Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Vacation, all I ever wanted

I had a week’s vacation to use before Christmas, and Jean always has a backlog. We found a week in October that worked for us and our catsitter, but then the question was, where do we go? Having done Ireland in June, this wasn’t going to be a big Europe trip.

We first considered going to the Lake Erie region, but even with mellowing out the vacation by limiting it to six days, that seemed too long to spend there. And there wasn’t anything obvious nearby to combine it with. (I’m sure Detroit is interesting, but…)

Jean then thought of the Gananoque / 1000 Islands region, which we’d never been to. Some Googling suggested we’d find things to do there. Then we figured we’d combine that with a return visit to Prince Edward County.

Gananoque / 1000 Islands

(Aside: The Google Maps pronunciation of Gananoque is hilarious and had us giggling all trip.)

Gananoque is a pretty, compact town on the water. It was great to be able to walk everywhere we wanted to go after parking at the Inn. And we loved the Inn—Absolute One Thousand Island Suites—because we had so much space! Apart from the expected bedroom and bathroom, there was a living room area and a full kitchen.

We wasted no time in making ourselves at home

The little downtown had some interesting shops, including a great art gallery and a delicious bakery where we provisioned ourselves for breakfast and had lunch one day. This is not a wine region, but we did visit Gananoque brewery, where their tasting flight was… far more beer than we were expecting to drink. (Good thing we were walking everywhere.) We’re not big beer people, but theirs was pretty good. I tasted four and finished my two favourites; Jean did similarly. That was enough for the cheap drunks that we are.

The major tourist activity in these parts is the 1000 Island Boat Cruise; they offer several daily. We went for the 2.5 tour on the Monday, at 4:00 pm. That gave us plenty of time to visit the 1000 Islands History Museum in advance, and it was rather better than we were expecting! It included an interesting film on Boldt Castle, the highlight of our upcoming boat tour. We’d hoped to also visit the Boat Museum, but it was closed for the season (which didn’t stop the cruise from promoting it).

Boldt Castle was built by George Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria in New York, for his wife. Unfortunately, she passed away before it could be quite completed, and Mr. Boldt never returned. After being left to the elements for 73 years, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took it over and restored it as a tourist attraction. With the five-hour cruise (and a passport—it’s on the American side), you can visit the Castle grounds. We just stayed on the boat and circled them.

Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle
And another view
Up the Creek!
And a view of Gananoque

By Tuesday we were ready to get in the car again to visit the parks, though they really weren’t far away. First stop was the 1000 Islands Tower. We were blessed with a perfect day for views, weather-wise.

The View from Hill Island's Observation Tower
Fall colours of Ontario
The View from Hill Island's Observation Tower
A closer look at the 1000 Islands Bridge
The View from Hill Island's Observation Tower
A few of the 1000 islands (there are actually 1864)

We then did some hiking. We discovered that Thousands Islands Park has different locations, and the first we walked in… Wasn’t super interesting. But the Landon Bay trails were quite nice.

More interesting section of the less interesting park
Hiking amid the Fall Colours!
Landon Bay hike

We had lunch in the tiny town of Rockport that day. Cute place, food was OK, but so small we were quite glad we weren’t staying there. (It also offers cruises.)

We weren’t sure how the food would be in this area, but we did well. The first night we ate at Sun Sushi, and that was some of the best sushi we’ve had in a while. Don’t know that I’d ever had scallop sushi before… And I have had yellowfin, but this was really good yellowfin!

Sun Sushi
Sun Sushi offerings

The second night was very delicious Italian food at Riva. Jean has declared this his favourite meal of the trip.

Riva Restaurant
Beautiful sky over Riva restaurant

Our last dinner, at a pub, was a less inspiring environment, but it was good duck confit. It had the advantage of being near the playhouse, as we had acquired tickets to see New Canadian Curling Club, a comedy about a group of immigrants to Canada who decide to learn curling. Only the replacement instructor (after the original gets injured) isn’t so sure he likes how immigrants are changing his town… Despite the somewhat heavy subject, it was a pretty fun play.

Prince Edward County

Much as we’d enjoyed Gananoque / Thousand Islands, we felt we’d hit the highlights and so headed off to Prince Edward not too late on Wednesday. We were thinking of trying to do more hiking, fewer wineries this time out. Nonetheless, we arrived too early to check into our Inn, so we then went to… a winery. Wapoos. It has a full restaurant, and it was time for the lunch. (That was the excuse.)

The precurssor to wine :)
It was harvest time in Prince Edward County

Wapoos has beautiful grounds and decent food, so we tend to enjoy visiting there, and this time was no exception. We also did a wine tasting and found a few bottles we liked, including a delicious 2015 Frontenac Reserve.

We found out that they also owned the cider store across the street, so we went and tried some of that, too. We liked the cider combined with honey, as well as elderberry, along with the sparkling. So we also got some of that. Then we visited the Fifth Town Cheese Company and got a few of their wares.

Upon return to the Waring House Inn, we found that our room was way small (though I’m sure larger ones are available). Bit of a downer after the Gananoque one.

We didn’t accomplish much else this day; just walked around Picton some, and ended up with dinner at Warans. They do interesting take-offs on sushi, like pork-belly “sushi” which looks like sushi, but is actually cooked pork with hot rice. A bit startling to bite into, but it was good!

Tuesday we made up for our lower-activity day. We started with a hike in Macaulay Mountain Conservation area. Rather low on information—no trail maps, for example—but with a bit of help from Google and the fact that the trails were marked, we managed to get around. Really nice place for a hike, actually, though we didn’t get great views (and therefore no great pictures).

After that it was back to Picton for a crepe lunch (the French crepe was délicieux) and off to Milford to visit three wineries. Exultet we had visited before; we still quite liked their products, though Jean had forgotten how pricey they were. I had not, but we still bought some. Then to Long Dog, where we had a really nice chat with the woman doing the wine tasting. (Did I mention that at both places, we were the only ones there?) They do a sparkling Gamay, which we’d never had before. Quite liked that. We also got a bottle of their Pinot noir.

