Friday, August 29, 2014

24 Hours in Brussels

Jetting off to Europe is always such an exciting adventure.  This time I had a very last minute opportunity to go sailing from Barcelona to Nice but needed to book my last minute flight within five days of departure.  No big surprise flights to Barcelona were coming back très cher (very expensive) so I called United and inquired why the rates were so expensive.  The primary reason, the through fare from North America with an Inter-Europe connection was adding nearly an $800 premium to the base fare.  The recommendation was to terminate at the first stop in Europe and buy a one way ticket for the final leg.  Voila! Flight from Vancouver (YVR) to Brussels (BRU) and Nice (NCE) to Vancouver (YVR) came back at just $1499 - more reasonable with a one way fare on Brussels Airlines for just 40Euros (BRU to BCN).  This also meant I would need to spend an extra night in this Diamond and Chocolate studded town.

Being a frugal traveller and knowing I would not be spending a lot of time at my hotel I opted to stay at a 2-star property.  After reviewing various websites like Expedia and TripAdvisor I decided I would try the Hotel Aristote (Avenue de Stalingrad, 5, Brussels).  

I chose the Hotel Aristote for a couple reasons: 
Location.  It is a very easy walk (approx. 10 min with luggage) straight down Av. de Stalingrad from the Gare du Midi (Midi Rail station) with a direct link to BRU International airport.  Rail pass one way is just 8Euro50.  It is also within a short 5-10 min stroll to Brussels Gay Village. 

Price.  At just 40Euro a night it is just a step up from a hostel but you have the added comfort of having your own room.  I just needed a clean comfortable place to sleep (afternoon siesta after a long travel day, and a short night sleep for early morning departure) 

Eat. On this trip I decided I would eat and drink my way around town.  First up was Plattesteen (Rue Marché au Charbon (Kolenmarkt). popular with the locals with a fun 50’s inspired interior and beautiful outside terrace seating.  Luckily the weather was comfortable and sunny so I opted to sit outside.  The cafe sits on the corner of the Gay epicenter of Brussels with the city’s Gay monument recognizing many of Belgium’s LGBT leaders including my good friend Jerko.  Here I met, Jerko, founder of the GLISA worldOutgames Antwerp III and the Executive Producer of Mr. Gay World 2013 Antwerp.  We enjoyed catching up over our sodas and Belgium Goat Cheese salad.  Highly recommend if you love Goat Cheese - yum! 

Next was a cultural crawl.  Belgium is also known for one of the birth places of comics including Tin Tin so I had to go and explore and learn more about this famed character.  Along the way many of the exterior walls of buildings have beautiful murals, street art.  Belgian Comic Strip Center was very interesting.

Chocolate. As I navigated the old cobble stone streets and taking in the beautiful architecture of Brussels both old and new, I was able to stop along the way and savor some of Belgium’s dark chocolate.  The intoxicating aromas from the stores threw me into an altered state of reality as I savored various creations of 85% dark chocolate. My favorite was Passion Chocolat (2/4 rue Bodenbroek, Grand Sablon (NH hotel)

People watching, Beer and Bears.  Brussels has a wonderful spectrum of people from all walks of life from around the world.  It was time to sit back and enjoy the bustling after work crowd over a couple glasses of Belgium beer.  First stop was La Baroque, a frequent stop of Bears, Otters and perhaps a few Wolves. Super friendly and great atmosphere with some outside seating or standing.  From there I  headed down the street on the edge of the Gay Village to La Reserve.  It appeared to have a mix crowd and was pretty busy.  For dinner I chose to head to a newer hang out , La Moon.  It is a bit newer on the scene with a big street terrace in front of a beautiful church.  The cafe is starting to steal clientele from Cafe Le Fountains which has more of a bohemian crowd, but spreading the love around is always good.

Pissing. After dinner with the need to walk off some of the calories that have been piling up it was time to head to the center of town and visit the “Boy Peeing” aka Manneken Pis and onto Grand Place Grote Markt.  Seeing these sights lit up at night is stunning.  I also remember from a previous trip that there was a lounge I had to have a drink at, Taverne le Cercueil. This is a unique lounge in that all of the tables are of coffins.  It is like having a bar inside a tomb.  Fun atmosphere, a bit creepy in the sense you are enjoying a beer on a coffin complete with skeletal remains! 

