Exploring New Zealand’s High Country by Horseback

Exploring New Zealand’s high country by horseback provides a magical and unforgettable experience. The landscape is visually stimulating and surreal, surrounded by mountain ranges, turquoise blue glacial-fed river crossings and millions of purple and pink lupins (in December). Be prepared for Glenorchy’s High Country Horses to take your breath away!

I first saw this scene in a stunning photo of a calendar; it had been a dream of mine to see this sight with my very own eyes. During my recent round-the-world journey, I returned to New Zealand for the third time in 8 months, arriving in the spring. It was early December, the pique of the lupin season (wild, non-indigenous “weeds”) and as a photographer, I was in my glory. The timing couldn’t have been more ideal!

Glenorchy is situated in the South Island region of Otago, New Zealand, approximately 45 minutes from Queenstown; its landscape and surrounding area has been the set for various feature films, including Lord of the Rings. Various companies offer film set tours, but I was more interested in a more intimate experience and connection with the area…and this is where High Country Horses comes in…

High Country Horses

High Country Horses offers half-day, full-day and multi-day treks, for riders of all levels. They operate 7 days a week, year round and offer transfers from Queenstown. As a fairly novice rider (I hadn’t rode for about 8 years), I chose a full day trek (recommended for intermediate to advanced riders), and rode with three other guests and our lovely guide, Casey (the owner’s daughter). 

Being in a small group allowed for more flexibility, with the experienced riders having the opportunity to trot ahead, while the slow pokes (like me) could take their time. In my opinion, there’s no better way to explore “Middle Earth” than by horseback, rocking slowly side to side on your saddle, taking in the grandeur of the surroundings.


An Unforgettable Ride

With the exception of our lunch break (bagged lunch provided), we stayed on our horses for the ENTIRE seven hours. Let me tell you, that was a very welcomed break (and it was the first indication of how sore I was going to be)! When the trek ended and I dismounted the horse, I realized I was beyond exhausted! Being outside in the fresh air for an entire day will do that to you, but riding a horse for the entire time, WOW! That will sure do a number on you!

Although my body felt it for days, aching like never before (remember, I hadn’t rode a horse for several years!), I have no recollection of what that pain felt like. Instead, I recall the jaw-dropping beauty of my surroundings, the connection with nature and my horse “JD,” and I am so grateful that High Country Horses brought my dream to life; they brought me right into that picture I saw in the calendar years ago.

You don’t need to be a rider to add this to your bucket list! If you’re heading to New Zealand’s South Island, and want a more intimate experience with Middle Earth instead of sitting on a tour bus and being shuttled from place to place, be sure to consider High Country Horses for your next mind-blowing experience.  It will be etched in your memory forever. 

When you go…

Riding gear, including waterproof boots, are provided. Be sure to wear long pants and sunscreen, and bring an extra bottle of water. For safety reasons, you will not be allowed to wear a backpack, but your horse can be fitted with saddle bags where you can easily access and store small items (be sure they are in a waterproof bag, as some of the river crossings can get a bit wet). And remember to stretch out your unused muscles prior to and following the ride!  For more information, visit High Country Horses.  

Do you have an unforgettable horse riding experience to share? Where was it? What made it stand out from all the others? Please share your story in the comment section…

Posted in New Zealand, RTW, Travel Tagged , , , , , , |

Deline Self-government Agreement Effective Date

September 1, 2016, is the effective date of the Deline Self-government Agreement and the birthday of the Deline Gotine Government, Canada’s first and only community-based Aboriginal public government, based in Deline, Northwest Territories. Deline is a small Dene community (population 550) situated along the shore of Great Bear Lake in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories.

Over the coming days, there will be no shortage of news coverage on the Deline Self-government Agreement and the Deline Gotine Government. I won’t repeat all of the factual information in my story, as this is already publicly available on many websites. (For a comprehensive overview of the Deline Final Self-government Agreement and the negotiations history, visit here.) Instead, as a negotiator for the Government of the Northwest Territories and a friend of Deline, I will share with you my personal experience with the self-government file and the community, as well as a collection of photos and video clips.

I have been involved with the Deline self-government file in different capacities since the beginning of my negotiations career in 2007.  Even when I was no longer assigned to the file, I maintained a personal connection with the people and community and made efforts to visit with them and celebrate various milestones. In July 2015, I traveled back to Deline from Italy (while on a year of leave from work), and attended their community celebration for the signing of the Self-government Agreement. Next week I will be taking a short holiday to attend the Effective Date celebrations in Deline; my dancing slippers and camera ready to go! I wouldn’t miss this for the world! (And besides, the Deline folks put on the best celebrations!)

The Deline Self-government Agreement 

The Deline Self-government Agreement is the product of 18 years of negotiations between the Deline Land Corporation, Deline First Nation Band, Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), which began in 1997.  The Agreement builds upon the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement where the parties agreed that the Sahtu communities (Deline, Fort Good Hope, Colville Lake, Tulita, and Norman Wells) could negotiate self-government at the community level. Deline is the first of the five Sahtu communities to finalize their self-government agreement, while the other four communities are at earlier phases in the negotiation process. (I am currently the GNWT negotiator on the Tulita and Norman Wells self-government files, both of which are at the Agreement-in-Principle stage).

The Deline Self-government Agreement provides for the creation of an Aboriginal public government, (the “Deline Gotine Government”), through which the Sahtu Dene and Metis of Deline will exercise their inherent right to self-government.  The Deline Gotine Government, which opens its office doors for the 1st time today,  represents and serves all residents of Deline. Replacing three previous governing structures in the community (the Charter Community of Deline, the Deline Land Corporation and the Deline Dene Band), the Deline Gotine Government will provide all the same functions and services as these structures did before (and more).   The Deline Self-government Agreement was negotiated under the strong guidance and collective vision of the Deline elders who believed that a single governing structure would be most effective and efficient for the people of Deline.

The Deline Gotine Government will be responsible for the functions of a municipal government and will have law-making powers over many of the same areas as the GNWT has, such as education, adoption, language, culture, marriage, social housing and income support. The Deline Gotine Government will not take on all of these responsibilities right away, instead they will build capacity, the GNWT will continue to provide programs and services as before, and they will exercise jurisdiction when they are ready.

Negotiations Timeline

1993: Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement was signed
1996: Process and Schedule Agreement was signed, which laid out the foundation for self-government negotiations
1997-2012: Self-government negotiations (Agreement-in-Principle signed in 2003)
December 2013: Deline Self-government Agreement was initialled
March 12, 2014: Deline Self-government Agreement was ratified in Deline
February 2015: Deline Self-government Agreement was signed by all Parties
March & June 2015: Territorial and federal legislation was passed
July 2015: Deline community celebration for the signing of the Self-government Agreement
September 1, 2016: Effective Date of the Deline Final Self-government Agreement

In January 1997, at the very start of self-government negotiations, Danny Gaudet became Deline’s first (and only) Chief Negotiator; he believed it would take only two years to reach an agreement. Little did he know that he would be wedded to this process for 18 years, during which he remained fully committed to his people and community. Danny is well respected not only in his community, but also across the Northwest Territories and beyond.

Over the years Danny has become a good friend and confidante of mine. While we represent two different governments and we often had (and still have) heated debates, at the end of the day, we’ve always been able to put those aside and move forward together. The Northwest Territories is just as much my home as it is his (I was born and raised in Yellowknife), and our governments are in this together to create a better future for tomorrow for all residents.

While negotiation team members for the federal and territorial governments have changed many times over the years, the membership of Deline’s self-government negotiation team has remained consistent. Undoubtedly, this is why their team is so strong, cohesive and coordinated.

Some of My Memories…

My first visit to Deline was in May 2007, only a couple of months into my new career as a negotiator (Assistant Negotiator at the time). During that first visit, I immediately sensed something special about this community and its people. I’ve been living in the Northwest Territories my whole life, and I’ve visited nearly all of the 33 communities. With no disrespect to any other community or Aboriginal group in the Northwest Territories, Deline has by far made the greatest (positive) impression on me and I always look forward to returning.

I’ve traveled to Deline on several occasions for various negotiation sessions, workshops and special events. I’ve attended Deline’s annual Spiritual Gathering (held each August) and community celebrations for different milestones of the self-government negotiations.


I’ve been to several feasts, cookouts and countless drum dances and hand games. There is nothing like the sound of the Deline Dene Drummers and dancing to the beat of their drums! It is such an exhilarating way to connect with their culture (and burn a few calories while you’re at it!) You will find several more videos on my youtube channel (“coldinyk” is my username).

During one of our main table negotiation sessions in Yellowknife, I had the negotiation team over at my house for a Chinese food feast. It was during the Christmas season, the tree was decorated, the fire was burning, and people took turns playing the guitar and singing songs. I have such fond memories of that night, and that was back in 2007!

In August 2009, I was visiting Deline during their annual Spiritual Gathering. This is when I met Hughie Kenny. He asked me if I wanted to go for a boat ride and I jumped to the opportunity! What happened? Watch this video to find out…

In March 2011, I attended my “final” main table negotiation session in Deline, in my capacity as Senior Negotiator (I had been assigned to a different self-government negotiation file). It was incredibly emotional for me, as I didn’t know if or how I would remain connected to the file, the community and the people. I didn’t want to say my goodbyes, but at least I had the opportunity to meet with the members of the Deline team, whom I grew so fond of.  I made each of Deline’s negotiation team members a thank you card, each with a different photograph I took from various stages of the negotiations.

During that final negotiation session, I was overwhelmed when I was presented (four times!) with thank you and farewell gifts from different members of the Deline team. I had the beautiful beaded mitts and moose hide slippers and purse mounted in a large shadowbox frame and it is proudly hanging in my office. Morris Neyelle made me a replica fishing spear, which he called my “man spear” so I could catch some men! (Such a funny guy!)

