Category Archives: To eat

Places: Akumal, Mexico

This year we were pretty split on what to do for a winter vacation. Although it is tempting to wait until March break to go, most years I find that it is too late – and so this year, we decided to keep it simple and return to Mexico for essentially the same winter break we did last year. After the coldest, wettest spring seemingly ever, we probably could have gone ahead and waited until March though…

After another fantastic vacation I would really say that if you find the right place to stay and are willing to explore it is hard to beat Mexico as a winter vacation destination from Ottawa. There are direct flights right to Cancun, driving is easy, and the Canadian dollar is actually still worth something since the peso has been declining even faster than our own currency. Oh, and there are beautiful beaches, cenotes and jungle and it’s hot. That part is nice too!

This year we only went for a week and stayed in Akumal in a beautiful condo at the Tao Wellness Resort. This place was well-situated for exploring a bit more around Akumal and also for a couple of trips into Tulum. At the resort, we were able to take advantage of the beautiful, and empty!, pool as well as the great breakfasts at the Wellness centre.IMG_1894

While in Tulum, we headed to our favourite beach club, La Zebra. Although it has become a bit busier since we were last there, it is still a beautiful beach and the restaurant is fantastic. The kids made some friends with kids from Toronto who were staying and they were off exploring and playing on the beach for hours.

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La Zebra

We also made it back to our favourite grocery store, Chedraui, and hit a couple of our favourite spots in town including Manglar Pizza on the west side of town and Flor de Michoacan. Ella also managed to return to her favourite tamale stand…I’m unsure of the name but it is located just beside the police station on a small little side street. IMG_1888

IMG_1886IMG_1688Just south of Akumal we found a perfect beach, apparently where they shoot Corona commercials, but there was nobody there when we visited. Just off the beach there was also a cenote hidden in the jungle that was great fun. 

IMG_1788IMG_1791Our only big driving of the trip took place when we visited Coba, a huge Mayan archeological site that we really enjoyed. The bicycle taxis to get you up to the site are pretty fun and the actual climb is crazy-steep but well worth it from the top. IMG_1817

Mexico seems to have just so much to explore, and the food is so good, that I’m sure we will be back again soon.

Places: Central Vermont

For the second year in a row (see last year here) we spent our Labour Day weekend at Little River State Park just outside of Waterbury, VT. Once again, we had perfect weather for the weekend and it was such an awesome way to end off a summer of adventure before heading back to work and school.

After a summer of camping in the tent, we stepped up our level of luxury and rented one of the small, basic cabins that are available at the park. The kids enjoyed having their bikes at the park, hauling chopped wood back to the site from the woodlot and of course, relaxing in the hammock. Although we were in a different cabin this time, it was still adjacent to a huge cliff and for the third year in a row we managed not to lose any kids (or adults) off the edge.

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The Moose Cabin
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Hard at work.

We explored a bit further afield this time, taking in the farmer’s market in Montpelier, and travelling down the Mad River Valley for the first time. While trying out some new places, we revisited some of our favourites such as the Prohibition Pig and Green Mountain Coffee in Waterbury.

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Dinner at the ProPig and a selection of craft beers; true Vermont.

We also spent a morning at the Waterbury Flea Market which was plenty of fun and netted the kids a whole bunch of hockey and basketball cards from a friendly gentleman who just couldn’t help himself from giving them each more and more for the $1 they had to spend.

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The house that Howard Dean built; Montpelier, VT

Our last full day of summer was definitely one of the most fun days I had all year. We awoke to a perfectly sunny day at our campground and after making breakfast at our site, we took off to explore the Mad River Valley, the area that runs south of Waterbury to the Sugarbush Ski Resort.

Vermont is famous for their ‘swimming holes’ that can be found all over the state – some of which are more legally accessible than others – and as we headed out, we scoped out a couple that might be fun. After that, we headed further south to the Warren Country Store, a general store that has been in business since 1839. I love these cool institutions that are scattered throughout the United States and the sheer amount of them that are located in the East is always amazing to me since in the west there are just not that many things that are more than 100 years old.img_2742

From Warren, we went north to the Lareau swimming hole, one of the most popular, and accessible swimming holes in the Valley. We spent hours here, jumping off the rocks once we had adjusted to the mountain water which while refreshing was still pretty crisp even at the beginning of September.

