FLORENCE IN 24 HOURS

Florence in 24 Hours
Stephen and I arrived in Florence from Monterosso earlier than planned after skipping a pit stop at Pisa because I was still in no shape to explore. It took every effort to walk from the train station to our Airbnb where I promptly fell into bed and slept until it was time to find dinner. I felt well enough to wander the city, but not enough to actually eat anything. We ventured to a restaurant on my map, which specialized in wild boar pasta and ordered one plate for Stephen. It was only 5pm, the restaurant had just opened and I don’t think they were expecting diners yet. Our plate arrived quickly and looked delicious. Unfortunately the gamey aroma of the wild boar did not mix well with my unsettled stomach. Luckily, Stephen’s a fast eater and we were soon on our way back to bed. I made it a whole block before emptying my stomach over a sewer grate. It was time to call it a day.

After 12 hours of sleep I felt more human like and up for sightseeing. We took the day slowly with lots of stops and water. I was determined to recover in time to enjoy our Bistecca alla Florentina.

Places to See

Our first stop was the Florence Cathedral with its stunning exterior. We walked the entire perimeter, making sure not to miss the building from any angle. Inside, the interiors were simple and unadorned, save for the painted dome ceiling. Free tours were available in English that were quite informative. In between munching on sandwiches, I loved checking out the street vendors selling leather goods near Central Market. There was a black leather backpack that I fell in love with. While Stephen and I tried to figure out if I had the luggage room to bring the bag home, the seller took my indecisiveness for haggling and kept lowering his price. Alas, I ended up walking away, but I still think about that bag with a touch of regret!

We ended our afternoon walking along the Arno river and taking in the scenery. We walked across the covered Ponte Vecchio and then back across the neighbouring Ponte Santa Trinita to view it.

Sandwiches to Eat

I Due Fratellini – A literal hole-in-the wall spot, famous for their Tuscan bread, fresh ingredients and wine. With 30 sandwiches to choose from making a decision was hard. There was a small counter to place orders and the wall behind was filed with shelves of wine. The shop was easy to spot with a line outside and a crowd of people munching on sandwiches and sipping red wine. We stuck to a basic prosciutto filling, which was exquisite, salty and savoury, exactly what I needed.

L’Antico Trippaio – Lampredotto, cow tripe, is a famous Florentine dish and a must eat. For us, tripe isn’t exactly a unique or odd ingredient (actually one of my favourite foods to hotpot or at dim sum) but for many it could be considered exotic. Slow-cooked and seasoned, the Florentine version of tripe was tender and flavourful. The sandwich we tried at this sandwich stand was also super spicy.

Mercato Centrale Firenze – By the time we made our way to Florence Central Market, a full meal was out of the question (especially since we still had dinner in a few hours). Open from 10am to midnight, the two storey, covered market was a delight to window shop and a great rest spot. I was blown away by the selection of vendors, from fresh seafood and sushi to hamburgers and of course all the tuscany specialties. We snacked on a plate of prosciutto with a glass of wine before heading home for our afternoon nap. If we had more time in Florence, I would’ve loved to spend more time wandering the market.

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BEST NEW RESTAURANT 2018 – AIR CANADA

Best New Restaurant 2018 – Air Canada

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the unveiling of Canada’s Best New Restaurant presented by Air Canada. Every year, I love reading the list in EnRoute magazine and adding them to my travel wishlists. At this year’s event, the top 10 of 30 contenders were present serving up their signature dishes, which ranged from snails to wedge salad. Two Toronto restaurants represented. One of my favourite spots in the city Aloette, and Giulietta, the new restaurant from Chef Rob Rossi of Bestellen. Tasting bites from the other 8 restaurants seriously made me want to visit cities I’d never thought of before, like Edmonton and Picton.

Disclaimer: Thank you Air Canada for inviting me to attend this event. All opinions expressed below are wholly mine.

My favourite bites of the evening were from Avenue (Regina, SK), Aloette, Sand and Pearl (Picton, ON) and Bündok (Edmonton, AB). Avenue’s dish was a delicious combination of tuna and pork belly while Aloette’s classic wedge salad was a perfect balance of textures, creamy dressing and crunchy pumpkin seeds. Sand and Pearl’s booth was constantly swarmed for their braised back ribs topped with crab and freshly shucked oysters. I admit, I took a few return trips for both the oysters and crab. Bündok’s offer was two slices of lightly cured sea bream topped with a citrus chili oil that packed a lot of heat and acidity. I loved the balance of the fish and oil, this was another booth where I went back for seconds.

The restaurant that took top honours was The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette (Jordan Station, ON), who served up BBQ sea snails, skewered with a branch on real shells. Their presentation was creative and the dish itself unique. I enjoyed the chewy texture of the snails, which were excellently seasoned. Located in the Niagara region in a modern farmhouse, The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette is quickly becoming a destination in of themselves. There is only a set menu offered (5+ courses) that changes daily centered around locally sourced ingredients. I expect their reservations to quickly fill up despite the non central location.