Finally, Lighthall Vineyards, where they make not only wine, but cheese, and you get to taste both. Their cheese is fabulous; we got as much of that as was reasonable for a perishable product. And some Pinot Gris (learning that the difference between it and Pinot Grigio is skin contact—Pinot Gris has it), Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

It was time to walk again. Gorgeous day. (We were so lucky; pretty much all gorgeous days.) We visited the Bird Observatory—too late for the owl banding, but what can you do. We did see a number of birds, an absolutely incredible number of frogs, and a snake! We also did a walk in another conservation area—possibly Little Bluff.

Carrot Top!
Not quite sure where this was taken, but certainly indicative of the weather

Dinner was in Bloomfield, at Bloomfield Public House. Very good service. We had the day’s special, smoked rabbit with blueberries, quinoa pilaf, and vegetables.

Friday we headed off to Wellington, which is very pretty. It’s also rather small, though, so once visited, we thought, how about a couple more wineries?

Living on the Lake
Pretty Wellington

Karlo Estates is always a nice one to visit. They pair all tastings with bar snacks, and they lovely room, with resident cats. The only problem with that was that I’d had news from the catsitter that one of the cats was hiding and not eating, a likely sign of illness, so they didn’t help take my mind off that fact. I really felt that one of the resident cats (they were all so friendly!) was just too thin.

Still, nice visit. We got a few bottles here, too. Then we visited Hinterland, which primarily makes sparkling wines. They were busy at the back and didn’t even notice we were there for a bit! But we did enjoy their products. We are sparkling fans.

We couldn’t afford to visit any more wineries, frankly, so we went to Sandbanks Provincial Park to walk the Dune trail. It’s all sandy, which does make it different from the others we did.

Coniferous Color!
Photo taken at Sandbanks Provincial Park

We just had a snack lunch this day (cheese! And cider!), so we were ready for the night’s supper, back in Wellington, at the Drake Devonshire. Nice place! We didn’t have reservations, so had to sit outside, but it was warm enough for that. This was likely our best dinner in Prince Edward County on this trip.

Drake Devonshire Inn and Restaurant
Outdoor dining in October
Drake Devonshire Inn and Restaurant
Jean’s lamb was a highlight

We took off fairly promptly after breakfast the next morning, the catsitter having reported not much change re: the not eating and the hiding. But basically within 10 minutes of us being home, the cat was out, then eating, and generally looking and acting all fine and dandy. Presumably she had been feeling ill, but whatever had been troubling her had clearly passed.


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The Who: Moving on! Live in Toronto

It was hard not to compare The Who show at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto with the Queen + Adam Lambert one, since that was only a few weeks ago. I wasn’t a Very Important Person at The Who show, which made it cheaper. So I didn’t get any merchandise. I considered a T-shirt, but they didn’t seem to carry any women’s styles. (I need a waist in my clothes, damn it!) I was in the 35th row on the floor, not the 13th, and there was no catwalk. The Who were playing each show with a symphony orchestra, and likely in part due to the expense of that, the staging and lights were really pretty simple for a big arena rock show. Not in the Queen style at all.

On their last tour, celebrating 50 years of the band, The Who presented a crowd-pleasing set list of greatest hits. In this one, they really challenged themselves. And the audience. That, too, was unlike Queen.

To take advantage of the orchestral accompaniment, The Who dove deeper into their catalog. They started with a sampler from Tommy: Overture, 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Pinball Wizard, and We’re Not Going to Take It. Given the popularity of that album, it might not seem such a risk, but a more casual fan will only know “Pinball Wizard” and the “See Me / Feel Me” chorus. They followed that sequence with the popular “Who Are You” and “Eminence Front”, but then: “Imagine a Man” from Who by Numbers! The first time the band has performed it live (though Roger Daltrey did tackle it in some solo shows). It was gorgeous, and I was thrilled to hear it.

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend with orchestra
Photo by Andrei Chlytchkov. Jean wasn’t at the show (I went with my sister) and none of my photos turned out.

The orchestra gets a break partway through way (union), and the songs performed by the rock band alone were all well-known (though “I Can See for Miles” isn’t that often performed live), but not always presented in the familiar way. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was an acoustic version, which was great. “Behind Blue Eyes” was new arrangement with strings (two musicians got leave to start back early), and it sounded amazing.

When the full orchestra returned, they got into a set from Quadrophenia, without the backing visuals used on the last two tours, which helped to focus on the creative musical arrangements. When they got to the only song that more casual Who fans would know, “Love Reign O’er Me”, Roger Daltrey was clearly struggling with his voice. (I wondered if the pot smoke had anything to do with it. I could definitely smell it, and Roger is seriously allergic to it. His voice had been great up til then.) At one point he just stopped trying to sing the verse. He came back for another push at the chorus, to great cheers, but still couldn’t complete the whole thing. The final song was “Baba O’Riley”, and he mostly let the crowd sing it. Which we were all pleased to do. (And the final violin solo was great.)

There’s a risk to taking risks.

The Who have a new album coming out. Not mentioned yet is that they performed two songs from that, even though none of us would know those, of course. Another pretty gutsy move. By my watch, the show was 2 hours and 15 minutes.

And very much worth my time, vocal glitches and all. Pete Townshend did most of the talking, expressing how important Toronto has always been to the band, how much they love it and feel the love. “Also,” he said, “Canada is one of the only major countries that makes any sense these days. I got off the plane and thought, I should just stay.” And the crowd did seem appreciative. It skewed somewhat older than the Queen one (on average), and given the more mellow nature of the set list, they did more sitting–even those in the floor area. This was just as well for me, as there was a virtual giant two rows ahead of me, and whenever he stood up I had to do a jiggling dance from one side to the other to try to see around his head.

The Who now wisely avoid declaring any particular tour their last, but one has to think there can’t be too many more. The musical arrangements and song choices on this one were so cool and different, I’d love a recording of it.

Admittedly, of a night when Roger did get through “Love Reign O’er Me”.

