Category Archives: Travelin’ Man

Traveling Man: Would You Like Some Snow With Your Snow?


Today’s Music: Lyle Lovett – Here I Am21
Days Til Spring: 21

(After you’ve read this, check out the great thing Zoe is doing for Merbear. If you can help out, even by just spreading the word, that would be fantastic!)

When last we left our intrepid idiot (and his much smarter wife, they had left the cold winter of Montreal for…well…the cold winter of Ottawa.

We took this trip without renting a car. We walked all over, and used public transportation when we needed it. To get from Montreal to Ottowa, we took a Greyhound. Not too expensive, free wifi, and plenty of legroom. I slept through the ride down grey bleary highways.
So how did I know we actually arrived in Ottawa when we disembarked? Because only the big city bus terminals have this in the mens room:

Would a smaller city have such nice accouterments?

Would a smaller city have such nice accouterments?

Having established our location, it was time to get our winter on!
Actually, it was time for that whether we wanted it or not. On the cab ride from the bus depot to the hotel, the driver flew over slush and snow filled roads at normal driving speeds. I was terrified, but he was moving normally in traffic.

Like Montreal, Ottawa also celebrates the snow with its own Winter Festival. In a park across the street from us, there was a snow carving competition. Some of the entries were simply breathtaking.

Ice bowlers are HUGE in Canada!

Ice bowlers are HUGE in Canada!

Wheeee!!!!

Wheeee!!!!

Under The Reef.

Under The Reef.

This is my desktop background now.

This is my desktop background now.

Having gotten our bearings, we wandered over to Byward Market for lunch. The Market is a huge open air mall/flea market. Vendors sell prepared food, produce, trinkets, and there are street performers everywhere. We went into a seafood restaurant.
A couple getting up as we were leaving said they were headed home to Montreal (small world!) and gave us the rest of their gift card.

Because Canadians really are that nice.

The next day bloomed bright and sunny. After a quick breakfast (without Canadian bacon – because seriously, that isn’t bacon), we set out on the day’s adventures.
My wife had one thing on her mind. I had one thing on my mind.
Despite them being two different things, we were lucky that we could do them both in the same place: The Rideau Canal.
The Canal cuts through Ottawa, and is used these days mostly for pleasure boats. Except in winter when it freezes.
And is opened for Ice Skating!!!

Only graceful skaters in this pic. So no, not me.

Only graceful skaters in this pic.
So no, not me.

We’d heard about this on a summer trip up to Ottawa to meet Charles DeLint, and it had been on our list ever since.
Check!
And something my wife discovered that she soon introduced me to – Beaver Tails!
BeaverTweet
These delicious flat, long pastries can only be described as…well…delicious. And sticky.
Grab as many napkins as you can, it still won’t be enough. But the mess will be worth it!

So simple. So delicious. So Canadian.

So simple. So delicious. So Canadian.

With that out of the way, we were off to the highlight of the trip – John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett on stage together!
The two of them have been doing this tour for years. 2 guys, 2 acoustic guitars. On several songs, they backed each other up, both singing and playing. In between songs, they told stories, explained the songs, even played with the audience a bit.

The pale blob on the right is John. The paler blob is Lyle.

The pale blob on the right is John. The paler blob is Lyle.

We’ve seen them both separately and loved them, but together was even better. There were no revelations during the show or transcendental moments, but watching two old pros slip on their songs like comfortable old bathrobes was easily worth the ticket.

This is from a show they did at the end of last year, but it gives the feel of the show.

So after a long weekend of freezing cold, lots of snow, strange food and great music, it was tie to go home. Or so we thought.
Returning to the hotel after breakfast the next day to get to the airport hours early for an international flight, it turns out the flight was cancelled.
Because of snow.
In New York.

Yes, the hotel staff laughed at us.
But they also had room for us to stay the extra night, gave us the numbers we needed to call to find a flight for the next day, and told us where to go for an excellent dinner.
And then laughed at us some more.

So we caught a 6 am flight and landed back in NYC. I was at my desk my ten am, and asleep in my chair by two pm.
My boss let me go home at 4 pm.

And I went promptly to sleep, to dream of gravy, pastry, music and sooo much snow.

Thank you Canada. I had a blast. Can’t wait to see you again!

Canada always makes me feel right at home.

Canada always makes me feel right at home.

Travelin’ Man – Stupid Is More Than Just A Word


Today’s Music: Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind
Days Til Spring: 30

It started with an innocent conversation between me and my wife (The Most Wonderful Girl In The Universe).
Me: Hey honey, want to go to Canada in February?
TMWGITU: *thinks* Who’s playing?
(She knows me so well! And we’ve had this conversation before. A lot.)
Me: John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett. Acoustic! On stage at the same time!
TMWGITU: *sighing* Ok.

So my wife (who rarely thinks just a concert is reason enough for crossing an international border) planned a long weekend for us in Canada – two days in Montreal, two in Ottawa. Fortunately, when it was time for the trip, NYC was on the verge of a heat wave – 40 Fahrenheit! – so, in fine stupid fashion, off we went to Canada!

Montreal in winter was stunning! After checking into our room, we walked over to Old Montreal to get our very first (so we thought) Poutine.
Poutine is a local delicacy of french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curd. One of the options at the place we went was to get it with smoked meat.

The French on the soda bottle is how you know I'm in Montreal.

The French on the soda bottle is how you know I’m in Montreal.


