Tag Archives: Kate Robertson

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Texas Hill Country, historical hospitality at its finest

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Texas Hill Country, historical hospitality at its finest

Fredericksburg is a small, cosmopolitan city with character and flair, located about an hour’s drive from San Antonio. Here, you’ll find rolling hills, lush vineyards, peach orchards and some of the best art galleries in the United States. A German heritage, along with quaint B&Bs, fabulous dining options and wonderful hospitality, all help to define this area.

Insight Gallery – Photography, Kate Robertson

The Fruits Of Their Labour

Pedernales Cellars, Image courtesy of Fredericksburg CVB/Blake Mistich

The original settlers in Fredericksburg used wild mustang grapes to produce wine. Today, the area is home to more than 40 wineries, and is one of the top wine tourism destinations in the U.S.

At Pedernales Cellar, they cultivate vines that are suited to heat and drought, and specialize in Spanish and Rhone-style wines. Relax with a glass of wine on the deck, while overlooking stunning Texas Hill Country vistas.

Known as the peach capital of Texas, peach stands line the roads from May through August. Fischer & Wieser’s Das Peach Haus is a specialty food company that dates back more than 90 years, Here, you can taste local favourites, including wine, peaches, and their award-winning roasted raspberry chipotle sauce.

A Living Past

Clear River Ice Cream, Bakery & Deli

Fredericksburg was founded by the Germans in 1846. The history of their migration, in order to avoid political upheaval in their home country, can be researched at the Pioneer Museum. A collection of authentic structures take you back to the early days of the German settlement, along with hundreds of artifacts. A walking tour of the historical district provides a first hand appreciation of these significant structures, from fachwerk (traditional German timber-frame buildings), to Texas limestone civil war buildings.

The National Museum of the Pacific War is a six-acre, three museum, world-class complex, and the only institute in the U.S. dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific Ocean theatre of World War II. It’s located in Fredericksburg, because one of the Fleet Admirals for the Pacific War, Chester W. Nimitz, was born here.

National Museum of the Pacific War

Take a self-guided driving tour of Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park to see the one-room school that the president attended, the home where he was born and the cemetery where he’s buried, as well as the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House, where President Johnson spent a significant portion of his time in office. Next to the park, is the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. Dating back to 1918, interpreters are dressed in period clothing to demonstrate historical activities, including blacksmithing and cheese making.

Arts and Culture

Named as one of the top 10 art destinations in the U.S. by Southwest Art magazine, Fredericksburg has more than 20 art galleries and studios. On the first Friday of each month, the local art community hosts a self-guided art walk. It’s a great opportunity to meet artists, hear live music, and sip local wines as you browse through galleries, including RS Hanna and Insight Gallery. Both galleries are housed in beautifully restored historical buildings, and display contemporary art, as well as representational paintings and figurative sculptures with a Western theme.

Texas Hospitality

Photo, (LBJ Ranch) courtesy of LBJ National Historic Park/Cynthia Dorminey

From fast food to upscale options, dining in Fredericksburg is a treat. Start your day at Clear River Ice Cream, Bakery & Deli. Here, you can enjoy hot-from-the oven baked goods and coffee in an old-fashioned diner environment. At Tubby’s Ice House, you can order comfort-food favourites, such as gourmet tacos and pulled pork-loaded fries on their outdoor patio. For a fresh twist try the ‘frose’ – a frozen rose wine slushy. Traditional German fare is served up at Der Lindenbaum and other local establishments.

You’ll receive a cordial welcome at more than 1,000 Bed & Breakfast establishments and short term rentals. Gorgeous antiques augment the Texas-style ranch of Lodge Above Town Creek. Located one block from the main street, you can easily explore the historical downtown core and then come back for a dip in their pool.

At Fredericksburg Herb Farm, guest cottages are designed in the style of Fredericksburg’s Sunday houses. These one-room houses, with a sleeping loft, were built by local farming families to use when they made the trip to town on Saturdays to go to dances, and then to church on Sunday morning.

Kate Robertson can be contacted at kateflyingsolo@gmail.com

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Scottsdale, Ariz. the ultimate desert destination

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Scottsdale, Ariz. the ultimate desert destination

According to some dream interpreters, dreaming of being in a desert is one of the most beautiful and serene dreams that you can have. And, sand reflects your creative and artistic abilities. Many people find that the desert connects them on a spiritual level, and there’s no disputing the health benefits of this arid climate. With all the natural light, vitamin D strengthens your immune system, teeth and bones, and also lifts your spirits.

