"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Moose-ing right along!

I haven't posted anything here for a while, partly because nothing much happens apart from study. In a way, that's good, it means nothing much awful happens in my little world (ok, except the thing with Claude). I am feeling more philosophical at the end of another year, must be a sign of age. Some of the events reported in the news recently are just so horrific, I wonder where it will all lead. Violence, torture, murder....every generation says it's getting worse, but I suspect it's just wider reporting and bigger populations. And I really think overpopulation is the key stressor for this and future generations. I find it really hard to think of really GOOD things happening in the world, and they rarely get reported. The media focuses on bad, sensational news, and in a way creates this bad news loop (Morgan Freeman said it better!). Somebody needs to start a good news loop! I just read a series of books by Kim Stanley Robinson (Forty days of rain etc.), which were quite refreshing as he uses up-to-date research to speculate about different ways of doing things in science, politics, social living etc. Although it is fiction, I like some of his ideas, and he borrows quite heavily from Emerson, Thoreau, and Buddhism. I haven't had much exposure to Emerson, but Henri Thoreau (Walden) is more familiar. In the way "web imitates art" sometimes, someone followed Robinson's lead of posting snippets of Emerson and later, Thoreau, on a website called emersonfortheday.com. I like how one can digest just a small paragraph at a time and think about it. These guys knew how to live with nature, and we can learn from them. A quote from Thoreau -
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” 
So, perhaps in the coming year I will use this blog space for good news, things that  show that homo sapiens may perhaps not be such a blight on earth in the future. Happy New Year!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

All things old in Ballarat

I had a lovely day in Ballarat this week. Getting over there was a little hair-raising, what with trees down, winds blowing, the threat of rain, and potholes large enough to swallow a small car. Luckily, my car and I are made of tuff stuff, so we got to Ballarat and found it it to be 3 degrees warmer than Gisborne! This first stop, as always, was the Mill antique shed. I've loved antiques since way back, and remember dragging my mother around a few shows in Germany, until she too got the bug. Sensibly, Mum kept her interests strictly to jewellery. Antiques weren't as accessible in Germany as they were when I came to Australia; often they were sold in the kind of shop you wouldn't dare enter without a sizable wad of dosh, or if you were lucky, you found something affordable at a flea market. My first 'antique' was a bangle given to me by a colleague for my 18th birthday. Her husband was an antique dealer, and I had admired his collection when I visited them. The bangle was a brass bracelet covered with a rose fabric all around it. It's faded now, but I've still got that bangle.
Yesterday's rummaging around the Mill yielded a small carnival glass dish. It's not in very good nick, but the pattern is a little unusual and the glaze is pretty. It'll do for serving smarties. I've developed a taste for certain types of glassware, mainly carnival glass - both the orange and amethyst variety, but I like only particular patterns, mainly Art Deco ones. Both the Mill and the Ballarat Antique Fair, which was my next destination, had some excellent examples. I also saw something I hadn't taken notice of before - a few examples of a kind of 'depression' glass, but not the typical green depression glass, it was more a lime-yellow type, some with an opalescent glaze, and more ornate than normal depression glass. It also glows in UV light! There were some fabulous pieces, for example a cake stand, probably from the 30s, with stylised thistles on the plate. Just stunning. Must keep my eyes peeled for more of this. The American pieces are usually prettier, I guess they made more of it. Another stunning item was an Art Deco uplight lamp, made from copper, with four pieces of glass protruding from its sides, which glowed beautifully . Oh, was I smitten! The exhibits at the fair were of very high quality, and yes, overpriced, but then, one doesn't get to see so many exquisite things in one spot very often. Some of the stands were devoted to 'vintage' items, and one lady had a wall full of 'flapper' dresses from the 1920s, real museum pieces, with lots of beading, and so fragile! There was also a velvet, emroidered opera coat from the early 20th century, and I was sure it had my name on it, until I saw the $1800 price tag!
My last stop was at MillRose Cottage in Ballan, a new-ish quilt shop. It was like entering Aladdin's cave, so much bigger than expected! Rows upon rows upon rows of fabric, you would truly need a trolley! I restrained myself, but the girls and I are going back next month, so watch out!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Vale Mitzi

