quebec city, QC

After a lovely trip to Montreal in 2012, I was overjoyed to return to Quebec for a trip to Quebec City. Much to my delight, the exchange rate to Canadian dollars worked in our favor this time around, and the ticket is much cheaper than a flight to Paris. The old fortified city did not disappoint. Historically fascinating, visually stunning, and nutritionally lacking, this trip had all the makings for a wonderful experience.

old quebec

We stayed in an airbnb in an awesome neighborhood called St. Roch. I can’t recommend it enough  – although described as “up and coming” it was really hip. It was about 30 minutes walk to Old Quebec, and although very hilly it was nice to get a real sense of the city. The best part was that there were no other tourists around. The neighborhood is filled with French restaurants with a down-to-earth twist. Although we attempted to go to L’affaire est Ketchup, it was booked. We tried the sister restaurant Patente et Machin. I loved the two servers there, both burly food-lovers (and one being a Philadelphia Eagles fan), who made sure we understood every detail of the menu, reciting it in both English and French. We also adored La Cuisine and went twice! A local spot with classic board and video games, they also have an “at home” vibe. We were the last ones in the place while facing off in an unsettled game of chess. When we absolutely could not eat another bite of French food, St. Roch wow’ed us once again with Hosaka-ya Ramen. Hot steaming bowls of ramen comforted us on a rainy summer night after a long day of sight-seeing.

ile d'orleans

One of my favorite days was spent on the Ile d’Orleans. As soon as a Quebecoise mentioned, “the island is our orchard,” I knew i had to go. We tried ice cider, which is made from frozen apples in Quebec’s freezing winters. The result is a much sweeter cider. We tried strawberries, chocolate, and even had lunch at the Panache Mobile, a food truck version of Quebec City’s most renowned restaurant. It was only fitting we climbed a million stairs after lunch to check out the top of Montmorency.

ile d'orleans

Of course, wandering through Québec City’s cobblestone streets and hearing French spoken left me blissful for many days. The stunning Chateau Frontenac had musicians playing classic French romantic music, and I feel for it very hard.

chateau frontenacA la prochaine, Québec…

 

Maine

Sitting here in the bitter cold, I am dreaming about our trip last September to Maine. We visited Portland and Lamoine (outside of Bar Harbor). Living most of my life on the east coast between NYC and DC, I feel that Maine is truly an under-discovered treasure.  There is a reason artists take refuge there, although most Mainer’s will tell you they deserve to covet their summer gem as a reward for suffering through the harsh winters.

munjoy hill portland Portland was funky and we tried some amazing food, including Blue Spoon in Munjoy Hill, Eventide Oyster Company (an absolute must for wine and oysters) and Duckfat (a rich trove of craft beer and fancy sandwiches). We even found a old-fashioned soda bar called the Fizz House and took flaming (virgin) shots.

eventide oysters

In Bar Harbor, I had lobster for the first time ever. I had been told what to expect, but it was still so surprising to pick out your lobster and sit outside in an adirondack while they are steamed in big smoke-stacked pots by the water. With plastic bibs and silverware, the $10 lobster was juicier and way more fun to eat than shelling crabs. I loved people-watching as everyone had their own methods for plucking the lobster out of its shell.

maine lobster

Growing up going to the Jersey shore, I was absolutely shocked at the lack of crowds. There was no traffic, nobody else at the beach, no lines at the ice cream stand. One evening our host told us about a neighborhood “pond” that was much warmer than the ocean. We drove by after our trip to the beach and had the entire lake to ourselves.

IMG_6084

We used airbnb, my absolute favorite method of travel. We stayed with Anne, a lovely artist who made fresh bread every morning with Maine country butter. Her house was exquisite and filled with antique furniture you see so often in local stores. She also had a chef’s kitchen, a barn studio for her artwork, and a huge garden with veggies, fruit, and butterflies!

acadia national park

Acadia National Park exceeded my expectations. We only spent the day there, but I would love to go back for an entire week with my bike. There is a charming beach area, tons of hiking trails, guided tours, and bike paths. I cannot wait to return…

Crater Lake, Oregon

Last summer, I went on the trip of a lifetime from Portland, OR to Big Sur, CA. The highlight of the trip was Crater Lake National Park. It is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Driving up to the rim of the crater, your first glance at the lake takes your breath away. The water is so so blue, and the color stays vibrant throughout. As a Philadelphian who is used to the flowing colors and sounds of the ocean, or the murky Schuylkill river, this was quite a treat.

