Where to Eat and Drink in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

 

Pulled Pork sandwich

Forget everything you assumed about Saskatchewan.

Saskatoon, a city located in central Saskatchewan on the South Saskatchewan River, was not at all what I expected it to be.  A very walkable city boasting a beautiful riverfront with seven arching bridges, it is surprisingly trendy and home to fiercely proud, welcoming and friendly Saskatonians.  If you love to experience places by means of their cuisine and eat your way through your travels, Saskatoon has a great food scene with some noteworthy food and beverage establishments.

Here is a small sampling of Saskatoon’s yummy eats and libations:

Ayden Kitchen & Bar

Ayden Kitchen & BarA new Saskatoon hotspot, Ayden Kitchen & Bar is the brainchild of Saskatoon native and Canada’s original Top Chef Canada winner, Chef Dale MacKay.  Using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, Ayden Kitchen & Bar brings patrons a globally inspired menu of modern comfort foods.  Pop in for lunch and give their Thai chicken wings and award-winning pulled pork sandwich a try.  Paired with an oh-so-good dipping sauce of lemongrass, kaffir lime, fresh cilantro and garlic oil (I wanted to drench each morsel of chicken in it!); the lightly dusted wings were so tender and delicate, while the soft pulled pork sandwich perfectly nestled in a chewy homemade bun.

Not only is the food superb, but the hand-crafted beer cocktails are a must try!  The restaurant is a cleanly designed urban space adorned with interesting artwork and objects you would find in your kitchen cupboards and drawers.  Their open kitchen concept gives you a view of all the cooking action and the full bar makes for a great place to dine in or just pop in for a cocktail.

Duck Duck Goose Tapas Bar

Duck Duck Goose Tapas BarTapas and shareable plates are perfect for someone who always has difficulty choosing just one item off a menu because they just want to try it all (er, me!).  This is a great place to meet up with a small group of friends to eat and drink the night away.  Once I parked myself in the small and cozy space, it was hard to leave.  I love the camaraderie that happens over food and the concept of sharable plates is really conducive to socializing.  The beauty of tapas is that you can order several dishes and try plenty off the menu without feeling too gluttonous.  The spicy meatballs, bacon wrapped dates and ricotta gnocchi were definite highlights.  Some plates were more generous than others.  Before ordering, I recommend consulting a server if you are dining with a larger group.  Don’t leave without trying some of their refreshing cocktails.

The Hollows

The HollowsThis was the most unique dining experience I had during my stay.  Using locally raised and harvested ingredients from small local farms and their own permaculture garden, menu items are tailored according to the ingredients available with the changing seasons.  Located in Riversdale, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Saskatoon, Chefs Christie Peters and Kyle Michael set up shop in the historic Golden Dragon building which used to be home to a Chinese restaurant.  Their decision to keep the existing décor and furniture, makes dining in The Hollows like being in a universe where the past meets the present.  Illuminated by the dim glow of old Chinese lanterns and candlelight, adorned with old wall decals, original upholstery and antique tea cups, dining here offered both a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere and an eerie feeling of nostalgia.

Although the dishes are at a higher price point, the food was delicious and the menu has a few items for the uninhibited diner (think beef heart ravioli and roasted bone marrow with squid ink).  There is also an impressive cocktail menu which includes house made ginger beer.  They are serious about their commitment to sustainability, so much so that even the drinking straws are biodegradable and they make their own charcuterie boards in their basement.

Lucky Bastard Distillery

Lucky Bastard DistilleryThere are all sorts of heavenly liquids distilling and being aged to perfection at the Lucky Bastard (LB) Distillery.  What started with plans of being a single-malt whiskey distillery (they currently have whiskey aging in barrels for a minimum of 3 years, with just over a year of aging left to go), evolved to offering a variety of vodkas, gin, rum and naturally flavoured berry liqueurs.

