Home and away, I love to travel. Posts from trips in the UK and overseas including hotel and restaurant reviews and visits to specialist producers.

Travel Quote Tuesday | Confucius

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

Applicable to so much more in life than travel. Simple advice from Confucius.

(c) Kavita Favelle - Confucius - Japan

Before our first visit to Kyoto, I had read about this idea of visiting too many temples, becoming ’templed out’, if you will. But for us, that never happened. In the city of a thousand temples (and shrines), we visited only a fraction and yet we enjoyed every one so much. Each is quite different to the other, and every one is beautiful and fascinating. So too is the observation of those who come to worship, or simply to admire, as we did.

This is Fushimi Inari-taisha, known for its senbon torii (thousands of gates) winding up the mountainside – and there really are thousands of them, painted bright red, as is the tradition!

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24 Hours in Braga | The Heart of Historical Northern Portugal

Have you heard of Braga in Northern Portugal? I confess I hadn’t until I was invited to visit the area recently.

I quickly learned that Braga is the oldest city in Portugal and has a very long and fascinating history which is still very much in evidence today.

Braga (together with nearby Guimarães and Tenões) is located in the historical Minho Province, which borders the current-day Galicia region of Spain. Indeed the area can trace its history back through the Middle Ages (when both areas were collectively known as Gallaecia), the era of the Roman Empire and even further back to the Celtic Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages!

It’s also celebrated as the birthplace of Portugal. After Henry of the House of Burgundy merged the counties of Portugal and Coimbra, both of which were part of the Kingdom of León (Spain), control passed to his son Afonso Henriques upon his death. Following the Battle of São Mamede Afonso proclaimed himself first the Prince and then the King, establishing the Kingdom of Portugal in 1139. Portugal was formally recognised as a country by the Kingdom of León in 1143 and by papal bull in 1179.

But even if you are not much interested in history, Braga is perfect for a European city break – it offers a historical old town full of beautiful buildings, bustling cafes and an assortment of churches, gardens, museums and palaces. The local cuisine is utterly delicious. And it’s less than an hour’s drive from Porto – Portugal’s second largest city (more of which in an upcoming post).

Braga and Guimaraes Portugal on Kavey Eats (c) Kavita Favelle-110806 Braga and Guimaraes Portugal on Kavey Eats (c) Kavita Favelle-095836
A city mascot; The Arco da Porta Nova (New Gate)

Sometimes called ‘the Rome of Portugal’, a reflection of the importance of its role in the history of Portugal, Braga feels altogether more approachable than its Italian counterpart. Don’t get me wrong, I really loved visiting Rome – for its history, its culture, its food and its place in popular culture via film – but I find it a little daunting too. Where Rome is a sharp-suited business woman wearing towering heels and don’t-fuck-with-me sunglasses, Braga is a silver-haired grandpa in a pair of worn corduroys and a patterned-knit jumper. Braga is warm, friendly, colourful and charming.

Braga Tiled Buildings Collage
Braga buildings decorated in azulejos

I’m sure a big part of that mental image is down to the beautiful and colourful tiles that adorn many of the buildings in Braga.

Braga Tiles Collage
Azulejos

Known as azulejos – these tiles are used extensively to decorate walls and floors and occasionally even ceilings. Most have a geometric design, but some are multi-tile painted panels portraying historical or cultural scenes. A few are even 3D, creating a gorgeous tactile surface that catches the light and shadows of the moving sun.

Ceramic tiles were introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors, and indeed the name comes from the Arabic word for tiles, itself a reference to the polished stone mosaics of the Roman Era. In the thirteenth century, the Iberian tile industry was centred in Seville but King Manuel I introduced the techniques to Portugal after a visit to Seville in 1503. The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of covering walls completely with azulejos

Episcopal Palace Braga Collage
The Episcopal Palace of Braga

The best way to enjoy the old town of Braga is on foot. After passing through the Arco da Porta Nova – a somewhat ironic name given that it was built in the late eighteenth century; the city walls date back fourteenth century, so the gate is certainly new compared to that – we walked along narrow commercial streets full of shops, churches and beautiful buildings.

The Episcopal Palace of Braga caught our attention more than once, as we encountered different wings of its sprawling footprint. After passing the Misericórdia Church to our left, we came to the beautiful Paço square on our left, a courtyard bounded at three sides by the South Wing of the Episcopal Palace and open to the street on the fourth. The fountain here is still in use by locals; a man approaches casually to wash his hands.

