The Great Canadian Adventure, Days 4 and 6–Montreal!

I don’t have any pics from Montreal, I’m afraid, so y’all are going to have to just make do with my textual descriptions to cover Days 4 and 6 of the Great Canadian Adventure–which I am combining on account of Memoire et Racines, Day 5, gets its own post!

The bulk of Day 4, really, went to the train trip from Toronto to Montreal. userinfocow saw us safely off to the train station, and once we got safely ensconced on the train, it became readily apparent that why yes, we were about to head into Francophone Canada. There was a Francophone family sitting across from us, and several of the train staff sounded to me like native speakers of French. What with hearing all those folks talk, I pretty much reaffirmed that I still can’t follow French at conversational speeds, but I can at least pick out days of the week!

All in all the train ride from Toronto to Montreal was pleasant. They gave us an excellent lunch, including wine, a tasty chocolate mousse for dessert, and surprise extra chocolates to finish us off. We were slightly disappointed that there was no actual dining car–we ate right at our seats–but this was more of a question of just needing somewhere to get up and wander to, as opposed to eating locale. The trip was long enough that it would have been nice to be able to stretch our legs. That said, though, other than that, it was an excellent train ride all around.

Montreal itself was nice, once we finally got there–not that we got a good look at it, really, until we dropped off our stuff and headed right back out again for our dinner plans for the evening! We stayed at the Hotel Lord Berri, which turned out to be a nice place, and I was a bit surprised to discover that they’d given us a room with two queen-sized beds. Dara made a joke about wondering when the convention was about to get started, given that that room configuration is one we normally have for Norwescon.

Montreal’s Metro system was, well, pretty much a subway system. Not terribly different from any other I’d been on before, with the exception of the stop announcements and the ads in the subway cars being in French. I did amuse myself frequently, though, trying to figure out which signs I could read at first sight.

And dinner, as it happened, turned out to be with none other than userinfolyonesse, along with userinfopywaket! We left the hotel and jumped right back on the metro system we’d just gotten off, and went ahead a few more stops to meet them over at a place called Chez Chose for dinner. If you’re ever in Montreal, Internets, I totally recommend this place. Our waiter was very friendly, and took the time to translate everything on their menu for us as well as chat with us in general. The menu in question wasn’t large, but we wound up trying a good half of the items on it and sharing them around the table. The only reason we didn’t go for dessert is because Vicka recommended a good gelato place nearby, about which we were all very amenable given that we wanted to walk off our excellent dinners.

The gelato turned out to be at Suite 88, and YOU GUYS, this stuff was the fluffiest gelato it has ever been my pleasure to eat. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Gelatiamo here in Seattle, but Suite 88 totally gave them a run for their money–and especially given that they had an amazing chai flavor that damn near made me swoon on the spot. SO TASTY. And we had more pleasant conversation there along with our desserts, and hung out there pretty much until it was time for the place to close.

From there, Vicka and Pywaket walked us back to our hotel–because again, we needed the exercise after our excellent dinners, but also because Dara and I had been on a train for much of the day and we wanted the walk. Fortunately it wasn’t too far of a walk at all, and the parts of Montreal we were walking through were comparable to downtown Seattle in terms of general walkability. We saw a LOT of people walking, too, which was awesome.

Did I mention that both Chez Chose and Suite 88 were on St. Denis, which is apparently the Street With All of the Awesome Things on it? Well, all the awesome things except for the Archambault, the chain music store which happened to have a store right on the same block as our hotel! I’d discovered this place online trying to hunt down places from which I could order Quebecois trad music, and the proximity of one to our hotel was irresistible. So on Sunday morning, after we got back from Memoire et Racines, Dara and I ducked in there to check the place out on our way to heading out for the rest of the day’s amusements.

