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Day 11, Sunday, July 21 Taking the Train to Ottawa

Moving Day...Train to Ottawa

sunny 82 °F
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We had scoped out the train station on Saturday. The extensive construction work in Toronto affected the Union Station as well. We went to the check in area and talked to a young woman who informed us that there was no baggage car for our train, there was a one bag per person limit, we would have to schlep our own bags...and we would have to make other arrangements to get our third bag to Ottawa!! WHATTTT?????? Certainly not what I was informed when I made the reservations on line several months ago. When we got back to the room, I called VIA Rail, Canada's equivalent of Amtrak, only to be informed by the young woman on the other end exactly what I was told at the station. WHATTTT??????? "Let me speak to your supervisor", I insisted. "I have none today", she replied politely, "but I can check to see if Customer Service is still open." She did and it was. Finally, CS advised me there had been a change in baggage policy since I made my reservations and, of course, they would honor my reservation as made and a note would be made on my file. I have a file??? As they say here, "No worries!" When we got to the station this morning we found a "redcap" (porter) who took our bags, led us to the first class lounge, tagged our bags and told us they would be on the train and our carry ons would be above our seats. And they were. That $10CAD was well spent.

We were eagerly anticipating the four and a half hour train ride, and we were not disappointed. The seats provided plenty of room and the drink cart kept coming. We had a 9:30 departure time and Margaret asked for Bloody Mary mix. What followed was a large plastic glass filled with red liquid and ice. She started to chug the drink and I suggested that it was not just mix. Turned out I was right. The food menu was heavy with fish so I passed, but Margaret scarfed down the sushi appetizer, the shrimp entree and the cheesecake. The train travelled for periods along Lake Ontario offering wonderful views of water, lush vegetation, golf courses and backyards. I got to catch up on this blog to keep my millions of readers sated. We arrived in Ottawa early and took a cab to our next stop, Albert at Bay. I must have changed reservations five times in Ottawa, but ultimately decided on this all suite hotel which was offered for a nice three day package on Travelzoo. The rooms are very large...it's not the Trump, but has some nice features and a very comfortable bed and a small kitchen.

After getting organized we set off to the hop on/off bus tour which we have found to be the best way to orient oneself to a new city. Ottawa is the capital,of Canada and immediately had a very different feel than Toronto. Toronto is a big, metropolitan city, not unlike New York and San Francisco, although I would argue that San Francisco is more charming. Ottawa sits on the Ottawa River which separates Ontario province from Quebec province. Ottawa (i/ˈɒtəwə/ or /ˈɒtəwɑː/) is the capital of Canada, and the fourth largest city in the country. Founded in 1826 as Bytown and incorporated as "Ottawa" in 1855, the city has evolved into the political and technological centre of Canada. The population is about 900,000. Mercer ranks Ottawa with the second highest quality of living of any large city in the Americas, and 14th highest in the world. It is also rated the second cleanest city in Canada, and third cleanest city in the world. In 2012, the city was ranked for the third consecutive year as the best community in Canada to live in by MoneySense.

While waiting for the bus, we sat in a lovely area of art shops, across from the war memorial park and a stone's throw from the extraordinary Parliament buildings. There was a young man playing guitar with a wireless mike and amplifier who thoroughly entertained us for a half hour while we people watched. It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the low 80s. The bus took us past the three parliament buildings, the war memorial (an interesting structure with what is best described as a fin rising from the roof...the fin area inside the museum was designed in such a way that one looking out can only see the PeaceTower which is part of the Parliament buildings), the Civilization Museum (which is actually in Gateau, Quebec, across the Ottawa River) past a number of Embassies (the US being the biggest, gaudiest and having the best view), the wealthiest neighborhood in all of Canada where the houses start at $3M (most of the ambassadors live there), the prime minister's residence and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a huge, beautiful building which sits on the Rideau Canal.