Set list

With Orchestra

  1. Overture
  2. 1921
  3. Amazing Journey
  4. Sparks
  5. Pinball Wizard
  6. We’re Not Gonna Take It
  7. Who Are You
  8. Eminence Front
  9. Imagine a Man
  10. Hero Ground Zero

Band Only

  1. Substitute
  2. I Can See for Miles
  3. The Seeker
  4. Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic)
  5. Behind Blue Eyes (with strings)

With Orchestra

  1. Guantanamo
  2. The Real Me
  3. I’m One
  4. The Punk and the Godfather
  5. 5:15
  6. Drowned
  7. The Rock
  8. Love Reign O’er Me
  9. Baba O’Riley


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Touring the province

Originally, our summer vacation was just going to be to Toronto, then Timmins, with one point in between (North Bay). A family canoe trip was planned for the start of the Timmins portion. I wasn’t too keen on that, so I was just going to hang with Dad during that time.

But then, the canoe trip started to get generally low on participants, to the point where it seemed a bit pointless. So Jean and I decided to add a few more points between Toronto and Timmins.

Toronto

Of course, the impetus for this portion was the Queen + Adam Lambert concert that I’ve already written about. The concert was on a Sunday night, but we went to Toronto on Saturday. We traveled by Greyhound (and just for added fun, took the Ion—Waterloo’s new light rail transit—to the Greyhound station). On the way, I grew nostalgic for the days when Greyhound could get you to downtown Toronto in about 90 minutes. Yes, the bus left a bit late, and yes, they’ve added stops, but the main reason it took about 3 hours to get there was traffic. Traffic, traffic, traffic.

So we arrived around 3:00, and we had a 5:00 dinner reservation (because we didn’t book far enough ahead to get a better time). So we high-tailed it to our hotel, the Beverley. There we experienced the world’s slowest elevator ride on the way to the smallest room I’ve ever stayed in, at least in Toronto. But, it was pretty conveniently located to everything we had to get to.

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‘Tranna

And the first of those places was Buca Yorkville, where we had our dinner reservation. It’s pricey, but they’ve never let us down, and with a small exception, they didn’t this time, either. The waiter was helpful at guiding through the menu and in picking a wine.

We started with some oysters and raw salmon, then for mains, I had the risotto and Jean the braised octopus, which was really amazing. My dessert was a hit, but Jean’s, a take-off on tiramisu, was the only misstep of the meal.

Appetizers at Buca
Starters
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Squid; tasted better than it looks
Dessert at Bucca
Less successful dessert

Sunday morning after breakfast we went to the AGO, where we decided to buy their new, cheaper annual pass, which will pay off as long as we go at least once more this year. We first went to Yayoi Kusama’s celebrated Infinity Mirror room where, we were surprised to discover, we were given a grand total of 60 seconds to look around and take photos. Good thing that’s not the only thing we had planned to see!

We also visited a special exhibit on women and photography (as subjects and photographers) and viewed some of the permanent collection of Canadian art.

We followed that with a bit of shopping, at places like Mountain Equipment Co-op, then went for another early dinner. This time it was at Taverna Mercato, an Italian place near the Scotiabank Centre. The food was pretty good, but boy, was it loud—packed to the rafters with a mix of Blue Jays and Queen fans.

Our return trip to Kitchener was by Via Rail. It got us there in less than 90 minutes. (Too bad there are only two Via trains per day.)

Tobermory

We stopped back at home for the car and more luggage (and lunch), then made our way to Tobermory. We hit quite the thunderstorm on the way in to town. It had eased by the time we got there, but it remained a rainy evening. So we skipped walking around and just had dinner—some rather good local fish at Leeside—and watched some TV at the hotel.

Manitoulin Island

We were booked on the early morning ferry, which was punctual, so fortunate that breakfast at Leeside was fast. It was a beautiful day, so once on the island we decided to drive to the Cup and Saucer trail and walk that.

Even at this relatively early time, it was quite a popular destination! We even took a side trail at one point just to ditch some people. But it is a nice walk, and gives you some decent elevations, at least by Ontario standards.

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View from the top of the Cup and Saucer
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Me in my stylin’ hiking clothes (including new hat from MEC)

We then drove to Little Current for some lunch and to check into our hotel. This was the nicest booking of our trip, at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. Along with a fast elevator and big rooms, they offered beautiful views and a pool that we actually used. We had breakfast at their restaurant, and that wasn’t bad, either. For dinner, we got into a popular little restaurant after a short wait at the bar, and both enjoyed local fish dinners, of trout (me) and white fish (Jean).

Sudbury

It was about a three hours drive from Little Current to Sudbury, where we stayed at the Day’s Inn right by Science North. (This was our fourth hotel in four days, and it was starting to get disorienting.) We had a good lunch at an Italian wine bar, Di Gusto, before taking a walk, then visiting Science North.

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A view of Science North on our walk
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One of the exhibits featured the Body World plastinated bodies
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They also had butterflies

For dinner, we got into the Tommy’s Not Here restaurant. It was quite good. I had one of their specialties, the lamb.

Timmins

We made it to Timmins on Thursday, and our visit was mostly about family. My sister Michelle also arrived this day, with her husband and one son joining the next day. (The other son was working at camp and couldn’t get away.) My other sister was also scheduled to arrive the next day, but her flight ended up cancelled due to mechanical difficulties! That was a bummer all around, especially for her.

The initial event drawing us to Timmins this long weekend were celebrations of my aunt’s 90th birthday. But my Dad thought he would take advantage of the family traveling there to also hold an inurnment ceremony for my Mom’s ashes. That took place on Saturday a morning, a simple ceremony at the cemetery.

Father Pat, Michelle, and Dad with the ashes

Dad then hosted a lunch at the house. He decided to have it catered, which obviously reduced the workload a great deal. The company, Radical Gardens, did a nice job. I think the extended family enjoyed the gathering.