Crater Lake Oregon

The island in the middle of the Lake is called Wizard Island. This lead to Harry Potter imitations for 90% of our visit there. You can take a boat out on the lake and onto the island, but we opted to hike down to the base of the lake and jump right in. The water was absolutely frigid. The impact on the water was so cold I couldn’t breathe, and hurled myself onto a rock, sympathizing with Rose from the Titanic.

crater lake or

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first night we went on a guided sunset hike to the top of the crater. We saw some hikers climbing the Pacific Crest Trail that goes from Mexico to Canada on our guided hike. I didn’t know much about it, but later read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed and wanted to go back and hike it. And by hike it, I mean spend a day or two walking the trail with modern conveniences nearby.

Crater Lake OR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time we got back down, it was already dark and all of our neighbors in the campsite were asleep. Feeling like idiots, we fumbled in the dark and attempted to start a fire. Upon success we cooked weenies on a stick for dinner: they became unappetizing after a half-of-a-weenie, so we ditched the entire endeavor and went to bed. As it was freezing and we were sleeping in Target grade children’s sleeping bags, it wasn’t the best night of sleep. When we woke up, we felt so accomplished for surviving our first night “in the wilderness”.

salt lake city, ut

Last winter I went on a business trip to Salt Lake City, Utah. It was my first time in the mountain west and it was exactly like the mountains on the Coors cans, but real. They were icy, they were blue, and the entire time I felt like I could reach out and use my hands to pull down the Hollywood backdrop surrounding the sprawling, tacky metropolis that is Salt Lake City.

The thing to do is avoid SLC and head to the mountains. Except when you get hungry. When you’re hungry, SLC has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. One thing that was unexpected about Salt Lake City was the excellent craft beer selection. Epic and Wasatch were two fun breweries to visit.  Wasatch brewery is in Park City, perfect for an apres-ski. My favorites were the “evolution” amber and “polygamy” porter, mainly because the labels were cool (shh). Or when you’re not cool enough to hit the slopes at Alta, and all you can muster is a nice snowshoe through the woods, reward yourself at the Bayou, a hip downtown bar.

alta

alta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving into SLC, I wasted no time and immediately got in line for a Triple D (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) favorite: the Red Iguana. This is a MOLE favorite, a brown and generally visually displeasing sauce poured over delicious Mexican favorites. There are lots of moles to choose from: I chose the negro, and then immediately wept tears into my beer when the girl next to me got a sample platter of all the moles before she chose. How do they get so much flavor in mole? Also, I don’t know how to pronounce this, but order rajas de chile pobleno con queso con chorizo. Key word being chorizo. You’ll die, and then regret finishing the plate because you need to save room for mole.

Red Iguana

Antelope Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best thing I did in SLC was visit Antelope Island. It’s called Antelope Island because there are actual antelopes that roam there. As well as foxes, bison, birds, and other living mammals that are usually not seen outside a zoo. It was a heavenly retreat from earth. The greys were not as much grey but cooling, the oranges were dusty, and the slices of light scoring through the clouds was picturesque. We spent the afternoon hiking and exploring.

The icing on the cake of the refreshing, cleansing visit to Antelope Island was immediately after consuming a greasy, cheesy, burger at this dive bar known for their house-smoked bacon and rosemary-garlic fries. The character in this place was above-average for dive bars, and I loved it.

 

antelope island

antelope island_salt lake city

The trip ended at a surprisingly hip downtown brunch spot. There were lots of knit hats, oversize black glasses, and trendy draping garments: the style I now call Mormon chic. Really quiet, cute, trendy brunch place downtown SLC, where the eggs come cage-free.

 

montreal

Montreal was one of the best trips of my life. Can’t afford to fly to Paris? Want to be inundated with butter, cream, and then try to fit into little black dresses? Allons-y. This was my first time trying Airbnb: boy did I love it. We stayed in a cute little apartment in Outrement – I highly recommend! Out host was an artist and her apartment was absolutely divine for laying on the couch and reading, or dipping into red wine and cheese for dessert. A real treat after biking to the Jean Talon market on our Bixi bikes (which you must do when in Montreal).

