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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.

SeaWheeze 2016

seawheeze-2016-2

This run was a long time in the works, & I don’t just mean in the sense that we signed up almost a full year in advance. I started talking about someday running it with my friend Zoe back in 2013. We wound up setting our wedding date for the day after the 2014 race though, so it wasn’t in the cards that year. I figured that was ok though, & I’d run in 2015. Foiled again, as registration opened while we were on our honeymoon & Zoe didn’t have enough of my personal information to sign me up. Darn!

So last September, I put all my information into Eventbrite before registration opened & was lucky enough to score one of the coveted few spots in the run (if you can call 10 000 spots few). I then proceeded to forget about it until about May, when I realized I should probably start training.

I’d had grand plans to PR, given that I’d be training at altitude & racing at sea level. Summer got in the way of that goal a little bit though, & I didn’t end up training anywhere close to as well as I should have. When it came time to fly to Vancouver for the weekend, I had decided I’d just have to be happy with a finish.

flight view

Cloudy skies on my flight

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Coming in to Vancouver

I’d made plans to meet my friends at the ridiculous Lululemon Showcase Store on Friday morning, so I flew out Thursday night & stayed with a girlfriend in Mount Pleasant. Hotel Sasha is my go-to accommodation when I visit. I feel pretty lucky to be able to fit in a visit with a great friend & be staying in a fantastic neighbourhood.

I’d been wanting to try Vij’s for years, so I took myself for a later dinner after I arrived. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend stopping by as it ranks high on my list of best overall meals. I arrived around 9 pm & was told there was an hour wait (yes, there’s pretty much always a wait. It’s worth it). There was space in the lounge if I wanted to enjoy a drink & some appetizers while I waited, they told me. I thought that sounded great, so I found a cozy spot in their beautiful lounge & ordered myself one of the best sours I’ve ever had.

My whole twitter feed was basically a love letter to Vij’s that night. They had me at that Cambie Sour. Every few minutes, they came around with a different snack to try. I was in heaven; sipping my cocktail & watching the kitchen prepare naan (it’s mesmerizing to watch).

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the lounge at Vij's & my cocktail

the lounge at Vij’s & my cocktail

Making naan

Making naan

It wasn’t long before a server came to take me to a table, or at least it didn’t feel long given my fantastic drink, the snacks, & my view of the kitchen as entertainment. I decided to get a glass of red wine to go with dinner & quickly decided on the wine marinated lamb with fenugreek cream curry. Generally if there is lamb on a menu, I’m all over it. This ranked very near the top of best things I’ve eaten. The flavours were incredible, the naan was perfect, the lamb was cooked beautifully. It was bliss. I left the restaurant smiling ear to ear.

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My perfect lamb dish. I will dream about this for years.

The next morning came early. Luckily I was on Alberta time & Sasha was up early to start setting up at the expo for work so I was able to catch a ride to the convention centre. When I arrived people had been in line since the night before, & it looped around the building already. It was 5:30 am. I ended up making friends in the line (my other friends were an hour behind me & too scared to budge with me) & picked up a few nice items. I’m not sure I’d line up that early if I run again, but I’m glad to have had the experience for my first SeaWheeze. For the rest of the day, we hung out around the expo, getting temporary tattoos, having our hair braided, enjoying some great snacks, & taking fun photos together. It was one of the best expos I’ve ever been to, & the weather was fantastic.

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Watching the sun rise

seawheeze-line

Expo line up at the back of the building

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Showcase Store Haul

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PARTY crew!

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Treats while waiting in line!

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A messy braid that actually stayed for the whole race

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That night, after we’d checked into our hostel, we headed down to Kadoya Sushi for dinner. Sushi is probably my favourite pre-race meal, & Vancouver has some of the best. Afterwards, we were pretty tired from our day in the sun, so we headed to bed pretty early. That 5 am wakeup call comes pretty quick.

pre-race sashimi

pre-race sashimi

We were staying at the Samesun Hostel on Granville, which was only about a 15 minute walk from the start line, so we all walked down together with a few new friends who were also staying the hostel. Most people in the SeaWheeze facebook group were staying in nice hotels near the start, but we decided the hostel price was right for us. We had a private room & significantly more money to spend in Vancouver.