I spent a fun-filled afternoon touring the distillery and sampling an extensive assortment of their product selection (all in a day’s work!).  They offer free tours and it’s worth popping by to say hello.  After trying many different samples I couldn’t name one favourite, but I would most definitely take home a bottle of their delicious Haskap liqueur made from blue honeysuckle berries and Chai Vodka flavoured with natural spices such as cardamom, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla.  The end product took four recipes before it was just right.  Other tasty beverages include a traditional Ukrainian honey pepper spiced vodka.  LB opened its doors in May 2012 and is currently the only micro-distillery in the city.

Paddock Wood Brewery & Woods Ale House

Paddock Wood BreweryOwner and Brewmaster Stephen Cavan started his business purely because he could not find a decent craft beer in Saskatchewan. Stephen had a desire to recreate styles of beer from around the world for personal enjoyment.  In order to recreate these international brews, he had to import the same malt, yeast and hops that were used abroad.  Wholesalers would only export to companies; thus, Paddock Wood Brewery was born.

Being the first ever microbrewery in Saskatchewan, no laws had previously been established for such a business.  Paddock Wood set the groundwork so that other micro-breweries could open in the province.  Their beers are very pure, light and clean tasting and so varied in flavour; everyone is bound to find a brew they like.  Pop by the Brewery for a tour or Woods Ale House and try their “Heart Stopper”, a delicious sweet and spicy brew with chocolate and cayenne pepper.

Poached Breakfast Bistro

Poached Breakfast BistroA cute and inviting breakfast and brunch spot in the downtown core, Poached offers a mouth watering menu with some twists on traditional brunch favourites.  Features include sweet and savoury options like butternut omelettes, poached eggs over crab cakes and peach stuffed pan crepes.  You must go here just to try their pecan and maple syrup bacon roll-ups.  They are a wee bit pricey, but they are absolutely to die for, and so good, I went in twice just to experience that deliciousness all over again before I departed the city. I recommend getting a dish off their plated menu for more value and unique menu items then adding the roll-ups on as a side.

There are no shortages of watering holes and great places to eat. I merely scratched the surface of foodie heaven in Saskatoon.
A very big thank you to Tourism Saskatoon for sponsoring my trip and for taking me on a tasty food and drink tour throughout the city. This story was originally published in Eat Drink Travel Magazine.

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Grooving at the Saskatoon Blues Festival

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My soul was going on a groovy, magical journey. Eyes closed, I could feel my body swaying and dipping into the sounds dancing off the stage. My body hung on every note, every passionate melody, each pluck and strum of the guitar. I had forgotten I was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Yes, I was at the Saskatoon Blues Festival in Saskatchewan. Admittedly, I had no idea that the city even had a Blues Society or a Blues Festival (and a well known one to boot!).

I had the opportunity to sit down with Al Wood, President of the Saskatoon Blues Society, to get some insight into the festival and the Saskatoon Blues scene. As it turns out, the city has a strong Blues music scene and a history of teaching children the Blues at an early age to nurture their passion. Thirteen years ago, a Blues Society was created to promote, support and celebrate Blues music in Saskatoon, which led to an annual winter Blues Festival showcasing national and international Blues artists.

Well known amongst Blues artists in Canada, the Festival has a rich and diverse Blues community outreach program along with a line-up of world class musicians who pour their hearts and souls out on the festival’s acoustic and electric stages. This year it featured musicians with diverse styles of Blues such as award winning Suzie Vinnick, Swamp Blues Queen Kat Danser, Austin Texas Blues band Omar and the Howlers, Lucky Peterson, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers and Morgan Davis.

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I love live music, and after feverishly YouTubing some of the performers, I couldn’t wait to take in three straight nights of soul rocking sounds. Being a Festival newbie, I decided to split my time between the acoustic and electric stage.

Each stage has its own unique vibe, and along with it, characteristically different audiences. The acoustic stage is an intimate listening room where the audience simply sits and listens, appreciating the sounds and rhythms, punctuated by storytelling. Singers narrate the history of Blues, taking you through the roots of this genre and perform a variety of styles from traditional field-hollers and working songs to contemporary Blues all while using only their voices, acoustic guitars and old cigar boxes fashioned into working guitars. With each slide and riff, I felt pulled closer and deeper into the music and their stories.

