Category: travel

I know. I was supposed to be heading to Montreal for the next post. But it’s just so darned beautiful right now in Manitoba, and there are so many amazing things going on that I thought I’d treat you to one more round of local bragging. I hope you’ll indulge me, and join in with a comment celebrating your own favourite Manitoba place, memory or summer event. After all, as Travel Manitoba would say … “It’s Manitoba Time!”

the re-enactors of Vikings Vinland demonstrate battle techniques

We visited the Icelandic Festival in Gimli on the weekend and were fortunate to have timed our visit to see the battle re-enactment performed by members of Vikings Vinland, a troop of  re-enactors from all over North America. It was awesome! We also enjoyed a Goldeyes baseball game in Winnipeg.

But what really inspired me to write this post was the amazing culinary talent we have right here in the Interlake. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending High Tea at the Fat Cat Bistro (located just north of Camp Morton on Hwy 222.) It’s held every Tuesday from 2-4 pm and is a delight for just $13. We started with a plate of giant pinwheel sandwiches, followed by a course of hot appetizers. I loved the giant Japanese mussels made in a sauce of tomatoes and peppers. The mushroom puffs were also terrific and light. And a crostini featuring local Goldeye fish finished off the middle course with a lovely fresh flavour.

The dessert course consisted of a plate of cheeses and fresh fruits alongside a plate of dainties. And yes, there was chocolate! The chocolate coconut brownies were soft, chewy and really quite decadent.

My friend couldn’t eat nuts, so was made a special pavlova (which was dressed right at our table by John, partner of Karen Nielsen, our talented chef.)

John preparing a lovely pavlova at our table

Although the High Tea was not traditional in the sense that there were no scones with clotted cream, it was delightful in every way. I’m told by Chef Karen that she does make scones on occasion and changes the menu every week to keep her scores of regular customers happy and coming back each week or every second week to see what she has in store.

Today, we visited Fat Cat for breakfast. I’d been there once previously for dinner, but had not (until today) had the pleasure of enjoying one of their tasty breakfasts. As I’m watching my calorie count these days (the two years of intense chocolate tasting has finally caught up with me!) I ordered a simple breakfast of two poached eggs and sausages with multi-grain toast and sliced tomatoes. Include your coffee or tea and you’ve got an amazing breakfast for $5!

My male companions were not as concerned with their waistlines and ordered much more elaborately. Roy had the omelette, asking Chef Karen to create something unique for him. And that she did! His fluffy omelette was stuffed with goat’s cheese and local Saskatoon berries. A bit heavy for me, but Roy loved it!

My husband, Reg, ordered the authentic Icelandic pancakes (Karen is a local girl of Icelandic heritage) stuffed with seasonal berries and topped with fresh whipping cream. Wow! That was truly amazing, and something that I would order on a return visit.

Fat Cat's Icelandic pancakes

Fat Cat Bistro is becoming a local favourite with discerning diners of the Interlake. That, along with Mask Mediterranean Restaurant of Gimli are boasting internationally trained chefs who love the Interlake region and are hoping to tantalize diners’ taste buds beyond the (pickerel) fish and chips (french fries) that have become the flagship meal of many area restaurants.

Let’s talk. Tell me about your favourite hangout, event or memory from YOUR most coveted Manitoba time.

Please note there will be a special “Blog Jog Day” post on this blog on Sunday, August 7th, as I once again participate in an event that helps fellow bloggers expand their audiences. And we’ll be back the week of August 15th, when we will finally explore the virtues — and chocolate — of Montreal.

Thanks to all for sharing the journey to London with us and our discovery of the Chocolate Revolution in the UK. I could go on about it, but will save that for the print version of Chocolatour, where your chocolate experience will be greatly enhanced.

It’s time to head back across the pond and I invite you to join me on a diversion in my own backyard. You won’t find fine chocolate at the Gimli Film Festival (GFF), but you will find an amazing array of more than 120 films to nurture your spirit, entertain, educate and challenge you.

Last year I was privileged to attend the Opening Reception in celebration of the festival’s 10th year of operation, and stayed for the beach screening of the Weakerthans documentary. I can’t believe it took me 10 years to get to this amazing event!

