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Traveling to Italy: The Essential Guide
May 7, 2010 at 12:00 pm 0

It's Spring, and the travel bug is spreading like crazy! This year Italy is a very hot vacation destination. With loads of airlines having big sales, hotels offering deals, and a huge desire to get away the time is now to plan your summer vacation. Check out these posts with great tips on what to see, where to go, and what it's like. Florence Tuscany Rome Amalfi Coast Siena 7 Things You Need To Know Before Going To Italy Shopping In Italy
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Travel
Mar del Plata: An Argentinean Beach Town Getaway
April 23, 2010 at 9:27 am 0


beach town!
While in Argentina the size and activity in Buenos Aires can be a bit much. So why not take a weekend off and go to the renowned beach town Mar del Plata? A short four hour drive outside of Buenos Aires, you can rent a car, take the bus, or hop on the train to get here. Once you arrive the first thing you want to do is head to the beach! The rocky shore, grassy slopes and soft sand all combine to make a beautiful beach landscape. In Mar del Plata the beaches are all well maintained, and extremely popular, so if you go in peak season prepare to be packed in the sand with 2 million of your closest friends! It will be busy, but it's worth it - the views are gorgeous, the vibe is cool, and the setup of the area will remind you of beach towns of yesteryear with a gorgeous boardwalk that spans from one side of town to the other.

the walrus on the boardwalk
If you want a more exclusive beach experience you can always go to the private beaches a bit further south. Nikki beach is just by the lighthouse and offers a great beach, parking, and a fancier beach experience. Whichever beach you chose keep in mind this is the Atlantic Ocean, and you're pretty far south, so it's pretty chilly all year round - even in the hot period of January/February. Look what happened when we went in the water!

it's freezing!
After strolling on the beach for a few hours it's time to grab a bit. If you are going to a waterfront restaurant bring your patience along because the queue to get in will be long, and service will take forever! Some of the Mar del Plata institutions include Manolo's (an Argentinean take on the American diner) and Torreon (a coffee shop designed to look like a monastery). Keep in mind that Argentinean's eat lightly during the day, and have a large dinner at night, so the lunch options will be on the lighter side.

torrean
After lunch it's time to head downtown and see the city sights and have an afternoon cafe. When downtown Boston Confectionary is a great coffee shop, and the medialunes (half moon pastries that are like croissants but sweeter) are out of this world! After your coffee stop stroll around the pedestrian streets, enjoy the parks, and take your time just strolling around and taking in the local culture. Keep in mind that any touristy areas, like the pedestrian streets, are hotspots for pick pocketing and purse snatching, so keep your possessions close to you. After some light shopping downtown it's time to head over to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Our top pick is the Sheraton hotel; it's clean, new, the service is excellent and it's a bit removed from the party central downtown. You also have excellent views from pretty much every room and breakfast in the charming La Pampa restaurant is included in the nights stay. The hotel is close to the golf course, and also close to the cool night spots on Alen Street.

the sheraton
After a long afternoon nap it's tea time. Some light sandwiches a warm drink and lots of water will have you refreshed and ready for evening. When it's time to head out on the town for dinner - typically around 930pm there are great barbecue offerings, or pasta from La Trattoria. When dining make sure you take in the great night sights of the city. There are many beautiful places to watch the city go by, so make sure you enjoy! Looking for a little night-time activity? Alen Street is a great pick for bars, cafes, ice cream shops, and watching live music. If you are tempted to go to the casino think again. It's a dark, dirty and depressing place to spend some time, and with smoking inside and no ventilation it's hard to see the poker tables through the smoky plumes of the players. Mar del Plata is a great place to visit, and one of the most charming towns/cities in Argentina. Known as the Vegas of Argentina it's a bit of a party town, but the natural beauty of the area make it a great place for families and pretty much everyone enjoy!
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Travel
Travel Diaries – Road Trip: Savannah
January 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm 0
For years I have wanted to go to Savannah. It all started when I was an ESL teacher in Korea. On one of our many nights of drinking wine together my friend Lise and I shared stories on our favourite cities to visit. Lise mentioned that her favourite city by far was Savannah - with all the gardens on every block, beautiful historical architecture and Southern charm.



Gorgeous buildings on every corner in Savannah

Gorgeous buildings on every corner in Savannah

When my fiance and I showed up in Savannah we weren't sure where to go or what to expect. We parked by the river and walked around the tourist area. It was pretty busy and lots of tourists were walking around, going in the boutiques, and tasting the local seafood. The cobble stone streets and old buildings created a wonderful ambience, but one of the coolest things were the sidewalks, which was concrete with oyster shells and other shells mixed in. It was super original - I've never seen anything like it before!

Savannah river sidewalks have a seashells mixed in!

Savannah river sidewalks have a seashells mixed in!

