Tag Archives: travel

maman et papa et la ville de montreal

bonjour, mes amis!

as a friday treat, we have a special guest post today. i asked my mom if she would please write about a new experience that she and dad recently enjoyed. take it away, mom!

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Anglophones in Montreal

mom and dad, montreal, april 2012

We are not seasoned or savvy or readily disposed to travel.

We have escaped winter to sunny spots – Aruba and Caribbean cruises several times; once, a decade ago, we flew to Singapore and Malaysia for a month of heat and humidity.  But, I think that travel, generally – and enormous, over-crowded, noisy airports in particular – are vastly over-rated. Therefore, I have practised avoidance techniques for years: quickly re-cycling brochures, flipping through the pages of travel sections in the newspapers, smiling blandly and mumbling trite phrases when friends and family enthuse about ports-of-call seen and appreciated.

And then we opened our 2011 Christmas gift from our son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren: return flight and hotel accommodations for a holiday in Montreal in April.  My joy was genuine.

*****

We have never been to Montreal to stay.  Traversing the city with our eyes glued to the direction Ouest to and from holidays in Eastern Canada does not count. Navigating the bridges and French signage after we had driven to and from Chicoutimi some 20 years ago was a dim memory. Five years of high school French 50 years ago does not render me confident in communicating in a foreign language.  Did we manage in cosmopolitan Montreal?  Yes!

Throughout our entire 3-day visit we were respectfully greeted, given directions, and had questions answered and explanations provided graciously in English after it was established that anglais was our language preference.

*****

After a sleep-over in Toronto at our family’s home, we taxied to the ferry that glided across Lake Ontario for all of 3 minutes to Toronto Island Billy Bishop airport.  The airport was small and clean with a friendly feeling and extremely navigable procedures to get us on the plane.  The flight to Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau Airport took an hour.  The taxi ride to our hotel took about 25 minutes.  A huge black umbrella balanced adroitly by the hotel concierge protected me from the downpour.  The boutique Hotel Nelligan on Rue St. Paul Ouest/St. Paul Street West was elegant and beautiful.  Two of the red brick walls in our luxury suite had been preserved when the original old building was restored. In the tastefully appointed lobby area, we were served cups of complimentary and excellent coffee.  Later in the afternoon, we sipped a complimentary glass of wine and spent an entertaining hour surreptitiously people-watching and eavesdropping (although we did not comprehend any of the rapid-fire conversations en français.)

*****

During our 3-day stay, we did not stray far from the hotel, and walked along St. Paul Street east and west visiting a different lively and interesting café each day for lunch.  We visited a wide range of art galleries, clothing boutiques, shops with displays of sleek and modern tableware, an excellent stationery and paper goods store, and a large book store with all-in-French titles.  In one boutique, I admired a beguiling gown that had as a price point a jaw-dropping ¼ of what our first house cost. “Just browsing, thank you” was easily accepted by the staff.  We avoided the tourist trap t-shirts and coffee mugs and native dolls made-in-China a few blocks away.

The Centre des Sciences de Montreal/Montreal Science Centre located on the Quays of the old Port of Montreal was a delightful adventure.  The IMAX 3-D movie The Last Reef was enchanting.  I loved catching tiny sea creatures that seemed to float right into my hand.

We toured the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal/Notre Dame Basilica where Celine Dion was married in December 1994.  The Neo-Gothic exterior is imposing and the opulent interior is dramatic and colourful with brilliant blues and azure and gold hues.  I could not believe the size of the organ, 7000 pipes mounted to the highest of high ceilings.

inside the basilica

Partly because of the pouring rain, we stayed at the dining room, Verses, at Hotel Nelligan for dinner the first night.  For a 2-week period, the chef was experimenting with a tapas-style menu, and we devoured deconstructed duck with tasty sides and then finished with decadent batter-fried apples accompanied by warm, salted butterscotch sauce for dessert.

*****

The highlight was dinner at Garde Manger, the brainchild of Chef and Food Network Host Chuck Hughes. The restaurant is unobtrusively tucked into a side street, Rue St. Francois-Xavier. Our son had made the reservations for us a month in advance.  We arrived to a packed room with space for about 35 diners.  It was small and antique, but definitely not quaint and cozy.  The place was rockin’!  We were the oldest people in the restaurant by two decades, but did not feel estranged. Our helpful and charming waitress translated the all-in-French menu for us scrawled on a blackboard.  The younger couples at the tables to our left and right were friendly without being invasive and it was from them that we learned that Chuck was actually in house that night.  Usually he is not.  One couple had seen him roar up on his motorcycle!  I discreetly craned my neck, frequently, to view hunky Chuck who was highly visible and busy all evening.

The food was delicious.  We started with a clam amuse bouche, a great beginning.  Then the appetizer: I had a roasted beet salad, the beets in 2 vivid colours, and hubby chose lobster poutine.  Fantastic! For our mains I ate perfectly cooked scallops with accompanying potato gnocchi on a bed of carmelized carrots and hubby savoured slow-braised (for 36 hours according to our server) short ribs with rich gravy.  At the recommendation of our next-table neighbour, he drank Chinese beer with that.  Wow!  For dessert we shared a deep-fried Mars bar with vanilla ice cream.  Oh, my…it does not get better than this.

Chuck was friendly and approachable when we asked if I could have my photo taken with him.  I had that treasured souvenir posted on facebook shortly after our return to reality.  It was a marvelous evening, and as we strolled (well, more accurately, waddled) back the short distance to our hotel we murmured deep appreciation for family and superbly cooked food and new experiences.

WITH CHUCK!! at garde manger

After an unaccustomed sleep-in and a leisurely light breakfast, we reversed our route and returned to Toronto, in the rain, where our daughter-in-law met us at the airport and patiently listened to our hyperbole as we talked and talked.  What a wonderful trip.

We may not have been savagely bitten by a travel bug nor been rhapsodized by wanderlust, but la Ville de Montreal à la Belle Province beckons.

