Thursday, March 31, 2011
Outside, there were various stalls which, I assume, are home to individual sellers of antiques in the warmer months. Now they were covered in a thin layer of snow. I wore my hair that day in a braided bun, from a hair tutorial I saw on Cup of Jo. It was super-easy and held in place all day (which usually doesn’t happen with my crazy Lion King hair).
After the amazing little side-table I scored in Holland on Queen’s Day two years ago, and the half-moon blue antique console we found this summer at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, I was hoping to leave the antique store in Jordan with a new little find. That didn’t happen, but browsing around was quite an experience in and of itself.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Up until a few days ago, it was really feeling like Spring here in Canada. We were taking walks with Spring jackets, and photographing the tiny flower buds popping up through the soggy ground. Then, winter hit. Again. Overnight, we went from sunny Spring weather to a massive blizzard. Although all the snow is almost melted now, the blizzard served as a reminder that winter is not over yet. Since then, it was my priority on the weekend to enjoy the last bits of winter, before Spring was here for good. This past winter I wrote a few posts about enjoying winter in Canada, here and here. Besides visiting ice wine festivals and ice skating, another truly Canadian thing to do is visit a maple syrup farm. I have always wanted to do this, but never had the opportunity before! We visited a maple syrup farm in Southern Ontario, where a “sugar shuttle” (aka hay ride) takes you out to the forest, where you embark on a “Sugar Bush Adventure”. While walking along the super-muddy trails, we passed through a variety of stations, like a pioneer reenactment of how they used to make maple syrup, as well as a lumberjack’s house where we used a two-handled saw to slice through a maple trunk. We were thankful for these little educational vignettes, since many of them had cozy fires roaring where we could warm our hands before setting back out onto the trail.
My favourite part of the self-guided tour was stopping in at the “Taffy-on-Snow” hut. Here we bought hot apple cider to drink while we ate maple taffy (which is basically just maple syrup on a popsicle stick, that had frozen in a bed of snow). It was amazingly sweet and delicious. Then we learned how they currently make maple syrup, collecting the sap from the maple tree (which is 2-4 times as sweet as the sap in other trees), through blue plastic tubes drilled into the trunks. The syrup is collected from February to April, since the temperature here in Canada fluctuates 10 degrees between day and night, causing the sap to run up and down the tree.
Then it was time to try some of the syrup back at the Maple Lodge, where we enjoyed a $1.95 pancake with fresh maple syrup. We also devoured a yummy “butter tart”, one of Canada’s other specialties.
If you’re visiting Ontario or Quebec, make sure to take a trip to a “sugar bush”, to experience the beauty of Canadian maple syrup making. Although it was super super cold and I couldn’t feel my fingers through my mittens by the end of our excursion, it was well worth it. We came home with toothaches and lots of great memories :)
Friday, March 11, 2011
California was a very intriguing place for me to visit. The vast amount of different landscapes constantly shocked me. You could strolling by the foggy sand dunes along the Pacific Ocean in the morning, and driving through rolling hills reminiscent of Tuscany in the afternoon. In the early evening you could hike amongst the famous towering redwood trees, and be back in San Francisco for a dinner in one of the world’s most multicultural cities. I loved the rental car gave us lots of freedom during our trip too, and made zipping around Northern California a breeze. At the recommendation of my lovely blog readers, we made sure to visit Muir Woods, only a 20-30 minute drive from San Francisco. If some of you hadn’t recommended it, we definitely wouldn’t have known to visit. In the end, this turned out to be one of the most memorable aspects of our trip, so thank you, thank you, thank you!
We arrived in Muir Woods later in the afternoon, and didn’t have as much time as we’d like to fully explore the forests. However, our 2 hour limit was just fine, and we were still able to soak up lots of what this area has to offer. I had never expected that the trees would be so enormous, and that I’d be filled with such a sense of calm and serenity when entering the forest. There is something about being in the presence of these majestic, ancient trees, that takes your breath away. Speaking of breath, the air quality amongst the trees was incredibly pure and refreshing. The entire time we were there, Gabriel and I kept thinking that we were in a Jurassic Park movie. Seriously, even the ferns were enormous! It was definitely an awe-inspiring experience that I’ll never forget.
And then, just when we thought our trip to Muir Woods couldn’t get any better, on our way out of the park we saw this….
The fog had rolled in to the mountains, and the sun was just about to set. We passed this lookout point at the exact right moment, and had to jump out of the car and take some photographs. It was absolutely beautiful, and within five minutes the sun had disappeared, plunging the mountains into darkness. This was a once-in-a-lifetime view, and I’m so glad we got to experience it during our time in California.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Winter in Canada is a sneaky thing. Just when you think it’s gone for good, and days upon days of mild, spring-like weather have occurred, a massive overnight snowstorm will hit. Yesterday, when I went to bed, the grass was showing in our lawn, and a day’s worth of rain had washed the last of the muddy-looking snow away. This morning, it was like waking up to a silent winter wonderland. Yes, it’s much prettier than the muddy snow-leftovers, but it just means that winter is still in full-swing. Ugh. Enough complaining though…
For some reason, I keep thinking back to the afternoon we spent in Sausalito, during our California trip in December. Sausalito is a little sea-side town across the bay from San Francisco. We stopped in on our way home from Napa, and just loved everything about it! From the cute little bakeries and shops, to the coastal homes flanking the hillside, we fell in love with Sausalito. We enjoyed a day spent browsing quirky t-shirt stores, sipping mochaccinos, and falling prey to one of the many ice-cream stores calling our name. Something about the blue and white, mixed with worn cedar shingles, makes my heart melt. I think I’m meant to live by the water at some point in the future…
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Last December, when we were trying to find hotels for our trip to San Francisco, we found it nearly impossible to do so. The first problem was our last-minute mindset. Being a popular time of year to visit (just before the Christmas holidays), most of the hotels throughout the city were completely sold out. Add to that the notoriously high prices (in general) of San Francisco hotels, and finding a place to stay proved to be extremely difficult.
