Category Archives: Travel

Once Upon a Blog…

A long time ago in a country far, far away, there lived a girl from Texas who was a blogger. She traveled far and wide across her beloved adopted country and blogged about everything she saw with pure glee. After more than three glorious years, though, the fairytale came to an end and she returned to the great state of her birth very sad and very hot. Fast forward exactly one year and, well, funny how things just seem to work out.

By way of reintroduction, I’m Carmen and, obvs, “she” is me. In case you are just joining the party, I was lucky enough to spend three years living and working in Canada. While there, I traversed the country forward and backward; I learned new things; I met a motherlode of awesome people; I ate new foods; I saw things I’d never seen before (I’m looking at you six foot high snow drifts); and had the absolute time of my life.

It took a long time — nearly a year, in fact — for me to finally see that when life gives you lemons, make a daiquiri! THIS IS THE SHOW! So I pulled myself up by my actual bootstraps1 and either sit inside my bubble and feel sorry for myself, or get out there like I always have and live an awesome life. I chose the latter. And a mere one year later, I’m back to my old social self. I’m making copious good friends; I’m dating very cute and very smart guys; I’m saving and am basically exploring and learning about Houston again. Not to mention the tens of you who have been begging me to blog again. Blog readers can be so demanding that way. But, really, who am I to deny you your happiness? 😉

I missed blogging, but what was there to say? Houston is hot. You have to live inside an arctic-level air-conditioned bubble seven months a year. And, really, how many times can you talk about going to the Galleria without it sounding like broken-record time? Not that many. My momma always taught me that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. So I didn’t. 

It started to seem like every time I was in a conversation with someone about Texas, though, I hadn’t experienced whatever it was they were talking about. I hadn’t done this or that; I hadn’t been here or there. I haven’t even been west of San Antonio and, trust me, there’s a *lot* of Texas west of San Antonio. I realized that I knew waaaay more about Toronto and Canada than most of its own inhabitants, and yet knew next to nothing about my own backyard. I know what a beautiful place Texas is and how fantastic the people are — hello, I’m one of ’em! Ergo, I’m officially blowing the dust off of my URL and am going to traverse my place of birth and blog about my amazing home — the places, the people, the foods and the crazy things I find — and where everything is bigger and better. Because that’s how I roll. Be prepared to shake what your momma gave you because we are going to have one helluva Texas-sized good time!

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New York State Of Mind

Can’t blog. On my way to the best city on the face of the planet, by which I mean New York City (!), to see some art, watch some contemporary dance, gallavant around Central Park, do serious damage to my credit card, and gawk at the holidayed-up shop windows! Also, to birthday-celebrate. 🙂


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T-3 Days And Counting (Day 28)

You probably already know that I’m traveling this weekend. You probably also know that I’m hanging with friends and, of course, shopping. Let me just say that I went to a two-story — TWO-STORY — Target today and nearly cried. My heart began to race, I started to sweat palpably and actually had to pause for a moment to catch my breath.

Purchased were sock monkey Santa flannel PJ’s, affordable batteries (ahem), and a new release DVD for $3.99. Someone please remind me again why I live in Canada?! 😉

This post doesn’t really count and is totally phoned in; however, considering I’ve been out all day and am about to go out to paint Chicago red, I consider it a valiant effort.

The best part of this post, though, is that there are only TWO posts left before I get to wrap up this daily blogging madness and reclaim some semblance of a life!

So, until tomorrow, lovely blog readers.

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(Semi) Authentic Poutine Hath Finally Been Consumed

Montréal 059I visited Montréal over the August Civic Holiday for some hiking and Québecois goodness. Although I’d been once before — the year I moved to Canada — my trip was very brief. And in November.  Not just any November, though. Indeed not. I went to Montréal in November 2007, one of the coldest Canadian winters on record, and my thin Texas blood hadn’t yet thickened enough to be able to stand the ungodly frigid Québec temperatures for longer than approximately five minutes.  Needless to say, I didn’t see much of the city, save for the inside of my hotel room and the Bell Centre, where I was lucky enough to see the Montréal Canadiens play the Toronto Maple Leafs.  As an aside, it was the rowdiest, and best, hockey game I’ve been to — and this Texas girl has been to a few!  The Maple Leafs won, natch.

