Where to Eat in Madrid

Confession: I write this post in an attempt to convince my fellow ISD curlies to meet me in Madrid for a girls’ trip of culinary delight. And, believe me, if there is any way to persuade these gals it is through food! After all, this blog was born through a series of brunches where our ideas seemed to double with each sip of a mimosa or bite of a pancake! And, since January is the month of planning, why not plan about future holidays with your pals?
But this post is also simply about my enthusiasm for all things Spanish – especially food, especially Madrid. I’ve written two blogs about this amazing city already not for lack of inspiration but out of pure love!

So, for travel inspiration and serious food envy, here are my top five suggestions on where and how to eat in the Spanish capital.

 

  1. Albur, Malasaña

Albur is puro madrileño to me. You can’t beat its down to earth local feel and truly authentic menu. They do a decent paella and have quite the rice list, but that’s not what I would suggest. (It is worth noting that Valencianos would laugh at eating paella in Madrid. But I understand that if you’re only in Spain for a short time and can’t make it to the land of arroz, then you take what you can get when you can get it!).

If you like meat (and a lot of it), the chuletón or mega steak is where it’s at here. Spanish steak is some of the best I’ve ever had (sorry, Florence, your bistecca is amazing but my adoptive Spanish heart remains loyal). And Albur has an unusual take on it: they deliver the sliced steak seared but mostly raw to your table along with a sizzling hotplate, a hearty portion of perfectly roast potatoes, pimientos de padrón and a bowl full of sea salt. You cook the steak the way you like on the hot plate, salt it to your heart’s desire and just die with deliciousness. It’s ah-may-zing. My carnivorous hubby was in heaven – not gonna lie, so was I!

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The tapas menu is also top shelf at Albur as well. I (always) recommend pimientos de padrón and croquetas – not just at Albur but in Spain overall.

What also makes this joint so fun is that despite being in the middle of Madrid’s achingly pijo (posh) hipster neighbourhood, Albur has retained its character 110%. So, it’s not a trendy joint, it is just Albur.

  1. Bazar, Chueca

Speaking of trendy joints, though, my favourite is and always will be Bazar in the buzzing gay village in Madrid, just north of Gran Via. I was introduced to this place early in my first year in Spain and I make sure to have a meal at Bazar every time I’m back in Madrid. Maybe it’s the white décor with fuschia back lighting or the delicious Spanish-Asian fusion thing they’ve got going on, but Bazar always feels like a treat. One blog described it as the spot where you can always find “the well-heeled of Madrid,” which is both true and hilarious, but it is actually not as pretentious as that sounds. It’s just fancy fun!

One thing to note though: without a reservation, you can expect to wait a while or not get a table at all. So, book ahead if you can or scope out bars nearby for a vino while you wait.

  1. Mercado San Miguel, Plaza Mayor

Now this place is totally a tourist trap and you can find tapas that are as good (or better) for half the price at other places. HOWEVER! It is so lively and vibrant that the ambience alone is worth the extra couple of euros. Located just near Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid, this old market has been converted into a collection of tapas bars that serve up all different regional specialties. This is another reason I like it: I can get Basque pinxos and Galician pulpo all in one place. It makes for a great end to a walking tour of central Madrid.

  1. Tapas Crawl in La Latina, La Latina

Now, it goes without saying that tapas is what and how you should eat in Spain. These small sharing plates make for an authentic and delicious way to dine. It also helps that you can get a perfect glass of red and a delicious nibble for 4 euros. La Latina is definitely the barrio to find tapas in Madrid because it’s got such a great vibe and is so madrileño. It is just south of Sol and north of Lavapies – very central.

