Category Archives: Trips and Experiences

Connecting spiritually with Japan at Ise Jingu

Welcome to the Ise Grand Shrine, also know as Jingu.  Without planning it, the visit to this very spiritual place ended up being one of the best highlights of a recent trip to Japan.

Jingu is located in the city of Ise, in Mie prefecture.  This is a massive complex of shrines spread out over 5500 hectares of land filled with the calming greenery of ancient forests.  Geku and Naiku are the two main shrines and the principal reason thousands of japanese make the pilgrimage to Ise.

I was fortunate to visit during the Shikinen Sengu (Year of Renewal) ceremony which occurs every 20 years and in which the old shrine is dismantled only to be build on an adjacent site.  It was wonderful to see the simpleness and humbleness of the japanese devotion to Shinto.  No matter what religious belief one might have, Ise Jingu is the perfect place to connect with your spiritual side while getting in touch with nature and its greatness.

If you are planning a visit to Japan please add this to your list…I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

For more information on the Shinto religion and Ise Jingu please visit http://www.isejingu.or.jp/shosai/english/index.htm

Mata ne!

Happy 2014 in Japan – A new year for the soul and the senses

Many around the world celebrated the new year with bells and whistles, champagne, and fireworks.  In Japan on the other hand, the New Year’s festivities are more about connecting with nature, getting in touch with the past, preserving tradition, eating meaningful food, and enjoy the majesty of nature.  It is a serene and discrete way to welcome the year ahead and an experience  I am fortunate to have live through.  Visiting the shrines at Fujinomiya and Ise, eating a delightful Osechi-Ryori with loved ones, and witnessing the first sunrise of the year over the Pacific Ocean, are all unforgettable experiences that can only be a great sign of things to come in the year that begins.  So in the words of the japanese “Akimashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”.

http://www.ise-kanko.jp/english/

http://www.city.fujinomiya.shizuoka.jp/kokusai/english.htm

http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/01/03/【japanese-culture】the-meaning-behind-osechi-ryori-traditional-new-years-food-in-japan/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirako,_Chiba

Citi Biking the Big Apple

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When one thinks of visiting New York City, one of the first things that come to mind is how to get around this populous urban centre, and how to do it in the most practical way so as to enjoy all the excitement the Big Apple is famous for.  One option is to ride the subway.  It is fast, affordable, convenient, and can get you pretty much anywhere worth seeing.  However, being underground prevents you from experiencing the hassle and bustle of the city.  Another option is to walk around the eclectic and exhilarating neighbourhoods often showcased in many hollywood films.  Walking around town you can people-watch, window-shop until you drop, and take as long as you feel it is necessary to discover its charm.  Although this is one of the most popular ways to venture around NYC, it is a bit time consuming and not very practical if you are in town for just a few days.

A third option which until recently seemed to be reserved for locals (…or daredevils), is biking.  At first, it might feel like a very risky proposition for a city like New York, but if you can get your head around biking along side hectic traffic, having the bike lane blocked by every imaginable obstacle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzE-IMaegzQ), or sweating it up on your vacation, this is one of the most thrilling experiences that NYC has to offer and a very fun way to get around while basking in on the endless beauty. Biking around the wide streets of New York you will enjoy gazing at the historic buildings, being surrounded by the collage of skyscrapers, coming up close to the diversity of the people and the neighbourhoods.   While on a bike, you will be able to hop on and off easily, get lost in Central Park, and visit the Union Square farmers’ market along the way. Riding down the iconic 5th avenue or over the cobblestone streets, you will feel part of the city and its magic.

If you are sold on the idea, you should consider renting a “Citi Bike”…

Citi Bike is a bike sharing system that provides an easy and affordable option to get around the city.  Renting a Citi Bike for 24hrs will set you back $9.95 plus tax.  This fee includes an unlimited amount of 30-minute trips on a rugged and easy-to-use blue bike.  If you keep your rides within the time limit you will not pay a penny more, but if you take longer, overtime charges will apply.  You can pick-up and drop-off the Citi Bike at any of the 330 locations around the city;  definitely a very convenient service.

So next time you are in the Big Apple, why not let your wild side take over?  Hop on a bike and experience NYC like the locals do.  Many thrills await so enjoy…and share your experience, let me know what you think about biking in NYC.

