Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Lunch in Lovely Lucca, Italy

Lucca was one of my favorite smaller city stops on the highly recommended Wonders of Italy Trafalgar tour last year. This delightful Tuscan town is easy to explore on foot where you randomly can come across charming places like Piazza Cittadella where you can find a very cool bronze statue of the great composer Puccini who was born in Lucca in 1858. 

A leisurely lunch at charming Osteria Tosca with a view of the piazza where you can dine al fresco on classic Italian dishes like pizza, pasta, herbed roast potatoes and fresh simple salads was a highlight of our short tour stop in this beautiful renaissance city. 

                                                                    Buon appetito!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Coffee Break in Seville, Spain - La Campana

Though it's been just six months, it seems like a long time ago when I was last on a plane, and I look forward to the day of exploring more distant coffee shops again soon. I fondly look back upon this past winter's trip to Seville Spain and checking out the landmark Confiteria La Campana. This atmospheric cake shop has been here since 1885. The building's design is striking and inviting. 

Before an afternoon of exploring the sights of Seville, thanks to a recommendation from the hotel concierge, we headed in to stand at the bar to enjoy a coffee and a delicious sweet bun called 'bollo de leche'. There were many tasty artisan treats on display that were enticing, and I wish I had sampled more. The service here is professional and friendly and the location is in the main bustling shopping district of Calle Sierpes. 

Highly recommended stop for design and coffee lovers exploring Seville. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Hotel Haven - Moxy San Diego

Cool and clever Moxy San Diego

During a five day trip to San Diego this month, I decided to use points for part of the trip for a two night stay in the heart of downtown at Moxy San Diego. This was my first stay at a Moxy hotel, the innovative brand from the Marriott chain that combines style, fun and function at a decent price (in this case free, but a great use of points)

I really enjoyed the community atmosphere, the stylish colorful lobby and compact but functional and well-designed rooms. The hotel was welcoming and unique, and has a cool but also laid back vibe. You efficiently check in at the bar area and are offered a welcome cocktail in the form of a poker chip (which can be turned in for a drink at any point during your stay) The bar has plenty of seating that surrounds it, to encourage guests to enjoy time out of their rooms and to strike up conversations with others. I had several over the course of the few times I sat to relax and enjoy some wine, tacos, and my free cocktail (which was refreshing and light) 

Eye catching design at the Moxy 

Different evenings feature unique food specials, themes and entertainment. They include $2 Taco Tuesdays, and Live Music Thursdays. The full list is highlighted at the hotel. The lobby also has beautiful seating areas (especially upstairs where you can even play chess!), casual board games, jenga and a couple of old school video games (Pac Man/Space Invaders) Look out for some cool quotations in the area too. While somewhat aimed at a millennial crowd, all are welcome who enjoy a social atmosphere. During my stay I saw guests of all ages staying and/or playing there.

Chess and Chill at Moxy

The Moxy is very well located in downtown San Diego on Sixth Street. Set in the historic Gaslamp quarter, there is an excellent variety of restaurants of all kinds, attractions and fun bars within walking distance (not to mention amazing architecture). There is even an arcade/cocktail bar called Coin-Op game room just a 2 minute walk away (which I enjoyed playing pinball at!)
For coffee lovers, there are a couple of great choices within a few minutes’ walk. Check out the cute Coffee and Talk, and/or locally roasted James Coffee where you can pick up a java on the go (inside Biga restaurant) You can also get free coffee at the Moxy in the Grab & Go area (which also sells other drinks and snacks) 

This is a hotel you can really feel at ease staying at. The rooms are cozy and well-appointed with 42" TV's, comfortable beds and nice bathrooms. They are not as traditional with storage options as they do not have closets. To assist with the lack of a dresser, a long row of hooks helps with the function aspect. Rooms are a bit quirky, with touches like rotary phones and feel a little bit like a cargo ship container -  cool design for sure. There are some colorful touches as well. If you feel like you need more space, it helps that the lobby and play areas are so bright, spacious and unique while still being comfortable and offering lots to do, or just a change of scenery from your room.

