WHOA lansi

francophile, oenophile, logophile, turophile

Category: Travel (Page 1 of 5)

Travel \\ Munich

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since this trip. I certainly didn’t mean for these posts to get so far behind, but I’ve had a different set of priorities lately. Google photos sends me a flood of photos every week though & I love looking back on our time in Europe last year. Munich was another must revisit for both N & I, but especially for N who found his overnight stay (the shortest of the whole tour) during Contiki far too short. I’d had a few days to explore the city, but was eager to revisit my favourites & find some new ones.  Here’s what I loved most about our visit this time around.

Traditional Bavarian Experiences

Travel planning & research has gotten so much easier even since my first visit to Munich in 2009. There’s just so much great information online, & while it can be overwhelming, I love pouring over different articles & blog posts & making a big plan. Going into this trip, I felt I had a much better grasp on Munich than I did even after my first visit. While I love the eclectic mix of modernity, grit, & multiculturalism you find in Berlin, I’m more at home in laid-back Munich (however, it’s unfair to play favourites with either of these great German cities, if you ask me). The juxtaposition of high-tech with traditionalism that you find in Munich is such an interesting contrast. I really love it!

Traditional breakfast in Munich is a must, if you ask me. I’d read a fair bit about it before our visit, but I was still skeptical before we went. When we woke up a little groggy from a few too many steins the night before, I really wasn’t sure I was up for it. Luckily Munich is pretty compact so even though we needed to get an early start, it didn’t take too long to get from our hotel near the Englischer Garten to the city center. & I’m so glad we didn’t end up skipping it. It wound up being one of my favourite memories from the city.

So what exactly is a traditional Bavarian Breakfast? Most people we told about it were not into the idea of starting their day with beer & sausage, & I was honestly pretty skeptical, but it actually really works. & once you’re there among locals, who are ordering the same with their morning paper, it seems totally normal. The wheat beer (weissbier) is quite refreshing. I read a lot of reviews about where to go & we settled on Schneider Bräuhaus for our Weisswurst Frühstück. Breakfast included the beer, boiled sausages served with loads of sweet mustard, and freshly baked pretzels. The sausages come in pairs & are served in a pot of hot water to keep them warm. You’re supposed to remove the skin by cutting the sausage lengthwise and then roll the meat from the skin with a fork (apparently eating the casing gives you away as a tourist, not that we were fooling anyone).

Traditional Bavarian Breakfast

The sausages arrive in hot water to keep them warm.

Traditional Bavarian Breakfast

Beer, Pretzels, Sausage, & Mustard. Don’t knock it til you try it.

Last time I was in Munich, I didn’t quite have the funds for a dirndl, the traditional Bavarian dress for women. I’ve often thought about how I should have just gone for it since then though, so I was resolved to buy one this time around. I looked up a few tracht stores in the city center beforehand & we found one that seemed to have reasonably priced dirndls. It was fun to try all the different patterns & combinations on. I found one I really love & wore it out that night. You certainly don’t need one to enjoy the beer gardens or other Bavarian traditions, but I love mine & got so many compliments on it all night in the beer halls!

Traditional Bavarian Tracht

In my dirndl at the
Hofbräuhaus

Beer Gardens

They’re everywhere in Munich &, for us at least, an essential part of any stay in the area. They’re all a little different, but most of my favourites have a great outdoor space. I think what really makes the Bavarian Beer Garden so special is the seating. Don’t expect to have a table all to yourself. Half the fun is making friends with the other people at your table.

We went to quite a few biergartens over the course of our stay. On our first night, we headed over to one of my personal favourites: Augustiner-Keller. We started in the restaurant for dinner with my brother & his girlfriend before heading over to the biergarten for another stein. Even my brother’s girlfriend ordered a 1L stein, & she’s not usually a big beer drinker. There’s something contagious in that atmosphere, whether it’s the garden setting, the twinkling overhead lights, or the sounds of other parties enjoying the warm summer air. The beer at Augustiner also has a great reputation, combined with its central location & charming garden, it’s a busy favourite for many.

Augustiner-Keller

My brother & his girlfriend

Augustiner-Keller

N & I

Augustiner-Keller

Augustiner-Keller

Beer Gardens

Another favourite of mine is the beer garden at the Viktualienmarkt. It’s mostly self-service, so you’ll definitely find yourself cosying up to other groups, especially during prime market hours. I love this aspect of it. I’m a sucker for a market, so the opportunity to gather a variety of lunch options before finding a table & grabbing a couple steins is my idea of the perfect afternoon. A unique feature of this particular beer garden is the beer itself. Every six weeks, a different beer from one of Munich’s famous breweries is served on tap. They alternate through Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Spaten.

Viktualienmarkt

Viktualienmarkt

Viktualienmarkt

Lunch & Steins at the Viktualienmarkt biergarden

Viktualienmarkt

Crowded Saturday in the biergardens

Viktualienmarkt

Tables of new friends & old friends

Viktualienmarkt

Rounding out my top picks is the biergarten at the Chinesischen Turm in the English Garden. No visit to Munich is complete without some time in this huge park, & I think the biergarten here is an equally worthwhile stop. Bands play beneath the huge wooden pagoda in the summer, & its proximity to the University draws in a younger crowd. On a sunny day, it’s the perfect spot for a break. We joined my parents here for a drink on Canada day, before continuing into the city center for dinner.

Chinesischer Turm

Chinesischer Turm beer garden

Chinesischer Turm

Chinesischer Turm

Prost!

Chinesischer Turm

Ready to ring in Canada Day, Munich Style

Food

As always, this is probably the most important piece of research for me when planning a trip. I essentially plan all my sightseeing around the food I want to eat, & Munich was, of course, no exception. I’ve already mentioned traditional Bavarian breakfast as a must, but there were definitely a few more gems during our stay.

Much like our previous stop, Bavarian food is pretty heavy. It’s definitely a style I personally love (there’s a reason why grandma’s food can be so comforting!). Expect big portions & lots of meat, although you can certainly find a diverse array of food from other cultures as well. I just gravitate to some of the more Bavarian options.

The restaurant at Augustiner-Keller is a great spot to sample some Bavarian specialties. N & I both went for the pork knuckle with potato dumpling & red cabbage. It is a huge serving, but it was so good that I would order it again in a heartbeat (& we did in fact during a stop over in a small German town during the cruise!)

Augustiner-Keller

Pork Knuckle at Augustiner-Keller

The following night, I had made a reservation for dinner at Spezlwirtschaft for dinner. They do a modern take on German comfort food. We shared a trio of cheese dips to start & then I went for the homemade käsespätzle topped with crispy fried onions (a regional version of mac & cheese which did not disappoint). Everything was delicious, the atmosphere was trendy & younger, & it was just down the street from our next stop: the infamous Hofbräuhaus.

Spezlwirtschaft

Trio of cheese dips

Spezlwirtschaft

Bavarian mac & cheese

Of course, no “gastronomic” tour of Munich would be complete without a stop at the Viktualienmarkt in the heart of the city center. It’s a pleasant place to stroll, pick up lunch, or find a table in the biergarden to enjoy a few steins. We stopped by on a Saturday & did exactly that, picking up an array of items from a few of the hundred or so vendors in the market before joining fellow beer lovers at one of the crowded tables.

Viktualienmarkt

Viktualienmarkt

One of the many many stalls

Viktualienmarkt

Always a sucker for a pickle at the market.