Scottsdale Arizona

SENSATIONAL SCOTTSDALE

There certainly is an element of mystery, and a dream-like quality, that entices many to the sunny, winter weather of Arizona. Part of the greater Phoenix area, Scottsdale is sometimes described as the desert version of Miami’s South Beach. Initially founded in 1894 as a farming community, artists and writers discovered this unique landscape, and began visiting in the early 1900s. As the popularity of the area grew, it paved the way for the first resort, which opened 1909. Today, Scottsdale is a much-revered tourist haven, and home to some of the top resorts in the United States.

Old Town Scottsdale is known as the west’s most western town. Up until 20 years ago, there were wooden sidewalks and a barbecue joint on every corner. Today, the town has retained it’s historical charm and there’s lots to explore. In February you can still grab a ride on the pony express.

Old Town Scottsdale

BEYOND THE WILD WEST

From JoyRides AZ, you can book a golf cart and tour historical sites like the Little Red School House, now the home of the Scottsdale Historical Museum, as well as the Rusty Spur, the city’s first, and longest running, saloon, and the still-operating Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop, which is housed in an adobe building from 1909.

At the Western Spirit Museum, you can learn more about the regional history and view rare artifacts. Around town, there’s a plethora of turquoise jewellery stores, cosy cafes and Native American craft shops, as well as dozens of art galleries.

GET YOUR FEEDBAG ON

With close to 100 restaurants, Old Town is also a great place to discover a variety of dining options, and not just steak and potatoes. Try Diego Pops, a stylish diner where they serve modern Mexican fare (think brussels sprout nachos). Be sure to try their pretty pink prickly pear margarita – a local specialty.

Arizona might not be top-of-mind when you think about wine, but a stop at Carlson Creek Vineyard’s tasting room will prove otherwise. You might visit Craft64 to sample some great Arizona craft beers on tap, but make sure that you also stay for the wood-fired pizza.

For upscale American fare, visit that award-winning Citizen Public House, and try the pan-seared scallops with a cola gastrique, served over roasted sweet corn grits.

The Waterfront District is built along a major canal, lined with palm trees, art sculptures and fountains. Grab a table on the waterfront patio at the trendy Olive & Ivy, where Mediterranean meets California cuisine. Across the street is the Scottsdale Fashion Square – the largest mall in Arizona.

DESERT LIFESTYLE

For a birds-eye view of the desert, book a hot air balloon ride. Keep you eyes open for wild burros and javelinas (wild boars).

Take a hike in the 30,500-acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve, located just 15 minutes outside of the city. Here, you can fully appreciate the desert landscape. Make your way through palo verde groves, cacti and creosote bushes to reach breathtaking summits.

Discover more than 50,000 desert plants at the Desert Botanical Garden. If you visit before May, 2019, check out Electric Desert, a stunning light and sound show, which turns the desert and the garden’s fauna into a living art installation.

REST AND RELAXATION

Scottsdale offers up a wide selection of resorts for all tastes and budgets. For the ultimate in R & R, try the recently renovated Phoenician, with its large day spa, multi-pool complex, and world-class 18-hole golf course.

The Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia is also a multi-pool property. The arching entryways, fountains and floral walkways are reminiscent of Spain’s exotic Andalusia region.

If you prefer a smaller, boutique setting, the newly-constructed Mountain Shadows also has an 18-hole golf course. Initially opened in 1959, the original hotel was popular with Hollywood stars like John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor (check out their photo collection). With gorgeous views of Camelback and Mummy Mountains, it’s easy to see why.

Kate Robertson can be contacted at kateflyingsolo@gmail.com

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Travel: Czech Republic

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Travel: Czech Republic

A 100-year Celebration

By Kate Robertson

Old Tower Square, Prague

The Czech Republic has experienced its share of upheaval over the past century. Czechoslovakia gained its independence following the collapse of the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Then, in late February of 1948 the Czechoslovak coup d’état took place when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (with Soviet backing) assumed undisputed control over the government, marking the onset of communist rule for the next four decades. In late 1989 the nonviolet Velvet Revolution lasted one month, one week and five days, and signified a restoration to democracy in Czechoslovakia and the collapse of the communist regime. A self-determined split of the federal state of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia took place on January 1, 1993.

