Tagged: Effervescent Bubble

Excursions from Dawson City

As the heart of the Klondike, Dawson City has numerous attractions which relate to its history as an Indigenous centre and as the site of the l898-1899 gold rush. The town itself is a national park and well worth a visit. I have discussed these in two earlier posts: Life in Dawson City, and Greetings From Dawson City, Yukon.

Apart from its history, Dawson City is the jumping-off spot for at least two excursions which can be most memorable day trips. Both trips take the visitor to some of the most fabulous vistas in the Yukon and suggest the need for more time to explore further.

The first trip we did was over the “top of the world” highway to the Alaska border, 105 kilometres west of Dawson. After crossing the Yukon River on the free ferry (which runs 24/7 during the summer months), the road mounts to the tops of the mountains south and west of Dawson. In 2004, when we visited Dawson during a major forest fire, we saw nothing on the highway but smoke. This time, we had dramatic views of the Yukon River, lush valleys, and what seem like endless mountains beyond. As we mounted above the tree line, the vistas became even more breath-taking. To say we were “on top of the world” is no exaggeration.

After the border crossing, we continued to the tiny hamlet of Chicken, famous for its “public gold panning areas” and as the locale where 19-year-old schoolteacher Anne Hobbs, in 1927, came to find adventure in a one-room schoolhouse. Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness (published originally in l976 and still available) recounts her classic memoir of love, rejection, and ultimate acceptance in the wilderness. It is a marvellous story which sticks with you. Like so many such stories, it is hard to imagine the life she must have led. Beyond Chicken, the visitor can drive another 78 kilometres to Tok, Alaska, the first major Alaskan community on the well-travelled Alaska Highway, and, from there, south to Haines Junction, Yukon or west to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Another excursion we did was up the Dempster Highway to Tombstone Park, which, in l972, was named a UNESCO heritage site of “exceptional biological importance.” The Dempster Highway stretches 735 kilometres from near Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik in the Mackenzie River Delta of the Northwest Territories. It is the only Canadian road that crosses the Arctic Circle. Completed in 1979, It passes through six distinct geographic regions, each very different, all equally interesting and breathtakingly beautiful.

Much of the Dempster lies within Beringia, a broad stretch of land from Siberia to the Northwest Territories which was unglaciated during the last North American glacial period and was the home of many exotic animals which have since become extinct. It has also been the home of Indigenous peoples who have hunted and traded in the area ever since. Although the Canadian government built the highway expecting it to be a “road to resources,” it is used now primarily for transportation to the Northwest Territories, for Indigenous hunting, and for tourism.

Tombstone Territorial Park is called Ddhäl Ch’él Cha Nän (or “ragged mountain land”) by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in who agreed in their land claims to this part of their traditional territory becoming a park. The rugged mountain tops looming above the forest and tundra of the valleys below are spectacularly dramatic. Hikers and climbers must be experienced and well-equipped to climb into these mountains successfully.

The Tombstone Interpretive Centre, located at kilometre 71.5 of the highway, provides information and activities about the cultural and natural history of the park and the highway, mid-May to mid-September. Nearby, the Tombstone Mountain Campground offers car camping with fire pits, picnic tables, outhouses, water, and a picnic shelter. Several back-country campgrounds on lakes are also available. Visitors have a choice of six hiking trails from 0.5 kilometre to up to 19 kilometres in length, and ranging in difficulty.

Driving the Dempster is an exhilarating experience, especially in good weather when the mountains and tundra stand stark against the horizon and the vistas go on forever. The diversity of habitats along the highway encourages a tremendous variety of plants so that wildflowers are rich and vibrant throughout the growing season. When we were there, the fireweed was rampant as was the Arctic cotton, which my friend harvests for her art projects. My bucket list now includes a trip up the Dempster in late August-early September when the flowers are in greatest profusion.

Seeing animals in the wild is a matter of luck, which is a rare and exciting experience. In the spring and fall, one of the world’s largest herds of barren-ground caribou (197,000 as of 2013) travels through the Ogilvie and the Richardson Mountains (at the north of the Dempster) on their annual migration to and from their calving grounds on the Arctic coastal plain. The caribou of the smaller Fortymile herd and the mountain caribou of the Hart River Herd (some 2,600 animals) sometimes winter further south. Bears may be seen, and moose, Dall’s sheep, wolves, and numerous smaller mammals. To spot the animals takes time, knowledge of where they might be, and luck to be in the right place at the right time.

For a comprehensive, beautifully-illustrated description of the Dempster Highway, its geography, history, flora, fauna, and climate, see The Dempster, published in 2017 for the Friends of the Dempster Country Society, email: friendsofdempster@gmail.com.

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The Dawson City Music Festival

Are music festivals on the wane? That the 50th anniversary concert celebrating the Woodstock Music Festival may not happen has led some commentators to conclude that summer music festivals may be no more. Music festivals epitomized the energy and buoyancy of the ’60s and have long returned across the country each summer, drawing enthusiasts for musical experiences in the open air. Some have come and gone. Others continue with no apparent loss of enthusiasm.

One such festival is the Dawson City Music Festival, this year in its 41st annual incarnation. Over the years, almost all the young members of my family have attended the Dawson City Music Festival, using it as an excuse to visit the Yukon and perhaps to canoe the Yukon River. My sister volunteers her beautiful log house on Eighth Avenue as the venue for the Music Festival after-party where the artists, techies, and volunteers gather for an all-night celebration. The Dawson City Music Festival was on my bucket list. This year, we decided to take it in.

The Main Stage of the Music Festival was in Minto Park where a massive tent shared space with a beer garden and Emerging Artists stage, a children’s playground and numerous food carts offering a surprising array of ethnic food. Other venues were the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre (Long Time Ago House) the home of the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, St. Paul’s Anglican Church constructed originally in 1902, and the Palace Grand Theatre which has been providing entertainments since 1899.

Old and as uninformed about modern music as we are, we knew none of the musicians. At the Main Stage concerts and at a couple of workshops, we heard only some of them. We particularly liked The Jerry Cans from Iqaluit who use Inuit throat singing and the Indigenous language of Inuktitut in their folk-rock repertoire, Ryan McNally and The MessaRounders (from Whitehorse) who are known for their blues, jazz and old-time music, and Major Funk and the Employment who use their horns and big vocals to play very danceable music.

I also particularly liked the Orkestar Kriminal, a group of five women and five men, who come from Montreal. They play unique instruments (among others, the sousaphone, trombone, saxophone, bouzouki, baglama, piccolo, accordion, and flute) and sing in Yiddish, Russian, Greek, Spanish, and Pashto. Their songs focus on international experiences of crime and prison. In addition to their Main Stage show, they played a concert at the historic Commissioner’s Mansion as part of the very popular Music Crawl which started at the Robert Service cabin, moved to the Commissioner’s Residence, then to the banks of the river, and then to the S.S. Keno.

We could not attend more than a little of the entire festival. What impressed us was the extent to which the best of the musicians got the audience involved. Both on Saturday and Sunday nights, we were amazed to see the floor of the Main Stage tent fill with hundreds of dancers of all ages; children, young people, old people, singletons, apparent drifters. It seemed that everyone there was dancing. And they went on and on. It was a great party.

