Posts tagged ‘travel tips’

January 5, 2013

10 tips on how to eat cheap on the road

Many hotels, such as the Residence Inn in Kingston, Ontario, now have kitchens in their suites. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Many hotels, such as the Residence Inn in Kingston, Ontario, now have kitchens in their suites. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

[These tips were originally published on Vacay.ca]

One of the most costly expenses when you vacation is food. It’s also one of the more difficult purchases for which to budget, even though many restaurant menus are now online to help you pre-plan what you will spend. What tends to happen is we end up becoming more picky about where we eat on the road because we want it to satisfy our hunger both for food and for experience. Will the food be worth it? is a question that takes on greater importance when you only have a few days in a place. How do I stretch my budget and experience the best of local culture? is another question many travellers ask.

Here are tips on how to save on your food budget when you travel, while maintaining your desire for an enjoyable visit.

1. Know your hotel choice. Book a hotel that includes breakfast and pre-pay for the stay, which will reduce your accommodations cost by at least 5 per cent at most lodgings. Hotel breakfasts can often be overpriced but a cost reduction through pre-payment is beneficial for more than just your pocketbook. It saves you time — eliminating a decision on where to eat in the morning — and gives you some peace of mind because you will have paid for this cost before you arrive.

2. Sleep with a kitchen. Better than paying for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) is having the ability to cook it yourself. More and more hotels are providing their own kitchens, a feature that many timeshare owners have long enjoyed. The benefit of having a kitchen — or at least a microwave and fridge — is it gives you the option to further control your food costs. A trip to the grocery store soon after check-in will give you a stockpile of choices for late-night snacks or an all-out gourmet feast if you choose. EXTRA TIP: Pack a few teaspoons of your favourite spices in spice containers made specifically for travelling. You’ll find them in the kitchenware department of many retail stores. It’ll save you from buying full containers of spices once you arrive at your destination.

3. Eat meals prepared at grocery stores. Even if you don’t have a kitchen in your room, you should still go to the grocery store. Some of the best cheap meals you’ll find in any North American city are in the prepared food areas of supermarkets. Whether it’s Whole Foods in New York, Rouses or Langenstein’s in New Orleans, or even Longo’s in Toronto (where a gourmet 10-inch pizza can be had for less than $7), you can find outstanding, freshly prepared food that won’t break your budget. You also won’t need to tip or wait for a table. Although some health experts will tell you that grocery stores tend to cook their prepared meals with meat and fish products that aren’t the freshest in stock, you’re still more likely to get a healthier meal from a grocer than from a fast-food restaurant.

4. Visit the local farmers’ market. Farmers’ markets are booming across North America thanks to the locavore movement and the desire for environmentally friendly community building. The markets offer both a travel experience — because you will find out a lot about a city’s culture through the people who cultivate and consume its local produce — and a fun dining experience as you sample bits and bites from different vendors, many of whom offer samples. Canada is extremely lucky to have thriving farmers’ markets across the country, particularly in Ontario.

5. Adjust your Groupon deals account. Those online coupon companies that just about all of us take advantage of when we’re at home can come in handy on the road too. Adjust your Groupon or Living Social account to show deals in the destination you’re visiting and you’ll find discounts on restaurants, as well as some attractions.

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October 25, 2011

New addition makes this Montreal museum the best in Canada

montreal-museum-of-fine-arts

A view of the Paviliion of Quebec and Canadian Art seen from inside the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion across the street. ©Julia Pelish Photography

[First published on Vacay.ca, a new site dedicated to Canadian travel experiences.]

MONTREAL — Even before its newest wing, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts offered visitors an excellent review of Canadian and international painting. What the two-week-old Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion of Quebec and Canadian Art accomplishes, however, is so tremendous it hoists this attraction to the top, making it the best museum in Canada. Hands-down.

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October 19, 2011

On Galapagos Islands, humans bring wealth and danger

santa cruz galapagos islands

Boat activity is bustling on the shores of Santa Cruz, the most populous of the Galapagos Islands. (Julia Pelish photo)

PUERTO AYORA, SANTA CRUZ, GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR — Yvonne Mórtola walks down Avendida Charles Darwin with a frown. One white Toyota pick-up truck after another passes down this two-lane asphalt road in the most populous city of the Galapagos Islands. Engine revs and muffler coughs have suffocated the sounds of nature that so signify these protected islands off the Ecuadorean coast. No longer is it easy for Santa Cruz residents like Mórtola to stand on a street corner of Avendida Charles Darwin and hear waves lapping, finches’ chirps or sea lion barks.

“This used to be a dirt road,” says Mórtola, a top-level Ecuador National Parks Service naturalist who works as a guide for tour operator Ecoventura. “I used to be able to throw a Frisbee to my dog down here, but I can’t do that anymore. It just isn’t safe on the road.”

