Eating, Provencal Style

So if you haven’t tried Provencal food, dive in, There is simply no way you will be disappointed. But don’t forget the wine!


When @benton8tor and I were planning our most recent trip to Provence, I was so excited about all the tastes and smells of  Provence. Sure of course I mainly meant wine, but also lavender, rosemary, olives, and tomatoes. But mostly wine. “Are you excited to eat Provencal food again?” I asked Benton8tor. ” I don’t know” he replies ” What is Provencal food?” Naturally I was offended we’d been to Provence half a dozen times,  how could he not know what Provencal food is? But the more I thought about it, all I could think of is tapenade and aioli. I knew there was more, and every meal I have had in Provence, I have enjoyed, pastas, salad, fish. But was it traditional Provencal? Obviously I could just google search, but I wanted to taste authentic Provencal food,

so I took to the internet in search of the best food tour I could find. Hello Avignon Gourmet tours!

Fast forward a few weeks and we are at our Gite in Roquemare, just 10 minutes north of Avignon, and I ask everyone “Aren’t you excited about the food tour?” ” Maybe” says @benton8tor ugh, when will he learn the only acceptable answer is yes. ” Your mom will probably throw out her wine again” pipes up my dad helpfully. In return he gets death glare from my mom and she gets a 20 minute lecture from me that if she doesn’t like the wine to give it me or my dad, obviously not @benton8tor since he isn’t excited enough.

However the next day, the tour proved me right. @benton8tor decided he loved Provencal food and my mother did not spit out or throw out any liquor (though I suspected she wanted to). We met our fabulous guide at the tourist office along with our tour mates. A couple from Ohio ( the fellow was writing a book on pesto) and a family from Mexico City. We started off with the oh so French favourite the croissant from what our guide assured us was the best bakery in Avignon. The croissants were ridiculously light and fluffy and we were off! Our first stop was the chocolate store, the Aline Gehant store to be exact. All chocolate is made on premises and she specializes in unique flavours including a caramelized white chocolate or chocolate with herbs. All of it was delicious. From there we proceeded to the Eglise St Didier a beautiful Gothic church were we were given the traditional Provencal cookie the Navette to try. A Navette is boat shaped and named for the boat that Mary Magdalene is rumored to have taken to Southern France. Followed by @benton8tor’s favourite the papilliete. A chocolate covered candy filled with a surprise. The surprise was a Avignon herb flavoured liqueur.  I loved it. My mother? not so much. From there we proceed to Place Saint Didier for sweet wine paired with the traditional star shaped pastry dusted with sugar. After enjoying that on a beautiful sun filled patio, we headed to Liquid, the wine store for some fabulous Chateauneuf du pape wine. It was 10:30 in the morning. This time my mom manged to drink rather than chuck her wine, and good thing to as the wine was silky, earthy, with berry flavours and delicious.

From there we proceeded to the famous Les Halles market for lunch. and what a lunch! Tapenades, pickled garlic aioli, sausages, cheeses, half dried tomatoes in oil! A fabulous sardine spread, mussels, Provencal. It was all amazing and paired with local winethumbnail_IMG_3032. After this tour, @benton8tor finally got excited about Provencal food. So much so that he and my cousin Christopher hit up the Les Halles market, and other local markets to cook Provencal food for a few nights.

So if you haven’t tried Provencal food, dive in, There is simply no way you will be disappointed. But don’t forget the wine!


You Should Drink Here, The Top 5 Under the Radar Wine Regions

Why did’t you follow me?” he asked. Umm @benton8tor, there was wine. Anyhow I ordered him a delicious chasselas cru so all was well. Eventually.

A few days ago I was chatting with coworkers about favourite red wines, and the topic of Apothic red came up. Apothic red is a wine that divides people. You love it or hate it. I am firmly in the hate camp. Not only is a terrible wine ( in my opinion but if you love it, good for you) but because of the popularity of Apothic red, our Liquor marts tend to import wines like it so that when people think California wines, they have in mind big, bold, and syrupy reds. In reality California wines are much more nuanced and varied then the local liquor mart in Manitoba would have you believe, but it isn’t just Manitoba. So next time you are out searching for a bottle of wine, try another lesser known region or lesser known wine. You may be surprised at the diversity of the region, you may find a new wine you love, you may discover you in fact like more than just big, bold reds, and love it or hate it, you will have expanded your palate. Plus, when you bring that lesser known wine to a dinner party you look like an expert. ” where did you find it?” they will gasp and you will get to feel cultured and if you are like me smug. So If you are looking for that under the radar wine, what should you look for?

