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Thursday, July 19, 2007

A parade, some jazz, and a chateau

Originally uploaded by who_ca
Janet and I took an extended weekend to enjoy a train ride east to Montreal and Quebec City. The train is a wonderful option for travel to Montreal and we opted to stay at the Hilton just above the train station.

In Montreal we enjoyed a colourful parade and the always energetic jazz festival. We said good-bye to Montreal and moved on to Quebec City.

We stayed in the old city next to the Chateau Frontenac and essentially walked, enjoyed the cafes (when it was not raining) and eat at wonderful restaurants.

While the train ride is certainly a step up from driving, it was still a long ride back to Toronto from Quebec City.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eastern Europe photos... finally
I finally have some pictures from our Eastern Europe trip from way back in November posted.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A quick trip to New York
To use up some soon-to-be expiring air miles, we decided to take a quick weekend trip down to New York City. Flights were delayed thanks to some high winds, but we eventually made it to the Intercontintal Hotel in Midtown East.

We took in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (their free guided tours are fantastic) and the American Museum of Natural History. We were fortunate to have a corporate membership allowing us to bypass the crazy lines.

For dinner, we treated ourselves to the Hearth Restaurant, located in the East Village [map]. This neighbourhood has a wonderful mix of ethic and higher-end trendy restaurants. Hearth was casual and we enjoyed excellent service. I very much enjoyed the roasted loin of venison, and Janet had the braised wild striped bass (which was a touch bland). However, the side of gnocchi was simply melt-in-your-mouth fabulous.

Returning to Toronto was a bit of an adventure that included a cab to LaGuardia, getting on the plane, getting kicked off the plane (apparantly the plane was too heavy so they had to remove all of the Asians on the plane and one other visible minority to make it light enought to fly), and getting shipped off to JFK in a cab (first they gave us a voucher for a non-existant car company before finally getting us in a car). Flights were cancelled due to freezing rain in Washington, D.C., but we got lucky; a plane trying to head to D.C. was forced to land at JFK as it was running out of fuel. Unable to continue to D.C. due to weather, they diverted it to Toronto and we got on with standby tickets.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

We travelled by private minibus to the Polish city of Krakow. We were dropped off in front of the Globtroter Guest House where we would stay for 3 nights. The guest house boasted a fantastic location, only minutes away from the Main Market Square.

This is a classy and cosmopolitan city; it has wonderful history (such as the historic cloth market pictured to the right), and architecture but maintains a small town feel. Jazz clubs and excellent restaurants also line the streets (we enjoyed a huge portion of pierogies here). It also does not share the same crowds as Prague, although that is likely to change as more and more people discover Krakow's charm.

We were also fortunate to experience some warmer weather allowing us to enjoy an excellent bike tour of the city that took us from the Old Town and main square, to Wawel Castle, once the home of a fearsome fire-breathing dragon, to Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow (where we saw Oscar Schindler's factory).

A day trip to Auschwitz (a 2h bus ride) was a sobering experience and an important reminder of the horror and evil we are able to inflict on one another. This is a piece of history we should not forget in the hopes that we and future generations do not repeat these horrible acts.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Teplice nad Metuji
We were up fairly early to catch a 6:10am tram to the train station. En route, we helped a couple of rather intoxicated British travellers find their way. We caught the 7:33am train for a 2+ hour trip north and then transferred to a smaller train for the final leg of the day's journey. We seemed to attract drunken companions during the trip and enjoyed the company of a rather pleasant, and thoroughly drunk young Czech who had the knack of dropping his unlit cigarette every 2-5 seconds. After practicing his English and sharing his drink with us, we arrived at our destination.

Teplice nad Metuji is a small town near the Polish border and quite the contrast to bustling Prague. The town has less than 2000 inhabitants and it's claim to fame is a nearby national park with unusual rock formations.

