Do You Vacation or Do You Travel?

It was a little door in an alley under a bridge that led you into a small room with six tables and an open home style kitchen. 2 women were cooking and we ate the most amazing food, a black eyed pea salad, and gizzards in some unidentifiable but delicious sauce paired with amazing wine.


Do you vacation or do you travel? Is there a difference? Is one better than the other? What is the difference? These are questions that @benton8tor and I have been chatting about recently it he gave me the idea for this post. Though we are not hardcore travelers, which is a whole other style (think Bourdain or homestays) we definitely fall into the travel rather than vacation category. Travelers tend to eschew chain restaurants, resorts, theme parks etc… Vacationers tend to seek out vacation friendly activities such as beaches, boats, swim up bars, theme parks, and ready made tours and food. Some people can fall into  both categories. One is no better than the other but it is important to think about what you want before you travel so you can get the most our of your trip.

Vacation Centric Advantages

If you are on vacation you no doubt want to relax, disconnect from your everyday and have fun. That might include being taken care of or going to a relaxing vacation spot so here are the advantages

Vacationing can be much more  stress free than regular travel. Whether it is to a cabin on the lake, an all inclusive resort or a theme park, vacationers usually will have there vacation mapped out for them. Little planning means more time to relax and have fun. All inclusives in particular offer you a choice of restaurants, usually child minding, choice of activities, pre arranged ours at your choice (with extra cost), non stop drinks, beautiful beaches and pools, and staff to meet your every need. It can be a great way to relax. Likewise cabin vacations come without the non stop service but provide great scenery, outdoor activities, and a calming atmosphere. My friend Jeff’s main interest are scuba diving, deep sea fishing and swimming so it is ideal for them to book all inclusives as that will ensure they get the most out of their vacation. Also for picky eaters, all inclusives can often be easier for meal times. This type of vacation can be suited for families, stressed out, people from northern climes looking for some sun and a winter break, and first timers.


Vacationers are not limited to all inclusives. Many like to travel to well known ‘safe’ locations such as London, Paris, New York, LA, Vancouver (shudder), Australia, Singapore etc… Once there they book city tours, see the main sights, eat at tourist centric restaurants a but do not venture off the main path. Again this is a good option if you haven’t traveled much as it keeps culture shock to a minimum. Also some of the mainstream sights are truly amazing such as the Tower of London. Its a great way to dip your toe into travel and much less stress free. You can also book tours and a guide will lead you through each step and book the hotels for you!

Cruises would fall into this category but in all honesty I don’t know enough or care enough to write about them. That does not mean you should write them off however. My Uncle has a fear of flying so cruises offer him a great alternative to still be able to travel.


Those who prefer vacations may be mad at me for saying this but all inclusives or sticking to tourist hot spots, you run the risk of having limited to no contact with the local culture. Pre arranged tours often give you the ‘tourist experience” not the local one. You are extremely unlikely to eat where the locals eat, come into contact with actual local customs and buy actual local goods. You are even less likely to meet locals so you leave your destination with out really experiencing the country that you visited. At my last wine club my friend Caprice was relating the time she tried paella in Mexico. My friend Aurora  who is from Spain informed her she didn’t really have paella. Aurora is right. Its not to say that Caprice’s paella wasn’t tasty  but it wouldn’t be authentic, for that you have to go to Spain, in particular Valencia. When @Benton8tor and I went to Kansas City we were told for true authentic BBQ, we would need to go to Slaps. We were also told Q 39 provided great BBQ but in a much more upscale setting with additional food options.img_8758 For some super strange reason @benton8tor got completely out of character and decided he wanted to go to Q39 as he though Slaps looked a little too rustic. I dug in my heels and we went to Slaps. Not only was the BBQ amazing but @benton8tor was over the  moon at how awesome it was. We did try Q39 as well and it was really good but Slaps looked and tasted more authentic and it was completely full of locals. Likewise visiting small out of the way wineries in Provence where locals show up to fill up their wine? A great way to experience Provence and its wines that you may be less likely to find in a city or on a tour.


Travel Advantages

Well the obvious one is that you are way way more likely to experience local culture if you travel rather than vacation for the reasons I just stated above. But you will likely get a richer experience and gain levels of understanding that really help you appreciate different cultures. We took a food tour in Porto that promised authentic food in places the locals frequented. It was one of the best tours I ever took. We tried so many local spots all over Porto, down little alleys and under bridges. 174In fact our last stop didn’t even look like a restaurant at all ( i am still not sure it was) It was a little door in an alley under a bridge that led you into a small room with six tables and an open home style kitchen. 2 women were cooking and we ate the most amazing food, a black eyed pea salad, and gizzards in some unidentifiable but delicious sauce paired with amazing wine. We met a German/ American couple on the tour and we stayed on well after the tour ended to swap expediences and give suggestions. It was amazing. Likewise in Avignon, we booked a food tour to take us where locals eat. And boy oh boy, did Avignon Gourmet Tours knock it out of the park. @benton8tor who previously wasn’t sure if he like Provencal food became an instant convert. Likewise travel lets you really experience local markets. The local market in Cadenet provided us with 2 grocery bags of food at a cost of 12 euro for delicious dinner that night.

But culture is more than food, @benton8tor’s cousin Claire has provided me with my best London experiences from being fresh off the plane, she had us at an 11th century coaching inn used by pilgrims. Furthermore she introduced us to actual local pubs not owned by corporations, Chinese food in China town. She knows the local shops and can advise the best villages for local tea. Having a family members a  local. Gold Having a family member like Claire, Priceless.

