15 September 2014

Winnipeg Neighbourhood Post 2: St Boniface/Norwood Grove

My hopes are set so high for the St. Boniface and Norwood Grove area. With the Esplanade Riel, the brand spankin' new Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Cathedral ruins clustered together, it's the most popular fodder for tourist-y skyline shots; yet there are dilapidated pockets with occasionally downright bizarre businesses dotting the area. It lies so close to some high traffic tourist areas, but there are only a few truly good restaurants to choose from. Yet, with some new and exciting businesses moving into the area in the last year or so, together with its growing popularity in the housing market, I have real hopes for its continued improvement.

As before, each category is arranged from most to least highly recommended. I've selected the spots that I think exemplify some of the best Winnipeg has to offer, but if you ever think I've missed something great, please, let me know!

Resto Gare
A railway station building and an attached observation car transformed into a bistro and bar, this is a truly unique Winnipeg institution. Dishes are high quality and flavour packed with often locally sourced ingredients, and the service is impeccable. For a romantic and splurgy treat, try one of the Dîners pour Deux.

Marion Street Eatery
This little restaurant is in the same vein of the previously mentioned Village Cafe - a charming eatery tucked inside a fairly sketchy hotel/bar. Gourmet twists on tradition North American comfort food plus lovely minimalist yet cozy decor make this an exciting new spot in Winnipeg.

In Ferno's Bistro
With a cozy ambience, well-made dishes and a rotating specials list as long as my arm, Inferno's Bistro is an old date night spot for Chris and I. The patio is particularly lovely.

Cafe Postal
This cozy little specialty coffee shop is among my favourite spots in the city. They have the wildest cold brew contraption I've ever seen, their drinks are lovely, and all the natural wood is to die for. There are only a handful of spots to sit inside, but I've always found a place to perch.

Chocolatier Constance Popp
Head chocolatier Constance is among the best in Manitoba and her passion and attention to detail show in the chocolate she makes. Each bon bon is a delectable work of art that tastes just as good as it looks, and her chocolates are free of preservatives or artificial flavours.

The shop also serves coffee, pastries from A l'Epi de Ble (one of the best little French bakeries in Winnipeg), as well as specialty items like chocolate sculptures. For a unique Manitoba treat, try the Manitobar - rich dark chocolate paired with locally-sourced seeds in the shape of the province of Manitoba.

Le Croissant
Le Croissant makes some of the best fruit bread I've ever had the pleasure of slathering with butter. Their selection rotates regularly, so what's available depends on the day and time you get there (HINT: the earlier, the better). Their croissants have a bit more of a bread-like sponginess to them than, say, the buttery flakiness of Tall Grass Prairie at the Forks, but they're delightful.
À la Page
The teensiest bit run down (but hopefully some renovations coming soon?), À la Page is an excellent resource for your French literature needs. They also boast a small English lit section, but it's mostly tattered classics, and really, nothing to write home about. The French section on the other hand has a great mix of new and used, and the staff here are completely lovely.

Jardins St-Leon
I know I'm pushing the boundaries of Norwood Grove a bit with this one, but I admire Jardins St-Leon too much NOT to include it. The cutest little outdoor market runs daily across the summer months, and serves up a bevy of "real" produce ("real" meaning grown in Manitoba) and other fresh, Canadian foods.

Admirably, the owners hire almost exclusively local, French-speaking youth and also offer yard cleaning services to help you get your garden ready for the summer months.

La Boutique du Livre
If you're in the market for French books and games for children, this is your place. The atmosphere is airy and welcoming, and they offer a great selection.

Cathédrale de Saint-Boniface
A fascinating and beautiful reminder of our French history and the site of Louis Riel's grave: the ruined cathedral is eerily beautiful and completely free to visit. Grab some bread and coffee and enjoy them on the stone steps (which is precisely what I did with my dear friend Carly this past weekend).

