Category: travel


moving on

Hello fellow chocolate lovers and lovers of travel. I just wanted to inform you that Diversions with Doreen has moved!

From today onward, you will find me at http://diversionswithdoreen.com/. This is a self-hosted site that will give me more control over the content. So please SUBSCRIBE to the new site, bookmark it, drop in and say Hello … and I just might share my chocolate with you!

It’s funny how Branson reminded me of two of North America’s raciest cities – Las Vegas and New Orleans – because Branson is far from racy. It’s rather the opposite and unquestionably driven by pure-hearted religious forces. You’d be pretty hard pressed to find the seedy side of life in this small, wholesome Missouri city. There are massive churches everywhere – primarily Baptist and Methodist. No casinos. No chicken ranches (brothels.)

Yet, Branson is filled with neon lights and endless stage show entertainment reminding the visitor of nights ‘on the strip’ in Las Vegas. (Perhaps it was more so because we visited during the holidays and Branson is very big on Christmas and Christmas lights.)

a salute from the Santa at Branson Landing

But the fact that you can find performances going at any hour of the day, and free spontaneous entertainment at any eating venue in the city … really reminded me of New Orleans and made me pinch myself several times throughout our week-long visit.  Just where were we, and how did we find ourselves in Branson?

It was my husband’s choice. We take turns choosing vacation destinations and Branson was his choice. He’d heard there was good live entertainment at reasonable prices. And he was right! I’m told there are 100 choices for live entertainment daily in this tiny city of just 10,000 permanent residents. It’s no surprise that Branson hosts approximately 8 million toe-tapping visitors each year. There is lots to do, and much of it won’t cost you a bundle.

Country music is prevalent, with a heavy dose of gospel thrown in. With music greats like Elvis Presley and Ray Charles having gotten their start in gospel, it’s no surprise that Elvis and Ray Charles impersonators are big draws in Branson. We took in the “Legends In Concert” show at the Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater. It was fabulous! As a huge fan of Alan Jackson, I especially enjoyed the performance of Doug Brewin, who didn’t miss a beat in his well-executed tribute to Alan Jackson!

Performers from the Legend of Kung Fu Show

We also enjoyed the Legend of Kung Fu production, which featured a troop of 65 dancers and acrobats from China who had performed during the Bejing Olympics and were definitely worldclass. (Click on the link to see online video clips of the production.) Reg and his friend Neil really liked the intimacy in the smaller “Little Opry Theater” used for the Tribute to Marty Robbins (which they thoroughly enjoyed) while I ate chocolate at a local chocolate shop. Yes, I found some terrific chocolate in Missouri! Stay tuned to a future post for that.

Wyndham Branson at the Meadows Resort

We had the pleasure of staying at the Wyndham Branson at the Meadows resort as I am a Wyndham timeshare owner. It was a terrific facility, and thanks to reviews on Trip Advisor, I had requested a top floor suite which gave us great views of the Ozark Foothills and lessened any noise from neighbouring suites. The atmosphere at the resort was very laid-back, just like the rest of Branson. No high pressure sales tactics like we’d found on our previous Wyndham stay in Orlando.

Please join me back here the week of December 19th for more on Branson and our taste tantalizing exploration of Missouri.

I love to travel, and frequently travel through the terminal at Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. What a joy it was, when on October 30th, a new state-of-the-art terminal was finally opened to the public after  more than four years in the making.

an evening shot of the new airport terminal courtesy of Winnipeg Airports Authority

A joint effort of US-based Master architect, Pelli Clarke Pelli, who have also been responsible for various world class designs including the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the World Financial Center in New York, and our own local architectural firm of Stantec, Winnipeg’s new terminal is proudly the newest and greenest of all airports in Canada.

nice shot of the awesome lights in the terminal courtesy of Winnipeg Airports Authority

A nice high for Winnipeg to enjoy. Combined with the recent return of the Winnipeg Jets pro hockey team, and the fact that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Eastern final in the Canadian Football League game today — getting them into the Grey Cup championship game next weekend — the Manitoba capital is really enjoying a much-needed resurgence.

Many of you reading this may have never been to Winnipeg and are likely wondering, why visit this frozen wasteland? It’s true. We have winter for five months of the year (generally from early November through March) during which we time we have snow and below freezing temperatures.

But I must tell you, Winnipeg is a warm place to come at any time of the year. People are caring and friendly. They welcome you into their lives and their homes. I have friends who have lived in larger cities for many years and have yet to make any close friends. That just doesn’t happen in Manitoba. If you’re here and you’re friendly … you’re family, and are welcome into our homes and to share our hopes and dreams.

