Thursday, February 26, 2009

Where does the snow go?

I've seen the convoys of snow eating bulldozers with special "spitters" where the bulldozers suck and chew up the snow from the street (or frozen slush as the case may be) and blows it into the back of a large dump truck until the truck is full and another truck takes its place. So where do those trucks go? Well one place is the large former train yard that runs along the 1-20 west of Montreal. We drove past there today on the way home from the airport and saw mountains of snow lined up where there were no mountains before. The dump trucks drive up and then in a reverse action, they dump the snow onto a conveyor belt that takes the snow to some "sucking/spitting" devise that then blow/spits the newly ground up snow and ice up onto big mountains of snow. And then I guess they wait until spring?

Miscellaneous Photos from a Wonderful Week in Montreal

The BMO ferris wheel...part of the MOntreal High Lights Festival...I wonder how many people actually go up in that thing in the freezing cold...maybe they have foot warmers in the little gondolas?
Jerry and CArol on a snowy day on Rue St Paul in Old Montreal

Jerry and the snow...and loving it...really!

Rue St Paul in Old Montreal...Jerry and CArol on a stroll

Jerry Allman on Place Jacque Cartier...

CArol and Annette roasting marshmellow in the snow...YUMMMY!

A young Montrealer girl waiting with barely concealed anticipation for her freshly made maple sugar snow candy.

And here is how you make it...snow, maple syrup, a stick, and ROLL!

Carol in her warm the snow flakes streaking by!

How Many Expos Can We attend in a week?

The answer is 3. If Montreal is the City of Festivals in the is clearly the City of Expos in February. The Montreal Motorcycle Show (you KNOW Jerry had to attend that one), The Montreal Bicycle Expo (not so hot...I was looking for a cool, comfortable, and cool in the temperature sense) bike helmet...they had no bike helmets...very little on the "accoutrement" side of things...just...BIKES! I'm mean really! And then today's Chasse et Peche Expo (Hunting and Fishing (and Camping too). Boats, ATVs, more boats, fishing rods, guns, more boats, RVS, trailers, pop up tents,and rows and rows and rows of outfitters, lodges, and more outfitters with maps and brochures and pictures of 100 lb trout and elks heads (or was that caribous...I think it was caribous). I mean the testerone was REALLY flowing in Old Montreal this week!

I admit we did find something pretty quirky at the Motorcycle Show. A distributor for URAL...a russain motorcycle with side car...made just like they've always made know those ones we'd see in old WW II movies...yep...the same ones...only nicer colors. I liked the side car...much more comfortable than squished on the tail end of the bike. here is a pic:

Festival Mondial Du Cirque De Demain

On Wednesday we attended a performance of Parisian "Festival Mondial Du Cirque De Demain" The Circus of Tomorrow. Every year for the past 30 years there is an international competition in Paris that brings together young cirque acts from all over the world to compete, share ideas, and entertain. Awards are given and applause recieved. This year in celebration of the 30th year of the Cirque de demain and the 30th year of the Cirque du Soleil (based in Quebec) and the Montreal High Lights Festival...the Paris event brought over a select group of past winners including two gold medalists from this years competition. The performances were held in a the "cirque complex" (where the National Circus School, the offices and practice space for Cirque du Soleil are located) at TOHU just north of the I -40 off of Rue Iberville.

We really enjoyed all the performances...I especially liked Dima Shine from Russia (who balanced and performed on a pole (absolutely complete control of his body) and Wei-Liang Lin from Tauwan who specializes in the diabolos (not sure of English translation)...those hourglass things that they spin and swirl on a rope. You can watch Dima Shine on you tube at:

Check out for more info about performances at the cirque complex.

Butterflies in Winter!

Every year the MOntreal Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique de Montreal) hosts a Butterfly exhibit in its Greenhouses from mid February to the end of April. This years exhibit "Butterflies Go Free" celebrates butterflies and moths of the Americas and have even more than before. They are also showcasing butterflies and moths from Quebec, which takes some skill because in nature they'd be hibernating under the snow waiting for spring about this time of year.
Where do these butterflies come from...they come from fair-trade butterfly farms in the tropics. The idea started in Costa Rica where the idea of creating a "nursery" near a tropical forest for eggs naturally provided by butterflies and moths. The idea has spread throughout world and in many areas instead of cutting down or burning the tropical forest they maintain it for a butterfly farm bringing in revenue to the community.
So next time you see a Butterfly exhibit like this one (I know they have one at the Natural HIstory museum in New York) be sure to take the time to visit. While you enjoy the warmth and beauty of a greenhouse filled with colorful butterflies in the midst of winter you will also be doing good with your dollars!
I took a gazillion (well not quite...but many) photos of the butterflies we saw...they are on my flickr Here are a couple of the beauties we saw.

