Chicago by Foot

So you may be wondering…”Stinky Onion” what is she talking about???  Well this is just one of the amazing tidbits of information you will find out on the Architecture Tour.  This tour is very highly recommended on Trip Advisor and I couldn’t agree more.  We went with Shoreline Sightseeing as they are family owned, smaller and came very highly recommended.  You even get $5.00 off when you purchase online.  If you don’t take the time to do this, then you are nuts! It is a great way to see the city while learning a tonne of fascinating information.

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The other must do in my opinion is The John Hancock Centre.  We went early in the morning so no line ups and I would recommend getting up early is worth it- the place can get busy.  The view is stunning and it is really just fun and worth the couple of bucks you spend on admission.  We did this on our first full day in the city so we could see exactly where everything was and we began to really plan the rest of our day.

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The beaches- what can I say. The city sits on Lake Michigan and the walkway is great for running, strolling and people watching.  You can definitely swim in the lake but for me September water is a little too chilly.  I ran the walkway every morning and while it is crowded with joggers it was never too crowded and just made for a great running scene.  Ohio Street beach is great for laying down and relaxing or making sand sculptures or going to Caffe Olivia for a killer cocktail!

After staggering off the beach we made our way to Navy Pier where I convinced my husband to jump on the 150 ft high ferris wheel for a fantastic scenic view of the whole city- it was great!  Navy Pier seemed to be always jumping with music, people and fun.  Amidst the rides and candy floss we happened to bump into the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows- wow-it was completely amazing. I would recommend finding your way there.  There is also some amazing public art in front of Navy Pier and they are worth taking a gander at and maybe posing with a few!

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Nom, Nom, Nom…

Gluten what? The first thing I noticed about Chicago is that no one had ever heard of gluten free or they may just not have understood my Canadian accent! Either way if you have some really serious gluten issues you may want to do some advance study-  I had been eating clean and was fine to indulge….and indulge I did! Thank heavens for the jogging culture or I would never have fit into my pants by the end of the weekend!

We had breakfast at Rosebud twice and we were really impressed with the gigantic fluffy omelets as well as the incredible service.  We ate at Sunny Side Up one morning, I suggest going on a weekday as the line up on the weekend was long long long.  We loved our breakfast at Sunny Side Up and the ambiance of the place and the service made for a great experience.  One morning we went to the Hershey’s store for breakfast- yup- that happened and it was great! I also discovered Argo Tea, right down the street from our hotel with a cozy fireplace and great service.. I enjoyed my after morning run relaxation at the Argo.

We kept planning to go out for a fancy wonderful evening meal; however, long days of walking munching and perhaps drinking…well you know how it is on holiday! So where did we munch? Well we found the patio at the Terzo Piano to have an incredible beverage menu as well spectacular views of the park. We spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon on the sofa enjoying the views and the drinks. Another place we fell in love with was The Soupbox, 12 fresh soups made daily gluten free, vegan and vegetarian choices as well as broth and cream choices. It was the perfect snack after exploring the city.  Finally we did have to do the tourist thing and eat Chicago style pizza. We had to go fairly late in order to avoid the lengthy wait in line and even then we waited about 15 minutes. We went to Gino’s East of Chicago and I will admit it simply didn’t meet my expectations. The service was horrible and the pizza- well maybe deep dish just isn’t my style. Still, it was worth the experience and glad we have the tale to tell!

We did time our hunger just right one night and fate brought us to New Rebozo.  We were just strolling along the street starting to plan what we might like to eat and we saw a quaint little place with outdoor seating all lit up with fairy lights and it just looked perfect. When we decided to investigate further we were greeted by a server who began to tell us about the restaurant and the menu. The server noted that we were very lucky as the chef was in this evening and had some great treats lined up. We were already sold but to seal the deal the chef came out and told us all about his restaurant and passion for food—we were sooooo excited!  What an amazing night, the atmosphere, the service and Chef Paco- what an amazing man. So passionate about food and preparation and most importantly- taste and enjoyment!! You will see a pic of us on his Facebook page and my review…it truly was an outstanding memory we will always savor.

