Down in the Dugout at Safeco Field

Safeco Field

My son Matthew loves baseball. I would consider myself to be a baseball fan, but Matthew has taken it to a new level. He doesn’t just love the Toronto Blue Jays, he loves baseball in general. He talks about the sport all the time, air pitches all over our house and watches live games or highlights every chance he gets. His dream is to visit every Major League ballpark, all 30 of them, during his childhood. This week he checked one off his list with a tour of Safeco Field, the home of the Seattle Mariners.

Safeco Field
The excitement builds before we enter the stadium

Have you ever visited a Major League Baseball park during the off season? It’s a very different experience. First of all, it’s really clean. And it’s quiet. So quiet that it’s almost eerie. It almost feels like you are a celebrity or you are in a movie where you are that main character who appears on screen in the empty ballpark. And it’s really cool!

Our guide greeted us in the Safeco Field Mariners’ store (of course, that way we could make souvenir purchases, like our new hats, before the tour even began!). He was dressed head to toe in team gear and knew everything about the local baseball club and the building in which they played.

Safeco Field
Matthew chats with our tour guide

As we traveled through the various levels of the stadium, from the concourse on the 100 level to the cheap seats on the 300 level, our guide shared with us his tremendous knowledge of everything Safeco Field. It’s fan friendly and its roof really is a “retractable umbrella.” The incredible rolling mechanism, which is actually in three parts, is quite the engineering feat and I believe weighs, in total, over 20 million pounds. But it’s not a roof, as it’s above the lights and allows fresh air to flow through the stadium. Amazing.

Safeco Field
Selfie from the cheap seats

Once we had a taste of the stands, our guide took us indoors to the restricted zones of the building. First we visited the private suites, then we headed up to the press box. It’s a place I knew well from my early days in sports media. Well, I spent time in the press box at the Rogers Centre, so it was my first time in the press box at Safeco Field. Wow, it’s a big one, with a perfect line ahead to home plate and the pitcher’s mound. The protective netting behind plate at this ballpark is also quite low, so a journalist who is not paying attention could get a line drive in the head if he or she is not careful. Oh the walls could talk there!

Safeco Field
Matthew imagines himself calling the game from the comfort of the press box
Safeco Field
He could get comfortable here
Safeco Field
Example of wall damage from a foul ball

We then traveled down to the bowels of Safeco Field, to the most restricted part of the stadium. We saw the exclusive Diamond Club for people (or corporations) who pay big bucks for the fancy seats first then headed down the hall to the visitor’s clubhouse. Matthew loved this part of the tour.

Safeco Field
Happy 40th birthday Seattle Mariners

Since it’s the off season the locker room of course was not in use. So the Mariners’ tour team had the space set up with its team jerseys to give us an idea of what the locker room would look like if some uniforms were set up. The 5,000 square foot space includes a kitchen and dining area, showers, toilets and the main lounge and locker area for the players. We didn’t see the Mariners’ 15,000 square foot clubhouse, which I am sure is quite the space.

Safeco Field
Matthew looks in awe as he enters the clubhouse

The final stop on our tour was the dugout. It was so exciting for our little group as we walked along the same tunnel that all our favourite players pass through on their way to the field. One guy started to do his own play-by-play, imagining it was game 7 of the World Series, and he was the star player, about to enter the stadium to cheering fans.

There’s something magical about walking into the 47,000 seat stadium via the dugout. You can almost taste the game that is played in this sacred place. Matthew and I together imagined the exact spot where the manager sits and the chatter among the players along the bench. We loved it.

Safeco Field

Matthew and I have visited three ballparks together so far – Rogers Centre in Toronto, Wrigley Field in Chicago and now Safeco Field in Seattle. I look forward to more games and more tours. I will help make sure my son’s childhood dream comes true.

A Visit with Family in a Special Place

visit with family

David and I are lucky to have family who live all over the world, from New Zealand to England and Israel to Washington State. We are even luckier that our family has invited us to visit them, stay with them and experience their local culture. We have taken full advantage of our family’s warm hospitality over the years, and we often plan our travel expeditions based on where various members of our family live at any given time. A visit with family is always wonderful, and a visit with family who live in an interesting place is even better.

Matthew, Barbara and I are having a great trip to Seattle, and this weekend we had the opportunity to have a trip within a trip. We spent the weekend in the San Juan Islands. More specifically, we had a visit with family on the island of Friday Harbor. Don’t know where that is? Well, it’s a series of beautiful islands off the coast of Washington State, northwest of Seattle. Look it up on Google Maps. You may want to visit sometime too.