Likewise when you travel you are more likely to experience local culture. Cut to Ireland waling into a pub in the middle of a sing song, In Charlottetown PEI, a local musician session, and a way to avoid tolls allowed us to discover the village of Mende which is truly stunning as is Askham UK.8075_10151083357120140_432180666_n

@benton8tor and I have had the best experiences when haven’t planned at all This past summer @benton8tor and I walked to a local winery from our gite in Roquemare. We were greeted by the son riding a tractor. He quickly called his dad who showed up with four friends, jumped out of the car led us into a large shed and set up a beautiful tasting table and provided us with some of our favourite wines and showed us a video of his horse plowing the fields and the wine he named after her. Likewise , @benton8tor and I dropped off my parents in Toulouse and we decided at the spur if the moment to visit Auch, a truly beautiful town in Southern France. We had an Armagnac tasting at local shop with the sweetest most enthusiastic proprietor ever. 10387455_10152536476050140_2615767293228875328_nWe then set out somewhere in the French country side where the GPS stopped worked and we relied on signposts to take us to Domaine de Grande Comte which looks like an ordinary farmyard but opens up to a state of the art tasting room with an amazing host. You are unlikely to find that on a tour.

Traveler Disadvantages

Travelling is expensive. You will not have a good idea of all your expensive beforehand and they can creep up on you so be prepared and set a budget.

Traveling can be stressful. Planning take more time and research, meals can be disappointing, experiences lacking and it can take more time. I thought I would love Italy, turns out I didn’t but is that because I didn’t book tours?  Did not trust experienced guides? did not go to the coast? If I had actually booked tours in Tuscany my experience might have been completely different. Travel rather than vacationing runs the risk of bad experiences being more likely so it can write off an entire country unfairly. Also expectations can be unrealistic, you may want a vacation like experience but travel is a risk, can be very disappointing. @benton8tor and I so sure we were going to love Shropshire in England. We ended up in Telford which is a collection of towns and very modern and sorry Telford, but very very boring. It was a disappointment. We finally ended up in Shifnel which redeemed Shropshire but with travel, you just never really know because try as you might, you aren’t an expert.

Culture Shock can be real issue traveling. Food and local customs if you are not familiar can overwhelm your experience and sour it. When traveling to Cameroon, the food was so different, and I didn’t stay at a hotel but at my guest house I had a guard with machete and the poverty we saw was heartbreaking. I loved Cameroon but it was very hard and the culture shock was immense.

So know what you want out of your experience and plan accordingly. Either way you will have a great time!

When In Rome…

Not too long ago, @benton8tor and I were having drinks with friends and chatting about their recent European vacation. They had been to Malta, Italy, and Portugal. “Did you have the Francesinha?’ Benton8tor asks. “No, it looked to filling and not healthy.” Granted all of what they said was true, the Francesinha is a traditional Portuguese sandwich filled with ham, sausage, steak, cheese and then covered with a sauce. So I understand were they are coming from but I thought they’d at least want to try it. Apparently not. They then started singing the praises of Malta, mainly for its array of international restaurants. Again I can appreciate that. Sometimes after being away for a while, I start to crave different foods. This was evident at the end of a trip once in Reims, where I was so craving spice, I decided to forgo the traditional French cuisine and opt for a burrito or in London where Thai food has given me a break from the fried pub food and roast meats. They continued their story capping it off with this doozy, “When we were in Rome, we didn’t eat pasta at all” @benton8tor and I sat in shocked silence. Finally @benton8tor asks “Why not?” They answered, “pasta is too heavy” and so this is where my post begins. When in Rome indeed.

Part of the allure of travel for me is to try to integrate into local culture as much as possible. This can be hard when you want to see the tourist attractions but it is good to go off the beaten path, ask locals for recommendations and try food, drinks, and activities that are part of what it means to live there. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my friends experience in Rome. Roman food was some of the very best I have ever tasted. We were lucky enough to go on a food tour in the non touristy Prati district. IMG_4455 We got to try sumptuous buffalo mozzarella, to the point now, I am not even sure what we but in stores is even cheese. We also tried aged balsamic, fresh bread, cured meats, authentic gelato (they will tell you how to spot imposters) canoli, and the very best, Anthony Bourdain recommended Bonci pizza with a crust so ridiculously good you’d fly back for that alone. Not to mention the local wines both white and red, which paired properly completely change the taste. And the amazing pasta both creamy ravioli or pasta with the richest freshest tomato sauce. Even better was the pasta at Caffe Washington near the Termini To this day I am still in awe of the pasta pomodoro and the carbonara. And it isn’t just Rome, I am forever grateful to try Cassoulet in Carcasonne, Chacroute in Strasboug, Bresse chicken in Bresse, Boeuf Bourginon in Beaune, currywurst in Berlin, Schnitzel in Munich, and even the dread Scotch egg in England. The English cheese more than made up for it though. To me it is important to try the regional specialties. I have had the francesinha, it was heavy but glad I tried it, though I much prefer ed the bifana.Likewise I am glad I tried pollo mole in Mexico and fondue in Switzerland. What I eat while traveling isn’t always what I would eat at home  and yes I have had a vegetable induced meltdown sometimes ( I really love them) but almost always I fall in love with a certain dish from a region and I am never sorry I tried it. Even my mother who would eat a turkey sandwich everyday when we travel if I let her, gamely tried the sardine dip on our recent Avignon food tour. She loved it. I loved everything about that tour, especially the semi dried tomatoes that I try to recreate on a weekly basis at home.