Later we saw the Gothic style Medieval wing fronted by the Santa Bárbara gardens, and with a fountain of George’s dragon opposite. The gardens are kept in flower for as much of the year as possible, courtesy of a local nursery from which flowers are swapped in and out of the beds as needed.

There is also an eighteenth century Baroque wing with an ornate stone and white render facade, which we didn’t visit.

Today, the palace buildings house the University of Minho, the town’s public library and the district archive.

Braga Doors and Windows Collage
Doors and windows of Braga

I have always been drawn to door and window details and Braga afforded me plenty of wonderful examples to capture.

I love the variety of architectural styles and find much beauty in the dilapidation of wear and tear and graffiti.

Praca da Republica Square Braga Collage
Praça da Republica Square

Another of Braga’s nicknames is ‘city of fountains’ and the reason becomes most evident when we reach the Praça da Republica Square. The beautiful Vianna fountain forms a focal point to an asymmetrically shaped space surrounded by buildings of different eras, styles and colours. There are churches, cafes, even the remnants of Braga Castle. Stretching away to one side is the Avenida Central Garden, with more fountains and plenty of space to sit and relax.

Cafe Brasileira Braga Collage
The Café A Brasileira

As we moved on from the Praça da Republica Square our destination for a well-earned coffee and cake stop was the iconic Café A Brasileira, housed in a beautiful blue-tile fronted building with ornate metalwork and signage. Inside is just as gorgeous – sets of tiny tables and chairs receive plenty of light from the floor to ceiling windows, and a counter full of temptation shows off lots of delicious pastries.

Opened in 1907, it was founded by Porto-born merchant businessman who imported coffee from Brasil to Portugal, and created a chain of shops in which to sell it. In order to attract customers to his wholesale business, he offered a free cup of coffee with every two 500 gram bags of coffee beans purchased and the rest, as they say, was history.

I love my coffee weak and milky, so ordered a cafe meia de leite clara – ‘clear’ coffee with milk.

Not really hungry but keen to try as many local specialities as possible, some of us shared a local pastry known as the Jesuita which originated in the village of Santo Tirso, half way between Braga and Porto. Shaped like a monk’s robe, layers of crisp puff pastry were iced with a sweet and crunchy meringue.

 San Marcos and Santa Cruz Churches in Braga Collage
Santa Cruz Church and São Marcos Hospital Church

Suitably restored, we continued on to the Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) Church. Peering up at the detailed stonework, we strove to spot the two roosters carved into the facade – legend has it that if a visitor spots them on their first visit, they will soon find a good match in marriage!

To the left of the Santa Cruz is the São Marcos Hospital Church. Built in the eighteenth century, its baroque features are imposingly grand, especially with the menace of rainclouds above.

On a future trip, I hope to see inside both of these beautiful buildings.

Palacio Do Raio Braga Collage
The Palácio Do Raio

From the moment we drove past it on our way from the airport to our hotel, I was eager to return to the stunning Palácio Do Raio, located just around the corner from São Marcos Hospital Church.

The late Baroque-early Rococo style two-storey building was built in the mid-eighteenth century as a family residence for João Duarte de Faria, a knight of the Order of Christ and a rich local merchant. He commissioned André Soares to design and supervise construction; Soares was already well regarded in Braga as a sculptor, engineer and architect. The building came to be known as a palace over a century later, after being acquired in 1867 by Miguel José Raio, the Viscount of São Lázaro.

The gorgeous blue tiles, blue-painted doors and metalwork are stunning against the warmth of the carved granite and it was hard to pull my eyes away from this beautiful, striking building.

Before moving on, we poked our heads inside only briefly, to see the blue and white painted tiles running up the walls of the central staircase.

Shopping by Braga Cathedral Collage
Braga Cathedral and nearby shops

Towards the end of our city walk we skirted round the beautiful Braga Cathedral. The Diocese of Braga dates back to the third century AD, making it one of the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula and an important centre for the Christianisation of the region. Braga lost its bishop seat after the arrival of the moors, regaining it only in 1071 once the city fell back into Christian hands. Construction of the cathedral began soon after the bishopric was regained. During Henry of Burgundy’s rule, the Pope promoted Braga into an archbishopric, giving it power over a larger region. The original cathedral, completed in the twelfth century, was Romanesque in style and influenced many other churches and monasteries built in that period. Modifications in later periods mean that today it is a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Baroque architecture.

A couple of us gave into the temptation of the brightly coloured printed cloths on sale in the tourist shops outside.

Braga Collage

There is plenty more to see in Braga – more churches and other historic buildings, more streets to walk, more fountains, cafes and shops to explore.

