This year marked the 4th year of the Hot Chocolate Festival in Vancouver. I noticed the event the first year (2011) but it didn’t make an impact on me. I was away in 2012. And last year, I was just settling back into being back. This year, no excuses! Although 20 vendors were offering 60 flavours, I could and had to limit myself to the vendors that did not require a special trip: Bel Cafe and Thierry are plausible coffee/lunch breaks from work, Terra Breads is in the vicinity of my apartment and I’ve long wanted to check out The Last Crumb.
I feel the worst about our Bel Cafe experience and it had nothing to do with the cafe itself. A work colleague and I made a late dash across the street to Bel and I was torn between extending my break or just return to work and tying up loose ends and leaving at the usual hour.
Bel Cafe is so small and busy you can just assume there is no available seating except at this high communal table that is right at the door. So we ordered the Hot Chocolate Festival special to go. I quickly ascertained from the menu that their Hot Chocolate Festival offering price was the sum of the a la carte prices of hot chocolate and a Valrhona chocolate chunk cookie. While people who got a seat were served their hot chocolate in glass double-wall cups we had to put a lid on the whipped cream and mint leaf. The crazy good cookie kind of overshadowed the hot chocolate.
Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe
For my Thierry visit, it was planned better. I invited BIL’s girlfriend to meet me around lunch hour so I could spend an hour and savour Thierry’s offering. And it turned out that NPY was downtown for the day and able to spend some time with us, too!
I was already looking forward to a trio of chocolate but Thierry delivered more than even they indicated on the Hot Chocolate Festival website. The trio consists of (1) a disk of chocolate, (2) drinking chocolate and (3) white chocolate ice cream. There was no indication that a beautiful cream puff would appear with delicious hazelnut filling!
The Last Crumb Bakery & Cafe
It seemed to me like everyone had on a visit to Main Street shops stopped in The Last Crumb except for me and NPY, and we lived the closest! So we packed up our books and head there for lunch and to study one Sunday afternoon. We weren’t the only ones studying on their upper level but the only ones indulging in hot chocolate because it was a pricey drink! The hot chocolate itself was thinner and lightly citrus-flavoured. The citrus marshmallow was fun to play with and melt and added to the creaminess.
That rapsberry chocolate cake was not part of the Hot Chocolate Festival and it pushed me over for sweet stuff!
I had an opportunity to squeeze one more hot chocolate in. NPY wasn’t going to join me again but I arranged to meet my cousin after work at Terra where I ordered their hot chocolate cheekily named Call Me a Cab because of the Cabarnet that is used. It was primarily a spicy-tasting hot chocolate that was appropriate in thickness. It was also reasonably priced compared to the other hot chocolates I previously enjoyed.
Arranging hot chocolate dates was girlfriends was a nice aspect of the Hot Chocolate Festival so although I thought I didn’t need to participate next year, I will still want to keep in touch with friends. So, I’ll be back!
When it came down to it, for me, Winterlude=skating on the Rideau Canal. There were opening ceremonies celebration on Friday evening and we dropped by for a bit. There was a Bed Race on opening weekend I didn’t bother to get us to go to – since it’s not like fancy sleigh beds or anything. There’s a Winter Triathlon that I still think I could have done were it not for the logistics of it all. There were some food events (like WinterBrew). And there was the snow playground at Jacques Cartier Park, also too far to venture out to, even with a Sno-Bus shuttle running every 15 minutes.
As it turned out, both of my girlfriends wouldn’t be skating with me. I was hopefully to meet up with my cousins who were out the same afternoon but I started later and actually passed them without knowing it. It’s okay by me because the “competitive” part of me wanted to do the entire length of the skateway and record it with Runkeeper – thus the only impedance I could allow for was to stop to take pictures!
We could see people heading to the canal in the evening of the opening ceremonies but I had scheduled that our outing would be on the first full day of skating following brunch and some shopping in Byward Market.
I queued for what felt like forever for skates rental from Capital Skates. It cost $17 for two-hour skate rental and boot check ($4 separately) is included. Since they were out of figure skates at the time in my size, I was equipped with a pair of hockey skates. I’ve never worn hockey skates before and, first thing, nearly slipped backwards-darned rounded blades! Otherwise, they are so much wider and more comfortable than figure skates would have been.
While I queued for skate rentals, my girlfriends were walking around and I was alone from 0.8 km onwards after our requisite photos together.
The skateway has markers every 0.2 km and the skate rental was located at 0.4 km. The area between 0.0 and 0.4 km would be the densest of the skateway as an area where people could lace up their skates and practice their skating before going “out in the open”.
The ice was not smooth but it was not treacherous. It snowed the entire time we were out and you could see the snow piling up. Snow hitting on my skate blades was just the slightest hindrance and was not dangerous.
There were a few clusters of “food trucks” with more at the beginning few kilometers. While the Beavertails stand at 0.4 km had a long line up, the queue looked shorter at subsequent food truck stops. They seemed to be located where the skateway widened and the food truck area was separated from the skating lanes with fir trees laid out. I wanted a Beavertail and a hot drink but I didn’t want to stop!
There were many access points to the canal, each with a unique name probably corresponding to the nearest street. I heard that some people skate to work in the winter and/or row to work when the weather warms up. I love that idea but wondered if I wouldn’t find it a hassle to put on and take off equipment.