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thanks so much, mom! i want to meet chuck!!

have you ever visited montreal? me = no! despite going to school in québec for eight months, i have never spent time in montréal. now, québec city i have enjoyed on numerous occasions, but a tour de montréal has never materialized. maybe someone(s) will surprise aunti with a petit get-away trip to montreal?!

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vancouver ’84

whew, i am so very glad i remembered about this family vacation to vancouver way back in 1984. otherwise, i would have been forced to become vegan for a week, just to fulfill my letter “v” obligations for this great blogging from a-z challenge. [i do not know enough about either vampires or volcanos to put together a coherent and educational blog post on these subjects. oh, and i have no objections to trying veganism (aka extreme vegetarianism?! )sometime, i just can’t be bothered, right now].

even after all these years, when i stop to reflect, i can pull up so many memories of our family trip out west in the summer of 1984 (i was 14 and going into grade 9, and the brother was 11, going into grade 6). our holiday was about two weeks in length. we flew from toronto to calgary, then rented a car and did a tour from calgary -> banff -> jasper -> kelowna and kamloops -> vancouver -> victoria -> back to calgary and home again via airplane to toronto.

calgary was exciting to my fourteen year old self because of the time change (we went back two hours) and because the air was so dry! (southern ontario is known for its humidity). i distinctly remember all of us waking up in the morning in calgary absolutely parched!

i searched through my photo albums for visuals to share with you…and came up with a measly four photos. i guess karma is trying to tell me to keep this blog post short. [mom and dad, i think you must have a larger collection??!]

dad, the brother and mom on the columbia icefields

we took a formal tour of the columbia icefields, one day. the strongest memory is of how impressed we were with the huge tires on the bus-thing that we rode on! we were also amazed at the vast scope of the icefields…and that there was all this ice in july!

the view of downtown vancouver

in both vancouver and calgary, we stayed in hotels (holiday inn, maybe??) that had many floors. the brother and i begged to stay as high up as we could, and the parents obliged…although, i do remember that mom got so nervous when we went out on the balcony because she feared the swirling winds would suck us over the edge (we mocked her greatly for this, as only a 14 and an 11 year old can do).

me on the grounds of the capilano suspension bridge - check out the size of that maple leaf i am showing off!

we LOVED our day at the capilano suspension bridge. we felt like adventurers as we gleefully traipsed across the gaping expanse!

(source)

injecting some fun into our visit to butchart gardens, victoria

butchart gardens is a big tourist attraction. all i remember is flowers…flowers…more flowers (yawn)…still more – you got it – flowers…is it time to swim at the hotel yet??

a few other vivid memories:

~ going to a cfl football game: the b.c. lions played the ottawa rough riders. we cheered loudly and frequently for the ontario visitors which did not make us very popular with the home crowd!

~ shopping in vancouver’s chinatown: we had never seen whole chickens hanging from shop windows before!

~ dad treating us to a swanky dinner one night at a fancy seafood restaurant. i had scallops for the first time, and loved them!

~ trying to find the hoodoos in drumheller, alberta. we drove and drove and drove and drove some more…the brother and i were bored out of our minds, and mom and dad were squabbling over directions…when we finally found the land formations, we were all like, woop-dee-doo, that’s how tired and out-of-sorts we were. the brother and i just wanted to get back to the hotel to swim!

(source)

guess what – i still have two souvenirs from the vancouver ’84 trip. it will come as no surprise to you that they are…

tshirts!

and i still wear them!

the inspiration behind today's title

my tee from vancouver's chinatown - we all got the same design on a different background colour! (yellow, blue, red...what was the 4th one?!).

i am so very grateful to mom and dad for the family vacations that we all enjoyed, growing up (florida in grade 3 and a tour of eastern canada in 1981 come first to mind). travel is such a gift to give to children.

you can hop on a plane today to VACATION anywhere in the world. where are you going? i’ll pick hawaii! never been, and it’s got sun and heat!

joel and andrea’s excellent adventure

just in time for christmas, my cousin joel and andrea returned from australia. the purpose of their sojourn was so that andrea could attend teacher’s college. so, from february through december 2011, andrea and joel got to experience life as residents of australia’s sunshine coast.

(source)

it was so good to reconnect with andrea and joel at christmas-time!

christmas 2011 file photo: andrea and then joel are on the LEFT! (followed by my cousins alex, kate and fiance pete!

there is just never enough time to totally catch up – so, i asked andrea and joel if they would answer a series of six questions about their time in australia. in honour of the format of this year’s kikiproject, questions 1 through 6 involve 1 through 6 answers! enjoy!

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1. what is ONE “life a-ha” realization that you had while in australia?

andrea: As a ‘go-go-go’ type of person, it was good for me to be immersed in a culture that embraced a slower-paced way of life.

joel: The idea that everything in life is open and you have the ability to control your path at all times. I found living abroad especially conducive to big thoughts like this. With everything around me being new, I found myself as optimistic and creative as ever. Exposing yourself to a host of new experiences though travel and living abroad is something that I would recommend to anyone!

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2. please attach TWO photos and describe why you chose them and what is going on in the photo.
joel:
Photo #1: The first photo is with me and my surfboard on Alexandra Headland Beach, which was right in front of our apartment. The board was an Aussie version of a “Canadian Tire Special”. For months I thought it was in okay condition, and it was just my surfing skills that had plateaued. My thoughts changed when I tried another board that actually floated properly!
Photo #2: The second photo is of a kangaroo at the Australia Zoo. The University of the Sunshine Coast (where I worked for part of the year) was a protected area for kangaroos. On the paths between school buildings, whole families would just be hanging out under the trees. andrea:
Photo #1: In July (the middle of Australia’s winter), Joel and I rented a hippie van and took a road trip down the East Coast to Melbourne. The Sunshine Coast’s temperature doesn’t change drastically between seasons, and being the ignorant Canadians we are were, we didn’t realize how much colder it would be further south. As a result, while most people were wearing wool and down jackets, I was stuck making do with the warmest clothes I’d packed – an assortment of light cardigans and sundresses. Not ideal!