Can those of you living in larger centres say that? I was born and raised in Winnipeg, and have lived all of my life within an hour’s drive of the city.  We have our problems with respect to crime and that’s part of the reason I have chosen to live in smaller communities in rural Manitoba the past (near) 30 years. But overall, it is a clean, inviting urban landscape that offers unsurpassed cultural options, a thriving creative community, affordable cost of living and stable economy that makes all of us who know it, love it.

Please come and see us. If you come before April 1st, bring your parka and boots. Be rest assured, the warmth we extend your way will nurture your spirit and make you wonder why it took you so long to finally make the journey. But our long stretch of winter weather does make me wonder why they didn’t enclose the walkway from the parkade to the terminal. No matter how warm you are inside, the blowing winds outside can quickly chill your enthusiasm.

Please join us back here the week of December 5th, when I’ll share a bit of Missouri magic with you. Until then, please share your favourite Manitoba moments with us.

I’m told by the folks at the Quote of the Day service that it’s “National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day!” That immediately brought to mind my visit to the Chocolaterie de Puyricard in the tiny village of Puyricard, France, as Puyricard is famous for its Mendiants — magnificent dark chocolate disks covered with nuts and raisins. They are delicious and not sweet at all. One of my favourite chocolate treats! Have you had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into a mendiant?

This post is a nice transition from our last few focusing on Belgium, as Puyricard Chocolatier was founded by a Belgian couple who had moved to the south of France in 1967 to pursue their dream of opening a chocolaterie.

the staff at Puyricard make the chocolates by hand for your enjoyment

Chocolaterie de Puyricard now has 17 locations in France plus a New York-based exclusive order service for North American clients under the name of Puyricard Signature. Puyricard’s Signature is an online club we chocolate lovers can join to gain access to a limited line of exquisite French-tradition chocolates produced under the direction of master chocolatier, Tanguy Roelandts, son of the founders of the company, Jean-Guy and Marie-Anne Roelandts.

The creative team at Puyricard are masters at what they do: combining fabulous French chocolate with the best fresh ingredients to enhance it. That includes cherries they grow themselves, apples grown just 70 miles from the plant, the very best almonds from Spain, hazelnuts from Italy, vanilla from Tahiti – all fresh and used without preservatives. So only a small selection of the 100 different confections made in France are available in North America, giving you more of an incentive to head to France and taste and enjoy the best of the best right where it is made and created.

the packaging at Puyricard is as beautiful as the chocolates

The packaging at Puyricard is just as elegant as the chocolates and changes with the seasons. Both the outside and the inside of the package will fill you with awe — and bring you great pleasure.

Enjoy your favourite chocolates in moderation. And please join us back here the week of November 21st for our next delicious post.

I met Jean Galler, The King’s Chocolatier, at his office in Liège, Belgium and was immediately enamored with his charm and style. And that was before I’d tasted the chocolate of Galler Chocolatier!

Jean Galler proudly introduces us to his finest chocolates

Galler emits passion and excitement in his every word, movement and action. He is without question the most elegant and sophisticated chocolatier on the planet and there was no doubt that he would deliver that passion and elegance in his chocolate creations. We were not disappointed. Galler’s chocolate is complex and multi-faceted. He has something to please everyone with a discerning taste for fine chocolate. He is all about freedom to choose. So from Galler, you can expect a wide variety of chocolates to please virtually any palate.

Galler has been making chocolate since 1976 and in 1993, was the first of Belgium’s chocolatiers to launch a 70% cocoa chocolate in which he found the perfect blend between bitterness and sweetness. In 2008, he launched a series of four blended chocolates. “It is a very similar technique to blending grape varietals for wine such as Bordeaux,” says Galler, whose passion for chocolate focuses on the finest quality.

“Today’s reality is that the consumer wants excellent quality but a small quantity.” So Galler launched a series of mini gourmet chocolate bars that have become extremely popular. He also has a series of products for children.

Jean Galler's playful side shows us his children's line of fine chocolate products

What does chocolate symbolize to the man who makes chocolate for the King of Belgium? “For me, chocolate is freedom. So in the box, I put freedom to choose and to change.” Galler Pure Cocoa has more than 40 chocolate shops around the world, including the Grand Place in Brussels and eight shops in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In 2008, Galler launched Chocolat-passion, a wine-matching concept in which he employs a sommelier at each of his second-generation shops to help customers purchase just the right wine to enjoy with their chocolate purchases. You will find 32 wines from 22 different countries at Galler’s Chocolat-passion locations, in addition to multi media all about chocolate. What could be sweeter?

