So, it’s been pretty quiet around here for the past few months, once again. And here’s why: My Darling and I got engaged!!! He popped the question all of FOUR days before we left on a two and a half week trip to Poland so he could introduce me to his family over there. The vacation was planned, the engagement was kind of expected, but we were getting so close to our departure date that I honestly was not expecting it anymore. It finally happened though and we are both so, so excited.
Our trip was lovely although quite busy, we changed hotels seven times in eighteen days and saw more pretty much every single family member of my Darling’s still living in Poland. That was a lot of people and a lot of travelling and while Poland is a beautiful country and the food was delicious and I mostly had a good time, I got homesick at one point. The episode, which lasted a few days, was mostly triggered by the fact that I had never traveled to a country where I did not speak the language with enough proficiency to have a conversation. The other part of the trouble I is that we were travelling with a couple we are friends with and being with other people day in and day out can be exhausting. I am not a person who can be around other people 24-7, I just end up going bananas and the male counterpart of the couple we were travelling with eventually got rather annoyed with my moodiness and even got upset with me for not wanting to tag along on an excursion at one point, mostly, I believe, because I darling opted to go back to our lodgings with me. Hence, the title of this post: you can’t make everyone happy all the time. Sometimes, you have to put your own comfort and happiness first, whether it is while traveling or in everyday life. I was tired, I had a headache, I needed some space and I was craving some time alone with my Darling. We got engaged four days before leaving on our vacation, for crying out loud and we had not had an entire day to ourselves since two days before we left! So home we went and to heck with the friend’s grumpiness.
It is also impossible to keep everyone happy while planning a wedding. I’ve been at this for about two months now and have already managed to disappoint one bridesmaid and long time friend by not including her in my first dress shopping expedition and a cousin’s husband by addressing their ‘Save the date’ card to Mrs. Jane David & family (as I do with her Christmas card every year) and not Mrs. Jane & Mr. John Doe & family. I have tried to soothe the friend by explaining that the shop I am going to for my first afternoon of dress hunting only allows a bride to bring three people along and that my mom and best friend (and maid of honor) were no-brainers and that my sister in-law said she wanted to come along too right in front of my brother. I have so many friends who have told me over the years that they absolutely HAVE to come with me the day I go shopping for my wedding dress that I will not possibly be able to bring them all along, so what I have told them is that I will be rotating them in and out while always trying to include my mother and my best friend. I have four bridesmaids and one maid of honor and at least one friend who is not in my bridal party who has insisted on being included in one of my excursions. God help me if I find my dress on my first day out, but what else can I do? I can’t keep everyone happy and if I bring everyone along I will have too many opinions in one go, which I absolutely do not want. I have to think of myself and my sanity.
As for the card, what can say? I did not know my cousin had changed her name after she married and did not know that it was legally allowed in the Province she lived in. Women have not been allowed to change their names upon marriage here in Quebec for years now because it was causing too much paper work. Honest to goodness, my cousin’s husband’s reaction didn’t bother me nearly as much as her telling my aunt about it and my aunt telling my mother about it and then my aunt asking my mom to write Mrs. Jane & Mr. John Doe & family on their wedding invitation. I would have much preferred my cousin to contact me directly, but I have not hear a word from her. I am therefore left wondering if my cousin was so very bothered by the incident or if it was just her husband who for some reason overreacted to the save the date card when he had never said a word about any of the other mail I sent. You can’t make everyone happy, you really can’t. I cannot imagine the scenes that will be caused by the eventual seating plans, but ultimately, the wedding is my Darling and I’s day and anyone who tries to rain on our parade is the one with the issue, not us. Someone will complain about the cake, someone else will complain about the music and my dress will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I just don’t care. What does matter is that my Darling and I’s wedding pleases us. Of course I want our guests to have an awesome time at our wedding and I will do everything in my power to ensure that they do, but I refuse to believe that a bridesmaid will have less fun at the wedding because she didn’t come dress shopping with me or that my cousin’s husband will spend the evening sulking because one day, about nine months before the wedding he got a card with his wife’s maiden name on it instead of his and he didn’t feel included in the word ‘family’.
The bottom line is, folks, being kind is important, being thoughtful and respectful towards others is important, but being kind, thoughtful and respectful to yourself is important as well.If you are making everyone except yourself happy, then you are ultimately doing yourself more harm than good.
