Monday, March 30, 2009

Keeping Healthy On The Road

Keeping a Healthy Balance On The Road:

Strategies For Traveling Well

Travel is one of the great joys of life. It enlightens us, enriches us, entertains us, and broadens us. But sometimes that broadening takes place around our hips, and sometimes we abandon our healthy habits of diet and exercise when we’re away from home.

I’m a travel writer, away from home many weeks of the year. In the past twelve months, I’ve been to the Middle East twice, Arizona, Antigua, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Jamaica, Australia and Florida. I’ve learned from experience that it’s important to keep my life in balance when on the road.

It’s never easy to stick to a good healthy diet and a sensible exercise routine, but trying to maintain healthy habits while on the road is a challenge. What’s the point of visiting a world capital like Paris, for example, if you are too tired and bloated to get out there and explore it?

Just glance around the waiting areas of most airports or train stations. Food options, by and large, are burger joints or bars. Breakfast offerings are usually calorie laden Danishes and muffins. On board food is usually a choice between the unhealthy and the inedible.

Add to that the fact that travel, whether by train, plane or automobile, is largely sedentary, and you have the perfect prescription for putting on pounds, depleting your energy, and turning those previously toned muscles to mush.

But there are some healthy options out there.

Who better to turn to for advice on traveling healthy than those who do it for a living? The Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) is a Canadian organization of travel writers and tourism groups who collectively log an astounding number of hours on the road. Ottawa-based Laura Byrne Paquet, for example, is the past president of TMAC and has worn out a few suitcases. “I’ve had to develop a smart travel regimen in self defence.”

Her tips for keeping a healthy balance while traveling:

- Carry granola bars or meal replacement bars in your carry-on bag.

- Do yoga or other basic stretches when you're stuck in the airport between flights. Forget how silly you'll look. You'll never see any of these people again anyway. If you're really self-conscious, do your stretching behind a pillar or at a different gate from the one for your flight.

- Don’t overpack. If your bag is light, you'll be less likely to strain muscles.

- When you're eating out a lot, have your big meal at lunch. It will be cheaper than dinner, and you'll have more time to work it off during the day.

- Ask the concierge at your hotel for scenic, safe walking or jogging routes nearby.

Bob Fisher, another TMAC member , has just returned from trips to Britain and New Mexico, and is getting ready for a flight to Florida. He always travels with a set of soft earplugs, so sleeping on long flights is easier. He has a set of stretching exercises, designed specially for him by a professional, that he does several times a day when traveling, and he also takes along a well-stocked emergency kit that includes painkillers, antibiotic ointment, sunscreen, anti-nausea medicine and anti-allergy pills.

He’s a big believer in keeping hydrated.

“I drink water frequently everywhere I go. The rule of thumb is that you are becoming dehydrated even before you feel thirsty. Even a small amount of dehydration can destabilize your whole system.”

New restrictions on carrying liquids onboard will prevent airline passengers from taking bottles of water with them, but most airlines provide water. Just make sure that what you are drinking is bottled water, and not water from the plane’s water supply, which has been found to contain dangerous levels of bacteria.

Carol Mathews, the chair of TMAC’s Nova Scotia chapter, is another busy writer who has learned to survive the stress of travel. “On transatlantic flights I make sure I walk the length of the plane and back every couple of hours. It helps to keep the blood circulating, and can help reduce swelling in your ankles and feet.”

“Something that I've just started doing is carrying antiseptic wipes. I used to carry a bottle of waterless wash, but new regulations prohibit that. Since we are more susceptible to germs and viruses we're not used to, I use the wipes several times during the day,” Carol explains.

“I'll probably jinx myself,’ she laughs, “but I've never been ill on a trip.

Michele Sponagle, is another busy TMAC member. Her recent journeys have included Italy, Switzerland, Jamaica, Maui, Arizona, Newfoundland, Antigua, Dominican Republic, Walt Disney World (3 times!) and Vermont. Here’s how she insures a safe and healthy trip:

* pre-packaged dehydrated fruit "strips" so that I can always get my daily requirement of fruit servings.

* green tea bags. I prefer herbal teas so I bring my own.
*When I arrive, I try to get to a grocery store to buy fruit, vegetables, and yogurt then empty the mini bar at the hotel and put in my food for healthy snacks when I'm hungry.
* stick to your regular three meals a day, and small snacks, when hungry.
*I also bring resistance bands and my running shoes wherever I go. With them, you don't have to have a hotel with a fitness centre to get some exercise.

Anna Hobbs is a travel writer with an enviable problem. She specializes in culinary and wine writing at the different places she visits. As a result, she eats like royalty. She should weigh hundreds of pounds, but has remained slim and trim, mostly through her wise choices.

“I dread coming home five pounds heavier than when I left. Because foreign countries always have exciting new foods to try, it would be a shame to miss out on them. So, several days before leaving, I cut back on portion sizes and OD on low cal foods. On the road, I resist bread and rich desserts, often ordering two appetizers instead of an appetizer and a main course or asking for smaller portions.”

While the average traveler doesn’t journey nearly as often as these professionals do, their collective wisdom should help make either the short or long haul trip easier. Their tips, learned from experience, will help you travel well and return healthy.


Eat Smart Away From Home

-You can request special meals on planes if you contact the airline about a week prior to departure. Air Canada, for example, will provide vegetarian, low calorie, and low cholesterol meals on request, on flights for which meals are provided.

- Avoid alcohol, tea and coffee as they are diuretic and will cause fluid loss. Drink water or juice instead.

- Even in the worst airports, you can usually find a bean burrito or veggie burger.

- Stay away from fatty foods. Instead of fries, go for a baked potato and top it with salsa.