Sarah-Simone, Neal, and Dad with the spread (I’m in the background, there…)

We had a couple more family events that weekend, these ones focused on my aunt Irene, who is a fantastic-looking 90 and still sharp mentally. My uncle Gilles hosted a pot luck / pizza party in his yard Saturday night. He had tarp up in case, but the weather was cooperative in any event. Then there was also slightly more formal afternoon affair on Sunday at the McIntyre Lion’s Den, also catered by Radical Gardens.

In between all that, Jean and I managed to visit with some of his family as well!

The drive back from Timmins seemed interminable, but basically went as well as can be expected on a holiday Monday. Now to figure out where we might go on another little driving trip in the Fall…


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Very Important People at the Queen show

I’ve already written about how the stress of fast-moving Queen + Adam Lambert tickets led me to invest (sure, let’s call it that) in VIP tickets this time around. It was mainly for the better seats, but Jean wondered what else was included.

Not sure, I responded. Some kind of separate entry. Maybe a keychain or something.

Unofficial poster of the Toronto show. Design @nicole42.

We received an email a few days before explaining where to go for the VIP entry. There was still a line-up there, but a shorter one. They checked our name off a list, gave us tickets (the old-fashioned paper kind), and handed us each a Queen-logoed bag with something in it.

The something turned out to be this purple silk boxing robe with the Queen crest front and back. What could be more perfectly Queen? It was ridiculous, but also fantastic. Who needs a T-shirt if you have this? (It also allowed me to avoid the huge, huge line-up to buy merchandise!)

[To be inserted later: A photo of me wearing the robe. I can’t get a good selfie of this, and Jean’s not around to take the photo right now.]

We made our way to our seats in a very roundabout way (though we were trying to follow the instructions). We ended up 13 rows from the stage. Pretty good seats in a stadium regardless, but at a Queen show, it’s even better than that, because they use a catwalk that goes right down into the floor section. When they were on that, we were very close to them.

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This happened right by our row…

Talking to some other fans, I realized that the popularity of this show wasn’t only due to the movie, but also to the fact that this was one of only two Canadian shows this time out—they didn’t play Ottawa, Calgary, or even Montreal… Just Toronto and Vancouver. So we had a few travelers joining the new Bohemian Rhapsody fans (who skewed the age a bit younger than at past QAL shows, though they’ve all been multi-generational).

Unlike the last iteration, this concert began fairly punctually, counted down by the last, untitled track from Made in Heaven, which people cheered throughout its 22 minutes. Then a bit of “Innuendo” (by which I mean the song, I’m not insinuating anything), and they took the stage. Now they were here. Now they were there.

There wasn’t a ton of chatter during this 2.5 hour concert. They mostly let the music do the talking. The Bohemian Rhapsody movie was mentioned only once, when Brian asked if anyone had seen it, but it absolutely informed the set list. Every song from the soundtrack was included. Even “Doing All Right” (the song Smile performs). Even “Ay-Oh”—led by Freddie, of course. (Hey, first time I do “Ay-oh” with Freddie in a crowd, I think.) And including honorary soundtrack song, “I’m in Love with My Car.” So we can all judge for ourselves whether it’s “strong enough”. (It is.)

These three are so comfortable with each other by now…

This was great, because it meant hearing a lot of the early tracks that aren’t as often performed, to which they added “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “Lap of the Gods”. To fit everything in, many of the songs were shortened and medley-ed, which also suited me fine.

He’s a Killer Queen (this picture was super popular on Twitter!)

There were changes from past shows. Adam again noted the obvious fact that he wasn’t Freddie, but fairly perfunctorily, and only after noting that he’s been Queen’s singer for 8 years now. He did not comment about trying to find somebody to love, now that he has fallen in love (and this time he knows it’s for real.) He did not run around slapping people’s hands during “Radio Ga Ga”. (Was that disappointing, given that I was closer? Nah. I still wasn’t within hand-slapping distance.) The tricycle was traded for a motorbike (for “Bicycle Races”). The sexy “Get Down, Make Love” was absent.

But the omissions were made up for by the additions, which were not all movie-inspired. Brian performed the wonderful “39” to images of the Apollo astronauts, in homage to the anniversary of the moon landing. They performed the truly obscure track, “Machines (or Back to Humans)” (from 1989’s The Game), probably because its lyrics seem so contemporary.

The very photogenic Brian May

And everything you wanted to be there still was.

Adam Lambert demonstrating that he’s one of the best singers alive throughout, but particularly on tracks like “Somebody to Love”, “Who Wants to Live Forever”, and “I Want It All”.

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If you could hear this, you’d be very impressed

Brian managing to not bore everyone during a guitar solo, and only partly because of the very cool space effects.

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Not sure this is during the guitar solo, but a cool picture regardless

Brian singing “Love of My Life”, accompanied by the crowd, who also provided the lighting. And Freddie joining in at the very end, which somehow continues to bring me to tears.

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The best use of a cell phone, per Brian. (And this isn’t even peak lighting.)

The trio on the catwalk, performing “Under Pressure” (and a few other tunes).

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Costume changes (and not only by Adam).

This photo was even more popular on Twitter! I captioned it: I’m glad the fringes are back. And I was. Lambert meets Daltrey.

All the biggest hits–Another One Bites the Dust (with Adam dance), Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions, We Will Rock You.

The magnificent laser show during “Who Wants to Live Forever”.

Confetti. We were drowning in it!

Pre-confetti. Post-confetti, it’s all you could see!

The crowd was fantastic, on its feet through the whole show (and not only in the floor section), and ably singing along. The next day on Instagram, Brian May said that Toronto was the loudest crowd so far! Both Brian and Adam made comments about putting phones down, and there were times I wish people had, as they do block the view. On the other hand, the wish is a bit hypocritical of me, as I have the luxury of being totally in the moment and not taking a single photo, secure in the knowledge that Jean was taking over a thousand of them (with a camera, and not a phone, but…).

Being so close, I had to remind myself to sometimes look at big screen to see what the projected effects were. Very cool, as always–like in “Radio Gaga”, the band was integrated into what looked like scenes from the past. But much more prominent overall was a theme of forward movement, and looking ahead. Queen, founded in 1970 (or so), is one of hottest bands of 2019. Who woulda thunk.