As you have probably noticed, I’ve been out of the look since I last wrote to you about our woes with our new downstairs neighbors. They have not gone away and neither has the mental exhaustion caused by the situation. Many times over the pas few months I have found myself dreaming of packing up and moving to an isolated corner of anywhere but here. It would be quite easy to do and no one would ever find me. My name is so common that I wouldn’t even have to change it in order to never be found, even by the aforementioned pesky neighbors should they decide to attempt to hunt me down. That would be a cowardly thing to do though and highly inconvenient for My Darling who is quite attached to his job and his family (it’s not that I’m not attached to my folks, we’re just not even nearly as tight-knit as My Darling’s family is). He did, however, manage to whisk me away to Quebec City with him for a few days when he went there to attend a conference at the beginning of the month, which did me a great deal of good and allowed me to get my creative juices flowing. Then, when we got back, miracle of miracles, Spring appeared and I have been able to spend increasing amounts of time outside. The leaves are all out, the flowers are blooming, I planted my flowers and bought our strawberry plant and I am looking slightly less pasty. Phew…the work downstairs should finally be done next week, which is an excellent thing because I am becoming less and less tolerant of the group of loud, cigarette smoking, belching, cursing men who show up every morning at 7:00 and are present until the end of the afternoon. I want my quiet home back, I to not have to worry about parking in my own driveway for fear of puncturing my tires on a nail or being trapped in my parking space by a delivery of sheet rock or some worker’s pickup truck. For crying out loud, we found a worker’s discarded t-shirt in our parking space this morning! Ugh…Anyhow, I thought one of my ‘Taking Stock’ posts would be a good way for us to catch up and hopefully I will be able to get my creative juices flowing freely enough once things calm down to come back with another post soon. In the mean time though, you can head over to my photography blog Old Orchard Photography for more about my trip to Quebec and to see a few more of the photos I took there.
Enjoying: being able to walk out the door without having to pile on more layers than an onion. Listening: to The Merry Widow on CBC Radio 2. Wearing: my GAP striped sundress. I bought it at an outlet store in Las Vegas last Spring and it is my go-to dress as soon as the warm weather rolls around. It is just as comfy as a pair of pajamas, but completely appropriate to wear out around town as well!
Making: time for myself.
Cooking: Korean burgers for My Darling and his friend when they get back from their bike ride. Drinking:Iced tea made with our Fortnum and Mason teas. We just emptied our jug of Irish Breakfast and I’m going to ice some Countess Grey next. Feeling: relieved that the renovations downstairs are finally almost finished. Reading: ‘Her Majesty: 60 Regal Years’ by Brian Hoey, the first biography of The Queen I have ever read and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I have also recently torn through Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ as I mentioned in my previous post and Camilla Gibb’s ‘This is Happy’ which I highly recommend.
Looking:forward to my vacation in Poland with My Darling next month. Wishing:we still had a deaf lady in her 70s for a downstairs neighbor. Boy, do we ever miss Mrs. L. Liking: eating breakfast with My Darling on the back terrace under our red parasol on weekends. Waiting: for the next bunch of strawberries growing on our plant to ripen.
Snacking: on dark chocolate raspberry Lärabars Coveting:some Prince Edward Island therapy. I would wish for August to come quickly, but I want Summer to drag on for ages! Hearing: no construction noise, praise God. Learning: to not let myself be intimidated by bullies.
Loving: how My Darling has been perking up since he has been able to take his bike out for long rides again. Watching: not much, really! It’s been far too nice out to watch TV. Admiring: nature, it’s amazing how quickly things start growing and blooming when the warm weather finally settles in! Getting: ready to make my first batch of homemade ice cream of the season! It’s going to be matcha, made with this recipe
Wondering: when I’ll have time to go shopping before our vacation. Playing: piano when I can, which is not often. Racket downstairs = not conducive to learning a new instrument. Noticing: how badly I needed my week off two weeks ago to ground myself. Giggling: over My Darling’s waddle when he walks around in his cycling shoes.
Bookmarking: by folding the corners of the pages of the books I read. I don’t spend enough time online to bookmark sites lol Deciding: on where we’re going to stay in Warsaw. Hoping: for less drama in my life Contemplating:jogging with a group of our local Running Room store when we get back from vacation.
