WHOA lansi

francophile, oenophile, logophile, turophile

Tag: travel (Page 1 of 4)

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 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!

 

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.

Honeymoon 12 \ Naples

If you don’t travel mostly for the sake of experiencing another culture’s take on food, then this is probably going to sound pretty bizarre to you. When we decided to go on a cruise as part of our honeymoon, there were two options: one that included Naples, & one that did not. While this grungy port town with a bit of a reputation certainly isn’t on everyone’s list of places to visit, it placed high on ours. You may be scratching your head on that one, like many of our fellow passengers, so let me explain: Naples is the birthplace of pizza.

The breathtaking Amalfi coast, a short train ride away, tempted us for less than five seconds as we watched the rest of Ventura’s passengers offload. We had an important mission to complete: eat at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. We’d gotten general directions for this famous pizzeria, but stopped at the tourist office for a map & some more specific instruction. They weren’t sure on the exact address, but we set off in the general direction with our trusty map. At this point, we’d spent most of our time either in tourist centres or cities I knew very well, so despite knowing Naples was a little rough around the edges, it was still a bit of a shock to find ourselves in a much grimier neighbourhood than we were used to.

Without an exact address or the ability to google the location, we quickly realized we had no idea where to go. The only thing we knew was that we shouldn’t go past the train station. I quickly initiated to my usual backup plan when lost in a foreign country: find a hotel & ask for directions. The friendly maitre d’ showed us the exact location (just around the corner) on our map & we were back on our way. We’d heard that it was important to get there before noon, so we’d headed straight there from the ship, arriving just after 11.

If we hadn’t known about Pizzeria da Michele, we likely would have walked passed this unassuming little spot. It looks like any other local pizzeria in Italy. You won’t find a huge staff here either. In addition to a few servers & the cashier, there were two men running the actual pizza-making operation – one in charge of dough & assembly, another manning the brick oven. They respect Grandfather Michele’s memory to this day, serving the two classic types of Neapolitan pizza: Margherita or Bianca.

Since we were quite early, we snagged a table in the main room with a view of the whole process. I couldn’t have hand-picked a better vantage point. Their small menu makes ordering a snap. We each chose our own regular-sized Margherita pizzas, as well as a couple beers & a large bottled water. As we waited for our meal, we took in our surroundings. The walls are dotted with photos of celebrities & signs explaining the origins of this style of pie. The staff walked around, joking with regulars or shouting jokingly at each other in Italian (the Italian gesturing was on point!). We could only guess what they were saying,  but we thoroughly enjoyed letting our imaginations run wild. The older gentleman rolling out dough was particularly animated. He was by far our favourite! (Rumour has it, he’s one of Michele’s four sons.)

Our pizzas arrived quickly, hot from the oven. The smell was out of this world & neither of us could wait to dive in. I’m sure you can guess how this experience was (I mean, I just wrote a four paragraph introduction). It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best pizza I have ever eaten.

In true Italian fashion, the simplicity of the fresh ingredients blend to create the perfect balance of flavours. Buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomatoes, the freshest basil, & a perfect dough: it’s an unreal combination. You couldn’t wipe the happy grin off my face. While I love prosciutto or creative toppings on my pizza just as much as anyone else, this pizza is on another level. It doesn’t need those extra toppings to shine. Trust me on this one. Go to Naples. Eat the pizza at da Michele. Thank me (& all of those who have come before me) later.

-Break for drool-worthy pizza photos (& a snap with my new buddy!)-
Our great server
Starting to get busy as we head out

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele could easily attach a hefty price tag to their fare, but I think our bill came in under twenty euros. A true steal, especially given the incredible quality. I wish I could have taken some back to the ship for later, but I’m not sure it would have held up that well in my purse all afternoon.