The other amazing food and beverage experience we had was due to my friend Lisa.  Lisa and I struggle through highs and lows of doctoral study together and she knew just where to take some adventurous and thirsty travelers! Longman and Eagle- seriously if there is one place that you cab to- make it this place. The ride is nice you see some of the sites outside of downtown and then you drink. You drink some of the best whiskey drinks going- they have 148 available (they also have a 6 room hotel above that you may need to consider). Oh and the food – wow! It changes a lot and reads like a love story.

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Finally I must admit we did spend an exorbitant amount of time at Caffe Oliva.  Located at Ohio Street Beach it sits on the beach so you have a view of the beach activity and a lovely view of the waterfront and city.  The bartender is outstanding and I may have sampled most of the drink menu. The mojito was killer and the blended daiquiri was a dream! The other thing I love about Chicago is that everyone drinks bubbly! So you can find Prosecco on every menu and I think that is a great way to enjoy an afternoon!!

Chicago truly was a wonderful eating adventure and I know we didn’t even hit the famous places or the up and coming chefs so a culinary redo of Chicago may be in our future….

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A weekend in Stinky Onion

I have always wanted to visit Chicago and a great WestJet promotion sealed the deal for our September long weekend.  Now our visit did get off to a rocky start when we were “walked” from our hotel to a hotel half way through Illinois; however, we recovered nicely in order to enjoy and action packed weekend full of sunny fine days.

We stayed at the Tremont. The hotel is in the best location possible.  Right off the Magnificent mile, a 5 minute walk to the lake and beaches and about 20 minutes to Millennium Park. You simply won’t find a better place from a location perspective.  Of course that we were walked on our first night and sent to a hotel so far away from downtown – obviously did cloud our first night and the next day and has ultimately left a bad taste for the Tremont.  What I did find out is that it is quite common for hotels in Chicago to walk their guests- so if you are checking in late ensure you call ahead and make sure they still have your room! The Tremont itself is an older hotel- more of a boutique hotel. There are no vending machines or ice machines (you need to call the front desk for ice) nor is there a gym. I didn’t notice lack of gym as we were so close to the running path along the lake I ran every morning beside the fresh water.  The hotel is older and the Wi-Fi is pretty shaky but the Starbucks across the street has a great strong signal.

Chicago is a great walking city- the only need for transport was to visit communities outside of the downtown. There is so very much to explore downtown it will keep you busy for a considerable amount of time, plus the draw of the beach is enough to fill sunny warm vacation days!

It was well into the next day before we were settled and we were starving. We decided to follow our noses and stomachs and we landed at Rosebud on Rush for an incredible breakfast with outstanding service.  We were excited about the food in Chicago and our first meal was not a disappointment! Of course I will fill you in on all our food excesses while in Chicago!!! Stay tuned!

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Seattle by Nose

This was our third visit to Seattle and I am shocked that I have never smelled this city before because it is a nasal ode to joy.  How have I missed the clean air with hints of cedar or the muted notes of lavender and petunia?  Now that my nose is awakened I feel that I am truly experiencing Seattle in its fullest splendour! It started with the opening of the car door on our first night, it had been raining and the fresh oxidized air that hit my nose caused me to reel back a few steps- my lungs screamed in escalation and as my brain finally a caught up to the sensation I recognized that our dusty dry prairie air is about as lifeless Demi and Ashton’s marriage and this clean fragrant smell was as invigorating as a shot of vodka- yowza! We quickly checked in to our hotel and headed down to the market area to take in the Friday night sights and sounds and I was hit again by that fresh fragrant air, flowery and clean like a laundry commercial.  We headed to Lola’s for supper and yes I am a chef Douglas groupie- I love his food, I love his style and we have had great experiences at Etta’s but Lola’s was different because I think for the first time I was really tuned into the subtle scents and charming notes that make truly and amazing dining experience.  The heady undercurrent of lamb cut by the sweet smell of fig topped with the faint scent of caramel and that was just the appetizer!  We had the best seat in the house with a view to the kitchen.  Watching freshly boiled potatoes being mashed with herbs and the fragrant perfume transported me to a vacation long ago in northern Italy.  I could feel the warm summer Italian air on my skin and hear dogs barking in a distance as the fresh herbs led by oregano marched through my nose.  Now at this point it is important to note that I had not taken any halluencgeic drugs nor was I alone in this olfactory journey- my husband too was enjoying the sensation of smell and we cerimonously named this holiday the vacation of the nose.  Over the next four days our noses went into overdrive as we experienced food, wine and even the city in new ways.  Our next day took us back to our market favourites starting this expidition with peroshky; the sharp cheddar married with fresh green onion joining in a symphony with baking bread….an unbelievable tribute to the power of yeast and flour.  Next onto Beechers cheese from a slap in the face of pungent cow milk cheeses to the soft mellow note of fresh made cheese curds. Next to the cinnamon bakery where it is a gluten free dream come true…..the aromas of sugar cinnamon carmel and pumpkin dance in the air bracketed by the sharp distance smell acidic smell of freshly brewed coffee sweetened by an overlay of spicy chai coupled with the fresh ocean air.  From the smells of the market, to fine dining establishments to the underground tunnels our noses gained us a greater appreciation for this city.  Next time you are in Seatlle make sure you take time take a good whiff of the city as it will bring a new appreciation to everything you see, eat and drink!
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My Hawaiian Dream