After the bus tour, we walked to the Byword Market area, the oldest neighborhood in Ottawa. This area contains most of the city's restaurants, bars and nightclubs. We stopped at a New Orleans style pub for a cocktail and were entertained by a fellow across the street who was juggling various items he had lit on fire to the appreciative applause from the crowd he had attracted. Then we moved on to dinner at Soprano Ristorante, another Groupon find, and had a very nice dinner. cabbed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Posted by stevencavalli07 16:08 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 12, Monday July 22 Discovering the Beauty of Ottawa

sunny 82 °F
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Awoke to another beautiful morning in Ottawa. Had breakfast at the restaurant attached to, but not affiliated with, the hotel. Made our way back to the hop on/off bus stop. In addition to the bus, they have "Lady Dive", an amphibious bus that travels on land and on the water (for those of you who do not understand "amphibious"). This was a fascinating way to see this beautiful city, providing views and photo opps you could never have from the land. Much of what we learned about the city was repetitive from yesterday, but the guide was a little more entertaining. Whereas the similar tour in Toronto was entirely in English, everything in Ottawa is bi-lingual...and the Frenchier it will get as we move toward Quebec, our final destination. We did learn from amphi-guide that there are several buildings in a cluster in Gatineau that house one fourth of the country's 400,000 civil servants. " We are all very proud of the speed and efficiency at which they get their jobs done," he announced. "Their workday ends at 5 and they are all home by 3!!" After completing this hour and a half tour, we got back on the hop on/off bus and got off at the Civilization Museum, the most visited Museum in all of Canada. This interesting building has no right angles. If I can ever get pictures on this thing, you can see all of the curves. The roof is shaped like an upside down canoe and the exterior pillars are all in the shape of raised paddles/oars, a symbol of peace.

We made our way initially to a bistro/cafe that had a wonderful patio right on the water overlooking all of the fascinating buildings on the opposite shore. This museum is all about the history of Canada, but, at Margaret's insistence, we started our tour in the Children's Museum, which was really incredible. The children (and their parents if they wish...most we saw did) are issued passports when they enter and there are various stations which depict cultures from all over the old where the kids can try on Japanese or Indian garb and get their passports stamped. The interactive kitchen was particularly impressive and we both expressed how much Katie would love it. Kenna would also love this place. There are buses and cars and scooters to climb on and explore and it seemed to go on forever. All of the exhibits were interesting. The only event more interesting was when Margaret decided to exit the Children's Museum and I noticed, too late, that it was an emergency exit which got everyone's attention when the alarm sounded. There is also an IMAX Theater and we saw Journey of Man, an incredible Cirque du Soleil movie. After three hours it was back to the hotel for a little R&R.

We made late dinner reservations at a little Mexican restaurant (Ahora in the Byword Market area) and the food was very good, although I ordered more than I could eat. We then walked to the Fairmont and had a glass of wine on the Terrace, an outdoor patio right on the Rideau Canal with views over to Gatineau and a beautiful setting sun. What we were really looking forward to was Mozaiku, a Free sound and light show that occurs every summer night at the Parliament building. It is a spectacular show with images projected directly on to the Parliament building. In 35 minutes the show summarizes the history of Canada with an emphasis on its diversity, tolerance and just pulling for one another. Several thousand people waited on the expansive lawn outside the Parliament building. We were not disappointed. It was genius...a spectacular light and sound show that left us all wanting more. When we left, we walked by a sports bar which revealed that the Dodgers beat Toronto 14-5 and the Giants were losing to the Reds 8-0...Lincecum going from no-no to oh-no. Glad I couldn't see it.

Posted by stevencavalli07 16:13 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 13, Tuesday, July 23 Last Day In Ottawa

storm 80 °F
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Another beautiful morning in Ottawa which would turn to lightning and thunderstorms later in the afternoon. After breakfast we made our way to Parliament hill where we stood in line for about 45 minutes to get to the top of the Peace Tower. The tower is a campanile whose height reaches 302 ft 6 in over which are arranged a multitude of stone carvings, including approximately 370 gargoyles, grotesques, and friezes, keeping with the Victorian High Gothic style of the rest of the parliamentary complex. The 360 degree views were very impressive and presented many photo opps. We then walked about a mile to the National Gallery which is one of Canada's premier art galleries. The gallery was first formed in 1880 and now sits in a very modern building. The Gallery has a large and varied collection of paintings, drawings, sculpture and photographs. Although its focus is on Canadian art, it holds works by many noted American and European artists. It has a strong contemporary art collection with some of Andy Warhol's most famous works. We just managed to beat the thunderstorm back to the hotel. Margaret was in the bedroom relaxing and reading and announced that the rain had stopped, at which point I opened the door to the balcony and was almost blown down by the wind and the rain which was thundering down. Fortunately, by the time we had to leave for dinner, the rain had stopped. We went to a new part of town and had dinner at Town, a restaurant featuring small plates, one of which was meatballs stuffed with ricotta cheese...yummmm!!!! To my reader, I must apologize that there really was nothing very funny that happened today. All in all, Ottawa is a very impressive city...I could see living here.