I think the old cat deserves a little blog-time, so I'll tell her story and share some memories. Mitzi came to us in 2004. She was Wayne's pick; we had lost our old gentleman-cat Sylvester a while ago, and thought we could do with another cat. At the Burwood RSPCA one Sunday, Wayne spotted this black and white cat, looking very much like Sylvester, and hey presto! she became ours! Any thoughts of this one being a gentle, affectionate, friendly kitty like Sylvester were quickly dispelled, however. We should have known the grumpy visage was matched to an equally grumpy disposition. We do NOT like to be picked up, we do NOT like to sit on a lap, we do NOT like more than three pats at a time! Well, we all adjusted, didn't we?!
Mitzi (all our cats have a 'ts' sound in heir names - don't ask me why), got used to our ways and we to hers. She had to endure cuddles in exchange for food, soft bedding, door duty.... When we got her, we didn't know how old she was, the vets reckoned about 7 years. She was a solid little presence on short legs at nearly 8 kg, but slimmed down over the years to a svelte 5kg. She was quite happy living with dogs, and was  eminently able to handle them on her terms - have seen many a large, tough dog quake before her presence! Mitzi had absolute right of way with dogs, even going after German Shepherds. Over the years, she mellowed and eventually discovered that sitting on laps was actually quite nice; my shredded legs and jeans bearing testimony to that! She still didn't like being picked up but when held securely, purred her head off. She had some endearing habits, for example she drank by sticking her paw into the water bowl and then licking the water off. She had a thing about water, drinking a lot and looking at her reflection in the water bowl. She also made sure she wasn't forgotten at lunchtime, sitting next to me and scratching my legs until I dropped a treat or five. When I had Cheerios in the house, we shared them, Mitzi seemed to like them as much as I do. Mitzi wasn't impressed when I brought home Pretzel; but after a couple of hissy-fits they tolerated each other. In recent times, Mitzi lost her eyesight, but she still enjoyed going outside, just sitting on the doorstep or the driveway. She had trouble finding her litterbox, so we distributed a few more near her favourite places. She had no trouble finding my lap though, or her little 'tent' on the comfy chair.The other night, she left her chair, walked into the laundry and went to sleep. Wayne buried her with Sylvester, Gomez, and Muesli in the back paddock, where the ghosts of cats keep the birds away.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Some of my favourite things