David’s first cousin, Pema, lives on Friday Harbour. She generously hosted us this weekend, along with other members of the family. Pema lives in, what I believe, one of the most beautiful places in the world. On first look at her house it seems like she lives in a treehouse. Her home overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and it’s built on bedrock surrounded by trees. It welcomes you as you approach.

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View from the second floor of Pema’s house. Like you are in a treehouse
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There are deer all over Friday Harbor. Here’s one hanging out near our car.

A ferry boat brought us from the mainland to Friday Harbor on Friday morning. I felt an immediate sense of calm as I drove my car off the ferry and into the streets of the island. There are no traffic lights on Friday Harbor, and there’s no need. People are friendly and polite.

A visit with family always begins with warm greetings and hugs upon arrival. A visit with family in Friday Harbor then includes getting cozy on a comfortable couch near the wood stove. That’s what we did. Pema’s house is open concept, and once we found our comfortable spots around the house, we dug in for an afternoon of relaxation. Or at least most of us did.

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Pema and Barbara show off the new tablecloth – a gift from Barbara

You see, the other great part about a visit with family is eating with family. David and I are also lucky that we come from families in which food plays a central role in all gatherings. David’s extended family, especially the Hart family, plans all gatherings around food. Much of the conversation is focused on what the last meal was and what the next meal will be, all while eating the current meal.

So, while some of us lazed around on the comfy couches, others, including our host, Pema, planned the meals, prepared the meals and cleaned up too. We enjoyed a wide range of delicacies this weekend, like roast chicken, vegan pot pie, cheeses, black cod, homemade fish cakes and more. And the desserts. Pema’s homemade apple pie and lemon tarts from a local bakery. Wow. I also just snacked on a pain au chocolat from the same bakery that had more dark chocolate loaded into it than any other I have ever tasted. Another wow.

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I can’t resist a local farmer’s market. Even Demeter bakery has a booth!
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The lemon tarts from Demeter. Amazing, don’t you think?

I would love to write that we took full advantage of the great outdoors and scenery around us this weekend, but really, we spent most of our time indoors. It was freezing outside. It even snowed a bit. We took one short walk all weekend, which was pleasant, but it was nice to return to the couch and warm house. And to get ready for more food.

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Matthew and Barbara on our walk
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Matthew climbed up the hillside, that has a greenhouse on top.
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Wall of moss. Will climb.
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It’s convenient when another member of the family is house-sitting, where there is a hot tub

I love to see the world and have a visit with family in some great cities like Hong Kong or London. But I also love a quiet weekend with family in special places like Friday Harbor. The warmth of the wood stove warmed my heart, but so did my time with close family.

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We can’t resist a selfie, especially on a ferry.
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We just had to take another selfie

When in the United States… Go Shopping

shopping

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in the United States, go shopping. It’s an activity I always enjoy when I go to the US. I know the exchange rate isn’t great, the prices aren’t that much better than what we find in Canada and we can get many of the same items at home. But still, there is something so exhilarating about walking into a speciality store, a mall or dare I say, a big-box store, when I am in the USA.

This is my third trip to Seattle with my mother-in-law, Barbara. We seem to have fallen into a routine, and shopping plays a role. The first full day of our trip always includes shopping. My heart starts to beat a little faster as I slide into my rental car and head for the stores on my list.

For some Canadians, shopping in the United States is a religious experience (just ask my sister, Darcie). For others, it’s a curse (just ask my sister’s husband, Leigh). And for me, it’s definitely fun and exciting. Somehow, clothes, toys and food always look better when I’m in an American city.

Thursday was our designated shopping day for the newly established Travel Trio. Our first stop: the Apple store. It was a big day for Barbara as she took the leap into the smartphone world. Barbara has had an iPad for a number of years, but she is now the proud owner of the new iPhone 8.

Walking into the Apple store can be an overwhelming experience. As you look around the sea of people and technology, you don’t know where to start. Should you wander around and play with all the tech toys or look for some assistance from a blue-shirted, headset wearing employee?

A kindly looking salesperson approached us and helped Barbara choose her phone and her protective case. In the usual efficient Apple way, the new smartphone suddenly appeared moments later, and in no time the purchase was complete and we were out the door.

