Category Archives: Travel

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

Linda’s Brain Peanuts Remembers Soda Pop


Today’s Music: Prisencolinensinainciusol (picked by todday’s author.)
Days Til Spring: 38

It’s no secret that I enjoy both drinking and traveling, and traveling to go drinking.
Today, Linda Vernon has taken time from her busy schedule of cheering up Edgar Allen Poe (He was very unhappy about the Pottery Barn’s intriguing story about him), and bringing us the cutting edge of thoughts that scientists are thinking about, to tell us why it’s so important to keep our traveling in mind when drinking.
(Even if she wants me to switch to Pepsi.)
So read! Enjoy! And stop by Linda’s site and follow!
(It’s the easiest way to get into her will…)

My Brain Peanuts Remembers Soda Pop
by Linda Vernon
Drinking soda in the fifties was a lot different from today. First of all, soda came in a bottle. In Washington state, where I grew up, there was no such thing as drinking a can of soda. No siree!
We drank a bottle of pop or we drank nothing at all.

Back then, when you bought a bottle of pop, the pop was yours to drink — but you had to give back the bottle because you were merely renting it. After all, you had to pay a 2-cent deposit on it, for crying out loud, and not taking it back for a refund could seriously affect the budget.

So everyone always returned their pop bottles to get their two-cents back because two-cents in the fifties would buy enough gas to get you to Canada from anywhere in the United States.

The only people who drank out of a can were beer drinkers. But beer cans were worthless so beer drinkers didn’t worry about getting their deposit back. They would simply chuck the empties out of the window of whatever speeding vehicle they happened to be drunkenly swerving down the highway in.

Today, we would consider this drunk driving but in those days we simply considered it littering. And in the 1950’s, littering was America’s favorite pastime — as much a way of life as Polio, onesie gym clothes, and radio-active cleansing cream.

But whether you were drinking out of a bottle or drinking out of a can, you would have died of thirst in the 1950’s if you didn’t have one of these.

It was a combination bottle/can opener, and it was a wonderful little gadget. One end would pry off the caps of Debby and Bobby’s pop bottles while the other end would puncture a hole in Mom and Dad’s beer cans. (The only thing this can opener wouldn’t do is open a bottle of wine, but this wasn’t a problem because in the 50’s only Europeans drank wine.)

I think it’s fair to say that the bottle opener was as much a part of the foundation upon which the togetherness of the fifties family was built as smearing butch wax on crew cuts, stenciling on eyebrows or hiding under desks together to survive atomic blasts.

I remember my grandparents only drank Pepsi which they always referred to as Peps. Pepsi was for those who think young. Not only did my grandparents think young, they were young. When I was five, my grandmother was only 44. (Back then people started families way younger so they could get it out of the way quicker and have more time to drink Peps.)

Now let’s say you only drank half the Peps in that rented bottle of yours. What would you do? Well, instead of pouring it down the drain, you would save the remainder of the Peps by utilizing another ingenious type of gadget that people just referred to as that bottle thingy.

That bottle “thingy” I’m referring to was a rubber gasket that went into the top of the bottle to seal in the carbonation as well as that delicious Peps refreshing flavor. After all, you spent a whole dime for that bottle of Pepsi, and you wouldn’t want it to go to waste.

Not if you were ever going to afford that trip to Canada!

Now where am I going? – Physical edition


Today’s Music: Stray Cats

I can get within 5 miles of my target on a 500 mile trip. It’s that last mile that kills me.
But I’ve gotten smarter. I have a GPS for the car. I have maps. And I have a compass.
Actually, I own several compasses. I have analog ones, digital ones. I have GPS, I have them bundled in other tools.
When making screened t-shirts was on my list of things to do, the front logo was a compass.

It came with the car!

I love my compi (plural). When I’m on a car trip, I take note of where I’m going, and never fail to laugh during the large east/west section of I-95 North/South. It makes me feel kind of smug that I, outdoor adventurer, have a better idea of my bearings than the guys that built a road from Florida to Maine, but couldn’t even get the orientation of the road correct.

