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How To Avoid The Chaos of Toronto's Taxi Strike During The NBA All-Star Weekend

Photo Credit: Justin Boyd  https://www.instagram.com/bevoag/

Photo Credit: Justin Boyd https://www.instagram.com/bevoag/

Ah, the NBA All-Star Weekend. Where tens of thousands of Basketball's biggest fans are set to converge on our beautiful city of Toronto giving us a chance to show everyone the incredible things this city has to offer.

So it would make sense that a group of Toronto taxi drivers - angry at losing business to Uber- have decided to use this weekend in protest to strike and snarl traffic. 

But don't let this impending clusterf*ck ruin your time here. Here are a few ways to have the best time in the city while doing your best to avoid this taxi fiasco: 

Take the TTC
Ok sure, so compared to other developed cities our size, we may not have the best transit system. Probably one of the worst for its locals, to be quite honest. But good news if you're a tourist staying in the downtown: our underground subway system is pretty concentrated in the core of the city, so you should have no trouble whizzing in and around the area. 

Walk - Outside or Underground
The whole downtown is very walk-able and if the weather is bad, we have a pretty sweet underground PATH system that stretches 30 kilometres and offers shopping, entertainment, restaurants and all kinds of other services worth exploring! 

Get Out of the Downtown
In North America, if you've seen one downtown city core, you've probably seen them all. The best way to get a feel for how truly awesome and unique Toronto is is to explore all of our other neighbourhoods. Need help? Vogue named West Queen West the world's second coolest neighbourhood in 2014, meanwhile the New York Times thinks Toronto is one of the best places to visit this year and had high praises for our Junction hood. Speak to any Torontonian and they will gladly share their favourite parts of the city for that local flavour! 

Take Uber
Sorry not sorry but when it comes to faster, cheaper and more convenient, Uber is the clear winner in this transportation battle. Download the app on your phone and use this promo code for a free ride of up to $15. 

Take the UP Express - For FREE
For anyone coming to this city via Pearson Airport this Friday, you might want to give yourself some extra time in the event our Taxi protest is a complete mess.  But good news for those coming and going from Pearson airport February 13-15: the city's new express train from Union Station to Pearson airport is FREE this weekend! 

WayHome Music & Arts Festival Announces 2016 Lineup

Just when you think you're getting too old for music festivals in fields, WayHome has to go and announce a 'Killer' (get it?) line-up that makes your realize you are probably never ever going to grow up and we're more than ok with it!

Highlights for us include LCD Soundsystem, M83, Chvurches, Kurt Vile and the Violators & Haim, and pretty much every single other act on the bill.

The festival will take place at Burl's Creek Event Ground July 22-24. 
Tickets will be going on sale Tuesday, February 16 at 12pm.

More info can be found on the wayhome website

Hilton announces Tru, an affordable, new hotel chain

Photo: Tru by Hilton

Photo: Tru by Hilton

 

This week, Hilton Worldwide announced a new hotel brand aimed at millennial travelers.Tru will be the chain's 13th brand with rooms starting at $80. 

Focusing on a more modern aesthetic, the hotel's features will include a 2, 770 square foot lobby called The Hive with distinct zones for lounging, working, eating or playing, a front desk complete with a social media wall, as well as a complimentary "build your own" breakfast bar.  

The hotel has already signed on 102 franchises with another 30 in various stages of approval in cities throughout the US, including Nashville, Denver, Portland and Chicago.

The first Tru hotel is expected to open in the US by the end of 2016. 

Photos: Tru by Hilton

Boarding Pass | Travel News From Around the World

MUST SEE IN THE CITY | This Week’s Toronto Events Not To Miss Out On

Don't know how we managed to skip the great snowstorm of 2016, Toronto, but let's not take this moderately mild winter for granted and do things! 
Here are a number of fun events to check out in the city things week: 

Tuesday, January 26
True Stories Told Live
The Garrison, 7:30pm

A Toronto version of The Moth, True Stories Told Live is a monthly storytelling event where 4-5 brave souls get up in front of a packed room at The Garrison to share their personal stories. 

Thursday, January 28
Daily Vice Hologram Party feat. Pusha T with OBGMS, Sean Leon and Dj Dopey
The Great Hall, 9pm

Because Vice always knows how to throw a good part, we recommend starting your weekend on a Thursday. According to Vice, a special guest will be hologrammed in. Maybe it'll be Kanye

Saturday, January 30
Long Winter Galleria
Galleria Mall, 7pm
A multi-disciplinary event inside a soon to be torn down mall featuring a dance party inside one of the malls empty storefronts? Yes please! 