While 97 percent of the islands are protected by the parks, it’s what’s happened to the other 3 percent that worries Mórtola and others concerned about the environment on the Galapagos. In the 1990s, migrants arrived looking to get in on one of the world’s oddest commodity booms. Call it the Great Sea Cucumber Rush. The marine animal that helps clean oceans of bacteria, algae and waste is highly coveted by the Chinese and Japanese as a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. With an abundance of sea cucumbers, the Galapagos became a focal point for the trade. Fishermen could get $1 per sea cucumber and reports said that 10,000 sea cucumbers would be shipped daily from the Galapagos. Those fishermen could sometimes catch in an hour enough sea cucumbers with an equivalent value of a week’s worth of traditional fishing.

Mórtola, who has lived on the islands for more than a quarter-century, says she remembers prostitutes on Santa Cruz earning so much money during the height of the boom that “they would light their cigarettes with $10 bills.”

The population of Santa Cruz rose nearly four-fold, reaching 10,000 before the government passed a unique policy called the Galapagos Resident Law, which states that no one can live on the islands unless they were born there, married someone who resides there or could prove they worked there prior to 1998, the year the law was enacted. Still, the population of Santa Cruz has continued to grow, reaching 16,500 as of the last census and Puerto Ayora is at 12,000 people. In recent years, the government has been expelling thousands of illegal, undocumented migrants from the island.

“You look at Santa Cruz, and it used to be a very nice community,” says Pablo Jaramillo, the captain of Eric, Ecoventura’s recently renovated yacht, and a resident of San Cristobal, the second most populous island (8,000). “But there are too many people now. You do not even know your neighbour in some cases.”

READ ‘GALAPAGOS TRAVEL TIPS: WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU GO’

More lush than the other 12 main islands in the chain, Santa Cruz is home to the Darwin Research Station, where the giant tortoise population is being rehabilitated in a huge undertaking that involves such careful incubation of eggs that researchers can create the sex they want by manipulating the temperature. When the incubator is set to 29.5 Celsius degrees, females will be born. At 28 Celsius, a male will hatch. With the species needing to grow, more females are being created at the station.

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July 21, 2011

The Great Dessert Search, Edition No. 1: The Original Sacher-Torte

Original Sacher-Torte from Sacher Hotel

Guests at the Sacher Hotel receive small squares of Sacher-Torte in their rooms. (Copyright photo by Julia Pelish)

VIENNA — About a year ago, a friend of mine came up with the name for The Great Dessert Search — a compilation of the absolute best sweet treats on the planet (or at least near Toronto). With space in the Toronto Star Travel section tight, we haven’t been able to start it up there. So, I’ve decided to run the series here. If you’ve got a dessert you’d like to nominate, let me know, or write about it yourself and send in photos if you have them.

First, though, we start with one of the world’s most famous and decadent desserts: The Original Sacher-Torte.

This treat has everything a renowned culinary creation should: a global following, a history as rich as its ingredients and the ever-present term “secret recipe” attached to it. First invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher, the treat will remind you of a Black Forest cake but with a much smoother, firmer chocolate icing and a more elegant fruit spread between the two cake layers.

The cake’s great history includes a fight over its ownership. When Sacher invented it, he was a 16-year-old apprentice to the personal chef of a Viennese prince. His son, Edouard, reputedly perfected the recipe while working at Demel bakery. Edouard then started the Sacher Hotel in 1876 and brought the cake with him. A lawsuit ensued between the hotel and Demel for rights to the name “sachertorte.” Cafe Demel and the Sacher, which are about 600 metres apart in the lovely historic district of the Austrian capital, now serve their own versions of the cake. “The Original Sacher-Torte” (about 4.90 euros, or $6.70, a slice) is what you find at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna and Salzburg, and the “Demel Sachertore” (3.70 euros, or $5.05) is on the menu at the popular café that employs only women in the kitchen.

READ ABOUT WHY ELSE YOU SHOULD GO TO VIENNA

Cafe Sacher menu in Vienna

Cafe Sacher at the hotel details the history of its most famous treat. (Copyright photo by Julia Pelish)

It’s become custom for visitors to Vienna to try both to decide which is best. It’s not a taste test anyone I know of has passed up. While the Sacher Hotel says it still holds the original recipe, the main ingredients are well known. The chocolate sponge cake layers are separated by apricot jam. Dark chocolate icing covers the cake and a chocolate medallion with the Sacher name is pressed to the top of servings at the hotel. A dollop of whipped cream comes with it on the side and a cup of melange (cappuccino-style coffee) is recommended to accompany it.

Sounds divine, right?