- Choose a wrap or a sub over a burger.

- Order your salad dressing on the side. That way you can control the amount that’s on your salad.

- Broth-based soups or fruit juices make good low fat appetizers.

- Choose fresh fruit or sorbet for dessert.

© Barbara Ramsay Orr

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Culinary Tour of Barbados

I’ve always had a weakness for Barbados. It was the first Caribbean island that I ever visited, in those halcyon pre-children, pre-mortgage days when a quick getaway was easy. Barbados has really defined the Caribbean for me ever since.barbados4

In fact, my husband and I liked it so much that we went back the next winter, when I was seven months pregnant. On that visit, I had a memorable walk on a beach in St. James parish, which to my mind has some of the loveliest beaches in the Caribbean. I was waddling through the surf, looking much like a ship in full sail in my maternity bathing suit, when I glanced casually up at one of the villas that line the beach. There, splayed out on two adjacent loungers, were Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck.

That was a long time ago – the son I was carrying has two degrees after his name now, - and these men were in their prime and utterly gorgeous. I, on the other hand, was utterly elephantine.

The contrast struck me as humourous, and the moment has stayed in my memory. In a way, the encounter was very Barbadian, perhaps even a snapshot of the island in microcosm.


Barbados is an island of unexpected contrast, beloved of celebrities, possessing great natural beauty, and in continual good humour. Best of all, for a food lover like myself, it is considered by many to be the culinary capital of the Caribbean. While the island is beautiful, the people polite and friendly, and the culture layered, it’s the food that keeps drawing me back.barbados3

Barbados restaurants are numerous and highly varied. Whether you are looking for fine dining or casual fare, there’s a restaurant or beach bar that will serve you perfectly.

Barbadian, or Bajan, food is a hybrid, combining the spices and peppers of African cooking with English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Indian and American influences. It’s complex and fascinating.

Chef Michael Moore was the perfect guide to the world of Bajan cuisine. He is both a well known chef and a Barbadian. As the executive chef at Turtle Beach Resort on the South Coast, he is committed to showcasing the cuisine of the island.


“There are similar culinary elements throughout the Caribbean, but each island’s cuisine is different. Barbados has a distinctive character in its food that reflects our history and our climate.”

“Prominent in our cooking is the herb spice mix that we use. It is always a blend of fresh herbs, usually a mixture of thyme, marjoram, green onions, garlic, parsley, basil and scotch bonnet peppers , combined with spices such as clove, black pepper, paprika and salt. Most chefs, and most home cooks in Barbados, make their own version of Bajan seasoning, but you can buy commercially prepared ones. We use it in almost everything, to season fish, to flavour vegetables, to enrich soups or stews, or as a rub for pork or chicken.”

Another characteristic of the island’s cuisine is the prominence of the excellent local produce. Moore showed me a small hard vegetable, about the size and colour of a Granny Smith apple. “This is christophene, and I use it often in the Bajan dishes I feature. It’s very versatile and attractive on the plate.” A type of squash, usually sold in Canada as chayote squash, its mild flavour when steamed or baked pairs nicely with seafood.


Papaya, soursop, coconut, yams, breadfruit and the Barbados cherry, a bright red and juicy fruit that makes excellent sauces and jellies, are prominent in the indigenous dishes.

The quality and variety of fresh fish is an obvious component of the local cooking. Flying fish is available everywhere on the island, from a grilled flying fish sandwich sold on the beach to the menus of the best restaurants. Local fishermen supply the island’s tables with tuna, barracuda, turtle, mahi-mahi, lamprey, mackerel and dolphin. The dolphin is not the one we recognize, but an unrelated and quite delicious fish.

Coo-coo is another local favourite, a reflection of the African flavours brought to the island in colonial times. It is a corn meal dish similar to the Italian polenta, except cooked Bajan style with okra, onions and garlic, and often served with flying fish or a stew. Falernum is an island made sugar based liqueur that Chef Moore uses in a sauce for duck. Of course there is also Barbadian rum, used to flavour many dishes, and the centerpiece of punches and mixed drinks.

Indian-Caribbean influences show up in the delicious rotis, usually a chicken or beef and potato curry in a wrap. They’re available everywhere in little roti shops on the island, and they’re inexpensive and delicious, especially with a cold glass of local beer, like a Banks or a Legend.

Chef Moore’s passion for his island’s cuisine is evident in the Waterfront, one of Turtle Beach’s most interesting dining rooms. It’s an open air restaurant with a beachside position and casual style that features authentic local dishes. Moore has taken the Bajan flavours and ingredients and incorporated them into many of the dishes on the Waterfront’s menu.

“Macaroni pie is a Bajan favourite, but it can be very starchy and high in calories. I developed a lighter version for the restaurant, by adding chopped sweet peppers and onions and using a blend of three cheeses, emmenthal, gruyere and cheddar.” He also features conch fritters, callaloo soup and Rasta Pasta, a vegetarian pasta dish of mixed vegetables featuring the Rasta colours, red, yellow and green.

Perhaps as a result of the strong British background on the island, there are many elegant and formal dining rooms in Barbados, where the charm of the beach and the surf are combined with white linen and candles to create romantic dining. One of the prettiest is The Cliff Restaurant on the West Coast.


All of the tables have a view of the sea, and candles and torches add a twinkle to the night. Chef Paul Owen serves inventive food, a blend of the classics and local dishes. Sample the spicy tuna tartare, with Asian vinaigrette, wasabi yogurt sauce, chilli oil and tobikko, (flying fish roe). The desserts here are sinful, like the banana scented panacotta with caramelized bananas, tuile biscuit and toffee sauce, or the rich dark chocolate terrine with hazelnut praline and orange creme anglaise.