Posted by stevencavalli07 16:36 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 14, Wednesday July 24 Off to Montreal

semi-overcast 68 °F
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After three days in Ottawa we had a very good feeling for and about the city. We had a lazy morning and actually were able to do some laundry in the hotel's laundry room. While Albert at Bay was no Trump, it had everything we could want at an incredibly reasonable price. We had an afternoon train to Montreal. The train is so civilized...no security...no waiting for bags. You arrive at the station, a porter takes your bags and escorts you into the business class lounge which has all the accoutrements (trying to use my French) of a first class airport lounge. An announcement is made that the train is boarding, you board, all of your luggage is right by your seats, the seats are spacious and they pamper you for the entire ride. You enjoy the scenery along the way, and when you arrive at the destination, the porter comes and removes your bags and puts them into a waiting cab. No lines, no waiting, no insistence that electronic devices be turned off, free wi-fi with power outlets, never a tray table that needs to be returned to its upright position, and very reasonably priced.

Montreal immediately appeared and felt much more European than the other cities. The cab driver's first language was clearly French, all the signs are in French and 60% of the population speaks French as their first language...20% English. Montreal is in the province of Quebec. It is the largest city in the province, the second-largest in the country (after Toronto) and the fifteenth-largest in North America. The city has a population of about 1.7 million.

While on the train, I discovered that Montreal was in the midst of "Just For Laughs"' the largest international comedy festival in the world. Every summer the festival tickles the city into a laughing frenzy with galas, street art, theatre productions, and stand-up performances. Hosting some 1,700 artists from 19 countries as well as over 2 million festival-goers, Just For Laughs offers 1,600 performances, including 1,200 free outdoor shows. It has helped to launch the careers of John Stewart, Eddie Murphy, and many others. I noted that tonight, Seth Meyers was appearing at 10pm at Place des Arts, hosting a number of other comics. The show was sold out. I went on Craigslist Montreal and someone was selling seats in the 12th row for below face value. I emailed. He emailed. An hour later he met me at our hotel and we had great tickets to a sold out event.

Our hotel in Montreal is the Loew's Vogue Hotel. I had stayed at one other Loew's in Santa Monica and it was very nice. This hotel had a pretty good deal through Chase card's Luxury Hotel Collection which gives you a reduced rate, breakfast, complimentary welcome cocktails, an upgrade if available and a food credit in the bar/restaurant. The hotel had just been completely renovated last year and is BEAUTIFUL !! The rooms are very large, everything is marble and granite and the bathroom has a large jacuzzi tub for two...and a television. We have a room on the top floor directly across from a very nice fitness center...I am going as soon as I finish this. The bar and restaurant are beautiful...stained glass ceiling in the restaurant. Service excellent. I had only one gripe. There was a charge of $14.95/day for wi-fi. This is a pet peeve of mine and I know everyone else. In this day and age, don't charge for wi-fi...build it into the price. When we got to the room, I looked at the package I had purchased and it called for a corner room. We did not have a corner room. So I went back down to the front desk and I inquired, "What is the difference between the corner rooms and our room?" The young front desk manager replied, " You have only one neighbor...and the room is about 10 square feet more." I said, "Our package is for a corner room...how about you just comp the Internet (that I am pissed off about) and we will call it even?" Deal!!

Since we arrived late afternoon, there was no time for sightseeing. We got settled in the room and went to the bar to claim our welcome cocktails. We decided to order an appetizer and they brought us two boards with amazing charcuterie stuff, salami, figs, pâté, pears, sausage, etc. The comedy show did not start until 10pm so we had to pace ourselves. About 8pm we went back to the bar for some onion soup (me) and moules frites (Margaret). Then off to the show. The Place des Arts is a modern building that holds about 7500. The area surrounding had outside acts going on everywhere...the streets were blocked off from vehicle traffic. There was music and comedy going on. We walked into the Place de Arts about 15 minutes before the show was scheduled to start. The place was empty. When they started to show a video retrospective 10 minutes later of all the comedians that had performed in previous years since the festival began in 1983, the place was packed. Seth Meyer came out and did about 20 minutes and was hysterical. He was followed by seven or eight others who were okay, except for Bill Hall...never heard of him...but he was really funny. Seth Meyer introduced each new comic, but did another extended stint about his fiancée which was very funny. The show ended about 12:15am. When we left, there was still live music going on outside. We had smiles on our faces as we recounted the show and caught a cab back to the hotel.

