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Walking to grow

Jean got involved in a MEDA project to raise funds for women entrepreneurs in Ghana. Specifically, the funds go to assist women farmers with training and loans so they can grow more soybeans and forge market links. This approach has been found to increase food security for the whole community.

The fund-raising approach was to walk the Bruce Trail, a craggy Ontario escarpment trail that runs from Niagara to Tobermory. Two women signed up to do the whole thing (900 km), over the month of July. A larger group joined for the last 100 km of it, over a week. And a larger group still signed up to walk one or two days on the final weekend. Jean and I were part of that group.

Honestly, when Jean first asked if I wanted to join him that weekend, I pictured me lounging about on the beach while he did the walking. But no, he said, I should walk with him. Oh, I said. Guess I can do that.

Hope Bay Beach

Beach that I didn’t get to lounge at

But, Jean seemed fairly worried about the walk, which was to be 20 km on Saturday, with Sunday off. I wondered if I should also be worried about it. 20 km did seem a bit long. Also, I’d walked bits of the Bruce Trail previously, and hadn’t enjoyed the rocky segments.

But, it was so refreshing to have him worry about things, when that’s usually my job, that I thought I’d leave it to him. The weather forecast for the weekend was great: Sunny, highs in the low 20s. So, no worries there.

When we first got to the cottages we were staying at, no members of the one-week team were there, but some did show up eventually. (Not everyone was staying at the same place.) We first talked to two ladies, both in their 60s, who discussed the challenges they’d faced. How much of it wasn’t so much trail walking as rock climbing. Having to wade through water. Dealing with the bugs (hello, DEET). The elevation. How much time these distances were taking them, because it’s not the same as doing that same distance on a nice path.

If that wasn’t enough to start getting me worried, this was the clincher: Despite their success with the previous distances, they had decided there was no way they could do the Saturday hike, which was supposed to be one of the most difficult. Instead, they were going to do two alternate, shorter segments of the Bruce Trail on Saturday and Sunday.

Huh.

We then met with a MEDA representative who had joined the group for a 17 km segment that he’d found more difficult than expected. Aerobically, fine, but very tired legs by that point. And he reported that a few other people were planning alternate routes for that weekend, and we could too.

Jean was rather disappointed at the thought of all his worrying going to waste. Blame me, I said. (I really am bad at clambering over rocks. Like, worse than the average person, I think.)

So on Sunday we found ourselves doing a 12 km segment of the Hope Bay trail, which the team had found to be one of the more pleasant parts of the Bruce. It has elevation, but not a lot of rocks, and offers some nice views.

Jean, |Cathy, and Hope Bay!

Hope Bay

That took us a good six hours, leading me to think that a more challenging 20-km stretch could easily have taken us twice that long.

And instead of our Sunday off, we did an 8-km stretch of the end part trail that we would have done on Saturday.

Some Hiking Some Climbing

This part featured some rock climbing, but fortunately, not much

It was also a pretty picturesque segment.

Little Cove Harbor

The whole effort raised nearly $100,000 for the women of Ghana. Thanks to everyone who contributed.


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The Royal Tour Part 3: Exploring Canadian history in Kingston

We’d been to Kingston before, but not stayed for any length of time. This year we booked three nights at Hotel Belvedere, which dates back to 1880. This meant some awkwardness in the room design, like a tiny bathroom with no counter space, but overall the room was spacious. (It was also equipped  with modern conveniences like air conditioning and wifi.)

Our stay included a light breakfast that we ate on the front patio each morning, which was quite pleasant. And it was just a short walk from there to downtown.

Kingston - Houses with Character

Not the Belvedere Hotel, but in the same neighbourhood

The first day we just got acquainted with the downtown and the waterfront.

Arriving in Kingston!

Over the next two days, we took in a number of tours.

First up was a tour of Kingston City Hall. It was originally built with the thought that Kingston was to be Canada’s capital, and so that it would serve as Parliament. Of course, this was not to be. Queen Victoria had other ideas, and declared the hamlet of Ottawa the capital. Canada’s Parliament was built there.

That left Kingston with a bit of a dilemma over what to do with this large, ornate building. Over the years, a number of business have been housed there: banks, night clubs, dry goods. More recently it has served as City Hall. But it’s a challenge to maintain, because a city doesn’t have the same budget for this that the whole country does. So they have to do fund-raising to tackle renovations of parts of it, and when touring, you can see signs of what still needs work, like the stained carpeting.