Sculpture work at Prague Castle

The 20 years of independence between the two world wars was an amazingly rich period for the nation, and became one the main centres of modern European life. This year, the Czech Republic is celebrating 100 years since it gained that independence in 1918.

HISTORICAL PRAGUE

Prague is Czech’s vibrant, historical capital, and its one of the most visited cities in Europe. Hit, accidentally or not, by American fighters in 1945, there were many civilian casualties and damages to homes and historical sites. An amazing 866 hectares of the old city are UNESCO protected for their gothic, renaissance and baroque mix of architectural wonders.

To best explore the city’s must-see attractions, wear comfortable walking shoes (the cobble-stoned streets are endless), and be prepared for crowds. Start at the enormous, beautifully reconstructed Prague Castle. A guide can fill you in on lesser-known facts, like when President Havel (leader after the Velvet Revolution) climbed through a window onto a balcony of the presidential palace, along with members of the Rolling Stones, to address the public, when nobody could find the key to the door.

Charles Bridge

Take a stroll across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town (13th century) to view the Astronomical Clock, as well as the Jewish Quarter. On the border of Old Town and New Town (don’t be fooled by the name, it was established in the 14th century), you will find the iconic golden-roofed National Theatre, where you can purchase tickets to a play, ballet or opera. Theatre, and the arts, are extremely important to the Czechs, as it has helped them survive the hardships of the different regimes.

COUNTRY CHARM

To learn more of the Czech Republic’s rich history, head to the Skoda car factory, which is located in Mlada Boleslav, about an hour from Prague. Known as one of the best selling Czech brands in the world, their museum will give you insight into how the company started. Apparently, two bicycle manufacturers merged in 1905, along with a heavy equipment manufacturer and, together, they started to produce cars. Take a tour of the factory to see the production line. Amazingly, a car can be completed here in just 24 hours.

Ajeto Glassworks

The country-side is filled with picture-book, half-timbered houses, barns and green pastures. World famous, Bohemian glass-making started in this area back in the 13th century. The special sandstone that was found here was perfect for glass-making. Take a tour of Ajeto Glassworks, and watch the artists melt the glass in 1,200-degree (Celsius) ovens, before expertly blowing it into the final product.

At the Museum of Glass and Jewelry, in nearby Jablonec, you’ll soon see why this area became an imperial centre for costume jewelry and glass products, which were much-desired by people from all over the world.

Spend the night in historical Liberec at the Clarion Grand Hotel Zlaty Lev, with its period furnishings and crystal chandeliers.

Dark beer goulash and dumplings

CAVORTING WITH CARNIVORES

Czechs love meat. Beef tartare is a common appetizer. If you’re adventurous, try some of their different cuts, as well as organ meats. For the less courageous, stick with hearty, traditional dishes, like roast duck served with dumplings and purple cabbage, goulash stew with thick dark beer, schnitzel with potato salad, or svickova – a sweetish, creamy vegetable sauce served over a piece of beef sirloin.

For Prague fine dining, visit the Michelin, award-winning Alcron Restaurant (in the Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel), or for a rowdier atmosphere, try La Republica restaurant and beer bar.

Czech beer poured with lots of head

BREW SPECIALISTS

Czech has a long history of brewing, and beer is plentiful. Czechs fondly refer to it as their ‘water’ or ‘liquid bread’, and don’t really acknowledge it as an alcoholic beverage. To taste a local favourite, order Rezane – a mix of a dark and light beer.

Close to the Prague Castle is the Strahov Monastery craft brewery. Monasteries have a long history of beer brewing. The monks at Strahov do a fine job with brews like the Anti- Depressant Dark Lager – the name says it all.

Czech beer is served with a lot of head. Locals like the taste of the foam and consider it a sign of a good beer. Cheers!

Jested Tower, Liberec

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Kate Robertson can be contacted at kateflyingsolo@gmail.com

Photography, Kate Robertson

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Travel: Dominica

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Travel: Dominica

The Ultimate Island Retreat

By Kate Robertson

Dominica is a little-known Caribbean island, located above Martinique in the Lesser Antilles. Comprised mostly of mountainous rainforest, it has few beaches; however, with its hot springs, freshwater lakes and fabulous diving spots, it’s become an attractive eco-tourism destination. Here, the pace is so slow, the air and water so clean, and the food so fresh – every day feels like a a little piece of heaven.