Wanting: a new pair of running capris, I noticed several holes in my favorite pair when I got in from my jog on Thursday… Thinking: about my dad a lot recently and how happy I am that the lupins I planted in front of his grave three years ago are finally going to flower! Knowing: that my father would be proud of how I’ve handled the difficult situation with our new neighbors so far. Opening: my heart to as much kindness from others as I can in order to heal myself from the unkindness I have suffered recently.
Feeling: energized and positive for the first time in months. Marveling: at how warm, sunny weather can help turn peoples moods around within a matter of days.
With all the work going on at our downstairs neighbors and all the time I’ve been spending outside the house and trying to unwind at the end of the day, I’ve been doing more reading than usual lately. The book I finished most recently in Jan-Philipp Sendker’s ‘The Art of Hearing Heartbeats’. It is part love story, part mystery and a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable read. It is also a great way to be transported into a part of the World that is completely different from my corner of the planet since most of the events take place in Burma. A trip outside my town is just what the doctor ordered these days and the book is so well written that I could nearly feel the thick, muggy Burmese air and smell the spices from the food described in the book while I was reading it.
Since finishing Sendker’s book, I have moved on to Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear’. I didn’t know that Elizabeth Gilbert had a new book out until I came across a Tweet about it on the feed of a food blogger I follow and it immediately went onto my list of books to purchase. I will admit to having trouble letting my guard down when writing and so far Gilbert’s book has been slowly helping me to let go of that, which is a good thing because I don’t get nearly as much content onto my two blogs as I could, plagued as I am by self-doubt and dogged by a fear of what anyone who knows me will think of both my writing and photographic abilities. As a child and teenager I was nothing but one big ball of creativity. I sang and danced every day like no one was watching me, I drew and painted and sculpted without inhibition, I even made jewelry for my mom and as a teenager I would churn our pages and pages of short stories every single day. Then I had a few setbacks in my creative endeavors and I stopped creating until I got my first blog going back in 2009. I blogged and snapped photos steadily until my father got sick and passed away. His death really knocked the stuffing out of me and I turned out almost nothing for two years until I started writing here. I am hoping that ‘Big Magic’ will continue to help me trust my creative abilities a bit more every day and I recommend it to all of you, my fellow bloggers, whether you have trouble embracing your creativity or not, because it is worth the read just to soak up Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful, unguarded writing style.
On another note, the work at our downstairs neighbors place continues, as does the noise and the discovery of hidden faults with our own house (hello, shoddily braced up rotten joists under our bathtub that if not found might have resulted in an embarrassing, costly situation where our tub might have ended up on top of the downstairs tub, hopefully when both were unoccupied). Oh and the slip-ups by the workers downstairs that generally involve the cutting or removal of wires presumed dead which are actually live and connected to our entryway lights or alarm system *sigh*. I told my Darling last night that if I could have, I would have bought a plane ticket right that moment and flown the heck out of here today and not come back until I was well and properly unwound, but I can’t do that. I can’t leave him here to deal with all of this mess by himself, it just wouldn’t be fair, no matter how sick of all this and exhausted I am. I just have to keep telling myself that each day of work that gets done downstairs brings us one day closer to the end of this whole noisy fiasco and keep mentally transporting myself to my happy place, Prince Edward Island. Sometimes my memories of our time there last Summer are the only things that keep me sane.
As you know, I enjoy doing these taking stock posts four times per year, it is a practice I picked up from fellow blogger Ashley over at Sed Bona. This will be my third post of this kind and I really look forward to doing them! Fell free to do some taking stock of your own and if you do, please let me know!
