Sunday, November 30, 2014

Inspired by a great mind who studies brain energy

Tea, stuffed toy mice and stimulating conversation around the desk of Prof. Pierre Magistretti

When I was six years old, someone told me that we only use 10 percent of our brains.  After that I was determined to use 15 percent of mine just to beat that statistic.  Whether I've actually achieved that or not is up for debate as my early endeavors to bend objects with my mind were not successful.

But I'm not the only who thought the "10 percent" notion needed to be debunked. Dr. Richard Cytownic ( has argued that brain regions once believed to be silent are actually humming with activity.

As you can tell, this whole brain energy concept and how neurons work is fascinating to me, which is why when I got the chance to talk to KAUST's Dean Pierre Magistretti, I was thrilled.

Magistretti's field of research is brain energy metabolism and looking at the mechanisms that regulate the delivery of energy to active neurons. He's been working with the university's Viz Lab to actually show visually how this works.

Magistretti was recently honored for his work with glia cells. "Everyone knows neurons, but there is another population – the other half of the brain – which is glia cells. We showed that a type of these glia cells, known as astrocytes, can detect when neurons are active and import energy in the form of glucose, oxygen as well as increase blood flow in the activated area," Magistretti told me during the interview.  

He was recently honored for his work with glia cells.  And talking to him about how he got into this work years ago and where it sees his research going in the future was inspiring.

Read more about my conversation with him at:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Best Oyster sandwich in New Orleans

New Orleans is one those places where you can always find good food and good music.  On my last visit, I stayed in the Warehouse District and it's my new favorite part of New Orleans. So many great restaurants and some cool art galleries.

This delicious delight was from Cochon Restaurant. I ordered an Oyster Sandwich (without the bacon)- because I like oysters and somehow I thought it would be low fat.

Ha!!! I never thought it would be fried oysters -- then I remembered I'm in the South. It's all fried. It was about a billion calories but soooooo good.  I was tempted to go back a second time and get it again.

If you have a visit coming up at Cochon, it's located at 920 Tchoupitoulas Street and is worth dropping in for lunch -- although if you can, make a reservation as there's usually a long wait.  The executive chef is Donald Link who earned a James Beard award for Best Chef South.

Monday, November 10, 2014

3 Things You Need to Know About Maldives

Maldives is located in the Indian Ocian- Arabian Sea area and is located about 750 kilometers south-west of Sri Lanka, making it a short 90 minute flight and the reason I decided to go after visiting Sri Lanka.

Maldives is made up of 1,192 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls that are composed of sand bars and coral reefs. It's spread out over 90,000 square kilometers. So what does this mean to you? It means that Maldives is basically a bunch of islands and if you like snorkeling and diving, you will love it.

Before you pack up your bags and book a ticket, here are 3 things you need to know:

1) It’s an island paradise, but it’s far: Here’s the thing. Maldives is beautiful. There are huts on the beach and those cool huts that have the glass water bottoms. There are gorgeous beaches and there are water things to do, but frankly, it was very similar to what you can get in Belize and some Caribbean resorts.

So if you live in the west (like Canada and the US) and all you want is one of those huts and do some snorkeling on your honeymoon, then it might be better to splurge on a resort on that side of the world. The flight from the US is over 24 hours and Maldives is expensive. But if it’s on your bucket list, do it. You won’t be satisfied with any other place so you might as well experience it as long as you know the pros and cons.

If you live in Europe or the Middle East, then come on over the Maldives. For you it’s close and would be worth it for a tropical getaway. From my research, it is cheaper than Seychelles, but more expansive than Bali and Phuket. There are beaches in Sri Lanka, but they aren’t as developed as the Maldives resorts which really cater to expats and westerners.

2) Each resort has its own island: This is cool and not cool. It’s cool, because you are staying on an island that only caters to your resort. It’s romantic and isolated.

But just like the crew of Gilligan’s Island could not leave, you won’t be able to leave your island. So make sure you research everything. All your meals, activities and everything else will be limited to one place. And every island has its own “tourism” hook depending on what’s around their reefs. Some have turtles, some have surfing, some can only offer generic snorkeling, some have night clubs, some are for families, some are mostly for couples – so make sure you book one that has the stuff you want to do. There are 106 resort islands to choose from and they range from affordable to luxury – so you should be able to find one that works for you.

Also note that because you are trapped on an island, things are expensive. You have no other options so they can over charge you – and because it’s an island where everything has to be shipped in, things are also expensive because of that.

Plus, you will have to pay for transport to and from the island. Generally, you will fly into Male. From there, the resort you choose will either get you there by sea plane or by boat. Seaplane is about $400 per person for the return trip. The boat option is cheaper, but you still need to factor that in. The seaplane also has a luggage weight restriction and only flies during the day – which means that if you land late at night in Male, you will need to get a hotel for a night before you get to fly to your resort.

The bonus of this is that is super cool to take a seaplane to your island vacation. I mean, really super cool! Plus, the aerial view makes for amazing photos.

