Friday Five – October & November

Happy Friday!!! Who else is pumped to gain an hour this weekend?? I know my waking up in total darkness the past few weeks has not been prime motivation. A few weeks ago I was able to take a three day staycation and it was fabulous. I binged “Anne with an E” on Netflix and relaxed for a few days, just in time for the craziness of the holidays to swing in full force.

I’m looking forward to the holidays more than usual this year. I have some exciting news in early December but I can’t say much for now. For now, here are five things that are getting me through October and November.

A night at the theater
When I was living in California I really started to fall in love with the theater. My good friend’s family ran a local community theater and their productions were out of this world. Being that we were in Los Angeles, there were even a few professional actors that performed at the theater on the side. I really fell in love with Les Misérables while I was out there so when tickets went on sale at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, I new I had to see the national touring company perform live. It was insane!

Day tripping to Newport, RI
I think Newport, RI is such an underrated city. In the summer it is the perfect New England city with fresh seafood restaurants, little shops to explore, and breathtaking sunsets over the water. In the winter the town gets sleepy but winter is the perfect time to go to Newport and truly rest and relax. The skinny streets make you feel like you’ve gone back in time and wandering in and out of bars is really the best way to spend a snow day. I went last week to explore something else that is famous in Newport. The Newport Mansions. Not too long ago New York City’s elite used Newport as a place to summer. Their summer “cottages” were bigger than my high school. A few girlfriends and I took the two hour drive east to explore the Breakers and Marble House, two of the Vanderbilt family’s homes from the late 1800s.

Pumpkin carving parties
My girlfriends and I try to get together as often as possible, but with husbands, kids, careers, and side projects, it’s not always the easiest. Last weekend we were able to be festive all weekend. We celebrated our favorite two year old’s birthday with a Halloween themed birthday party on Saturday, and Sunday had a Halloween party and pumpkin carving contests as a housewarming at another friend’s. It was the perfect way to get into the spirit of the season before fall blows away from us completely.

Exploring the Viking Star in Boston
Part of my full-time job is getting out of the office and visiting the ships that we send our clients on. When Viking Ocean Cruises invited a few travel agents onto their ship, the Viking Star, I jumped at the opportunity to see this ship. Viking is known for their river cruises, being one of the largest river cruise companies in the world, but when they expanded into ocean cruises a few years ago, I knew I wanted to see their ships. I love the clean lines, and the Scandinavian style of their ships. What I love about Viking is their attention to detail and how although they’re not a luxury cruise line, you still feel like a princess while a guest on their ship.

Making a Murderer part 2
A few weeks ago, I did a post about my favorite bingeworthy shows and since, I’ve already gotten through the new Marking a Murderer part 2. I actually watched it in just three days. If you watched part 1, be prepared that this one moves a little slower. We know the story already so now we are going through new evidence and learning information we didn’t know before.

 

Tips to Get You Through a Long Flight

Flying can be exhausting. I’ve done a lot of long flights. A red-eye across the country can be pretty draining but really, that’s a simple and common flight if you really think about it. Trips to Asia, New York to Hawaii, coming home from Eastern Europe, that’s a true long flight. Here are some tips to get you through any length trip that you may a little help with getting through.