Tommy Castro from Tommy Castro and The Painkillers loves the exchange between the audience and performer and when people get up and dance. This doesn’t happen at all Blues Festivals, but there was a great and friendly vibe at the Saskatoon Blues Festival.

Tommy Castro from Tommy Castro and The Painkillers loves the exchange between the audience and performer and when people get up and dance. This doesn’t happen at all Blues Festivals, but there was a great and friendly vibe at the Saskatoon Blues Festival.

Now, if you want a dynamic music experience where you can throw yourself into it and lose yourself on the dance floor, you need to hit the electric stage for some hard-rocking Blues sounds and crazy ass guitar solos. It was like being at a rock concert, minus the mosh-pit scene and being pin-balled around by concert goers. I was able to get right up to the front of the stage to jam and groove.

So what makes the Saskatoon Blues Festival special and different from other Blues Festivals?

I was surprised to hear that both the Blues Society and the Festival are run 100% by dedicated and passionate volunteers! In addition to live music, the Festival also incorporates various community outreach programs during festival week such as a Blues in Schools program that teaches students the history and basics of Blues music, Blues camps and musical performances in extended care homes. Local Blues musicians and artists performing in the festival are invited to take part in these programs.

The festival is known to be very well run and in the words of Edmonton Blues musician, Kat Danser, “the Saskatoon Blues Society is one of Canada’s Finest”. Its “commitment to forwarding Blues for generations to come” and role in preserving and “building the Blues community across Canada” through the “integration of old pros and regionally developing talent” in their Blues in Schools program is “one-of-a-kind”.

“Doing a complete show is so immensely gratifying, but when you get the smile from a child when the “A-Ha” moment arrives during teaching…well…it’s completely magical. I feel so blessed to share music with 5-17 year old young folks and to teach that Blues music is a tool for healing pain and that it also provides space to enjoy overcoming an obstacle in life whatever that may be.” – Kat Danser

“Doing a complete show is so immensely gratifying, but when you get the smile from a child when the “A-Ha” moment arrives during teaching…well…it’s completely magical. I feel so blessed to share music with 5-17 year old young folks and to teach that Blues music is a tool for healing pain and that it also provides space to enjoy overcoming an obstacle in life whatever that may be.” – Kat Danser

Choosing to return to participate in the Saskatoon Blues Festival is an easy decision for Kat Danser. The support she receives as a female Blues musician and her love of the Saskatoon Blues community, fans, volunteers and lifelong friendships created there keep her coming back. It’s evident that the Saskatoon Blues Festival and Society have a solid reputation and that Saskatoon’s hospitality certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.

If you find yourself in Saskatoon and want to check out what’s happening on the Blues scene while you’re in the city, contact the Blues Society for the latest events. You can plan your trip for next year’s festival; the 2015 festival dates are available on their website.

 

This post was originally published in Eat Drink Travel Magazine. A special thank you to Tourism Saskatoon for supporting this trip and to the Saskatoon Blues Society for providing me with tickets into the Blues Festival.

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Nature Walk through High Park

IMG_4667_2One of my favourite winter activities is trail walking.  There is just something special about taking a nature walk on a sunny, crisp, cool winter day.  I love the crunching sound the snow makes as it compacts under my winter boots, the stillness in the air, the fresh and tingly sensation of cold air hitting my flushed cheeks and how energized I feel afterwards.

High Park, Toronto’s largest public park, is the perfect place to embark on a long, quiet winter walk through nature.

What’s your favourite way to enjoy a sunny winter day?

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Facing Your Fears about Solo Travel

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When I announced my plans for a 2 month solo trip through Southeast Asia and Australia, I received mixed reactions.  Some were very encouraging, cheering me on about how amazing my trip will be, how brave I was for doing it, and how they could never do that themselves.  Others were taken aback, confused, asking me why? Aren’t you scared? Won’t it be dangerous?

While I know some people were just expressing concern, I resented that I felt I had to defend my choices. Probably what I resented even more was that those questions stirred up and triggered anxieties that I was already experiencing – an inner battle between self-doubt and a long held dream. The truth was, I was scared, I was apprehensive, I did ask myself, am I crazy? Can I really do this? 