Toronto set list (courtesy @JamieBester)

More Jean photos (no, not a thousand–he picked out a few): https://www.jean-cathy.com/CathysPhotos/Queen-and-Adam-Lambert-2019/

And thanks to “Fiercealien” here, you can see video of the entire Toronto show, from seats on the opposite side and just a few rows closer than we were. (If you’re hooked, Firecelian also offers video of the New York, Vancouver, and Los Angeles shows. Expensive hobby!)

Playlist of videos of the entire Toronto show


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Ireland

We headed out for our one-week trip to Ireland without great expectations. We had done some research and put together an itinerary that seemed manageable in the limited time we had. We had a lot of friends who had been to Ireland repeatedly and gave recommendations. I had no reason to think we wouldn’t like it, too, but weren’t so much looking forward to anything in particular there as just the fact of getting away and being off work for a week.

(Photos by Jean unless otherwise indicated.)

Weather

We first checked the weather a week or two in advance, and it did not look good at all! Pretty much saying it would be raining daily—in fact, that we would be leaving each area just as it was clearing up, then going to another rainy one.

Well, no one goes to Ireland for the weather, I thought. Still…

But forecasts have a way of changing, and this one did. Apart from one partly rainy day in Galway, we basically had… A whole lot of sun. And the last day in Dublin actually started out warm enough that we didn’t need to cart around a jacket.

Maybe good weather isn’t essential for enjoying Ireland, but it never hurts!

Galway and Cliffs of Moher

We initially hoped to fly to Shannon and out of Dublin, but by the time we were booking, the direct flight from Toronto to Shannon was sold out. We could have flown through London to Shannon, but we weren’t crazy about having to connect through Heathrow. And in researching it, we found that flying direct to Dublin, we could then get a train to our first destination, Galway, likely faster than with the later arrival in Shannon, with transport to Galway.

So we found ourselves landing in Dublin, and after picking up a few things at the airport, taking a bus to the train station and heading to Galway. It had been recommended to us as a better first stop than our initial first idea, Ennis.

Galway was a nice way to start the trip. It’s pretty small, and our B&B was in easy walking distance to the main square and other points of interest, so our first couple days were pretty leisurely—well-suited to our jet-lagged brains.

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The streets of Galway

In a first for us (excluding family), we were traveling with another couple–Cassidy and Shannon. Or, as the Galway B&B owner insisted on calling her, Cassidy and Salmon. Why he had trouble with the most Irish name in our group is a mystery (let alone why he’d think anyone would be named salmon?), but thinking about that made me giggle the rest of the trip.

Our main Galway activity, on the second day, was a walking tour. That was quite good—gave the lively history of the city, and brought us to the main landmarks, a number of which we never would have found on our own, such the original city walls preserved and restored inside a mall. We were the only ones on that particular tour.

Other than that, and a visit to the free Galway Museum, we just ambled about city—the Sunday market near St. Nicholas’ church, the main square, a cool rock mural, a river walk.

The rock mural in Galway (photo by me)
On the river walk in Galway

In the evening, we attempted to go to a pub to listen to music, but that didn’t go very well. The first place was super crowded, and once the music started, we could barely hear it, partly from distance and partly because they were, strangely, playing other music through the speaker closest us. The second place we couldn’t get a seat at all (though did listen a bit from an adjacent room).

The next day, we noticed that our car rental time was mysteriously listed as 4:00 pm, when we wanted to leave in the morning, and that if we had wanted a ride we had to call 24 hours ahead. Oops. By calling, we were able to get an earlier rental arranged, but not the ride, so Jean and Cassidy took a taxi there. They exerted a lot of pressure on us to buy insurance from them (we’d bought some from home), but they resisted and we ended up with a car that the four of us and our luggage fit into. Just.

We then drove off to see the Cliffs of Moher. Pretty impressive looking, but boy, it’s windy! We spent a couple hours here, walking around and trying to see puffins, then headed off for the Dingle peninsula via ferry. (So that’s planes, trains, automobiles–and boats!)

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Not a postcard! Jean’s photo of the Cliffs of Moher
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It was some windy there!
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Hey, look, there were puffins! (Honestly, I couldn’t see them on the day.)

This is where we discovered Google Maps propensity for sending us down tiny little country roads in an effort to save 2 minutes (which of course never worked because you could not drive anywhere near the speed limit on such roads!).

Look at all the space to pass! (photo by Cassidy)

Jean heroically did all the driving, but we all tried to help with navigation and with reminding him to stay on the left side of the road.

Dingle peninsula

Our Dingle B&B offered bigger and more comfortable rooms than the Galway one. It was run by Camilla, who is quite the character. “I’ve given all the details to Cassidy,” she’d say, and Cassidy would later reveal that all she’d talked about was irrelevant to us. “I think today we’ll send you to Killarney,” she say, apparently assuming that she was in charge of our Dingle itinerary. (Admittedly, we often took her suggestions.) She also also regularly recommended multiple 1- to 2-hour hikes a day. (We did walk a lot on this trip, but not in those chunks of time.)

Her heart was definitely in the right place, though, and her breakfasts were delicious. The most notable item was the optional starter of porridge–cooked in Bailey’s Irish Cream. Yes, it’s very good! The B&B was about a 25-minute walk to downtown Dingle, bits of it on narrow roads and bridges with really no sidewalk. So that was a daily adventure.

Awaiting our boozy porridge (photo by Cassidy)

Dingle is a cute port town, fun to walk around in. And here we had better luck attempting to listen to live music: we got seats and we could easily see and hear the band, who were pretty good! It was interesting how they took some familiar melodies and sang different lyrics to it, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” being one of the songs that got this treatment.

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In “downtown” Dingle

The first full day’s main activity was driving the Dingle Peninsula, which was fantastic—it’s so beautiful!

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Also not a postcard, but a great photo of the gorgeous landscape

We didn’t fit in too many 1- to 2-hour hikes, but we did visit a couple historic beehive huts sites, held a baby lamb, hikde up around the Clogher Head pullout, and saw the remains of the Riasc monestary and the Gallarus Oratory.