No matter why I am in Deline, the people always make me feel welcomed. If you ever get a chance to visit Deline, be sure to get out on Great Bear Lake, home of world trophy trout! You’ll be especially lucky if you can get your hands on some “fish sticks” (thin strips of smoked trout).  Mmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmmm!  Also, be sure to inquire about getting a pair of moosehide-beaded slippers made for you; the Deline beaders are among the finest in the Northwest Territories! And for those of you who are hockey fans, did you know that Deline is reportedly the birthplace of hockey in Canada??  To learn more about the community and the surrounding area, visit here.

The people of Deline are among the kindest and warmest that I know and I am privileged to have had the opportunity to work with and learn alongside the Deline negotiation team. Land claims and self-government negotiations are not for everyone. They can be challenging, emotional, and stressful, and may sometimes cause you to question your career choice. But if you’re a people person and are willing and open to connect with others (and I mean at the individual level, not negotiator to negotiator), being a negotiator can be an incredibly satisfying and fulfilling career. I never once thought that I would be involved in this line of work and so far I’ve been negotiating since 2007!

For a Little Laugh… (please don’t judge my jigging abilities:)

I wish to congratulate all of the people involved  in making the Deline Self-government Agreement get to this point and become a reality, and special thoughts go out to the families of former team members and community leaders whom have since passed on.  Most importantly I wish to congratulate Danny Gaudet and the members of his negotiation team (Charlie Neyelle, Leo Modeste, Alfred Taneton, Fred Kenny, AJ Kenny, Dolphus Jumbo, Morris Neyelle, Raymond Tutcho, Leonard Kenny, Peter Menacho, Patricia Modeste, Jane Modeste, Stephanie-Irlbacher-Fox, Alex Ker and others!) for their perseverance and commitment. You’ve made a forever mark in the history of your people, and the future is bright and promising.

Tawna Brown in DelineHappy Birthday Deline Gotine Government!!!

Posted in Events, Northern, Northwest Territories Tagged , , , , |

End of World Travels and Back to Reality

Apparently it’s time for me to go back to “reality.”  This is what people at home have been telling me; as if my round-the-journey I just returned from was nothing but a dream. My year off from work is over, my time is up and now I have to live a “normal life.” (What is “normal” by the way?)

Back to reality? Hold on a second, if I wasn’t already there, then where was I for the past 12 months?

  • Canada-New Zealand-Australia-Indonesia-India-Italy-Canada-Italy-Thailand-Indonesia-New Zealand-French Polynesia-New Zealand-Italy-Canada-Mexico-Canada. You can see on the side bar which regions/towns of each country I visited. (Click HERE for video)
  • Drinking, eating and shooting with world-famous photographer (and idol), Trey Ratcliff, in New Zealand
  • Hugging koalas, kangaroos and wallabies (click HERE for video); snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
  • Living in silence at Bali Silent Retreat; off-the-grid, vegetarian/organic food; no meat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, junk food (and I went back twice!); exploring rural villages (click HERE for video)
  • Visiting the Taj Mahal, with every 5th person stopping to ask my friend and I for our photograph (fair-skinned blonds)

  • Staying in the vacation house of my long-time favourite Canadian musician; living daily Tuscan village life, and feeling at home! (click HERE for a video, and HERE for another)
  • Horse-trekking through millions of lupins, flowing rivers, surrounded by vast mountain landscapes in Glenorchy, New Zealand


  • Drum dancing and feasting with members of a small Aboriginal community, in celebration of the signing of their Final Self-government Agreement (Deline, Northwest Territories, Canada).  Click HERE to see a video!
  • Sailing on a luxury yacht (Windstar’s Wind Spirit) among French Polynesia’s Society Islands (click HERE to see a video); staying at a luxury private villa on the island of Moorea; flying above Bora Bora’s turquoise waters in a helicopter 



  • Standing in the middle of hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies flying in every single direction (Michoacan, Mexico). Be sure to watch video HERE!
  • Shedding tears and feeling heartache every time I had to leave my new/old friends, not knowing if or when I would see them again. (Click HERE for video).

And this is just a snippet of what MY REALITY looked like. Every single day of every week of every month for the past year has been as real as real can be. I didn’t just wake up one morning with a round-the-world business class ticket (among many other tickets!), and a detailed plan that set out the year for me. I wasn’t born with horseshoes in my back pockets, nor did I win a big lottery (although it will happen one day).

Instead, I made a substantial investment in time, finances and relationships; I put in a great deal of thought and trust, in both myself and others. I opened up to the world and I wore my heart on my sleeve. I wasn’t afraid to ask for help; I reached out and connected with people around the world, many of whom I never met before. This made all the difference!

Besides my own planning and efforts, this journey wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the various individuals I met along the way, gracious hosts and friends, the editors that I worked with, and the family and friends that kept in touch and supported me. Each one of these people has had a positive impact and influence on making my journey be what it became, and for that I will always be grateful for their contribution and presence in my life.

For the past year, I was in my element like never before. Not a day went by when I didn’t pause to think about and appreciate where I was, how I got there, and what I was (and wasn’t) doing.

Being able to follow my heart and passion, surround myself with people, places, and things that motivate, inspire and energize me, only doing what makes me happy – this is the kind of reality that I like and the kind of reality that I choose to follow! If something doesn’t feel good, it’s up to me to make a change. It’s as simple as that. I take responsibility for my life and my happiness. Imagine what life would be like if people lived this way on a daily basis.

We are the master’s of our own destiny, and boy, it sure is exciting when you find yourself on a path that just feels right – one that is guided by your own internal map.

Yes, my gallivanting around the world has ended (for now); one month ago, I arrived back home, in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, greeted with a chilly temperature of -35°C.  (Click HERE for a video on my homecoming, and HERE for winter walk with my girl Tika).   My finger tips nearly froze off, I no longer have control over my time, I have to wake up each morning to an alarm clock, I can’t have a cocktail whenever I feel like it and I have no idea when (or where) I’ll be traveling next.

Yet, at this very moment, I am happy just where I am, because ultimately I am in control of my reality.  I have so much to be grateful for and so many reasons to smile.  All that has transpired over the past year is certainly not over. It is just the beginning! As long as I remain true to myself, I am confident that I will continue along the path that is meant for me….

So when people say to me that it’s time to go back to “reality,” I’d like to ask them, what is your reality? And if it’s not what you want it to be, then what are prepared to do to change it?

Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions, stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”
– Anais Nin

Have you enjoyed the journey thus far? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment here.  I am beginning to get settled back at home, and I will be in a better position and mindset to write more often. Stay tuned for so very much more!

Posted in Australia, Bali, Events, Italy, New Zealand, Northwest Territories, photography, RTW, South Pacific, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Luxury Sailing in the South Pacific

It is time to experience luxury sailing at its finest…in French Polynesia! I am heading to Tahiti and Moorea for a few days, followed by a 7-day cruise aboard Windstar’s Wind Spirit luxury yacht, the world’s best small ship cruise line. (You might be wondering, is she going solo? You bet I am!  Me, myself and I; and we’re going to have the time of our life!)

My round-the-world journey is nearing its end, and I still have so much to absorb and experience. Having returned to New Zealand for the 2nd time in 7 months (and 3 times after I return from Tahiti!), I knew I had to take advantage of being on this side of the world again and I felt the need to expand my reach a bit further. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but right now I am here and I’m seizing the opportunity.

While meandering through the Society Islands in the South Pacific, stopping in Papeete, Moorea, Tahaa, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Huahine, I will visit a black pearl farm (exciting!), drift snorkel in the turquoise waters, experience local culture, and maybe even indulge in an aerial tour. (I have a feeling there will be plenty of opportunities/temptations for indulgences! Remember, I like to live by the motto “You Only Live Once“!).

For a teaser of what I’m about to experience aboard Windstar’s Wind Spirit, watch their short video below:

I am a solo woman traveler, full of life, curiosity and wanderlust; the time has come to hoist my sails in the South Pacific. Are you coming along???

Stay tuned….  (For short updates, be sure to follow my facebook page.)

Travelin’ Tawna
(***After French Polynesia, I’ll be heading to Queenstown, New Zealand).

Posted in photography, RTW, South Pacific, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , |

New Zealand – Land of Mountains, Sheep and Wine

In a few days, I will be heading back to New Zealand, (the south island to be precise), where I began my round-the-world journey in April! Seven months ago, I had an unforgettable introduction to New Zealand. It began in Queenstown at the Rees Hotel’s True South Dining Room, with a five-course degustation meal co-hosted by winemaker Kim Crawford and Executive Chef Ben Batterbury (click here for my earlier post), followed by an adventure photography workshop with one of the world’s best travel photographers, Trey Ratcliff (visit his super cool website at www.stuckincustoms.com). This workshop was an incredibly satisfying experience, which I will write about in a future post.

My senses were over-stimulated during my previous short visit of 2 weeks in the autumn; the vast landscapes were breathtaking, the wine was delicious, and the people I met along the way were friendly and gracious. There is so much more in the area that I wanted to explore; little did I know that I would be returning 7 months later!

As I am a wine lover, I was naturally attracted to the Marlborough region (which produces 77% of New Zealand’s wine). There I spent a good deal time with Kevin Judd and crew of Greywacke, (Kevin’s Marlborough label), and John Sowman, viticulturist of Babich Wines, learning about their wines and production. I was in my element! (I am reserving some detail for a future article).

(Kevin Judd and Kim Crawford successfully converted me to being a Pinot Noir lover, a wine I had avoided for many years. I now look forward to reuniting with this wine, especially after no wine in Bali for 4 weeks!)

Kevin Judd is not only an internationally reputable wine maker; he is also New Zealand’s most well-known wine photographer! (Visit his photography website here). What a match, photography and wine, two of my greatest passions (travel being the other one!) I had the opportunity to go shooting with Kevin a couple of times; this was a very satisfying experience, particularly to be able to share it with another photographer (and wine lover!)

For my return visit to New Zealand, I will be on the south island for much of the 6 weeks, including Christmas!  I plan to focus my time in Marlborough and Central Otago (Queenstown), seeking out new adventures and special “gems,” which I will be sure to share with you in future posts (and for more frequent mini-posts, be sure to “like” my photography facebook page).  I know one thing for sure; there are many more adventures to be had! (Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world, and the birthplace of BUNGEE jumping! Yikes!)