Turns out, yes I could – and you can too. 

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While it was sometimes difficult to quiet down all the negative chatter and push those self defeating thoughts out of my mind, I was also excited about fulfilling my dream. Solo travel isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.  If you’ve ever contemplated travelling on your own, but have hesitated due to your own misgivings or if others cause you to talk yourself out of it, I am here to tell you that you are not alone.  Here are some common anxieties, how to relieve some of them and the wonderful benefits of solo travel.

“I could never do that, I am too afraid.”

Fear is something that is all too familiar to me.  I lived much of my life crippled with fear and anxiety whenever I faced a change, the unknown or something new; usually opting to stay where it’s safe and familiar, afraid to do anything on my own.  I have learned that waiting for someone else can lead you to miss out on something you really wanted to do.

If you have been considering a solo trip, but find yourself hesitating because you are scared, take baby steps.  Try going on a shorter trip on your own to test the waters and get your feet wet.  Solo travel doesn’t have to mean a long extended trip across the world.  One of my earlier solo travel experiences was a 5 day trip to Sedona, Arizona.  The hardest part is making the decision and moving forward with it despite your fear.

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Don’t get me wrong – I still had a sob-fest the day before I left for my 2 month trip abroad, doubting my decision. But once I boarded that plane, I felt relaxed and content.  Looking back at that trip, I realize how much it made me grow as a person.  Sometimes I can hardly believe that I actually did it!  When I get down on myself or have a moment when my confidence slips, I remind myself of what I accomplished – planning an entire trip that spanned 3 different countries on my own and having to rely entirely on myself. Now if that’s not enough to shake off self-doubt, then I don’t know what is!

“I will be too lonely”

In truth, you will most likely feel some form of loneliness at some points.  I did, but not as much as I anticipated.  In fact, it felt very liberating and empowering to be on my own.  Following my own schedule, making my own decisions without influence, and giving myself an opportunity to be me and follow my own desires. Some may call it selfish (which I don’t believe to be true), but for me, it was a refreshing and much needed reprieve.

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The beauty of solo travel is that you have the freedom to choose to spend time in your own company or being open to meeting other travelers.  There are a lot of solo female travellers out there and a great network of women in the #WeGoSolo community.  There is always an opportunity to make friends and meet other travellers whether it be someone who’s staying in the same hotel as you, at a local hangout for travelers or while on a tour or excursion.

“Will I be safe?”

Naturally safety is a consideration while travelling.  Fortunately, I have never felt genuinely unsafe during my travels.  There is always a risk and no guarantee you will be free from negative experiences (whether in a foreign place or a familiar big city closer to home). However, you can take some steps and precautions to prepare yourself as best you can. Do as much research about a destination as possible, read about other solo travellers’ experiences online to get as good a picture as you can.  In the end, go with whatever you are most comfortable with and follow some common sense principles.

For instance, I made a rule to always arrive at a new place in the daylight and to have a transportation plan on how to get from point A to B.  I chose not to walk in remote areas on my own after dark, and always carried a small headlamp and safety whistle with me wherever I went.  Befriend hotel employees and other travelers; use their local knowledge to make judgements.  And when in doubt always go with your gut!  If something feels off – listen.

Originally published in Eat Drink Travel Magazine, September 17, 2013.

Posted in Personal Musings, Tales from My 2 Month Adventure Abroad, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Taking Chances and Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone

I cannot believe that it has almost been one full year since I embarked on a two month solo trip through Thailand, Indonesia and Australia. Last February I made an announcement about my trip on my blog; a post about taking chances and stepping outside your comfort zone.

Boy am I glad I took that step to follow a dream.

Cheers to facing your fears and following your heart!

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Reblogged postOriginal Post Date:  February 18, 2013

I have decided to act upon a dream that has danced around in my mind for several years now. Never acted upon, it nagged at me. My dream is to take an extended trip and travel around to a few different places.  In a few short days, I will be jetting off for 2 full months to Thailand, Indonesia and Australia.  During my solo adventure, I will be checking off a few “bucket list” items I have wanted to experience for awhile, including learning to scuba dive and doing volunteer work with wildlife.

