Life Lottery Win #2

I’ve totally become a bougie spa lady and I love it. Twenty-year-old me would be devastated that I’m about to spend a weekend in some mineral pool on a beach instead of protesting against or advocating for something, but whatever. Twenty-year-old me no longer exists.

Not too long ago, after spending a solid eight hours enjoying the mineral pools at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, I ended up in a conversation with a woman in the change room. The pools here were even better than the ones in Whistler, she told me, had I been? No, not yet, I said. She had started a conversation after hearing me mention that the amenities (individual combs, razors, creams, etc) at the Peninsula Beverly Hills were unbelievably good (where I actually only used the bathroom, but she didn’t need to know that). I was almost mocking in the way I initially engaged with her. Do I look like the kind of person who can afford to vacation at the spas in Whistler? But then she asked me if I had ever been to Sparkling Hill, and she got me. All my judgement fell away as we chatted about how incredible their seven different steam rooms are. What about Ti-Na-Marashe asked. Oooh, I’m heading there next month! It’s pretty good there, you’ll like it, she assured me on her way out of the change room.

After she left I turned to my friend Elexa, shocked, At first I was like, why is this bougie spa lady talking to me? And then I realised that I am a bougie spa lady. And I have absolutely no apologies about it to my twenty-year-old self, or anyone else for that matter. Spas rule and I’m incredibly lucky to have a life that allows me enjoy them, if only a couple times each year.

(Upon re-reading I realise how braggy this post is. I’m going to publish it anyways. I’ll be too busy enjoying Ti-Na-Mara this weekend to write something more humble.)

 

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Dreamin

Some friends and I saw Rayland Baxter open up for Shakey Graves in Vancouver last week. There were 13 of us. Each and every one of us just stood there with our jaws dropped. I can’t remember the last time I was that captivated at a concert.

two birds, one post

1. The Decemberists recently announced that they would be gracing us with a new album in January 2015 and I am over the moon. I love this band.

2. Kurt and I are taking off to Los Angeles today for some sunshine, roller coasters and hockey. See you in a week!

Thankful (belated)

I’m thankful that nearly all adventures begin with a one hour and forty-five minute boat ride. Just kidding. I’m only thankful for this some of the time. Most of the time it’s just beautiful nuisance.

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I’m thankful for road trips. I’m thankful that I can sing Weakerthans songs at the top of my lungs and he tolerates me. I’m thankful I have tolerance for his versions of Beck. And for his half-decent singing voice.

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I’m thankful I’ve always lived in places and travelled to places that require driving through the Fraser Canyon. What a humbling and breathtaking corner of the world. 20141018-101618-36978571.jpg

I’m thankful that even though the home I grew up in now belongs to another family, I still have a home to come to.

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I’m thankful for food and for eating. Every day I’m thankful for this. I love eating. Also I’m thankful for digestive enzymes.

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Thankful for these two, for raising me to be independent and supporting me through my successes  and mistakes. I’m thankful that they keep my pretentiousness in check, laughing at me because I don’t know how to chop down a tree.

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I’m thankful that they live in place where this sunset is a bad one.

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I’m thankful for outdoor activities like stand up paddle boarding. I’m thankful that I didn’t fall in.

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I’m thankful for red wine and boat rides, even in the fall.

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I’m thankful that I’m a naturally great shot, even from far away, even with old shot guns. It will come in handy one day maybe.

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More than all of it, I’m thankful for this guy who keeps me smiling and laughing and relaxed and thankful everyday.

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Adult Things to Drink in Vernon, BC

Prior to falling in love with an Okanagan boy, I had never before visited Canada’s wine country. Now I get to go there once or twice a year. Lucky me. And with each trip to his home town, Kurt, who doesn’t drink at all but is a super rad boyfriend, makes sure to take me on a little boozey tour. Here are some of my favourite places to sip:

Ex Nihilo

The experience: I visited Ex Nihilo on the recommendation of 2 of it’s employees, possibly the vitner and his son? The owner and his son? I don’t even know, but it doesn’t matter. I served them last fall when I was still a part time waitress and they were awesome. This place is great. They have a set tasting menu, all of which were great. The space is beautiful and has lots of art, which you are encouraged to tour, wine in hand. The young woman, Nina, who gave me the tasting, was unreal and is absolutely an asset to the vineyard. She had people skills that are much too rare these days.

What I bought: Riesling $19 Actually Kurt bought it for me. The tasting had a $5 fee that was waved if you purchased a bottle of wine, which justified the purchase to him. I thought this was spicier than any other Riesling I’ve had in awhile, best paired with something. Not sure what though. Ask them, they will have ideas.