There were a few points in the skateway where it diverged and I was in two minds about which way to go. I wanted to skate all of it but didn’t know how stringent my two-hour rental would be. The first two forks looked small (and thus lovely and quiet) and I did not follow the fork. When I got down to Dow’s Lake, it was a large fork in the skateway I could not ignore. The distance markers continued out on the fork so I had to take it.
As I skated out on the Dow’s Lake loop, it occurred to me that I was on the Winterlude Triathlon course. I wondered how fast I could have been. Now I’m sure the skating would have been a breeze. That I would have sapped my energy on the cross country skiing and just walked and dragged my feet during the run! What a treat it would be to be on the skateway at an early hour, free of the recreational skaters (not that I’m much better) and with a bunch of speedsters!
After completing the Dow’s Lake loop, I made it down to 7.8 km. I’m so sad it didn’t occur to me to take a selfie! But really, my camera was getting wetting from the non-stop snowfall and when I so much as wrangled my phone out of my pocket and took my mind off skating, I would wobble and nearly fall!
I really wish NPY had been there! A hockey player, he doesn’t like skating in circles and weaving through the same old crowds at public skate at the rink and the Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s largest skating rink. There weren’t as many speed skaters as I thought there would be. There weren’t as many beginners as I thought there would be either. We simply have to make a trip in the future!
Skating alone was like anything else I do alone outside-I got a little bored. Like renting a kayak for two hours, I see how far I can go in an hour and then turn around. I wasn’t up for doing the Dow’s Lake loop again so I did not do, strictly speaking, 7.8 km times two. At the risk of burning through my cellphone battery already tracking my activity, I amused myself with a Songza playlist of acoustic version of pop songs suitable for listening to while curled up in front of a fireplace!
In terms of discomfort, at times, the snow falling was really big and would go directly into my eyes – a brim to my hat would have helped! My wool mittens soaked through and my scarf froze and scratched my jaw and chin. The skate boot bruised my right inner ankle and at times I thought I wouldn’t make it back. How does one even limp on skates?
Otherwise, the snowy conditions provided a lovely and unique atmosphere (you couldn’t get that indoors!). It was truly wonderous to be on an “endless” outdoor rink and it felt really good to be on the ice. Granted, it was forward direction skating so you never had to make sharp turns (I wasn’t up for crosscuts) and stopping on a dime was not necessary and you’ll naturally slow down on the rougher ice. My challenge to myself was to return on time and not wipe out – both were accomplished as well as an item on my Canadian Bucket List!
So, this was an interesting one. My two girlfriends and I met 15-16 years ago in 1998/9. (Whoa!) But we’ve lived in different cities since around 2003. We haven’t come altogether since 2007 and that was just for a day so it was a supreme treat – and proves it’s not impossible – to spend a weekend together!
And what was it like to have more than just one meal together when one of us it just passing through the other’s town? Here’s how it went.
Murray Street kwc
It was way too easy to get to Ottawa when you’re staying in Toronto just a stone’s throw from the airport in the city and the airline (Porter) is hassle-free. We also cabbed from the Ottawa airport to the hotel and while it looked closer on a map, it was still so easy. We found the Marriott Courtyard – the only hotel in Ottawa’s Byward Market – to be wonderfully central but then I had also planned our activities to kind of center in the Market.
My first plan was to hit up Murray Street kwc (kitchen | wine | charcuterie) which sounded really cool. The decor was dark and luxe like a gentleman’s club and on a Friday lunch, we were only the second table. There were a few items that caught our eye – amongst them a corned beef sandwich and pulled pork – and we both chose the flat iron steak sandwich. I was sold when the waitress aid the beef was smothered in cheese sauce.
When our food arrived, it looked way too modest. No sides listed, no sides came with it. But perhaps my eyes were hungrier than my stomach (which was hungry). The presentation of an open faced beef sandwich smothered in cheese was greatly improved with the mixed greens and purple sprout touch. We talked and strategized about the weekend and took delicate bites and it was the right size portion. The marinated beef was truly tender and delicious and the cheese sauce blended from artisanal varieties was so good I didn’t want to leave a drop. Even the toasted and buttered baguette beneath it all was deserving of praise.
Moulin De Provence Bakery
After our “light” lunch, we walked around Byward Market with no particular goal other than to explore. When we hit the end of the commercial area, we would turn around and start down the next street. Vinnie remembered a great bakery from her last visit and it wasn’t hard to locate Moulin De Provence in the large building that houses the market and other food stalls. In the winter, the bakery seals all of the windows; I heard in the summer, it is an open-air bakery.
The display was drool-worthy and I marveled at the savoury baked items topped with shredded cheese. I gather that when you order it, it gets heated in an oven that freshly melts the cheese on your roll, croissant, etc. Delicious! Again, I was torn between a slice of mousse cake, a couple other pastries and a chocolate danish. I must have had the unforgettable chocolate brioche I had in Paris in mind and it was good but no comparison.
Metropolitan Brasserie Restaurant
When my cousins and I couldn’t get into one pub on Friday night after work, we made a last minute reservation at Metropolitan. I only had a martini (French Riviera with strawberry vodka, melon, Chambord and lime) that was lovely to sip. The art deco decorated restaurant was bustling yet the waiter was kind to us having essentially just drinks during early dinner hour. My cousin took advantage of the happy hour Hill Special of $1 oysters and shrimps. The shrimp looked great to me but I just ripped apart warm baguette and enjoyed it with butter.