Its not just the food but also the drink. It is super easy for me in France to drink French wine and I am oh so happy for the opportunity but I have tried cognac in cognac and armagnac as well as my beloved French wine.  In Spain, I try Spanish wine or Sherry, Portugal is Portuguese wine or Port and on the Azores, I stuck to the Azorean wine eschewing wine from the mainland. In England I tired to my delight a beautiful sparkling wine and I have been known to drink an ale or 2. In Ireland of course I drank Guinness, In Cuba rum, and in Cameroon a delightful grapefruit pop. Australia I had passionfruit juice as well as the wine. It always introduces me to a new taste where I was especially grateful for  in Missouri, San Diego and Switzerland with their delicious wines that I would have otherwise not tried.

Its also the customs that can be important. I have heard multiple stories from friends about the standoffish nature of the countries they visits but more likely they are seeing everything thorough their own lens and cultural norms. Not all greetings are as casual or overtly friendly as North Americas. It is important to research local customs such as greetings, and even tipping. As well When I traveled to Cameroon, I had to invest in some long skirts as was local custom. Knowing to cover your head and shoulders when viewing religious sites is also important. It is less about changing who you are and your values and more about respecting local culture. After all, just ask Ozzy Osborne, apparently relieving yourself against the Alamo is a big no no. I have found that most people want to share their culture with you and if you are visiting their land, why not do the research beforehand so it can be a wonderful experience.

This isn’t meant to shame those who like travel and have the comforts of home but more to urge stepping out of your comfort zone just a bit to try something you might not have otherwise enjoyed. I guarantee you wont be disappointed and if you are, well at least you will have a story.

Switzerland, More Than Cheese and Chocolate?

I point out this is a winery so I would have eventually followed him, like when the winery closed

Last spring I was lucky enough to get to travel to Geneva. I had kind of always wanted to visit Switzerland but I had heard it was expensive, Like crazy expensive so I never really took it seriously. Besides after skiing, eating fondue and tasting chocolate, what is there to do? Well I had only  was able to briefly visit Switzerland, in particular Geneva and turns out it is a wine and hiking destination. Who knew? Well apparently a lot of people who aren’t me.  Anyhow, I was super excited to discover a new wine region.

@benton8tor was still in England and I had gone ahead to Geneva for a few days work. Which meant I had a few hours to discover new wine. Google had suggested tying Rouge et Blanc right on the river front and about 10 minutes from my hotel so off I went navigating Geneva’s thankfully few pigeons. Rouge et Blanc is perfect for an introduction to Swiss wine, indeed any wine as the restaurant has quite a selection. My server was extremely helpful and recommended starting with a chasselas which is an indigenous Swiss grape and a crisp white, perfect for cutting through Switzerland’s famous cheese dishes. I followed it with a local gamay which like its Beaujolais counter parts was light and fruity but thankfully not at all like bubble gum. Even better they provided me with an amuse bouche. I had no idea what it was but my money was on a tapenade. It tasted faintly olive like. I texted @benton8tor to let him know of this new discovery and my mystery food. He didn’t really think not knowing what you are eating is a selling point but was willing to try it when he arrived. When @benton8tor finally arrived we revisited le Rouge et blanc, but he was more impressed Boulevard de Vin. Boulevard de Vin is frequented by locals, just off the river with an  excellent wine and beer selection.

Best of all according to @benton8tor was the raclette. A wheel of cheese melted on a rack than scraped onto some baby potatoes. It is an alpine specialty. The wine list at Boulevard is out of this world and my favourite was a mondeuse.

But if you are in Switzerland, it makes sense to indulge in its famous exports cheese and chocolate. A few weeks later we were back in Switzerland for a day trip with my parents. We decided to head for Gruyere and try the famous cheese. the factory visit is not high on my list but a stop at the cafeteria  for food? A definite must. Upon seeing the cafeteria, @benton8tor who had it mind set on a quaint little restaurant was disappointed. ‘This can’t possibly be good” he complained. Luckily we were hungry so I won out. I ordered cheese fondue with red wine and @benton8tor ordered chasselas. the fondue? out of this world, @benton8tor liked it so much, he nearly licked the bowl.

The best part, he admitted I was right. From there, we decamped to Maison Cailler for chocolate tasting (best hot chocolate of his life I’m told). The chocolate factory is touristy and crowed but the chocolate is good and my mom really liked decorating her own bar.Rather she liked instructing staff to decorate her own bar and since the staff are remarkably good humoured,  it all worked out.

