Thursday, May 31, 2007

An evening in Old Montreal

Well, so far it's been a good week. I was running around pretty good today, which is great actually. Nice to get back into the swing of things. Montreal is still a great city, and I am in no way bored of staying here, even though I've now probably surpassed in one trip how many nights I've ever stayed in Montreal proper. My favourite place by far is the old section of Montreal, le Vieux Port. On Tuesday night, having spotted and made reservations for a nice restaurant the night before, Yoshiko and I walked down to spend the evening in the area.

This is a shot I took near the Restaurant du Vieux Port where we enjoyed a fantastic meal. The creme brule was by far the best I've ever had... not too sweet with just enough caramelization... yum!

While we were walking around, we happened upon a movie shoot and later found out this was a Brad Pitt movie. He wasn't there at the time of course, but very cool nonetheless. Can't remember the title right now, but it's set in the 50s, as you can see by the period cars lining the street.

This is an area with such character, it's easy to understand why movies are often set/filmed here.

After a lovely 2 hour long dinner, we set out again walking along the river. This is the Marché Bonsecour, which is lit up along with the most prominent buildings in the area.

One thing we will try to do while we're here is to enter this tent. The Cirque du Soleil is in town with a show now, and from what I understand, tickets are available if you call just before the show... cross your fingers!

Part of the Montreal Skyline, as seen from the port.

And a few shots of this lovely building which I tried the other night.

And the fountain along the side of it.

So one more day of work and I'll be done for the week. Nice!

Monday, May 28, 2007


Greetings all, from the beautiful city of Montreal. I am once more (somewhat) employed, and here in the big city for 2 weeks working with Ogilvy Renault, my last employer before leaving for Japan. I sent an email to the head of the IT group last week letting her know I was back, got a phone call within 12 hours telling me they need help ASAP and an offer was made within 18 hours of that email... how's that for timing! OR was definitely the best place I've ever worked, and the group here in Montreal is a lot of fun to work with. So far, they've only taken a few shots at getting me to move here, which I have parried well. As great a place\company as this is, Yoshiko and I will need my family's continued support over the next little while to get settled in, so a move to MTL is not in the cards.

So here we are, living it up in Montreal, still my favourite city in the world. It really is a unique city, with both French and English culture and history at it's core. On the streets, you'll be walking by a statue of King Henry VII of England one minute, and a statue of a French lieutenant who fought the English the next. Yoshiko spent the day getting familiarized with the area around our hotel and my office, which are both right in the downtown core, an easy walk away from the Old Port area of Montreal, which really is a very special place. She will be lucky to have almost 2 full weeks here in the city, while I work away the days. Montreal is a great night place though, so I'm sure we'll find lots to do, and I of course have the weekend off here.

The day went well, with an early morning train ride in and then some paperwork and setting up my station and stuff. This afternoon, I actually got my hands dirty in the whole Technology World which I haven't had much exposure to in the last 2 years, and things are slowly coming back to me. I have forgotten so much, but I take solace in the knowledge that I've probably forgotten more than many people in my position ever learn... so... lol Tomorrow is another day, and promises to be busier. We've made reservations at a really nice restaurant in Old Montreal for tomorrow night, and I think we'll splurge on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the district... if the weather is ok.

Anywho, off to bed... for only the second time in 3 months, I have work in the morning!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's good to be back...

My apologies for the lack of blogging recently, but I've spent most of my online time looking for work... here's a quick injection of Sushi and Maple Syrup for you, with another one percolating as I type this.

This past weekend, as I rounded my first month since returning home from Japan, I enjoyed my first "real" camping trip in quite some time. You see, there are different versions of "camping" depending on who and how it is done. For some, it includes a fully outfitted RV complete with wide screen TV and satellite dish... for others it involves nothing more than a backpack and a tent. I find myself somewhere in between those two, but definitely closer to the latter. My most memorable trips have all included throwing all our stuff into a canoe (or 2) and heading "that way" for a while to find a place to camp.

The plan this time around was to drop in to a really fantastic little spot about just about 3 hours away from Ottawa and spend two nights on the lake, do a little fishing maybe, and just chill out and reconnect with this part of my "pre-Japan" life which was/is so important to me.

Saturday morning, at the crack of 8AM, I swung by Sean's apartment with my fully loaded (complete with canoe on the roof) truck to pick him up. We then made our only shopping stop of the morning to pick up some of Dirienzo's great sandwiches for lunch and were soon on the highway heading out of town. This was definitely one of our better organized departures, mostly due to us leaving on Saturday morning and not Friday night. It was nice not to have to setup camp in the middle of the night for once... not that it's that big of a setup what with both Sean and I camping in hammocks.

