Welcome 2018…I hope

Mountains, Calgary, AlbertaAt the start of this year I wanted to write a post about my love of new beginnings, of fresh starts. Yet here I am, ten days later, finally sitting down to click away on the keyboard. And I’ve come to realize two things. I have major procrastination issues (to be addressed somehow…this year…maybe) and I seem to love the IDEA of new beginnings more than the fresh start they promise.

The mere idea of starting something in the future embodies HOPE. And hope gives us the momentum to keep moving forward. We may not reach a goal, or even start one, yet the concept of wanting something better allows us to look forward to a better life. It gives us the impetus to keep dreaming and working toward something…even if it’s just in our heads.

So in the New Year I hope to live better, eat better, save more and be kinder to myself and others. And instead of starting on January 1st or Monday or my birthday, I will start and restart whenever I feel I can and continue looking forward to improving myself and my life. And to be honest, I don’t even want to reach any of my goals. The intentions I have set for myself don’t have an end date. They are commitments I want to continue getting better at for the rest of my life.

Besides resolutions are so 2017!

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Exploring the Aga Khan Museum

20171021_103948 (2) This blog post took more time than I would have expected. Part of my reticence in writing about this particular funventure was that our first attempt at visiting the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto ended with the boy and I involved in a rather serious multiple car accident that shut down the highway and sent people to the hospital. The boy had to undergo quite a few physio sessions in the months that followed, while our vehicle got its own special brand of surgery. It took some time and a bit of a nerve wracking first drive back to Toronto, but I was determined to pay a visit to this hidden cultural gem.

The Aga Khan Museum is situated in a rather unassuming area of Toronto just off the Don Valley Parkway. Sitting in the oozing Toronto traffic allows you to glimpse a modern geometric structure that doesn’t quite fit into the suburban landscape its been placed in. However, this is a perfect introduction to this museum.

It is a place that is meant to shake up your knowledge on a culture and religion that few of us know anything about. Displayed in a beautifully serene setting, belied by the exterior of the building, the permanent collection consists of paintings, objects, and architectural pieces from civilizations of the Muslim world. A particular emphasis is placed on the Arab Near East, Iran, and Hindustan, highlighting the distinctive character of each culture under the Muslim and Islamic umbrellas.

Both the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions are well thought out, highlighting important pieces that impart both knowledge and a cultural awakening. For a few hours, on a quiet Saturday morning, the boy and I were immersed in a beautiful foreign world that left us speechless until the end.

20171021_104516 (2)20171021_104528 (2)20171021_104550 (2)      20171021_104535 (2)20171021_104939 (2)20171021_105011 (2)20171021_105224 (2)20171021_104926 (2)      20171021_105412 (2)20171021_105524 (2)20171021_105730 (2)      20171021_110925 (2)20171021_110131 (2)20171021_115412 (2)20171021_105806 (2)20171021_110316 (2)      20171021_110326 (2)20171021_110148 (2)  20171021_110550 (2)      20171021_110342 (2)The manuscript painting on the right caught my attention in particular. It’s titled “The Cremation of Talkhand and the Grief of His Mother” and dates to the 17th century. What I found interesting when reading the display sign was that this scene depicts an event that is connected to the creation of the game of chess.

Apparently when the queen found out about the death of her son Talkhand at the hand of his brother, she was so distraught that she set the palace on fire and planned on dying by throwing herself on a pyre. Gav, the murdering brother, tried to stop her. and explain the tragic events of a battle that lead to the death of Talkhand by inventing the game of chess.

20171021_112233 (2)20171021_111018 (2)20171021_111920 (2)      20171021_112518 (2)20171021_111145 (2)20171021_114553_HDR (2)      20171021_114910 (2)20171021_114933_HDR (2)20171021_115155      20171021_115023 (2)Member's Lounge, Aga Khan Museum, TorontoMember's Lounge, Aga Khan Museum, TorontoMember's Lounge, Aga Khan Museum, TorontoThe boy and I were invited to take a sneak peak into the private Patron’s Lounge where members can relax and enjoy snacks and beverages while overlooking panoramic views of  Toronto. However, you don’t have to be a member to enjoy top quality dining service at the museum.

I speak from experience that the Diwan restaurant, under the direction of one of Toronto’s top chefs, Mark McEwan, is an unforgettable experience both for the food and the atmosphere. The decor, harking to the luxury of private Syrian homes of the early 19th century, sets the scene for an innovative meal inspired by the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. We spent two hours over various starter plates and glasses of Moroccan tea while in a discussion with a pair of diners at the table next to us. What an experience!