Next stop, Barcelona! 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vancouver Gaybourhood culinary delight

New on the #Vancouver culinary scene in the heart of Davie Village - the Gaybourhood, is a new tapas bistro called Exile.  The intimate space combined with the welcoming nature of the bistro staff make this a hidden gem in the midst of all the chain restaurants in the city. The mostly vegetarian menu makes this a rare treat where you can have a holistic and healthy dining options and feel good about what you eat! 

Exile's mantra is "hyper local, ethical + wild, and holistic" using locally sourced foods with some truly Canadian First Nations inspired culinary creations including Pemmica. Pemmica is sort of like home made beef jerky with wild berry, cured big game and cherry duck fat.  Yum!

We enjoyed a Vancouver Island rosé, from Unsworthy vineyards which paired perfectly with our light dinner.  We shared a beautifully crafted Borcht salad: beets, dill, creme fraiche ($10); Lentil Pâté: pickles, levain crakers ($13); thinly sliced wild mushroom in a extra virgin olive oil and sea salt with fresh lavender ($8); and Bison tataki: green onion ash, ginger-turmeric consommé wild wild fennel root ($16).

I really enjoyed the space and can see this will be a great place to come with a small group of friends or with someone special for a wonderful romantic night out.  Exile takes credit cards, however it is on a first come first served basis.  If the restaurant is full, enjoy a seat outside on the pedestrian tree lined lane and have one of their "Holistic" mock tails or add a couple ounces of spirits  for some of their delicious cocktails.

I can see that I will be returning often and look forward to see how the menu changes as different foods come into season.  

Atmosphere: intimate and friendly

Culinary Creations: healthy, fresh and delicious
Wine List:  Average
Cocktail List: need more time to work through the list!
Where: Exile - 1220 Bute St. Vancouver, BC

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

10th Annual Vancouver Pride Run + Walk to be the most inclusive with new Gender Variant category

Participate in Vancouver's most fabulous 10km run + 5km walk 
Vancouver Frontrunners to host 10th Annual Pride Run + Walk on Saturday, July 26th, 2014. Whether you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, transgender, gender variant, cisgender, or prefer to be free of labels ­ you're invited to celebrate diversity in your choice of running or walking 5km or 10km distances.  
10th Annual Vancouver Pride Run & Walk - Saturday, July 26, 2014 at Brockton Oval, Stanley Park.

"It's a unique run" says Jag Bilkhu, Vancouver Frontrunner's Community & Sponsor Liaison. "Aside from helping to kick off Vancouver Pride week, this year we're creating a new precedent for running races around the world."  

"We're excited to announce a gender variant category" Bilkhu explains. "As far as we can tell, this is the first gender variant category in North America, and it's about time! The run's theme is 'Be fit. Be fun. Be yourself', and this inclusion fits well with that vision in acceptance."  

Pride Run & Walk offers a fun running experience. "How many other running races can offer you a Disco & Glitter Water Station?" questions this year's Course Director, Gregg Ambrosi. "Unfortunately, we need to cap registration at 1,000, so register early and ensure your ability to participate in the most fun run Vancouver has to offer."  

Net Proceeds of the event are split evenly between QMUNITY's Pride Legacy Fund and Out in Schools. QMUNITY's Pride Legacy Fund helps fund programs for the LGBTQ community while Out in Schools funds programs to fight bullying and homophobia in schools throughout BC.  

If you want to get ready for the event, you can meet up with the Vancouver Frontrunners any Wednesday evening or Saturday morning for a group jog and running tips. Everyone is welcome.  

Prizes for top female, gender variant, and male categories.
Enter as a team: prizes for quickest team, the team with most members, and of course ­ the best dressed.  

