Pesto Making 101

We had a decent sleep in this morning before getting ready for our big afternoon. We of course had to partake in a local morning treat.

Boarding the train around 10am, we were on route to Manarola, the second of the five towns closest to the south. It’s actually a very short walk to Manarola from Riomaggiore, except for the fact that the trail is temporarily closed. Once we arrived and headed down the path to the marina, we were blown away by the beauty of the water and cliff side villas.

Following a path around the cove, we walked up several stairs which led us to a restaurant called Nessun Dorma. Here we would partake in a pesto making class! The Cinque Terre region is known for several things: seafood, white wine, and pesto!

We checked in with our chef Simone who then led us through our class. We were given two basil plants where we had to hand pick the leaves and place them into a bowl. Ice was then added to the top, to cover the leaves. This allows for a low oxidation for the leaves.

Next, we placed a clove of garlic and a sprinkle of salt in a mortar and smashed it around the sides until it became a liquid.

We then grabbed bundles of the basil leaves, gave them a few shakes and drained the water out of the bowl as a process of cleaning. The leaves were then added into the mortar. A handful of pine nuts were added as well. Now, these pine nuts came from Pisa and sell for a whopping €83/kg!!! Once on top, they were all mashed together.

Our next step included adding the cheese: around 1 cup of 24 month aged parmesan cheese and a small stick of 36 month aged pecorino cheese.

As the pesto became thick, the final step was to add 5 seconds worth of high quality olive oil.

And voila, our pesto was complete!

Chef Simone then gave us the low down on wine in Cinque Terre and what makes it so unique. Due to the vertical landscape of the area, all of the grapes are hand harvesting by a local cooperative, that brings in young adults to help the older wine experts and growers. The wine itself contains three types of grapes: Bosco, Albarola, and Vermintino. They also have three main tasting notes, again due to the region and landscape: minerals, salty, and dry. The wine that we tried during our class was great, and you could clearly taste the notes he explained. Because the vineyard land is limited they’re only able to produce 5000 bottles of wine each year. We definitely cherished it!

After our class was finished, we were then allowed to choose our seat in the restaurant, and were given an amazing spread of food.

The view, atmosphere, and everything surrounding us made our lunch perfect!

Livin’ On The Sea

Today was dedicated purely to traveling. It was a long, sad goodbye as we ventured down the Grand Canal on a hot and sweaty vaporetto before arriving at the train station. As the train took off and we saw land and cars for the first time in a while, I felt a sense of wonder: where will we ever find a place where buses are boats and streets overlook the beauty of canals? Bittersweet I’d say so myself.

We had what we thought was a short layover in Florence, which ended up being a mad running dash for the next train. Good thing crossfit has trained me well enough to run in flip flops. Out of breathe with barely a minute to spare the train took off on route to the coastal town of La Spezia. Once we arrived there, sadly we missed our following train and were delayed by 30ish minutes.

Being your typical type A personality, I was freaking out about being a half hour late meeting our guesthouse host. We had no way to contact her, and the WiFi was nil. Luckily, Daniel’s sweet, charming Irish accent managed the tourist office to call our host and meet us right outside the train station. She walked and talked, and led us to our adorable new abode for the next few days. Martha gave us numerous suggestions and things to do, and really is a tour guide herself.

Martha booked us in for a Michelin guide restaurant along the coast. According to google, our 2 minute walk ended up being 30 seconds so we had ample time to explore the cove prior to our dinner. What a beauty it is!

I’ve always loved the water, but this made me question even more, why I don’t live by it. The sheer beauty and calmly effect is something to admire.

As our dinner seating time approached, we walked up the cliff side to the gorgeous setting of our restaurant and of course immediately ordered a beautiful, local wine.

Deciding on dinner options was a bit of a feat. To being with, we shared the most deliciously and naturally tasting oysters I’ve ever had!

For our main course, Daniel chose the Riomaggiore spaghetti, with fresh anchovies, and I selected the black ink Tagliolini with clams and squid. Both were insanely delicious.

Instead of finishing off with a dessert, we decided to hike up to the highest point of town, wine in hand, and enjoyed the evening, star-lit sky, stunning view, and tasty beverages!

Can’t wait for tomorrow!

The Islands of Venezia

After another tasty breakfast, we decided to spend our last full day in Venice lagooning around the islands. Boarding the vaporetto just in the knick of time, our first destination was Burano. Once you arrive, your eyes are memorized by the pastel houses which line the canals. Each one appears different and is so unique in it’s style, colour, and sheer cuteness!

