Nova Scotia, My Heart’s Always Yours

It seems like forever ago when my sister and I boarded WestJet’s new airline, Swoop, and ventured to the east coast for a mini #sistasdoNS getaway, but it was only a couple of months ago and yet, I didn’t get enough and am already dreaming of retuning one day soon.

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt a gravitational pull to visit the Maritimes; it all started with a tourism commercial from the ‘90s that proudly showed colourful homes, fishing villages, lighthouses, rolling hills and the ocean. I was hooked by the carefree energy and inviting spirit of the east coast life that these ads portrayed, and twenty years later, I finally ventured to Nova Scotia and experienced a small taste of seaside life. The salty ocean air, the seafood, and the stunning views did not disappoint.

What follows is our very busy #sistasdoNS four-day itinerary, which will hopefully stir up some maritime wanderlust and get you hopping on the next plane to the east coast.

Day 1:
Up at the crack of dawn to experience Peggy’s Cove before the large tour buses took over. From there we drove to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and my favourite part of the trip. If you go, make sure to roam the streets and admire the old homes, visit the Blue Nose, grab a coffee at No.9 (best chai latte I’ve ever had), buy a book or two from Lexicon Books, I recommend this one by local artist Emma Fitzgerald, and grab a lobster roll at The South Shore Fish Shack. We spent the evening in Halifax, and dined at the amazing Lot Six – most creative cocktail list I have ever seen. Visited the Citadel, explored the old streets, and took the ferry back to our super cute Airbnb in Dartmouth.IMG_7095

Day 2:
Up early for the 5-hour drive to Cape Breton Island. Drove part of the Cabot Trail to Ingonish, where we stayed at the adorable Salty Roses and the Periwinkle Café in a room overlooking the ocean. If you visit, don’t expect a busy town or nightlife. Come here to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. IMG_7144

Day 3:
Completed our 298km loop around the Cabot Trail, and stopped every 15-minutes or so, which made the drive extra long, but we couldn’t get over the breathtaking views, it was as if the next lookout point was better than the last. Due to time constraints and the long drive ahead of us to Wolfville, we only hiked one of the 26 trails in Cape Breton, the Skyline Trail, but that trail did not disappoint; rugged coastline views of the Cabot Trail and the ocean were on full display as we reached the lookout. Words cannot describe the beauty of Cape Breton Island, and what I write in an attempt to express its grandeur will only fail miserably. It’s no surprise that it’s touted as one of the world’s most scenic drive. IMG_7268

Day 4:
Up early to walk the ocean floor in Blomidon as the tide was out – what an experience! Headed back to Wolfville and visited a few wineries. First stop was Benjamin Bridge, to taste their renowned sparkling, then off to Luckett Vineyards – if you go, make sure to visit the old red telephone box in the vineyard. Last spot and the most anticipated was Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards an organic winery that practices biodynamic viticulture, and the nicest family you will ever meet. Nova Scotia has one wine appellation, Tidal Bay, (Ontario has three: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, and Prince Edward County), and every winery produces a Tidal Bay wine. Tidal Bay is a crisp, aromatic white wine that reflects the terroir, coastal breezes and cool climate region, and pairs perfectly with their local seafood. One last sweet stop at the Real Scoop and a quick walk to the Waterfront Park to witness high tide to cap off our getaway before we slowly and begrudgingly made our way to YHZ.IMG_7347There was a somber air to the trip as we realized it may be the last one we take together before new life chapters begin, as they do and as we want them to, so my sister and I savoured every moment, took too many goofy pictures and made new memories to last a lifetime.

Have you been to the east coast, or is it on your travel bucket list? Let me know, I’d love to hear highlights from your trip, or places you’d like to see.  IMG_8165.JPG

Pictures:
1. Lot Six in Halifax
2. Our room overlooking the ocean at Salty Roses and the Periwinkle Café
3. View from the Skyline Trail
4. The ocean floor
5. My beautiful sister and I at Peggy’s Cove.

Happy Campers

We made it, dear reader, the first long weekend of unofficial summer is here and with it an abundance of plans for backyard get-togethers, pool parties, beach hangouts, and of course camping.

Growing up in the country, our backyard was often the campground, as my parents would set up the tent, my brothers would build a fire, and I would search for roasting sticks. Spider dogs, smores, searching for constellations and sing-along songs would be our evening entertainment. Eventually, the kids would head to the tent for bed while my parents said good night and went back inside as the mattress was more comforting than the ground under our sleeping bags. As soon as the back door closed, the flashlights came on and the ghost stories shared. It was a favourite game to see who could tell the scariest story or who would be the first one to run inside for fear of monsters, ghosts and bogeymen.

