Thursday, 29 January 2015

Winter Weekend in Ontario's Near North

A post by Scott F

Good things happen when you don’t let small annoyances ruin your day. During an Ontario winter day those “small” annoyances include brutal cold, snow measured in feet instead of inches and air that makes your face hurt...

Because you love it here, that's why.
But if you battle through all that and make your way outside, good things happen. This is what I learned during a recent winter vacay with the family to the outskirts of Huntsville, Ontario. Our intention: jam as many classic Canadian winter activities as possible into a couple days.

Ontario’s natural diversity seems to unfold anytime you cruise up Highway 400 and Highway 11. Wide stretches of fertile farmland blanketed with snow quickly give way to jagged, rocky terrain interspaced with countless lakes and rivers glassed over with ice. We watched as the accumulated snow piled on the road side quickly doubled, and then tripled as we passed Bracebridge, adding to the wildness of the land.

Our first stop was to check out Arrowhead Provincial Park just north of Huntsville. Arrowhead is one of few Ontario Parks that operates at any significant capacity during the winter, offering yurts and cabins for overnight winter adventures. We weren’t staying overnight, but had come to experience the 1.3 km skating trail we had heard so much about. Despite a few weeks of varied weather conditions, the ice was near perfect as we towed my son’s sleigh through the winding trail. The trail is a truly momentous accomplishment; a tribute to the Canadian love of winter. As we huddled around a campfire following our skate it was clear how much people appreciated the park's work maintaining the trail.

Before heading out we spotted Arrowhead’s tubing hill and I simply had to take my one year-old son, Wesley, for his first downhill ride (after a test run by myself, of course). No chairlift here folks, but the walk back up the hill will help you stay warm!

We made our way south east to Cedar Grove Lodge where we would stay for a couple of nights. The resort features 19 cabins backing onto a cliff that overlooks Peninsula Lake. Each cabin is unique and features a wood burning fireplace. We picked the resort for the private cottages, and for the fact that everything is included with your stay, including meals, firewood, recreational activities and more.

The next day, after a fantastic breakfast, we borrowed snowshoes from the resort and trekked to the top of the cliff, no small feat while towing Wesley in his sleigh. From the top we could see across the lake to Hidden Valley Ski Club on the other side. Scooter, our seven year-old fur baby, was thrilled with the chance to crash through the snow. Cheers to Cedar Grove for being pet friendly!

After a two hour hike we were more than ready for lunch. The meals at Cedar Grove are nothing short of spectacular. They offer three or four options at each meal in addition to different appetizers and desserts. The food is pure home comfort food sourced locally whenever possible (including amazing bread from the local Windmill Bakery). Plus, the resort is BYOB, so you can bring your own wine or beer with you to their dining room. I went with a gut warming Blacksmith Smoked Porter from the local Highlander Brew Co. as my drink of choice for our stay.

We spent the afternoon touring the resort, checking out their games room and playing shuffleboard and ping pong. We check off another winter activity when we grabbed some hockey sticks and headed out to the resort’s skating rink on the lake to shoot some pucks around.

After dinner we relaxed by our fireplace and played some board games. The cabins don’t have TVs or WIFI which was an amazing change from our regular plugged-in lifestyle.

Before leaving the next day we asked the resort to pack us a lunch and went out to their toboggan hill to squeeze in one more winter activity.  

All in all it was a near-perfect Canadian winter adventure. So don’t sweat the small stuff, like face biting cold; get out there and experience the unique opportunities winter offers. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Real Men Have Real Women Friends

I’m a single male seeking a single female. I’ve been in solid relationships that have ended for a number of reasons. Life goes on and so do our hearts. The baggage I once thought I would carry from these relationships got lost on an Air Canada flight somewhere along the way. But the one piece of luggage I never want to lose is the one full of my closest friends: male and female.

This past holiday season I was asked a number of times by family and friends, “Why don’t you date so and so? You guys seem really close.” I tell them that having that person as a friend means more to me than anything else.

