Friday, June 29, 2007

An easy return to work

Well there we go... after a couple of days of work, it's just like I'd never left the place! Had a good time this week seeing everyone at OR again and reuniting with Rene, the dynamic duo is together again, which is great.

Things have come back pretty quickly to me, surprisingly so in fact. I was alone today, doing the work of 3 people and had no problems at all, I guess that's a good sign!

I even started working just in time to enjoy a long weekend, how great is that? Tomorrow morning, Yoshiko and I will be heading up to the cottage, coming back late Sunday afternoon and then heading downtown to take in some of the Canada Day festivities. Looking forward to a good weekend, and now that I'm actually working... I've earned the time off!

Friday, June 22, 2007

My last few days as a free man...

Yes indeed, after just a little over 4 months of freedom from the shackles of employment, I am but a few days away to rejoining the employed masses. Monday morning, I am returning to work for Ogilvy Renault, with whom I was working before leaving on my Japanese adventure in 2005. Quite pleased to be heading back there, though I hadn't envisioned doing so until recently. Working with the firm again in Montreal was great and opened the door to a return, which I feel I may seek to make permanent over the next few months, we shall see. At the very least, it's good money while I look for a permanent position, in fact giving me 50% more than what I would have had to settle for going in somewhere through an agency, which totally rocks.

So that's one big change in our new life here in Canada, just as we're getting settled in. Another big change is that Yoshiko has begun taking language classes through the LINC program, which stands for Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada. This is a government sponsored program which provides full time English (and French) studies for landed immigrants. She's enjoying it so far, and I think it's great because she's practicing things like reading which is something she hasn't had much exposure to in Japan's conversation based schools like AEON. Speaking of which, I have a feeling business is quite brisk at AEON these days, with the major Japanese language school, the much loathed NOVA taking a major hit in the last few weeks. Not only has the government limited their business, suspending them from signing any students up to long-term contracts, but the government's language training subsidy has also been revoked for that company due to their shady business practices. In my opinion, this has been a long time coming, NOVA has been treating their staff and students badly for years while relying on massive advertising to bring in fresh meat... now they're getting their dues. HA!

So with my last days of freedom dwindling down, I'm glad I was able to squeeze in a few more leisure activities. Yesterday, I went fishing with my brother and tomorrow morning, Yoshiko and I leave for a weekend of camping alongside my good friend and former coworker Klaus's RV out East of Ottawa.

This is my favourite little fishing spot, a place Sean introduced me to some years ago after finding out about it from someone at work. This great fishing hole is at the very beginning of this river as it flows out from a major lake west of Ottawa.

The sheer volume of fish here make any day far from boring. The variety is nice too, and yesterday in the couple of hours we spent there, we managed to hook some 14 (or more?) fish from 4 of the 5 species represented here. There's yellow perch, sunfish, bass, pickerel and pike all right here at your finger tips. Granted, some of our catch were quite tiny as you can see here.

I am pleased to report that despite having the unfortunate luck of catching the 2 smallest fish of the day, I also had the chance of catching the biggest of the day. Not the cutest thing when pictured from straight on...

...but a nice fish! Despite the fish being well past the 30cm limit imposed in the fishing regs for the area, I opted to release it and give someone else the chance to fight him in some day in the future.

Turns out the day was quite nice, despite the severe thunderstorm warnings issued all day long. We drove through rain to get here, but it cleared up nicely shortly after our arrival. This is a small bay of the lake from which the river springs, nice blue skies!

Another highlight of fishing here is the wildlife. For example, the resident Blue Heron was hanging around for most of the day, preening and cleaning himself as we fished.

When fishing here, we've also had quite a few close encounters with this old feller. As you can see by the moss on his back, he's been around quite some time now.

From what I can tell, this is a Common Snapping Turtle, a species found throughout Southern and Easter Ontario and throughout North America. I have a funny story about this one from one of our last trips. Sean and I were camping in the area one time and fishing here. I'd caught a nice bass which I decided to keep and tied it off with a rope to our minnow bucket which was full of water at the time. Some time later, while we were fishing, we noticed that our minnow bucket was moving... in fact being slowly dragged into the water. Upon further investigation, we found that this snapping turtle has grasped the tail of my bass and was proceeding to drag it off into the river, dragging the bucket along with it! Quite amusing! We promptly rescued the bass from the jaws of the greedy turtle and kept our eye on it for the remainder of the afternoon.

