Tag: travel

Travel Swellness: The James Hotel in Chicago

James Hotel Chicago bedAdvertisement
Chicago is one of my favourite cities. It probably holds a special place in my heart because one of the first (if not the very first!)  press trips I went on when I was at Flare was to Chicago, but of course, there’s more to it. I find the people friendly, there’s so many fantastic restaurants, they host a helluva good marathon, which I’ve run twice (last weekend in the Chicago Marathon 2017, and my marathon PB in 2014), and, of course, the beautiful architecture. And now that list of what I love in Chicago is growing, as I’ve just discovered the James Hotel.

(And if you’re booking a trip to Chicago or elsewhere, don’t forget about the $40 you can save if you use this little link of mine, right HERE).

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Through Booking.com, I stayed at the James just a little over a week ago for my marathon weekend, and it had a lot going for it as a place to stay for the race, however it’s a great boutique hotel to stay no matter what brings you to Chicago.

Major selling points: it’s pretty much a few minutes walk away from both Eataly and Shake Shack, plus Trader Joe’s is right across the street. I adore Shake Shack and even though it’s not from Chicago, I will make time to have a Shack Burger whenever I have access to one. Same goes for Eataly; it also hails from New York but the pizza, pasta, burrata and more is just too hard to resist that I’ll stop in for a bite whenever I can. And Trader Joe’s is great for snacks, and especially helpful when you’re fueling for a marathon and need access to the ingredients you’d normally have before a race. If you’re on a budget, you can also save loads of money if you opt to pick up something there for your breakfast, or even if you grab a bottle of wine to enjoy in your room rather than one out at dinner (both ways I cut back on spending when I”m watching my pennies when traveling).

James Hotel Chicago lobby level

The James Chicago is located in River North just steps from the Magnificent Mile. So shopaholics, this convenient location means you can drop off your shopping bags, or even pop in for a quick power nap before you shop some more. Although I don’t know if a quick nap is possible; the beds at the James were so comfortable and luxurious, I found myself spending more time lounging around in my suite than I typically do when I travel.

Cloud Gate

Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago are about a 25-minute walk from the hotel; 360 Chicago is about 15 minutes away (call me a tourist, but I love seeing cities from up high!). So you’re very close to some of the top attractions. The closest subway is the Grand station on the red line, and I easily navigated my way on the transit system to neighbourhoods I wanted to explore such as Logan Square and Bucktown.

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(By the way, if you are visiting Chicago and planning to go to many of the top attractions, it’s worth considering getting the Citypass Chicago. I’ve used it on two trips to Chitown and besides being able to save some money on your entry fees if you were to pay at each sight separately, you also score quick entry; I’ve seen long lines snake out of Shedd Aquarium, for example, and I can tell you I was very grateful to not waste precious time in Chicago waiting in line.)

I didn’t have a chance to try out the restaurant in the hotel, but I did spend time in the hotel lobby, which is a beautiful space where there’s lots of seating if you’re waiting to meet someone or are waiting for your car (this is something I appreciate as I once waited during a snowstorm for about two hours in an NYC hotel lobby that had not a single chair). The lobby at the James is a sleek and modern space but not in a cold, modern way (there are warm touches and textures that make it comfortable). They host a wine hour here (which I refrained from since I was preparing for my race, le sigh).

James Hotel Chicago lobby level

The room I had was spacious and filled with light. The only downside to the room is the pocket door to the washroom, which is very heavy, making it a chore to slide open and closed. I’m a pretty fit person and I found it cumbersome but I can see it being a problem for some people. Word to the wise: I’m not sensitive to noise and city noises don’t bother me, but if you’re especially easy to wake up from slumber, you may want to request a room on a higher floor. In my room on the 7th floor, I was aware of the sirens and traffic noises from the street, however, it didn’t bother me as I’m used to din of the city.

James Chicago bathroom

Want to book the James Chicago? Well, if you use my exclusive Booking.com link to book your stay, you’ll get a refund of $40 once you complete your stay. That’s $40 you can use at Eataly, or at a Grant Achatz restaurant, or use towards your architectural cruise ticket. Man, I’m already missing this hotel and fantastic city…

Happy travels!

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Leave a Comment October 18, 2017

Travel Swellness: Road tripping in a Chevrolet Camaro convertible

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Last month my road tripping adventures continued, and I went on a quick getaway  in a Chevrolet Camaro  thanks to General Motors Canada.

Most of the cars I’ve driven this year have been SUVs (I’ve had the Equinox a few times, the Chevy Trax, and Cadillac Escalade, too) but the Camaro was a clear departure from all the vehicles I’ve driven. Getting into the driver’s seat of this sports car, I felt so low to the ground and as though I was leaning back. Since it’s not the posture I’m used to for driving, I easily adjusted the seat so that I was sitting more upright. Once I adjusted my seat and mirrors, I immediately noticed the rearview mirror was small when I first got in the car, but it was something I quickly got used to.

