Articles by: Jennifer HartleyJennifer Hartley
Jennifer Hartley is senior features writer, travel writer and copy editor of Ottawa Life Magazine. Previously she was theatre editor for Ottawa Xpress and the original Metro newspaper in the capital. She has written articles for a variety of magazines across the country and abroad in the United Kingdom on arts, life and everything in between.

Warm your heart and Soul This Weekend with Empire of the Son

December 1, 2016 1:14 pm
Warm your heart and Soul This Weekend with Empire of the Son

Empire of the Son, the latest production at the NAC, keeps up with the stellar theatrical offerings of artistic director Jillian Keily.  The show is real, a theatrical biography of the family of Tetsuro Shigematsu (former host of CBC Radio One’s The Roundup) who wrote and stars in the show.  As part of his doctoral program, he interviewed his dad, whose health was deteriorating, to get his stories and to capture his experiences as a child in WWII Japan, as a broadcaster in the UK and in Canada at the CBC.  However, he also set out to capture his father as a person, a man, husband and father.  We get glimpses of other members of his family, from his mother to his sisters and children.

Tetsuro is electrifying on stage.  His presence is magnetic and moving and his telling of his dad’s story as his dad’s health slowly disintegrated is touching, supremely intimate and many times hilarious through self-deprecating humour that is both very moving and funny.  He tells his stories with incredible humility, respect for his family, love and respect for his culture and with honesty.  He is absolutely captivating.

empireoftheson_raymond_shum-12While the focus is most definitely on the narrative, he backs up his story with interesting use of light, cameras, and magnifying small objects for visual effect.  Videos, audio and pictures also support his story and bring his family to life.  It all works flawlessly.

It is a one-man show and he does it all.   When it is finished, you are left wanting more.  It is a short play — not even 90 minutes.

Be sure to give yourself some extra time to get to the theatre because the entrances are all messed up because of the construction.

Empire of the Son runs until Saturday.  Don’t miss it because it is outstanding. www.nac.ca

Flee to the Keys & Hawks Cay Resort

November 17, 2016 10:32 am
Flee to the Keys & Hawks Cay Resort

Now that it’s cold, our minds just naturally turn to heat and how to get it. This year, escape to the place that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s classic novels, that has the best ceviche and key lime pie you may ever taste and has breathtaking beauty. With a chill, Caribbean-esque attitude and island time, the Florida Keys will give you that perfect feeling of getting away from it all.

The Keys are a combination of some 1,700 islands that start where the Florida Turnpike intersects with Highway 1. You will find the locals refer to locations based on mile markers on the one highway/road in and out of the Keys. The Keys start at Mile 120 and run south to Mile 0 in Key West.

As you drive down Highway 1, you may notice it looks like a protected area. That’s because it is. The Everglades National Park, protecting more than 1.5 million acres, is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states, behind Yellowstone National Park (2nd) and Death Valley National Park (1st). It provides habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile and the Florida panther. It is a World Heritage Site, and even just driving by en route south provides incredible scenery. If you do want to stop and check it out, it is open for visits and has programming and trails.

Continue driving and you will hit Key Largo (miles 108-90). Be sure to stop at mile 102.4 at The Fish House restaurant. The décor is completely kitsch, but don’t let that scare you off. The fresh fish dishes are spectacular. It would be a lost opportunity not to stop. Locals rave about it for good reason. The Matecumbe dish (fresh fish done light with tomatoes, shallots, basil, capers, olive oil) has been featured on the Food Network and is an unparalleled fish experience. The ceviche is incredible as well. The yellowtail snapper, mahi-mahi, grouper and Florida lobster are impeccably prepared in a variety of ways to please every palate. Their key lime pie is the perfect way to top off the meal.

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Not that you will be spending too much time indoors, but you do need somewhere to grab some sleep. There are countless motels, trailer parks, small inns, motels with calming-sounding names and big chain hotels along the 120 miles. However, the best place by far from which to explore the Keys is from a home base at the Hawks Cay Resort. This paradise, large resort is located right in the middle of Mile 61 in Duck Key. It is the perfect oasis. Not only is it the ideal place to stay, it is a destination unto itself. It has everything you want or need with helpful staff to make sure you get it. The luxurious, spacious rooms and cozy beds will keep you rested and have you feeling like Sleeping Beauty. There are various accommodation options (villas, suites, rooms that open up onto the 21-over pool area) that are there to make you feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible with spacious areas and cozy beds, leaving you fresh and ready to take on the adventures of the day.

As a resort, it has an enormous list of outdoor activities. A Smart Board in the lobby lists the daily events. For starters, you can book an offshore or backcountry fishing charter leaving from the Hawks Cay Marina, paddle your way around the island on a stand-up paddleboard (lessons and rentals are available) or swim with dolphins. Dolphin Connection, onsite at the hotel will delight kids of all ages (big ones included).

Children can attend Camp Hawk Environmental Education Academy while you relax by the pool, by the salt-water lagoon, get a massage at the spa or just wander and stroll around the enormous property. If walking is not part of the plan, there is a trolley to take you around the site.

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There are six phenomenal and massive pools, and if you are so inclined, each is perfect for swimming or for exercise. Of course you could also just hang out in the hot tub with a drink of the day (which you can sample for free early in the day by the 21-over pool.).

There are tennis courts, a fully-equipped gym and in the waters of the Keys, there are more than 1,200 colourful creatures waiting to be discovered during a dive. The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral reef system in the continental United States.

The lush surroundings and the beautiful vantage point to watch sunsets on one side (and sunrises on the other) are another bonus of the Hawks Cay. Take a sunset boat cruise (it is short, only 1.5 hours tops) and sip wine, beer and bubbly as you watch the sun set in the beautiful blue sky. There is a party atmosphere on the boat so enjoy it. You are strongly encouraged to enjoy the beverages in the quantity of your choice.

There are superb restaurants on site, Alma has fine dining, then there’s Ocean (comfort food), Beach Grill (fantastic ceviche, calamari and burgers), to name just a few and the Tiki poolside bar offers up incredible mojitos, margaritas and local beers to quench your thirst.

If you decide to venture away from Hawks Cay, Key West is 60 miles away. Visit the Hemingway House to see where Ernest Hemingway lived and soak up his creativity in his writing studio. Hit Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Captain Tony’s Saloon to see where else he got his inspiration. Both sites were Hemingway haunts. Captain Tony’s was the original site of Sloppy Joe’s until the bar owner (a friend of Hemingway’s) got into a fight with the landlord and moved to its current location. Both are worthy of a pint.

But you won’t want to stay away from Hawks Cay long, because there is so much to do and experience there. Most of all, it is the perfect place to relax and unwind.