 Food and travel - travel and food. I've grown up travelling, and willing to try foods in all corners of the world, enjoying new experiences, tastes, and the inspiration to re-create some of the dishes I've tried. Our most recent trip took us to the north-eastern part of Canada and the USA, with its interesting mix of Canadian, French, and American cuisine. And no, that's not an oxymoron, just in case you're wondering! One fact that's immediately obvious is the excellent quality of the produce available. It's fresh, beautiful, and presented in a most appetising way, both in the markets and shops, as well as the restaurants. From the exquisite little trays of berries and cherries at Byward Market in Ottawa, to a simple, freshly baked mushroom pizza in Times Square, I could not fault the food anywhere. Ludlow's in Toronto for example, was a temple to the gods of food, as was Central Station Market in NYC. Some of the food was striking in its simplicity, such as the bowl of fresh Prince Edward Island mussels in a broth of white wine and  shallots . These mussels are small, much smaller than the ones we find here, and very tasty. Another memorable but simple lunch was in the Quartier Latin of Montreal, where I had a light, fluffy crepe, topped with lemon juice and a dusting of icing sugar. With a cup of good coffee and the sun shining on passers-by, French chatter in the background, it was a delightful break from touring. The Canadian Maritimes, which include Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, are a veritable nirvana for lovers of seafood. Lobsters abound, even the Golden Arches offer a "McLobster", not that I've had the pleasure. One of the best dishes I had on this trip was at a place called "The Grand Banker" at Lunenburg, a world heritage village on the south coast of Nova Scotia. I'd ordered their Acadian style Cajun seafood stew. It came, hot and steaming, loaded with shrimp, haddock, scallops, and mussels, all in a thick, velvety, tomato-based stew, and crisp garlic toasts. It's one of those meals one wants to last forever! Even the meals on board our cruise ship, the "Maasdam", were memorable, in particular a meal of crab cakes on a bed of grits and beans, topped with mango salsa. Little culinary surprises along the way happened every day, such as a maple creme brulee at Fairmont Montebello, a "beaver tail" at Byward Market, saltwater taffy in Bar Harbour, or a Pinkberry frozen yoghurt with melon and strawberries in New York.  The French influence on cooking is very obvious in Canada's eastern provinces, less so in the Maritimes, and the burger is king on the American side of the border. There, everything comes with sides, such as fries, or a pickle, or a salad. The sides are usually a meal in themselves, which is why it is wise to stick to appetisers rather than main courses, unless you wish to share a meal. America could feed two African nations on its leftovers alone! Aside from the stupefying size of meals and somewhat unimaginative menus, the quality of the food is excellent in terms of ingredients and preparation. And occasionally one finds a meal that's just right, such as the turkey & spinach salad at "Cafe Martinique" on Broadway, or their Belgian waffle with fresh banana and strawberries at breakfast, or a slow-cooked beef stew at the "TicToc Diner", and a great seafood paella on 46th street. Just like Melbourne, New York has a huge variety of immigrants, whose pride in their heritage shows in their love of food and the way it is prepared.You'll never go hungry here, and you'll find some wonderful food on your travels. Have I made you feel hungry? Well, get out there, and hunt for some awesome food!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NYC - a love-hate relationship renewed

Although I'm back home in Oz, I thought I'd finish up the travel blog with some reflections on our time in NYC. I was here back in 1976, with two friends, and was not impressed with New York at the time. We did the usual things, saw the sights, but only stayed for three days and then took the bus to New Orleans. This time, we had booked 6 nights, and I was not sure what to expect; everybody I had spoken to was in love with NYC, so there must have been something to recommend it and I was happy to give it another go. It was Wayne's first time in NYC, and he was just stunned by the sheer size of it. We ended up staying at the New York Manhattan Hotel (nyma), a great little place in Little Korea. For NYC, it was relatively cheap and the location was excellent, steps from Macy's and the Empire State Building, and right next to the metro. Nyma had everything you would need, and although the rooms were a little small, we felt quite cosy there. I had planned to see so many things while in the 'Big Apple', but we ended up in the middle of a heatwave, so our energies were sapped and we concentrated our sightseeing in the mornings. We 'did' all the major sights - the ESB at night - glorious vistas of light, with the stars overhead. Times Square, as amazing at night as during the day, and wonders to behold every minute! Even the advertising is riveting! Every few seconds someone or something comes by and makes you go all goggle-eyed. One of the best things was a horse-and-coach ride in Central Park. As soon as you enter, the bustling city falls behind and you're in a beautiful treed oasis. New Yorkers love their park! It's a great space, the scene of many movies, and home to adorable squirrels. The Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty - the old girl still looks great. I saw Ellis Island, where my mother arrived in 1952, a young war bride. Wall Street, the centre of business both small and big, and the 'bull' a few blocks down. Got a giggle from the supersized 'Burger King' sign obscuring the venerable old Stock Exchange building, with George Washington looking down his nose at it all. Fancy 5th Avenue with the top retailers, and Rockefeller Centre, a hub of Art Deco art. Wayne explored the 'Intrepid' aircraft carrier, while I took in some of the amazing exhibits of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If I start takling about the MMA, I won't stop, it's simply the best. I saw the riches of so many civilisations, it made me think that if humankind can produce such wonders, it might even end up producing a beautiful version of itself. (ok, I was feeling whimsical). We met some of Wayne's cousins in Little Italy. This area was fun  to explore, because it is just a short couple of blocks, full of Italian restaurants. You turn a corner from Chinatown, and there it is. And then you turn a corner, and you're in little Vietnam! With everything for sale on the streets, things you know (fish, vegies), and things you don't know (?fungi, ?dried something), and things weird (buckets full of live toads; cryovac'd marinated duck egg yolks - now what would you need that for??). Talking about food (one of my favourite topics - yes, really, Nancy!), I must say that the quality of the food in the US (and Canada) is excellent. I haven't had a really bad meal anywhere. The ingredients are fresh and tasty, and often prepared very nicely. On the flip side, the size of the meals simply put me off most of the time. What a waste! The USA could feed three nations with the leftovers alone! And everybody eats donuts! I don't even dare look at one and gain 3lb., and I saw people having several for breakfast! Diabetes must be rampant. And burgers are on the menu even in the top restaurants. There is not much imagination involved in American food, Australia is way ahead in that respect. But I've had some excellent meals on our trip. Well, back to NYC. Ok, I liked it much more than the first time, but being me, I hate the crowds, the heat, the traffic, the smells, the begging, the sheer claustrophobia of the place - six days was quite enough, thank you!
Would I go back? Well, maybe on the way to somewhere else, if only to visit the MMA again, and the Guggenheim, and the American Museum of Folk Art, and the Museum of the American Indian, and the Plaza hotel for high tea, and walk the Brooklyn Bridge, and take in a show on Broadway, and........

