Wednesday, September 21, 2016

New Blog - The Cardio Canadian

Thanks to everyone who checked out my first attempt at blogging, 'Palms & Pints', over the last 2.5 years. I know it wasn't many, but I am appreciative none the less.

I learned so much about the world of travel blogging, specifically that there are many great bloggers out there that travel constantly and/or bring something unique to the community. I felt by only taking 2 or 3 trips a year I just didn't have consistent enough content nor did I have an interesting enough niche to really develop the blog the way I originally planned.

With that said, I have decided to take a second crack at it with a more focused blog on something that is a part of my daily life... outdoor fitness.

'The Cardio Canadian' will chronicle my running, hiking, cycling, kayaking adventures and more. It will feature discussion & reviews of fitness sites, apps and wearables, it will detail my outdoor exploration and fitness year-round, and of course will include a large travel focus whenever I am abroad.

You can check out the new blog here
My related Instagram can be followed here

Thanks again!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ontario Outdoor Adventures: Haliburton Highlands & Algonquin Park

2016 has been an interesting year of travel for me. With the birth of my first child, Florence, at the tail end of 2015 we had to make several changes to our typical travel style to accommodate having our new bundle of joy in tow. In early June we had a fantastic week in a beautiful townhouse in Virginia Beach, along with my wife’s extended family. For our 2nd vacation with my family we chose a peaceful cottage setting deep in central Ontario cottage country, just on the cusp of the famed Algonquin Provincial Park.

I had been to this cottage (40 minutes north-west of Bancroft), as well as Algonquin Park many times in the past, but never for anywhere near as long as the full-week vacation we planned this time around. The extra time allowed me to spread out many activities over the course of the week throughout the beautiful backcountry.


The cottage is located only a 5 min drive from the start of the Algonquin Park ‘High Falls’ hiking trail. The trail snakes through the forest on relatively flat terrain for about 1km before becoming quite steep and rocky over the next 500m or so. It eventually approaches some picturesque river rapids and ends with a great view of High Falls. The falls are photo-worthy for sure, but would never be confused with world famous Niagara Falls. We tried to bring Florence along in her quite rugged stroller (Bob Revolution SE), but once we got to the rocky portion there was no hope and she had to be carried the rest of the way, something I can’t really recommend for obvious reasons. After you get to the falls opening, there are options to rock-hop along the riverbank and also some side trails back into the forest to keep you occupied.

Carrying Florence along the home stretch of the High Falls trail
The rapids at the bottom of the falls
Finally, the majestic High Falls 


I set off one morning on a run that I had planned out ahead of time via Google Maps. From the cottage road I headed due north about 2km to Kingscote Road. This is a 7km long dirt road that eventually leads into Algonquin Park and an interior canoe access point on Kingscote Lake. The 7k run across this road provided some great views of marshlands and was easily the most “backwoods” I have ever been, but runners beware: this is a logging route and massive logging trucks can rip around the corner at any time. I ran in the oncoming lane to avoid getting clipped from behind, unless there is poor visibility ahead where I moved to the right to avoid not being seen in time. The run was hilly and fairly grueling, but ended with a beautiful view of the pristine lake. In addition, I also ran some of the snowmobiling routes near the High Falls trail entrance, these were much less challenging and generally safer than the Kingscote segment.

Kingscote Lake, an official Algonquin Park interior launch point
Elephant Lake Road


Our cottage was right on the shores of Benior Lake, so clearly some water sports were in good order. The provided kayak was great for exploring the lake. In addition to the cottage our family was staying at, we had two other family members that own cottages on the same lake, so the kayak became a great method of zipping around to pop in for lunch or just say hi. On our final full day I took up the challenge to paddle to the north end of Benior and exit the lake via a river leading into Algonquin Park and eventually the High Falls rapids. It was about a 5km one-way paddle of what can only be described as one of the most tranquil settings I’ve ever experienced. The gentle winding river traversed untouched wilderness before ending where the rapids began. I settled into a small bay where High Falls hikers approach the rapids and as timing worked out, met up with my parents who were doing the hike at the time. The paddle back to the cottage was a challenge, however. When I re-entered the lake it was much choppier due to increased winds and the afternoon motorboat traffic. My recreational kayak held up quite well in the added chop though, and my tired arms were able to eventually power me back.