I will easily be able to get around and explore, because I will have my own transportation for the first time during this journey. Look out! This will be my first time driving in a foreign country, and on the opposite side of the road! (With the exception of a very short drive in April with the help of Greywacke’s Richard Ellis! See video below…)

…Nestled in the middle of my visit to New Zealand, I’ll be making a surprise side trip of sorts. I’m going to dabble in a bit of luxury for 10 days, while I experience a new part of the world, culture, food, and landscape. This will be a time for me to absorb everything that I have experienced thus far on this epic solo round-the-world journey and celebrate all those who have helped make this a reality. Where am I heading??? You’ll have to stay tuned for that one! Remember, You Only Live Once (“YOLO”)!

I look forward to reconnecting with all of my new friends (and meeting new ones!) during my upcoming 6 weeks in New Zealand! It’s the people that have crossed my path along the way that have made this an unforgettable round-the-world journey, the memories of which will last forever.
I’ll close off with one of my favourite quotes…

Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snowflake.” – Marie Beyon Ray

Travelin’ Tawna
I drafted this post at Bali Silent Retreat; the greatest gift you could give yourself! More to share about this magical place in the future)

Tawna at Bali Silent Retreat


Posted in New Zealand, photography, RTW, Travel, Wine Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Slowing Down in Bali

Bali FlowerFor much of the next four weeks, I will be back in Bali, for my 2nd time in five months!  (Surprise!) This that means my round-the-world-journey has turned into a two times round-the-world journey!

You may remember my “Silence in Bali” post from May, when I announced that I was going to Bali Silent Retreat for 7 days.  With all the continent and country-hopping I’ve been doing since April, Bali Silent Retreat is a perfect place for me to unplug.  I need this now more than ever.  Besides that first visit, I’ve never before been to a place like this; my stay at Bali Silent Retreat had such a profound impact on me, that I knew I would have to come back… (But I sure wasn’t planning on coming back so quickly!)

As a few of you know, since mid-September, I’ve had some pretty heavy clouds above me. Traveling around the world may seem fun and exciting; and much of it is. But there is another side of travel that people don’t often hear/read about, because most writers prefer to focus on the good stories (who wouldn’t?!). It is also important to be aware and mindful of the not-so-good side, and one day I will share some of my personal stories with you, just not right now.

Since March, when my year off and world travels began, my life has been on fast forward. I need to slow down, BIG TIME. Bali will be a big part of the answer.

Tomorrow (October 14) I head to Seminyak for 5 nights, where I will experience a bit of Bali’s beach life for the 1st time! Then, I am heading to a villa near the famous rice terrace of Tegalalang, away from the hustle and bustle of city life; a perfect place to practice the art of relaxation.

Then, to go even further with that practice, I will be heading back to Bali Silent Retreat, where I will give myself the gifts of health, silence, rest and reflection!

Below is a video from when I was saying goodbye to the amazing reception staff (you can immediately tell how warm and loving they are!)  I can’t wait to see them again! I will save details and photos of Bali Silent Retreat for a future feature story. (Here are a few for now…)

I am already past the halfway mark from my year off; I can’t believe how fast the time has flown by, and how much I’ve experienced in that time.  The next four months will be full of warm and exciting adventures and reunions; I have a lot to look forward to!  In the coming weeks, I will outline my future travel plans in an upcoming post. (I also hope to backtrack and post a few highlight summaries from previous travels).

But….my first priority is to take care of my body, mind and soul and give myself the time to slow down and relax (I really don’t know how to do this!)  I have so much to share with you, and I promise my stories will not go untold. It just may take a little longer.  Thank you for your patience and understanding:) …For a quick fix, be sure to visit (and “like”) my photography Facebook page, where I more frequently post short updates.

It is 3:22am and my early morning departure from Bangkok will come soon (I have to be up in 1.5 hours!)  Stay tuned…

Travelin’ Tawna in Thailand


Posted in Bali, RTW, Travel Tagged , , , , , , |

Destination Yellowknife-Home Sweet Home

For the past 5 weeks, I have been a visitor in my own hometown, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.  It’s a real strange feeling being here, not living in my own house, no Monday-Friday workweek to follow, no garden to tend to (and yet this is still my home).

When I left Yellowknife in April for my 10-month long round-the-world journey, I had no intention of coming back to Canada for a visit. But after experiencing some fairly major computer frustrations early on, a crazy idea came into my head. I knew I needed a new computer (photo processing had become unbearably slow) and I decided this was a good enough reason to bring me home for a visit! (Yes, it’s true that you can buy computers all over the world, but going back home would allow me to have a small injection of Yellowknife summer, which for me, is the most enjoyable time of the year to be there!)

From Florence, Italy I made a pit stop in Calgary, Alberta, where I purchased a superfast 13″ MacBook Pro! Boy, did I really need this! Pricey, but worth it. (Trey Ratcliff and Curtis Simmons, you can now stop making fun of my slow computer! I just wish I had it from the beginning!)

July 17 was the big day! After only three months into my 10-month RTW journey, I was heading home to Yellowknife, exploding with excitement! I couldn’t wait to be with my girl again (Tika, 8-year old German Shepherd))!  This was a surprise trip, intended to be a fairly short visit of only 10 days, with a 4-day side trip to Deline, a small Aboriginal community up north (stay tuned for a Deline blog post).

No matter where I’m coming from, or how long I’ve been away, whenever I’m on a plane descending into Yellowknife, I am always filled with a sense of pride and “homecoming.”

It is now August 29, (a month beyond my original departure date), and I am still in Yellowknife!  (I changed my departure tickets 3 times!) I was hoping that my time here would be a relaxing, do-nothing kind of visit; but it turned out to be almost the opposite.  My visit didn’t include any of the typical summer pastimes, such as camping, boating, or fishing; nor was I sunbathing on the back deck, sipping margaritas (which I was really looking forward to doing!) Instead, I had all kinds of things to deal with, overloaded (and excess) luggage, numerous medical appointments, and an overwhelming amount of time spent on travel logistics.  I needed this time to get things done.

I became a bit of a zombie, being stuck in front of the computer for nearly the entire month, dealing with all kinds of travel arrangements and changing my mind countless times  (and on top of this, you may remember from previous posts that I have a very bad case of “distractionitis”!)  The picture below shows only a smidgen of my chicken-scratch travel planning (I also had 2 full notebooks!)  Let me tell you, Tika has been my saviour!  If I didn’t have a dog, I would never have left the house!

Some of highlights from this visit include Yellowknife’s annual Folk on the Rocks music festival (voted as one of Canada’s top 10 music festivals); Old Town Ramble and Ride (long week-end art-focused event); Yellowknife’s (Tuesday) farmer’s market; dinner with friends; and my favourite pastime, taking Tika out for walks, swims and drives.

Feeding my Belly in Yellowknife
Without going into any detail like the Feeding my Belly in Tuscany post, during this past month I’ve enjoyed BBQs and dinners with friends, eating out at local establishments, and sipping an occasional cocktail!

(Side note: I discovered that I’ve become a wine snob as a result of indulging in very good wines during my recent travels.  Coming back to Yellowknife, I was not impressed with the wine selection, and this has resulted in much less consumption – which is probably a good thing.  Fortunately this glass of wine didn’t go to waste and my friend drank it for me. That was a first!).

Known for their fresh catch of the day, high-priced meals, eye-catching interior, and “memorable” customer service (I will leave this for you to discover), a visit to Yellowknife is incomplete without a feeding of local fish at Bullock’s Bistro. Coming from a lifelong Yellowknifer, Bullocks is my #1 restaurant recommendation in YK. I personally order the pan-fried or grilled whitefish or pickerel, with a side of homemade fries and tasty salad (generous portions); beware though, this and 2 ciders will cost you around $55!  Dining at Bullock’s Bistro is an experience in and of itself.

My favourite place in Yellowknife for a cocktail is at the Explorer Hotel lounge, where they serve Yellowknife’s best Dirty Martini or Campari spritz (one of the few places in YK with this Italian liquor!) Arrive at Happy Hour between 5-7pm for discounted drinks, and each day there is a different (complimentary) appetizer.

UPDATE: On my last evening in town, I was taken out for an early birthday dinner to a surprise destination, “The Lodge at Aurora Village.” This was the most memorable dinner I’ve had in Yellowknife for years! Last summer, the Lodge opened up by reservation only (it is about a 20 minute drive outside of town, in the bush, and there is arranged bus transportation available if need be). Aurora Village, as the same would suggest, specializes in aurora tours from around August-March each year.

Wow! The food presentation, menu selection, and flavours were amazing! This truly is a “must-do” for a dining destination in Yellowknife, and I will surely make a point of returning when I return to Yellowknife! The menu is full of mouth-watering locally-sourced game, including “candied Arctic char penne with dill white wine cream sauce and fresh parmesan”, “pan-seared NWT reindeer strip loin with saskatoon berry and birch syrup infusion,” and “seared buffalo rib eye steak with wild NWT fire morel mushroom and brandy sauce” (the latter of which I had, and LOVED!!!!)

For the appetizer and first course(s), I had the “warm duck leg confit and pear on argula,” “northern smoked fish platter” AND the “sea salt smoked dry reindeer ribs with sherry wine and honey glaze” (those ribs alone are worth the visit!) Holy! That is a lot of food! (Some of it was “shared”).

What a special ending to my visit home. I will always remember my first time dining at The Lodge! For something very different and northern, I highly recommend giving Aurora Village a try! (Remember, reservations are required).

Why Come Back to Yellowknife?
Sure, I could have gone almost anywhere else in the world.  Many people here have asked why on earth would I come back to Yellowknife for the summer (when this is where I normally live)?  While it wasn’t planned to be this long of a visit, when else would I get the opportunity to enjoy the Yellowknife summer and not be working? This is the best time of the year to be here (and besides, Italy was experiencing a very uncomfortable heat wave).  While the temperatures in Yellowknife have been a bit cooler than normal, I am at home, with my dog; that alone has made this “side trip” worth it!

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to return to Yellowknife and stay as long as I had.   This allowed me to collect my thoughts, make numerous changes to my travel plans, and reassess my luggage choice.  My favourite part was bonding with Tika like never before, spending day and night with her.

