Sunday, April 28, 2019

Love Letter to Bankview

In 2002 we were looking for the right house in an inner city community. We discovered our dream house, an impossibly skinny 17 foot wide architectural infill, in Bankview, Calgary, Alberta. We soon discovered that what makes Bankview great is the diversity; of people, amenities, green spaces, schools, architecture and activities. Bankview is full of wonderful neighbours and friends such as Gail Simper winner of the 2017 Community Advocate Award. You can read about more stellar residents in the Bankview Good Neighbor Awards, and nominate someone today! The history project "A Stroll Through Bankview: Some 70+ Significant Selected Sites" also offers a comprehensive look at this unique community through the years. 

The Bankview Community Association and Community Hall is a hub of activity that ties the community together. In 2018, working with the Bankview Community Association and The City of Calgary, local artist Chris Pecora made a wonderful graphic map of Bankview and all the unique amenities including community, art, parks and recreation, history and architecture. I’ll highlight some of my favourites from the map as well as other community assets. 

As they say; location, location, location! Nestled between the bordering communities of Mount Royal to the east, South Calgary/Marda Loop to the south and 17 Avenue Retail and Entertainment District to the north, Bankview is a terrific location. So many amenities are located within walking and biking distance, including easy access to the bike trails along the Elbow River and River ParkFor a gourmet market and cafe visit, Our Daily Brett, located in the same mini mall as Bankview Starbucks, and Fishman's Dry Cleaners.

Bankview is chock full of parks with the crowning jewel being the large Buckmaster Park, which is home to the Community Garden where residents can rent their own plot. Buckmaster Park boasts a view of downtown, benches, a hill for sledding, basketball court, street hockey space and many wild neighbourhood bunnies. It is also the site of many events organized by our fabulous Bankview Community Association like outdoor concerts, Halloween pumpkin lantern evening, and bonfires. The Bankview Community Association is situated in another sizeable park area, a block from Buckmaster park. This space has a soccer pitch, free tennis courts, basket ball court, event gazebo, and playground equipment. Smaller parks are sprinkled around Bankview with a variety of additional playground equipment. We even have our very own off-leash dog park

The community green spaces also house a variety of public art including the Nimmons Cairn by renowned artist Katie Ohe, Bankview Mural by Chris Pecora and Cam Hoff, a dinosaur mural on 25 Avenue SW, and a very unique VW Beatle car turned into a spider on top of Bankview Starbucks. The diverse community architecture is another bonus such as the infamous 'soccer ball' geodesic dome house built in the 1970's, the historic Nimmons House, built in 1898, or the 2019 award winning Grow Project, a multi-unit condo complete with rooftop gardens. 

A short walk to neighbouring South Calgary brings you to the cSPACE Arts Hub, in the historic King Edward building, -  a community of artists, non-profits, entrepreneurs, event space and the weekly year round Farmers & Makers Market. A block from cSPACE is the South Calgary Outdoor Pool and the Giuffre Family Library. What more could you ask for?

So what's your favourite thing about Bankview?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Vietnam & Cambodia

We started our trip to Vietnam by flying to Hanoi via Seoul, Korea. With Instagram I have gotten quite lazy at blogging as I can just quickly post a photo and story immediately, so this entry is overdue! We picked up a SIM card at the airport which made for super easy navigation and internet on the go. We stayed in a central mid-range hotel in the Old Quarter; The surrounding streets are filled with a mix of architecture, tiny roadside pop up kitchens, thousands of scooters and even more people. The traffic reminds me of schools of fish dancing in between each other. It looks like chaos but is carefully choreographed with everyone knowing how and when to move, we never saw a single accident! We did a lot of walking to the nearby lake, vegan friendly restaurants, temples and markets. A highlight was the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which has expansive, well curated exhibits about the cultural groups that call Vietnam home, including history, art, housing, textiles and more. We also visited the Hoa Lo Prison, also called the "Hanoi Hilton" where Vietnamese colonial subject sea later America POWs were imprisoned. It is interesting to see history from the perspectives of other countries, and reminds me there are no real winners in war. Atlas Obscura has an article with many photos:

Vegan food was easy to find using, but many regular spots we walked past did not seem to have vegan options. Our favourite was the amazing gourmet vegan meals at Uudam Chao. My only regret was not trying it the first night so we could eat there every evening. It is expensive by local standards but a bargain by Canadian pricing. Check out a few of the delights below:

Most days we also visited La Studio for a lovely coffee, dessert or the outstanding cashew cheese and carrot 'lox' bagel. We had also read about the famous cheap vegan banh mi (Vietnamese sub) shop, called Vegan Banh Mi. So we set out to find it using our GPS map. As we were getting close, a friendly lady ushered us down the alley to a small room with plastic stools and an outdoor kitchen. We enjoyed two Banh Mi subs, two appetizers and a dessert for about $3.50 Canadian. The dessert was really great. It’s not a fancy - just good street food right off the alley. Nearby, we also discovered the Marou Chocolate flag ship store which sells gourmet, expensive chocolate. (Cheap lunch and then fancy chocolate - it's all about balance!)  This chocolate comes from Vietnam and much of it is dark chocolate and therefore vegan. It is the silkiest dark chocolate I have ever had and I must admit we ate more than a few bars! You can read a great article about the company here:

From Hanoi, we flew to Da Nang and took a taxi to our hotel in the quaint city of Hoi An, known for its well preserved old town, canals and architecture. While the hotel we picked was well situated in the old town and had a decent pool, it could have been better; it really needed a refresh and some maintenance. However, it provided a good starting point for each day of exploration and some free dodgy bikes. We did manage to ride the bikes out to see the ocean, a 12 km round trip. The streets in the central old town are for pedestrians and bicycles only (well mostly, some scooters do sneak in), making for a nice place to wander. There are many art shops and the area is known for rice paper paintings and intricate paper cards with pop up designs. The streets come alive at night with markets as well. The food was good and we spent lots of time watching people go by while having coffee. One of our favourites was the veg friendly What Else Cafe and our hotel was also close to the tasty all vegan Karma Waters and vegetarian Annen.

The highlight of Hoi An was Jack's Cat Cafe, which is a small vegetarian/vegan cafe alongside a cat rescue centre. The cafe helps fund the costs of the shelter. We took a taxi there as it is a few kilometres from the centre. We couldn't find a taxi for the way back so it was a long hot walk home! But it was worth it to see so many spoiled cats lounging around in the pretty courtyard.  We enjoyed a nice lunch while watching the antics of the cats and were able to make a donation to towards their care.

From Hoi An we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia for a few days. At the airport we were able to get a mobile SIM card for $3.00USD and an inexpensive taxi to our hotel. We stayed at Frangipani Villa Hotel, which is a good value midrange hotel. We didn't expect it, but we enjoyed Cambodia more than Vietnam. We packed in a lot of activities in our short time including Angkor Wat and Beng Mealea temples. Angkor Wat is the larger and more famous of the two temple sites. The day we visited Angkor it was over cast with rain and quite busy. We still enjoyed wandering around the site looking at the ornate carvings and building techniques. We were very fortunate to be among the first tourists to arrive at Beng Mealea on a very sunny day. The site is much smaller, and less manicured but was more fun to explore.
Spirit House at Angkor Thom

Our other big adventure was visiting Kompong Phluk Floating Village, in which houses are built on stilts over the water. We explored the village by motorboat until we reached the mouth of the lake where we transferred to small canoe for a tour of the mangroves before heading back via the river boat. Both vessels had female captains! The girl with the canoe was around 13 years old and worked hard paddling us around. To explore these three different sites we hired the nice taxi driver we met at the airport.

After all our jam packed tours we spent the rest of the time lounging in the lovely hotel pool and checking out the city. The tuktuk taxis, which are scooters with a special trailer attached for passengers, are very affordable and plentiful. One of the days a driver just followed us from stop to stop for the day and then back for our hotel for a cost of $6.00.

We also had some of the best food of the entire trip in Cambodia and our number one favourite was Morgina bar which we visited every day it was open. The tofu nuggets and Banh Mi were out of this world! The space has a great ambiance with outdoor sheltered tables. We met a nice couple from Australia there and visited for a few hours one evening. We also shared a able another night with an American man who works remotely and rides a bike everywhere, such great stories! Another unexpected food delight was discovering a roadside treat called Kralan, which we were introduced to via our driver. It is a sweet treat of sticky rice, a few beans and coconut milk stuffed inside a bamboo stock and then cooked on an open fire, in little carts on the side of the road. You just peel the bamboo and eat, no packaging or utensils required. With happy tummies we left Cambodia to head back to Vietnam!

