Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Living Like Locals

As New Years Eve 2010 approaches and we gear up for another annual trip with friends I think back to our 2009 adventure. Going where we were certainly welcomed but not allowed by our own country, Cuba seemed a tad scary, mysterious and difficult to get to.

We chose to stay with a local family in their casa particular. It’s a unique way to experience how many typical Cuban families live while at the same time helping them to earn an income.

In our week with our hosts they opened their home to us, told us stories, talked frankly of politics, introduced us to their family and friends and spoke of the future.  We invited them to partake in our nightly cocktail hour, sharing various treats we had brought from the states and gin martinis made with “real French vermouth” as they happily noted.

One day they held a big party for their family and friends and graciously invited us to join. They filled our paper plates with mounds of treats they had splurged on and prepared for the special occasion- roasted pork, tamales, cake, etc. We passed out the only thing we had a lot of: home baked Christmas cookies. The guests took it upon themselves to give us salsa lessons making it even more fun!

On New Years Eve we invited them to share in our champagne.  We noticed the empty bottles were saved as souvenirs. My own wonderful souvenir is the memory of that truly unique experience!

 This post has been entered into the Grandtourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition

Friday, November 12, 2010

Houston- One Night Only

When you use miles to travel the airlines like to play little games with you like "let's see how far in the opposite direction we can make them go from their final destination". Our game started with us flying from Seattle to Houston to Amsterdam and finally to Munich for our recent trip to Germany.

Some might feel slighted or put out but not us. Not when Anvil, one of the country's best bars, is smack dab in Houston and without this layover we would most likely not be drinking there as we don't find ourselves in Texas very often (ie: never).

So we checked into the Alden Hotel which had a great big room, big bathroom and a cool view from our windows. The hotel looked quite hip and boutique-y but the service just didn't quite match up. All in all a good place but not a great place, although I don't know if there are that many options in Houston.

After a few drinks in the bar we headed out to dinner at Hugo's. Yum. A big boisterous place which is just plain fun to be in. Fantastic service, drinks & food! Highly recommend a meal here if you are in the area.

And the location couldn't have been better as it was just blocks from Anvil!

I loved Anvil. It's got everything I like in a bar. A great mix of people, fantastic bartenders who don't act like stuck up assholes, an amazing list of cocktails, a big long bar with lots of action on both sides and beautiful glassware.



We were lucky to be there when Mindy was shaking, full of sass and ready with a smile the girl knows how to make a drink! And it was just a perfect evening out with amazing libations. If you find yourself in Houston you should absolutely find yourself a bar stool at Anvil.

Monday, November 1, 2010

24 Hours Victoria

The Victoria Clipper has been offering great overnight packages to Victoria, BC. Round trip Clipper tickets and a nice hotel for $115 pp, I got an additional 10% off for "liking" them on Facebook making our weekend getaway under $200 total. Clipper tickets are usually $139pp roundtrip and the hotel rooms start at $120 so I thought this was a great deal and I had never been on the Clipper!

We got up early Saturday morning and boarded the Clipper I right before sunrise. It was super foggy as we pulled out into Puget Sound so the vessel was moving a bit slower and continuously blowing the fog horn. But once we got up into the islands it was bright and sunny, a beautiful fall day.



A bit of breakfast, some mimosas, a little light reading and 3 hours later we pulled into Victoria Harbor. As our hotel was literally across the street we walked to the Grand Pacific and were pleasantly surprised that our room was ready for us so early and that we had a bit of a view of the outer harbor.

Taking advantage of the weather we headed to Red Fish Blue Fish which had been highly recommended. This little seafood grill housed in an old rebuilt wharf container didn't disappoint! My fried halibut & chips were delicious and Dayne's Tuna Belly sandwich was so meaty and smoky. Little did we know that we were there on their 2nd to last day of the season and are now closed until Feb 1st. The place was packed with locals, tourists and seagulls the size of Mini Coopers. One dive bombed the table we were at and stole my coleslaw container!! Luckily my fish and chips were well guarded.

The rest of the afternoon was spent leisurely strolling around town and shopping. It's a very cute little town, smaller than I remembered and easy to walk around.



Delicious cocktails later that evening at Clive's. They have a unique program called the Dead Bartender's Society where they create a menu of drinks based on the mixology of someone late and great. Hugo Ensslin was in the spotlight last month. Shawn and his team are really passionate about their libations, I'd highly recommend this as a "must stop" for a drink.

On to Stage for a delicious dinner served up to us by our friend Stephen. Awesome charcuterie and seasonal delicacies. They've got this octopus that is poached and then fried with rice flour. I've never had anything like it! And the gnocchi was light as pillows, yummm. Visit with friend and amazing food = WIN! 


We started our next day with a swim at the indoor pool at our hotel. It's huge and housed in an atrium style room so it's bright and filled with light. This was also the last day that the pool/sauna/hot tub was to be open before they started a remodel project.



A long relaxed lunch at Bon Rogue and a bit more shopping and our little excursion was about over. We stopped at Pig BBQ to pick up pulled pork, fried chicken, beans, slaw and cornbread for dinner on the Clipper and then it was time to go. Our return voyage was on the Clipper IV which was much newer and nicer. Tables at all the window seats and video maps to follow along with the ride.

A really nice weekend getaway made even better by the gorgeous weather and awesome food and drinks, thanks Victoria!

Photos