Once we had a coffee in the outdoor market we headed up to higher ground and walked around the old town. It was gorgeous! There were big, beautiful, historical homes with wonderful landscaping, and at almost every block there was a small city park. With the slow, Southern pace, beautiful homes and lovely little parks Savannah was the most walking friendly city I've been in.

Parks on every block make Savannah a great city to walk in

Parks on every block make Savannah a great city to walk in

We didn't have a plan in particular for the day, we just wanted to explore and visit the city - given the small city and walkable environment it was easy to do! So we strolled, visited the parks, read all the plaques and learned about the monuments in each park, and strolled some more. When it was time for a break we happened upon a gorgeous building - the Forsyth Mansion. We sat back, had a glass of wine and admired the phenomenal restoration of the historical building. It was stunning and fuelled so many ideas about how I would decorate my fantasy house.

The gorgeous Forsyth Mansion is worth a visit

The gorgeous Forsyth Mansion is worth a visit



One of the dining rooms at the Foryth Mansion

One of the dining rooms at the Foryth Mansion

When the sun set we strolled back to the car, admired the final scenes and headed back on the road to our next stop. Savannah was a beautiful city to visit, and if I'd had more time I would have loved to stay in the Forsythe Mansion, eat at the great restaurants and live like a Southerner for a few days. Up Next: Key West, Florida
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Travel
Need a Vacation But Don’t Have the Time or Money?
November 12, 2009 at 12:27 pm 0
A mini staycation may be the perfect fix for you! It doesn’t take a ton of planning and can be really inexpensive too. Step One: Set aside a day or two and make it into a mini staycation. It could be right now, or if you’re slammed with work/life within the next little while. Step Two: Think of all the great things in your city that you just never get to see. Remember that art gallery that re-opened that you have never been to? That amazing Swiss restaurant that you have been dying to try? Make a list of what you want to do, and then figure out what you can reasonably do within two days...but make sure you save some time for relaxing so you’re not burned out from your mini staycation. Step Three: Make any reservations that need to be made, and contact your friends if you’d like to include them in your plans. Step Four: Based on what you want to do, and who you want to do it with, build a basic schedule for your mini staycation. Step Five: Enjoy! Here’s an example of a staycation plans and budget for a 2 day mini vacation in Toronto. For me I love to tour around and get exercise, so those are central to my plans. Friday night: - Nap after work - Meet up with friends and try out the cheese fondue place on Elm Street for a late dinner ($60 per person) Saturday: - Sleep in - Grab a coffee and go to specialty book store with big fluffy coaches and classical music playing. Select a few books that will set my imagination on fire! ($30) - Go for a light lunch on Front Street ($20) - Drop by St. Lawrence Market – pick up some flowers and wine ($40) - Take a long walk along the Toronto Harbourfront – get some exercise and sit on the beach chairs watching the waves pass by while letting my mind wander - Return home, have a hot bath and get all sassied up for tonight. - Date night! Go to the new French "communal style" restaurant I’ve been dying to try out ($120 for 2) Sunday: - Sleep in - Go for a swim and steam - Head up to the Art Gallery of Ontario for lunch ($25) - Tour around the gallery and get art inspired! ($20) - Go to High Park for a walk and duck watching - Head home, order sushi in, read new books and relax! ($20) For a total of $335 I've lived like a queen for a weekend, seen the scenes, and had a lovely mini staycation.
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Travel
Weekend Warrior: Washingon D.C.
August 24, 2009 at 5:22 pm 2
Recently I went on a weekend trip to Washington, DC. It was my first trip to this part of the country and I went with my boyfriend and his parents to celebrate his nephews 3rd birthday party. Luckily for me we stayed at a lovely hotel downtown. I was excited to get a chance to do touristy stuff but also, since it was the first time I was meeting his brother and his family it seemed a little strange to sleep in their house. We arrived in Washington on Saturday morning and after we checked into our hotel we did some touring around. We went to the White House, the Reflecting Pools and War Memorials, and the city streets around our hotel. On Saturday evening we had a big family dinner and on Sunday we had my boyfriend’s nephews 3rd birthday party. It was very cute, but very different for me too. I realized that living a very “downtown” life in the city, with mostly single friends, or at least most of my friends don’t have babies, I’d never been to a birthday party with all families. I think I was the only woman at the party without a child! It was interesting to see how all the kids different personalities worked and all the families interacted very differently. It was so cute to spot the very curious little personalities looking at everything, putting their fingers in places they don’t belong, chasing the bubbles from the bubble maker and smearing cake icing all over their little faces! On Monday morning we woke up late and did a bit more touring around, this time to Capital Hill and the train station. The train station was fascinating for me. It was so beautiful and had such great design inspiration inside. It’s one of the few train stations I’ve seen in North America that is spotlessly clean and has facilities for tourists and travellers, but also restaurants and cafes for locals. I really enjoyed Washington, DC. It is a beautiful city and I’m excited to go back already. I’m hoping to go back in the Spring, and see the famous fruit tree blossoms – so fresh and beautiful…and everywhere!
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Travel
Weekend Warrior: Day Trip to Toronto Islands
August 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm 0
This summer in Toronto has been less than ideal, with rain on almost every weekend, and temperatures well below the seasonal average. However, it seems that summer has finally arrived and last weekend was a shining example of the beautiful summers we get in the city. I’m always more than happy to travel out of the city during the winter months, but in the summer there’s no place I’d rather be than in Toronto.

