Monday, 21 December 2015

10 Things To Do In Ottawa This Winter



Here’s what I noticed about Ottawa in December: It’s colder than Toronto. But Torontonian’s aren’t known for their hardy winter endurance. We were, after all, the laughing stock of the nation, after one particularly bad snowstorm. The then-Mayor, called in the army to help dig the city out, and the rest of the country laughed. Out loud. To our faces.  But cold is cold, and Ottawa is colder than Toronto. It just is.

That doesn’t mean Ottawa, Canada’s capital, should be avoided in the winter season.  

Ottawa, a city with a population of just over 880,00 people, is filled with history, museums, exhibits, architectural gems, restaurants, spas, skating, shopping and fun-filled activities to keep you returning time after time. Year-round.

Sure, it may be chilly, but with so much to do and fewer crowds to contend with, winter is a perfect time for a getaway to the nation’s capital.

Here are just 10 reasons to visit Ottawa this winter:

Christmas Lights Across Canada

Photo via Ottawa Tourism
The 31st edition of Christmas Lights Across Canada was launched on December 2, 2015, with the official illumination ceremony on Parliament Hill. Thousands gathered, as they do each year, for this annual ceremony. Every year, as part of Christmas Lights Across Canada, each province and territory decorates its capital city and holds its own lighting ceremony, contributing to the nationwide effort. Lights Across Canada illuminates the Capital until January 7, 2016.


Le Nordik Nature Spa

Photo via Le Nordik Spa

Located in Chelsea, Québec, an easy 15-20 minute drive from Ottawa’s city-center, Le Nordik Nature Spa is North America’s largest spa. It offers 45,000 square feet of relaxing interior space and more than 100,000 square feet outside. Our orientation to the property, which is surrounded by trees and rocks, included the recommended spa routine: 15-20 minutes of heat in one of several outdoor saunas or hot pools (which we did), followed by 30 seconds in a cold plunge pool (which we didn't). Repeat and relax in a nearby warm cabin. There’s an infinity pool with panoramic views over the city and the salt-water floating pool is a must.


Take a Short Course at Le Cordon Bleu 

Photo via Ottawa Tourism
Learn to cook like a pro! Make pasta, sauces, chocolate creations or bake. If you’ve had one too many knife accidents in the kitchen, the demo on proper knife skills is for you. Do it all at the world’s leading cooking institution. Ottawa, is where you’ll find Canada's only Le Cordon Bleu satellite school. Choose from a demonstration, which lasts approximately two hours, or a combination of demo and hands-on practice. The latter is approximately four hours. Be sure to take along containers to bring your goodies home. There will be plenty of them. I seriously can’t think of anything more ‘homey’ to do on a cold winter day, than to surround the senses with warm deliciousness. If it was good enough for Julia Child…


Learn About Vikings

Photo via Ottawa Tourism

Challenge your assumptions about ancient Scandinavians.  Vikings, redefines what we know about this mythical period in Scandinavia. It features more than 500 ancient artifacts on loan from the Swedish History Museum. Many of the pieces on display have rarely been displayed outside Scandinavia. Vikings is at the Canadian History Museum, and runs until April 17, 2016.


Check Out Forged in Fire

Photo via Bytown Museum

Opening January 29, 2016, this new temporary exhibit, Forged in Fire: The Building and Burning of Parliament, begins its run. The exhibit highlights the 100th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the original Parliament Buildings. It explores the history of the site and the buildings that have called it home throughout its nearly 200-year evolution. The exhibit features artifacts and photographs from Bytown Museum collection, including rare images of the construction of Parliament by early Ottawa photographer, Elihu Spencer. It runs until October 31, 2016.


Discover Amazing Women 

Photo via Canadian War Museum

Through artifacts, images, audiovisual material, oral history and text, World War Women, at the Canadian War Museum, delves into the personal stories of the women associated with these materials. It is organized in stand-alone thematic zones, each devoted to an element of the wars that particularly involved and affected women. The contributions made by women to the Canadian war efforts were crucial, and their experiences forged a new understanding of women’s capabilities both within themselves and within society. It’s touching, moving and deeply personal. Don’t miss it. World War Women is on now and runs until April 3, 2016.


Winterlude

Photo via Ottawa Tourism

So it’s cold. Big deal! It was with winter in mind, that Winterlude was created in the first place – to celebrate our unique northern climate and culture. Winterlude is a three-day fun-filled event with activities for the entire family. Check out the ice sculpture competitions, play in North America’s largest snow playground and don’t miss the 36th annual Accora Village Bed Race. This event features teams in costumes racing huge decorated beds across frozen ice. Winterlude runs January 29 – February 15, 2016.