But with a packed itinerary, it was time for us to move onwards.

Bom Jesus do Monte Guimaraes Collage
Bom Jesus do Monte

Even in the drizzling rain, Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary located in neighbouring Tenões is an impressive site indeed.

Under the patronage of successive Archbishops of Braga the best architects, artists and builders were commissioned to create the religious sanctuary over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Still an important site of pilgrimage, hardy visitors climb the extensive stairways up the mountainside, pausing for reflection and prayer at the small chapels between. The rest take the easy option, climbing up the winding road in the warm and comfort of cars and buses.

The most impressive element of the site is the theatrical Baroque Via Sacre (sacred way) staircase that zig zags up to the Bom Jesus sanctuary at the top of the hill. The contrast between granite and white plaster really shows off the geometrical symmetry of the design. Stone carvings along the staircase depict the life of Jesus and fountains represent each of the five senses – sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste.

Our first stop was at the bottom of the Sacred Way, where we stepped onto the cobbled mosaic and enjoyed a beautiful view out over the local countryside and upwards to the church above. I tried to imagine the sight of modern day pilgrims climbing the stairs on their hands and knees, a penance still observed by many during Holy Week and Pentecost. We clambered back into our van to shortcut the last step of the journey to the grounds and church at the top.

Beautiful formal planting provided a welcome burst of colour even under the gloomy grey skies of a rainy day. While the others explored some of the multi-level balconies at the top of the Via Sacre, I entered the church quietly just as worshippers burst into song. All too soon, it was time to move on again.

Another way to travel to and from the top of the hill is via the Funicular, installed in 1882. Designed and supervised by French Portuguese engineer Raul Mesnier du Ponsard under the direction of Swiss expert Nikolaus Riggenbach, it uses an ingenious hydraulic system whereby water tanks in each of a pair of trams are used as counterbalances, the tanks emptied and filled in turn. As one tram rises, the other descends, both arriving into the top and bottom stations simultaneously. It’s the oldest such funicular in the world and its success resulted in Mesnier going on to create a series of funiculars and cable lifts in the capital, Lisbon, some of which are also still in use today.

Pousada Santa Marinha da Costa Collage
Pousada de Santa Marinha

Our next stop was the most delicious of the trip.

Wowed first by the exterior and interior of the Pousada de Santa Marinha in Guimarães, a former monastery turned into a luxury hotel, I was even more impressed by our lunch.

Dating from the twelfth century, the monastery retains a wealth of beautiful and ornate original features – of course there are many examples of azulejos, including blue and white panels depicting local scenes and stories – in large reception rooms, along stairways and on the walls of an open terrace area with a fountain, chairs and tables and a stunning view. The hotel also has many amenities including a library, various lounges, a pool and spa services.

Pousada Santa Marinha da Costa Lunch Collage
Lunch in Pousada de Santa Marinha

In a space that was once used as the wine cellars of the monastery, we enjoyred a meal of beautifully presented traditional dishes.

Alheira, served as part of our amuse bouche, tells the tale of some of the region’s religious history. In the fifteenth century, the Jewish population were given the choice of converting to Christianity or being expelled from the country. Many converted in public, but practised their beliefs behind closed doors, including the avoidance of pork. Scared that their neighbours may note the absence of the ubiquitous pork sausages hung up to dry cure or smoke, the Jews created a version made from chicken and game, which they could hang up and eat, to give the impression of eating pork. Later, the non-pork sausage recipe became popular with the wider population.

While the others in my group enjoyed a traditional caldo verde, the famous cabbage and potato soup flavoured with chorizo or pork, I chose the ‘golden egg’ starter, a slow-cooked egg in a crisp potato nest with mushrooms and a smoked sausage and truffle ball.

My starter was good but it was the main dishes that made the meal so special.

The two key dishes were served into individual plates from large cooking dishes brought out to us on a trolley. We were about a fifty fifty split between the Arroz malandrinho (cheeky rice, as we called it) full of monkfish and prawns, and the Cachaço de porco preto (black pork neck) slow cooked with clams, prawns and potatoes. My pork was so tender and so full of flavour, and utterly fantastic with the richly flavoured sauce, seafood and potatoes.

For dessert, we were served a selection of regional sweets including Pudim Abade de Priscos (an extremely rich pudding of egg yolks, sugar and fat), Torta de Laranja (orange cake) and Toucinho Do Céu (which literally translates as bacon from heaven, because of the pork lard used liberally in the recipe). The version we had was made with chila (figleaf gourd).

