Tag Archives: beaches

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 5—Northumberland’s Beaches

IMG_2066Out of Pictou heading west on Highway 6, the last thing I expected to come across on my Nova Scotia  road trip was a lavender farm.

Open daily from June-September, Seafoam Lavender Farm is family run; its mission is to promote health and wellbeing through the cultivation of this shrub. While the long winter had delayed the season, new growth was beginning to sprout among the variety of lavender beds laid out in row upon row and owners Dave and Suzy Belt have big plans for their crop.

Lavender's bounty extends well beyond this basket.

Lavender’s bounty extends well beyond this basket.

Their onsite shop is already stocked with an assortment of bi-products from the beloved purple buds, from skincare, to food, to household products. It was pretty impressive but the winner was the vanilla ice cream sundae that Suzy brought out topped with perfectly fresh whipped cream and a generous drizzle of lavender syrup.

Traveling is often about finding a new favorite thing. The Belts get two thumbs up for all their efforts and for spoiling me with their unique and super delicious treat.

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Lavender lemonade, the perfect twist on a hot day

Throughout the drive, I’d been wondering about these so-called “warm waters” that were always in sight. I mean, I’ve been to Maine and that water never gets warm. Here I was much further north, just how welcoming would these waters be?

Recommended by the folks at Seafoam, Rushton’s Beach is the warmest salt-water beach in Nova Scotia and I caught it at low tide where a wide sandbar seemed to extend forever. There was barely another soul in sight.

Since arriving in Halifax, the clear blue skies made the sunny weather seem tailor-made. Screw the bikini back in the car, I stripped down to my undies and walked into my first summer swim and into one of heaven’s gates. If water can be gorgeous, this was it.

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Another perfect summer day at Rushton’s Beach.

On the walk back to the wooded parking lot, dogs trotted towards the beach with wide canine grins, their owners walked lazily behind them. In its mouth, a black lab held a bright orange ball as it ran along the long boardwalk leading to the sand. It was around 5PM and I looked back at this perfect hour, on a peaceful slice of local life and wished I could stay. Similar beaches dot the Northumberland coastline, each offering one of nature’s best forms of free therapy.

I didn’t think it could get any better but a stay that night at a defunct railroad station would make this trip unforgettable.

Next Stop: A trip back in time.

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The NSA, Edward Snowden, and the South of Italy.

Italy's Palinuro beach. (Photo credit: G. Nepi)

Italy’s Palinuro beach. (Photo credit: G. Nepi)

Fires, drought, tornadoes, and a relentless heat wave across much of the US.  July pretty much did us in. Now August is here and the government’s put a crimp in our travel plans.

Some people mark Labor Day as the end of summer, not me.  My friends are familiar with my mantra of “summer’s not over ‘til I say it is.”  September sometimes turns out to be the best month. The heavy heat is off your back and most days are clear blue skies. In which case—unless Mother Nature unleashes some more of her relentless wrath for messing with her ground work—by my count there are seven or eight perfect weekends left to get lost. If you can tack on a Friday and/or Monday, all the better.

If you’d planned on any Middle East travel…well, we know what happened to that itinerary. Talk about things getting hot. But let’s get back to August, the quintessential summer month. Now we’ve been told that we’ve got to watch our backs if we’re out there flying the friendly skies internationally. Seasoned travelers roll with these punches and tend not to get freaked out by this type of information. This is when flexibility comes in handy.

Summer in Moscow.

Summer in Moscow.

And then there’s Edward Snowden. For weeks I’ve wondered what the hell he’s been eating in that Netherland of the Moscow airport he’s been calling home. As a food snob, the thought that he’d been subsisting on processed airport cuisine made me cringe. But this young man has friends in high places, so I’m sure he was well-tended. He’s obviously not a traveler. For a man who did work for the folks who play in secrets and shadows, he should have read Ian Fleming in his spare time. Sure, Russia just granted him asylum but of all the places to hole up, he picked the birthplace of the KGB. Poor planning Mr. Snowden, you should have consulted with a travel agent.

Jumbo Rocks campground at Joshua Tree. (Photo credit: Nate2b)

Jumbo Rocks campground at Joshua Tree. (Photo credit: Nate2b)

There are plenty of weekend adventures out there waiting for you. It’s sometimes a little too easy to put a getaway—whether it’s camping, a beach house, or a quick flight—on the back burner.  If friends invite you somewhere, go!  There are always chores to do, especially if you’ve got kids, but you’ll never regret having made the trip. Besides, that’s what the cooler months are for. An Italian barber my guy goes to told him, “September? Phew, Italy in the South–it’s gorgeous!  It’s still hot enough to swim and everyone’s still going to the beach.”

Sounds like an excellent plan to me.

Toronto—From Good To Great.

