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My New City Guides

city guides :: new feature on at home with kim vallee

city guides :: new feature on at home with kim vallee

Earlier tonight, I released a feature that we worked very hard to implement. I wish to thank Chris and Jerome for their great work.

I started dreaming about city guides for At Home with Kim Vallee a while ago. I could have done it with simple posts but I wanted a more structured set up. We achieved it with an home page for the entire section, a page dedicated to each city, a page for every guide and a page for every place covered in the city guides.

You can like, tweet, share and like on Facebook any guide or a place. Naturally, you can comment. Do not be afraid to suggest your favorite places or share your opinions.

So far, I wrote 4 guides covering 3 cities. I planned to extensively cover 9 cities. They are Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. In the States, the city guides will cover New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, possibly Austin and another city that I has not been selected yet. Your suggestions are welcome.

I invite you to have a look at my new city guides and then, to tell me what you think about this new feature.

LIVING TRAVEL

Nomad: Ultralight Camper

nomad ultralight camper design by etienne danserau :: sidim 2010

nomad ultralight camper design by etienne danserau :: sidim 2010

A section of SIDIM was dedicated to student’s projects. It may be because I would love to use his small model as a doll house, but Nomad, a camper made of fabric and aluminum, grabbed my attention. The ultralight structure requires less energy than a regular camper. Etienne Danserau, who studied at University of Montreal, imagined this concept.

LIVING TRAVEL

Why Osprey Meridian 22 is the Ideal Travel Pack?

osprey meridian 22 inch / 60L convertible pack on wheels

osprey meridian 22 inch / 60L convertible pack on wheels

For our trip to Japan, my husband and I decided that the best option would be to each have our own a convertible, wheeled carry-on luggage. We always travel with a small suitcase on wheels. Many people suggested that a backpack may be useful for some part of our trip. Obviously, I am not the backpack type. Since comfort is essential for us, we gave in to their suggestion and started looking for the ultimate luggage solution. We found the best of both worlds with the Osprey Meridian 22.

Background about traveling in Japan

Trains are the most effective way to travel within Japan. Since we plan to visit many destinations, we carefully looked at the train capacity. We learned that the overhead on the Japanese train system, even on their Green cars (the first-class), are smaller than the overhead bins on US airplanes. Plus, if your hotel is not on a JR line (ours were), you have to know that the subway stations in Tokyo and other cities are way deeper on the ground than the train (JR line). And many subway stations only have regular stairs; which means no elevator, no escalator to go up to 5 floors of stairs.

In general, the hotel rooms over Japan are much smaller than what we are used to in North America. It compares to small hotel rooms that are frequent in France. Therefore, the smaller your luggage, the better you will feel during your trip.

Why we Selected the Osprey Meridian

The luggage is lightweight (8 pounds, 11 oz.). The handle are comfy and the big rugged wheels ride well on lots of surface. The pack is in fact two bags: the main suitcase on wheels and a removable day pack.

I found that it is easy to pack your stuff into the different sections. You can fit a good amount of clothes. I was able to fit enough clothes for my 3-week vacation; I only had to hand wash a few items during my trip. The construction is robust. We packed it to the fullest in the middle of our trip and we did not feel that it would break. Plus, Osprey provides a no-hassle, lifetime guarantee.

The removable day pack has a padded section where you can secure a 15″ laptop, that I plan to use on shorter trip. For Japan, I filled my day pack with my shoes, beauty products, makeup and a space saver bag dedicated to my laundry. My husband used his day pack during the day to carry our camera equipment, sweaters or light coats.

If you remove the day pack, the main luggage may comply with some US airlines carry-on luggage size limits. As far as I know, it slightly exceeds the maximum specifications of Air Canada or Porter Airlines. While shopping for new luggage, I found out that most small suitcases do not comply with carry-on luggage size limits. We bought one that comply to bring back souvenirs and I can tell you that most people bring a bigger one. So maybe we can get away with bringing it on the plane.

How did it work in Japan

Because of our wise choice of hotels, we never had to use the backpack feature. The complete bag fits inside the overhead rail on a few local trains but not on all trains. We usually left the day pack on and put our suitcase behind the last seat rows on most of the trains, as it was simpler for us. Since green cars are not full and we often went to cities not typical for foreigner tourists, we always get a place to put our luggage.