In an effort to save some money, Joel and I spent a number of nights parked in random parking lots and side streets rather than paying for campsites. This photo was taken in Canberra, the capital city of Australia at our favourite found ‘campsite’. It was also one of the coldest nights – I think it must have been hovering around 0*C that night!

Photo #2: The last big trip Joel and I took was by train to a relatively large Outback town called Longreach. This photo was taken by Joel from the train as we were rolling through one of the many Outback towns we passed through. I think it sums up the culture of the Outback nicely.

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3. what are THREE australian terms/phrases that you learned? (and please translate for us!)

andrea:
1.    ‘Sos’ (pronounced ‘saws’). Meaning: Sorry.
2.    ‘Have a squizz’. Meaning: Have a look.
3.    ‘Too easy’ The first time I heard this phrase was from a 7/11 cashier in response to my ‘thanks’ at the end of my transaction. Huh? “Too easy?” I later learned that it’s akin to saying “no worries” or “no problem”.
joel:
1. Fair Dinkum. Translation: truth or acknowledging that someone is speaking the truth.
2. Flat out like a lizard drinking. Translation: I’m busy.
3. Rock up. Translation: to turn up somewhere, to arrive
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4. what are FOUR unique-to-australia foods or drinks that you tasted/tried, and what did you think of them?
joel:
1. Tim Tams. The classic Australian cookie. I fell in love with them… they were perfect for after dinner or sometimes for “afternoon tea” (snack at 3:00-4:00pm).
2. Cooper’s Pale Ale. This beer dominated a lot of my mental space while I was down there. It is bottle-fermented, so it had a nice flavourful fruity taste and full, cludy texture. Perfect to bring to the beach for sunset (a legal and socially acceptable manoeuvre there).
3. Goon. Wine in a box. Four litres was available for the low, low price of $10.
4. Meat Pies. A classic Aussie staple. It’s a small, round pastry packed with ground beef and potato. It’s a must-have item for any sporting event. Instead of hot dogs, people flock to the booths for meat pies.
andrea:
1. ‘Aussie’ pizza. A favourite of Aussies, this pizza features an egg cooked either on top of pizza toppings or underneath. Surprisingly, it’s hard to even tell that the egg’s there; it just adds a bit of moisture to the dry crust.
2. Vegemite. Vegemite is made from yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing. Sound yummy? In my experience, this is best-enjoyed spread thinly on toast, on top of butter, not thickly directly onto toast. I learned that one the hard way.
3. Kangaroo. Once I got past the idea of eating the cute and cuddly creatures that populate my campus, I enjoyed kangaroo meat! Its texture is similar to beef, but it’s darker in colour and is more flavourful.
4. Capsicum (red bell pepper). Well, not technically a new food, but new name!
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5. what are FIVE things that you missed from home while you were away?
andrea:
1. Fast, cheap, reliable Internet! Internet in Australia is very expensive: about $150 for 10GB.
2. Cars driving on the other side of the road. Being a pedestrian is dangerous business when you’re used to looking one way for oncoming traffic!
3. The Fall! Seeing friends’ and family’s pictures of beautiful fall landscapes during Thanksgiving (another holiday Australians don’t recognize) made me realize how fortunate we Canadians are to have four distinct seasons.
4. Friends and family, of course.
5. Did I mention that we missed fast, reliable Internet?
joel:
1. Family and Friends. Especially during the holidays.
2. Low-priced, high speed internet. We were paying WAY too much for a mobile broadband internet plan. The worst part was that it was very unreliable and was dependent on online traffic and weather. Whenever I was Skyping with somebody and a cloud passed over the apartment, the call was dropped.
3. The build-up to Christmas. It just isn’t the same when it is 30 degrees and Santa’s in board shorts.
4. Tim Horton’s coffee. It’s a taste that grows on you…
5. Morty‘s wings. Maybe the best in the world?
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6. let’s pretend that i have two weeks to spend in australia. what are SIX places that i have to visit/spend time at/go see?
joel:
First of all, you gotta rent a van or RV! The country is huge but is designed for road trips… Plus everybody, especially Aussies, do it for travel. Along the way, see:
1. Melbourne: The most classic and traditional of the Australian cities. It’s a city known to take advantage of it’s leisure time as everyone takes time out of their day to visit a cafe or bar. It’s a huge sport city too: probably home to some of the most passionate fans in the world.
2. Canberra: An unexpected choice – the capital of Australia is famous for being boring with a horrible city atmosphere. It was a city pre-planned by a urban designer in the early 1900’s so there is a lack of intimate feel. Everything is spacious and laid out. That being said, with low-expectations, it surprised as one of our favourite destinations.
3. The Gold Coast: Perfect Aussie beach on steroids. Popular sub-tropical holiday destination for Aussies. The huge, sandy beaches and the beach-front skyscrapers of Surfer’s Paradise are a sight to see.
4. Sydney: The Opera House is as awesome as you’d think it would be. You get amazing views just flying in and out of the city…
5. Whitehaven Beach: The most pure white sand and immaculate aqua waters I have ever seen. Located on the Whitsunday Islands, you have to take a boat cruise to go see it.
6. The Outback. Anything in the Outback. The space. The fields full of kangaroos and emus. The red soil. It’s everything you’d imagine. Just remember an extra jerry can of gas… it’s an empty, desolate place.
andrea:
1. Melbourne: Melbourne (pronounced ‘Melbin’) was, by far, my favourite city in Australia. Melbourne is heavily influenced by its European origins. In contrast to the beach culture of the Sunshine Coast (where we lived), Melbourne’s café- and shop-lined streets create the feeling of being in Paris.
2. Cairns: Cairns (pronounced ‘Cans’) was the most northerly city we travelled to. Being the most northerly, it was the most tropical and home to many crocs and other dangerous creatures! We did not see any wild crocs, although, shortly after we returned to the Sunshine Coast, we saw on the news that a croc had been caught wandering the city streets. Apparently, not a very uncommon occurrence! http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/crocodile-caught-in-cairns-main-street/story-e6freoof-1226103197216
3. The Outback: Completely the opposite of everything that Cairns is, the Outback is dry, barren, desert and is largely inhabited. Fun to visit for a short time.
4. The Australian Zoo a.k.a. home of the Crocodile Hunter: If there’s one thing Aussies know how to do right, it’s how to treat their tourists. Joel and I had a wonderful day at The Australian Zoo: it was thoughtfully laid out, had plenty of washrooms and offered many informative shows. Despite living only 45 minutes away, we didn’t visit until shortly before we came home (the $50/each price of admission may have something to do with that!).