On Sunday night, the after-party continued in my sister’s house and backyard. There, it was great fun to meet the musicians and the volunteers and to listen to Ryan McNally sing and play in her greenhouse. Altogether a most memorable event.

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The Theatre Under the Stars

No theatre experience is more engaging than when it takes place during the summer in the open air at Stanley Park in Vancouver. Malkin Bowl, near the Stanley Park Pavilion and the rose garden, has been the site of musicals presented since l940 by the Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS). Apart from the quality of the theatre, the fading daylight, singing birds, the scent of the evergreens and the sound of the nine o’clock gun render the site sublime

A community theatre, TUTS is dependent on volunteers, staffed with only a few paid professionals. It provides invaluable experience for the young performers who are part of the cast. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious. This is particularly so in their production of Disney’s Newsies which we attended on Sunday night and which is currently alternating with Mama Mia.

Based on the 1992 musical film Newsies, redone as a musical which debuted on Broadway in 2012, Newsies tells Disney’s version of the real-life story of the strike by newsboys who sold newspapers in New York City in l899. The strike was prompted by the decision of Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, to raise the price of the “papes” he charges to the newsies who sell his papers.

It is a delightful musical with a compelling story that illustrates the evolution of labour-management issues, and with believable characters who draw us into the complexity of their responses. The range of music is appealing and the choreography utterly fantastic. Director and Choreographer, Toronto-based Julie Tomaino, and Music Director, Christopher King, have produced a delight which I highly recommend.

All the cast members were strong. Adam Charles plays the charismatic leader of the strike, Jack Kelly; Cole Smuland, his friend Crutchie with a disabled leg; Julia Ullrich, the reporter Katherine; Daniel Curalli, the “brains” of the strike; and Jordyn Bennett, his younger brother. The two latter characters are the only Newsies with parents. Equally impressive was the ensemble of dancers.

On Sunday’s performance, we sat beside the mother of one of the ensemble, Haley Allen. The young actor comes from Smithers and is a recent graduate of the Musical Theatre Program at Capilano University. She is like many of the cast who have come through that program. Haley’s mother told us how excited her daughter is by the opportunity to perform every second night for six weeks, and to bond with the cast who have become her friends. As I had learned a little about her, I watched Haley with particular interest as she sang, danced, and performed mind-blowing gymnastic tumbles and jumps. Her talent is evident, as is that of all those who shared the stage with her. Clearly, their personal bonding is reflected in the strength of the collective.

Jerry Wasserman of the Vancouver Sun, in his review headlined “Fabulous Dancing, with Politics by Disney” (The Vancouver Sun, July 13, 2019) wrote that “this production… feels at first like Les Mis, then Les Mis crossed with Annie for the Disney Channel… a stirring story with a feeble ending that lets the nasty capitalists off the hook.” He concludes that “Director Julie Tomaino’s muscular, athletic choreography… reveal(s) as much about the spunk of these downtrodden orphan kids as their political resistance does.” He notes also that “the elaborate fights” directed by Michael Kovac and Ryan McNell Bolton, “that mesh nicely with Tomaino’s energetic choreography… drive the show.” Andrea Warner in The Georgia Straight (July 25-August 1, 2019) writes that “Newsies charms with heart” and “some of the most epic and impressive dance numbers in the company’s history.” It’s an amazing show which left us feeling warm and wonderful. Musical theatre at its best.

***** TUTS has just announced an extension of the 2019 season to August 24th.

 

 

 

 

 

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An Excursion to Giverny

Giverny is near the Seine River, a drive of an hour and a half northwest of Paris, close to Vernon. In 1883, impressionist painter Claude Monet moved there to live as a tenant with his children and the family of Alice Hoschedé whom he later married. There he began to plant the first of the two gardens which came to inspire his painting. A decade later, he bought the property and began construction of the lily pond which became the subject of thousands of paintings including the eight massive Water Lilies (Les Nymphéas) painted at Giverny and, after his death in 1926, installed in L’Orangerie in Paris. The paintings evoke changes in nature during the day and throughout the year and are considered a significant contribution to the evolution of modern abstract art.

His son Michel Monet bequeathed his family home and gardens at Giverny to the Académie des Beaux-Arts on his death in l966. Restoration of the home and gardens began in 1977 under the direction of Gerald van der Kemp who had previous experience renewing Versailles. In l980, they were opened to the public and the Fondation Claude Monet was established. Given the impact of the Water Lilies paintings, it is little wonder that the house and gardens at Giverny have become a very popular tourist destination, attracting over 600,000 visitors every year.

We were warned that Giverny would be crowded. It was, but friends had discovered a self-guided tour offered by Paris City Vision that would take us there and back by bus and, most important, ensure that we had a “group entrance” to the house and gardens. The “group entrance” meant we avoided the long line of individual visitors waiting to enter. We were able to enjoy the gardens and the house for as long as we wanted, at our own speed. As our time was our own, we spent the rest of the day indulging in a delectable meal at a very friendly and accommodating restaurant. On our return to Paris, the bus drove along the right bank of the Seine and gave us final views of the river and many of its attractions.

As someone who plays with gardening and enjoys photography, I found our visit to Giverny positively exhilarating. The present-day gardens have been planted “in the spirit of Monet,” an idealized version based, among other things, on records of seed orders found in the archives and on Monet’s many paintings of the gardens. Numerous planting schemes create a palette of bright colours which change with the seasons. In the summer, the roses, nasturtiums, lavender, lilies, irises, clematis, tulips, a range of perennials and annuals, take the breath away. By contrast, the greens and accent colours of the lily ponds, the Japanese bridge, the groves of bamboo, the weeping willows, and the reflections in the water induce a serenity which invites rest and contemplation. I would gladly return to the gardens again and in other seasons.

As for the house, I loved the Japanese prints and the other artworks on the walls (most, copies of originals hanging elsewhere), his bright yellow dining room, and the kitchen with its blue and white tiles, fireplace, copper pots, and massive stove. Claude Monet was a very successful artist who lived a long life, had influential friends, and was able to enjoy the fruits of his talents. The restoration of his family bequests will ensure that Giverny attracts visitors in perpetuity. Theirs is a gift to cherish.

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Tales from Charles de Gaulle Airport

During our recent trip to Paris, we had occasion to spend three nights at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was an interesting experience.

The hotel, the Innside by Melia, was pleasant enough, but not one I would recommend. The staff were friendly and helpful, but the hotel was not as well-located as it made out. The television and air conditioning did not work in the first room they put us into, and we had to change rooms. The service for multi-nights was deficient. Most important, there were problems with my credit card which were the fault of the hotel and their booking agent, booking.com, which may cost me unnecessary international telephone charges.

