The last four days of our trip to Europe, we did something unheard of.
We arrived at the Barcelona airport with no destination in mind. Then we looked up at the departures board and decided where we wanted to spend the last few days of our trip.
For me, a type-A super planner, this was a big stretch. My husband is more spontaneous than me and this ‘show up at the airport’ idea was on his bucket list. We did have a few rules: we were cold, so we wanted to go somewhere warm and sunny. It couldn’t be more than 2.5 hour flight from Paris and there needed to be a direct flight back there on the Thursday night. It couldn’t be somewhere either of us had been before (which knocked out Italy, England, Ireland, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Greece and Norway).
We ended up booking….wait for it…a flight to Jerez de la Frontera in the south of Spain. I had never heard of this place. This was part of the fun. We rented a car when we landed, quickly found a hotel near the ocean, and off we went to our own parts unknown.
This is the most southern part of Spain – in fact, it is the most southern part of Europe, almost kissing Africa. To our glee, we discovered many things merely though the joy of spontaneity.
In the end of our 12 day trip, the last four days that were totally spontaneous and unplanned were my favourite bits. We were so excited to explore, we went to Los Canos de Meca, Tarifa, Morocco, Gibralter, Vejer la Frontera and Seville. If this seems like a lot, it was, but we were excited to go somewhere we might never go to again so we wanted to drink it all up. Gracias, Spain! OLE!
It is impossible to write anything new about Paris, so I won’t even try. It is both tough + precious; dignified + unwavering. In Paris, everything is so very French, including the food. I ate so much bread I thought I might implode in a carbohydrate puff of smoke.
I have never been to Paris before and I won’t pretend that I understand it. We were there for four days. The first day was spent staggering around in a haze of jet lag. I had the wherewithal to make reservations at a little modern restaurant called Christine, around the corner from our hotel, the Hotel Residence Des Arts. (Hint: make a restaurant reservation if you can – many take online bookings).
There are five million hotels in Paris and I don’t know how you pick one. Friends stayed at the Hotel Residence Des Arts, so we just stayed there too. That was easy. It offered an excellent location, just teetering on the awful tourist district of the Latin Quarter, where I had a meltdown because of the crushing crowds and the more genteel beauty of the neighbourhood St. Germaine Des Pres. Notre Dame was just a short walk across across the Seine.
Christine was our first meal in Paris, I was nervous we’d get scolded for our awful high school French. Au contraire, the server was gracious and patient with our English-French language car crash. He took pity on us and switched to perfect English, thus destroying all stereotypes of wait staff in Paris. This helped me relax considerably and enjoy our meal, which was light and pretty fare, perfect for our post-Atlantic trip bellies to erase our rubber chicken airline dinner.
The very next morning, Paris offered up a cliched rude encounter in a bakery called Carton. There are so many bakeries in Paris, you do not have to go to this one. First there was a skirmish with a French speaking American in front of us, who told us to hurry up and order when we were admiring the view of pastries. There was no line-up behind us and no need to rush our order. Then we did not have small change, having freshly arrived in the country and the young lady at the counter was very very annoyed with us. I’m sure the croissants were delicious, but the whole encounter left a very bad taste in our mouths and we never went back. Although we giggled at the French speaking American’s rudeness right in front of the French speaking American and this left us with a giggly memory that stayed with us the rest of the trip. So there’s that. Never forget that most good stories come from unfortunate adventures.
The rest of the trip, we took Anthony Bourdain’s excellent advice about Paris. (I am so sad that he is gone). We did not stand in line for tourist attractions and instead focused on finding baguettes, cheese and a bottle of wine and eating picnics outside. The first time we did that, we went to a park and we were chased out of the park by three large rats (or it might have been the same large rat three times – I could not tell because it/they was/were running back and forth from the bushes). I screamed, spilled wine on my husband’s shirt and am sure caused an amusing tourist spectacle for the nearby security hut.
After that, we continued to follow Tony’s sage advice about picnicking outside but retreated to the side of the Seine, where there is concrete and you can at least see the rats coming. The French are so civilized that you can openly drink a bottle of wine outside without worrying about being arrested (as is the case in Canada). We also did not do tourist things. We opted for a leisurely morning in Musee d’Orsay as opposed to the chaos of the Louvre. Mostly we strolled around Paris, delighting in turning every corner and ambling up little side streets.