Best drunk: At dinner with your boyfriends parents, who love white wine and also you, but who you are still trying to kind of impress.

Arrowleaf

The experience: This is right across the street from Ex Nihilo so if you do one you have to do both. The tasting menu is not set, meaning you can chose whatever you like and is free. The woman who gives the tasting, I wish I knew her name, but I don’t, is awesome. Sweet and knowledgeable and funky and not at all intimidating. The room itself is small, but the view is beautiful and they are adding on what I’m sure will be an amazing addition. I can’t wait to come back here summer 2015.

What I bought: Pinot Gris $17 I love this wine. It’s so good.

Best drunk: Mid-afternoon on a Sunday with friends you don’t see enough.

Gray Monk

The experience: Of all the wineries we visited, this one is the most established. It’s beautiful inside and out. There is a restaurant onsite that I have not tried so I can’t speak to personally, but I’m sure is both delicious and expensive. The tasting list is long and complementary with a list of premium wines you can pay a small fee to taste. I exploited the free list and also paid $2 to sample all the bubblies, which was totally worth it.

What I bought: White Brut $17 for a small bottle. This is some of the best sparkling wine I’ve ever tasted. I truly wish I had bought 3 large bottles instead of 1 small one.

Best drunk: At a celebration! Like your boyfriend’s brother’s engagement, for example. Or your best friend’s. Or any of the other couples that all got engaged over the last 3 weeks.

The BX Press

The experience: This place is literally down the street from Kurt’s parents house. His brother is best friend’s with a guy that grew up on this farm. Cool, right? If the BX Press existed in Victoria it would be a crazy success based on the branding alone. The room is beautiful. The design flawless and hip. The ciders each have a kitchy wild west type story based on the history of the region. I love it here. At the tasting you get to try the 3 ciders, all of which are on the dry side of delicious.

What I bought: The 3 Pack $24 A bottle each of The Bandit, The Hostler, and The Prospector. All delicious.

Best drunk: On your patio after an extra hard run/hike/workout. Even better, pour one into a plastic cup and enjoy in the shower after said workout.

Intrigue

The experience: Neither as beautiful as the other vineyards listed here, not as hip as the cidery, but I think that might make them try harder with regards to the quality of their product.  So. Good. Also, the tasting list is long and free, so that rules.

What I bought: A very yummy Gewurztraminer $17

Best drunk: At the beach on a picnic, eating potato salad and watching the sun go down with the one you love.

 

Where to eat in Seattle and Portland

Or at least where I ate when I was in Seattle and Portland a couple of weeks ago.

Seattle

Chandler’s Crabhouse
Right on Lake Union, this place is near to the hotel that Kurt and I often stay in when visiting Seattle.  I’ll be honest, the décor, clientèle and overall vibe are not my cup of tea, but sometimes quality (and convenience) trumps all that. If you like seafood, their happy hour is to die for–the ceviche is some of the best I’ve ever had and the calamari, which all too often goes wrong, is delicious.

Bimbo’s Cantina
Feels like a punk rock dive bar that also serves Mexican. If I was 22 I would have been all over this place, though at 32 I still had a lot of fun. I had a beer, Kurt had the nachos, we were both satisfied.

Barrio Mexican Kitchen and Bar
Barrio was amazing. A little bit of a bougie vibe, but let’s not kid ourselves, Kurt and I are a little bit bougie. Whatever. The food was amazing, as was the service. I had a cazuela and ate until I thought I was going to explode and still left tons on my plate. Kurt had the Barrio Chopped Salad with chicken and it renewed my faith in restaurant salads and even restaurants themselves.

Americana
We met our friends Adam and Dana here for brunch, who had driven to Seattle from Vancouver (we took the Clipper ferry the day before). I had the french toast and knew I could die happy because it was the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Portland

The Lamp
We stumbled upon this place totally by accident. We had tickets to see Hayes Carll at the Aladdin Theatre next door and were running behind just enough that we didn’t have time to explore the neighbourhood for a great restaurant. When we first sat down our expectations were low, but everything was great. My fish tacos were as good as any I’ve ever had and the other three raved about their burgers the whole weekend. Plus the service was the best of the entire trip.

Blue Star Donuts
I’m a Voo Doo Donuts fan, personally. Those honey cruellers. But on this trip I was outnumbered 3:1 by people who just weren’t willing to wait in line for an hour and a half for a donut. Fair enough. Blue Star had been recommended and it didn’t disappoint. We shared 5 donuts between the 4 of us and the clear winner was the old-fashioned buttermilk. Kurt says it’s the best donut he’s ever had in his life. Still bummed I didn’t get a crueller though.

