Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Polka Vespers

Just when you think you've heard it all!

I got home from church Sunday and there was a message waiting from my friend Jessica inviting me to Polka Vespers at St Philip's Anglican Church. I thought it was too good an offer to pass up so headed back out to the subway to meet her.
My mother and step-father attended St Philip's when they lived in Toronto and I fondly remember doing a reading at their wedding there. It is a pretty little church with a lychgate in the true British Anglican style located where the end of Royal York Road meets Dixon Rd.
The Polka Vespers was presided over by The Rev. Allan Budzin and Walter Ostanek and his band who had the usually reserved Anglicans dancing in the aisles.
"Walter Ostanek is a living legend in the world of polka music. He is known to many as Canada's Polka King -- a title he has well-earned. During more than four long decades as a professional performer, he has made somewhere over 50 recordings, and earned a number of Grammy Awards and nominations. He has also been inducted into the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and the International Polka Hall of Fame, both as a Lifetime Achievement Honoree." Source: www.answers.com

Mark your calenders for:
Fado Blues Vespers - Sunday, February 25, 4:00 pm, featuring Caterina Cardeal and Mike Siracusa
Jazz Vespers - Sunday, March 18, 4:00 pm, featuring The Bob DeAngelis Trio

Friday, January 26, 2007

Vancouver - Seattle: A Tale of Two Cites

Population: Vancouver= 583,267 (2005)metro area, 2,208,300 (2005)
Seattle = 563,374 (2000), metro area 3,275,847
Area: Vancouver = 44.27 mi² ; 114.67 km²
Seattle = 83.9 square mi²; 217.3 square km²
Best known tourist attraction: Vancouver = Stanley Park , Seattle = Space Needle
Great Fires: Vancouver 1886, Seattle: 1889

Historic districts: Vancouver = Gastown, Chinatown , Seattle = Pioneer Square
Public Markets: Vancouver = Granville Island, Seattle = Pike Place Market
Cool Public Transit: Vancouver = SkyTrain, Seattle = Ride Free Area, Monorail

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vancouver-Seattle Tour: Day Eight

We get an early morning start as Dr. David drives us to the train station on his way to work. The 7:40 leaves Seattle for Vancouver on time and we have an excellent breakfast in the dining car. The scenery en route is quite remarkable and I take some video clips as we pass changing landscapes, marinas, towns and industrial areas. The final approach through New Westminster and its variety of spectacular bridges is quite amazing.

After checking our bags at the counter, we head out to the skytrain and take it downtown. It's STILL raining in Vancouver but it dosen't dampen our spirits as we stroll through historic Gastown. " Established the same year that Canada became a nation, Gastown grew into Canada’s third largest city and one of its most cosmopolitan. But the Gastown district today retains its historic charm, independent spirit and distinctiveness. There’s no mistaking Gastown for any other area of Vancouver, or of Canada for that matter. 1867: The south shore of Burrard Inlet was a wilderness. Its only non-native settlement was a lumber mill where the owner didn’t allow alcohol on the premises. One September day, “Gassy Jack” Deighton arrived (he received his nickname because of his penchant for spinning tall tales and talking without end). He stepped ashore with a barrel of whiskey, telling the millworkers that if they’d build him a saloon, he’d serve them drinks. The saloon was up and running within a day…just across the property line of the mill. Gastown was born." Source: http://www.gastown.org/
We continue walking east to Chinatown, the largest in Canada, where we stop for an authentic Chinese lunch on Main Street. We walk back to the Pacific Central station, through a corner of the notorious Downtown Eastside, to collect our bags and opt for a taxi to the airport. The return flight on WestJet is uneventful and arrives 15 minutes early, although the check in was a slow process. Using our headphones again saves $6. Today's savings: $6 - Total Savings:$132.29 CD

Vancouver-Seattle Tour: Day Seven

After doing some window shopping in downtown Seattle, we head to Pike Place Market.

" Its nine acres and 100 years of operation encompass thousands of unique and interesting stories — stories of immigration, internment, gentrification and urban renewal — that explain why Pike Place Market is called "The Soul of Seattle."Between 1906 and 1907, the cost of onions increased tenfold. Outraged citizens, fed up with paying price-gouging middlemen too much for their produce, found a hero in Seattle City Councilman Thomas Revelle. Revelle proposed a public street market that would connect farmers directly with consumers. Customers would "Meet the Producer" directly, a philosophy that is still the foundation of all Pike Place Market businesses. On August 17, 1907, Pike Place Market was born. On that first day, a total of eight farmers brought their wagons to the corner of First Avenue and Pike Street—and were quickly overwhelmed by an estimated 10,000 eager shoppers. By 11:00 am, they were sold out. Thousands of shoppers went home empty-handed, but the chaos held promise. By the end of 1907, the first Market building opened, with every space filled." Source: Pike Place Market

We stop at the Soundview Café and I order the North African Hummus which is served with pita triangles topped with diced tomato, cuccumber and red onions. For some unknown reason, our server asks if we'd like a complementary shrimp cocktail and we don't turn it down saving $6.95. Before heading home we decide get my sister a hostess gift and visit a flower stall in the market where we haggle for a deal on fresh cut tulips for - four bunches for $20, a $4 discount. Today's savings: $10.95 US - Total Savings:$126.29 CD

Monday, January 22, 2007

Vancouver-Seattle Tour: Day Six

Pioneer Square Seattle
We take the #21 Bus to Pioneer Square and do some shopping at Magic Mouse Toys, 603 1st Ave where I can't resist buying a tiny model of a BMW Isetta.
Next we buy our tickets for Bill Speidel's Underground Tour :
a leisurely, guided walking tour beneath Seattle’s sidewalks and streets. While you roam the subterranean passages that once were the main roadways and first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle, Tour Guides regale you with humorous stories our pioneers didn’t want you to hear. It’s history with a twist! The [90 minute] tour begins with a seated introduction inside Doc Maynard’s Public House, a restored 1890s saloon. Then you walk outside through historic Pioneer Square to three different sections of Underground—about three blocks in all. Be prepared for the underground landscape to be moderately rugged: you’ll encounter six flights of stairs, uneven terrain and spotty lighting. Dress for the weather—and leave your spike heel shoes at home! The tour ends at Rogue’s Gallery, where you’ll find portraits of Seattle’s colorful characters and other displays depicting Seattle’s past.

From Wikipedia:
On June 6 1889, most of Seattle's central business district burned to the ground in the Great Seattle Fire. It was decided to rebuild the city one to two stories higher than the original street grade, as Pioneer Square had been built mostly on filled-in tidelands and often flooded. The new street level also assisted in ensuring that gravity-assisted flush toilets didn't back up during high tide in Elliott Bay.
Several city blocks in the downtown region were enclosed with brick and timber barricades and the pavements between were raised. This left sidewalks and some storefronts as much as 36 feet below street level.
For a time, pedestrians climbed ladders to go between street level and building entrances, but eventually the building entrances were raised, and the old sidewalks covered over, creating the area now called the Seattle Underground. Merchants carried on business in the lowest floors of buildings that survived the fire, and pedestrians continued to use the underground sidewalks lit by glass cubes (still seen on some streets) embedded in the grade level sidewalk above. In 1907 the city condemned the Underground for fear of bubonic plague, two years before the 1909 World Fair in Seattle(Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition). The basements were left to deteriorate or were used as storage. In some cases, they illegally became flophouses for the homeless, gambling halls, speakeasies, and opium dens.
Only a small part of the Seattle Underground has been restored and made safe and accessible to the general public. We save $1 on Bill Speidel's book Sons of the Profits by mentioning our tour guide's name.Today's savings: $1 US - Total Savings:$113.39 CD

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Vancouver-Seattle Tour: Day Five

Brunch with my sister and family at CJ's Eatery 2619 1st Avenue, Seattle. It's a relaxed and popular spot near the Space Needle where we decide to make the best of this sunny,clear day. Using a coupon, we save $1 each on admission to the Observation Deck."Located on the grounds of Seattle Center, it was built for the 1962 World's Fair, during which time nearly 20,000 people a day used the elevators — 2.3 million visitors in all for the World Fair. It is now privately owned. The Space Needle is a tower 184 m (605 feet) high and 42 m (138 feet) wide at its widest point and weighs 9,550 tons. It is built to withstand winds of up to 240 km/h (150 mph) and earthquakes up to 9.5 magnitude (which, by coincidence, was just enough to resist Seattle's later discovered Cascadia earthquake) and has 25 lightning rods on the roof to withstand lightning strikes.
The Space Needle features an observation deck at 158.4 m (520 feet)[a third the height of Toronto's CN Tower], the SkyCity restaurant at 152 m (500 feet), and a gift shop. From the top of it, one can see not only the Downtown Seattle skyline, but also the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands."Source:www.answers.com
We take the Seattle Centre Monorail to Westlake Mall and browse the shops. My son lucks out at Macy's where they have a 50% off sale on Ecko Unltd jeans, hoodies and jackets. He's going to need another piece of luggage to get his bargains home.
Getting back to West Seattle is cheap and convenient - we take the 21 Arbour Heights bus paying the off-peak fare of $1.25 each and get off at the corner of my sister's street.
Out for dinner at Cactus Aliki Beach location. "For over 15 years, Cactus has been satisfying Seattle's need for high-quality, innovative, Mexican, Southwestern, and Spanish cuisine from its home in Madison Park. And since August of 2006, residents and tourists have been enjoying the spectacular Puget Sound views from our location on Alki beach in Seattle. The Butternut Squash Enchilada - Crisp white corn tortillas layered with jack and goat cheeses, spinach, roasted butternut squash and caramelized onions. Topped with guacamole and New Mexican red chile mole - was fabulous.
Fun games of euchre round off the day. Today's savings: $2 US - Total Savings:$112.34 CD

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Vancouver-Seattle Tour: Day Four

We check out of the Quality Hotel and take a taxi to the Pacific Central train station as it's still raining. After checking our bags, we take a short walk to Telus Science World and buy tickets for the Omnimax Theatre where a coupon saves us a dollar each. $2 There are many school groups enjoying the hands-on exhibits. We find seats in the massive Omnimax Theatre to watch Hurricane on the Bayou - "Narrated by Meryl Streep, Hurricane on the Bayou brings into focus the startling loss of Louisiana’s wetlands both before and after Hurricane Katrina. Told through the stories of four musicians whose lives were deeply affected by the storm, Hurricane on the Bayou is both a haunting document of Katrina’s powerful effects and a compelling message of hope for rebuilding Louisiana’s coastline as its first line of defense against future storms."
Checking in for the Amtrak Cascades 517 to Seattle is like being at the airport as we go through American screening. The train is comfortable and not full and we easily find our assigned seats. We buy dinner in the dining car and watch the movie - The Guardian (starring Kevin Costner & Ashton Kutcher) using our own headsets and save $8.
We arrive in Seattle about 20 minutes late and are met by my sister Jeannie. Today's Savings: $10, Total Savings: $109.99

Friday, January 19, 2007

Vancouver - Seattle Tour: Day Three

To the Vancouver Art Gallery, a short walk from the hotel, where they have a reciprocal agreement with the ROM so I just show my membership card for free admission saving $15. The first exhibit I view is simply called Paint." The exhibition’s focus is a generation of British Columbia artists who have demonstrated an energetic commitment to exploring the possibilities of paint. Selections from the permanent collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery and several regional museums contribute to an overview of the defining achievements of B.C. painters in preceding decades."
On another floor in the magnificent restored former courthouse they are installing a photo exhibit based on the life work of Fred Herzog and I get a sneak preview. "Born in Germany, Fred Herzog came to Vancouver in 1953. Since that time he has produced a substantial body of photographs, taking urban life in Vancouver second-hand shops, vacant lots, neon signage and the crowds of people who have populated the city’s streets over the past fifty years as his primary subject. Herzog has self-consciously drawn upon documentary traditions in photography, while incorporating an outsider’s idiosyncratic sensitivity to a new environment into his images." Unfortunately it officially opens on Jan 25 and I'll be back in Toronto by then.
Next to see the work of B.C. Binning, which I enjoy the most, and to view a filmed interview where he talks about the Vancouver art scene from back in the 1920s and about his work

"B.C. Binning will present approximately 50 works by Bertram Charles Binning, one of Canada's foremost artists, architectural innovators, art educators and seminal figure in the arts in British Columbia. Drawn from the Vancouver Art Gallery's collection, this exhibition presents key examples of Binning's drawings and paintings and reflects his enduring interest in architecture through the inclusion of maquettes for large mural projects Binning undertook for public buildings in the Greater Vancouver area."

We grab a McDonald's lunch near Canada Place and save $3.20 by using a coupon. To the IMAX Theatre where we watch Deep Sea 3D narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. It is visually stunning and reminds us of our visit to the Aquarium the day before. I can't help myself so I reach out to try and touch the moon jellies and other creatures as they float by. "A new and enthralling undersea experience from the makers of Into the Deep, will offer audiences astonishing up-close encounters with some of the most strange and exotic creatures on the planet, from the bizarre rainbow nudibranch to the giant Pacific octopus. " We save $2 on admission with coupons.
We take the sky train to the Pacific Central train station to buy our Amtrak tickets for Seattle tomorrow.
Back downtown we do some browsing through shopping malls and opt for a Subway dinner - of course we have coupons and save $6.29 on our meal. Today's savings $26.49. Total Savings $99.99 (I kid you not!)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Vancouver - Seattle Tour: Days One & Two

Although my son and I had been planning this trip for a few months, we could scarcely believe it when the departure day arrived. I did a fair amount of research on the web and printed up some money saving coupons for attractions in both cities. Being the frugal traveller that I am, I plan to keep a running total of my discounts.
Tuesday, January 16 2007
I took the subway and airport express to Terminal 3 at Pearson and met my son there. Spending $2.10 on a subway token verses approximately $26 for a taxi saved me $24 off the bat. We met at the WestJet counter and checked in without any hassle. Our flight was delayed by a mere 10 minutes. We brought our own headsets for the in flight entertainment - a saving of $6. The discount airlines no longer provide meals during relatively short flights so we brought some snacks and enjoyed free coffee, juice and water. The time passed quickly between watching satellite TV and Jahrell giving me poker playing lessons.
Once we arrived in Vancouver, we opted to take public transit to our hotel. The airport express would have cost $13.50 each. The travel info clerk told us the bus fare would be $3.25 each and that we'd need exact change. We scrounged up $6.50 and waited for the bus. The driver said the the buss es only take coins and we were trying to pay with a five dollar bill so he said, "Just put in the change" . So we got to our hotel on $1.50 instead of $27 a savings of $25.50.
We checked in to the Quality Hotel on Howe Street and after a brief rest we went out for a walk around the neighbourhood. It reminded us of Queen Street West. We grabbed some pizza slices for dinner at Pizza Guys just down the street. Total savings : $55.50

Wednesday January 17, 2007 A quick breakfast at an A & W counter in a shopping mall food court and then to the #19 trolley bus for Stanley Park. We were amazed by how green everything was. Damage to trees done in recent storms was evident. To the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. (Alas no discount coupon for admission which was $18.50 each and well worth it) It's difficult to pick our favourite exhibits so here are a few highlights: seahorses with minuscule babies floating around the tank; life cycle of moon jelly fish tanks; sea otters, belugas and dolphins in outdoor exhibits; the arapaima - the world's largest fresh-water fish. Lunching on delicious freshly made panini, we watch the beluga whale show. I use a 10% discount coupon in the gift shop and save $0.50 on my purchase.
We take the bus to Granville Island and browse the public market & get a bite to eat. Wednesday is two-for-one day at
Vancouver Theatre Sports League- "So You Think You Can Improvise" show we save $17.50 on our tickets. The six competitors were far better than we had imagined. Even the audience members who joined in were great. It made us decide to go out to comedy clubs & events more often back home. Today's savings $18.00 = Total savings $73.50.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Half Life & Thai 4 You

To Canadian Stage production of John Mighton's "Half Life" which featured Corner Gas star Eric Peterson, Carolyn Hetherington and Diego Matamoros.
"In the twilight of their lives, Clara and Patrick fall in love in a seniors’ home, convinced they are rekindling an affair cut short by wartime. When they announce plans to marry, their respective children find themselves in the awkward position of determining the romantic fate of their fragile parents. Sensitively wrought by John Mighton, this affecting exploration of memory and aging earned the 2005 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. "
I found the dialogue natural and well written. The character of Agnes,(Barbara Gordon) was a composite of several nursing home residents I have known.
There was a plot thread, however, that did not ring true. Nursing home care-giver Tammy (Maggie Huculak) uses the confused and frail Clara's money to purchase items for the her. Twice Clara's son Donald asks for receipts as he feels there is a discrepancy between the price one would expect to pay for an item and the missing money. In each instance, Tammy cannot provide a receipt. I found it a real stretch of the imagination to believe that a nursing home resident, who no longer has power of attorney over her affairs, would have a wallet of cash sitting in a bed side table drawer. Also, it would be highly irregular for a staff member to make purchases on behalf of a resident.
After the play we went for dinner at a favourite local restaurant:
Thai 4 You, 1675 Bloor St. W. (east of Keele), (416) 533-2221
The relaxed service and authentic ambiance, which includes gorgeous tableware that I always threaten to take home, is complemented by excellent Thai food that is great value for money. There are many vegetarian choices on the extensive menu.

Friday, January 12, 2007

My Cuppa Tea

To My Cuppa Tea, 661 The Queensway, Etobicoke, ON M8Y 1K8 (416) 503-0466, for a birthday treat with good friends. The most difficult thing is deciding which of the varied teas to try. I opt for the orange rooibos. The carrot & ginger soup doesn't dissapoint - great texture and not stingy on the ginger. My friends order the "High Tea for Two", a multi-tiered cake plate with dainty sandwiches and sweet treats that is so generous we end up taking some of it home.

Creemore & Dufferin County Museum

Wednesday January 9, 2007
To the village of Creemore, Ontario yesterday where the big story is the lack of snow in this outrageously mild Canadian winter.
The headline on the front page of the Creemore Echo is "NO SNOW" to the chagrin of the ski clubs, who are laying off staff in droves, and tow-truck drivers everywhere. We lunched at Affairs Cafe where they were missing the ski crowd. Upside we could park right outside at 5, Francis Street East.
The Creemore Springs brewery is across the street. Great to see a small brewery in a small town. Then to Dufferin County Museum & Archives which is a splendid four-storey modern structure right in the middle of nowhere at Airport Road and Highway 89. We were given a tour behind-the-scenes of this sumptuous museum. All the stars must have aligned when the grant application went in! We took some photos from the tower built to look like a grain silo.By R.L.T.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Girls do Boys at Hugh's Room

To Hugh's Room at 2261 Dundas St. West, Toronto (416) 531-6604. This favourite venue offers top notch musical entertainment with excellent food. It's not a restuarant per se, as they are only open when there are live shows. On Friday Jan 5 we take in "Girls do Boys" presented by Michael Wrycraft. There was not a weak performance among the nine female acts who sang the numbers penned by their favourite male songwriters:

Linda McLean - Bruce Cockburn
Madviolet - Simon & Garfunkel
Ivy Mairi - Otis Redding
October Browne - Lindsay Buckingham
Rita Chiarelli- Elvis Presley (pictured here)
Andrea Koziol - Bill Withers
Oufti - Red Evans
Katherine Wheatley - Gordon Lightfoot
Soozi Schlanger - Steppenwolf