 

montrealWe walked into almost every vintage and antique store, one thing after another catching our eye. I could walk around for miles in the Mile End, pretending to be Canadian superstars. When we couldn’t shop any more, we went to the Sparrow for brunch. Starting off with bloody marys, we treated ourselves in the cozy, welcoming retreat and burried ourselves in pulled pork eggs benedict and biscuits. The food was to die for. The decor was English pub meets Portland put-a-bird on it. We even loved the typography.

 

montreal bike signs

Then everything changed when we went to Plateau and ate at Au Pied de Cochon. From stylish and fleeting to hearty and rich. I couldn’t even pay attention to my dinner companions, because the waiters were screaming in English and French, “<insert hearty meat> topped with 25 grams of foie gras,” while describing each dish. Needless to say I left feeling twenty pounds heavier, but I got twenty life points for eating my first poutine topped with foie gras, in addition to my absolute favorite meal in the entire world, blanquette de veau. This blanquette was served with fried cheese curds. Need I say more?

montreal_evan and brenna

Then we ate Middle Eastern at Rumi in Outrement. Wow! We were wandering through our neighborhood, looking for Rumi, which was recommended by just about everyone in the downtown hotels I had been staying in for work. The ambiance was amazing; after heavy eating all trip it was so refreshing to each veggie tajine and drink warm tea and relax before heading home.

What I loved most was feeling completely and utterly at peace. Riding my bike up Mont Royal and seeing the beautiful colors of fall was simply a sight to see. Montreal, je t’aime.

 

 

toulouse and southwest france

Sometimes when life is spinning by you, all you need to do is book a ticket to France. I was invited to a wedding in a 13th century abbey in the south of France this summer, and somehow I couldn’t refuse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus, I had some friend therapy seeing my old rommates from our little yellow kitchen. We rented an apartment and fell in love. We had our very own French appartment and our French friends in town from Paris for the wedding even stayed one night and cooked us dinner. It was so cozy: my Scot even brewed me his very British tea in the evenings before bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toulouse was our home base for the week. We listened to jazz at Toulouse plage, had a few rounds at the local student bars, took walking wine tours and generally traipsed about the city visiting museums and vintage books shops, tasting local treasures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took a few days trips, one being to Carcassonne, the Medieval walled city, and the other to Lourdes, France. Lourdes was an absolutely amazing experience. I have never seen such beauty in devotion, and it is something to appreciate no matter what you truly believe in.

And of course, watching the marriage of our friend was simply amazing. In true French fashion, we  huddled in an tiny, ornate chapel somewhere in Southwest France. The reception was in a restored Abbey just a few miles down the road. The champagne, dancing, and brunch the next day in a huge country chateau made it a weekend I will never forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talk about therapeutic. No matter what the price, sometimes it takes a wild adventure to make you realize that even if you don’t shave your legs everyday and sometimes you daydream during important conference calls and you love a little too much just when you should be guarded, that’s really living.

 

stay classy, san diego

This  June I went to San Diego for work and extended my trip a few days to enjoy the city and surrounding area. I was so excited to visit SD after my 5th grade project to “spend a million dollars” was a trip to San Diego with a visit to the zoo. It surpassed all my ten year old expectations by far! While I had never heard of “June gloom” (the weather in SD can be rather cloudy in June) we lucked out after a few cloudy days and got lots of good sunshine.