For the race, Zoe & I felt we would be running around the same pace & would stick together, at least in the beginning. If you’ve ever run Seawheeze, you know how epic the cheering stations are. I’d heard rumours about them, but they far exceeded my expectations. My friend, Sasha, was on the Burrard Street bridge with Clearly, & when she saw me, she gave me the biggest hug & ran a few steps with me. It was definitely one of the highlights of the race for me.

Morning walk to the start

Morning walk to the start

race ready!

race ready!

Start Line

Start Line

Sea wall

Sea wall

Sea wall

Sea wall (& amazing photos while running! 😉 )

Zoe & I ran together until about 18 km, when I had to walk for longer than expected & we lost each other. Not only was my training not quite there, but it was also really hot, so I had to slow down. There isn’t a whole lot of shade along the route, & even though I felt like I drank a lot of water, I was really struggling by the end. I ended up finishing with a time of 2:08, which isn’t as far off my personal best as I was expecting. I guess training at altitude really does work wonders. The competitive side of me is really wishing I’d training better so I could have really taken advantage of altitude training.

Zoe pulling me along the seawall

Zoe pulling me along the seawall

Thanks for keeping me going, friend!

Thanks for keeping me going, friend!

I found Zoe at the finish line afterwards & we weaved through the finishers stations to get our swag. I swear this stuff is half the reason a lot of people run this race. Not only is the medal sweet, but Sage was there with cooling & pain oils, there are some great snacks, a finishers hat, & lots of other cool things. The runners brunch after was a delicious breakfast sandwich, & we were lucky to have finished before they ran out of water (I can’t imagine that’ll be a repeat mistake by lulu. Big oops!).

FINISHERS!

FINISHERS!

We eventually found the rest of our crew & headed back towards our hotel in search of some drinks. We were all pretty ready for a drink after our run, & it was shaping up to be a gorgeous day! We found a pub & had a few before heading back to the hostel to change & shower.

A few weeks before the race, I’d started a twitter convo with the Seawheeze account & wound up telling them our proposal story. They thought it was so cute & wanted to give us something special during the race, but since N wasn’t coming, they treated me & the girls to pedicures. It was such a lovely surprise! Thanks again, Lululemon!

Pedicures. Thanks, Lululemon!

Pedicures. Thanks, Lululemon!

The sunset festival was that evening, but beforehand, we headed over to Gringo in Gastown for dinner. It’s this little spot (in a slightly sketchy alley) where the waiters learn your names, the drinks are delicious, & the food is awesome. I would go back in a heartbeat. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had a festival to get to. The shuttle picked us up from the convention center & took us to the festival, where we joined the Clearly girls on the grass for some drinks & music. The festival was really fun, especially once we found a system for getting more than a single beer at a time. I really hope they change that rule for next year. The last thing you want to do after running a half marathon is wait in a really long line for a single beer.

Gringos tacos!

Gringo tacos!

Sunset Festival

Sunset Festival

Yoga mats for miles

Yoga mats for miles

Courageous Blondes & fresh pedis

Courageous Blondes & fresh pedis

SeaWheeze 2016

Tomorrow is registration for Seawheeze & you can bet I’ll be trying to get in. It’s one of the most intense processes to get into a race I’ve ever experienced, but we’re all going for it again. Wish us luck, & hopefully we’ll see you at the start line next year.

La Manzanilla: Take Two

La Manzanilla

A couple years ago, a big group of us headed down to a small town in Mexico for one of the best week-long beach vacations I’ve ever had. We came home vowing it wouldn’t be the last time we spent time in La Manzanilla. & this winter, we made good on that promise.

Despite being hit by Hurricane Patricia in the fall, the town was almost exactly how I remembered it – that is to say, perfect. I didn’t think we would ever top our 2014 trip, but an extra couple days in paradise certainly didn’t hurt. This time, we stayed for 9 days instead of 7 & the extra couple of days were really lovely.