After an afternoon of sun and swimming we went across the highway to the American Flatbread Lareau Farm for a quintessential Vermont meal – all the ingredients from a small radius around the farm and a totally relaxed environment with a delicious meal included. Wandering around outside the restaurant with a craft beer, there were games to play, campfires going, a farm to explore and the beautiful backdrop of the mountains. Noah spent the entire meal in front of the wood-fired pizza oven watching the chef do his thing with the pizza peel. A giant ‘vermont creemee’ on the way back to the campsite was a perfect way to end the weekend.

The weekend was a wonderful end to a fantastic summer with the family – with lots of good food, time in the great outdoors and new adventures.

Places: Driving East

After our exciting night at Dinosaur Provincial Park, we continued east through Southern Alberta and since we had such an early start, enjoyed a nice part of the day in Medicine Hat relaxing at their man-made beach at Echo Dale Park and letting our gear dry out.

From there, we headed to a place that few do – but a spot that had really captured my imagination in Val Marie, SK and Grasslands National Park. This National Park, only founded in 1981, is one of the least-visited national parks in Canada with just over 10,000 visitors annually. The reasons why aren’t hard to figure out – it is tucked away in southwestern Saskatchewan on the U.S. border and admittedly it is harder to sell people on the idea of viewing prairie rather than mountains. However, to me, the scenery was equally as beautiful and since one of the ideas of this trip was to show the kids the multitude of landscapes that make up this country, it fit the bill perfectly.

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Grasslands National Park

After the night before, it was great to relax in one of Parks Canada’s Otentiks and enjoy the beautiful views.

After enjoying the tranquility of Grasslands, it was time to cover some ground if we were ever going to get home. We took off the next morning and after a twenty minute conversation with the Homeland Security border guards where I thought they might invite us in for lunch because they were so bored and lonely at their remote outpost, we cut through rural Montana and entered North Dakota.

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Montana traffic

While flying across Highway 2 to Minot, another one of those funny road trip moments happened that you end up remembering as much as the trip itself. All along this stretch there were roadrunners along the highway and they would typically zip into the ditch as we approached. However, there was one guy who made a bad decision and zigged when he should have zagged and he hit the front of the van full-on. After bouncing off the bumper, and then the windshield he catapulted high above the van and I could see his bowling ball of a body land in my rear-view mirror as I tried to process what had happened. As I got out to check the van I was happy to see that there was no damage beyond the roadrunner legs stuck in our front grille and the giant streak of red blood that extended from the front of the hood to the top of the windshield that would stay there the rest of the trip. For the rest of the trip, the kids could not stop talking about this and Noah would check at each stop whether the legs were still hanging out  the front of the car.

Our time in Minot and through northern Minnesota was fairly uneventful – we stayed at a beautiful campground about an hour out of Minneapolis but our next stop in Wausau, Wisconsin also proved to be exciting for the kids. We have never taken on one of the Great Wolf Lodge waterpark hotels but when looking for hotels in appropriate places, a smaller version had popped up in Wausau that seemed as good as anything else so we gave it a shot. The kids had an absolute blast from the time we got there in the waterpark – playing for hours and Ella surprising me with her bravery going down every one of the slides.

Downtown Wausau also proved to be a pleasant surprise as we had a great meal at the locally-famous Mint Cafe.

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While in Wausau, I realized that Green Bay was only about a half-hour detour from our route the next day as we planned to get back into Canada to spend the night in Sault-Ste-Marie. The chance to visit Lambeau Field proved too great a draw and we spent a good part of the day in Green Bay taking a tour of the field and eating at famed fast-food restaurant Culver’s. (the In n’ Out of the Midwest!) It turned out that we were also there for the first day of training camp which added to the excitement and the crowds. img_2376

Although we had hoped to camp one more night on our trip, we could not find anywhere to stay through northern Michigan and so we landed back in the Soo before our drive home. From the Soo, it was familiar territory until we pulled into our driveway just short of 9000km travelled and with some great memories of a very special vacation.

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Home!

Places: Driving West

After returning from our epic four-province, five-state, 8800km roadtrip I’ve struggled with how to break this up into manageable posts but I will do my best and start with our journey out to Edmonton, Alberta.

Heading out in the pouring rain, we made it to just east of Sault Ste. Marie on our first day. Before our first campground we stopped at a great Canadian icon, the giant nickel of Sudbury. Somehow, this is still as impressive as it was when I was a kid and it was fun to revisit it with my own kids who were equally as impressed.img_1532

We spent our first night at Chutes Provincial Park and once set up had a fun evening doing their scavenger hunt, eating dinner at our site and making marshmallows over our campfire. Despite the bear warnings, we managed to avoid those.