I dislike the phrase people give to these friendships, calling them “platonic relationships.” As if the lack of sex in a relationship between a man and a woman defines the relationship in some way! Real men have a side that only those of the opposite sex actually understand. Women have a remarkable way of pulling information from any man. I embrace this effortless characteristic from all my close female friends and open up to them whole-heartedly. My closest female friends know more about me than most people in my life. In return, I listen, and for the most part, I know when to offer my own advice. That’s a healthy and dependable friendship if you ask me.

Don’t get me wrong; just like in any relationship emotions can get in the way at times. Heck, at some point along the way, you will probably fall in love with your female friends. But when you both communicate those feelings, the friendship develops. Leaving those thoughts to live in your head like a dirty fantasyland can be harmful, but by communicating them you can become more open with each other than ever.

Reasons to have close female friends when you are single:

  • Women find a way to highlight your best characteristics, which builds confidence and inflates ego just enough.
  • They don’t mind when you show emotions (even cry) in front of them about your ex, even if it’s your ex’s best friend and you’re in a bar at a table surrounded by other guys you’ve never met (yup, this happened). Somehow, having her there not judging you makes it okay.  
  • Consensual cuddles that do not need to turn into intercourse. Sometimes men just want to watch Netflix under big warm blankets while eating a big tray of nachos, too.
  • They don’t actually care if you haven’t shaved in a week or have a hairy back.
  • A hug from a friend is nice; a good hug from a friend with breasts is better.
  • They will never let you date their close friends, to avoid the messy aftermath that’s sure to follow. Unless it happens naturally, then they encourage healthy communication.
  •  A female friend you can travel and make plans with means you will see more and do more than you ever thought you would. Face it, they are just way better planners than we are.
Reasons to have close female friends when you are in a relationship:

  • They understand the complexities of relationships better than we do. Heed your friend’s advice for anything that may confuse you. Usually a conversation with a female friend can help form the best channel of communication between you and your partner. 
  • They won’t hesitate to tell you when you are in a toxic relationship and will help you form a blueprint for escape. 
  • If they are friends with your partner as well, they will give you great insight on what gifts to get them, because sometimes us guys are not great at reading those obvious hints. 
  • A partner that genuinely accepts your close female friends as her own and doesn’t mind when you want to have a date night with one of your friends, is one surefire sign they are a keeper. 
Women and men are at a level playing field and men like me work with, live with, play sports with, network with and socialize with women all the time. Chances are, you’re no different. I questioned writing this post as I find it unnecessary to have to make the distinction between male and female friends.

However, the best thing I’ve learned while putting this post together is that when the right woman comes along that steals my heart, not only will she have to be a close female friend herself, but she will have to accept that my other close female friends are a big part of who I am. They are friends that I enjoy spending time with, whether it is through a long-distance Skype conversation, seeing a movie or having a beer

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The 19th Hole: Varadero Golf Club, Cuba

Back in October I was on vacation in Varadero, Cuba (forth time in two years) and on a whim decided to go golfing; and was I ever glad I did. Boasting challenging holes and a beautiful 18th finish, I had to try out Varadero Golf Club this time around. So off we went early one morning (five of us in total) to the Varadero Golf Club.

Real Man Travels hat on golf cart
Real Man Travels loves to golf!
Today's Fivesome: My friends, Paul, David, Stefano, Mike and myself

The five us on the 18th green
First Impressions:

Pulling up to the golf club, you could see eight foot high chain link fences caging in the maintained palm trees, the rooftops of resorts close by, and of course, an old Spanish colonial clubhouse. As with most things Cuba, the course looked dated. The paths were older concrete and cracked almost everywhere. The clubs to rent were also dated and very hit and miss. But to be honest, it didn’t matter to me, I just shoot for fun. The course looked huge, vibrantly green and well maintained, especially for the hot climate (it was 35 degrees Celcius that day).

View of course
One of the holes on the course with a water hazard.