We started our visit to Ho Chi Minh on a sour note, falling prey to a taxi scam at the airport, in which the normal rate was inflated by 4 times. We realized the price was outlandish, but being that we didn't want to escalate the situation or have him drive off with our bags, we paid the fare after letting him know the price was not fair. Looking back, there are several preventive measures we could have taken including taking a photo of the taxi, keeping the slip of paper given to us at the taxi stand rather than handing it over to the driver as requested and insisting the taxi drop us in the designated hotel spot (he of course had an excuse about the construction preventing him from parking there). For more tips on taxi scams see;

When we confirmed with the hotel that the price was ridiculous we decided to not pursue it, as we also didn't want the driver to possibly end up facing a harsh punishment. For example; Two 18-yr-old Vietnamese sentenced in Jean Valjean-like bread theft. We were initially quite annoyed at being taken advantage of, but that negative energy is wasted, so instead we made several Kiva loan donations to low income folks in Vietnam. As the saying goes "How people act is their karma, how you react is yours." Ironically, I had been admiring the driver's Bodhisattva statue in his taxi. (In Buddhism, Bodhisattva (/ˌboʊdɪˈsʌtvə/ BOH-dih-SUT-və)[1] is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated Bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish and a compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. source

Outside of this initial poor experience, the rest of the city visit was uneventful. We were warned about risks of theft but we didn't experience any concerns. We try to travel with out flashing expensive gadgets, keeping items close and not showing off. I can understand the temptation to steal when many are struggling with poverty and low wages. Sources vary but "According to the Japan External Trade Organization, the average monthly salary of a Vietnamese worker last year was $145 in Hanoi and $148 in Ho Chi Minh City" (source

We booked a fancier hotel in Ho Chi Minh, which was still a bargain by Canadian standards, so we'd have a reprieve from the busy streets, plus it also has a nice roof top pool. This proved to be money well spent as we spent time hanging out at the hotel than we normally due trying to get over our chest infections. Unfortunately mine started the day before we left so by this point it had been progressing for a few weeks. I finally relented and used our emergency travel antibiotics which did seem to help. The recovery was hampered by the poor air quality across Vietnam. Check out the photo below for a comparison between Hanoi and Calgary in January 2018! Unfortunately richer western nations are also responsible for this pollution through outsourcing a lot of manufacturing to save money. (See: CO2 emissions are being 'outsourced' by rich countries to rising economies).

We were fortunate to have several good options for food as well. Our favourites restaurants included: Hum a fancier placer with tranquil ambiance, Pi Vegetarian Bistro, and Vegan Kitchen.

A highlight of Ho Chi Minh is the Museum of History where we enjoyed a great exhibit on Buddhist statues, jewelry, and cultural artifacts. It is housed in interesting building with a lotus pond in the courtyard. There are quite a few green spaces in the city where we relaxed in the cooler evenings. After Ho Chi Minh the next stop Tokyo, Japan!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Vietnam via Korea

Our trip starts with three nights in Seoul, South Korea, which is not a lot of time, but it does break up the long flights and allows us to start to explore this neat city. The city streets are very full and at night reminded us of Bladerunner. There was also a weird sound we heard from our airbnb that sounded like a whale being assaulted - we never did figure out the source. Our first day we spent wandering the streets as we usually do when in a new place. We enjoyed the Insa-Dong Art Street area, full of art and antique shops along winding alleys.

We decided we wanted to go to the DMZ - Demilitarized Zone, specifically the JSA - Joint Security Area, between South and North Korea. The JSA is the area of the DMZ where you can see both South and North Korean soldiers standing on opposite sides. As well there is a building where you can technically stand in North Korea. This takes advance booking and requires that color copies of your passport be submitted and you must attend as part of a tour. (For more information on tours see: We were set to go, but then South and North Korea booked Olympic talks for the exact same day and the JSA portion was cancelled. There had also been recent defections of North Korean soldiers and we watched a fascinating, and heart breaking news story about the efforts of the South Korean hospital, that resulted in saving the defector that was shot. You can read more about this case here;

So we couldn’t go the the JSA area but we went to another portion of the DMZ on a small tour bus. 
The guide thought J was Ryan Reynolds so that was pretty fun. Unfortunately I was sick so I had to wear a mask on the bus. It’s a common cultural phenomenon in Korea to wear a mask when sick or as prevention. At least I found a nice one in black that I can use again in case of some sort of outbreak at home. Speaking of outbreaks, I was so impressed with the comprehensive emergency supplies in the metro stations; gas masks, blankets, water, flashlights, etc, sadly in place in case of attack. But I digress... at the DMZ we went to four locations; Imjingak Park, 3rd Infiltration tunnel, the Dora Observatory and Dorasan Station. 