I recommend doing your research beforehand though and finding an organized tapas crawl or at least noting the recommended bars because there is such a thing as tapas overload and you want to make sure you’re getting the best of the best, especially in such a touristy zone in Madrid where you can get sub-par food quite easily. DSC_0474

I recommend the following tours:

The Culture Trip

Madrid Food Tour 

 

  1. Chocolateria San Gines, Sol

Another central Madrid fave Chocolateria San Gines is smack dab in the middle of the city and serves up some churro and chocolate goodness like you wouldn’t believe! Again, it is in a touristy zone of Madrid so it is full of Americans asking stupid questions like,  “Why do they serve chocolate in a cup??” but ignore that. You can definitely find more authentic spots, but I’m keeping this list central, presuming that those who will be reading it will be tourists themselves and staying in downtown Madrid.

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My list could go on and on – I really don’t have enough good things to say about the Spanish capital and its culinary delights. It is worth mentioning, though, that Spanish food is not very veggie-friendly. So, if you’re a vegetarian, you may have to do some extra research to find out where to eat.

Happy planning (or just day-dreaming)! If you have any other questions about visiting Madrid, feel free to send them over.

 

 

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A glimpse into Cuba … My top 5 tips

There’s a lot you could say about Cuba, and on a number of different topics: politics, art, government policies, music, education, healthcare….

But as a visitor looking to get a glimpse into this unique island nation, there are a few things I think my girlfriends and I did right.

So here are my 5 tips for making the most of your experience while visiting.

Say yes to una casa particular

I’ll declare my bias: I’m generally not a huge fan of weeklong vacations at chain all-inclusive resorts.

Sure – I understand why the convenience is attractive in a lot of different ways. And don’t get me wrong, if you give me a free vacation to a resort with luxurious amenities – I’m definitely going. But I just don’t think we can equate spending a week lounging at an all inclusive with actually seeing and appreciating a country.

If what you want is to get a glimpse into Cuba:  the history, the people, the politics, the grit, the old marble staircases in century old buildings, the reggaeton playing from the house of a neighbour, the man selling bread while singing his ‘jingle’ on the streets: then stay in a Casa. Trust me.

A casa can take the form of a room in a Cuban’s house, an apartment Cubans have rented out, or a bed and breakfast. We did all three and we had no regrets. Our hosts were all amazing and extremely helpful. You can access a number of casas through airbnb… but even before airbnb the casa system had long existed in Cuba.When you’re there you’ll see plenty of options that aren’t necessarily all available online. And because I know you’re wondering – yes, we felt very safe. Overall, we felt safe in Cuba. But when booking we also paid attention to reviews. We were also reassured of the system as while we were at one of our casas, a polite but firm immigration official came to ensure that the proper processes were in place and being followed by our host.

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– breakfast by one of our lovely hosts: eggs, fruits, bread, coffee

Sometimes its good to talk to strangers…

Because who likes snobby, entitled tourists? Not me.

I actually run away from those types when I’m overseas. Seriously.

Of course use your judgment and prioritize your safety, as you would anywhere you go. But don’t be afraid to converse with the locals.

Yes, some of us may have to struggle with the language a bit… but struggle if you must! You are truly depriving yourself of adding a whole other dimension to your experience if you don’t at least try to speak with the Cubans… even if speaking = charades. And since English is taught in school in Cuba, and tourism is important to the Cuban economy, it will be easier than you think to find someone who will speak at least a little bit of English with you.

I found most of the Cubans I interacted with to be quite friendly. Somehow with our bit of Spanish we were able to have some really interesting conversations with different people. When we asked open ended non biased questions about how Cubans thought Cuba could change, or how they would like to see it change, we found the individuals we asked were generally willing to share. One Cuban even asked us what we thought of his country – with what I thought was genuine interest.

Other times our conversations were just downright hilarious. And since it was trickier to access wifi and online reviews, we also got our best tips on restaurants, bars, and nightlife locations through asking different Cubans we met.

Consider hobbling over to another city… 

Because why not try and see a little bit more if you can?

And with that in mind, after spending some time in Havana, we kind of stumbled on Matanzas, or the city of bridges as they call it. Initially we thought, well, it’s close to Varadero and offers good value casa options. But what a fulfilling experience we had!