I was the sole driver of this road trip, by the way (I’ve been challenging myself to tackle more driving) so I didn’t get to take advantage of the car’s WIFI often, but it did come in handy a few times because we were out in the country and I had spotty phone reception. I’m a huge fan of cars that offer lifestyle features  like this.

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“WHO is that?” I asked myself, as I heard the low rumble of an engine as I drove on the expressway home. It took me a few seconds to realize, “Oh, that’d be me in this Camaro!”

All of the details of the car exude power and sport: The vents on the dashboard seem oversized and reminiscent of the exhaust pipes on the rear of the car. The contrast stitching on the steering wheel is bold and aggressive.

Camaro steering wheel

I’ve only ever been in a convertible once in my life before this. I didn’t end up driving with the top down as it was a bit chilly out and I had Billie Jean with me (didn’t know if she’d try to hop out!), but I did try out putting the top down and then back up a few times. After some initial confusion (I googled and learned the flap panel in the trunk had to be affixed upright in order for the top to operate), I was able to easily operate it, and having the top come down and tuck away is phenomenally smooth and highly entertaining. I felt like I was driving a Transformer. It was absolutely delightful!

Billie Jean was not so much of a fan of the top coming back up; I think the movement frightened her a little. The concept of a two-door car also confused her but she quickly learned to tuck herself into the back seats. I actually think she found the Camaro cozier than being in the SUVs. So, if you’re ever considering what kind of car your dog would like in terms of comfort…this is it!

Camaro and Billie Jean in backseat

The car to me felt very solid, safe and responsive. I had to drive through some intense rain and a 18-wheeler almost took us out (just thinking about this makes my heart race), but I was able to quickly and safely move out of the truck’s way thanks to the car’s handling and I suppose thanks to remaining relatively calm and in control.

The Camaro doesn’t boast a lot of trunk space but of course, I don’t think that’s the selling point of this vehicle. It was sufficient for my short road trip, which included Billie Jean, though, so it’s not as though you can’t pack a decent pile of gear in it.

This sporty little number was somewhat unexpectedly (I don’t consider myself as a sports car kinda girl!) fun vehicle to dash around in. My only wish is that the leaves had changed colours by the time of this trip; it’d be incredible to drive with the Camaro’s top down to take in that autumn beauty on country roads.

 

Leave a Comment October 17, 2017

Travel Swellness: 10 things to do in Norfolk County

Long Point Eco Adv Wilderness Pod

Road tripping was the theme for my summer 17 and I thought I’d challenge myself in trying something new-ish to me: glamping! I have glamped before once, in Chile, but it was so luxe I actually wasn’t quite sure if it is considered glamping… but I suppose it was!

Little did I know that before I made it to my glamping trip in Norfolk County that I’d go camping twice, which is way more challenging.

I’d never been to Norfolk County before. Coined Ontario’s Garden, the area boasts fields where all sorts of produce is grown, everything from ginseng to cabbage. It is a quiet and cozy getaway that I feel hasn’t quite hit the super trendy status of Prince Edward County, which makes it more low key and relaxing. I drove there from Toronto  in a Chevy Equinox and it took about three hours because we hit traffic.

With three whole days to explore, and some good weather, we got to explore much of the area. Planning a getaway to Norfolk? I think you should! Here’s how you should fill your time.

Long Point Wilderness Suite

Stay at Long Point Eco Adventures. I love being in nature and Long Point Eco Adventures makes it an easy go for urbanites who want to try camping. I did one night in an adorable Wilderness Pod (that’s the cute wooden pod at the top of this post) and two nights in a Wilderness Suite tent. Both feature a bed with linens and electricity and a washroom (for the pod, you shower in an outdoors shower nearby). The Suite had a king-size bed and a very nice outdoor shower attached to the tent; don’t you love showering in fresh air? It’s the best. The breakfast, which is included with your stay, is a buffet and it includes some kick-ass breakfast potatoes and bacon. I looked forward to those every morning!

Long Point Eco Adv breakfast

There’s a food truck on site, so you don’t have to fuss with a camping stove or anything like that. The lunch we had from the food truck is tied for my favourite meal of the trip. We had this awesome, very flavourful salad and steak frites.

Long Point Eco Adv lunch from food truck

Drink and eat at Burning Kiln Winery. Right across the street from Long Point Eco Adventures is Burning Kiln Winery and you’ll see the tobacco kiln out front. The winery has repurposed the tobacco kiln to dry grapes, which enhances the flavours and brings out different nuances to the grapes. I really enjoyed the tasting here, and the food is superb, too. The food truck at LPEA is actually from Burning Kiln, so it’s no surprise that the dinner here is my other meal tied for fave meal of the trip. Portions are substantial so go with an appetite (or ask for a doggy bag — your pod or suite has a mini fridge!). My favourite was the Pinot Noir (and I’ve got a bottle of it at home now to break into, can’t wait!).

