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.

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.”

VINYL Skip Zak Richie and Scott PS12098

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Theatre: ‘The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God’

November 5, 2015 3:06 pm
Theatre: ‘The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God’

All photos by Andrée Lanthier.

There are two days left to catch The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at the NAC.  If you have the chance, it’s definitely worth it. Book your whole night off thought because the show is very long. It runs two hours and 45 minutes.

This is an epic play. A cast of 22 gracefully float onstage with beautiful dancing and movements accompanied by their magnificent singing. This incredible play and its winding plot feeds your mind just as much as the choreography and voices fill your ears and eyes.  

The story follows Rainey Baldwin Johnson, a country doctor who traces her lineage back to Negro Creek, a small 200-year-old Black community in Western Ontario. Following the tragic death of her daughter, she has turned away from her husband (the local minister), her practice and her faith. Meanwhile, Rainey’s elderly father, a retired judge who Rainey discovers has only a few days left to live, mobilizes a group of proud septuagenarians to conduct heists against symbols of racism, to uphold their dignity and honour the town’s rich history. The gutsy group steals the show with their humour, their tenderness and their hilarious antics.  3©AndréeLanthier_Aventures_R.Webb,L.Francks,W.Borden,B.Barnes-Hopkins,J.Richardson

There is also a lot of depth to the play and it delves into many different themes, including questions of faith and responses to situations that can shake it, such as racism, tragedy and death.  It looks at love and its various forms. There is a lot going on in Adventures to justify its length.

After its Toronto debut in 2002, the play was nominated for six Dora Mavor Moore Awards, and rightfully so. It is also largely based real events.

All the members of the cast are superb. Walter Borden lights up the stage as Rainey’s father, Abendigo. Quincy Armorer is fantastic as Rainey’s estranged husband and Lucinda Davis radiantly shines as Rainey. However, singling them out isn’t entirely fair because everyone is electric on stage.

It runs until November 7, you can find out more at nac.ca.

Jake’s Gift is for Everyone

November 4, 2015 12:00 pm
Jake’s Gift is for Everyone

All photos by Tim Matheson.

During this season of remembrance, take your kids, your parents, your friends, your school to the Great Canadian Theatre Company to see Jake’s Gift by Julia Mackey. For some people, it may be the most moving Remembrance Day experience you ever have. 

The play has a simple plot and follows the development of an unlikely relationship between a 10-year-old French girl, Isabelle, and Jake, a Second World War veteran.

Julia Mackey as Grande Isabelle • Jake's Gift • Photo by Tim Matheson_7  In it, Jake returns to Juno Beach for the first time since the war for the battle’s 60th anniversary commemorations. In some ways, he is a broken man with baggage who has come to Normandy to make peace with his past. Isabelle lives in Bény-sur-Mer and lives a life of gratitude for the soldiers’ efforts.  With the sort of selfless caring that only a child can truly provide, she breaks through Jake’s tough exterior and touches his heart.

Against her grandmother’s orders, who is also names Isabelle, little Isabelle approaches Jake on Juno Beach as he stands there looking out at sea and strikes up a conversation with the veteran, who seems reluctant to talk. Over the next 48 hours, they develop a strong friendship.

Through monologues from both main characters (played brilliantly by Mackey herself) and through their conversations, we learn of the lives both have led and with a few twists, how their lives were connected without them knowing it.Julia Mackey as Grande Isabelle • Jake's Gift • Photo by Tim Matheson_3

There is tenderness to this play that will warm the heart of everyone who sees it and quite frankly, everyone should.  It is an incredible vehicle in the run-up to Remembrance Day to educate children on the relevance of Canadian efforts but it is also a lesson on the gentleness and kindness that people, generations apart, can share. By the end you will be in tears.  

This is definitely a play not to be missed and is family friendly (minus a few expletives on Jake’s part). Jake’s Gift runs just over an hour and you can catch it until November 15 (with special performances in French on November 10 and 12).  Find out more at gctc.ca.

Charm of Charlevoix Part 2 – Hike your Heart Away

October 22, 2015 1:53 pm
Charm of Charlevoix Part 2 – Hike your Heart Away

Photos courtesy of Charlevoix tourism.

Hiking

Before the first snowfall and the temperature drops is the perfect time to hike and take in the tranquility of fall. Charlevoix offers some of the most beautiful hiking opportunities just a few hours away by car, and whether you want to bring the kids or make it a romantic getaway, all you need is a three-day weekend. There is no better time do that than now.

A quick word on the region to explain its topography: As mentioned in Part 1, Charlevoix is an expansive territory that owes much of its magnificence to a meteorite that landed in the area some 350 million years ago. The collision resulted in a large crater (56 kilometres in diameter) making it one of the largest inhabited craters in the world. The area is large and along the St. Lawrence, towns and villages scatter the landscape from Baie-Saint-Paul to La Malbaie and each has its own history and feel. Take time to stop and explore along the way. After all, this is Quebec and the cradle of Canada. Brush up on your history and it could enhance your understanding and enjoyment.

