Travel

Design: MUJI Hotel China

You may have heard that MUJI has opened up its largest location outside Asia in Toronto (at over 19K square feet!), but did you know the company has a hotel line, too? There are currently two locations –  Beijing and Shenzen – and a third is due to open in Tokyo this March. Would I love to stay there? Of course I would. Just look at the simplicity and design of these rooms.

all photos from MUJI

Personal: A Walk Down Memory Lane

It’s happening. It’s finally happening. After years of saying “I really need to go to Japan,” it’s actually happening. I booked my trip a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been reading anything and everything in preparation. I have 6 months to plan and finalize details of my trip as it is in April 2019. I.Am.So.Excited!

I haven’t been to Japan since I was about 5 years old, and you can bet I’m going to try to recreate some of these photos from the 80s.

What are the chances I can find this place?

(side note: I used to love my Cabbage Patch t-shirt)

I’m pretty sure these are supposed to be for washing your hands rather than for drinking. Does anyone know?

And I had to include this one of my dad. He carried around that Beta video camera everywhere we went. Could you imagine doing it now? Luckily, a few years ago, we transferred all of our family’s Beta videos and slides (yes, slides, too) and 8mm film (yes, that, too) into electronic forms, so we were able to see photos and videos that we hadn’t seen in 30 years!

What are the chances I can find any of these places? They’re likely all from Kyoto. Wish me luck!

And if you have any recommendations about Japan, leave a comment, please!

Travel: A Return to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota

I have been spending summers (or part of summers) in Florida since I was 7 years old. Most of this time has been lounging around the beach and pool in Madeira Beach, but in recent years, I’ve enjoyed a vacation-in-a-vacation at The Ritz Carlton Sarasota. In brief, it’s pure luxury. Not only is every detail of the hotel and its offerings well-considered, but the staff at this hotel are so kind and welcoming. The people are definitely what have helped me enjoy my stay each year.

I was in Florida once again with my friend Shannon, and while we love living a retiree-way-of-life in Madeira Beach, we love to get pampered at the Ritz Sarasota, too. We began this visit with a visit to the spa, which was a special treat from the Ritz. Shannon opted for a facial where her skin was treated with the best of the best serums and creams.

I was treated to the Sarasota Touch of Honey. During this 80-minute treatment, after an initial exfoliation of my feet, the massage therapist did reflexology whereby she applied pressure to specific points on my feet to heal aches and pains. In reflexology, pressure points on the feet correspond to organs and areas of the entire body. How did this turn out? Well, I was skeptical at first, if I’m being honest. But then when I could feel tension in my feet and the therapist trying to work out the pains, other areas of my body then acted up. I’m not making this up! At one point, my stomach was making all sorts of gurgling, digestive sounds. At another point, my mind seemed to just open up and become free and clear. If you’ve never had reflexology, I know this sounds kooky, but I’m sharing the truth about these reactions.

I’m all set for my 9am spa call!

After the reflexology, the therapist moved to my upper body and gave me a head, neck, and shoulder massage. It felt amazing!

Post-treatment, the therapist showed me the reflexology map, and gave me some feedback about what she experienced while she was working on my feet. She confirmed that the areas that were tight were also the areas where I was feeling reactions (e.g., gut, mind). Overall, I was glad to learn, my body is pretty balanced. Phew. Let’s hope it continues to be!

digestion, mental tension, and sinuses were on my reflexology menu

After the spa, we enjoyed lazy hours on end at the hotel’s beach club and at the main hotel pool.

I know there’s not much white in this photo, but the shades of blue are hard to resist!

there aren’t many outfit changes on my Florida vacations

The beach club restaurant – Ridley’s Porch – was recently renovated, and since it is filled with white, I had to share it here.

Beyond the outdoors, our hotel room was as it has been in the past – spacious and with the most glorious beds! We spoiled ourselves with room service breakfast on our balcony, too. In our Ritz Carlton robes, of course.

It was easy to fall asleep in this luxurious bed.

Thanks for the sweet white treats, Ritz Sarasota!

Breakfast on the balcony…don’t mind if I do!

light and bright in the room

I don’t usually meet brand partners while I’m wearing a bathing suit, but I also don’t bring many outfit options to Florida!

Because I’ve made repeat visits to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota, you probably already know that I enjoy it, I recommend it, and I will return.

Many thanks to Matthew and Kristine for arranging our visit.

This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own. Read about my 2017 visit and my 2016 visit to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota.

Travel: Ann Arbor, Michigan

I definitely wasn’t expecting to like Ann Arbor, Michigan as much as I did. I wasn’t even planning on writing about my quick trip there. But I was so surprised and happy about my visit, that I have opted to write a mini recap here.

Ann Arbor. Do you know anything about Ann Arbor? Before I set out on my drive, all I knew was that it was kind of near Detroit, and it was about a 3.5 hour drive from Waterloo. Beyond that, since I was going for a conference, I didn’t do any pre-trip research because I knew my free time would be limited.

Stay

I stayed at the Graduate Ann Arbor. The bed in my room was comfortable, and I had ample room to spread out my work and belongings. Although the room was darker than I prefer (moody dark walls), and my bathroom was low on counter space, the linens and bath products were lovely, and there was a fridge and a Keurig machine which came in handy for a late-night work session. Service was great, and the location was perfect. I would definitely stay here again.

Do

I spent much of my days at the conference which was held at the University of Michigan. You know, the university with the big yellow and blue “M”. There’s definitely a high school spirit at UofMichigan, and there were a lot of people walking around town in blue and yellow athletic ensembles. The campus was a short walk from the Graduate hotel. The buildings on campus were historic and charming, and the quad was lush and green. I know I’m an academic, but I can’t be the only one who loves university campuses. Surely.

Nickels Arcade is an interesting piece of architecture. On either side of the walkway are shops and the very charming Comet café.

The area of Kerrytown was another short walk from the Graduate hotel. This is a small, historic district that has cobblestone streets as well as interesting buildings, shops, and artistic spaces. A highlight here is Zingerman’s which is a deli-bakery-everything-you’d-ever-want-to-eat type of place. I also enjoyed the store/gallery Found. I spent much too long in the store looking at every bit of goodness inside.

If you stay downtown, the area is very walkable. Main St., Liberty St., and Washington St. have an abundance of cafés, pubs, restaurants, and shops. Strolling casually along makes for an enjoyable little tour of the area.

Eat

I had a few opportunities to eat out while I was in town, and I would go back to every restaurant I visited. Good sign, right?

I loved the fresh, young, energetic, and stylish vibe at Sava’s. Beyond this, my salmon rice bowl was delicious as was Sava’s version of tiramisu. Everything was fresh, and service was attentive and friendly.

I know it’s not so common to go to a tapas restaurant solo, but this is what I did late one night. I had passed Aventura at some point on my trip, and I wanted to try it, so I did. I met the nicest people while I was sitting at the bar (Note: I have absolutely no problem dining solo. I know some people would never do it, but I enjoy it. I always end up meeting people, which is fun. Do you dine solo?). My meal at Aventura was fresh and tasty. I opted for brussels sprouts (that had sweet apple mixed in) and the jamón flatbread. Salty goodness! Again, service was friendly, and the decor was lovely. Unfortunately, I must have been too tired to grab any photos!

One morning, I opted for breakfast at Fred’s. As with the other two restaurants, one of the reasons why I was keen on this place was because of the decor. When I walked by it one evening when it was closed, I saw white-on-white-on-white. I had to go! Oh my goodness. If Anthropologie had a restaurant, it would be Fred’s. Every angle was beautiful. Beyond the decor, the food was awesome. I went for the ever-so-popular açaí bowl and a cappuccino. I’d order this again today if I could. It did not disappoint.

Ann Arbor makes for a great weekend getaway, especially if you live with a 3-4 hour drive. The next time I go, I’m going to review the Design*Sponge Ann Arbor City Guide because I know I didn’t have time to enjoy all that the city has to offer.

Personal: 5 Things on My Mind

Here’s a bit of what has been on my mind – and in my life – lately.

1. Plants. I am so pleased with how two of my plants are currently growing. The first is my avocado plant that I started to grow from seed way back in the fall. The second is my fiddle leaf fig that I had cut back a long while ago, and it’s only now sprouting new leaves. So exciting!

2. Kingston. I took a trip to Kingston a couple of weeks ago, and it made me so happy to go back. I lived there for two years, and every time I visit, happy memories trickle back into my brain. I’m thankful that I’m able to continue making memories there even during very short visits.

view of my old waterfront apartment and balcony

3. Heated floor. The One Room Challenge is over, and my bathroom/laundry combo room is done. But when I saw this photo from the team at Warmup, it brought back memories of planning. I like the layout plan of my heated floor (photo source).

4. Art. When I was at Ines‘s house a couple of weeks ago for an essential oils party (with Christine and Hollie), I was impressed by all the art she has around her home. This sweet little piece by Frances Hilary Hahn really made me smile.

5. Elora. I drive over to Elora several times each year. It’s about a 30-minute drive from Waterloo, and it’s such a pretty town for a day trip. It was nice to see the progress of the Elora Mill, too. I’m thinking that the place will be pretty great once it’s all done. I look forward to taking a tour – and hopefully planning a longer stay, too!

That’s all for now. What have you had on the go lately? What’s been on your mind?

Food: The Nugateau Éclair

When I was in Toronto on the weekend, my friend and I picked up a pair of éclairs from Nugateau – a sweet éclair-focused patisserie. In fact, Nugateau is Canada’s first all-éclair patisserie. As soon as I entered the shop, I was reminded of the classic French patisserie with colourful pastel creations. Every piece of dessert was so beautiful.

I had experienced Nugateau at the Terroir Symposium last spring, but this was my first time I was able to see all the creations in person. It was delightful!

We picked up the Pistachio Royal and Rosabelle. It was hard to take the first bite because I didn’t want to mess up the design. But the éclair was delicious, so you know I couldn’t wait all that long! Because the Nugateau éclairs are made with high quality ingredients, and no artificial flavours are used, their taste is rich and distinct.

Snowbelle

I love the idea of bringing the French patisserie to Canada, don’t you? And for those of you who love éclairs, definitely make a stop into Nugateau on your next trip to Toronto.

Design: La Divine Comédie Hotel

I recently learned about La Divine Comédie boutique hotel in Avignon, France, and I just have to share it because it’s so beautiful. The hotel has five stunning suites and several well-appointed common spaces. The hotel also has a gorgeous garden area. The hotel is classic French in design, but if you look closely, there are a number of quirky elements, too.

La Divine Comédie

via La Divine Comédie Instagram

Travel: Grey County, Ontario – Day 3

As you already know, last month, I collaborated with Grey County Tourism. I spent three days exploring the region and trying all sorts of fun activities. On Day 1, I explored waterfalls, ate a delicious dinner at the Flying Chestnut Kitchen, and fell asleep by the fire at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn. On Day 2, I met reindeer and horses, went on a little hike in the snow, ate at Justin’s Oven in the town of Kimberley, did some outdoor activities at Blue Mountain, and ended the evening with a visit to Scandinave Spa and a peaceful sleep at the Westin Trillum House Blue Mountains.

Today, I’m sharing a recap of my third and final day in Grey County.

Day 3

I was up bright and early on Day 3 as I was due to visit Georgian Hills Vineyards to take part in grape picking. I grabbed a latte at the hotel and set off before 9am. I spent about 3 hours with a team of volunteers picking grapes off the vine for the winery. It was a lot of fun, and I didn’t even feel cold. I shared the full experience in this post.

I then drove about 10 minutes to the village of Thornbury. I was surprised to see a row of shops and restaurants when I turned onto Bruce Street. It is quite quaint and colourful. As per usual, however, I did find plenty of white goodness (beyond the snow!).

Adorn II shop in Thornbury, Ontario

For lunch, I stopped into The Cheese Gallery. I met two friendly women here who filled me in on the store’s offerings, the region’s news, and Thornbury’s artistic vibe. The Cheese Gallery’s specialty – as you may have guessed – is cheese. The shop is a great place to pick up your favourite – and new-to-you – cheeses. The Cheese Gallery also offers a beautiful selection of kitchen accessories, food products, and pottery. 

I enjoyed a delicious blue cheese grilled sandwich. The Cheese Gallery staff will make a grilled cheese sandwich with the cheese of your choosing and serve it with a side of chips and cucumbers. Yum!

Considering my sweet tooth, there was no way I was going to pass up on a treat for dessert. I opted a blueberry crumble tart, and it did not disappoint. And, yes, I did enjoy the little gold teaspoon, too. Don’t you just love the sweet little details?

Before leaving The Cheese Gallery, I tasted two elixirs, and since I seem to be on a real big turmeric kick at the moment, I purchased a jar of Moonshine Mama’s winter warrior elixir. I like to think it helped me stay healthy during the week that I drank it daily. 

After lunch, I traveled to nearby Clarksburg (about a 5 minute drive from Thornbury) to meet with Carol Hahn, the potter behind Hillstreet Productions. At Carol’s studio, I had so much fun making pottery. I have made pottery before (love it, love it!), so I was eager to get my hands dirty. At Carol’s studio, I had fun making a few bowls and a set of mugs. We rolled out the clay using her heavy-duty flattening machine (it’s much more efficient than a rolling pin!), and then I used bowls and trays as the forms to shape my creations.

I snooped around the studio to find textures to add to my pieces, too. While the clay looks grey/brown in these photos, it is porcelain, so it will dry on the white side, and Carol will be taking care of glazing everything in white. I haven’t yet received my pieces, but I’ll share them with you when they do arrive.

I think these curvy edges give my bowl a playful character. The curves are a nice contrast to the grid of the pattern I imprinted onto the clay.

The bumpy roller created the sweetest dents on my mugs. I think Carol couldn’t believe my excitement over them! But, come on, polka dots are fun!

Working with Carol Hahn was the last bit of fun I had in Grey County. From her studio, I drove back to Waterloo on the country roads – with one quick stop at Eckhardt’s Shell & Variety in Durham, Ontario for a butter tart order! (Yes, it does seem random, but I assure you that the butter tarts were very delicious and worth the stop!)

All photos by Jordana.
Thanks to Grey County and Amanda P. for sponsoring my trip. All opinions are my own.

Travel: Grey County, Ontario – Day 2

As you may recall, last month, I had the opportunity to explore Grey County (see what I did on day 1). Day 1 ended at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn. And here’s where I’d like to continue to share my travel story with you.

My loft at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn was spacious and comfortable. I fell asleep listening to the crackling fire. When I woke up, the first thing that came to my mind was the incredibly deep sleep that I had just had. I could not believe it. Interestingly, during breakfast at the inn, I met a couple who said the exact same thing! We agreed that our deep sleeps were due to a combination of a very comfortable Tempurpedic mattress, the warmth of the fire, and the fresh country air.

Breakfast was served in the main house at the Inn, and everything was freshly made. I ate by the fireplace, naturally.

After breakfast, I took a little tour of the property and surrounding trails. The day was bright, and I loved who I met along my little stroll in the snow…reindeer and Icelandic horses! I had never seen reindeer in person. Have you? What an awesome treat! All the animals at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn are absolutely beautiful.

the reindeer at Pretty River Valley Country Inn

the horses at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn

After my trail walk and visits with all the animals, I loaded up my car and took a short drove to the sweet village of Kimberley. Here, met up with Amanda from Grey County Tourism for lunch at Justin’s Oven. This restaurant is full of charm! The wood decor reminded me of a Swiss chalet or in a Cabane à Sucre. The restaurant is open only a few days a week: Thursday pub night, Friday pizza, Saturday dining, and Sunday brunch. My breakfast crêpe was tasty and service was friendly. I would easily make a return trip for Friday pizza! And I can imagine how fun it would be it in the summer with the windows open!

at Justin’s Oven

Right next door to Justin’s Oven is the Kimberley General Store. Every nook of this store exudes charm. The products are carefully curated – many of them local, too! It’s a great spot for little gifts, chocolate, and fresh bread, too! I picked up some garlic (grown right on the property).

goodies at the Kimberley General Store

It was wonderful to chat with Stacey – owner of the Kimberley General Store – and the other staff. Everyone was friendly and proud of all that the area has to offer its residents and visitors.

From Kimberley, I took a quick drive to Blue Mountain for a few outdoor activities. I hadn’t been to Blue Mountain for decades! I’m not a skier, but I was up for trying other activities at the resort. The newest attraction is the mountain top skating trail. I had brought my skates to give this a try, but the weather affected the ice conditions, so the trail was closed during my visit. Instead, I braved the Ridge Runner – a 1km-long mountain coaster. Honestly, I was scared. I had control of the little cart, and I was safely buckled in, but I was still scared. All the kids around me though – not so much! Ha ha!

the Ridge Runner at Blue Mountain

I also walked over to the other side of the resort to do the Hike n’ Tube. The cheers and screams from people tubing down the hill were hilarious! After the Ridge Runner, though, I found the hike n’ tube so calm! I don’t think I uttered even one little scream as I slid down the hill in my donut tube! It was fun though. I probably would do both activities again.

After a couple of hours outside in the winter weather, I was ready to check-in to my hotel. On this second night in Grey County, I checked into the Westin Trillium House Blue Mountain. The hotel was so busy, but check-in was smooth. This hotel has all the amenities that anyone could want. I was booked into a great suite – a one bedroom plus den with a living room, kitchenette, large bathroom, and a balcony. Oh – and a fireplace, too. My room overlooked the village and icy pond (check out this day/night comparison). I took the opportunity to spread out all of my stuff and to dry all of my outdoor winter clothing.

I stopped in at Oliver & Bonacini – on the first floor of the Westin – for a quick dinner before I headed over to the Scandinave Spa.

I was curious about the Scandinave Spa in the winter. I have been several times before in warmer weather (see this post and this post), but outdoor baths in the winter? How was this going to turn out? Well, let me tell you. Although the baths routine is hot-cold-rest, there was no way that I was brave enough to plunge into anything cold in freezing cold winter weather. The warm baths, on the other hand, were absolutely enjoyable! I was so relaxed! And after a day of outdoor activity, being in the baths was perfection! And I wasn’t cold at all!

And this brings me to the end of my second day in Grey County. Can you tell that I really enjoyed myself? I definitely did!

All photos by Jordana.
Thanks to Grey County and Amanda P. for sponsoring my trip. All opinions are my own.

Travel: Grey County, Ontario – Day 1

Our Ontario licence plates are very encouraging aren’t they? For those of you haven’t seen them, our provincial licence plate slogan is “Ontario, Yours to Discover.” And a couple of weeks ago, I did just that! I drove north to explore the region of Grey County.

If you’re like me, you may associate this region with Collingwood and the Blue Mountains, but the county has much more to offer than ski hills. Over a series of blog posts, I’ll take you on a little 3-day tour of the region. If you’re looking for something to do this winter, take note!

Day 1

On day 1, I drove about 1.5 hours from Waterloo to the town of Flesherton. Here, I stopped in at The Bicycle Café for a cappuccino and a piece of apple pie. Folks, the pie! Get the pie!

at The Bicycle Café in Flesherton, Ontario

I needed the sweet energy boost before I headed out to Hogg’s Falls. The falls are just around the corner from the main intersection in Flesherton (at Hwy 4 and East Base Line). There is plenty of parking, and while you can spend a while hiking the trails, you don’t need to go too far at all to reach the falls. Follow the sounds, and you’ll find them within minutes of parking. I wasn’t certain I’d be too keen on hiking in the snow, but it was absolutely peaceful.

the trail and Hogg’s Falls

As I’m not an avid winter outdoors-woman, I appreciated that I could hike for as little or as long as I wanted. Listening to and seeing the falls felt really quite magical, and I was so appreciative of the natural beauty that surrounded me! Ontario is yours to discover, remember?

Grey County has 9 waterfalls that you can explore, and 7 of them are accessible in the winter. I’m sure each one has something special to offer, and since they’re not too far away from one another, you can take in a lot even on a short visit to the area.

getting caught in the sunlight

As for my outfit? Along with my scarf, hats, and mitts, I wore  this hiking outfit (I didn’t even include one piece of athletic wear!), my L.L.Bean Downtek, and Sorel boots. The boots were great. I wouldn’t recommend wearing light boots as if there is a lot of snow, you’ll need footwear with traction (and warmth).

