"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."

~ St. Augustine

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I See Paris, I See France

December 31st, 2012

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Sunset on the Seine; Notre Dame in silhouette

Notre Dame, silhouetted in sunset

It’s New Year’s Eve! And while I’m looking forward to the new year, this soon-to-be-past year has definitely been a good one. One of the highlights of my 2012 was a trip to Europe with my family. You may have already seen a few photos of Bruges, so here are some favourites from Paris.

Happy New Year, everyone – and may 2013 bring you many adventures at home and abroad!

Sunset on the Seine

One of my favourite shots from a trip along the Seine River

The Eiffel Tower

The obligatory shot of the Eiffel Tower

Underneath the Arc de Triomphe

Underneath the Arc de Triomphe

Gilded sculptures on the bridges of the Seine

Gilded sculptures grace the bridges of the Seine

Two of the clocks on the Musee d'Orsay are actually windows as well.

Window clocks at the Musée d’Orsay look out across the river.

Montmartre from afar

Montmartre from a distance; the view from the rooftop of the Musée d’Orsay

Paris Louvre arches

After exploring the French sculpture galleries at the Louvre, take a rest on one of the benches in this beautifully arched stairwell.

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A giant copper tub of delectable candied chestnuts at Jean-Paul Hévin on Rue Saint-Honoré. I could just dive in…

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The famous macarons from Pierre Hermé. We gently devoured these on a bench in the Jardin des Tuileries. Delicate, airy and perfectly balanced in flavour – we are ruined for life as the macarons available here do not compare!

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The extensive gardens at Versailles are full of sculptures like this…

Sculptures at Versailles

…and this.

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The biggest fountain at Versailles is right in the middle of all the gardens.

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At Giverny; Monet’s house was very clearly an inspiration for his work. It is perfectly maintained today, life imitating art as art imitates life.

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Bruges

June 11th, 2012

flags in 't Zand, Bruges

In Bruges, most of the people you’ll see will be European tourists. There’s nothing wrong with this, mind you – it’s nothing like Paris where in some places, the onslaught and the obnoxiousness of tourists can be downright overwhelming. On the contrary, the people you meet, whether local or not, will be generally friendly and polite. A former European economic powerhouse, Bruges is now a world heritage site, and a lovely and quaint city with a rich cultural and commercial history. We spent a few days there recently, and here are a few highlights.

Sightseeing

There is much to see in Bruges, from museums dedicated to the specialties of Bruges’s commercial pursuits to historical buildings. Among other things, we took a boat trip through the canals for a visual guide to many of the sights around the city, climbed up the Belfry for a bird’s eye view, and toured a local brewery (our guide reminded me of Judy Dench, and was hilarious). Tip: wear good shoes that will withstand the cobblestone streets while keeping your feet comfortable.

boat ride through canals, Bruges

boat ride through canals, Bruges

The Hotel Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, Bruges

The Hotel Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, featured in the 2008 movie In Bruges

view from atop the Belfry, Bruges

The view from atop the Belfry; the tower of the Church of Our Lady is a prominent landmark.

Simon Stevinplein, Bruges

Funky trees in Simon Stevinplein, a square (ok, more like trapezoid) surrounded by shops and restaurants

Beer aging tanks, Bruges

Beer aging tanks in the Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan

Culture

Bruges is a city fully steeped in the arts. We marveled at the painstakingly rendered paintings of the Flemish primitives (which were hardly primitive) at the Groeningemuseum; I would give an example, but photos simply do not do these masterpieces justice (not by a long shot). I regret to say that our short stay left us no time to catch a concert at the Concertgebouw, but that will certainly be on my list for the next time we visit.

Food

You might immediately think of waffles, mussels & fries (mosselen & friets), chocolate and beer when you think of Belgium, but to our surprise and delight we found that the local restaurants serve a menu much more diverse. Duck and local seafood figure prominently, as do potatoes. We had an outstanding salad with smoked duck breast, diced mangoes and specks of perfectly candied nuts at Brasserie Forestiere and marveled at the hefty tome of beers at Cambrinus (note: try the Corne, lest you be envious when your table neighbours order it). A visit to The Chocolate Line, in Simon Stevinplein, rewarded us with excellent chocolate in many classic and exotic flavours, both for ourselves and as gifts to bring home.