Viktualienmarkt

Finally, if you’re looking for one of the best sandwiches you’ll possibly ever eat, head over to Haxnbauer. You have two options when you enter, left for the restaurant (which I hear is also great, however, make a reservation & prepare to spend a fair bit) or right for your to go options. You’ll usually have two choices of grilled meats for your Haxensemmel, which is a ciabatta bun with the most tender & delicious sliced grilled meat & coleslaw. We ate ours outside at the Viktualienmarkt (under one of the tents as it was a rainy Sunday & the market had already closed for the day). It was perfect.

haxn

Haxn in the rain.

Wander

One of the best things about Munich, in my opinion, is its relatively compact center. It’s easy to spend the morning doing a free walking tour to get your bearings, grab lunch & explore the Viktualienmarkt, & then head up to the University & English Gardens for the afternoon. You’ll still have time to change into the dirndl you purchased earlier that day before dinner & drinks back in the center & hit the beer gardens or halls for a great night out. In fact, that’s exactly how we spent Canada Day on our trip.

Marienplatz

Marienplatz: touring the center

Munich

the Devil’s footprint

Munich Munich

Munich

Old City Gate

The different approaches to Holocaust memorials are most striking if you get the chance to visit both Munich & Berlin. Where in Berlin, the designs are meant to inspire reflection & are generally hard to miss, Munich has taken a much more conservative approach, in an attempt to avoid devaluing them. Neither of them is wrong, but I think it certainly showcases the huge different between both cities. In Munich, you will likely miss the two main memorials I’m aware of unless you’re looking for them. I believe the idea is that you’re meant to stumble upon them unexpectedly, in every day life, but I think it may be just as much a response to what is perceived to be an over the top memorialization in Berlin.

Both are interesting stops as you wander the city center. You’ll find the first in an alley near the Feldherrnhalle. When Hitler came to power, he installed a plaque in this square to commemorate the failed attempt to take over the city in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Passersby were expected to perform a Nazi salute, however, opponents of this Regime would cut through the alley in order to avoid passing it. If caught, they were arrested. Today, you can follow their path along Viscardigasse (or Dodger’s Alley), memorialized in bronze cobblestones to commemorate their bravery in this act of passive resistance.

Munich Memorials

Dodger’s Alley Memorial

The second is up near the University, a great stop on your way to the English Gardens, & another floor memorial. These bronze pamphlets are meant to resemble those distributed by the White Rose Resistance & are dedicated to two key members, Hans & Sophie Scholl, who were subsequently caught & sentenced to death for denouncing Hitler & the Third Reich.

Munich Memorials

White Rose Memorial

Munich Memorials

Afterwards, grab a couple beers from a convenience store (drinking in public is allowed in Germany, & you’ll likely be thirsty from your walk) & head for the English Gardens. Head over the Eisbach, a small man made river where surfers have been catching waves since the 70s. It’s pretty cool to watch them surf for a while or if you happen to be there on a hot day, cool off with a dip in the river a little further down from the waves. As one of Europe’s biggest parks, you could easily spend an entire day wandering this park, stopping for food & drinks at the tea house or beer gardens, or packing your own picnic to enjoy.

English Garden

Park drinks

English Garden

Eisbach surfers

English Garden English Garden

This just barely scratches the surface for Munich. We easily filled two days with great food, drinks, & sights. It’s certainly a smaller scale than the sights of Berlin, but I think that might be what draws me to it. If you have some extra time to kill, we also enjoyed a rainy afternoon at the well designed BMW Museum, or you can get out of town & tour one of the many nearby castles.

Munich Olympic Stadium

Always a sucker for an Olympic Stadium

BMW Welt

BMW Welt

Still very much love my first car, a 1997 BMW that looked similar to this one.

BMW Welt BMW Welt

BMW Welt

Wouldn’t this be fun to drive?

This was the last stop on our Europe Beer Road Trip. My brother & his girlfriend were on a flight home to Calgary & the rest of us flew to our next stop: Copenhagen!

Travel \\ Prague

Prague

In 2009, at the end of my second séjour in France, I booked a little trip that included Prague. The city had been on my wishlist for a long time & it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit. I was looking forward to catching up with a Czech friend from school in Rennes, exploring the beautiful sights, & eating my weight in fried cheese. It did not disappoint. When we went to book our 2017 trip, I knew it had to include this beautiful gem. & the Czech people love their beer, so of course, they’re my kind of people. Here’s what I loved most on this most recent visit.

Traditional Czech Food

I’m not sure that food is the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Prague, but I think it certainly should be. The food scene here is really diversifying, but I truly love the traditional dishes of the Czech Republic. They’re rich, comforting, & truly delicious. There’s a reason this grandmotherly style of cooking is making a comeback: it’s amazing!

The first (& last, let’s be honest) thing I want to eat here is fried cheese: a slice of Eidam cheese, breaded & fried. In fact, I booked my first trip partly because I had to try it. & I will happily eat fried cheese in any of its many forms throughout the Czech Republic, but my favourites are Lokal’s simple version, pan-fried in butter, & the sandwich you’ll find at food carts around Wenceslas Square. I ate fried cheese every chance I got & I have no regrets.

Prague 2017

The best fried cheese of the whole trip (& I ate it A LOT), at Lokal.

Without a doubt, the best thing I ate in Prague, & possibly anywhere, was beef tartar. I cannot recommend this enough, even if raw beef makes you a little bit wary. This regional classic is definitely something I wouldn’t leave the Czech Republic without tasting. Embrace your adventurous side! Usually served with toast & condiments, each bite has an addictive textural contrast that had me wishing we’d ordered two. The tartar at Nase Maso doesn’t look like much: two slices of toast, Czech raw garlic, & what looks like a hamburger patty. Rub the garlic over the toast & top with the meat for what I believe is the most perfect bite of food.

If you really can’t wrap your mind around raw beef, the burger here is a good compromise. I wouldn’t want to you to come to Prague without getting a glimpse into the hussle of this wildly popular butcher shop. Butchers cut the steak & grind the beef in full view, which I found to be a fun part of the experience.

Nase Maso, Prague

The busy lunch rush at Nase Maso, the coolest butcher shop I’ve ever been inside.

Nase Maso Beef Tartar

This beef tartare is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Honestly, it blew my mind.

Nase Maso

Butcher Counter

Nase Maso Burger

We also shared a burger that I’d happily eat one hundred times over.

Overall, we ate a lot of good food in Prague, most of it regional specialties. Other noteworthy meals included chlebicek (Czech open-faced sandwiches) for breakfast at the adorable Sisters (actually next door to Nase Maso on Dlouha) & Goulash, a Czech take on this specialty shared by many in that region, at Mincovna in the Old Town Square.

Mincovna Goulash

Czech Goulash at Mincovna

Sisters Chlebicky

Sister’s chlebicky for Breakfast

Sisters Chlebicky

Chlebicky on display

Beer

It wouldn’t be right to go on a European Beer Tour & leave out the Czech Republic. Beer drinking is practically a national sport here. I remember discussing the beer culture with my Czech girlfriend over lunch before I was anywhere near as into beer as I am now. She told me it was normal to have a beer at lunch, & common to see women enjoying a pint alongside their male colleagues, which was somewhat of a revelation to me at the time. I’d only just graduated from drinking bacardi breezers after all. (Don’t judge! I was so young!)