Long time ATGAIC readers will know that I’ve been hiking quite a bit lately (you know, like two whole times), and being the adventurous girl I am, decided at the very last minute to head to Mont Tremblant and go hiking. It would give me a chance to see Tremblant, about which I’d heard amazing things, as well as spend some time in Montréal. Slight travel issues ensued, including a strike by Via Rail, which precluded me from traveling by rail. I ended up driving — the drive being much longer than I thought — and got stuck in cottage country traffic on the 401 for an extra hour both ways. Cottage country traffic + long weekend traffic = Carmen pulling her eyelashes out one by one. Not pretty. Thank God for copious amounts of This American Life loaded on the iPod. There’s absolutely no better ear candy for a road trip than Ira Glass. Except David Sedaris <swoon, swoon, swoon>, so luckily I had him, too. 🙂

On my way to Québec, I stopped in Kingston and Gananoque, Ontario, two cities along the St. Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands region. It was a cloudy day so, although I went down to each of their waterfronts, I couldn’t really see the islands. A trip back to the area, including a stop in the wine region of Prince Edward County, has officially been added to my Canadian traveling to-do list. But I digress. 

I arrived in Montreal, checked into my brand spankin’ new, and way cool, hotel complete with second floor glass-bottom pool in VieuxMontréal 020 Montréal, and ventured out straight away for some serious city annhiliation. I was immediately smitten. Quelle surprise! French speaking Canadians apparently just do something to me. I’m already a wanna-be Francophile, so being in a country I love with a language I love to hear was like manna from heaven.  I also immediately decided that I would not be wasting any time driving an hour and a half to Mont Tremblant the following day, but would spend it in the vibrant, gloriously old, je ne sais quoi city that is Montréal.

Even though I’d planned my trip in <48 hours, I still managed to snag a dinner reservation at one of the hip, nouvelle cuisine restaurants called Au Pied de Cochon.  It was simply AMAZING and foodgasms ensued.  Owner and executive chef Martin Picard is somewhat of a cooking legend (think Anthony Bourdain) and not only was he there that night, but he was in his finest togs — jersey knit shorts, gas station attendant shirt (complete with name badge) and Crocs.  Oh, how I love the Québecois joie de vivre!  I was seated at the bar, which I usually loathe, but at Au Pied de Cochon, you literally have a front seat look into the kitchen.  I got to experience the mise en place in real time.  Freakin’ sweet!   Everything — I mean everything — was freshly made there; they were literally pulling herbs out of potted plants and handmaking sushi rolls right in front of me.  Au Pied de Cochon is apparently known for their fois gras, which I personally take issue with, but when you read article after article about the foie gras poutine, you just have to give in. When in Rome, right?  I’ll literally try anything once — and because I was in a new city, I decided I’d be bold and à gogo with my menu choices. I had the Tarragon Bison Tongue as an appetizer — thinly sliced pieces of tongue that, had I not known it was tongue, would have seemed like just cut-it-with-a-fork-it-was-so-tender slices of beef with delicious mustard and tarragon sauce; the Duck in a Can and frites for dinner, and the Sugar Pie à la mode for dessert.  

