Category Archives: travel

Vancouver Redux

I’m out west for another two weeks. I’m basically a “fixer” for my hard-working spouse. Or maybe a concierge-with-benefits. My thoughts on the morning of the first day:

Packing: I keep telling myself to make a packing list so that I don’t forget stuff. Perhaps it was because we didn’t leave home ’til 6 pm yesterday and I had the whole afternoon to organize myself. But I had to drop off Ollie at boarding, and finish my Coursera assignment and so time reverse-telescoped I guess. I carefully set my noise-cancelling headphones to charge (and then forgot to pack them.) I stashed my fuzzy slippers in my suitcase and then, at the last minute, went to pack my street shoes and they were nowhere to be found (did I leave them in Ottawa?). I didn’t have a reasonable alternative.  So now I will either be wearing boots for the next two weeks or will be shopping. I blithely decided not to bring iPad but forgot that it’s the best way to read the paper first thing in the morning. Forgot my computer glasses.

The travel: We (I?) had cocktail hour before we left home with some cheddar and nuts. Then a glass of wine in the airport lounge with a small salad. Then a G&T and nuts on the flight. We were upgraded into Air Canada’s newish layout of their B777-200LR‘s business class, with fully reclinable seats in a little pod. Dinner took forever to be served and I was headachey and sleepy. I had to be woken up to eat. After the meal, I flattened out and slept for whatever time was left of the flight(an hour?) By the time we landed I had a migraine and major body-ache. We were met by the car service and as I drank the little complimentary bottle of water, I could literally feel my cells expand. Or whatever. I was clearly dehydrated.

The apartment: We’re trying out a new place, close to Yaletown. It’s a shorter walk to work and closer to a lot of stuff I’m interested in (Art Galleries, Library, Cathedral). It’s a smaller place than the last one and is lacking in the fab view, but it has a heated saltwater pool and spa on the roof so there’s that. Apparently a gym but too but I am unlikely to need further details. Today I’ve got to stock up on some basics like soap (body, laundry, dishwasher) and food. It’s the Chinese New Year plus Family Day today and apparently a lot of places are closed. But first, I need to find something to eat and some coffee.

My personal plans for the next two weeks are to:

    1. continue my genealogy do-over with some initial population of my new software and a review of documentation (source citation) methods.
    2. do lesson 2 of The Story Course
    3. get my February reading done:
      – Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant for my IRL book club
      – Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler for the Goodreads CBC book club
      – The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay, a terrific novel I’m listening to
      – How to Use Evernote for Genealogy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Organize Your Research and Boost Your Genealogy Productivity: my current organization obsession. Just grabbed this from the Toronto Public Library.
    4. Get to the Contemporary Art Gallery (just around the corner from me), walk the seawall around Stanley Park, visit the Bloedel Conservatory, taste-test spirits at the Long Table Distillery, and a lot of wandering.

Last week in the west.

I arrived in Vancouver on November 15, to join my husband who’s (maybe) settling out here for a while. His job is very western-Canada focussed and they’re on a high-profile, fast-moving project that is more difficult to manage from our homebase in Toronto.

I’m heading back next Monday, a couple of weeks in advance of his return. There are bills to be paid, home things to manage, a dog to cuddle, and family to see. Choir. Hair cut. Plus Christmas is coming up.

We have been rented a lovely condo out here in Coal Harbour. And I’ll miss many things about life in this city.

  1. I never tire of seeing sea planes taking off and landing. And sea gulls. Fog. Mountains. This city is gorgeous (if you live anywhere with a view.)
  2. Living without a car. The man can walk to work and everything we need to buy for day-to-day life is steps away. We have a transit pass, and a car2go membership for when we need to travel farther afield. The airport is easily accessible on the Skytrain. Our parking spot sits empty.
  3. Elder son has been out here for a couple of weeks and it’s been great spending time with him. He has a bachelor pad in Toronto so we otherwise need to book time to hang. Younger son will arrive after I leave to spend the last week with Daddy-O.
  4. Sushi. I have been remiss in not starting to eat sushi the moment I arrived here. My sis was out for a few days and she’s just not that into it (plus can’t eat soy sauce) so I didn’t get on that train right from the start. Last night, the man was out for dinner so boy and I picked up a platter from Oysi Oysi around the corner. And the three of us will hit Sushi Itoga tonight.
  5. Public art. Well, Toronto has lots too, but it’s nice to live with another city’s art for a while. I’ve included a pretty window (not public) just because.

I love living in different cities, and will always take the opportunity to rent an apartment over a hotel. Next summer, we’ll spend two weeks in Marseilles, and we can’t wait. Anthony Bourdain has cast a spell over the man and, well, there you have it.

But going home is the best.

10 things I loved about Stockholm – Part II

if you haven’t seen yesterday’s post, this is a continuation.

6. Family and (new) friends. We are blessed to have relatives in Taby, a suburb of Stockholm. Zouheir’s oldest brother Jean-Louis lives there with his wife Manar and their four adult children. The two youngers weren’t there: Jessica is in California finishing out a year abroad before she returns to the Stockholm School of Economics to complete her business degree. Mike has a summer job in a small town in Norway working with the elderly. He’ll be returning to continue his medical studies in the fall. George works as a trader at Swedbank and Rita works in Marketing at Nordea. We had a chance to visit them at their apartments, and the boys spent even more time with Georges watching the World Cup.

Our hosts for the week were Jean-Louis and Manar. We stayed with them for a couple of days at the beginning of the vacation, and also saw Zouheir’s brother Tony who was visiting from Paris. He’s been recovering from a significant health event and is retiring from his medical practice. Their younger sister Marie-Louise came from Lyon during the middle of our visit and it was lovely to spend time with her as well. We met a friend of Georges, Patryzcia Payak, a medical doctor who has just written a children’s book with her sister Anna, an artist, about dying called Dear Death (xxx in Swedish). Their other sister is a cinematographer. They live near J-L and Manar and I had a chance for a quick visit to see some of Anna’s work.

7. Visual beauty. Stockholm is a gorgeous city. I immediately noticed the relative lack of overt advertising (very few, if any, billboards) and the quiet presence of stately architecture of a city hundreds of years old. The city has preserved the traditional style and kept the waterfront (of which there are miles and miles) completely accessible. There are bike paths all over the city, and I had to get used to watching for cyclists as I crossed the paths that are shared with pedestrians. The apartment we rented was quite stunning. There were three bedrooms, including one with a sleeping loft, and one and a half baths, which were gorgeously tiled with a shower/sauna in one.

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I’ve already talked about the sea, and we saw lots of boats of all shapes and sizes, including a brand new super-yacht that had just been delivered. There was also a race scheduled while we were there.
Super-yacht Kibo, currently moored at Stockholm.

8. Quirkiness is in the eye of the beholder.  I like to laugh, and besides the great company, there were many chances for humour. A few that I caught on “film” (you know what I mean.)

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9. Swedish design and eco-consciousness

10. The Swedish people. Everyone was friendly. English is spoken pretty much universally, and no one batted an eye when I responded to a shopkeeper’s hello (“hey hey”) with English. People struck up conversation in the street, and everyone seemed to smile. A lot. A really marked difference from Paris, Rome, or Istanbul, where service can be surly and a few words in English often result in an unwillingness or inability to continue the conversation. I certainly don’t think that everyone in the world should speak English, but when your school system provides it and you work in hospitality or services in a tourist destination, an attempt to converse is appreciated. I’m sure that Swedes realise that their ability to survive in a global economy requires another language, particularly when their native tongue is relatively rare.

10 things I loved about Stockholm – Part I

There’s no place like home.

But I had a fabulous time in Stockholm and, if life took such a turn, I could definitely see myself living there. (Although I’d have to visit in December to make sure of my feelings…)

In no particular order, five of the things I loved about Stockholm:

    1. Coffee. It’s great everywhere. It is not an exaggeration to say that I did not have a bad cup of coffee anywhere, public, private, or commercial. They make it strong and dark, are non-plussed when you ask for warm milk to go with it, there are indie coffee shops and what I assume are local chains. Our apartment had a very funky coffeemaker and we picked up a pound of ground beans with the royal seal on it, but otherwise randomly. This county knows its coffee.

      The coffeemaker in our apartment.
      The coffeemaker in our apartment.
    2. Fashion. It’s pretty low key there. Individualistic. I never felt under- or over-dressed. I noticed that over the ten days I was there, I slowly wore less makeup and felt better about it. (Not that I normally wear a lot, but mascara, bronzer, and lipstick seemed enough.) I would have liked to do some shopping for clothes as the relaxed style really appeals, but it will have to wait for my next trip. Have a look at this tumblr for an idea of what’s on the street these days.
    3. The Baltic. Michael announced in the car on our way home that he didn’t want to hear the word “archipelago” one more time. But really, that explains a lot of the appeal of the city. You turn a corner and suddenly a new vista appears that includes another bit of the sea, different from what you just passed. The climate is moderated by it, the food is influenced by it, history was shaped by it, and it’s simply beautiful.

      View from the restaurant in the Modern Art Museum.
      View from the restaurant in the Modern Art Museum.
    4. Food. Because we stayed either with family or in an apartment we rented, we experienced life as a resident, shopping in the grocery stores, as well as eating in restaurants. Compared to Canada, food is expensive but the quality is high. We had lots of seafood, fish, fresh salads, beets and legumes, breads scented with anise, dill, and caraway, and lots of flatbread (eg Wasa.) Fresh herb plants were available in even small grocers, and the owners of our apartment had a number of plants around the kitchen and on the balcony. I enjoyed a couple of different local beers, and a whisky tasting on an island on our final evening was both an excellent aperitif and informational.
    5. Interesting museums. We didn’t do all the biggies, but I had identified a couple that I definitely wanted to see. The Spirit Museum has an excellent exhibit of some of the Absolut Art Collection, in particular,  Art Pop, the artist and the record sleeve 1956-2013.

      There was also an exhibit there called Swedish Sin. In their words: In collaboration with artist Peter Johansson, we get to grips with lust and vice, liberation and shame – with ”Swedish sin”, both the myth and the phenomenon.

      We also visited the Vasa Museum, a showplace for the 17th century warship that sank into the Stockholm harbour, 30 minutes into it’s maiden voyage. It was salvaged in the early 1960s and is being painstakingly restored. If we’re going to build warships, we should make them beautiful.

      The stern of the Vasa.
      The stern of the Vasa.

      We enjoyed the Architecture and Design Museum where they had a temporary exhibit called Cykel as well as their regular exhibit on architecture in Sweden.

      ArkDes Museum
      ArkDes Museum

      We also visited the Moderna Museet, on the same campus as ArkDes, where we saw the Nils Dardel exhibit as well as some of the permanent collection. And the beautiful Fotographiska, the museum of contemporary photography, where I learned that black and white images can depict nature in stunning fashion.

      Stay tuned for items 6-10….coming tomorrow.


Hello from Stockholm!

We celebrated Midsummer with a trip to Skansen, a park with historical exhibits, where they demonstrated the traditional raising of the Maypole with dancing afterwards. It was pretty packed so Zouheir and I only got about a quarter of the way around the pole before we gave up. We finished up with a picnic lunch provided by Manar, my sister-in-law.






Reading Stockholm

In my previous post, I talked about a crowd-sourcing experiment seeking activities and literature in and about Stockholm/Sweden prior to our travels there in June.

This morning, I had a parcel from amazon in my mailbox. I had no recollection of ordering anything recently but am always excited to see a book in the mail.

I was simply delighted to see a novel with gift note and from my university-aged nephew Mike who we will see when we’re in Stockhom.


The book is Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Söderberg with an introduction by Margaret Atwood.

Cover of "Doctor Glas: A Novel"

Its now on to top of my to-read pile.

Thanks, Mike!

Crowdsourcing travel plans

My men and I are heading to Stockholm in June to visit family and the boys (22 & 19) have been wondering what there will be to see and do.

I had already started a list for myself from some recommendations from Facebook friends:

Plus one of my own must-sees, the Stockholm Public Library designed by Gunnar Asplund.

Yesterday, I tweeted a couple of questions at the curated account for Sweden.

Apart from the “strip-clubs” response that I got (I probably walked in to that one), here are some of the helpful suggestions (suggesters in brackets):

Then I posed a question mainly for myself:


And then Trip Fiction piped up (@TripFiction) to tell me about their curated book site that helps you choose books by destination! How did I not know about this site before?


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Bookish Istanbul

Took a little break from blogging. On Friday, I spent a few hours with a friend, discussing our nascent business opportunity and touring the Alderwood/Mimico landscape of her childhood (and first novel.) On Saturday, Zouheir and I kinda lazed around, attempting to get over the jetlag and digestive disruption that are still present after our return from Istanbul. We also took a trip out to the consignment fabulousness that is The Singing Lady to look at a couple of round tables for our study.

Today, I spent most of the morning organizing my outstanding TIFF schedule, namely, queueing online for tickets to the Jason Reitman Live Reading of Boogie Nights, and preparing my list for placing my Daytime Ticket Package order tomorrow morning.

But back to Istanbul.

In most European cities where English is not the first language, you can get by with basic English and some hand-waving. I was a little surprised to find that, in Istanbul, very few service workers seemed to speak any English.  I ascertained from Turkish friends that students learn English in school, but typically not from particularly well-qualified teachers. So in was lovely to run across some English bookstores.

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At Galeri Kayseri, the charming young shopkeepers were excellent salesmen. One noted me browsing a series of mysteries set in Istanbul (Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen Mysteries) and quickly pulled out the first of the set, Belshazzar’s Daughter. The other fellow grabbed a copy of The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin, saying that I might enjoy a historical mystery. Finally, as I was at the cash, the first guy hands me a copy of Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga, exclaiming that customers had emailed them to rave about this autobiography. It had been blurbed by Harold Nicolson and Sir John Betjeman, so I kind of HAD to buy it. As I finally protested that I could not possibly buy a large coffee table book on Istanbul, he took my credit card and while it was processing, asked me “Are you a teacher?” I replied, “No, I just like to read.” He grinned back at me.

The other bookish outing was a trip to the Book Bazaar. Adjacent to the Grand Bazaar near the Beyazit metro station, vendors have new and used books, antique and reproduction prints, and other paper items.

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I picked up a novella by Orhan Pamuk (The White Castle) and a print that humoured me.

The one other bookish purchase I made was after the visit to the Topkapi Palace, the home of the Sultans for more than 400 years up to the time of the move to Dolmabahçe Palace in 1856. In particular, I was rather intrigued by the harem (family living quarters) and picked up the exhibition catalogue which had been reduced from 100 TL to 25 TL ($13) at the museum shop.

In preparation for my trip, I picked up a couple of novels set in Turkey. Before we left, I read The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael Lukas. Set during the tenure of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (late 19th century), it’s the story of a young Jewish girl from Constantia (on the Black Sea in what is now Romania) who travels to Istanbul with her father and discovers that she has a special gift. A charming novel of magical realism, it served as an excellent introduction to the period.

I’m currently finishing up The Flea Palace by contemporary Turkish author Elif Shafak. Each chapter, some of the very short, are all titled with the flat number and names of a family living at the Bonbon Palace, a rather run-down apartment building in modern Istanbul. Their stories intertwine as they seek a solution to a common problem: people dumping garbage in their garden. We learn their stories, what has brought them to Istanbul and to their current circumstances. She is an important voice in modern Turkey and I will certainly read more of her oeuvre.

Istanbul – Getting around

We did most of our travelling in Istanbul on foot and on the metro. My Up Band registered 8 to 12 km per day which pretty much blew my daily goal out of the water. We were in a very walkable neighbourhood with shops and restaurants close by.

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One of the traveller’s best friends is a clean, efficient metro system, and Istanbul has this in spades. Made up of subways, tramways (streetcars), buses, ferries, and a funicular, we used it extensively to travel throughout the area. You can buy an Istanbulkart at local street level vendors and then load it up at the metro stations. Without a card, a ride is 3 TL ($1.50) and transfers cost the same. WIth a card, the initial fare is under 2 TL and transfers are even cheaper. It makes sense to have each person carry their own card to effect the savings for transfers.

The stations are clean and well-lit, the subway cars are modern and air-conditioned, pristinely clean, with stop announcements and excellent signage.  The funicular takes you from Taksim metro station to the Kabataş ferry terminal and other important sights in that area.

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The other thing I loved about the metro system is that there is lots of art. Everywhere.

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I didn’t take a photo of the card readers, but I grabbed this one online. When you press your card onto the reader, the screen tells you what you just paid and how much is left on your card. These are on buses, in metro stations, and at ferry terminals.

Istanbulkart reader

As I mentioned in my previous post, we used taxis a few times, but unless you are going to a well-known venue or somewhere local, the drivers were not very knowledgeable and rather difficult to deal with, not only because of the language barrier. That being said, a 45 minute ride to a restaurant one night cost 45 TL which is $22, pretty cheap for that length of a ride.

Renting a car? We didn’t even consider it. Between the construction and roadwork throughout Istanbul and the sheer volume of traffic, It’s not for the faint of heart.

Turkish word-of-the-day: Füniküler = funicular

Turkish pronounciation-of-the-day:  ş is pronounced sh, which is why author Elif Şafak’s name is written Shafak in English.

Istanbul – How we got there

We’ve wanted to travel to Istanbul for a number of years, but it was always second to Beirut, Zouheir’s home town, and we hadn’t managed to get there either, mainly due to security issues that would arise every time we got serious about booking travel.

Earlier this year, we traveled through Istanbul on our way home from Malé and decided to get serious about spending some time in Turkey. So we booked our flights to Istanbul and told Zouheir’s siblings that we were planning to be there and would love to see anyone who wanted to join us. Our boys were unable to join us on this trip due to academic responsibilities.

Zouheir’s younger brother, Jacques, who lives in Brest, France, and some of his family decided to join us for the week. His sister Marie-Louise and her family (who live in Lyon) were spending time in Lebanon this summer and joined us for a few days, as did Zouheir’s cousin Pierre who lives in Beirut, but who I knew from his days in Montreal.

Most of our group in front of Blue Mosque

We travelled on Air Transat which is unusual for us. Normally, we fly Air Canada because Zouheir has frequent flyer status which provides for excellent amenities, but the difference in ticket price was too great to justify. We opted to pay $200 (total) to upgrade ourselves to Air Transat’s Options Plus program which helped us get through check-ins quickly, book seats in advance, and get some on-board amenities. They were direct flights, stopping in Montreal each way, and the long leg averaged 8 hours flying time.

We booked a three-bedroom apartment in the Şişli area that was satisfactory but not without it’s problems, including lack of basic supplies (bath mats, coffee maker) and terrible wifi. On the plus side, it allowed us to walk to the metro, shops, restaurants, and cafés, and so was very convenient.

Living area of apartment
Living area of apartment

Our flight there was uneventful, and we had pre-arranged transportation to the apartment from the airport. This was an unknown (at the time) godsend as it turned out that the taxi drivers that we encountered had great difficulty finding our apartment, and most other places that are at all off the beaten path. Coupled with language issues and what appeared to be a stubborn streak in these men, our experience with Istanbul taxis was uniformly negative. (Even when presented with a GPS map on a cellphone, they preferred to stop the taxi, get out, talk to another driver, and continue on, circling helplessly around.)

Turkish word-of-the-day: taksi = (you guessed it) taxi

Our flight home was delayed by six hours because of this happening on the incoming flight. (For the first time in my life, I stretched out over three seats at a relatively empty gate waiting area and napped.) We arrived at 1:30 am yesterday morning, and Alex picked us up at Pearson. We got into the express lanes on the 401, not knowing that there was road work going on and we weren’t able to get off the highway until Leslie, a long, slow 45 minutes later. It was just us and a lot of tractor trailers. It felt like we’d been travelling for days by the time we hit our beds.

Istanbul was a fantastic experience, and I’ve got lots of posts and pictures to come. It’s truly a timeless city, from the Roman aqueducts and cisterns, through Byzantine mosaics and palaces, to a thoroughly modern transit system and textile industry.  European and Asian. Religious and secular.

I’ll leave you with a couple of shots of a lunch we had on the rooftop of the Cozy Pub, overlooking the Bosphorus and the Blue Mosque.

L to R: Me, Marie-Louise, Cecile, William, Chrisophe, François, Joan, Solveig, Eli, Jacques, Ann-Dominique
The view from the roof at the Cozy Pub.
The view from the roof at the Cozy Pub.