joel at the australian zoo

5. The Great Barrier Reef: The GBR stretches from Cairns to the Whitsunday Islands. We were fortunate enough to snorkel both in Cairns and the Whitsundays and although we didn’t spot any sharks or turtles, the underwater world was beautiful and fascinating. Definitely a highlight for us.
6. The Sunshine Coast: We are thrilled with our choice to live in the Sunshine Coast region. Located an hour north of Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast provides visitors with the typical Aussie experience: laid-back lifestyle (shoppers wearing togs (swimming suits) with no shoes in grocery stores is a common sighting), and year-round beautiful weather.
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thanks so much, andrea and joel, for your intro to australian culture! what an amazing life chapter for you both. i think we need to go for coffee so i can pummel each of you with more questions and beg for more stories!
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have you ever traveled to australia? me = no. and to be honest, i do not know if or when i will ever get there in this lifetime. we shall see!
interestingly enough, right now my friends duncan and jillian are back in australia (duncan’s home land) while jillian attends teacher’s college!

Monday in Aruba: Reunion Day!

It was a beautiful day in Aruba:

not a bad morning sight!

I did not win at BINGO! (more on that in a minute)

I had no sooner stuck my nose out the lobby of the resort this morning than I met my friend Karen from Michigan:

karen and i are both morning people and very social!

We met Karen and her husband Rick the first year we came to our timeshare. As we were chatting (never a lack of conversation with Karen – love it!), she FYI’d me that due to Carnaval, the grocery store would only be open til about noon today. So I changed my day’s itinerary so that I hit up Ling’s earlier than I had planned (I anticipate writing more about “Grocery Shopping in Aruba” another time).

I cabbed it to the store and back; in typical Aruba fashion, the taxi ride there cost me $13 and the return trip was $15. No rhyme nor reason to fares, here, believe me.

I love grocery shopping even at home – and it’s only MORE interesting down here! Products come from the U.S., the Netherlands, Brazil/South America – it’s a fun totally  experience. The grocery store was pretty insane, but selection was really good (Aruba can be very hit-and-miss in terms of available products, freshness, selection).

we always go to ling's for our first grocery shop due to the availability of american products

holiday hours, example #1, from today

I was back home by 10:30 a.m. and ready for some SUN!

Other years, at the Aruba airport, they have handed us red plastic bags filled with brochures, advertising and vouchers for various Aruba attractions. I always just use this bag for my beach bag. This year, the freebie bag has a new and improved style!

a reusable tote! this one will be coming home with me!

My other constant companion on this trip is this clutch purse that SIL Ana brought back from Finland for me:

a delightful "kiki pattern" and colour combo, plus it's the perfect size to hold my room card, camera, money...it's in my possession 24/7 this trip!

At the towel hut, I found my favourite lady:

elva is a complete dear and one of my favourite resort employees

With this view in front of me…

waterfall goes into the swimming pool and that's our timeshare, in the rear

…I set up camp for some tanning time:

tanning as competetive sport: monday skin tone

[Sidenote: I loathe and detest sunglasses and refuse to wear them. I finally learned from past experience and didn’t even pack a pair with me. Hence, a lot of squinting!]

Now, let’s talk about BINGO!

I never gamble, ever. Except in Aruba. I must, and I DO play BINGO every day because I love and adore the game of BINGO. Don’t play it at home, but it is an integral part of my daily joys in Aruba.

I really can’t complain about my luck over the years. I’ve won a few times. My fingers are crossed that I will win at least once this week!

The best reunion of today was with my Aruba Moms:

ginger, elaine and marian

These three ladies, all from New York, are my dearest friends here. We met playing BINGO the very first year we stayed at our resort – heck, I think it was day two that first year – and I’ve played BINGO with them at every opportunity since.

new BINGO cards since i was last here!

I play three cards every game. The way we play here: it’s $1 per card per game for the first four rounds; final round is $2 per card. So I spend $18 per day gambling playing BINGO. This is my entertainment, here; I’d much rather spend $18 on BINGO than drink it away, lose it at blackjack or slots, or dine at a fancy restaurant. Plus, BINGO is my mind-exercise of the day! 🙂

ginger won the very first game! hooray! if i can't win, i love when my moms win!

The second game today was a new one for me: the picnic table

straight line across the top, then an "X" - just a demo for you, wish i HAD won!

The winning pots today varied from $85-$88 for the first four games; the final game was $190! I was close today, a few times, but no cigar.

Another reunion with more BINGO friends!

these three couples have been coming here for eons!

Today, I also met our friends Paul and Mary from Toronto, and their friend Lisa. And visited more throughout the day with Karen and Rick.

We met Tony and Marie (also from NYC) within an hour of arrival our very first year here; they’re the type of people that if I ever needed anything, I would feel comfortable seeking them out!

two of the sweetest people on the face of this earth!

Sharon and George! Fellow Canadians! They live just an hour west of us in London, Ontario!

hello, they say!

Today I also saw and spoke with many, many more people whom I had forgotten about until I saw them. I feel so at home!

evelina and lourdes: friends at the front desk (i asked about cathy, another fave staffer...she has married, had a child and moved to boston since last we were here!)

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In unrelated news, Beardie Man has a name!