  1. Wear layers. No matter what the weather is, I always travel in a light top and with an oversized scarf. Wearing a light top makes layering easier and even though 90% of the time your flight is going to be cold, you really never know. The scarf you can use it as a pillow, blanket, shawl, or wrap. And easiest thing is that it can be taken on and off easily. I also try to keep a light jacket or sweater handy if it gets too cold on the plane or in the airports.
  2. Have your snacks prepared. The worst is when you aren’t prepared with any type of snacks and you can’t find anything in the airport that’s easy to snack on. Back in July, I was so early for my flight and hadn’t brought anything to the airport, I ended up buying $20 scrambled eggs and literally wanted to die. TSA will let you bring anything that is not opened through security (as long as it’s not liquid obviously.) I usually take some sort of nuts and protein bars with me in my bag.
  3. Dress comfortable. Not like a slob, comfortable. If you want any chance of getting an upgrade at all, whether it’s at an airline, car rental or hotel, you need to be dressed properly. I’m not saying dress up but there’s a way to be comfortable and still not look like a hot mess express. I love a good pair of compression leggings, a cute top and sneakers.
  4. Have your technology prepared and backed up. I always make sure my laptop and phone are fully charged, as well as my back up battery pack. Before any flight, while I still have WiFi, I make sure to download my favorite podcasts or movies. I’ve sat on too many planes in front of a broken TV with nothing to do for five hours to not have a back up plan anymore. I also make sure I have multiple headphones. I once downloaded a bunch of podcasts just to get on the plane and not have my iPhone headphones. (palm to face)
  5. Pack up my toiletries. I make sure I always have WetOnes, tampons, tinted moisturizer, mascara, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and a toothbrush at arms reach. Usually right under the seat in front of me. There is nothing worse than being stuck in the window seat and needing to grab something from the overhead bins. Talk about annoying. So, keep them close to you so that you can grab them all if needed.
  6. Have a pen handy. Especially when traveling internationally. You don’t want to be that one asking everyone around you for a pen when you’re filling out your immigration forms. Stick it with your toiletries for easy access.
  7. Back up sleep aids. Sometimes, no matter how tired you are, you just can’t get comfortable enough on the plane to sleep. It’s terrible. I’ve tried a few different tricks though: sleepy time tea, wine, taking melatonin. My new favorite is using my Young Living sleep spray. I brought this with me to Canada and spayed it on my chair before we took off, and on my pillows before going to sleep and I slept throughout the whole night.
  8. Have a good bag. I FINALLY found my favorite carry on. For me, a backpack works best. I found this one on Amazon a few months ago and it worked perfect for my trip to Canada. There’s a spot for my laptop, a cord to charge your phone, an outside pouch for those easy to grab items you may need (ID and passport), and not too big that I’m going to load it up. I actually used it while hiking too and it was perfect.

Banff Travel Guide

There was so much to love about our trip to Canada last month but the little town of Banff really topped it for me. I love me a quaint little town. All of the craftsman houses that lined the crisscrossing streets, which were named after woodland creatures made me want to open an ice cream shop and call myself a local. Banff Ave and Bear St is where you would find most of the restaurants, shops, and coffee houses but that’s not all there is to Banff.

What we did
One of my favorite places of the entire trip, I almost missed out on. I really wanted to get back to town, sit at a coffee shop and get to writing after an already long day of exploring. (There’s something about traveling and being in a town no one knows you that really inspires me.) But with a little bit of peer pressure, and a toddle temper tantrum on my part, my sister and friend talked me into visiting Johnston Canyon.

This short half mile walk to the lower falls was my bar the easiest “hike” we did the whole week, and not something to miss. We exited the highway just after the town of Banff and drove a few miles into the canyon. The drive itself was stunning and we were keeping our eyes pealed for wildlife the whole time. Once we got to the canyon we saw there is a whole little resort there. The little lodge and bungalows looked absolutely beautiful and I’d love to wake up right in the middle of the wilderness.

Like I said earlier, we only went a half mile into the canyon to the lower falls. The upper falls is another mile in and it was starting to get dark and rain a little so we opted for the shorter route.

We didn’t have time but one thing we were told was a must do was the hot springs. Banff has a hot springs just outside of town but a few locals told us it was more or less a glorified hot tub and they suggested us to head to Radium Hot Springs. This was more than an hour and a half south of Banff and we defiantly would have taken the trip if we had time in our schedule.

My favorite part of the town was walking up and down Banff Ave., going in and out of all of the shops. We saved this for our last day and it was a great way to relax, veg out a little, and try some local food and treats.

As you know from my Lake Louise travel guide, I have a love for good hotels. We didn’t stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs, mainly because I knew it was a little out of the way and we really wanted to be as close to town as possible, but we headed over there one day and it was just as stunning at the Chateau Lake Louise. We explored their grounds, got the famous hot chocolate at STOCK Food & Drink and even did a little shopping at Fernweh, a cute little shop at the hotel.

This hotel is just as stunning as you could imagine a castle in the middle of the Rocky Mountains would be. It was pretty over cast while we were there so we couldn’t see the amazing views but just walking the amazing property was well worth the quick trip up to the hotel.

Where we ate
Banff Ave Brewing Company – When there’s a local brewery in town, we have to try it out. We started with splitting their sampler to be able to try six of their home brewed beers. I opted for a pint of Head Smashed IPA and Michelle and Michelle opted for the We’re Jammin’ Apricot Rhubarb Ale. We split a soft pretzel and headed out. Definitely a good place for bar food.

Block Kitchen + Bar – This was absolutely my favorite meal of the trip. We woke up on our last morning to a rainy and over cast day and were in desperate need of a little pick me up. Someone the night before told us about Block and told us it fills up quick but to wait because they have the best food in town. We were luck to grab the last table available in their small, maybe 10 table restaurant.

