Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Internet surfing jewel

I just wanted to share this website with you. I have been perusing it for the past half an hour or so. It's proving to be a very handy one-stop site. World Travel Guide has information on just about every place on the earth. Countries, regions, cities, you name it. I was just reading about Macau (which is in Asia). It even has info on Bhutan, a country I intend to visit when I take my RTW (round-the-world) trip in a couple years. Another cool aspect of this site is the "Inspire Me" feature. Select from a drop-down menu your holiday type and when you want to go and a list of various places, near & far gives you ideas to visit. Want to know practical things about your fav destination? This site has it too and very easy to navigate through. World Travel Guide is now in my favourites list. Check it out!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Atop A Man-Made Perch

Here is an informative article that I wrote for my travel writing class in March 2009. I have to say that this is a great way to see Vancouver!


See Vancouver from a different vantage point by visiting The Vancouver Lookout. Located at the top of the SFU Harbour Centre building at Vancouver’s waterfront, the lookout highlights the city’s splendour in a 360ยบ panoramic view at 130m (430 feet). The Harbour Centre building boasted, up until recently, as being the tallest building in Vancouver. The Lookout itself was opened in 1977 by astronaut Neil Armstrong and has since wowed viewers of all ages.

A glass elevator whisks viewers to the observation deck in an amazing 40 seconds. Upon entering the lookout, viewers can request a complimentary guided tour or wander solo. A tour is roughly 30 minutes and the friendly staff reveal interesting snippets about Vancouver and point out more than just the landmarks. If wandering on one’s own, information about the city and its landmarks are displayed on informative placards throughout the observation deck. A small shop provides tourists with a place to purchase souvenirs of their above ground visit.

A clear day is always best for breathtaking views of the mountains, Vancouver Island and even Washington State. Cypress, Grouse and Seymour Mountains are stunning, appearing almost close enough to touch. Stanley Park and The Lion’s Gate Bridge show off Vancouver’s luscious greenery. A sense of the great expanse of the Port of Vancouver is apparent. It is truly a magical way to take in the sites of Vancouver, far away from the clamour of the city below.

The central location at 555 West Hastings, a block from Waterfront Station and numerous bus stops, permits visitors easy perusal to other favourite city spots such as Lonsdale Quay, Gastown and Canada Place. The all-day entrance fee allows freedom to enjoy daytime, dusk and sparkling night views. Open daily, The Lookout can be enjoyed at any time of year.

Adult:                        $13
Senior (60+)             $11
Student with valid ID   $9
Youth (13 - 18)          $9
Child (6 - 12)             $6
Child (5 & under) - Free

Group Rates (10 or more)
Adult:                            $11
Senior                             $9
Student/Youth (13 - 18)  $8
Child (6 - 12)                  $5
Escort/Chaperone is complimentary - 1 for every 10 

Taxes included in all rates.

The Lookout is every day, year round.

October 16 – April 27 9:00am – 9:00pm
April 28 – October 15 8:30am – 10:30pm


Here are a few of my favourite (Parisian) things

As the christmas season draws near I am, as so many, reminded of what we love about the season. This also reminds me of what I love about my beloved Paris. So I will reminisce and take you to my favourite Parisian places and things. A fitting way to end off musings of my 40th birthday trip. What will be my next "wanderings" about you ask? Why my absolute favourite place to live - my adopted hometown of Vancouver, BC. I am also in kahoots with the universe to see so much more of this beautiful wide world we live in.

Now close your eyes for a moment, think of Paris and then open them again. What pops into your head? A slideshow of memories pops into mine. So much to choose from! I'll do my best not to get lost in la-la land.

The most iconical monument in Paris is the Eiffel Tower. What orginially was a temporary exhibit and abhorred by many has now become synonymous with Paris. It is a favourite of mine not only because it represents Paris but because I celebrated my 40th birthday on it. For months and months I had a "mantra", if you will. I told everyone that "If life begins at 40, then I'm celebrating by drinking champagne on top of the Eiffel Tower." I didn't even know there was a champagne bar when I made my claim. I just knew that I would be at its peak on my special day. To top if off, I climbed all 710 steps to get to there. I even beat my  travelling companions, who took the elevator. See, being active does have its payoffs! You get there faster due to shorter lineups. The views were breathtaking, the champagne was sparkly and attaining my goal did me proud!