At some point I found myself asking why it has taken me this long to act on it.  It was always one thing or another. The timing never felt right, I was afraid, I was waiting for the perfect job that would allow me the flexibility and opportunity to travel for work…the list goes on.  Perhaps part of me was just waiting for it to happen, to somehow miraculously take place on its own and land in my lap.

About 5 years ago I was traveling quite a bit, exploring new corners of the world.  I felt alive and in my element.  Then I decided it was time to buckle down and try to find a career path. I accepted a new job as a stepping stone and worked on building my resume and gaining professional skills.  While I do not regret that decision, having grown and developed many new skills, over time I grew restless and very frustrated with my inability to find a new job that I was truly passionate about. I also started to feel like I was never going to take the trip of my dreams.  I missed traveling and felt like I was in a rut at work.  It seemed like my life wasn’t shaping up as I had imagined it.  I had grown too comfortable, yet unsatisfied, with the day to day rhythm of my life.  I needed a change.  With a milestone birthday that crept up on me this past December, I suddenly realized that if I didn’t make this happen now, I never would.  I decided to take a chance, make a change, and yank myself right out of my comfort zone.  I asked for a leave of absence at work and although thankful it was granted, I knew in my mind that this trip was going to happen even if my request was denied. Now began the planning of my adventure.

Am I scared to travel solo?  Heck yes.  Some days I move from excitement to fear of taking this long journey on my own. Finally there will be a chance to slow down from my hectic life and be alone with my thoughts (which in itself can be scary!).  I have moments where I am nervous about my safety, where I worry about being lonely and being away from family, friends and my safety net.  Sure I am scared, but what I fear more is regret and always playing it safe in life wondering what could have been.   I am a firm believer that life is what you make of it and that one needs to create the life they want.  I believe that to truly grow and make things happen, you need to face fears and discomfort head on, pushing against your self-made boundaries, or at least take the chance and try.

I want to live an extraordinary life, full of experiences and memories, a life that is set by my own rules and that is true to me.  I want to be able to look back and say that I made the most of my time and lived life to the fullest.

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2013 – A Year of Travel in Review

I am still in disbelief at how quickly this year has gone by. As 2013 comes to a close I have started reflecting on where life and the wings of a plane have taken me. It has been a great year of travel.

Here is a photo review of my year:

1I started off 2013 in a big way – by fulfilling a dream to take an extended trip and check off a couple of bucket list items. I packed my bags for a 2 month solo journey to Thailand, Indonesia and Australia.

2I had a magical experience volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand and fell in love with a baby ellie named Navaan.

3I took a cooking class in Chiang Mai and got schooled on how to make delicious Thai dishes…unfortunately I was too distracted by the intoxicating aromas of fresh herbs, spices and fresh coconut cream (and shamelessly wolfing down everything that I made) to really remember the recipes.

DSC08792Learned how to scuba dive, receiving my Open Water Certification in Bali, Indonesia.

P1100312Learned how to forge a ring out of silver in Ubud, Bali.

6Discovered my least favourite and new favourite exotic fruit. The durian (top picture) is the nastiest smelling fruit I have ever had the displeasure of inhaling…and it tastes just as bad as it smells. On the other hand, the mangosteen (bottom picture) is made up of small, juicy, refreshing and sweet little slices of heaven.

P1100577Experienced a Balinese wedding.

P1100692Witnessed the Balinese celebration of Nyepi; a day of boisterous festivities and elaborate parades showing off enormous and intricate handmade floats. The following day is observed with total silence, allowing for self-reflection.

7Explored Ubud’s countryside and basked in its jaw-dropping beauty.

P1100095Made new friends abroad.

8Stayed in a surfer’s beach hut on the bottom of a very steep cliff at Padang-Padang Beach in Bali.

P1100512Watched the most glorious sunset I have every seen at the temple of Tanah Lot, Bali. Its beauty literally brought tears to my eyes.

9Came up close and personal with Australia’s abundant wildlife including…crocs, kangaroos, koalas, Crimson Rosella’s, dingo’s and Fairy Penguins.