Eating and Drinking Downtown – Visit the Gaslamp district by going on a tequila or local brewery tour! San Diego is known for its Mexican food, and the carne asada fries at La Puerta with some delicious local beer was one of my top meals I had there. El Vitral also had excellent food and tequila! The outdoor section looks over Petco park, so even if you can’t make the ball game there’s excellent spectator seating over lunch. For evening drinks, try Altitude, a rooftop bar looking over the baseball stadium. Gorgeous on summer nights!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Trips: Defintiely take the ferry to Coronado, a lovely beach town where the Naval Base is. I walked through the downtown to Hotel del Coronado and took in the beautiful views, treated myself to ice cream, and if I had more time would have rented a bike. A perfect day trip. Further out is Oceanside/Carslbad, where I caught up with a friend and went surfing. It is absolutely beautiful and a total California activity. Don’t forget the post-surfing trip to In-and-Out burger, (order everything animal style). Another amazingly beautiful area is La Jolla (soft J people), a ritzy part of town famous for its sun bathing sea lions. The breath-taking views reminded me of Les Calanques in the South of France. A must see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things to Do and Visit: Sea World was great, the only slightly frightening part was the rehearsed, cheesy rock concert style Shamu show. The first time I had ever seen something like that at an aquarium, it was interesting. Balboa park was the most beautiful area, Spanish style architecture everywhere and amazing museums and of course, the zoo! While the zoo is expensive, it is one of the nicest in the country and I loved having the employees around the explain about the personalities of the different animals and the gossip inside the glass. Didn’t even mind that I was older than all of the kids there! I also caught a game at Petco park and watched how the Padres played on the west coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Moment: One night I stayed in Ocean Beach, a very hippie part of town. We sat by a bonfire at night and listened to the ocean, only to wake up the next morning to have breakfast on Ocean Pier and watch the surfers wait patiently on their boards for the perfect wave. A wonderful trip indeed to a unique, relaxed, delicious city. My top trip of this year.

florida sun

This was me before going to Florida – knowing that I will see my one and only Kristie!

Look how excited I am! I was really going to Florida for work, but I was able to squeeze in a few days with my girl, oh, and HP. We magically got upgraded to a five star hotel! Can you imagine our luck? That kind of stuff only happens to fabulous people (winkwink). The Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando was absolutely beautiful! The pools and hot tubs were amazing, although the food was very overpriced and the little shop for take away food was very poorly managed.

Our first thing on the agenda was take the shuttle to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, to check out Harry Potter World! To say I was like a little kid in a candy store would be too literal to be a metaphor. I was running around Honeydukes screaming with delight at the novelties that fell out of the pages of the book. Zonkos even had extendable ears!

One of my favorite parts was waiting for the ride and walking through Hogwarts. They built Hogwarts so incredibly realistically, it was almost more fun waiting for the ride than going on it! If you grew up reading Harry Potter like me, I would highly advise a trip to Universal. I am not a theme park lover, and I had a great day with Kristie. We also had lunch in Mythos, which is definitely worth the wait for an awesome lunch spot. The food is delicious and it’s worth the money to get out of the heat and relax for a few hours.

After a tiring day, these girls had only about enough energy to lounge in our robes and drink red wine before falling asleep at 9PM. While we didn’t party, we did spend Sunday morning getting some sun and saying our last goodbyes. The weekend went by so quickly! I will miss ma cherie :) Luckily she is moving to DC in the fall!

I was off to the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in for a conference. For an amazing treat, stay at the JW Mariott in Orlando. It had the best food, pool, and service I’ve ever experienced!

Brooklyn

I have been trying to extend my traveling beyond the east coast. But with limited days off, there is only so many places a girl on the budget in the northeast can go! Then I thought, why not go on vacation in Brooklyn? My aunt thought I was crazy, but I’d never been: if Miranda Hobbes is good enough for Brooklyn, so am I.

First on the agenda: eat chocolate. Simple enough, right? After arriving in the adorable Park Slope neighborhood, my hostess and I went out for dessert! Only the closest of female friends can go out for dessert, split something, and still feel confident in our sexualities. The Chocolate Room is one of those sweet New York restaurants that fit so much ambiance into a tiny little room. Not to mention, delicious.

The next day we scooped up some baked goods at Blue Sky bakery (yet another adorable, delicious, only-in-new-york-atmosphere-y place), and off we went to the market at Grand Army plaza. Let me just say that I could not stop staring at…everyone. Is it because I live in the suburbs? I saw a woman…with a full grown Santa beard…buying apples.

Strange clientele at the market did not distract from the beautiful fall day in Prospect park. We walked and hung out in the sun for a while before we realized that it was time to fulfill our cheese destiny. That’s right. Brooklyn Larder - THE cheese store in Brooklyn. Not only did they have Chaorce, one of my favorite cheeses ever, but they let us try as much as we wanted, and gave us adorable little pitches each time, like, “this is gruyere’s sassy little sister”. The sales people there study cheese in college ! This is not a joke.