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Opening the new phone
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The triumphant photo of Barbara and her new iPhone

After a celebratory coffee and hot chocolate at Starbucks (what’s a visit to Seattle without a few trips to the sacred home of coffee?), we were on our way to Northgate Mall. The American shopping mall always fascinates me. I have shopped at malls around the world, but Americans kick it up a notch with their shopping malls. They pack so much into a relatively small space, with every kind of clothing, shoe, cosmetics, accessories and technology store you can think of.

It took us no time to do some damage all over the mall. Silicone utensils at Bed Bath and Beyond, a micro down coat at Eddie Bauer and sweatpants for Matthew at Macy’s. We checked out shoes at Foot Locker, Xbox One games at GameStop and pyjamas at Old Navy.

We took a break back at Annie’s house, then we were back out to cover more ground. Annie joined us for the rest of the day’s shopping expedition. Our next stop was a vast indoor/outdoor plant nursery that was more than plants. Our mission was to buy a large house plant for Annie’s daughter, Lila. This store sells everything from plants and flowers to stationary, toys and clothes. And the train display. Wow. This is an example of the American store at its best. Did you know that Hans Solo, Wonder Woman, Indiana Jones and Elsa from Frozen all appeared in the same battle scene? Go to Swanson’s and you will see it with your own eyes.

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Now that’s a train set
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More of the train set

No trip to the United States is complete without a shopping trip to a grocery store. On Thursday evening, we scoped out a small grocery store and picked up some important supplies like cookies, crackers and drinks. Today we went to another one and picked up more fun stuff like local chocolate (always important).

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oh what a fun it is to be in an American grocery store!

And our shopping expeditions are not over yet. We are enjoying a quiet weekend in Friday Harbor (more on that in another post), but the Seattle Premium Outlets and Uwajimaya are in our future. Those are two very special places. I hope my credit card can handle the pressure.

An Unusual but Wonderful Travel Trio

travel trio

 I like to travel. Okay, I love to travel, Over the past few months I have written extensively about my world adventures. For me, visiting new places, to see them, experience them and learn from them, fills me with me tremendous energy and life. I am lucky that I have family and friends all over the world and am privileged to visit exciting destinations with all kinds of different people. Two of my favourite travel companions are my son, Matthew, and my mother-in-law, Barbara. As I type this I am seated between them on a plane headed for Seattle, Washington. For the next week, we will be an unusual, but wonderful, travel trio.

When you hear about three generations traveling together it is often a grandmother, mother and daughter, or three generations of men going off together. My friends share stories about weekends with their sisters or their mothers, and sometimes their daughters.

But there aren’t too many women who travel with their young sons. There are even fewer women who choose to travel with their mother-in-law. Barbara and I have traveled the world together, and I couldn’t find a better travel companion. As soon as we arrive at the airport we are in sync. We like to plan, but not too much. We like to be on time when we go places, but not too early. Walking and exploring new places is what we love to do, but we also find time to sit back and relax.

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Trudy, Barbara and me in Hong Kong
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Barbara, Julia and me on our trip to Seattle in 2010
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Barbara and I traveled to Seattle again last year with Nessa – here is lunch with Lila and Annie

Matthew may not look like me at all, with his thick head of hair, olive skin, army green eyes and gorgeous eyelashes. But there is one way to describe his personality: Mini Me. He thinks like me and sleeps like me. He loves sports, he is bright and he is kind to his friends and family. And he has the travel bug too.

So, late in the summer, when Barbara announced to me that she wanted to take her annual trip to Seattle to visit her sister, I decided it was time to form a new travel trio that included me, my son and my mother-in-law.

I will admit it was a rocky start on Wednesday afternoon when I rushed home from work and scrambled to throw some final items into our luggage. We finally left for the airport when I suddenly realized that I left my computer charger at home. So we turned around, lost 5 minutes then finally headed to the airport. We frantically jumped out of the car and rushed to the check-in desk to drop off our luggage and move through security and immigration.

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Matthew loves flying along these through the airport
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Some sushi before flying?

Once the three of us arrived at the departure gate we knew the fun had begun. We could take a breath and relax. Our travel trio was ready for our adventure across the continent. Over the next week I will share some of my experiences with you as we visit our family in Seattle and Friday Harbor. There will be some sight-seeing, relaxing and for sure a lot of eating. I will introduce you to our Washington State family, who are the most gracious and wonderful hosts.