Many of these dishes originated in Braga and Guimarães, or in wider region.

In a trip of much excellent food, this was the stand out meal for me. Next time I visit the area, I’m determined to stay overnight and experience the rest of the pousada.

We packed all of this into a single day, along with a short walk around Guimarães, to see the castle and old city walls as well as a quick walk in the old town centre. It certainly didn’t feel rushed, though there’s plenty much more to see in Braga, Guimarães and Tenões. The area is a perfect destination for a self-drive holiday, combined with nearby Porto, and I’m plotting a return trip to see more of the region.

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24 Hours in Braga Northern Portugal

Coming soon, a post on our time in Porto – one of the most beautiful city break destinations in Europe.

Kavey Eats visited Northern Portugal as a guest of the Portuguese Tourist Office and TAP Portugal. TAP flies direct from London Gatwick to Porto twice daily. With enormous thanks to all those who hosted and organised the trip.

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Travel Quote Tuesday | Roselle Mercier Montgomery

‘Never a ship sails out of bay but carries my heart as a stowaway.’

I guess the modern equivalent for me might be – whenever a friend heads off to somewhere exciting on their travels, my heart feels a yearning to go too. With so many incredible experiences and memories from the trips I’ve made already, I’m still wanting more. Do you feel the same way?

Roselle Mercier Montgomery was an American poetess born in the late 19th century.

(c) Kavita Favelle - Roselle Mercier Montgomery - Antarctica

On a ship, I think in the Antarctic.

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Travel Quote Tuesday | Marcel Proust

As a student reading Marcel Proust’s À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu in French (alternatively translated as either ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ or ‘In Search of Lost Time’) I wasn’t a huge fan. His prose seemed interminable, his pace so languid as to be virtually at a stand still. I couldn’t bear it!

The quote I’ve shared on my image is often attributed to Marcel Proust, but is actually a shortened paraphrasing of what he wrote. What he actually said, in his typically wordy way (and translated to English) was:

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is[.]

One of the themes that ‘In Search of Lost Time’ explores is involuntary memory – that unbidden rising to the surface of a past recollection that is triggered without conscious intention by a random cue encountered in daily life.

For me, this happens most often in a rural setting when the light is just so; it has happened not just in England but in many other countries too. The ground is virtually glowing a rich yellow or lime green, the sky is a vivid azure blue or deep bruised purple, heavy with rain-clouds but still made bright by the strength of the sun…

Always, always, this transports me instantaneously to the open plains of the Mara-Serengeti, a savanna grassland in Kenya and Tanzania. It’s such a strong feeling that I have to stop myself scanning the horizon for a loping giraffe or plodding elephant!

I definitely prefer this shortened version of Proust’s message – it captures the essence without the woolliness of so many words.

(c) Kavita Favelle - Marcel Proust - Kenya

On safari in the Maasai Mara, Kenya.

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Travel Quote Tuesday | James Stevenson-Hamilton

James Stevenson-Hamilton served as the first warden of South Africa’s Sabi Nature Reserve, a conservation project championed by Paul Kruger, the President of the South African Republic. Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1867 Stevenson-Hamilton first travelled to South Africa as a soldier, and after serving in that capacity for a number of years, was appointed into the newly formed (and rather unusual) role as warden of the new reserve. In what was a revolutionary move for the time, he immediately announced a ban on all animal shooting within the boundaries, understanding “that if there were no shooting, if animals were left to live in the veld as they had lived before man came on the scene, they would lose their fear of human beings and flock to an area that had once been described as ‘red with impala’”. To enforce the new rules, he recruited and trained a body of rangers to patrol the reserve and it was not too long before hunters understood that shooting would not be tolerated. One of his biggest achievements was to petition companies and individuals in Johannesburg, Pretoria and the local area to buy and donate additional land within the Transvaal, allowing him to vastly expand the reserve. He also called for the transformation of the privately owned reserve into a national park, leading to the creation of Kruger National Park in 1926.

Pete and I have long loved our safari holidays – seeing animals in the wild, in their natural habitats, and behaving as nature and evolution dictates – is utterly thrilling and an enormous privilege.

These days, shooting with a camera is far more prevalent than shooting with a gun – though trophy hunting still goes on in some locations. But in the early 20th century, it was a revolutionary idea to ban such hunting and Stevenson-Hamilton no doubt faced stiff opposition from those who gloried in the so-called sport.

(c) Kavita Favelle - James Stephenson-Hamilton - South Africa

I believe this image was taken in South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park, which we toured as self-drive visitors back in 2004.