A nice feature of the Osprey travel wheels collection is the accessory pocket where you put the liquid bag you need to pass through the airport security. This way, you have an easy access to it. Make sure to insert the liquid bag inside the accessory pocket before you fill up the inside of your pack to the maximum capacity.

I like the Osprey Meridian so much that it has become my number one luggage. I plan to use it instead of my green Delsey Carry-On Expandable Trolley.

SOURCING:
Osprey Meridian 22 Inch/60L Pack $298.95 USD at Amazon.com
+ Product details on Osprey Web site

LIVING TRAVEL

Nishiki Market in Kyoto

nishiki market seafood

nishiki market shop

This is a typical shopping street in Japan. What makes those special is that the street is covered. Therefore, you can shop even when it rains. In fact, that what we did a very rainy day in Kyoto last week. We went to the Nishiki market with more than one hundred shops all related to food.

The Nishiki market has been at the center at the Kyoto residents for a long, long time. It started several centuries ago with many stores that have been operated by the same families for generations.

nishiki food market in kyoto

Vendors use baskets, wood barrels, big bamboo bowls and trays to present their produce. You can recycle this idea when you set a buffet table. The key is repetition. So stick to one or two containers for the entire table.

nishiki market seafood

You find all types of shops from the ones that sells upscale food in nice packaging, sweets to the fishmonger and more exotic item like this quail egg inside an octopus head.

nishiki market exotic food

Do not worry, you find plenty of more accessible food. For lunch, you can buy ready-to-eat food from vendors like meat on skewers or grilled fish. You can also sit at a table in one of few Japanese restaurants. That is what we did. We ate at a delicious udon place.

ready to eat food - grilled fish at nishiki market in kyoto

And it is at the Nishiki market that I bought my personalized Aritsugu cooking knives.

LIVING TRAVEL

Feeding the deers in Nara

deers at nara in japan

deers at nara in japan

One of most delightful experiences all travelers to Nara, Japan should try is to feed the protected deers. They are 1200 deers that live freely in Nara-koen and its surrounding areas. Nara-koen is a beautiful park on the east side of the city.

These deers enjoy the status of national treasures. They are friendly and you can pet them easily. Watch this video to see what the fuss is all about.

LIVING TRAVEL

My First Stay at a Ryokan: Food and Sleep

attendant at a ryokan

attendant at a ryokan in kyoto

Yesterday, we experienced what is the closest thing that a traveler can get for imaging life in the classic Japanese tatami house. We stayed at a ryokan named Gion Fukuzumi. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating from the Edo period.

sleeping on a futon spread on the tatami floor at a ryokan

All the rooms have tatami-matted floor and Shoji sliding doors. Like the Japanese houses of the Edo period, furniture is almost inexistent. The fact that the room has only the bare essential furniture makes the room feels bigger. By moving a few items away, the main room is transformed from a dining room to a bedroom. You sleep on futon spread on the tatami floor. It is surprisedly comfortable.

The Food

Service is personalized at a ryokan. Upon arrival, you will be assigned an attendant who will bring you to your room, welcome you with a tea, serve your dinner and breakfast the next morning. Dinner and breakfast are included in the price of the room; this is why the price is always per person.

japanese multi-course dinner eaten inside the guest room at a ryokan

We stayed at the Gion Fukuzumi. They served us a Kyoto-style kaiseki (multi-course Japanese meal) in our guest room. That was awesome! After dinner, it was great to sit on the porch and to simply look at what was happening in the city.

food at the ryokan

We opted for a Japanese breakfast, which was also elaborate. The breakfast was served in the communal dining area.

japanese breakfast at the ryokan in communal dining room

SOURCING:
+ Gion Fukuzumi in Kyoto

LIVING TRAVEL

Visit at the Edo-Tokyo Museum

edo-tokyo museum's big bicycle wheel

edo-tokyo museum\'s big bicycle wheel

Since our arrival in Japan, the weather is not great: very cold for this time of the year and rainy. Therefore, we opted for an indoor activity yesterday afternoon. We visited the permanent exhibit at Edo-Tokyo museum that explores when Tokugawa Ieyasu first built Edo, (renamed Tokyo at meiji Era) in 1590 up to the Edo-Tokyo area. It covers 400 years history.