On the way out, we stopped by Ottawa Valley Canoe and Kayak and Sean had a look at what they had on offer. He's pretty much settled on Royalite as a material for its balance between weight and strength and it was great to chat with the on-site canoe expert about stuff. We then hopped back in and continued on our way up through Renfrew and up into the Ottawa Valley. Our final destination was beautiful Long Mallory Lake, which is connected (in a drag your canoe over beaver dams sort of way) with a great Bass fishing lake called Wickware. To get in there, you drive up a snowmobile trail which sees very limited maintenance and even that only sporadically. I was quite pleased with how my newly acquired vehicle took to the trail and made quick work of the dips and hills and washouts and rocks. Unfortunately, about halfway in to the lake, I made a mistake on the fly and bottomed out on a big rock which damaged my exhaust... doh! Still made it in and out ok, and I now know my truck's weaknesses, which will be eliminated with Sean's help and a few after-market modifications and shielding.

As we pulled up to the beautiful beach which runs a good half kilometer along the lake when the water is low, we were somewhat dismayed but not entirely surprised to find a variety of riff raff setup all over the place, many of which were well over "intoxicated" and running quads all over the place. With this being a long weekend, we'd expected to see some folks out here, which is why we were aiming to camp on the point at the other end of the lake. While enjoying out Dirienzo's sandwiches and enjoying the view, we struck up a conversation with a fellow who was there with his kids and he offered to help us run our stuff across the lake in his row boat. Seeing as we like to camp in comfort, we'd brought along a large cooler full of food, a BBQ, a Coleman stove and other assorted gadgets which meant 2 trips to get everything across. We gladly took him up on his offer and soon left the chaos of the beach behind as we made our way the 2km across the lake to the point. After dumping our stuff off, our helpful friend turned his boat around and headed on back to the beach.

Unfortunately for him, he had this to contend with.

We on the other hand, had only Kai for company. This little guy is an inuksuk we built the last time we were out here 3? years ago. We were quite pleased to see that it was still up, though in a different configuration than when we made it. This is a close reconstruction. An inuksuk, by the way, is a pile of stones used by the Inuit as a marker in the flat lands of the North to help with navigation. It's often used around these parts to mark the head of a trail or something along those lines.

We quickly set about getting our camp ready, which doesn't take long. For me, it's just stringing up my hammock between 2 trees and tying down 4 lines to the ground... simple! With that done, and a healthy dose of bitching about our loud though distant neighbours, I set about throwing my fishing rod around a bit. Low and behold, after less than 20 casts I reeled in a really nice Bass! This is the only shot we managed to get, it's always best not to keep them out of the water too long... for the record... I have large hands, it was a fat fish.

At some point, we got some company in the form of a beaver starting his evening of wood scavenging. While we were quite pleased with the visit, we ended up cursing this little guy as he kept splashing around all night quite loudly and waking us up frequently.

As the evening pressed on and we began dinner preparations, that magic hour arrived where everything gets still and the water is almost a mirror. Definitely my favourite time to be out on a lake.

After a wonderful dinner of steak and potatoes, we enjoyed a nice evening by the campfire and were quite pleased when the noise from the yahoos on the beach died out around midnight as we turned in for the night. Unfortunately for us, the weather turned and I was awakened at about 3AM with my rain fly flapping uncontrollably in the wind. I made the necessary adjustments and managed to get a decent amount of sleep between the howling of the wind and the splashing of the beaver. When dawn broke and I took a quick walk out in the cold, I quickly returned to the warmth of my sleeping bag. When we finally got up at 11AM and took a glance at the beach, we were quite surprised to see this:

They were all gone! The only vehicle still visible was mine off in the woods a bit. The weather was quite nasty though, and cold. With the wind whipping across the lake and us on a point, we were getting hammered pretty good. We took a decision early on to head across the lake and camp on the beach so that at least if the weather got worse, we'd be closer to the vehicle and have one of our two loads across the lake done. A window of egress appeared a little after 3PM and we quickly split our stuff into "need tonight" and "don't need tonight" and made our run across the lake. When we got to the beach, we were quite disappointed with what we found.

The beach was in horrible shape. Beer bottles and litter were strewn all over the place, used toilet paper lined the beach and broken glass was all over the place. The way we figure, the police must have come in and shut down their party early the night before. With the beach unfit to camp on, we ended up in a clearing in the woods that wasn't quite as bad, though it was outfitted with a watermelon broken in half, beer bottles and tissues everywhere and a spot or two of vomit. I've never understood people who do this kind of thing. It's one thing to go into the bush and get drunk, but quite another to leave it in this condition. Such a beautiful place when it is in the condition in which I initially found it some years ago.