After I had my fill of outdoor time, I drove to The Flying Chestnut Kitchen for dinner. This restaurant is worth the drive, let me tell you! I walked into the restaurant just as it was opening, and the staff was conversing about Saved By The Bell. So of course I joined in.  Remember the episode when Jessi Spano took the sleeping pills? Sure do! – There’s no time, never any time! – Ha ha. Does anyone remember this episode? People who remember episodes and lines from Saved By The Bell are my kind of people. All this to say that my intro to The Flying Chestnut Kitchen was great!

Not only did I enjoy chatting with the staff, but I also feasted on a delicious dinner at a leisurely I’m-on-vacation pace. The menu changes regularly depending on the local offerings. I began my meal with an amuse bouche – a sausage roll on a layer of mustard. For the main course, I opted for the evening’s special – duck confit. The first time I had duck confit, I was a 16 year old exchange student in France. Every time I order it, I remember that time period in my life! For dessert, I was treated to a delicious mousse. The quality of everything was superb.

The Flying Chestnut Kitchen is run by Chef Shawn Adler. He opened the restaurant in the Old General Store in 2010. The restaurant is quite small, seating about 25 people, so it’s wise to make a reservation. And bring cash since it’s a cash-only restaurant!

After just about rolling out of the restaurant, I drove about 30 minutes to the Pretty River Valley Country Inn.

Side note: Dark, country roads in the winter are a touch on the scary side. I went slow and used my high-beam lights for just about the whole commute. I was extra grateful for my TomTom since with it, I knew I wasn’t going to get lost, and I could see how windy the roads were via the image on my screen. Other reasons I was a touch nervous on these roads? Well, beyond the snow, I wasn’t even sure if there would be bears and such popping out of the trees. Are there bears in Grey County? Maybe it’s best that I don’t know. If you’re not used to winter driving, I would recommend that you take it slow and drive in daylight hours as much as possible. Oh – and I should also note that the next morning, I drove the same road in the daylight, and it was absolutely smooth and easy. It wasn’t scary at all! It’s amazing what darkness can do to a gal.

Now, to the Pretty River Valley Country Inn! The young staff at the inn helped me with my luggage and checked me into a cozy loft (they call them Crofts). My 600 square foot room had a main floor with a king bed, large bathroom, foyer, and seating area. And a wood-burning fireplace. Oh, the fireplace. So so good. My room also had a second floor with a pair of twin beds.

the Ben Nevis Croft at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn

I had a lazy evening in my Croft. The inn has great options for cozy nights in – popcorn and games are at the ready! I fell asleep to the sounds of the crackling fire, feeling happy for my first day of exploring Grey County.

All photos by Jordana.
Thanks to Grey County and Amanda P. for sponsoring my trip. All opinions are my own.

Travel: Georgian Hills Vineyards, Grey County

I recently had the opportunity to pick frozen grapes from the vines at Georgian Hills Vineyards in Blue Mountains, Ontario. Sounds a bit random, doesn’t it? I mean, who goes grape picking? And in the winter? I was originally set to visit the Georgian Hills Vineyards to enjoy a tasting and a snowshoe tour, but because the weather was just right for picking, I was able to join a group of about 30 volunteers to pick frozen grapes. I jumped at the opportunity!

The team of volunteers gathered around 9 am, and while we sipped on coffee and treats, we learned about the process for making Frozen on the Vine. This is Georgian Hills Vineyards’s brand of Icewine (the term “Icewine” is assigned and approved only to VQA-designated viticulture areas). Since the temperature had hovered consistently around -8 to -10 degrees Celcius for several days, the grapes were perfect for picking. Robert Ketchin, one of Georgian Hills Vineyards’s partners, explained that after the grapes were picked, they would be pressed right away to release all the sugar.

volunteers are ready to begin

grapes from Georgian Hills Vineyards’s Frozen on the Vine

Robert led us through the picking process. Each person was given cutters and a basket, and once our basket was full, we emptied it into a larger bin, which would then be carried away and emptied into massive blue bins by the Georgian Hills Vineyards’s staff. We worked side by side, moving along the rows, which resulted in a very social grape picking experience! I enjoyed meeting people from the area;  many of us were enthusiastic first-timers. Photos were snapped as we moved through the rows, and we were encouraged to try the grapes, too. Frozen grapes are such a sweet snack.

The green nets you see protect the grapes as they grow. We moved them aside, of course, to get at the grapes. We cut the grapes from the main stem and everything got dumped into the baskets. The grape press does not let the stems and leaves pass through, so we didn’t need to worry about being so perfect.

I wore many layers for this outdoor activity. I wore four top layers, wool leggings and snowpants, two pairs of gloves, my long L.L.Bean coat, big blanket scarf, and my trusty Sorel boots with two pairs of socks. I was warm. Better to be warm and happy than cranky from the cold when you’re out picking grapes!

We worked through rows of Vidal and Riesling grapes, and without noticing, the hours flew by. When we took a group break, we warmed up with cider, hot chocolate, and more treats. The Georgian Hills Vineyards’s team were gracious hosts and very appreciative of everyone’s time and energy.

massive blue bins of frozen grapes that are ready for the press

the press

winemaker Vanessa at work

the bladder (the black thing in the middle) pushes the grapes against the wood frame to release the sugary juice

the wood slats will come together as the bladder presses the grapes against them

This year’s sweet Frozen on the Vine will be bottled up and ready next year. I guess that means I need to make a return trip to Georgian Hills Vineyards to grab a bottle two of the sweet winter wine with the grapes that I picked this month.

Besides catching the “picking frozen grapes” day at Georgian Hills Vineyards, the winery is open year-round for visitors. Check out the range of winter experiences (e.g., snowshoe tour) and summer packages. (e.g., helicopter tour). In addition to the sweet winter Frozen on the Vine wine, Georgian Hills Vineyards offers white, red, and rosé wines as well as a variety of ciders.

another Georgian Hills Vineyards sweet dessert wine – Ida Red – made from frozen apples (available at the LCBO)

I have many words of thanks today. Thanks to the Georgian Hills Vineyards team for welcoming me to this grape picking party! Thanks to Allison Davies for taking my photos! Thanks to Amanda P. and Grey County Tourism for arranging my trip.
See more of my trip to Grey County at #WhiteCabanaGoestoGreyCounty.

Personal: 5 Things on My Mind

These are five things that have been on my mind lately.

1. Outlander. I’ve continued to watch Outlander, and I recently finished season 2. Oh my goodness – I loved the episodes set in France so much! But I also continued to enjoy all the scenes set in the Scottish highlands. And now I am adding Scotland to my travel goals because it looks just so beautiful (and, yes, I know that some scenes weren’t shot in Scotland). I came across real-life photos of the two main characters – Jamie Fraser played by Sam Heughan and Claire Fraser played by Catriona Balfe – and I was surprised. I just imagined that they would look exactly the way they do in Outlander. But they don’t. And seeing them in modern clothes was kind of surprising. p.s. I can’t be the only one who has a crush on Jamie Fraser, right?

2. Barre. I’m continuing with barre classes this month. I have loved every class that I have attended. I think it’s mostly because the music playlists are fantastic! I just feel like singing and dancing the whole time (instead of doing planks for way too long). Have you tried a barre class? What do you think?

3. Grocery delivery. Have you ever had your groceries delivered right to your door? I haven’t, but just today two friends (at separate times in the day) talked to me about it and I received news about Instacart, which is a same-day grocery delivery service brought to us by the Real Canadian Superstore and Zehrs (via Loblaw Companies Ltd.). How’s that for timing? Grocery delivery was today’s hot topic! Apparently Instacart has already been offered in Toronto, but it has launched in the Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, and Guelph regions today.

And here’s a bonus for you – first time users can enter the code HIKITCHENER (3/31/18 expiration) at checkout to get $20 off an order of $35 or more, plus a free first time delivery.

4. Tumeric. What does everyone know about tumeric? I don’t know anything about it, but it has come up multiple times in my life in the last month, and I feel like I need to do some research about the benefits of this spice. One of the cafés in town (DVLB) has this tumeric warming tea that I really enjoy. And this weekend in Grey County, I learned about elixirs with tumeric in them that help with fighting winter illness. Then I did a quick Google search and found this list of benefits of tumeric tea. Thoughts?

5. Travel + People. Travel is often on my mind. This past weekend, I had the chance to work with Grey County to explore new-to-me parts of Ontario (you may have followed along on Instagram with #WhiteCabanaGoesToGreyCounty). My posts are definitely still in draft form, but you’ll see them on the blog over the next couple of weeks. For now though, I have been thinking about all the people I met on my 3-day journey. I feel lucky to have come across such happy, welcoming, and interesting people because these people made my trip that much more rich, informative, and fun. Some people. You know? You just can’t help but be thankful your paths have crossed! Who’s with me?

Travel: 3 Days in Nashville

I was so pleased with my 3-day stay in Nashville. I saw a lot, walked a lot, ate a lot, and had a lot of fun! Would I go back? Yes. Would I recommend that you go? Yes.

While many would probably opt to go to Nashville in warmer weather, I opted to go in December because it was convenient for my work/school/life schedule. The weather ranged from about 3-15 degrees Celcius while I was there. I wore a spring jacket with scarf and hat most days which worked out well. In warmer weather, I imagine the patios are over-flowing, and walking around is even that much more pleasant.

Before I take a trip, I normally make a list of things I’d like to do/see/eat, but this time I just ran out of time. I read the Design Sponge Nashville guide twice (once at the airport) and hoped for the best. This lack-of-planning strategy worked out fine actually, and I was able to read up on the city during meal times and such.

If you’re curious about what I did/saw/ate, read on!

Day 1

12th Ave South
I took an early morning flight from Toronto, which meant that I arrived in Nashville at about 11am. Since at this point in my trip, I didn’t know much about the city, I took an Uber straight to Draper James in the 12 Avenue South area (I had to start somewhere, right?). I didn’t know what to expect from this neighbourhood beyond Draper James, but I was pleasantly surprised. This neighbourhood is full of  quaint shops, cafés, and restaurants.

Draper James is the brain child of Reese Witherspoon. The store is filled with colourful and beautifully styled clothes and accessories. I wandered around with a cup of sweet tea in hand, tried on a few things, but left the store with zero purchases. There weren’t enough black and white items to choose from (to go with my existing wardrobe, of course)!

I popped into Imogene + Willie and White’s Mercantile and loved the displays, locally-made, unique items as well as the festive decor.

White’s Mercantile

Imogene + Willie (in a renovated gas station)

I grabbed a cronut from Five Daughters Bakery on the advice of two friendly ladies I met in the neighbourhood. The cronut was a sweet, rich treat (good for sharing!). The ladies also recommended that I stop into local favourite Frothy Monkey. The coffee was very good, and the place was packed with people – always a good sign, right? I figured it was wise to trust the recommendations of locals!

Vanderbilt Area
The Loews Vanderbilt hotel where I stayed is located across the street from Vanderbilt University. Since we all know how much I love school, I had to take a stroll around Vanderbilt’s beautiful campus. I only saw a portion of it because it’s so large, but I definitely got a feel for the classic campus architecture and layout. So pretty!

I also walked over to the Parthenon. I had to see this for myself after the Loews check-in desk agent told me about Nashville’s reputation of “Athens of the South”. What? Nashville and Athens have something in common? I was so intrigued! The Parthenon, built in 1897, is located in Centennial Park, and it’s a 1:1 replica of Athens’ Parthenon. It was wild to see this up close in the middle of Nashville. I didn’t get a chance to visit the museum, but I heard it’s interesting.

Dinner at Hopsmith
I met a friend for dinner at Hopsmith located in the Vanderbilt/Music Row area. The place recently opened, and it was full. The portions were large, the food was tasty, and service was friendly.

Day 2

I walked a lot on Day 2. I hadn’t intended to, but it’s just how my day evolved. I could have easily grabbed an Uber, but I opted to just keep walking. I needed to work off the cronut and dinner from Day 1!

I started by walking up (or down?) West End Ave. because I wanted to pop into UAL, a store that carries high-end brands at discount prices. I tried on a few things, but didn’t make any purchases (theme of this trip!). Along the way, I came across this cool art alley (one of many art walls I saw in Nashville!).

Hillsboro

I hadn’t planned on walking to Hillsboro (there was little planning involved on this trip, let me remind you!), but before I knew it, I ended up walking there! This is a quaint area of Nashville with boutiques, cafés, and restaurants. And art walls, too!

From Hillsboro, I walked to Belmont University (another theme of this trip – I do love school!). I didn’t set out to walk here specifically, but it was a pleasant discovery, since the buildings were impressive and all dressed up for the holidays!

The Gulch
Looking back, at this point in my day, I should have taken an Uber from Hillsboro to the Gulch, but instead, I opted to walk. I wouldn’t recommend this though because the walk was about an hour, and I didn’t see much of anything along the way. I did pop into Flip – a luxury consignment store – and wanted just about every piece of Chanel that I saw in there!

The Gulch is a hip neighbourhood with new buildings, restaurants, and boutiques. On the recommendation of a friend, I had a delicious meal at Milk and Honey. I’d go back for a repeat visit forsure. I opted for the falafel and a cinnamon bun (to go) and a cuppa tea (with milk and honey, of course!). The food and service were great, and the design was fabulous. I’m always a sucker for a beautiful restaurant!

There are so many beautiful art walls in Nashville, and I took advantage of this colourful one to take a jumping photo. So fun! I wandered in and out of a few of the shops in the Gulch area, but lingered in Colt’s – a chocolate shop founded by Mackenzie Colt, a former actress from the Hee Haw television show of the 70s. I liked everything I sampled in here and bought my favourites. (Note: I preferred all of Colt’s chocolates to the Goo Goo cluster – see below.)

Nashville Downtown
I don’t quite know where the official boundaries of downtown are. I think that the Gulch could be part of the downtown, but maybe it isn’t. It was only about a 15 minute walk from the Gulch to downtown. Here, I popped into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Show Print, and the Goo Goo shop. I also took a walk on the pedestrian bridge and observed the neon signs of the Honky Tonks (bars). I didn’t end up in any of the Honky Tonks on this trip, but if I go to Nashville with a friend in the future, I would.

Music City Center

Country Music Hall of Fame

The Hatch Show Print letterpress has been in operation since 1879. It continues to serve as a letterpress and produces posters for absolutely every kind of event. It also sells printed posters and other stationery goods.

The Goo Goo candy and chocolate shop is known for the Goo Goo Cluster which is a chocolate/nutty treat. People were buying up boxes of these treats while I was there.

The Pedestrian Bridge

The Johnny Cash Museum (lots of black items in the gift shop!)

The Honky Tonks on Broadway

Ryman Auditorium
I ended Day 2 with a trip to Ryman Auditorium to see Amy Grant and Vince Gill’s Christmas show. The Ryman press team generously offered tickets (thanks!), and I was so so so pleased to attend! Not only is the theatre a beautiful piece of architecture, but the show was absolutely enjoyable!

What is now the Ryman began as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, so it has a 125 year history. The Ryman is affectionately known as “Mother Church,” the seating is made up of pews, and so many of our favourite musicians have performed here!

The show began with Natalie Hemby. Her voice was beautiful, and she shared stories of her Christmas traditions and her friendship with Amy Grant. I love it when musicians can impress us with a simple mix of voice and guitar.

Amy Grant and Vince Gill got everyone in the Christmas spirit! This was one of the best concerts I’ve been to! Honestly. I, too, am surprised that I’m saying this! First, the duo is talented – both in singing and in playing the guitar. Second, they had great stage presence and entertained and interacted with the crowd. I love it when musicians talk and tell stories between songs. They shared stories of their Christmas traditions. In addition to the Christmas songs, they played a few of their classic and upcoming tunes as well. The crowd was pleased! It felt like we were all one big family by the end of the show. Amy Grant and Vince Gill played 10 sold-out shows at the Ryman. Can you believe it?

Day 3

Since I had a late-night flight, I was able to maximize my third day in Nashville. Once again, I did a lot of walking, but there was a lot to look at, and I really enjoyed it.

More from Downtown
I began my day walking from the Loews Vanderbilt to downtown (just under 30 minutes).

Along my journey, I saw this gorgeous highschool:

And this view of the Ryman:

The art deco Frist art gallery:

The gorgeous, historic Hermitage Hotel:

fancy bathroom selfie

And more wall art:

Farmer’s Market
I walked around downtown and behind the state capitol to get to the Farmer’s Market. I didn’t love the farmer’s market (maybe because it wasn’t fully operational on account of the season and maybe because I’m spoiled with the markets where I live), but I did enjoy browsing through Batch. Its carefully curated collections of local products were lovely.

Germantown
Close-enough to the Farmer’s Market is Germantown – Nashville’s first suburb, so I opted to continue my journey here. I loved this part of Nashville. The area is about 18 blocks in size, so it’s not so large. Buildings around this area were built between 1830 and today. The neighbourhood is vibrant, charming, and quaint, and I found my design-loving kind of people here. I had read good things about Germantown Café, but since I had other lunch plans (see below), I opted for a coffee break at the Red Bicycle.

I popped into stores like Wilder (first picture below), Pieces, and Abednego:

I also ventured out to the gorgeous Peter Nappi store, which is located in this run-down-looking warehouse.

Peter Nappi sells high-quality leather goods for men and women, and I wanted one of everything! My mind was spinning because I was just blown away by the cool interior design as well as the luxury goods. On top of this, there was a special Christmas market event, which meant that other vendors set-up inside the store, too. I had a great chat with Blake of Blue Delta, a bespoke jeans company (luxe!). I also met the team behind Thiel Audio and enjoyed chatting not only about the history and future of Thiel, but also about women in business, Nashville, places to eat, etc.

I popped into Barista Parlor for a quick tea while I arranged my next Uber. The place has a hip vibe, great music, but my tea was pricey (at $4 USD if I remember correctly). 

Prince’s Chicken
One thing I did have on my “try to see” list pre-departure was Prince’s Chicken. I had made note of this place from an episode of Mind of a Chef. One of Nashville’s culinary delights is fried hot chicken, and I wanted to try it from the best-of-the-best. This meant an Uber ride to suburbia to Prince’s Chicken for a late lunch. It was worth it. The staff was warm and welcoming, and the hot chicken, well, let’s just say that it’s something that I can’t make at home!

Side note – the January issue of Bon Appétit has a hot chicken feature on page 29 and a big shout-out to Prince’s!

From Prince’s, it was back to my hotel to pack up and grab another Uber to the airport.

Overall, Nashville is a great city to visit for a few days. I had the impression that the city was built in the past 10 years, since there were new buildings in every neighbourhood and a lot of construction. I feel like the city is going to continue to grow and change, and even within a year, I’d expect a lot of the areas to look and feel different than they do today. The downtown is certainly walkable, but if you want to get from one area (e.g., 12th Ave. South) to another (e.g., Germantown), you really need to take a car. I opted to not rent a car, so I was happy that Uber was reliable and convenient for me during my stay. I also walked a lot and took advantage of Loews shuttle service to get around town. I had no issues with transportation or navigating the city.

I feel like I did/saw/ate a lot during my 3 days in Nashville, but of course there are things that I didn’t try, but that were recommended to me by various people I met along the way. These are certainly on my future must-eat list: Biscuit Love, Hattie B’s, Bolton’s (must try more hot chicken). These are on my future must-see list: Grand Ol’ Opry, Bluebird Café, the Honky Tonks, Frist Center, Nashville Symphony, Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC).

Thanks again to LD at the Ryman for arranging my tickets. Thanks to all the people I met in Nashville who shared their love and recommendations for the city! See a few more photos on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoestoNashville.

Travel: Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, Nashville

As you may know, mid-December, I took a 3-day trip to Nashville. My full 3-day itinerary post is coming up tomorrow, but today, I’m sharing a review of where I stayed – Loews Vanderbilt Nashville. I have never stayed at a Loews, so I was eager to see what it was like since I know it’s a high-end hotel with locations in many desirable cities.

Location

Hotel location is important for me when I travel because, especially when I’m a solo traveler, I want to be somewhere where I feel safe and where I can feel comfortable walking around during the day and at night. Although the Loews is located a few kilometers away from the downtown core – and touristy hot-spots – I felt at ease. I actually really liked staying away from the busyness of the Honky Tonk strip and closer to a place where I feel at home – a gorgeous university campus! 🙂

If you’re looking to stay within a stone’s throw from the honky tonks (bars) or from the Country Music Hall of Fame, the hotel’s distance might bother you. If you’re like me, and aren’t keen on the neon light district of the honky tonks and are eager to try out different areas, then stay at the Loews. The hotel is located across the street from Vanderbilt University, which meant that I was able to easily stroll around to check out the campus (beautiful! and big!). It’s also a short walk from the Parthenon – an amazing replica of the original Greek Parthenon. It was so amusing to turn a corner into Centennial Park from busy West End Avenue and see this amazing piece of architecture.