I came home after only 3 months into my RTW journey, not even half way, and I have 6 more months to go. This is going to be the long haul; no more pit stops to “Home Sweet Home.”  As Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and I am ready to go back onto a plane and continue this journey.

VIDEO: “5 Minutes From Home – Our Yellowknife”
If you have a spare 4 minutes and 29 seconds, watch this is a perfect summary video of Yellowknife in the summer; it happens to capture nearly all of the events that I went to (and many more!)

Now doesn’t this make you want to come and visit Yellowknife?

On Sunday, August 30, I’m heading back to Italy (for my 5th time!) until October and will be starting off in Naples!  I’ll be exploring as a first time visitor, who has no knowledge whatsoever of the city (other than it is known as the birthplace of pizza). I’ll be next door to the Amalfi coast, and not too far from Sardinia and Sicily; and I’ll be on the hunt for something fun to do during my birthday!

I have no to-do list, no guidebook, no expectations, no plan.  This removes a tremendous amount of stress from the equation. I will simply be guided by my (strong) sense of wanderlust and discover places at my own pace. This is the kind of travel I enjoy best.

I think I will spend 2 weeks in this area, and then head back to Florence to meet up with a friend who I’ll be traveling with throughout Tuscany for another 2 weeks (with a car!!!)

And after that, where to next? Some of you already know, but I think I’ll hold off from sharing until a future post! (I’ve made a lot of changes to my original “plans;” and what lies ahead of me doesn’t look like anything that I originally had in mind).

Stay tuned!

Travelin’ Tawna

Posted in Events, food, Northwest Territories, RTW, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Can You Guess My Next Destination?

By the end of this week, I will be giving blood while digging my feet in the sand and listening to music.  I will go on daily walks, be sprinkled with ashes and eat yummy salads on the grass.

I recently decided to spontaneously add a mystery destination to my round-the-world itinerary. For a large number of subscribers, this is a far away and exotic location for many of you (“exotic” in the sense that you haven’t ventured to this part of the world, and you really must!); it is also very far away for me! But let me tell you, there is no place like it!

I began this particular trek on the morning of July 13, with my sad departure from Montisi, Italy (a very small Tuscan village, where I lived for 34 days without a car, train or bus! This will be the subject of future posts).  Soon I will be arriving in another country on another continent!   I am especially excited about visiting this mystery destination, as I had no intention of traveling there during my world tour, and for the first time in my life, I will have the opportunity to experience this very special place in a unique way!

Without giving any more hints, who can guess where I am headed? And for bonus points, what am I referring to in my first sentence? (This might be a toughie!)

For the first person who successfully guesses this mystery destination, I will send them a REAL postcard somewhere from my travels!  (When was the last time you received a postcard?) Now go for it, take a wild guess (in the comments section)! And be sure to check back to this blog post over the coming days for responses and additional hints.

NOTE: If you already know the destination as a result of private communications, please respectfully refrain from “guessing.”

Stay tuned to find about my upcoming mystery destination (and many more adventures to share!)

Travelin’ Tawna
(writing from my hotel room in Florence)

Posted in RTW, Travel Tagged , , , |

Feeding My Belly in Tuscany

Lunch in TuscanyI love food and I love wine, so feeding my belly in Tuscany should not be a difficult task. I have two or more months in Italy and I have spent one of those months in a little house in a little Tuscan village called Montisi (Siena province). I have no macchina (car), there is no treno (train), and pretty much no autobus either.

Montisi has one tiny grocery store that stocks the very basics; a small bakery; one main restaurant, which is also the local bar and the centre of town (“Il Barrino”); and there are two other restaurants open by reservation only.   Restaurants are not cheap these days; lunch for two cost me $100 (and that was on the day of my arrival)! I learned very quickly that I would not be able to frequent the restaurants for meals (but I can frequent Il Barrino for items of the liquid type!). Unlike most other visitors, I am not on a short-term “holiday;” I’m living abroad for 10 months, and I have to watch my indulgences.

With limited access to food supplies and restaurants, how was I going to feed my belly? Fortunately, I have met some very kind individuals and new friends, and have been able to go with them to the neighboring town of Sinalunga to do grocery shopping or to visit the local market on Tuesdays. If possible, I try to get to town once a week. (See the video of the market below).

Not only am I limited with food options and access to food, but I am also limited with my cooking implements. My cucina (kitchen) has only 2 gas burners and a small toaster oven. There is no microwave or oven. Fortunately, I am resourceful; I know how (and love) to cook, and I know how to use leftovers. See me in action in the video below…

So far, in the month that I’ve been here, I’ve been invited over to twice (both times by non-Italians); I’ve eaten out locally here in Montisi for lunch or dinner 6 times, and 6 times elsewhere (Castelmuzio, Torrinieri, Montalcino, Trequanda, Pienza). Every other meal I‘ve made on my own. Not bad!

UPDATE (since publishing this post): A friend who just returned from Sicily spontaneously stopped by my house this evening (only a short while ago), with ingredients to make dinner!  In fact, he is inside right now making the sauce for grilled Grouper (fish) from Sicily, just like he ate yesterday on the Ionic Ocean!  What a pleasant surprise!

Even with my challenging circumstances, I have managed to impress myself with my ability to prepare very tasty meals, not only for my own belly, but also for others whom I’ve had the pleasure to cook for. Sometimes it is purely a spontaneous affair! On a couple of occasions, I’ve met someone just by walking down the main road in the village and ended up inviting them over at that moment and made dinner. Life is what you make of it; and recently, I’ve throughly enjoyed the spontaneity in my daily life…

Prior to coming to Italy (this being my 4th time), I had hopes of being in an Italian kitchen, with Italian people….but sadly this hasn’t happened (on this particular visit). From my experience thus far, it seems that the Italian culture isn’t as openly sociable to “outsiders” as North Americans are (in terms of inviting people over for dinner). One of the ex-pats I met told me he lived here for 10 years, and I think he said he was invited to an Italian’s house only once.

I guess if I want to learn Italian cooking, I’ll have to sign up and pay big bucks for cookery lessons and hang out with other tourists. (While I’m sure the cooking lessons would be very enjoyable, it is just not the same as cooking alongside a nonna (grandmother). Perhaps it was wishful thinking! Instead, I make my own Italian creations in the private company of Pavarotti….using the ingredients on hand, the herbs in the garden, the wine on my shelf (which is always well-stocked!) And I get great pleasure out of this, even if it is just for me! (Although having company is much more enjoyable).

A FEW TIPS (for cooking in Italy)

  • If the bakery is open, and you need bread, get off your butt and go pick it up. I learned the hard way. I needed bread for dinner one evening (for 2 people), but I had a bad case of distractionitis, due to the good old Internet. The bakery was open right in front of my eyes, only 20 seconds away. Due to my severe condition (distractionitis), I wasn’t paying attention to the time…. And around noon, the bakery closed and did not reopen that day. It also turned out to be the day that the little grocery shop was closed (Wednesday)…so my last resort was going to the restaurant, where I was charged the equivalent of $5.60 for a small chunk of rock-hard tasteless and saltless Tuscan bread (which believe me, is nothing to write home about!) And when the time came to use it at dinner, I was completely distracted and forgot all about the bread! (But remember I’m resourceful; I later used the stale bread as a key ingredient in another recipe…. as seen in this video below…)

  • Add more water to the pot than necessary when cooking fagioli (beans); you might get side tracked (i.e. “distracted”) while sitting outside enjoying a glass of wine, and forgetting about the pot on the stove! (Alternatively you could set a timer, which would also work. But surely don’t forgo the wine!)
  • Be very careful with your teeth when biting into a Tuscan panino (sandwich); the bread is seriously rock-hard and can damage your teeth if you’re not careful. See my video below on how to eat a panino…(Note: I am no expert; I have to continue practicing).

  • Do not handle produce at the market – indicate to the salesperson what you want and they will pick it out for you. If you don’t do this, you will quickly learn that you just did a no-no. At the grocery stores, you will most often find a box of disposable plastic gloves; those are for you to wear when handling the produce.
  • Always have more wine than you think you need, as you never know when you’ll have company (or in my case, you never know when you’ll get your next ride into town, so it’s important to stock up).

Key Ingredients to Have on Hand:

If you plan on having an extended stay in Italy and will be cooking for yourself (and possibly others), I find that the most common staple ingredients to have on hand include: wine (of course); fresh herbs including basilico, oregano, rosemarino; pomodori (tomatoes); cipolle (onions); vegetables such as zucchini or green beans; fagioli (dry white beans); formaggio (cheese), here in Montisi I buy local Pecorino cheese and fresh mozzarella (mmmm!); green and black olives; for meat eaters, chicken, beef, Italian sausage and salami/proscuitto, and pick up some salmon once in awhile; different varieties of pasta; farro (a type of chewy wheat); pesto sauce; tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes; and of course, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper.

These are just the most common recurring ingredients that I use in my cooking. You’ll find that with these ingredients you can make countless dishes!

Why Do I Photograph My Food?

Some people think it is strange that I photograph my food. I do this because I get pleasure out of cooking and creating, sharing and eating. On this round-the-world journey, oftentimes I find myself eating alone. I take the photos so that in a small way, I am able to share the experience with you and possibly inspire you to travel, to cook, to eat, and to enjoy.

Ok, now it is time for me to go and enjoy my panino and glass of vino! I hope you enjoyed this post. For those of you who have been following my blog, you know I have a very bad case of distractionitis, which keeps me from posting more frequently. Unfortunately I have yet to find a cure.  I have barely scratched the surface from what I’ve already experienced thus far, and I have 7 months left to go of my round-the-world journey!! It’s just that sometimes I have to stop and smell the roses, enjoy my surroundings and savour the vino! Rest assured though, there will be many more stories to come!  I hope you will stick around!

Ciao for now,
Travelin’ Tawna


Posted in dining, food, Italy, RTW, Travel, Tuscany Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Tawna Goes Down Under and Gets High

I went “Down Under” for my first time; my eyes began to well up with tears, as I let out a giggle of joy through my breathing tube. I was entering a magical world that I had never before seen and I was overwhelmed with this new discovery.

