Travel Boom to Cuba expected with change in U.S. and Cuba relations


Canadian-owned Cuba Cruise foresees increased bookings from travellers eager to experience the iconic island before it changes

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Calgary, AB. December 18th, 2014: The USA and Cuba have agreed to establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, announced Wednesday afternoon by both President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. While unlicensed U.S. tourist travel remains banned, Cuba Cruise, a Canadian company, anticipates increased bookings from international travellers eager to explore a country that is virtually free of American commercialization and chockfull with charm before it might change.

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In 2013, Cuba Cruise revolutionized travel to Cuba by offering the first regularly scheduled circumnavigation cruise around the Castro-ruled island. Cuba Cruise is a completely new way to discover the island’s rich culture, history, and world famous beaches. It’s nothing like the fly & fry vacations travellers have been accustomed to when visiting the Caribbean, nor will travellers find themselves in front of American hotels or retail chain stores.




Cuba Cruise is a Canadian born and bred initiative that not only showcases the beautiful nook and crannies of the island, but also advocates for the Cuban people and celebrates their rich culture as well. The company offers travellers the most comprehensive cruise program on the market, visiting six ports of call and exploring the island’s most iconic destinations like Havana and Santiago de Cuba, and its hidden treasures like Punta Frances on the idyllic Isla de la Juventud.

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For more information about Cuba Cruise, or to book, visit

About Cuba Cruise

Cuba Cruise, launched in January 2013, is a revolutionary niche product affiliated with Celestyal Cruises and offers a unique opportunity to experience Cuba’s history, landscapes, and culture in a comfortable and seamless travel environment. Guests aboard Cuba Cruise spend their days experiencing the wealth of the region, beautiful beaches and a view beyond compare. From the impeccable service and delicious meals made with Canadian beef and fresh produce, to exceptional daily shore excursions using the best local guides and operators, this is a chance to experience a Cuba rarely seen. Cuba Cruise looks forward to another year of roaring success. Cuba Cruise’s second season begins December 19, 2014 and sails every Monday from Havana and Friday from Montego Bay through to March 30, 2015.

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Vogue Magazine declares Queen Street West, Toronto as second coolest in the world

Originally posted on Melody Wren:

Toronto’s West Queen West has been declared as one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods by Vogue Magazine.

In the magazine’s September 2014 issue, Queen Street West has been ranked second in a list of 15 neighbourhoods from across the world.

So, what exactly makes a neighbourhood “cool” by Vogue’s standards?

He mentions popular spots in the neighbourhood, like the Drake (one of my personal faves),  the Gladstone, SoHo House, and Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA), as well as Graffiti Alley, which runs south of Queen Street from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street.

When I joined ChowBella founder and fellow Guelphite, Trina Hendry for a culinary tour of Queen Street West, it was evident how hip the area was.  The walk takes…

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Why I Love Kenya


Samburu tribal girls in the homestead where they live with their family.  Wearing traditional beads, Kenyan girls are raised learning how to bead, each bead meaning something special to them.


Samburu tribes raise cattle and goats for their own use, eating the meat, drinking the milk, and drinking the goat’s blood, first heating it over an open fire to sterilize it.  


The girls all wear traditional clothing, brightly colored, always topped by beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings. 



The children seem to be constantly smiling which always got me laughing and smiling with me.  


This grandmother has two grand-daughters, one on her back.  We shared a special moment, when I told her through my guide (as I don’t speak much Swahili) that I also have two grand-daughters.  She asked me my name, and when I told her, she told me my  name in Swahili…..Sungulia.  It was wonderful to make such a connection and see that understanding in her eyes .


Soysambu Conservancy an elephant and her baby amble daintily oblivioius to our Safari jeep following along

for more information:  Magical Kenya,

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Tea growing in Kenya


Kiambethu Tea Farm


Situated at 2,200 metres, thirty km from nairobi, Kiambethu has been the family home of one of the earliest tea growers in Kenya.  The farm dates back to 1910 and the present house, set amidst beautiful, english style gardens has been home to four generations.

Arrange to arrive at 11:00 and over a cup of tea, the process of making tea is informally explained by the genteel Fiona Vernon.  Following the chat, you can take a walk in the nearby indigenous forest with the resident Kenyan guide who will identify the plans and explain how they are traditionally used.  

Return to the house to enjoy a pre-lunch drink on the veranda with sweeping views across the tea fields to the Ngong Hills.  A delicious lunch is prepared with vegetables from teh garden and desserts topped with cream from the herd of Channel Island cows.

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New and taste worthy in Guelph


While Guelph is still a work in progress coming throughout the city you can catch glimpses of why people are moving here from afar.