There is no shortage of great spots to enjoy a pint in Prague, with more microbreweries popping up all the time. Our AirBnB happened to be across the street from Craft Beer House, which we wound up at a several times over our short stay. If you’re looking for knowledgeable staff & multiple taps – this is your bar. The service is friendly & welcoming & they really go the extra mile to find a beer you like. We ended both our nights in Prague with a drink on their front stoop.

Craft Beer House

Hanging out on the sidewalk at Craft Beer House

Touted as THE pub in Prague, U zlatého tygra is a must visit for me. They serve one type of beer: Pilsner Urquell, & although I enjoy this local brew, it’s really the atmosphere that makes this the spot to visit. I’d read it was a cultural institution, & it was clear the Czechs agree from the minute we walked in the door. The place was packed. I’ve never seen people pound back beer as quickly as these guys while maintaining an air of sobriety. They were certainly loud, but hanot the least bit belligerent. Everyone was there to have a good time with their friends. Photos of sports icons, celebrities, & politicians line the walls, the bar staff is gruff, but efficient, & you’re unlikely to get a table unless you show up early, but it’s worth stopping in for a glimpse into Czech pub culture.

 U zlatého tygra

The only photo I managed to snap inside the boisterous
U zlatého tygra.

If we’d had better weather & more time, I’d have loved to check out some of the beer gardens around the city too. The Letna Beer Garden figured high on my list! As I mentioned above, the fried cheese at Lokal was a definite highlight, but so was the excellent beer & cave-like interior of the Mala Strana location. We also enjoyed U Rudolfina for a pint, but you really don’t have to look very hard to find good beer in this city.

Lokal beers

Enjoying a pint in the cave-like basement of Lokal.

Wander

I love having time to wander a new city, & even enjoy getting a little lost. If you’ve followed my blog since the very beginning, you know it used to be called Au fil de mes balades, which roughly translates to “as I wander”. A balade has no finite destination & that is how I prefer to explore a city for the first time. Prague might just be one of the best cities to do exactly that. Not only does it ooze old world charm, but it constantly rewards explorers with hidden courtyards, quiet cobblestoned lanes, & unexpected glimpses into daily Czech life, like no other city I’ve visited.

I highly recommend the New Europe Walking Tour here. They can be hit or miss, but both time I’ve come to Prague, I’ve hit the tour guide jackpot. Despite the most comically relentless downpour, our guide kept us engaged & entertained over the course of our three hour tour. He was full of wonderful stories & insights into his hometown & although, we were soaked & pretty cold, I truly enjoyed his tour.

Prague 2017

Old Town Square

Prague 2017 Prague 2017

Prague 2017

Old Town Square in the rain

Prague 2017

Our hardy tour guide braving the rain.

Prague 2017

Prague 2017

Wenceslas Square

Once you’ve got your bearings, & a good understanding of the center, I highly recommend wandering some of the other neighbourhoods. Head over the Charles Bridge & up to the Prague castle for stunning views over the city. Explore the cobblestoned lanes across the Vltava River in Malá Strana. This is where you’ll find the John Lennon Wall (pretty meh, especially after the East Side Gallery in Berlin). Keep an eye out for markings on different buildings in this area – they show how high the flood waters measured in different years! The views of the Charles Bridge & Prague Castle from the Mánes Bridge are also some of the best in the city, if you ask me!

Prague 2017

Mánes Bridge & Prague Castle

Prague 2017 Prague 2017 Prague 2017 Prague 2017

Prague 2017

Exploring Malá Strana

Prague 2017

Flood Markings

Prague 2017

John Lennon Wall

Prague 2017 Prague 2017

Prague 2017

Dancing ladies

Prague 2017

Hidden coffee spot, Super Tramp

Prague 2017

Pastries & Coffee

Prague 2017

Streets around the castle

Prague 2017

View from the Castle

Prague 2017

Streets of Malá Strana

Prague 2017

Charles Bridge

It’s funny the things that stick with you when you travel. For me, it was this Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Due to a lack of space in the tiny ghetto, people were buried on top of one another so that now the whole cemetery sits 2m above street level. The gravestones have tilted a little further in the 8 years since I last visited, but you can still steal a peak at them through a small window in the door.

The Jewish Quarter is a top destination for tourists for many reasons – its rich history, medieval synagogues, & various exhibitions – but this little cemetery is my favourite.

Prague 2017

Peaking through the door

Prague 2017

Prague 2017

The official entrance

No matter what brings you to Prague, I think you’ll find something to love. I could have easily spent a few more days exploring, eating, & drinking, but it was on to our next stop for us: Munich!

Travel \\ Berlin to Prague Road Trip

For our travel between Berlin, Prague, & Munich this summer, my dad had rented a vehicle. While I love train travel, one of the perks of a road trip is the ability to stop wherever you’d like. We decided to make the most of this, & scheduled a few extra sights along the way. The first of these was Weesenstein Castle, just south of Dresden.

Halfway between Berlin & Prague, it was the perfect spot to stop for lunch & stretch our legs. This impressive castle features beautiful gardens, medieval rooms, & a microbrewery. Due to construction delays on the trip down, food was our top priority, so we headed straight to a cute little restaurant at the base of the castle. They had a lovely patio out back, which we took advantage of. They didn’t have English menus, but our server did a great job of translating for us, despite feeling her English wasn’t very good. (She spoke very well, in reality. & none of us speak German very well, so we couldn’t have been more grateful for the help!)

weesenstein

adorable town across the river

weesenstein

the castle

weesenstein

patio beers

weesenstein

lunch!

weesenstein

I love these homes

weesenstein

After lunch, we wandered up the hill to the castle. Since we’d arrived in the early afternoon, we essentially had the whole place to ourselves. The only downside to driving was that we’d already had beer with lunch, so we didn’t try any from the microbrewery. If you make a stop, save yourself some time to sample them! It’s a very cool spot.

weesenstein weesenstein

weesenstein

Built right into the rock

weesenstein

weesenstein

Beautiful gardens & surrounding forest

weesenstein

weesenstein

Copper tanks & bottles

weesenstein

Microbrewery

The grounds are small enough to tour in under an hour, making it the perfect spot to stop mid roadtrip. Feeling refreshed, we were ready to get back in the car & hit the road for Prague!

Travel \\ Berlin

Berlin was the second major European city I ever visited. In 2005, while I was living in Rennes, I took an overnight train to the German capital to meet some friends for the weekend. It was one of the best weekend trips I’ve ever been on, & left me longing for another visit. Twelve years later, the city is still an eclectic mix of elegant modernity & a certain level of grittiness. Two days definitely wasn’t enough time to experience everything I’d hoped to, but here’s a sampling of what I loved about this lively metropolis. Do yourself a favour & dedicate a few extra days to really explore.

The Street Food

I think this may be my favourite thing about the city. The street food culture in Berlin is like none other; it’s a little glimpse into the vibrant multiculturalism that is such a part of any visit. The best part? You can eat really well on a tiny budget. Seriously well.

Our first stop was thanks to Anthony Bourdain (of course). Konnopke’s Imbiss is a sausage stall beneath the elevated subway lines in Prenzlauer Berg. You can find currywurst pretty much everywhere in Berlin – it’s a cheap & filling lunch, if nothing else – but if you’re going to check out this adorable area, you might as well go here. Afterwards, you can wander the beautiful Oderberger Strasse or grab a beer at Berlin’s oldest beer garden: Prater Garten (or do both, as we did).