Zo had proposed Laird. I really liked this suggestion, and was 99% convinced to call him this name. Then, my bestie Gina emailed me today to say that her hubby, Jeff, had thought of the name Leif for Beardie. THAT IS IT!!! Perfect-o!!

So, many thanks to Zo for getting us on the right track, and to Jeff for conjuring up Leif. Leif and Meg – love it!

*#*#*#*#*

I just went out for a walk we call The Loop – basically, a tour of the High Rise section of resorts. Footwear of choice:

it's heaven to have vibram-appropriate weather + temperature!

The plan for tonight: shopping!!! A mall opened up across the street just 3-4 years ago and it has a ton of stores, restaurants, a movie theatre; I am going to go poke about. Gotta love when it’s 7 p.m. and still tshirt temp.

[Sidenote: Blogging serves two purposes for me: to share with family and friends, and to record experiences for my own future reference. Some items may be more of general interest than other topics; read as you wish, or skip along if you want to!]

Aruba Report: Good Karma

Despite the rocky start to the day yesterday, things improved dramatically.

The plane ended up leaving only 1 hour 15 minutes late – not at all bad considering the horrid snow conditions in Toronto. And a surprise was on me! Given the way the boarding gate was angled, I couldn’t see the plane; I thought it wasn’t even pulled up to the gate yet, and then all of a sudden we were called to board! What a pleasant situation! (Good thing I hadn’t wandered off!)

The flight was uneventful. I got 112 pages read of my novel. Can’t remember the last time I read for hours, uninterrupted. Loved it.

How’s this for the most excellent luck ever: back at the airport, I had overheard a young mom tell another passenger that she was heading to [my resort] to stay with her parents. On the plane, I noticed she was sitting right behind me. So I initiated conversation…and all of a sudden are eyes alit in mutual “A-Ha!s” – her parents, Ed and Marge, are friends of ours from our previous years at the timeshare, and we have met before when she’s visited them in the past, down here!

Amy was travelling solo (brave soul!) to meet Ed and Marge, along with her 19 month old daughter, Hannah. Amy offered that I could share her taxi to the resort. This weekend is Carnival in Aruba, so taxis are in high demand. But Marge had pre-booked a taxi for Amy, and Amy asked me if I would like to join her in the ride to the resort; by sharing, we could split the cost of the journey. Wow!! Can you believe the luck that Amy would be right behind me on the plane, and that I would chance out with her graciousness in sharing the taxi ride. Thank you, God, #2 moment of the day.

all aboard!

hannah and amy en route - child seats in aruba?? not so much...

We landed at 5:15 p.m. Aruba-time, and I was in my condo by 6:15 p.m. Gotta love a tiny island.

open lobby at my home for the next week!

I settled in…

please excuse the blood-shot eyes and tired traveller look - it was a long day! but i want a photo so that i can do a TAN COMPARE at the end of the week!

…and did a short walk-about to search for a Wifi Internet card (yea, sorry, but being connected while on vac-ay was stressing me out). I bought a 1 hour card for $5 after the front desk staff advised that I NOT purchase the unlimited Wifi time online because it would be unpredictable (although this is what we have done other years).

So I got my one hour card, got online hassle-free, and caught up on emails and blogs.

Good Karma: the Internet connection in the kitchen is faster than my internet at home!

After my one hour expired, I decided to try buying the unlimited seven day internet connection online, anyway. Biggest loss that could happen – I lose $35 in trying (hey, gambling is big in Aruba!).

But I had no issues! So far so good!

I have my computer set up just like I have it situated at home:

i'm so at home with this set-up!

Other years, we have moved our computer about the condo, spent time online in the lobby, poolside etc. But I am not going to mess with perfection…let’s leave well-enough alone, and keep the computer in its spot til I leave!

The day is off to a good start. Coffee!!

i amusing the MEASURING CUP for my mug, as the one provided is NOT BIG ENOUGH - hey, my substitute is ROUND and HAS A HANDLE - that's a MUG in my books!

Here’s the rough plan for today: beach, groceries, pool, beach, BINGO, beach, beach walking, shopping. Tough day at the office ahead.

I’ll be back tonight with Day One Recap!

Aruba Predictions!

Hola!

[Ok, Aruba is not really a Spanish-speaking country, but that greeting just sounds so vacation-y!]

As we speak, I am flying the friendly skies, and winging my way to Aruba! (I sure hope!)

(source)

[The next photo of Aruba will be a *real* one!]

One week of sun, heat, BINGO and shopping…I am ready!

Just as I did before my Florida vacation this summer, I thought it’d be fun to set some vacation goals (no, that is not an oxymoron, in my book!). Here’s how I envision spending my week in paradise. We’ll compare this preview with what really goes down upon my return home…

~ read two novels. I am taking THREE and hope to finish at least two of them

~find a couple of pieces of eclectic kitchen dishes for the collection I am slowly building (see item #4).

~stick with the 5 a.m. wake-up routine: Aruba is one hour ahead of us. So that means that Monday morning, I will feel like I am getting up at 4 a.m. On the good side, this coming weekend (technically Sunday March 13) the clocks go ahead one hour in Canada as Daylight Saving Time begins – but this time adjustment does NOT occur in Aruba. Long story short: I won’t need to switch my internal clock BACK at all when I return home!

~finish A’s sweater. Haha! The likelihood of this ambitiousness happening is as likely as it raining every day in Aruba. But I’ll toss the goal out there, and we’ll see how much progress I can make. (The back of the sweater is done).

~blog every day in order to continue my streak (see #1 of the list). I’ve thought a lot about how to accomplish this goal. On the one hand, I want to share the vacation highlights as I experience them, much like I did on my Florida trip. On the other hand, it’s a vacation. I can spend time in front of the computer at home. So I may just post a photo or an anecdote each day, and borrow Janetha‘s strategy – J recently travelled to Mexico and blogged a few trip recap posts the week after she returned home. I shall go with my vibe. [Sidenote: I am not computer savvy in the least. In prior years, B has handled getting us the internet connection for the trip. I think I know what to do, but if there are any glitches, I am in trouble! So I am mentally preparing myself for the “worst” – no personal Internet access, and I’ll just pop over to the internet cafe every eve to check email. And I keep repeating: I can read blogs, spend time on the computer back at home! Enjoy the sun, heat and ambiance of the vacation!]