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Snapshots from Japan | A Perfect Day of Cherry Blossoms at Hikone Castle

Planning a trip during Japan’s famous sakura (cherry blossom) season can be hit and miss, especially if you are moving around the country a fair bit. Peak blossom time can vary year on year by at least a week or two which means that the few days you have in a given location could fall too early or too late to be there at just the right time.

The good news is that your chances of seeing sakura are not as poor as that may sound.

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First views of sakura blossoms at the moat around Hikone castle

Firstly, there are many different varieties of cherry tree in Japan all of which flower at different times; some flower far ahead of the most common yamazakura variety and others burst into bloom much later. So chances are you will still be able to enjoy the beauty of cherry blossoms in one or more place you visit.

Secondly, I’d suggest that you plan an itinerary that includes visiting some locations on their usual peak blossom dates, but also takes you to others earlier and later than the peak sakura usual dates. This way, whether the blossoms are running early, late or right on time, you will see them at at least one of the places you visit.

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Approaching the entrance to Hikone Castle

The itinerary for our recent four-week trip included just one night in Hikone. Although I was keen to visit the castle, I chose it primarily as a handy location to pick up our first rental car for a drive through Shiga Prefecture.

Disappointed that there was very little sign of cherry blossoms in Hakone – one of the most popular sakura-viewing destinations in Japan – we were utterly delighted to discover that the cherry trees of Hikone were at their very best during the few brief hours we spent in the small city.

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Even on a rainy day, the castle walls and gate were impressive

Located on the shores of Lake Biwa (Japan’s largest lake), Hikone is most famous for its castle, one of only four in Japan to be designated as a national treasure.

Construction was completed in 1622 and the castle served as the seat of the local daimyo (feudal lords) until the feudal system ended in 1868. Visiting Hikone Castle gives a wonderful insight into life for the nobility during Japan’s feudal era.

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Views from the castle gate and after climbing the hill towards the main keep

What makes Hikone Castle special is that the majority of what you see is original, having survived in tact since it was built. A number of other castles in Japan are virtually completely new builds, the originals having been destroyed by fire or other natural disaster, often more than once in their long histories.

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Views of and from the main keep

Happily for us, Hikone castle’s extensive grounds are planted with many cherry trees, most of which were in blossom during our visit and just as enchanting as I’d dreamed.

The cartoon character above is the castle’s mascot, Hiko-nyan; every organisation, tourist attraction and business in Japan seems to have one!

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After our tour of the castle, we also visited Genkyuen Garden, a traditional Japanese garden built within the castle grounds in 1677.

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We also stopped for a delicious and inexpensive lunch at a small restaurant specialising in wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). They also offered a short menu of udon noodle soups.

The noodles were simple and delicious, with a perfectly cooked egg, a slice of tofu and some sliced fishcake.

My favourite was the traditional Zenzai dessert I tried. In my lidded bowl was a sweet syrup of azuki beans topped with two chargrilled rice cakes – I loved the soft chewy sticky texture of the rice cakes against the sweet earthy beans and syrup, though Pete wasn’t such a fan.

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Collage Hikone Castle Sakura Blossom

Have you visited Japan during sakura season? What are you top tips and what was the highlight of the trip for you?

You may like to check out my other posts about my travels to Japan.

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Travel Quote Tuesday | Mary Ritter Beard

This quote from Mary Ritter Beard – a American historian, archivist, educationalist and suffragette activist – continues a theme I have visited in a number of my recent travel quotes, the personal growth and change that travel can bring. Seeing the sights – both those of natural beauty and manmade marvels – is a fantastic but fleeting experience but the memories and changes in one’s thinking can last forever.

(c) Kavita Favelle - Mary Ritter Beard - Iceland

This image was taken in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. To the left is the Christmas market, to the right the Bell Tower. The location is Vilnius’ Cathedral Square, also home to the cathedral and the newly constructed National Museum.

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A Food Lover’s City Break in Ottawa’s Byward Market

Ottawa has a bit of a bad rap amongst Canadians.

Visiting Toronto in Ontario and Montreal in Quebec, as soon as we mentioned that we were heading to the nation’s capital we were immediately asked why and told not to bother! Ottawa was dismissed as dull, boring and not worthy of our time by several people we encountered. I suspect a lot of this is down to the fact that for many Canadians, their first (and often only) experience of Ottawa is on a school trip where they are forced to traipse around Parliament Hill – the seat of national government, the Canadian Museum of History, the War Museum, the National Library and other such places guaranteed to make a teenager yawn.