When I connected to the WiFi in our first room, I found an email from the hotel to the effect that my credit card had bounced and I had two hours to correct the situation. I knew that this was a mistake. When I had booked the hotel the previous week, CIBC had sent me a text asking that I confirm (Y) or not (N) a booking charge they had received from booking.com for prepayment of the room. I confirmed the payment and received another text telling me to go ahead with the transaction. I emailed booking.com on the Thursday to explain the situation and ensure that the room was confirmed. The following Monday, I checked in without a problem and, an hour later, received the nasty email from the hotel.

I texted CIBC. I then tried to call Canada to correct the situation. I called the number on the back of my credit card for calls from outside Canada and the United States. That number did not work. At first, I couldn’t get beyond the French telephone system. Then I got a message to the effect that, outside the USA, this call would cost $2.00 per minute, did I want to continue? I continued to hold, got my credit card balance, the date of my last payment, the minimum payment due at the end of July, etc., etc., but no person to deal with my problem nor to confirm that my call to CIBC would be “collect.” I ultimately hung up in utter frustration. I then noticed that there was a text on my smart phone from CIBC giving me yet another number to call.

By this time, the defects with our tv and air conditioning had become apparent. The staff person who moved us to another room then explained that my credit card was indeed okay, and that “there had been a miscommunication between booking.com and the hotel.” Gee, thanks. It would have been nice to have received an email from the hotel to that effect an hour earlier.

To escape the near-heart-attack anger I had experienced over the telephone, I decided to do a little recce. The staff said that the shuttle to CDG was just out the door, turn right and walk about five minutes to the CDGVAL, a train which links the three terminals and the parking lots at the airport. I followed the instructions, then the signs. After what seemed to be a very long time, I found the CDGVAL train which took me to Terminal 3 Roissypole.

Terminal 3 was spacious and roomy, cool and comfortable, totally upbeat. I found a bank of RER kiosks to purchase RER tickets and passes, with the help of a friendly, English-speaking team attached to an information desk. They provided me with all the information I needed.

Opposite the entrance to the RER was a good-sized Marks & Spencer. When I canvassed their stock, I realized that we could buy all that we needed for supper and breakfast, and we need not spend a single extra cent at our hotel. The problem was how to get the groceries (and the wine) back to the hotel. There was a bus shuttle that served some hotels at the airport, but not ours. I would have to walk back or take a taxi. The RER Information team told me where to find taxis.

Outside a nearby door, I met a group of Algerian-French taxi drivers sitting on a bench, their cars in a queue waiting for passengers. They had time to kill. I asked their stories, and they told me where they came from, how long they had been in France, and how they came to be there. We talked about Uber and how it was a threat to their business. I told them that I was from Canada, had once hitch-hiked across North Africa, and that I was the first anglophone to teach senior level English at the Normal School in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. One driver gave me three euros for the thirty ten-centime pieces that weighed down my wallet. Another told me about when he had once been to Canada. We had the most delightful time. Before I knew it, thirty minutes had passed and it was time to move on. I went back to M&S, bought my groceries and returned to get a cab. The “supervisor” of the taxi drivers agreed to drive me to our hotel for 14 euros. I felt that I had made a friend.

The next day, we walked to the CDGVAL shuttle station. Early in the morning, we discovered that the distance was not as far as it had seemed the night before. We then took the CDGVAL train shuttle to Terminal 1 to find the gate we would need for our return flight. For the heck of it, we also took the CDGVAL to Terminal 2 to see where most Air Canada flights depart. The train is very efficient, comfortable and frequent, but we realized that it would be difficult if we were loaded down with luggage. We decided that we would need a taxi to pick us up at our hotel and take us to Terminal 1. That’s ultimately what we did. The short drive from the hotel pickup to Terminal 1 on the last morning cost 20 euros.

I add the prices because there are now standardized rates imposed on taxis taking people to downtown Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport: 50 euros to the right bank, 55 euros to the left bank. Clearly, the taxis doing short runs at the airport are charging a premium.

I had asked my Algerian-French taxi driver friend what restaurant he would recommend at the airport. He suggested the buffet on the ground floor of the Ibis hotel in Terminal 3. We found the buffet only a few steps away from M&S. The meal was excellent, and the price perfectly reasonable. We ate so well at lunch that we needed nothing for dinner. The next time I want a hotel at CDG, I will book at this Ibis.

Returning to our hotel after the lovely meal at the Ibis was painless. Our hotel may have been the most distant of the “local” hotels, but with no baggage or groceries, it was a nice walk. The next day, we took an excursion to Giverny (see next post), returned to M&S that evening for more groceries, and then took another taxi back to our hotel. As the airport was busier at that hour, the taxi queue was longer and no one was keen to leave the queue for a short run. The drivers now quoted 20 euros for a run to our hotel. One who had been part of my conversation a couple of days before offered to do it for 15 and we went with him. I felt like I was a Charles de Gaulle “local.”

 

 

 

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Paris Thirty Years On

It’s been thirty years since we were last in Paris for any length of time. For all the eternal verities of the old monuments, museums, and traditional street scenes, the changes are striking. Apart from the update on the public transit system which I discussed in my last post, there is a new atmosphere in the city which illustrates the dynamism of the city.

What is most engaging is an apparently all-pervasive new interest among the French in speaking English. When I visited Paris as a student in the ’50s – ’70s, the French had a reputation for being unfriendly to visitors. They proudly spoke French and expected everyone else to do so as well. At one time, the French government actually ran a poster campaign encouraging their citizens to “be friendly” to visitors. Today, no such campaign is required.

Although my husband and I speak French, if not with a great accent, we both found this trip that everyone we talked to shifted into English the moment they heard our accent. Shopkeepers in all the local stores and in the department stores, bus drivers, security guards, “volunteers” in the subway, staff at the museums, other travellers on the buses or the Métro, people in the laundromat, all took the opportunity to speak English, even when their English may have been more limited than our French. Sometimes, when their English was in fact quite good or they had travelled in Canada or the United States, they would engage in long conversations.

Apparently, a new generation of French started learning English in grade school, studied the language for three or four years at least, and they are eager to practice what they remember. Many told us that they learned English because of the movies, music, and the media. Their enthusiasm for the language seems to reflect a new openness to engaging with visitors which we had not experienced before.

It seems ironic that, just as the French are embracing English as the principal means of communication in the world, the English are threatening Brexit. The British may not want to participate in the European Union, but the French at least have now adopted English. It’s a major victory for the English language which the Brits are spurning.

Another change is the all-pervasive use of credit cards and smartphones. Everybody pays for everything using bank cards. Tickets for public transit, groceries in the supermarkets, purchases in local stores, entries to the movie theatre, theatres and museums, restaurants and brasseries all prefer payment by bank card. To buy stamps for postcards, I had to use a machine at the local post office and use my bank card to pay for each 1.8 Euro stamp. Ordering tickets for the symphony or for museums presupposes that payment will be by bank card and that a smartphone can be used to show email copies of the tickets on entry. Our Canadian bank occasionally rejects purchases I have made on Visa and sends me a text seeking confirmation that the particular purchase is okay. Without a smartphone, I could not get the text. My husband, who has always resisted using smartphones, now realizes that having a smartphone, and knowing how to use it, have become necessities for contemporary travel.