Saturday ended with a visit to Williamsburg, the “hipster” part of town. I wasn’t too intimidated by said “hipsters”, although I did wear my “JLo” look to offset any feeling of displacement (the Bronx is close enough!). Plus I got a kick out of my favorite couple wearing the same outfit…”by accident”.

Have you been to Brooklyn? Did you love it as much as I did?

dc travel guide

One of my favorite cities in the US is our capital, Washington D.C. I was lucky enough to go to college in this town, so I have insider secrets for budget travel that Rick Steves does not! I just got back from a lovely visit, but thought I would share my guide with you as well.

My Favorite Things to do in DC

– Rent a bike and ride to all of the monuments. There are several companies that do this, the one I used was right outside of Union Station called Bike and Roll. New to DC is Capitol Bikeshare ! Similar to the Velib in Paris, you can return the bikes to different stations in the city. It is too much walking to see all the monuments on foot (the “mall” where the monuments and museums are has no restaurants and no transportation. Be sure to pack water and snacks.).

– Take a ride up the Washington Monument. Beautiful views of the city, make sure you ask the attendant in the elevator to stop on some floors, because built into the inside of the walls are jewels sent to the United States from other countries. Tickets are free, but you have to get there really early to reserve a ticket. You can reserve a ticket for a small fee in advance online (note: hopefully they’ll reopen – it was damaged by the earthquake).

– Have a drink at the W hotel. Expensive, but fun for a drink or a treat for dessert if you have a late lunch or something. Looks right over the White House and has a gorgeous view.

– Visit the Lincoln Memorial at night. Breathtaking.

Sculpture Gardens. In the winter, go ice skating. In the spring, walk through the Cherry Blossoms. In the summer, listen to free jazz on Fridays. In the fall, watch the leaves turn.

Best Museums

-Smithsonian – American History (judy garland’s red slippers, first ladies’ dresses, julia child’s replica kitchen, FREE) and Air and Space (not my favorite but guys love it, games and such, FREE).

-Independent – Spy Museum (interactive history of spies in America, located in Chinatown, $2o bucks) also the Newseum (history of press in the US, $20 bucks), and the moving Holocaust Memorial Museum. Also, it you are on the mall and hungry, go to the American Indian museum for lunch! or else.

Good Eats

-Chinatown/Penn Quarter

7th street in Chinatown/Penn Quarter is a mecca for good eats. I have gotten family and friends hooked on Matchbox,  and for a step up try Jaleo or La Tasca. Staple is Ellas down the road on 9th and F – another cheap eat loved by all. For a drink after a long day head to Fado for the perfect Irish pint. 7th street is walking distance from the national mall (15 minutes if you are by the National Gallery of Art), next to the National Portrait Gallery.

-Dupont

Bistrot du Coin is hands down my favorite restaurant in DC, probably because it is a portal to France. The ambiance is hauntingly similar to an actual French bistrot, not to mention the mouthwatering fare. My friends and I love Alero, an authentic and tasty Mexican restaurant perfect for a lively night. No contest – the pad thai at Thai Phoon wins best in DC hands down (although Thai X-ing gives it a run for its money on Florida Ave).

-Georgetown

The best pizza place in DC is called Pizza Paradiso, locations in Dupont or Georgetown. Pricy, but among the list of best Italian food I’ve ever eaten is Paparazzi and across the street at Filomena. The perfect special occasion treat. Amazing enough that you might eat a few servings worth of leftovers your roommate left in the fridge after a night out on the town. Woops. French pastry lovers unite! Get your favorite treats at Pain Quotidien (excellent brunch menu), Kafe Leopold, or walk up Wisonsin to Patisserie Poupon. For non Frenchie sweets, you can go mainstream and wait in line at  Georgetown Cupcake, or you can get the best cupcakes in DC at Baked and Wired. Go here! Finally, after hot yoga a trip to Sweet Green for my fav froyo is healthy reward. Happy Hours at Rugby Café are the best.

 Enjoy your visit