La Manzanilla

First photo always has to be of the view. I mean, can you blame me?

La Manzanilla

Unreal sunsets every night

Unreal sunsets every night

Settling into our villa

Settling into our villa

Starting things off right with tequila, duh

Starting things off right with tequila, duh

Walk into town

Walk into town

Estrella

Estrellas at Palapa Joe’s

Palapa Joe's

We had a slightly different group this time, but the key players were the same. We had a full house, but everyone got along really well again. Most of us are pretty low key & everyone felt comfortable either joining the majority or opting out to do their own thing. It worked out really well, & we usually met up at one of the palapas on the beach at some point in the day.

mexico

To the beach!

margarita

first margarita

sandcastles

sandcastles

mexico chill

dutch boy in mexico

boys being boys

beach

beach

beach dance class

mexican town

beach days

SUP

Heather killing it on the SUP

mexico

Beach Walks

beach

beach

beach

My beach bae

 

beach

beach

Catching waves

beach

beach

Most of our days consisted of sitting on the beach, eating, drinking, reading, & catching some sun. I rarely go more than five minutes without thinking about food, & La Manzanilla certainly doesn’t disappoint here. From the spicy garlic pulpo (octopus) to the incredibly addictive Breakfast BLTs to the street-side tacos, everything we ate was incredible. Most of it wasn’t fancy, but the fresh components of every dish really made our meals shine. My favourite meal was probably the pulpo at Azul – it was the most tender octopus I’ve ever eaten. I loved it so much, I ate it twice & am now wishing I’d had it a couple more times. There was just so much great food to try!

Tacos

Pedro’s Fish Tacos

margaritas

Delicious margs all day long

Pulpo

Azul’s pulpo is the stuff dreams are made of. Serioiusly.

Street Tacos

Street Tacos

Street Tacos

Enchiladas

Street Enchiladas hitting it out of the park

Street Meat

N waiting on his street meat

While most of our days were spent relaxing, we did have a couple different activities planned during our stay. The first was brunch with D’s family at the cutest spot down the beach. We did the same a couple years ago. Once again, the food was fantastic & the atmosphere was amazing. I mean, does it get any better than brunch with an ocean view? Afterwards, we opted to walk back to town along the beach, the same as last year. It’s a trek, but we enjoyed it once again.

brunch crew

Our crew at brunch

boutique hotel

The hotel

chilequiles

Gimme all the chilaquiles

beach walk

Beach Walk

beach walk

beach walk

Love Birds

beach walk

Therapy Hotel

beach walk

The town also has a crocodile sanctuary, so this year we decided to brave the walk through it. For a few dollars, we got to walk along a boardwalk for some  jawdropping  croc sightings. Most of these guys were HUGE. I have to admit, it felt a little sketchy. At the end of our little walk, we were treated to an opportunity to hold a baby croc. It was totally unexpected in a few ways, but namely that he was SO soft.

mexican streets

I love this street on the way to the cocodrilos

cocodrillos

cocodrillos

cocodrillos

WE ARE NOT SCARED

cocodrillos

cocodrillos

tiny guy

cocodrillos

one of many sketchy suspension bridges

cocodrillos

baby croc

cocodrillos

cocodrillos

so many babies!

cocodrillos

One of our friends also celebrated his thirtieth birthday. We rang in his birthday with a lovely sunset bar dinner followed by drinks & games (& way too many tequila shots). Not a bad way to spend your birthday, if you ask me!

sunset bar

Really tough to grab a drink here

margarita

My fav Mexico drink. Also the most dangerous.

sunset bar

Birthday Dinner

sunset bar

sunset bar

Sunset bar delivers an amazing sunset

sunset bar

sew kewt

sunset bar

sunset bar

The two lovebird & their wives

sunset bar

Yum!

sunset bar

sunset bar

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHRIS!

beer fridge

How we roll on vacation.