In my tween and teen years, summer camping was often spent at camp where I would bunk with girls my age in musky row cabins where ghost stories became stories of crushes and grownup aspirations, and the days were carefree and full of childlike wonder. And then just like that, the days of camp life were over, and I became too cool for nature. Thankfully, that phase was short-lived, and a few years later, I tackled my first extreme camping trek and portaged through backcountry Algonquin.

These days, my camping trips are fairly easy with weekend stints at nearby provincial parks that are accessible by car and make packing a dream.

If you have never been camping, go and experience the outdoors. You will get dirty and there are bugs, but at night, when you look up and see a million stars staring back at you, you lose yourself and realize that the dirt is nothing compared to the beauty of nature.

To help with your planning, I’ve compiled a list of camping tips for a successful semi-wilderness adventure.

  1. Make a packing list, don’t over-pack on clothing, and socks are a must.
  2. If you use an air mattress, don’t forget a fitted sheet – they get very cold in the middle of the night.
  3. Plan easy meals, and pre-make what you can ahead of time.
  4. Use a Tupperware container for storing camping dishes (this will double as your sink).
  5. Bring a tablecloth for the picnic table – this will save eager eaters from unwanted splinters.
  6. Lawn chairs for fireside and the beach.
  7. Tiki torches or solar power string lights – creates a bit of ambiance at your campsite.
  8. Pack a hammock for ultimate campsite relaxation.
  9. String to use as a clothesline.
  10. Don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray.
  11. Wet wipes are a lifesaver.
  12. For play, pack lawn games, cards and a book.
  13. Lastly, make sure you are aware of the campground rules, as some sites are quite zones. Also know that on long weekends, most campgrounds do not allow alcohol.

If sleeping in a tent on an air mattress is not your thing, then glamourize your camping experience and go glamping. The cost is a bit more, but for luxury, it is worth it. Happy camping, friends!

IMG_7665
Camping at Two Jack Lakeside in Banff, Alberta (2015)

I heart NY

I recently visited New York City (my first time in the City that Never Sleeps!) with my mother- and sisters-in-law for a girls getaway and it was every bit as intoxicating and vibrant as I imagined. Like many, my NYC visions were based from Seinfeld, Sex and the City ,and Friends, but without the Tom’s Restaurant, Mr. Big and phalanges, and as promised by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, the big lights did indeed inspire me.
IMG_4937
With five girls, a mile-long to-do list, and our eyes on the Big Apple prize, we flew out of Toronto and into New York City. The first hurdle to overcome, which may be easy-peasy for city-born dwellers but for a country bumpkin is terrifying, was the subway system, however, my fears quickly vanished with the purchase of a Presto Card and the help of the Google Maps Subway icon (lifesaver!). After mastering the subway system and gathering our bearings in the Big City, we set off to tackle our to-do list.

What follows is a lively litany of some our NYC stops.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Originally, I was going to abandon the girls and do my own thing, but am so happy I tagged along, as this museum ended up being a highlight of the trip. Admission price is up to you, but the suggested cost is $25. Explore over 5,000 years of art and history through the galleries and exhibitions. Favourites were the panoramic painting of Versailles, the Temple of Dendup, a suit of armour King Henry VIII wore during a battle in 1544 and a collection of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh’s. If I lived in NYC, this place would be a frequently visited spot. IMG_5425Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Admission to the museum is free every Friday night from 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. which made this museum a must-do, and since it was originally on the list (I had to see the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”) we opted to save money and visit the museum with the crowds. Highlights were seeing Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Monet’s paintings.
IMG_5426Magnolia Bakery
Three words: It’s worth it! Wait in line, order the banana pudding, thank me later.

Times Square
Our hotel was in Times Square, which made visiting Times Square super accessible, and easy to escape once the crowds got to be too much. Insanity, sensory-overload, Naked Cowboy, just a few things you’ll experience at this must-see (at least once) vibrant attraction.
FullSizeRenderThe Strand Bookstore
A treasure trove for every book lover. This independent books store, established in 1927, is home to 18-miles of books. Here, you will find new books, used books, rare books, out of print books, and more.
IMG_5020Beauty & Essex
A restaurant oozing with 1930s glam. Beauty & Essex is all about exciting your senses, from the entrance (a hidden door in a pawnshop opens to a room with a two-storey chandelier and spiral staircase, where guests are greeted and then seated), to the impressive cocktail list and globetrotting menu. A peacock-themed dining room and a ladies room that serves pink champagne, this place will make you wish you packed a flapper dress and pearls.