Konnopke’s Imbiss

Oderberger Strasse

Prater Garten

If you go to Berlin & don’t experience any Turkish food, I think you’re seriously missing out. Most of my memories of Berlin revolve around doner kebabs. Cheap, delicious, & perfect whether you’re heading out for the night or on your way home. This time around, N & I had two amazing Turkish food experiences. First, we shared an amazing kofte sandwich at Konak Grill in Kreuzberg. Later that same evening, we had the most magnificent doner kebab of my life at a stand on a bridge at Warschauer Strasse S-Bahn. It may have been the beers, but I think I’d honestly go back to this spot if I’m ever in Berlin again (& we almost did on our way home). It was that good.

Tell me that doesn’t look amazing

Neighbourhoods

Part of Berlin’s popularity stems from its global feel. There’s a little corner of Berlin to suit any taste – you just have to find yours.

Mitte is the city’s center, literally meaning “middle” in German. It’s where you’ll find most monuments, memorials, & museums. If it’s your first visit, it’s a good place to start. Check out the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, & Alexanderplatz. Maybe wander the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or the Topography of Terror.

Brandenberg Gate

Hotel Adlon

 

The hauntingly moving Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Hotel Adlon

We did a free walking tour, which I will almost always recommend. Unfortunately, this one was my least favourite & we left disappointed. We just didn’t like our guide, which is the hazard of any tour, free or paid. It really was such a shame as I think it tainted the others’ first impressions of Berlin. (Berlin was actually the first city I ever did a walking tour in & Per set the bar high – it’s still the best tour I’ve ever done.) Museum Island is also undergoing massive upgrades until 2019 & is a little difficult to get around, so budget extra time to see it.

Museum Island

St Mary’s near Alexanderplatz

Checkpoint Charlie at the end of our tour

The Berlin wall cut through major roadways & is memorialized with bricks.

Topography of Terror

Mitte is an interesting mix of modern buildings & old cobblestone streets. There’s fantastic restaurants & more sights than you’ll likely have time to take in. Don’t underestimate Berlin – it’s huge.

We stayed in Kreuzberg, which feels like a different world from both central Mitte & the pristine Prenzlauer Berg. It’s got a bit of reputation. With a huge Turkish population, this is where we found the best street food. It’s a little bit grimy & a lot edgy; it’s got tons of personality. I’m glad we stayed here so we got to experience it a little bit more than we likely would have otherwise.

Görlitzer Park at dusk

Across the Spree River, you’ll find Friedrichshain, known mostly for its wicked party scene & the East Side Gallery: a slice of the Berlin Wall turned open air international mural exhibit. Grab some beers at craft beer shop, Drink Drunk, on your way across the Spree (drinking in public is perfectly acceptable in Germany, & is the perfect way to enjoy the gallery, if you ask me.).

Beers at the East Side Gallery

Go out on the town

Berlin is a city for all tastes, whether it’s a simple evening meal with family & friends or a wild night of bar hopping, you can do it all.

While the street food is second to none, there’s also an incredible restaurant scene happening. I had a hopelessly impossible list. We came nowhere near to making a dent in it. In fact, we really only had one sit down meal, our first night in Berlin. We settled on somewhere near our AirBnB, Café Restaurant Jolesch. We sat on their patio, enjoyed fantastic service, & delicious, extra crispy schnitzel the size of our faces (literally). It was a great meal. If you’re looking for great German comfort food, you can’t go wrong with this spot.

Dinner on the patio

giant schnitzel

Afterwards, we made the trek to Klunkerkranich, in Neukölln. Hidden away on the top floor of the parking garage at the somewhat abandoned-looking Neukölln Arkaden Mall. You’ll walk up the ramp to the very top to find…I don’t really know how to describe it. A trendy hipster bar, with a garden, outdoor tables, & a fantastic view over Berlin? It’s a great spot to watch a sunset, or simply grab drinks at the end of an evening. It’s definitely worth checking out, for its eclectic mix of people & decor & the views. Bring cash, there’s sometimes cover & you’ll need a deposit for glassware (they don’t have anyone to clear their tables).

View from the top!

Outdoor biergarten

funky lights

Berlin skyline

Our second night, we grabbed a few craft beers for the road at Drink Drunk, crossed the bridge over the Spree, & wandered the couple kilometers of leftover Berlin wall that make up the East Side Gallery. Afterward, we grabbed a drink on one of the Riverboats & watched the sun set.

Strolling the East Side Gallery

River Spree

Sunset on a boat

It was a Tuesday night, but we wanted to experience some of Berlin’s famous nightlife, so we headed into Friedrichshain next. Everything I’d read told me this was the place to party in Berlin, but still, neither of us could get over how incredibly lively it was for a weeknight. We marveled at restaurant patios packed with locals enjoying a meal together, & bar after bar with no shortage of thirsty patrons. There were so many charming options (& no shortage of night clubs either, if that’s your jam). Friedrichshain is fantastic!

Wandering Urban Spree after close

We settled on Hops & Barley, one of the oldest craft breweries in the city. It’s a pretty unassuming spot, brewing natural unfiltered beers. They aren’t afraid to experiment a little, so there are some intriguing options. The patio was full, but we managed to find ourselves a little table in the back, amid a funny mix of locals & foreign exchange students. We stayed until they wouldn’t serve us any longer before making the trek back to Kreuzberg for the night.

Our time is Berlin was a little more limited that I’d expected. Picking up our rental car was more time consuming that I’d hoped, & we hadn’t budgeted a lot of time to begin with. The construction on Museum Island also threw a wrench in our plans as it was much harder to navigate than when I’d first visited. If we’d had more time in Berlin, I’d probably have suggested we spend some time in the Tiergarten (a 500 acre park in Mitte) or exploring the Reichstag. There is truly no shortage of things to do in Berlin.

The next morning, we grabbed coffees & hit the road for our next stop: Prague!

Travel \\ Amsterdam

Travel // Amsterdam

Amsterdam was the first stop on our 2017 Europe Beer Tour, as I would jokingly refer to the trip we took with my family earlier this summer. This trip had been on my bucket list for years. Now that it’s over, it seems almost surreal. We saw a lot & covered a lot of ground over the course of our three weeks in (mostly) Northern Europe. Maybe that’s why I’m only starting to post about it now. Or maybe I’m notoriously slow at sorting through all the media & memories after a big trip. The latter, most likely.

But here we are, a little over three months after the fact, ready for some bonafide Europe recaps. Whenever someone asks me what my favourite city in Europe is, I freeze. One city? You want me to name one city in the whole of Europe as my favourite? Nuh uh, no way, impossible! I won’t even entertain the idea. There are so many different cities that hold special places in my heart for different reasons. Three days in Amsterdam was all it took for it to win a place on that list. What makes this city so special, you ask? Let’s take a look.

The Canals

Known as the Venice of the North by some, Amsterdam has over a hundred kilometres of canals. Our first day in the city, we spent most of our time wandering around, exploring the different neighbourhoods. I’ve mentioned before that this is one of my favourite things to do in a new city. There’s nothing like having no set destination or plan & just taking in everything around you.

N & I wandering on our first day in Amsterdam

Wandering the streets in the famous canal ring, or Grachtengordel, is essential to any trip to Amsterdam. I especially loved the bohemian Jordaan quarter, a grid of tiny lanes dotted with specialty shops, restaurants, art galleries, & the incredible Anne Frank house.