Another surfside restaurant with great charm is Daphne’s Restaurant on Payne’s Bay. This is a branch of the sophisticated London restaurant of the same name, and chef Marco Festini has created a blend of Italian Mediterranean cooking with the local flavours. Dishes like the seared tuna salad with pickled cucumber and sweet mustard dressing, designed by the London restaurant’s executive chef Mark Hix, are especially good with the added freshness of locally caught tuna. The grilled Mahi-Mahi with Peperonata and Grilled Zucchini, and the lamb dishes are also local and fresh.

La Mer, in the stylish Port St. Charles area, is a restaurant where the view is almost as good as the food.


The best tables are on the covered veranda with a view of the boats and the harbour. The Sunday buffet at La Mer is legendary, especially the appetizer table, with smoked salmon, jumbo shrimp, oysters, several pates and sushi, and the extensive dessert bar with temptations like pecan pie, cream profiteroles, and blueberry tart.

I was glad that I was able to enjoy the tender and delicious local black belly lamb at Olives Restaurant in Holetown before I caught sight of one of the cute little lambs that seem to be on every roadside in the rural parts of the island. As it was, I was able to enjoy the lamb, tasty and moist with a dark wine sauce, without guilt. The Banana Creme Brulle on Olives’ dessert menu made a decadent conclusion to the meal. If you dine here, don’t miss having a drink in the upstairs bar. The exposed white washed ceilings, slow moving fans and airy verandah make this the perfect tropical watering hole to try a Planter’s Punch.

In the St. Lawrence Gap on the South Coast, the more relaxed, party-loving area of Barbados, is Josef’s, a fine restaurant with tables in the garden close to the ocean. Seafood and lamb dishes are excellent here. After dinner, try out the bar scene. The Gap is one of the liveliest places on the island for live music, outdoor dance floors, and the occasional street party.


If you head away from the beaches and sample some of the inland attractions, like a tour of the board and shingle chattel houses, or Whispers Gallery at Horse Hill which specializes in new Afro-Caribbean artists, or Orchid World, an eye-popping collection of over 2000 orchids, plan to have lunch at Naniki Restaurant. Owner Tom Hinds has created a restaurant with one of the finest views on the island. Perched high above the Atlantic, Naniki has large windows, sliding doors and a wide veranda that allows diners to see the surrounding hills, forests and the ocean in the distance. The menu is geared toward healthy eating, and features many Bajan specialties. The Sunday “Taste of the Caribbean” buffet is a good time to try some exotic dishes, like buljol, a tomato, flaked salt codfish and pepper salad, stewed lambie (conch) or pepperpot. The Naniki bananas on the dessert menu are simple but delicious. Mr. Hinds also raises anthuriums, supplying many of the hotels on the island with these oversized extravagant flowers, and the tables in the restaurant are often decorated with them. Take a peak inside his greenhouse before you leave, to see these beautiful flowers massed together. It’s breathtaking.


The Fish Pot Restaurant, at Little Good Harbour, the hotel that has been labelled “the best bolt-hole in the Caribbean”, is an inviting, cool oasis on the water, where chef Stephen Belgrave serves up seafood specialties like a saffron and black olive crepe filled with seafood and napped with a lemon aioli.

No culinary tour of Barbados would be complete without a visit to Oistins Village for the fish fry on Friday and Saturday nights. The small fishing village is the place where many fishermen bring their catch to be cleaned and sold. On the weekends, colourful stalls serve fresh fish, curries, coo-coo and fish cakes


Oistins fish fry is another memory clip of Barbados: sitting at a picnic bench, enjoying the classic simplicity of super fresh grilled marlin with a lime and butter sauce from Crystal’s Place, paired with a cold Banks beer.


Around us, the moist Barbadian night and the sound of steel bands.

Almost as good as Tom and Engelbert.

© Barbara Ramsay Orr



Create a bit of Barbados at home with these Bajan style recipes.

Barbados Rum Punch

Start with a classic rum punch. There is an old rhyme that contains the basic recipe - One of Sour ( lime juice)Two of Sweet( sugar syrup) Three of Strong (rum) And Four of Weak (water). Translated into a recipe for drinks for four, it should go something like this:

3 oz fresh lime juice

6 oz simple syrup

9 oz rum

12 oz water

(optional : grated nutmeg , of Angostura bitters)

Stir these ingredients together with lots of ice, sprinkle with some grated nutmeg and a dash of angostura bitters, if desired, and serve with little paper umbrellas. You’ll be able to feel the ocean breezes.

Serves four.


Daphne’s Restaurant, Barbados

Originally created by Chef Mark Hix



250g. Tuna loin cut into 1 inch cubes

1 large cucumber

100g. baby spinach

50ml. mustard dressing

Rock salt

Pickle for the cucumber

50ml. water

50ml.white wine vinegar

50ml. sugar

20g. fennel seeds

Mustard dressing

200ml. white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon American mustard

600ml. Olive oil


· Boil the ingredients for the pickle and allow to cool. Slice the cucumber lengthwise and soak them in the pickle.

· Make the dressing by gently adding the vinegar to the mustard and then slowly adding the olive oil.

· Trim the tuna into 1 inch cube , season it with rock salt and cracked black pepper. Sear it for 30 seconds on all four sides in a very hot pan , then allow to cool.

· Pick and wash the spinach.

Assemble the salad

· Slice the seared tuna into 5-6 slices

· Mix the spinach leaves with mustard dressing and place in the middle of the plate

· Place a slice of tuna and a slice of pickled cucumber alternatively , forming a round on the spinach .