We dropped off our bags at the pension and had lunch at a local restaurant. Our server was an unpleasant fellow who chose not to hide his dislike of tourists (at least us) nor his interest in pornographic magazines filled with rather large Czech women. At least the food was good...

We then took the opportunity to hike one of the main trails in the park stopping at signs that pointed to the rock formations along the way. Fairy tale characters, dogs, swans, hunters, alligators were some the many forms the signs pointed out. I suppose some of the rocks may have looked like the objects the signed proclaimed them to look like... but most of the time one needed perceptual skills I certainly did not possess.

We returned to our pension as the snow began to fall. It was a good hike: the landscape was quite beautiful, and taking the opportunity to enjoy a bit of nature was a welcome change of pace from the busy city experiences of the trip thus far.

At the pension, we warmed up had some beers and moved to the outdoor BBQ over a wood fire for dinner. We stuffed ourselves with chicken, sausage, and potatoes keeping ourselves warm with the wine and the fire as the snow fell around us.


Friday, November 10, 2006

An apartment by the quarter
After grabbing the 8:33 am train back to Ceske Budejovic, we made our way to the glorious city of Prague. Felicity, our tour leader escorted us to our accomodations just outside the Prague Jewish Quarter (Josefov) and just blocks away from the beautiful Spanish Synagogue and the Old Town Square.

Staying at a centrally located apartment allowed us to see Prague by foot. We spent three days exploring Prague learning about the Jewish heritage (120,000 Jews lived in the area before WWII and now only a couple of thousand Jews live in Prague), watching the Astronomical clock do its thing on the hour, crossing the Charles Bridge to the beautiful Castle Quarter, enjoying Art Nouveau at the Mucha Museum and at the fantastic Municipal House.

But what I really enjoyed about Prague was simply walking and absorbing the beautiful architecture, and imagining a little about the history of the city from its rich musical heritage, to the communist rule, to the excitement and optimism after the Velvet Revolution.

And of course, one cannot forget the Czech beer and the hearty food. Beer flows from the taps readily (and cheaply). It's often hard to find less touristy restaurants but if you wander just a block or two from the touristy area you can often be treated with a more authentic meal and experience. One such place was Restaurace u Provaznice near Wenceslas Square where I enjoyed a massive pork knuckle, some excellent beer in a crowded pub with Czech's cheering on their national hockey team.

One advantage of visiting Prague in November is the somewhat reduced tourist population. Mind you, it was still incredibly busy and tourists were everywhere. From what I understand the crowds can be overwhelming during the peak tourist season.


Monday, November 06, 2006

A little bend in the river

?eský Krumlov
Originally uploaded by who_ca.
After catching a 6:24am train, grabbing a local bus from Cesky Budejovice we found ourselves in the lovely town of Cesky Krumlov. Krumlov is a fantastic town for just walking around and exploring.

Highlights included:
  • Dining and enjoying tea at Laibon, a wonderful little vegetarian restaurant with superb service.
  • Walking through the castle grounds both during the day and at night.
  • Enjoying a beer after the Eggenberg brewery tour.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Intrepid explorers

In Vienna, we met up with our Intrepid tour at the Hotel Mozart (an appropriate place to stay for the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth) where we met our guide Felicity and our one additional traveller, Evelyn. We were quite pleased with our 3:1 traveller to leader ratio.

Our "Road to Budapest" tour takes us from Vienna into the Czech Republic (Cesky Krumlov, Prague, and Teplice nad Metuji), Poland (Krakov and a day trip to Auschwitz), Slovakia (Bratislava), and finally into Hungary to see Budapest over 15 days.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

A little sandwich
The Hofburg & Schonbrunn Palaces, St. Stephen's Catherdral, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum are amongst the fantastic sites in Vienna we took in. Perhaps a lesser known Vienna institution is the Buffet Trzesniewski. This is a perfect place for brunch in between sites; we filled up on wonderful little sandwiches filled with cream cheese, herring, peppers, mushrooms... simply delicious. Not to mention the inexpensive shots of beer. Apparantly Franz Kafka liked this place too.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Vienna for some opera
We arrived in Vienna and were greeted by a foggy, cold, and snowy city. But we were excited, this was the first stop in our quick tour around Eastern Europe including the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Although it was cold, we were able to easily warm ourselves in Vienna's many wonderful cafes. They have excellent coffee if you can stand all of the cigarette smoke around you.