I did book a food tour, as is my way. It was called Paris by Mouth and I chose Taste of the Marais so we could see another neighbourhood. Leisurely walking around the cobblestone streets grazing on croissants and chocolates was an excellent way to spend a morning.
Other things: we didn’t make it to a food market but we did go to La Grande Epicerie de Paris food hall, where you have to get your apples weighed first by a strict lady before you go to the cash register (we found this out the hard way). We also took naps each day, which was brilliant. I sadly didn’t do much shopping because two days we were there were holidays and the other day was a general strike. Don’t bother complaining about this; this is the French way. Our last evening was spent in an odd English-speaking wine tasting class, where we politely listened to a nice gentleman talk passionately about French wine for two hours before being offered a tiny bit of wine. I still don’t understand French wine labels, but maybe that’s just me. This was a misstep but oh well. You can’t win ’em all.
We departed for Spain for a week and then were back in Paris our last night. We stayed at the uber funky airport hotel Citizen Mand my husband surprised me with a final trip to Paris to eat dinner. This cost a small fortune in cab rides. We chose the lovely neighbourhood Montmarte and Yelp helped me pick the restaurant L’Annex. We were served by the owner/chef and it was a delightful experience all around: seasonal fresh food, an abundance of wine and a cosy intimate atmosphere.
Au revoir la belle Paris. Jusqu’à ce qu’on se revoie.
This photo sums up our eating in Barcelona: salty and swimming in extra virgin olive oil and how can that be a bad thing?
We arrived in Barcelona after four days in Paris and I will admit that I planned little, save for booking a food tour and our hotel.
Our hotel was a Praktik Hotel Garden, which I’d call basic but funky. It was in the Eixample district, which was a perfect location for us – we like to stay in an actual neighbourhood as opposed to a tourist district. I kind of wish we had stayed in Praktik Hotel Bakery, because there is a fragrant bakery right in the bottom of this hotel that gives priority to hotel guests during the morning rush. It is too late for regrets now. I loved the view from our little balcony – it overlooked a internal courtyard spotted with colourful residential apartments.
We asked the front desk for a recommendation for a restaurant and ended up at Betlemfor dinner after arriving in the early evening from our flight from Paris. We loved this little place so much that we went back to eat there twice. Once we had crab ravioli that looked like this:
I found out that sangria isn’t really a thing in Barcelona, but vermut is and further south, mojitos are hot. The Rioja wine in Spain is awesome, so you can forget about the cocktails anyhow and just dive into the tinto vino instead.
We ate a restaurant one night off La Rambla which was a big mistake. Do not do that! They are tourist traps and we were tourists and we got trapped because we were hungry. After that horrible mistake, we stuck with eating in the Gracia neighbourhood instead.
I’d highly recommend the Devourtour of Gracia in Barcelona. Our tour guide, Veronica, was a local, instead of an ex-pat as many tour guides are. She taught us about vermut (again with the vermut – I can’t explain, just try it. It is like caramelized wine) and was funny and political and knowledgeable all at the same time.
Gracia was a neighbourhood just a ten minute walk north of our hotel. There aren’t many accommodations there because it is a real live neighbourhood. I loved it. It was the best place to just wander around the cobblestone streets and find little surprises right around the corner. One night we emerged from a bar to be in the midst of a parade with drummers and mind-blowing fireworks that were held by people who were dressed as devils and dancing around. This is hard to explain, and this blog won’t support video, so you are going to have to take my word for it. IT WAS WILD.
Some other places we went to in Barcelona on our three days was Sagrada Familiaand Casa Mila, where we did not eat, but we gawked at the brilliance of Gaudi.
Barcelona is a weird and wonderful city, proud of its Catalan heritage. The atmosphere is both laid back and passionate – a deeply traditional place that has embraced its weirdness. We were quite taken with Barcelona and were happy with our three fast and furious days there…
We’ve only lived on the west coast for three years but I think we still act like giddy tourists, zooming around the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island any chance we get.
I am shocked by the amount of local people who have never been to Tofino. I’ve been told that it is because it is expensive (true), a long trip (8 hours door-to-door for us, including a ferry ride), rainy (yes) and features a journey on treacherous roads (Also true. We unwittingly drove through a snow storm across the island on the way home). BUT. It is worth the trip. I call Tofino the Hawai’i of Canada. Sleepy surfer towns at the end of the road are my favourite places. Tofino is akin to Hana or Hanalei in Hawai’i.