The diversity of people in Paris is also evident. Public transit is full of people of all races, colours, and creeds from all over the world. There are so many tourists in Paris from Japan, China, and Korea that Asian languages are seen everywhere. And “ethnic” restaurants are proliferating in Paris as much as in Toronto. We discovered several small Asian restaurants which served delicious fare, were inexpensive and extremely friendly. Apart from McDonald’s and other North American chains, Marks & Spencer has many stores in the city, large and small, selling finely-prepared food which is reasonably priced, can be heated on the spot or eaten cold and is popular with tourists and locals alike. The busy Marks & Spencer at Terminal 3 of Charles De Gaulle airport is an outstanding example which we used often to provision informal dinners for our room at the airport. I wonder what will happen to M&S post-Brexit?

Another new development in Paris is the vast expansion of public greenery which now prevails in the city. In the past, open spaces were covered with gravel and sand. If there was grass, it was formal, considered decorative and people were forbidden to walk on it. Now, children play on the lawns at the Parc Montsouris and other such parks, and families picnic. The small open space just up the street from our apartment, now called Place des Droits de l’Enfant, sports trees, benches and public art. René Coty is a lovely boulevard nearby which runs from the Parc Montsouris to Denfert-Rochereau and onto the Boulevard Raspail. In the centre of this wide boulevard, tall trees now line a sidewalk on both sides, encouraging the public to walk in the shade. It is a beautiful street which has enhanced the quality of the neighbourhood enormously. The Paris City Council promotes these initiatives as part of their public policy priority favouring the greenification of public spaces.

There are several new attractions in Paris which warrant the attention of visitors. The Paris Symphony has built a striking new Philharmonic Hall at La Villette in the northeast of the city which opened in January 2015. The architecture is highly controversial, but the concert hall itself, the Grand Salle Pierre Boulez, seats 2400, all arranged around the orchestra which is placed in the centre. As everyone is seated so close to the maestro and can see the orchestra as it goes about its work, the intimacy of the concert is amazing. With excellent acoustics, the yellow, orange, and cream colours of the undulating lines of the room add to the glow of the music. The Institut du Monde Arabe is another new museum with breathtaking architecture, excellent amenities for seniors, and an emerging collection. In addition to the permanent historical and archaeological exhibits, a current exhibition shows art from contemporary artists from all over the Arab world, work we would not normally see. Another exhibition, called Foot et Monde Arabe, features Arab football players and teams that have been famous over time. Included are the Jordanian Women’s Football Team, and a presentation on playing football in Palestine under current conditions. The renovated Musée Picasso is utterly beautiful, with modern elevators, places to sit, and an innovative exhibition of Picasso’s lesser-known earlier work, and an exciting current exhibition comparing Picasso with mobile sculptor Alexander Calder. Clearly, there is much to see in Paris.

***** Thanks to Tim and Judith for their input.

 

 

 

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Mastering the Paris Transit System

The highlight of our recent visit to Paris was, for me at least, two bus rides I took towards the end of our five-week trip. As a student in Paris over fifty years ago (is it really fifty years?), the Paris subway system seemed marvellously extensive and, to my mind, had to be one of the best in the world. Then, it was so easy, and I took it for granted.

Not this trip. This time, I found that using Paris public transit in my mid-seventies was a significant challenge and a disturbing mark of my aging. As the weeks of our visit passed, my mood was affected by my reaction to Parisian public transit. I found myself dreaming about crowded buses and endless trips on the Métro. And thinking that this city was too big for me.

Unlike in Toronto (where public transit has become child’s play for politicians, sabotaged by years of political interference), public transit in a truly world-class city like Paris is a rapidly expanding complex venture which is constantly changing and appears to be based on a rational assessment of public needs. In Paris, now, there are 16 Métro subway lines, five RER rapid transit train lines, two trams, and endless bus routes. All snake across the city, intersect at some stations but not at others, and are accessible using some tickets but not others. All are well-used. Learning how this system works and how to use it safely is a major challenge.

We initially decided to use the buses which ran up a major street not far from our 14th Arrondissement apartment. We know that buses are slow, subject to the congestion of the streets, and often crowded. But they seemed to go more or less directly to places that we wanted to visit. And since we were visitors with no particular deadlines, when we arrived was of little concern, and we could enjoy the sight-seeing en route.

Alas, different buses on the same street have different stops, and the official schedule (which is indicated at each stop) is more aspiration than reality. When one must wait too long, there is no choice but to take a cab or search for the nearest Métro stop. On one bus ride, there was some sort of demonstration on the street and, without prior notice, the bus driver just abandoned his route and dumped all the riders several blocks from where we wanted to go. As we walked to the Musée d’Orsay that morning, my husband swore that he would never again take a Parisian bus.

Buses also seemed to be dominated by older people, many with disabilities, some in wheelchairs and many young mothers with children in strollers. There is a reason for that. The subway system is comprehensive, relatively reliable, and in the process of being upgraded everywhere with the occasional rolling sidewalk, new security doors, escalators, and signage.

Notwithstanding these obvious improvements, we became acutely aware of the demands that the Paris Métro makes on its users. The Métro is built using long tunnels linking one line to another and using many steps, often on several steep staircases. For someone with mobility issues, using a cane or walking stick, or pushing a baby stroller, the Métro is decidedly difficult. We became very conscious of which Métro stations had escalators and where they were located. Elevators appeared to be non-existent. The stairs on the Métro became a factor which favoured the buses.

Another complexity of the Paris Métro system is the size of the stations and the variety of exits (sorties) provided. At Châtelet-les-Halles, for example, there are at least ten different sorties, some of which are accessible not in the station itself but via the nearby Les Halles shopping mall. The direction of the sorties is marked but finding them may require consulting the maps posted on the walls or help from one of the many English-speaking “volunteers” there to assist visitors like us. Going out the wrong sortie can put you a long distance away from where you want to go. Nobody wants to walk outside at length under a hot summer sun.

Since the RER lines were built after most Métro lines, RER stations will not necessarily be at exactly the same place as the Métro station with the same name. Everything is marked, but visitors have to be alert to the signage and take the time to follow it precisely. Miss the correct signage, and you will find yourself going on the wrong subway line, or the wrong direction on a Métro or the RER.

Learning to use the more modern and accessible light rail RER lines is a major step forward. The RER lines extend across the City and far into the exurban suburbs. The RER line we used when we lived in France thirty years ago goes from Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse in La Vallée de Chevreuse to the west of Paris all the way to Charles de Gaulle Airport in the east. A “new” (to me) RER line now extends to Versailles Rive Gauche, a short walk to the palace and its gardens.

In the city, the RER lines act as an express train, stopping at fewer stops than the Métro and crossing the same area much more quickly and comfortably. So long as one’s route is in the city, the same ticket applies and there is no additional cost. It is more expensive if one is using the RER to go out of the city. To go from downtown to CDG airport, for example, costs about 10 Euros each way, but that cost covers all your Métro transport on that trip within the city itself. To get from downtown to St. Rémy costs 5.8 Euros. To go to Versailles costs 3 something Euros. If you are spending the day travelling the RER and the Métro, a day pass is cheaper than two one-way fares.

