Monday, 16 July 2018

in which I encounter tic-tac-toe the humpback whale

Meet Tic-Tac-Toe - a wild humpback whale that came up to our boat today. We're back in the mist-enshrouded wilds along the St Lawrence River and had a kind of substitute Jaws moment when this huge humpback whale appeared right in from of us.

No picture from that startled and incredibly close encounter, but a few from later when the same whale reappeared ahead of us.
This particular humpback whale has a migration of about 7,000 km. They mate and calve in the warm, shallow waters of the Caribbean and Cape Verde and then return to the St Lawrence River, where this particular lady seems to thrive.
Rude to ask about weight? Maybe a guess would be a svelte 30 tons. That's a lot of krill.

Friday, 13 July 2018

i negotiate the hotel roadblock

Getting to our hotel in Québec was slightly awkward because of the extensive roadblocks. They were all because of the Festival d'été de Québec. I decided to ask a policeman how to navigate the last part of the barricades all around the hotel area. He good naturally described the route. I have a feeling he'd be doing that several thousand times in the day.

The stage closest to our hotel was the Bell stage. Before it got like the picture above, it was pretty easy to get around. Here's a soundcheck session from this afternoon.
That same stage opened properly in the evening and here's a tiny clip from this evening's excellent Lorde concert.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

a brief stay at Château Frontenac

There's no getting away from it. Our current hotel is large. It's the Château Frontenac in Québec.

Originally built with around 130 rooms, it was progressively extended until around 1920 when the whole central core was added. Another 17 floors bringing the total guest rooms to around 631. It's the main landmark in the city.

Yes, the hotel is bustling with people, Yes, we had to negotiate roadblocks to get to it, but it's a fabulously central location to explore Québec. So far every street has been interesting and quirky.

And everywhere we go seems to have a view back to the hotel.

Did I mention it was big?

Green Day - American Idiot live from Milton Keynes

auto scheduled
Remembering a prescient song from the days before pervasive smartphones.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Mont Tremblant

A few years ago we stayed in Whistler, BC. It reminded me of a kind of Disney designed village and our current venue is like another version. This time it is near Mont Tremblant, QC and a cross between Portmerion, Port Grimaud, part of Disney and possibly even a vision from Westworld.

There's a purpose built village which incorporates several hotels, winding streets, and a variety of shops and restaurants.

The whole area bustles in the afternoon and evening. We were there during the Blues festival and the main squares rocked with the music. Late night, it goes quiet and then at about 8 am there's the first signs off a new day.
No cars are allowed in the main area, which makes it reminiscent of many European cities where the traffic has been stopped from the central streets.

The difference here is that it was built like it, along with the swooping cablecars over the rooftops and along the main street.

It's brilliant fun, but also slightly strange to think it was suddenly brought into existence about 25 years ago.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

if you go down to the woods today

We decided to try some footpaths.

All very pretty although at a certain stage we decided it was best to be back inside a vehicle.

It's not difficult to guess when.
Okay, nothing too serious with a bit of care.
Quite picturesque, actually, although the signs are turning increasingly French.
Strange that the very nice lady warned us about something in French. Surely the French word bison means something else?
It's getting slightly sticky underfoot.
Although the local wildlife don't seem to find it boring.
I suppose after the wild boar, we need something more ooh-ahh inspiring.
But wait. This fellow looks as if he wants to own the path around here.
And now I understand that warning. Don't feed the bison.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Château Montebello

Onward to a wooden lodge in the wilds, the Château Montebello.

It's s huge log-château that was impressively built in a matter of months. At its centre is a hexagonal rotunda containing a six-sided stone fireplace more than 20 metres tall.

The rafter timbers are 18 metres long and there's a couple of mezzanine levels. The rooms splay out in corridors on each of the six sides.

The Scandinavian builders were led by a Finn, Victor Nymark, a master-builder who taught the workmen the ways to cut and splice the logs together. A special rail track was laid on to bring the timber to the site, with truckloads of British Columbian timber arriving every day.

Its setting in on the shores of the lake-like Ottawa River adds to the charm, and it has been used for all manner of events, including a G7 summit, NATO meetings and various other world-leader events. Spot a few famous faces in the group below:

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Byward Market

We took a look around Byward Market. A few blocks of fresh produce market, with a French feel to it. There was a very French patisserie and several cheese shops as well as plenty of local fresh vegetables and fruit.

Around the area were many cafes and bars with frequent references to the local poutine, which is a chips and cheese with gravy dish. I deduced that there is a basic version as well as more complicated varieties with added toppings.
We seemed to be on the edge of the full French speaking area, with still the majority of signage in English. Across the river things would be different.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

this time it's Ottawa

My first visit to Ottawa, which is a very pretty city. We are staying in a hotel next to the Parliament buildings, and we have a view out towards the Rideau canal and parliament.

This city has a human scale, with less high rise and big roads than Toronto. It somehow reminds me of Paris, with the green areas and landmark buildings.

We've been out exploring, both the city and the Ottawa River, which curves dramatically through the city. Founded by John By, who features on prominent landmarks as well as originally naming the city, which was Bytown.

John By was responsible for the construction of the Rideau Canal, which was completed in around six years and links a 200 kilometre stretch from Montreal to Kingston (which is on Lake Ontario), as well as neatly bypassing an often US-controlled stretch of the River Lawrence.