Overall, it was an incredible vacation with great company. This little town is the perfect beach vacation! The incredible food & beautiful accommodations keep me daydreaming about our next trip down even months later. I can’t imagine going to an all inclusive again now after the two incredible experiences we’ve had in La Manzanilla.

mexico dogs

Pups on a roof

mexico streets

main street

la manzanilla

la manzanilla

great breakfast spot

old truck

la manzanilla

end tan

final tans

It was pretty hard to limit this post in terms of photos – this place is so photogenic, & we had a fantastic time. It would’t have been the same without this crew though. #squadgoals

squad goals

squad goals

squad goals

Thanks for the best winter getaway a girl could ask for friends! (& if you made it to the end of this post, congrats! 😉 )

That lake life

Lake 3

I’ve been in and around water my whole life. Growing up, my parents had a 26-foot cabin cruiser that we spent most vacations on, cruising from island to island. My love & respect for the water began there. Competitive swimming naturally followed. I spent years swimming back and forth, back and forth, & I don’t regret a single lap. I went on to swim varsity in university, which lead to coaching & teaching swimming lessons when I retired. I just couldn’t stay away from the water!

& I’m the first to admit that most water-related activities come much easier to me than those on land – I aced my scuba diving tests, for example, even though everyone made fun of me for falling asleep in the classroom portion. Stick me on a wakeboard & I’ll impress you far more than I ever could with its snowier counterpart. Frankly, I’m awkward on land, & anyone who knows me well will undoubtedly agree. At any given moment, I can point out at least one bruise from this awkwardness. (Maybe this comes as a surprise after all those super graceful gymnastics photos of me. The real gymnasts are very entertained by my attempts.)

Dock with N

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As I’ve gotten older, I’ve spent less & less time in the water. I’m certainly not as excited at the prospect of spending multiple hours working out in a pool anymore. & while I do love a good swim workout from time to time, I prefer to get my water fix at the lake or in the ocean.

My parents spent a few years looking for property on a lake before they settled on Columbia Lake, in the East Kootenay. They built a beautiful house &, almost a decade later, it has become one of my favourite places to get away to. Its proximity to Calgary is a huge draw. A three hour drive away, it’s an easy weekend trip. It’s quiet, relaxing, & absolutely gorgeous. There are restrictions on mooring, so it’s a lot quieter than its very popular sister, Lake Windermere (Something I’m always grateful for as a wakeboarder. Give me calm water & space!).

I usually only pop out for a long weekend, here & there, but last summer we stopped out there for a few extra days, hoping to log some hours on the boat as the season drew to a close.

Dock Alanna-2

Unfortunately, the fires put a bit of a damper on those plans. Visibility was fine by the time we got out there, but the smoke kept the temperatures low. It seemed the sun just couldn’t break through. Nonetheless, I thought these photos were beautiful in their own way. You can’t see either of the mountain ranges very clearly, & it’s not the crystal clear water & blue skies that come to mind when I think of summertime out there, but it’s still beautiful.

Lake 1

Lake 2

Lake

The always gorgeous view of Columbia Lake

I wound up sick while we were on this trip, so I didn’t take a lot of photos. As I was sorting through the ones for my anniversary post, I came across these & thought they were pretty in a different kind of way & figured I might as well share. I’m getting excited for summer & more time out at the lake. One of favourite things to do is grab coffee out on the lakehouse’s front deck. Sometimes those simple little things become my favourites.

Spent the weekend taking lots of patio naps.

Spent the weekend taking lots of patio naps.

Do you have a special place like this? What’s your favourite thing to do in the warmer months?

Anniversary in Kelowna

Culmina-4

I promised I’d finally get to posting this now that my blog is up & running on again here. In typical Alanna form, we’re only 8 months late to the party. It’s a little ridiculous, I know, but hey, it may just be perfect timing for that trip to Kelowna you’re planning this summer! We’ll go with that.

N & I had decided to stick closer to home this year after our big Europe trip last summer. We were buying a house & knew we shouldn’t spend a lot of money on travel, but still wanted to do something to celebrate our first year of marriage. My childhood friend was getting married a couple days before our anniversary so it worked out perfectly for us to spend some time in Kelowna afterwards too.