La Corne du Bois des Pendus beer

via La Corne du Bois des Pendus

Cambrinus

Cambrinus's book of beers

waffle, Bruges

a waffle from streetside stand Laurenzino

Until we return, Bruges. It was a lovely trip.

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Address is Approximate – a Toy’s tale of dreaming on Google Streetview

November 23rd, 2011

Address Is Approximate

As the days get shorter, colder, you might be in the office on this Wednesday morning wishing you were somewhere else. But what if the office was your whole world? Director Tom Jenkins brings you a tale of how a “lonely office toy”, yearning for travel, gets to live his dream with the help of his office friends and Google Streetview in this beautifully moving stop motion short.

In case you’re wondering about the music, the piece is called Arrival of the Birds, from Cinematic Orchestra. It truly is cinematic, with intoxicating waves of sound that swell and ebb, sweeping you along for the ride.

Enjoy!

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The Nassau Report: Now Open – Blu Restaurant

September 14th, 2011

Blu Restaurant Patio

I’ve been saving a few photos from my trip to Nassau; hiding them away for the opportune moment. That moment is now! When I visited, my host and friend in the Bahamas, Chef R, was in the process of opening a restaurant and as of today, it is open! They have a prime location in the downtown area and a beautiful patio overlooking the marina where the cruise ships dock. Chef R is incredibly talented, and I can’t wait to visit again to check out the restaurant in all its finished glory.

Blu Restaurant is located in the shiny new plaza, Elizabeth on Bay Marketplace & Marina

 

View of colourful downtown buildings from the first floor patio
The upper patio looks out onto the marina where cruise ships dock for the day.

Last but not least, I’d like to wish the best of luck to Chef R, my dear friend T, and the entire team at Blu! For more information on Blu, check out their Facebook page.

Hours:
Open 12pm – 12am (Monday to Thursday) and 12pm – 2am (Friday and Saturday)
Lunch served from 12pm – 4pm (Monday to Saturday)
Dinner served from 6pm – 10pm (Monday to Thursday) and 6pm – 11pm (Friday and Saturday)
Happy Hour from  5pm – 7pm (Wednesday to Friday)
Closed on Sunday
For reservations:
328-8258
reservations@blubahamas.com

Previously in Nassau Report:

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Remembrances of the U.A.E.

August 3rd, 2011

camels in Dubai

In my inbox yesterday was an email from Emirates (the airline of the U.A.E.) and I deleted it quickly. Not because I didn’t care, or because I dislike either the airline or country, but because a trip overseas isn’t currently on my books. It reminded me, however, of what a great time I had a few years ago when I visited, and I thought I’d share a few of my favourite photos from the trip with you today.

Dubai desert

Out in the desert, after going dune bashing

camels, Dubai

Camels! So funny looking and cute.

XVA Gallery courtyard

Looking into the courtyard of XVA Gallery in the Bastakiya District

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The courtyard of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque (yes, it’s a mouthful!)

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I loved visiting the U.A.E. and look forward to the day when I can go back!

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The Nassau Report: Miscellaneous Photos

August 2nd, 2011

Nassau Bahamas trees

Phew – I’m exhausted! It’s a holiday today, and I’ve been busy all weekend. Today I woke up early to have dim sum/brunch with some relatives who were visiting, and then spent the rest of the day at the beach. I haven’t had much sleep this weekend at all. Hope everyone has had a great (long) weekend!

And now, a few more photos from my trip to Nassau. I enjoy taking photos of unusual or interesting things, and so I inevitably end up with a few photos here and there that don’t really fit into a specific category.

Crazy tree growing up the side of a wall. This was in an area that is being redeveloped and I hope whoever renovates this building will see fit to keep this beautiful tree! It reminds me of Alphonse Mucha’s elegant, sinewy Art Nouveau work.

Gorgeous entwined trees

Where do these stairs lead?