Cozy but cool room at the Moxy

My first stay at a Moxy hotel was a hit, great location and service, and a unique and memorable vibe. I look forward to checking out another location soon!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Weekend in Toronto - Hotel Haven, Kimpton St George

Earlier this winter I had an opportunity to stay at what is becoming a favorite hotel in the Annex/ Bloor-Yorkville area of Toronto. The Kimpton St George is an elegant boutique hotel which offers class and comfort in a stylish but unpretentious setting.

Kimpton St George 

Kimpton St George - Living Room Lobby area

The living room lobby is well designed and welcoming, featuring original pieces by local artists and offers the complimentary wine hour (with snacks) from 5 to 6 pm and coffee in the morning. This is a feature at other Kimpton hotels as well. For more hearty comfort food, check out the adjacent pub The Fortunate Fox or for Italian, Bar Mercurio.

The rooms are a good size and well appointed, with luxurious Frette linens on the comfortable bed and Atelier Bloem amenities in the bathroom with walk in shower.

A few design features of the well appointed room

Especially during the winter months, if relaxation and chilling out is the goal, the comfortable room with unique but functional design beckons you to stay in for much of the night if you so choose.
However there is plenty to explore in the vibrant city, and it is easy to venture out as even downtown is a short distance by transit or cab/uber. The St George subway just a few minutes walk away. This connects you to the downtown core quickly.

Simple but classy decor, and a comfortable King size bed

If you prefer to walk and take advantage of attractions nearby, there are many to choose from.
In the immediate area, just across the road is the interesting and informative Bata Shoe Museum. Definitely worth checking out. The beautiful concert venue Koerner Hall located in the Royal Conservatory of Music is just a short walk down the street, as is the incredible Royal Ontario Museum. The residential Annex areas is a nice place for a walk to see stately homes with gorgeous Victorian architecture. There is a nice selection of pubs in the area also.

View of the Royal Ontario Museum

During this last visit, I also explored the fairly new to Toronto mega Italian food emporium Eataly, located in Yorkville at the Manulife Centre. It was bustling and lively on a Sunday morning, and the variety and products were impressive to check out. A great place to grab an espresso and pastry as well. If you have shopping to do or just want to stroll and admire, Yorkville has all the high end boutiques you can think of.

Kimpton St George, part of IHG hotels was an incredible value for this winter weekend in later December, another enjoyable stay in a with good service, classy vibe and a wonderful spacious but still cozy feeling room. Looking forward to more stays, perhaps in a different season next time! All year round, this is a solid choice for accommodation in the Bloor-Yorkville area of Toronto.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

5 Winter Walks in Guelph

As the winter has arrived early this year, it is time to slowly embrace the season and get outdoors for some fresh air, a brief stroll, or some swift exercise amongst the nice scenery we have in Guelph

There are several places to enjoy some scenic walks in the area. As long as you dress warm, wear proper boots and the weather isn't too extreme - get out and enjoy the wonderful winter days.

Here are 5 sites in the Royal City where you can get in some steps and or simply enjoy the wintry scene.

Royal City Park - located very close to downtown this is a large park with nice walking paths to get in a brisk walk. The scenery looking out onto the river can be lovely and awesome in winter. Check out the nearby Boathouse to enjoy the tea room after your walk. https://www.theboathouseguelph.com/

Donald Forster Sculpture Park at the Art Gallery of Guelph - by the University of Guelph campus located right by the Art Gallery of Guelph there are several unique sculptures that look quite pretty when surrounded by snowfall. I enjoy stopping here a few times a year to get a short stroll in quiet and interesting surroundings. For a more details and a map of the sculpture locations check out the link http://artgalleryofguelph.ca/education_list/sculpture-park/

John Galt Park - Located right beside the River Run Centre, and featuring the stunning façade of the Speed Skating Rink originally from 1882, when for a short time Guelph residents enjoyed concerts and leisure skating. Take a walk along the area, check out the look out point onto the Speed River, and maybe afterwards take a short walk to the Red Brick Café to warm up and enjoy a hot beverage. https://www.redbrickcafe.ca/#home-section

The Basilica of our Lady Immaculate - While you are strolling in downtown Guelph, admire the beautiful sculptures and amazing Gothic Revival architecture of this landmark church overlooking the city of Guelph. Check out more details on the history of this beautiful basilica. https://www.basilicaofourlady.com/about/history
Also be sure to spot the Colonel John McRae (known for writing the WW1 poem "In Flanders Fields") sculpture near the Guelph Civic Museum, also worth a visit.