On the way back to France, my mom with a suitcase full of chocolate decides she wants a picture of Lake Geneva despite being in the middle of a rainstorm. @benton8tor finds a parking lot and pulls in, he and my mother immediately take off for the lake leaving my dad and I in a parking lot. So now I am annoyed  but when I look behind me the sign says Lavaux Vinorama. Could @benton8tor have accidentally pulled into a winery? Yes Yes Yes! So my dad and I decamp into the building and the incredible server recommends flights for both of us. My dad’s all reds, mine is 2 whites and 2 reds. We sit back and enjoy ourselves with the rest of the patrons who are well dressed and enjoying a cozy afternoon of wine tasting. My mother finally shivers her way in. “I  didn’t know where you went” she complains, “well, neither did we” I think but don’t say. Regardless, she settles in and tells us @benton8tor has gone to get her a small stone from the lakeshore. In walks @benton8tor soaked to his hips, carrying his socks and shoes. Turns out he slipped getting the rock and now is cold, in pain and mad (mostly at himself it turns out). He assumed someone would have followed him in case he slipped. I point out this is a winery so I would have eventually followed him, like when the winery closed. Plus I hate rain . I suggest that he should have some wine. So he slaps his gross wet socks on-the table and tries to order a Swiss white. The server showing what I believe to be extreme patience steers him towards some good wine choices including white and rose. “Well she was rude” He exclaims. My dad and I look at each other puzzled. He gets his wine, in the end everyone wins. We continue back to France along the beautiful lake drive and Swiss villages. Right before we cross the border @benton8tor exclaims “OH No!  she wasn’t rude, I put my socks on the table, ” He is visibly embarrassed and I am like this will make a sweet story. .My takeaway? I think we we all learned is that Switzerland has many delicious wines and scenery and that wine makes everything better.

Going Local, Why Cheese and Wine Are Your Best Friends in Chambery

If you are going to If you are going to Chambery, you are probably going for the food and the wine so stay local and enjoy.

Last year @benton8tor suggested I should take the French Wine Scholar course through the Wine Guild of America. I like/love French wine and he thought it would be fun for me. So I signed up. Well it wasn’t exactly what I thought (tons of tastings and a bit of education) It is actually a ton of education to make sure you understand French viticulture, terroir, regions, permitted grapes, laws, and history. A not so humblebrag here. I passed! But the best thing is not just my understanding of French wine improving but it introduced me to wines, I didn’t even know existed, especially Savoie region. Which is why I decided to visit Chambery this last trip.

Chambery though the capital of Savoie isn’t a beautiful or quaint as Annecy or as ski friendly and visually stunning as Chamonix but it is a beauty in its own right and home to some of the best wine, cheese, and sausage I have eaten. Chambery, once home to the Duchy of Savoie, is a high altitude wine producing region. White are lean with high acid and reds tend to emulate their white counterparts. These wines are perfect for hot days and even morethumbnail_IMG_3567 perfect for pairing with cheese. Cheese is everywhere in Savoie. the Haute Alps are famous for their cheese and Savoie is famous for its cheese dishes such as fondue (with local cheese), tartiflette, racelette and more. In other words you need a lean somewhat racy wine to pair. It compliments the cheese and definitely cuts through the richness. But where to get such delicacies and why?

Well the first night we ventured over to Restaurant le Savoyard. Every guidebook, website, and hotel staff recommends Le Savoyard. Bizarrely this had me skeptical. Could a restaurant really be that good? The answer is yes.Le Savoyard takes the traditional Savoie food and elevates it to the next level. We happened to be with my parents and my mom was not a fan of the menu. “A tomato cheesecake” she sneered “who would eat that?” Well it turns out both my dad and I and it was delicious. So much so she was sorry she hadn’t ordered it. It was followed by a traditional Savoie sausage. @benton8tor speculated about what was in it but I have found when it comes to sausage, its best for me not to ask what is in it and just enjoy it. Le Savoyard has a good wine selection with Savoie beer as well. One made with the local herb genapie,

Au Bureau is a a warm friendly pub with a great beer selection and good wine selection. It is the prefect place to stop for a snack and great place to settle in. The owners know their beer and when @benton8tor ordered a beer they thought didn’t fit  his progression, they had him try it before ordering.

They were right and he quickly switched back to their recommendation. Me I just enjoyed the wine. Just down the street Bistrot O400 offers excellent Savoie dishes including the Savoie salad. Their wine list fetaures local wines including the beloved by me, Monduese grape and altesse. Bistrot O400 is definitely the place to stay local as those dishes are their stars including the tartiflette.

Restaurant La Banche was a happy accident for us for lunch. It specializes in Savoie wines again with the Mondesue d’Arpin being my favourite and a good beer selection too. The Monduese isn’t the only red grape is Savoie but it my favothumbnail_IMG_4164urite as the most depth  even with its high acid level.It was a great place to pass an lazy afternoon right on the square, great service, good wine and all the snacks you need.  The burgers are definitely worth it.

Strolling around Chambery’s local market is perfect to enjoy in season strawberries and cherries but also a great way to taste wine, local sausages and local cheeses including the famous  reblochon.  If you are going to Chambery, you are probably going for the food and the wine so stay local and enjoy.

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 artisanal  wines that are underrated but incredibly delicious.

We’ll Always Have Paris

But back to the city of lights, Paris has so much to offer, so much history, so many romanticized locations, so many literary and historical monuments, really so much life where do you begin?