One of my favourite summertime activities is to visit the islands just outside of the downtown harbour. The islands have always been the playground for city dwellers and they are easy to get to on a fun 10 minute ferry ride. You can take bikes and rollerblades on the ferry, or you can canoe/kayak/sail over. There are no cars on the island, so it’s really peaceful and ideal for families to go for day trips with large picnics. There are button cute cottages on the east side of the islands, and a “little kid” friendly amusement park in the middle of the islands. It’s a great place to take bike trips, and with open barbecue pits and tables it’s a great place to throw a party. Every time I go there I’m taken away into dream land with the sounds of children playing nearby, while I’m having a lovely picnic under weeping willow trees with sailboats floating by.
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Travel
Seven Italian Lessons
August 14, 2009 at 12:12 pm 0
1. With the right travel partner touring in unkown lands is a delight. I went with my boyfriend, and we spent every minute together for 11 days. Even in stressful situations we laughed about it later. With the wrong travel partner you could spend a painful two weeks stressed out of your mind. 2. Tuscan wines are to be enjoyed in excess. Wine with lunch, afternoon wines, wine with dinner, after dinner drinks, nightcaps…….. it was all so amazing that I couldn’t resist. 3. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. It happened on day six, when my pants didn’t fit…..I realized that a steady diet of cheese, wine and salami are not slimming. 4. Shopping in Italy is a serious activity. Everybody dresses up and looks their very best to go to the shops and be waited on. And, there is a definite etiquette to be followed….I don’t know what it is, but I know that I don’t know it. 5. There are no Italians…..in tourist areas anyways. I was amazed that after travelling through Florence, Rome, Amalfi and Siena that there were almost no Italians……I found them on the last day in the outskirts of Florence. I can’t blame them, I’d go crazy too if I had millions of tourists in my town every year. 6. Italians are not that friendly. French people have a bad reputation from tourists because they let you know they don’t like you, whereas Italians just ignore you. I was expecting them to be warmer and more inviting. 7. Sometimes you just need to sit back. Let the driver wiz you around - even if you are two inches from all the other cars, flying around sharp corners and going through dark tunnels at 140km/hour, just go with it! Otherwise you’ll be stressed your ENTIRE vacation, and that’s just not fun.
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Travel
Siena: Italian Dream Part Five
August 3, 2009 at 4:35 pm 0
Siena After driving for five hours it was a relief to arrive in Siena. It’s a charming small city that has a rich history and amazing views of the Tuscan countryside from all sides. The city itself is perched atop a hill, and considering it’s known around the world and has many tourists, it still manages to maintain its small town feel. Walking around the city is a must, and given its size there is no need for a car, especially since most streets seem to be pedestrian only. There are lovely buildings to see, a great core to the city where they have famous bareback horse races each year, and a very relaxed feeling to the city. We went out for lunch with another couple and I had another outstanding meal. I wanted to try something very adventurous, and not the standard pasta or salad and antipasto, so I had pheasant roasted with pinenuts and raisins, and it was delicious. It was juicy and sweet and had a powerful combination of flavours that blended extremely well. As we drove out of Siena after our two days in the city it was time to face the sunset of our trip and prepare to come back to Canada. With so much moving around I didn’t realize all the places we’d visited and how alternating cities and countryside every two days had been the perfect combination. We got to enjoy a lot of exciting historical and cultural offerings in the city, but we also got to relax and recoup in the countryside. Not only did we see a ton, but we felt relaxed about our trip instead of frazzled from all the moving around. It’s the first time I’ve tried this format for a trip, and I’d recommend it to anyone, including my boyfriend for our next trip…….hmmmm….where to go?
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Travel
Amalfi Coast: Italian Dream Part Four
July 24, 2009 at 9:20 am 0
Amalfi Coast I had huge expectations for the Amalfi Coast. I thought it was the playground of the rich and famous, a place where the elite go to relax and enjoy beautiful views and a warm culture. As it turns out I was wrong. It wasn’t so fancy (neither am I since I don’t even know where the fancy people go!), there were no Italians, and it seemed like a beautiful landscape that earned a great reputation many years ago and has held onto the reputation that is now no longer warranted. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is outstanding, but if you want to go out and about and discover the towns be prepared to pay a fortune for anything and be englulfed in the crowds of middle aged Brits and Americans – not the charming old Italian grandmothers and friendly locals that I was expecting. To find something less touristy we drove into the hills one night for dinner. There were still many tourists in Ravello, but I was distracted by my delicious meal. I had the best fish I’ve ever eaten – it was grilled and came with a fresh mint, olive oil and lemon sauce on top that was heavenly. I still daydream about it. After spending two days in Priano, Positano and Amalfi I was happy to get back on the beautiful and twisty rounds and move to our next destination. Stay Tuned: My favourite city is next! For more on Italian travel journals see the post on Florence, Tuscany and Rome.
