How to Find the Best Spa Experience

We are not talking about the top 10 destination spas you drool over in the Travel and Leisure magazine. There is no doubt that you will get the best spa experience when you open your wallet to these top-rated spas. If not, you can probably ask for your money back. For novice spa goers, it can be confusing to know what to expect for the money you spend at a spa. Below are the three S’s to consider when choosing a spa that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Setting

The spa decor and atmosphere will set the tone for your spa experience. You can think of it as a prelude to your treatment! It doesn’t have to be an ultra luxurious space but it should be clean and give you a sense of calm. An esthetically pleasing setting will feed many senses and start your relaxation immediately. Does it have soothing colors, soft music and a pleasant scent? Even the most basic spas should provide these elements, since it is relatively inexpensive to do so . If the spa owner doesn’t have a discerning taste in creating the spa setting, I would question the calibre of their treatments and staff.

The amenities available will definitely add value and enhance your experience. Do you have access to a pool, sauna, steam room, locker room or a relaxation lounge? You can expect higher prices with more amenities, due to the cost of the spa operation. Decide what is important to you and worth the extra money. No point paying for amenities that you won’t be using. Personally, I find a comfortable relaxation lounge with tea and filtered water as a minimum to help me unwind before, and refresh after my spa treatment. Wet amenities are worth the money if you have enough time to enjoy them prior to your treatment to loosen your mind and body so you can get the most out of your treatment.

Size does not matter when it comes to sauna, steam room and whirlpool, as long as it is appropriate for the volume of traffic. My recent spa experience at LE SPA SOTHYS PARIS RÉPUBLIQUE confirmed this for me. Surprisingly, this spa only has 2 treatment rooms so it has a low volume use. The sauna, steam room and whirlpool were petite (see photo) but well-designed and provided privacy and exclusivity. Always ask for a tour of the spa to see if it brings you a sense of tranquility. Is that why we visit a spa?

Spa Services

An extensive spa menu is fun to read! I love oohing and aahing over the treatment descriptions. But if all you want is a really good deep tissue massage, too many fancy treatments on the menu may be a detractor. Just think about all the spa protocols the therapists need to learn and perform rather than focusing on delivering excellent massages. However, if you are planning a full spa day or in search of innovative spa treatments, then it’s a different story. Just like spa amenities, it is irrelevant if you are not taking advantage of the offerings.

Staff

Spa is a hospitality business so having warm, caring, and friendly staff is a must. If you don’t get that feeling when you call to make your appointment, it is likely that you will be disappointed with your overall experience. Spa therapist qualification, training and experience are most critical to the quality of the treatment. Estheticians and Massage Therapists should have professional training to properly treat the face and body, respectively; they are licensed or certified in the US. Spa industry certifications are specific to each country so be aware of varying standards and regulations, if any, when traveling to foreign countries. Do not hesitate to ask about therapists’ training and certification before you book your appointment.

To sum it up, reviewing the setting, spa services and staff at a spa will help you find the best spa experience in any country!


What to expect at your travel clinic appointment

Congratulations – You booked your flight and you’re off on your next adventure! 

Not so fast. Before you leave, take a few simple steps to stay healthy on your trip. By taking the time to understand the health risks at your destination, you’ll keep those around you healthy too. If you’ve never been to a travel clinic, here’s what to expect.

Before you go to a travel clinic

Make an appointment with your family doctor. Your primary healthcare provider and pharmacist may be able to take care of all your travel health needs, including vaccinations. If your doctor doesn’t have expertise in travel health or you need Yellow Fever vaccination, they will refer you to a travel health specialist (for example, Yellow Fever vaccination is only available from certified travel clinics). You can also book an appointment at a travel clinic if you don’t have a family doctor.

Try to book your travel clinic appointment at least 6 weeks before your trip. At busy travel clinics, it may take a week or two to get an appointment. It’s important to book early since many vaccines come in a series and need to be administered according to a specific schedule. Currently, there is also a shortage of Yellow Fever vaccine (expected to last until the end of 2019) so it may take longer to get an appointment.