Paris, Paris, Paris, City of lights,  epicentre of art, culture, food, Paris. I have hesitated to write about Paris, thought i have visited twice. Not because I don’t’ love it, I do but how can i possibly do Paris justice? I can’t. Paris can be divisive, people love it or hate it. I fall firmly in the former. I love love love it. Despite its reputation Paris is clean, crazy amazingly beautiful and in my experience, very friendly. Sometimes if I am talking to someone who has outdated stereotypes about Paris, they will sneer ” friendly, are you sure you were in Paris?” Yes I am sure. By the way, the same said people do not like it when you suggest it is their attitude that may be the reason they don’t experience the same level of friendliness.  But back to the city of lights, Paris has so much to offer, so much history, so many romanticized locations, so many literary and historical monuments, really so much life where do you begin?Europe 2006 149

Well it is probably best to begin the first time I saw Paris (the cliches will be endless). My first European trip, I was the most excited about Paris! So excited that I exited the train at the Gare du Nord without a backwards glance and @benton8tor struggled to keep up ( well not really but he wasn’t quite as excited as me). Because we exited the train below ground I was surprised and none to pleased to see a pigeon on this level. Pigeons are my nemesis and by far biggest fear. This was not boding well. It didn’t get better, Gare du Nord was undergoing construction and pigeons were abundant. I was starting to panic. @benton8tor was busy scanning for a place to queue up for a cab. “There’s no time” I say calmly to him, “there’s too many pigeons about.” @benton8tor still maintains I screamed it at him. Regardless I was busy hailing a cab. “that won’t work here”, he tells me ” we have to queue up.” While he is relaying this inaccurate but actually polite information, a cab stops in the centre lane and the driver is beginning to load our bags. I jump in the cab, grateful for the pigeon respite and @benton8tor follows suit, though still gobsmacked. We set off for the Hotel Beaubourg in the Marais district.Europe 2006 123

This is the point my brain started to function again and I can now give my commendations for Paris Must Dos (according to me).

  1. Stay in the Marais. Because I love France so much and travel there as frequently as I can, people often assume I am traveling to Paris ( I am not ). So when they decide to travel to Paris they ask me where to stay. Based on my 2 times, I always recommend the Hotel Beaubourg in the Marais. Located right beside the Centre Pompidou, the Hotel Beaubourg is friendly, elegant, and affordable. Our room had a beautiful terrace to sit out and drink wine at the end of the night.

2.  Paris is an art lovers dream. Though it is huge ( and I mean huge) the Lourve is an absolute must do. However be prepared, the Mona Lisa is small and the lineups to see it are huge. Also they do not allow photography and it is imperative to respect that. The Venus de Milo is right there however! The Louvre offers lots to see including the French Europe 2006 157crown jewels, which you can see up close!! 

The Musee D’Orsay located in former train station offers the best opportunity to see the works of the impressionists! And a stunning view of the Sacre Couer from the upstairs window! Musee D’Orsay offers an easy to maneuver, unique experience. I also have a thing for dance so I particularly like the Degas paintings. They also feature lesser known impressionists too. Don’t miss it. And The Centre Pompidou is an amazing venue for cutting edge art. See both 2006 183

3. Wander around! Paris is a very walk able city and any arrondissement will offer a fabulous array of restaurants, squares, side streets with charm and shopping. My personal favourites are the Marais, The Opera, and the Rue du Rivoli. Walking the Rue St Honore just off the Rue Du Rivoli is a must do. It is Paris’s first upscale shopping street easy to walk and a fabulous place to watch the world go by. I recommend Le Musset a great place for a snack and a drink.Europe June 2010 084 The food is delicious and fresh.

4. Go to Paris Landmark such as Le Dome ( In Montparnasse) not by the Eiffel Tower which is another restaurant entirely and the only sub par restaurant I have ever encountered in Paris. The Famous Le Dome is famous for a reason and worth the visit for the food and the art deco atmosphere. Cafe De Paix is also worth the visit!

5. Sit and watch the world go by. Any of the restaurants in the Ile de Cite offer stunning views of the Notre Dame Cathedral (where you should visit once you are done! both the inside and the outside are exquisite) and good wine selections. If you want food or different views cross the bridge back to the Marais and sit on the patio at Bistrot Marguerite along the Seine. Enjoy a red wine from anywhere in France and some delicious salads and steak

We arrived late to Bistrot Marguerite once and they sill seated us, gave recommendation, ensured we enjoyed our food and were very kind. Or walk back the Louvre and cross the street for the Carousel  for some pasta, French wine and beer and a super arm welcome! Also you are more likely to eat with Parisians at this spot.

6. Finally Visit the Famous Les Halles market. I is amazing and you will be so stoked you did! And then walk back over to the Pont Neuf and get on a boat for a sunset tour of Paris. Paris from the Seine is beautiful, As well many people relax along the Seine with wine, food and sometimes music. is a delight and confirms every romantic notion you will have ever had about Paris. Finally get a bus tour. Paris has so much to see the the hop on hop off tours are an excellent way to see the main sites including the bastille, Place du Concorde, Arc de Triumph, Champs Elysees, Sacre Couer, Monmarte, etc…

Paris, I really can’t do it justice but suffice it to say Paris, je t’aime.

Picturesque and Perfect, Wine tasting in Portugal’s Douro Valley

The grounds were equally stunning with Douro Valley views on a cobblestone terrace with wisteria and oranges in bloom. Could it get any better?.

Late last winter we were scrambling to plan a spring gateway as Manitoba winters can be brutal. One of my friends is Portuguese and she had always recommended Portugal. So we decided it was about time and booked our ticket. A couple of weeks later, one of my coworkers asked where I was going  on my holiday. “Portugal” I told her. She looked at me and said “Let me guess, the Douro Valley.” ” Yes” I replied shocked ” How did you know?” She gave me a look  and replied “Well , the wine.” It is true, wine is absolutely a driving force for me when I travel. I  am fascinated  by regional wine making, grapes, and traditions. And the Douro Valley is home to some of Portugal’s best wines and ports. I couldn’t wait.

