A Guide to Vancouver & Whistler

If you’ve never been to the West coast of Canada, if you have and are looking for new things to do or even if you live there, here are my personal favorites, from one of the best meals of my life to the most surreal views my eyes have ever seen.

If you don’t want to read this entire blog post here’s the highlights. Eat at Cuchillo, you must! Rent a pontoon boat in Deep Cove and go to Rainbow Park in Whistler.

We stayed in English Bay, it’s a vibrant area full of restaurants and minutes from the beach. If hotels are looking pricey, check out Air B and B’s in the area, my family found a great one just off Davie Street. One of my favorite places to visit daily is A-maze-ing Laughter, a circle of giant laughing statues just off the beach by Cactus Club. It’s impossible to be near the statues without a smile on your face! Just past the statues is the sprawling sea wall perfect for long walks, runs or bike rides. Each curve of the wall opens your eyes to an unparalleled landscape, where even the shipping boats add to the beauty of the view.

Another wonderful place to explore is Stanley Park. You can get lost in the 27km forest and enormous trees, see wild raspberries everywhere, spot all sorts of animals and stumble upon surprises such as the Totem Poles or Monument Trees, the oldest in the park. If you want to explore lots of the park, rent a bike and keep an eye out for the maps posted all over the park showing you where you are. It’s easy to get lost in there but every wrong turn is another intoxicating view.

If I could only recommend one single restaurant while in Vancouver, go to Cuchillo (www.cuchillo.ca). The layers of flavour in each bite of each dish were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We started with the Peruvian Diver Caught Scallop Ceviche. It was served atop Mexican corn on the cob that was covered in buttered, had just enough spice and was topped with a small but perfect personal portion of fresh scallops, dried apricot yam jam and so many other wonderful flavours. I was too busy savouring every bite to focus on each flavour I was tasting. Two out of 5 of our group does not like traditional ceviche and they would have happily had seconds! Be adventurous and give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed!

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We also shared the guacamole and chips which was simple and fresh. We finished appetizers with the corn bread. This corn bread was like no other, my mouth waters as I remember it. It’s served with Guajillo chili butter on top and you’re instructed to let it melt down into the bread and get all gooey before you eat it. This is unlike any corn bread you’ve ever eaten or ever will eat again. It was sweet, salty, smoky, gooey and a sensation for my taste buds. I got a new taste with every bite. We moved on to Baja Style Battered Rockfish tacos with jicama slaw, chipotle aioli, and kale on a hemp corn tortilla, that was the best fish taco I’ve ever eaten. The Morita Chili BBQ Pulled Pork taco was the perfect combination of sweet and savoury but was a bit heavy after all the food we’d already eaten. We finished the meal, albeit I could not have more than one bite at this point, with the Pan Roasted BC Sablefish with a coconut cream corn, black garlic remoulade and browned pana fritas.

You can’t go wrong ordering any of these items but if you’re not too hungry, order the ceviche, corn bread and a fish taco and let me know if it’s not one of the best meals of your life. The vibe in this place is cool, laid back yet upscale and funky. It’s perfect for date night, a birthday or even to start a bachelor/ette party. Good music, unique venue, great cocktails (I had the margarita) and incredible food!

One other hidden away place that you may not find without being told about it by a local is Adesso. It’s a quaint little Italian restaurant with a perfect outdoor courtyard. Definitely request a seat outside. They start the meal with sea salt focaccia and oil and vinegar. We ordered the Fritto Misto which was lightly dusted calamari and the Springtime Green Hazelnut and Pear salad that came with a light mustardy dressing. Both were delicious! For my main I had the Cauliflower Risotto which was as good as any I ordered while in Italy. Everyone enjoyed their meals, the wine was delicious and as it was my mom’s birthday, they even comped her meal! http://adessobistro.ca/ 

There’s a pretty spectacular suspension bridge in Vancouver called Capilano but if you want a similar experience for free head to Lynn Canyon Park in North Van. Opening in 1912, it encompasses 617 acres and is full of hiking trails that lead through beautiful woods to waterfalls. The suspension bridge is the highlight and despite being no cost, the bridge was not too busy and I was able to run back and forth freely.