New York Public Library
Because you have to! It’s a magnificent building guarded by two marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. Once inside the library, you are transcended into another world as the loud outside noise vanishes, and inside, peace ensues.
IMG_5427Broadway
Seeing a play on Broadway was high on our to-do list, and when we heard that Aladdin was playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre, we quickly bought tickets and were swept away into a whole new world. The play, the actors, the venue, everything was phenomenal.

Central Park
Explore this park on bike – it’s massive! Comprised of 843 acres, Central Park is home to seven man-made lakes, numerous statues, bridges (no two bridges are alike), twenty-one playgrounds, a zoo, a carousel and more. Don’t forget to stop and admire the gardens, as well as shop the local souvenirs that decorate the Mall and Literary Pathway. Pro park tip: Find a park map, it’ll come in handy!
IMG_5188I could go on and on, but alas, this is a city one must experience on their own: It’s eclectic, energetic and everything you think it will be and more, way more!

Glamourous Glamping Getaway

I like to think of my partner and I as hardcore campers – a couple that favours weekends in the woods over five-star hotels and room service, but who am I kidding, I need plumbing, electricity and a comfy mattress to survive. So, to celebrate a special occasion with my wannabe-lumberjack hunk, I booked us a stay at Long Point Eco-Adventures where I knew I could experience the best of both worlds.

Located in Norfolk County and just around the corner from Turkey Point Provincial Park, Long Point Eco-Adventures is not just your average stay the night kind of place, this glamping getaway is for the adventure-seekers that want to do a bit more than just lounge by the fire pit. Activities range from zip-lining and axe throwing, to kayaking, fishing, romanc-[ing] under the stars, hiking and more, but don’t make the mistake we did, book your adventure at least one month in advance, as was instructed by one of the staff. However, we did manage to grab a couple of rental mountain bikes and tested out a few trails on and around Turkey Point. I’m not a pro mountain biker, I’m not even a good mountain biker, but you don’t have to be either – although the number of times I fell off of the bike and the four big purple-blue bruises that decorate my thighs beg to differ – the trails are marked as beginner, intermediate, advance, and expert to help you navigate your ride.

After spending your afternoon adventuring, walk across the street to Burning Kiln Winery for a wine tour and wine tasting. Known for their appassimento wines (fancy term for drying harvested grapes to concentrate the sugars and flavours) this winery is situated on a former tobacco tract that pays homage to its history.

Then, relax and unwind in your Wilderness Suite or Pod – these luxury glamping accommodations are unique to the area, and the Wilderness Suites are the only ones in Ontario. We opted to stay in a Wilderness Pod, fitted with a couch, table and two chairs, a bar fridge, a queen-size bed and private washroom. The Wilderness Pod was perfectly cozy for the two of us, but on our next stay, we are definitely staying in one of the Wilderness Suites.IMG_5246

Adventure awaits in Banff National Park

If you’re looking for a ‘wild’ weekend adventure with your significant other or besties, but at a loss of ideas, look no further than Banff National Park. Majestic mountains, breathtaking turquoise waters, and wildlife await; canoe rides, cozy lodgings and countless hiking trails are in store; and, a city like no other to explore! This year is the perfect time to discover these natural wonders as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Bonus, Parks Canada passes are free in 2017 as a way to entice and invite locals near and far to explore Canada. Read on for five must-do experiences in Banff National Park; then plan your trip, pack your backpack and head to the magnificent mountains this summer. Disclaimer: Be prepared for an extreme case of wanderlust.

Camp in an oTENTik at Two Jack Lakeside
Sleep in a cozy cabin-tent at Two Jake Lakeside right on Lake Minnewanka. This A-frame structure is mounted on a raised wooden floor and includes a queen-size bed and living area. These spacious accommodations are exclusive to Parks Canada, require no set-up and are super cute! Stay in one for $120 a night.IMG_8425

Canoe on the emerald waters of Lake Louise
Canoeing is the quintessential Canadian experience, add in the Rocky Mountains and now you’re living the Canadian Dream. Paddle on the emerald water of Lake Louise, while being surrounded by mountains, trees and the Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise in the background – this iconic hotel dates back to 1890 and has welcomed many Hollywood elites, such as Marilyn Monroe and Alicia Silverstone, hello Clueless. Canoe rentals are available by the hour.   Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 7.58.16 PM