The fires in Washington were pretty bad at this point, so our drive was like this for most of the way. Normally you can see for miles when you’re out on the Coquihalla, so it was surreal to have such poor visibility.

Drive to Kelowna

We arrived safely in Kelowna in the late afternoon & checked into our hotel. We’d stayed at the  El Dorado on our wedding night, but it was such a quick stay that we didn’t get to fully appreciate this gorgeous boutique hotel. We ended up with a gorgeous suite this time around (Thank you Hotel El Dorado for the incredible upgrade!) complete with kitchen, living room, jacuzzi bathtub in the bedroom (what?!), & incredible view of the marina & Lake Okanagan.

El Dorado Room

Our gorgeous suite

El Marina

The marina at the El. The haze from the fires was pretty thick all weekend.

Dress pre anni

Dressed up for a pre-anniversary dinner

Marina View

N & I Kelowna

For our pre-anniversary dinner, we decided not to stray too far from the hotel & made a reservation at their lakeside restaurant. Even if you aren’t staying at the El, I highly recommend having dinner there. They have a beautiful patio on the lake, & the restaurant inside is equally stunning. I’ve eaten there four times now (twice for dinner, twice for brunch) & have been impressed each time. The service has always been fantastic & the food is top notch too. This time we shared salmon gravlax to start. For our mains, N went with beef & I had the lamb. Both were beautifully prepared & came in huge portions. It made me feel better about spending a little more on dinner since we took home some amazing leftovers. We also splurged on a bottle of wine from one of my favourites in the area, Quails’ Gate.

Pre anni El dinner

My handsome dinner date with the Salmon Gravlax

lamb

My lamb

steak

N’s beef

We weren’t quite ready to head to bed afterwards, so we headed out to the patio for a few more drinks. The smoke on the water gave the lakeside such an eerie feeling. I almost felt like were in London on a foggy fall day, but it was actually quite warm & pleasant outside.

El Patio Drinks

Eery lakeside view

El Rooftop View-2

Rooftop peak

El rooftop view

For our anniversary, I had booked a Wine Tour  through the El Dorado. They arranged everything for us so all we had to do was mention which wineries we were interested in & be ready to go outside the hotel that morning. Our tour was called the Daytripper & featured 6 wineries as well as lunch at Terrafina at Hester Creek. We had picked that one since we were not very familiar with the wineries near Osoyoos & figured it would be nice to have someone driving us around so we wouldn’t have to worry about tasting too much.

Waiting for our ride

Waiting for our ride

Our tour guide picked us up early in a large van (apparently they do Bachelorette parties too how fun!). We had one other person on the tour with us so it was pretty intimate & he tailored our stops to our specific interests. It was perfect!

Our first stop was LaStella, a small winery just up from Osoyoos Lake. We opted to sit outside on their patio despite the smokey weather. They brought us out a lovely assortment of wines & talked us through each one. I truly loved them all, & found the naming of their wines after musical notes charming. We couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle to start our collection – something we continued at every stop.  We went with the Pinot Grigio – Vivace – & I just noticed that we still have it. We’ll have to open that when N is home next, I think!

La Stella

Hard at work

La Stella

LaStella

Our next stop wasn’t far down the road. Maverick is another small batch winery. Earlier that summer, they had come dangerously close to a wild fire. Luckily, the local crews kept the blaze under control & saved their vines & winery. You could still see the scorched earth up the hill. I can’t believe how close it was. We chose to take home a Pinot Noir this time. We’ve since enjoyed that bottle & I’m quite sad we didn’t pick up a few extra bottles at every winery.
Maverick

By this time, we were almost ready for lunch so we headed over to Hester Creek. They seemed to be bigger than our first two stops, but we enjoyed the tasting & the wines just as much. We decided to add a rosé to our collection here, as our tour guide enthusiastically recommended it. He also insisted we do one of the premium tastings, which was covered in the cost of our tour.