Vienna is historic city with music in its veins. In particular, opera is one of its great loves. The last time I visited Vienna, I arrived on the final day of the opera season and sadly missed the performance (I consoled myself with a fantastic Dave Brubek concert).

This time around, we took advantage of the extremely cheap (3 euro) standing room tickets to take in Staatsoper's version of Carmen. We were cramped, tired, but we were exposed to the beautiful opera building and a wonderful performance.

Originally uploaded by who_ca.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

An anniversary in New York
I was being sent on a business trip over my 2nd year anniversary... not good. But to make up for it, we decided to fly down to New York city the weekend prior. I've always enjoyed NYC ever since my first visit with Phil when we were 14. That was pre-gentrification of much of Manhattan so it was a bit rougher around the edges back then... but still there is something special about that city.

Janet and I stayed in Midtown East at the recently rennovated Grand Hyatt at the impressive Grand Central station and right next to the beautiful art deco Chrysler building.

We met up with Joanne, our resident culinary expert in town, at an excellent lunch location on 18th St, the Petite Abeille [map]. After a very good soup and sandwich, we walked through the now hip Chelsea area and enjoyed some of the quirky shops.

By Joanne's recommendation, Janet and I enjoyed a wonderful anniversary dinner at L'impero [map]. This restaurant is a bit of a hidden gem tucked on a small road above 42nd St just west of the United Nations.

Back in 2002, I had made a trip to NYC with some friends and one of the few disappointments was missing a trip inside the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as it had been temporarily relocated to Queens while the building was being rennovated. So this time, Janet and I arrived at the MoMa at the moment it opened at 10:30am and enjoyed the sights and textures of the collection. The building itself is bright and warm, and allows visitors to easily flow from one exhibit to another. It is an impressive collection from Monets to Picasso, to examples of everyday industrial design from iPods to Vespas. We literally flew through the museum taking only about 2 hours to fly through much of the 630,000 square-feet.

After a quick ride south on the 6 train, we met with Joanne at Danal [map] where I had some pretty fantastic croissant french toast and coffee. For the rest of the afternoon, we simply took in the various neighbourhoods by foot walking to Union Square and down into SoHo for some window shopping. We met up with my friend Bomina who took us through Chinatown and Little Italy and eventually down to the Brooklyn Bridge.

For the evening we decided to head over to the Rockefeller Center observation deck and had a quick (and average) meal at Sushi Zen.

Sunday was a quick morning of sightseeing and enjoying the insides of Grand Central Station and the iconic Chyrsler Building.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Vancouver Photos
I've finally posted up pictures from our Vancouver trip that happened just over a year ago now. I had forgotten to post them up, but a visit from some friends from Vancouver reminded me of my procrastination...

Vancouver 2005 Photo Album


Monday, February 13, 2006

Work and not workin' in Boston
I was down in Boston again for some meetings and decided to stay the weekend. Janet flew down on Air Miles to join me.

We have a number of good friends in Boston and it was good catching up with Raymond, Dan, Rally, and Poliana. Most of our time was spent eating in various places in the Boston-area. We enjoyed experiencing Boston's neighbourhoods... from my stay at the Hotel Marlowe (a wonderful hotel) in Cambridge, a little pub food in South Boston, wandering the Freedom Trail downtown, enjoying pastries at Mike's Bakery in the North End, crashing at Raymond's in Allston...

