Wednesday 19 April 2017

Canada 150 -- Ottawa Museum Roundup

If you haven’t already heard, let me tell you: Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year. It’s a big deal for Canada, and it’s a really big deal for me -- 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of our little family’s arrival in Canada.
It was 1967. Centennial Year. Expo ’67.

It was February. It was cold. Bloody cold!

We weren’t prepared for the cold. How could we have been? We were coming from the Azores where a cold day meant a head scarf and a thick sweater.

We flew from the island of Santa Maria in the north Atlantic direct to Montreal, on the now defunct Canadian Pacific airline. It was my first plane trip and I was unbelievably excited. I was dressed for the occasion too. My Sunday best as it were -- black-patent shoes, white ankle socks, a tartan pleated skirt with matching jacket. It was an outfit right out of a Scottish dress shop, which was strange since we’d never been to Scotland.

My best Scottish outfit

It was dark when we landed in Montreal and snow was falling. SNOW! I’d never seen snow. It was all so thrilling. I descended the airplane staircase feeling the bitter cold-wind whipping around my bare, scrawny legs. The ankle socks weren’t cutting it. Once I reached the ground, an airline employee quickly wrapped a blanket around me. That was my introduction to Canada. Cold. Dark. Snowy. Caring. Generous. I’ve loved it ever since.

To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and my own 50 years in this great land, I’m planning on heading somewhere yet to be discovered. By me that is. I’m happy to say I’ve (just about) travelled this country from coast to coast. 

I’ve seen icebergs in Newfoundland; whales in Quebec; totem poles in British Columbia. I’ve walked icefields in Alberta; swam in the chilly waters of Georgian Bay (Ontario); jigged for cod in Nova Scotia. I’ve eaten scallops in New Brunswick; lobster in Prince Edward Island; buffalo burgers in Manitoba. The adventures I’ve had across this vast country are too great to summarize in one paragraph. Still, there are more out there.

photo via Rocky Mountaineer

I’ve not been to: Saskatchewan, which puts it high on my list of possible journeys this year. I’ve also not been to Canada’s north. I want to experience the mid-night sun and the aurora borealis (norther lights). Canada’s arctic is definitely on the list. Decisions, decisions.

Meanwhile, Ottawa is Canada-150 Party Central. There is so much happening in Canada's capital this year, it really should be on everyone's travel plans. To get you started, here is a quick roundup of what is happening in the various museums around the city.

The Bytown Museum celebrates its 100th anniversary by showcasing objects from its permanent collection in A Century of CommunityIt runs until February 19, 2018.

photo via Bytown Museum
At the  Diefenbunker:Canada's Cold War Museum, Canadian artist Valerie Noftle's exhibition From the Hand, exploring the stories of veterans through photographs of their hands, runs until July 30, 2017.

On June 21, 2017, a new permanent Canada Goose Arctic Gallery  opens at the Canadian Museum of Nature, focusing on the ecology of one of the world's harshest climates. 

photo via Canadian Museum of Nature 

At the Canadian War Museum, the 100th anniversary of the pivotal Battle of Vimy Ridge is commemorated between April 6 and November 12, 2017 with the exhibition Vimy - 100 Years.

photo via Canadian War Museum

The Canadian Museum of History opens its new Canadian History Hall, on July 1, 2017. It tells the story of Canada through 18 "chapters" of artifacts in three galleries. Until then, catch Hockey, until October 9, 2017, which explores Canada's historic love of the sport of hockey and its impact on Canadian identity.

photo via Canadian Museum of History

At the National Gallery of Canada, a number of exhibitions are happening including, Photography in Canada: 1960-2000 (April 7-September 17); PhotoLab 2: Women Speaking Art (April 7-October 1, 2017) and Canadian and Indigenous Art: 1968 to Present (May 3, 2017-May 6, 2018). This all leads up to the unveiling of the new renovated and integrated Canadian and Indigenous Galleries on June 15, 2017.

And finally, watch for the reopening of the Bank of Canada Museum (formerly the Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada), this summer and the completely renovated Canada Science and Technology Museum in November 2017.

photo cvia Bank of Canada Museum

Canada's National Museums Passport has been revamped and now offers admission to 3 national museums, over 3 consecutive days. It costs $35. Each accompanying child (17 and under) receives a 30% discount on general admission. The passport is available at the six national museums that participate in the program, as well as at the Capital Information Kiosk across from Parliament Hill. You can find full details here.