Posted by stevencavalli07 16:10 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 15, Thursday, July 25 Exploring Montreal

sunny 72 °F
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The package we have at our hotel includes breakfast. For reasons that are unclear, we can only have room service. I guess they don't want us mucking up their restaurant. Oh well, we decided we would suffer through and hung the room service order from our doorknob last night. It was quite a nice way to start the day. As is our custom, we made our way after breakfast to the hop on/off tour which was about a half mile from the hotel. The tour was two hours and our guide, while very nice and accommodating, was not terribly informative. We learned that Montreal was once the capital of Canada.

We further learned that a mission named Ville Marie was built in 1642 as part of a project to create a French colonial empire. Ville Marie became a centre for the fur trade and French expansion into New France until 1760, when it was surrendered to the British army, following the French defeat of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. British immigration expanded the city. The city's golden era of fur trading began with the advent of the locally owned North West Company. Montreal was incorporated as a city in 1832. The city's growth was spurred by the opening of the Lachine Canal and Montreal was the capital of the United Province of Canada from 1844 to 1849. Growth continued and by 1860 Montreal was the largest city in British North America and the undisputed economic and cultural centre of Canada. Annexation of neighbouring towns between 1883 and 1918 changed Montreal back to a mostly Francophone city. During the 1920s and 1930s the Prohibition movement in the United States turned Montreal into a haven for Americans looking for alcohol. As with the rest of the world, the Great Depression brought unemployment to the city, but this waned in the mid-1930s, and skyscrapers began to be built. World War II brought protests against conscription and caused the Conscription Crisis of 1944. Montreal's population surpassed one million in the early 1950s. A new metro system was added, Montreal's harbour was expanded and the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened during this time. More skyscrapers were built along with museums. International status was cemented by Expo 67 and the 1976 Summer Olympics.

The one stop we knew we wanted to return to was the Museum des Beaux Arts which had a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture in front. So we walked approximately a mile from the last bus stop to the Museum and viewed, to my mind, the most remarkable art display I have ever seen. This is the largest exhibit ever of works by Chihuly. In the city’s public space on Sherbrooke, there is a monumental work entitled The Sun. This installation forms a round tower over twelve feet in diameter emitting rays composed of tendrils in primary colors: two shades of yellow with elements of blue and red.

The tour begins with a vast idyllic forest of Turquoise Reeds, 199 spear-shaped forms springing from the trunks of salvaged old- growth western red cedar. Persian Ceiling is one of Chihuly’s most popular works. It consists of various series of works in a multitude of shapes, forms and vivid colours arranged in layers over plates of transparent glass. There was a room with two boats full of his beautiful blown glass globes and other shapes in a cacophony of colors. The beauty of what this fellow from Tacoma, Washington does defies description by words. I had seen a small display of his work some years ago in Palm Springs, but nothing like this. He is represented in many major museums throughout the world. He also has a large presence in numerous botanical gardens. I would like to know how many millions The Bellagio paid for its Chihuly. Hopefully I will get some photos uploaded, but don't wait for me. Google Chihuly Montreal and look at the photographs on line. Even the photographs do not do these brilliant works of art justice.

We have been lusting after a soufflé and, after returning to the hotel, began researching restaurants with soufflés on the menu. Alas, we settled on Chez La Mer Michel which is one of the top ten rated restaurants in Montreal. We showed up for our 8pm reservation and were promptly seated...there were only two other diners in this very charming restaurant that had been converted from an old house. Our waiter was in a tux and, because Yelp told us the dress was "dressy" I dragged out my wedding clothes...first time since New York I didn't wear shorts. This was a very classic French menu. I had my usual French onion soup and a filet with bernaise. Margaret had a salmon carpaccio, followed by a lamb tenderloin. The food was very good, not great, as anticipated. The service was impeccable because there were two waiters and two tables that were occupied. Our waiter did give us some tips on places to see in Montreal as well as our next stop, Quebec City. The soufflés, however...I had Grand Marnier and Margaret had chocolate...were to die for.

On the bus tour we had passed a Jazz club and we decided to make that our next stop. There was a $10 cover per person and we were led to a table about three sections from the Jazz trio. I asked for something closer and we were seated at a a table right in front of the trio. They were on a break and we chatted with the young couple next to us, Alyssa and Jeff, who were on their honeymoon. They were from Buffalo but would soon be moving to Madison, WI where she would be matriculating toward a Ph.D in French studies. We had a nice chat with them, bought them each a cocktail and listened to some great jazz. Got back to the hotel after midnight, filled out our breakfast form and retired after another wonderful day.

Posted by stevencavalli07 16:18 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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