Mama (Shelter) Knows Best

There are places on this earth I love and get giddy and excited sharing them with my friends and loved ones, knowing just how much they will love them, too. Then there are the places I LOVE and selfishly want to tell no one about because it’s just so amazing that I want it to be all MINE. I really did debate keeping the hotel I stayed in Paris greedily all to myself, but I figured people would eventually stop believing “The Bell Tower of Notre Dame” as a legitimate accommodation option. The secret’s out, my friends. IfMama Shelter were a boy, I would have fallen so head over heels, I would have wanted to marry it and have a billion of its babies. Lucky for me, it’s just the most amazing hotel I have ever stayed at. Here’s why:

Location, location, location: 
The Phillipe Starck designed Mama Shelter is located on Rue Bagnolet within a 10 minute walk of three metro stations; Porte De Bagnolet, Alexandre Dumas and Maraichers, and directly behind a bus stop that will take you straight to the Louvre. The hotel is also about a three minute walk to Pere Lachaise and within moments of some of the best Parisian bakeries and patiserries you will ever find. The location of the hotel will provide you with the most authentic Parisian experience with all the tourist destinations a short metro-ride away, i.e. the best of both worlds!

The Staff: 
I arrived at Mama Shelter after a night of uncomfortable sleep, a six hour train ride, a few subway and bus stops and a bunch of luggage-schlepping neighbourhood laps around the block. To say I looked like I arrived straight from hell would be an understatement and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t mortified of how awful I actually looked to the super chic and fresh-faced beauties that work concierge at Mama Shelter. But my fear of being judged completely washed away the moment I said my first ‘hellos’. The amazing staff went out of their way to ensure a smooth check-in process and explain all the perks of this marvelous hotel. Their genuine interest in ensuring I had a great stay made me feel nothing less than total rock star material and they went out of their way to answer any questions I had, whether it was to direct me on the best subway route or suggest restaurant ideas. Judging by the staff Mama Shelter employs alone, I could already tell this hotel will be hard to top.

The Rooms: 
My 7th floor Mama Luxe room was pure modern-chic bliss. The cozy rooms, complete with a 24 inch imac television with free movies, a microwave, a mini-bar and free wifi, provided for the perfect recluse after a busy day out exploring Paris. The bed was so comfortable, the most difficult part of staying in the room was wanting to leave. The bathroom was equipped with the most heavenly shower and kiehl’s bath products! For added amusment, be sure to browse through everything the imac television has to offer and definitely set the television’s wake-up call alarm. Hearing the sound of the morning alarm will make you feel like 16th century royalty. Trust me on this one.

The Bar: 
Judging by the well-dressed boys and girls that descend upon the hotel each night, Mama Shelter’s bar is clearly the place to see and be seen. Patrons can cozy up to the round island bar and request some of the city’s best mix-drink concoctions (I highly recommend “On The Road”). A large terrace on the side of the hotel tends to get quite animated and busy as the night progresses, as guest djs and artists from around the world entertain the public on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. On the night I decided to stop by the bar, the Jacques Daoud Revue was holding court and entertaining a packed bar. This funk/soul/r&b ensemble blew my mind and I felt like I had been transformed into a completely different era (my very own Midnight in Paris moment). Just amazing.

The Food: 
Because this hotel can do no wrong, let me also gush about its food. For an extra 15 euros a day, treat yourself to the best hotel breakfast buffet you will quite possibly ever have (and I’ve eaten brunch at Tokyo’s Park Hyatt, so I should know). Mama Shelter’s dinner is highly sought after, so make sure to make reservations in advance and enjoy the ambience of the atrociously cool bar and dining area. As for one of the biggest perks of being a guest at the hotel? When the restaurant is at full capacity, you can always order a box of pizza and a glass (or bottle – I don’t judge) of wine and enjoy in the comfort of your amazing room.

I simply can’t get over the most amazing hotel stay of my life. And I’ve stayed at a lot of great hotels, but Mama Shelter just goes above and beyond anything else. The whole experience is pure magic and it would be just silly not to stay here. Especially since I’ve been so generous, choosing to reveal one of my favourite things about Paris. Thanks for being so amazing, Mama Shelter. I can’t wait to be back!

 

Hotel Fontecruz Lisboa: Sleek, Stylish and Sophisticated

As frequent travellers, one thing we value most are pleasant hotel stays. Sure, we'd still think the Notre Dame was a breathtaking site even if we had stayed in some dingy hostel, but horror stories about bed-bugs and communal showers might very well take away from the content of the original story.