Enjoying: going over and over all the photos I took during My Darling and I’s little four day trip to Chicago last week! I’ve included two of them in this post and if you want to see more of them, go check out my photography blog and feel free to give it a like and a follow! Listening: to Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B Minor. Wearing: my incredibly comfy Wilfred Free top, it’s just like PJs without being PJs, you can see a selection of Wilfred Free tops here. Making: another scarf for myself. It’s slow going, but I will have it done by next winter! Cooking: a chocolate orange cake for dessert with some friends tomorrow, recipe here. Drinking: protein packed smoothies for lunch. Feeling: better than I have since January, finally!!! Reading: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker Looking: for a blue clutch. I have nothing but black clutches and I would love to have a more cheerfully colored one. Wishing: my IT band would stop acting up so I can get back to running. Liking: how much stronger the sun is getting, it’s putting a bit of warmth into our Winter Days! Waiting: for 19-2 to start up again, it’s one of our favorite TV shows and we miss it! Snacking: on Chèbrie in other words Brie made with goat’s milk 🙂 Sorry, dear American readers, but you can’t have any! I’ll get arrested if I try to send you some, I kid you not! Coveting: A Kitchenaid stand mixer and have been for ages! Hearing: the soothing, bubbling sound of water spilling out of my aquarium’s filter into the tank. Learning: to play the piano thanks to My Darling. Loving: Google Play, all the music ever created is at my fingertips and the lion’s share of it is completely free! Watching: David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy on YouTube, because I can’t get it anywhere else unfortunately. Admiring: My Darling’s efforts to better balance his personal and work life. Getting: nervous about all the renovations our neighbors want to do, noise and dust! Joy! Wondering: when and where we are going to take our Summer vacation. Playing: Piano Tiles 2, it is ridiculously addictive. Noticing: that Quinn is getting cuddly in her old age! Giggling: over Quinn chasing a bug. Bookmarking: nothing lately. Deciding: where to hang the painting My Darling got me for my birthday. He says bedroom, I say dining room. Hoping: that my cake is going to taste as good as it smells! Contemplating: ways to make a bit of extra money through my photography. Wanting: the freezing rain to stop falling outside before the city ends up looking like this again:
Thinking: I’m ready for dinner. Knowing: my dinner will not make itself and delivery is not an option in this weather! Opening: a bottle of wine so I can enjoy a glass or two while waiting for My Darling to come home from his conference. Feeling: very accomplished, it has been a productive day! Marveling: at how much more in control and organized I have been feeling lately.
Okay, so if I wasn’t conscious of the fact that long titles are a drag, this post would be entitled ‘The Day I (Finally) Heard the Choir of King’s College in Person and Was Pretty Sure I Had Died and Gone to Heaven’, or something like that, because oh my gosh this choir…words cannot describe how incredibly talented this group of boys, sixteen of them, aged between 8 and 13 and young men, fourteen undergraduate students at King’s College, typically aged between 18 and 22, are.The choir has existed since the foundation of King’s College by King Henry VI in 1441 and to this day their main task is to sing during the daily services held in the college chapel. If you want to read more about the choir, you can visit their site here which is also a good place to listen to recordings of the choir.
How did I hear about these boys and become so entranced by them you may be wondering? It happened while I was working at the Classical department of the HMV store on Ste.Catherine Street in Downtown Montreal when I was in University, which was honest to goodness one of the best jobs I ever had, I think I actually enjoyed it more than being a tour guide, because while I love my job, I’ve been obsessed with Classical music ever since I can remember. My parents didn’t force me into it, I just remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom one day when I was little, fiddling with the dial and landing on CBC Radio 2, which was all Classical at the time and I got hooked. My mom used to brag about it, like ‘Hey, my kid sits there for hours listening to Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, what does yours do?’. I’ve been passionate about music ever since then, so naturally, when I was job hunting during my first year in university and HMV had seasonal openings I dropped off my CV and wrote down on the application form that I wanted to work in the Classical department. Not many people asked to work up there, except for people who mistakenly thought that ‘Classical’ meant Elvis and the Beatles, so I got the job in the blink of an eye and with that, the free run of the department and employee pricing on every single album and DVD in the entire store. Ask me how I ended up with hundreds of CDs in my house and I will tell you no lies. It was while working in the department that I picked up my first recording of the choir’s, ‘Heavenly Voices’ and I thought they were pretty darn good, so I then bought their 2000 recording of ‘Carols form King’s’ on DVD and boom, I was hooked and then some. Hearing the choir on a compilation CD was one thing, but to hear and see one single formation (the choir changes a bit every year when new boys and men enter and leave) is absolutely divine and of course, the chapel itself is drop dead gorgeous, especially when the boys sing by candlelight.
From the time I watched that DVD making it to Cambridge to see the choir sing in person was on my bucket list, so when booked a ticket to London in the first week of December last year, I made darn sure that the choir would be singing during my time in the UK so I could go over to Cambridge and hear them because there was no way I was flying back across the Atlantic without having seen them. My Darling who, funnily enough, was part of Montreal’s most famous boys’ choir, Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal for their full eight year program, barely knew about the choir and was less than keen to hop on a train for a day trip outside of London when he was only going to be there for four days since he was coming to join me after visiting family in Poland. I insisted that he would regret it his entire life if he didn’t come with me to Cambridge though and he skeptically agreed and I bought us two tickets. We spent the day visiting the town on our own and then with a tour guide and Cambridge was everything I had imagined it would be and more.