Burano is renowned for its lace making and every shop along every canal is filled with beautifully hand made lace pieces: table cloths, dresses, art. It’s stunning, incredible soft, and worth a large penny!

Touring the streets during this crazy heat wave made us quite thirsty, so we stopped at the local grocer and picked up a few ingredients for a picnic. We sat by the canal, with a gentle breeze, and admired (and ate) our delicious spread.

This was also my first Lambrusco in Italy. I’m still going questioning why it took so long, but it was fab!

Once lunch was finished, and I was annoyed by all the creatures, seagulls and ants alike, that Daniel persuaded to visit us, we crossed a small footpath which led us to Mazzorbo.

As you walk through these peaceful, art filled gardens, you realize that you’re surrounded by vineyards: Beautiful white grapes hanging vine after vine.

Following the path, we came across a Michelin star restaurant, but were more interested in trying out some of the wine from the vineyard. We walked into the shop, asked if we could do a wine tasting, and the finely dressed man replied, “Yes, you can taste our wine. It’s €25/glass.” When in Rome we thought, even though we aren’t quite there yet. The man informed us that the wine itself is a Venetian Dorona, which is a thick-skinned golden grape that is like a white wine grape, however is treated like a red wine. It’s barreled for 25 years and has a beautiful nectar colouring. The vineyard itself is only one hectare and produces only 4000 bottles of wine each year. Each bottle is numbered and the “wine labels” contain a traditional Venetian gold leaf, applied by hand to each bottle before being baked by local glass makers.

The wine itself tastes quite unique. A mix between port, sherry, and a red wine. It was delicious and a perfect stop on our afternoon adventure. Our server also offered us a complimentary snack of a cod fish flan… insane!

Our final island stop was Murano, the glass blowing island. Not nearly as impressive as Burano in its uniqueness, but the glass itself was stunning. The technique, precision, and work that goes into a piece, well I can’t even imagine what that would take.

The final picture shows some very fine pieces that sell from between €2000-€4000!

Walking around Murano, and seeing the impressive skills that the artists have, we were led to a street with a stunning masterpiece at the end.

Hot and hungry, we hopped back onto the vaporetto and ventured back to Venice. We walked through the beautiful streets to our dinner destination, Birraria La Corte, a local restaurant inside an old brewery. We began with a local IPA for Daniel and an Aperol spritz for myself.

We had a full fledged sharesies meal tonight. We began with the scallops done in a cauliflower and carrot creme, top with the finest prosciutto.

For our next course, we selected the ricotta gnocchi. I can’t even explain how pure and insanely delicious this was.

Finally, we ordered our first pizza: cheese, mushrooms, porchetta. Simple ingredients make something extraordinary.

The meal was a perfect last dinner in Venice. We spent the rest of the evening strolling the beautiful streets and wishing we had more time to get lost in the beauty of Venice!

Venezia: The City of Bridges

We awoke after a glorious sleep in our B&B with the sun shining brightly through our windows. Once getting up, we ventured into the kitchen and were pleasantly greeted with a delicious breakfast spread: eggs, yogurt, croissant, fruit, juices, and espresso. What a great way to start the day!

Today was a day dedicated to site seeing and exploring all that Venice has to offer. Leaving our place, we immediately hit a wall of heat. Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve been in a humid place but let me tell you, +40 is hot! I was sweating in places I didn’t even know were possible, which made the desire to wait in long site seeing lines quite less desirable.

First, we traveled over bridges and canals until we reached St. Mark’s Square. This is a grand square surrounded by beautiful historical buildings and sites: St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, the Campanile Bell Tower, and the Correr Museum.

Although we wanted and attempted to see everything, the long lines and heat didn’t make it all quite possible. We started our tour in the Correr Museum.

The museum also houses a library, set up by the Pisani family, where the bookcases hold rare manuscripts dating back to the early 16th century. They also contain several ducal orders and regulations.

The Museo Archeologico is also held within the Correr Museum. Here you can see armor, statues, and paintings.

One painting of particular interest to me was The Two Venetian Gentlewomen by Vittore Carpaccio, which has various symbolic details: the pearls around their neck indicate respect to their marriage vows, the white kerchief is a sign of purity, the doves modesty, the peahen marital concord, the dogs vigilance. This painting dates back to around the 1490s.