LOCAL CUISINE AND LIBATIONS

After tourism, agriculture is the second most important economical source for Dominica. Much of the food on the island is still grown organically, as farmers have stuck to traditional planting methods. The island is self sufficient with fruit and vegetables, as long as severe weather doesn’t play havoc with the growing season.

A Kalinago Native, Traditional Basket Weaving;

Local cuisine has a creole influence. Stews, fish, and smoked, jerk-like meats are popular. Side dishes (root vegetables) are commonly called provisions. Protein is often served with starchy carbs like yams and potatoes, along with carrots, beans, rice and a green salad.

Portsmouth is the second largest city in Dominica, with approximately 3,000 residents. When visiting, check out the Strawberry Restaurant, with its brightly coloured pink and blue exterior. The daily specials are definitely worth trying, and pair it with an island-brewed beer called Kabuli. For a tropical taste explosion, the passion fruit and coco milk smoothie is a must.

Cabrits National Park

Roseau is the capital of the island, with more than 20,000 people – one-third of the island’s population. Located on the Castle Bruce Highway, between Roseau and Portsmouth, is the Islet View Restaurant. It’s not much to look at from the outside, and inside the decor could best be described as shabby-chic, but it’s the outside patio that’s worth the visit. With a stunning view of the ocean, locals claim that their local rums will treat whatever ails you. Here, they have a large selection of rums mixed with various herbs, as well as a killer rum punch.

Emerald Pool

JOURNEY THROUGH PARADISE

Commonly referred to as the Nature Island, Dominica has maintained a significant portion of land as a national forest reserve. It’s the only Caribbean island with a long-distance hiking trail, called the Waitukubuli – which means ‘tall is her body’, referring to the tall island mountains. You can walk the trail from one tip of the island to the other – 185 kilometres. The trail is divided into 14 segments. Ranging from easy to difficult, each segment takes four to five hours to complete. Through each stretch, you’ll pass through rainforests, coastal villages and old estates, and along beaches and coastal ridges. Hummingbirds and parrots are in abundance, as is the Jacko (or Sisserous), which is their national bird. The landscape is truly spectacular with lush greenery, vines, trees, ferns and orchids – some 85 different species on the island.

The forests on the north side of the island were hit hard by Hurricane Maria in September of 2017. Tall trees were topped, so without its full canopy, it’s somewhat surreal, but still beautiful. Regrowth is now evident, and several volun-tourism initiatives are now in operation.

Sunset at Picard Beach Cottages

After trekking through the forest, finish your day with a fresh-water swim at Emerald Pool. A short hike takes you to a waterfall, which empties into an emerald-coloured pool. The setting is so achingly beautiful that you will feel like you’re in a scene from a movie. In fact, several scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, were filmed on the island.

Dr. Birdy, a guide on the Waitukubuli Trail

TRAVEL TIPS:

  • Air Canada has daily flights from Toronto to Barbados. From there, Dominica is a one-hour flight on a small carrier.
  • Arrange for a rental car at the airport, or hire a guide who will help you with itineraries and take you anywhere on the island, for a very reasonable rate.
  • For the the Waitukubuli Trail, you will need to buy a pass. You can use a trail map or hire a guide for most sections of the trail.
  • Check with the Discover Dominica Authority for updates on activities and trails that may have been affected (or closed) due to Hurricane Maria.

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

If you’re looking for a less strenuous holiday, or want to mix the hiking with with some R&R, the Picard Beach Cottages in Portsmouth will quiet your soul and your mind, with crashing waves and polaroid sunsets. The salty, floral-sweet air and the sound of melodious birds, help to stimulate your other senses.

In Roseau, get lost in the Caribbean ambiance while floating in the infinity pool at the historical Fort Young Hotel. Indulge in a Dominican- style massage at Nature’s Caress for another level of relaxation.

This wild, largely untouched, island is being called the modern day fountain of youth, with more than their proportional share of centenarian residents.

dominica.dm

Kate Robertson can be reached at kateflyingsolo@gmail.com

 

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Travel: The Laurentians

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Travel: The Laurentians

An area of tangible dualities

By Kate Robertson

Located north of Montreal, Les Laurentides is a region crossed by the rounded Laurentian Mountains. The area features vast forests, more than 9,000 lakes and 100 fresh-flowing rivers, as well as thousands of kilometres of crosscountry skiing trails.