The vibe of Matanzas was completely different from Havana. Immediately we felt that we had left the big city, and arrived somewhere with a very different charm. With mainly one and two storey buildings around, it’s hard to hide from the sun and her glorious rays as you walk through the streets. But with the cool breeze from the sea, the weather is perfection.

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A quieter street in Matanzas…classes were being held nearby.

Not to mention Cubans actually live in Matanzas… unlike Varadero where the beaches are stunning but the tourists and all-inclusive resorts are plentiful.

Matanzas is a little talked about gem … it’s a simple city, but with everything you need.

We even got to share in a game of dominoes while having a beer in the middle of the street with a few new friends (Yes – there was a lot of Spanglish).

Needless to say, we were happy to take a taxi to Varadero to enjoy the beautiful beaches, if it meant that we could otherwise enjoy all Matanzas had to offer – including restaurants, and a nightlife scene.

 

 

 

 

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–  Varadero

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venture out of the “tourist zones”

For one, it’s cheaper. It was quite shocking to note the difference in the price of food at even one end of the street in Havana Vieja to another, and this is without acknowledging the fact that at many establishments in Cuba there is a local price and a tourist price.

Not only is it cheaper – but it truly is eye opening to see a bit of Havana without the frills. We actually stayed in the core of the city, but outside Havana Vieja. We were close enough to walk into Havana Vieja as we pleased… but far enough to see different versions of the city in the day and in the night.

The malecón is one spot you should definitely make an effort to see. The scene is completely different in the day than it is in the night when Cubans flock the wall to get together with friends, stroll with a lover, or blast some music.

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Inside el Museo de la Revolución

Choose the Cuban food

It’s true. The array of spices and seasonings prevalent in other countries just aren’t as common in Cuba. So don’t expect to have the best pizza in the world in Cuba.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some great meals.

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garlic lobster at the beach? YES

I found that I particularly enjoyed the seafood and Cuban dishes that were prepared by the hosts we stayed with. I also found that the food in many of the smaller restaurants was actually quite delicious. Throughout the trip we enjoyed lobster tails, smoked pork (called ‘lomo ahumado’ – thank me later if you enjoy pork), rice and beans, fish, churros with condensed milk, fresh coconut water and jelly, and lots of fresh fruit and juices.

 

PS… don’t forget to sample all the piña coladas and mojitos possible!

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How to Survive Long Distance Relationships

The heartache, the anticipation, the joyous reunions, the practical benefits of a bit of time and space apart.  Each one of us at IfSheDreams has gone through a bout of long distance with our beaus (current or past) and we’ve all lived to tell the tale, although tales there are many! We decided to chat about it and share our stories, just as we usually do over eggs benny or wine, except this time in words right here on this blog. Read on to hear more about how we got through it.

Rebecca:

My fiancé and I have spent two thirds of our relationship apart. We shared a postal code when we began dating in Spain and then later in Toronto for a bit while I was finishing law school. Apart from those two interludes, our love has stretched from Canada to Spain, Australia to Canada, Canada to England, and now Canada to India. We have lasted up to six months without seeing each other, but usually manage to jump across ponds every couple of months now. Finally, finally, after we get married in March, we will at long last get to put our books on the same shelf (my milestone on what a home with my boo looks like).

Endurance of the heart is absolutely necessary to make it work. But then the reward at the finish line is so great!

The distance has been agonizing at times – most times – but we’ve dealt with it remarkably well, I think. We’re both quite intense when it comes to our endeavours, which is the real reason we’ve spent so much of our relationship at a distance. The time apart has allowed us to give work and study our all when required, whether it was articling in Toronto or a PhD in Punjab. And sometimes when you feel lonely, work is all you can do to fill the gap. So I try to think of long distance relationships now as rather productive ones and keep myself from being idle at all costs!

