Thursday, October 27, 2011

Win a “Date” With a Revenant

(note to my family and friends looking for one of my travel posts… just ignore this post.  Everyone else, go under the cut)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A quick note.

I'll try to catch up with posting tomorrow-- picture loading is taking QUITE a while tonight (slow connection!)

I'm having a wonderful time so far, even with the confusing Haligonian weather (wait five minutes if you don't like it-- it's bound to change! Day one cycled me through rain, snow, ice, sun, rain... and today was basically the same.) NS is lovely in the winter and I'm convinced that it must be even prettier in the summer. In fact, I'm so disappointed that my pics from today's visit to Peggy's Cove just didn't capture the beauty of the cove and the waves and the roaring sea.

(Also, on a side note... this morning I had a cup of Second Cup white hot chocolate for the first time in Quebec. Do you know how sometimes you crave something for so long that, when you do finally have it, it just isn't as good as you remembered? Well, the cocoa didn't fail me. It was just as amazing as I remembered. Oh, I'm in LOVE.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Halifax: Day One: Snow, rain, ice, snow, sun...

2011 Canada games...

But I'm so tired, I'll just leave with a picture from the concert tonight:

Delhi placeholder

Thursday, December 9, 2010

India, Part Three: More Mumbai and Sari Shopping

So... where was I last?

Gateway to India, and right across from it, the Taj Mahal hotel, where the attacks took place November 26th. The hotel only shows a few outwards signs of the attacks... singed facade here and there, closed sections. It's a beautiful building and I'm afraid my camera probably didn't do it justice, since the sun was right behind it. Four security checks later, including x-raying my purse and two purse searches, and I was in the hotel. The lobby is magnificent (what do you expect from a place that charges a minimum of $400 US a night, if my guidebook is right?), and, on my way to the coffee "shop" for tea, I passed the memorial for those who died that day (rumor has it that the hotel is paying all of the survivors' hospital bills, a ridiculous sum of money.) The coffee shop turned out to be a restaurant where shabby little me in a polo shirt and jeans, hair all akimbo from the wind, sat and knit amidst business people and guests while waiting for my tea and water. It was a nice little respite and a break from the early afternoon heat (and the tea and water still cost less than a trip to Starbucks.) Afterwards, I walked out into the sunlight and heat to begin my (originally short but now turned out long) walk to Kala Goda circle.

Now, Kala Goda is home to a few big museums and shops. You would think that I wouldn't miss it, right?


Somehow, I bypassed it entirely and ended up at Horniman circle, at its heart a botanical garden. A few minutes in the shade there was enough to steel myself back into the sunlight and out to ask the first person I see: "Kala Goda?" He nods and points me back in the direction from where I had come, waving a bit to indicate that it's still a bit of a distance. And so began my comedy sketch of an afternoon, with me bypassing most of what I had been looking for and eventually finding it. Kala Goda wasn't entirely my fault-- apparently, the big black statue of a man on a horse that gave the place its name had been moved in favor of a car park. *sigh*

At Kala Goda was the Prince of Wales museum (now Charp...something Shri... something or other museum), and I went in, taking advantage of the cool shade just when I needed it the most. Along with the tourist admission price came an audio tour-- and while it was pretty neat to have things explained to me, the audio guide was a TALKER. So, sometimes I'd start the recording for a specific thing and moved on, using that for background noise. The museum, itself, had more of the stone carvings, carved ivories, tiny manuscripts, but my favorite room was the monetary history room, with Indian coins through the ages, going deeply BC. My favorite coins? The itty-bitty quarter- and half-rupees-- little push-pin size circles that I most certainly would lose in a heartbeat. And you should see all of the Portuguese-Goan coins. I was reluctant to go back into the heat afterwards, but I did, but not for long.

A short hike and I was back in the Taj area-- there's a road that runs behind the hotel called "Colaba Causeway", lined on one side with shops and hawkers stalls, filled with tourists and noise and shopping where you can bargain down anything to at least half, if not more, of what they quote to you (and most of the time, they probably quote 75% more to us tourists!) On Colaba causeway is the Leopold Cafe, another famous landmark dating back to the 1800s. This was another place where the attacks took place, and army officers with rifles sit out front, guarding a very difficult to guard location. Unlike the Taj, there were no security checks, no metal detectors. But I went in and enjoyed the cool break from the heat and humidity, eating a mango ice cream while still being able to hear the chaos and bustle through the open doorways. The cafe has an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor/dineresque feel, with small glass-topped tables through which you could see their menu, ranging from indo-chinese to italian to indian dishes, and an assortment of ice creams and kulfis that make your head spin (too bad I hadn't discovered the wonder of kulfi yet, else I probably wouldn't have been tempted by the mango ice cream). One odd thing that I kept noticing were people taking photographs of the area where I was seated, so I turned around to see if there was something behind me... and see a boarded glass window with gunshot holes clearly visible. Everything else in the place was repaired, but I think that they're never going to replace that window or any of the gunshot holes in the walls-- too many people with a morbid curiosity will make those a draw for a while.

The rest of the afternoon was an exercise in comedy-- I was on the lookout for this one specific store, and somehow managed to bypass it on other roads multiple times despite help and directions from so many people (me taking the second right instead of the first, or getting turned around in the circle!) But I liked that experience-- if not for that, I wouldn't have been able to see half of what I did! Regal cinema, with it's art-deco style, the University in all of its glory (the clock tower and other buildings have a cathedral-esque look to them, lovely), the estate that had been converted to the police headquarters, every detail of Kala Goda. I did find the store (and shopped), just before being picked up for dinner.

Dinner that night was a fantastic experience-- we went to a vegetarian thali place, where they serve you these platters full of different sauces and tons of breads or crisps or sweets to eat with them. It was sort of like a reverse mirror image of Rodizio! The food kept coming-- sweets and savory, and I ate until I had to practically be rolled out of the place! It was a fun experience, and when Aunt Kay asked if I wanted to take a picture of our turbaned waiter and then asked him if we could, the entire turbaned staff came out of the kitchen for a photo!