A travel health specialist will provide medical advice, vaccinations, and medications based on your overall health status and your travel itinerary. They can help you prioritize vaccines if you are short on time or on a limited budget, give you tips about how to avoid common travel-related illnesses, and answer your questions about staying healthy abroad.

Before your travel clinic appointment, make sure to familiarize yourself with the health risks at your destination (our Country Health Advice tool can help). Knowing the risks can help you and your doctor make decisions together about which vaccines and medications are best suited for your trip.

What to bring to your appointment

Bring your immunization records and your detailed itinerary, including travel dates, planned activities, who you’re travelling with, and exactly where you are going – the more specific, the better. This is important because the nurse or doctor’s advice will be tailored to your health needs and the places you’re visiting. Make a list of any health conditions and medications you are taking.

During your appointment

A travel nurse or doctor will ask you detailed questions about your itinerary and your plans for the trip. Common questions include:

  • Where are you going? Which cities, towns, or rural areas are you planning to visit?
  • How long are you travelling for?
  • What is the purpose of your trip? Are you going on vacation, working, studying, volunteering, or visiting friends and relatives?
  • What type of accommodation will you be staying in (such as hotels, hostels, local homes, camping, or on a ship)?
  • What medications are you currently taking?
  • Are you up-to-date with your routine immunizations?

Many travel clinics use travel health information databases to identify local health risks, such as Rabies, Malaria, Dengue, Zika Virus, and other infectious diseases. Based on this information, your travel plans, and health status, your practitioner will identify key health risks you need to be aware of and protected from.

Vaccination is an important part of a travel clinic appointment. This is because many common travel-related illnesses are vaccine preventable. Depending on where you’re going and which vaccinations you’ve had in the past, you may get one, two, or several vaccinations during the same appointment. The majority of travel clinics are licensed to offer the Yellow Fever vaccine, which comes with a proof of vaccination certificate (here is a list of Yellow Fever centres in Canada and the United States). Common travel vaccines include Typhoid, Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, and Hepatitis Aif not already immune. These vaccines are safe and getting vaccinated will go a long way toward keeping you healthy. However, many illnesses don’t have vaccines. For example, there is currently no Dengue vaccine for travellers. If you’re going to an area with Dengue, your travel health specialist will advise you on how to prevent mosquito bites and when to see a doctor if you suspect that you have Dengue.

Another example is Malaria. There is currently no commercially available vaccine against Malaria but there are antimalarial medications that can be used with bed nets and mosquito bite prevention measures to significantly reduce your risk of infection.

Antimalarial medications can have side effects, but there are several options available (check out our blog Malaria medication: your questions answered for more information). Your health provider can recommend the best option for you based on your health status and your destination.

No matter where you’re travelling, your travel health provider will explain how to choose safe foods and drinks, and how to reduce the risk of Traveller’s Diarrhea and Hepatitis A. The nurse or doctor may give you printed information about other health risks so you can read it at home. They may also recommend travel supplies, like a mosquito bed net if you’re visiting a place with Malaria or Japanese Encephalitis.

It’s important to give your travel health provider detailed information about your travel plans and your health status, particularly your mental health status, so that you can get the most out of your appointment. Some health and mental health conditions can be affected by travel or medication. Your provider can also give you tips and advice on managing your condition abroad and what to do in case you need a refill of your prescription, need to access a local doctor, or have a health emergency since some pre-existing conditions, including mental health, may not be covered by your insurance provider.

A note about fees: Travel clinics charge a fee for the consultation and additional fees for travel vaccines. These fees are not covered by government health plans in Canada and the United States. They may or may not be covered by private insurance. Read our Travel Vaccines on a Budget series for tips on prioritizing vaccines.