After our guided tour, my Darling and I popped into a cafe our guide had recommended to us, Fitzbillies, which is famous for its Chelsea buns. They were unfortunately out of them by the time we got there, but their amazing ganache based hot chocolate and warm, moist scones more than made up for that!
After our snack, it was finally time to head over the King’s College for Evensong.
I was worried there might be a massive lineup, but it was a quiet day and one of the locals reassured me that there was room for the entire town in the chapel. I was skeptical, but when I got inside, I saw that he was right, although about half the townspeople would have been on the rear side of the choir screen and would not have been able to the choir. The sight of the chapel on the inside is absolutely breathtaking. It is much larger than what I had imagined from the photos and videos I had seen of it, especially in terms of its height and the fan vaulting on the ceiling is absolutely amazing. Finally, the choir filed it and as soon as they began to sing, I got goosebumps and teared up and promptly looked up at the ceiling to keep myself from crying like an idiot. As for my darling, I looked over at him and saw that he was listening to the boys sing with his eyes closed, a very good sign indeed. After the service ended, as my Darling and I were walking to the train station to head back to London, he thanked me for convincing him to come along on our day trip and he has since become just as much of a King’s groupie as I am. We left the town with the most recent ‘Carols from King’s’ DVD, which is of the choir’s 2013 Nine Lessons and Carols service as well as the Choir’s recording of Fauré’s Requiem. The CD has been in our CD player ever since. Don’t worry, we don’t listen to it on a loop, it’s a five disk changer! One thing is for sure though, when my Darling needs help relaxing after a particularly stressful day at work, he puts on his headphones and listens to it.
If you’re interested in discovering the Choir of King’s College, I highly recommend that you start out by listening to their ‘Favorite Carols from King’s album and if you enjoy it, you should move on to Evensong Live 2015, which is a pretty good sampling of sacred choral music throughout history. I also highly, highly recommend that you watch the documentary below about the choir and all the preparations that surround their annual BBC broadcast of Carols from King’s since it gives a very good glimpse into the daily lives of the choristers and the history of the choir and finally, I’m also including a clip of the choir singing one of my favorite contemporary carols of theirs, The Shepherd’s Carol, which was composed for the choir by a former chorister, Bob Chilcott.
Here I am, back with my second PEI vacation post! Being the foodie that I am and since the first thing most people wonder about a place they visit is where they can get some great food, I will be focusing on my favorite places to eat in PEI. I hope you like seafood, because that is what most of these places feature, but fear not! Even though Islanders are big on eating local and seasonal and a big part of their income comes from the sea, all the restaurants I will be writing about here also offer burgers, steak and sometimes pasta and they all offer salad. Because hey, not everyone enjoys fish and lobster, right?
First off, if you are looking for the best lobster rolls in Prince Edward Island, do like me and make your first stop on the Island the Water Prince Corner Shop in Charlottetown! I have made it an ongoing mission to try as many lobster rolls as I can in PEI and have yet to find better ones. The Water Prince’s potato salad is to die for as well! And yes, the shop really is on the corner of Water and Prince, it is blue with white trim around the windows, you can’t miss it!
The second place I took my Darling to eat in PEI was Rick’s Fish ‘n’ Chips in St-Peter’s. This place was featured on Canada’s The Food Network’s ‘You Gotta Eat Here’ for a reason: their fish and chips are amazing! Rick’s batter is light and not greasy and the fish always stays nice and tender. Another plus about this place is its location. The town of St-Peter’s is built around St-Peter’s Bay and Rick’s is right in the bend of the road that curves around it, which makes for some lovely views!
Now, before I continue on to the next restaurant, a small note about beer on the Island. As I mentioned earlier, the inhabitants of PEI take great pride in eating local. This applies to their beer drinking habits as well. Unless you go to a large British or Irish pub in Charlottetown such as the Churchill Arms (also featured on ‘You Gotta Eat Here’, do not expect to be served anything other than PEI ale, usually either Beach Chair Lager or Gahan when it is in season. I am not a big beer drinker, but my Darling knows his way around it quite well and he preferred Gahan. So this is fair warning if you love your Guiness, Labatt, Molson or whatever: bring it with you.