The next morning, we were out bright and early (well, shops here do open late, but still early after that long night) to go shopping for dupattas at the sari shops (and subsequently my sari.) That was a fun and new experience! They would take you up to the counter where the dupattas were stored, and, as you talked, they would shake out, so expertly, shawl after shawl, brocade, embroidered, all colors of the rainbow, before you could even say "Blue and silver!" This was repeated in all of the shops, each one just as stunning as the next. You should see some of the more elaborate saris on display-- so full of embroidery and sequin work and beadwork! Modern saris with fishtail hems sewn in. And seats to perch on as you contemplate your purchase.

After shopping, we went to lunch with one of Aunt Kay's schoolmates at the Bombay Gymkana, kind of like a country club, originally built by the British for British only (isn't that always like them?), now open to Indians. It was a lovely lunch, sitting outside on the second floor overlooking the cricket pitch. That day, I had, in addition to two indian dishes, an Indo-Chinese "American Chow Mein" (nothing like American chinese food, but crunchy and yummy-- with a fried egg on top!). And I had my first taste of kulfi, Indian ice cream. (I'm now truly addicted!) That afternoon, I actually saw a parrot fly past us!

After lunch was a drive-by of Victoria Terminus, a beautiful indo-victorian structure, intricately carved with peacocks and monkeys and other varied and sundry animals and plants. And the government building behind it, equally carved. A trip to Crawford market (we didn't go inside the closed market-- too chaotic, but to some of the outside stalls.) And then back to the sari shops for my sari.

That morning, I think the decision had been made by me unconsciously when I had seen, wrapped up for another customer, a beautifully embroidered sari in a chiffon material. So, when we went shopping, we basically went straight to that store, and, when I was shown the more traditional brocaded saris, I still had the other sari in mind. I did get draped in a rich royal blue and silver brocaded sari that I felt was beautiful, but too cool and strong a color for me, then, we sat down and had them show us the floral embroidered sari. I wasn't totally sold by it-- the color, again, a sea green, seemed too strong-- until I was draped in it and completely fell in love. Even a trip upstairs to see the more traditional brocaded saris (and another sea green/purple combo that took my breath away), just made me love that one more. Being draped in one is a fun experience for this first-timer, when you first look in a mirror and see yourself dressed in this beautiful length of fabric-- and it's HARD to make a choice!

So, I've ended up with, as it turns out, a Parsi- style sari (would you believe it?) I'm off this morning to get the petticoat and blouse-liner material, since I had to borrow a petticoat from Aunt Dhun for the wedding.

Dinner that night was at Aunt Kay's Uncle Jimmy's house, with assortment after assortment of good food (mmmm curry!) and more kulfi! (As well as more sweets than I can remember, all of which I love) This trip may actually need to be called "Carla's trip to India in 101 foods."

India, Part Two-- Khamshet and Carla meets Karla

Okay, so the first thing that you need to know is that there is no way for me to escape eating on this trip. I'm being fed good food, in copious quantities, breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, and inbetween. It would be easier if I didn't like one thing or another, but I have yet to come across a food I haven't liked... and that means that my poor tushie might not completely fit in those wide airplane seats that I was raving about in my first e-mail. Or my jeans... but I digress (you want to hear about India and not my ever-expanding bottom, I'm sure!). But India, for me, has been as much about enjoying all of the good food as well as the places we've visited. So, you've been warned!


Tuesday, we drove out to the farm in Khamshet-- we left early in the morning to avoid the traffic and it took us about two hours, fifteen minutes on the highway to get there--- and that was with switching cars on the highway with Aunt Kay's brother... and stopping at McDonalds to stretch our legs, get a coffee (and for me, a "Veg Pizza Puff" for later-- turned out to be something like a veggie hot pocket, very good). Susie, you'll get a kick out of the picture I took of the menu-- it was only breakfast, but things like the "Spinach and corn Egg McMuffin" made me smile. And then we continued on. You all know how much I love hills and mountains, and once we got out of the city and into the hills and valleys, I was plastered to the window. The landscape, if I were to compare it to anything, would probably be similar to the area around Fatima. It's odd to go from sooooo many people fit into the city and then having everything open up and, except for on the road, not seeing people for miles.

I'm going to digress here for a mibute-- I'll have to get a picture of a "Goods Carrier"-- some of the trucks are very elaborately painted, and the best part is what's written onto the back of every one: "Honk OK Please". Honking seems to be more of a preventative measure here, done lots of times just to let someone know that you're coming up on their blind spot, or from their side. It also seems to be done a lot to tell a pedestrian or biker foolish enough to get in one's way "I'm not slowing down and will run you over." Anyway...

Khamshet is so pretty-- like I told you in my mini update, Susie, the house is like something out of a Rudyard Kipling novel, all open, painted white, with a large porch for eating, and scrollwork (I don't know if scrollwork is quite the right word, I'll have to show you the pictures) railings downstairs outside of Aunt Kay's mother's room and on the upstairs landing (to reach one of the bedrooms upstairs, you actually go outside first onto this large, covered landing that overlooks the farm.) And the house is surrounded by mango trees and coconut palms, flowers everywhere, and a lovely garden with a swing chair set out for breakfast and tea. I loved seeing all of the flowers that I usually only see in a botanical garden or greenhouse-- you should see the poinsettias (oh, I give up on trying to spell that!) growing naturally, taller than me, or the bougainvillea dropping the flowers down like snow. As I walked down the main drive, droves of butterflies just swirled up around me. There, we had all of our meals outside on the porch, enjoying the cooler weather, and I napped out in the garden (not really by choice-- you know I never sit still, but I was knitting and the next thing I knew, I was too worn out to do anything but just shut my eyes and enjoy the sunshine).

In the afternoon, we went to Pune, a nearby city. It's a university city, very new and modern... but despite it's small size, it has some of the worst traffic ever, thanks to also being the city with the most two and three-wheeled vehicles in India, if not the world. Motorcyclists everywhere, completely disobeying any traffic rules, weaving in and out of traffic-- no wonder things moved so slow!