The Loews offers a shuttle service, too, if you’re going within a 3 mile direction. I used this transportation option a couple of times, and it was very convenient. I could have also texted the hotel if I was out and about and needed a ride back.

Room

If you know me, then you know that I love luxury hotels. Yes, I can certainly manage in a motel, hotel, or Holiday Inn, but I love getting spoiled in luxury hotels. The robes, the beds, the towels, the toiletries…I look at the quality of all of them! At the Loews, here’s what I experienced.

My king-sized bed was incredibly comfortable. I know I did a lot of walking during my vacation, but at the end of the day, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The bed just embraced my tired body! I woke up one morning and noticed that the room service card was still displayed perfectly on one of the pillows, which meant that I barely moved during my sleep. This is a sign of an excellent sleep if you ask me!

The made-in-France towels were thick and plentiful. And the toiletries – from an NYC-based company – were made in Canada! Bonus! I didn’t love the conditioner, if I’m being honest, but everything else suited me well. I also appreciated the large(r) sized bottles since I always seem to run out of shampoo in the teeny tiny bottles I sometimes use in hotels.

In terms of the room’s design, the Loews team made an effort to draw in local goodness. The art featured concert tickets (music, music everywhere!) and letter blocks (to signal Hatch Show Print Company). I was spoiled with local treats, too, which made me feel welcome and well taken care of. I also appreciated the rock-star-studded detailing on the curtains.

The Loews team arranged for me to be in a room on a Club Level with a view of the downtown. This meant that I could go into the Club lounge for breakfast and cocktail hour each day and night of my stay. I took advantage of both and really enjoyed speaking to Loews staff who worked in the lounge. All staff, in fact, were very friendly and willing to help.

I’m not sure if it’s a Loews thing or a Nashville thing, but the food was delicious! I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautifully presented or interesting. But it was! I filled up on just about everything at breakfast (I love breakfast!). The evening appetizer selection included cheese and crackers and roasted vegetables. And wine, beer, and mixed drinks, too. Cheers!

Amenities

The Loews Vanderbilt lobby is modern and well-appointed. Frothy Monkey – a local coffee shop – has a location right inside the lobby, which is another nod to local culture. I really liked seeing how the hotel supported local flavour in multiple ways. I don’t think this is often the case with high-end, chain hotels. While I didn’t have a chance to try Mason’s – the hotel restaurant – it is apparently very good. When I came back to the hotel one afternoon after spending a day in the chilly city (weather ranged from about 3 to 10 degrees Celcius while I was there), a hot chocolate stand was all set-up. It was a perfect treat to warm me up while I took a rest before an evening out.

Note that the Loews Vanderbilt doesn’t have a pool. This didn’t bother me, but it may be something you need to consider before you book a stay.

Just look at the lobby decorated for Christmas? Isn’t it impressive? The lobby of the Loews Vanderbilt is beautifully decorated and there’s stylish and comfortable seating and workspace throughout. I lounged here a couple of times during my stay while I was waiting on an Uber or planning my day’s route.

I would definitely stay here again because I did enjoy the staff, treats, room comfort, and general amenities. I also appreciated the hospitality of every single staff member I encountered. Service goes a long way for me!

Thanks to Rachel P. and Loews Vanderbilt Nashville for arranging my stay. Thanks to Matthew M. and the Loews Vanderbilt Nashville staff for ensuring I had a pleasant stay. All opinions and photos are my own.

Travel: Ritz Carlton Sarasota Spa Experience

How many massages have you had in your life? I’ve had two! Two!? One was earlier this year at the Scandinave Spa. The other was at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota last month.

When my friend and I took a vacation-in-a-vacation to the Ritz Sarasota (read about our stay here), we were lucky to be treated to massages at the beautiful Ritz Spa.

I know the Ritz staff see thousands of people come through the hotel each month/year/day, but when I’m there, I feel like I’m getting all of the attention! How do they do that? My spa visit was a perfect example of this kind of attentive service.

We arrived at the spa first thing in the morning after an easy drive from Madeira Beach, Florida. After reviewing the spa menu and consulting with the Ritz staff in advance of my visit, I was booked in for an 80-minute lemongrass bamboo massage. Here’s the description straight from the spa menu:

“Therapeutic hands, warmed bamboo and an infusion of lemongrass soothe tension through this deeply holistic and balancing massage. Be transformed as your mind rests and muscular stress melts away.”

I can confirm that the description and the reality matched perfectly! I lay on a heated bed under the softest covers. My masseuse started by scrubbing my feet and wrapping them in a warm towel. She then used lemongrass-infused oil on my skin before she started  massaging me, alternating between her hands and warmed bamboo sticks. Oh my goodness – the warmed bamboo sticks were incredible! I don’t think I was very stressed to begin with (because I was on vacation after all!), but the systematic, thoughtful rolling of the bamboo sticks across my body really made sure that any and all tensions left my body. It was fantastic!

Honestly, I didn’t know if I would be bored for an 80-minute massage, but there was no way! I was unbelievably relaxed, and if my appointment was later in the day, I surely would have fallen asleep.

Of course there were some points in the massage where the masseuse applied more pressure – and I wasn’t sure if it would lead to some soreness later on in the day – but it didn’t. I felt great! She checked in with me several times about the pressure, and switched the bamboo sticks depending on tension and body part.

My skin was so soft – and my body felt relaxed – for days after my massage.

This spa visit was a very special experience, and I’m grateful to the Ritz Carlton for welcoming us in so warmly.

If you’d like to learn more about the Ritz Sarasota, read about my visit last year, my visit last month., or check out my posts on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz, or #WhiteCabanaGoesToFlorida.

Side note: Love for the Ritz runs in my family. At the same time that I was booking a return visit to the Ritz Sarasota, my sister was booking a return visit to the Ritz Lake Oconee Georgia for her and her family. As you may remember, she and her husband have four kids, and the whole family absolutely loves the Ritz! She has told me that the Ritz staff have treated the kids so well, and there are plenty of fun activities for them! It’s a very kid-friendly resort!

Thanks to S.A. and the Ritz Carlton Sarasota team for sponsoring this post. All opinions and photos are my own.

 

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Travel: Ritz Carlton Sarasota Review

You know what’s great? Having a vacation-in-a-vacation. I discovered this last year, when I booked a stay at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota during my Floridian vacation. My friend and I absolutely loved our experience last year then that we opted to take another vacation-in-a-vacation this year. And the Ritz Carlton Sarasota did not disappoint.

Ritz Carlton Sarasota – The Entrance

Day 1

We learned from our trip last year and planned for an even better time this year. We left Madeira Beach around 7:30am so that we’d make it to the Ritz Sarasota on time for our 9am massages (stay tuned for an review post about our spa experiences).

a lovely welcome – we do love chocolate

By 11am or so, we were done our spa treatments, we were checked into our room (the Ritz was able to accommodate my early check-in request, and I was very thankful), and we were on the shuttle bus to the Beach Club. The Ritz Sarasota has two properties. The first is the hotel in downtown Sarasota. It’s on the water, but it’s not on a beach. The second property is the Beach Club at Lido Beach, which is about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. The Ritz shuttle bus leaves on the hour from the hotel to go to the beach club.

just pretending (side note: I wore this Ralph Lauren t-shirt dress a lot while in Florida)

The beach club is amazing. The pool is large, the lounge chairs are comfortable, the towel service is perfect, and the poolside food options are excellent. Since the beach club is on the beach, seating and service is also available on the beach. We opted to park ourselves poolside so that we could enjoy the music and stay sand-free, but we did go for a walk on the beach, too. Lido Beach is lovely, but it’s not as beautiful as nearby Siesta Key or Madeira Beach (yes, I may be biased).

We stayed at the Beach Club for the full day – in the sun and in the shade. It. Was. Perfect. My poolside lunch consisted of a cheese quesadilla (good) and an ice cream sandwich (amazing). The ladies at the seats next to me all stared (in envy, I’m sure!) when I pulled out the ice cream treat from the container. Since calories don’t count on vacation, I thoroughly enjoyed this classic summertime treat. I strongly encourage you to order one if you go, and I won’t judge if you eat it all by yourself (like I did – yum!).

we spent hours at the Beach Club

happy Jordana

Our room was the same set-up as our room last year. The bathroom, the bed, the balcony, and the view are my favourite parts of the room. Way to narrow things down, right? The bathroom is so spacious and well-appointed. Towels are fluffy and the Asprey products are lovely. The beds are so comfortable; I had an exceptional sleep! I must say that it’s wise for waterfront hotels to have balconies so that guests can enjoy the outdoors while in their own rooms. Our view was over the restaurant’s patio, pool, and water. The decor reflects the sea, sun, and sand with its blue-beige colour palette, the curves on the headboards and chairs, and the artwork and pillow details.

The Ritz bed is extremely comfortable!

All the Asprey and marble! 

a sweet seating area

One of the other (of the many) things that I really like about about the Ritz Sarasota is the shuttle bus service. As I mentioned, the shuttle bus takes guests to the Beach Club. It also takes guests to St. Armand’s Circle – a hot destination for restaurants and shopping. We made a reservation at Shore after doing some research poolside earlier in the day. My friend and I were both pleased with our meals, and we’d definitely return. Because of the Ritz shuttle service, we didn’t have to worry about driving, directions, parking, etc. So darn easy! 

I had to! (at St. Armand’s Circle)

dinner at Shore at St. Armand’s Circle

And we ended the evening with an evening swim. So lovely!

the Ritz Carlton Sarasota – at night

Day 2

On day 2, we opted to stay in Sarasota rather than shuttling over to the beach club. This gave us the opportunity to wonder around town, stumble upon the weekly market, eat a French breakfast at C’est La Vie on Main St., and pop in and out of shops.

white architecture of the library

Main St. Sarasota

a stop in at Sur La Table

mmm…a French breakfast in Florida…oui, oui!

After our morning stroll, we spent the day at the hotel pool. It was fantastic. Absolutely perfect. It was quieter than the beach club, and it offered a slightly different poolside menu. Since we wanted to stay at the Ritz for as long as they’d let us, we asked about using the pool beyond check-out. Here’s another great thing about the Ritz Sarasota – even after check-out, guests are still able to use the hotel’s amenities, including the pool. This made us thrilled!

the hotel pool

the well-manicured grounds of the Ritz Sarasota

For lunch, I snacked on the pita, veggie, and hummus dip. It was a light mid-day meal. When it’s so hot out, I really don’t feel like eating, and I was glad to see a variety of options on the hotel’s poolside menu. I mostly just feel like going from my lounge chair to the hammock to the pool.

that was fun!

We stayed until late afternoon and left right before the rain came. When our lounge chair neighbours predicted that a storm was about 7 miles away, we took it as a cue to pack up and leave.

Once again, I had a great time at the Ritz Sarasota and if all goes as planned, I’ll make another appearance there next year!

Enjoy the rest of your labour day long weekend, everyone!

Many thanks to S.A. and the Ritz Carlton Sarasota team for ensuring our stay was just perfect.

All photos are my own. See a few more photos at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz.

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Travel: Review of Hotel Henry, Buffalo

When I first learned about Buffalo’s newly opened Hotel Henry, I was intrigued. And I was curious. And I was dubious, too. A must-see hotel? Sure. In Buffalo? Not so sure. You see, the Buffalo I have known up until this summer is all outlet mall and Target. Honestly. I have not seen much more than that on any of my trips to Buffalo. Well, let me tell you, Buffalo surprised me. Really! So much so that I’d definitely make a return trip! Isn’t that what you’d like the result of every vacation to be? I was pleasantly surprised!

You’ve seen a couple of photos of my trip on Instagram (#WhiteCabanaGoestoBuffalo), but here’s a proper tour of the hotel.

Hotel Henry, a national historic site, was built in the 1872 as a psychiatric hospital (aka known as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane). I didn’t know much of this history before I arrived which I think is a good thing. I was too googly-eyed over the design and architecture to get too engrossed in all the historical – and spooky!? – stories. As we pulled up to the property, I was floored. Amazed at the large scale and the absolutely beautiful architecture. I was definitely excited as I stepped inside.

The hotel has been part of a 3-year, $102 million renovation project. The hotel is located on a 42-acre site and occupies three of the eleven buildings of the former asylum. The project was led by Deborah Berke Partners and Flynn Battaglia Architects. Just to give you an idea of the scale and work involved, the restoration of 600 windows cost $7 million.

 

Check in was smooth and quick. My room was spacious with ridiculously high ceilings that definitely caught my attention! Beds were comfortable, and the bath products were lovely. Towels were fluffy, and the coffee/tea station was a nice addition. There was plenty of space to spread out, rest, and work (the desk in front of the window was well-planned).

I think it would be lovely if Hotel Henry added robes to the room and a mini fridge, too. These items aren’t essential, but they’re nice pluses for a luxurious stay.

 

Beyond the room, the hotel is absolutely stunning. The foyer and lounges are well-appointed with beautifully designed furniture and accessories. Interesting and unique art is everywhere in the public spaces and guest rooms. The lighting is dramatic and eye-catching.

During my stay, I had the chance to enjoy the bar one evening and breakfast by 100 Acres – the hotel restaurant that is becoming one of Buffalo’s hot spots! I enjoyed both, and loved parking myself in different areas around the hotel to enjoy my drink and meal. Each area offers lovely seating options and great views of the architecture and art.

The next time I go to Hotel Henry, I’m definitely going to sign up for a tour of the abandoned/non-renovated part of the Richardson Olmsted property. If I had known about these public tours before I arrived, I would have signed up, but it completely escaped my research and planning path. In addition to the tour, I’d like to explore other architectural, artistic, and neighbourhood gems.

Prices per night vary depending on day and month, but they average about $150 USD per night. Check the availability calendar for the most accurate price.

Thanks to Hotel Henry for sponsoring this post. All photos and opinions are my own.

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Cars: Review of the Audi Q5

Have I caught your attention with the title? Audi. Q5. Who’s excited for a little car review? Honestly, I am most definitely thrilled to be writing this post about my recent experience with the Audi Q5 – aka #WhiteCabanaDreamCar.

I’ve been keen on the Q5 for a while now, but it hasn’t always been that way.

A long(er) while ago, you may remember that I became pretty obsessed with the Fiat 500. I loved the look of this little Italian go-getter, but eventually my want/need for this little one faded. I rented it for a weekend, and while I enjoyed driving it around Toronto, it barely fit my luggage, and it was quite a noisy highway ride.

In recent years, it was the Audi Q7 that caught my attention, and I wrote about it here. What a beautiful car. It’s sleek, stylish, and roomy. In fact, once I saw it up-close, I realized it might be a touch too roomy for my liking. With no children in tow, I don’t have a need for its third row of seats.

Enter the Q5. I kept seeing this car on the road, and I kept liking it. And liking it some more. When I drove home from Montebello, Quebec, I spotted many on the highway, and each time I saw one, I thought, “now that’s a nice looking car,” sometimes I said it to myself before I was close enough to confirm that the car I was eyeing was in fact an Audi Q5.

Given that I grew up with an Audi 5000, I have fond memories of the Audi brand. My parents bought our grey Audi 5000 at the Audi factory Ingolstadt, Germany, then shipped it over to Toronto way back in 1985! We traveled everywhere in that car as a family. When my Dad finally retired it in 2006 after 21 years and 344,996kms, it was a pretty sad day for all of us. We all knew it was at the end of its life (21 years!), but it was emotional to see it go. Is that weird? To be so emotionally attached to a car? Hope I’m not the only one!

Dad and our Audi 5000 in Ingolstadt, Germany
(my sister and I are in the backseat – camera shy, I guess)

Okay, so we weren’t too camera shy. My sister and I at a basket shop in Germany. I’m flexing my muscles by carrying the biggest basket I could find, I guess!

So this brings me to my recent, super up-close encounter with the Audi Q5. The AudiKW team generously loaned me a white Q5 for a couple of days of adventuring around the Waterloo region (see #WhiteCabanaxAudi on Instagram for a few more photos). What a treat! I was happy to explore the white, sleek AudiKW showroom while I waited for my car. While dealerships can be easily intimidating for someone like me (who knows very little about cars), I was pleasantly surprised by everyone’s welcoming attitudes. I felt comfortable.

I met with Deon and Robert who set me up with the Q5. Robert – a brand specialist – walked me through all the features of the Audi Q5 Komfort. This model is the lowest end of the Audi Q5 spectrum, so some elements I really liked, and others would come in a higher end model (like the Progressive or the Technik).

When I got in the car, the first things I noticed were the driver’s seat and the size of the front window. The driver’s seat was made for me (or so I like to think). It was comfortable from the beginning right up until I dropped off the car. The front window panel was large and free of obstructions. I know this should always be the case, but it isn’t. Sometimes the frame is too thick or the rear view mirror is bulky. I also loved that the windshield wipers tucked away beautifully – they weren’t visible when not in use. Great design detail!

I love the design of these mirrors.

I currently drive a 2004 Toyota Rav4 – which I really do love – but it doesn’t have the modern features of new cars, so it took me a little while to get used to all the tech in the Audi Q5. Okay – not that long, but you know what I mean. In the Audi Q5, I could actually plug in my phone and connect it to bluetooth. I know many new cars have this feature, but my Rav4 doesn’t, so it took a moment to get used to it. Once I did – let me tell you – I made as many hands-free phone calls as I could while I was driving! I get amused so darn easily!

I think I only managed to use about one or two of these buttons! I’m pretty tech-savvy, but not when it comes to cars!

The cargo space is decent in the Komfort (26.8 cubic feet), but I definitely noticed that it’s smaller than the space in my Rav4 (about 38 cubic feet). The seats fold down, of course, which helps for large loads, but it would be something I’d have to consider and test out before I’d purchase it as I do end up carrying large loads on random trips in and out of town. The cargo space in the Q5 is tidy with a hidden spare tire and a privacy cover, too.

 

Great design – everything has its place!

Because I live in Uptown Waterloo and normally walk or bike to the places I need to go, I forced myself to venture out a bit for a longer drive to get the full experience of this car. I took the highway-route to Cambridge so I could go fast! FUN! The pick-up in the Q5 was amazing, and my comfort level remained high! The car drove smoothly and quietly, and I definitely liked driving fast (within speed limits, of course)!

When I was going over the features with Robert at the dealership, he told me that the car can adjust to various driving modes – dynamic, comfort, auto, etc. I opted for dynamic for the majority of the time because the ride felt fast and smooth. Dynamic mode has tight steering and more aggressive gear shifting. Comfort, on the other hand, has softer, easier steering and less aggressive gear shifting.

Look at the little lights underneath the handles – love them!

Having the Audi Q5 in my possession made my birthday celebrations extra fun! In fact, since my parents came for a visit, they, too, experienced the luxurious drive! This was especially fun for my dad who recreated his Audi pose from 1985. 

Notice my approach to parking? The farther and emptier, the better!

Over the course of my Audi Q5 ownership, I drove as much as I possibly could. In addition to driving to and around Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, and St. Jacobs, I drove over to the sweet town of Elora for a birthday dinner celebration. On the way, I stopped by the Montrose kissing bridge – the last covered bridge in Ontario, and the oldest of its kind in Canada.

And I also stopped by the castle-house on Middlebrook Road (between Montrose and Elora).  While in Elora, I checked out the progress of the Elora Mill. Construction is well underway, and I’m very much looking forward to a return trip here to eat, stay, and relax! It’s going to add so much more prettiness to the already-pretty town of Elora. As you can see in these photos, parking the Q5 was a breeze. Backing into grassy areas and stone-covered roads was a-okay!

For an SUV, the Audi Q5 is extremely fuel efficient. I love this aspect of the car! Apparently, it’s good to go 1000km on a tank of gas. Isn’t that amazing for an SUV?

I took on several passengers over the course of my mini-ownership. Every passenger loved the experience. All agreed that the car was definitely sleek and luxurious and beautifully designed. Back-seat passengers felt that the ride was spacious and comfortable and enjoyed the adjustable back seats as well as the back-seat air conditioning controls.