This year, I plan on attending the afternoon screening of a documentary on El Bulli, said by many to be the world’s best restaurant. I missed the opportunity to visit this landmark eating establishment last year when I was in Barcelona. It’s located 177 kilometres from Barcelona airport, but we just didn’t have the time to make the journey.

Now I hear that El Bulli is closing, and will reopen as a new entity. We’ll see what master 3-star chef, Ferran Adria will come up with! Either way, it will be fascinating to watch the documentary of how this culinary mastermind works. I’m sure all mouths in the room will be watering as we watch a film documenting his sources of inspiration.

the setting for beach screenings at the Gimli Film Fest includes an 11-metre movie screen suspended above the waters of Lake Winnipeg

I’m also looking forward to the beach screening of Barney’s Version on Friday, July 22nd. As I recently returned from Montreal, it will be lovely to watch this movie based on Mordecai Richler’s prize-winning comic novel of the same name. The film won 7 Genie Awards and is said to show off Montreal most beautifully.

Something new that has been added this year is live music on the red dock by the beach screen at 8:30 pm before the 10 pm movie screenings. Looking forward to that!

And the GFF also offers free transportation from Winnipeg for festival goers with an “All Access Pass.” The GFF shuttle service is available to all others for a fee of $10 return trip. You can’t beat that!

So please join us in Gimli from July 20-24th for the 11th Gimli Film Fest. You’ll be glad you did! There are 3 indoor venues in addition to the beach venue. And something to please the palate of absolutely any film buff.

We’d love to hear your best GFF memories, or any experiences you may have had at other film festivals around the world. Please share your thoughts, and join us back here the week of August 2nd, when we’ll talk Montreal.

How appropriate that the next post on my chocolate travel blog will come on Chocolate Day! Chocolate truly is the international language of love, as no matter where you go in the world, if you arrive with a fine box of chocolates in hand, you will be well received.

The British certainly love their chocolate, and based on figures detailing chocolate consumption around the world, the Brits are near the top on every list I have seen. And they seem to be willing to spend more on their chocolate, as I have found their chocolate to be quite pricey. But definitely worth it!

In the last post, I introduced you to two of my favourite chocolate masters from the UK. But there are so many more! In our celebration to Chocolate Day, I’ll briefly introduce you to a few more.

I was fortunate to be in London for the launch of Hotel Chocolat’s signature
66% dark chocolate, introduced at their Rabot Estate chocolate boutique in Borough Market in London. I loved exploring Borough Market and meeting Angus Thirlwell, co-owner of Hotel Chocolat and the Rabot Estate. I can’t wait to get to St. Lucia and visit their cacao plantation and chocolate spa that makes Hotel Chocolat stand out as the chicest of chocolate makers.

chocolate tasting at Rabot Estate, Hotel Chocolat's boutique bistro in Borough Market

If you’re looking for chocolate with a feminine flair, then Rococo Chocolates is the place for you. Founded in 1983 by Chantal Coady, Rococo was the first brand of luxury, artisan brand chocolate in the UK and is characterized by the labels and packaging that show off Chantal’s amazing talent as a textile designer.

Chantal Coady, the creative force behind Rococo Chocolates

This is designer chocolate in a soft, subdued fashion, offering 25 flavours of fresh truffles and exotic bars with flavours such as Cardamom, Caramelized Onion and Moroccan Mint. Rococo makes some of its chocolates from cocoa beans grown on their plantation in Grenada.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Paul Wayne Gregory of Paul Wayne Gregory Ltd. How could I not love a guy whose motto is “Indulgence is everything”? Paul is another extremely creative chocolatier with a Caribbean connection. His family hails from Jamaica, and many of his chocolate flavours celebrate tropical treats such as passion fruit (Paul’s personal favourite as well as mine) which took him 18 months to perfect! Yes, Paul admits to being a perfectionist and it shows in his creations. They are simple, yet delectable.

Paul Wayne Gregory's chocolates are simple in design and intense in flavour

This post has introduced you to three more exotic masters of chocolate from the UK. There are many more! I hope you’ll now realize why Britain is leading the Chocolate Revolution and changing the way we make, eat and enjoy chocolate.

