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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Vancouver: Where Urban Life and the Great Outdoors Intersect

I’ve spent a lot of time in this west coast city lately, and can now confidently say I have some favourites that I would highly recommend. If you’ve ever visited Vancouver, you know what I mean when I say that it truly offers the best of both worlds – city life surrounded by the great outdoors. This is the kind place where you can go snowboarding or skiing on some of the most epic mountains in the world, and take a dip in the ocean, or go fishing – all in the same day. Because there’s so much diversity and wonderful things to do, you’re sure to have fun no matter what you chose to explore, however, I’m a big believer in a curated, tried, true and tested guide….so here it is!

Where to stay – If you are in the position to splurge and enjoy the finer things in life, my new favourite hotel is Rosewood Hotel Georgia, by far. I recently stayed there for a couple of nights and every detail and want was tended to. I’ve spent my whole life staying in hotels around the world and only a few hold a candle to Hotel Georgia when it comes to the overall attention to details, customer satisfaction and overall ambiance (and none of those other few are in Canada).

The little one really liked the Junior Suite too.

The little one really liked the Junior Suite too.

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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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Jamaâ El Fna

Our trip to Morocco was filled with novelty, excitement, pleasure and intrigue, however one particularly unique experience was our time spent in the market, Jamaâ El Fna ( also spelled Djemma El Fna). We witnessed both the daytime and nighttime vibe, and although it’s safe to say both displayed a tremendous amount of energy, the latter especially so.

Knowing this had the possibility of being an overwhelming experience, I had booked us a tour guide beforehand. The taxi dropped us off at the main entrance of the market, where we did the usual Moroccan thing – crossed the street while dodging taxis, a few SUV’s and a whole lotta motorbikes…like hundreds of them, some carrying full grown men and women, others with entire family’s wrapped around each surface of the bike, and I’m not talking large Harley bikes, I’m talking what look like regular bicycles with small motors on them. I digress…

After sorting through the sea of people and cats, we find our tour guide wearing the traditional Muslim tunic and an Urban Adventures baseball cap.  We’re about ten minutes late and he explains that he was about to leave but the company told him to stick around for a couple more minutes. This is an important anecdote because a) I think it’s pretty telling of the locals here in Marrakech as they seem to be very punctual people and b) I am certain we would not have had the same rich experience in the market had we not been taken through the nooks and crannies of what is essentially a very large maze, by a local.

The narrow and mysterious alleyways of Jamma el Fna.

The narrow and mysterious alleyways of Jamma el Fna.

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