As a driver, I got easily used to having the control buttons at my fingertips on the console. While some passengers assumed that the navigation screen was touch-screen, it wasn’t. This didn’t bother me at all. I really liked having the circle button on the console to control music, phone calls, settings, etc. It was very easy to operate and comfortable because I didn’t need to extend my arm for touch screen.

While I did absolutely enjoy the Audi Q5 Komfort, and my interest in purchasing one has been confirmed because of this recent driving experience, there are some features that did not come with this model that I would want. My top priority would be a sunroof. I love having a sunroof in my Rav4, and I would definitely want a Q5 that had one. The model that I drove didn’t have all the snazzy sensors and cameras that I would want in a new car. I’d definitely upgrade to include these as I think they’re especially handy for parking and highway driving.

If you can’t already tell, overall, I have become more attached to the Audi Q5 after this driving experience. It’s a beautiful vehicle from every angle, and it made me feel safe, happy, and secure. I also loved walking up to it knowing that I got to get in the driver’s seat. This car definitely suits my style and personality!

Do I still think that this is the car for me? You bet!

Unless, maybe, I should try out the Audi TT first? 🙂

Many thanks to MC and the AudiKW team for sponsoring this post. All opinions and photos are my own.

p.s. Outfit details: jeans – Joe Fresh (last year), top – Kate Spade, eyeglasses – Polette, sunglasses – Rayban, purse – Longchamp.

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Travel: Terre Bleu, Milton, Ontario

If you’ve ever driven from Waterloo to Toronto – and if you’re anything like me – then you’ve probably uttered a few some many curse words as you’ve driven through Milton on the 401. Let me correct myself – as you’ve been stopped in traffic on the 401 in Milton. Ugh. Milton. Up until a few weeks ago, all I had really known about Milton was the traffic I experienced on the 401.

But, I’m happy to share that I’ve found something glorious about Milton (and Halton Region) – the Terre Bleu lavender farm. Hooray! It’s absolutely lovely, and I encourage you to visit! Get off that darn highway and enjoy the serene beauty of the lavender farm! (Warning – this post is infused with hints of purple and yellow.)

Tim and I drove out to Terre Bleu on the Canada Day long weekend for a tour with Terre Bleu’s owner, Ian Baird. Our tour was fun, educational, and full of beauty.

Terre Bleu’s fields grow several varieties of both English and French lavender. English lavender, in brief, is excellent for its scent, while the French lavender is used in culinary endeavors. The English lavender was just coming out when we visited the farm, and the French hadn’t yet shown its colours.

Some people like white…and others like purple. Ian and I bonded over our passion for (a single) colour.

Much of the property is – of course – filled with rows upon rows of beautiful lavender. But Ian has also done an impressive job of embracing, promoting, and fostering art on the farm. The yellow door (that you may have seen floating around social media) provides the perfect photo op, but it is even more cool in person. A random door in the middle of lavender rows. Loved it!

Inspired by the quote (written by Ian’s then-10-year-old daughter) noted above the door, Tim and I left our worries behind us as we walked through the yellow door. We found joy on the other side!

In addition to the lavender fields, Terre Bleu raises honeybees, has an herb garden (which transforms into a great spot for lavender-infused cocktails), and has a beautiful forest and trail. In the forest, along the “Yellow Bench Trail,” you’ll find a wood installation perfect for a conversation circle and – as the name suggests – a yellow bench. But, of course!

Terre Bleu’s honeybees are hard at work! In the photo below, Ian is showing us the old bee keeping house in the distillery – the room where they turn lavender into oils. Those copper vessels, which are used in the essential oil-making process, were brought in from Portugal because of their high quality and production capability.

Before you think that Terre Bleu is all-purple-all-the-time, check this out:

Great, right? This massive, white bench overlooks the equestrian area of the farm, and its design mimics that of the main store/barn structure. No detail was left to chance on this farm! Each design choice was made with much consideration.

And more white came through in the “white” Melissa lavender. In fact, although it looks white here, its true colour will be pink once it’s fully in bloom. (But let’s just pretend it’s white, okay?)

The Terre Bleu team harvests the lavender during the year and transforms it into all sorts of beautiful products – sachets, dried lavender, lavender salt, lavender essential oils, soaps, and more. The white-washed shop is definitely worth a visit. Pick up a treat before you leave, including, perhaps, a scoop of lavender ice cream! I picked up a jar of honey – it’s made with the farm’s lavender and hard-working honeybees! I couldn’t resist!

So, next time you give Milton a passing glance, I encourage you to stop and find your way to Terre Bleu for some inspiration!

See more snapshots of our day at Terre Bleu over on Tim’s blog, Design Maze.

Thanks again, Ian, for the super tour! I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the development of your lovely lavender farm! Milton is lucky to have you!
Photos by Tim and me.

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Travel: White Cabana Goes to Toronto

I just came back from an extended stay in Toronto. I was there for an academic conference. My presentations went smoothly, and it was great to catch up with my academic community in person (#PhDlife). While I was there, I couldn’t help but snap photos.

Hydrangea pompoms in my parents’ garden. I love them!

The Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is one of my favourite buildings in the city.

Toronto in one photo: CN Tower in the background, TTC and postal-code-clad mail box in the foreground.

Skateboard action in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

Canadian chefs’ panel presentation at Terroir Symposium: Chef Lynn Crawford, Dufflet Rosenberg, Susur Lee, and Matty Matheson (full review coming soon)

If you’d like to see a few more photos (mostly of my outfits), check out #WhiteCabanaGoestoToronto.

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Travel: Fairmont Le Château Montebello, Quebec

When I booked my May trip to Kingston, Ottawa, and Montebello a few months ago, I was not expecting to encounter floods and snowy weather. This, though, is exactly what happened.

I could have postponed the trip, but quite a bit of planning went into this trip, and trying to reschedule would have ended in an almost 6-month postponement. I was also mostly oblivious to the rainy weather. It was rain. I packed my rainboots. And my rain coat. And my umbrella.  Done. After a stay in Kingston, and a quick lunch with Giulia in Ottawa, I drove to Montebello, Quebec for an overnight vacation at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello – the world’s largest log cabin! How amazing! I was so intrigued!

Here’s a quick overview of my itinerary:

Day 1

Despite the rain, I was in full relaxation mode. I arrived to the Fairmont around 3pm, and after I had checked in to my log cabin room, I threw on my rain gear and headed out for a walk. The grounds were beautiful, and the forest trail was so peaceful. There were only a few people around (on account of the rain, most likely), so it was a really peaceful walk. I then had a swim in the pool, a long hot shower, and dinner at the Seigneurie Bar. I watched a bit of French news, and fell asleep under a cozy white duvet.

Day 2

The next day, I had an early morning swim, then enjoyed a generous buffet breakfast at the Aux Chantignoles. I departed earlier than I had originally anticipated because I was nervous about the flooding in Gatineau/Ottawa, and I also wanted to catch up with another friend in Ottawa on my way back to Waterloo.

Now, about the hotel. Several Fairmont properties are full of history and charm. The Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is no exception. It’s the largest log cabin I’ve ever seen, let alone slept in (well, it’s the world’s largest afterall). It definitely has a classic chalet vibe with its winter scene art, wood beams, enormous fireplace, and logs. Lots and lots of logs! So beautiful! It’s definitely a sight to see for anyone who is interested in architecture. (Note: some non-white photos below.)

A few sort-of-blurry iPhone photos of the fireplace, but you get the idea! It’s a grand chalet!

My room was cozy. My bed was ridiculously comfortable. The bathroom was smaller and more dated (but in keeping with the chalet theme) than I had anticipated, but the products smelled lovely, and I had everything I needed for a very comfortable stay. Yes, even with the miserable weather. I was warm and happy! I was even spoiled with maple syrup-infused treats. Merci beaucoup!

This was such a comfortable bed! I had a wonderful sleep!

For dinner on the night arrived, I opted for a classic meal of mint julep and poutine. Interesting combination, right? I was attracted to both items on the menu, so that’s what I went for even if it seems a little strange. Both were delicious, and I’d happily order the same duo on a return visit. Oh – and the cheese is from Montebello, so how could I resist? Delicieux!

I filled up at the breakfast buffet on my second day. The croissants and maple-syrup crepes called my name. I did have some scrambled eggs, too, to balance out all the sweetness. Service was attentive, pleasant, and bilingual.

One of the absolute best things about my stay was swimming lengths in the pool. Montebello’s pool is the largest indoor hotel pool in Canada, and I definitely enjoyed it. I swam later in the evening and early in the morning, so I avoided the crowds of families. If I did go at a busier time, I could have easily swam in the reserved lane. Great planning, Montebello!

While I don’t have a family, I would recommend the Montebello for a family vacation. There are a lot of activities to do year-round including horseback riding, trail walking, curling, indoor and outdoor swimming, and more. The property is beautiful, and the staff are friendly.

Another thing that I took advantage of during my stay was communicating en français! Living in Ontario, I rarely get an opportunity to speak French. I appreciated that the staff communicated in French with me rather than automatically switching to English.

Overall, I had a very relaxing weekend getaway, and I’d easily do it again. Since I’m not much of a snow-bunny, I’d likely make a return trip in the summer to enjoy the outdoor pool and sunny views of the Ottawa River.  If snow is your thing, then definitely plan a winter escape as the log cabin must be beautiful after a dusting of snow.

I don’t want to end this post without touching on the lesser-luxurious side of my vacation.

On each day of my visit, I threw on my rain gear and walked out of the resort area to explore the little town of Montebello. Here is where I was really hit with the reality of the recent floods.

The two photos above are from the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello’s property. Look how buried that bench is. Awful.

I know Montebello may not have been hit as hard as other parts of the region, but I saw sandbags surrounding homes and high water levels around the Fairmont Montebello and the town. In fact, the Gatineau/Ottawa highway that I needed to take was closed due to flooding, and even on the re-routed journey, I saw high water levels on either side of roads. Not good.

I am grateful that my journey went smoothly and that I stayed safe and warm while I was in Quebec. I know others in the region experienced plenty of stress. As such, when I came home, I made a donation to the Red Cross – specifically to the Spring Floods Relief – Quebec Designation. This is a great way to support a community in need. Clean-up is ongoing, and I encourage you to contribute, too.

All in all, I had quite the adventure from Waterloo, ON to Montebello, QC. The drive from/to Waterloo was pleasant and relatively traffic-free. The Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello was a perfect chalet immersion complete with delicacies from the region. I’m fortunate that I was able to explore a new part of Canada last weekend, and I would certainly recommend all travel-enthusiasts readers to do the same!

Many thanks to the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello and J.W. for sponsoring my stay. All opinions and photos are my own.

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Hotel to Home: Chateau de la Treyne, France

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I attended another memorable evening at Langdon Hall as part of the Congress of the North American Relais & Chateaux partners (#WhiteCabanaGoestoLangdonHall). One of the people that I met was Stephanie Gombert, owner of the gorgeous Chateau de la Treyne in France.

I lived in Bordeaux for a year as many of you may remember, so I definitely have a soft spot for everything French! The Chateau de la Treyne is a stunning property in the Dordogne region, and each room in the hotel has a unique style. The La Favorite suite’s gold freestanding tub drew me into the room, and so I thought it would make a great room for today’s Hotel to Home feature.

La Favorite – Chateau de la Treyne

Here’s my version:

tub, portrait, bed, chandelier, desk, lamp, flowers, night stand

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Travel: Things to Do in Collingwood, Ontario

As I mentioned on Monday, I recently enjoyed a relaxing time at the Scandinave Spa Blue Mountains in Collingwood, Ontario. The day was a full one, and I’d like to fill you in on a few other things I experienced during this mini-vacation.

As I mentioned, the drive from Waterloo to the Collingwood area is very easy and enjoyable. Driving the country roads is relaxing and beautiful. The route took us through the charming town of Erin, Ontario, and just as we entered the main part of town, we spotted a house painted black with café on the sign – the Tin Roof Café. We grabbed homemade cookies and coffee (healthy way to start a spa day, right?) for our journey. I appreciated the design, and the coffee was well-made, too. I recommend it.

As we made it to Collingwood, we stopped to walk the main street. When we spotted a white bike in a shop window, I knew I had to explore. Turns out that the store – Leuk – was made for people like me. White, white, and more white! In fact, Leuk has three stores – a flower store, a café and clothing store, and a furniture store – all on the main street (Hurontario St.) in Collingwood. I wanted to buy everything.

photo via Leuk

On the recommendation of a Leuk saleswoman, we stopped in at The Tremont for a delicious lunch in a design-y, French atmosphere. Marble tables get me. Every. Single. Time. I had a freshly made quiche and side salad, which I thought was an improvement from my morning cookie. The closer you get to a spa, the healthier you get? 🙂 I would definitely go back to The Tremont on a future visit.

photo via The Tremont Cafe

Not wanting to return home after five hours at the spa, we took the quick drive over to the Blue Mountain Village. This is the ski zone. There are shops, restaurants, and accommodations for all those people who love to ski. In the spring, though, the Village is a great place for a little walk. We were also hungry for dinner at this point in the day (worked up an appetite after all that relaxing!), and we walked around the sweet boardwalk to the Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill restaurant at the Westin Trillium House hotel. I had already known that the Westin was in the Village, but I didn’t know that Oliver & Bonacini was the in-hotel restaurant. The restaurant has a beautiful, modern, and welcoming interior, and the sun was shining brightly in the restaurant even though it must have been close to 7pm at this point in the day. Such a wonderful atmosphere! Here, I opted for a classic pizza margherita. Yum. I’d order it again. And one of these days, I’m going to stay at the Westin because it looks like my kind of place – regardless of season!

photo via Oliver & Bonacini

So, not only did I have an amazing time at the Scandinave Spa, but I also really enjoyed exploring a bit of Collingwood. I know the area has so much to offer, and while we generally hear about the winter activity options, I think now is also an ideal time to take explore the area.

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Travel: Scandinave Spa Blue Mountains, Ontario

This year is all about #Canada150. Our country’s notable birthday is encouraging me to explore what lives outside of my neighbourhood. I’m a traveler as you may have noticed, but traveling for extended periods of time is challenging given my schedule. That’s why I’m trying to travel closer to home for shorter periods of time.

I recently took a day trip to the Collingwood area of Ontario. The region is about a 2-hour drive from Waterloo, which makes it a great day trip destination. The main purpose of my trip was to relax at the Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain.

don’t be fooled – this is just a photo backdrop since cameras are not allowed in the baths area

the trees are absolutely beautiful – even if they don’t yet have their leaves

I brought along my Sea Bags tote, and it was perfect!

walk down memory lane – here I am two years ago in the same location

It has been a few years since I first went to Scandinave, so my trip was long overdue. Since my last trip, Scandinave has added an infrared sauna, relaxation solaria, and multiple indoor and outdoor loungers.

one of the best parts of Scandinave – the quiet

The idea at Scandinave is to alternate between hot, cold, and rest periods in a calm, quiet environment. We started with the infrared sauna since it was new, and we wanted to try it out. Thumbs up! We moved to a warm bath, then plunged into one of the cold baths (I could only go up to my thighs!). A rest outside turned into a short snooze, then the routine continued. And continued some more. For four more hours. Heavenly! Magical! Perfection!

Scandinave Blue has an infrared sauna, a traditional sauna, a eucalyptus steam room, three warm(er)(est) bath pools, and three cold(er)(est) bath pools. In addition to these, there are multiple indoor solaria with loungers and magazines for rest periods as well as plenty of outdoor spaces with Adirondack chairs, fire pits, moon loungers, and hammocks. The views in every direction are beautiful – even when there are no leaves on the trees. You can imagine the views as Scandinave is surrounded by 25 acres of forested land!

In between this challenging routine of hot-cold-rest, I had to have a massage. Ha! Right? Tough life! (Have I mentioned how grateful I am!?) I booked myself in for a massage because (a) I seem to be on in a self-care phase at the moment and (b) I’ve never had a massage.

I met with Cathy, a Registered Massage Therapist, who explained her approach and told me to relax. Done. I was already in full-relaxation mode because of the baths, but I relaxed to the extreme with the massage! Cathy was great and definitely made my first massage experience a positive one. I thought she was going to massage me karate-chop-style, but she didn’t. Apparently, I believe things I see in movies? Anyway, the massage was definitely a worthwhile experience, and you can be sure I’ll be having another one at some point in my life! If you book a massage, access to the baths is included. It’s best to book your massage months in advance as the website suggests.

The weather on the day I went was absolute perfection. It was sunny and cool, but warm enough to lounge outdoors on the moon loungers.

A day at Scandinave Blue is supposed to rejuvenate, revitalize, and relax you. I’d say it definitely did for me! Mission accomplished.

If you only plan to go to Scandinave for the baths experience, go. If you’re looking for more, try a massage. Bath access is $55 and a Swedish massage is $145. If you’d like to extend your visit, check out the packages as well as the getaway packages.

The Collingwood area is beautiful year-round, so anytime is a great time to go! And if you’re not able to get to Collingwood, there’s a Scandinave Spa in Whistler, Old Montreal, and Mont Tremblant.

Thanks to Mallory and Mylisa for arranging my visit. All opinions are my own.

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The Friday Five: Waterloo Region’s ION

Every since I moved to Waterloo, people have been talking about The ION. They were probably talking about it before I arrived, too. At first, I had no idea what people were going on about because nothing was visibly happening in my neighbourhood. Then last summer, King St. was ripped up completely while the ION crew was working away, This is when I really noticed that things were a-changin’ in the region.

The ION, for those of you outside the Waterloo region, is our new light rail system. It will connect one end of the region to the other. The first ION train came to the area just a couple of weeks ago from Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant, and they hype has been growing.

Last weekend, the city hosted an open house so that the public could take a tour of the first ION train. I opted to take mosey on over, and I was surprised by the crowd of people! There was an incredible turnout on a sunny Saturday afternoon! This was history in the making, and it was interesting to see the public’s enthusiasm as well as all the different people and organizations who have been part of the ION journey.

Today, I’d like to spread the news and share with you some photos along with five things that I learned about the ION during the open house.

1. The ION’s light rail transit (LRT) is made up of 19 kilometers of rail which goes from the Conestoga Mall transit terminal in Waterloo to the Fairway Mall transit terminal in Kitchener.

2. There are about 60 seats in each LRT vehicle. Each vehicle can carry about 200 people.

3. The LRT vehicles are build by Bombardier. The Waterloo Region has purchased 14 vehicles. The first has arrived at ION’s Dutton Dr. headquarters (aka The site of the open house.).

4. ION riders and Grand River Transit riders (bus system) will pay one fair to use both services.

5. Stage 2 of the ION development will include a link to Cambridge. In all, there will be a 37km route connecting Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo.

I think developing in public transit is a smart option for our region. Yes, it is costing a ton of money (and I’m sure my taxes are paying for it), but in the long run, I think it makes sense for a region as developed – and developing – as this one!

Learn more at RideION.

Photos by Jordana.

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Beauty: Indulge in a Vichy Scrub at the Langdon Hall Spa

Please tell me you’re not sick of me talking about Langdon Hall! If you are, then skip this post. If not, keep reading.

As I had last Friday off from work, I opted to book a last-minute treatment at the Langdon Hall Spa. I am not much of a beauty fanatic, and while I do like a good manicure and pedicure, I have only ever had one facial in my life, and I have never had a massage.

Considering my lack of spa experience, I basically asked Julie for any treatment any time during the day. And I didn’t even want to think about it or make a decision (can you tell I’m tired!?). So Julie took the reins and suggested the Vichy scrub. Say what? After she told me it was her favourite treatment, I said “book me in” without knowing anything about it besides that it’s done in the crazy looking shower treatment room that I saw on my spa tour. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Yeah. What the what? But Julie is the Spa Director and she knows a heck of a lot about spa treatments, so I put my trust in her.

Now let me tell you what this treatment is all about.

After I got over the fact that I was in this crazy shower room, I listened to my esthetician (Hi Reem!) who told me to lie on the table/bed. She adjusted the water temperature, then swung the shower head contraption over my body which led to a full body water massage. Definitely interesting. She scrubbed, gave me a hair treatment, and cleansed and tone my skin. The post-water massage part included a full cream application (which was massage-like), which almost had me sleeping. Amazing!