The first stop, Imjingak Park, does not require visitors to go through any security check points so it tends to be more accessible and popular with tourists. “Imjingak Resort, located 7 km from the Military Demarcation Line, is now at the forefront of tourism related to the Korean War. Imjingak was built in 1972 with the hope that someday unification would be possible. The three-storied Imjingak is surrounded by several monuments, Unification Park and North Korea Center.” (Source: This area had a powerful display of ribbons and messages attached to the barbed wire fence as well as the The Stone of Peace Wall sculpture. From the plaque on site; “This sculpture is made from stones collected from battlefields all over the world that have witnessed the suffering and grief of war. It is my sincere wish that the bringing together of these stones collected from 86 battlefields in 64 different countries will be a stepping stone for the reconciliation of the Korean People and mark the beginning of a century of peace and harmony for all mankind.” - Li, Chan-Yeul, Governor of Kyonggi Province (January 1, 2000). 

The 3rd Infilitration Tunnel was an attempt from North Korea to invade South Korea, although North Korea says it was for mining. At the site you descend a very steep, very long walk way under ground to get to a section of the original tunnel. I wanted to take a picture of this, as it was like the pitch of a slide, but photos are not allowed - trust me it was steep. I am not a big fan of steep hikes, being deep under ground, or small spaces, and the constant smashing of my hard hat clad head on the tunnel ceiling did not make me a bigger fan. However, it was very interesting to learn about! Once we hiked out of the depths we watched an informative documentary on the DMZ and the conflict. It was particularly interesting to learn how the wild animals thrive in this area with out human abuse and interference. 

The next stop was the Dora Observatory where you can use the binoculars to peek into North Korea. Although we were quite far we were still able to see buildings. We also went to he Dorasan train station, a station set up in hopes of future South and North reunification. It is the end station of the Gyeongui Line. The station is essentially empty except for tourists, waiting one day to be filled with North and South Koreans freely passing through.

The cancellation of the JSA portion left us with a free afternoon which we used to explore the excellent modern art museum; Arario Museum. In our short trip we found great vegan food using our favorite travel app Happy Cow Veg Directory. To our delight there was an all vegan bakery The Bread Blue with terrific panne au chocolate! Our favorite dining spot was a wee cafe, DalYang - Sweet Kitten, a bit out of the way but accessible by metro, and has amazing burgers. The sweet staff person was concerned for our us finding food for the flight the next morning so she insisted we take two free muffins. A nice way to end a visit! 

You can see photos of the trip and food at

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Aloha Hawaii

As a friend of ours was getting married on the Big Island of Hawaii, we decided that was a great reason to take a trip. We spent two weeks in Hawaii, mostly on the Big Island with the last few days in Honolulu. We flew into Honolulu for one night and then flew to Kona. As we were arriving late in Honolulu, I smartly packed some vegan pizza pockets for dinner! After arriving in Kona, we picked up our reserved car at the airport via National (great service - highly recommend). We were lucky to get a free upgrade to a fun new, 4WD, jeep! Our first stop was for lunch at Kaya's Store, which has great coffee and vegan pastries. 

We stayed in Waikoloa Village at the Fairmont Orchid (specifically because they offered vegan options at their restaurants). We enjoyed meals at the beach front Hale Kai restaurant, and a nice fancy dinner at Browns' Beach House, which has a separate vegan menuWe also picked up great snacks, deli items, and breakfast pastries from the Kona Island Natural Market and deli. We enjoyed a healthy meal and large fruit plate at the nearby vegetarian restaurant, Under the Bodhi TreeThe hotel was terrific with a big pool, terrific beach access, and several green sea turtles hanging around. Our friend's wedding was just down the road at the Lava Lava Beach club. It was a beautiful ocean side ceremony with a great dinner on the beach. By surprise, our neighbours and friends, also happened to be on the Big Island so we had a visit with them at the Hilton hotel.

We went on a nice (hot) 8km hike (where we stumbled upon more green sea turtles and Keanalele waterhole), checked out the nearby petroglyphs, relaxed by the pool and went up Maunakea, a dormant volcano! J really wanted to go to the top to see the Mauna Kea Observatories; a height of 14,000 feet! This posed a bit of an issue as we did not bring any warm jackets to save space. We are totally committed to carry-on only whenever possible with our awesome Patagonia MCL carry-on convertible backpacks; which even fit our snorkelling masks, shorty fins and all our other needed items. We solved the problem by picking up some jackets at the Kona Salvation Army, which proved to be wise as the temperature dropped significantly, and the top of Maunakea was snow covered. Once you get the to the Maunakea visitors centre, 9200 feet, you require 4WD to go up the remaining winding, super steep road. Our jeep actually stalled at the very top due to the reduced oxygen levels, and I certainly felt winded and light headed. Once at the top we took photos of the gigantic telescopes and enjoyed the view. It was very eery to be above the clouds looking down. Everyone has to depart by 7pm to not interfere with the astronomy work, due to vehicle lights and dust. We travelled back down to the visitors centre and spent a few chilly hours taking star photos and listening to the staff discuss the constellations. We were rewarded with a super clear night and I am anxiously awaiting J's  photos to be posted to flickr