Esplanade Riel
Penis jokes aside, this iconic pedestrian bridge is a great spot for photos and sports some pretty fabulous views. Enjoying gourmet dining on this bridge during Table for 1200 was an absolute dream. I've also heard good things about bridge restaurant Chez Sophie's private dining area for special events.

Fort Gibraltar
Open year-round, but a special treat during Festival du Voyageur, come watch blacksmiths, carpenters, weavers and more working in the style of the French-Canadian settlers. For more info on Festival, see my full post here.

Le Musée de St. Boniface Museum
Learn about the fascinating history of French settlement and French-Canadian and Metis culture in Western Canada in the former home of the Grey Nuns. Collections range from artifacts concerning the establishment of St. Boniface to the ambitions of Louis Riel and on. The artifacts are well curated, preserved and annotated and the staff is enthusiastic and welcoming.

Tourisme Riel
Located in the former City Hall Building of St. Boniface, this is where to find information about the area, peruse brochures and magazines about Winnipeg, and use free internet if you're visiting from away.

8 September 2014

Maximizing Your Solo Travel Experience

Solo travel is amazing for so many reasons. (I know, I know, I've said as much before.) But beyond the incredible sights and self-selected journeys, travelling alone is really one of the best ways to know yourself. I know it sounds a little corny, but solo travel has provided me with the opportunity to explore various sides of my personality and understand myself better through new and challenging experiences.

It's also an excellent way to further develop your gut instincts. When I'm travelling, I try to be a "yes" person as much as possible. It's a strategy that's helped me to accumulate a lot of crazy stories, but it's also helped me to learn when and how to say no. No one way is going to work for everyone, but this is a general guideline I use to make decisions when I'm travelling solo. To me, maximizing your travel experience means taking advantage of great opportunities while staying safe.
Say "yes" if...

it scares you (just a little bit).

Sometimes fear is a warning to stop and get out immediately. Sometimes that nervous fear is what lets you know that you're on to something incredible. Knowing the difference between the two is a skill worth cultivating.

it will significantly add to your travel experience.

it's something you've always wanted to try.

it doesn't sound like something you'd normally do.

When I decided to take a little break from teaching and spend a month in Guatemala building houses, there was a good half of my brain that told me I was insane. I was used to working with my mind to make money, and my most physically demanding job up until that point was serving. I wasn't a labourer by any means. But doing something physical like that helped me discover something I truly love. It made me feel strong, powerful and confident. It's helped me realize how adaptable and capable I am, and that's definitely something I've carried forward into my work life.
Say "no" if...

you feel genuinely uncomfortable or unsafe.

While I was in Antigua, a group of the girls I was staying with really wanted to go to a house party a guy they knew (although not well) was throwing after the salsa bar let out for the night. It didn't sound like something I'd normally do, but there was a large group of us and we'd hung around with these people before, so I said yes. We climbed up these insane, winding stone steps to this cute condo with next to no furniture inside. For a while we made polite and giggly conversation, and then the drugs started coming out. As I looked around at the girls I was with (a number of whom were crossing over into the sleepy drunk phase) I knew it was time to go. I felt uncomfortable. So I rounded everyone up and we all stumbled home together. Does the fact that I went to this party at all make a cool story? Sure. Am I glad I left when I did? Definitely.

it's going to bust your budget.

If saying yes to this means not being able to afford anything else, decline: plain and simple.

it seems too good to be true.

In my experience, if it seems too good to be true, that's because it probably is. When Chris and got time-shared in Vegas, it seemed almost too easy. Listen to a presentation for a while = get a bunch of free tickets. Yay! Hours later, after explaining to people of various levels of authority, that "No, we weren't interested in making a major financial decision on the spot while on vacation," we finally got our "free" stuff. It turned out that pretty much all of the tickets required some sort of charge or fee that we were responsible for covering. Lesson learned.

So, what about you? Do you have any strategies for maximizing your own travel experiences? Funny stories from times when you were still learning to trust your gut? I'd love to hear them!

