Monday, August 27, 2012

ELEVEN: St. John's!

The second part of our anniversary trip was, quite frankly, my sole idea.  I was just so curious about Newfoundland!  It seemed so far away, it wasn't even linked to the mainland (it's an island), and it was the easternmost part of North America.   Plus, I have a thing for northern port cities, and the capital (St. John's) fit the bill perfectly.

If you want me to summarise my impression:  I. Loved. It.

To begin with, I had looked hard for the right place to stay.  And I found it:  the Abba Inn, a Bed & Breakfast.  And I got exactly what I wanted: a view to the city and the bay!  I don't know what you think of it, but I was so happy!

And afterwards?  The anniversary dinner!   It was a Monday night, so we were a bit limited in choices (especially since I didn't bother to book a restaurant, thinking that it'd be easy on a Monday night... I was wrong).  But we ended up at an Indian restaurant that made absolutely authentic, spicy, scrumptious, mouth-watering abundant food.  I guess going to an Indian restaurant in St. John's will strike many of you as odd.  But then again, we're odd (and we both LOVE Indian food), so there!

As for the rest of our stay in St. John's, to be frank, it was one good thing after another (at least that's how I remember it, LOL).  At first, we both had thought that the colourful old houses we saw in the guidebooks and online might line just isolated small stretches of street here and there.  But lo and behold, we were completely wrong:  they're everywhere.  This is one beautifully preserved city, and practically all of downtown is older buildings in shades of blue, green, purple, red...   And as atheist as I may be, I must mention the churches too!  They're everywhere, and in many different styles, which was very refreshing too.  We even found a Masonic Temple (which is being used now as a theatre)! Honestly, so many modern cities destroy so much of their heritage in their modernisation rush, but St. John's is not one, and we really appreciated it.

Oh, and another thing I really liked?  The constant shift in ambiance!  We had gorgeous sunny days, we had  gorgeous cool foggy days too (that's my northern genes talking, where cool/fog and gorgeous are not opposites).  At times it would drizzle a bit, then stop, then start again... really random.  For many people not having endless sunshine is a minus, but I really enjoy changes in weather, light, temperature... a city's mood changes so much!  Shame I had a harder time capturing that with my camera...

Now, the food.  Yes, I guess St. John's is famous for fish.  It was even fairly easy to find cod tongue on a number of menus. But, as you know, I'm vegan.  And yet I didn't have a hard time eating well at all.   For starters, at any of the pubs (Irish pubs, of course, the Irish influence is heavy here!) I could always order a veggie burger, and all of them made them differently (with patties from chickpeas, veggies, beans...)!  Then, there was this place, the Rocket Bakery, which had tons of delicious food, including creative salads, great bread, and interesting drinks, like what became my favourite - the espressoda, which was simply espresso, soda, and vanilla syrup.  Fantastic!   And I loved their attitude there:  you went around, getting your food items, and then you would go to the cashier and show what you had or simply TELL the cashier.  Honestly.  A couple of times we took our stuff to a table first and THEN we paid at the cashier.  Loved their honour system!   Plus, the eating room was really more like a public gathering place:  some people even brought drinks from outside, or were sitting and chatting without having ordered, and nobody would give them trouble.  It couldn't get more relaxed, could it?

To finish (about time, right?), here are some views from Signal Hill, where the French surrendered St. John's to the British in 1762, where the first transatlantic wireless transmission was received in 1902,  and where the United States manned anti-aircraft guns during World War II.   The entrance to the Atlantic, the city afar, two lighthouses in the distance... it was oddly peaceful, given its history, and it even inspired my husband to do some Taichi there.