Photography, courtesy of Tourisme Laurentides

Naturally Beautiful

Mont Tremblant National Park, the largest in Quebec at 1,500 square kilometres, is a canoeing and hiking paradise. Guided activities are available through Kanatha-Aki (which means Guardian of the Boundless Earth, in Algonquin) for horseback riding, fishing and visiting the wood bison – the largest land mammal in North America. This Quebec reserve is the only one that is dedicated to protecting these endangered animals. If reserving with Kanatha-Aki, be sure to pre-book a cheese fondue. After spending the night in a rustic cabin or teepee, there’s nothing quite like dipping chunks of fresh baguette into the gooey goodness of melted cheese, while sitting in front of the wood stove in the open-beam lodge.

Wood bison at Kanatha-Aki. Photography, Kate Robertson

Originally built in 1936, the Mont Gabriel Hotel & Spa is located on top of a mountain. On a clear day, you can see the Montreal Olympic Stadium from your room, and golf enthusiasts will enjoy the picturesque, 18-hole, on-site course.

Foodies Unite

The Chenin du Terroir is a 226-kilometre food trail that takes you along country backroads with many enticing stops along the way. Make sure to stop at Tarterie du Verger de la Musique for freshly baked pies and their signature apple bread. This sixth-generation, family-operated business has patented the recipe for their gourmet bread, which includes a full pound of apples in each loaf. During apple season, arrive early to score some of this chewy, cinnamon-y delicacy, as they often sell out of the more-than 500 loaves that they bake per day.

Warm up with the velvety smoothness of a cheese fondue at Kanatha-Aki. Photography, Kate Robertson
Tarterie du Verger de la Musique’s signature apple bread. Photography, Kate Robertson

Down the road from the bakery is Vignoble Riviere du Chene. Here you can take a tour, and learn about the typicality of the terroir and grape varietals, as well as the responsible farming techniques and winemaking methods that they use. Tours run from May until the end of October, but wine tasting is available year-round. A soft, fruity rosé named after their daughter, Gabrielle, just might be the perfect pairing to go along with the apple bread, and other tasty treats from the food trail, for an impromptu picnic.

Vignoble Riviere du Chene. Photography, Kate Robertson

Nominated as one of the best beekeeping farms in the world and recognized across North America for the diversity, and quality, of their products, Intermiel manages 5,000 beehives. The farm also has a 600-tree apple orchard, and 16,000 maple trees that are tapped for syrup each spring. The beekeeping tour is fascinating. Did you know that bees cover a radius of six kilometres to get their pollen? Also, the queen bee lives for five years because she eats royal jelly, but the worker bees only have a lifespan of 45 days. Check out the unique merchandise made from honey and wax that they have available in their store, as well as artisanal alcohol products, which include house-made mead, ciders and brandies – all prepared from the the farm’s own ingredients.

Mont Tremblant. Photography, courtesy of Tourisme Laurentides

Yin and Yang

Known world-wide for its famous ski resort, the village of Mont Tremblant is the second oldest village in North America. The buildings and cobblestone, pedestrian-only streets are reminiscent of quaint, European styling.

The best of all worlds can be experienced here. If you want an outdoor adventure getaway, you can enjoy the beauty of the area by hiking or biking. D-Tours offers e-fat biking, which are electrically assisted bikes with fat tires. The extra boost is most welcome when navigating the hilly terrain. Take in the stunning panorama with a gondola ride, or enjoy the challenges of some breathtaking golf courses.

Village of Mont Tremblant. Photography, courtesy of Tourisme Laurentides

For a quieter, more-relaxed holiday, the rustic, Nordic-style Scandinave Spa is located in a wilderness setting. As with traditional thermal spas, there are hydrotherapy baths with hot and cold installations, steam and hot sauna options, as well as relaxation areas. If you dare, you can take a dip in the Diable River, where the temperature is around 12 degrees (colder in the winter). After, wrap up in a large blanket and cosy up in front of the fire pit. Reconnect with your inner self, as the entire spa is a silent zone.

Scandinave Spa. Photography, courtesy of Tourisme Laurentides

The Laurentians is an incredible, all-season destination, but with its monumental stands of maple trees, along with a bountiful harvest, Fall is a glorious time to visit.

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Travel : Thailand

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Travel : Thailand

By Kate Robertson

Enjoy it like a local

With a long-standing tourist industry, Thailand is often described as a magical place to visit. It is the number one destination in southeast Asia, and attracts millions of visitors each year. Combined with a population of more than 68 million, the multitude of people may seem daunting, but there are lots of places you can visit to avoid the crowds.

