Tupananchikkama (Peru: Part I)

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Tupananchikkama (until we meet again)

That’s what we whispered as we peered over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of Huayna Picchu one last time. And for me, I truly meant that.

The plan:

  • Cusco, 4 days
  • Lima, 2 days

The activities:

  • Mountain biking to Moray and Salt Mines
  • Machu Picchu tour
  • Chocolate making class
  • Horseback riding
  • EAT

Like Canada, this was another short notice trip, by my standards anyway. We finalized travel plans in March for our trip in May. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time planning because there are so many things we didn’t get to do. But that’s why we have to go back, right?

This being my first international trip (to another continent), the travel time to Cusco was almost unbearable. We took a red eye to Lima, with a layover in Panama City, and then a domestic flight to Cusco. All in all, the total travel time including layovers was 17 hours. I am so so so thankful for airport lounges because we were able to relax, take a nap, stay hydrated or caffeinated, use wifi, and have access to clean restrooms.

When we finally arrived in Cusco, we were too tired to deal with having to negotiate a cheaper taxi fare so we just took an official taxi offered inside the airport. The ride to our hotel in the San Blas neighborhood cost us 50 soles (~$15). You can definitely get a cheaper fare (~15 soles) if you bargain with one of the many taxi drivers waiting outside in the airport parking lot.

Fair warning: taxi drivers here are CRAZY. I’m pretty sure I saw my life flash before my eyes a few times so I’m still amazed how we were not involved in any accidents nor did we witness one.

The best thing about our hotel, Pension Alemana, was this amazing view of Cusco…

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Having this view did come at a price, physically. Since it is situated higher than the main part of town, walking to and from our hotel was a real workout. While we didn’t suffer from any symptoms of altitude sickness (we took medicine beforehand), our lungs felt even the slightest bit of incline.

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our daily walk… so. many. steps.

The other pros of the hotel included continental breakfast and having water/tea/coffee/fruit available all day near the front desk. The continental breakfast is offered with made to order eggs in the restaurant upstairs (not just hard boiled eggs yay!). Tip: the wifi is actually MUCH better in the restaurant than in the room so make use of the free drink coupons provided or just grab a beer during whatever downtime and use the wifi there. 

The cons included thin walls and poor wifi. Our room (#303) was close to the stairs and we were able to hear people walking up and down. And even though our itinerary didn’t allow for us to sleep in much, we were still woken up fairly early due to construction on the building across the street.

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After checking in and freshening up a bit, we headed to dinner at Pachapapa, known for their cuy (guinea pig). YAAAAAS, WE TRIED GUINEA PIG! AND ALPACA!

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We enjoyed our meal with some live entertainment…

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when in peru… cuy horneado con huacatay y aji panca (roasted guinea pig) / pachapapa (alpaca) / ceviche de trucha (trout ceviche)

I was not a fan of the cuy. I’ve heard people say that it is too “gamey” but it wasn’t that for me. There was just so little meat! Despite the skin being nice and crispy, I honestly felt like I was just eating skin and fat, and if it was just that, why am I paying so much (72 soles!)? The alpaca, on the other hand, was delicious! The tenderness of the meat reminded me of veal and the flavor was very mild and not distinct. It was hard to pinpoint what it tasted like… chicken? beef? mixture of both? The ceviche, although good, was my least favorite ceviche we had during this trip.

The next day was spent exploring Cusco.

We started by heading down to Plaza de Armas, where there was a parade going on.

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Next we created our own foodie tour of San Pedro Market

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Our game plan was to not get full off one thing and try a little bit of everything. We also targeted booths that seemed to be filled with locals, not tourists.

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first stop: jugos de frutas! i had naranja con mango y cherimoya

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second stop: some damn good caldo de gallina

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third stop: seco de cordero (lamb stew)

We tried our best, but by this time, we were pretty stuffed. We couldn’t pass up tamales though. We even bought a few extra in case we needed a snack later on.

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SO GOOD!

We finished our tour of San Pedro Market by perusing through the merchandise area for souvenirs to bring home. Afterwards, we set out in search of a local coffee shop for a pick me up and wifi.

As we were walking around, we passed by ChocoMuseo. While I was in the midst of planning this trip, I had considered booking a truffle making class, but held off since I wasn’t sure if we would have enough time. Now that we were actually there, I caught a major case of FOMO and didn’t want to leave Peru without taking a class. Unfortunately, the truffle class wasn’t available, but we were able to snag spots for the chocolate class later that day! But committing to the chocolate class meant that we had only 2.5 hours to get to and explore Sacsayhuaman, about 1 mile away. It would be a 30 minute walk, which didn’t sound too bad, so we decided we would walk there and take a cab ride back. Within 5 minutes, I regretted our decision…

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When we got to the first gate, I was so out of breath! To give you some perspective on the steepness of the walk up to Sacsayhuaman, this view is only half way up…

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Our exhaustion made us susceptible to hustlers. When we were approached by men offering us horseback riding to Sacsayhuaman with stops at other sites in between, we were basically like, JUST TAKE OUR MONEY.

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We stopped to check out Temple of the Moon while our “guide” (he really didn’t do much besides keep the horses in line) took a nap.

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While at the top of Temple of the Moon, CT was told about another temple nearby, Temple of the Monkey. We followed the general directions provided and even tried using GPS, but after 15 minutes of searching, we gave up and headed to Sacsayhuaman.