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Baa Haba and Bahstan

We arrived in Bar Harbour in sparkling sunshine, and were 'tenderized' (as DH put it) to shore in cute little orange boats. The township already looked inviting and bustling with tourists, but we had to wait a while for our bus, which eventually turned up with a somewhat toffee-nosed guide who didn't explain the delay. Undeterred, we proceeded to enjoy whatever was offered, and headed to Acadia National Park, and a small horse-ranch inside the park. Two delightful percheron horses, Pete and Gob (don't ask) came along towing a carriage, and pulled us through the lovely forest, while the driver, Emily, explained all about Acadia Park, and especially the Rockefeller family's association with it. It was just such a great day for a leisurely ride, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I think, when I get home, I might get a trap & pony to go shopping in town! After a reluctant farewell, we continued our trip up Cadillac Mountain, from where we had a fantastic view of the sea, islands, and the Maasdam, which appeared very small from such a height. The mountainside does not have large trees, there is granite below, and little soil in which to develop roots, so big stone slabs were exposed atop the mountain. We wound our way down again and spent a while at "Geddy's", a very quaint bar/pub, enjoying the seafood and a cold drink. I was quite tickled with the signs all over the place, including the ones for the restrooms - "outboarders" and "inboarders". We had a couple of hours left before having to take the tenders over to Maasdam again, so I had a bit of a look in the shops. Bar Harbour certainly promotes the moose! They're everywhere, on most T-shirts and other tourist paraphernalia. Having not seen one moose, I mentioned to the shop attendant that all the moose stuff was a little incongruous, given the rarity of them, he went to defend the moose, saying there were a few thousand in the state! Hmm, ok....
The next day was the end of our cruise, and we left Maasdam behind, sadly, since I'm definitely turning into a cruise junkie! We took a cab to our hotel in Boston, then headed out and caught a hop-on-hop-off trolley. These are a great way to see any city, and Boston was no exception. Mind you, from balmy weather we went straight to a brisk, cool wind, and I just HAD to buy a Harvard hoodie - to keep warm! We had lunch at Quincy Market - what a blast! It seemed the whole of Boston was there at the time. We walked a short part of the Freedom Trail and admired the beautiful old brick buildings. The history of Boston is so complex and interesting, it would be nice to spend more than a night there. Boston's city is not big, easily traversed on foot. We really liked it there and would happily explore it another time.
And then it was time for New York.....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Maritime pleasures