But sometimes I’m on foot.

Fits in my pocket!

For that, I have this little gem. It came with a carabiner! It has a little Canadian flag as a souvenir of where I bought it!
It worked for two whole weeks!
But the key ring on the other end holds all my keys, so I keep it even though the compass doesn’t work anymore and is not worth the effort to recharge and recalibrate. Besides, I have an Android.

It's on my phone!

With a compass App! It’s pretty accurate. It also has other features, and with the phone’s GPS, I can keep a record of my path and (more importantly) find my way back out.

Which has been really helpful sometimes. When I remember to turn it on.

Though, there are times when electronics are just persnickety.

I could have been an arm model


So I can align my watch with the sun and adjust the bearing dial to find general direction. Doesn’t work as well at night though…

Of course, sometimes I’m not tramping about on roads or through the woods. Sometimes I’m doing it underwater.

I could have been a hand model

Sadly, I have no idea how to use this underwater. But it’s really cool. And is my second favorite compass I own, behind…

My wife (the most wonderful girl in the universe) gave me this, one of the first gifts I ever got from her. It means more to me than a lot of other things I own, because for me, it’s a perfect gift. It’s small, it is elegant and it works.
I love this little box compass.

So there’s really no reason for me to get lost in the world anymore.

Next time we’ll do the Metaphysical Edition…

An Adventure – Learning to Ski


Today’s Music: Tori Amos

So, here we are, in the ongoing series of “Learning to” Adventures posts.

Some of my best skiing days have happened when I was hung over. I don’t recommend that condition for actually learning to ski though.

This picture isn't me, but could have been. Many times.

Skiing (from Urban Dictionary): somethin a person does in the wintertime to convince oneself that he or she is actually enjoying the 10 degree weather.

The first thing is to get the right clothes.
The first time I went, I wore jeans. And fell a lot. All the dye in the denim seeped right through the top 20 layers of my skin, and I had blue legs through February.

Second thing is have a sense of humor.
You’re going to fall. No way around it. If you can laugh about it, you’ll be able to get back up and learn to stay up that much faster, thereby freeing yourself to laugh at the poor bastard behind you who just did a fantastic slow-mo windmilling flop. While not moving.

Third thing is to get a teacher.
By teacher I mean not just someone who knows how to ski, but someone who can teach it.

Let me explain.
So one winter, Ronnie and Meat decided I should learn how to ski. Sure, why not.
We trundled up to the mountain, and I got my rental gear and lift ticket, and we headed up the mountain. To the top.

Much scarier with planks strapped to your feet. And no idea what you're doing.

This was the lesson, as explained to me by Meat: Ronnie’ll go first and show you what to do. I’ll go behind you to pick up your stuff (see top pic) and tell you what you did wrong.

One thing I learned about cold mountain air – it clears hangovers fast. Well, that and terror.

For those of you have never been to Hunter Mountain, the main skiing face faces east. That means it is softened by the morning sun. Which means?
Exactly. When the sun crests and begins to set in the west, the east face freezes back up. Into sheet ice.

People out west mock the east coast snow. And justifiably, because their’s is much softer and fluffier.
But lemme tell you, if you can ski the east (especially someplace like Hunter), you can ski anywhere.

Back to the lesson.

The fourth thing is to Zip. Up. Your. Jacket. All the way.
We’ve already established that you will fall. At some point, you will probably Yard Sale (again, see top pic).
That’s where both your skis come off and shoot in opposite directions, your poles bounce off to God-knows-where, your hat is half buried in the snow behind you, a glove may have come off, and your lungs are twice their normal size from all the snow forced down your throat as you belly surfed down the hill.
Zipping your jacket will keep at least one square yard of snow off your chest.

Having fun yet?

Looks ridiculous, but it does work.

Good. Because it isn’t all horror. By the end of the day, I was able to use my modified snowplow to zig-zag down the mountain in one piece. I was skiing!