5. Jura- Located in France ( I know I know, can French wine really be under the radar? the answer is a resounding yes) Jura is considered a mirror image to the Bourgogne wine region albeit much lesser known. Jura uses Pinot Noir and Chardonany grapes but also the lesser known Trosseau, Poulsard, and Savagnin grapes are also used. Savagnin is used for Jura’s famous vin jaune. The reds are light and acidic are made to pair with Jura’s famous sausages and cheeses.IMG_2516[1] The whites are in a word interesting. The vin jaune is aged under a blanket of yeast for 6 years. It has a sherry like flavour. Jura is famous for its sweet vin de paille and its fortified grape must Macavin. Jura is worth a look. Phillipe Vandelle in L’Etoile has the best Jura wines we tried. Domaine Genetti produced my favourite Macavin wine in Chateau Chalon. In Arbois  the Fruitiere provided an amazing tasting experience to really appreciate Arbois red.

4. Savoie- Just to the south of Jura, Savoie is in the the French Alps. The vineyards are terraced and here the Jaquere white grape and Mondeuase red reign. Again they are designed to cut through the rich cheese and sausage dishes. We tried our best to visit some wineries but we were too early. However Chamonix offers many wine tasting opportunities as does Restaurant Savoyard in Chambery and Bistro 0400, where @benton8tor swears he ate the best salad of his life (sure it had cheese, bacon and potatoes but it was still a salad.  Savoie especially the monduese wines are worth checking out. IMG_2779[1]

3. Lake Geneva Switzerland. In all honesty I didn’t think I would like Swiss wine but I was very pleasantly surprised. Chasselas the predominant white grape is quite enjoyable and not at all sweet like its German counterparts tend to be. The Reds were mainly pinot, gamay and monduesIMG_4524[1]e and very enjoyable and easy drinking. In Geneva, I would recommend Boulevard du vin to try wine and as a bonus you can enjoy racelette as an appie (melted cheese over potatoes). Le Rouge et Le Blance right on Lake Geneva provided great views with excellent wines.  IMG_2100[1] But Lavaux vinorama on Lake Genveva but closer to Lausanne provided me my best wine tasting. Maybe it was because @bentontor stopped for a picture of Lake  Geneva and pulled in to a parking lot and then quickly disappeared on a pedestrian walk under the road to the beach. I had no intention of following him because it was cold. However unbeknownst to either of us the parking lot belonged to Lavaux Vinorama. So I made my way in where the fabulous sommelier recommended a flight including both red and whites from the area directly behind us. However I sat enjoying my wine, @benton8tor enters soaked to his knees haven slipped into Lake Geneva rather more than he intended. ” Why did’t you follow me?” he asked. Umm @benton8tor, there was wine. Anyhow I ordered him a delicious chasselas cru so all was well. Eventually.

2. Missouri- I know but Missouri is actually the oldest wine producing region in the United States, and it was Missouri root stock used to combat Phyloxera that was devastating grape vines in Europe. Missouri uses a lot of French grapes such as cinsault, and petit verdot as well as it indigenous Norton. Amigoni in Kansas City is the best place to try.

  1. Lirac- France. Located across the river from its more famous neighbour Chateauneuf du Pape. Lirac offers some of the best Rhone wines. Largely grenache, syrah, mourvedre blends with carignan and cinsualt as blending partners, Lirac mainly produces red, with some rose and little white. The wines are complex, delicious, and silky. Best of all they are a fraction of the price of Chateauneuf du Pape.IMG_3496[1] Lirac wines can be hard to find but worth it. They are my new favourite french wines and you can bet I will be going back for more. My favourite tasting was at the Cave du vins in Lirac itself which had an excellent selection of many local producers and many to try. However Saint Roch winery is worth the drive up visit as is Domaine de la Barotte and their amazing wine named after their horse Pearl.

I know there are may more under the radar wine regions I have missed but rest assured, I am on the case and next time, I will have even more to recommend!

Due South: How To Learn About Wine From Visiting The Winery

Often with visiting the winery itself, you get the opportunity to talk to the winemaker, ask about the wine and enjoy it. So much so that you will buy several bottles for your gite.

It feels like I have been away from my blog for sometime now. In fact I have only had 2 posts since the beginning of April and it is now May 19. In the last 42 days I have only spent 14 in Canada as I was traveling for work as well as a long awaited Southern France vacation to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. So yes I am pretty lucky and I have new experiences and ideas for Vines and Voyages.