Long distance is a marathon – you have to stretch your patience over months or weeks, making it last to the final drop until you can replenish. Endurance of the heart is absolutely necessary to make it work. But then the reward at the finish line is so great!

That is the beauty of long distance relationships: the frustrations are many, but the joys are so joyous!

Jean:

LDR = long distance relationships

Ok, full disclosure—I thought LDRs were just endurance flogging. No physical intimacy. No shared adventures. No stealth eating the last of their favorite leftovers. No hand holding. (I love holding hands. It’s right up there with eating your partner’s OFF-LIMITS turkey sandwich over the kitchen sink.) Plus 2-3 hours per day of phone calls, texting, emails, skyping, naked pics… Equals a constant feeling of being whipped, and not the kind anyone likes.

Oh and I’m the WORST candidate for LDRs.

I rarely have my phone on me. And when I do, it’s usually dead. Or, about to die. Or, cracked and malfunctioning. Or, about to be abandoned, lost, or forgotten.

I have an insatiable need for physical affection. No, I’m not talking about sex. I just like to be touched. And held. And to hold others. And did I mention holding hands? Sign. Me. Up.

I’m also a bit…. Random (a nice word for unreliable). I tend to change plans, reorganize my schedule at a whim, and cancel way more than I should. This means that if we’re supposed to talk at 8PM, that may or may not become 10PM, or 11:30PM or 1PM the next day. I have good reasons for my randomness, but excuses are the first stop toward Breakup Ville.

If that isn’t enough, I guard my independence and freedom so savagely, you’d think it was a vintage Louis Vuitton handbag.

Soo.. when I met my fiancee in New York (where I didn’t live and had no intention of moving to), I thought summer fling. But, he has perfect teeth, legendary Italian charm, a list of interests as long as… (I don’t kiss and tell) but it’s LONG 😉

He laughed me out of a comatose state on the same day a friend took his own life, a feat for which he should win a medal. And I never have to ask him to hold my hand, or wrap me in his arms, because he’s always already doing both. How could I not fall in love with him? And how could I ever let him go? Impossible. He’ll be next to me when I’m gray and creaky and my only joy is chucking pebbles at teenagers from a rocking chair.

We’ve been in a LDR for a year and a half now. There are times when I’d gladly take a few lashes to have him next to me. And, now that we are expecting a son, I miss him more than ever. I miss his hands on my belly. I miss him playing guitar to our beautiful baby. I miss him setting a sandwich next to my desk, and squeezing lemon into a glass of water for me. I miss curling my foot over his at night, and our late night talks in the shower.

Just keep the finish line in your sights and bear down for a marathon of the heart.

I only sugarcoat cake so I’m gonna be straight with you. It’s awful. And, it only works for us because it has to work. Being without him isn’t an option. If that’s how you feel about your partner, don’t worry. You’ll make it through. Just keep the finish line in your sights and bear down for a marathon of the heart.

Valerie:

Spicy man and I have been together for almost nine years. We spent a year apart when I was in school. Overnight, our time together transitioned from being together everyday to daily phonecalls. The transition was very difficult but also strengthened us both individually and as a couple. As a couple, we had shared many of the same classes in university and volunteered with the same organizations when we were together. Being away forced me to do things completely on my own and reminded me of what my interests, passions, strengths and opinions were as a individual. This time helped make clear my individual identity and in this way, improved the health of my relationship.

There were difficult times. Arguments were difficult to completely resolve if one person was busy or wanted to hang up. If one of us wanted to share some immediate news we’d have to wait until there was some free time in the other’s schedule. These challenges made us appreciate our time together that much more. There were lovely surprise visits when I could introduce him to new friends, take him out on the town, etc.

My suggestions in helping you survive an LDR would be to schedule regular calls and make sure that nothing comes in the way of that. Your commitment to that time will indicate to the other person that they are still a priority, commitment and fun part of your life.

5 years after our LDR I still have our bracelets and they serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come together and how much stronger we can be.