Little geckos all over the place

Not unusual, but very important: the requisite feet in the sand photo

No trip to Nassau is complete without a visit to the Fish Fry!

Previously in Nassau Report:

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The Nassau Report: Marley Resort

July 30th, 2011

Marley Resort - Nassau, Bahamas

While in Nassau I had the pleasure of exploring the city with my hosts and good friends T & R, who had just moved there a few weeks prior to my arrival.  Of the restaurants we dined at over the duration of my stay, only one was located in a resort. No, it wasn’t the Wyndham, or Sandals – it was the Marley Resort. A low-key but distinctive property in Nassau’s Cable Beach area, it’s full of Bob Marley memorabilia and laid-back charm, and from the friendly, easy-going staff to Marley’s music streaming endlessly through speakers, it’s impossible not to sit back and enjoy the easy life while you’re there. Drinks are strong, time is plentiful, and life is really good.

After we had a drink at the bar, we were seated in the dining room to place our orders, and I decided to take advantage of the remaining light to walk around and take some photos:

The entrance to Marley Resort’s gift shop.

Winding paths leading to the gallery…

…and then to the bar.

Sitting at the bar, you’ll notice that the entire counter is made of a beautiful stained glass.

The pool area, looking out over the ocean.

Upon my return to the dining room, there was a warm biscuit waiting for me and guava butter on the side. My favourite dish by far that night was the appetizer of I-tal Pepperpot Soup, a soup made with Caribbean leafy and root vegetables, coconut juice, and Scotch Bonnet peppers. Warm and hearty, with a spicy kick, it’s comfort food at its best and I would definitely have it again.

Next up was the main, for which I’d ordered duck breast, marinated in pineapple and rum. The skin would have benefited from some crisping, the fat should have been rendered out, and the duck needed a bit more salt, but the meat was tender and I could taste the work of the rum and pineapple marinade. When it comes to duck though, I’m a little spoiled – I’m accustomed to the muscovy duck breast from my local butcher, done just the way I like it in my own home with my custom blend of seasoning – so for me, this was only okay, and I would rework it by seasoning the duck breast very simply, rendering out the fat and crisping up the skin, making a spiced rum sauce with a bit of peppery heat, and incorporating the pineapple via thin, oven-dried slices.

For dessert, we had molten chocolate cake, with a scoop of rum raisin ice cream and fresh fruit. The cake itself was quite rich, but sadly, the center lacked the gooeyness I always look forward to in a molten cake.

All in all, it’s definitely worth going to Marley Resort, and you should at least wander the grounds and have a few drinks at the bar. It’s a very well kept property, and a bit further from the main tourist areas for a quiet and relaxed feel. If you want to really feel like you’ve gotten away from it all, this is the place to go in Nassau!

Previously in Nassau Report:
Don’t Piss Off a Chef, Do Go To Luciano’s
The Colours of Nassau

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The Nassau Report: Don’t Piss Off a Chef, Do Go To Luciano’s

July 20th, 2011

rum baba at Luciano's - Nassau, Bahamas

What follows will be quite a long entry, but I’m rewarding you with some extra photos at the end!

One of the things you must do in any business is know your competition – what they do, what their strengths and weaknesses are; the advantages and challenges they face. My host, Chef R and his wife T, had been working their way around the restaurants in Nassau in advance of their restaurant opening, to get acquainted with some of the other chefs in town and to learn about what everyone else offers.

On my third day in the Bahamas we decided to go to Montagu Gardens Steak and Grill, a restaurant rated #8 in Nassau on Tripadvisor. We would usually scope out the menu first, but there was no website to be found and so, we were going in blind. But one of the perks consistently mentioned in the reviews was that the restaurant provides a complimentary shuttle to and from your hotel, so we called in a reservation and arranged to meet the shuttle at a nearby resort.

We arrived at the meeting location a few minutes early, so we waited, and talked about the menus we’d perused of other restaurants on the island. A couple minutes went by, and a couple more, until the shuttle was eight minutes overdue. At this point, Chef R was annoyed. The restaurant hadn’t called to notify us of any delay, and a customer shouldn’t be kept waiting without any notice or acknowledgment. That was it for Montagu. Could the food be good? Well, the customer reviews say so. But I’ll never know, and Chef R will never recommend to anyone a place that doesn’t deliver what they promise (would you?). It was on to the next place for us.