Back in the winter when I was planning the France vacay, I was  trying to make sure I had everyone’s needs taken care of, @benton8tor loves the outdoor activities, my mom the markets and my dad, well he just loves the colours and lifestyle of Provence. So I made sure we hit up lots of local markers, scheduled a hike for @benton8tor and booked a gite so my dad could enjoy his coffee on the patio overlooking grape vines every morning with his fresh croissant. But for me, I wanted to make sure I did lots of wine tasting. Now I am a big fan of wine tours as an introduction to a region ( Nowhere is this more helpful than Beaune) but my absolute favourite activity is discovering local wineries. This is best orchestrated for me by driving around the villages looking for sign that say ouvert and degustation and me screaming stop @benton8tor. Not sure how we discovered this way of tasting wine but I am pretty sure it links back to the Lancon de Provence tourist office which gave us a map of wineries when we asked about tours. Either way I much prefer driving around the region and finding the local wineries.In fact on a recent visit to Jura, which has fascinating wine, I failed to see the local degustation signs scattered amongst the countryside. Jura is beautiful but it did not stop me sulking to @benton8tor that I didn’t feel like I was in France without the signs and impromptu tastings. He just rolled his eyes. And we still did tastings

So this last vacation, I had planned on leaving some ‘drive time’ for the vacation. My cousin Christopher facebooked me in February to let me know if it was alright if he joined us for part of the trip. “Of course” I say. “Great’ he responds ” I am really looking forward to wine tasting with you.”

Fast forward a few weeks and he keeps asking me about tours and I keep telling him not to worry. It had not crossed my mind, he would was expecting a formal tour. So when we finally picked him up in Avignon, he asked me how much he he owed for a wine tour.’Nothing” I tell him. He looks puzzled. I explain that we simply drive up and taste. But he wasn’t  buying it.

So after the L’Isle Sur La Sorgue market. I scream stop to @benton8tor as we pass a Luberon vineyard. We drive up and indeed degustation is possible. Christopher, @benton8tor and I all taste and savour. This happens several more times throughout the vacation. 11 times to be exact and each time, Christopher who had primarily drunk Australian or Canada wine, started to appreciate the subtle differences in wine flavours, understand terroir and appreciate the process.thumbnail_IMG_3075 Often with visiting the winery itself, you get the opportunity to talk to the winemaker, ask about the wine and enjoy it. So much so that you will buy several bottles for your gite. ” I can’t believe you can just drive up” he exclaims, “I love it”. I try my best not to look smug. I fail

My standouts this trip were the Luberon winery of Chateau Fontvert, the Chateauneuf du Pape winery of Chateau de la Gardine and the Lirac Cuvee Imperial. Each of these wineries provided us with the most beautiful, silky, and complex wines of the trip. Oh yeah and @benton8tor got his beloved Provencal roses, But that and exploring France’s undiscovered wineries is for another post. Until then, enjoy.

A Royal Treat

why not use that time to visit some wineries. You know as one does when visiting England. In fact the response from @benton8tor was “Don’t get your hopes up, it probably won’t be very good.” I however begged to differ

Recently, I had to travel to Europe for work, so @benton8tor and I thought that could be a good opportunity to visit family in the UK if we left a couple of days earlier. @benton8tor was pretty excited to see family as was I but since we got in a bit early while everyone was still at work, I thought why not use that time to visit some wineries. You know as one does when visiting England. In fact the response from @benton8tor was “Don’t get your hopes up, it probably won’t be very good.” I however begged to differ,After all, I had seen an episode of House Hunters International, (Obviously I did my research)  where they settled in the South of England to operate a winery on chalk soil. And the wine is largely sparkling. So @benton8tor reluctantly agree.

Right off the plane we stopped for breakfast at a small town somewhere in Kent then we proceeded to Chapel Down Vineyards in Tentenden Kent, Chapel Down is a fabulous vineyard that allows you to wander through the vineyards before tasting. The vineyards are a lovely walk. Returning for our tasting, the staff knows their product. They have replaced the old vines that were high producing German varieties with a more suitable grape. We tasted, whites, reds and sparkling (both white and rose) and we ere very surprised, me that the red was good! The red wine was indicative of a cooler climate red, easy drinking and  elegant (Union Red). Both sparklings were delicious! So we left with a couple bottles and in my case a smug attitude that I had indeed been right. “See” I tell @benton8tor, “I was right.” He appreciates that. We also found out Chapel Down winery had provided sparkling wine for the Royal Wedding. Kate and William that is. I was even more delighted.

Off to dinner with family at the Whitmore Arms in Orsett, Essex. Whitmore Arms is still a family owned pub and as Claire, the best UK guide you could ever hope to meet informed me, it is known for its wine selection as much as its beer. Over dinner, she gave us a brief history of the pub and the family awhile I enjoyed an excellent wine list and cheese board.