Food, Glorious Food, Please Sir, May we have some more!

We have had a great 10 days in Montreal. We head home on Saturday so thought I'd better get this blog up to date before we leave. Our friends Jerry and Carol visited with us this week and we had a grand time. One of our favorite things was, no surprise to anyone who knows us, eating! We had some great meals.

Gandhi (Rue St Paul Ouest, Old Montreal). We first went to Gandhi's in December 2003 with our friends Jerry and over 5 years (and many meals there) later, we returned. And once again the restaurant did not disappoint. We had a variety of chicken, shrimp and vegetable curry, basmati rice, aloo gobi (cauliflower/potato melange), and excellent naan. Jerry A also had the vegetable soup. All the dishes were tasty and well cooked (not over cooked). Service was very good. They have expanded the restaurant in the last couple of years so it now has two large rooms. They've finally got the room temperature right (since in the past it was often too HOT!). New bathrooms and coat room are well placed (you no longer have to skirt the kitchen area and the servers to get to the toilet. So once again...we are pleased with Gandhi. Jerry still thinks its the best "non-David" Indian restaurant we've been too (and since David no longer owns his restaurant, I guess its the best one we know!).

L'Express (Rue St. Denis, Plateau). We had an early dinner at L'Express before attending the Cirque de Demain at TOHU. We had a lovely 4 top table at the window. Between the four of us we had the petit verte salad, the fish soup, the vegetable soup. All perfect. Carol and I had the veau raviolits (veal mushroom raviolis with a veal stock sauce. Jerry B had linguini with shrimp (there were supposed to be mussels but they were hiding?) which was perfectly prepared. Jerry A had the poached salmon on mashed potatoes with chevil. He said the salmon was poached to perfection. We all shared the over the top Ile de Flottante (Floating Island desert) with coffee. Another fabulous meal at L'Express.

Vieux Port Restaurant on Rue St. Paul East(?) in Old Montreal. We had set out to eat a casual dinner at 3 Brasseurs in Old MOntreal prior to the Saturday High Lights Spectacle in the Old Port. But it was full to busting with hockey fans (it was, of course, Saturday night and the hockey game was on) and High Lights Revelers. So we attempted to eat at the Keg...same story (well, not hockey game on the telly...but a long line). So we stopped at Vieux Port where we had not eaten in years and found a table. Upstairs in a corner near a lovely stone/brick wall. Dinner was delicious. I had the rib eye...cooked abstolutely as I asked for it (medium). Jerry and CArol had the flank steaks...also very good. And Jerry A had the grilled salmon...again served exactly as requested. Vegetables and potatoes were very good. SErvice was helpful but not overbearing. We did not have dessert as we needed to leave for the festival goings on...but will return to try the menu. They have Sinatra and STeak nights on wednesday, thursday and fridays which sounds fun.

Kabab (in Cote Des Neiges area ON Cote Des Nieges). A casual resto serving very good schwarma, falafel and of course kabobs. We've eaten there several times. Always very good. Nothing fancy. Your order at the counter. But pleasant wait staff and very good falafels and salads.

My Canh (Chinatown, Rue St. Laurent). Vietnamese. I had heard about My Canh on Chowhound. So on a snowy day we traipsed over for a late lunch after attending the Motorcycle Expo at the Convention Center. 3 of us had the pho (3 different types) and I had the vietnamese pancake (with pork and shrimp). The phos were great. I liked Carol's was a grilled chicken pho...had a spice flavoring in it I couldn't quite place but really liked. Jerry A had a vegetarian platter served with a small cup of Pho. My pancake was wasn't as good as the ones we made in cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam...but they were very good nonetheless. They are only served on the weekends and take about 15 minutes.

Le Crossanterie Figaro - Rue Fairmont (one block west of du Parc). This is one of Jerry and my favorite casual neighborhood French bistro. And it did not dissappoint. We had a corner window table and loved watching all the families going home at the end of the day in the snow. We especially liked watching the parents pulling the littlest kiddies home on their sleds...sometime they were laying down just looking up at the sky. So cute! We had a delicious meal with an exceptionally nice and considerate server. I had the quiche lorraine which as always was perfect...with the absolutely best crust. It came with a small green salad. Jerry had the veal filet mignon which jerry says was "fabulous". Jerry A was in the mood for tuna salad which he had on a croissant and he declared it the perfect tuna salad...and very fresh. Carol had the chicken breast...delicious was one of the specials of the day.

