Sunday, 18 January 2009

A lovely weekend in Toronto ...

Had a great time in Toronto this weekend. Driving up on Friday was a breeze - clean and dry highway and we arrived after the rush-hour so it was clear sailing down the DVP, across the Gardiner and off on Lakeshore Boulevard to our hotel. We had chosen the Four Points Sheraton because it's near the CNE grounds where the boat show is held - all right, it was cheaper than downtown!

It's still impressive for us small-town-types to drive by the Air Canada Centre, CN Tower and Rogers Centre at night - kind of like seeing the Eiffel Tower from the highway in Paris (well, not quite!).

The Toronto Boat Show is always interesting. We had a lottery ticket this weekend and told the Carver rep we'd be back Sunday morning if we won to buy the $759,000 yacht. This was the first time we boarded the luxury boats and actually found things about our own boat we prefer. We bought a few boaty things and did some serious investigation of chart plotting/gps hardware. We met up with Neil, from Gordon Marine, and decided that the Thousand Islands is the best place in this part of the world for boating. We didn't win the lottery, btw, so it looks like Daydream Believer for us this season.

Saturday evening we drove downtown, parked the car (see rant #4), had dinner and a drink at the Elephant and Castle and then headed to the Princess of Wales Theatre for a production of The Sound of Music. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we had followed the search for a Maria on CBC earlier this year and were anxious to see the production. We were not disappointed. We have not, actually, seen a professional production of S of M before. I've done dozens of performances of the show, however, so I know every note that's sung or played. Those who know me will know that my favourite music in the show is the French horn figure in 'Climb Every Mountain' right after the key change and the line "all the love you can give" - gives me goose bumps just to think of it now. Maybe in heaven they'll give me a French horn instead of a harp and let me play that line for eternity. And maybe Robert Russell Bennett (who did the masterful orchestrations) will be there to give me pointers.

These theatre spectaculars are tighter than amateur productions but often don't have any more talented actors/singers than we've seen elsewhere. Where they are outstanding is in the technical aspects of the production. The sets were amazing (I won't describe them, for fear of spoiling the effect for those readers who have yet to see the show). My favourite moment in the show has always been when the family Von Trapp begins to sing Do-Re-Mi at their home and then, in a miraculous theatre instant, they are on stage at the festival and we are the audience. Worth the price of the ticket just for that moment!

I was crushed to discover that Ted Simonett was 'out' for Saturday's performance. Ted is a Kingstonian that I had the privilege to work with in the early 70s in the St. Lawrence Summer Playhouse. Ted was a high school student, working at Rideau Marina, and played Jesus in 'Godspell' (picture) and Bobby Van Husen in 'The Boyfriend' in productions for which I was musical director. I have followed his career with interest right from those days through to his stint as the annoying neighbour in the Canadian Tire ads (remember the guy with the beard who always had the latest gadget?). He never came over to help me with my projects 'cos I ALREADY have all the Canadian Tire gadgets!! BTW, while we're on a 'Summer Playhouse' kick, I was also musical director for a production at that same theatre of 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown'; the title role was played by none other than Nicholas Campbell. Sorry - don't have any pics of that production.

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel this morning, we headed home. The highway had a bit of snow but was basically wet - until we hit Oshawa. From there it was 40-60 kph - there was a steady string of cars and trucks in the ditch. After a quick pit stop we poked along as far as Trenton and then decided it wasn't safe to proceed any further on 401. We switched over to Highway 2 and although the road was no better than 401 it was much safer and even faster. It was actually kind of nice to travel through Trenton, Belleville, Napanee. Hard to imagine that before 401 all traffic between Montreal and Toronto travelled that route.

We still made it home before dark and in time to see our skatergirl performing on NBC's Progressive Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular.

Don't read this if you don't want to hear my rant ...

Everyone who lives in a small town should be required to spend a few days in Toronto once a year, just to be reminded of the advantages of small-town life. We just made a brief trip to Toronto to attend the Boat Show and see 'The Sound of Music'. The positive points are made in the next blog. For this one, here's the rant (in no particular order):

1) Architects - I'm sure no architect has ever used a public washroom in a large venue (theatre, arena). Would you not think that by now architects would have figured out that womens' washrooms in these buildings need more facilities. Actually, in the Princess of Wales Theatre, the ladies' washroom has more facilities than the mens' (15 stalls [I'm told!], compared to 2 stalls and 4 urinals in the mens') but the ladies were still lined up right out into the lobby. And in the mens' there was a lineup for the stalls - however, every man who washed his hands (don't they all?) had to break through the lineup for the stalls to reach the paper towels.

2) Gridlock - if you're going to honk your horn at cars who block an intersection, you can't also honk your horn at cars ahead of you who are waiting for the intersection to clear before they proceed. Much as we'd like to think we can, you can't have it both ways. I have, in the last year at home, heard no more than two drivers honk their horn at another driver or pedestrian. In Toronto, apparently, it's a way of life.

3) No-left-turn intersections. 'nuff said!

4) $30 to park the car to see a show. I believe that would cost $3 at home.

5) The snow-plow operators' strike. Oh, they're not on strike? Coulda fooled me! 40 kph on 401 today.

6) Transport drivers who think we're wusses and then jack-knife their rigs and hold up traffic for hours.

7) Thoughtless drivers who park their cars smack in the middle of two parking spaces.

8) Hotels next to the Gardiner Expressway. Here's the view from our window:

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Our boating paradise

30 below and 2 feet of ice - hard to believe this is where we swim and play! However, January is half gone and the next thing you know we'll be touching up the dock from the winter's ice and splashing Daydream Believer for another season.

Got a call the other day to play piano for the Thousand Islands Playhouse production of "Forever Plaid" this spring. Three obvious reasons to be excited - first, musical theatre is a great love and professional musical theatre is a real joy; second, 'Forever Plaid' has great music and is a lot of fun; third, the production rehearses from the first of May and closes in mid-June so it won't conflict in any way with our boating season. So this year I get to participate fully in both of these activities. Bring it on!

Monday, 5 January 2009

The hills are alive ...

Just booked tickets to see The Sound of Music in Toronto on January 17th. We followed 'How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria' on CBC last summer and voted for our favourite Maria so we wanted to get to see the show. We're seeing Elicia MacKenzie as Maria and The Singer and Serdic are seeing Janna Polzin, so it will be interesting to compare notes. I guess the Mirvish family is finding the economy a little tight - can you believe you have to pay a $3 charge for the privilege of printing your own tickets? Times are tough!

We're doing a package on the weekend of the Toronto Boat Show and have a room booked at the Four Points Sheraton. With theatre tickets ($250) and hotel ($185), suddenly the complimentary ($15) boat show tickets seem pretty insignificant. Tickets for the theatre are in the 7th row - not dead centre, but not too far to the side. Should be a great weekend.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Home again ...

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

This morning we loaded up our bags and headed off to the StreetCar Noise had booked to take us to Heathrow. After a few breathless minutes of communication with the office when the passkey wouldn't unlock the car, finally the green light came on and the doors popped open. The trip to Heathrow was easy and check-in at Air Canada was a breeze (we had registered on-line yesterday and only had to check our bags). Security was thorough, as usual (doesn't bother me that they're making sure that everybody on MY plane is there legitimately) and I had a little mini-massage (no problem, sir - just a routine random scrutiny).

The flight left on time and actually arrived in Ottawa 45 minutes early. The only thing unusual on the flight was we that saw another jet below us. Though I guess we've always known they're out there, we'd never actually seen another aircraft in the sky before. The sight just made the whole notion of floating this 350,000 lb vessel in the air more surreal.

Although we had to wait for our gate to free up we were still in good time and through Customs by the time we were supposed to have arrived. Our bags slid down the ramp and we were off to meet The Singer, who had come to pick us up. Picked up the car at bro's parking garage, had a cup of tea at Singer & Serdic's flat (sorry - apartment) and then headed home. We stopped in Brockville at Swiss Chalet for the cheapest meal we've had out in a week - actually a nice bookend, since we had Swiss Chalet on the way to the airport when we left a week ago.

High Tea at the Lanesborough

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

As part of their Christmas Gift to us, PetDoc and Noise treated us to high tea at the Lanesborough Hotel this afternoon. We were afraid that we might be a little under-dressed (and outclassed, too, for that matter) but we were actually quite comfortable and had a marvellous time. The hotel is across the street from Hyde Park, right across the square from Wellington Arch. The hotel was awarded the Tea Guild award for 2008 - Best Afternoon Tea. And we found out why!!
We began with a glass of Taittinger champagne, accompanied by a generous dish of strawberries with cream poured over them. The sommelier helped us choose our teas - PetDoc and PetMom had the Ceylon Supreme, Noise had his favourite green tea and PetDad had the hotel's afternoon blend. There were dozens of teas from which to choose - black, green and white.
When we had polished off the strawberries, we were presented with a pre-dessert, consisting of an apple and pear mousse with a mandarin and mango jelly. With our palates cleansed, we proceeded with a tiered cake stand of assorted sandwiches, tea breads and desserts. The sandwiches were cucumber and cream cheese, curried chicken, smoked salmon, tuna, and cheese and pickle. These were accompanied by oven-fresh quiches (mushroom, onion and stilton). There were four small tea breads and scrumptious desserts which we cut in smaller pieces so all could sample.
Although we were quite full by the time we finished all of this, we managed to polish off the tray of scones and tea cakes - adorned with clotted cream, lemon curd and strawberry jam. All this was washed down with an endless supply of tea, poured by the attentive waiters as soon as our cup warranted. We were offered seconds of each of the above but we declined all but the tea.

Not having been to a pub yet today, we decided about 9:30 to head down Greyhound past the Queen's Club to the Colton Arms. It was absolutely delightful - exactly what you'd expect a neighbourhood pub to be like.

Tomorrow we're off to Heathrow for a 1:00 pm flight home, arriving in Ottawa at 3:45.

Happy New Year from London

Thursday, January 1, 2009

It's only 9 pm there, but it's 2 am here and we want to wish you a happy new year! We had some munchies at home and then about 9:30 we left to view the fireworks set off at the London Eye. The viewing area at Westminster was full when we arrived so we walked along Whitehall to Trafalgar Square and then on down The Strand to Blackfriars Bridge. From there we had a great view of the fireworks and enjoyed them very much. It was wall-to-wall people from Westminster to the place we stopped to view the fireworks - first they were all moving in the same direction - then still to watch the fireworks - then back the other way to make their way home. There was a lot of alcohol and shouting but nobody really what you'd call misbehaving - only having a good time to celebrate the New Year. We were in a crowd of several hundred thousand people, shoulder to shoulder - certainly the largest crowd we've ever been a part of. We never felt nervous, but we did hang on to each other quite a lot. Our trip back to the flat was relatively easy - we had given some forethought to how we would get home and it appeared to pay off. We had a seat on the tube the whole way, while we saw a lot of trains with people packed in like sardines.

We were to the Borough Market this morning and we've got a nice pork roast to cook tomorrow and we'll have a nice dinner here at home.

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