Me, I scored two albums I wanted to get–the remaining album by Genticorum that I didn’t have yet, which is to say, their first one. AND, an album by Les Frères Brunet, which is to say, André and Réjean, of De Temps Antan and Le Vent du Nord respectively! I’d been wanting one of their albums ever since I discovered they had a couple, so as to give these boys a fighting chance against their bandmates, the bouzouki-playing Beaudrys. (Though going up against the Beaudrys IS a high-stakes endeavor, given my natural bias in favor of that instrument, André IS a podorythmic fiddle-player and that’s just about as awesome!) Dara on the other hand amused herself mightily in the store investigating their second floor where they kept all the instruments–and I do mean ALL the instruments, given that they had enough stuff up there to start a full school orchestra! She was particularly impressed by the bass ukelele they had, and if we’d had any ability to bring that thing home with us, I suspect we would have done!

After that was another place I wanted to hit–the Renaud-Bray bookstore, again on St. Denis! This specific bookstore had come heartily recommended by the redoubtable Cow, so I wanted to raid the place to pick out a couple of books in French to bring home. What books I got are called out in this roundup post, but to that I will add that the staffer at the store was most helpful when I pulled him aside and explained that I was trying to learn French from novels, and that one of the ones I wanted being YA was in fact okay. He said he was doing much the same with English, which was amusing! Dara kept chastising me for not deploying more French than I did, but she was right, I was nervous about it. And at any rate, given that everybody we kept buying things from in Montreal was perfectly capable of English, I didn’t need it much anyway!

Most of Sunday afternoon went to meeting up with Jill, one of my Kickstarter backers, and that was a nice encounter in general. She took us to get bagels from this place, and while they haven’t trumped my and Dara’s beloved Siegel’s in Vancouver, they did nonetheless have a very tasty Everything bagel. And the three of us did in fact wind up meeting up with Vicka again, for more ice cream! Jill and Vicka got to language geek as both of them have linguistics backgrounds–even if that part of the conversation rather left Dara and me in “I LIKE PIE” mode.

It must be said, though, that the ice cream place we stopped at had maple ice cream. With bits of maple sugar in it. And OH. MY. GOD. That was unbelievably tasty. I had to slurp mine down faster than I wanted, since I made the mistake of getting it in a cone prone to ice cream melt! But it was deeply swoonable while it lasted.

From there we had to scamper back to our hotel so we could pick up our bags and head out again for the metro, and our train to Moncton! About which I’ll elaborate in an upcoming post. Of Montreal in general I’ll say that I felt as though I barely saw the place, given that much of the weekend was spent in Joliette. Dara and I both definitely want to come back and see the bits of the city that we didn’t have time to see.

Next post, though: Memoire et Racines! :D :D

The Great Canadian Adventure, Day 3!

And now, let’s get back to recounting the details of the great Canadian Adventure, shall we? Because I gotta tell you people about Memoire et Racines, not to mention GBS, but I ain’t skipping ahead!

Our last day in Toronto involved less wandering around than the two previous ones, in no small part because we needed to keep some time free for userinfosolarbird to get back to Chez Cow and prepare for her house concert! But that said, we did have a good wander about through the late morning and early afternoon.

The first stop of the day was at the Ontario Legislative Building in Queen’s Park, so that userinfocow could drop off tasty Montreal bagels for a friend. On the way, Dara and I spotted various amusing signs out the windows of the bus, so I took pics. I was disappointed that “Dragons and Skulls” did not in fact sell either dragons OR skulls–it was apparently a defunct Chinese gift shop. “Adult Movie Pet Food” just made me giggle on general principle for the juxtaposition, while “Cabbagetown” made both me AND Dara giggle and think of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s cabbage vendor NPC!

Once we got to the Legislative Building, we peeked into the lobby, as far as we could get in the building without joining one of the formal tours, and we did snap a few pics while we were in there. There was nice art on the walls as well as the ceremonial mace used by the Legislature.

After that we wandered through a bit more of the park, specifically cutting past a building that userinfocow told us was the medieval studies building for the University of the Toronto. There was a neat sign there all in Latin–and how many signs do you see on colleges anywhere, TOTALLY IN LATIN? I also rather liked an ivy-covered arch nearby.