I did it! I went “Down Under” at the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia! While visiting family friends in Brisbane, I contemplated adding on a weekend jaunt to Cairns, North Queensland to experience one of the seven wonders of the natural world. A friend back home urged me to visit the Great Barrier Reef while I was on that side of the world. In all honesty, it wasn’t that big of an attraction to me (or so I thought!), as I had never before gone snorkeling or diving, and I truly didn’t know what I had been missing out on.

But….a little voice inside was gently telling me to go ahead and book that side trip. Stop thinking about it and just do it. And so I did!!  Isn’t that the whole point of traveling? To try new things, expand your horizons, become comfortable with your uncomfortable? I now know that I would have regretted not going. When the opportunity is there, take it. You will only enrich your life and learn from new experiences; and this is what I’m hungry for as I travel around the world. This was one of those “firsts” that I will never, ever forget!

I went with a few new friends that I met in Cairns, and we went with Down Under Cruise and Dive. The staff are very friendly, engaging and helpful. While the company offers many packages, the one I went for included snorkeling at two different reef locations; BBQ’d lunch (steak, sausages, fish, prawns, and fresh salads); a snack in the afternoon; and onboard live music on the way back.

If you ever go on such an excursion, for those of you who are prone to even the slightest seasickness, make sure you bring anti-nausea pills. But if you forget, no worries! Down Under Dive is well-stocked with a big container of natural ginger pills for passengers to help themselves to. (I had to make use of these!) The thought of me getting sick hadn’t even crossed my mind before I arrived at the boat, so I am grateful that Down Under was prepared!

We stopped at two different reefs; the first one was Saxon Reef (1.5 hours out of Cairns), and the second one, was Hastings Reef (another 30 minutes on the boat). The latter had much more reef to explore and the water temperature was a bit warmer, at +26 degrees Celsius! Can you imagine that?? That is just a bit warmer than the average (air) summer temperature back home in Yellowknife!

I got all geared up in my flippers, goggles, breathing tube and life jacket (I can swim, but I wanted to comfortably float with minimal effort!) I jumped off the back of the boat into the water and swam around like a mermaid, exploring the reef and passing by vibrant-colored coral and fish. I was in a magical underwater garden with sea creatures and tropical fish (that I’ve only seen before in pictures) swimming around me and through the crevices of the reef.

I was fortunate to have the use of a friend’s underwater camera at one of the reefs. The casing was clunky (for obvious reasons) and it wasn’t the easiest thing to operate while floating in a life jacket, but I managed to get a couple of decent shots. (This is a whole new kind of photography I am not used to!) I’ve also included a shot taken by one of the other divers who used the camera (David Hunter or Montana Caller-Whiskey). If you don’t have an underwater camera, don’t worry! Down Under Dive has you covered again! You can either rent a basic underwater camera or purchase a simple plastic covering for your smart phone. (Suggestion…be sure to make use of this! You won’t regret it!)

I wish we had more time at Hastings Reef (it was around 3 hours), as I was just getting the hang of swimming like a mermaid and there was so much more to explore. However, my time was cut a bit short because….

I upgraded for the “Get High” package, which involved a 10-minute add-on helicopter tour! While this was a very short trip, it was well worth the extra cost to have the opportunity to see the Great Barrier Reef from the air (and I was in the front seat)! (You could also upgrade to fly all the way back to Cairns).  What a breathtaking view!

Going Down Under for my first time was an “out of this world” experience and I will definitely want to be doing this again and again when the opportunity arises in the future. Who knows? Maybe I will graduate and try out diving next time!

For pricing and reservation information, visit Down Under Cruise and Dive.

Stay tuned for more…(or visit my Facebook page for more frequent and updated (short) posts)

Travelin’ Tawna! (In Tuscany now…..)

Posted in Australia, RTW, Travel Tagged , , , , , , |

A Symphony of Flavors On Your Tongue – Rees Hotel Culinary Series

After 30+hours of traveling from the other side of the world, there I was seated at the head table (wearing clothes that were not mine) with internationally-renown winemakers Erica and Kim Crawford. 

I had just arrived in Queenstown, New Zealand and was about to indulge in a 5-course degustation meal, part of The Rees Hotel’s Culinary Series Winemaker Dinners offered six times a year. This particular event was co-hosted by Marlborough-based Kim Crawford (Loveblock) and Executive Chef Ben Batterbury of the True South Dining Room at The Rees Hotel.  As I am a wine lover, there couldn’t have been a more suitable kickoff to my round-the-world journey!

Upon arrival at The Rees, we were welcomed with a glass of 2014 Loveblock Moscato Brut, which was very enjoyable as an aperitif. It was fresh, bubbly of course, and had a bit of creaminess to it.  

This was an intimate occasion, with approximately 50 guests seated together at 4 long tables in the True South Dining Room.

As part of the Culinary Series, the menu is kept a complete surprise to guests until the dishes are served. This menu wasn’t your typical “New Zealand” fare; instead Executive Chef Batterbury used his creative license and pulled together an impressive international fusion of ingredients and flavours and created masterpiece dishes. The creations came to life when paired with the Loveblock wines… and together they created a symphony of flavors on your tongue.

Just have a read through the menu below…. What inventiveness! (I apologize for the quality of photos; the lighting was dim and most shots were taken with my small camera or iPhone!).

Bluff Oyster
Oyster and lemongrass panna cotta/passion fruit gel/wasabi mayo/ pepper isomalt/bluff oyster/micro radish
Wine: 2013 loveblock sauvignon blanc


Salmon and crab
Cured soft poached ora king salmon/black rice with crab, crème fraiche, coconut/pink grapefruit and Szechuan jelly/ salad of spring onion, Chinese cabbage, chili, thai basil, mint, coriander, bean sprouts/crispy noodles/Vietnamese dressing/chili glass
Wine: 2011 loveblock bone dry Riesling


Monkfish/apricot glaze/roast almonds/hummus/coriander and mint Israeli couscous/raisin puree/chickpea tagine
Wine: 2011 loveblock gewürztraminer

Loin with Dijon mustard and herb crumbs/cider braised lamb shanks in oats/smoked beetroot couscous/burnt celeriac puree/baby kale/gooseberry fluid gel/lovage oil/lamb jus/puffed barley
Wine: 2012 loveblock pinot noir

White chocolate cheesecake/caramelized honey jelly/caramel popcorn ice cream sandwich/roast peaches/peach, orange, hibiscus, rose water coulis/ popcorn granola/lemon sorrel
Wine: 2014 loveblock sweet moscato

This was quite the incredible experience! Congratulations to Kim Crawford, Chef Batterbury and all kitchen and hotel staff for such a successfully enjoyable evening! It was a pleasure being your guest. The food, wine and company stimulated my senses, so much so that I had forgotten I had been awake for much of 40 hours by that time (with the exception of a sleep on the plane) and arrived in New Zealand sans luggage! (Which is why I was wearing clothes that were not my own! Luckily I had a friend who raided his 14 year-old daughter’s wardrobe to find something suitable to wear…. Thank you LM! I never knew I could get away with skinny jeans!)

Side note: When I travel to different places, I try to indulge in the local specialties as often as I can…. I knew coming to New Zealand that this was home to Pinot Noir (among other varietals of course), a type of wine that I never really cared for in the past….(or so I thought). When it came time for the Pinot Noir (paired with the lamb), I kept an open mind…. and it turned out that I loved it! In fact Loveblock’s 2012 Pinot Noir was my favorite wine served at the dinner! (Thank you Kim and Erica for expanding my horizons!) You should never avoid something just because you think you don’t like it….try it out, you just might be pleasantly surprised!

While many of you may recognize the name “Kim Crawford” (as a well-known New Zealand wine label), Kim sold his label in 2003 to Canadian wine giant Vincor, which was later bought out by Constellation Brands in 2006. For an interesting short history on the man behind the brand, visit here. The Crawfords’ next project was Loveblock.

Loveblock is Erica and Kim’s new label (for approximately 2 years); their organic vineyard is located in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley on New Zealand’s south island. Loveblock has not yet made its way across Canada, but I hope I will eventually be able to get some of that Pinot Noir in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories…so that I can relive the memories of this delightful evening! For more information about their wines, be sure to take a visit to Loveblock.

If you’re in the Queenstown area, and looking for a bit of luxury, I’d highly recommend The Rees Hotel and Luxury Apartments. The international staff are warm and welcoming and they make delicious cappuccinos in the lobby (and you already know the quality of food you can expect from the restaurant!).

I stayed at The Rees for 5 nights during a photography workshop (the topic of a future blog post) and was very comfortable in my beautiful executive lake view room. I had a spacious bathroom with a big tub and shower, huge windows facing Frankton across the lake, and a large terrace. To top it all off, on my last morning, I awoke to a gorgeous sunrise!

Sunrise above Frankton

View of sunrise from room at The Rees Hotel at 7:22am

Early morning view of Frankton

Morning view of Frankton from room at The Rees Hotel at 7:35am

All I can say is that I left The Rees Hotel with beautiful memories. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to New Zealand! For more information about the hotel or the Culinary Series Dinners (the next of which is planned for August 7, featuring Ora King Salmon from Marlborough Sounds, and Pescatore’s Chef de Cuisine Reon Hobson in Christchurch), visit The Rees Hotel and Luxury Apartments.

PS – I am a little behind with my posts, so if you’d like to follow some of my more immediate travels (I’m in Tuscany right now), visit my Tawna Brown Photography Facebook page. Ciao ciao!

Travelin’ Tawna

Posted in dining, Events, New Zealand, RTW, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , |

Silence in Bali

News flash of the century! Tonight I, Tawna Brown, am heading to a silent retreat in Bali for 6 nights! No talking (minimal), no electricity, no wine, no coffee…. just peace and quiet, healthy vegetarian local food, yoga, meditation, rice fields, Balinese massages…. Can you imagine?

