Saturday, August 23, 2014

Montreal

Since I've not blogged in yonks, I am trying to get caught up...

A while ago, Phil & I made an impromptu trip to Montreal.  Growing up in New England, going to Montreal seems to be a rite of passage where when you turn 18. Everybody piles into a car & heads towards the land of legal drinking, strip clubs, & casinos...sort of like New Orleans for the Northeast set.

I was not one of those 18 year olds so I didn't actually see Montreal until I was in my mid-20s.  I really love it there - not necessarily for the vices but more because it's a real outlier in a lot of ways.  It's fiercely French in its own way amidst a majority English speaking population - and it doesn't care.  It's mellow, local, artsy, & intellectual with loads of nice people. Also, most of the infrastructure hasn't been updated since the 1967 World Expo which gives it a real industrial, mid-century vibe (swoon!).  If you're looking for a low key, easy vacation & you like a lot of art/small local businesses/DIY vibe, I cannot recommend Montreal enough.

Logistics
It's about 5 hours by car from Boston, i.e. about 1 tank of gas.  Right now, with the exchange rate not being great, I recommend getting any refills in Vermont.  Gas in Canada is much more expensive by ounce/ml & you purchase it in litres.

Bring your passport.  You can get in with the card or just a license still...but going through customs will be quicker if they can just scan your passport.

Montreal is a walkable city & their subway is super efficient.  Put your car in a garage & leave it there for the duration of your vacation.  You can get street parking but they're uber efficient with ticketing & towing.  So, $20 a day is worth not having to worry or deal with any hassles.

Lodging
There are plenty of options.  We stayed at Le Relais Lyonnais, which is a great, small budget hotel.  It's in the middle of the student quarter (kind of like staying at the cheap end of Newbury Street). It's not posh or quiet but well located.  If I needed a hotel again, I'd stay there.  Although, we agreed that next we'd probably rent an apartment so we can cook.

Sights
At this point, I don't really do too much sightseeing...my vacations here are really all about nipping away & hiding for a few days.  However, here are some highlights I've enjoyed:
Hiking up Mont Royal - Montreal's namesake, gorgeous city views
Old Town - It's a cross between Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, & Fort Point Channel - historic & repurposed - with shops, restaurants, & museums.
Musee d'art contemporain - Modern art museum with a really cool gift shop.
Botanical Gardens & Insectarium - I love that it's called "Space for life" in French.  You won't see vastly different things here since we share the same basic climate but it's still cool.
Scandinavian Spa - If you're looking to relax, this is THE place.  Aside from the traditional spa services, they have a thermal pool & waterfall, pine sauna, & steam room.  They offer discounted day passes during the week.  Woo hoo!!!

Food
Montreal is a great city.  The "doing your own thing" really comes into play here. I recommend the following:
Marche Jean Talon - We visited almost all the public markets & this was the biggest & best.  Most everything was local & organic.  It was half wholesale, half consumer with loads of prepared food stalls (local sausages, fish, bakeries, ice cream, etc.). We got an amazing flat of mixed local berries with edible flowers...I didn't know you could eat orchids (taste like bland celery)
Depanneur Le Pick-Up - This is a refurbished convenience store/lunch counter within walking distance from Marche Jean Talon.  The line snakes through the store but it moves quickly.  There's only 2 people cooking & prepping so it can take a while to get your food.  If you don't get takeaway, there's table service...but the tables are in front, on the side, in the back. Often, the servers are walking around looking for people.  It works fine but I can see how some impatient people wouldn't be having it.
La Banquise - 30+ kinds of poutine in a place that took some cues from Howard Johnsons circa 1974. I.LOVE.IT. AND - it has a giant poster of one my most favoritest movies ever - C.R.A.Z.Y. - signed by the director.  A quick note - it's cash only & even though we had table service, we had to pay as soon as we ordered. Also, it's open all night.
Buvette Chez Simone - Wine bar with an expansive list.  When you sit down, they give you paper & a pencil to check off which "snacks" you'd like with your wine.  These weren't just snacks - these were full on US appetizer sizes of things.  The food was fresh & amazing - we would've gone twice if we stayed longer.
Jewish Neighborhood Nibbles:
Willensky's - go once, go more if you like baloney!
Fairmount Bagel - Montreal bagels are good - they're not as glossy on the outside/chewy on the inside like a lot of US bagels.  They're also a little sweeter.
KemCoba Gelato - This place had a line out the door - with good reason.  A small dish will give you 2 scoops if you don't opt for the soft serve.
Chocolats Andree - Locally made chocolates.  The shop is in a row house & the case is in the small living room. They have a limited, seasonal selection each day - all the pieces are really small but you can tell it's a true labor of love.