10Explored the city of Sydney, Australia on foot.

DSC00952Sailed the Whitsundays.

P1110811Survived seasickness in Australia for the very first time and went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

11Went on epic coastal and rain forest walks and dug my feet into the sand of some fantastic Australian beaches.

IMAG2269_1Walked through the badass Badlands of local Caledon, Ontario.

IMAG1948Hugged Wiarton Willy!🙂

13Hiked through Tobermory, Ontario.

12Traveled to New Orleans for the very first time. Walked the streets of the French Quarter, rode the worlds oldest continuously operating street railway system, indulged in copious amounts of oysters and sipped a supremely strong cocktail at the Carousel Bar in the Monteleone Hotel.

14Swam with sea turtles in Mexico (squeal of joy!) and saw a nest of newly hatched baby turtles (double squeal!).

After looking back, it’s now time to look forward. While I do not have any travel plans for 2014, I know more adventures and new experiences are bound to be in store.

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The Ice Storm of 2013

This past weekend Toronto experienced a nasty, yet supremely beautiful, ice storm. Pouring rain quickly froze over, coating everything in a shell of ice.

The ice storm wreaked havoc for people in the Greater Toronto Area.  It has left hundreds of thousands without power, caused tree branches to snap and break off, and created treacherous road conditions…it also produced a gorgeous wintery landscape.

With everything encased in a delicate, glassy finish, I set out to take some some photos and listen to the orchestra of frosty,  jingling trees as they swayed and groaned under the weight of the ice.

Here are some of my favourite shots:

This one made it into Travel and Escapes list of "12 Gorgeous Photos From the Toronto Ice Storm". http://www.travelandescape.ca/2013/12/gorgeous-photos-from-the-toronto-ice-storm/

This one made it into Travel and Escapes list of “12 Gorgeous Photos From the Toronto Ice Storm”!
http://www.travelandescape.ca/2013/12/gorgeous-photos-from-the-toronto-ice-storm/

IMG_4621IMG_4623IMAG2938_1_1IMAG2943_1IMAG2948_1IMG_4625IMG_4628IMG_20131222_220914Happy Holidays and best wishes in the New Year!

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Tales from my 2 Month Adventure: Amed, Bali

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When I began planning my 2 month journey through Thailand, Indonesia and Australia, one of the items on my “must do” list was to receive my Open Water Diving Certification.  After doing some thorough research, I decided to start my first leg in Indonesia by getting certified with Adventure Divers Bali in Amed, Bali.

Located on the North-eastern tip of the island of Bali, about 3 hours from the capital of Denpasar, Amed is a slow-paced place to take it easy, enjoy lush green landscapes, coastal views and amazing snorkeling and diving. A small coastal town, it only has one main paved road cutting through it; with shops, small restaurants, and guesthouses lining the road. Amed is literally the place where everybody knows your name.

AmedWhile taking a walk to explore the town I was taken aback at how friendly and curious the locals were. Everyone I walked by stopped what they were doing to approach  me, say hello, ask my name, where I was from, where I was staying, etc. At times, I wasn’t quite sure how to handle some of their questions. I was particularly uncomfortable with answering questions about where I was staying.  I was a female travelling solo to a place I had never been before.  I was caught in the middle between the part of me that was keeping my guard up and being cautious and the other part that wanted to jump right into conversation with the locals without question.  I couldn’t decide whether this was just a cultural thing and innocent inquiry or one that should signal a red flag. Working and living in the Toronto area, I am definitely not used to having strangers be so open and wanting to speak with me. In the end I decided to take the vague approach and just say that I was staying “that way” around the bend. That answer seemed to satisfy most.

Although Amed is a small town, I learned that as a pedestrian, I still had to be very alert when it came to traffic. Motorbikes really do rule the road.  It is commonplace to see them speeding by and quickly whipping around bends in the road. When I could, I usually found myself walking slightly off the road to avoid vehicles or bolting across the street whenever the way was clear. During nightfall the town is very dark with little lighting illuminating the road. It is best to bring a flashlight or headlamp with you if you are venturing out in the dark.