Kick Ass Kate: Don’t Miss The Last Wife

November 10, 2016 12:39 pm
Kick Ass Kate: Don’t Miss The Last Wife

She was strong, courageous, smart and, unlike what some historians would have you believe, she was beautiful and fashionable to boot. An ambitious political dynamo, she managed to wield power with a good head on her shoulders, one which she managed to keep— no small feat being married to King Henry VIII.

Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII is the subject of the latest GCTC play, The Last Wife. It is a fascinating take on the relationships Catherine, or Kate, had with those around her, including the King, her lover Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, (Henry’s 3rd and beloved wife), her stepdaughters Elizabeth and Mary and stepson Edward with glimpses into her relationship with the Court.

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Playwright Kate Hennig has written a very clever and captivating piece of theatre.  She brilliantly weaves the past and present by tackling themes of women, power, feminism and love all the while respecting the history of the story she is telling. It is set in today’s clothing and uses today’s English and yet there is still a palpable and inexplicable Tudor feel to the play.  That could also be because it is also Tudor-era length.  It’s a long one running over 2.5 hours. While it could have benefited from a bit of a shave to make it perfect,  nevertheless, it is phenomenal.

The dialogue is engaging and the plot is fantastic (of course, given it is based on a fascinating time in history) and the acting is absolutely superb. Oliver Becker is outstanding as Henry and Celine Stubel tackles the many facets of Kate brilliantly.  Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha portrays a wonderfully innocent Elizabeth, a stark contrast to the hard-ass Queen she later became and Anie Richer’s Mary was deliciously cynical. Sean Baek’s Thomas is also fantastic in that he portrays a Thomas who seems genuine and yet who was also playing games behind the scenes. Last, but not least, Auden Larratt, who plays Edward, is a dashing young prince.

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The Last Wife is a rich play with so many different aspects to think about and it stays with you long after the curtain falls. In a week that has had lots of political drama in the real world, escape to this one that will take you away from it all, and leave you feeling good.

It runs until November 20th at the GCTC.

Get a hit of ‘da Kink in my Hair

October 28, 2016 12:17 pm
Get a hit of ‘da Kink in my Hair

Ever since Jillian Keiley took over as artistic Director for English Theatre at the National Arts Centre, rare has there been a show that does not entertain, whisk you away into another world, make you think, give you a fantastic top-quality theatre experience, or all of the above. The season opener, `da Kink in my Hair, written by and starring Trey Anthony, is no exception.  It falls in the “all of the above” box.

A semi-musical that takes place in a salon, guys might be forgiven for thinking this is for the ladies.  It isn’t.  The fantastic storytelling, the hip language, the strong characters all transcend category and will entertain everyone.

“If you want to know a black woman, you touch her hair,” says Novelette, the main character and owner of the salon.  As Novelette works her magic, one client at a time, each hidden story with all of the struggles and at time triumphs of the human spirit are revealed, moving the audience.  Their stories are varied, some are tragic, sad and some are funny.  Each woman is as unique as a head of hair and each story is intriguing and Novelette’s healing touch not only helps her clients, but lifts the audience up along with them.

web_2__largeFrom the beginning when the cast’s glorious voices fill the theatre along with their infectious energy, you know you are in for a treat for the ears, eyes and mind.

Everything about `da Kink in my Hair is wonderful.  It is no wonder it has enjoyed theatrical success around the world since its debut in 2001.

Don’t miss it. It runs until November 5th nac-cna.ca

Romeo and Juliet Redux at the Gladstone

October 13, 2016 11:40 am
Romeo and Juliet Redux at the Gladstone

Photos and poster art supplied by production.

There is always something magical that happens when you hear the first words uttered in a Shakespeare play. You are transported into a whole other world, one that requires your thought, attention and full focus. The rhythm of his language, the cadence and the beauty of it is mesmerizing. So I always find it a shame when his plays are cut and reduced to save time in our busy world.

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Romeo and Juliet Redux cast.

In his current production, director David Whitely says he borrowed inspiration from other sources to create a new Romeo and Juliet — hence the addition of Redux to the title. The set is minimalist (white draping around the theatre and haunting lighting) and definitely works. So does the “live soundscape” which is manipulation of electronic instruments that are not pre-recorded. It is a great great complement to the drama on stage.

There are only four actors to try and convey the complexities of the various characters in the play and the transitions were bumpy so it is not always clear which character is which all the time. It is distracting so beef up on the play before going in and don’t rely on your grade 10 English class memory.

But Romeo and Juliet is such classic theatrical wonder you will still get it all, of course, and feel the agony of the star-crossed lovers as they deal with family loyalty versus love. Death, as you may recall is the ultimate winner in this beautiful tragedy.

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Photo by Andre Gagne.

roju-poster_no-bleed-3Mekdes Teshome makes her debut on the Gladstone stage and she pulls off a beautiful Juliet supported by the rest of the cast and there is a palpable tenderness between her and David daCosta who plays Romeo.

The duelling scenes were particularly fantastic to watch with the gymnastics involved to pull them off without props (with the exception of one dagger).

As a theatre junkie, it is always good and to feel the energy that is created in live theatre, to feel the passion of actors throwing themselves into their work. That is definitely the case in Romeo and Juliet Redux.

It plays at the Gladstone until October 15th.

Let The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble draw you in

September 30, 2016 6:31 pm
Let The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble draw you in

At last week’s opening night of the GCTC’s current production, The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, by Beth Graham, Artistic Director Eric Coates stated that plays are meant to stir the soul and heart and make you think. I am paraphrasing of course but it’s true and this is one play that does all of that and so much more. In fact, there isn’t a dry eye at the end of this incredibly powerful and extremely a-propos piece of theatre.

It delves into family dynamics as three adult children (Iris, Peter and Sarah) and their mother Bernice grapple with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Bernice is young to have the disease, a mere 59-years-old, and the play follows how everyone comes to terms with the new reality, beautifully analyzed by Bernice and narrator Iris.

The divisive question of dying with dignity is a plot component and while the play touches on the horrors of Alzheimer’s, it does so in a respectful and solemn way. This play has tender moments, funny ones and heart-breaking ones that will move you to your core.

The dialogue flows beautifully and the characters are all wonderfully created and developed. How the disease changes them and their relationships demonstrates how a horrible thing like Alzheimer’s can divide but also present the opportunity to come together. Because of the incredible acting, which is absolutely brilliant, and character development, you can fully feel the perspective of each one.

All four actors effectively communicate all the emotions of their characters and make everything real.

Do not miss The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble. It runs until October 9 at the GCTC.
NB: On Sunday, October 2nd at 1pm before the matinee performance, the GCTC is hosting a panel discussion (comprising Dr. Frank Knoefel Physician, Bruyère Memory Program, Harlene Walker, Caregiver and Jaime Constable, Manager Partnerships, Alzheimer Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County) to encourage a deeper engagement with the play and the themes involved. In partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County, and moderated by GCTC Artistic Director, Eric Coates, panelists will speak from personal experience and delve into the effects of living with Alzheimer’s and memory-related conditions.

