Filed under: Travel Swellness

Travel Swellness: Ford Explorer adventures in Toronto with Billie Jean

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When it comes to my schedule outside of work, most of my time is spent making my sweet rescue pup, Billie Jean, happy. Yes, I’m now one of those people.

So with the opportunity to get a Ford Explorer from Ford Canada and show Billie Jean parts of the city she has not yet seen, I jumped at the chance. She’s only been in Canada a year, so there’s so much she hasn’t experienced yet and even though dogs are permitted on the TTC in non-rush hour times, there are adventures that are so much simpler to do with a car.

Ford Explorer at Bluffs

Let’s first talk about this vehicle, though. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t driven in a few months, but the Explorer is one big SUV. I thought I’d get used to it the more I drove it over the four days, but I have to admit I didn’t. However, while it made it nerve-wracking for me (the infrequent driver) to park — I think I spent 20 minutes in my underground parking trying to get it into the only available spot, which was the worst spot of the whole parking garage — I always felt safe in it. The blind-spot assist function is something I appreciate as well as the easy to use GPS (this is a must for me given I have no sense of direction and being lost is a huge stressor for me). In terms of comfort and how easy the car is to use, I liked the Billie Jean hopped right into the backseat (that’s her ultimate seal of approval, I have had vehicles where she seems unsure of what to do with herself), and things like the button to shut the trunk door and to lower the last row of seats (making it easier for me to view out the rear window) make it a relief to drive. And while I’m no expert on driving, from my perspective, I felt like it handled smoothly (braking is nice and smooth, accelerates how I’d expect it to based on how I much I’m stepping on the gas, and even just  how the actual steering wheel feels in your hands; the simple things you may not notice when the car runs smoothly like this one did, but are glaringly obvious when they’re not comfortable to the touch or driving experience, in my experience anyhow).

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I learned how well it drove over the course of a few days, and first up was a spa day for Billie Jean. We rolled up to Park9 in the Distillery  District, where Billie Jean enjoyed a massage bath, she get a mani (well, her claws were trimmed) and best of all, she got a blueberry facial. How cute is that? She came out smelling so fresh and clean and her fur was absolutely brilliant!

Sherwood Park

The rest of our time was spent visiting friends and going to parks we can’t access simply. This included Sherwood Park, which is a lovely park to trek around with a large off-leash section, and also Sixteen Mile Creek in Oakville, where Billie Jean got to sport her adorable new Nordic sweater.

Sixteen Mile Creek

Before stopping into Oakville, we went to make a small pit stop in Burlington as I was keen to try Sunshine Doughnuts (where Billie Jean wasn’t very pleased that she did not get a doughnut for herself).

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And for our last dog-fun outing? A visit to Scarborough Bluffs, which was blissfully quiet and serene on a weekend morning. If you’ve ever met Billie Jean, you can easily tell when she’s having the time of her life, and I know that she felt like she was living her best life on these adventures in the Ford Explorer.

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I took advantage of having the Ford SUV to also do a little exploring of my own, too. Namely, a food adventure. I picked up friends (did you know the Explorer seats six people?) and we headed to Fishmans Lobster Clubhouse, which I have long drooled over when I’ve seen posts of lobster towers on Instagram (and you may recognize the restaurant as it was recently featured on David Chang’s Ugly Delicious). It’s a set menu so my friend in the know insisted we go with a big group of people, so with the Explorer, we were finally able to make our lobster tower dream come true.  And it was so worth it. I can see this becoming an annual trek to Markham.

Fishmans Lobster Clubhouse

I reluctantly returned the Explorer and handed back the keys, but ended our explorations around the city with one happy dog (and one full and happy belly myself). You can check photos on Instagram with the hashtag #FordDogDays! And I’d love your recos of where to go on future outings with this pup!

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Leave a Comment May 1, 2018

Travel Swellness: Escape to Vernon for a wellness retreat

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The mountains are calling…

The mountains are always calling me, it seems. I’ve said it before: as much as I love the ocean and spending time on a beach, it’s being in the mountains that truly makes me well up inside with all of the warm and fuzzies.

So I jumped at the opportunity to travel to Vernon, B.C., with Buick Enclave to learn about this luxury crossover SUV and to breathe in that fresh mountain air. It was a whirlwind trip, but I was a busy little bunny and have 5 things you must do if you’re looking to do your own wellness retreat in beautiful Vernon.

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1. Stay at Sparkling Hill Resort. The view from the floor to ceiling windows in the suites is reason enough to book a stay at Sparkling Hill. Just taking in that view and I feel more relaxed and calm.  I could just go from that bathtub to the bed and back all day long soaking it up. Add in a very comfortable bed, some incredible food (everything I had from the veggie wrap at lunch to the chicken at dinner was delectable), and stress just melts away. The property is on a granite bluff overlooking Lake Okanagan and is the brainchild of the patriarch of the Swarovski crystal family, so throughout the property you’ll find more than 3.5 million Swarovski crystals making the resort shine bright.