City Hall, was almost our Parliament!

Still a pretty attractive building, though: Kingston City Hall

A market was also set up outside it on the Thursday. I purchased a couple of hand-dyed T-shirts there, to join my Queen + Adam Lambert concert T-shirt and the two shirts Jean purchased at MEC in Toronto. (We then declared a shirt moratorium.)

The next tour, in the afternoon, was of Kingston Penitentiary, a maximum security facility that closed just a few years ago, as it no longer met modern standards. A young tour guide led us around and explained some aspects of the facility (the visitor’s area, the family visits housing, escape attempts), but at many points we were greeted by someone who used to work there. They explained some aspect of the institution: the history of “the cage”, the rules behind solitary confinement, the workshop protocols, the mental health institution. (Tours run every 15 minutes, and it occurs to me it must get really old for these people to repeat these lines so often during the day.)

The Cage in the PEN

The Cage at the Pen

Cell Section

For security, these barred doors are no longer used in Canadian federal prisons

Pen Art

A mural created (with permission) by one of the prisoners in one of the solitary cells

It was interesting, and while it didn’t make me want to go to prison, it was not that depressing—other than the solitary “yard”, which was really a sad, tiny, enclosed thing compared with the general yard.

There is also a penitentiary museum across the street, but we decided we’d had enough prison facts for one day.

On Friday we visited Bellevue House, where Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, lived for about a year. It’s considered a federal park, so was free to enter for Canada 150, but we decided to pay extra for a tour. I would recommend that; the guide (Harrison) was very good, and you get more out of your visit from what they tell you.

Sir John A Macdonald's Abode

Bellevue (nice view) because it does have a river view, though a bit of a tree-obstructed one these days

We definitely learned quite a bit about Sir John A. and his times. He lived here with his sickly wife and two sons, one of whom died quite young. But they also covered what happened afterward with his political career—the good (Confederation, promoting votes for women) and the bad (residential schools, the Chinese head tax)—along with his personal life. For example, he did marry again after his first wife died, and they had a daughter who was encephalitic, but still an important part of Sir John A.’s life.

Sir John A MacDonald's Boudoir

The master bedroom at Bellevue

They also have nice gardens on the grounds at Bellevue, where they grow food used at the museum, but also purchased by some local restaurants and donated to the food bank.

That left Fort Henry to explore, on Friday afternoon. We arrived in time for the cadet’s parade and firing of the cannon (which I guess is not so hard—they do this several times a day).

A Blast for the Past

I found that suprisingly interesting to watch. The military formations are so graceful and musical.

Fort Henry

And the goat is not sacrificed to the gods of war

Here we did not go for the guided tour, though, but just looked through the exhibits and the interesting little shops on-site ourselves.

Dining

For its fairly modest population of about 130,000, Kingston has a great selection of restaurants. One of favourite meals here was at the venerable Chez Piggy, established by late musician  Zal Yanovsky. The room upstairs is very nice, the service was excellent, and we quite enjoyed the food.

Shrimp n Stuff

Scallops in vanilla cream sauce

Eyes off my Duck!

Duck confit

We also liked spin-off restaurant Pan Chancho, where we had lunch twice. It’s a coffee shop and bakery that also serves food (such as an excellent gazpacho).

But our next most-favourite was probably Tango Nuevo, a tapas wine bar that we tried out because it looked as though it would be good. (It’s not in Where to Eat in Canada.) Appearances were not deceiving: it’s a nice-looking place, service was great, and all six tapas we ordered were delightful.

Gnochi Knockout ... it was that good!

The gnocchi may have been the highlight

They also had an interesting (in a good way) Turkish dessert.

Aqua Terra aspires to be casual fine dining. It’s a lovely space, and gracious service (although the wine arrival timing is just a bit off), but the food isn’t quite up to “fine dining” standards. Not bad by any means, but not outstanding.

Aqua Terra

This seafood ravioli did not blow me away

And then there was Le Chien Noir. Lordy.

It’s billed as French bistro, but was a bit more raucous bar-y than we were expecting. What can you do. We were seated, given menus, and with some debate, we figured out what we wanted.

And then we waited. And waited. Like half an hour, and no one even took our drink order.

The waiter did apologize for the delay, but then seem completely flummoxed when Jean asked for wine suggestions for his food. “We don’t really do that,” said the waiter. What?