The “near weightless” baby lamb (that had Shannon rethinking lamb on menus for the rest of the trip)
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With dogs and sheep among the ancient beehive huts
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Walking in the Dingle peninsula

We got back in enough time to have some Murphy’s ice cream and sign up for a boat tour to see Fungie the dolphin. That’s quite something! This is a dolphin that they think used to be in an aquarium, and so is somewhat used to people. He doesn’t travel much, staying in the Dingle waters. He employs a whole industry of people who thrill tourists by taking them out to see how close he gets to the boats, jumping up in their wake.

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Fungie!
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And again!

Day two we drove to Killarney, the only bit of the Ring of Kerry that we fit in. Google Maps again had fun sending us down funny little roads (and, at one point, what I think was a hiking path). And even in the park, the roads were quite narrow.

I learned that Ireland is the most deforested country in Europe, with Killarney showing the treed landscape it once had. (The rest of the Dingle peninsula looks like farms.)

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Killarney in Ireland

Our first stop in the park was Ladies View, which was a ways out and maybe not worth the drive, but it did have a really great gift shop and a good restaurant. We then stopped to see the Torc waterfall. We did a bit of a hike here, but it didn’t really bring us to spectacular views.

Torc waterfall
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Us blocking the view of the Torc Falls

Finally, we visited Ross Castle, where we got a tour. That was interesting. It explained what life would have been like in a tower castle, built for security and not comfort. (Hint: Not great.)

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Ross Castle

On our last Dingle day we drove through (and stopped at) Connors Pass, on our way to Tralee to return the car and take the train back to Dublin.

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Last day in Dingle
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At Connor’s Pass
Having a boo at Tralee’s only tourist attraction, this windmill (photo by Cassidy)

Dublin

We got to Dublin (for the second time) rather late, leaving time only for checking into our hotel and having dinner. Our hotel rooms were large by European standards, with king beds. And a reasonable distance to the main sites (with all the streets featuring sidewalks!).

It was funny how everyone had recommended we do the Hop On Hop Off bus in Dublin, so we had bought a two-day pass for that in advance. We did enjoy our first ride on it, featuring live commentary by the driver. But the thing is that nowadays every other bus has taped (multi-lingual) commentary, which is not nearly as good. Some drivers interject commentary between the taped, which helps, but… It wasn’t always practical to wait for the next live commentary bus, so I think they’ve diminished the experience.

A really common question I got about the trip, before and after, was whether we went to the Guinness Factory. Yes, we did. This was the only item that Cassidy requested we include in the trip—leaving the rest of the planning to us—so it was the least we could do. We bought advance tickets for 10 in the morning, because it’s cheaper and somewhat less busy then.

Beer for breakfast! At the factory at 10:00 AM, sharp

That is quite the operation! It’s not just a tour of how you make beer. It’s five ornate floors, each with its own focus: The history of company, the process of beer-making process, tasting rooms (you have to gulp not sip Guinness to avoid the bitterness), transportation considerations, Guinness advertising information. It’s like Disneyland for beer.

Complete with cartoon animals (photo by Shannon)

At the very top is the bar where you get the famous full glass of Guinness. Jean initially refused to, feeling he already had ample proof on this trip that he didn’t like their beer. But we later coerced him in getting a glass of the Guinness lager, rather then the traditional stout the rest of us drank, so we could try it. It’s quite nice, you know! Refreshing and limey, quite different from the stout. Wish it was more available here.

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Top of the morning to you!

Cassidy and Shannon during this time were trying to, long distance, close out on the sale of their house (!) after a great offer came in, so between that, all there is to see at the factory, and a rather good gift shop, we spent about 3 hours at Guinness!

With the time we had left that day, we visited National Gallery, which is free and fairly small, but had some nice pieces by Carvaggio, Picasso, and Monet. And then we walked around to see some sites, including the Temple Bar area.

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Dublin streetscape
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Christchurh Cathedral in Dublin

The next day we headed first to see the Books of Kells at Trinity College. Despite not having advance tickets, we were able to go right in. It was pretty crowded, which made it harder to linger over the exhibits. Definitely interesting exhibit on how this book survived as much as it has (so many fires, so many pillages!), demonstrating the value the Irish put on the written word. And good analysis of the work involved in the creating it.

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Book of Kells… replica (the real thing being rather more difficult to get photos of)

The tour then ended at the Old Library. It’s a “copyright library”, which means that it houses a copy of very book published in Ireland. Making it a very cool room packed with historical tomes—in which the crowd can spread out more. Some historical artifacts are displayed here as well.

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The gorgeous Old Library at Trinity College

We then visited the Oscar Wilde statue in the park (which is partly under construction—the park, not the statue), then the free Museum of Archeology, which Jean and I whizzed through. Cassidy and Shannon informed us that we thereby missed a whole section of the Viking exhibition. Oh well.

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Reclining Oscar Wilde

Next on the itinerary was visiting Kilmainham Jail, which the Galway guide had informed us we had to book in advance, so we had. That was a guided tour. It gave a lot of the history of the Irish struggle for independence and what happened to those who fought for it.

The ancient part of the jail was really horrible and dank, but the newer section was built on a different principle (Victorian), with the emphasis on the importance of light for rehabilitation. It’s a famous space that has been used in a number of movies. After the tour we spent some time in attached museum.

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You might have seen this in a movie

We thought a good follow-up to that would be a tour of a whiskey distillery. That was not Disneyland for whiskey, but an introduction to whiskey and its history, and a tour of a working plant, the first to open in Dublin in 125 years (there are now two more). I hadn’t realized that beer and whiskey more or less start the same, but then whiskey goes through a much different process.

