Amsterdam Canal Tour

Almost everyone recommended going on a canal tour while in Amsterdam, and as I was doing my research I found the perfect company to take us – Those Dam Boat Guys! The name alone got my attention because who doesn’t love a good pun? After reading their description, I knew this tour would be something we would end up loving.

Here’s the description on their site, “Join us on the beautiful canals of Amsterdam for exactly the experience you’re looking for. Those Dam Boat Guys want you to enjoy the sights and sounds from a small, silent, electric boat and learn about the stranger than fiction history of this weird jigsaw puzzle of a city we call home. Bring whatever you’d like to eat, drink, and smoke (wink wink) if you feel so inclined. Pat yourself on the back because you’ve found the best, most laid back, fun and informative boat tour in Amsterdam.”

I’ll cut to the chase – this was one of the best tours we’ve ever done!

We met Alex, our guide, at a small cafe (that happened to be on the same canal as our hotel). He was immediately warm and kind, making sure none of us was run over by a bike on our way to the boat. As we all climbed aboard he told us it would rain (so it wouldn’t), offered blankets and asked where we wanted to go. I believe the general consensus was to “see cool sh*t” and we were off!

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What a great way to see such a fabulous city! Alex was hilarious and knowledgeable. The group was chill – all sharing drinks and snacks. IMG_2942IMG_2945IMG_2947We learned a lot about the Dutch and their way of life – a lot of which we hope North America picks up on soon! IMG_2950IMG_2944At one point on the open water we ran into the other two “Dam Boat Guys” who were making a music video for one of the guys’ wife’s birthday. They pulled the two boats together and asked us to be a part of it. Uh, of course!
IMG_7052The entire tour was so great we were sad when it ended just over 90 minutes later, but what an experience!IMG_2951IMG_2958Alex afterwards gave us a few great restaurant recommendations, one we tried that night and was phenomenal! I would definitely recommend Those Dam Boat Guys if anyone is looking for a unique and fun canal tour in Amsterdam.

Tip: Don’t be like me! I booked the tour for the wrong date and only realized when they called asking where were were (uh, still in Toronto). The guys were awesome about it and we fixed everything so that we could be at our tour on the proper date.

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A Montreal Food Tour

One of the things we were most excited about during our road trip to Montreal was the food! Montreal is definitely a foodie town, and is known for some classics like poutine, smoked meat and the Montreal bagel. Before we left, we compiled a list of restaurants recommended to try the best of those three foods, as well as some other Montreal spots.

Poutine

Ah poutine – fresh french fries topped with cheese curd and gravy. A Canadian institution, and something Montreal is well known for.

Since we were only in Montreal for 48 hours (or so) we only had it the once at Frites Alores! a chain restaurant. We had a long list of places to try it (including Resto La Banquise and Nouveau Systeme) but we were stuck on time, it was raining and Frites Alores! was close by.

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I definitely wasn’t disappointed. I would have loved to try more places but, like I mentioned, we were short on time. I really wanted to get the lobster poutine at Garde Manger but we couldn’t get a reservation.

Smoked Meat

We HAD to eat at Schwartz’s Deli – it’s pretty much the most well known smoked meat sandwich place in the city. There’s almost always a line up (we got pretty lucky and only waited about 10 minutes at noon).

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Here’s the thing – the name is famous but the sandwiches aren’t amazing. I found they lacked flavour. The servers are trying to get you out quickly because of their never-ending line.

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We were also recommended to try Lester’s Deli (which we never got to). Overall, I’m glad we went – Schwartz’s is an institution. But next time, I’m going to try somewhere else.

Montreal Bagels

In Montreal, there are two competing bagel houses: Fairmount and St Viateur. We made it to both!

Fairmount

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This place was a hike (seriously, I recommend driving if you’re staying anywhere near Old Montreal). The line was fairly decent but quick moving. We got our two everything bagels with cream cheese and sat outside on a bench eating them.

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About half way through, I declared we must get a third (to split). Smoked salmon and cream cheese on a fresh Montreal bagel. Ah-mazing!!

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Overall, delicious. But (in my opinion) not as good as…

St Viateur

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These bagels we so delicious we got four dozen. St Viateur is a chain and has locations all over the city. We grabbed them on the way home and had a ridiculous and hilarious cream cheese explosion all over the car.

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The car smelled like bagels for a week. Not exactly a bad thing.

French Restaurants

As we were in Montreal, and frequently dream of our meals from Pairs, we had a list of recommended French restaurants including Chez Leveque and Tandem, but these are the two we ate at:

Le Pois Penche

A really delicious French bistro fairly close to our air bnb.

We started with oysters (freshly shucked at the bar) and escargot (excuse the poor photo quality, they were taken with my phone in a fairly dark restaurant).

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For our mains, my husband had the duck and I had the salmon.

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Everything was incredibly fresh and tasty. The table next to us had the “Prime Coupe” and said it was the best meal they ever ate.