Amsterdam Canals Amsterdam Canals Amsterdam Canals

We spent the morning at the Anne Frank House on our last day in Amsterdam, & it was a visit I won’t soon forget. Having read her book as a young girl, it was so moving to be able to put her experiences & memories into a tangible space. They’ve done a really lovely job of preserving the families’ memory in a museum. Tickets sell out early for good reason. (If you have trouble getting regular tickets, the introductory program is only a few dollars more & is usually available for longer.)

The bike Culture

We only rented bikes for a few hours one afternoon & it might have been the biggest mistake of the whole trip (at least for me). I loved biking around the compact city centre & wish we’d rented them for longer. It’s busy & a little bit chaotic, but a lot of fun. We biked through the centre to the Museum Quarter then along the Singelgracht to a great brewery.

Bikes in Vondelpark

Biking around Amsterdam

Afterwards, we biked around Vondelpark, before heading back through town to drop off our bikes. If you’re less confident on a bike, I’d recommend a tour around Vondelpark. Its wide, paved pathways are easy to navigate & there are lots of lovely spots to stop & enjoy the park, or some food & drinks. It’s also a worthwhile stroll if you’re really not sold on biking. Our apartment was a few short blocks away, so we did just that on on our very first day in the city.

Albert Cuyp Market

You’ll find anything from electronics to clothing at this eclectic street bazaar, but as usual, we came for the food. It was herring season, so we went looking for a classic herring sandwich as soon was we arrived. Traditionally, soused herring is eaten with just raw onions, but broodje haring (on bread) is also popular. My dad did not enjoy the texture of the fish at all – it’s a little bit slimy – but N & I enjoyed ours. I’m glad we tried it since it’s one of N’s grandpa’s favourites.

We also picked up some cheese to snack on later that evening.

Next up were stroopwaffles. You’ve probably seen these traditional waffle & caramel cookies before. I know I had. They’re even better fresh. The stall we bought ours from made them right in front of us so they were nice & hot – the perfect way to enjoy them. They seem just a little more special when the caramel is soft & melty from the warm waffles.

Our last market food find was well earned, & probably my favourite. Just as I’d given up on finding kroketten as the Van Dobben store that was supposed to be at the corner of the market had shut down, we found their market stall. Hurray! Kroketten for all! A kroket is mashed potatoes and meat, breaded & deep fried, on a bun with a side of mustard. No complaints here.

Market snacks

There’s lots of different food to try at the market, so it makes a good lunch stop between wandering the canals in the centre & the museum quarter. Snack along the way or pick up some things to eat later, in one of the cities many beautiful parks.

The Museum Quarter

If you’re looking for the “I amsterdam” sign, this is where you’ll find it. If you’re looking for a photo op without a ton of people in it, best of luck. It was extremely busy when we went mid-day, however, we took the last tram back to our apartment one night & there wasn’t a soul in sight. Aim for early morning or late evening for a better chance at some photos without the hoards of people.

Surrounding the museumplein, you’ll find three major museums: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum. My parents went to the Van Gogh Museum & really enjoyed it, but N & I were content to wander the park in this beautiful area.

If you do decide to visit one of the popular museums, it’s a good idea to purchase tickets online first. Even the Heineken Experience gets some crazy lines. An e-ticket will save you wasting time waiting, if you can plan what time you’d like to go in advance.

Enjoying food & drinks on the water

The tilted, gabled canal-side buildings make the perfect backdrop for lunch, dinner, afternoon drinks, or a fun night out beside the water. There are no shortage of places to enjoy any of these things in Amsterdam.

Boat touring

There’s no shortage of great spots to relax along the canals

We found a number of great bruin cafés (brown cafés are laid back bars – you’ll find them all over the city) & restaurants along the canals in every neighbourhood. My favourite dinner was at Gent aan de schinkel near our apartment. We sat outside & watched boats go by on the canal, enjoying a lovely meal together.

Dinner along the canal

I’m a sucker for spending time near the water, & Amsterdam delivered on this. We took a boat tour one day, one of those big touristy ones. Next time, I think we’ll rent a smaller boat for the afternoon & enjoy some drinks & a meal as we tour around the city. Watching others doing just this from our crowded boat definitely made it seem like the better option.

The Architecture

I absolutely loved the renaissance architecture in the center of Amsterdam. The tall, tightly-packed homes sometimes look like they’re holding each other up. On our Free Walking Tour, we were told that residents paid taxes based on the width of their homes. This is why you see these characteristic tall & narrow homes in Amsterdam. Since this makes for tight staircases & hallways inside, they also tend to have have a hook above the top floor to hoist larger items into the home or business.

These narrow, long homes are actually what made Amsterdam the perfect place for the Frank family to hide. From the street, it’s hard to tell how far back many of the homes actually go.

The Red Light District

We visited the Red Light District during the day as well as on a lively Saturday night. It was interesting to see both. In daylight, De Wallen almost seems like any other neighbourhood in Amsterdam.There’s a beautiful church, the Oude Kerk, a market, & many great cafés & restaurants. Even in the morning, you’ll notice a few women behind windows here & there, as you sip your coffee & wander the area. It’s quite the juxtaposition. We did the morning free walking tour with New Europe & had a lovely time learning about the center of Amsterdam & the Red Light District.

The side of the Oude Kerk & the narrow streets of De Wallen

N & I went back late that evening, after dark, & the district seemed to have come alive. The narrow streets were so crowded that you could barely walk down them sometimes. Bars were overflowing. It almost felt like there was some kind of festival going on, instead of just another Saturday night. There were also a lot more windows with women behind them. & many of them were putting on a bit of a show to entice customers, sometimes even knocking on the glass to call them over. The atmosphere at night was completely different than it had been during the day.

The main canal in De Wallen

Heading towards the Red Light District

If you have the time to check it out both in the morning & evening, I’d definitely recommend that. Grab a drink in one of the pubs & enjoy watching the debauchery on a Saturday night. We went back on a Sunday & while it was busy, it wasn’t quite the chaos of the night before.

The Beer

It wouldn’t be a Europe Beer Tour if we didn’t drink any beer. You’re likely already familiar with Heineken, but there are so many other great beers too. & even better, there are so many great places to try them out.

Wandering around on our first day, we took a break for some drinks & fantastic lamb meatballs at De Ysbreeker. Named for the icebreakers that docked in front of the building, it has a beautiful terrace & a great selection of local beers like de Prael. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a beautiful summer day.

Another spot we came to love was Hoppe. It’s been in operation for over 300 years & has a great selection of beers. Inside you’ll find antique stained glass windows, old gin barrels, & sawdust on the floor. A table on the covered terrace is a nice place to spend a few hours with friends (& maybe some bitterballen to snack on), but more often than not the after work crowd spills out into the bustling Spui square. Come here for the great local atmosphere, & some fantastic beer.

I saved my favourite spot for last: Brouwerij ‘t IJ. We biked to this microbrewery in east Amsterdam, next to the old de Gooyer windmill. Share a long table with other customers on their tree-covered terrace or head inside to their tasting room, lined with an impressive bottle collection. On weekends, they do a brewery tour for 5 euros. Arrive early to sign up – it fills up fast (as we, unfortunately, learned).

The terrace at Brewerij ‘t IJ

With a large selection of interesting (& tasty) beers, it’s a great spot to spent an afternoon. Check it out before 3 pm if you’d like to try a flight. It’s a little bit off the beaten path, so you’re more likely to find yourself amongst locals here, a welcome change after spending a couple days playing tourist.