Another fun place to spend an evening in Vancouver is the Lonsdale Night Market. There’s live music, art, all sorts of different vendors, a beer garden and about 100 food trucks. Head to I Love Chickpea’s truck and try the falafel and chickpea fries, it’s as good as the falafel in Israel and that’s a bold statement!

There’s tons of free yoga in parks across Vancouver, look them up and check one out while you are there. The setting is so beautiful everywhere on this coast of Canada that you will surely find some peace during the class. I attended class in Dude Chilling Park, it was a great class and they accept small donations afterwards.

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If you’re driving from Vancouver to Whistler make sure to stop at Fergie’s for breakfast. It can be a long wait for food but is it ever worth it! The setting is like a campground with overhanging trees and picnic benches and the food is delicious! I had the Dubliner Benny and it was fantastic! http://www.sunwolf.net/fergies/

Once you reach Whistler, head to Rainbow Park. This is my favorite activity each summer when I visit out West. It’s a grass beach on a serene lake with a backdrop of snow-peaked mountains. Your eyes won’t believe what they’re seeing and the view never becomes “normal”. To be floating in a lake and staring up at snow is truly spectacular! There’s also volleyball nets here if you feel like being active. The area is equipped with change rooms and bathrooms and a food truck but you can certainly bring your own food and drinks.

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My final recommendation is renting a boat in Deep Cove. While it may run you a few hundred dollars, it will be a day to remember! We rented a pontoon boat and went out to the Indian Arm where the water was warm enough to jump in off the boat and otters swam past us. It was another opportunity to be in the water and be staring up at snow-peaked mountains. Being from the concrete jungle of Toronto, to say I’m envious that this is my brother’s normal view is an understatement!

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There are so many mouth-watering restaurants, breathtaking views and fun outdoors activities in Vancouver and Whistler. I love exploring new things each time I’m there! Enjoy the beauty and let me know what your favorite part was when you go!

 

 

A Quick Guide to Greece

 Santorini – Ride a donkey up to the top or jump into a cable car. Once at the top, take a bus to Oia, one of two towns that sits on a cliff above an underwater crater.  Wander around by foot and head to Red Beach to see the red sand that touches the rugged landscape, shaped by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century. Leave yourself a good amount of time to eat at the Athenian House, let them suggest a wine. Sit outside overlooking the coast eating the most delicious feta and olives you’ve ever tasted and sipping remarkable wine. Take this time to simply enjoy the moment and the beauty that surrounds you. You can head back down by donkey, cable car or walking but if you walk, beware as the walking trail is steep and winding and is the same trail that the donkeys take so you may step in some surprises as you make your way down.

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Rhodes – This Island is extremely easy to explore by foot. There’s a ton of shops and vendors and great cafes on every corner. Get lost in castle walls as you explore the area.

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Mykonos – Rent ATV’s and drive across the hilly terrain of the island. It’s the best and most fun way to explore! There aren’t too many street signs and it’s easy to get lost so pay attention to what you’re passing! Head to Super Paradise Beach Club and dance the night away! Rent jetskis while at the beach to check out more of the island. If you want to spoil yourself stay at the Cavo Tagoo Mykonos, they have a Santorini location too. It’s every amazing Instagram photo you’ve ever seen of Greece in real life!

Athens – Give yourself some time in Athens, there’s a lot to see. Unlike the islands which you can see in a day each (if that’s your desired pace), Athens culture can take longer to fully see. The line to buy tickets at the Acropolis and Parthenon is long no matter when you go. If you’re in a rush or don’t like to wait, though not technically allowed, most often you can find someone near the front who will buy your tickets with theirs for 20 extra euro. There’s often another line to get inside after the ticket line so get ready to wait. Once inside, it truly is remarkable and a wonder that you must see with your own eyes! How they built this monument in 447 BC is mind blowing!  From the Theater of Dionysus to the Panathenaic Stadium there is so much history to see in this ancient city, explore as many as you can depending on time! Ermou street is most famous for shopping and though it has some of the same stores that we have in North America, the fashion within the stores was different and in my opinion, was much better! It’s worth having a McGreek at Mcdonald’s just for the experience, and avoid restaurants on main shopping streets like Ermou. They’re typically gimmicky with bad food and high prices. They’ll try and lure you in with free wine, avoid them and trust me when I say, McDonald’s tastes way better then these places! If you’re on a cruise, give yourself hours to get back to the ship. Traffic in Athens is bad and it will take time to get back to your port. There is also more than one port and lots of docks so make sure you know where your ship is before you leave it!