· Season and add more dressing around the sides

Barbadian Seasoning

This seasoning is the secret to the success of many mouth-watering Barbadian dishes. It is found in almost every home and comes in several variations. I’ve adjusted the heat in this one by removing the seeds from the scotch bonnet peppers, but you can turn up the heat by adding the seeds or by increasing the number of peppers used. Remember that these peppers are very hot.

1 bunch green onions, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
  1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  1 tablespoon fresh marjoram
  1 tablespoon fresh chives
   2 cloves garlic
  1 scotch bonnet pepper, halved and seeds removed
  1 teaspoon paprika
  1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients except the water in a food processor and puree, adding water until a thick paste consistency is reached. Many versions recommend that the paste should be kept in the refrigerator for a week before using. Rub on pork, fish or chicken before grilling, or add to soups or stews for a punch of Barbadian flavour.

Yield: 3/4 cup

Caramelized Bananas

Restaurants all over the island make a version of this dessert. You can dress it up many ways, or even flambé the bananas with a tablespoon or two of warm brandy after they are caramelized.

4 bananas, not overly ripe, peeled and split lengthwise

¾ cup of white sugar

Sprinkle the banana lengths liberally with the sugar. Place bananas in a low fireproof dish under the broiler until the sugar is melted and nicely caramelized. ( or use a culinary torch). Serve warm with a topping of your choice – chopped walnuts, chocolate curls, a sprinkling of edible gold, or some whipped cream and a few ripe raspberries. (or all of the above!)

Contact Information

The Cliff Restaurant

Derricks, St. James, Barbados, West Indies

Tel: 246 432 0980


Chef: Paul Owen

The Waterfront Restaurant

Turtle Beach Resort,

Dover, Barbados, West Indies

Tel: 246 428 7131

Chef: Michael Moore


Josef’s Restaurant

St. Lawrence Gap, Dover, Christ Church, Barbados

Tel: 246 435 8245

Chef: Charmaine Maynard


Naniki Restaurant
St. Joseph, Barbados
Tel: 246 433 1300
Chef: Roland Drakes

Daphne's Restaurant

Paynes Bay, St. James, On the West Coast

Tel: 246 432 2731

Chef: Marco Festini


La Mer Restaurant

Port St. Charles Condo and Marina complex, Speightstown, St. Peter, On the West Coast

Tel: 246 419 2000

Chef: - Nick King and Lennox Hunte

Olives Bar & Bistro

2nd Street


St. James

Tel: 246 432 2112

Chef: Lynn Watts

The Fish Pot Restaurant

Little Good Harbour

Shermans, St. Peter

Barbados, West Indies

Tel: 246 439 3000


Chef: Stephen Belgrave

The Whispers Art Gallery

Bonwell Road, Horse Hill, St. Joseph

Tel: 246 433 5269

Orchid World

Groves, St.George,

Barbados, West Indies

Tel: 246 4330306


Friday, March 6, 2009

SATW’s Top Ten Ferry Boat Rides


FEB. 19, 2009: The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the world’s largest organization of professional travel journalists and photographers, recently polled its members to come up with the “Top 10” most exciting ferry rides in the world.
“Public and private ferry boats provide an inexpensive alternative to cruises, often traversing some of the world’s most beautiful harbors, fiords, rivers and waterways at bargain prices,” states SATW president, Bea Broda.
Listed in order of votes with comments from SATW writers, are the world’s “Top 10” trips by ferry boat:
1. Star Ferry in Hong Kong
· “A ride aboard Hong Kong's Star Ferry is crammed with views and people to create the cheapest multi-cultural, multi-sensory cruise experience in the world.” Chris McBeath, guide book author and freelance travel writer
· “The view from Hong Kong's Star Ferry at twilight is one of the best in the world.” Catherine Watson, freelance writer/photographer
· “Hong Kong's Star Ferry provides great views of the city skylines and a glimpse into the lifestyle of Hong Kongers for under a buck.” Robin Robinson, Toronto Sun travel editor
· “Star Ferry is the perfect introduction to the controlled frenzy that is Hong Kong.” Fred Gebhart, freelance travel writer
2. Ferries from Sausalito to San Francisco, California

· “Crossing San Francisco Bay on a sunny afternoon, with Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge to the right, the Berkeley Hills to the left, and that glorious San Francisco skyline looming ahead; all that's missing is a bar of Ghirardelli Chocolate and a warm loaf of sourdough bread.” Eric Lindberg - freelance travel writer/photographer

· “The San Francisco-Sausalito ferry follows almost the same route as the more expensive tour boats.” John Flinn, freelance travel writer

3. Staten Island Ferry, New York harbor
· “The Staten Island Ferry is not new, squeaky clean, or super fast but it is iconic, and even with the World Trade Centers gone the view it offers of Manhattan is superb--and you get to see it all with local New Yorkers, not just tourists.” Christine Loomis, travel writer/editor
· “Busy and bustling New York City shows you an entirely different, more romantic side when you're viewing it from the water.” Katy Koontz, freelance travel writer
· “Staten Island Ferry with twinkling skyline lights is a year-round Valentine.” Jan Aaron, travel writer
4. Washington State Ferries, Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands
· “Washington State Ferries offer the most beautiful views of water, mountains and forests, with whales right up close, too.” Robert Haru Fisher, columnist & contributing editor,
· "Stiff winds and dramatic weather changes turn a simple commute between islands into a short-burst travel journey on many of the Washington State ferries." Richard Varr, freelance travel writer
5. British Columbia Ferry System, including Vancouver to Victoria
· “The British Columbia Ferry System is a world apart, with tents set up on deck and people from all parts talking and comparing world travel experiences. And you can't beat the beauty all around you.” Roger Toll, freelance travel writer