3) Limited culture: Unless you are staying in a guesthouse in one of the 5 islands that are actually inhabited by local Maldivians, you won’t experience the “real” Maldives.  Maldives is a Muslim country so alcohol is not allowed except in resorts and the religious laws need to be respected if not on a resort island.

If you stay at one of the 106 resort islands you won't have to worry about that.  Alcohol will be available, English will be spoken and you can sun bathe freely at the beach.  The menus will also cater to what westerners like and at the resort I stayed at, even the prices were in US dollars and not in Maldivian currency.  It will feel very comfortable to people looking for a traditional island experience with a Western feel.

But if you were hoping to eat real Maldivian foods, shop with the locals and see how they live, that won't happen on the resort islands.  For some people, that won't matter as they came for the pampering and relaxation in a tropical setting.  But if you are the type who likes to really get to know a country's nuances, the island resorts might be disappointing. They are beautiful. Don't get me wrong. They are just designed for western comfort.

We went after spending two weeks in Thailand and Sri Lanka where it was culture overload (in a good way), so a little "normalness" in a relaxing environment was a great way to end an action packed vacation.

So that's my honest opinion about Maldives.  If you are looking for a tropical experience, are prepared for a long plane ride (if you live in Canada or the US), and want pampering over culture, you will love it -- especially if it's on your bucket list.

It's a great place to unwind and feel like you are away from the problems of the real world.    

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Eco-Friendly Luxury in Sri Lanka

View of Kandy in Sri Lanka

When traveling to new places, it’s always a bit of a gamble to find accommodations that are amazing, yet reasonably priced – unless you are planning to stay in a chain hotel. I’m a bit of an adventurer, but I admit there are a couple of chain resorts that I love including the Four Seasons, The W Hotel, Anantara and a few other luxury lines. And while, I love these resorts, in truth I can’t always afford them (actually I rarely can afford them and can only justify staying if I can find a deal).

Then there are times when a boutique hotel is too tempting to resist, none of my standby places are located in the area I wanted to stay, or in the case of Sri Lanka, the country is just too interesting to risk being watered-down by a chain hotel. You want to stay in a place that is owned by someone who lives there.

So then the research begins. For me, it starts with Expedia just to get an idea on prices in the area and from there the search extends to, and I then do extensive google searches to see what other bloggers recommend and what articles have been written about the area.

View of the grounds at the Bougainvillea - best eco-friendly resort in Sri Lanka (in my opinion)

I also have a folder on my computer full of links to cool places and bucket list ideas. It was in this folder that I had saved the information on the, aka Bougainvillea Retreat. (url

The infinity pool at the Bougainvillea Retreat in Sri Lanka

This little gem of a place was written up in the CNN travel section on the best eco-friendly resorts in Sri Lanka. It’s located 30 minutes out of Kandy and is the last villa on one of the roads leading outside the city. It’s tranquil, gorgeous and exceeded all my expectations.

Relaxing poolside sofas at the resort.

Pi, the woman running the boutique resort is doing it on behalf of a friend and was so helpful. The only thing I knew about Sri Lanka when I booked the trip was Adam’s Peak was something I wanted to do and I knew from the blog posts I had read, that it was located somewhere around Kandy. What I didn’t know was that the airport is not located by Kandy. The airport is in Colombo and because the roads are so winding and busy, it’s a 3 to 4-hour drive from Colombo to Kandy. 

At first I thought, no problem, I’ll just rent a car, but Pi warned me that the roads aren’t really well marked, signage is an issue and people drive like crazy around the tight curves. Instead she offered the BV-Retreat’s driver for $70 a day. He would even meet us at the airport and drive us to the hotel so we wouldn’t have to worry about being stranded in a new country.

This turned out to be the best deal ever as the roads are a little crazy there.  I doubt I would have ever found the hotel from the airport. Plus, the driver took us to places we didn't know existed like the elephant orphanage, an herb farm and little temples in villages, etc.  He also did the talking for us as not everyone spoke English.

The living room with the view of the pool at the resort

The Bougainvillea has only 8 rooms and when my girlfriend and I arrived, we were the only people there – and had the house to ourselves. I also got it on a “stay two nights get the third night free” deal and this included a custom made gourmet breakfast. Not bad for $150 a night!

Our little table that they set for us each day.

Each day they would set up our little table for two. They only made enough food for the guests (us) and it wasn't like a restaurant where you could order. They gave a couple of choices in the morning and then would have it ready for us in time for dinner.  They always had a western and Sri Lankan option. I highly recommend trying the Sri Lankan option. Their food was so incredible and you won't find anything like it back home.

Another view of the pool

Also, you have to try their tea.  Sri Lanka is famous for their tea.  You'll see the fields all over the mountains. They brew it with real leaves (not bags) and they like it strong with milk.  I just like it strong so for me it was perfect. 

By the way, if you are thinking of retiring someplace, the owner told me this house with its infinity pool and amazing view was only $40,000. My only regret was not having more time just to sit and do nothing.  This place was so wonderful, you didn't want to leave.