When we first agreed to horseback riding, we thought that we would be riding horseback to Sacsayhuaman. This turned out to not be the case. We had to get off our horses and walk down the main road for about 15 mins to get to Sacsayhuaman. This was pretty annoying since we were short on time. We essentially paid 40 soles each for an hour of riding, which isn’t bad when you about it in US $ (~$13), but it probably wasn’t the best deal. However, I definitely would recommend horseback as a means to see the various ruins around Cusco!

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Sacsayhuaman, a fortress-temple complex made of stone, is one​ of the many sites included in the boleto turistico. There are a few options in purchasing the boleto turistico:

  • A complete ticket (130 soles) gives you access to all participating sites and is valid for 10 days
  • A partial ticket (70 soles) is broken up into circuits:
    • Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Tambomachay and Puca Pucara. Valid for 1 day.
    • Museum of Regional History, Museum of Contemporary Art, Koricancha Museum (but not Koricancha itself), Museum of Popular Art, Native Music and Dance Centre, Pachacutec Monument, Pikillacta & Tipon. Valid for 2 days.
    • Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray. Valid for 2 days.

Since we had planned to visit Sacsayhuaman and Moray, we purchased the full boleto turistico.

By the time we got to Sacsayhuaman, we really didn’t have much time explore. We walked around for about 15 mins, took some pictures, and headed back to town for the chocolate class.

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Was I sad that we didn’t have more time to explore Sacsayhuaman? Sure. Did I regret booking the chocolate class? Not for a second! I’m really glad we were able to take the class. It was informative, hands-on, entertaining, and most importantly, tasty! We sampled chocolate from various regions of Peru/South America and went through most of the steps of the chocolate making process. I say most because the class skips the step of melting chocolate for the sake of time. We also learned to use ingredients for other purposes: shells of the roasted cacao beans for tea and and paste we grinded from the beans into hot chocolate.

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At the end of class, we made our own chocolate molds and added whatever ingredients we wanted.

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We ended the day with a delicious dinner at Barrio Ceviche, one of the many restaurants that line Plaza de Armas.

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This was one of my favorite meals of the trip. We ordered the El Trio which is essentially a taster of the restaurant’s most popular dishes: classic ceviche (fish only), seafood fried rice, and fried seafood.  It was very reasonably priced and the portions were a good size. We also ordered an additional ceviche that included other seafood (octopus, calamari, shrimp).

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(left) ceviche clasico; (top) arroz con mariscos; (right) jalea

 

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ceviche arequipa

This meal was a delicious end to our jam-packed day. We headed back to our hotel after dinner since we had an early start for our mountain biking tour the next day.

to be continued…

Verdicts:
Pachapapa, 3.5/5
San Pedro Market, 4/5
Barrio Ceviche, 4.5/5

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O Canada!

My first trip of 2017 was to the beautiful Canadian Rockies: Banff/Lake Louise. Banff has been on my radar for quite some time now. I actually intended to visit during summer so I could hike and canoe on Lake Moraine, but when I found out that there are a couple of popular ski resorts in the Banff area (included in the Mountain Collective Pass btw), I decided to stop waiting and persuaded CT to go.

The plan:

  • Fly into Calgary + 1 night
  • Drive to Banff/Lake Louise + 4 nights

The activities:

  • Peyto Lake lookout
  • Ice skating on Lake Louise
  • Ice Magic Festival
  • Banff Snow Days
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowmobiling

Prior to boarding our Air Canada flight, we relaxed in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at LAX. I’ve never actually been in a lounge before – it was always rush to the airport and wait by the gate. The lounge offered free beverages (middle-shelf alcohol and wine included), free food, clean bathrooms, comfy chairs. sweeeeeeet!

The flight to Calgary was about 3 hours + 1 hour for the time change. I had the window seat and was excited to see what Calgary looked like from the air and all I saw was…

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brown.

We breezed through Customs, grabbed our luggage, picked up our rental and headed into the city where we booked an AirBnB for the night.

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The location of the condo was fantastic. It was walking distance from bars, coffee shops, stores, restaurants. We even walked to dinner at Ox and Angela!

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stuffed squid in its own ink / salt cod and potatoe croquetta / jamon croquetta / paella

The paella, which I was most excited for, turned out to be most disappointing. Such a shame! The rice was overly salty while the calamari had absolutely no flavor. It was as if the calamari was an afterthought, just sprinkled on top instead of being incorporated into the dish. Everything else was really good, especially the jamon croquettes (not pictured). CT was not a big fan of the stuffed squid. I enjoyed them; they reminded me of the Vietnamese stuffed squid that I LOVE.

After dinner, we went to get ice cream. Because… I’m always down for ice cream. Even in 30 degree weather!

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The next day, we checked out and brunched at OEB.

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super cute decor!

I picked this place because of their expansive menu, which, for someone as indecisive as myself, doesn’t quiet make sense. It turned out to be surprisingly easy for me to order. My eyes honed in on two words: truffle and cheesecake.

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“gold digga” / “sweet dreams are made of these”

Underneath the beautifully poached egg of the “Gold Digga” were duck fat fried potatoes, pork belly, cheese curds and black truffle, all smothered in Hollandaise. To satisfy our sweet tooth, we ordered the “Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These”, which is essentially a slice of NY cheesecake sandwiched between two pieces of french toast.

