Cuba: Off the Beaten Path

Cuba: Natural and Exotic.  Yeah that’s right I said “Cuba”.  No… I’m  not talking about resort plastered cities like Varadero – I’m talking about  Holguin, Cuba.   

 Located in the north-east of Cuba, Holguin is the country’s third largest city, after Havana and Santiago de Cuba. With rugged mountains, lush vegetation and pristine beaches, Holguin is known for it’s natural beauty.   Legend has is that Holguin’s stunning beaches and rugged mountain backdrop inspired Christopher Columbus to exclaim this was “the most beautiful land eyes have ever seen.”   With only a handful of resorts, Holguin’s natural beauty remains relatively untouched, making it a hot destination for eco tourism.  

I stayed along Playa Esmerelda, aptly named after its stunning Emerald coloured water.  

 

 Bring out your inner eco-tourist, because with coral reefs and caves, you’ll be sure to find some interesting marine life as you snorkel.   If you’re lucky (or maybe not so lucky), you may be able to spot a barracuda . If you’re more of a beach bum type – Don’t worry you’ll still see some wildlife…

like this crab who decided to join us  for drinks at the lobby bar…

… or the crabs that wander the beach

If  you’re looking for some more marine excitement, hop on your beach-side catamaran and make your way to Bahia Naranjo – a natural reserve where you can swim with Dolphins.

You don’t have to be an eco-tourist to enjoy Holguin, Cuba. Just grab your Pina Colada, sit back and relax.  Cheers!

Welcome to the Club: Aeroplan Media Day

I was one of the lucky bloggers invited to this week’s Aeroplan Media Day held at the AGO. As an aeroplan addict, I thought I knew all there was about aeroplan, but I was really surprised by some of the exciting new products and  reward categories that were recently added to aeroplan’s roster.  

So come, let’s take a look at some of my personal faves:

What Money Can’t Buy
This new category has quickly gained popularity by giving members exclusive access to pieces pop culture memorabilia that….well…money can’t buy.  If you like what you see, you have to act quick- these  one-of-a-kind- pieces can go real fast. Oh and all proceeds are donated to charity.  So go ahead, spoil yourself….its for a good cause.

                                                                                
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
 
This beautiful custom designed Vauk Dress was worn by  for Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk during her performance for  Queen Elizabeth II,  during the summer of 2010. All proceeds go to War Child Canada.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Check out this autographed guitar by members of the award-winning band Arcade Fire.  
 
 
 
 
 
 Or maybe you’re more of a Shania Twain fan?   Swap your miles and take home Shania’s pre-loved autographed guitar. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Travel & Getaway
Of course you can exchange your miles for flights and travel packages, but aeroplan also has all the latest accessories to make your travel as smooth as possible. 

Lug Puddle Jumper Wheelie

 
 
 
 
 
                              
 
 
Calling all Travelistas! Make a statement with this bold Puddle jumper wheelie from Lug Luggage. Comes with an exterior easy to reach shoe compartment – perfect for a quick change into flats for those  omg-about-to-miss-my-flight sprints through the airport.
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
No travelista should leave home without this Laundress of New York Travel Kit.  Complete with travel sized fabric wash,  fresh , stain solution and crease release, you’ll always be looking your best no matter what your clothes went through…..  So go ahead, enjoy that double shot macchiato during turbulence! 
The Laundress of New York Laundry Kit
 
 
Ferrino of Italy T-read Sleeping Bag
 
For those that enjoy the great outdoors, check out this super comfy sleeping bag with arms holes perfect for reading a book.get comfy with a book using, including this Ferrino of Italy T-read sleeping bag.  Reading never looked so good!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Experiential Rewards
This category of “rewards”  lets you truly experience the true value of being an aeroplan member.   From theatre plays to helicopter rides – this category has something to please even the pickiest members. 
 
 
 
Enjoy the glitz and glamour that Vegas has to offer from a helicopter. Kick off with a glass of Champagne and enjoy the view! 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 In the mood for theatre? Get tickets to a variety of Mirvish shows including the smash hit Billy Elliot
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
Experience the excitement of Hockey, with Aeroplan’s array of hockey favourites including this autographed Bobby Orr Jersey.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 There were a ton of other rewards categories at this years event including jewelry, gadgets, housewares and more.  So here are some other hot items that made my aeroplan wish list!  
 

Blue Bottle Coffee

For those of you that know me well…well actually you don’t even have to know me well to know that I’m an absolute coffee addict.  So you can imagine my joy when my San Fran bestie introduced me to Blue Bottle Coffee.