But the reality is that Ottawa is a wonderful city to visit, especially for those of us with a love of beautiful architecture and good food and drink.

Of course, you can visit Parliament Hill and one or more of Ottawa’s many museums if you like – as well as the ones I’ve already mentioned, there are museums for Agriculture and Food, Aviation and Space, Science and Technology, History, Nature and Art.

Collage - Ottawa 2016

But we chose to focus our short visit on the food and drink delights of Byward Market and this bright and bustling neighbourhood quickly won over our hearts and our bellies.

In a rare case of perfect timing, we were able to stay in the brand new Andaz Ottawa Byward Market, which opened just days ahead of our visit. Located right in the heart of the neighbourhood, the Andaz provided luxurious rooms with beautiful views across the city, a good solid breakfast to start the day and warm and friendly service.

Andaz Hotel - Ottawa 2016

As soon as we had arrived, checked in and sent the car to be parked we booked ourselves onto a cruise along ‘the Canal’ with Rideau Canal Cruises. Unlike other tourist cruises we have taken, we really appreciated having a live commentary rather than a canned one, and our guide gave us a great introduction to the history of the canal, and the city itself.

Rideau Canal Collage - Ottawa 2016

In short, Ottawa was originally named Bytown for Colonel John By, the British royal military engineer who built the Rideau Canal, a strategic waterway between Kingston and Montreal. As the town grew, Colonel By also laid out street plans for two neighbourhoods known then as Uppertown, where the wealthier residents lived, purchased plots and built grand homes, and Lowertown, which was leased to Irish and French Canadian immigrants and labourers. Is is the area of Lowertown that is now known as Byward Market and is a bustling and eclectic food-focused neighbourhood. Just before being chosen by Queen Victoria as the capital of her colony in Canada, Bytown was renamed to Ottawa.

For fellow history geeks… click here for the longer version...

The place we know now as Ottawa has been inhabited for over 6500 years by native Canadian populations, chiefly the Algonquin people who settled along the banks of the Ottawa River which they used as a highway for trade and cultural exchange. It was first visited by European explorers in 1610, followed by traders and missionaries. In 1800, a New England trader settled there, creating a small but thriving agricultural community (called Wrightsville for its founder) and establishing an immensely successful lumber business.

But it was not until 1826 that the city proper really established itself, as hundreds of land speculators acted upon the news that British authorities were constructing a military canal that would connect Kingston to the south with Montreal to the North. The purpose of the canal was to provide a secure transportation route that would bypass the stretch of the St Lawrence River that bordered New York and had exposed British forces to American enemy fire in the War of 1812.

The building of the canal was overseen by British military engineer Colonel John By, and took six hard years. By’s amazing feat of engineering, during which he overcame all manner of difficulties – from malarial swamps to the requirement to build far more locks than anticipated to allow for changing levels – are clearly recognised today but at the time he was soundly derided for escalating costs, loss of life and the lengthy construction period. During the period of construction, By established a military barracks where Parliament Hill now sits and drew up street plans for Uppertown and Lowertown neighbourhoods. The growing city quickly became known as Bytown.

In those days, it was a violent and lawless place known for fighting, prostitution and thievery. Uppertown was a wealthy and predominantly Protestant neighbourhood where residents owned their lots and homes whereas Lowerton (where Byward Market sits today) was populated by poorer Irish immigrants and French Canadian lumberjacks, most of whom were Roman Catholic and were not permitted to buy land, nor participate in local governance. This resulted in huge animosity which often flared into vicious uprisings, culminating in a political crisis in the 1830s. At this point, the Crown finally allowed Lowertown residents to buy land and property and to vote, though it took another decade or two for the unrest to settle down.

The fate of the city finally changed for the better in the mid 19th century. In 1855 it was renamed to Ottawa and in 1857 Queen Victoria made the surprise decision to establish the province’s capital there, snubbing the political lobbyists of the fledgling nation’s more-established cities. Ottawa was far more defensible from American attack, being situated much further inland from the border, and the Rideau Canal meant that it was easy to supply from both east and west provinces. It was also the midpoint between Quebec City in the French-speaking Canada East and Toronto in the English-speaking Canada West. Soon after, construction of the rather grand Parliament Hill building began, now a key landmark of the Ottawa landscape.

Riding the canal was a very serene introduction to Ottawa, and we really appreciated the historical grounding we were given by our guide.