We didn’t really know which area of San Francisco was good or not, so we turned to the online community to give us a hand. Nicole, from La Mia Vita, who runs a beautiful blog about her life in San Francisco, gave us enormous help. She mentioned that Union Square was a great place to stay, due to its central location and the abundance of hotels. In terms of budget hotels, the Grant Hotel was said to be quite nice. She also gave us tips on which areas to avoid, like anything East of Taylor Street, which starts getting you into the sketchy Tenderloin area.
Another great source of information was Kristin, from Camels & Chocolate, who lives in San Francisco also. She suggested looking at the Joie de Vivre properties, which came highly recommended. In terms of B&Bs, Chateau Tivoli near Alamo Square was suggested too.
Since we were renting a car for the duration of our stay in San Francisco, it didn’t matter which location we ended up in, but we preferred something relatively central. It also had to come in under budget (which was about $100 per night). Yes, I know, that’s very cheap for staying in a hotel in San Francisco, but we were determined to make it work. After scouring the regular sites like Kayak.com and Expedia.com, we hit a roadblock. All of the hotels that were at least 3 stars were well over our price range. It just seemed wrong to fork over $150+ for a two star hotel…
So what did we do? We turned to the wonderful world of online reverse auctions and new travel-booking gimmicks. After many loooong nights of looking for hotels online, we figured we’d just take our chances and see what we ended up with. The first leg of our trip was in San Francisco, and we needed a hotel for 4 nights. After many failed attempts to secure something cheap and nice on Priceline.com, we decided to try out Travelocity’s new service: Top Secret Hotels. You’ve all seen the photos of the Travelocity gnome, enjoying some luxurious spa treatments at a hotel he paid half price for, right? We thought that would be our experience! Uh…no.
We decided to narrow our search down to 3+ star hotels in Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square area. These are relatively touristy areas, and we thought it would be nice to stay in them during the first few days of our trip. We only booked 4 nights because we didn’t want to be stuck for 12 days in a hotel we blindly chose. After inputting the price we wanted to pay (around $90 per night) and the limitations, we waited as Travelocity processed our request. Voila! A match! When the hotel revealed itself, it was none other than….duh, duh, duhhhh….the Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf. Huh. I have to admit, at first I was pretty bummed. I wanted something that was independently-owned, something a bit quirky and had some character. I typically don’t like staying in hotel chains, unless of course they are run by Fairmont or Westin (hah!). Although we were scheduled to stay in a cookie-cutter hotel that you can find anywhere in North America, I was just relieved to have found accommodations for our pending trip.
Next on the agenda was finding a place to stay for 2 days while wine-tasting in the Napa area. Again, Kristin from Camels & Chocolate had lots of great recommendations. She suggested avoiding Napa itself and staying in the surrounding areas, like Yountville or Sonoma. Feeling a bit disappointed with our Holiday Inn purchase, we decided to try another site. Back to Priceline.com we went, and bid on any 4+ star hotels in the entire Napa valley region. Our bid price? Only $89. And guess what? It was accepted! The Vino Bello Resort in Napa was more than happy to accept our offer. When we arrived to a beautiful resort, we were welcomed with concierge services, free wine in the room, and a shuttle that would take us back and forth to the town of Napa. Since we were only in Napa for one night, we didn’t mind that the resort was a bit farther away than the others. Our room was really nice, and even had a kitchen and laundry inside.
On our last portion of the trip back in San Francisco, we decided to forgo the online bidding altogether, and just book a hotel directly. We ended up finding a good deal on a boutique hotel in the Financial District. Since we had already experienced all the touristy stuff in Fisherman’s Wharf, we didn’t mind being a bit more removed from the action. In fact, we kinda liked the change in pace of the Financial District, so it all worked out well. We stayed at the Hotel Griffon, for about $120 per night. This was the most expensive portion of our stay, and definitely the most comfortable. Our room had a king-sized bed, and was completely renovated (even though the hotel itself was very old). It had all been modernized, and I was definitely loving the exposed brick wall. The hotel had a great restaurant attached, and every morning there was free coffee and fruit to grab on your way out of the hotel. On especially chilly evenings, the hotel staff had set up an apple cider bar in the lobby, and you could refill your mugs as much as your heart desired. For someone who loves apple cider as much as me, this made me fall in love with Hotel Griffon!
What would we do differently if we could do it all again? Well, for starters, we would probably start our hotel search earlier so that we could capitalize on the lower prices. In addition, we would likely stay in another area near Napa, not Napa itself (we didn’t find the town center particularly impressive). Although we loved the Vino Bello Resort, it was a tad far away from the main action. Finally, the Hotel Griffon was wonderful, and we’d stay back there in a heartbeat. I’d also like to stay in an area near Union Square, or perhaps even China Town, the next time we visit.
Wow, that was a long post. Hopefully this is helpful to someone who is looking for hotels to stay in in San Francisco!