We started with three tapas, Pig Duck and Fig Cretons, Pork Gyoza and Bao. As you can see the menu is definitely Asian inspired. We didn’t stop there. Because the appetizers were so good we each ordered a bowl of their special: Thai Curry Ramen. It. Was. Amazing. I am still craving it. If you’re in town, definitely stop by Block. Their small menu seems like it is constantly changing which is always a good sign of a fun chef.

Pacini – After a week of hiking, these three Italian girls needed some good pasta in our lives. We grabbed a late dinner at Pacini in the Moose hotel mainly because of the outdoor firepits we saw as we drove by, but when it was raining and we had to sit inside, we were a little bummed. The food made up for the weather though. There were so many good options but I got the Seafood Linguini and I would defiantly recommend it! And when your meal starts with a bread bar, is there anything better? Try it out.

Second Cup Coffee Co – We had breakfast here one morning and it was my favorite of the coffee shops we stopped at. They had a build your own oatmeal bowl which was awesome. It looks like this is a Canadian chain and you have options all across Canada.

Cows – Apparently people in Banff take their ice cream very seriously. We were hoping to go to Cows since that’s what we had read the most about. Our overly opinionated taxi driver on our first night in Banff told us not to waste our time, that its over rated and somewhere else was better. I honestly don’t even remember where he recommended because a few other locals we talked to basically told us he was nuts and Cows is the best, and they did not disappoint. Go to Cows. If there’s a line, wait in it. It’s worth it.

The Grizzly House – We had to take a pretty late reservation to get into this popular restaurant on a Friday night, but it was well worth the wait. We opted for the Four Course Fondue meals but we bartered with our server. None of us are big dessert girls so he let us trade our dessert course for both appetizers.

We started with the soup and then had the cheese and garlic fondue with bread to dip and veggies boiled in a delicious oil broth that was out of this world. For our dinner course we were each able to pick what type of meat combo we wanted. We got the Original Fondue dinner (beef and chicken), Hunter Fondue Dinner (wild boar, buffalo and venison), and their Seafood Special Fondue dinner (lobster, prawn and scallops). Our server set us up with hot rocks to grill on and oil fondue and told us which meat is better to be cooked.

The Grizzly House is definitely not somewhere to miss. Make a reservation and go hungry because you will leave full and unbuttoning your pants.

Where we stayed
In Banff we ended up opting for an AirBnB, mostly because there were very little options. We started looking for lodging only a month before we went on our trip. I thought that’d be plenty of time but it wasn’t at all. Our options were either stay for at a hotel on Banff Ave for a crazy amount of money each night, or stay in the Tunnel Mountain area of town, which was a pretty good location and just a quick 5 minute cab ride from town.

Protip: There are no Ubers in Banff so you have to rely on local cabs. This really only was a problem once we were in town and couldn’t call a cab from our phones because we were using WiFi. But we were always able to find someone to lend us their phone so it wasn’t too bad.

There are a ton of hotels right in town, and they probably would have been a little more convenient then our AirBnB but you need to book early for availability. While we were looking for accommodations we were actually getting a little nervous because campgrounds were the only thing that was coming up for a while, and lets be real, that wasn’t going to happen.

 

Lake Louise Travel Guide, and the Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway – Where we stopped
After spending our first night in Calgary, we got on the road the next morning and headed west. We really wanted to explore the Icefields Parkway but new we may be pushing it since Icefield Centre is about three and a half hours from Calgary. We made a quick stop in Lake Louise and stopped into the Experience Lake Louise shop where we got a Driving Guide of the Icefields Parkway. It was just what we needed for our exploration.

We drove straight to Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre in Jasper National Park. Here is where you pick up the busses to go drive out on Athabasca Glacier, visit the Glacier Skywalk, and view beautiful mountain peaks of the Canadian Rockies and the glaciers that have formed over time. The girl at the shop in Lake Louise recommended us pass right by the skywalk and visit Tangle Waterfall. It was a quick turn off on the left but it was a beautiful little stop and I am so thankful she let us know about it.

We decided to just do the Glacier Skywalk and at first, I was a little nervous about it. I’m not a big heights person, as you know if you’ve been around here for a little bit. But I have been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone and went full force into checking the skywalk out. It was beautiful. Hanging 918 feet above the canyon, you get some insane views that you just can’t see from the side of the road. We didn’t have to pre-purchase anything but get there early in the afternoon because they do stop tours pretty early. The closing time also is affected by the season.

On our drive back, we made stops along the way. Most of the viewing points were on the south side of the parkway, so it was much easier to make the stops on our way back down to Lake Louise. Here is where we stopped:

  • Rampart Creek
  • Saskatchewan River Crossing
  • Waterfowl Lakes
  • Peyto Lake

Once we got to Peyto it started snowing and we started losing sun, so we decided to do the remaining stops later in our trip but here is where else we stopped.