Byward Market Core Building Collage - Ottawa 2016

We built upon that by booking a guided walking food tour of Byward Market with C’est Bon, and were happy to find we were the only guests booked on that weekday afternoon.

Byward Market Neighbourhood Collage - Ottawa 2016

Our guide, Britney was a real food lover herself and enthusiastic about showing us around the neighbourhood, sharing lots of interesting stories about the area’s history as well as the various specialist retailers we visited. I loved learning that when Colonel By had laid out the neighbourhood street plan, he’d deliberately made George and York Streets extra wide to allow space for holding a market, and for the horses and carriages of both traders and visiting customers.

The tour includes lots and lots of stops at some of the best shops and stalls in the neighbourhood (including some in the covered market building itself) and tastings at many of them.

We loved trying Canadian cheeses at The House of Cheese, delicious raspberry cupcakes at The Cupcake Lounge (I’m not usually a huge fan of cupcakes but these were really amazing!), a cold fruit tea infusion at teastore (a store selling hundreds of homemade teas featuring all manner of teas, fruits and herbs ), maple syrup from producer Robert Hupé of Maple Country Sugarbush (who gave us a great primer on the production and types of maples syrup) and aged Parmigiano-Reggiano at Italian deli La Botegga Nicastro. And that’s not even the whole list!

One of my favourite stops was a specialist grocery shop called Byward Fruit Market, not least for the charmingly worn hand-painted shop sign outside. Inside, friendly staff proudly showed off their store and some of the more unusual produce and food products they stock.

Byward Market Fruit and Veg Collage - Ottawa 2016

I also loved the fresh produce market area, full of all manner of fruit and vegetables.

Britney explained how the signs above each stall tell customers more about the produce. A green sign indicates that the stall holder produces 100% of their goods themselves. If the sign is yellow, that indicates that the vendor produces at least 60% of their goods. And red is used for vendors who source most or all of their products from elsewhere.

While we were walking and talking fruits, Britney told us about a personal favourite of hers, the hardy kiwi aka arctic kiwi. To my delight, we found a stall selling these and bought a punnet – see the photo of bowls of red, green and blue fruit above? These smooth-skinned little green fruits are a type of kiwi fruit that can be eaten whole, skins and all and they are super sweet and delicious. We are hoping to grow them at home in our garden, thanks to the tip from Britney that these thrive in colder climates.

Byward Market Restaurants Collage - Ottawa 2016

As well as visiting so many food stalls and shops, we also stopped for sit-down tastings at a couple of local restaurants. We had some fresh guacamole and nachos at Mexican restaurant, Corazon De Maiz (considered by those in the know as one of the best eateries in the city), a fresh-out-of-the-tandoor hot-buttered naan at Shafali Indian (which we were able to watch being made), one of the best Naples-style pizzas I’ve had for a while at The Grand Pizzeria (where the pizza maker put on quite a show for us as he stretched the dough) and a amuse-bouche style taster of one of the sharing dishes at Play Food & Wine.

Byward Market is such a compact area – with hundreds of stalls, shops, cafes and restaurants – that you could certainly explore it on your own. However, we found the tour a really enjoyable way of getting a feel for the area, and then went on to explore it further on our own afterwards. C’est Bon offer several walking food tours in Ottawa including two in Byward Market, as there’s just so much to cover in this neighbourhood. We took the Byward Market Courtyards tour which covers the West side of the area; the other one is called the Lowertown tour and focuses on Dalhousie and Murray Streets.

Brew Donkey Black Tomato - Ottawa 2016

I mentioned right at the start that Ottawa is a great destination for food and drink lovers, and you may be wondering where the drink part of that is.

Although we weren’t in town on the right day to take one of Brew Donkey’s guided and chauffeured brewery tours, we were able to meet up with founder Brad Campeau who told us all about the booming beer scene in Ottawa. Within an hour of Ottawa city centre you can find nearly twenty craft breweries, many of whom have launched only within the last few years. There are a couple of micro-breweries right in the heart of town too, and several bars and restaurants that stock a great range of local beers. We met at Black Tomato, one such restaurant, and enjoyed a delicious dinner and some great beers.

If you plan in advance, you may also be able to coincide your visit with one of the beer markets or festivals run regularly in the city; a great way of meeting many of the brewers in one place, and sampling the range of their beers.

Beaver Tails - Ottawa 2016

One Ottawa institution I was very keen to visit was Beaver Tails, one of Canada’s most famous pastries, yet only harking back to 1978. It started out as a family-run food concession at a craft and community fair in Killaloe, Ontario before taking its first permanent home in Ottawa’s Byward Market. It’s now an international business with stores across Canada as well as franchises in America, Japan and South Korea.