I am sooooooo happy to be back and in close proximity to my little spots again. In camping news, I have decided to leave the extremely loyal people who use Hennessey Hammocks (pictured here during my trip to Canada last year) and join the Clark Jungle Hammock group of users. The Hennessey is a truly fantastic design and beats sleeping in a tent any day, however I really like the design of the Clark. Most hangers, as they call themselves, initially move to hammocks to save some weight in their pack, and with the Clark being heavier, a little more cumbersome and quite a bit more expensive than the Hennessey, many people prefer not to go there. After camping with Sean who has had his Clark for a few years now, I was sold on the design for a few reasons.

First, the detachable mosquito netting is nice and allows you to exit the hammock from both the left and right. It also allows you the option of getting into the wonderful pockets which run along the underside of the hammock to get stuff out, without getting out of the hammock. With the Hennesey, I always felt far away from my gear in that I couldn't just reach out and grab something I wanted, I had to exit the hammock completely.

Second, the side entry design and the way you lie in the Clark makes getting into and staying in a sleeping bag easier. One of my biggest pet peeves about the HH was the time and effort it took to get in and out, especially when it's cold.

Finally, and the real clincher here, the Clark's 6 pockets which run along the underside of the hammock can be stuffed with clothes, gear, leaves or whatever to give you some added protection in the cold. I'm sorry to say that I have felt cold sleeping in the HH, though in its defence I never tried sleeping with an under pad since the hammock's design would have taken some major acrobatics to get that to happen. The Clark also gives me that option with the shape of it holding a pad in place better than the HH.

So yes, it's more expensive and heavier... but it's warmer and more convenient in my opinion and the extra weight is mostly carried by canoe anyway, so there!

Anywho, I've ordered it and it should be in next week. At some point in the future, Sean and I will also make a run out and have a final look at a canoe, since the ones we've borrowed are either not reliable, too heavy or not always available. We shall see. So that's that! Off to Alfred tomorrow to spend some time with Klaus and his family and to initiate Yoshiko to camping... wish us luck!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

First Chosen

Well another weekend is over here in Ottawa and tomorrow will mark 2 months since we arrived here from Japan... time sure does fly. We certainly have kept busy during that time, case in point, this weekend.

Saturday night, Christian and his band, First Chosen, were playing in a battle of the bands type show at Mavericks downtown on Rideau. Seeing as I'd never seen them play for a crowd, this was a good opportunity to finally do so. Unfortunately, due to some problems with the group organizing things, their set got cut down by half, to only 6 songs, but they did well with the time they were given, overcoming some annoyingly persistent obstacles which at one point had 2 of the band's 3 members unable to make it to the show at all. Luckily, an hour and a half before they were set to start playing, things came together and everybody made it in... on time... ish.

You can click on this banner to go to their site and listen to some tunes and see pictures and stuff. The recordings they have posted aren't all that great, much better to hear them live!

I also got to fiddle around with the S3 a bit trying to get some shots of them, but unfortunately the stage wasn't lit up all that well and my little camera came up short, though the videos were awesome with the S3's stereo sound recording. I think a DSLR is definitely in my future, not the near future though... Here are two of the better shots from the bunch I took... was getting jostled around pretty good by the crowd so it was hard to keep steady! Christian is on the bass and vocals with the green hat, Jer is lead singer and guitar and Phil is on the drums, good little group.

With First Chosen playing... well... first... we headed out right after and had dinner with Sherry and Adam, who I hadn't seen since we'd come back. For the first time in 2 years, I got to sample the great food served up at Pe Nan Wok on Bank street! I missed it!

After dinner, Yoshiko and I headed down by the river near the Remic Rapids hoping to see a bit of a sunset but the clouds weren't cooperating, so no go. We did see a gaggle of young geese eating along the side of the river with their parents keep a close eye on them... didn't realize geese had so many babies!

Today was of course Father's day, and the whole clan (almost) made it out to our place for an afternoon and evening enjoying the amazing weather which was served up. At some point this week, I'd like to make a run out to a nice little fishing spot where you're guaranteed some action. Yoshiko's previous fishing experience was pretty boring, I hope to liven things up a bit at this gem of a spot... location to be kept secret of course...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quick run across the border

I am pleased to announce that our immigration process is just about complete. We received Yoshiko's passport back from the Manila Embassy, where her application for Permanent Residency was being processed, last week. After calling Immigration here and asking them what the next step was, we were somewhat dismayed at the final hoop we were told to jump through. In order to confirm her permanent residency status, she would need to leave Canada, go through the proper immigration channels and re-enter as a landed immigrant. Quite annoying that we couldn't just visit an Immigration office to get this done, but luckily we have our pick of some 4 or 5 land border crossings within a few hundred kilometers of us here running up and down the St-Lawrence River.

And so it was that this morning, passports and packages of paperwork in hand, we headed on down the 416 to Prescott, a lovely little town on the river which has a bridge over to Ogdensburg, New York. Upon arriving in downtown Prescott, we made our way to the river side to have a look and get our bearings, see if the bridge was up or down river from us. Here is the mighty St-Lawrence River, the major shipping route into North America to this day.

At one time or another, I have travelled my way all the way down the St-Lawrence from Lake Ontario on up to Tadoussac, over 800 kilometers away... and that's only about 2 thirds of the river's length! As it passes by Quebec City, the river starts to really widen, first reaching 15 kilometers, the 50 and up over a hundred kilometers wide before it dumps into the Atlantic. I remember the first time I crossed it when I was around 10 years old. We took the Ferry from St-Simeon on the North Shore to Riviere du Loup, where the river is a mere 20 kilometers wide and I remember not being able to see the far shore because of the fog. At that age it was the closest I'd ever been to such a huge body of water, having never seen the ocean or any of the Great Lakes. Massive is a good word to describe it.

With the river marking the Southern border between Canada and the state of New York, border crossings in these parts are all bridges. This is the Ogdensburg-Prescott bridge, which took us to the United States. Lovely bridge it was, and a nice view from up there too... almost worth paying the 3$ toll twice.... almost....

So we got across the bridge and notified the US Customs Officer that we weren't actually entering the US, but just turning around and heading back through to clear Immigration. He said that was fine and a common occurrence, but then to our surprise he kept our passports and had us park and go inside. Turned out to be just a little paperwork, but the US officers didn't impress me very much. When we came in, our passports were laid out on the counter, left there by the officer who stopped us, and the only 2 customs officers inside were chatting away. One of them finally came to the counter and asked a few questions before asking us to sit down and proceeding to continue her chat with her coworker. After a good 5 minutes, she finally pried herself away from the in depth discussion they were having about their pets and managed to fill out the proper form and send us on our way back across the border. Upon arriving back in Canada, we were stopped by a rather gruff old timer who told us there was no one here to process our application but to go in anyway. The people inside told us an Immigration officer was on her way from the Cornwall border crossing and should be there shortly. Within 10 minutes, she arrived and after 5-10 more minutes of paperwork, we were on our way and Yoshiko was officially a Permanent Resident... yay!

Seeing as we were in the area anyway, we opted to stop in at the Fort Wellington National Historic Site to check it out as we'd driven right past it coming in. It turned out to be quite interesting. With the St-Lawrence being an important shipping route since the early days of European colonization of the New World, a multitude of military fortifications were progressively erected along its shores. With Prescott a mere stone's throw from the American settlement at Ogdensburg, Fort Wellington was originally built by the local militia when the war of 1812 broke out between the United States and Britain and her colonies. It was rebuilt and expanded over the years, with the walls remaining original and the buildings dating to 1838 when the fort was rebuilt and modernized to protect the area from Canadian Rebels and their American Sympathizers. While the fort was never attacked, it did play an important role in a few battles, during one of which Canadian and British troops crossed the frozen St-Lawrence and took Ogdensburg. All in all, it made for an interesting history lesson and the guides on hand were quite knowledgeable and dressed in period clothing, a nice stop on our journey.

Here is the main gate of the fort.

The South-West facing Canon, with the Union Jack still flying over the fort.

Here is a view of the whole interior of the Fort. The small building in the forefront was the officers' quarters, which were designed to house 2 men but ended up only housing one when the commander opted for classier digs in town. The main building was used for storage with the second and third floor used for living quarters for the soldiers and their families, totalling about 150 people.

As you can see, Fort Wellington had a good vantage point over the river and caused American commanders to think twice before trying to sail their ships up river to attack Montreal and other settlements.

By far the most interesting feature of this fort was its caponiere, a room built out in a ditch which runs along the front of the fort. The room was heavily protected from canon fire and ringed with holes from which to rain flanking fire on attackers. Very ingenious construction! It was accessed via this tunnel.

While there, we were also treated to the firing of an authentic Brunswick Rifle, which with it's percussion cap and rifled barrel, was quite advanced for its day.

Really a beautiful day, nice sun and blue skies, and the river keeping us nice and cool. Fantastic!

After a quick lunch, we headed on back to Ottawa, and that was the day. I promise at least 2 more blogs before the weekend is over, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

One more night in Montreal

Well that's about it. Just like that, our (almost) 2 week stay in Montreal is almost at an end. Here I sit, alone in our lovely suite here on Place Square Phillips, waiting for my dear Yoshiko to return from her day trip to Quebec City, and I decided to spend the time posting to ol' S&M.

It has been quite nice to spend this time here in Montreal, even if my days were taken up with work. I'm glad to report that I am now fully functional in the technical department, just in time for the end of my contract tomorrow. Oh well, with any luck, something else might be spawned from this little séjour in Montreal. It would be really great if the Firm could find a spot for me, even if it is temporary or contract or whatever, working out of the Ottawa office... with the technology we have, it doesn't really matter where one is actually sitting, I can work on any computer across the country in our various offices. Something to ponder...

Almost every day, we've ended up strolling around Old Montreal, mostly since it has such a concentration of GREAT food... and I have an expense account! Last night, for the first time, we busted out over the 100$ mark... and neither of us are drinking! Good stuff though... here's a quick breakdown of our top picks during our stay here:
Best appetizer: Escargot, Le St-Amable, Place Jacques Quartier.
Best main course: Anything on the menu, Creperie Chez Suzette, rue St-Paul Est
Best dessert: Creme Brulee, Restaurant du Vieux Port, rue St-Paul Est
Best atmosphere: Le St-Amable, Place Jacques Quartier
Best service: Creperie Chez Suzette, rue St-Paul Est
Best bang for the buck: St-Hubert

I will certainly miss having my meals subsidized as my contract ends, we've had some REALLY fantastic food here.

Here are some more pictures I took recently.... the weather has been crap this week so I haven't taken my camera out much. This lovely building I ended up taking pictures almost every time I walked by. Just walking around the city, even in the newer part of downtown around out hotel, you'll find an old relic crammed between modern skyscrapers... the city really has a great character.

Not far away, you can find a street where the lights are on 24 hours a day. The reason for this is that the street still has its original gas lighting system.

Last Friday night, we went to a great little Creperie down in the Old Port and had some of their fantastic dinner crepes. The place is called Creperie Chez Suzette (you'll see it mentioned twice above) and this is their shrimp crepe... AMAZING!

This is the Notre Dame Basilica, which towers over the neighbourhood, standing up to the office buildings which have cropped up around it.

One of the great features of Montreal, especially in the winter or when it rains, is the network of underground tunnels which let you run around downtown while staying dry and warm... yes warm... most of the underground areas are heated. Much like Toronto, the network connects hotels, metro stations, shopping malls and office towers together, though traveling from one place to another can be quite disorienting.

Here is another example of Montreal's mix of old and new. This shot was taken from the roof of our hotel, the Square Phillips. You can see the roofline of older building right across the street with the towering skyscrapers a little further out and the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral nestled in the middle.

Montreal holds some of the most fantastic churches to be found outside of Europe. This is the inside of the massive domed Cathedrale Notre Dame.

Another thing you'll see (and often smell) when you walk around the streets of old Montreal, are these horse and buggy tour guides plying their trade. For around 40 bucks, they're run you around the neighbourhood for a half hour pointing out items of interest and telling you quick stories. I guess talking on a cell phone while driving one of these is less of an issue than a car, eh?

Coincidentally, right after snapping the last photo, Lace and her driver wheeled on by. We'd taken a ride with them earlier in the week.

On Sunday afternoon, we decided to make the run up Mont Royal to see St-Joseph's Oratory, a huge church which sits atop the mountain. Despite the cloudy conditions, the view from up here was great. I would love to come back at night some time. The building is relatively recent, even though the initial mission was established at the turn of the century. Inside the building, one can find the preserved heart of Frere Andre, the founder of the small chapel which eventually turned into this behemoth. He was known to heal those who came to seek his help and you can find crutches and other items supposedly left behind by those he healed. This is the largest church in Canada and it's dome is second in size only to St-Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Just behind St-Joseph's sits Westmount, an opulent neighbourhood filled with some lovely homes. Notably, this quaint one sits just outside the gates of the Oratory.

And that's about it for Montreal. Tomorrow night, we hop on the train and head on back to Ottawa just in time to get our shipment which we sent from Japan back in April... 2 weeks late, but so long as it's in ok shape, we don't care!