Please continue to share your thoughts with everyone here. I love hearing from you! And come back the week of July 18th, when we’ll take our next chocolate journey along the Chocolatour.

The best thing about my job as the author of Chocolatour is that I get to eat an abundance of tremendously wonderful chocolate and that I get to meet a lot of amazing chocolate masters who are generous with their chocolates. That is also the worst thing about my job. Once that chocolate is in my possession it is quickly eaten unless I give it away. But I can’t give it away and still get to eat it (and test it, savour it, review it, write about it.) So there is a bit of a dilemma I have to deal with, in addition to the expanding reach of my waistline. Believe me. I share as much of the chocolate I am exposed to as I can, but for the most part, the tasting, comparing, analyzing and appreciating is mine to do.

It’s wonderful when the chocolate has a shelf-life of at least a few weeks. That gives me time to taste and share while the chocolate is still at full quality. But that’s not always the case.

Some freshly-made chocolates, like the truffles of Paul A. Young of London only have a shelf-life of one week. It is not the kind of chocolate that you can take home and savour for awhile. It pretty much needs to be eaten within a few days of leaving the shop for optimum flavour. And it cannot be frozen and should not be refrigerated. But it’s still worth a trip to one of Paul’s intoxicating London locations, as there are other options that have a slightly longer shelf life and will better survive a journey.

Paul A. Young will be launching his recipe book in New York on November 11/11

Just walking into his shop is worth the visit. You are nearly bowled over by the potent smell of fresh chocolate. All the chocolate sold in the shop is made on site. I mean it when I use the word “intoxicating” to describe Paul’s chocolate — and his brownies! Those brownies are a hybrid that marries deep rich chocolate with salted caramel and pecans. There is absolutely nothing better in my opinion than Paul’s soft, moist dark chocolate brownies. They are individually wrapped and come in squares large enough to satisfy the chocolate cravings of any die-hard chocolaholic.

Every one of Paul’s staff is highly knowledgeable and passionate about chocolate. They are there to help you find the right chocolate creations that are just right for you. And Paul’s chocolate shops are unique in that many of the chocolates are unwrapped and unadulterated.

a visit to a Paul A. Young chocolate shop is truly a captivating experience

They are displayed openly, for you to smell and admire, making the chocolate shopping experience more enriching, personal and satisfying. It truly is intoxicating, and a chocolate experience that no chocolate loving chocolatourist  in London should miss.

I also really loved the chocolate of William Curley. William originally hails from Scotland, and his wife, Suzue, from Japan. This cross-cultural heritage not only makes for an interesting marriage, but an amazing collaborative process in the chocolate lab. You’ll find chocolate with a strong Asian influence, with sake, sesame seeds and mustard providing subtle enhancements to the chocolate.

William’s shop is elegant and inviting. You can linger inside at a few tables, or outside at tables in front of the Belgravia (Westminster District) shop.

I adored the Sea Salt Caramel Mou — dark chocolate covering soft caramel enhanced with a taste of sea salt from Brittany. Absolutely astounding, and not too sweet at all. The chocolate is wonderful, and the caramel, a perfect blend of sweet and salty. All that quality, and a shelf-life of four months makes this a terrific take-home souvenir of your Chocolatour.

William Curley's marzipan mushrooms (on left) are truly divine

Another really unique offering from William Curley are the dark chocolate marzipan mushrooms! They look like exotic mushrooms and are filled with tasty marzipan. William was originally trained as a pastry chef and continues to offer an amazing array of exquisite pastries in addition to his enticing chocolates.

I’ll have more to say about the amazing chocolate revolution that has changed the face of chocolate in London and area in the next post, which you’ll find here during the week of July 4th. Until then, please enjoy surfing the sites of Paul A. Young and William Curley and you’ll see why these are my two favourite men of chocolate in the UK.

I hadn’t been to London, England since May, 1996, so my trip last week was a real treat. I’d spent a week there with my husband, Reg, on our first wedding anniversary and loved the city. But somehow, my travels only took me through Heathrow Airport in London over the past 15 years and hadn’t allowed me time to reacquaint myself with this marvellous city.

