A New York City virgin

If you follow any major magazines, bloggers or celebrities on Twitter and Instagram, or are even the slightest bit fashion-inclined, you’ll know that the word on everyone’s lips for the past week has been: New York.

Backstage madness captured on Instagram at the Nicole Miller spring 2013 show at The Studio at Lincoln Center, in New York.

As New York Fashion Week took hold of the minds of the fashion elite, this year it was a little easier to feel close to the action with social media sites giving glimpses into the wonderful world of haute couture.

With so much glam in the air it’s hard not to sit at your drab 9-5 dreaming of a seat with your name, written in calligraphy, right beside the runway.  Now imagine you had literally just missed the festivities by a hair, coming back from my own New York City trip at the end of August, and try to sympathize with my demanding desire to be back in the big city.

As a first-time New Yorker I wasn’t sure what to expect – aside from yellow taxis, neon lights and an almost a guaranteed run-in with either Katie Holmes or Denzel Washington. Right? But now, after spending two glorious days in a city I vow to return to, here’s the knowledge I gained and would pass along to any other first-time visitor of the Big Apple:

1) Don’t drive. And if you do, don’t drive a standard card. 

Sightseeing in SOHO at a snails pace. Not pleased.

Now, this obviously doesn’t apply to every reader depending on which location you’re reading this from. Obviously, if you live in Vancouver driving is not an option. But, from Ottawa it is not all that crazy of an idea… or was it? Eight hours of travel – piece of cake right? I mean, we’ve all been stuck in a Toronto traffic jam before. And who doesn’t love a good road trip? Throw on some jams, pack some snacks and a pal that can carry a conversation and you’re all set, RIGHT? Well, the drive up really wasn’t so bad, until, of course, we got to New York at 11 p.m. it was dark, people were jay walking in every direction and our GPS was telling us to go over the Brooklyn “BRAAADGE”? Pardon? Not to mention, New Yorkers say “Welcome to our vibrant city!” by railing on their horns as loudly as possible. Hello to you too, NYC. But, really it wasn’t so bad. The bad came when we were stuck in traffic, for 3 HOURS, trying to leave Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon. Crawl doesn’t even begin to paint an adequate picture of how slowly we were moving. So, look for a seat sale and do yourselves a favour. I will definitely be flying on my next visit.

2) Go for longer than a weekend. And if you don’t, accept the fact you won’t be able to do it all.

Welcome to the jungle.

One of the most attractive things about New York is the possibility that you can “stay for the weekend”. Again, given the proximity between Southern Ontario and NYC it can be the perfect weekend getaway. But, for a first-timer, know that you simply cannot see all you’re going to want to see in a weekend.
Things we did do: bartered on Canal Street, visited Time Square, saw a show on Broadway, shopped (a lot!), dined in cool restaurants, visited the East Village, toured Central Park, navigated the subways, enjoyed all that is New York City night-life.
Things we didn’t do: see the Statue of Liberty (from up close), take a moment at Ground Zero, go up the Empire State building, visit SOHO, visit Rockefeller Center, the Central Park Zoo … or my two personal wishes, visit the Seinfeld restaurant and the scene of my favourite movie – Serendipity.
I’m sure you could stay for years and still not “do it all” but a few more days to knock off some of those bucket list items would have been valuable.

3) See a Broadway show, even if it’s “not your thing”.

On left: lifelong Broadway enthusiast.
On right: converted Broadway enthusiast.

I can safely say I am a fan of musicals and all things arts related. Being a dancer my whole life, I’ve probably already performed to most of the soundtracks of every show in the city. So without a doubt seeing a show on Broadway, in New York, is something I’ve always wanted to do. But, for my travel buddy it just “wasn’t really her thing”. Being a good sport, we still purchased tickets to see Wicked, one of the most renowned Broadway shows of all time. And even if it “wasn’t really her thing”… she loved it. There’s something about getting dressed up, navigating the bustling streets of New York on a Friday evening, making your way through a glitzy auditorium and taking in some of the world’s best performers that could be appealing to just about anyone. Even you, men out there.

4) Take a guided tour of Central Park.

Our little carriage with Friends fountain visible in back.

Seeing Central Park was something I definitely didn’t want to miss out on. It is the true heart of New York City, geographically speaking, anyway. So as we made our way down to the famous place, we were content posting up under some trees, stretching out on a rock and watching New York pass by. The longer we sat, the more we loved it. A truly gorgeous setting that stretches on and on and on. It wasn’t long before we started planning a next-day visit to rent bikes and explore a little further. As we decided to walk on, we noticed the hundred of bike-tour operators lined up, just waiting for tourists like us. After a brief discussion and bartering the price a little lower ($20 / each) we decided to go for it and pay for the 30 minute tour. Thank goodness we did, because it was one of the highlights of our trip for both of us. Sure, it might seem silly to pay someone that amount to tour a park you could explore for free, but our guide had so much knowledge about our surroundings, we never could have known it all on our own. Pointing out Woody Allen’s penthouse, the fountain from Friends, the bridge from Home Alone, John Lennon’s memorial and the list goes on and on. We learned more about Central Park in our 30 minute tour than I probably could have learned in a full day on my own. Plus, our guide was a gem.