For more information on the Citi Bike system you can visit  http://citibikenyc.com/how-it-works

Summer days in the Land of Green Gables

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After 15 years of living in Canada, I figured it was finally time to grab my backpack and my camera and head out to the East Coast of this vast and beautiful land.    For some time now, I have been determined to get out of the comfort zone – Ontario and explore the many other to-be-discovered places that the land of the Maple Leaf and the Moose has to offer.

With the car all packed-up and ready to go, my girlfriend (traveling confidant) and I embarked on a week-long road trip to the east coast…final destination, Prince Edward Island (PEI).  With our expectations high, our minds imagining dishes full of oysters and fresh lobsters, and our butts unprepared for 2 days of driving, we were set to experience the PEI way of life.

From the moment we got on the Confederation Bridge, I knew we were in for quite a treat.  Crossing the Abegweit Passage onto the Island, felt like entering a faraway and imaginary place.  But there was nothing imaginary about were we had arrived…PEI was now real.  I loved the freshness in the air and all the greenery that surrounded us.  You read correctly…GREENERY!  Not only is PEI surrounded by water but it is also full of hilly fields and lots of agriculture.

On the first day on the Island we headed straight to the beach at Rice Point to check off “clam digging” from our to-do list.  At Rice Point we confirmed why PEI is recognized for its red sand and long beaches.  As the tide pulled back, it gave way to the best spot on the beach to catch dinner.  A dip in salty waters and a couple of hours later….a dozen clams ready for dinner!  The tide started to rise and we had just enough time to head back to safety as the red sand disappeared back into the ocean.  The day activities also included a quick visit around  Charlottetown to get a refresher on canadian history and the first settlements back in the day, and a drive around 9-mile Creek where we discovered that life as an Islander has a lot to do with working on the land and being self-sustainable.

For the second day, our friend and local tour guide, Natalie took us to the Penderosa Cottages (www.penderosacottages.ca) for a glimpse of the North Shore way of life.  On the way to the North Shore we had to stop at the birth place of Anne of Green Gables and visit L.M’s Montgomery’s home.  You definitely feel like you are a part of the story when driving through the hills and creeks.  At the cottages we had the pleasure of meeting the Pendergasts, a very sweet couple and the proud Islanders who have made the Penderosa land what it is today.   We couldn’t leave this land without some apple picking, swimming in the Atlantic ocean, and cooking up fresh lobster and oysters bought straight from a local fisherman near by.

As our stay on PEI came to an end, I could not help it and felt a bit nostalgic.   This is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have visited in the world and one to which I will go back.  If you are thinking about making this trip I highly recommend taking more time off then we did and stay for at least a full week.  Two days was not enough to see everything this island has to offer.

Until next time PEI!

A Day in the County

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Ever had a moment where you sat and wondered…”what the heck am I gonna do on my day off work?”? Several ideas might have come up in your head; tackle the pile of laundry colonizing your bedroom, finally clean the bathtub, pay some past due bills and eventually go shopping, head down to the nearest swimming pool and work on the tan, or simply sit on the couch and catch up on some reruns.  I recently found myself in this exact situation and, after thinking it over, I decided I was going to take full advantage of my day off by making a 1-day road trip.  Destination:  Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada.

I heard from friends about the beauty that P.E.C. has to offer; so I had some good expectations set in my mind.  With my girlfriend, we planned to checkout some wineries, go for a dip at the Sand Banks Provincial Park, and take a some photos along the way.  The trip was not exactly as we planned but it definitely exceeded our expectations.

We started at the Norman Hardie Winery where we stumbled upon some delicious and very refreshing white-Chardonnay and Riesling,  and a very friendly sommelier named Lucie.  As per Lucie’s suggestion we skipped the dip at the Sand Banks and, instead, headed over to a public yet secluded beach…such a great call!  We had the whole beach pretty much to ourselves and enjoyed a dip in warm, clear blue water for as long as our fingers began to wrinkle!  And yes, believe it or not,  you can find amazing swimming spots in Lake Ontario.  For the rest of the day we drove around the County, enjoying the landscapes, exploring the hidden roads, and discovering the magic that this land has to offer.  Great wine, beautiful beaches, colourful and lively agriculture, and amazing people.