And well I did my wine research and looked into all Porto had to offer, I somehow missed all the information about just how incredibly beautiful the Douro Valley actually is. So The day we set out for the Douro Valley, I was ready to taste wine but was  blown away by how beauty of the Douro Valley especially in the spring. Our first stop was the Sandeman Quinto do Seixo. At this point, we had visited Sandeman in Porto and it is one of the best known port houses. The service in Porto along with the Port was excellent, so I wasn’t sure exactly what the Quinto do Seixo could offer to improve on it. Well the Ports were still excellent ( we got 4 tastings) and the white was surprisingly my favourite, but the views, the views were out of this world.  213The Douro valley so named for the Douro river running through it is steep. Many if not all the vineyard are on awe inspiring terraced systems. The Quinto do Seixo offered a floor to ceiling windowed tasting room to view the vineyards or you could step out on to the courtyard, feel the spring sunshine and sip your 10 year old tawny port with its hints of figs, sultanas, and honey and just enjoy. And I did just that, while @benton8tor searched for the spot to take the perfect picture. We both came away happy, me bolstered by the port and the few sips, I stole of @benton8tors, and him by the views.

After reluctantly leaving Sandeman, we made our way to the beautiful village of Pinhao for lunch. Pinhao on the Douro River offer river tours as well. It like the rest of the Douro Valley is beautiful and lunch is enormous, complete with rice, we had a choice of 3 proteins (fish, pork, and chicken) which we shared, accompanied by salad and followed by a delicious port cake, I wasn’t sure I could fit anything else in my stomach. But luckily I always have room for wine. Which was lucky considering our next stop took us to Quinta do Panascal to taste some beautifully complex tawny ports.

The ports were rich again with notes of honey and fig along with another spectacular tasting room, with old barrels doubling as tables. The grounds were equally stunning with Douro Valley views on a cobblestone terrace with wisteria and oranges in bloom. Could it get any better?.

Well maybe not better but still amazing. Though I love Port, I was at this point desperate for some actual wine for variety. Luckily the Quinta da Pacheca in Lamego did just that. Again anther stunningly beautiful tasting room in a stunningly beautiful locale ( I am actually running out of superlatives). We were able to taste some beautiful Douro Valley whites and reds. The red was my favourite. Light, easy drinking but with a depth of flavour perfect for a spring day. but a tasting wouldn’t be complete without Port and we finished in the courtyard and a beautiful sunny walk in the vineyard.

I was loathe to leave the Douro Valley as it had entranced me with its beauty and delicious wines. Douro, I can’t wait to come back.

Beaune Appétit!

Try more wine, eat more food. just enjoy after all that is why we go to Beaune in the first place.

Beaune the heart of Bourgogne/Burgundy. The epicentre of Borgogne wine, home of the Hospice de Beaune, seat of the former Duchy of Burgundy and culinary mecca. If you haven’t bee there yet, go now. Seriously I will wait while you book your ticket. Ok you are back? Good, so sit back and read about Beaune and get all sorts of ideas for your upcoming trip.


As I am sure you know since you just booked your ticket, Beaune is and hour and a half north of Lyon, 3 hours east of Paris and 2 hours northwest of Geneva. Even shorter by train! And it is amazing. @benton8tor and I have been twice and can’t wait to go again. Beaune in the heart of Bourgogne (the French term, Many English speakers know it as Burgundy but in recent years there has been a movement to reclaim its French name worldwide). Bourgogne along with Bordeaux in the South West are well known as the powerhouses of the French wine industry. And they are very different in their approach to wine. Bordeaux has Chateau, and the Chateau are ranked. In Bourgogne, it is Domaines and the vineyards themselves are ranked.IMG_8971 Bourgogne unlike Bordeaux can have very small vineyard lots and a Grand Cru vineyard can be tiny. Bourgogne is home to the Cote d’Or including the more northerly Cote de Nuit home of the famous Romanee Conti vineyards and the Southern Cote de Beaune home to Pommard and Puligny- Montrachet. In fact some of the vineyards fame eclipses that of the village so the village has added the name of the vineyard to its Village name (see Puligny Montrachet). Famous for the Chardonay and Pinot Noir grapes, nowhere else in France does the terrior play such a prominent role.

Understanding Bourgogne wine can be overwhelming at first that is why I have a handy dandy guide to help you navigate the awesomeness of Beaune so:

  1. Go the Marche aux Vins which should be the first thing you do after you check on into your hotel.because you will want a drink and why not wine? After all you are in the most prestigious wine region in the world (don’t tell Bordeaux though, or other countries after all you don’t want to hurt feelings) Marche aux vins in located in the center of Beaune near the Hospices to Beaune. Marche aux vins allows you to taste 20 Bourgogne wines in the cellars and Abbey in central Beaune. Even better there is a sommelier to explain the Bourgogne labeling, terrior and vineyards so you can really understand and enjoy . what you are tasting.