This post is part of a collaboration with creditcardinsider.com, a great resource for finding the best credit card to meet your travel needs. They have some great pointers on their website, so if you're shopping around for a card, check them out! The content of this post is original to me, and this is not a sponsored post.

1 September 2014

Winnipeg Neighbourhood Guide Part 1: Osborne Village

I decided to begin our neighbourhood guide to Winnipeg with Osborne Village for two reasons. First, it's the neighbourhood I call home. And second, it's a pretty firmly established destination in Winnipeg. Although Osborne Village is full of great spots, I've narrowed it down to a special group. And while all of these places definitely come with my recommendation, I've organized each category from highest recommended to lowest. (Think of it like "You absolutely cannot miss this!" down to "This is still pretty great.") Please enjoy and feel free to comment below!
A beautifully intimate atmosphere, flat out fantastic food, and delightful, unusual cocktails. This place led the trend of little plates in Winnipeg and continues to do so very, very well. They don't take reservations, but, if you arrive well before you plan to eat (we're talking easily an hour plus if you have a table of four or more on a weekend), you can leave your name and number and they'll call you when your table is ready. That way, you can do some shopping or have a drink elsewhere instead of hanging out in their cozy waiting area. Either way, it's worth the wait.

Osborne Village Cafe
Ditch the insane lines for breakfast at Stella's (although also good) and head here instead. The vintage diner feel is lovely and the food is wholesome, fresh and delicious. They have great vegetarian options too. A true diamond in the rough.

Decent drink options and a simple but great menu make this place a winner. You can really taste the quality ingredients and the dishes are a good value for your money.

This is the place to go for a great burger with a fun twist. My personal favourites are the Shanghai and the Drunken Aussie (an egg on a burger? be still my beating heart). The atmosphere is fun and the glass pop bottles are a nice touch. Skip the upgrade to a bison patty. I love bison, but found this to be on the dry side and much preferred the classic beef.

Burrito del Rio
Chris and I are regular fixtures here for good reason. Hands down the best burritos I've ever had. My favourite is the Vegetarian with guacamole and medium salsa. The result is filling, flavourful and freaking delicious. I'd avoid the chicken though: unfortunately underwhelming. Also, if you opt for one of the Mexican sodas, go with the lime or grapefruit, unless you're down for some maaaajor sweetness.

Meiji Sushi
If sushi's your thing, I love the atmosphere and freshness of the food at Meiji Sushi. Sneak upstairs to G Martini for a girly drink afterward.

I decided to work here for a reason. The minimalist yet inviting atmosphere, kind staff and quality coffee makes this one of the best coffee shops in the city. If you're into specialty coffee, or just learning, and want to pick the brains of people who are passionate and knowledgeable, this is the place to go.

Whiskey Bar at The Toad in the Hole
Classic whiskey cocktails like Old Fashioneds and Whiskey Sours (with real egg white) set this place apart from other bars in the area. The 25+ is a bonus for us old fogeys who just want to sit with a good drink and enjoy pleasant conversation.

Green Carrot
This is where I go when I'm looking for a nutritious snack or a light meal. The shakes (The Best Green Smoothie in particular) are delicious and super fresh. The same goes for the juice. The KAMP (kale, apple, mint and pineapple) taught me that kale can taste like more than "good for you."

Baked Expectations
With its "get baked" puns, neon sign, black and white tiling and cherry red tables and chairs, this place is a Winnipeg dessert institution. Spend time perusing the case filled with cake upon cake. (My favourites are the Tia Maria and the Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake.) Slices are reasonably priced and huuuuuge so unless you've got a bottomless sweet tooth, bring a friend or expect to take some home for a sugary snack.
Silver Lotus
Quality and unusual jewellery with an emphasis on Canadian designers make this place great. This is where I go for a piece I can wear every day - it holds up over time but it's not so precious that I'm afraid to wear it. They also have some pretty cute dresses.

The sister shop to Silver Lotus with an emphasis on shoes. They carry a great selection of offbeat brands and quality materials.