For those of you who (really) know me, this will surely come as quite the surprise. Me, not talking for 5 days?? And I can’t even work on my computer (nothing to charge it with)…. I reckon that someone will start up a betting war to see how long it takes until I hire a driver to secretly take me to a nearby town where I can access internet, or talk to someone! Seriously though, …. I really want this. I want to unplug.  This is something I have never, ever done in my life – I never manage to give myself the time to slow down, to unwind, to read a book, to pause and reflect. And having been traveling for over a month so far (with 9 more to go), hopping from place to place, 140 gigabytes of photos (unprocessed), and so behind in blogging…. I need and want this so badly.

I just wanted to give you a heads up that you won’t be hearing from me for awhile. I’ll be going to a very foreign place…..(inside). I don’t know what peace and quiet is, I don’t know how to relax, I don’t know how to slow down… but I am very intrigued and excited about what I will soon discover. I will write all about the retreat in a future post, so be sure to come back.

My flight to Bali is late, at 11:30pm (3.5 hours from now) and stops in Singapore for a few hours! This is going to be a long haul… I’ll be in Bali until May 27, and then off to India.  As soon as I can, I’ll touch base at a very minimum on my Tawna Brown Photography Facebook page, and I will have more time to catch up while in Italy (June-August).  (The next few countries sounds a bit familiar to the book/movie “Eat, Pray, Love”…. but in a different order! And it wasn’t even planned to turn out this way!).

As mentioned before, I have many photos and stories to tell about the amazing adventures and people I’ve met thus far…. Stay tuned….

So who will start the bet??…..How long can Tawna Brown last at a silent retreat? Would you be able to do this? (no talking, no phone, no internet, no alcohol, no meat, no caffeine, maybe no warm water…?)

Travelin’ Tawna

Posted in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

Packing for World Travel

Preparing for a round-the-world journey is no easy feat, especially for a Virgo photographer (who tends to overanalyze things and has difficult with making decisions)! Luggage choice and what to pack was quite the challenge for me…but somehow I managed to get things together.

I’ve traveled a lot in the past, but not this extensive; packing for a 10-month journey is not the same as a 10-day holiday. I’ve been traveling for 2.5 weeks thus far (in New Zealand) and am heading to Australia next. While I’ve had non-stop amazing and breathtaking experiences, I wanted to share this post with you before I begin sharing the tales of Travelin’ Tawna.  (I know, I know – I am already very behind! But stay tuned, as I have so much to share!). For more information on the luggage products I write about, click on the hyperlinked text below (gold in colour).

Over the span of several months prior to my departure, I had been collecting a variety of items that I thought would end up in my suitcase. Over time, this pile became too large. It wasn’t the clothing that was the problem; it was all the other little things that I thought would make life a little easier if I had them with me. 

(Remember, I wasn’t packing for a holiday; I was packing for 10 months of my life that would be spent in foreign countries.) I had to go through several rounds of elimination to finally get to the “necessities.”

In the end, I still have to sit on my 21kg suitcase to zip it shut, and I’m finding that it is a royal pain-in-the-you-know-what having to live out of a suitcase that looks as though it had one too many turkey dinners! (This sure keeps me from buying anything, as I don’t have one square inch of available space!)

What’s In My Bag?
As I mentioned, it isn’t the clothes that is taking up so much space/weight in my suitcase, it’s all the other odds and ends that I thought were important to bring. Perhaps I will change my mind about some of these items, but for now, here is a listing of what made it into my bag (among a few other items):

  • mini luggage scale; curling iron; small headlamp; portable Bluetooth shower speaker (super cool product which has much better sound than my Macbook Pro!); selfie stick (never used before, and will likely not stay with me); tripod and carrying case; reusable/foldable grocery bags; plastic ziplock and garbage bags (to keep things dry and separate); mini umbrella;  Italian language book; chargers; 2 adapters; carabineers; laundry delicates bag (I haven’t found this yet, but I know I packed it!); sunglasses; mini flashlight; a few teas and cup-a-soups; maple syrup candies; protein bars; extra luggage tags; toiletries and makeup (this is bulky and fairly heavy- and I only have small containers); medications; cork screw; and one of the most important things….sound the drum roll…..
  • a collapsible emergency wine glass!! (Now I can enjoy picnics and emergency pitstops in style!)

Clothing: underwear; socks; a couple of dresses and tank tops; 1 t-shirt; skirt (can double as workout shorts); skirt; 2 pants/ capris; PJs; bikini; sarong; leggings; slip; light long-sleeved cotton top for those days when the sun kissed me too much; thin wrap/shrugs; raincoat; thin down coat (sending back home after New Zealand); thin Icebreaker merino wool sweater- a definite must (stay tuned for a post about this); thin merino wool long-sleeved shirt; 2 cotton scarves; few pieces of jewelry; everyday light Merrell hiking shoes; and black Teva close-toed sandals. And that’s just about it…

The Chosen Ones
I did all kinds of research to find the “perfect” luggage for me (suitcase and camera bag). I would be relying and depending upon these bags to safely transport my personal belongings and camera gear while I travel around the world. The primary brand of choice is Pacsafe. This brand incorporates smart anti-theft technology in its products; security features I’ve never seen before in other luggage. In my opinion, this is what makes Pacsafe stand apart from other brands. For an overview and short video on Pacsafe’s anti-theft technology features, click here.  I highly recommend their products! They have something for everyone (such as their nifty Cashsafe anti-theft travel belt, which I have!).

The suitcase I chose was the Pacsafe Toursafe AT25 Anti-theft Wheeled Duffel….not too small, not too large (any larger and I wouldn’t be able to lift it!) It has a metal mesh built into the fabric (eXomesh slashguard), so it cannot be sliced through, and puncture resistant ToughZipTM which helps prevent forced entry through the zippers with a pen or sharp object. Have a look at this video which shows “thieves” in action (this really happens in some places!).

Keeping Organized
If you organize your items well, you’ll be able to fit a surprising amount in this medium-sized Pacsafe suitcase. To help keep the contents organized, I use a variety of lightweight colorful pouches, stuff sacks and packing cubes by TOM BIHN, many of them can be seen here. AND… many of the items have “TB” monogrammed on them…. tailored just for me!!  (Not really, but I pretend it was just for me!) These items make me feel like a real cool traveler (oh wait now…. I AM a real cool traveler!)

One of my favorite TOM BIHN products is the Daylight Backpack. As with all the other packing cubes, this multipurpose pack helps keep my luggage contents organized, AND… it also acts as a small backpack, perfect for day use. I have another one that does the same thing (Packing Cube Backpack), which could be used as an overnight bag. I love multi-purpose travel gear!

Camera Bag and Carry-on Luggage
I had a lot to consider when selecting “THE” camera bag. Comfort was probably the most important factor, with size/weight as the second most important. I had purchased two different professional camera bags prior to making my final selection (Tenba and ThinkTank brands – both were great bags, but they just didn’t feel “right” for this particular round-the-world journey).  Just when I was about to settle for one of these bags, I learned of Pacsafe’s Camsafe Z25 anti-theft camera and laptop backpack (2015 award-winning design).

The built-in security features of this pack intrigued me; it was like no other camera bag I’ve seen before. I decided to give it consideration; and just days before my departure, the package arrived on my doorstep! After much packing and comparison among the 3 bags, I ended up choosing the Camsafe Z25 for the design and built-in anti-theft technology. You can remove the padded inserts and use this as a daypack also; it’s a pretty cool pack! For those of you who are interested, have a look at the video here, which shows you the nifty security features.

My Camsafe Z25 is also my carry-on bag, and some airlines are INCREDIBLY strict with luggage (i.e. Air New Zealand, Jet Star). For instance, the carry-on allowance is one piece weighing 7kg, whereas Air Canada allows two pieces, at 10kg each! As my camera bag alone weighs 10kg (with laptop), and I also carry a “purse” weighing around 3-4kg, I knew I would have constant worries each time I have a flight with one of these strict airlines.  And to make matters worse, it doesn’t help when I’m at the gate, and there are regular announcements broadcasted stating that the carryon allowance will be strictly enforced.

I won’t get into the drama that has taken place thus far at the airports, but just know that a few tears have rolled down my cheeks! (On the flipside, there was also very kind and understanding airline staff that allowed me to take on the extra weight – I hope this kindness follows me on my journey!) I’ve had to be real strategic and creative with how I packed things (such as putting my camera lenses in my pockets). I’ve also at times paid for extra weight in advance of checking in for my flights (make sure you do this in advance, or you can get dinged A LOT OF MONEY, such as $50 per extra kg overweight!)

In addition to the main camera backpack, the “purse” I am using is actually a camera bag in disguise (discontinued Kata Light Pic-40DL Shoulder Bag), which I use to carry smaller things on the plane, such as my journal, tickets, snacks, etc.  I also use this bag on a daily basis when I go out shooting, instead of the bulky backpack; it fits my large Canon 5D Mark III, and all 4 lenses (if I choose to bring them). I love this bag!

So Far, So Good – Sort Of…
So far, I’ve been doing fairly well with my luggage. It didn’t show up for two days after my arrival in New Zealand; that wasn’t very helpful (especially when I had a 5-course tasting meal to attend that evening!…stay tuned for a post about that event).

Missing/delayed luggage seems to be a common occurrence for me; it happened on my last overseas trip to Italy….you can read about it here (and in previous trips to Spain, Mexico, and others!).

Although I am able to carry my bags myself (with a tiny bit of struggle), I’ve had some very welcomed help along the way (thanks Geoff, Kevin and John!!)

My luggage does the trick. However I must figure out a way to lessen the load of my main pack, as well as my camera pack. They are just too heavy!  I won’t be covering what’s in my camera bag… I might do that after I return from my travels. Just know that what I brought is way too heavy to be lugging around for 10 months; if you are a DSLR user, and are even considering going mirrorless, I would highly recommend making the change, particularly if you are a travel photographer. Unfortunately I didn’t make that decision in time for my departure… but I am contemplating making a change, possibly during this journey!

Even though I haven’t bought anything thus far, I’ve been struggling every few days with having to zip closed my suitcase….I don’t like that.  I will have to deal with this real soon, as I can’t continue on much longer like this (and I have about 9.5 months left to go!) Don’t be surprised if you hear that I am coming back to Canada for a quick switcheroo of camera gear, computer (I’m having computer problems) and to make some room in my suitcase!