Entering the serenity of Algonquin Park
Clutch photo from my dad, hiking the trail at the same time
The end of my watery road

General Cottage Thoughts:

Our cottage, while a tad rustic was perfect for our group. We had as many as 9 people staying in it and it never felt crowded. Being on a septic system for a full week was a new experience, but hey, it’s a cottage not the Four Seasons. As mentioned Benior Lake is great for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, jet skiing, tubing etc. It is large enough to leave a lot to explore and to connect to other bodies, but small enough to easily get to friends and family staying at other parts of the lake. We had a shallow sandy beach which is perfect for small children, but the sand turns to mud and seaweed pretty quickly once you walk in. We did a bit of fishing but without much success. In the autumn my aunt and uncle have caught massive musky, but apparently the summer is a quiet time for the fish. Florence was a bit too young to really partake in activities, but she had a great time hanging out with everyone and checking out the forest and lake scenery for the first time. As a cottage staple we had amazing bonfires each night and thanks to mostly clear skies the stars were just spectacular.

Surreal calmness of Benior Lake in the morning
Just can't beat that dock life 


After several days of cooking our own (abundantly carnivorous) meals, we decided to treat ourselves to a dinner out in Bancroft. About 40min from the cottage, Bancroft is the biggest town of substance in the area. It has all of the amenities a town should, a large grocery store, beer and liquor stores and a hardware store. It also has a quaint main drag with lots of little artsy shops. Unfortunately for us, the evening we arrived many of them were already closed for the day. For dinner we chose the Bancroft Eatery & Brew Pub which had some great eats and delicious local Ontario craft beef. After dinner we took a short drive up a steep road to the locally famous Bird's Nest lookout for a fantastic view of the town and surrounding forest.

Florence The Explorer enjoying the view at Bird's Nest Lookout in Bancroft

If you are considering a trip to Algonquin Park, check out my previous post.
Want to know more about the cottage we booked? Check out their website here

Mike @ Palms & Pints 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Running Review: Virginia Beach Boardwalk

A few weeks back I had the chance to visit Virginia Beach with my wife, young daughter Florence and some extended family. As I outlined in my previous posting, the trip was fantastic! A huge part of that trip (and really anywhere I go these days) was the running. Virginia Beach offers a fantastic cardio experience for runners of all abilities.

The VB Boardwalk is 4.5km long (about 3 miles) from end to end stretching from 40th Street at the north end to just below 2nd Street, Rudee Inlet and Grommet Island Park to the south. The west side of the route is flanked by various hotels, condos and restaurants while the east side provides a beautiful view of the beach and mighty Atlantic. Each end of the boardwalk provides a small loop to turn around and head the opposite way.

The boardwalk on a fantastic cloudless day

A nice thing about the boardwalk you will notice right off the bat is the unique paths for pedestrian and cyclist traffic. This is not just a painted line down the middle of the concrete, but two distinct, separated lanes. This assists with congestion, especially during the high season. That being said I would still recommend getting your running in prior to 9am for the benefit of smaller crowds as well as avoiding the worst of the Virginia summer sun.

A view of the separate bike path in front of King Neptune

The boardwalk has a couple of features which help you visualize your location and progress during your run. Every street from 2nd to 40th is marked by a large sign where the boardwalk steps down to the beach, so if you get tired of counting kilometers you can count streets! Secondly, sitting at roughly the 3/4 mark of the boardwalk at 30th street is the mighty statue of King Neptune, the crown jewel in the Virginia Beach experience.

Sign marking 22nd street
The mighty god of the sea

In addition to running on the boardwalk, you also have the option of stepping into the sand and running directly on the beach. I did this for the first time in Punta Cana, and really there is nothing quite like a morning run admiring the waves, enjoying the breeze and having the surf gently (or not so gently) lap against your feet. If you are new to beach running you will surely feel some tightness or moderate discomfort in your shins or ankles the next day as your body adapts to using those additional stabilizing muscles.

The wide open, soft sand beach!
Nothing quite like this feeling

Unlike Punta Cana or Miami, there are no fresh young coconuts available for your post-run electrolytes so be sure to pick up a few cans of coconut water before hand. Coco Joy is a fantastic tasting brand I discovered while in Virginia Beach at the local Target. As is the case with many popular tourist destinations, there are several Strava segments available on the main strip for you to see how you stack up!

Post-run selfie with the waves and fishing pier behind me

Pro Tip: When you switch from boardwalk running to the beach, leave your shoes and socks by one of the tall lifeguard chairs. These are also marked based on street number so they are very easy to find again after your run.