Juliet et Chocolate - The best place for hot chocolate and brownies. They have one whole page of their menu devoted to many different kinds of hot chocolate. Different flavors, different "thicknesses", different chocolates, "free trade" chocolate. Amazing. I've decided to work my way through it over time!. I had the Jivara (a milk chocolate from Ecuador) was served "grandma style...very thick" a large brandy snifter type glass...I was in 7th heaven. I shared a raspberry/balsamic favorite...not sure I'll ever taste anything else there. Jerry A ordered not one, not two, but three try them all...of course we helped. One was better than the next. We waddled home

Les Bouchees Gourmand. Always one of my favorites, if not for the food, also for the smiling face of Nadine who owns the bakery/cafe with her husband. We had intended on going for breakfast but never seemed to get going in time. So we went for lunch to enjoy her wonderful potato leek soup. She then talked us into a plate of 3 salads (carrots, rice, and belgium endive salads) and one piece of her onion tart to melted in our mouths. Fabulous!!! It was so warm and cozy inside their shop...even when the power went out...we happily ate by the light coming in the front window (thankfully she had just finished making our lattes).

Jean Talon Market. We visited the market on Saturday to stroll about and to visit the Slow Food exhibit. As always...we loved our visit. We ate crepes at the little creperie (which has moved to the end of one of the main "walkways" instead of being in the center. And we tried sausage on a stick...bison and boar...which was fabulous...we went back for a second helping.

Itis Bitsi (on Rue Notre Dame) near ATwater Market. Cupcakes. Not too fancy. Just like mom made. My favorite...white cake with coconut frosting.

Fairmont and St. Vaiteur Bagels. Love them both..went to both. Love those chewy, wood fired bagels!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Montreal High Lights Festival (La Fete de la lumiere)

One of the reasons we came up to Montreal for this week in February was to enjoy the festivities of the Montreal High Lights Festival which takes place over a 10 day period primarily in Old Montreal but also in select locations throughout Montreal. There are special orchestra and musical performances, Cirque performances at Tohu (the circus school and performance venue), special dinner and culinary events throughout the city, and a whole series of winter celebrations in Old Montreal and the old port...including the 120 foot long "ice slide" that runs down Jacques Cartier plaza, ice skating, a ferris wheel, a spot where you can roast sausages or marshmellows (like we did yesterday in the falling snow), hot cider stands, "make your own" maple syrup lollipop in the snow stands, live music performances, warm bars in lighted yurt like tents, Fireworks, an all night party (Nuit Blanche) and a fabulous "Spectacle" on the 1`st Saturday of the event. We bundled up on Saturday and walked over to the Pointe de Calliere/Place Royale area where the "Spectacle" was set to begin. It was fabulous! And words do not suffice except to say it was a melange of music, lights, fireworks, cirque performances, special effects, and magic. The pictures tell a better story:

More photos are on my flickr page:

Friday, February 20, 2009

I now know how the snowman felt!

When I was little my mother had a small snowglobe with a snowman in its center. I loved that snow glove and would watch the snowflakes whirl around the little guy...snowflakes whirling in all directions at once. This morning we woke to sunny skies and 12 degrees F. I puttered around making coffee, checking email, and reading. As i walked to the kitchen to get more coffee I looked out the windows and said "I am in a snow globe". It was snowing big, flake, fluffy flakes that couldn't make up their minds if they were falling or rising, swirling or dancing. There were as many flakes rising as there were falling. It was a snow ballet and I was the snowman in its center.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Winter Day in Montreal

We spent a lazy morning in the apartment happily watching the snow fall lightly outside. Lounged around with the fireplace on, dark, rich coffee in our cups, and reading, A hot bath got us moving and a breakfast of shredded wheat and good blueberries stoked the fires. So after a few housekeeping chores we were off for a walk in the snow.

Checked out the newly opened Scandanavian Baths on the first floor of our building. Dry and steam saunas, cold and hot pools, and massages. We plan to try them out while we’re here. Sounds delightful especially on a snowy, grey day. Then we walked (carefully) through the slush, snow, and ice to 157 where we found the little apartment in good shape (and warm thanks to Roland who came in yesterday and turned on heat and water). We tidied and readied the place for Jerry and Carol. It’s really a lovely, cozy place.