Hawaii has been on my bucket list for over 20 years, I have dreamed of going since I was a child! To a girl in southwestern Ontario Hawaii seemed a place of dreams. My dream became reality in June when we set off for Kihei on the island of Maui. Now a trip to Hawaii is no small deal, it is a long flight with a wicked time change and it is not light on the pocketbook. Therefore we got a lot of advice before embarking on this trip. The first advice was unless you are going for a long period of time, pick an island and stay there and I agree- we were there for 7 days and had we tried to island hop I fear we wouldn’t have seen a thing. We also used the Hawaii tourism island finder- this was helpful in discovering what island would provide the experience just for us. I like activities, my husband doesn’t. I like beaches but also need a decent pool and there has to be a good offering of food! We landed on Kihei because it offered excellent weather, great beaches, loads of activities and came very highly recommended. Kihei has desert like conditions so you will not be plagued with the rain that hits other parts of the island even Wailea just 10 minutes up the road got rain when we didn’t.  We have friends that also went to Maui and didn’t stay in Kihei and said they wouldn’t go back- so choose your location wisely.

You will land in Kahului Airport and it was only a 30 minute drive or so to our hotel. We took the SpeediShuttle and found the service excellent. Very easy, on time and very personable drivers.  We stayed at the Maui Coast hotel. I can’t rave enough about this property. Clean and quiet with incredible staff.  We were upgraded to a junior suite and it was spacious and pleasant. We had a big balcony that we sat out on every night with a nice beverage and we had a microwave and fridge in the room which made our stay even more pleasant.  The hotel has bicycles for free, however it is first come first serve so you need to be there early in the morning. The hotel also boasts a car rental and expedia rep in the lobby- this type of convenience makes the stay so easy. The pool is fantastic- it does get crowded in the afternoon when the trade winds sweep people off the beach so be early! The happy hour is excellent and the daily live music is fun. We had a few appetizers from the kitchen on site and they were yummy so I imagine the full entrees are delicious. I felt like a special and valued guest at this hotel. Every morning we were greeted with smiles by all staff. You can’t beat the location a simple 4 minute walk down the street and you are on the beach.  The beach is soft creamy sand and the ocean is just right for playing in as the big waves don’t roll in so it is safe for the whole family. Anytime after noon hour the trade winds start to blow in and this is the time to retreat to the pool unless you want to become a sand dune!

There is so much to write about this vacation so I will leave this post to the location, hotel and of course…food!

Breakfast: Our first morning found us at Café O’Lei Smoothie bar- now they have a restaurant also, however the smoothie is deeelicious and filling plus the  smoothie bar is a great joint for a morning breakfast or mid day pick me up.

On our second day we found Kihei Caffé and we parked ourselves there every morning thereafter! The biscuits are out of this world-no not gluten free so I only had a nibble. My morning breakfast- fish- fresh wonderful tasty grilled up fish! I thought we got great value for our money and the service was always really prompt and polite. Now you do have to order and pay at the cashier and then find a table- this can be tricky- but they do their best to accommodate. The line can get long so make sure you arrive earlier rather than later.