The exhibit relies on original exhibits, scale models and panels to depict how people used to live in Edo.

textile merchants at edo-tokyo museum

The museum covers every aspect of everyday life: from food, commerce to housing, childbirth and parenting. Many 3D models reproduce scenes and the plan of different ares of the city. It is a nice place to visit if you are in Tokyo.

festival and life in the city of edo-tokyo museum

As a bonus, I attended a short class of furoshiki (wrapping cloth). I will share the videos in a day or two.

LIVING TRAVEL

I’m Blogging from Japan

executive business class air canada to japan

executive business class air canada to japan

I am writing this post comfortably sitting on the plane on my way to 3 weeks of vacation in Japan. Except for my husband, all my closed-by neighbors are Japanese. It is my first time that I had the chance to sit in the Executive First Suite where the seat transforms in a flat bed. It is awesome! My husband and I decided many years ago that will go to Japan once we accumulated enough points to get the best seats. This is it!

On a long flight like this, it takes 13 hours from Toronto to Tokyo, you appreciate the extra space. The only drawback of the cocoon is that you are more or less alone. The seats in the middle, which are side by side are the best option for people that travel together. But honestly, it is hard to communicate; especially since you have to overcome the noise of the engine. On the positive side, the room is quiet, which is great for sleeping.

What about the food?

I drank a glass of Champagne Drappier for the apero while the Yali Sauvignon Blanc from Chili was a nice choice with the black cod.

Our first meal service was:

  • Smoked salmon with capers, finely diced red onions and pumpernickel bread
  • Organic Field Greens and Grape Tomated served with a Balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The dressing was in an individual bottle. Like French, I ate the salad after the main course
  • We have 4 choices for the main course. I selected a tasty braised black cod with fennel served over a tomato, saffron and potato broth. I really enjoyed the cubes of tomato and potatoes. I would love to get my hand on this recipe.
  • Then, we had a selection of cheese: camembert, yellow cheddar and Oka with crackers.
  • For dessert, I opted for fresh fruit, I still can believe that I resisted the tempting warm chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream.

There was also a Japanese menu that was available on pre-request. They served snack  in between, if you like.

I did not leave the plane with an empty stomach. The pre-arrival breakfast includes juice, sliced seasonal fruits, yogurt, croissants and pains au chocolat. We have a choice between a chive omelette or a blueberry pancakes. The egg dish delivers a weird combination of flavors.

The Japanese breakfast was okayu, a rice porridge served warm with pickles. Okayu is often served to sick people. It is basically rice cooked in a lot of water. You add the pickles to give flavor to a tasteless porridge.

The sleep cocoon tops my air travel experience. I guess that we will start to accumulate points to fly executive class to go to Australia next.
April17th, 2010 Update: I flew Air Canada. They upgraded their seats on the planes they use for services to Asia. This is the exact plane, the B777 in the 200 configuration.

More about Japan

I will post short videos of cool things I see in Japan during my stay. Several bloggers or friends agreed to write guest posts. This way, you will not only hear about Japan for 3 weeks.

LIVING TRAVEL

A W Signature Treatment at Away Spa in Montreal

away spa at w montreal

away spa at w hotel montreal

I started this week in a soothing way. I received an email last month from Alissa Anzarut, who is manager of the travel rewards at Aeroplan. Alissa contacted me to inquire if I would be interested to experience a spa treatment at one of Aeroplan’s partner hotels here in Montreal. After a stressful January, I decided that it would be good for me. Plus, I like the W hotel. We met last Monday morning at the Away Spa of the W Montreal.

I am happy I did. I discovered a new spa treatment: a body wrap that does not involve mud. I usually have a massage, relax in saunas and other bathing rituals at spas. I had many body treatments at Clarins skin spas but never with a body wrap. I know the technique is not new, but it was for me.

You feel right at home when you enter the Away Spa. The decor is what you expect from the W hotels. The small spa feels cozy and relaxing. The dimmed light, the gray walls and the aromatic smell of the place all contribute to the soothing effect. Although they have no saunas and hot springs, I left happy and relaxed.