So, by now you can tell I liked the place, hey?  But that's not all there was to St. John's, and we still did a couple of day trips from there, plus a quick hop to France.  But you'll read about that in my next post. ;-)

Toronto Turkish Festival

Have lots of tasty snacks you might not have seen at other Turkish festivals, and enjoy a fest that spans the whole Turkic area from China's Xinjiang to Azerbaijan!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sunday brunch - Jewish style

@ Free Times Café. Awesome all you can eat buffet, with enough vegan options, desserts to die for and, on top of it all, klezmer live music by Gypsy Flame Band? Super!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Banh Mi Boys

If you're up to trying a curious western-Asian mix (kind of French meets China meets Thailand meets Toronto?), you can get vegan fare here.

Here: veggie kimchi fries and a lemongrass tofu banh mi (sandwich).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

ELEVEN: Oh Canada!

Time to get back to writing, especially about our anniversary trip!  Our first stop: Ottawa (which, imagine this, after 3 years in this country, we had never visited!).

L'Art / Art

Just so you know, the main reason we stopped in Ottawa on our way to Newfoundland was because my husband wanted to visit the Van Gogh exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.  And what a great idea that was!  That was no ordinary exhibition, it was designed to show you not Van Gogh's greatest pieces, but Van Gogh's processes:  the paintings were arranged according to the way he used perspective, lines, strokes, inspirations (there was even a side exhibition on Japanese prints!)...  It let us approach his painting in a very different way which let us get a better grasp of what made his masterworks so special.   

But what I also liked about the city was public art.  Here and there, without looking for it, we'd find art pieces, like some plaster-like angels mounted on very interesting metal bases (artist:  Erin Robertson), or a 100 feet tall stainless steel trunk like structure reaching for the sky (by Roxy Paine), or a fantastic gigantic spider (Maman) by Louise Bourgeois, or even a couple of totem poles.   Technically not in Ottawa, but in Gatineau (which is the part of the city across the river and on Quebec soil), and within the Canadian Museum of Civilization (but in a free access section, so it qualifies as public, right?) you could also see a modern piece with Inuit inspiration: the Killer Whale (by Bill Reid).  Nice.      

La capitale / The capital   

As a capital straddling two provinces, we were hearing French and English equally often (I'd say we even heard more French than English on the streets, actually).   That was very refreshing and, if I may very subjectively say, the city also had a slight air of chaos that you can easily feel in Montreal, but you don't in Toronto.   Those were definite pluses for us.  Oh, and multiculturalism!  Like Toronto, you see people of all different origins all over the place; we even had the chance to have some very yummy Turkish food with a live Bulgarian group at the Ottawa Turkish Festival one night, and listening to a guy playing a bagpipe near the same area the next day.   

But also, being in the capital, we got to enjoy something new too:  big, formal government buildings that give the city a very distinctive character.   Yes, we probably focused to much on Parliament Hill, where the centre of it all is, but it's really a beautiful complex in a great setting, with nearby parks, views of the city, and views of the river.   And in case you forget who's really in charge, a tour of Parliament will give you enough glimpses of monarchy to remind you.  And should that not be enough, how about a changing of the guard?   God save the Queen!   

Le dessert / Dessert

You know what else we discovered there?   Beaver tails!   An Ottawan invention, actually, and you can only find them in certain places in Canada (and definitely not in Toronto).   It's a kind of long, ovalish flat pastry, which resembles a beaver tail in shape, and has sugar, cinnamon and other toppings added.   No, it doesn't sound great, but they're pretty good and I loved mine simple, with just cinnamon, sugar and lemon!    


During summer, every night at 10 there is a sound and light show at Parliament Hill.  We thought "Why not?"  And there we were, sitting on the grass, with a thin slice of moon rising during a soft pink-orange sunset, and with no expectations.  What we saw surprised us, captivated us, and moved us.   First of all, think of the shape of the "screen"!  I mean, a very long and narrow horizontal rectangle (the body of the building) with another long and narrow vertical rectangle (the Peace Tower) in the middle?   And yet the designers of the show made an incredible and organic use of the space to tell their story, the story of Canada, in a beautiful, engaging and inspiring way.   Oh, and in a bilingual way too!  I had been wondering how they would solve the problem of presenting a show both in French and English, but through the use of different voices, brilliant timing, and not necessarily translating every single bit word for word, they did a perfect job!  And a moving one, too, for amongst all the things that we saw, including nature, aboriginal groups, history, pop culture and the like, they also talked about Canada as a country of ideals:  equality, human rights, health for all, peace, community, diversity...   I think that it was the 3 years we've spent here that let us really appreciate the meaning, honesty and truth in what they were showing.  Honestly, I felt really moved (I promise not to use "to move" and derivatives anymore in this post).  