IMG_20150916_140413However, the beauty, peacefulness and majesty of the area are more than enough to satisfy. Hills, valleys, mountain peaks and calm found in preserved areas in parks provide the most satisfying hiking opportunities. Two incredible locations with trails are the Parc national des Grands-Jardins and the Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. There are trails for hikers of all levels.

Cycling is huge in Quebec and when you visit the Charlevoix area, you can understand why. Pedaling your way around the area requires more time and effort, given the hills, but if you have both, it is the perfect exercise getaway.

Last-Minute Whale Watching

Like many coastal regions, there is a deep respect for the water and a reverence for the St. Lawrence and the life under her waters.

Whale watching is intoxicating, as boats follow the whales’ majestic movements through the water. You can still sneak in some whale sightings with Croisière AML if you head there before October 29.

Find Your Inner Artist

While outdoor activities are the key attraction to the area, there are also unique indoor activities in the region. Visit the Poterie de Port-au-Persil. If you have kids, you have probably been to Gotta Paint or the Mud Oven to paint pottery in Ottawa, but this is a whole other kettle of fish. Poterie de Port-au-Persil is a gallery boutique, a workshop school that offers the chance to actually create your own piece of pottery. Starting with a hunk of clay and working with a throwing wheel fueled by your own legs, you can sculpt your own work of art. It sounds easy but you will leave with a new appreciate for all things ceramic. It’s also very therapeutic and an excellent stress reliever.

Poterie de Port-au-Persil is extremely accommodating and treats everyone fantastically, including special needs children (I have one and he is my frequent travel companion). Everyone who walks through their doors is treated with respect and compassion. In fact, a visit there alone is worth the trip. It is the only studio of its kind in Quebec. In the fall and winter, it is only available by calling in advance so make sure to book it before you go.

la-grange-exterieure-soir1Eat, Sleep, Chill

While there are some great hotels and inns along the coast in the towns and villages (Fairmont Richelieu in La Malbaie is a classic), there are other unique accommodation choices that will also add to the nature experience. About ten minutes from La Malbaie, up above Cap-à-l’Aigle, rests a set of cottages, Les Terrasses Cap-à-l’Aigle, which are more like gourmet chalets. Nestled in the forest overlooking the Saint Lawrence, these large, spacious, sleek, modern, sophisticated creations have won awards for their architectural design. The ideal place for a romantic escape, these chalets are also perfect for shared, multiple family accommodation. La Grange chalet, for example, will sleep 8 adults and 6 kids. Equipped with an outdoor Jacuzzi, fireplace, game centre for the kids, ping pong table, laundry facilities and kitchen to make every chef green with envy, Les Terrasses Cap-à-l’Aigle are deliciously luxurious.

Cycle, walk or run in the crisp air and then head back to La Grange’s outdoor Jacuzzi . Given it is a chalet, you need to bring your own food. However, if cooking is not part of your plan, a short drive away in La Malbaie sit various places to grab a bite, or linger for a longer meal. Chez Truchon Bistro (which also has warm, comfortable accommodations available in its Auberge for a reasonable price) is the ideal location to settle into a multi-course meal, sampling local fare such duck, local lamb and deer.

Another pit stop to please the palate is the Boulangerie Pains d’exclamation!, also in La Malbaie. Hit it in the morning for incredible pastries and breads. Lunch time is also a great chance to enjoy their concoctions.

There is a different pace to life in Charlevoix and the people are laid back and very kind. The point of a trip to Charlevoix this time of year is to take in the beauty around the Fleuve St Laurent, (St Lawrence River) and her shores, inhaling the salt water air. Hike the mountains, relax your body, refill your spiritual tank, enjoy great food and take the time to be astounded by the wonders of nature before it all freezes over.

Opera Lyra’s Barber of Seville : Clear-Cut Case of Greatness

October 2, 2015 2:39 pm
Opera Lyra’s Barber of Seville : Clear-Cut Case of Greatness

Photo courtesy of Opera Lyra.

When it comes to opera, The Barber of Seville is a fun, light, entertaining singing sensation.  Gioachino Rossini’s compositions are recognizable to many, in part, thanks to Bugs Bunny, and Opera Lyra’s current production of The Barber pays homage to that reality in a very funny way. That sets the tone for interpretation of the opera and from the opening scene, you know you are in for a fun evening.

The opera is set in a 1940’s movie studio in Seville, Spain and follows the love triangle of Count Almaviva who is in love with movie star Rosina. He arrives on set to serenade her but she does not bite.