In short, if you like any of the following, you should book yourself in for a Vichy scrub:

  • long, hot showers
  • soft skin
  • scalp massage
  • perfectly scented products
  • massage
  • toned skin
  • not having to do anything while your body is scrubbed and cleansed

I thought the relaxed feeling would wear off as soon as I drove home, but it didn’t. Neither did the delicious smells of the Valmont products, and neither did my soft skin. My skin continues to feel fresh and soft days after my Vichy scrub.

Would I do this again? Most definitely. I learned that people tend to have this scrub twice per year, and people who really love it have it four times per year. Regular visits to the Langdon Hall spa is something I could get used to. I think I need to start a spa fund.

I realize this post is getting rather long, but one more thing before I let you carry on with your day. If you do plan a visit to the Langdon Hall Spa, then I highly recommend that you arrive a little early so you can enjoy the whirlpool, sauna, and steam room.

The Vichy Aroma Rain Scrub is a 50-minute session and costs $135. To book this or any other treatment, check out the Langdon Hall Spa.

Thanks to Julie for making my visit a special one!

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Art & Hotel: 21c Museum Hotel, Durham, North Carolina

While most of my weekend in North Carolina was spent playing with my three nephews and niece (#ZiaJojoComesToTown), my sister, brother-in-law, and I did enjoy one night out in Durham sans cute children. One of our stops was the 21c Museum Hotel and Counting House. The concept is unique. On the main floor, you’ll find the Counting House – a bar and restaurant. Above, you can wander the floors to explore the art exhibits and historic building, which is open 24/7/365 with free admission if you’re curious. Cool, right? In the basement, visitors can explore the old bank vault since the 21c Museum Hotel is housed in an old bank. Food, drinks, art, history, and a place to stay all in one gorgeous building in central Durham? What’s not to love?

Here are some of the photos I took, if you’d like to see.

Mujer de Blanco, 2015, Marlu Palacios

Spoonfall – water trickling down hinged spoons making the most soothing sounds

Sleeping, 2007, Anthony Goicolea (available for purchase at Caviar20 if you have $18,500 to spare)

The bathroom was wild. I felt like I was in an episode of CSI. Art and function. Awesome. The signage is part of the We Don’t Care exhibition.

You’ll notice fuchsia penguins hanging around the hotel. Guests are encouraged to move them around to create new scenes – or surprises – for others. (Each hotel in the 21c collection has a different colour for its penguins.)

While I did not stay at the hotel, the rooms do look very White Cabana worthy! Perhaps on a future visit to Durham…or Nashville…or Cincinnati…I will check into a 21c Museum Hotel!

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Travel: Niagara Icewine Festival, Niagara, Ontario

Are you looking for something to do this weekend? If yes, I’d like to suggest you take a trip to Niagara to tour the wineries, sip on icewine, and eat delicious food – all part of the Niagara Icewine Festival. I know it shouldn’t take much more than that to convince you, but if you need some more info before you plan your weekend, this is the post for you.

When I reached out to the Niagara Icewine Festival organization, the kind folks there kindly sent over a pair of Discovery Passes. I was eager to go to the festival because I had never been, and I thought it would be a nice day away from my weekend routine of chores, errands, and work. It turned out to be much more than that!

The Discovery Pass ($40) allows you to visit 8 wineries of your choosing over the period of the festival (January weekends). Planning can be done before you arrive in Niagara via the Discovery Pass Listings and Wine Route Planner. I didn’t actually plan too much before we set off, so I did some of the route planning during the car ride over. Although the plan did change a bit as the trip progressed because of chats with other guests and winery staff, it was nice to have some sense of wineries that I might enjoy. Because the participating wineries extended from Grimsby to Niagara-on-the-Lake, it was nice to visit wineries along the full route. Thank goodness for reliable GPS systems!

We began our tour at Kacaba (pronounced Ka-sa-ba) where we met David, a friendly and informative Kacaba employee. Here, we learned about Kacaba’s history and soon-to-be-completed expansion, sipped on Jennifer’s Pinot Gris, and enjoyed jumbo prawns with our icewine cocktail. It was a great start to the day!

From Kacaba, we headed to Stoney Ridge winery. Here, we sipped on some chardonnay and  munched on some apple smoked bacon mac n cheese. The winery has a specialty cheese counter, too. I wanted to try everything! And for dessert – icewine-infused marshmellows roasted on the outdoor fire pit.

After Stoney Ridge, we drove to Megalomaniac. We drove up a windy road through the vineyards, and were greeted by an impressive, modern  building that had been hidden by the fog. It was pretty remarkable. Megalomaniac’s branding is awesome with wine names like The Narcissist and Big Kahuna paired with labels designed to match perfectly. The staff were friendly and generous. Here, we tasted four icewine cocktails and marveled at the grandness of the building’s design and decor. And the fog – oh the fog was pretty dreamy!

We made another stop at Tawse with good intentions to enjoy the Discovery Pass, but we needed a break from wine sipping (imagine that). Instead, we took a tour of the facilities and had a very informative conversation with Julie, one of the friendly Tawse staff. I’d like to go back to Tawse in the spring/summer to explore a bit more. The cave-like setting was charming, and it certainly reminded me of French wineries. Tawse is also interesting because it’s an organic and biodynamic winery – apparently it’s a place where chickens roam. I must learn more!

So after these stops in the area of Vineland, we headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a hearty lunch before our next tour.

Our first stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake – and last of the day – was at Strewn Winery. The event was organized so that while guests stood at large tables in the cooking school area, they were served icewine paired with a chocolate ganache tart.

I honestly thought that visiting 8 wineries in one day would be doable. In fact, it isn’t. We spent almost an hour at each winery – sipping, eating, chatting, touring – and if you add in travel time, the day just flies! Plus, who can actually keep track of time when you’re in wine country surrounded by beautiful vineyards? If you’re planning a trip and would like to maximize your Discovery Pass, I highly recommend you stay overnight in the region.

On Day 2, we began in Niagara-on-the-lake at Reif Estate Winery (Reif is pronounced Rye-f). This easily became one of my favourite spots on the tour. The Discovery Pass had us enjoying icewine paired with porchetta. The pig wasn’t happy, but I sure was! The setting was old-world, and I learned that Reif is one of the oldest winery in Niagara. After visiting some of the younger (less than 10 years old) wineries, it was nice to see a place with a longer history.

From Reif, we drove down the road to Konzelmann. This is another winery with a longer history and German heritage. The staff was, once again, informative and welcoming. We learned about the family traditions, the building’s construction, and some of the plans for the future. The retail shop has bottles at various price points.

Stop number 7 (were you counting?) was Sue-Ann Staff Winery in Jordan. This smaller winery is run by a passionate owner and team. Here, our icewine was paired with a sweet potato crème brulée. Yes, I said sweet potato!

To wrap up the Niagara Icewine Festival adventure, we visited Redstone Winery (by mistake, actually) to enjoy a chocolate-infused chili with our icewine. Redstone is owned by the Tawse family, but the feel of the winery is quite different. While Tawse is old-world and cave-like, Redstone is industrial and bright. The building is absolutely stunning, and we learned that it has won awards in the architectural world (I didn’t take any photos of it, unfortunately!). While we couldn’t see the views from the restaurant on account of the fog, I imagine that this would be a spectacular place in the spring/summer.  I’d love to make a return trip here, too. (Are you sensing a pattern?)

As someone who had never been to the icewine festival, or Niagara wineries in general, the Discovery Pass was an ideal option for casual exploration. The winery listings is large, so there’s something for everyone. The pass is also a nice way to spread out your visits during the month of January if you live in – or close to – the region, since the 8 visits are not confined to one weekend of the festival. What I enjoyed about the tour is the variety of wineries that I got to visit as well as the stories and buildings to go with the incredible scenery. The people I met are certainly passionate about what they do!

The Niagara region is approximately a 1.5-hour drive from Waterloo. The drive is easy and pleasant, and it doesn’t include a 401 traffic jam in Milton (great news, right?). There’s one more weekend to go for this year’s Niagara Icewine Festival. Let me know if you have any questions if you’re planning a trip.

Thanks to K.H. at the Niagara Icewine Festival for arranging my Discovery Passes. All opinions, thoughts, and photos are my own.

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Waterloo Region: Doon Heritage Village

Last weekend, Rox-Anne and I took a trip to Doon Heritage Village at the Waterloo Region Museum. Just a few weeks earlier, I had gone to the Museum, but the Village was closed, so we didn’t have a chance to take a tour. On this visit though, the Village was all decked out for its Country Christmas event, so it was a festive and cheery way to spend a couple of hours.

Doon Heritage Village is a “60-acre living history village that shows visitors what life was like in Waterloo Region in the year 1914.” I was impressed by the knowledgeable staff who provided us with information about food, tradition, family living, and marketplace routines as we moved through each of the buildings in the Village.

There was a lot of natural wood in the homes and merchant shops in the village, but I spotted quite a bit of white, too (as per usual…I’m always on the lookout!).

some tools by the fire in one of the home’s kitchens

wood and wood and more wood in a home’s basement storage area

saddles in the leather shop

white and wood in the leather shop

saddle supplies in the leather shop

pretty wreath on the church door

simplicity in the church

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a glimpse of the loom in the rug weavery

a home dressed for Christmas

food storage in a home’s basement

I love this image of Father Christmas waiting to greet guests, and I’m going to be on the lookout for a wall match strike like this one.

Rox-Anne will be sharing more photos on Celebrating This Life this week, so be sure to check in if you’d like to learn more.Save

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Beauty: The Langdon Hall Spa

Months and months ago, I was invited to the unveiling of the new Langdon Hall Spa. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted all the photos I took of the gorgeous space (oh, those walnut floors!), so I didn’t share it here. I did, however, create a hotel to home post featuring the spa’s marbled bathroom.

When I was invited back to Langdon Hall a couple of weekends ago for a ridiculously memorable dinner (more on that soon), I opted to begin my stay at the spa. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get pampered (as if the dinner and overnight wasn’t enough, right?) and experience the spa as a guest.

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I’m so predictable. No mistaking which locker is mine!

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Surely, I’m not the only one who loves a good embroidered bathrobe!

I arrived about an hour before my pedicure appointment as I thought it would be a good opportunity to enjoy the whirlpool, steam room, and sauna before my appointment. Good idea, I say! This gave me just enough time to get changed, relax, read a couple of magazines, and then enjoy a tea and treat in the lounge. If you go for a service, I would definitely recommend allotting some time to enjoy the water area. It was definitely relaxing and got me in the slow-spa-mood. You know what I mean? Forced relaxation…that’s what this gal needs!

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Spa guests are welcome to enjoy the whirlpool, sauna, and steam room before or after their services.

The spa is beautifully designed. The colours are calming, the decor is traditional yet current, and the furniture is extremely comfortable. I did not want to leave the chaise in the lounge, and I’m pretty sure another guest had fallen asleep on hers. Total relaxation!

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enjoying my tea and a magazine – covered in a light blanket!

I had a pedicure on this visit, and I was very pleased with the service and result. The Langdon Hall Spa uses only the best products (hello Valmont!), and the scrub, cream, and polish were all from SpaRitual – a vegan organic product line (The company has been around for just over a decade, but I first learned about it at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota this past summer).

Many of the products are also available in the spa shop. I think I need to go back to pick up the SpaRitual protein nail polish (I can’t remember its exact name.) Apparently, it would be good for my nails, especially during the winter months.

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a glimpse at the spa shop

Would I go again? You bet I would! I might try a massage at some point soon – I’ve never had one, but I’m thinking that it would be a great way to relax after my hectic school term ends.

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See you soon, Langdon Hall! You know it’s impossible for me to stay away!

Note: I don’t usually apologize for iPhone photos, but these look unusually blurry, don’t they. Any tips? Perhaps my iPhone went into relaxation mode at the spa, too!

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Travel: Review of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Florida

At the end of July, my friend and I headed on down to Florida for our annual girls’ trip. We’ve been at it for 5 years or so already, and each year, we’ve managed to schedule a vacation-in-a-vacation while we’re away. One year, we went to Chicago; another year, we went to Miami. You get the idea.

This year, we didn’t want to go very far from where we stayed in Madeira Beach, but we were interested in exploring another part of the state. We had heard good things about Sarasota from several people (I’m looking at you Nick and Lana), and since it was only an hour or so away, we thought it might be a good option. And were we ever right!

Here’s the timeline of our vacation-in-a-vacation (scroll down for photos and more info):

Day 1:

8 am: Depart Madeira Beach
10 am: Arrive at the Ellenton Outlet Mall (vacations in Florida always involve shopping)
4 pm: Arrive Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
5 pm: Arrive at the Spa, meet Andrea and Tammy, have a wonderful time sipping champagne while getting manicures
6 pm (or so): Enjoy the spa’s healing waters (jacuzzi, sauna, steam room)
8 pm: Walk over to Selva Grill for a delicious fish meal
11 pm: Snooze on luxurious pillows and beds in our Ritz Sarasota suite

Day 2:

8 am: Order room service and eat breakfast on our balcony
10 am: Hop on the Ritz’s shuttle bus to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota Beach Club at Lido Beach (about a 5-10 minute ride)
10 am – 1 pm: Lounge by the pool, walk on the beach, reapply sunscreen a bajillion times
1 pm: Enjoy a poolside lunch
5 pm: Depart the Beach Club
6 pm: Say goodbye to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
6:30 pm: Drive to Siesta Key for a short walk on the beach
8 pm: Depart Sarasota
9 pm: Arrive Madeira Beach

The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota welcomed us warmly upon arrival, and we had absolutely nothing to worry about during our stay. From valet parking to check-in to restaurant reservations to info about the area – the staff knew how to look after us and answer all of our questions. It was so nice to not have to think about anything! (See some photos on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz)

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a substantial building in the city of SarasotaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-10

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the pool and marina view

Our suite was beautiful. Our room overlooked the pool, outdoor dining area, and the marina. The evening sunset was stunning (as most Florida beach sunsets are!). Our room had two comfortable queen beds, robes and slippers (loved ’em), a dining table, a balcony with another dining table, Asprey toiletries, and a pretty marble-clad bathroom.

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comfortable beds with soft linensWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-3

a small in-room dining areaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-7

Asprey toiletries in the bathWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-6

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a muted colour palette in the large bathroom

From the concierge, I learned that every detail of the decor was well thought-out. The artwork, rug, and accessories were chosen and designed with Sarasota’s history and surroundings in mind. The beach flavour played a large role, naturally, but so did the Ringling Brothers. The hotel, in fact, was bought and developed by a Ringling – of the Ringling Brother Circus.

In our short time in Sarasota, we only managed to have one meal at the hotel – breakfast ordered from room service. Our meal was delicious and very filling!

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french toast with caramelized bananas + a stack of pancakesWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-9

breakfast with a view – and the hotel robe makes an appearance

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“white cabanas” at the hotel pool

The shuttle service to the beach club was easy and convenient. There’s a shuttle stop in St. Armands Circle for those passengers who would like to explore some unique stores. And a few kilometres down the road is the Beach Club at Lido Beach. I could have spent days and days lounging at the club. The white towels were freshly laid out on our chaises by hotel staff, and throughout the day, they restocked our ice bucket and water supply (we drank so much water!), took our lunch order, and raised our umbrella when we needed more shade. I felt so spoiled!

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plush towels at the Beach Club

I mentioned in the itinerary portion of this post that we took advantage of some of the spa services during our time at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Specifically, my friend and I enjoyed manicures with two friendly technicians. After being pampered with scrubs, creams, and bright polish, we grabbed our complimentary champagne and headed into the spa’s healing waters. We soaked in the hot tub, and sweated in the sauna and steam room. Oh, it was heavenly!

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pre-spa treatment (and another robe appearance)White-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-16

#iwokeuplikethis those nails! and the endless supply of branded water bottles! (oh, and a third appearance of the Ritz-Carlton robe!)White-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-17

manicure, palm trees, and sunshine = bliss

There you have it, dear readers, a peek into our vacation-in-a-vacation at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Would you believe me if I said that I’m eager to return? Yeah, I thought so!

Note: Just before I went to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, I heard from my sister who had just returned from a family trip to the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds in Georgia. She let me know that their stay at the Ritz was top-of-the-top, and that the hotel staff treated them and their four kids (under the age of 7) so extremely well. They had a wonderful family vacation! Around the same time, I learned of the Bucket List Family’s YouTube channel, and they have said so many great things about the Ritz-Carlton hotels in which they’ve stayed (I’m looking at you, Ritz-Carlton Kyoto and Ritz-Carlton Tokyo). The Ritz-Carlton seems to treat every guest – including the youngens – with such kindness and respect. Even though I don’t have kids, I do  appreciate that this high end hotel chain offers kid-friendly food, amenities, and activities.

Many thanks to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota for sponsoring this post. Thanks, Stacey, for making our arrangements. All opinions are my own.

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Travel: Things to Do and See in Florence

Oh, Florence. With help from the Expedia.ca team, I was lucky enough to spend just about 5 days in Florence in June, and it was a very special visit. My dad and I had the most incredible tour guide (Ciao Ivo!), and my cousin (Ciao Roby!) joined us for a couple of days, too. The four of us had a grand ol’ time, and I’ve been eager to share the highlights with you. Here we go!

See and Do

1. San Miniato al Monte

On our first day in Florence, Ivo drove us up to San Miniato al Monte. The church is an architectural masterpiece with carved stone floors, carved walls, intricate ceilings, and marble inlay everything. It’s beautiful.

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San Miniato al Monte

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Dad and il famoso Ivo – and Florence in the background

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the magnificent carved stone floorSan-Miniato-al-Monte-Florence-3

this kind of detail is unbelieveable San-Miniato-Florence-1

always look up – the ceiling work was crazy good

Visitors can certainly walk (hike up to) the church, but going in the car was much easier on our feet and legs.

Outside the church, we saw the most beautiful magnolia trees and incredibly fragrant jasmine. Oh, readers, it was amazing!

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2. The Uffizi

The Uffizi Gallery in the centre of Florence houses some incredible art. It holds the largest collection of Italian masterpieces (someone correct me if I’m wrong, please). And some of the art you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The museum is home to pieces by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and da Vinci (basically all the Ninja Turtles…and then some!).

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Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Franceschi

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The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

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always look up – a gilded ceiling

If you decide to go, you may want to reserve your ticket in advance (easy to do in person) so that you can skip the long lines. Doing so will only cost you a few more Euros than the admission price.

3. Ponte Vecchio

It’s worth going to the Ponte Vecchio because (a) how could you miss it, (b) it’s one cool bridge, (c) the views of and from the bridge are pretty amazing. I, however, could avoid going here on future visits. It’s absolutely crowded with tourists, the shops of gold have very few customers in them, and it’s really just a place of chaos. It’s not for me.

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4. The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella

The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is a short walk away from the main crowded tourist areas, and it’s housed in an absolutely gorgeous building. You wouldn’t really know this from the outside, but once you’re in, you’ll notice beautiful tile work, grand ceilings, and artfully displayed pharmacy products in glass cases. It’s also a shop, so if you’re looking for beautiful soaps and toiletries, this is your place.

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always look up – a painted ceiling and a gorgeous chandelier

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classic apothecary

5. Salvatore Ferragamo Museum

Florence is the home of great fashion houses like Gucci and Ferragamo. And these two fashion houses each have a museum. I went to the Museo Ferragamo one day because I needed a break from the crowds and heat, and it was a small, approachable museum. Inside, I found gorgeous shoes, dresses, and artwork. Yes. It was worth a visit.

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6. Pitti Uomo

Okay. Even though Pitti Uomo invaded Florence while I was there, driving hotel prices up, up, and then even farther up (see my rant below), it was absolutely wonderful and inspiring to be in Florence during the expo. Buyers, designers, and the fashionable folk were in full force, and for us onlookers, it was a feast for our fashion senses! I have never seen so many beautifully dressed men. The suits, the colours, the shoes, the attitude…wow, wow, wow! Totally dandy!

Oh – and just about every store on Via De’Tornabuoni was having a party. Some were open to the public, so my cousin and I obviously stopped in and had a toast with the fashion set of Florence!

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7. Richard Ginori Shop

I was excited to see the Richard Ginori flagship. Richard Ginori is a well-known Italian porcelain brand that has recently been acquired by Gucci. The designs of these hand-painted fine china pieces are just incredible. Even if you don’t appreciate fine china, it’s worth a visit to the store. Both the building and the product displays are aesthetically stunning. Go.