Jean just ordered the wines he’d been considering. Shortly after putting that in, the waiter came back and said they were out of the special Jean had ordered as his main. So Jean picked another, then said he’d reconsider his original wine choice after the appetizer.

We did get the wines we’d ordered for the appetizer of tuna tartar we planned to share. Then we waited. The waiter said the bread was just coming out of the oven. Then we waited. We eventually did get some bread, which was warm, but also noticed that the table next to us, which had arrived later, already had their appetizers. Hmm.

Finally some food arrived. It was our main courses! “We never got our appetizers,” I pointed out. The waiter apologized. “My fault,” he said. (Duh.) “Wines are on the house.”

Will say that the mains… Were really very good. And not only because we’d waited an hour and half for them. The duck cassoulet I had was very well prepared and with creative flavours. But man, the experience!

It wasn’t quite done. The next day I got an Open Table email asking me why I hadn’t shown up for my reservation at Le Chien Noir. They hadn’t properly checked us in on arrival. (This, too, was later sorted out.)

 


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The Royal Tour Part 2: Queen for a day in Toronto

We took a week off in July in lieu of the one originally planned in June, when Jean’s work commitments meant he couldn’t get away. We had to go to Toronto on Tuesday, July 18 anyway, because we had tickets to a Queen + Adam Lambert concert. We built the rest of the vacation around that.

City Hall

The city can look purty

We’d first thought of going to Québec City after Toronto, but that’s a really popular destination this time of year. Finding a hotel was a challenge, and we started to think it would just be unpleasant with so many people crowded into the Old Town there. We switched over to Kingston, which is much less of a drive, so thought of adding a day in Toronto.

But Toronto is also a very popular destination this time of year. And while we could have stayed at our hotel an extra night, the price for that extra night jumped dramatically. (And this was for a hotel room that was probably the smallest we’ve ever had in Canada. Mind, the hotel itself—the Strathcona—was very conveniently located downtown, though something of a nightmare to drive to and expensive to park at.) So, we decided to stick with just two days in “The 6”.

City Hall

At night also

We took some time while there to visit my sister and brother-in-law in their lovely new apartment. That didn’t leave much time for doing Toronto “stuff”. Mainly, during the day, we walked around various neighbourhoods: The Harbourfront area, the Distillery District (highlight: visiting the Soma chocolate store), Kensington Market.

The main event

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Unofficial poster. Seems to be one of these for each stop.

You see this warning sign? This show has strobe lights, it has lasers, it has smoke, it has explosions. You name it, this show has it. You’re allergic to any of these things? I suggest you go home now.

It was the first time I’d had to go through a metal detector at an Air Canada Centre concert, but all the ACC staff (like the one quoted above) were really very cheery and nice, helping everyone out to ensure we all got through quickly and safely. This was a relief to Jean, who’d been worried on seeing the lineup when arrived. As was the fact that we had no problem getting his camera in (only “professional” cameras were banned, but what is that?).

We sat next to a woman from Newfoundland, a fan of Queen but especially of Adam Lambert, who’d flown up special for the concert. (Jean shared that we’d flown all the way to Berlin for our Adam Lambert concert.) Her husband was in town with her, but not at the show, which caused Jean to give me a look. Well, he couldn’t very well abandon me on our 25th wedding anniversary night, could he?

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Our view was from here—and it actually wasn’t bad. Though Jean complained that they played more to the other half of the room.

And truly, it was a really great show. Would have been a shame if he missed it.

The staging, the lights, the effects

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen better. Before the show started, we could tell the stage was in a guitar shape, but were having trouble figuring out how things (like the projection screens) were laid out… Then the show began with this huge robot hand smashing through the screen, then looking out, then raising it with both hands to reveal the band playing “We Will Rock You.” Awesome!

Other highlights included Adam Lambert literally rising from the floor to sing the exquisite “Who Wants to Live Forever”; the stunning laser show; the effect of a simple disco ball in a stadium; the interesting, multi-level video background for Brian May’s solo (built around the Queen logo, deconstructed); and the stunning amount of confetti at the end.

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Disco inferno!

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Dynamite with a laser beam! Source: ror0roror0ro at https://www.instagram.com/p/BWthmNKDLlL/

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That’s a lotta confetti! Source: lauracjthistle at https://www.instagram.com/p/BWtkqdOFbbQ/

The music!