20171021_115759 (2)Despite of inauspicious start to our first visit to the Aga Khan Museum, I was delighted that making the effort to explore this relatively new addition to Toronto’s cultural scene was worth it. With the warmest of invitations I encourage you to visit the museum if you have the chance.

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A Lunch at Langdon Hall

20170816_144448 (2)A trip to the elegant and luxurious Langdon Hall has been on my “must do” list for something like….forever! The beautiful Relais & Châteaux designated estate (the only such property in Ontario) offers a unique hotel, spa and restaurant experience. Based on a strict criteria for the highest order of service, character, and cuisine, it is a favoured destination for special anniversaries and birthdays. The perfect place to pamper your body and your belly.

After months of hint dropping about this gourmet food heaven, the boy planned a funventure escape to Cambridge with a lunch reservation in the Main Dining Room of the Hall. With the sun high in the sky, we made the one hour drive that concluded with a treelined winding drive to the 75-acre estate and the mansion on top of the hill.

The massive main house sits surrounded by woods, an orchard, and private seasonal gardens that are a primary source for the Langdon kitchen. As we made our way around the estate, a soft murmur of conversation drifted from the area around the sparkling lily pond where guests engulfed in fluffy robes flitted between the spa, the pool, and the former stables turned guest suites. This is what I call “la dolce vita” – the sweet life.

20170816_115656 (2) 20170816_115907 (2)20170816_115913 (2)But the boy and I headed for the dining room of the 120-year-old main house and the star attraction of Langdon Hall, the seasonal creative cuisine that I had been salivating over for months.

Although most of the guests chose the sunny patio for their lunch spot, we sat in the cool of the dining room and feasted on beautifully presented mains and gloriously rich desserts served with tea from Langdon Hall’s extensive tea collection (they offer 48 varieties!). With prices representative of the quality of ingredients and service, the cost of a meal may be prohibitive to some but I have three words for all those considering a visit….ALL WORTH IT!20170816_120510 (2)20170816_120335 (2)     20170816_120515 (2)20170816_120249 (2)20170816_124848 (2)20170816_124918 (2)20170816_124932 (2)     20170816_132801 (2)20170816_121834 (2)20170816_121629 (2)20170816_121808 (2)      20170816_121734 (2)20170816_121741 (2)20170816_121714_HDR (2)20170816_121700 (2)    20170816_121705 (2)20170816_121608 (2)20170816_143148 (2)20170816_143006 (2)20170816_143011 (2)     20170816_143405 (2)20170816_143713 (2)20170816_143951 (2)20170816_143840 (2)20170816_144252 (2)20170816_144235 (2)21640622_10154686451466046_1358031544_oWe were blown away by all aspects of what Landgon Hall has to offer.  Not only were we treated to an exquisite meal and attentive service, but the buildings and the grounds reflect the the highest level of care and attention to detail. A visit to Langdon Hall truly feels like an escape into luxury…even if for a few hours. I hope you experience it yourself soon!

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Enchanted Vilnius

20170530_135249 (2)Sometimes taking a leap of faith, or a road trip, to a place unknown can lead to the most beautiful surprises. When my cousin proposed a visit to Vilnius, Lithuania during my three week stay in Europe, I wasn’t immediately swept off my feet. I dreamt of Vienna, Prague or Stockholm. The small country  of Lithuania was never on my radar as a tourist destination. Images of many former eastern block nations danced in my head like a depressing film noir. What could I possibly see or enjoy in Lithuania for one day, let alone three! I was primed to be enchanted.

The six hour comfort bus ride from Bialystok (for which I paid $38 round trip!) to Vilnius was filled with naps and stork spotting, wifi and snacks. I barely realized how much time had passed when we pulled into Lithuania’s capital city. A city where almost 700 years of history mingles to highlight its past with the emerging bright future. Where any visitor with euros in their pocket and speaking nothing more than English can feel at ease. Where I was reminded of how much this city and country were a part of my own Polish heritage.