Black Angus Grille in the Wyndham was nearby and also rated highly, so we headed into Crystal Palace (the casino in the resort). Chef R was tempted by the slots, and managed to sneak a quick game in before T dragged him away. Unfortunately for us, it was a Monday, and Black Angus appeared to be closed. The restaurant next door, Moso, was Asian fusion, and I was in the mood for something that sounded at least a little more authentic. We had a drink at Moso, then caught a cab to the downtown core.

Another of the restaurants on our list was the expat haven, Van Breugel’s, but sadly, they also appeared to be closed for the day (we ended up going another day, and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. If you like a young, professional, worldly crowd, I highly recommend you drop in!). Chef R, racking his brain for ideas, remembered that he’d been to a restaurant on a Monday before. Correction: he’d been to Luciano’s on a Monday before. We stumbled upon the same cab that just dropped us off, and he kindly took us to the restaurant for free – on the condition that we’d call him to drive us back home. In the three weeks he’d been in Nassau, it was Chef’s third time at Luciano’s, and the staff recognized him right away.

T mentioned that the drinks were very good, and I ordered a Manhattan while Chef R went into the bar and chatted up the sous chef for a good half hour. Our waiter was affable, animated and very professional, and were it not for the view of Atlantis from the patio and the Bahamian-tongued staff, I would have felt this establishment to be just like any proper casual fine dining experience in the rest of North America. I must apologise, for I was far too hungry to reach for my camera instead of my fork, but I can assure you that my veal saltimbocca was tender, properly seasoned (well, perhaps a smidgen too much salt), and balanced with expertly done rapini, carrots, and potatoes.

Upon completion of our main course, we were summoned to the bar by Chef R, who had returned there and made himself quite comfortable, and were treated to some chocolate arancini. We also ordered the chocolate rum raisin bread pudding and the rum baba (it’s the Bahamas and you must have rum!), which were both quite sizeable, and despite their deliciousness and our best efforts, we were unable to clean our plates.

Rum Baba

I don’t judge a restaurant by just one thing or another, but by the satisfaction I get from the overall experience. With good food, excellent service, a wonderfully romantic patio and a gentle breeze coming off the water, I was certainly happy at Luciano’s. The soft, old-school jazz and proper, fenced driveway up to the entrance? Well, that’s gravy. Delectable, mood-setting gravy.

Oh, hi there!

And now – some extra photos as promised! See the lights across the water from me in the above photo? That’s Atlantis on Paradise Island. They had some marvelous blown glass pieces (by artist Dale Chihuly), as you can see below.

Inside the casino area

Until next time!

Previously in Nassau Report:
The Colours of Nassau

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The Nassau Report: The Colours of Nassau

July 12th, 2011

Colours of Nassau, Bahamas

One of the things I love about travelling is being able to take in the colours, structures, and patterns of the places I go. Every new spot has its own unique visual flavour, and it’s a thrill to observe even the small things, such as the patterns in fences and paving. To me, the most visually striking aspect of Nassau is the palette of bright colours from the flowers and buildings, combined with the clear blues of the ocean and sky.

Here are a few shots from my home-away-from-home (thanks, T&R!):

Climbing flowering vines line the fences:

Others form themselves into trees and climb tall into the sky…

…leaving their spent petals at the edges of white curbs.

Docked cruise ships and bright buildings mingle in the touristy downtown strip:

What do you like to look at when you go travelling?

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On a jet plane…

June 3rd, 2011

Off I fly, careering far
In chase of Pollys, prettier far
Than any of their namesakes are
—The Polymaths and Polyhistors,
Polyglots and all their sisters.
~Thomas Moore, The Devil Among Scholars

I’m going on a little trip! It’ll be full of sun, sand, and a special little project I’m working on with a friend. I’ll keep up the posting, but couldn’t resist telling you how excited I am to be heading off!

À bientôt, mes amis!

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