  • Crowfoot Glacier
  • Hector Lake
  • Herbert Lake

Lake Louise – What we did
After our day exploring the Icefields Parkway, we spent the next day exploring Lake Louise itself. We started the morning with a hike…. A lonnnng hike. We took the Lake Agnes Trail up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse which was a 4.4 mile round trip hike. This teahouse has been around since the late 1800s and the building has no electricity or running water. We watched a staff member take water right from the lake and bring it inside.

The hike itself took us a total of 4 hours to hike up to the teahouse, hang out for a little bit, fuel up with some snacks and hot cocoa, and then head back down. The trail is considered a moderate hike and while we were on it, some parts were really icey and slick since it had snowed a little that week. For me, someone who hasn’t hiked in a LONG time, it was pretty rough. It probably took us closer to two and a half hours to get to the tea house and just one hour to get back down. It was absolutely worth it. The day of, I would definitely not have said that, but looking back, it was worth it.

Pro Tip: The teahouse is seasonal, and we actually were a little nervous that it had already closed because of the snow while we were there. Bring layers especially if you are hiking in the beginning or end of the season. (June or September) Also, its cash only once you get to the teahouse.

Once we got down we headed straight over to the Lake Louise Canoes. Being in the travel industry, I have been wanting to visit Lake Louise for years, and canoeing was high up on my to-do list for this bucket list location. You can choose to take a canoe out for 30 minutes and only go to the center of the lake or go out for a full hour and go all the way across the lake. We chose the latter.

The next day we headed over to Moraine Lake which is an absolute must see if you’re visiting this area. Rockpile trail, which is more like a leisurely walk, brings you to high up, panoramic views of the lake which are just stunning. Just like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake is made of glacier water, so the water is the most amazing pure blue you will ever see, and the higher you are, the more the blue stands out.

We took the park ranger’s recommendation and did the hike to Consolation Lakes. This hike took us only about an hour and a half and was about 3 and a half miles round trip. Much easier than the Lake Agnes hike, there is really only one section that was a steady incline. The rest is pretty flat and easy, but once you get to the Lakes, make sure you have on the right shoes. I didn’t and I couldn’t climb over all of the boulders that separate the trail from the views of the lake.

Pro Tip: Parking is very hard to get at Moraine Lake, which you probably have heard. We didn’t even try to park there, instead we parked at the free overflow lot right off of the Trans-Canada Highway and took a shuttle bus to the top. The shuttle comes every 15 minutes and was well worth the wait to not try to search for parking at the Lake.

The last place we explored in Lake Louise was the Lake Louise Gondola. You take the Gondola from the Lake Louise Ski Resort. This is also seasonal since they use this lift for the resort during the winter. We took an open-air lift to the top of the mountain where we had lunch at the amazing Whitehorn Bistro. More on that later but the Lake Louise Gondola is a must do if you’re visiting this area. This was our final view of the amazing Lake Louise.

Lake Louise – Where we stayed
Like I said earlier, Lake Louise has been a bucket list location for me for a while now, and not just visiting the National Park but staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Thanks to their partnership with travel agents, we scored a Fairmont Gold Lakeview Room on their club level. We got a private check in, a lounge for just club members that offered breakfast, and happy hour, and free canoe rides. Check, check, and check.

This property was a dream. We checked in after it was dark, so we weren’t able to see our view, but in the morning, we woke up bright and early to make sure we had first dibs on the view of the lake. It was insane. But be warned, the fog comes in and out SO quickly. We got up, saw that the fog was starting to burn off so we ran down to take some pictures of the lake. Within 20 minutes the entire lake was covered again and you couldn’t see a thing. Patience is a virtue.

Because of the hefty price tag at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, we only spent one night there and night two we stayed right next door at Deer Lodge. Deer Lodge is owned and operated by Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, which is similar to the National Parks Service Lodges here in the U.S. Quite the difference from our AAA Four Diamond hotel the night before.

At Deer Lodge we didn’t have a ton of restaurant options, or even a TV in our room so we went down to the liquor store in Lake Louise Village, grabbed some wine and watched Eat, Pray, Love on Netflix. In all honesty, the hotel was not bad at all, but there definitely were not thrills here.