If you are looking for a restaurant with view then Sarento’s on the Beach is your kind of place. Located on the beach you get a stunning view. Our breakfast was fantastic and the service was excellent.

We never made it to lunch- ever- we were stuffed on a daily basis until later in the evening. One night we happened up on Sansei. We were told if we waited .5 hour we would be just in time for ½ price sushi and as an added bonus, karaoke!  The sushi was excellent and we ate waaay more than we should have. The karaoke was entertaining to painful but all in all it was a pretty excellent way to spend the evening.  I hear that people start lining up at 5pm! I think we lucked out because it was fourth Friday and everyone was already at that party leaving this one for us and some die hard karaoke stars! As a side note- if you are in town for the fourth Friday there is usually a pretty kicking party going on so we hear!

One of our fave evening spots became Three’s Bar and Grill. A fantastic patio under big trees with live music, incredible drinks and delicious food. It really doesn’t get much better. The service was excellent and the menu is robust. This is a must try.

Our other big fave was Café O’Lei- yes of the smoothie stand fame! The restaurant is a bustling paradise of taste and sound. It gets busy which gives it a lively and exciting buzz. The food is outstanding and I had no trouble navigating my gluten free needs and my vegetarian desires. The potatoes in the restaurant were to die for- I don’t know what they do but honestly, I would have just ordered a big pot of mashed potatoes if I could have!!

If you are coming from Canada and stop through the Duty Free the booze is cheap cheap cheap and you can bring in as much as you want! It was nice to have a bottle chilling in the fridge when we were finished a long day of beach laying! Also the Foodland downtown just requires your postal code in order to get their card- do it- it will save you money. I bought Hawaiian salt and macadamia nuts there for a fraction of the price I would pay at the tourist shops. Also the ABC store has a loyalty program so save your receipts and you can trade them in for small prizes. If you are there for a week and grab snacks from their shop it can add up really quickly.  One last thing you have to try…donkey balls….I leave that for you to discover!

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San Diego Revisited

So how did we end up in San Diego in the middle of winter (our trip was in February 2013)? Well we had hit that time of year when we can no longer get excited about fresh powder in the mountains, skating in the Plaza or even the annual YYC Hot Chocolate Festival….no we have hit that time of year when a change of scenery, change of food and routine are essential to our mental state and the health and welfare of others! Now we only had 6 days so a long flight was out of the question which directed our thoughts to Scottsdale or Palm Springs but the prices were ridiculous. Seattle is always an option but neither of us were up for a car trip, our getaway was disappearing before our very eyes which could spell disaster. Then like a miracle we see a cheap deal to San Diego and faster than you can say “charge it” we were going to Southern California!

So what I love about San Diego is that it is easy.  The airport is basically in the city so it is never a long ride to the hotel. My best suggestion is stay in Old Town. You are 15 minutes from the airport and you have a tourist Mecca at your feet. Plus the transit hub is a hop skip away so every part of the city is at hand. The Old Town is spectacular as it is a historical State Park so you see costumed interpreters throughout the village carrying out the work and life of the town. We also believe that the best margaritas can be found at Fred’s (now prior posts/tweets I have written Fiesta DesReyes- this  has now fallen to number two as Fred does a darn smooth strawberry marg….a little like a glass of strawberry jam….a strong adult cup of jam!!!)  The great thing about the Old Town is that even in the dead of winter the place is packed, lively and hustling and bustling! We sat in the town square soaking up sun and drinking great hot chocolate from the General Store….yummy! The Presidio is a short walk up the hill and affords outstanding views of the city and outlying area. We had no problem spending the day wandering in and out of the various museums and put in some time at a few of the bars…I mean really margaritas aren’t going to drink themselves!! We were in San Diego during national margarita day and we managed to taste 4 different margs before falling over….