Billie Jean hiking at Long Point

Take a hike. My dog, Billie Jean, and I both love to hike and we took advantage of the trails on the Long Point property. A few of the trails the start near the Wilderness Suites can get steep so proper footwear is a must. We also hiked in Waterford by the Black Bridge, but the trail we found there was mostly a paved path, so it felt more of a walk in a park than a hike in the woods, so there are options if you’re more keen on an easier stroll.

Long Point Eco Adv ziplining

Zip line at Long Point Eco Adventures. There’s a really free and joyful feeling that comes with zip lining. I’ve done it several times now in both North America and the Caribbean and while it doesn’t give me an adrenaline rush in the places I have done zip lining, that familiar whirring sound and the lush forest below is great as an unexpected way to enjoy the beauty of Norfolk County.

Blueberry Hill

 

Enjoy a cider tasting at Blueberry Hill Estates. Stop into Blueberry Hill Estates for a cider tasting to whet your appetite. Better yet, pair your cider tasting with a cheese tasting. It’s a great way to test your tastebuds and learn more about cider. There are also some incredible baked goods for sale (hello, butter tarts!); take some to go to enjoy back at your pod.

Mountain biking at Turkey Point

Go mountain biking. Remember how I said zip lining doesn’t really give me an adrenaline rush? Well, mountain biking does. In that I’m-so-terrified-of-crashing-and-my-heart’s-going-a-million-miles-a-minute way. I’ve never tried it before and I think our ride in Turkey Point Provincial Park was the perfect first attempt. Paul Meiklejohn from Elevation Mountain Bike Camps & Coaching is a former pro mountain biker and he was very patient and gave me clear instructions and was very encouraging — even when I had to try three times before I made it over a very little bump. The trails are so narrow (to me, at least) and I was terrified of my handlebar catching on them, which they eventually did. So I wiped out a few times, but nothing serious, and while I can’t say I truly found it fun (OK, well, it was fun but tied to a whole lot of fear!) I was very proud of myself for trying something new and out of my comfort zone. I can definitely see why people love mountain biking, I’m still too much of a chicken to embrace it.

Inasphere Wines

Go for a wine tasting and the views at Inasphere Wines. This jaw-dropping view is what greets you as you drive up to Inasphere Wines. I recommend going in to get your wine tasting and then stepping outside to grab a Muskoka chair to sit in as you take in this spectacular sight (those are cabbage crops, btw).

Port Dover Beach

Visit the beach at Port Dover. You guys, there’s palm trees in Port Dover! Real palm trees! They’re definitely not native, but it’s a fun addition to the beach here. It was very windy the day we ventured here, but this sandy beach was lovely and there are a charming retro diner in this beach town that I definitely want to check out the next time I’m in the area. 

Pigs at Ralphys Retreat

Say hello to the animals at Ralphy’s Retreat. Call head to arrange a visit to the animal sanctuary, Ralphy’s Retreat, where you’ll find mostly pigs. Those mini potbellied pigs? Lots of people get them as pets, only to learn that they grow up into large pigs. Some of those abandoned pigs end up here at the Retreat (there were also some horses, too) where they are well cared for while they await finding a good home.

Billie Jean at Long Point Beach

Spend a day on the sand at Long Point Beach. There’s a dog-friendly section of the beach, and the lake is warmer than Lake Ontario, so on a nice day, even I (not a fan of cold water) would consider venturing in for a dip.

This is just a taste of what Norfolk County has to offer. What else is there? Well, I didn’t have time to try axe throwing at Long Point Eco Adventures, and there are a few restaurants I didn’t have time to check out (there’s only so many meals one can cram into each day!). The weather meant we had to cancel stand-up paddleboarding and the other watersports, and it also meant we couldn’t check out the observatory (too cloudy!). What’s this mean for me? Well, I’m pretty sure this means another visit is a must!

Billie Jean in Long Point Wilderness Suite

And yes, fellow folks with dogs, Long Point Eco Adventures is dog-friendly. Billie Jean was a very happy camper exploring the woods and searching the grass for scraps near the food truck and taking advantage of the king-size bed in the Wilderness Suite. I highly recommend this for you and your pup, and for anyone who wants the nature and outdoors fun of camping but with zero of the task of packing up loads of gear and supplies nor the work of making a fire or pitching a tent.

Have you been to Norfolk County? Would love to hear about your recommendations!

 

 

1 Comment October 11, 2017

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