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I happened to go on a day where one of the Ginori artists, Elisa Verniani, was painting away by the entry. I was mesmerized by the delicate movement of her paintbrush. She was also very pleasant and friendly and answered about a bajillion questions. (p.s. shout out also the kind couple who joined our chat and complimented me on my Italian. Grazie!)

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Elisa Verniani holding the image transfer paperwhite-Cabana-Florence-3

Ginori artist Elisa Verniani at work white-Cabana-Florence-5

the finished product (it takes about two weeks to complete)

8. Il Duomo

Il Duomo is yet another Florence landmark. It’s a stunning building, and no amount of photos can actually evoke the feeling you get when you’re near it, walking around it, touring inside of it. It’s magnificent.

We learned that there is an entrance fee to the Basillico. We managed to avoid the fee by working our Italian connection (long story for another day).

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I got my cousin jumping (blurry but fun!)

Stay

Florence is constantly busy with tourists, conferences, and events, but I think I booked my trip during the absolute busiest time of the year. You see, Pitti Uomo (the men’s fashion expo) was in town while I was there and the city was invaded by 30,000+ extra people. OMG. I had my first taste of the busyness when I was booking my hotel. Prices had sky-rocketed, and it was impossible (truly!) to get a hotel for less than $300.

Originally, I had booked an apartment via Expedia.ca, and I was so happy with this option because of my longer stay in the city. About a month or so before I left Canada, however, the apartment person contacted me and told me it was double booked for part of my stay, so although the lady offered an alternative stay for 2 nights, this was going to be rather inconvenient, so I opted to use Expedia.ca’s cancellation policy and start a new booking.

So, back to the drawing board. There were slim pickings in terms of hotel rooms and apartment options a month before Pitti Uomo (and my vacation), so I opted for the Hotel Curtatone near Santa Maria Novella, which is about a 15 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio. The nightly rate was $300+ during the week I was there (it’s around $150-$200 during non-Pitti Uomo days). It’s clean, but I wouldn’t stay there again.

It’s noted as a 3-star hotel, but it was miles behind the  3-star hotels I stayed at in Rimini and Bologna. The air conditioning didn’t work on the first night and we received some bu**s*** story about it. (This is when it really helps to know the local language so as to not be taken advantage of.) The room was clean, but not spectacular. The balcony in the second room I had (yes, I switched rooms during my stay) was definitely a nice addition. The breakfast was mediocre (as in, there was no Nutella and the croissants and toast bread wasn’t great; the yogurt was fine though). I did like the location as it was away from the main touristy areas, and after days of touring in noisy crowds, it was nice to sleep in a quiet area. Final point – I would not stay at this hotel again.

So where would I stay? If I stayed in the centre of Florence again, I’d stay at the Hotel Lungarno. It’s white and beautiful. It’s right in the middle of the action and has gorgeous views of the river and Ponte Vecchio.

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Likely, though, I’d completely avoid the centre of the Florence at this time of year. I’d get completely out of the city and stay in a neighbouring small town like Fiesole. I would take the bus to Florence (or have a rental car), and experience the quieter side of the region.

Eat

Food in Florence, like elsewhere in Italy, is reasonably priced, and, really, you just can’t beat Italian food. I didn’t have one bad meal in my two weeks in the country. Not even a bad snack. Everything was just so yummy! Here are two of my foodie recommendations for you.

1. Venchi gelato

If you’re in Florence (or anywhere in Italy) during the warmer months, I challenge you to go even one day without eating gelato. It’s the best snack/treat/meal to eat while touring towns/cities/villages. The. Best. I miss it a lot. It’s also acceptable to eat gelato twice a day. Just as an FYI.

One of the popular gelaterias that began in Florence is Venchi. It’s a chocolate lovers’ heaven. The gelato is excellent, and I should know as I made several visits during my stay.

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And don’t worry if you can’t make it to Venchi, just eat gelato from whatever place inspires you. And try as many flavours as you possibly can because once you leave Italy, you won’t find the same gelato elsewhere.

2. All’Antico Venaio

This hole-in-the-wall panini place – All’Antico Venaio – is bustling. There’s always a line-up, the food is ridiculously fresh and delicious, and the street is lined with people sitting on the edge of the road eating paninis. Talk about un casino. There’s an All’Antico Venaio on either side of the street. One of them is a sit-down place, but I liked the hustle and bustle of the take-out only counter.

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my panini with a view of the osteria (sit-down) side of All’Antico Vinaio

So, there you have it, dear readers, a glimpse into my trip to Florence. Have you been? Would you go back?

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA.

Other posts in this series: Booking with Expedia.ca, 5 Tips for Traveling with a Parent, Things to do in Rimini, Italy, Stay and Play in Bologna, Italy, Things that Amuse Me about Italy

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Travel: Things that Amuse Me About Italy

By now, you may have caught up on my stories from my trip to Italy in June (already almost two months ago!). If not, go ahead and click on the following links to catch up on my father-daughter trip (made possible by the folks over at Expedia.ca):

Italy – as you perhaps can tell from my stories – is all about la dolce vita. The people are my people. The food is my food. The way people enjoy each other’s company (with food, of course) works for me. I love so many things about the Italian culture (of which I was born into – lucky me!) and I hope you have – or will be able to – travel to Italy so you can experience it for yourself.

I have plenty to share today. In this post (part I for today), I want to highlight some of the things I love about Italy/my observations/things that amuse me. Later today, I’ll publish a post focused on my time in Florence.

Ready? Let’s go!

The Italian language…

My Italian is decent. I can get whatever I need, ask questions, and I can now even throw in a bit of sarcasm or jokes into conversation. I may not speak rapidly or using perfectly formed sentences, but I can certainly communicate. This isn’t to say that it isn’t hard. It is. I rarely practice Italian when I’m in Canada, unfortunately, so when I’m in Italy, I struggle with words and verb tenses. Luckily, the Italians were very kind and they told me that I’m brava. Grazie!

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a quick stop at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at the University of Pisa

Given my language learning and teaching background, I can easily get fixated on words, pronunciation, and expressions when others might overlook these things or find them uninteresting. So, there are plenty of words that I absolutely love to say and hear; some of these are…

chiacchierare

This means “to chit chat.” I love how this word sounds. It sort of sounds like kia-kia-ra-reh (with rolled “r”s). It’s been one of my favourite words for many years now, I have to say. When I saw these five ladies huddled on a bench in Rimini, this is the word that came to my mind. There they were, enjoying the day, gossiping, chatting, and watching the world go by. Awesome.

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asciugamano

When I was at the beach, I could not remember the word for towel at all. I used the English and French versions before the kind beach cabana man responded to me with “si, si, un’asciugamano”. I was like, of course! I love how this word sounds. For one simple item (a towel), this word has five syllables. It sort of sounds like ah-shoo-ga-man-oh.

casino

This is perhaps my most favourite word of the whole Italian language. “Era un casino” sort of means “it was chaotic,” but casino is a much more enjoyable word, in my opinion, than chaos. While the word seems simple when you say it/spell it/hear it/write it (it is pronounced like ka-scene-oh), the word is a powerful one! It can be used for so many things…traffic, congestion on the sidewalk, disorganized supermarket shelves, bikes and pedestrians sharing a path, confusion over a restaurant reservation…there are countless uses, and when no other word comes to mind to describe a frenetic situation, you can just use casino.

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parking areas for bikes, scooters, and cars can definitely become a casino!

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the Piazza della Signoria in Florence is definitely a casino for the majority of the day

meraviglioso

I think I like this word mostly because of how it looks when it’s written out. I love that dip of the lowercase “g”. Honestly, this is how geeky I am when it comes to language. Not only do I think about the meaning, and the sound of the word, but I also judge a word by its look. Seriously. True story. #crazyforlanguages

So this word means wonderful, but it is so much more beautiful than the word wonderful. It is pronounced like mare-a-vi(g)-li-o-so. Try it. Like it?

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the carved floor at San Miniato al Monte in Florence was meraviglioso!

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the Leaning Tower of Pisa is also meraviglioso!

So not to hog this post with everything language-related, I’m offering up some other observations…

driving

Thank goodness I’ve been in cars with attentive Italian drivers. While there are rules of the road in Italy, sometimes I feel like they’re optional. Stay in your lane or don’t. Signal or don’t. Stop at a red light or don’t. Like I said, optional. Speed bumps don’t seem to be of much use. Unless maybe you’re on a scooter and you don’t feel like jumping out of your seat…then, maybe, you’ll slow down at the speed bump. Watching people manaover la rotonda (the roundabout) is fascinating. I don’t know why people in Waterloo have such a tough time with them. The Italians have them under control. No stopping, just go, go, go!

children

I’m not judging parenting styles here, I’m just sharing with you what I’ve observed (generally). In Rimini (a beach town), kids were out and about with their parents until past 10pm and 11pm. No. Big. Deal. They weren’t screaming or cranky, they were just there. Hanging out with their parents and friends. Playing. Chatting. Riding bikes. I know many of them were on vacation, and we were at the beach, but I was still surprised to see how engaged they were with beach life. And they weren’t being bribed with gelato or toys as far as I could tell. (I seem to be more sensitive to children’s behaviour/parenting styles since I began working at a university. I’m always surprised by the number of parents who come in with – and do the talking on behalf of – their adult children. I’ve even heard of some who want to go to orientation days with their children.)

Children in Italy are more than welcome at restaurants. Young Italian children that I’ve known (or observed) know how to use forks and knives properly, and they just do as the adults do. They may be eating pizza while their parents work on a three-course meal, but they’re doing so politely, calmly, and without (an apparent) fuss (I know it’s not all roses, but I was always surprised to see how children – and their parents – comported themselves at the dining table).

Italian children seem to ride bicycles from an early age (as in two-wheelers, without head-to-toe padded protection as I’ve observed where I live). They’re in the street. They’re in the bike lanes. They’re riding alongside their parents and friends. Many don’t wear helmets. These kids would just go-go-go without hesitation. They navigated the bike lane and road crossings impressively. It’s just the way things are done (okay, maybe moreso in Rimini than in the centre of Florence, but you get the idea, right?). Cars and pedestrians are aware of cyclists, but it was still surprising to see everything in motion on the shared roads.

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a beautiful white bike (notice the kid seat at the handle bars) in Lucca, Italy

Check back later today for my recap of things to see and do in Florence.

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA.

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Travel: Laughing Around Pisa, Italy

While in Italy with Expedia.ca last month, Ivo (my dad’s friend from Florence) took us to Pisa one the day. I hadn’t ever been to Pisa, so I was looking forward to seeing the tower (of course) and the town. Of course, it was wonderful to have Ivo as our tour guide while we were in Italy. It was convenient that he was the driver (driving in/out is much more chaotic than it is in North America!), but Expedia.ca also offers car rental options (in fact, I used Expedia.ca to book my current car rental in Florida – it has competitive pricing!).

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was smaller than I had thought. It’s absolutely white and beautiful and incredible. The columns that surround the tower are perfectly aligned, and the tower has been cleaned in recent years. I stared at it for so long trying to imagine how a building that leans so much remains standing. I know it’s been reinforced and all that, but it seriously leans! A lot! It’s crazy!

There were an incredible number of tourists in Pisa – surrounding the tower, the basilica and filing through the outdoor market.

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You may have seen a bunch of photos of people posing with the Leaning Tower of Pisa to create the illusion of holding it, learning on it, or picking it up, right (if not, see this). I thought I’d give it a try, too, but things didn’t quite work out the way that they were supposed to. First, I had to try to explain to dad the whole photo illusion concept because he hadn’t seen them created before, and then when that wasn’t working out, I passed the camera over to Ivo and reexplained everything in Italian. While I may not have ended up with one of those classic amusing photos, I did end up with a really full blooper reel. Want to laugh? Keep scrolling.

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Yup. Not. Even. Close. Sometimes, White Cabana (and Dad and Ivo) just does things differently…

Hope I made you laugh today!

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA. Stay tuned for a couple more Italian posts in the weeks ahead.

Other posts in this series: Booking with Expedia.ca, 5 Tips for Traveling with a Parent, Things to do in Rimini, Italy, Stay and Play in Bologna, Italy

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Travel: What To Pack for a Beach Vacation

I’m currently vacationing in sunny Florida! It’s super hot in Florida at the moment, and my friend Shannon and I have agreed that we should stick to a grueling schedule of beach-pool-beach-pool with some meals in between. Tough, yes. That’s how we roll when we’re in Florida! Of course, though, there’ll be days and nights of shopping trips, and we’re looking forward to a trip-within-a-trip to Sarasota. Oh – and we’ll be seeing two concerts while we’re here – Gwen Stefani and the Dave Matthews Band. Very cool. Good times ahead!

I’m a decent packer, and I generally have a good sense of what outfits I may need while I’m on vacation. That said, I sometimes pack more than I need and I don’t like lugging around useless weight. For this vacation, I wanted to pack light – absurdly light – because (a) I don’t wear much more than bathing suits while I’m here, (b) it’s too hot to wear more than a bathing suit, and (c) I’m hoping for a few sales which means I’ll be returning with a heavier luggage on my way home. I’m so good at supporting the American economy when I’m in Florida that I should really get a prize.

I’m (almost) ready to challenge myself to stick to a very strict colour scheme this trip. I’m starting with two navy/white bikinis that I picked up in Copenhagen last month from H&M. Most of my packing for this trip revolved around navy/white (quite a departure from the usual black and white, I know). Here’s what I considered (and just about ended up following through on) packing for this vacation (very similar items, not necessarily the exact items).

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sunglasses, sun hat, watch, dress, bikini, kaftan coverup, flip flops, white teewhite denim shorts, purse, navy shorts, dress, tank top, striped bikini, sneakers, sweatshirt, pajamas, sandals, sports bra, sports tank, running shoes, running skirt

What do you think? Could you spend two weeks in Florida with these 22 pieces?

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Travel: Stay and Play in Bologna, Italy

After Rimini, I traveled solo to Bologna. Dad and I split ways here for a few days as I wanted to explore Bologna, and he was off enjoying la dolce vita in Florence with friends. Thanks to Expedia.ca for making this leg of my trip possible!

One of the first items on my agenda when I got to Bologna was to eat a delicious pasta bolognese. As I mentioned in my last post, each region in Italy is known for certain specialties, and Bologna is known for pasta bolognese. It’s also known for tortellini, prosciutto, and mortadella. In fact, Bologna has so many delicious foods that it’s known as La Grassa (The Fat One). Great, right?

So, as I was saying, my first main meal in Bologna was a pasta bolognese dish at the well-known Pappagallo (it means parrot) near il torre (the tower). I was very pleased with my meal. I ate calmly, people watched, and enjoyed a glass of wine on the outdoor patio. Dad wasn’t the only one who was enjoying la dolce vita!

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Besides the pasta bolognese, I enjoyed numerous gelati (plural of gelato). The gelato at the famous Cremeria Funivia was definitely one for the record books. Oh, jeez, was it every good!

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a gelato selfie

I also stopped into Caffè Zanarini one afternoon for a pizzetta and spremuta (juice). The outdoor dining set-up in the square was beautiful. Service was average. This was one of the few (or maybe even the only) places I visited where even though I spoke Italian, the servers responded in English only. They must be used to tourists.

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afternoon snack at Zanarini

A definite must-see (and must-eat) is Majani chocolates. The shop on Via de Carbonesi is charming with beautiful carrara marble countertops and dark wood shelves. The chocolate is superb. It should be considering the Majani chocolatiers have been in business for 200 years. I brought some chocolate back to Canada with me, and I’m just enjoying the last few pieces this week. The sales lady behind the counter was extremely kind and generous with her time. We had a great chat about Bologna, about my travel itinerary, about blogging, about the success of Majani, and, yes, about chocolate, too. She was also very kind to offer suggestions as to what I should see during my stay. One of her suggestions was the walk up to San Luca (see below). I did it, then went back to Majani to speak with her about it (and buy more chocolate). Like I said, she was so very kind.

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Do I still have your attention? Can I share a bit more food with you before moving on to other Bologna faves? Okay, great.

So, just off the Piazza Maggiore (main square) are a bunch of narrow streets that are open in the mornings for market time. Here’s when people can stock up on fresh fish, produce, fruit, and meats. The buzz around these streets (the area is known as the Quadrilatero) was awesome.

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Now that I have filled your stomachs with (virtual) Italian food, I’d like to show you some of the other highlights of my Bologna trip.

One of the reasons why I absolutely loved Bologna was because of its architecture. Bologna is a city of i portici (porticoes, vaulted walkways, arches, archways). It was a brilliant place to be because the sidewalks under the portici were wide, and some of the ceilings of the portici were beautifully painted. When it rains, there’s no need for an umbrella because you get anywhere in the city centre via these covered sidewalks. Just gorgeous.

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As you can see in this photo, Bologna is a pink city. Many of the walls of the buildings are in shades of rose, and even the rooftops are pretty shades of pink.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the University of Bologna. If you’re a long-time reader, then you already know that I’m passionate about education and I teach at a university. The University of Bologna is an extra special place because it was the first university and it’s the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1088. 1088! Pretty remarkable, eh? I was so happy to walk the grounds, visit the buildings, and see what the students were up to. I was amused by all the photocopy shops around the university, and of course there were several cafés to stop in for an espresso (I stopped in here.).

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Other things that I saw in Bologna were the Basilica in Piazza Maggiore:

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and le due torre (the two towers) in the city centre. I climbed the nearly 500 steps to the top for this view.White-Cabana-due torre-bologna

The last thing I’d like to share with you about Bologna is San Luca – or the Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San Luca. The trek to San Luca (walking under 600 portici!) was recommended by the lady I met at Majani chocolates. Of course, many websites and guides also recommend it, but it was the conversation that I had with the lady that pushed me to go for it. While you can walk from the historic centre all the way to the beginning of the path to San Luca, I’d recommend taking the city bus #20 to Villa Spada and then walk the 2km to the Basilica (note: you can buy bus tickets on the bus or at the tabacchi). Just look at the view from the top! (and all that marble!).

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Oh, I almost forgot to tell you where I stayed! I stayed at the Zanhotel Regina on via della Indipendenza in the historic centre (about $100CAD/night during my stay in June). The hotel is a 3 star hotel, but remember what I said about the hotel star rating system in Italy? The location was good, the bed was comfortable, the breakfast was decent, the people were very nice, but the bathroom was small and the decor was dated. The hotel, luckily, had WiFi and air conditioning, and I put both to good use! The hotel is close enough, but far enough, from the train station, and it’s only a short, enjoyable walk to Piazza Maggiore along via Indipendenza, a main shopping street. If I had an unlimited budget, I’d likely stay at the Grand Hotel Già Majestic (about $400/night in June).

Booking the Zanhotel Regina with Expedia.ca was straightforward and easy. After a few clicks, I had a place to stay! And while I’m talking about booking, I have to say that when I planned this trip, I purposefully booked hotels that offered free cancellation (without penalty). This was really important as I wanted my itinerary to be somewhat flexible in case other things came up during my trip. The free cancellation policy is top notch! Hotel prices in Italy vary greatly depending on the time of year, location, and local events, so I also recommend using the Scratchpad feature on Expedia.ca. With this feature, you can keep track of potential bookings and price changes.

So there you have it – a few items of interest in Bologna, Italy. Overall, the city impressed and surprised me. I would easily go back to Bologna…and not just for the pasta bolognese!

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA. Stay tuned for a couple more Italian posts in the weeks ahead.

Many many many thanks to Expedia.ca for sponsoring my trip. Grazie mille! All opinions are my own.

Other posts in this series: Booking with Expedia.ca, 5 Tips for Traveling with a Parent, Things to do in Rimini, Italy

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Travel: Things to Do in Rimini, Italy

While Dad and I flew into Bologna, we weren’t there for long.  After waiting for ages for our luggage, we met Dad’s friend (and now mine), Ivo, at the exit. I was exhausted, so I was happy that neither Dad nor I had to think about the next leg of our journey. Instead, Ivo shuffled us into his car and drove us all to Rimini, a beach town on the Adriatic coast about a 1 hour drive from Bologna (in Italy, when people talk about distance, they refer to the kilometers rather than the time. Rimini is approximately 120km from Bologna.)

Rimini was our first stop on our #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA vacation as my Dad’s highschool reunion lunch (a mulit-hour feast!) happened on the Sunday. A weekend at an Italian beach? Nobody had to twist my arm to go.