And...drumroll, please...
Joe Beef, Liverpool House, & Le Vin Papillion
It's everything you've ever heard. Seriously.  I read an interview with one of the owners where he was talking about the liqueur, Chartreuse.  He described it as a "green monster penis - cool to have but you can't do anything with it".  I can't quite articulate my thoughts but that quote pretty much sums up the restaurants - irreverent, over the top, & "I'm going to do whatever I want & it's going to be awesome.".
If you go...I recommend the following - go to Liverpool House first when it's still light out.  It's more casual and a bit easier to maneuver.  The menu is written on a chalkboard on the wall in all 3 places.  Liverpool House had the shortest menu & the tables were more spaced out. It was easy to stand up; read the menu; and not feel like you were disturbing somebody's dinner.  Once you get the hang of that, go to Joe Beef.  The menu there is much more expansive - it goes around the whole restaurant (2 rooms). The light is low; the tables are close together; & servers are dodging you, the tables, & each other.  I advise dispatching one person from your party to go take photos of all the walls with his/her phone & then, show them to everybody else at the table.  The food is SO good. Be prepared for big portions of farm food - lots of meat, veggies, & dairy.  I ended up with leftovers that gave me 4 more meals from both places.

Last but not least - french fries from anywhere (except fast food chains).  Those fresh Quebecois potatoes are unparalleled!

If I missed anything, please comment below!























Friday, August 22, 2014

Ridiculousness avec les pieds

As I live in the city, I walk most places & use public transport.  Most days, I walk about 6 or 7 miles so my feet take a major beating year round.  Although, things really flare up in the summer.   Usually, I get some sort of highly annoying/pain in the ass/really inconvenient foot problem (blisters, broken toenails, cuts, callouses, etc.) around June. This year, I wasn't afflicted with anything until this week - probably because it's simply not been that warm out.

My problem this year was new to me - cracked heels.  I've never had them before as I try to stay on top of my callouses.  A couple of weeks ago, my foot file became unusable and I had no back up.  I tend to view salon pedicures as a real luxury - and finding time is a challenge - so that was a no go.  Randomly, every single drugstore around me was out of home pedicure items.  Finally, this past weekend, I had an epiphany to go to a drugstore in an "affluent" town (Winchester) under the supposition that people there probably weren't doing their own pedicures.  BINGO!!!! Full stocks!

Here's my home pedicure kit:

Fizzing bath tablets - Because they're cool
Rubber Duckie - To keep you company
Coconut Oil - Organic moisturizer that will make you smell like coconut macaroons (not macarons, totally different cookie)*
Zoya Glitter Polish - I was turned onto this brand by a dear friend who is just plain fabulous & gorgeous.  Zoya is salon strength but more of a European formulation inasmuch as it has lot less chemicals than US polish.  They always have some sort of special going on - it pays to show your love for them via Facebook
Aesop Rind Concentrate - Smells wonderful, organic, doesn't test on animals. Everybody to whom I've recommended this L-O-V-E-S it.
Foot File - You just need it
Fancy Case - Keep all your stuff from getting mixed up with your other stuff

*So, the coconut oil came from my frantic search to find something natural to heal my heel in a hurry.  The more research I did, the more I really didn't want to know. Emu fat? (Kevin from "Up" #ugh). European products that don't test on animals? Most cosmetics are now owned by a few conglomerates that do animal testing in other areas.  AAAAND apparently, China requires all cosmetics to be tested on animals before they can be sold there.  Even if the company doesn't test on animals, if they sell in China, they condone it (#ugh #nowiknow #ican't).  File under #ican't & #ican'twin.   I am happy to report that the $7 coconut oil totally worked within 24 hours. While my heel isn't completely heeled, I can walk on it with no pain. However, I did almost slip & fall on some that I spilled.  So, there's that...