In Pune, I had mendhi done on my hand by an artist on the steps of the shopping center. In case you didn't know, mendhi is where they apply henna to skin to stain it in intricate patterns. He piped the paste on in less than ten minutes, and then I had to wait for it to dry before taking it off. For some reason, the mendhi didn't really take to the skin of my wrist, so my hand is nice and dark while my wrist looks faded. It's really pretty, and I have pictures of it in process and now in case it fades before you get a chance to really see it well.

The next morning, we had a mini-breakfast out in the garden followed by eggs at the table (I'm telling you, food is taken seriously here! What I would already consider a large breakfast was just a pre-breakfast taste!) Khamshet is much cooler than Mumbai, and it was nice to sit out on the swing and drink tea in the cool air. The cool didn't last too long though-- by mid morning, the climb up to Karla caves was hot! To get to the caves, you have to climb up the mountainside on these stairs/ inclines that take you there-- I'd say at least a fifteen minute walk that might not be tiring if not for the sun and heat. the views up there are lovely- you see the valley laid out before you in greens and golds. Since there's a Hindu temple that was placed in front of the caves, the steps closer to the temple are lined with vendors selling flowers and garlands and sweets as offerings for the temple. The sweet smell of the flowers wafts up at you and competes with the peanut vendor, lemonade seller, and cucumber vendor. After a little ticket problem at the gate, we went into the caves. Oh, you have to see this place-- at the entrance, on either side, going up about five or six stories, the walls are carved with elephants and people-- lifelike, really, and this was completed in 80 BC. Inside of the cave, a huge sun-window over the doorway illuminated the room (reminding me of the windows you see towards the back of a cathedral-- I guess when an "architectural element" works, you'll see it everywhere through history). Pillars lined the room, each carved at the top with people sitting on elephants. And at the center back, a large round structure. Oddly, though this was a buddhist cave, some hindu devotees were doing some sort of ritual in front of the round structure (?)... not sure what they were doing.

Then we climbed up into the cave rooms-- simple rooms with balconies looking out over the valley that look a lot like the native american cave dwellings that you've probably seen in pictures.

So, Carla and Karla (or Carli and Karle, if you go by one of the placards inside of the caves!) met!

That afternoon, we made our way back to Mumbai, leaving right after lunch to try and beat the traffic. We weren't entirely successful-- the last bit in the city involved a lot of sitting in traffic, but we got here early enough for dinner. (Mom, you'd really have loved the fish stuffed with chutney! And crab curry. Mmmmmmmm. Susie, I know you're not a fish person, so I know it doesn't sound as great to you!)

Yesterday morning, we squeezed in the last half of a yoga lesson-- we were there for the breathing portion, which I really needed for my poor nose and lungs. The cold is almost all gone, but I still get stuffy now and again and still have a cough at night and in the morning. I felt so much clearer afterwards. We went for a little bit of shopping afterwards (I'm going to get to see a wedding in Delhi and needed to get at least a choli (sari blouse) so that I can either buy a sari (which I'm hoping to do, it'll be a nice souvenir) or borrow a sari for the occasion).

After lunch, I was set loose in Mumbai at the Gateway to India. Cell phones are wonderful things-- I was dropped off near the Taj Hotel, and it was easy to meet up at night for dinner with just a few calls.

The Gateway to India-- this arch is beautifully carved, with arched doorways along its side. You'll have to see the pictures-- I can't really describe it better than that. People everywhere in front of the Gateway, taking pictures, hawking their wares (Dad, you'd have trouble there-- it's just like those vendors in the mall, you just have to be rude and ignore them, or not make eye contact and say "No, thanks". Otherwise, they'll keep following you! Thankfully, you all know that I have no trouble being rude to vendors!)

I'll have to finish this later... we're off shopping!

Hugs and Kisses to Everyone!

India, Part One-- Contrasts in Mumbai

I'm posting these straight from the e-mails that I had sent to my little sister back in March, 2009, when I was visiting India with my neighbors... hence the conversational style of these next few posts!

Mumbai has been a real study in contrasts and I'm enjoying it-- after my e-mail last night, we even had fireworks that we were able to see from the flat. I'm staying at Aunt Kay's mother's flat, which is beautiful and has really nice views of the Arabian sea and the city-- I was jet-lagged and woke up in enough time to see the sun rising over the city (which really never sleeps).

And this morning, Aunt Kay and I had breakfast on the veranda overlooking the city.

This morning we went to see the Haji Ali mosque, which is out in the Arabian sea, with a causeway that gets covered during high tide so that the
mosque becomes an island. We didn't go all the way inside of the mosque because, after a point, you have to take off your shoes and neither I nor Aunt Kay
were interested in doing that. Same with the Malalakshmi Hindu temple-- we were
content seeing it from the outside (when we go to the larger temples/mosques on our itinerary, we're planning on bringing socks! Apparently, the Taj Mahal got smart, though, and offers shoe covers, so that's one place we won't have to worry about). It's a Hindu festival today in Mumbai, and the place was so busy and colorful-- so many women and men and children in beautiful saris and suits, flowers and bright lights everywhere.

Contrasts this morning-- the beggar children and adults lined along the causeway that you just have to ignore, the trash around the base of the Haji Ali, on the rocks and floating in the because people just throw it there. The crazy traffic-- the city is still growing at such an incredible pace and doesn't have the infrastructure yet to handle all of the cars. We have a driver, which at least means parking is less of a challenge.

And nope, haven't seen any cows in the road! Three on the sidewalk, though, two
of which were dressed up for the holiday!

We did a little bit of shopping before lunch and then we headed to Uncle Nosh's place down the street for lunch. SO MUCH FOOD TODAY! You certainly don't have
to worry about me not eating enough, as it is I'll have to be rolled onto the
plane at the end of the trip. But really good food... and for dessert at lunch we had this dish that is supposed to be made only for special occasions... so between the fireworks and the dessert, I'm feeling very special. Uncle Nosh's family has been so nice and welcoming, as well.