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Vats at the Teeling Whiskey tour

At the tasting, Cassidy and Shannon concluded that they didn’t really like any type of whiskey. Whereas Jean and I did, but we had different favorites. I preferred the slightly sweet “single grain” type, and even bought a small bottle of that to bring home. (No idea when I’ll drink it…)

I liked the middle one; Jean the last one (photo by me)

Food

We weren’t really sure what to expect on this trip, food-wise. Unlike France and Italy, Ireland is not exactly known for its cuisine. (“What are you going to drink there?” asked my hair dresser, concerned for me that Ireland does’’t make its own wines. Turns out they can import that stuff.) But then, neither is Scotland, and we really enjoyed the food there.

Ireland was much the same. Especially if you like seafood, there is some very good eating to be had. (They also make some really nice ice cream and chocolate.)

In Galway, we got a bit of guidance from the Rick Steeves book. We ate a a perfectly decent seafood place the first night called McDonaghs, the highlights being the grilled mackerel and the fish chips, then ate a nice Michelin-starred seafood restaurant the next: The Seafood Bar at Kirwan’s. The “duck bon bon” I had there were not sweet, but they were delicious, and Jean appreciated that the seafood chowder included smoked fish. My delicious king scallops main came with blood pudding, which sounds gross, but was actually quite tasty (and was also accompanied by way more potatoes than a person could possibly eat). Jean enjoyed his cold seafood plate, with smoked mackerel being the highlight on it.

Leaving the Cliffs of Mohr on the way to Dingle, we just needed somewhere for lunch, but ended up at: A Michelin-starred restaurant! Given the time crunch, we all had fish and chips—but they were really good fish and chips.

Our first night in Dingle, we wanted a change from the seafood, so tried a jazz and pizza wine bar. They didn’t have any live jazz, as we had assumed (just a jazz soundtrack), but they have did have good pizza and an interesting selection of wines by the glass. Jean and I shared a duck confit and red pepper one–with the red pepper appearing only on my half.

But on the second night, we were back to Michelin-starred seafood restaurants with Out of the Blue. It’s a small place, so we had to eat outside, but it was nice day, so that worked. We shared a bottle of a nice Chardonnay from Limoux, and most of us started with smoked mackerel, then had cod with fennel and tomato relish. Jean deviated in starting with tomato and orange soup, followed by black sole. That was all excellent, but I think the highlight was the Ile flottante that Jean and I shared for dessert.

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Starters
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Mains
Dessert

It turned out that little Dingle had three Michelin-starred restaurants, and (with Camilla’s help) we managed to get into another one on our final night: The Global Village. It definitely had good food—a crab taster appetizer with crab prepared four ways, a duck and goose main, a lamb entree. But the service kind of went off the rails late in the meal, with a bizarrely long wait for dessert that they admitted was due to a problem getting the order in, but then followed by an almost equally long wait for the bill. (1 Michelin star = good food. 2 Michelin stars = good food and service. This was a 1-star.)

In Dublin we also had good meals, though Michelin didn’t recognize most of the places we ate at. We had two dinners at The Little Kitchen, which was near our hotel. The first night they happened to be hosting a large, loud graduation party, which really wasn’t ideal. The second night was much calmer. But the food was very good both times, especially the duck pate starter.

We didn’t take the hotel breakfast, and we ended up at a couple good breakfast places. The first one, Tang, took an interesting, Mediterranean twist on typical breakfast dishes. The second one, The Garden Room, was a beautiful restaurant in a fancy hotel. It was a somewhat pricey buffet, but very good—house made granola, nice croissant and other pastries, good cheese selection, that sort of thing.

At The Garden Room restaurant (photo by Cassidy)

The final meal of note in Dingle was at The Bank, a restaurant that was indeed in an old bank building, which was pretty cool. The food there was good but not great.

At The Bank restaurant (photo by me)

And yes, we did eat at some pubs, for lunches—including one with a Star Wars theme.

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Outside the Star Wars pub (they filmed some of that in Ireland)

Tips

  • Traveling as two couples in Ireland, we discovered that they won’t split restaurant bills there. Ever. It often says so right on the menu. But a few meals in, we also discovered that if you are willing to do the math yourself, they have no problems charging different amounts on different credit cards. So that’s how we managed it.
  • Though this didn’t end up being needed, we decided to pay just slightly more to get flexible train tickets that would allow us to take a later (or earlier) trains if we had to. We were a bit confused by the Dublin to Galway one, which had no times on it at all—just a three-day date range in which it could be used. Turns out you can just get on the train with that—no need to get it validated or anything. (They didn’t even take the ticket, so what stops you using it again, I’m not sure.)
  • Local SIM cards easy to get—I picked up mine at the airport. And they are easy to use–pop it in and works. The one I got was 20 Euros for 4 GB data.
  • Tipping really isn’t necessary in Irish restaurants. They always seemed surprised when we wanted to do that.


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52 candles

Not a particularly significant birthday this year, so I wasn’t thinking too much about it. However, some months ago, when looking to pick a date to go see Sting’s The Last Ship in Toronto, I figured why not pick my birthday weekend.

Then events got built around that. I took the Friday off (to do a whole lot of nothing special—but still better than a work day). And I noticed that the KW Comedy Festival was having their opening gala the Thursday night before, so I got tickets.

I don’t think it was as strong as last year. My favorite act of the first half was Arthur Simeon, originally from Uganda but now living in Toronto. In the second half it was Emily Galati, the only woman featured, along with the headliner, Sean Majunder. The rest of the comedians were a bunch of white guys. And to be fair, one of them, host Derek Seguin, provided the evening’s most hilarious bit, in his description of the challenges of man-scaping.

But overall, it was some absurdist comedy, which is not really my thing, and a lot of jokes about their kids, or about why they don’t have kids—maybe one of the few safe subjects for white guys to joke about these days? But not as effective, for me, as Simeon, Galati, and Majunder’s takes on politics, social media, racism, and sexism. Tricky time to be funny, I guess, but the event would have benefited from more diversity than it had.

Everywhere you go, always take the weather

When we booked our bus to Toronto, we discovered that the Greyhound schedule isn’t as good as it used to be. Not as many buses, and they all have more stops. (This is just annoying. It’s not as though the train service is any better on Saturdays.) There was one bus that would have gotten us there around 10:50, which would have been ideal, but it would have taken three hours. So we went with the one that scheduled to arrive around 11:30, because it was only supposed to take two hours.

