Party Central at the Toronto Pride Parade


I’m a tad conservative – I’m not talking political, I’m talking life style. Husband, kids, house, grandkids – conservative lifestyle, conservative dress – you wouldn’t think from looking at me today that there was a flower child in my past. And the honest truth is that there wasn’t. I was in University during that period in history – but I spent that time studing physics and computer science, not marching from rights at every opportunity.

Color me conservative.

So you can also color me surprised to discover that I’d managed to decide to visit Toronto during Pride Week. This is a massively important week for Toronto, if the sheer number of rainbow flags, wall hangings, designs, and posters is any measure. I don’t think it would be possible to ignore the fact that it was Pride week anywhere in Toronto, but my sisters and I had managed to reserve ourselves a VRBO rental right in the heart of the Gay Village. No way we were going to be ignoring the festivities. Much to our surprise, we were part of them!

Hot Spot Central for Pride events is Church Street near Bloor – and we were just 2 very short blocks away on Mutual Street. We couldn’t have asked for a better location if we’d realized what we were signing up for. Church Street is party central, and we were just far enough away to avoid the noise – and close enough to have to walk thru it every time we ventured out.

We arrived in Toronto on Thursday, navigated our way to our lodgings, and quickly realized that something was happening. The unmistakable signs of a huge street fair being set up were everywhere. Tents being dropped off, boxes and boxes of supplies being unloaded, and giant marquess being set-up at all the major street corners were just some of the more obvious hints. And to say that folks were dressed – well – distinctively – would be an understatement. Clearly, something big was happening, and it didn’t take us long to put it all together. Of course – Pride Week – with the huge Pride Parade (over 3 million people (apx?) attended in 2017) was happening on Sunday.

By Saturday, things were in high swing. The street closures started at Bloor and Church and extended for blocks and blocks – well past where we were and only petering out at around Gerrad Street. Even the local Loblaws – a super Loblaws with both an upstairs and a downstairs was in on the act. An entire section of the grocery store was getting a quick redesign as a dance floor – with a DJ of course. Folks were handing out free drink samples at both entrances – Some kind of Lemon/Lime Coke at one door, and a fru-fru water at the other. Nothing like shopping to head-banging noise…

The hundreds of stalls set up along Church were definitely an eclectic group. From Light your Dick (selling penis shaped candles), to a wooden watch display whose 6’2” salesman wore high heels and a sequinned top, to a pose yourself in a bathtub photo opp – there were stalls the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

The lower portion of the parade route was devoted to more community oriented stalls of the likes of Save Water (handing out free metal water bottles), Pet Rescue (with their doggy mascot in his wheel chair), and a huge 2 floor bar/DJ set-up sponsored (yes I asked) by the largest Pot growing company in Canada. Nope – no free samples there!

My sisters and I wandered up and down the street – many times with our jaws dropped open in surprise at the clothing choices of some of our fellow revellers.

There were drag queens galore – some young, some definitely not so young. One of my favourites was wearing a dashing ballon headdress – and not much else. There were men – at least a dozen in my best count – sporting the full Monty. They had on rings that were strategically placed – I never did figure out why, but if you need to know – ask a guy. Leather strips formed a lot of the clothing options, as did push up bras, corsets, and tatoos. For some reason – lots of guys were wearing dog masks – mostly of the German Shepard variety – and being lead around on chains by either other men, or young woman. I will leave to the reader’s mind to figure out what they were doing. There was a Goth Statue of Liberty, a guy wearing ‘grapes’ (I think he was from a wine store), and lots of belly buttons (and other parts) on display.

And the noise – oh my – the noise. Every major street corner had a DJ booth and dance floor set-up. Some were massive 3 story affairs with light shows. Other’s were a bit more subtle – but not by much. One booth was playing a wild rendition of YMCA as we struggled past, but most were the more popular younger music that I can barely recognize as music. It’s mostly base noise, with a hint of melody.

And this party lasts, lasts, and lasts. It started warming up around noon on Saturday, and only slowed down a bit when it rained late Saturday night. On Sunday morning they began gearing up for the main event – the Pride Parade, but we opted to avoid both the rain and the crowds by heading towards the Royal Ontario Museum. This kept us dry and relatively sane. We let the crowds of Pride Parade Goers do their thing with out us. There is only so much Full Monty I need to see in my life.