Professional & home pedicures aside, if you do find yourself with some issues from summer feet, I recommend the following items:

Wet bandages for cuts & blisters
Liquid bandages (or super glue) for cuts
Neosporin for cuts
Coconut Oil for dry skin, cuts, & scrapes
Ibuprofen for aches
Ice pack because it feels good - when it's hot, you can reduce your overall temperature but putting an ice pack on your feet or your head
Benadryl stick for the 9,863,274 mosquito bites you're going to get on your ankles from standing outside for 20 minutes at your friend's bbq

Of course, once you tend to your banged up feet, it's not like you can really go back to wearing whatever shoes allowed your feet to get banged up in the first place...Sooooo, I recommend these:

Avarcas- Hands down: THE BEST PAIR OF SUMMER SHOES I own - I can walk for miles in these & not get blisters
Espadrilles - Perfect summer shoes: light, cool, fashionable
Mizutori Geta - These are the 2nd best summer shoes I own.  The insoles are hinoki (pine) so they are naturally antibacterial (hello, sweaty feet!) and they are really supportive. P.S. the sandals go on ridiculous sale in January (that's how I got 2 pairs)
Foldable Ballet Flats - Just YES. You need them. Slip them into your purse or work bag year round.

If all else fails & you've still got the banged up feet, the bad shoes, & the uncomfortable weather...I recommend this:

















Travel Question - Do I need trip insurance?

It's funny - pretty much everybody thinks I am a travel agent. I'm not but it's cool.  Consequently, I get asked for a lot of travel advice. One subject about which I am often asked is trip insurance.  Like anything else travel related, purchasing trip insurance is a very personal thing.   Some people don't need it but feel a lot better having it.  Others legitimately need it for any number of reasons.  Some people never get it & never need it.

Whenever people come to me, I ask them the following questions:

1. Do you need it for any outstanding reason, i.e. a medical condition where you have a better than average possibility of needing medical attention on the road?
(Yes, I recommend it)

2. Are you going somewhere where there are legitimately no medical services within a reasonable drive, i.e. if you get hurt or sick, will you need to be airlifted to the nearest facility?
(Yes, I recommend it)

3. Are you spending a large amount of money on this trip, i.e. if you were to cancel/ not be able to go & not a get a refund, would it a be a problem?
(Yes, I recommend it)

4. Are you taking a "milestone/celebration" trip, i.e honeymoon or another type of trip that has a major emotional investment in addition to the major financial one?
(Yes, I recommend it)

5. Are you going somewhere where the medical facilities are on par with what you're used to having but you wouldn't have enough money to deal with unexpected medical expenses, extended stays, & any other related additional expenses?
(Yes, I recommend it)

6. Does your health insurance only cover you in the United States?
(Yes, I recommend it)

7. Did you pay for your trip with cash or does your credit card not have a travel insurance clause?
(Yes, I recommend it)

The only time I don't recommend getting it is when your health insurance covers you overseas and/or you have a credit card or other insurance policy that covers travel incidents at no additional cost.

If you need travel insurance, I recommend using Insure My Trip.

Not all policies cover what you need or want.  Many basic policies don't cover weather delays - if you're traveling in the winter, that might be something for which you want to pay extra.  Pay close attention to the details - # of days, countries, actual covered items - and what documentation you will need to file a claim. I've known a few people who needed emergency health care but never got documentation to file a claim. That can be a real hassle (and expensive) to pull together you're not in that country anymore.

Also, I recommend contacting your credit card company; your bank; AAA;  the insurance company that holds your rental/homeowner policies; or other financial service company with which you have an account. Some of your existing accounts may include travel insurance as a benefit.  You could already have travel insurance & not know it.  In the end, you may be fully covered or you may need to just buy a cheaper, supplemental policy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chewing Prilosec Like A Big, Long Strip Of Candy Buttons

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with bleeding ulcers (hooray).  That's when I started to really need to watch what I ate - or watch my stress levels.  There's nothing quite like stress induced indigestion...and all its various noises (nice!).