The weekend was good save for the little blizzard that rolled into Boston early Sunday morning. Nothing like a good 18" of snow and cancelled flights to wreak havoc on a weekend trip. Fortunately, when we heard about the impending Nor'Easter we rescheduled our flights to Monday. Even with the blizzard we managed a snowy tour of Harvard until we decided to warm up by watching Speilberg's Munich at the local theatre.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Some pictures of Thailand & Hong Kong
I'm just starting to go through the photos I took over the holidays. Here are a few...

Thailand & Hong Kong 2005/6 Album

[Edit: I've added a few more pictures from our Thailand & Hong Kong trip]


Monday, January 16, 2006

Hong Kong
I first visited Hong Kong in the 80s when I was in Grade 7. I didn't remember much of Hong Kong from that trip outside of it being incredibly hot and humid (and that air-conditioned taxis were a blessing) and that the city was busy.

During my second trip to Hong Kong in 2004, I was largely occupied by my wedding banquet.

This third trip of Hong Kong gave me the opportunity to enjoy the city. We arrived on January 8th from Bangkok and were whisked back to Janet's Aunt's apartment on Hong Kong island near Kennedy Town (a big thanks goes to Janet's cousins for picking us up). As usual, trips to Hong Kong typically involve eating lots of fantastic food with highlights including a wonderful banquet to celebrate my Father-in-law's 70th birthday and a fantastic seafood meal fresh from the seas near Cheng Chau, a small island part of Hong Kong that largely maintains it's tradition of fishing (although it's economy is boistered by city dwellers escaping for the weekend).

Hong Kong is also a great place to buy clothes, reasonably stylish (with influence from Tokyo), and cheap. In between walks through Kowloon (to see the Penninsula Hotel, Kowloon Park, Nathan Rd) we bought clothes. Enough clothes to demand the purchase of a new suitcase...

This trip also gave me the opportunity to pay a visit to my Grandmother's grave and pay our respects. And thanks to Janet's sister, we had the opporunity to visit Disneyland Hong Kong (standing on "Mainstreet USA" while in Hong Kong is a bit surreal).

Unfortunately, the timing of our stay meant we had just missed the particularly flashy Christmas lights on the buildings and we left just before the Chinese New Year lights were up. Even still, the Hong Kong skyline is a beautiful sight.

Hong Kong Skyline


Monday, January 09, 2006

A quick holiday update
We're currently 2/3rds the way through our Thailand and Hong Kong trip and we're enjoying it thoroughly. I haven't had the chance to do any blogging or other Internet-related activities during my travels.

But here's a quick update on our travels. We left Christmas Eve on our way to Bangkok through Tokyo. The trip took about 20 hours including some time at Narita airport.

Bangkok is a crazy city filled with traffic that seems to follow some form of organized chaos where traffic lights and lane markers are rarely meaningful, smog, huge shopping malls, friendly people, and good food. We stayed at the lovely JW Marriott which was a little far from the tourist sites, but conveniently located next to the Skytrain.

After Bangkok we flew to Koh Samui for 4 days of beach, ocean, sun, and more great food (although we did end up with a touch of food poisoning for a day).

We returned to Bangkok prior to a tour to Sukothai and Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand.

We're now in Hong Kong and trying to adjust to the much cooler weather. Most homes don't have heating so showering when it's 10C out is a challenge.

I'll post pictures when we return.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Ang Thong National Marine Park
One of the highlights of our stay on the islands was a visit to Ang Thong National Marine Park. From our hotel we hopped onto one of the ubiquitous Toyoto minivans that transported us from hotel to hotel slowly filling the van with anxious tourists. We boarded our boat and after 1.5 hours of sailing we arrived at the park.

The park is composed of 42 islands of limestone that poke out of the ocean; beautiful islands with isolated beaches and lush rainforests.

The tour took us to a couple of beautiful beaches but rather than relax we opted to hike up one of the mountains and we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the islands.