Next on my list is The Louvre Museum. Yes, it is huge, overwhelming and can never be fully appreciated in one visit. I've been there twice and both times I was exhausted after only a few short hours. So why is this immense and laborious museum my favourite? I haven't quite figured it out myself. Yes, Musee D'Orsay is much easier to navigate around and slightly less crowded but it doesn't draw me in as the Louvre does. Perhaps the vastness of the art collections, the beauty of the architecture or its place in French history draws me in? I cannot say. I just know that every trip to Paris I will try to include yet another visit to discover further artistic treasures.

Let's move onto the Latin Quarter. There is so much to enjoy in the Latin Quarter. Walking around the Sorbonne, Paris' world-reknown university. Watching the sun set over the Pantheon. Shopping in all the little boutiques and shops. Enjoying a delicious meal at one the numerous restaurants. Finally, a great treasure of the Latin Quarter: The Cluny Museum (a.k.a. National Museum of the Middle Ages), home of the medival tapestry The Lady and The Unicorn. This set of six tapestries is considered the greatest work of art of Europe's middle ages. I learned of them years ago in college and have wanted to see them ever since. They truly are beautiful.

The Notre Dame de Paris is a stunning gothic styled cathedral. Again, I learned of the Notre Dame in college, with it's 'flying buttresses". A buttress helps to support vaulted ceilings but are on the outside of the building. It is seen mostly in gothic architeture and really is quite stunning. A beautiful building that has large stained glass windows, numerous flying buttresses and 400 steps to the top of the bell tower. The stairway to the bell tower is open to the public. I did not realize this until we were about ten people away from climbing them. I was assuming we were lining up to go inside (and was a bit confused as to why we lined up to go inside a church). The original circular staircase slowly winds up to the first level and is a bit dizzying to say the least. Going slowly helps. Gargoyles and fabulous views from this level are great. After catching our breath the guide led us up another set of circular stairs and then up a creaky wooden ladder to see the bell of the cathedral. Victor Hugo helped make it famous with his tale of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. That is one big *ss bell. It took 12 men to ring it and I'm sure they were all deaf from that job. Wow! Coming down from the bell tower but still at the top of the towers I was amazed at the view of Paris. I don't think I could get tired of any view of Paris.

Finally, I have to say I love the very typically touristy Seine River sightseeing cruises. This I owe to my sister. She really wanted to go one. Spend an hour to see all the arciteture that is iconically Paris. On these "bateau mouche" you are slowly led along the Seine to view the major landmarks. There are numerous companies dotted along the river that you can choose from. We received a discount with Bateaux Parisiens because we had transit passes. Not a bad deal. We went early evening while it was still light out and by the end the sun had set with all the city lights illuminating the skyline. Convenient individual handsets provide a guided commentary. It really was a fantastic way to see Paris. Yeah, it's touristy but it's inexpensive, fun and great if you don't want to spend alot of time visiting each individual landmark.

I could go on and on about other things about Paris that I love: wine, food, cafes, and the joie de vivre
that the french embrace! Though I think it's time to focus on other parts of the world and my favourite city. I hope you get a chance to visit your favourite parts of the world and enjoy what makes them your favourite!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

French Food, part 2

It has been awhile since my last post, however, no amount of time can erase from my mind the memories of wining and dining in Paris. Even now my mouth is watering, salivating. Oh the food! The wine! The dessert! And of course the coffee (so I was told, as I don't drink the stuff).

Finding restaurants to have dinner at was akin to being at a shoe store...so many to choose from! Many areas had blocks of restaurants: St Michel, the Latin Quarter, Marais. Our usual selection process had us perusing the streets to find a restaurants of our liking. The selections seemed endless! And not only "french food". Choices included chinese, greek, indian, latin, japanese, etc. Though, we certainly stayed away from the sushi restaurants. When you live on the west coast of BC, inexpensive yet good sushi is a staple. That was one restaurant choice we passed up willingly.