Every island was full of romance, culture and delicious food and wine. I’d recommend Greece with a partner or friends but would not recommend it for solo travel, there are much better destinations for that. The islands can be difficult to get between and the lack of taxis on islands makes things somewhat difficult to get around. In Athens we could not find a taxi driver who spoke any English (this could have just been our experience) but it made it extremely hard to get where we were going.

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Living the Vegas Dream

I got back from living in Mexico and was over Toronto pretty fast. I called my best friend and asked her to move to Vegas with me. Nothing seemed as appealing as the bright lights and good times that can only be found in Vegas. I was EDM’s biggest fan and Vegas was my mecca.

Walking down the strip you can transport into Venice on a gondola ride, into Paris and the Eiffel Tower, into New York City and The Statue of Liberty or a Pirate’s Den at Treasure Island.

We moved in with someone I’d met on a previous trip to Vegas. He said we could live rent free so we thought it’d be a great starting point. That was probably not the wisest decision in hindsight but it did give us time to find somewhere else to live.

We met a lot of people who lived behind the strip on Paradise, but it wasn’t the nicest of areas and didn’t feel too safe. We temporarily moved into the only thing we could afford that had some living space and a kitchen. Crestwood Suites was a run-down hotel just off the strip on Las Vegas Blvd, it was $400 a week. We bought a scooter to get around, it was actually so much fun! We only lasted at this “hotel” for a month or so before we decided we needed to find somewhere else to live and fast or book our flight home. It was full of hookers and addicts, get us out of there!!!

I searched endlessly to find us a new home and our prayers were answered when I found a condo in a gated community on a golf course right behind the Wynn hotel. It had flat screens in every room, was furnished, had huge walk-in closets and did I mention the community had 8 pools!? Heaven!

We met people who worked for tour companies that hooked us up with tours to the Grand Canyon both by bus and helicopter. Go by bus if you want to sit on the ledge of the canyon and go by helicopter at sunrise if you want the views. The bus tour is better if you have to choose. We made tons of friends and partied, hard!

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I learned the hard way not to Jaywalk in Vegas, seriously, don’t do it even though it takes forever to cross the street using the escalators.

So having lived there for 6 months, moved home and gone back for several more months, here are my tips both on and off the strip.

Hotels

Pay a bit more and stay at the Wynn or Encore. A close second is the Cosmopolitan or Aria but you can’t beat the Wynn/Encore. It’s luxury all around and the rooms are the perfect retreat after long days walking the strip or at pool parties and after long nights.

Food

If you want cheap eats on the strip, go to the food court beside MGM. La Salsa Cantina has a cheap and good breakfast or go to one of the buffets and then have a small snack later, it’s all you’ll need. My favorite buffets are the Aria which has the best crab legs and the Wicked Spoon at Cosmo. Wicked Spoon has individually packaged food like personal sized pad thai in a small box and macaroni and cheese in its own small ramekin. The dessert is unbelievable at this buffet so save some room! Maggiano’s in fashion show mall is also cheap, delicious and gives you huge portions! STK and Tao are always good for dinner as well. SW Steakhouse and Lakeside at the Wynn give you views of the Lake of Dreams show while you eat, which is definitely worth seeing once.

If you want to go off the strip you’ve got to go to Kabuki in Town Square for sushi. Get the crab salad and Alaskan roll, the Alaskan roll is like no other you will ever have! My other favorite is Café Rio, the carne asada salad is amazing! While you’re off the strip pick up alcohol if you need it from any grocery or convenience store as it will be way cheaper than on the strip. If you need to buy it on the strip, the ABC store may be your cheapest bet.

Party

My favorite day parties are Encore Beach Club and Marquee but you really can’t go wrong at any of them. I also really like the day party at the Palms, but it’s a bit far off the strip. For me, the day parties are better than the night parties every time but if you’ve got enough energy to do both, even better! For nightclubs, I’ve always loved XS. The DJs are always fire, the crowds are hot and the vibe is amazing. Get there early unless you have a table booked so you can hop into a booth (if you’re a girl). Otherwise, prepare to spend your night being body checked as the crowds push through and spill drinks all over the place.