‘t IJ Flight

Part of the bottle collection

One of the entrances

I could go on about all the great places we saw in Amsterdam (& all the great beer we drank) for a lot longer, but I’ll leave it off here. There’s something about the laidback Dutch vibe that takes all these incredible sights & experiences to the next level. Thanks for a great introductory visit, Amsterdam. I hope to come back again someday.

Travel Planning: my tips & tricks

SF Mission MuralsOver the last six months, I’ve done more trip planning & created more itineraries than ever before. My most successful plan so far was my first trip down to SF to visit Nathan in May. I combined everything I knew about how we travel with what I’d learned on our previous trips to make the most amazing itinerary. As someone who loves travel planning almost as much as the travel itself, this was immensely satisfying.

This week, I’ve been working on an itinerary for our visit with Nathan’s sister & her boyfriend. They’re coming to stay with us for an extended weekend & we want to do all the things. Since planning is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share some of my best tips, & a few of my favourite apps that make it all a bit easier.

Find the types of resources you enjoy reading. 

It’s so much easier to plan if you’re actually reading about things you enjoy. If you love art & history, maybe some of the travel guides are a great read for you. More than likely though, there’s a website or magazine that highlights your interests more specifically & can give you tips on what to see & do. à

For me, I generally turn to food-related articles, so Bon Appetit is always the first place I check. They’re starting to have a nice selection of city guides that I highly recommend checking out if you like to eat. Otherwise, The New York Times, Eater, & Anthony Bourdain (he just launched a travel website, but you can also search any of his shows online) are my go-to resources for getting the ball rolling.

Create a personalized map of your favourite places

Once you’ve started research, you’re going to need somewhere to store all that data. My absolute favourite travel app is Google My Maps. I can’t recommend it enough & use it daily when I travel. I’ve been using it for a few years now, but they seem to be trying to bring more awareness to it lately, & I’ve found myself using it much more heavily this year.

Google My Maps: Bay Area

My Map for the Bay Area

Basically, it just allows you to create custom maps. You can personalize them & then share, collaborate, & take them with you anywhere. I made one for every city we visited in Europe & then shared them with our crew. You can access them from the Places menu in Google Maps, so they’re easy to locate on mobile.

I’m a pretty visual person, so I find this is a great way to start sorting through what I might want to do in a city. I can easily see what places are close together without getting bogged down by stuff I don’t care about, & build an itinerary from there. My Maps will still show things you haven’t saved, but since I personalize my icons, they don’t get in the way. In addition to visual customization, you can also add your own notes to a place once you’ve saved it to your map. This is a handy little reminder for why I added a place or for other little details, like “bring cash!” or “skip the line by getting takeout”.

Google My Maps

My notes on Powell Street Street Car

I have maps for most of the cities we’ve visited now & they come in handy any time we revisit. I love researching new restaurants & things to do, so mine are all pretty full. That can be overwhelming for a lot of people. The beauty of these maps though is you can make them as busy or as simple as you like – it’s all based on what you enjoy! Well done, Google.

Google My Maps close up

Close up of my SF Map

One more thing I should mention: these maps also seem to work with offline areas, which is great for when you may not have a ton of data to use, but still need navigation. Download the offline area for any major city & you’re set!

Flesh out an itinerary

Everyone travels differently, & I know the idea of having a plan sounds totally awful to many of you, but I tend to want to cram a lot into a small amount of time. When you only have a few days somewhere, a plan can help alleviate disappointment. At the very least, I like to make a couple dinner reservations & then look at a few other things that are nearby. Lately, I’ve been building my itineraries in Word since it’s incredibly simple, but I’ve also used Evernote, Google Keep, & my calendar for storing ideas. Anything that allows you to keep a few short notes & ideas for when that jet-lag takes hold is perfect for this.

SF Itinerary in Word

Sample SF Itinerary in Word

In May, we crammed a crazy amount of stuff into a long weekend. Most of this was possible because of all the research I did. It was probably the most intense itinerary I’d ever created. I prefer this style to the more “we’ll see what we feel like” style we’ve gone with in the past, because I find I spend less time doing research while I’m on my trip. Instead, I get it all out of the way beforehand & if I don’t end up feeling like doing something, I don’t have to, but I don’t waste time looking up ideas for things to do on the fly.

Save it all to Dropbox

Dropbox has been around for so long, so this is nothing new. It’s a great way to access files when you’re away from your computer, or share & collaborate with others. I like to save all my travel-related files to a folder I can access when I get to my destination, & Dropbox does this seamlessly.

My travel folder contains pdfs from travel websites, google maps directions to certain places, all my itineraries, any pdf e-tickets I’ve purchased in advance, & copies of our passports & travel documents. It’s all in one easy-to-access spot (just make sure you can connect to WiFi, have data, or make it available offline!).

& that’s mostly it! That’s how I stay organized for our trips & cram in as much as I do. If you have any tips of your own, or would like to see some of my crazy travel maps, let me know in the comments. Happy planning!

 

On going for it, & other honest ramblings

Poolside Hangs

As I type this, I’m poolside at N’s resort-like community pool, soaking up the vitamin D & thinking about how fortunate I am to have so much of this summer off. Odin & I officially arrived in the Bay Area on Thursday, but today is our first full day on our own. We’ve opted to take it easy & enjoy this rare sunny August morning outside.

I drove Mom to the airport yesterday after spending most of the last 10 days together. We took a long, slow route to get here, stopping for a weekend in Vancouver so I could run Lululemon’s SeaWheeze Half Marathon & then proceeding down the coast for California. We took highway 101 south most of the way & spent an extra day in Portland exploring the city with the pup. We spent a night in Fortuna, California before taking the most epic scenic highway of my life, through the Redwoods State Park & then down the incredible, winding highway 1 to the coast. I will definitely share more our incredible trip in the coming weeks – if you love to drive, you’ll surely be adding this one to your bucket list.

Now that it’s just our little family down here in California, I feel like I have some time to relax a little & breath. It’s honestly been such a hectic summer. I feel like I haven’t stood still for more than a few minutes since before we left for Europe in June. I don’t even really feel like I got to experience summer in Calgary! I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining, I’m truly just in awe of how fast time seems to pass as I get older, especially given my propensity for overscheduling myself. I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of this time off work to relax, explore, & do a lot more writing & blogging than I have been of late.

I’m honestly pinching myself a bit that this is my reality until October. How did I get so lucky as to get two full months off work to come down here & spend time with my husband & our pup? Most of this is thanks to N & his ability to manage budget. We still could have easily decided we couldn’t afford to cut my salary out of the equation for a couple months, & maybe that would be the smarter decision for our financial situation, but sometimes you have to go for it. & Sometimes you have to say fuck it, & put your relationship before anything else.

You see, N & I are no strangers to long distance. I spent most of our first two years together living on the other side of our massive country. I was studying in Montreal, while N was working in Calgary. We caught a few lucky breaks over the course of those two years though, & he got to spend some longer stretches of time with me out East. When I graduated from McGill, I moved back to Calgary, thinking that was it for us when it came to long distance.

I was, unfortunately, so very wrong. At first his job took him out of town intermittently, usually 2-3 weeks at a time. It was a refreshing change from being apart more often than together. Over the last few years, however, this has changed to a schedule where he lives mostly away from home. He saw our house for the first time over Snapchat. He missed my birthday 3 years in a row & was away for his own. He misses out on a lot of stuff at home, which is hard for both of us, but especially for him.