Clearly, those familiar with Parisian public transport use the RER system a lot. On our last day there, we used the Métro and the RER to go all the way from CDG to the Tuileries (near the Louvre) and back using a day pass. Each trip took less than 45 minutes (even with one change between the Métro and the RER and the need to use a long moving sidewalk at the exchange). Most of the way, it was comfortable and uncrowded.

In addition to the buses, the Métro, and the RER, Paris now also has at least two tram lines which are modern and accessible. I travelled on the T3A line from Pont du Garigliano near the Bois de Boulogne in the west to Porte de Vincennes in the east, and then on the T3B line from Vincennes to the new symphonic theatre at Parc de la Villette in the 19th Arrondissement in the northeast. That line extends further around the north of Paris all the way west to the Porte d’Asnières near Clichy. These are comfortable new light rapid transit lines which are above ground, have frequent stops, connect at no additional cost to the bus system, and provide public transit to more distant suburbs where the density of population does not warrant underground Métro service. They are also designed to accommodate crowds and wheelchairs.

The Paris trams are precisely what was planned and funded for Scarborough eons ago. In Toronto, they got scuttled by Rob Ford and other politicians of all persuasions who continually put their own interests above the needs of the public. Toronto imposed an extra 1% tax on everyone to pay for the extended Scarborough line and still squabbles about the nature of what should be built. While we have nothing, Parisians enjoy the use of their modern new trams in a timely fashion. 

The final weekend I was in Paris, I mastered the bus system. After visiting the new L’Institut du Monde Arabe, located near the Seine and east of Nôtre Dame, I found a bus stop (#89) right there which went to the Porte de France, a station on the new tram line. I knew that the bus which runs right near our apartment (#62) also went to the Porte de France. So I caught the #89. For my single ticket which cost 1.9 Euro, I rode to the end of the line, discovering many interesting new developments east of the massive National Library en route. I then transferred free of charge onto the #62 to take me back to the apartment. For much of the time, I had the bus to myself. When I didn’t, I was obviously the only non-local on the bus, and my fellow travellers were very helpful ensuring the I got off at the correct stop. I felt that I was back in the Paris that I once knew well.

It was apparent throughout all our use of the Parisian public transit that the French will always give up their seats (on the bus, Métro, RER or tram) to anyone who is disabled, using a cane or even just older. On the single occasion when this did not happen almost instantly, I was in a very crowded tram, confused about where to pay using my ticket (rather than the passes locals use) and rather abruptly asked a young teenage boy for his seat. He got up complaining about “the pushy American” who thinks she can take his seat. A French woman watching the incident admonished him that his complaints were totally unjustified; as a Frenchman, he should have given up his seat voluntarily. 

A related incident occurred at the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle on Isle de la Cité. I was sitting beside several young anglophone tourists who occupied five of the twenty or so chairs set up down one side of the chapel. An older, grey-haired French woman stopped in front of them and in polite French asked if she could have a seat. The girls stared blindly, did not move, and the senior went on her way. The youngest then turned to her companions and said that she did not understand what the woman had said. When I told them that she was asking for them to give her a seat, the five were embarrassed, got up and left. Clearly, it takes a village….

 

 

 

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The Perils of Visiting Paris as a Senior

I thought that I knew Paris well. We spent the first year of our marriage living in a sixth-floor walk-up apartment in the Second Arrondissement just off rue St. Denis. In l988-89, during a sabbatical year as a family living in La Vallée de Chevreuse, the lush green “Silicon Valley” to the west of the city, we were in Paris at least weekly. During that year, I drove all over the city and I didn’t think twice about showing the sights to my parents and their friends who were then in their early seventies.

But I have never visited Paris as a senior… and that makes all the difference. What a culture shock that has been. The city has certainly changed in the thirty years since we last lived here. (I’ll talk about that in another post.) More importantly, I have changed. Now approaching 75 years of age (which is only late “middle age” in the current era), our recent visit to Paris has taught me much about myself, and the perils of travelling as one ages.

First, I find it much more difficult adapting to change. It’s harder to travel, and takes longer to settle into a new environment, and to feel comfortable in new situations. Secondly, there are practical perils of big cities which I must recognize and learn to deal with for my own protection. Paris may be no different from any other big city but, for these purposes, it is the city which has made me personally aware of the challenges imposed by aging.

The biggest peril is falling. I have not had a problem with falling in the past. On this trip, I fell four times. Twice occurred in the same spot on the sidewalk to the nearby RER station, with no great consequences. The friends I was with the second time realized that I had tripped on a defective grate in the sidewalk. The third time was a major tumble on the sidewalk where I walked every day. This time, I was preoccupied with our conversation, stepped into the gravelled tree well of a tree lining the sidewalk and took a major tumble. I hit my head, broke my glasses, and suffered cuts and bruises to my face, hands, wrists, arms, and knees. Some stranger had to lift me up off the ground. The fourth fall was getting onto a bus on the tarmac at Frankfurt airport on our way home. I tripped on the entry to the bus, falling on all the injuries from before. Fortunately, I broke nothing. Probably one of the few advantages of being plump. (My brother, a family doc, once commented that the Canadian Health Care system would save significant resources if seniors could be bubble-wrapped. My bubble-wrap must be built in.)

My husband is the official “faller” in our family. Whenever he falls, he breaks something. He has gone through a series of tests over the years to diagnose the cause of his falling and has used a cane to aid his mobility for at least the last year. He had three falls in Paris, two not particularly serious, the other when he fell in the door of a brasserie, had to be lifted up by someone in uniform, and suffered sufficient injury and indignity that thereafter he ceased most sight-seeing.

Now, I am using a walking stick regularly, and am trying hard to concentrate on where I walk and how. I’ve learned that the sidewalks of Paris are remarkably uneven and that any construction (which seems as all-pervasive there as elsewhere) causes major changes to the surface of the sidewalks and roads nearby. I’ve learned that trees and the areas in which they are planted can be hazards, and that publicity posters can be dangerous distractions. The huge crowds of people who fill the sidewalks in the touristy areas and the popular museums are moving quickly and constantly jostling. The public transit system is full of steps, long corridors, and publicity which distracts from the need to pay very close attention to where I am going and what I am doing.

When I was younger, I used the Paris Métro with great joy and abandon. Now, I think twice about the nature of the transit I am going to use and the qualities of particular lines and stations. Which stations have escalators and moving sidewalks? Which stations have long steps to climb? Which exits will help me avoid the crowds? Or shorten the distance I have to walk? (I will do my next post on the Paris Transit system.)

Visiting museums and attending events has become a real pain. There are long lineups for security inspections and then to purchase entry tickets. Unless you like standing in a slow-moving line in the heat for long periods of time, it is necessary to pre-purchase museum tickets. There is a variety of Paris Museum Passes available, including ones for two, four and six days, which give priority access. I bought mine on the spot at the Paris Tourism Office located in the Hôtel de Ville. One can also buy passes and tickets on the internet. My friend bought hers from home and traded the voucher she received on the internet for an actual pass when she arrived. It is not necessary to have printed tickets. One can also use priority entrances by showing tickets that are stored on one’s smartphone. The bottom line, however, is that you really need a smartphone and to know how to use it.