La Maison du Magret

This meal was incredible. It completely blew my mind and palette. I was a little concerned because of the “all duck” menu, but figured worst case scenario I’d have the duck poutine.

No need!

We were both intrigued by the planche du canardaille – 5 tastes of duck, including duck salami, duck gizzard salad and more. Our server recommended we only get it “for one” if we intended to share and get something else from the menu each (which we did). While we waited we were brought a tasty amouse Boucher of duck topped with a pepper jelly. Wow! Delicious.

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Then came our planche du canardaille. We shared it (almost fighting over who got the last bite of everything). Each bite was so flavourful your mouth watered in anticipation of the next.

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On to our mains! I ordered the ravioli confit and my husband ordered the Magret de canard. This ravioli was so unique and beautifully prepared. Each piece stuffed with duck confit. The sauce was a mushroom cream and topped with cheese. My husbands duck was cooked perfectly with a delicious dipping sauce and a side of fries fried in duck fat.

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And now my mouth is watering! We had some incredible foodie adventures in Montreal and wouldn’t hesitate for a second to go back. In fact, I’d drive the six hours back just for the  planche du canardaille.

Road Trip: Montreal

Sorry not sorry you won’t get me to shut up about Montreal for a little while. What a fantastic city! Although it confirmed my suspicions that I’m not a great city explorer in insane heat (or rain), we persevered and had the best time!

Here are my favourite parts of Montreal…

The juxtaposition between old and new. So many old buildings beside some that are modern and new.

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The architecture is beautiful and reminiscent of Europe.

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Stunning churches. Even if you’re not religious, you can appreciate the beauty of the churches across the city.

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The street art is incredible and everywhere!

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The food! If you’re a foodie, Montreal is a must! I’m going to be dedicating a whole post to it.

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The views from Mount Royal.

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…and Old Montreal, which is also getting a dedicated post. I can’t wait to share more of our road trip with you!

Winter Holiday 2016 – Planning

Almost every year, my family takes a winter holiday. Usually somewhere warm. Usually somewhere in the Caribbean.

This year is going to be a little different. My brother is living in Australia (coming home sometime in the late spring) and my parent’s don’t really want to fly all the way there, so we’d like to meet him somewhere.

We’d love your suggestions and recommendations for a half way point between Toronto and Brisbane!

#TBT Pisa

Have you ever had that moment where you finally get to lay your eyes on an iconic piece of architecture or art you’ve only ever seen photos of? The beautiful part of traveling is that you finally get to experience these incredible beauties up close.

This has happened more times than I can count in my travels, but last year on our visit to Pisa it happened again. I got to walk upon this marvel that has been standing in a lean for hundreds of years.

Here is is for you to marvel at for a few minutes:

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Quick Take: Montreal

We visited Montreal in the summer of 2016. Here is the quick take!

Visited: July, 2016
Days in Montreal: 2+
Traveled to Montreal by: Car from home
Stayed at:
Air bnb though I’d recommend staying closer to Old Montreal.

Favourite site:
Old Montreal
Favourite restaurants: La Maison du Magret and St Viateur Bagel
Favourite Squares: Place d’Armes
Tours: Guided Siteseeing Boat Cruise
Must Do:
See the top of Mount Royal, walk across St Catherine, stroll through Old Montreal including visiting Place Jacques Cartier, St Paul Street, Montreal City Hall, Bonsecours Market and, of course, the Notre Dame.
If you have time: Take a boat trip along St Lawrence River. Try both of the famous bagel shops (St Viateur and Fairmount).
Day trips: None.

Quick Take_

 

Fantastic Belem

Belém is a municipality of Lisbon, a short cab ride (or train) away. It was suggested we spend a few hours here as a day trip from Lisbon for a few sites, but more importantly for the pastel de nata!

Here are some of my favourite parts of our day trip…

Tower of Belém

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The tower was built in 1519 and used as fortification of the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belém. It is stunning, and so beautiful to walk through, with different passageways and old cannons ready to protect.

Tip: Try to go early in the day. The line gets long when big tour groups arrive.

Jerónimos Monastery

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The monastery is for the Order of Saint Jerome, completed in 1601 and closed in 1837.  It is believed that the original recipe for pastel de nata was developed here by a nun. Both the monestary and tower are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Tip: Closed Mondays, as well as the first of January and May, as well as Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.

Casa Pastéis de Belém

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This bakery was the first in Lisbon to sell Pastel de Nata. These pastries are crispy on the outside, creamy custard on the inside and topped with icing sugar and cinnamon – my mouth is watering just thinking about them. This is definitely the best place to eat them! The story goes, there are five bakers in Lisbon, who are hand picked by the Casa Pastéis de Belém, who know the recipe. These men have the recipe memorized, and can never travel together (in the car or otherwise) or eat at the same restaurant.

Tip: Don’t wait in line to get the pastries to go. Walk inside (the place is huge) and get a table.

This municipality has so much to offer and is so close to Lisbon! Be sure to take a little trip and (at least) try the pastel de nata!