Fat Tuesdays New Orleans Experience
When Vinnie likened Fat Tuesday’s to Margaritaville, I got worried. I believe I was in a Margaritaville in Vegas and I felt like our group was conspiciously uncomfortable with the kitsch. But it was a Fat Tuesday (no relation) in St. Kitts that was like Margaritaville. Whew! Fat Tuesday’s has been on our itinerary from the start. I rarely get to have “Southern” cuisine.
We started with a drink each and I ordered a nice and spicy Caesar, most excited to learn what a Louisiana skewer was. What a fun skewer with olive, green bean, sausage and jalapeno! We couldn’t easily decide between the fried chicken and the jambalaya and – what would you know – the three of us all ordered jambalaya! The girls ordered a fish taco each and it not sounding like a Southern specialty and I wanted to increase my “vegetables” order, I got the fried green tomatoes. In the panko crust, they looked like crab cakes that you can savour slowly and divvy into quarters each. The first thing the girls noticed was the rice in the jambalaya was undercooked – it wasn’t raw and crunchy but we could tell it wasn’t quite there yet. It didn’t seem entirely like it was made with love and care but it was still tasty and comforting, you know?
So, Fat Tuesday’s has the only duelling pianos show in Ottawa. The show takes place every Saturday but it was a special Friday show and I was happy to finally get to take in a show. We thought we might move away from our front row seat but it was quite fun to be front and center with no obstructions to the pianist and a great view of dancers and other characters. When I paid particular attention to the last song before their break (Benny and the Jets), I was sooo impressed by their rapport with each other and the audience, any and all improvisation, singing and their strong piano-pounding fingers. The pianist reminded me of a former co-worker I wouldn’t look at twice but he seemed more attractive due to his talent. Our positive experience at Fat Tuesday’s is tied up with the show and we’re so glad it was good because our second stop was a bust.
Mambo Nuevo Latino
During our walk around the Market the day before, Vinnie and I had spied Mambo’s signage that declared $15 lunch/brunch including a beverage. The semi-permanent banner was a little tacky but it got us to return for a no-fuss brunch the next morning. On a Saturday for brunch, we were the only customers and I gave them a pass – they probably have good business in the evening? They appear to offer a vibrant dinner and then turn into a lounge and dance club.
First off, the coffee was good, not your usual commercial brand taste. We had a great deal of choice between lunch selections and brunch selections. Given they weren’t busy, I want to order something foolproof. I wanted something “authentic”. And I wanted to avoid menu items with cilantro without having to ask them to change it. It was hard to satisfy all three! I ended up getting a wrap (wrap=less carbs) while the quesadilla Vinnie ordered did appeal to me (but not the mozzarella cheese used) and the El Cubano pulled pork sandwich Mona ordered (not usually a fan of pulled pork). I probably got the most American item! The chicken was tender and perfectly cubed and I just liked all of the ingredients in the wrap and the use of green spinach tortilla. The fries were average yet I still ate too many of them.
Bangkok Thai Garden Restaurant [Urbanspoon]
I had a couple of restaurant suggestions from doing my research but after a day out and including a skate on the canal skateway (after which I was frozen), I was down with getting something simple, local and comforting. We went with the Thai place advertising outside its door a $15 dinner combo with Thai-like decor over the its neighbour, a brightly-lit and spartan-looking kebab place. The kebab place had patrons who were Arabic and Bangkok Thai Garden had all Caucasian patrons. But we can’t expect so much in Ottawa, right?
From the dinner combination, we could each find a main that we wanted. Red curry for me, of course. The hot & sour soup to start with was very simple and the spring rolls were cute and small. The red curry was average tasting and all you could expect in a cheap dinner combo.
Oh, Ottawa, where cover and coat check is only $8 and drinks are relatively cheap. From the outset of planning for the trip, Vinnie wanted to check out a Spanish club and conveniently there’s one in Byward Market and only half a block away from the hotel. The dance floor is upstairs and it’s small and it wasn’t packed. Still, it was sufficiently busy and people danced to every song that it wasn’t lame. I quickly concluded that a Spanish dance club is a place I’ll like – there is a (small) barrier to entry that is an appreciation and ability to dance to the music that will deter just anyone young and old to want to come. These days, we really don’t want to be with the youngin’s.
(It was a brilliant contrast to be in the hot – i.e., hot Latin music – club on the second floor and take a look outside to the Market and see the continuous snow fall blanketing everything outdoors.)
The music fell roughly into three types: salsa, merengue and bachata. I don’t know salsa from some other up-tempo music but you know because all of the people taking salsa lessons go on the dance floor and practice their moves. I don’t know merengue from salsa exactly but that’s when the dance floor thins out while salsa learners take a break. When Vinnie first told me about and raved about bachata, I thought it might be a really (really) sultry dance but it’s just a romantic dance. I loved the rumba when I learned it (another dance of love) but it’s woefully unpopular. Seems like bachata supplanted it – or maybe it was there all along. We left just before the club closed at 2 a.m. and went onto …
Dunn’s Famous Deli
I had pizza in mind while maybe the girls wanted shawarma (we were, afterall, in Ottawa) and we ended up being drawn in by the big Dunn’s sign and the 24-hour part of it of Dunn’s, across the street from the hotel. It was more comfortable seating than a tiny pizza or shawarma joint steaming up because of too many people breathing inside.