After this delicious meal, we rolled ourselves out and headed to Lake Louise. I’m not sure how I managed to keep myself awake during the 2 hour trip there. I’m a notorious car napper. Maybe it was because of the beautiful scenery…

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We stopped in Lake Louise to rent snowshoes. I had planned to hike to Peyto Lake lookout and from my research, I knew we would be walking in snow. I just wasn’t sure how deep it would be so I wanted to play it safe. Plus, now I could say that I’ve snowshoed!

Peyto Lake, the infamous wolf headed lake, is about a 40-50 min drive north of Lake Louise on Hwy 93 (Icefields Parkway). As you can see (below), in contrast to the Trans-Canada Highway (above), Icefields Parkway is not regularly plowed or maintained. The road was labeled as being in “poor condition” while we were there. If you’re planning to travel on the Icefields Parkway during winter, I would strongly suggest inquiring about snow tires. I’d also like to note that cell service is spotty at best in this area so plan accordingly.

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{Bow Summit And Peyto Lake Lookout In Winter } – this website was a great resource for me while planning this hike. I was able to recognize the trail head and the trail to the lookout based on the pictures posted.

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start of the trail: walk past the wooden washroom…

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then walk past the trees and turn right…

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continue up the road…

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you’ll pass a speed limit sign on your left, which could be covered depending on the amount of snow (this pic was taken looking down to the start of the trail) …

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continue until you see this sign…

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follow the path to the right and you will find…

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Gorgeous, right?!

If we didn’t have to return our snowshoes by 5pm, we would have hiked around the area. Instead we just lingered a bit to eat our packed lunch.

Back in Lake Louise, we essentially traded our snowshoes for ice skates

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bucket list: ice skate on lake louise √

Again, gorgeous right?!?!

I loooooove ice skating, but ice skating on natural ice, surrounded by beautiful views, with snow falling was just unreal.

We happened to be in Lake Louise during the annual Ice Magic Festival so we decided to check out the sculptures after ice skating.

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The festival is held outside Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, between the hotel and the actual lake. The first time we visited (after ice skating), the participants had just started working on the sculptures. We came back to see the finished products a couple of days later. Here are just a few of the amazing creations!

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Afterwards, we drove to Banff, checked into our hotel, Fox Hotel & Suites, and ended the day with a nice dinner at Three Ravens Restaurant.

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amuse bouche; smoked elk tartare with dehydrated bison; green eggs and ham duck breast; beef tenderloin; tonka bean creme brulee

Three Ravens is one of the more upscale restaurants in Banff. It is located in the corner of a large dining hall (cafeteria) on the 4th floor of the Banff Centre. With tall glass windows overlooking Banff, I’m sure the view is amazing. Unfortunately, we had dinner at 8PM, well after sunset.

The food and service were excellent. My duck and CT’s steak were cooked to perfection! I was less impressed with the creme brulee, but overall, it was a great meal. I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a nice evening out in Banff.

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We spent the next couple of days snowboarding at two popular ski resorts in the Banff area: Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. My personal favorite is Lake Louise, but here are my general observations of both…

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Sunshine:

Pros (1) more runs (more variety), (2) better/more snow

Cons (1) more flat areas, (2) must take loooong gondola ride from base to mid mountain lifts

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Lake Louise:

Pros (1) longer runs, (2) consistent weather, (3) easier access from base (lifts or gondola take you mid mountain)

Cons (1) Farther drive from Banff (additional 30-40 mins)

So, Peyto Lake was gorgeous. Ice skating on Lake Louise was amazing. Snowboarding was fun. But what was the highlight of this trip?

Snowmobile tour. Hands down.

We woke up early and took a 2 hour bus ride to Panorama, BC for a full day snowmobile tour with Toby Creek Adventures.

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After checking in and gearing up, we met outside to pick our snowmobiles.

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I ended up being the first one in the group, which gave me a lot of anxiety. Given that this was my first time on a snowmobile, I was afraid that I would slow every one down! Thankfully, this was not the case. We did about 4-5 laps around a practice course and I quickly got the hang of accelerating and turning.

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And then we were off!

We rode up the mountain, stopped a few times to check out the beautiful views and got a brief lesson on avalanche control.

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Our destination was Paradise Mine/Basin, an old mining town located at about 8000 ft. elevation. When we arrived, we warmed up in small cabin with some hot chocolate and cookies.

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And then it was play time!!!!

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Our guide showed us the perimeter of the designated play area (the basin) and then we had about 40 mins to ride around. It could have been more or less, I’m not exactly sure, I was having way too much fun to keep track of time. I can assure you that there was definitely enough time to ride your heart out.

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The feeling of flying downhill was exhilarating. Also a bit scary, not gonna lie. But I never felt unsafe! However, we did hear about an accident in another group: a lady, who was riding as a passenger, fell off of the snowmobile. It didn’t seem too serious since she didn’t need medical attention. When I booked the tour, I contemplated whether to book two drivers or driver/passenger. Obviously, I ended up booking two drivers and I’m so glad I did because (1) riding as a passenger would have been boring and (2) either of us would have probably fallen off given how fast we were going off the hills.

Our tour included lunch which consisted of burgers or hot dogs. Nothing fancy, just enough fuel to get us back down the mountain. We took a different route descending and stopped for a short hike to a frozen waterfall.

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smith falls

I actually wasn’t expecting to see this waterfall. The site that I booked the tour through didn’t mention it or maybe I just didn’t pay attention, but it was a nice surprise. And a good prelude to the following day.

