Thursday 20 October 2016

Luxe Train Voyages: Part One

It's that time of year again, when thoughts of getting away from the Canadian winter, even for a short while, start to itch on my mind. And scratch I must.

My thoughts have turned to trains. I enjoy train travel. It's nostalgic, romantic and even mysterious. Think Agatha Christie and the Orient Express. Sure, it's a slower way to get from one place to the other, but what's the hurry? The destination can wait. Getting there is the real voyage.

So, I've come up with a list of some of the world's most opulent train voyages, which are now on my bucket list:

The Rocky Mountaineer

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This one is at the top of my list (what sort of Canadian would I be if it were not?!) Connecting Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, the Rocky Mountaineer takes guests through the majestic Canadian Rockies, visiting places like Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise. GoldLeaf service passengers enjoy the bi-level glass-domed car. Upstairs watch the breathtaking scenery of icy-green lakes, tall pine forests and majestic mountains go by. Downstairs, enjoy gourmet regional cuisine cooked onboard by internationally accomplished chefs. Menus feature local ingredients such as prime Alberta beef and wild Pacific salmon, accompanied by award-winning Okanagan wines. There are no overnight accommodations on this train. Guests are chauffeured to hotels for overnight, and returned the next day to continue their journey through some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on the planet. They had me at "chauffeured."

The Venice-Simplon Orient Express

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Undoubtedly, the most famous of all train routes, the original Orient Express ran between Paris and Istanbul. The Orient Express was known for its culinary excellence, romance and elegance. Today the Venice-Simplon Orient Express links three of the world’s most romantic cities, London, Paris and Venice. Vintage art deco cars from the 1920s and 30s have been restored to their original grandeur, providing the elegance of an age long gone.

The Blue Train

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This train connects Pretoria and Cape Town in South Africa. Providing a high level of luxury and hospitality since 1946, guests can expect outstanding service, a personal butler, opulent suites and exceptional cuisine. During the day, enjoy the outstanding panoramic views from your elegant suite. At night, that same suite is converted to a personal haven with goose down duvets and pillows. Each suite comes with its own personal full bathroom consisting of shower/bath along with marble floors, marble basin with gold fittings and heated floor for maximum comfort. In the dining car, superb signature dishes, made with the finest local ingredients, are served on fine china and delicate crystal.

The Maharajas’ Express

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In operation since 2010, the Maharajas’ Express route crisscrosses India, taking in most major areas. The train consists of 23 opulent coaches, catering to 88 passengers. Its plush facilities include a spa salon, fitness center, business center, WI-FI and air conditioning. There are two restaurants serving cuisine from around the world, including Indian, Chinese, and authentic Mewari cuisine. 24-hour valet service ensures guests’ needs are met around the clock. All of today’s modern conveniences have been dropped into recreated Maharajas carriages, offering guests the luxury and richness of yesteryear, with the expectations of today.

The Royal Scotsman

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Catering to just 36 guests, this train takes passengers through rugged shores, calm lochs and wide glens of the Scottish Highlands. It’s intimate and luxurious, with 5-star dining, wine pairing and superior service. Cabins have been designed to provide ultimate luxury with lower beds, quilted bed covers, private bathrooms, high quality toiletries and bathrobes. In the Observation Car, enjoy the vast changing scenery of the Highlands from the comfort of a sofa or armchair. Dining, offers regional specialties using local produce and served in the rich mahogany paneled dining cars. Expect sensational dishes, such as warm pigeon salad accompanied by blackcurrant dressing and sumptuous apple mouse. I'm in! 

Stay tuned for Part Deux.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Philly This Summer

If you’re planning a visit to Philadelphia this summer (and you really should), here are some things to consider and inspire, courtesy of my friends at Visit Philadelphia.

It's a Well-Planned City:

Grid Layout: The directionally challenged can thank city founder William Penn for Philadelphia’s logical downtown, called Center City. Perpendicular streets run north-south (numbered streets) and east-west (named mostly after trees, including Walnut, Locust and Spruce). Pro tip: William Penn’s statue atop City Hall faces northeast, so he can help people get their bearings.