With that in mind, there is nothing more wonderful than - after a long day of sight-seeing - being able to rest your feet in a beautiful hotel, overlooking magnificent views, and reflecting on the beauty of your travels. 

On our last trip to Lisbon, Portugal, the hotel we chose was so much more than just a pleasant stay. From the unique hotel room signs to the majestic lobby design, Hotel Fontecruz Lisboa proved to be nothing short of extraordinary. Here’s why:

Location:
Hotel Fontecruz Lisboa is located in the heart of the city's ultra stylish Avenida da Liberdade. Built in the 19th century, the Avenue itself is Lisbon’s answer to Champs-Elysees. Don’t blame us if you get tempted to drop some of your hard-earned Euros on the avenue’s beautiful shops, which include Louis Vuitton, Carolina Herrera and Emporio Armani.

The hotel is also conveniently located mere steps away from the Avenida metro station, which will get you anywhere in Lisbon in under fifteen minutes.

The Rooms: 
We were lucky enough to stay in two rooms of the hotel's during our stay inLisbon. Both were the relaxing slice of heaven we dream of every vacation we're on;

The super-comfy beds were adorned with a beautiful headboard that featured a stunning photograph of Lisbon. In place of your regular, boring ol’ closet was a gorgeous vintage-looking armoire, and a trunk chest serving as the night table.

The hotel room’s bathroom featured a rain shower-head, and we swear we heard the angels singing each time we used it. Meanwhile, the clementine-flavoured bath products kept us smelling wonderfully clean.

The 72-room boutique hotel has rooms facing both the back and the front of Avenida da Liberdade. Depending on your mood, you can choose the front-facing room hotels for a lively view of Portugal’s most stylish, or choose to face the back, with a picturesque view of Lisbon.

The Food & Drink: 
Adding to the sleek interior of the hotel is the bar and restaurant lounge situated right behind the hotel lobby. Guests can just as easily sip on cocktails at the Champagne Bar as they can enjoy tapas-style food at the restaurant. A delicious breakfast is also served for an additional charge at the hotel.

Overall, the hotel is a total treat with fantastic staff, gorgeous rooms and a beautiful ambiance, topped off with one of the best locations in all of Lisbon. What else could you possibly ask for? Absolutely nothing.

Other Hotel Info:
Hotel Fontecruz Lisboa
72-rooms and suites
Restaurant, Room Service, Parking, Free Wi-fi
Rates: Starting from 139euros, but keep checking the ‘offers’ section of the hotel’s site for great deals
Other locations: Hotel Fontecruz also has property in Avila, Caceres, Granada, Sevilla, Toledo, Madrid and Miami

Oslo's The Thief Steals the Show

Walking into the lobby of Oslo’s Thief Hotel, it is hard to imagine the wow factor can get any – well – wow-er, as an iconic Richard Prince painting hangs casually in the lobby. But walk towards the elevator, and you’ll greeted by a Julian Opie video installation. Get off on the second floor and have lunch beside Andy Warhol’s famed Ladies and Gentlemen. Retire to your room and walk by Bryan Ferry’s iconic Kate Moss photos.
If you’re not in awe already of a hotel that doubles as a contemporary art museum – with the most highly insured art collection in the world - here are some other reasons why The Thief will steal your heart away:

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION:
The Thief is located in Oslo’s Tjuvholmen neighbourhood (say THAT ten times fast). The name (Tjuv – meaning thief, and Holmen – meaning islet) pays homage to its shady past – the district was once synanymous with criminals and debauchery. Today, the neighbourhood is characterized by gorgeous architecture, trendy restaurants, world-renowned galleries, as well as stunning views of the Oslo Fjord. It really is the place to see – and be seen.

THE ROOMS
The Thief’s 119 rooms are nothing short of extraordinary. From the Antonio Citterio designed armchairs to the nine plus (look in the closet for a surprise!) pillows on your bed, The Thief has thought of absolutely everything to make your stay the most comfortable one you could ever imagine. Seriously. That Parlux 300 hairdyer in your marble bathroom? That will be the best blowdry of your life. The automatic screen outside your window? That will ensure the ultimate privacy when you don’t want to be disturbed by the sun. That fancy tea and those delicious biscuits? Those will be waiting for you when you come back from a wonderful, but tiring day of exploring the city. Did you suddently get invited to a fancy dinner party on another hotel guest’s yacht (the hotel does have yacht parking, afterall) and forgot your cufflinks? No worries, your room has a shelf dedicated to an incredible selection of items you may have forgotten to bring.