At 2:30 a.m., Dunn’s was hopping the influx of the clubbing crowd that had just let out. Okay, the smallest item at Dunn’s was more food than a slice (or two) of pizza or even a shawarma but we picked out some favourites – the menu did seem to indicate all were popular. The poutine had a delicious gravy and the chili on my chili cheese hot dog was nice and thick.
The Manx Pub
After a late and heavy meal, we didn’t want to budge from the hotel until the original check-out time. And the 25-minute walk down Elgin to Manx was a good way to gain an appetite. The Manx Pub is rated a very local place to have brunch and Mona had mentioned it, too. Below street level, it is divey to the hilt with stained upholstery with the previous customer’s crumbs and one annoying fruit fly that liked to hang around us. And the host/waiter was unnaturally mellow…
I wanted a traditional breakfast but I was actually a bit adverse to bacon or even sausage for once. I thought the sides of the breakfast (toast, potatoes) might kill me. So I went with a fried egg sandwich and wondered what a $10 sandwich with a cheap ingredient (egg) would be like.
It was our favourite meal of the trip – it was our last meal. The girls ordered traditional breakfasts and were disappointed to learn the yummy-sounding braised mushrooms were out (it was, afterall, 2 p.m. when we arrived). What they called “hashbrowns” on their menu was actually served as a garlicky mashed potato. That is so different and it was so good. I had no other sides than the “hashbrown” but my sandwich was thick with fresh and fragrant sourdough-like white bread and a stack of refreshing lettuce. The egg was cooked just right and the rich egg with melted cheese and creamy guacamole hit the spot in one sandwich. I was also glad to dine – if for just one meal – outside of Byward Market!
The Scone Witch [Facebook]
Their 150 Elgin location is not well advertised – in fact, the cafe needs their own website and not to rely on a Facebook page! – and it worked out so well since we were dining farther down Elgin at The Manx Pub. 150 Elgin is a new space for The Scone Witch, converted to a great, open cafe space with open bakery. Vinnie and hubby brought the cafe to my attention and what better Ottawa souvenir for NPY than a gift of food/scones? We each got assorted flavours – half dozen each – for me: vanilla/cream, orange/cranberry, lemon-poppyseed, strawberry & yogurt (special of the month), cheddar, and herb and onion! They are a thing of beauty in the box, so crusty and flaky looking. With a bit of butter and heated up again, they were so soft and maddeningly good!
I ordered a pair of Discovery Passes months before the festival, once I knew for sure I was going and had secured a hotel (the new Wyndham Garden Hotel). The $40 pass contains eight vouchers to be used for ice wine-food pairings that cost $10 individually. Why did I buy the passes so early? What if they sold out??
Then the fun began reading about the pairings and selecting a route. I tend to favour savoury foods and I wondered with the wineries only being open six hours and potentially leaving early on the second day, how would we squeeze in eight wineries? Will the roads be difficult to drive even with a rental car with snow tires? Should I have gotten a shuttle pass (another $40) or would I be driving “drunk”? Would the winery route be patrolled by police?
Konzelmann Estate Winery
Coming into Niagara-on-the-Lake on the QEW, hitting up Konzelmann Estate Winery on Lakeshore was the natural first stop. Konzelmann is in a cute manor and I called them to inquire about the ice wine offering because some other wineries had stated “No reservations required” , thus, did I need to make some at Konzelmann? The staff who answered my call was so friendly and assured me it was informal generally during the wine festival and there was a lot of room and plenty for everyone.
They were pouring a 2010 Vidal ice wine and pairing it with a PEI lobster bisque topped with fresh cream and a backerhaus crostini. It was lukewarm but nice. We perused the wine boutique and I came away with a bottle of their red Sushi Wine. The sushi wines debuted only a year ago for which they threw a big sushi party. Time/excuse for my own sushi party and I knew we’ll be ordering from Sushi California!
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery
We drive along Lakeshore to Jackson Triggs’ Niagara winery. Like in the Okanagan, their building looks modern and specifically built. As we would experience in later wineries, they were serving their pairing in their dining hall, a bright window-lined room where you could sit comfortably and hang out for a bit.
They were pouring a 2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc (red!) ice wine paired with a piece of Valrhona cocoa and caraway ribs topped with pineapple avocado salsa. The enthusiastic young server described the flavours and how it worked with the bolder red ice wine. The rib was not as tender as I would have liked but the flavour was good. They would have one of the nicest presentations we would see.
Peller Estates Winery
We walked into the busy and buzzing wine boutique and saw plenty of people at the multiple counters doing tastings but what was the pairing again and where was it taking place? We’d learn the wineries separated ice wine pairings from their wine shops where the regular tastings take place. We were directed to go outside… brrr!
Four fire pits were going on outside as the two ice wines being poured were paired with marshmallows you roast yourself! I can’t remember what was being poured but the second glass (two samples!) was an oaked (or unoaked?) Chardonnay ice wine. The giant square marshmallows were skewered with correspondingly thick sticks and we eagerly proceeded to roast them at the nearest fire pit.
I roasted mine perfectly and the outermost layer was a dream-crisp like a creme brulee top. Something was special about these marshmallows. Indeed, I would read later they are made fresh, a brilliant creation of winery chef and CityLine personality Jason Parsons, coated with ice wine reduction. No wonder about how it crisped up! I was so happy that it was totally okay to roast the inside layer as well. :P
We enjoyed our second marshmallow and ice wine inside in the large reception area furnished with many couches. The cozy lobby reminded me of the Grouse Mountain chalet but with more refined and cleaner. It felt like a party at a mansion. :-)
The second glass of ice wine made me feel a little warm so we killed some more time trying their offerings from the Icewine Market Menu, a boar sausage and poutine. Have I said it was a really nice place to hang out??