~buy one pair of flipflops. I have a well-documented weakness for footwear.

~return home with muscles like this guy:

(source)

My body loves heat, humidity, sunshine, warm salt water and whirlpool baths. Thanks to all of these indulgences, I always experience an enhanced state of relaxation in Aruba. If I throw in a yoga class or two, I’ll be a complete wet noodle when I debark next weekend, back in Toronto.

And that’s enough goal setting for one vacation, I do believe! It’ll be fun to see where I am guessing correctly, and where I am completely offbase. I am confident that the primary mission – to have fun and to relax – will be accomplished!

*#*#*#*#*

Update:

Naked Nails!

Despite my hopeful intentions, I squeezed in a visit to the nail salon yesterday to get my fake nails removed. As much as I wanted to sport the bright nails down south, I couldn’t take them anymore! The long length, the fading colour at the tips, the regrowth…I couldn’t imagine going another week + with them in that less-than-lovely state. So now I can type again – except I can’t! I think I got used to my revised tapping-typing method, and now I’m no better off than with the claws! Plus, it’s too quiet!

Maybe a fun, indulgent treat would be orange polish and sunset nail art while in Aruba!

*#*#*#*#*

Update #2!

Hello from the Toronto airport!

Just waiting at my gate – thank you for free Wifi, airport! The Brother provided me with a pass to the Air Canada Lounge…silly me forgot to find out exactly where it is, so I am just hanging at my gate!

I am giving thanks to God, too, for getting us to the airport safely this morning.

This was the scene when we left the Condo Casa at 6:45 a.m. this morning:

not exactly what a traveller desires to see when the airport is an hour's drive away on a good day...

Let me just say: the drive to the airport was the most harrowing and tense of my entire life, kid you not. Thanks be to B’s superior driving skills, the Tundra truck, and to God for keeping us safe!

...and this is a photo of the "good" part of the road...

We saw countless accidents, cars in ditches; a van spun out about 100 m right in front of us.

After checking in, I bought this:

an alcoholic beverage might have been more beneficial to calm my nerves!!

So far, flight is delayed 30 minutes…no surprise with that! Catch you from Aruba!

A Streetcar Named ADVENTURE

Tonight I embarked on an expedition. OK, nothing as exotic as a balloon ride across the Sahara or anything, but it was still a nice deviation from the same-old same-old Wednesday eve chez The Brother and SIL Ana.

I decided it was high time to pay a visit to downtown Toronto. When The Brother and SIL Ana lived closer to downtown, I used to bop over to Queen/Spadina pretty much weekly. I love downtown Toronto – just the general hubbub, the diversity in people, the shopping…when I was little, my dream was to live in a skyscraper condo right in the heart of the city. So while that childhood fantasy has not played out, I still get excited by time spent in the concrete jungle.

Even though I have my Rav4 down here, it was a no-brainer to just hop the streetcar at the end of the street. Three bucks each way as opposed to about $20 to park, plus no traffic hassles. I never ride transit at home, so the streetcar is a bit of a foreign mode of transport to me! I’ve only ridden it once before, two years ago with The Brother, when we did some Christmas shopping. So I consulted Chris and Ana and refreshed myself on proper streetcar etiquette and procedure, reviewed the streetcar number I needed, and got my change organized. Ready to go!

only a mini-excursion, but still worthy of a self-portrait!

Only had to wait less than five minutes, and my limo my chariot arrived!

all aboard!

I was going against the major flow of traffic, so the ride passed uneventfully. I amused myself with people watching, and listened carefully for my stop! I got off just by the old CityTV grounds…

ctv may have taken over, but to me it will always be citytv...and home of muchmusic!

…then i headed south to king street.

a view like this is why i love toronto!

hugely windy today - esp with the wind gusting and swirling around the tall buildings

I DID have a destination in mind for today: MEC. Specifically, I was on the hunt for new VERY WARM winter tights. I have a pair from MEC that are at least three winters old, and are looking their age (think fuzzballs on the knees, saggy butt – yes the tights, not me!).

here we are!

I dillydally-ed around and found six pairs of tights to try. (Sadly, they no longer carry what I currently own).

bad angle...but YOU try taking a photo of six tights in a two foot square box!!

Two pairs made the cut, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied…the pair I liked the best cost $97 – more than I had hoped to spend.

Then I had this brainwave!

glamorous? no. right price? yes. versatile? yes.

Score! I can layer these with other pants I already own for really cold days.

the goods

For whatever reason, I had just assumed that the Co-Op would be open until 9 p.m. My bad. About 6:45 p.m. I heard, “Good evening, shoppers…” and suddenly I had fifteen minutes til close! I felt really guilty! As someone who works in retail, I try to avoid being in a store anywhere within 30 minutes of closing…I know all too well what it’s like when you’re trying to wrap up for the evening, and customers are dithering over socks! I rushed to the checkout, got my longjohns and scooted out.

made it out in the nick o' time!

I returned to Queen Street where a few stores were open; unfortunately, destination #2 of the eve was closed…

maybe a good thing for my wallet, though!

A bit more streetwalking browsing, then I caught the trolley back home. All in all, a very successful outing. I got to return to my natural habitat re-explore downtown, re-inforce my streetcar knowledge, and prep for winter (blech!), all in one shot.

Final stop: came home and scrubbed my hands with hot soap and water – the streetcar will do that to you!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Also! I added an “ABOUT” page, finally! Check it out for a brief story!

Mon amie, Lisa!

I’d like you to meet my dear friend Lisa:

lisa is as friendly in person as she looks via camera!