I also used and recommend ordering a rubber LDR bracelet that I ordered from this site: http://lovingfromadistance.com/ldrbracelets.html – there are three colours: purple, pink and brown. I wanted to publicly brand spicy man as taken while I was away – don’t worry – I didn’t make him wear the pink one. These bracelets were cute and reminded me of him when I’d look down at my wrist. 5 years after our LDR I still have them and they serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come together and how much stronger we can be. We’ll be getting married in June! 

Michela:

It’s more and more likely that at some point you’ll be faced with making the decision about whether or not you can, or more importantly, whether you want to make a long distance relationship work. In my experience long distance relationships aren’t easy to navigate and may require attitudinal shifts, but definitely require communication and persistence. But having been through one that didn’t work –I’m actually not jaded by the ‘long distance’ part of relationships.

Honestly, it’s not the “let’s talk every evening at x time” type of communication I value, but instead it’s the depth and honesty of communication.

Ensuring both you and your partner are on the same page about your goals and intentions for your time apart, and for your relationship, are important. Long distance relationships take work – and it usually becomes apparent if you both aren’t in agreement on how you see each other in your life. How can it work if you both don’t agree on what you want the end goal to look like? Or at the very least, how you’ll develop a strategy to figure out what it looks like.

Having been through one that didn’t work –I’m actually not jaded by the ‘long distance’ part of relationships.

After that, it’s the spontaneous messages and calls that keep the connection going…

Yes, you’d expect that in any relationship, but I think you need it even more so when you don’t see each other regularly. If you’re together it’s likely because if something happens in the day that vexes you, you probably want and appreciate your partner’s opinion on how to deal with it (or not kill someone), or maybe something makes you burst out in laughter, that you want no need to share (even if it’s mad corny).  

Long distance relationships work when 2 people want them to…

Only when no matter how hard it is with travel, time change and separation, it’s just simply harder on the heart to be apart.

When the tables turn, that’s probably the point when it’s time for you both to consider accepting the lessons you’ve learned from each other, and then part ways.

 

Sweetheart Cities

The enchanting smell of the bakery woke me every morning; the neighbours’ chatter in a delectable foreign tongue easing me from dreams to reality. My mother and grandmother bustled in the courtyard behind the house, their banter in the same language I spoke but sweet to the ear nonetheless. My sisters played on my dad’s lap in the hammock outside while my aunt and uncle chatted at the table beside. Our days in that place started with these warm smells and comforting sounds and were followed by winding excursions to the Mediterranean beach, fresh ice creams awaiting us.

Many evenings during this month, festivities took over the village: little girls my age dressed in polka dot dresses with frills on their sleeves, their mothers and aunts and cousins adorned the same, flocked to the square in colourful packs. Men in vests tuned their guitars while families filled the streets and the balconies above the plaza. I watched, entranced, as the women began to dance, feet stomping to rhythms so fast I could barely keep track, hands snapping castanets in syncopation, their frilled tails twirling behind them. Tired but ecstatic, we would walk back through the narrow streets, uphill all the way to our little house.

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La Plaza del Sol, Madrid, Spain

I was enamoured, totally and completely. Cómpeta, this small village in Andalucía in the south of Spain, was my first sweetheart city. I knew I would come back and I promised the Spanish language would one day become my own. Even at just seven years old, I felt a light inside of me in this place, a comfort and familiarity with these surroundings that was not through experience but sensation alone. That’s what a sweetheart city is: a place not native to you but where you feel both at home and more alive in a way that no other place can make you feel.

 

What I didn’t realize at the time in this Andalucían corner  was that I hadn’t just fallen in love with this one town but the whole country. I made good on my promise to return, traveling back to Spain on family trips and school excursions a few times before finally moving there in my early twenties. I also came to speak Spanish fluently, as I told myself I must do.

During those later trips and the three years I spent living in Spain, I realized I had a sweetheart city in Madrid, too. To this day, my heart skips at the thought of the Spanish capital – I can smell its air, taste its food, find my way through its winding core to my favourite corners.