Galler also had a tea matching service for his chocolate creations at his Chocolat-Thé locations, at which you can enjoy any of 30 different teas in the traditional way with your Galler chocolates. And a new, third concept for chocolate appreciation can be found at his signature, Liège location. Visit the Chocolat Bar for a chocolate experience you will never forget.

Liège is a short drive from Brussels and is also accessible by train. They have an impressive new train station that I’m told took 13 years to build! The city itself is an industrial hub and more of a place to visit rather than stay.

When you are in Belgium, be sure to visit more than one of Galler’s locations and experience the extent of his creativity and ingenuity. And enjoy the elegant and exotic nature of his chocolates. You will never forget them, just as I will never forget meeting Monsieur Galler.

For those of us on this side of the pond here in North America, Happy National Chocolate Day on October 28th! I’m sure we’ll all be celebrating with a great piece (or two!) of fine chocolate. And as it’s also Champagne Day, you might like to enjoy some champagne with your chocolate!

Please join us back here the week of Nov 7th for our next post.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing I could hop the pond and be in London this week for the celebrations of Chocolate Week. As I’ve previously written on this blog, you will definitely find some of the best chocolate on the planet in the UK.

But as it’s not in the cards for me to make another epic chocolate journey at this particular moment in time, I’ll just reminisce about some of the best chocolate I’ve had the privilege of tasting and introduce you to several of the charming men who are making it in Belgium.

some of the amazing chocolate I brought home from Belgium

A chocolate expedition to Belgium should begin at La Maison des Maitres Chocolatiers, a wonderful shop located right in the Grand Place of Brussels which features the chocolate products of 10 of Belgium’s best.  The idea behind this inspirational place of chocolate is to introduce you to selected offerings from a variety of Belgian chocolatiers, saving you time and effort. If you’ve only got a short amount of time to make your chocolate discoveries, this is the place for you! You’ll see chocolate demonstrations and have the opportunity to taste a selection of chocolate to help you find your favourite.

tasting some succulent drinking chocolate at La Maison

Two of my personal favourites do happen to be represented at La Maison. The chocolates of both Laurent Gerbaud (who has a beautiful new shop in Brussels) and Edouard Bechoux, owner of Les chocolats d’Edouard of Florenville, Belgium can be found at La Maison.

Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier has a strong connection to Asia, as Laurent lived in China for two years. He takes great pride in the purity of his chocolates, with no added sugar, butter, alcohol or preservatives and offers a terrific selection of exotic fruit such as Egyptian prunes, figs from Turkey and South African apricots that are happily covered in thick dark chocolate.

the very charming, Laurent Gerbaud

Laurent is upbeat and enthusiastic. Edouard Bechoux has more of a reserved nature, but he is equally creative, and started his culinary training at the young age of 14. He spent several years living in Tuscany and brings that influence to the kitchen in his bistro, which by no surprise, serves a lot of chocolate on the menu. I enjoyed beef served with a Ugandan chocolate sauce. It was most delectable!
Edouard also specializes in drinking chocolate and has 17 kinds of hot chocolate, 12 kinds of cool chocolate and 35 desserts for sale in addition to the extensive selection of  fresh chocolates, all made on site.

Edouard Bechoux's creativity with chocolate is sure to please

Please return the week of October 24th, when I will introduce you to Monsieur Galler.

To match the excitement of the fall migration of geese happening here on the Canadian Prairies right now, I thought we’d celebrate with our own migration! I’ll be migrating some of the content from my lifestyle blog over to this blog in order to fill in the blanks regarding my research for Chocolatour, which formally began 2 years ago … in the fall of 2009 … with a trip to Belgium, France and Switzerland.

Rather than repeating those posts (which you can still read over at the Blogger blog,) I’ll update them by giving you choco-centric information that will be a teaser for what you’ll find in Chocolatour: Your Guide to the Faces and Places of Chocolate.

Let’s start with Belgium, and our glorious time in Brussels, Florenville and Liège, Belgium. I visited those three particular cities as they are home to three of Belgium’s finest and most innovative chocolatiers.

the squares in European cities are wonderful, with the Grand Place of Brussels being no exception

I will devote a future blog post to each chocolatier, their products and communities in my top 3 picks for innovative Belgian chocolate. But for this week …

My Top 3 Reasons for Loving Belgium:

1) Chocolate! (But of course!) There are probably more chocolate shops in Belgium than any other place on the planet! In Brussels and Bruges, in particular, you’ll encounter a chocolate boutique every few steps. And the chocolate is amazing. In most cases, it’s handcrafted by local chocolatiers, each with his or her own unique style to entice you. Experiment! Try many and find the right chocolate personality to match your own. Think of it as chocolate dating, and what can be more satisfying than that!