For the movie buffs out there, you may have already heard of Rimini as it’s the hometown of film director Federico Fellini. There are nods to Fellini throughout the city, including renamed streets after Fellini films. Fellini, I learned, based characters, places, and images of Rimini throughout his hometown (even though many were shot entirely in Roman film studios). His movie 8 1/2, of which my hotel’s street was named, won an Oscar, too, and featured the gorgeous Grand Hotel (see below). I haven’t yet watched it, but it’s now on my must-watch list.

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Let me take you on a little tour of the Rimini that I experienced over a period of three days last month.

Places to Stay

After I booked my flight with Expedia.ca and I got a sense of my Dad’s itinerary, I started researching and booking hotels. As anyone who has used Expedia.ca knows, hotel searching and booking is simple and straightforward. Dad had narrowed down Rimini hotel options for me as Ivo gave him some recommendations. As such, I used the search tool to look up Rimini hotel options.

Because of location and insider recommendations, I booked the Villa Bianca – an affordable, clean, bright hotel, located right on the beach (and in English, the hotel is called White House….perfect for me, right?). On beach vacations, I would always recommend booking a hotel right on the beach. You’ll appreciate the proximity and views. Villa Bianca‘s location was perfect, and the outdoor seating areas were white-white-white!

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lots of white outside at Villa Bianca

Villa Bianca is a partner hotel with Villa Litoraneo. Apparently, the rooms in the Litoraneo are slightly larger than those in Villa Bianca, but the two hotels share the same breakfast, views, pool, and location. Both are  very reasonably priced, so you really couldn’t go wrong with either.

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Dad and I by the pool (which I never did dip into)

My room was very clean, and it had everything I needed, including a balcony (sorry – no photos – it was much too colourful!). I loved opening the balcony doors every morning to see what was going on in the beachy world around me. There was nothing particularly special about the room; the bed was comfortable, shower pressure was good, the TV worked, and wifi was easily accessible. The breakfast, though, was substantial and inviting.

Since I was working on a budget (still trying to get my money tree to produce actual money!), I tried to keep all of my hotels at or under $200 in every city I traveled to. If budget was not a consideration, however, I would definitely splurge for the Grand Hotel. Not only was it featured in Fellini’s 8 1/2 film, it was absolutely stunning – historic, white, grand, and all-around gorgeous.

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curves on the patio

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ceiling details at the Grand Hotel

Now, before moving on to food (drool, drool), let me take a moment to talk about the star rating system for hotels in Italy. In short, ignore them. The system is not as regulated/formal/consistent as it is in North America and there aren’t as many chain hotel companies as there are here. Sometimes a 2-star hotel is much better than a 3-star hotel. When searching for hotels, I would keep the stars in mind, but I wouldn’t recommend that you use them as a completely reliable source. The 3-star Villa Bianca in Rimini, for example, was miles ahead of the 3-star hotel I stayed in in Florence. What would I do? I’d look up reviews online from other travelers (North American and non-North American), bloggers, and travel sites, and look at the hotel’s website, too.

Places to Eat

I’m just about convinced that you can eat anywhere in Italy and be pleased with your meal. The food is just so delicious (not that I’m biased). While in Rimini, we had a few meals along the main beach-front street (via Lungomare), and everything was delicious. What I would recommend, though, if you’re in Rimini, is to eat fish. Lots and lots of fish.

As you may know, each region in Italy has its own specialties, and I’d recommend you try to eat the food of the region. Italians are very passionate about food (and everything, really), and they can spend days talking about the quality of the food at the market/restaurant/region. If you can, ask locals (or watch locals) what they’d recommend.

One of the most delicious pastas I had while I was in Italy was pasta alla vongole (pasta with clams) in Rimini. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it was one of the average restaurants on the main street. It was so yummy!

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bibs for adults? yes, please

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Dad and Ivo give the thumbs up for their lunch choices (Ciao, Ivo!)

The highschool reunion lunch happened at the most scenic restaurant – Rock Island. This place is the only place in Rimini that is on the water. Literally, on the water. You have to walk on a pedestrian-only pier to get to it, and once there, the views are beautiful. I’m not sure if the meals they serve are always so extravagant, but ours was! Fish after fish after fish – all served family style. Loved it.

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antipasti freddi (cold appetizers – salmon, seafood salad, squid)White-Cabana-Rimini-3 (1)

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spedini (calamari and shrimp skewers)White-Cabana-Rimini-6 (1)

semifreddo mandole (almond ice cream)

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the view at Rock Island

In the town of Rimini (a short drive away from the beach), I’m sure there are a lot of great restaurants to try. Our in-town eating consisted of gelato, so I don’t have any restaurant recommendations for you. Can’t go wrong with that.

Another thing about eating out in Italy…When you’re in Italy, I would recommend adopting the Italian meal schedule. You’ll look like the odd-man-out if you eat a light lunch at noon and a big dinner at 5pm. I mean, this is okay, but if you want to experience the Italian way, you should make some adjustments. Eat lunch at 1pm or 2pm and make it a good one. Have a couple of courses, drink a glass of wine, and enjoy the slow-paced afternoon. Maybe have a gelato between lunch and dinner. Dinner at 9pm is perfectly acceptable. You’d likely have something light like a caprese salad (tomato and mozzarella). Leaving the dinner table at 11pm is absolutely normal – especially when you’re on vacation!

Things to Do

The beach. You’re in Rimini. Go to the beach. There, that’s easy enough advice, isn’t it?

Honestly, the beach is the place to be. It is wide and long and clean. In June, there were a decent amount of people, but I’m sure that Rimini is jam-packed come July or August when Italians (and other European tourists) are on vacation.

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Generally, beach hotels have reserved sections of seating on the beach, so check with your hotel before venturing to the sand. You can, of course, just bring a towel and park yourself near the water, but the way that (most) Italians do it is that they rent a chaise and umbrella for the day (lettino e ombrellone). The Villa Bianca also offered a bit of a discount, and I’m sure other hotels do the same. My chaise was 4 or 5 euros. I’d recommend getting the umbrella, too, if you’re planning to spend a full day at the beach. It gets very hot, and the umbrella offers the perfect shade. The rental fee should also include a towel and locker room/shower access. Italians may be disorganized in some regards (e.g., driving), but they’ve got the beach thing completely under control. It’s a pretty seamless system. La dolce vita!

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When you need a break from the beach, take a walk along the via Lungomare (the waterfront street) and grab a gelato (recurring theme, can you tell?).

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Besides the beach zone, the town of Rimini is definitely worth a visit. The pedestrian, cobblestone streets are perfect for a passeggiata (a stroll), and there are plenty of shops and cafés to pop into.

There’s a ton of history in Rimini, and I learned all about it on a guided tour. Unfortunately, my memory is terrible, and I took zero notes, so you’re going to have to go take a tour yourself to learn all about the battles and buildings. Essentially, Rimini has served as a central communication point between other regions in Italy. If I understood correctly, Rimini was an important place in Italy’s history because it serves as a direct route to places like Rome and Bologna. That’s the summed up version of its history (terrible, I know!).

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Arco d’Augusto

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So this basically sums up my weekend in Rimini. Would I go back? Definitely!

Learn more about Rimini.

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA. Stay tuned for more Italian posts in the weeks ahead.

Grazie mille, Expedia.ca.

Note: all opinions are my own. Other posts in this series: Booking with Expedia.ca, 5 Tips for Traveling with a Parent

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The Friday Five: 5 Tips for Traveling with a Parent

There are a lot of travel tips out there – traveling with babies, kids, pets; traveling on a budget; traveling light; etc., but there are few articles addressing the topic of traveling with a parent.

Thanks to Expedia.ca, I was able to join my Dad on a trip to Italy last month. As you may remember, Dad was heading to Italy for a reunion with his highschool friends. He had done this for the first time last year after a 50-year separation. Fifty! Five-Zero! Can you believe it? His friend (who I’ll be introducing in a future post!) connected with him via Facebook a couple of years ago, and they’ve been in touch ever since.

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our first selfie of our Italian vacation (this selfie wouldn’t have happened if not for Expedia.ca!)

I thought I would share five tips for traveling with – ahem – an older parent just in case young(er) daughters and sons are giving this type of vacation some consideration.

Now, before I get into my five tips, I should admit a few things.

1. Dad is a seasoned traveler.

This most certainly helps the whole father-daughter (retiree-youngen) travel situation. The fact that Dad has been traveling around the world since he was a teen (he did come to Canada on his own when he was 19 after all) means that he’s very familiar with airports, taxis, train systems, and “other”ness.

2. Dad and I have traveled together.

I can’t even count how many trips we’ve taken just the two of us. Because we’ve traveled together, I have a good sense of Dad’s travel abilities. Knowing what he’s like when he travels or when he’s outside of his normal routines (retirees, I tell ya!) helps me stay calm and know when to push/not push limits. He also knows when to help me, when to organize things, and when to leave me alone.

3. Dad speaks Italian.

Going to Italy may be intimidating for some because of the language barrier, but this was not an issue for us as both Dad and I speak Italian. Because Dad and I both know Italian, communication in Italy wasn’t the responsibility of only one of us. Since each of us could communicate with locals, it meant that neither of us was acting as “translator”. I’ve held this gig before and it can get tiring for everyone.

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We’re just about to head to the airport. Dad with his luggage and me with wet hair. Perfect.

So, now that you know more about where Dada and I started, let me share five tips for traveling with (an older, but still active) parent. (Dad, I hope I’m not offending you with all of this age talk. Age is just a number after all, right? I know you’re reading this.)

1. Have a positive attitude.

There is a ton of info out there about how a positive attitude is key to just about everything. When it comes to traveling with a parent – or anyone, really – your attitude can make or break your vacation. Remember that you’re on vacation (hello, vacation!), and so really, nothing should get in the way of enjoying yourself.

Okay – another admission – Although I, like Dad, am a seasoned traveler, I’ve traveled quite a bit on my own. I love traveling on my own. I’ve gotten used to traveling on my own. While others are scared to travel on their own, I’m scared to travel with other people. True story. Anyone with me on this? Traveling with others  makes me a bit nervous because I don’t want to get in fights about what to see/do/eat, I want to see/do/eat what I want without having to consider others (I’m so selfish), and I want to sleep in/see a museum/eat gelato for dinner/go to bed early/stay up late when I want. Totally selfish. Independent. Strong-willed. Whatever you want to call me. That’s how I am. Friends and family who have (dared to) travel with me are well aware of my issues and know that I need my independence.

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Here we are at Pearson on the tapis roulant (moving sidewalk – what are these things called in English or French?). In between selfies, dad’s saying, “This is why you always drop your phone, Jordana.”

So how do I travel with my Dad when I’m such an independent bugger? Well, I try to stay positive:

  • I know in advance that Dad and I are not going to want to do all the same things at  the same time. And that’s okay. We’re still family. This doesn’t mean that we’re bad travel buddies.
  • I realize that this is a special vacation that I’m so lucky to be on and that some daughters never get to experience traveling with their fathers. This is a cool opportunity, and it’s going to be memorable for both of us.
  • I don’t need to stress about seeing everything. Italy will always be there. What we see is what we see.
  • I talk to Dad in advance of the trip of my itinerary ideas to see where his interests lie.
  • I think again about what an amazing adventure we’re on, and that we’re so lucky to be able to see the world together (thanks a million, Expedia.ca!)

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We made it from Toronto to Frankfurt. We look tired but happy. Dad’s saying, “Make sure you get the planes in the background, Jordana.” My response, “I’m half-asleep, Dad. I’ll do my best.”

2. Have faith.

Okay, this may sound rude, but I’m going to say it anyway. Just because your parent may be 30+ years older than you, it doesn’t mean that s/he is not capable.

I have faith in Dad’s abilities. I know he can pack and carry his own luggage, connect to wi-fi independently on his iPhone, ask for directions, navigate trains, book things online, and check-in to his flight via the airline’s automated check-in kiosk.

Dad’s very capable and if he needs help, he’ll ask. I am confident that if Dad needed me to do something for him, he’d ask. In general though, I keep my expectations high so that he doesn’t fall into the “my daughter organizes everything for me” trap. That’ll just make his brain lazy, right? (I hope noone is calling me out on being an ageist. I’m not an ageist. I’m a realist.)

So, I’d recommend that you have faith in your parent’s abilities to travel. S/he may not do things your way at your speed, but s/he has made it through a lot of life without you. Your parent can do this!

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We’re ready to board our Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Bologna, Italy. Dad’s saying, “Look at all the names printed on the side. Who are they?” My response, “Look here, Dad, for another selfie.”

3. Communicate and know limits.

Dad and I aren’t the most perfect communicators on the planet (wait until I share my Pisa photos with you!), but when it comes to traveling together, I think we’re pretty good at checking in with one another about status/sight seeing interests/fatigue levels/meal preferences/etc.

It’s good to be aware of when your parent may need an extra long coffee break or a mid-day nap, or when your parent can power through (when you might need a mid-day nap).

It’s also helpful to know your parent’s eating habits. Food is a major part of my life (and my family’s), but we all have our preferences. Knowing Dad’s limits when it comes to food type preferences, meal times, and eating out helps me organize my own meals and dining experiences. There’s no point trying to convince Dad to eat dinner at a fancy restaurant at 9pm when I know all he wants is a light meal at 6pm. You know?

While I do admit that my Dad is very capable, I’m aware of limits. When I’m too quick at airport security or walking too fast to catch a train, I know that he won’t keep up, so I slow down or I ask him if he wants help (he never said yes, now that I think about it). If we miss a train, we miss a train. Another one will come along. (Side note: We never missed a train. In Bologna, we hustled and made it with 30 seconds to spare. Go team!)

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Breakfast in Rimini, Italy. We’re both fans of Nutella. #truth

4. Be independent.

So Dad doesn’t want to eat dinner at 9pm at a fancy restaurant. No big deal. I’m happy to go on my own. I think having time away from one another is a healthy part of traveling with others. When each traveler has some independence, they get to explore what they want and take a break from talking (seriously. especially when you’re spending so much time talking in your 3rd language as in my case. it’s totally tiring.). Exploring a city independently means that you’ll have stories to share when you do catch up. And that’s so fun!

Dad and I had time apart during our Italian vacation, and I think this made us both happy. He’d get sick of me just as much as I’d get sick of him if we were to spend 24 hours a day together. When we met up in Florence after I spent three days in Bologna on my own, for example, I was able to share all of my stories and photos with him. And he was able to fill me in on what he’d been up to in Florence. I thought it was great.

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selfie at San Miniato al Monte in Florence, Italy

5. Know when to take the lead.

Even though you, like me, may be traveling with an independent, capable, and experienced parent, I think it’s useful to know when you should just forget about all of that stuff and take the lead. This could mean following the signs at the train station for both of your sake, asking for directions, or making final decisions about what restaurant to go to.

Taking the lead means you get to show your parent how capable you are, to reassure them that you’ve got things under control, and to give them a chance to rest or regroup. Taking the lead might force them to try something out of the ordinary. And if your parent wants to take the lead for a chunk of time, let them. Dad, for example, was in charge of booking all of our trains. Awesome. Worked for me.

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selfie with the leaning tower in Pisa, Italy

Bonus:

Make matching t-shirts to tell the world that you’re a team! It was absolutely hilarious to travel around Italy with our matching White Cabana t-shirts. I’m eager to make more professional ones for our next adventure…even if it is just to the grocery store.

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spending father’s day together in Codogno, Italy

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA. Stay tuned for more Italian posts in the weeks ahead.

Many many many thanks to Expedia.ca for sponsoring my trip. Grazie mille! All opinions are my own.

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Hotel to Home: Bedroom at the Wythe Hotel

We haven’t been to Brooklyn yet in this series, have we? Let’s head on over to this hip city today, okay? The Wythe Hotel is a perfect spot for us to relax. Just check out this bedroom!

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queen room, Wythe Hotel

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bed frame, sheet set, sconce, wallpaper, vintage radio, chest of drawers,

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Travel: 10 More Things To Do in Copenhagen

As Copenhagen is a city rich with history, art, design, and culture, it was hard to write a list of just 10 things to do in Copenhagen, so I’ve created another list. Here are 10 more things to do in Copenhagen.

1. Eat a Smorrebrod

Smorrebrod is an open-faced sandwich, and it’s one of the famous foods of Denmark. I only had one during my stay (at Paper Island), and it was delicious (but not ridiculously filling). I like the concept of the open-faced sandwich because its focus is on the toppings, in my opinion, and the bread is just a bonus.

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2. Rent a bicycle (if you dare)

Copenhagen is jam-packed full of bikes. I loved it. I wish we had more of a cycling culture here in Kitchener-Waterloo. I am not a die-hard cyclist, but I do like the convenience and affordability of commuter cycling. Copenhagen is well-designed for cycling because of it’s car-sized bike lanes.

Renting a bicycle is easy enough to do (learn more about bike rentals), and hotels may even have options for you (WakeUp Borgergade does). I didn’t end up renting a bicycle during my vacation, but if I return to Copenhagen, I will. .

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3. Illums Bolighus

If you’re looking for a crash course in Danish design, visit the Illums Bolighus department store on the pedestrian shopping street in the city centre. If you time your trip right, you can land in Copenhagen during summer sales (this is what happened to me…my credit card worked hard!).

While I wanted just about everything at Illums Bolighus, I only walked away with the Stelton vacuum jug (in white, naturally) and a few gifts (all made in Denmark!). (My Stelton made it back to Waterloo in one piece, but when I washed it, I dropped the glass jug and it shattered. It was a very sad moment! Stelton – and Amazon – sell replacements, so not all is lost.)

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Unfortunately, I didn’t take too many photos at Illums Bolighus, so this is all you get!

While you’re in the shopping mood, pop into Hay, too. The architecture is lovely and the products are beautiful (although much of what I saw was made in China).

Side note: If you spend over 300DKK in a store (approx. $70CAD), then you’ll be able to receive the tax back (the Value Added Tax/VAT) at the airport. Ask shop clerks for assistance. It’s a straightforward process and worth doing if you’re keen on getting some money back post-vacation.

4. Visit Nimb, and see the peacocks, too.

When I arrived at Tivoli Gardens, I first stopped in at Nimb because I was debating having a meal. I was more interested in food than the amusement park, if I’m being honest. I arrived at an off time though, and since I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t end up eating at Nimb (but I’ve read that it’s delicious). Once I saw the place, I was amazed by the dramatic architecture. The white building certainly makes an impression!

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Beyond the building, Nimb is a playground for peacocks. I couldn’t believe it. I loved them!

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5. Relax on a dock by the canal.

The weather was beautiful when I was in Copenhagen, and although I spent the majority of every day outside, I was walking around a lot, and I was eager to see all sorts of sights. When I spent time by the canal, lying on the dock, on the afternoon of my last day, I had wished that I had done it more often. It was so relaxing, and I liked watching the boats. I’d recommend grabbing a picnic lunch and a drink, and bringing it here. People were swimming, too, so give that a try, too!

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6. Climb the ramp in The Round Tower.

I had such a pleasant visit to The Round Tower first thing one morning. The round tower is a 7-storey tall tower with a hollow centre. The tower has a circular ramp from bottom to top (with only a few stairs at the very top to get to the lookout point). I loved the brick floor and the white walls.

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7. Sit at a café (and stay warm with a blanket)

I strongly encourage Waterloo cafés and restaurants to adopt Copenhagen’s have-a-blanket-on-every-chair approach. It makes for such a cozy outdoor dining experience during the cooler nights (or days). It’s a brilliant idea, and it works!

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8. Watch the highschool graduates celebrate.

Copenhagen, compared to Italy, is a very quiet and calm city. With the small(er) number of cars, there’s definitely less noise pollution than in other major cities I have been to. The people aren’t waving their arms around widly discussing politics and food (as far as I could tell) like they were in Italy. People barely even jay-walked (from my observations). That said, on June 24th, the city’s highschool graduates caused a fuss! It was highly amusing. I loved it.

The highschool graduates dawn personalized caps and walk around town wearing them during the last weekend of school. On that same weekend, they pile into open-topped trucks, blast music, honk horns, and have a moving dance party. It was awesome to watch, and the students were having a great time.

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(This is proof that not every Dane is tall and blonde.)

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Can anyone help with this translation? All I know is tak = thanks. (Google translate was of little help.)

9. Look at all the statues of women.

After a couple of weeks in Italy surrounded by statues of David, Dante, and others, I was surprised to see so many female statues in Copenhagen. I haven’t had a moment to read about the history of the city/country, or to Google all the statues that I came across, so if anyone has any insight on this, do tell.