Of course I love all the songs. But the band also performs them so well—without vocal modulators or click tracks. And, the sound mixing at the ACC was quite good. So I could hear Adam Lambert’s impeccable, incredible vocal flourishes on songs like “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Somebody to Love,” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” And the band’s excellent harmonies on songs like “I Want It All”.

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One great band

The drum battle between Roger Taylor and new recruit (from Queen Extravaganza) Tyler Warren was fun. And the guitar solo—which I’d been dreading a bit, having found it somewhat long and dull at their last concert—was fantastic. It was shorter, for one, and all built around familiar melodies (at least to a Queen fan) from “Lost Horizon” and “Brighton Rock”. Kudos.

All the feels

The set list is designed to take you on an emotional journey. You start with the powerful adrenaline rush of a snippet of “We Will Rock You,” followed by the powerhouses “Hammer to Fall” and “Stone Cold Crazy.”

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Power!

There is then a gradual segue to the fun and frothy part of the evening, introduced by Adam Lambert singing “Killer Queen” atop the head of Frank the robot, while wearing a hot pink suit. (“Gayest suit ever!” he proclaimed.) Included at the juncture was an Adam Lambert single, “Two Fux,” along with “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Bicycle Race,” wherein Adam rode around on a pink, flower-laded tricycle.

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He gives great head,” Adam declared

Thanks to Adam’s super-tights pants, propensity for hip thrusting, and just general handsome-ness, the entire evening was somewhat lust-inducing (if you like that sort of thing).

Adam’s groiny interpretation of Fat Bottomed Girls

But they really amped up to 11 on “Get Down, Make Love,” a welcome addition on this tour. The whole backdrop for this song was red, dripping, sexy imagery, which Lambert only enhanced with his orgasmic vocal prowess.

“Was it good for you?” he asked. (Umm, excuse me, I’ll be in my bunk.)

But Adam wasn’t the only significant contributor to this portion of the evening. Roger Taylor took lead vocals on another recent set addition, “I’m in Love with My Car,” a song that really shouldn’t be sexy, but somehow is, the way he sings it.

Brian May? Well, he introduced the poignant part of the evening, moving to the front of the stage to sing “Love of My Life,” accompanying himself on accoustic guitar. The effects here were a sea of cell phone lights, which was just beautiful. And though I knew that video Freddie Mercury would make an appearance near the end, the way they did that, with Freddie seeming to stand right beside Brian, I couldn’t help tearing up.

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Stars in the cell phone firmament. Source: a_jm_v, https://www.instagram.com/p/BWtmDWGFpq-/

Through “Somebody to Love”, and “Under Pressure,” and “Radio Ga Ga,” [aside that I’m not listing every song they played], the band managed to create a more intimate feel in this large space.

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So close you could touch them. (Not really.)

Of course, the ending was triumphant. I liked how they rejigged “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They included the usually skipped “Is this the real life?” introduction, with Adam taking lead vocals. He also sang both verses, instead of sharing those with video Freddie. Of course, the operatic part is still from the original video. Freddie just appears at the very end, trading off lines with Adam.

The finale? “We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions,” of course. Full Toronto set list

The crowd was really great (as I usually find with Toronto). I thought we’d spend most of the concert sitting, but no, they were up for standing for probably three-quarters of the show. Brian May’s birthday was the following day, when there was no concert, so we got the fun of singing “Happy birthday” to him, after he honoured us with a selfie stick photo (posted here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw6i-QMjSuY). At the end, Adam thought Brian should wear his crown (though that proved a bit of a problem, as it was sized for Adam’s bigger head).

Richmond Station and Ki

(This is turning an epic post, but why stop now.) The evening before the concert, we’d originally hoped to dine at Canoe, but it was summerlicious time in Toronto (that is, specially priced meals at certain restaurants), which meant that Canoe was fully booked for two weeks. (And that likely happened on the first day summerlicious reservations were open.)

So, we went to Richmond Station, a new restaurant for us, even though we couldn’t get in til 8:30 pm. We’d read that they offered surprise, multi-course “chef’s menus”, but that wasn’t mentioned on their printed menu. Jean asked about it, though, and they confirmed that it was on offer, and the head chef was in that day, so it should be a good one.