Then we cut over to the Village, Toronto’s LGBT district, and I snapped more pics of urban art that caught my eye on the way. We stopped at Glad Day for books (where I picked up a potentially interesting novel called Three, mentioned in my last book round up post). We stopped for yogurt (which was tasty). We popped into a candy store (where I giggled at the sight of an ancient Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox, which I recognized because my brother had had one of those when I was a kid!). And we stopped to look at an AIDS memorial, which was touching.

But the thing I liked best about this particular day’s wandering was Riverdale Farm. I hadn’t ever encountered an urban farm before, and it was really pretty neat to be able to wander through a farm right in the middle of a major city.

Once we were done wandering around the farm, the weather took a turn for the worse–and just as we made it off the bus near Cow’s place, it finally opened up raining. I’d brought my raincoat, thankfully, so I didn’t get too wet. Dara was not so lucky!

But it was all good, because the rest of the day pretty much went to Dara’s house concert. Attendees If and Sarah were very fun to chat with (and I in particular had great fun talking to Sarah since she works for Kobo and I was pleased to be able to yak about putting Faerie Blood up on Kobo’s new Writing Life site), and they took well to Dara’s music, particularly “Sad Muppet”! A very nice way to round out the Toronto phase of our trip!

The Great Canadian Adventure, Day 2!

Day 2 of the Great Canadian Adventure involved more wandering around through Toronto, and in this particular case, that meant that our fine host userinfocow took userinfosolarbird and me along Queen Street towards downtown Toronto. The plan was to stop and have lunch and hang out for a bit, until it was time to meet up with Susan, my Le Vent du Nord fandom friend!

Queen Street was a good walk, not too strenuous or long, especially given that I’ve done comparable walking daily getting to and from work. There was a lot of construction along the route, but there was also some nice art, like the animal mural we found under one particular bridge! And I gotta say, I really like the random bits of under-bridge art we’ve seen in Toronto so far. Apparently Toronto’s bridge trolls are quite artistically inclined!

I didn’t get shots of all of the animals on that mural, but yeah, it was very pretty.

We eventually wound up at a place called the Distillery, this neat little walkable market area down near the lakefront, with a lot of nice old brick buildings. At the Mill Street Brewery pub, we stopped for some very tasty lunch. There were super-tasty pretzels with sea salt, and this day’s venture into Cider Science brought us Thornbury Cider. Which was tasty, a bit sweeter than the stuff we’d had the night before, but still not quite as intense as Strongbow!

Then we wandered more around the general Distillery area. We stopped in a tiny sake shop, which was awesome. The guy at the counter was very knowledgeable about the various sakes they were selling, and Dara and I did “Tasting Flight”, which was small samples of three different kinds of sake. We wound up buying a bottle, and Dara was particularly happy to be able to swap a bit of Japanese in conversation with the gentleman.

And we found some seriously neat skiffy-esque sculpture!

After the Distillery, it was time to head to the St. Lawrence market and meet up with Susan! Cow parted ways with us at that point, but it was great to meet Susan face to face. It was not surprising to me in the slightest that one of the first things she did was hand me one of the smaller posters for the Le Vent du Nord show she arranged, hee!

And it was also not surprising that the boys of Le Vent du Nord were one of my and Susan’s primary conversation topics. But we also yakked about Doctor Who, since Susan was wearing an adorable “Doctor Pooh” t-shirt–think Pooh with the Tom Baker scarf–and about audio equipment, Toronto, our various personal histories, the St. Lawrence market we were wandering through, and more.

The market, by the way, is worth mentioning just because it reminded me a lot of Pike Place, only more vertically oriented rather than sprawling. Much of the same kind of stuff sold therein, only involving a lot more maple snacks. I bought maple candy and icewine candy, the latter of which I hadn’t heard of and which proved to be tasty.

We wandered around the University of Toronto campus a lot, too, which was a nice place to walk. By the time we got there, though, a thunderstorm was rolling in–and neither Dara nor I had thought to prep for a thunderstorm! Dara didn’t have her umbrella, and I didn’t have my raincoat. DOH. Taking shelter from rain did however find us a neat arch with a WWII memorial.