No only do they have several Beaujolais crus to pick from but some excellent port options. The Whitmore Arms is a must do.

Back in Canada 2 weeks later, I take the Chapel Down wine to my wine club. I am bringing English wine, I tell other members Mostly I am met with puzzled looks and the occasional “Should I be excited about that” to which the answer is yes. Either way, at wine club I introduce my wine complete with the Royal Wedding anecdote. Everyone is skeptical. Fast forward 2 hours later and whose wine is the nights favourite? Well chalk one up for the British beating out Portugal, New Zealand, California, and Chile. Turns out English wine is indeed a royal treat.

Picking the Perfect Wine

Oh and if you are wondering, it is a Beaujolais Nouveau that pairs with deep fried bacon fat.

Just how do you pick the perfect wine? What is the wine for? to pair with a gourmet dinner? Or pizza? Or deep fried bacon fat? I paired that successfully once. As a gift? Night with friends? The reasons and possibilities are endless. It can get daunting and quite confusing figuring out what wine to pick so here are my tips

  1. Know your wine/what you like to drink: I have to admit I shudder when I hear someone order house red without asking what the wine is, after all what if it is Apothic red or possibly worse Copper Moon? All judging aside it is important to find wine that you like and if you like Apothic red by then all means drink it. Maybe you are just adventurous and want to try something new but still ask because if you like it, at least you know what you were drinking. And if you are stuck in a rut or want to try without committing to buying a bottle, try  a wine course. Most wine store offer them as do Canadian Liquor Marts. They are a fabulous way to learn about wine and try wines you aren’t sure you’d like. They are meant to introduce you to wine so prior knowledge is not required, the goal is to introduce wines that you might like and then hopefully buy! If that seems to daunting, take advantage of in store tastings. The goal is to try and find out what you like. My personal favourite in Winnipeg is Di Nardi
  2. Be open to new wines. I am guilty of this myself with my penchant for French wines. Even within a country, wine regions, styles and tastes vary so make sure to try wines from different regions to figure out what you like and then try wines from other countries.
  3. When traveling find a vineyard and try the wine. Unless you are lucky enough to live in wine country itself, most of what is available is not alwayIMG_8788s the best a country has to offer. So when traveling seek out a vineyard, most have tastings available, ask for recommendations and try. Or take a wine tour!  Who knows maybe it turns out you will like Missouri wine. I did
  4. Don’t get stuck on a label or a grape. Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux will be very different from a California cab. Heat, sunshine, soil, wind, rain, harvesting and wine making techniques will all affect the flavour of the grape so make sure to experiment. If you like big bold wines and Cabernet Sauvignons ask for recommendations and try other varieties. You’d be surprised what else is out there. Likewise, a label may look lovely but that is not the best reason to buy the wine. Instead the label should tell a story such as where is the wine from, what year, what kind of grape and what style of wine.
  5. If you want to pair the wine, well that is a challenge I have not mastered but suffice it to say delicate dishes should be paired with delicate wines. So a light fish dish could pair equally well with a aromatic white or a light bodied red. Likewise heartier fare should have bigger bolder wines and creamy dishes pair well high acid wines that cut through the heaviness of the dish. Sweet dessert wines or port pair well with cheese, especially the more full flavored. Once again if you aren’t sure, ask for help r even internet search!
  6. Finally when wine for a gift, find out what wines the person likes and bring the wine they enjoy. Unless you are in France as this is a faux pas, bring flowers or something else instead if it is a dinner party. But if you are not in France or coming to my house, bring the wine please!

Finally picking the perfect wine means taking a chance broadening your palate and most importantly just enjoy. By the way, the glass you serve it in, does matter, it will impact the taste. And if a wine has lots of tannins, decant or aerate it. Oh and if you are wondering, it is a Beaujolais Nouveau that pairs with deep fried bacon fat.IMG_0573

The Emerald Isle

The Crown Liquor Saloon across from the Europa hotel is one of Belfast’s oldest pubs and definitely its most beautiful. With its gas lamps, hand painted tiles and cozy snugs, I could have spent the entire trip at the Crown Liquor saloon

Back in 2006, when we were planning a trip to Europe, I was most excited about Ireland. Sure we were going to England, Paris, and Scotland but it was Ireland that held my interest. Growing up on a diet of Irish authors and movies, I was sure I would be in love with Dublin in no time (despite the fact that although I claim Irish ancestry, It is primarily from Northern Ireland not Dublin). But no matter I couldn’t wait. We told Ben’s family who are also Irish about our itinerary which was solely based in Dublin. We thought we would see everything Ireland had to offer in its capital city of course. Ben’s cousin Claire strongly encouraged us to get out of Dublin and explore. I have to say at the time I thought she was crazy but I have learned over the years to take Claire’s recommendations seriously. Without fail she always finds the most interesting or  unusual and completely perfect activities or sightseeing opportunities. However I didn’t know this at the time but luckily for us Claire and her husband Steve joined us at the tail end of our Dublin/Ireland trip.