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2. Snowshoe at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre. With tall evergreens weighed down with fluffy white snow, snowshoeing here with a guide is a magical winter wonderland experience. As a city girl jaded by the frigid long waits for public transit and dealing with the grey, slushy mess of downtown Toronto, escaping to a place like Sovereign Lake  where winter is stunning and gives you a reason to celebrate snow is always a good reminder to make time to appreciate this most Canadian of seasons.

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Breathing in that fresh pine scent as you work your way through the trails is a great workout; you can burn about 500 calories an hour (but it really depends on how difficult your terrain is and how intensely you trek).

Vernon hiking

3. Go hiking. There are 25 kilometres of marked trails in and around the Sparkling Hill Resort property for hiking. It’s so quiet that it’ll just be the crunch of the snow beneath your feet to accompany you, with views of the lake and some 300 species of birds in the area to spot. The resort also offers daily guided hikes if you’re not keen about venturing out on your own.

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4. Spend a day in Kurspa. Yes, an entire day. Or break up your time at the 40,000 square-foot spa over several days. There are seven different themed steams and saunas to indulge in including Rose Steam, Igloo, Crystal Steam and Aqua Meditation.

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You could (and should) also walk the Kneipp Hydrotherapy, a water-stepping path through warm and cold water (it’s only about knee deep) designed to help with circulation, low blood pressure, insomnia and swollen feet. If hot pools are your jam, the one at Kurspa is  designed so that you should move your way around it counterclockwise so that the specially designed jets help to soothe your body. For those who like to swim laps, you will not want to miss the indoor saltwater pool here as music is  piped in underwater. And I haven’t even gotten to the spa treatments yet: try the signature Mud & Muscle if you’ve gone hard with your workouts, or the Crystal Scrub to get glowing. I didn’t have time to have a treatment since I chose to spend as much time outdoors in the mountains, but I heard the treatments are top notch.

Me in Buick Enclave

5. Go for a scenic drive around the Okanagan. Driving the winding roads in the 2018 Buick Enclave was a relaxing and beautiful excursion during which we got to take in the sunset as we made our way to and then back from Sovereign Lake. If you’re traveling with your whole squad, the Enclave is actually a great choice as it seats seven people, and yet it manages to not feel like an enormous car (in fact, I actually didn’t realize the car’s capacity at all when I was driving it, and that is usually something I’m wary of). And check out the super luxe interior (with heated seats, much welcome after snowshoeing in the cold!)

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But my two top reasons a Buick Enclave is the perfect ride for this trip to a mountain escape to Vernon? Firstly, the OnStar 4G LTE wifi, which came in handy given we were in areas where my smartphone had no data connection.  Up to seven devices can connect so every passenger can stream or catch up on social media and emails easily.

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Secondly, the QuietTuning feature. I’ve only just learned about it but it helps create a healthier and more relaxing space in your Buick. What is it? It’s an air ionizer that helps to eliminate odours and improve air quality by creating negatively charged particles that attract all of the things you don’t want in your car (the bad smells and contaminants– think dust, pollen, bacteria) making them heavy and then sweeping them out of the air in the car. Making it that much easier for you to breathe in that fresh Okanagan air.

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I hope I can fit in another mountain escape into my schedule soon because they are calling again. Thank you, Buick, for this little escape to the west coast.

 Photography (Buick Enclave in Ebony Twilight, Buick Enclave in Havana Metallic , snowshoeing, sauna, mountain view): Lucas Scarfone.

 

Leave a Comment December 15, 2017

Travel Swellness: Curtis Stone’s top 7 things to do in Australia

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I had a date with Curtis Stone last month.

Alright…it was actually a Tourism Australia dinner, and Curtis is an ambassador with them. You may know Curtis from his cooking shows. To be totally honest, I know much less about Curtis Stone than I do other chefs (I’ve seen a few episodes of his shows in the past and I remember he was on Celebrity Apprentice, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried any of his recipes and I don’t own any of his cookbooks). What I do know, though, is that he’s married to Lindsay Price, who was on Beverly Hills, 90210, which is basically one of my fave shows ever.

So when I was introduced to him before dinner, I told him that his wife was on my favourite show (yes, I was that fangirl), and he said, “Let me guess, Lipstick Jungle.” Huh. Nope, I told him 90210 (which he admitted he’d never seen when he first met Lindsay; he’s since seen the show — I should hope so!).

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I ended up getting to sit beside Curtis through two whole courses, and what a cool, gracious guy. We talked about fitness, and I asked if he surfs much now living in L.A., and he said he doesn’t have much time to, but gets in the water about four or five times a year. I also asked him about what his guilty food pleasure is, and he loves tacos. And being in L.A., he said there’s tons of great taco trucks (and he couldn’t name one favourite as he loves them all).

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He was there, of course, to chat about Australia, which was long been high on my travel wish list. Here’s a to-do list of what are essentials when you visit Australia based on what Curtis chatted with us all about that night.