Of course, not everything was perfect.  It was hot as hell.  Chinatown and Little Italy were surprisingly boring.  Even lonely.  And I hope I never have to use their public transport system in winter!  But I'm happier just mentioning this stuff quickly, like this, because what will probably stay in my memory are the good things I mentioned before.  Did I mention we also went to a queer Lesbian-run club with an impossibly good DJ, or that we had a delicious vegan brunch at a place called ZenKitchen?  See? Tons of good things to remember!

Now, back to the anniversary itself... Though the morning of our anniversary took place in Ottawa, the anniversary dinner and night would take place in St. John's, the capital of Newfoundland.  More on that in my next post!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rauchbier @ Hair of the Dog

It has been quite some time since my last beer update. This time: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Real good, smokey, baconey...

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


We're just back from an amazing four-province (Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador) 2-country (Canada, France) 3-time-zone-change trip.  Granted, Québec was just a quick half-day excursion to Gatineau from Ottawa, we stayed in the plane when it made a brief stop in Halifax (Nova Scotia) on the way to St. John's (Newfoundland and Labrador), and France actually means a tiny French territory (Saint Pierre and Miquelon) off the eastern coast of Canada, so I admit to cheating somewhat with the numbers, but it's my trip, so I'm allowed some liberties.  ;-)

And the reason for the trip?  Our ELEVENTH anniversary!  For, you see, we have this ritual that has developed over time:  for good luck, our anniversaries must be celebrated in a different city, town or country, always.   That keeps us happy (travel-addicts as we are), that keeps me busy trying to find ways to make our anniversaries memorable and to surprise my husband, and it is undoubtedly one wonderful way to celebrate an occasion.

And I do have a lot to celebrate, mind you.  Happy relationships... wait, no, I shouldn't generalise.  OUR happy relationship is the result of WORK and DEDICATION.  Love is great, important, inspiring, and all that, I know.  But romantic love by itself, unaided, is a feeling that only goes so far and lasts so long.   Patience, understanding, commitment to the well-being and the development of each other, communication, sex, romance, a sense of wonder, trust, remaining interesting to each other, problem solving, none of those are passive things that just happen by themselves.  They are choices.  They imply intent and active care.  And you can always get better at them.   Plus, when you're as obsessive and as stubborn as me, and you have the often unpredictable and at times very demanding (though deeply satisfying) job I have, you have the more reason to celebrate someone staying with you for so long! LOL

Our relationship is an 11 year work in progress.  I'm happy with what we've built so far.  We've overcome the obstacles we've come across.  We are committed to overcoming what obstacles may come.  And, when I take the time to simply look into the beautiful, heterochromatic eyes of my beloved, I feel a deep sense of love, connectedness, tenderness, friendship, hope for the future, and simple present bliss.   It was very happy anniversary indeed.

Of course, a few days into the building of what will be our 12th year together, we're already dreaming of how we'll celebrate next year.  But first, of course, I want to share (in the posts to come) the tale of our four-province, two-country, three-time-zone-change anniversary trip.

In the meantime, while I start publishing those posts, here's a photo I took of an inuksuk (ᐃᓄᒃᓱᒃ, also spelt inukshuk, also called inunnguaq) off the eastern coast of Newfoundland.  You'll have to wait until the post about that day trip to find out its meaning, though.  ;-)