· “The ferry system connecting Vancouver to Victoria is clean, efficient, and more than comfortable. Park your car and enjoy Wi Fi in the boat, a/c or heat, and sip a cup of tea in the lounge. You end up an hour later on a lovely maritime island totally relaxed.” Annette Thompson, associate travel eitor, Southern Living

· "Cruising around the lush green islands dotting the waterway provides an every-changing view." Kathy Rodeghier, freelance writer

6. Ferry from Sydney Harbor to Manly, Australia
· “The half hour public ferry ride from Sydney's Circular Quay, close to the harbor bridge and opera house, through the national park's superb scenery to the ocean-side suburb of Manly is a superb experience, and at a cost of AU $6.40, one of Australia's many bargains.” Michael Algar, travel writer and photographer
· “The trip across Sydney Harbour provides a priceless view of the Opera House as well as the skyline of the city. Do it on Sunday when the harbor is full of "yachties." Elizabeth Hansen, travel editor, Ranch & Coast

7. The Ferry System of the Greek Isles
· “It's hard to find a more romantic experience for less money than a local ferry meandering its way through the Greek Islands.” Mary Ann Treger, freelance travel writer

· “Approaching mystical Santorini captivates the senses: the cliffs rear up, while caught in the morning sun and perched on top, like the frosting on a wedding cake, cling the white-painted houses in a scene you'll always remember.” Eric Anderson, editor, Anderson's World

8. The “Blue Canoes” of the Alaska State Ferry System

· “The Alaska State Ferry system's ‘blue canoes’ allow overnight passengers to pitch their tents on deck - surely one of the world's most unusual camping experiences.” Janet Fullwood, independent journalist
· "Not only is the Alaska State Ferry System a bargain way to enjoy the Inside Passage, but you can get on and off the boat for independent exploration. Or haul your car down on the boat after driving up on the Alaska Highway." Alan Solomon, freelance travel writer

9. “Norway in a Nutshell” Tour and ferry ride

· “The ferry ride from Flam to Gudvangen is the best way to see Norway's magnificent fjords. Barbara Ramsay Orr, freelance travel writer and photographer

10. Ferry from Mallaig to Isle of Sky, Scotland

· “Skye is one of the most mysterious and beautiful islands in the world, and its emergence from the mists, shaped like a bird in flight, never fails to lift the heart.” Marilyn Green, travel writer
· “Sailing across the waters to Skye carries romance equal to its beautiful scenery, as travelers follow in the footsteps of the Bonnie Prince or begin their own island-hopping expedition into the Hebrides.” Barbara Radcliffe Rogers, author of "Exploring Europe by Boat"
The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) is a non-profit professional association that works to promote responsible travel journalism and to provide professional support for its members, including travel journalists, photographers, editors, electronic media, film lecturers, television and film producers, and public relations representatives from the travel industry.
For more information on the Society of American Travel Writers, visit

A Guide To The World’s Best Gardens

See The World In Flowers: The Traveling Gardener’s Guide to The Best Garden Destinations


by Barbara Ramsay Orr

Gardeners have always been a genial but larcenous lot. They’ll steal your remedy for slugs, and pinch the name of the late flowering peony that you discovered last season. And gardeners who travel are even more inclined to plunder. From Carolus Clusius who ‘borrowed’ the tulip from Constantinople in 1573 and brought it home to Leiden in Holland, to the English aristocracy who toured France and Italy to copy garden designs for their new country estates, to the modern traveling gardener, a journey offers the opportunity to acquire foreign ideas that can be modified or incorporated into the domestic garden.

But the simple truth is, people who love gardens will visit them over and over again for the pure pleasure they provide, larcenous intents aside. And even if you’ve never broken a nail or calloused your hands in the dirt of a flower bed, there is a therapeutic pleasure to be found in walking through a beautiful garden. In fact, Roger S. Ulrich of Texas A&M has clinical proof that simply looking at nature can lower your blood pressure, relieve stress levels, and reduce muscle tension.

Little wonder then that garden destinations hold such wide appeal.

It isn’t necessary to leave the country to find gardens to dream about. Our domestic gardens are gems which merit a special trip for garden inspiration. The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, for example, grew out of an old abandoned quarry site, and now comprise fifty acres of floral splendour and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ontario, have the world’s largest collection of lilacs on display during their May Lilac Festival.


But if you’ve sampled the homegrown horticulture, or are just in search of the exotic, maybe you’re ready for a global garden-hopping adventure.

There are many gardening-themed group tours available, but I have found that a visit to a garden is best on a self-guided tour. You have time to stop to photograph or sketch the garden elements that captivate you, without worrying about holding up the group.

What follows is a description, not exhaustive by any means, of some the best global garden sites. Any one of them could be the central focus of a gardening odyssey or a short side trip.

First, last and always, the one site every person who loves colour must visit in his lifetime is actually a whole country – Holland in the Spring. From March until mid-June, it is Eden, an abundantly flourishing spectacle of colour that defies description. Even a mundane train ride from Schiphol to Amsterdam is illuminated by the surprising fields of flowering bulbs. That’s fields, - not clumps or beds, but fields, stretching in broad and brilliant stripes for almost a mile.


The best way to appreciate the bulb fields is on a bike, where you can inhale the scents of hyacinths as you pass. One spectacular route begins in the North Sea town of Noordwijk. Here you can arrange for bicycles and do a leisurely 25 k ride through the tulip fields, ending up, about an hour later (depending on how many times you are compelled to stop to stare at the flowers) at the absolute mecca for gardeners, the Keukenhof.