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

Philadelphia’s Champs-Élysées: Cutting through the city grid, the diagonal Benjamin Franklin Parkway stretches from near City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the edge of Fairmount Park. Planner Paul Philippe Cret and designer Jacques Gréber modeled the mile-long thoroughfare after the Champs-Élysées of their native country. Some of the city’s most important cultural institutions, including the Barnes Foundation, line the Parkway.

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia™

It Really IS All About The Food:

Soft Pretzels: Introduced by early German settlers, this doughy pleasure serves as more than a snack. In the morning, locals can be seen dipping pretzels into cream cheese for Philly’s version of a breakfast bagel. Other times of day, mustard is the condiment of choice.

Credit: Photo by J. Varney for Visit Philadelphia™

Cheesesteaks and Roast Pork: Philadelphia is known for the cheesesteak. This meat-and-cheese icon is delicious and worth the praise. But there’s another sandwich that many locals consider to be the real hometown choice: roast pork. Like its more popular cousin, the roast pork starts with a quality long roll, then topped with roasted sliced pork, provolone cheese and broccoli rabe.

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia™
Water Ice: Called Italian ice in other parts, water ice dominates the summer snack market in Philadelphia. It’s smoother than a snow cone or shaved ice, and the flavor is mixed right in, rather than poured on top. Lemon and cherry win the most-ordered contest, though the sweet treat comes in a variety of flavors.

Credit: Photo by J. Varney for Visit Philadelphia™

Hoagies: Outside of Philadelphia, they’re often called “subs” or “heroes.” Philly takes its hoagie game seriously: The bread has to be just right—slightly crunchy on the outside, and soft enough to allow a hungry eater bite through to the hearty supply of deli meat, cheese and toppings.

Credit: Photo by C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

How To Drink In America’s Best Drinking City:

BYOB: Philadelphia’s difficult-to-acquire liquor licenses created a dining phenomenon: the BYOB, short for bring your own bottle. Diners bring their bottle of choice—wine, champagne, beer, even spirits—to the more than 300 BYOBs in the city, and chefs bring their best to the plate.

Credit: Photo by J. Fusco for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®


Liberty Bell: The cracked Bell served as a symbol for the abolitionist movement, and it also makes for a very American profile picture. 

Credit: Photo by D. Cruz for VISIT PHILADELPHIA™
LOVE Sculpture: Relocated to Dilworth Park during the renovation of JFK Plaza (a.k.a. Love Park), the LOVE sculpture is the perfect icon for the City of Brotherly Love.

Credit: Photo by C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

Philadelphia Museum of Art: The majestic Art Museum tops the Ben Franklin Parkway. Its location and its massive Greek revival design provides a stunning sight, perfectly captured at various points along the Parkway.

Credit: Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia™
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens: Weird and wonderful, indoor-outdoor space glistens with glass, tiles, found objects and even bike tires. 

Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

Getting Around:

On Foot: Locals like to walk. It’s the easiest way to get around. In fact, Philadelphia ranks fourth for most walkable cities in the country, according to WalkScore.

PHLASH: Fast, convenient and affordable. That’s the purple PHLASH bus. Riders pay $2 per ride or $5 for a day pass to get to 22 stops along its attraction-heavy route. 

SEPTA: Philadelphia’s public transit system includes buses, trolleys, subways and the Regional Rail. 

Indego: People can traverse the city’s 240 miles of bike lanes by using Indego, Philadelphia’s popular bike-share program. It’s easy to find one of the more than 100 docking stations. Single 30-minute rides cost $4, and the monthly pass is $15. 

It Sounds Like:

Philly Accent: Water is wooder. Many words that start with st- get more of a sht- treatment, so street sounds like shtreet. The pronoun “our” sounds like are, and “orange” gets the same sound at its start—are-ange. “Bagel” goes by beg-el (but soft pretzels are better; see above). And jeet? That’s how caring Philadelphians ask if a person has eaten.

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
Courtesy of Visit Philadelphia. For more information on what to do in Philadelphia this summer, visit their website.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Halifax Foodie Haven

Halifax is a foodie’s delight, especially if your taste buds include seafood. With the Atlantic Ocean lapping at its doorstep, fresh fish, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops (think Digby) abound. If you’re more of a ‘meat and potatoes’ person, no problem!

Let’s start with the seafood:

Question: What do the King of Siam, the Titanic and the Halifax explosion all have in common?    