Would I go back to Toronto for Pride Parade? Nope. Been there, saw that – I’m done. Would I suggest you check it out? Sure! It was eye-opening for sure.

Signing off to go back to her conservative life-style…

It wouldn’t be an Adventure if things didn’t go wrong


Our plans for today – a Monday – are fairly simple.

MP has a list of ‘must see’ items – among them the amber room at Catherine II’s Summer Palace in Pushkin. We get another rather late start, those lazy breakfast and sleeping in mornings are going to be the doom of us – and head out by metro/bus to Pushkin.

The directions, as per the Lonely Planet Guide book are simple. The Palace is only open from 12 to 2 for individual visitors – so arrive around 12.

Oh – how I wish I’d done some internet searching BEFORE venturing out to Pushkin.

Going by metro/bus wasn’t the fastest option – it took about an hour to get from our central location to the bus stop nearest the Palace. Part of that time was wasted trying to find the correct bus stop at the metro station. Fortunately, while people may not speak English – they are great with numbers and pointing – so we eventually end up in front of a MacDonalds – getting on the right bus!

We ride, and ride – the country side of the paintings we’d seen in the Russian Museum unrolling in front of our eyes. Pushkin is a town that grew up around the Tsar’s Palace, and it’s really a bedroom community for St. Petersburg. Lots of flats and square concrete buildings dating probably to the Soviet era. Landscaping is pretty pedestrian – clearly not a priority for the flat owners. Too bad too – with a bit of care these buildings might look quite nice. Today they look badly in need of a paint job and some basic concrete repair work.

Helpful souls on the bus push us off when we arrive at our destination. We walk around a corner – and there it is – in all it’s Russian dome glory! The garden that surrounds the palace looks amazing – but it is completely fenced off from us common types. Clearly you must enter from the palace ticket office.

As we walk towards the Palace, along a small creek that has been carefully scluptured with water falls and lava rocks, we notice the begining of bad news. There is a mob of people outside of the gate. Carefully lining up – no barriers, no controls – just huge long long lines.

As we get closer – we realize that there are 3 ticket booths – each with it’s own long line. We join the shortest (but not fastest unfortuantely) and then IT and MP go out hunting for lunch.

I wait patiently in line for their return.

Lunch consists of Russian Fast Food – mystery meat rolls in a yummy bread crust. I do enjoy these things – but I wish I had some Ketscup. They are really the predecessors of our Tourtiere – only hand sized!

Anyway – once MP and IT return, I decide to investigate further. It turns out that Lonely Planet was completely, utterly wrong. Things have drastically changed at Catherine II’s Summer Palace. Today you are given a time slot based on when you arrive at the ticket booth – and the slots range from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. That’s all good – but we have theatre tonight – what times are they giving out now? Given the disorganized queuing process – 3 booths, 3 lines – worst queuing method ever – it’s not a surprise that there’s no sign saying what the next times to be distributed are. In fact – there’s no information – just endless queues. I’m totally reminded of some of the opening scenes in Robin William’s film – “Moscow on the Hudson”.

Finally I can’t take the lack of information any longer, and I go stand next to the exit line at our booth – and try to peer at someone’s ticket. Noticing my interest, they kindly ask if they can help – and I explain I’m trying to see what time slots are being assigned. 5:00 PM is the answer.

Won’t work. It’s 12:30 now – we are definitely not going to hang around the palace – you can’t even visit the garden until your time slot – and then miss ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

So we pack it in – no Amber room for MP today.

According to Lonely Planet – there is another palace, almost as nice, within a short bus ride of Catherine II’s monster. It’s called Pavlovsk – for Paul I. And it sounds really perfect. We walk back to the bus stop – and after several false starts – get on the right bus to Pavlovsk. After a ride quite a bit longer than we’d hope for – the bus actually takes us right to the ticket booth of the Palace. And there is no line. Perfect.

Oops – not so perfect. The palace is closed for Sanitary Cleaning. What? Not announced, not planned, not on the schedule – just – the palace is closed. A private tour guide is standing at the ticket booth giving grief to the poor defenseless ticket agent – who can only sigh, shake her head, and repeat – it’s closed.