On the flipside, I love to cook & to eat. I'll be going for my WSET next year...so I am always looking for an excuse to try new things & new recipes.  Also, being a little more flush with cash, I do my best to make my food decisions based on health & locality rather than price.  I figured a good way to super serve my various health, economic, political needs was to sign up for a CSA. Fast forward 3 years later - almost all my food comes from various CSAs.  Now, that I'm in the groove of all of it, I've been able to keep my weight stable. I've not been super sick in a long time. I've saved a lot of money.  Even if those weren't things, I've tried so much new stuff.  

If you're interested, I cannot recommend these farmers enough:

Farmer Dave's Vegetable & Fruit Share 
He is a Dracut farmer who sends out these amazingly philosophical emails.  He offers his CSA year round although, unfortunately, only the Summer/Early Fall shares are convenient for me...
The portions are generous - Once, we got 6 melons in 1 week because the harvest was so good.  He also has  a bunch of add ons like honey, maple syrup, etc..

Enterprise Farm
They're out in Western MA & they supply Whole Foods.  Their winter CSA sources up & down the East Coast so you get that super expensive, tasty Florida citrus in the middle of February!
I pick it up near my work. When I bring it in the office, I always get a few curious people nosing around the box.

MF Dulock Meat Club
They do a monthly meat club - everything from veal to steak to offal.  Everybody who works there is super knowledgeable & very nice.  They've just started selling chickens too - which is a bonus.

Cape Cod Fish Share
All local - relatively cheap for what it is.  There have been times where I've gotten scallops & lobster in addition to the fillet fish.  BONUS - If you say you were referred by somebody, that person gets a free month of fish (hint, hint)

Then, I hit my local Farmer's Market for eggs, bread, & anything else that looks good. Rumor has it the  Boston Public Market will be opening at the Haymarket T Stop in 2015.  HOORAY! (note: this "hooray" is much different than the other "hooray" mentioned earlier in the post)

At this point, it's the rare occasion that I am in a big box supermarket.  I haven't had anything from a box in about a year (save those Petits Coeurs cookies from France).  The only downside to all the CSA is that now, I can no longer eat conventional food without getting serious indigestion.  That poses a bit of a problem before parties or going out to restaurants.  At this point, there are not many restaurants I can eat in anymore (booo hisssss)...but it's probably better that way.  

If you have any favorites, I am all ears.  Aside from the food CSAs, I am psyched Free The Grapes got mail order wine passed in MA.  Now, I can sign up for that sparkling wine club I've been eyeballing for years. Again, HOORAY!!!!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Paris at Christmas

As mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to spend Christmas in Paris this past holiday.  I cannot recommend this kind of trip enough.  We left on the 15th & came back on the 26th,  a very light travel day.  While we still had make up holiday obligations when we returned, we circumvented the stressful countdown of trying to get everything done before the magic day.  I've never felt so refreshed in January as I have this year...because I wasn't so worn down from the holiday!

We rented an apartment in the Marais through Vacation in Paris - http://www.vacationinparis.com/.  Personally, I prefer renting apartments when I travel because I find an apartment to be more comfortable than a hotel.  Also, you can cook your own meals when you don't feel like going out.   Other pros include being in a residential neighborhood, more room to spread out,  & a generally cheaper vacation overall between meals & lodging.

When we arrived, we used Super Shuttle - http://www.supershuttle.com/Locations/CDGAirportShuttleParis.aspx. When we departed, we used Uber through the app we have on our phones for Boston Uber.  Disclaimer - it was 70 Euro to CDG - but it was worth it to us to not have a 5:30 am pick up time from Super Shuttle or dragging our bags in the dark to the subway & schlepping to the RER.

Paris is a great city any time of year but it is especially gorgeous around Christmas.  Surprisingly, most everything starts opening - except stores - around 2 or 3 pm on Christmas Day.  If you're there on December 25th, there will be plenty to do - Christmas markets, ice skating, Eiffel Tower (although the line will be crazy long).  Having said that, some places do shut for the last 2 weeks of the year.  It's always best to call - not all websites will have the most updated opening/closing times.