It's hot and humid and my hair absolutely loves it-- it's so alive and curly here, while it's just tired and limp in our dry winter weather. (I know, totally random, but it is hot!)

After lunch and a rest, we went to see... I'm going to mutilate the name here... Banghanga Tank, where the Hindu funerals are usually held (though there were none today)... it's as if you took a stadium and, instead of filling it with grass, you fill the playing area with water and have steps rising up from it for a while. It was interesting to see, though I found the little village that had grown around it even more interesting-- and bustling, again, with the festival and people in all of the little temples along the narrow road (a car shouldn't go there, but we saw one brave soul who did). This was another contrast-- we went from big city to this small village right in the middle of it. You go from multi-lane roads to a narrow road where the local kids are playing cricket and construction narrowed a part down to one lane. I even got to see the local flour mill.

And each temple has its own god, with a different ambience and personality to it-- again, from the outside, since we all liked wearing our shoes.

And after that, we went to see the sun setting from a point in the Queen's necklace (that's what they call the U-shaped area on the waterfront that sparkles at night, like a necklace). This was the last big contrast here-- from big city, to little village, to peaceful, busy-but-not-so-busy spot. I've never seen the sun so red as it lowered over the horizon, into the water.

This was also the location of the Oberoi hotel (where some of the attacks took place), and we went inside-- it's a 5-star hotel and it's luxury contrasts so much with what we saw, for example, on the way to the mosque this morning.

Oh, and at the same place, I saw a lady in a sari and sneakers, powerwalking with her ipod.

And then dinner and now, too full to move, I'm ready to pass out!

Tommorrow, we're going to see the Karla Caves and going to the farm, so I'll check in when I get a chance.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Hobbits and Snowmen

Day Two, Quebec City.

My morning plans involved wandering (and lots of it!), so bright and early I grabbed myself a cup of white hot cocoa ("Un petit chocolate chaud blanc, s'il vous plait") at Second Cup (addiction #2) with some form of scone-y thing and wandered down to Rue St.Jean. And then... then I was presented with a challenge:

Le Hobbit Bistro.

Was I hobbit-y enough to eat "Second Breakfast" at the Hobbit? Apparently, if it's crepes with real maple syrup, I certainly was. Full beyond measure, it was down the streets and through the doors into Vieux Quebec, the older walled part of the city. Head over heels, I shopped (medieval-themed boutiques lined one street-- I stopped at a new top and belt), let myself be caught by surprise:

Photobucket --random art down an alleyway

and wandered a real-life Hogsmeade of cobblestone streets, tiny shops, and buskers.

I love how the city in the winter has random outdoor ice rinks-- by one city wall entrance there was a hockey game starting, by another was a regular public rink (and, of course, I did grab my skates and paddled about on the public rink until my toes nearly froze off... spinning in a bulky winter coat, however, was a challenge!)


Up, up, up the narrow staircase to the Chateau Laurier and a park where I could see the frozen St. Laurence. I love seeing ice chunks floating in rivers-- it's still a novelty to me.


Beside the Chateau was a giant ice slide-- after seeing someone being carted away by an ambulance, I contented myself with just watching people fly down the steep hill. I'm adventurous, but not crazy!


And then, back to the carnaval, where the craziness was really beginning, with the bain de niege, where truly insane people strip down to their skivies to "bathe in the snow." (note the political statements being made by some of these Quebecois students)


Another one (of many) tige sur la niege


and another beavertail while I watched the St. Hubert horse sled races, the giant group tubing slides, and drumcorps (one of which had me giggling as it played the "Imperial March"! I am SUCH a geek!) I've also recorded quite a bit of sound, but I'm still working on how to get that up on this blog. The energy is so incredibly contagious!

After dinner at a Lebanese restaurant (sorry, but I just couldn't stomach another Poutine! Good, but soooooo heavy! Falafel and other random goodness can be a little bit lighter,) it was back to the hotel to bulk up my clothes and wait for the arrival of Bonhomme in my hotel lobby!


Followed by the night parade, which was a combo between a light parade and cirque de soleil. Thanks to my hotel's fantastic location along the parade grounds (meaning waiting in my hotel room until nearly the last minute) and my million layers of thinsulate and fleece, I was cozy and happy waiting through the parade (hint: wrap your scarf around your face. And heated shoe liners. The only cold parts of me were my eyes.) It was definitely worth the cold (even for an adult.)

During this part of the trip, I discovered that I love, love, LOVE tubing! As a child, I never had the chance to go tubing-- while we've always lived on the top of a hill, our bushes make it unsledable, and mom would never have allowed us to throw ourselves towards the street, anyway. So, it took until now for me to try tubing. The tubing hill was just right for me-- not too life-threatening, but still fast and fun.

(cute costume!)

So, I squeezed in a few more rides before heading back to the hotel and a hot shower.

Day three was a little hike to the Cathedral for Sunday mass (in French-- such a good little Catholic, aren't I? and the cathedral was stunning, as expected) and a last starry-eyed wander before boarding the train back to Montreal, then Ottawa. In Montreal, during my stopover, I hunted out a stand that served a Smoked meat sandwich (on recommendation from another coworker.) Except for the mustard-- now I know to ask for one without-- it was good... sort-of like a cross between corned beef and-- well, I'm not quite sure else. A last cup of White Hot Chocolate from Second cup (addict! ADDICT! I can order it in English and French. And I CAN'T FIND IT HERE!!!!!) and a quick stock-up on Aero bars and smarties and other Canadian candy bar goodness, and I was back on the train, speeding back to my airport hotel in Ottawa and an early flight home.

Adieu, Quebec. Je me souviens!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Late but not Never...

Now, Quebec.

Taking a train rather than flying short distances can be wonderful-- first, no long security lines and extended waits in airports; second, you get a lot more space and room to breathe; third, wi-fi lets me post and blog while traveling; and fourth:


You just don't get views like this while flying.