Having few options – we decide to make the best of what is rapidly becoming a disaster – and at least visit the park.

The garden is lovely – no two ways about that. And it is huge. I keep thinking what an amazing place to ride horseback – or to wander in a lovely dress and a parasol. We are passed by a bride and groom in a horse drawn carriage – what a lovely day and place to celebrate your wedding. (sigh)

We enjoy the surroundings, then get back on the bus to head back to St. Petersburg. Seriously hungry by the time the bus meanders back to the metro stop, we opt to eat an early dinner/late lunch of rice with a meat sauce. Then it’s onto the metro and we head back downtown.

Thinking we had plenty of time – we get off at one of the downtown stations – and we plan our walk to include another of MP’s must sees – the Bronze Horseman. This iconic statue was made famous in a poem by Pushkin, and is the northern most anchor of a large public park. We wander past St. Issac’s Cathedral, admire the horseman, take photo’s of the Russian’s enjoying the garden around the horseman, admire the river, and than continue our walk towards the Theatre.

We thought that our Ballet began at 7:30 – and are surprised at how quiet the area around the new ‘Mariinsky’ was. Where are all the guests? The staff admitts us – points us to the cloakroom to deposit our back-packs – and then shows us the elevator (wow – an elevator). We get off on the 4th floor – but when we try to enter the theatre – the very pleasant hostess tells us that we can only stand. Surprised – we walk in – to discover that the ballet started at 7:00

Oops. It’s the middle of Act I – the child has been born, and the fairies are doing their dances. We sit on the steps (we couldn’t stand for even 10 minutes to be honest) – and watch in amazement at the spectacule. This is ballet as it should be. Even from the 4th level – we’re so close to the stage I feel like I could reach out and touch the dancers.

The ‘new’ hall is all blonde wood and muted colors – but unlike the concert hall in Montreal which also features a new design – here the acoustics are wonderful, and the dancing sublime.

Time flys by – we get to take our seats for act II, relax during Act III – but most enjoy Act IV. After the evil fairy is defeated – there is the wedding feast – and all the fairy tale characters – from Puss in Boots to Red Riding Hood and her wolf show up to celebrate the marriage. The dancing in this section is no longer the restrained classical style of the first acts – instead the dancers and the audience are caught up in the fun and delight of the fairy tale characters. Oh – such fun.

I haven’t seen much ballet – in fact I can’t remember the last ballet I saw. But it doesn’t take an expert to realize that this is ballet at a vastly surperior level. The ballet corp is both numerous and well trained – at one point we counted over 100 dancers on the stage. There were kids as well – all sorted by height, all dancing with a level of experience that is shocking for us to see. It is as if they have been dancing forever – and I suppose perhaps they have!

Perfectly sculptured legs, dramaticly high leg lifts, and men who leap and soar seemingly weightless fill the stage. We can’t help but be impressed, thrilled, delighted and pleased.

We leave the theatre promising ourselves not to arrive late the next night – and consider walking home. Nope – we’re wiped – Taxi it is. Problem – where do we live. I know where it is of course – but I have no address – certainly not one to give a taxi cab driver who speaks only a spattering of English.

Decision – take us to the Hermitage – we’ll walk from there.

He does – we do – and it’s bed time!

The host at the hostel is thrilled to see us – they didn’t realize we were going to the theatre – and had expected us back much much earlier. But all is well – and we’re wiped.

Signing off – MP, IT, and you know who… The Soup Lady!

Jet Lag is not fun!


This is insane. I’ve been back from Bali for a week – and last night was the first night I slept thru. Really. Body – what gives!

I didn’t have jet lag issues on the way to Bali – despite the 35 hours of travel time. I think that the saving grace there was actually the 8 hours on the ground in Paris. When you get your feet on the ground – and can organize a bed – you get a decent rest. And it sets your body’s alarm clock.

On the return journey – I left Bali at around 5:30 a night – and arrived at about 6:30 PM the next day in Montreal. So in Theory – I should have been fine. But in practice – not so good.