Early bird deadline June 15, 2014. Register early and save. Registration and more information at 

Big Roger Pride Weekend - July 31st - August 4th, 2014

Looking for some of the hottest parties of the Vancouver Pride Weekend?  Look no further than the Big Roger Pride WeekendThe biggest party line-up for Vancouver Pride weekend (July 31-August 1st) features a  powerhouse line-up of talent including Vancouver favorite EDDIE MARTINEZ (NYC), breakout after-hours sensationTRISTAN JAXX (SF), House Music Legend DJ ABEL (Miami), Billboard chart toper IVAN GOMEZ (Barcelona) and ELIAD COHEN'S international hit PAPA PARTY WORLD TOUR comes to Vancouver for the first time.
SIN | Big Pride Weekend Kick-off Party
Thursday July 31 | Doors at 10PM

PAPA PARTY WORLD TOUR | International Hit 
Friday August 1st | Doors at 9PM

GLITTER | The Main Event

Saturday August 2nd | Doors at 10PM

TROUBLE | Post Parade T-Dance
Sunday August 3nd | Doors at 3PM

UNITED | Closing Party & Afterhours
Monday Morning August 4 | Doors at Midnight
Click here for Ticket Information

Need a place to stay?  Stay at Big Roger's Official Host Hotel:  Sheraton Wall Centre Click for more info. Book by July 7th - subject to availability. Rates from C$229/nt.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ask for Directions in Tokyo and get arrested

Photo by: Allan McDaniel
A funny thing happened the other week as I was walking down one of the main shopping districts in 
Tokyo.  Like many travelers around the world being dazzled by the sites, sounds and the bustling city lights I found myself disoriented as to where I was and where I needed to go.  Little did I realize that in the next couple of minutes I would commit a crime that would see me detained for three hours in a Japanese police station.

My crime, as innocent as it may seem, was to accept assistance from a police officer by asking for directions.  Well perhaps it was not actually asking for directions that landed me in hot water but, it was the catalyst that would send me on a journey which included interrogation, a strip search, being lost in translation and a lesson in penmanship.  The police officer, as part of his role in protecting the Japanese public and to promote tourism in his nation, was to verify identity and ensure that the country is free of illegal aliens.  

I, like most travelers, once you clear immigration and customs usually lock up your passport in the hotel safe or leave the document on board your cruise ship as your passport is the most valuable possession you have when you are on the road.  To lose or have your passport stolen is a nightmare. It effectively clips your wings and prevents you leaving the country. To get a replacement passport can take days/weeks depending on where you are.  However, in Japan, it is the law to carry either a Passport or your Alien Identity Card at all times.  It is your responsibility to know this law as it is not documented on the landing cards for Japan, nor is there signage or communication about this law at Customs and Immigration upon arrival.  You just have to know.

According to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo a Consular advisor responded by saying “...[it] is a rare but not uncommon occurrence for foreigners residing or visiting Japan [for being asked for identity documentation and/or being detained]. From previous experience, the best course of action in this situation is to be cooperative and to give the police no grounds to prolong their check. If a person resists, is confrontational, or refuses to cooperate, the individual may find themselves at a police station for several hours or a couple of days. Police can detain people for up to 3 days "on suspicion" and we have had several reports of Canadians detained simply because they refused to present their identity documents and resisted the Police. Regulations concerning non-nationals are sovereign rights-of-states; as such, Japanese police officers are authorized to ask foreigners to produce their passport or proof of residency in Japan as part of their responsibility to protect Japan’s safety and to enforce Japan’s immigration laws."

Is Japan an isolated incident or is this more common than I had thought?  As it turns out Foreign Affairs reported: “There are a certain number of countries that require foreign nationals to carry either their passport (original or photocopy, in accordance of the local laws) or an identification issued by the local authorities in case the said foreign nationals reside in the country.  Examples of such countries are: France, Germany, Belgium, and Thailand. If that is the case, Department of Foreign Affairs Travel Advisory indicates so in its “Laws & Culture” section We would also suggest people register with Registration of Canadians Abroad (ROCA). It is a free service offered by DFATD that keeps Canadian travelers connected to Canada in case of an emergency abroad such as an earthquake or civil unrest, or an emergency at home." For details as well as on-line registration, please refer to: 

So as you plan your sun, beach or mountain escapes this Fall and Winter, make sure you take the extra time and visit and review your destination’s “Law & Culture” section so you can skip the added tourist site of inside a prison cell and the behind the scene tour of a foreign police station.  Though the experience of spending three hours with the police waiting for my passport to arrive at the station, being interrogated by five different officers and having to write an apology letter to the Government of Japan promising to always carry my Passport at all times while in Japan was interesting and makes for a good story, it is not something I would recommend.