20170530_172032 (2)20170530_172538 (2)20170530_172715 (2)20170530_173036 (2)      20170530_172829 (2)20170530_172648 (2)20170530_173153 (2)20170530_173733 (2)20170530_175717 (2)     20170530_174822 (2)20170530_180004 (2)20170530_175651 (2)20170530_173529 (2)20170530_172507 (2)20170530_172205_HDR (2)20170530_182358 (2)20170530_182412 (2)20170530_183520 (2)20170531_184953 (2)     20170531_190636 (2)20170531_190625 (2)20170530_183447 (2)20170530_182533_HDR (2)20170530_182549_HDR (2)20170530_184359_HDR (2)20170530_184529 (2)20170530_185021 (2)20170530_184858 (2)20170530_185311 (2)     20170530_184840 (2)20170530_184915 (2)20170530_183912 (2)20170530_185535 (2)20170530_190200_HDR (2)    20170530_190119 (2)20170530_191730 (2)20170530_191615 (2)     20170530_191618 (2)20170530_204718 (2)20170530_194214 (2)20170530_195652 (2)      20170530_195346 (2)20170530_191802 (2)20170530_191953_HDR (2)    20170530_191914 (2)20170530_192417_HDR (2)     20170531_132520 (2)20170531_132323 (2)       20170530_182504 (2)20170531_182256 (2)20170531_135653_HDR (2)20170531_140949_HDR (2)20170531_140800 (2)       20170531_140810 (2)20170531_141457 (2)20170531_123012 (2)20170531_123152_HDR (2)As always it is near impossible to present in a few words and photos what a country or a city has to offer. There are so many beautiful places around the world that need to be seen with your own eyes. I’m still slowly checking off my extensive travel list, as each year I make a choice between seeing something new or returning to a place I have come to love.

Vilnius is definitely going on the “must return” list. I hope you will travel there yourself and become enchanted!

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Welcome Home – Bialystok

20170525_164849I am almost embarrassed to say that it has taken me 14 years (eek!) to return to my homeland and the city where I was born, Bialystok. It also feels like it has taken me ages to write this blog post. In my defense, I wanted to do justice to a beautiful city that shaped my childhood and my initial outlook on the world.

I poured through almost 300 photos knowing I could only share a glimpse of my three week visit. Many of the photos were very personal as I met with family (thank you Agata for being an amazing host and cousin!!) and old school friends who made me feel like I never left (I can’t wait to continue these friendships for years to come!). I ate the most incredible food, practiced my language skills (not as bad as I thought) and even caught up on this summer’s best movie, Wonder Woman! The weather was incredible as I explored the city mostly on foot, stopping more often than not for a daily dose of ice cream. I cannot believe I didn’t gain weight ;). I hope you enjoy my adventure!

The historic and colourful city of Bialystok, situated in northeastern Poland, received town rights in 1692 but there is documentation that in 1437 the area was identified for settlement and gifted by the Duke of Lithuania to local nobility. In the intervening 5 centuries, it has undergone many changes that reflected the evolution of world history and politics. And even the last 14 years have created a city that is making its mark as a wonderful place to live and a new travel destination, especially for eco adventurers. I am very proud of what the city has become and look forward to many more visits.20170525_164739 (2)20170525_164729 (2)20170529_134123 (3)20170603_185746 (2)20170603_180912 (2)20170525_165120 (2)        20170525_164744 (2)  20170525_164843 (2)20170529_134132 (2)20170529_134356 (2)20170529_133115 (2)20170605_175408 (2)20170605_175014 (2)20170609_145025 (2)20170609_144734 (2)        20170609_144918 (2)  20170606_120146 (2)20170606_120313 (2)        20170606_120532 (2)20170606_120205 (2)20170526_130438 (2)20170603_181653 (2)       20170606_115453 (2)20170606_120752 (2)20170606_120757 (2)        20170606_120809 (2)  20170606_122237 (2)20170609_141202 (2)20170606_122451 (2)20170606_121714_HDR (2)        20170607_163042 (2)20170607_163422 (2)20170525_164804 (2)20170529_135514 (2)   20170529_141626 (2)        IMG_20170529_135745 (2)20170607_151231 (2)20170607_151303 (2)20170607_150951 (2)        20170607_144525 (2)20170606_151239 (2)20170606_151456 (2)20170606_151310 (2)        20170606_154431 (2)20170606_151509 (2)20170609_212320 (2)20170609_212326 (2)20170609_212659 (2)20170609_212536 (2)20170610_212651 (2)I hope that you enjoyed this brief introduction to my home city. There is so much to do and see in this beautiful part of Poland. I invite you to take on the adventure and visit a place that is not often on the tourist radar.

While in Poland, I took a brief trip to the old town of Vilnius in Lithuania. In an upcoming post, I will introduce you to a city that had played a major role in the history of my country. It was my first visit and one of the most pleasant surprises of my vacation.

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