Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Justin's Cottage - Day 3

We didn't spend too much time at the cottage on our final day. After breakfast we cleaned up and packed then headed out. I went with Keith so he wouldn't have to drive alone. But, in doing so, left Justin to travel by himself.

The first leg of our trip wouldn't be too far. We were only traveling an hour south to the Bonnechere Caves, a bit east of Eganville.

We arrived at the caves around noon. It was a hot, sticky day. Luckily the caves, at around 13C, would provide a cool respite.

Admission is $17 for adults. You have to go on a guided tour of the caves. Ours was a lanky, shaggy haired teenager who sounded less than enthused at having to repeat his spiel yet again to another group of tourists.

He gave a bit of history of the fossils that were found in the area. And he spoke about the gentleman, Tom Woodward, who first explored the caves in 1955. The talk lasted about 20 minutes before we were taken into the actual caves.

The caves themselves are mostly long and narrow. Sometimes the ceiling is high, other times not so much. It never opens up into a large cavern or anything like that. Overall it's pretty tight inside. I wouldn't say it's very spectacular at all. But it was still kind of interesting seeing that it was the first cave system I've had the chance to explore.

We were finished our tour in little over an hour. Back on the road in search of late lunch/early dinner.

Keith was pretty sleepy on the next leg of the journey. He had a bit of trouble trying to keep awake. I know how he felt. I'm sure we've all felt like that a times. I tried to keep him alert by talking and playing games. I guess it worked somewhat. We're both still here.

We were thinking about grabbing a bite at The Spud Box. It's a burger and fish and chips joint in Kaladar at the intersection of Highway 7 and 41. But, like I mentioned before, it was really hot and humid outside and they didn't have any inside seating so we drove on.

Our next option was Kelly's, a family owned restaurant 20 minutes away, just north of Tweed. We went there for lunch last year on our way home from Justin's cottage. Unfortunately for us, this year they were closed. We continued on.

We ended up at Paulo's Italian Trattoria in Belleville. It was almost 5:00 by now and we hadn't eaten since the morning so we were all pretty hungry.

After ordering our food we inhaled it quickly before hitting the road again. Traffic back into the city along the 401 was pretty slow. It was the Labour Day long weekend after all. All the cottagers were returning home at the same time. As well we had to contend with stupid drivers who further clogged the arteries by running into one another. Booo!

I don't believe we got back into the city until after 10:00. A long day to say the least. Still it was nice to get away. It's just the drive out and back that I can do without.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Justin's Cottage - Day 2

Day two began with breakfast at the restaurant at Fort William. It's a 35 kilometre drive from Justin's cottage through Chapeau. Though, if you had a boat, you could take the direct route 10-12 kilometres up the Ottawa River door-to-door.

I don't remember what time we arrived last year, but this year we were a bit late. We made it in time for breakfast, but they ran out of home fries as a side so they substituted French fries for them. It just wasn't the same.

Also, like last year, we visited Parc Des Chutes Coulonge (52 kilometres straight east of the restaurant). Last year we just paid the $8 entrance fee and walked through the park. This year Peter wanted to try the zip-lining and "rock climbing".

Keith is deathly afraid of heights. He probably wouldn't even stand on top of a kid's wagon. I don't think Justin was that enthused about it either. In my case it was the $97 cost that scared me. That just left Emily, Ken and Peter to try it. They were joined by a mother and her teenage son.

Their first stop was the long zip-line over the Coulonge River. It took a while for everyone to cross. Justin and I were there with our DSLRs trying to get decent shots of them.

After they crossed the river we lost sight of them. Justin and I decided to head to the next point we thought they'd reappear (which would be the observation deck for one of the falls). Keith hung back. He was a bit too nervous of the height.

While we waited I set my camera on the wide deck railing and took a 1/4 second exposure of the falls there. It was overcast enough that I could take a fairly long exposure without a neutral density filter.

The overcast skies quickly turned into rainy skies. At first the rain was relatively light and I took shelter under a tree. But then it got heavier and didn't look like it was going to stop anytime soon.

When it seemed to break, I ran for cover to of one of the buildings near the park entrance to wait it out. Emily, Ken and Peter weren't so lucky. They waited out the rain clinging to the side of a cliff for over half an hour.

Two hours after they started they were done. After returning their harnesses and helmets we drove the 52 kilometres back to Justin's cottage where they quickly changed out of their soaking wet clothes.

The sun had returned by then and we cooked some of our dinner over the campfire. Justin did the rest on his gas barbeque.

After eating Peter and I convinced Justin to come out to the beach to try some more star shots. We started earlier this time to avoid having the bright moon light up the skies.

Peter and I were out there just over an hour. Justin left about half way through. Just before he left we saw a bright shooting star over the north horizon. Just before it went out it broke in two. That was pretty incredible. I've never seen anything like that before.

Back inside the cabin we played Saboteur for a few hours before hitting the sack. For the second night in a row it was warm. Ken and Emily joined Peter and I outside in the tents. They had been bothered by a fly buzzing around inside while they slept. Imagine that... going outside to sleep to avoid insects.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Justin's Cottage - Day 1

Since we stayed up so late the night before, we got a late start on Saturday "morning". I'm not even sure what time we woke up.

Peter and Emily made breakfast. Peter bought yummy Japanese bread from J-Town in Markham for French toast. And Emily fried up the special bacon Justin got from the corner store in Chapeau. After adding fresh tomatoes, they made sandwiches with them.

Our plans for the day were hiking at Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park then grabbing dinner at the White Water Brewing Company in Foresters Falls (40 minutes east of Pembroke; 2 hours east of the park).

After driving 1-1/2 hours we arrived at the trailhead going through the northeast entrance of the park. It was already 5:00 by the time we started hiking. Luckily the trail was short, so it wasn't much of a problem to finish it.

The view from the top of the canyon was fine. But, compared to what we saw of the Rockies out west, the bar had been set extremely high.

We finished hiking and taking photos within an hour. By then it was around 6:00. Time to hit the road to seek out dinner. I hopped in Justin's convertible and the others loaded into Keith's car and we headed out.

Being a local and a much faster driver, Justin took the lead. Still he relied on his vehicle GPS to show him the fastest route.

Now I have to say, the quickest way might not necessarily be the best way. Because we ended up on what didn't amount to much more than a winding dirt path just outside the park. Justin thought it was fun, but Keith wasn't so enthused. It was the first time I've ever seen a speed limit sign nailed to a tree. Yes, really.

We arrived at the restaurant/brewery just after 7:30, but saw no sign of the pig roast Justin had called about earlier in the day. When we inquired about it the waitress told us there wasn't one. Puzzled we took a seat inside and ordered from the menu.

After ordering I went to the bathroom to wash my hands. When I returned our table was empty. Everyone had gone outside to the patio.

I later found out that they were told there was a pig roast, but it was canceled because of low interest. They brought the pig inside and if you wanted something from the roast like sausages or pulled pork you couldn't eat inside. That got the group fed up and Justin posted a nasty note on their Facebook page which they quickly deleted.

We drove back to the River Club Restaurant near the cottage and had dinner there instead.

After eating we relaxed around another campfire at the cottage. This time there were no games or star photography afterwards. We were too tired for that.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Justin's Cottage - Day 0.5

For the second year in a row, Justin invited a few of us up to his family cottage on L'Isle-aux-Allumettes in Quebec (opposite Pembroke, Ontario) for the Labour Day long weekend.

Last year I drove up with Peter and Fiona. We got a relatively late start because we had to wait for Fiona to get off work. Combine that with the long weekend rush hour traffic and the typical 5 hour drive there turns into something horrendous.

This year we tried to avoid it by leaving earlier. Each one of us either had the day off or had taken it off. We met at Justin's place at Yonge and Sheppard and by 1:30 had departed.

I went with Justin in his red, Lexus convertible. Emily and Ken joined Peter in his white M3. Keith would come later (much, much later) after he finished work.

Unlike last year when we traveled east along the 401, we took the 400 north and cut through Algonquin Park. According to Google Maps that route is an hour longer, so I'm not sure why Justin chose it. I suppose the traffic heading east along the 401 to cottage country is just that bad you should avoid it at all costs.

We stopped for lunch at A&W around the Huntsville area and then again in Pembroke to pick up pizza and chicken for dinner at Nick's in Pembroke. We didn't end up getting to Justin's cottage until it was dark at just after 9:00 p.m. So much for leaving early (to try to arrive early).

Since we hadn't eaten much during the day we dug into the food before doing anything else. After eating we set up our tents and the built a fire to sit around. That's what you do at a cottage; drink beer and relax by the fire.

It was after 10:30 by now and we hung out by the fire for about an hour before Peter and I decided to head over to the beach to take some night shots. The skies were pretty clear and you could see the Milky Way and quite a few stars. The only problem was the moon was rising over the horizon and it was quite bright.

Before 1:00 Justin came by to see how we were doing. Around the time he left to go back to the cottage we saw a large shooting star low in the north sky. It was brightest I've ever seen. And right before it faded it spectacularly split apart. How cool was that?

Back in the cottage we brought out Saboteur. Justin had the extended version, but since we hadn't played in awhile we decided to stick to the original game. It was quite late, but we were waiting for Keith to arrive, so we needed something to do to pass the time.

Keith came around 4:00 in the morning. We saved some pizza and chicken for him to eat. After hanging out briefly we all hit the sack. Peter and I went to our own tents out in the yard while the rest stayed inside. It was an unusually chilly night, but we brought enough gear to keep us warm.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Buskerfest Day 2 - Bonus

Here are the pictures Peter took of me and my friends at Buskerfest. Coincidently I bumped into a number of them at or near the intersection of Yonge and Gerrard within minutes of each other. It was kind of weird, but cool.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Buskerfest Day 2

After attending Buskerfest for the second half of Friday, Peter and I decided to go back during the daytime on Saturday. Again we met at College and Yonge. This time in the early afternoon.

The first act I saw was Yo-Yo Guy, John Higby. He has performed his comedy yo-yo show around the world in 26 countries and holds 4 Guinness World Records and a World Yo-Yo Champion title.

Like many of the other buskers he gets kids to participate. Sometimes you can find a real gem as he did this time picking out a young, Asian girl to do the hula hoop which she did remarkably well.

His Yo-Yo tricks were decent and he was pretty funny. An entertaining show to be sure.

After Yo-Yo Guy, Peter and I continued south on Yonge Street. We passed a young fellow, Jack Miron, who couldn't have been much older than seventeen. He was juggling various items on the side of the street.

We weren't actually sure if he was an official participant because he looked so young and he kept dropping items he was juggling every now and then. Good effort though.

Next we stopped by the Family Fun Zone (Stage 9). Aussie duo Sophie and Jacob McGrath of Dream State Circus were performing there. They did a number of acrobatic strength feats as well as juggling and any combination of both. Pretty impressive.

We kept walking south on Yonge passing a number of acts. Still north of Gerrard Street I bumped into a couple of friends, siblings Phyllis and Andy Chong. They used to go to the same church as me. I ran into Phyllis a few years ago at Allen Gardens, but I hadn't seen Andy in, I'm guessing, 10-15 years.

Shortly after bumping into Phyllis and Andy, I ran into Georgette a Flickr friend at the intersection of Yonge and Gerrard. She was at Buskerfest taking photos with one of her friends. I bumped into her a year ago in Tobermory when we went camping there (at Cyprus Lake). I had Peter take a photo of us.

As we were taking photos another friend, Jenn, who volunteers at the Knox Out of the Cold program with me came by. I asked Peter to take another shot.

And, as we were taking that photo, another couple, Jeff and Rosa, who I used to work with at Trader walked up. I ran into Rosa a few years ago at a photo show. I hadn't seen Jeff in 4-5 years. It was nice seeing them again. More photos of course.

Peter and I never caught anymore full performances. Most of the time we showed up part way through.

In front of the new Ryerson Student Centre Human Beatbox, Scott Jackson, was performing. MaracaTALL a troupe of stilt-walkers were at Yonge-Dundas Square. And The Bearded Gypsy Band were playing in front of the Eaton Centre.

After that we headed back north to Salad King for dinner. Peter had spicy Street Noodle Soup. I had yummy Siam Noodle. And we split a so-so Beef Panang Curry dish.

It was pretty dark after eating. We headed north where we saw bassoon and theremin performer, Jeff Burke. It was the first time I've seen a theremin live. Peter didn't even know what it was. Here's a description from the dictionary - a musical instrument with electronic tone generation, the pitch and tone volume being controlled by the distance between the player's hands and two metal rods serving as antennas. Quite unique.

Lastly we snapped a few pictures of Silver Elvis (creation of Toronto performance artist Peter Jarvis) who was making his Silver Elvis moves on the north side of Gerrard and Yonge. There's really not much to his act except for that he looks a big, silver Elvis.

Of all the Toronto street festivals this has to be one of the better ones. Most of the others are food-based. You walk around and eat not doing much more. The Beaches International Jazz Festival has music, but this has much more. If you choose to go to only one, I'd suggest you make it this one.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Buskerfest Day 1

I met up with Peter to go to Buskerfest on Friday night a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time I've actually shot it extensively. In past years I've gone for an hour or two shooting only two or three acts.

Since I have Fridays off work I got a head start. I walked down a bit earlier arriving a little before 5:00. Yonge Street was closed off from College to Queen with a number of stages for the performers set up in between.

The first performer I came upon was Bence Sarkadi with his marionettes on Stage 9 (on the east side of Yonge south of College). He was almost finished when I arrived so I didn't actually see much.

A bit further south Catana Chetwynd from Saratoga Springs, New York was creating a piece of Chalk Art on the sidewalk. I believe it was inspired by the TV show Game of Thrones.

I was snapping a few shots of her working when I noticed a young, art-student type, come up and start sketching her. He had a long sheet of paper with sketches of other people he had done. With his big green headphones and backpack adorned with colourful buttons he became my new subject.

Next, on Stage 8, was Hercinia Arts Collective. The trio of acrobats performed a show called The Flying Machine. One girl, the inventor, walked around on stilts and narrated the show while two others performed on the trapeze suspended in the air above Yonge Street. They weren't too bad.

Peter arrived around 7:00 p.m. just after the trapeze artists performed. I walked back up to College Street to meet him.

We walked back down to just south of College Park and took a few shots of the guys playing chess on the large plastic set there before moving on to catch Nathaniel Rankin and his show Borderline Madness. He had replaced the girls of Hercinia Arts Collective on Stage 8. Nathaniel's act was a combination of magic, juggling and comedy. It was all right.

Continuing south to Stage 7, we caught the last part of Bex In Motion's Fire Show. We saw her Hula-hooping a number of hoops. Then she did the same thing with some hoops that she lit on fire. Since it was dark by this time anything on fire looked kind of cool.

We also caught the last 10 minutes of Zap Circus' Purple People Show at Stage 4 tucked away on Edward Street. They're an Australian duo of acrobats. They too had a fire component to their show spinning lit batons while the girl stood upon the guy's shoulders.

Though I understand the need to ask for donations, these guys dragged it too far. The girl droned on and on and on about it. Have a bit of dignity. You only need to prod a little. The audience understands what's going on.

After their performance we took a break for late dinner. We split a medium pepperoni Pizza Pizza for $4.99 plus tax (for walk-in orders). Freshly made, it was pretty tasty.

The last performance of the day that we caught fully was the best. It was the unicycling duo Witty Look from Japan. They consist of unicycle world champion Daiki and an acrobatic clown Cheeky! Cheeky is over-the-top hilarious. So funny. It was more than just tricks on unicycles. That's what made it one of the better shows.

After their performance we walked a bit further south on Yonge past Dundas. It was getting late by then so we headed home not long after.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Shiso Tree Restaurant

A day following the disappointing meal at h bar, Gabe, Daphne and I went to Shiso Tree in J-Town on Steeles, east of the 404. I have to say the meal there was much better.

It was my first time there and I had no idea what to expect. I believe I was expecting traditional Japanese fare like sashimi or sushi, but they served pasta with a Japanese twist.

The restaurant itself is quite utilitarian. It's rather plain-looking with simple tables and chairs and empty walls (save the Daily Specials menus). It's the food that's the star of the show.

Gabe had the Shrimp Okonomiyaki - Spaghetti sautéed with bacon, onions and garlic dressed with shrimp, homemade steak sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and Bonito fish flakes - $14.00.

Daphne had the daily special. It was homemade bow tie pasta dyed black with squid ink. It was served with a tomato-based sauce, with a piece of dried ham (I believe) - $22.00.

I had Unagi-Don - Cream teriyaki sauce and Shimeji mushrooms with Japanese barbecued eel and garnished with nori and shiso - $17.00. It was very good.

We followed the meal up with dessert. Gabe and I got a couple of pieces of cake which they got from the bakery across the way (Bakery Nakamura) - $6.00/ea. Daphne had the Matcha Azuki Crepe - Homemade crepe with Japanese red bean and green tea creme sauce, topped with vanilla ice dream and fresh whipped cream - $9.00. All quite tasty.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

h bar Restaurant

My friends and I went down to h bar restaurant on Queen West not far from Trinity Bellwoods Park a few weeks ago. Gabe had a voucher for the place and we decided to try it out.

We made reservations for 6:00 p.m. on a Friday night. They weren't needed. The place was pretty much empty when we got there.

The restaurant isn't very big. There's some seating on the main floor and a bar upstairs with a few more seats (which is where I found my friends) after waiting downstairs for them for a bit. My fault for not checking.

The menu looked decent, but I have to say the food was just so-so. After grabbing a beer we shared two orders of the sliders (3-mini burgers per order) - $12.40. Next I had the Roasted Chicken Sandwich - Roasted Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Lettuce, Smoked Goat Cheddar, Maple Aioli & Grilled Red Onion - $10.95. It was all right.

Peter and Janice shared the Steak Frites - Flat Iron Steak cooked Medium Rare & served with Frites or Gaufrette - $17.70; and Fried Chicken (daily special). Gabe had the Daily Catch - Pan Seared Fish in an Apple Sage Butter served on a bed of Seasonal Vegetables & Potatoes - $14.75. I don't remember what Justin had. He doesn't like waiting for food pics to be taken before digging in, so nothing from him.

Dessert there was pretty bad. We tried three different things. There was the Ice Cream - House made with Natural Ingredients. Ask your server for the flavour of the month - $4.42. We had three small scoops. All of them were icy, not creamy. They were supposed to be different flavours. but all tasted like vanilla.

The Home made Donuts were the best of the bunch - Deep Fried Vanilla Batter tossed in Cinnamon Sugar - $5.31. You got a small bowl of 5 or 6 Timbit-sized dough balls; The Deep Fried Pie was the worst - Light crispy pastry wrapped around a delicious seasonal filling. Ask your server for our pie of the moment - $5.31. I believe ours had apple filling. It was tiny. You could pop the whole thing in your mouth in one bite. Ridiculous.

I'd rate the décor - 2.5/5; the entrées - 2.5/5; and the desserts - 1/5.