Honestly, we had no idea what else to see in Naples afterwards. We had a map & a lot of free time though, so we set out. (This blog is called Au fil de mes balades for good reason. I love exploring a new city without any real destination!) We started in the old quarter, with its crumbling infrastructure & graffiti everywhere. We were still getting used to seeing these incredible historic sights in such disrepair in comparison to other cities we’d visited. It was an entirely different experience from the rest of our trip & I was glad to see it. We took a break in a café at the base of the funicular, grabbing a cappuccino & catching up on Instagram, before heading up to the castle at the top. We decided to tour the castle (I know, I’m shocked too. There wasn’t any food inside either), & got caught in a rain storm during our visit. We waited it out with the other tourists in every alcove we could find until we got bored & decided to just brave the elements.

Makeshift Umbrella

Instead of taking the funicular back down, we opted to walk. This resulted in many wrong turns & us getting completely lost. In the process, we stumbled upon many beautiful hidden corners & got a peak into everyday life on the hill. It reminded me of Croix Rousse in Lyon in that respect. We ran into more than our fair share of dead ends, & there were definitely times when we felt like we’d never find out way back to the port, but we also saw a side of Naples we would have completely missed if we had simply taken the funicular back down. Vacations allow for many luxuries, namely time, so we were in no rush to find our way. Instead, we took advantage & reveled in the unusual opportunity of not having to worry that you’re a little bit lost.

Storm rolling in
It began to thunder & lightning as we were almost back at the ship. We’d been watching the storm roll in, but we still managed to get completely soaked as we tried to make it back. Neither of us were prepared for rain so we threw on our bathing suits & jumped in the onboard hot tub to warm up. Once the chill wore off, we got cozy in our slippers & robes to watch the sailways from our balcony. We were first rewarded with a beautiful rainbow over the city followed by a gorgeous sunset. Naples was certainly a memorable day!

Honeymoon 10 \ Florence

The first morning on the ship, we woke up to a knock on our door. We’d pre-ordered room service the night before to make our early morning transfer a little more relaxed. While the meal was nothing to write home about, the luxury of enjoying breakfast in a comfy robe & slippers on your personal balcony certainly was. It became our favourite way to start the day!

Our transfer left Livorno for Florence at 8:45am. We opted for a self-guided day in the city so on the bus we received a map & some additional details on navigating the city including where to eat & what to do. It was the perfect choice for us – we got a few tips for our day, ample time to nap, & the freedom to wander at our own pace.

Florence is really compact. It doesn’t take much more than 10 minutes to walk between sights so it makes for a pretty easy day. We saw most of the sights – Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria (filled with many important statues including a replica of the David), the Galleria dell’Accademia, & the Duomo – within an hour. There were throngs of people everywhere we turned. I still can’t get over how busy it was.

People everywhere!
Ponte Vecchio
Lock everywhere
On the Ponte Vecchio

Since we were a bit limited on time, we hadn’t planned on visiting any museums. I overdid the museums on my first trip to Europe (as did N) so now I prefer to wander – eating, drinking, people watching, & maybe exploring a church, here & there. We’d expected our wandering to take a bit longer so when it didn’t we decided it was worth waiting in line to climb the Duomo’s cupola. The line was quite long so it took us over an hour to even get to the start. We were rewarded with incredible architecture from the minute we stepped inside & breathtaking panoramas from the top.

Florence’s Duomo is quite impressive
The climb is slow & crowded
Maxi dresses & narrow staircases don’t really mix

By the time we left Cathedral Square, we were ravenous from both the intense climb & the later hour. We picked a little restaurant with a terrace for a late lunch. Once again, the pasta was incredible – carbonera for me this time, followed by a shared calabrese pizza. Likely more food than two people needed, but we figured we deserved the reward. & it was our honeymoon – a phrase we repeated many times throughout our trip. You only get married once, right?!

After lunch, we wandered around looking for some wine to take back to the ship. We’d heard we might not be able to bring any back onboard, so we chose a cheap bottle just in case. This isn’t exactly a feat in Europe, but we found it especially easy in Italy. It turned out to be a non-issue for us so we enjoyed a couple of drinks on our balcony as the ship left port. This became another staple in our cruise. I’m so glad we we gifted the upgrade to a cabin with a balcony. It really made our first cruise experience  incredible.