Next we drove to Hilo area and stayed in an airbnb cabin right on the beach, outside of the town of Pahoa. This location was terrific to watch the waves crash on the rocky beach, take a short walk to the nearby Kapoho Tidal Pools, access to Hilo and other attractions, plus cabin had a well equipped kitchen, so we were able to cook many meals with vegan supplies from the Islands Natural Market and Deli in Pahoa and Hilo. Pahoa is a sweet little town, with a hippy beach vibe (apparently there are nearby clothing optional, beach drumming circles), and we enjoyed delicious vegan pizza from Strato's. We were also able to donate the jackets we picked up from the Kona Salvation Army (for the Maunakea excursion), to a Pahoa charity. The clothing donation is located right at the dump, which was also outfitted with great recycling bins, ensuring as much as possible is diverted from land fill. (As our airbnb was more remote it did not have garbage pick up so we had to drop our garbage off on our last day in the area.)

The tidal pools were great for snorkelling as they offered a sheltered area way from the crashing waves. We saw many tropical fish and coral. The entry is a bit tricky as you climb over sharp lava rock; having the shorty snorkelling fins proved helpful for entry. We also spent some time in Hilo and checked out the nearby Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens - I've never seen so many orchids! The gardens also end at the beach with stunning views of cliffs.

The highlight of the trip was seeing red hot, flowing lava at Kalapana Lava Viewing Area. We read up on it on tripadvisor, a great site to get up to date travel information from fellow travellers, which helped us decide what to do and how to get there. Once you arrive at the parking area you must travel by foot or bike the rest of the way, which is 14kms round trip, plus the distance spent exploring. We opted to rent bikes on site, to more easily reach lava viewing area. The bikes were $20 USD each with a lock, headlamp and a bottle of water. Headlamps and lots of water is a must! We travelled by bike on the gravel emergency access road, which had a few gentle hills. At the end we locked up our bikes and had the option of going towards the sea viewing area or inland to the rocky lava field. Taking advice from tripadvisor, we opted for inland and we were not disappointed! We spent hours until dusk exploring the field and getting within a few feet of red hot, flowing lava. It was a truly amazing experience worth the trek, heat and fumes. It is against Hawaiian culture to poke the lava with sticks etc, and while tempting, we respected this rule, enjoying just watching the lava suddenly appear in different spots as we walked around. 

We spent another day exploring Volcano National Park, where we checked out the Jaggar Museum and viewed the Halema‘uma‘u Crater, spurting lava, from the observation deck. We also checked out the steam vents, which are just like they sound - cracks in the earth with steam flowing out, and the Nahuku - Thurston Lava Tube, which is like a long cave left behind by flowing lava, surrounded by lush forest. On our last day on the Big Island we dropped our car at the Hilo airport and headed to Honolulu; the inter island flights are super easy and quick. As Honolulu is a large city with good public transportation we opted to not get a rental car.

When J was little, he and his family, went to Waikiki and stayed in a condo a few blocks from the beach. On this trip, he spotted the Royal Hawaiian, a bright pink, vintage, ocean side hotel, and vowed one day to stay there. I was easily convinced as it reminded me of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a favourite movie. The original portion of the Royal Hawaiian was built in 1927 and offers old world charm and luxury. We were given a free upgrade to a junior suite, which had an extra sitting room! I adore this hotel with its quaint pool (plus free access to the pool at the adjacent Sheraton), ocean front location, and lovely vintage decor. We spent time bobbing in the waves and relaxing by the pool. As luck would have it a dear friend, who now lives in Australia was also in town for a conference, so we enjoyed an evening visiting at the beachside restaurant. 