Chloe Gervais, manager of the Byward Market store, was kind enough to let Pete and I have a go at making our own beaver tails, after showing us how it’s done.

Making Beaver Tails Wide Collage - Ottawa 2016
Click on the image to view a larger version

These days the whole wheat cracked wheat dough is made in a a central production centre and sent out daily to each store. Each piece is stretched out into the elongated shape of a beaver’s tail, before being slipped gently into the hot oil and turned over a few times as it deep fries. Once it comes out of the oil and has drained for a few seconds, it is painted with melted butter and generously topped with the customer’s chosen flavours – cinnamon sugar, maple butter, chocolate hazelnut spread, fresh sliced bananas, peanut butter and even a savoury option of garlic butter and cheese.

Pete did a great job, and made a delicious maple butter beaver tail which he enjoyed hot and fresh. I had mine with hazelnut chocolate spread with fresh bananas. Delicious!

Beaver Tails really come into their own during the very cold Ottawa winters when the Rideau Canal freezes over and a long stretch within the heart of the city becomes the second largest skating rink in the world at nearly 5 miles long. Beaver Tail set up stands along the length of the frozen canal, and sell lots of hot, freshly fried treats to the many skaters braving the cold weather. An hour of ice skating sounds like a great way to burn off enough calories to indulge in lots of these deep fried treats!

Sash Gelato Collage - Ottawa 2016

If you love gelato, do visit Sash Gelato Cafe – a locally-owned gelateria. They make truly excellent gelato every day using natural ingredients and there are some wonderful flavours to choose from. We visited both nights of our stay in Ottawa and I can strongly recommend their hazelnut chocolate, tiramisu and pistachio gelatos, all of which were superb. Pete gave their coffee a huge thumbs up too.

Bridgehead Roastery Collage - Ottawa 2016

My last recommendation is a local coffee chain with twenty branches around town, including one on Dalhousie Street by Byward Market.

Bridgehead’s history makes for interesting reading – it was initially set up in 1981 to support small-scale coffee farmers in Nicaragua, and was the first Fair Trade coffee offering in Ottawa. It’s been through a few changes of ownership since then.

We visited the roastery on our way out of town. Built in 2012, this is where the chain’s coffee is roasted and baked treats for the coffee shops are made. The roastery, located between China Town and Centretown West, is a spacious, high-ceilinged industrial cavern with coffee roasting to one side, a coffee shop to the other side and kitchens at the back. If you have a car, or are happy to use public transport to hop around town, do drop in for some excellent coffee.

Our two nights in Ottawa flew by far too quickly – we could easily have spent another day exploring just Byward Market alone, let alone venturing out to the many other appealing neighbourhoods in the city. On our next visit, we will also set a day aside to visit some of the many craft breweries in and around Ottawa and see more of the beautiful natural landscape of the region too.

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Foodies Break in Ottawa Canada (tall)

Kavey Eats visited Ottawa as guests of Ottawa Tourism.

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Travel Quote Tuesday | J R R Tolkien

J R R Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings is a wonderful trilogy, full of the most amazing adventures, both wondrous and terrifying. At its heart is the journey of self discovery that occurs during the perilous physical journey to Mordor. Travel is often an opportunity to discover more about oneself, to grow as a person, to widen one’s knowledge and horizons, to find new interests… and this book is the perfect metaphor for that experience.

For me, the road is simply a metaphor for wherever I set my eyes on next.

(c) Kavita Favelle - JRR Tolkien - Iceland

Pete and I spent a fortnight in Iceland during the height of summer, enjoying the long days full of luminescent bright light interpersed with the most vicious of storms. We rented a car to drive around the main ringroad, discovering many beautiful and rural villages along the way. This one is called Hólar.

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Travel Quote Tuesday | Clifton Paul Fadiman

We’ve all come across those holiday makers who complain that the food, the service and endless other things are not like they are at home, inferring of course that they are not as good.

For me, one of the key joys of travel is to discover all the myriad ways that everyday life is different to how it is at home. I love using public transport, visiting supermarkets, taking a cookery class with a local, visiting a local place of worship, and just walking the streets among the people of that place.

This quote is from Clifton Fadiman, an American writer, editor, television and radio personality best known for his radio quiz show ‘Information Please’.

(c) Kavita Favelle - Clifton Fadiman - Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a wonderful destination for a city break, especially for those who love walking, bicycling or hopping on local trams.

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