We were in time for their Fête des Neiges, an annual celebration of snow, held on a small island in the Saint Lawrence river. We took the subway to get there, and I added yet another rail pass to the collection (which sadly consists of only New York, London and Montreal).

The festival was a massive party – Ferris wheel, zip line from the museum, live child foozball.
Yes, you read that right.

At last! A use for kids I approve of!

At last! A use for kids I approve of!

After that (and a great night’s sleep), we headed out the next morning to the top of Montreal to get bagels.
Back near the beginning of the twentieth century, Old World Jews migrated to Canada. Among the traditions, rituals and foods they brought with them were bagels.
I’m from NYC, born and bred. So after my wife told me how famous Montreal bagels were, and people around the hotel raved about them, I had to check them out. The big difference between Montreal bagels and real bagels (yeah, I said it) is that Montreal bagels are boiled in water with honey added. If I hadn’t known it was honey, I wouldn’t quite have been able to identify what was wrong with them. Lucky me.

It kinda looks like a bagel.  But the resemblance ends there.

It kinda looks like a bagel.
But the resemblance ends there.


To be fair, we did go to the two oldest, most famous bakeries to try the bagels.
I’ll stick with an NYC. Preferably with a schmear.

Part two will cover Ottawa, because otherwise, this post would be very long.
So until then, enjoy this view of a ferris wheel rising from the snow.
Ferris Wheel
And some random guys playing hockey on a rink in the projects. Because Canada.
20140131_200908

Travelin’ Man – Turkish For A Day


Today’s Music: They Might Be Giants – Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
Note on Today’s Music: This is the third appearance of They Might Be Giants as Today’s Music. More than anyone else!

Note on today’s post: As with all my alcohol related posts, this is only as true as I remember it.

wild-turkey_765_600x450

Not the Turkey I went to.
More like the turkey I acted like.


Among the many things I’ve been lucky to do, I occasionally did pick-up work as a courier: check cargo in at the airport, fly with it to the destination, and deliver to the waiting party on the far side.
I did a few of these runs. This was the one to Turkey.

It started with a phone call:
Shipper: “Hey Guap, we need an airplane part dropped in Turkey. Are you free tomorrow?”
At the time, I was taking computer classes, with no gainful employment.
EG: “What time is the flight?

So I meet the shipper at the airport. I’ve got a decent size duffel bag. He hands me a box (an altimeter for a private jet), a phone number, and an envelope of money – my pay for the job.
I get on the plane for a ride to Turkey.

This was before 9/11, so the security was not soul sucking. Unfortunately, this was after the days of no smoking on international flights. But I was travelling alone, so I wouldn’t have to worry about breaking any friendships as my nicotine fits got worse and worse.

So umpteen hours later, I arrive in Turkey. I buy a phone card.
But can’t figure out how to use the phone.
The phone is next to an airport coffee shop that has comment cards on each table, in English and Turkish.
Aha!
Friends, when you are around the world, as long as you can find a bilingual comment card, you too can translate enough to communicate with the nice girl at the coffee shop and learn how to use a phone!

So I get the pilot I’m supposed to deliver the altimeter to on the phone. He comes to meet me in the airport “Oh great, just what we needed! Get a room at this hotel, we’ll meet you in the bar later and go out on the town.”
One hour in Turkey and I know people. Woohoo!

So I go get settled at the hotel, take a quick nap and a shower, and head down to the hotel bar, Ricks American Sports Bar.
Sigh.

The pilot isn’t there yet, so I order a beer. And drink it. He still isn’t there, so I order another.
I’m half way through my third when he comes down and orders one.
I finish mine. He’s only halfway done with his. I order another.
(You see where this is going, right?)

The copilot comes down and orders a beer. “Great!” says the pilot. “We’ll finish these and head out!”

The mighty Bosphorous. No, I didn't see it.

The mighty Bosphorous.
No, I didn’t see it.


The copilot works on his beer. The pilot finishes his and orders another. Then me. Then the copilot.
It’s like doing rounds of Row Row Your Boat.

The pilot is telling stories about working for the Prince of the oil republic they fly for. The copilot is telling the pilot he’s drinking too much to fly tomorrow.
I’m laughing my head off because I’m on the other side of the world for one night.

Row Row Row Your Boat…

We’re finally lining up our intake. Within a beer or two, we should all be synced, and we’ll head out.
Until…

In walks the American businessman on his way home from Russia!
“English speakers! Great!” He joins us, and orders a beer.
And around we go again…

Relax. It's only worth a bag of pretzels.

Relax. It’s only worth a bag of pretzels.

Around 2 am (my flight is at 9), I stumble back to my room. I wake up the next day at 835, with jet lag and a case of beer stomping on my head.
And with an energetic “CRAP!!!”, I grab my stuff and run to the lobby. Where I find American Businessman has held the shuttle for me.

We get to the airport (basically a coffee shop with a reaaaallllly long road behind it) where we drink jet fuel sold as coffee.
And then wide awake, get on a plane for a 14 hour haul to Miami. (Don’t ask.)

After trying to explain to the customs guy why I was in Turkey for one night, I found a palatable cup of coffee, and sat in the parking lot of Miami International and chain smoked for three hours until my connecting flight to NYC.

And I even made it to class on time.

So on those rare occasions when Turkey comes up, with more pride than brains, I chime in, “Turkey? Been there.”