              140 Argyle Street; 902-422-4421

I was anxious to dine at Five Fishermen, not simply because of its menu, but also because of the history behind the building in which the restaurant is housed. 

Located in a historical part of Halifax, it was constructed as a schoolhouse in 1817. When Dalhousie College took over the school, the Halifax Victorian School of Art, established by Anna Leonowens, occupied the space. Prior to opening the art school, Anna was the governess to the King of Siam’s children. She wrote a book and the rest, as they say, is history. The art school eventually moved, at which time the building was turned into a mortuary. During its stint as a funeral home, it accommodated hundreds of bodies after two major disasters: the sinking of the Titanic and the Halifax explosion.

Fast forward a good number of years, and presto, we have the Five Fishermen restaurant, which is consistently recognized as one of Halifax’s best dining experiences.

My Haligonian hostess and friend, Elaine, and I were immediately struck by the large stain-glass windows on the second floor. Lucky for us, our table was right next to a bank of such windows. It only got better from there.

Our dining experience began with appetizers. We ordered mussels in a creamy garlic sauce along with crab and scallop cakes. The mussels arrived speckled with bits of finely-chopped garlic and onion. They swam in a creamy-white sauce, which was so darn tasty, had there been a spoon available I would have slurped it up like soup. Perhaps a little uncouth, but so what?

The crab and scallop cakes were crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. They tasted as you’d expect a crab cake to taste. I didn’t find the scallops heightened the flavours. What was different, and very good, was the sauce accompanying them – a vibrant orange-coloured sauce with a hint of heat that built up in your mouth, rather than hit you square in the pallet with an explosion of fire. I learned later it’s made with kimchi.

For our main, Elaine and I chose the same dish – The Five Fish, and no wonder. It’s sautéed colossal shrimp, Digby scallops, pan seared local halibut and salmon served over lobster asparagus risotto. For good measure, we each ordered a lobster tail! Oh my!

Next question: How do you know you’re in a truly fine-dining restaurant?

Answer: The Caesar salad is made table-side.

This is exactly what you get at CUT Steakhouse (5210 Salter Street; 902-429-5120) -- order a Caesar salad, and a server in a crisp black and white uniform, wheels a cart to your table with all the 'fixings' on it. The egg is cracked into the large wooden bowl, the olive oil is poured just so, and on it goes, until your salad is done. It’s a practice long abandoned. Needless to say, it was a very pleasant surprise to witness this culinary performed treat right in front of me.

When it’s time to choose your steak, another cart is brought to your table. An explanation of each cut is offered. It’s a learning opportunity. For example, I learned that corn-feed adds marbling; grass-feed, results in less marbling. Maybe this is basic steak-knowledge, but I didn’t know.

Chef Luis Clavel, who has developed quite a reputation around this part of the country, thanks to his creativity and approach to food, had a few surprises stuffed into his chef’s apron for Elaine and me.

A white tagine was brought to our table. Lifting the lid revealed, among other things, two little towers of roasted corn and sliced octopus. When Elaine said, “The octopus is so tender,” we were told it had been cooked using the sous vide style of cooking.  I wrote the term down and made a note to Google it, not knowing a few hours later, Chef Clavel, would show us what it is.

Between the grilled-shrimp appetizer and the main course, a palate cleanser was presented by the Chef himself. In a clear-glass serving dish was a mound of flavoured ice crystals. A cream-coloured ball, about the size of a quarter, sat on top. Chef Clavel poured a liquid over it all, then asked us to bite into the ball. We did as instructed. It was an explosion of sweet effervescent liquid -- a white chocolate ball filled with Prosecco.  A surprise of the best kind!

Then came our steak and its accompaniments. All perfect! 

Elaine and I sat, ate, talked, ate, talked … for well over three hours. We were in no rush and no one seemed in a rush to get us out. At the end of our meal, Chef Clavel awaited our arrival in the kitchen to show us what sous vide is. He was cooking up lamb in a hot water bath.

Sous Vide Method of  Cooking

Elaine, Chef Clavel and me
Just when we thought we were done with food for the night, two small paper bags were handed to us, each containing a tiny banana bread loaf. Breakfast baby!

