Oh The Places You’ll Go…2017

Well, it’s been 2017 for 10 days now and I’m planning travels for this year! Here is a list of what we’re thinking for 2017:

~ Montreal or Ottawa road trip with our friends for our 30th birthdays.

~ Italy for our 30th birthday slash five year wedding anniversary trip (I’m thinking a road trip of the north with a few day stop in Rome – of course!).

~ Perhaps a second trip to Europe, for an extended long weekend.

~ Las Vegas!

~ Boston or Chicago (or both) road trip.

~ Rounding off the year somewhere hot, if our time off allows. I haven’t had a beach vacation in years!

places

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Quick Take: Matera

We visited Matera on our road trip through south Italy in 2014. Here is the quick take!

Visited: May, 2014
Days in Matera: 3
Travelled to Matera by: Car from Lecce
Stayed at:
Hotel San Giorgio Matera Albergo Diffuso nei Sassi

Favourite site:
Sassi (the caves)
Favourite restaurant: Ristorante Baccanti
Favourite Squares: Piazza Vittorio Veneto
Tours: None. We spent the time were were here just walking around.


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Magical Sintra

Sintra is a beautiful town a quick train ride away from Lisbon. The town of Sintra is known for it’s royal retreats, estates and castles (hence, magical!). During our day trip to Sintra, we visited two castles –  the Castle of the Moors and Pena National Palace.

Castle of the Moors

The Castle of the Moors was built in the 8th and 9th centuries (by the Moors). To get to the castle is a beautiful pathway from the road. Once in, you can see that the large majority of the castle is built from stone. There are a ton of stairs but the views are stunning.

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Pena National Palace

The Pena National Palace began it’s history in the Middle Ages as a chapel but the castle grew into what it is now between 1842–1854 under King Ferdinand.

This palace is incredible and looks like it is straight out of a Disney movie. So colourful and whimsical. The castle is surrounded by a park that you walk through (and up) to get to the palace, itself.

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Both castles were absolutely beautiful but Sintra has way more to offer. Do a little research and be sure to check out the estates and castles in this incredible town.

 

Quick Take: Lecce

We visited Lecce on our South Italy Road Trip in 2014. Here is the quick take!

Visited: May, 2014
Days in Lecce: 3
Travelled to Lecce by: Car from Bari
Stayed at:
Palazzo Rollo

Favourite site:
Roman Ampitheatre.
Favourite restaurants: Trattoria Nonna Tetti where we first had fave e cicoria
Favourite Squares: Piazza del Duomo.
Must See:
Roman Ampitheatre, Triumphal Arch, Lecce Cathedral, the obelisk, Church of Santa Croce.
Day trips: Otranto, Santa Maria di Leuca, Gallipoli, Porto Cesareo.

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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.

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.