Athens and the Acropolis: Day Two

We woke up on Sunday morning to the sound of rain. By the looks of things it had rained all night and wasn’t showing any sign of slowing down. Our plans to see the Acropolis with Anna were looking in jeopardy. Regardless, Anna came to our apartment and we caught up before deciding we’d take a taxi to the Acropolis Museum and wait out the rain.

When we got in the taxi I didn’t check that he had his meter on. I couldn’t even see the meter. So when he dropped us the three minutes down the road and he asked for €5, I handed it over. I think we all thought that was reasonable enough. At the end of the day when we caught a taxi home and it took about 15 minutes, the total came to €5.50. Now that was a bargain. Anyway, I digress…

Acropolis Museum

Every tourist in Athens had the same idea to escape the rain in the Acropolis Museum. We joined the queue for security and then the queue for the tickets and set off for a bit of culture and learning. Thankfully Anna was of the same mindset as us in that we were happy with passive learning. That is, if the learning came to us, we’d take it in. If not, then we’d find the restaurant.

We wandered through the galleries, picking up bits and pieces from a tour guide who was leading a group. I learned that being naked in the gymnasium was a sign of high status. We also learned that there seemed little rhyme or reason as to why you could take photos in most galleries but not the first, despite there being no demarcation to tell you so.

Inside were lots of statues, urns, sculptures, columns etc, and minimal signage (although when there were information boards they were in big chunks of text…not that conducive to processing). Our favourite gallery, however, was on the top floor where they have replicated the size and shape of the top of the Parthenon and placed around the sides copies and fragments of the friezes that were on the Parthenon. Meanwhile, this window-lined gallery had a fantastic view of the Acropolis. This was a masterful piece of interpretation and by far the highlight of the museum.

Having reached the top of the museum and seen ‘everything’, we rewarded ourselves with lunch in the restaurant, again with a superb view of the Parthenon out the window. We’ve started to notice a pattern with food service that, when you’ve finished your meal, it’s nearly impossible to get someone to bring the check. And then, when they finally do, it takes another eternity to pay. Anna put it down to them not wanting us to leave so the tables would look full. Whatever it is, it’s frustrating.

The Acropolis and More

The rain had abated by the time we got outside so we walked to the Acropolis, bought our ticket and ascended the hill with the rest of the horde. It’s an impressive collection of statues, columns, temples and rocks on the ground. We navigated around the crowds and took our photos, looked out across Athens and considered how interesting it would be to have immersive interpretation going on up there, for example, a sacrifice to Athena or priests selling votives. I guess they don’t need to add more considering how many people go just to see it and the view.

We navigated around the crowds and took our photos, looked out across Athens and considered how interesting it would be to have immersive interpretation going on up there, for example, a sacrifice to Athena or priests selling votives. I guess they don’t need to add more considering how many people go just to see it and the view.

The Parthenon is under construction as part of renovation and restoration works so one side is covered in scaffolding and blocked with a crane. It would really be something if they were able to restore it to the level where you could walk through the temple itself. Then you’d really get an idea of the scale of the thing. The old temple of Athena, the smaller one next to it, is mostly there but again, off-limits.

We wandered down from the top of the hill along the southern slope, seeing more ruins, before popping out down the bottom to go walking through Plaka. We covered much the same route that we’d travelled the day before, again stopping, looking in shops and buying things. We also stopped at a restaurant near Hadrian’s Library and had meze and Aperol spritz.

Despite our screaming legs, we continued our march to check out more of the sites. We’d paid for a combo ticket (€30) which gave us entry to the Acropolis and a bunch of other temples and ruins. We hit the Roman Agora first but were unable to enter as it had suddenly become 5 pm and it had closed. We walked on, going to the Stoa and the Ancient Agora of Athens.

The Stoa, although restored, is impressive. A two-storey building with lots of columns, the effect of the light and shadow is stunning. We then cut across more ruins, up a hill and then to the Temple of Hephaistos which had excellent views across and up to the Acropolis. Well worth the trek.

Dead legs by this stage we cut through the tourist restaurants, again ending up near where we were the day before near Monastiraki Square, and caught a taxi home. Anna went to check-in to her accommodation and a few hours later we set off for food. Again, crossing territory we’d been over before, we hit a neighbourhood bar/pizzeria called Colibri. Glen and Anna had pasta while I had chicken and salad (GREEN THINGS! YAY!). We were falling asleep at the table by 8:30. Anna’s work colleague arrived but we said our farewells and stumbled home and to bed.

A packed day! Delphi on Monday.

Three Weeks in the UK: Week Three

Museums of London

On Friday Dad and I did our own thing. I’d been to the gym in the morning and then booked him a flight to Vicenza (he was going for a night to see his cousin). After that I went to see the Museum of London’s Fire! Fire! exhibition.

An excellent exhibition. The interpretation was so well put together that it was a treat to stop and explore everything…although museum fatigue kicks in early for me and there were about two cabinets of objects I glossed over.

The words were kept to a minimum, plenty of interactives and theming to go along with it. From a professional and personal point of view, I was engaged and came away with a better understanding of the Great Fire of London and its surrounding social and historical context.

What I did wonder about was how the kids interacted with it. There was a large school group in there and the bulk of them used the dress-ups, played with the blocks (‘how would you rebuild the city of London?’) and sat in the tent. They also pressed some buttons and lifted flaps.

Now, from an educational point of view, you might say that they didn’t really learn anything. They were small kids so there were no sheets to fill out, and it was largely self-directed, with teachers or teacher helpers corralling the group.

But just because they didn’t (or might not) have learnt anything, doesn’t mean the exhibition failed. What I did see was a lot of kids enjoying themselves. They were excited to be there, playing on things, running around with their friends, all while being in a ‘learning environment’.

I doubt they learnt anything by osmosis but at least their memories of being in a museum is a pleasant one, which, you hope, will continue through as they get older and want to discover more. Anyway, opinion piece over.

I walked through the rest of the standard galleries as I’d been before and had filled by brain. I was unexpectedly moved by the rather simple 2005 London bombing memorial – a book containing remembrances of those who’d died. Simple yet effective.

After Museum of London, I headed to the Museum of London: Docklands. I’d never heard of it until Jackie told me about it on Wednesday. Built in an old warehouse that was part of the old docklands, it’s three floors of stories about shipping, the docks and London.

I liked the exhibition on slavery and sugar. Though they didn’t make any overt connections between ‘old’ and modern-day slavery, it was definitely something I read into it. The words around it have changed but some of the structures underneath have survived.

I also liked their reconstruction ‘SailorTown’. The rest of the museum I strolled through as it was heavy on text, light on object and all a bit overwhelming. Excellent if you need to focus on a particular time period that deals with the docks but for a general visitor, I think it could have done with some trimming down.

In the evening I caught up with Jeff and Nigel at their flat for a drink before we went for dinner at Tandoor Chop House (really good Indian food). Many drinks, food and laughs later, I headed home after another great day in London.

Rellies in Reading

Saturday we caught the train to Reading to meet Mum’s cousin, Pauline, and Pauline’s daughter, Verity. They’d come up from Bournemouth so had further to travel than us. We met at the station, walked through a bit of Reading centre and went for lunch at Prezzo. Lovely to see them and catch up, sharing all of our news.

Afterwards we went through some of Reading’s streets, seeing the town hall and this Tudor (either era or style) house that was severely bowed in the middle. Sadly it was sitting empty. We left at about 3, a sad goodbye. That’s the problem with living so far away but at least there’s email etc to keep in touch with.

In the evening we met Donna and her friend, Courtney, at Las Iguanas in Southbank for dinner. The food was really good, even better that they had a vegan menu for Donna (and also to capitalise on Veganuary).

After dinner we saw the circus show Bianco, which was playing on Southbank as part of its winter festival. There were no chairs; it was a roving audience performance. The audience moved (about as well as you’d expect a large group of people to move and follow directions) under the guidance of the performances as bits of staging was relocated inside the space. They did this for much of the first half but it was largely abandoned for the second half when the performance was focused inwards in the centre.

There were a few nice moments and tricks, the performances were all incredibly fit and skilled, but I got bored after the first half as they repeated tricks and each subsequent segment went on too long. They were building on this idea of chaos, I think, as they shouted things out which were completely obscured by the sound from the live band (who were excellent).

The performance could have done with severe editing. I also got over the repeated use of one particular device, which was to come out to perform while clothed and then, within a few minutes, lost most of the outer layers. Once or twice is fine, but then it got tired and looked like they couldn’t make up their mind.

My back was killing me by the end of it and I was annoyed at the self-indulgence. Still, I was probably in the minority and now sound incredibly curmudgeonly about it. Having seen Limbo a few times, it’s hard to find something that comes close.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition

As a Christmas gift to each of us, Donna bought Dad and I tickets to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition on at the Natural History Museum. An excellent gift. Dad and I met her at the museum at about 10:30 and luckily beat much of the queue that later accumulated.

There’s a new bit inside the museum that is prefaced with a stegosaurus skeleton and has an escalator that goes up through an industrial-type model of the earth. The lower walls are lined with lit displays of bits of rock from different times through the Earth’s development. It’s an impressive entrance to the geology exhibition.

We bypassed it at first to get to the exhibition. I missed last year’s exhibition but saw the previous one in Toronto. It’s always awesome and contains just enough photos to get through before you get fatigue.

Standouts for me were the documentary photo of 4,000 slaughtered, frozen pangolin (juxtaposed with a black-and-white image of a lion playing with a rolled up pangolin), hyenas feeding on wildebeest that had died in the stampede, and three hares on snow. Of course, there were plenty of great photos.

Only downside (apart from the massive decline in species across the globe) was a woman who kept talking to her friends and commenting on every portrait, not in an intelligent way, but making a joke on each. SHUT UP! I had to keep going to opposite ends of the display to get away from her. I should have had headphones…and idea for next time.

Courtney and her boyfriend, Mickey, came along too, which was nice to get to share in the moment. After the exhibition we went up the new escalator entrance, semi-experienced the Kobe earthquake in a simulator, and then headed out. So many children!

We said goodbye to Courtney and Mickey then went for lunch at Pret-a-Manger. Next up was the underwear exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum (1700s to today). Interesting to see the breadth and variety of female undergarments compared to the relative simplicity and lack of changes in that for males. Power play at work.

Full up of museums at the end of it we parted ways. Once home, I went to the gym (getting caught in the rain) and later we met Donna at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called The Gate in Hammersmith. It was great. Kind of like fine dining for vegetarians. We each had something different for our mains and dessert, and all of it was delicious. Very full at the end of it.

Tube Strike!

img_5171In the morning Dad and I caught the train. He was heading to Gatwick to fly to Vicenza to see his cousin for the evening, meanwhile I was heading out to Leigh-on-Sea for lunch with Sheila, Ian and Donna. A tube strike had been called the night before and was to last 24 hours. As a result, travel in and around London was a little different.

Dad needed to go to Clapham Junction but the trains weren’t stopping there because Clapham had turned into a nightmare due to all the people desperately trying to get to work while central London’s tube stations were all closed.

He was going to have to head into Waterloo then out to Clapham and then to Gatwick, however, there was a woman in a wheelchair in our carriage and she’d requested to get off at Clapham. The train made a special stop and he was able to get off and continue his journey.

When I got to Waterloo, the announcements were saying the tube station was closed. The entrance was even locked. I needed to get to West Ham so was standing there, figuring out alternatives, when I overheard the policeman say that the Jubilee line was still open but you had to leave the station and go in another entrance. Hooray!

Meanwhile, the Jubilee line was mostly closed so the train made about three stops between Waterloo and West Ham and I got there in about 15 minutes. It was wonderful. Less wonderful were the delays to Southend and having to take the slow train. Oh well. Can’t win them all.

I arrived in Leigh-on-Sea and went to Sheila’s and then the three of us went to a vegetarian restaurant called The Oak Tree where we met Donna. Really good food. Caught up on what had been happening over the past little while and then it was time for Donna to go to bed (night shift again). Looking forward to seeing her again in a few weeks when she’s in Oz.

Sheila and Ian dropped me at the station and it was another goodbye. Hate them. I caught the train back into the city, no drama with the trains, and then met up with my friend, Daniel, for a few drinks at the Riverfront. Despite knowing each other for years, we’ve never met in person so it was a relief that we got along so well. A few glasses of wine and a bunch of stories later, we went our separate ways. A fun evening indeed.

A Monument to Stuff

After the gym and a chat with Glen in the morning, I caught the train into the city to the Sir John Soane’s Museum. Jackie had suggested it to me the other week and it had just reopened from being cleaned.

John Soane was an architect in the 1700s. Through an Act of Parliament he had it decreed that his house and all its possessions would be bequeathed to the country as a museum, provided it stay in as close to its original state as possible.

There’s a crypt, a kitchen, some drawing rooms, a monk’s yard, and a library – all of which are open to the general public. If you go on a booked private tour, you can see the other floors and living quarters.

I was expecting something that was just heaving with junk, overstuffed rooms, shelves and drawers of a true hoarder, something of a manic collector. Instead it was all well organised even if it did contain bits of marble statues and all the walls were covered within an inch of their lives.

The picture room was fascinating as two of the walls had movable screens so he could display many more paintings that a room of its size would. Also impressive was the sarcophagus in the crypt and its hieroglyphics. Humbling to think that they were more than 3000 years old.

After the museum, I had some lunch then went to BEERS Gallery near Old Street to see the Red Hot 100 exhibition. About twenty portraits of male and female nude red-heads. Some nice work.

Next I went to the Tate Modern to check out the installation in the turbine room. I joined about ten other people as we sat on the carpeted floor and watched a cuttlefish swim about on the screen. I then had tea and did some puzzles before heading home.

Dad returned in the evening, taking a little longer to get back from Gatwick than expected. I packed my stuff (I’ve bought a lot, mostly books – and think I’ve shrunk two of my new shirts. They’re suddenly smaller and tighter. Still wearable but not as loose as I’d like). When Dad got back, we went for dinner down the road as our last meal.

London, Out!

The car came at 5:30am. I really should have made it later. I’d already changed it from 5 but not knowing the roads to Heathrow on a Wednesday morning, I was concerned. Better to be early than late, of course, but I reckon we could have left at 6:30 and still got there with plenty of time to spare.

Check-in was a breeze, as was security. We sat in the lounge for over two hours. We ordered a la carte breakfast, which was a nice change from the buffet. Flight to Abu Dhabi was just over six hours long. I watched Bridget Jones’s Baby (not as bad as I was expecting) and then some TV. I did some work too. I didn’t sleep.

Landed in Abu Dhabi, showered in the lounge, ate some more food, got back on the plane. Ten hours later we arrived in Perth. Holiday over. Two weeks to India 🙂

Out of Toronto and into Chicago

Our final two days in Toronto were fairly low key. We’d planned to go to Arizona on Sunday to see the Grand Canyon (again), Antelope Canyon (again) and Sedona but with all the working that would involve, we’d cancelled. I’m glad we did. My knee puffed up after too much effort, going shapeless and pudgy, so much so that I worried I’d seriously done damage. The couch suited me fine…only when it didn’t.

Monday

Another day at home. Glen went out for lunch to meet a radiologist from back home who’s in Toronto on fellowship. I didn’t go but when lunchtime rolled around I dragged my feet out to the nearest place I could find – a sushi shop – only to discover Glen and Simon there too. Apparently, Glen and I don’t communicate enough. Anyway, I grabbed some takeaway and went back to the apartment. It seemed that that little jaunt was enough to cause some strain.

In the evening Glen went to collect Julian from the airport while I made dinner for us all. I burnt the broccoli and Brussel’s sprouts but the roast potatoes turned out nicely as did the pre-cooked roast chicken. Julian filled us in on his trip and then we watched Deadpool, before Glen and I headed off to sleep at Bec and Al’s. (The guest suite we’d used was not available any longer.)

Tuesday

We spent the morning at home, somehow getting into an argument over something that I can’t remember. We still went for lunch together though, with me stumbling to Spirits on the corner. The trip was slow and embarrassing but achievable. Lunch was stilted until we managed to work through our issues and then we’d tease each other about who was in the wrong (Glen) and who was awesome (me).

After lunch, Glen went to see yet more people at the hospital (it is a big hospital, three in fact), while I stayed at home. In the evening we went for dinner with Bec and Al, Pete and Royden, and Kevin and Adam at Barrio Coreano, a Korean-Mexican fusion place we’d been to a few times when we lived in Toronto.

We ordered too much, and left full, saying the first of conscious goodbyes (other goodbyes had been said without expecting they might be the last of this trip and thereby avoiding too much sadness). We farewelled Kevin and Adam at the restaurant, leaving before it got too teary, and then said more goodbyes in the elevator on our way back upstairs. We’ll see them in October in Geelong, which isn’t far away, so stop being maudlin about it, ok?

Wednesday

We had to get up the earliest we’d intentionally risen on this trip, the godawful hour of 6:30am. We went up to Julian’s, showered (it was much easier at his place because he didn’t have a shower/bath, just a shower and I could get into it without lifting my leg too far), finished off the packing and then Julian drove us to the airport. Another sad goodbye but again, we’re going to be seeing him soon. In September even!

We checked in then waited for a wheelchair to take us through the expedited lines of border control and security. As there was only about an hour until boarding, Glen suggested we skip the lounge and go straight to the gate, a suggestion I shot down in flames.

The lounge was fine. There wasn’t really much for breakfast, which was unfortunate as we hadn’t yet eaten, but we made do. We were collected an hour later and taken to the gate, then boarded our flight to Chicago. I’d booked business class and had nabbed the front seat on the left-side of the aisle, which was the best for my leg. Unfortunately Glen and I couldn’t sit next to each other.

We landed less than two hours later, met at the gate by another wheelchair and then taken through the airport to get our luggage and then a taxi. We’d had to get money out of the ATM for tips for the wheelchair driver. I really can’t stand this tipping culture in the USA, especially now that it’s so rare to carry cash. I felt bad asking for change from a $20 but honestly, a $20 tip would have been too much.

O’Hare airport is so far from the city that the taxi fare came to about $60. We arrived at Fairmont and checked in. The room that I thought had been complimentary, thanks to our membership, wasn’t. The only reason we’d chosen this hotel was because it would be free. Alas, no. The upside was that it was close enough to Millennium Park and the Art Institute that we could get to it with ease. They even loaned us a wheelchair.

We had lunch in the room which cost a fortune. The food was the price I’d expect for room service but there was a delivery fee, a 20% service fee (tip) and then tax. I think it came to $70, this for a salad, a burger and a ginger ale. I even gave him a tip in cash before I’d read the receipt.

After lunch, Glen wheeled me through Millennium Park, passing through Lurie Gardens, which I don’t remember going through before. It was in bloom though and spectacular. We then went into the Art Institute and Glen wheeled me around through a few of the exhibitions, stopping at old favourites from Georgia O’Keefe, Marc Chagall and Edward Hopper. One of the exhibitions was about a bust of Antinous, Hadrian’s young lover.

The story goes that Antinous died when he was 20, having fallen overboard and drowned. Hadrian made the man a god then named a city after him, and his likeness was produced all over the Roman Empire. He must have been damn pretty (though I’m sure they had lots to talk about and it was a meeting of minds too). Anyway, the Art Institute had a piece of his likeness which matched another piece in an Italian gallery and they’ve done some investigation to say that they match, but the final joining hasn’t taken place. Anyway, interesting stuff.

After a couple of hours we decided we’d had enough of art and left the institute. Glen wanted to explore a bit more of the streets nearby but the bumps were making my leg sore so we went home through Millennium Park, happy to have been out of the room for about three hours.

Only it wasn’t three hours. Our clocks weren’t set correctly and the absolutely most we could have been out was two hours, possibly only 1.5. Nevertheless we were worn out. And in the evening we didn’t venture far for dinner, choosing to diner in the restaurant downstairs, being served massive Chicago portions which we, despite our guilt of such waste, couldn’t finish. Then it was back to the room for more Dickensian. Oh, how we drink from the fountain of excitement!

Tsukiji Fish Market, (No) Sumo and Akihabara

Up at 8, down for breakfast and then ready in the lobby at 9 to meet Bec for Monday’s adventures. We aimed for the Samurai Museum – which is only a couple of streets behind the hotel – but it didn’t open until 10:30 and so it got pushed down the list to look at later in the day, which we didn’t do.

Instead we caught the subway across town to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This is where tonnes and tonnes of fish is sold. The most famous aspect of it is the tuna auction, which takes place early in the morning, and at times is open to the public to watch. I think it’s closed to tourists at the moment, and we weren’t there at 5am so we didn’t see this.

We also weren’t quite sure whether the markets were open to tourists. It might have been if you knew where you were going and were fast on your feet to avoid the trucks and lifters. Instead, we spent time in the Outer Markets looking at different food and knick-knacks for sale.

Glen was pretty intrigued with a lot of things, keen to try whatever was going around, though surprisingly he only bought two things. The first was a pastry in the shape of a fish that was stuffed with sweet bean paste (I had some, it was tasty) and the second being a fish cake, which he didn’t like very much and I didn’t sample.

We saw a lot of fish and shellfish for sale, in various states from live, freshly dead and untouched, prepared, dried and fried. There were people everywhere, a mix of tourists and locals who just wanted to get their stuff and get out. After a lot of wandering we eventually settled on a sushi place. I don’t think it was the one that was recommended to us as it was too nice looking. There were a bunch of others by the fish market where you’d get your ‘authentic’ sushi but they were small and crammed with people, and with an hour-long line out the front. We didn’t need their sushi that badly.

Instead, the place we settled on was roomy and delicious. We sat at the counter, gave the chef our order and then food was placed on the plate in front of us. I must have annoyed him something terrible as I’d ordered four pieces, and then two, and then three, and then two again. Meanwhile Japanese people nearby ordered one plate and were done with it.

Museums and gardens

After this late morning/early lunch meal, where resting our legs was a major highlight, we caught the train to the Sumo Museum. The museum is inside the large sumo stadium. The museum is one room, displaying photos or carvings of the sumo champions. Unfortunately, there were no sumo matches going on when we were there. If we come back, I think we’ll plan this better as it would be interesting to see.

On the walk back to the train station we stopped into the Former Yasuda Gardens, which are currently undergoing renovations but nevertheless are a quiet oasis in bustling Tokyo. We wandered around the pond where giant koi leapt out of the water and gardeners carefully and patiently weeded the moss. It was a nice interlude.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum was next but, it being a Monday, it was closed. Instead we got a jam donut – field with red bean paste rather than jam – and continued to the next train station where we caught the subway to Akihabara.

Tech, nap, eat

Akihabara is the tech district and is full of, well, tech stuff. We stopped into a Japanese anime/manga store and had a look around, before going to a figurine store that sold things to do with different anime as well as superheroes and Star Wars paraphernalia. By the time we left, our legs were so sore and tired that we decided against doing much else. Glen waited in line for a chocolate tart, which tasted like pre-cooked cake batter, and then we caught the train back to the hotel.

We had a nap – which I was surprised about as I never nap back home – before getting up at 7 to once again go in search of food. We decided to eat inside one of the nearby department stores, Lumine Est, as there was likely to be more options available within a limited space. Department store restaurants are also very popular with Japanese people so it wasn’t like it was a tourist trap.

We settled on a bento-type place that was decorated with funky decor, a bit like an Ikea store. We each got three things in our set, including some vegetables (soy beans mostly), a soba soup and a salad/rice combo. I was full by the end of it and much less stressed than if we’d wandered the streets for hours. After that we had a crepe, then went home to sleep. I had a big travel day planned for Tuesday so was keen to get some more rest.

Day trip to Troyes

It was someone’s crazy idea to wake up before 6am to catch a train to the city of Troyes (pronounced Twa). Bleary-eyed we ran out of the apartment at quarter past, caught the metro to Gare de l’Est in plenty of time to get a hot drink and a couple of croissants from the patisserie in the station. Unfortunately the server only gave us one croissant so we were deprived the full buttery and chocolatey goodness.

I’d suggested going to Troyes, once the capital of the Champagne region, after hearing it was this very old medieval city where things were still done, or shown, in a medieval way. I must have misheard as it wasn’t exactly that, as we found when the train arrived at about quarter past eight.

Expecting it to be a warm day, we wore only our shorts and tshirts. It was cloudy and a little chilly when we arrived so we were concerned we’d be cold. Fortunately the sun came out and the city warmed up. It took a while though, and being so early, none of the sights were open. In fact, we struggled to find a place for breakfast. This did, however, mean we got to look at a lot of old buildings as we searched.

Troyes is about 2000 years old but the majority of the old houses probably date from about the 1200s. Coming from Paris, where stone is in the majority, Troyes has a surfeit of wood and brick (or was it gypsum?) buildings in the centre. There were a couple of narrow alleyways where the buildings lean towards each other. The streets are slopes with a gutter running down the middle. The whole place gives off a feeling of medieval charm, though the reality would have been a stinking, sweaty mess. Thank god for sewerage and sanitation!

We stopped in at one of the few open cafes near the Hotel de Ville and had another croissant, some bread, orange juice and a hot drink, while we waited for the tourist office to open at 9:30. From there, we bought the Troyes Pass for €12. Included is entry to a number of museums in the city, two-hour bike hire, free chocolates and a quarter-glass of champagne, an audio guide and a tourist video. All for €12! I only knew about it from looking at the Troyes tourism website and strangely there was no signage in the tourist office to advertise it. According to the stamps on the booklets, we had number 103 and 104. Obviously big sellers and a product they’re wanting to push.

The first museum we wanted to see was La Maison de l’Outil (the tool museum), which opened at 10. We walked past more old buildings, snapping away at the different styles. A Troyen man stopped and commented on how beautiful the building was and told me the name of the wood and how strong it was and how beautiful. I nodded and struggled to form anything interesting to say in response but it was unnecessary as he’d said his piece and moved on. It was nice to see someone so proud of their town.

The tool museum was excellent. Two floors of tools from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, arranged in professions such as blacksmith, cooper, basket weaver, cobbler and seat bottomer. The audio guide for €1 was a must have as otherwise we’d have zipped through it in no time at all. The guide was pretty good though after about 40 cabinets you start to skip things. I laughed when the narrator said, “it was invented 4000 years before Christ” as it sounded like Christ had been invented (though in a way he had been).

I wrote down a few notes on what I saw and heard, and I think some of it will come in useful when I edit a book I’ve written. It definitely gave me a few ideas.

An hour and a half later, which is a long time for us to spend in a museum, we headed out in search of our next cultural fix. We walked across town and over the water to the apothecary museum. This one wasn’t as interesting as the signs were all in French and I didn’t really have the inclination to translate so much text. There were two rooms which we looked around and then headed out to find lunch.

By now the city was bustling with people. Tables in the square that we’d seen set up were now occupied with locals and tourists enjoying the sunny weekend. We settled on a place down the main street. We had to ask what the salad of the day was as it contained a word we hadn’t seen before. Turns out it was beetroot. We had that. Glen had beef and I had chicken as a main. He then had a crepe while I waited for cheese. It eventually came, after I asked, but it was just two slabs of cheese with nothing to eat it with. Strange. The cheese was good though.

After lunch we went to get our free chocolates and then our free champagne (that we drank in Champagne haha) before going to watch the free tourist movie at the tourism office. They put on the English version for us but the guy must have started the sound before the video because the sound was incredibly out of sync with the action, to the point I was wondering if it was some sort of avant garde tourist video.

Despite this, we learned a bit about the town, including how important it had been over the centuries as a location for trade and religion. I’m surprised the old buildings have lasted as long as they have as I would have expected someone in the 18th century to have knocked them all down and build something ‘modern’. Glad they didn’t though.

We then went and got our bikes and cycled around a bit more of the old city, checking out cathedrals and then the mediatheque before returning the bikes after about an hour and a half. We went for crepes next, sharing two that were quite delicious. Might had banana and Nutella, Glen’s had peaches. Mmmmm. With about 40 minutes to go before our train back to Paris, we walked once more down streets laden with visual history to the train station.

Our train got into Paris at about 8pm. We returned to the apartment, packed, then went out for a late dinner at Sanukiya, the Japanese restaurant down the road that we’d wanted to go to the other night but had been closed. There was a short queue when we got there, eventually getting a space at the sidebar. The menu was in Japanese (or as we’d understand it) and French, but familiar enough for us to understand. I think what was difficult for the waiter to understand was our Australian accents saying the Japanese words that he’d normally hear in a French accent.

We ordered a selection of foods, getting the usual favourites of tempura, agedashi tofu, karaage and edamame. I know, I know, we should be having French food on our last night in Paris, but this hit the spot. We also thought about going to a nightclub but we’re happy that we’ve done enough and can sit on the couch watching the Simpsons in French without feeling guilty. Tomorrow we return to Toronto and start packing up our Canadian lives. Very sad about that.

A monumental Saturday in DC

There’s so much to see in DC that a couple of days isn’t enough, especially if you’re quick to museum fatigue like us.

After breakfast we hot-footed it down the road to the Washington Monument with the intent of walking around the tidal basin to the Thomas Jefferson memorial. After walking for a while, we weren’t getting very far very fast but a hop-on/hop-off tour bus came along and we bought a ticket.

This ended up being one of the best things to do, and something Pete and Royden say they do when they go to a new city. Really helped us get around a lot quicker and see more of the city. If we’d done it all by foot, I don’t think we would have seen anywhere near as much.

We got out at the Jefferson Monument and checked that out, our brains instantly replaying the scene in the Simpsons where Lisa sees the Jefferson Monument because the Lincoln Memorial is too busy.

This is also where there are a lot of cherry blossom trees. It would be quite something to see them in bloom in April/May. We couldn’t help but laugh and shake our heads when the audio on the bus tour said the cherry blossoms were a gift from Japan in 1912 as a symbol of enduring friendship. No mention of the war or the atomic bombs.

Next stop was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr memorial. Both of these memorials, more so than the others, made me a bit sad because of the disparity between what the US is “meant” to be about and the reality.

If you read what was on the walls of the FDR memorial alone, you’d think that the US was a great country where everyone is treated equal and has equal rights, where the poorest is given a helping hand and it’s all wonderful. Hard to swallow when earlier than morning we’d walked past a park that was filled with homeless people, all African-American. Such a shock to see poverty so close to you.

After these sobering memorials, we got back on the bus, this time with a fun tour guide. We sat on the top deck (open-air…brrrr) where he was and he came over and chatted. Great guide. The bus does a pretty big loop around downtown DC.

We went past most of the Smithsonian museums as well as the national archives, the federal reserve and department of justice buildings. We also went past Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot, and the very ugly FBI building.

We hopped off near a burger joint called Ollie’s Trolley and had a bite to eat for lunch, before setting off towards Capitol Hill. It started to spit along the way so we detoured into the National Archives.

Here is where the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the four-pages of the American Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are held and displayed. They’re displayed in the Rotunda, inside specially designed cases that have titanium frames and are filled with inert argon gas. These cases (and their development) cost $5 million. There are three or four police on duty in the rotunda at all times. These three documents are treated like relics of saints or like the crown jewels. In fact, I’d say they’re religious icons.

I checked out the public vaults while Glen went downstairs and looked in the shop. The exhibitions in the public vaults are an ode to record-keeping. They highlight the importance of keeping records and the many different types there are. There was also a section about presidential libraries that I found interesting, mostly because it finally explained what presidential libraries are. Originally, I used to think they were setup by the ex-president as some sort of ego boost but they’re actually official archives of that president’s life. Fascinating.

Afterwards we continued our journey up to Capitol Hill, which reminds me of the Italian parliament building (the Wedding Cake). It’s an impressive building, temple-like, almost like a basilica. From there we went to the botanical gardens and looked around the different galleries. Quite a lot of the fruit trees were laden with fruit.

When we got outside again, it started to rain. Luckily there was a bus waiting so we jumped on that and went down the road, hearing about some more of the Smithsonian museums (there are 19 in total), before getting off at the Washington Monument and walking up to the Smithsonian American History Museum.

All of the Smithsonian Museums are free, which is wonderful because you don’t feel like you’ve missed out if you only spend a short amount of time inside. We only saw two exhibits in the American History Museum: the star-spangled banner and Julia Child’s kitchen.

Another relic, the star-spangled banner is the star-spangled banner (13 stars and 13 stripes) that inspired the poem that later became the American anthem. The flag is huge, it’s really something to see. I guess it needed to be that big as it once flew from the top of a fort and had to be seen for some distance.

We saw Julia Child’s kitchen because it was featured in the film Julie and Julia. It’s a kitchen, interesting because it’s hers and also because it was built around the time when kitchens were starting to become fetishised. Pots and pans and machines and cooking benchtops, all these things that were beginning to appear in women’s magazines as something every woman had to have. Commercialism through-and-through and Julia Child’s was right there with it, one of (if not the) original TV chefs. Strangely though, I’d never heard of her until the movie came out.

We were truly beat by that stage, our legs and feet incredibly sore. There are still so many museums to see in DC, and not just the Smithsonian ones, that a return visit will be called for.

I think Glen has sworn off museums for a while so I might have to come back by myself. Though I’m sure I’d get museum fatigue pretty quickly. If every museum had a “highlights” or “hidden gems” tour/itinerary I’d do that. The Art Institute in Chicago had one and it was marvellous. We saw everything we “needed” to in about 45 minutes.

We returned to the hotel and had a nap for a couple of hours before walking uptown to meet Manny at El Centro. Manny is a friend of a friend and the friend put us in touch. Not only did we get to meet a local but we also got to try a few places we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. If we hadn’t met Manny, we probably wouldn’t have gone north of our hotel.

So we met at El Centro for happy hour, drinking a few tequila-based cocktails, then going to a Latino-Japanese fusion restaurant. More drinks and tapas-style food that I thought was really delicious. An interesting seaweed salad (not like the radioactive green one, which I also like), deep-fried okra (which Glen wouldn’t touch), baby octopus, calamari, crispy shrimp, edamame and a couple of other things.

After dinner we then headed to a speakeasy bar (nothing to indicate it’s there from the front, just a door in a wall) but they were full so we went to a Greek place instead for another round of drinks. Glen didn’t partake and I could only drink half of mine as the room was starting to spin. I’m not used to drinking. Sadly, by 10-ish we were a bit beat and had to call it a night.

But it was a great night. Manny was friendly and interesting, works for the government (like most people in DC) and has a penchant for cocktails. He invited us to his place on Sunday afternoon to meet a few friends before our flight home and then he walked us back to our hotel. A great way to spend an evening in DC.

Tour guide in our own town

My uncle and aunt were in town Friday and Saturday so we got to do the tour guide thing.

Friday we checked out St Lawrence Market then the Distillery District, stopping there for lunch at a Mexican place called El Catrin, which had really bright and bold interior decorating. It was pretty cool and the food was nice too. We then caught the subway up to Queens Park, walked through there to the ROM, checked out the Mesopotamia exhibition (second time for me but meant I got to see a few things I’d missed the first time) and then go back to our place about 5.

In the evening we went for dinner at an Indian restaurant, where Glen joined us straight after work. We ordered food that was meant “for one” or “for two” but really “for one” would have done “for two”. Absolutely stuffed by the end of it. We had to wolf our food down to get to The Second City for 7:30.

The show was the same Glen and I had seen before (their “We Can Be Heroes” show) but it was still funny and it was a great night out.

Saturday we had a leisurely start to the day before going to the Harbourfront Centre for their Day of the Dead festivities. There was an altar outside and for a moment we thought that was all there was. But then we went inside and there were a few stalls selling Mexican food and drink (we had hot chocolates made from cocoa), more altars with bright offerings, and other artistic displays.

We then watched a Mexican dance performance where the women and men had their faces painted to look like skulls. Bright, flowery dresses for the women and smart Mexican suits for the men. We were a bit worried at the start because the compère said there would be a workshop. But luckily there was half an hour of dancing and we left after that before the workshop started.

Afterwards we split up to go to the Bata Shoe Museum. Glen went home to get his ROM membership card from home because I said we got free entry into the Shoe Museum. Turns out that was only on select days so we paid after all.

While he was getting the card, Leon, Alice and I had grilled cheese sandwiches from a little place near the museum. Then we all met up and went into the museum. I saw a few things I hadn’t seen before. Last time I’d missed the Native American shoe gallery but saw it this time. Amazing workmanship. And did you know that muskrat is really, really soft?

Jana and her mother rocked up just as we were finishing but there wasn’t enough time for them to check out the museum. There was an area just in the entrance where they had shoes to try on, lots of strange ones, so we had some fun doing that. Then we all walked back to our place before going to dinner at all-you-can-eat sushi down the road. We ate so much then walked home, saying farewell to Leon and Alice as they were leaving the next day at lunch time.

And an hour or so later, Glen, Jana and I went to Fly Nightclub. Fly was the club Babylon in the US version of Queer as Folk. We’d wanted to go since we arrived but never found the time and a lot of people we’ve spoken to were a bit down on it. But thankfully Jana was in town and keen so we went. Our friend Kevin came too.

FlyIt was strange being there as the basic structure looks like the club in the show. And walking up the stairs you realise that they are the metal stairs you see in the show. It’s not as big as it looks in the show but it was big enough. The music was pretty good for most of the night but it got a bit heavy and dull towards the end.

Plenty of eye candy and there were a couple of gogo dances on podiums, including one that looked amazing. Glen went home a little before Jana and I, and we left at 3:30 or so. So glad to have gone out and danced.

Because of the late night, we didn’t get out of bed until 11:30 (bliss!) then had breakfast. There was a marching band and military people marching down our street at about 12 today. Was pretty cool. Tomorrow is Remembrance Day and people have been wearing poppies for weeks.

We’re watching Practical Magic now and vegetating. I’m cooking a roast for Jana and her mum tonight. It’s nice to have visitors.

Lunch at Le Parliamentaire

Quebec City, Day Five

Our final day in Quebec City. It’s been a great trip, however, I think we stayed a little longer than we needed. If we hadn’t gone to La Mauricie yesterday, I think we would have gotten a bit bored (or else had to have tried harder to find something to do).

We had a restless night’s sleep. I woke up a lot and moved, which woke Glen up. We managed to stay in bed until about 9 at least. Had breakfast at the hostel then went back to our room, packed the last few things, checked out, stuffed our luggage in a locker at the hostel, then went to the Musée de la civilisation. We’d bought a three-museum pass on Monday and this was the last one to check out.

Like the Ontario Science Centre, the Musée de la civilisation also had a video game exhibition, though this one, I thought, was better overall. It’s also a permanent exhibition. The good things about it were the layout (much easier to move around the computers were spaced better), sturdy machines (only a couple of machines weren’t working), no people (school holidays are over and only a few people were checking it out – and none of them were over the age of 35), and Dance Dance Revolution.

I enjoyed playing the older games more than the modern ones. Probably because they’re easier hehe. I played Super Mario Bros, PacMan, Pong, a couple of other old school games, one with a gun, and then Glen and I had a few rounds on Dance Dance Revolution. We were exhausted by the end of it!

Next we checked out the Paris exhibition which was about the Belle époque. You’re given an audio device with headsets as you enter and throughout the exhibition it automatically plays music and a few expositional tracks to enhance your enjoyment and immersion in the exhibition. Really nifty. Lots of music mainly but certainly made it an enjoyable and accessible experience. Without it, it would just be like walking in silence around another exhibition. My favourites were the Moulin Rouge/Chat Noir sections, the silent movies with the sound effects machine, and the giant portrait of Sarah Bernhardt.

The dining room at Le Parliamentaire.
The dining room at Le Parliamentaire.

Glen declared he’d had enough of museums once we left that exhibition so we set off for Le Parliamentaire, the dining room in Quebec’s Parliament Building. I was a little worried we wouldn’t be able to get a table but I needn’t have. There was plenty of space. Today was the first day the dining room was open after construction was completed in the kitchen.

You have to go through security and be given a pass to go to the dining room.
You have to go through security and be given a pass to go to the dining room.

Apart from one table, everyone else there looked like tourists or non-pollies. The tour guide we had on Sunday was right about the price. We ordered a chicken breast main for $18. This included soup of the day, bread, a small dessert and tea/coffee. I ordered a glass of wine and Glen ordered espressos, which were additional, but considering the quality and the location, the price was exceptionally reasonable. We really enjoyed it and I recommend everyone goes there for breakfast or lunch if they visit during the week. The dining room itself is lovely too.

After lunch we went back to the hostel, ordered a cab, and were delivered to the airport in record time. We got here about four or so hours before our flight is due to leave as we’ve done just about everything we set out to do and were keen just to sit for a while. We were also hoping we could get an earlier flight but Porter’s counter didn’t open until five to five so there wasn’t much chance. We’ll be home soon enough.

So, overall impression of Quebec City: Loved it.

True, we spent most of our time in Old Quebec which is picturesque and lovely and designed to be pleasing to tourists, but it was calm and beautiful and easy to get around. Liked it more than Montreal, for sure. There’s a winter festival in Quebec City coming up, as well as an Ice Hotel, so there are reasons to come back again. Plus lunch at Le Parliamentaire.

Looking forward to being home though. It’s about now that I long to see Smudge, but of course, she’s back in Perth. Will have to settle for photos.

Bon journée.