I went to bed at 5:30 PM several times – woke at 3:30 AM like a shot – wide awake – absolutely raring to go – and then of course – died out again at 5:30 PM. So doesn’t work when you have to go to the office and people expect you to function.

And I did all the standard tricks – drank lots of water, tried to sleep when they turned out the lights on the plane – even walked around a bit when the seat belt light was off. And I did those crazy exercises the ‘relax’ option on the Audio suggest – rotate your feet – up down with your toes, self massage your neck. If I could have found enough space to do a bit of Tai-Chi – that would have been nice – but I think they are making planes larger with less space. Mine had a bar – but no space to stretch!

I don’t care for drugs – so I ignore all suggestions that start with ‘Take’ – as in ‘Take Gavol’, ‘Take Melatonin’, ‘Rub yourself with Lavender Oil’, and ‘Take Pycnogenol’. And I’m certainly not going the Prescription Sleep Meds route. It’s natural or deal with it in my book.

But I do think time on the ground to break up the trip is the best route – and next time – I’m adding travel time on the route back to grab some proper shut eye. It’s so worth the money – losing a week of focus is such a terrible way to end a great holiday trip!

Signing off now that she can sleep when the rest of the world around me is asleep – The Soup Lady

Prime29 – Glorious Restaurant, so-so Food


We’re in Detroit – that should be steak country right? I’m thinking if you want a great US steak – you should be able to get it here. Well – forget about that if you go to Prime 29. So beautiful, so disappointing.

Lets talk about the good stuff first. The restaurant is beautiful. They did a brand-new renovation in a space the size of a small Target (Ok – probably not that big – but you get the idea.). The space is divided up into a series of smaller spaces with huge round tables/banquets nestled into the walls, a huge bar, a huge terrace area with a glassed in gas fire pit and heat lamps, plus standard dining rooms as well. It went on forever.

I just loved the look – dark woods, rich carpet, nicely dressed wait-staff (well – except for hostess in too tight skirt and top – and huge high purple heels – but the guys ate that up), and comfy seats. We opted for the terrace – open air, not a great view – but the weather was so nice it was worth it.

The menu was a bit of a shocker – $41 for a 12 oz rib steak is in the pricy area in my book. But the Filet – 8 oz – was just $34, much more reasonable. And as a teaser – there’s Prime Rib for $29 – but only on Sunday. Since I was eating there on Saturday night – that’s a non-starter.

But I’m flexible, so I order 2 appetizers – a cheese and fruit plate and a tuna tataki, neither of which was cheap – but I had hopes they’d be good. The tuna was a winner. Nice slices of cold tuna, served on a seasoned salad of avocado slices. Yummy. The cheese platter really should have been awesome. There are so many delicious cheeses from micro-producers these days that you can really pick and choose. So Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Cheap Brie and amazingly – Boursin were hardly an impressive selection. Not that they aren’t good cheeses – but for $18 I’d expect at least something like a Jasper Hill, or a local Michigan cheese. Not cheese bought from Price Club. Really. This the best you can do?

But ignore my complaints – my husband’s medium rare filet was medium well, the truffle fries were battered frozen fries (come on people – frozen french fries – at an upscale restaurant?) that weren’t very truffled, and the lobster bisque was declared thin and watery by my friends.

So – it’s a beautiful place to go to be seen, but hardly foodie worthy. Oh well. Next time in Detroit, maybe we will make a better choice.

The Queen’s Inn’s Boar’s head Tavern – Utterly Forgettable


Tell me it isn’t so – you aren’t really serving pre-packed and Frozen Fish and Chips in a ‘Tavern’ are you? Can you say Terrible? Can you say Insane?

I mean if you’ve gone to the effort to have dart boards on the walls, wooden floors and a great looking bar with draft beer – why would you serve people clearly frozen pre-battered fish. It’s so obvious for goodness sake.

At least buy frozen fish filets – those are just as cheap – and batter them yourself. Those obviously perfect diamond shapes are a give-away. And the taste is bland and boring. Clearly there are better options out there in Stratford, Ontario.

Definitely avoid this one!

The Boar's Head Pub on Urbanspoon

The Library Bar, Royal York Hotel, Toronto – Awful food in a great looking Bar


Library Bar at the Royal York in Toronto – forget it. Very expensive, and not very good.