This year’s event also highlighted Canada’s Best New Bars. Unfortunately I had to duck out early (to get home for Alivia’s bedtime) and missed out on that part of the evening. Even more places to add to my ever growing list of places to visit.

To learn more about all the restaurants and how they were ranked, visit https://canadasbestnewrestaurants.com/en/.

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CINQUE TERRE – THE VILLAGES

Cinque Terre – The Villages
Stephen and I set out from Monterosso with our Cinque Terre Passes mid morning to begin our hike to Vernazza. Our Airbnb host told us the hike, which was considered an average difficulty trail, would take about an hour. That didn’t sound bad. I figured if we were tired after one hike we could hop on the train for the rest of the day. The trek took us over 2 hours with stops for photos and rest. We did not hike on.

The Hike: Monterosso to Vernazza

A few parts of the trail were narrow and others overlooked a steep mountain side (those with a fear of heights might have trouble) but overall the terrain was easy to manage, even in my Converse sneakers. The path weaved up, down and around the mountain through lemon orchards, dense greenery and open air with stunning views of the ocean.

Tip: Wear layers! Since we prepared to be out for the full day, we had to dress for it. While the morning and evening were cool, after a few hours of hiking in the sun, I was sweating. A few of the villages also had beautiful beaches and water access so a bathing suit layer may come in handy.

For me the hardest part of the trail was the start, leaving Monterosso to climb up and up the mountain was a lot of stairs. Our first stop was at a lemonade stand run by a family who owned one of the lemon orchards. The fresh lemons were wonderfully fragrant and the drink so refreshing in the heat. Another great restspot was a nook for stray cats set up with little houses and food.

The trail was busy in both directions with a wide variety of hikers. Some were decked out in full gear while others were dressed for a park stroll. I would recommend at the minimum wearing closed toe sneakers and bringing some water. There were two great photo spots once Vernazza came into sight. Catching a glimpse of the colourful city, I felt a sense of accomplishment (and a bit of relief).

The Train

After grabbing lunch in Vernazza we decided to take the train to the next 3 cities. Hiker, I am not. Train passes were available that allow unlimited travel with options of 1 day, multi day and family pricing. We had to be a bit more mindful of our time in each city but it was still a leisurely afternoon.

Tip: The train station at Corniglia was at sea level while the village itself was on the cliffs, 382 stairs up. There is a frequent shuttle bus between the village and train station if stairs are not your thing. The ride takes about 5 minutes and costs €1.50.

After climbing the stairs to Corniglia, I rewarded myself with a gelato before we moved on. Both Manarola and Riomaggiore had direct water access. At Manarola, tourists clambered on the rocks for the perfect shot. We were no exception but I wasn’t as daring to climb too high on the wet, slippery cliffs. Since many tourists were also running on a train schedule, the best time for photos was just as a train arrived to carry a group away before the next wave arrived.

In Riomaggiore, we ended our day with a fried seafood cone. The main street was lined with shops all hawking the local specialty with similar prices. We followed the crowd to the longest line and wasn’t disappointed.

Overall, the day was busy and I loved getting to explore each of the charming cities. If we had one more day, I would’ve loved to hike a few more of the trails.
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HILLCREST GLOW UP

Hillcrest Glow Up

Since moving to Richmond Hill, Alivia and I have spent lots of time at Hillcrest shopping, walking and napping. The mall is currently going under a $90M renovation that includes a cosmetic face lift to the interior, updated modern entrances and a slew of new stores. Hillcrest’s transformation began in 2015 with the expansion of The Bay and the opening of Sporting Life and H&M. Today, the mall is already home to some of my favourite stores like Aritzia and Miniso. Tomorrow, there will be even more to love and I am seriously worried about my shopping budget.

Disclaimer: Behind the scenes tour of Hillcrest was organized by Matte PR. All opinions expressed below are wholly mine.

At the beginning of September, I had the opportunity to tour the new north wing, which will house HomeSense, Marshalls, Old Navy and Indigo. HomeSense and Marshalls opened on Sept 18 with Old Navy to follow in October and Indigo in November. Being a true pillar of the community, Hillcrest will be hosting a donation drive collecting housewares, toiletries, clothing and toys for Sandgate Women’s Shelter in support of domestic abuse survivors. Donations will be accepted from September 22nd to October 5th at the centre court display setup in partnership with HomeSense.

Another newly opened store I love is Westcoast Kids, which carries the cutest and some of my favourite baby brands like Uppababy, Louloulollipop and Babybjorn. They also host great events for parents like sleep clinics, product launches and CPR classes.

Also, Uncle Tetsu just opened!

Our tour ended with a visit to the Hillcrest honey bees, who live on the mall’s rooftop. The two hives produce honey flavoured by the neighbourhood and changes every year. We had the chance to get up close with the bees and taste the fresh honey.

Hillcrest’s transformation ensures that they remain the shopping destination in Richmond Hill and even beyond. I’m excited to see how the space continues to grow and what else is in store.

(Photos by @kaileemandel)

Hillcrest Glow Up
Hillcrest Glow Up
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Hillcrest Glow Up
Hillcrest Glow Up
Hillcrest Glow Up