Gatineau Winter Beerfest

Photo via Ottawa Tourism

What better time for a beerfest than in the dead of winter. Only in Canada eh! The beerfest is held at the Canadian Museum of History. Here you'll discover over 100 craft beers by brewers from Quebec and Ontario. More than 30 breweries will be on hand. Chef, Martin De Board, the museum’s head chef, will create appetizers to tantalize the most gourmet of taste buds. The Gatineau Winter Beerfest in on January 29-30. It's held inside the museum's Grand hall and outdoors (of course).


Warm up in The Albion Rooms


Photo via The Albion Rooms

After an activity-filled day, catch your breath, quench your thirst and fill your appetite in this central Ottawa restaurant. The Albion Rooms, is a warm, conversation-friendly restaurant. Cozy up to the bar and chat to the server as he assembles your chacouteri platter. Chef, Stephen LaSalle, has put his personal touch on several traditional British dishes, giving new twists to dishes like scotch eggs and Cornish hen. The Albion Rooms is located inside the Novotel (across from Rideau Centre mall).


Skate, Skate and Skate Some More

Photo via Ottawa Tourism

In addition to the famous Rideau Canal Skateway (opens early January), Ottawa provides a few other skating options:

The Skating Court, a refrigerated ice skating rink in Lansdowne Park, offers free open skating as well as skating programs.

Free skating is also available on the refrigerated surface of the Sens Rink of Dreams, located just outside Ottawa City Hall.

The historic skating rink at Rideau Hall, the home and workplace of Canada’s Governor General, offers free public skating each Saturday and Sunday between January 10 and March 15, weather permitting.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Five Reasons to Visit Portugal This Winter

As frosty mornings greet Canadians from coast to coast, fantasies of warmer climates fill our heads. We visualize clear, blue skies, sun-drenched beaches, outdoor restaurants and long walks without the burden of parkas or waterproof boots. Plotting our escape becomes a full-time obsession. If you’re bored with typical Caribbean all-inclusives, where should you go?

Head across the Atlantic, my friends. To Portugal. It's easy to get to. And once you’re there, you will find it is still one of the most economical European countries to visit—especially in the off-season, which, luckily for us,  Canuks, falls within our winter.

If that alone does not convince you, here are five more reasons why you may want to head east rather than south this winter.


History

Convent of Christ, Tomar

With 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites sprinkled throughout the country, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the history of one of the oldest countries in Europe. In the north, check out the Historic Centre of Oporto, with various architectural styles enclosed within the 14th-century Fernandina Wall. To see how real knights lived, visit the Convent of Christ in the town of Tomar, an awe-inspiring castle that was once the headquarters for Portugal’s Knights Templar. Renting a car will provide you with great flexibility to get to the sites, but it’s not necessary. Portugal is well connected with trains and buses that will get you anywhere you need to be—and very economically.



Lisbon



Spend a few days here. For an interactive history lesson, the Lisboa Story Centre in the Palace Square is a must. For a nostalgic tour, ride Tram 19 as it clickity-clacks you through several Lisbon neighbourhoods. Get off in the chic Chiado area and head over to Café Brasileiro, where poets, writers and artists have made their way in and out of its door for over a century; coffee here is a cultural experience. Walk freely or take public transit, which is safe and easy to navigate.



Food





Eat your way around the country. Each region has its own unique style of cooking: along the coast, fish and seafood rules, while inland, hearty meals of meat and sausage reign supreme. And throughout the country, various bacalhau dishes (salted dried cod fish) are found. Portugal’s colonial past is influenced in its cooking, with spices from the east and fiery peppers from Africa used liberally. Pastries accompanied with café (espresso) are commonly enjoyed, and the selection is astounding. Forget the diet. When in Portugal, do as the locals do: relax, sip, eat, slow down.



Wine



Whether you like branco (white), tinto (red), port, verde, rosé, it’s all here. Portugal’s most famous wine has traditionally been port from the Douro region; however, in the last few years, the country has been producing some great wines from the regions of Alentejo, Beiras and Estramendura, to name a few. And there’s no need penny pinch on your wine choices—the wine here is excellent and inexpensive. So go ahead and splurge.



