Friday, June 29, 2012

Montreal Update

A recent visit to Quebec and Montreal reminded me how unique this part of Canada is.  With only a few days in the townships, and a week in the ‘Paris of North America’, it underscored my belief that to truly appreciate this country, a Canadian need visit the West Coast, the East Coast, and Quebec. Better still, add the Prairie Provinces to that list and you’ll get even more punch to the WOW impressions this country delivers.

French First, eh?
Virtually every urban Quebecer speaks English. Unlike Parisiens who seem to revel in their disdain of English, Quebecers will take their cue from you as to which language to engage. In Montreal, the post Renee Levesque generation flips from one language to the other with cosmopolitan ease; only in the countryside – surprisingly close to the city, are you likely to find folks whose only language is French. In one store, I actually dived into my purse for change only to despair when I found no francs. Then I realized I was still in Canada. True story!

Vin & Frommage
Meandering through the pastoral countryside is somewhat like central France but without the chateaus, small cars and stacks of just-hewn wood squatting on forest floors. Cyclists pedal the backroads, vineyards nestle against slopes, and cheese is an important item on every menu. Order steak ‘rare’ here, though, and it will be cooked pink to North American tastes, not blue-raw to French preference.

City Vibes
Quebec City doesn’t seem to change through the decades. Like Victoria in British Columbia, Quebec trades on its history, charm and quaintness all of which is emphasized with bonspiels and the world-renowned Winter Carnival complete – think ice hotels, dog sled races and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Montreal is far sassier with culture, art galleries, museums and festivals being as much of its everyday lifestyle as commuting via the Metro. Even in tough economic times, there’s money to fund all of these ventures, which certainly gives pause for thought. Montreal has always yearned to be a significant cultural capital in North America; and its arts focus is so stridently constant, it’s as if the city is still building a case for Quebec’s independence from the rest of Canada. That said, youthful Vancouver, hard-edged Toronto, and even easy-going Halifax can’t hold a candle to what Montreal offers – and that includes its most famous export: Cirque du Soleil. The city has the rich, multi-dimensional, and historic vibe of its sophisticated European counterparts.

Old Quarter
Some of the most dramatic changes in Montreal –in just the last few years – is the revitalization of the city’s Old Quarter. I remember the area as seedy, unsafe, and with narrow, cobble-streets and alleys. The latter are still there but today, they lead to renovated warehouses; funky hotels such as St. Sulpice; hidden-away personality-plus restaurants, and designer boutiques. The waterfront, too, has all been opened up for public use with promenades and grassy parks that in summer are the venues of numerous activities. Montrealers know how to have a good time so if happenings are your thing, schedule a visit during events such as the Montreal Jazz Festival. And check out to see what’s happening at Montreal Science Centre; Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology is one of the most fun learning museum tours I’ve ever had. The Musée des Beaux-Arts Montreal is a sure bet with exhibitions that might include China’s Terracotta Army or as the latest venue for Chamber Music concerts. Pointe-à-Callière is another new, must-see museum. It is, quite literally, built on the original city foundations (some 350 years old) that you can watch being excavated.

Hmm, when you consider that Vancouver only celebrated its 125th birthday in 2011, you begin to understand the depth of Montreal.

Apprécier et bon chance

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Theatre by Bicycle in Victoria

Well for someone who's into theatre as much as travel, it can't get much better than this ....

As part of Victoria, B.C.'s 150th celebrations and Victoria International Cycling Festival, Theatre SKAM will present their annual mobile menu of live performance called Bike Ride 150th Anniversary Edition . And with all the hype of Victoria cyclist, Ryder Hesjedal, winning the Giro d'Italia (and that coveted pink jersey), this couldn't be more appropriate.

Cycle from Show to Show
On the weekends of June 16 to 17 and June 23 to 24 at 3:30 p.m., Theatre SKAM will perform new, independent and local live theatre along Victoria's Galloping Goose Regional Trail while audiences ride their bikes from show to show. With bike decorating, local food and surprise bursts of entertainment, the bike ride will have something for visitors of all ages. 

This year, new work commissioned by Theatre SKAM will uncover the unique stories and heritage of the Galloping Goose Trail and the neighbourhoods surrounding Victoria's Selkirk Waterfront. 

Even without Theatre Skam, the Galloping Goose is one of Victoria's treasures.  Built on abandoned railway tracks and trestles and named after a 1920s rail car, the Galloping Goose is a 55 km (34 mi.) linear park that follows part of the Trans Canada Trail. The trail surface is wide, mostly flat and leads through a wonderful diversity of landscapes from urban to rural. 

Oh yes, did I mention that (according to the Government of Canada), Victoria is rated the cycling capital of Canada, with more people per capita commuting by bicycle than any other Canadian city. 

And if you're heading over that way, check out my books: Frommer's Guide to Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands & San Juan Islands, or Frommer's Vancouver & Victoria.  Better still, buy my i-app guide to Victoria: 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Facebook Addiction?

For someone who is only just now getting into Facebook and social media ..... yes, resistance I've found is futile ..... I was amused to receive this article re: Facebook's addiction factor ...

Norwegian researchers recently developed a test for networking sites, called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, which likens inordinate amounts of time spent on the networking site to drug and alcohol abuse. The test measures how often people use the site, if they do so to forget their problems and how using the site negatively affects their personal and working lives.

Researchers found the following groups of people most at risk for Facebook addiction:
 Women, who are more social than men,
• Young people, who are more tech savvy than older people
• Anxious or socially insecure people
“Social media, and the new emphasis on the importance of ‘multitasking,’ have helped drive a wedge between family members,” says psychologist Gregory L. Jantz, author of #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking (

Ironically, people become less social the more time they spend on social sites, and they tend to get less done while multitasking because they do not focus on completing one task at a time, he says.

“When people abuse drugs and alcohol, they are trying to feel better, yet they are worsening their situation. We’re finding this is also true for those who spend excessive amounts of time on social networking sites,” he says. “Perhaps the hardest hit from social media addiction is the family unit.”

Parents should monitor their own time online to ensure it’s not further limiting the already shrinking amount of time available with their children, Jantz says. And they need to safeguard their children by monitoring their time, as well. 

“Technology continues at its accelerating pace, and we are in unchartered territory,” Jantz says. “Increasingly, social networking infiltrates our personal lives, but we need to remember that it is created to serve us, and not the other way around.” 


Hmmm, food for thought ..... I say, as I plough through my newly interconnected world