Bike tour of Central Park. This guy was the man.

5) If you want to shop, head end of season.

If you go to New York City and have no desire to shop, you have a problem. Seriously though, that’d be absurd. So it was a no brainer that a lengthy perusing of some of New York’s finest shops was penciled into our itinerary. What didn’t dawn on us, however, was how we picked the perfect time to do so. Going at the end of the summer season meant CLEARANCE signs were plastered all over the city. With fall merchandise to make room for, store owners were anxious to get rid of their summer stock, leaving prices slashed and our wallets overjoyed.

6) Download the APP ‘HopStop’

Trying our hardest not to get lost.

Even if you’re staying in the heart of Manhattan, it would be rare that you wouldn’t need to take at least one subway ride while in New York City. And besides, it’s your first trip, you need to. However, navigating the New York subway system can be like trying to find your way through the Amazon jungle, sans guide. Deadly species en route, included. You get into ONE deep conversation and you’re halfway across the city with no idea how to get back, and worse, NO cell phone reception. Downloading the APP HopStop on my iPhone was a lifesaver. Even after having a few (read: several) pre-bar drinks we were able to navigate ourselves to the Lower East Side from Brooklyn without a wrong turn.

7) Ask locals.

Our night at our fingertips.

Imagine you were sitting in a restaurant in a city you’ve lived in for a while and a stranger asked you what bar is bumping on a Thursday night. You’d instantly know, right? Well, that was our thinking. So naturally, at lunch on Saturday afternoon we approached a group of girls who looked like they’d be the type to party someplace where we wanted to go and asked them to give us the scoop on New York City nightlife. Not only did they have a few suggestions, but they wrote down a detailed and numbered list of where our night should start and end. And even though we made a few of our own adjustments as we made our way through the venues, our Saturday night in NYC is one I’ll never forget.

Living it up at one of NYC’s most exclusive clubs.

8) Prepare for subway sob stories at every stop.

My heart gets melted pretty easily. And I will admit, I gave $2 to a man on the subway who serenaded me with jazz and told me I was beautiful – to which the person sitting next to me leaned over and said “sucker”. But, one thing you’ll learn quickly (like, within-two-days-quickly) is that on almost every subway car there’s someone who’s going to stand up and give you a story about how they just lost their job, or their mother, or just got out of jail (seriously :|) and will ask for your cash. I’m not saying to not give generously out of the goodness of your heart, but just be prepared. They are relentless.

9) Map out restaurants beforehand.

Cute little Mexican place in the East Village. BIG portions, good home fries and BIG drinks. What more could you want at brunch?

When you’re hungry there’s no googling a place, phoning a friend or deliberating at all. You’re stopping at the next place you come across. Period. This is what happened to us after waiting till AFTER our Broadway show to eat (bad planning). With the number of absolutely unreal restaurants in New York, make a point of mapping them out beforehand so you don’t miss out on an out-of-this-world fine-dining opportunity.

10) It’s okay to be cheesy. Really, go for it.

Excuse us while we look over our shoulder casually in the middle of Times Square. :)

Whenever you’re visiting a city for the first time I feel like you have a free pass to be as cheesy as possible. You NEED a picture in the thick of Time Square, you HAVE to eat a hotdog from a vendor on the street, it’s OKAY to have a huge grin on your face when you’re hailing a cab. You are in NEW YORK. Sure on your second and third and fourth and fifth visits, you might want to play it a little more cool, walk the streets like you own them and pretend for just a while that you really are an undercover movie star in the big city. But on your first visit, forget it. Squeal like a little girl and rock an ‘I heart NY’ shirt like it’s nobody’s business.

In a nutshell, you only get to be a first-time visitor once.

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Toronto Islands: City Escape

The view from the Toronto Islands ferry

One of the many things I love about this gigantic sprawl called Toronto is that on any given day you can end up very far from where you thought you’d be.

And I don’t mean that literally. In an always evolving metropolis full of endless options – a side street, friendly suggestion or long wander can lead you to a handful of hours that are delightfully unexpected and instrumental in furthering your love for the Big Smoke. I feel like this happens to me most weekends.

Yesterday afternoon was no different. After a week of wonderful birthday celebrations for both Meghan and Kaylee – which included champagne at Tuesday night softball, lovely gifts, a heartwarming surprise visit from the Ottawa nuts and many, many laughing fits – I decided Kaylee and I needed to top off the festivities with a new Sunday activity that took us away from downtown crowds. And so, after some brainstorming, Kaylee, myself and our two friends ventured over to Hanlan’s Point – a portion of the beautiful Toronto Islands – to have an extravagant champagne and cake-filled lunch and afternoon of beach lounging. This adorable outing was the definition of proof that you don’t have to venture far to feel like you’ve accomplished a total city getaway.