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Virginia Beach Family Vacation

I had the pleasure of visiting Virginia Beach earlier this month as the first vacation of my six-month old daughter’s young life. Planning this trip introduced me to the wide world of family travel, something I hadn’t really paid much attention to in the past. Joining my wife, daughter Florence and I on the adventure were my wife’s parents as well as my bother-in-law with his wife and two children, five and three. The 12 hour (15 with stops) road trip from southern Ontario wasn’t always easy with the little ones in our group, but hey the journey is half the fun and we all survived!

When planning, we noticed that hotels along the boardwalk were quite expensive, with even mediocre-rated options well over $150 CAD per night. After some serious research we decided to book a rental property through VRBO. We chose a modern 4-bedroom townhouse just a few minute walk from the center of the boardwalk and the beach. The home was gorgeous, location prime and given the aforementioned cost of a hotel, the value superb.

The main activities in Virginia Beach center around the boardwalk and of course the beach. I absolutely loved their boardwalk. It stretches for about 4.5 KM along the Atlantic coast where a hub of activity is taking place from top to bottom. The weekend we arrived was the popular ‘Patriotic Festival’, and while we didn’t stick around for the country concert at night, I enjoyed checking out the military exhibit on the beach during the day. The highlight of which was a US Army hovercraft parked at the water’s edge which could be boarded and explored. The weekend we left was a major beach soccer tournament with teams from all over the world, so needless to say the strip was always action packed.

The impressive boardwalk
How often do you get to see one of these up close?

Regardless of which events are going on, the crown jewel on the boardwalk is the statue of King Neptune, located just north of the centre of the strip at 30th street. Great photo op’s are abound around the mighty sea god, but be sure to come early as his section of the path gets quite crowded with camera-happy tourists in the afternoon. The boardwalk also features a bikes-only path which is great for cyclists and also keeps the main path free for walkers and runners. I ran the boardwalk several times in the week I was there and it definitely ranks up with some of the best running routes I have done. (I will go more in-depth with my running experience in a follow-up post soon!).

The mighty King Neptune
Finishing up my run on the beach.

Even more than the famous boardwalk, the beach itself is what drives most visitors to the Virginia shore. My favourite American beach to date is Miami’s South Beach, partially due to its size both in length and width. Virginia Beach is laid out very similarly, such that even on busy days there is an abundance of space to be had for all. The sand itself while not pearl white like beaches further south is very fine and soft, great for setting up a beach towel. The water is clean and refreshing, not the soup you get during a Florida summer but perfect for cooling off on an 80+ degree day. The surf varied quite a bit while we were there. Some days it being so choppy it was borderline dangerous to get in, and other days it doing little more than lapping the shore.

Baby Florence enjoying her first trip to the beach!
Beating the June heat in the refreshing ocean. 

One street west from the boardwalk is Atlantic Ave which has your usual tourist hot spots including beach wear, souvenirs & ice cream. Worth a stroll early in your trip to pick up anything you may have forgotten at home. There are a few drifters and homeless people on Atlantic as well as the boardwalk, but other than asking for change as you walk by they are not really bothersome.

From what we were told from others who have visited Virginia Beach, (or really any beach town in the US), ‘happy hour’ eats and drinks are a must. I enjoyed more than my fair share of delicious oysters and pints at Mahi Mah’s Restaurant at the south end of the boardwalk. Sadly, we were not as impressed with some of our evening dinner outings, even at restaurants very well reviewed on TripAdvisor. Lucky for us we had a full kitchen in our house and some great cooks in the family to ensure we were never short on good eats from home.

Oysters, the culinary highlight of the trip!

For a break from the beach and boardwalk life my father-in-law and I went on a couple cycling adventures. The first was to Sandbridge Beach just south of Virginia Beach. While it looked like a nice beach to stay at, I wouldn’t recommend traveling there for a day trip as it’s basically the same as the main beach, just without the action. The ride there wasn’t great either as about half of it was on a very busy main road. Far more cyclist-friendly routes are surely out there. 