2) The Belgians are really nice. You’ll find most Belgians to be a friendly, helpful people. Try to engage in conversation. Knowing a little French will be helpful, as French is the principal language spoken in Brussels. But you will find the Belgians to be much more humble and accommodating than their French neighbours, making a trip to Belgium pleasant and engaging.

3) Beer! I’m not a big beer drinker, but the Belgians really know their beer, and if you’re fortunate enough to visit during the warm summer months, nothing will refresh you better than a frosty mug of Stella Artois on one of the gorgeous patios!

Please share your own special memories about Belgium. We’re celebrating World Tourism Day today, and I can think of no better way to do so, than to celebrate the attributes of other cultures with our fellow lovers of travel.

See you back here the week of October 10th, when we’ll meet some amazing men of chocolate.

We’ve had a lot of fun tasting chocolate here on Travel Diversions with Doreen, and enjoying the cultural and culinary adventures of the world. But this week, with the onset of September and a new season upon us, I’m feeling a bit more reflective and am asking you to dip back into your memory banks and  share 2 things with us:

1) What is YOUR most memorable travel moment and …

2) What valuable lesson did you learn from it?

I’ll start the ball rolling. My most memorable travel moment was back in 1996, during our week-long visit to the Greek island of Santorini. We’d taken a marathon 12-hour tour around the island on a particular day and ended up arriving by small boat to the island of Thirasia. Up above on the cliffs, we spotted the village of Manolas, and were told that there were only 2 ways to reach it. Walk up, or take a mule. We chose the mules.

Now, let me explain that there are/were no groomed trails to get you up to the top of the hill. And no guard rails to ensure you didn’t fall the considerable distance down the cliff to the sea. But there I was, purse in my lap and camera hanging from my shoulder (this was during the days of the much larger and heavier old DLS film cameras), and trying to hold onto the mule as we swayed side to side, slowly climbing the rocky cliff to the village at the top, where we were told we would be treated to amazing views and a nice lunch.

On arrival, Reg and I got comfortable and sat ourselves down for lunch and a couple of well-deserved beers in the late afternoon heat of the sun. We were truly exhausted, but over the course of an hour, were invigorated by the stunning vistas which provided amazing photographic opportunities, the terrific food and the refreshing libations.  But suddenly, we noticed the trail of mules making their ways down the cliff without any passengers! I ran screaming after them, only to be told by their keeper that the mules quit at 4 pm each day (they must have been unionized!) and we would have to walk back down to the boat. Thank goodness my knees were in much better shape back in 1996. I know some of my fellow travellers suffered considerably from that unexpected experience.

the unridden mule train makes its way back down as we look on

Lesson learned: NEVER take anything for granted when you are travelling. You may be told that the mules will take you up to the village, but be sure to find out how you will get down. And be sure you can deal with the challenge. Never assume that the conditions are good, or doable for your abilities. Make sure you confirm that BEFORE embarking on any side excursion, and if there is a language barrier (as there often is in travel), do not let yourself be rushed into making a decision that could have very serious repercussions.

On the other hand, sometimes we have amazing travel experiences by stretching ourselves and doing things we likely otherwise would not have done and that is great. I’ve done many of those myself, including parasailing, swimming with sharks and stingrays, a shopping diversion in Jamaica that literally caused us to miss the departure of our cruise ship, and many, many other priceless moments. If you’d like to read the complete story of our Greek adventure, you’ll find it here.

And then please share with us your most memorable travel moment, and the valuable travel lesson learned. I’m really looking forward to hearing your stories. The next new post will be uploaded here during the week of September 26th. Stay tuned to see what diversion we’ll take next!

Thanks to everyone for sharing your favourite thoughts and highlights of Montreal. If you haven’t visited the site since the last post was uploaded, please take a moment to check out everyone’s contributions in the “Comments” tab at the beginning of the last post.

This week, as promised, I’d like to focus on the sweeter side of Montreal, the city where Chocolatour  was officially launched back in October of 2009.

There are a plethora of excellent chocolate bistros around the city that not only offer a tempting selection of handmade fresh chocolates to take home, they serve sensuous chocolate creations that can be the main focus of your meal or the perfect ending by way of a make-you-squeal dessert.