If you do go, here are some recommendations for fun/delicious times beyond the usual:

Guidebooks:
1. Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris -http://chocolateandzucchini.com/edibleadventures/

2. David Lebovitz's blog -http://www.davidlebovitz.com/

3. Google Maps or other app for your phone - much easier than fussing with a map (although, I did that a lot too!)

Cultural Things (beyond the usual iconic "must sees")
1. All the gardens - you can watch all Petanque leagues play & old men shout "merde!!!!" when they miss shots

2. Palais de Tokyo - Open until at least 11pm every night even Sundays http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/

3. Ciel de Paris/Tour Montparnasse - The restaurant will give you the best view of the city including the Eiffel Tower (just go for a drink in the afternoon).  A lot of people think the best view is from the Eiffel Tower but you can't see the Tower while you're standing on it! Plus, Montparnasse, while huge, is not the most attractive building in the city.  So, why not use that for your city views vs. having it in your photos? http://www.cieldeparis.com/

4. The roof at Galeries Lafayette - this also provides great views of the city from the Right Bank

Restaurants/Food
1. Frenchie - The restaurant only takes reservations online about 12 weeks in advance.  If you can't get one, you can queue up for the wine bar (get there around 30 mins before it opens) & tell them you'll take a table if there's a no show. The wine bar has the same style food but it doesn't take reservations.  Getting there early is a must.  Frenchie to Go is great for lunch as well.
http://www.frenchie-restaurant.com/en

2. Les Philosophes - Traditional French Food done by a Japanese chef for organic/mindful diners - and with American style veggies options, i.e. big meal sized salads.  Try the cuisse de canard - served with duck fat potatoes & salad.  I am still dreaming of this meal...http://www.cityvox.fr/restaurants_paris/les-philosophes_78585/Profil-Lieu

3. Cuisine de Bar - Poilane's cafe...great for brunch. Aaaannndddd they favored my Tweet so I <3 them! http://www.cuisinedebar.fr/en/index.php

4. Marche Biologique de Batignolles - This is the big organic market.  You can get EVERYTHING here - meat, fish, dairy, jams, bread, and of course, loads of fruit & veggies -  http://equipement.paris.fr/marche-biologique-des-batignolles-4514

5. Wine - What my 7th grade teacher told me still holds true - wine is cheaper than most soft drinks. For 3 Euro a coupe, you can try lots of different ones.  The best part - they're often not loaded up with sugar and other things so you won't get an awful headache like you do here from cheap wine.

6. O Chateau - Try any number of wines by the glass including Chateau d'Yquem! http://www.o-chateau.com/

7. L'As du fallafel - Lenny Kravitz's favorite fallafel place in Paris! Their take away window is open until midnight - keep it in mind if you get desperate! https://plus.google.com/115347975969490413823/about?gl=us&hl=en 

Shopping
1. Big Department Stores - Galeries Lafayette will give you a 10% shopping coupon plus pull the VAT off your purchase as soon as you buy whatever item (better than having to go to a desk at the end with all your receipts).  The caveat? It's the Herald Square Macy's with all the tour bus drop offs but it's a proper French department store.  While I didn't buy anything in the upstairs, I hit Lafayette Gourmet in the basement HARD.  REAL HARD...terrines, Dalloyau pastries, Petrossian smoked salmon, etc.. The Bordeauxtheque is not to be missed if you're a wine person.  However, having said all that, I like Bon Marche & Le Grand Epicerie better.

2. Things to buy - There's a real Brooklyn thing going on with fashion right now but you can still get the Parisian touch with nice lingerie, perfume, drugstore cosmetics (which is on par with department store cosmetics here), and of course, chocolates - all for much cheaper than what you'd pay here for  the same quality.

Other Recommendations
1. Taking the TGV on a day trip out of the city - We went to Reims (45 mins each way).  By the way, Pascale, an extremely nice SCNF employee at Gare du Nord helped us out when we booked the wrong tickets.  She was technically on her break but went back to her window to help us.  We went back to bring her flowers but couldn't find her.  If you see her, tell her MERCI from me!

2. Walk - You can buy a tourist metro pass but just get a carnet.  You'll see so much more stuff walking around.  To put it in perspective - the incorporated city of Boston is double the size of Paris.

3. TSF Jazz - Jazz radio station that will create a real Paris vibe in your apartment (http://www.tsfjazz.com/accueil.php) along with a stinky Diptyque candle (http://www.diptyqueparis.com/), some flowers you bought at the bio marche Batignolles, and an apero of rose & potato chip. Voila - vous etes un Parisien!