Honolulu is a very different experience than the slow moving towns on the Big Island and offers a lot of urban activities. We travelled around by city bus and walking. We were delighted with the terrific art at HOMA - Hawaii Museum of Art, which had diverse exhibits including contemporary Hawaii design, historical and multicultural artifacts. The building itself is beautiful and has lovely inner courtyards with plants and ponds. Our favourite place to eat was Downbeat Diner, which has a vegan option for every item on the menu. It is a funky, rockabilly diner, located downtown, but the bus stop is right at the door! While downtown we checked out the older buildings and vintage shops. We checked out Whole Foods Market for snacks but ended up preferring the Down to Earth all vegetarian market. Down to Earth had a terrific deli, hot buffet, and great snacks. I also loaded up the remaining room in my wee carry-on with a few vegan items not easily found at home.

Hawaii was a terrific, relaxing trip. We had way more adventure and fun than we anticipated and spent time with great friends! To check out my photos head over to Flickr or instagram.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Morocco; hardship + time = adventure

First of all, this post is shamefully late as we were in Morocco in October 2016. As we are now traveling in Hawaii, I thought it best to get this post up on the blog! 

We arrived in late in the evening in Casablanca, Morocco by plane from Lisbon, Portugal. On landing we immediately picked up a SIM card in the airport, which was installed and set up but the very helpful clerk; instant calling, internet and GPS maps! We fondly recall the adventures of our early days of travel with our well worn lonely planet book, and internet cafes, to help us navigate foreign lands. It is almost too easy now with an unlocked smart phone and local SIM cards. We spent one night in Casablanca before taking the train to Marrakesh. We booked our tickets for the train right at the station and the tickets for first class (enclosed, shared cabin with air conditioning)  were very cheap. The train was comfortable, easy to navigate and provided a great opportunity to see the landscape. 

We were met at the Marrakech train station by a car from our accommodations Riad Star located in the bustling medina which is also a Unesco World Heritage site. The medina was founded in 1070 as the political, cultural and economic heart; it is the enclosed, central area of the city, filled with homes, markets, shops and restaurants, with narrow winding paths for pedestrians and sometimes donkeys and scooters. A Riad is like a bed a breakfast in a traditional house, which typically has an enclosed central courtyard/garden square for relaxing and which you can view from your window. Our Riad had a terrific rooftop patio which offered a great place to relax, sunbathe, watch the stars and listen to the melodic sounds of the call to prayer

We spent our days wandering the medina, checking out the gardens; Jardin Majorellele jardin secret and taking photos of all the cats! Every store and restaurant seemed to have a cat or two and many strays milling around. The locals spoke fondly of all the cats and provided food and water for both the shop cats and strays. One evening we were at the local cafe we frequented and the regular cat was doing her nightly dance begging for food. Suddenly her head shot up and she darted across the medina road towards a man walking in the crowd. He bent down and scratched her head and went about his way. The cat spent some time pacing excitedly back and forth, eventually returning to under our table. We were perplexed that she spotted this man in the crowd and ran to him with such purpose. A few minutes later the mystery was solved when the same man reappeared, and she ran to him again, as he put down a large bag of scraps for all the medina cats. We also learned that cats are quite revered in Islamic cultures; this article provides some history on the role of cats Cats in Islamic Culture. Many people do not have a lot of extra money but sill they try to provide the basics for the cats. Sadly there is a lack of spay/neuter and vet services. We made a donation to SPANA to support their work in spaying/neutering and providing vet care to the many strays.

A highlight of the trip was a day trip into the Atlas Mountains. We hired a driver to take us on a tour which allowed us to go at our own pace. We checked out a few local stores and artisans along the way and took in the desert scenery. The hike was picturesque with a waterfall at the top of the first section, and a mountain side cafe. The rocks were quite slippery but our guide was fully committed to ensuring that I did not fall, and literally held my hand in the most difficult sections. We decided to not venture on to the higher section as I was not eager to traverse the precarious hand made ladder that started the next leg.

As the title eludes to, Morocco also offered some more difficult travel experiences, but as time passes it turns into fond memories of adventure. We did fall prey to one of the common scams, the henna assault, in which a woman forcefully grabbed my hand and started applying henna while ignoring my protests and then demanding money. It was annoying but somewhat understandable as people are trying to survive; the minimum wage is about $300 USD a month, and of course many earn less than that. A nice shop keeper let me use his sink to wash off the henna. 