The plan HAD been to take Susan to dinner, but we wound up blowing the time we had available just by talking and wandering! We did at least have a chance to duck into a cafe–again, to hide from rain–and drink hot beverages and yak more. But eventually we had to return Susan to the subway so she could scamper back to Uxbridge by bus. And Dara and I made our way back along Queen Street, heading back to Chez Cow!

On the way, we saw a spaceship building. I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t an actual spaceship.

It got to serious raining by the time we made it off the streetcar, so we ducked into the first open restaurant we could find, a pizza place. Which had perfectly acceptable pizza, and a friendly waiter who told us he was from the Yukon and that he quite disliked the bit of Toronto he lives in, but that he quite LIKED the bit the restaurant was in! I.e., Cow’s neighborhood, Leslieville. We are so far in agreement on the excellence of Leslieville.

It continued to be quite thunderstormy as the night progressed, to degrees I haven’t experienced since I was a kid, or since Dara and I were in Orlando for the Worldcon in the early nineties. I dreamed of lightning as I slept. And I’m told that Toronto really needs the rain, so it’s all good.

Today, though, I’ll be heading out with my raincoat!

The Great Canadian Adventure, Day 1!

So yeah, the Great Canadian Adventure has begun, folks! userinfosolarbird and I made it safely to Toronto last night, after a surprisingly relaxed and groovy jaunt out of Sea-Tac. Thanks to userinfospazzkat kindly running us down to the airport on his way to work, we got there super-early and had acres of time to kill. We wound up walking all up and down all the various wings of the airport, and even stopped for 15-minute massages at a massage bar in one wing. Which was beautiful and relaxing, and which is something that should be done more often before flying, I feel.

We also looked at various bits of airport art. Most of this are of a big mural we found at the end of the A wing, which looked really cool with the sun coming down through it, and I quite liked the sleeping figures at the top. For comparison, though, I also present the dubious brown bits of sculpture that we wound elsewhere in our airport wanderings–sculpture that wasn’t particularly improved by the proximity of similarly shaped white pieces hanging from the nearby ceiling.

And we wound up having all this time to kill at the airport even given the madhouse that SeaTac was, thanks to mechanical failures and flight cancellations. We got a baggage fee waived even though Dara’s bouzouki was oversized, and even the security line was surprisingly quick and painless; neither of us got dinged for the full-body scanner, thankfully.

The flight was a bit bumpy, but we made it in okay, and Canadian customs was also quick and painless. userinfocow came to meet us and escort us back to Chez Cow, and then we popped back out again to go get a very late (by local time) dinner at Cow’s nearby preferred pub. We had lovely service from the Croatian bartender there and got to try a local cider, for the first volley in this Adventure’s objective of CIDER SCIENCE! Verdict on the Waupoos: a good light, dry cider, not as overt in flavor as Strongbow, but that stuff’s hard to beat. The fish and chips were tasty as well, and we eventually keeled back over at Chez Cow around midnightish.

Much to my amazement, my brain popped online around sixish–i.e., threeish Pacific time. And I was astonishingly awake and have mostly remained so all day! When the HELL did I turn into a morning person, anyway?

But today was relaxed and groovy, an overall theme for this trip. We wandered out through the Leslieville district, had some nice lunch at a Japanese place, and then a lovely walk along the beach of Lake Ontario. Internets, this is the first time I’d ever been to one of the Great Lakes! And the sheer visual size of it just blew me away. I’m used to Lake Washington–which, don’t get me wrong, is no tiny pond–but even with Lake Washington, I can see the distant shorelines way down at the other end.

With Lake Ontario, though, there’s nothing out there but blue horizon. The weird thing, though, is that it looks like it ought to be ocean, except that there are no waves and no tides, and the air doesn’t smell like salt. It was great fun to wade down into the beautiful clear water, though, and see some tiny wriggling mini-fish. Here’s the shots I got of the lake!