Keukenhof (which means kitchen garden in Dutch) is the 70 acre garden park that is a veritable sea of spring flowers, over seven million bulbs planted in formal gardens around lakes, curving pathways and art installations. Here the best bulb growers show off their best bulbs, and the eager gardener can choose the names of tulips, narcissus, fritillaria, and muscari for fall planting. It is, quite literally, the most gorgeous display of eye candy on the planet. Promise yourself that you will see this garden in its glory, if you haven’t done so.


There is also an important Autumn Flower Bulb Market at Keukenhof , from October 18 to 20, which sells rare and treasured bulbs, outdoor furniture and period decoration. Bulbs can be purchased at Keukenhof in the spring as well, but be careful what you buy. Any bulbs that you want to take back to Canada must have a government seal or they will not be allowed in. The safest way, although more expensive, is to buy bulbs at Schiphol Airport. I bought an amaryllis bulb the size of a turnip there and had no problems with customs. I’m looking forward to a five blossom colossus for the Christmas season.

For some gardening enthusiasts, horticultural history is the fascination. The Hortus Botanicus in Leiden has a replica of Carolus Clusius’s garden, showcasing some of the earliest tulips. It is surprising to see that these first flowers, like the 400 year old Duc van Tol, are small and short in comparison to modern hybrids, and even harder to imagine that just one of these bulbs was worth the price of a house in 17th century Holland.

Hortus Bulborum, in Limmen, is an archival bulb garden started in 1928 to save varieties of tulips which were being lost. It offers a well organized open-air archive that brings to life the story of the flower. There are helpful summaries of the tulip’s history and its evolution from wildflower to treasured showpiece.

Treat yourself, while you are in Holland to a tour of some of the secret gardens of Amsterdam. Hidden behind the tall front exteriors of the canal houses, are elegant ‘hofje’, or courtyard gardens, ranging from French formal to English landscape style.


Urban Home and Garden Tours provides a walking tour of some of the best, like the 17th century Willet-Holtthuysen canal house, or the Museum Van Loon, with its enclosed formal French garden that seems like a green oasis in the middle of the city. It is not a difficult walk, and your guide will be a professional garden designer or art historian. The tour ends with a light lunch in one of the gardens. This tour is of particular interest to someone with a small urban garden. There are guaranteed to be design ideas that can be adapted to Canadian city gardens.

Oh to be in England, where gardens are elevated to an art form! In fact there is even a gardening museum. The Museum of Garden History is in the restored church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, next to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is an historically accurate Knot garden, excellent displays of gardening artifacts and utensils, archival photographs, artwork and an distinguished graveyard. (Captain Bligh is buried there.) A revolving schedule of lectures is coupled with special events like the September to December exhibition, How Does Her Garden Grow?, which explores the training of professional women gardeners from the opening of the first women’s horticultural colleges at the end of the 19th century, up to the present .


Two famous English garden shows should be on every green thumb’s list, the Chelsea Flower Show and the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The Chelsea is the absolutely fabulous four-day (May 21 -24 this year) floral extravaganza that signals the unofficial start of the English summer social season. It’s probably as famous for the outrageous hats that show up every year as it is for its flowers. At 4:30 on the last day of the show, a bell rings, all the plants go on sale, and the flower show turns into bedlam. Tickets need to be booked well in advance for the Thursday and Friday public viewings as the show sells out quicklyevery year. The first two days of the show (always Tuesday and Wednesday) are open exclusively to members of the Royal Horticultural Society. You might consider joining the RHS; besides the privileged viewings at the show, you'll receive complimentary admittance to 270 of the U.K.'s most beautiful gardens, a monthly magazine, free seeds, and free gardening advice. If you’re contemplating a visit to the Chelsea, you would be wise to begin planning now to reserve your tickets for next year.

The Hampton Court Palace, once home to Henry VIII, hosts the world’s largest flower show from July 2 – 7, but the palace and its gardens are worth visiting any time in summer. You can get there from central London by rail from Waterloo Station, by underground, or by car.

And no gardener worth his salt would miss a visit to Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Vita Sackville West’s famous oeuvre, and one of the most individual and beautiful gardens in Europe. The castle had fallen into ruin when it was purchased and rescued in 1930 by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson.  The couple, both writers, bought the romantic remains, repaired the brick structures and then gradually began to create a garden between the old walls and buildings.  The rose garden, for which Sissinghurst is best known, is planted with old-fashioned species in vivid contrast with the White Garden near it.  The White Garden has often been imitated in contemporary gardens. All the blossoms, including lavender, old roses, clematis and primroses are white and much of the foliage is grey. If you have ever longed for a monochromatic garden, a visit to Sissinghurst could provide you with a valuable template.

It isn’t necessary to leave this continent to find gardens to drool over. The Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s country manor in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains has 75 acres of formally landscaped gardens designed by the father of American landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted, plus a newly restored turn of the century conservatory designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Longwood Gardens, created by Pierre S. du Pont, is a massive garden near Wilmington, Pennsylvania, with greenhouses, fountains and over 11,000 different plants sprawling over 1000 carefully tended acres.

So, there you have it, - a bouquet of exotic gardens, to be enjoyed one by one. There are many more garden destinations, but these are some of the best.


They’ll provide you with acres of ideas to pilfer.