On any given Saturday, a cross section of Guelph’s most stylish residents converge upon the decidedly chic swath of Carden and Wilson Street, an area that has become one of the city’s creative hubs.

At the weekly market, local artisans ply organic honey, cured meats, artisanal bread, and handmade jewellery to an eclectic mix of patrons.

Today, central Guelph and beyond is lined with artist’s studios, co-ops, restaurants, bakeries and cafes. Trail blazing projects are popping up in other neighbourhoods as well.

Entrepreneurs are keen on opening something quirky. They are not merely cooking food that they know everyone expects and enjoys. The attitude is “let’s challenge them and do something completely different” and it’s working.

I will try to update regularly what is new and noteworthy in Guelph

Decadently Yours Bakery

Decadently Yours Sisters Jenn Bonner (left) and Tara Riddell (right) originally had the bakery business based in Brantford, however as they both lived in Guelph, moving the bakery seemed logical. Making use of a prime location at the corner of Surrey and Neeve Street, the stunning backdrop of purple and black décor is a bold backdrop for the baked goods on offer.

Decadently Yours cupcakes

All their products are baked the old fashioned way, the way the owner’s grandmother did it – from scratch using fresh, local ingredients. Boasting the use of only butter,-no lard, shortening, margarine or preservatives -is important in today’s market. Specializing in cupcakes, cakes and cookies, I was personally pleased to see that their specialties also include a selection of gluten free offerings including cookies and loaves and some pies. Vegans, Celiacs, and those needing dairy free with a sweet tooth have at least one option to choose from. Cupcakes are baked fresh daily with butter cream frosting, cream cheese frostings or chocolate ganach. Gourmet “pupcakes” for dogs are also available. Birthday parties where the children get to decorate their own cupcakes is offered on the premises.

119 Surrey Street. E., Guelph


39 Carden Street

Filling the gap where the popular Carden Street Café left off, this trendy bistro is owned by the same owners as Baker Street Station.

39Carden Street

Traditional French menus feature hearty game meats . Chef Becky Hood (photo below) trained in Calgary then got to know local tastes by working at La Cucina and Artisinale before making the leap to Baker Street Station. Once the owners, Dave Clancy, Justin and Shannon Corstorphine and Caitlyn Heximar decided to open the French counterpart, Becky, who was instrumental in designing the menu, said it was a “dream come true.”

Becky Hood, Chef, 39 Carden Street

The substantial snack list available throughout the day includes duck wings, pork belly steam buns, rabbit and truffle mousse bacon dumplings, pulled pork sliders. Hearty brunch fare on the weekends offers pork belly eggs benny; mushroom spinach quiche, steak and eggs, and a traditional breakfast for the plainer palates.

Appetizers carry on the unusual fare with fried quail with fries, seared pork belly with maple mustard, eggplant and goat cheese flatbread, Seared scallops with iceberg puree, and bone marrow and mushrooms on toast.

Menus are on chalkboards and change frequently. Unusual offerings continue reputation began at Baker Street . Décor is an unusual combination of elegant chandeliers, industrial lighting, barn board that you would think wouldn’t work, but it does giving it an overall chic feel for all the young lovelies that were dining the evening I was there.

38-40 Carden Street, Guelph


Eric The Baker

 Eric The Baker signage

Filling a gap is this newly opened bakeshop and café, which is small but mighty. With a French background, it is no surprise that Eric Chevalier s offering an authentic French experience. Eric’s beliefs have a high respect for “living food” which includes fresh butter, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables with no compromise. The combination of everything fresh is obvious in the offerings.

Eric the Baker 2

He learned to bake alongside his grandmother who owned the legendry La Petite Gourmet in Toronto. Not content to simply eat the cookies, he wanted to bake them himself, eventually creating tiny mice cookies that his grandmother carried in the shop.

Eric the Baker

Along with Chef Paula Moiseev (photo above)  he is baking three types of bread to use in the sandwich makings and to accompany the soup including sourdough, a white loaf, and the ubiquitous baguette. He also does a mixture of spelt, rye and whole wheat. As well as regularly offering the traditional Pain au Raisin (my personal favourite) Eric created his own variations on the same theme; Black cherry with custard, Lemon curd with fresh blueberries, and Apple with maple syrup. Variations Morning breakfast, soup and sandwiches, Shepherd’s Pie, fine pastries, cookies, meringues and several gluten free options. Primarily take out , there are some seats available to eat in.

Eric the Baker pastries

46 Carden Street, Guelph


Keeping it fresh , simple and tasty in Guelph, eat on…….



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Dream of being a travel writer? Sign up for travel writing workshops


1st photo road near farm

Love to travel the open road and dream of being a travel writer? Good travel writing is more than just describing where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. Travel writers must convey to readers, the places in their imaginations and beyond, using sensual description, strong narrative, unusual imagery and a clear voice.