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In my element

Sometimes I think I became myself in that place, I found who I wanted to be – or perhaps who I always was. This is a key element of what makes a sweetheart city, I think. It isn’t just the delicacies and the architecture, but what the locale makes you feel about yourself when you are there. I am exceptionally fortunate to have traveled to so many wonderful places in my lifetime and I have loved many. However, none made me feel like the same way. Madrid – Spain, really –has me enganchada (hooked) for life.

 

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A hidden bay in Vela Luka, Croatia

This past summer, I was thrilled to visit this sweetheart city of mine again and discover that of my best friend Sonja for her wedding.

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Sonja spent her summers in her father’s hometown of Vela Luka, Croatia. When she and her (now) husband decided to get married, they chose the small island town of Vela Luka to host just 30 of their nearest and dearest. While I had visited the Croatian island on vacation before (at Sonja’s recommendation, of course), I had never been back with her.

When I arrived and saw her in this new terrain, I recognized immediately the joy and contentment on my bestie’s face. In Vela Luka, she became her true mermaid self, in and out of the turquoise Adriatic every hour, munching on fresh figs she picked from a tree on the road, always barefoot. Sonja and I met in middle school in Toronto at 12 years old. Since then, we have been best friends and watched each other grow through so many moments of life. Despite knowing each other so well for so long, never before had I seen her like this, in her element. I realized I never could have known this part of her because it could only fully come alive in this special place.

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Sunset besties

After the beautiful wedding in Vela Luka, I flew to Spain to celebrate the nuptials of another dear friend. Returning to Madrid felt like coming home. The last time I visited the city was in 2011. In between then and now, I had recrafted roots as an adult in my hometown of Toronto and lived in India for the better part of a year. I didn’t know how I’d feel – if that sweetheart feeling might have changed for me because I had changed so much in that time.

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A classic Croatian breakfast spread

But no. Spain still felt as familiar and enchanting as it always had. And despite the great life changes that had occurred in between my visits, I experienced those same glorious sensations: the contentment in my middle, the skip in my step. It felt so good.

It’s truly something else to have a sweetheart city.

I would delight in hearing tales about your favourite places. Please feel free to leave a comment below and tell me what corner of the world makes you come alive again.

 

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Carnival and the Freedom of “di road”

Your alarm goes off, you peer out of one eye thinking if I don’t get up now I’ll be late.

Maybe you love your job, and are growing in your role, but you’re tired.

Maybe you’re in a transitionary period, and going to work is simply that. Work.

Or maybe you’re somewhere between those extremes.

There are a myriad of things happening at home, with your partner or with your family, which confront you, pushing and pulling you on a daily basis.

But all that aside, what you know is next week is carnival, and you’re going to fete.

This is a pretty familiar theme in soca music, the respite of carnival, the welcome relief that comes from jumping up on the road, with your friends, and even with complete strangers.

I think for many this is exactly what carnival is. A break. A moment to quiet the mind, and to seek reprieve from the day to day grind.

I appreciate that there are different versions of the event, and I acknowledge that my outlook on Carnival is shaped by my experience as a Jamaican living in Canada…

I am a Jamaican who grew to love soca long after her love for reggae was formed, and a Jamaican who sees and recognizes that a lot of this love is shaped from embracing the differences, but recognizing the similarities of the West Indian experience – and how this is manifested in the Carnival experience.

 

When I think of West Indians, it’s hard to overlook our pride.

We are proud of the things in our culture that make us special and unique – and this can’t be discounted.

But across the Caribbean, our people have shared experiences.

We know what it is like to have a history of colonization and slavery.

We know the stories of our beautiful isles trading hands between the French, the English and/or the Spanish.

We also know about Independence.

We know about curry and jerk, we know about rice and peas (or peas and rice), plaintain and the beauty and marvel of mango season.