Once we finished at the museum, we walked over to the Doge’s Palace. This palace was build on a half acre with the intent to show off the wealth and power of the Republic. Wealth it sure exudes.

The Bridge of Sighs connects the palace to the prison. It’s said that it name originated from the fact that a condemned man would be walked over the bridge, have one final glance at the glory of Venice, and sigh. The prison was a dark and gloomy place, where you could see old carvings made by prisoners.

Next, we continued our journey up the canals to the Rialto Bridge. Once on the bridge, you’re offered a beautiful view of the Grand Canal.

By this time, we were still hot and beginning to get hungry so we stopped for our first gelato. It was amazing!

We did a bit more wandering, browsing, site seeing, and drinking before sitting along the canal side deciding upon what we would have for dinner.

We ventured into a small square and opted to try out Osteria Alla Fresca. We began with a white and red wine, and an incredible octopus dish with a purple potato sauce. This was by far the best dish I’ve ever had! Ever!

For our next course, Daniel ordered the swordfish ravioli, and I, the seafood spaghetti.

Finally, we finished off with our first trial of dessert in Italy: tiramisu and panna cotta. Both, of course, impressed!


Ciao Bella

I’ve decided that the older I get, the stronger my love/hate relationship with traveling grows. I hate the travel to get to the destination but I absolutely love the traveling.

Daniel and I were up just after 6am on Monday morning to commence our honeymoon! I couldn’t have been more excited, as it’s been a long time dream to go to Italy! Once we left Calgary, our first leg took us to Montreal. We had a yummy little lunch and wandered around the airport. We boarded our next plane to Halifax where we had a short little layover before hopping on our next plane to Paris. Once we arrived in Paris, we were both so exhausted, delusional, and just needed sleep, which we couldn’t. Luckily our layover wasn’t too long, before boarding our final leg and arriving in Venice.

Our b&b gave us phenomenal directions, which led us onto a water taxi and then walking route to B&B San Marco. The room itself is great, but the view out of our window is stunning!

Once we got settled, showered, and situated, we headed out to do some exploring and find a tasty first Venetian meal.

Venice just has streets after streets of little narrow passageways that lead you to a courtyard, canal, or other passageway. It’s absolutely magical, and I’m actually quite excited to get lost in the maze around us.

We had an amazing meal at a place called Trattoria Da Jonny. To start, I had the mussels and Daniel had the stuffed zucchini floured squid.

Our main course was no other than gnocchi and baby squid polenta.

We each tried a local wine with our meal. Daniel opted for the red, and I, the white.

Our meal was deliciously tantalizing to the taste buds, and the seafood was ridiculously fresh. We strolled back to our b&b stuffed, hot (did I mentioned it’s +40 here?), and prosecco in hand. Cheers to the start of our honeymoon.

Paddling the Bow

Upon awaking early Canada Day morning, I grabbed my phone in bed and checked to see the latest news on Facebook. A free kayaking ride picture posted by The Paddle Station caught my eye. For those who don’t know me well, I love nothing more than a good deal, and free is the best deal of all! I commented on the post, and low and behold an hour later Daniel and I were heading to Shouldice Park for a kayaking adventure.

Now, the worst part about floating down the Bow is the car situation. Whose car do we leave where? Where will our ride end? The list of organizational questions is vast. Due to our limited time before our ride was beginning, we had to make a decision fast. The Paddle Station’s starting location is at Shouldice Park, and excitingly much to our surprise is in a Car2Go zone! Problem #1 solved!

When we arrived, we were greeted by the enthusiastically friendly owner, Ravi. Meeting business owners can be an interesting experience, to say the least, but Ravi is made for the job. He’s so humble and passionate about his business that it’s refreshing to be around. His team was setting up their station for the day, and went above and beyond our expectations. We were given an adorable waterproof blue tooth speaker, and a much needed (which we found out later!) dry bag. Because our ride was free, we were asked to wear Paddle Station flags as we floated, which we happily did. We signed the waiver, hopped into our double kayak, and began our mini adventure with our river tunes playing.

Around 1.5 hours later, we saw a friendly wave as we arrived at our destination stop in St. Patrick’s Island. We were paddling hard to make the inlet pit stop, and before I knew what happened, we were flipped into the Bow River. I guess that’s what we get for complaining about the heat! Thank goodness for that dry sac! We were offered a towel to dry off, thanked them for the awesome ride, and walked through St. Patrick’s Island on route home.