Neptune amongst the palms
Our second outing took us 10KM north to the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse. Unbeknownst to us, you must check in at a guarded military gate before proceeding to the lighthouse. This was a little intimidating as we suddenly rode up to a group of a dozen or so military personnel, but they were very friendly and gave us all the info we needed to get to our destination. For a cost of $8.00 I was able to climb to the top which was fun and provided some nice views of Chesapeake Bay. If you have any sort of claustrophobia or fear of heights the climb may not be for you, just as a quick word of warning! There is also an abundance of outdoor activities available in nearby First Landing State Park, but we were eager to return to the beach thus did not do much after the lighthouse visit. Later in the trip we played a round of jungle-themed mini golf complete with near-life size animals, palm trees, tropical mists and even a volcano! The kids in our group loved it, as did the ultra-competitive rec sports adult (me!).

The new lighthouse and Chesapeake Bay as seen from the top of the old lighthouse. 
Sofia lining up a putt alongside a volcano!

Virginia Beach is a fantastic vacation spot and perfect for young families. My beach town bucket list is still pretty full (Myrtle Beach, Panama City Beach & South Padre Island to name a few), but I know this surely wasn’t my last visit to the land of Neptune.

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Running Review: Lake Ontario Waterfront

Running in my southwest Mississauga neighbourhood (west of Toronto) is something I have done regularly for 3 years now. I had a couple of suburban routes ranging from 6 -10km which I would rotate through depending on the length of run I was looking for. All of these routes had one thing in common… they were boring! A mix of residential, commercial and industrial roads designed to be endured more than enjoyed.  

This year I have been pushing closer to a half-marathon distance, running lengths of 12, 15 and even 18km when I’m feeling up to it. This extra distance has expanded my running radius from the neighbourhood streets to the banks of Lake Ontario.

As boasted in an earlier post, I have run in some pretty cool coastal locations such as Miami Beach, Punta Cana & Malta. While I’m not about to compare residential Lake Ontario to any of these world class destinations, I will say I have been amazed with the beautiful views and serene atmosphere of the waterfront running offered right in my own neck of the woods.

Our neighbourhood of Clarkson sits smack in the middle of two affluent lakeside communities in the Greater Toronto Area... Oakville & Port Credit. Oakville offers runners over half a dozen beautiful waterfront expanses, from the tiny Arkendo Park to the bustling beach at Coronation Park. Perhaps my favorite location in Oakville is the expertly landscaped Gairloch Gardens, complete with its own palm tree in the summer! To the east there is Port Credit with its action packed harbour, plethora of restaurants and cafes and its pier extending out from the mouth of the Credit River into Lake Ontario.
In between these two locations is Rattray Marsh Conservation Area. A protected wetland with walking/hiking/running trails leading through a forested marsh and ending with a fantastic view of the lake.

It turns out you don’t have to travel to Europe or the Caribbean to experience the zen of running with the calming waves and vastness of open water. Here are a few of my favorite photographs of runs alongside underappreciated Lake Ontario!

It's not quite powdery white beach sand, but it sure beats a busy road.

Atlantic Ocean-like waves on a windy day!

The entrance to beautiful Gairloch Gardens in Oakville.

Ahh the majestic palm tree... first time I have seen one in Ontario!

A ship and the Toronto skyline in the distance.

Port Credit - the end of the pier

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Everything Great About Airports

A friend of mine whom is constantly on the road making his living in a sales field once told me of how much he hates airports. Between the line-ups, the paper work and the hauling of luggage to kingdom come (or the next terminal at DFW), he has associated these hubs of long range travel with the same ill-will that the average commuter would place upon a big city highway at 5:30pm. This couldn’t be further from how I feel about airports.

I don’t work in sales and I have never had to travel for work. Also because of my job (which is steady, well-paying and one that I consider myself lucky to have) I don’t have the opportunity to jet-set around the world like some of the “digital nomads” we all love to read about online. The vacation time I have accrued allows me to take maybe two major trips per year. The good part about such infrequent travel is for one, the time I have on my side to plan the perfect vacation, and maybe more importantly the scarcity allows me to fully appreciate all that contributes to the magic of travel, of which the airport experience is an integral part.

Love getting up close and personal with one of these beauties 

With my selective memory conveniently blocking out painful customs lines and the occasional flight delay, here is everything I love about airports and airplanes:

The 4am Wakeup Call
…and leaving the house well before sunrise. I don’t do this when I go to work. I surely don’t do this on the weekend. I only do this when I’m going to the airport. Thus 4am wake-up call = vacation!

The Departure Board
Call me weird but sometimes I just love to stand in front of this thing and imagine all of the different places I could get to in a matter of hours. I could be in Lima for lunch or Delhi for dinner.

Oh, the places you can go...