Perhaps the problem was my timing. I ate lunch there on a Friday, and from the other reviews – I can see that they are normally open only Saturday and Sunday. But still – it was a simply terrible excuse for a meal.

I ordered an Ahi Tuna Wrap – and it came with either a salad or french fries. Since it was billed as a ‘low calorie’ option on the menu – why would you offer french fries with it. But moving past that, the wrap was actually terrible. A too thick tortilla, folded around 3 small slices of Ahi Tuna, a bit of salad, and 3 slices of what might have once been avocado. It was served chilled, and honestly looked and tasted like it had been made much earlier in the day, put in a fridge, and just plopped on the plate. The salad was mealy and ordinary – which given the price of an outrageous $22 – I’m sorry. That’s disgusting.

Too bad too because the Library Bar looks so lovely – all dark brown and woody with comfortable seats and sofas and a very pleasant feel of restrained elegance. Plus the service was very nice. Normally they charge for internet – but the matre-d’ took pity on me and let me sign on using his code for an hour. Question to consider, why do expensive hotels still insist on charging for something that less expensive hotels and most restaurants and even some airports give away for free? I’m talking of course about internet access.

In any case – stick to the ‘Bar’ part of the Library and avoid the food.

Library Bar - Fairmont Royal York on Urbanspoon

Bob’s on the Bay – Eat at your own risk!


Oh dear – I blew it. Had I read the reviews – I would have known that Bob’s on the Bay in Brockville was a bad choice – but I got busy, forgot to check – and ended up there with no other options but to make the best of a bad idea.

Does admitting it make it better? Probably not. But at least I can join the masses in not recommending Bobs.

Or maybe I should just quip – Bob’s should swim in the Bay!

We opted for Bob’s for the reasons most other people would – the ‘On the Bay’ part of the name. It sounded lovely. And we drove up – I thought it was going to be perfect – lots of people enjoying a moment of sunshine on the High terrace. But the problem is – they are not on the Bay. There’s a huge – multi-store apartment building between them and the Bay – and to the west – another one. So yes you can see the water to the East – but on the Bay it’s not.

But it’s supposed to be about the food right. So how was the food?

If I’m not terribly hungry – I’ll order an appetizer for dinner – and at Bob’s – that was clearly the smart choice. I definitely enjoyed my Quesadilla, it was well made and yummy. But my husband thought his French Dip was downright terrible, and my grand-daughter ate her garlic mashed potatoes – and none of her salmon. Moral – if you are in a bar – order bar food, for which Quesadilla works, and salmon is a loser.

Oh well – at least the view to the east was nice and the service was fine.

My quick summary – when visiting Brockville – pick a different place!

Bud's on the Bay on Urbanspoon

Lakeview Restaurant – Lake Lure, N.C. – Brunch is definitely a “Skip It”


Lakeview at Wynham – Great location – lousy Breakfast

We had decided it would be fun to do a Sunday Brunch before heading off homeward. After consulting with Tripadvisor – and finding out that the Larkin – where we’ve already eaten two meals is a top restaurant in this area – we figure out that the nearest brunch place is the Lakeview. Reviews are a bit mixed – dinner gets high ratings, other meals less so – but hope beats eternal…

The location is great – overlooking Lake Lure and a beach, and just minutes from the condo. We opt to sit outside on a lovely porch, clearly designed to make the most of the view. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the ‘buffet’ is forgettable at best. There’s a omlet station – that would have been great – but with only one server, who clearly has little idea how to handle the station, the line waiting is too long for our schedule. We still need to get me to the airport on time. Ok – so let’s stick to the prepared foods. There’s no eggs – you are supposed to use the omelet station. The bacon and potatoes ‘bins’ are empty, and there’s only one piece of French Toast left. Good news – a young man reassures us that more food is coming in a second.

There’s a nice fruit selection – so I make do with that, and return to our table. My sister has ordered coffee (extra charge – sorry), which I enjoy with my fruit. I return to the buffet – and by now they have replenished the bacon and the French Toast. Oh yum. Best bacon ever – crisp – which is surprising, and delightful. Worth waiting for. The French Toast is ok, but the ‘fake’ syrup is disappointing for someone from Quebec.