Ang Thong


Friday, December 02, 2005

Apparently it's Christmas time!
Twas the weekend before (American) Thanksgiving and we found ourselves on Michigan Avenue in Chicago surrounded by hundreds of children and families gathered to enjoy their festival of lights. Essentially it's a parade (and accompanying fireworks) where Mickey Mouse, carried by his castle-topped float, lights up all of the trees as he passes.

I think at that Santa Claus may have been in the parade but with all of the other Disney characters ursurping Christmas (or the "Holiday Season") it looks like most people lost sight of the big, fat, jolly fellow (not to mention the other often forgotten person, Jesus, but it's safe to say there was no float dedicated to Him).

Speaking of Christmas, an interesting consequence of owning the hoho.ca domain is that children seem to write to santa@hoho.ca from time to time. So far, everyone has been good and carefully reminded Santa of the things they wanted for Christmas. Now since this isn't Santa's official e-mail address, I'm trying to determine what to do and how to ensure Santa gets the notes. This is more responsibility than I bargained for...


Monday, November 21, 2005

Chicago has a reputation for rebuilding itself. And it had to rebuild itself after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. But rebuild itself it did.. and it sure made itself pretty, at least in the downtown core. Chicago has a remarkable skyline with fascinating architecture.

Janet and I had the opportunity to enjoy Chicago this past weekend taking a break from our busy schedules for some time together. We took in the incredible Field Museum along with a highly recommended architectural boat tour.

Chicago Skyline


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Yosemite Falls Photo Album
Here are some pictures from our hike up the Upper Yosemite Falls trail from back in July.

Yosemite Falls 2005 Album


Monday, October 24, 2005

UK 2002
I'm trying to do a bit of photo album catch-up. I've added some pictures from my trip the England and Scotland in 2002.

United Kingdom 2002 Album


Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The Banff of the East
Chinese bus tours are a common phenomenon. If you've been to popular tourist locations in Canada you've likely seen these bus tours. The tour companies offer trips throughout Canada and provide Chinese-speaking guides. Now these tours are not my cup of tea. They typically are whirlwind tours such as Toronto to Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City all on a single weekend: I generally prefer spending more time at the vacation destination than travelling. One of the trips a number of Chinese tour companies offer is a trip to "The Banff of the East". This is, as it turns out, Mont Tremblant. The ski resort is nestled in the Laurentian range and really does offer a similar small-village, touristy, atmosphere. So it was none-too-surprising that there were a number of Chinese bus tours at Mont Tremblant this weekend.

So I was in Tremblant this Labour Day with a number of Janet's friends. We were not part of a Chinese bus tour, rather we managed the 7-hour drive on our own. We stayed in a couple of wonderful condominiums at Le Plateau. Mont Tremblant, known as an excellent ski resort, is also a thriving summer resort offering excellent accomodations and an numerous activities that can be booked through a central Activities Centre. We went horseback riding and wandered around the village and enjoying the Fete de la musique (offering free live outdoor concerts) on Saturday. Sunday Janet and I tackled at 5km hike up Mont Tremblant which took us about 2.5 hours. It was a surprisingly scenic hike through the trees with only short periods of trail emerging onto the actual ski slopes themselves. Armed with snacks, PB sandwiches, and water the hike was tiring but not technically difficult. We did, however, decide to take the gondola down to the base. Monday morning involved a round of golf at Le Manitou: a very challenging par-3 and par-4 course. Many golf balls were consumed by the various hazards throughout the course.

Mont Tremblant is beautiful area, and although the village is quite touristy, we had a wonderful time.


Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Canada Day and air travel
I celebrated Canada Day on a plane. Well, actually a number of planes. From Heraklion to Athens, on to London, and finally back in Toronto. As the plane landed, the flight crew made a point of wishing everyone a Canada Day which evoked applause from the passengers of the Airbus A330. No standing ovation, since it was a display of subtle Canadian nationalism (and not to mention the seat-belt light was still on). I did my duty as a proud Canadian by celebrating Canada Day for 26 hours, thanks to time differences and waking up bright in early in Greece.