Would you believe that Lisa and I first met (and thus began our friendship) in a job interview setting?! It’s true! Go wayyy back to the summer of 1993. I was a co-op university student, then, interviewing for a student teacher placement for September, and Lisa interviewed me for the job at her school. You know how you just *click* with some people? Such was the case for Lisa and me. As Lisa tells it, she knew that we students all had the same academic qualifications. So if she was going to spend four months mentoring someone, she would choose the person she would want as a friend and colleague! 🙂

Lisa and I did pass four delightful months together, from September to Christmas Holidays, teaching Grade 9 French. I learned so much about teaching and classroom management from Lisa, but best of all was the solid friendship we developed. We fondly reminisce to this day about some of the cute kids we taught…and about some of the…more delinquent types (no lie).

Lisa and I get together every summer (although we missed last summer, somehow) and we never skip a beat in diving right in to happy chatter and frequent laughs. Lisa is full of energy and vitality; she tells a good story, and is genuine and caring. She also is an ace at mimicking accents! Lisa and her husband have three children, and she continues to teach high school French. We still share similar interests: shopping, sunbathing (we both now use SPF!), travelling, family time…it’s thanks to Lisa that I keep up on current teaching trends and curriculum guidelines nowadays. I always say the only way you’d get me back in a classroom is if Lisa was my co-teacher and we could recreate those classroom days of 1993.

So this morning’s visit at my place passed all too quickly. I’m going to make a priority item out of setting a coffee date with Lisa for this fall. Get-togethers with good friends are just good for the soul!

cheers!

**************

Pop back to yesterday’s post now…did you guess where I will be headed in March 2011?! Yup, ARUBA, baby! Unfortunately, B will not be able to get away from school at that time, but I can’t pass up the opportunity for another travelling adventure!

So Much For That

How precise are your Wheel of Fortune skills?! If you pieced together the clue in yesterday’s post that W __ __ __ __    F __ __ __ __ stood for Whole Foods – you win! (a kiss is all I can afford after my trip, sorry!)

I awoke to beeeauuutiful sunshine this morning, and decided YES! I am going to head down to Oakville for the day. I had three stops in mind: walk around downtown Oakville and the waterfront; enjoy lunch at Whole Foods, and leave with a bunch of goodies; check out Oakville Place mall. And, of course, come home and tell you all about it.

Well. The traffic gods thought otherwise:

10 minutes from home, not even at the 401, i met up with this scene...

...which only led to this long-range forecast...

...which only made me feel like this...

I finally got to the 401 and saw this gnarly sight:

so not only was my exit backed up, but the 401 was, too...

 I tried to deduce what was causing the problem: accident? (no flashing lights in sight); construction? (I had already passed the zone); Elvis sighting? (at this point, anything was possible). Then, a clue:

how banal

 Finally, the mystery is solved:

yup - ONE lane closed and look at the havoc created...

 At this point, I had been in the car almost an hour, and had gone what usually takes 12 minutes (literally). I decided I just didn’t feel like continuing on with another hour’s drive when I really didn’t have to. So I got off at the first exit and came home. Too bad – I had really done my homework and prepped my directions:

this system served me well in florida! google-maps translated to kikispeak!

But I wasn’t about to let THIS slight setback deter me from having a GREAT day! No sirr-ee, Bob!

you can't get grumpy on a day like this!

I quickly formulated an alternate plot:

~exploration of downtown Oakville? Easily replaced by tour around my nearby Old Westmount neighbourhood.

~Whole Foods lunch? Zip-pow! I’d pull together my own knock-out meal!

~shopping? Hello! I LIVE in a delightful shopping zone!

So with the sun in the sky and a spring in my step, I set out on my walking tour.

“Old Westmount is a wonderful area in Kitchener featuring beautiful older homes, gas lamp street lights, mature landscaping and the exclusive Westmount golf course. Old Westmount is within minutes from the quaint Belmont Village stores offering shoppers a variety of unique shops.” (source)

I started off through a section that is compromised of modest homes, but where pride of ownership is evident on most properties:

a gracious setting

 The insurance company grounds are always immaculately cared for!

i'd eat lunch by the fountain if i worked here!

Some homes have been torn down and replaced over the last few years:

BFF debbie and i have gushed over this remake for a few years, now

…and the infill projects continue! I saw at least 5-6 completely gutted sites today. One example:

what will the final design be?!

In one way, it’s unfortunate to lose the original home; however, I would rather see a new home built on an existing lot than in a new suburb out in the boonies (that’s a rant/tangent for another day!).

Passed by some old favourites:

the "white house" of westmount??!

…and the Westmount Golf & Country Club:

"membership has its priviledges"

I headed onto the posh-est street in the entire ‘hood…

these owners always put up a several-stories-tall xmas tree in this window; debbie and i make a point of viewing it (from the outside!) every year

their view out the front door? the aforementioned golf course - not bad, eh.

when built, this modern home must have made an extreme statement; full windows on the other side face the golf course

IMMEDIATELY after I snapped this photo, I had the answer as to why I didn’t make it to Oakville today…

A young  gentleman, working with a lawn care service adjacent to the home, above, approached me. “Excuse me, but you look really familiar,” he said. He did, too, but I had no idea from where… Just as he was about to say his name, *SNAP!* I recognized him as a former student. I think we both said “Josh!” simultaneously.

Well. We chatted a full 20 minutes. The real kicker? In my three years of teaching, I would have to say that Josh was one of the most challenging students I ever taught – top three, for sure. Diagnosed with ADHD, son to a single mom, not interested in school in the least…he presented me with behavioural issues pretty much every day. But today? It was genuinely heart-warming to catch up with him. Now 29, he has a 7 year old daughter, and has worked for the lawn care service for 10 years. He left high school after Grade 9 (the year I taught him), and Josh told me he got into drugs (sadly, no surprise) but the birth of his daughter was the kick-in-the-butt he needed to turn his life around. He shared a lot of his life since high school with me today, actually. One comment: “the only class I did well in was Grade 9 French.” (um, that would be my class…) That’s how he remembers it???! Well. I hope the shock I was feeling did not register in my face! This chance encounter also made me recall my short teaching career – looking back, I really feel for kids for whom desklearning is just not their style; I also feel for the newbie teacher/me who was trying desperately to impart French verb conjugations to active learners. So nice that both the former student and teacher have matured and moved on!