Why am I writing about all this? Well, mostly, I think it’ll be easy to look at my social media over the next month & a half & think everything is amazing, that I’m so lucky, that life is easy. & You’d be mostly right. I am lucky. My life is relatively easy. I’m definitely incredibly privileged. But still, the reality is that, for much of the year, I lead a very separate life from my husband. We see each other once every three weeks for a weekend. Our lives will likely be this way until at least March 2018. Right now, I may be down in California with him for almost two full months, but this is the first summer we’ll have spent more time together than apart in years. This is our reality, & a good friend reminded me that it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that someone else’s life is perfect because they tend to share the positives on social media. No one’s life is perfect. & I’ll continue to share the positives from my life on social media, but I’ll try to be honest as well.

So with that, here’s to honest posts, to rambling about a lot of different topics, & to going for it. I think it’s about time for a dip in that pool now.

California, here we come

LOA
Yesterday, I entered the above information into my work calendar. I guess that makes it pretty official. Odin & I are off on a big adventure: California, here we come!

When N first accepted his position down in Richmond, we discussed me coming with him. It wasn’t really feasible for me to do so for the duration of his contract, but I promised we’d find a way for me to join him for an extended period at some point this year. It’s felt such a long ways off for so long, something future Alanna would be doing. I can hardly believe I’ll be making my way in that direction tomorrow. In typical Alanna fashion, I’m barely packed.

It’s been an action-packed few weeks for me here. I felt like I’d barely caught my breath after Europe when I turned around & asked work for a leave of absence. It probably seems a bit ridiculous that we’re taking off so soon after such a big trip, but it just made the most sense logistically. I’m running the Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon in Vancouver on Saturday, & it seemed silly to go all the way to the coast twice in the span of a couple weeks. My mom is coming out with me & will stay with Odin in the suburbs, while I participate in the weekend’s festivities. Monday morning, we’ll pack up the car & start our journey down the coast.

We’re going to take our time, driving the scenic Pacific Coast Highway & spending an extra day in Portland. We also plan to explore the Avenue of the Giants. If you have any great suggestions around Eureka, California, let me know! It’s going to be a pretty great road trip. We’re all really excited!

So here’s to a new adventure! See you in October, Canada!

My Montréal

My Montreal

This time last year, we were booking a trip to Montréal for May. If I could have my way, I’d visit the city yearly. I love it so much!

I mean, how can you really go wrong with the beautiful surroundings & amazing restaurants? There is so much information out there on what to see & do in Montreal, but here’s my take on it: my Montreal.

I spent the couple years I lived in Montréal exploring the city & introducing visiting friends & family to the parts I grew to love. On our visit last year, this gave us the opportunity to stick to only the things I enjoy most: wandering the beautiful old streets, enjoying drinks with friends, & eating more than our weight in delicious food. (There are plenty of amazing touristy things to do in Montreal, but since I’ve done them all before & they’ve been covered many times all over the internet, this post will not feature them). So here we go – my top non-touristy things to do when I visit Montréal.

Wander the different boroughs

Montréal is pretty compact & easy to navigate. You can walk from the west end of the downtown to the east end in about half an hour. I find this particularly advantageous after all the food I tend to eat.

Each of the surrounding boroughs have a bit of a different feel, & I think they each have their merits. I love Old Montréal for its beautiful old buildings & cobblestone streets, the Plateau has a hipster bohemian vibe (& tons of great breakfast spots), & the newly re-invented Mile-Ex neighbourhood has some of the coolest new shops, restaurants, & bars anywhere. Something new is always opening up, making for a lively & exciting city to explore!

Take some time to get lost in a few of these different neighbourhoods – it’s one of my favourite ways to get to know any new city, or reacquaint myself with a familiar one.

Plateau Montreal

Plateau apartments

Plateau Montreal Bikes

Bikes everywhere

Place des Arts Montreal

Place des Arts

Old Montreal

Old Montreal

Old Montreal

Old Montreal

Mont Royale

Mont Royale

Mont Royale

Mont Royale

Mont Royale

Mont Royale

Old Montreal

Old Montreal

Place Jacques Cartier

Place Jacques Cartier

Old Montreal buildings

Old Montreal buildings

Marie Reine du Monde

Marie Reine du Monde

Old Montreal buildings

Old Montreal buildings

McGill

McGill

McGill

Bikes at McGill

If you’re visiting in the summer, you may even stumble upon one of the many festivals taking place around town. There’s at least one thing going on every single weekend, from music festivals to parades to formula 1 insanity – there’s something for everyone at some point. & if nothing else, head toward the old port to take in the brilliant fireworks competition every Saturday in July.

Get Breakfast in the Plateau

There are so many great places to get breakfast or brunch in Montreal, but all my personal favourites are in the plateau. On our latest trip, we took advantage of the beautiful weather & headed straight from the plane to the terrace at Fabergé. I didn’t even need to look at the menu to know I’d be ordering their breakfast poutine. How can you go wrong with a bacon & egg poutine in the province that does poutine best? (You can’t – it was fantastic!)

Fabergé Breakfast Poutine

Fabergé Breakfast Poutine

Fabergé Breakfast Montreal

Patio Breakfast in the Plateau

Just around the corner is the best bagel spot in the city, Fairmount Bagels. You really never know when you might need a half dozen all dressed bagels, so I recommend picking up a bag so you’re prepared whenever the mood strikes during your visit. Fairmount is strictly takeaway though so if you’re looking to sit down & have a bagel style sandwich for breakfast, their competitor St-Viateur has a great café on Mont-Royal E.

Fairmount Bagels

Fairmount Bagels

Fairmount Bagels Fairmount Bagels

Some other notable mentions for great breakfast or brunch in the plateau include, L’Avenue, Sparrow, & Beauty’s.

Enjoy some local beers

Montreal has some seriously great local beers. I’m fiercely loyal to my first love, Au Dieu du Ciel, in the plateau neighbourhood, but there are so many great places to get enjoy a drink with friends in the city.

DDC, as you’ll see many refer to this amazing craft microbrewery as, has a great little unassuming brewpub on Rue Laurier W in the plateau. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but trust me, you won’t regret your pilgrimage to this spot. Seriously, it’s the brewpub I wish I could go to every week.

Dieu du Ciel

On our most recent trip, we spent some time at another awesome craft brewery that also doubles as a restaurant & bar – Brasserie Harricana. I could have easily spent a couple hours trying all the beers they have on tap. We were on a tour though, so we had a limited amount of time.

It’s a little bit off the beaten path, but I highly recommend you check out this spot in the Mile-Ex neighbourhood. There’s some great things happening up there, so you can likely pair it with some other stops in the area.

Brasserie Harricana

Learning about Brasserie Harricana

Harricana Beer & Cheese Pairing

Harricana Beer & Cheese Pairing

Brasserie Harricana

Brasserie Harricana

One of those such stops is the third spot I recommend for great beer: Vices & Versa. We happened on the perfect spring day for a few drinks in their patio oasis. We took advantage of their amazing beer selection to sample some of the harder to find Quebecois beers.

Vices & Versa

Patio beers!

Vices & Versa

Vices & Versa

Vices & Versa

If you don’t have time to get out to any of those options, some of my other favourites closer to downtown include BrutopiaPub BreWskey, the Ste-Elisabeth, and the Saint Bock.

Pub BreWskey

Pub BreWskey

St-Sulpice

Pub Saint-Sulpice

Our crew at Pub Saint-Sulpice

Brutopia

My name may still be on the wall at Brutopia!