Unfortunately for me, when you put a city on such a high pedestal well it will be hard to meet those expectations. To this day I like Dublin but I don’t love it (side-note: I do love Belfast though, it is by far my favourite Irish city). By the time Claire and Steve arrived, we were ready to see more. Steve took us on a pub tour of Dublin that a guide book could never do justice. We stopped at a traditional Irish pub on the Liffey, complete with perfectly polished wood bar and pint of Guinness at the ready. The Ha’penny Bridge Inn is just at the foot of the Ha’penny Bridge and provided the perfect Europe 2006 220pint..  Likewise the Auld Dubliner was some of the best pub food I ate in Ireland with a calmer atmosphere despite being set in the middle of Temple Bar. It was what I hoped an Irish pub would be complete with Guinness pie.

However it was getting into the Irish countryside for the first time that was a real eye opener. First stop was Bray, an Irish seaside town full of Victorian charm and stunning views of the Irish sea. But it was the Wicklow Gap and the Glenalough Monastery that were the real show stoppers. The Wicklow Gap offers some of Ireland’s most amazing views complete with sheep and heather. The Glenalough Monastery was built by St Kevin in the 6th Century and the ruins and church still stand complete with the tower used to hide from various raiding parties. St Kevin is a revered Irish saint known for his commitment to nature and animals and the monastery reflects his values. So thanks to Claire, we realized there was much more to Ireland than Dublin.

This is no doubt what inspired us to go to Belfast four years later. Though Norther Ireland is technically a different country, Its ties to Ireland are obvious and long embedded. Belfast long overlooked because of ‘the Troubles’ is one of the most beautiful and friendly cities I have visited. Despite its history and tensions, Belfast has much to offer and is a monument to resilience.

The Crown Liquor Saloon across from the Europa hotel is one of Belfast’s oldest pubs and definitely its most beautiful. With its gas lamps, hand painted tiles and cozy snugs, I could have spent the entire trip at the Crown Liquor saloon.

However @benton8tor had other ideas which included seeing Giants Causeway a unique rock formation that I am sure would be stunning if it wasn’t for the multitude of tourists blocking its view. However the drive along the north coast is absolutely stunning dotted with small villages, shops and pubs.

So thanks to Claire, we have ventured beyond Dublin and into true beauty. Now if only they could produce wine instead of beer.

The San Diego Wine Road

But the wine is why you go. Bernardo produces very good wines. They use mainly french grapes such as Syrah, Chardonnay, Colombard, and Merlot

California wines, people seem to love them or hate them. Unfortunately quite a bit of what is available in Canada is not the best of what California has to offer. Apothic red, cupcake wines, and shudder the Ernest and Julio Gallo white Zinfandel from has ruined the reputation of California wines. On the other end of the spectrum are the highly prized Napa and Sonoma wines that is the backbone of the US wine industry. So where do the wines of San Diego fit in? Well the wine region around Escondido and Ramona is largely unappreciated. The wineries are often only open weekends due to the small staffing but they are well worth the visit. In fact visiting the local wineries when you travel is the best way to actually appreciate the diversity and true nature of the wine regions.

We started at Bernardo winery, the oldest winery in Southern California. The winery is much more than wine tasting, it offers a village of artisans from chocolate, jewelry, bags, specialty foods, coffee, and restaurants. But the wine is why you go. Bernardo produces excellent wines. They use mainly French grapes such as  Syrah, Chardonnay, Colombard, and Merlot.

Also some Italian and Spanish grapes. The standout is surprisingly the chocolate bar port which manages to be both light (for a port) and complex at the same time. Of all the Southern California wineries, this one was the best.

Our next stop was Cordiano Winery, noted for their pizza and spectacular views as much as their wine. The views are amazing. The wines are Italian influenced, easily drinkable but less complex than their Bernardo counterparts.

Our final stop for the day before heading back to San Diego was the Orfila winery. Set in the valley with stunning views, the wines are French influenced. Complete with a shop, the winery offers flights for tasting. Standouts were the Merlot which was spicy and sumptuous as all the whites with good acidity and citrus notes. Unfortunately they told me people often skip the Merlot because of the movie Sideways. Don’t skip Merlot. A Merlot wine, like all wines tastes very different depending on the soils, climate and production methods. Orfila’s is a standout 

Our final wine tasting spot was in San Diego at the Urban  Tasting Room belonging to Calloway. Located in the hills with a dry climate, the wines were very good. The exception was the Zinfandel. I usually dislike Zinfandels as they tend to overwhelm the palate but Calloway’s Zinfandel was nuanced even while bold. The staff know their wine and you will get an excellent wine flight.