Our evening went to Ethopian food for dinner, and then a casual stroll got us back to Chez Cow. I got a couple more pics on the way! I giggled at the No Hockey sign, but also the Traffic Calming one, because apparently the local streets just wanted a nice relaxing cup of tea. The mural and the tunnel, though, those were awesome. And the tunnel totally makes me think a scene of some sort ought to take place in it.

We are closing this first day in Toronto with experiments in margaritas and vodka. And tomorrow there will be meeting of fellow Le Vent du Nord fan Susan!

Great Atlantic Canadian Trainventure!

As I posted on the social networks earlier tonight, Dara and I will very soon be commencing the formal planning of the Great Atlantic Canadian Trainventure! We are looking at a rough range of dates from July 21st through August 7th, as that’s about as much time off as I can spare and still account for Norwescon and for the minor oral surgery I have to have in May. (It’s a dental thing, and no real big deal, but I need to take a day off for it.)

We will be targeting arriving in St. John’s in Newfoundland on the 2nd so we can be there in time for the festival to start on the 3rd, and we’ll come home on the 6th, and I’ll take the 7th to get over being jetlagged and to decompress from OMG 2 1/2 weeks in Canada. :D

And that, O Internets, means that depending on when Dara and I can catch a train from Vancouver to Toronto, we will be arriving in Toronto somewhere between the 24th and 26th of July! We want to visit people in the Toronto area (including userinfocow and possibly also userinfoeeyorerin), but also to make bonus stops in Montreal and Moncton! So if you’re in any of these places OR within shouting distance of St. John’s, and you’d like to meet a couple of friendly and musical Cascadian elfchicks, I want to hear from you! Let me know if I should factor you into my plannings!

Going to VCON, need new passport!

The last time I remember having my passport was on the way back from Vancouver last year, when userinfosolarbird and I went up for the Olympics to see Great Big Sea. We haven’t been back since, so I haven’t had reason to need the thing–but the problem is, I cannot find it for the life of me. Dara and I have looked in all the reasonable places it should have been in and many of the stupid ones, to no avail.

This is important because we want to go to VCON next month! One, we want another excuse to visit Vancouver, and the B’ys have not favored us with another Vancouver show on the tour schedule yet this year. Two, it’s a fairly tiny convention and we’re looking forward to attending a convention Dara doesn’t actually have to work. Three, we haven’t had a formal vacation this year, and don’t have one scheduled, so this’ll be a bit of a mini-vacation!

So I’m going to have to fill out the forms for reporting a passport lost and applying for a new one. Fortunately the courthouse down in Lake Forest Park takes the appropriate forms, AND they have Saturday hours. So I’m going to get that done and dealt with next weekend, and pay the fee to expedite a new passport, and hopefully that’ll get VCON all squared away. We have hotel reservations but we don’t have train tickets yet.

Anyway–yo, Vancouver peeps, if there’s any chance you’ll also be at that convention, let Dara and me know! It’d be nice to see you.

Mt. St. Helens Road Trip, or, Anna Visits the Splody Mountain

With userinforavyngyngvar visiting us over this past week, one of the things we wanted to do was drive down to see Mt. St. Helens. userinfosolarbird and I have after all lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1991–and we’d never once actually seen this famous volcano. Plus, since this was Yngvar’s second visit, I wanted to give him a shot at seeing something cool a little farther afield than the immediate Seattle area. Ergo, I took Thursday off with the plan to allocate that to going to see the splody mountain.

As plans went it was a good one. It did however go significantly agley, as it were, when I chose poorly in selecting our actual destination at the mountain. Silly me–I thought that something calling itself the mountain headquarters would be, oh I dunno, near the mountain. But it turned out to be on the south side, way past where we needed to be. So Dara wound up having to do quite a bit of extra driving, and we wound up reaching where we needed to be–the Johnston Ridge Observatory–after the facility had closed.

Fortunately though we were still able to park in the parking lot and walk around quite a bit, which gave us ample opportunity to see not only the mountain, but much of the surrounding terrain. Here’s what we saw, including a couple of pics from my iPhone!

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