They also asked us if we had any special occasion, and Jean mumbled something about, no, we’re just here for a darn Queen concert, but I piped about it being our 25th wedding anniversary the next day. That was good, because it resulted in a complimentary glass of bubbly each, to go along with our half-liter of (delicious) Oregon Pinot Noir that we thought should be generally food friendly.

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The bubbly with our first course, oyster and trout tartar

What a nice meal we had there. All courses—eight of them—were prepared with care and delicious. The service was attentive. Our late start meant that we had a waiter switchover near the end, but that was handled very well. Tables were close together, so it was a bit loud, but that somehow didn’t bother us. And the whole thing was like, $200? Which seemed a great deal for a meal of this caliber in Toronto.

Beef tartar is not a thing I normally eat, but theirs was flavored very well. There was a small charcuterie plate. This amazingly light zucchini tempura. A set of two salads: one beet, one tomato, both great. [I feel like there might have been sweetbreads in here somewhere also?] Seared salmon with great vegetables. A smoky sirloin beef with potatoes (the smoke made it special).

I think it's a beet?

Two salads

Rishcmond Station Restaurant

Le saumon

It was all topped off by a very special dessert of ice cream, peanut butter, and hazelnut.

For Our Anniversary!

Before the concert on Tuesday, we went to our reliable Ki, where they once again did a really nice job of their “modern Japanese” food and excellent service.

Ki Restaurant

Maple tamari with pine nuts—so good

Ki Restaurant

I think this is dessert


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The Royal Tour, Part 1: Kingsville

“Where is Kingsville?” queried my sister, after realizing we’d arrived in Toronto from there, and not from Kingston, where we were headed next. (We’d dubbed this our Royal tour of Ontario—Kingsville, Kingston, and a stop in Toronto for a Queen concert.)

It was a fair questions, as Kingsville, population 21,000, is not exactly a tourist mecca. It doesn’t boast great museums or incredible natural wonders—only a rather charming downtown, a proximity to a number of Lake Erie wineries, and access to Point Pelee, Canada’s southernmost national park. A week there would likely be rather dull, but it’s a nice, relaxing place to spend a couple of days.

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We’d previously had some challenges with the hotels we’d stayed at in these parts, but we were quite happy with the Kingswood Inn this time. For $130 a night we had use of a living room, window dining, kitchen stocked with breakfast food, and upstairs bedroom and bathroom, all in a large, attractive historic home. The wifi was good and the TV even had a Chromecast, for ease of Netlix-ing. There was even a pool we could have used (but didn’t).

The Inn was also within easy walking distance of the lake and the downtown. We noticed that the area, being that much more south, had more and different fauna (like fireflies—so many in the evening) and flora than in our parts.

Kingsville, Ontario

Mind, we do have daylillies, but this photo does show the beauty of this little town on the lake

Our big activity was on Sunday, spending a morning and early afternoon in Point Pelee Park—free this year in honour of Canada’s 150th. It was a gorgeous day, and we hiked most every trail they had. All the trails on the short side, but combined it did add up to something like 12 km. Fauna-wise, we saw a mink carrying a fox snake in its mouth; a turtle; some small frogs; many kinds of birds (we don’t know birds; couldn’t identify most), including one spot where the babies were still in the nests; and what I assume were wild turkeys.

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Free as a bird—not destined to be Thanksgiving dinner

We also sat in on a park presentation on the fox snake, featuring a specimen that was born into captivity. It’s an endangered (because it looks and sounds like a rattler, though is harmless to humans), not every well-understood species of snake that they are studying in the park.

While out walking, we also saw some more exotic-looking flowers…

Park Flora

And a very interesting-looking swamp (no bugs here, by the way)…

The Swamp

Discovered that cactus (!) grow in this part of Canada…

Cactii!

And also saw some signs of the previous inhabitants of this area, before it all became parkland.

Grave Stone

The southernmost point, past the 42nd parallel, is demarcated. Traffic is controlled into this area, to preserve it. Individual cars are not allowed; you have to walk in (as we did) or take a park shuttle. The waves are huge at the point. The Great Lakes always amaze me, as they look like an ocean, but it’s all fresh water.


Of course, we also visited a few wineries while in these parts. We had lunch at Cooper’s Hawk, but they were busy with a couple of tour groups, so we didn’t do any tasting beyond the glass we each had with lunch. Viewpoint Estates was also very busy, but we pushed ahead anyway, trying a number here. In the end, we were only really impressed with the Cabernet Franc 2008.