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Bring on the Bajans

June 22, 2016 2:00 pm
Bring on the Bajans
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Crane Beach, Barbados –  Photos courtesy Visit Barbados

It’s never too late for a southern getaway. The year 2016 marks Barbados 50th anniversary of independence from Britain and while any time is a good time to go, 2016 will prove to be a stellar year to experience all the island has to offer, which is a lot. There is always something going on here culturally and since it is not a large island (it runs about 35 km in length and about 22 km in width), you are just a drive away from being part of the fun.

History and Geography

With the third oldest Parliament in the world with uninterrupted parliamentary governance since 1639, Barbados is an economically and politically stable country. It has one of the highest per capital incomes in the Caribbean (in large part thanks to tourism and offshore banking.) There are over 2.8 million people who live here and the country has a literacy rate of almost 99 per cent, which is one of the highest rates in the world. There is a fantastic hospitable feel everywhere that comes with all that stability. Take advantage of it and rent a car to explore because there are different vibes to the various areas on the island. (The country is divided into 11 areas, or “parishes”).

The West Coast of Barbados is known as the Platinum Coast not just because of its incredible beaches and crystal clear water, but because of the wealth. (Pop star Rihanna (who hails from Barbados) owns a home there, Tiger Woods was married nearby.) Expensive resorts are everywhere with a designer shop complex (Lime Grove) with all of the big names in couture. There is also a lot of history on the West Coast. Holetown was the first settlement in Barbados and if you head to there in mid-February, the Holetown Festival takes place. You can sample local foods and experience a Gospel Explosion. Given Barbados is a religious country (there are over 100 religious groups operating in Barbados), this is a spiritual extravaganza.

There are Great festivals throughout the year. The Barbados Wine, Food and Rum Festival is a growing and fairly new annual event. It takes place in November year and attracts top chefs from around the world and events are held in various locations throughout the island, an added bonus. November 2015 featured among others, celebrity chefs Craig Harding of Toronto and American star chef Chris Cosentino. The event in 2016 precedes the actual 50th anniversary date of November 30, so November 2016 will be a fantastic time to visit Barbados.

While still on the West Side, you may see yellow buses driving by that look like open-air party buses as they blare reggae music. Try and fit in a ride on one of them. It is an unparalleled public transportation experience. Ask a local about the routes so you are taken exactly where you want to be.

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No trip to Barbados is complete without a visit to the Mount Gay rum distillery located in Saint Michael Parish. Various samplings will make a rum lover out of anyone. Rum was actually discovered in Barbados.

Bridgetown (also in Saint Michael Parish) is the country’s capital and is on the southwest part of the island. Parliament is there, of course, but the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is a UNESCO World Heritage site and worthy of a visit. Interestingly, Barbados is the only place George Washington visited outside of the United States.

The East Coast has a completely different feel than the West Coast. There is a hip surfer culture developing here. It is one of the best-kept secret locations for surfing. Soup Bowl, as it is called, is just by the town of Bathsheba (Saint Joseph Parish). It is becoming legendary for its waves that rival Hawaii’s. The East is more rugged with stunning cliffs, not prime swimming area, in fact stay out of the water here because of dangerous rip tides, but it is breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring.

The South also has a different vibe to it. It has a lively night life and it is also a great place for water sports, including diving and boating.

As you drive inland, to get from one side of the island to the other, the tree sanctuaries and scenery will amaze you. While it may be a total touristy thing to do, if you’ve got time as you drive inland, visit Harrison’s Cave, a crystallized limestone cavern. It’s not a particularly cheap excursion, but it will provide a unique experience. It is located in Saint Thomas Parish.

Fuel Up

Barbados has incredible cuisine. Gourmet restaurants have been popping up around the island, marrying various cuisines with local twists. If you are craving a Beckta-type meal, there is no shortage of restaurant options. The West Coast, as you might imagine, caters to that palate. Try Champers and The Cliff or Cin Cin for upper-end eating. All three are phenomenal restaurants. Cin Cin has the most incredible surfside tables to boot.

While fine dining is definitely in order, some of the restaurants for authentic Bajan and incredible food are in rum shops. They are local, small restaurants that offer fresh fish, lamb, chicken, rice and bean dishes and fried plantain that is nothing short of divine. You can wash it all down with Banks beer (or homemade rum punch).

Make sure you hit Oistens in the South (Christ Church Parish) on a Friday night for its fish fry. It will redefine bbq fish for you. The flavours, the recipes and fish cooked to perfection make Oistens an absolute must. There are lots of tourists lurking about but ignore that fact and enjoy the experience.

Do not leave Barbados without visiting Cuz’s Fish Shack right by Carlisle Bay (by the Hilton Barbados Resort) in Bridgetown.

While on the East Coast, hit Atlantis Restaurant (Saint Joseph Parish). The view and food are incredible.

Sleep

Saint Peter’s Bay Luxury Resorts and Villas on the West Side is a great option for families and those who want to share accommodations. They are luxury condos that even have their own Jacuzzi on a deck overlooking the ocean. Port Ferdinand, Saint Peter’s Bay’s sister resort, cranks up the upper high-end luxury factor and it too offers condo-type accommodations with service fit for royalty. In fact, royalty does stay there. There are of course all the major chains on the island as well. The Hilton has an incredible beach, as does the Fairmont.

On the East Coast, Atlantis hotel is more of an intimate location with spectacular views, but bear in mind you can’t swim in the ocean there.

Barbados is brimming with opportunities for everyone to have a good time. Bajans know how to have fun and you should join in. With perfect weather, perfect sunsets, sunrises, impeccable beaches, cuisine for every palate and lots of culture and history to feed the mind as well, you can’t go wrong in Barbados.

visitbarbados.com

‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ at the Gladstone

June 2, 2016 10:44 am
‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ at the Gladstone

Chris Ralph as Vanya, Mary Ellis as Sonia and Teri Loretto-Valentik as Masha. Promotional photos by David Whiteley. 

It is going to take a lot to convince people that on a beautiful sunny, warm day that the place to be is inside a theatre watching a play.  However, that is exactly where you should be at some point this weekend to see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Gladstone.

VSMS - Chris Ralph, Bev Wolfe - photo by David Whiteley

Cassandra the cleaning lady (Bev Wolfe) reveals one of her prophecies to Vanya (Chris Ralph).

Every once in a while a play comes along and sweeps you off your feet.  This was one of them. Everything about it is wonderful and it was only after seeing it that I realized it had won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, which is always a good sign. The dialogue is witty, creative and wildly engaging.