If you’ve yet to explore either Hanlan’s Point, Centre Island or Ward’s Island, the waterfront picnic parks that make up the Toronto Islands, you have to do so immediately. When one thinks about trekking to an island, you might think it calls for planning, hassle and hours of your time. Wrong. I was amazed at the ease and convenience of this beautiful jaunt across the pond, considering the bliss we were treated to upon arriving. We effortlessly strolled onto a harbourfront ferry (at Queen’s Quay between Yonge and Bay) after a five-minute wait, instantly found a picnic table in the acres of green grass and weeping willows, had a stretch of soft beach all to ourselves and readily hopped right back on a ferry at the end of our relaxing day. The entire endeavour was almost all too simple considering our only fare paid was for baguette, spreads, cake and champagne – and our only moments of waiting were between turning on to our backs and fronts as we sprawled on beach towels.

Whether as part of a group outing, date or a leisurely solo excursion (one of my personal favourite things) – anything that includes a refreshing boat ride and sandy beach perch is one of the most beautiful ways to spend an afternoon, in my mind.

PS Our dear friend Cass, who joined us yesterday, was able to (cutely) tick a Toronto Island visit off her city “bucket list.” Do you have a bucket list for your city? I think it’s a great idea and we’d love to hear yours – comment below!

Full bellies, happy girls

Beautiful birthday girl and cake!

My first non-vegan cake in 10 months! (Insert major stomach ache here)

Heaven.

El Camion

“The more you travel, the more you realize how little you’ve seen”

-Anonymous

I learned from a young age that travel opens the mind, heart and soul to new experiences. For this reason, travel has always been a passion of mine. As I mentioned in my last post about travel, I haven’t had much opportunity to pursue this passion, so I made sure that every last second of my most recent 10 day stint in England counted.

Aside from the motley crew of people you can meet while journeying through a different continent, my favourite things to discover are, in no particular order: new drink, new food and new tunes. I remember as an 18 year old exploring Europe for the first time ever, alone, I met an extremely well traveled fellow who had a 16G device set aside for all of the music he had gained and shared over his many years of travelling. Those moments where you taste something unforgettable, share a bottle of something pretty and peculiar or turn your ear toward an unfamiliar sound are some of the illuminating and awe inspiring moments of travel. And so, without further ado, an experience that is tailored for a blog where each of the contributors have a particular affinity for tequila…. a tequila bar in Soho London,  with some seriously electric soul.

EL CAMION

If you urbanspoon this baby, you will more than likely be directed to reviews of a cheap and cheerful Mexican restaurant. And when you walk in to El Camion, that’s exactly what you’ll find.

Unless you take a sharp right and wander downstairs. . .

So how did we come upon a seemingly underground tequila bar? We were grabbing a late night bite and struck up conversation with our waitress who appeared to have a handle on the local nightlife. She told us to head up to Brewer Street in Soho, to El Camion.

“It’s usually members only, but because it’s a Tuesday, you may have some luck.”

Off we went, a couple of hopeful tourists, to find a tall, dark and intimidating bouncer at the door of a completely empty Mexican restaurant. After a few minutes of surprisingly friendly banter, the bouncer said we seemed alright and let us into the restaurant. He quickly tuned in to our disorientation and guided us to the staircase, chuckling at our North American expense. We came to a set of closed doors that were bursting with energy, music and  leading us to some seriously good tequila inside. With a collection of over 300 bottles of Mexico’s finest  and most exclusive tequilas, we truly hit the jackpot and managed to steer clear of the tired path of tourists.

The menu boasted a rainbow of cocktails that all sounded delicious and tempted us once or twice, but sticking to their shtick we opted for more than our fair share of tequila.

Adopting house policy (top left) of avoiding salt and lime with any tequila shot, we shot the cheap stuff and chased with a red “sangrita”: a concoction of red wine, tomato juice and hot sauce. From brandy snifters, we sipped the “Pechuga” known for the chicken breast suspended inside the still in a basket of fruit during the third distillation (bottom left).

Perfectly in my element, I had one of those aforementioned moments where I couldn’t help but turn my ear toward the electric soul sound of Milez Benjamin twisting around the dj’s deck.  That, paired with some ominous art and a few more slams of 100% agave made for a traveler’s night to remember in the grungy, funky basement somewhere in the middle of London.

The Emerald / Rainy / Grunge City … Visiting Seattle

Just like Kate mentioned in her most recent post from abroad, I was in the same boat when it came to vacation time. It simply had not happened in far too long.

The last time I was on a plane, was July 2010. The number of days I booked work off from June 2011 until now: one morning, one afternoon and one full day.

I am what you might call: a workaholic.

So much so that I was given an all-expense paid trip to Seattle from my family when I graduated university – TWO YEARS AGO – that I had yet to cash in on.

The reason for the destination? My brother lives there. In fact, my brother has lived there for six years. I am a bad sibling.