  2. DO a wine tour. Beaune has tons of tours to pick from but @benton8tor and I chose Vinetours. It was amazing. We went to both Cote de Nuit and Cote de Beaune. Our guide was amazing explaining the history of the vineyards and vines (including vineyards that have been continually planted since Charlemagne’s time) we drank wine in the vineyard ( my fav!!) saw the old huts where the wine harvesters would rest and toured the  domaines. It was amazing.
  3. Beaune Market as I mentioned Beaune is a culinary mecca so go to the market, olives, seasonings, jams, bread,IMG_8986 cheese, produce, goods. It is all here and it is spread out and easy to navigate. the only difficulty in the market is dragging @benton8tor away from the array of mustard.Yes that is right IMG_8985, Beaune is in Bourgogne as is Dijon so Dijon mustard is easy to get and spectacular. Also go to  Emond Fallot for mustard.
  4. Did I mention Beaune is a culinary mecca? Oh I did? well it is. Famous for Bouef bourguignon, Coq au vin, gourgeres, Charolais Beef, Chicken in Mustard and its terrines. Where to start. Well you can go high end such as 21 Boulevard and Le Cheval Noir and your food will be amazing or you can go to an everyday or mid range restaurant and still have an out of this world meal. My personal favourite places to eat were La Grilladine with its Charolais Beef, Boeuf bourguignon, Chicken, Ham terrine and pears in wine. It was delicious with exceptional service.

    Le Brasserie le Carnot has amazing gazpacho, beef tartare, and jambon au beurre. In fact we went here with my parents once and my mom ordered a jambon au beurre  and salad. What she got back was a huge baguette and salad. ‘ How am I going to eat all of this? I ordered too much’ she tells us. We go on enjoying our dinner and she is remarkably quiet. In fact we look over at her and not only dd she finish everything, she kept insisting on finding a restaurants that served the jambon baguette every other place we went. However we finally got her to try the chicken in mustard and then she switched to that instead. She is definitely a creature of habit and a finicky eater so if she likes it, you know its good. Bonus point Brasserie le Carnot has that beautiful French look and feel that makes you feel as though you are in a movie, drinking out of this wold wine and eating delicious food.


    We also frequented le Concorde. It has the very best croissants and features superb (Beaune is so good, I am running out of superlatives) Cremant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne’s sparking wine which is delicate, toasty (I know but it is) and extremely enjoyablethumbnail_IMG_8426. Though my favourite part was people watching, including the locals that went there at 10 am every morning for their 2 beers.

  5. GO to the Villages. This is where you find the wines and the villages themselves are beautiful. Puligny Montrachet is a short drive from Beaune and it should be your first stop. Olivier Leflaive is located here and it is all kinds of fabulous. We booked for lunch and wine tasting. ‘Would we like a tour of the vineyard first’ its probably not appropriate to scream ‘hell yes’ so i settled for ‘mais oui’. The vineyard tour gives a great overview into winemaking process and of course the impact of terrior and micro climate on the grapes. You move onto lunch and oh my gosh go hungry because your five courses will be so ridiculously good and well paired that you will continue to eat and drink no matter how full you are. We had gorgeres, carrot souffle (simply one of the lightest, tastiest, most delicious dishes I have ever tasted) ham terrine, and chicken along with dessert. The wines were perfectly paired. The whites were crisp, citrus and full bodied. the reds were silky, velvety and I wanted more. It is a definite must visit ééééé

You’ll need to stay somewhere in Beaune and both @benton8tor and I recommend Hotel Henri II. It is a beautiful hotel with old oak beams, the nicest bathroom ever and the friendliest service that will dispel any stereotype you have heard about France in 11 seconds. It has an beautiful bar which is a great place to relax and drink some wine at the end of the night while watching the world cup. Side note: probably don’t tell the other guests they are cheering for the wrong team even if they are, it can be awkward. But all kidding aside staff and guests were all kind and we had so much fun.


There is still more to do in Beaune, go shopping, visit the Hospice de Beaune, see more villages, Go to Bourg En Bresse for chicken, Try more wine, eat more food. just enjoy after all that is why we go to Beaune in the first place.IMG_8968

Rooftops, Cava, and Game of Thrones. Welcome to Seville

Seville if you go once, you be back again and again and again.

Seville, the Southern Spanish city and capital of the Andalusia region is a city unlike any other. I have to admit despite my love of travel, Spain wasn’t really high on my list. I had heard endless stories from friends who traveled to Spain in their late teens, early twenties and most stories revolved around bars, clubs and beaches. Likewise the British families we knew seemed to view Spain as a sun and resort destination. So it fell off our radar also because we were too lazy to just understand how much more and I mean much much more Spain had to offer and how diverse it really is.

So back in 2015, @benton8tor started talking about wanting to visit Spain, I started ignoring him and preparing my argument for why we should visit Rome. (back in 2014, @benon8or paid a hefty like transatlantic airfare hefty price for a parking and speeding ticket in Italy, he was pretty bitter ). However, being someone reasonable adults which include absolutely no sulking fits, we compromised and greed to do both Spain and Rome. I had read a little about Seville and Granada bu we ended up picking Seville. I thought it was because of its proximity to Sherry production, I later learned it was because of it Game of Thrones connections. and the food… oh my the food is simply delicious.