Buddha and prangs, Ayutthaya

Vibrant Bangkok

Even in the bustling city of Bangkok, consider visiting lesser-known temples, instead of the Grand Palace or Wat Pho (where the 46 metre long reclining Buddha lies) to stave off throngs of tourists. Take a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled motorcycle taxi) to Wat Ratchabophit or Wat Suthat to see impressive gold-leafed Buddhas, magnificent wall murals, pagodas and sweeping ceramic tiled roofs.

Intricate mosaics on temples.

At nearby Talad Trok Mo morning market, mingle with the locals and stroll the narrow alleyways where vendors are set up in front of crumbling shops. Here you can browse the fresh produce, meats and fascinating (often unrecognizable) food items. Take the time to watch flower vendors skillfully weave jasmine into beautiful, aromatic Thai garlands, which are worn on the wrist or hung over the rear view mirror in taxis for good luck. This is a good place to try some traditional street food like pad prik khing (a red curry with meat and long beans), or khanom buang (sweet Thai crepes).

Bangkok’s main river, Chao Phraya, connects with a maze of centuries-old canals. Hop aboard one of the local water taxis (traditional long-tailed boats) for a charming cruise down Bangkok Noi Canal, where you will see traditional stilted shacks mingled with beautiful temples, factories and upscale homes. Ask the driver to stop in front of the temple to feed the catfish, where women sell bags of stale bread (the catfish are protected here). If you’re lucky you’ll spot large monitor lizards sunning themselves on shore.

Natural Chiang Mai

Nestled amidst forested mountains, Thailand’s northern capital has a more rural, laid back feel. There are plenty of temples to see, but it’s also a great place to get in touch with Thailand’s natural side. Within a short jaunt from the city, you’ll experience lush green countryside, rainforest eco-reserves and Patara – an ethical elephant farm and rescue facility. At Patara, you will be assigned your own elephant for the day, and taught how to bathe, feed and ride it, as a keeper would.

Patara Elephant Farm & Sanctuary.

Bordered by Myanmar and Laos, not only is the climate cooler in Chaing Mai, but the food is less spicy on the tongue than in other parts of Thailand. An example of this is their most popular street food khao soi – a Burmese-influenced, rich noodle soup with seasonings and chunks of meat, topped with crispy noodles.

Thai massage is available everywhere and is very affordable. Indulge in a luxurious treatment at CHI – the spa at Shangri-La Hotel. Your masseuse will lead you down small pathways, over bridges and alongside ponds to your own private hut where you will be pampered, starting off with a salt foot scrub in rose-petal water.

Karsts around Krabi.

Krabi Island Hopping

With more than 100 islands nearby, the beach resort town of Krabi, located on the Andaman coastline, is the perfect place for island hopping. Here, the vivid turquoise ocean is dotted with dramatic karsts (limestone formations rising out of the water) and blanketed with emerald green foliage. It’s hard to capture a pictorial reference, even in your imagination.

Floating restaurant, Ban Ko Klang.

A 10-minute boat ride through the mangroves will take you to Ban Ko Klang island, which is a predominately Muslim fishing community. Local initiatives here include the farming of a special sang yod rice (violet/reddish in colour) and batik-making to help to sustain the local economy. Without cars on the island, you’ll have to rely on a tuk-tuk for a tour of the tiny villages, where you’re likely to see water buffalos and goats grazing in expansive fields along the way. Take note of the song birds that hang in cages outside of each home – the more birds, the higher the family status. Before you leave, make sure you enjoy a fresh fish lunch in the peaceful ambiance of one of the rustic floating restaurants.

Ayutthaya

Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was once the capital of Thailand before it was attacked and burned by the Burmese army in 1767. A guided bicycle tour is a great way to visit the many archaeological ruins of Buddhist monasteries and prangs (reliquary towers), which point to how majestic this city once was. After the ride, reward yourself with a bag of sai mai (threads of sweet, colourful cotton candy), which are sold everywhere on the streets.

Although Thailand is smaller in size than the the province of Alberta, there are so many amazing things to see and do, you’ll be planning your return trip before you even arrive home.