Bridgetown Beerhouse
My favourite part of the trip. After having a great lunch at some nearby food trucks we walked past this place and stopped to check it out. This is basically a beer store that also has a small bar with a few local brews on tap and some indoor seating. If you wanted a bottle or can you just added $1 to the price and you could enjoy inside, or out on the sidewalk where we chose to sit. Plus they had games! We spent an hour or two in the sun sipping our drinks and playing crib and euchre. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Clyde Common
If you’re planning a trip to Portland and ask people where to go, this place will be suggested to you about a million times. And it should be, the food is great, the room is great, the service is great.

Tilt
Thanks to my newly restored faith in salads, I ordered the cobb and I’m glad I did because it was so good. It was also so large that the four us could have split it and walked out the place satisfied. However, instead of sharing I greedily ate as much as my body could handle, only to regret it as I put on my bikini an hour later. Oh well. Tilt also had some incredible looking desserts that they would probably sell more of if their meals weren’t enough to feed a family of 6.

Porque No?
On our last night in town Dana and I wanted Mexican, and lucky for us this was the place we landed on. Word to the wise: lots of places are closed on Mondays, so check the website before you make the trip. Chips and guacamole, fish tacos, margaritas and an outdoor seat. Amazing.

Pine State Biscuits
I never really got the appeal of biscuits, but everyone I was travelling with wanted to stop here for breakfast on our way out of town. I had my fresh biscuit with strawberries and cream. Now I get the appeal. 100%.

 

 

Frugal Paris

Recently I went to Paris. Obviously, it was great, but I knew it would be. What I didn’t expect was how affordable it was. Not cheap by any means, but not outrageous either. I think I spent about $700 in 5 nights and 6 days. That’s pretty good right? Here are some tips:

Frugal Tip: Travel  Ok, this is a stretch that I got lucky on and it won’t happen to everyone, but if you have the opportunity, tag your vacation onto a trip that you are already taking. You can save a lot of money that way. I didn’t have to pay any travel expenses for my trip to Paris–I was heading to Congo for work and had a layover there so I decided to make it a long one. While I got really lucky here, it’s not the first time I’ve done it. My vacation in Austin was tacked onto a work trip in San Antonio and I know people who are going to Cuba for 10 days, mostly because their family is already flying them East for a visit.

Frugal Tip(s): Accommodation
 1. Groupon. Kurt and I spent three nights in wonderful boutique hotels right in the heart of where we wanted to be thanks to Groupon. We paid 70-90 Euro a night for rooms that would have otherwise set us back 240-270 Euro.
2. Don’t be picky on your neighbourhood. We spent two nights in a Marriott in St. Denis, outside of the Paris core, but still only a block away from a major metro station. While we weren’t in the midst of all the excitement, it only took us about 30 minutes to get from our hotel door right to the heart of all the sights. Rooms there were about 100 Euro a night and were huge by Paris standards (aka a normal sized North American hotel room)
3. Airbnb. I did not Airbnb while I was in Paris, but a friend who was there at the same time did. She and her fiancée paid 70 Euro a night for a little apartment right in Le Marais (my favourite neighbourhood in Paris). And the bonus–it had a kitchen, so they also were able to save on preparing meals at home.

Frugal Tip(s): Feasting
1. Stay in a hotel that includes breakfast (our Groupon hotels did; the St. Denis Marriott did not). Sleep late (you’re on vacation after all). Head down 20 minutes before breakfast ends and eat way too much pastry and cheese. You should be nice and full until at least the late afternoon.
2. Whether you stay in a place with a kitchen or not, get to know your local grocer. Cheese and bread are dirt cheap and far more delicious in Paris. Also Paris calories don’t really count so….You can buy an afternoon snack that will keep you full for hours for 5 Euro at the grocery store. Pack it as a picnic and you’ve got the true Paris experience right there.

Frugal Tip(s): Sights
1. If you have to pay to go inside, don’t go inside. Or at least limit yourself to one or two. There are plenty of museums and galleries that will let you in for free and the main sights are just as perfect from outside.
2. Don’t pay full price for a tour. Seriously don’t. Those tour companies are giving those tours away, find a way to get it for free–your hotel may be able to offer it to you, flirt, coupons, etc.
3. If you’re interested in a Segway tour (and why wouldn’t you be?), these guys were the most affordable that we found: Mobil Boards

Frugal Tip(s): Nightlife
1. Drink wine. It’s cheaper that coca cola. Especially when you buy it at the grocery store and drink it in your hotel room.
2. Stay somewhere on a train line, in a neighbourhood that you feel safe walking around in at night so you can avoid taxi fares.
3. Wait until you’re in your 30’s to travel to Paris, the nightlife is way less alluring and your bed way more appealing once you’ve entered that decade. Trust me.