But mostly the difficulty was due to the trouble finding good vegan food, which often left us hangry (hungry + angry). We were also spoiled by the plentiful, flavourful, affordable vegan offerings of Portugal just prior to Morocco. (We were also surprised that Moroccan restaurants were more expensive than anticipated).  Over the last 24 years, we have travelled in more than 40 countries first as vegetarians, and for the last 7 years as vegans, and we found Morocco was uniquely challenging. I also had (incorrect) visions that falafel and hummus would be plentiful, like our experience in Jordan. In Morocco the staple dish is the tajine, a clay pot baked stew of meat and vegetables with couscous, and even when it is just vegetables it often has meat broth. With advance notice, our Riad did provide a welcome dinner of vegan tajine but day to day it was difficult to find good vegan food. We did use the trusty Happy Cow Vegan Dining Guide but the one vegetarian spot we went to was quite terrible. 

We took the train back to Casablanca for our last night. J smartly booked us into a posh hotel and we spent the entire time lounging in the pool (except for the spa massage and the delicious taco salad we found a the nearly mall). To check out my trip photos head over to;

A final note; Morocco, is the 6th predominately Muslim nation we have visited in our years of travel. And like everywhere, we found lovely people just trying to do their best (previous nations; Jordan, Palestine, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt). Don't buy into propaganda; Good people come from all cultures and all faiths (and non-faiths). 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Portugal Vegan Food Tour

Portugal has absolutely amazing vegan food and we were pleasantly surprised at the prices when compared to home or other European large cities. We spent our time in Lisbon and Porto, and as always, utilized the fabulous vegan dining travel directory; We found staple grocery items at the health food stores as well. My favourite grocery item to get in Europe is vegan jarred ravioli and dark chocolate covered rice cakes.

In Lisbon our favourite vegan spot was Ao 26 - Vegan Food Project. I had researched this spot before our trip by going through their Facebook feed, and based on the tasty looking photos, we booked an airbnb around the corner. Wise move indeed. Ao 26 is a bright and welcoming space with a casual, slightly upscale, bistro vibe. It is perfect for lunch or dinner, which we enjoyed repeatedly. They have English menus and wonderfully friendly staff. The menu is full of delectable appetizers, mains, salad as, specials of the day and dessert. For lunch we generally ordered one of the homemade burgers with fries. Their house made vegan cheese platter and their tempura vegetables are great appetizers. My dinner favourite was the cornbread crusted tofu with potatoes. J enjoyed the seitan steak on more than one occasion but his absolute favourite was a house special that had amazing creamed potatoes. The chocolate mousse is always a great way to end the meal.

A staple lunch spot for us is Primo Basilico, located on a very vibrant narrow street, serving the best focaccia style pizza we have ever had. It is a small space, with a few stools and counter but it also has a sitting area next door with 5 or 6 tables. The restaurant is not exclusively vegan but has terrific vegan options including a several types of pizza and calzones. Pizza is available by the slice or an entire pan. The vegan pizza does not have vegan cheese but you don't even notice as the focaccia and toppings are so fresh and flavourful. The prices are very affordable as well.

It was hard to be torn away from our two favourite spots but The Food Temple came highly recommended so we ventured out one evening to give it a try. (Reservations are strongly encouraged.) We found the small restaurant tucked away on a side street, with live music playing outside. It has a fun, casual hippie vibe and due to the limited space we shared a table with another couple. The staff work seamlessly together in the compact, open concept, kitchen and quickly served us our selections. The food is tapas style and changes regularly. We enjoyed everything we ordered and had a fun evening!

When exploring further out of the centre, we had lunch at Miss Saigon. The spot seems very popular as there was a line up to get a table. Everything was delicious and health focussed. We enjoyed the set daily combo plates which offered a good variety, and ended with dessert. 

We then traveled north to Porto and found more great vegan dining. We had a terrific vegan pizza from the veg friendly take away spot Hand Go. In fact it was so great we had to order extra. It comes topped with a very good vegan cheese and loaded with vegetables. 

Another great lunch spot is the all vegan Black Mamba burgers which has a cool vibe with a focus on good food with a side of animal activism. We had homemade burgers and fries and dessert. The portions, prices and staff were all great.

Our top pick for Porto is Em Carne Viva, an elegant vegetarian restaurant with lots of vegan options. The interior is a beautiful restored house with lots of bright white details. We ate there several times (like daily). We also enjoyed a wonderful thanksgiving dinner there with two of our friends. Meals began with a savoury plate of warn buns infused with vegetables and seitan pastry puffs. My favourite meal was Garden of Autumn with mashes roasted chestnuts, chi take mushrooms, seitan on a bed of gravy. The prices were very reasonable especially considering the exceptional quality, portions, setting and lovely staff.