This clubhouse was a beauty. Pure old Spanish colonial oozing out of every little detail. Why take the stairs to the rooftop bar when you can take an elevator with iron grates and buttons. It was a bit dicey, but it worked. The rental shop was a closet with shelving and really stood out as an eye sore amongst the beauty of the rest of the clubhouse. The restaurant sits about 40 feet above the beach and looks out to the clear blue ocean, a perfect setting for lunch or dinner.

Panoramic view of 9th hole

It could’ve been the rental clubs, the 35 degree weather, the eight beers or that that this was actually a hard course to play. Either way, I had an awful showing shooting a 108. I normally shoot in the low to mid 90’s. The course was actually quite challenging. The par fives play very long and some holes require you to be able to drive 225+ yards just to clear the first water hazard. Definitely not beginner friendly. While the course is quite challenging, the views on the 9th and 18th holes are to die for. I have never golfed ocean side and now I wish I could all the time! It was absolutely stunning to be on the green looking out at nothing but rich blue water for miles.

View of 18th Hole
18th Hole
Food and Beverage:

I didn't try any food, but definitely had my fair share of beer. Typical offerings of beer here are the Cuban brands Cristal and Bucanero as well as some imports like Corona and Heineken. They also have many liquor and mixed beverage offerings. Lastly, the rooftop bar has a wide variety of cigars for your purchasing pleasure.

One view from the patio of the restaurant
View looking down the beach from the clubhouse patio.

View looking down at the beach from the clubhouse patio 2

Your 18 hole green fee, cart and clubs costs 95CUC, which is approximately $95US dollars. This is pretty steep in terms of Cuba, but when on vacation you can’t complain about spending some money for a good time. You will get a solid four hours out of the day, on a beautiful course that will challenge you, regardless of skill level. And you will have amazing photo opportunities on the 9th and 18th hole to get framed up or blast on social media.

Panoramic View of the 18th Hole
Final Thoughts:

The golf club allowed us to play as a fivesome which was a huge game changer. It allowed all of us to be together and share a day of laughs and frustration. The weather was unbelievably hot (35 degrees Celcius + humidity), a temperature I am not used to playing golf in and had me completely drained by the 12th hole. The course was beautiful, challenging, well maintained and the beer cart guys were always quick to find us. The clubhouse was stunning, with all its Spanish details, and the view from the bar and restaurant were breathtaking. The price seemed a bit high for Cuba, but as stated earlier, for an afternoon out with my friends it was worth every penny. Overall, I give this course a 3.75 out of 5.

Have you ever golfed here? What were your thoughts on it? Let me know either on Twitter, Facebook or in the comment section below. Cheers! 

Friday, 2 January 2015

Beers to Impress - Bring These Brews to Your Next Party

A post by Scott F

Looking to make an impression at your next party? Bringing great beer can be a perfect conversation starter (particularly if you're looking to converse with beer people, who I consider most worth conversing with). Bring a bag of some of these beauties to your next party and become known as “that guy, you know, the one with that awesome beer.”

Goose Island Matilda Belgian Style Ale
This beer covers a gamete of flavours: spice, sweetness, hoppy bitterness and hints of fruit a floral. All these flavours make it an approachable "big beer" with a very nice presentation.

Saison Dupont
Saisons are a refreshingly flavourful beer with very forward yeast character. Dupont is one of the most widely available and quite genuine to the style. Spice and citrus are predominate here. Best enjoyed in spring and summer.

Mort Subite Kriek Lambic
Lambics are fruit beers fermented with wild yeasts (yeasts not added to the beer but allowed to infiltrate it from the environment - how cool is that). There are not many available but Mort Subite is a good entry-level lambic rich with cherry flavour.

Grand Cuvee Weizenbock
Not many will have tried a dark wheat beer at whatever party you bring this to. Sweet, almost to the point of being overwhelming, but complex in flavour even with hints of maple syrup.

Flying Monkeys The Chocolate Manifesto
Brewed out of beautiful Barrie, Ontario, this is a dark beer that is absolutely accessible to everyone at a party. The chocolate is so pronounced while being especially balanced. This style is particularly easy to mess up so it’s great to see that Flying Monkeys nailed it.

What impressive beer would you add to the list?