It's taken a while to get back to the blog, and we've arrived in the big apple now. Still, I'd like to devote one blog to our time in the Maritimes, partly because this beautiful corner of Canada deserves time spent there, and also because part of the Maritimes, Prince Edward Island, is tied up with my personal family history. We arrived on the 'Maasdam' on 11th June, another beautiful, sunny, warm day. Rather than booking a shore excursion, we thought we'd get a rental car and explore the island by ourselves. As if it had been planned, a chap with an Avis board just arrived at the dock when we disembarked, and soon we were travelling eastwards, on Highway 1towards Wood Islands and Little Sands, in  a black Jeep Cherokee. It was nice getting out of cities, interesting though they were, and into farming country. PEI has rich, volcanic soil, making it perfect for the potatoes they grow there. It's a neat, hilly countryside with lots of farms, and little inlets cutting into the shore line. A short while later, we arrived at the Wood Islands light house, a pretty red and white structure on elevated ground, overlooking the sea. I found a book there about the early days of Wood Island, written by a lady who is probably related to me way back. My ancestors from Colonsay landed at Wood Islands on the "Spencer" in 1806, and eventually moved to a farm in Little Sands, a short drive away. Now, there are only a few farms - and a winery - left in Little Sands, but it felt as if a circle had been completed, with me standing where my great-grandfather probably farmed in the late 19th century. There is still some evidence of the strip-farms that were granted to the farmers in those day, long narrow strips of land, supposedly because the bullock teams tilling the fields were difficult to turn around. We stopped briefly at the Little Sands cemetery, and found lots of relatives there, MacNeills, McMillans,and Munns galore. The McMillan descendents from the immigrants on the 'Spencer' had also erected a memorial at the Wood Islands Pioneer Cemetery, which we also visited, before being driven away by mosquitos. This was all very satisfactory, and we returned to Charlottetown, for a lobster roll lunch, and visits to the Anne of Green Gables shop AND a quilt shop!
The next day we awoke in Sydney, Nova Scotia. We were whisked off by bus to see some of the Cabot Trail, a stunning area of coastline on the eastern side of NS. The scenery is truly magnificent, dramatic beaches, cliffs, and pounding seas, with wooded hillsides along the drive. I looked and looked for moose, but no luck! We stopped at a lovely old resort overlooking an ocean inlet, and saw eagles circling. Would have loved to drive the whole trail, but alas, no time. This is definitely a place I'd like to explore further.
Didn't get much time to explore Sydney, as we had to be back on board early.
Our last stop in the Maritimes was Halifax. We had booked a tour to Lunenburg, the 'prettiest town in Canada', founded by German settlers introduced by the British around 1753. First we stopped in Mahone Bay, a quaint little town with the typical colourful houses of the area, and some interesting churches. I just love the architecture of these places! The we got to Lunenburg, where our guide, a kilted gentleman called John, explained some of the history of the place. Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the town is completely made of wood! We had time to explore on our own, and we admired the gorgeous old places and the harbour with its lobster and crab boats. We had a great lunch at the 'Grand Banker', which was delicious! What a life, when your main decision of the day is whether to have clam chowder or lobster!
I went for both! We then took a horse carriage through Lunenburg, and our guide explained lots about the old houses, showing us beautiful leaded windows, widows-walks, and the oldest house, predating the German settlers' homes. This is definitely a must-see destination when visiting this corner of the world!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Feeling French