Olden days maybe, but perhaps in these trade war times there's some history repeating itself?

Friday, 6 July 2018

mobile screen time = 55 minutes per day

A slightly side-bar kind of entry.

I loaded that iOS 12 onto my iPhone around a week ago and notice my current screen time per day is around 1 hour across all devices.

That includes email, social media, blogging and other random applications.

It must be around my lowest usage in recent years, but I guess I'll see how it changes over the coming weeks when I revert to normal mobile roaming.

Until then, expect occasional silences.

Niagara Falls - The Canadian side

Toronto to Niagara Falls isn't too far, so we decided to make the side visit. I've been in the area plenty of times, usually on the United States side, but never made the trip until this time.

We were on the Canadian side in the boat called Hornblower instead of the slightly more well known U.S. Maid of the Mist. There main difference is which side of the river the trip starts, and thus the colour of the ponchos.
Ours were red, the US ones were blue. I did take some snap shots although there was an awful lot of water flying around, so my camera was drenched. I've also some live footage, but decided that videoing a recreation from a slightly later voyage might make more sense.
My handheld footage of that later run by our boat is below. When I get more time I may edit in some of the soaked deck view although it is mainly water, screams and laughter.

I've decided it is a "must do" experience. I'll add that I think the Canadian side is probably better because of the walkable access to the main Horseshoe Falls and some further spectacular views.

My handheld video of our boat's identical later trip - maybe I'll add our deck view

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Thursday in Toronto

I've occasionally visited Toronto for work, although not for at least ten years.

As a city, the basic landmarks remain the same, but the growth of buildings and infrastructure has been phenomenal.
I mainly worked around the central area - close to Front Street and the financial district. There was the CN Tower, the big Skydome (Rogers?) stadium with the automatic roof and a reasonable cluster of skyscrapers.

Now, there's so many more tall buildings and complicated roadways.
Tower blocks for business and tower blocks for residents. It looks as if the traffic system isn't keeping up. There's absolutely huge roadway systems, some of which snake across the view yet there seems to be traffic holdups at many intersections.
I can't help wonder whether the building programme has been left to go unchecked? It seems to be a case of upwards rather than outwards, apparently to avoid sprawl. Tall glass structures prevail.
I understand that the population around Toronto has increased by almost 50% in the last 15 or so years. If that is true then I can understand the stress.
This intensity makes it look as if it requires some serious catch-up before an equilibrium is restored. The boat harbours look pretty, but there's an awful lot of people living just behind them.
There's been some of the same challenges in areas of Central London, UK, but London has enough discernible landmarks and green areas to create the separations needed to delineate areas.

With Toronto, I realise I'm taking a quick tourist view. I'm certainly enjoying my visit, but I can't help having a nagging doubt about scale and the pressure to build upwards within city limits.
For the absolute plus side, this trip we've had great weather and a chance to look at the city from the water, where it can look fantastic.
This waterside view shows off the city to great effect, but I can't help wondering whether the planners need to look at the micro view from within the city as well as the very pretty broad brush picture.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

a view from the window

Fairmont York, Toronto
Normally we pick up a car as soon as we land. This time we would be in a city for the first 3 days, so we decided to take a limo to the hotel and pick up the car on Friday. We're in a pretty fancy hotel and have a great view from the window. The most famous landmark of the city is around a block away and clearly visible from the room. It's just visible at the top of the picture below. Those purple lines are the base.
Easier to spot in this second picture. The lights have changed colour.
And it is even easier to see in daylight. Here's that road crossing outside the hotel.
And, looking up in the air...
It's the CN Tower, of course. The tallest tower on earth from its completion in 1975 until 2010.
A wonder of the modern world. Built in just 40 months and still looking fresh.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

once more past that horse with a lampshade on its head

Back to Heathrow to catch the plane. For this flight we were in the 'turn left' part of the plane.

Our friendly check-in person gave us priority check-in and fast track, so we passed through all of the T5 systems in about 10 minutes. That included me being given that full body scanner treatment and then having my backpack swabbed for explosives. Welcome back to the -ahem- random checks.
Horse with a lampshade on its head
We were therefore speedily into Terminal 5 airside, and it being a longer flight, the extra time gave an excuse to try both the main Executive lounge and then the Galleries one at the T5 B Gates. The main South lounge was serving breakfast, but the Galleries at the end of the short B Terminal train link was already on to lunch.

Then to the plane, which we boarded through a separate (non-existent) queue which meant no hold-ups to reach the seats. It was one of those Boeing 787 Dreamliners. I've been on a few Dreamliners before, but this was the first time I recollect travelling on one with BA.

Champagne before take-off as well as a complete bedding kit from the White Company. That's blanket, duvet, mattress(!) and pillow, as well as one of those amenity kits with toothpaste, socks, earplugs and so-on.

I'd already stowed all of the linen overhead and drunk half the champagne before I thought to take a pre-takeoff picture.

And my picture isn't a very good food shot, so here's an approximate re-cap of the various courses served throughout the flight - albeit illustrated in a random order. It includes the gin and tonic and those little nutty things, but misses out the Magnum ice cream and the rather enjoyable red wine.

The service from a trolley for the starters and puddings is a good idea, and reminds me of the heady days when one could get slices of Boeuf Wellington individually served from the trolley.

Two meals, a couple of movies and we were on our final descent. A pleasant 7h30 flight time.