Once finished there we walked to the local Dep for a Gazette and then down St. Francois Xavier to St. Jacque and the ATM (or MAC machine as they are called here) at Bank of Montreal (one of my favorite buildings in Montreal). We had an early lunch at our favorite Dim Sum place in Chinatown. La Maison Kam Fung. We arrived at 11:45…not a moment too soon…at around 12:05 I looked up from my plate of ricenoodle shrimp and realized that the very large room was almost completely full…it had been half empty when we walked in! This is one of our favorite places and we never miss going there at least one time on each visit. Excellent dim sum with an emphasis on shrimp, scallop, and port,. Great noodles. Fabulous dumplings. Pleasant wait staff rolling the carts filled with interesting looking goodies. We always play dominoes and have tea and coke. And periodically look out the large windows that line two of the 4 walls…today we looked out at snow as it fell on the street below.

Jerry had noticed an IGA grocery store on the corner at Rene Levesque. We needed some cream cheese and rye crackers to go with the smoked salmon we bought at Costco yesterday. It is a great grocery store…good fruit and vegetables (bought a few figs, kumquats, a quebec apple of some variety, and a few pears). It smelled of fresh croissants. Good selections of coffees and cheeses. And its in walking distance of the apartment.

Then it was home for a nap, reading “My Sister’s Keeper”, and watching the light fade as night comes on. Waiting to leave for airport to pick up Carol and Jerry…whose plane is late. Coming in at 8:40 at Dorval.

Snowy dawn in montreal

Woke to the beepbeepbeep of the little snowplow that comes in the early morning to plow the sidewalks and small alleys. So even before my eyes were open I knew...snow! About 2 inches while it still lightly snows.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Catching Up on Florida

Jerry and I were in Florida at the end of January. Jerry attended two conferences in Miami and Palm Beach, we visited the boys in Orlando, and we worked on the house remodel in St. Pete for 4 days of meetings and planning and decisionmaking. It was a whirlwind 10 days with sporadic laptop access so blogging suffered. Here are some notes I made along the way:

Miami Hotel: the remodeled/renovated Fountainbleau
Palm Beach Hotel :The Breakers
Orlando/Winter Park: the trusty old La Quinta on Alafaya
St. Pete: Jimmy's pool house

Miami – Truly an International City

Jerry and I spent 3 days in Miami Beach while he attended a conference at the newly renovated Fountainbleau. It was my first time to stay in Miami (we’d stayed in Coral Gables a number of years ago for a similar conference). Jerry grew up in Miami in the 50s. Today’s Miami couldn’t be more different if it tried. Bigger, considerably more diverse, taller, more prosperous (in some areas), poorer (in others), more sprawling, bigger port full of ocean liners, and a symphony of languages and accents, ethnic restaurants and corner stores. Forget about the idea its all Cuban…we heard a wide variety of Hispanic accents from all over South and Central America and of course Cuba. We also heard Portuguese, Haitian, Jamaican creole, and other musical accents of the Carribbean. We heard lots of European accents and languages from the myriad of tourists visiting the Miami Beach. What we didn’t hear a lot of (outside of Jerry’s conference) was just plain English. It was a lot like visiting a foreign country except the signs (well most of the signs) were in English.

The Fountainbleau - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Fountainbleau. The hotel has recently undergone a massive expansion and renovation. The Fountainbleau was built in the heydays of old Hollywood glitz and glamour in Miami Beach in the early 1950s. It was THE place for the likes of Frank Sinatra and the rat pack, visiting dignitaries, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, other Hollywood luminaries. and later for the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Muhammed Ali. It is apparently trying to position itself again as the place for the famous and well to do to be in Miami Beach. Like much of Miami beach, the Fountainbleau had declined in condition and status. And like much of Miami Beach it has undergone a renovation and expansion. It just reopened 3 months ago.

Our review of it is decidedly mixed. First for its price we found service and amenities and size of room to be less than desirable. Our room was way too small for the price. It was so small they didn’t even provide luggage racks for luggage, because there is no room for one! We had to move an easy chair over to the area in front of the door in order to make room for jerry’s suitcase. I had to move the “goodies” display off the table to make room for mine (I know maybe the sell more with the goodies displayed instead of hidden in a cabinet…but really…in a room that small all counter space is at a premium…we are NOT going to by a 15 dollar bag of nuts!). . We didn’t have any glasses in our room when we checked in and it took 90 minutes to get someone to deliver them (AFTER we’d gone to bed). Those infernal magnetic keys constantly deactivated themselves (and yes we know…don’t put them near your phone…we didn’t). The beds WERE comfortable, the sheets very soft, and the pillow were great (and there were plenty of them)…this was good. Air conditioning was efficient and quiet. Also good.