The majority of restaurants offered a "prix fixe" menu. This is where the restaurant offers a set selection of menu items for one cost. It is quite common and a great value. Although there are some variations, the most popular menu consisted of "entrees" (appetizers/salad/or soup), "plat" (main course) and "dessert". You can see that the value in these menus. Generally you had a choice of about 3 items per category.  Some places also offered a la carte but the prix fixe was such a great deal that I rarely passed it up. And the meals were of appropriate portion size. Just enough for one person, unlike in North America where often one dish can feed a small country. Of course, I can not forget the wine. Beer and soft drinks were served as well but I stuck with wine. Wines could be ordered by the glass, jugs or bottle, which were measured in centilitres (cl). Being used to millilitres, a bit of math was required (and for anyone who knows me, math is not my forte). The wine was inexpensive yet appetizing. Disappointingly, once home, I learned that you could actually bring your own wine bottle to a restaurant only to be charged a small corkage fee. Regardless, the restaurant's wine choices were excellent and affordable.

Although we branched out a couple times to sample chinese and greek food, the majority of places we dined at served french food. This brings me to trying to decided which meal was my favourite. The French Onion Soup I had at Chez Leon was amazing (25 Rue de Lyon, 75012 Paris). As was, surprisingly, the french fries with "steak frites" at Maison Blanche (21 rue de la Hucheete, 75005 Paris). The french may not have come up with the french fry but they certainly perfected it. Light, crispy and golden. I must admit though, that my favourite dish was one that I didn't even order. Dining on our first night we went to the Latin Quarter's La Julia Restaurant Franco-Latino (31 - 33 rue Descartes, 75005 Paris) where both my sister and Trina ordered the duck confit while I ordered enchiladas. Allowing me a taste of this savoury, rich, fall-off-the-bone tender duck was heaven. I realized I had ordered the wrong meal. I had duck a couple times after but it did not compare to that scrumptous forkful of sheer delectable perfection. I'm keeping the business card for future reference.

Having dessert included in our meals was a great way to end a lovely meal.  The best part of dessert was that cheese was often an option....mmmmm....cheese. Classic french desserts were the typical fare. Creme brule, apple tartine, frommage blanc, flan and of course a selectioin of 2 or 3 cheeses. Ending off the evening was time for coffee (or tea in my case).

I do believe the french are onto something with their style of eating. Small portions but well made with fresh ingredients, taking your time to eat and savour every taste. And why would you not? After all when you sit down to dine at a restaurant in Paris, the table is yours for the evening. No rushing involved. It's acutally frowned upon to dine and rush out. Gotta love that style of eating!

Friday, 16 October 2009

French Food, part 1

France is known for alot of things, though one of the most enjoyable is the food! The french know how to make excellent food. I have been to France on several occasions (okay 4 times) and each time the food experiences were different. I have done the budget backpack food; the expensive gourmet gastronmic food; and, on this trip, the moderately priced bistros, cafes and restaurants. Now nothing really compares to France's gourmet foods - it really is the best food I have ever had. However, it is not the way most of eat when we travel. I was fortunate that on 2 work trips I was travelling first class Those days have past and now it is back to flying economy class and looking for affordable yet good food

You would be hard pressed to find awful food in Paris. The actual biggest challenge is choosing from the abundance of restaurants that dot most every neighbourhood Of course there are a few areas where cafes and bistros are few and far between, though, overall you will find something somewhere close. My travelling companions and I were fortunate that our hotel was located 1.5 blocks from a grocery store: The Monop'. It was here that we purchased our breakfast: fruit, yogurt, bread or croissants and the occassional package of cheese. For approximately 10 Euros (it cost $1.63 to buy 1 Euro) the four of us had a filling, tasty, healthy breakfast that we brought back to our hotel. We did save money this way because the continental breakfast at our hotel was 8 Euros per person per day. And by shopping for our breakfast we had more choice as well. Oh and another inexpensive option is McDonalds.Yes I know, you don't want to eat familiar fast food while away in a foreign country. Though, don't knock it. The coffee was the least expensive there (and good according to my friends, as I don't drink coffee) and an Egg McMuffin was the same there as here.