EAT & DRINK
On the second floor of The Thief, you will find Fru K, the hotel’s restaurant where you can bask in the glory of an aforementioned Andy Warhol painting and enjoy a Nordic breakfast buffet which includes locally sourced cheeses, cured meats, salmon, fruits, vegetables and a delicious assortment of baked goods and jams. Personal favourite was the hotel-made pate. Still dreaming about it.

During the summer season, enjoy a cocktail – with a view to boot – from the hotel’s rooftop terrace.  It offers to most magnificent panaromic views of the city and the fjord.

DETAILS
No detail has been overlooked and no expense spared to ensure your stay at The Thief is a memorable one. For those looking to be inspired, why not book one of the five available meeting rooms at the hotel. These beautifully decorated spaces are a surefire way to inspire new ideas and get creative juices flowing.
From the Tom Dixon lights adorned to the entrance of each guest room to the coat racks in the restaurant disguised as just another opulent form of decor, everything inside The Thief is a brilliantly calculated move in aesthetics.

OTHER WOW FACTORS:

  • The Thief has a partnership with the neighbouring Astrup Fearnley Museum, whose collection includes Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Damien Hirst, amongst others. Your Thief room key gets you free access to the museum!
  • Arriving by boat? You can park it in front of the hotel’s entrance on the marina.
  • Bringing your pooch? The Thief makes it even better with their Very Important Dog (VID) program, which caters to all your pet’s needs with a tailor-made hamper, list of available pet services, as well as a custom made pet bed and pet blanket. How adorable!

Mais Oui, Montreal

Ah La Belle Province… and the one city in it where you can kind of get away speaking English without feeling completely ashamed for not being bilingual – Montreal! This classic yet hip and very charming Canadian city definitely needs to be on your top list of places to visit. Here's why:

The Fashion:
No trip to this city is complete without a shopping spree in what is arguably the most fashionable place in Canada. Not only do Montrealers have the best department store not found outside of Quebec – Simon’s – they also have these streets to go broke on:

Rue St. Denis (between Avenue du Mont Royal & Boulevard Rene Levesque) – filled with tons of cute vintage and boutique stores, this is your best bet of finding some great one of a kind finds.

Rue Sainte-Catherine (between Atwater and St. Urbain Street) – your typical shopping mecca filled with your typical Urban Outfitters and American Apparels and Zaras, plus malls and unique Montreal stores. Bliss.

Crescent Street – just another high-end shopping area, but obviously better with robust charm and elegance because you’re in Montreal!

Bars
Montreal has a plethora of bars and clubs. They come in all shapes, sizes and fanciness levels. If you’re looking to explore Montreal on a local scale, may we suggest:

Korova – this place is kind of the best of both worlds. Packed with all those Montreal locals you just can’t help but swoon over, but the ones who also speak your language – the Anglo Montrealers. Guaranteed fun times with a live dj. Put this bar on your list if you’re into: hot babes and impromptu dance parties.

Les Deux Pierrots – Now that you’ve eased into this some Anglophone/Francophone land of mystique, why not check out how the Francophones party and head over to Les Deux Pierrots. Make sure to go on  a Friday or Saturday to check out live Francophone music. It’s totally like being in Paris! But with a funny dialect.

Bifteck - Not going to lie. The last time we ventured over to Bifteck, we must have been about 19 and it was usually begrudgingly because all we ever wanted to do was hang out where all the cool kids were – Le Pistol (R.I.P :( ) But for curiosity’s sake, check out this College kids fave and let us know how it is.

Food
We have to admit: aside from the Montreal bagels, the 99 cent pizzas, the variety of dipping sauces with your fries and everything else we’ve ever eaten drunk on St.Laurent at 4am, we’ve never been too fond of Montreal’s food scene. It’s kind of like French (of the France variety) food gone bad, you know? Lucky for you, the scene has improved a lot. Here are some places that’ll make you want to invest in a good pair of fat pants:

Joe Beef - named after this dude, Joe Beef the restaurant provides you with a true Montreal dining experience. From the chalkboard menu board to mounted animal heads, the restaurant’s vibe gives off total tavern authenticity. And for the menu? It changes regularly depending on what's in season, but seafood and steak enthusiasts, rejoice! You’re in for a delicious treat.

Schwartz’s - Because how can visit Montreal and not go into this famed deli?! The original smoked meat sandwich is a must order. Added bonus: their ridiculously delicious pickles.

La Bulle Au Carre – In authentic Montreal-style, this crepe place serves a delicious brunch on the weekends! Try the Brunch Quebecois…because you’re in Quebec, after all!