Now, back to Charlottetown! We ended up staying in town for two nights for our anniversary. The first evening was our actual anniversary and my Darling treated me to dinner at Fishbones Oyster Bar & Grill. Fishbones was my choice because I was dying for oysters and Fishbones did not disappoint, presenting us with a platter of four oysters, two Raspberry Points and two Malpeques. Malpeques are my all-time favourite oysters and I would gladly have shoveled away a dozen, but I decided to wait until we were actually in Malpeque to binge on them!
Our most pleasant surprise during our time in PEI was the raspberry cordial we decided to try when we visited Green Gables. This was my Darling’s idea. During all my visits to PEI I avoided this stuff like the Plague, because it look like it would more than likely be far too sweet for my sensitive Canadian taste-buds, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The drink was just sweet enough and pleasantly refreshing, so if you like carbonated water with a twist, don’t be afraid to try this fun little drink! It can be found all over the Island.
Next, my Darling and I indulged in a little treat: afternoon at Dalvay By The Sea! I’m a bit of an Anglophile and am a stickler for afternoon tea done right and Dalvay absolutely lived up to my expectations. They serve up tea every day as of 2:00 P.M. and you get everything you see on our tea tier plus all the tea you can drink for 55$ for two! Do make sure you call and book ahead though, especially on the weekend as they can fill up fast! Also, please note that Dalvay By The Sea is inside the Brackley-Dalvay section of PEI National Park, so you will have to pay the Park’s entrance fee to get there. You can find more information about the Park and its fees here.
Our last memorable culinary stop was in Malpeque at the absolutely delightful Malpeque Oyster Barn. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take any pictures of beautiful Malpeque Harbour or the restaurant because it was pouring buckets the evening we were there, the only significant rain we saw during our entire two-week vacation. But trust when I say this: if you love oysters, this is the place for you. Malpeque oysters have a beautiful, sharp flavour to them that makes them instantly recognizable and this place serves them fresh, like 24-48 hours out of the water fresh, every single day. Absolute and total ecstasy if you love oysters like I do, even my Darling who was on the fence regarding oysters before our vacation was converted to the beginner level of oyster loving by these guys. Naturally, the Oyster Barn does not serve only oysters. My Darling enjoyed quite a nice lobster roll there and I loved their fish cakes, which were made with fresh fish and another PEI staple: mashed potatoes. Because if there is one thing you have to taste aside from the seafood in PEI, it is their potatoes!
Now, a few pointers about eating in PEI:
1- You are not in the big city. Planning on eating out anywhere on the Island any later than 8:00 P.M. is a big risk. This is because PEI is all rural. The biggest city there is Charlottetown and its population is approximately 35 000. The kitchen at the Fishbones is the latest closing one I know of and it closes at 10:00 P.M.
2- You will more than likely be staying at least a 20 minute drive away from the nearest grocery store if you are staying in a cottage, so plan your meals ahead so you won’t have to go to the grocery store more than once a week. Keep an eye out for the nearest gas station with a Needs convenience store attached to it, they have all the essentials in a pinch, but keep in mind that it might be at least 10 kms away from your place.
3- Keep it casual. PEI is a very laid back place, so you will not be needing any super fancy clothes to eat out, not even for afternoon tea at Dalvay. The only dress code on PEI is that you must be wearing a shirt, pants and shoes for service, meaning you will not be served if you show up abrefoot in your bathing suit. Yup, they really post this on the entrance to shops and restaurants, because most people who eat out or go shopping in the Summer are tourists who are either coming from, or heading out to the beach.
4- If you’re in a hurry, don’t be. Island restaurants pride themselves on serving their food fresh, so if you’re in a rush, head to the Water Prince for a lobster roll. That’s the only place where I have consistently been able to order and eat in under a half-hour because they keep their lobster salad so handy. Otherwise, plan on being in any eatery for at least an hour.