Our last dinner in Banff was at Block Kitchen + Bar. To be honest, I was hesitant to dine here at first. As evidenced from the menu, I would classify this restaurant as Asian fusion and my experiences with these kinds of restaurants have not been good. But I gotta say, Block Kitchen was GOOD. I legit could not stop eating the curry!

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asian lettuce wraps with duck / panang curry with prawns / red devil calamari

The dishes were so well executed and the flavors seemingly so authentic that we had to ask, who the heck is the Chef? We were told that Chef Stephane Prevost lived in Japan for a number of years and Asian influences helped refine his cooking style.

It would have been a great last night of our trip if I hadn’t developed some kind of stomach illness during the middle of the night. I highly doubt it was food poisoning since CT did not experience the same symptoms. But interesting enough, he did have some stomach pains a couple nights before. Maybe our stomach pains were related. Maybe not. Who knows? All I knew was that I wanted to die.

I had planned to hike to the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon the next morning and I was determined to not let my stomach pains get in the way. So I sucked it up and we made the short hike to the lower falls.

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The path was icy at times. I had bought Yaktrax specifically for this trip but was too lazy to put them on. Instead, I just walked slowly and carefully with my winter boots.

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The trail continues onto the upper falls, but I only had enough strength for the short hike to the lower falls. When we got back to the car, I immediately knocked out and napped all the way back to Calgary.

We were on our way to a quick meal before heading to the airport when we passed the Peace bridge. Of course we had to stop for a quick photo op with this amazing piece of architecture.

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This trip was everything I had hoped it would be (minus the stomach illness). And it made me miss the whole trip planning process. CT had a great time as well so I can proudly say that in terms of trip planning, I still got it! I can’t wait to plan our next trip.

Verdicts:
Ox and Angela, 3.5/5
Village Ice Cream, 4/5
OEB, 5/5
Three Ravens Restaurant, 4/5
Block Kitchen + Bar, 4/5
Noodle World Restaurant, 3.5/5

I Left My Heart In Seattle

For b‘s vacation before lactation (credit: g), I suggested Seattle. I could not think of a better place for a quick girls getaway. Thankfully, my suggestion was warmly welcomed! I was so so so exited to show them why I loved Seattle so much. And in true kc fashion, I detailed planned our trip, by the hour, in an excel spreadsheet. That’s how I do.

b had a few requests, which were happily obliged:

  • Sushi Kashiba (at sushi bar)
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass
  • Hike

We arrived in Seattle late Wed night and tried to make it to Toulouse Petit for a late night snack. Unfortunately, they had already made their last call for food so we walked down the street to Mecca Cafe. We legit demolished their corned beef hash and chicken fried steak. When it’s 1am, you’re super hungry, and you find yourself in Lower Queen Anne, head to Mecca!

After our first pig out of the trip, we headed to Gas Works Park, my favorite spot to see the Seattle skyline, especially at night.

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absolutely gorgeous

By the time we checked into our AirBnB in the Fremont neighborhood, it was almost 3am! We settled in right away and knocked out. The cozy, affordable studio was just perfect for the three of us. I would highly recommend and would definitely stay there again.

We started the next day with coffee at a local coffee shop before heading to the Fremont Troll. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s just something you have to see!

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selfie inception game strong

After the troll, we stopped by Paseo for some sandwiches. Paseo has always been my top recommendation for anyone vising Seattle. The prawn and scallop sammies were so freakin’ delicious! In the days leading up to the trip, I craved them. I dreamt about them. There might have been some drooling involved. But when I actually got my hands on the sandwiches, I was disappointed. The prawn was overly salty. Almost to the point where I didn’t want to finish it. There was also less meat than I remembered. I thought Paseo was pretty generous before, but this time around, I got more lettuce and sauteed onions than anything else. Hopefully this was just an off day…

To work off our lunch, we rented kayaks and paddled out to Lake Union. I absolutely love water sports so this is one of my favorite activities in Seattle.

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One of b‘s requests was to eat at the sushi bar of Sushi Kashiba. Reservations aren’t offered for the sushi bar so in order to secure a seat, I booked a reservation at 5:00pm, right when the restaurant opens. But being natural laggers and not accounting for the terrible parking sitch at Pike Place, we got there around 5:15pm and the sushi bar was already full. Luckily, we were told that the second seating for the sushi bar would start around 7pm so we had to option of either sitting at a regular table right away or waiting for the sushi bar. Of course we chose the latter.

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I’ve never had omakase before and I’m so glad my first time was at Sushi Kashiba. The fish was so fresh, the selection and progression was perfect for my tastes, the service was outstanding, and to top everything off, this delicious meal + sake was only $120! What a steal!

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aahhhhmazing

The last piece was blue-fin collar, my favorite of the whole meal. Talk about saving the best for last!

We followed up an amazing dinner with an amazing sunset down at the waterfront.

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The next day, we started with a quick visit to Snoqualmie Falls. It’s been 7 years or so since I last visited and there must have been some renovations because I remember the lookout point very differently.

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We then proceeded to the highlight of our trip, an 8 mile hike, or in this case, more like strategic walking on jagged rocks.

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If it wasn’t for the rocks, I would classify the hike as moderate

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The view was definitely worth it. All the pain, the exhaustion, the hunger, the thirst. EVERYTHING. Our only regret was not starting sooner so we could play in the water.

By the time we started heading back to the trailhead, it was already late. We hauled ass so we could make it home in time to get ready for a night out. Our poor feet.