Where to stay:
From the ridiculously hip W hotel where the glass shower faces directly into the bedroom to the tried, tested and true Sheraton Hotel, we've enjoyed every place we've ever stayed in Montreal, but would consider this lil’ guy our secret gem.  You’re welcome.

Check out Priceline and Hotwire for some amazing hotel deals on the city’s 4-star hotels and book away!

For more information on the tons of things to do in Montreal, visit: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/Traveller/

Steel City Sight Seeing: How To Spend A Weekend In Pittsburgh

When you only have three full days to enjoy a place during a long weekend and the cost of flying for three days just doesn't seem worth it, the requirement should be simple: find a city within a reasonable driving distance from where you are. Sounds easy enough, but with most cities from Toronto being at least an 8 hour drive away, it's not.  When we realized Pittsburgh is just a 5-hour drive from the Toronto area (and within a similar distance to major American cities including New York, Washington, DC and Chicago), we had to go and check this city out for ourselves. And the results? We fell over heels! Here’s why:

The Sights
The most beautiful scenic view we've ever seen on an incline? That honour goes to the view atop Notre Dame de Paris. The second prettiest? Well, that has to be got to be Pittsburgh's Dusquesne Incline, providing gorgeous views of the city's skyline from the top of Mt. Washington.

But the gorgeous views of the city isn’t the only thing Pittsburgh has going for it in the “Sights” department. The city is also home to a number of incredible museums, including two of our favourites:

The Andy Warhol Museum
Who isn’t enamoured with this pop art icon? The museum is home to some of Warhol’s most famous paintings and pieces, including his Campbell’s Soup Cans, portraits of celebrities, and films, which include a really adorable home video Warhol shot of the Kennedy kids (John and Caroline) playing on the beach in Montauk.

Famous works of art notwithstanding, the museum is also a fascinating glimpse into Warhol’s personal life. Apparently a big pack rat, the Andy Warhol Museum actually houses boxes upon boxes of things he just couldn’t part with (movie stubs, papers, party invitations, you name it!). Hoarders rejoice. You and Warhol totally have some things in common!

There is also a pretty generous amount of Andy Warhol’s, ahem, taxidermy collection. Yup. You read right. Dead.stuffed.animals. Dibs on the Dalmation in the event the museum ever wants to get rid of it!

Mattress Factory Museum
Turns out we weren't the only ones super excited to walk into Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Dots” exhibit. A little girl who couldn’t have been older than two could not contain her delight. And can you blame her? The exhibit is a total mind blow, tugging at your emotional and sensory senses. And for a two year old, it’s a glow in the dark room full of awesomeness.

Polka dotted rooms aside, this contemporary art museum is home to a variety of other interesting and beautiful exhibitions, many of which are chosen into residency programs from around the world.

But wait! There’s more! After you’re done exploring all the great exhibits the museum has to offer, make sure to take a stroll around the neighbourhood. Directly beside the Mattress Factory is a home that immediately caught my attention. Brown and covered in poetry, the home is painted by writer Huang Xiang as a way of celebrating the freedom to write openly, something he was arrested for in his native China. Other incredible homes painted in murals line the streets and this eclectic neighbourhood appears to be home to exiled writers and artists. For more information about this amazing initiative, check out: http://www.sampsoniaway.org/

Fraley’s Robot Repair
Holy crow, you guys. We stumbled upon this ridiculously adorable Robot Repair Shop innocently enough walking back to the hotel. And when our eyes locked on what was in front of us, it’s like we were transformed back into childhood! There is a sign on the storefront that says the owners are away on vacation. As you peer inside the shop, you notice a handful of robots in various state of repair, including one insanely cute robot peering from a back door! We couldn’t contain the giddiness while snapping away pictures and just about skipped all the way back to the hotel after witnessing this shop.

Upon further investigation, you realized the Robot Repair Shop is a public art instillation by local artist Toby Atticus Fraley, part ofProject Pop Up Pittsburgh. Another incredible art initiative brought to you by the fine folks of Pittsburgh. A little disappointing that it’s not the real E.T. type of deal, we know, but if you’re looking to get a quick glimpse back into the magical world that was your childhood, this is a must see.

Don’t just stop here, though. Pittsburgh has a dozen more incredible museums for all tastes and sizes. For more information on our two favourite museums in North America (yup!) and other fantastic ones that are must visits in Pittsburgh, go here:  http://www.visitpittsburgh.com/essentials/family-fun/

The Sports
We can’t discuss Pittsburgh without discussing its love of sports! Only the best hockey player to ever play in the NHL and his team call Pittsburgh their home; Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Obviously!