So, when I learned that my OTHER brother, who lives in Toronto, and his wife were planning a July visit to the rainy city, I said: enough is enough. Departing at 6 a.m. on July 2, after working till 4 a.m. on Canada Day, I was FINALLY taking a vacation for some MUCH needed relaxation and family time.

Left: Seattle Grace in the flesh.
Right: Stalking Christan Grey’s real-life Escala apartment building.

Here is the amount of facts I knew about Seattle before I left: my brother lives there, it rains a lot, Christian Grey, Meredith Grey and Fraser live there …. that’s about it.

The number of times I was pleasantly surprised, or even said out loud “I didn’t know that about Seattle” were many. Here’s what I learned:
TO START…

-It’s a bigger city than I thought it was. The downtown core is not nearly as big as Toronto’s sprawling mass of skyscrapers, but when you’re walking around in it, it almost feels that way. It has a very noteworthy skyline and is made up of multiple neighbourhoods that all have their own personality and trademark. 

– It’s extremely hilly. Think San Francisco. If I had to drive my standard car there I might die of coronary attack, but proved useful in working off some of our more delicious meals.

– It’s. BEAUTIFUL. One of the prettiest big cities I’ve ever visited, for very unique reasons. They call it The Emerald City (cue “I didn’t know that about Seattle”) because it is filled with gorgeous parks and lots of green space. Not to mention the sprawling waterfront of sparkling blue lake, ocean, sound, all dotted with everything from yachts to sailboats. Not to mention, on a clear day you can see Mount Rainier appear behind the skyline like a mirage. I was very lucky to only have two days out of my week-long stay actually be rainy and cold. The rest of the time the sun was shining and the temperature was “hot”. Not Ottawa hot, but a very comfortable 28 degrees (celsius). Practically the peak of the warm weather this coastal city experiences.

TO DINE…

I may not be THE foodie of our nutshell clan, but I’m definitely A foodie – if not only because I’ve been able to tag along on Kate’s gastric adventures for so long. So naturally anytime I visit some place new, trying different places to eat is always a top priority. For the first few days we had kids in tow, but our savvy Seattlers did such a superb job of mixing kid friendly places with unique meals.

First night in the US of A, what did we eat? Fried chicken of course. But not just any old fried chicken… OPRAH’S favourite fried chicken. That’s right. A quick trip to Ezell’s left us with enough chicken tenders to last us a week.

A staple of Seattle (and of ALL the United States) is Mexican cuisine. And what child (/ adult / 24-year-old girl) doesn’t love a fajita? Cute places from tex-mex to authentic are peppered throughout every neighbourhood.

I scream, you scream? Molly Moon’s Ice Cream is apparently a must-get if you’re ever in the area. Flavours like “Strawberry Balsamic” and “Honey Lavender” are on rotation. I am the most boring person on the planet and got… chocolate. I was having a craving, sue me.

I would tell you that you MUST go get a “cuban sandwich” from one of the two locations that serves them in the rainy city, but the place looks SO much like it was picked up off a cuba city side street and dropped in Seattle, it didn’t even have a SIGN. Ask locals, they’ll know.

Fresh fish is in abundance. So whether you’re craving sushi, oysters or just an amazing bowl of clam chowder, you’re in the right place.

Nightlife – You won’t find many bumping bars with sprawling dance floors pumping out electro beats in Seattle. Instead, you’ll find boho-chic style places, where the drinks are hand mixed, the music is alternative and the vibe is casual. Ballard (one neighbourhood) was especially bustling on a Saturday night. We also really liked the vibe at Black Bottle – another spot across town.

Honourable mentions: 

King’s Hardware – best burgers in seattle
Top Pot Doughnuts – it’s no Tim Hortons, but they WERE pretty yummy
Belltown Pub – Trivial Pursuit cards at your table … unreal
Salish Lodge & Spa – a short drive away from the city in Sloqualmie and you feel like you’re on vacation in a whole new place. Our private dining table overlooking a waterfall at this resort made for one of the best brunches I’ve ever had.

THE SIGHTS…

Space Needle: This iconic tower can be seen from all points and angles in Seattle. While not standing half as tall as Toronto’s CN Tower, the Seattle landmark has it’s own unique charm. It made for an especially great backdrop for the city’s International beerfest, which I just so happened to be in town for… how perfect.

Pike Place Market: This was the ONE attraction I refused to leave the city before seeing. Fish flying through the air, delectable market fresh treats, vendors by the dozen, the first EVER Starbucks, not to mention the iconic pig statue that I just HAD to get a photo with (… I love pigs …), the market did not disappoint. And in fact, reignited a desire in me to spend more time in Ottawa’s own Byward market. I also ate the best peach I’ve ever had in my entire life, seriously.

And around the corner was Seattle’s famous “gum wall”. Yes, that’s right, an entire wall plastered with pieces of gum that passers by have chewed, spit and stuck. This of course seemed like the perfect spot to leave my own mark on Seattle. Fastened with a piece of Juicy Fruit’s bubblemint, Seattler’s will now know inanutshell was on the scene.