1. Indulge in fresh tropical fruit. “We have a variety of climates at home, tropical, subtropical, dry heat, some with limited rain, some crazy rain, cooler climates as well. Which will tell you what will grow. And we as a country grow some 50 varieties of mango…we’re more a part of southeast Asia geographically and we can grow all sorts of tropical fruits and that’s probably what I miss more than anything else.”

2. Get fish and chips and eat it on the beach. “The thing I have every time I’m home is fish and chips because we have the most fantastic fish and chips. And when you try to explain to someone overseas it sounds a bit strange, right” ‘Well, we have flake, well, that’s shark. Deep fried in batter, and potato cakes, but that’s regionality; if you’re from Melbourne, it’s potato cakes, and if from New South Wales, it’s potato scallops. There’a s variety of other seafoods and chips. For me it’s something we’d have every Friday night at home growing up. Later in life, it’s something I’d sit on a beach with a girlfriend or buddy and eat fish and chips, so that’s what I have every time I go back.”

3. Try some native foods prepared in a modern way. “Most gastro forward restaurants like Vue de Monde or like Attica, they take indigenous ingredients and apply sophisticated, whimsical techniques to them. I was recently at Vue de Monde and had wallaby raw, served on a salt rock from Mary River, very out there kind of ideas. It wasn’t that dissimilar to carpaccio of beef. I ate magpie goose really slowly cooked at Attica, and you wouldn’t have seen that here because they don’t exist here, and truly when I was a kid I wouldn’t think of eating those animals either. It wasn’t something we did, but these days we are getting more adventurous.”

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4. Visit his fave city, Melbourne, and also Sydney. “That’s where I lived. Melbournians have a way of being very very patriotic. I did live in Sydney for a minute and that was a beautiful city, too, built right on the harbour. It’s the one city in the world where you finish work and you’re like ‘it’s a beach day, yeah,. I’m going to stop by and have a quick swim on my way home.’ Because there are inner city beaches that are really sensational.” 

5.Don’t overlook visiting Brisbane. “Brisbane is great city, too. We call it Brisvegas because they’re a little glitzy up in Brisbane but it’s a fun city to spend time in for sure. There was a milk bar on every corner when I growing up. It’s where you buy milk and the newspaper. They’re less and less common now but they’re being repurposed. My friend’s got this old milk bar, which he’s turned turned into restaurant called billy cart. I was just explaining this to someone today, too, a billy cart is what we used to race down hill made out of milk crates and put ties on and stuff. Places like that out in suburbs are really special and also Brisbane city centre has really developed into cosmopolitan city.”

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6. Go to a sporting event. “I’m in a fortunate position as I take a lot of Americans to Australia as I still work there quite often and I take a team and half of them are American and I’m thinking of making a rule that Americans can’t travel there, because I’ve lost three; three have stayed, over a ten-year period but still that’s not a good ratio.The thing they seem to love is if I take them to a sporting event. We’re mad about football in Australia, it’s a special atmosphere. You get 100,000 spectators to a game that’s not even in the finals, it’s a fast-paced game, action packed. My wife seems to really like it, a little more than I would like her to like it, she seems to think all the players are quite handsome, and short shorts. So you have to go to a sporting event whether it’s Melbourne Cup, a famous horse race we have or the footy.”

7. Make time to visit a country town. “My dad lives in Woodend, the countryside of Victoria, only one and half hours outside of town, but I think it’s a really unique experience because within 20 to 30 minutes of driving out of town, there’s sheep everywhere, cows everywhere. It feels very rural very fast and if you go to one of those small country towns and have dinner in a pub, you probably will meet a shearer or a farmer of some description, it’s a very unique experience.”

Curtis has two young sons who he’s brought back down under with him. “In Australia, we’re less protective around our kids. We let them figure it out themselves, I quite like that. I like that culture. Let my boys be boys and not be too over top of them. Go to the ciuntry a lot, go to the backyard and chase the horses around. It’s a nice way of life, lots to experience. Nature is a big part of culture, beaches and countryside. I think they come back a little rougher and a little more ready for life each time I take them back.”

Alright, Curtis, I was already keen to visit, but now you’ve sold me even more so on Australia.

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As for what we ate at Bosk that night, well, Curtis admitted to me that he didn’t have that much to do with the menu, other than discussing some key ingredients. He’d said he’d have loved to cook for us, though. The dinner was fantastic and paired with Australian wines. I’ve shown all of the courses here in the post in order. We started with prawn tartare with shell powder, chili thread, mango and avocado. Next, we had seared foie gras with Vegemite-miso, beet gel and A.N.Z.A.C. crumble. When we ate this course, Curtis pointed out to me that the plating was very Wylie Dufresne and he googled a photo on his phone to show me. For the main, we enjoyed spiced lamb with quinoa tabbouleh, and finally, for dessert, mango and passionfruit pavlova. I adored the rich foie gras and the very refreshing pavlova (and I’m usually not that into dessert, since it’s often chocolate cake of some sort).

OK, now, back to planning on getting myself to Australia…Have you been? What did you love most about your travels there?

 

Leave a Comment November 22, 2017

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