The best way to enjoy a class of wine

That evening, we met our family friend for a glass of wine at the Glass House, one of the onboard restaurant. She gave us some tips for making the most of our week onboard & we made a plan to do dinner at another of the ships restaurants later that week called East. It was really great to catch up with her & get tips from such an expert.

That night we decided to forgo the formal dining room & try the Glass House instead. There is a small charge for menu items there, but it’s nominal & the food is great. I’d definitely recommend checking out some of the options outside the main dining room if you’re ever cruising.

Quality photography c/o my iPhone 4s

We had a sea day the next day so we decided to end our night at the ship’s club, Havana. There, we proceeded to repeatedly clear the dance floor with our country music requests. Sounds like us.

Honeymoon 009 \ Portofino & Cruising

We woke up the next morning to a wonderful breakfast prepared by our Genoese host before heading off to meet our family friend at the cruise ship terminal. She got us all checked in & even took our bags so we could head out for the day unencumbered.

We’d gotten a recommendation to take the train to Santa Margherita & then hop on the boat or bus to Portofino – a small, but well-known Italian fishing village. We bought our tickets from one of the machines in the Genoa Piazza Principe Station for under 10 euros. The only confusing part was finding the right destination. Look for S. Margherita Ligure & a travel time of about 45 minutes. The trains seem to run often that time of year, so we didn’t need to book in advance.

Santa Margherita

The weather was perfect when we arrived in Santa Margherita so we opted to take the ferry over the bus. It would also give us the opportunity to enjoy the coastline we’d heard so much about. As a boat lover, I can’t imagine a more perfect introduction to the beauty of Liguria.

If you’re looking for the cheaper option, the bus is a better choice. Seeing as only we only paid 10 euros round-trip each for the boat, it wasn’t a huge splurge either. We had perfect weather too – all blue skies & calm waters. If you’re planning on using the ferry service, this is their handy website. Or you can do like we did & just show up in Santa Margherita & buy a ticket for the next boat. We weren’t travelling at peak time, but we had no trouble.

As our boat pulled into the narrow harbour in Portofino, the reasons for its popularity became obvious. Crystal clear water, colourful homes, & a slower pace make this little village a breathtaking & relaxing stop. We spent the day wandered the surrounding hilly paths, checking out the castle, church, & lighthouse before sitting down to lunch in the busy harbour.

We hadn’t done any research about where to eat so we picked a spot a bit further from the water & hoped for the best. Luckily, Trattoria Tripoli was a pleasant surprise. We went for a local beer (recommended by our waiter) followed by a clam spaghetti for N & the regional pesto & potato pasta for me. I’d read about the pesto in the region & jumped at the first opportunity to try it. I have no regrets.

Italians have this incredible ability to take the simplest ingredients & turn them into something unforgettable. Its origins are in this region, so while I expected it to be great, I didn’t expect it to blow me away. I’ve made pesto many times, but I have never tasted a pesto with such depth of flavour. I truly didn’t think pesto could taste like that. The simple fact that I don’t love pasta when I’m at home, but ate it daily in Italy certainly speaks to the quality of the food in this country & the level of care that goes into its preparation.

I could write a novel on how much I enjoyed everything we put in our mouths in every city we visited in Italy, but just take my word for it & go. Eat! I promise it’s worth it.

I’m drooling over this pesto

After lunch we wandered a little more, hiking a steep road to take it some more of the incredible views, before catching a boat back to Santa Margherita. Trains come through the area pretty often that time of year so, once again, we easily caught one back to Genoa.

Our ship: Ventura!
It was our first time on a cruise so we were pretty in awe of everything from the moment we boarded. We found out which cabin we were in & arrived to our find out luggage had been delivered & we’d been gifted a bottle of prosecco from our family friend. It was such a lovely surprise!

My parents had also upgraded us to a cabin with a balcony as a wedding gift. They insisted that we would want it & after our week onboard, I couldn’t agree more. I’d highly recommend the splurge to anyone. We used ours every day.