So whats so special about Blue Bottle Coffee?  Well aside from  the interesting history lesson on their website, Blue Bottle Coffee which was started by a local  freelance musician embodies the true spirit of the San Fran lifestyle – an emphasis on providing the local community with quality products.  They roast great coffee on vintage gear and use only organic, and pesticide-free, shade-grown beans. 

  Did I mention they make a killer Latte?

With only handful of locations, the buzz around Blue Bottle Coffee is plenty. Enough buzz that caught the attention of both the NY Times and LA Times.   It seemed fitting to find a Blue Bottle location at The Ferry Building which houses the local Farmer’s Market.  Even with the Market closed, there were many customers brewing around.

  They also offer a small selection of tasty treats such as made to order  Caramelized Belgian waffles.

They do offer an online store, but unfortunately they don’t ship to Canada….so until then I guess I’ll just have to stick to Blue Bottle Dreams. xo

A Foodie’s Delight: Foreign Cinema San Francisco

I just came back from a girls trip to San Francisco.  Most of my girlie getaways involve day spas and lounging poolside  – but not this one.  Knowing that San Francisco was foodie heaven,  I skipped the mani/pedi and headed straight  to Mission District to indulge in whatever eclectic fares San Francisco had to offer.  I was expecting some delightful  dinners….but I certainly wasn’t expecting  dinner and a movie. Yeah I know it sounds cliché and cheesy, but Foreign Cinema is just the opposite.

Foreign Cinema takes you on a  delectable  journey of the senses – award winning mediterranean menus, starlit ambiance, and of course the foreign film being projected on the large outdoor screen. 

I spent a wonderful evening under the starlit sky dining and chatting  with my favourite gals, while glancing up at the screen every so often to catch a glimpse of the story unfolding before me.

So if you’re ever in San Francisco, and are looking for a truly unique  dining experience be sure to check out Foreign Cinema. (Make sure to book ahead, as outdoor seating gets filled up fairly quickly.) 

Foreign Film posters grace the entrance hallway

Film starts playing at Dusk

Mediterranean/Californian inspired dishes

Monthly Movie Listing

a little extra starlighting

Daily changing menus

Business Traveler’s Nightmare: Where NOT to stay in Montreal

Hotel: Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier, Downtown Montreal
Hotel Category: 4*
Price: $230 (expedia). I received a free upgrade  from my basic King Room to a Classic Suite ($250 +tax).              

Having opened just this summer, I was looking forward to a one night stay at Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Montreal.  Despite mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, I succumbed to allure of staying at a brand new boutique hotel in the heart of  Montreal. However, I was really disappointed by the Hotel’s utter disregard for their hotel guests. I had several challenges (just thinking about this hotel makes me angry), but here are the major issues:                     

Room Service
I understand that it takes a while for any new hotel to run at full potential. However, I do not accept the complete disregard of customer service. I asked the Hotel restaurant if they were able to deliver my food order to my room (offered to pay extra), and if that was not possible, could they call me to pick up my order when ready. NO.  If these options are not possible, the hotel should offer guests a free drink or appetizer while they wait to say  ‘sorry we’re still going through some growing pains, but we appreciate your business, have a drink on us.’                  

Internet
The ‘complimentary’ internet was so slow, consider it non-existent.  Hotel management confirmed  internet is an issue, and I must bear with it.  So I asked where I could print my boarding pass, the answer was – sorry we don’t have a printer but you can print it at the airport. Well uh you have a printer behind the front desk, how about a little help since you lack a business centre and working internet?                   

Taxi Stand Drama
Upon check out, I asked for a cab to the airport. The hotel porter took my luggage outside and  strongly requested I wait inside.  20 min pass – no cab –  I’m now running late for my flight. I step outside and see a taxi stand right across the hotel! Upset, I grab my luggage and flag my own taxi.  Here’s the scoop:  The hotel won’t flag local cabs unless the cab driver agrees pays  a fee; and since the fee is so high, most cab drivers can’t afford it. Therefore the hotel has a relationship with a cab company that dispatches upon call. Thanks to Le St-Martin politics, I nearly missed my flight!                 

Ok now that I’ve got that off my chest, lets take a look at what this glitzy new hotel has to offer:                  

            

      

      

Since my internet wasn’t working, I thought I’d take the opportunity to lounge by the pool deck and catch up on some reading.  Not happening.  A bunch of guys were smoking weed around the smallest hotel pool I’ve ever seen.             