Ahead of the trip, I had a few worries. I worried because I was declining full insurance on the car and the pushy associate at the counter tried to scare me about a full size car’s ability to handle the road to get me to upgrade to a 4×4. Not a chance! Driving was fine even though I had just five hours of sleep. The roads were fine with some slippery patches on the regional roads but nothing bad. I also worried about potentially being drunk. There was no need to worry-the pours of ice wine, which has no more alcohol content than wine, were just about one ounce. And we would visit the wine shop and spend more time”sobering up”.
Reif Estate Winery
As we drove up to Reif Estate I wondered why I had picked that place. We soon found out when we went behind the wine shop and entered a cellar-like room. The corrugated walls are painted black and the ceiling was high. They were holding their annual pig roast and the pork was being handled by two guys from Pig Out! Each of us were given a glass of Reif Estate Vidal ice wine and a spit roasted porketta sandwich with apple ice wine sauce. I also snagged a crisp piece of the skin. The pork was so tender and good even with no additional flavours!
I like the branding of some of their wines, reminiscent of tarot cards. I got a bottle of Hanging Man Kerner which is sweet and
a little earthy. (Update: while the Kerner tasted earthy to me when I tasted it after having ice wine and the sandwich, I brought it with a wine tasting where the earthy taste was then missing.)
Our fifth and last stop for the was Inniskillin, otherwise if we went to a sixth winery, we would only have two vouchers for the next day… balance! They were pouring their 2012 Riesling ice wine and paired it with lobster chili which we enjoyed in their Founder’s Hall. It was a bit like a bean minestrone with lobster claws visible. It had a fennel and caraway taste that I thought paired extremely well with the ice wine.
I don’t know if it was the impending Chinese New Year looming up or just how luxe it looks, but I loved the deep red labels. We saw the ultimate luxury wine item (for me)-sparkling ice wine! So pricey!
I’ve found it at the Wine Rack but going to Inniskillin was going to the source to get my beloved East West Discovery Series wine. They had a new label! So I had to get more! I couldn’t find the Chardonnay and got the only other white (a Gewurztraminer-Reisling) and a bottle of Cabernet-Merlot (other choice was Cabernet-Shiraz).
On Sunday, after a simple breakfast at Blue Line Diner which is attached to an amazing warehouse of hockey merchandise, we were off to use the last the vouchers of the Discovery Pass!
Chateau des Charmes
The last time I passed by Chateau des Charmes it was closed for a private event. And I wanted “dessert” following breakfast. If you hadn’t noticed, most all of the first five pairings were with savoury food items.
They were pouring a Vidal ice wine and pairing it with bite sized caramelized maple cheesecake. The cheesecake bite was perfect and the maple taste was so intense and also nutty.
The reception was nice and warm and when we discovered CV had misplaced her Discovered Pass, were so nice to give her the pairing anyways. We visited the wine shop where I picked up a small bottle of Chardonnay (i.e., 375mL).
Had I been to Southbrook before? Oh yes, it was our first stop during my 2011 visit, the sleek and one with the awe-inspiring periwinkle blue wall. Way to set yourself apart!
In a bright and beautiful dining hall, they were pouring a 2006 Cabernet Franc ice wine and pairing it with a grilled cheese with Niagara pears, smoked ham, aged Montforte sheep cheddar and ice wine syrup. What a nice bite, even though I wasn’t hungry anymore. Their red ice wine, with only one other to compare with, was much less sweet, and CV enjoyed it most. To me, then, it was a bit like port.
In the wine shop, I was sold in their organic stance. Aren’t grapes part of the Dirty Dozen? (Yes.) I wanted to get a bottle of Connect for an upcoming wine tasting party, just because. Instead, I got a pack of Bioflavia/Pluck Berry Blend tea with powdered grape skins. Then I also picked up a bottle of their organic and biodynamic ice wine!
Pillitteri Estates Winery
Down to our last winery, so it was Pilliteri which has an extensive collection of different ice wines. I almost passed the winery since it looked more like a farmer’s market, a single story and long structure with a red roof. The grocery side didn’t look familiar but the wine shop did.
Pilliteri brought in a Beavertails truck to create their pairing: 2007 Chardonnay ice wine (their sweetest) and half a Beavertail topped with lemon, cinnamon and brown sugar. It was CV’s first Beavertail! What an appropriate way to cap off the weekend with a really nice and complex tasting ice wine and Canadian treat.
The Chardonnay ice wine was so good but corresponding pricey, so I bought a late harvest Riesling ice wine with purportedly the same flavour notes.
That rounds out the lovely weekend which I call a complete success. Entire Discovery Pass used, new wineries discovered and great memories created. :)
Not one to be happy with “just another trip to Toronto/Ontario”, I schedule myself to the hilt and try to do different things and especially things I can’t do but in Toronto. After this trip, I just can’t think of anything I want to do/anywhere I want to eat, so I don’t plan to be back until next year… but we’ll see!