This is the third year we’ve ventured to Tofino on Spring Break. It also happens to be our wedding anniversary – 15 years this year! – so we always go out for dinner to Wolf in the Fog. This year we had no sitter, so we brought our youngest son with us and taught him how to sit patiently and happily for a two hour dinner (which is an important quality for any kid to have).
Tofino is a foodie haven, so let’s start with our anniversary dinner at Wolf in the Fog. This is modern west coast food and decor done up fancy but with totally unpretentious, affable service. Make a reservation and head upstairs to your table. If you are lucky, you’ll get a booth with a sparkly view of the open bar and kitchen.
We promised our boy burger and fries, and Wolf in the Fog did not disappoint. This place loves vertical food and their burger is no exception. I stole a few fries off Aaron’s plate and can attest they were crunchy, salty and delicious, as a good fry should be. I was not allowed one bite of his burger, which is always a good sign.
Both my husband and I ordered fish – Mike the halibut and gnocchi special and me the rockfish. The halibut was delicate with a pesto sauce and the rockfish was punch in your face with Asian flavours. Both fish, but two totally different dishes.
As I’m apt to do, I had scoped out the menu online beforehand and decided I wanted the Carrot Cake Sundae dessert. I could not resist the description: Apple Butter, Cream Cheese Ice Cream, Pineapple Ginger Toffee Sauce, White Chocolate, Pecans but by this time it was getting dark and I was losing my light – so I took a crappy picture of it:
Gods willing, we plan to be at Wolf in the Fog for our 16th anniversary too.
To save on costs, we vowed to eat out only one meal a day on our four day trip. We always always go to the original Tacofino (an orange food truck parked off the highway, with a totally different, laid-back feel than the Vancouver locations) and are never disappointed.
Dear Maui – you aren’t nearly as touristy and kitchy as I thought. I’ve avoided visiting you over the years, choosing to travel to the understated lush island of Kaua’i instead.
I was wrong to judge you. Choose the right locale for lodging and places to eat carefully and a more-authentic Hawai’i trip is yours.
Our two weeks in Maui went like this: we stayed in the little town of Haiku, in what is called Upcountry. This is far from the condo and resort coasts on the west and southwest (but heck if you stay there that’s a-ok too). The first week of our trip was with our teenage son, adult daughter and her boyfriend, so we opted for a house rental in a Haiku neighbourhood. There, we had privacy, room to move, a lanai to observe the lizards and listen to the neighbourhood roosters and a great home-base to explore other parts of the island.
Our first week eating adventures included a surprisingly sophisticated selection of eats in small town Haiku, including:
Colleen’s – we stumbled into Colleen’s after our jet-lagged sleep on our first day. Awesome egg breakfasts, lattes and service. The locals all stop by for a take-away coffee on their way to work. Opens at 6 am. We went back more than once. Nuka – a lovely sit-down neighbourhood sushi joint. (Coming from cheap sushi-saturated Vancouver, I’m biased in my sushi opinions. Nuka was solid, but expensive – but then everything on Maui is expensive). Baked on Maui– we giggled at the name, and had strong coffee and baked goods. Sala Dang Thai Kitchen – the best Thai food I’ve ever had, hidden in a little building behind the power grid in Haiku. Super fresh and bright.
Up the road a few miles is Paia. This is a happenin’ little hippy surfer town with many tourists stopping on their way to Hana. Do not let that deter you. Here’s where we ate.
Flatbread Company – a boisterous place – part bar/part restaurant with friendly servers and straight out-of-the oven flatbread pizzas. Toby’s Shave Ice – I love myself some shave ice. Get with it with macnut ice cream and condensed milk on top. Paia Coffee Company – Dreamy open air coffee shop with dark coffee and freshly prepared breakfasts.
We tootled around Upcountry, too – going to the Ali’i Lavender Farm, Surfing Goat Dairyand tracking down Oprah’s house. One day in Makawao, the cowboy town, while Aaron was sitting on a step, minding his own business and eating his doughnut on a stick from T Komoda Store & Bakery, a chicken leaped up and stole part of his doughnut. Lesson learned: watch out for the chickens in Makawao.
We did a bit more than just eat. We ventured to beaches in Kihei (Kamole Beach Park III), Makena (Makena State Park or Big Beach), Kaanapali Beach and Kapalua (D.T Fleming Beach). Our favourite beaches were closer to home at Paia – Baldwin Beach, Baby Beach and Sugar Cove. Ho’okipa was fabulous for watching surfers and spotting turtles, too.