San Diego has an amazing harbour front with loads of cute shops and restaurants. We ate at…expensive but worth the food service and view. We jumped over to Coronado gotta love this “island” it is really a peninsula but it so relaxed and the gelato…oh my…you must go to Botegga Italiana. We also found a restaurant new to us Leroy’s….absolutely fantastic!!!! Renting a car was no problem (thanks to our hotel) and we jumped up to Laguna to devour great vegan raw food at The Stand and laze on the beach….
We had hoped to visit the USS Midway but it is at least a 3 hour time commitment and it felt like a lot of time out of margarita drinking and sun laying.

Point is San Diego is a great city to relax and unwind, to explore, learn and to simply enjoy! The best bet for to the minute info on San Diego is their tourism twitter account @visitsandiego, they are very active on the account and will respond to questions you may have . I can’t wait to return…on our list of things to do….USS Midway, more restaurants in the Gas Lamp district, and Cowles Mountain. Until next vacation…

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Powder Paradise in Fernie

Now I am a little slow getting to this post, however, here I am. Last year we decided to scratch an item off our bucket list: snowboarding. Everyone told us to try it out in Fernie, just a 3 hour drive west. We heard the powder is always spectacular, it never feels crowded and the ski school is spectacular- I will agree on all counts!

Now the drive to Fernie will take you past the famous Frank Slide and the Burnis tree- things I detail in other posts. It will also take you past the Cinnamon Bear Bakery.  Stop in- this place is fantastic! You will love everything they make! The cinnamon buns are to die for and the gluten free options continue to grow everytime we pass by.

Once in Fernie we stay at The Cinnamon Bear Lodge.  This is the best bed and breakfast we have ever stayed in. We love this place!  Stayed there twice…cant wait to return! So let me elaborate…we visited Cinnamon Bear in January. Making our reservation was a simple easy phone call and we had good flexibility with our check in time (all we wanted to do was drop our stuff, change and hit ths slopes) this was no problem and allowed us to maximize our ski time. Jason and Cath are the best hosts, they are both active so understand your desire to hit the slopes and they are so personable and accommodating they are truly the best hosts.  So let me break it down:
Reservations: one phone call- easy peasy
Hosts: kind, generous, fun, interesting, helpful, knowledgeable, fantastic, wonderful….
Breakfast: outstanding!!!! I am gluten free and there was no problem. The breakfast was filling, tasty, excellent product, never the same and always hot!!! Really I still dream about the taste….absolutely outstanding!!!
Snack: yes that’s  right snack……when you come home from the slopes you are greeted by a home baked loaf….honestly it is so perfect after a day of skiing to just relax with a cup of tea and a sweet treat.
Room: we stayed in the Koi Chang room both times-we love this room… so spacious, such a great view, such a comfortable bed, such incredible snugly sheets and comforter. I also felt that I had a great amount of quiet, privacy and comfort. Best thing…a towel warmer in the bathroom so your wet ski gear gets dry and your towels are warm once you step out of the shower.
House: seriously amazing! So there is a games room, living room and big breakfast room.  First time around we never made it downstairs to the games room because we spent our nights cuddled up by the fireplace in living room. It was wonderful we had a roaring fire, candles and because tea, water, hot chocolate and coffee is always available we enjoyed hot cocoa and wine because there is a community fridge to use! At our last visit we spent Saturday night playing pool, tunes in the background…a really great space to hang out and have a drink. The breakfast room is spacious  and light making it a great place to linger in the morning as well as brining in food at night if you are not up for a restaurant.
The other massive bonus is the hot tub. We had been learning to snowboard so believe me it was awesome to soak my weary bones and bruises!!! This is one of the best B&B’s we have stayed at. It is incredible value for your money and so incredibly pleasant you will be hooked! We will be going back to Fernie in January and March and you can bet we are making reservations as we speak.

As far as snowboarding went, well we were pretty much the most horrific site the sport has ever seen. Our instructor was amazing, kind, patient and able to hold in her laughter- with is pretty impressive! The next day we decided to revert back to skiing and we took a lesson and the instructor was equally fantastic. The ski/snowboard option is actually very cheap so if you are looking to brush up your skills your ski school purchase gets you on the lift all day, includes rental and the lesson.  For more information you can check out all the Ski School offerings.

I am glad we have discovered Fernie and we are making this part of our winter routine!
 

 

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