I haven’t even tried the gamut of barre fitness in Vancouver: just Barre Fitness and ballet/barre offerings at other studios not remotely specializing in the discipline. I’ve wanted to try Bar Method on a two-week trial basis but haven’t found that suitable two-week period and, honestly, am just a bit scared of that school. :D Harbour Dance has a new Floor Barre class that I’d like to try where you lie on your back at the center and do barre work like tendus and battements (like shown in this 31:00 Youtube video). But it’s awkwardly scheduled right at 5:00 pm and that is when I leave work, if I’m on time.
I have all the time in the world (almost) while on vacation in Toronto so I could check out the two barre fitness studios that started up in the past few years (maybe even just last year) which otherwise were too far from the very core where I lived. I am very much a local-phile and thought Barreworks at Queen and Bathurst (2.2 km from work) to be far and The Extension Room (1.9 km from work the “wrong” way) to be even farther!
I created a login to the studio to purchase a single class and it turns out I could take advantage of their new client/first class offer. With one class paid for, I could use it to register for a class and I selected a Barreworks Mixed Level class at 5:00, their signature class. Barreworks uses mindbodyonline.com for class registration, which I’m used to from Barre Fitness and Chopra Yoga, very intuitive and a fine system to manage your schedule and view visit history.
I almost didn’t see Barreworks except I knew I overshot it when I reached Bathurst. In a heritage looking building, the sign is perched among baroque details high overhead. I climbed the three storeys of steep stairs, a test like that I feel every time I go to Harbour Dance!
The walk from work at King and Bay was estimated at 29 minutes but I broke it up with CNY shopping in Chinatown and the walk on Queen West between Spadina and Bathurst was really fast-I just don’t really like the neighborhood. Being so early, I could “sneak” back into the empty studios after I was given a new client tour, tweet and buy a beautiful water bottle.
Paul was subbing for Michaela for a few weeks and I raised my hand when he asked around in our intimate class of seven who hadn’t done Barreworks Mixed Level before. He was in shock I’d start off with this level class and I really didn’t know given the predominance of Mixed Level that the “starter” class was BarreBasics which, of all days, wasn’t offered that day. I don’t mention that I have over 30 barre classes and ballet under my belt. No point in setting up expectations. :p
Equipment used in a given class include 1-3-lb. weight Pilates balls, a resistance band and a fit ball. Cardio was interspersed throughout the class with step-touches and running/stutter stepping on the spot. I haven’t done a ballet run in a while so it was nice. Weights were also used throughout the class instead of in the beginning in concentrated arm resistance section in the beginning. We really blasted the arms with the resistance bands half way through the class, using the barre and then our weight to hold the band. Paul flowed the class so when the first part-the initial hump-was difficult, the rest of the time passed well.
The two week offer was described to me as I put my boots on-I like how we took off outside shoes at the door so the changing room was clean and dry. But of course I can’t do the two week trial because I wouldn’t ever visit for that long, or be downtown often enough to use it. I could definitely return on a single class basis when I’m downtown for the day. I know there’s no relation but it feels like a “sister” studio to what I’m used to!
The Extension Method at Extension Room
Two days later, I was back downtown but headed in the opposite direction from Bay, out to near King and Parliament to get to The Extension Room on Eastern. My Running Room group would often run out that way to get to Riverdale Park for hill repeats so heading in that direction is still tangled up in some angst for me!
I would have wanted to try two classes in the same day that I was downtown: EM Barre 101 at 12:30 and EM Developpe Ballet Sculpt at 5:30. But given the location, I didn’t think I wanted to hang out or head there twice in a day. I couldn’t pre-register for an individual class and found their website a little … circular, less intuitive to navigate. I was excited for such a cool sounding class – Developpe Sculpt.
The Extension Room is in the middle of a warehouse row extending one block and I almost missed it and had to backtrack and search hard for a door. A short flight of stairs brings you to an open studio capitalizing in the exposed concrete block wall painted white and creating a truly shabby chic decor. It felt like a city ballet studio and you get a great view of it at a long counter at one end of the space where you can register and at some times order from the juice bar.
Here were some of the thoughts running through my head during the challenging hour:
- Hundred squat Scovia? Try a thousand plies, using free weights–good thing I picked the wimpy pink one pounders.
- Shortest rest periods in between because the instructor sweetly carried on, no coddling!
- Plank time: Yay, high plank! … Oh, all these leg swings were in fact hard.
- We are finally laying down on the mat and a bridge is easy … not so when you add battements (rather, tendus in my case)–so I get get to try floor barre and it’s not easy!
While it’s not necessarily a permanent situation, I’m kind of glad for the Extension Room’s off-the-beaten path location. There’s no pretension and you just get a really hard workout. My 30+ barre classes and ballet really did not prepare me for it!
In Vancouver: It has been a winter relatively free of rainy days. A Toronto-originating cousin and I will take what we can get. We don’t like rain! A Vancouver cousin would take the wet kind of cold becasue the lack of precipitation is wrecking havoc on her skin. Mine, too.
In Toronto: It has been an awful winter and the air is super dry in the winter. My skin felt it right away. So did – gross – my heels. I was miserable. During endlessly rainy Vancouver winter (fall and spring), I fancy that snow would be better. You don’t need an unwieldy umbrella. But bundling up, constantly salt-staining your boots, uneven packed snow on the sidewalks making for tentative walking and slushy conditions when it warms up are the unromantic reality. And super-parched skin. I heard Ottawa was colder but had more moisture in the air – I looked forward to the latter.