We are in Montreal, in fact, it's our last evening here. I didn't blog from Ottawa, never got enough air-time. We loved Ottawa - not just because of certain friends who live there, but because it is a lovely, relaxed city with many things to see and do. It has beautiful old government buildings, and we were regular visitors to the Byward market, a place to unwind in pubs, cafes, and market stalls selling beautiful summer berries, flowers and vegetables. My favourite place to visit was the RCMP campus, where we got a tour of the RCMP museum, the stables, the training areas, and saw the wonderful horses! They're a cross between Hanoverians and thoroughbreds, between 15-17 hands high and have shining, dark chocolate colored coats. And I got to see the Van Gogh exhibition - wondering if it will come to Australia? The works were not very well known to me, many were still life paintings. It was interesting to see how his paintings changed with his mental status. Once he was out of the asylum, the paintings took on so much more complexity. As usual, I liked two of the paintings which did not 'rate' a postcard, but that's ok. Art is different for everybody. I also loved the Innuit art collection at the National Art Gallery, especially the carvings, they are so powerful! I love the Innuit sculptures, especially the 'dancing bear' and some of the owls, of course.
Montreal has been, shall we say, different! The French influence is, of course, unmistakable, and I had to dig deep for my vocabulary, although people happily switch to English when they see you're struggling. The city certainly has a different 'flavour' to other Canadian cities I've seen. The Vieux Port (old port) is beautiful, the Notre Dame cathedral an amazing work of art, the quartier Latin very quirky, vibrant and colourful. The students from the nearby Universite de Canada a Montreal look a lot less conventional than our lot at La Trobe! They're not afraid to be 'out there' in appearance! The students were protesting peacefully against increased student fees, and on the Grand Prix weekend, so the police was front and centre, the place was just crawling with them! I think they were probably spoiling for an excuse for a melee! Interesting how they all hung out near Dunkin' Donuts! The food is pretty good here too, one can actually find things other than hamburgers and fries! Can't fault the crepes, sweet or savoury. It's even fun watching TV here, all the US sitcoms are translated into French... I was watching a childrens' TV show - I could actually follow that! The French here is very different from the 'French' French I learned so many years ago.
Tomorrow we board the HAL "Maasdam" and head to Quebec.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mennonite country

We picked up a car in Toronto this morning and headed to the Kitchener-Waterloo area, about an hour's drive west of Toronto. Driving was fairly easy once we got used to driving on the wrong side of the road again. The highways here are huge, 12 lanes across sometimes. But all is well signposted, and we found ourselves north of Waterloo, looking for a little town called St. Jacobs. My Canadian FB friends have often talked about this place, so I definitely wanted to see it. We were lucky with the weather; it rained on the way, but once we got to St. Jacobs, the storm had passed and it was even sunny at times. As soon as we drove through the farmlands, I was enchanted by the big Amish-style barns and grain silos. Would have loved to look inside one! As interesting as the big cities are, I just love countryside! St. Jacobs was just delightful, and no sooner had I left the visitor information store, did I see a black buggy with two proud horses and a Mennonite couple dash past! I was too gobsmacked to even get my camera out! I so much wanted to see that, and was lucky enough to see many such buggies drive past over the next hour. And when I discovered the quilt shops - well, my day could hardly get any better! I just want to live at the Mennonite quilt shop, and if not there, then at the First Nations art shop next door. Although I would not say no to a stay at the Christmas shop either. Had lunch under a huge maple tree, and made rather a mess of my credit card - but let's not go there.... Leaving beautiful St. Jacobs behind us, we powered up the highway, back via Toronto, and landed in a little place called Belleville (somewhat of a a misnomer, I'm afraid). Still, the culinary highlight was a pulled pork bun (delicious), an Alexander Keith light ale (my new favourite), and my first coffee at Tim Horton's. AND I found those gorgeous maple leaf cookies and maple-blueberry tea my friend Kathryn and I love so much.
DH has taken to photographing quirky signs. Found a good one  tonight: "Worms for sale. 24 hours". So, if you have a craving for worms at 11:30pm, that's the place for you!
Well, let's see what tomorrow brings...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mother Nature delivers!