Photography, Kate Robertson

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Travel: Southwest Florida

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Travel: Southwest Florida

The allure of the islands

Photography, Kate Robertson

Lee County, on the southwest coast of Florida, offers up fabulous, island-time beach options. Seminole natives and marauding pirates inhabited this rugged area when Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821. Settlers moved in to the area to farm, log and cattle ranch. Wars with the Seminoles ensued and Fort Myers, currently the county centre, was built.

Although this area is now populated with several adjoining cities, it’s far more laid-back than Miami and south Florida. With an abundance of nature experiences, museums, golf courses and shopping opportunities, there’s no shortage of things to do, but make sure you take the time to enjoy the beaches.

Sanibel Island

Located across a long causeway just west of Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is ranked one of the top 10 best places to escape the snow by USA Today. It’s easy to see why with its white sand beaches, an annual average temperature of 24C and worldclass fishing. With just one main thorough-fare, traffic can get busy, but the 40 kilometres of bike paths, which run the length of the island, offer up a more-relaxed alternative in order to appreciate the scenery.

Eco-tourism is strong here due to the 6,354-acre J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which covers about 70 per cent of Sanibel. The refuge is home to 220 species of birds, more than 50 types of reptiles (including the Florida-famous ‘gator), and 32 different kinds of mammals – so bring your binoculars. Tram tours are available, or you can hike, bike or drive the trails on your own.

Just down the road from the refuge is Tarpon Bay Explorers, where a knowledgeable naturalist will take you on a guided kayak tour through the mangrove forest. On the Commodore Creek Trail, you’ll see an abundance of marine crabs and birds trying to catch them.

Captiva Island

Captiva is attached to Sanibel via a bridge, and is smaller in size. This island is so narrow in places that you can see water on both sides of the road. Similar to Sanibel, there are miles of beautiful beaches, but it’s also populated with houses (more like mansions), inns and vacation rentals. Captiva is very laid back, and as one islander said, “Nine p.m. is midnight on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.”

Visit YOLO (You Only Live Once) Watersports to rent stand-up paddle boards, arrange a parasail or waverunner excursion, or to rent a golf cart (you can drive them on the road) or bicycle.

Island Flavours

It’s easy to get a room with a kitchenette on the islands, so you can make yourself at home. However, if you’d rather not fend for yourself, there’s no need to worry about dining options. Many have a quirky bent, like the Bubble Room, with its emporium of antiques and bubble fun. Or try Doc Ford’s (named after the fictional character in co-owner Randy Wayne White’s crime novels), with an outdoor patio, live music and flights of rum tastings.

There’s elegant, high-end dining as well, including the award-winning Thistle Lodge Beachfront Restaurant. Fish and seafood options are always on the menu. Try the scallop and pork belly appie (voted best on the Island). Or for an island-style taste explosion, try the fluffy, moist black grouper.

Shelling

Here, the word shelling is a verb. Because of the location on a continental shelf, in addition to the unusual east-west orientation of many of the beaches, the current sweeps in from the Caribbean, carrying with it copious amounts of shells. In order to avoid crushing these beauties, one has to watch where they’re stepping. For collectors, it’s a shell-lover’s paradise with more than 400 varieties. Pick up a shelling brochure to identify your treasures, or you can learn more at the Bailey- Matthews National Shell Museum – the only one in the United States.

For ideal shelling conditions, it’s recommended to take a charter tour, like the one Captiva Cruises offers to the boat-access only state park beach, Cayo Costa Island. Before you board at the dock, check for manatees – the large, gentle, sea-cow creatures who like to hang out there. On the cruise, you’ll likely see dolphins, as well as a wide variety of birds.

Fort Myers Beach

If the islands get too quiet for you, head back over the causeway to Fort Myers Beach. Here there’s a busy, beach-town vibe with surf shops, bars, clubs and resorts. The soft, white sand is like walking on baby powder.

Whichever beach you find yourself on at the end of the day in Southwest Florida, take the time to enjoy the spectacular sunset – after all, you’re on island time.

TRAVEL TIPS:

  • Take a direct flight from Toronto to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers and rent a car with a GPS.
  • Stay at one of the Inns (I stayed at the quaint Captiva Island Inn), a resort, or a vacation rental.
  • Travel during shoulder seasons (fall or spring) for quieter beaches and better rates. FortMyersSanibel.com

Kate Robertson can be contacted at kateflyingsolo@gmail.com, instagram.com/kateflysolo101, or twitter.com/kateflyingsolo.

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