943 kilometres of Atlantic coastline


If it’s a beach you're after, you'll find one in Portugal and, during the winter months, you will have it mostly to yourself. Algarve is most famous for its beaches, but that’s not the only area to find spectacular sand and surf. Check out Costa Verde (Green Coast) and if you're looking for a bit more adventure, Costa da Prata (Silver Coast) offers up some amazing waves, particularly in the winter months.

With plenty of long-term rental accommodations available throughout the country, trading snow, slush and Alberta clippers for sun, surf and outdoor cafés is easy. And you’re in Europe, where culture, diversity, architecture and history combine to make one magnificent tapestry. 




Thursday, 2 July 2015

Top Five Things To Do In Toronto This Summer


If you find yourself in Toronto thinking, hmmm, nothing to do, well, you’re not in Toronto.

Maybe you are on the outskirts of the city, like in Vaughan or Burlington or Ajax. Or perhaps you land at Toronto Pearson airport (which is not even in Toronto), and for inexplicable reasons, you never leave. Whichever the case, you are most certainly not in Toronto because if you were, you’d never utter the words, “nothing to do.”

There is always something happening in this city of just over six million people. From cultural to foodie to musical events, there is always something to do, taste and drink and there is no better time to get out there and experience it all than in the summer.

If you can only do five things in Toronto this summer, here are my suggestions:

5. Take a walk on the EdgeWalk

via www.cntower.ca

This is as high as you’re going to get in Toronto (without any substance abuse). EdgeWalk is the first of its kind in North America. It is the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 meter) wide ledge encircling the top of the CN Tower’s main pod. It is 116 storeys above the ground. Visitors walk in groups of six, while attached to an overhead safety rail via a trolley and harness system. Trained EdgeWalk guides encourage participants to push their personal limits, allowing them to lean back over Toronto with nothing but air and breathtaking views of Lake Ontario beneath them.

Edgewalk is open seasonally and operates in all weather, with the exception of electrical storms, high winds and other extreme weather conditions.


4. Celebrate at Toronto’s Festival of Beer Festival

via www.seetorontonow.com

The Toronto Festival of Beer, also known as Beerfest, is an annual event that takes place this year from July 24-26 at Exhibition Place in Toronto. The festival celebrates Canada’s rich brewing history by featuring more than 120 brands from around the world as well as many Ontario craft brewers. The event has become Canada’s largest beer festival with 30,000 people attending every year. Established in 1994, the Toronto Festival of Beer has been sampling beer for those aged 19+ for 17 years.

3. Taste of the Danforth

via www.seetorontonow.com
After all that beer sampling, you’re going to need some food. Every year in August, the city of Toronto flocks to Greektown on the Danforth for Krinos Taste of the Danforth. There are a number of exhibitors offering contests, prizes and free samples and, of course, dozens and dozens of tasty food stations from Danforth’s amazing array of multi-ethnic restaurants. This year’s foodie-fest runs from August 7th to 9th.

2. Buskerfest

via www.seetorontonow.com
This is 4 days and 4 nights of non-stop, action-packed, fun-filled entertainment. This is where comedians, contortionists, musicians, magicians, fire jugglers, acrobats, aerial artists, clowns and daredevils all come together for North America’s largest street performer festival. This event is also the largest epilepsy awareness event in the world hosted on the world’s longest, most vibrant street (Yonge Street). Admission is by donation in support of Epilepsy Toronto. Buskerfest runs August 27th to 30th.

1. 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games


This is the mother lode of all events in  Toronto this year. Athletes from 41 nations across the Americas will participate. The Pan Am Games may be the world’s third largest international multi-sport games, but they are the single largest such event that Canada has ever hosted—bigger than the winter Olympics in Whistler, BC.
The games are officially known as, Toronto 2015, but competition venues are scattered throughout southern Ontario, with cycling in Milton, kayaking in Halliburton, soccer in Hamilton, for example. 
Much has happened in preparation for these games. Built on what was once wasteland, a well-planned and well-designed village is waiting for the athletes. A long-awaited commuter train now connects the airport to the city-centre (halleluha!) 
Thousands of people are involved in ensuring the Toronto 2015 games are spectacular, including 23,000 volunteers, of which I am one of them. I’ll be working with team Bahamas (Go Bahamas) during PanAm and team Mexico during Parapan (Vamos Mexico). I can't wait for it all to begin. Bring it on!
The Pan Am games are from July 10th to 26th. Parapan Am games are August 7th to August 15th.

The games are coming, and I can't wait.

