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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

If you noticed my new friend in my last post you already know something about this. This month, for the first time, both Bu and Lu moved away to school and we are officially empty nesters.

In advance of this event I succumbed to a long held inclination and adopted a rescued dog. Received him rather suddenly on the day Farley Mowat passed away. And since he had just been plucked from a shelter with very low adoption rates – if you catch my drift – in the greater Los Angeles area, we recognized his new citizenship and a new start in life by naming him after that great Canadian writer.

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Now Farley goes most places with me.  He is happy at the cottage, so with rental season winding down, he and I will start to spend some time there. For a smallish dog he is pretty versatile: Canoes, hikes and travels well with us. We are vastly contented with each other. Cottager – who was agreeable to a dog but not really enthusiastic – likes him too.

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As the saying goes, adopting a rescue dog won’t change the world, but it will change that one dog’s life forever – and your own.

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The Cottager is questing on the Camino de Santiago in Spain at the moment and if inclined, you can see what he is up to on his blog where he posts a few lines and some great pictures almost daily.

I spent the better part of a week at the cottage, just catching my breath and bonding with my new friend Farley. He is a rescue from an L.A. shelter and is now permanently on vacation.

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The Urchins had a week at home without mom harassing them to clean up after themselves. And the cats were happy just to have a week without the dog, whom they do not consider a particularly good addition. And so for the price of one plane ticket to Spain, 7 winter-weary creatures had a vacation.  Told you I was frugal.

I did get a few things done.  The deck got its last ever coat of stain. Before it is due again we will rebuild and only use an oil product after that. Stain is a hassle.

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I also did some gardening at a relaxed pace, having decided to limit rentals and keep the cottage principally for my own enjoyment this summer. 

A few good friends came to visit. My parents came too, which was wonderful as the have only come in fall or winter before and hadn’t seen my garden to advantage or walked on the beach.

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Besides these pleasant events, the highlight of my vacation was having nine or ten blissful and uninterrupted hours of sleep each night. No doubt Cottager and the Urchins have better highlights.

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Heading for the Sunshine Coast?  If, like most folks, your route takes you straight up the highway from the ferry, then you will shortly pass the new Beer Farm.

Don’t!  Pass it, that is.
Drive on in.

This is the home of Persephone Brewing Company – a new and wildly popular craft brewery on a lovely property which was formerly home to a flower nursery. 

1 and 1.89 litre growlers available to take along and start your Coast visit in the pleasantest of ways. We like the Goddess golden ale, but the Red ale is also good.

Check their hours before you continue on your way, as you will want to grab a growler re-fill on your way back to the ferry.

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Growing hops at the beer farm

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Big Urchin (Bu) is home for Reading Break so the rest of the Keats View family arranged a three day weekend and we headed off to Manning Provincial Park for some family time in the snow. Both Cottager and I remember when you had to arrive early at Manning because the cross-country trails and even parking would be full. Nowadays, the world has passed this quiet little place by and everyone heads for Whistler.

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The lodge and cabins are basic but budget friendly. There’s a nice indoor pool with two large jacuzzis, a small gym, one restaurant, pub, an outdoor ice rink (used to be free, but no longer) and a clanking school bus to run you up to the ski area. Big roaring fires in the lodge, pub and restaurant.

There is only one lift, but both Saturday and Sunday our boys never waited more than a minute or two for a ride up. The snow was powdery and plentiful, and the slopes half empty. Two all day youth passes plus equipment rental for one of them: 115$.

A basic room for four at the lodge (fridge, microwave and coffeemaker) is 119$/weeknight and 167$ weekends. Nordic ski, snowshoes and skate rental are available right behind the lodge on highway 3. Very good value, but the best part is that wifi is limited and pay (so don’t!) and there are only three channels on the old TV. So we had to go to the pool, play cards, goof around and go to bed early.

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Just back from a second trip to Toronto and had to head to the Coast for some country air. The Cottager and I have just been relaxing, doing a little raking and wood splitting and catching up on our sleep. Cold and clear so we have had the fireplace going around the clock.The stars last night were amazing!

Today we will catch the 430 ferry back to reality, but first we did some decorating with treasures collected over the past year. This is always challenging since we have more windows than walls but we made good progress.

Sa Boothroyd is a local artist with a gallery on the pier in Gibsons Landing. My sister and brother-in-law gave me this lovely print to mark my Jubilee Year. It’s called Go and Find Some Peace and Quiet and features both an orange cat and a person relaxing in a garden. Perfect!

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These hanging candle holders are from Jysk and go on sale around Christmas for something under 4$. We hung two in the kitchen pass-through and a few more in some of the windows.

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This print of Molly’s Reach was a gift from friends who borrowed the cottage for a weekend. We found a great spot for it in the kitchen.

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While visiting our good friends Dave and Gillian last month, Santa came calling and gave me this gorgeous grater/ cheese slicer. Too cool to hide in a drawer, it now has a special place in the kitchen.

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And finally, another Orange kitty now directs visitors to the loo. I found this in Prague this past summer and couldn’t resist.