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Travel
Rome: Italian Dream Part Three
July 23, 2009 at 9:43 am 3
Rome We left Tuscany very early in the morning and drove to Rome hoping to arrive prior to rush hour traffic. You’ve probably heard that the drivers in Italy are crazy, and that’s 100% correct. Luckily for me my boyfriend drives like an Italian very comfortably – he’s an expert at driving inches away from other cars at one hundred miles an hour, changing lanes like a madman, and passing people on roads that only fit one car. For most tourists driving in Italy is stressful, but for my boyfriend it was the ultimate driving test, and he passed with a gold sticker! As we were driving into Rome I thought my boyfriend was going to explode with enthusiasm over the architecture and historical buildings. After stepping out of the car many times to see the buildings we were passing we finally arrived at our hotel, only to leave within seconds and see the sights – and they are sights to behold. We went to the standard tourist spots like the Coliseum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps and Trevi fountains, and then we just walked around the city getting lost, taking little alleyways, and stopping for coffee and wine often. I really wanted to go shopping in Rome and shop we did! We were all messy and sweaty from walking around all day but that didn’t stop us (even though I’m sure many shopkeepers wish it did). Shopping in Italy is a serious activity, it’s very expensive, and not something to be taken casually. Everybody dresses up and looks their very best to go to the shops and be waited on. And, there is a definite etiquette to be followed….I don’t know what it is, but I know that I don’t know it. The funny thing is, the salespeople in the luxury stores were much friendlier than at the mid price stores. We went into Prada and although we seemed like misfits (messy, dirty, looking like tourists and touching everything) they were very nice to us. But at Furla the girls were so obnoxious and rude. It made me crazy that this girl was two steps behind me re-organizing everything that I touched and huffing and puffing the whole time, like I was causing her major undue stress. Ummmmm – you work in sales right? Customer service? Oh well, I was on vacation so I wasn’t going to let that bring me down! After two full days, and plenty of sight seeing and shopping, it was time to move on. I really enjoyed Rome – it felt like an actual Italian city and not just a tourist spot. There are locals around, going to and fro work and they tend to co-exist much better with the flocks of tourists than in Florence. I could have spent a few more days in the city, but it was time to move south. Up Next: the beautiful Amalfi Coast For more Italian travel journals see my posts on Florence and Tuscany
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Travel
Tuscany: Italian Dream Part Two
July 17, 2009 at 9:15 am 2
The Tuscan Countryside After two exhausting days in Florence it was so nice to escape to the countryside. By chance we made a hotel reservation to a modest looking hotel, the Borgo di Fontebussi, which turned out to be a luxury retreat. The pictures on Expedia do not do justice, and the price was amazing for what you got. As we drove up to the gated retreat I just wanted to sit inside and take a nap…until I saw the place we were staying….and then I felt like a princess who just landed in heaven. There were many different buildings, a lovely pool, two restaurants and many seating/park areas. The views from the hotel were outstanding and it was filled entirely with Europeans that wanted a little getaway. Everyone was just relaxing and having lovely slow meals, drinking wine together, sitting on the grass and enjoying life. It was bliss! After spending our first day in the retreat it was time to check out and go to Cinque Terre, but I just couldn’t leave. My very accommodating boyfriend had no problem with losing money on our other hotel reservation and staying on one more night….he’s so lovely about these things. Since we had an extra day we decided to peel ourselves away from the heaven retreat and visit the Chianti route. We drove around all day and visited many different towns, cafes, restaurants and vineyards. It was nice to just chit chat away driving down the country roads, getting lost and seeing amazing views at every turn. Throughout the entire day I was concocting plans in my head figuring out how I would take a six month sabbatical in Tuscany, living in a farm house, eating glorious food at every meal, and drinking the best wines I could imagine. Tuscany is a place to lose yourself in fantasy….and indeed I did. I felt so relaxed, blissful and in love with everything, and I’d go back tomorrow if I could. Stay Tuned: The crazy city of Rome is next! For more Italian travel journals see posts on Florence and Rome
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