Viewpoint Winery

And with the view that gave the winery its name

North 42 [named after the parallel—which we realized only the next day, after visiting the park] was new one for us this time, and the one we were most impressed with. For one thing, despite a tour group arriving shortly after we did, we still got a lot of personal attention. (They had the group in a separate area.) For another, a lot of their wines were really nice. They made a sparkling out of Sauvignon Blanc, which is very unusual but very good. They had Cabernet Franc from 2013 and 2016, both of which we liked. And a well-balanced dry rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

The other new one we visited, largely due to its convenient location after our park visit (the other wineries, we visited Saturday) was Pelee Island winery. It’s a large operation, but not that busy when we were there. We focused on wines they don’t sell at LCBO, but weren’t bowled over by too many. We did get a Pinot Blanc and a Gerwurtz Reserve.

Mettawas Station Restaurant

Mettawas Station restaurant is housed in a former train station

For dining, Mettawas Station once again proved the best option in these parts (though the lunch at Cooper’s Hawk and the dinner we had at another Italian restaurant downtown were both decent—just not as good as Mettawas). We shared a lamb rib appetizer that had good texture and flavor, then I had a salad while Jean had zucchini soup, and my main was the local pickerel and perch while Jean went for the gnocchi.

Eyes NOT on the menu!

We also got into a conversation with another couple who were there for their anniversary (37 years, I think?). We told them that ours was also coming soon.


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Summer vacation, abbreviated

We had planned to take a week’s vacation the first week of June, but Jean’s work obligations necessitated changing those plans on relatively short notice. Fortunately, we hadn’t made any grand travel plans—it was just going to be a driving trip to parts of Ontario and Québec. But we had to scale it back.

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We started with a weekend in Timmins, where Jean went off on fishing trip with his brothers. He expected, I think, that it would be a fairly leisurely couple of days. Instead, it was early mornings and late nights of fishing, cleaning, filleting, and vacuum packing. “I was not prepared for that!” he confessed on his return.

But, now we do have some very nice Northern Ontario pickerel.

I, on the other hand, really did have a leisurely time. I flew up and stayed with my Dad, visited with a Timmins friend, had a dinner with my brother’s family (hosted by Dad), watched some Netflix…

We traveled back on Monday and Jean had to work the rest of the week. I decided to take Thursday off to go see Guys and Dolls in Stratford. I picked it mainly because it was the matinee that day—I didn’t know anything about it, really. But it proved a good choice. Deservedly well-reviewed, it was a fun musical with beautiful costumes and some absolutely stunning dance sequences. The songs were great, and included two that I knew: “If I Were a Bell” and “Luck Be a Lady Tonight”.

30-second look at Guys and Dolls

I had taken the train to Stratford (thereby learning you can take a train to Stratford) on what was an absolutely gorgeous day, and after the play Jean drove in to join me for dinner. We went to Bar Fifty-One, which is a new part of the Prune restaurant, a Stratford institution we’d never eaten at. I stuck with the bar menu, and was quite happy with my grilled asparagus with Parmesan appetizer and seafood pie entree. Jean tried the restaurant menu and was very impressed with the chicken liver mousse appetizer, but somewhat less so with his smoked Muscovy duck breast main.

For the following weekend, we’d had an Ottawa hotel booked, so we decided to keep that and book some flights to get there and back. I flew up earlier, with plans to tour Parliament and meet some friends for dinner. Neither of those plans quite worked out. The tours were sold out for the day, and I messed up my communication with my friends so they had the wrong Friday in their calendar. Still, it was a nice day there, and the meal at Play Food and Wines was delicious.

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Incredible gnocchi with edamame, shiitake, sunflower seeds, and truffle oil

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Pastry with chocolate cream filling and dulce de leche. Yum.

And Jean did arrive at the expected time. We took a walk, and enjoyed our funky, European-style Alt hotel.

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Ottawa has a lot of interesting street art

I did get my Parliamentary tour the next day, and it was pretty interesting. (It’s also the last year you can do so before the place closes for renovation for 10 years!) We saw the House of Commons, the Parliamentary Library, the Senate…

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Statue of the Queen who selected Ottawa as Canada’s capital, inside Parliament’s Centre Block

Ottawa was in full prep mode for Canada 150 celebrations on July 1, meaning a lot of construction and sections of museums down for renovation. We visited the Museum of Canadian History, where they had a pretty interesting exhibit on hockey—even for people not deeply into hockey—and another small one on the Canadian immigration experience. But the main gallery was inaccessible, so it did make the whole visit seem a bit “slight”.

