love for German Christmas markets. Vienna, to her credit, did not disappoint.

There were a number of small markets, but the main one in front of City Hall was spectacular: loads of stalls selling decorations, nutcrackers, gingerbread, and food. In the centre of all the action was a huge fir tree that sparkled with white lights and smelled heavenly. There was a brass band that wandered around playing carols (is the French Horn not in its element during the Christmas season?).

Surely there is some joke here about cracking nuts, but it eludes me…

The trees surrounding the square were festooned with glowing decorations in different themes: there was an angel tree, a heart tree, a sweets tree, a teddy bear tree. The very best thing about this market? The city hall was one giant advent calendar with its lit windows being the numbered tabs for each day. You crafty, festive Austrians!!

View of the market with the city hall looming behind.

View of the market with the city hall looming behind.

Story that needs to be told: After many langos and a few grilled bratwurst thrown in for good measure, we nabbed another mug of mulled wine. We wanted to get away from the bustling crowds and sit for a bit; we’d been on our feet the entire day. We found a park bench under the trees and sat down to admire the decorations dangling from the branches.

Glowing hearts

Glowing hearts

It was a wintery night; the cold bit at our cheeks and I could feel the chill of the bench on the back of my legs. We could still hear the cheerful murmurings of the crowd and the distant notes of Christmas music.

Matt reminded me how much he loves me, spurred no doubt by the effects of mulled wine and the romantic scent of…garlic? I was touched, but could not be distracted from taking in the sights of the market.

Suddenly a family passed by, the children lingering over the festive scene and shrieking with delight. Matt seemed annoyed, which was unusual even for us who were childless at this point and therefore had a low threshold for noise, mess, and interruption. (Ask me about that threshold now.) Just as suddenly the family disappeared between the twinkling market stalls.

And Matt repeated his sentiments. Oooookay. I get it, you love me. Let’s get another langos!

Then he was on one knee.

Then there was a very sparkly ring on my finger.

And “Yes” became the sweetest sounding word in the world.

Turns out he had more than one surprise up his sleeve. Well played, Matt. Well played.

xx

Us

“Love withers with predictability; its very essence is surprise and amazement.” 

– Leo F. Buscaglia