Au Pied de Cochon Duck in a CanLet me just talk for one second about the Duck in a Can. I’d read about it, was intrigued, and decided I needed to try it. Firstly, they brought out a plate with bread slices covered in a gravy.  Then, I saw them literally pick a can out of a gigantic pot of boiling water, wrap a label around it, put it on a plate, and bring it to me.  With a can opener. Oh yes!  I had to open my Duck in a Can with an actual can opener!  Talk about presentation! Except usually when you talk about presentation, you don’t talk about deliciousness. I know it sounds weird, but in this case, I could literally have put my face in that plate, it was so damn good. (As a matter of fact, give me just one moment………..okay, back. ;-))  Anyway, the process of the can is to dump the layered contents of the can — duck, 100g of foie gras, 60 mL of balsamic vinegar, 180 mL of cabbage, 1/2 a head of garlic and 2 branches of thyme — out over the bread. After my first bite, the party of flavours in my mouth was more intense than anything I’d eaten in quite some time. Exquisite and luscious and delightful, they were. I washed it all down with a delicious glass of VDP Des Cotes Catalanes Rouge Baux 2004 – mas baux (basically a blend of Syrah and Cab Sav). The food was pure perfection.

I’d seen a sort-of-cookbook by Martin Picard on my way in, and I thought it would be a cool way toMontréal 008 remember the experience, so I asked if he’d sign one for me if I bought a book. Of course they said yes, had me write my name on a piece of paper and a few minutes later, returned with my book in a large, brown paper bag.  I opened up the book and he’d signed it “To Carmen, Enjoy the read, Cochonne, Salut”. I knew cochon means “pig”, so I asked if he was calling me a pig and the servers kindly informed me, after giggling, that the translation loosely meant “horny” in French. Love it!  I guess the chef saw us laughing together, so he came over to say hello and ask how dinner was. My server, whom I’d already told we don’t eat mayonnaise with our frites where I’m from, told the chef and he asked in broken English “where are you from?” to which I replied “Texas!”.  He jokingly said “is that near Brussels?” and then said “you don’t sound like George Bush”. Except he said it all French like which sounded more like “zhorzh boosh” than “george bush”. Anyway, we all laughed, I paid my very large bill and off I went.  An amazing experience, indeed.

The rest of my weekend was spent doing all kinds of things: walking around the residential neighbourhood of  Plateau Mont Royal (whenI travel, I like to spend as much time as possible in the *actual* areas of the city rather than the big tourist traps, which prolly explains why I’ve still yet to venture up the CN Tower, even though it’s less than 200 metres away from my house), visiting the Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire, le Fleuve de Saint Lawrence, Place Jacques Cartier, the Basilique de Notre Dame, and the Vieux Port, having lunch at Olive et Gourmando and dinner at Santos, running into a eccentric French soirée as I ambled through the Latin Quarter, spotting the plethora of fleur de lis literally everywhere, and seeing no fewer than three weddings — three!  Let me just add that the Québecois put the word “wed” into wedding (yeah, I know, but work with me).  After the wedding, the newlyweds are driven through the downtown streets while the driver honks and honks and honks!  It was way cool. I’m totally doing that the next time I get married in Montréal. 🙂

Montréal 025Alas, the curtain was closing on my lovely weekend and it was time to return to chez moi. Before I left, though, I still had two things to check off my Montréal to-do list: eating smoked meat and poutine, and all their accoutrements. I’d only eaten poutine once before and a pleasant experience it was not. I knew that if I was going to find good poutine, it was going to be in Québec. I jumped in a cab and asked to be taken to Schwartz’s, the legendary Montréal smoked meat house, and Maamm Bolduc for poutine. When my chauffer pulled up to Schwartz’s, the line was literally wrapped around the building. Twice. I’ve never seen anything like it, with the exception of waiting to get into a film at the Toronto International Film Festival…just about the *only* thing for which I’d wait in line that long! It was *totally* pouring down rain, so I asked him if he knew of anywhere else I could try smoked meat and poutine that would be good.  He said “what about La Fleur?” and I said “M’okay”, because what did I know?!  He started getting all excited about it and telling me about how they slice the potatoes for the  poutine right in front of you, so I was thinking “this is gonna be great!”.  He rounds the corner and says “here it is!” and when I look up, it was a fast food place.  Classic.  I thought what the hell, les chauffers know all the best places to eat, hopped out and went in. The staff didn’t speak English very well and after a couple of tries, I finally got both of my requests in one place: smoked meat sandwich and real poutine.  I loved the smoked meat and the poutine was okay, but I still don’t get the big deal. I think it was basically the McDonald’s of poutine places.  I’m a french fry fanatic — I could basically live on them — but maybe I just like mine with sea salt and ketchup, and not covered in gravy and cheese curds.  It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, for sure, but I think it’s probably more of a late night, game day, hangover-recovery food than it is an actual dinner food. But I’m from Texas, so what do I know?!