If You Go

Northwest/KLM Airlines has direct flights from Canada to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport daily from Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. (Tel: 1-800-225-2525); web site: or

Spring  In The Keukenhof –; web site:

Hortus Botanicus, 73 Rapenburg, Leiden, (Tel: 31-71-527-7249); open from 10 am to 6 pm every day from April 1 to Nov. 1. The rest of the year it is open only until 4 pm and is closed on Saturday; web site:

Hortus Bulborum, 23A Zuidkerkenlaan, Limmen (Tel: 31-72-511-4284) is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm from April  to May

Urban Home & Garden Tours, P.O. box 15672, 1001 ND Amsterdam, (Tel/fax: 31(0)20-6881243); Monday, Friday and Saturday from April  to June , but they can also be arranged privately. E-mail

Museum of Garden History, Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB, ( TEL: (020) 7401 8865; FAX: (020) 7401 8869) Open daily 10.30am-5pm; E-mail:

Chelsea Flower Show, (Ticket Hotline: +44-171-344-4343

Sissinghurst Castle Garden, (Tel: 01580 712850) Open 13.00-18.30 Tues - Fri, 10.00 - 17.00 Sat.& Sun, Apr. to mid Oct.

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show , July; In the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey. Ticket hotline 0870 906 3791; web site:

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, N.C, open seven days a week, 363 days a year, closed on
Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. ( 1-800-624-1575 (toll free) or 828-225-1333); web site:

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, (Tel. 610-388-1000)

Web site:

© Barbara Ramsay Orr,

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Amsterdam’s Brown Cafes

Amsterdam's Brown Cafes -

Fiercely Dutch and Proudly Traditional


By Barbara Ramsay Orr

AMSTERDAM - This city has many delights, but its brown cafes have their own addictive appeal.


These establishments have been a central part of Amsterdam life for centuries.

The oldest one, Cafe Chris (at Bloemstraat 42), dates from 1624 and originated to supply the needs of workers building the nearby Westerkirk, one of the city's best-known churches. No doubt they used up a goodly portion of their wages in the place.

Brown cafes take their name from their traditional dark wood interiors, which have deepened in tone from age and years of tobacco smoke. They are by definition small - the Dutch describe them as "gezellig," meaning cosy and comfortable.bcafe20

De Ooievaar (the Stork, at Sint Olofspoort 1, just around the corner from Central Station) is one of the smallest in Amsterdam - hardly larger than a couple of walk-in closets. On the night I visited, people were crowded around the tables and pressing cheek by jowl up to the narrow bar. The air was thick with smoke - the cigarette police have not hit Amsterdam yet - the temperature was steamy and the talk was loud.


When I casually asked what the dusty grey crocks were on the shelves, I was treated to an explanation - and a sample - of jenever, a potent schnapps-like gin.


A small glass of older jenever, darker in colour and more mellow than the younger, swallowed quickly from a small tulip-shaped glass, tastes like cold water until it hits the gullet, whereupon it delivers a warm punch.


The woman who had insisted we try the jenever then suggested we visit the brown cafe just across the alley where her husband was the barkeep. She didn't patronize his cafe, she said, because "it is difficult to relax when I have to watch him working."


Some of the brown cafes specialize in particular brands of beer or jenever, having begun as places where distillers would offer free tastings for patrons to try before they bought a cask. One such establishment is the Wynand Fockink, dating from 1679, which serves products from its own distillery as well as other well-established brands. It boasts a collection of liqueur bottles on which portraits are painted of every Amsterdam mayor since 1591. It is the custom in this bar to fill the jenever glass to the brim, making it necessary to put your lips to the glass instead of vice versa.bcafe10

One of the most charming brown cafes is 't Smalle (Egelantiersgracht 12) in the Jordaan district. It serves simple dishes like soup and bread, sandwiches, local cheeses and sausages, as well as several brands of beer and jenever. The interior is small and dark, but there is a dock platform on the canal where patrons can sit by the water and enjoy the sunshine.


We jokingly suggested to two young rowers passing by that they might like to row us back to our hotel. To our surprise, they not only took us on a tour of the canals that led back to the Barbizon, but they supplied a running history of the architecture of the city. They were both lawyers, both Cambridge graduates who had returned to their hometown to work, and both extremely proud of their beautiful city.


The brown cafes lead to surprises like that. They are not known as tourist attractions: rather, they are the beloved meeting houses of locals. Each cafe has a loyal circle of patrons who come regularly to talk with friends, and each has a distinctive character. These little cafes remain fiercely Dutch in character and proudly traditional.


A favourite activity of bike-riding locals is a cycling tour of brown cafes. Start at the Cafe Karpershoek (dating from 1629), Amsterdam's second-oldest cafe.


Head west to the Jordaan neighbourhood near Noorderkerk for Cafe Papeneiland, opened in 1642, and nearby Cafe Hegeraad (mid-1600s), then hit Cafe 't Smalle and Cafe Chris. Southwest of the Jordaan, at Spui in the centre of town, is Cafe Hoppe (1670), a literary hangout. Swing east to Cafe de Sluyswacht (1695) and its terrace overlooking the Oude Schans canal. Wind up at Cafe de Druif (1631), near the Maritime Museum.

If you go:

Cycling maps are available from the Amsterdam Tourist Board (

For more information on the Netherlands, visit

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Newfoundland - Canada’s Atlantic Treasure

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Playing The Rock

As anyone who has visited Newfoundland will tell you, a trip to “The Rock” is a visit to a different country. It is Canadian, certainly, but it is Canada with a richer sense of humour and a finely developed understanding of the art of self deprecation. Where else would the woman driving the taxi apologize for her wind-ruffled hair with this – “I know, I look like a birch broom in the fits!” And where else would the person sitting next to you in the bar invite you to a kitchen party, a Newfoundland ritual, because “we’ll be cookin’ up a scoff!”

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Where else would a golfer tee off on a cliff overlooking the mighty Atlantic, with a moose in the nearby bushes, a red fox looking on, seemingly critically, and nothing between him and Greenland but a huge expanse of awesome sea?