So California wines are much more than Napa, Sonoma and Apothic red. Head down south and really enjoy artisnal  wines that are underrated but incredibly delicious.

Top 10 Tips For Planning The Perfect Trip

Eat Local: I cannot stress this enough. One of the greatest joys of travel is experiencing local food. Food is integral to culture. Please don’t skip it. Again although some research can be helpful, ask for locals for recommendations or check out expat websites.

Vines and Voyages is obviously a travel blog, and wine blog, and wine and travel blog, well you get the picture. I started the blog a little over a year ago at the suggestion of @benton8tor, who I still suspect was trying to distract me from planning multiple trips. Little did he know… in fact he encouraged me because wine and travel are 2 things I am very passionate about. I count my blessings that currently I am able to travel as much as I do. In fact I worry how can I possible see all I want to see in the world, but I am sure I will find a way. And luckily for me and @benon8tor I also love to plan trips. He doesn’t, he loves the travel not the planning so luckily I am left to my own devices to happily plan away, consulting when necessary. So I thought I would share my top 10 trips for planning the perfect trip!

  1. Know what kind of traveler you are or at least might be. Do like beaches or all the comforts of home? If so an inclusive resort might be for you. Do you like trying new foods? Are you into history? Do you like to avoid tourist traps? Do you like big cities? Countryside? Or both? Do you like outdoor activities? Are galleries and museums your thing? Try to have those discussions beforehand. If you hate tourist traps, crowds ect.. than maybe avoid Disney or Tourist hotpots in the high season. If you like history and culture, Personally I am not a fan of the all inclusive. I find the lack of local culture and prescribed tours not to my liking, but hey that’s just me, I have a ton of family and friends who love them and enjoy those trips each year. Me personally, I like the food, wine and less touristy places. But I have only figured that out after a dozen or so years of travel.  What places interests you the most? Which leads me to my next point…
  2. Do your research but not too much. @benton8tor is a detail person. I am not. That is an understatement of epic proportions but if I left the planning the planning to him, well we’d probably still be planning our first trip. You need to know about where you are traveling but not so much that you take the joy out of travel. Sometimes finding the undiscovered is the best. Recently when we went to San Diego, @benton8tor had a tight itinerary  of what he waned to do. I am not so much married to an itinerary. On the 3rd day, he threw it all out the window because we happened to be passing the maritime museum in San Diego and it looked amazing (it was) So we abandoned all plans, spent the morning there, and the afternoon wine and beer tasting in an area we hadn’t discovered. It was our best day. Asking locals for recommendations of what to see, do eat or drink is highly recommended as well. You can find some of the best off the beaten path places that way. However some research is recommended. Twice I have booked us hotel based on their web pictures and twice upon arrival they resembled the Bates hotel. Twice @benton8tor has found wifi, done some quick research and found us amazing hotels at the same(ish) price. Lesson learned.Wikitravel, Trip Advisor the local tourist webpage will be excellent resources.
  3. Book A Tour. I know I just said, skip the itinerary but taking a tour of interest to you early on in the trip will give you an idea of what else you might want to do or see later on.  Again find a happy medium. Traveling with my parents once to Scotland, my mom booed us a tour everyday. While they were lovely, I still don’t feel like I saw Edinburgh. My dad said the same thing happened when they went to Dublin. My mom is happy however , she has 8 million pictures of churches, castles and cliffs. I however urge restraint, don’t overdo it with the tours and do them early. Upon arriving in Porto last year, we booked a food tour, not only was the guide fabulous, we were introduced to excellent food, wine and beer and other people.148 The guide followed up with emailing us suggested restaurants. It was a fabulous introduction to Porto and we got to see the city, understand the history, taste the food and it set us up to really enjoy the our trip. Viator and Trip advisor are both excellent sites for tours as is the local websites.
  4. Eat local: I cannot stress this enough. One of the greatest joys of travel is experiencing local food. Food is integral to culture. Please don’t skip it. Again although some research can be helpful, ask for locals for recommendations or check out expat websites. Whenever I travel with my mom, food causes the biggest arguments. “sometimes, I am tired and I just want to eat” she tells me. That is fine but that is not how I travel nor do I ever want to. So I have forced her out of her comfort zone and she has discovered that she likes gazpacho! She loves ham and melon! She likes rose wine! She does not like red wine as once to mine and my dad’s horror, she threw out her tasting.