Despite what I constantly hear from Ontarians about the Québecois, I found them to beMontréal 058 affable, funny, and avant-garde raconteurs. Basically, I fell in love with Montréal — it was trés cool. I will continue to be a travel ninja this year with trips planned to Calgary/Banff/Jasper, Alberta and Whistler/Victoria, British Columbia.  While I’m sure those cities will be just as off-the-chain as the other cities I’ve visited in my adopted country, I seriously doubt they’ll be quite as soigné or magnifíque as Montréal. 

Merci beaucoup, Montréal!  Au revoir!  J’adore.


Check out the rest of my Montréal photo goodness here.

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Pimpin’ It West Coast Style

I was far overdue for a vacation.  Even when you are in love with the city in which you live, everybody needs a little time away.  So, I took full advantage of my best-friend-since-the-earth-cooled’s move to southern California and my other longtime, and former Houston dwelling, friend who-is-the-total-bomb’s already planned trip to northern California. Some serious California dreamin’ was going to be had by yours truly.

Long-time ATGAIC readers already know that I am hardly prodigious when I write.  Ahem.  😉  My trip was ten days — TEN DAYS! — and if I tried to write about everything I did, I’d surely a) develop carpal tunnel syndrome, b) bore my fair readers so much that they’d likely fall over, face first, into their dinner and no doubt stab their eye out with their fork, and c) get my azz beaten.  It would be enough to make your eyes bleed, I’m sure.  Instead, I’m going to utilize a super-stealthlike-jedi-mind-trick to make you *feel* like you’re getting the full rundown on my vacation, without having to read a novella, by featuring a lovely photo presentation!  Also, my Flickr-ninja skills have been in full force so feel free to see the plethora of photos there, as well.

And now, the highlights:

Hung out at the beach in Corona Del Mar and caught some rays.
California 017 

Drooled over the $10 million “weekend homes” on Balboa Island. (Note to self: work harder.) California 212

Scared families and small children with my I’ve-been-living-in-Canada-so-long-I-am-nearly-translucent skin.California 266


Partied with the Red Rocker on Independence Day. (Well, a look-a-like anyway.) California 286

Watched fireworks go boom! over the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach.California 332


Got attacked by a tree aprés July 4th festivities. California 335

Went to the infamous Alameda Antiques Fair in Oakland to rifle through things such as dismembered doll parts and old dental moulds.California 076


Saw some guys getting arrested in San Francisco.  Epic!California 348


Chilled at the fifth most popular architectural structure in the U.S. and swooned.California 103


Enjoyed evening repast, and practically had a foodgasm, at Restaurant Gary Danko. It was so good, I may or may not have wept. Gary Danko Lobster Salad

Hung out with some Bimbo’s.  And some Ho’s.Bimbo's

California 570

Endured driving down the 140 degree streets of San Francisco with my eyes closed (and hands up!) while my friend Lauren drove. Wheeee!
California 565



Found a store, albeit a clothing one, with the same name as my very favourite candle scent!  Too much goodness.California 562


Didn’t wear make-up for ten whole days!  And got sunburned because I also didn’t wear SPF for ten whole days. 😦  My poor, poor epidermis.California 419


Stayed in possibly the best room with the best view at the best hotel EVAR at Half Moon Bay.California 547


Played croquet. Old skool. And got pooped on by a malicious, malicious California dirty bird while doing it. (see the whiteness?)California 543


Ate the Lobster Roll at Sam’s Chowder House which was named one of the five best sandwiches in the US by NBC’s Today Show.  Yummy.  California 464Goodness.