Quebec City is enchanting from the moment you pull into the train station to the moment you leave. It's as if someone just scooped up some of the prettier old cities in Europe and just dropped it in snowy North America. I've been here before, back one summer when I was twelve years old, and fell in love with it way back then. I remember wanting to move in right away, wishing to have lunch at one of the cute little sidewalk cafes and watch the buskers all day long (instead, we had sandwiches in the car while parked near the Plains of Abraham. Talk about killing a place's fairytale charm.) I said I'd be back, so it was a wonderful to be there, speeding in a taxi to my hotel. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting situated, picking up my effigie (a little plastic doll of Bonhomme, the carnaval mascot, that acts as your ticket to all Carnaval events-- you tie him to your jacket in a visible location), and getting a basic idea of where everything was located. My hotel was just alongside the Plains of Abraham, a short walk to the two main carnaval sites and right along the parade route. Not as stunning as my Ottawa hotel, but nice.

Although everyone was lamenting the lack of snow, I still got a kick of seeing parents pulling their children on sleds through the carnaval grounds alongside the snow sculpture competition. These were just as amazing as the Ottawa ice sculptures (and just as gravity-defying)


A bit of dancing at the Telus video pavillion, a wander by the snow hot tub site, and I hurried back towards the hotel in search of dinner. A Quebecois coworker had suggested poutine at Chez Ashton, so I hurried into the crowded restaurant and ordered a small poutine.

Poutine: Take fries. Put cheese curds on top. Cover in gravy. Try not to have a heart attack.

I think I finished about a third of that thing- it was good, but there's only so much fried food that I can take in one sitting. Sorry, Quebec, but your most famous food makes me ill if I eat more than two forkfuls!


Then, it was back to the festival grounds and over to the ice castle, where the (outdoor) dance party was waiting to begin (and burn off the poutine!) It's hard to stay cold when you're keeping up with some crazy aerobic warmup followed by country-western style dancing.

(Of course, some people definitely didn't have any trouble keeping warm, thanks to their caribou-filled walking sticks. And I'm not talking about caribou the animal! Caribou is apparently a pretty potent liquor and fairly easy to obtain at either the SAC ice bars or other shops. I don't drink, so I had to content myself with lots of layers and dancing like mad!)

Following the dance party was a concert with fireworks at another site-- apparently, the singer was very well known to the Quebecois and possibly other Canadians, but I didn't know who she was... not my style, but the fireworks were fantastic and the energy contagious.


Worn out and finally getting cold, I headed back to my hotel. Since I couldn't find a place that would definitely be showing the Olympics, I just made myself cozy with my knitting in my hotel room and watched the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. It was pretty awesome to be in the host country watching the CBC/CTV coverage, especially for an olympic geek like me!

(I'm trying something new with the pictures... click on the thumbnail for the larger versions)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I'm alive, Alive, I tell you...

... and owe the rest of Quebec. Actually, all of Quebec. It's rather sad that I'm sitting in an airport getting ready to fly to Portugal and am blogging about being such a slacker!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quebec is coming....

Between sketchy internet access in my Quebec hotel and on the return VIA train rides, I couldn't keep up with this blog! But as soon as I have a chance to breathe, I'll finish posting about my trip, promise!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blogging in Transit...

As I speed (aboard a VIA train) towards Montreal and then Quebec City, I can catch up on my blogging! I do have quite a few hours of travel today but the train certainly beats the hassle (and cost) of flying and I'm too accoustomed to mild NJ winters to even think of trying to rent a car and drive myself to Quebec. With my luck, I'd probably drive straight into a snowstorm... or perhaps would hit a caribou (I think there are caribou up here... or maybe moose. Either way, big animals + me driving= just asking for trouble, I'm also enjoying the chance to rest after two days straight of motion.

Yesterday started out with a breakfast stop at Tim Hortons (c'mon, does this surprise anyone anymore?) and a little bit of shopping at Roots (the one by the hotel carries Second Denim Company Yoga Jeans, a Canadian-made brand that isn't readily available in the US. I already have one pair and they are the coziest things ever-- you can do a split in these jeans!). Then, it was off to Parliament Hill.

To begin, it's an impressive walk up the hill, past an undying flame in the middle of a running water fountain that contains the shields for all of the provinces and territories:

And beside it, a pro-life protester (complete with triangle-board signs and everything). No pics of him, sorry.

I had arrived a half hour early for the next tour, so the security guard at the door suggested that I take that time to go up the Peace Tower-- the tall tower with the clock in the center-- and the Memorial Chamber. Through security I went and up the staircase. The Parliament interiors are very european in feel, the carved stone archways, walls, and ceilings, not to different from what one would find in a gothic/baroque building over there-- lovely and impressive. And as I waited for the elevator up to the tower, I overhead one tour guide mention that her group was very lucky-- they were going to be able to observe the ceremony where the pages in the Remembrance books of the memorial chamber would be turned, a ceremony that very few visitors to the Parliament get to see (more on that later.) After hearing that, I was reluctant to get into the elevator up to the tower. The view from the observation deck, though, made that reluctance fade as I looked over Ottawa and (across the river) Gatineau (Hull), The river was semi-frozen over, a fun sight.

And, as I waited for the elevator to come pick me up, the security guard joked about keeping me (an American) hostage up in the tower, pointed out the American Embassy, and offered to take my picture.

(Quick digression... we're currently rolling past the snow-covered farmlands of Quebec. So pretty)

I did manage to get back to the entrance of the memorial chamber to catch a glimpse of the tail-end of the page turning. What this ceremony does (at 11am daily) is honor those Canadians who died in service to their country. There are five books in the chamber, each page filled with names. This daily page turning allows each name to be on display at least once a year. The chamber walls are inscribes with poetry, quotes, and psalms in English and in French ("In Flanders Fields" is one of those poems.)

Then, I made my way back downstairs to start the tour. Our guide was fun and funny and very helpful in explaining the Canadian political system to the four of us foreigners in the bunch. Me, being a geek, piped in with questions about the prorogation currently occurring and the powers of the Governor General (the crown representative who is, apparently, pretty much functionally a social director.) The building was amazing. I wish that we could have taken pictures in the library, but this will have to suffice-- those walls are all carved white maple.