In a much worse mood than the night before, and after making a second run out to get our stuff with the wind quieting down, we turned in for the night. As usually happens, our last day dawned to some gorgeous weather. Having slept in the truck and thus having nothing to take down, I took a quick walk down to the lake to remind myself of the beauty that it still holds, despite the idiots who trash it every long weekend.

This really is a great place, the beach is almost twice as wide later in the summer as it is now. You can see the difference in colour in the water where the sand it higher... that'll be dry in the next few weeks.

The drive out was uneventful in that I didn't damage anything else... lol Here is the Explorer handling a washout on a hill. You can't see much from these angles, but the trail is quite bad and any vehicle will take quite a pounding on the way in/out.

So that was the end of a great weekend, with it's shares of ups and downs. Today, Yoshiko and I took a tour on the Lady Dive, an amphibious vehicle which tours on both land and water... that's the next blog posting... off to shower now. I leave you with a few stitched shots of the lake.
From the beach: (the point we camped on is about where the tree line dips down in this pic)

From the point:

Friday, May 11, 2007

Another 20K ride

Last Wednesday, Yoshiko and I decided to hop back on our bikes and make another run downtown to check out the Tulip Festival setup at Major's Hill Park. We've been doing a good amount of biking since getting here, which I hope is helping to offset the major dietary changes we've put ourselves through! This trip downtown is about 20 km, from home to Parliament, then up the Rideau Canal to Dow's Lake and back home. We take it pretty slowly, taking pictures along the way of course.

One of the great joys of being back home for me is to once more be able to hear the sound of birds chirping and singing as they go about their daily business. One of the more particular sounds around the house is of the cardinals that make their nest somewhere around here every year. While I've been unable to get a shot of the one which serenades us from the big trees in the back, I managed to get this one near the Ottawa River the other day. Beautiful birds they are...

As we biked down the river, we couldn't help but notice that the amount of waterfowl hanging around is much higher than the last time we did this 2 weeks ago. Mallard ducks and geese are everywhere!

As I've mentioned before, Ottawa has close to 200km of bike paths which wind through the city. Here is Yoshiko enjoying a small segment of it. In the distance on the left, you can see the parliament buildings downtown.

And here they are close up! After grabbing a Shawarma at the Shawarma Village on O'Connor street, we headed to Parliament Hill to check out the tulips. You can see the tulip beds running along the side of the vast expanse of well tended grass in front of the Centre Block.

The clock tower is one of the tallest buildings in Ottawa, and due to its location on the cliffs overlooking the Ottawa River, it dominates the region. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperating and clouds moved in so these photos are not quite as striking as they would be with a clear blue sky.... will try again next week!

Gotta love the supermacro feature on the S3...

On the main walkway up to the Centre Block, we met the genkiest RCMP officer I've ever seen. This guy's duty while assigned here is to essentially be a tourist attraction, and he is quite good at it. RCMP stands for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police... mounted because they used to (and still occasionally do) ride horses.

And of course, the photo I took is better than that of the guy I asked to take ours.... gotta get the Peace Tower in there!

After Parliament Hill, we walked over to Major's Hill Park and weren't all that impressed with the tulips there. I guess this is more of an events location for the festival than a tulip seeing spot. The place for that is certainly along the Canal and Dow's Lake where we went the other day. Unfortunately, the pavilions we wanted to visit had yet to open, so we just did a quick walk and headed on out. This is the Sussex Cathedral by the way, you can get a better idea of the scale from this photo than my previous shots.

Finally, we headed up the canal again and up to Dow's lake where the crowds had thickened since our last visit. Seems word is getting around that the tulips are blooming. They certainly are lovely.

Interestingly enough, the Tulip Festival has its roots in World War II. Members of the Dutch Royal Family, including Princess Juliana, who eventually became Queen of the Netherlands, found refuge in Ottawa from 1940 until 1945 while their homeland was under Nazi occupation. Princess Juliana even gave birth to her daughter at the Civic Hospital just up the road from here during her exile. For the royal to give birth on Dutch soil, the hospital room in which she gave birth was declared to be sovereign Dutch territory, much as Embassies are designated that way. As a thank you to Canada for the asylum that was granted as well as for our part in liberating Holland, the Dutch Royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in 1945. This gift became an ongoing one, with 20,000 tulip bulbs being sent to Ottawa annually to this very day. In the 1950s, the city decided to build a lasting event around this gift and so was born the Canadian Tulip Festival, the largest festival of its kind in the world. From the initial gift from the Dutch, the festival has grown to include over 3 millions flowers planted yearly throughout the National Capital Region.