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A rather cool statue in the Museum of Canadian History

We thought we had reservations at Whalesbone that evening, but they have this annoying phone-only system, and our two calls to them weren’t sufficient to hold it. We would have had to have make a third. We were still able to dine at the bar, and I have to say that the food was just delicious: Really fresh seafood with lovely, tasty sauces and sides. But not sure we’ll be back, given the difficulty of making a reservation (not as if they ever answer the phone…).

Sunday we went to the Market, where they had an Ignite 150 exhibit area highlighting different parts of Canada. Buskers were also on deck that day. That was fun. I also purchased a couple tops from one of the market vendors. And we went back to Play for a late lunch. It was really good again!

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Fig and prociutto appetizer on the right, cheese selection on the left

Then we did some more walking, shopping, and (mainly Jean) photography-ing on this warm but beautiful day. And our joint flight back to Toronto and even the drive back to Waterloo all went very well.

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Vieni wines

Not taking our usual Spring trip this year has given us a bit of restlessness, I think. Hence, a couple weeks ago, my comment that were out of rosé and low on “everyday reds” inspired us to take a road trip to Beamsville wine country, rather than just amble over to our local LCBO.

Our first stop was Aure wines, where the attendant recognized us immediately, despite our having been there exactly 1 (one) time before, in October. (Mind you, we did stay for a long chat and lunch that time.) They have a small wine list, and didn’t have too much new for us try, other than a Chardonnay that purchased a bottle of.

We did get a preview taste of the upcoming Viognier release, though, and it will be really nice. Jean also stocked up on some of the Pinot Blanc he enjoys (though at the rate he’s currently drinking it, our five bottles could last five years).

They were not serving lunch, however, so we headed over to The Good Earth winery for that. It being Sunday, they had a brunch menu, which I wasn’t entirely in the mood for. I ordered the strata, which seemed the least breakfast-y option. It was quite tasty.

Good Earth Winery and Bistro

Jean enjoyed his mushroom and poached eggs option.

Good Earth Winery and Bistro

Nice, bright room at Good Earth; welcome on a rainy day

While there, after dining, we tried a few wines. They don’t have a very big offering, their philosophy being to see what grape works best in any given year and run with it. As an illustration, we tried the 2013 and 2014 Cabernet Franc wines: same grape, same vineyard, but really different taste—the 2013 being more to ours. We also got a bottle of their Big Forks Red, which they describe thusly:

big-fork-red.png

None of this was helping with our rosé shortage, though, so we then went to Vieni Estates. This relatively new winery has a very different approach than the other two, in that they offer many different types of wines: red, white, rosé, sparkling, cider, ice, and spirits.

Befitting their name—vieni means welcome in Italian—they were very friendly, calling us over quickly despite it being rather busy when we arrived. They also don’t charge for or limit tastings, so you have to control yourself. Which we were only semi-successful at.

vieni-tasting-room-gallery-maurizio

The Vieni tasting room: Photo from their website

The first suggestion was that we try a sparkling, but we actually had a rather good stock of sparkling on hand at the time. Nevertheless, we had to admit their Canada 150 was really different—a red sparkling that tasted off-dry despite being extra-dry. Kind of neat and just $17, so we got a bottle of that.

Fortunately, we did find their Alleria Rosé quite nice as well. Along with their Sauvignon Blanc, a Ripasso, and the Alleria Red, which is a blend of Cabernet, Baco Noir, and Marechel Foch. They have many more options that we could try on another trip. They also sell some food items, such as olive oil, which you can also taste upon request (which we did, and it was good, and now we have a bottle of that, also).

While it’s not the Rhone, Tuscany, or Napa, Beamsville did help us scratch the travel itch. At least for a day.


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Holidays

The Timmins evacuees arrived and departed in waves: first to get there were Jean and I, the evening of December 22; then my older sister, Joanne, followed shortly by my younger sister Michelle and her family, on December 24. Boxing Day was the first departure, by Jo; then Jean and I drove back on December 27; then Michelle’s family flew back the following day. Some small departure delays due to weather and a bit of a close call getting through the very crowded luggage drop-off at Pearson were the extent of the travel issues.