I would have posted a picture on this entry, but most of my pictures are stored on my 256MB CompactFlash card that is sitting in the right-pocket of my fleece-vest which is located in my luggage that didn't make it to Toronto. I suspect the bag didn't make the connection in London, given that we barely made the connection ourselves. Fortunately, the return trip was much easier than our departure from Canada 20 days ago. Thanks to a 3.5 hour delay, I was able to learn that it is possible to jump the queue for UK Customs and airport security when one is trying to catch a flight. I've always been somewhat annoyed by airplane passengers that have a need to jump up once the plane has stopped, grab their bags and push their way forward in a plane while the doors are still closed. But on June 14th, I had the urge to do the same with only 30 minutes to pick up my checked luggage from Toronto, clear customs, run through security, check-in for my Olympic Airways flight to Athens and get to the gate. Fortunately we made it, but apparantly sprinting through the tunnels of Heathrow airport with 40lbs+ bags in each arm leads to tender shoulders the next day...

The pleasure of sprinting through Healthrow could have been prevented if my travel agent had actually booked my tickets correctly making my connection in London a proper connection. But, such is life. But at least I had the pleasure of recovering in Greece after the ordeal.

I did make some mental notes about air travel during the trip
  • Seat numbers on planes shouldn't be located on the faces of overheard compartment doors, as the doors are almost always open upon entering a plane with numbers hidden from view.
  • Airports signage should be improved and made consistent everywhere. It's hard to adapt to varying signage and icons moving from one airport to another, which is generally what people do when they... uhh travel.
  • Babies are cute, but their cuteness quickly diminishes when one learns they often cry continuously during flights
  • Security varies dramatically from airport to airport and country to country: in Heraklion I'm sure there were at least two other passengers in the metal detector with me at the same time. And I'm sure the detector alarm went off while we walked through but the security officer didn't seem to mind.
  • Terminal 1 at Pearson International Airport sucks. I can't wait until Terminal New replaces it .
  • Why do the GTAA luggage handlers enjoy placing all bags into the same conveyor? When we arrived all baggage from flights from Rome, Germany, and 2 flights from London were all placed on one conveyer, with 2 other conveyors totally free. 1000 people at one conveyer got to be a bit cramped.


Monday, March 31, 2003

Well I'm back from my weekend ski trip at Smuggler's Notch, in Vermont. We left Thursday evening at 11pm in about 10 coach buses. These are nice buses with TV monitors for showing movies and everything. Of course it's a mixed blessing as these monitors do not have headphones so the movie audio track is blasted out to speakers throughout the bus. I normally have no problems sleeping on buses... in fact I normally fall asleep once I get into a moving vehicle quite quickly (fortunately this doesn't happen when I'm actually driving). As it turns out, when there is a movie blasting, I can't sleep no matter how hard I try. So I had to endure Warren Miller's Fifty and the Bourne Identity through the evening and essentially did not sleep at all.

We crossed the border into Vermont around 6am and we all had to get out of the bus and go through customs. But with the the war going on, there was understandably higher security.

We finally arrived a Smuggler's Notch to find that there was very little snow and spring-like conditions. So Friday was skiing on slush. Now, it was pretty decent slush for skiing, so it actually was reasonably fun. Saturday's skiing conditions were awful and it even started pouring later in the evening. Fortunately, Janet and I just managed to avoid the downpour. We ended up taking a trip into Essex and Burlington for some shopping and eating. We eventually ended up at the Vermont Pub and Brewery which was very good. Good food, and I loved their seasonal maple beer. It was a wonderful dark beer with a hint of maple flavour.

Sunday, it snowed. The skiing conditions got better and better throughout the day. Sadly we had to leave around 3pm, but we had a great day of skiing. Crossing into Canada was easy... the Canadian Customs folks just poked their head into the bus, checked out the one Aussie's passport and off we went. All and all a great weekend.