Also run by Chef Clavel is Shuck Seafood and Raw Bar, (same location as CUT (lower level)) and East of Grafton (1580 Argyle Street).

East of Grafton had not yet opened when I visited Halifax, and obviously, is on my list for next time.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Pier 21: Canada's Front Door

I’m proudly Canadian! I love this country and all it stands for. It’s a vast land and I’m blessed to have travelled it from the Atlantic to the Pacific. If I had to describe my country in one word, it is: awesome!

Photo via

Canada is not where I started though. Like millions of Canadians, I came from elsewhere. I was lucky I know, to have had parents who had the support, means (through exceptional hard work), and the foresight to come to this great land. I am an immigrant.

The year was 1967. Canada was celebrating its 100th anniversary as a nation.

One, little two, little three Canadians….

photo via

It was February. The dead of winter. Our little family of three had boarded a flight on an island in the middle of the north Atlantic. A few hours later we landed in Montreal, completely unprepared for the Canadian winter. No boots. No gloves. No touques. Nothing that would have provided adequate protection from winter in the great white north.

I was a small child then, but recall clearly as we stepped off the plane, an airline employee wrapping a blanket around me. It’s a memory I doubt I will ever forget.

Canada has a long and proud history of opening its doors to people in need. It’s a tradition that continues today and one we, as a nation, are proud of. It is in fact, what makes us Canadian. Today, most newcomers arrive by aircraft, landing directly in a major city, as we did. But that was not always the case.

Between 1928 and 1971, over one million immigrants entered the country through what became known as Canada’s “front door”, Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Passing through its doors were refugees, troops, wartime evacuees, war brides and their children -- people who, for whatever reasons, were seeking a better life. It was also from Pier 21 that almost 500,000 Canadian troops left for Europe during World War 2 -- 50,000 would not return home.

Everyone entered or left Canada through this door

The facility opened on March 28, 1928. Holland America’s, SS Nieuw Amsterdam became the first ship to bring immigrants through Pier 21. The ocean terminals in Halifax harbour had freight piers, grain elevators, a train station, and over 220,000 square feet of space allotted for immigration.

Photo via

photo via

The immigration complex had medical and detention quarters, an assembly hall, customs, a railway booking office and a telegraph office. The Red Cross was onsite.  

There was a restaurant where meals could be purchased before boarding special passenger trains made up of dozens of colonist cars – coaches designed specifically for moving immigrants inexpensively across the country.  

For the more affluent passengers, a direct connection between Pier 21 terminal and Halifax’s railway station was available. From there, passengers could board regularly scheduled trains to their final destinations.

The 1950s saw a peak in immigration as thousands of postwar Europeans left their homelands behind. An addition to the facility was added to handle the extra traffic. But just as quickly, a decline happened as more and more people began arriving by plane.

The last group of immigrants who made their way through Pier 21 were 100 Cubans who, in 1970, defected in Gander International Airport (Newfoundland). They were given accommodations at Pier 21 while their refugee claims were processed. 

In 1971, the SS Nieuw Amsterdam (II), which bore the same name as the first ship to bring immigrants to the pier 21 in 1928, was the last ship to bring immigrants to Halifax harbour.  Pier 21 closed shortly thereafter.

Today, Pier 21 is a National Historic Site and home to the Canadian Museum of Immigration. Tours are available at various times throughout the day led by knowledgeable guides. On our tour, we score big with our tour guide, George Zwaagstra.

George arrived from The Netherlands in 1952. He entered Canada through its “front door” -- Pier 21. He shares his personal experience. He shows us the passport he used to enter Canada. He and his family were able to walk out of Pier 21 once all their paperwork was completed, as they were staying in Halifax. George’s brother was already settled here. No need for overnight stays or detention.

George tells us of the great number people who made their entrance into Canada through Pier 21. Then he adds, “Only 10,000 were sent back.” I detect pride in his voice.

Pointing to a display area, he informs his little group of followers, “Immigrants were allowed to bring books. But not that one.” Everyone looks. Ulysses. Ulysses! Banned. Until 1949.

If you’re into genealogy, the Scotiabank Family History Center (SFHC), located on the main floor, is a great place to conduct research. Basic information for anyone arriving through a Canadian port between 1865 and 1935 can be accessed. Staff members are available to help locate historical documents.