Even with priority access for tickets, there is still the need to stand in the security lines. Security lines exist everywhere; most are reasonably efficient, but they do require standing with no place to sit down. And, at the Louvre, for example, the line outside the Pyramid entrance is in the hot sun. When one visits a particular museum or monument now depends on how long the security lines will be at any given time of the day.

As for the museums themselves, in the summer, they are very crowded, so much so that one feels no desire or ability to see what the museum has to offer. Too often, the museums have very few places to sit, and are full of steps to climb and rooms that have been closed “for renovation.” It is remarkable how poor the cafeteria and restaurant facilities generally are: few and far between, hard to find, under-staffed, with slow service (made worse by the fact that almost everyone uses bank cards to pay).

The Louvre, for example, prides itself on its “accessibility for the disabled” and its Museum Plan. After standing in the hot sun to get through the security line, I was invited to take a small elevator downstairs to the entry level. I visited the Disability Office to get a plan of the Museum and find out where everything was. These were welcome surprises, harbingers I thought of a good visit ahead.

Alas, not true. The Louvre was by far the worst of all the museums I visited on this trip. I found it impossible to find the elevators, and staff hired to provide “information” gave contradictory directions. The elevators that do exist are small, old-fashioned and dreadfully slow. Too many escalators were out of order. Signage was totally inadequate. I soon discovered that reading room numbers high above from a distance conflicts with my need to use reading glasses for the identifying information provided in the Museum Plan. In one area of the Museum where many of the rooms are empty for renovations, there was no advance notice of a dead-end corridor which required everyone to retrace their steps back through many rooms already seen. The restaurants and washrooms were lamentable and totally inadequate for the millions of people who pass through the Louvre every year.

Better to go to a smaller place which is less popular. I will never again go to the Louvre, even though the “Medieval Louvre” with its original foundations built in 1200 and 1385 is one of my favourite spots in all of the city. Were I to return to Paris, I would gladly revisit Le Petit Palais with its permanent collection of art owned by the City which is spacious, quiet, free of charge and has lots of places to sit. Or the Rodin Museum with its lovely gardens. Or even the Musée de l’Armée which has been modernized, and offers commentary in several languages and lots of movies (inherent places to sit). Or the spectacular new L’Institut du Monde Arabe with its banks of modern elevators and plethora of comfortable white leather sofas strategically located throughout the gallery.

As an older person, my priority has become my personal well-being and safety. To enjoy a museum, having places to sit has become important, to appreciate the artefacts, rest and, most importantly, to avoid falling. Having a readily available restaurant or café, without long lineups for payment, is a necessity to satisfy medical needs and prevent dehydration. These are new criteria to think about when travelling.

 

 

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Justice Belobaba’s Decision in The City of Toronto et al v. Ontario

This is a brilliant decision which everyone must read.

I commend it to you. Check it out.  It can be found on the internet.

My comments will follow once I have finished the two further films I am seeing today at TIFF.

Reacting to the May 27th Leaders’ Debate

Yesterday morning, between 6:30 and 8:00 a.m. China time, I watched the Ontario Leaders’ Debate live on my iPad in our hotel room in Luoyang in central China. It was a great debate. If you didn’t catch it, I would urge you to see it for yourself on the internet. Undoubtedly, it’s there somewhere.

All three leaders did much better than previously. Doug Ford is “learning to play the game,” but is long-winded, bombastic, and suffers from lack of any concrete platform or experience. Watching Doug Ford talk about daycare was positively hilarious; hearing him tout his “experience” at Toronto City Hall (a downright lie) must have been embarrassing for his party. Andrea Horwath is positively spritely, quick-witted, aggressive, and clearly an talented parliamentary debater. She was onto Ford like a bulldog, and scored points against Wynne on hydro privatization, if nothing else.

Kathleen Wynne was superb. From her opening statement, where she said, “I am sorry that you don’t like me,” but, “I am not sorry” about all the things my government has done, she showed herself head and shoulders over the other two.

Ford railed on against a carbon tax; Wynne told how she has talked with business leaders about how best to deal with carbon emissions and then implemented a cap and trade system which is effective and which conservatives are happy with. (See Andrew Coyne, he agrees with Wynne.) Ford said he will consult with front line professionals about how best to reform the health care system. Wynne explained that developing policy required her government to consult with these professionals already; if Ford had done so, he might actually have a campaign platform by now. Ford complained about Ontario’s debt load. Wynne replied that the debt has been accumulated to build necessary infrastructure funding for the power system, for health care, for transit, all that previous governments neglected. Wynne challenged Andrea Horwath on her Achilles’ heel, her refusal to support “return to work” legislation against public sector unions, and gave the York University strike as an example of the need for government intervention when collective bargaining reaches an impasse where no settlement is possible. When does the public interest have to dominate over the interests of particular unions?

I was awestruck by Wynne’s cool, calm, and mature contributions to the debate. She is totally knowledgeable about all the issues on her plate, discusses them with intelligence and sensitivity, and presented as an absolutely wonderful leader who deserves our respect. Why people dislike her so is beyond me. I see her at 65 years of age, at the height of her powers. She may well endure the demands of political life and the rigours of this particular campaign because she runs daily. What a role model she is for all of us.

 

 

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The Inside Dope on the 2018 Ontario Election, Riding by Riding

If you are concerned about the upcoming provincial election, you owe it to yourself to get beyond the polls and the media’s painfully inadequate coverage. There is a third source which I have just discovered. It’s called the Election Prediction Project and is found at www.electionprediction.com.

The website offers an analysis of the local factors affecting the election campaign and the likely results in each riding. It lists the candidates in each riding (or lack thereof, even at this late stage). It describes the nature of each constituency, and earlier voting records (both provincial and federal).

Particularly useful is the information it provides about the many ridings reconfigured since the last provincial election. You will find a list of the incumbents affected by the redrawn electoral boundaries, and the previous results in the old ridings transposed to the new ones. There have been significant changes in many ridings since the last election and, if you are anything like me, you may not know the precise details of how the changes affect your riding.

Apart from these mechanics, the website is a window into current conditions and personalities running in each riding. Ordinary members of the public offer periodic submissions, based on their insight and experience, about what is going on locally and who they expect to prevail. The rules for posting require that each submission give some concrete reason for the view expressed and conform to specified standards. We cannot know the political persuasion of the authors, but diatribes and ideological debates are discouraged. Reading the posts is like sitting in on a discussion among local political junkies about the ridings they know best. Based on the submissions posted to the site, a panel of editors of diverse political backgrounds predicts the likely result.

For political junkies like me, and for anyone who wants to understand what is happening at the riding level in this election, The Election Prediction Project is invaluable.

There is a map breaking down the province and allocating each constituency to one of five regions in the province: The City of Toronto (416), The 905, Eastern Ontario, Southwestern Ontario, and Northern Ontario. You can find your own and neighbouring ridings, and other key ridings of interest across the province.