After your appointment

Go to a pharmacy to fill prescriptions from your appointment, such as antimalarial medication or antibiotics to treat severe Traveller’s Diarrhea. This is also a good time to assemble your first aid kit and refill other prescription medication.

If a mosquito bed net was recommended for your trip, you can purchase one from travel retailers or outdoor equipment stores. Box-style nets that can be tucked under your mattress offer the best protection because they keep netting (and mosquitoes) away from your skin. Bed nets treated with the insecticide permethrin provide better protection than untreated nets. (Some Canadian travel clinics sell permethrin-treated bed nets but permethrin is not currently available to consumers in Canada.)

Don’t let the precautions discourage you: Using common sense with prevention in mind is the key to a safe and healthy trip. Enjoy!

Source: International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers

 


Urban Wellness Retreat in Vancouver

Ever faced with the dilemma of choosing between an in-and-out destination wellness retreat where location is secluded or a busy hectic exploratory sightseeing city trip? Here’s simple solution to have it all – create your own wellness retreat in a metropolitan city that is fitness minded.

Vancouver is an extremely walkable city full of wellness options! Follow my itinerary from my recent trip and enjoy a day filled with yummy food, exercise, and sightseeing. Staying in a central location of the city makes it easy to be active, find healthy restaurants and see local sites on foot. I highly recommend the Kitsilano area for all those reasons. This neighborhood is known for its yoga studios, natural food stores, and outdoor apparel shops. After all, it is the location of the corporate HQ for Lululemon and the first Whole Food store in Vancouver.

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Start you day with breakfast at The Naam (https://www.thenaam.com), located in the heart of Kitsilano on 4th Avenue. You can get anything from scrambled tofu to hardy egg omelettes. It has served organic and locally sourced vegetarian and vegan food for over 50 years. After all these years, I found them to remain true to that original vision, using fresh and pure ingredients while maintaining a warm, earthy and welcoming atmosphere.

After a wholesome meal, head east down 4th Avenue and browse all the trendy boutiques. Along the way, you will come across some of the best bakeries and cafes in town. Try to resist the temptations until you get to your lunch spot. I recommend grabbing a quick bite at Turf, a healthy food counter serving creative vegan fare and making bowls, salads, sandwiches and smoothies extraordinary. “Three Point Oh Burger” below was one of the best vegan burgers I have had. It features a house made patty with black bean, eggplant, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnut, oat, tahini and spices. This little cafe is part of a gym so try a workout (https://www.ourturf.com/pages/classes) before you dine out!

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Walk back up westbound on 4th Avenue to see the boutiques on the other side of the street. When you reach Vine street, turn right and head down to Kitsilano beach where you will see a gorgeous view of the ocean and the north shore mountains. To the left of the beach you will find the largest saltwater swimming pool in North America. The pool is open May to mid-September with extensive hours. For a few dollars, you can enjoy a swim in a 137 meter heated infinity pool with the view of the ocean. Talk about a wellness retreat setting for cheap!

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The walking path from Kitsilano beach will lead you to the Vancouver Maritime Museum and Vanier Park. Walk across the Burrard Street bridge towards downtown Vancouver, known as City of Glass. You will see why as soon as you cross the bridge. Make a left turn on Pacific Street and walk along Beach Avenue towards English Bay. Before continuing your walk into Stanley Park, stop at The Catus Club Cafe on the shores of English Bay to fuel up for the 6 mile loop around the park. You can’t beat the scenery of this location and the variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options on their menu (https://www.cactusclubcafe.com/menus/english-bay/food/lifestyle-choices/).

If this urban wellness day has provided enough exercise, good eats, and fun, just grab a taxi back to your pad. If you still have energy to burn, it’s only a 4 mile walk back to Kitsilano.

