Niagara-on-the-Lake

The largest wine region in Ontario, Canada – Niagara-on-the-Lake (short form NOTL), is just over an hour drive from downtown Toronto and offers a wide range of wineries and restaurants. If you’re visiting Toronto (or want a fun staycation if you live in South Western Ontario), I’d recommend booking a day of wine touring and spend one night so you don’t have to drive home, or pre-book an SUV or limo from and back to the city.

In the past year, I’ve spent two full days – once in the winter and once in the summer – exploring the NOTL region and I’ve come away with some definite favorites. Here’s my list of the top wineries (and one distillery for good measure):

Five Rows – Five generations in, and the family that cultivates these grapes had still not produced and marketed their own wine. This all changed when the son, Wes Lowrey, decided to take the next step and craft their own wines, while still producing grapes for other wineries. The Lowrey family takes their time in tending to their vineyard with a focus on complex and subtle flavors and the result is really refined wines, with the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir being my favourites. This is a very small family run operation so be sure to make an appointment beforehand.

Between the Lines – Full disclosure: my uncle and dad, Bob & Wayne Izumi, has partnered with BTL for many years now as they produce an Izumi white wine blend, as well as a red blend. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to visit the winery and help choose the blends for our Izumi wine, and get to know the team. Their story is so eloquently laid out on their site, I encourage you to read it here. They just added a new “barn” to house private events and it’s a very charming spot. They also partner with super talented chefs in the area to complete the experience.

Between the Lines Izumi white wine blend and their latest creation - canned sparkling white wine, called Origin.

Between the Lines Izumi white wine blend and their latest creation – canned sparkling white wine, called Origin.

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Exploring, learning, eating and relaxing in Thailand

A lot happened in Thailand. As I’m sure is the case for most people who travel to and visit the exotic and slightly mysterious south east asian country. I survived a jelly fish sting, a traditional thai hot coffee spill on my bare legs, and multiple work outs on the beach in 40 degree temperatures. haha!

This man was quick to help me out haha....fresh aloe vera, literally from around the corner, being applied to the burn, and the stinging went down by evening.

One of my best friend’s, Maggie, and I started out in Vietnam (blog on that later) then went on to Phuket, then Koh Samui, then Bangkok.

This order of locations allowed us to party, then relax, then learn and explore which I highly recommend.

PHUKET

The most touristy part of all of Thailand, there are some things I recommend doing just once, to experience it, and there are some activities and places that are not totally expected on such a “party island”.

Photo Left: This man was quick to help me out haha….fresh aloe vera, literally from around the corner, being applied to the burn, and the stinging went down by evening.

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TORONTO

Writing a travel blog about the place you grew up in, is somewhat more difficult than writing about a place you just experienced because of course, you must narrow down a lifetime of living, to your top recommendations.

I don’t live in the city anymore so every time I’m back in the city, I try to get in as much food, drink and play as I can.  I’ve rounded up a good mix of long standing establishments as well as newer hots spots that are sure to add to your time in The 6 (in case you live under a rock – “the six” is the latest nickname for the city, coined by Drake.)

Taking in the sun, and the Toronto skyline.

Taking in the sun, and the Toronto skyline.

To start off, although the city is now pulsing 24/7, all year round, I still recommend coming between April and December. Basically, I’m telling you to avoid the first two to three months of the year when it can be quite cold and “brown” (like the whole eastern part of North America during this time, the trees are without leaves and the ground is grimy). That said, literally all of the things I’m recommending below are still available to you all year round so if your family reunion or work conference or vacation time is January to March, you’ll still have a great time.

 

 

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Food or Sports? BOTH can be done well in Oregon.

I went to Oregon expecting to come back with lots of memories of the beautiful landscape and outdoors activities, but what really ended up leaving an impression on me was their food scene. Don’t get me wrong, the road trip from Vancouver to Bend, and then back up north to Portland, was a gorgeous one with a variety of mountains and canyons and farmland BUT a good majority of my time was spent eating, and I was impressed.

Our weekend started out in Bend, Oregon where hipsters and outdoors people (often one and the same) roam the town in search of the best lattes and bike trails. To say the city is a popular one these days, is an understatement. It seemed at every turn there was a new townhouse complex, shopping area, restaurant district or hockey arena being built. It’s no wonder why Bend is rated as one of the best places to live in the United States. Everything is relatively easy to get to, it has some of the best hiking and biking trails, ski areas and bodies of water for fishing (Deschutes is a world class fly fishing river), as well as water sports like paddle boarding and kayaking, and there are all sorts of fun little restaurants, bars and bakeries to indulge in. Oh, and let’s not forget, it has one brewery for every 4,500 people, which means a ton of tasty craft beers to choose from.

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Michelin Star Extravaganza in Copenhagen

The evening BEFORE our big evening at the Michelin Star restaurant, Kiin Kiin, went like this:

Local Danish friend: Hey guys, where do you want to have dinner tomorrow?

Us: Somewhere delicious, you pick.

Local Danish friend: Ok, how about Thai food? I hear there’s a really good Thai place that I’ve been wanting to try out.

Us: Sounds good.

Cut to THE evening, just a handful of buds heading out for what we assume is a casual night out, sharing some south east asian comfort food…

hhhahaha….boy (girrrrrrrl), were we wrong.

We entered Kiin Kiin, what looked to be a trendy, calming but somewhat traditional Thai restaurant, sat down in a lounge area and waited for a waiter and some menus. However, what really ensued was four and half hours (4 and 1/2 hours!!) of a kind of mindf**k, being served dish after dish of unknown and never before tried ingredients. This description kind of sounds scary, but actually it was amazing!! And interesting, and hilarious at times (hilarious, often because we would be served one of the fanciest dishes we’ve ever laid our eyes on, only to remember that a couple of hours ago, we assumed we’d be eating simple Thai food in a dingy – but awesome – traditional Thai joint).
The evening consisted of 20 dishes in total, along with a wine pairing and took place in two main rooms. These restauranteurs surely deserve their Michelin Star, as it was a unique dining experience unlike any other we’d had, and was full of really delicious dishes. Herewith, a selection of what we ate that night (description in captions):

Oysters, mussels and really pretty seashells from the seashore.

Oysters, mussels and really pretty seashells from the seashore.

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Food, shopping and travel tips from Denmark

The Scandinavian countries had been on my list of places to see and explore for quite some time, and lucky for me I found some enthusiastic participants to come along. My cousins and I managed to coordinate our somewhat opposing schedules so that we had 10 days to skip out on work (i.e. actually still working, but from laptops and iPhones at various coffee shops and apartments). We decided two countries was in our cards and chose Denmark and Sweden, and as soon as we left the airport (we started out in Copenhagen), the stereotypes were in full force: clean architectural lines mixed with old european details, a bunch of lookalikes – light coloured hair, tall, lean build and fashionable without taking too many risks, and pastry shops and furniture design houses in every direction.

A typical street in Copenhagen.

A typical street in Copenhagen…and we just finished scarfing down a bunch of pastries.

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