Portugal was a very tasty adventure! For more photos see:

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Portugal was a surprising delight! It melds old world Europe with a modern urban vibe, plus it is well priced. We spent our time in Lisbon and Porto with a day trip to Sintra. This trip we opted for carry-on only made possible by our fabulous Patagonia Headway MLC bags - the perfect size and thoughtfully laid out. They convert easily to backpack, suitcase or shoulder bag.  Carry-on only made the trip a breeze; no waiting for luggage, and easy to lug around while walking or taking public transport. I can't say enough good things about the bag and found it easy to pack all the required items including a spare set of shoes and flip flops. Check out the video:

We arrived first in Lisbon and rented a great airbnb apartment in the Chiado Neighbourhood, which is very central to the metro, museums, shopping, the ocean and most importantly right in the middle of the quaint winding, cobblestone streets. Our favourite thing to do in interesting cities is to wander about and see what we find. The streets of Lisbon did not disappoint! 

While we generally do not buy much when travelling we do like to continue the world wide search for the retitrement Picasso. This search brought us to the flea market; "Lisbon's flea market is called locally the Feira da Ladra, often thought to mean "Thieve's Market" (in Portuguese "ladra" is a woman thief) but it actually derives from "ladro," a bug found in antiques. A market of this type is thought to have been in place in Lisbon since the 12th Century and the name Feira da Ladra was first mentioned in the 17th Century." The market sprawls along narrow streets perched on a steep hill and sells assorted junk, art, ceramics, used clothes, household items and antiques.  We love antique stores and flea markets; they give a great glimpse into life over the years. It is like going to a free museum where if you really like an item you can take it home! I couldn't resist and picked up a colourful, small, locally made ceramic sardine. J asked me several times if I might want to purchase a second but I insisted one would be fine. (Of course days later we made the trek again when I needed a second). We try to not have a completely packed schedule so we can be open to what ever comes our way, which also allowed us to stumble across a Vintage Festival packed with vehicles, antique furniture, art and other treasures from Portugal's past.

Lisbon is also home to several terrific museums. We checked out; MNAC Museum of Contemporary Art, MAAT Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, and Museu Berado. (Sadly we missed out on the MUDE - Design and Fashion Museum as it was under repairs). All three museums were well worth the visit. MAAT is also connected to the Electricity Museum which is inside a historic power station, filled with very educational exhibits and a cool 1970's electric car; the Enfield 8000. We were very fortunate to arrive just the same week that MAAT opened and we had the special treat of attending a lecture from Ray and Charles Eames grandson; Eames Demetrios. He brought a very personal feeling to the works of his grandparents. The museum collection also showcased an original prototype of the famous Eames fibreglass chairs and a touching love letter from Charles to Ray. Museu Berado has a phenomenal contemporary art collection and it is totally free to visit! It is a nice collection of international superstars such as Picasso, Warhol and Calder as well as local works. It also allowed us to stumble upon a terrific recycled, trash graffiti racoon artpiece by Artur Bordalo on a nearby street.

From Lisbon we took a day trip on the train to nearby Sintra, a quaint town with amazing monuments, castles and gardens. We were initially going to take the cheap tourist bus loop to hit all the sights but it was very crowded. We decided take individual tuktuks and cabs between the sights; more expensive but also more delightful. We made the rounds to the National Palace, Castelo dos Mouros, the brightly coloured Pena Palace, and Quinta da Regaleira filled with secret tunnels and the awe inspiring 27 foot deep Initiation Well that looks like an inverted tower. The last three on the list were all surrounded with lush, magical gardens with water features. We spent a very full day wandering around all these sights. Below are photos of Pena Palace and the Initiation Well.

Then we set off for 5 nights in Porto taking the train north and enjoying the scenery as it rushed past. We again had a well situated airbnb which happened to have 2 bedrooms which ended up coming in handy. Porto has some amazing graffiti art so we spent quite a bit of time exploring the streets taking photos.  Our luck followed us to Porto and we arrived just after the exhibit featuring works by Joan Miro, opened at the Serralves Foundation. The works were confiscated from a bankrupt bank and had not previously been on public display. Joan Miro is a favourite artist of mine, and while his museum is Spain is even more impressive, this exhibit was full of very interesting works and we enjoyed a documentary of his artistic process. The museum also had several other fabulous exhibits and is situated in a lush garden. While in Porto, we had the extra special surprise of being joined by our dear friends for a night, on their way home from hiking in the Azores. We spent a day with them checking out the amazing bridges, architecture, a ride in the Funicular, and shared a great Thanksgiving dinner.

After Porto we took the train back to Lisbon and spent a luxurious night in the Memmo Alfama boutique hotel before heading to Morocco. Check out my Portugal Photos here: