Day 116 – Traveling during a Pandemic – or dealing with Covid on the road


Honestly – who would have thought we’d be almost 4 months into this thing with cases in the US on the rise, and even here in Montreal we’re not feeling exactly safe.

At least Disney World has re-opened. I don’t know about how you feel about that – but I for one am greatly relieved. They are taking a huge chance – will folks come, can they make sure that these folks are safe – but knowing the massive brain power they can call on – I’m guessing that this is a very measured risk.

I’m quite convinced that they at least know what they are doing… I’m not so sure about our governments. In too many places the rules are changing daily.. Here in Quebec, after much discussion and public consultation, and – I fancy – navel gazing, the PTB (powers that be) have decided to make Masks mandatory in all indoor spaces in the province. They have also decided that the recent upswing in cases (over 150 new ones today – which pales when compared to the over 7000 in Texas alone) is primarily due to large house parties over the two long weekends – June 24th and July 1st. Not the re-opened bars as was feared.

Has anyone mentioned that the US is having a huge upswing about 2 weeks after the July 4th weekend? Just wondering.

Anyway – subject of this blog is going to be travel in the times of Covid-19.

Last night we did a lovely evening Zoom chat with friends in Utah who are planning a 3 week trip to Georgia with their kids and grand kids. When I expressed dismay, they were quick to point out that they were driving – using the kid’s very large motor home. To be safe, they were buying all their food before leaving Utah, and thus stopping only for gas. They wouldn’t even have to use public bathrooms. They are leaving in a few days – I’m quite keen to hear how it goes. I know motor home sales are way way up – people liking the idea of total control over their environment… so I shall hopefully be able to report back.

Meanwhile – We recently decided enough is enough – we’re taking a short trip to the Toronto area. That’s about a 6 hour drive from Montreal but our plans called for us to visit several groups of friends who live in that area of Canada. Our trip journal starts with us leaving home on June 29th, heading West with plans to be back home on Saturday July 4th. So we packed up our clothes, our masks, some sanitizer, and headed out.

Since we were driving in our own car – that part of the trip felt very safe. It’s our car, no one else has been inside – we’re ok.

Our first stop was going to be Kingston, Ontario – about halfway to Toronto. It’s a small city by even Canadian standards, but home to several universities and most of Canada’s major prisons. I allow you to make the obvious links – but we weren’t planning on visiting either. We were going to grab a quick lunch and then get back on the road. Our thought was that a terrace was safer than an En-Route… for sure more yummy.

Our daughter, who lived in Kingston for 4 years (she went to University there), highly recommended Chez Piggy – and they had a terrace. We felt good about eating on terraces – and called to reserve. They cautioned us that wearing a mask was mandatory unless seated at our table – but we thought nothing of that. We were used to wearing masks in public – no biggie.

Turns out it was a biggie. A nail salon in the Kingston area had just been determined to be a hot-bed of Covid cases, and everyone was running scared. Over 20 people picked up the virus from that one location – and while testing is free in Canada – it still takes about 2 days to get results. While folks were waiting to see if they had been infected, Masks were mandated.

Of course we found this out AFTER we were seated and had ordered our lunch.

Nothing was going to change by leaving now – if we had been in contact – we’d been in contact. So we ate our lunch (yummy), and then walked back to our car, and continued our drive West. I will admit, we were crossing our fingers that we were ok – all the servers had been properly masked, and we’d stayed well away from everyone.. we were hopefully fine. (NB: it’s been 2 weeks – we’re fine!)

We stopped at an En-Route – one of those service centres off the highway to get gas and get a bit of a stretch and a toilet break. They had blocked off 1/2 of the toilet stalls in the ladies room (deemed lacking in social distance), and 1/2 of the urinals in the men’s room (again – not enough social distance). They had also shut off every other sink. Interesting. Lines on the floor indicated how to stand to get service front the take-out restaurants that were open – although there were so few people that it wasn’t an issue.

Unlike in the Kingston area, Masks were not required here – although almost everyone was wearing one, including us. We stayed away from other folks, got the needed relief, and headed on to Markham., about 30 minutes north of Toronto. Our hotel for the first two nights was there – a low price option run by the Radison chain, so again – we felt safe.

And the hotel was indeed perfect. They had taken some basic precautions – no maid service, a plexiglass barrier between us and the staff, no breakfast offered, doors (except for our room) opening automatically and sanitizer dispensers everywhere. For the price, we felt quite comfortable. Few folks wore masks, but we did whenever we were inside and stayed away from others.

We took a long walk in what was a light industrial area with basically no traffic. In the early evening the weather was quite pleasant. We found a take-out Chinese hot-pot restaurant for dinner, and walked back to the hotel for bed. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

Today we were doing the most ‘exposed’ portion of our trip – we were driving into downtown Toronto to visit very good friends. There was more traffic than expected, but for Toronto it was exceedingly quiet. The surprising thing was the noise level. On previous visits, Downtown Toronto was always quite noisy, but not now. And the change was a pleasure.

We got to our friends condo building, which also had taken significant COVID precautions – hand sanitizers, staff behind plexiglass barriers, cautions on the number of folks who could ride together in an elevator – that kind of thing. Our friends joined us in the lobby, and we walked (wearing masks) to the Royal York Hotel.

The ‘wear a mask’ concept hadn’t really struck home in Toronto at this point in time – we were basically the only folks wearing them on our walk past the Convention Center. But then – the crowds were missing, and that made it easy to keep social distance from anyone we got near.

The Royal York decided that one way to cope with the pandemic was by creating an outdoor eating space – and it was lovely. They had taken over a huge section of the sidewalk and by using fake greenery and a lot of fung shui – created a garden. There were different kinds of sitting/eating areas, all marked at ‘sanitized for your protection’ including an outdoor sofa/lounge section. The 4 of us were seated at one of the lounge chair options – easily maintaining social distance. Wait staff were all masked, menus were cleaned before being presented, and the food was lovely. We sat and chatted and relaxed. It was perfect.

With the lack of traffic noise, it did indeed feel like we were in a Garden – complete with water features including spouting lion masks.

We walked back to our friends condo – and this time braved the elevator to their place. The rules on the elevator were no more than 4 people, and you had to stay in the corners. But in truth, folks just waited as one group completed their trip up (or down) before getting in – and carefully avoided touching anything. Our friend used her key to touch the elevator buttons for example.

Once in their home – we were still careful about keeping social distance, but took off our masks and shared snacks and had drinks. We spent time relaxing on their tiny balcony – just enjoying the view of Toronto harbour.

When it came time for dinner, our hostess took out binoculars to check on available outdoor tables at the restaurants they could spot from their location on the 33rd floor. When she determined where there was space available – we hopped back on the elevator – and walked quickly to that restaurant. It was notably ‘down-scale’ from the Royal York – both in COVID awareness and price range. The wait staff were wearing masks but no face shields and at least one only had only her mouth covered. The menus might have been sanitized, but certainly there was no effort to make sure we knew that this had been done. And we had issues keeping social distance – one gentleman – unmasked – came way too close to our table for my comfort to talk to us about his dog.

But like in Kingston – we did the best we could to be as safe as we could.

After a take-out breakfast at Tim Hortons (got to love Timmy’s) the next day we headed away from Toronto into the Barrie area to visit friends who live on 5 acres out in the country. Seriously out in the country. While the air in Toronto was surprisingly – for Toronto – clean – this was heaven.

In the country – keeping social distance was much much easier… They had one bathroom cleaned for our use – and we spent the day outside on their lovely porch just relaxing and chatting. Our hostess is an amazing cook – she made her own sushi for lunch, and created designer pizza for dinner. What a smashingly perfect way to spend a day.

And the drive from their place to our hotel near Barrie was very cool. We were in rolling farm land – vistas went for miles and miles every time you crested a hill – and it was the evening of July 1st – Canada’s birthday. Fireworks are the norm – and they were visible everywhere. I counted 20 different displays from the top of one raise – simply by rotating my body in a 360 degree circle. We were too far to ‘hear’ them – but it was very easy to see them. Happy Birthday Canada.

Our next hotel was a Best Western Plus in Barrie – and they had also done a decent job of making sure we were protected. Kinda. For example – there was a large plexiglass barrier between us and the staff at check-in – but you had to reach around the Barrier to get your keys, sign the register – etc. So safe… and not so safe. And unlike the hotel from the night before – the walls were like paper. We could hear the music from next door – so loud it might have been in our room. This is not a COVID problem – this is just plain thin walls and cheap hotels. Oh well.

Breakfast was odd. They had signs up explaining that because of COVID they were being careful – so they had removed all the tables and chairs. No sitting in the breakfast area to eat. And there was sanitizer available for use before touching the items on display. Cereal had been pre-poured into bowls and covered with plastic wrap. You had to touch common pitchers to pour your milk, but they didn’t have any ‘buffet’ style offerings like eggs. Yogurt and the like was available from a fridge – but again there was a common handle. I grabbed the food and coffee I wanted, pleased that it was free, and washed my hands when I got back to the room.

Today we were ‘surprising’ our 77 year old friend on his birthday.. His wife and another mutual friend were to go to a brunch restaurant with a terrace – and we were to go there to say – surprise. He wasn’t that surprised I’m sorry to say. My husband had spilled the beans – and while he and my hubby had agreed not to tell anyone that the surprise was ruined – I think they had guessed. In any case – the restaurant was more like the 2nd place in Toronto than the Royal York. Wait staff had masks, but some were only over their mouths. And while the inside was closed to guests, you had to walk thru it to get to the bathrooms. They had gone to the effort to clearly mark a one way in/ one way out path – but narrow hallways made staying social distance really a challenge.

I actually opened the bathroom door from the inside – and was staring straight into the face of the lady waiting her turn… I backed up, she backed up. We strategized – and then she backed out into the hallway so I had room to pass. Awkward moment there…

But lunch was lovely – company was great – and afterwards we drove with our friend to see the horses. We were going to go riding the next day – but today we wanted to just say hi.

Horses get lonely during COVID too.

The barn had rules posted. No more than 5 people at one time in the building, keep social distance, wipe down when you leave. No sanitizer on display here – but it is really not that kind of place. We did bring our own – so we could be careful.

Back to the hotel for break. We took a walk, did some serious liquorice shopping at ‘The Dutch Shop’ and I spotted a rock shop. A large rock shop. As in a shop for large rocks. They even sold stepping stones of Italian Marble.. So our car is going to be loaded heading home.

Our friend’s birthday dinner was outside in their backyard with the rabbits and the birds. It was delicious. The devilled eggs were particularly wonderful and his wife also served cold shrimp, fruit salad – and ice cream for dessert. Yummy doesn’t start to describe it.

The next day we went riding – with a horse between you, keeping social distance is very easy – so no problems there. We had a lot of fun – and again spent time just chatting and catching up on the news – and bemoaning the boredom of too many days too separated. Little did we know that in two weeks the US would be seeing a spike larger than the initial one… but that was two week away.

Our drive home was uneventful – except for our visit to a different En-route. At this En-route – they were enforcing the wearing of masks indoors. A staff member was sitting outside politely telling anyone not wearing a mask that they couldn’t enter. Since we were wearing masks – it wasn’t an issue and I didn’t see anyone get too upset when they were asked to go get one. They were not handing masks out – so I don’t know what folks would do if they arrived at the En-route and had no masks – but we didn’t hang around to find out.

So – our first travel during COVID ended with us glad to be home.

It’s now been two weeks – we are fine and so are our friends. Dodged that bullet I guess. But meanwhile we all know what’s been happening in the US – and as a result Canada and the US have agreed to keep the border closed for another month.

And here in Canada – folks are seeing what is happening to our South, and we are getting a lot more serious about making sure everyone is wearing masks. And that folks know that hot spots like large groupings of friends that don’t keep social distance are problems. We were careful – but were we careful enough – or just lucky.

Like in Bridge – sometimes just being lucky is good enough.

Signing off to plan another trip – still keeping social distance – and definitely not going into the US – The Soup Lady

Travel by Train is so – elegant!


I adore traveling by train. There is something about trains in Canada that is both glorious, relaxing, stunningly beautiful – and elegant. I’m reminded of times gone by when life was lived at a slower pace. When we had time to smell the roses, admire the deer peeking out from among the bushes near the tracks, spot birds – large and small – hidden in trees, and glaze in wonder at the remarkable countryside that is Canada.

Or at least the part of Canada that lies along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Toronto.

I”m traveling business class – which is roughly the same price as economy air – and totally enjoying the morning out my window of the train. I’ve been welcomed with a smile and ‘can I help you’, been given a quite nice breakfast with lots of hot coffee, and am now just watching the scenery go by.

There is the predictable evidence of severe flooding out my window. This is standard in the ‘lowlands’ in the spring – as the ice and snow melt, and the ground remains frozen below that, there is no where for the water to go. And I suppose that the farmers whose fields I am flying past are well accustomed to this yearly ritual. The rivers are also in ‘flood’ mode – filled to their high banks by water that has to get to the ocean. I’ve never understood why folks persist in buying houses that yearly are in damaged of flooding – but perhaps high risk is it’s own form of adrenaline.

The route from Montreal to Toronto – by train – goes thru low gorges cut into the rocks, and as we near Toronto, will actually run along side the St. Lawrence itself. There are hiking/biking/walking trails visible when we are near towns – but right now I”m in the middle of the ‘wilds’ of Upper Canada. Not actually ‘Upper’ of course – but that’s what they called this part of Canada before they knew just how upper Canada really goes.

My purpose in taking this trip (as differentiated from my reason) is to participate in a Regional Bridge Tournament in Toronto. I actually have a friend from Alabama who drove 4 days to meet and play with me in Toronto. I really hope that I don’t disappoint her! My Reason however was to enjoy the elegance of train travel.

I do love being on the train. Canada is a remarkably clean country, as viewed thru train windows. In comparison to what we saw from the train in South Africa – we are spotless. Even homes that might be considered worthy of a de-clutter are clean and neat in comparison to the horrors I saw out of the train windows going from Pretoria to Cape town. We here in Canada really have no idea how blessed we are.

But back to the elegance of train travel. There is something – well – Harry Pottersque about this trip. I feel like I’m heading to a new adventure – and that getting there is half the thrill. A gaggle of wild Turkeys just fled from our noisy passing, and I’ve seen plenty of Canada Geese stopping over on their way further North. And there was a deer grazing in the bushes near the tracks that watched our passing with suspicion. I haven’t spotted any Eagles yet, but there have been Hawks sitting proudly on top of trees with they eyes searching for rabbits or mice stupid enough to make a dash for it out of their burrows.

And we pass homes and condos and Solar Fields aplenty. This part of Canada varies from the barely cultivated to the intensely inhabited. As we are now approaching Kingston, the ratio between untamed and highly cultivated and well built is moving towards the inhabited. I”m reminded of train trips I took in England where everywhere was highly inhabited – and there was no ‘untamed’ left. This isn’t the truth in Canada of course. While real estate values skyrocket in the ‘cities’ – in the countryside one can still imagine land being given away from basically free.

I do wonder about the lack of Blue Hoses. For those who don’t know – blue hoses are the way Maple Sap is pulled from Maple trees these days – suctioned to the Sugar Houses, then boiled to create that signature Quebec Product – Maple Syrup. But along this section of Canada there is a distinct lack of Maple Groves. I suppose a person more knowledgeable about these things than I could explain it. I’m guessing we’re talking a climate difference that makes the area around Montreal prime Maple country – and keeps the Maple trees at bay here in Southern Ontario.

The train whistle blows, a train going the other way flies past, the other passengers chat – and time slowly passes. Soon enough we will be in Toronto, but meanwhile I’m going to relax and let the world pass me by.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

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…

Fun stuff in Surprising Places – The Toronto Salsa Festival


I’m in Toronto – staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Toronto to play bridge. Not very exciting travel I know – but be patient my readers. I promise that good stuff will happen!

I got to Toronto by train. I do love traveling by train. It’s not always a bargain of course. I prefer traveling ‘business’ class – more comfy seats, cleaner windows, and service. I adore service. Make me happy – do something nice for me! Serve me a meal, offer me coffee, or just smile. I’m relaxed and enjoying my travels.

Any way – Trip to Toronto included a lovely dinner, a glass of wine, desert and a glass of Port, Trip home will include a selection of beverages, a lovely dinner, and some more Port. I’m totally counting on the Port on the way back home to Montreal.

I arrive in Toronto – big city, big city smells, big city sounds, big city hassles. I drag myself and my carry-on up Young street to the Sheraton, navigating pass homeless camping down for the night and young business folks checking out the bars that line this main drag. Lot of lights, lots of action. But I’m focused. Get up the street safely (don’t get hit by a car, a trolley, or a group of revellers) and settle down for the night.

Task accomplished, I check in and check out my room. I guess they felt sorry for me – because the room is a bit of an upgrade. It’s in a corner with a lovely view, and a bit of extra space. More than ample for my needs. The bed is huge – it’s king sized, and since I’m on my own, will mostly stay unmussed.

Tuesday thru Sunday is bridge, bridge, bridge. I’ve written before about the issues with PUPs (Pick Up Partners) and this time is no different. Some great, some not so great. My favourite is the older gent from Sault St. Marie – we manage to place 8th overall – among 80 some teams. This earns us upwards of 2 Gold Master Points, and earns me some very nice praise from his wife! She’s a Life Master, he’s playing catch-up to her – and she’s very impressed by how well we did. Hey – I’m impressed by how well we did.

Fast forward to Saturday night. One reason I like Regionals are the night games. Fewer players, lots of fun, and a great chance to do well. And I don’t have to fuss with thinking about what I’m going to do that night in a strange town. So I’m pleased that there are 2 night games on offer this week – one on Friday, one on Saturday.

Friday’s night game goes as planned – I score some more Master Points – have fun – all is good.

Saturday’s night game is a different story. I have a partner – what I lack are opponents. No one shows up! Well – not enough folks show up. And the game is canceled. Bummer. Now what.

It’s 8:00 PM, it’s Saturday night, and I’m alone in the big city. Hmm.

I check out my options – and spot some kids dressed up in Salsa clothes walking around the hotel. A quick chat – and I find out that the Toronto Salsa Festival is this weekend – here in my hotel. Tonight there is a show, followed by 4 hours of social dancing. The show is due to start at 8:00 – and while there’s a cost of admission, the opportunity to see professionals and semi-professionals dance seems priceless. So I cough up the money – and get my pass.

The lovely ticket sellers explain that the show will start when it starts – there have been workshops all day, and until the room is clear, they won’t let the ‘tourists’ in. So I join a line of other earlier comers and prepare to wait.

I’m terrible at waiting actually – so after being polite for a while – I eventually start chatting with the folks in line with me. In front of me are an ‘older’ couple – not as old as me – but I’m as old as the hills – what do you expect. Their daughter is performing tonight – and they gleefully explain her hobby to me.

She has a full time job – but she joined this dance group – and they are frequently invited to perform at shows around Canada and the US. They are unique in that they are all female dancers (how unique is going to be clear later in the evening), and are in great demand. They will go to your event – do their performance – and then split up and dance with everyone. They give Salsa lessons, and make sure everyone has a great time. I can totally see why this would be a hot idea for a team building activity! And she and her fellow dancers are very cute. Fresh faced, young, and unremittingly cheerful.

The folks behind me are friends of other dancers – and as each group gets organized to enter the hall – they come over to blow air kisses (don’t mess the make-up), and share hugs and good wishes. I get a close-up look at some of the outfits – I can’t wait to see what they will look like on stage.

Eventually they get the stage clear and organized and we’re admitted. The couple in front invite me to sit with them, so we snag seats as close to the front as possible. The first few rows are saved for VIPs – which turn out to be the kids who have finished performing!

There are a lot of chairs – probably over 300 – and it’s hard to imagine that the space will be full, but eventually – it is full. The show starts off slowly with the less professional teams – and suffers from some organizational challenges – the music for the first group doesn’t start on cue. But they quickly straighten that out, and the show begins.

I’m completely utterly amazed. Imagine about 100 young, completely fit, beautiful young people dancing, performing, and generally have a wonderful time. They come on stage in various groupings. Larger groups are generally up to 6 or 7 couples – dancing in pairs of course, but all doing generally the same steps. Smaller groups of 1, 2, 4 or up to 6 dancers also come on stage. The fewer the dancers, generally the higher the quality of the performing. And the later in the evening, the better the performances too.

My favourites are a group of young men (5 of them), who call themselves the ‘Kingsmen’ – and frankly are highly suggestive dancers of seriously good caliber. They come back as a group of 6 – 3 men, 3 women – and trust me – they are memorable. I’m getting very curious about what is keeping on some of the outfits the women are wearing – so it’s not a total surprise when one gal has to keep tugging on the top of her outfit. We almost, but not quite, had a wardrobe malfunction!

Another memorable group feature women wearing string bikinis. To Salsa Dance. Really. The gals twerking in St. Croix have some stiff (hee, hee) competition in Toronto.

I’m totally loving this. The outfits are stunning, the dancing amazing – and then the professionals arrive.

OMG – right – that’s why these guys are the professionals. The beat gets more demanding, and the lifts get higher and the tossing more complex. I’m getting exhausted just watching them perform.

I will never think of Salsa the same way again. This isn’t dancing – this is ice skating pairs without the ice! One couple pushes this boundary the hardest by combining lifts, throws, spins and dance. There is even a death spiral – a spin where the woman’s head is inches from the floor – her weight supported totally by the guy. Strength, Beauty, and Speed.

My new friends invite me to stay for the social dancing, and I’m sorely tempted. There are 4 different rooms – each featuring a different kind of music. But my age and the efforts of a long day of bridge win out over my interest in watching folks dance.

I bid everyone good night – and dance well – and walk out past the rows of high heeled dancing shoes for sale. What an absolutely amazing hobby this must be.

If you ever have a chance to catch a Salsa Festival Show – and there will be one next year in Toronto on Easter Weekend – do it. Worth every penny.

Signing off to head off to my King Sized bed…

The Soup Lady

Rene’s Bistro – Stratford. Gimme the Mussels – Rush!



We got trapped – hungry for dinner before the theatre, on a Saturday night – with no reservations in Stratford, Ontario. And I won’t do Chains, or Pizza. So finding a place that I’d enjoy was not going to be easy. We were turned away from 2 other restaurants – sorry – we’re full. Good for them, bad for us. But Rene’s was welcoming – and while our tiny table for 2 wasn’t the best located – right by the server’s stand and against the wall separating the restaurant from the bar – the welcome was genuine. We explained that we were going to the theatre, they basically said – What’s new, and got on with their jobs.

We were handed menus, our order taken, and the kitchen alerted within minutes of our arrival. And the place, like most restaurants in Stratford on a Saturday before the theatre, was packed. But not noisy – a very pleasant surprise.

We ordered mussels in 2 different preparations – one in a cream sauce, one in a white wine sauce, both of which were served very promptly. The bread – a requirement if you are going to mop up the sauces – was wonderful, warm and fresh. Unlike Montreal Mussel restaurants – fries didn’t come standard. So we did without. But the nice sized portion – and the rapid bread basket refill – did the job nicely.

So – table cloths, good food, and no reservations required – Rene’s Bistro was a winner. Next time I’m going to explore the menu more efficiently – they had some other dishes that sounded great. But noticing the number of mussel servings that walked past – I’m thinking that mussels are their go for dish.

A B. Nice service, good food, worth the price asked. And fast – we made the Theatre with time to spare.

Rene's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Rene's Bistro on Foodio54

Pazzo Restaurant and Bar in Stratford, Ontario


Pazzo Flashback – Too good to ignore

Sometimes it really is location – location. And Pazzo is perfectly located – right on the walk way between the main theatres in Stratford. It’s insanely hard to avoid getting pulled in. Between the location (perfect) and the adorable cafe tables that liter the sidewalk and the 2 floors of eating establishment – housing a bar, a restaurant and a pizza/restaurant combo – there’s clearly something for everyone.

Our meal was perfectly acceptable – not insanely expensive, well prepared, properly served, and fast. We were naturally rushed (in Stratford – that’s the norm, not the expectation) and as we’ve begun to suspect – restaurants know the pattern and are totally prepared. Our meals were served amazing promptly – including our make to order pizza.

Was it outstanding. Nope. Was it do it again-able. Yes

A B.

Pazzo Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Pazzo Ristorante Bar & Pizzeria on Foodio54

The Awkwardly Shaped Tom Patterson Theatre – and Mary Stuart


Last but not least – there’s the Tom Patterson Theatre. I describe it as awkward because the theatre is in a curling rink – long and thin, with rows of seats extending all the way from the narrow front of the stage to the far back. It’s a huge space – and the actors are challenged to be heard and to be seen when their backs are to at least 1/2 the audience at all times. By definition the staging is minimalist – but this is Stratford – minimalist doesn’t mean boring or empty.

At the Tom Patterson, lighting takes on a leading role. In the case of Mary Stuart – the only play we saw there this year – lighting produces the mazes that the players walk to show their captivity, their helplessness, their forced upon them artificial lives. Lighting makes the play.

And when the theatre suddenly went dark because of a Stratford wide power failure – the audience and the actors were stunned. The actors quite literally froze in their paces – I’m guessing hoping that the computer controlled lights would remember where they had been moments earlier. No such luck. The lights had to grind thru their positions, and the play had to start over several pages back. Kinda neat – as an audience you rarely see how professionals can with such apparent ease virtually repeat every movement again and again.

For those wondering about the play – the story tells of an imaginary meeting between Queen Elizabeth and her rival for the throne of England, Mary Stuart. But the meeting, despite being the ‘heart’ of the play – is fore-shadowed by the preamble to the meeting – the posturing by both Mary and Elizabeth, the fawning of their staff, the desperate need to be right, to be loved, to be respected. It does make for powerful drama.

I’d give this play/production a medium recommend. Not as much fun as Fiddler, not as uncomfortable for the audience as The Merchant of Venice, not as noisy as Tommy, not as fun as Blythe Spirit and not as dramatic a tour de force as Thrill, but still worth the money.

The Avon – Window Wall Proscenium Theatre, at least one play worth seeing


The Avon Theatre – Just because its Proscenium doesn’t mean its boring

The Avon is a converted theatre – dating back over 100 years – and both it’s age and it’s format are reflected in the type of plays choose to be produced in this hall. There is a decidedly conservation bent to most of the productions – captured as they must be within the window wall space. But that hardly translates into dull or boring. In fact, some of my favorite productions in the past have been produced here.

But not this year. We saw 3 different productions at the Avon. Othello, Tommy, and Blythe Spirit. Of the 3 – there were parts to love, and parts to sleep through. The most sleep worthy was unfortunately Othello. There were moments of superb drama – as one would expect at Stratford, and for some of the audience, the story was a complete surprise. Spoiler alert here – Desdemona dies, but apparently the people in the seat next to me didn’t know it. One urgently whispered to the other – right at the heart of the bedroom scene – Oh my goodness – he’s going to kill her! But the designers attempt to break out of the window space using a revolving triangular stage sloped dramatic to one side meant that actors were being flung off in all directions. Several times I saw people stumble trying to regain their balance as the set rotated them out of the ‘center’ space. On the other hand – when the rotating stage worked – it worked well. At one point we see the bed from one view-point, later on from the opposite side. A clever device that makes us feel like we are there with Desdemona. But great set doesn’t quite balance against mumbled lines, something that really shouldn’t happen here. Oh well – it’s still in preview – maybe they will get it together before it opens. One lives in hope.

Tommy is today, and was in the past, a mess. And Stratford’s highly original stage set with airplanes taking off into the audience, parachutes being shot out of the ski, and giant pin ball machines just doesn’t cover up for the fact that most of the music is really pointless. I didn’t really ‘get’ the story when I was 15 – and I’m afraid I still don’t ‘get’ it today. Neat visual effects though.

Of the 3 – Blythe Spirit is the clear winner – if one must pick a winner. The dialogue is snappy and smart, the debate on the meaning of life and death no less intriguing today than it was when the play was first performed, and the surprise ending is always a surprise. My favorite character of course is the medium. Such a wonderful character – so smartly performed by Seana McKenna Most surprisingly, she also takes on the deadly serious role of Elizabeth in Mary Staurt. One of the things I most love about Stratford is just that – the chance to see the same actor – sometimes on the same day – in 2 entirely different roles, both performed superbly. It’s amazing. And while my sister – who is a ‘theatre folk’ and commented that it’s all in a days work – for me, the non-professional – the ability to memorize so many lines, in such different performances, with different directors nothing short of awesome.