Vanya (played by Chris Ralph)and his adopted sister Sonia (played by Mary Ellis) are living a quiet life in their Pennsylvania farmhouse where they grew up, having done their duty in looking after ailing parents while their sister Masha (Teri Loretto-Valentik) travelled the world as a movie star. Just as their quirky cleaning woman (Bev Wolfe) issues a warning about terrible events in their future, overbearing, self-absorbed Masha returns for an unannounced visit with her 20-something boy-toy Spike (Drew Moore).  Sweet, young aspiring actress neighbour Nina, (Sarah Finn) shows up on the scene as well, innocently looking for acting tips.

The play explores family dynamics, sibling rivalry and human insecurity in both touching and hilarious ways.  Every scene is captivating and entertaining, as you wait to see what crazy antics the cleaning lady Cassandra will foresee, what ridiculous statements Spike will come up with and just how selfish Masha can be, all the while feeling bad for Sonia and her touching insecurities.

As the whole family heads to a party, including Nina, unexpected results ensue for all involved. In the end, however, everything is resolved beautifully and in a moving way, leaving the audience with a heart-warming feeling that ‘all’s well that ends well.’

The acting is superb without exception. Do not miss this play as it is one of the Ottawa theatre season’s highlights.

For more details and showtimes, visit thegladstone.ca.

Don’t be Afraid of Virginia Woolf

April 12, 2016 3:11 pm
Don’t be Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Photo by Andrew Alexander.

Get your theatre fix this week in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  It is currently playing at the Gladstone Theatre and in short, is a fantastic production.

The play is classic and entertaining, but bear in mind going in that the plot is dark and twisted. There is nothing warm and fuzzy at all in this production.

The play begins with a middle-aged, unhappy, alcoholic couple arriving home from a party. The wife, Martha, WAOVFad 4x5announces she has invited a couple of fellow revellers over for a nightcap.  Nick and Honey, the young couple, arrive and at first everything begins innocently enough. But as the play moves forward we discover the psychological games Martha and George play with guests in their home.  The two bicker incessantly, Martha flirts with Nick, while his wife Honey passes out.  George seems to play along, even when the games get nasty and Martha pokes and prods at him.

Part of the game sometimes involves George and Martha discussing their son. Despite George constantly veering away from the subject, Martha brings up the man, who is supposedly celebrating his birthday the next day by coming home. But all is not as it seems, and George gets the last laugh, causing anguish for Martha.  (I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll leave it at that).

Essentially, Martha is an unsatisfied, spoiled daughter of the university president while George is an associate professor who Martha deems a failure, a fact she cruelly points out whenever she gets the chance. At the same time, their relationship does involve a complicated, dysfunctional kind of love.

Martha uses her position to entice younger professors into her bed. George and Martha’s back and forth conversation is almost repulsive to listen to, yet it’s captivating as the writing and acting are phenomenal. The dialogue is engaging and pulls you in whether you want to be there or not.

Paul Rainville is his usual fabulous acting self as George, and Rachel Eugster is a strong Martha. Supported by Grace Gordon and Cory Thibert as Honey and Nick respectively, who also offer great performances, this play is a great night out. Catch it if you can and find out more at thegladstone.ca.

Rocking with ‘Boom’ at the NAC and Orpheus’ ‘A Chorus Line’

March 10, 2016 10:59 am
Rocking with ‘Boom’ at the NAC and Orpheus’ ‘A Chorus Line’

A scene from ‘A Chorus Line.’ Photo courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre Society. 

There are only two days left to catch Boom at the NAC and three days to catch A Chorus Line, Orpheus Theatre’s latest show now on at Centrepointe Theatre. Time is of the essence.

In Boom, award-winning solo performer Rick Miller brings to life dozens of politicians, writers, activists and entertainers with magical results. Covering the years 1945 to 1969, he captures the music, culture and history of that time period in magical and stunning ways.  It’s a fascinating take on the time period, offering perspectives from various characters who live through it. Some characters are based on family, others on public figures involved in the events.  In Boom, you get to experience the global events as they unfold: the Cold War, McCarthyism, Beatlemania, Trudeaumania, JFK, MLK, Mao, Vietnam.  Regardless of whether or not this is a history lesson or a walk back in time, this show will blow you away.

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Rick Miller in ‘Boom.’ Photo by David Leclerc.

Miller is a pro and he seamlessly pulls it all together with the help of some amazing stage technology. This multimedia production is visually captivating and it’s clear Miller worked with Robert Lepage’s studio team in Quebec City to make it work.

Boom is a theatrical experience worth seeing while you can.  It’s great for kids 13+ and is a fantastic way to bring history to life for them.  Miller’s acting is impeccable.

Orpheus’ A Chorus Line is an entirely different kind of theatre experience and it too runs until this weekend. One of Orpheus’ most beautiful aspects is that it is run by a company of amateur actors. Orpheus Musical Theatre Society has been around a long time. In fact, it’s the second longest-running organization of its kind in North America.  It’s been around in Ottawa since 1906.

The society’s latest production is the famous Broadway musical that follows the trials and tribulations of dancers trying to make it into a show. It is like watching a 2-hour audition, as you feel the anxiety of the characters as they tell their stories and dance their guts out, desperate to be chosen for the show.

It is not intended to be a glitzy production. In fact, there is only one costume change during the show. The only props are mirrors behind the dancers that have a beautiful effect, reflecting all of the dancers’ moves.

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A scene from ‘A Chorus Line.’ Photo courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre.

Listen to the dancers’ stories, feel their pain, excitement and anticipation as they put themselves out there, exposing their vulnerability. The dialogue is moving, the songs recognizable and the dancing is great.

As is the case with big productions, the quality of the dancing, singing and acting varies, but none of that takes away from the experience.  Orpheus puts on solid shows and this one is no exception.

Boom runs until Saturday, March 12, find out more at nac.ca. A Chorus Line runs until March 13, (orpheus-theatre.ca/).

Flee to the Keys and Hawks Cay Resort

March 9, 2016 11:55 am
Flee to the Keys and Hawks Cay Resort

Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort, by Jason Stemple.

March Break is one week away and if you are looking for a last-minute destination, escape to the place that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s classic novels, that has the best ceviche and key lime pie you may ever taste and has breathtaking beauty. With a chill, Caribbean-esque attitude and island time, the Florida Keys will give you that perfect feeling of getting away from it all.

The Keys are a combination of some 1,700 islands that start where the Florida Turnpike intersects with Highway 1.  You will find the locals refer to locations based on mile markers on the one highway/road in and out of the Keys. The Keys start at Mile 120 and run south to Mile 0 in Key West.

As you drive down Highway 1, you may notice it looks like a protected area.  That’s because it is. The Everglades National Park, protecting more than 1.5 million acres, is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states, behind Yellowstone National Park (2nd) and Death Valley National Park (1st). It provides habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile and the Florida panther. It is a World Heritage Site, and even just driving by en route south provides incredible scenery.  If you do want to stop and check it out, it is open for visits and has programming and trails.