The Pittsburgh folks are also really into their NFL Steelers. You only need to walk down to the Strip District and see sports memorabilia stores at every corner to notice that.

Pittsburgh’s baseball team, thePirates are also a beloved staple. They call the beautiful PNC Park home, and three massive statues erected around the park honour the city’s four baseball heroes; Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski.

The Shopping
Not sure yet if this was a curse or a blessing, but the first thing we stumbled upon while walking out of our hotel was a Saks Fifth Avenue closing sale. Which means the whole store was on sale. At least 50% off. Oh boy!

Downtown Pittsburgh is also home to a Macy’s and Brooks Brothers, and if you’re looking for some of the best vintage, look no further than the city’s Shadyside neighbourhood. Stores upon stores of total cuteness. Our favourites include: Eons Fashion Antique and Hey Betty!   

If you’re looking for some great mall finds (and how can you not be with the sales tax at ZERO percent for most clothing!), head down to Ross Park Mall, just a speck outside of the city.

 

The Savoury
Because you’re thinking Pittsburgh could not possibly get better. And then it does! We came across a number of delicious restaurants, coffee shops and delicacies. Here’s a taste (get it?):

Meat and Potatoes
This gastropub in the city’s Cultural District is simply delicious and the place you need to go to if you’re looking for one of Pittsburgh’s hottest restaurants. Though Meat and Potatoes appears to have a set menu, they also incorporate daily specials. Bonus for any Canadians looking for some comfort food? They serve Poutine, you guys! So good that we’ll even forgive our waitress for telling the table next to us that Poutine is a ‘French’ dish…

Pamela’s Diner
This homey diner located in the city’s Strip district can count us alongside Mr. President as big fans of their pancakes! With so many breakfast options to choose from – between the lyonnaise potatoes or strawberry hotcakes, the corn beef hash and eggs or banana nut pancakes – you might as well give up the internal battle within and order both the savoury and sweet!

Make sure to get there early on weekends as it seems like half of Pittsburgh wants to eat their breakfast there, too!

Andy’s Sushi Bar
Not much to say about this place except that it’s the best vegeterian sushi we've ever had! And we had sushi in Tokyo. With real wasabi and all.
And while you’re waiting for Andy’s ridiculously delicious sushi, while he makes it fresh in front of you, make sure to check out Wholey’s Fish Market, where Andy’s sushi stand is located. During the Lenten season especially, it’s what a Catholic’s dreams are made of .

The Leaf and Bean
We stumbled upon this place while exploring Pittsburgh’s strip distric and must have walked by it about five times before getting the courage to finally walk inside. The eclectic outside of the establishment is just as intriguing as it is intimidating. And had it not been for the sign that said ‘Coffee’ and the Pittsburgh Penguins game blasting from the speakers on the outside, we probably wouldn’t have had the courage to follow the gentleman who looked like he belonged in a biker gang inside…
And boy, are we so glad we did! This Coffee and Cigar place is absolutely magical! Upon first entry, it’s almost as if you’re transformed into some sort of tropical paradise, if a tropical paradise catered to those with funky, eclectic tastes. Vintage chackies, fishing nets, seashells and motorcycles line the walls and ceilings, and patrons have the options of sitting down on patio furniture or vintage dentist chairs. As we looked around and meekly asked if we could take some photos, the incredibly welcoming barista behind the bar nodded enthusiastically and made me the best Americano we’ve ever had in…uh…America!
If there’s one establishment to relax and get lost in, this is 100 percent in! Cannot wait to come back!

Primanti Bros.
Because going to Pittsburgh and not stopping in to a Primanti Bros. restaurant should be some sort of crime. Sure, it’s a bit bizzare to be eating french fries inside a sandwich, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s just like ordering fries on the side. But more delicious! Just do it.

Where to stay
We had a fantastic stay at the historic Omni William Penn and with their spacious rooms, friendly customer services and hot apple cider in the lobby (!), we highly recommend it.

How to get there

Being only a 5 hour drive from Toronto, we recommend foregoing the $500+ flight fare and instead log onto google maps, print out the directions and go!

For more information

Visit Pittsburgh has an abundance of information about the city and were total saviours when it came to helping me plan mine. Go visit their friendly and resourceful site right now.

All in all, an amazing weekend in an incredibly beautiful and eclectic city that we can't wait to go back to!

Paris, Je T'aime

Oh mon dieu, where to even begin. We recently took the road oft-travelled and went to Paris to see whether it lives up to its hype of being the most visited city in the world. From its worldly charm and radiance to its awe-inspiring monuments and landmarks, here is why you should book your ticket to Paris this instant:

The People
Before we start exploring the neighbourhoods that make Paris so beautiful, giving suggestions on which gym memberships you should be getting so you can stuff yourself with Paris’ delicious food, and tips on where you need to be partying it up while in Paris, let us begin by letting you know about one of the most important things that make Paris so hip and awesome and beautiful: its residents.