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It’s nice to be back and nice to be blogging. We are planning some kitchen renovations; will construct a sofa table from the side rails of an old bed; add some new baseboard heaters and window blinds; finish staining the deck railings; repair sheds and do some yard improvements. It’s a new year with new ideas and projects so please visit Keats View Cottage again.
Cheers!

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To find the wonderful in Toronto?

Me, who has been here for less than two weeks? OK, lets start with the two things I mentioned: A good pub and some decent Indian food.

I found the pub just across the street. It’s the Irish Embassy. Handsome and friendly barkeeps – including at least one with an authentic Irish accent – have made me very welcome there. It doesn’t meet my “pint for less than 7$” criteria, but in every other way it is splendid. I had some of the best chicken fingers ever there, and they happily brought me a bowl of curry sauce for my fries when I saw it was paired with another menu item. There is a sister-pub called PJ O’Briens just around the corner, and they have live music on the weekend, so I will check it out then. Meanwhile, here is a picture of my chicken strips, and another of the pub itself.

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As for the Indian, I noted four Indian joints in a row on Queen Street at University, which is not far at all. TripAdvisor was my friend here, singling out two of them for good reviews. I chose one of these, Little India, and was not disappointed. The daily special was a $19.95 menu that started with a vegetable samosa, added four other dishes, including THE BEST butter chicken I have ever had, and finished with a warm sweet. I was too excited/hungry to take a picture but here is a shot of just the leftovers from my meal, which I polished off last night. Great value. Good location. Criticisms would be that the vegetable dish was craaazzzy hot (as in spicy) and they burn an incense which – to me anyway – is incompatible with a restaurant. Just too smelly, but I am sensitive.

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That’s where I am and must stay – for work – until the middle of the month. Bad time to be away from home – and cottage! – but what can you do? Work has been a focus recently, hence a dearth of blog posts. But I hope to have some cottage stuff to talk about in the New Year, so don’t cut me out of your life just yet.

Meanwhile, we must work with what we have, and so I am looking for wonderful things about Toronto. Perhaps you know of some. Good Indian food?; a friendly pub where a pint doesn’t cost $7? Do share!

Here is the first great thing that struck me on arrival…the Christmas lights. This is one of my favourite things about Christmas, and this town does it up right. A few photos to illustrate: The lovely tree is one of several outside my hotel. The reindeer are roughly 10 metres high.

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Better than Paris. Better than Paris by Night
Paris by Night on a Bike!

I hoped to spend quite a bit of my time in Paris on a Velib (shared bike), but the weather really wasn’t cooperative and a close encounter between my left knee and the cobblestones of Prague just prior to my arrival was also a bit discouraging. The weather had improved and the swelling subsided by my last night; however, so some friends and I rendezvous’d at the South foot of the Eiffel Tower at dusk for a Fat Tire Bike tour.  This is an amazingly good value that I strongly recommend to first-time and experienced visitors to the city alike.

The bikes are comfortable and well maintained and the staff at Fat Tire have the tour down to a fair science. No reservations required. You meet at the Eiffel Tower, they divide everyone into manageable groups, walk you back a few blocks to their headquarters and collect your fee, store your effects and sell you bottles of water and rain ponchos if required. Eat something before the meet up time and take an extra layer for the night tour – they will give you a bungee cord to carry it along on your rat trap.

The first part of the ride is the most parlous but quite exhilarating:  A half-hour ride to Notre Dame and Ile Saint-Louis – and quite a bit of it in traffic!  Well how can that be fun, you ask?  Or safe?

The reason is that the tour rides in “road domination” formation, and makes good use of bus-only lanes.  Those occasional honks one hears while blocking the entire road are merely the good citizens of Paris complimenting the riders on their excellent form, agreeable environmental choices and all-round good looks.  It is a bit stop-and-go just at the beginning, but soon everyone in the group is comfortable and the amount of road riding diminishes considerably after that first leg.

On the Ile Saint-Louis we stopped for a famous Berthillon ice cream cone and listened to an old fellow play the accordian on the pedestrian bridge. It was one of these great moments in Paris – right out of Lady and the Tramp, only minus the meatball.

Later, we rode into the Cour Napoleon (the large courtyard surrounding the glass pyramid at the Louvre) through a passageway at the back where a lone cellist was exploiting the acoustics. Also quite magical. We spent a bit of time racing around the pyramid,  photo-bombing the tourists not clever enough to be on two wheels, and then headed along to the Place de la Concorde and a ride down the road-width sidewalks of the Champs-Elysees.

Lose the crowds and enjoy the lights of Paris.

After nearly three hours of short, easy rides and sight-seeing with a knowledgable guide, we locked up our bikes and boarded a bateaux mouche (open excursion boat) for an hour long sightseeing tour along the Seine. This was included in the 3o Euro tour ticket, as was a fairly generous pour of wine. Another short bike leg and we arrived back at Fat Tire at about 1130, tired but happy.

Fat Tire also operates day tours in Paris, as well as in Barcelona and Madrid.  I recently did the Barcelona tour and found it to also be a great value and a brilliant way to get oriented to that city.

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Where to start?  Where to go? What to see?