As I suspected, nature is more liable than folk to render me awestruck! But there's not much that beats Niagara Falls in that regard. Our tour began with a drive into wine & fruit growing country, and the beautiful landscapes between the lakes. While some people sampled the (liquid) produce, we admired the stately houses along the Niagara River. Just gorgeous! I loved the Amish-style barns, and even spotted a Mennonite lady in traditional garb. The drive up to the falls was mostly pleasant, there were some delightful guest houses and B&Bs, and a superb golf course, with a gaggle of Canadian geese to keep order. From there we entered the rather garish Niagara Falls proper (on the Canadian side), and were shown to the Sheraton Hotel's Falls View dining room for lunch. Now I challenge anybody to beat that for a lunch with a view! You get to look down on both major falls, and the weather was, of course, just peachy. Can't fault the food either, hot, fresh and delicious. The falls were just incredible, so powerful, and the "Maid of the Mist" boats were just little toyboats from that height, whereas in real life they're quite large. We made our way down to the water and donned the blue plastic coats. We all looked like oversized condoms having a suspiciously good time in a washing machine! The raincoats did help though, once the boats make their way under the falls, you're just soaked. It was wild, wet, and wonderful, and even a couple of little rainbows came out! The roar of the water is almost threatening; no wonder folks in the old days thought the sounds came from angry spirits. Our next stop was at the helipad, and Wayne and I thought this was too good to miss - so a few minutes later yours truly had her first chopper flight. All I can say is - FUN!! The flight took 12 minutes and made its way up the river, across the falls and back again. It was really worthwhile, fantastic to see the falls from above, but also the whole water system. Happy but exhausted, we stopped in Niagara-on-the-Lake for a fortifying maple-walnut ice cream and a short walk down the main street. It is a pretty, tree-lined, cutesy village, but a little too artificial-touristy for my taste. Still, a nice final stop on our tour, and well removed from the tacky horrors of Niagara. I mean, why does anybody need a Hard Rock cafe in one of the world's most beautiful nature reserves? Back in Toronto - with the sunset reflected in the city's skyscraper windows -  we opted for a dinner in Chinatown. We lucked out; stopped at a restaurant , in front of which a pretty white dog was sitting. I felt that was a good omen, and it was - great food, cheap, plenty of it, and good service. We couldn't remember the name of the place, so Wayne called it the "Lucky Dog diner"... In fact, it was the Gourmet Restaurant, and I do recommend it. The duck was divine! A strawberry daiquiri has given me enough 'mellow' to guarantee a decent sleep. And tomorrow, we're off to Kitchener, Waterloo & St. Jacobs, then heading north towards Kingston. More soon.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Toronto - the good, the bad , and the ugly...