Check out a Market

Markets are one of my favourite things to visit when I travel, & the ones in Quebec are especially good. The Jean Talon Market in Little Italy is worth the short metro ride north. This public market is open year round, however the summer is when it really shines, with over 300 vendors filling the open-air stalls. Sample anything from fresh produce to artisanal cheeses to homemade charcuterie – there’s something for everyone!

We decided to do a food tour on our trip, & this was also were it started. It was one of the main reasons I wanted to do the tour, actually, as it made for a great excuse to spend some time at the market. I also really enjoyed learning more about Little Italy, Mile-Ex, and the Park-Ex neighbourhoods, since they weren’t so much on my radar when I lived there.

Jean Talon Market

Bustling Saturday at the Market

Jean Talon Market

Sampling charcuterie made in house

Jean Talon Market

Fresh seafood

Jean Talon Market

FRESH!

Jean Talon Market

Jean Talon Market

Cheese samples

Jean Talon Market

If you don’t make it up to Little Italy, Atwater Market near the Lachine Canal is also a great choice. In winter, it’s probably a bit of a better option than Jean Talon as most of it is indoors. Grab a few delicious products & head to the nearby parks on the canal for a picnic.

Montreal Picnic

Montreal Picnic

Picnic in the park

Eat!

Obviously, food is my favourite part of travelling anywhere, & Montreal boasts more great restaurants than most cities. With so many great options, it’s tough to go wrong. A little research will go a long way, however, here are my top picks.

Garde Manger is & has been my number one choice for years. Chuck Hughes is just such a cool chef, & his food speaks for itself. Seriously, he beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, with lobster poutine. Obviously, I highly recommend you order that. N ordered an incredible short rib that was probably the wining main dish for the two of us. They’re also known for their oysters, which make an excellent starter (the fresh horseradish & homemade mignonette take it to the next level). Plan to walk back to your hotel afterwards to work off all you’ve eaten – it’s worth every bite.

Garde Manger Lobster Poutine

Cell phone photos are fantastic

Garde Manger Shortrib

Their menu changes often, but if the shortrib is on it, go for it!

Another new favourite after this trip is Au pied de Cochon. It’s number 34 on Canada’s top 100 for good reason. & with menu items described as “unapologetically glutenous”, it was right up my alley.

We went a little overboard here (I do not recommend ordering both of their signature items: foie gras poutine and duck in a can. Pick ONE!), but everything we ate was phenomenal & our server was so lovely.

Foie Gras Poutine PDC

Foie gras poutine

Anytime anyone goes to Montreal, I suggest they stop by Olive & Gourmando for lunch. This adorable (& very busy) spot in Old Montreal is my idea of the perfect lunch. If the weather is good & the wait is long, order your lunch to go & find a spot in one of the many parks in the Old Port. It’s the best of both worlds. On your way out, don’t forget to grab a pastry – you won’t regret any of them.

Olive & Gourmando

Olive & Gourmando

I’ve already featured a fair bit of poutine in this post. Probably an excessive amount if I’m being honest. I have no shame in the amount of cheese I consume when I visit, however, & no trip to Montreal is complete without at least one poutine. If you find yourself craving one in the afternoon, look no further than Patati Patata. La Banquise may have more choices than you can fathom, but I prefer the classic simplicity of this tiny spot. What they may lack in space, they more than make up for in ambiance & delicious food!

Patati Patata

Poutine with a side salad. It’s all about balance.

Patati Patata

Cheese curds of your dreams

Of course, this just barely scratches the surface of this incredible city. Even after living there for two years, there are still countless places I’d like to visit & restaurants I’d want to try. If you’re planning a trip to this great city & need extra tips, leave me a comment – I’d love to offer advice!

Have you ever been to Montreal? What’s your favourite place to revisit?

Storm Mountain Lodge

We’ve been driving past this little mountain oasis, a little over an hour outside Calgary, for the last 8 years. We were always in a hurry to get to the lake, so I’d never stopped before. This summer I decided to change that & pulled into the little driveway at the top of that first hill on highway 93. I’d heard so many great things about the food, & was wowed by the beautiful surroundings & rustic little cabins. It wasn’t hard to convince me, I wanted to spend a night at some point. When I told N about it later, we both agreed to take advantage of it in the coming months.

The opportunity presented itself not long after this discussion when I realized I had a half day on the Friday before Christmas. We decided it would be a great time to spend the night at the lodge.

The day finally arrived & we set out from Calgary after work in some pretty gross conditions. We’d been having a particularly snowy December so traffic was slow due to accidents, & we arrived, in the early evening, to a perfect winter wonderland.

Our little cabin for the night

Another charming cabin on the property

We checked into our little cabin – number 15 – & got ourselves settled. Before the sun set, we decided to take Odin on a little walk & stretch our legs after the drive. It was a lovely opportunity to explore the property, & gave me ample time to slow down & take photos. I love having the opportunity to spend a little extra time focusing on photography, so I took a lot. It helps that it was truly breathtaking. I loved staying there while the lodge was under a blanket of snow, but I also hope we can visit someday on a clear day & take in those mountain views.

Our sleeping quarters

After our little walk we still had some time to kill before our 7:30 pm dinner reservation. Typically, we’d packed board games & beers, so we settled in for a couple rounds. Before long, it was time to make the 30 second trek to the main lodge.

They had requested we either kennel Odin or leave him in the car while we were out for dinner – they’ve had issues with dogs clawing at the doors. It was quite cold out, so I’m glad he’s kennel trained & mostly slept while dined.

Pork Rillette

Lamb Chops

Trio of Crème Brûlée


I was really excited for dinner & it did not disappoint. We decided to share a pork rillette dish to start, but before that arrived they brought some delicious bread. The restaurant itself consists of maybe 15 tables, but there were two servers on that evening. Both were extremely attentive without being overbearing. I’m always a sucker for lamb, so I knew that’s what I’d be ordering for a main as soon as I saw it on the menu. N went with the Bison Tenderloin. Both were fantastic, & the presentation was beautiful, as you can see in the photos above. We chose the crème brûlée for dessert, another menu item I can never resist. It came as a trio. I think my favourite was the vanilla bean, but all three were delicious.

The menu at Storm Mountain is on the smaller side, which I appreciated, being rather indecisive. I find large menus intimidating. My parents had stopped for lunch earlier in the day, & highly recommend that option if you can’t stay overnight. I might try to convince N to stop again soon – that Charcuterie Board to Share has our names on it!

One perk of staying next door is you’re allowed to take your wine back to your room to enjoy. We packed ours up & took the “long” route back for a few extra photos of the lodge by moonlight.

Playing a new board game

N made a fire when we got back & we spent the rest of the night playing games, having a few drinks, & snuggling Odin. I think it’s safe to say he loved our little cabin just as much as we did. It was a truly incredible night, & the perfect escape from our normally busy schedules & distractions. There’s just something so lovely about taking a break from it all.

We slept in a bit the next morning, took Odin for another walk around the property (he loved playing in the snow & meeting a friendly resident Burmese, Rosie), & then headed in for another fantastic meal.

the main lodge

Eggs Benedict

Our night at Storm Mountain Lodge is one of my favourites overnights to date. I know I won’t forget it any time soon, & would like to thank them for their incredible hospitality. Every aspect of our stay was wonderful – I truly can’t say enough good things about it.

If you’re looking for a rustic mountain getaway with incredible food & unparalleled charm, I highly recommend looking into staying. I know we’ll have a hard time driving through without at least stopping in for a bite to eat.

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