Paris offers so many possibilities, but it is a really big city, and if you aren’t careful you can spend most of your time trying to get from one marquee attraction to the next. Even off season, attractions like the Louvre and Gare d’Orsay are very popular. In fact, off season, you are likely to encounter a lot of school groups: Not always conducive to the contemplation of great works of art. Throw in a lot of standing in line and some pricey tickets and a day in Paris can leave both you and your wallet feeling a little drained.

It’s been quite a few years since I was in Paris with time enough to do some sight-seeing.  Even longer since I visited the Louvre or climbed the stairs at the Eiffel Tower. Did you know there are 35,000 works of art in the Louvre? To look at everything would take about 9 months of full-time effort. About eight and a half million people visit every year.

I like art but I like it best when it sneaks up on me; when I stumble on a little gallery, or open someone’s coffee table book to find something wonderful and surprising. The last time I was at the Louvre, it was a less than pleasurable experience that left me feeling fraught. Since it’s the most visited museum in the world, I decided my absence would not be noted.

Instead, I decided to find a few less celebrated attractions conveniently located in one neighbourhood. The Marais was my choice for a full day outing. The name Marais means swamp and the land was once swampland adjoining the Seine and nearby Ile de la Cite, where Paris started out as a village inhabited by the Parisii tribe. The historic neighbourhood is charming, with narrow streets and interesting shops. It was originally the preferred location for aristocrats. It later became, and remains, a popular Jewish quarter. More recently, both the gay community and Chinese immigrants have become increasingly established. The result is an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and night spots.

Within the Marais are several excellent museums and I chose two of these to visit. The first is a branch of the Museum of Paris, dedicated to the city’s history. It is known as the Musee Carnavalet after one of two mansions in which it is housed. Wikipedia offers this concise description of its collections:

“The Carnavalet houses about 2,600 paintings, 20,000 drawings, 300,000 engravings and 150,000 photographs, 2,000 modern sculptures and 800 pieces of furniture, thousands of ceramics, many decorations, models and reliefs, signs, thousands of coins, countless items, many of them souvenirs of famous characters, and thousands of archeological fragments. . . . The period called Modern Time, which spans from the Renaissance until today, is known essentially by the vast amount of images of the city . . . There are many views of the streets and monuments of Paris from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, but there are also many portraits of characters who played a role in the history of the capital and works showing events which took place in Paris, especially the many revolutions which stirred the capital, as well as many scenes of the daily life in all the social classes.”  

In other words, something for everyone. I loitered for hours, often finding myself alone in one of the numerous exhibition halls. It’s in the center of town, it’s full of interesting historic items… Did I mention it’s free to enter? Oh, and that it has a pretty garden where you can wander around when you need a little break and some fresh air?

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By the time I had seen all the Carnavalet had to offer, I was hungry. A few blocks away, on quaint Rue de Rosiers, is the city’s most famous falafel shop (and a number of imitators.) Don’t let the line up in front of L’as du Falafel discourage you. It moves fast.

The line up outside L’as de Falafel

Best Falfel in Recent Memory

Runners took my order and money in exchange for a chit while I waited in line. Once at the window all I had to do was answer yes or no to the question “spicy sauce?”  It wasn’t overly spicy and added a lot of flavour. A massive veggie-laden falafel sandwich and a can of Heineken cost 8 euros. I found a quiet bench in a pocket-sized park two blocks away and devoured it.

After which I felt ready for the Shoah Memorial and museum depicting the history of anti-Semitism in France, the rise of Nazism, the crimes of the Vichy government and the events surrounding the deportation of Jews, more than 70 thousand of whom are listed on the memorial’s walls. The exhibits here include a reconstruction of the collection of file cards kept at one time on every Jewish person in Paris, as well as a picture wall of deported children. The crypt, in which ashes from concentration camps has been interred with Israeli soil, is peaceful and quite beautiful.  This exhibit is also free to enter.  While the subject matter is horrifying, it is well-presented and I recommend a visit.

Afterwards, I perused some of the local boutiques of the Marais. The Picasso Museum and the Pompidou Centre were both in easy reach, but two was enough. And Paris by Night lay just ahead!

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That’s what we learned to do. And also consult Tripadvisor! The thrill of maybe discovering a great restaurant on your own wears thin after a few consecutive failures. Once we started to consult the gurus we never missed. While traditional Czech food tends to lovely roasted meats swimming in gravy with dumplings, potatoes or creamy salads, we also found terrific Indian at an outdoor terrace near the pricey Old Town Square as well as lovely pizza (this last on a floating restaurant with views of the castle.) We had terrific food at great prices along with good service!

Together with all the beautiful sights and the pedestrian friendly and bustling vibe, my visit to Prague was really enjoyable. Now off to Paris for a few days but I won’t leave you without a few food pictures!

This was our lunch yesterday at U Parlementu. I had roast pork in a luscious gravy, along with spinach and bread dumplings. AB had beef sirloin in a cream sauce (which looks like gravy) and buttered boiled potatoes. We shared a Greek salad and a crepe-style dessert and we each had a beer. Our bill came to 427 Crowns which is approximately 18 Euros or CDN $23.
Best of all, the server was friendly and really helpful. He didn’t tip himself, but we sure did.

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