It’s worth going to Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay for a drink and for the view. It’s a view of the strip like no other! If you want to see a few venues in one day or night you can check out one of the many club crawls that Vegas has to offer. Las Vegas Club Crawl is one of my favorites.

For after-hours Artisan is the way to go! It’s a hotel converted into an after-hours. You will see DJs here after their main sets on the strip from time to time and a lot of locals head here after work. It’s always a good time and better then on-the-strip Drais!

Fremont street is always fun for something different. The Golden Nugget hotel is actually really nice if you don’t want to stay on the strip. The nightlife on Fremont is different, but so much fun. I wouldn’t suggest a single place to go but rather I’d tell you to walk the streets around 11-12, listen for music that you like and head that direction. Last time I was there I heard dubstep blasting, I followed it and ended up at a rooftop bar with some of the best dub I’ve ever heard. I still regret not finding out the DJs name. The drinks were way cheaper than the strip at $4 a pop and the party went on until the morning! Fremont is definitely worth one night of partying while in Vegas!

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Encore Beach Club

Shopping/Casinos/Shows

The outlet malls in Vegas are nothing to write home about. If you want to go shopping I’d stick to the Fashion Show Mall across from the Wynn.

I can’t recommend a casino because I lost in all of them, but good luck to you if you go!

I saw every Cirque show and many other shows while in Vegas. My top 2 are David Copperfield, it was magical and Zumanity Cirque Du Soleil.

Contacts

If you’re ever thinking about moving or going to Vegas feel free to e-mail me for contacts and recommendations!

My old roommate started one of the best VIP companies in town! AJ VIP is a 24/7 VIP concierge company that caters to your every want and need while in Las Vegas. They can get you hooked up with hotels, fights, tours and shows. They offer guest list for day and night parties, bottle service and VIP services. Anything you need in Vegas, AJ VIP can sort out. Call them at (248) 875-8321 or (810)-423-2672 or check them out on facebook AJvipVegas. I’ve sent everyone to them and they’ve received the royal treatment every time. Start your Las Vegas trip planning by calling them!

Weekend Getaway to Montreal

A quick 45 minute flight and we had landed in Montreal, the perfect weekend getaway from Toronto. In the airport, the line for a taxi was outrageously long. Pro tip – there’s a booth in the airport for an app you can download which is essentially like Uber for a taxi company. When you download it you get $10 off your first ride and don’t have to wait in the massive taxi line. We opted for public transit as there was no line at all at the ticket machine. We took a bus to the subway and the subway 3 stops to our hotel. Their subway is fast! I never take public transit in Toronto and it was actually a painless experience in Montreal. After 4pm on Fridays you can get a 3 day bus and subway pass for $13.00, worth it even if you only end up using it the single time to get to your hotel.

We stayed at the Best Western Ville-Marie downtown https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotel-details.67012.html?iata=00171880&ssob=BLBWI0004G&cid=BLBWI0004G:google:gmb:67012. The Best Western’s I’ve stayed in in the past left much to be desired but this one was actually beautiful. A large marble entrance, extremely friendly concierge and very spacious room. We paid $147/night which isn’t bad for a weekend and a centrally located downtown location.

There’s quite a lot of construction on the roads downtown right now so it was faster and easier to walk everywhere then try and get an Uber and nothing was far from our hotel.

We had the most amazing brunch at Café Napoleon on sunny Saturday morning in the Plateau http://www.cafenapoleon.com/en/. It was about a 30 minute walk through Montreal to get there and every turn got more beautiful than the last. Each building has its own character and charm. I had the special which was egg whites, bacon, crispy breakfast potatoes, toast, a pile of fresh fruit, a crepe filled with Nutella and bananas and bottomless coffee for $11.95! Every bite was delicious and it was more food than I could ever eat. They’ve got a great patio out front where we sat.

After brunch we strolled around the Plateau and went into some churches along the way. We ended up on Ste. Catherine Street where we shopped for a few hours. The deals were great and the busking musicians were better! Buskers in Montreal have to audition for prime locations like on Ste. Catherine and they are phenomenal!