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10. And here are even more places to see in Copenhagen (that I didn’t actually get to!)

Looking for more ideas? See my first list 10 things to do in Copenhagen.

All photos by Jordana.

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Travel: 10 Things to Do in Copenhagen

Well, dear readers, I’m now into my second week back from a wonderful European vacation, and I’m getting a handle on my photo organization.

Thanks to Expedia.ca, I was able to spend almost two glorious weeks in the chaotic, passionate, delicious, sunny, and inspiring Italy! (A full recap on Italy in the weeks ahead, I promise.) After Italy, though, I decided to extend my stay in Europe by a few days. As I always like a good travel adventure, I booked an EasyJet flight from Milano Malpensa to Copenhagen, Denmark! It was a brilliant decision if I do say so myself.

I have much to share from Italy, naturally, but this week, I’m sharing my take on  Copenhagen. I have loads to report – hello, Copenhagen, design, design, design – but for today, I thought I’d start things off with 10 things that I did in Copenhagen that I would recommend (or do again).

10 Things To Do in Copenhagen

1. Stay near Kongens Have park in WakeUp Copenhagen (Borgergade location).

Booking a Copenhagen hotel in June (for around $200/night) was nearly impossible. I needed 4 nights in a hotel, and it seemed like everything in my price range was absolutely full. Hotels in Copenhagen were more expensive than I was expecting, and when I was planning my holiday, I was getting a bit discouraged when it came to the hotels (and my budget).

I ended up booking a stay with WakeUp Borgergade, and I’m quite happy with how things worked out. The “budget” hotel (just under $200 night including breakfast) was bright, modern, and the staff were friendly at check-in. While my room was small, it was very well designed, efficient, bright, and clean. I cannot get over the design of the bathroom and the use of frosted glass. The bed was very comfortable, and the duvets were fluffy. The room’s large windows expanded the space, and, although the large window opened, I appreciated the air conditioning.

On the downside, since the room was small, there was barely any room to store luggage, unpack clothes, or spread out toiletries. I made do, of course, but a closet would have been useful…especially for an extended stay (and luggage full of 2 weeks worth of clothing).

What I hadn’t realized when I booked the hotel was the convenient location. It was just perfect! The WakeUp Borgergade is in a clean, high-end part of town and close to shopping streets, Kongens Have park and Rosenborg Castle (so so lovely!), restaurants, Nyhavn (harbour), and more. When I walked down to Tivoli on my third day and saw some of the hotels I was originally considering, I realized that I wouldn’t have been as happy with the locations of these places. I really enjoyed being within minutes of the park.

Another major plus of the WakeUp Bordergade was the breakfast. It was full of plenty of healthy options like eggs, cheese, meats, yogurt, muesli…as well as less healthy options (i.e., my top pick) like Nutella! I noticed at least four or five fresh bread options each morning which really impressed me. In general, I enjoy the convenience of hotel breakfast packages. I dislike searching for food before my morning coffee when I’m traveling to a new city.

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2. Design Museum Danmark

At the top of my “to see” list in Copenhagen was the Design Museum. Thankfully, I really enjoyed visiting the Design Museum Danmark. It’s a medium-sized museum which meant that I wasn’t there all day long. It was a great place to be first thing in the morning before the crowds arrived.

After my visit to the museum, I walked to the Nyhavn area on Bredgade. There are furniture and antique shops all along Bredgade which made for great window shopping.

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3. The Little Mermaid

This sweet mermaid is always ready for a photoshoot. I walked by The Little Mermaid early one morning, and the area was already full of tourists. She is over 100 years old! She sits pretty on the water, and she doesn’t complain about being stared at by tourists.

She’s a 4′ tall bronze sculpture by Edvard Eriksen based on The Little Mermaid fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen.

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4. The Amalienborg Palace

I loved the architecture of the four royal residence buildings. I watched the guards walk back and forth for a while…I was sort of mesmerized. That would not be a job for me, but I do wonder how many steps they get in per day. Do you think they reach the recommended 10K?

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5. Canal Tour

On the recommendation of a friend (thanks, Emmy!), I opted to take the Netto Badene canal tour. It cost 40DKK (about $9CAD) for about an hour tour. We saw a ton of things from the boat and learned a lot, too. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about the history of what our tour guide told us. (Shame on me.) I do remember, however, going by the Royal Yacht. I didn’t see any royalty, but the crew was aboard working away!

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6. Paper Island

Paper island can be accessed by foot, but I opted to take public transportation in the form of a canal boat. Next time, I would probably want to rent a bike and take the long route around. Although, there is a pedestrian bridge that is due to be complete this summer, so you’d be on Paper Island from Nyhavn in just a few minutes.

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Go to Paper Island when you’re hungry because here’s where you can feast on diverse food. While many were going for burgers and Korean food, I opted for the traditional open-faced sandwich.

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After lunch, spend some time watching the world go by from a chair on the edge of Paper Island. When the sun is shining, this is a great place to be!

7. Street meat – hot dog with the works

Eating out in Copenhagen is expensive. Everything, really, is more expensive in Copenhagen than in Waterloo, if I’m honest. But the street meat stalls (hot dog stands) are reasonably priced and actually good. I’d definitely recommend picking up a dog-with-the-works. The stands are everywhere in the city (similar to the pretzel stands in Manhattan).

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8. Kongens Have

As I mentioned above, I really liked that my hotel was so close to Kongens Have park during my stay. It is beautifully maintained and manicured. Go for a morning walk or run around the park, so grab lunch to go and bring it here. It’s such a nice place to be.

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9. Tivoli

Tivoli Gardens is an amusement park in the city. This wasn’t on the top of my “to see” list, but I was so glad I made time for it on day 4. It was pretty magical and charming. I only walked around the park, but you could definitely buy tickets for rides, grab an ice cream, eat a meal, or a see a show.

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10. Norrebro

I read about Norrebro on the Design*Sponge Copenhagen City Guide, and I’m so glad I crossed the river to see it for myself. Norrebro has attitude, character, interest, and diversity. I liked it. The antique and design stores on Ravnsborggade and Elmegade were definitely highlights for me. Although I wasn’t hungry when I went to Norrebro, it looked like a great place to find more affordable meals.

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Stay tuned because later this week I’ll be sharing more from Copenhagen. As I discovered, there are definitely more than 10 things to do in this happy city!

All photos by Jordana.

p.s. Happy July 4th to all of my American readers!

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The Friday Five: 5 Things to Do in Kitchener-Waterloo This Long Weekend

Happy Canada Day! What goodness are you planning this weekend?

I’ve said it so many times here and in real life – I really enjoy living in Waterloo. This city – and region – has so much to offer, and I live such a happy, rich, and pleasant life here. Summer, of course, makes everything that much better, and this area has a lot of offer its residents and guests.

As we have just begun a long weekend here, I’m offering up five suggestions of things to do this weekend.

1. Go for a bike ride.

The Spur Line has recently opened up, and it’s a great way to take a ride to/from Kitchener/Waterloo. The trail is smooth, wide, flat, and lit, so it’s ideal for daytime or nighttime rides.

Alternatively, take a cruise down the classic Iron Horse trail to/from Kitchener/Waterloo. This was the first path I went on when I moved to Waterloo, and it’s still one of my faves. It’s great that it takes riders from uptown Waterloo (e.g., take a gelato break at Vincenzo’s) to downtown Kitchener’s Victoria Park in no time at all. The trail is smooth, flat, and surrounded by greenery.

If you’re feeling a bit more adventures, and are looking for more nature, then head over to Cambridge and ride to/from Cambridge to Paris along the Grand River. The ride is easy, but long (maybe 40+km). I suggest wearing padded shorts. 🙂

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Here I am riding my oldie-but-goodie bike down the Iron Horse trail in Waterloo. It’s such easy living!

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Here I am last summer on the Cambridge to Paris trail with the same oldie-but-goodie bike. I earned my lunch calories in Paris that day!

2. Stay cool at a public pool.

I grew up at public pools…first, as a youngster taking lessons, then, as a teen hanging out with friends, finally as a teenager/adult teaching swimming. I love having access to a pool, and luckily, there are few great ones in the region.

Moses Springer outdoor pool is large, clean, and definitely worth a visit.

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The lifeguard tower at Moses Springer.

3. Celebrate Canada Day with fireworks at Columbia Lake.

Although this will be my third summer in Waterloo, I have yet to enjoy Canada Day fireworks. Tonight, however, I’m hoping to head over to Columbia Lake to check out the action and colourful sky show.

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Canada Day Celebration – UofWaterloo Field Map

4. Try a new café.

My two current favourite cafés are the Berlin Bicycle Café in Belmont Village the Smile Tiger Coffee beside the Via Train Station. Both are accessible via bicycle, and both offer good coffee and atmosphere. The food at Berlin Bicycle Café is fresh and delicious, and I always find something good to eat. The egg salad is delicious, and the croissant sandwiches are good, too. Both cafés have outdoor patio space, so they’re great options for sunny days.

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The Berlin Bicycle Café

5. Take a drive into the countryside.

There are so many options for short road trips in the region.

  • Stay close and head to St. Jacob’s for a visit to the market.
  • Take a ride to Elora, pop into the sweet shops, and walk along the water.
  • Drive to Cambridge and pop into Monigram Roasters for a treat.
  • Drive over to Stratford and check out the first Balzac’s or grab a chocolate treat at Rhéo Thompson, then stroll around the lake.
  • Eat ice cream in any of the above towns!

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If you’re looking to learn more about what to do in the Waterloo region, please check out my Waterloo City Guide over on Design*Sponge.

Have a wonderful long weekend, everyone!

Happy Canada Day!

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The Friday Five: Five Essentials to Pack in Your Carry-On

For as long as I can remember, summer has been my season to travel. It’s probably because I’ve been in school all of my life, I’ve been a elementary school teacher, and now I teach at a university. In my life, it’s always been a tad tricky to take time off during the September-June months. July/August has been much more convenient. And I’ve always tried to take advantage of the downtime to escape the city and regular life and have an adventurous or relaxing holiday.

This summer is full of travel for me, and I couldn’t be more happy. I feel so very fortunate to have such travel experiences, and a job that affords me to escape for a couple of weeks.

I’m ecstatic to be in Europe, touring Italy with my dad, then heading off to Copenhagen for a few days. I thought it was fitting, therefore, to share with you five of my essential items for my carry-on luggage.

1. Sleeping eye mask

I absolutely do not care how ridiculous I look when I wear my sleeping eye mask. It offers complete darkness and definitely helps me get to sleep in the ol’ economy class. I usually bring this mask with me, but I quite like the look and feel of a fancy silk one, too.

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Manito silk sleeping eye mask

2. Notebook

I don’t think I really go anywhere without a notebook. I’m always jotting down ideas (all kinds) and to do lists, and when I don’t have my notebook, I feel slightly out of sorts. A notebook is a must of the plane so that I can write down things I want to see/do, review my itinerary, etc.

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Moleskine notebook

3. Water

I never find that the flight attendants provide enough water for my flights, and I know it means more bathroom breaks, but I like to stay fully hydrated during my flight, so I always bring my own bottle and fill it up before I board.

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Kate Spade water bottle

4. Face and hand cream

I know some people mist their faces on a flight, but I tend to apply moisturizer to avoid the feeling of dryness. I don’t pay much attention to brands, I just need creams that come in carry-on friendly containers.

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L’Occitane hand cream

5. Socks

I rarely sleep with socks on, but on flights, I find they’re necessary. I take my shoes off as I get to my seat (on short or long flights), and I don’t like putting my bare feet on the airplane carpet, so socks are a must. I find them especially cozy on long flights when I’m trying to get in a decent sleep.

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Happy Socks

What are some of your must-haves for short and long flights?

Travel: What I Did in Calgary, Alberta

On Monday, I took you on a guided tour of Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary, Alberta. Today, I’m sharing with you a few other things that I saw and did in the city.a

I was in Calgary for work, so my week was quite jam-packed. In between work obligations, however, I walked as much as I could to see what the city had to offer.

I absolutely loved the design of this parking structure.

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I was surprised by the arches at the Hudson’s Bay downtown.

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I was amazed by this handmade silk Fortuny chandelier.

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I was impressed by the art around the city.

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I found this plant store quite charming.

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I missed seeing the inside of Lauren Bagliore‘s shop because it was closed when I passed by.

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I was surrounded by beautiful objects at Kit and enjoyed a good conversation about Calgary (and design) with one of the sales associates.

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I was happy to stop in to Bite for a treat.

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It was an incredible treat to spend some in-person time with Erica Cook (Moth Design) after being online friends for 6 years. This fireplace scene in her home is pretty recognizable in the blogosphere.

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…and it was an extra special treat to come home with some Erica Cook original artwork.

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I enjoyed an extremely delicious meal at Sugo.

White-Cabana-Calgary-Sugo-2 Overall, I really enjoyed Calgary. It’s a friendly city and very easy to navigate. Walking around was simple, and the C-Train was certainly convenient. I would definitely be interested in going there again and spending some time in nearby Canmore and Banff. I heard the scenery is just stunning. I would love to see that part of Canada!

To see more of what I did, what I saw, and what I ate, check out #WhiteCabanaGoesToCalgary.

Travel: Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Palliser, Calgary

After reading about Erica Cook’s (of Moth Design) stay at the Fairmont Palliser over the holidays, I knew that I wanted to make a visit while I was in Calgary.

One of the highlights of my trip to Calgary was enjoying afternoon tea at the luxurious Fairmont Palliser. The hotel had a special tea service to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. White-Cabana-Afternoon-Tea-Fairmont-Palliser-Calgary_4White-Cabana-Afternoon-Tea-Fairmont-Palliser-Calgary_7

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I opted for a tea with bergamot because I love its flavour and fragrance.

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Tea time began with a martini glass filled with berries and devonshire cream.

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The tiered cake stand that our friendly server brought out included a selection of scones and jams (including Saskatoon berry jam). The middle layer of bites included an open-faced cucumber sandwich, a deviled egg, a salmon roll, and a curried chicken sandwich. My favourite of this bunch was definitely the salmon roll, followed by the curried chicken.

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The top tier was the one that I wanted to dig into first (but I didn’t) since I have such a sweet tooth! I began with the trifle in the sweet glass container. While I did want to eat more while I was there, I got the rest packed up and enjoyed them the next day. The strawberry cake was my favourite dessert of the bunch.

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Besides the deliciousness and the experience of enjoying the Fairmont Palliser’s afternoon tea, I couldn’t help but explore a bit more of the hotel. As one would expect of any Fairmont hotel, the details were superb and the architecture was classic. Just look at this stunning chandelier.

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The Fairmont Palliser’s Afternoon Tea was definitely a special break from my work week in Calgary, and when I make it back to the city, I’ll definitely take another trip to this pretty hotel.

Many thanks to Jacqueline and the Fairmont Palliser for sponsoring this post. All opinions and photographs are my own.

Travel: Booking with Expedia.ca

Okay, dear readers, I have majorly fun news! Major! Ready? Are you sitting down? Okay. Here it is…

I’m going to Italy! In. One. Month.

For a traveler like me, this is really really really exciting. Italy is my jam. My people. My food. My fashion. I haven’t been in 5 or 6 years, so you can imagine how thrilled I am. In fact, there are even more reasons for my enthusiasm. I’m heading over with my dad who is going to reunite with his highschool friends once again (remember how he reconnected with them via Facebook after 50 years?). Now I get to reunite with them, too. It’s wild. Meeting people who knew my dad when he was 16? That’s nuts! Right?

And on top of all of this, the incredibly generous folks at Expedia.ca are sponsoring my trip! Yes! Yes! Yes! As in the Expedia.ca. The same Expedia.ca that I have been using for years to book my trips. The same Expedia.ca that finds me the best possible prices for flights, hotels, and cars. Yes, it’s that Expedia.ca!

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Me? Excited? Yeah, excited is an understatement. Going on this trip with my dad means so much, and the fact that Expedia.ca and I are collaborating is just the bees knees!

I’ll have many posts to share, so I hope you’re eager to follow along. I’ll share with you news of my trip planning, my packing list, my hotel stays, my city explorations, and, of course, I’ll give you the low down on what it’s like to go on a father-daughter trip (not our first, in fact)!

For now, I bet you’re curious about where I’ll actually be going.

Soon after I had learned about Expedia.ca‘s sponsorship, I got to work planning the vacation. My dad (let’s just call him Dad) had already booked his flight and sort of finalized his travel route with his friends, so I had to touch base with him to learn more about his itinerary.

First off, I researched flights, and I was able to get on the same flight as Dad had already booked. As anyone who has used Expedia.ca knows, the search function is pretty darn awesome, and you can limit your flight searching options in so many ways – by departure/arrival time, number of stops, and airlines, to name a few.

Normally, I search flights by number of stops and price. In this case, however, since I had my dad’s flight information, I searched by departure time and airline. I wanted to see if it was feasible to get on the same flight to Bologna that he was on. It was. Easy. Done. At the same time, I debated a few return options and saved them using the “My Scratchpad” feature while I thought about how long I could stay in Europe.

I find the “My Scratchpad” quite a handy addition to Expedia.ca. It basically houses a record of your searches, and when prices change, you can request to be notified. I think that’s pretty darn magical. I think you have to be logged in so that things are saved, so be sure to do that first.

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You can see that I took this screenshot after I had booked my flight because of the extra ticker line advertising up to 51% off hotels in Bologna!

You can also see up my the Expedia.ca logo that I’m currently sitting at “blue” status in terms of the Expedia loyalty program. As a blue member, I am eligible for things like member-only pricing, extended price-match guarantee, and earning 2 points for ever $1 spent. I have a few sleeps in hotels to go before I reach the next status level (silver). Read more about Expedia.ca rewards if you’re interested.

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Are you waiting to learn more about our travel itinerary? Well, let me tell you, it’s a good one!

Dad and I have arranged our trip so that he can visit with his highschool friends in various parts of the country. We will fly into Bologna, then we train it to the beach town of Rimini for a couple of nights, attend his yearly highschool reunion lunch (I’ll have to brush up on my Italian between now and then), drive to Bologna for a few nights, drive to Florence for a few nights, and then visit my relatives for a few nights in a small town near Milan. After this, Dad will travel back to Toronto, and I’ll be heading for a little weekend getaway in Copenhagen. #IFeelSoDarnLucky

Seems like a pretty good route, doesn’t it? Dad is pretty excited, too, since he’ll get to introduce me to his highschool friends, and he’ll get to treat me to gelato (many, many times!).

If you have any recommendations or post requests, let me know!

Many thanks to Expedia.ca for sponsoring this trip. I am thrilled to be working with such a well-respected company. That said, all opinions are my own, and I am committed to writing honest reviews.

Travel: Review of the Delta Waterloo

When I wrote my Waterloo region city guide for Design*Sponge, the Delta Waterloo hotel had only recently opened. Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to stay the night and experience the hotel first hand. It might seem a little odd to some readers that I opted to have a little vacation within my own city, but every once in a while, I feel that it’s quite the luxurious adventure to leave behind weekend chores in search of rest and relaxation in a new environment.

So, I crossed King St. in Uptown Waterloo and checked into the Delta Waterloo for a little #WhiteCabanaStaycation.

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Although I had watched the Delta be built, I had never been in since I moved here three years ago. It’s the only 4-star hotel in Waterloo, so I assumed it would have quite a lot to offer.

I confirmed my reservation over the phone and requested an earlier check-in and later check-out if possible. While neither could be guaranteed, in the end, the Delta staff were able to accommodate both requests. I really appreciated that the Delta staff worked to accommodate these requests.

Parking was straightforward as was check-in. I was welcomed by Matt at the front desk, and he answered my initial questions about the hotel in a professional manner. The lobby of the Delta Waterloo is chic and sleek, and the lighting caught my attention.

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The Delta Waterloo generously offered me a corner suite. From my room, I had views of two of my favourite Waterloo buildings – the Perimeter Institute and CIGI Campus.

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My suite was bright, and with the sun shining in through the soft drapes, the room just felt warm and light. The suite had a king size bed – definitely a comfy hotel bed! – and a pull-out couch. It also had two TVs – yes, two! – and a desk area with a charging station (so convenient), great bedside lighting, and a bathroom outfitted with modern fixtures. The coffee station included a selection of teas and coffees, and the mini fridge was a useful addition.

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