Haven't blogged for a while, but I thought our trip might provide a good opportunity to get into the habit again. Well, we're happily in Canada again, one of our favourite holiday destinations. This time, we're starting in Toronto and exploring some of the east coast. After the wonderful weirdness of Los Angeles, coming here was almost a relief! After a relaxed flight on Air Canada - I watched 4 blissful hours non-stop of the latest "Downton Abbey" series - we arrived in a bit of a heat wave, it seems. Balmy mid-20s and going up to 33C tomorrow! The time difference meant we had a short-ish day, which I didn't mind, having woken at 5am to be at the airport at 8am! Enjoying a few quiet moments before bed, we were rudely jolted out of our jetlagged stupor by the hotel fire alarm. I knew we should have refused the room on the 22nd floor! So, down we trot, with a few likeminded zombies, into the lobby, which looked like a night club. Young folk in various state of undress and sobriety lolled about, madly texting, fire engines out the front, police on bikes cruising past. Nobody knew - or cared - if there really was a fire. Toronto's finest were present and seemed to be enjoying the party. After 20 minutes of aimless loitering, we were allowed back into our rooms. I still don't know if there was a fire, although I did smell something burning around the 11th floor, not that anybody seemed to be worried.
Today we made use of the hop-on, hop-off bus services and explored Toronto from a double-decker bus. Great way to see the city. I wasn't too sure what to expect from Toronto, so I was pleasantly surprised by the contrasts in neighbourhoods and architecture. All I saw from the bus into the city were skyscrapers and urban canyons. On today's excursion, it was gratifying to see some of the original architecture, the beautiful trees and parks, old churches, as well as the modern buildings, and the tranquil islands with swans, baby ducks, and people making the most of their weekend. And - I will have you know that we sampled Canada's national dish, poutine. I say sampled and mean it, a taste was quite enough, thank you. My arteries snapped shut upon entry. It was kind of the chef at the "Loose Moose" to let us try a bit, and I can see its potential as a comfort food. If you want to call poutine food, that is.
Our last stop was the Eaton Centre, where I wanted to see the flying geese sculpture. It's a nice, airy space, and I think I could spend a Canadian winter in there, only to emerge in spring, bear-like, but not with cubs.
Sadly, all the good impressions of this city came to an abrupt end at Dundas Place, a mad spot if I ever saw one. Some bloke, down in his luck, had decided to set himself up to make a buck, and had taken a small kitten along to serve as his way of generating income, by having people take photos and charging for it, presumably. Now, I have nothing against capitalist enterprise, and good luck to the fellow for dreaming up a way to raise revenue. However, I draw the line at animal cruelty, and making this poor little scap of a feline share his misery. In a forest of legs, assaulted by wayward children, and made a specatacle of by an uncaring owner, this traumatised creature's eyes will be what I remember about Toronto. I'm sure the kitten was not even 8 weeks old. Not being the sort to let such things pass, I looked for a police person, but of couse, when you need one, you dont see one. So I called the police department from the hotel, and guess what, they didn't want to know! They passed me on to the local SPCA. This being a Sunday, all one got was a recorded message. Very sad. Was it Gandhi who said that a civilisation is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members?
But tomorrow is another day, and we're getting outta town to see Niagara Falls. I do prefer nature to so-called civilisation, it is much less cruel. So I'm hoping for a good day on the "Maid of the Mist".

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


2012 has started and I'm just about getting used to writing the year without hesitating! My year began in wintry Germany, with colourful fireworks going off everywhere, but me not seeing much of them except for reflections on fog! Hopefully, the fogginess is not indicative of what lies ahead, although, so far, my head hasn't really cleared up, partly because of jet lag, and partly due to a head cold.
Every now and then I have a hankering for a German Christmas; an excuse to catch up with family for a fun occasion, and some vague nostalgia for Christmases past. No bah humbug for me! Once again, I wasn't disappointed in what the old country had to offer, except perhaps the lack of a decent layer of snow. It was unseasonally mild for winter, and I only saw snow fall twice, not lasting long enough to get the camera out. Magically, some white flakes appeared on Christmas eve, just when the 'Christkindl' was making its approach.
I've written before about Christmas traditions in Germany, however, there was one tradition I had forgotten all about, and one which I was reminded about while travelling just after New Year. There is, in Germany and I believe, several other European countries, a tradition of "Sternsinger" (Star singers), walking through the streets between Christmas and Epiphany (6th December). These are mostly children, dressed as the three kings, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar, and singing a variety of carols. The impetus comes from the churches, who collect money this way for childrens charities. In 2011, the money went to support children in South America.
According to Wikipedia, this tradition goes back several hundred years. Children and young adults are sent out from the church, often after a Sunday mass, and knock on doors, offering to sing, pray, or recite a poem. Then the star singers convey a blessing, in the form of letters written on the door, in consecrated chalk. In Germany, the letters would likely be 20*C+M+B+12 ( the current year, a star symbolising the star of Bethlehem, three crosses symbolising the trinity, and CMB, which some believe stands for the 3 kings, others think they mean Christus mansionem benedicat/Christ bless this house). Different areas have different ways of writing the blessing.
I came across some star singers in a cafe, in a small town near Frankfurt. They were singing a song of the 3 kings, and people were happy for their song and their blessings, contributing to the collection quite handsomely! It was nice to see an old tradition kept alive, and I hope political correctness doesn't destroy this basically Christian event.