Figaro, the effervescent barber arrives on the scene and chats it up with the Count who fills him in on his love for Rosina.  Figaro tells him the vile studio owner, Bartolo, a not-so-scrupulous kind of guy also has his eyes on Rosina, well, more accurately, her money.

Almaviva will stop at nothing to win and takes on various guises to get to Rosina, with the help of Figaro. Along the way, he bumps into Bartolo, who never clues in that the disguised Almaviva is actually the Count, and the amusing conversations that entail are entertaining. Bartolo for his part concocts ways to stop the real Almaviva from getting to Rosina. And lots of funny twists and turns occur but in the end all’s well that ends well.

In terms of performances, Isaiah Bell was riveting as Count Almaviva. Reminiscent of an operatic version of screen actor Eddie Redmayne, Bell is definitely one to watch.  Marion Newman who plays Rosina is also fantastic as is Peter McGillivray who brings Bartolo to life. While they are fantastic, Joshua Hopkins steals the show as Figaro.  He perfectly captures  the clever, playful, devilish nature of Figaro.  He lights up the stage.

The set and costumes of this fully-staged production are also impressive.

There is only one show left, on Saturday night.  Grab tickets at www.Operalyra.ca

Beguiled by Belugas and Charlevoix’s Charm – Part 1

October 1, 2015 2:56 pm
Beguiled by Belugas and Charlevoix’s Charm – Part 1

Photos courtesy of Charlevoix tourism.

The colours of autumn are once again upon us, and while many flock to Gatineau Park for a taste of the glory, a short drive east will truly get you away from the fray of life. In about the same time it takes to drive to Oakville, you can be surrounded by Quebec’s divinely stunning Charlevoix region. Everything about this area is astounding. The people, the splendour of nature, the food, the activities and the vibe make it the perfect weekend escape.

For starters, there is the spectacular and almost indescribable natural diversity of Charlevoix.  The area was designated a Word Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989 for very good reason.  The area has a rich variety of ecosystems. Look to one side and there are mountains, with patches of clouds in between the peaks, the smell of salt in the air from the mighty Saint Lawrence River and its magnificent coastline. Then there’s the multitude of trees and vegetation and boundless beauty. Quaint, charming towns and villages populated with people with a joie de vivre and pride for their area are scattered along the coast and in the mountains.

 Charle 4Charlevoix is an expansive territory that owes much of its magnificence to a meteorite that landed in the area some 350 million years ago. The collision resulted in a large crater (56 kilometres in diameter) making it one of the largest inhabited craters in the world.   

Whale watchers will be familiar with Tadoussac or Baie-Sainte-Catherine as it is a superb area to launch into the Saint Lawrence to experience those giant, graceful creatures.  Any trip to the region during whale season should include a jaunt, there is still time to get out and see them.  Croisières AML will take you out for a three-hour expedition with a biologist onboard to provide interesting facts about the Saint Lawrence, the mammals and the geological and geographical details of region.  It is fascinating and awe-inspiring as the whales come very close to the boat. AML also offers the same experience in a zodiac.  You will see countless whales (if you are lucky, which you probably will be) and literally hundreds of seals. AML will then take you to the Saguenay fjord for an incredible view.

While skiing and whale watching are definitely great things to do in the area, there is much, much more to enjoy and experience.Charle 5

Baie-Saint-Paul and Isle-aux-Coudres

About an hour and a bit from Quebec City, along the 138, head to Baie-Saint-Paul.  You will immediately see why the Group of Seven fell in love with the region.  It is a quaint town with art stores, boutiques and cafes.  It’s worth a stop to look around before heading to Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive Harbour to take the free 15-minute ferry to Isle-aux-Coudres, where you will immediately feel your stress melt away. The island thrives on tourism but it is not touristy in the cheesy, gouging kind of way. Also, the island basically shuts down mid-October for the cold months, so try and book soon.

Jacques Cartier found the island and named it after the abundance of coudres, hazelnuts, he found there.  It is an oasis of a place with a pace that reminds you there is more to life than hustle and bustle.  It is a cyclist’s, runner’s and walker’s paradise. The 24 km circumference of the island offers incredible scenery. There are also paths in the island’s interior that are beautiful as well.  No need to pack your bike, rent from Vélo Coudres.  It has a number of options, including mountain bikes, bicycles built for 2, even quadricycles.Charle 2

As you explore the island, grab a sweet or savoury snack at the Boulangerie. Their bread is phenomenal, as are the pastries and pies. About 10 km down the road, wash it all down at the Cidrerie Vergers Pedneault.  It will provide sweet hit of a different kind. The ice storm of the late 1990s may have been disastrous for many, but one good thing came out of it: ice cider, and it is incredible.  They have a wide variety of other alcoholic ciders, (including apple, pear, plum and Saskatoon berry) but also have non-alcoholic types.  You can also pick your own apples and visit the orchard.