As our ship prepared to leave, we popped the prosecco & got comfortable in our chairs. We sat outside watching the shore fade into the distance, sipping on prosecco, & enjoying the perfect evening.

Our first meal was in the main dining room. Each meal included three courses & we took advantage of cheese for dessert every night, ordering Branston Pickle to go with it, of course. Every since my mom introduced us to Branston Pickle with Stilton Blue Cheese, we’ve been kind of obsessed. (& when you’re on a British Cruise, why not take advantage!)

Branston Pickle & Cheese

The rest of the evening was spent exploring the ship. It was huge! You can do pretty much anything from relaxing with a drink to golfing or playing a game of basketball. It’s amazing! I think we only really figured out where everything was halfway through our week onboard.

It was nice to get a feel for the ship, but we made sure to get to bed pretty early. We had scheduled an early transfer to Florence so we wanted to get a good night’s rest.

Honeymoon 008 \ Genoa

When I first started planning our honeymoon, I figured we’d fly from Lyon to Genoa for the start of our cruise. As I did more research, however, I was pleased to discover that the train would actually be quicker. I am a big proponent of train travel. I originally assumed we could hop on a flight to Genoa pretty easily, but all routes required a stopover in Zurich or Frankfurt, forcing a major detour. So instead we opted to spend the day on the train. Not only would it be cheaper, we’d arrive earlier & the train station would be a few metro stops away from our airbnb rental in the historic district. Our train would leave Lyon a little bit earlier, but since we wouldn’t have to travel out to the airport, we’d actually leave our rental later. Perfect!

View from the train

Our train made a couple of stops along the way, first in Chambéry & then in Turin. We had a couple hours in Turin & when we arrived at Turin Porta Susa, I thought we were in for a pretty boring stopover. There weren’t a whole lot of amenities going on. I pulled out our tickets to double check the time we were leaving at & quickly realized we were supposed to leave from Turin Porta Nuova. They’d sold us tickets that had a different departure station than the one we’d arrived in. I swear Italian train travel is always an adventure! We quickly purchased tickets from a surly ticket agent & ran to catch our new train, only to get kicked off due to technically difficulties. A friendly university student pointed us towards the metro – it turns out we could have done this all along. Thanks, Mr Ticket Agent.

Our host in Genoa had given us very simple instructions to his apartment in the centre. We had arranged to meet him when he got off work, but arrived a bit early so we grabbed a drink in the shadow of the cathedral around the corner from his place.

Drinks in the square by the Cathedrale

Maurizio welcomed us into his beautiful attic apartment & gave us suggestions for how to spend our evening. He pointed out the important sights, his favourite restaurants, & the best gelato on a map. We didn’t have long so he made sure to give us a manageable list, which we definitely appreciated. This kind of hospitality is what truly makes airbnb my new favourite service.

We set out for the old quarter, map in hand. Luckily, this historic area is quite compact & it only took us about 10 minutes to get there. The buildings here are so different from those in France. With mostly flat facades, they’ve painted columns & art to mimic different types of architecture. We both found it quite beautiful. Maurizio had suggested a gelato shop up the hill. He told us it was his favourite place to get get granita. We opted for gelato & happened to accidentally time it perfectly for the sunset. The little shop is located on the spianata Castelletto, overlooking the port city. You can take the funicular up from the old district or find your way up the maze of stairs, like we did.

We decided to have dinner in another spot recommended by our host. Conveniently located around the corner from our apartment, Cantine Squarafico is a romantic little spot with a great menu, helpful & friendly staff, & a wonderful atmosphere in an underground setting. Our server spoke perfect english & recommended a beautiful local wine. It was exactly what we were looking for & started things off on the right foot. It doubles as a wine store, so if you’re not looking for dinner, I’d recommend stopping in to take a look at their wine selection. If you do decide to eat here, go for the lobster taglioni. It was by far our favourite part of the meal – we’d decided to share our appetizers & found ourselves fighting for more lobster. We could have ordered one each.