I better sign off for now. I’m sitting on the floor at Sydney airport and am waiting for my 3rd flight of the day, taking me to Brisbane, where I will be visiting with family friends and former long-time Yellowknifers, the Keenans (Flowers by Manuela!)….

Update: I’ve been in Brisbane for about a week thus far (I changed my travel plans a bit and extended my stay with the Keenans- they have been the most gracious hosts!).  While I am here, I have no plans other than to take it easy, drink some wine, work on some photos and try to write my 1st post about my New Zealand adventures (of which I had many!!!) I also have to decide whether or not I am heading to Bali in less than a week’s time. (Update…. this will be quite the story!!!)

(PS- I was very delayed with getting this post out, as I’ve been having technical difficulties. Over the next couple of weeks, I will have very limited (or no) internet access, but I will catch up eventually!)  In between blog posts, I also post short updates/photos on my Photography Facebook Page)…

Ciao for now.

Travelin’ Tawna

Posted in RTW, Travel

Around The World Travel Photography

The big wait has ended! I am now “free” for one whole year and will soon be departing on an epic 10-month self-guided photography adventure around the world.  This will be a time to explore, experience, learn, grow, and transform.  I welcome you to join me on this life-changing journey and I hope my stories and photography will inspire you to travel and go beyond your comfort zone.  (For a background story on how I managed to have a year off from work, visit my very first blog post here and get the low down).

This past Friday morning (March 6, 2015) was my last day of work for a whole entire year, and I was giddy! It was a surreal feeling (still is)…I don’t even know how to describe it. I’ve had a countdown app on my phone for the past year, and I was down to the last hours!  I finally began to feel some excitement about this adventure…this is really happening!

For the past couple of months, I have been drowning in to-do lists, appointments, and research; I lost sight of the big picture (having a year off), and I didn’t stop to smell the roses (or poppies) along the way.

During that drive to work on Friday morning, my perspective shifted.  I told myself to put aside the kazillion things I have to attend to, and just enjoy the moment. I waited 4 years for this day to come, and I didn’t want to lose sight of its significance.  Once I had this realization, an unfamiliar sense of calmness came over me (and it’s still with me!) With this frame of mind,  I can now appreciate my circumstances and while I still have a kazillion things to do, I trust that things will fall into place.

I have an insatiable appetite for travel. This is how I learn about the world and different cultures; it stimulates all of my senses.  I also learn about myself – what I like, what I don’t like, what my capabilities and limits are.  I’m a different person when I travel (maybe we all are), and I really like that person. She is lively and adventurous; she knows how to enjoy herself, particularly when traveling solo; she breaks down barriers and connects with people – allowing for enriching experiences to unfold.

So, the Big Question is….Where Will My Travels Take Me???

While it’s not all planned out, (I don’t even know yet where I’m sleeping when I arrive in New Zealand, my 1st international destination!), I have a particular routing that will serve as my main guide. (Note: On the side bar at the top of my blog page, I have a section that says “Where Am I Now, and Where Am I Heading“….I will be keeping this section updated as my travels unfold.) Below is a map, in which I attempted to outline my rough routing. While cartography is certainly not my area of expertise, this map should at least give you a visual of my travel routing!  You can zoom in and out of the map. (Note- I didn’t pick the exact cities I will be visiting, this is just to give you an idea).

Short Haul…
First I hope to be making a couple of visits to communities here in the Spectacular Northwest Territories for some special events: Deline (Sahtu region), Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk (Beaufort-Delta region, north of the Arctic circle); these trips will take place in March/April.  I hope to have time to write something about those visits…because only days after I return home, I will be leaving for the long haul.

Long Haul…
Then comes the international portion (leaving early April): New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia (Bali), India, Italy, Spain, France, Greece, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil or Chile/Argentina, and ending in Mexico (before I head back to our frigid winter in late February 2016). I have all of the continents  covered, except for ANTARCTICA….(although I will certainly be open to adding it in my plans – if all stars are aligned!)

As a travel photographer, this is going to be a photographic journey like no other! I can’t imagine the things I will see, and the experiences I will have; and remember, if you’re a subscriber, you’ll be coming along with me!   This is a fairly ambitious itinerary and I have no idea how it’s all going to come together…but I’ll try to take it one day at a time.

Some of the highlights to watch for…

  • a photography workshop in New Zealand with one of the world’s leading travel photographers (Trey Ratcliff!);
  • visiting old friends in Australia (East and West);
  • 10 days in Bali – hoping to find a place to unwind and learn the art of relaxation (this will be a challenge!);
  • visiting an old family friend in India that I haven’t seen since I was about 6 years old;
  • two months in Italy, including a few weeks in a small Tuscan village with very little public transportation (which will give me a chance to really get to know the locals and to relax and catch up with my writing/photography);
  • (hopefully) sailing in Greece; and
  • one of the major highlights of the entire journey…visiting southern Africa for 2 months, visiting with old friends (that used to live here!), camping, safari, wine tours, visiting local villages.

Just these highlights alone, will no doubt leave me with enough memories to last a lifetime!

Travelin’ Tawna
Here is a small collection of some of my favourite (international) travel images (you can click on the images to open up separately).  Scroll below for the continuation of the story…

Ironically, my international departure date will be almost exactly 1 year to the date since I published my very first blog post (click on title) “Thoughts About Traveling the World for a Year“… and in that post I posed a few questions, including:

  • what do I want to do and accomplish (during my year off?)
  • what will be the ideal suitcase?
  • what will I bring in my suitcase? What are 5-10 (non-photography related) essential items that I will bring?

I will leave the answers to these questions (and more) for my next post in the coming weeks. If you’re not already subscribed, I hope you will consider joining me on this once-in-a-lifetime journey!  No passport required, just your first name and email address! (Go to the top of this page to sign up.)

Stay tuned,

Travelin’ Tawna

Posted in photography, Travel Tagged , , , , |

Rainbow Room – Sunday Brunch at New York’s Most Iconic Restaurant

Elegance, breathtaking views and culinary delights. I am in heaven and I don’t want to leave this magical place…Dining at the newly reopened Rainbow Room, 800 feet above ground on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Center, you are promised a taste of the high life, both literally and figuratively speaking, all without needing to break the bank. This is one of those experiences that will never leave your memory.

Your name will join a guest list that has included patrons and performers such as Al Pacino, Elizabeth Taylor, Guy Lombardo, Tony Bennett and Barbara Streisand, to name a few. You become part of the history of this 80-year old New York City landmarked institution.

Arrival at the Rainbow Room

I arrived with great anticipation at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for my 11:00am Sunday Brunch reservation (first seating). Staff welcome their guests every step of the way, from the bottom of the escalator, to the coat check, the check-in desk, and upon exiting the elevator that lifts you on a 45-second non-stop ride to the 65th floor. No matter who you are or where you come from, the Sunday Brunch staff (of about 45 in total) will treat you as their special guest. As I walked up the stairs to the Rainbow Room, I could hear Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon” being performed live by Nightingale Jazz Band, tucked away on a balcony stage overlooking the seated guests. I have arrived!!!

Based on my experience, the average cost of a typical fine-dining Sunday brunch can run you $45 a person (excluding alcoholic beverages). But make no mistake; there is nothing “typical” about the Rainbow Room’s $95 offering ($65 for children under 12). It is hard to imagine another venue that can match the Rainbow Room, in terms of its iconic status and history, architecture and design, stunning views, attentive staff and of course the exceptional quality and selection of food. In my opinion, the experience alone is worth every penny.

Room with a View

The 15-foot tall windows are dressed with strings of crystal. The dining tables are set up around the perimeter of the room, with the buffet stations in the center on top of the famous rotating dance floor. I was seated next to one of the grand windows with a southwestern view of Manhattan, where I could see the Empire State Building, the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty in the distance. The sun was shining and bits of rainbow from the crystals danced across my menu and throughout the room.

I was thrilled to meet and speak with Executive Chef Jonathan Wright, the mastermind behind this culinary heaven.

Our Sunday Brunch is inspired by local and seasonal offerings and brunch traditions,” he said. “We added white truffle risotto last week, as well as a selection of homemade pates and terrines. This week, we are adding fried chicken, foie gras waffles with pepper jelly and Andouille gumbo.” Mmmmm!!!

With 20 years of culinary experience, and having lived in Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the US, Sunday Brunch provides Wright and his team of 12 chefs the opportunity to incorporate a wide variety of dishes from different cultures.

Brunch may be my favorite meal as a diner. Having lived in New Orleans for 4 years, I learned to love the relaxed pace and festive spirit of a leisurely meal with great food and company,” Wright shared. I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

The 14 buffet stations offer a cornucopia of food options that will be sure to please both the discerning and simple palates alike. The spread is both inviting and tempting, with stations including Asian; Indian; Salad Bar; Raw (oysters, mussels, shrimp, crab claws); Roasted meats; Charcuterie and Smoked Fish; and a traditional breakfast station.

Sunday Brunch at The Rainbow Room

Brunch at the Rainbow Room

Be sure to leave room for the dessert buffet!

Don’t even think about leaving without having indulged in at least a couple of the 45 delectable desserts. The dessert station (both the selection and presentation) is equally as impressive as the buffet stations. There are glass jars of varying sizes filled with candies, plates of colorful macaroons, blood orange paté de fruit, bananas flambé, apple crisp in individual pots, an ice cream bar and a wide selection of artistically-designed mini-desserts.

Everything is made and prepared with quality ingredients, with great attention given to the presentation. (No need to worry, the desserts are conveniently plated in small portions!)

To top off this quintessential New York experience, I was sure to order a glass of champagne, for no other reason but to simply sit back and celebrate life.
(Note: On Sundays, New York State law only allows alcohol to be served after 12:00pm).

As I finished my last sip of bubbly, and realized that all good things must come to an end, I was ushered out by the lyrics of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” with the chorus “…heaven, I’m in heaven” being burned in my memory. Of all the things I’ve seen and done during my 10 visits to New York City, Sunday Brunch at the Rainbow Room ranks #1 for me.