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Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort, by Jason Stemple.

Continue driving and you will hit Key Largo (miles 108-90).  Be sure to stop at mile 102.4 at The Fish House restaurant. The décor is completely kitsch, but don’t let that scare you off. The fresh fish dishes are spectacular. It would be a lost opportunity not to stop. Locals rave about it for good reason. The Matecumbe dish (fresh fish done light with tomatoes, shallots, basil, capers, olive oil) has been featured on the Food Network and is an unparalleled fish experience.  The ceviche is incredible as well. The yellowtail snapper, mahi-mahi, grouper, Florida lobster and stone crab (it is in season until May) are impeccably prepared in a variety of ways to please every palate. Their key lime pie is the perfect way to top off the meal.

Not that you will be spending too much time indoors, but you do need somewhere to grab some sleep. There are countless motels, trailer parks, small inns, motels with calming-sounding names and big chain hotels along the 120 miles. However, the best place by far from which to explore the Keys is from a home base at the Hawks Cay Resort. This paradise, large resort is located right in the middle of Mile 61 in Duck Key. It is the perfect oasis. Not only is it the ideal place to stay, it is a destination unto itself.  It has everything you want or need with helpful staff to make sure you get it. The luxurious, spacious rooms and cozy beds will keep you rested and have you feeling like Sleeping Beauty. There are various accommodation options (villas, suites, rooms that open up onto the 21-over pool area) that are there to make you feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible with spacious areas and cozy beds, leaving you fresh and ready to take on the adventures of the day.

As a resort, it has an enormous list of outdoor activities.  A Smart Board in the lobby lists the daily events. For starters, you can book an offshore or backcountry fishing charter leaving from the Hawks Cay Marina, paddle your way around the island on a stand-up paddleboard (lessons and rentals are available) or swim with dolphins. Dolphin Connection, onsite at the hotel will delight kids of all ages (big ones included).

Children can attend Camp Hawk Environmental Education Academy while you relax by the pool, by the salt-water lagoon, get a massage at the spa or just wander and stroll around the enormous property. If walking is not part of the plan, there is a trolley to take you around the site.

Pirate Ship Pool (2)

Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort, by Jason Stemple.

There are six phenomenal and massive pools, and if you are so inclined, each is perfect for swimming or for exercise. Of course you could also just hang out in the hot tub with a drink of the day (which you can sample for free early in the day by the 21-over pool.).

There are tennis courts, a fully-equipped gym and in the waters of the Keys, there are more than 1,200 colourful creatures waiting to be discovered during a dive. The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral reef system in the continental United States.

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Photo by Jennifer Hartley.

The lush surroundings and the beautiful vantage point to watch sunsets on one side (and sunrises on the other) are another bonus of the Hawks Cay. Take a sunset boat cruise (it is short, only 1.5 hours tops) and sip wine, beer and bubbly as you watch the sun set in the beautiful blue sky.  There is a party atmosphere on the boat so enjoy it.  You are strongly encouraged to enjoy the beverages in the quantity of your choice.

There are superb restaurants on site, Alma has fine dining, then there’s Ocean (comfort food), Beach Grill (fantastic ceviche, calamari and burgers), to name just a few and the Tiki poolside bar offers up incredible mojitos, margaritas and local beers to quench your thirst.

If you decide to venture away from Hawks Cay, Key West is 60 miles away. Visit the Hemingway House to see where Ernest Hemingway lived and soak up his creativity in his writing studio. Hit Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Captain Tony’s Saloon to see where else he got his inspiration. Both sites were Hemingway haunts. Captain Tony’s was the original site of Sloppy Joe’s until the bar owner (a friend of Hemingway’s) got into a fight with the landlord and moved to its current location. Both are worthy of a pint.

But you won’t want to stay away from Hawks Cay long, because there is so much to do and experience there.  Most of all, it is the perfect place to relax and unwind.

Rocking the Vinyl on HBO

February 12, 2016 1:11 pm
Rocking the Vinyl on HBO

Vinyl . J.C. MacKenzie (Front Left) as Skip Fontaine, Ray Romano as Zak Yankovich, Bobby Cannavale as Richie Finestra.  Photo: Niko Tavernise/HBO.

You may have heard already that Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese have teamed up with Rich Cohen and Terence Winter to create a series on HBO that offers insight into life in the 1970s music industry. Vinyl is a romp through the sex and drug-addled music business of New York at the dawn of punk, disco and hip-hop. The show follows life at record label American Century, with all the trappings and sleazy tactics used by its executives and those in the industry to survive.

The show stars Bobby Cannavale (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), as American Century founder and president Richie Finestra, SAG Award nominee Olivia Wilde (HBO’s Doll and Em) and multiple Emmy® winner Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) also star, supported by a cast that includes actors like Andrew Dice Clay and Canada’s very own J.C. MacKenzie.

MacKenzie plays Skip Fontaine, head of sales and a partner at American Century, whose savvy and sometimes questionable business practices inflate American Century’s profits.

“I was really shocked at how sleazy the industry really was back then. I mean, these guys would do anything to get their bands on air. Corruption reigned,” MacKenzie explains.

In real life, MacKenzie is anything but slimy.  He’s the warmest, nicest, most outgoing, down-to-earth guy, so it should come as no surprise that he hails from Ottawa. His family owned the White Cross Dispensary on Elgin Street, where back in the day you might have seen him lugging boxes or serving behind the cash.  His family has since moved to Pembroke, but Ottawa is still close to his heart.

“I love Ottawa,” MacKenzie says. “If you’re from Ottawa, or Canada for that matter, you never really stray far from your roots, no matter where you live or where your path takes you, you are always Canadian.”

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Vinyl. J.C. MacKenzie (Left) as Skip Fontaine, Ray Romano as Zak Yankovich, Bobby Cannavale as Richie Finestra, P.J. Byrne as Scott Levitt. Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO.

Having grown up in Ottawa, politics got into his blood. In fact, MacKenzie is a political junkie and follows Canadian politics closely.  “I absolutely love it.  Always have.  Canadian politics is something I am actually obsessed with and I keep on top of what’s going on. I remember back when I worked as a waiter in the Ottawa area, I served Pierre Trudeau dinner and was in awe of the guy. It’s something I never forgot, so I think it’s really cool that his son is now Prime Minister.”

MacKenzie’s journey has taken him to phenomenal places.  Armed with an education at Concordia and prestigious LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), he took on the acting world. He hit Broadway and then found his way onto the silver screen and the tube. He has over 150 television credits under his belt, including stints as Arnold Spivak on Murder One and Reagan “Normal” Ronald in the series Dark Angel.