Hike Moraine Lake
This glacier-fed lake is the gem of Banff! Moraine Lake is nestled amongst the Valley of the Ten Peaks, and is a sight to behold. Hike the many trails around the lake, but be bear aware, depending on the season some trails may be restricted or require groups of four or more. Make sure to climb the Rockpile Trail for the money shot of Moraine Lake and its tranquil turquoise water – this very image was on the twenty-dollar bill in 1969-’79.  Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.01.39 PM

Town of Banff
Known as a Mountain Town, this legendary spot is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs, dine and sleep, if you want the luxury and privacy of a hotel suite. Each street in this quaint town offers different views of the mountains. Chat with locals, and ask for their recommendations, they’re the ones that know where to find those hidden gems. Warning: This Mountain Town will leave you dreaming of living in the mountains.Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.14.02 PM.png

Banff Upper Hot Springs
After a day of exploring, relax and unwind in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Soak in the natural hot springs mineral water, while gazing at snow-capped mountains and pine trees. This natural spa-like oasis has a small entry fee of $7. Definitely worth it! For a romantic vibe, go in the evening and watch the sunset.Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.32.32 PM

Pro tip: Cruise through the Rocky Mountains in a Mustang Convertible – panoramic views on point. If timing permits drive the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper – stretching 232 km, this is a road trip like no other with mountains, glaciers and sweeping valleys.IMG_7632

Quick Links
Parks Canada
Order your Parks Canada Pass
Stay in an oTENTik
Canoe rentals at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Tourism Banff
Banff Upper Hot Springs

Two ways to experience Costa Rica

Part One: Jungle life

It’s 12:30 p.m. and we are waiting in the customs line at the San Jose airport, the capital of Costa Rica. We are restless after sitting on a plane for five hours, growing even more restless as the customs line barely moves and our taxi plane taking us to our destination is schedule to depart at 2:00 p.m. With twenty minutes to spare, we finally make it through customs; we do a mad dash through the airport to check-in and go through security all over again, and then continue to run to our boarding gate. We are out of breath, but make it just in time. We hand out ticket the boarding agent, she smiles at us as we catch our breath, and says, “You made it! Pura Vida.”

This is not our first time in Costa Rica, so we know the Pura Vida saying, which simply translates to Pure Life, but said for everything. People greet one another by saying Pura Vida, they say it as a term of thanks, good luck, what’s up, and more. It is a phrase that is interchangeable.FullSizeRenderOur little 19-seat plane takes us to Quepos, a small tropical inlet backed by rainforest, where we meet my cousin and her partner for a tropical week in the jungle. We jump into the rebuilt 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser that is the pride of my cousin’s partner as we make our way up to the jungle. There is a bit of car talk, and the mention that 4x4s are a must in the jungle as we zoom by palm trees, a palm oil factory, homes, shops, restaurants, and hotels. “Look at the lines on the road” my cousin says; I look and they are just like ours – yellow on the outside, white dashes in the middle. Then she adds, “the lines on this road were recently painted, all by hand. Before, this road was dangerous. Cars would drive all over the road.”IMG_3058We enter the small town of Ojochal, where we say goodbye to paved roads, and hello to dirt. We slowly bump our way along the road: I see children playing soccer, chickens running on the side of the road, a mother feeding her baby on her front porch, and a man driving a young woman somewhere on the back of a little dirt bike. Shockingly, everyone that we pass smiles and waves – we are definitely not in Ontario anymore. We drive through a small river, ascend a scarily steep hill, descend another, and then climb one more before we get to the casa in the sky. Now I know why this truck brings my cousin’s partner so much happiness!IMG_2970Just after 5 a.m. the deep sound of howler monkeys stirs us from our slumber, as do the twittering birds, and the beginning of the sunrise, which turns out to be our alarm clock for the rest of the week. There is exactly 12.5 hours of sunlight in Costa Rica, no matter the time of year; the sun rises just after 5 a.m. and sets after 5:30 p.m. Left to our own devices we laze through the day by the pool with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. For dinner, our hosts take us to a nearby Italian restaurant, Mamma e Papa, where I enjoy the best homemade pasta I have ever tasted. The owners, born in Italy uprooted their lives and moved to Costa Rica to open a restaurant in the jungle. Seating is under a covered balcony, and part of the building serves as a hotel. During our meal, a tropical rainstorm entertains us and causes the electricity to flicker, which doesn’t bother our hosts as flickering lights is a norm during tropical monsoons.FullSizeRenderThe next day in 35° weather, we lace up our hiking shoes and venture to Cataratas Nauyaca. After a sweaty 4km uphill hike, with panoramic views that leave me breathless (that or being out of shape), we find what we are looking for: Nauyaca Waterfall, and to our surprise, two majestic waterfalls cascade in front of us. The Upper Falls is forty-five metres high, and the Lower Falls is twenty metres high with a tiered fall. After marveling at the indescribable beauty of the Upper Falls, we quickly rush to the Lower Falls, where swimming is a must. It’s an easy 4 km downhill hike back, where we replenish our electrolytes with coconut water straight out of coconuts that we purchase from a nearby fruit stand. A mother with her three children happily talk to us and laugh at how excited I get over the beautiful produce. We leave with a couple of bags bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables.IMG_3194Swimming in the pool no longer felt the same after that, so the following days we explore the land by ATV and go waterfall chasing! We find two incredible gems: A secret waterfall that is in someone’s backyard (visitors are welcome for a small fee), and Cascada El Pavon, a small but unique waterfall with a big rock in the middle. How did it get there?imageIMG_3388Because one must go dancing in the rainforest, we head to the Bamboo Room for dinner, drinks and dancing. The local entertainment keeps us boogieing until the early hours of morning – the smooth tequila also helps. Recently opened by a St.Catharines resident (I thought John looked familiar!) and well-known musician, the Bamboo Room is where tourists and locals go for their entertainment in the jungle.IMG_3316We spend a lazy day at a secluded beach, where hidden caves and a sand bar have us swimming, floating and exploring. Overhead, vibrant scarlet macaws freely fly from tree to tree, while unbeknownst to us, crocodiles were swimming in the marshy river 2 km away. One thing we quickly learned is to always watch where you are walking and to be aware of your surroundings – tourists (Gringos) walk with their head up high, where locals (Ticos) always watch where their next step will land.