Les Moulins de l’Isle-aux-Coudres is the only site of its kind in Canada and it’s on the island. This museum houses a fully functional watermill (1825) and windmill (1836), as well as a miller’s residence. It’s worth a stop.

Bed and breakfasts abound, as do more resort-type accommodations.  With an indoor swimming pool, ping pong, mini putt, a bar, a beautiful fireplace in the lobby, the Hôtel Cap-aux-Pierres has plenty of ways to keep everyone busy.  It is also the perfect place to relax. The staff has a calming presence, and they do everything they can to make your stay comfortable. The food is incredible. The Osso bucco is fantastic and the full breakfast is a great way to start the day. With two kids under the age of 13 as travel partners, I can say with certainty that the hotel is very accommodating to young palates.

Charle 1Experiencing the tide come in and out can be exciting for the younger set who may not have had the chance to see it before.  It’s amazing too, even if you are big kid. It never grows old.

Anyone curious about the maritime history of the area, and even those who are not, will appreciate a stop at the Maritime Museum of Charlevoix once back on the mainland. It offers a detailed look at the once vibrant schooner history of the area.

On the Road to La Malbaie

Along the road to La Malbaie from Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, about an hour along the scenic highway, you will come to Sainte-Irénée. If you need to
stop for a bite along the way, there is not a lot of choice, but
La Table offers delicious sandwiches and soups made with local ingredients, including lamb. Head up the highway a further 15 kilometres and as you come into Sainte-Irénée, climb up rue Saint Antoine to Les Écuries Entre Monts et Marées for a trail ride in the clouds and a view of the Saint Lawrence in the distance.  In the summer, you can actually ride on the beach but for now and into the winter, you will trail ride in the peaceful surroundings of the mountainous trail.

A ride is a great way to break up the journey to La Malbaie, the perfect homebase as you explore more of the region.

Read Part 2 Here.

One World Film Festival Hits Ottawa’s Silver Screen

September 25, 2015 1:10 pm
One World Film Festival Hits Ottawa’s Silver Screen

Film junkies won’t want to miss Ottawa’s 26th annual documentary festival, the One World Film Festival, (OWFF) taking place this weekend. OWFF is Ottawa’s longest-running documentary film festival, focused on raising awareness to global issues with a line-up that promises to deliver some fantastic thought-provoking movies.

Friday’s focus will be on youth and using arts to instigate social change. The evening starts at 6 p.m., with The Year We Thought About Love, by American filmmaker Ellen Brodsky. The film follows a diverse troupe of LGBTQ teens from Boston transform their personal struggles into theatre for social change. The film will be followed by a debate on LGBTQ issues with federal election candidates from Ottawa Centre.  

Later in the evening, Landfill Harmonic takes a look at young musicians of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, and their journey from a small community located next to a landfill in Asuncion, Paraguay to the world stage. As they learn to make music with classical instruments fashioned out of garbage, they bring hope to their families, community and audiences worldwide.

Saturday brings a full afternoon and evening of Canadian films. The afternoon starts at 12:30 with a collection of Canadian Documentary Shorts co-presented with Ottawa Indie Fest followed by a Q&A session with filmmakers.

The afternoon and evening focus on Aboriginal issues. At 3 p.m., Martha Stiegman’s powerful documentary, Honour Your Word, takes viewers behind the barricades of Barriere Lake, where an inspiring Algonquin First Nation is working to make sure that governments honour their word.

(For parents looking for child care, there is a full program available for kids from 12-5.

The festival’s focus on Aboriginal rights and environmental issues in Canada continues Saturday evening with Ontario filmmaker Victoria Lean’s After the Last River. Downstream from a De Beers diamond mine, Attawapiskat is a community grappling with urgent environmental and economic issues that are compounded by a lack of access to resource revenues. Filmed over 5 years, After the Last River is a point-of-view documentary that follows Attawapiskat’s journey from obscurity into the international spotlight during the protests of Idle No More.

Charles Wilkinson’s Haida Gwaii On the Edge of the World is the winner of the Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award at the 2015 Hot Docs festival and considers the efforts of West Coast activists from the Haida Nation, who are taking action on environmental issues and asserting their rights with support from allies.

In between movies on Saturday night, a panel will look at Aboriginal law and mining in Canada.

On Sunday, Actions Speak Louder Than Words includes a full day of free films, panels, and interactive workshops ideal for those who want to learn more about and get involved in national and international issues. Inter Pares, the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution, and Oxfam Canada will participate. Food security, conflict resolution and the Syrian crisis will be discussed.

Activities on Friday and Saturday take place at the National Gallery on Sussex Drive and on Sunday, the events move to Saint Paul University on Main Street.

Check out the detailed schedule at http://oneworldfilmfestival.ca/2015-festival-schedule/

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