Thursday 24 July 2014

Lisbon: Mid-life Relection

“I need to take a trip,” I said to my husband. 

“Great. Where are we going?” he asked.

“I’m going by myself,” I said.


“Because I’m having a mid-life crisis.”

I’m not sure if it’s a crisis or a re-evaluation, but whatever it is, I’m in the thick of it. Deep, thought-provoking questions fill my mind. I must figure it out. On my own. But where to go? Sitting on a mountain top in the lotus position seems appropriate, but that’s not my style. I’m more of a sip-cafes-and-people-watch kind of gal.

Cosmopolitan Lisbon is my go-to place for my mid-life reflection. It’s modern, yet filled with history, Moorish architecture and enough tourist sites, entertainment, restaurants and pastry shops to keep you coming back year after year.

For my personal journey, I want no time restrictions on anything I do. So I choose to rent an apartment. With many long-term rental accommodations available throughout the city, it is easy to find one meeting my requirements. I shop for groceries, cook what I want to and eat when I want to. It provides the simplicity I crave.

Made it myself

Lisbon is nostalgic and filled with history. Here, you can delve as deep as you like, or not at all. I choose to meet it halfway. Although I do visit a few of the major attractions (Castle St. George, Jeronimo’s Monastery), my travels are filled with simple pleasures—the things one requires when contemplating life’s next chapter.

Lisbon’s seven hills and cobblestoned, pedestrian-only avenues are filled with excellent restaurants and caf├ęs. When I meander along the web of alleyways, savouring the aroma of grilled fish, fried pork cutlets, sausages and meats, I am taken back to a time when my mother did the cooking and I had few responsibilities. It is a time so long ago now, I can barely remember the feeling. I need a drink.

There were a few of these

I head over to A Ginjinha (Largo de Sao Domingos). This hole-in-the-wall joint serves nothing but cherry liqueur. Where time has quickly passed me by, here it stands still, and is pretty much as it has been since its establishment in 1840. My liqueur is briskly handed to me in a waxy Dixie cup. I take it and walk around the square until I find a short concrete pillar with a rather pointy top to sit on. I am not at all comfortable, but who cares? I’m in Lisbon and the deep orange ball in the sky is warming my face. As I sip my ginjinha I am reminded of teenage hijinks and under-age drinking. We all did it.

Some of these (Ginjinha)
For a truly local cultural immersion, I take in an evening of Fado in Alfama, the place where Portugal’s national music was born. Fado is soulful and filled with saudades, that most passionate of all Portuguese words, speaking of deep yearning and longing for lost loves and a time long gone. The music takes me away and the tears fall. I’m feeling very Portuguese.

Fado via

Lisbon’s coffee and pastry culture makes for the perfect environment to ponder life, and I have no hesitation in embracing it. In Alfama, I stop by Nata at the foot of St. George’s Castle, for one of the best custard tarts in the city. It’s a creamy, velvety indulgence served warm with a sprinkling of cinnamon. This is not the time to count calories. I have two. I sit outside, where I partake in my favourite sport, people-watching, while contemplating what’s next in my life plan.

And lots of these

I haven’t quite figured it out, aside from my returning to Lisbon.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Muskoka: More Than Just Chairs


A leisurely two and half hours north of Toronto, beyond the chaotic noise of cars and trucks on major roadways leading out of the city, will eventually lead to the sprawling (and green) countryside and a small town, which very few have heard of: Minett, Ontario.

Where's that? Exactly. Nobody knows. But mention Muskoka, and the recognition is instant. Popping into the mind’s eye are visions of deep-blue lakes surrounded by hemlock, pine and maple trees, rustling gently through summer breezes. Cottages belonging to well-heeled owners peak from behind. And chairs. Muskoka chairs of course. In my humble opinion, you haven't lived until you've sat in Muskoka chair, on a dock, overlooking a lake, enjoying 'a cool one'. It's Ontario summer at its best.

Muskoka spans a wide area (6,475 km) and has some 1,600 lakes with granite cliffs and breathtaking views, making it a popular resort destination. This region, which, along with Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, and Peterborough County is often referred to as "cottage country", sees over 2.1 million visitors annually. It’s a scenic area speckled with picturesque villages and towns, farming communities, and lakeside vacation hotels and resorts, golf coursescountry clubs, and marinas


Muskoka has 60,000 permanent residents, but in the summer, the population almost doubles as seasonal property owners spend their summers in the region. Many of the more expensive cottages, although, who’s kidding who...these are not "cottages", but rather sprawling, lofty estates, can be found along the shores of Muskoka's three major lakes: Lake MuskokaLake Rosseau, and Lake Joseph. In recent years various Hollywood and sports stars have built retreats in Muskoka, including Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Mike Weir, Martin Short, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and Alex Tilley (surely you’ve heard of him).

Along with privately owned cottages, there are stunning resorts sprinkled throughout the area offering everything from deluxe accommodations to world renowned spas and five-star dining.

But what about Minett? Well, perched high on a granite bluff, overlooking Lake Rosseau, in the small hamlet of Minett, is The Rosseau Muskoka, Canada’s first JW Marriot Resort and Spa. Here, guests can enjoy Muskoka at its finest. Take a swim in the year-round pool, play a round of golf, take a guided tour or simply sit back (in a Muskoka chair) with your beverage of choice and take in your surroundings. Watch as birds soar overhead, boats putter along the lake, float-planes come and go. 

Ontario Resort Accommodations

The rooms are designed to give you that warm, cozy, cottage feeling with plank hardwood floors at the entrance leading onto soft green carpet in the bedroom and living room. A fireplace is standard in every room, as are galley kitchens which include a two burner stove, mini fridge and microwave. Suites come with full kitchens.

Queen/Queen Studio
The spa is extensive, with eleven treatment rooms including a Vichy room for hydrotherapy services. The Salon at Spa Rosseau offers hair styling and makeup consultation. Spa guests enjoy the private outdoor swimming pool in summer and men's and women's relaxation lounges. The Spa Rosseau experience is complemented by the resort's private beach on Lake Rosseau, and by the many activities that are available on-site. Choose from canoeing, kayaking, swimming, biking, boat tours and so much more. In winter, enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling among others.  (There is an entire activities brochure available.)

JW Marriott Resort Beach
My visit was short, and to make it seem even shorter, torrents of rain fell on the morning of our departure, eliminating any possibility of an outdoor walk around the property before leaving. Not to let this dampen the mood, (you can’t control the weather after all), my roommate and I used the opportunity to further explore the indoors. We walked through the restaurant, where we were offered a coffee to go (very nice indeed), peeked into the spa, fantasized about a swim in the indoor/outdoor pool (note to self: pack bathing suit) and discovered meeting rooms. We wasted no time!

year-round indoor-outdoor pool

The rain kept falling as we checked out. “Would you like an umbrella?” asked the guest service agent with a bright smile.

“Yes, that will be wonderful,” was the answer provided, at which point a large black umbrella was produced making our journey to car just that much more comfortable. As we exited through the front door, a tall, very pleasant doorman, with a wide smile held the door open and said, “Have safe trip home.”

“Thank you. Can you stop the rain?” I asked.

“If I could I would,” he answered.  

I suspect he would, if he could, as every staff member we dealt with was incredibly pleasant, helpful, courteous and, wait for it…smiling. Smiling! They actually looked like they enjoyed their jobs. Now, there’s something. 

Steamship Docks