Earlier this month, my Darling and I took a one week vacation to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Vegas was quite the experience, but the Grand Canyon is really what took the cake for us, so let me begin with telling you this: the worst mistake you can make when going to Vegas is to not plan enough time to rent a car and drive out to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Secondly, let me warn you about flying with Air Canada Rouge on any flight longer than three and a half hours. What you may have read about them is true: the seats in their planes are thin and narrow and they do not incline. Also, be aware that if you are seated a few rows in front of the wing on their Boeing 767, you may end up in a row with no windows, even if you have paid to select your seat in advance and a window is shown on the seating plan!!! I am an okay flyer as a rule. I used to hate it, but got over my fear of flying a few years ago. One thing I have not gotten over, however, is my claustrophobia so my darling and I always select our seats in advance when we fly to make sure we are seated together and that I have a window to sit by. Lo and behold, when we got to our seats I found myself sitting next to nothing but the wall of the plane. That did not go over well at all. The windowless seat coupled with the cramped quarters and the fact that the flight took off at 7:30 in the morning, which meant we had to wake up at 4:00 A.M. to be at the airport for 5:00 A.M., and then could only sleep by opening our tray tables and laying our heads down on our crossed arms made for a very long, miserable flight. My darling’s opinion is still that he would rather take a direct, yet grossly uncomfortable flight on Rouge rather than a connecting, more comfortable flight with WestJet or Delta. My opinion is that I would rather spend an hour connecting through Atlanta or Toronto before getting on a long-haul Rouge flight ever again. You have been warned and I have only touched the tip of the iceberg with my complaints regarding this airline.
Thankfully, once we made it to Vegas for the first leg of our vacation, things went very well. Our first home in Vegas was the Venetian Hotel and Resort. There is nothing but suites at the Venetian and they are very, very comfortable. Their pool is lovely, there is some amazing, if pricey shopping in their mall and the decoration is very well done without being too kitschy. The one thing that was a bit too much for our taste was the opera singing gondoliers in the artificial Grand Canal.
Our second home in Vegas was the Paris Hotel and Resort. We were not as impressed with this hotel as we were with the Venetian. The feel of the place was different, the staff did not seem as happy and the guests were not as laid back. Also, being french speakers, we were disappointed in the lack of effort the developers had put into the French signs in the hotel. It all just looked so fake compared to what we had seen in the Venetian. We were also quite disappointed by the pool, which was in the shade until 11:00 P.M. and the fact that the towels and deck chairs were very worn out. We were expecting the Paris to be a notch below the Venetian, but it turned out to be more of a big step down. We got very good deals on both resorts since we booked weeknight stays at both and the Paris was less expensive, but not that much cheaper that we were expecting such a big difference in quality between the two establishments. If ever you have to choose between these two resorts, I would definitely recommend you spend a bit more and stay at the Venetian, especially if you can get a bed and breakfast deal like we did.
Our main mission in Vegas was to visit as many of the resorts there are we could and our favorites, aside from the Venetian, were the Cosmopolitan because of the modern chic decoration and the clientèle, the Wynn because of its decor and the Cherry on the Sundae was the Bellagio. If you only have time to visit one resort outside of your own in Vegas, make it the Bellagio. It’s decor is elegant without being overdone and Chihuly’s Fiori di Como and the indoor garden are a dream. We went to the Bellagio four times in the five days we were in Vegas and still were not tired of it after leaving it on our last night in town, so we were thrilled when we managed to snag a table on the terrace at the restaurant across the street from it for our dinner so we could take in more of its fabulous fountain shows. There are 30 different fountain shows set to music in the large artificial lake, so make sure you can stay for several or that you make a few trips back to the resort to catch as many of them as possible. You can find more information about the fountains and the schedule of shows here.
Some other great attractions in Vegas are the volcano at the mirage, which erupts every half hour as of 5:00 P.M. and the bird sanctuary at the Flamingo Resort and Hotel. We visited the bird sanctuary twice and went to see the Mirage volcano three times, which is the number of visits that were necessary in order for us to get a good view. Take that as a fair warning, the Volcano is very popular! As for the bird sanctuary, it is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you have young children.
As for shopping in Vegas, there is something for every budget. You will find high-end to Haute-Couture labels in the malls at the Bellagio, the Venetian and Ceasar’s Palace and a mix of high-end and regular labels at the Fashion Show mall and Las Vegas North Outlets. Fashion Show is massive though, so make sure you know exactly where your store is before you go so you don’t get discouraged looking for it!
On a foodies note, it is very easy to find good food in Vegas, which I was very happy about. Our favorite restaurant was by far Mon Ami Gabi, which is housed in the Paris resort and is where we snagged that terrace table across from the Bellagio. The food, drinks and service were impeccable and the ambiance was lovely It was a very fitting end to our Vegas vacation and well worth the 45 minute wait. If you don’t want to have to put up with a long wait for your table, make sure you book one ahead of time! We also enjoyed Spago at Ceasar’s Palace which is at the shops level. Be aware that if you have sensitivities like me and cannot tolerate too much grease, get hives from high fructose corn syrup or are allergic to MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), you will be looking at about 35$ per person per meal. It is worth the price though, because this was the first time in ages that I made through an entire vacation in the States without a single hive or serious digestive upset. The only other places in the US where I have been able to pull off such a feat in recent years are NYC and Vermont!