And of course, if you’re a fan of Martin Scorsese films, then you will also know MacKenzie.  He has been in three of them: The Aviator, The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street.

“Marty is absolutely fantastic to work with,” MacKenzie says. “The guy is a genius, which everybody knows, but the way he works is incredible too. While some film makers keep to the letter of a script, Marty will take your misfires or screw ups and if he can incorporate them into the movie he does.  He has an organic approach to creating, which is innovative and it’s a great way to work as an actor.”

Scorsese also definitely knows talent, considering he’s cast MacKenzie in four films already. It will be exciting to continue to watch J.C. MacKenzie to see where his career next takes him.

The first episode of Vinyl, “Pilot” airs Sunday, Feb. 14 (9:00-11:00 p.m. ET) on HBO Canada.

Bring on Barbados

December 24, 2015 10:40 am
Bring on Barbados

Are you going to need some time to unwind after that Christmas shopping panic? Go big and book a trip to the birthplace of rum and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world: Barbados. The year 2016 marks Barbados’ 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, so while any time is a good time to go, 2016 will be a stellar year to experience all the island has to offer, which is a lot. There is always something going on here culturally, and since it is not a large island (it runs about 35 km in length and about 22 km in width), you are always just a drive away from being part of the fun.

IMG_20151120_172301_editHistory and Geography

Barbados has the third oldest Parliament in the world, boasting uninterrupted parliamentary governance since 1639. So it’s a stable country, both politically and economically speaking. In fact, it has one of the highest per capita incomes in the Caribbean (in large part thanks to tourism and offshore banking). There are roughly 2.5 million people who live here, and the country has a literacy rate of almost 99 per cent, which is one of the highest rates in the world. There is a fantastic hospitable feel to the place that comes with all that stability. There are different vibes to the island’s various corners.   The country is divided into 11 areas known as parishes.

The West Coast of Barbados is known as the money side of the island. Expensive resorts are everywhere with a designer shop complex (Lime Grove). The area is known as the Platinum Coast not just because of its incredible beaches and crystal clear water, but because of the wealth. Pop star Rihanna (who hails from Barbados) owns a home there, Tiger Woods was married nearby.

Holetown, located in Saint James Parish West Coast, was the first settlement in Barbados. If you are there in mid-February, check out the Holetown Festival where you can sample local foods and experience a Gospel Explosion. Given Barbados is a fairly religious country (there are over 100 religious groups operating in Barbados), this will no doubt be an incredible experience.

There are many other great festivals throughout the year. The Barbados Wine, Food and Rum Festival is a growing and fairly new yearly event. It takes place in November every year and attracts top chefs to events held in various locations across the island. This year celebrity chefs Craig Harding of Toronto and the U.S.’s Chris Cosentino are making an appearance. The 2016 event precedes the actual 50th independace-anniversary date of November 30, so November is another great time to visit Barbados. Actually, any time is a good time.

IMG_20151119_100738Try and fit in a ride on one of the yellow buses. With reggae music blaring in the bus, it is truly an unparalleled public transportation experience.

No trip to Barbados is complete without a visit to the Mount Gay rum distillery located in Saint Michael Parish. Not only does it give you a history of rum making, you get a hit of history at the same time. The various samplings will make a rum lover out of anyone.

Bridgetown (also in Saint Michael Parish) is the country capital and is on the southwest part of the island. Parliament is there, of course, but the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is a UNESCO World Heritage site and worthy of a visit. Described by UNESCO:

“It is an example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which testifies to the spread of Great Britain’s Atlantic colonial empire. The property also includes a nearby military garrison which consists of numerous historic buildings. With its serpentine urban lay-out the property testifies to a different approach to colonial town-planning compared to the Spanish and Dutch colonial cities of the region which were built along a grid plan.”

Interestingly, it is also the one place US revolutionary George Washington ever visited outside of the United States.

The East Coast and South Coast of the Island have a completely different feel to them. The East is more rugged, with stunning cliffs but not much prime swimming area (in fact stay out of the water here because of dangerous rip tides). The water views are breathtaking though, and the power of the water crashing against the shore is awe-inspiring. There is a growing surfer culture in the area, given that one of the best-kept secret locations for surfing is there: Soup Bowl, by the town of Bathsheba (Saint Joseph Parish). It is becoming legendary for its waves that rival ones you’ll find even in Hawaii.

The South of the Island has a more lively feel than the West Coast in terms of beach culture and night life. There are fantastic water sports, including diving, boating and swimming.

While it may be a total touristy thing to do, if you’ve got time, visit Harrison’s Cave, a crystallized limestone cavern. While not a particularly cheap excursion, it’s pretty amazing and worth the trip. It is located inland in Saint Thomas Parish so you get to see a different part of the island, which is a bonus.

IMG_20151119_100009Fuel Up

Barbados has incredible cuisine. Gourmet restaurants have been popping up around the island, marrying various cuisines with local twists. If you are craving a Beckta-type meal, there is no shortage of restaurant options. The West Coast, as you might imagine, caters to that palate. Try Champers, and The Cliff or Cin Cin for upper-end eating. All three are phenomenal restaurants. Cin Cin has the most incredible surfside tables to boot.

While fine dining is definitely in order, some of the hits for absolutely incredible food are in rum shops. They are local small restaurants that offer fresh fish, lamb, chicken, rice and bean dishes, and fried plantain that is nothing short of divine. You can wash it all down with Banks beer (or homemade rum punch).

Make sure you hit Oistins in the South (Christ Church) on a Friday Night for its Fish Fry. It is an open-air fish barbeque that will redefine any preconceived notions of fish. This is an absolute must. Sure there are lots of tourists lurking about, but ignore that fact and enjoy the incredible, most delectable fish you may ever have.

Do not leave Barbados without visiting Cuz’s Fish Shack right by Carlisle Bay (by the Hilton Barbados Resort) in Bridgetown.

On the East Coast, hit Atlantis Restaurant (Saint Joseph Parish). The view and food are incredible.

Sleep

Barbados has everything from high-end experiences (Saint Peter’s Bay and Port Ferdinand are condo-type accommodations that are perfect for sharing with others). Port Ferdinand is high-end luxury (royalty stays there). Still, when shared with others, it is more affordable and the luxury will make you feel like royalty, with personalized service. There are of course all the major chains as well, the Hilton has an incredible beach, as does the Fairmont. They are all there.

On the East Coast, Atlantis is more of an intimate location with spectacular views, but bear in mind you can’t swim in the ocean there.

Barbados is brimming with opportunities for everyone to have a good time. Bajans know how to have fun and you should join in. With perfect weather, perfect sunsets, sunrises, impeccable beaches, cuisine for every palate and lots of culture and history to feed the mind as well, you can’t go wrong in Barbados.

Sweet Slumber at the Auberge Saint-Antoine

December 15, 2015 3:17 pm
Sweet Slumber at the Auberge Saint-Antoine

All photos courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine.

There is something particularly magical about visiting Quebec City during the winter.  The city has a certain coziness, with the smell of wood-burning fireplaces filling the air, trees and shops everywhere adorned and lit up.  There’s also a romantic connection with the past that is so cogent in a 400-year-old city. Yet, paradoxically, there is a modern sophistication to Quebec that ensures all the luxuries you expect. You can’t help but eat well, drink well, and in the case of the Auberge Saint-Antoine, sleep well too.

While Quebec City offers everything from big hotel chains to small B&Bs (and, of course the Chateau Frontenac, one of the most photographed hotels in the world), you should spoil yourself with a stay at the Auberge Saint-Antoine. It has been ranked amongst the world’s top hotels many times and there is something very special and memorable about staying in a hotel that has been part of the city’s fabric for almost 330 years. Built on one of the city’s richest archeological sites, there are 3 buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as portions of another structure that date back to the end of the 17th century. 40.Chambre-Room  

Well over 5000 objects were found on the hotel site during archeological digs that shed light on the occupation of the harbour, the military and every aspect of life in Quebec over the centuries.  Seven hundred of the objects are on display throughout the hotel which itself, in many ways, is a museum.  Each room has a piece embedded in glass, with an explanation of its meaning. As the hotel grew over the years, so did the archeological discoveries. In response, the Auberge Saint-Antoine worked with the Quebec Ministry of Culture, the federal government and the City of Quebec to ensure the heritage was respected, studied, explored and celebrated. In fact, between 1987 and 2002, 14 archeological explorations, in conjunction with Laval University, took place around the site. For good reason, the hotel has won awards for its contribution to archeological and historical knowledge of the city and for its marriage of architecture and archeology.

As for the hotel, there is an extremely intimate feel to it. There are 84 rooms and 11 suites with every luxury you could want.  The linens, the goose-down duvets, the bed and drapes that are so thick they block out light entirely – all ensure a night sleep worthy of royalty.artefacts at the hotel

Many of the rooms have a terrace and/or gas fireplace, heated bathroom floors and a bathtub that perfectly fits two people.  The Nespresso machine is a nice touch and the attention to detail is remarkable, right down to a container of dental floss attached to the wall. There is of course free Wi-Fi, in case you really can’t pull away from life (but you should).

There is a fully-equipped gym and spa, as you might expect at a hotel of this calibre.

The hotel bar, the Café-Bar Artefact, has jazz and tapas every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and the hotel hosts a “fashion tea” on various Saturdays throughout the year. The next one is Saturday, January 17th and features Longchamps bags, MYEL and Inukt.

30.Déjeuner-BreakfastThe Panache restaurant has a fantastic reputation and offers a modern take on traditional Quebec cuisine. The breakfast is divine so don’t skip it.

Everything about the Auberge Saint-Antoine is luxurious, sophisticated and yet respectful of its rich past. If you do manage to tear yourself away from the hotel and venture outside, explore the Old City. It is festive and magical, especially this time of year. Just try not getting into the holiday spirit. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes or boots, the area is very hilly with lots of stairs. Be sure to wander up to the Plains of Abraham. The view of the mighty Saint Lawrence is beautiful as is the view of the city.

When you get peckish, there is no shortage of fantastic restaurants. However, as is the case with most super-luxury hotels, the concierge has the inside scoop, and so taking the advice of the Auberge’s incredible concierge, Charles, was a very good decision. Patente et Machin, a hip but laid-back, very unpretentious resto with exceptional, gourmet food was worth the cab ride. The owners own another top-notch restaurant, L’Affaire est Ketchup, but it is hard to get a reservation at the last minute. That said, Patente et Machin will not disappoint.

Or just stay in, order room service and enjoy your gas fireplace.  Auberge Saint-Antoine is the perfect place to refill your tank, pamper yourself and relax, whether you head there now or after the holidays to recuperate.

To find out more or start planning the perfect holiday getaway, visit http://www.saint-antoine.com/.

San Diego Baby

December 11, 2015 11:48 am
San Diego Baby

For this year’s winter escape, get a hit of culture, history and, of course, warmth, by heading to the birthplace of California: San Diego. Despite the fact that it has roughly 3.2 million people milling about, the city has a chill pace to it. San Diego is both relaxed and relaxing.

I traveled with my 10-year-old daughter and we scored the perfect balance of activities for her and me. Here are a few ideas to get you started on exploring San Diego.

Check out the Hip ‘Hoods

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Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

San Diego has some funky neighbourhoods. North Park (craft beer fans will love this area), South Park (eclectic and hip) and Hillcrest (LGBT neighbourhood) all have fantastic vibes, coffee houses, bars and unique shops. They are very SoCal. Visit some of them if you want to soak up the hipness. Nearby Shelter Island has a boating community feel with a marina and shops. It’s a great place to walk around and soak up the sun.

Downtown, there is the Embarcadero, the area along the waterfront that’s been rejuvenated and provides a great running area, cycling space and fantastic walking path.

The Old Town has historical value and La Jolla, a suburb of the city, has stunning views of the ocean. The fact is, San Diego has a lot of amazing neighbourhoods, each will its own unique character.

Cultural Mecca

100-year-old Balboa Park is America’s largest urban cultural park, with fifteen museums within the beautiful area. There are art galleries (San Diego Museum of Art, Museum of Photographic Arts), a Natural History Museum, an Air and Space Museum and even a Science Center. If you go before January, be sure to visit the exhibit on Dr. Seuss in the San Diego History Center. He hung his hat in La Jolla.

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Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

Take Me to the Zoo

The San Diego Zoo, adjacent to Balboa Park, is world renowned for very good reason. The 100-acre space is a not-for-profit conservation organization. The Zoo has lush, naturalistic habitats and unique animal encounters. It is home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals representing approximately 660 species and subspecies and a prominent botanical collection with more than 700,000 plants. The year 2016 marks its 100th birthday and plans are underway for some spectacular celebrations.

History and Beauty

A visit to Cabrillo National Monument and National Park is a must. Give yourself at least three hours to do it justice. The drive up to Cabrillo is moving as you pass by military cemeteries that overlook the ocean. At the top, there is a monument dedicated to Juan Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the U.S. West Coast (in 1542) and from there you get a beautiful, panoramic view of the city.

However, it is the intertidal ecosystem that really blew us away. Cabrillo is one of the area’s best protected systems and it is breathtaking. You can hike along a path or go right down to the tide pools and see them up close.

Salute to the Marines

Dec2015_San Diego_USS Midway -Courtesy SanDiego.org

Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

Navy buffs will love San Diego. It is a key homeport for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and is home to over fifty ships. Hornblower Cruises offers a great excursion to see the military port with its massive, docked ships.