Black Hole Sun: … there is ACTUALLY a black hole sun. “I didn’t know that….” AND I sat in it. The black hollowed out structure that sits in one of Seattle’s most notable parks was the inspiration behind hometown band Soundgarden’s most famous hit. Another fun fact I missed about Seattle: Grunge actually originated there in the mid to late 80’s. Nirvana and Pearl Jam also recorded hit albums in Seattle studios. 

FOURTH OF JULY…

It was by design that we happened to be in the United States to jump in on the Independence Day festivities. Coming straight from being in Ottawa on Canada Day, I was putting the US to the test, as any celebration would be hard to compete with the July 1 frenzy in the nation’s capital. I was expecting a sea of red, white and blue, but the US celebrations seemed a little more reserved. We made the most of it by going to an all-american baseball game. Unfortunately, the Mariners lost and poor Henry didn’t seem as excited as we were (see photo), but I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else for my first ever Fourth of July. We rounded off the day with an amazing fireworks display over the water. Most interesting part: They were set to a very eclectic playlist of songs. I belted out Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out”, while my brother & his wife’s swooned to their wedding song, Etta James’ “At Last” and the display rounded out to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”.

Can take the boy out of Canada, but can’t take the Canadian out of the boy :)

ONE LAST THING… 

I subscribe to the belief that in at any moment and in any situation, it truly doesn’t matter where you are, but who you’re with. As much as this trip was an escape, an opportunity to see a new city, and an excuse to go shopping, the vacation’s real purpose was spending time with my siblings who are separated by over a decade, stretched across two countries and distanced by many miles. Luckily Seattle was the perfect setting to do just that … in a nutshell.

London Calling

After 2 solid years of working in the service industry and completing various degrees and diplomas, I can safely say I was in dire need of a vacation. I’m talking about the kind of vacation that allows you to fly across a sea, experience a different culture and truly leave behind the everyday life. So for the last 3 days, I have allowed myself to unwind many miles away from home. I am in England for a little under 2 weeks and I’m digging every moment of it.

For many people, England is synonymous with Big Ben, West Minister Abbey, The Royal Family and all things London. And London is unquestionably a staple of the United Kingdom, offering thousands of tourist attractions and that completely lovable metropolis vibe. But for me, England is synonymous with Marsden Rock, Coleman’s Fish ‘n’ chips and Ocean Road.

{ London: Big Ben and a double decker}

{ Newcastle: Marsden Rock at Marsden Beach}

{London: The famous crossing at Piccadilly Circus}

{Newcastle ‘burb South Sheilds: Ocean Road}

{London: London Bridge}

{Newcastle:Tyne Bridge}

As a child, I spent months on end in England visiting my mom’s side of the family. They have always been situated in the North of England, on the outskirts of Newcastle. Unfortunately, Newcastle has been branded by the popular reality T.V. show, Geordie Shore (a spin off of Jersey Shore). This unfortunate connection has caused the ever wary tourist to steer clear of Newcastle and its surrounding suburbs. I assure you, although the city streets are occasionally graced with a Snooki look alike, the city that I spent so many summers in exudes small town familiarity and is rather quaint. The “geordies”, as they are so called, are incredibly friendly, love a good pint of bitters and are always ready to lend a helping hand. To me, this town and its people hold many childhood memories of chasing down the ice cream van at a quarter to six, of playing old records on my gran’s Gramaphone, of pedaling along the narrow streets on a rented bike. To me, this town and its people are the true markers of English life.

 

**Stay tuned for some real time photos of London as I make my way down to the big city**

Cottage Country

After reading Meghan’s selection of road trip jams and not long after an account of Kaylee’s 50 days in the great outdoors, I’ve been feeling the itch to get away. Cottage season has been upon us for a few weeks now and I have yet to elope to one of those sacred destinations that makes summertime come alive. Cottaging is one of my favourite things about the summer, and although I do not own a cottage myself I will always jump at the opportunity to make that 3 hour drive out of the city toward the serene lake awaiting.

Aside from the obvious reason of getting a mini-break from the city, the cottage means so many other things. Whether you are cottaging as a couple, with your girlfriends or a group of pals, the whole experience opens the floodgates for some things that get overlooked in city life. Below are some of those things that I love to do when at a cottage and that sometimes are forgotten in everyday life – whether it is lack of time or patience- the cottage gives you back the time to do some of things you love most.

Whenever I’m going to a cottage, I always grab a good book to take along for the ride. #1 The Paris Wife is the kind of book that transcends your imagination and allows you to share exchanges with literary types such as Hemingway and his wife, Hadley Richardson. Nestled deep in the woods, with little to distract you, this book will quickly enthrall you and make for an easy read while you are living easy.  And, while you’re lying on a dock, nothing beats a good book and cold beer in your hand. Which brings me to my next point….