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The promoter that g was talking to told us that we had to be at the club by 11pm, otherwise, there would be a really long wait. Well, we got there at 10:50pm (which btw we’ve probably never done, like ever) and it was COMPLETELY EMPTY. Not one single soul. So we just took a few shots and went to the lounge next door to drink some more.

Best. Decision. Ever.

It was so much more fun! One of the funnest nights I’ve had in a long while. Best part of the night? Witnessing a former male stripper twerk in a handstand. WOW.

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my loves

The next day, we ended the trip with a visit to Chihuly Glass and Garden, as b requested. And of course, we couldn’t leave without indulging in oysters!

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10 years ago, Seattle was just this mysterious place that was known to be rainy and depressing and the only significance it had was that he lived there. Seattle now has my heart for completely different reasons than it initially did, and I have all the wonderful memories from my numerous visits in the past 10 years to thank. From living in a treehouse to kayaking Lake Union to taking in the beauty of Mt. Rainier as I hit mile 10 of my first marathon, Seattle will always have a special place in my heart.

We Run SF, We Eat SF

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Ready, Set, Go!

I’ve wanted to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in SF for a few years now. The first year, I seriously considered it. Like, seriously. The second year, I actually signed up for random draw, but was rejected! The third year… well, I guess it’s true, 3rd time’s the charm! I had 14 weeks to prepare for my goal of sub-2, but unfortunately, life got in the way as it always does. Given that I only trained for about 3 weeks, my time of 2:14 isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s actually a PR! The view was not as beautiful as RnR Seattle’s marathon, but overall, I still liked the course.

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That last hill though…

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All for this blue box!

My preparation in the days leading up to the race involved a lot of eating. I shamelessly took full advantage of the necessary carbo-loading by stretching it over a couple of days. All for the race, guys. All for the race.

First stop off the plane was Limon Rotisserie for some Peruvian food.

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Ceviche Mixto… SO GOOD! One of the best ceviches I’ve ever had

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The infamous Pollo a la Brasa (half)
This dish comes with 2 sides… if you’re planning on ordering the Lomito Saltado, I would suggest not picking Papas Fritas and Vegetales Salteados for your sides like we did

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Lomito Saltado

Even though we were already stuffed from ordering too much food, we had to have dessert. Next stop: Bi-Rite Creamery.

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The usual… salted caramel and some kind of coffee, this time being Blue Bottle

For early dinner, we headed to Fort Mason Center for Off The Grid, a gathering of local, mobile vendors.

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From top left:
(1) Lobsta Roll from Lobsta Truck
(2) Tender Pork Belly Bao from The Chairman
(3) Lemongrass Chicken w/ Garlic Noodles combo from An The Go
(4) Boom Plate w/ Shrimp from Hula Truck
(5) Vanilla Creme Bizmark from Johnny Doughnuts
(6) Golden Ticket from The Creme Brulee Cart
Everything was really good except the Boom Plate. I found it unappetizing. Sorry, not sorry. What a waste of $9!

The following day we met up friends in San Mateo and had some bomb bruschetta at B Street and Vine.

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From left:
(1) Fresh mozzarella with tomato and basil
(2) Salami with feta and pesto
(3) Prosciutto with figs and mascarpone
(4) Hummus, tomato & avocado

And for my official carbo-load dinner, we had roasted garlic crab and garlic grab noodles at PPQ Dungeness Island. I know, I know… this isn’t your traditional carbo-load dinner but whatever, I do what I want. The crab was delicious, but I preferred the garlic noodles from An The Go.

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Best meal of the trip!

When I ran the marathon in Seattle, Atlas Genius’ When It Was Now carried me through the last few excruciating miles. This time, it was Chvrches’ new album Every Open Eye and the lady at mile 11.5 with the “bRUNch” sign. Not gonna lie, all I could think about was what I was going to eat afterwards…

First stop post race was Mr. Holmes Bakehouse for some pastries followed by Hong Kong Lounge for dim sum.

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Mr. Holmes Bakehouse was already sold out of the their infamous cruffins by the time we got there. Lame! Of the six pastries we ended up choosing, my fave was the ham and cheese danish

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The XLBs were so plump and juicy!!!

Stuffing my face with dim sum sent me into a food induced nap and when I woke up, it was time for my celebratory dinner at State Bird Provisions.

Getting a reservation at this place was almost as difficult as getting one at French Laundry, Alinea, etc. Seriously, WHY?! I went on Open Table, 60 days in advance, at 12:00AM ON THE DOT and I almost wasn’t able to secure a rez.

2015-10-23_09-48-28I’ve actually been enjoying dark beer. Stouts are delicious!

State Bird Provisions has a standard menu consisting of small bites (Toasts & Pancakes), main dishes (Commandables), and dessert. The provisions come on trays/carts and you select whatever you want and they mark it down at the bottom on your menu based on price, dim sum style. I remember the prices ranging from $3 to $15.

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From top left:
(1) Kung pao beef tongue and sweetbreads (Commandable)
(2) Rabbit meatball (Provision)
(3) Pork belly pluot salad (P)
(4) Hog island oyster (P)
(5) CA state bird with provisions, half (C)
(6) Miso glazed cod collar (P)
(7) Guinea hen dumpling (P)
(8) Duck liver mousse with almond biscuit (P)
(9) Charred octopus (P)

Overall, I enjoyed the meal but left underwhelmed. My favorite was the kung pao beef tongue and sweetbreads – the beef tongue was so tender and I’m just a sucker for sweetbreads! Besides this, nothing really stood out. The state bird, although flavorful, had too much breading. Perhaps I expected too much based on the 4.5 star rating on Yelp.