Before our vacation, we were warned about Parisians; about their rudeness and dislike of North Americans. It scared us a little to have to interact with people that could potentially not like you. So when it came down to our first interaction with a Parisian, this is what happened: Thanks to Paris' incredible metro system, we had navigated our way to the closet metro stop to our hotel, but could not figure out where to go next.  As we walked down rue Belgrand, a stranger approached. We gulped and began withour horrible french “Excusez-moi. Ou est la rue de Bagnolet…”
To our shock, the stranger, a woman in her early 30s,  replied with the most beautiful accent ever heard (Parisian. duh) “I’m not 100% sure and I don’t want to lead you the wrong way, so I’ll just wait with you here until someone walks by that knows.” And that she did. She waited until another Parisian walked by and translated her directions. Getting over our shock of not being pelted with rocks, but instead welcomed as tourists with very little grasp of the french language, we thanked her about a million times and walked towards our hotel. This was the first of many interactions with the people of Paris, who not only helped us when we needed them to, but did so eagerly, with complete willingness.  And a trick we learned that may have helped us win over all those apparently ‘mean’ Parisians?

Learn a little bit of French
Imagine being approached every single day by a person speaking a completely foreign language, demanding directions to this place or the other.  Totally rude, right? Think how Parisians must feel. Don’t fall into the stereotype of being an ignorant tourist and learn to say a few phrases in French. Simple things like “Where is ______” , “How much is ____” , “Excuse me” and “Thank-you” will go a long way. Brownie points if you can memorize some simple menu items so you’re not THAT guy at a French restaurant, loudly asking the waiter “What’s that?!”  after every.single.menu.item. Seriously. Who knows…you even may end up falling in love with the language and signing yourself up for French lessons the moment you get off the plane…

The Neighbourhoods:
Now on to the fun stuff. Paris is split up into 20 arrondisements. Frommer’s has a great intro to each neighbourhood. Here are my some of our highlights:

4th Arrondissement (Ile de la Cité/Ile St-Louis & Beaubourg)
The aristocratic-like 4th Arrondissment is home to two of the most breathtaking Gothic churches in the world; Sainte- Chappelle and Notre Dame. Walk down Ile St.Louis and take the time to admire the beautiful mansions and apartments that line the streets.

If you go: Make sure to visit Sainte-Chappelle on a sunny day – the city’s oldest stained glass windows will astound you. 

Our most memorable moment: aside from the obvious – admiring Saint Chappelle and Notre Dame and climbing up the cathedral’s towers to see picturesque Paris –  while in line for Saint Chappelle, the crowd was kept amused by a masked man who would walk beside unsuspecting passerbys, taking that opportunity to scare the begeebus out of them once they noticed him. happening. Parisian street comedy at its finest. 

7th Arrondissement (Eiffel Tower/Musée d’Orsay)
Because it’s home to one of the most famous landmarks in the world, The Eiffel Tower. A definite must see for any first-time tourist to Paris, even if you’ve no intentions of going up the tower.

If you go: Forget what we said about not having intentions; you should really go up the tower. You’re already here. Might as well go all the way up. Trust. This coming from people terrified of heights, who went up to the VERY TOP of the tower and lived to tell the tale. Also? Keep checking the Eiffel Tower’s website. They sometimes hold fun contest and you may even end up winning free passes to the Tower. And free is always pretty awesome!

Our most memorable moment:  An impromptu break dance routine at the bottom of the tower.

11th Arrondissement (Opéra Bastille) 
Right on the uh…right bank of the Seine, this working class area has become quite the trendy place to be with both a rich mix of immigrants and Parisian “Bobos”, our favourite french term.

If you go: Make a night out of it and get off at Metro Parmentier. Take one of the many winding alleyways and discover some of Paris’ trendiest bars and restaurants!

Our most memorable moment: Finding our favourite bar in all of Paris in this wonderful neighbourhood.

18th Arrondissement (Montmartre)
Perhaps the famous area of Paris, the 18th Arrondissement is home to the city’s top tourist destinations: Montmarte, Sacre-Coeur, Moulin Rouge and place du Tertre.

If you go: Just go. You have to. The view from Sacre-Coeur will always be worth the other tourists and massive crowds.

Our most memorable moment: Listening to an Italian busker serenade hundreds of tourists on the steps of Sacre-Coeur.