Anyone who knows me and knows me well, would be quick to say that, given the choice, I will always opt for a glass of wine over a pint of beer. But all grapes and caloric caution are thrown to the wind when it comes to cottage country. Beer is most people’s (including my own) drink of choice. Here are 3 of my favourite summertime beers. #1 Millstreet Organic is fresh, flavourful and not too heavy which makes for an easy sipping kind of beer. #2 Blanche de Chambly is an all-time favourite with hints of orange citrus, this beer has summertime written all over it. #3 Mad Tom IPA is an interesting fellow that will easily accompany a BBQ.

When the sun goes down and the lake gets too cold to dip your toes in, it is time to let the games begin. I am a game fanatic, with a slightly competitive streak so each of the games above are tailored to my preference. These games, or any others that you might love, are a surefire way to keep the evening rolling well into the wee small hours.

And, though I hate to admit it, during the year a manicured set of extremities is often pushed to the sidelines (especially during the winter months). So when summertime hits I try, try , try to keep a pretty coat of polish on my toes. Cottage country allows you all the time in the world to pamper yourself, and time to layer on a second coat!!! So why not use that time to try a touch of shimmery gold, a summertime coral or a soft neutral colour on your tootsies.

So next time (or the first time) you take the weekend to visit a cabin nestled in the woods, remember to bring a few of these items, take care of yourself and allow yourself to enjoy and relax in the great outdoors.

Summer Escape

Polished finger nails, patent pumps and an obvious fixation with clothing and style may not be indications of a girl who enjoys the great outdoors, but didn’t your mother ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover? Just like any man who can throw a football just as well as he can pair a gingham shirt with khakis, my love affair with fashion is only a portion of that which I adore.

As a fresh-faced 16-year-old, I attended the summer camp in Algonquin Park where my father’s name stood etched in wood in the dining hall, and where each of my aunts learnt to canoe, swim and explore. I had spent several summers at this place before, but this one in particular was to be profound. Months before, with friends of summers past listed as “preferred cabin mates”, I applied to embark on a FIFTY day canoe trip. Having done a thirty-six day adventure the summer before, I yearned for more of what the wilderness and the feeling of survival offered.

As Day 1 of 50 neared, food preparation, purging of unnecessary items and map navigating were underway, as the anticipation of it all began to build. The ultimate test of my contrasting qualities? Fifty days in one outfit for daytime (bathing suit, shorts, t-shirt, hiking boots) and one outfit for nighttime (long sleeve, sweatpants, sandals). Quite the comparison to our modern world where consumerism reigns and wearing the same outfit two days in a row can only mean a walk of shame is in order.

One important rule of the trip was a strict no-watch policy. Time had no place here. Lunch was not devoured at the strike of noon, but rather when we felt hungry, or when the sun began centering between the tree-flanked lakes. We became experts at deciphering just how much daylight remained, allowing enough time to set up camp, stow away food and devour our meals before wiggling into our sleeping bags, scribbling the day’s activities in our journals, and falling asleep to tent chatter, bird songs, and the gentle nearby lake (or, in some cases, the sound of hail or lightning). No modern conventions controlled our everyday activities, just the simplicities of navigating through forests, lakes, rivers and rapids.

Of course, a trip of this grandeur was not spared of drama, and as one can imagine, the moments of pure anguish were the most memorable in the long-term. Cracking a canoe in half (with me in it) tops that list, and watching our packs filled with tools for survival float down the river thereafter, does too. Not to mention, the consequent aquatic race that occurred as we noticed the waterproof bag containing our maps join that pack down the river. Peering down at my scarred toes offers a daily reminder of the trip, marked from boiling water that fell from a grill wedged atop the fire pit (hence my nick-names “boo” and “bubble toes”).

Why reminisce now, you ask? Well, each summer as the weather turns hot and we all migrate to nearby parks and patios, I’m reminded of these moments, and their meaning to me now, eight years later. If nothing else, I would urge all city folk to disappear for at least one weekend this summer. Rid yourself of the tweets, texts and notifications, listen to the breeze, the lake or the birds without the interruption of one siren or honk, and ease your mind from the worry, the deadlines and the speculation. Take notice of how often you check the time, and how much it controls your life. Think of all the gadgets that dictate you, and live more simply for just one day. Sleep under the stars, appreciate the nature around you and most of all, find your very own version of an escape.

DAY 50.

Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto: Summer Festivals

Well my little nuts, it’s safe to say that despite being three weeks away from the official inauguration of summer, it’s actually HERE. The weather is warm, neighbors have come out of hibernation, parks are filled with wanderers, lovers, Frisbee-throwers, patios are where it’s at, and ice cream parlors have finally begun to make a profit. If each of these indicators aren’t enough, there’s also that wild sense of scheduling that begins to come to fruition at this time; when every weekend seems like an opportune moment for a big event. Calendars begin to clog up with cottage weekends, camping trips, holidays, celebrations, and all those glorious things that make us ga-ga for summer. Among these activities are the countless festivals we are so fond of. The summer offers a festival for pretty much anything…you name it; beer, Italians, pride, jazz, blues, food galore, cars, weddings, and so much more. Between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, there’s something to see, hear and do, every weekend from now until Labour Day. Here you’ll find a one-stop resource for all the summer festivities, where to buy tickets, what the festivals entail and when/where they all take place. Get out your day timer, and start planning your summer!