We had dinner later that night at Atma back in the Plateau https://www.restaurantatma.ca/.  You must make a reservation here and you also must go! It’s an Indian restaurant with a unique and authentic atmosphere. Seating on the top floor is on the ground on cushions and then the main and 2nd floor are regular seating. We were served by the owner who regaled us with stories about growing up in London, England and how he grew to love cooking his native Indian food. We asked what he would recommend and he told us he would make us a special lamb dish, his favorite that is not on the menu. I love when servers or chefs offer this, it gives the service that extra level of greatness and makes you feel valued as a customer.  We started with Chicken 13, a slightly spicy breaded chicken, onion bahji’s, samosas and naan bread. I would skip the samosas, they are almost deconstructed and weren’t the best thing we tasted, leave room for the other dishes! The onion bhaji’s were so good, I probably had one too many! For the main we had rice, butter chicken, shrimp madras and the special off-menu lamb dish. Every dish was unbelievable! Some spicier then others, but the yogurt dip evened out the heat for those who couldn’t handle the spice. We enjoyed an Indian beer with the meal and left stuffed! We walked back to the hotel to let our food go down and were immersed in the vibrant beat of Montreal’s nightlife scene. If we weren’t so full, would have stopped for a drink along the way!

From culture to sightseeing, shopping and fabulous food Montreal offered the perfect weekend getaway!

* To anyone traveling in or out of Toronto Pearson airport right now, expect to wait! Our flight home was delayed 7 times over the course of 2 hours and went from a 6pm to almost 10pm flight. When we landed in Pearson there were loads of people still waiting for delayed flights, sleeping on the floor and seats.

* The airport is currently undergoing runway and taxiway construction that has been ongoing since March 28th and is set to be finished May 16th.

Israel – Where to Eat?

Almost all of the Port restaurants in Jaffa and Tel Aviv serve 20 different kinds of salads, dips such as hummus and tahini, falafel and fresh cooked pita bread before your meal even arrives. You also have the choice to skip the main and fill up on these delicious starters that they re-fill free of charge in most places. This is a true Israeli dining experience and the flavors will overwhelm your taste buds like nothing else! We ate at Fisherman’s Restaurant in the Jaffa Port and would highly recommend it, skip the mains (they weren’t very good). The starters were more than any of us could eat and were mouth-watering, especially the falafel! You’ll also have a front row seat to lots of wedding photo shoots occurring along the port as you eat and drink the most delicious fresh squeezed lemonade that comes with the starters. http://www.rol.co.il/sites/hadayagim/

Onza was a restaurant that our hotel recommended to us. It’s a Turkish restaurant and having been to Turkey, I wasn’t overly enthused to try it. Was I ever wrong! This food was spectacular, but likely not your cup of tea if you’re very health-conscious. We shared Turkish bread, the shawarma, the Lahmi Bajn Taboon, a pizza mixed with a lamb taco type of dish, and the lamb “Arais,” a panini lamb sandwich. The shawarma was the best I’ve ever tasted! Everything was delicious! The server brought us over free shooters and free dessert and the service was exceptional start to finish! A must-go while in Jaffa! http://www.onza.co.il/

In the same area as Onza there are a ton of great restaurants and bars. One alley will give you a busy upbeat atmosphere while another will give you quaint quieter restaurants, perfect for a date. We had a great Italian meal around here.

If you’re in the mood for something sweet, there is a gelato shop right by the Margosa Hotel, literally across the street that made incredible Nutella crepes topped with the Gelato of your choice (the snickers gelato is a must!). There are lots of great gelato shops around the area.

Finally, if you want some of the most delicious falafel but are looking for more of a grab-and-go in the Jaffa area, Haj Kahil Express by the clock tower in Jaffa is bar none! Stick to the falafel here and enjoy every delicious mouthful, the fries were delicious and extra crispy as well if you’re in the mood! The only English word on the restaurant sign is “Express” but you won’t miss it! They’ve got a full service restaurant right across the street as well if you’d prefer a sit down experience at Haj Kahil.  http://www.hajkahil.rest-e.co.il/

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Onza, Turkish Restaurant, Jaffa
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Fisherman’s Restaurant, Jaffa Port