Often people feel like they need to escape from the city and reconnect with nature to refuel. I’m of course, guilty of this too. But on this day, not only did I do these without leaving the city, but my love and appreciation of Calgary grew even more. Paddling along, listening to the birds chirping and the waves rolling, I felt like I could have been anywhere but a city.

If you’re looking for a way to spend a morning or afternoon, or want to float down the river and don’t want to spend a fortune, I highly recommend checking out The Paddle Station. You’ll have an overwhelmingly amount of fun while supporting a wonderful local business!

The City of Love

We wanted our last day in Paris to be a relaxing one. No lines, waiting, or traveling but just enjoying the final day of our holiday. Waking up later than normal, we decided to have a nice, long, sit down breakfast, or brunch really, as we would call it back home based on the time. For a small €13.50, we both began with a savory type crepe that consisted of ham and cheese, and an egg on top. 

Our next course was a sweet crepe. I ordered the apricot and Daniel went for chocolate. 

We concluded with a tasty americano. 

Now that our bellies were full, we could officially start our day. We stopped to purchase a box of macaroons to bring with us as we walked along the banks of the river and throughout the gardens surrounding Notre Dame. With blooming flowers, cherry blossom trees, and the sun shining brightly, our day was off to a wonderful start. 

Recommended to us as a must visit, we decided to stop at a book store called Shakespeare and Company. This was the first English bookstore in Paris, which opened its’ doors in 1951. It was started by an American named George Whitman, who allowed people to sleep in the bookstore in exchange for helping out. Over 30,000 people have slept within the beds among the bookshelves since it’s opening. 

Entering the bookstore, you’re immediately met by the smell of old books and wooden floors. The store itself is full of nooks and crannies, and different rooms and levels, and is surrounded by and fully stocked with floor to ceiling book shelves. As you walk along, the floors creek underfoot reminding you of the age and history of the shop. Above one of the entrances, painted on the wall, you’re reminded of George Whitman’s philosophy: Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise. 

To the left of the bookstore, and with a separate entrance is the rare books selection. We entered the tiny room to see what constituted “rare” and were surprised not only by the age, but the price! The shop keeper informed us that his most expensive book that he housed was In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway. This was Hemingway’s first major work, and was first published in Paris before being reeditioned in the U.K. and USA. It was priced at €2000. Your more mainstream books, like Ken Kesey’s One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was €800. 

Being as the sun was shining, we were feeling quite warm, and it was our last day, we felt it was essential to stop for a gelato. I had been eyeing up a shop since we arrived, who construct a beautiful rose shape out of gelato and then place a macaroon on the top. It was obvious this was where we had to stop. 

With our picnic lunch in hand, we wandered to Jardins du Luxembourg to relax. These gardens were constructed alongside the Luxembourg Palace in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France. The main pool and palace area is surrounded by numerous statues of queens and famous women of France. 

Each path you take leads you to a new garden or fountain which is beautiful and unique in its own way. 

After endless strolling, we finally decided on a place to sit down where we could open our newly purchased bottle of Veuve: a 2008 vintage rosé. Posing the bottle and snapping pictures, as any amateur photographer would, I was surprised when I turned around to see something else sparkling in the sunlight: a ring! As if anything couldn’t be more romantic, I of coursed said yes, we popped our champagne, and enjoyed our final day ever more! 

Leaving the gardens even more in love, we stopped at a little bakery to purchase our final treats. Being obsessed with macaroons, I tried a vanilla one, while Daniel stuck with his profiteroles. 

Next door was a wine shop, where we purchased a delicious €9 bottle from the cutest old man. He chilled the bottle for us, and even opened it so we could enjoy it right away in a park close by. 

For our final evening, we made a reservation at a place called Les Papilles to not only make our last meal a great one, but to also celebrate our exciting news. This restaurant has a set meal each night, which changes constantly, for around €40. We ordered a recommend bottle of wine and then our meal began with broccoli soup. They served us each separate, garnished bowls, and then the soup in a pot. It was heaven!

Our main course consisted of duck and vegetables. 

Next, to cleanse our palate we had a strong cheese, accompanied by a fig jam. 

Mango panna cotta was served for dessert, and of course we finished with an espresso. 

Our meal was perfect, and our day was perfect. Not only did I fall in love with Paris, but I fell even more in love with my new fiancé!