We capped off the evening with a wander through the summer market in the Porto Antico and a beer on our spectacular rooftop terrace. They had built a little terrace right into the tile rooftop. Our host brought us some lanterns & we sat at the little table, enjoying our beer & the impressive view. Most of the buildings are quite short so we had an unobstructed view of our surroundings, including the nearby port & Cathedral next door. It was gorgeous.

Evening Light
Interesting restaurant in the Old Port
Our terrace in daylight
& the view at night

I didn’t have any expectations for Genoa so it was a pleasant surprise to find we enjoyed our short time there so much. The friendly people, beautiful sights, & incredible food make it a very worthwhile destination. I wouldn’t hesitate to book another few days to explore a little further.

Honeymoon 007 \ A bientot, Lyon

On our final day in Lyon, we majorly slept in. As a seasoned traveller, I likely should have realized we weren’t on European time yet, but I guess wine clouded my judgement & I didn’t set an alarm. I still had a few things I wanted to show N, so it was a bit disappointing to realize we’d missed so much of the day.

I’d promised my coworker I’d stop by Starbucks again so that was our first stop once we got moving. He was in a meeting, but snuck out for a quick chat. My old store manager was also there, so it was fun to say hi to her as well. Soufien & I made tentative plans for later on as the clock was ticking for N & I to get a real lunch.

Unfortunately, one of our maps placed the restaurant in the wrong location, so we wasted precious time on a wild goose chase. When we finally arrived at the correct location, they had stopped serving lunch. Instead, we made a dinner reservation & headed to a more touristy spot in Vieux Lyon for a traditional style bouchon lunch.

This is the type of meal you tend to waddle away from. Traditional Lyonnais food is heavy. It’s full of the type of things you’d find at Grandma’s, if your Grandma is a French woman who enjoys butter & offal. My starter salad was mostly bacon with a side of greens & a hard boiled egg. We managed to find back to Place des Terreaux for a tour of L’Atelier de la Soierie by one of the artists. She was taking a break from the free-hand floral designs she creates. The shop was also in the middle of filling a large order of beautiful silk scarves so we saw a bit of that process. I highly recommend a visit if you’re passing through Lyon. The shopkeepers are friendly, helpful, & always willing to explain a bit of the historic process they continue to use. They’re one of the last shops to still use this method, so it’s a pretty unique experience.

The square was getting busy so we decided to join some of the locals for a few beers at Café Leffe. Place des Terreaux was one of my favourite squares to grab a drink & people watch. There’s always so much going on as it’s a major thoroughfare for locals & the site of many events. It also gave us a chance to use free wifi to make plans with some of my friends for later that evening – the joys of being without cell reception.

Our dinner that evening was another very traditional Lyonnais meal. Café Comptoir Abel is said to be the oldest & most authentic bouchon in the city. We went for some very traditional dishes including veal, kidney, andouillette, & paté. If you want to be adventurous, this is the place to do it. & while many of those foods probably aren’t in your regular dinner rotation, I highly recommend giving them a try in Lyon. These dishes are typical of what was cooked regionally by the 19th century middle class, when many women began working as cooks. (You can read more about the Lyonnais “mothers” & this simple style of cooking here.)

It was a beautiful evening to sit outside on the patio. In typical A&N fashion, we ordered way more food than necessary, especially considering these dishes are on the heavier site & we’d had a big lunch. This is a definite theme when we travel.

If you ever ask N to take your photo, he’ll take about 15. By the end, I always look like this.

After dinner, we met two coworkers from my Starbucks days at a little pub on the Presqu’île. It was fun to catch up with them & properly introduce N. We reminisced over how much had changed in the last six years (& how much really hadn’t). I can’t imagine a better way to wrap up our time in Lyon then with great company, a few drinks, & a beautiful night on a patio.

The next morning we boarded an early train for Italy. It was bittersweet to be moving on from France, but exciting to prepare for new adventures in Italy. Genoa was next on the list & the beginning of our weeklong cruise.

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