I share this rather long saga just to say that I am really touched that Josh made the effort to chat, has turned his life around, has set goals for the future, and spoke so warmly. It really made my day. I set off again with a lightness of heart!

Now back to the tour!…

My return trip took me past stately homes…

the architecture! the windows! the lawn!

…and quaint cottage-type abodes as I headed into Belmont Village:

so cute! like a life-sized dollhouse!

I feel like I really did stop and smell the flowers on my walk today.

one of many delightful displays I passed!

Next, I scooted around to pull together my Whole Foods Replacement Lunch. I stopped here:

as close to the whole foods concept as we can get, locally

…here:

organic health food store

here:

...offering vegetarian and vegan lunches and treats...

look at the choices! Dad!!! - - - tarts!!! 🙂

(If you’re local, I highly recommend you check out Seven Shores – support the independent!)

And finally I stopped here:

a daily occurence

I was super-excited when my lunch was ready!

yum!!

So while I missed out on the Whole Foods hot and cold buffets, I instead delighted in: salad greenery topped with pan-seared tofu, cherry tomatoes, Nutritional Yeast, Chia seeds, Flax seeds, and salad dressing; half a sweet and fresh honeydew melon; a vegan chocolate chip cookie. No. Disappointment. Whatsoever.

I next spent a delightful hour up on our rooftop patio:

the view

my spot

latest knitting project: this is a doozy of a lace challenge!

"life is good" 🙂

And here’s your daily chuckle:

it's, like 30 degrees out! and you're trying to tempt with hot beef?!! good luck with that!!!!

Now could I please have about 10 more hours in my day?! Options for tonight include: A) Chapters; B) play with the blog some more; C) knit and watch another Mad Men episode on PVR; D) download new iTunes…all are F.U.N.!!!

Hope you had a wonderful day, too! I saw a great decal on the window of a Tacoma pickup yesterday: “NO BAD DAYS” – what a motto to remember! And today certainly was a GOOD DAY.

Final Florida Post!

As promised, this will be the last Florida Vacation-related entry. I know, I’m sad, too. 😦 The good news? I am already thinking ahead to possible travels, solo and with B, for the rest of 2010 and into 2011 – will update as warranted!

Geeky, I realize, but I saved every single receipt from my Florida trip. I wanted to be able to complete a comprehensive cost analysis once home again (see, I’m putting my university accounting course and economics course to good use after all!). In lieu of sharing specific numbers (TMI, non?), let’s look at percentages instead:

FLIGHT – 17% of total cost (It was non-negotiable for me that I wanted to fly direct, fly out of Pearson, fly to Tampa, and fly on Sundays. I didn’t get “a deal,” per se, but I was fine with my ticket price).

CAR RENTAL – 13% of total cost (I’m realizing I got a really great deal. I went with Thrifty and I was 100% pleased with the unlimited mileage factor, the customer service, my Black Stealth Machine, and the check-in and check-out procedures).

HOTELS – 44% (This is the biggest share of the money pie by far. As previously detailed, I was not prepared to scrimp on accomodation. Should I have wanted to trim my budget, this is the obvious place to start).

FOOD AND GROCERIES – 12% (This total came in at less than I would have predicted. I chalk it up to not consuming very many restaurant meals, relying on grocery store choices, and not purchasing any pop/coffee/drinks. I guarantee that if I was still drinking Diet Coke, I would have spent about $10 per day just indulging my habit. The food total could have been lower if I had bought less fresh fruit and vegetables, too. And I thank the free breakfast buffets for supplementing my morning meals!).

GAS – 3% (I HAVE to share my total gas bill as it really knocked my socks off. Pre-trip, I would have guessed it would end up totalling a lot more. Keep in mind I drove from Tampa down to Naples – a distance of about 170 miles – and back; I got lost from time to time :); I didn’t try to curtail driving at all – if I wanted to go somewhere, I went. Including the final fill-up so that the rental car was returned with a full gas tank, I spent…$83.01 in US funds or $89.06 CAN. I could tell by the end of the trip I’d be under $100.00, but I am massively impressed).

ENTERTAINMENT – 0% (Yup, I’m a cheap date. I spent $5.48 on my bike rental at Sanibel Island, and $10.50 to see the Joan Rivers movie. That’s it. Helps to not be a fan of museums, historic sites and such. I wasn’t trying to be a cheapskate, either – had I really wanted to see the Dali Museum in St Petersburg, for example, I would have (must save something for next time, you know!) Can’t beat the enjoyment of self-guided walking tours, though!).

GIFTS AND PURCHASES – 10% (Full disclosure – the majority of these receipts are clothes purchases…for me…*le sigh*).

MISCELLANEOUS – 1% (Basically tolls, laundry – which I only did once, can you believe it! Maybe I could be a hiker-camper yet! – and parking. Could have been less had I been more adept at figuring out the various parking meters before they ate my money!).

Et c’est tout! Since this was my first self-financed, solo vacation, I have no other data with which to make comparisons, so this trip will be the trip against which all others are judged. For two weeks of fun, personal-growth, and time away from home, it was worth every penny. I AM happy that the exchange rate was not super-bad like a few years back when we were in Aruba – at that time, I had to take the US price and add on about 50% to get an idea of what the cost in Canadian money would be. So the better exchange rate now worked in my favour. Lastly, I came home with way more cash than I would have anticipated, too. I racked up those PC Points on the Mastercard quite well!

Check it out: I did a little baking today, too – see my Recipes page for the recap :() !!

Tomorrow: weather permitting, and should I so desire, I am off on a bit of a road trip – some place I really hoped to get to this summer for a day. A clue a la Wheel of Fortune: if I go, my #1 stop is at…

W __ __ __ __   F __ __ __ __!!!