A spur-of-the-moment research trip with writer-friend, Suzanne Boles, of London, Ontario, enabled me to spend 6 days in one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world with one of my dearest friends. Eating chocolate for the next installment of Chocolatour. What could be better than that?

we really enjoyed staying at Dillons

For this journey, we chose to fly Air Transat and were pleased with the service we received. If you can afford the small fee for the upgrade, do opt for Club Class, as it offers you additional space, enhanced service and comfort. For an overseas flight, it’s definitely worth it!

We were fortunate to find affordable and comfortable accommodations at Dillons Hotel (B&B) via the Journeywoman website. If you don’t already subscribe to Evelyn Hannon’s fantastic travel resource for women (and all travellers), I strongly suggest that you do. You’d be amazed at what you’ll find there.

We really enjoyed staying at Dillons. We were offered a complimentary breakfast daily, free in-room wifi, friendly helpful staff, and a convenient location near two Tube stations and the quaint neighbourhood of Belsize Park.

The only deterrent to staying at Dillons are the stairs! We were on the top floor (called the second floor, but it’s 2 levels up from the ground level.) We had a nice view and good air circulation with a large window, but there is no elevator, and so if you have difficulties with stairs or lots of heavy luggage, ask for a room on the lower level or choose another location for your stay.

Belsize Village is a great place to chill out

Belsize Park is a really cool neighbourhood in the London Borough of Hampstead. Lots of ethnic shops and restaurants without the hustle and bustle of staying in one of the more central, trendier locales. Reg and I had stayed in a similar neighbourhood in New York City several years ago and also loved it for its realism, safety factor and more reasonable prices.

Suzanne had been to London a few years ago with her daughter, so she recommended a visit to Covent Garden. I loved it! Lots of shops and restaurants, buskers, and pretty much anything for anyone. Reasonable prices in the flea market kiosks, more unique and fashionable items in the storefronts. And a Thorntons shop for chocolate lovers.

We also enjoyed a walk through Hyde Park. I was surprised at how much it reminded me of Central Park and many other green spaces in some of the world’s most memorable cities. Lots of people walking their dogs, cyclists, families feeding the birds, flowers and greenery for nature lovers.

However, my primary reason for visiting London was to eat British chocolate. I was not disappointed. Tune into the blog during the week of June 21st for more on that.

But for now, let’s talk London highlights. What have been yours?

Today is my birthday, and without question, the best present anyone can give me is their presence. So later today, I’ll be enjoying the presence of a dozen or so close friends for a little dinner party. (Believe me, if the weather was better, I’d have extended the guest list. But we’ve been having pretty dreadful weather much more than the hot and sunny I love for BBQ parties, so I stuck with the safety of a small group we could sit comfortably indoors.)

Being one who has the good fortune to travel often and quite extensively, I have made many dear friends in other cities, and would like to thank my dear friend, Virginia, of Toronto, for having sent me the best birthday present this chocolate-loving girl could ever hope for: SOMA chocolates. Virginia knows good chocolate as she and I visited three European countries last fall and ate chocolate until we had to resort to storing it in our cheeks because it wouldn’t go down.

some of the amazing chocolates at SOMA

For those of you who have never tasted the ecstasy  known to me as SOMA chocolate, you are truly missing out. It is without doubt, the best Canadian-made chocolate I have ever eaten. I adore their dark chocolate truffles filled with ganache made from poignant flavours such as Douglas Fir tree sap, bergamot, Arbequina Spanish olive oil, 8-year-old balsamic vinegar, and local Canadian whisky.  They are artistically designed and made from cocoa beans roasted and ground right on the premises.

cocoa beans ready to be made into sumptuous chocolate at SOMA chocolatemaker

Virginia was kind enough to send me 2 of SOMA’s delicious mini bars. Just 65 grams each and divided into tiny squares so that those who feel they must practice restraint can easily do so. Unfortunately, SOMA chocolates are best eaten within 10 days of purchase, so I’m just doing my duty in making quick work of it. And yes, my dear chocolate-loving friends, eating chocolate is indeed work for me. I am one of those lucky individuals who LOVES my job!

On my chocolate quest to Toronto this week, I shall be making a trek to SOMA chocolatemaker to indulge in their single origin truffles. It’s been a year since I’ve been to their shop and I’ve eaten truckloads of high-end chocolate from all over the world during that time.