I didn’t think the forecasted 2 cm of snow would really affect it, but I was wrong. For one, I think it was somewhat more snow than that. Regardless, it slowed down all the traffic. We clearly weren’t going to make our 12:15 lunch reservation, so I texted my sister about that, and suggested that she could order for us, and we’d aim to arrive by 1:00.

Off the bus, we had trouble finding a cab, so we called an Uber, and initially had trouble finding them, too, but we did connect. Only to find that they had the wrong Holiday Inn listed as the destination, which I needed to change in the app. Which was not as easy to do as one would hope. By the time I finally got it to work (Jean’s suggestion to turn off wifi was key), we were there!

Fortunately, hotel check-in went smoothly, and calling a second Uber to take us to lunch was drama-free. We ate the O&B Canteen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. A bit pricey for what you got ($19 for a burger?), but everything was very good.

I didn’t know a whole lot about The Last Ship other than that Sting wrote the music (it was not one of those musicals built around an artist’s famous songs), inspired by the ship building heritage of his home town. But it was really good! Strong cast, great singers, and a very moving story. In the first half, I was kind of with the capitalists (“Be realistic! The ship building industry is dying!”) and identifying with the characters who felt they just had to leave the town to secure their futures elsewhere. But by the end of the second half, I was totally with the workers.

We had an hour after the play before our dinner reservation, which gave us time to walk back to the hotel, and stay there briefly before walking to dinner at Buca Yorkville.

That was a fine meal. We started with three kinds of house-cured fish, which were small taste sensations. We added in a nice rosemary foccacia that was served with the most amazing olive oil. As a main, I had chestnut-stuffed ravioli with porcini, that was just fantastic, and a side of Swiss chard.

Buca Yorkville mmmmm!

Jean had the day’s special of uni spaghetti, also good, but not quite as good as the ravioli.

Uni Spagetti (Sea Urchin)

The wine with that was the waiter’s suggestion of an Italian Riesling, which did work well.

For dessert, Jean went with the waiter’s suggestion of the affogato using decaf espresso, and it really was delicious (they make their own ice cream). I also enjoyed the cranberry millefeuilles that I had.

Birthday Girl!

Apart from the candle on the dessert plate, as my birthday bonus I got a takeout of fresh pasta with little containers of olive oil and pepper and little containers of cheese. And instructions on how to cook this into a meal for two. This I did this past Thursday, and it was very nice.

The whole experience somewhat reminded of New York dining: Impeccable service, fantastic food, but no dawdling. One course arrived promptly after another, and we were done by 8:00. Probably because they needed the table for someone else.

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

After that rather packed Saturday, it was nice not to have anything planned ahead for Sunday, other than our bus back. We had breakfast at Cora, and decided it was better than the Cora we’d tried previously (forget where, but not the one in KW). We then decided to visit the ROM, as they were featuring this year’s winners of the Wildlife Photography contest. That exhibit was terrific, again. The work to get some of those shots!

We then visited the “Treasures of the Earth” exhibit, that I don’t recall having been to before. It featured some beautiful minerals, gems, meteorites, and rocks, and had a section on Canadian mining, in which my home town featured prominently.

Gold from Northern Ontario mines

Since Richmond Station is very difficult to get dinner reservations at, but recently started opening Sundays, we thought we’d try to just go there and see if we could get in for a late lunch. It worked! We got a table.

To start, with shared the duck liver pate—creamy and rich. Then I had the lamb forestiere cavatelli, while Jean had duck two ways. We had a half-glass of sparkling to start with that, then a glass of red each. We were left too full for dessert.

Duck Paté at Richmond Station!

All that was left was to gather our luggage back at the hotel, then get to the station. There was a bit of Uber drama here too, that I won’t get into. But we made it to the station in plenty of time, and that bus was not delayed.


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Advantages to spending Christmas in Timmins

Not everyone comes from an exciting home town, but home it is, and that’s where we typically head for Christmas. Of course, the biggest bonus is getting together with family, since we are now disbursed and rarely all in the same room. (“I really enjoy these leisurely McNair breakfasts, with conversation,” Jean commented, on about day 3. “Doesn’t really happen with my family.” Of course, other good things do happen with his family, I feel I should add!)

My brother and niece unwrapping gifts Christmas

Overall, it was a lovely Christmas, with most everyone up, no travel problems, delicious food, and no one with serious ill issues.

But I also realized there are other benefits to Christmas in Timmins.

Snow

Sometimes it’s only a little snow, sometimes it’s a ridiculous amount of snow, but there’s always snow in Timmins in December! If you live in some beautiful, sunny, and warm part of the world, not having snow at Christmas is not much of a tragedy, despite its traditional association with the season. But in southern Ontario, where we now live, no snow typically means gray, coo, dreary, drizzly weather. It’s just depressing. (And thanks to climate change, it’s what we can expect for one of two Christmases from now on.)

Me in a snowy landscape, full of natural Christmas trees

Taking care of (government) business

This one applies only to those living in Ontario, but… Are the lineups to take your driver’s test just too long in Toronto? Have you been putting off replacing your old red and white health card? If you said yes, then you’re probably related to me.

Having been discouraged by the Toronto crowds, on December 24, my nephew went to the Ministry of Transportation office in Timmins, and passed his driver’s test! Same day, his father went to Services Ontario and got himself a proper photo ID health card. In about five minutes.

Same province, fewer people, faster service!

Shopping!

Of course Southern Ontario has more stores, but is more always better? No running around to different LCBOs to get the wine you want; you just go to the only one there is and make do with what they have. And at the only men’s clothing store downtown, you might just discover, as Jean did, that custom-made shirts are much cheaper there, and that they’ll ship them to your house.

Grosbeaks

The blue jays, cardinals, and eagles we have around here are cool, but dig these red and yellow grosbeaks. (The pileated woodpecker also made an appearance.)

Wherever you were for Christmas, hope you made the best of it. In Timmins this year, that wasn’t hard.