Hester Creek

Terrafina-2

Our lunch stop was at Hester Creek’s restaurant, Terrafina. Their menu & decor is inspired by Tuscany. You’ll find lots of Italian food here & they are pretty well-known for their pizzas, so that’s what N & I went with. The lunch size is perfect to keep you going through however many more wine tastings you have planned.

Terrafina

Hester Creek-2

Hester Creek-3

A at Hester Creek

N at Hester Creek

Next up, our guide had arranged a very special tasting at Culmina. This was by far my favourite tasting of the day. It was so private & intimate, just the four of us with Elaine Triggs herself & a new member of their team. Learning the Triggs’ story (yes, those Triggs) & everything that went into making this winery a reality was the most wonderful experience. Elaine is a fantastic story teller & what they have created as a family blew my mind. We’ve been saving their wines for a special day & I absolutely can’t wait to enjoy them again with N. If you do one wine tasting in the interior,  make it a Reserve Tasting at Culmina & sit down with these wonderful people.  You won’t regret it.

We purchased two bottles from Culmina because we thought they were both so unique. The saignée (their rosé) is one of the coolest bottles I’ve ever seen, with a glass stopper instead of a cork.

Culmina

Culmina-2

Culmina-3

Grape Vines Osoyoos-2

Grape Vines Osoyoos

The building is absolutely gorgeous too!
Culmina Building

Culmina Building-2

As a syrah lover, I was especially excited for our fifth stop: Burrowing Owl. They have some beautiful ones here! The views from this winery were said to be stunning & the food is supposed to be great. We may have to make a return trip when the area isn’t covered in a smokey blanket. This winery is also home to endangered owls, hence the name Burrowing Owl. This is another bottle that I can’t wait to open. We’ve definitely been rationing our stores – it’s hard to find so many of these anywhere but the actual wineries, so I have a hard time opening them.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl-2

The last stop on our tour was LaStella’s French sister – Le Vieux Pin. I had specifically asked to visit this winery before the tour. No only do they have the best Syrah’s in the area, but we also considered it for our wedding the year before. I had seen some spectacular photos of events on the grounds, but wanted to see it in person, & taste their wine.

Their goal is to pay homage to the wines & winemaking traditions of France, & I certainly think they deliver on this. They have three different Syrahs to choose from & we tried, & enjoyed, all three. We purchased a bottle of the Cuvée Violette, which we plan to age for a few years before drinking.
Le Vieux Pin

Vieux Pin Syrah

Six wineries later, it was time to head back to Kelowna. We were pretty tired after a long day, & I was unfortunately not feeling my best. (Great timing eh! Sick on our anniversary hurray!) We napped a bit on the way back & then got ready for dinner. I’d booked us a table at Summerhill to celebrate. We sat on the patio & reminisced about our wedding night. Once again, the food impressed me a lot. I had an amazing steak, complete with bone marrow on the side. N went with the duck. Once again, he thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great end to a fantastic day.

Summerhill Anniversary-2

Summerhill Anniversary

Summerhill Steak

The next day we were headed out to Vernon to see my grandma. We slept in & then stopped for lunch at Salted Brick in downtown Kelowna. They make their own charcuterie, so I opted for the ploughman’s lunch. N went with an amazing pulled pork sandwich. We sat outside on their front patio & people-watched as we ate, asking ourselves how it was that we still hadn’t started our own charcuterie shop (as we’ve so often discussed).

Salted Brick

We couldn’t go to Kelowna without stopping at my favourite pastry shop, Sandrine. They were responsible for our wedding deserts & make the most incredible macarons. If you ever happen to be there, I’d definitely suggest stopping in. The rest of their stuff is pretty great too, but I’m definitely partial to the macarons. Sandrine also happens to be from Lyon, so she’s the real deal when it comes to French pastries. 😉

Sandrine Macarons

I also really enjoyed their sign explaining the difference between a macaron & a macaroon, the former being far, FAR superior to the latter, of course.

Sandrine

So that’s what we got up for our anniversary in Kelowna. I love exploring the area & the wineries around it. I hope to get to do a lot more of it too – there’s still so much I’d love to see!

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