MONTREAL

Mondiale de la Bière (translation: Beerfest)
When: June 8th to June 12th
Where: 
Place Bonaventure, 800 Rue de la Gauchetière Ouest
Why: 
Last year, I had loads of fun tasting beer from around the world, pairing them with fine cheeses and meats, not to mention watching festival-goers who were a few drinks in play volleyball on the fake indoor beach. The only downside is that it takes place indoors. 
How: 
Admission to Beerfest is free, but tokens to purchase beer and food are 1$ each and can be purchased at Place Bonaventure upon your arrival. Tastings will cost you anywhere between 1 to 5 tokens each, click here for more info.

Grand Prix
When: June 8th to June 10th
 
Where: 
If you’re partying, Crescent Street and St-Laurent. If you’re racing, the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit.
Why:
  Crescent Street and St-Laurent Street close down for the weekend, featuring race cars, concerts, food, drinks, extended club/bar patios and other kiosks. The city is jam-packed, and everybody wants to party.
How: 
If you’re visiting Montreal because you’ve heard of the insanity this weekend brings, then all you need to do is step outside. If you actually want to attend the race (who are you?), you can buy tickets here.

Montreal Jazz Fest
When: June 28th to July 7th 
Where: 
Various locations in Downtown Montreal
Why: From the legendary B.B. King to the sweet jams of Ben Harper, Montreal Jazz Fest has something for everyone. Other appearances include Janelle Monae, Liza Minelli, Rufus Wainwright, Piers Faccini and many more. 
How: 
Many outdoor performances are free admission, otherwise, tickets can be purchased here.

Just for Laughs
When:
 July 10th to July 29th 
Where: 
Various locations in Downtown Montreal and Ville-Marie
Why: 
Just for Laughs is pulling out all the stops for their 30th Anniversary, featuring the Muppets, Chelsea Handler, Bill Hader, Bob Saget and Wayne Brady, among so many others. The Nasty Show draws in the crowds (of mostly men) each and every year.
How: 
Tickets are on sale now, call 1-888-244-3155 or click here.

OTTAWA

Jazz Fest
When: June 21st to July 1st
Where:
 Confederation Park and other various locations
Why: 
If you follow Steve Martin on twitter, you know he plays the banjo in a Bluegrass band. Well, see him live at the Ottawa Jazz Fest! Other appearances by Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spalding and many more. 
How: 
Purchase a gold or bronze pass for multiple shows or a single-day ticket here.

Canada Day
When: July 1st
Where: 
Parliament Hill, the Market, any backyard
Why: 
Because it’s the nation’s capital and NO ONE celebrates better.
How: 
By plane, train or automobile.

Bluesfest
When: July 4th to July 15th
Where: 
Lebreton Flats
Why: 
This year’s lineup includes: Atrak, Alice Cooper, Blue Rodeo, City and Colour, Dragonette, Hey Rosetta!, Iron Maiden, John Mellencamp, K’Naan, LMFAO, Metric, Norah Jones, Our Lady Peace…need I say more?
How: 
Tickets are available in the form of day passes, full festival passports and multi-day wristbands, purchase tickets here.

Hope Volleyball SummerFest
When: July 14th
Where: 
Mooney’s Bay Beach
Why: 
Charity, sports, sunshine…the key to feeling like a great human being. Ill Scarlett, Treble Charger and Mother Mother are headlining the live entertainment.
How:
Admission is free, or you can register a team and participate in the action (click here) – You only have until May 31 to do so!

TORONTO

Taste of Little Italy
When: June 15th to June 17th
Where:
You guessed it – Little Italy! (College St. between Bathurst & Shaw)
Why:
Stroll through College St, which is closed for the occasion, while tasting the food of Italy that we all adore, and listening to the tunes of local bands.
How:
Admission is free.

Jazz Fest
When: June 22nd to July 1st 
Where:
Various locations in Toronto
Why:
Ziggy Marley, Janelle Monae, Natalie Cole, Esperanza Spalding and many other Jazz legends (who I don’t know) will perform.
How:
Many concerts are free admission, tickets for feature performances can be purchased here.

Pride Week
When: June 22nd to July 1st
Where:
Various locations in Toronto
Why:
While a concrete schedule of events has yet to be released, there’s no question that live performances, street fairs, the parade on July 1st and so much more, will be great fun this summer.
How:
Admission is free.

Summerlicious
When: July 6th to July 22nd
 
Where:
Various restaurants in Toronto
Why:
Try that restaurant you’ve always wanted to experience – for a limited-time, Summerlicious price. Throughout the festival, find exclusive three-course prix fixe menus offered at many of Toronto’s top restaurants.
How:
Sign up for the e-newsletter to get a first look at the list of participating restaurants (click here).