Lake Louise – Where we ate 
Alpine Social – Because we checked into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise so late there were only a few restaurants still open. We chose to sit at the bar at Alpine Social and it was pretty amazing. We started with sharing a bottle of wine and charcuterie board that they made specially for us since we were craving it. After we moved onto Stout and onion soup and seafood chowder, both absolutely amazing! We ordered another bottle of wine and each got another small app but really it was completely unnecessary (the food, not the wine). We had so much food it was just what we needed.

Poppy Brasserie – In the morning, since we ran down to check out the lake, we opted out of our complimentary breakfast and instead stopped at the popular Poppy Brasserie. We fueled up with their breakfast buffet that had a fresh omelet station, oatmeal bar, waffles, fruits, cheeses, eggs, and cereals. We each had their freshly made smoothie and it was the perfect burst of energy for a long day of hiking. I highly recommend this restaurant if you are a breakfast person.

Mount Fairview Dining Room – For our night at Deer Lodge we decided to try their restaurant and honestly, I am beyond glad we did. While the hotel may have underwhelmed, their restaurant more than made up for. We all started with (another) bottle of wine but this time decided to try a Canadian red. WOW! So good. Then we started our meals with bowls of mushroom soup to warm up and I had the Alberta beef ribeye with potatoes gratin. We all definitely needed a full meal after our picking dinner the night before and a long day of hiking.

Trailhead Café – The next morning we were hoping back on the Icefields Parkway for some more sightseeing so we grabbed a quick, but hearty breakfast to go at Trailhead Café in Lake Louise Village. I took the server’s recommendation and added tzatziki sauce to my egg wrap and it was amazing. Defiantly different than the breakfast burritos I am used to but it was so good! This place is super small but a great place for a grab and go breakfast or lunch.

Whitehorn Bistro – Whitehorn was high up on our list because we heard about the view, but once we got up there, wow the food was insane! Whitehorn Bistro is at the top of the mountain of Lake Louise Ski Resort. We took the gondola up and had an amazing lunch at the top.  I had the shrimp and prawn ravioli and it was out of this world.

Reliving this trip and the food we ate is making me want to go back! Later this week I’m going to be telling you guys about the last part of our trip in Banff. More food, more wine, less hiking. My type of trip.

One Night in Calgary

Happy Friday ya’ll! I’ve been back to work for almost two full weeks and I still find myself dreaming about our trip to Alberta, Canada with the fresh air, gorgeous blue lakes, and tree that soar higher than anything I’ve ever seen. Originally, I was going to tell you about the first part of my trip: Calgary and Lake Louise. But I had SO MUCH to write about I thought for your sanity, I’d split it into two different posts.

To get to Banff National Park, your best bet is the fly into Calgary if you’re coming from the States. We got a car right from the airport. Super easy. We landed into Calgary late in the afternoon so instead of hoping into the car and taking a two-hour drive – after a propeller plane, a four-hour flight, and heading through customs – we spent our first night in Calgary.

What we didn’t really think about, but night one was a Sunday. Calgary is a major city in Canada, but a major city in Canada is a little different then the major cities I’m used to here in the U.S. so we didn’t have a huge pick of restaurants and bars that were open, and we were ready to explore.

Calgary – Where we stayed and where we ate
We stayed at the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel right across the street from the Calgary Tower, thanks to Marriott’s amazing relationship with travel agents. Our room over looked 9th Ave and the tower itself. It was awesome. I really wanted to go up to the top to see the views of the city but it was super overcast and cloudy that first night so we opted out of the trip to the top and headed to a brewery that’s been in Calgary for over 20 years. WHAT! That’s insane! Wild Rose Brewery was a craft brewery before craft breweries were a thing. We each had a flight and split some of their amazing flat breads. It was the perfect quick dinner that we needed to wake up and get ready for our night out.

We Ubered back into downtown Calgary and started at Last Best Brewing Company, which was recommended by our server at Wild Rose. Not really the vibe we were going for but this would be an awesome place for a group dinner on a Saturday night. On Sunday it was a little too, I’m going out alone and going to sit in the corner watching the TV for us. But they did have an awesome bartender who gave us some great recommendations for the rest of the night.

He told us to head over to 17th Avenue and check out Living Room. We walked by a ton of other amazing restaurants and bars that look like on a Friday or Saturday night it would be wild. Living Room was so cute! We walked in and the bartender asked 3? I said yeah and instantly there were three of their late-night specialties in front of us, the Shaft. Coffee, Kahlua, and a splash of skim milk is apparently what locals come in to get at the end of the night. It was just what we needed to end our night.

Next week I’m here to tell you more about our trip. I have travel guides for Lake Louise and Banff with tons of detail, recommendations, what we did, and what I’d do again. AND info for a non-hiker going to a National Park. (yep that’s me!)