Photo via

As far as I know, I do not have any relatives who arrived through Pier 21. So as helpful as the staff is, I don’t need assistance. Or so I think.

“Would you like to request your complete immigration record?” asks a cheerful young woman in a crisp uniform.

“No. That’s okay,” I respond.

“Are you sure? It’s free.”

Free? Really? In that case, sure.”

I have no idea what my “complete immigration record” is, but I know it’s certainly not free. It is however, another way I can reap the benefits of paying my Federal taxes.

I can’t wait to receive it!

Thursday 19 May 2016

My City: Mississauga

When I travel abroad, say Buffalo, I tell people I’m from Toronto. I’m not. I’m from Mississauga.

City Hall--photo via

The reason I state Toronto rather than Mississauga, is because most people haven’t heard of Mississauga. There are exceptions of course. There’s always someone who knows somebody who lives in Mississauga.

They say things like, “My wife’s best friend has family there. The McLaren’s. Do you know them?” I don’t.


 “Mississauga. Like Mississippi??” No.

montage via

The name, ‘Mississauga’, comes from the Algonquian Mississaugas, a First Nations tribe originally from the Georgian Bay area of Ontario. With the mighty Credit River flowing through its land, what was once a Toronto bedroom community, is now Canada’s sixth largest city. It's comprised of several unique villages, many of which retain their original charm.

Port Credit lighthouse photo via

The city’s population boomed as Toronto city-dwellers looked for places to raise families. Many made the move west—to Mississauga. They got more bang for their buck by living here, while commuting there. Today, thousands of Mississaugans still make the daily commute to Toronto for work. Many more however, now live and work in our city, thanks to over 50 international corporations with Canadian headquarters here, companies like Microsoft, General Mills, Wal-Mart, NCR, to name a few.

I’ve not written about my city. It’s high-time I do. This is therefore, an introduction to the city I have called home for over 30 years. And yes, I came west with family in tow. The first home in Mississauga was in fact a pretty tiny house, but it had a massive yard. There was lots of space for kids, grandparents and a dog to run around in. The driveway fit more cars than we owned, the neighbours were on first-name basis and did not mind their own business. It was life in what used to be the village of Cooksville.

And that’s the thing about this city--you don’t just live in Mississauga, you live in a village. One Mississaugan meeting another will always state the village he/she lives in. It might sound pretentious to an outsider, but here, it’s what we do.

I now live in Clarkson. My favourite library is in Lorne Park. Port Credit has the best summer festivals. Streetsville has the most charm, and on it goes. 

Streetsville photo via

I’ll be writing a bit more on Mississauga over the next while. For now, here are just a few fun facts:
  • 1974 was the year Mississauga became a city.

  • The city of Mississauga has only ever had 4 mayors and I doubt many residents can tell you who they were/is, with the exception of: Hazel McCallion. Hazel was our mayor for 36 years. Thirty-six! In the latter years of her political career, Hazel didn’t even campaign for the job. She put her name on the ballot and that was that. You either voted for her or you didn’t. We did.

  • Toronto Pearson International Airport, Canada’s busiest airport, is actually in Mississauga. When you fly into YYZ, it’s not Toronto you’re landing in. (No one ever tells you this!)

  • The “largest peacetime evacuation” occurred on November 10, 1979 when a 106 car freight train carrying explosive and poisonous chemicals derailed near Mavis Rd. and Dundas St.

  • We are home to Trillium Health Partners, comprised of two hospitals in Mississauga and one in Toronto. It can be a bit confusing with people showing up at the 'wrong' hospital on occasion, (yes, I've done this) but hey, it's top-notch healthcare and there's never a bill to settle. Never. Ever.

  • Square One Shopping Centre, with over 360 stores, is located at the City Centre and is one of Canada largest shopping malls.
  • Igor Gowzenko, a Russian Embassy to Canada employee, defected in 1945 with over 100 documents supporting Soviet espionage activities in the West. His actions had major ramifications. He lived the rest of his life under an assumed name, and wore a hood over his face for anonymity when making public appearances. After the whole spy broo-ha-ha thing, he settled in Clarkson, and is buried two blocks from where I live. 

Am I the only one who finds this fascinating?