The latest “Current Prediction” (effective 2018-04-28) put the projected results in seats as follows: Liberal 20, Progressive Conservative 49, New Democratic 16, and Too Close to Call 39, for a total of 124 ridings. Given the polls we hear, even 39 seats considered “too close to call” surprised me. That offers some hope for a variety of scenarios.

Just to see how the website works, let’s look at Beaches-East York, which is a Liberal seat as yet too close to call. Apparently, the strong NDP candidate who ran there last time is not running this time, and, absent strong local candidates, this is said to be a riding that could vote for a leader like Wynne over Horwath. On the other hand, the close split in the vote last time could bleed votes from the Liberal incumbent to the NDP, making this riding an NDP pickup.

Or, take Mississauga Centre, where Tanya Granic Allen secured the PC nomination last week. This is a new riding cobbled together from four earlier constituencies, all of which voted Liberal in the last provincial election. If the post-Ford-win polls correctly show a massive switch to the Tories, this riding and its adjacent seats could turn on a dime and the Liberals could be wiped out in the region. But this riding is not considered socially conservative and many Tories are annoyed that the new leader overturned the nomination of the previous PC candidate in favour of a “parachute” candidate.

Check out the discussion of Etobicoke North (Doug Ford’s riding) and Don Valley West (Kathleen Wynne’s riding). Both could be tight races, depending on who turns out to vote. 

***** ADDENDUM: Yesterday’s NOW published a very interesting analysis called “Ontario Election Watch: Your Primer on 20 Make-or-Break Races in Toronto and the 905,” including a piece about “Why is Doug Ford Running Scared?” They have also launched an online hub at nowtoronto.com/election2018 to monitor all 124 ridings across the province leading up to June 7th. As they say, “Now more than ever, it’s important to be informed.” I agree and intend to bookmark it.

 

 

 

 

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Costa Rica #4: Touring the Northwest Beaches

Seen one beach, seen them all? Not so in Costa Rica. The ones we saw were all different. The interior I-21, which runs from south of Nicola to Santa Cruz and then to Liberia, is the spine from which numerous side roads head west to different beach areas. These main roads are paved, but access roads to many more remote beaches are not, and a 4WD is necessary to negotiate gravel and dirt roads, some surprisingly rough.

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The vast Playa Grande is across the estuary from Tamarindo and, apart from the surfers offshore, has practically no one on it. Crocodiles and caymans are said to live in the estuary and, as the beach and its hinterland are part of the protected Parque Nacional Marino las Baulas (Leatherback Turtle Marine National Park), development adjacent to the beach is prohibited. According to Lonely Planet, the area is one of the world’s prime nesting beaches for these leatherback turtles, which can live for 50 years and weigh up to 400 kilograms. Apparently, they come ashore at night to lay their eggs, which later hatch on the beach, and then go out to sea. We didn’t see any, but friends have.

Thirteen kilometres south is Avellana, a broad white sand expanse of remote beach with high waves and good breaks for advanced surfers. It was here, and at nearby Playa Negra, that Bruce Brown filmed his classic surfer film, Endless Summer 2, in 1994. Apart from the excellent surfing, the leading attraction is Lola’s bar and bistro, named after a succession of porcine mascots. It is an idyllic spot in the sand under the palms, great for good food and leisurely lounging. Those who don’t surf spend their time at Lola’s.

We made several trips north. Not far from Tamarindo is Playa Flamingo, Playa Potrero and, at the end of a more remote road that rises high above the coast, Playa Danta. Flamingo has a broad protected bay ideal for yachts, and another white sand beach along the open sea. On the beach, locals stretch colourful materials between the trees to stake out their space, I guess, and get a little shade. The sand at Potrero, dark coloured and apparently rich in marine life, attracts vultures and pelicans dive-bombing into the water for their food. Danta is a charming beach in a narrow little bay. Apart from the sand, flat rock shelves extend out of the water. Lucio recommends the area for snorkelling. At the moment, the bay is used almost exclusively by locals. There is, however, a huge high-rise development being built just inland from the beach. Once finished, this little local paradise will be inundated by occupants of the new resort, a classic example of the conflict between the natural beauty of Costa Rica and ongoing development for tourism.

On another trip further north, we spent some time at Playa Hermosa, considered one of the quieter and more beautiful bays in the area. Hermosa Bay is utterly delightful, a narrow semi-circle of water and grey sand with tall trees providing ample shade along the shoreline. There is no surf here, only water splashing into the bay. The scene seemed so inviting that I decided to wade in. Within minutes, a huge wave over my head surged in, totally swept me off my feet, and, before I knew it, my glasses were swept away. Silly “gringo.” I should have gone wading at the far end of beach where the “tico” children were swimming and playing on a more protected shelf of sand.

Losing my glasses meant that I could not drive. I had brought a spare pair which were at the apartment. But that prescription is 20 years out of date, so driving with those spare glasses was not possible. When I returned to Vancouver, I immediately saw an optometrist to get new glasses. She found cataracts I never knew I had. Now, I am waiting for an appointment with an ophthalmologist and, likely, cataract surgery. There is an ophthalmologist here in Vancouver who could see me in early March and do the surgery in late May. I’ve been seeking options back in Toronto. Who would have thought that a vacation in Costa Rica would lead to interprovincial negotiations between Canada’s health care systems? Moral of the story? Pay attention where you enter the sea in Costa Rica. And always travel with an extra, up-to-date, pair of glasses.

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Costa Rica #2: Adapting to the Heat

"The Ocean" on Tamarindo Beach

“The Ocean” on Tamarindo Beach

Renting the Tamarindo condo for two weeks was our first experience of living in a hot country for an extended period with no fixed agenda. Many people go south every winter. Most go for a short beach holiday, for a respite from the cold. Some retirees we know spend several weeks or even months in Florida, Mexico or Costa Rica every year. Theirs are extended stays where they live in the heat, in a different country and culture, for long periods of time. 

When I have travelled before in hot countries, I was either working or touring. Working in Africa, we taught in the morning from seven until noon, came home to a main meal prepared by our French-trained housekeeper, took a siesta for two hours, showered an in the late afternoon-early evening, did our errands about town on our Mobylettes, or had cocktails with our friends. It was early to bed, early to rise, and the routine was fixed. On weekends and on school vacations, we toured or socialized.

Touring in hot countries, hitchhiking and using local transport as young people, or more recently in small tour groups, the goal was to “see the sights.” As young people, we had things to do and places to see, the more the merrier, whatever the temperature. As older adults, our touring timetables were set by skilled travel guides, and all we had to do was to follow along. Airports, buses and hotels are typically air-conditioned. A good tour guide mixes up the experience so that, from several different base locations, there is a good balance between sight-seeing and “down time.”