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Selfie on the plane last night

I invite you along for the ride on the first adventure of our newly formed travel trio.

Booking Travel is Stressful

booking travel

No one should feel sorry for me after you read the title of today’s blog post. I feel fortunate that I can pursue my love of travel and know that many people don’t have the opportunity to see the world like I do. But the process of booking travel, or more specifically airline tickets, is not pleasant. It causes me tremendous stress every step of the way.

I feel great excitement every time David and I start to discuss our next trip. We have been traveling together for over 20 years and have visited some amazing places. I quite enjoy the process to research flights and dates and airlines. The evolution of the internet into a space where I can sit on my couch and find almost anything has been quite helpful to me.

Years ago, I had to contact a travel agent or the airline directly and was at their mercy to learn information or find a good deal. Now I can do my research on my own at my leisure. I always challenge myself to find a good itinerary and fair price, and I am capable of spending hours in front of my computer, scouring the internet to find the best fit for me and my family.

My problem is that while I love the chase I don’t necessarily like to pull the trigger of booking travel. Travel is expensive, and for the most part, airlines are not easygoing about changes or refunds. I find it tremendously stressful to click that final button that says “confirm your purchase now” or “click here to finalize your booking.”

With airlines, booking travel seems so final, and it bothers me that I have no control over my purchase once I have made it. If I buy a sweater online and don’t like it then I send it back. I can book a hotel on the internet, and If I change my mind I can cancel with no penalty usually up to 24 hours before the scheduled check-in date. I can buy a new iPhone from Apple, load it and use it and have 15 days to decide if I want to keep it or return it for a full refund.

Some airlines give customers up to 24 hours to change their minds, but for the most part clicking “purchase” is quite final. And unless I am willing to spend hundreds of dollars more for a flexible fare, it can cost me two or three hundred dollars to make a change like a different date or time.

If I want to secure a good price I usually need to make my ticket purchase months in advance. With three young children and a busy schedule it’s hard to make a decision like this so much before we want to travel. If my plans change then it’s either tough luck or pay up.

How did airlines get this kind of power?

I faced this stress last night as David and I sat in front of my computer to check prices and dates for our trip to Israel next spring. We also prefer to travel on a European airline and spend a few days in a different city on our way home from Israel. We like to visit our family and friends in Israel as often as we can, and it’s been a few years since our last trip. Our niece is also joining us for the upcoming trip, so it means booking six tickets (the baby goes on my lap but I still have to pay a small fee for a ticket for her).

I found a great price weeks ago and was too nervous to pull the trigger and make this big purchase. Then I was scared to check prices again the last few weeks in case my great price had disappeared. But last night I dared to check and found an even better deal. While my hands shook as I followed each successive step on the British Airways website, I finally pressed that final button and made the purchase. My gosh it was stressful.

But now the fun part of booking travel begins. Once the stressful part of the airline ticket purchase is over I can focus on the search for a great deal on rental cars in Israel, a few nights of hotels in London and many day trips. I guess the stress is worth it.

Quest to Find the Best French Fries

French Fries

Over the Labour Day weekend my family spent a wonderful few days at my uncle’s cottage in Minden Hills in Ontario. But this post is not about enjoying a cottage or Labour Day weekend. This post is about French Fries.

What does a visit to a cottage in the countryside have to do with French Fries, you wonder? Everything, I say. You see, I love French Fries. I don’t just love any variety. They have to come from good potatoes and must be cooked with care. Let me explain.

If I had my way, a well-balanced meal would be French Fries and ice cream, my two loves. My ice cream post will come another day, as today is all about the fried potato.

People around the world love to fry and eat potatoes. I believe both the Belgians and the French claim to have invented this delicacy, which has roots all the way back to the 17th century. Fries, frites, chips, whatever you want to call them, I am not the only person to love this fried goodness.

The best way, in my opinion, to eat French Fries, is from a truck or stand that lives on the side of a road or highway. Chip wagon. Shack. Fry stand. Whatever you want to call it, this is where to find the best eats. I am not a fan of the places that make a variety of foods and claim to have great fries but, in reality, have bags of pre-cut potatoes in a vast freezer in the back. I don’t care how much oil you use to fry them up, those are not French Fries.