My palette has become much more refined (it’s kind of like drinking wine — you’ve got to keep trying different ones to be able to differentiate between them and to find the ones that you particularly like or don’t like and be able to determine why.)

I’m now ready to put SOMA’s single origin truffles to the test against Norman Love’s BLACK collection. I can’t imagine anything being better than them, but then … I haven’t yet experienced SOMA’s product of quite the same grade.

That’s the thing you’ll learn after eating a lot of great chocolate. There are often several different grades of chocolate right within the same small shop. As in the case of SOMA, Norman Love and other fine chocolate makers … they are all good.  But it is when you get to the purest of chocolate such as the single origin truffles, that you get the flavour, texture and appearance that sets the best several grades above the rest.

To me, really good chocolate is never too sweet, too bitter or too gritty. It should be silky smooth (in texture), pure (in ingredients) and intense (in flavour.)  And I know I will always find that in the remarkable quality of chocolates I get from SOMA chocolatemaker of Toronto.

I’m actually going to Toronto this week for the annual conference of The Writers Union of Canada (TWUC.)  It will be my first time attending a national TWUC event and I’m looking forward to it. Following that, I and my next chocolate-tasting partner in crime, Suzanne Boles of London, Ontario, will be taking the Chocolatour to London, England  to meet with some amazing British chocolate makers. So we’ll have lots to talk about in the upcoming posts.

Join me back here the week of June 6th for the next post. But until then, let’s talk! What has been the best chocolate that has ever passed your lips?

This blog usually takes us to exotic locales in search of chocolate and other delectables. But this post, I’d like to salute my own home turf in honour of  Manitoba Day. I was born and raised here. It is my home, and I’m proud of its many attributes.

Last summer my husband and I toured our area, taking in many exciting festivals and events. I wrote about them on my lifestyle blog but will recap the highlights here for those of you who may be curious about what there is to do in Manitoba’s Interlake region.

the beautiful beach at Camp Morton

In the Aug 23/10 post, I took you to Camp Morton, a stunning beach on Lake Winnipeg just north of Gimli. This beautiful picture of the beach inspires me on days (like today) when my energy level is on the low side and the air pressure is correspondingly low because of the dreadful weather we’ve been having this month. I know it will soon pass and we’ll once again be strolling along the shores of Lake Winnipeg talking to the shore birds and feeling the misted breeze on our faces.

In the Aug 9/10 post, I introduced you to the re-enactors who live like Vikings for the first week of August each year as part of Gimli’s Icelandic Festival. Who wouldn’t be smitten by a smile from this face?

the blacksmith in the Viking Village

In the July 22/10 post, we visited Hecla Island and the Gimli Film Festival. Hecla is a terrific place to explore nature, and although the Hecla Oasis Resort has come into financial difficulties and suspended operations, the campground and golf course are open for your pleasure. And be sure to mark your calendars and take in the Gimli Film Fest which runs July 20-24 this year.

In the March 29/10 post, we visited Chatfield, Manitoba, a rather out-of-the-way community in Manitoba’s Interlake region that surprisingly came up in conversation at a function I attended this week. Out of 4 people in the discussion, 2 had a connection with Chatfield! They certainly have a terrific museum for anyone interested in country memorabilia.

And with Winnipeg being my hometown, we can’t talk about Manitoba without tipping our hats to the province’s capital city. Check out my Feb 27/09 post to see some of my favourite things about Winnipeg.

A shocking survey by Peak of the Market suggested that most Manitobans don’t even know that May 12th is Manitoba Day. I hope this post will help change that, and that many of us will plan to discover or revisit some special places in this province over the summer to remind us just how lucky we are to live here – despite the challenges of the crazy spring weather.

My heart goes out to our fellow Manitobans in the Westman region who are facing a breach of the dike today. A crisis which do doubt has literally put a damper on any celebrations in the western part of the province.

But we look forward with hope. Please share your thoughts on a Manitoba gem you enjoy, or what you like best about Manitoba.

Look for the next post here during the week of May 23rd, when I’ll be preparing for a trip to Toronto. And yes, there will be chocolate.