I had anticipated visiting the cloud forests, canopy hikes, volcanos and hot pools around Arenal and Monteverde in the mountainous interior. This was my stereotypical view of Costa Rica. For a variety of reasons, including the vagaries of aging, and a mishap I will discuss later, we were unable to go there. Next time. And none of us were into the surfing, snorkelling, sailing, deep-sea fishing and late-night partying that makes Tamarindo such a hot spot for sun-loving young people and sports activists. When touring is not the goal and we are not surfers, I initially wondered what we would do. How it is that our ex-pat friends spend their time abroad?

Adapting to the heat is a shock and imposes its own imperatives. Local trips in the car or hiking on the beach start early and end early. Midday, it is wise to be in the shade, in a beachside bistro bar or at home on the balcony. Walking at that time is foolhardy. Even the surfers go home until late afternoon. Once the sun goes down, nightfall comes quickly. Driving or walking in the dark didn’t seem a good idea and we hadn’t yet learned how to use the local cabs. The best time of day is the early morning when we wake up to the birds singing, and the reverberating guttural roars of the alpha male howling monkeys saluting the dawn. Then, a leisurely breakfast is in order. That’s the key. Leisurely.

It took me several days to slow down and learn that the heat liberates us to pursue our normal daily activities, but at a slower pace than at home. We sink into what we most like to do: eating, drinking, cooking, socializing, sleeping well (for a change), swimming in the pool, reading, learning how to use my new camera, writing posts for Facebook, checking our favourite sites on the iPad or computer. All at leisure, without any pressing daily activities, and in a sublime setting with a warm climate, it can become a great life.

Today’s howling monkey photos were taken by Lucy Ramos. Thanks, Lucy.

***** My first Costa Rica post omitted photos I intended. I’ve now inserted them. Have a look. *****

 

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A “Life Changing” Costa Rica Vacation: Setting the Scene

It’s been over a month since I last put up a post. Where has the time gone? The cliché that time goes faster and faster every year as we age is all too true. In the interval, my husband and I have been from Petawawa to Ottawa to Vancouver to Costa Rica and back to Vancouver. No wonder posting has fallen by the wayside. I hope to make up for it in the weeks ahead.

Costa Rica was a new venture for us. For two weeks, we rented a charming apartment high on a hill, overlooking Tamarindo, on the northwest Pacific coast of the country. Tamarindo is located in the region of Guanacaste, about an hour and half drive southwest from Liberia, the home of Daniel Oduber International Airport. The coast is a plethora of bays and beaches which attract tourists and expats from all over the world. Inland, the high hills are covered with dry forest; the plateaus and valleys used for growing sugar and cattle ranching. This is Costa Rica’s “cowboy country.”

The apartment is owned by friends from the YMCA in Toronto who, three years ago, retired from their west end real estate business to take up residence for part of each year in Costa Rica. It has an expansive 180° view over the Playa Grande (beach) and the Playa Tamarindo, and the canopy of green over the town below and the nearby hillsides. It is a short walk on a dirt road down the hill to the paved main street of Tamarindo with its colourful jumble of shops, hotels, bars and restaurants, all hidden by the trees from our sight, in our aerie above. A thriving hotspot which attracts surfers from all over the world, Tamarindo apparently has a raucous night life. High above, we heard little of it.

Our apartment is located on the penthouse floor of a 17-unit pseudo-German-Spanish château called La Residence Colina. It is a massive four-storey white cement structure with a large wood roof with red tiles, and balconies across the facade. Beneath the balconies is a large undulating swimming pool, surrounded by a garden of tropical plants, some with bright coloured blooms. The pool and the garden, and the view from the balcony, are a constant refreshment to the eyes and the spirit.

Inside the apartment, there are two bedrooms, two baths, a large fully equipped kitchen and living room area and then the balcony which extends across the width of the apartment. The ceilings are high with hanging fans turning constantly under the massive wood roof. On the white walls, an artist had painted brightly coloured motifs of fish, flowers, plants and pots in exchange for her rent. There are wooden doors and windows, tiles on the floor, and wrought iron gates strategically placed to provide privacy for the individual units.

When the breezes are blowing, it is delightfully cool. When the breezes drop, it is very hot (33° Celsius), but we never thought to close the windows and doors so we could turn on the air-conditioning. Sometimes, great gusts of dry, dusty wind blow our furniture across the patio, or slam shut any shutters not locked open. Late afternoon, the western sun is so hot that it forces us to retreat indoors from the balcony.

 

I am going on at length about the apartment because we spent a lot of time there, most often on the balcony. That will be the subject of further posts.

As always, click on any photo above to see larger files in a carousel format.

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Voter Suppression?

The Official Advance Polls for the 2015 federal election opened at noon today. As I wrote previously, this election campaign has gone on far too long and I wanted to cast my vote and forget about it. My experience was an interesting and totally novel one.

In the old days (way back when) municipal, provincial and federal elections were held at the local school. Typically, a large room near the front door was set aside for several polls. The rooms were spacious, airy, and perfectly comfortable. Tables with the election official and the party scrutineers would be set up at each polling station around the room, to process the voters. Voters formed a line and, with the help of assistants, approached the appropriate tables as they cleared. As each voter gave their name, accompanied by their voter information card or other identification, the official found it on the voters list, provided a ballot, and the voter went behind a screen to vote. It was a congenial process, civilized and comfortable.

That was not my experience today. Two advance polls were located in a stuffy little room on the main floor of a local church partially renovated for commercial and residential uses. Voters entered the building into a narrow corridor and were first directed to a table where officials checked their voter’s card, their identification and the list. Then they were directed to stand at the end of a line of voters waiting to enter the little room where the two polls were located.

I arrived at the voting station at 12:15, shortly after it first opened. Already, the line up of voters pre-screened for voting extended into the narthex of the church. Several older folk, including myself, were permitted to sit in the few chairs jammed along the edge of the corridor. It was hot, stuffy, and already congested, as we waited patiently to be admitted into the actual room where voting took place. An assistant guarded that door, letting three voters per poll in at a time. Although people were generally congenial, the process was cumbersome and uncomfortable. Clearly the venue was far too small for those waiting to vote and all the officials.

When it came my turn, I presented my card and identification to the two officials at the polling desk as I had been instructed to do. One turned over the pages of the voters list, found my name, and expressed concern. My name was already crossed off, not by pen or pencil as would have been the case if it had been done by a live official, but apparently there was a computer-generated line through my name. You can imagine my surprise! The official indicated that the line through my name meant either that I had voted already, or that I had requested that my name be removed from the list. Clearly not the case. What is this? How come I was struck from the list? Was there now a ban on bloggers voting?

The returning officer had a problem. He took my voter info card and went to check the list at the identification table where I had already been cleared. He asked me to accompany him. On that list, there was no line through my name. He could give no explanation for why my name had been struck from one list and not the other. Nor for why my name had been struck from one list at all. He produced a form for me to fill out, attesting to how long I have lived in the riding (since 1977), and requesting that my name be added to the list. They gave me my ballot, I voted and that was that.

Moral of the story: This was the first hour of the first day of the advance polls. My companion and I required nearly 40 minutes to vote. And there was a problem. I would be interested in knowing if other people have problems voting. And how long it takes you to vote. And whether all voting stations are so cramped and crowded. Be warned.

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