The red chamber entrance was equally grand:

(and this sort of architecture is normal throughout the Parliament)

All in all, a beautiful building, informative tour, and well worth the visit. And to add to my geekiness? Looks like all of my LMM fandom helped in my Canadian history knowledge-- when I saw the 1st Parliament plaque with the first Prime Minister John A. MacDonald's name, I remembered her mention of meeting him on her train ride west when she was just a little girl.

A walk around Parliament Hill revealed the stray cat sanctuary (where I pet the sweetest little kitty named "Brownie") and a nice view of the river. BTW, the cat sanctuary? It's listed in the Lonely Planet guide as one of the "wierd Ottawa" places to visit.

Next up was a walk to the Supreme Court. I hadn't reserved a tour, so I couldn't go in *sniffle*, but I did take the time to snap a picture of the statues out front, especially my favorite one:

(Justice. Eerie, no?)

Up to the National Library and Archives-- no real exhibits were up to see there at the time, so I hightailed it down Sparks Street-- past the CBC radio offices (another geeky moment! I felt this incredible urge to run up there and say: "I LOVE your radio programs!!! Got any "As it Happens" mugs?"

But I restrained myself, like a good public radio listener.)

I did get a chance to stop by Zellers, where they actually had the coveted "Red Mittens" for sale (and must have gotten a fresh shipment, from the number of people buzzing around the bins!) This is, apparently, -the- Olympic Souvenir to get and, though I'm not Canadian, I can now try to blend in (like when Joey wore red and green to the Greece-Portugal Euro cup finals-- it's a matter of survival *grin*) Plus, they're outright cute.

Another side note: anyone else loving the Olympic fashion this year? The US uniforms (courtesy of Ralph Lauren) are awesome and stylish, ditto for the Canadian, and I'm coveting the outfits designed for the medal presenters (see them here.)

Next up, Bytown Museum, "Where Ottawa Was Born." This little museum is located at the base of the Ottawa locks, in what used to be the Commissary. First thing that I learned at the museum is that the (UNESCO- designated world heritage site) Rideau Canal and its famous locks were built during the War of 1812 to defend against the Americans. How incredibly ironic is it that this canal now draws in so many Americans through tourism? The museum, itself, is small with only a few exhibits, but informative. For someone who loves antique clothing and accessories, my favorite part was the exhibit on Victorian life on the third floor, complete with hair jewelery, mourning hats, and one of the prettiest gowns I've seen from the period.

No rest for the weary. This intrepid traveler next hightailed it over to the mint, stopping in transit to go into the Basilica of Notre Dame, the seat of the Catholic Church in Ottawa.

(That roof? Nickel-clad, I think. It shines so bright in the sun)

It's another building that could have easily been picked up somewhere in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and dumped right in Ottawa. The star-painted ceiling is more than enough excuse to go inside.

Next up was the mint, where they made the medals for this Olympics-- they had three of them (and three of the Paralympics) medals temporarily hanging in a display case-- that was a once-in-a-lifetime sight to see.

After the mint, I hiked back over to the hotel and changed for a quick late afternoon skate on the canal. The lights on the canal were starting to be lit and (having not eaten anything since a muffin top at breakfast) I was craving another Beavertail.

After skating and walking so much over two days, I have to admit that my poor feet hurt so much that I only lasted about a kilometer and a half on the canal before giving in and hiking over to the Rogers Crystal Garden, which also had beavertails and the ability to walk amoungst the lit ice sculptures whilst devouring said beavertail:

(pairs nicely with a maple-butter beavertail!)

I wasn't done yet! Next up was a hike back up to the National Art Museum (free from 5-8 on Thursdays, whee!) where I took in the Canadian and Inuit art galleries... and a perfect appetizer for dinner at the Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro. And when one eats at an Aboriginal Bistro, it's a shame if one doesn't bother to try foods one has never eaten before!

I cheated with the potato-leek-bacon soup, but I was sooooo cold that I needed something to warm me up. I followed that with the wabush (rabbit) dumplings (yum!) and then the Elk 2 ways-- grilled and braised. Everything was good, though sooo much meat (when I usually don't each much, particularly red meat) finished me for the night. Full and happy, I waddled back to the hotel and called it a night.

Next up: The Olympic opening ceremonies (on TV or perhaps in a theatre!),the nighttime dance party at the Carnival de Quebec, and another long and tiring day. Wheee!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Soooo Tired...

So I'll just leave you with some images of my day today...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Skating the Rideau Canal

(My Obama cookie-- I'll get to that later in this entry)

Today started late and slow... a 5 am bedtime translated into waking up at 10 am, groggy and at about half speed. Still, I forced myself into some warm clothes and ventured outside to hunt out the tourism information centre. It was nice to finally go outside and get a clear picture of my surroundings-- the hotel where I am staying is wonderfully central to everything. Picture this: a castle-like structure built in 1912 hugs one side of a canal (now empty at the locks, frozen over and teeming with skaters a bit further away) while a grassy and stony hill slopes up the other side to a nearly gothic series of large buildings that compose Parliament Hill (topped with a tall spire rising from a tower.) If you look closely enough, gargoyles hug the buildings in that complex across the canal. The center city has a (as I learned today) deliberately European feel, globe-like lights framing the main thoroughfare while monuments and parks are scattered in the midst of all of the bustle.

The guide at the infocentre was very helpful, loading me up with maps of the city, top sights not to miss, and encouraging my skateway obsession by handing me the canal skateway map and commenting on how warm a day it was going to be-- -4C (Not bad, really! I had already spent the morning without gloves!) From there, it was back to the hotel to change (skating tights, kneepads, thermal pants, ski pants, underarmor turtleneck top, fingerless fleece gauntlets, jacket, knit bonnet) and off to the canal! After donning my skates and stumbling onto the smoother centre (I'm spelling everything Canadian-style while I'm up here!) ice, I followed the sage advice of quite a few Canadians who I had told about this trip-- I bought a beavertail.