Meat and Ronnie gave me my first lessons in skiing parallel too (as opposed to snowplow), and this gave me (barely) enough control and (way too much) speed to be able to zip down the mountain making some truly…unique maneuvers.
I had so much fun, I eventually forgave them for their wtf teaching method.

Once I could ski at a level near theirs, we needed to add some tricks,
like the Daffy, and the Backscratcher

I've done this! And landed well!

I've done this! The landing was hilarious. And painful.

Now, my wife (the most wonderful girl in the universe) and I try and go skiing at least once a year. I taught her the basics, and she very wisely (and relationship savingly) decided to take a real lesson. She gets better every year. And so do I.

Looking back over this, I think the most important part of learning to ski is to do it because it’s fun, and you want to enjoy it.
Otherwise, you’ll end up with blue legs, or a belly full of ice, or a broken rib (that one really sucked, but I skied the rest of the day anyway), and no big stupid grin to show for it.

Bought these after I knew how to use them. They were great, but their time has passed...

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go see what lift tickets will be this season, and try on my ski hat…

Yes, I do wear it in public. Sometimes, I even wear it to work.

Surfing at Rockaway


Today’s Music: The Beach Boys
Today’s Adventure: SURFING!!!!

Let me just start this post by saying I Suck.
Really.
I smoke a pack a day of Marlboro Lights Golds. I do as little regular exercise as I possibly can (though if pushing remote control buttons were an Olympic Sport, well I’d still lose, but not by a lot).
I should not be out surfing.

But God help me, I love it.

So I went out today with my surf bag (prepacked and ready to go) and my board. I had all the tools I needed. Except my contacts.
Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem.

Not the batmobile, but it'll do...

I made it to the beach in good time, and unpacked my gear. I was smart enough to wear my wetsuit on the drive, saving me an embarrassing 10 minutes trying to wriggle into it on the beach.
Waxed up my board, and in I went.

It was beautiful out there. Light wind, 1 – 3 ft rollers coming in and breaking cleanly. A perfect day for surfing.

I paddled out to where the other surfers were, about half a dozen or so, and took my place in the line-up. I sat up on my board and started looking for waves.
In came a beautiful one, I laid down, started paddling to turn myself around and… missed it.
Tried again. Same thing.
I called out to the surfer next to me
“Hey, let me ask you something”
“Sure”, he said.
“How do you turn your board around” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he answwered.
“Well, we’re all sitting here on our boards, facing out” I explained. “When I see a wave, but can’t spin around fast enough to catch it.”
He thought a moment. “Sit all the way on the back of your board” he said, demonstrating. “When you see your wave, a couple of quick paddles will get you around”.
“Oh, Thanks”, I said, understanding.
And it worked. Next wave I saw, I slid back on the board, spun around, laid down and paddled to catch it. And pearled.

For those that don’t know, Pearling, in surfing, is when the surfer dismounts his board by sliding off the front of it.
Hilarious. Not fun. But hilarious to watch.

My Superhero-Surfer gear


The next two that I caught, I managed to “kneeboard” in. I went back out, hoping for one more ride before I packed it in.
In came a big one, maybe 4′. I was set up on it, paddling furiously, but I guess I was a moment too late.
The wave crashed down on me, knocking me off the board, then a surge of froth washed down my throat and pushed me under.
I waited a moment for it to pass, then popped up, caught my breath and started for the shore. Wheezing. Like an old lady. Or a pack-a-day smoker.
I couldn’t get enough air in. At all. I was gasping.

I stood on the shore for the next five minutes, trying to catch my breath.
When I had it, I started to take off my wetsuit. And falling on my ass. Twice.
Hey, you try disentangling yourself from six feet of neoprene tangled around your ankles, and when your arms and legs have turned to jelly.
Hmph.

With that finally done, I loaded up the car, and headed off to Tap & Grill for fish tacos. But they don’t open till noon.
But I’ll be back.

So what did we learn today?
– Sit on the tail of the board to turn around fast enough to catch the wave.
– Stop smoking!!!!
– Do a pushup, for crissakes!

Learn from my mistakes, folks. Lord knows I won’t…