My first favourite fry shack on the side of the road belonged to “Fry Guy.” To this day, I don’t know his name, but wow did he make them well. He built a small shed beside a gas station on the way up to our family’s country house, and it was hard for us to pass that place without stopping for a snack. Fry Guy was a retired history teacher who had a knack for making great fries and great conversation. His shack wasn’t so clean and he was eventually shut down. Maybe it was the dirt that made his food taste so good?

Fry Guy was replaced by Fry Girls, and up the road we also discovered Fry People. And I have tried so many more, most of whom were not honoured by a special name from me.

French Fries
A look at the Fry Girls shack
French Fries
A partially eaten serving of Fry Girls fries earlier this summer
French Fries
Fry Girls fries are often demolished quickly

So, what makes a roadside French Fry just so tasty and enticing to the palette? First of all, as I mentioned above, it has to start with a good potato. Then the potato must be hand cut, with the skin left on. It has to be fried in very hot oil, to make it soft in the inside and crispy on the outside. A bit of salt to finish it off is key.

I believe all good fry stands follow this basic formula, and of course they all make it theirs in their own way. For example, in Quebec, I enjoy frites, which are much thinner and stringier. I find them, for the most part, much greasier, but that’s okay. Also, in Quebec, frites are typically served in a paper bag. My favourite frites stand is on highway 329, deep in the Laurentians, between the towns of Ste Agathe and Saint Donat. Yum. Yes, I enjoyed my fill a couple of weeks ago while we visited the area.

French Fries
They were served in a paper bag but I admit I dumped my frites into a box so I could eat them faster

I found a fry stand this past weekend on the way to my uncle’s cottage that I simply adored. The Queen of Fries Chip Truck is located in the village of Norland, and I give them permission to include the word “Queen” in their name. The potatoes they use are local, they are hand cut, with skin on, and their oil was super-hot to produce a perfectly cooked fry. We devoured the family size.

French Fries
David ordering at Queen of Fries this weekend

No matter how many French Fries I eat I can never get my fill. Which is why I am on a quest to find the best French Fries.  Maybe I need to go on a road trip across Canada, or North America, or do I have to jump over to Europe? I could travel for days, weeks or maybe even months, testing out the best there is from Vancouver Island to Eastern Newfoundland, from Northern Ontario down into Texas. Or maybe a hop over to the back roads in England, over the Channel and through French and Belgian villages?

Tell me where your favourite French Fries, frites or chips place is, no matter where you live. I hope to visit them all. Post me a note on Facebook, leave a comment here, or Tweet me @AliciaRichler. This is going to be fun!

French Fries
This is what I like to see by the side of the road

Chicago with my Boy

Chicago

My son Matthew loves sports. He is crazy for baseball and is a huge fan of the Toronto Blue Jays. He also likes the Chicago Cubs and followed their thrilling playoff run in 2016 when they won the World Series. After the big World Series win Matthew told me that his dream (note he was 9 years old!) was to see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field in Chicago. He joked that it would be just so cool to see the Blue Jays face the Cubs at Wrigley.

Then the 2017 Major League Baseball schedule came out and lo and behold, his beloved Blue Jays were scheduled to play the Cubs, at Wrigley, in Chicago. He had to go. I had to go with him. We booked our flight, our hotel, then secured a pair of tickets to the August 18 game.  Matthew’s dream was about to come true.

Fast forward to Friday, August 18, 2017 – today. I already sent David off to the family’s country home in St. Donat with our daughters (more on that in a blog post next week). Matthew and I woke up at 4:30 am to a dark and quiet house and crawled into our awaiting Uber taxi. With only carry-on luggage and Nexus cards in hand, we were at our gate 10 minutes after our arrival at the airport.

Our very full flight was on time and felt like a party. Most of the passengers were just like us, headed to Chicago to cheer on the Jays. There was laughter and chatter and even the flight attendant yelled “Go Jays Go” over the loudspeaker. It was the most festive atmosphere I have ever experienced on a plane.

We landed early this morning in Chicago, at 7:25 am, and made our way to our hotel downtown. We dropped off our luggage, enjoyed a filling breakfast at a local café then set out to explore the Magnificent Mile and surrounding area.

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Breakfast

Matthew fell in love with Chicago immediately. The tall buildings, the friendly people and great shopping (for him that meant sports stuff and candy).  He secured a Cubs hat and even a t-shirt with Kris Bryant on it – only because he is #17 and that’s what matters, of course.  Then we made our way to Wrigley.