Every culture seems to have some variation on fried dough: Portuguese have farturas, Spanish and Latin Americans have churros, New Orleaneans have those pillow-y beignets, Italians have zeppole, Americans have funnel cake, and the Canadians have beavertails. What I particularly like about this specific type of fried dough is that it's flat enough to make it airy and crispy, the perfect counterpoint to the maple-y gooey goodness that I ordered on top of the one that I ate. And, I'm almost ashamed to report... I ate it all!

That's okay-- I had 7.8 Kilometers plus another 5- 6 kilometers return trip to burn it all off (confusing? 7.8 km includes skating onto the little side creek and on Dow's lake. I decided to skip those detours on the return trip for the sake of my legs!

For anyone who wants to skate the Rideau Canal, here's what I've learned:

1. Non-rink ice can be bumpy-- especially at the sides, over by the concession stands (on the ice!!!), and, well, EVERYWHERE else. I have a newfound respect for those first skaters who created the jumps and spins that we know today-- it was too bumpy and uneven for me to try anything more than a simple 1-foot spin and a tiny waltz jump. It took a bit to adjust by shifting my weight slightly more backwards to avoid toe-pick face planting and to fight all that I've been taught and keep my eyes downwards to avoid cracks and lumps and grooves. Hockey skaters have a slightly easier time on the canal.
2. They don't take credit cards at the concession stands. Bring cash!
3. Layers, layers, layers, especially on a particularly warm day, like today. By km marker 5, I had already doffed my coat.
4. The beginning of the canal is the roughest part. It smooths out a bit after Km marker 1.
5. Bumpy and rough ice also means that you need to work harder than traveling the same distance on manicured/zambonied ice. I'm in great skating shape with good stamina and my legs were BURNING early into the skate! Be ready for a buns-of-steel style workout!
6. Also be ready for some fellow skaters who make the canal even more of a joy to skate-- the guy skating in a business suit while on lunch break, another one who was skating and strumming a guitar at the same time, the group of guys who had rigged up literal skateboards (with skate blades)... you never quite know who you're going to pass.
7. Getting to the 7.8km marker is a major high:

8. Followed by a major low when you realize that (if you're crazy and insist on getting the "full" experience) you have to now skate back that whole way. Normal people, of course, may choose to just change into their shoes and get off of the canal at any time.
9. Have a goal to skate towards. Mine was to get my hands on:

(a bacon bunner, only seen at around Km marker 2 or so. Canadian Bacon + bread= yum. Picture #2 is of my sandwich while I'm seated at a picnic table -on the ice! See my skate at the bottom?

10. And get a maple taffy made on the snow! (yum)

So, two things that I've observed so far on this trip-- first, that Ottawans (and Canadians in general) are incredibly clean. Let me tell you that I -know- that if this canal was in NY or Philly or even D.C., it would be full of litter. Here, there was no clean up crew and the only things that I saw were very few random cigarette butts and a lost receipt. The city is just as clean, not a bit of litter in sight. Second, the fact that Canadians are just so freakishly nice has been reinforced quite a few times in the past 24 hours (is it something in the water? Can we ship that stuff south?) Starting with the airport, where random strangers were offering to pick up coffee for each other or offering doughnuts to all of us, up to this afternoon when I had just found out that the concession stands didn't take credit. I had asked the stand guy (salesperson?) where I could find an ATM that worked (I did a quick run down of the fact that I had arrived last night, that the ATM he had mentioned didn't take my card), then, waterless with no ATM prospects, started skating away when this woman skated up beside me, said she overheard the convo, and asked if she could buy me something! I told her no, thanks, but I was REALLY touched by the gesture. Later, in the hunt for an ATM that would take my card, I saw this kind of helpfulness left and right.

Anyway, I digress. After I had my fill of skating, I left the ice at Confederation Park, where I was able to enter the "Rogers Crystal Garden", a host of ice sculptures carved by people all over the country and the world. I particularly loved this one from Japan:

and, shades of Narnia, anyone?:

(Jadis, the White Witch, would love that sofa)

There were dragons and chimera all delicately carved in ice, a fountain surrounded by ice sculptures. A fantasy garden with an ice troll, ice mushrooms and a unicorn was also flanked by knitting graffiti (google it. Yarn bombing is the alternate term) An ice lounge with ice tables and chairs and an ice bar. I know that last one is actually being used at night!

And... then it was back to the hotel to change out of the skating clothes. I had been hoping to visit Parliament, but when I got inside they told me that the last tour was at 3:30 and it was already pushing 4 o'clock. Knowing that I'd probably have the same problem with most of the government sites, I took a day 2 plan (Byward market area) and shifted it to today. I stopped at Rideau Centre to see if i could find any good Olympic-goodies, was sorely tempted by some of the Hudson Bay Company swag (but stopped myself) and ended up getting a cute little t shirt from another shop (for $7) with maple leaves and "Go Canada" printed on it (I almost, but didn't get the "Canada... eh" shirt. That made me giggle) A stop at Tim Hortons to pick up a warm hug in a cup (see entries from PEI. I'm an addict. Possibly because they're the only place I know where a small coffee is actually small and not a large in disguise), then back outside.

If I have time tommorrow, I have to return to the market in daylight. The main market reminded me of a small version of the Reading Terminal Market-- shops, food places, everything with a slightly funky vibe. I picked up some maple tea (another addiction. Thanks, Canada) and then saw...

The Obama Cookies! Apparently, he had visited this bakery, they had given him a "Canada" cookie, he said, "I love this country" and the rest is history.

A little bit more wandering where I passed the US Embassy, the National Art Gallery and the Peacekeeping Monument, and then my poor legs just decided that they had enough. Not surprising, since I'd been going nonstop for... hmmm... eight hours. By six thirty, I was back in the hotel for a long shower and now I have my legs propped up to ease the pain.

I hope I can walk tommorrow, because tommorrow is Parliament/Supreme Court/ everything else in that direction day!