We ended the night with ice cream at Swensen’s and a night time view of Coit Tower.

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‘Till next time, SF ♥

First

This is officially my first real post of 2013. I’ve been trying to finish my Foodcation 2012 posts for like the last 3 months. FAIL.

Since my vacation in September, I’ve started a new workout schedule, come to the realization that I no longer want to live in NYC, gone to Mammoth twice and attended a funeral.

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Part of my workout schedule consists of Pure Barre classes Tue, Thur, Fri-Sun. I started Pure Barre classes when I saw a friend post on FB about how great of a workout it was. At that time, I hadn’t worked out consistently in a very, very long time. I would run on sporadic occasions, but was never able to maintain a schedule. This really all changed with Pure Barre. One class and I was hooked. I’m about to finish my 5th month and be part of 100 club (100 classes completed)! I’ve made it this far and plan to continue because I absolutely love the workout and the class schedule just fits perfectly with my work schedule. And though I’ve taken classes for a while now, the exercises are still challenging. They haven’t gotten any easier. TRUST. If you take a class and don’t feel the burn, you’re probably not doing it right or you’re not working hard enough!

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In addition to Pure Barre, I’ve been taking Turbo Kick classes on Mon and Wed at 24Hr Fitness. I used to take these classes like 3 years ago, but stopped because of my work schedule. Now, 3 years later, the class schedule has changed and I’m back! I loved it then and I still love it now. The best part is that Turbo Kick doesn’t feel like a workout, but I always leave the class DRENCHED in sweat!

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J, A and I visited V in NYC this past December. It was a great trip filled with delicious food and late night talks. It was also an eye opening experience for me. I was in love with the city after my first few visits. I was in tourist mode. Everything was new and exciting. I loved the fast paced nature of NYC. I wanted to move there! But my love has waned after subsequent visits. This last visit made me realize that at this point in my life, living in NYC is not for me. First, I don’t think I could afford to live comfortably AND enjoy the finer things in life. I don’t want to share an apartment with anyone and I don’t want to live in tiny studio apartment. I do want to go out and try all the fantastic restaurants and maybe catch a Broadway show, hockey game or the Opera sometime. Living in NYC and not being able to enjoy it is pointless. Second, I’ve always thought that NYC public transportation was really great. And to a certain extent, it is. But from my last visit, I realized that it’s not as fast as I previously thought. On my last day I went to Laduree in the UES and round trip from Stuyvesant Town with a stop at Halal Cart took over an hour and half. Third, Henry hates NYC. So yea, for now, I’m fine with just visiting NYC and delicious food like…

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Uni at Soto

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Pork and Crab Soup Dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai

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SmokeShack and Frozen Custard at Shake Shack

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Miso Black Cod at Gotham Bar & Grill

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Halal Cart!! We had this twice during our trip and I even brought two orders home!

Right before my trip to NYC, Henry and I had our first Mammoth trip of the season. And seriously, what a difference a season makes…

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It was early December, but coverage was great since it dumped the weeks before. I’m happy I rekindled my love for Mammoth’s backside!

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Our 2nd trip to Mammoth was during MLK weekend.

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We were fortunate to stay with our new snowboarding pals, B and P. They’re great to ride with because they’re fast and they have endurance! And they have the cutest, most well-behaved dog ever!

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Henry doesn’t want any dog besides a Husky or Chow Chow so for now, I’ll just have to obsessively lurk on Instagram for Bulldog or Corgi pictures. 🙂

And onto the sad news. Last week, I attended Henry’s grandma’s funeral. She lived a full life, for sure, passing away at the age of 100. It’s really sad to think that she won’t be at our wedding, I mean, if we decide to have one that is. Henry’s cousin liked to joke that I was grandma’s favorite. And while that probably isn’t true, it was nice to feel the love from her when she would hold my hand while we watched TV. RIP ♥

Foodcation 2012: R&R

…continued from the 3rd leg of Foodcation 2012

The last destination of Foodcation 2012 was Mont Tremblant, a beautiful mountain resort about an hour north of Montreal. We came here for some R&R… well, our form of R&R anyway.

Mont Tremblant offers a variety of summer and winter activities for adults and kids. We really had trouble narrowing down the list, but we ended up picking two: Via Ferrata and Go Kart!

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I would describe via ferrata as… assisted rock climbing. A steel cable, in which you hook yourself onto, runs throughout the entire route. There are also iron bars, steps, ladders and bridges that aid in your ascent, or descent. No rock climbing experience is necessary, but I would suggest that one be in good physical condition.

There are three options available at Mont Tremblant:

1. The Excursion – 500 meters, approx 3 hours including 20 minute walk back to departure point
2. The Excursion (family) – same length and time as above, but allows for younger children
3. The Grande Virée – 1000 meters, approx 5 hours including 40 minute walk back to departure point

We went with the Grande Virée!

The tour started with a short walk from the activity center to our first obstacle (below). After a brief introduction of via ferrata and explanation of the basics, we climbed up and crossed the wooden plank bridge.

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On the other side of the bridge, we were given additional instructions and had an opportunity to get more comfortable with hooking and unhooking our carabiners.

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Then we were pretty much on our own … eeeekkkk!!