20th Arrondissement (Père-Lachaise Cemetery) 
Our personal favourite, this authentic Parisian neighbourhood is home to one of the most stunning cemeteries in the world, Pere Lachaise. Parc de Belleville adds to the neighbourhoods charm and at 108m, is the highest park in Paris.

If you go: Visiting Pere Lachaise is a must do.

Our most memorable moment: Falling in love with everything this neighbourhood has to offer, from the incredible Mama Shelter, to the serene Pere Lachaise, to the delicious boulangeries. le sigh.

The Restaurants
There is no shortage of delicious food on every street corner of Paris. Here are my top recommendations.

Bread and Roses: Located on Rue Boissy D’Anglas, Bread and Roses has just about the most delicious of everything: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Situated at the back of the restaurant is a New York Style deli selling not only mouth-watering desserts but also high-end and unique grocery items that would make a perfect Parisian gift for any foodie in your life; olive-oil, spanish cured ham, and maple syrup as owner Philip Tailleur goes above and beyond in search of only the best products! And their bread? To-die-for and baked in-house. As for the dinner itself? Bread and Roses offers rich and delicious dinner portions for great prices. Try their duck liver pate as an appetizer. A traditional hamburger for the entree. And famed cheesecake for dessert. You will thank us. It’s to die for. And while you’re sitting around the brightly lit and beautiful eatery, take a quick look around as you never know who you’re going to catch enjoying themselves at Bread and Roses. Fashion’s elite, rock royalty and even Arabian princesses have been known to frequent here.

Au Fil des Saisons: We came across this restaurant while aimlessly looking for another by getting serendipitously lost in some random alley. As we walked by the place, we peaked in to this tiny beautiful place and saw it brimming with life. We decided to give it a try, and the results? Delicious! This traditional Parisian bistro feels not unlike a cozy country-inn upon walking in as the wafts of the season’s most delicious offerings create an urgency to try everything on the menu. If it’s still there, go with the Duck Confit. You are in Paris, after all.

Chez Robert et Louise: Another traditional French bistro, Robert et Louise offers delicious french dishes cooked in an open wood burning fire. Expect to be seated with other patrons at one the restaurant’s long tables, providing a fun and lively atmosphere. Be sure to try their delicious lamb and signature potatoes, which are cooked in goose fat. YUM. A reservation is highly recommended.

The Nightlife
As is the case during the day, Paris at night has also plenty to see and do for virtually everyone. Us? We like our bars. Here are our favourites:

Pilli Pilli: Another one of those serendipitous moments, we stumbled uponPilli Pilli while looking for a completely different bar. Walking down Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud,  we were drawn to the ambience of the place as much as the beauties inside. This ultra adorable watering hole offers a great atmosphere and very reasonably priced drinks (expect to pay 5euros a pint). Even if we are begrudgingly writing about this place because we want to keep it all to ourselves, you should definitely go and experience Paris nightlife how beautiful Parisians do at this ‘trop’ adorable place.  

Mama Shelter: Not only is this the most exquisite hotel, Mama Shelter is also one of Paris’ trendiest bars. A great way to meet other people staying at the hotel over a drink at the island bar during the week, the bar is packed to capacity on weekends, hosting DJ and Band nights that will make you want to come here every single night of your stay. Don’t forget to try one of their specialty drinks. We recommend ‘On the Road’. Dare you to order just one.

Fleche D’Or: It’s no secret that there is almost nothing else in life we love more than music. Even when planning a vacation, one of the first things we look at after having booked flights and hotel is the city’s concert listings. Conveniently situated across the street from Mama Shelter, this fantastic music venue has kept some of its old decor from when it used to be a railway station, giving it a very eclectic and open, industrial feel. Expect a lot of up and coming indie bands to play here. Bragging rights for life telling your friends you saw them way back when...in Paris!
Check out the agenda page of their website to see who’s playing at Fleche D’Or next!

Where to Stay
In case it hasn’t sunk in yet, we fell head over heels for Mama Shelter. Read our review here.

Before you go:
Fodor’s Forums are an invaluable resource for anything you’ve ever wanted to know about Paris. Just type in key words into their search engine and get suggestions from thousands of the Forum’s seasoned travellers!

Download the RATP app to your smartphone. You’ll be amazed just how easy it is to find virtually anything in Paris with this app at your fingertips.

Paris’ Convention and Visitors Bureau is a one-stop shop for anything you’ll ever need to know about Paris. From Paris fun facts to accommodation suggestions, don’t hesitate to start your research about the best vacation of your life here!

Bon Voyage!