Be sure to visit the aircraft carrier museum USS Midway. Literally a floating city, Midway was in service from 1945 until 1992. The flight deck alone holds at least a dozen aircraft, not to mention the ones below. It is an impressive monstrosity that will blow you away.

For a step back in ship history, visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego down the road from the Midway. It has historic sea vessels, including the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship and a Russian B-39 Submarine.

Whale Watching

Dec2015_San Diego_skyline-Photo credit Bob Grieser

Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

San Diego is also a prime destination for whale watching from December until April. Grey whale, dolphin and sea lion sightings are common. If you are lucky, you may spot a blue whale, earth’s largest animal, but usually blue whales are around in the summer. Flagship Cruises offers a fantastic trip to check out the harbour, it’s worth the trip even if you don’t see any whales.

If an evening dinner cruise interests you, Hornblower Cruises also offers options.

Saving Sea Mammals

Instead of watching whales and dolphins do tricks, the main Sea World attraction should be the fact that it serves as a rescue for over 750 sea creatures per year. You can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the rescue area and see the incredible work Sea World does. That is worth every second and is the real educational value of the place.

Eat

Being so close to Mexico, it’s no surprise that San Diego has authentic Mexican food. If you are into tequila, hit Cafe Coyote y Cantina in Old Town. It is one of two certified “tequila houses” in the States (by the respected Mexican Academia del tequila) and has 100 types of tequila.

For a taste of modern American cuisine, head to the Kona Kai Resort (on Shelter Island). The Vessel Restaurant has a relaxed ambience in a chic environment with exceptional food. Be sure to indulge in the truffle fries. The seafood, as you would expect, is also top notch. As you munch down, make sure not to miss the mesmerizing art installation on the wall.

Puesto Restaurant, located in the Headquarters complex, close to downtown, is the spot for tacos and ceviche and its guacamole is equally fabulous. Have a sweet tooth? After traipsing around San Diego with my daughter on the hunt for the best cupcake, a kid activity that satisfied both of us, Cute Cakes came out on top (located in the Gas Lamp District).

Sleep…Ay perchance to Dream

Dec2015_San Diego_IMG_20150511_165343 (1)

Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority

Speaking of kids, if you are travelling with little ones, all you need is a comfortable bed, clean hotel with amenities and an incredible view and balcony on the waterfront.  You get all of that with a stay at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside. It is perfectly located and close to everywhere you want to go.

San Diego has endless opportunities for fun and this is even before you factor in surfing, beach visits or world-class golf (Torrey Pines in La Jolla). Be sure to rent a car though, as you’ll need it to explore. Carpe Momentum in San Diego.

Fiddle Feast for your Ears

December 10, 2015 12:27 pm
Fiddle Feast for your Ears

Natalie MacMaster needs no introduction. Over a recording career now spanning 25 years, this Order of Canada recipient has released 11 albums that have notched sales of over 200,000 copies. She has won two JUNO and eleven East Coast Music Awards and been nominated for a Grammy. Starting tonight, she is at the National Arts Centre for three nights.

MacMaster has had a busy year.  It took more than a decade, but this past April, MacMaster and husband Donnell Leahy released their first album together. ONE includes the first recorded versions of original material written by MacMaster and Leahy. As well, the album features some reinterpretations of traditional and contemporary tunes they have discovered along the way,from Finland, France, Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., and, of course, Cape Breton.  MacMaster and Leahy were recently awarded ‘Instrumental Group of the Year’ for ONE, by Canada’s Folk Music Awards.

NatalieDonnell1 - Edited

The album features some reinterpretations of traditional and contemporary tunes the couple has discovered in their musical explorations. Songs from Finland, France, Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., and Cape Breton are featured on the album with a clog medley, jigs, reels, waltz and polka styles.

MacMaster and Leahy were recently awarded ‘Instrumental Group of the Year’ for ONE, by Canada’s Folk Music Awards.

For the stint at the NAC, MacMaster will take to the stage without her husband but will have the NAC Orchestra accompany her. Treat your ears to a musical feast. Shows are at 8 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday. You can find out more at nac.ca.

Ho! Ho! Head to the Theatre!

December 9, 2015 12:08 pm
Ho! Ho! Head to the Theatre!

A scene from Anne and Gilbert, The Musical. Photo courtesy of the NAC. 

Christmas is always a great time to grab the kids and head to the theatre for a family outing.  There are two shows on in Ottawa right now that fit the bill perfectly. Anne and Gilbert, The Musical is playing at the National Arts Centre and you can also find Angel Square at the GCTC.  Both are very different but each provide a fabulous night out.

AnnieGilbert3

Ellen Denny (left) as Anne Shirley. Photo courtesy of the NAC.

Anne and Gilbert, The Musical follows the story of Anne of Green Gables and Gilbert Blythe as their relationship progresses and their lives move from teaching in Avonlea to heading off to university. If you are an Anne fan, this is a must see.  Even if you aren’t at the moment, you will become one after seeing Ellen Denny bring the fiery Anne Shirley to life. It’s an energetic production, always moving and you won’t even notice the 2 hours and 45 minutes pass by. In addition to Ellen Denny, Robin Craig (playing Rachel Lynde),  Alison Woolridge (Marilla Cuthbert) and Brieonna Locche (Diana Barry) are particularly magnificent.

The music is phenomenal and the story is endearing, leaving you warm inside at the end.  The set and costumes take you back in time for a night of pure magic with (or without) your children. That said, it’s ideal for children over eight-years-old.

Angel Square is a mystery set in Ottawa’s Lowertown neighbourhood in 1945. When the play begins it’s Christmas time in Angel Square, a place where Jewish, Irish and French Canadian kids meet to duke it out. 12-year-old Tommy, the main character, is on a mission to find out who struck down his best friend’s father. He knows that the answer lies somewhere in the cultural divide of Angel Square and with a group of friends, he sets out to find answers.

Angel Square is more suited for kids a little older, 11 or 12 +, as the play’s themes include some difficult concepts such as racism, growing up and love.  My 10-year-old daughter found it a bit hard to follow and some scenes even frightened her.  Adults on the other hand, and older children, will love it and find the play charming, even as it touches on those darker themes.

Mary Ellis, Robert Marinier, Kristina Watt and Bruce Spinney in Angel Square at GCTC. Photo by Andrew Alexander

A scene from Angel Square. Photo by Andrew Alexander.

Kristina Watt, who takes on many different roles in the play, shines brightly. However, she is greatly assisted by the chemistry between all four actors (Watt, Mary Ellis, Robert Marinier and Bruce Spinney). All actors are adults, but they pull off their various characters with the required innocence and rawness of the children they play.

Have fun with your kids and take a walk back in time with either of these great plays.

Anne and Gilbert, The Musical nac.ca runs until December 19 while Angel Square gctc.ca runs until December 20.

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