The Happy Cooker
Quality kitchen goods at a range of price options. You'll find some truly high end items alongside more affordable options. If, like me, Julie and Julia made you want to go out and buy some Le Creuset, this is where you find it.

Out of the Blue
Home to some beautiful, vintage inspired clothing options, kitschy items for your home and the cutest change rooms in town (if only they had mirrors!).

Music Trader/Movie Village
The reign of Movie Village has fizzled out, but this is still one of the last places in the city where you can rent movies. They also carry a great rotation of newer music, used CDs, records, and they often have tickets available at the front desk for great local shows.

David Rice
With original designs and beautiful pieces, this is a great place to go for special occasion or engagement/wedding jewellery.

Vintage in the Village
You're not going to find anything incredibly high quality/rare here, but they've got some cool stuff, the prices are reasonable and the lady behind the counter is the nicest.

Sew Dandee
I'm a weirdo who enjoys buying souvenir tea towels, so I think this place is awesome. Also great for picking up uniquely Winnipeg tees as souvenirs/gifts for former Winnipegers/to wear somewhat ironically on the streets. (I DID survive the winter of 2013-3014.)

Home to a variety of local talent: from improv shows, to dance recitals, to musical performances and live theatre.

The Osborne Street Bridge
Since its latest update, the Osborne Bridge is both much less dangerous and much more beautiful. Walk across it at night to see the glowing art and poetry. Bonus, monkey around on the bizarre gear statue on the southeast end.

25 August 2014

A Neighbourhood Guide to Winnipeg

I like to organize my itinerary around neighbourhoods when I travel. It not only helps me to really get a feel for the vibe of the city, but it's efficient to spend pockets of time visiting all the spots in one area, rather than jumping back and forth among neighbourhoods. Although Winnipeg isn't exactly a tourist mecca, I really believe we do have a lot to offer both locals and travellers, and to that end, I wanted to create a comprehensive guide to my favourite neighbourhoods in the city.

Each post will focus on a specific neighbourhood with suggestions on where to eat, drink, read, shop and enjoy attractions in the area. The first will be up next Monday featuring Osborne Village, and more posts will roll out over the next month or so. I will be collaborating on this project with Audrey from GoWPG, and am excited about what we have in store for you.

If you have any suggestions to offer - neighbourhoods you'd like me to feature or places you think should make it on the list - feel free to leave your feedback in the comment section.

18 August 2014

A Weekend to Unwind

This past weekend, I enjoyed some long overdue mom time with the Hamam and Yoga Package at The Fort Garry Hotel. I've been entranced by the luxurious old green monster ever since I moved to Winnipeg, and was excited for my first stay there. 

We kicked off our evening with some spine-twisting yoga detox at Yoga Public, one of the most upscale yoga facilities in the city. After grabbing dinner, we sipped at classic cocktails and listened to a mellow musical performance in the Palm Lounge. Finally, we returned to our suite to flop down and pass out on the massively comfortable beds.
The next morning, we went over to the Ten Spa for the self-administered Hamam Treatment. We began in a cozy heated room with tea and turkish delights, followed by a warm rinse and a salt scrub in the steam room. Next, we laid out on a heated marble slab, where bowls of cool water were poured over our legs and a cold compress and water bottle were at the ready. Then we sat on tiled benches to pour bowls of cold water over ourselves. Next we returned to the heated room to moisturize with a cool aloe vera and lemon grass gel and towel off. Finally, we unwound in one of the lounges with a drink of natural yogurt, spring water and sea salt.

I was blown away by the quality and beauty of Ten Spa. The byzantine tiling throughout the hamam rooms was completely gorgeous, and the entire experience was incredibly unique.
We capped off the weekend with the famous Fort Garry Hotel brunch. Again, I was impressed by the  quality and variety of the food offered. Overall, our stay was a memorable, luxurious and utterly relaxing. If you're feeling stressed or just like you want to get away, I'd highly recommend the entire experience.