What will you be doing this summer?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Canada's Fried Dough: BeaverTails

Why is it that everything deep-fried tastes so darn good? Damn be the calories. Let's take dollops of gooey dough dropped into hot oil, deep-fried to golden deliciousness, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and served warm, for example. How yummy does that sound?

Sometime ago I read that every nationality has its own version of fried dough. I believe this to be true. Sadly, I've not tasted every single version (not by lack of trying). 

New Orleans has beignets; Spain has churros; Italy has zeppole; Portugal has malasadas; Canada has, well, we have BeaverTails (Queues de Castor in French).



So, what exactly is a BeaverTail? A true Canadian culinary treat, that's for certain! They are batches of dough that are stretched by hand to resemble the tail of a beaver. Then these deliciously addictive, traditional whole-wheat pastries are deep-fried in canola oil, served piping hot, drizzled with butter and your choice of toppings.

The current BeaverTail evolved from a family recipe passed down through at least three generations and is similar to a yeasted, crack-wheat treat enjoyed in early Canadian and American farms. The first commercially produced BeaverTail was sold in 1978. The first storefront opened in June 1980, in Ottawa’s Byward market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets.

photo via ottawatourism.ca
In February of 1981, BeaverTails made their first appearance along Ottawa’s most famous winter attraction and the longest skating rink in the world, the Rideau Canal Skateway. Today, skating on the canal and enjoying a BeaverTail, go hand in hand. These warm, delicious, crispy treats are so popular along the canal, that even on the coldest of Canadian winter days, the lineups can be lengthy. Be prepared to wait. It will be worth it.

photo via ottawatourism.ca
Through the years a variety of toppings have been developed to further enhance the sinful indulgence to the BeaverTail experience. Add Oreo cookie crumble sprinkled on top of vanilla icing, drizzled with chocolate sauce or banana slices layered over a thick coat of hazelnut spread. My favourite topping is still The Classic: cinnamon and sugar. With this topping, the crispiness of the pastry is maintained. Why mess with perfection, I say

Image result for beavertails
photo via twitter.com
On February 19, 2009 BeaverTails made international headlines when President Barack Obama, on his first official visit to Canada, dropped into Byward Market with the sole purpose of indulging in this iconic pastry. President Obama’s visit was later dubbed, The BeaverTail Summit.

photo via ottawatourism.ca

You know you're famous when:
  • The Barenaked Ladies change the lyrics of their song, “If I Had A Million Dollars” to “If I Had A Million Beavertails” during a music festival.
  • A question about BeaverTails makes it into the Canadian version of Trivial Pursuit.
  • “What is a BeaverTail?” is the answer to a Jeopardy question, the US-television show hosted by Canadian born, Alex Trebek.
  • During an interview with the Globe and Mail, Canadian singer song-writer, Bryan Adams, states that his most Canadian trait is his ability to differentiate a BeaverTail from a Tim Horton’s Timbit.

Now, that’s Canadian.

Other Fun Facts:
  • BeaverTails uses 21.1 tons of chocolate hazelnut spread per year. That’s the equivalent weight of five elephants and twelve beavers.
  • Since BeaverTails’ debut in 1978, enough BeaverTails have been sold to make a straight line of tails, end-to-end, from the BeaverTails store in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, to the store in Whistler, British Columbia.
  • Since 1981 more than 8,000 young Canadians have worked at the BeaverTails operations in the Ottawa stores alone.







Monday, 1 June 2015

Cheese Glorious Cheese


I love cheese. All types--hard cheese; soft cheese; stinky cheese. What makes cheese stink anyway? 




All cheese starts off basically in the same manner, with curds and whey. It’s a process as old as the centuries. But what makes some cheese so stinky as to be banned from public transportation?

The two main factors that provide cheese its aroma are aging, also known as ripening, and washing. The longer the cheese ages, the stronger the odour. Washing is another method that intensifies the aroma; common washes include rum, beer and salt water. The combination of aging and washing, is therefore, what can produce some intense pong.

But does strong odour affect the taste of the cheese?

“I always like to say with cheese, its bark is bigger than its bite, meaning the smell is stronger than the taste,” says Afrim Pristine, owner off  Cheese Boutique in Toronto.

With that in mind, grab your nose plugs, a baguette, your favourite wine or beer, and give these cheeses from around the globe a try.