Here is a short video clip I took while seated at my table… (click on the box below)

The refreshed and renovated Rainbow Room reopened to the public in October 2014, after a 5-year closure. With the exception of major holidays, the Rainbow Room is open to the public on Sunday for Brunch and Monday for dinner and dancing, while the space is used for private events on Tuesday-Thursday.

For more information on the Rainbow Room or to make a reservation (up to two months in advance), call 1-212-632-5000 or visit www.rainbowroom.com.

Note: Another special gem is “Sixty Five“, a swanky new rooftop cocktail lounge located across from the Rainbow Room, on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Center. I will write a separate post about my new favourite NYC cocktail lounge; but for now, take my word for it – if you’re looking to step it up a notch while in the Big Apple, Sixty Five is another definite “must”! )

See you next time!

(PS…My year of world travels will soon begin! I hope you’ll be joining me! Stay tuned…)


Posted in dining, New York, Travel Tagged , , , , |

Husky Dogs – Northern Beauties

Husky dogs are resilient, tough, and beautiful animals. Many of them are raised as working dogs – for pulling sleds and racing. Northern people have relied on husky dogs throughout history; they are loyal, hard working, and can provide great companionship – especially during the cold winters! While they are domesticated (some more than others), the large majority of huskies are outdoor dogs; they can withstand very cold temperatures (colder than -30 degrees celsius) and they often sleep in a small (sometimes insulated) wooden box of a house. Continue reading »

Posted in Northern, Northwest Territories Tagged , , , , |

New York City PhotoPlus + Photo Walk

My recent visit to New York City (10th time!) was the most memorable of all (as a photographer)! While previous visits were memorable in their own right, this one was filled with several events and circumstances which made me pause, reflect and relish in the moment more than ever before. I will focus here on just one particular area of interest…What made this so memorable as a photographer? Read on… Continue reading »

Posted in Events, New York, Travel Tagged , , , , |

Aurora Borealis – Spirits in the Sky

Witnessing the Aurora Borealis is a magical experience, no matter where you are. In Yellowknife, Northwest Territories – Canada, the Aurora Borealis (aka “northern lights” in the northern hemisphere) appear at night time (this is pretty obvious), and generally between the months of late August to March. I won’t attempt to get into the scientific explanation of this natural phenomena, just know that it’s something that you have got to experience in your lifetime.

Having lived here for nearly all of my life, you’d think that I have witnessed countless Aurora Borealis shows. **WRONG** I am not a night person, nor do I like the cold (yet our winters here are long, dark and very cold!). So this means that I most often miss out on the Aurora activity. Then the next day, I hear people talking about the previous night’s spectacular show and I see countless photos and video clips posted on various Facebook pages. Continue reading »

Posted in Northern, Travel Tagged , , , , |

An Italian Wedding in Italy

Imagine, being immersed in the festivities of an Italian wedding in Italy, surrounded by wine, food, family, friends, and love….all the while not knowing a single person other than the groom, and not knowing the Italian language.

This was the primary reason for my 3rd visit to Italy. I traveled a distance of approximately 7,180km to attend my friend Andrea’s wedding. The wedding took place in a part of Italy that I had not yet been to, along the western coast of northern Italy in the Ligurian region (right beside the infamous Cinque Terre). The ceremony was held in La Spezia, the capital of La Spezia province, and the reception was in the colourful, medieval fishing village of Portovenere, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Distance traveled between Canada and Italy

Portovenere, Italy

The months leading up to my departure date (in May) were full of excitement and anticipation. I was a bit anxious, because prior to the wedding, I only knew the groom (Andrea) and a handful of Italian key words (vino, pasta, pizza, fromaggio….no, just kidding! I knew more than this!)  And the beautiful bride, Svetlana, is Russian, and her Russian-speaking family would be there as well, and I don’t know Russian, other than “spasiba” (thank you). (Svetlana also speaks Italian and English). I’m a Virgo, and that means I’m a planner.  Not knowing anyone, or what the “plan” was, in terms of when and where the events were taking place and how I was going to get there, that caused a bit of anxiety for me.

Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Andrea reassured me (on a number of occasions) before I came to Italy, “everything will be taken care of.” I’ve often been told I worry too much…so I tried my best to just let it be and trust my friend. And just as Andrea promised, everything worked out. The feeling of being a foreigner quickly disappeared after meeting the family and close friends the night before the wedding. It was my first time meeting them and I felt as though I had known them for years. Fortunately for me, most people spoke some English as well. I know it’s about time that I start putting to use my growing collection of Italian language CDs/DVDs/books that have been sitting on the bookshelf for a few years.

The wedding ceremony was held in La Spezia at Pieve di San Venerio, a charming Parish church that dates back to the 11th century (although recent excavations reveal much earlier origins). While some guests were seated in the church, with Andrea and family waiting at the altar, there were several other guests who waited outside of the church for Svetlana’s arrival (and I was one of them). This was quite different for me, as I’m used to everyone being seated until the bride’s arrival.  This gave me the opportunity to see things from a new perspective.

So there I was, outside of the church, photographing the bride’s arrival in a blue 1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Svetlana’s grand entrance through the church door.  I am especially proud of this one image, where you can see Andrea at the far back waiting for his future wife to join him, and the guests peeking from behind the door, trying to get a glimpse of the bride.  I soon followed the procession, walking down the aisle and found a seat with a perfect view in the 2nd row, right behind Svetlana’s family. (How did I manage that, when I was one of the last ones to walk into the church?!)

Although I didn’t understand pretty much every word that the Father spoke during the ceremony (other than “Andrea” and “Svetlana”), this didn’t stop the emotions from bubbling inside of me. I don’t think I would cry at every wedding, but this one definitely drew the tears out of me. It was beautiful, it was Italian, it was in an old church, it was “amore” – perfect ingredients for tears.

Click below to view a video clip from the wedding ceremony.

Following the ceremony, the reception (an afternoon lunch) was held 20 minutes away in the nearby fishing village of Portovenere, at a waterfront seafood restaurant called “Da Iseo.” (Note: If you ever go this way, be prepared for the windy road…it can bring about a case of nausea very easily – I write from experience!) There were 120 guests at the reception, some seated inside and some outside. Throughout the afternoon, waiters served several courses of local seafood, pasta, salad, and of course vino (white, red and sparkling) – most of which was from the Arrigoni family’s wine estates.

Newlyweds in Portovenere, Italy

Click below to view a video clip from wedding reception.

Wedding Guests at Ristorante Da Iseo

Wedding Guests at Ristorante Da Iseo in Portovenere, Italy

Ristorante Da Iseo

Wedding Reception at Ristorante Da Iseo in Portovenere, Italy

Wedding Guests

Wedding Guests (Massimo, Tawna, Martina, Fabio)

Following the reception, guests headed back to La Spezia for the after party at Andrea’s parents house. There was plenty of food, wine and dancing into the late evening/early morning hours. I was fully immersed in the celebration, taking it all in. I can’t remember when I last had such an enjoyable time, and I was the foreigner at the party! When it came time for me to wind down and head back to my guesthouse (Quiet Night) in the early morning hours, I was taken aback by the graciousness of Andrea’s parents, Milena and Riccardo, who insisted on leaving their party to give me a ride.

I left with wonderful memories, new friends, and so much to look forward to for upcoming my year of travels in 2015-2016 – a good chunk of which I intend to be in bella Italia, visiting new and old friends, exploring new parts of the country, and immersing myself more and more in the Italian way of life…. La Dolce Vita.

I traveled over 7000km, to attend a friend’s wedding, where I knew no one else other than the groom, I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know the area. I trusted Andrea that everything would be fine and I remained open. The warmth and love that I felt from being surrounded by the family and their friends, and having been included and immersed in such an intimate celebration, was telling proof that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know anyone, or don’t know their mother tongue…we are all human, social beings, and if you open yourself up, this may very well pave the way for what might become some of the most authentic and enriching experiences of your life.

Grazie mille Andrea and Svetlana! I look forward to seeing you in 2015!

Additional Information:

Andrea Arrigoni’s family has been producing quality wines for four generations. They have properties in Liguria and Tuscany; with wine tours and accommodation rentals available. In 2011, I visited Andrea at their Pietraserena estate in San Gimignano (Tuscany); see photos below.  The views and the property can be summed up in one word, BREATHTAKING. If you’re ever in the area, I’d highly encourage a visit to this special place. Visit the Arrigoni Wine Family for more information about their products and properties.

**NOTE: Please feel free to comment on this post (and any other), or share any authentic travel experiences of your own.  I always appreciate hearing from readers. If you don’t see the comment section below, click the “comments” link at the very top of this post underneath the title.  You can also comment on individual pictures by clicking on them.  Grazie, Spasiba, Thank you!

Posted in Cinque Terre, Events, Italy, Travel Tagged , , |

Tuscany Cup Victory Game for Cartagine59 Football Team

Tawna in Action at Tuscany Cup - final game for Cartagine59 football team

When in Florence, do as the Florentines…. instead of spending the day standing in long lineups for museums and finding my way through crowds of thousands of people, I did something quite different….I had the opportunity to attend the final match of the Tuscany Cup Championship (calcio/football/soccer) between teams “Cartagine 1959” and “Casellina.” The game was held in Montelupo outside of Florence, Italy, on May 17, 2014.

But… I wasn’t simply a spectator at the game; I was the special guest of Cartagine59’s coach, Mossi Bakshi, and I was the “guest photographer.”  I was outside the locker room and on the field with the players!  What a great way to experience the true energy of the game!

My friend, Mossi Bakshi, is the coach of Cartagine59, a Florence-based team in the 3rd category. This was a pivotal game for him and his team, as it brought them from the 3rd category to the 2nd category.  In only one year under Bakshi’s coaching, Cartagine59 went from 9th place in the 3rd category to 1st place,winning the Tuscany Cup Championship – this was quite the victory win!!

Tuscany Cup - Italy

Victory for Cartagine59 Italian Football Team

Tanti auguri Cartagine59!! Grazie mille!

Tawna Brown

Posted in Events, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |