Monday, March 27, 2017

Pittsburgh: the old and the new

SAT 11 Mar
Depart 12:35 from Toronto City Aiport, 5 mins late on Porter Bombardier Q400. Steamwhistle Pilsner on plane. Arrive Pittsburgh 13:35, very quiet at the airport. Uber/Lyft stand at the airport shows they are moving with the times. 28X Flyer bus, free for seniors, blagged my way on without proper ID, Annette $2.75. Busway and tunnel to city centre. About 45 minutes.
After short walk from bus arrive at trendy Hotel Kimpton Monaco, 620 William Penn Place, at 15.25. Then stroll round downtown. First impressions: shuttered everywhere. Pittsburgh has contracted so much that it is overprovided with buildings. But the city is an architectural treasure box, to rival Chicago for interest, if not scale. There are all but no cranes to be seen. Nashville it is not - approximately 500 miles and a world away. Nevertheless Pittsburgh has tried harder than most rustbelt cities to recover from the loss of the once-dominant steel industry.
The iconic Kauffmann's Dept Store (later Macy's) is closed, famous for "meet me under the clock." Irish Fair in the Square is underway with band "The Hillbilly Way" grunge-country rockers cranking it out in the freezing cold. "The twang's the thang!" Decided against supper on the square as it was full of drunk revellers celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Bought milk at Rite-Aid, very down home. Retreated to the hotel where more persons in green attire were partying. Free local beer: "Penn Pilsner."
Supper at newly-opened Talia next door. Spendy at $115 incl tip. Food and service good. Farrotto main course - barley-based, similar to risotto, Montepulciano red wine (no house wine here).
SUN 12 Mar
To The Commoner in the hotel for breakfast, pierogis and poached eggs, oatmeal, coffee, $39 incl tip. Duralex glasses at the table.
71C bus to Point Breeze, via Oakland, University of Pittsburgh, Penn Avenue for Frick Museum (at Penn and Homewood). About 40 mins ride. Car museum and small motoring library. Bought book: Meet You in Hell - Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and the Bitter Partnership that Transformed America, by Les Standiford, $16.05 incl tax.
Clayton House Tour (the home of Henry Clay Frick), $12, Seniors $10. German Welte Style 6 Concert Orchestrion in the sun porch facing onto Penn Ave. It was not working when we were there. I wonder who will repair it?
Lunch at The Cafe at the Frick, 7227 Reynolds St. Hot tea, soup and sandwich, $32.64 for two. Supper from Subway, 414 Smithfield Street, $12.95 takeout.
MON 13 Mar

Pic by ALT.
Walk via Union Trust Building ($100m renovation) to Apollo Cafe - veggie omelet and coffee, $14.34 for two. Spotted Uber "driverless" Volvo SUV. The old and the new in Pittsburgh. Purchase 2 x $7 transit passes at Steel Plaza, go anywhere all day. Take subway/street car across the river bridge to Station Square and the old Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railway station, superb interior, now a restaurant. Old railcars outdoors. Subway remarkably clean and safe. Purchased Bomber Harris - His Life and Times, by Henry Probert, $4.98 remaindered at Bradley's Bookshop, in the old engine shed.
Cross the street to the Monongahela Incline for Mount Washington, coffee at Grand Brew, Shiloh St., walk one mile along Grandview Avenue to the Duquesne Incline, spectacular views, descent, then bus to downtown.
Cold. Winter Storm Stella is expected. One O'clock lunch at Au Bon Pain, 625 Liberty Ave., soup and bagel, $11.52 for two. Panhandling conman in evidence.
Supper at The Tap Room bar, at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Fish & Chips, Salmon Salad, $55. We note that the hotel is an old haunt of bandleader Lawrence Welk. Also that former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stayed here on Thursday 24 September 2009. The socialist 'son of the manse' knew how to get his snout in the trough!
TUES 14 Mar
Breakfast at Bruegger's Bagels, "Authetic New York Style," 531 Grant Street, $13.23. A haunt of low-lifes.
Walk to Amtrak station, a magnificent old building, now private apartments. Due to the bad weather the Amtrak train from Chicago is short-stopped at Pittsburgh (engine #112). Parked at the platform is the Ohio Central private rail car "Sugarcreek." Amtrak-employee Richard Mayorsky cheerfully answers our questions. At his suggestion we walk up the side of the station to view an old Pennsylvania Rail Road sign.

Pic by ALT.
Walk on to the Senator John Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman Street. The man at the cash desk says Pittsburgh is the "most liveable city." We watch a film of old-time city streetcars, sat aboard PCC trolley #1724. There was a time when streetcars inspired composers viz: The Trolley March, J.S. Duss, 1901. Like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh has lost its streetcars downtown (they are now underground). They could have exploited the tourist potential, exemplified by San Francisco.
On display a 1936 stainless steel Ford Deluxe Sedan, built by Allegheny Steel and the Ford Motor Company to demonstrate the practical and promotional uses of stainless steel. Old sign on wall for Horne's Department Store at Penn Ave/Stanwix Street, named changed to Lazarus in 1994. Displays re Heinz Ketchup, which has the keystone on the label. The company started out making horseradish sauce and later became known for pickles. Splendid archive facilities on sixth floor. Lunch at the museum, among the exhibits, $7.76.
In the evening to Earth Inspired Salads, 61 William Penn Place, $21.14, There was enough food for three meals. So we took a doggie bag back to the hotel to make a supper for the morrow.
WED 15 Mar
Breakfast at busy Starbucks, Omni William Penn Hotel, $11.34.
61C bus to Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Library, Forbes & Craig. I do some research at the (free) Library, while Annette tours the art museum and natural history exhibits (nominally $20, but free for school teachers). The Cafe Carnegie, 4400 Forbes Ave, for lunch: Pumpkin Pasta Bake, Veggie Pot Pie, $42. Suitable on a cold day.
After lunch to Caliban's Bookstore, 410 S Craig St., purchased Maigret and the Killer, Georges Simenon, $12. Back to town on #58 bus, going all round the 'burbs. Jimmy John's for cookie and sandwich, 501 Grant St., $9.28. Put together with leftovers made a supper for two.
THURS 16 Mar
Walk to The Strip. In the Kitchen store, 1725 Penn Ave., where Annette scores a Garlic Saver, $5.34. P&Gs Pamela's Diner, fifties style breakfast, $27 incl tip. Backtrack to Bradleys Book Outlet, 2019 Penn Ave: Treasure Hunt, an Inspector Mantalbano Mystery, by Andrea Camilleri, $2.12. Old industrial buildings refurbished as flats. The salvation of Pittsburgh must lie in persuading people to live downtown. Then to The Store at Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman Street, aka Contributions non-profit space, still going after 40 years. Wooden salad tongs and spreader made by Jonathan's Spoons in Pennsylvania, $37.45.
Evening Penn Pilsner beer at hotel happy hour, then Yuengling draft at The Commoner, Half-Chicken, Tofu Tikka Marsala, $51.36 plus tip.
FRI 17 Mar
Breakfast at Einstein Bros Bagels, in the Koppers Building, 2 x Lox Bagels, coffee, $21.14, quiet, no hassle. This chain is known to us from our visit to Scranton, PA. Walkabout to PPG Place. A showpiece development lacking tenants. Coffee at Crazy Mocha Coffee Co in a pleasant atrium. Walk back to hotel, dep 28X Flyer bus for the airport.

Pic by RLT.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Boomtown Showdown

[This blog post specially for Nick Murphy.]

Nashville is booming. There are cranes everywhere. Renewal is all around. Research says the hotels are more expensive than NYC. Apartment rents are sky-high. (Allegedly the largest U.S. city without a long-distance passenger railroad connection.) If America is making a comeback it is happening here.

Up early in Toronto on a snowy Christmas morning. Catch the blue night bus right outside our apartment, 06:48 direct to Pearson Airport, $1.95 seniors ticket. In about 30 minutes we are at check-in. Through U.S. Passport check with minimum hassle. Both flight and customs procedures now semi-automated. Long walk to gate A6e.
We board Westjet flight WS360 for Nashville. The Bombardier Q400 Nextgen aircraft is full. Depart 09:45, fifteen minutes late. A jolly Christmas mood prevails. We leave the white Christmas of Toronto behind. Sipping two Canadian Molson beers on the flight.
Arrive Nashville airport, the Gibson guitars are still in their display cases, just as I remembered them. Catch Jarmon shuttle bus to hotel - $55 return for two people. Dave, the driver, is not on his normal run to Kentucky, picking up soldier boys from Fort Campbell. We arrive at the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriot, Nashville Downtown/The Gulch, 901 Division Street, Nashville, TN. High of 73°F.
We walk downtown via the Broadway. Everywhere is closed. We catch the free bus which goes all round the town. The driver is plagued by down-and-outs. We hop off at The Gulch, declining a four-course Christmas lunch at the Marsh House, $72 per head. It begins to look like McDonald's! One last throw of the dice and we head for the Union Station Hotel, where we luck out, lunching at the bar in the fabulous foyer. Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese, Spinach Salad and Grilled Chicken Sandwich, $36.14 plus tip. Back at McDonald's we buy some milk.
After time out, we head for the Station Inn for some old-timey live bluegrass music. No entry charge on Xmas night for the jam session. Drinking $4 Yuengling beers from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, $12 pizza to share. Short walk back to hotel.
26th: Walkabout in The Gulch: checking out Arnold's Country Kitchen, Carter Vintage Guitars, Downtown Antiques. Walk via Rosa L. Parks Boulevard to the Tenncare Building (former Bureau of Medicaid), an old government building now sadly being demolished. Nearby is the Hilton Homestead Suites, where Billy Ray Cyrus rents studio space. We backtrack to Tin Cup Coffee in the Horton Building, 136 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard. A trip to the Tourist Information Visitor Centre is followed by a pleasant lunch at Wild Wasabi, Cummins Station, with the Dunn family.
We check out a used bookstore where I purchase: "The Last Lap - The Life and Times of NASCAR's Legendary Heroes" by Peter Golenbock, 1998 hardback, well sold at $15. A couple of howlers in the book - he can't spell Carroll Shelby (error repeated in the index) or Dick Hutcherson (he becomes Hutchinson in photo captions). Golenbock relies too heavily on interviews without supporting research. He does however detect the rigged nature of NASCAR racing, which tarnishes their back story. The author is not a car guy in any real sense. Overall a potboiler.
Supper at City Fire, 610 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203: shrimp and grits, followed by Apple Crisp, Chocolate Bread Pudding à la mode, Yuengling beer, $71.08 including tip. We ask our server, Meshach Jackson, a test question: what is the difference between a mandolin and a dobro? His detailed reply gives away the fact that he is a musician and songwriter, as we suspected.
27th: Walk to Belmont Mansion, 1900 Belmont Boulevard, Nashville, TN 37212, via Music Row, Vanderbilt University. We take coffee at Provence Breads & Cafe, 1705 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212. We blunder into Bookman-Bookwoman, 1713 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212, next door and already on our to-do list. We discover it is closing after 21 years. Annette scores eight paperback books for $8 (valued at $64).
After Belmont Mansion tour, $12 each, we take #17 bus along 12th Avenue South to Division Street. Subway takeaway lunch.
Evening walk to Bridgestone Arena where the Nashville Predators are playing the Minnesota Wild in the NHL. The Preds lose 2-3 in sudden death overtime. Also present: Peter Frampton; Vince Gill (singing backup with the Gypsy Rose covers band). $10 Stella beers, ouch! They insist on checking my ID - the second time I say: "I'm still 65!" Politically correct lawyers gone mad.
28th: Tour of the Downtown Antique market, next to the railroad tracks. Early lunch at Arnold's Country Kitchen, 605 8th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203. They say you can't have have fast, cheap and good. Wrong. Arnold's has southern food to die for! Fried catfish, baked squash, stewed okra and black eyed peas. Get there early to beat the crowds.
We catch the free green bus to Walgreen's, where we score half-price Walker's shortbread biscuits among the Xmas remainders. I send a solitary postcard from the Post Office in the old arcade. We avoid the George Jones and Johnny Cash museums. Supper at Otaku Ramen in the Gulch: Veggie Miso, Donburi Hot Chicken fusion.
29th: Breakfast at Slow Hand Coffee, 300A 10th Ave South, Nashville: coffee and "Basic Biscuit," a zesty cheddar scone. Two buses to the Piggly Wiggly at Dickerson and Cleveland, 85 cents for seniors. This is Food Stamp country. A sign on the door says: "Free ride in a police car for shoplifters." "Take on Me" by A-ha is playing. Carroll Shelby turns up again with his own-brand Chili. I note the food carts are all from Home Depot.
We take the bus back to town and walk some distance to Marathon Village, an old factory that is home-from-home to the American Pickers TV show, spotted from a distance by the old water tower. Lunch at The Frist Museum, BBQ pork sandwich, good value for two at $21.08 plus tip. Taxi back to hotel - we have walked far enough.
30th: We have been wondering where folks in The Gulch get their groceries, when we spot Turnip Truck, hawking "Urban Fare." We take the #5 bus to the Piggly Wiggly at 2900 West End Ave. Annette is thrilled with a Piggly Wiggly souvenir shopping bag at $1.99. You can't beat a good groceteria. We walk on to The Parthenon, a giant replica of the real thing, in a park. Why bother to go all the way to Athens when you have a facsimile right there in Nashville, which is in much better shape and devoid of panhandlers? Tee shirt: "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard."
Rite-Aid is beckoning with the never-ending quest for Goldenberg's Peanut Chews. "Chewing it old school." We are relieved to find Philly's finest at $1 a pack of eleven. Across the street to Barnes and Noble bookstore. Half price diary at $5, made by Gallery Leather, 27 Industrial Way, Trenton, Maine 04605. I feel I have made a small contribution to keeping Americans in employment. I also buy the book "Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed" by John F. Ross, remaindered at $6.98.
We walk back to the Gulch via Vanderbilt University, where the Robin has set up home for the winter on the lawns. I've never seen so many. We lunch at Sambuca, a cavernous bar: soup followed by fish and chips, grilled polenta, $30.24 plus tip.
In the evening we walk to the Lower Broadway for the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl "Downtown Showdown." The Nashville Volunteers, (the Vols, UofT football), have defeated the Nebraska Huskers, 38-24, at the Nissan Stadium. The crowds are streaming across the bridge over the Cumberland River to celebrate on the Broadway, Nashville's honky-tonk heaven. $6 cans of beer are on sale from stalls, no ID check, no problem drinking outdoors.
To get the party started we have the band Locash, low-rent rockers, who feature songs about trucks and getting drunk. After some redneck buffoonery - "Hey bubba, why are you wearing sunglasses in the dark?" - we head for the warmth of the bar at the Westin Hotel for supper and a Yazoo beer, $48.18 plus tip.
31st: Next morning it it all going too well as the Jarmon bus picks us up at the hotel at 08:30. At the airport I realise I have lost my notebook for the trip. A frantic search for the bus and I can see my book through the window. We locate the lady driver who unlocks the bus and my sanity is restored. A lucky save. Turns out our flight is delayed so we are treated to another rendition of "Frosty the Snowman." Don't rock the jukebox.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Living on an Island

Our summer tour took us to Vancouver Island, which included house hunting. (It came down to a shortlist of Victoria and Sidney, to the north of Victoria, between the airport and the sea).
BC Trip Monday 11 July - Tuesday 2 August 2016:
Monday, 11 July, WESTJET Flight: WS 711, Departure: YYZ TORONTO, TERMINAL 3, 12:55PM, Arrival: YVR VANCOUVER , MAIN TERMINAL, 3:00PM.
WESTJET Flight: WS 3222, Departure: YVR VANCOUVER, MAIN TERMINAL, 4:15PM, Arrival: YYJ VICTORIA 4:46PM.
YYJ Bus to downtown Victoria, with running commentary, drop off at the Swan Hotel & Brewpub, Pandora Avenue. Short walk to Airbnb accommodation at:
409 Swift Street, Suite 310, Victoria, BC, V8W 1S2 (Mon 11 July to Mon 18 July, on the waterfront near Johnson Street Bridge, water taxi stop at Mermaid Wharf, adjacent to China Town.)
First evening walk to China Town to get some milk. Supper at Canoe Pub opposite our digs, squid and beet salad, $6 Belgian beer special, $42 for two incl tip.
Tuesday Day 2: After watching the Tour de France on tablet, walk to Honeybun Café, 805 Yates Street for breakfast, Fry Up and French toast, $26 incl tip for two. Shopping at Shopper's Drug Mart and Market on Yates (checked out 10:00 am), checking on prices.
Wednesday Day 3: Stroll around downtown. Decaf Americano and panini at Sandwich Corner, Courtney & Gordon. Meet Jeannie and the boys at RBC Museum. Adjacent food trucks for lunch. I take the water taxi while they take in the Imax. In the evening walked to Delta Grosse Point Hotel for drinks and dessert, harbour view.
Thursday Day 4: Bus 2A to Oak Bay ($5 bus deal "Rover ticket" - any bus all day). Coffee at Serious Coffee, Oak Bay Ave, a local chain. ReMax real estate, Library.
Bus #2 on circular route round Oak Bay, then stroll to Oak Bay Marina, lunch at Dockside Eatery. Watching heron in the harbour, also belted kingfisher stalking a sea otter, hoping for leftovers. In the evening to Famoso Pizzeria, Douglas St, $5 Driftwood Brewery Fat Tug IPA (later I discover this is 7% alc/vol - hard to find a session beer in BC).
Friday Day 5: Walk to James Bay. Coffee at James Bay Coffee Co (with bookshop), on down to seashore, along Dallas St, check out a house on San Jose Avenue, then Ogden Point. Walk on to Fisherman's Wharf, lunch at Barb's Fish & Chips, later meeting Jeannie and the boys from Seattle. Water taxi back to digs.
Saturday Day 6: Meet Margaret. Breakfast at QV Bakery, Government St., cheap and cheerful. Car to Cook Street, walk to Fairfield Plaza and back, coffee at Starbucks. Deer live in the suburbs, often seen, they will come and eat from your veggie patch. Some gardens have high fences and are deer proof.
Then by car to Esquimalt, The Gorge, then Willow Beach for stroll. Logs on the Beach. Lunch in China Town.
Sunday Day 7: Bubby Rose's Bakery, Cook & Fort, to meet Emma and Paul, newly arrived from Toronto. Pleasant and not too busy at this pavement café.
Mon 18 July to Mon 25 July: Switch digs to 760 Johnson Street 1005, Victoria, BC V8W 0A4 (Juliet Building, corner of Johnson and Blanshard. Coffee at Mochiato, downstairs, while waiting to get the keys.)
Bus to Oak Bay Marina for lunch. Meet Clive and Anna on vacation from Toronto.
Tues 19: To Sooke with Clive and Anna for rented mountain bikes and ride on the Galloping Goose trail. About three hours, I manage to climb the hill into Sooke on return. Drive to Sandcut Beach, among the trees, along the Juan de Fuca Strait. Pitstop at Shirley Delicious, on the way back, for cookie and lemonade.
Wed 20: Walk to West Victoria to see the old E&N railyards and roundhouse. Coffee at Casa Nova Catering, 492 Esquimalt Rd. Early supper at Margaret's House in Gordon Head.
Thurs 21: To Chapters to buy Victoria map book, Trains magazine. Bus to Oak Bay. Lunchtime snack at friendly Good Earth Coffehouse, 1971 Oak Bay Avenue.
Fri 22: Walk to breakfast at Relish Food & Coffee, 920 Pandora. Bus to Cook and Fort, checking out the shops. Car to lunch outdoors with Margaret at Milestones by Victoria harbour in the sunshine. The Hot Rods are arriving for the big show.
Sat 23: To "Jaguars on the Island" car show at Windsor Park, Oak Bay. Strolling on leafy streets to Fairway Market, bought jelly babies while checking on prices. Lunch at Penny Farthing "English" pub, Oak Bay. We enjoyed Northwest Deuce Days in Victoria, some 1200 Hot Rods plus "outlaw" muscle cars. We sat out at an intersection in the warm Saturday evening watching the cars cruising the town. It was like appearing in "American Graffiti."
Sun 24: We were up early on Sunday to see the Hot Rods assembled round the harbour, many top notch cars up from California. The show runs every three years. On our last night in Victoria we found the Veneto Bar at the Rialto Hotel, Government & Pandora. Less noisy, less blokey than some.
Rudyard Kipling, writing in 1907, likened Victoria to Bournemouth with the Himalayas in the background. (There are snow-capped mountains in the distance, in the US. Victoria being below the 49th parallel.)
Mon 25 July to Tues 2 Aug: travelling around Vancouver Island.
We backtracked to the airport on the YYJ bus to pick up a rental car, catching the bus at the 'Save on Foods' Memorial Centre, a hockey stadium in Victoria. We set off through the spectacular Malahat Pass, in a black Nissan Sentra, stopping at Duncan for lunch. Three hours free parking, by the old train station, pausing to listen to a folk concert outdoors. Pleasant lunch at Gourmet Gardens, 161 Kenneth Street, Duncan, BC V9L 1N5, outdoors under a grapevine.
Ride on to Qualicum Beach Inn, 2690 West Island Highway. Period circular bar and dining room, great location with sea view. Stock-keeping not their strong point - they were running out of tonic at the bar and had no bacon for breakfast. I managed to scrounge some real milk to go with coffee in the room. Meet up with Reb and Billy and walk to The Shady Rest Waterfront. The restaurant was not firing on all cylinders.
Next morning quick vist to QB Airport, park at the old train station, then stroll in the 'chocolate box' downtown where they are making a movie. Drinks at Qualicum Foods, a trendy supermarket, followed by a visit to the latest incarnation of Pancake Manor studios, in an old school classroom.
Then short ride to Port Alberni via "Goats on the Roof," a hokey tourist attraction, and Cathedral Grove, a magnificent forest. We enjoyed three nights at Port Alberni to the max. Great breakfast by the river at the Blue Door, 5415 Argyle St, Port Alberni, BC, V9Y 1T6 - "Home of All Day Breakfasts" - old timey without the greasy spoon. Shopping at Walmart and No Frills - best prices on the Island.
Superb ride in the speeder car (known locally as a crummy) to McLean Mill, approx 35 minutes. There is a crazy lady en route who waves flags at all passing trains while dressed in costumes, house decked out with flags.
We toured the lumber mill, which wasn't operating that day, but it didn't matter. Many photo ops of old vehicles and machinery without any crowds. The crew of the speeder car, which used to carry up to 30 people to work sites on the railway (more in a trailer, not present), were very friendly and afterwards took us back to the engine shed in the speeder to see the old Shay locomotive, a shaft-drive rarity which seems to turn up on our travels e.g. in Australia. They need $200,000 to make the Shay fully operational. (We had checked at Victoria Tourist Information ref the train ride and been told it was no longer running - we took steps to put this right.) We drove out of town to find the old hill climb racing course from the sixties at Alberni summit. The road off Hwy 4 near the brake test area is now blocked off but we are fairly sure we were in the right place. I am on the trail of pictures and film etc. We walked to supper at Bare Bones, a popular fish and chip place in an old church, with a simple choice of red or white wine.
Next day we walked up the trail to the trestle and waterfall, watching the steam train 90 foot up in the air. Only snag here 75 inches of rainfall annually, mostly in winter. (The rainfall varies greatly over a short distance e.g. 75 inches in Port Alberni, 28 inches in Victoria.) Can't fault a place that sells Eccles cakes!
We are sorry to miss "Thunder in the Valley" in Port Alberni. Usually a quarter mile drag race at the airport, this year they are refurbing the airport with runway extension and new lighting, so have moved the event to town with an improvised eighth-mile strip outside our hotel. Gotta love the spirit of these people. The lady that booked us into the hotel is driving in the drags. Another sign of making the most of things is that the hotel is a stop on the railway - our speeder driver, Pete Geddes, told of a special train stopping at the hotel to pick up a wedding party.
Parksville reminded us of New Zealand, with single-story buildings and nose-first angle parking. We stopped by the disused railway station and chatted to a lady with an AMC Spirit car, before she disappeared indoors to the pottery shop: "I don't watch the news, it's a bliss thing!" We spotted a Stedman's department store, a name no longer seen in Ontario.
We check in to Best Western Northgate Inn, 6450 Metral Drive, Nanaimo, BC, V9T 2L8 for two nights. Folk had said uncharitable things about Nanaimo, but we enjoyed strolling on the harbourfront, taking coffee and sandwich at Javawocky, #8 - 90 Front Street. Nanaimo, BC V9R 5H7. Walk to supper at Milano's Ristorante, Suite 300-6551 Aulds Rd, Nanaimo, V9T 6K2.
Next morning we went to search for the remnants of the No. 5 Mine at Wellington, in the northern suburbs of Nanaimo (now incorporated). We explored near Diver Lake, but apart from a plaque there was little to indicate that this had once been a busy coal mining area. Scored $2 Bodum bundle at a thrift store, where they recommended Buzz Coffee Shop, 1861 Dufferin Crescent, Nanaimo, BC V9S 0B1. We also checked out Country Grocer supermarket opposite.
After lunch we caught #50 bus at the Woodgrove Centre, which turned into #7 at Prideaux Street downtown, and then set off south into the boondocks dropping us in Cedar, about a mile from the Crow & Gate "English" pub, a Mock-Tudor building in the middle of nowhere. We met up with Reb, Billy and Jaynie for supper. This unlikely place qualifies as a "Home from Home." Lift back to hotel, via Nanaimo railway station, now a restaurant.
Next morning we set off southbound via Ladysmith, then Chemainus (well presented murals and a sad little railway station) for Sidney. Back track to coffee at Saltair Station House, 10445 Chemainus Road, Chemainus, V0R 1K2. Lunch at The Surly Mermaid, 9891 Seaport Place, Sidney, V8L 4X3, (fish and chips, very fresh).
Two nights at Sidney Waterfront Inn & Suites, 9775 1 St, Sidney, V8L 3E1. Walking tour of south side. Early evening drinks at Charles Dickens Pub, 2280 Beacon Avenue, Sidney. Pizza supper at Woodshed Restaurant, 2369 Beacon Ave, Sidney, BC. Last gasp at noisy Haro's Restaurant & Bar, 9805 Seaport Place, Sidney, V8L 4X3. Coffee at welcoming Red Brick Café (2 for $3.50), Tour by car taking in the northern suburbs, airport and Patricia Bay. Last night treat at Beacon Landing Restaurant & Lounge, 2537 Beacon Ave W #107, Sidney, V8L 1Y3. Scallops.
Tuesday, 02 August:
WESTJET Flight WS 3277, Departure: YYJ VICTORIA, 2:00PM; Arrival: YVR VANCOUVER, MAIN TERMINAL, 2:28PM.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Broken Spoke Tour - Caen to Pau by Brompton 2016

Sun 8 May:
Lewes to Portsmouth, train as far as Havant, rode Bromptons the remaining ten miles into Portsmouth. Jack having potentially serious issue with loose pivot pin on the rear triangle of his Brompton, duly kludged. Supper at the Ship and Castle at Portsmouth Docks, where by chance we meet Iain Rowley and Paul Jenkins, headed for the Pau historic car races (via Monaco) with a Formula Junior Lola. We shall meet again.
(Chap at ferry terminal off on a solo 4,000 mile cycle ride to Croatia and back.)
Brittany Ferries, 22.45 sailing to Ouistreham, outside berth cabin for 4, ensuite facilities. Light breakfast served in cabin.
Mon 9th May: Arrive Ouistreham 06.45. Depart 07:15 for Domfront (71 miles). Easily picked up the Voie Verte, along the canal via the Pegasus Bridge, to Caen. First pitstop at Bar Le Newport, 74 Quai Vendeuvre, 14000 Caen. Past the Bir Hakeim bridge, easy going on old railway line to Thury-Harcourt, following the valley of the Orne, headed for the Suisse Normande. The cycle track peters out in the hill country, just when you need it most. We got separated after leaving Clécy: Richard and Nigel had taken a right fork (D1) signposted Pont d'Ouilly. Jack and I hadn't seen them, and so we took the left fork signposted, less visibly, with a bicycle route (D168/D23). I was unhappy with the ups and downs of our route, mainly along the Orne. When we met R and N however, it turned out that the main route had included an extremely steep long climb. Gruppo compatto at the Bar de L'Isle in Pont d'Ouilly.
I got tailed off on the D25 on the long climb to Athis-de-l'Orne, so decided to ride into Flers and find the Office de Tourisme. Soon picked up the flat Voie Verte, after La Selle-la-Forge, for the last 12 miles into Domfront, pausing for drink and energy bar at a picnic table. My companions are already in the bar at the hotel, which is ideally situated close to the path, but report roadworks at Le Chatellier, hostile drivers on the highway and hazardous hilly conditions.
This day voted the "Queen Stage" of the Tour.
Logis Hôtel de France, 7, rue du Mont-St-Michel, 61700 Domfront. Tel+33233385144, Dining on site. Breakfast €6.50. Spacious and suitable for cyclists, avoiding climb to town centre.
Tues 10th May: To Laval (52 miles). The red Voie Verte exit Domfront is completely unsuitable for touring bikes, best left to rockhoppers and mudpluggers. The French need a grading system for paths as they vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Rupe followed this for a while, rest returned to town, bypassed Torchamp.
Route via Torchamp, Mayenne. Regrouped just before Ambrières-les-Vallées. Some running on railpath with adjacent Vélorail. Lunch at Saint-Fraimbault-de-Prières, Pays de la Loire, boulangerie and bar. Later long stretches riding beside the Mayenne river, after Mayenne. Many weirs and locks. Chatting to a Brit couple on a tandem. At the top of a long hill: Kyriad Hotel, Boulevard des Trappistines, Laval, 53000 Tel +33243028888. Dining on site. Breakfast €10.00.
Wed 11th May: To Angers (64 miles). We resume the riverside path, making good time to Chateau Gontier for a tea stop at the Café Brasserie du Vieux Pont, in town by the Mayenne. Path quality reduced when changed departments. Chambellay shut. Later we divert to Le Lion D'Anger, via a horse-race course, in search of food. We are late for lunch and all we can find is a bag of crisps.
I lose my companions near Port Albert and I make the disastrous decision to take a footpath, thinking the worst that could happen was that I would have to push the bike. On this path a walker would need crampons, rope and a chainsaw. Eventually I can neither go forward or back, so I fold the bike and climb the cliff by the Mayenne, returning to retrieve my luggage, and making good my escape via a farmer's field. The farmer fails to spot me as I use the old trick of standing perfectly still. My troubles are not over. I reach Montreuil-Juigné, rehydrating at a sympathetic campsite. Lost once more, I puncture on a service road, retreating to Cave et Bar V&B Avrillé, ZI Croix Cadeau, 49240 Avrillé, in the suburbs of Angers. "Taxi pour Monsieur Thomas!" I finish in the broom wagon, some 2½ hours late.
2 nights Hotel Marguerite d’Anjou, Place Du Président Kennedy, Angers, 49100. Tel +33241881161. Breakfast €8.50. Cosy bar. Dining at nearby Cambodian Restaurant Shantou, in the Rue Toussaint, as a heavy storm breaks, with flash floods. Front page news next day.
Thurs 12th May: day off in Angers. To Le Velo Bar, 69 Rue Bressigny, 49100 Angers. Interesting vegetarian restaurant/bike shop with quiche to die for! (Réparation Vélo - Café Bio). Flat fixed, broken spoke removed with plan to reach Pau unmended. Italian restaurant supper at La Piazzetta, 9 Rue des Lices. Good value. Late drinks at Matt Murphy's, 25 Rue Maréchal Foch, full of Dutch truckers from Scania in Zwolle.
Fri 13th May: To Bressuire (52 miles) via Les Ponts de Cé (multiple river crossings, easy going leaving the Loire Valley), Thouarcé, lunch in the Place Charles de Gaulle, Vihiers, then skirting Argenton-les-Vallées. Pit stop at Bar Chez Didier Pizza, 4 Place de la Mairie, St Clémentin. I notice another puncture. We try to carry on but forced to give up at Voultegon, where a lady at Garage Pascal Metais was most helpful. I finish by taxi once more, fixing the flat under cover outside the hotel entrance. Inter-Hotel Plume, 4 Espace Bocapole, Bressuire, 79300. Tel +33549818283. Breakfast €9.00. A shed on a characterless trading estate, no bar, suitable but pricey. Dining nearby at Au Bistrot Gourmand, a smaller shed, also suitable. Tired.
Sat 14th May: To Surgères (66 miles). Tea stop at classy Les Arts, Breuil-Bernard. Then lunch outdoors at L'Absie, on to Saint-Pompain. Pitstop at Benet, Pays de la Loire, at a motorhome park. We transit Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon, a stop on a previous tour. Bushwhacking late in the day led to lost companions, and going round in circles at Saint-Saturnin-du-Bois, eventually reaching Chaillé. I found the Office de Tourisme in Surgères, which was shut. Finally at Bed and Breakfast H de Surgères, 52 rue Audry de Puyravault, 17700 Surgères. Tel +33611460197. Evening meal at 20:00 and breakfast. Top digs, gourmet food, excellent value. Recommended. Early evening beers a short walk away at Café Français, 2 Avenue de la Libération, 17700 Surgères, with meaty terrine snacks.

Pic by RLT.
Sun 15th May: To Pons via Rochefort (58 miles). Jack and I stop at Baghera Boulangerie Pâtisserie for lunchtime supplies at Rochefort. Catch up with advance party at the Transporter Bridge, one of only eight left in the world, at Echillais, sadly hors de combat. Hair raising crossing of adjacent highway bridge on the D733. Lunch in town square at Pont-l'Abbé-d'Arnoult.
Drinks at Alimentation, by the church, Rue de Saintonge, Nancras. Jack and I stop at bar Chez Colette, Cafe de la Gare, Tesson. On final approach to Pons we encounter a bicycle race. Quirky Chambres d'hôtes de l'Auberge Pontoise, 15, 17 Rue Gambetta , Pons, 17800. Tel +33546940099. Lady of the house going to great lengths to provide a good breakfast, €8.00. Total €239.00 for four. Beers and dining in town at Café du Donjon/Le Français in the Place de la Republique.
Mon 16th May: To Libourne (61 miles). Richard now suffering from slowly deflating rear tyre, decides to soldier on, pumping regularly. Tea stop at Restaurant Bistrot de la Poste, Jonzac; lunch at Chevanceaux, Poitou-Charentes. Further stop exit Guîtres at Bar Hotel Restaurant St Roch on the D910.
Both legs and backside now hurting. Relieved to get through a tough day, through the vineyards to 2 nights at Mercure Libourne St Emilion, 3, Quai Souchet, Libourne, 33500. Tel +33557256418. Breakfast €15.50. We succeed in opening the bar at the hotel, which is curiously deserted, and overall fails to ring the bell. Supper at nearby Hotel Restaurant La Tour du Vieux Port. Acceptable.
Tues 17th May: Day off in Libourne. Fix flat tyre on black Brompton in hotel courtyard, then to friendly CYCLE SHOP, 9 avenue de Verdun, 33500 Libourne, for sundry spares, including spray jollop for sealing inner tubes and tyre pressure check all round. Walk to splendid Bar au Rallye, Rue du Président Carnot, Libourne. Walk to supper al fresco at la Guinguette de la vieille tour across the river. Pizza pretty average.
Weds 18th May: To Bazas (63 miles). Pit stop at Relais de Naujan, 28 Bis rte Bordeaux, Naujan-et-Postiac, where the lady makes up some baguettes. Shortly after picked up the excellent Roger Lapébie bike path, turning off at St Brice. Pitstop at Salle des Fêtes, Gornac, exit D228. Across the box bridge over the Garonne on the D15, to reach Castets-en-Dorthe. Themed Hotel le Rodin, 1, Cours du Général De Gaulle, 33430 Bazas. Tel +33556250996. Breakfast €8.00. 1st drinks: Café des Sports, 8 Cours Maréchal Foch. 2nd drinks: Le Boeuf Pop, Place de la Cathédrale, Bazas, Aquitaine. Dining at nearby Restaurant Le Maquignon, 4 Cours Maréchal Foch. Recommended: Buffet starter plus meat course etc. Top value.
Thurs 19th May: To Aire-sur-l’Adour (53 miles), via Captieux, tea stop on N524, we bought lunch in the boulangerie over the road and in the Casino superette a few doors down. Jack and I lunched in a bus shelter beside the old railway line in La Gare, after a 15-20 kilometre due south run, virtually car-free, through the pines, during which two red deer jumped out. R and N ran miles at 19 mph. We commented at Captieux that we were spoilt for choice of boulangeries, cafes and shops whereas other towns would be just as likely to be closed for the day!
Then Roquefort/Sarbazan, Villeneuve-de-Marsan etc. Riding through the Landes on quiet roads much of the way. Traffic on final approach to N’Atura Hotel, 28, avenue du 4 septembre, Aire-sur-l'Adour 40800. Tel +33558716617. Good digs by the river, beers on arrival, suitable for cyclists (others in residence, also pilgrims on Compostella walk). The circus is in town and exotic animals, including camels, are grazing on the riverside. Walk into town across the bridge. Dining at La Villa Toscane, 33 Rue Carnot, Aire-sur-l'Adour, Aquitaine. Further failure to find Floc de Gascogne, otherwise good. €138.40 for four.
Fri 20 May: To Pau (40 miles). Long climb out of Aire to reach D834. First views of the Pyrenees. The boys go bushwhacking. First of three long drops beyond Garlin. Turn off to Saint-Armou. Via D206 to warm welcome at Bar Restaurant Le Castine, Saint Castin (Perrier and Orangina); then Maucor, Morlaàs. Charging downhill, elated to arrive at the Pau sign. Then stopped on final approach, in parkette on Avenue Général Leclerc, for snack and waiting for tour party to catch up.
3 nights Logis Hotel le Bourbon, 12, Place Clémenceau, Pau, 64000. Tel +33559275312. Breakfast €7.80. Comfy digs, ideally situated close to Boulevard des Pyrénées and race track. Late night revellers a nuisance to some.
Pete Webber arrives via London City Airport, Orly and Pau. Under doctors orders to restrict alcohol intake. He kindly brought a copy of Autosport from the UK featuring the Hamilton/Rosberg carambolage in Spain.
Meanwhile beers on arrival at a curious organic bar in the Rue Valéry Meunier. The boys went to the circuit while I had a further quiet beer outside at bar Les Contrebandiers, 12 rue Gachet, near the hotel.
I meet Iain Rowley and Paul Jenkins on their way back from the track. They are staying at our hotel and provide race tickets for the bicycle tour party. It is just amazing how fair people can be!
First evening at Cambodian restaurant Sorya, 1 Bis Rue des Orphelines, 64000 Pau.
Saturday morning: In the paddock at Pau races in glorious sunshine. Photography, note-taking and making new friends. Saturday afternoon: Jack, Pete and I took the Coxitis electric bus, free, to Le Supervie Bar Brasserie, Rue Noghé, Pau. Saturday evening: Restaurant Tagliatella, 8 Rue Gachet, 64000 Pau.
Sunday morning: Enjoyed Formula Junior race in the rain at La Gare. Then Bistrot La Salle, Eurl.Lucas et Fils, 6, Avenue Gaston Lacoste, 64000 Pau. By the race track, a marvelous bolt-hole on a soaking wet day. Good nosebag: Merguez et Frites.
Sunday evening: after snooze late pasta supper at Etna, 16 Rue du Château, 64000 Pau. Even later tapas, for Nigel, round the corner from the hotel. Watching drag racing on the big screen.
Mon 23rd May: By Funiculaire to Pau Station. 1st class train to London via Bordeaux, Paris. 07.52 from Pau; arr 10.15 Bordeaux St Jean, snacks at Café opposite the station, retreating in a downpour; TGV dep 11.28; arr 15.18 Paris Montparnasse; ride across Paris cutting it fine for Eurostar dep 17.01 Paris Nord, non-stop for St Pancras, 18.32.

Total: 583 miles approx.

King of the Mountains: Nigel Lewis.
Most improved young rider: Richard Banks.
Domestique: Jack Kellett (for planning ahead and saving our bacon with catering services).
Lanterne Rouge: Rupert Lloyd Thomas.

Plus Points: Minimal luggage; GPS navigation/direction finding; weather mostly good (some wet but not too hot); health benefits (the gift that keeps on giving). Bromptons generally reliable. Mobile phone mitigated separations. Painkillers (Ibuprofen).
Downsides: Punctures (crevaison). Getting separated particularly late in the day when fatigued; cycle paths a mixed bag; too much bushwhacking. (Forgot my sunglasses.)
Learning points: The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre a must for touring, particularly beneficial on rear wheel. Should save on downtime. Carry spray jollop as backup. Need to feed.
Overall: Longest, toughest tour yet, but felt good to be alive.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Full throttle at Revs

Pic by ALT.
I first visited Florida in 1972, when I hitchhiked there from Washington D.C., and have been there, on and off, ever since.
Sat 12 March
Dep 16:50 Air Canada from Toronto Pearson Terminal 1 (YYZ) to South-West Florida International Airport (RSW). Pickup blue Hyundai Accent rental car at Alamo, Fort Myers Airport. The lady at the check-in desk insists I look like Donald Trump. I wonder what training course she attended?
Via I75 to check-in at Ramada Naples. Late supper at the Cheesecake Factory, 1900 Tamiami Trail, veggie burger, pasta, $34.80, $40.11 incl tip.
Sun 13 March
To Downtown Naples, drive around, park at 5th Avenue. Walk to lunch at "The Café" 821 5th Ave South, fruit yoghurt, ham and brie Panini, $26.98 plus tip. A touch precious for our taste.
To Publix grocery, 1981 Tamiami Trail, shopping $64.34, including 750 ml Lindemans Pinot Grigio $5.99, "Dixie Lily" quick grits $1.35 (to take back to Canada). Supper at the hotel room including Entenmann's Lemon Cake. Pitstop at Pompano Surf & Turf (the hotel bar), three pints Bud Light $10.50, plus an 18% service charge which comes standard, baffling to European visitors. A good old boy is sat at the bar, in his eighties, complaining about an underdone burger. He tells the bar staff to fire the chef. They give him a slice of cheesecake to placate him, which he donates to Annette. Turns out he had worked in Toronto managing the Claussen pickle factory, back when Hogtown made things. He used to stay at the King Eddie Hotel.
Mon 14 March
To the Revs Institute, also known as the Collier Collection, for 09:00 research appointment.
This is a stunning facility dedicated to preserving the history of the motor car. The phrase "World Class" is overused, particularly by a certain Toronto politician, but applies in this case.
Put simply the museum has a car collection; facilities for restoring and maintaining the cars; plus a document, photograph and film library.
We talk to Paul about the provenance of an AC Cobra he is researching. Could the steering wheel have switched sides? A bunch of guys are lamenting the quality of petrol used at Le Mans in the nineteen thirties. One of them does not want to let a precious document out of his sight. This is petrolhead heaven.
I particularly admire a silver 1962 Lotus Elite Series II SE, Serial No. EB 1661, registration 300 TKK. We book to visit the car collection on Thursday.
Lunch at Spanky's, 1550 Airport Road North, is recommended to us. Soup, Tuna Melt, Chili, sitting among the memorabilia. We stop at Walgreen's for Flossups, $8 sunglasses for Annette and find Goldenberg's Peanut Chews. (Walgreen's are taking over Rite-Aid, our favourite U.S. pharmacy, so now we know they will be in good hands.) To Barnes & Noble, 5377 Tamiami Trail, $29.68 for two Lemony Snicket hardbacks. Back at Pompano Surf & Turf Annette orders a Keylime Pie.
Tues 15 March
To the Waffle House, 6531 Dudley Drive, for cooked breakfast including grits, $20 for two including tip. The Waffle House is reassuringly familiar - you could be in Brooks, Kentucky, St. Robert, Missouri or Tupelo, Mississippi - stops on previous tours. Annette tops it off with raisin toast and apple butter.
We drive on to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, 375 Sanctuary Road West, run by the Audubon Society, $24 for two, $2 off coupon, no tax applied (plus $3 for one binocular rental). "Welcome to the swamp."
Worthwhile guided tour, lasting 90 minutes, conducted by knowledgeable volunteer docent. Unseasonal rain in January means that the swamp is much wetter than normal, affecting the breeding habits of the Wood Stork. They are apparently giving it a miss for the second year in a row. We hear of the devastating effects of an estimated 10,000 Burmese pythons, rampaging through south Florida and killing 90-95% of the small mammals and birds of the Everglades. They are thought to have originated from a Homestead, Florida, petstore set free during a hurricane. This shows the folly of allowing the import of exotic pets. Attempts to stamp them out are proving futile.
After a coastal tour among the highrise apartments at Vanderbilt Beach we are hungry. We stop at Cibao Grille where the patron triumphantly announces they are closed for lunch at 13:30. We retreat next door to Rosati's, a Chicago-style Pizza Restaurant, at 818 Neapolitan Way. The reception is altogether more convivial. The lady running the place is from Wheaton, Illinois. We order the special, a large mushroom Pizza to share, with unsweet iced tea. $24.37 plus tip.
Wed 16 March
Get some cash at First Florida Integrity Bank, 895 Fifth Avenue South. To 5th Avenue Coffee Company & 6th Street Diner, for morning coffee and cookie. Spacious corner location, pleasant atmosphere midweek with reasonable prices. Reading the Naples Daily News. Earlier we saw a McLaren supercar parked outside.
After a stroll we took lunch at the newly-opened Crispy Seafood & Wine Bar. This proved to be a mixed bag. The wait staff were green. There was no iced tea, a $5 fail for two of us, and lady customers were being advised to use the gents as their washroom was out-of-order, not something you wish to contemplate while lunching. The food however was excellent.
I move on to Tin City, some old sheds selling souvenirs, by the water. I met up with my nephew Owen and family, reflecting on how we both managed to be in Naples at the same time. On return to the parking garage I saw what appeared to be an abandoned vehicle next to mine, with extensive rear damage, door open and files or folders on the passenger seat. Nobody was about apart from somebody sitting in a nearby SUV. Not wishing to become part of an incident I beat the retreat.
Thurs 17 March
For breakfast we drive to 360 Market, 2891 Bayview Drive, a trendy restaurant by a boat dock. They have a Vince Lombardi quote on the wall, something like: "I am not remotely interested in just being good."
California Benedict for Annette, Fryup for me, $36 plus tip. Then to Naples Botanical Gardens, total $27.90 for two, $1 off coupon. Two green parakeets entertain us in the parking lot. Strolling round this splendid place is relaxing but pay heed to the gator warning signs. We have a quick snack back at Spanky's, 1550 Airport Road North. At 12:00 we are due at Revs. We produce our booking number at the cash desk. The lady says that number has been cancelled. We all are momentarily puzzled but then she recalls we are to get in free! So begins a marvelous tour of the car collection. The core collections are the cars of Briggs Cunningham and a sammlung of Porsches, including an Elva-Porsche, built in Sussex. Everybody is most gracious, showing us behind the scenes, including the workshops and the library. Quote: "Nobody gets in the library!" We head out with a Briggs Cunningham mug on the house!
The swamp, the botanical gardens and Revs have something in common: donations and volunteers.
To Grouper and Chips, 338 9th Street North, we share a crabcake starter and two-piece grouper basket with chips. Recommended.
Back at Pompano Surf & Turf I chat to Greg at the bar, a Porsche fan, who is unaware of the kampfgruppe from Stuttgart nearby. He vows to visit Revs soon.
Fri 18 March
Drive south to Marco Island. Having enjoyed the 5th Avenue Coffee Company in Naples we call at their store at 740 North Collier Boulevard, Marco Island. The boss meets us outside afterwards and thanks us for stopping by. While enjoying breakfast outdoors we have spotted Winn Dixie across the street: "Proudly serving the southeast since 1925." We cannot resist a visit, acquiring the ingredients for crab rolls and "cheese flavor" grits to tuck in our luggage. You can't beat a good groceteria.
We have our sandqwiches at Caxambas Park Marina, a small boat launch, where we see pelicans, egrets up close and, in the distance, dolphins. Evening meal at Cosmos Ristorante and Pizzeria, 536 Tamiami Trail. A Sardinian restaurant: Calamari starter, Pasta Special (Fettuccine with seafood), Risotto al Salmone. Good for a last night treat but a bit spendy at $83.92 including tip. Walking distance from the hotel so we saved on cab fare and I could enjoy an $8 glass of wine.
Sat 19 March
Depart hotel at 05:20. I have chosen the option to return the car to the airport empty so we are hypermiling just in case. We pass Pelican Landing, Bonita Springs on Hwy 41, turning right at Corkscrew Road. Arrive at airport 06:07 for the flight to the frozen north. The holiday has ended all too soon.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Fares slashed to save UP Express

The inevitable fare reductions on the UP Express Train, linking downtown Toronto to Pearson Airport, come into effect on 9 March 2016. The Globe and Mail has the story. Just as PunchBuggy predicted last July fares have been slashed. The premium service is toast and the scapegoating has started. Uber anyone? They didn't see it coming.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Old dog learns new tricks

Pic by John Lawrence.
One of the highlights of 2015 was kart racing at Downsview, Toronto, at the end of January. Part of a stag night, most of the drivers were less than half my age. I qualified eighth out of nine. Pathetic. I spoke to the pole-sitter about the correct lines to take and determined to drive through the field come race time. I thought some of the others were bound to crash and determined to keep it off the guardrails. The plan worked and I drove through the pack to third place. Not bad for an old git!

Moving on...

On 13th December we took a U-Haul cargo van to Guelph to deliver some furniture, surplus to requirements because we are moving. Near the rental place in Toronto we came across this Jaguar restoration shop:
Pics by RLT.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

IGS tour – part 2

31 JULY: Dresden to Zurich, Swiss Flight LX915, Dep 9:20, Arr 10:45.
My birthday. We took an early 07:00 taxi (Toyota Prius) to Dresden (rhymes with Neasden) airport. This is quiet with few flights. Croissant and baguette breakfast. Short and uneventful flight to Zurich, where you are in the shops before you know it.
Zurich Flughafen to Zurich HB: Train 718 IC, Dep 12:13, Arr 12:23.
Zurich HB to Luzern, TRN 2647, Dep 12:35, Arr 13:25.
Annette forages for snacks while I guard the luggage.
Luzern to Interlaken Ost: Train 2928, Dep 14:05, Arr 15:55.
Climb through the Brünig Mountain Pass, then via Meiringen.
On arrival for six nights at Best Western Bernerhof Hotel, Bahnhofstrasse 16, Interlaken, phone 33 826 7676, incl breakfast. This is adjacent to the Interlaken West railway and bus stations, and convenient for quick getaways. The hotel issues a ‘free’ bus pass for local travel. Birthday supper at Per Bacco, Rugenparkstrasse 2, 3800 Interlaken, near the station, incl Port wine.
It is soon apparent that staying in Interlaken is a mistake – the city is so cosmopolitan that there is little Swiss about it – not at all like a previous visit. We resolve to explore the surrounding villages.
Saturday take the #103 post bus to Iseltwald. Walk by the lake, birds and ducks, then uphill on the Wanderweg. Return by bus to Bönigen, The Edelweiss airship is circling overhead. Back in town we ride the Funiculaire to a picnic on the Wanderweg, enjoying a free bottled beer handed out in town. It is Swiss National Day and there is a parade in the afternoon. Later a beer stop at a wine bar, fireworks.
Sunday we take the bus to Ringgenberg, changing to the train for Brienz, to ride the Brienz Rothorn Bahn (BRB) to Planalp. We do not go all the way to the top as it is cheaper and less frightening, although the ride through the fluhs is quite hair-raising. This is a rack-railway using the Abt system, our engine being a diesel-fuelled steam engine from 1991, built by SLM Winterthur. At Planalp we walk three minutes to a café, crowded with a hiking grupo, for coffee and peppermint tea. A railway fundi gives us a copy of Dampfblatt, a newsletter for BRB volunteers. Lunch at a lakeside restaurant in Brienz, generally good but charged 3 euro for a glass of tap water. Walz tea room & restaurant & hotel, 3855 Brienz, 42.70 Sfr. Best avoided. Back in Interlaken picnic supper on a bench, followed by Bärner Müntschi beer at Hüsi Bierhaus, not too blokey.
Monday bus ride to Thun. Police posters warning of pickpockets. Shopping for batteries, book. Teashop outdoors at Loeb/Schönholzer’s. Picnic on park bench then walk to the Schloss. Bus to Spiez Hauptbahnhof, walk downhill to the lakeshore, boat ride to Interlaken West on MS Bubenberg, tea and two beer trip, 15.10 euro. Snack supper from Konditorei.
Tueday early bus to Beatenberg, a twenty-minute hair-raising ride into the mountains. Walk back from end of the line to Bel-aire tea room, on the terrasse. Bus back down mountain, switch to the #103 for lunch at the Strandhotel, Iseltwald. Lunch with local Rugenbräu beer and Ramseier Süessmost (Jus de Pomme), 50.60 euro. 13:28 bus back to town. Short bus ride to Unterseen, for the Touristik-Museum-der-Jungfrau-Region. Interesting feature re the first Thomas Cook's Tour of Switzerland, 25 June-16 July 1863.
Wednesday bus #105 to Wilderswil, change to BOB train for Lauterbrunnen. Bought a bike shirt for 50 Sfr. Walk to Staubbachfall, a waterfall which inspired Goethe and Byron. There is nobody about, we have the place to ourselves. In the scramble for the Jungfraujoch the grockles have missed a peach. More ruminations on the nature of mass tourism. Continue on up the valley before hopping bus #141 to the Stechelberg Hotel. Annette enjoys an apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce. Walk back down the valley to Lauterbrunnen, about seven miles in all. Laundry at Thai Restaurant. Supper at Altes Hüsi Bierhaus, burgers and drinks, 39.90 Sfr.
06 AUG: DB ICE 08:05 from Interlaken to Thun (destination Berlin), change for Burgdorf, for pleasant diversion through the Emmenthal. Arriving Burgdorf there is a large 'F bomb' in graffiti on final approach, the station itself lacks name boards, you could be anywhere. Extensive bike racks, coffee at pavement café. Then local train to Bern.
6 Aug to 9 Aug: Wild Rose B & B, Mayweg 7, 3007 Bern, Switzerland +41 31 331 44 72. From Stn #3 tram dir Weissenbühl, 5th stop Beaumont. Lunch in Restaurant Terrasse, Eigerplatz 5; 37.90 Sfr. In evening ride in VW Golf to Restaurant Mänziwilegg, 3068 Utzigen. Spectacular views looking south, with outdoor cowbell chorus.
Next morning we went to find the old Bremgarten motor racing circuit in Bern.
Tram to town then rented bicycles (first four hours free), at Hirschengraben, near the Hauptbahnhof, for the short ride to the old Bremgarten circuit. While the park remains, there was nothing to tell that Grand Prix cars used to race there in the fifties and before WW2. The old circuit has been severed by a motorway and the park seems much more overgrown than in the film.
Return bikes and take #10 bus to the Rosengarten, overlooking the city. Restaurant Rosengarten, Alter Aargauerstalden 318, 3006 Bern. 57 Sfr for two, lunch special outstanding, Felsenau – Mein Berner Bier. To the Altstadt where the Busker Festival features a kids show. Roland Zoss and the Bandidos are singing a song about muesli. Supper at Toscana Ristorante Pizzeria, Seftigenstrasse 27, 3007 Bern.
Next day by car to Gruyères, a cheesy hilltop town, with a French accent (free parking). On the way we visited the La Roche-La Berra hill climb course.
Return via Fribourg, walking in the old town and down a long stairway to the River Aare. Snack lunch at Café Bar Les Falaises, Rue de Neuveville 37; 39.70 Sfr for three. The chatty lady in charge spoke of hard times in the tourist trade.
Back in Bern to the Brocki (thrift store) where I scored a Bodum coffee cup, a Lancia wrench, a Stahlwille socket and a Langnauer Keramik butter dish for Annette, 4 Sfr.
09 AUG: After morning stroll in Bern, DB ICE train dep 13:04, arr 13:59 in Basel.
Steinenschanze Stadthotel, Steinengraben 69, 4051 Basel +41612725353. (#30 bus from Stn.) We stayed here last year and were glad to be back. Last time we failed to see the Rhine River, so we took the #30 bus and walked along the towpath some distance. Tram hopping. Supper at the Stadthof Basel, Gerbergasse 84, 4001 Basel; 72.60 Sfr. Walked back to hotel.
10 AUG: Dep Bern on #30 bus to Hauptbahnhof, change onto #50 bus to airport. Short Lufthansa flight BASEL – FRANKFURT, V LH 1203, Dep 11:05, arr 12:05.
Frankfurt Airport is ghastly – buses, a train, walkways, escalators and miles to walk. (The employees ride bicycles.) Delays. The customs man confiscates my small Lancia wrench, with a sadistic look that only his breed can conjure.
Condor flight FRANKFURT – TORONTO, DE 1060, Dep 14:05, arr 17:05 (9:00h). The passengers in front keep tilting their seats, tipping all my stuff on the floor, including a meal, four times during the flight. YYZ is an utter shambles on arrival – the customs hall being busier than ever. The trip ends badly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

IGS Tour - part 1

For our summer tour this year we decided on a trip to Iceland, Germany and Switzerland. We booked everything ourselves online.


Pic by ALT.
20 JULY: Icelandair Flight FI600 from Toronto YYZ to Keflavik KEF, Dep 14:25, Arrival 23:40.
Scored two free Gull beers on the flight. The hostess realised she forgot to charge me and said: "They are on the house." On arrival at Keflavik we find we have to queue in a ramshackle shed for a full security check which includes searching my luggage. These folks have been on a training course behind the Iron Curtain - a sharp contrast with later arrivals at Hamburg and Zurich. Iceland is marketed as a "stopover" between North America and Europe. They need to up their game.
We rush to catch a Gray Line bus to Reykjavik, about 45 minutes, where we are decanted into a minibus for delivery to our accomodation at 02:00, efficient. I check the neighbourhood for possible supper, no chance. Villa Skolavordustigur 30, 101 Reykjavik, phone +3548231268, 20 to 23 July. Basic digs: no television, phone or breakfast. Not cheap. Located near Hallsgrimskirkja Church which is visible from most parts of Reykjavik. Walk downhill to breakfast at Prikid, est. 1951, corner of Bankastraati/Ingolfstraati. Trading as oldest cafe/bar in Iceland, restaurant shabby and unhygienic. Fluffy omelet good, extra Lavazza coffee. Friendly enough, not cheap. Stroll in downtown which shows signs of mass tourism with grupos etc. There is not much traffic and English is spoken everywhere. We head for the harbour which evokes memories of the cod wars. Trawlers and tourist boats. We take a boat ride to Viðey island, 1,100 Krona each for round trip. On the way we see the cruise ship MSC Splendida and a rather smaller cruiser called Earlier we have spotted this URL on bicycles in the town, presumably belonging to the ship. There is not much at Viðey island besides an improbable memorial to John Lennon - no accounting for taste. At one time "the only railway in Iceland" was here. We take a pot of tea served by girls who are bored rigid. Birds are the highlight.
Back in town we walk to Bonus supermarket to acquire snacks, then Sjaverbarrin, Grandagardi 9-101 for fish and chips, near the Maritime Museum, including grandma's fish cakes and Gull beer. Annette scores a Moomintroll mug near our hotel.
Next morning to Tourist Information to book Gray Line bus for 04:30 pickup. We report our impressions of the airport. I suggest they take the staff to Las Vegas to show them how an airport should be run. You could lose a bundle on the slots in LV before clearing customs at Keflavik.
Breakfast at the vaguely hip Laundromat Cafe, Austurstræti 9: "Please don't love us on Facebook, like us in life!" We did like them, but they need to heat the hot breakfast plates and make more use of bar trays. Coffee refill. By the way the laundry is in the basement.
We walk past the duckponds where I rescue litter including a floating vodka bottle. (I still suffer remorse at failing to rescue a beer bottle in St. Moritz.) Annette spots a house used as a film location in the movie Life in a Fishbowl. We walk on to the National Museum where we score free entry as their payment card gizmo is not working. There is not much about Iceland in WW2, when the Brits were here. The nearby domestic airport in Reykjavik was built at that time. Walk via wetlands and airport to the Pearl. This water tower has great views in all directions, entrance free. There is graffiti in Reykjavik, but also cycle paths with bridges that put Toronto to shame. Walk back to Icelandic Cafe Loki, nr Hallsgrimskirkja Church, for lunch, 5,090 Króna. We then walked down to the harbour and hopped a bus into town, changing for a run round the projects to Háholt and return, great views. Evening supper at Eldsmiðjan Pizza Place, Bragagata 38a (Freyjugata), Miõborg, 101 Reykjavik. Three-storey pizzeria with glacial service, share large pizza with two Thule beers, 5,685 Króna.
Next morning early start to Keflavik airport, which is running over capacity. The designer evidently didn't know about departure lounges so you stand in a corridor as other passengers fight their way past. Arrivals and departures aren't segregated so everybody is bumping into everybody else. Some of the above may be due to reconstruction. Catering satisfactory.
Would I go back to Reykjavik again? Probably not. If you have the time and inclination to travel outside the city that might be different. For Keflavik airport, 4/10 overall. This is supposed to be a holiday - cross it off your list - too much hassle getting in and out.


Trabant in Berlin, pic by RLT.
23 JULY: Icelandair Flight FI510 from KEF to HAM, Dep 07:50, Arr 13:05. We are through Hamburg Airport in a heartbeat and hop the 'S' Bahn to the Hauptbahnhof. It is very busy so after activating our Eurail Regional Pass we retreat into nearby Galeria Kaufhof for a snack lunch. Hamburg to Hanover: ICE Train 771, Dep 15:24, Arr 16:38, the train runs 36 minutes late. Three nights at Central-hotel Kaiserhof, Ernst-august-platz 4, 30159 Hanover. The hotel is opposite the magnificent station across a large square. Comfortably old fashioned but the location is a mixed blessing, being very noisy in our room overlooking the platz. Among the delights are tuner cars peeling out at all hours. The trams aren't running here due to road works. Evening on the terrasse with Bitburger beer, watching the world go by. (I used to be a regular visitor to Hanover for Cebit, the computer exhibition, while at the Post Office.)
Next day we took the 'U' Bahn from Kroepcke to Herrenhausen. TagesGruppenTicket 9.60 euro for 1 Zone. A scumbag tried to rob Annette at the 'U' Bahn station, fortunately unsuccessfully. We have come to see the Palace (rebuilt, it was bombed flat in 1943) and Gardens, of the Hanoverian Royals.The museum at Herrenhausen says the Allies targeted the Palace, as if we could have been that accurate. It was just bad luck all round. A replica calculating machine attributed to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz from 1693 was the source of much fascination. Spendy lunch at the Gottfried Wilhelm Schlossküche. Stroll round the Berggarten and Georgengarten.
We consulted tourist information in town where a man carefully explained it was impossible to visit the Schloss Marienburg by public transit. He underestimated us. It did take all morning but we got there on three buses, departing the crummy suburb of Steintor, and arriving at 12:00. TagesGruppenTicket 15.10 euro for 3 Zones. Two guided tours and a torrential downpour later, we head back on the 14:15 #310/300 bus all the way to Hanover ZOB (Zentraler Omnibus Bahnhof), a short walk from our hotel.
Supper at Mövenpick Kroepcke, Georgstrasse 35, 30159 Hannover; 47.60 euro.
26 JULY: Hanover to Berlin: Train 1645 ICE Dep 11: 31, Arr 13:08. Delayed, Dep 12:14. We gain access to the first class lounge (we are turned away in Hamburg and Berlin). Like in Animal Farm some first class passengers are more important than others.
Both Hamburg-Hannover and Hannover-Berlin trains delayed so far. The once mighty ICE trains now have faded paintwork, some with graffiti, and run when they feel like it. The Germans have caught the British disease.
Arrive Berlin Hauptbahnhof and take taxi to three nights at Ameron Hotel Abion Spreebogen, Alt-Moabit 99, Berlin +49-30-399200. Outstanding value at approx $100 CDN per night, quiet room overlooking River Spree. Hard to fault. Quick reconnaissance of neighbourhood, locating nearby Bellevue 'S' Bahn station across the river. Turns out we are staying in the old British sector. Supper outdoors at Lanninger, the hotel restaurant.
Next morning walk by River Spree to Mitte (city centre) and Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, Pariser Platz, and Potsdamer Platz. We take the 'U' Bahn to Eberwalder Strasse, exit Danziger Strasse, to Berlin on Bike in an old brewery complex.
Take an escorted bike ride round the sights, 15 km, 19 euros each. I choose SRAM (ex-Sachs) three-speed step-through with rear coaster brake for tour. Here, and in Hannover, Sachs lives on with many survivors and also SRAM 3-speeds everywhere. Flat country makes them very suitable - hardly any hills in Berlin and bikes everywhere - bike lanes throughout. Typical bike hire is 10-14 euro per day and bike stands are everywhere. Bought the book Dresden, Tuesday 13 February 1945 by Frederick Taylor, re the bombing, at: St. George's English Book Shop, Wörther Str. 27, 10405 Berlin. Tram to Alexanderplatz, 'S' Bahn to hotel.
Next morning walk to laundry at Freddy Leck sein Waschsalon, Gotzkowskystraße 11, Berlin. Spotted eight 2CVs rallying at Ernst Reuter Platz, also Trabant, smart roadster, Ape etc. Outdoor breakfast at Manufactum brot&butter Berlin, Hardenbergstraße 4-5,10623 Berlin, 17.00 euro for two. Walk on to the Zoo, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche and Kurfürstendamm.
Took train from the Zoo to Potsdam. Bought tageskarte - day ticket go anywhere on bus, tram and train. On arrival the buses at the Hauptbahhof for Sans Souci Royal Palace are heavily oversubscribed with grupo leaders queue barging, so we walk back in the direction of Babelsberg, enjoying the Deutsche Bahn Werk ruin porn. We pick up the #94 tram to Schloß Charlottenhof which is relatively uncrowded. After a walk in the park we ride on a free red golf cart to Sans Souci. The driver is delighted to be compared to Sebastian Vettel. After tea in town we return to Berlin, via Babelsberg.
Dinner for two with wine 30 euro approx at Lombardi Pizzeria, down the street from hotel.
29 JULY: Berlin to Dresden: Train 175 EC, Dep 10:46, Arr 13:13. We spent some time at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, one of the modern wonders of the railway world. Arriving at the historic Dresden Hauptbahnhof we took two trams to the hotel, which should have been easy to find but wasn't. The Elbe river is nearby. Two nights at Dresden Hilton, An der Frauenkirche 5, Altstadt, Dresden, 01067, +493518642700.
After time out we fitted in a quick visit to the transport museum at a reduced price with one hour to go. Verkehrs Museum, Augustusstraße 1, 01067 Dresden. There are cars, motorbikes, mopeds and bicycles of East German origin that you are unlikely to see elsewhere. Some suited gentlemen are demonstrating the Scrooser in the square.
Supper at the Bistro-Hilton Dresden, 34.80 euro.
Up early next morning exploring I found myself in a McCafe - the only place open. We ride the #4 tram trying to find Radebeul-Ost. We overshot and back tracked two stops on the 'S' Bahn. Here we found the old Deutsche Reichsbahn steam train to Radeburg. Time for a top-notch breakfast at Dresdner Backhaus, Sidonienstr, Radebeul, Sachsen, 16.10 euro for two, arguably the breakfast of the tour. The Lößnitzgrundbahn is a narrow-gauge line, and I marvel at the thought of riding a steam train through the East German countryside. Time for a quick coffee with a friendly steam fundi at Radeburg, then we back track to Moritzburg. A route march into town and quick visit to the Käthe Kollwitz haus, and 'walk by' of the Schloss Moritzburg. Back at Radebeul-Ost we find the Karl May Museum (author of German wild west fantasies), at end of steam train ride. Tram back to town.
Supper outdoors at Foersters Restaurant & Bar, Weisse Gasse 5, 01067 Dresden, 32.30 euro for two.