The Obligatory Facebook Airport Check-in
Remember all those times sitting at your desk eating leftovers, reading about who’s about to takeoff to Europe? Well now it’s my turn, and you’re getting an Eiffel Tower emoji with that too!

The Duty Free
So what if I will have no shortage of opportunity to buy cheap booze while at my destination. I’m at the airport, I’m on vacation and dammit I’m going to at least look at all of the bottles and cigars. 

The Airline’s Destination Map
Similar to the destination board, look at all the places you can go! Beautifully illustrated with hub-and-spoke airports all over the map. I also enjoy the layout maps of the hub airports and info about the airline’s fleet. Other than Skymall, this is the pinnacle of inflight reading. Oh ya, Skymall!

Unleashing my inner geography nerd on every flight

No real explanation required. I will never buy a cat house or a Boston Red Sox themed BBQ set, but these are fun to look at for 5 minutes from the window seat.

Shopping at it's finest

The Views
I know, the major portion of an 8-hour trans-Atlantic flight is pretty damn boring, but man those views from above during take-off and descent are stunning.

The Mediterranean is a sight from above

This only really applies when flying to the tropics. The heat and humidity you feel when stepping off the plane in Miami or Punta Cana is awesome, especially when there is no tunnel and you step off right on to the tarmac in the mid-day sun. #Summertimeandthelivinseasy

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Monday, April 4, 2016

Essentials for the Travelling Runner

For more than five years running has been a huge part of my life. I have developed a love for the sport such that not even the deep freeze of winter or piercing humidity of summer can keep me off the road, (and living in the Toronto-area ensures I see plenty of both!). In fact, my general mental well being of the day, especially on weekends, is often directly related to whether or not I completed my morning run.
Bundled to run on the coldest day of 2016
Naturally, when the time comes for vacation, the activity doesn’t stop. Running, whether at the beach, in the big city, or on a back-country trail, is my favorite way to experience a new locale. I have written in the past about the benefits to running while traveling, so that is not the focus of this posting. Instead I’d like to offer up a list of the “essential” items any runner needs with a bit of extra focus on running while abroad. 

1) A GPS tracking device

There are a few options here. The most popular of which (especially amongst newer runners) is a smartphone. This is something that the majority of us already own, so all that is needed is an armband to secure it. Don’t worry about data roaming charges, as GPS tracking does not use data (only loading the maps does). When you are back on a Wi-Fi network you can review the details of your route.

Trusty iPhone on my arm, tracking my running route in Barcelona
The second option is a dedicated GPS smart watch. These range in price from a couple hundred to over a thousand dollars. They allow you to track your route and other stats on the fly without the need to carry your phone with you. On one hand this is useful if you are worried about your phone being lost or stolen, but on the flip side it’s always a safe practice to have your phone accessible when running in unfamiliar territory, just in case. 

2) A Heart Rate Monitor

Some of the aforementioned GPS watches include a wrist-based heart rate monitor (HRM). This is great for walks, light hikes and other moderate exercise, but for runs when your pulse is pounding at 160+ BPM, the accuracy of a chest-based unit is unmatched. Whichever route you go, a HRM is the best way to ensure you know just how hard you are pushing yourself. When running in new areas where the temperature, elevation change or terrain is harsher than you are used to, it is very important to keep tabs on your body’s limits. A basic HRM should set you back no more than $100-$150, which is more than worth the value it provides.   

3) Running App/Website

A running app or website will take the data from your run and translate it into several statistical and graphical breakdowns for you to review. Even at a basic level it will show you your total distance, route, pace, time and more. I highly recommend the app/website Strava, as it contains not only all of this info but also allows you to compare your time in certain sections of road or trail all over the world with others who have run it. Imagine seeing how your time running the perimeter of Central Park or along sections of the famous Boston Marathon compares to those from all over the world!

4) Music

This is an obvious one, but oh so important. Make sure your phone or iPod has a great playlist lined up with songs that will keep you moving and feeling good. Get creative and build a list of tunes that matches your location like British rock in London or jammin’ Latin beats for your beach run down south. The stock Apple ear buds are great for this use, but I find a head band or hat is required to keep them securely in the ears. Even with the tunes pumping, always be aware of your surroundings, especially when running near live traffic or at night.

Quick selfie during a beautiful beach run in Dominican Republic

Here are some other tips when running on vacation:

-If your accommodations do not include laundry facilities, bring a plastic bag to seal your sweaty running clothes in. You definitely do not want to stink up the rest of your luggage. You can also give them a quick rinse in the bathtub and hang dry them on your balcony if the room/weather allow it.