          

     

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

 I don’t blame them…who wouldn’t want to get high after staying here?          

       

 Now back to the  room.  Take a look at the shower.  Ummmm….if you haven’t noticed, I’m taking this picture from the bed. YES you can see into the bathroom from the bedroom area.                  

                                  

and why is there a coffee maker in the washroom?  I guess I’m supposed to multi task.           

               

 So over $200 later, what did I get? a frustrating experience in a new hotel that obviously doesn’t care about their guests.  Will I stay here again? absolutely not.  There are tons of great hotels in Montreal. My personal faves are Opus Hotel Montreal, Le Hotel Crystal, and Loews Hotel Vogue Montreal.  All are around the same price point and they won’t disappoint!                          

More Pictures of Le Hotel St. Martin Montreal  

                 

Deep and Dirty Chicago Style

I just got back from my cousin’s wedding weekend in Chicago. While I didn’t get time to sight see, I managed to sneak out long enough to get my hands on the best deep dish pizza Chicago has to offer:  Giordano’s.  Owned and operated by two brothers from Italy, Giordano’s uses mom’s homemade recipes to churn out the best-pizza-ever. The restaurant, aptly named after  mom – Giordano – started serving patrons in 1974 and quickly became a Chicago Legend.

The next time you’re in the Windy City you absolutely HAVE to try this award winning pizza!

We ordered the “world famous stuffed pizza” topped with cheese and pineapple.

 

after one slice I was “stuffed”…no pun intended🙂

For those anti-crust folks – you’re in for a treat – this isn’t your typical pizza crust. It tastes and feels more like a light fluffy phyllo pastry.

 

Voted Number One Pizza by several groups including the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

Rallying for Raleigh?

I just came back from a business trip to Raleigh, North Carolina. Being the state capital, home to several universities and a mega research hub,  I expected downtown Raleigh to be bustling with activity – Boy, was I wrong! Like many U.S cities, Raleigh exhibits a suburb centric lifestyle with a fairly quiet downtown. Although in recent years, revitalization efforts have been made, resulting in a  tourist friendly downtown. Pedestrian friendly and pedestrian pretty, you can easily walk the streets; or you can hop on the R-line , a free bus service circulating the core. 

 Downtown Raleigh is divided into five major districts:

Fayetteville Street District: The main street which hosts businesses, hotels (well, err 2 hotels), restaurants and cafes. 

Captial District:Home to the State Capitol , legislative buildings and museums.

Glenwood South District: Apparently this is the spot to be, and be seen.  I did find a pretty trendy spot which I’ll talk about in my next post. 

Warehouse District: My hotel concierge pointed out that if you’re into the gay scene, this is where you need to be. This district houses the city’s finest gay bars (as well as a few other eclectic restos). 

Moore Square District: I started walking towards it , looked sketchy, turned around.  Famous for a giant acorn structure.

Lets take a walking tour of the two most popular districts: Fayetteville Street  and Capital. 

  

At the foot of Fayettville Street you will find the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Built in 1932, this center has hosted everything from broadway shows, opera and even rock concerts.   Also, the 2 acre feature frontage serves as a venue for outdoor festivals and concerts.

 

Lunch time on Fayetteville St……. I guess everyone packed lunch today. 

 

In the distance you can see the RBC “sky scraper”….yes locals referred to it as “sky scraper”.  Uhh did I mention its lunch time? 

 

 

I nearly missed it! Overshadowed by shrubs along Fayetteville St. , this tombstone represents a significant piece of History –  the birthplace of Andrew Johnson – 17th President of America.  Interesting, eh?

  

  Lovely old town charm…kinda reminds of Front St., Toronto 

   

 We’ve now reached the end of Fayetteville street. Oh look there’s the State Capitol. 

Welcome to the Capital District! 

Unfortunately I left my ID back at the hotel so I can only show you pictures of the  exterior grounds.   Drivers license is required if want to tour  inside. 

 

Back of the State Capitol – Memorial to WW2 Veterans 

Behind the state capital will find a series of Legislative building as well as the North Carolina Museum of History, and the Museum of Natural Science

                              

and that concludes our tour of  Fayetteville Street and Capital District!

While I appreciate the quaint streets, beautiful architecture and rich history, I can’t say that I’d like to go to back to Raleigh…  I guess I’m just a “Big City” type.  What about you? Would you rally for Raleigh?