We stayed in Vegas from Wednesday to Friday and on Friday morning picked up our rental car so we could start our journey to the Grand Canyon. Our first stop was the Hoover Dam, which my Darling, being a civil engineer, was very eager to visit. We were planning on taking the guided tour to be able to enjoy the dam to its fullest, but nixed that plan when we found out that the tour cost 30$ US per person, which we found excessive. We settled for walking from one side of the dam to the other and that turned out to be plenty.
From the dam we drove to Flagstaff, Arizona and took a veer off the most direct route in order to drive down Route 66 part of the way. The drive from Vegas to Flagstaff is quite easy since most of it is in a straight line through the desert, but I would not recommend doing it at night since there are no street lamps.
We made it to Flagstaff around 7:00 P.M. and left for our day trip to the Grand Canyon the following morning after breakfast. Words cannot describe how amazing the Grand Canyon is. I would definitely recommend staying in the National Park if you can. We would have loved to, but their hotel, The Yuvapai Lodge, was fully booked for the weekend we were in the area. Also, do not make the mistake staying at the viewpoints nearest to the park entrance. Go for a walk, the view of the Canyon changes constantly. You should also try to hike down a little if you can, but be forwarned: it is not for the faint of heart. There are no railings along the side of the trail and the further down you go, the steeper and narrower the trail gets. We did not go down very far because I am afraid of heights to a certain degree. We were also short on time and it is much harder hiking up the canyon than it is to hike down due to the change in altitude. Another important note: keep an eye on the weather. Just because it is sunny and warm when you get to the Grand Canyon does not mean it is going to stay that way. The weather went from sunny and warm when we arrive to stormy, to back to sunny and warm to back to stormy and then cool and clear with the seven hours we were at the park. Bring a sweater, hat, water, sunscreen and snack food and most of all, obey the signage in the park. If a sign says to keep off a ledge, do, and when they say you will die if you try to hike down to the bottom of the canyon and up again in one day, they mean it. You can read this article for more about the dangers of the canyon, but please, don’t let it stop you from going, there is absolutely no more risk in visiting the Grand Canyon than any other place as long as you’re smart about it.
On an ending note, here are a few pointers about visiting Vegas and the Grand Canyon
-Go to Vegas with an open mind. You will see anything and everything there from Conservative Christians yelling through a megaphone that everyone else in Vegas besides them are sinners and need to be saved to very, very scantily clad women who will only pose for a picture with people if they pay them.
-There are people on the sidewalk everywhere trying hand out cards for escort agencies. They will hand out their cards to anyone.
-If cheap show tickets in Vegas seem too good to be true, they are. Only get your show tickets through your resort or the resort where the show is or you will be roped into a timeshare promotional meeting.
-Visit Vegas from Sunday to Thursday, keep out on weekends if you do not want to see all kinds of craziness. We got back from the Grand Canyon on a Sunday evening and saw the Weekend’s leftovers and it was not pretty. Also, rates for hotel rooms in Vegas go sky-high on weekends whereas there are a proliferation of deals to be had on weekdays.
-Expect a few disruptions in your hotel at night. There was a bit of a rowdy crowd in our hallway at 5:00 A.M. at the Venetian on our first night and a guy banging away on the door to the room across from ours at the Paris on the Sunday night we got back. These disturbances never last for long because believe me, someone will call security before you even think to do it and they tone things down very quickly.
-It’s Vegas, if you want a very relaxing vacation, go elsewhere.
-Visit the Grand Canyon while you are in the Vegas area or you will regret not doing it for the rest of your days. The drive is easy and rental cars are dirt cheap in Vegas.
-Drive to and from the Grand Canyon by two different routes to enjoy the varied scenery around the canyon.
-Do not drive out of Grand Canyon National Park after dark, the road is very curvy and there are no street lamps. One wrong turn and you’ll end up over the rim, even during the day some parts of the drive in the park are not for the nervous driver. Take your time, keep your eyes on the road and slow down around curves.
-Watch out for wildlife and distracted tourists when driving.
-Both in Vegas and at the Grand Canyon, be prepared to put up with selfie-stick wielding tourists, there are a proliferation of them.