-Ask your hotel concierge if they know of any great running routes nearby. If your hotel is in a touristy city/area, they are likely asked that question all the time and will be happy to help. It may save you from a dangerous run in a dicey neighborhood or at the very least boring one in an commercial/industrial part of town.

-Use the local geography as part of your post-run reward. Whether that be a dip ocean as an instant cool down, or replenishing your electrolytes with water from a coconut cut fresh from the tree.

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Travel Disappointments

My favorite type of travel blogger is an honest travel blogger. As great as it is to read about 101 ways in which a particular city, country, attraction or adventure blew your mind, it is so refreshing to hear from fellow bloggers about why a travel experience fell short. I think too often travelers shy away from criticism, even constructive criticism of their travels because they either are trying to avoid offending a local who may be reading, or they don’t want to admit to themselves that the trip they planned meticulously for many months was anything but perfect.

The reason I cancelled my subscription to a popular travel magazine was due to this “everything is always A+” mentality. The final straw with said magazine was when they featured an article praising a new Paris hotel as the epitome of chic luxury and a ‘game changer in the city’… only to discover that reviews on TripAdvisor (i.e. the closest you are going to get to impartialism) said the hotel was overpriced and underwhelming.

With that in mind, I would like to present my ‘Top 5 Travel Disappointments’ (in no particular order):

Disclaimer: These are mostly locations that I have visited only once. It’s quite possible that any number of variables such as time of year, weather, travel mates, my own mental state at the time of the visit or just poor luck could have cast a negative light on my experience. Thus it should be considered that if I visited these locations again the result may very well be different.

Olympiapark in Munich, Germany

I will preface by saying I loved Munich, the beautiful architecture, the Bavarian culture and of course the world famous beer. The Olympiapark, however, was a letdown. What may have been a world class facility built for the 1972 Summer Olympics now just looks dull and dated over 40 years later. I’m sure there would have been more activities going on if we had visited during the warmer months (we were there in February) but even so, we found it offered little to justify the train trip to get there. It was a lot of walking around uninspiring buildings and average landscaping. Walking time that would have been much better allocated to the city’s beautiful old streets. The only thing we found moderately interesting were the views of the city and the distant German Alps from the top of the Olympic Tower, but when you factor in the cost of this it is still a part of Munich worth skipping.

The Alpine view was the highlight of this day trip

Los Haitises National Park, Dominican Republic

This was a somewhat expensive day tour offered through our vacation provider while we were staying in the Samana region of DR. While the boat ride through Samana Bay to the park was enjoyable and there were some impressive views of islands and cliffs upon entering the park, the caves they took us to were not overly exciting. The history here is interesting and we were told the area was used as a filming location for some major Hollywood productions, but we didn’t really see what the big deal was. The caves were littered with graffiti from past visitors which pulls you right out of the natural environment the guide is trying to convey. The caves were also relatively small and packed way too tightly with several tour groups at once. Maybe if you arrived via private boat and cruised around the islands and cliffs while enjoying a rum cocktail this would be a fun experience, but I wouldn’t recommend booking the group tour offered through your vacation provider.

Impressive islands, caves not so much

The Food of Venice, Italy

Venice is a magical and unique city and something every traveler needs to experience at least once. The food however, I cannot recommend. Like many major European cities (especially in Italy) it is overrun with expensive, low-quality tourist trap restaurants that prey on travelers that just don’t know any better. After finding this out the hard way the first night, we did some serious TripAdvisor research and looked for dinner spots a little off the beaten track that were well reviewed. While these places were definitely much better quality, the Venetian cuisine was just not to our tastes. Instead of the classic Italian we all know and love, it was something different with influences of its trading partners over the centuries like Turkey. Sounds exotic and exciting I know, but I’ll take a classic Napoletana pizza any day while in Italy. Even the quick-service food was disappointing. Sandwiches that looked like they had been sitting under a heat lamp all day were selling for 12 Euro, go figure! Our best culinary experience in Venice came from the great selection of meats and cheeses we bought from a local deli and ate in our hotel room.  

If only we had a kitchen to cook our own meals in Venice, then we would be set!

