Cruising Cuba

El Nicho mountain backdrop

After a 2-hour drive through rural mountain villages in a decommissioned Russian army truck, we arrived at El Nicho conservation area, a nature lover’s dream with hiking trails and a panoramic backdrop of the Escambray mountains.

El Nicho waterfalls

We hiked a steep rugged trail passing dozens of waterfalls. Anxious to cool off, we stopped to swim at the base of one, the water invitingly clear, aqua green , but I yelped at the surprisingly freezing temperature.

On our way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit stand to buy several enormous local fruits called Mamay that take twenty five years to grow. Tearing them apart with our fingers, juices dripping down our faces, they tasted deliciously like a cross between a sweet potato and mango.

Cuban cowboy action

Tourists are a rare sight in the villages. Locals ran out of their houses, waving, trying out their English, shouting the carefully enunciated “How are you?” The few vehicles were primarily horse drawn carts, farmers plowed fields with horses and I was surprised to see a number of cowboys on horseback.

Rural Cuba taxi

I had arrived in rural Cuba by way of “Cuba Cruise”, a Greek Louis Crystal Ship that circumnavigates the island during the Winter season taking passengers places they wouldn’t normally visit. Most tourists go to the resort side of Cuba, approximately a 12 hour drive from Cienfuegos city center where we had docked.

cuban cowboy smiling

Posted in Recent Trips | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

History and tranquility on the small island of Nevis

Nevis from the air 2

There is something very special about visiting a small island, and from the moment you cross the water in a tiny plane from Antigua, Nevis has woven its magic. The tiny island of Nevis, little sister to St. Kitts, is suited to travellers who enjoy raw nature, as well as to those who seek quiet, peace, and tranquillity, the primary reasons people return.

Nevis has a heritage trail and iconic plantation ruins, and other activities on the island are the best of a traditional British seaside experience. Offering far more than beautiful sugar-sand beaches and a large array of water activities, there are also unexpected on-trend gourmet restaurants, and a fascinating history with a strong Jewish component.

After being expelled from Brazil in the 17th century, Jews began to settle on St. Kitts and Nevis. At its height, the Jewish community constituted around 25 per cent of the total population.

The mostly Sephardi Jews brought to the island the secrets of crystallizing sugar, making Nevis the “Queen of the Caribbées”, because of the wealth brought in by the sugar trade.

History reveals itself gently in the many sugar plantations dotted throughout the 93 sq.-km. island (which has a population of 12,000), and in the 17th-century Jewish synagogue and cemetery.

The community erected a synagogue in the city of Charlestown in Nevis around 1684 and established a cemetery located on Government Road containing graves dating from 1679 to 1768. There are 19 surviving markers in the cemetery, which bear inscriptions in Hebrew, English and Portuguese. At the end of the 18th century, most of the Jewish population left the island, leaving the cemetery abandoned. Today, it is the focus of a major archeological effort.

Nevis plantation ruins with roots

If you have archeological instincts, there is a lot to explore, including numerous ruins of plantations, ancient Amerindian sites, and a recently discovered slave village. On a guided tour of the slave village with replicas of houses the slaves would have lived in, I asked our guide, Patricia, about the horrible conditions her predecessors lived in.

She waved it off with a grin. “We had a chance to come to the Caribbean and we did. People do horrible things to each other all over the world, but we have to be positive and move on.”

I sensed she had said this many times over, but it appeased my churning emotions enough to be able to finish the tour.

We spent an afternoon in a 4×4 on a tour on coastal paths and off-the-beaten- track roads, with stop-offs at abandoned sugar plantations and churches. Some of the roads were steep enough that they made me gasp. As the island is divided into five parishes, all named after saints, the tour helped with a general overview of the different parishes. A great way to get a unique fun and educational view around the island: http://www.funkymonkey-

Situated in the Montpelier Estates over- looking Mount Nevis and the ocean with a spectacular view of the Nevis mountain peak, the privately owned Nevis Botanical Gardens are a must see. It takes an hour or more to fully explore the orchid terraces, lily ponds, bamboo grove, cactus garden and over 100 species of palms, all built to complement the natural fea- tures and beauty of the land. Bronze fountains and sculptures were installed, and, along with a striking, triple copper sugar cauldron fountain, they highlight the natural beauty.

Nevis Botanical Gardens entrance copy


A large conservatory in a style similar to the Palm House in Kew Gardens, London, was erected to house the tropical rain-forest plants and parrots. The Galleria gift shop is filled with desirable items that exuberant owner Christi Doug- las sources globally. Above the shop, the Thai Oasis restaurant is a stylish stopping point for signature drinks and incredible food.

Nevis Botanical gardens 2

Nevis, the Queen of the Caribbean, is small, beautiful, and blissfully serene, which is why travellers find themselves under its spell.

Where to stay: There are several choices for places to stay on the island, and repeat guests to the historical Nisbet Plantation beach resort return for many reasons – the appealing small size with 36 bright yellow cottages that are beautifully appointed in subtle tropical hues lend- ing a feeling of simple luxury. A stunning beach and location and the calm tranquillity combined with a simple ele- gance make for a winning combination. Fabulous food and afternoon teas with an ocean view are delightful additions. General manager Alistair Forrest hosts cocktail gatherings every Monday evening for returning guests of which there are plenty. Guests who stay five nights or more get a free water taxi from St. Kitts. The six-minute ride makes it a seamless transition to the property.