Eaaarly Morning post

Hello from beautiful, beautiful Ottawa, Canada!

Why am I posting so early? Thanks to some not-so-smart thinking on Continental's part, we only left Newark (on the heels of a snowstorm) at 1:30 in the morning... so, by the time that I arrived at my hotel it was already 4am.

Still, I had a lovely taxi ride in-- this city has already managed to enchant me as we drove in along the lit canal, ice smooth and reflecting the bridges arching above its surface. From whatthe taxi driver told me, it's not uncommon to see people skating at 3am during Winterlude (I'll skip that. with my luck, that's when I'd trip over my toepicks and injure myself!) And my hotel room overlooks the canal and Parliament, again, lit up and sparkling. I already know that I'm going to like this place.

(best part? the taxi driver said that it's been freakishly warm-- meaning in the 20s and 30s farenheit. I'll take that!)


(sorry for the dark picture, this is the best I can do from my hotel room window with no flash!)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Next Up...

Ottawa and Quebec. Polishing my skates and getting warm clothes together for this trip!

Keep your eyes peeled for my trip journal!

Monday, September 21, 2009

August 23rd-- Yarn Denied, Yarn Found, and Back over the Bridge

Spitting in the face of Hurricane Bill, I drove towards the storm, eastward, with two goals in mind:

1. Get myself to Belfast Mini Mills in Belfast, PEI (near the Wood Island Ferry)

2. See Province House in Charlottetown. I could not go to PEI and not see the birthplace of Canada!

Of course, since this is me, I did make a little detour on the way to stop by the PEI Preserve Company, even with the dire (but slowly growing less dire) weather predictions.
And was well rewarded with a pretty view:

Cute, no? (yes, that is a fake bagpiper) Such a pretty place, and so close to everyWHERE:

I must say, even with the high cost of some of those preserves, jams, and jellies, they are so worth it. I picked up some maple syrup, cloudberry preserves (yuuuuuuuum), and currant preserves, then was back on the road, east-bound.

Rain pounded my windshield on and off as I made my way towards Charlottetown, tapering to a drizzle as I left the Cavendish area, and only threatening rain while I drove through and past the city.

I liked the drive out to Belfast-- there were so many places that I wanted to stop (and it's a SHAME that Bill was breathing down my neck, else I would have taken a detour to the lighthouse or would have stopped at the historic sites along the way! They're on my list for my next visit.) Unfortunately, after all of that driving... the mill was closed, most likely because of the storm. (Note to self-- next time, call ahead!) So, back to Charlottetown I drove...

Province House... the birthplace of Canada, and the seat of the PEI provincial government. They had a great presentation on the history of Canada and then we were allowed to walk around inside.

In this room, an idea was born. An idea that eventually grew into a country consisting of 13 provinces and territories (yes, I learned about Nunavut that morning. Yes, I know that's kind-of sad that I didn't know about Nunavut before. But then again, I'm not Canadian...), into our great neighbor to the north. As a Philly-area girl, I appreciate the significance of this place.
After the Province house, I braved the threatening stormy skies and walked over to some of the shops that had been closed the night before. In Northern Watters Knitwear, I made up for missing out on the Belfast Mini Mills by heading straight to their yarn section. The Island shawl that I wanted to make needed some yarn and I found this beautiful violet-grey wool yarn made on PEI (at Belfast Mini Mills), along with two types of Bison laceweight yarn. Yes, BISON. Bison. Soft and warm and pretty. I can't wait to knit with that stuff.
After a few more stores, I couldn't deny that my reprieve from the rain was up... the sky had opened up again and, umbrella keeping me remotely dry, I hurried to the car and started driving west towards the Confederation Bridge and New Brunswick.
Even with warnings that the bridge might close because of high winds, I decided to make a detour slightly south to Victoria-by-the-Sea and a small tea house to treat myself to tea/lunch.

(the one lighthouse that I got to see... sigh)
At the teahouse, I treated myself to tea for one, with all of the sundry sandwiches and sweets, including a scone with (insert dreamy sigh here:) clotted cream (bigger sigh.) Forget love, just give me clotted cream. I'll be happy.
Next up were the shops by the confederation bridge-- I didn't want to leave the island early, but my bravado had worn thin. I figured that I could at -least- keep an eye on the winds and leave if they picked up enough to threaten bridge closure. (Turns out that I didn't need to worry... they never did get high enough! What a shame, becuase I could have easily taken time to go to Lower Bedeque and Summerside from where I was.)
I did get a nice picture of the flags in that dreaded wind:

Some more Cows ice cream and a bowlful of mussels later, I had tarried enough. Reluctantly, I paid my toll and waved goodbye to the gentle island.

(Do NOT try this at home. Yes, I was driving and taking the picture one-handed. I also have to disclose that I wasn't looking at the camera and that there were at least 10 really bad, blurry shots to get this one picture.)
Safe on the mainland and no longer mercy to the whim of a storm, I stopped in the New Brunswick tourist rest stop immediately after the bridge to use the rest room and to try and get some shots of the storm-tossed waters and the bridge, as well. The rest stop itself is connected to an environmental centre and is entirely eco-friendly. Composting toilets, rainwater faucets and all. I and a few hearty others braved the wind and rain to take the short boardwalk out to a bridge observation point. This is one of many shots I have of the storm's effects this far west.

(do you see the faintest hint of PEI in the distance?)
Then, a quick drive back to Moncton and the hotel airport...

(yes, that is a moose crossing sign. No, I didn't see any moose)
I ate my last Tim Horton's that evening, watched "So You Think You Can Dance: Canada" and was back to the US the next morning.
I loved this trip, this island, the people, and the experiences. Four days was certainly not enough and I dream of spending a lifetime there. I've been to a lot of places, loved visiting, loved the sights. This little island, though, is one of few places in the world that truly connected with me. I keep making imaginary plans to head back this fall, this winter... anytime I can get myself onto a plane, really.
Abegweit, thank you for welcoming me. I will be back!