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Selfie with some skyscrapers
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Skyscrapers on the river
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Matthew loved the wall of jerseys at the Blackhawks store
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Matthew was excited about the gear he bought

On the packed train to Wrigley Ville Matthew was jittery and excited. He looked at me at one point and remarked with a big smile, “I have never been so excited in my life.” As the train approached Addison station and Wrigley field appeared through the window, he was in awe. He was so excited that he could not even speak.

The stadium and the game proved to be everything we had hoped. There is something magical about this ballpark, the Cubs and Cubs fans. The thousands of Jays fans in the stands were as loud as the Cubs fans, and we had so much fun sitting with locals and tourists alike. I have been to a few MLB ballparks, but never have I sat with more friendly and wonderful people than the Cubs and Jays fans we sat with today. They are what made the game so great. We cheered together for both teams, clapping loudly when Pillar made an incredible catch at the centre field wall or when Javier Baez blasted a massive home run late in the game.

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The sea of Cubs and Jays fans as we entered the stadium
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Selfie before game began

Matthew tested out his new Cubs hat and shirt and mixed these with his Blue Jay paraphernalia. He high-fived the pair of Jays fans in the row ahead of us. He shared stats and stories about all the Jays players with everyone around us. I learned the life story of the guy in the row behind us who is retired and now has season tickets to the Cubs. We were like one big happy family.

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All decked out in Cubs great
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The back of his Cubs shirt

The Jays lost the game, and they were clearly outplayed. But it didn’t matter. We had a wonderful time at Wrigley. We stayed a while after the game to explore the neighbourhood and celebrate the afternoon with thousands of other fans. Matthew even cheered on the Blue Jays players and coaches as they boarded their bus.

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That’s Matthew in the front in the red shirt watching the Jays get on the bus

Tonight, we are exhausted but exhilarated. We feasted on some of Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza for dinner, and we are ready to collapse. Tomorrow is another day in the Windy City. We start our day on the river for an architectural tour of Chicago on the First Lady and will finish off at a Major League Soccer (MLS) game, as the Toronto FC take on the Chicago Fire.

It’s sports and Chicago with my boy. What could be better?

High Park-ing it this Weekend as a Tourist in My Own City

high park

400 acres in the city, with recreational facilities, natural landscapes and picturesque walking trails. It’s accessible by subway and close to shops, restaurants and in the heart of a beautiful city neighbourhood. It is maintained by the City and enjoyed by locals and tourists alike 365 days a year. I’m not talking about Central Park in New York (which is actually 843 acres) or Hyde Park in London (which is only 350 acres) – I’m talking about High Park, which can be found just west of the downtown core in my city, Toronto.

We stayed in the city this past long weekend and again hosted a pile of family. On Sunday afternoon, when most family had moved on to their next destination, we decided that Julia needed to get out and have a good run. Where to go on a gorgeous day in the summer, that is free and family-friendly, in our own city? High Park!

With ongoing renovations on the Collingwood country house, I am continuing my spring-summer-fall series of being a tourist in my own city. I will admit that instead of getting out and discovering the many hidden gems of my city every weekend we often laze around and just lounge in our backyard (which I will admit is an indulgence I love). The summer is not over yet, though how many of us feel that as we pass August 1st that the best of the summer has passed? I know that I still have weeks ahead to discover and rediscover some of the best spots in Toronto.

Back to High Park. I have visited this wondrous place a few times and have yet to explore many of its attractions. 160 acres of land were donated by John George Howard to the City of Toronto back in 1876. While Howard lived in his home, called Colborne Lodge, until his death in 1890 (he and his wife are buried near that home too), his land was turned into a park for all city residents to enjoy. More pieces were added over the years to create the current 400-acre area that is known to this day as High Park.

We only arrived at the park late afternoon and decided to focus on walking trails on the east side, with a final destination at the famed playground.

I knew that the High Park Zoo was sure to please both the one and seven-year-old. This is a teeny tiny zoo, along a pedestrian-only pathway. There are some interesting and friendly animals in this zoo, such as yaks, bison, llamas and of course the infamous capybara. If you are looking to visit a zoo with many exotic animals with acres and acres of paddocks and cages then this is not the zoo for you. If you want to learn a few things about a few animals on a stroll through the park then this is a must-see!

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Learning about the High Park Zoo
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Julia communed with a reindeer
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Their new friend the yak.
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Hello goose. Wanna play?

The highlight of the day for my kids was definitely the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground. This playground was the dream of local resident, High Park neighbour and community builder Jamie Bell whose vision was realized when this playground opened in 1998. This natural playground, built to look like a castle, is a dreamland for children. It is busy on a long weekend, but all the parents and children were in such good spirits to be at this park on a beautiful day that the crowded scene did not seem to bother anyone.

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She could swing for hours
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I need a tire swing like this in my backyard.
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This tiny tunnel entertained Nessa for a solid 30 minutes
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Selfie in the playground

My husband, David, does not like to walk in a straight line or ever take a direct path to his destination. He suggested we follow some of the nature trails on our way back to our car, and seeing that the park was busy with people and cars I followed his lead. We took a few wrong turns and tripped over a couple of tree roots, but it was a worth it. We walked through the off-leash dog area, which pleased my girls. At one point Julia saw three Chihuahuas, her favourite dog breed, and was thrilled to skip alongside them down the path.

We covered only a few of the 400 acres of High Park. I have yet to see the famous Sakura trees and their cherry blossoms in the spring or walk along the western shore of Grenadier Pond to see its ducks and geese. The french fries at concession stand #2, along Colborne Lodge Drive, are tasty, but that’s the only food I have consumed there. High Park is vast, with so many areas I really must explore.

So where to next as I continue my journey to be a tourist in my own city. I am open to suggestions. Comment here, post me an idea on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler.

The Wonders of the Hotel Breakfast Buffet

breakfast buffet

I traveled back from Halifax on Monday, and Tuesday was so busy that I did not have a chance to write and post. My apologies to anyone who was looking forward to Sports Wednesday today, which will not happen this week. Instead I have a few more thoughts from my trip to the Maritimes. As you can imagine from the title of today’s post, it’s about the wonders of the hotel breakfast buffet.

As I ate breakfast on Monday morning, with an overflowing plate of delicious goodies in front of me I started to think about the various hotel breakfast buffets I have enjoyed over the years. When I travel, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially when I stay at a hotel which rolls out a vast breakfast buffet.

When I am at home breakfast often consists of a bagel with cream cheese, yoghurt with fruit and granola, or if I am in a rush sometimes it’s just a banana. I’m really not much of a breakfast eater, mainly because of laziness. But when I stay at a hotel that offers a breakfast buffet suddenly I become an eager breakfast eater and dive right in.

Unfortunately, it did not occur to me to take photos of the various hotel breakfast buffets I have enjoyed over the years, but I will describe some of my favourites here to create a written picture.

Israeli hotels are known for their spectacular breakfast buffet. I remember the first time I laid eyes on one, back in 1988. My family traveled to Israel, and on our first morning in Jerusalem, at the Moriah Hotel, we came upon a breakfast buffet that seemed a mile long. Chocolate pudding for breakfast?! I was in love. Over the years, as I stayed in numerous hotels across Israel I became an expert in cruising through the selection. One will find a vegetable area, with a choice of every kind of local produce, and of course a variety of fresh fruit too. Don’t miss the endless selection of dairy offerings, such as cheeses, yoghurts and creams. There is fish for those who enjoy it and various kinds of pastry and cakes.

I also recall the English hotel breakfast buffet that I enjoyed in London over ten years ago. When my husband and I arrived on a cold December day our hotel realized it had made an error and did not have a room for us for the first night. They moved us to another establishment nearby which was huge and basic but did offer a breakfast buffet. I remember how heavy the food was, with a lot of eggs and meat choices. That was the first time I saw (but did not eat!) Black Pudding. Not for me.

Then there’s the beautiful breakfast buffet offered at the Westin Nova Scotian in downtown Halifax, where we stayed this past weekend. We stay here every summer and always look forward to breakfast. It is elegant and tasty, with many choices for adults and children. It offers many of the typical foods one would see at any North American hotel like scrambled eggs and bacon, pastries, fruit, cheeses and cereal. But what puts this one over the top is the chef who makes made-to-order omelettes and waffles (with whipped cream and chocolate sauce if you want to indulge). Yes, we indulged.

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Julia shows off her chocolate muffin at breakfast this weekend
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Nessa sampled everything at this weekend’s breakfast buffet

My mother-in-law can’t stop raving about a hotel breakfast buffet she enjoyed in Paris this past winter. It even had fresh Japanese food. Our hotel in Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands ten years ago also had some unique food, with plates of local pineapple and avocado. I am getting hungry just thinking about all these delicious hotel breakfast buffets!

breakfast buffet
Thanks to my mother-in-law, Barbara, for taking photos of breakfast in Paris.
breakfast buffet
More from the Paris breakfast

As I do not have any photos of my favourite hotel breakfast buffet locations, please send me your photos and I will add them to this blog post. Post them to me on Facebook, tweet me @AliciaRichler or send an email to kineticmotions17@gmail.com. I look forward to seeing photos from your favourite hotel breakfast buffet.

There’s Nothing Like Maritime Hospitality

maritime hospitality

I’m sitting here late Sunday night writing this Monday post, hoping to get ahead before I fly back home to Toronto.  I have a couple of the best chocolate chip cookies on a plate beside me, baked by the very special Cathy at Camp Kadimah. My husband and daughters are asleep behind me, tucked in to the comfortable beds in our hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is the end of a busy long weekend, filled with the very best in Maritime hospitality, good friends, close family, tasty food and of course our beloved Camp Kadimah.

For the last few years we have made the annual trek out to Atlantic Canada in late July to visit our son at camp. We have grown to love this part of Canada. Every time I land at the Halifax airport I feel energized, and as I walk off the plane and am greeted by some of the most cheery and friendly people in the world.

Halifax is one of my most favourite cities in the world. It has all the features of a big city, with shopping, restaurants, historical sites and trendy neighbourhoods but still retains a small-town feel. Getting around Halifax is easy and quick, and the downtown core has maintained its maritime essence. The famous Harbour Walk, along the boardwalk, runs north to south and is always crowded with both locals and tourists, all out enjoying the city.

maritime hospitality
My annual selfie with Julia on the Halifax boardwalk

When you visit a city year after year, in the same season, you start to feel at home and crave some of the local delicacies and treats. Our checklist included a visit to the historic Seaport Farmer’s Market that has been operating since 1750 (though not necessarily in the same location). We visit some of the same vendors each year to pick up picnic supplies to bring to camp, and it’s always easy to shed our cash and fill our basket.

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Choosing a cider at the market
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My girls enjoying a moment outside the market

There’s our daughter’s favourite spot along the boardwalk, the tugboat playground, which sits beside a famous wave sculpture. I love the sign beside the wave which says, “Please do not climb on the wave,” which is ignored by locals and tourists alike who love to climb and slide down.

maritime hospitality
Nessa loved the whales at the tugboat playground
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Who says you can’t ride the wave?

Then there’s the food which we must sample every year, and woe is me if I miss out on anything on my list. I must have some fish and chips, a strong and high quality iced-coffee (the spot I love is under new management now but it’s still just as good), sushi from Momoya (up on Barrington Street) and the day is not complete without an ice cream from COWS. Other snacks and attractions may pop in here and there, but these are my staples.

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We enjoyed the fish bites and frites at this place this year
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Cows has its own stand in the middle of the boardwalk now!

The climax of our family’s annual summer weekend to Maritime Canada is the visit to Camp Kadimah. As I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts, overnight camp is a wonderful privilege shared by many children across the world, and the few hundred children who call Camp Kadimah home every summer know it’s a special place.

I get goose bumps and my eyes get teary every time I get my first glimpse of the camp. As the car goes around the bends in the road and the whole camp appears before my eyes, my excitement grows. As I saw the tanned smiling face on my son this morning I knew my trip was complete. Matthew ran to hug, hold and cuddle his baby sister, then we enjoyed a wonderful day at camp. 

maritime hospitality
All he wanted was his baby sister
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Picnic lunch with the family at Kadimah
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Yes, she may be the Property of Camp Kadimah, or at least she will be in summer 2023!
maritime hospitality
Our annual family photo at Kadimah
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My parents have five grandchildren at camp this summer. Here’s six of the grandchildren, of whom four went to camp.

Camp Kadimah is the very essence of Maritime hospitality, with friendly faces and a welcoming spirit all around. It is the heart and soul of the Atlantic Jewish community, and I’m excited to be at camp next summer when Kadimah celebrates its 75th anniversary. I’m sad my short trip is over, and I look forward to returning next summer when no doubt I will be greeted with yet more Maritime hospitality.

maritime hospitality
My father and his granddaughter looking at the water in Mahone Bay after a day at camp.
maritime hospitality
I had to get the shot from the other side too as it’s just so sweet, on a bench in Mahone Bay