Honestly, I cannot wait to go back - so much so, I am already planning on another trip this year.  If you have any recommendations for me, please post them in the comments.  Or, if you're planning to go, I am happy to answer any questions.











Traveling: Dublin Pre-Clearance

Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris.  As I was being a bit budget conscious, I decided to go via Aer Lingus vs. the direct Boston to Paris Air France flight.   I would absolutely do this again - price point notwithstanding.  The connection in Dublin is super easy on the way over.  Most of the people on our flight were not connecting to Europe.  So, there were no lines at security checkpoint and the airport was not very crowded.  Upon arriving in Paris in the early afternoon, CDG was not insane (most of the big international arrivals & departures are early or late in the day).  We were the only ones on our Super Shuttle ($25 one way, per person). With only midday traffic, we were at our apartment in the Marais within 30 mins.

On the return, we did have an early flight out of CDG.  We noticed that the gate check in time for our BOS flight was 2 hours before our departure time...which struck me as weird.  Dublin is much smaller than Schiphol or any of the huge other airports.  At some of the larger airports, you will be advised to get to your gate 90 mins+ because it will take you that long to walk to the other end of the airport.

Apparently, the US now has a giant presence at various airports & border crossings around the world.  I've heard it's because certain US entry points are very congested so they are trying to ease the "traffic" by having people go through Customs & Immigration before they arrive on US soil.  Regardless of the reason, I actually loved it.

Basically, you fill out your customs form, declare your chocolates,  & get your US entry stamp in Dublin.  The perks of this are:

1. They have pens at the tables where you fill out the customs declarations. There's nothing worse than scrambling for a pen when they pass the forms out on the plane.

2. There's relatively no line in Dublin - at least not like the ones when you arrive in the US because 4 other international flights arrived at pretty much the same time.

3. Even if there is/was a line, I'd still prefer to stand in a line when I am somewhat awake vs. queuing  up after a long, tiring flight.  It's a bit grim standing in line for hour when you really just want to get home - or have to go to the bathroom.

The process is super easy:
1. Follow the signs to the US Pre-Clearance.
2. Fill out the form with the conveniently provided pens.
3. Go up to the first desk & they will stamp your form.
4. Go to the second desk where they ask you a bunch of questions about where you were, what you did, & what you're bringing home.
5.  Identify your luggage on the screen they show you.
6. Go on your way to the final security clearance before you get your gate.  AND - you can bring bottles of water through this checkpoint.  We literally stood 10 feet from the checkpoint, trying to down our liter bottles of water.  Of course, as soon as we were finishing up, the guy told us we could've brought them on. Timing is everything, I guess!

Once you get through the final checkpoint, you'll be at the gate.  The gate has a full service restaurant & take away items for picnics on the plane.  

In theory, it's super easy.  However, we had a lost bag so that actually wasn't what happened to us.  We had to sit in a pen by ourselves while they "located" the bag.  As the bag did not turn up & we were getting close to departure, we were forced through customs.  Then, we were brought to the back room with some dubious looking backpacker.  I am not going to lie - I was little scared.  Ultimately, we were told that our bag was still sitting at CDG & it would come on the next flight to Boston.  We were released & dispatched to our gate...not sure what happened to our new backpacker friend.  They took his passport from him & he looked really bummed out...

We made it home in one piece with 2 bags.  The best part - upon arrival in Boston, all we did is walk to the baggage carousel, pick up our bags, & hit the silver line.  We were off the plane & on our way home within 30 mins.  Hooray!

The only down side - if you are a duty free shopper, once you pass through pre-clearance, you can't buy anything.  You're on US soil so no perfume, Toblerones, brown liquor, or cigarettes for you - either in a shop or during the flight.  Just remember to pick those up in the center shopping arcade in the Dublin airport.  Otherwise, I highly recommend a Dublin connection!










Saturday, October 26, 2013

RuPaul called...

So, I've been working way too much at my day job - like leaving the office at 9, 10 pm.  Gross.  I am so tired.  Last week, I was talking about it with my friend, Colin...not complaining though because I am far too tired to muster the energy up for that.

He is sitting there, patiently listening to me.  Then, he picks up his phone & says, "RuPaul's calling.  She says 'You better work!'. ".  HA!