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My legs felt kind of wobbly after the climb, which made the hike back to the activity center a little difficult. I slipped and fell a couple of times!

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We did it!!!!!

Via ferrata at Mont Tremblant was a really cool activity. It was fun AND safe! Sure, I got nervous a few times, but I’m just a wuss 😉 The one time I did seriously panic was when I was trying to climb up a rock wall and my bungee lanyards got twisted up with an iron bar. This prevented me from hooking my carabiner onto the next iron bar and I was sort of stuck in limbo. I spent so much energy trying to sort everything out that I was too exhausted to climb up any further. Luckily, a man in the tour group was able to help me to the top of that wall.

Speaking of my tour group, there were 4 couples (including us) and we were definitely the youngest! All were French-Canadian and spoke French most of the time (even our tour guide) except when speaking to us. At the beginning of the tour, our guide apologized in advance for her English. You could definitely tell that English was her second language, but I didn’t have any problems understanding her.

A tip: Rock climbing gloves aren’t listed on the “What to Wear” list, but I definitely recommend them or whatever gloves that will protect your hands without compromising on grip.

The next day, we went go karting!

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I ain’t gonna lie. This activity was more for Henry. I mean, racing is fun and all, but I’m definitely NOT a speed demon. Quite frankly, I was terrified of fish tailing out of control or crashing or some combination of the two.

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We paid for 2 sessions and I think it was about 5/6 laps per session. But I was so slow, I had 1 less each time. 😦 I was very timid and hesitant during the first session so it was no surprise that I finished last. Well.. ok, so I still finished last in the 2nd session, but I improved my fastest lap by almost 30 seconds!

A tip: Layer up! Even when sunny, it could get cold since it’s outside.

Since go karting didn’t take up that much time, we had the rest of the day to explore Mont Tremblant.

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Fun activities right outside our balcony

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Such a cute mountain town

We took the gondola up…

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… and hiked to the panoramic lookout. Taking the panorama picture below was actually pretty painful because it was EXTREMELY WINDY AND COLD at the top of the lookout. I could barely breathe. After a quick picture, we continued hiking until we reached the next lookout point.

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We didn’t hike for too long since during the summer the gondola closes around 5PM so we made sure we got back in time for a ride down. It was still bright outside and I didn’t want to end the day so I convinced Henry to squeeze in one more activity: Skyline Luge!

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I first noticed the Skyline Luge the day we arrived; the luge course was right outside our balcony. I became more interested when we passed by on the way to the gondola. It looked like so much fun! Henry, on the other hand, wasn’t really interested because he thought it looked too childish. But after a bit of whining from yours truly, he caved and you know what… he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s so glad he did!!!!

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Taking the lift to the beginning of the course

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Luges

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Oh, hellooooo

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Luge course

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Skyline Luge’s tagline is spot on: Once is NEVER enough!

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The next day, we set out for a SEVEN hour drive back to Buffalo. We didn’t leave as early as we should have so we barely made our flight. I was so so so stressed out!!! Note to self: no more long ass drives!

Foodcation 2012 was wonderful. All the food we consumed was delicious, but I especially enjoyed our time outdoors at Mont Tremblant. Instead of Foodcation 2013, I’m considering a trip to Banff or going back to Mt. Rainier. Any tips or hiking trail recommendations for Banff are appreciated! 🙂

Foodcation 2012: Gluttony

…continued from the 2nd leg of Foodcation 2012

Our next destination was Montreal. Flights were really expensive between Toronto and Montreal ($700+ roundtrip for 2) so I had decided that driving would the best option. However, I didn’t realize, or rather, I didn’t think to check how much gas cost in Canada.

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Yikes

With the exchange rate at the time, this came out to about $5.26 or so for regular! This was when I thought $4.20 for regular at home was crazy!! As far as total cost was concerned, it was definitely still cheaper to drive, but I’m sure Henry would have rather flown than drive 5 hours to Montreal and 7 hours back to Buffalo at the end of our trip.

When you drive through Ontario, Canada, you will find these cool, modern rest stops with gas, food, restrooms and free WiFi! The best part… they were CLEAN!

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ONroute… get it? hehe 🙂

After about 5.5 hours on the road, we finally checked into our room at Hotel du Fort. This was probably the most dated hotel we’ve ever stayed in.

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Exhibit A

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Somebody please explain this to me…

Now, this doesn’t mean we had a bad experience. Our room was really big, the location of the hotel was great, the bed was comfortable, the towels and linens were clean… I mean, you really shouldn’t need much else right? Anyway, we got a great deal that included parking so I was happy with our experience. My only issue with Hotel du Fort was that the hallway seriously smelled like ASS. Only the hallway!

The main reason we came to Montreal was Au Pied de Cochon and this is where we had dinner our first night.

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We wanted to order so many things, but our waitress put her foot down and said no. It’s a good thing she did. Everything was rich and heavy, even the clams! It was really difficult to finish our meal.

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Clams (appetizer special of the night)
Foie Gras Poutine
PDC’s Melting Pot
Duck in a Can

Given the foie gras ban in California, I wanted to consume as much foie gras as possible at PDC. So obviously, I was a little disappointed when we finalized our order and I knew we would only have a couple of pieces (in the Poutine and Duck in a Can). Turns out, it was more than enough.

For first timers to PDC, I definitely recommend the Melting Pot since it gives you a little bit of everything: pork belly, pork loin, pork sausage and boudin noir served over creamy mashed potatoes. Man, I love me some blood sausage! The Foie Gras Poutine was just how I imagined: cheesy, creamy, melt in your mouth goodness.