We know about the emigration of our nationals from our homelands in the 60s and onwards. If this is not your story, maybe it’s the story of your brother, your aunt, your parents. Regardless, it’s a story you know far too well.

And you likely know that when we’re abroad, we see our cultural similarities a whole lot more than we did before, recognizing our mutual understanding on many fronts.

 

Carnival can spark a lot of discourse in the West Indian community about shadeism, classism, and it’s accessibility to those by whom and for whom it was made for. All of which are important conversations to be had to preserve the carnival experience. Let’s not forget that Carnival in its current form was meant to addressinaccessibility”.

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Carnival was created after our black ancestors were basically shunned from the festivities of the Europeans.

Carnival to our ancestors was an outlet – a means to embrace themselves and their own culture, in a free and open setting, after being uninvited to and unwelcome at the pre-lenten parties and galas of the colonizers.

Eventually it was our Carnival that prevailed, that spoke to the masses and was supported by the people.

That freedom that Carnival represented then is still palpable “on di road” whether abroad, or back home. You feel it as the music pulses through your veins, as you smell the food from the nearby stalls and street vendors, as you see the smiles of the faces of the revelers. As you say hello, and “get on bad” with people you may otherwise never have met.

It could be the Freedom to belt out in the most unfiltered version of your accent and dialect, in the middle of the street downtown Toronto when the day before the representative at Subway corrected you when you said you wanted “coo-coom-bers” on your sandwich (since when is it queue-cum-bers?).

Or it could be the freedom to defy and ignore standards of beauty and size promulgated by the media.

Or it could be that moment that you share with yourself dancing on di road, where you temporarily forget the problems that plagued your thoughts yesterday.

 

So what does Carnival really represent?

In my mind it epitomizes Freedom.

But also Pride.

Culture.

And Unity.

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My First Punjabi Wedding (in photos)

 

Living in India, I saw a lot of sights (and smelled a lot of smells) that will stay with me forever. Now back in Canada, I’m often asked, “So, how was India?” I can only shake my head in retrospective awe. India is impossible to summarize. I believe this is why there are so many travel memoirs written about the country; you need at least 300 pages to even begin to explain. But when people ask if anything stands out, I immediately have an answer: my first Punjabi wedding.

Indian weddings are generally explosions of glitter and pink and ladoos

You’ve probably heard about the colour and pop of Indian weddings. In contrast to the white dresses and formality of western nuptials, Indian weddings are generally explosions of glitter and pink and ladoos. Punjabi weddings certainly hold true to this form and, some may say, go even further. My fiancé Jaimal being half Punjabi himself, I have had to study these traditions in preparation for our own wedding celebration!

In February, Jaimal and I were invited to a wedding in rural Punjab by a new friend of ours Jassi. Her bud Baldev was getting married in the village where he grew up and, in true Indian fashion, everybody was invited. The photo essay above details the three days of the 10 day event (!) that we attended in the small village of Sukkar Chak, 12 km from the border of Pakistan. While each hour of our visit produced a story unique and worth telling, these photos summarize the wondrous experience. Click on the images for snippets of what we were part of that weekend.

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Sri Lanka: An Adventure of a Lifetime

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If you like curry and adventure, you’ll love Sri Lanka. I had no idea what to expect when I hopped on a plane with my spicy man in November 2014. We touched down in a damp Colombo, popped in our new SIM cards and rolled our suitcases outside into the island air. After bargaining rates with the cabbies we settled into our ride and started our drive through the city.

I rolled down my window and the humid air rushed through my curls – it was 9:00am and people were opening up their storefronts, heading to work in their blouses and dress pants, music was playing and the horn-honking drivers were kicking up dust from the roads as they weaved around pedestrians.