I mentioned Seville is in Andalusia in Southern Spain. This is more important than I realized, Spain s exceptionally regional. For instance, paella should come from Valencia etc.. Seville takes pride in its Moorish culture an architecture and it is truly on of the mos visually stunning cities I have ever seen. Courtyards with plants, inlaid stone and tile work, clean beautiful streets, Seville was a site to behold. From he Golden Tower to the Cathedral, to the Place de’Espagne, Seville was a site to behold. But the Alcazar, oh my gosh. IMG_4232The Alcazar is now a museum but was a former Royal palace. It is beautiful  and beyond beautiful. The tile work and stone work is almost incomprehensible in its beauty. the gardens and water features are equally gorgeous. Full of history, you can easily spend a day there. And if you are a fan of Game of Thrones, you will definitely want to see it as many of the scenes of the Water Gardens of Dorne. Both the Alcazar and Place de’Espagne are well well worth it.


As is the rooftop patios. Seville is literally full of them and hey afford stunning city views, usually a pool and poolside drinks. Our hotel the Fontecruz Sevilla Seises had a beautiful rooftop with views of the cathedral and poolside drinks. Seville is very hot in the summer, often 40 degrees so a poolside dip can make all the difference. that and the mists they spray you with both on the patio and street level. But part of he fun of the rooftops is the drinks, Spain is famous for its reds and Sherries. Both are exceptional but its cavas on a a hot day with their crisp flavours, light bubbles and overall deliciousness really captured my heart. that said, Spain’s wines should be tasted as much as possible, far more diverse than we often see, the reds can be both light, fruit forward and full bodies, with deep flavours from several regions. The wine pairs exceptionally well with the food here but hat is a whole other post. Suffice it to say, try the gazpacho and oxtail lasagna for sure!  In fact if I would have to go back to Seville just so Ben can eat that lasagna again and hen talk about it for the next 364 days. and shop. Seville’s artisans produce beautiful tile work ,jewelry, and clothing. Seville has fabulous streets for wondering and exploring shops, spices, stopping for wine and hen continuing on your day with more exploring.

Seville is also and easy spot for day trips to the beautiful villages surrounding. Seville if you go once, you’ll be back again and again and again.

Wine Not Strasbourg?

However my real disappointment came when I finally tried the cremants from Alsace back in Canada. not because they weren’t amazing they are! they are so amazing all I could think was ” I could have been drinking these the whole time.’

I can’t quite remember why I wanted to go to Alsace, especially Strasbourg but if I think back, it is probably because I love the French dish Choucroute garnie. IMG_6041Choucroute garnie is a regional dish from Alsace . It is made from sauerkraut, sausage and often ham hock, shoulder or even bacon. It is made with white wine (Alsatian of course) and it is all kinds of delicious. Enough of a reason to visit Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace for me.

If you visit Alsace, Strasbourg in particular, you could be forgiven for not knowing if  you are in Germany or France. Alsace through its history has been both German and French and both cultures have a historical and cultural presence in Alsace. The half timbered houses, meat and sausage heavy dishes speak to its German influences (as does the use of sauerkraut). The love of wine, baguettes and its tarte flambee/flammekueche suggest its French influence. Despite the name flammekueche is a onion tart dish with cream that reminds me more of France.

Strasbourg in Alsace is beautiful. The Petit France area in particular is full if life, good food and plenty of pottery that is beautiful and unique. (seriously bring and empty suitcase and buy lots of it!!!) the river in Strasbourg is scenic, and dotted with tons of little river boat cafes.

We didn’t eat here but it was a great spot to stop for a mid afternoon drink. Which I did of course. Strasbourg is also the host to the European Parliament . It is well worth a visit.

So obviously when we arrived  in Strasbourg we were on a mission. Te mission included eating as much local cuisine as possible, (check), buying as much pottery as possible (check and check) , exploring the beautiful city (check), and of course appreciating the Alsatian wine (check but really fail)

I love French wine and if you asked me, I would have told you I truly appreciated the wine from Alsace. And to be fair I did try it but as a person who doesn’t really drink white wine, I failed to understand what I was ordering and didn’t really take the time to understand and appreciate it. I quickly switched to back to reds (mostly from the Rhone) and carried on smugly thinking I had given Alsace wine a fair shot. I didn’t though.

Since then I have been taking the French Wine Scholar Course online through the Wine Scholar Guild (Yes that is an obvious humblebrag) and After studying the Alsace region. Well I knew nothing and failed to appreciate it even more! Alsace uses the German method of labeling ( that is putting the grape on the label) and use Riesling, Klevner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (to make whites and roses!! and a few reds) and Gewurztraminer as the main grapes. Few of the varieties are blended and if they are they are known gentil (contains 50% of the Noble grapes)or Edlezwicker which is blended with any Alsace grapes. Knowing and understanding the grapes (especially the blends) with the soil type and vineyard (is it a grand cru?) can make for a more pleasant wine drinking experience. For instance if you like Rieslings and blends, you may want to try a gentil. also the Alsatian wine glasses are beautiful. Short clear goblets with a green stem!

However my real disappointment came when I finally tried the cremants from Alsace back in Canada. not because they weren’t amazing they are! they are so amazing all I could think was ” I could have been drinking these the whole time.’ They were smooth, easy drinking but still sparking. Perfect for the warm summer day! I encourage everyone to try them, they are incredibly enjoyable and considerably less expensive. Also if you don’t enjoy the sweetness that often accompanies a prosecco or the crispness of the cava, the cremant from Alsace is for you! That said, If you like white, Alsace has truly amazing whites, which I have also since discovered.

However to truly appreciate the Alsace wines, take a road trip on the wine route down to Colmar. I know that is my plan for my next visit to Alsace, that an an empty stomach for the amazing food and empty suitcase for the pottery!