This … my chocolate loving friends is the post you’ve been waiting for. As today, I will introduce you to one of the finest masters of chocolate in North America!

Our recent trip to Florida had one major goal. To meet Norman Love. I’d heard of Norman when I was at the World Chocolate Masters Championships and Salon du Chocolat in Paris in 2009. He is revered by many experts and chocolate lovers as being the finest chocolate maker in the USA.

So we made our way down to Fort Myers Beach with the kind assistance from the folks at the Lee County Convention & Visitors Bureau. I will be forever grateful to them for introducing me to Mr. Norman Love.

you can’t help but love Norman Love – chocolates

Love is one of those passionate individuals who lives and breathes chocolate. His shop is a mecca for chocolate lovers. I pulled up to the Norman Love Confections shop in Fort Myers, only to find another woman taking a picture of it! I could see myself doing that, for the purposes of Chocolatour, but she was simply a chocolate lover who was documenting her journey to this place of sensual wonders.

some of the captivating chocolate creations of Norman Love

You walk in the door to the small shop and you are blown away by colour. The packaging is so beautiful it’s mouth watering! And the display of chocolates and fresh pastries is so enticing, you’ll probably gain a pound or two before you even walk out the door.

But it wasn’t the fanciful packaging or luscious pastries that won my heart. It was Love’s BLACK Collection. A simple black box containing the most elegant and sensuous chocolate I have ever tasted.

Love is a purist in that he tries to keep flavours recognizable. In the BLACK Collection, you will indulge yourself in single-origin chocolate from five of the finest cocoa producing areas on the planet: the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Madagascar. I have been to the DR, but the remainder of the locations share a place at the top of my wish list.

Eating that box of BLACK was one of the most intoxicating experiences I’ve ever had. In fact, when I was in Fort Myers tasting with Love, I admitted to him that I was getting high. The cocoa is so pure and perfect that someone like me (who has a sensitivity to caffeine) finds herself giddy like a school girl and lost in the love of chocolate. I think you diehards know what I mean.

Let’s just say I loved each and every piece in that box of BLACK. But to give you a brief synopsis, the Madagascar was my favourite. It’s created from 64% cocoa mass produced from trinitario beans (which possess a natural fruity flavour) blended with roasted hazelnuts and a subtle hint of clove and cedar! The Maracaibo Clasificado from Venezuela was my least favourite, but don’t think I didn’t like it. They were all magnificent, and make me wish I lived closer to Fort Myers so that I could be one of the regulars that Love knows by name. With any luck, someday soon …

I’m an island girl. A beach baby. All my favourite places on this planet are surrounded by beach, beautiful vistas and water, so it’s no wonder I love Fort Myers Beach. The white sand beach seems to be never-ending, the ambiance of Fort Myers Beach as a destination or community is unpretentious, and it’s quite accessible to other parts of Florida, being just three hours (less than 200 miles) southwest of central Florida and our previous destination of Orlando.

We were fabulously fortunate to be hosted by the GullWing Beach Resort, located on a wide stretch of Fort Myers Beach. The GullWing is part of the Sunstream family of properties and top-notch in every way. Our expansive suite was so large, we occasionally got lost in it! The spacious screened-in lanai overlooked the beach, and it was just a short walk before we were immersed in the welcoming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

our beachfront suite at the GullWing had a beautiful lanai

We also enjoyed the pool and the poolside hot tub. There are no restaurants on-site as the GullWing is a condominium property. Each suite is owned by individual owners, so decor varies from unit to unit. I can tell you that Suite 306, decorated throughout in shades of green and blue, was most pleasing to this nature-loving water baby.

Most of the “action” happens at the north end of Fort Myers Beach, just as you come off the  Matanzas Pass Bridge (also known as the “Sky Bridge” because it seems to touch the sky) onto Estero Blvd, the road running from the north end of Fort Myers Beach to the less populated southern end. The GullWing is located more towards the southern end of the strip, but just a short drive to the rest of the action. And we liked it that way. Less traffic, fewer people and more birds.

brown pelican enjoying the sun at the Fort Myers Beach pier

I do love the pier at the northern end of Fort Myers Beach. You see many kids and adults fishing, a few brown pelicans resting peacefully in the sun and a terrific view of the entire beach. And right at the foot of the pier, you’ll find Kilwin’s, who make terrific chocolate goodies. Try the dark chocolate “Sea Foam.” It reminded me of sponge toffee. Now, doesn’t that bring back some warm childhood memories? Kilwin’s is also famous for their fudge and ice cream. But I can only swear by the chocolate, and it was indeed, good.