About my treatment

treatment rooms at the away spa at the w montreal

I opted for one of their signature treatments, the D-Age Body Firming. The 1-hour-and-a-half body treatment starts with a fruity peel that contains pineapple and papaya enzymes. It smelt good. In fact, I enjoyed the scent of everything they put on me. You go for a quick rinse in a nice private bathroom (top right picture).

Then, the best part begins. I felt warm for the entire session. To get you into the mood, a quick breathing session surrounded by a delightful aromatic fluid (red thyme, tangerine, lemon and orange). It is followed by applying a serum on eight articulation spots to extract the toxins. Then, your body gets a boost of Kamani oil, shea butter and jojoba oil. This is the D-age firming cream. They form an enveloping cocoon over you by neatly wrapping the plastic sheet over your body. Plus, they wrap some sort of heated blanket on top. While you are in your warn cocoon, you get a light, relaxing facial and hair massage. This part lasts 15 to 20 minutes. The treatment ends with a little massage as the spa massage therapist applies a wonderful citrus draining oil. Like I said, it was an enjoyable experience.

I do not know if it was the idea to be at the spa of a trendy hotel but their music, which was the typical style for a spa, seems more cool. If you want to know, I was served by Melanie Doiron, who is a massage therapist and an esthetician. Thank you, Melanie and Alissa for a great way to start my day.

+ Away Spa at W Montreal
+ D-Age Body Firming $195 CAD

Disclaimer: I did not pay for my spa treatment; Aeroplan Starwood, the owner of the W hotels, did. According to our editorial policy on samples, I went there without any guarantee of coverage (if, what or when). I decided to talk about it because I tried a spa treatment that was new to me and wanted to share the experience.

LIVING TRAVEL

The 7th edition of Nuit Blanche in Montreal

having fun with the exhibits at nuit blanche 2010

having fun with the exhibits at nuit blanche 2010

At this time of the year, Montreal hosts one big cultural night all across the city. Yesterday night event was as popular as ever. The event closed between 2 and 3 am. Last year, I walked for hours the underground exhibit with a few friends.

nuit blanche 2010 overall view of place des festivals

This year, we had other plans during the evening. Since it finished late, we stopped at the art gallery of our friend Bettina Forget to see her Change vs. Forever exhibit. Then, we walked to the Place des Festivals. The place was transformed so that people can dance, create, imagine and immerse themselves in a visual and auditory experience.

nuit blanche 2010 :: acting a scene from the prisoner

My husband and I had fun playing with the exhibits. My husband did his version of scenes from the Prisoner TV series. The sphere garden was gorgeous. It changed colors.

interactive image table at nuit blanche in montreal

There were a series of interactive exhibits that we did not try. On one installation, you change the image by moving your hands. There was also a drawing screen on a building facade. People had fun doing it.

drawing screen at nuit blanche in montreal

Finally, lights were displayed all over the surrounding buildings.

multimedia art and lights on buildings at nuit blanche

LIVING TRAVEL

Why I prefer to fly Porter Airlines?

meal box of porter airlines with the raccoon Mr. Porter

meal box of porter airlines with the raccoon Mr. Porter

Two words: style and comfort. I like them for their stylishly modern and comfortable lounge at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Porter put attention to details. Usually, flying one trip with them will convince you.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport lounge

Their brand identity is superb. But for them, it does not stopped with their advertising and their in-flight magazine. The same level of details and attention is integrated in their services.

It is not surprising that Porter looks so hip and different from other airlines when you know that the agency who developed their image is Winkreative, the agency of Tyler Brûlé. He is the Canadian guy who started Wallpaper* magazine.

porter airlines sandwich and salad meal

To give you an idea of what I mean, I took a photo at the free dinner box they served yesterday on the flight from Toronto to Montreal. We had one piece of chicken sandwich. This were made with big chunks of grilled breast chicken cooked with green peppers. The salad was an apple and potato salad. Wine and beer are complimentary. We had a Lindt Milk Caramel Chew for dessert. In a time where airlines are inventing for more and more extra charges, I welcome the old-fashioned way passengers were served on an airplane.

If you wish to know more about their mascot, Mr. Porter and how the raccoon image is completely integrated within the brand, read this excellent interview that Grace of design*sponge did with the illustrator Neal Whittington. He is the guy who created the character.