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By the time we were served, Duck in a Can (the can is opened table-side), I was already stuffed. So stuffed, in fact, that I actually found it to be unappetizing after a couple of bites. Blasphemy, I know. First of all, I’m not a fan of fat that isn’t rendered down so the huge slab of fat on top of the duck breast? Yuck. Second, the duck breast itself wasn’t as tender as I thought it would be. And lastly, I prefer my foie gras pan seared. Apparently, I was the only one that felt this way because Henry really enjoyed this signature dish. To each his own.

Because we felt extremely guilty after eating this overly indulgent meal and also because I wanted some coffee, we rented bikes from BIXI and rode to a cafe that was open late.

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Umm yea… no English option 😦

It’s a good thing we rode bikes in DC because had I not been familiarized with the rental process, I would have no idea what was on the screen. And by the way, not only are the BIXI kiosks in French, the street parking signs are as well AND IN MILITARY TIME!

The next day was a mixture of eating and exercising. We rode our BIXI bikes to lunch spot #1, Resto La Banquise.

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La Petite vie (ground beef, onions & corn)
La T-Rex (ground beef, pepperoni, bacon & hot-dog sausages)

When in Canada, right? 😉 I ♥ poutine!

I used to think that Henry and I had big appetites, but watching everyone around us finish their poutine while we struggled to finish half of ours made me think otherwise.

After checking delicious poutine off our list, we rode our bikes to lunch spot #2: Schwartz’s.

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There was absolutely no way we could each eat a sandwich, so we decided to share. Sharing is caring.

At Schwartz’s, you have three options for your smoked meat: lean, medium or fatty. We left it up to our waiter and as you can see above, we got fatty. Personally, I would have ordered either lean or medium, but Henry likes the fattyness so I compromised. The meat was flavorful and tender and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed the fattier cut. Now, I have to say, Schwartz’s smoked meat > Katz’s pastrami. I would’ve thrown Langer’s into the mix, but I’ve never had a plain pastrami there so it wouldn’t be a fair comparison. Another thing in Schwartz’s favor is the price! A sandwich at Schwartz’s only sets you back $6.30 CAD while a sandwich at Katz’s is more than double at $15.95.

To fight off food coma, we rode our bikes to Mount Royal and hiked up to the summit. There are quite a few trails you can take up to the summit and I’m pretty sure we took the most difficult way up.

We started at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Monument…

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… followed random trails…

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… until we reached Camilien-Houde Lookout…

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See Olympic Stadium in the distance?

We thought this was it and started our hike back down when a local informed us that we hadn’t actually reached the summit and that there was another lookout. So, on we went. Once at the summit, we were rather disappointed to find that it didn’t offer any views so we started our trek down to the famous Mount Royal Cross via Ch. Olmsted…

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So so so pretty at night when illuminated

… from the cross, we hiked through what seemed to be a forest…

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… until we found the Chalet and Kondiaronk Lookout…

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Much better view!!

I’m really glad we continued from the first lookout because at that point, I wasn’t impressed and pretty much felt that the hike wasn’t worth it. But taking in Montreal from Kondiaronk Lookout totally made up for it!

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Hiking down Mount Royal towards the Rue Peel entrance was so much easier with the stairs. If you’re OK with stairs, this is definitely the fastest way to and from the Kondiaronk Lookout. The leisurely way would be to follow Ch. Olmsted all the way around.

Check out Henry’s shirt after our hike…

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A new deadmau5 shirt! hahahhahahahahahhahahhahaa

Our last dinner in Montreal was at Joe Beef. Unfortunately, it was so damn dark in there, we left without any good food pictures 😦

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So, here’s my beef with Joe Beef. The menu is written in French on a chalkboard and only the chalkboard. This meant that before we could even sit down (in cramped quarters, nonetheless), we had to stand behind people eating at the bar, look up at the chalkboard and try to translate the menu so that we could have an idea of what to order.

It is dark.
The chalkboard is small.
The menu is extensive.
I DON’T KNOW FRENCH.
WHY SO DIFFICULT!?!?!

We were able to make out some foie gras items (ie. Foie Gras Double Down, Parfait de Foie Gras), but PDC foie gras’d us out so we kept looking. After 5 minutes or so of cranking our necks to look at the chalkboard, I gave up and we took our seats. I was really hoping our waiter could help us out with a recommendation, but unfortunately, our waiter wasn’t much help. Like, AT ALL. When we asked for his recommendation, he actually said he didn’t like giving recommendations. WTF?!?!?! Instead, he referred us to the specials for 2 that night: suckling pig and lamb shank. We got the lamb shank. It was… OK…

After a disappointing dinner, we walked down to the Starbucks on the corner for some coffee and to get a Montreal Starbucks Cup. Yes, I collect them!!! 😀

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Tip: half and half is Creme 10%

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The next morning, we prepared for the last leg of Foodcation 2012. I didn’t know if we would find any markets near our last destination so we picked up some groceries a block away from our hotel. As we were walking back to the car lugging several heavy bags, a bottle of olive oil somehow fell out of one of the bags, shattered right by my feet and showered my legs with oil.

Awesome.

… to be continued.

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Montreal Eats (+our verdict):
Au Pied de Cochon, 3.5/5
Resto La Banquise, 4/5
Schwartz’s, 4.5/5
Joe Beef, 3/5