After settling into our BnB, we crossed the street in the pouring rain into a small local restaurant called Green Cabin where we ordered hoppers (like miniature crepes in the shape of a bowl with either egg or milk in the middle), chicken curry, mutton rolls and lime soda. With our bellies full we planned out the next two weeks of our trip and here are some of the things I recommend you do when you go to this beautiful island:

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Colombo
Colombo is a bustling city with a lot going on. You can wake up at around 5:00AM, take a tuk tuk to the Galle Face beach and walk along the boardwalk as the sun rises. You can walk across the street from the beach to the Taj Samudra where you can dine like a queen on a breakfast feast of coconut-milk-rice, fish curry, spicy omelets, hoppers, coconut sambol (freshly shredded and spiced coconut) and exotic fruits like starfruit, papaya and mango followed by the most famous tea in the world, “Ceylon tea”.

FullSizeRender-11The tea is so fresh and fragrant that you need no milk or sugar to enjoy it. You can drive seven miles from Colombo to the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, one of the most revered Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka where you can remove your sandals and take in your own moment of peace and gratitude. You can pop back into the city and visit the variety of artsy cafes and shops including, my favourite, Hansa Coffee, to eat some bombtastic brownies and iced mochas. Finally, for the foodie in you, treat yourself to an authentic lumprais from the Dutch Burgher Union, which may be one of the few times you eat deliciousness out of a banana leaf.

Beddegamma & Yala National Park

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a tree? Me neither – but #bae wanted to go so we went. On the way to Beddegamma from the city we stopped at almost every fruit stall to drink out of orange coconuts and eat mangosteens (tip: do not eat the wood apples – they taste like socks – not wood or apples).

FullSizeRender-8 copy 2Our treehouse had a full queen-sized bed, a toilet, a sink, and a giant tree trunk that ran through the middle of it. At night I counted the stars and fell asleep feeling a cool breeze and listening to wild birds. I woke up at 5:00am the next morning, took a cold shower, crept down the stairs and we made our way back to the camp site where a jeep picked us up and drove us into Yala for a safari. It was a phenomenal experience! We drove through mud roads into the park where we saw families of spotted deer, monkeys, a group of grazing elephants, exotic birds, peacocks and more.

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Nuwara Eliya
If you like tea, high altitudes, rolling hills, waterfalls and lots of nature you will love Nuwara Eliya. I am a tea fanatic so when we arrived at the Tea Factory Hotel, I was overjoyed. The hotel is on a tea plantation and you can wake up to see the sun rise over the hilltops. Eating a breakfast of string hoppers rolled over a mixture of honey and shredded coconut was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

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Kandy
Kandy is another bustling city with a lot to offer. The markets were busy with smells of fresh spices and exotic fruits. The curry tasted just like my aunt’s. Oddly, they didn’t serve rice and curry and night – instead, the variety of restaurants offered Chinese food. While we love Chinese food, we were determined to find some good kothu roti. We found a greasy spoon only frequented by locals where nobody spoke English and we had the BEST chicken kothu roti in the city – it was intensely flavourful and the owner was so happy we came by that we all took a group photo before we left. After dinner we walked to a dessert shop for wattalapam (a very sweet dessert made up of jaggery, coconut milk, eggs and spices) and finished off the night with watermelon juice.

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Kandalama
If you can only stay in one area of Sri Lanka and you are in need of some good R&R then you must go to Heritance Kandalama. The hotel is an architectural masterpiece by Geoffrey Bawa who integrated the jungle and caves into the hotel. When you walk out on the balcony attached to your room you walk right into the jungle and can hang out with the little monkeys who try to con you for bananas. Your room is stacked with a box of fresh fruits and the bathroom has a glass wall so you can hang out in the tub and watch baby monkeys swing along the trees. The food in the dining areas is second to none. You can take a cooking class and learn how to make fish curry or relax in the infinity pool or organize a trip to Sigiriya Rock, an ancient rock fortress you can climb and take in the view of the jungle.

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Sri Lanka is by far one of my favourite places to travel to and has (along with Italy) the best food in the world. If you have the time and can save up the money, it’s definitely worth a visit!

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