Beerfest
When: July 27th to July 29th 
 
Where:
Bandshell Park, Exhibition Place
Why:
Live entertainment, a grilling tent…not to mention, access to beers from around the world, all under the summer sun.
How:
General admission tickets can be purchased here, included are 5 sample tokens, a sampling cup and a pocket guide. Hoptimize your ticket for added features ($10 extra)!

Caribana Parade
When:  August 4th
Where: Exhibition Place & Lakeshore Boulevard
Why: It’s North America’s Largest Carribean Parade and I’m told it’s a lot of fun.
How: Just show up!

Taste of the Danforth
When: August 10th to August 12th
Where:
Greektown on the Danforth
Why: A street fair lined with Greek delicacies, free samples, a beer garden, concerts and games – it’s sure to be a blast!
How: Admission is free – More info here.

**Click calendars to enlarge**

Stay tuned for our coverage of many of these events throughout the summer!

Globe-Trotting Nutshell

As Kate wrote yesterday (beautifully might I add), I have returned from my European adventure in one piece and am happy to be back on Canadian soil. Aside from the obvious dirt-encrusted backpack and tired footwear, I have returned with some great stories, a couple of oil paintings from memorable places, a few aches and bruises …and, most notably, 5,091 photographs.

At the beginning of the trip, every statue, every fountain and every meal seemed worthy of a snapshot, leaving me with countless photos from so many small moments that now seem quite insignificant in the big picture (no pun intended). At some point in the trip however, I began to stop myself from reaching for the camera to capture the sunset or snap a shot of a cat sleeping soundly. There comes a time when sitting back and taking it all in, without a concern for documentation or picture quality, becomes very important if you want to truly appreciate the moment.

As I now sift through the rubble that is my EuroTrip picture folder, I find the best sights and experiences are captured in my “in a nutshell” moments, because these were the times when I thought to myself, “the girls would want to see this” or “I can’t wait to share this gorgeous place with our readers”.

So, here are some snapshots from my journey, each with a little touch of home in the form of our logo. To see the rest of these pictures, like our Facebook page and let us know your favorite!

Positano, Amalfi Coast

Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy

Sofia, Bulgaria

Click here to see the rest of the photos!

Keep Calm, and Travel On.

We all know that traveling is, of course, a privilege. It gives us the chance to learn about other cultures, to see the world´s beauty, to experience new things, and to meet people we otherwise wouldn´t. It is the ultimate learning opportunity, teaching us many more lessons than our textbooks or teachers, or even our parents can instill in us. And while the joie de vivre that comes over us on any given travel day is undoubtedly present, there is another side to traveling that can creep up when we least expect it.

It´s that ¨how rude was that desk clerk?¨… ¨I missed my train by 5 minutes and now have to wait 6 hours¨ … ¨what do you mean my credit card won´t work?¨… ¨how could a human being steal something so easily?¨ … moment. I can tell you that throughout the past two months or so, variations of these events have happened time and time again (as is expected). It´s the price you pay with traveling. As a foreigner in a new city you are left without a clue at times, with nothing but intelligence and hope that the person you´re about to ask for help, will kindly oblige.

In Romania, we were verbally attacked by a man at the train station, who, we later found out, did the same to many other tourists who passed him (in fact, he uttered the exact same threatening words to a guy staying at our nearby hostel). In Rome, we were left with no choice but to sit outside the train station watching TV on our laptop very early in the morning (due to interrupted train schedules and no hotels willing to take us), and we found ourselves in the middle of a police chase after two men stole our computer in what I´m sure you can imagine was a very aggressive scenerio (by the way, we ended up sending them to jail for 1 year and 10 months – but never got our laptop back).

The reason I´m writing about these experiences rather than those I have scrupulously photographed, and those that make me smile, is because they have taught me a great deal about traveling. Of course, there are the obvious lessons that come straight to everyone´s mind (hi mom), like 1) Always be aware of your surroundings, 2) Be cautious, 3) Avoid train stations relentlessly. And yes of course, each occasion was a quick wake up call for every one of our cautionary intuitions. But the aftermath of it all…the moment the situation has passed and you are left once more with new cities to explore, filled with strangers and different cultural tendencies, you can find yourself feeling more lost than ever, and wanting nothing but the neighborhood you call home.

The quality we´ve learnt to possess throughout our travels is to stay positive, to move forward, to keep it all together, and to find a place that feels friendly and comfortable (which is, of course, easier than this post portrays). A rude local or an overpriced tourist trap, and yes, even a stolen laptop, can ruin an afternoon if you let it, but the way to make it all okay, is to have the right attitude. And isn´t that just how life works? The person who revels in positivity will always prevail, not because of karma, or some higher being watching our every move, but because a day spent huffing and puffing is one less day spent relishing everything this life has to offer. In a nutshell :)