And that's your bit of trivia for today... lol

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Eagle's Nest

There is a place, some 100 kilometers to the West of Ottawa which has been a bit of a mecca for me since my dear friend Jean took me there almost 10 years back. Time and again I've returned to that place, sometimes to hunt, sometimes to walk or snowshoe, sometimes just to be alone out there and enjoy the peace and quiet of the Great Outdoors. Many a time have I sat alone at the top of the cliff at Eagle's Nest just looking out over the rivers and endless forest and letting my mind wander. It has become a very special place for me over the years, and yesterday, I brought Yoshiko to what is probably my favourite place to get away from it all for a few hours.

As we pulled up and parked along the side of the highway, we noticed a couple ahead of us spraying each other with insect repellent. After confirming that yes, the bugs are out, we headed down the road a bit and stopped in at Mumfords to pick up some bug spray of our own. Yoshiko proved to be a real trooper and took it all in stride, including me spraying cold insect repellent into her ears... she's a keeper! Turns out the bugs weren't that bad once we got walking and we didn't get bit.... much. The Eagle's Nest trail is a simple loop, which I've only done totally a couple of times. Most of the time I just walk in and straight back out, which is what we did today. The "road" serves as a snowmobile trail in the winter and an ATV\Hiking trail in the summer, so it is somewhat taken care of. The walk itself is great, with all kinds of little critters and birds out and about to look at. I think I went back into teacher's mode for the afternoon and kept babbling on about this kind of bird and that kind of snake and what this tree sap does when put in water... lol Love being out there in the bush again! On one of my last trips out here with Sean, I took a photo of this tree a short time after it had collapsed. 3 years on and it's still holding on... gambatte!

The definite highlight of this little hike is when you reach a pond and head right up a steep trail. At the top of the trail is a gorgeous view of the surrounding forest, complete with a river and huge rock outcroppings.

SUCH a beautiful place. Immediately upon arriving, we saw a Blue Heron gracefully flying over the river down below. Shortly thereafter, a group of hawks flew in overhead in search of prey. This is the Canada I missed so much these last few years. With the wind blowing to keep the bugs at bay and the sun shining, we set about boiling some water and enjoyed cup noodle (complete with chopsticks!) and sandwiches while taking in the view.

The windswept trees are also quite interesting, with almost no growth on the cliff side due to the constant wind.

After finishing lunch and cleaning up (Leave No Trace!) we hopped on back down the trail and spent a bit of time admiring the pond which lies alongside. No, my lens was not dirty... those are bugs flying around over the water. The whole area was covered in them and we were lucky that they were just recently hatched and not hungry for blood yet!

Here is a series of shots I put together.

On our walk back, the clouds parted and the woods took on a great colour with the red pine needles littering the forest floor and the new green leaves shooting out of the trees.

Along the way, I'd make a point of stopping in muddy areas to check for animal tracks. Spotted these... do you know what they are?

A child's hands? Almost... but no. You'll notice the little dots at the end of each finger... from the claws of the raccoon who walked by here the night before. No wonder those little guys are so good at opening coolers and doors! So that's about that. We walked back out, hopped back in the truck and explored the area's roads a bit before heading home.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the newest addition to the family... our lovely 2001 Ford Explorer which is performing quite well so far.

Today, we took another bike trip along the Ottawa River\Rideau Canal loop through downtown to check out the Tulip Festival and stuff... pics on that tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Ottawa's version of Hanami

I don't usually start a post with a picture, but damned if I didn't outdo myself on that one if I do say so myself. These lovely tulips are blooming throughout the city at the moment as the Ottawa Tulip Festival started up last weekend. Here is my dear wife next to a tulip bed.

Yesterday morning, Yoshiko and I hopped on our bikes and headed to the Dow's Lake area to check out the early blooming tulips and we weren't disappointed. About half of the tulip beds are in full bloom right now with more sure to come with the spectacular weather we're been enjoying. One of the top festivals in Ottawa (IMHO) is the Tulip Festival, about which I will post more when we travel the whole Tulip Route by bicycle tomorrow.

Here are a few more previews... some of the tulips along the canal near Dow's Lake:

These ones were so vibrantly red that they looked fake!

In other news, the job hunt is putting along. Applied for another couple yesterday, will keep an eye out for more. I may be just about ready to grab a tech support position if one comes by and I like it, just to give me a little cash to add to the reserves while I find that "perfect" job. Today, Yoshiko and I headed out into the bush in Calabogie for a bit of a hike and a picnic... quite nice to be back! Pictures from that will be posted tomorrow.