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Starting the day right with a cup of coffee

Heading north through Ontario, we knew we had to be a bit more strategic about where we stopped since campgrounds are few and far between. The weather seemed more unsettled further north so we decided to make it a short day and stay about an hour north of Sault Ste. Marie at the beautiful Pancake Bay for our second night. Before we did though, we took our time in the Soo, checking out the locks and the highly recommended Pino’s grocery. At our beautiful site on Pancake Bay, Ella and I hit the lake for a swim. After that experience, all cold water will now be compared to the glacial waters of Lake Superior.

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Pancake Bay
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No trip across Canada is complete without a stop at the Wawa Goose

Our third night was spent in Thunder Bay after driving over the top of Lake Superior and the next morning we didn’t drive far before checking out the impressive Kakabeka Fallsimg_1594

After all that time on the road, we took a break in Winnipeg, settling down at the Fort Garry hotel for a couple of nights. The hotel, in the style of old CP hotels was a pleasant break from the road and we really enjoyed our time in the city. Highlights included hitting the Bridge Drive-In on the way into town, touring the Legislature Building, visiting the Canadian Human Rights Museum and eating dinner at the new Forks Market.

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From Winnipeg, we continued west to my birthplace, Saskatoon. This city is such a beautiful one in the summer with the river valley and the sunset that doesn’t start until 10:30. Even though we didn’t roll into the Gordie Howe Campground (a classic that I last stayed in 20 years ago) until about dinner time we had plenty of time to tour the University, eat a delicious dinner at Primal and enjoy the beautiful views over the river valley. img_1747

Finally, from Saskatoon we made the final push to Edmonton, a quick five-hour jaunt over the beautiful prairie. Despite the length of this overall journey, our impression was that it didn’t feel overly long – our longest day was from Winnipeg to Saskatoon which took a little over 9 hours and this was slowed down by construction outside of Winnipeg. Most other days we were able to limit our driving to about 7 hours at the most and this made for a pretty comfortable pace. img_1755

Places: Summer 2016 Roadtrip

On Saturday, we will leave for our most ambitious roadtrip yet. Last year we tackled Eastern Canada, which you can check out here, but this year we will head west and the 4000km we travelled last year looks pretty easy compared to this year’s task.

Through to Alberta we pretty much have our route set; although the Google Map above doesn’t reflect it, we will actually head through Sault Ste. Marie and follow Lake Superior up to Thunder Bay before passing through Winnipeg, Saskatoon and to Edmonton. On the way back, we are a little undecided as to what route we will take and whether we want to include a large city such as Chicago – this may need to be something we decide as we go.

Although I have done the drive many years ago, I am excited to show the kids the great diversity of landscapes in Canada and I hope we will be able to do that by travelling through the Canadian Shield, the Prairies, the Rockies and the Badlands. I also expect they will gain a new appreciation of the enormity of our great country. The four-hour flight to Edmonton doesn’t translate in the same way.

If anyone has suggestions for ‘must-see’ spots, or ‘must-eat’ restaurants, we’d certainly appreciate your ideas and hopefully we can add to them when we return. If you’d like, follow along with our adventure on Instagram with @uhrblock or on the sidebar of this site.

Places: Montreal, QC

For years it seems we have talked about going to Montreal but because it is so close there has never been any urgency to do so. Planned trips are easy to cancel, other things get in the way or we pass through quickly on our way to somewhere else.

For the first time in five years, we didn’t go to New York City for May Long weekend. You can see posts from some of our previous NYC trips here, here or here. Rather, we took the shorter drive to Montreal to finally make a weekend of it.

Although Old Montreal is the highlight for many people when visiting the city, we wanted to stay in an actual neighbourhood and found a great spot on Airbnb. This place was right on the border between Mile End and Plateau – although not too close to the subway, it was right on a major bus route to downtown and close to lots of great shops and restaurants.

Our first night there, we explored our ‘hood and with beautiful weather we walked a long way (longer than planned), ate some poutine at La Banquise and found some great ice cream at Cremerie Meu Meu.

Our second morning I was up early to hit one of the famous bakeries in the area, Boulangerie Guillaume. This place was incredible; although I arrived at about 7:05, just minutes after they open, the line was already 10 deep and for good reason. There is nothing more appealing to me for breakfast than a wall of pastry. After enjoying our pile of absolutely delicious pastry on the back deck, (order the almond croissants) we took the bus to Old Montreal for the day on Saturday.