In Ottawa: We lucked out with the weather as the cold snap broke and it was relatively mild all weekend. It was really mess on Sunday and I resolve to get Hunter boots with a liner to double as winter boots as the latter typically have limited life. We felt the moist(er) air immediately as dry skin problems just didn’t get worse while we were in Ottawa.
Ottawa-Vancouver flight (5.5 hours): I gave up a seat with some extra legroom and took one of only middle seats remaining. It was so that I could guarantee I could stow some bakery items at my feet and not in the overhead bin. Since I packed/checked my winter coat and tall boots, a middle seat felt surprisingly spacious (on an Air Canada Airbus 320). But it has been almost insufferable how warm and dry the flight has been.
There is always something to complain about!
[Written during AC189 flight on Sunday, January 2, 2014.]
Over the weekend (January 18/19), Wil Wheaton was retweeting nerdy tattoos. Given my personal stance on tattoos, especially the big ones (i.e., why would someone do that to themselves?!), I was a little skeptical, especially of the more graphical ones. But when you frame it in a, um, sensual part of the body and it looks like this …
I kind of really want one. (Correction: I want a spray-on or temporary version.) It’s like when those people get the wrong Chinese character tattoo, I’d be out of my element and make a mistake, so would the tattoo artist, making an error and thereby entirely changing the meaning.
The ongoing joke of the highest geekiness has been to say things in Klingon. You (I) didn’t really hear anything about Vulcan although I’m not that hardcore of a fan (obviously). I definitely identify better with Vulcans than Klingons and the mystery of the former has intrigued me more. From what I can tell, the language was conceived of and designed by Star Trek writers but fleshed out by linguists, language consultants like the man behind Korsaya and fans. It is now a language and I can’t naively go and type out my name “w-y-n-n-e” using Vulcan Script font and expect that it “makes sense”. According to T’Laina who runs Gen-lis Vuhlkansu, it takes a year to learn the language. A fleeting idea crossed my mind… then exited.
So, let’s just enjoy the beauty of ceremonial Vulcan calligraphy and leave it at that with an example from one of T’Laina’s posts.
The famous Arthur Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes quote, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” is translated into Vulcan as “Lu snem-tor du ri-tor-yehat nam-tor yeht’es ek’if hafau — ri yauluhk uf rikesik.” Not every English word has a Vulcan equivalent and the Vulcan phrase translated back to English reads as, “When eliminate you not-possible be truth all’which remains – not important how unlikely.”
Image from vulcanlanguageofficial.tumblr.com/.
On my way to work on Monday, someone caught up to me when I was walking at a fast clip across Cambie Bridge. He introduced himself as Colin and I thought he said he’s a photographer and he asked if he could include me in his project, one I’d never heard of before. It’s not dark at 7:40 in the morning, someone is bound to come up from behind or ahead and I’m not exactly the desirable demographic to kidnap so I agreed.
Since January 1 this year, Colin has been working everyday at his new project, The Stranger Project 2014, where he aims to talk to and document his conversation with one stranger per day. Since I met him on January 20, that would make me #20. Local news outlets have covered his project by the time he has been two weeks in (Global News, CTV News). I must not have hesitated too much about having my photo taken and agreeing to participate and we spent the back 15 minutes of my walk to work with him getting to know me.
Colin leads the conversation with get-to-kn0w you questions like how long you’ve been in Vancouver, a little about your family, a query of what you do for a living and a focus on hobbies. I tried to make sure that I didn’t reveal too much – what would my mother or NPY not be pleased to read about on some public Facebook page? I wanted to share my tech-geeky side (because that’s cool and all) and that probably came through because we talked about podcasts and I was honestly listening to a the BCC Documentary Archive podcast “Boy for Rent” [mp3]. How salacious!
It certainly made my day. As the little social media/blogging nut that I am, I’m happy to help him with his project, follow it on Facebook and spread the word. Since the photo he took wasn’t total rubbish (who’s going to look chipper under a fluorescent bulb outdoors first thing on a Monday morning??), I even shared it on my normally silent Facebook and engage to foster conversation on “my” post… Now I have a new Facebook feed to follow and entertain me with at least one new and refreshing article a day!
Am I some kind of “fame” “whore” to note that if he had talked to me within the first 15 days of the project, I would be in the slideshow of the Huffington Post (BC) article! The Huff Po! ;)
Funny I would get around to this post when we are looking at a week relatively free of rain. But who’s complaining?!
I hate the rain in Vancouver in a instinctive knee-jerk kind of way, but there’s no point in dwelling upon it. I also eschew sing-song platitudes like, “I love the Vancouver rain because it makes it so green and the most beautiful place in the world!” Yech.
The rain and gloomy days seem endless but I don’t count them because that would make it seem worse. And, over the years, I’ve built up an arsenal to make it all more bearable. These days, I walk to work – 25 minutes each way – which necessitates some equipment and this is what is working for me.