    @ benton8tor defended her right to do so but I never forgot. Regardless, eating local you will taste the culture, enjoy the local specialties and maybe be introduced to thing you didn’t even know you’d like. In my case gizards, foie gras, armangac, and red cabbage.@bentontor found out he liked tartare, my dad escargot, My friend Joanna paella, my mm just about everything.  I have also found somethings I didn’t like such as lasagna made with gravy (shudder), or black pudding. But I was never unhappy that I tried it. I always got a story. One note however, eat local as long as it is safe to do so. Not every country will have the same cooking standards and if you aren’t sure how your body will react, don’t do it.

  5. Drink local: Seriously whether it is alcoholic or not, find out what the locals drink and try it. The name escapes me now, but in Cameroon they had a delicious pop drink, and unfortunately it was safer than water so we drank it all the time. Likewise orange squash in the UK is worth a try. Ribena is not. In Portugal we drank the local tea (which was sooo good) likewise, I drink tea in Britain, coffee in Italy. I drink local wines in France, Spain and Portugal and even Germany.  I definitely favour French wine but when I am in Portugal, I want to drink what Portugal has to offer and its delicious. I have discovered ports, cognacs, German beer, English ale, Scotch, and of course Irish Guinness.  Again if you aren’t sure, bonk a tour. My mom who hates beer, loved the Munich beer tour for its history, beer hall atmosphere and even discovered a fruit beer she didn’t hate.
  6. Be prepared to compromise. @bentontor loves to hike. I do not so we compromise, he either goes early and hikes with his cousin or we do small hikes followed by wine tasting. Likewise if he is set on a restaurant and I am all ‘meh” we try his and I pick the next night. Know what kind of traveller you are, My dad likes to relax on a patio in the South of France and wonder if Peter Mayle ever ate or drank there. My mom loves history and cliffs, @benton8tor loves the outdoors, my friend Jeff loves beaches, My friend Lindsay, adventure,me I love food and wine so compromises are integral. As well If you want to travel somewhere, pick a place and research what your travel companion might like to do there. This successful strategy got @benton8tor to agree to travel to the Republic of Georgia, Lebanon and Romania with me in the future. Likewise, it got me to agree to Laos. You know someday.
  7. If it is your first time traveling, stick to a place that can handle tourists. This is where tourist traps can come in handy. They are a gateway to travel with minimal risk. But that leads me to…
  8. Be adventurous. Once you have the travel bug, go out of your comfort zone. My best memory of Paris is getting lost and ending up at Cafe Absinthe in a residential district. I had the best food, great service and delicious cheap wine. the same thing happened by staying off toll roads, we ended up in Mende France, a beautiful town, I would have otherwise never visited. This same strategy got me to visit the spectacular cave of Niaux and take the only tour left available in French.
  9. Pay attention to local customs. If you are traveling in North America, be prepared to tip. In Europe, ask if it is expected before you set out. Pay attention and research local customs. Just because something is ok at home does not mean it is ok when you travel and if you can avoid unintentionally offending someone why not??
  10. Set a budget. My least favourite but most necessary. Figure how much you can afford to spend and either save up or find ways to travel within your budget, Kayak, Expedia, and Trivago are good sites for deals. Also if you collect points check if you have enough. Air band b, is an option for whole houses to a room. As are homestays. Wikitravel again is a good website for budgets to splurges. Also if money is a concern, travel off season. Don’t forget tips, taxes and extras! 


  1. So travel can be work to plan but a lot of fun. So sit down, pick a place and plan away!

5 San Diego Restaurant Must Tries

Their marinara sauce was so out of this world loaded with flavour that I don’t think I can ever taste anything as good again.

I have to admit, when we first booked San Diego, I wasn’t really thinking of it as a foodie haven. I suppose I though of it as a LA Lite with Mexican influence due to its proximity to the border. Turns out I was very very wrong. San Diego is a hotbed of amazing restaurants with famous chef such as Richard Blais and Brian Malarkey opening their own. Little Italy and Gaslamp regions in particular offer some amazing options that should not be ignored. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out the the food in San Diego is some of the best I have ever eaten.

  1. Juniper and Ivy: A Richard Blais restaurant that was @benton8tor’s pick for his birthday. It is a tapas style restaurant with some eclectic dishes. The wine list is amazing and I truly appreciated the wine options including a fabulous Sauterne to end the evening. But before we got to that, we started with a ‘deviled egg’ amuse bouche made with a meringue, The stand out dish was definitely the beef tartare topped with quail egg. I am not usually a fan of tartare but this was heavenly. Other standouts were the sea bass, and beet salad. the best standout had to be the service which was exceptional.