So – plays at the Avon – bit hit and miss – but for sure see Blythe Spirit. The other 2 can be missed.

Stratford Studio Theatre – Smaller is definitely better!


Of the 4 theatres at Stratford, the smallest is the intimate Studio space. Only two production were being featured there in August – but both are absolutely brilliant.

Both are new productions, but expertly produced, directed, acted, and told. I highly recommend seeing them both – but for far different reasons. “Thrill” is a tour de force for Lucy Peacock – one of Stratford finest. Her performance of a wheel-chair bound crip is so believable – that I was shocked – absolutely shocked – when she walked out to receive her well-earned standing ovation. She spends the entire play – and she is in almost every single scene, bent and contorted in one of those motorized wheel chairs – which she drives around the stage like a 6-year-old drives a Matchbook Car – in circles, spirals, with startling stops and starts. Amazing.

The story is both heartfelt, heart warming, and devastating. Despite the heroine’s severe handicaps – there’s no issue with her mental acuity – and she wins you to her side through wit and creative story telling. You are cheering madly for her at the end, regardless of the blinders you might have been wearing when you entered the Theatre.

“Taking Shakespeare” is a horse of another color completely. The hero this time is a rag-tag 24 year-old student is not living up to ‘expectations’. He is sent for private Shakespeare lessons with an aging female professor – and the chosen play is Othello. This is particularly appropriate because Othello is actually playing at the Avon – another theatre in the Stratford world. So one can easily apply the lessons the hero is learning to the play itself!

The ending, while not entirely unpredictable, is a story of growing up – at any age. I loved it, my husband loved it, our friends loved it, and by all accounts the audience loved it too. So go – if you can get tickets.

If you can’t – not to worry – I’m sure a production of this play will soon be done near your hometown.

Stratford – Canada’s Go to Theatre Experience – The Festival Stage


9 Plays in 5 days – really? Am I nuts? I guess the answer must be the obvious yes – but somehow it didn’t seem nuts to plan one trip to Stratford – and while there see as many plays as I possibly could.

And probably it’s only at Stratford, the repertory theatre par excellence of Canada, that one can squeeze in that many plays without worrying about conflicts and travel times. All the 4 venues are within easy walking distance of each other, and all performances start at 2:00 or 8:00. Since much of the staff performs in multiple plays – they need time to get to the next gig – just like the audience does.

I’m not going to review all 9 plays in one super blog – My plan is to break up the plays by Theatre – starting with the Grande Dame – The Festival Stage. It’s huge, it’s famous, the acoustic are awesome, the staging reliably stunning, and of course the acting is superb. So picking winners is a bit like choosing between grand-kids. You kinda love them all! But that said – here goes nothing.

My favorites of the 3 we saw on the main ‘Festival’ stage was a toss-up between the absolutely brilliant Fiddler on the Roof – excellent in its ability to convey the conflicts, the joys, the troubles of the fiddler in top-notch fashion. Great singers, solid convincing acting, a lovely set that was inspired by the art of Marc Chagall combine to get and keep the audience enthralled. No wonder good seats are hard to get. This is a production worth seeing.

My second favorite – and it was a close call thing – was the outstanding production of the Merchant of Venice. The actor playing Shylock also plays Tevye – which quickly tells you a lot about his range and capabilities. He was quite literally mind-blowing in both roles, in such hugely different ways. For those who don’t know – and apparently some of these people were in the audience – the Merchant is one of Shakespeare’s toughest plays. Today no one likes to watch people callously making fun and then physically and verbally degrading another person – regardless of why that person is ‘different’. And at the end of the highly dramatic and very emotional court scene – Shylock lies degraded and abused on the very front of the stage. It is a highly charged moment – made more so by an audience member who choose that point to stand up – throw his program to the ground and state clearly enough so everyone could hear – “This is the most antisemitic thing I’ve ever seen”.

True – and my husband argued afterwards that the director had perhaps taken the text a bit too far by placing the play in Fascist Italy just before World War II. The presence on stage of ‘brown shirts’ did little to make the audience feel better about the behavior of the main characters, and even the color-blind casting doesn’t quite make us forget that in the Merchant – what is objectionable behavior today was very acceptable when the play was written. But topic aside – the production is outstanding. Just go prepared.