The influx of people made gave my Dad some stress in keeping us all fed and finding everyone a place to sleep, but it all worked out. It helps that Dad’s a very good cook, and yes, we all pitched in with grocery shopping, baking, food prepping, and cleaning up. Michelle and Jackson kindly volunteered to sleep on couches the two busiest nights, so no one had to check into a hotel.

Big Guy!

Even Santa was helping with the food

The 23rd we had a great visit with our Timmins friends (all two!) and Christmas Eve offered a succession of family Réveillons.

Only the Kid's can get this exited about Christmas

Lefebvre great-nieces excited for Santa

Santa!

Père Noël appreciates the adulation

The little gift exchange theme this year was “ornaments”. Jean’s made the biggest splash: He Etsy’d his own ornaments starting with old photos of his siblings, converted into luggage tags then ribbon’ed by hand. My contribution of ornaments made by Peruvian artisans landed well with Jean’s sister, who had just returned from a trip there. Jean ended up with these rather cool bird ones.

The facets' of Christmas!

New ornaments for our tree

Christmas morning at McNair’s we did the stealing game again. This was after much email discussion, during which we’d decided that each person would get an age-appropriate gift. Of course, the kids don’t really do their own shopping for this.

My brother, for whom there is time like the last minute, was copied on all emails but didn’t really dig into them until about Christmas Eve, when he was off to do his shopping. He checked with Michelle: “I have to buy gifts for my own kids?” he asked. “Really?”

Yes, really.

This didn’t really work out with Sarah-Simone, though, who—even after “her” present was available—simply couldn’t resist going to the pile of presents to try again after some adult  kindly “stole” the present she had. Even though, as she pointed out, most of the presents “sucked” for a 10-year-old.

Her package :)

Another gift not entirely suitable to its recipient…

Things eventually got sorted through final trades.

The Stealing Game :)

Or in my case, earlier, by stealing this fine wine collection from my brother

Jean ended up with the item I had contributed, a coffee infuser. It’s not fast, but it does make a nice smooth brew!

We also got out for some snow shoeing on this gorgeous winter day.

Winter Wonderland!

Jean and my brother-in-law went again on the less-pleasant Boxing Day, coming back with a harvest of chaga tea (which looks like dirt mounds, but you clean it and brew it and it’s apparently full of anti-oxidants. Pretty mild-tasting.)

Slaying the dragon and making off with the Chaga!

Slaying the dragon

The days between Christmas and New Year’s, Jean worked while I sat around and ate bonbons.

Not really. (Well, maybe a few bonbons.)

New Year’s Eve, we returned to The Berlin, one year after first going, for their four-course dinner. City buses are free that night, so we decided to travel that way. We did the whole route-planning thing on the transit website, and found the perfect trip. As long as all buses were exactly on time.

However, the first one was three minutes late, meaning we missed our transfer by about two minutes. And faced a 28-minute wait, 30 minutes before our reservation.

Fortunately, seeing our expression, the bus driver asked where we wanted to go, then helped us get there. Her route had another stop with a downtown connection. We had very little wait for that bus, and we were arrived at the restaurant just five minutes late, so all good.

New Year's Eve Menu

We sat in view of the kitchen for the first time, which was pretty interesting. (And not only because chef Jonathan Gushu is kind of a babe.)

The Kitchen Crew

It was busy night there, of course, but everything we had was just delicious, and the wine pairings were creative and uniformly excellent. Service was a bit scattered at times—running off with menus before actually finding out what we wanted each course, for example (“I can’t believe I did that”, he said)—but generally they have their timing down now. (We just have to accept it’s not as luxuriously paced as Verses used to be.)

Eying my Roe!

Amazing starter

As appetizers, I had the lobster ravioli and Jean the terrine.

Terrine - Pulled Pork and Foie Gras mmmmmmmmm!

To cleanse the palate, they gave us a pineapple sorbet in sparking wine.

Pinnaple Granite in some bubbly :)

Then it was duck all around, with a really interesting Italian wine, that not everyone got (we’re special 🙂 ).

Duck Breast and Ragout, with Honey Mushrooms and Heart Nuts served with a great pairing wine from the Canary Islands

And Jean concluded with the pear dessert, I the hazelnut nougatine (with a vermouth). We also received a touch more dessert for the road.

Hazelnut Nougatine!

We took a taxi home. 🙂