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Amed has beautiful coastal views with Mount Agung as a backdrop to add some allure and mystery. It is a very popular diving and snorkeling destination. Snorkeling can be done right off the beach, with large coral reef formations and plenty of fish just below the waters surface. The beach itself is made up of black volcanic sand and stone. Fishing boats are often found lining the beaches. There are a variety of several great diving spots that are in or near Amed such as the very popular USS Liberty Shipwreck in nearby Tulumben.

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Amed is really a place to kick back and take it easy. There are a variety of places you can visit as a day trip from Amed – trekking on Mount Agung or visiting Tirta Gangga a water palace. I did not do any sightseeing or day trips while I was in Amed as most of my time was focused on completing my diving certification.  Also I was there during rainy season (low season) and it rained almost every afternoon, putting a kibosh to any potential sightseeing plans.

Have you ever visited Amed? If so, what was your favourite thing about Amed?

Have you been in a similar situation where you were unsure how to answer probing questions? How did you handle them?

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The heART of a Woman Project – Empowering Women Through Mobile Photography

“It’s not about charity, it’s about sharing skills with the unemployed mothers and young women in South Africa to empower them to take what they have learned and to build a self sustaining small business and a better future for themselves and their children.” – Andrea Rees, Founder & Director of The Heart of A Woman Project.

Andrea Rees, professional photographer in Toronto for 10 years

Andrea Rees, professional photographer in Toronto for 10 years

Andrea Rees, a professional photographer in Toronto, is using her passion for and skills in photography to empower, educate and support unemployed mothers and young woman in South Africa. After visiting eKhaya eKasi Arts & Education Center in Khayelitsha, South Africa (a township outside of Cape Town), Andrea was taken aback by the numerous issues woman faced in this township.

“Unemployment rates are 80% and most live on a few dollars a day or less. Many still live in makeshift buildings without electricity or water.”

A street in Khayelitsha

A street in Khayelitsha


Inspired to make an impact in this community, Andrea developed The Heart of a Woman Project (THOAW), an initiative which provides the women of this community the tools and education to create a sustainable income and battle poverty through the use of mobile photography.

I asked Andrea to share some information about the inspiration behind her project, the successes and challenges that have come with it, and taking on a grassroots project and turning it from an idea to a reality.

Can you tell me a little about the goals and mission of THOAW?

The mission is to educate unemployed mothers and young women (15 years+) of eKhaya eKasi Arts & Education Center, in mobile photography to empower and to fight poverty by creating a small business and sustainable income through the sales of photographic art products in an on-site art boutique.

The end goal is that each project participant will use the mobile photos they take and produce 200 original art cards to be available for sale in the on-site boutique at eKhaya eKasi Center and through distribution in the Tourism and Fair Trade industry in South Africa.

What inspired you to begin this project? What drew you to empowering and educating women?

In December 2012, I visited eKhaya eKasi, an art and education centre in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town, South Africa. I learned of the many issues women are faced with. HIV/AIDS is an epidemic; unemployment is high as is domestic abuse and alcoholism. For many, education does not advance beyond the grade 9 level and there is very little social assistance available. Women are raising their children alone. Grandmothers are raising their children’s children.

The model of education and empowerment through the arts and the mothers inspired me. As a woman and mother, the visit to eKhaya eKasi and Khayelitsha spoke to me. I realized the women are mothers just like I am and all they want is what I want for my children — to be happy and healthy and to have a better life. As a daughter and granddaughter of immigrants from a developing country, Myanmar (Burma), I know how easily it could be me, how easily it could be my children.
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Why choose education through mobile photography and why the eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Center?

After a trip to Europe and then later to Africa, I created a coffee table book of my iPhone images. The quality of the photos in that 8.5×11 book, many of which were full page images, were amazing. Right then, I realized the quality and the power of mobile photography. I have watched mobile photography flourish. Companies have come out with products for printing images from their iPhone or mobile camera and turn them into greeting cards, magnets and even canvas prints. We can create, edit and print right from this one device. It’s amazing and such a powerful tool. It is the camera that is always with us.

eKhaya eKasi is an Art & Education Center that works to benefit the Khayelitsha community through programs that target illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, the AIDS epidemic and lack of social services. The eKhaya eKasi Center is the perfect model to pilot this project as it is already established in the community and serves over 400 women, children and men and welcomes tourists from around the world.

What has been the biggest surprise and the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome since you’ve started your campaign?

The biggest surprise has been the amazingly wonderful people from all around the world that find out about the project and want to help – with donations, by sharing on social media, by blogging or writing about it and donating iPhones. Twitter has been especially amazing. People I have never met and some I had never talked to have made donations or have simply helped by retweeting. It’s incredible and makes the world smaller. It is the vision I had for this project – that anyone that wants to help can do so from wherever they are.

The biggest challenge is that while we have donations, we still need more – a lot more. My largest hurdle is getting people to read about the project and realize they can make a difference. It is amazing what $10 and $25 can do. They might think that can’t help and it is true one $10 donation can’t do much, but many $10 donations can do amazing things. It takes a village. It’s not about charity, it’s about sharing skills with the unemployed mothers and young women in South Africa to empower them to take what they have learned and to build a self sustaining small business and a better future for themselves and their children. The model of arts and education is working. This is just another avenue, a more modern avenue if you will. I love the arts and crafts they create at the Centre, I couldn’t stop buying them when I was there. Providing them with access to mobile photography also gives them access to mobile technology, additional transferable skills and connects them to the world. The possibilities are endless.

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What is your advice to anyone who is thinking of starting their own campaign?

Find a passion. Because whatever that is, it will get you through all the ups and downs, highs and lows and the long, often lonely days and nights. There are people to help along the way, but no one will be more committed and more passionate than you. That’s just the way it is, and that passion will keep you going.

What are your campaign’s greatest needs right now and how can people become involved?

The greatest need is to continue collecting donations – monetary donations along with new or used iPhone 4/4s. Crowdfunding ends October 21st! Donations can be made online by visiting: http://www.heartofawomanproject.com. We are looking for donors, sponsors, volunteers and used iPhone 4/4s. Anyone can help, as little as $10 goes a much longer way in South Africa.

If you would like learn more about how to get involved, you can connect with Andrea on twitter at @thoawproject, #heARTSouthAfrica or send an email to connect@heartofawomanproject.com.

To learn more about THOAW, what participants will learn during the project and how it makes an impact visit http://www.heartofawomanproject.com.

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Summer Photo Series: Niagara-on-the-Lake

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Niagara-on-the-Lake is a picture-perfect town located in Southern Ontario. Characterized by well manicured and groomed lawns, beautiful homes with white picket fences, a quaint downtown area with shops, a plethora of bed and breakfasts and wineries, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a nice destination for a quiet day trip.

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I recently spent 2 days and 1 night there over a long weekend, which I found to be plenty of time to take it easy and spend some time walking around the town. As a warning, it is VERY busy here on a long weekend and can be quite frustrating finding parking. Human traffic jams on sidewalks are also common.

Here are a few photo highlights from my stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake:

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Now a museum, the Niagara Apothecary first opened its doors in the 1860’s and closed in 1964. The museum is filled with rows and rows of artifacts such as bottles and jars imported from Britain in the 1830’s, mortals and pestles, a leech jar from the 19th century, along with an uncountable amount of sample remedies sold in pharmacies during that time.

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Niagara-on-the-Lake claims to be the most haunted town in Canada. At only $13 per person (adult fee), Ghost Walks takes guests on an entertaining 2 hour tour, stopping at some of the towns most haunted sites, sharing ghost stories associated with each location.

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This building was not part of the tour, but our guide suggested we walk by…if we dare😉 The story goes that a family used to live in this home, then one evening they decided to flee and never return. The family still owns the home and it remains abandoned to this day. Apparently they have had many offers from businesses or individuals wanting to purchase the property, but they refuse to sell it because the house “has a life of its own”. I was too chicken to take a look at it at night (I scare waaay too easily), but mustered up the courage to visit during the day. I am glad I didn’t go the night before, as it is a pretty damn creepy looking house, even in the daylight.

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