 

 


Healthy Hawaiian Food

 

It’s part of the cultural experience to taste local food and drinks when traveling. Of course, you don’t want your diet to rule what you eat when you’ve traveled thousands of miles to indulge in all things Hawaiian, Mai Tai included! That said, you also don’t want to completely blow your healthy lifestyle that you’ve worked so hard all year getting bikini-ready for your trip. Below are the top 3 must-try traditional Hawaii foods that will keep you fit.

Poke was originated in Hawaii but it has become so popular everywhere these days that even a poke bowl restaurant franchise has been created.  Poke means “to cut up into pieces” in Hawaii. From what I see in Maui supermarkets, Poke is abundantly available and affordable. There is an array of seafood mixed with soy-based dressing or creamy dressing. For healthier options, avoid fish high in mercury and seafood mixed in creamy dressing. Ahi tuna is classically used for poke and is very high in mercury so go easy on all tuna and and try salmon, octopus, scallops, and clams instead.

Kalua pig is pork that has been slow cooked in an imu, an underground oven. This slow cooking method produces super tender meat with a smoky flavor. Kalua pig is the main event at Hawaiian luaus but you can find Kalua pork in any Hawaiian style restaurant as a combo plate served with white rice and macaroni salad. Most restaurants will let you substitute the rice and mac salad with some cooked veggies and a green salad. Just by asking, you could be saving yourself hundreds of refined carb calories!

Last but not least, you must try the Lomi-lomi salmon. It’s a light and refreshing side dish made with salted, shredded salmon, tomatoes, and sweet Maui onions.

 

 


Airport food in Norway

IMG_0194.JPGCouple days ago, I traveled with my daughter to Budapest on Norwegian Air with 2 stopovers. A 4-hour layover at Stockholm and a quick 1-hour layover at Oslo. The price was right so I didn’t mind the long journey. The food and service onboard was pretty good for a budget airline. I dragged the idea of having to eat airport food but found myself wowed by the offerings at Oslo. There was lots of fresh seafood in all forms, including fish and chips, shrimp salad and sandwiches, and lox sandwich. I had a difficult time making my choice since they all looked so delicious. There was no fast food outlets which of course led me to speculate that obesity rate must be lower in Norway. My visual assessment of the locals confirmed my speculation. I can’t wait to have a longer layover in Oslo next time I fly!


French Pastries good for you?

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A little Sunday morning indulgence is good for the soul! I discovered the best almond croissant at La Parisienne on Grand Avenue in Oakland. The taste of a great almond croissant has been lingering on my mind since my trip to France this summer (see “Nice Breakfast in Nice” blog post). By comparison, the almond croissant at Ls Parisienne is even more decadent. If you feel guilty  about eating French pastries for breakfast, don’t! According to the latest WHO data published in 2015, the life expectancy in France for men is 79.4 and for women is female 85.4. It’s clear that this part of the French diet is not shortening their life span. I am not suggesting you make a habit of eating delicious almond croissants for breakfast, but it can be good for your happiness meter if you enjoy it! Just balance out your day with lots of fruits, veggies, lean proteins and of course some exercise.


Heritage grains served in Top Vancouver Restaurant

I feel so lucky to be able to squeeze in a dinner at The Mackenzie Room on my recent trip to Vancouver. It is not easy to choose one restaurant in a city full of fabulous eating establishments and constant new comers to the food scene (www.scoutmagazine.ca). The Mackenzie Room is located across the street from the Oppenheimer Park in the downtown Eastside. Not exactly the safest part of town but that’s probably what adds to the adventure of this dinning experience. I love fine dinning sans pretentiousness! This very intriguing restaurant sources fresh local ingredients and staffs it with people who cook and serve with a passion. How can you go wrong? You just can’t! No wonder it was voted the top new restaurant – Golden Plate Award 2016. The menu is on a very large chalkboard and changes regularly. The delicious quail with cornbread and Pork topped with mole and sorghum are no longer on their menu when I went back to their website (www.themackenzieroom.com) this week. According to the co-owner who served us, the inspiration for the menu comes from Sean Brock, the author of the Heritage Cookbook. The dishes we ate definitely showed off uncommon Ancient grains in a delicious combination and an artful presentation.