The bread options are truly disappointing – come on people – there’s more than just white bread in this world.

Bottom line – get a server who can cook if you can only afford one on the omelet station – or at least put a platter of scrambled eggs out for those of us who just can’t wait 40 minutes in line. And please – include the coffee in the price – it’s annoying to get an additional charge for something that really costs almost nothing. And offer more than the cheapest possible bread and pastry.

Oh well – we were warned. I hope other’s who come to this area heed the subtle warnings in the Tripadvisor reviews.

Lakeview Restaurant on Urbanspoon

It’s about the view at the Captain’s Table – Charlotte Harbor Florida


Oh dear, I just can’t believe this – I’m beginning to think that every restaurant in Florida has won an award of some kind. They must give those things out like candy at Halloween. So the Captain’s Table had a wall – a total wall – full of awards. Most romantic dinner, best view, best this – best that. My problem – the only food item that seemed to be a ‘best’ was the breaded fish sandwich. That’s a tad scary, right? I mean – it’s a huge menu and you are giving prizes to the view?

But I have to give them kudos for it. It was truly outstanding. The restaurant is strangely located at the far end of a mall full of cute shops (called Fisherman’s Village) – with timeshare condo’s on the 2nd floor. You park in front, then walk the length of the ‘mall’ to get to the restaurant. Also a bit strange – the restaurant is on 2 levels – the upper level with the outdoor dining overlooking Charlotte Harbor is called the Captain’s Table on Charlotte Harbor. The restaurant on the lower level is Harpoon Harry’s – more of a bar than a restaurant.

We had lunch reservations – which was a very good thing because the majority of the restaurant was filled by large group of bankers having a buffet lunch and a talk. The good news – this didn’t seem to impact the service on the outdoor balcony where we were sitting.

My Grouper Sandwich was just ok. The fish portion was a good size, always a nice start. But I found it cut so thick that I just couldn’t get the fish and the roll into my mouth. So I ended up eating a plain grilled fish, no roll. To add insult to injury – the tomato was also sliced super thick, ending up tasteless. Really didn’t add anything to the sandwich – a shame because one would think that at least in Florida one could get yummy vegetables. One final complaint – The mandatory french fries were standard frozen chips – I passed on those. Just not worth the calories.

Bottom line – lots of awards, great view, but maybe someone ought to take a close look at what they are doing to the food. Definitely not up to the location.
 

Captain's Table Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Captain's Table on Foodio54

If this is the best – I’m really sorry for Fort Myers Beach


I love a great breakfast – and I’ve had many. Unfortunately – that’s what I didn’t have this morning at Reece’s. Nope – this one was pretty crummy. Which happens – but what bugs me is that all over the restaurant were signs saying – “Voted best breakfast in Fort Myers Beach – 10 years in a row”.

So – what should I read into that. That folks in Fort Myers Beach have no taste? That Chez Cora needs to come down here and blow them away? That John G’s in Palm Beach doesn’t have to worry?

The location of the restaurant – which isn’t even on the beach – is in a strip mall – but then almost everything in Fort Myers is either in a strip mall or a hotel. The good news – the ‘balcony’ part overlooked a cute pond with turtles (over 25 according to the chatty waitress), a white ibis eating a delicious breakfast of freshly hatched tadpoles, and a rather odd spraying elephant fountain. And the waitress was super nice – too bad the food didn’t match her clever repartee.

My biscuit was doughy and tasteless, the grits needed butter (not supplied), the eggs weren’t cooked properly, and there wasn’t a piece of fruit anywhere on the menu. This is florida people – fruit should be a given. The best tasting thing was my foot long sausage – a tad greasy – but yummy none-the-less.

My husband’s breakfast was a country fried steak – his first – so while he couldn’t compare it – he did like it. And his poached eggs were fine – if lacking in salt. The gravy was a congealed glop that he didn’t taste, the fried potatoes were frozen and re-heated. The coffee was fine – a bottomless cup of Hazelnut. But you don’t go to breakfast to pick and choose between the good and the really not good.

Sorry people – maybe everyone else loved this place – but I thought it worse than forgettable.

Reese's Restaurant on Urbanspoon