Went bike riding along the coastal trail and went all Evel Kneival trying to ride and snap a photo simultaneously. Success! California 605

Sat in the hot tub overlooking the Pacific Ocean every night watching people make S’mores at the fire pits lit nightly. Like manna from heaven.California 484


Went hiking, and avoided mountain lions by wielding a very tiny rock and trying to “Be big. Shout!”, at the Purisima Redwoods Forest Preserve.California 581

California 574

Packed up and went home begrudgingly.  And had a fantastawesbulouslyamazing time.

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One Week

This weekend, I saw what may possibly be the best Canadian movie ever made.  It made me so damn proud to be Canadian that I could hardly stand it.  And I’m American.

The film is called “One Week” and it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September to rave reviews*.  In an interview this week with CBC Radio3, the film’s writer and director Michael McGowan called it his “…love letter to the country” .  I can’t think of a more apt description, really.  You can listen to the March 3 podcast of the interview here.

The story is about a guy, played by Canadian Joshua Jackson (natch), who is drifting into a marriage and a life he’s not sure he wants.  He is diagnosed with a terminal illness (cancer) and decides to take off on a road trip instead of seeking treatment. Fantastic Canadian bands like Stars, Wintersleep and Great Lake Swimmers make up the amazing soundtrack as the main character travels west from Toronto to Tofino, British Columbia.  The scenery alone is reason enough to see the film — Canada truly is a beautiful land.  The film is a quirky and soul searching trip jam-packed full of Canadian references to most Americans won’t get, including everything from rolling up the rim of a Tim Horton’s cup to the Terry Fox monument.

Interestingly, the narrator of the movie asked the viewer more than once “What would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month?”.  It got me thinking.  What would I do?  Would I crawl into the fetal position and weep?  Likely.  Would I tear off my clothes and run naked through the park screaming?  Hmmm, maybe not. I don’t know what I’d do but I’m going to think on it this week and get back to you.  I think it’s important that we think about these things and not ignore the possibilities life may lay in front of you.  But enough with the heavy.

The question also led me to look back over my blog and what I found, my dear readers, scared me!  I have over 20 entries that I’ve never published and the majority of them were rather large trips I’ve taken since I moved to Canada 21 months ago.  The horror!  A few examples:

  • Trip to Montréal
  • Trip to Quebéc City
  • Trip to Vancouver
  • Trip to Ottawa
  • Trip to Machu Picchu and Lima, Peru
  • Trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley
  • Trip to Buffalo and the Erie Canal
  • Trip to Hell and back (kid.ding)
  • A private tour of the West Wing (I saw the Oval Office!)
  • Meeting David Sedaris
  • Shooting TV commercials with cool NBA stars
  • Watching Rafael Nadal play front row at the Rogers Cup
  • Going to the Masters Tournament and being 3 feet from Tiger (!)
  • A myriad of other things about which I was too lazy to write 

What I’ve been doing all this time, I don’t know.  But I will not spare you having to wait for them much longer…look for these exciting entries very soon.  I know you can’t hardly wait.


*well, from what I remember.  I couldn’t get a ticket, so it must have been good.

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Houston Totally Rocked, Y’all

My Houston trip is quickly coming to an end and it was good to Your Humble Narrator. I haven’t worn a coat in six days (!) and I think that maybe – just maybe – the pigment in my skin has officially changed from Casper white to the much darker hue of milky white.

My move went well and, despite running on a total of about four hours of sleep, I still managed to have an awesome time. Some highlights:

Driving into my fair city’s downtown core

Widely available sweet tea – possibly the true love of my life

Seeing my friend B. – the only person who will make funny margarita faces with me.

Seeing my friend J. who despises taking pictures.

My nearly hassle-free move. This was day 2.5 with no shower. Pretty. Does anyone else think I look like I’m attempting to do the River Dance?

Scarfing down calorie-free (not!) mexican food, minus the refried beans. Ick.

Not nearly as bright a shade of white as when I left Canada.

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