- A selection of umbrellas. It’s kind of sad but purchasing an umbrella these days is as enjoyable as shopping for accessories like a bag or shoes. Once upon a time, I had one of those Ikea umbrellas that is too large for one person, really, but you stay so nice and dry. I also had a cheerful yellow umbrella that automatically opened and closed, but that was stolen from right outside my apartment stoop. So I replaced the yellow umbrella with another one that doest not automatically close :( but sufficient in size for two people. I have a girly stick umbrella that I pick up on trips to Toronto at One’s for $16. I also have three purse-size umbrellas, of which only one is shown – it’s also from One’s and and is company colours. ;)
- Waterproof boots. I don’t love mine because in an absolute sense, they look a bit ugly like pure-black wellies. You can see in this photo that actually the upper part is a black watch plaid pattern and these were a gift from Lil Sis from Joe Fresh. The plaid makes it more interesting and only subtly so but I get worried that if I wear another pattern, it might clash with the plaid. I kind of want Hunter boots but these are easier to kick off.In conjunction with wearing boots, I also exclusively wear dresses with tights during the rainy season. I feel horribly unslick if I tucked pants into boots and dresses make me feel pretty when the raingear drives the opposite feeling.
- Waterproof bags. I love the Cath Kidston bag because of its pattern. I don’t love so much it is a shoulder bag. This past week, I’ve been oh-so comfortably slinging the LeSportSac cross-body, throwing in my wallet, workout clothes and lunch and having a heck of a time digging in there for my work pass right when I’m at the front door. :P It took a long time to (a) find the right bag shape at the right price and (b) find a pattern that was signature LeSportSac but can stand the test of time.For more elegant rainy days (do those even exist?), I have a chrome-colour slouchy hobo-style Matt & Nat bag (not pictured) that is made of recycled and/or vegan materials that is water-resistant.
- Podcasts. I can’t claim that my podcast subscriptions are really interesting. They are confined to a bunch of CBC and Quick & Dirty Tips and one BBC World Service documentary subscription. Marketing, comedy and movie reviews make the time go by much better.
- My Fitbit. I just got it last Christmas from NPY because you just couldn’t escape it at any turn as being the tech gift of the season. :D My apartment is located such that it takes 25 minutes to walk to work. If I take a train in, it is only two stops, costs me $2.10 at the “discounted” ticket price and takes seven minutes to walk to the train station – it feels like bad value. I end up wanting to walk unless I know I’m running late. I get ~4,000 steps each way I walk that goes towards my low daily goal of 10,000 steps. So, for the sake of not falling behind, I’m convinced to walk every day. Even in pouring rain.
- Finally, a mental trick: I love Toronto and all and I’m still tough eastern Canada transplant but I’ll take moisture over the harsh, dry, skin-damaging cold of the rest of Canada. (Heh, this post is also not so timely because we’re not too far from that number the snowstorms did on air travel when everyone was trying to get back to work/school after holidays.)
Very recently, like just the day before, I was adding photos I had tagged with my company’s name to Flickr and I wondered at the size of the set of my photos tagged with my company and it was a pleasant stroll down memory lane even though it is just two years long. In two years, I have worked in four different offices – two as a result of “secondment” and the fourth and current one because I transferred here. Work has given me the opportunity to visit and spend significant time somewhere I’d “never” go to but now think of fondly, Saskatoon.
I work for a professional services firm with offices around the globe and huge global reach. So I get excited when I see our advertisements splashed across billboards at airports. And it gives me purpose when I travel to seek out our office in the city I’m visiting and visit the office and/or photograph the signage. We have the building naming rights/outdoor signage in Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal, Detroit, New York, London, Amsterdam and Paris. I’ve seen them all. Because we sponsored the exhibition at the Tate Modern, I came to know the beautiful work by Paul Klee. That’s all aside from the neat things I have been able to do as an employee – from a rockin’ evening at a Battle of the Bands in Toronto to working at our prestigious annual awards gala at the convention center. I’m really grateful for the opportunities and when I think I’ve “plateaued”, there just happens to be more around the corner!
It was a particularly stressful week and day on Wednesday with a proposal that was far from being tight (but was getting there) going through endless revisions. I know about the process in theory but it was my first time running through it.
[Aside: A partner I recently started to support gets a kick out of my name, "Wynne, are we winning yet?" And I groan and answer, "No!" And on Wednesday, I most certainly was not winning either.]
My podmate told me someone in Marketing was coming to see me and I was anxious that I would be requested for something when I felt particularly stretched thin. And my phone rang. As I was getting off the phone, a little crowd had gathered and the Marketing person (I hadn’t met her before) was holding balloons and I wondered who the lucky duck was … me! I won balloons! And, a round-trip to anywhere in Canada!
It pays to be work geeky. I enter the contests for free mugs open to the entire global firm provided you watch a webcast (or read the transcript) by the global CEO. I submitted a suggestion when one of our Canadian offices opened up naming their meeting rooms to our suggestions. I sent in a photo of myself posing with one of our airport advertisement campaigns and ended up in the Canadian daily news e-mail. And when trivia questions were posed about the history of our firm in Canada (celebrating 150 years this year, hence the balloons chosen), I submitted my answers almost every week of 8 weeks in hope of winning in the weekly Visa gift card draw. Correct answer submissions, apparently, were also entered in the grand prize draw for the flight!
When the prize is something I would have purchased anyways, after my initial shock and glee, I rein in otherwise exorbitant excitement. But I’m happy again upon the realization that I was lucky to have my name drawn and had someone else won it, I would have thought I “deserved it” more given my frequent flights to nearly the farthest end of Canada. Mum’s response was to suggest that I use it during high season. And I can’t use it and go “far” (eastern Canada) and not see my family. Hopefully I can roll going somewhere I’ve never been to (like Newfoundland) with seeing my family!
“Are we winning yet?”
I guess we are now. :)