I really enjoyed lunch at Juliette & Chocolat located at 377 Laurier Ouest. The atmosphere is perfect for lunch with the girls, and the menu offers some really unique offerings such as the chocolate salad! The Juliette & Chocolat Salad is served with seasonal fruit, and goat cheese with buckwheat crepe slices, topped with a chocolate raspberry vinaigrette. Delicious!

the Juliette & Chocolat Salad comes with a special chocolate raspberry vinaigrette

Juliette & Chocolat is also famous for its drinking chocolate, offering an exotic list of chocolate origins to choose from. This picture of a friend enjoying her drinking chocolate tells the story of complete satisfaction.

savouring one of the amazing drinking chocolates at Juliette et Chocolat

The chocolate selection is lovely, too, and take time to peruse the “Chocolate Bars” on the menu which provide interesting tidbits about chocolate and cocoa around the world. This is truly a place for chocolate lovers!

the selection of fresh chocolates at Juliette et Chocolat is tempting and creative

I also enjoyed chatting with chocolatier, Marlain Jean Philippe, owner of Marlain Chocolatier, located at 21 Cartier in Pointe Claire, a suburb of Montreal. The small shop is located in a historic house and don’t be surprised if you’re welcomed by the ear-to-ear smile of the proprietor when you walk in the door. He is French-trained (in Paris) and carries the designation of Maitre Chocolatier-Confiseur, so you know that he knows his chocolate!  I absolutely loved the Obama chocolates made from soft nougat, pineapple, ginger, coffee beans, almonds and the finest dark chocolate. They had an amazing flavour and texture that I shall always remember.

Marlain Jean Philippe is the creative force behind Marlain Chocolatier

And Marlain doesn’t stop at edible chocolate! He offers an assortment of cocoa-based creams and cosmetics to make your body as smooth and silky as the delectable chocolate he’ll box for you to take home and savour.

There are many other exquisite chocolate shops in Montreal. What are some of your favourites?

Please join us back here the week of September 12th, when we’ll enjoy more taste-tempting travels.

Montreal has an important place in my heart as it is the place where the research for my book, Chocolatour, was officially launched! Fellow chocolate lover, Kathe Lieber of Montreal, accompanied me on the first overseas chocolate research trip back in October, 2009. Hard to believe it’s nearly been two years of chocolate tasting that has gotten me to this point!

But before we boarded the big bird and flew to Brussels, Kathe took me on a journey of chocolate discovery in Montreal. I’ll share some of our findings in the next post on this blog. For now, I’d like to focus on the city itself, as Montreal is such an amazing metropolis that as sweet as it is, chocolate will have to wait its turn for our attention.

Being a travel writer has its perks and privileges. It also instils some wonderful habits that come in handy. I looked thru my mini-notebooks that diarize my travels and found the one dated May 26-June 3, 2001. It had been exactly 10 years since my last visit of any length had been to this great city!

At that time, I had the great privilege of staying at two terrific hotels, one so very different than the other. The two properties personify the two distinct personalities of Montreal: the modern, chic French-speaking metropolis of North America, and the charming “Old Montreal” where you’ll find numerous reminders of the four centuries that make up the city’s rich and colourful history.

City Hall in Old Montreal is a landmark and well-maintained

The Hotel Le Germain on Mansfield, is situated in downtown Montreal, a close walk to the bustling shopping street of St. Catherine and to McGill University. If you are looking for a chic boutique hotel with impeccable service, this is the place to stay.

We also enjoyed being the guests of suite 501 in the beautiful historic, Auberge Bonaparte, a lovely room with an outdoor terrace complete with fresh flowers. What a romantic place to have spent our 6th wedding anniversary! And what a location. If you’re looking to stay and play in the heart of Old Montreal, the Auberge is a terrific choice.

Rue St-Francois Xavier in Old Montreal is home to the Auberge hotel & restaurant, as well as a terrific museum.

On my trip in June of this year, I stayed at the Residence Inn, a Marriott property offering reasonable rates and a convenient location to Concordia University, where the PWAC conference was being held. It’s not as luxurious as the other properties I’ve cited, but it has spacious rooms with full kitchen facilities and is perfect for lengthier, or more informal stays.

Writing this post has made me realize that I must get my beautiful slides from the late 1990′s and early 2000′s put onto disk. Right now, they’re in boxes in the garage just waiting for me.

Please join me here again the week of August 29th, when we’ll look at the sweeter side of Montreal. Until then, please share your comments about your favourite place(s) to stay in Montreal. As well as other things you love about the city.

And if you’re looking for more information on this remarkable city, visit Tourisme Montreal where you’ll see a totally cool video.

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