Even if you aren’t staying at this restored plantation, pop in for lunch, din- ner, afternoon tea or drinks on the terrace.

At Wheel World Cycle Shop, owned by Englishman Winston Crooke, you can arrange bike tours around the island or a history and heritage tour. Crooke can deliver bikes to boats or hotels. The full range of bikes features off-road, street, racing, tandems, with tag-alongs or child seats. He will meet you at the ferry or de- liver you to your hotel. It’s on Main Island Road, Oualie Beach Bay. http://www.bikenevis. com. 869-469-9682

Pinney’s Beach off the main road is a must for a visit to Sunshine’s for the Killer Bee Cocktail. Everyone knows owner Llewelyn Caines as Sunshine, and famous celebrities seek him out. Barbra Streisand has enjoyed the meals and casual vibe of Sunshines. There’s an ex- tensive menu, but visitors go for the laid- back energy and a chance to chat to Sun- shine, a charming personable character. Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas and Katherine Zeta-Jones also have visited in recent years.

If Nevis is for the discerning, then Bananas Bistro is for the gourmet aficion- ado. The evening we visited, we were led by flashlight to a walkway lined with torches leading us to a tall, stunning building high up on the Hamilton Estate, about a quarter of the way up Mount Nevis, at an elevation of approximately 900 feet. Upper Hamilton Estate, 1-869- 469-1891, http://www.bananasrestaurantnevis. com 􏰀

How to get to Nevis: we flew Westjet from Toronto directly into Antigua, a four- hour flight, then caught a connecting flight on Air Montserrat into Nevis. Not for the faint of heart, this tiny plane is so small, we were weighed along with our hand luggage to insure our suitability for the journey. What would happen if I weighed 300 pounds, I asked the ground stewardess? “We wouldn’t take your luggage”she quipped.

Other options: Air Canada flies directly to St. Kitts from Toronto. Nisbet Planta- tion resort would arrange a water taxi to pick you up and deliver you to the resort in six minutes.

Nevis from the air 2

as published in Canadian Jewish News, December 25, 2014

Posted in Recent Trips | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cut waste and fat this Christmas – clever solution from Yorkshire, England

When we stay at our cottage I am careful about water use because 
we have a water cistern with a limited supply . I am also 
extremely wary about what I put down the drain because of a septic system. Country ways don't relate to my city life quite as much 
and I am guilty of running water unnecessarily. 

The other day I was cooking ground lamb for a shepherd's pie and always drain the fat into a container - saving my drain system, absolutely, but saving it for roasting potatoes is my goal. Stir 
fried vegetables get drained in a bowl cradled by paper towels , 
again, environmentally friendly, but draining the extra oil off so it doesn't get added to MY personal system. 

Yorkshire , England, an area close to my heart, has just come up 
with a unique way at Christmas to stop people throwing oil and fat down the drain slowing down systems and causing problems. 

Yorkshire Water is teaming up with major supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Waitrose to encourage customers not to cause pains in the 
drains this Christmas.

Customers buying a pre-order turkey from the two major retailers 
for their Christmas roast will receive free Yorkshire Water gadgets to help collect the fat, oil and grease (FOG) the annual festive feast generates.
yorkshire-water-sewer-saver-ekofunnel yorkshire-water-EkoFunnel

Pouring FOGs down the sink can result in the liquids hardening as they cool and create blockages. Last year 2,635 sewer blockages 
around the Yorkshire region alone were caused by these liquids, often leading to flooding inside homes and businesses.

Not only are these blockages horrible for customers, they are also expensive to clear from the Yorkshire Water network; money that 
could be saved on customers’ bills.

Yorkshire Water is giving away 7,700 EkoFunnels at 30 Sainsbury’s stores across the region and 1,400 Fat Traps at seven Waitrose 
stores to people pre-ordering their turkeys from the stores as 
part of the nationwide campaign. The traps and funnels can be used to collect waste FOGs for recycling or disposal via the bin.

Richard Flint, Yorkshire Water CEO, said: “We’re asking people to put our sewers on a low fat diet and think before they dispose of fat, oil and grease down the sink or through the dishwasher.

“Whilst it only takes a couple of extra seconds to get rid of 
products like fat by putting it in the bin, it will mean that the millions of pounds we currently spend removing these products from the sewers of Yorkshire can be invested elsewhere - improving our network and the service we offer.”

Paul Crewe, Head of Sustainability for Sainsbury’s, said: “We’re 
proud to be distributing over 7,700 EkoFunnels at our stores in 
Yorkshire this year. As well as keeping Britain’s waste water 
network flowing, the cooking oil and fat captured from your roast this Christmas could be turned into bio-fuel to power vehicles.”
Quentin Clark, Waitrose’s Head of Sustainability and Ethical 
Sourcing, added: “Fat in the sewers is a big problem, particularly at this time of year. Here at Waitrose, we are committed to 
supporting local communities and helping to reduce this problem 
across the country.

“By encouraging our customers to use our free fat-traps, we can 
dramatically cut the percentage of damage caused to drains by fat, oil and grease.”
Business In The Community trialled the initiative with customers 
in London last year before helping to spread it other parts of the country, including Yorkshire, this Christmas. 

Posted in Recent Trips | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Splash image

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.

Small image





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.

Small image

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.

Posted in Recent Trips | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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…

View original post 640 more words

Posted in Recent Trips | Leave a comment

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,

Posted in Recent Trips | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in For the love of food | Leave a comment