That’s Newfoundland, or at least a very small slice of this large, welcoming and affable province that is becoming the new hot destination for the traveller in search of authenticity.

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Golfers are discovering that Newfoundland is home to some of the country’s best golf courses. Humber Valley Golf Resort, near Cornerbrook, is one of the newest courses to create a buzz in the golfing community. The River Course at Humber Valley is a par 72 course measuring 7,194 yards that snakes through the beautiful Humber Valley, which incorporates Deer Lake and the Humber River.

The course at Humber Valley was designed by the well-known Canadian golf architect Doug Carrick who has built a reputation for creating golf courses of exceptional character and beauty. Readers may already have experienced his work. He has designed the King Valley Golf Club in King City, Osprey Valley in Caledon and Angus Glen in Markham.

The Humber Valley course offers gently rolling terrain, wide fairways and undulating greens, challenging for experienced golfers, but still accessible for the beginner. Some fairways drop steeply along hillsides, and there are 103 bunkers along the course. With pristine forest lining the fairways, it is not uncommon to encounter wildlife, moose, fox, or the occasional bear, on the greens.

The views are breathtaking. In addition to the natural beauty of the surroundings, Humber Valley has all of the delights of an upscale resort, and offers fly fishing, hiking, river rafting and other adventures in addition to golf. Visitors can stay in one of the resort’s chalets, which seem to blend seamlessly into the forest.

Humber Valley is easily reachable from Central Ontario. Air Canada, WestJet and Sun Wing run regular direct flights into Deer Lake, a short drive from the resort.

Golfers are also discovering the charms of Terra Nova Golf Resort, on the Bonaventure Peninsula, ranked in Score Magazine's “Top 100” golf courses for 2004 and recently rated by Golf Digest with 4 ½ stars, placing it as a “must play” course. This course plays over the fast moving rapids of 2 salmon rivers and along the rugged coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. The fairways wind through some of the most scenic settings of any golf course in Canada. Refined greens contrast against the rugged forest and ocean cliffs in this lovely course that has been called “Canada’ Pebble Beach”.

The contrast of the beautifully manicured fairways and greens set against the dramatic

Daily three hour flights from Toronto to St. John’s makes playing Terra Nova easy.

Culinary travelers and those with an eye for distinctly different accommodation are discovering the special charms of Newfoundland. For a unique stay, borrow a page from the travel guide of the Hollywood stars and consider the Fishers’ Loft Inn, just an hour’s drive from Terra Nova.

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When director Lasse Hallstrom went looking for the right piece of Newfoundland coastline to film his movie adaptation of Annie Proulx’s novel, The Shipping News, he discovered the Trinity Bight, a small harbour of paradise on the Bonavista Peninsula. And when filming was about to commence, the stars of the film – Dame Judy Dench, Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett – discovered the Fishers’ Loft Inn and chef Helen Fowlow’s superb cooking.

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The Fishers’ Loft is Newfoundland’s finest inn, built in the local vernacular architectural style, with local building materials and local craftsmen. The interiors are minimalist, muted and calming. Sleeping here is a bit like sleeping in a Christopher Pratt painting. It is a kind of luxury without clutter.

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Like the décor, the dining is focused on local produce and traditional dishes, with recipes that celebrate the quality of local fish, vegetables and berries, without too much fussiness.

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Helen is the main chef at the Inn, and found that cooking for movie stars, at least this particular bunch, was hassle free. “I didn’t know any of them before. I’ve lead a rather sheltered life here in Ship Cove. But Dame Judy was a down-to-earth lady who demanded no special treatment and never had moods.”

One day, when Judy had decided to entertain her co-workers, she appeared in Helen’s kitchen for a lesson in bread baking. When the final loaves, brown and crusty and perfect, emerged from the oven, Judy carried them in her arms to the table to slice and serve herself.

“You’d have thought she had just given birth,” says John Fisher, innkeeper. “She was that pleased.” And so were her guests, Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Gorden Pinsent, Lasse Hallstrom and other actors and producers whom she had invited to the Inn for dinner.

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In between takes, there were long walks with the Inn’s resident dog, the three legged Heike, views of big skies and rugged coastline, and the serenely isolated calm of this inn at the end of the lane in a Newfoundland outport.

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And at the close of a busy day, food to satisfy.

Helen’s style of cooking, with its emphasis on robust flavours and fresh ingredients is typical of the hardy fare enjoyed in the area, and celebrated at Fishers’ Loft. It’s one of the reasons that the Inn garnered a star in “Where to Eat in Canada”—one of only two restaurants in the province to be so honoured.

Her fish cakes, made from salt cod and dressed with Newfoundland drawn butter, paired with her grilled peach salad with citrus dressing, and finished off with a traditional berry crisp and farmhouse cream for dessert , is the perfect menu for a cosy autumn dinner.

When you are not golfing or dining, the delights of the world famous Skerwink Trail await, just outside the door of the Fishers’ Loft.

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Hikers can follow the craggy coastline, past small fishing villages, lighthouses and isolated harbours. Nearby also is Random Passage, the authentically recreated Newfoundland outpost village built for the filming of the mini-series of the same name, and now used as a charming introduction to Newfoundland coastal life in the early 1800’s.

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Guides will tell you the stories, sometimes there’s music, and omnipresent is the dramatic back story of romance, danger and the rigours and beauty of Newfoundland coastal life.

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Golfing, great hikes, comfortable digs and “a fine mug up”. Doesn’t get much better. Answer Newfoundland’s call this summer and every day will be “an awful nice day”.

Contact Information:

Fishers’ Loft Inn -

Terra Nova Golf Resort –

Humber Valley Golf Resort -

© Barbara Ramsay Orr