This course is an opportunity to learn those skills that will transport your writing–and your readers–to faraway places and strange new worlds. If your head is swimming with travel stories… if you like to try new adventures, experiences and explore new cafés, find out how to live the travel writer’s life.

The Shambles a, York

Register now – only a few spots are left!

Where:  Southampton Art School, Southampton, Ontario

Fellow students:  A diverse group (max 15) of mostly women of all ages.

comments from previous students: ” I have never, ever attended a workshop with a class so sharing and non-judgemental. A fun learning experience.” 

Great workshop! It was a great number for this type of workshop, and this group worked great together. a weekend well spent.” 

” very relaxed atmosphere”  ” I felt excited and inspired. My curiosity has been piqued. I liked sharing/feedback time. I am so glad I signed up! I would definitely recommend it!”

“Just what I was looking for as an intro to travel writing. You managed to make us work at finding our voice without being intimidated in the process!”

appreciated the positive tone to the sessions.”

Galapagos 655

Travel Writing Part I June 16, 17, 2014   9:00 to 12:00 

This introductory weekend is a practical, supportive course run by Melody Wren, who has written for a string of magazines. It’s interactive, so you’ll take part in discussion and writing exercises and leave with useful handouts.

Through a series of exercises, this workshop encourages people who love to travel to tap into their ability to write creatively. Discussions will cover how to get started and where to look for publishing opportunities. The workshop will cover the main techniques of travel writing including:

Introduction- the basics on travel writing : different forms; how to write a query, where to access information
Media –how to find a market, information on how to find the magazine or newspaper to suit your travel story
Research – the role
Finding a voice-different ways to incorporate into your writing
Travel writing tips – details only an insider can share

Change islands laundry view -gorgeous
Travel Writing Part II  June 21, 22, 2014,   9:00 to 12:00

If you took Travel Writing I in 2012 or 2013, you are eligible for this in-depth workshop. If you haven’t, but you have writing experience, and the accompanying moxy to convince us you are ready for this leap, please join us.

If you are seriously considering trying on the travel writer life, this is the course for you. An in-depth discussion of the realities of the life of travel writing will be accompanied by practical in-depth writing exercises to get you started as a freelancer. Building on the travel writing basics of Part 1, we will delve deeper into what angles you as a writer can pursue. ” Write about what you know.” We have heard the expression, now let’s explore what that means to make it work.

Twillingate harbor BEST shot

In this detailed workshop, we will examine publications closely, write sample query letters put an article together step by step . We will develop self-editing skills focussing only on what is important for each article. 

The following will be covered sequentially:

Publishing markets: how to find a market that suits your style of writing
Query/Pitches: you will write a query turning it into something you can use
Research : this is a powerful tool, how to use it to get published
Niche/Angle: your unique perspective 
Outline: how to outline your article coming up with a formula you can use time and time again
Get Started: the basics on putting yourself out there: what is the first step?
Marketing: how to market yourself, get out there and get published

 better sheep photo closeup

To register: Southampton Art School

1.Phillipsburg, St. Maarten

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History of Antigua is clear to see

Antigua view from Dow Hill copy

On a recent visit to Antigua, the history was brought to life at Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre.

Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre offers a well-crafted and knowledgeable production on the history, culture and heritage of Antigua and Barbuda.  It takes you  back into the six ages of time that have and shaped and formed what the island is today,  on a trip through the eras of the American hunters, the enormous British military presence and the struggle against slavery.  Following the fifteen minute film, stand at the top of the hill and you will be able to see key locations in the harbours and forts below that were affected by the history of ships, pirates, slavery and sugar plantations.

Antigua view from Dow Hill intepretation center copy

From English Harbour , the patchwork quilt of British History and the substantial British influence makes sense of the British feel to the island.  There are forty forts on the island, each spaced 2 miles apart.

Nonsuch Bay Resort:   we stayed in a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment overlooking the pool and the ocean, and could have stayed months with the space, the perfectly appointed amenities, and the sheer simple luxurious feeling of it. Rentals are available in 1 to 3 bedroom apartments and for a small extra fee, the resort will stock your fridge with provisions so that you don’t have to waste valuable relaxing time grocery shopping. A return visit to any resort I stay at for research speaks volumes.   I enjoyed it so much, I am returning at the end of the month with my family.

Nonsuch Bay resort beautiful shot 2

The beach and Nonsuch Bay harbour has sail boats, wind surfing, hobie-cats, paddle boards, snorkel equipment.

Melody’s trip to Antigua was  sponsored by the Antigua Board of Tourism

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