I now have a new place on my list of favourite destinations in Ontario.  I also have a new alternative for my next day off.  So if you are ever in the area, do take the time and visit Prince Edward County, you will not be dissapointed!

Ramen Delight in New York City

I don’t know what it is but I’m definitely hooked on Ramen.  It could be the freshness of the ingredients, the perfect combination of pork (such a weakness), noodles and broth, or simply the whole experience of sitting right in front of the chef and following step-by-step the hypnotizing process of preparation.  Whatever it is, I’ve decided to go on a quest and try out the different varieties and styles of Ramen that I can find, be it here in Toronto, New York, Tokyo, or anywhere my travels may take me.

I recently got the chance to try out Totto Ramen;  a highly reviewed and visited Ramen Shop in Midtown Manhattan (366 W 52nd Street, NY).  Although I have never been to Japan, this is very close to what I imagine of a dining experience there.  A rustic small shop, with a lively atmosphere, sitting at the counter watching the chef (of course wearing a head scarve) tossing up noodles and stirring up the broth as if that was all he was meant to do in life. And of course…delicious food.  I highly recommend the Chicken Paitan Ramen: straight homemade noodles cooked al dente style in a whole chicken and premium soy sauce based soup topped with scallion, onion, char siu pork, and a nori.  For US$11, this is a very accessible delicacy that your taste buds will thank you for.  If you can overcome the long waiting time at the door (no reservations), then you are in for a treat.  Check out the menu (http://tottoramen.com/?page_id=50) for  more delicious treats available at Totto Ramen.

If you are visiting the Big Apple please follow my advise and go to Totto Ramen.  You will not be disappointed !

ITADAKIMASU!

Croissant Perfection in Montréal

I have always been a firm believer that every turn you make in life has a consequence in your future.  Opening one door instead of another, biking to work instead of taking public transit, or taking a new route different from your usual one to get home; These simple decisions can sometimes provide us with experiences that might have never occur if we had continued our routine.

Well, this is exactly what happened while in Montréal a couple of months ago.  While visiting the Plateau neighbourhood with my girlfriend (Kako) and her  sister (Moeko), we stumbled upon the very authentic and unpretentious “Au Kouign-Amann Boulangerie-Pâtisserie.  Our plan was to try out Le Couteau, not to far from Kouign-Amann, but (fortunately) it was close and we had to wonder in search of another option.  Wether destiny or not, we made a couple of turns around the neighbourhood and voila!

Kouign-Amann has the best croissants I have ever tried!  Baked to perfection, the croissants are always crispy and fresh.  Of course fresh, every hour the baker needs to bring out a new batch as most of the customers walkout with at least a half dozen of this golden delicacy.  Other treats on offer, such as the sandwiches and clafoutis, are equally delicious.  And on top of the delicious food…the service is friendly and welcoming!

I will definately be heading back to Kouign-Amann next time I visit Montréal.  What are you waiting for?

Deep in the Snow

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I have always believed that to enjoy winter, one must get outside and get involve in some of the outdoor activities and sports Canada has to offer.  This is easier said then done for many, and specially for a “made in Colombia” canadian such as myself.  Nonetheless, I have been trying to stay true to my believes and have been out skiing a couple of times, have wonder around town (camera in hand) during the few snowstorms we’ve had, and most recently, headed up north to the Algonquin Highlands in Ontario  for my first ever snowshoe trip along with my girlfriend Kako and my good friends Amy and Juan.

WOW!   What a amazing weekend I had.  The scenery around Haliburton is just mind blowing.  The snow-drenched trees, the hilly roads surrounded by snow and frozen lakes (lots of them), and the random deer sighting, made this the perfect backdrop for my snowshoeing initiation.

On the first day we headed to the southern tip of Algonquin Park to checkout the High Falls.  Ploughing through the heavy snow, we made it up the narrow tree-wrapped path and after passing several frozen ponds we reached the falls… Such a magical place, and such a great feeling to be out in the snow, surrounded by trees and seeing the water rushing down the mountain and overpowering the ice and snow covering it.  We could not help it and took out a flask with warm tasty whiskey to celebrate this wonderful moment.