To tell you the truth, the first time I tasted sacher-torte I wasn’t all that impressed. It was earlier this year at Roy Thomson Hall, when a delegation from Vienna were in town for a performance from the city’s famed Philharmonic Orchestra. They brought with them pounds and pounds of the cake to share with Torontonians. I thought it was a touch tart and the chocolate flavours not memorable enough. After a recent stay at the Sacher Hotel, though, I’ve joined the cult.

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July 11, 2011

Having a ball in Vienna

Ballet dancers at Fete Imperiale in Vienna

Ballet dancers loosen things up at Fete Imperiale in Vienna. (Richard Tanzer photo for the Vienna Tourist Board)

VIENNA — This enchanted city’s Fête Impériale began the way I expected a Viennese ball to unfold, with pomp and circumstance in the form of a marching band and speeches by politicians and organizers. A crowd of about 3,000, including luminaries such as Frank Stronach, attended to witness performances of ballet, opera and the waltz on Thursday night. I jetted over for the spectacle, which I believed would be fittingly grandiose but also as stuffy as a tuxedo collar. After all, it was a black- or white-tie affair, and such evenings can descend into the unbecoming sight of very wealthy people measuring each other up.

Turned out, though, that Vienna did what it so often seems to — it surprised and amused.

As the “William Tell Overture” played, ballet dancers emerged — with the men dressed in Fred Astaire-like long tails and the young women in slinky red gowns — to perform wonderfully for 15 minutes to a medley of classical favourites. Nothing unusual about that. But just as some of us in the audience were thinking the men had to be sweating through their bow ties, they stripped. Ripping off their tuxedos and pants, and baring themselves to boxers short of the full monty. With their clothes went any notions the ball would be overly mannered.

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July 6, 2011

A Canadian student’s life in Paris

Will Inrig knows how to set a table in Paris.

Will Inrig knows how to host a party. And he's only 20!

PARIS — Will Inrig greets me wearing an ascot and a grin. The grin fits. He’s 20 and living in Paris and should be smiling wide. Will, though, isn’t so much spending his university days in the City of Light as immersing himself in Paris and Parisian culture. Hence the ascot. And the bottle of sparkling wine he has ready for us, and the foie gras, cheese (blue and brie, of course), dates and rich, dark chocolate. Starving student he’s not. Nor does he possess a 20-year-old’s demeanour.

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June 7, 2011

The Story of ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt

Detail of Klimt The Kiss at the Belvedere Palace Museum in Vienna

Detail of "The Kiss" at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna. (Julia Pelish photo)

[A trip to Vienna was delightful for a lot of reasons, not least of which was the surprise opportunity to speak with the curator of the museum that houses one of the world’s great works of art, “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt. Here’s a story on that experience, as published by the Toronto Star on June 6, 2011.]

VIENNA — Unlike the Mona Lisa, which disappoints when you confront it and the crowds gathered around the salle in the Louvre that holds it, “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt surpasses expectations. For one thing, it’s not nearly as celebrated a painting, so public fascination isn’t high to begin with. More importantly, though, it does what a great piece of art is supposed to do: Hold your gaze, make you admire its aesthetic qualities while trying to discern what’s beyond its superficial aspects.

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May 12, 2011

In a battle of Vienna vs. Vancouver, both win

St. Stephen's CathedralVIENNA — Vienna or Vancouver? What’s the better city? They duel annually for the distinction of the world’s best metropolis to call home. Vienna this year topped the Mercer Index for Top Quality of Life while Vancouver was named The Economist’s Most Liveable City in the world.

I lived in Vancouver for five years (and intend to return to my home there one day) and I just got back from a four-day stay in Vienna. Picking a winner would be difficult. This is Ali vs. Fraser, or Halle vs. J-Lo, or Dom vs. Cristal.

Vancouver wins on scenery, hands-down. Vienna, from what I could tell, comes out on top in standard of living.

Vancouver is a little better on its overall food scene, but Vienna has Steirereck, one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Vancouver has mountains, Vienna palaces. Vancouver has the Shangri-La, Vienna has the new Sofitel, with the hot Le Loft restaurant at the top. Vancouver has Stanley Park, Vienna has the historic village of Grinzig and the forest surrounding it. Vancouver has Granville Island, Vienna the Naschmarkt. And you can go on and on.

When it comes down to it, though, there’s a reason people find these two cities to be so terrific: The atmosphere. In Vancouver, you head to English Bay, Third Beach or the seawall on Coal Harbour and you instantly escape. Vienna relaxes you with its wide streets, friendly people and truly amazing modern art installations, many of which will make you to smile.

Of course, it also has more history than any North American city, with ruins dating to Roman times and churches as old as the 13th century. The art collection from the former Hapsburg empire is loaded with great works, including Vermeers, Rembrandts, Raphaels, van Goghs and Titians. There’s also Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss,” a treasured painting that holds the viewer’s gaze with its beauty and intricate details. The 103-year-old painting is at Belvedere Palace, which boasts a number of other great works.

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