Tampa, Florida

I have been to Tampa a couple of times, either to see a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game or as a base to explore the nearby gulf coast beaches. Lightning games are a blast, but if you are going for the beach do yourself a favor and stay on the beach. Driving from Tampa to Clearwater Beach or St. Pete’s Beach is not as close as you might think, and if you encounter any traffic along the way you are in for a frustrating drive/parking search. I found the city itself lacked offerings for the intrepid traveler. The historic Ybor City area with its cigar-making past is kinda cool, but other than the highly recommended Tampa Bay Brewing Company, we were hard pressed to find anything in the area that interested us. After the Lightning game we wandered around downtown looking for a good bar, but everything was closing up. I love the state of Florida, mostly because of it's world class beaches. If you are looking for a city trip with sightseeing, dining options, bars etc. there are many more better suited cities in America.

Good old fashioned traffic trying to get from Tampa to Clearwater Beach

Valletta, Malta

First and foremost, Malta is one of my favorite European countries that I have had the chance to visit. We stayed on the rugged northwestern coast which was absolutely beautiful. The problem was we were only there for 3 days and thus could allot one of those days to exploring another part of the island. We chose the capital Valletta, instead of the more recommended ancient city of Mdina. Our entrance to Valletta was grand. It had a very North African feel like we were entering Casablanca or something. From there we found it offered quite little, just a lot of shopping and crowds. The views of the sea were nice, but we didn’t need to travel from the coast we were staying at for that. There did not seem to be many major sites of interest, and the one we did try and visit (Shipwreck of St. Paul) was closed without any info on when it would be open. We found we were quickly bored and wanting to head back to Golden Bay. We were also quite upset we had missed out on our chance to see Mdina. Oh well, next time! 

The entrance to Valletta was sadly the highlight of the day trip to the Maltese capital

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Monday, February 1, 2016

I Love Europe, But Dream of The Caribbean...

I have been lucky enough to travel to Europe two springs in a row and four times in total. I have had the pleasure of experiencing so many of the cities I wanted to visit all my life; Prague, Venice, Barcelona, Vienna, Munich, just to name a few. I would surely head back every year if time and funds allowed it.

Europe, with all of its culture, food, architecture and history, sits comfortably as my 'number 2' favorite type of vacation. The 'number 1' spot however has always belonged to the Caribbean All-Inclusive… and here’s why!

Vacations in Europe or North America just can’t get you the same bang for your buck as a Caribbean All-Inclusive (AI) can. To get to Europe (from Toronto) you are looking at anywhere from $700-$1500 depending on itinerary and time of year… and that’s for flights alone, we haven’t even begun to discuss hotel costs, food, bar tabs, sights or additional travel within the continent. As low as $1,000 can net me a round-trip flight, 4+ star accommodations and unlimited food and drink for a week. Even the little things like airport transfers and tips are included in the one-time price.  

Europe in the winter can be great, don’t get me wrong. There are Christmas markets, beautiful city streets and even at its coldest it is usually more tolerable than back in Canada. That being said, one of my biggest pull factors when going abroad is the sunshine. Aside from a brief hurricane season in the fall, the weather in the Caribbean is typically awesome year-round. As I mentioned in a previous posting, there is nothing quite like boarding a plane in -25C Toronto weather and disembarking in +30C island heat.  

The Caribbean sun just makes you fee good!

The beaches in Florida are some of my favorites, and Europe has some good ones as well (I was in Malta last year and absolutely loved it!), but if you have ever been to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic you know there is just no comparison. Stretching as long as the eye can see, powdery white, lined with palms and warm clear waters all year long… a good Caribbean beach is simply in a league of its own.

Not all beaches are created equal

Most of us in North America are subject to the go-go-go lifestyle of working 40+ hours a week (not including rush hour commuting) and then spending our precious free time with the chores and errands required to maintain a household. When it finally comes time for a vacation, I just want to relax! In the Caribbean you are not trying to squeeze 10 famous sites into a day’s itinerary. You are not walking past countless restaurants each night wondering which are authentic and which are overpriced tourist traps. You are not rushing to the airport or train station at 5am to connect to your next location. You are chillin’ pool or beach-side, catching rays, sipping on a mojito and deciding which of the five gourmet on-site restaurants you want to head to that night.

The definition of a "vacation" for me. 

I will end by saying my experiences do not cover the entire globe as I have never been in Asia or Africa. I have been doing a bit of reading this winter and it seems like some of the beach locales in the Far East have the potential to amaze. Thailand? Philippines? Vietnam? Hopefully someday soon!  

Looking to book a Caribbean all-inclusive? Check these postings out! Part 1 & Part 2.