Yes, you’re right! I hadn’t come to Fort Myers Beach strictly for the beach. (You know me better than that!) I came for the chocolate, as it was the next research stop for Chocolatour. Please join me here the week of April 25th for more on a find that is perhaps the best chocolate that has ever passed these chocolate-loving lips.

In the meantime, please share your thoughts about Fort Myers Beach, your favourite place in Florida, pelicans, sponge toffee, or anything else that makes you smile.

Sorry for the delay in posting. We’ve been having a tremendous discussion about inspiration over on my writer’s blog and I’ve been somewhat distracted.

For this post, I’m bringing you back across the pond and to Florida.  I love Florida! The sun, the surf, the birds.  Have been there many times over the years and have always enjoyed making new discoveries. This trip was no different. We spent a week in Orlando (hadn’t been there in a number of years) and then went on to enjoy 3 days on Fort Meyers Beach. I’ll take you there in the next post. But for now … we’ll focus on Orlando and the highs and lows of our visit.

The lows? The weather was one. Located in Central Florida, Orlando is about 3 hours north of Fort Meyers Beach. So the weather there can be considerably cooler than you’ll encounter in South Florida. And we happened to visit in January, during a cooler and wetter-than-normal week. So as much as it was nice to be away from the cold and snow of Manitoba, the Orlando weather didn’t do it for me.

The other low? The sharks! No, these ones weren’t in the water. They can be found circling unsuspecting visitors at the timeshare property where we were staying.

We loved the Wyndham Cypress Palms. It’s a fantastic resort. But it’s part of the Wyndham Vacation Resorts family of properties. We were there on a “free” certificate we received when buying into the Wyndham Grand Desert in Las Vegas in December, 2009.

The Cypress Palms is newly reburbished. Our king suite was gorgeous, with granite countertops, a jacuzzi tub, screened-in lanai overlooking the man-made lake, and a convenient location in Kissimmee on Highway 192. We had plenty of space and were thrilled to be spending a week there for the price of an expensive dinner.

We were invited to a 45-minute “member services update” by the Wyndham people. I didn’t see any harm in that as I admitted to not fully understanding the timeshare program in which I was an “owner.” Nearly 4 hours later, we were walking out of there having doubled our investment in the program and now owning a share of the Wyndham Cypress Palms.

Why did I do it despite the warning from dear husband, Reg? Because I fell prey to the sharks posing as “member services reps” and believed they were making recommendations based on what was described as “my best interest.” I had been had. Fortunately Visa’s assistance helped me get out of that deal. Contract cancelled. I should get myself a t-shirt saying  “Shark attack survivor.”

Why am I telling you this? To protect you from scammers. Don’t be trusting like me. Keep your guard up. Trust your intuition. If your spidy senses are tingling, they might be trying to tell you something. Walk away before your regret is as big as your bank account is small.

Marketplace had a super show on CBC last night showing just how easily the average Canadian is taken advantage of by the super scam-man. They usually have a friendly face and disposition. They ALWAYS have an offer which is “good for today only” and try to cause you to act before you’ve thoroughly thought things through. These are warning signals that are trying to save you from the aggravation I went through. Don’t ignore them!

Using the Toastmasters sandwich method of evaluations, I’ll close with a positive. I do enjoy Orlando. There are many worldclass attractions to experience, it’s not too difficult to navigate the highways (even for a small-town gal like me) and for the most part, the weather is palatable.

beautiful white heron at Gatorland

We really enjoyed a visit to Medieval Times (jousting, lords and ladies all while you enjoy a knightly feast) and Gatorland (lots of alligators and birds in a pleasing, fairly natural environment.)

A recommended property to stay at is the Peabody Orlando. They have sweet, happy ducks. No sharks.

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