And just like that, our week in Costa Rica ended, but not before buying a hammock to remember our week long siesta in the jungle.

Stay tuned for Part two: Resort life in Costa Rica.

––––––––––

Breakdown of costs for for two people:
Flights: $1,900
Car rental + gas: $300 + 200
House rental with pool (7 nights – enough room for two couples): $850
Food: $500
Day trips (includes a day of zip lining for 2): $250
Extra spending: $100
Exit tax: $29 USD per person

Total trip: $4,158

This trip is super doable, especially if you split rental and food costs with another couple.

Five reasons why you need to travel somewhere with your sister

Let’s be honest, travelling is probably the most exciting thing to do. We count down the days until our next vacation, we daydream of destinations to add to our bucket list, we buy calendars with tropical islands, and we decorate homes with souvenirs of happy memories from places new. Travelling suspends our reality for however long we are away and positions us in a different space. There really is nothing more thrilling than experiencing the world, especially if you are travelling with someone you like, like a lot, since you will be around this person a lot. This person can’t just be any person, this person is your confidant, your co-conspirator, your wingman, your breakfast, lunch and dinner date, your alarm clock, your budget-checker, your authoritative figure (“do we really need to do another shot?”), your entertainment, your photographer and your compass.

A couple of years back, which feels like forever ago, my sister and I swapped our parkas and boots for bikinis and sandals and headed to an all-inclusive beach resort in Cuba. The resort itself wasn’t much to write home about, but the memories that we made will forever be a part of our sisterhood narrative! That vacation was the first time we travelled together alone, without the added baggage of our parents and siblings (joking, we love you guys!), and it was a much-needed break during school stress and a personal heartache. That week, with its white sand, turquoise water, palm trees and warm breeze, not only gave us a new perspective on the world, it also brought us closer together as we confided in one another about our lives, our goals, dreams and aspirations. There were times on the trip when we both got annoyed with the other, but the beautiful scenery brought us back to the moment of what really mattered: we were experience something new together.

These are my five reasons why you should travel somewhere with you sister:
(Note: Replace sister with best friend if you are sans a sister)IMG_2132

5. You get to spend quality time together. My sister and I live in different cities, so spending a week together brought us closer together as sisters and as friends.

4. You learn a lot about each other. Even though we shared a room growing up, and now text regularly while living our separate lives, we still learned a lot about each other during our week away. I learned that she is a nurturer, who is brave, fierce, smart and crazy.

3. She will step out of her comfort zone for you, like go skinny-dipping in the ocean in the middle of the night then run from security.

2. She willingly will take hundreds of selfies with you just to get the perfect one, and she’ll be your personal photographer.

1. You both have each other’s back, travelling or not.

As I write this, my sister is on another trip of a lifetime with your boyfriend backpacking though Europe. Her fearlessness and desire for adventure never ceases to amaze me!