Whoa! All this and so much more. 
Check it all out here.

photo via

Monday 3 April 2017

When Is Too Much Of A Good Thing, Bad?

It began the way any obsession does – with a single occurrence.

We -- my daughter, Melisa, along with her husband, Andy, arrived in Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azorean islands at 7am, blurry-eyed from our overnight flight from Toronto. We had exactly 12 hours to explore the island. (It turned into 14 due to a flight delay, but since we were stuck at the airport, the extra two hours don’t count.) 

Our rental car awaited us, and towing carry-on luggage only, we were out of there in quick order.  No time to waste.

It was a really small car

I had, more-or-less, planned our route. We would drive the north coast of the island to the town of Furnas for breakfast. Then motor to the opposite side of the island to Sete Cidades  (Seven Cities) for a late lunch. In between, we’d stop at this lookout and that lookout to gawk at the landscape and when the need arose, have the obligatory bica (espresso) wherever we found ourselves.

By 3pm we’d made our way to Sete Cidades, with its twin-lakes – one emerald green and the other sapphire blue – a phenomenon and one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders. (Legend has it these lakes were formed from the tears of a poor blue-eyed sheppard boy and a green-eyed princess who fell in love but were not allowed to marry. They cried and cried over their dilemma and, well, you can you can figure out the rest.)

From the miradoure (lookout point) high above the town, we posed for pictures with the lakes behind us. Then we crossed the street to explore the abandoned hotel, with its graffiti laced walls and tree-lined balconies. Then we all agreed: we were starving. Time for lunch.

Tightly hugging the curb, Andy drove our little vehicle down the escarpment and over the bridge with green lake-water running underneath it, leading to the town of Sete Cidades. He parked. We greeted the cow lazing on the field to our right, and made our way to the first restaurant we spotted. With its large patio, green-plastic tables and white chairs, it was perfect. A quick review of the menu posted behind a small glass window confirm it.

Andy has been part of our family for a number of years and has become familiar with many of our traditional family foods.  Early on he was introduced to stewed octopus, salted cod, morecela (blood sausage), sapatel (blood pudding), to name just a few things. He was more than ready for a food adventure on this trip.

“Lapas. I've heard you guys mention this. I have to try them.” he said.

Lapas are limpets, defined by Wikipedia as: an aquatic snail  shell that is broadly conical in shape.

photo via

To the Azorean people, lapas are a gastronomical feast, a delicacy appreciated only by those who are comfortable popping into their mouths organisms that are wriggling, with antennas whizzing about. People have lost their lives scraping lapas off  rocks buried deep in the pounding surf. 

Lucky for us we didn’t have to risk our lives, neither did we have to face a live lapa. The menu offered up ‘grilled lapas’. Excellent, I thought. We ordered.

They arrived at our table sizzling on a hot grill. Like a steak or fajitas, but a far stretch from anything served in a Toronto area restaurant. The scent of garlic hit my nose with a wallop, which, to be very clear, is not a complaint.

Careful not to brand our fingers on the hot grill, we carefully retrieved one shell at a time, popped it into our mouth and began with moans usually reserved for experiences outside the kitchen table. Things like, wowand oh my god, that is soooo goodwere stated.

“We should make this a thing,” I said. “Everywhere we eat, if they have lapas on the menu, we should order them.”

And so we did. For the next seven days. 
Every day.
We. Ate. Lapas.

Be day two, we began judging -- on presentation, texture, amount of garlic, were they served with lemon wedges or not? Was the taste enhanced if the lemon was squeezed over them?

By day 3 we knew what ‘over-grilled’ was (rubber-chewy is never good).

On it went…every day.

Then day 6, our final day in the Azores, arrived. New day. New restaurant. Andy had stepped away to the WC but not before reviewing the menu.

“Melisa,” I said, in the way one reveals a secret they aren’t proud of. “I’m not sure I can eat another lapa.”

She gave me a glare that screamed: You started this!
Our server arrived. We placed our order.

“Did you order the lapas?” asked Andy taking his seat across from me.
“Sure did,” I answered. I had started this.

Our trip eventually led us to Lisbon.
“Huh! No lapas,” said Andy on our first night out in a Lisbon restaurant.
“No. They’re not consumed here.” I said. And secretly praised the Food Gods.
Andy settled for clams swimming in garlic, olive oil and cilantro.
“Try them,” he said.
I took one, commented to its flavour, (it was delicious) but remained silent after that.

Let’s not start this again, I thought!