Limburger, Belgium and Germany
Limburger Cheese
photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Originally created in the Duchy of Limburg, this cheese ages in the bacteria Brevibacterium linens, which, by the way, is the same bacteria found in body and foot odour. Limburger cheese ages for three months at which time is becomes spreadable. The most traditional way to eat Limburger cheese is to spread it on a fairly solid bread such as rye, top it with a slice of onion and wash it all down with a beer.

Epoisses de Bourgogne, France
Époisses de Bourgogne.jpg
photo courtesy of wikipedia.org
Said to be a favourite of Napoleon’s, Epoisses de Bourgogne has been made in central France since the 1700s. The odour from this cheese is so strong that it has reportedly been banned from France’s public transportation system. During its six week aging process, the cheese is washed with a mixture of water and Marc de Bourgogne brandy. The brandy is what gives the cheese its delicate flavour and the primary source of the cheese’s strong stench. To best enjoy this cheese, pair it with acidic fruits such as pears, apples and figs. Nuts and a good wine are also good picks.


Vieux Boulogne, France

photo courtesy of .produits-laitiers.com/
Also known as Sablé du Boulonnais, this soft yet firm cheese is an unpasteurized cows’ milk cheese with a red-orange washed rind. It ages anywhere from seven to nine weeks and is washed in beer. It was rated as the world’s stinkiest some years back, but despite its odourous smell, Vieux Boulogne does not have a sharp taste. Rather it is mild and rich and best enjoyed with a good quality beer or even Champagne. It’s French, after all, so why not?

Stinking Bishop, England
photo courtesy of wikipedia.org
The name of this cheese says it all. This is a cows’ milk cheese made in Gloucestershire, in the southwest of England, since 1972. This cheese ages up to two months, during which time it is immersed every few weeks in perry made of local Stinking Bishop pears, giving the cheese its distinct pungent odour. A pear-flavoured liqueur works well as a drink option with this cheese, as does a good local beer.


Palpusztai, Hungary
photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

This cheese is also created by the bacterium Brevibacterium linens. First made in Hungary in the 1890s, Palpusztai is a soft cows’ milk cheese, runny and outright stinky. Because of its high ammonia content, it has been known to bring tears to the eyes. But fear not. Get over the heady smell, grab a good, strong ale and do like the locals.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Sexienst WC on Earth


The sign reads: THE SEXIEST WC ON EARTH

So, what do you when you see such a sign? Well, you gotta go. And for a fee of one euro, that’s just what I do.




The Sexiest WC (water closet, or washroom) on Earth is located in Lisbon at Terreiro do Paço square. It’s part of a marketing campaign by Renova, one of the Europe’s leading consumer brands. Renova produces, among other things, coloured toilet paper providing consumers with the opportunity to co-ordinate their toilet paper with their bathroom decor. And we all need to do that right?



I read about this sexy washroom before heading to Lisbon, so when I spot the facility behind one of the many outdoor restaurants in the square, I am excited. I am anxious. I can hardly wait to experience The Sexiest WC in the World. What an event this is going be!

With an ear-to-ear smile, I walk down the dimly-lit corridor. Waiting at the end of a counter filled with rolls of brightly coloured toilet paper is a young woman sporting two dark-coloured braids and a nose ring, who asks, “Are you using the facility?”
“Yes,” I answer.
“It’s one euro,” she says.

I dig through the various coins in my wallet and come up with the required funds. She takes it from me and leads me past a large canary-yellow fountain. A rainbow-coloured wall of toilet paper is to my left. She opens a door, tells me the light will come on when I enter, and instructs me to step inside. I do as I’m told.



The lights reveal wood-paneled walls on three sides, and a mirrored wall on the other. And a toilet. And a roll of red toilet paper.
I paid a euro for this. I take my time. I sit and take pictures. Of a wooden wall. And a mirrored wall. And later a toilet. Did I mention the red toilet paper?

I spot a sign that reads, “WIFI connection.” So I try to connect, successfully. From the toilet. Yeah, technology. But where is the sexy part?




Outside, by the canary-yellow communal hand-washing fountain, I meet three young women from Holland. They're in fits of giggles.

“What did you think? Was it sexy enough?” I ask.
“We’re not sure what to make of it,” says one of the women.
“Me neither. I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn’t it,” I tell them.

Like little girls in a playground, we all laugh. Mostly because we paid a euro for nothing more than the sheer pleasure of wiping ourselves with red, or green or pink toilet paper.

“Can you take a picture of us?” asks another of the women.
“Sure. By the toilet?”
“Yes. With the toilet paper.”

And that is as sexy as it gets. I admit though, finding and using the facility was indeed a load off my mind.