We thought certain hotel services were good, others were not. Housekeeping was very thorough and attentive, our car was brought around promptly when requested, and the fellow came and got my luggage this morning within 10 minutes of requesting. (he, by the way, has worked at the hotel for 47 years….47!!!...this is a man who has seen a lot of history walk through that hotel)..The wait staff at the trendy bakery on the 1st floor were pleasant but didn’t know the difference between a cake and raised donut (you would have thought I asked her how to determine the circumference of a circle). The second day, another wait staff didn’t know the difference between a pear and a peach Danish (I mean…they LOOK different, don’t they?). They did, however, make a decent latte. (They only offer about 20 different bakery goods…can’t management have a 30 minute training session on what is what?) An 18% gratuity was automatically added to the bill at hotel restaurants (which was irritating when the service was NOT worth 18%). Wines by the glass at the mid-priced restaurant were outrageously expensive for their quality. The sound system at the conference was very poor and the bathrooms were a football field away from the main conference room.. And, here comes the “old farts” comment…the décor on the 1st floor was too Spartan, too loud (sounded like grand central station at rush hour on the Wednesday before thanksgiving weekend), too dim, too unnecessarily hip if you ask me. The big 1st floor bar has a lighted floor in blue lights…frankly not the most flattering color…not warm, and it bounces sound like a ping pong paddle. . Certainly not cozy.

Although the lobby retained the white and black “bow tie” marble floors which are original to the hotel, everything else is so sleek and Spartan that you can’t tell the concierge desk from a hat check counter. I mean…you should be able to tell that 3 people behind the Spartan counter with “glow lights” behind them are the concierges without asking them. Did they run out of money for signs??? I was told that the ”bowtie” flooring was required by the City to remain when renovations were done, its really hard to imagine anything new in this hotel being that highly valued 50 years in the future (especially that dorky underlit ice cold blue bar floor!). Okay..the old fart is getting off her soap box on the décor issues.

Finally…something the hotel can’t control…I’d rather be down by South Beach…the Fountainbleau is about 3 miles away…so its more of a destination resort…if you want to go anywhere besides the beach you need to take a cab or drive your car. They do have a lovely beach boardwalk which was delightful. And they have a series of pools which are nice with cabanas and lots and lots of pool chaise lounges. But I’d like to be able to walk and see things without getting into my car. I’m just not a lay by the pool of day kind of person.

Speaking of South Beach. I love it! Its got a great variety of restaurants. A great vibe. A wonderful diversity. Fabulous restoration and renovations of art deco and art moderne architecture. And a great breeze from the ocean. We walked all around. We ate at Hosteria Romana one evening and Jerry’s Famous Deli the other. Hosteria Romana is right on Ocean…Jerry’s is on Collin’s. Hosteria Romana is an Italian restaurant (mostly outdoors) with great service and good food. And a not too over the top priced wine by the glass menu. I had the pasta carbonara which was delicious…not too “thick”…and the bruschetta…very fresh. Jerry had the linguine with calamari…which he liked quite a bit. The wait staff were attentive. Fellow diners were having a good time and ranged from families to a table of 4 leggy, very attractive 20 something women speaking, I think, Portuguese…possibly Brazilian. One of the bars further done Ocean was clearly primarily a gay bar filled (and spilling onto the streets) with partying happy gay men. When we walked back past it later in the evening there was a fabulous looking guy in drag belting out a song, karaoke style on the front stairs…all eyes were on her!
Collins Avenue (historic art deco district) is developing into a sizable shopping area with restaurants and hotels. The Ritz Carlton is located along Collins along with more modest relics of the art deco era…including one called “Maxine”….just like my mom.

Birds. Boat Tailed Grackles. To me these medium sized iredescent pointy billed black birds with long wedge shaped tail and yellow eyes are the sound of the palm tree tropics (at least Hawaii and Florida). They have this gurgling, squeaky door hinge chatter to them (followed by loud chirps) that are linked in my memory to a Kauai hotel that Jerry and I stayed in when I was 7 months pregnant. We had a lovely little ground floor condo unit surrounded by palms…and grackles. It was a lovely trip and I guess I just associate these gregarious and insistent birds to those happy days in the tropics. We also seen these lovely mourning dove like doves Very graceful. They seem to glide when they walk and they have these little white patch on their neck that is very distinctive.