  2. Mimmos is a restaurant in Little Italy. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting much. Italian restaurant can be found in almost any city in the world and despite its location in Little Italy, we weren’t quite sure. Never have I been more wrong Though simple in the presentation, the pasta and sauces are among the best , IMG_1485if not the best I have ever tasted. Their marinara sauce was so out of this world loaded with flavour that I don’t think I can ever taste anything as good again. @benton8tor felt the same way about the meatballs. Service and people watching along the a patio are also fabulous. A must do.
  3. Los Panchos may read like a typical Tex Mex but the salsa, enchiladas , and tequilas are fabulous. Located in the Gaslamp, this restaurant offers your typical; Tex Mex but with some very spicy, authentic flavours. The tequila selection is excellent and it is worth a try.

  4. If you want actual authentic Mexican food. Take a drive south to Tecate, Mexico. Just 45 minutes south at a considerably less busy crossing than Tijuana, Tecate is a sleepy, friendly town. We ate Taqueria Los Arcos with amazing tacos. Since I can’t read or speak Spanish, I didn’t know exactly what I was ordering but the pollo mole was amazing as was the salsa again! Tecate is worth the trip for a more authentic Mexican experience.IMG_1039
  5. Keeping with the Mexican theme, I convinced @bentontor to abandon his hipster coffee morning locales for some Mexican breakfast food. He reluctantly agreed not because he doesn’t like Mexican food but because he loves hipster coffee if it is done well. I on the other hand, could not possibly care less. So off to Cochina 35 it was. Mostly impressed by the aqua fresca, my mango papaya juice was delicious as was the breakfast itself. Instead of the standard hurveros rancheros, we opted for chilaquiles a rancheros, a spicy tomato sauce over tortilla with egg, cheese and meat of your choice. Note, 1 order is more than enough to share. @benton8tor loved it so much he forgot to crave his hipster coffee. 

San Diego is well worth the foodie visit. There were so many more places to try and so much food to enjoy. Why not go again?

Long and Winding Road… Leads to Pamo Valley

It felt like visiting boutique wine makers who are passionate about product, and indeed it was.

@benton8tor and I knew we needed to escape this long and brutally cold Manitoba winter so we booked a ticket to San Diego not really knowing what to expect other than sunshine. Well we were definitely rewarded with sunshine, but as I did my research, I wanted to visit the underrated San Diego wineries. @benton8tor, who apparently lost his mind but gained a motorcycle license, wanted to do this beautiful drive he read about on a motorbike. He was pretty excited and I was pretty dubious but he assured me the time between stops were short. I should have remembered that @benton8tor’s ability to measure time is suspect at best. After assuring me we would have a very short time on the freeway, we were off. Side-note, @benton8tor has no idea of what ‘short time’ means.

After what was a beautiful if completely terrifying drive through the mountains of California, I was in desperate need of a drink. @benton8tor probably sensing I was seconds away from full on melt down, took it upon himself to help find wine tasting as we were now in Ramona, famous for its many wineries. Though Ramona has many wineries, production relies heavily on the winemakers and most are only open on the weekend for tasting. Luckily we stumbled upon Pamo Valley Wine tasting room, right in Ramona. I say luckily, not just because I needed a glass of wine ( I did) but because it happened to be the best winery we stopped at the entire trip. We were warmly greeted and given a tasting menu. thumbnail_IMG_1048After chatting, we found out that Pamo Valley has a woman wine maker who set up an urban tasting room, so that she can tend to the vines but customers can enjoy the wine everyday. The wine room was cozy, fun and Californian. If I could recommend one wine visit, it would be Pamo. At all the San Diego wineries, the staff, knew the wines, the wine-making process and were proud of their product. It felt like visiting boutique wine makers who are  passionate about product, and indeed it was.

Pamo has some fabulous traditions like the birthday glass (it was @benton8tor’s birthday) a giant glass with a regular glass of wine in it that you drink from and the picture goes on their social media. What struck me as more interesting however is Pamo seemed to be the location for local winemakers to come and drink. A good sign for sure.

I had 6 tastings. The wine was really good. Unlike a lot of California wine, Pamo Valley’s wines were more complex with different spice note and pepper. My favourite was the merlot, spicy, plummy and delicious. It was tons of fun at the winery, meeting other winemakers, chatting and being introduced beautifully to San Diego wines. We stayed way longer than anticipated but I was almost relaxed enough to forget to be terrified on the way home. Almost.IMG_2436