On the second day, our snowshoes took us over to the historic Log Chute and the Hawk Lake.  The log chute  is the only one that remains standing in Ontario, and lies at the bottom of the Crests of the Kennisis trail.  Hiking up this trail was a tough workout and it is not for the faint of heart, but it is definitely worth every bit of effort!  Walking through the forest felt like getting lost in a scene of Alice in Wonderland.   We were fortunate to have very deep and powdery snow and lots of sun piercing through the trees, which made it easier to bear the very cold -20 degrees nature surprised us with.  The top price for this hike…the beautiful views of the Kennisis River, which cuts through the forest on a perfect zig zag!

As I said before, the best way to enjoy the winter is to get out there and enjoy the picturesque canadian outdoors.  I am totally sold on this idea and very thankful for getting the opportunity to visit such an amazing place as the Algonquin Highlands.  Hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoy taking them.

B&B Heaven in Haliburton

 

I recently came back from a weekend get-away in Haliburton, Ontario, and  my very first Bed & Breakfast experience courtesy of Akané B&B.  Oooh my…how fortunate I was, having found this wonderful and homey wood cabin in the middle of the Algonquin Highlands!  From the moment I pulled into Akané, I knew I was in for a treat.  The dream-like winter scenery of its surroundings, the comfort of its wooden architecture, the exquisite food (Shabu Shabu dinner, oven-baked eggs and waffles for breakfast), and the unsurpassed hospitality of the wonderful hosts Mieko and Gary, made my long weekend vacation perfect.

To all the B&B lovers out there, it would be wise to add Akané B&B to your list (www.bbloghome.com).  You will not be disappointed.  As for me, I’m already looking forward to visiting them in the summer!

Translation: Acabo de regresar de Haliburton, Ontario, y de mi primera experiencia en un Bed & Breakfast cortesía de Akané B&B.  Wow…que afortunado fuí al haber encontrado está maravillosa y acogedora cabaña en medio de la región de Algonquin Highlands.  Desde el momento en que estacioné sabía que lo que se venía era de lujo.  Los paisajes invernales de ensueño, la comodidad de su arquitectura, la comida exquicita (cena Shabu Shabu, huevos al horno y waffles al desayuno), y la insuperable hospitalidad de sus anfitriones Mieko and Gary, le dieron el toque de perfección a mi fin de semana largo.

Para todos los amantes de los Bed and Breakfast, sería muy sabio agregar a Akané B&B a su lista (www.bbloghome.com).  Les aseguro que no se arrepentirán.  Por mi parte, no veo la hora de regresar en el verano.

White Holiday

 

So after 15 years of living in Canada, of which many holidays have been spend down in South America, I have finally come to the realization that winter  in Canada is definitely better with a good dose of snow and winter sports.  Although I have skied in the past, it took a 6 hour drive to Mont Tremblant, enduring -25C degree temperatures, a couple of bruised ankles, and all the powder snow I had dreamed of, to appreciate the beauty of skiing and getting away from it all “‘à la Canadien”.

Here are some photos of my recent trip to Mont Tremblant.  This was my first visit to the Laurentians in Québec and I know it will not be the last.  From the scenery and the great skiing, to the great atmosphere at the mountain and the friendly people, Mont Tremblant is by far my best experience of a white holiday in Canada.  Set your eye on this destination and go visit, you won’t regret it.

A la prochaine!

Después de 15 años de vivir en Canadá, durante los cuales la mayoría de las vacaciones de fin de año incluyeron calor, brisa y mar en Suramérica, finalmente llego a la conclusión de que el invierno en Canadá es muchísimo mejor con una buena dosis de nieve y deportes de invierno.  Aunque he esquiado en el pasado, fueron necesarias 6 horas de viaje por carretera hasta Mont Tremblant (Québec), un par de noches de  -25 grados centígrados, un par de contusiones en los tobillos, y toda la nieve polvo con la que he soñado, para poder apreciar la belleza de esquiar y escaparse de la rutina al estilo canadiense.

Aquí les comparto algunas de las fotos de mi más reciente viaje a Mont Tremblant, Québec.  Esta fue mi primera visita y seguro no será la última.  Desde los paisajes y una esquiada inolvidable, hasta el buen ambiente y la amabilidad de la gente, Mont Tremblant es sin duda alguna la mejor experiencia que he tenido de una navidad blanca en Canadá.  Que esperan para visitarla?

Hasta la próxima!