We took a satisfying snorkelling tripto Molokini, where I became so enamoured with the peace of snorkelling that I was the last person back on the boat (me, a non-swimmer, go figure).
One night we went to Sheraton Black Rock Luau. I will confess this is me going cheap on an expensive holiday – we opted for the ‘cocktails and show’ version and skipped the dinner. Still got dessert and Mai Tais. The ocean-front sunset location can’t be beat and the fire dance was gasp-inducing.
In Lahaina, we ate at Take Home Maui(sit on their shady lanai in the heat of the day and eat nice fluffy sandwiches), Star Noodle for ramen and pork dumplings, and adult shave ice at Breakwell Shave Ice.I had the hottest meal in my life sitting in the parking lot outside Tin Roof in Kahului (weather hot not spicy hot) but it was worth it for this fan-girl to go to Sheldon Simeon’s restaurant. The Mochiko Chicken was the best.
Week two was what Mike and I termed our second honeymoon. Our first honeymoon 14 years ago was in Montreal and we brought 5 month old Aaron with us. I would not recommend this (he didn’t sleep a wink the whole trip). This time we did it up right. My daughter and her boyfriend generously agreed to fly back to Edmonton with our youngest son in tow, and the two of us were giddy and Hana-bound in a convertible VW Beetle for five glorious adult days.
The drive to Hana is both harrowing and magical. Mike swam under a waterfall and we watched local kids jump off cliffs into the clear water below. It took four hours of meandering to get there. We sampled banana bread at little roadside shops along the way. (You must eat banana bread on the way to Hana).
Once there, we discovered that Hana is a sleepy town, and we ate almost exclusively in our little cottage with the drop-dead gorgeous view. (Recommendation: check out Hana Oceanfront Cottages for the best couple accommodations ever).
The honeymoon nature of this part of our trip will not be discussed. However, I can tell you that I had the best Mai Tai in Maui at the very exclusive Travassa Hana Hotel. On our last day we ate rib-sticking chicken, rice and mac ‘n cheese salad lunch on the side of the highway at Brahhah Hutts BBQ Grillfood truck(I have eaten some of my favourite meals sitting on the side of a highway – Red Hot Mama’s in Kaui (now closed) and of course Tacofino in Tofino).
On our last two days of our two week trip, we stayed at the Paia Inn, a little boutique hotel with lux amenities including private beach access at the back. We also ate at Mama’s Fish House, where I consumed the most expensive meal I have ever had. (My husband wouldn’t let me see the final bill). I saw hype online and was ready to hate Mama’s Fish House, but we were seated at a prime beachfront table, the service was impeccable and the fish was out of this world (Mahimahi stuffed with deep sea redcrab went down very smoothly). It was like Disneyland – yes, touristy with a touch of kitch, but everything done so well that all was forgiven (until our Visa bill comes in). I’d say Mama’s Fish House is a save-up-for-a-special-occasion kind of place. It was a perfect end to our decadent trip.
If you read my other blog, you will know we’ve had a tough year. This trip was exactly what I wanted to celebrate the end of my cancer treatment – sitting on a beach in tropical paradise with the people I love. And in-between beach sitting, we ate some pretty good food too. Aloha (and mahalo), Maui.
I’ve been to San Francisco five times in my long life. Once as a 15 year old snarky teenager, travelling with my parents & brother in a camper van, twice with my husband (it is a very romantic city), once on a long layover from Australia, and then the last time – last week with my daughter Ella.
As is our way on our chick trips, we ate our way through the City. Here are some highlights:
Foreign Cinema for a fancy pants dinner – great service, terrific food and the best ambiance – Singing in the Rain playing on the large screen in the courtyard. In the rain.
Standing in a pleasant line up in the sun to eat Mama’scrumb cake for brunch
A $6.14 dinner at In-n-Out Burger
Grabbing warm sweet buns from a random Chinatown bakery
A generous salami and blue cheese sandwich at Sutter Street Cafe when I was post-flight starving
The bounty of food and food products that is the Ferry Building, including Secret Breakfast ice cream for breakfast
A waffle shot and cannolis on the Avital North Beach Food Tour
Being treated to warm cream filled churros by my girl at Colibri Mexican Bistro
The great thing about San Francisco is that you can eat your face off…and then just spend the day burning it off climbing up and down the hills. Viva la chick trip!