Starkey Hill Trail - located just outside Guelph with parking on Arkell Road, this scenic area featuring wetlands and a hardwood forest can be an easier walk or more challenging hike depending on how much of the sloped trail you want to take on. Taking on the full trail, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the city and area. Check out more on the details and history of this lovely (and complimentary) area managed by the Guelph Hiking Trail Club and Grand River Conservation Authority. https://guelphhiking.com/starkey/

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Cool Hotel Bars - Clockwork at Fairmont Royal York

Earlier this month, I had a great excuse to get back to nearby Toronto for a one night getaway, as a friend was in town to check out the city sights. I was able to choose the place for our mid afternoon meet up, and was excited to have a chance to enjoy some conversation over a champagne and cocktail selection at the Clockwork bar at the Fairmont Royal York.

This beautiful and easy going but luxurious lobby bar has a classy but comfortable vibe, with a great selection of drinks to enjoy. I decided on a glass of cool prosecco from Treviso and my friend enjoyed the cleverly named Clearheaded Harvey cocktail. The space was buzzing with the anticipation of Saturday night fun about to get underway (many were in town to check out the Leafs-Canadiens hockey game). The service is friendly and professional here, and along with awesome atmosphere and décor, makes Clockwork a place worth your time.
The historic Fairmont Royal York is a great place to stay as well, and the location can't be beat.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

10 tips on saving money in Las Vegas while still enjoying a few splurges and a great time!

1. Travel early to mid week. Saturday night can be double the price as a Sunday stay. Even avoiding staying both Friday and Saturday will save some cash. I have enjoyed a few Saturday to Tuesday, or Sunday to Wednesday trips. Also avoid going when there are major conventions in town.

2. Stay at moderate priced hotels, located close by to luxury hotels you may want to also spend time at. This can still give you a comfortable room with good amenities (think Park MGM) and still have easy access to the more expensive hotels like Aria, Bellagio and Cosmopolitan.

3. Join the players clubs (such as MLife), you will be sent emails with preferred room rates for future visits. You can get a significant discount, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money gambling – they just want you to keep coming back to Vegas.

4. Take advantage of happy hours – with the price of wine in Las Vegas, this is especially good for us wine drinkers. Many of them are only during the week, but some happy hours last all weekend. Take note though, that sometimes stopping at too many places for food and drink, can end up blowing the budget. Choose wisely. I like Sushi Roku over at Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace.

5. Be selective with the quantity of drinks you order. Order a little less wine or beer (or stock up at CVS) and save some room for a great cocktail or two during your trip to savor slowly. Vegas has a ton of great bars. One of my all-time favorites is the Chandelier bar at the Cosmopolitan

6. Have a few cheap meals on the go (Earl of Sandwich, In n Out are good options), so you can enjoy a nicer meal at a great restaurant you really want to check out. One of my best recent splurges was the lovely Lobster Risotto at Hell’s Kitchen

7. Set a gambling budget and keep it small (or hardly gamble at all). Tip: if you play video poker or black jack at a bar top, your money will go further and usually if you put in a $20 and play steady, your first drink will be comped

8. Enjoy some free live music and karaoke over a couple of beers or drinks of choice.

 Carnaval Court has become a favorite place to hang out in the afternoon (Friday to Sundays) and watch the fun and energetic 80s band The Whip Its.

Nearby, pop over to check out Karaoke over at Harrah’s. You never know what performance you will see, but it’s always a good time.

9. Play MyVegas for free on Facebook. I found the reward options were better in past years, but even with moderate play you can get yourself a comped drink or 2 for 1 buffet.

10. Stroll the strip and people watch. You will encounter a wide range of characters and people just out leisurely enjoying the streets of the city.

Lunch in Lovely Lucca, Italy

Lucca was one of my favorite smaller city stops on the highly recommended Wonders of Italy Trafalgar tour last year. This delightful Tuscan...