Lunch varied depending on what we were doing. A few times we stopped at one of numerous places that sold sandwiches to go. Other times we enjoyed a relaxing meal at a sandwich shop that had seating or a bistro with lunch specials. The sandwiches that we ordered to go were fairly standard. Always on a baguette, though, thinner and shorter than the ones I see in our grocery stores. Most commonly they were filled with meat and cheese, though you could get just meat (salami, ham, chicken) or just cheese (goat, mozza, roquefort, etc). They even had sandwiches filled with a very long hotdog with melted cheese. The sandwich shop by our hotel offered a combo where for 5.50 Euros bought us a sandwich, water or pop and cookies. The sandwiches were a good size and we often purchased two combos to split between the four of us. If we wanted, we could even buy inexpensive bottles of wine for 3 - 6 Euros to go with our lunch. The sandwiches were a great way to have lunch, especially when we stopped at Jardin de Tuilleries to have a seat, eat and feed the birds. The pic below shows a sparrow sitting on my hand.

Lunch was also a great time to try a few things that are quintisentially french: During our lunches I have savoured the following: ham and cheese quiche; three cheese sandwich; crepe with apricot jam; ham and cheese crepe; and a very yummy mixed salad. One of my favourite not-so-french dishes was at a popular falafel joint in the Marais district, which is the Jewish quarter. L'as du Fallafel, located at 34 rue des Rosiers has GREAT inexpensive falalfels. The falafels were stuffed into a pita filled with coleslaw with a tasty sauce. We ate indoors as opposed to ordering from the take out window (which has a long lineup daily). I am sure being seated helped us save our shirts from the yummy gooey sauce. Another favourite place of mine was Bar a thes Delyan , not to far from the Notre Dame Cathedral (just over the bridge). This cafe was actually a tea bar that served sandwiches, salad and of course tea. I enjoyed the decor too. If you'd like to see more, here is the link to their myspace page: Delyan Tea Bar, Paris .

That's it for breakfast and lunch...part 2 will focus on dinner & wine!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The REAL reason French Women Don't Get Fat

Well, for those that live in Paris anways. I am certain that some of you have heard of the book "French Women Don't Get Fat" written by Mireille Guiliano. And for those of you who have read it (myself included) it does make some sense: enjoy and savour your food, make smart choices and the like. I have even tried some of the suggestions. I have to admit...a breakfast of bread, brie cheese and yogurt with grapes is induglent and tasty, not to mention filling. However, when arrving in Paris and using their transit system, primarily the metro (subway) and rail systems, the real reason came to light: It's stairs! Yes, stairs and lots of 'em. When I say "lots of 'em" I really mean that.

So, I had decided a few weeks before leaving that  I was going to climb all 710 stairs of the Eiffel Tower on my 40th birthday. I prepared myself for this mentally. Physically this was going to be a milestone for me as I had lost 27 lbs prior to my trip (I have been on a weight loss/healthy self journey). What I wasn't expecting was the amount of stairs in the transit system!! This was something we became intimate with on our day of arrival, when had decided to use public transit. The route to our hotel included 2 rail stops and a metro stop. Little did we know that it really only required 2 rail stops. Anyways. Our trek from the airport with our luggage was interesting, especially considering that we had been up for almost 24 hours, if not more. It  quickly dawned on us that the Paris metro and rail system is NOT luggage friendly, let alone handicapped accessible. The rail stop of Chatelet Les Halles did have elevators, however, at other stops I never noticed any. So, as we switched from line to line we lugged our bags up and down stairs and through  ticket entranceways. Some which were rather "skinny" for my rolling garment bag. It required some maneuvering on my part. And of course there was the carrying of the luggage up and down various flights of steps.

It didn't stop there. Once we were settled and started sightseeing we quickly learned the compelxities and the vastness of the Paris pubic transit system. The things that I found peculiar were that the majority of escalators (where there were escalators) were in the down direction. ?????  Why not in the up direction? And then there was the realization we were often far far underground. Stairs decending to the ticket-vending level , walking through long corridors, going down flights of stairs, going along another corridor and then up some stairs only to go down a few more.  This may be repeated several times, depending on which station you are at. Now for those of you who live in large metropolitan cities with vast transit systems this is no surprise, so please remember that I live in Vancouver, where there are only 3 rapid transit lines (the Skytrain), one light rail system (TheWest Coast Express) and one water transit line (The Seabus). So 15 subway/metro lines and 5 rail lines is way much larger than what I am accustommed to. And I am sure taht you can guess that I have climbed and descended amounts of stairs that I do not encounter daily. So, I would say that it is fair to say that  my natural conclusion is that all these extra stairs in the Paris metro system is the REAL reason that french women don't get fat. That and the 1.5 hour lunch and 2.5 hour dinner where everything is savoured. I also know it to be true because with the amount of rich food and wine that I ingested there is no way I could have gained only 1.8 lbs if I hadn't acseneded all those cursed stairs (that I am secretly grateful for)! Ah yes, hoofing it really does pay off!

Map of the Paris Metro System and Light Rail System - it'll get ya anywhere!

Paris metro station "Pont Marie"

Monday, 28 September 2009

Ah Paris

First and foremost: my apologies for not getting around to posting sooner. Sometimes things just get crazy. Well, I am now back home and settled in. I barely had time to check email, let alone blog since I didn't have a laptop. Note to self: make that an investment very soon. Anyways...

Ah Paris, such a beautiful city. Many people balk at things "old" and "antiquiated" but it is that very thing that gives Paris its charm. The buildings built over100 years ago were given such care to their detail. So much so, that many are now musuems and national heritage sites. These monuments and palaces are ornate and built on a large scale.  Take for example The Palace of Versaille, built by King Louis XIV. For some reason, I always thought this was a "small" palace. I'm not sure where I got that idea but it certainly is NOT small. It gives new meaning to the word 'palatial'. Isn't there some saying about men's precoccupation with size? Very clearly seen in Versaille

...and The Louvre

...and The Arc d'Triomphe

...and the Royal Palace

... and the Pont de Alexandre, etc etc.

I have wondered if, those who live in Paris, see the old architecture as I do. Is being surrounded by it part of what makes the french admire beauty and want things "just so"? Or does if fade into the background and go unnoticed until one day they walk by something and it surprisignly takes their breathe away? From my point of view, in the 10 days I was there, I was always amazed at the architecture and the backdrops. Although I do prefer the North Shore Mountains in my backdrop, I still am taken by the stylised architecture of yesteryear. It really is part of what makes Paris, well, Paris.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Seeing all of Paris

Hello, I do apologize for not writing here sooner. I don't have a laptop with me and with all the sightseeing that's happening it's been hard to get into an Internet cafe. No worries though as  I will post all my tales when I arrive home, with pictures to compete the stories. Only a few more days left in Paris and I am sure by that time I will have seen more than even the locals! Now to find some time to rest...if only. Au Revoir for now.

Monday, 14 September 2009

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

Just a quick note. T minus 3 hours and heading to the airport! Paris here I come. I'll post pics and stories are soon as I'm able.

Bon Voyage!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Butterflies & Kitty-cats

"Butterflies & kitty-cats"...doesn't that just sound so sweet and child-like? Hate to disappoint ya (or not) but I'm talking about the butterflies that have taken up residency in my stomach and my dear 'ole cat that is driving me a little nuts. :-s

Let's start with my best furry friend Cairo. Now Cairo and I have been a pair for over 16 years. Yep, since he was 6 weeks old. Of course I am very attached to him, so I have made certain that is in good hands while I am away. My friend Mia is housesitting for me, as she has so many times in the past. Cairo has a full stash of his favourite foods and treats, his trusty pillow is all clean, and Mia will care for him as if he was her own. So the cat should want for nothing right? I mean, he is, afterall, a cat. Well, not the case. I just had to pull out my suitcase and am suddenly struck by a severe case of "kitty cling". That's were my aloof cat decides he wants to be an ornament, permanently stuck to my shoulder. And don't forget the long, low "meeerreeeoooowww" he let out when I put the suitcase on the bed. Yes, he knows: Mommie is leaving!! I do try to reassure him that I'll be back, but really, how much does a cat understand words?? So, as of late I have the cat clinging to me at all times. I've even put off packing until tonight. Oh my little kitty cat...you'll be fine & I'll miss you too.

Now for the butterflies. On my days off (Wed & Thurs) I was so busy running errands and getting things organzied that it almost seemed surreal to me that I am going on this great trip, one that I've been planning for over a year. I was wondering if I was going to feel excited anytime soon. Well, Friday morning is when it kicked in. When I woke up realizing  I only had 2 more days of work the butterflies moved in. I swear there must be 50 of 'em in there. I find myself looking up to the sky in search of a plane flying overhead. And since I am near the airport they appear on a consistent basis. The butterflies go crazy! And then there is all the well wishes from those around me. The butterflies think Paris! Even the liquor store is advertising Paris! Butterflies all over the place! So my stomach is fluttering about non-stop, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I want to feel it all!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Guilty Pleasures

So I figure that it would be a cool idea to "prepare" myself for France. You know, drink some distinctive french wine, enjoy a fresh, soft baguette, and nibble on some creamy fresh cheese. Now I'm not talking about the orange-dyed waxy  block of  grocery store cheese (yes, they dye cheese orange). I'm not even talking about the "pseudo-gourmet" cheese in the deli section of the local grocer. I'm talking the fragrant, flavourful cheese that producers take pride in telling you whats in and how it's made; up close and personal. Gourmet cheese!

That is what France and Cambie Street in Vancouver have in common: a specialty cheese store. Neslted between shops, restaurants and movie theatres of a busy neighbourhood stands the Mount Pleasant Cheese shop. Located just off the corner of Cambie and 18th, is the source of my guilty pleasure: CHEESE! Soft, creamy cheese. Smoky cheese. Hard cheese. Stinky cheese!!!!!!!!!! And it's all Canadian, many from Quebec and BC. I am a customer for life! Since I discovered this little heavenly store about 6 weeks ago I have been spoiled for any other type of cheese. I am a cheese snob! And I encourage you to become one too. With such quality the flavours go further and your recipes will go from good to lip-smacking fantastic.

It's not just the quality of the cheese that makes this store great. I've been to other cheese shops and frankly, the staff don't even compare to the knowledge and personal service that Mount Pleasant Cheese offers. With each visit I am greeted with a smile, offered some samples, learn something new and leave compeletly satisfied with my purchases. The manager, Peter, has really put his heart and expertise into helping customers and is offering events such as food tastings and wine tastings. They even have a newsletter you can sign up for at their website. I love this store! If you love cheese as much as I do, you'll take the time to visit this store. You don't even need to be going to Paris to enjoy it.


Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Countdown to Paris

In August of 1991 I backpaced western Europe with my friend Izabela. That trip I embarked on, at the age of 21, was a pivital point in my life - it's when I realized I was a traveler. I needed to see as much as I could of what the world offers. I had to go! And I did. For many years. Then it came to standstill as I reluctantly, took a "leave of absence", if you will, from travel. Seven years is along time, a lifetime it seems, to wait to do what I love. Happily, that is about to change! In  less than 2 weeks time I am packing my bags, boarding a plane and heading to PARIS BABY!

Few cities can conjure up that immediate reaction of "wow". Paris is one of those cities. For the brief time that I spent in Paris so long ago, I have dreamed of returning so I can immerse myself in all that makes it a such an incredible city. My "comeback" to travel is timely. I will be celebrating the beginning of life, as the saying implies, by climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower on my 40th birthday. I even hope to smuggle a small bottle of champagne too (hell, it's Paris, they might even offer me one!)

My motto: "If 'Life Begins at 40', then I'm celebrating by drinking champagne on top of the Eiffel Tower."

Only 11 more days.

Iza, me (on right) & her friend in Paris, 1991