 

 


Paella My Way

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My recent trip to Spain has broadened my knowledge of Paella. Not only did I not know Paella is a specialty of Valencia, but there are many versions of Paella. The Valencian Paella contains chicken and rabbit. The Seafood Paella features their fresh giant prawns with head and tail. The Black Paella (Arros Negre) contains squid ink. The postcard  I picked up in Denia, a town on Costa Blanca shows more versions of Paella than I ever imagined. My takeaway on Paella is that the coastal region of Spain offers exotic rice dishes and they are easier to make than you think. I made my own version recently on a weeknight and enjoyed it tremendously.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups short grained rice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cups water
  • 5-6 chicken drumsticks
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 ripe tomato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon of paprika
  • Saffron threads
  • Salt to taste
  • Lemon wedges to garnish

Method

    • Salt the chicken.
    • Heat the oil in a paella dish or large shallow frying pan.
    • Brown chicken pieces on all sides in pan for 5 mins.
    • Add the garlic, paprika and tomato.
    • Add water and bring to a boil for 10 mins.
    • Add the saffron, rice, salt and stir in evenly over the surface of the pan. Boil on a high heat for 5 mins. 
    • Arrange chicken pieces as desired.
    • Simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Add more water if necessary to prevent rice from drying out.

I found a Paella seasoning packets in a market in Valencia which made cooking this dish even easier. It contains saffron and paprika. I used one packet (2 grams) for this dish where paprika is normally added in the above recipe. You might be able to find this seasoning in a Spanish specialty store.

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Feed all your senses near Nice

The most exciting thing about traveling is the discovery of new experiences that stimulate all your senses. Well, this hike around Cap d’Antibes in Côte d’Azur did just that! It is one of the highlights of our trip to the French Riviera. My daughter and I took the bus from Nice to Antibes and then caught a local bus to our starting point at Phare. We hiked to the town’s tiny chapel on the top of the hill at the highest point of Cap d’Antibes with mesmerising view of the Mediterranean Coastline, with St. Tropez to the south and Italy to the north.  We descended down on a little long stone path to the beach at the edge of town. After more than an hour walk in the blazing sun, we arrived at Plage de la Garoupe looking for the signpost for the path that circles the Cap. But this point, we were already exhausted, sweaty, thirsty and hungry. When we saw the cluster of seafront restaurants, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to refuel and rehydrate. We were delighted with a delicious local fresh seafood meal by the sea in the typical French leisure style.

With our bodies recharged, we were ready to start our pilgrimage to the southern end of the Cap. We picked up the the costal footpath, Sentier Littoral, at the end of the sandy beach. Along this rocky hike, my daughter and I had the best mother-daughter chat about life as we admired the breathtaking views. She turns 19 in a few months and will be returning to college after the summer so moments like these are food for my soul.

With the recent terror attack in Nice on Bastille Day, it may instill fear in even the most adventurous traveler. We were thankful that we arrived home safely 2 days before the tragedy. On our journey home, I saw a quote on a billboard that continues to resonate with me “Those who live see much. Those who travel see more.” I must add that those who travel feed their senses most. Don’t ever go hungry but just choose your diet carefully!


Vietnamese food in France

imageIf you’ve ever wonder why an Asian country would be known for a delicacy that looks a lot like a baguette sandwich (Bánh mì) just review Vietnam’s history. The French colonized Vietnam for more than 6 decades so there are many French gastronomic influences in the Vietnamese cuisine. They brought delicious ingredients and flavors indigenous to France. While I’m here in France, I tried my favorite Vietnamese dish, Bún gà chä gïò ( grilled chicken, fried egg roll, lettuce, carrot, peanut with vermicelli) and discovered that the favors are ever more French influenced with more intensity and creaminess rather than clean and refreshing taste typical of version in California.