Super Toronto's Supermoon. (Photo credit: R. Gottardo)

Super Toronto’s Supermoon. (Photo credit: R. Gottardo)

Travel is discovery and it’s a delight when you stumble upon a new favorite thing. Whether it’s music, dance, food, a cocktail, beach, park, campsite, a person, exceptional experience or an intimate moment. Large or small—it doesn’t have to work for anyone else—it just has to rock your world. I discovered my new favorite thing recently in Toronto. It’s Coco Café—coconut water with a kick of espresso, a hint of sugar, and dash of low-fat milk. I popped into a café for an iced coffee but walked out with an obsession. Crazy for anything coconut, the coffee buzz was a bonus. So there you have it, that’s my new favorite thing.cococafe

But obviously Canada’s largest city has lots more to discover than my new favorite drink. As it’s grown over the years, Toronto’s sprouted neighborhoods with a fantastic mix of ethnic cultures, food, arts and entertainment. Leslieville is a working and middle-class area, celebrated for its artistic vibe, retro shops and good eats. Chinatown and Kensington are the most multi-cultural hoods in Toronto. If you’re not adverse to a group tour, you may want to check out Urban Adventures. They offer small (no more than 12 people) guided tours. You’ll learn some history and get to experience some of what makes these heritage neighborhoods standout. Looking for another angle? The Planet D offers photography tours.

Kensington rickshaw. (Photo credit: ThePlanetD)

Kensington rickshaw. (Photo credit: ThePlanetD)

If you prefer not to run with a pack, the subway and streetcar system make navigating the city a breeze. Toronto’s easy to get around and you’ll be able to cover good ground, on foot as well, depending on the amount of time you have. From eating to exercising, here are some local, popular, and touristy things to see and do around the city.

Arts & Entertainment

Art Gallery of Toronto (AGO) – Culture vultures can get their art fix here at the one of the largest museums in North America. The AGO holds over 80,000 works in its collection and will soon premier the Ai WeiWei According To What? exhibit from August 17-October 27. The excitement this artist generates is drawing locals, and visitors from across the country and the border.

CN Tower – What would a visit to Toronto be without a peek inside of what the American Society of Engineers classified as One Of The Seven Wonders Of The Modern World? With a 360-degree view of city, the Tower also features a restaurant, entertainment, exhibitions and events.

The Toronto Islands – One of the city’s top attractions, these islands are just a 10-minute ferry ride from the city. Beaches, biking, canoeing, kayaking, festivals, picnicking—depending on how you like to hang, there’s something for you on one these islands. If you’ve got kids, there’s an amusement park and a petting zoo, too.

Distillery District, Toronto, Canada

Distillery District, Toronto, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Distillery – formerly a derelict zone of Victorian industrial buildings, in 2003 a group of creative developers transformed the area into an atmosphere that’s now heralded as one of Canada’s premier arts, culture and entertainment destinations. With one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, galleries, theatres, and cafes, it’s a great place to hang out—day or night.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – this town is overflowing with film festivals but it’s this one, held annually for ten days in September, that set’s the city on fire.  TIFF has established itself as the premier event in the industry and built up Toronto’s city cred. Cannes and Tribeca have nothing on it, and it’s the world’s largest public film festival.  If you have any plans to visit Toronto during September 5-15, act fast—get some tix, see some flicks and don’t forget the camera.
Yummy Stuff

St. Lawrence Market – one of my favorite, previously mentioned, haunts in Toronto, I’m hungry just thinking about it. Bring an empty stomach and leave very happy and probably with lots of good stuff. The quality and variety of fresh food offered at this market from fruits, veggies, fish, meat, spices, herbs—you name it—is nuts, so go there and go crazy.

Good stuff awaits you at the Rooster Coffee Shop.

Good stuff awaits you at the Rooster Coffee Shop.

With no shortage of bars, cafes and restaurants, it’s challenging to list all the faves but here are a few standouts. For quality Italian fare, check out Buca. If you’re in The Danforth, pop into Mezes for authentic Greek cuisine served family style. Need a java jump? The Rooster Coffee House was voted one the best cafes by Toronto Life. With two locations, they make it easy for you to get your fix.

Exercise

Flemingdon Park Golf Club – This 9-hole public course is located in the Don Valley, just minutes from the city center. They rent clubs, carts, bags, and have a practice driving net.

Sunnybrook Stables – Like to ride? I do. These stables are in midtown Toronto but you’ll feel miles away. From beginner to advanced riders, the instructors—and the horses— are excellent.Horse play at Sunnybrook Stables. (Photo credit: Sunnybrook Stables.)

Sundara Yoga – When you stay in a hotel, it’s easy to just plod down to the gym. Break form, be adventurous and check out where the locals do it. Located in historic Cabbagetown, Angela Jervis-Read runs a yoga studio that’ll welcome you with open arms. Her specialty is Yin yoga and her instruction is encouraging without the woo-woo weirdness that can sometimes turn folks off to its benefits.

Sleepytime

There are loads of hotels all over the town. Depending on your budget, and the area you want to stay, here’s where a travel agent can cut your work in half. A few recs off the top of my head are The InterContinental on Bloor Street, which is well located; The Omni King Edward, in the financial district, and The Drake in the Queen Street West area.

Getting There

Depending on where you hail from, Toronto is easily accessed by rail, bus, or car, and of course…air.  If you’re flying, check out Porter Airlines. With this carrier’s excellent service, they’re at the top my list. The biggest plus is that they fly directly into Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport, which will put you right smack in the city so you can hit the ground running.

Toronto is all grown up but its evolution is nowhere near over.  Been there? Share your story…and your new favorite thing.

Sunshine Of Your Love.

Cape May, NJ.  (Photo credit: destination360.com)

Cape May, NJ. (Photo credit: destination360.com)

Like a lunch hour, this Memorial Day weekend is a good time to take a break, hook up with friends, or just pause to think about what you’d like to do this summer.  Maybe you’ll pack a bag and hit the high road in search of a life-changing experience, or hightail it out-of-town for some rest and relaxation.  Whatever you’re in search of, don’t discount discovering it in destinations a little closer to home or on the East Coast.  The areas that took a beating from Hurricane Sandy are ready to throw their arms wide open to visitors.

From Cape May to Montauk, Atlantic shorelines and state parks are working fast and furiously to welcome beach goers this weekend.  For those of us who live in the region, these towns and beaches are paradise after a long and dreary winter.   No car?  No worries!  Depending on your point of interest, you can easily hop a train, bus or ferry to visit.  The New Jersey Shore is open for business—that’s the rallying cry up and down their coastline—and southern shore towns are absorbing visitors that traditionally travel to areas further north, where it’s taking a bit longer to recover from the storm’s damage.  Long Island beaches and state parks will re-open this weekend with limited access in some areas.  In the borough of Staten Island, new, modular units made in Pennsylvania will be transported to the beaches to replace the comfort stations destroyed by Sandy.   They look pretty cool and New York City has invested a nice chunk of change for these units, which will pop up this summer in Coney Island and the Rockaways as well.  This is all good news.  These beaches may not all be 100% perfect but the point is, they’re working hard to make sure they’re ready for you.

The famous Rockaway boardwalk is gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the seashore.  The damaged concession stands are being rebuilt but in their absence NYC food trucks will be out to serve the good grub they’ve become known for on the city’s streets.  Sandy wiped out Rockaway Taco‘s boardwalk café, but fingers crossed, they’ll be up and running soon because these folks dish out some of the tastiest Mexican food this side of the Yucatán, especially their fish tacos.  For anyone with plans to visit the area this weekend—or over the summer—you might want to check out their main location inland, until their beach site is back in service.

Surfing in Rockaway with New York Surf School.  (Photo credit:  New York Surf School)

Surfing in Rockaway with New York Surf School. (Photo credit: New York Surf School)

The surf’s been up with weekend lessons at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, which welcomes all age groups.  If you start now by the end of June they’ll be able to help plant you on a board any day of the week.  Where there’s surfing, there’s yoga on the beach and nothing feels better than a seaside downward dog.  If you’ve got it in your head to transform yourself, check out the Surf Club’s combined retreat.  “A” train subway service to the Rockaways starts back up on May 30, which makes getting there a breeze.

Fort Defiance cocktails.  (Photo credit:  maurice-pundit)

Fort Defiance cocktails. (Photo credit: maurice-pundit)

And then there’s Red Hook, a Brooklyn neighborhood that took a massive hit by Sandy, but true to its tough reputation, is pretty much back in business.  If you’re in NYC this weekend, or you’re a local without plans to get away, here are a few suggestions for a visit to that part of town.  First, start out early.   It’s a funky, waterfront neighborhood that gets great light.  If you fancy a killer cocktail, pay a visit to Fort Defiance, a cafe-bar where owner St. John Frizell will shake up something special for you.  If you can tear yourself away, head across the road to Dry Dock and grab a chilled bottle of whatever white wine wets your whistle, then bop over a few blocks to the Red Hook Lobster Pound for the plumpest and tastiest lobster rolls outside of Maine.  This urban lobster shack is BYOB, so there’s no reason not to run there.  For a more upscale dining experience, book a reservation at The Good Fork, where you’ll enjoy standout food and excellent drinks in a welcoming atmosphere.  If you still have any steam left in you, shimmy on over to Hope & Anchor.  This local diner serves up a few twists on a traditional menu and has a full bar, but it’s the weekend karaoke that has this place pulsing and will get you to unleash your inner rock star.

Hope & Anchor.  (Photo credit: gwenthysfullbrew.com)

Hope & Anchor. (Photo credit: gwenthysfullbrew.com)

The communities affected by Hurricane Sandy last Fall want you to know the welcome mat is out this summer. Memorial Day is about honoring our veterans but we can also take this time to acknowledge all the volunteers—both local and visiting—who dedicated their blood, sweat and tears, to help get these areas back on their feet.  They’ve added new meaning to “summer of love.”

Whether you’re planning a stay-cation or vacation—relax, kick back, appreciate your surroundings and enjoy yourself.  Happy trails!