We did a good tourist circuit, checking out the Notre Dame, exploring some of the small streets, eating at Jardin Nelson, hanging out in Jacques Cartier square and going down to the Old Port.

After our full tour, we took the subway back at Noah’s request and relaxed on our patio for a couple of hours before a great dinner at a neighbourhood Italian spot, Keste. Finally, we ended our day at the famous Cafe Olympico with some coffee and dessert. Although it has been a lousy spring, we had beautiful weather and made the most of it, eating outside everywhere we went.

On Sunday, we were in no real rush to get going so we went for some more pastries, this time from Cheskie, and some bagels from the famous St. Viateur store. Although the Cheskie had some good babka, it didn’t quite live up to the New York version in our minds.

Upon checking out of our place, we headed up to the top of Mont Royal, the first time I had ever visited it and checked out the beautiful view of the city below. Our last stop on the way out of the city was another Montreal institution, Schwartz’s smoked meat. The meat that is used here to make the sandwiches is fantastic and justifies the line that was out the door.

With our first foray to Montreal in the books, we were happy to have less than a two-hour drive to home and we will certainly look forward to returning soon.

 

Places: Return to NYC

Last weekend I headed down to NYC with my friend Chris for our second weekend of basketball, food and exploration this year.

Despite the three flight cancellations I had to deal with, we had a great time, unexpectedly overlapped in the city with another friend of mine and hit a combination of old favorites and new spots.

On Friday night after the basketball game we headed to The Spotted Pig, the original gastropub. Although the place is half-full of tourists, it is still a good vibe and the food has always been good.  One of my favourite beer bars, Upright Brew House, is just around the corner too so we hit that for a little bit afterwards before getting back to our hotel around 3am. IMG_20160205_225711

The hotel we stayed at was The Box House Hotel in Greenpoint, just north of the uber-trendy Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I’ve always been intrigued by this place and I would say it lived up to expectations. However, it is worth mentioning that right now, it is near nothing. The nearest coffee shop is a couple of blocks away but it is easy to see gentrification coming and the walk to the nearest subway lines is pretty manageable. Within five or ten years I am sure people will be complaining about how much heirloom vegetables cost and that rent is unaffordable. The rooms themselves were pretty cool, with a kitchenette, soaring ceilings and a loft space.  Ours even had a little patio.

 On Saturday, we wandered around Brooklyn a hit before heading into Manhattan. Once there, we went to Biang!, a sit-down outpost of the Xian Famous Foods mini-chain and had noodles. They were so delicious – really one of the best restaurant experiences you could have with a total bill of only $30 for the two of us!

In the afternoon we visited the Museum of the Moving Image. Unbeknownst to me there is actually a huge movie studio out in Queens (Kaufman Studios) and this museum sits right beside it. It was a pretty cool place, although a little random in its collection. At certain points it felt like, ‘well, we have this, let’s just put it out.’  Worth a visit though and way bigger than I expected it to be.

 On Saturday night, we went back to Mission Chinese, another classic. With Danny Bowien seated right next to us, the vibe is still pretty cool although I would challenge anyone to find a less ethnically diverse crowd in any restaurant in NYC. It seems to be the go-to birthday spot now for groups of 30-something white people. Although this place may have jumped the shark a bit although they still put out some pretty delicious food.

On Sunday morning we had a lazy start with coffee in Brooklyn before heading over to Chelsea Market and walking up the High Line around the new Hudson Yards project on the west side of Manhattan. I don’t think there has been a trip to New York I’ve ever made when I haven’t ended up on the High Line at least once, regardless of the season. Although it’s busy, and touristy, it is always enjoyable – particularly on a warm winter day.

Before the basketball game we grabbed a slice at another old favourite, Pizza Suprema, right across the street from MSG.

After the game, we met up with my good friend from university at The Belfry on 14th Street – one of a million cool bars that would be easy to just walk right by.

From there we head to Greenpoint Beer and Ale to watch the Super Bowl and managed to grab the last table there as a couple was just leaving. Although the game was lousy, we enjoyed the good food, beer and atmosphere at this spot.

On Monday morning, after hours on the phone having Air Canada doing nothing for me, we went to a place that is sure to become a new favourite. The Russ and Daughters Cafe is an extension of the famous shop and was simply awesome. It totally lives up to the hype. Although I was somewhat distracted trying to book myself a new flight after mine was cancelled during our meal, the smoked fish cannot be beat.

With so many choices, trips to New York City will never get old. With a combination of classic spots and an endless list of new possibilities it remains an exciting place to explore.